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I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved… (Romans 11:25-26a NIV)

While watching Christian TV recently, the teacher got my attention. He said that viewers should keep their eyes on Israel since they are the focus of Bible prophecy. On the face of it, I heartily endorse his statement, so I wanted to find out what he meant. He went on to state that while the Church will be taken up in the rapture to be with Christ at the beginning of the tribulation, a righteous remnant of Israel will remain on earth to suffer through the great tribulation. This is a classic misreading of Scripture by Pre-Tribulation Rapture (PTR) followers. Though his conclusion was far afield, I was reminded that seeing Israel in prophecy was a tremendous contribution made by the PTR movement almost a century and a half ago.  Before that Israel was written off. In God’s kingdom, there was only the Church.

It was obvious that the TV preacher understood Israel in terms of the modern Middle East Jewish state. However prophecy’s focus is not on the nation “Israel” per se, but on “the Israelites,” the twelve tribes of Jacob, the restored family once ruled by David. It is misleading to label God’s people as the Church or anything but Israel. More than the Church is included in God’s plan of salvation. Israel is! This is the subject of Paul’s mystery regarding the grafted olive tree in Romans 11, so let’s look!

In his illustration (11:5-36), Paul starts with the remnant (people) of Israel chosen by grace. The remnant represents the root, the people on earth to whom God’s covenant was given, for as Jesus said to the woman at the well, salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22). There was no Gentile remnant. They were excluded from the covenant. Yet because of God’s kindness, the disobedience of many gave opportunity for His mercy to displayed to the Gentiles. Supported by the root, the wild olive branch (the people from the nations) was grafted in. Warned against arrogance, the grafted in branch should remain humble and grateful to their roots. The two will become one. No more Jew and Gentile, but one glorious people of God named Israel. The remnant root will give life to the wild-by-nature olive branch until Gentiles world-wide are swallowed up in Israel. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”  (Romans 11:26b-27) 

This is a mystery. Former distinctions will disappear. There will be one King ruling over one people, the Israelites (Acts 1:6, John 16:16). There will be one people against whom the Ancient Dragon will rage; the saints who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 14:12). Even before this age ends, the two will be manifest as the reunited family of Israel. Count on it!

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