Q. For a while now I’ve been pondering “the fullness of the Gentiles”. You have spoken on the differences between believers (the Body of Christ/the Church) as distinct from Jewish people and Gentile people who trust in Christ during the Tribulation. Since there will still be those two groups of people during this time, why do the Gentiles not figure into “the fullness” right through the Tribulation? Would not those Gentiles be counted as well in that “fullness”? And, the Rapture would then have nothing to do with this count?
A. The fullness of the Gentiles is from Romans 11:25, part of a passage by Paul about the end times redemption of Israel. It says. “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” It’s only one verse but it contains several important components.
The partial hardening of Israel is also called blindness and refers to a diminished capacity for mental discernment, or a dulled perception. This is the condition Jesus pronounced upon Israel when they failed to recognize Him as their Messiah (Luke 19:41-44).
The phrase full number (or fullness) refers to a specific number of gentiles who will “come in” before the partial hardening of Israel is removed. To “come in” means to arrive at a scheduled destination, as in “what time does your flight come in?”
The removal of this blindness begins when the people in Israel officially renew their Old Testament relationship with God and need a Temple again. This will mark the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week and according to Paul will happen after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. I think the battle foretold in Ezekiel 38-39 will prompt this. Ezekiel 39:22 tells us, “From that day forward the House of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God.”
That tells us the phrase fullness (full number) of the Gentiles doesn’t mean each and every Gentile, but only those who are part of a group that will arrive at its scheduled destination before the blindness is lifted. This is a reference to the rapture of the Church, which will contain a specific number of members. When that full number has been reached, we’ll be taken from earth to our place in “my Father’s house” to be with the Lord (John 14:1-3).
After the Church is gone, Israel’s spiritual eyes will begin to open, at first only so far as to bring them back into their Old Covenant relationship. That’s why they’ll need a Temple. Then toward the end of Daniel’s 70th Week the Lord will pour out His Spirit of grace and supplication and they’ll finally recognize their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10).
In Acts 15:13-18 we see the same sequence of events. First the Lord will take (carry away) from the Gentiles a people for Himself (the Church). Then David’s fallen tabernacle (the Temple) will be rebuilt. Then the remnant of men, both Jew and Gentile, will have one last chance to seek Him.