Romans 11, Part 1
Dec 18, 2010
In Romans 11, Paul presents himself as the example to show that Israel has not really been cast out. It is really the Old Covenant that was broken and cast out, but everyone has opportunity to retain their covenant relationship with God, if they would be willing to sign on to a New Covenant.
Paul himself did so when he was apprehended on the Damascus Road. Up to that point, he thought that he was still in a covenant relationship with God through the Mosaic covenant. He learned differently when Jesus revealed Himself as the Mediator of the New Covenant.
There are some who would argue that Jews and Israelites remained in a covenantal relationship with God on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant. However, the covenant with Abraham was actually the New Covenant given prior to the Old Covenant. The only reason the Old Covenant is "old" is because it was temporary and had gotten "old" and was ready to die. The Covenant with Abraham was certainly with the seed of Abraham and was always in effect, as long as men had the faith of Abraham.
But, some insist, it was unconditional. Yes, certainly it was, and for that reason, God will most certainly save all mankind and will use Israel as His agents of blessing. But a faithless Israelite will not be saved until he has faith; and a non-Israelite who has faith has become an Israelite by nationality, though not by genealogy. When a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus said about him in Matt. 8:11, 12,
(11) And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; (12) but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Being cast out of the kingdom is not a permanent situation, of course. Neither is death. But faith determines which resurrection we will inherit. Abraham will certainly be a blessing to all the families of the earth, but each in their own order and time. There is a lawful path to salvation, and no one can bypass the door of faith in Jesus Christ to obtain it. No one gets a free pass on account of his genealogy.
Romans 11 explains the difficult, winding path toward the salvation of "all Israel."
(2) . . . Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? (3) "Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, they have torn down Thine altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life."
This is a reference to 1 Kings 19:14. Elijah had showed great courage in the showdown with the prophets of Baal, but then Queen Jezebel vowed revenge, and Elijah fled to the cave at Mount Horeb, where the Law had first been given. There God asked him, "What are you doing here?" Elijah responded in 1 Kings 19:14,
(14) Then he said, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
Israel had broken the Mosaic covenant, by which they had bound themselves to follow God and to obey His Law. Elijah was not referring to the Abrahamic covenant, because Israel had made no vows that would make that covenant conditional upon obedience. Paul then reminds us of God's response to Elijah in Rom. 11:4,
(4) But what is the divine response to him? "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." (5) In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. (6) But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
The seven thousand men of faith in Elijah's day represent a remnant of grace. "The elect" has a numeric value of 144. These are the "elect," or "chosen ones." The Greek word for "elect" is eklogay, which means "the act of picking out, or choosing." In other words, God personally has chosen this "remnant" for Himself so that He would always have a witness on the earth in spite of apostasy and covenant violation.
(7) What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; (8) just as it is written [in Isaiah 29:10], "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day." (9) And David says [in Ps. 69:23], "Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them. (10) Let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever."
From this passage we see first that "the elect" (i.e., "the chosen") are only a remnant and NOT the entire nation of Israel. Just because someone can trace their genealogy back to a tribe of Israel does not make that person "chosen" as part of the elect remnant of grace. Secondly, we see that the chosen remnant all have one thing in common--they have FAITH. They are different from the average Israelite, whereas the average Israelite hardly differed in his actions from the average non-Israelite.
Third, we see that even as God chose a remnant of grace, so also did He harden the hearts and blind the eyes of the average Israelite. God hardened Pharaoh's heart, and God also hardened the hearts of the Israelites. In both cases, God took credit for it. This is incomprehensible to most people, because they do not understand the whole story. They cannot fathom the injustice of God in hardening the hearts of the vast majority, because they think that God will condemn to a burning hell as punishment for their hardness of heart.
It is only when we understand the plan of universal salvation in Romans 5 that we can justify God's sovereign acts. Paul is about to tell us the underlying purpose of God in hardening the hearts of the Israelites.
(11) I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the ethnos, to make them jealous.
Here is where many become confused, if they do not understand the divine plan. When men think that Jews are saved apart from Christ and/or the New Covenant, it is largely on account of this verse. Paul says that God hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes, NOT so that they would "stumble" in the ultimate sense. Theologians have told us that the Jews are chosen in spite of their lack of faith in Christ, and many have followed this course to its logical conclusion--that Jews are saved apart from Christ.
Such theologians are torn between two opinions. First, they teach that one must be saved through Christ alone. Second, they teach that Jews have a special relationship with God so that they are exempted from the path that the rest of the world must follow in order to be saved. They wrestle with this inherent contradiction and come up with various conclusions according to their understanding.
The truth of the matter is that it is indeed true that "all Israel will be saved," as Paul concludes in 11:26. But not all Israel will be saved at the same time, nor are all Israelites believers during their life time here on earth. In this age God is working with an election of grace that is a small minority. In the Ages to come, after the general resurrection, God will use the chosen ones to bless the others and bring correction by means of divine judgment. In other words, most men will be saved AFTER they have died and have been raised to life again.
This is the first part of a series titled "Romans 11." To view all parts, click the link below.