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The Last Will Be First, And The First Will Be Last

It recently occurred to me that Jesus' repeated declaration that the coming Kingdom of God would result in a logical reversal of sorts for who would gain entrance first, may be strong evidence of the dispensational, premillennial viewpoint, and perhaps even the pretribulational rapture itself.  In Matthew 19:30 Jesus says the following and then tells a parable about the coming of God's Kingdom:

But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

He says the same thing elsewhere in Matthew 20:16, Mark 10:31, and Luke 13:30 - perhaps a statement more important than we have previously given credit.  Certainly in these scriptures there is an obvious and oft-repeated truth to be found that the humble will be exalted and the exalted humbled and that the meek will inherit the earth, but I think there might be something more profound on eschatological grounds:

We know that God first appeared to the Jews and made for Himself a nation from the children of Jacob.  Likewise, when Jesus came the first time He remained with the Jews and commanded His disciples to preach only to the lost sheep of Israel.  God first exalted the Jews and first offered His gift of salvation to them.  The Jews were first.  You can see this truth played out vividly in Jesus' interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman in Matthew 15 where He uses a classic Jewish idiom describing Gentiles as "dogs":

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

- Matthew 15:21-28

However, though the first Christians were Jews, the Jewish people as a whole rejected their Messiah and gave Him over to the Roman authorities to be crucified.  And so a major reversal happened:  Israel was destroyed 37 years later (in AD 70) and God set Israel aside for some two thousand years while He instead pursued the Gentiles.  Paul's message of the Gospel of Grace was sent forth all over the ancient world and the Gentiles were grafted in.

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

- Romans 11:25-32

In the Old Testament and the gospels Israel was exalted and first and the Gentile "dogs" last and humbled, but from Acts to Revelation the Gentiles became first and Israel became last (Acts 15:14-18).  Since virtually all dispensationalists agree that Israel will not be saved until sometime in the later part of the Tribulation, it is not hard to understand why Jesus' words in Matthew 19:30 may be foreshadowing the rapture, the Tribulation, and the millennial reign of Christ.

In order for the Gentiles (and those few Jews who have had faith in Jesus during the Church Age) to come first into the Kingdom it figures that there should be a distinction made in the order of resurrections and that is exactly what we see in Daniel 12:11-13 where the prophet Daniel is promised a resurrection at the end of the Tribulation period.  In other words, aside from the select few who were raised in Jerusalem immediately after Christ's resurrection (Matthew 27:52-53), the greater part of Old Testament saints will be raised at the end of the Tribulation, around the time the Gentile Tribulation Saints are also raised (Revelation 20:4).

To summarize:

- In the Old Testament and gospels you see Israel first and Gentiles second.

- In the Church Age (Acts to the rapture) you see Gentiles first and Israel second.  The Church is raised first (Jew and Gentile believers) at the rapture and the saints from the Old Testament who had an imperfect knowledge of the Messiah are raised second at the Second Coming.

- You also see this reversal reflected on the macro-scale where the Gentile nations are exalted during the Church Age and Israel is dispersed and in exile, while in the Millennium Israel is now restored and her King reigns over all the nations of the earth.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last.

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  1. Yes! You have also reminded me of Deuteronomy 28:13, in regard to future Israel, "The LORD will make you the head and not the tail..."



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