Romans 11, Part 2
Dec 20, 2010
In Romans 11, Paul tells us the underlying purpose of the divine plan to blind the eyes of all Israelites (other than the remnant of grace, whose eyes were not blinded). It was to cause the Old Covenant to fail, so that a greater Covenant could be established. Further, God planned to disperse both Israel and Judah among the nations, putting the "not My people" on an equal legal status with the other nations, so that He could then regather ALL of the "not My people" into His Kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
(12) Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for theethnos, how much more will their fulfillment be!
Under the Old Covenant, Israel's revelation was largely localized and centered around the Ark of the Covenant in one small spot in the world. So God blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts in order to make them fail. The Law then condemned the nation, and God divorced them, casting them out into the world of nations and scattering them throughout the world.
And so, when God sent apostles to these dispersed ex-Israelites to tell them of the Messiah who had come, many others had opportunity to hear the gospel as well. It is not that God intended for the lost sheep to be lost forever. His intent was to expand the scope of the Kingdom until, as Daniel 2:35 says, it would fill the entire earth.
This plan also served to make Israel "jealous," because when the Israelites understood that they had lost their covenant relationship with God, and that God, in effect, was showing an interest in other people, it would make them spiritually jealous of God's favor upon the ethnos.
(13) But I am speaking to you who are the ethnos. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of theethnos, I magnify my ministry, (14) if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.
As usual, Paul here includes his own countrymen of Judea (Judah, Benjamin, and Levi) along with the dispersed of Israel. Israel had rejected Christ when He was still known by the name of Yahweh; Judah had rejected Christ after He had come to earth as Yeshua. Israel had already been dispersed by the Assyrians; Judah was about to be dispersed within two decades of Paul's writing. Paul's ministry was to preach the gospel to the ethnos in order to make the Israelites and Judahites jealous.
Unfortunately, the Judahites of the day had become jealous in the worst sort of manner. They persecuted Paul for preaching equal covenant status to the Greeks. This made the Greek converts happy, but it made the Jews very angry, as we read throughout the book of Acts and also in Paul's book of Galatians. Jewish jealousy had not produced the fruit of salvation, but of resentment and bitterness.
Among the dispersed Israelites, it was a different matter. Having lost their covenant status already, they had less to lose by including other people in the regathering of Israel under Jesus Christ. Being among the ethnos for many centuries had rectified any exclusionary opinions they might have harbored in the past. So these dispersed Israelites were far more ready to place their faith in Jesus Christ and come under the New Covenant than Paul's fellow countrymen of Judea, who still believed that the Old Covenant was in effect and saw no need for a New Covenant.
(15) For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
It is obvious that Paul did not believe that Israel had been cast off forever. He believed the prophecies that Israel would be regathered and that God would seek out His "lost sheep" as prophesied in Ezekiel 34:11,
(11) For thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out."
God says further to the house of Israel in Ezekiel 36:25-27,
(25) Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. (26) Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (27) And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
Finally, He tells them in Ezekiel 37:22,
(22) and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms.
In repairing the breach between Israel and Judah, God also intends to repair the breach between Israel and the ethnos. Hence, the divine plan called for hardening the hearts of both Israel and Judah, so that they would be cast out. In their regathering, others would be gathered with them (Is. 56:8), and all would have at least one thing in common--they would share a common faith in Jesus Christ the King.
This is the resurrection of the house of Israel and of the Kingdom of God itself, as prophesied in the valley of dry bones, for we read in Ezekiel 37:13,
(13) Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.
This is Israel's "life from the dead" that Paul mentioned in Romans 11:15. The salvation of theethnos did not replace the salvation of Israel, as if Israel would be lost forever, while the world would be assured of salvation. Rather, the divine plan was to save Israel while revealing the door of salvation to the whole world.
Some have said that salvation in the time of the Old Testament was for Israelites only, and the rest of the world was excluded until the time of Christ. That is wrong as well, for the door has always been open to all men. The problem was that the door was too hidden in one small part of the world, and it was very difficult--if not impossible--for people afar off to find it.
God solved this problem by scattering and sowing Israel as seed in the field in order bring forth a much greater harvest (Hos. 2:23). Hosea's son Jezreel means "God scatters" and "God sows," and "the field is the world" (Matt. 13:38). Hosea had made it clear that God's purpose in scattering Israel was to sow them in the world, not to destroy them but to bring forth an abundant harvest that would fulfill the promises to Abraham.
He then continues,
(16) And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too.
This is the law of first fruits. When the priest waved the first fruits of the barley shortly after the feast of Passover, it sanctified the entire harvest. The people could then go home and harvest their barley. The single sheaf was like a random sampling. It represented the rest of the harvest yet in the field. Once it was sanctified, or set apart for divine service, it made the entire harvest holy.
Paul brought up this law to show that Israel was the first fruit for the world. Yet this principle also applies on other levels. Jesus Christ Himself is the first fruit of the remnant; the remnant of grace is the first fruit of the church; the church is the first fruit of creation (James 1:18). In all cases, the sanctification of the first fruit benefits the entire harvest yet to come.
This is the second part of a series titled "Romans 11." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones