One of the greatest dramas the world will ever see will be the conversion of Israel when our Lord returns: “There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them when I shall take away their sins” (Rom 11:26-27, citing Isa 59:20-21 and 27:9 LXX). For 2000 years the Jews have been living in denial of the greatest sin ever committed, that of rejecting and crucifying the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, the subject of the promises and the prophets; and the one who will sit as King of Kings for 1000 years on the throne of David in Jerusalem.

It is hard to imagine how this could have hap­pened. Pilate sought to distance himself from the crime: he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it” (Matt 27:24). It was a pathetic attempt to absolve himself from the crime that his own weakness had sanctioned, but there were others who were only too willing to pick up the guilt: “His blood be upon us, and our children” (v25), said the Jews. It was a terrible prophecy: Jerusalem was destroyed, her citizens were led into captivity and dispersed; they were the subjects of persecution, pogroms and anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the gas chambers.

The amazing blindness has continued right up to our day. In the early 1990s Brother Leslie and Sister Edith Johnson were living in Jerusalem and Brother Leslie attended meetings of a society of Jews whose mandate was to deny and demolish any reasoning that sought to prove Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah. Valiantly our brother confounded their attempts.1

No eminent Jew has ever arisen to reject this fateful blindness, this failure to see how Jesus of Nazareth fits perfectly in the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. As Isaiah foretold, “There is none to guide her [Zion] among all the sons whom she has brought forth; neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up. These two things are come unto thee; who shall be sorry for thee? Desolation, and destruc­tion, and the famine, and the sword” (51:18-19).

The coming drama

Despite persecution, the nation has been pre­served, their ultimate deliverance and exaltation being guaranteed by Yahweh Himself: “I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal 3:6); and, “Fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the LORD; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid” (Jer 30:10). Regathered and back in Eretz Israel they are the greatest visible evidence that the divine purpose is being fulfilled and is ‘on track’.

The conversion of Israel and their restoration to divine favour is a profound task given the secu­lar nature of the people on the one hand and the categorical adherence to the Law by the Orthodox Jews on the other. It will involve a radical change of heart. Describing this, Ezekiel says, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes … And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers” (36:26-28). Jeremiah is equally emphatic for, speaking about the new covenant that Yahweh will make with the house of Israel he says, “After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (31:33).

In the words that follow we want to analyse and contemplate what has been revealed in the Word of God about this complete change of heart that is forecast for Israel. How will God bring this about when 2000 years of suffering has not brought it about? There is much said about the “turning away of ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom 11:26) and there are a number of phases in this transformation.

The work of Elijah

At the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with the Lord about his coming decease, no doubt encouraging him in this great task that now lay before him. Peter, James and John, who witnessed his transfiguration questioned him about what the scribes had said about Elijah: “Why say the scribes that Elias [Elijah] must first come?” Jesus affirms this to be the case: “Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things” (Mark 9:12). These words confirm what Malachi had written: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal 4:5-6). This is in harmony with what Gabriel said to Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, when explaining to him the mission of the son he was to have: “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17). John the Baptist’s work at the first advent of Jesus Christ would parallel that of Elijah’s at his second coming. So, clearly, Elijah will be engaged in the work of converting Israel prior to the Lord’s advent.

The Lord told “certain of the Pharisees” that a day would come when their attitude to him would change radically: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35).

Israel on the brink of annihilation

We observe today the gathering storm in the Middle East, around the borders of the restored nation of Israel. We know that the Gogian host is going to descend from the north and that Israel will be powerless to resist this assault, for all nations will be caught up in this vortex and be gathered against Jerusalem (Zech 12:9; 14:1-3). Hitherto, Israel has been confident and able to defend her borders against her enemies. This time it will be different and the deliverance of the nation will depend on divine intervention. The Song of Moses, written before the history of the nation of Israel commenced, tells us of Yahweh’s intervention at a critical time: “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense: their [Israel’s] foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste. For the LORD shall judge [RSV ‘vindicate’; Moffat ‘right his people’s wrongs’] his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left” (Deut 32:35-36). The latter part of this quotation reads as follows in the Septuagint: “For he saw that they were utterly weakened, and failed in the hostile invasion, and were become feeble”. As Brother Thomas puts it in Eureka, “This perfect powerlessness of the tribes before their enemies excites the indignation and compassion of Yahweh. The scattering of their power having attained its climax, the morning of their deliverance arrives” (Eureka Vol 1, 1968 Dawn edition p 349).

Just how Yahweh moves to accomplish both the deliverance as well as the conversion of His people we now want to examine. Remember He is going to take away their stony hearts and give them hearts of flesh! How would you do this? The Word of God shows us in an amazing way just how this will be accomplished.

Joseph and his brethren

Before the history of the nation of Israel com­menced, there is recorded one of the greatest types in Scripture. This is the ‘parable’ of Joseph’s life that prefigures in almost unbelievable detail the life of our Lord. Indeed known unto God are all things and He rules in the kingdoms of men. From the jealousy of Joseph’s brethren and their desire to kill him, to his elevation to second in the land of Egypt, and the subsequent dependence on corn in Egypt that brought his brothers into a dependent juxtaposition with Joseph, we marvel at the hand of God behind the scene. But it is his revealing of himself to his brethren that we want to consider. It was Judah who spoke on behalf of his brethren when Joseph, as yet unknown, contrived to detain Benjamin, his brother. Judah had pledged to restore Benjamin to his father, who had mourned deeply the loss of his beloved favourite son, Joseph. Such was Jacob’s love for Benjamin, whose presence upon their return to Egypt was demanded by the Egyptian ruler, that he had resisted all attempts by his sons to fetch more desperately needed corn.

Judah’s appeal to Joseph is recognised as one of the greatest speeches ever made. In obeisance upon the ground, Judah speaks in moving, poign­ant expressions of the love of his father for the son of his old age, a little one, whose brother is dead. Failure to return with him would bring death for “his life is bound up in the lad’s life”. Dramatically he predicted that “thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave” – Joseph knew something of the tender feelings of Jacob for his brother Benjamin!

Jeremiah’s description of the threat posed to the existence of Israel as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (30:4-8) is founded upon his love for the sons of Rachel.

Then suddenly a remarkable thing happened. Joseph could no longer refrain himself and com­manded that all depart save his brethren. Joseph wept aloud, even the house of Pharaoh outside hearing him. He revealed his identity to them: “I am Joseph; doth my father yet live?” His brethren were terrified and he prayed them come near and again asserted, “I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt” (Gen 45:4). Showing remarkably the “spirit of grace”, he told them not to be angry or grieved with themselves that they had sold him into Egypt but bid them see the bigger picture that God had sent him before them to preserve life (v5, 7-8).

The impact upon Joseph’s brethren was total: their relationship to him was altered forever. Expecting vengeance, they had received mercy and forgiveness and deliverance. Their stony hearts became hearts of flesh. This story of Joseph and his brethren prefigures the coming dramatic revelation of Christ to Israel when their very existence as a nation is in peril.

Joseph in the New Testament

At least twice in the New Testament there are direct allusions to Joseph’s life and its typical significance.

In the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, when the servants saw the son of the householder: “They said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance” (Matt 21:38). In these words we find the echo of the words spoken by Joseph’s brethren as he came to them (Gen 37:18-20).

The other occasion is in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:13 when he reminds his Jewish audience that “at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren”. Like Joseph’s brethren they had been “the betrayers and murderers” of the “Just One” (v52) and the time would come when they would have to stand before the greater than Joseph “at the second time”.

Wounds in the hands and the feet

In Zechariah 13:6 there is a truly remarkable verse, soon to have a dramatic fulfilment: “And one shall say to him [Christ], What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (see also Psa 22:16).

Looking from his eyes to his outstretched hands the question is asked, “What are these wounds …?” The answer identifies the source of the wounds and who inflicted them.

This happening is put in a more compelling context in the preceding chapter: “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplica­tions: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son [LXX agapetos, beloved], and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (v10).

The greatness of the impact on those who look on the one pierced, even our Lord (John 19:37), can be seen from the words that follow. The depth of the mourning, as for a beloved son, a firstborn son, as at the tragic death of Josiah (2 Chron 35:24­ 25); no public mourning, no wailing at the Wailing Wall, but every family apart and even husbands from their wives.

Expecting retribution like Joseph’s brethren, instead a remarkable thing happens: “The spirit of grace and of supplications” is poured upon the house of David! As Joseph explained to his brethren God’s hidden purpose to save them, so the Messiah will make it clear that his death at their hands was the integral part of God’s plan, not only for the redemp­tion of Israel but of the whole world! It will be a hard fact to digest but shame will turn into wonder: he is the true Passover Lamb and the antitype of every sacrifice under the Law, indeed, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8)!

Will not the perception of the enormity, the gravity of the crime committed against Jesus, the Son of God, then sink in and change the stony heart of unbelief into a heart of flesh? for “when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed (2 Cor 3:16 RSV).” There will be confession and conversion, a genuine turning away of ungodliness from Jacob – and so all Israel shall be saved.

What is the lesson for us? Well, there are many. Do we appreciate the privilege that is ours in know­ing these things? Are we moved to devote our lives to the service of him who was wounded for our iniquities? The Apostle John tells us, “Behold he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen” (Rev 1:7).