There are two major prophecies concerning the advance of the gospel that remain unfulfilled at this very moment: that Israel would embrace the Messiah, and that the good news of Jesus would reach every tribe and ethnic group in the world.
These are not just isolated prophecies. Instead, they are repeated often, and play a significant role in how the believers are to think about the future.
First, the Bible prophecies a future time when unbelieving Israel will see a revival as many hearts are converted to faith in the Messiah. In Psalm 14:7 David says, “Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come from Zion! When the Yahweh restores the fortunes of His people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.” Not only is this a prophecy of the coming of the Savior, but David looks beyond that to the actual conversion of Israel because of the Savior (and that’s repeated in Psalm 53:6).
Moreover, the prophets describe the future day of the Lord as a time of judgement when wrath will be poured out on Israel. The nations will surround Israel for battle with the goal of annihilating them. But then, in the midst of that battle, God will “pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David… as they look at me whom they pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). The prophecy goes on to describe a national mourning that begins with Israel’s women, and spreads to the families, and finally through the tribes of David and Levi to the remaining tribes of Israel (Zechariah 12-14).
Zechariah makes this prophecy to a disobedient nation. In fact, their salvation is seen in the context of them breaking their idols, and Yahweh striking the evil shepherds that had scattered the sheep. The same is true of Jeremiah’s prophecies of Israel’s salvation. They are not prophecies given to those who were by faith awaiting the Messiah, but rather go to people that are future, “scattered,” and under the oppression of wicked shepherds.
Its to that group Jeremiah declares that Yahweh will one day give them a good shepherd, and after that the good shepherd will reign. When he does, “Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely” (Jeremiah 23:6; also 33:16).
Isaiah introduces his prophecy by describing a sad state in Israel—the people are rebellious and the tribes are in adultery. Nevertheless Yahweh will “redeem” Israel by justice (1:27), and he will “restore” them by burning away their sin and removing their impurities (1:25-26). In many ways the rest of Isaiah flows from this promise that God will punish Israel to one day save her.
Of course, God will save Israel through the new covenant. This is expressly what the covenant is about: Yahweh will “sprinkle clean water” on Israel, and cleanse them from all their sin (Ezekiel 36:25; 29). Those people will remember their evil ways, and then hate their previous sins, as they cling to God for salvation (Ezekiel 36:31).
These kind of prophecies are what Paul relied on in the New Testament, when he too looked forward to the future conversion of the 12 tribes. Paul would reference Isaiah 59:20-21 and Jeremiah 31:31-34 in his own prophecy: “In this way, all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).
But God has never only been concerned with the salvation of Israel. Even in his separation of Israel, God explained to them that he was isolating them so that Israel would one day be able to attract the nations to the Messiah (Deut 4:6). This is exactly what Solomon has in mind when he prays at the dedication of the Temple, and he asks that God will use the temple so that “all the peoples of the earth may know your name, to fear you as do your people Israel” (1 Kings 8:43, 54, 60).
Certainly Solomon was not meaning every individual, but rather had as his hope that the good news of the gospel would go from the temple to the nations—to every nation. This is how Isaiah predicts it: “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isiah 49:6). In other words, it is not good enough for God to simply save the 12 tribes. He instead is going to bring his salvation to even the most remote parts of the earth.
This is the hope in Psalm 117, which looks for “all nations” to worship Yahweh. Or Psalm 22:27, which predicts that all the tribes of the earth will do the same. Again, it is not sufficient for it to simply the be the 12 tribes of Israel, but this will be replicated throughout the globe.
When Jesus gives the great commission, he confirms this global understanding of the gospel’s advance: “Go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). He even stakes his second coming on it, when he says, “The Gospel will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
To recap: both of these promises remain unfilled at this moment in time. But they will not remain unfulfilled forever. In fact, this is what is so remarkable about Revelation 7. There, John records a vision of the fulfillment of both sets of prophecies. He sees the 12,000 from the 12 tribes come to faith—and he belabors the point by going through the numbers tribe-by-tribe—and then he turns and he sees in heaven “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” fulfilling Psalm 117 by worshiping the lamb who is seated on the throne (Revelation 7:9-10).
The book of Revelation is not only prophecy of future events, but in chapter 7 it shows us past prophecy fulfilled. In so doing, Revelation gives us confidence that the gospel will go forward from Jerusalem to the most remote places on the earth, and it will save people wherever it goes.
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