All would agree that the Apostle Paul was called by God to bring the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the Gentile nations of the world. It’s not unreasonable to ask why this is such a significant event? What makes the inclusion of the Gentiles into the promises of God such a radical idea?
Israel is Special
For an Israelite like Paul, who was from the tribe of Benjamin, the Gentiles were looked down upon because they were a people without God, worshiping idols of stone and wood which represented false gods. In the time of Christ, Israelites, and in particular those from the tribe of Judah (Jews), were considered God’s chosen people – set apart for his special purpose. Because this is a subject of considerable depth, we can look briefly at some details Paul provides on their characteristics.
Romans 9:4-5 Paul, speaking of his Israelite(1) kinsmen.
4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
Here are my observations:
- To them belongs the adoption; they are God’s chosen people
- The glory; having the glory of God work powerfully on their behalf, and which dwelt among them
- The covenants; the agreements and promises made between God and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel)
- The recipients of the law; God’s way to govern the nation in righteous justice
- The worship; having a relationship with the God of the universe, with all that that entails
- The promises; the certainty of God’s word is indisputable and his promises are trustworthy. Israel has been the recipient of many of God’s promises, and there are more to come.
- All of the saints and patriarchs who received the message of God to the nations came from the Israelites
- From the Israelites came the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He was of the tribe of Judah. He is God over all.
Note that Paul continues to outline this distinction in the rest of chapter nine.
Now that we understand how Israelites distinguished themselves from the rest of the world (Gentiles), we can begin to see why the inclusion of Gentiles into a relationship with God might seem like a radical departure. But is it? Ask any Israelite throughout time where the nation of Israel was conceived and they would reply – with Abraham.
Fourth Gospel 8:33 – They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Fourth Gospel 8:39 – They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” . . .
Abraham truly was the father of the nation of Israel. He was chosen by promise along with his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, who God renamed Israel. But notice what else Abraham is the father of:
15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
- Jesus Christ is the offspring who will possess the gate of his enemies (1 Corinthians 15:25)
- It is in Christ, the descendant of Abraham, in whom all the nations (Gentiles) are blessed.
- This blessing initially comes to Gentiles called into Christ through faith.
There are valuable distinctions in the Christian calling. Discover more.
The Father of the Faithful
We can see clearly that Abraham fathered two separate, yet similar, groups:
- Those adopted and chosen descendants of Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob (Israel) to whom the promises were given.
- Those faithful among the Gentiles, who would likewise receive better promises (Hebrews 8).
Both groups were founded in the covenant of faith. Paul and his fellow apostles are among the faithful in Israel, called to lead others into Christ (an Israelite Son of God); whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. This is the unity of faith which Christ inaugurated, and is a fundamental part of his work in the mystery of God (Colossians 1:24-28).
See how Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Mystery of God. Discover more.
Yet there is one important connection that often goes overlooked. It’s the result of our human nature and the desire to be special in some way. God extended that “special calling” initially to Jacob’s descendants by entering into covenant with them. What they failed to recognize fully was that their calling wasn’t for their own benefit at the exclusion of the Gentiles. It was always intended for their inclusion. Not only is this evident here in Galatians 3, but it is evident as well when one views the future God has planned for Israel.
It’s also evident when one considers the origin of Abraham. Was Abraham born an Israelite? No. That distinction didn’t exist then. Abraham was a Gentile, right out of the land of the Chaldeans in Mesopotamia. It doesn’t get any more Gentile than that, but that’s another story.
The Time of the Gentiles
With some of the backstory established for the time of the Gentiles, in which we see a connection to Israel through faith, we can look to see when the period of invitation for the Gentiles comes to an end.
If we do a search of scripture (I’m using the ESV translation) for the phrase time of Gentiles, we come up with only one relevant result – Luke 21:24.
Luke 21:24 – They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
- Christ is describing an event in the future. One that his chosen Apostles will witness in their lifetime.
- Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles. The implication is even more so than it was under Roman occupation.
- This would only end when the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled.
If we broaden the context further, we can see the event being described – the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This occurred in the lifetime of Christ’s disciples, in A.D. 70. The implication is that their captivity (both literal and figurative), their falling by the edge of the sword, and general wrath against this people (the Jews), would continue from that time forward until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled.
Christ then continues, as Luke recorded, to jump forward to the next future event – the coming of the Son of Man. Since Christ doesn’t directly reveal when the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled, it’s safe to conclude it doesn’t happen before he returns, but some time after.
The problem in answering the specific question of this article is that the scriptures provide no direct reference to the completion of the time of the Gentiles. Does that mean it goes unanswered? Not at all. It does mean the answer is not obvious and lying around on the surface for anyone to pick up. It will be necessary to dig deeper and to broaden our context even further. In doing so, perhaps a related topic will reveal the answer we’re looking to discover.
This and similar topics are addressed in depth in my recent book . . .
The Rapture Question – An Unfiltered View
Where To Next?
We’ve already seen a connection between Israel and the Gentiles in the beginning of Romans 9. I would continue reading Paul’s discourse on this connection. It continues into chapters 10 and 11 as well. Here are some questions worth considering:
- What do the distinctions between Abraham’s son of promise, Isaac, and Abraham’s other children have on their future?
- The children of promise (Israel) stumbled in their part of the covenant with God. Where does this leave them in relation to Christ?
- Does God have a plan and a means to restore Israel, and if so, how does that relate to the work Christ has done and will do?
We also saw in Galatians 3 how the covenant of faith, given to Abraham, connects those faithful in Israel with those Gentiles called into Christ. There is certainly more to the story underlying that connection. Some questions to consider include:
- In what ways are the Gentiles called in to Christ blessed?
- Is there a similar blessing for those in Israel who are called into Christ?
- Is there any difference in what Christ’s Israelite (Jewish) disciples expected from their Messiah and what Christ actually did?
- If there is a difference, what can explain it?
There is much more to learn about each of these topics, and links have been provided to related articles. Those tagged with Read more lead you to related channel questions and their basic answers. Those tagged Discover more are part of a more in-depth study program. Any tagged with Learn more address methods, processes, and resources which can aid your approach to learning. All are free resources to assist you in gaining a more unfiltered view of God’s word.
At the close of each article, the relevant presuppositions that support it will be cited. This enables the reader to gain a clearer and deeper understanding of the context. To learn more about presuppositions, see the About page.
- The election of God is not limited to Gentiles in this age only. It started with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel) and continues today. (Psalm 132:13-18; Galatians 3)
- The work of Jesus Christ and the will of God unites the faithful of the first covenant with the faithful of the new covenant. (Ephesians 2; 3; Romans 5; 8; 9; 10; 11)
- Faith, which is a gift of God, is the basis of the hope of salvation for all those committed to the Lord. (Romans 11; 1 Peter 1; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Jude 3)
1) When I refer to Israel, like the authors of Scripture, I’m referring to the descendants of Jacob (renamed Israel). This does not fit the description of the modern nation of Israel which consists of people from many assorted nationalities. Also, the modern Jews (Judah) represent only one of the twelve original tribes of Israel. In the near future, God will call to himself, for a specific purpose, descendants from all twelve tribes as part of his kingdom-building process (Romans 9:4-5; 11; Revelation 7:4-8).