The Bible describes three distinct groups of people with whom God relates differently: the Gentiles (not in covenant with God), the Jews (in covenant with God), and the Church (under God’s new covenant of grace through Jesus Christ). First Corinthians 10:32 names the three groups in a single verse, and chapters 9-11 of the Epistle to the Romans describe them rather succinctly in a single book, but of course it takes the Bible as a whole to demonstrate it fully.
Sound interpretation of the Scriptures requires that we recognize whom the Holy Spirit is addressing therein; much confusion, especially regarding end-time prophecy, stems from failure to do so.
May the Lord grant us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in order to know Him and our exalted position in Christ better as we consider His three distinct peoples herein. Amen.
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A brief temporal account of the three Biblical groups of people
Gentiles have existed since Adam, and of course are earthly because they are not in covenant with God. Abram was a Gentile who responded to God’s call to cross the Euphrates River (that’s the origin of the word Hebrew) and enter the land of promise. He became a Jew when he believed God, whereon God credited it to him as righteousness, entered into covenant with him, had him circumcise himself (cut off his flesh), and renamed him Abraham.
The nation of Israel descended from Abraham’s grandson Jacob. Because of Israel’s repeated infidelity to God (and despite it!), He promised His people a deliverer via multiple prophets throughout the centuries. Although the prophets spoke of both a suffering servant and a Messianic king, the great and terrible day of the Lord and His glorious kingdom, it was not clear that the Jews’ deliverance would entail two separate Messianic advents.
As we know, God delivered His only begotten Son, Jesus Messiah, to the Jews exactly as promised, but they stumbled over the humble Nazarene (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”), rejected Him, and delivered their long-awaited Messiah over to the Gentiles to be crucified.
Resurrected and ascended to the Father’s right hand, Jesus then poured forth His promised Spirit into those who entered into God’s new covenant of grace with Him (see Matt. 26:26-29). The Church – all those people who’d received revelation of Jesus from God and confessed that He was the Messiah (see Matt. 16:15-18) – came to life on earth as they received the breath of God on Pentecost (the Greek word for spirit also means breath; compare Gen. 2:7 with Acts 2:1-4).
To summarize in one sentence using terminology from 1 Cor. 15:48, God now has Gentiles (the earthly man), the Jews (through whom salvation comes), and His Church (in whom the two become one new heavenly man).
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups [Gentiles and Jews] into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace… (Eph. 2:13-15)
Now, some important points:
- IN Christ there is no division – no Jew or Gentile, male or female, etc. (see Gal. 3:28); division is only OUTSIDE of Him.
- JESUS was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 15:24); He breathed His Spirit on His Jewish disciples, then sent THEM forth as His witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
- That salvation would come from the Jews (John 4:22) and then go forth to the Gentiles was not a secret (e.g. Is. 49:6). “The mystery” of which Paul wrote is, as given in Ephesians above, that the two are both reconciled to God in one new creation, the heavenly man: “the Christ” (see also 1 Cor. 15:44-49 and the Introduction to this series).
One Biblical group at a time
It is also important to realize that the Church was hidden from view in the OT, and, in large part, also in the gospels, until Christ ascended into heaven and poured out His Spirit at Pentecost. The two separate advents of Christ and the intervening Church age have been likened to a timeline depicting two mountains with an intervening valley which are all visible from one ground-level perspective, but appear only as a single mountain when viewed 90 degrees from that ground-level viewpoint. This gives us greater compassion for Jesus’ disciples as He told them repeatedly that He must suffer and be crucified: they had understood the prophets to describe only a single advent of their Messiah, and so expected His kingdom to be imminent.
God gave many years of grace to His covenant people, the Jews, before their rejection of the Messiah was complete in His eyes. We see the grace period began to wane when the Lord sent Philip to witness to the Samaritans and to the Ethiopian, and Peter to witness to Cornelius. Paul and Barnabus were sent shortly thereafter. God waited roughly 40 years to render judgment on the Jews via the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.
Again, much of God’s past and future dealings with the nation of Israel regarding their rejection of their Messiah is addressed in Romans chapters 9-11. The bottom line therein is that God, having grafted our wild (Gentile) branches in, WILL eventually graft the natural branch of Israel back into their own olive tree (see Ro. 11:11-24), as prophesied in various OT Scriptures. Israel/Jacob must first suffer “Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), which corresponds with the second half of the 70th week prophesied by Daniel (9:24-27); Jesus described this horrific time in Matt. 24 (espc. v. 21) as the time of “great tribulation.”
This will not occur, however, until God completes what we call the Church Age. Interestingly enough, the apostle James recognized and prophesied that God would take from the Gentiles a people for Himself and THEN return His attention to His nation Israel when he quoted Amos 9:11 at the Jerusalem council: “Brothers, listen to me. Simon [Peter] has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ” ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. It’s ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it…’ “ (Acts 15:13-16)
James thus indicated God would deal with His nation Israel and His Church one at a time. Because Israel rejected her Messiah, Israel’s prophetic clock, if you will, was put on hold between Daniel’s 69th and 70th “weeks” (7-year periods) and the Church Age was ushered into being. During this Church Age “gap”, the fullness of the Gentiles is coming into Christ (Ro. 11:25), AND the Church is attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (see Eph. 4:13).
His Bride is making herself ready…