Although the nation Israel as a whole was God’s people, only a minority of the people ever truly believed. While the majority carried out their rituals without any attitude of genuine repentance or faith, there were always the few who were truly devoted to God. This faithful minority is consistently referred to as the remnant. Israel may have been God’s people in the national sense, but the remnant were God’s people in the spiritual sense. They were the true Israel (Rom 9:6-7,27).

When God’s people of Old Testament times rebelled against him, the prophets announced God’s judgment upon them. Time and again the prophets declared that God had rejected his unfaithful people but would preserve the faithful remnant. One task of the prophets was to build up and encourage the remnant (1 Kings 19:18; Isa 1:9; 8:16-19; 10:20-23; 28:5; Jer 15:19-21). The prophets saw that events were heading towards a judgment far greater than anything the people had met previously.

The nation would be conquered, Jerusalem destroyed and the people taken into captivity. But God would still preserve a remnant, so that after a time in captivity, some would return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, the city and the nation (Ezra 9:13-15; Isa 11:11-12,16; Micah 2:12). After the return, the people as a whole again became unfaithful to God, but there was always a remnant of faithful believers. From this remnant the Messiah eventually came (Micah 5:2-3,7-8; Zech 8:11-12; Mal 3:16-18; Matt 1:18-21; Luke 1:5-7; 2:25-38). Still the majority of Israel rebelled against God, this time rejecting the Messiah. But a remnant received him. This faithful minority of old Israel became the nucleus of the new people of God, the Christian church (Luke 24:44-49; John 20:20-22; Acts 1:13-15; 2:1-4). Within a few years the church consisted largely of non-Jews. Within it, however, were the believing Jews, the faithful remnant, the spiritual Israelites who believed in Jesus the Messiah and became part of his church (Acts 13:43; 16:1; 17:2-4; 18:8; Rom 2:28-29; 9:6-8; 11:1-5).

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