The Conversion of Israel
January 21st, 1962 @ 8:15 AM
THE CONVERSION OF ISRAEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-21-62 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Conversion of Israel. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come after many years to the Book of the Revelation, and in preaching through the Revelation, we have come to chapter 4. And in verse 3 of chapter 4 the throne of God is described; set in heaven, in appearance like a jasper and a sardine stone, in appearance like a diamond and a ruby, and around it there was a rainbow [Revelation 4:3], and the rainbow is a sign of the covenant-keeping God.
The great Sovereign who reigns over this vast creation is a God who keeps His promises. Therefore, in preparation for the things that are revealed in the Apocalypse we have paused to look at the promises of God that God will surely keep. And we have learned that the great covenants that God hath made we found in the story of Israel; God’s covenant to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And we have found that the whole Bible, all of the Scriptures, are nothing other than an outworking of those sacred, holy, unconditional, and sovereign promises that God made to the ancient patriarchs.
Now as we study, there are other things that are found in the Word of God that to me are amazing and overwhelming. And these things that we are finding in the Word are the things that are comprising these sermons of introduction as we prepare to enter this great, final denouement of the age. Now it had been my hope to encompass all of this sermon in one period, in one address. For us to see it and to look at it, it was most vital that it be in one sermon. But however I tried, I could not encompass it within so short a period of time, and even half of it that I am seeking to deliver this morning will be rapidly presented in order that it might be somewhat included, even half of it, in this hour of worship. Now I pray you’ll be here next Sunday with your Bible, that you can listen to the rest of this revelation from the Book of God.
It is an astonishing thing that when you study the Lord, and when you study the Book, and when you study the covenants of God, you study Israel. When we read the books of Moses, we are reading about Israel! When we read the story of the kings, we are reading about Israel. When we read the Psalms, we are singing the songs of Israel. When we study the Prophets, we are studying God’s sovereign grace through Israel. When we study the life of Christ, we are studying our Lord against the background of Israel. When we read the epistles, we are reading God’s great, sovereign, elective purposes and grace in Israel.
And when we read the Apocalypse, to my amazement, to the overwhelming surprise of my heart, when we read the Apocalypse, for the most part we are studying God’s grace and elective purpose in Israel. For example, after the third chapter, the church is gone [Revelation 1:1-3:22]. It’s not mentioned, it’s not referred to until you see God’s bride, Christ’s church, coming in power with the Lord at His second coming in the nineteenth chapter of the book [Revelation 19:11-16]. When we study the Revelation, we are studying the sovereign elective purpose of God with Israel. Israel is in the New Testament just as Israel is in the Old Testament.
And when we study and pore over the Word of God, these are the things that God hath done and that God hath revealed to us. So this morning we’re going to follow through some of the elective purposes of the Lord for His people. Now, to do that, we must clearly establish in our minds of whom God is speaking and who these people are. So the first proposition: when that word “Israel” is found and when you read it, whether in the Old Testament or whether in the New Testament, it is always used with reference to God’s chosen people who are the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The first proposition: it is always used in contradistinction to the word “Gentiles.” And wherever that word is found in the Bible, and there’s no exception to this, wherever that word is found in the Bible, “Israel,” it is used in distinction from the Gentiles.
Israel and the Gentiles; and they are never used to include one or the other. “Israel” always refers to the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and “the Gentiles” always refers to those who are not in the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; there’s no exception to that in the Word of God. And the use of the word Israel in the New Testament is exactly as the use of the word Israel in the Old Testament. It refers to the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For example that the word Israel refers to Israel, to the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for example, in the third chapter of the Book of Acts:
- “When Peter saw it,” verse 12, “he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this?” [Acts 3:12].
- Verse 13, “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers” [Acts 3:13].
- Then in verse , “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you” [Acts 3:22].
- Verse , “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham” [Acts 3:25].
- And then verse , “Unto you first God, unto you first God” [Acts 3:26]; as Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “Unto the Jew first, and then unto the Greek”; so through the whole Bible.
- In Acts 21:27, “And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw Paul in the temple . . . seized him, crying out, Men of Israel, help!” [Acts 21:27-28].
We’ll not continue. Wherever in the Book, wherever in the Book that word Israel is used, it is used in distinction from the Gentiles. They are never enmeshed, nor does one ever include the other.
Now the second proposition: that word Israel is always used in distinction from the church, Christian people of God, Jews and Gentiles in the church. Israel, wherever the term is used, always is in distinction from the church.
“Well, preacher, these are the most unusual propositions I ever heard in my life! We’ve seen synagogues and we know Jewish people. We know the difference between the Jew and the church, and the synagogue and the house of Christian worship. Why are these so fundamental?” For this simple reason: did you know that practically all theologians identify Israel in the New Testament with the believers in the church? Practically all of them, practically all of them; he is a rare specimen and he is a rare theologian who does not identify Israel in the New Testament with the believers in the church. They make them synonymous, one and the same. Origen was the first to do that. Back yonder in the days of the apostolic fathers, Origen was the first to do that. Calvin is a very typical representative of a great theologian among the Reformers who did that, and next Sunday morning we are going to speak of some of the exegeses of John Calvin.
And today practically all of your theologians will identify Israel with the church. For example, this is what they teach in the passage that you read this morning:
I would not have you ignorant of this mystery…
that blindness in part is happened to Israel
until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in…
and so all Israel shall be saved.
John Calvin is a very typical theologian who will say, “And so all Israel shall be saved. Israel refers to the believers, the church, and so the church will be saved, and so all of the believers will be saved,” and he identifies Israel with the church. And practically all modern theologians, practically all of them, take the promises that are made in the Prophets and in the Old Testament to Israel and make them apply to the church. And practically all of your theologians will take the Book of the Revelation and where it says “Jew” there, and where it says “Israel” there, and where it says “Hebrew” there, and where it says “the people of God” there, they will make it apply to the church! They spiritualize it; that is the reason I’m saying these words, for when I make these propositions that Israel refers not to a Gentile but to the descendents of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, you say, “Well, what a foolish thing to take time out to remind me of that!”
And then when I say the word, “Israel is always used in contradistinction to the church,” you say, “Well what a foolish thing he takes time out to say that to me. Haven’t I seen a synagogue, and don’t I know Jewish people?” I say it because of the entire flood of this world with the effusions of the theologians who identify Israel with the believers in the church, both the promises of the Old Testament prophets, and both these words here in the epistles of Paul, and finally their identification in the book of the Apocalypse, which we’re getting ready to study; really and actually, what God intends to do in the great end time and consummation of this world.
“Well now, preacher, let’s look at that and see whether Israel is identified with the church of God.” Let’s see how that word is used by the apostle Paul in the New Testament. Listen to it. There are three classes that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 10:32: “Give none offense, neither to the Jews,” to Israel, “nor to the Gentiles,” those that are not Israel, “nor to the church of God.” There are those three; the Jew, the Gentile, and the church member. Those are the three classes that are mentioned by the apostle Paul; Israel, Gentiles, and the church of God that is composed of both of them.
Now you will find in the use of the apostle Paul, you will find that there is an unbelieving Israel, and there is a spiritual Israel. There is an Israel after the flesh, and there is an Israel that believes in Christ and that is Christian. But always when he uses the word Israel he is referring to the descendents of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob who believe in Jesus, or the descendents of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob who do not believe in Jesus. But always where that word is used, it refers to the elect people of God; the Hebrew people; Israel after the flesh.
Now he will make a distinction, for example, between spiritual Israel that believes in Jesus, that accepts their Messiah, and unbelieving Israel who is blind and “Israel after the flesh.” Now listen to him as he will write in the ninth chapter of the Book of Romans. “For they are not all Israel,” chapter 9, verse 6:
For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children.
now verse 27—
Isaiah cried concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.
Some of them are going to be saved. Though the great mass of them do not accept the Lord, some of them are going to be saved.
Then verse , “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness” [Romans 9:31]. He makes a distinction there between those who are trying to work out their own salvation by keeping the laws—clean, unclean, ceremonial righteousness, doing good deeds, and doing philanthropic acts—the Israel that is trying to work out their own salvation by the works of the law, and the Israel that is saved by faith in Jesus Christ. For he says, following through that in chapter 10 of the Book of Romans, “I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” [Romans 10:2].
Now we must close that part of this discussion. That word Israel never refers to the church, and it never refers to Gentiles, but it always refers to the descendents of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And in one instance Paul invokes a benediction upon spiritual Israel, that is, the Jewish people who accept Jesus as their Savior [Galatians 6:14-15]. In the benediction spoken in the sixth chapter of Galatians and the sixteenth verse, he says “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” [Galatians 6:16]. “And upon the Israel of God”: after he has spoken a benediction upon those who accept Jesus and believe in the Lord Jesus, then he singles out in the congregation Jewish people who have accepted the Lord Jesus as their Savior. And he invokes a special benediction upon the Israel of God, the Jewish people who have accepted Jesus as their Savior and Messiah and Lord and who have been saved [Galatians 6:16].
Now God’s remembrance of His people: in the passage of Scripture that you read, Romans 11:26, “And so all Israel shall be saved”; God’s remembrance of His people. You know, it’s a remarkable thing how much God is like a man, and how much a man is like God. And if you want to know what God is like, God points to Himself in His deity, in His glory, in His wonder. God exhibits Himself, He reveals Himself, He presents Himself as a man; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and we beheld Him in all of His glory” [John 1: 1, 14], God in the flesh. So if we want to see what God is like, let’s look at a man, the Man Christ Jesus.
Isn’t it a wonderful thing, this characteristic you find in Christ, who is God in the flesh? [John 1:1, 14]. Isn’t it a wonderful thing this characteristic, that His heart is moved toward His brethren, toward His people? Well, let’s look at that a minute. It says, in the seventh chapter of the Gospel of John and verse 5, that when the Lord was going up into Jerusalem, there His brethren after the flesh—talking about Simon, and Joseph, and Jude, and James, His brethren—they mocked Him and they ridiculed Him, “For,” says the Bible, “neither did His brethren believe on Him” [John 7:5].
In the days of His flesh, in the days of our Lord, in the days of His ministry, those boys who were His half-brothers, called “the brethren of the Lord,” they didn’t believe in Him. They didn’t believe He was God incarnate, the Word made flesh [John 1:1, 14], and they rejected Him and they ridiculed Him [John 7:5]. And yet, and yet, in the first chapter of the Book of Acts, in that prayer meeting before Pentecost, there you have singled out, there was His mother, and there were His brethren [Acts 1:14].
And in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts you will find that James the Lord’s brother is presiding over the conference in Jerusalem, and he is the pastor of the church in Jerusalem [Acts 15:13]. And in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts when Paul comes back from his tours and he brings alms to give to his people, you will find that he first presents them to James who is the pastor of the church [Acts 21:18]. And when you read in the Book of the New Testament you will find there an epistle of James the Lord’s brother [James 1:1-5:20], and you will find an epistle of Jude the brother of James and the Lord’s brother [Jude 1:1-25]. Well, how is it that these brethren who did not believe on Jesus [John 7:5], how is it they are leaders in the church, and preachers of the gospel, and they are guiding the helm of the Christian faith? How does that come about?
It comes about to the love of Jesus for His brethren. Before He went back to heaven, Paul tells us in the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter and the seventh verse, Paul says when He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7], He appeared to the disciples [1 Corinthians 15:7], and He appeared to Simon [1 Corinthians 15:5; Luke 24:34], and He appeared to above five hundred at one time [Matthew 28:16-20], and He appeared to James His brother [1 Corinthians 15:7]. He sought him out, and He spoke to James, and He won James to Himself, and He won the other brethren to Himself before He went back to glory [Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:7]. Aren’t you glad? Wouldn’t it have been a tragedy for the Savior to go back to heaven, and His own brethren despise Him and ridicule Him and die in unbelief? Before He went back to glory, He won his own brethren to the faith. I’m glad. That’s God, and the Lord will remember His brethren.
I haven’t time to read these passages, but the remembrance of God for His people; Leviticus 26:42 to the end of the chapter; [Jeremiah 29:13-14]; Jeremiah 31 the entire chapter [Jeremiah 31:1-40], and especially the last part of it [Jeremiah 31:31-40]; Ezekiel 16 the last verses [Ezekiel 16:59-63]; and we come to the conversion of Israel, which I haven’t time even to speak of:
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 in Jerusalem … and the land shall mourn.
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 they shall say unto Him, What are these wounds in Thine hands? And He shall answer, These are which I was wounded in the house of My friends.
[Zechariah 13:1, 6]
And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem …
And the Lord God shall come and all His saints with Him …
And it shall come to pass that at evening it shall be light, and it shall be in that day that the Lord shall reign over all the earth.
[Zechariah 14:4, 5, 7, 9]
On and on.
That’s what Paul is referring to when in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, he says, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written There shall come out of Zion in Jerusalem the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” [Romans 11:26]; just as the Lord appeared to the apostle Paul before the time, as one born out of due time” [1 Corinthians 15:8] as an abortion before the time, as the Lord appeared to the apostle Paul and won him to faith in Jesus [Acts 9:3-18]. And just as the Lord appeared to His brother James and won Him to faith in Jesus [1 Corinthians 15:7]. So, and this will be the sermon next Sunday morning, how it’ll be, how it will come to pass, at the end time God is going to appear to His people [Revelation 19:11-16].
As Paul starts off the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, “I say then, Hath God cast away His people? God forbid” [Romans 11:1]. They are now in hardness, Israel after the flesh. Their hearts are calloused, and there’s a veil over their understanding, and their eyes are closed that they don’t see. But someday, someday Israel’s eyes will be opened, and the callous and the hardness of their hearts will be taken away, and someday they shall see the Lord in His beauty and in His glory, and they will accept Him [Romans 11:26], as we accept Him; our Savior, our Redeemer, our coming, reigning, glorious King [1 Timothy 6:15]. And even now God hath given us a remnant from them. Even now God hath saved some of them. Even now some of them see and believe. And some of the most devout Christians in the earth are the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and some of the great, great scholars that I read every week, whose books are on my shelves, were written by great Christian Jews.
I had placed in my hands this last week a translation of the New Testament, and the man introducing himself in the introduction says, “It is not often that you would find a translation of the New Testament by a son of Israel, but this is one.” One of God’s children has been saved out of his hardness, and out of his unbelief, and has translated the New Testament from Greek into our English language. “O,” and as Paul closed the eleventh chapter, “O the depth of the riches and the mercy of God in Christ Jesus” [Romans 11:33]. We must close.
And while we sing this song of appeal, somebody you, give your heart to Jesus. Somebody you, trust Him as your Savior this morning [Romans 10:9-10]. A family you, put your life with us in the church. As God shall say the word and make the appeal, come and stand by me: “Here, pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to the Lord.” Or “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, and all of us are coming together.” As God shall lay the appeal before you and open the door, walk through it. “And here I come, preacher, and here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.