Making Israel Jealous and Saving a Remnant
In Rom 9–11, the apostle Paul articulates his faith that God has not nullified his promises with Israel but rather will keep them despite their present unbelief. Our purposes here is to highlight God’s present activity with Israel that will culminate in their salvation at the return of Jesus. Paul cites the following prophecy about God making Israel jealous through extending his salvation to the Gentiles:
But again I ask, didn’t Israel understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous by those who are not a nation; with a senseless nation I will provoke you to anger.” And Isaiah is even bold enough to say, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I became well known to those who did not ask for me. (Rom 10:19–20; cf. 10:21—11:10)
Paul cites two Old Covenant prophets, Moses and Isaiah, and their prophecies concerning that grace would be found by others (i.e. the church). Paul responds to Moses’s and Isaiah’s prophecies exclaiming God’s faithfulness to his promise to Israel:
I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make Israel jealous. Now if their transgression means riches for the world and their defeat means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full restoration bring? Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Seeing that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I could provoke my people to jealousy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” . . . For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (Rom 11:11–15, 25)
God is using the salvation of Gentiles as a means to provoke Israel to come to salvation, saving a remnant at this time. God is not inactive with Israel. He has not postponed his work with Israel absolutely. Rather, he is actively making them jealous at this time by extending his grace to the Gentiles. Further, while he is extending his grace to the Gentiles, he is saving Jews, because “a partial hardening has happened to Israel.” This partial hardening will be removed “until the full number of the Gentiles has come” (Rom 11:25), which at that time “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26). Paul and the Old prophets, therefore, believed that God works with both Israel and the church simultaneously in this present age.
While God continues to work with distinct Israel, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah prophesied that God would have Israel as a witness to establish the church: “Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant, to reestablish the tribes of Jacob, and restore the remnant of Israel? I will make you a light to the nations, so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth” (Isa 49:6). Some may object that this prophecy is for the millennium. But that objection is invalid because in the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas refer to this prophecy as a fulfillment in the present as a commandment from the Lord to evangelize Gentiles in this age: “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:47; cf. 26:23).
God Regathering Israel to a Homeland
Another divine dealing with Israel during the present church age is God regathering Israel back to their homeland. A key aspect to this would be the monumental event of the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Less than a hundred years before, a regathering (trickling!) of Jews began to take place. God has been—and continues to this day—providentially regathering Jews to their homeland Israel. This glaring fact contradicts the pretribulation presupposition that God does not deal with Israel during the church age, but only will resume his dealings with Israel in the future at the seventieth week of Daniel.
That God has been working with Israel during the church age is not only witnessed historically in 1948, but the prophet Ezekiel prophesied that this would happen in his “dry bones” prophecy in Ezek 37:1–14:
The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and placed me in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones. He made me walk all around among them. I realized there were a great many bones in the valley and they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said to him, “Sovereign Lord, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and tell them: ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the sovereign LORD says to these bones: Look, I am about to infuse breath into you and you will live. I will put tendons on you and muscles over you and will cover you with skin; I will put breath in you and you will live. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’
So I prophesied as I was commanded. There was a sound when I prophesied–I heard a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to bone. As I watched, I saw tendons on them, then muscles appeared, and skin covered over them from above, but there was no breath in them.
He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath,–prophesy, son of man–and say to the breath: ‘This is what the sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these corpses so that they may live.’” So I prophesied as I was commanded, and the breath came into them; they lived and stood on their feet, an extremely great army.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are all the house of Israel. Look, they are saying, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope has perished; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and tell them, ‘This is what the sovereign LORD says: Look, I am about to open your graves and will raise you from your graves, my people. I will bring you to the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. I will place my breath in you and you will live; I will give you rest in your own land. Then you will know that I am the LORD–I have spoken and I will act, declares the LORD.’
Ezekiel uses biological metaphors in his prophecy indicates three phases to Israel salvation (“Son of man, these bones are all the house of Israel”). In the first phase, their exiled circumstances are represented by “dry bones,” “corpses,” and “Our bones are dry, our hope has perished; we are cut off.” Their second phase is Israel’s present regathering to their homeland but their unregenerate, unbelief state, who are still as a whole reject Jesus as their messiah. This phase is expressed by “a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to bone. As I watched, I saw tendons on them, then muscles appeared, and skin covered over them from above, but there was no breath in them.” In addition, Ezekiel indicates this regathering, saying, “I will bring you to the land of Israel.” The third and final phase is Israel’s salvation, which is signaled by the key term breath: “I will place my breath in you and you will live; I will give you rest in your own land. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”
In summary, the prophet Ezekiel made a prophesy to Israel about Israel which began to be fulfilled during the church age. God’s regathering of Israel therefore would not wait until the seventieth week of Daniel to begin in the future. Rather, God already started his program of salvation for Israel during the church age by making them jealous to salvation and regathering them to their homeland. This is another reason why it is invalid for pretribulationists to argue that since Daniel’s seventy-weeks prophecy was made to Israel, and about Israel, the church cannot exist during any part of that fulfillment. The logic of their presupposition is contradicted by this counterexample.
It should be a forgone conclusion that God is sovereign over the universe, thus if he desires to work with both Israel and the church at the same time in their salvation, he has every right to do so. He is God, after all. We, as his creatures, should be careful not to limit God’s intentions and programs concerning who he can—or should!—work with in each redemptive administrative era.
 In addition, Peter writes about this prophesied grace: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things angels long to catch a glimpse of. Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet 1:10–13).