All Israel, Part 4 – The New Covenant and Israel

III-The New Covenant and Israel

The Old Covenant prophets, foretold the coming of a new and better one, that would accompany the restored kingdom (Jer. 31:31-34). Whether the New Covenant is looked at as merely one of several covenants, or the fulfillment of one Covenant of Grace, it is most certainly the finality of God’s dealing with His people in redemptive history. It is important to note that the New Covenant is a progression of the old one (Heb. 8:13). In the discussion of what the term “all Israel” means, as well as the covenant promise in relation to it, it must be said that the Old Covenant did not end in its entirety. It was only the conditional aspect of it that ended concerning the land, people, and earthly kingdom of the Jews. As far as the earthly Theocratic kingdom of God is concerned, comprising the Jewish people, it ended when Babylon conquered it in 597 BC. To be sure, the literal promises of God concerning a Theocratic kingdom on earth did not end there, but were temporarily suspended. This suspension did not end God’s Theocratic rule over His people in any way, for His kingdom is an everlasting one (Dan. 4:3). God continued to rule the hearts of His people after the destruction of Jerusalem (586 BC) just as He always did before it’s founding.

The unconditional aspect of the Old Covenant is completely bound up in the person of Jesus Christ, and has its ultimate fulfilment in what He has done, and will do concerning God’s kingdom. There are literal purposes and promises regarding Christ and His kingdom which are both now present, and will also be future. These purposes and their literal fulfilment involve the restoration of God’s Theocratic rule on earth, though it is not, and will not ever be one that is Jewish. Nor will it be centered in any particular land. This future kingdom will be a new heaven and a new earth (Is. 65:17; 66:22). This is what the literal promise to ancient Israel entailed concerning God’s kingdom. A New Covenant was necessary toward this end. A land today located in the Middle East called Israel has nothing whatsoever to do with God’s kingdom purpose. So how will this Theocratic kingdom be realized if not in the restoration of a people and land called Israel? This is the problem encountered in trying to determine what the apostle Paul intended in his statement on Israel in Romans chapter eleven.

Remember for a moment what God’s covenant with Israel was, which He made with Abraham and his seed, before there was a nation or a kingdom called Israel. The literal promise made to Abraham and his seed looked ahead to Jesus Christ and the New Covenant fulfillment of it (Luke 1:72,73). The covenantal purpose with the nation of Israel was merely a utilitarian one to this end. The nation of Israel provided a throne and a royal family from whom Christ would come. The Davidic Covenant of an unending throne of David’s posterity, is fulfilled in Jesus Christ literally (Luke 1:32,33). The unconditional and everlasting character of God’s kingdom is realized in Jesus Christ, and it is a spiritual kingdom, rather than a mere temporal one. Jesus Christ will literally return again to bring that kingdom into it’s final and full realization in the formation of a new heaven and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:13). The inadequacies of the Old Covenant dispensation,[1] had to be done away with in order for these things to come to pass.

There is another problem which arises concerning this matter of God’s kingdom, that has been exploited by those who call themselves Dispensationalists. Certain literal statements of Scripture, combined with the failure of the earthly kingdom of Israel, have led these Christians to suppose that God has two different kingdoms and peoples that He plans to save. Dispensational doctrine holds to the idea that God is bound to reestablish and save a nation of Jews in the physical land of Israel. To these Christians, the church of Jesus Christ is a separate spiritual kingdom from Israel. The earthly people will inhabit the new earth, while the spiritual people will inhabit the new heaven in the future, after a second new covenant period. These ideas have given a rise in large part to modern Zionism which is a political philosophy rather than a doctrine of Scripture. The Dispensationalist idea about two kingdoms, is a departure from historical teaching on Soteriology. It is important therefore, to understand how and why it arises.

In coming to Romans chapter eleven, the Dispensationalist sees this idea explained in the references made toward Israel in it. The re emergence of the nation of the modern state of Israel is explained by Dispensationalists in this very chapter in Romans, and especially in verses 25 through 27. This passage reads “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is 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.” If the modern state of Israel is the one Paul is speaking about, then it would seem to give credence to their claims. It would then stand to reason that God intends to revive the Old Covenant someday so that it might replace the New Covenant dispensation involving the Christian Church.[2]

What of this then, is there a time or new dispensation coming in which God’s dealing with Gentiles is over, and a new phase of dealing with Jewish people begins? If Paul’s use of the term Israel is taken as meaning the ancient Jews who entered the land of Canaan, then there might be something to be said for this. However, if this is not what the apostle Paul meant, then it is a complete falsehood that the modern day Israel has anything at all to do with this promise of God. The only way to settle this question is to go back and look at what Scripture said previously about the New Covenant, then to compare it with what Scripture says about the New Covenant after its inception. A certain problem arises when this is done. There appears to be a disconnection between the Old Covenant kingdom ideal in the pages of the Old Testament, and the New Covenant kingdom ideal in the pages of the New Testament. Even the apostles were confused about this at the time of Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts 1:4-8).

A-The kingdom of God

Israel was given explicit teaching on a new and future Covenant that would replace the one they had lived under by Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31). This New Covenant coincided with the advent of God’s kingdom promises to Israel. Jeremiah introduced this New Covenant as a replacement of the one given to Abraham, which Israel broke (verse 32). And why did they break it? Because it was not a covenant of permanence like the one that would replace it. The New Covenant, unlike the Old Covenant, would be one in which God’s law was written on the hearts of His people (verse 33). This speaks of a regenerate heart as the primary characteristic of all Covenant members. People were also regenerated under the Old Covenant, but it was not in a way that was conducive to the maintenance of that earthly kingdom. Old Covenant believers lacked a full knowledge of Christ and His redemption at the cross. The Spirit of Christ among these believers did not manifest Him to them in the same way that would occur after Pentecost (I Pet.1:10,11).

Jeremiah did speak of a restored Theocratic kingdom with Israel in reference to the New Covenant. There are many passages in Jeremiah that give detailed accounts of this newly restored kingdom (Jer. 23:3-8, 32:37-40, 33:14-18). Not only was this to be a covenant in which God’s law would be written on the hearts of the people, but a covenant in which the Lord’s presence and righteousness would prevail. Likewise, Ezekiel prophesied of the same thing, bringing the spiritual renewal of Israel together with a physical re gathering of the kingdom people back into the land (Ez. 11:14-20, 20:33-42, 34:11-13, 36:24-28). It is in the light of these passages that Romans’ eleven is often interpreted to mean the modern day state of Israel, along with the Jews who dwell there, as its fulfillment. In this scheme of thinking, all that is left is for the Lord to return and restore the temple and it’s sacrifice, for the full and final realization of the Old Testament prophesies. Of course, there are numerous other details attached to this view for the dispensational prophetic expectation to find it’s completion. But all of these other details await the completion of the “Fullness of the Gentiles” in order for them to happen (Rom. 11:25).

The problem with the Dispensational interpretation is, that it is shortsighted on many points in reference to what Scripture says in the New Testament about this New Covenant. Nowhere does it suggest that there is some kind of reintroduction of the old and inadequate covenant with Israel being brought back, even if done in the context of the Lord’s literal return. In fact, it does suggest quite the opposite (Heb. 8:7-13). The reintroduction of the old and faulty covenant would be a regression from, rather than a progression in God’s redemptive purpose. The Lord did not come the first time to save a few people in one covenant, only to come back again in the future to save some more under another covenant. The kingdom of God is one kingdom, not many, even if done in progressive stages.

The hard thing to grasp about this however, is how it is manifested and implemented in history. For one thing, when Jesus appeared the first time, so did His kingdom with Him (Matt. 12:28). It was kingdom authority by which Jesus cast out demons. And there is extreme danger for anyone to deny this power (verses 31,32). Jesus equates this power to the present age and the kingdom He came to establish (Mark 1:1,14,15). But secondly, it was not in the expected manner it came. Jesus did not bring political revolution, but spiritual conversion. The entire sermon on the mount was taught to the disciples as God’s kingdom principles. This was not done for some other kingdom or people, but for the present one and its people. This is what Jesus established at His coming in fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy.

The Lord Himself had much to say about the nature of His kingdom in the Gospels. Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world, meaning not of this present world (John 18:35-37). In fact, Jesus agreed with Pilate that He was the King of the Jews, but not in the same sense that they understood it to be, otherwise they would not have wanted Him put to death. An interesting thing took place in the teaching of Jesus to His disciples about the kingdom. Jesus taught about the nature the kingdom of God in terms that appear quite different from those expressed in the Old Testament. But this should not be too surprising, considering the mystery surrounding His first coming as a suffering Servant, then His later return from heaven as a literal earthly King. The fact that this mystery was made known after it occurred, gives consistency to the difference of emphasis in Jesus’ teaching about God’s kingdom.

The first of the four Gospel narratives, Matthew, presents Jesus as the Son of David and the King the Jews expected (Matt. 1:1,6,17). The genealogy in Matthew chapter one is through Joseph, not Mary, which is recorded in Luke 3:23-38. The importance of this is, even though Jesus was born of the virgin, deriving His humanity from her, His name and standing in the Jewish community was from Joseph. When the Angel informed Joseph whom his wife was pregnant with, he referred to him as “Joseph, son of David” (Matt. 1:20). Mary was related to David too, making Jesus a son of David from both her and Joseph (Luke 1:26-33). But the significance of Matthew recording this, has to do with Joseph’s standing as the adoptive father of the human son Jesus. The Angel informed Joseph that Jesus had come to “Save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Apart from the believing remnant under the Old Covenant, that function of the Messiah was not in the mind of the vast majority of the Jews. Most Jews looked to the Messiah to be a political Ruler who would rescue them from Roman domination, and establish them as a world power. This idea is at the root of modern Zionism associated with the nation of Israel.

Matthew emphasizes the Kingdom of heaven and of God more than any other of the Gospel narratives. Why is this? It is in keeping with its emphasis upon Jesus as Israel’s long awaited King. The kingdom of God spoken of in the Old Testament was just as much a mystery to be revealed in the New Testament, as the mystery surrounding the Messiah. In his narrative, Matthew introduces what that mystery consists of in Jesus’ teaching to the multitudes. The manner in which Jesus taught the multitudes about His kingdom was just as mysterious as the nature of the kingdom itself. Jesus taught what the mystery of the kingdom was all about in Parables! Why did He do this? Jesus did this to keep the nature of His kingdom, a mystery to those who did not believe in Him as the Messiah, Israel’s King. It was only to His disciples that the kingdom should be revealed. In fact, this was even made known in the Old Testament to Isaiah when he was given that great vision of the pre incarnate Lord who was seated on His throne in the heavenly temple (Is. 6:1-13).

But of course, a mystery revealed is no longer a mystery even if it is not understood. Jesus taught to His disciples in Parabolic form, what the nature of God’s kingdom consisted of, for a very specific reason. It had to do with the spiritual, as opposed to the earthly nature of the kingdom promise. Jesus taught the kingdom in Parables, because if the multitudes were not going to believe in Him, and receive Him in this spiritual manner, then they were not the subjects of the kingdom at all! The multitude did not understand what Jesus was teaching about the kingdom, therefore, they stumbled at it and left disillusioned. Jesus’ disciples however, remained and approached Him privately to enquire what He meant by them (Matt. 13:10). Jesus explained the meaning of these Parables and the mystery of them to His disciples because they were His disciples, it was to them that they were directed. In each of the Parables, Jesus was concerned to show that the kingdom of God was a present reality, not a future event. The kingdom of God was among the disciples, because He, Jesus the Messiah, was among them (John 1:1,14).

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explained that His kingdom is present in the teaching and propagation of His word. Many will be affected by the Gospel, but only certain ones will bear fruit in accordance with it’s teaching (Matt. 13:1-9). Two things should be noted in this Parable in respect to God’s kingdom. First, the word is made available for anyone to hear and receive it, but secondly, only those who are able to hear will receive it (Matt. 13:9,19). This is the spiritual inability that was spoken of to Isaiah, concerning his prophetic ministry, long before Jesus came. Most Jews rejected the ministry of the Gospel just like they rejected Isaiah. In that rejection was the rejection of God’s kingdom promise made to them under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant kingdom of God is one which is primarily spiritual, based on faith and love to God in Christ. The absence of these was what was lacking in that Old Covenant earthly kingdom. Consequently, those who receive the word in the New Covenant, but fail to bear any fruit from it, prove themselves not to be the objects of it too.

The second Parable on the wheat and tares combines with the first to make a complete picture (Matt. 13:24-30). First the seed of the word is sown, then the harvest of it is reaped. Jesus explains that in His kingdom there will be those whom the word will gather, but will only be tares fit to be burned. These will be gathered along with the wheat which will be separated only at some future date when Jesus returns again. This idea of the kingdom especially does not seem to fit the Old Testament idea of it at all, and certainly not in the mind of Jews. The Jews expected to have the Messiah cast out all of His enemies from the kingdom when He came with it. But then they did not expect that the Messiah would come twice either. Instead, Jesus taught that His word would go out to the world, and bring both the true sons of God into His kingdom from it, as well as the sons of Satan (Matt. 13:38). This is the way that God would gather His people into the kingdom who had been scattered all over the world. The fulfillment of this however, was meant to include many more than just Jewish people. This too was made known prophetically by Isaiah as God’s covenant intention (Is. 49:5-8).

The Parable of the mustard seed introduced the concept of the gradual increase of the kingdom to the disciples, rather than an immediate, sudden miraculous event that would catapult the Jewish people into world dominance (Matt. 13:31,32). The church in the New Testament had small beginnings just like the Lord who came into the world in obscurity. Two thousand years later however, two things have occurred. One, the church has grown and prospered from its humble beginnings into that which has reached millions in the world. Two thousand years of persecution have not ended the church, even though it has needed to be reformed and revived many times. Jesus Christ died and rose again to save an elect people, taken from every nation of the world (Rev. 5:9). The kingdom awaits the calling of every one of the elect before Jesus will return again. But second, the church attracts much to itself that is not of itself, nor of Christ. It awaits the time of His return to purify and glorify it. Until then, much will be added to it that is not of the kingdom.

The Parable of the leaven is similar to that of the mustard seed, in that it teaches that the kingdom starts out small, and advances in two stages (Matt. 13:33). Like the mustard seed which grows into a tree, a little leaven permeates the entire loaf, turning it into a finished product. The essential thing about God’s kingdom is that it is spiritual in nature. No one can see what is in man, only his works can be observed. Christ’s kingdom is mysterious in that it is brought about by the spiritual rebirth of its members (John 3:8). A changed heart wrought by the Spirit of God, is that unseen, mysterious commodity that comprises His kingdom. The Old Covenant was concerned with statutes and ordinances, outward ceremonies and ritual. Of course, the New Covenant has its ordinances too. But it is one in which spirit and truth meet, law and grace are established, and God’s truth is magnified in the Person of Jesus Christ (John 4:24, 1:17).

The Parable of the hidden treasure hardly accords with what the Old Covenant Jew imagined the kingdom to be (Matt. 13:44). Far from being a political state involved in military exploits like modern day Israel, God’s promised kingdom is that which is hidden. Hidden in the sense that its treasure is not for show or pomp like those kingdoms of the world glory in. The treasure of God’s kingdom is in its graces which have been obtained through the suffering and merits of its King. The hidden treasure of the kingdom is God’s word (Psa.119:11). The hidden treasure of the kingdom is in the beauty of God’s holiness (I Pet. 3:4). The hidden treasure of the kingdom is the wisdom of God’s grace (I Cor. 2:7). The hidden treasure of the kingdom is the perseverance of faith which God gives to His people in Christ (Rev. 2:17). But this treasure is also hidden from the eyes of those who desire earthly things, those whose wisdom and beauty are wrapped up in this world and in the glory of man (Matt. 11:25).

The Parable of the pearl is similar to that of the hidden treasure (Matt. 13:45,46). A pearl is something of great value to search for. A pearl is not something easily accessible but something in which a great deal of personal sacrifice is required, if one is to obtain it. The pearl of God’s kingdom is in the poverty of its King Jesus Christ. He who had everything as God, yet, left that all behind to come in the form of a servant, to be humbled and mocked and brought to the point of death on the cross, this is the pearl of the kingdom (Phil. 2:6-8). The earthly state of Israel, which many idolize as some kind of fulfillment of God’s covenant promise, pales in comparison to what Scripture here puts forth as it’s pearl of great value. A pearl is in an ocean of troubles which one must traverse in order to obtain it, yea, even the loss of one’s own life.

Last of all, the Parable of the dragnet concludes Jesus’ teaching on the nature of the kingdom by creating the picture of a great ingathering of its people (Matt. 13:47-50). A net may be cast into the ocean in order to scoop up whatever comes it way. But the fisherman must decide what to keep, and what to throw away. So it is with Christ’s kingdom. The Gospel net scoops up whatever happens to come its way in the sea, which can be likened to the world. The disciples were being trained to be fishers of men who were to go forth in the world, bringing news of Christ to it. Just like the Parable of the tares, the Gospel net catches much that is not compatible to the kingdom of God at all. But in the end, at the end of this present age that is, Christ will send His angels to separate the good from the bad in that net. The difference between what is good and bad has to do with God’s electing purpose. Some are to be saved, and some are to be lost. Most of all, it is clear that what Jesus taught is that the end of the age was final!

There are only one age, and one purpose in view, concerning the kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching to His disciples in these Parables. There is no hint to be found in them that there is an end to one purpose, such as a Gentile church, and then the start of another purpose, meaning a Jewish nation. This appears to be true of this present age, or, any which follows it in the future. At the end of this present age, it appears that Christ will return to separate the just from the wicked, and institute the new heaven and the new earth, period. This will be the time of the Theocratic restoration on earth of God’s kingdom. The idea that there is some future time coming, when “all Israel” as a covenant nation will be reestablished, finds no support at all in this teaching given by Jesus. Nor do there appear to be any special purpose for the Jewish people apart from the present worldwide Church of Jesus Christ.

It is obvious therefore, that the teaching that Jesus gave to His disciples does not allow the two-stage, dispensational kingdom theology. But proving that to be true alone does not settle the matter at hand, which is at issue in Romans chapter eleven. What exactly is the New Covenant in regards to Christ’s kingdom, if it is not a restoration of His earthly rule? That is to say, what is the meaning of the question of Israel being saved? And not just Israel in the general sense of the word, but more specifically what is meant when Paul says “all Israel” (verse 26)? Does Paul mean every Jew will be saved eventually? All Gentiles are not saved now, is it to be believed that God intends to save all Jews when all is said and done, but only some Gentiles? Not only that, but the church of the New Testament is not exclusively made up of Gentiles, it is made up of Jew and Gentile too. This is the problem that arises when taking these verses in Romans chapter eleven in a strict literal sort of way.

B-Interpreting the covenant of God

There is another point of view concerning God’s purpose in the New Covenant, which is not dispensational per se, but which does seem to provide an explanation of Paul’s intended meaning in Romans 11:25-27. This view is held by many who do not subscribe to the dispensational system of thought at all. This view interprets Pauls words to imply that within this Gospel age, there is a sort of two-stage purpose at work in the Church. This idea is based on a construction of Paul’s words in this passage, beginning with the blindness of Israel concerning the gospel (Rom. 11:25). Even though the first century Church was made up of Jew and Gentile alike, it is also true that after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, that afterward, very few Jews came to embraced Jesus Christ in faith. This is also true to this very day. Not only do most Jews in the world not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but most of them are altogether atheistic. This blindness of the Jews is quite obviously a spiritual one determined by God, according to the view in question.

Secondly, this two-stage view also sees in verse 25 a purpose in this blindness of the Jews in relation to Gentile believers. It is true, since the end of the first century, as the gospel spread through the world it has been mostly Gentiles who have became Christians. In the two-stage gospel age system of thought, there is a specified time which only God knows of, in which He has determined this Gentile Church to thrive. When this specified, but unknown time comes to an end, God will providentially shift His focus to Jews. When this occurs, the spiritual blindness which Jews now have will then be lifted. The result of this will be that large numbers of Jews will embrace Jesus Christ as their Messiah, and will come into the Christian Church (verses 26,27). At this time then it can be said that “all Israel will be saved,” meaning that in a general sense.

This is an interesting interpretation that is made on Romans chapter eleven. It is one which seems to be in accord with what Paul is saying on the whole in the context of this chapter about Israel. But that’s as far as it can go. The reason for this is, that it only reconciles the words of verses 25-27 on its face, but not in its actual substance. The unresolved problem is, that the name Israel conveys a very specific meaning in regards to the Old Testament. Israel was the name given to Jacob, which was transferred to his family, which in turn became a nation. This was the Old Testament meaning of the name Israel. There was no political nation named Israel at the time in which Paul lived, it ceased to exist after Babylon conquered it in 597 BC.[3] But what about a future Israel that would be saved, if this is really what Paul was speaking of in Romans chapter eleven? That would make Paul’s statement in this passage a prophetic one, one which could possibly relate to a future nation state of Israel. Unfortunately, this has already been proved to be inconsistent with Jesus’ description of His kingdom and the age in which it exists.

Another problem comes along with the word “covenant” as Paul quoted it from Isaiah 59:20,21. In Isaiah the covenant with Jacob in reference to salvation was with those who turned from their transgression (verse 20). This was clearly to those who are known as remnant believers, a small portion of the sons of Jacob. These were those who accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah in the first century. There is no meaning in those words of Isaiah to the whole of the nation of Israel, so therefore, that cannot be applied here in Paul’s teaching. It is vitally important to deal with these two words “Israel” and “covenant” in their literal, Old Testament meaning if that is how Paul’s words are to be interpreted. After all, Paul quotes the Old Testament in Romans chapter eleven, not to put some different meaning on them, but to put forth their true meaning.

Paul doesn’t quote from Isaiah word for word either. The inspired apostle was certainly qualified to do that, which he did by keeping them in complete accord with the intended purpose God has in the New Covenant. As a former Pharisee, Paul was knowledgeable in both the Hebrew and the Greek texts of the Old Testament (Phil. 3:5; II Tim. 3:15,16).[4] Paul’s interpretations, made from the exact words he used in Romans 11:25,26 for the sake of quotation, were those which were in full accord with the original inspired revelation from God. How do we know this? The Holy Spirit testifies to it in the New Testament (Heb. 1:1,2; II Pet. 3:15,16). Since the original meaning of the words apply to only a remnant of believing Jews, that’s all they can apply too here in the New Testament. The two-stage Church era idea, does nothing to resolve any of the questions raised about the meaning of Pauls words to the Roman Christians, on who is “all Israel.”

Perhaps then the intention of Paul was to say that there could be a time in which a great many Jews will turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved, and that this was a time that was future to him, but still within the present Christian Church era. Whether or not this will happen in the sovereign providence of God is hard to say. But if this is true, it still does not accord with the words of Paul. The notion of a two-stage Gospel era has been around for a long time. The two-stage notion of the New Testament Church has especially gained traction since the middle of the nineteenth century, when many Jews began to become Christians. The question is, does that square with what Paul is teaching here? There has never been a single Gentile nation like that, where virtually every citizen became truly converted to Christ. So how can Paul say that there will be a Jewish nation that will become completely converted to Christ. Is that really what he is saying?

Perhaps then Paul is talking more in general terms when he makes the comparison between the times of the Gentiles and the blindness of the Jews. If that is the case then, the idea of an actual nation does not even come into the discussion. But Paul used the term “Israel” didn’t he, doesn’t that imply the concept of nationhood? There is no mention here of a single Gentile nation, or, any specific nation within that category, only “Israel.” Also, if this is what Paul really means in verses 25-26 this is very curious indeed. The reason being for that is, Paul seems to be talking about something definite and discernable in terms of an event. This is not something which is nebulous and debatable in terms of its fulfillment. Could the present day Israel become a place where the Christian message and faith are embraced by many? Of course it can! That still doesn’t reconcile a single thing in this chapter on whom Paul is talking about when he says “all Israel.”

The only possible way left then, to find the true and absolute meaning of these words of Paul in Romans 11:25-27 is to interpret them according to the Scripture principle. Sadly, this is not the way that many choose to look at Scripture today, nor has it ever been. Many good men have been given to the Church by Christ with tremendous gifts of teaching. The Church has been blessed as a result of this by way of the number of works that have been produced for its use. But no matter how gifted a person might be, they are still prone to err in many ways in their thinking. When it comes to the interpretation of Scripture, this is done most often in trying to force a system of thought, or an opinion upon a text, rather than allowing Scripture to interpret itself. Dispensationalism is a system which does this in an extreme way, coming up with many outlandish ideas. This method forces literal interpretations to an extreme upon passages of Scripture, making them fit with what the predetermined notion believes.

There are many others who are far more sound in their method of interpreting Scripture, but nonetheless, fall down in various places because of some cherished notion. This text in Romans chapter eleven seems to be one of those that is prone to such abuse. Well, what then is the proper approach to this text of Scripture? The Scripture principle demands first, that words be taken literally if they in fact merit it, and figuratively if they don’t. But when saying this, it must also be said, that the literal interpretation demands as well that it be consistent with the right use of the words. That means that historical usage is paramount. Next, the immediate context of a passage must not be violated if one is to come to a right understanding of any text. And it is not only the immediate context which must be maintained, but a larger context within a book, or even a group of books in the Bible.[5]

Last, but most important of all, is that any interpretation of Scripture must be in harmony with what Scripture on the whole teaches about theology. Novel interpretations of a text that don’t fit with a larger body of teaching in Scripture are usually suspect. The word Israel in Scripture when used in conjunction with the modern day use of that name, leads many to assume that the two are synonymous. Does this assumption fit with what both Testaments teach by way of its definition? The modern reader of God’s word is not left with assumptions by the Apostle Paul when it comes to the importance of understanding this name. For this reason, Paul devoted not one, but three chapters in his epistle to the Romans to explain what he means by its usage. In these three chapters, Romans 9-11, Paul labors to explain what the name Israel implies from both Testaments. Understanding what Paul is conveying about Israel from the context of all three of these chapters is the key to understanding what Romans chapter eleven is saying about “all Israel.”

C-Romans chapters 9-11

The Apostle Paul ended chapter eight of Romans, concluding it with God’s everlasting love for those who believe in His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:31-39). This love undergirds all of God’s dealings with His people in Christ, starting first with their depravity and separation from Him in Adam, and ending with their ultimate justification, sanctification, and glorification because Him (Rom. 5:12, 3:23, 5:8-10). Even the tribulations of the Christian are included in this purpose, with the end being their perseverance in faith (Rom. 5:3). In Romans chapter eight the redemptive purpose of God is revealed by Him in creation. It has been revealed that it too, has undergone all that it has for the very same purpose. Some day, when Christ returns, the creation itself will be reconstituted (Rom. 8:19-21). The new creation that will be instituted, by Christ, will then become the new heavens and the new earth that Isaiah spoke of at the end of his prophecy (Is. 65:17). It will be at this time that God will have restored to His creation, the theocratic rule and dominion over it, which had never been previously before realized.

The subject-matter that begins in Romans chapter nine, and proceeds on through to the end of chapter eleven, deals with an obvious objection that was raised by Jewish believers, what about us as a family of people? What about all of these seemingly earthly promises that suggested that we, the covenant people of God, Abraham’s descendants, would have a prominent place in this restored kingdom? It is to this sort of question raised by Jews that Paul addressed these three chapters, explaining in them the continuity of God’s purpose in the two covenants. It is in the context of this explanation that arriving at an understanding of Romans 11:25-27 in reference to “all Israel” is found. Instead of finding in these chapters a defense of a dispensational theology, quite the opposite of that becomes clear. Instead of any dispensational schemes being its subject matter, there is in them a coherent, theological coalescence of the two covenants, being explained in the context of the entire book of Romans.

In fact, Paul addresses many of his remarks in these chapters directly to the Jewish believers at Rome, so that whatever is said about the Jewish question, is said to those who were members of the Church. Paul is not addressing his remarks to Jews in general who are scattered all over the empire. Paul is not seeking to reassure his own ethnic family that they have a special place in the future purpose of God. No, the Apostle Paul is speaking and ministering to his Jewish brethren who are in Christ. To these Jewish people, their place in the will of God was settled. To these Jewish Christians, their identity within the kingdom of God was understood to be in Christ. These brethren had embraced Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah who was long before prophesied of in the Old Testament (John 1:45,49). It is important to understand that the first Christians were Jews, not Gentiles! The acceptance by these Jews of Christ and His Church was the validation of His ministry to them (John 1:12; Acts 2:39).

This present Gospel age is one in which all men are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile alike. Christ has made both one in His mystical body which finds it’s expression in the visible Christian Church (Eph. 2:14-22). The Jews in Rome understood and accepted this. What they did not understand was what to think of their countrymen after the flesh, what was to become of them? They continued to hold to the law of Moses, the rites and ceremonies of the Old Covenant, and the temple worship. It was only natural that Paul being a Jew, would understand the need to address this issue to those brethren in Rome. And not only to Jewish brethren, but to all the Christians at Rome who would wonder of these things as they fellowshipped with each other. They too needed clarification on these matters concerning God’s will for the Jewish people.

Well then, where does Paul start in all this? The apostle Paul begins in Romans chapter nine by expressing to the brethren his own personal desire for the conversion of “my countrymen according to the flesh” whom he refers to as “Israelites” (Rom. 9:1-5). In these five verses Paul makes it clear that he is talking about the fleshly descendants of Jacob. When Paul talks of them to the brethren here, he is talking in purely mediatorial terms, which is not unlike that which Moses did in the Old Testament, after the golden calf incident (Ex. 32:30-32). Moses was acting then as a type of Christ in that particular instance, when he offered similar heartfelt mediatorial intercessions for his brethren after the flesh. Moses did this because he understood the wrath of God was hot against them for it (verse 10). Even though Paul cannot rightly be called the same, a type of Christ, still, he mourned just as Moses did for his countrymen, and expressed the very same sentiment in prayer as he did before them and God.

The next section of Romans nine introduces the true nature of the covenant promise to Israel so that Paul’s hearers might understand as he does the reality of God’s will (Rom. 9:6-13). Paul says that every Israelite is not an Israelite! Astounding as this might have sounded to those Jews who read this, Paul was not remiss to state in such stark terms as this, exactly what he meant by it. Simply stated, Paul asserted here in these verses there are two distinct groups of people that have the name Israel in God’s plan. One group comprises the physical descendants of Jacob. The other group comprises the spiritual descendants of Jacob. It is to those spiritual descendants that God’s saving grace was intended in His covenant promise. In order to drive the point home, Paul quotes from Scripture God’s words concerning election and reprobation in regards to the two different offsprings of Isaac (Mal. 1:2,3).

This is the key to understanding God’s purpose for Israel. God has elected some for salvation, and some He has reprobated. And it is not for anything which either one has done, but it is based upon the sovereign decree of God. This is why God blinded the eyes, and hardened the hearts of most Jews in Isaiah’s day when he was sent to preach (Is. 6:10). God never had any intention to save “all Israel,” simply because they were Jacobs children. But rather, He intended to destroy them who were not elect children (verse 11).[6] When the Messiah came, it was to the elect sons of Jacob that His salvation was intended, not for “all Israel” after the flesh. Paul did what every believer should do in grieving over those who are family, but who will not believe that they might be saved. Paul had no illusions about the matter. It was according to God’s sovereign, electing grace, and nothing else, that God loves some, and others He hates. This is a fact that every believer needs to accept if he or she is to honor God in their hearts.

To put it another way, God would not be God if He did not hate some, and love others. All of God’s dealings are according to His love for His own nature. If God did not hate some and put them in Hell, He would not be true to that part of His nature which demands justice. If God did not love and save some, He would not be true to that part of His nature which accords with mercy and grace (Rom. 9:14-29). Of course, God puts no one in Hell who does not deserve to be there by their own deeds. But God does put some in heaven, and none of them belong there by their own righteousness. There is no unrighteousness in God concerning this matter (Rom. 9:14). Everyone, no matter who they are, will be judged on the basis of their own deeds in relation to the law. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, yet He has chosen to save some, and not to save others (Rom. 3:23, 9:18).

Here it is in Romans chapter nine, all spelled out by Paul, to both believing Jew and Gentile alike. Especially poignant are the words Paul spoke in verses 22-24 on this point. Between both Jew and Gentile in the world, God has divided all people into one category or another. To one group of people, God prepares them for destruction by His withholding of mercy. To another group of people, those who are His elect, God prepares them for salvation by the showing of mercy. This is the only way there is to understand God’s dealings with Israel. The people of Israel had been given enormous advantages by God. They alone were chosen as a nation by God, and by Him they were brought into their own land and established. These only had been given the revelation of God along with His religious rites and ceremonies. Yet, in spite of all this, Israel persistently turned to idolatry, generation after generation.

God’s rejection of the nation of Israel, barring those within it who were saved, was based upon this electing purpose which Paul made known in Romans nine. The adoption of Gentiles into God’s kingdom is explained as well by this (Rom. 9:30-33). When the promised Messiah came, and the larger part of ethnic Israel rejected Him, they effectively shut themselves out of God’s favor once and for all. The phrase “all Israel” of Romans eleven, taken in reference to historic Israel, are clearly not those whom Paul is talking about there. Paul also makes it clear that the true Israel of God, are them in whom His promises are realized, through the means of faith. Whether it is Jew or Gentile, faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone is the dividing line between people in the world at this present time. The New Covenant then is the promise of salvation to those who believe.

Because of the universal nature of the New Covenant, and the spiritual nature of God’s present kingdom on earth, it was only right for Paul to pray for the salvation of as many of his countrymen that God had purposed to save (Rom. 10:1-13). In chapter ten of Romans, the apostle Paul expounded on the missionary nature of the New Testament church. The gospel would and could still effectively call out of darkness, those within the Israelite community whom God had predestined beforehand to salvation. This reality was to Paul a tremendously motivating factor in his outlook toward them. The people termed “all Israel” that Paul envisioned as his missionary calling, was not about people after the flesh. Paul also understood this to always be the case, therefore, he quoted from the law (Deut. 30:11-14). Them who are, the Israel of God, are those who call upon Him in faith and confess Jesus as the Messiah (Rom. 10:8-10).

Paul was given great hope by God in the preaching of the gospel, especially to his brethren after the flesh. But Paul understood too, that just as most of them rejected the grace of God before, so they would now (Rom. 10:14-21). This is a sorrow that was not too overwhelming for Paul, nor should it be for any of God’s people. If faith is the means of salvation, God’s sovereign grace is the source of that faith (Rom. 10:17). Faith was not given to most Jews before Christ, nor will it be since He has come. But since it is according to election, everyone who has faith and is saved was chosen of God, therefore, not one will be lost whom God has chosen. Whoever is “all Israel” in Romans chapter eleven, they are those whom God has chosen and effectively called through the preaching of the gospel. God gives faith to those whom He effectively calls. Why did the Jews reject Jesus Christ? Because they were not included in God’s eternal Covenant of Grace, even though they might have been part of an earthly covenant (Rom. 10:18-20).

In coming to chapter eleven of Romans, the apostle Paul asks this question in regard to Jews in a rhetorical manner, saying “has God cast away His people” because of the New Covenant (Rom. 11:1)? The answer is no, Paul shows in this passage that in both covenants, God has a remnant that is the object of His gracious dealings (Rom. 11:1-10). The reference to “all Israel” later on in the chapter then, can only be in reference to a remnant of Jewish believers in Christ (verse 26). This alone explains the rejection by the Jews of Christ that they were not the objects of God’s New Covenant. The fact that some Jews believed in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, attested to the sovereign election of God, and the fact that He has chosen a remnant from them in this present age (Rom. 11:5). If there are few or many Jews at any point in this present gospel age who come to Christ in faith, it is because they are of this elect remnant. This is also true of anyone who comes to Christ through the gospel, for they too, are part the elect remnant whom God has redeemed.

It was pointed out previously in the kingdom Parables that Jesus taught, that the gospel would draw in many to the Church. At the same time, there would not be total purity in the visible Church as a result of this outward call of the gospel. The Church is the visible manifestation of that invisible spiritual kingdom that Christ has established. There is within it a true remnant of believing people. Why is this so? It is so because this world is corrupt and under the sway of the Devil. Satan was given dominion over it by God until the time that He sends His Son to restore His dominion on earth, and destroy the corruption of this world. This is not what the unbelieving Jews wanted to hear. This is not even what an unbelieving nominal Christian wants to hear either. Religious hypocrites want nothing but an earthly theocratic kingdom. This is so because the world is in a fallen state, this is all they truly desire of God. They want that, and the destruction of their earthly enemies.

The apostle Paul ties Romans chapters 9-11 together in this last section, making it clear to his hearers what is meant by the phrase “all Israel” (Rom. 11:11-32). God, having purposed to use Israel as a means of blessing the world, at the same time, has purposed His blessing upon the world as a means to provoke disobedient Jews to repentance. There is nothing more unnerving to a Jew than to see a Gentile worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while at the same time believing in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Jesus brought the world into that exclusive religious society the Jews erected for themselves from ancient times. The Jews in Jesus’ day knew that He was indeed the Messiah. Everything that He did and said attested to this. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and confessed that the Pharisees knew He was from God because of it (John 3:1,2). Yet, because of the wickedness of their hearts, these Jews could not embrace Jesus.

In this last section of Pauls trilogy, he also declares that the reprobation of the physical Israel is not absolute, as is witnessed by many Jews coming to Christ under the New Covenant. At this point it becomes necessary to look closely at this section of Romans chapter eleven, in order to determine the exact meaning in its words. It is at this point in the text that most commentators err for one reason or another. When the words of this section are taken at face value, it is easy to fall down on the side of the commentators. But that is not the first reason for why they conclude as they do the text is suggesting, God has a special future plan for a reconstituted nation of Israel. The first reason for this conclusion of is due to a preconceived notion about ancient Israel from Scripture. It must be admitted that it is hard to conceive, that God would have a special nation of people that the Savior of the world would hail from, who would in the end be done away with. For this reason, the words of Paul in this section of Romans chapter eleven, seem too many to undergird the notion of a restoration.

A reconstituted nation state of Israel is not all that is believed by many to take place in the future. It is believed also, that this text suggests that this nation will embrace Jesus Christ wholesale at a future time. Such an opinion as this, as we pointed out in the historical introduction to this essay, was what led to worldwide Zionist movement, which began in the nineteenth century. The state of Israel exists today in the Middle East, as a result of this movement, which to many is the proof of those things they believe about this text. But some serious questions need to be asked about such an interpretation as this. Is this notion consistent with the whole teaching of Scripture on the subject? The answer is, absolutely not. In fact, the Scripture suggests quite the opposite of that notion. Nowhere in Scripture, does God make a case for some permanent physical nation state of Israel to exist. Certainly, nowhere in Scripture is a case made for the eventual salvation of most or all Jews.

The writer of the book of Hebrews asserts this same point, in using Israel in the wilderness as an example of apostasy, in relation to the sovereignty of God, in His providential judgements toward them as a people (Heb. 3:7-15). This quotation from the Psalms is made by the writer of Hebrews, in order to make the point, that most of the people of Israel have been shut out of the saving purpose of God. This text is used in Hebrews as an exhortation to repentance for wavering Jewish Christians, who might be inclined to rest on their heritage for assurance. The Hebrews makes it clear, that God had reprobated most of this nation in the past, which was underscored by their unbelief. Therefore, these Jewish Christians should be warned of the danger of their being included in the same fate, if they choose the same course. Again, the writer of Hebrews makes the point that Israel’s failures under the Old Covenant are due to God having marked them out for this very thing (Heb. 4:3-7). Some did enter Canaan, and some will enter heaven under this New Covenant dispensation. But there is no idea given that “all Israel” after the flesh is to be saved.

Observe then what Paul says in Romans 11:11-32 about Israel. Paul asks a rhetorical question in verses 11&12. Was the fall of Israel for nothing? Did nothing come from all that God invested in them? Absolutely not, their fall was for the blessing of the world. The family jewels, so to speak, have been taken from them and given to the world in Christ. If all God wanted to do was to save this little nation of people, to the exclusion of the whole earth, what a small purpose that would be. No, God would have these people jealous of the world rather than hating it as they did for the most part. The example of this is given in the story of Jonah, who did not want to see the Ninevites saved. Jonah understood that God was merciful in His nature, and that if he preached to the Ninevites repentance, God might very well save them (Jon. 3). Jonah was angry about this, supposing that God’s kingdom should only be reserved for the physical family of Israel (Jon. 4:1,2). Jonah was a true believer, and yet, he was reflecting the false sentiments of the Jewish people in his attitude.

Paul made the point about Israel’s failure to his Gentile brethren, so that they too might comprehend the largeness of God’s plan (Rom. 11:13,14). And what was that plan, but to bring the entire world into the kingdom of God. This kingdom is not contained in some tiny nation state, confined to earthly boundaries in some region of the globe. The kingdom of God is spiritual, universal, invisible, and unlike any other kingdom that exists. The kingdom of God is made up of some Gentiles and some Jews, not some of one and all of another, but some of all. If God was provoked by the sin of Israel, He would provoke them by the salvation of many Gentiles. The Christian Church adopted the Jewish Scriptures, the covenants and the promises, the prophecies and the miracles. The Christian Church was built on the foundation of the Jews. There was no reason for them not to become Christians too (Eph. 2:20).

Having already well established the saving purpose of God in the world, Paul then says that the Jewish people are included in that purpose too (Rom. 11:15). To read into Pauls words that he means the entirety of Jewish people in the world is an utter falsehood. This is no more true than when John or Paul uses the word “world” in certain places, that they mean everyone in the entire world (John 1:29, 3:16; I John 2:2; Rom. 1:8; II Cor. 5:19; Col. 1:6). God has not, nor will He ever be reconciled to every man in the world. Likewise, God will not be reconciled to every Jew. Paul is teaching in Romans chapter eleven, a general truth or reality in reference to Israel as a people, not as a nation. Those Jews who embrace Jesus Christ, as the Messiah, will find acceptance with God through the gospel message, and that alone. This is the time and opportunity given to them in this present age for that to happen. That is the only message that the apostle presented to his own fellow Jews. The message was simply this, unless they, the Jews, came into God’s kingdom through the Church of Jesus Christ, with the rest of the believing world, they would have no other standing before Him whatsoever.

In Romans chapter eleven, Paul wanted the Gentiles to see the relationship that exists between the Christian Church and Israel (Rom. 11:16-20). The whole of the Old Testament teaching and religion is the source and foundation for what is found within the New Testament. God’s kingdom is the combined product of the two (Eph. 2:20; Rev.4:10, 11:3). The twenty-four Elders of heaven in John’s revelation, show the combined witness of twelve Patriarchs, and twelve Apostles. The two witnesses in John’s revelation are the combined testimony of the Old and New Testaments. Paul is not teaching a dual kingdom in Romans chapter eleven, one Jewish and the other Gentile, but a single unified kingdom made up of both. The imagery Paul uses of husbandry should suffice to prove the point. When grafting occurs, it becomes one tree or plant, so is it in the New Covenant. It is important to reiterate the fact that God has one Covenant of Grace in which He has pledged Himself, to save a people (Gen. 3:15, 12:1-3; Is. 49:6; Luke 2:30-32; John 17:6).

Although there is but one covenant purpose of God, yet, there are two administrations of it. If Paul is saying anything here in Romans chapter eleven about a contrast between the nation of Israel, and the Christian Church, it is this. This is where so many people become thoroughly hung up on their understanding of the two covenants and the one purpose of God. The Old Covenant theocratic nation of Abrahams children, were one administration of God’s grace. Apart from it, there was no salvation to be found by anyone. Likewise, the Christian Church is the New Covenant administration of God’s grace. There is no salvation to be found by anyone outside of it. There is a closed historical witness of God’s providence, in His dealing with the former theocratic nation. Paul used it to exhort the Gentile believers in Rome to persevere in their faith (Rom. 11:20). The theocratic nation ended because it was God’s purpose to end it, but it also ended because of national unbelief. The Christian Church, as far as it being an administration of His grace, will end some day too, when the Lord returns.

After the Lord returns, there will be the final judgement, salvation for some and damnation for others, and the restoration of the theocratic kingdom on earth forever. The apostle Paul would have the unconverted Jews to be jealous of the Christian Church, and the Christian Church to fear God while persevering in the faith. The sad reality is the Church throughout the last two thousand years has often been responsible for the persecution of Jews, making itself out to be just as apostate as them. Paul taught these things to the Church at Rome because the seeds of divided opinion already existed among them there. The Jews had been expelled from Rome before the book was written. This meant that Jewish Christians were expelled with them. Later, Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans. There is no doubt that many of the Jewish Christians had family relations living there at the time. Roman’s chapters 9-11 is written in the historical context of this reality.[7]

It’s at this point in Paul’s dissertation that the two seeds of both the woman and of Abraham are brought into full view (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 3:16,29). Israel after the flesh did indeed come from the lineage of Abraham, but it was merely a natural descent. The Israel of God is spiritual. It represents two covenants (Gal. 4:22-28). The essence of what Paul has been trying to say to the Roman Christians is that God’s goodness toward them has been at the expense of Israel (Rom. 11:21-24). The natural descendants of Abraham provided the context in which the spiritual descendants might receive the blessings of God in Christ. This is what Jesus meant when he spoke to Nicodemus about flesh and spirit (John 3:6). Paul is therefore, teaching his hearers about the difference between two Israels, one being that of the flesh, and the other being that of the Spirit. Why was natural Israel natural cut off? It is because God’s eternal covenant kingdom is a spiritual one. Why is the Church of Jesus Christ saved? It’s because spiritual Israel is the one to whom the eternal covenant promises were made.

God’s judgement was with severity upon the natural descendants of Abraham because they reckoned their standing with Him to be according to the law and not grace (Rom. 11:21,22). This is why the Jews who rejected Jesus as their Messiah did so, they were ignorant of Him in a spiritual sense (Rom. 10:1-3). These Jews clung to works righteousness that made them proud and hypocritical. Anyone who thinks that they stand before God like this, will find His dealings with them to be based on His severity in judgement. These were the Jews who persecuted the true spiritual believers of the Old Covenant. These were the Jews who now rejected Christ and persecuted their own people who turned to Him in faith. Natural Israel was epitomized in the behavior and attitudes of the Pharisees, who put the Messiah to death. Make no mistake about it. The Jews did this (Acts 2:23). But it was God’s purpose to do this as the means of saving His own people.

This is the goodness of God as seen in His dealings with the Roman Christians (Rom. 11:21,22). The fulfillment of the covenant promise to Christians, depended in part upon the self righteousness of fleshly Israel. The hatred of unbelieving Jews toward Jesus Christ, was the very means of God’s love to them at the cross. But God’s goodness is also seen in Paul drawing the picture here in Romans chapter eleven, to the Christians. Paul meant to say, do not think for a minute that you stand on any other ground but grace. The Jewish Christians found themselves victimized by the Roman expulsion. Upon their return to Rome, the Jews who previously had comprised most of that Church, found themselves to be in the minority, due to a large influx of Gentile believers. Paul’s teaching on these things came to them in the light of these providential circumstances, wrought by God upon them. It was vitally important for Paul to explain God’s dealings covenantally, to the Church, in order to promote peace, love, and acceptance among these two groups of believers.

Paul brought the significance of the gospel message home to the Roman Christians (Rom. 11:23). There was hope for the Jew just as much as for the Gentile through the gospel. Those Jews who were outside of Christ at that moment, may be brought in any time if they are included individually in God’s electing grace. Salvation in the New Covenant is to individuals, not ethnic groups or nations. The Church is a single body, made up of Jew and Gentile throughout the world (Eph. 2:14-18). The believers in Rome were not to think of themselves any longer in terms of these two categories. The only two categories that exist today under the New Covenant are believer and unbeliever, Christian or non-Christian. At the same time, no Gentile was expected to cease being ethnically what they were born as, in order to become a Christian. Neither was a Jew required to do this. Paul therefore, refers to all converts of the Christian faith as those who have been engrafted.

There is an element of mystery here that Paul was exposing to these Roman Christians (Rom. 11:25). A mystery is not something completely hidden, but something revealed that has not been fully explained before. So none of the things covered by Paul, was previously un revealed in the Old Testament. The specifics were mysterious. The Prophets saw this mystery and prayed to the Lord for further understanding of it (I Pet.1:10-12). These Prophets and those who received their message with faith knew they were members of a spiritual kingdom. They did not however, see nor understand fully the gospel of Jesus Christ. These Old Testament saints exercised their faith in studying the Scriptures, and most important, they were content to wait upon the Lord. Simeon and Anna were doing just that at the time of the advent. Mary herself was a woman of faith. These and many more would have died in faith if they had not seen the Lord’s appearance as they did. Therefore, the mystery of salvation was not something completely unknown.

The Gentiles however, who were new to the Kingdom of God at Rome were in quite a different position on this matter. These were tempted to think low thoughts of the Jewish people in respect to their now defunct position, as earthly people. The offense this might cause Jewish believers who prayed for the conversion of their family members, as well as other Jews in general, was obvious. Without a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament, and an understanding of its significance to the Church, it was easy for Gentile believers not to appreciate Jewish history. These Roman Christians needed a theology course from the Old Testament on redemptive history, especially as it related to Israel. In fact, there were many issues of this sort in the Roman Church at the time of Paul’s writing of his letter. Chapters thirteen through fifteen in the book of Romans, deals with this very thing in terms of practical matters between the Jews and Gentiles in this Church.

But it’s a failure to understand the context of what is being said, in verse 25, by Paul about the Gentiles, that is chiefly responsible for many misinterpretations of it today. What is meant by the phrase “blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in?” For Dispensationalists this is easy, to them Paul is talking about some future age when the Christian Church will be raptured from earth, leaving everyone else on it. After this event, then God will turn His attention to the Jewish people, specifically to a reconstituted nation of Israel in His salvation. This interpretation is based on First Thessalonians 4:16,17 which does indeed teach of a rapture of the Church, to come at a particular juncture in history. Dispensationalists refer to this event as an imminent, secret rapture that will usher in a new age on earth. But such an interpretation as this is unacceptable, for this passage in Thessalonians says no such thing.

Nowhere in Scripture is there anything said that would suggest, such a thing is true. There is no context anywhere in Scripture for such an interpretation as the Dispensationalists have of this text in First Thessalonians. It is simply made up from certain presuppositions which the Dispensationalists have about Israel and the Church. In fact, this idea was put forth for the first time ever, in the study notes of the Scofield reference Bible. In other words, it was made up from whole cloth.[8] It was made to conform to the idea that Dispensationalists hold dear, that God has two entirely distinct kingdoms, Israel and the Church. They believe that God will remove the Church from the earth, when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, meaning when the present dispensation or age ends. All of Paul’s talk of God’s judicial hardening, and the grafting process between Jew and Gentile, on the surface seemed to them to correlate to ages of time in this passage. Therefore, there is a certain plausibility to their claims, but one that cannot be substantiated.

What seems to Dispensationalists, to be said here in the text by Paul, is that the New Covenant is a time primarily for Gentiles to be saved and not Jews. Even more than that, the next age when Jews will then be saved, is one which will witness the nation of Israel reestablished. Along with Israel’s re emergence, all of the earthly ideas the Jews of old imagined before Christ came, will now come to pass. In verse 26 of Romans eleven, Paul uses the name Israel, not Jew, to describe those people who would be saved. And Paul does not just say Israel in a general way, but “all Israel,” which seems to imply that all Jews in Israel will be saved. If we join this with the further quotation Paul made from Isaiah 27:9 in verse 27 about God’s covenant, there is now a potent argument which can be made for the dispensational view.

Dispensationalists believe that the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem with a renewal of continual sacrifices being offered daily on its altar. They cite the emergence of modern day Israel as a nation, in the former territory of Palestine, as the valid proof of their claims. Regardless of what anyone believes about the physical land which Israel resides on, and the historical claim to it, the idea that God’s purpose is to reinstate temple worship is incredible. Scripture is absolutely clear that this cannot be true, for Christ is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4). Jesus Christ is that one time, all sufficient sacrifice which has replaced forever, the sacrificial offerings (Heb. 9:23-28). Therefore, Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant, which has superceded the Old, and will never be brought back again (Heb. 9:15). And not only is He the Mediator of the New Covenant, but of the Old as well. If Jesus’ death was for the redemption of those saints under the Old Covenant, how is it that God would reinstate those sacrifices again? Obviously, Scripture does not support such an idea.

The dispensational understanding of Romans, chapter eleven quickly falls apart when Scripture is allowed to interpret Scripture. But there is another view about the words spoken by Paul on the “fullness of the Gentiles,” and of “all Israel” being saved, and God’s “covenant with them” (Rom. 11:25-27). Most of the Reformed Commentators of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries such as Hodge, Haldane, and Murray hold to this second view. The Reformed view which these men, and others, hold to is based on a covenant theology perspective. Covenant Theology sees no other dispensation of redemption beyond what the Christian Church in the New Covenant has in Christ. Therefore, these men do not see Paul talking about the same thing in Romans chapter eleven as the Dispensationalists do, or, at least not entirely. But herein is where the matter begins to break down. Some of the same bias which underlies dispensational thinking is also found in the opinions these Reformed Commentators have.

This second Reformed view, sees Paul as saying there will be a time, “the fullness of the Gentiles,” (verse 25) when God will start to save large numbers of Jews “all Israel,” (verse 26), and that this is consistent with His covenant “covenant with them,” ( verse 27). All of this will happen within the time designated as the New Covenant. Also, the phrase “all Israel” need not mean every Jew will be saved. Many of these Christians who accept this argument, also see the advent of the modern day state of Israel, as a kind of providential fulfillment of this purpose. This providence implies to them, that someday, there will be a major moving of God’s Spirit in Israel, leading to large numbers of Jews becoming Christians. In other words, to them there is a Scriptural reason for Christians to have much sympathy toward the Jewish cause, and Israel in particular.

The question is, are these Reformed Covenant theology Christians, who believe this, right in their presuppositions? It is necessary to look closely at these three verses, and the three primary phrases in them, which seem at face value to present this case. What is the meaning of the phrase “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (verse 25)? Perhaps the best way to understand what Paul is saying in it is by understanding what he is not saying. When the Old Covenant ended, as has already been shown, God’s saving purposes with the elect Jews did not end. What did end with the Old Covenant was the exclusivity of the claim to God’s kingdom by one family of people. Some Gentiles were saved under the Old Covenant, but by and large, its benefits were reserved for the Jewish people. Under the New Covenant, God did not end one thing to start another, meaning that He did not stop saving Jews in order to start saving Gentiles. What God did was to broaden His kingdom by bringing the world into it through the Gentiles.

The fullness of the Gentiles simply means the expansion of God’s kingdom to include the Gentile world (John 3:16). This is entirely consistent with what the New Testament testifies of itself. Jesus began His preaching ministry in Galilee of the Gentiles (Matt. 4:15). This region, although being historically Jewish, became a place considered to be Gentile. Galilee was a lightly esteemed place by the Judeans, so in their mind, it was not one in which God would give any preference to by way of His kingdom (Matt. 4:16). Yet, it was in Galilee of the Gentiles where Jesus began to preach and exhort people with the words “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14,15). The fullness of the Gentiles was the fullness of their inclusion with the elect Jews into God’s kingdom. It is true that Jesus went into the synagogues to preach the gospel to the Jews, but news of Him and the gospel traveled everywhere throughout the region (Luke 4:14). Therefore, at the outset of Jesus’ ministry Gentiles were being drawn to Him.

The Apostle Paul was commissioned to bring the testimony of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Acts 9:15). Paul is often called the Apostle to the Gentiles, because of the enormous number of them who became Christians in the first century, through his ministry. Peter is commonly referred to as the Apostle to the Jews, yet, his ministry too, was directed toward Gentiles (Acts 10:45). Through the ministry of the Apostles, the Christian Church swelled to thousands of congregations across the Roman Empire with untold numbers of Gentiles in them. The Jewish Christians in Judea at first did not know what to think of this phenomenon (Acts 11:1,13). The situation which resulted, from so many Gentiles coming into the Church at once, gave rise to a sect within it called the Judaizers, who tried to make Jews of them (Acts 15:1).

Finally, a synod was held at Jerusalem to discuss the matter. A full report was given to the Jerusalem council of God’s work among the Gentiles (Acts 15:3,7,12,14,17). The Jerusalem council, gave full recognition of God’s purpose to include the Gentile world in His kingdom. The council also concluded that there should be no hindrance layed upon them, such as the Judaizers had proposed (Acts 15:19). The Jerusalem synod established the meaning of the “fullness of the Gentiles” in their examination of God’s providence. The preaching of the gospel had brought them into the Church, not to become Jews, but Christians. The visable expression of God’s kingdom now under the New Covenant was in the Christian Church comprised of Jew and Gentile alike, who remained as they were culturally, even though taking the name of Christ.

So who is it that Paul is talking of, when he uses the expression “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26)? Clearly and unequivocally, Paul is referring to the Christian Church which was present in his time in the first century. This was the context of Paul’s entire address in chapters’ 9-11. Remember, Paul started by saying that all Israel was not Israel, what did he mean by that? Simply put, those of Israel after the flesh who rejected Christ did so because they were not the true Israel. Earlier in the book of Romans, Paul introduced this idea by saying that one was not a Jew, simply by being born into a Jewish family. But one was a Jew by being an inwardly spiritual person, one whose heart was circumcised by the Lord (Rom. 2:28,29). Circumcision was nothing but an outward symbol of an inward reality, if indeed that reality existed in the one being circumcised. The Old Testament declared it to be so, this was not new, but part of the mystery of salvation (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4). This was none other than the new birth, the regeneration of the heart.

Paul went even farther when describing the true descendants of Israel when he mentioned Abraham as the father of all the faithful. This takes in both Jew and Gentile alike who believe as Abraham did, and therefore are justified (Rom. 4:16). Paul is saying that they are the same in Christ if they are justified by faith in Him. Therefore, the expanded kingdom of God which is the New Covenant Church, is also the true Israel of God. Someone might argue and say that the name Israel cannot mean anything but Israel in the Old Testament sense. The New Testament says that Christians are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, and not the one in Judea (Heb. 12:22-24). Jerusalem was called Zion, the city of God in the Old Testament. The term Zion was in reference to the heavenly, and not the earthly Jerusalem. The writer of Hebrews draws this distinction in verse 22. Paul the apostle, draws the same distinction in his application of it to Christ when he quoted Isaiah (Rom. 9:33; Is. 28:16). And finally, in Romans 11:26, the Israel Paul is talking about when he quotes Isaiah is in reference to the heavenly Jerusalem, to whom Jesus would and did come (Is. 59:20).

The apostle Paul was saying to the Roman Christians that the New Covenant Church is the Israel of God that is saved. In Christ, both Jew and Gentile are redeemed in this present age. After that, Christ will return to usher in the eternal, restored theocratic kingdom on earth for all the redeemed. “All Israel will be saved” is what God is doing here and now, in this age and in His Church. This is the only interpretation that fits not only the immediate context, but the larger one in Romans 9-11, as well as the entire Scripture itself. All Jews will not be saved any more than all Gentiles. But all of God’s elect will be saved, just as Jesus made absolutely clear in His high priestly prayer (John 17:6-12). The certainty of God’s elect being saved is due to Christ’s death for them, and the intercession of the saving benefit’s of it (verses 9,11). Why was Judas lost? Because he was predetermined by God to be lost, he was not one of the elect.

If there are few or many Jews who come to Christ for salvation, it will be because they are the elect and no other reason. It is important to note that Paul does not say the word ‘then’ in reference to whom “all Israel” is. Why is this important? It is because Paul is not talking about some future time in reference to this salvation. Paul uses the word “so” in reference to those who are presently saved in the Church. It must also be remembered that the Old Covenant sacrifices did not take away sin as this quotation from Isaiah states that the Messiah will do. It is only under the New Covenant redemption in Christ’s blood that this can happen. That is why Paul applies this verse in Isaiah to the Christians in Rome. It’s prophetic significance can only be realized in this manner, and not in the covenant promises made to an earthly Israel.

Finally, the Church being the Israel that is saved, is further proved by Isaiah’s prophecy in the words, “My covenant with them” (Is. 59:20,21). The words of Isaiah were for those who repented of their sins in Israel and believed in the Messiah as their spiritual Redeemer. This was the true nature of God’s covenant. It was never intended to be a permanent earthly kingdom for the physical descendants of Jacob. The eternal nature of this covenant promise was in the spiritual children of Jacob. The Covenant of Grace was in view when Isaiah spoke those words to the remnant of believers in his day. The majority of Israel at that time rejected Isaiah’s words, just as they did when Christ came. The same is true today. Most Jews will not listen to the gospel, but hate God and His Christ with vehemence in their hearts. The New Covenant administration of God’s grace is the final opportunity for all Jews to repent. There will be no future time for this as is imagined by some. But even if it were the case, what good would it do any now who will not hear?

This is the point of what Paul is saying in Romans chapter eleven. Salvation is here and now for those who are saved. There would be no point in saying that all Israel would be saved at some future time to the Jews of his day, it would serve no purpose if they are lost. The purpose of Paul in writing Romans chapter eleven, was to explain to Jew and Gentile alike in the Christian Church, how to understand the great works of God in reference to His covenant purpose in Christ. This chapter was for those Roman Christians, a present source of spiritual nourishment to their souls. Paul would have these Christians to understand that there is but one Savior, one Church, one Kingdom, and one plan of God in all of these. In the New Covenant, God has brought both Jew and Gentile together in one body as the congregation of the Lord (Eph. 2:14-18). The true temple of God is the Church, the place where all the saints’ meet together in fellowship with the Lord (Eph. 2:19-22).

Notes: 

[1] With the word Dispensationalism constantly in use, the biblical word dispensation can be easily misconstrued. The English word dispensation comes from the Greek word oikonomia, which can mean administration (of a household or estate); specially, a (religious) “economy”; dispensation, stewardship. See Strong’s Greek Dictionary. When the phrases Old and New Covenant, or, Old and New Dispensation is used in Scripture, they are used to denote a governmental administration of the covenant. Another way to put it is, it’s the form of religion God’s people live under during that particular covenantal administration of it. The term Dispensational is the title of a theological system that has taken the word dispensation, and has applied it to their cause.

[2] According to Dispensationalists, the Christian New Covenant will end when they are suddenly and simultaneously removed from earth at the secret rapture. The Jewish New Covenant will then be realized here on earth. Following a literal return to earth by the Lord, there will be a thousand-year period where He will sit upon Israel’s reconstituted monarchy, ruling the world. After this, the new heaven and the new earth will emerge, and the entire plan will have been accomplished. Beside there being two New Covenants, there are actually three literal returns of the Lord. One at the secret rapture, one at the earthly millennial reign, and one at the emergence of the heavenly and earthly kingdoms.

[3] The disenfranchised Jews during and after the captivity continued to think of them as the children and people of Israel and so on. They even celebrated the completion of the rebuilding of the temple as Ezra says, “according to the ordinance of David king of Israel.” (Ezra 3:10). Ezra refers to it as “the temple of the LORD God of Israel” (Ezra 4:1,3). But notice in verse 3 that though it was the Lord of Israel’s house they built, it was King Cyrus of Persia who commanded it to be done on his property, under his rule. This shows two things. There was no political autonomy for Israel as a nation after their captivity. But also, their religion under the Old Covenant had to remain in operation until Messiah came suddenly and literally to His temple (Mal. 3:1).

[4] A comparison of the Masoretic Hebrew Old Testament text, and the Septuagint Greek version of it, shows substantial, but not total word for word agreement between them. Paul’s exact words in his letter to the Romans do not match either the Hebrew or the Greek, word for word. There are many arguments about this that don’t concern us in the least. The reason is Paul had the inspired liberty to employ the Old Testament Scripture in his teaching in such a way, so as to show its true covenant meaning, in light of the advent of the Messiah. Paul quotes from two places and three verses from Isaiah (Is. 59:20,21, 27:9), to make his point in Romans 11:26,27. Many false interpretations come from those who fail to see both Jesus’ and the apostles liberal use and application of Old Testament Scripture in their teaching. They suppose quotations are given in the New Testament in order to illustrate points, but not to interpret, nor teach actual doctrine. This is a serious blunder on the part of any Bible reader, for Old Testament quotations are given throughout the New Testament, to provide us with perfect understanding of a prophecy.

[5] A good example of this involves the history of the formation of the canon of Scripture. Most people don’t know that the canon was not settled by the church until the fourth century. Certain books like Hebrews and James was especially controversial, due to the content within them. Hebrews have no stated author in it, therefore, its authenticity as a New Testament book was questioned. James seems to teach heavily on works, in apparent contradiction to the book of Galatians which has grace as its central theme. Martin Luther struggled over the legitimacy of James in translating his German Bible. Also, although the church was handed a providentially preserved Old Testament canon from the Jews, the book of Esther is devoid of any mention of God in it. So how are these matters decided? They are decided by the content of the material, and how they fit into the larger canon of Scripture. The analogy of faith is paramount to the matter, for any sort of interpretation that overthrows this principle, cannot possibly be a legitimate one.

[6] Verses 6-13 is one of the places where much superficial interpretation has occurred concerning not only the salvation of Israel, but the doctrines of election and reprobation. Most Dispensationalists do not believe in election in a proper biblical sense. On the other hand they do not believe in reprobation under any circumstance, as appearing in the Bible. They read these verses as God electing Jacob’s physical descendants, rather than Esau’s. In spite of the teaching that God chose one and rejected the other beforehand, they view it as foreknowledge of Esau’s rejection of his birthright, leading to the loss of covenant privilege (Gen. 25:29-34). Chapter nine clearly teaches not only God’s love for some, but His hatred of others. Many believers cannot handle intellectually what is said in verses 11-13, because it does not square with what they want to believe about God. So they modify the meaning of the words to say something less than they actually say.

[7] Paul was writing to both Jews and Gentiles in the book of Romans (1:16). It is important to understand the background behind this, introduced by verse 16, when reading Romans. The founding of the Roman church was by Jews. It was a privilege for anyone to live in Rome. But because of Jewish rebellion in Jerusalem and other places within the empire, early in the middle of the first century, the Jews were expelled from Rome for a time. This meant all Jewish Christians in Rome were forced to leave. When they were allowed to return, shortly before Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, the church had become filled with Gentile believers. This led to obvious cultural clashes within the church. Paul wrote his magnum opus on systematic theology with this in mind. Every chapter of Romans, and every theme within them carries this twofold teaching purpose.

[8] We refer the reader to a paper by a Minister named William Cox, a former Dispensationalist who awoke one day to realize his cherished doctrine of the secret, immanent rapture appeared no where in the Bible. Cox read it in a footnote to First Thessalonians 4:16,17 in the Scofield Reference Bible (1909). Cox writes “Finally, after some seven or eight years of searching in vain, God jolted me into reality. It finally dawned upon me that what I sincerely thought were verses of the Bible actually were footnotes put inside the covers of the Bible by a man. I acknowledged, too, that C. I. Scofield was a man. like ourselves and that he did not belong in the same authoritative category as Peter, James, and John.” (Why I Left Scofieldism, by William Cox. Originally published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.Co. Box 817. Phillipsburg. New Jersey 08865 ISBN:0-87552-154-1 as a booklet. No Date. No Copyright claim.).

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