During the course of my conversations with David Hitt, a close friend of many years, he interjected what I believe to be a most insightful consideration. His thinking involves the circumstances surrounding the Rapture, the restoration of Israel, and the possibility of the Rapture occurring during widespread devastation, perhaps a war—one like we see going on at present involving Israel and its hate-filled enemies.
The “fullness of the Gentiles” presented by Paul in Romans 11 has always been foremost in the minds of those who study from the pre-Trib view of Bible prophecy. What exactly does that phrase mean with regard to the time of the Rapture of the Church?
Here are David Hitt’s thoughts:
Isaiah 6 contains the well-known “Here I am. Send me” passage in which Isaiah volunteers to convey God’s message to His people that they are hardened (deaf, blind, and without understanding).
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed” (Isaiah 6:8-10).
God not only informs His people that they are hardened and that He is the one hardening them, but also that He has hardened them to delay their repenting and being healed.
In Matthew 13, when the disciples ask Jesus why He speaks “to them” in parables, He quotes from Isaiah 6:
“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive” (Matthew 13:11-14).
In Acts 28, Paul also quotes Isaiah 6, reminding the local leaders of the Jews that they are hardened.
“And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not. And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Acts 28:24-27).
Paul discloses for the first time a consequence of Israel’s hardening: the Gospel would be extended to the Gentiles:
“Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it” (Acts 28:28).
However, both of these quotes (Matthew 13 and Acts 28) from Isaiah 6 stop short. They only address God’s hardening of Israel. Returning to Isaiah 6, beginning in verse 11, the prophet then begs God for an answer, and God gives it to him:
“Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate…” (Isaiah 6:11).
God will lift Israel’s partial hardening during or just after a widespread devastation. This may be a great war, even a nuclear war given the extent and degree of damage. However, it may also be a direct act of God. Note that the cities and the houses need not be in “the land” (the Promised Land). They may be in the land or elsewhere. God continues His answer in verse 12:
“And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land” (Isaiah 6:12).
God gives five conditions that exist just before his people spiritually awaken: (condition 1) cities lie waste without inhabitant; (condition 2) houses are without people; (condition 3) the land is a desolate waste; (condition 4) the Lord removes men (better rendered in the ESV as “people”) far away; and (condition 5) the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
In the middle of describing utter devastation (conditions 1-3 and 5), God interjects an enigmatic condition 4: “and the Lord have removed people far away.” The Lord (in all caps) is Yahweh: the covenantal God, and thus the emphasis appears to be on the keeping of a covenant. “People” implies more than one people, i.e., Gentiles. This clause likely refers to the Rapture. Note that condition 5 mentions “forsaken places.” Being listed after condition 4, might God have forsaken them, the Rapture having happened? It’s an interesting thought.
The lack of an explanation for even 4, the Lord’s removal of people far away, makes it a mystery (something hidden).
Now, let’s look at Romans 11, in which Paul answers the question his earlier chapters begged: If Christ is the answer and the law is not, what about the Jews, to whom God had given the law? Has God turned His back on Israel?
“I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal” (Romans 11:1-4).
The answer is an emphatic “No!” God will save an elect remnant of Israel, and He will save them by grace, not the law. To keep the Gentiles from feeling superior to the Jews, Paul goes on to say:
“I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:11-15).
Then, after describing how the holy firstfruits of a lump of dough renders the whole lump holy, how a holy root can render the entire tree holy, and how branches may be cut off and grafted onto a tree and thereby become holy, Paul reveals a mystery in verse 25:
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:25).
The mystery Paul reveals is that the partial hardening of Israel’s elect will end when the “fulness of the Gentiles be [has] come in.”
So, let’s assemble what we have learned. Paul says in Romans 11:25 that Israel’s partial hardening will end when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. In Isaiah 6:11-12, God tells the prophet that He will end His hardening of His people proximate a widespread devastation, likely a great war or a direct act of God. From these two statements, one concludes that the fullness of the Gentiles comes in on the precipice of or during a widespread devastation, after which God ends His partial hardening of Israel’s elect.
God has one last thing to say to Isaiah to answer his “How long, O Lord?” question:
“But yet in [the land] shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof” (Isaiah 6:13).
This speaks of Daniel’s Seventieth Week or the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, commonly called the Tribulation. The stump (the believing remnant of Israel) connects the holy root (Jesus) to the branches (believers) of the pruned and grafted tree (the body of Christ). Thus, Israel will be reawakened, after which will be Daniel’s Seventieth Week, which reiterates what we’ve already known: the Rapture precedes Daniel’s Seventieth Week, but perhaps in a time of great tumult, even war. It won’t be the Tribulation, but many believers may think it is.
The time of “the fullness of the Gentiles” must be very near, thinking on the signals of Christ’s return flashing all at once during this generation. To be sure to go to Jesus when He calls in the Rapture, you must do the following:
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).