Sunday, 12 February 2017

Does Romans 11 Mean Israel's Salvation Must Be Future?

Another Look at Romans 11

Many people think that Israel's promised-salvation has not occurred yet, and that it must still happen in future in order for Bible-Prophecy to be fulfilled.

Many of them also imagine that Israel's future-salvation must include a temple and a priesthood offering sacrifices - because many of the Old Testament prophecies in which Israel's salvation was foretold, also predicted the regathering of the Jews after captivity, and the rebuilding of their Temple, and the reinstatement of the Levitical priesthood complete with sacrifices.

The problem with that view though is the Gospels didn't record Jesus saying anything about that; and neither did any of the Apostles' sermons in Acts; and it's not expressly taught in the Epistles.

Unless perhaps the single strongest claim being cited for it, is a single statement by Paul in Romans chapter 11: "all Israel shall be saved".

But did Paul really mean literally all Israel will be saved? Was he even focusing on the future at all, in Romans chapter 11!

Throughout the chapter, Paul mentioned things like Israel's "fulness"; the "receiving of them"; their being "grafted in again"; and them potentially "receiving mercy" - but was he predicting a still-future change in God's program - one where the focus will shift from individual Gentiles to Israel as a whole - or was Paul simply explaining first-century possibilities for Jews.

I think that instead of issuing an eschatological forecast, Paul was likely really dealing with the attitude of Roman believers towards Jews, in the first century. He was safeguarding them against a misconception about God's attitude towards the Jews. He was explaining a truth about the Gospel in relation to the Jews that was likely a timeless truth. He was being highly practical - dealing with the Gentiles' attitudes towards some of the main persecutors of their day, the Jews.

Basically Paul was clearing-up the misconception that God had removed the availability of salvation to Jews, I think. Jews could still be saved, he said - and that Gospel-truth was meant to shape the Gentiles' attitude towards Jews, despite the fact many Jews were unbelievers.

Whether or not the points which Paul touched on also meant that Israel's salvation was by-and-large a still-future event, doesn't seem to me to be necessitated by his discussion at all. Certainly it doesn't necessitate a future temple and priesthood in Israel with sacrifices.

And the reason this is important is because either the Gospel and the Church is just something largely unforeseen by the Prophets, and God's real prophetic program must revolve around Israel in future, and we must all be required to revert to Old Covenant style worship in future; or...

...or the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the sum of all prophecy and promise - and it's on Him and His glorious Gospel that our focus must remain, not on modern Judaism - even when we're relating to citizens of the modern State of Israel.

The two are tangentally different takes on the Scriptures and the plan of God - and the practical implications obviously could be very important!

So let's take a look at it, and see whether Paul was mainly explaining first-century possibilities with regard to a Jew, or whether he was necessarily instead forecasting a change of program in future specially favouring national-Israel.



I SAY then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

Remember, this question was posed, while Israel was still in their land - they even had the Temple. and the fully-functioning Levitical priesthood, including sacrifices.

And yet the question was posed, "Hath God cast away his people?"

So the matter of Israel's acceptance or rejection by God which Paul was addressing here, was about something other than that - something other than Israel living in their land, and other than them having a temple and a functioning priesthood with sacrifices.

The obvious answer was no - God hadn't cast away His people. And since their rejection or acceptance was to do with a matter other than them inhabiting their land, and having a temple and a functioning priesthood with sacrifices, then any discussion Paul has in the rest of the chapter, about what Israel was seeking for - their promises, prophecies and salvation - also wouldn't necessarily be indicated by things like a subsequent regathering of Jews to their land, a future temple, and a future priesthood and sacrifices either. It was neither here nor there, to Paul's discussion.

Paul used his own salvation as an example of exactly what he had in mind. Proof that God hadn't cast away his people, was his own salvation, as a Jew who once disbelieved but later turned from unbelief to faith in Jesus Christ.

If Paul's subject-matter was all to do with a future regathering of Israelites to their land, a building of a temple, and a priesthood offering sacrifices, then how could Paul have used himself, in the first century, as a case in point when arguing that God hadn't cast away His people?

Therefore Paul must have mainly been talking about first-century issues, realities, and possibilities - not necessarily some new program exclusively for the future.

There's another verse which shows us what Paul was talking about, and the timeframe in which he placed it:

...Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it...

What was Israel seeking for? Whatever it was, the election - Jews who believed in Jesus - obtained it. The election didn't obtain something else - they obtained it - they obtained exactly what Israel was seeking for. Already. So Paul isn't talking about something exclusively future.

What Israel sought for, and what the elect indeed obtained, was the promised, prophesied, and foreshadowed Messianic kingdom-salvation. 'It' wasn't delayed until the future - the elect obtained it - already!

(And Gentiles were grafted in to that - not into something else. The Gospel was first to the Jew - and also to the Gentile.)

11...but rather through their fall salvation is come until the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?

Israel's 'fall' and 'diminishing' didn't mean they'd lost the land, their Temple, priesthood and sacrifices - for Israel still had all those things, at the time Paul was writing, and yet he said the nation had already 'stumbled' and 'fallen' and and was 'diminishing'.

Therefore if an unbelieving-Jew repented and believed, and experienced 'fulness', that wouldn't necessarily be evidenced by his being settled in the land of Israel again, with a temple and priesthood with sacrifices. That was neither here nor there - the real subject in discussion was his salvation.

The Gentiles' experience of salvation was to provoke Jews to jealousy. Meaning, what the Gentiles were experiencing, was precisely what Jews had been promised, not something else. Thus Israel and the Gentiles weren't to have separate destinies. They partook of the same promise.

If the "fulness of the Gentiles" is to have come in before national-Israel begins to experience "fulness", as many Dispensationalists imagine, how then could the Gentiles thereafter experience the "how much more"? Therefore Paul is not likely talking about some last-of-the-last-days scheme imagined by many Dispensationalists - he's mainly talking about the ongoing mutual interaction between Gentiles, and Jewish individuals who get saved, made possible by the Gospel.

And Paul was speaking about a first-century scheme - a first century reality - not a still-future change of program - for he said:

13...inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

Paul's own ministry to Gentiles had a stated goal of provoking Jews to emulation - back then, in the first century. Therefore Paul was discussing a first-century reality, not necessarily forecasting an eschatological prediction involving some change of program, but rather explaining a likely timeless truth about the Gospel: namely, that a Jew could still get saved.

15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

Since the 'casting away' was a reality even while they were still in their land, with their Temple and functioning priesthood and sacrifices, then "the receiving of them" wouldn't necessarily be evidenced by some proposed restoration of those things either. Rather, it would be about "life from the dead" - spiritual life. It would be a return to the same "root and fatness" that the Gentiles were experiencing:

17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

The scenario Paul was talking about didn't necessarily involve the loss of their land, Temple and Levitical priesthood with sacrifices then - so the restoration of similar things in future wouldn't necessarily be an indication that Israel was being grafted "in again".

23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.

The issue was belief - faith - irrespective of their status with regard to the land, the Temple, and the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices, actually.

What Paul was stating was that it was still more than possible from God's point of view, for a Jew to be allowed to begin experiencing what they'd been seeking for: God hadn't removed the availability of salvation to Jews.

24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

It was still possible for a Jew to recover himself and get saved. It seems Paul was explaining that timeless truth about the Gospel. There's nothing in this chapter which overtly necessitates that he was instead issuing a prediction about the future fulfilment of Israel's salvation, and certainly not a rebuilding of a temple and reinstatement of a priesthood offering sacrifices.

And he had practical reason for explaining that: to avoid boasting by Gentiles (verse 18); to avoid highmindedness and a lack of fear (verse 20); to avoid conceitedness, false wisdom and ignorance about God's plan and the manner in which it was seeing its fulfilment (verses 25-27).

Speaking of God's plan, it was a mystery kept hidden from the beginning of the world, mentioned by the Prophets, but was now revealed plainly through the Gospel.

God's promised salvation had indeed been experienced - by the believing-remnant of Israel - and the rest were missing out. This scenario would continue until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so - not 'and then', but 'and so' (implying manner, not sequence) "all Israel shall be saved" (verse 25) - a familiar concept in the Old Testament Prophets. Two example prophecies are quoted. Both of which had already been fulfilled in the first century AD - or else no-one had ever yet been saved.

The prophecies were fulfilled alright - but in the manner explained by Paul, with an outcome that previously was a mystery.


The wrong scenario (which Paul was correcting) was the wrong idea that widespread unbelief in Israel meant God had removed the availability of salvation to ethnic Jews.

The correct scenario (which Paul was explaining) was that God's promises to Jews hadn't failed - the remnant had obtained it - and Jews could still get saved (Paul himself was an example of that very thing happening) - this scenario is to continue until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in (and "then cometh the end, said Jesus - see Matthew 24:14) - and this is the precise manner in which Israel's prophesied salvation is seeing its fulfilment.

Therefore, although the Jews were acting like enemies of the church at Rome, Jews were still beloved for the fathers' sakes. They were still potential candidates for receiving the mercy of God in their unbelief, just as the Gentiles also had received mercy of God in their unbelieving state.

When - in the future? Now! Even in Paul's own generation.

31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

'Now' extends to the whole sentence, not only the first part. Now, through your mercy, they also may obtain mercy - if they continue not in unbelief.

Paul was dealing with the Roman believers' attitude towards Jews, many of whom were persecuting them. He was telling them what was still possible for Jews - even then. Paul was being highly practical, as well as theological - but he likely wasn't being eschatological in the Dispensational way.
Paul's discussion wasn't necessarily about the future.

If there's going to come the nationwide salvation literally of all Israel in future, it can only be because Israel's promised-salvation has already been fulfilled - not because it hasn't been fulfilled and still needs to be.

It can only be on the same basis of the Gospel - not on some other basis, such as modern Judaism.

It's a nice thought of course - but is it really the picture Jesus portrayed of the end-times? in Judea? Did Paul even portray that picture elsewhere in his own writings?

In the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established.

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