For a thousand years the people of Israel had been waiting for their Messiah. But when Jesus Christ the Son of God was revealed, very many of God’s chosen people rejected Him As we were thinking about this morning from Mark 6, when Jesus went back to Nazareth and preached the gospel, many did not believe.
ROMANS 10:15 As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”
20 And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”
21 But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
God’s chosen people refused to believe. So the gospel was taken beyond the Jewish people and many Gentiles did believe and were saved. But for Paul this leaves important questions unanswered. What future plans does God have for the nation he had chosen in the Patriarch Abraham two thousand years before? Here is Paul’s vital question.
11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people?
We remember that this is a very personal question for Paul –
I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.
So Paul really cares about the people of Israel and their future in God’s plan of salvation. And here is his answer.
11 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.
For the rest of Romans 11 Paul will explain how God has NOT rejected the Jews. Although it might appear that Israel has been rejected, or cast away, two things matter.
Firstly, that rejection is not total. It is not complete. Not all of Israel has been cast away. And as we will see in a few minutes secondly, that rejection is not final, it is not permanent.
THE REJECTION OF ISRAEL IS NOT TOTAL
Paul has already explained in Romans 9 that God has always kept for himself a remnant of Israel.
Romans 9 27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.
29 It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”
Paul had also explained that salvation was always on the basis of faith and never earned by works.
Romans 9 6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”
Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel – only those who truly believed. So Paul now gives another example of the faithful remnant, this time from the time of Elijah.
Romans 11:2 Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Just as the faithful remnant in Elijah’s time had been preserved, so some of Israel were being saved in Jesus’s day. Those who put their trust in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. That faithful remnant included all of Jesus’s apostles, and of course one of the faithful remnant was the apostle Paul Himself! Has God rejected Israel? By no means!! The rejection was not total! The remnant were still being saved!
THE REJECTION WAS NOT FINAL
God still has a plan for Israel. We will think in a moment about how this plan will be fulfilled. But Paul wants everybody to know that there is still hope for the Jews! And at the end of time, God will redeem his chosen people Israel.
25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.
God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. God made his promises to the Patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and when the time is right God will keep those promises to their descendants who are still His chosen people. That time will not come “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”, and that will not be completed until the time when Jesus will return. At that point, “All Israel will be saved.”
When it says “All Israel will be saved” is it important to note two things. Firstly, Jewish teachers commonly said that “all Israel will be saved,” but then went on to list which Israelites would not be saved. So the phrase means “Israel as a whole (but not necessarily including every individual) will be saved.”
Paul’s expectation is that there will come a point in the future when the great majority of the surviving Jewish people will receive the blessings of salvation. He is not talking about a gradual salvation of individual Jews, but a mass conversion of a substantial number in the end times.
But the second thing we need to note is that the only way Paul expects those Jews to be saved is if they turn to Christ for salvation. This is his point in quoting Isaiah 59.
26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
The Jews will only be saved through Jesus Christ their deliverer, probably in the very last days just before, or even as the time when Jesus returns. In the passage we are about to look at Paul makes it clear that salvation is received by faith alone, when he says about the Jews,
23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
So Romans 11 is teaching us that a day which is coming when huge numbers of the Jews alive at that time will repent and put their faith in Christ.
This is a difficult issue. Here is a helpful paragraph from the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament.
“Unlike some interpreters today, Paul does not regard God’s promises to ethnic Israel as cancelled—only deferred; God still had a covenant with the fathers. Most readers today subscribe to one of two systems: Israel and the church are separate and irreconcilable entities, and Israel will be restored; or Christians become the true Israel and ethnic Israel has no more purpose in God’s plan. Paul would have rejected both extremes, believing that ethnic Israel as a whole would return to the covenant in the end time, joining the Gentiles and Jewish remnant that already participate in it.”
Paul is saying that God’s call and election of Israel remains even though they have rejected their Messiah. So what’s happening to Israel now, in these days?
7 What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, 8 as it is written:
“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.”
9 And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them.
10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”
As Paul was writing the majority of the Jews had rejected Jesus. God had hardened their hearts. But that wasn’t the end of the story!
11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!
God still has plans for Israel. But their rejection of their gospel was itself part of God’s masterplan, opening the door of salvation to the Gentiles.
11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!
13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
Here is God’s masterplan. The Jews have rejected Christ and some Gentiles have accepted Him and been saved. But Paul’s hope is that Jews will see Gentiles enjoying the blessings which had originally been promised to them and be inspired to repentance. If the Jews are provoked to jealousy, they will then seek once again the salvation which had always been intended for Israel. Paul explains this with a picture of an olive tree which everybody would know represents the nation of Israel.
17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
In God’s perfect masterplan of salvation, the nation of Israel since Paul’s generation has been cut off from the olive tree to make space for Gentiles to be saved. But God’s plan is that one day the remaining descendents of Abraham, ethnic Israel, will be grafted back on to the olive tree and share in the blessings of salvation which by God’s grace are rightfully theirs. What a great day that will be!
SO WHAT’S GOING ON WITH ISRAEL RIGHT NOW?
We need to recognise that this is a question which Paul wasn’t really concerned about. Christians today often want to know where contemporary Jews stand in relation to the Kingdom of God. Paul isn’t answering that question. His perspective is eschatological – his concern is with the end times – where will Israel stand when Jesus returns. And his answer is that although at present the nation of Israel has been rejected, they still remain potentially part of God’s eternal Kingdom.
But what part does the nation state of Israel today have in God’s purposes, if any? Opinions differ!!!
Here were Paul’s questions. “Did God reject Israel? By no means!” His answer was in two parts – not completely, not totally, and not finally, not forever. And then Paul asked, Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!
Romans 11 is a very difficult portion of Scripture and great minds differ on what it really teaches us about Israel here and now. But Paul ends this section of Romans with a wonderful song of praise to God which we can all say Amen to. We may not understand some of God’s wonderful plan of salvation – but it is all safe in God’s hands!
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.