Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel had been cast out of the Promised Land, scattered throughout the world and seemingly lost forever. However the Prophets foretold that one day, a great Savior King would come and gather those lost tribes and reunite them with the two tribes who had remained in the Promised Land—the Jews. While Christians may know about the Old Testament promises of the Savior, most know very little about the promises of return for the lost tribes. And while there are some Christian groups who do give an account for the lost Tribes, those accounts are mostly speculative or stem from sources outside the Bible. For example, some speculate the lost tribes are hidden in remote places around the world but will suddenly miraculously emerge when Jesus returns. The famous Book of Mormon documents how they traveled to the Americas and became the American Indians. Another group teaches they migrated and became certain Europeans (like the British) who will join with the Jews in the end times. Contrarily, the Jews believe they were absorbed into the Jews long ago. There is also a group who believe the tribes became the black race who will one day over take the white race to rule the world. Finally, there are those who give no physical account for the tribes at all but hold that the promises of return were metaphoric and to be interpreted in a spiritual sense only. But all this speculation is completely unnecessary as the Bible fully documents the account of the return of the lost tribes. Many miss it simply because they do not know the Old Testament very well. But as you will see, the full account is there. Here is a brief summary of the Biblical account of the return of the lost tribes of Israel.
The Fall of Israel and Promise of Restoration
God separated Israel from the other nations and promised that they would become a Holy nation which would bless the whole world. But instead, Israel only became utterly sinful and hopelessly broken. However the Prophets foretold that one day God would “Restore” Israel in such a way that they could finally become that promised Holy Nation who would bless the world. The Bible contains the story of the fall—AND the promised Restoration of Israel!!!
God made a Covenant (contract) with the 12 Tribes of Israel through which He promised to be their God and give them a beautiful land, while they promised to be His Holy people by keeping His Laws. And under God’s rule Israel became a great nation. But Israel soon rejected God’s rule and chose a man king to rule them instead. Later, because Israel’s man-king sinned, God took the kingdom away from him and divided Israel into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Israel who retained 10 tribes, and the Kingdom of Judah (the Jews) who retained 2 tribes. Both kingdoms had a series of wicked kings who caused their people to fall into sin. But because the Kingdom of Israel was especially wicked, the Prophets declared that God would soon destroy them. The Prophet Hosea described how the people of the Kingdom of Israel would be cast from the Promised Land and scattered all over the world where they would no longer be called God’s people. Only the Kingdom of Judah (the Jews) would remain. However Hosea also prophesied of a latter day when God would “redeem” (buy back) Israel, gather the scattered tribes, reunite them with Judah and once again say to them “you are My people”. The prophet Ezekiel also foretold of this great Restoration. He described how God himself would come as a “Good Shepherd” to seek and save the scattered sheep (lost Tribes). Moreover, how He would give Israel a “New Spirit” which would cause them to “come to life” and to become holy in heart. The Good Shepherd would also reunite the tribes of Israel with the tribes of Judah, and be their King forevermore! Eze 34-37
Fulfillment of the Restoration of Israel
In John 10:14, Jesus proclaimed that He was the “Good Shepherd” promised to come and make Israel “one flock” again. Jesus made the New Covenant and gave the promised New Spirit. So where were the lost Tribes??? Well, the Lost Tribes did indeed return—and the Restoration of Israel was fulfilled. But in a way far greater than anyone could have imagined.
The Book of Acts describes how and when the Disciples first came to realize the restoration of Israel was being fulfilled. Acts described how the promised New Spirit was first poured out on Judah (the Jews), and later on the Gentiles. But this caused problems as some Jews maintained that the promised salvation was for Israel alone. Therefore, they argued that the Gentiles must be converted into Israel through circumcision. But as they were debating this, the Apostle James suddenly revealed that the Gentiles who were receiving the Spirit were the descendants of lost Israelites, as they were fulfilling the promised Restoration of Israel: “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will Restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.” Acts 15:13
IMPORTANT: This prophecy (James quoted) could only be fulfilled by the return of the lost tribes. But if someone does not know this prophecy, they would not understand what James was really saying here. Throughout the New Testament, the apostles would often quote just a small portion of a prophecy expecting the hearer to already understand the entire prophecy. But because many Christians today do not know the Old Testament very well, they do not know prophecies and thus, do not understand what the apostles were really saying. Thus, it is crucial to always read the entire prophecy quoted. Here is a larger portion of that prophecy:
“Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom (the Kingdom of Israel), and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” says the Lord. For surely I will command, and I will sift the HOUSE OF ISRAEL among all nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve; yet not the smallest pebble shall fall to the ground. All the sinners of My people shall die by the sword, who say, ‘the calamity shall not overtake nor confront us.’ “On that day (a later day) I will raise up the tabernacle of David which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the Lord who does this thing. “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of my people Israel (lost Tribes)…” Amos 9:8
Like Hosea and Ezekiel, the Prophet Amos also foretold how God would banish the sinful house of Israel (not Judah) from the Promised Land. Likewise, Amos also prophesied of how God would restore the divided kingdom: “I will raise up the Tabernacle of David, which has fallen down and repair its damages…” Here Amos typified “David” as the last king of the united Israel and the foreshadow of the Savior King promised to repair the divided Kingdom. Amos further prophesied that as an outcome of the Restoration, Israel would “possess Gentiles who would be called by God’s name”. James proclaimed this prophecy was being fulfilled by the Gentiles who were coming into the Jewish Church. And indeed it was—for the lost Tribes had become Gentiles.
The Prophet Hosea had called the Kingdom of Israel “Jezreel” which means scattered, and depicted them as seeds scattering and implanting amongst the Gentiles—where they would become “not My people” (Gentiles). But now, through the promised Spirit, the descendants of the scattered Israelites were arising from the Gentiles and rejoining with Judah, to once again be called God’s people. Thus, as Amos had foretold, Israel now “possessed Gentiles who were called by God’s name”. The Prophet Isaiah also depicted Israel as scattered seeds implanting amongst the Gentiles—whose “offspring” or “descendants” would remain hidden (like dormant seeds) until God poured out His Spirit like water to revive them—thereafter they would arise to once again “take the name Israel”:
“I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘give them up!’ and to the south, ‘do not hold them back.’ bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is CALLED BY MY NAME whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”…“I will consign Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn. But now listen, o Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. This is what the lord says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: do not be afraid, o Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my spirit on your (Israel’s) OFFSPRING, and my blessing on your DESCENDANTS. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. One will say, ‘I belong to the lord’; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, ‘the lord’s,’ AND WILL TAKE THE NAME ISRAEL…” Isaiah 43:5 – 44:5
Throughout the New Testament, the Apostles continued to quote prophecies to explain how the restoration of Israel was being fulfilled through the Gentiles. In Romans 9:25, Paul attributed the “not My People” / “are My People” prophecies of Hosea to the Spirit-filled Gentiles. Those prophecies were given to the people of the Kingdom of Israel—who became the lost Tribes. By attributing those prophecies to the Spirit-filled Gentiles, Paul was explaining that they were the promised descendants of the lost Tribes. In the Book of Galatians Chapter 4, Paul quoted from Isaiah declaring that the Gentiles were the children of the barren woman (Israel) who was foretold to “enlarge the place of her tent” because her “descendants” would be returning to her in great numbers, “spread abroad” and “possessing the nations”.
“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. “ENLARGE THE PLACE OF YOUR TENT, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and YOUR OFFSPRING WILL POSSESS THE NATIONS and will people the desolate cities.” Gal 4:27 / Isaiah 54
THE “MYSTERY” OF THE RESTORATION
God had promised Abraham that through his descendants the whole world would be blessed. Later, the Prophets foretold how that Great Gentile Blessing would come through the Great Restoration of Israel. Indeed, the Prophets would often prophesy of the Restoration of Israel and the Great Gentile Blessing synonymously—as though they were to take place at the same time. For example:
“And now the LORD says—he who formed me (Jesus) in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength—he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:5
The Prophets prophesied of the Great Restoration of Israel and the Great Gentile Blessing at the same time—because they were to be the same event! They were the same event because the offspring of the lost Tribes had simply become Gentiles—whose seed has spread to the ends of the earth! Thus, through the promised Restoration, the salvation of Israel has been brought to the ends of the Earth!
Now although the fulfillment of the return of the lost tribes through the Gentiles may seem clear, it was certainly not what the Jews were expecting. Indeed, over the centuries the Jews were quite perplexed as to how the lost tribes could possibly ever return. In fact, Paul often called this the great “mystery”.
“Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the MYSTERY hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him…” Romans 16:25
When the people of the Kingdom of Israel were first banished from the Promised Land, the Jews most likely anticipated their promised return. But after so much time with no sign of the lost tribes, their hopes turned from anticipation to dismay. Indeed, after hundreds of years the only inhabitants of Israel’s old territories were the foreigners who had been settled there by the successive ruling Empires. Surely it seemed impossible that they could ever return. But the Jews did not perceive the prophecies. Indeed, they did not perceive how when Israel became “not My people”, that they had become Gentiles; nor that their Gentile children would one day be the promised “descendants” who would return to God. But most importantly, the Jews seemed to have misperceived the prophecies which foretold how the lost tribes descendants would only “come to life” through the “New Spirit”. Instead the Jews only looked for them to return through the flesh. But now, through Jesus and His Holy Spirit, the great “mystery” has been solved and the Great Restoration of Israel / Great Gentile Blessing have been fulfilled. Moreover, they continue to be fulfilled everyday as Jews and Gentiles come to Life and unite through the Spirit to worship their Good Shepherd, King Jesus together and forever, Amen! By sowing the Israelites amongst the Gentiles, the promised redemption and salvation of Israel became the redemption and salvation of the whole world—and so through Israel the whole world has been truly blessed!
For more on the Great Restoration click here: Restoration of Israel (Lost Tribes) Part 2 (coming soon)
Christian Zionism (Romans 11)