We would have a much clearer understanding of scriptures if we gave attention to the intended audience. For example, God’s command to marry a prostitute as found in Hosea. Everyone would quickly point out that this command was given only to Hosea and as prophetic gesture to Israel.
Is that not also the case with Moses’ law? Was that not given specifically to Israel? Were the gentiles invited to it’s presentment, or to vow that, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!" (Exo 24:3 NAU)?
Clarity as to the intented audience is primary in understanding the message—especially as pertains to End Times teaching. I'd like to propose a framework for identifying the audience. It would seem reasonable to first look at a divisions already provided by scriptures, namely the three main covenants or contracts—the Abrahamic, the Mosaic and the Messianic—not from the usual perspectives of Faith, Law, and Grace respectively, but from their relationship to God—inclusive and exclusive.
The Key to Understanding the New Testament
Jesus' words affirm the covenant relationship God had with Israel alone in his response to the pleas of the Canaanite woman—a gentile:
Matthew 15:22-24 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
That God had obligated himself, by covenant, to Israel is clear in Jesus' response to this woman:
Even though Jesus was sent only to Israel, as always, God always responds to faith, as evidenced by her statement, by granting her request.
In Matthew 10:5-6 Jesus instructed his disciples saying, "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Jesus was sent only to those of the house of Israel. This fact should be the basis for interpreting the primary focus of his words not only in the gospels but judiciously to the rest of scriptures as well.
The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants
The one we refer to as the Abrahamic Covenant, also called the covenant of circumcision,1 begins with Abram:
Genesis 17:7 "I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.
Genesis 17:19 But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
The language here is clear—the covenant is with Isaac's, and later with Jacob's descendants, exclusive of all other peoples.
Prior to this covenant God treated the people of the earth as one. Following this event, the children of Abram (later renamed Abraham), were elected by God and separated into an exclusive people group from those known as the Gentiles. The only requirement placed upon Abram and his descendants was that they be circumcised2 and later that they obey the Torah.
By this act God elected to make an everlasting covenant of relationship with Abram and his descendants, through Isaac and Jacob. The Gentiles enjoyed none of the benefits of this covenant unless they joined themselves to Israel (as proselytes) through circumcision or marriage.
The covenant was, in essence, "if Israel will worship no other gods but ME then I will favour no other people but Israel. "
The Messianic Covenant
Jeremiah 31:31 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,…”
This new Messianic Covenant, it seems, was intended to be with true Israel, however, Paul tells us that it was because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus that God's favour, for salvation, was made inclusive of the Gentiles—for a time. This was the mystery hidden in the Old Testament.
Romans 11:11 But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles…
Matthew 22:2-3 The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.
Those who were invited rejected the offer. This rejection was evidenced in their words at the crucifixion:
John 19:15 The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar."
Perhaps in the difficulties of the Great Tribulation, these words will be rescinded.
A New People Group
As a result of Israel’s rejection, individuals, be they Gentile or Israeli, were invited to participate in the new covenant:
Matthew 22:8-9 "Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 'Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.'
Initially, Israel was elected to participate. Israel's rejection became the Gentiles' invitation for whoever will accept it.
A Temporary Rejection
From Paul’s writings we learn that Israel's rejection of Christ and the corresponding new covenant/contract is a temporary event. When the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then Israel will have a change of heart, accept Yeshua as the Messiah, and receive salvation. The new everlasting covenant will be established with Israel at that time. Remember, that new covenant too, was intended to be exclusive to Israel as an addendum to the everlasting nature of the original covenant.
Romans 11:25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation-- that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;
Old Testament prophecy tells of a return of the children of Israel to their land by God’s doing. This too indicates that God is not finished with the Israelites. Consequently we have four distinct people groups to examine.
Four People Groups
Gentiles, Messianic Gentiles, Messianic Israelites, and Jews (those of Israel who continue to reject Jesus) now exist as distinct people groups. Of these, Gentiles and Jews, unless they accept God’s invitation into salvation, remain outside of God’s favour.
While it is true that, in Christ, there is "neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female" (Galatians 3:28 NAU), this does not mean that there are no Jews and no Greeks (Gentiles), nor that there are no males or females. This does not mean that wives are no longer expected to give themselves in submission to their husbands or to fear them out of their love for Yeshua. Certainly there are Jews and Greeks, and male and female, there is however, no advantage—in Christ.
I separate Messianic Israelites and Messianic Gentiles because, in Acts 15, a distinction was made in the requirements or expectations on these two Messianic groups.
Acts 15:23-28 “…and they sent this letter by them, "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings…. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon [Gentiles] no greater burden than these essentials…”
Via the Holy Spirit the Messianic Gentiles were given, then and now, a different standard than that expected of the Messianic Israelites—represented by circumcision. This different standard seems to be similar to as the seven Noahide laws that are considered binding on the Gentiles by orthodox Jews today.
Clearly there remains a distinction between these two groups, one which I believe will be finally removed when the body of Christ—the called out ones i.e. Messianic Gentiles—are united as in marriage to the bride of Christ—the elected ones, i.e. Messianic Israelites (see The Church is Not the Bride).
The Seventy Weeks
That God is not finished with Israel is obvious from the words of the angel Gabriel to Daniel:
Daniel 9:24 "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.
The end times clock was decreed to focus on Daniel’s people—Israel. Most accept that 69 weeks of years (a week symbolizing 7 years) were completed on exactly the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey. Seven days later the crucifixion, as Israel’s rejection of Jesus, initiated the “time of the gentiles.”4 The clock stopped after 69 weeks of years. The 70th week has yet to be completed.
Romans 11:25 NASB "a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in"
When that "partial hardening" is lifted the clock will resume it’s countdown to complete the 70th week of years also known as the time of Jacob’s trouble5 and the Great Tribulation. That last week of seven years, as described in Revelation, must of necessity focus on Daniel’s people—the true children of Israel—not on what we call the “church” today.
The End of the Time of Jacob’s Trouble
Jeremiah 30:7 Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.
The beginning of the “time of Jacob’s trouble” also marks the end of the time of the gentiles' favour. In the midst of it, a significant portion (Paul uses the word "all") of true Israel, as a nation or people group, will turn to recognize and receive Jesus as their Messiah and then re-enter an exclusive relationship with God.
This last week of seven years is Jacob’s nightmare, the focus being on Jacob’s offspring. For this reason I read Revelation 4-18 as describing events which involve Messianic Israelites and therefore references therein to ‘the saints’ and ‘the elect’ as applying only to Israelites who have (re)turned to Christ.
I suspect that the end of the time of the Gentiles is the beginning of the time of Jacob's trouble and that the Messianic Gentiles, who had until this time enjoyed God’s favour, will be “caught up”6 or raptured so as to avoid a contractual difficulty with God’s promise to give favour to Israelites exclusive of all others. By that I mean that if the new covenant requires that God give exclusive favour to Messianic Israelites, then he would be obligated to abandon the Messianic Gentiles that remain on earth. Removing all Messianic Gentiles from the earth via the rapture would remove this conflict and breech of contract. See "The Rapture."
The Wedding Feast
At the end of the Great Tribulation Jesus will fulfil his promise to the disciples, Messianic Israelites to come again, to receive them to be in the place he has prepared for them:
That place is suspect is the New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven with Him in it.
Revelation 21:9-11 “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.”
Revelation 22:3 “and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it,”
Revelation 22:16-17 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches…” The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
The Spirit and the bride say to the churches, “Come.” Obviously the bride is distinct from the "churches." The final union—Messianic Jew and Messianic Gentile—takes place. That Israel is the bride of Christ is discussed in the article, "The Church is Not the Bride" linked here.
A Framework for Understanding Scriptures
This then becomes the loose framework (subject to modification) in which and from which we would examine, interpret, and understand scriptures. Scriptures should be read and understood from the perspective that:
- Genesis 1 to 11 - was written with a focus on all of human kind
- Genesis 12 to Acts 9* - was written with a focus primarily on true Israel—the elect
- Acts 10 to Philemon - was written with a focus primarily on Messianic Gentiles
- Hebrews to Peter - was written with a primary focus on Messianic Israelites
- John to Jude - was written to all the saints
- Revelation 1 to 3 - was written with a focus primarily on Messianic Gentiles
- Revelation 4 to 18 - was written primarily to true Israel as "the elect"
- Revelation 19 to 21 - applies to all as finally united.
*The one exception might be where, in the gospels, Jesus is speaking to His disciples. In that case his words would apply to even to those "other sheep, which are not of this fold." (Joh 10:16 NAU)
What does mean or how does that affect our reading of scriptures?
References to the elect and the saints in Revelation 4 to 18 should be read as pertaining to Messianic Israelites, not Messianic Gentiles. (see Invitation or Election).
Jesus' parables and His description of end time events should be read as having a primary focus on the Israelites. The wheat and tares, sheep and goats, wise and foolish virgins, etc…, in this light all have new meaning.
1 Acts 7:8
©2011, steven, a man.
All publishing rights reserved. Permission is granted to reprint this article for personal use; however, no commercial re-publishing of the material in this article is permitted without prior written consent.
Steven is the author of Fathered by God and with his wife Dianne, co-author of Dream Dreams and Dreams the Heal and Counsel. He has been a guest on the Miracle Channel, Trinity Television, and Crossroads Communication, and have taught internationally on various topics.