If the Apostle Paul were alive on the earth today, he would surely be considered either a heretic, or a dangerous extremist, or both. You see, his understanding of the primary mission of the church, and the means of attaining it, and the consequences of failing, was vastly different from what most Christians believe today. You may be shocked to hear of it, although it has been right there on the pages of your Bible all along.
Let’s start with this passionate cry of Paul’s heart:
I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises. (Romans 9:1-4)
If Paul could have personally traded places with his cut-off countrymen, he would have done so, knowing that God Himself had made a self-cursing oath to fulfill His promise to Abraham and his offspring (see also God’s Self-Cursing Oath). But Paul knew that they could not obtain the promise unless they had the faith of their father Abraham, which would cause them to do the deeds of Abraham.1 Finding himself helpless to persuade them by force of argument,2 Paul latched upon a secret hidden in the words of the prophets that filled his soul with hope and determination. That secret lies in the connection between these two verses:
They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; they have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols. But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation; I will move them to anger by a foolish nation. (Deuteronomy 32:21)
It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)
Did you grasp it? God’s plan to win back a remnant of Abraham’s wayward descendants, so as to be able to give them the Promised Land, was to raise up a spiritual Israel of twelve tribes from among the Gentiles — a “foolish nation” in the eyes of Abraham’s natural descendants. They would be like a spiritual “Jacob” seizing the heritage for themselves.3 Their vibrant life of love and unity, which fulfills the righteous requirements of the Law4 in the liberty of the Spirit, would make the Jews jealous.
If you find it hard to accept that the “church” or the “Body of Christ” ought to be composed of twelve tribes, or that its mission has anything to do with God’s promise to Abraham, consider Paul’s position on the matter:
1) In Acts 13:47 Paul took his stand on Isaiah 49:6 (quoted above) to justify his ministry to the Gentiles; and
2) In Acts 26:6-7 Paul took his stand with that twelve-tribed “foolish nation” and its mission:
And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God day and night. And it is for this hope, O King, that I am accused by the Jews! (Acts 26:6-7)
Surely Paul was not speaking of the twelve tribes of natural Israel, long ago fallen away and dispersed because of their unfaithfulness.5 Only a remnant had returned to the land after the Babylonian captivity, and Paul would not describe them as “earnestly serving God day and night” when they were the very ones persecuting him. No, it was the twelve tribes of the “foolish nation” he was laboring with the other apostles to establish,6 mostly composed of Gentiles beyond the borders of natural Israel, in fulfillment of the words of the prophet Malachi:
“Your eyes shall see, and you shall say, ‘The LORD is magnified beyond the border of Israel.’ For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 1:5,11)
It was unthinkable to the Jews that God would accept offerings in any other place than the Temple in Jerusalem, and from Gentiles at that! But as Malachi describes,7 God was weary of natural Israel’s defiled offerings, their stale ritual observances that did not come from their hearts in response to His love. Of course every one of them could quote from memory:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
But they did not bear the fruit of that love they professed.8 The fruit God was looking for was the same as what He expected and received from their father Abraham:
For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has promised him. (Genesis 18:19)
Every parent of Israel was to train up their children in the Way of the LORD,9 thereby the whole nation would be secure to bear the fruit of the Kingdom. The failure of Israel to produce the fruit of the Kingdom was disobedience to their God. It was not because they did not hear the message or because they could not understand it. The last words of the last prophet sent to warn them were these:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6)
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruit of it. (Matthew 21:43)12
Did you catch that? He said, “given to a nation.” He did not mean an earthly, political nation, but a spiritual nation — the “foolish nation” of which Moses and Isaiah prophesied.13 Consider also how the Apostle Peter described this “foolish nation”:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)14
He was taking what God spoke to old Israel in Exodus 19:5-6 and applying it directly to the New Covenant communities that he and all the apostles were establishing, based on the pattern of the first community15 described in Acts 2:44-47 and 4:32-35.
Initially they just made the Jews angry by going “outside the camp&quo16 of traditional Judaism. Calling themselves God’s people and living a radical tribal life of love and unity exposed the hypocrisy and hardness of heart of natural Israel. But as that “foolish nation” grew to full stature,17 bearing the fruit of being connected to the “Vine,”18 or in Paul’s words, of being grafted “contrary to nature” into the “holy root” so as to show the “fatness of the olive tree,”19 a remnant of natural Israel would be moved to jealousy20 and be grafted back into their own olive tree.21
Their jealousy would come from seeing this “foolish nation” do for them, or in their place, as it were, what they would not do for themselves.22 By the power of love, with the Holy Spirit within them and upon them, this “foolish nation” would restore all things that natural Israel had cast aside or failed to fulfill in the Law and the Prophets, summed up in the expectation God had of Abraham:
For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has promised him. (Genesis 18:19)
Of course, the spiritual ’seed of Abraham” will do the deeds of Abraham, 23 for they, like him, have the Law of God written in their hearts. They will bear the fruit of the Kingdom, and that fruit will remain24 — it will increase and not decrease over succeeding generations, because they will diligently teach their children all that is in their hearts.25 This is the restoration Yahshua spoke of in Mark 9:12 that must happen before His return: “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things.”26 But to restore all things, the “foolish nation” will have to overcome27 all things that oppose it — all of the spiritual enemies that natural Israel failed to overcome.
And that is exactly what Messiah is waiting for, and what will release Him from heaven to take His throne in Jerusalem and restore the Promised Land to Abraham’s physical descendants in the next age:28
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since then has been waiting until His enemies would be made a footstool for his feet. (Hebrews 10:12-13)
[Jesus] whom heaven must hold until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. (Acts 3:21)
For when He returns, the prophecy of Zechariah 12:10 will be fulfilled:
And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the One whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)
This change of heart will not just happen “out of the blue” in the last hour, but because they will have been observing the “foolish nation” for many years with increasing respect, until the very last years, when they hear her pure sons29 proclaim the imminent return of the Messiah to establish His rule upon the Earth. Then when He splits the sky, the sensitive ones, the preserved remnant,30 will be pierced to the heart.
So let’s go back to what the Apostle Paul understood, which he called a mystery:31
What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not attained, but those who were chosen attained it, and the rest were hardened” Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:7-15)
The Messiah’s sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead was not enough in itself to reach the cold heart of natural Israel and raise them from the dead — for dead they were in God’s eyes. If it had been enough, then Yahshua would not have answered His disciples’ question as He did just before He ascended:
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
He knew it was going to take the demonstration of His love in a people — a “foolish nation” — to show, as Paul said, that “His power is made perfect in weakness.” Those who are utterly surrendered to Him and dependent upon Him will cling together and never divide, for He will give them the grace to love one another just as He loved them, and together they will bear the fruit of the Kingdom, bringing Him back for the harvest and the restoration of the Kingdom to Abraham’s descendants.
Perhaps now you can grasp more of what was in Paul’s heart when he testified:
And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God day and night. And it is for this hope, O King, that I am accused by the Jews! Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? (Acts 26:6-8)
He believed with all his heart that the demonstration of the power of the resurrection in a people would raise natural Israel from the dead. He hoped this would happen in his lifetime,32 but it did not. Instead, what Paul warned the “foolish nation” about came upon them:
You will say then, “Those branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either. Therefore consider the kindness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, kindness, if you continue in His kindness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:19-22)
Probably it will be hard for you to believe that they were cut off — not just the Roman church, but all of the churches of the first century, the entire “foolish nation.” What does it mean that the church in Ephesus was about to lose its lampstand before the first century had ended,33 with the other churches also in decline? Do you think these warnings were just idle threats? If they did not bear the fruit of the Kingdom, would they not also be cut off?34
Or, let’s look at it from another angle. Where is the evidence that what passes for the church today is still connected to that same holy root?35 What is there about Christianity today, worldly and divided as it is, that could tug at the heart of any sincere Jew longing for the true heritage of Abraham? Where are the twelve tribes of Isaiah’s prophecy that are the light to the nations? Where is the rich tribal life of love and care that was the abundant fruit of that first outpouring of the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the words of the prophets?36 Where are the children taking on the hearts of their fathers, building together with the same vision and passion, showing that the spirit of Elijah is upon them?37
“Elijah has come” Elijah is coming...&quo38As he came to prepare the way of the Messiah’s first coming, that same Spirit must come again to prepare the way of His second coming. The “foolish nation” must be reborn and run the race all the way to the end, bearing the fruit of the Kingdom until He comes to restore the Kingdom to Israel.39