Quite frequently there is reference made in the Bible to a people who are “far off”. Sometimes the reference is to a “spiritual distance”, and sometimes to a “geographical distance”. Generally the geographical distance refers to the location of the people with reference to Jerusalem. And because God’s mercyseat was located in Jerusalem, sometimes their spiritual distance is likewise determined by their location with respect to Jerusalem where God was worshipped in the temple. The woman at the well said to Christ, “ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Christ replied, “we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews”. John 4:19 and 21. God had said to Israel: “there will I meet with you and commune with you from above the mercyseat.” Exodus 25:22. How different from the scene at Sinai when the ten commandments were given: “and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood “afar of”. Exodus 20:18. “They could not endure that which was commanded”. Hebrews 12:20. Certainly the Lord Jesus was not saying to the man who stated the great commandments that that man was not far from salvation because he almost kept the law. Mark 12:34. “Far off” is as near spiritually as the law of commandments ever brought any sinner to God. The law worketh wrath. Romans 4:15. Christ made peace by the blood of His cross. Colossians 1:20.
“For He is our peace”. “And came and preached peace to you which were “afar off; and them that were nigh.” “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:14 and 17 and 13.
From these verses we learn that at the time Paul was preaching the gospel of the grace of God, Israel was mentioned as “nigh” and the Gentiles, as aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, were “far off”. Most of them were also “far off” from Jerusalem; for the Saviour met Paul in the Jerusalem temple and said, “I will send you far hence to the Gentiles.” Acts 22:17 to 21. But particular reference is made in Ephesians 2:13 to the Gentiles’ spiritual distance from God. How far away from God they were is told in the first two chapters of Romans.
What an awful description! What a terrible condition! What a perilous predicament! God had given them up. They were alienated from the life of God; in the world without God, having no hope; dead in trespasses and sins. Ephesians 4:18. Ephesians 2:13. When God gave up the Gentiles centuries before Christ, He chose Israel. But that Nation was a miserable failure; their history one of sin, shame and disgrace, with the blood of prophets and the murder of the Son of God upon their heads. That Son prayed on the cross for Israel’s forgiveness, and God stretched forth His hand all day long to that disobedient and gainsaying people until they filled up their sins and God’s wrath came upon them to the uttermost. I Thessalonians 2:16. To provoke that Nation to jealousy the rejected Messiah sent the most religious Jew He could find to Gentiles with the gospel of grace, to tell Gentile sinners that they could be declared righteous and receive eternal life without obeying Moses or observing any of Israel’s religious ceremonies. “The word is nigh to thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart. But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Romans 10:8 and 9.
Paul’s message from the risen Christ for Gentiles “far off” was so different from the message Christ gave to the Twelve, while He was Jesus of Nazareth in the midst of Israel. They were sent to Israel only, with signs, and with a message concerning the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 10:5 to 8. Paul’s message was so different from the message of Peter and the Eleven in the first chapters of Acts. Paul never preached to any Gentile Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” That is not the gospel of the grace of God for Gentiles. There was grace in the message: but it was for devout Jews from every Nation under heaven, for “ye men of Israel”; for “all the house of Israel”. Acts 2:5; Acts 2:22; and Acts 2:36.
But how about Acts 2:39? “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are “afar off”, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Here is where we may see the great blunder of getting the “geographical distance” of people confused with the spiritual distance. Let us remember that the Israelites in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, were from every nation under heaven. With respect to Jerusalem there were Israelites from “afar off” and those who are nigh. God had made promises by the holy prophets concerning these Israelites.
Here is one of the promises: “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither Thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against Thee”. Daniel 9:7. Again: “I create the fruit of the lips: Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal them.” Isaiah 57:19. Again: “He that is far off shall die of the pestilence: and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish My fury upon them.” Ezekiel 6:12. Again: “And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord, and ye shall know that the Lord of Hosts hath sent me unto you. And this shall come to pass if ye will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.” Zechariah 6:15. Again: “Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge My might.” Isaiah 33:13. Again: “Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God: Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.” Ezekiel 11:16. Again: “Those that be near, and those that be far from thee, shall mock thee, which art infamous and much vexed.” Ezekiel 22:5.
When Peter was preaching to the Twelve Tribes on the day of Pentecost, it was not lawful for him to go to Gentiles. Acts 10:28. The first matter of importance was what all the house of Israel was going to do about the testimony of the Twelve and the witness of the Holy Spirit, sent in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy concerning the Messiahship of Jesus. God had raised Him from the dead in fulfillment of David’s prophecy, to reign on David’s throne. Would the Nation repent? God had exalted the Prince of Life, whom Israel had killed, to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. Would Israel repent?
This Israelitish message of repentance and kingdom restitution was not Paul’s ministry of reconciliation. While John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth and the Twelve had preached to Israel before the Saviour’s rejection and death, they had called Israel to baptism unto repentance for the remission of sins, because Israel’s promised kingdom was at hand. Matthew 3:2 to 12. Matthew 4:17. Matthew 10:7. Note the commission, ministry and message to Israel after the death of Christ; a call to Israel to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. When Paul preached to Gentiles they received the Holy Spirit when they heard the gospel of their salvation, the unmixed gospel of grace. Ephesians 1:13. Galatians 3:13 and 14.
For many years, as Paul preached the “grace” gospel to Gentile sinners, he reasoned with Israel, out of Israel’s Scriptures, that Jesus was the Messiah and warned them of the impending judgment. Christ had pronounced that judgment in Luke 21:20 to 24. Jerusalem would be destroyed. Israel would be scattered all over the earth. And hear this awful judgment: “But when the King heard thereof, He was wroth: and sent forth His armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.” Matthew 22:7.
This terrible penalty was withheld until God gave His Nation another opportunity. Jerusalem and the temple stood. Israel was given favor with Rome during their years of grace, more than thirty-five years. Some years after Christ died God, by the mouth of Paul, warned Israel. Acts 13:40. All of those years they were addressed as “brethren”. Their “all day long” came to an ends with the awful destruction of Jerusalem about 69 or 70 A.D. Romans 10:21. Israel today is still where Christ said they would be. Jerusalem is still where Christ said it would be. Luke 21:20 to 24. We quote Isaiah 6:12: “And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.”
This is the day of Gentile favor, the dispensation of the grace of God and the dispensation of the mystery. Ephesians 3:1 to 11. Israel has forfeited every special privilege or priority right and must come in without any circumcision advantage or any religious reputation or preference, on the same grounds as the poor lost condemned Gentile and be saved by grace alone.” “And came and preached peace to you which were afar off and to them that were nigh”. Ephesians 2:17. Quite significant that the “afar off” people are mentioned before the “nigh” people. This should be compared with Romans 1:16; Acts 3:25 and Acts 13:46.
All that is required to bring any kind of sinner to God is His grace and the precious blood of Christ. The necessary faith will be given for the appropriation of the grace and shed blood to any kind of a sinner who is willing to be saved.
Because of centuries of Christian influence it is not easy for Gentiles today to realize their predicament as set forth in Ephesians 2:12 and Ephesians 4:18 and Ephesians 2:1 to 3. But it is wonderful to know that the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men; that, therefore, salvation is as free as the air we breathe and may be received by any convicted sinner in any place at any time.
After this day of grace God will deal again with Israel. Some of them will be in and around Jerusalem; most of them will, be afar off. We quote several prophecies: Isaiah 43:5 and 6, “Fear not: for I am with thee I will bring thy seed from the east and gather them from the west. I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the ends of the earth”. Jeremiah 30:10: “Therefore 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 hand of their captivity: and Jacob shall return and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid.” Isaiah 60:4: “Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged: because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee.” Isaiah 60:9: “Surely the Isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because He hath glorified thee.” Micah 4:3: “And He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
We have God’s more sure word of prophecy that Israel will be established again in their own land; the tabernacle of David will be built again and the true King David will be Wonderful, Prince of Peace, reigning on David’s throne, with the government upon His shoulder.
Then there will be the fulfillment of kingdom Gentile salvation for the Isles “afar off” and the nations that shall come to worship the Lord. Isaiah 66:19 to 24.
Hear God’s question asked five centuries before Christ. It is up to date. “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God “afar off?” Jeremiah 23:23. And hear the answer: “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being; ascertain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.”
But let us remember, even as near as God is, there is only one way to Him. That way is Christ. John 14:6. Brought nigh by Christ’s blood. Ephesians 2:17. Draw nigh to God by the better hope. Hebrews 7:19. By the blood of Christ draw nigh in full assurance of faith. Hebrews 10:22.
How nigh are believers who are members of the Body of Christ? They are in Christ. Christ is in them. They are dead, buried, raised, risen and seated in the heavenlies in Him, in an unending, inseparable union with the glorified Christ; accepted in Him and complete in Him; and therefore, nothing above or below can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For more articles by Pastor J. C. O'Hair, visit the J. C. O'Hair Online Library.