The Fullness of the Gentiles

Thu, Jul 9, 2009
Reggie,
I’m wondering about your thoughts regarding what the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ means.  I know that Art brought up the notion that the ‘fullness’ could be thought of as a quality as well as perhaps quantity.  I’ve been getting the notion here lately that, while those are both true, Paul was talking about a ‘set time’ period.

As I was praying about that this morning, another scripture came to mind that could very well be related. It certainly wasn’t ‘my’ thinking that connected these two ideas.  It’s Acts 3:2

Ac 3:21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began

Most humbly,

I believe the evidence favors understanding Paul’s phrase, “the fullness of the Gentiles,” as equivalent to the Lord’s similar expression, “times of the Gentiles” in Lk 21:24

The term originally derives from Ezek 30:3, “the time of the Gentiles” (NKJV). As plain from that passage, it is an idiom for ‘the day of the Lord’. It is the time of final judgment that marks the end of Gentile supremacy. This is the time covered by Daniel’s dream of the metallic colossus that stood in the form of a man. [As an aside, note that Dan 2:44 is decisive to show that the kingdom of God comes specifically “in the days of these kings.” Contrary to replacement presuppositions, this passage shows that the ten kings do not belong to a first century sequence of Roman ceasers, but are contemporary with the Antichrist (the ‘last’ beast; Rev 17:12), who is expressly destroyed by Christ’s post-tribulational return.]

Jesus sees the future ‘down trodding’ of Jerusalem as terminating with the ‘fulfillment’ (end) of the “times of the Gentiles.” In keeping with Jesus’ expectation, Revelation shows that the final treading down of Jerusalem is concurrent with the 42 months of Antichrist’s occupation of the city (11:2 w/ 13:5). So whether the ‘trodding down’ of Jerusalem is understood of the age long exile (beginning with the Roman invasion of 70 A.D.), or the short time (42 months) of final tribulation, the terminal point is always the same. So the times of the Gentiles represents the whole time that Israel remains under the curse of the broken covenant. It is the whole time of Gentile usurpation of Jerusalem. The day of the Lord ends the times of the Gentiles.

But is this Paul’s usage? Is the point of reference the same? I think so; because the same event that ends Jerusalem’s subjugation to the Gentiles also ends the time of Israel’s blindness (Ezek 39:22-29). Paul shows that the present calling out of the gentiles is concurrent with Israel’s continued blindness in fulfillment of Moses’ warning that God would provoke Israel to ‘jealousy” / “anger” by a “not a people” / “foolish nation” (Deut 32:21 w/ Ro 10:19; 11:11). Paul shows that this is not a permanent situation, as he ties the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ to the TIME that the Deliverer comes out of Zion.

Clearly, the Redeemer’s coming to Zion is the future day of the Lord, and NOT the first coming of Jesus, as claimed by replacement theology. Observe that a comparison of the context of the very passage that Paul cites from Isaiah (Ro 11:25-27 w/ Isa 59:20-21) shows that the time of the Redeemer’s coming to Zion is coincidental with the destruction of the final Gentile oppressor (i.e., the Antichrist), which is always the point of Israel’s everlasting salvation (compare Isa 59:16-21 w/ 63:1-7, note particularly 59:16 w/ 63:5).  So the terminal point in every instance is the day of the Lord. A day of the Lord return of Israel’s Messiah that does not include the covenanted restoration of Israel would have been unthinkable to the early disciples, and for good reason! (Acts 1:6 w/ 3:21; Ro 11:25-29).

With you, I fully believe that God will bring the church to a fullness of corporate stature in relation to the time just before the Lord’s return. There are plenty of passages that show that the age does not end in a Laodicean failure, as taught in dispensationalism, but in a glorious martyr obedience of faith and witness that will issue in an unprecedented harvest of salvation among the nations (“these are they which came out of ‘the tribulation, the great one,” as translating the double article in Rev 7:14; compare also Dan 11:33; 12:3) . But I don’t think this is the kind of ‘fullness’ that Paul has in mind here.

Nor can it mean a numerical completion, since the saved of the nations will come into the kingdom in even greater numbers with Israel’s return (see Ro 11:12, 15 w/ a super abundance of OT passages that affirm the same). Rather, I believe Paul is thinking here of the time when the present circumstance of Israel’s blindness will end with the salvation of ‘all Isael’ at the day of the Lord. Gentile salvation certainly does not end, or even decrease, at the Lord’s return, so numerical fullness can be safely ruled out.

The choice then, as you rightly suggest, is between fullness in the sense of time, or fullness in the sense of maturity. Either would make sense, as both are true. But I agree with you that it seems more likely that Paul is referring to the same event that Jesus has in mind in Lk 21:24 where the language is remarkably similar. Paul believed with Jesus that the age ends with the day of the Lord, which accomplishes at once the end of Gentile dominion and the restoration of captive Israel (the grafting in again of the ‘natural branches’). Moreover, seeing the term ‘fulness of the Gentiles’ as a time that ends with the coming of the Deliverer out of Zion at the day of the Lord makes better sense of Paul’s much disputed phrase, “And so (‘at this time’, or ‘in this way’?) ‘ALL’ shall be saved” (Ro 11:26).

As I’ve tried to show elsewhere, the term, ‘all Israel’, does not signify the completed salvation of ‘all’ Jews and Gentiles within the present age, as held by the replacement view. Rather, Paul’s expectation of the salvation of ‘all Israel’ looks ahead to the future salvation of the Jewish remnant that survives the final tribulation (Jer 30:7 w/ Dan 12:1) as an inviolable covenant necessity (Isa 59:21 w/ Ro 11:27).

After the salvation that comes to the beleaguered nation ‘in one day’ (Isa 66:8; Zech 3:9), a number of scriptures show that “from that ‘day’ and forward” (Ezek 39:22), every child born to Jewish parentage will ‘all’ be ‘taught of God’, so that never again will a Jewish resident of the renewed Land and nation have occasion to say to his or her Jewish neighbor, “know the Lord” (compare Isa 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; Jer 31:34).

This miraculously unprecedented situation will exist in remarkable contrast to other nations where salvation will not be so uniform as among the Jews in the Land. That’s another discussion, but I point this out to further support the great transition point of the day of the Lord. “From that time and forward” (the DOL), it will be the time of “their (the natural branches’) fullness” (Ro 11:12). This will stand in marked contrast to present age of hardening and continued exile while Jerusalem and the Land is repeatedly “given unto the Gentiles” (Rev 11:2) UNTIL … the set time (Ps 102:13; 110:3; Dan 8:19; 11:27, 35)

So I agree with your impressions based on a comparison with Acts 3:21 that Paul is thinking of the ‘set time’ in keeping with the Lord’s reference in Lk 21:24, where the language of Ezek Ezek 30:3 is employed of the final judgment of the nations in Israel’s day of the Lord deliverance by the Redeemer that comes to Zion. That’s my view. We can welcome the input of others on this question.

Yours in the Beloved,
Reggie

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