THE CONVERSION OF ISRAEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-21-62 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Conversion of Israel. In our preaching through the Bible after these many years, we have come to the last, the climactic, the consummating book, the Apocalypse; the Revelation. And in preaching through the Revelation, we have come to the fourth chapter, which marks the third great final division of the book [Revelation 1:19]. And in preaching through the beginning verses of the fourth chapter, we have come to verse 3, which describes the throne of God. And around the throne is a rainbow [Revelation 4:1-3], and the rainbow is a symbol of our covenant-keeping Lord [Genesis 9:13-16]. And in speaking of the covenants of God and the promises of God, we have prepared these several sermons that are introductory to any kind of an understanding of the consummation of the age that is revealed in the remaining chapters of the Apocalypse [Revelation 4:1-22:21].
The great covenant of the Lord God was made in the Book of Genesis with Abraham. The Abrahamic Covenant: unconditional forever, and the rest of the Bible is nothing other than an outworking of God’s faithfulness to the promises that He made to the patriarchs, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. All of the things that you read in divine and secular history and all of the things that are outworking in human and in holy literature is found in God’s faithfulness to that promise that He made to the patriarchs.
Now, it is an astonishing thing as you study and as you probe into the revelations of God, it is an astonishing thing how much of all of it is the story of Israel in the past, in the present, and in the future. When you read the books of Moses, you read about Israel. When you read the stories about the kings, you read about Israel; when you read the Psalms, you are singing the songs of Israel. When you read the Prophets, you are reading about Israel. When you study the life of Christ, you do it against the background of Israel. When you read the epistles, you’re reading about God’s elective purpose in Israel. And to my astonishment and amazement, when you read the Apocalypse, practically all of it concerns God’s chosen family, Israel. At the end of the third chapter, the church is seen no more, not until Christ comes again in power and in glory in chapter 19 [Revelation 19:11-21].
And the things that are filling the Apocalypse are things that concern the elective purpose of God with His people and as they minister to the Gentile nations of the earth. This is an overwhelming thing to me! So when we study about Israel and when we preach about Israel and when we follow God’s elective purpose in Israel, you’re following God’s revelation of Himself to the world and what God intends for this ultimate consummation of human story.
Now, there are several propositions to be made about this. And I can’t tarry many times even to explain what I mean. In this little period of a piece of a time that is assigned in an hour of worship, we can just mention these things. We shall do it this morning just as rapidly as possible. And in your Bible, if you want to follow it, fine. If you would rather just listen, fine.
But as quickly as we can; the word “Israel” refers to a people, and the designation is the same in the New Testament as it is in the Old Testament. Wherever in the Bible—and there’s no exception to this—wherever in the Bible you read that word “Israel” or “Jew” or “Hebrew,” it refers to one thing. It is a people in distinction from the Gentiles—Israel the Jew, the Hebrew and the great family of the Gentiles. There’s no exception to that, not in the Word of God, not in the Bible, not in the Book. For example, in Acts 3:12, Peter says, “Ye men of Israel, why marvel at this?. . .The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers…” [Acts 3:12-13]. Then in verse 22, “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A Prophet shall He raise up…” [Acts 3:22]. And in verse 25, “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham…” [Acts 3:25]. And in verse 26, “Unto you first God…” [Acts 3:26].
As Paul says in the first chapter of Romans, “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek—to the Gentile” [Romans 1:16]. When you turn to the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts, “When the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw Paul in the temple, seized him, crying, ‘Men of Israel, help: This is the man…” [Acts 21:27-28]. On and on, there’s no exception to that. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul writes:
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit.
I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
For I could wish that myself were accursed, were damned, were shut out from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
Who are Israelites; to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises:
Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is God over all, blessed forever.
Wherever that word is used in the Word of God, it refers to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” [Romans 10:1-2].
The eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, “I say then, Hath God cast away His people? God forbid. For I also am a Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away His people…” [Romans 11:1-2].
Paul, Saul identifies himself lineally, nationally, religiously with the Hebrew people. “I am an Israelite.” Why? Because he belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. That’s not a spiritual designation; it is a racial and national designation. “Israel” means in the New Testament, exactly what it means in the Old Testament. It refers to the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Now, the second proposition: that word “Israel” is used always in contradistinction to the church. They are never identified, Israel and the church. Well, preacher, these are the stupidest simplicities that you are speaking of to us. Don’t you think we know that? Haven’t we seen a synagogue? And haven’t we seen Jewish people? And don’t we know that they are not the church?
But man, that’s the point! Did you know that practically all theologians, all theologians, all of them, did you know that practically all of them identify Israel with the church. Origen did it. He was one of the church fathers, one of the most brilliant who ever lived, one of the greatest. And he identified Israel with the church. And John Calvin—the most astute and able of all of the church Reformers—John Calvin identified Israel with the church and the church with Israel—and following them, practically all of your theologians.
In fact, he is a rare specimen; he is an unusual theologue who doesn’t do that. And that’s why I’m taking time out to emphasize it. For example, these theologians, John Calvin, Origen, all of these modern leaders, they say, “When it says here in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, ‘And so all Israel shall be saved’ [Romans 11:26], that refers to the believers, the church.” So the whole church is going to be saved. So all the believers in Jesus are going to be saved. And when they come to the Revelation, those great things that are prophesied there concerning Israel, concerning the Jews, concerning the Hebrews, all of those things they say pertain to the church. And when they read the Prophets, all of the promises made in the Prophets to Israel, all of those promises, they appropriate to the church.
Now that’s why the preacher takes time out to point out that in the Word of God, and there’s no exception to this, in the Word of God, Israel in the New Testament, means the same thing it does in the Old Testament. And Israel’s promises are to Israel. And God’s elective purpose to Israel is always separate and apart and carefully pointed out, lest anybody think what these modern theologians think and what they teach. There is a great destiny, and a great future, and a great hope, and a great blessedness for God’s people, Israel.
Now, just to take a moment to point out that the use of that word “Israel” is always separate and apart and distinct from the church. Now, look at this. In 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Wherefore,” Paul is saying, “wherefore, whatever you do, do to the glory of God.” Then the next verse 32, “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” [1 Corinthians 10:32]. He puts all mankind into three classes: Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God. For in the church of God, you have Jews and Gentiles. So you have three great classes in the world. There are Jews, there are Hebrews, there are Israelites; there are Gentiles; and there is the church of God. That’s the way Paul classified all humanity.
Now, when he comes to speaking of the Israelites, he always carefully makes that distinction that Israel pertains to the descendants of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob after the flesh. They are a nation. They are a race. They are a family. These are Israelites. And in Israel, there are two kinds of Israelites. There is Israel after the flesh, Israel with a callous over its heart, Israel with a veil over their understanding, Israel with their eyes blinded, meeting in synagogues, rejecting their Messiah, the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:15]. Then there is a remnant of Israel that accepts Jesus as Savior [Romans 9:7]—and in the Word of God, all the way through that is carefully maintained. They are Israelites, some of them spiritually open to God, who see the great revelation of God in Christ, and others whose eyes are blinded [Romans 11:5-7].
Now look just for the moment. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul says, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children” [Romans 9:6-7]. There are two kinds of Israelites: those who trust in Jesus and those who don’t. Then in the twenty-seventh verse of that same chapter, chapter 9 of Romans: “Isaiah cried concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved” [Isaiah 9:27].
Verse 31: “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, and has not admitted to the law of righteousness” [Isaiah 9:31].
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record, they have a zeal of God but not according to knowledge” [Romans 10:1-2].
There are two kinds of Israelites. There are those who are seeking to save themselves by keeping the works of the law, the distinction between clean and unclean, doing deeds of philanthropy and goodness, being charitable and kind, loving your neighbor, and on and on, trying to save themselves by the deeds of the law, keeping the law of Moses. The great mass of Israel is in unbelief. There is a veil over their hearts [2 Corinthians 3:15]. There is a blindness over their eyes [Romans 11:25]. They are calloused and hardened [Romans 2:5, 9:18], Paul says.
But in that great host of Israelites, there is a remnant that God is calling out now [Romans 11:5]. And God is saving them now. Look around you. Many times I have worked with leaders in this church, and I did not know they were Israelites. I did not know they were Jewish people who had been saved. Some of the finest, ablest leaders that we have in this congregation are people who belong to the chosen family of God. They are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Been just a few weeks since I baptized some who sit right here in front of me this Lord’s Day morning. And I want you to know what a blessing and encouragement you are to my soul. And you fulfill the Scriptures. As Isaiah cried and said, “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, and most of them with a veil over their heart, yet a remnant shall be saved” [Isaiah 10:22; Romans 9:27].
There are some who always through the centuries find Jesus. I have on my shelves in my library great volumes that are written by Hebrew scholars. The greatest life of Christ that was ever written was written by Edersheim, [The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1883].
I had last week placed in my hand a translation of the New Testament. Never had seen it before. Never had heard of it before. And when I looked at the introduction, the man who translated it said, “I am a Jewish Christian.” And it would be interesting to see how a Hebrew Christian would translate the Word of God. And that’s the publication placed in my hand—a remnant saved [Romans 9:27].
Now, what of the great mass of the people? What of the great hosts of Israel? What about them? What about them? That’s what the Revelation is about. It’s about them. What about them? Them and us—what about them?
Now, oh, oh, just listen the best you can—just the best you can. If your neighbor has gone to sleep, take out a pin, keep him awake. Just the best you can now, summing up. I could not think, it is inconceivable to me of a greater tragedy than this, that the people and the family that wrote the Book and that brought Jesus Christ into the world, of whose tribe and family the apostles preached, and Paul was born, to think of those people being rejected of God forever, lost and damned forever; what a tragedy! “Behold, I show you a mustērion…blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And then all Israel shall be saved” [Romans 11:25-26].
I like that. When our Savior lived in the days of His flesh, walked around Galilee and Judah, His own brethren ridiculed Him, Simon and Joseph and James and Jude—His own brethren—His half-brothers. Their mother was Mary. And in John chapter , verse , it says, “Neither did His own brethren believe on Him” [John 7:5]. But when I turn to the Book of Acts, in Acts 1, I find there the brethren of our Lord with their mother in that prayer meeting at Pentecost [Acts 1:14]. So when I turn to the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, James, the Lord’s brother is presiding over the conference at Jerusalem as the pastor of the church at Jerusalem [Acts 15:13-21]. And when Paul comes back from his missionary journeys and goes up to Jerusalem, in chapter 21 of the Book of Acts, he makes his report to James, the Lord’s brother who is pastor of the church [Acts 21:18-19]. And when I read the New Testament, there I find the book written by James, the Lord’s brother, and by Jude, the brother of James and the Lord’s brother. Well, isn’t that an astonishing thing? For the Book says in John, “Neither did His brethren believe on Him” [John 7:5]. And they ridiculed Him [John 7:3-4].
Well, how come them to be such great Christian leaders? It came about like this. When our Lord was raised from the dead, in the fifteenth chapter of the 1 Corinthians letter, Paul says, “The third day He was raised from the dead, and He appeared to the apostles, and then He appeared to Simon, then He appeared to the five hundred brethren at once, and then He appeared to James” [1 Corinthians 15:4-7]. He sought him out—sought him out. And before He went back to glory, He won James, and Jude, and Simon, and Joseph to faith in Himself before He returned to glory. Aren’t you glad that He did it? And that same and identical faith is the Lord going to do for His people at the time of the end. He is going to appear to them [Acts 1:11].
The Lord doesn’t forget His promises. I haven’t time to read Leviticus :42 to the end. I haven’t the right time to read Jeremiah chapter 30 and chapter 31, nor time to read Ezekiel chapter 16. I do take time to read in Zechariah chapter 12:
I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one who is in bitterness for his firstborn.
And in that day there shall be a great mourning…
And in that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness…
And one shall say unto Him, What are these wounds in Thine hands? And then shall He answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of My friends.
And in that day, His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives… And they shall look upon the Lord God… And in that time, in the evening, it will be light… And in that day, the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
[Zechariah 14:4-5, 7, 9]
And as Paul sums it up in Romans 11:26, “And so all Israel shall be saved.” As the Lord appeared to James [1 Corinthians 15:7], and as the Lord appeared to paul of Tarsus, Saul describes it like an abortion before the time, before that great end and consummation [1 Corinthians 15:8], God shall appear to His people, and they shall be saved [Romans 11:26].
I haven’t time this morning. I’m going to speak of that next Sunday. You be sure and be here next Sunday. You may live in Afghanistan, you may be from the ends of the earth, to visit the Evangelistic Conference, you be here next Sunday. How God’s going to do that is revealed in meticulous detail in the Word of the Lord.
Now, one other thing before this time is past. How is God going to save Israel—In some special way different from us? No! No—for the Bible is very clear and the Word of God is very plain about that. There is one way to be saved. There is no other way to be saved [John 14:6; Acts 4:11]. There never has been but one way to be saved. There never will be but one way to be saved. Whether a man is saved thousands of years ago, if the world lasts and He tarries, if he’s saved a thousand years hence, or a soul looks to God now, all of us are saved alike. God deals with us on the basis of His Son—the Lord Redeemer, God Messiah.
In the Old Testament, they were saved by looking to Jesus. It might have been in the form and type of the blood of a Passover lamb, but they looked to Jesus [Exodus 12:7, 13, 23]. It might have been in the form and type of a morning and evening sacrifice, but they were looking to Jesus [Exodus 29:39]. It might have been in the form and type of the great promises of the prophets [Isaiah 40:10]. On His head our sins are cast [Isaiah 53:6, 10], and on His back the peace of our chastisement [Isaiah 53:5]. But however, it is always looking to Jesus. And the same way with us today: a man is saved by looking to Jesus. “As Moses raised the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man lifted up between the heavens and the earth, and we are saved looking to Jesus” [Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-15].
Now, that’s the way Israel is going to be saved too; looking to Jesus. “For there is no difference,” said Paul,
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
For with the heart one believeth to righteousness (the God kind of righteousness); and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
All of us are saved by looking to Jesus! And that’s the way Israel is going to be saved in that ultimate and final day.
And when I turn to the Book of the Revelation, which I haven’t time even to mention but just to point it out to you, when I turn to the Book of the Revelation, and there are the sainted of Israel, and there are the great Gentile families, they are all saved alike. “These are they who washed their robes and washed them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14]. And when I turn the page and read in the twelfth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the glorious woman of the sun, with the moon under her feet and the twelve stars in her crown, Israel giving birth to Jesus, the Son of God; they overcome the dragon by the word of their testimony, and by the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 12:1-2, 11]. For these are they, the Jews and the Gentiles, as they who have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
When I turn the page again, there they are having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth [Revelation 14:6]. There’s going to be a revival some of these days like this earth has never seen! Guess who is going to be the preacher? They’ll be seed out of the family of God [Revelation 7:1-8]. They will come from the household of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and this whole world in the midst of its blood, and in the midst of its tribulation, and in the midst of its livid death is going to hear the gospel preached like they have never heard it preached since God made this creation [Revelation 7:9-17]. And it’s going to be on the tongues of men who speak like Peter and John and Paul, chosen out of the family of God. O Lord, that we have faith to believe it, and the heart and the spirit to embrace the covenant promises of God! And that’s the appeal made to you. If there is a son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God calls you to look to Jesus. And if there is a Gentile, God calls you to look to Jesus. “There is none other name given among men, whereby we must be saved”—looking to Jesus [Acts 4:12].
While we sing this appeal, somebody you this morning give his heart to Christ, come. Somebody you this day put your life with us in the family and circle of this great church, come. As God shall say the word and make the appeal, come. There’s a stairway at the front and the back, on either side of the balcony, and time and aplenty to spare, come. And on this lower floor into the aisle and down to here to the front: “Preacher, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God. Here I am, here I come.” On the first note of the first stanza, make it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
CONVERSION OF ISRAEL
The covenant-keeping God – His promises to Abraham, Israel
When you study the Scriptures, you study the outworking of those promises in
human and divine history, in sacred and secular literature
you study the revelations of God, astonishing how much of it is the story of
Israel in the past, present and future
we follow God’s elective purpose in Israel, you follow God’s revelation of
Himself to the world and what He intends for the ultimate consummation of human
II. The term “Israel” is always used in
contrast to “Gentiles”
“Israel” refers to a people
The designation is the same in New Testament as in the Old
is no exception – it refers to a people in distinction from the Gentiles; the
family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Acts 3:12,
13, 22, 25-26, 21:27-28, Romans 1:16, 9:1-5, 10:1-2, 11:1-2)
III. The term “Israel” is used in contrast
to “the church”
is not the church any more than they are Gentiles
all theologians identify Israel with the church
Origen, John Calvin, modern leaders
Identify “Israel” with “all believers”(Romans
“Israel” in New Testament means the same thing it does in the Old
Paul puts mankind into three classes – Jews, Gentiles and the church of God (1 Corinthians 10:31-32)
Speaking of Israelites Paul always carefully makes distinction that it pertains
to descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
Two kinds of Israelites
Israel after the flesh, rejecting their Messiah
A remnant of Israel that accepts Jesus as Savior(Romans
9:6-7, 27, 31, 10:1-2)
IV. God’s remembrance of Israel after the
God forget His people?
Paul answers, “God forbidâ€¦”(Romans 11:1)
Jesus lived in the days of His flesh His own brethren ridiculed Him(John 7:5)
in Acts we see them as pastors, leaders – how?(Acts
1:14, 15:13, 21:18)
After His resurrection, Christ sought them out(1
remembrance(Leviticus 26:42-46, Jeremiah 30, 31,
The conversion of Israel(Zechariah 12:10-11,
13:1, 6, 14:4, 9, Romans 11:26)
V. Will they be saved any differently from
No – there is one way throughout Scriptures to be saved
it is looking to Jesus
deals with Israel on the basis of the Savior Messiah(Romans 10:9-12)
by the preaching of the gospel of Christ(Revelation
12:11, 17, 14:6)