September 4: “God’s Plan for Israel and the Nations” (Romans 11)

Did God reject Israel because Israel rejected God’s Messiah? Paul says no because first, God’s rejection is not total–a remnant exists. And second, God’s rejection of Israel is not final. The hardening of Israel will go on until the full number of Gentiles has come into God’s kingdom. And in this way “all Israel” will be saved. God’s plan for Jews and Gentiles moves Paul to praise and worship. The true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship.



        Good morning CCSV! We’re going through the second half of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I have to admit that Romans is a difficult letter. It’s definitely not my favorite book in the Bible. Sometimes it’s hard to follow Paul’s argument. But it’s an important book for us to understand and apply. Thankfully, modern scholarship has brought a more accurate understanding of the letter. I myself gained a better understanding of the book as I prepared for this series.
        I want to remind us that the second half of Romans can be divided into two parts:

ROMANS 9-11: God’s sovereignty over Jews & Gentiles
ROMANS 12-16: Application of the Gospel for the Church in Rome

        Paul’s main concern in Romans 9-11 is God’s faithfulness to his promise. Since most Jews have rejected Jesus, does that mean God failed to fulfill his promise to save Israel?
        Paul’s first answer came in chapter 9. Not all Jews are the descendants of Abraham. Abraham’s true children are those who believe in God’s promise. This spiritual Israel within Israel was a minority.
        Paul’s second and third answers come in Romans 11.
        His second answer is that God didn’t fail because he is preserving a remnant of Jewish believers.
        His third answer is that God will bring “all Israel” to salvation in the future.

        It was clear in chapter 10 that God’s chosen people, the Jews, rejected the Messiah that God sent. So Paul starts chapter 11 by asking: “Did God reject his people?”
        And Paul answers: “By no means! Of course not. No way!”
        Is there any evidence that God didn’t reject Israel? Yes. God’s rejection of Israel is not total because God kept a remnant.
…at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” (Romans 11:5)
        Paul’s answer picks up the idea of the remnant which he introduced in chapter 9:
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.” (Romans 9:27)
        God kept for himself a loyal remnant. Paul supports this idea with his own example:
Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” (Romans 11:1)

        Paul is thoroughly Jewish, yet also a Christian. He says, “Look at me! I am the evidence! I am one of the remnants who believe in Jesus as the Messiah!”
        Paul reminds the Romans that even during the worst time of Israel’s history, when Elijah thought he was the only one left, God kept a remnant of 7,000 faithful followers who didn’t bow to Baal. So too at the present time, there’s a remnant of faithful Jews. Paul doesn’t stand alone—many Jews have accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah.
        And these Jews believed in Jesus because they were chosen by grace. Here Paul picks up the motif from chapter 9, and reaffirms God’s absolute freedom to act as he wishes without constraint. If they were saved by grace, then it was not by their good works. Grace is God’s kindness to the undeserving. If people can be saved by good works, God’s grace would no longer be grace.
        How about the majority of the Jews who are not the remnant? Paul says they were hardened, like every other human being. Like Adam, they chose to rebel against God and go their own way. And God allowed them to be hardened more and more:
God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.” (Romans 11:8)
        Then Paul asks “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” The answer is again a strong negative: “By no means.”

        And here comes Paul’s third answer: God did not fail in his promise because Israel’s fall is NOT final.
        There is still a hope and a future for Israel. Though Israel fell, it wasn’t a downward spiral, but an upward one. Israel stumbled not to fall beyond recovery, but to rise.
        As he explains his third answer, Paul turns directly to Gentiles in v. 13: “I am talking to you Gentiles.” He addresses them to explain a mystery, which is that Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. Then, all Israel will be saved.
        To illustrate the mystery, Paul uses the olive tree analogy. The cultivated tree represents Israel, whose roots are the patriarchs. The branches that broke off are the unbelieving, hardened Jews. The wild, “ingrafted” olive branches represent the Gentile believers; if the Jews believe, they can be grafted into the tree, and if the Gentiles don’t continue in faith, they can be cut off like the hardened Jews.

        The mystery is about God’s plan of salvation. The plan used Israel’s hardening to offer God’s salvation to the nations. Israel’s hardening will last until the nations’ restoration is accomplished. When the nations enjoy the blessings of God’s salvation, Israel will become envious, and her jealousy will lead to faith in Christ. Once Israel is restored, it will lead to an even greater blessing for all nations.
        Here people often ask, “Does ‘all Israel’ mean every single Jew will be saved?”
        In the Old Testament, the expression “all Israel” never refers to every single Israelite; rather, it refers to a representative collection of Israelites. We can take “all Israel” as “the majority of Israel will be saved”. And in the immediate context of Romans 11, “all Israel” means a great number of Jews, comprising both the hardened majority and the believing minority.
        But Paul explains this mystery not just for the sake of knowledge, but for a pastoral concern. Verse 25 says it is “so that you may not be conceited.” Paul is warning the Gentile believers in the Roman church. He warns them against arrogance in their relationship to the Jewish Christians.
        Gentile believers should not think they’ve taken Israel’s place in God’s plan. God brought salvation to them, but that was by God’s grace, not because they were better than the Jews. So Paul gives the same warning in v. 20 to the Gentile believers: “Do not be arrogant, but tremble.” Rather than being arrogant, Gentiles are to be thankful not only for God’s grace, but also because their own salvation is being used by God to influence the Jews to envy.
        (Of course, the Jewish Christians are not without fault in their relationship to the Gentile believers. Paul will rebuke both sides in Romans 14 & 15, but in this section, the concern is with the Gentiles.)

        The Olive Tree illustration warns the Gentiles not to be arrogant and complacent. But it also gives hope to the Jews because their fall is not final. As he concludes this unit (Romans 9-11), Paul reiterates God’s election and mercy, then finishes with a doxology:
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:28-29)

        The Jews rejected the gospel. That would make them God’s enemies. Moreover, the hardened Jews have actively opposed the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. They’re behaving as Paul did before his conversion. So in regard to the gospel, the unbelieving Jews are God’s enemies.
        But in regard to election, the Jews are still God’s beloved because of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “For God’s gifts and God’s call are irrevocable.
        “Irrevocable” means that it cannot be taken back. An irrevocable gift is a gift that cannot be taken back once given. An irrevocable decision is one that cannot be reversed, so one is absolutely committed to that decision.
        Paul is pointing to God’s faithfulness to Israel. God is faithful to Israel because he chose them out of his grace.
        Then Paul retells God’s plan of salvation in terms of mercy:
Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 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. For God has bound everyone to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (Romans 11:30-32)

        We see a chain of blessings here. Israel’s disobedience led to mercy for the Gentiles, which in turn will lead to mercy for Israel. The Gentiles are enjoying God’s mercy now, and in the future, Israel will enjoy God’s mercy as well.
        Here people asked: Does God’s having mercy on them all point to universal salvation? NO. The Bible doesn’t teach universal salvation. In its immediate context, “everyone” and “all” in v. 32 refer to the Jews and Gentiles.
        In the first few chapters of Romans, Paul was at pains to show that there’s no difference between Jews and Gentiles because all have sinned. Jews and Gentiles have been together in their disobedience against their creator. Now, in Christ, they will be together in the freedom of God’s mercy.
        Paul is certain that the nations and Israel will all be restored to fullness. Then the new humanity will be realized, a great multitude that cannot be counted, who were formerly in Adam but are now in Christ, reigning with him in life.

        After explaining the mystery of God’s salvation plan for both Jews and Gentiles, Paul pauses to step back and just marvel at God’s plan. His arguments give way to adoration of the creator:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

        We are not God’s counselors. He is ours. God doesn’t owe us anything; we owe him everything. We depend entirely on God to teach us and save us.
        All things come from God. All things have their being through God. And all things are created for God. God is the source, means, and goal. As John Stott says: He is the Alpha and Omega and every letter in between. So all glory, honor and worship must go to the God of Israel, the God of all nations, the God of all creation. Like Paul, let us marvel at God’s unsearchable wisdom and power, fall on our knees and worship God.

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