Romans 11:2–5 makes an argument from the story of Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1–18). Elijah had hid in a cave after killing the prophets of Baal, and had even asked God to kill him, believing himself to be the last believer in Israel (1 Kings 19:4–10). God corrected him, informing him there were seven thousand left who "had not bent the knee to Baal."
Romans 11:2–5 takes that story and uses it to demonstrate that God has not "cast off" Israel. It may look like it: the Church is (at least for now) predominantly Gentile (Romans 9:30–31). Things look bleak for Israel, and Paul is asking, has God replaced Israel? The answer, of course, is no. There is a day coming when all Israel shall be saved (Romans 11:25–26), but for now, God proves His intention of saving the entire nation by saving a "remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5). They're sort of like a deposit, a show of good faith.
Elijah is convinced he is the one last man standing, so to speak. But God's response is, "I know more than you: I know 7,000 times more believers than you do." And there is an application we can make from this story to ourselves.
We, like Elijah, have a tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We look around, see ruin and decay, and think, "well, I guess it's down to me now." But that's foolishness. The Lord knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). It's a pretty safe bet to say, as many faithful believers as we know, the Lord knows 7,000 times more.
I was thinking about this in connection with the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 2–3). In the message to each church, there is the promise to the one who overcomes. Do we not think there is an overcomer in every church? If we're honest, we don't. Not really. But even Thyatira has overcomers. Even Laodicea has overcomers.
It's striking that the overcomer in Laodicea isn't commanded to move to Philadelphia, or that the overcomer in Laodicea isn't told to move to Smyrna. As far as I can tell, the overcomer in Thyatira is called to overcome in Thyatira. The overcomer in Laodicea is called to overcome in Laodicea.
I know people who believe that the Roman Catholic Church isn't a church, while simultaneously saying that "the church in Thyatira" is Roman Catholicism. That strikes me as odd... you can't have it both ways. I'm not interested in Roman Catholicism because I don't see any point to working for what God offers for free (Romans 4:5). I'm certainly not claiming that the Roman Catholic Church faithfully preaches the gospel. But if I admit there is a resemblance to the church of Thyatira, I have to admit also that the Lord has overcomers there. And it's not surprising that He knows far more than 7,000 there, even though I do not.
Here's a thought: maybe I don't know who the overcomers in the Roman Catholic Church are, because they're too busy overcoming to pay any attention to me. It's worth thinking about.
I can't in good conscience be part of the ELCA either, but I'm sure the Lord has 7,000 there too. There are overcomers even in Laodicea.
It can be frustrating to look at the landscape of Christendom. There are some pretty crazy things out there, and there are lots of things out there that I can't in good conscience be a part of. But I dare not claim to be wiser than the Lord. He knows overcomers in every church. He knows the names of those 7,000, even if I do not.
If I don't know about the 7,000 who haven't bent the knee to Baal, that might not be because they're not there. It might be because I'm like Elijah – so absorbed in myself I'm not letting God be God.