At some point in the time before His arrest and crucifixion, Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah apparently took a break from the cares and troubles of Jerusalem. He had good reason for this: the High Priest and other leaders of the Jews were taking active measures to kill Him.
We know from the testimony of Scripture that Yeshua, as God in the flesh, came to exchange His life and redeem the world from the curse of sin and death (John 1:1-14; 3:10-21). Since He was following a pre-arranged order and could not lay down His life until the right time (John 7:6-8), He seems to have taken a break until the fullness of time. This “break” happened just after the astounding resurrection of Yeshua’s friend Lazarus. The Apostle John tells us what happened next:
Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death. Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples. And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves. Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, “What do you think—that He will not come to the feast?” Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him. (John 11:45-57 NKJV, emphasis added)
That little detail in verse 54 is the point of interest at the moment. Why would John tell us where Yeshua decided to stay? He says nothing more about the town of Ephraim, and in fact Ephraim is not mentioned anywhere else in the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament). Why is it important here?
As with so much else, to answer this question we must go back to Moses and the Prophets. Ephraim appears throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament), starting with Genesis 41. Ephraim was the second son of Joseph, that favored son of the Patriarch Jacob who was sold as a slave into Egypt by his brothers. He and his older brother Manasseh were born in Egypt after Pharaoh took Joseph out of prison and made him ruler over the land. Ephraim means “doubly fruitful”, both in Hebrew (Strongs H669, אֶפְרַיִם) and in Greek (Strongs G2187, ’Εφραíμ). Joseph named him in an act of praise and thanks to God, saying, “For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:52 NKJV).
We learn later that Ephraim inherits the name “Israel” from his grandfather, Jacob. That story is in Genesis 48, when Joseph brought his sons to Jacob so he could bless them before he died. Jacob did much more than that. Not only did he bless Ephraim and Manasseh, but he adopted them as his own sons and gave them an equal share in the inheritance with their uncles (Genesis 48:5-6). Moreover, he put his own name on them, indicating that they would carry the family name of Israel (Genesis 48:12-16). Jacob then placed Ephraim ahead of Manasseh, giving him the precedence over his older brother (Genesis 48:14, 17-20). He ended this remarkable exchange by explaining to Joseph that God would be with him and bring him back to the land of his fathers, and announcing that he had given Joseph the birthright blessing, namely, “one portion above your brothers” (Genesis 48:22).
But what does all this have to do with Yeshua taking a vacation in the town of Ephraim? Quite a bit. Yeshua’s actions were prophetic, showing us what would happen in the age between His crucifixion and His return. The seeds were sown in Genesis, when Jacob gave Joseph the birthright blessing, setting him ahead of his older brothers. However, Jacob also prophesied that Judah, his fourth son, would be the ruler of all Israel, and that Messiah would come through him (Genesis 49:8-12). This is explained in I Chronicles, which says:
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel—he was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright; yet Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came a ruler, although the birthright was Joseph’s— (I Chronicles 5:1-2 NKJV, emphasis added).
This was the beginning of the division of all Israel into two Houses: Judah (today known as the Jews); and Ephraim, or Israel. Ephraim was destined to be a ruler from the beginning. When the ten northern tribes rebelled against King David’s grandson Rehoboam, it was Jeroboam of Ephraim who led the revolt and became the first king of Israel, the northern portion of the divided nation (see I Kings 11:26-12:24). This blessing of Jacob also explains why that northern kingdom was called “Israel”, while the southern kingdom was called “Judah” (e.g., being ruled by Judah, the tribe of King David). Throughout the remainder of the Bible, the prophets refer to Ephraim, Israel, and Judah. Those terms are not synonymous. All of them refer to Israelites, but to different portions of the scattered nation of Israel. Not all of Israel is Jewish, although all Jews are Israelites. Unless we understand this distinction, the prophets and much of the writings of the apostles will be incomprehensible to us.
As we study the prophets, we see that God’s plan was to scatter both Ephraim/Israel and Judah into all the nations for specific purposes. First, this would be in judgment for their rebellion against God and His Commandments. Second, this would be God’s way of preserving the remnant of Israel in two companies, just like Jacob did when faced with attack by his brother Esau (Genesis 32:6-8). Judah retained the memory of their Israelite identity, and with it the oracles of God (Romans 3:1-2, 9:1-5), while Ephraim was scattered into the nations with no memory of Israelite identity. This was indicated even in the naming of Joseph’s oldest son, Manasseh. In naming him, Joseph said, “God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house” (Genesis 41:51 NKJV). Manasseh (Strongs H4519,מְנַשֶׁה) means “one who forgets”, or “causing to forget”. Thus in the very names of the two brothers we see that their descendants will be very fruitful, but will forget their identity. And yet even in this God has a purpose. The House of Ephraim would go out with a testimony of God in their hearts that would prepare the way for the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to be preached in all the world. As Ezekiel says,
Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, your brethren, your relatives, your countrymen, and all the house of Israel in its entirety, are those about whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Get far away from the Lord; this land has been given to us as a possession.’ Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Although I have cast them far off among the Gentiles, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.”’” (Ezekiel 11:14-16 NKJV, emphasis added)
Hosea was the first of the prophets to address Ephraim in detail. When God called Hosea, He instructed the prophet to name his children in such a way as to proclaim a message to the nation. The name of his firstborn, Jezreel (Strongs H3157, יִזְרְעֶאל) means, “God sows”. This brings to mind the parable of Yeshua about the Word of God being sown throughout the nations (Matthew 13:1-22; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15), and of the Kingdom of Heaven being like leaven put in a lump of dough and eventually leavening all of it (Matthew 13:33; see also Hosea 7:4). Hosea’s second child was a daughter named Lo-Ruhamah (Strongs H3808 and H7355, לֹא רֻחָמָה), which means “no mercy”. His third child, a son, was named Lo-Ammi (Strongs H3808 and H5971, לֹא עַמִּי), “not my people”. With this background, the meaning of Hosea 1 should be clear:
The word of the Lord that came to Hosea the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. Then the Lord said to him: “Call his name Jezreel, for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. It shall come to pass in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him: “Call her name Lo-Ruhamah, for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away. Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen.” Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi,for you are not My people, and I will not be your God. Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel! (Hosea 1:1-11 NKJV, emphasis added)
Hosea’s ministry was in the middle of the 8th century BC (~760-725). We know from the historical record that Assyria conquered Ephraim/Israel shortly after that (722 BC), and that Judah remained independent for another 120 years until the Babylonian conquests of Jerusalem (604-586 BC). Later Judah returned to the land, built the Second Temple, and remained there for several centuries until the Roman conquests of 66-70 and 132-135 AD. Thus Judah received a measure of mercy, as Hosea prophesied, but Ephraim has been scattered into the nations for the last 2,700 years. The promised restoration of Judah to the land has begun, but the restoration of Ephraim is yet to come.
There is much, much more that the prophets have to say on this subject. Hosea, for example, tells us:
Ephraim shall be desolate in the day of rebuke; among the tribes of Israel I make known what is sure. The princes of Judah are like those who remove a landmark; I will pour out My wrath on them like water. Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked by human precept. Therefore I will be to Ephraim like a moth, and to the house of Judah like rottenness. When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria and sent to King Jareb; yet he cannot cure you, nor heal you of your wound. For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear them and go away; I will take them away, and no one shall rescue. I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me. (Hosea 5:9-15 NKJV, emphasis added)
What we understand from Hosea, and from the other prophets, is that Ephraim and Judah will be reunited one day under Messiah. It will happen after both come to their senses, acknowledge their rebellion before God, and return to Him. That, also, is something Moses explained to our fathers just before they crossed Jordan to conquer Canaan:
Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:1-6 NKJV, emphasis added)
Isaiah echoes and expands on this when he says:
It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. Also the envy of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim. But they shall fly down upon the shoulder of the Philistines toward the west; together they shall plunder the people of the East; they shall lay their hand on Edom and Moab; and the people of Ammon shall obey them. The Lord will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt; with His mighty wind He will shake His fist over the River, and strike it in the seven streams, and make men cross over dry-shod. There will be a highway for the remnant of His people who will be left from Assyria, as it was for Israel In the day that he came up from the land of Egypt. (Isaiah 11: 11-16 NKJV, emphasis added)
Yet with all this we still have not yet answered the question of why Yeshua took a vacation in the town of Ephraim. It should be clear; Paul helped us understand it. The Jews had to reject Messiah so that He could carry His message of redemption to the nations along the paths prepared by Ephraim in their dispersion. That is why “blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). That blindness is a double blindness: blindness of Judah to the identity of Messiah; and blindness of Ephraim to their identity as Israelites. Paul explains that the blindness will end when the “fullness of the Gentiles” has come in, and at that time all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-26).
And what is that “fullness of the Gentiles”? It is the seed of Ephraim. We know this from Jacob’s prophecy over his grandson. The “fullness of the Gentiles” in Greek is pleroma ethnos (Strongs G4138 and G1484, πλήρωμα ἕθνος). It can also be translated “fullness of the nations”. In Hebrew that is melo ha-goyim (Strongs H4390 and H1471, מְלֹֽא־הַגֹּויִֽם). What Jacob said about Ephraim was that “his descendants shall become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19).
Now we know why Yeshua went on vacation. Not only was He hiding from his would-be assassins while awaiting His proper time, He was showing us that He would remain with Ephraim among the nations until Ephraim brings the fullness of the nations into the Kingdom. When that is complete Yeshua will return in triumph to Jerusalem, just as He did in the days before His death as God’s Passover Lamb. Only this time, He comes to reign as the Lion of Judah.
How close are we? When does Yeshua return from vacation? When is the fullness of the Gentiles gathered to Ephraim? Perhaps our answer is in Yeshua’s words of long ago:
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21 NKJV)