© January 2001 By Asher Intrater
The kingdom of Israel reached its height at the time of David and Solomon, approximately 1,000 years before the time of Yeshua. During the reign of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the northern ten tribes of Israel split away from Judah and Benjamin. Thus the kingdom was divided into the northern tribes of Israel and the southern tribes of Judah.
This division became the object of the messianic hope to be reunited by the future Messiah (Ezekiel 37:12ff). There is also the symbolic sense that the northern tribes represent the international church, while the tribe of Judah represents the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. Yet those two viewpoints are prophetic and symbolic, not historical and genealogical.
The northern tribes of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrians in the eighth century BC and the southern tribes of Judah were taken into captivity in the sixth century. The Bible records that the captivity of Judah returned to the land of Israel during the fifth century BC.
Since there was no major description of the restoration of the northern tribes, much speculation and curiosity have arisen over the years as to the question, “Where are the lost ten tribes?”
An interesting yet dangerous trend is that many Christian cult groups claim to be actual descendants of the ten northern tribes. This ranges from groups in Japan to native Americans. There are some elements in Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses that make a similar claim. It has even effected parts of the Christian Zionist movement.
The truth of the matter is that there are no lost ten tribes. During the time of the kingdom division and the captivities, a certain percentage of each of the northern tribes came down and took up residence in the area of Judah. After that time the name Judah or the Jews referred not only to the specific tribe of Judah but also to the Benjaminites, the Levites and the remnant of all the northern tribes.
There are no lost ten tribes. All the tribes of Israel are included in what we call today the Jewish people. There are seven basic biblical evidences that prove this position.
Israel Remnant in Judah (II Chronicles)
The book of II Chronicles records many times that the members of the northern tribes immigrated to Judah after the kingdom division. This happened from the very moment of the division. II Chronicles 10: 16-17: “So all Israel departed to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL WHO DWELT IN THE CITIES OF JUDAH.”
It couldn’t be stated more clearly that there were members of the Israeli tribes living in the territory of Judah. II Chronicles 11:3 states that Rehoboam was the king not only of Judah but to “ALL” Israel living “IN” Judah and Benjamin. II Chronicles 11:16-17 states that members of “ALL” the tribes of Israel who were loyal to God came down to Jerusalem and strengthened the kingdom of Judah.
II Chronicles 15:9 tells us that during the revival of King Assa that there were “great numbers from Israel” who came over to Judah. II Chronicles 24:5 speaks of members gathered from all the tribes of Israel. II Chronicles 30:21 and 25 speak of the children of the Israelite tribes who came to Judah during the time of King Hezekiah. II Chronicles 31:6 speaks again of the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah.
II Chronicles 30:10 speaks of members of the tribes of Ephraim, Menassah, Zebulun, and Asher coming to Jerusalem. II Chronicles 30:18 mentions also the tribe of Issachar. II Chronicles 34:6 adds to that list members of the tribes of Simeon and Naphtali. II Chronicles 34:9 states clearly that there were members of “ALL THE REMNANT OF ISRAEL” who were living in Jerusalem after the time of the Assyrian captivity. II Chronicles 35:3 again mentions that there were members of “all Israel” who were part of Judah.
Captivity Restored (Ezra and Nehemiah)
After the Babylonian captivity, the nation of Israel was restored under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. In those books are extensive genealogical records. The fact that there were careful genealogical records proves that not only were the northern Israelites part of the restoration, but that they kept records of their families and they knew which tribe they were from. Ezra 2:2 starts the records of “the number of the men of the people of ISRAEL.” Ezra 2:59 states that people had specific genealogical records not only to which of the northern tribes they were part of, but even as to which household: “identify their father’s house or their genealogy, whether they were of Israel.” Those who had records but were not perfectly documented were disqualified and had to wait for supernatural verification by the urim and thumin (should they ever arise). This proves how meticulous and well documented were the great majority of the family records (Ezra 2:62-63). Ezra 2:70 again speaks of “all” Israel dwelling in Judah after the restoration of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Ezra 6:16 and 21 speaks specifically of “the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity.” Ezra 7:7, 9:1, 10:1 and 10:25 speak of the problem that the Israelites had with inter-marriage.
Nehemiah 7:7 to 73 repeat the genealogy of the Israelite tribes that were recorded in Ezra 2. Nehemiah 9:2, 11:3 and 11:20 speak of “the rest of Israel.in all the cities of Judah.” Nehemiah 13:3 speaks of separating Gentiles so as not to confuse the genealogical records of Israel.
The Testimony of Anna (Luke 2)
In Luke 2:36 the prophetess Anna is listed as coming from the tribe of Asher, one of the most northern and least populated tribes of Israel. In other words, we have a clear statement in the New Testament that people who were considered Jews in the time of Jesus included people from the northern ten tribes of Israel, and that they had genealogical documentation as to which tribe they were from.
How could the tribe of Asher, for instance, be “lost” from 700 years before Jesus, if Anna knew her descendancy from Asher during the time of the New Testament?
Yeshua and the Apostles (Gospels and Acts)
Yeshua ministered all over the land of Israel. He addressed the Jewish people there. In all of His speeches, it is assumed that He is speaking to all the descendants of Israel. Yeshua never mentioned once the possibility that there was some other group or some lost tribe of Israel floating around somewhere. In preaching to the Jews of the first century, Yeshua said that He was called to go to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6).
In the same way, the apostles addressed the crowds of Jews in the first century with the assumption that they were all the descendants of Israel. In Acts 2:22 Peter turns to the “Jews” living in Jerusalem and refers to them as “men of Israel.” Peter concludes his sermon addressing his crowd as “ALL the house of Israel” (Acts 2:36). In other words, in the eyes of Peter, the Jewish people in the first century included all the tribes of Israel. Peter continued this way of addressing the people as all the house of Israel in his other speeches (Acts 3:12, 4:8, 4:10, 4:27, 5:21, 5:31, 5:35, 10:36).
Paul also addressed the Jews of the first century as “men of Israel” (Acts 13:16). He continued to address the Jews as Israelites throughout his messages (Acts 13:23-24, Acts 21:28, Acts 28:20). The twelve disciples were seen to be future leaders to “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:29).
The Twelve Tribes of James
The letter of James is addressed to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (James 1:1). He is not speaking of some lost tribes, but rather to the scattered audience of Jewish believers in Jesus of the first century.
The same argument is true as we look at the letter to the Hebrews. The group here called “Hebrews” are not some tribe of Japanese or native Americans, but rather the Jewish people of the first century.
The Remnant of Israel (Romans 9-11)
This argument has specific importance when we look to the promises of the restoration of the believing remnant of Israel, spoken of in the book of Romans, chapter 9 to 11. Here Paul expresses his prayer for the children of Israel to be saved (Romans 9:1-4, 10:1-4). This remnant that is to be restored is the biblical remnant of Israel that fulfills the prophecies. They are the same people who rejected Yeshua in the first century. It was not some lost tribe that rejected Him, but rather the Jews living in Israel at that time.
Paul states that God has not forsaken the people of Israel (Romans 11:1). There is a remnant of Israel by grace (Romans 11:5). What Israel did not achieve the elect have received (Romans 11:7). The falling away of Israel has meant the salvation of the Gentile nations (Romans 11:11). Their restoration will be the resurrection of the dead (Romans 11:12,15).
The whole drama of Romans 9-11 only makes sense if it is speaking about the people we know today as the Jewish people. If someone thinks that this is referring to Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or to Christian Zionists, or to some other native people group, the whole meaning of the passage is lost. That viewpoint would destroy the promises of God to Israel, the purpose of evangelism in Israel, and the meaning of the reconciliation between Israel and the church in the end times.
The Cultic View
It is not a coincidence that so many cults have come to the conclusion that they are one of the “lost” ten tribes of Israel. That viewpoint is confusing to their members and incorrect according to scriptures. That theology is dangerous and deceptive as we try to understand the prophecies of the restoration of Israel leading up to the second coming of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).