The Faithful Remnant
To most people, the word remnant means something that is left over. Leftovers aren’t usually thought of positively. One thinks of leftover food, a sock that missed the laundry, or screws and washers left over from a recently assembled bicycle.
The Hebrew Old Testament uses several words to express the English word remnant. Mostly they refer to “things or people left over after famine, conquest, division, passage of time, etc.”1 Deuteronomy 3:11 states, “Only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the giants,” and Nehemiah 1:3 speaks of “the survivors who are left from the captivity.”
But other Scriptures use remnant in a positive sense, referring to a small group that is able to withstand the persecutions and temptations of the world and remain true to the one and only God. Although in each dispensation mankind has failed in its responsibility to glorify God, there have always been individuals who have sincerely loved and obeyed Him. Such people are identified as the faithful remnant.
From the time recorded history began in Genesis, God has had people, usually a minority, who are fully devoted to Him.
Adam and Eve to Babylon
Noah. From creation to the time of Noah, mankind followed the biblical command, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Most people are familiar with the story of Cain and Abel. Jealous of his brother, Cain killed Abel who had faith and who had offered “a more excellent sacrifice” (Heb 11:4).
Although Earth’s population grew, most people were evil. However, Scripture says Enoch “walked with God” and was spared death, “for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). Those who remained faithful were, in fact, so few in number that finally “the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (6:6). Noah and his family were the faithful remnant, and Noah preached repentance to a needy people for more than 100 years. No one outside Noah’s family responded. And Noah’s family alone was left over from a flood that devastated the entire world.
Abraham. Abraham obeyed God, leaving his country-men of idol worshipers in Ur to become the father of a nation called out by God (12:1–2). Later Abraham’s nephew Lot and Lot’s two daughters were the only ones rescued from God’s judgment on Sodom. The Lord would have spared the city had there been even 10 righteous people. Lot and his daughters alone survived.
Moses. While in the wilderness waiting for Moses’ return from Mount Sinai, the children of Israel built an idol. Angered by their infidelity and lack of restraint, Moses confronted them: “Whoever is on the Lᴏʀᴅ’s side—come to me!” (Ex. 32:26). That challenge was answered by a mere remnant, the tribe of Levi. Of all the 12 tribes, only one identified with the Lord.
Joshua and Caleb. One of the best known incidents regarding God’s faithful remnant is in Numbers 14. Moses sent 12 men to spy out the land of Canaan. Only two, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report based on faith. They alone believed God would bring them into the land despite the fact that they were weaker and smaller than the “giants” who dwelled there.
Elijah. The prophet Elijah thought he was the only true believer left in Israel during the days of King Ahab, and he fled for his life from Ahab’s evil wife, Jezebel. But God told Elijah, “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (1 Ki. 19:18). Though the Jewish people numbered in the millions, a faithful few stood apart.
Returnees From Babylon
Ezra 2 records that fewer than 50,000 Jews returned to their homeland from the Babylonian Captivity. Led by Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, this remnant left behind an overwhelming majority of people who had made themselves comfortable in the lifestyle of a foreign land.
Through Christ and Beyond
John the Baptist—a Levite, the last of the Older Testament prophets, and part of a remnant of the faithful—cried out to his fellow Israelites, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt. 3:2). Only a faithful few responded.
Simeon and Anna represented a faithful remnant of Jewish people waiting for the “Consolation of Israel.” Simeon was given the privilege of holding the infant Yeshua (Hebrew for “Jesus,” meaning, “salvation”) in his arms while Anna “spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Lk. 2:25–28, 36–38).
In Acts 15:14 James spoke of the Gentiles whom God had taken out to be “a people for His name.” The blessing of salvation would now be made available to Gentiles through the Jewish Messiah.
In a future day, God will rapture His church, removing the faithful remnant of Earth’s population to meet the Lord in the air. Soon afterward, during the Tribulation, He will seal a remnant of 144,000 Jewish people who will proclaim a worldwide message of hope in the Messiah. In response, “a great multitude” from every tribe, kindred, nation, and tongue will gladly receive the mes-sage. Yet even they will be only a remnant of the total world population (Rev. 7).
One day there no longer will be a faithful remnant. Instead, there will be a new heaven and new Earth, populated only by the faithful.
So while we may not view leftovers with much favor, God’s “leftovers” are precious to Him. For they constitute a remnant that truly loves Him with all its heart, soul, and might.
- L. Harris, “Remnant,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 932.