WERE GENTILES SAVED BEFORE OUR DISPENSATION OF GRACE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Could Gentiles be saved before Paul’s ministry, before our Dispensation of Grace began? If so, how were they saved? As always, the Holy Bible is our final authority, so let us look at it, and it alone, for answers.
Ephesians 2:11-12 describes the situation before our Dispensation of Grace: “ Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:”
In what the Bible calls “time past,” before our Dispensation of Grace began (that is, before the “but now” of verse 13 began), God was dealing almost exclusively with the nation Israel. At that time, our Gentile (or, non-Jewish) ancestors were “without Christ” (Christ’s earthly ministry was to Israel only; Matthew 10:5-7; Matthew 15:24; John 4:22; Romans 15:8), our Gentile ancestors “had no hope,” and our Gentile ancestors were “without God in the world.” Although “time past” involved God’s dealings with the nation Israel, that does not mean that God did not care about Gentiles. According to the Scriptures, the very reason why God was dealing with the nation Israel was to form an earthly people through whom He could then send salvation and spiritual light to the Gentiles. God was dealing with the nation Israel, to save the nation Israel, so then redeemed Israel would minister to Gentiles, that the Gentiles receive and believe the God of Israel, the one true God of creation.
Read the Abrahamic Covenant, the promise God made with Abram (later changed to Abraham) in Genesis 12:1-3: “ Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:  And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Again, it would be through redeemed Israel that God would reach the Gentiles (see Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 60:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23; also Genesis 22:18; Genesis 28:14; Isaiah 2:1-4; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 45:22; Isaiah 49:6,22-23; Isaiah 60:14; Isaiah 61:1,2,6,9; Isaiah 62:2; Isaiah 66:19; Jeremiah 3:17; Micah 4:1-3; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 21:23-27).
In order to prove that, overall, He did care about Gentiles, God dealt with some Gentiles in “time past.” Yet, and this is the important condition to remember, in time past, God dealt with Gentiles on the basis of Israel. As per the Abrahamic Covenant quoted above, God would only deal with Gentiles if Israel were somehow involved, if the Gentiles somehow blessed Israel or placed themselves under Israel to receive God’s blessings. Let us see some examples of this from the Scriptures, how God dealt with Gentiles outside of our Dispensation of Grace, but always involving the nation Israel.
Consider Rahab the Canaanitess (Gentile) prostitute who lived in the city of Jericho. As the Israelites were entering the Promised Land under Joshua, Israel encountered Jericho’s walls. Before Israel defeated the city, Joshua sent two Jewish spies to scout out Jericho. The Bible says that Rahab hid these two Jewish men when her Gentile city officials came looking for them (Joshua 2:1-24).
Read Rahab’s confession in verses 9-11: “ And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.  And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.”
The spies reassured Rahab that she and her household would be saved when Israel would overrun and defeat Jericho (see the end result in Joshua 6:22-25). Hebrews 11:31 summarizes, “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” According to the Holy Spirit, Rahab was a Gentile believer of the Old Testament, a saved (redeemed) Gentile in time past (see also James 2:25). As an interesting side note, according to Matthew 1:5, Rahab was actually an ancestor of Joseph, Jesus’ foster father; additionally, Rahab was Ruth’s mother-in-law, and an ancestor of King David.
Recall that Ruth was a Moabitess (Gentile) and her mother-in-law, Naomi, was a Jewess. Naomi, now bereaved of her husband and her two sons (one of whom was Ruth’s husband), wanted to leave Moab (east of the Dead Sea) and return to Judah (the area of Jerusalem, northwest of the Dead Sea), now that Judah’s famine was over. Naomi said that she would go back to Canaan and instructed Ruth to return to her (pagan) relatives in Moab. Ruth refused. “And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried…” (Ruth 1:16,17a). Ruth renounced her heathen (Gentile) religion and she desired Israel’s God to be her God! Eventually, she accompanied Naomi back to Judah. Ruth was another instance of a saved Gentile in “time past.” Furthermore, finally, Ruth became the mother of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David, and King David was… the ancestor of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:32). God used (Gentile) Ruth to establish Jesus Christ’s bloodline!
As a fascinating side note, Zechariah 8:22-23 describes believing Gentiles in the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ: “ Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD.  Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.” Amazingly, this is basically what Gentile Ruth said to Jewish Naomi some 3,000 years earlier!
In another well-known Old Testament account, JEHOVAH God commanded the Prophet Jonah, a Jew, to preach to wicked Nineveh, a Gentile city and the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. You can read all about his ministry in the little Bible book of Jonah, which speaks of how God wanted these Gentiles to repent of their pagan idolatry and believe/trust Him as the one true God. While Nineveh did reform after hearing Jonah’s preaching, the city, centuries later, returned to heathenism and was eventually overrun by its enemies (prophesied in the book of Nahum). Although the Bible is unclear as to which of the Ninevites, if any, were saved unto eternal life, Jonah’s ministry is another indication that God did care about Gentiles in time past. As an interesting side note, Jonah’s rebellion typified Israel’s unbelief and utter refusal to be the nation God desired to use to minister to Gentiles. Just as Jonah eventually changed his mind and preached to Gentiles, so Israel will one day enter her earthly kingdom and fulfill her God-given commission (Isaiah 60:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23).
CONVERTED GENTILES IN ESTHER’S DAY
After Persian king Ahasuerus decreed that no one persecute the Jews in his land, the Bible says, “And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king’s commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them” (Esther 8:17). The way these Gentiles “became Jews” was to become physically circumcised, a convert to Israel’s religion of Judaism (see Exodus 12:48, for instance). The Scriptures do not disclose how many of these proselytes were actually saved unto eternal life.
However, oftentimes, through the centuries, Israel’s formalistic religious leaders placed too much emphasis on religious performance rather than stressing faith/trust in the JEHOVAH God who gave the ordinances. Hence, the Lord Jesus commented that many of the proselytes of His day were lost, going to hell. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). Like many churches today, they were merely seeking members to “join and support the program”—they were not seeking lost people to see them saved!
ROMAN CENTURION IN JESUS’ EARTHLY MINISTRY
In Matthew 8:5-13 (and Luke 7:1-10), a Gentile Roman centurion (a commander of 100 soldiers) begged Jesus to heal his servant who was greatly suffering with paralysis. In fact, Luke 7:2 says this servant is “dear unto him” and “ready to die.” This centurion loved this dying servant, and he desired the Lord to heal him before he passed away. Jesus declared He would come and heal the dying servant. Luke 7:3-5 explains: “ And when he [the centurion] heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.  And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this:  For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.”
As soon as the Roman centurion heard of Jesus’ entrance into Capernaum, he himself did not approach Jesus. Actually, the centurion knew that he could only access God through Israel, as per the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12:3. He knew that Jesus was sent to the nation Israel and not to Gentiles such as him (Romans 15:8). Thus, he sent some Jewish elders to Jesus on his behalf. Note the centurion loved Israel and he even built the Jews a synagogue. He was one of the few Gentiles who was not saturated with paganism—he recognized Israel’s God was the true God, and he understood that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah (something most of Israel did not care to realize)! He had blessed Israel, and God blessed him (Genesis 12:3). It seems likely that this Roman centurion was saved unto eternal life.
CANAANITE WOMAN IN JESUS’ EARTHLY MINISTRY
In Matthew 15:21-28 (and Mark 7:24-30), when a Canaanitess / Greek Syrophenician (Gentile) begged Jesus to heal her devil-possessed daughter, the Bible says, “he [Jesus] answered her not a word” (Matthew 15:23a). Jesus told His disciples, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). “But he [Jesus] answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s [Israel’s] bread, and to cast it to dogs [Gentiles]” (verse 26). Jesus reaffirmed that His ministry was to Israel, and He could not give to Gentile dogs what belonged to the children of Israel (His miracles, His blessings, His ministry). This dear Gentile woman recognized Israel’s preeminence, so she agreed with Jesus: “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (verse 27). She recognized that Jesus was sent to Israel, not to Gentiles such as herself and us. Only because she had faith in that fact, Jesus healed her daughter. She had placed herself under Israel’s table of blessing, and thus was blessed of God. Like the Roman centurion, she seems to have been saved unto eternal life.
SAMARITAN WOMAN IN JESUS’ EARTHLY MINISTRY
Although the Jews and the Samaritans had Jacob as their ancestor, the Jews did not like the Samaritans and tried to avoid them because the Samaritans had some Gentile ancestry and were not full-blooded Hebrews (see John 4:9,12). In John chapter 4, the Lord Jesus met and spoke with a promiscuous woman of Samaria. Notice what He told her in verse 22: “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” Jesus told her that salvation was sent to Israel, not her, and she readily understood that. This woman, although not a full-blooded Jew, was still willing to believe Jesus as Messiah (verses 25-29), and she brought many of her neighbors (other Samaritans) to see Jesus Christ; the Bible says that many Samaritans believed on Jesus Christ there (verses 34-42). Once this woman understood her position, that salvation went to Israel first, then Jesus Christ saved her.
PROSELYTES ON THE DAY OF PENTECOST
We read about “proselytes” (Gentile converts to Judaism) in Acts 2:10. Undoubtedly, the Bible did not consider them Gentiles anymore. They were now Jews in God’s mind, for Acts 2:5 says, “There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, of every nation under heaven.” These were members of the Apostle Peter’s audience on the day of Pentecost. Evidently, they were not saved just religious attending a religious festival, for they heeded Peter’s gospel message in Acts 2:36-41, and were thus saved.
GENTILE SALVATION AFTER OUR DISPENSATION
After our Dispensation of Grace ends with the Rapture—when the Church the Body of Christ is caught up in the air to meet the Lord Jesus Christ there (1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)—then God will resume dealing with Gentiles in the same manner He did before our dispensation began (refer to the foregoing passages and paragraphs). The Abrahamic Covenant will be in effect once more, and Gentiles during the seven-year Tribulation will have to bless Israel if they are to blessed of God (Matthew 25:31-46, note especially verse 34). These believing Gentiles will enter Jesus Christ’s earthly kingdom, to have God’s Word preached to them so they can believe it (Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 2:1-4; Isaiah 60:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Revelation 21:23-27).
A survey of the Scriptures outside of Paul’s epistles yields the conclusion that Gentiles can have a relationship with the God of the Bible in Israel’s prophetic program via three methods: (1) Become a Jew/proselyte, a convert to Judaism, (2) bless Israel in some way, and (3) submit to Israel’s preeminence in God’s dealings with man. When one understands the dispensational layout of Scripture, we can contrast this with how God deals with mankind today, how He deals with Gentiles today.
We read Ephesians 2:11-12 (what we read earlier) with verse 13 now: “ Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:  But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
In our program, our current Dispensation of Grace, salvation is available to all, not through Israel’s rise to kingdom glory, or through Israel in any way, but through Israel’s fall, through her spiritual blindness (Romans 11:11-12,25)—Gentile salvation was never a secret in the Bible, but our Gentile salvation apart from Israel was the secret that God had kept hidden until He revealed it first to Paul (Romans 11:25; cf. Romans 16:25-26; Ephesians 3:1-11). Furthermore, technically, everyone is a Gentile today, for Israel has no current status before God (this is temporary, remember). Today, we are saved by simple faith/trust in Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork (note His shed blood of Ephesians 2:13) as sufficient payment for our sins: this is the Gospel of the Grace of God associated with the Apostle Paul’s ministry (Romans 11:13). We do not have to join a special religion, we do not have to bless Israel with material goods to be blessed of God, and we do not have to submit to Israel’s preeminence to be saved (Israel is temporarily fallen before God anyway, according to Romans chapter 11). We are saved by becoming members of the Church the Body of Christ, an agency completely separate from the nation Israel.
How clear the Bible becomes when one will, “Study to shew [himself] approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).