A Theology For The Remnant
It is never easy to swim upstream – to buck the tides and resist the currents. But, by the very nature of the case, true Christianity calls for an upstream lifestyle. The world in which we live and move and have our being is, by biblical definition, an ordered system headed by Satan. Following the philosophy of this ordered system leads to eternal separation from God as surely as night follows day. But the attractions of the world are strong, its currents swift, its captain powerful. Those who exchange the philosophy of this world for the theology of heaven, as revealed in the Bible, are part of a believing remnant. According to the dictionary, a remnant is that which remains or is left over.
In the Old Testament the word “remnant” implies that a catastrophe or judgment has occurred that destroyed the majority of a group of people. The minority who survive the catastrophe or judgment are the remnant (Neh. 1:3; Ezek. 11:13). In prophetic passages this remnant refers to those among the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who, in a future day, will experience conversion and deliverance. It is this remnant which will fall heir to the covenant Blessings promised to Israel in the Old Testament. They will survive the coming judgment of Christ on the wicked, at His return, to enter into the Kingdom Age. The post-exilic prophet, Zechariah, wrote, “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue [remnant] of the people shall not be cut off from the city” (Zech. 14:2). In non prophetic portions of the Old Testament, the remnant is the portion of Israel that remains faithful to God and is, therefore, enabled to survive a time of contemporary judgment when all others will be destroyed.
In a text illustrating this point, the divine spokesman wrote, Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries (Ezek. 6:8).
ISRAEL’S PAST REMNANT
Throughout the entire Old Testament -from Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, to Malachi, the last of the writing prophets – the children of Israel did not follow after their God. They rejected God’s prophets, they refused the messengers that God sent to them – they repeatedly sinned, rebelled and transgressed. The Prophet Isaiah gave a graphic picture of his nation’s condition, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth [God is calling the universe to bear testimony]; for the Lord hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass, his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know; my people doth not consider” (Isa. 1:2-3). What condemnation by God upon the nation. He continues, “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters; they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more; the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint” (Isa. 1:4-5). But still there is more, “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores. They [the bruises and sores] have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Isa. 1:6). So heinous and widespread was the sin of the nation that the prophet declared, “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been like Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:9).
They needed little reminder concerning the status of the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which had once existed in the area of the Dead Sea. The Patriarch Abraham had interceded for the cities when God was going to destroy them because “their sin is very grievous” (Gen. 18:20). Abraham inquired of God if He would destroy the righteous along with the wicked. “And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes” (Gen. 18:26). And in the truly amazing dialogue that followed, Abraham received from God the promise that if as few as ten righteous people were found in the city, it would be spared for the sake of the righteous (Gen. 18:32). Today, four thousand years later, archaeologists are not certain of the precise location of Sodom and Gomorrah, so complete was their destruction. Perhaps, it is speculated, the cities lie under the deep waters of the southern end of the Dead Sea. Hear the prophet once again, “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been like Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:9; cp. Rom. 9:29).
It was only because of a godly believing remnant that God preserved Israel in the Old Testament. As a matter of fact, in the days of the premier prophet, Elijah, that remnant numbered exactly seven thousand souls from within the entire nation. To the prophet’s lament that he was the only one left who had remained faithful, God said, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1 Ki. 19:18; cp. Rom. 11:4).
Today, during this Church Age, God continues to preserve the Jewish people because of a believing remnant – Hebrew Christians who have seen in the face of Jesus the One who is the Son of God and Savior of all who put their trust in Him. How ironic that Hebrew Christians are often shunned or persecuted by their unsaved brethren who have no realization that for the remnant’s sake (Hebrew Christians) the nation has, to this very hour, been preserved by God.
ISRAEL’S FUTURE REMNANT
The doctrine of the remnant is an exceedingly important theme. It affirms unconditionally that, however great Israel’s apostasy, and however severe God’s righteous judgment, there will always be a core -a remnant of faithful believers who will continue to exist (1Ki. 19:18; Mal. 3:16- 18). Prophetically, the doctrine of the remnant pictures the fulfillment of the divine promises to Israel, not in the mere physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but in the physical spiritual descendants of the patriarchs – Jews who have exhibited saving faith in Christ -the true remnant within Israel. Apostasy, even by the majority of the Jews, can never nullify the divine promises.
The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words makes this helpful comment: “The doctrine of the remnant underlines the Old Testament teaching of faith. It is not mere physical birth that brought a personal relationship with God. Those who were born within the covenant still needed to respond personally to God and to demonstrate an Abraham-like trust by their response to God’s Word.”
It is this precise theme that the great Apostle Paul addresses in the theologically important eleventh chapter of Romans. In verse one he asks the question, “I say, then, Hath God cast away his people?” Is God done with the Jews – are they finished as a nation – did their national rejection of Christ annul all the God-given promises? Hear Paul’s response: “God forbid.” That’s a Hebrew idiom of the strongest sort. It could be translated, Don’t even think such a thought (cp. Rom. 6:1-2) . As evidence that God has not cast away Israel, the apostle makes this irrefutable Statement, “For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people whom he foreknew” (Rom. 11:1-2). But what of the pressing problem that would not go away, that had to be faced? The nation of Israel had rejected Christ. The apostle’s answer was clear and precise. In the Old Testament the Prophet Elijah thought he was the only one who had remained true to God – that he alone was faithful. He had to be reminded by God that “I have reserved to myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal” (Rom. 11:4).
Now the apostle’s point: “Even so, then, at this present time also [as in the Old Testament economy, so in the New Testament economy] there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5). It is in that remnant that God will fulfill all of the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant and those which were built upon it. He is immutable -He changes not. What His mouth has spoken, His right arm of power will perform. Hear again the prophetic word of the Lord, “And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call” (Joel 2:32).
TODAY, THE CHURCH: A REMNANT
It would appear that God does not despise that which is small. In the Old Testament Israel was not “naughty but nice;” they were not “mischievous but winsome.” What Israel was was a sinful nation. They disobeyed God’s law, rebelled against His goodness and transgressed His precepts. Only a remnant -a handful -a feeble minority remained true.
At the end of the age (during the Tribulation period), things will be no different. The great majority of mankind will not have a heart favorably disposed to God. Factually, God describes the period immediately prior to His Second Coming to the earth this way, “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Mt. 24:37). Among other things, the days of Noah were characterized by unbelief, wickedness and perversion. So grievous was man’s sin that God had to destroy the world which then existed. Only a feeble remnant (Noah and his immediate family) survived the destruction (Gen. 7:1-7).
From time to time, voices are heard proclaiming that things are getting better, that evangelical Christians are getting stronger and that more and more people are coming to Christ. Some are even suggesting that the gospel is going to permeate the world to hasten Christ’s return to the earth. Such voices are blowing an “uncertain trumpet.” Things are not getting better, evangelicals are not getting stronger, and the gospel is not going to permeate and conquer the world in this age.
There was a remnant in the Old Testament, there will be a remnant at the end of the age, and there is a remnant today. Such a view is not defeatist it is biblical. And furthermore, it gives a proper foundation upon which to view the present moment of history.
There is a great deal today parading under the guise of biblical Christianity that is not owned by Christ. False prophets abound. Experiential theology is permitted. A lifestyle of legitimate biblical separation from the world is generally considered passe. True worship is rare. Christ honoring music is increasingly being substituted by “religious” man-pleasing entertainment presented by “performers” rather than servants. More and more Christian leaders are condoning things today that they condemned fifteen years ago. And notwithstanding some outstanding contemporary prophetic voices and a cadre of faithful, uncompromising pastors, the “fire” is out in most of the pulpits of the land. Harsh words, these, some will complain. No! Faithful and true words!
It was, will be, and is only a remnant in every age who press hard after God -who will be part of that great company who will one day proclaim with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).
What is that remnant like? Like Abel who offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain (Heb. 11:4). Like Enoch who was raptured because he pleased God (Heb. 11:5). Like Noah who, being warned of God, prepared an ark to the saving of his house (Heb. 11:7). Like Abraham who, being called of God to a strange land, obeyed, not knowing where he went (Heb. 11:8). Like Moses who, when he came to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt” (Heb. 11:24-26). Like that faithful throng “Who, through faith, subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Heb. 11:33-34).
But the inspired penman doesn’t stop there. He writes, “And others” (Heb. 11:36). It is in vogue today to think that if you honor Christ – if you serve Him – that problems will be eliminated, that success and prosperity will be guaranteed. Not necessarily so! “And others [men and women of faith like those listed above who did great exploits] had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment; They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented” (Heb. 11:36-37). The divine epitaph of these men and women of faith who, by man’s measuring rod, experienced anything but success and prosperity is this: “(Of whom the world was not worthy)” (Heb. 11:38). No greater accolade could be given. This is the “stuff” out of which the true remnant has always been molded. The world hated Christ. The world will always hate the believing remnant. But if we are willing to suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him.
A remnant may be cheap by the world’s standards, but by God’s standards if s not inexpensive. It was purchased with the Savior’s blood.
The fabric of the human race is in two unequal parts: the small precious remnant secure and blessed in Christ, and the large bolt aimlessly unraveling on its way to eternal destruction. In which part are you?