The concept of a remnant or the remnant is an important theme woven through the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. The term remnant can apply to (a) a historical remnant such as those few who survive a battle or a catastrophe, (b) the faithful remnant who remain loyal to God despite persecution peer-pressure and testings, and (c) the eschatological remnant who survive times of great judgments in history culminating finally in the second coming of Messiah.
The Hebrew words yether ("what is left") (Deut. 3:11, 28:54) and she'ar ("the remainder") (Ezra 3:8, Isa. 10:20, 11:16), she'erith ("residue") (2 Kings 19:31, Isa. 14:30) all denote that which is left over after a war, after a time of testing, a disaster, or a period of apostasy. When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into the Greek Septuagint (LXX) the Greek verb leipo (and derivative verbs such as kataloipo, hypoleipo, perileipo, and epileipo) was used. When used (rarely) in the New Testament this word leipo is usually translated "to fall short, to lack, or to be in need."
In the 16+ centuries between Adam and Noah a good many millions of earth's inhabitants no doubt were saved. That is, they knew God personally, were spiritually regenerated and had been justified by their faith in Him. They all died, were buried and each "went home to be with the Lord." All these will be raised at the resurrection of the just on the Last Day. Enoch, the seventh from Adam in the godly line of Seth, was an exception in the Antediluvian age since he was translated directly into heaven without seeing death, (Gen. 5:21, Heb. 11:5, Jude 14. Note: Elijah was also translated, 2 Kings 2).
The world-population before the Flood grew rapidly as the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve spread over the earth and lived out their lifetimes---which were nearly a thousand years in length. By the time of the Flood earth's population could easily have been many billions of people. The gospel was proclaimed but increasingly ignored as the age progressed. At the end of the Antediluvian Age Noah and his family suffered 100 years of scorn and ridicule while constructing the Ark. That age came to an end with a believing (eschatological) remnant of but eight persons. This is a very small eschatological remnant indeed. Billions of persons, an entire ancient civilization, was utterly destroyed in the great Flood, (Gen. 7-8, 1 Peter 3:18-20, 2 Peter 2:4-5, 3:3-7). We do not know how many of the Antediluvians were actually saved during their life-times (perhaps many millions), but there were only eight believers left in the world at the time of the Flood. A hundred years of preaching by Noah had not resulted in any converts.
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.� (Genesis 6:5-7)Abraham interceded for the city of Sodom where his Nephew Lot and family had taken up residence. God said he would spare the city if there were but 10 righteous citizens in that city of some thousands (?) of inhabitants, (Gen. 18:32). In the end only Lot was saved. The righteous remnant in this case appears to have been only one individual, (2 Peter 2:7). Lot's two unmarried daughters fled with him, Lot's wife was encrusted by salt, and Lot's other children perished in Sodom.
Only two righteous men, Joshua and Caleb, survived the wilderness wanderings of the Jews of the Exodus (Deut. 4:27, Lev. 26:36, 39; Deut 28:54f, Num. 26:65). The whole nation was "saved" (delivered) out of Egypt but "afterward God destroyed those who did not believe" (1 Cor. 10:1-5). Many individuals taking part in the Exodus surely knew God personally and so were saved in the ultimate sense, but an entire generation perished in the wilderness because of their unbelief. During the conquest of the land under Joshua, Israel did not fully exterminate the Canaanites as God had ordered. A remnant of these peoples was left, causing countless problems in later history (Num. 33:15, cf. Judges 3:1)
The earliest writing prophet, Amos, warned of the approaching crisis with Babylon from which only a remnant of the Jewish nation would escape (Amos 3:2, 12; 4:1-3; 5:3; 6:9; 9:1, 9f). Isaiah develops the concept of the remnant fully (6:11-13; cf. 1:4-9; 10:22f. 6:13; 4:2-4 cf. 1:24-26. 10:20f; 28:5f; 30:15-17; 7:2-17). Isaiah mentions that the "holy seed" [Messiah] will be preserved in the stump remaining after judgment (6:13), and that Messiah will be one of the final members of the remnant, (7:10-17). The second half of Isaiah is full of promises to the remnant (46:3-4; 45:20; 49:14-26; 54:1-7; 59:15-20, etc.).
The other Minor Prophets dwell on the subject of the eschatological remnant as well. (See Joel 2:32, Zeph. 3:12f, Zech. 8:12; 13:7-9, and especially Micah 5 which is quoted below). Elijah in the days of Ahab and Jezebel complained that all had left loyalty to Yahweh except himself (1 Kings 19:4). To this God replied, "Yet I shall leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed his lips." (1 Kings 19:18, Romans 11:4)
Jeremiah was pessimistic about the historical remnant which he said would become insignificant if not totally destroyed (Jer. 6:9, 29f; 21:8-10). Those Jews who flee to Egypt were not to be the carriers of the divine promise (42:13-22). Yet it is Jeremiah who eloquently speaks of the final regathering of the Jews and the New Covenant (Jer. 31).
Ezekiel plead with God to add mercy in the midst of punishment (Ezek. 9:8, 17:13). He understood that a historical remnant would survive and be scattered among the nations (6:7-9; 7:16; 14:22f; 24:26f; 5:10-12; 12:15f; 17:21). Ezekiel also knew that God would bring a future generation back into the land under the New Covenant (11:16-21, cf. 36:26) involving "a new heart" and "a new spirit." Daniel in Babylon emphasized the importance of the remnant in his prophetic writings (7:18, 25, 27; 12:1-7).
At the time of the destruction of the Jerusalem in First Temple times, the population of Israel seems to have been order of a few million Jews. Nebuchadnezzar's early raid in 605 BC brought Daniel and his three godly companions along with an unknown number of other Jews to Babylon. In his second raid a few years later, (in 597) Nebuchadnezzar took 10,000 prisoners including the king, Jehoichin, and probably also Ezekiel (2 Kings 24). Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem to plead with people to leave and to turn to God, but his 40 years' of preaching seems to have borne no fruit nor brought anyone to God. When the final destruction of Jerusalem came in 586 BC as many as a million people died.
Not all those who fled to Babylon or who were taken there by force were believers as the book of Ezekiel makes clear. The "believing remnant" at the time of the Babylonian captivity would therefore seem to have been at most a few thousand in number.
Seventy years later a godly remnant of Jews would return to Jerusalem to rebuild: first the temple, and later the walls and the city. This took place under the leadership of outstanding godly individuals: Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai, Zerubbabel, et al. Most of the Jews stayed behind, comfortably living in Babylon after the time of the return. Only a small fraction returned (Ezra Chapter 2 names 49,860) returnees. This returning group is considered "only a remnant" (Hag. 1:12, 14; 2:2, Zech. 8:6, 11f).
The Old Testament closes with the Book of Malachi who addresses God's final redemption of Israel. Malachi's admonition resulted in a remnant responding by writing their names in a book of remembrance:
"Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? "For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. "Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts. "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed...""Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another; the LORD heeded and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and thought on his name. 'They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.'" (Malachi 3)
The Course of the Church Age
John the Baptist, a genuine prophet, came to Israel as the forerunner of Messiah with a call for repentance. His appeal was clearly addressed to a minority who were willing to listen and respond:
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:1-12)
Jesus was well received by the crowds during his early Galilean ministry, and hailed by the Bethany village populace even at his Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. The leaders were fully conspiratorial towards him, and popular support completely evaporated as the week progressed.
Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said, "Let him be crucified." And he said, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified." So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." And all the people answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. (Matthew 27:20-26)
Even his disciples forsook him---the eschatological remnant was reduced now to one person, the Messiah himself. Upon this one man all the hope of Israel and the world now rested.
Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples forsook him and fled. (Matthew 26:53-56)
Following the resurrection and Pentecost there was again an initial period of enthusiasm in Jerusalem as the Good News was spread throughout Israel. A few thousand Jews, at least, were added to the church. As recorded in the book of Acts, this positive response soon gave way to persecution of the believing Jewish community in Jerusalem---they were forced to shift their focus north to Antioch. Soon the gospel spread through the Gentile world. Not many years later, Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple, again with terrible loss of life. The Jews in Israel were then scattered throughout the nations in the Diaspora. Through the centuries a small fraction of these Jews have remained faithful to the Torah and the promises of God, but the majority has assimilated and disappeared into the mainstream flow of the gentile world. Many Jews down through the past two thousand years have been saved and added to the church. Paul assures us in Romans that the elect of Israel have obtained salvation, but "the rest were hardened." (11:7)
One hundred years ago God began to recall the Jews, in a state of unbelief, back into the Land, in fulfillment of his many promises to their forefathers, (e.g., Ezekiel 37). The Bible teaches that eventually God will bring all the Jews back to the land. At the present time no more than one-third of Jews of the world are in Israel. The Jews who have "made aliya" and now live in Israel have endured many sacrifices in order to live in Israel under dangerous and uncertain conditions, yet most remain committed to secular and non-religious views that do not differ much from the values and cultural norms of the Gentile nations.
There is a believing remnant in Israel at this hour, numbering probably into the thousands. Messianic Jews in Israel who clearly identify themselves with Yeshua as their Lord and Messiah are, strictly speaking, members of the church and can be expected to be raptured along with all other true followers of Jesus Christ. During the present age, both Jews and Gentiles are being saved through the church, (Ephesians 3). Yet there is also a "believing remnant" among the Jews as Paul states in Romans. These believers are apparently not part of the church.
Ultimate Salvation for the Nation of Israel
Through a Remnant
Micah Chapter 5 is a remarkable passage clearly showing that God's intention from the beginning has been to preserve a godly Jewish remnant until the Last Day when He would, in grace, bring the nation of Israel as a whole community to salvation:
"Now [in Hezekiah's time] you (Jerusalem) are walled about with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike upon the cheek the ruler of Israel [fulfilled when Jesus was struck before Pilate]. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he [God] shall give them [Israel] up [into the hands of their enemies, the Romans] until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth; then the rest of his [Messiah's] brethren [who are both Jews and Gentiles] shall return to the people of Israel."And he [Messiah] shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they [the Jews] shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And this shall be peace, when the Assyrian [Sennacherib in Micah's day, or in the end time the last King of the North] comes into our land and treads upon our soil, that we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; they shall rule the land of Assyria [Syria] with the sword, and the land of Nimrod [Babylon, i.e., Iraq] with the drawn sword; and they shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border.
"Then the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the LORD, like showers upon the grass, which tarry not for men nor wait for the sons of men. And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver. Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off. And in that day, says the LORD, I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots; and I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds; and I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more soothsayers; and I will cut off your images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands; and I will root out your Asherim from among you and destroy your cities. And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance upon the nations that did not obey. (Micah 5)
Romans Chapter 9 offers us further confirmation of the guaranteed secure future of the nation of Israel:
"What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'my beloved.'" "And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'" And Isaiah [10:22] cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; for the Lord will execute his sentence upon the earth with rigor and dispatch." And as Isaiah predicted, "If the Lord of hosts had not left us children, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomorrah." What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone [Yeshua, the true Messiah] that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; and he who believes in him will not be put to shame." (Romans 9:22-33)
The eventual restoration of Israel from a small present-day remnant (Rom. 11:5) to a whole believing nation is even more clear from Romans 11. After the rapture, the remnant of God-fearing Jews will grow in numbers, especially as God adds 144,000 Jews from the 12 tribes to the list of followers of Yeshua. These valiant evangelists will bring the message of God's grace and the gospel of the kingdom not only to Israel but also to the entire world-bringing many millions into the family of God. These so-called "tribulation saints" will not be members of the church, but a body of believers having a different relationship with God than the church has been given.
"I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 'Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have demolished thy altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.' But what is God's reply to him? 'I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.' So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.' And David says, 'Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.'"So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. "Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you [Gentiles] have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree. Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so [then] all Israel will be saved; as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob'; 'and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.' As regards the gospel they are [presently] enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now [for the time being] been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. (Romans 11:1-33)
The appeal of Jesus-to the nation of Israel and to the world-is a universal appeal for everyone to come to him for salvation freely granted to all who are willing to believe.
The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:7)
But looking to the end of time, Jesus said, "When the son of man returns will he find (the) faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) These words cause us to question the final state of the church around the world at the time of Second Advent. The Old Testament is a dismal record of Israel's continued and repeated failure---despite the patient long-suffering love and mercy of God. Why then should we expect the church to succeed where other sinful sons of Adam have failed? The Jews are not inherently more sinful than anyone else. All men have descended from Adam and inherited Adam's sinful nature. Had God chosen any other nation or ethnic group as His chosen people their history and generally downhill course of apostasy would surely have been nearly the same as that of Israel.
Actually, the promises of God and provisions made under the New Covenant are stronger and more powerful than those given to Israel under the Old Covenant, but in spite of this, the predicted end of the church in the New Testament is failure. Only a "remnant" will be saved out of professing Christendom-as was the case with Israel. The majority of professing nominal Christian church-goers will, sadly, go into the false, or harlot church of the tribulation period.
Theologian John W. Walvoord of Dallas Theological Seminary says this:
The idea that the Gospel would gradually subdue the people of the world and eventually bring them to the feet of Christ is contradicted alike both by the Scriptures and by history, and the result has been the rapid decline in the twentieth century of optimism in relation to the triumph of the church in the present age...A survey of Scriptural prophecy as it relates to the spiritual trends of the present age should have made clear to any inquirer that the present age will end in apostasy and divine judgment rather than victory for the cause of Christ through the triumph of the church. Major passages of Scripture deal with this subject and the expositor is embarrassed by the wealth of material which plainly teaches that the end of the age will be characterized by apostasy (Matthew 24:4-26; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 Timothy 4: 1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; 4:3,4; 2 Peter 2:1-3:18; Jude 3-19; Revelation 3:14-16; 6:1-19:21).An examination of these major passages on apostasy in the New Testament will reveal that the development of apostasy will be in three stages: (1) the doctrinal and moral departure in the church prior to the rapture, i.e., during the last days of the true church on earth; (2) the apostasy in the professing church after the true church is raptured, i.e., in the period immediately following the rapture: (3) the final apostasy in which the professing church as such will be destroyed and the worship of the beast, the world ruler, as the human representative of Satan will be inaugurated (Matthew 24: 15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; Revelation 13:4-8; 17:16-18). Of major importance is the fulfillment of the prophecy relating to apostasy in the church being fulfilled in the contemporary situation, a subject to which the Scriptures give considerable space. (John F. Walvoord, The Nations, Israel and the Church in Prophecy, Zondervan, 1967)
In seven parables of the kingdom of heaven recorded in Matthew 13, two apply directly to the weakened decadent, corrupt state of Christendom at the end of the age of the church:
Another parable he put before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."
Ray Stedman comments on this parable as follows:
Mustard seeds are small seeds and ordinarily grow into reasonable shrubs. Mustard is a spice, an irritant, used in earlier times to make burning mustard plaster, which when placed on the chest was thought to cure all manner of ills. Here Jesus describes the state of the kingdom of God (at the end of the age) as an outlandish, overgrown, useless tree in which the vultures perch. The final state of the church will be like an inefficient bureaucratic organization infiltrated with evil birds of prey, no longer a company of pilgrims on a journey out of this life-pilgrims who should be salt and light wherever they go.How visibly this has been demonstrated in our day when from the pulpits and the spokesmen of the church have come up a flood of stupid, crazy, mixed-up ideas-evil concepts which have blasted and blighted and ruined the hearts and minds of people, just as our Lord said. These things have only occurred since the tree has become fully grown and branched out, as we near the end of the age. (Ray C. Stedman, Behind the Scenes of History (Matthew 13)
The second parable is equally ominous in its warning about the course of the age:
Jesus told them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." (Matthew 13:31-33)
Ray Stedman writes concerning this parable:
Leaven in scripture is always a symbol of evil. The measures of flour represent the fellowship God intended for his people to enjoy with him and with one another. The pervasive influence of the leaven of hypocrisy which was the leaven of the Pharisees, the leaven of the Sadducees which was rationalism, the leaven of materialism, characteristic of the Herodians, the leaven of legalism---all have worked together to ruin the quality of spiritual life God intended for his church. What an instructive parable this is! As we apply it to ourselves we can see that this is what has been happening. This is why churches are oftentimes charged with being cold and unfriendly---because there's no fellowship. It is too often only on the most superficial basis that people come and sit together in the congregation, not as members together of one great family, but as individuals listening to a service but not relating to the person next to them. But that isn't Christianity as it is intended to be manifested. That is only a form, only a moment in the Christian life. The major part is to be the sharing of each other's concerns, the bearing of one another's burdens, the confessing of our faults one to another and praying for one another that we may be healed, the opening of our lives and the transparency of our actions before others. This is the great fellowship that our Lord is seeking. As you trace this pattern down through history you can see how leaven has been working. The very ones who were responsible to keep God's house free from it---the leaders, the pastors, the elders, the teachers within the church-are the ones responsible for allowing these conditions to come in and to prevail. And each time they have done so they have destroyed this marvelous fellowship. (Stedman, op. cit., p90)
A great apostasy, or falling away, from true, biblical Christianity is another clear sign of the end of the church age according to Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians:
"Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day [of the Lord] will not come, unless the apostasy comes first...The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thess. 2)
As noted earlier, the term "remnant" is not used in the NT as often as it is woven through the entire OT. Yet there is plenty of NT evidence that only a small fraction of the professing Christians in the world will find salvation. As with Israel of old, a good company of individual Christians will be personally saved but will not have lived fruitful lives nor contributed much to the extension of the kingdom. Numerous challenges and exhortations are given throughout the NT urging believers to move beyond externals and superficial doctrinal issues to real fruit bearing. Failure to bear fruit was part of God's strong indictment against Israel:
"Let me sing for my beloved a love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He digged it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry!" (Isaiah 5:1-7)"Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, with instruction about ablutions, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned." (Hebrews 6:1-8)
In the Book of the Revelation the Greek adjective loipoi ["the rest" or "the remnant"] is used eight times. That which "remains" in the church of Thyatira (Rev. 2:14, 19) indicates those who remain faithful and who have not fallen into "the deep things of Satan." The church in Sardis is virtually dead but "what remains" is to be strengthened (3:2) because there are still a "few" who (3:4) who are faithful.
When Jerusalem is destroyed by a great earthquake at the time of the Second Coming of Messiah, (Rev. 11:13), the "rest" who were left "gave glory to the God of the heaven." The final, eschatological remnant includes those who keep God's commandments and have the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 12:17, 14:12, 19:10).
Each of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation (Chapters 2 and 3) contains a special message to the remnant of true believers in every congregation and in every age. This minority group in every church is described as overcomers. Each of these groups is given a special challenge appropriate to their situation and circumstances.
Church history reveals that individually great local churches tend not to last more than a generation or two. Denominations seem to have a season of strength but all too soon they become mediocre at best. All of the original seven churches quickly faded into obscurity in spite of their strong foundations. All Christian churches now in existence can be described as belonging to one of these seven generic groups typified by the Seven Churches of Revelation 2 and 3. In addition, the course of the church age from the First Century (till now) enjoyed a season of time in which each of these churches in turn has been the congregation of predominant influence in that age-beginning with Ephesus and closing with Laodicea.
To the church which is doctrinally sound but has lost its love, warm and openness (Ephesus) the remnant is urged to recover that lost love fervent love for the Lord Jesus-and for one another. They are promised: "To him who overcomes I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
To Christians who are suffering persecution and great hardships, Smyrna-type believers are encouraged to not fear and to endure, if necessary, to the death. "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death." Pergamum-like churches with their hidden idolatry and permissive attitude towards immorality need urgently to repent and correct these serious problems. Their faithful remnant is promised: "To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it."
In both the church of Pergamum and Thyatira, Jesus was gravely concerned about their continued toleration of sexual immorality and associated idolatry infiltrating in from the pagan world outside. Thyatira's faithful remnant was given the challenge, "He who overcomes and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Sardis' remnant Christians, who have not soiled through garments through defilement by the world are encouraged, "He who overcomes shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
There can be little doubt the church in America (and certainly in Europe also) today is fully Laodicean. The age of Philadelphian Christianity has quietly slipped away from us in the past half-century. The Philadelphian Christian remnant was told, "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
Since the Laodicean church is representative of the church as a whole at the close of our age we should pay special attention to the Lord's analysis of this church and his words of exhortation to the faithful remnant that remains at the end of the age.
"The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. 'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who overcomes, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
The Application for Christians
From even a brief study of the Bible it seems that in any age the number of true believers among either religious Jews or professing Christians is a very small fraction. With the passage of time the believing minority tends to become a smaller and smaller fraction of the professing religious community. The tendency towards backsliding, compromise, and spiritual decline in society is like the principle of ever-increasing entropy in the physical universe. The longer one waits the smaller the fractional remnant, except when God grants times of repentance and revival (Acts 3:19).
Those believers who wish to continue to follow God must therefore swim upstream against the mainstream current of the professing religious majority. Godly men and women need to take care to (a) carefully remain separated and unstained by the world (James 1:27), yet, remain "in the world but not of the world;" (b) maintain a solid personal prayer life (1 Thess. 5:17) and a life-long habit of studying all of God's word (2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16), (c) regularly seek out the fellowship and wisdom of other believers (Heb. 10:25).
Love of the world competes with the love of God (1 John 2:15,16; James 4:4). Normal Christian living will bring persecution, (2 Tim. 3:12) suffering, and pressures from the flesh, the world, and the devil (Gal. 5:17-26). Spiritual warfare is a life-long reality (Eph. 6:12, 2 Cor. 10:4). Christ demands our undivided attention, our submission to Him and a path of demanding discipleship (Luke 14:26-35).
Nominal religious belief does not suffice! The remnant in any age is small.
"Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.' "Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it." And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." (Matthew 7:21-29)
As the age we live in comes to a close and we near the time of the rapture it is important for the followers of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, to pay attention to what He is beginning to do in Israel. Israel today is severely divided and the polarization between secular and religious is increasingly apparent. Israel contains many today who, like the Pharisees and Sadducees of the Roman era, are virulent enemies of God. These are enemies not only of Christians but of all those Jews who are responsive in their hearts to the call of the living God of Israel. Christians in our time, as never before in the past 2000 years are in a position to seek out, support and encourage the Jewish people, especially those whose hearts are tender and seeking after the things of God. The Jewish nation, not the church, has been called to go through the tribulation period which lies ahead. The world's last and most terrible war will devastate and destroy their beautiful land. Jerusalem will be captured and overrun one more time by heathen nations. The majority of the Jewish people will die in those terrible times. The remnant who endure will undergo great suffering and trial. But Jesus, the true Messiah will return on schedule and all His righteous ones will receive their long-awaited inheritance.
"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. 'For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.' But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls." (Hebrews 10:35-39)
The Scofield Bible notes on the "remnant" are helpful:
In the history of Israel a remnant may be discerned, a spiritual Israel within the national Israel. In Elijah's time 7000 had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:13). In Isaiah's time it was the "very small remnant" for whose sake God still forebore to destroy the nation (Isaiah 1:9). During the captivities the remnant appears in Jews like Esther, Mordecai, Ezekiel, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. At the end of the seventy years of Babylonian captivity it was the remnant that returned under Ezra and Nehemiah. At the time of our Lord, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, and "those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38) were the remnant. During the Church Age the remnant is composed of believing Jews (Romans 11:4-5). But an important aspect of the remnant is prophetic. During the great tribulation a remnant out of all Israel will turn to Jesus as Messiah, the "sealed" Israelites of Revelation 7:3-8. It is inferred by many students of Scripture that the great multitude of Gentiles of Revelation 7:9 will be saved by the witness of the 144,000 of vv. 3-8. Some of these will undergo martyrdom (Revelation 6:9-11), some will be spared to enter the millennial kingdom (Zechariah 12:6-13:9). Many of the Psalm express, prophetically, the joys and sorrows of the tribulation remnant.Note on Jeremiah 15:11: The remnant, of which Jeremiah is the representative, is carefully distinguished from the unbelieving mass of the people. They must share with the nation the coming captivity, for they too have sinned (v. 13). However the LORD's judgment upon the nation will be but a purifying chastisement to them, and they receive a special protection (v. 11). Verses 15-18 give the answer of the remnant to vv. 11-14. Two things characterize the believing remnant always-loyalty to the Word of God, and separation from those who mock that Word (vv. 16-17 cf. Rev. 3:8-10). (Notes, The New Scofield Reference Bible,Oxford University Press, New York, 1967)
According to James Montgomery Boice who quotes a Gallup Poll, about 60% of Americans claim to be Christians. However he notes that the lifestyle of this total group is no different that the rest of the nation--same divorce rate, same moral values etc. On the other hand 12.5 of these professing Christians say that their spiritual values are "very important" to them and most in this group say they are "very happy." The divorce rate in this sub group is very low. At least 50% of the people in this sub group are involved with the poor, the orphans, widows and relief projects. I think this latter group is what we would call "the remnant"--perhaps 5% of the total U.S. population.
In Elijah's day the prophet thought he was the only one left in a nation of several million but "Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 'Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have demolished thy altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.' But what is God's reply to him? 'I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.' So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace." 7000 out of ~2 million is about 3.5%. (The believing remnant in Israel today is probably about the same).
it cannot be ruined; against it "the gates of Hades shall not prevail."
The local assembly may indeed by sadly ruined; but it can be restored, as, by the grace of God,
has been seen times without number -- at Corinth, for example.
The only other institution in question is that agglomeration of sects that is called "Christendom."
But that is unrecognized by the New Testament -- it is not of God at all: and that it is "in ruins" is no matter for our regret. ... G. H. Lang
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1988.
W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr., An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas. Nelson, Nashville , 1984.
J.D. Douglas & Merrill C. Tenney, The New International Dictionary of the Bible, Zondervan, 1987.
July 22, 1994. September 20, 2002. November 18, 2003.