The Remnant of Israel in the Church Age:
Theological and Practical Considerations for the Church
By Steven C. Ger, Th.M
Director Sojourner Ministries
Although one is hard-pressed to even find the word “remnant” in the index of many fine theologies, of dispensational orientation or otherwise, the theology of remnant is crucial to a proper understanding of the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers. The concept of remnant is studded throughout the Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, and has direct bearing on no less imposing a subject than the very faithfulness of God.
Definition of Main Terms
The concept of remnant can be Biblically defined as that continuous portion, be it large or small, of the community of ethnic Israel which has been supernaturally preserved and redeemed through various divine judgments throughout various dispensations. This preservation is on account of God’s sovereign choice, or election, and not by virtue of human effort. Although not selected for salvation on the basis of merit, the remnant does, however, necessarily exhibit faith in the object of God’s provision and will receive ample future divine blessing. Those Jews who exhibit saving faith are called the remnant of Israel and are a continuous and distinct subset within the nation.
Jewishness is defined Biblically as being a member of the nation of Israel, i.e., a physical descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If one is a physical descendent of these three patriarchs, then he is irrevocably Jewish. One’s particular religion has no bearing on Jewishness; one can believe or not believe anything and that would not change Jewish status. Biblically, Jewishness is a matter of birth not faith, genealogy not theology, blood not beliefs.
Israel is defined as the nation of ethnic Jews, descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, chosen for eternity as a particular people by God at Sinai. If one is a physical descendant of these three patriarchs, then by Biblical definition he is irrevocably part of the nation of Israel.
The Remnant in the Relation to Judaism
According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, there is within Judaism a parallel theological concept of “remnant of Israel” (shearith Israel) which denotes the belief that a faithful remnant would survive whatever divine catastrophic judgments were brought upon the community because of its disobedience. Shearith Israel is a popular name for synagogues, and a daily prayer is said for God to guard and protect this remnant of Israel.
Seemingly every zealous sect throughout the history of Israel, often simultaneously and competitively, has seen or views itself today as the righteous remnant, true Israel. The Essenes of Qumran considered themselves the true remnant, as did their contemporaries, the Pharisees, and as do the varying sects within Orthodox and Chasidic Judaism today.
The Theme of Remnant in the Old Testament
The theology of remnant is
throughout both testaments and is an essential yet often overlooked aspect of God’s program for Jew and Gentile in every dispensation, but particularly in this present age. It can be maintained that from the very beginning of His relationship with His creation, the Lord’s activity is primarily devoted to the salvation and sustenance of a series of preserved remnants from various faithless and disobedient segments of humanity who have undergone various cataclysmic judgments and disasters. God has always chosen to save and primarily work with remnants. The pattern of God’s choice from the general to the particular is played out repeatedly in Scripture.
- Noah – Noah’s family was a faithful remnant supernaturally preserved through a divine cataclysm on the basis of divine grace (Gen. 7:23).
- Abraham – From out of all the nations God sovereignly and graciously chose Abraham with whom to make an unprecedented covenant (Gen. 12:1-3).
- Lot – Lot’s family was a faithful remnant supernaturally preserved through a divine cataclysm on the basis of divine grace (Gen. 19:29).
- Isaac – Abraham had two sons, but only one was sovereignly and graciously chosen as a child of promise (Gen. 17:19).
- Jacob – Isaac had twin sons, but only one was sovereignly and graciously chosen as a child of promise (Gen. 28:13-15).
- Joseph – Joseph was sovereignly and graciously chosen in order to save the family of Israel from disaster (Gen. 45:7).
- A remnant of Israel was sovereignly preserved from divine judgment following the young nation’s apostasy at Sinai (Ex. 32).
- Caleb and Joshua were the only members of the Exodus generation to enter the land of promise, following divine judgment (Num. 14:38).
- Moses prophesies to Israel that when following eventual divine judgment, a remnant will be sovereignly and graciously preserved and will return to the land (Deut. 30:1-10)
- Elijah was reminded that the Lord had sovereignly and graciously preserved 7,000 Israelites who had not apostasized (1 Kings 19:18).
- Upon the divine judgment of Assyrian conquest of Israel, the Lord sovereignly and graciously preserved a remnant from the northern tribes (Ezek. 37:19).
- Upon the divine judgment of Babylonian exile, the Lord sovereignly and graciously preserved a remnant from the southern tribes and oversaw their return to their land (Zech. 8:5).
- God has sovereignly and graciously called a remnant from Israel to receive salvation through the Messiah (Rom. 11:5).
- God has sovereignly and graciously called a remnant from the nations as His people to receive salvation through the Messiah (Acts 15:14).
- Upon the divine judgment of the Roman dispersion, the Lord sovereignly and graciously preserved a remnant of Jews.
- During the divine cataclysmic judgment of the Tribulation, the Lord will sovereignly and graciously preserve a remnant (Rev. 7:4).
Ray Pritz has provided a cogent analysis of the Old Testament remnant of Israel concept in relation to the Messiah. He sees a remnant cycle consisting of divine judgment and the interweaving of divine preservation of the remnant with the coming divine agent, the Messiah. This connection can most clearly be seen throughout the prophet Isaiah, particularly in the section known as the “Book of Immanuel” (Isaiah 7-12), as well as several other prophetic passages (Jer. 23:3-6, Micah 4-5 et al.). In this remnant cycle, judgment is sovereignly determined on account of Israel’s disobedience, yet the promise of sovereign intervention and eventual restoration on behalf of a faithful remnant within Israel provides hope. While it is the faithful of Israel whom God chooses to include within the preserved remnant, their faithfulness results from God’s gracious choice.
God’s choice of the remnant generally has wider repercussions and benefits for the unbelieving remainder of the nation. The Bible indicates that it is on behalf of the remnant that God preserves the nation of Israel (Is. 65:8). It may even be argued that
reason Israel has been restored and preserved in this century as a nation state is for the sake of the righteous remnant of Jewish believers enjoying the privilege of residing there.
The Theme of Remnant in the New Testament
The great theme of remnant in the Hebrew Scripture finds specific reference within the New Testament. Although the actual word for remnant, leimma (leimma), only appears twice (Rom 9:27; 11:5), the New Testament is replete with inferences to the concept of God’s gracious preservation of a remnant of Israel.
The concept of the remnant of Israel first surfaces prominently within the teaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:9) where he indicates that simply being the physical seed of Abraham, ethnic Israel, is insufficient for personal salvation.
This theme is further developed by Paul in Romans 2:28-29. He indicates that there is a subset of Israel within the nation of Israel. He goes on to indicate that, in fact, although the nation in its entirety is obviously and intrinsically the physical seed of Abraham, in other words, Jewish, not every individual Jew is considered by God to be the authentic spiritual seed of Abraham as well.
This is not to say that Paul is indicating that believing Gentiles are some sort of “true Israel.” Believing Gentiles are only the spiritual seed of Abraham, not the physical seed as well. Paul is describing a purely Jewish phenomenon within the nation of Israel. He is contrasting Jews who believe and Jews who do not believe. He is saying that there is a subset of true Israel within the whole of Israel. As Zaretsky notes, “Each individual Israelite needed faith to participate in God’s blessing. Physical birth alone could provide only biological life.” Not every Jew is a member of the remnant of Israel. Paul is setting up the argument which he will further develop in Romans 11, that Jewish believers in Jesus comprise the current remnant of Israel.
In Romans 3:1-3, Paul asks two “teaser” questions which he will answer in Romans 9-11. He asks and partially answers, completely in the affirmative, whether in this present age there is any advantage to being Jewish. He says there are many advantages, but only lists one, being entrusted with the transmission of God’s revelation. The remainder of the list of advantages await chapter 9. The second “teaser” question Paul poses is whether the faithfulness of God is invalidated by Jewish unbelief in Jesus. The answer to this question awaits his exposition in chapters 9-11.
In the first 5 verses of Romans 9, Paul continues to answer the question posed in 3:1-3; specifically, what are current privileges of Israel’s national election? Paul has already answered that there are many privileges, but has only listed one. Now he enumerates them. In addition to being the channels of God’s revelation, the Jews are the national, firstborn son of God; witnesses of the manifest glory of God in the Temple; recipients of four unconditional covenants, which
grant perpetual title to the land of Israel; recipients of one conditional covenant, the Torah; a kingdom of God’s priests; recipients of divine messianic and national kingdom promises; possessors of a rich genealogical pedigree which courses back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and the well-spring of the Messiah Himself.
Yet with all these ongoing privileges, the majority of Jews did not respond. This might seem peculiar for those less familiar with Israel’s history. Paul calls the unbelieving Jewish people his family (9:3) and expresses anguish at their state of unbelief (1-2). Yet Jewish unbelief should not be entirely unexpected. Paul again takes up the continued potency of God’s faithfulness by teaching that it is unnecessary for every individual Jew to believe, because God has called to Himself a remnant from within Israel by His sovereign and gracious choice. He returns to the point he made in chapter 2:28-29, that physical descent from Abraham is insufficient. Physical and spiritual descent are both necessary for membership in true, authentic Israel (6-7).
Following an illustration of the insufficiency of physical descent from Abraham alone by citing the choice of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau, it is in verse 27, quoting the prophet Isaiah (10:22), that Paul uses for the first time that to which his exposition on Israel had been leading, the word, remnant, thereby linking his teaching with the Old Testament’s theology of remnant.
Romans 11 provides the climax of Paul’s explanatory argument of proving the faithfulness of God to Israel via the preservation of a remnant. Paul is careful to refer to Israel as God’s people (Rom. 11:1-2). He asks whether God has rejected His people, Israel. The question is phrased in such a grammatical fashion as to illicit an immediate emphatic negative answer. A response such as, “Are you kidding? No way!!! Israel, even unbelieving Israel remain God’s chosen people. I stutter? For I myself, an Israelite, am exhibit A.”
In all, Paul provides four temporal reasons why Israel as a nation has not been divinely rejected: one timeless reason, as well as one reason each from past and present experience and future expectation.
- The timeless reason is God’s previous election of national Israel. God’s sovereign foreknowledge, by definition, sustains His choices (Rom. 11:2).
- The reason from the present is the salvation of Paul himself (Rom. 11:1). If God had rejected Israel, what was he, with a less than stellar track record regarding the church, doing here? “If there is even one faithful Israelite, then God can be said to be faithful to his promises.”
- The reason from the past is that God has always worked with a remnant of Israel. Paul builds this case on the example of Elijah. Jewish believers are simply the latest manifestation of this phenomenon. There is intensive continuity between consecutive remnant stages throughout the history of Israel. There is always a faithful remnant of Israel, large or small, majority or minority, to sustain the nation (Rom. 11:3-4).
- The reason from the future is that Paul’s high expectation of Jewish response to the gospel through the Gentiles indicates that God is still actively working with Israel (Rom. 11:11-15).
Paul uses the olive tree to magnificently illustrate his point (Rom 11:16-24). The tree itself should be identified as the traditional dispensational “place of blessing”, or better, ,if clumsier, “a saving program
based on Israel’s covenants.” The roots which nourish the tree are the unconditional covenants given to Israel, prominently, the Abrahamic Covenant from which the other covenants flow. There are three types of branches, two of which are natural, one of which is unnatural. The natural branches both represent ethnic Israel, one branch of which is the believing remnant, the other, the unbelieving majority. The unbelieving Jewish branches are broken off. The believing Jewish branches remain. Unnatural branches, representing believing Gentiles, are grafted into the tree, God’s place of blessing . The believing Jewish and Gentile branches adhere to the tree by means of faith in Messiah.
He warns the Gentile branches not to boast against the Jewish branches that were cut off through unbelief. Those branches are currently being “stored in water,” kept moist for sovereign reinclusion at a later date. The tree is roomy enough for every branch. It needn’t be stressed that recently
Gentile branches need only look across the tree to see the mighty, ancient Jewish branches of the remnant which have on the tree .
Paul provides the reason for the natural branches’ recent inclusion in the tree. Gentiles have been saved in order to provoke unbelieving Jews to jealousy (Rom. 11:11-15). God’s cycle of evangelism is here laid out: Jews unbelief, Gentiles respond to God, Gentiles provoke Jews, Jews respond to God. A win/win situation, and God’s faithfulness to His covenant people is vindicated before the
The olive tree of Rom. 11:16-24 is the most detailed functional illustration of the relationship of the Church to Israel and Gentile believers to Jewish believers.
Ephesians 3:6 explains that one of the mysteries of the church is that believing Gentiles are co-heirs and co-participants with believing Israel (the remnant) of the Abrahamic Covenant’s spiritual blessings. These blessings are relationship with God, salvation through Messiah and union with Him through the Spirit. Paul is sharing that believing Gentiles have been raised to the spiritual status of believing Israel and now share in many (but not all) of their privileges. Together, believing Jews and believing Gentiles are members of a newly created community which transcends yet does not eradicate their national or historical distinctions, nor their social and sexual distinctions (Gal. 3:28).
Paul’s theology of remnant is seen again in Galatians 6:15-16. After again noting that the church is mysteriously a new creation of God composed of believing ethnic Jews and Gentiles (see also Eph. 2:15), he then contrasts the Jewish remnant with the Gentile
s believers by referring to the former as the “Israel of God.” This is the only such specific reference in Scripture, but is, as has been seen, far from the sole reference to the remnant concept.
Together, Rom. 11, Eph. 2:11-19, 3:6, Gal. 3:28, 6:15-16 demonstrate that Paul views the maintenance of separate cultural identities as essential to proving the supernaturally unifying nature of Christ’s work.
Theological Reconsiderations Concerning The Remnant
The Remnant within Classic Dispensational Theology
Dispensationalism, as with all theological systems, attempts to categorize and systematize the revelation of God. Each particular system’s weakness is revealed by what happens to that data which does not
neatly into the constructs, grids and containers of that theology. Theologians hate tensions, antinomies and, above all, squishy facts that do not seem to fit into one categorical box or another. The remnant of Israel is This section, perhaps the most controversial, must begin with a disclaimer. What I am proposing is a revisitation of a particular poorly developed area within Dispensationalism, not Dispensationalism as a system. These views should in no way be interpreted as advocating Progressive Dispensationalism.
Much of what is being discussed can be also found within Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s massive and comprehensive Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology. It was
ing to discover that Fruchtenbaum had arrived at many of conclusions ahead of , the same texts.
Israel’s glorious past and future figure most prominently throughout the traditional dispensational system, yet it seems that only the theological equivalent of “lipservice” is given to the realities of Israel in this present dispensation.
Two classic, decades-long DTS textbooks will suffice for examination
. Dr. Chafer’s Systematic Theology and Dr. Pentecost’s Things to Come. These particular works were chosen, not on the basis of being the most contemporary presentations of dispensational systematics, but on the basis of continued, widespread usage . In Pentecost’s classic Things To Come, we see how the contemporary manifestation of the remnant is conspicuously absent within foundational Dispensationalism.
After the day of Pentecost and until the rapture we find the church…but no spiritual Israel. After the rapture we find no church, but a true or spiritual Israel again.
Pentecost is denying the very existence of a present remnant, no true Israel in this dispensation whatsoever, contra Paul (Rom. 11), contra Peter (1 Peter 2:1-10).
apostles understood themselves to be the remnant.
From the time of Christ’s rejection by Israel until the time when God deals specifically with Israel again in the seventieth week it is not possible to refer to a remnant of the nation Israel. In the body of Christ all national distinctions disappear. All Jews who are saved are not saved into a national relationship, but into a relationship to Christ in that body of believers…There is no continuing remnant of Israel with whom God is particularly dealing today…Because that nation is now blinded, God can not have a remnant within the nation.
Jewish believers neither lose ethnicity nor nationality. The whole point of what Paul argues in Romans 11 is to demonstrate that a contemporary remnant currently is manifesting itself, as usual. Without a remnant, there is no Israel of God (Gal 6:16) and the promises of God have been voided, leaving God unfaithful indeed.
It goes beyond the Biblical text to explain away Jewish believers’ current enjoyment of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant by denying that they are members of the remnant of Israel. “By definition, this group (Jewish believers) bears a dual identity as both a remnant within Israel the people and as a particular community within the body of Christ
When God again deals
with the nation Israel, salvation will be offered on the basis of the blood of Christ.
When has God ceased dealing with Israel? And is not salvation
offered to them on the basis of Christ’s blood? One would get the impression from reading Things to Come that within the current church age, there are no Jews getting saved.
As long as the church is on the earth there are none saved to a special Jewish relationship. All who are saved are saved to a position in the body of Christ.
Pentecost creates a false dichotomy. He is confusing believing Gentiles with the Church. In the passion to keep Israel and the Church distinct, Pentecost has obliterated God’s remnant in this age.
God will first conclude his work for the Gentiles in the period of Israel’s dispersion; then he will return to bring in the promised blessings for Israel.
The church is manifestly an interruption of God’s program for Israel…this mystery program must itself be brought to a conclusion before God can resume His dealing with the nation Israel.
Jewish believers are like the tiny Whos in Whoville in Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who, shouting at the top of their lungs, “We are here, we are here, we are here!” The tendency
among some Dispensationalists, who know better, use “believing Gentiles” and “the church” interchangeably.
Israel and the Church
that God is working with Jews during this dispensation, within the church and even outside of it as a nation. “Yahweh continues to be revealed in Israel, both within and apart from the body of believers…God is still revealed through the existence of the people of Israel, just as in times past.”
To teach that within the present dispensation God is only dealing with the church is declaring that God only works with one group of people at a time. Biblically, why should we limit God to working with one group at a time? Does God only conduct with one hand? Is His arm too short? Is He not ambidextrous?
Even a poor conductor can conduct different sections of his orchestra using two hands simultaneously. Unbelieving Israel is
set aside or on the back burner in this dispensation. God has been steadily working his way, orchestrating lives, generations and historical events to the crescendo level that is presently beginning to break out.
wa retainingboth ,
The Remnant and the Abrahamic Covenant
programs and ideas for Jewish evangelism.n
upport Jewish missions and teaching ministries (Rom. 15:27).
- Plan a church Israel tour.a
- Celebrate the messianic fulfillment of a Jewish
such as Passover or Tabernacles. Invite a Jewish ministry to assist
- Visit or even financially help support a local messianic congregatio
- Invite the worship team from your local messianic congregation to play in your church one Sunday
- Encourage the Jewish believers in your congregation.n being notarenase Jewish brethrenany
- particularly ichI,.” (Lk. 2:21; Phil. 3:5). This slogan is particularly apt regarding circumcision.
- Similarly, create and implement a Bar Mitzvah/Bat Mitzvah celebration within the church for Jewish believing 13-year-olds. Confirmation catechisms and the like need not substitute for following the Biblical customs of our ancestors.
Messianic congregations would probably hold less appeal for Jewish believers if more churches implemented these above suggestions, allowing Jewish believers to express themselves as Jews instead of feeling compelled to exchange their customs, their heritage for post-Biblical Gentile counterparts. The liturgy of most church traditions, of “high” or “low” orientation, is replete with substitutions, equivalents and copies of traditional Hebrew customs and ceremonies. If the ancient Jewish customs are shadows of things to come and all have their essence in Christ Himself (Col. 2:16-17), their enactment can only be of benefit to the church (Eph. 4:12-13).
The greatest example of God’s historic and ongoing faithfulness is to be found in the preservation of a believing remnant. From the times of the patriarchs
through the coming tribulation, His sovereign and gracious preservation of the remnant (Rom. 9-11). It is the enduring, organic and growing remnant of Israel, the Israel of God, which is the beacon of God’s faithfulness throughout history, past, present and future.
conclude by joining with Arnold Fruchtenbaum in his call for a new entry to be added to our systematic theologies as a corrective
, of Israelology .
 Meyer, Lester V. “Remnant.” Anchor Bible Dictionary. vol. 5: p670
 Schrenk, G. “Leimma.” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich. one vol. ed. 1985
 “Remnant of Israel.” Encyclopedia Judaica. vol.14: p70
 Pritz, Ray A. “The Remnant of Israel and the Messiah.” Israel the Land and the People. Ed. H. Wayne House. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998. pp61-73
 Zaretsky, Tuvya. “Israel the People.” Israel the Land and the People. Ed. H. Wayne House. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998. p45
 Burns, J. Lanier. “The Future of Ethnic Israel in Romans 11.” Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church. Eds. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. p207
 Walvoord, John F., Donald K. Campbell and Roy B. Zuck, eds. Chafer Systematic Theology – Abridged. Wheaton: Victor, 1988. This edition, although greatly abridged is the one currently in greater circulation.
 Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974.
 Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Vol. 6:p83. As quoted in Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology. Tustin: Ariel, 1993.
 Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. Israelology. Tustin: Ariel, 1993. p630
 Walvoord, et al. Vol. 2: p243
Ryrie, SCharles C. Dispensationalism Today. Chicago: Moody, 1996. p44
 House, H. Wayne. Ed. Israel the Land and the People. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998. p10
 Seif, Jeffrey L. The Evolution of A Revolution. Lanham: University, 1994. p52.