The Remnant of Israel & The Remnant of Mankind
John chapters 6, 10, 17, and several other passages are impossible to understand without understanding God's workings with two distinct groups: (1) a first-century remnant from Israel and (2) a remnant from mankind, all the Gentile believers who would come to salvation as a result of the first group.
12 Baskets of Bread, 7 Baskets of Bread
Jesus illustrated these two groups as 12 basketfuls of bread and 7 basketfuls of bread, picked up from the leftovers or "remnants" of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand (Mt 14:15-21, Mk 6:35-44, Jn 6:1-13) and the four thousand (Mt 15:32-39, Mk 8:1-9), respectively.
The 12 basketfuls illustrate the remnant of Israel. The number 12 correlates with the believing remnant from the 12 tribes of Israel, led by the 12 apostles (the Eleven plus Paul, who was born-again into the Eleven "out of season", 1Co 15:8). The 7 basketfuls illustrate all Gentile believers, called "the remnant of mankind" (ESV) in Acts 15:17, quoted from Amos 9:12. The totality of the Gentile remnant is illustrated by the number 7, a concept previewed and illustrated in the seven Gentile nations Israel had to conquer physically through Joshua's leadership (Deu 7:1, Ac 13:19). That ancient preview illustrated a greater time when Israel (the remnant) would conquer the Gentiles spiritually with the gospel through Joshua II's (Yeshua's) leadership.
In Mark 8:17-21, Jesus chided and needled the disciples about these two groups of bread, which the disciples were painfully slow to understand. This is one of the few times Jesus shows His irritation. He scolds them with a salvo of chastising questions on the importance and meaning of the 12 basket remnant and the 7 basket remnant. Sooner or later they would need full knowledge regarding the first-century remnant of Israel, and, the remnant of mankind, all the Gentiles who would come to salvation as a result of them. John chapters 6, 10, 17, and several other passages are impossible to understand without understanding the remnant of Israel and the remnant of mankind.
"You Give Them Something to Eat"
When the disciples complained to Jesus about how to feed so many people in the crowd, Jesus replied, "You give them something to eat" (Mt 14:16, Mk 6:37). Perceive the prophetic double entendre in Jesus' response. What Jesus told them to do physically He intended for them to do spiritually: give the world something to eat spiritually, the Bread of life, the gospel, the New Covenant truths. This was captured at the turning point of Jesus' prayer in John 17:20 (ESV, underline mine): I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.
Several passages, especially in John, detail these two remnants from various angles.
In John 6, specifically from verse 35 onward, Jesus goes into a profound, multidimensional sermon on the first-century remnant of Israel. Who was able to be a part of that remnant? Those the Father unconditionally handpicked and forced to go to Jesus, or, those who came to Jesus of their own freewill choice, or, a third option that needs clarification?
"All That the Father Gives Me"
In verse 37, Jesus begins to reveal who is in the first-century Jewish remnant and why (NASB): Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I certainly will not cast out.
The word "gives" (didomi) is in the present active indicative, meaning, the Father was giving Jews to Jesus simultaneously as He lived and ministered, even as He spoke these very words. Realize, then, the importance of two contextual facts. One, the Father was giving Jews to Jesus in the present tense, concurrent with His life and ministry. John did not say here the Father "gave" them, in the past tense, before time began or before the incarnation. He said "gives", in the present tense. Two, at this stage, the Father was giving only Jews to Jesus. John does not have Gentiles or the larger world in view here; Jesus is speaking to the lost sheep of Israel only (Mt 15:24) as a minister to the circumcision (Ro 15:8). John 6:37’s bottom line: as Jesus was living, ministering, and even saying these very words, the Father was giving and drawing certain Jews to Him.
Was the Father unconditionally forcing these particular Jews to believe in and follow Jesus? Or, was there some underlying factor guiding the Father's logic on who to give to Jesus? In verse 45, Jesus answers that question directly (NASB, underline mine): It is written in the Prophets: "And they shall all be taught of God." Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.
First-century Jews who listened to and learned from the Father within the Old Covenant system are the ones the Father was giving to Jesus during His first coming. In other words, they already had a personal relationship with God, albeit in the Old Covenant sense. In 17:6,9 Jesus worded it like this (NASB, underline mine): ...they were Yours and You gave them to Me...those whom You have given Me, because they are Yours. They were already the Father's, Jesus said, they were already in a personal relationship with God. Think of Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, Simeon, Anna, Nicodemus, the Eleven, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the 70, the 120, etc. There was most certainly a preexisting factor in all those the Father was giving to Jesus. It was not random, it was not forced, it was not an unconditional selection.
Jesus articulated this very principle--who was given and why--over and over and over.
Those Who Learned from the Father & Those Who Did Not
In 3:21, Jesus said (NASB, underline mine), But the one who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds will be revealed as having been performed in God.
Here Jesus says the exact same thing as 6:45. The one who is already practicing the truth comes to the Light, is given to Him by the Father. Jesus cannot be referring to anyone and everyone across the planet, because, someone "who practices the truth", at the time Jesus said this, could only refer to a Jew practicing Old Covenant truth. No other nation or people group had His truth at that time, Psalm 147:20 and Acts 14:16 say. Furthermore, Jesus says that person is practicing and performing the truth "in God". The Biblical phrase "in God" or "in Him" is a metonym or equivalent for "relationship with God", unless the context explicitly states otherwise.
What we have here in John 3:21, then, is a first-century Jew faithfully practicing Old Covenant truth in relationship with the Father, and therefore, that one is given to the Light and comes to the Light. (3:19 tells us the Light refers to Jesus Himself, not spiritual illumination or holiness in general.) Understood alongside 6:37,45, Jesus was saying, "If you had listened to and learned from the Father by practicing Old Covenant truth in Him, He would have given you to me."
In 5:37-40, Jesus said (ESV, underline mine), And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
Here again Jesus says the same thing as 6:45. The Father Himself testified about Jesus to Israel, but where and when? The Scriptures, Jesus said, referring to the only Scriptures existing at that time, the Old Testament Scriptures, the Tanakh, that which the Jewish religious leaders studied so diligently. If they had actually heard and learned from the Father in those Scriptures--hearing His voice, seeing His form, letting His illuminated word abide in them--they would have recognized the One He sent, been given to Him, and come to Him. Jesus states the sequence explicitly a few verses later in 5:46,47 (ESV): For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? Understood alongside 6:37,45, Jesus was saying, "If you had listened to and learned from the Father in the Scriptures that you study only at the head level, He would have given you to me."
In 7:17, Jesus said (ESV), If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
Here again Jesus says the same thing as 6:45. Remember, the phrase "God's will" at that time meant the Old Covenant system; Jesus is speaking to Israel before the institution of the New Covenant and before any New Testament Scripture was written. When He says, "If anyone will do God's will, he will know if I am sent from God", He is precisely saying what all these equivalent verses are saying: "If anyone will hear and learn from the Father in the Old Covenant system and practice its truth, he will know I am the Messiah and will be given to me and will come to me."
We know this is precisely what Jesus is saying because He clarifies and specifies two sentences later in 7:19 (ESV): Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me? Jesus tells the Jews who are rejecting Him, that though they have God's will (the Law of Moses), not one of them actually listens to and learns from and obeys the Father in it, and therefore, instead of being given to Christ they want to kill Him. Understood alongside 6:37,45, Jesus was saying, "If you had listened to and learned from the Father and did His will revealed in the Law, He would have given you to me and you would not want to murder me."
If we go outside of John for a second, Jesus states the exact same thing in the most direct of terms in Luke 16:31 (NASB): But he said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead."
See how Jesus kept reiterating who the Father gave to Him, and why? The Father did not unconditionally handpick and force a remnant of Jews to be given to Jesus. Not at all. They had a preexisting factor Jesus repeatedly pointed to: those Jews who listened to and learned from the Father in the Old Covenant system, through the Tanakh Scriptures, practicing its truth, doing His will, were given to Jesus. At the First Coming, they were simply transferred to a new Trinitarian Custodian, the Son. And, not much later, they were transferred to a new Trinitarian Custodian again, the Holy Spirit.
The Two Remnants Side by Side
In verses 39 and 40 (John 6), Jesus lays out the remnant of Israel and the remnant of mankind side by side. He says (ESV, underline mine), And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Is Jesus being embarrassingly redundant here? Of course not. With one small grammar modification in the second sentence (see the underline phrases), He indicates that He is referring to two different groups: (1) "all that he has given me", i.e., Jews who have heard and learned from the Father in the Old Covenant system, i.e., the remnant of Israel, and (2) "everyone who looks to the Son and believes", i.e., Gentiles who will believe, i.e., the remnant of mankind. Jesus is describing both remnants in these two side-by-side, nearly identical, statements.
Unless the Father Draws Him, Unless It Is Granted Him by the Father
In verse 44, Jesus says (NASB), No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
This is Jesus' ever-famous statement of pre-salvation grace. In context, however, Jesus is applying the principle negatively against the Jews who just grumbled at Him (v41-43), then immediately afterwards, He applies the principle positively in favor of the Jews who were drawn to Him by hearing and learning from the Father in the Old Covenant system (v45). To be clear, there is no doubt that anyone and everyone, anywhere, at any time, must be supernaturally drawn to Jesus to be saved; many scriptures reiterate this truth that we can call "pre-salvation grace". However, here in John 6:44, understood in the context of verses 41-45, Jesus is addressing first-century Jews in the Old Covenant.
First, Jesus responds to the Jews grumbling and rejecting Him by saying, "You have not listened to and learned from the Old Covenant, and in doing so, you removed yourselves from the Father's drawing intrinsic to that Covenant. He is not drawing you because you are outside of the spiritual space where He does the drawing--the Law and the Prophets."
Remember all the verses from the previous section in which Jesus kept making this point over and over and over: 3:21, 5:37-40,46,47, 7:17,19, and Luke 16:31. See especially John 5:37-40, when Jesus says the Jews who were rejecting Him did not hear the Father's voice or see His form in the Old Testament Scriptures. In other words, the Father was not drawing them, not because they were unconditionally selected to go to hell, but because they were outside of the spiritual space where He did the drawing--the Old Testament Scriptures. Oh they were reading and memorizing the Scriptures alright, but they were not entering into the spiritual space in the written Word where the Father's voice is heard and His form is seen and His drawing to the Son happened. Selah! Selah with 5:37-40 alongside 6:44,45.
Second, Jesus makes application to the Jews embracing Him by saying, "You have listened to and learned from the Old Covenant, and in doing so, you are experiencing the Father's drawing intrinsic to that Covenant. He is drawing you because you are in the spiritual space where He does the drawing--the Law and the Prophets."
All four gospels play out John 6:41-45 to the last detail. Think of the first-century Jews who listened to and learned from the Father in the Old Covenant system: Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, Simeon, Anna, Nicodemus, the Eleven, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the 70, the 120, etc. They were drawn by the Father to the Son by listening and learning from Him in that system. It did not take all that much for them to recognize and embrace Jesus.
Now think of the first-century Jews who rejected Jesus, which was most of Israel. What did Jesus keep saying about them over and over and over? Did He say they ignored the Holy Spirit convicting and drawing their hearts? No, He did not say that. He said over and over and over that they did not listen to the Law and the Prophets (Lk 16:31, Jn 5:46,47), that they did not practice the truth revealed in the Old Covenant (Jn 3:21, 7:19), that they did not hear the Father's voice or see His form in the Old Testament Scriptures (5:37-40).
In verse 65, Jesus says (NASB), And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." Here Jesus is simply repeating all the aforementioned.
Using the sheep metaphor, Jesus outlined the remnant of Israel and the remnant of mankind/Gentiles in John 10:16 (NASB): And I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice; and they will become one flock, with one shepherd.
The language here is of two sheepfolds becoming one, as Paul described in lovely detail in Ephesians 2:11-22. The order of Jesus' words, however, is significant. First, through His life and ministry He gathered the first sheepfold, the remnant of Israel, those who heard and learned from the Father through the Old Covenant system, now transferred to His management. Second, through the apostolic and evangelistic ministries of the remnant, led by the Twelve (the Eleven plus Paul, who was born-again into the Eleven "out of season", 1Co 15:8), Jesus has been gathering the "other sheep" for two thousand years to join the first group.
These two sheepfolds or remnants are presented in Jesus' prayer in John 17.
Jesus' end-of-life prayer focuses heavily on the Jewish remnant given to Him during His life and ministry, led by and represented by the Eleven plus Paul, who was born-again into the apostolic team "out of season" (1Co 15:8). Jesus presents the remnant in relation to the wider remnant of mankind, "those who will believe in me through their word" (Jn 17:20 ESV).
The First-Century Remnant of Israel in Jesus' Prayer
In His John 17 prayer, Jesus refers to the first-century remnant of Israel almost entirely, specifically verses 2-19,22-26. Read these verses and observe the specific and specialized things Jesus prayed for them. There is no doubt He prays some of these same things for us today also, since He ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb 7:25). However, here in John 17:2-19,22-26, Jesus is praying targetedly for the remnant of Israel (led and represented by the apostles), those the Father already owned through their hearing and learning from Him within the Old Covenant. For this reason Jesus said in verses 6 and 9 (NASB, underline mine): ...they were Yours and You gave them to Me...those whom You have given Me, because they are Yours. They were already the Father's, Jesus said, they were already in a personal relationship with God. 17:6,9 hearkens back to 6:37,44 (NASB): Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me...Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.
In 6:37, when Jesus said, "Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me...", the word "gives" (didomi) is in the present active indicative, meaning, the Father was giving Jews to Jesus simultaneously as He lived and ministered, even as He spoke those very words. John did not write the Father "gave" them, in the past tense, before time began or before the incarnation. He wrote didomi in the present tense.
However, when we get to the John 17 prayer, John wrote that Jesus used different tenses when referring to those given to Him. He used the aorist tense and the perfect tense, i.e., our English past tense. Here are the statements (all ESV, all underlines mine).
In verse 2, Jesus said, ...to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. The phrase "have given" is in the aorist tense. In verse 6, Jesus said, I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Both "gave" and "gave" are in the perfect tense. In verse 9, Jesus said, I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. The phrase "have given" is in the perfect tense. In verse 24, Jesus said, Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am... The phrase "have given" is in the perfect tense.
How do we interpret this intentional and crucial change of tenses from present tense to past tense, from gives to gave? In 6:37, Jesus says the Father "is giving" or "gives" believing Jews to Him concurrent with His life and ministry--present tense. Then, at the end of His life, in 17:2,6,9,24, Jesus refers five times (twice in verse 6) to those the Father "have given" or "gave" Him--past tense (the aorist and the perfect in the Greek). This strategic grammatical shift tells us a unique and limited Jewish remnant was gathered to Jesus during His incarnation, but ended at the John 17 prayer when Jesus prayed, "...I have finished the work which You have given Me to do" (v4 NKJV).
Does that mean no more Jews could be saved and added to the remnant after the epilogue prayer? Paul answers that question exactly in Romans 11:23,24 (ESV): And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. Jews that do not continue in unbelief against the Father and the Son, Paul said, will be regrafted back into that unique and limited remnant. They do not become a part of the remnant of mankind, which is for the Gentiles, they get reinserted back into their own olive tree, their own roots, their own remnant.
The Remnant of Mankind in Jesus' Prayer
Back to the John 17 prayer. Jesus articulates the remnant of mankind in verses 20,21 (ESV): I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
They Were Yours, They Are Yours
In verses 6 and 9, Jesus prayed (NASB, underline mine), ...they were Yours and You gave them to Me...those whom You have given Me, because they are Yours.
Jesus is telling us here that the first-century Jewish remnant, those the Father gave to Jesus during His life and ministry, was already in a personal relationship with the Father. Twice Jesus said here that these already belonged to the Father: "they were Yours...they are Yours". The Old Testament prophesies exactly this in Malachi 3:16-18, a truly, truly incredible prophecy about the first-century remnant and the Father's working with them.
Malachi 3:16-18 (NASB): Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened attentively and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and esteem His name. "And they will be Mine," says the LORD of armies, "on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will have compassion for them just as a man has compassion for his own son who serves him." So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
First, we need to establish the timeframe of the prophecy in 3:16-18.
Malachi chapters 3 and 4 time-shift back and forth between the immediate situations in Malachi's day, the First Coming, and the Second Coming. All three timeframes are in view in these last two chapters of the entire Old Testament. Let's lay it out.
3:1 refers to John the Baptist and the First Coming in classic First Coming language: the messenger to prepare the way (John) and the messenger of the new covenant (Jesus).
3:2-5 shift the timeframe and refer to the Second Coming. Notice the mention of the purification of the Levites for their priestly ministry in the Millennial kingdom (v3,4). Notice the mention of the Lord coming "for judgment" explicitly (v5). During the First Coming, Jesus said "I judge no one" (Jn 8:15) and "the Father judges no one" (5:22). However, at the Second Coming the Son will come explicitly for judgment. In John 12:47,48, Jesus discussed both comings and what would happen at each: at the First Coming He said "I do not judge...I did not come to judge" (v47 ESV), at the Second Coming He said "the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day" (v48). In Malachi 3:2-5, then, the timeframe shifts to the Second Coming.
3:6-15 refers to immediate situations in Malachi's day, shifting the timeframe again.
3:16-18 we will discuss in a moment.
4:1 refers to the Second Coming. Notice the language of totalizing destruction by fire, which Peter describes in 2Peter 3:7,10,12 and Paul describes in 2Thessalonians 1:7,8 in conjunction with the Second Coming.
4:2 refers to the First Coming. Jesus coming like the rising sun is First Coming language. Zechariah the father of John said (Luke 1:78 NASB, underline mine), Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us. Matthew also presented the First Coming as a rising sun, Matthew 4:15,16 (ESV, underline mine): The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. Malachi 4:2, then, refers to the First Coming, the Sun of righteousness rising in Israel bringing all levels of healing. The second part, And you will go forward and leap [joyfully] like calves [released] from the stall (AMP), refers to first-century Jews who accept the Sun of righteousness and are thereby released from the Law (the stall) to go out and go forward into a joyful new covenant of grace (the pasture).
4:3 refers to the Second Coming. Because of the apocalyptic destruction by fire (v1), the world will be covered with the ashes of the wicked (v3). Those who fear and revere the name of the Lord when He sunrises in Israel (v2) will be allowed to trample or walk on the ashes of the wicked at the End (v3).
4:4 is a command and admonition to those in Malachi's day, to "remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel" (ESV).
4:5,6 refer to both the First and Second Coming simultaneously. It is a prophetic double entendre. Elijah coming before the day of the Lord was fulfilled by John on one level (Mt 11:13,14, Lk 1:17) and will be fulfilled again by eschatological Elijah on another level (Jn 1:21, Mt 17:11,12, Mk 9:12,13, Rev 11:1-14). The bit about family restoration was fulfilled by John on one level (Lk 1:17) and will be fulfilled again by eschatological Elijah on another level. The smiting or striking of the land was fulfilled on one level in AD70 by Rome (Lk 21:20-24, Mt 23:34-39) and will be fulfilled on another level by the Antichrist just before the Second Coming.
What we see here in Malachi 3 and 4 is trilateral time-shifting. Malachi is not being chaotic or disorganized, rather, he is writing by the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit and trying to show the interconnectedness of different timeframes in God. The Jews of Malachi's day rejecting God needed to hear about a great and dreadful day of ultimate judgment, a day where they will be torched to ashes, a day when God will testify against them, literally, face to face. The faithful of Malachi's day needed to hear the opposite, about a day when they would walk on the burnt ashes of the wicked, a day of purification and preparation for the Millennial kingdom of the Messiah and restored Israel, a day of a new covenant, a day when the Lord would visit Israel as a sunrise with healing and a new pasture of grace. Both groups, those rejecting the Lord and those loving Him, needed the ongoing admonition to obey the Law of Moses and to watch for Elijah's appearing.
Do not be disoriented or offended, then, by Malachi's trilateral time-shifting, which all the Hebrew prophets do. The Holy Spirit is not chaotic or disorganized. He is trying to cast a sense of omnitemporality over Malachi's audience, a sense that their choices in the here and now have timeless ultimate consequences, a sense that God is working in big-picture ways that far transcend their personal daily spirituality.
Now we are ready for Malachi 3:16-18.
It is in this context of heavy trilateral time-shifting that 3:16-18 is written. While verse 16 might sound like it is referring to Malachi's time, verses 17 and 18 clarify the timeframe is some time in the future beyond Malachi. Verse 17 says "they will be mine" (future language, they are not His yet), "on the day I prepare my possession" (future language, the possession has not been made yet), "I will have compassion for them" (future language, this specialized compassion has not been dispensed yet). Verse 18 says "you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked" (future language, the distinction is not currently happening in Malachi's day). We know, then, from the futuristic grammar that 3:16-18 is referring to a timeframe future to Malachi.
Verse 16 (NASB): Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened attentively and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and esteem His name.
Verse 16 is a beautiful reference to some in Israel who feared and esteemed the Lord so much so that they caught His attention in a special way. Who are they? Malachi and his inner circle? A future group of God-fearers? Verse 17 tells us who they are: first-century Jews who were listening to and learning from the Father within the Old Covenant. Notice the three underlined phrases in verse 17.
Verse 17 (NASB, underline mine): "And they will be Mine," says the LORD of armies, "on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will have compassion for them just as a man has compassion for his own son who serves him."
In the first underline, God says, "They will be mine." Where have we heard that same specific line of ownership? In Jesus' prayer in John 17:6,9 (NASB, underline mine): ...they were Yours and You gave them to Me...those whom You have given Me, because they are Yours. They will be mine...they were yours...they are yours. Malachi 3:17 and John 17:6,9 are saying the exact same thing about the exact same group. Malachi 3:17 is foretelling it four hundred years in advance, John 17:6,9 is Jesus stating the fulfillment of it.
In the second underline, God says they will be His "on the day that I prepare [Hebrew "make"] My own possession..." This phrase further clarifies who is being referred to here. At a coming day future to Malachi, God would make a possession for Himself. The word "possession" here is the Hebrew segulla, and it means "valued property, treasure, peculiar treasure, special treasure". It is used only eight times in the Old Testament, five of those times referring to Israel as God's treasured possession: Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, 26:18, Psalm 135:4. Twice it is used to refer to material goods (1Chr 29:3, Ecc 2:8). And the eighth usage of segulla? Malachi 3:17.
For the entire Old Covenant era God called Israel His segulla, His treasured possession. Then, at the end of that era, in the final Spirit-inspired book of that era (Malachi), in the final paragraphs of that book (3:16-18), God says "a day is coming when I will make a new treasured possession for myself". Seeing that segulla was used five times to refer to a people (Israel), and seeing the context of 3:16-18 is people also (a smaller God-fearing group from within Israel), we are inductively pointed to the only obvious conclusion in verse 17: God is saying He plans to form a new treasured possession of only God-fearers and obeyers. A remnant of Israel. And when might this remnant, this new treasured possession, be made? The third underlined phrase tells us: when His own son serves Him.
In the third underline, God says, "I will have compassion for them just as a man has compassion for his own son who serves him." God says He will show a specialized compassion for the smaller subset of Jewish God-fearers. That compassion will be like--notice the bombshell metaphor--the compassion a father shows his son who serves him. Oh the subtlety and nuance and linguistic shrewdness of God's Word! The metaphor is an inescapable tell. When the Son incarnates to serve the Father on earth is when this special compassion will be shown to the remnant. That is the day the Father will make His new treasured possession.
Verse 17 Recap
Here is a recap of verse 17, the three underlined phrases, and what they tell us (NASB, underline mine): "And they will be Mine," says the LORD of armies, "on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will have compassion for them just as a man has compassion for his own son who serves him."
"They will be mine" is the Old Testament prophetic equivalent of what Jesus said in John 17:6,9 (NASB, underline mine), ...they were Yours and You gave them to Me...those whom You have given Me, because they are Yours. They will be mine...they were yours...they are yours. Malachi 3:17 and John 17:6,9 are referring to the exact same group: the first-century remnant of Israel given to Jesus.
"...on the day that I prepare [Hebrew "make"] My own possession..." refers to God's plan to form a new treasured possession of only God-fearers and obeyers. A remnant of Israel.
"I will have compassion for them just as a man has compassion for his own son who serves him" refers to when this special compassion will be shown to the God-fearing remnant: when the Son incarnates to serve the Father on earth.
Verse 17 is revealing to us the first-century remnant of Israel.
Verse 18 (NASB): So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. The ESV is clearer to the original Hebrew, and important for a correct understanding: Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
How is verse 18 fulfilled in the first-century remnant of Israel? Or is verse 18 connected to 4:1-3 and does not refer at all to the first-century remnant, but to the final judgment and the clear separation made at that time?
It is significant to know that 4:1 in our English Bibles is 3:19 in Hebrew Bibles. In fact, 4:1-6 is actually 3:19-24 in Hebrew Bibles. Why is this relevant? It tells us the Hebrews viewed 3:18 as continuing into 4:1 as a continuous and evolving thought-stream. And they are 100% correct. 3:18 is not connected to the first-century remnant, rather, it is shifting to the Day of the Lord when the wicked will be consumed with fire (4:1) and become ashes for the righteous to walk on (4:3). Think about that apocalyptic Day in light of verse 18 (ESV): Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. At that time, when God consumes the wicked with fire, when the righteous walk on their ashes, all believers will "once more" or "again" see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. The only other time such a global distinction was made was at the Flood. This is why God says "once more" or "again" in Malachi 3:18. Read 2Peter 3:6,7. Peter juxtaposes the two unique global distinction events--one by water, one by fire.
Read Psalm 91:7,8, it is identical in every way to Malachi 3:18-4:3. The psalmist says in verse 8 (ESV), You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. The context (v3-8) is cataclysmic, apocalyptic. Psalm 91:8 and Malachi 3:18 are both telling us that all believers at that time "shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked" and "you will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked".
In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul lays out both the first-century remnant of Israel and the growing remnant of mankind/Gentiles.
In verses 3-12, Paul uses first person plural pronouns eleven times. Notice the seemingly endless train of "our" and "us" and "we". If you stop at verse 12 you might be lulled into thinking Paul has you and I and every born-again believer in mind. However, in verse 13, he abruptly changes pronouns and says (NASB, underline mine), In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of the promise.
In verses 3-12, Paul is referring to the believing Jewish remnant, led by and represented by the apostles. In verse 13 he is referring to the Ephesian Gentile believers, who are a part of the larger remnant of mankind/Gentiles. This is why Paul goes from "our, us, we" to "you also". Like Jesus in John 6:39,40, 10:16, and 17:20,21, Paul is presenting the two layers of the New Covenant church: the remnant of Israel (the root) and the remnant of mankind (the branches). The 12 basket remnant and the 7 basket remnant.
Do not misunderstand, though, and think Paul's words in Ephesians 1:3-12 are true of only the Jewish remnant. What he says is theologically and spiritually true of all born-again believers in the New Covenant, which is why he eventually evolves into "you also". What he is trying to convey is simply that the First Coming remnant was "the first to hope in Christ" (v12 ESV), the first to experience every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ, and because of them, a remnant of mankind can experience them also.