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; Romans 11:25
How do we know we are living in the last days? Aside from negative effects of sin being unleashed and amplified across the planet, there is the ‘body of Christ’ itself as a testimony to the times in which we live.
Theologians and Bible scholars have long debated what exactly the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ meant, as both pertaining to the partial blindness put on national Israel, and to how that tied into the coming of our Lord. Some teach that it was a total number of believers who are brought into the body of Christ, while others teach that the fullness means the cross representation of all the tribes, peoples and tongues who would eventually be brought into the body of Christ. While I believe that both of these encompass parts of the true meaning of the word ‘fullness’ (Greek-pleroma), I believe we stop unnecessarily short with just the numbers and types of Gentiles who make up the body of Christ.
In Romans, Paul address the doctrines of wrath, grace, salvation, and election. So towards the end of Romans (chapters 9-11), Paul then shifts his focus to address what was to become of the Jewish people. In that, Paul warns the Gentiles, of which he was given the ministry towards, that they shouldn’t think more of themselves than the Jewish people because God still had a plan for them.
Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable…Romans 11:28-32
We see initially that the Gentiles were in disobedience and are only brought in to that place of promise (Rom. 11:19-24) because the Jews rejected their Messiah. Their rejection, opened the doorway of salvation to all. But through the mercy shown to the Gentiles, this will one day come full circle and bring about the reconciliation of the nation of Israel back to God, to whom the covenants and promises of an earthly kingdom would be given. (Zech. 12:10-14; 14:16-21)
Although the Old Testament does mention that salvation would come to the Gentiles, it was neither explained nor expounded upon. Remember, during Christ’s ministry here on earth, He initially told His disciples to NOT go unto the Gentiles, but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24) The OT Prophets and even Christ’s disciples likely thought that salvation would come to the Gentiles after the Kingdom was established, when Israel would become the light of the world to the nations, since up until that point, were the only ones who worshipped the true God. (Exodus 19:5-6, Isaiah 2:2-4; 49:6, Amos 9:12)
So even the forty days after Christ’s resurrection, the disciples still asked if it was at that time, that He would restore the Kingdom to Israel, presumably so that they might carry out the ‘Great Commission’. (Matt. 28:18-20, Luke 24:46-52, Acts 1:6)
But it was God’s plan, that the Apostle Paul would be the one in whom was given the revelation to explain and expound upon the mystery of Christ and His Church. He then deep dives into the mystery of what exactly the Church is, and what is to come, primarily in his epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians.
Looking at the breadth and depth of the revelation that was given to Paul, we know that he likened Christians to that of adopted sons, heirs, the body and bride of Christ. These are terms we use frequently today, without much thought as to exactly what the Holy Spirit was leading Paul to write. It is to the body that I believe the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ seemingly refers too;
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Eph. 4:11-16 (ESV)
Just as a person grows from infancy into adulthood, so too, must the ‘body of Christ’ grow until it reaches its maturity…which is not just physical maturity wrought about by time. Even though one may grow physically, we all know or at least are familiar with the idea, as in cases of mental retardation, or perhaps some debilitating disease or illness, that one may have the body of an adult, but the mind of a child. I would take this a step further and say, that a majority of professing Christians today, suffer from spiritual infancy syndrome. This is where they become believers, but do not mature much beyond that for most of their lives. At least, that is where I spent about 20 years.
From a personal perspective, spiritual retardation, can be both a sin issue, and a theological issue. If it is the former, God deals with the believer to overcome those hindrances that prevent us from reaching our full potential primarily through chastening, because sin prevents a believer from reaching their full potential of reaching that ‘fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ’. If it is the latter, God draws those believers who will heed the call, either out of bad doctrinal teachings, or towards sound biblical teachings, which spiritual growth. IOW, if a believer holds to certain doctrinal errors as true, despite their growth in other arenas of understanding, they will never reach that ‘mature manhood’.
Not only does this happen at a personal level, but I also believe that this also occurs generationally. If one were to look back over the past two millennia of the Church since the first century, we will see the ebbs and flows of spiritual growth and understanding. Caveat to this, is that the truth of Scripture has been there all along, but either the times in which people live, or events have not yet transpired, for them to pick up on those already written truths.
The writers, prophets, and apostles who were given the responsibility and the progressive revelation to write our canon of Scripture, ended with the Apostle John about 96AD, with the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Since then, humanity and Christendom in particular, was left with progressive illumination. That is to say, certain truths (already in Scripture), come to the forefront and stand out to certain people in a way that it connects.
As much as Habakkuk 2:4 prompted Martin Luther to grasp the error of the Roman Catholic Church, so too did other passages speak to men along the way, to grow up (doctrinally speaking), into ‘mature manhood’, so that we are not ‘tossed about’ by shifting winds of doctrine and the trickeries of men. And this, did not happen, until the Dispensationalist movement began in earnest, under John Nelson Darby.
John N. Darby, did not ‘create’ dispensationalism as a system of thought as he is often accused of doing. The idea that God moved men through different ages or stages, was a concept held by many long before Darby came along. What John N. Darby did do, was codify this thought into an organized theological movement that centered it’s foundation on a return to the literal, historical, grammatical, understanding of ALL Scripture. The Reformers may have made a positive step in the right direction three centuries earlier, but fell short in part, because they did not include ALL Scripture. Thus, they carried over Roman Catholic eschatology with them. (Baggage fraught with error).
So let us recap some teachings many are already familiar with in the New Testament:
That Christ Himself would build (future tense) His Church. (Matt. 16:16-19)
- Although the Gospel of the Kingdom was not shared with the Gentiles during Christ’s earthly ministry, (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24), Israel’s rejection of her Messiah, opened up the door of salvation to all.
- The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee, was given the ministry to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:8, Rom. 15:15-16, 2 Tim. 1:11), and he was given personal, progressive revelation directly from Christ, specifically about the Church and the mysteries surrounding this new body of believers .(Gal. 1:11-12, Eph. 3:8)
- That the Church was mystery (musterion) hidden in Christ, never revealed until it was given to Paul to reveal. (Col. 1:26, Eph. 3:9; 5:32)
- Although there were three categories of people now; Jews, Gentiles, and the Church. (1 Cor. 10:32), there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, INSIDE the body of Christ. (Gal. 3:28)
- That the Church would be united as one, in Christ (1 Cor. 12:13-14) and would make up the corporate, multi-membered body of Christ. (Col. 1:18, 1 Cor. 12:12)
So the fullness not only encapsulates the total number, and total diversity of Gentile believers brought into the body of Christ, but also the maturity, by which the body obtains the ‘fullness of the measure of the stature’ of Christ. This maturity, driven first by the revelation until the canon of scripture closed, is followed by progressive illumination, which God leads men to focus on, according to the times they live in.
Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most brilliant, scientific minds to ever live, was fascinated by Bible Prophecy. In fact, he seemingly spent more time studying that, than he did in his scientific endeavors. But he once stated…
“. . . since the commandment to return precedes the Messiah . . . it may perhaps come forth not from the Jews themselves, but from some other kingdom friendly to them, and precede their return from captivity and give occasion to it. . . . The manner I know not. Let time be the interpreter” (Franz Kobler, “Newton on the Restoration of the Jews,” The Jewish Frontier, 1943, from Newton’s Yahuda Manuscript, quoted in Moore, p.493).
By this, Newton in the 17th century, understood, according to Bible prophecy, that the Jews would once again return to their ancestral homeland before Christ returned. He understood the basic outline of things that would have to come to pass, but he did not live to see them come to fruition. Thus, he was in a way, like the prophets of old…who foretold of the coming Messiah, but did not see how and when exactly God would bring this about;
Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into. 1 Peter 1:10-12
And so God plants us in the times we live in, and uses us and our gifted abilities, to speak to the things the Holy Spirit leads us to speak to. Wether you are Polycarp, or Martin Luther, we each address where mankind is in the times in which we live. It is to another quote from Newton I will conclude with…
“About the time of the end, a body of men will be raised up who will turn their attention to the Prophecies, and insist upon their literal interpretation, in the midst of much clamor and opposition.”
And thus, he may have been predicting the Dispensationalist movement some 100 years later, who would insist upon a literal understanding of all Scripture…and this for sure, has brought about much ‘clamor and opposition’ from the rest of professing Christendom.
So while I attribute the Dispensationalist movement to be that final, maturing process for Christianity as a whole, at least from a theological perspective, we have now moved into the ‘post-Christian’ phase of the age where Dispensational teachings and doctrine are mocked and rejected. This is where, the knowledge has been put forth, understood, debated, tested, confirmed…and yet increasingly rejected, in order to accommodate a world that is increasingly regressing back into a state of spiritual and moral lawlessness. A significant portion of professing Christian denominations are caving on a number of moral and spiritual issues, which only emboldens those who hate Christ and the Cross.
So, in keeping with the model of the Seven Churches as found in Revelation 2-3, we see the final stages playing out before our eyes, and know, that the last church age, is that of the lukewarm, nauseating church in whom Christ spews out of His mouth. The only upside to the tragedy of it all, is the Rapture of the true Church, which removes us from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. We are removed before the very hour, meaning, just prior to the world being plunged into the worst period of wrath and judgment it has, or will ever know.
Even so, Maranatha!