When we left off in part one, we were able to arrive at an initial definition of the Mystery of God. The mystery of God can be summarized as – an expression of the will of God to extend grace to Jew and Gentile alike, through salvation in Jesus Christ, and to manifest in them the glory of the new creation.
I also made the observation that this is more than Israel, under the first covenant, could have hoped for. That observation came from what we were reading in Ephesians 3.
1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles – 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
- Paul considered himself a steward of God’s grace
- This grace was a gift, given to him for the benefit of others
- The mystery of Christ was hidden in the past, but is now revealed
- The Gentiles are now
- Fellow heirs
- Members of the same body
The following notes are taken from my book . . .
The Rapture Question: An Unfiltered View
This should raise some questions:
- The Gentiles are to be fellow heirs with whom?
- What is to be inherited?
- Whose body are they now members of?
Making One From Two
To answer these questions, we must stop momentarily to see where they point. Paul mentions where we can find the details he’s referring to – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul, having been the recipient of the mystery of Christ, is now the revealer of this mystery buried in the gospel. To the gospel we’ll go then to broaden our understanding of what Paul was outlining. If you recall he hinted to the answers in the previous chapter of Ephesians.
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
There’s a lot to unpack in what Paul is saying. Let’s focus on what we need to answer the few questions above. We will come back to this part of Ephesians again.
- Gentiles were once separate and alienated from the covenants of promise given to Israel, without hope
- By Christ’s blood we have been brought near
- He makes both (Israel and Gentile) one
- He reconciles both to God through the cross
- He is the source of peace to those who were near (Israel) and those who were far off (Gentiles)
- The peace he’s describing is reconciliation with God (vs 14-18)
- Both (Israel and Gentile) have access through one Spirit to the Father
- We (those faithful Gentles) are now fellow citizens with the saints (those faithful in Israel), and members of the household of God
- We are being built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, of which Christ is the cornerstone
So the work of Yeshua, the Christ, in saving the world, has first and foremost unified the faithful into one body under Christ; those in Israel and those being called from the Gentiles. If we step back further in Ephesians, Paul clarifies what that unity leads to.
11 In him [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
- Our inheritance comes to us through Christ
- In whom we have salvation and forgiveness of sin
- We are among the first to trust in Christ, in whom is the word of truth – the gospel of our salvation
- Through belief in him we are marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit – the guarantee of our inheritance
- For the glory of his honor
We are adopted as children of God, through Jesus Christ – the natural son. Recall that as a nation, Israel was chosen, marked and sealed. Though marked in form, those who were faithful are partakers of the substance which is Christ. We, the Gentiles, are the adopted ones. We also see that the church is not the mystery, but instead, is whom the mystery is revealed to and manifest in; that Gentiles now have salvation and forgiveness of sins according to the good pleasure of his will. (Colossians 1:25-28; Ephesians 6:19; 1 Corinthians 2:6-8)
Most importantly Paul declares an essential part of the mystery – that all things in heaven and earth are made new through Christ Jesus. And lastly, we are merely the first of the Gentiles (read again Ephesians 1:12) to believe and trust in Christ. It’s under this new covenant that we receive the Holy Spirit – through which we are sealed and marked as God’s people, and by whom the law of love is written on our hearts and in our minds. Those who are the first are not the only.
Romans 8:19, 21, 23, 28-29
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. . . . 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. . . 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. . .28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew (all the saints) he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
In Romans 8 we see that the saints – who have the firstfruits of the spirit, wait for the adoption – or the manifestation and fulfillment of that adoption – as the sons of God. This adoption results in the salvation of our bodies into the glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. So the uniqueness of the saints, possessing the firstfruits of the Spirit, is not unique in the way that many suppose. The church – the body of believers in Christ, are unique in that they are the firstfruit of the Gentiles, the adopted children of God, the firstfruits – not the only fruit of the harvest.
Based on what we’ve seen already in Ephesians and here in Romans 8, it seems clear that the unity of the body of Christ was never intended for those of the current dispensation only. It is a continuation of a relationship with God which the descendants of Jacob (Israel) already possessed. Yet some would claim that the church, the body of believers, has replaced or supplanted Israel because of their rejection of Christ. That claim must be tested if we’re to base our relationship with Christ on it.
The People of God
Even though Israel could not anticipate the mystery in Christ (and salvation for the Gentiles) doesn’t mean they would be denied it. Were there not those in Israel who in faithful expectation looked for the appearance of the Messiah? These are the citizens of the household of God to whom the Gentile believers would be added.
Recall that believers in Christ – now called “the people of God” were not the first to be thus. This name was, in times past, used to refer to all the children of Israel, but because some in Israel provoked God with their worship of idols, he chose to extend this new covenant to Gentiles also. Moses foretells this in Deuteronomy 32.
Deuteronomy 32:16, 19-21
16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. . . . 19 The Lord saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters. 20 And he said, I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness. 21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. (Romans 10:19-21)
There are numerous commentaries that capture this subtle reckoning with Israel’s idolatry; Benson Commentary and Pulpit Commentary are examples. I chose to cite Barnes’ Notes on the Bible in this case:
God would mete out to them the same measure as they had done to him. Though chosen by the one God to be his own, they had preferred idols, which were no gods. So therefore would he prefer to his people that which was no people. As they angered him with their vanities, so would he provoke them by adopting in their stead those whom they counted as nothing. The terms “not a people” and “a foolish nation” mean such a people as not being God’s, would not be accounted a people at all, and such a nation is destitute of that which alone can make a really “wise and understanding people”, namely the knowledge of the revealed word and will of God.
So then, because Israel was rejected are we to conclude that they will not share in that which we’ve been called to be “fellow heirs” with them in – namely the promises in Christ Jesus – our hope of glory?
Let’s continue in Romans 9 to see what else Paul has to say about the condition of Israel and its stumbling.
Romans 9:25 – 10:4
25 As indeed he says in Hosea, (Hosea 1:9-10)
“Those who were not my people I will call my people,
and her who was not beloved I will call beloved.”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, You are not my people,
there they will be called sons of the living God.”
27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”
29 And as Isaiah predicted,
“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
We can see that Israel has not attained the righteousness of God afforded those who by faith believe and have attained. So was the stumbling for their sake or for ours? And what will be the end for Israel? The answers are revealed in Romans 11:1-24. It may be helpful to review commentaries on the chapter after you’ve read it fully. I will focus on the highlights:
- God has not rejected Israel
- A remnant of Israel continues, elected by grace, not by works
- Israel (as a nation) has not obtained what it sought
- But the elected ones (of Israel) have obtained it
- Both are according to the will and purpose of God
- Has Israel fallen completely? No, only enough so that salvation has come to the Gentiles (vs 11)
- and this to make them (Israel) more zealous
- their stumbling brought riches to the world
- their condemnation brought riches to the Gentiles
- How much more will their restoration bring?
- it will bring them resurrection (vs 15)
- If the firstfruit is holy (Christ) the rest of the lump (those abiding in him) is holy also
- If the root is holy (Christ), so are the branches
- some branches (Israel) were cut off, yet some remained (vs 17)
- wild branches (Gentiles) were grafted in their place and are now part of the root (Christ), who sustains us all
- some in Israel were cut off because of unbelief
- those who remain and those grafted in both exist by faith – it is the gift of God
- If they (Israel) do not continue in unbelief
- they too will be grafted in (vs 23)
- God is able to graft them in again
- They will be more fruitful being grafted into their natural olive tree
As surprising as you may find this, it’s quite clear that the current dispensation is not unique in receiving the mysteries of God and the associated promises. Israel too will be recipients. In fact Paul indicated that some who remained faithful, a remnant, already have received, through grace, the election we enjoy. Paul implies this in Romans 9:24-28 and clarifies it in Romans 11.
2b Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,
The implications for this are significant. If it proves to be what it implies, then we can be certain that it changes the way we view this dispensation, the saints that compose it, and those who precede it.
- The current dispensation expands, not divides, the distribution of God’s grace to include the Gentiles. This is an inclusive perspective instead of the exclusive one presented by others.
- Faith, trust, and belief in God (which are a gift from God) transcends the covenants and dispensations. Consider the following:
- Christ is the God of the old covenant
- If faith in God saves, than those preceding this dispensation, through belief, received salvation, righteousness, and all the benefits of being in the body of believers
- This began with a Gentile, Abraham, and will ironically end with the Gentiles. In other words, God intends to be the God of humanity, not just the God of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- The faithful descendants of Abraham are considered firstfruits to salvation
Many would seek to exclude Israel and Judah (the Jews) from the promises in Yeshua, the Christ, but they do this in complete opposition to the work of Christ. The focus of his work in this time of the Gentiles is creating a unity of the two. At first glance there does appear to be a division, not of faith, but of role and purpose. This Paul clearly identifies in Romans – in that the stumbling of the Jews and the disbelief in Israel was, according to God’s will, an invitation and inclusion of the rest of the world (the Gentiles) to his grace and the resulting promises.
Though not all Gentiles will believe at this time, those that do are grafted into the body of believers – of which those elected in Israel, who do believe, are already a part. So that leaves two large groups of unbelievers:
- Those of Israel – as an opportunity for the Gentiles
- Those of the Gentiles – a source of motivation for Israel
The group of believers, however, are not divided. They are united in one body – Christ, for a common purpose; to glorify God and Jesus Christ at his appearing. Is there any doubt that believers under either covenant can bring praise, glory, and honor to God and Jesus Christ (the Messiah of Israel) by confirming their faith and trust in God and the fruits of that faith in their lives? But some might say that the Spirit wasn’t given under the old covenant – only in the new. Do we think that the faith of the great men and women, and the prophets of God was obtained of themselves, apart from the Spirit of God? Certainly not. Like us they were elected and chosen, and faith was the gift of God by grace. Have we forgotten who the God of the old covenant was? Jesus Christ!
For those who called him Lord were right in that he is Lord over all and in all. And though the mystery was hidden from them and from the world, it was God’s will that they, being elected and chosen, would be partakers of the mystery in Christ – though unknowingly.