|A306 : by Tony Garland |
The context in which Paul mentions the fullness of the Gentiles in Romans 11 concerns distinctions God has made in evangelistic purpose between Israel and the Church (Romans 9-11). In particular, Israel’s failure to accept her Messiah led to the gospel going to all nations and the intervening Church age (which began on the Day of Pentecost with the formation of the body of Christ).
The phrase, fullness of the Gentiles is thought by many to denote a point in time when a particular number from among the (largely Gentile) Church have come to faith, at which point God’s evangelistic emphasis will shift back toward bringing Israel to faith such that eventually all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26). Some go as far as connecting the completion of this number with the precise moment of the rapture.
The fullness of the Gentiles refers to the time when the last Gentile will have been saved and the church will be removed from the earth by the Rapture.1
Although I do think the fullness marks the point in which God’s evangelistic purpose shifts back toward the conversion of Israel, I’m not sure we can say it marks the precise timing of the rapture with surgical precision. This is mainly because the timing between the rapture and the beginning of the final week of Daniel’s 70 weeks (Dan. 9:24-27) cannot be established with precision from what Scripture reveals.
We know that Daniel’s 69th week ended with the arrival of Messiah (Dan. 9:25). Afterwards, in the gap between the 69th and 70th week, Messiah was cut off—crucified (Dan. 9:26). We also know that the 70th week begins with the confirmation of a covenant with many in Israel (Dan. 9:27). Those two markers are surgically precise, but the events between them are not necessarily so. And it would appear—from New Testament revelation— that two of the events within that period are the fullness of the Gentiles and the rapture.
Take, for example, the Church age. We often speak of the Church age as being the gap between the 69th and 70th weeks. But this is not precisely accurate. There is a short delay between the end of the 69th week (the arrival of Jesus) and the start of the Church age (the Day of Pentecost). And so there is a transition period between Jesus arriving as Israel’s Messiah, His rejection and crucifixion, and the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost.2 So, strictly speaking, the gap is not exactly the Church age since the Church did not exist until Spirit baptism began on the Day of Pentecost.
Since the Church age does not begin precisely with the end of the 69th week, we need to be careful not to assume it will end precisely with the fullness or the start of the 70th week. Likewise it would be unwise to draw unwarranted conclusions such as assuming the rapture occurs precisely when the fullness of the Gentiles occurs or that either of those events is commensurate with the beginning of the last week. They may be, but I don’t believe we can say with certainty.
My view is that the rapture occurs no earlier than the fullness of the Gentiles, but no later than the beginning of the 70th week. How much time expires between the fullness of the Gentiles and the signing of the covenant cannot be determined with precision—Scripture simply doesn’t give us that level of detail. It seems that the most that we could say with confidence concerning the timing of these three events might be expressed in a mathematical relation applied to the historical timeline:
fullness of Gentiles (Rom. 9:25) <= rapture (1Cor. 15:51-52; 1Th. 4:16) <= signing of covenant (start of 70th week, Dan. 9:26)3
|1.||Ref-0132, Rom. 11:25|
|2.||There are various views concerning the event in the ministry of Jesus which officially marks until Messiah (Dan. 9:26): His birth, His baptism, and His presentation to Israel as King.|
|3.||Scripture teaches that the rapture is imminenta—it has no known precursor. If the rapture occurs after the fullness of the Gentiles, this has no bearing on imminency because the fullness is presumably only known to God and could not be used by an observer to predict the rapture.|
|Ref-0132||King James Version Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1988).|