One of the most unrealized yet central scriptural patterns of New Testament proclamation is Christ’s fulfillment of eschatological promises. This fulfillment of the universal and eschatological passages in the Old Testament is the reason why the Gospel goes to all nations.
Through Christ, the end has begun to be realized. The Gospel, by its very nature, is eschatological. It is the last hour. The kingdom of God is near. Hence, the Gospel saves all who believe since Jesus reigns over all creation.
In this regard, the New Testament applies passages about the subjugation of gentiles to the church. To be more accurate, the New Testament sees Gentile conquest passages as first all a subjugation by faith and inclusion into the people of God. And then second, in the end, these passages point to Christ’s subjugation of the nations by force (e.g., Rev 19).
Let me explain how this works before spending time in Romans 15 to see an important example of this apostolic proclamation in practice.
Jesus is the king of Israel and ruler of nations
The Old Testament prophecies of the nations submitting to Israel—these universal promises—are the reason why the Gospel goes to the nations. In Christ, the king of Israel, the nations kneel—they enter the kingdom through Christ. John says Christ “made us a kingdom” (Rev 1:6). So he shares in the tribulation and kingdom of the saints in Christ (1:9), who is “the ruler of kings on earth” (1:5).
That Christ rules the earth and that in him the church is the kingdom goes a long way in explaining why some conquest passages in the Old Testament now apply to the church. For example, James in Acts 15:13–17 cites Amos 9—in which a rebuilt Israel will conquer the nations—to argue for the inclusion of the gentiles in the church as gentiles and so not requiring Jewish works of the law.
Welcoming the Gentiles (Romans 15)
To show how this works, it is instructive to turn to Romans 15. Here, Paul cites a number of passages from the Old Testament to explain why Gentiles can praise God for his mercy. More particularly, Paul instructs believers to accept one another as Christ accepted them:
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. (Rom 15:7–9).
Note the key lines of thought here. Christ serves Jewish people, fulfills the promises, and moves the Gentiles to glory in God’s mercy.
To verify these points, Paul cites Scripture:
As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” (Ps 18:49; 2 Sam 22:50)
Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” (Deut 32:43; Isa 66:10)
And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” (Ps 117:1)
And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.” (Isa 11:10; Rom 15:9–12)
This passage may be the most remarkable set of scriptural proofs for gentile inclusion in the whole of the apostolic writings. Consider each in turn.
1. Psalm 18
Paul here varies between citing scriptural passages as surprisingly addressing the church and/or as submitting the rule of the king of Israel by faith rather than by military conquest. In the first citation, David sings of God’s victory over David’s enemies. He speaks of “the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me” (Ps 18:47). He continues to understand God as exalting “me above those who rose against me” (Ps 18:48).
The next verse is what Paul quotes in Romans 15:
For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing to your name. Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever. (Ps 18:49–50; Paul only cites v. 49)
David will praise God among the nations (gentiles) for his victory and salvation and steadfast love to his anointed (Messiah)—to David and his offspring forever.
2. Deuteronomy 32 and Isaiah 66
Paul’s allusion to Deuteronomy 32:43 (LXX) should shock when we consider the context:
Rejoice, O heavens, with him, and let all the children of God worship him! Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people, and let the angels of God strengthen him because his children’s blood will be avenged. He will avenge and repay justice to his enemies. He will repay their hate. And the Lord will cleanse the land of his people.
The heavens, children of God, and gentiles ought to rejoice with God’s people because God will take vengeance on his enemies. Paul sees this as a message of inclusion by faith since the passage includes Gentiles as part of the rejoicers. The future tense used throughout further makes sense of Paul’s use here since the Gospel is the beginning of God’s end-time vindication of justice.
The last line here is ambiguous: “And the Lord will cleanse the land of his people.” We may assume that it means “for his people” yet the LXX passage simply says, “cleanse the land of his people.”
This leads to an interesting possibility that Paul here understands Israel’s temporary rejection as portrayed here (Rom 9–11). Deuteronomy 28–30 affirms that Israel will be rejected and expelled from the land already before God’s great work of salvation as Paul does in Romans (Rom 9–11).
Incidentally, this passage does not preclude reference to the final judgment for those who do not embrace the Lord by faith.
Paul may also allude to Isaiah 66:10, which addresses the church directly:
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance. (Isa 66:10–11).
Jerusalem probably stands for the source of salvation, the Jerusalem above in which God dwells (Isa 66:1–6). In a letter so heavily invested in demonstrating that both Jews and Gentiles are justified by the same Gospel, Paul strategically references Isaiah 66 here. Paul may have in mind Zion’s birth of children in verse 8 since it births a nation (goy). In this case, Christ is the male son of verse 7.
If correct, Christ is the male child in Isaiah 66:7. The nation born from Jerusalem above is the church (goy) in Isaiah 66:8. They become children of Zion (v. 8). Hence, they are called to rejoice with Jerusalem in verse 10 and nurse from the breast of the city (v. 11).
3. Psalm 117
This two-verse psalm precedes a key messianic psalm (Ps 118). Both share the same theme and nearly exact language. Likely, in the Psalter, Psalm 117 specifies a universal (“all peoples”) call to worship God before Psalm 118 particularly highlights Israel’s call to worship him.
It thus makes complete sense for Paul to cite this psalm in Romans 15 to argue for gentile inclusion. If they can worship God, cannot they also enter into the blessings of God by faith? Paul affirms it.
4. Isaiah 11:10
Paul ends by citing the famous “root of Jesse” passage since the root will “stand as a signal for the peoples” and “of him shall the nations inquire” (11:10). The root of Jesse is David or rather a king like David who also has the wisdom of Solomon since nations inquire of him (perhaps anyways). This root first rescues his people from the nations (11:11) before defeating the nations (11:12–16).
Isaiah 11:12 repeats the phrase “signal for the nations” but substitutes “nations” for “peoples” as it was in 11:10 (the verse Paul cites). This repetition confirms that the root will be a signal of the nations by holding a banner of victory as he conquers the nations.
The king does that, yet as we learn in Isaiah 53, this conquering happens through suffering. The New Testament, of course, knows Jesus as the root of Jesse, the suffering servant who by the cross defeats his enemies.
Paul almost certainly reads Isaiah 11 with Isaiah 53, since the LXX version links these two passages through the use of ῥίζα (root) in both passages and since the apostolic teaching applies both passages to Jesus. In any case, the conquering root of Isaiah 11 justifies the inclusion of the gentiles by faith here according to Paul as he cites it to prove this very thing.
A number of implications follow. First, Old Testament passages that describe Israel or her king conquering the nations in the future occur because Jesus conquers the nations as the king of Israel by the cross and resurrection. So he conquers by faith. Yet this does not preclude his conquering by force those who do not believe when he returns. The conquering passages thus have a double meaning–conquer by faith or later by force.
Second, this reasoning explains why Hebrews 11 can affirm that the Patriarchs were not looking for the Land as such but the heavenly city of God. The land, promised through forceful prophecy in the Old Testament, comes to fulfillment, as Hebrews 11 and 12 claim, when the saints who are made perfect ascend to the heavenly Zion.
So the New Testament’s application of the physical land promises fit into the prophetic fulfillment of Jesus who conquers by faith and then by force—as Isaiah 53 and 11 demonstrate. The land of promise typified the heavenly Zion. Conquering typified Christ’s peaceful first advent and justification by faith as well as Christ’s second advent and his judgment of the nations by force.
Third, this pattern helps us to further read Scripture with apostolic integrity as we seek the face of the Lord in the scriptural texts where Christ lies.