We have had numerous responses to the earlier post on “The Fullness of the Gentiles”. They are included below in chronological order with comments interspersed by Reggie:
July 9, 2009
To contribute to the discussion, ‘fulness’ in Rom 11:25 is I believe the Greek “pleroma”, as in the “fullness of Christ”, which connotes a ‘qualitative’ dimension and not only a ‘quantitative’ one. This qualitative dimension is supported immediately in the Rom 11 text by the phrase “thus (or so that) all Israel shall be saved” (in Greek, I am given to understand that “thus” or “so that” bears the meaning of “in this way” or “in such a way” or “because of this” – which refers back to “fulness” (ie. a qualitative maturity of the church and saints which also inter alia moves Israel to jealousy). This qualitative ‘fulness’ of the saints will no doubt correspond I believe with “the times of the Gentiles” – an apocalyptic time-frame in God’s master-stroke – but if we reduce our understanding of “fulness” to only numbers alone (ie. quantity / masses) will be to miss out on alot of God’s full intention and purpose.
As we know, “apocalyse” is the same word in Greek used for “the revealing” of the matured sons (“huois’) of God, which all creation waits for and groans, in sync with the apostles’ groanings, and the Spirit’s groanings in Rom 8 – again a qualitative coming of age of the corporate manifestation of the ‘sons of God’ – who are akin in character and manner to the pattern SON (the “fulness of Christ”?).
Art’s intuitive understanding of alot of Scriptures (eg. that Rom 11:25 connotes also a qualitative aspect) is often supported I have found by what scholars have said.
Thanks for the contribution, I’ll pass this on. You are quite correct to see that of the three alternatives proposed by commentators, the interpretation that has the least merit is the quantitative view, i.e., that the fullness of the Gentiles means a completed number. The salvation of the nations continues and even abounds after Israel’s restoration, so it is unlikely that the Redeemer comes out of Zion only because the last elect gentile has come to salvation. That wouldn’t make a lot of sense for anyone who expects a millennium beyond this age when there will be unprecedented salvation among the nations.
If we take the term, “their fullness” in Ro 11:12 with “until the fullness of the Gentiles” in Ro 11:25, there is a clear contrast being drawn that has all to do with time. A time has been alloted to the nations must continue ‘UNTIL’ the restoration of Israel. The “times of restitution of all things” in Acts 3:21 comes when “He shall send Jesus Christ” (vs Acts 3:20). So does Gentile fullness mean the time alloted to the Gentiles while Israel abides in the grave of exile? Or is this speaking of a fullness of Gentile believers, hence, the church? I’ve wrestled quite a bit over the years with these alternatives, and used to favor the latter. I suggested this to Art’s attention, and he agreed with me that the two fullnesses being contrasted between 11:12 and 11:25 were key to the interpretation, and that the term, “fullness of the Gentiles” should be counterpoised to “their fullness.” So clearly, mere numerical fullness should be discounted as a primary meaning. But what about the time? In recent years I have leaned more in this direction. I now believe the “fullness of the Gentiles” in Ro 11:25 has primary reference to the day of the Lord in keeping with Ezekiel’s and Jesus’ common usage (Ezek 30:3; Lk 21:24).
That said, however, there is no question that a number of scriptures imply a ‘qualitative’ fullness / maturement as an eschatological goal for the church Eph 4:13; Ro 11:11, Rev 12:10; 19:7; Dan 11:32-33, 35: 12:10 etc.). Certainly, a spiritual fullness is destined to intersect with the fullness of the time. So it is not ‘either or’,
but I believe that the wording of the passage, and the theology of the context suggests that Paul, in keeping with Jesus, is employing the language of Ezek 30:3 concerning the final judgment of the nations at the day of the Lord, which ends the long night of Gentile dominion with the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.
The time is not independent of the completion of the divine purpose for the church, particularly in its destined task and witness towards Israel during the time of the unequaled trouble. But unless Paul has both aspects equally in mind in his use of the term “fullness” in Ro 11:25, then we should consider that it is particularly the time of the Redeemer’s return to Zion (Isa 59:21) that marks the point of the great transition between the present state of affairs and the time of Israel’s restoration. There will indeed be a spiritual fullness of the full stature of Christ that God intends to demonstrate in the tribulation church. I do not believe that the age can end apart from such a manifestation of the Spirit in the church. Moreover, we believe that the crisis of Israel will be a powerful constraint in the accomplishment of God’s eschatological goal for the church. I believe a case can be made that a mighty breakthrough of the Spirit’s power comes to the church in the middle of Daniel’s seventieth week, i.e., the beginning of the last 42 months. I even believe that this breakthrough on the part of the church has a relation to Michael’s victory over Satan in the middle of the week. So the set times of God work in perfect coordination with the Spirit of travail and intercession in the church. But the more particular and precise event that ends the time of Israel’s blindness is the Redeemer’s return at the day of the Lord to judge the nations and restore Israel. It is time and purpose working in perfect agreement. However, if I were in an exegetical discussion with someone of replacement background or mindset, I would stay with the time connotation as the primary meaning in Paul’s usage of the term ‘fullness of the Gentiles’, particularly in view of Jesus’ parallel usage. This is the most defensible for purposes of exegesis and apologetics.
But with me personally, it is not one or the other, because the day of the Lord doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but in manifest coordination with other equally ordained factors. So while the Spirit resting on gentile believers has been a source of provocation for some Jews, since the time of the early church, this divine purpose will have its greatest eschatological realization (goal / fullness) in the coming great tribulation. Then will the end come. All that has existed in principle and pattern since the first advent will reach its ultimate eschatological fullness before the age can end with Christ return and Israel’s restoration. Of that we may be sure.
In the Beloved, Reggie
July 11, 2009
Have enjoyed the Question and comments by all of you on this question [of the “fullness” of the Gentiles] and I agree with most all of them. I did have a little problem getting past your first comment to Paul when you referenced Luke 24:21 but when I saw you meant 21:24 I agree with you.
There is another scripture that I think all should look at concerning this question and that is Revelation 6:9-11. These scriptures are pointing directly to the “fullness” and clearly point to both ‘quality’ and to a ‘quantity’ in regards to a ‘set time period’ and I believe this time period is at Christ’s return (the day of the Lord, the Deliverer comes out of Zion). These scriptures are also the ones that led me to the study and the ‘Request for Help in the Study’ several months ago as to who would be involved and what is the difference in the First Resurrection and the Second Resurrection. Will all who think they will be involved in the first resurrection really be part of it? I believe not! There are two ends that will come at their appointed times.
9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
Good point, Ken. Of particular interest is the phrase, “should be fulfilled,” in relation to the time indicator, ‘until’. This shows a predestined ‘filling up’ of the church’s suffering that must be fulfilled before the Lord can return. It is more than the issue of fulfilling particular prophecies that predict a final persecution of the saints. It is necessary to God’s intention to demonstrate something before men and angles, as in the case of Job. It is part of His ancient contention with Satan’s taunt (Job 1:9). This issue of God’s design to demonstrate another wisdom through the church to the principalities and powers is at the heart of so much that must attain an eschatological fullness. The church is the entity of witness to the servant nature of Christ. It is called to embody (incarnate) this awesome reality in jars of clary. However, ‘with man this is impossible.” Hence, the power of God in demonstration. Therefore, by the logic of the Spirit, the church MUST complete its eschatological destiny before the end can come. There IS a final demonstration before men and angels that must be accomplished. It is a solemn necessity of divine purpose.
The words,” till your brethren should be killed,” is reminiscent of the words in Hebrews, “that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Heb 11:40). Indeed, there is a divine ‘filling up’ or fullness that includes the ‘qualitative’ for the sake of demonstration, the quantitative in the sense of filling up of an appointed number (2Pet 3:9), and all destined to reach its appointed goal at the set time. So I agree with you that any interpretation that doesn’t do justice to all three is lacking.
As an unrelated aside, I also note the unity of all saints that is implicit in the words, “your fellowservants” and “your brethren.” This is a particular problem for dispensational teaching, which separates the ‘brethren’ of the final tribulation from the so-called ‘church saints’ of this age. This, despite the fact that both have in common, ‘the testimony of Jesus’. Such a strange distinction comes from the theory of a special ‘church age’ that ends at the rapture. Thus, the martyrs of the last tribulation are denied the status of ‘church saints’ based on dispensationalism’s unique definition of what constitutes the church. It is amazing how much has come that sets itself up to obscure and divert from the truth. This fact alone should heighten the church’s sobriety and vigilance. We are in a war and it is not only about ethics and life style; it’s also about doctrine, since Satan has a vested interest in both.
Some more comments on the “qualitative” aspect. As you may know, Art has said ‘in public’ (although he is quite reticent about it perhaps so as not to appear too dogmatic or ‘speculative’), that he believes “there is a number” intended in the “fullness of Gentiles have come in” – that is, the number of exalted saints will correspond in exact number to the fallen angels to be displaced from the heavenlies, so that these saints assume their forfeited places.
I later stumbled across a few early church fathers who said the same thing! I can’t recall them now but can search later. Suffice that ‘the (general) displacement of angels by glorified saints’ are also acknowledged by a few divines. I quote 2 of them below: G.H. Lang and Andrew Murray:-
(1) “Our Lord Himself had promised that He would come again and receive His followers to Himself, and take them to one of the many regions of the heavenly world which He would go and prepare for them (John 14:2). That “abiding place” was not then ready, since (presumably) Satan’s hosts were occupying it. But when they should have been cast out, and those heavenly places should have been cleansed by the blood of Christ (Heb 9:23) from the defilement of their sin, then should the saints be taken there, clothed in bodies spiritual and heavenly, and so suited to their new home, and robed in glory like that of their Lord,” (G.H. Lang in Firstborn Sons, p.56).
(2) “All this is to make it known the region of eternity that pride can degrade the highest angels into devils, and humility raise fallen flesh and blood to the thrones of angels. Thus, this is the great end of God raising a new creation out of a fallen kingdom of angels: for this end it stands in its state of war betwixt the fire and pride of fallen angels, and the humility of the Lamb of God, that the last trumpet may sound the great truth through the depths of eternity, that evil can have no beginning but from pride, and no end but from humility.” (Andrew Murray in “Humility” chapter 1 endnote).
It is also interesting that one of the greatest pre-millennialist, George NH Peters, wrote in his magnum opus “The Theocratic Kingdom” (Vol 2, at p 589) thus:
“The Almighty, foreknowing the requirements of the Theocratic, determined order, has also predetermined (hence in some Liturgies the prayer that God would speedily complete the number of the elect) the number of those who shall be associated with David’s Son in the establishment of this Kingdom: and until this number (known only to God) is completed, the Kingdom itself will not be revealed. Such a Theocracy, in the nature of the case, cannot suddenly appear, without previous preparation, and is not the product of compulsion, but cheerful obedience to God. But when the last elect one is gathered, when the preparatory measures are all completed, then comes the sudden revelation of the Majestic King and His associated kings upon an awe-struck world.”
May these notes excite and challenge believers as many doctrines with inherent motivational impetus can.
Thanks Thomas. I’ll pass this on. I have a thought to add and a question to raise.
First, there can be no question that God not only foreknows the full number of those that will be saved in this age, but has pre-determined that number and set the end events in relationship to its full coming in. One passage that I think teaches this is 2Pet 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward (some manuscripts say ‘you’ or ‘on your account’), not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The context is the ‘apparent’ delay of Christ’s return. If this passage meant what it is popularly used to teach, it would make God the worst mathematician in all the universe. Let me explain.
2Pet 3:9 has been often appropriated to teach that God waits in hope for the greater number to be saved with a view to minimize the number of those perishing. In this interest, God is determined not to come as soon as some expected in order to provide the greater opportunity for the greater number. Yet Jesus said, “the gate is straight and the way narrow and only few find it?” If only a comparative few are finding salvation at any time, then the very worst thing God could do to minimize the number of those perishing is to postpone His return to a later time. See what I mean?
No, I believe the solution lies in understanding the meaning that Peter is attaching to the term, “us-ward.” That is the key on which the whole interpretation turns. In his earlier epistle, Peter refers to the believers as “elect according the foreknowledge of God.” Therefore, when Peter speaks of the return of Christ as waiting to give time for the salvation of the greater number, it is manifest that he is speaking of the full number of the elect, such as when the scripture says in Hebrews, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect (complete) apart from us” (11:39-40).
Such a set number to be saved within the bounds of this age raises an interesting question for those that believe that there is an age of evangelism and salvation beyond this age in the millennium to come.
Consider: We know that those being saved now are in preparation to participate in Christ’s rule over the nations. We know that this future exercise of authority and rule comes, as Jesus said, “in the regeneration,” (Mt 19:28; an equivalent term for ‘the day of the Lord’ or ‘the last day’). We know that at that time, believers will be changed into a new form of glorified existence (1Cor 15:51-52). We know from a number of passages that millennial Israel and the nations that survive the tribulation will enter the millennium and exist throughout the thousand years in mortal bodies under the theocratic government of God.
Therefore, since the salvation of the Gentiles takes a quantum leap with Israel’s return (Ro 11:12, 15), it seems evident that the return of Christ is not waiting on the salvation of the last of God’s elect, since many of God’s elect come to faith after Christ’s return (Acts 3:21).
So if Christ’s return is waiting for a full number to be filled up on this side of the great transition, it is reasonable to infer that something significant is being accomplished that justifies the myriads lost through delay. What could that be? I believe it must have something to do with the issue of rule, particularly millennial rule. This would suggest that something quite necessary in relationship to the millennial rule of Christ is being formed and accomplished in that set number that are ordained for salvation on this side of the day of the Lord. It seems eminently reasonable then to infer that there is a necessary filling up of the number of those ordained to participate in the invisible rule of the saints over the millennial earth before Christ can come. Yet all will be on time at the set time (compare Ps 102:13; Dan 8:19; 9:24; 11:29, 35-36; 12:7).
Call it speculative, or call it insight, but these brothers you mention had good reason to conceive and infer that the coming in of this set number might have something to do with the filling up of the places of rule evacuated by the principalities and powers in the original rebellion. It would certainly explain a lot from the premillennial perspective.
In the patient waiting, Reggie
It also seems to me that quantitative numbering or counting seems to be a numerical representation (specific quantity) of the selection of those who take heed to what the Lord has to say and act accordingly (specific quality)… almost always accompanying the dispensation of Judgement (specific time), such as in the first 12 verses of Exodus 12 (Those who didn’t have the Blood applied would de facto not be “counted” among those spared and saved from the terrible, last plague of judgement.) and also in Ezekiel 9, we hear the Lord directing an Angel to put a “Tau” on the foreheads of those who lament over the sin of Jerusalem/Israel…
Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple. – Ezekiel 9:3 -6
Of course, in respect to the coming Day of the Lord, we are given in advance, a view into that most mysterious of God’s selecting, choosing, or counting process…e.g. His choice in Foreknowledge.
Romans 8:29-30 — For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
This quantitative idea behind “number” as used in reference to the “fullness of the gentiles” to me is reflected often enough in the revelation of scripture. e.g.
“When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number (Heb. micpar, e.g. A Number by count) of the sons of Israel.”
“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered (Gk. arithme? passive indicative perfect tense). Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
So it seems to me that in a true, comprehensive unity of wisdom that “is sharper than any two-edged sword”, God has in mind:
Thanks for that input, Jose. Deut 32:8 is especially apt in demonstrating God’s pre-determined decision to set the boundaries of his plan and purpose for the nations in precise proportion to the physical number of one elect nation, central to all others in the scheme of divine rule. Hence, if the boundaries of earthly nations can be ‘set’ according to a central elect nationality, then the same could be considered of a heavenly number chosen to fill the vacated places of rule once occupied by the angels that left their first estate. If these rebel powers became the usurping principalities of this present age’s darkness, then it is not unreasonable to consider that after they have been stripped down from the places of their usurping rule, these heavenly places might be once more occupied by the “spirits of just men made perfect” in the age to come? I believe that is the thought behind the theory.
A set number (the ‘quantitative’) to be reached before Christ returns is a settled conviction of scripture. An eschatological fullness to be attained by the corporate church (the ‘qualitative’) is equally well established by many scriptures. But whether all of this can be read out (exegeted: to lead out) of Ro 11:25 is another question. Paul may have meant more, but he could not have meant less than what Jesus also intended (see Lk 21:24) in His clear reference to Ezekiel’s usage in Ezek 30:3. There, the precise term, ‘the day of the Lord’, is explicitly defined by the phrase, “the time of the goyim.”
Hence, on a strictly exegetical basis, nothing more need be read into the Lord’s reference to “the times of the Gentiles” than the final judgement of the nations at the day of the Lord. Of course, such language only makes sense in light of the promised return of the Davidic kingdom to Israel at Christ’s return. At which time, Jerusalem shall never again be “trodden down” of the Gentiles again forever (compare Isa 10:6; 22:5; 28:18; 63:18; Dan 8:13; Mic 5:5; Lk 21:24; Rev 11:2).