Romans 10, Part 1
Dec 15, 2010
Toward the end of Romans 9, Paul uses the term Israel in the general sense that included all twelve tribes. This included those who had been dispersed by the Assyrians eight centuries earlier. Paul tells us that the entire nation of all twelve tribes had pursued righteousness by works, rather than by faith (9:32), because they were so obligated under the Old Covenant.
Paul says that they failed to attain that which they had pursued, "because they did not pursue it by faith" (9:32). After the Old Covenant proved to be a failure, God abolished that covenant and made Israel "Not My People." Since that covenant was also a marriage covenant, God had to give Israel a divorce (Jer. 3:8) before He was allowed to send her out of His house (Deut. 24:1).
Israel then became as one of the other nations, for she was no longer married to God. God then established a New Covenant with all who were "Not My People." Hence, as Israelites under the Old Covenant, they failed to attain righteousness, but as a "Not My People," they were able to regain Covenant status with God through a New Covenant.
Without that New Covenant, Israel would have been destroyed as Sodom and Gomorrah (Rom. 9:29). But with the establishment of the New Covenant, "the ethnos, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith" (Rom. 9:30). These ethnos included those ex-Israelites of the dispersion. They were no longer Israelites, of course, because God had stripped them of this Birthright name and had made them "Not My People." Yet as one of the ethnos, they were able to come under a greater Covenant along with the otherethnos.
What was true with Israel was equally true with Judah. When the Old Covenant was fully broken, it was finally abolished (Heb. 8:13), and at that point NO ONE remained under the Old Covenant. Many citizens of Judah did not realize this, and so they attempted to live under the Old Covenant long after it had become obsolete. God was not impressed, nor did this allow those rebellious Judahites to remain as God's People.
Thus, the Old Covenant can no longer define anyone as God's People. To be re-established as God's People requires a New Covenant relationship. Further, it is open to all of the ethnos equally, though many nations did not have opportunity to hear the Gospel for many centuries. There was still an advantage to being an ex-Israelite or an ex-Judahite, for the Gospel began in Jerusalem and spread from there to the uttermost parts of the earth.
In Romans 10, Paul speaks of his desire that Israel (all the tribes) would be saved--and, indeed, he then tells us how God fully intends to accomplish this through the New Covenant.
(1) Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. (2) For I bear witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.
This is very ironic, because the priests and rabbis in Jerusalem studied and discussed the Word all the time. Their knowledge of the Word was tremendous, but their traditions and assumptions caused them to misunderstand it. Their favorite topic of discussion was the coming of the Messiah, but because they assumed he would come to overthrow the Romans, they missed Him when He came. Why? Because they had "zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge."
(3) For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
In other words, they did not understand that the Old Covenant was temporary and was designed to fail. All have sinned, and no man could be justified under the terms of the Old Covenant. This was true particularly for those religious leaders in Jerusalem and for those who followed their instructions. But it was also true going all the way back to Moses, and so it included all the Israelites of past generations.
(4) For Christ is the end [telos] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Many have misinterpreted this to mean that the Law itself has come to an end. However, the Greek word telos is a goal or completion of a time or distance. It is from the root word tello, "to set out for a definite point or goal." Strong's Concordance says: "the point aimed at as a limit, i.e., (by implication) the conclusion of an act or state." He also uses the word "termination" and "result" as its meaning.
In other words, the goal or terminal point of the Law--the place where the Law was to lead us--is Christ Himself. One might view the Law as the path to Christ. One follows the path in order to arrive at its conclusion or result. This is what Paul had in mind also in Gal. 3:24,
(24) Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
The Law was not evil, nor was it abolished. It was the pathway to Christ. If anyone wants to come to Christ, he should follow the path that leads to Him. As a tutor, the Law has value. As a justifier, the Law is a failure, not because it is unrighteous, but because its standard of righteousness is higher than sinful man can obtain by his own works.
(5) For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. (NASB)
A better translation is found in The Emphatic Diaglott,
(5) For Moses writes of that righteousness which is from the Law, "That the man performing these things shall live by them."
In other words, if a man performs all the things written in the Law, then he will "live by them" (quotation from Lev. 18:5). His gift of Life (immortality) depends upon his ability to conform fully to the mind of Christ from the moment of birth. No man has succeeded in accomplishing this, apart from Jesus Christ Himself.
For this reason, all those who are zealously trying to find perfection by self-effort, discipline, and hard work are unable to succeed in that chosen path. They lack knowledge of the New Covenant.
(6) But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down), (7) or 'Who will descend into the abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." (8) But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart"--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, (9) that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; (10) for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
It is interesting that Paul quotes Moses in Deut. 30:12, 13 in regard to "the righteousness based on faith." Moses, then, was not ignorant of faith, but instructed the Israelites in faith. He told them that they did not need to go to heaven to hear the Word, nor did they have to go overseas (or to the abyss, as Paul says, quoting the Septuagint) to receive knowledge of the Word.
Instead, God had given the word of revelation to us here on earth, and ultimately, Christ is the embodiment of the Word (John 1:1). Even as God came down upon Sinai to reveal the Word to Israel, so also did Jesus Christ come to earth to reveal the Living Word to us.
Salvation, then, comes by confessing Jesus Christ as the Word. It requires believing that He died for sin and rose again for our justification.
This is the first part of a series titled "Romans 10." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones