The Seed, Part 7

Gentiles Invited

TODAY, the religious world is quite accustomed to conferences and conventions. Representative groups meet to discuss their problems, make their plans, and for mutual encouragement. The first conference of Christ’s disciples was held in Jerusalem a short time after Pentecost. The apostles were the chief spokesmen at this assembly, and James seems to have been the chairman. These devoted followers of Jesus were confronted with the problem of what to do with respect to Gentile converts to Christianity in various places who were associating themselves with Jewish believers.

It is only as we acquaint ourselves with the background of this situation that we are able to understand why the acceptance of the Gospel of Christ by Gentiles should create a problem. From the time God made the promise to Abraham that his seed would become a channel of blessing to all the families of the earth, his natural descendants claimed the exclusive right to be the inheritors of that promise, and by God’s authority. Long centuries after that promise was made to Abraham, God said to his descendants, the nation of Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.”—Amos 3:2

The Jewish people had their exclusive position of favor with God further confirmed by Jesus, for when he sent out his disciples into the ministry he said to them, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”(Matt. 10:5,6) After Jesus was raised from the dead he commissioned his disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, but they did not easily grasp this broader concept of the divine plan. It required time and study, and a conference.—Matt. 28:19,20; Acts 1:7,8

While the promise made to Abraham envisioned the ultimate blessing of all the families of the earth, the privilege of being the seed through which the promised blessings would reach all mankind was made conditional upon obedience to the Lord and faithfulness in the doing of his will. Through Moses, Israel’s lawgiver, the Lord said, “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.—Exod. 19:5,6

The final test of Israel as a nation came when Jesus presented himself to them as the Messiah. Had they been truly obedient to the Law they would have been prepared in heart and mind to receive him and to become associated with him as a people in dispensing the blessings to the world which God had promised to their father Abraham. But as a people, or nation, they failed in this final test. Concerning this we read, “He [Jesus] came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”—John 1:11,12

Among those faithful ones of Israel who did receive Jesus were his apostles. But, to begin with, they did not fully realize that the number of worthy individuals of their own people who did accept Jesus was not sufficient to make up the predetermined number of those who with Jesus would be the seed of promise, and that the remainder of this number was to be made up of believing Gentiles.

Actually, from the divine standpoint no one could be a member of this exclusive company simply because of parentage, although the descendants of Abraham were given the first opportunity to qualify. The qualifying condition for all is wholehearted obedience to the divine will, regardless of what the cost of obedience might be.

This obedience to the Lord’s will is described by Paul as a baptism, or burial, into Christ, which is the acceptance of his headship in our lives. Paul wrote, “Ye are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”—Gal. 3:26-29

Paul explained that when God made that wonderful promise to Abraham concerning the seed, that Jesus Christ was actually the one referred to. (Gal. 3:16) Jesus, before his visit to earth, was the beloved Son of God, and has continued to be such. He gave Jewish believers the power to become sons of God. Now Paul includes believing Gentiles also: “Ye are all children of God by faith.”

Romans 8:17 reads, “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” Here again the heirship to the Abrahamic promise is referred to, for that is the great prize God has offered to those who qualify through faithfulness to him. Christ, as the beloved Son of God, was the chief heir. We, as sons of God by faith and obedience, are joint-heirs.

The first Gentile to accept Christ, and through faith to be brought into the family of God to be a joint-heir of the promise made to Abraham, was Cornelius, leader of an Italian band of soldiers. The record is that Cornelius was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house.” He gave also “much alms to the people and prayed to God alway.”—Acts 10:1,2

Cornelius’ devotion to the God of Israel did not in itself constitute him a son of God, and heir of the Abrahamic promise. In addition to this it was necessary that he accept Christ and receive the Holy Spirit. So in his own due time God directed Peter to visit Cornelius and minister the Gospel of Christ to him that he might have the opportunity to accept.

We read that “about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God” visited Cornelius, and said to him, “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the seaside: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.”—Acts 10:3-6

Cornelius followed these instructions, and dispatched three messengers to Joppa to get Peter. (vss. 7,19) Meanwhile, the Lord prepared Peter for their visit. He “went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice spoke unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”—Acts 10:9-15

While he still wondered how to interpret this dream, the men sent by Cornelius arrived at the home where Peter was living, and inquired for him. He met them and learned the purpose of their visit. While Peter had never ministered to Gentiles, he agreed to return with these men to meet Cornelius. Evidently he began to see the meaning of his dream, which was that now Gentiles who previously had been looked upon by the Jewish people as unclean and outside the pale of God’s favor were, upon the basis of faith, to be made clean and acceptable. Because of this he was willing to visit Cornelius and to preach the Gospel to him.

Reaching the home of Cornelius, he “found many that were come together. And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (vss. 27,28) Then Cornelius related his experience in being visited by an angel who instructed him to send for Peter.

After hearing this explanation as to why Cornelius had sent for him, “Peter openeth his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:34,35) Continuing, Peter presented the truth concerning Christ, and the important position he occupied in God’s great plan of salvation for all mankind.

The record is that while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his household in evidence of the fact that they had been accepted into the divine family even as were the Jewish disciples at Pentecost. And this was just the beginning of Gentiles accepting the Gospel. It was a very revealing experience for Peter, and later, when the apostles met in conference at Jerusalem to decide what should be done about the Gentile believers who were now coming among the Jewish believers in various places, he related this experience of the fact that God’s blessing was truly upon this new, and to their Jewish minds, astonishing development.—Acts 15:6-9

Paul and Barabbas were also at the conference and testified “what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. And after they had held their peace, James answered saying, Men and brethren hearken unto me: Simeon [Simon Peter] hath declared how at the first God did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name.” (vss. 12-14) It should be noted from this statement that the divine purpose then in having the Gospel preached to the Gentiles was not to bring about a mass conversion of the entire non-Jewish world, but merely to take out of them “a people for his name,” or those to be taken into the divine family as sons of God, and heirs of the Abrahamic promise.

This work of taking out from the Gentiles a people for his name has already taken nearly two thousand years, and it is still in progress. Meanwhile countless millions have, in a nominal sense, associated themselves with the name of Christ, the vast majority of whom have had no conception whatever of the divine purpose centered in him, or of what it really means to be one of his footstep followers. The masses of nominal Christians have not known that Jesus was sent into the world in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham concerning a seed who would bless all the families of the earth. Not knowing this, they of course have not been aware that by suffering and dying with Jesus, his followers qualify to be joint-heirs with him in the inheritance of that promise to Abraham.

However, the work of calling, selecting, and proving those who will constitute the people for his name has steadily gone on, unnoticed and unknown to the world. The world has not known these in their true light, even as it did not know Jesus. (I John 3:1) Many times they have been persecuted by the world and by the worldly churches, even as Jesus was persecuted. The enmity which the Creator said would exist between the seed of Satan and the seed of the woman has often led to acute suffering by these, even as it led to the crucifixion of Jesus.

Eventually, this phase of the divine plan for the recovery of the human race from sin and death will be completed, and then will follow the glorious consummation of that plan. James, the chairman of the conference, explained this as he continued: “To this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”—Acts 15:15-18

The tabernacle of David which is rebuilt after the people for the Lord’s name are taken out from the Gentiles is in reality the house of David, the divine rulership which was established in his family, and guaranteed, upon the basis of mercy, to remain forever. Isaiah 16:5 reads, “In mercy shall the throne be established: and he [Jesus, the antitypical David] shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness.”

It will be then that Jesus will fulfill that wonderful promise of Isaiah 9:7, which reads, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even forever.” It will be then that the typical kingdom of David will merge into the antitypical kingdom of the Messiah, the seed of promise. And it will be through the agencies of that kingdom in the hands of Jesus and his joint-heirs that all the families of the earth will be blessed.

This indeed will be the purpose in building again the tabernacle of David which is fallen down. James expressed it in this way: “That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.”—Acts 15:17

God’s promise concerning the seed not only gave assurance that he would provide a Deliverer, but also that blessings would flow to all the families of the earth through the promised seed. This universal scope of the divine plan was reemphasized at the Jerusalem conference. James, quoting from Amos 9:11,12, gave assurance that the ruling house of David would be reestablished in the hands of the Christ, the promised seed, the purpose of this being that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, including all the Gentiles, even as the Prophet Amos had foretold.

This is a promise of God which applies to all the natural descendants of Abraham who have not qualified to be a part of the seed of blessing, and it applies also to all the Gentiles, including those in lands where, throughout the centuries, the Gospel of Christ has been preached, or as James states it, those upon whom the Lord’s name has been called. Thus, following the present age in the divine plan when the people for his name is being called out from the world, will come the age during which the opportunity of life through Christ will be extended to all mankind, Jews and Gentiles.

In the eleventh chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul likens the unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ day to branches broken off from an olive tree; and the Gentiles who throughout the age have been called out from the world to be a people for his name to wild branches which are grafted into the olive tree to take the places of the broken-off branches. Then he explains that a Deliverer shall come out of Zion, and shall “turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” (vs. 26) Paul explains that the result of this will be that all Israel shall be saved.

Mount Zion in Jerusalem was the seat of King David’s government, or, more properly, the Lord’s government in which David represented the Lord as ruler in Israel. When David’s throne is reestablished with Jesus as King, it will be as though Mount Zion again exists as the center of divine government, and thus it is represented in the prophecies. Psalm 2:6 reads, “Yet have I [Jehovah] set my King [Jesus] upon my holy hill of Zion.”

Revelation 14:1 shows Jesus as the Lamb which had been slain for the redemption of the world, standing on Mount Zion, and “with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” Thus again it is shown that the people for his name will be associated with Jesus as the promised seed, and will share with him the kingly honor, authority, and power symbolized by Mount Zion.

And it will be out of Zion that deliverance will come to all Israel. And the ‘all Israel’ thus to be saved are the former unbelievers of this people, unbelievers upon whom the Lord will bestow mercy. For Paul explains that God has considered them all in unbelief, that he might show mercy to all. (vs. 32) It will include those who have died as well as those who will be living at the time these blessings of enlightenment and life begin to be showered upon mankind.

Jesus said to the unbelievers of his day who persecuted him to death, “Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (Matt. 23:39) All of those to whom Jesus directed these words fell asleep in death. For them to say, as prophesied by Jesus, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” it will be necessary that they be raised from the dead. The Apostle Paul realized this, hence his explanation, “What shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead.”—Rom. 11:15

Contemporaneous with Abraham during part of the time God was dealing with him, promising that through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed, were the Sodomites. These were a wicked people, so wicked, in fact, that God had them destroyed. Nevertheless, these are to be among all the families of the earth who will be blessed through the promised Seed. In a promise to Israel of the resurrection, Ezekiel 16:55 reads, “When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate, then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate.”

Not only will Jews and Gentiles be raised from the dead to receive the blessings which the Lord has promised, but, beginning with the natural seed of Abraham, they will be enlightened concerning Christ and the provision of life which the Creator has made through him. Isaiah 60:1-3 reads, “Arise, shine; for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall rise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”

Jesus is the true light which yet will enlighten every man that has ever come into the world. (John 1:9) Associated with him as the seed of Abraham will be his faithful disciples from among both Jews and Gentiles, for to these Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14) Together with Jesus these will constitute the “Sun of Righteousness” which will rise and enlighten all mankind, beginning with the natural descendants of Abraham.—Mal. 4:2

Concerning that future time, now near, when all the families of the earth will be enlightened concerning the true God, and concerning Jesus their Redeemer and Savior, the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:9) The Prophet Zephaniah (3:9) wrote that the Lord would turn to the people “a pure language [message], that they may all call upon the name of the Lord to serve him with one consent.”

Isaiah 40:5 reads, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” One of the ways in which the glory of the Lord will be revealed to mankind is to be through the restoration of the dead to life. Just before the awakening of Lazarus from the sleep of death, Jesus said to Martha, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (John 11:40) Surely if the awakening from death of one individual was a display of God’s glory, will not that glory be seen throughout all the earth when those of every nation, now asleep in death, begin to be awakened by divine power, as the Scriptures show they will?

When James as chairman of that Jerusalem conference summed up the findings of the brethren, he added, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts 15:18) James knew this because God had foretold his works from the beginning of the world. In the Garden of Eden he spoke of the seed that would bruise the serpent’s head. This seed was Christ. It was this same seed that God referred to in his promise to Abraham, the seed that was to bless all the families of the earth.

It was this seed which would be a great king to rule the earth from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. (Ps. 72:8) This was the king who would sit on the throne of David, together with his faithful followers, the people for his name, who will live and reign with him a thousand years. It will be through the agencies of that kingdom with Jesus at its head that the foretold blessings of peace and joy and life will be dispensed to the whole sin-sick and dying world.

Yes, God foreknew and foretold his wonderful works on behalf of the children of men! Let us rejoice in the hope that his promises set before us, promises which assure the faithful followers of Jesus that they are to be associated with him in the rulership of the kingdom, and promises which assure us that mankind in general will be given an opportunity, through belief and obedience, to be restored to perfection of human life here on the earth.

Truly, ours is a great and wonderful God!

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