In the first two articles of this series, we examined Paul’s discourse on Israel in his letter to the church in Rome (dated around 56–57 AD). We’ve concluded that Paul has elucidated something that Jeremiah 9:25–26 said centuries earlier: “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lᴏʀᴅ, ‘that I will punish all who are circumcised with the uncircumcised…. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.’” As shocking as this might have been, Paul eventually assures everyone that God’s promises to national Israel have not been revoked (Romans 11:29, emphasis added). However, he first warns individual Israelites that there is no special treatment just for being an Israelite. Consistent with the Old Testament (Tanakh), God judges severely those who are uncircumcised in heart; and for the Israelite individuals whose hearts are not kosher, this means that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (9:7).
As difficult as this might have been to comprehend, we concluded last week that the issue boils down to humanity’s greatest need in chapters 9 and 10 of Romans: How do we obtain the righteousness that is required to dwell in the presence of the Holy? After all, the defiled (humanity) cannot dwell with the undefiled (God) and live (Leviticus 11:44; Isaiah 59:1–2; Habbakuk 1:13). We need the righteousness of God. If one fails to keep one point of the Law, then his or her righteousness by the Law is no longer total (James 2:10).
Righteousness Is by Faith
Significantly, Paul concludes in Romans 9:30–33 that the righteousness of God must be pursued by faith, and not by works of the Law (Torah). Faith in what? The word of faith is that “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus [Yeshua] and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture [Tanakh] says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame’” (Romans 10:9–11, emphasis added). Notice Paul quotes Isaiah 28:16 and 49:23 to back up his point. Also, Abraham’s belief (faith) accounted him with righteousness (Gen. 15:6). Indeed, the Good News is that resurrection unto salvation is not achieved or lost by a system of rewards or punishments based on how well we keep the Law of God. Rather, it is based on the atoning sacrifice of the divine and righteous Messiah who suffered for our transgressions of that Law (Isaiah 53:11; Leviticus 17:11) and became the firstfruits of the resurrection.
The Good News is that resurrection unto salvation is not achieved or lost by a system of rewards or punishments based on how well we keep the Law of God.
Essentially, Paul states that this Good News (or gospel) is a gift and it should be proclaimed to all people (Romans 10:14–17). God’s offering of salvation to both Jews and Gentiles does not eliminate His distinctive roles for both groups (cf. 1 Cor. 7:17–20 and Gal. 3:26–29). Jews do not have to become Gentiles and Gentiles do not have to become Jews (cf. Acts 15; 21:17–25; 1 Corinthians 7:17–20). But the apostle says there is no distinction as it pertains to salvation in Messiah (Romans 10:10–13).
Israel’s Jealousy of Gentiles Foretold
At this point, Paul shows that Israel’s rejection of the Messiah can be seen as a continuation of its national history of rebellion against their God (10:19–21). But in the midst of that statement, Paul announces something that is astounding. Long ago, Moses wrote in the Torah that there would be a period of time where God would provoke Israel to jealousy by entering into a relationship with Gentiles, “those who are not a nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21; Romans 10:19). In Romans 11, Paul proclaims that this prophesied period is now! Romans 11:11 states that salvation has come to the Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy! Gentiles are benefiting from what actually belongs to the Jewish people: the Messiah! The entire era of the Gentile Christian, from the first century until today, is the period Moses warned about before Israel ever conquered Canaan!
Israel in the Present
Significantly, even in the present age in which the majority of Israel has rejected their true King Messiah, one can never say that God has rejected Israel nationally. In Romans 11:1, Paul effectively lays the issue to rest when he asks, “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I am an Israelite….” He goes on to say that there is perpetually a faithful remnant in Israel, similar to the 7,000 faithful in Elijah’s day; they are chosen by grace and not by works of the Torah (Romans 11:2–6). And in this present age, while Gentiles are trusting in Israel’s Divine King Messiah for salvation, Paul has warnings for how they treat the Jewish people.
In Romans 11:16–24, Paul famously compares Israel to a special cultivated olive tree nourished by God. He compares faithful Gentiles to branches from a wild olive tree that have been joined to the special olive tree. While Paul acknowledges that some individual Israelites have been broken off for their unfaithfulness (vv. 19–20), he sternly warns Gentiles not to be arrogant or haughty but to continue in God’s kindness or else they’ll be cut off (vv. 20–22). It is likely that Paul is addressing division between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church of Rome during his own day; but it is providential that these warnings were made ahead of time as history is littered with arrogant Gentiles viciously persecuting the Jewish people in the name of Jesus—something the Messiah never commanded! Nevertheless, it is at this point that Paul looks to a future for Israel that is consistent with the predictions of the Tanakh: God will one day graft Israel in again, for He alone has that power (vv. 23–24)!
Israel in the Future
When Paul speaks of Israel’s future, he inevitably underscores their uniqueness as God’s chosen nation. In Romans 11:11–12, he indicates that Israel’s rejection of the Messiah has indeed brought rich blessings to scores of Gentiles in order to inspire Israel to jealousy. But then he says if Israel’s rejection of God has brought blessing to the world, how much more their fullness and acceptance of Him? What does Israel’s acceptance of Yeshua the Messiah mean for the world? It means that the world Kingdom of Peace (with Messiah’s reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem) is finally ushered in! In Romans 11:25, Paul declares that Israel has been partially blinded (judicially) to the truth, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come into salvation. Afterward, Paul affirms that “all Israel will be saved, as it written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’”
God will one day graft Israel in again, for He alone has that power!
Indeed, Israel remains unique. God has not placed the coming world peace upon any other nation’s repentance. World peace is not conditional upon China’s repentance, nor England’s or Spain’s. Israel’s repentance in the Divine Messiah—which is a work of God in itself (Zechariah 12:10)—will bring the Messianic and Davidic Kingdom of Peace (Matthew 23:39). We look forward to and pray for that era! Yet, even while Paul calls the majority of Israel “enemies of the gospel [Good News],” he insists that they are still “beloved for the sake of the patriarchs” (Romans 11:28). The apostle insists that Israel’s “gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 29).
In concluding this study, we must acknowledge some things with Paul. All people, whether Jew or Gentile, sin against God; but, the Good News remains that this was done so that He may have mercy upon all (v. 32). With that, Paul famously breaks out into praise towards God. In Romans 11:33–36 we see that this is for God’s glory. The wisdom and knowledge of God is deep and rich, His mind is unsearchable, and He needs no counselor! He will not be indebted to anyone. All things are from Him! And with that we say Amen!
If you missed the first two parts of this series, you can find them on our Blog page.