By Dr. Robert J. Conrad
“Lineal” Israel Explained
Although the beginning of the restoration of Israel has now commenced with the formal reestablishment of the house of Levi, there has been little notice taken among Christians of what should be for them a welcome herald of Christ's second coming. Apparently, the failure to notice arises indirectly from certain passages in the New Testament, especially in Paul's writings, which have caused some debate among Christians whether there will be a literal gathering of lineal Israel in the latter days. By use of the term "lineal" Israel we mean the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob and not just the Jews who are descendants of Judah, one of Jacob's sons.
The Restoration of the kingdom to Israel prophesied
It is generally conceded that the Jews, or Israelites, of Christ's day understood that God would send a Messiah to gather them literally and give them power over all their enemies. The belief that there would be such a gathering is apparent in Luke 24:21 where it is related that two disciples of the Christ met Him on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection and, not recognizing Him, rather sorrowfully remarked that we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel. In Acts 1:6 the disciples asked the risen Christ directly, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? The belief of Christ's disciples that there would be a literal gathering of Israel comes at least in part from a number of passages found in the Old Testament. Among the more prominent are Isaiah 1:26, 11:10-12, 27:12, and Deuteronomy 30:1-5. The last passage mentioned reads as follows:
1. And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee,
2. And shall return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;
3. That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.
4. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:
5. And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers (King James Version).
Redemption for both Israel and the Gentiles
When Christ did not "redeem" them in the manner they expected, the majority of the Jews did not accept Him as the long-awaited Messiah and continued to long for the coming of a conquering savior. The Messianic believers who accepted Christ, however, believed that He was indeed the Messiah and that the unbelieving Jews simply did not understand the fulfillment of the Scriptures pertaining to their Messiah. It seemed apparent to the Messianic believers that a new era had come and a reorientation in thought and doctrine was necessary.
The Apostle Paul emphasized the Jews' failure to comprehend by explaining that blindness in part is happened to Israel (Romans 11:25). According to Paul, the blindness was necessary to enable the gentiles, or non-Israelites, to become the children of God through faith (Romans, Chapter 11). He preached that the mercies and blessings of God were for all men and not for the Israelites alone (Romans 3:29, 4:16). Thus, the gentiles were redeemed just as Israelites--through faith.
These statements caused a revaluation of prior beliefs because they seemed clearly opposed to the traditional Jewish teaching that the Jews alone were the covenant people and that only strict adherence to their ancient traditions and written law would bring salvation. After his conversion, Paul explained to the Israelites, as well as to the gentiles, that by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9; see also Romans 11:6).
Paul assured the gentiles and other believers that if they would live by the Spirit of God, they would be the sons of God (Romans 8:14), that they thereby would be a part of the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27), and that eventually when Christ came again, those who were alive and were born of the Spirit would be caught up to meet Him (I Thessalonians 4:17).
All of the foregoing Scriptures accentuated the theme that any spiritual and faithful believer could be a part of Christ's body. Because of this "new covenant," the belief that there would be a literal gathering of lineal Israel seemed increasingly less important to Christians. As a result of this de-emphasis, the doctrine that spiritual Israel had replaced literal Israel continued to gain favor. And so today, to advocate a modern-day literal gathering of the lineal twelve tribes of Israel (other than the Jewish State in the Holy Land, perhaps) seems wholly out of place with general lay Protestant or Catholic beliefs.
Understandably, when it was announced by Paul that the believing gentiles were also heirs of salvation, it was natural that any difference between the Jew and gentile would at least be minimized if not completely eliminated. Notwithstanding such a conclusion, however, there are certain passages in the New Testament which cast some doubt on the Scriptural merit of such a position.
Gentiles’ salvation and God’s eternal promises to Israel
The first two passages referred to above (Luke 24:21, Acts 1:6) indicate that the disciples who had been present with Jesus during His active preaching still expected a literal gathering even though they believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. It is related in Luke 24:27 that in responding to the disciples' question about the redemption of Israel, Christ beginning at Moses and all the prophets … expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. Although He explained all of the Scriptures, He apparently did not tell the disciples that there would not be a literal gathering of Israel because they again asked Him more directly the same question at a later time.
In His second response to the question in Acts 1:7, Christ could have told the disciples that there would be no such gathering, but He did not. He merely stated: It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. Even if it is argued that Christ’s reply does not state that there would be a literal gathering, it is certainly clear that the most reasonable implication is that there would be, but that no one would know when it would take place.
The Apostle Paul, who was not present at the gathering in Acts 1:4 but who was later chosen to carry the gospel to the gentiles (Acts 9:15), also apparently believed that literal Israel (as distinct from the gentiles) would be thus blessed. In Romans 11:25-28 Paul makes it plain that ungodliness will be turned away from literal Jacob, or Israel. Paul argues that it was necessary that much of literal Israel be blinded at that time to enable God to show mercy to the gentiles. To a great extent Paul's arguments are based on Isaiah, who had said that there would be a literal gathering (Isaiah 11:11-12 and 66:19-21). Paul also refers back to Deuteronomy, as referenced in Romans 11:28, and to other Old Testament passages to substantiate his preaching that the gentiles would also be saved.
It is clear from Paul's writings that he was attempting to break down any spiritual barriers that had been erected between Israel and the gentiles and that he relied on the Old Testament to do it. But it is also clear that Paul states unequivocally that ungodliness will, in the future, be turned from lineal Israel. And Paul does not say that there won't be a literal gathering. In fact, on a closer examination, it is apparent that the thrust of Paul's argument is simply that Israel was blind for the specific time and purpose tobring salvation to the gentiles and is not meant to deprive the literal Israelites of any ultimate blessing they might have been promised in the Old Testament. In Romans 15:8 Paul states that Christ came to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.
Elijah (Elias) and the “restitution of all things”
Malachi of the Old Testament promises that Elijah, or Elias, would come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers and the hearts of the fathers to the children (Malachi 4:5, 6). John the Baptist was referred to as Elias by Christ in Matthew 11:14 and 17:12, 13. These statements by Christ have prompted many persons to identify John the Baptist as the Elias of Malachi and to conclude that all Scripture pertaining to literal Israel, as distinct from other people, has been fulfilled.
However, there are other New Testament Scriptures which cast doubt on the interpretation that John was the Elias of Malachi, even though he was a forerunner and the voice crying in the wilderness as prophesied in Isaiah 40:3. Notwithstanding His statement that John was Elias, Christ, when coming down from the transfiguration, also told Peter, James, and John the Beloved that Elias truly shall first come and restore all things, even though John the Baptist was then dead (Matthew 17:11).
Interestingly enough, Luke does not say that John was Elias but merely states that John would go before the Christ in the spirit and power of Elias (Luke 1:17). John the Baptist even went, so far as to deny that he was Elias (John 1:21). Apparently then, both Christ and John understood that John was not the Elias who was to restore all things.
Moreover, sometime after Christ's death and resurrection (and after the general meeting described in Acts 1:6), the author of Acts states unqualifiedly that in the future there will be a restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:21).
In Revelation 7:4-9, the literal Israelites, who must also be believers, are counted separately from the great multitude of all nations, kindreds, peoples, and tongues who also are to be saved. Literal Israel was promised that God would in the future put His law into their hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10) and that they were considered beloved for the fathers' sakes. (Romans 11:28).
Evidently then, the authors of both the New and Old Testaments (guided by the Spirit of Christ I Peter 1:11, II Peter 1:20, 21) believed and prophesied that there would be a literal restitution of lineal Israel. Those same authors promised abundant blessings to the believing gentiles. It is, therefore, somewhat mystifying that there should be any active opposition and hostility among believers toward the idea of a literal gathering of lineal Israel. Certainly, it is difficult to understand how the gentiles will be less blessed or denied their promised salvation if Israel is gathered as has been prophesied.
And God has promised that Israel shall be saved with an everlasting salvation (Isaiah 45:17).
Thus, in fulfillment of Holy Scripture, God has at this time begun to gather Israel through the restoration of the house of Levi.