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Romans 11:18-36

February 27, 2015 by Pito

We have arrived at a text that has at least two opposite interpretations in the reformed world. But first let us divest ourselves of the dispensational error of Zionism. What is Zionism?
It is the belief, initiated more or less by C.I. Schofield in the early 1800’s that said that the nation of Israel would return to the land given to them by God through the promise to Abraham. Many evangelicals today see the modern Jewish state as a part of the messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ.
However, contrary to present dispensational interpreters, it cannot be established from Scripture that the birth of the modern state of Israel is a prophetic precursor to the mass conversion of the people who call themselves Jewish.
OT prophecies that predict a “return to the land” would be better understood in terms of the restoration of the whole creation at the final resurrection than a geopolitical re-establishment of a nation called Israel.
As to the inheritance of land, even Abraham, the father of the faithful, looked beyond the dirt of Canaan for his hope.
Heb. Hebrews 11:9-11 (ASV)
9 By faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 for he looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

There is much more that could be said to counter dispensational arguments that support Zionism, but since we are not dispensationalists, at least not as to our formal creeds, let us move on to two Reformed interpretations of Romans 11.
The two basic interpretations are these:
1. “…the Jews will in fact return to Christ. Israel according to the flesh must receive the blessings of the Kingdom of Christ.” This statement is directly out of one of my favorite commentators’ sermon on this passage. I have no doubt that at least several Reformed pastors in the CREC agree with him. We will call this the “National interpretation.” This interpretation is a good illustration of making the text fit the theology rather than the theology fitting the text. In this case, making Romans 11 fit post-millennial theology.

2. The other basic interpretation is that this passage does not teach that Israel according to the flesh will receive the blessings of the Kingdom of Christ. Rather, it teaches that those who follow Judaism are grafted back in big time in 70 A.D and also, to some extent, during the Church age as they repent and turn to Christ as individuals, not as a nation. We will call this the Universal interpretation.

Here are the arguments for the second against the first, the universal against the national. From these biblical arguments we can learn how to be more consistent in our handling of the Scriptures. Exegesis has to trump theology.
Biblically speaking, a Jew is someone who is covenanted into the people of the Jews by circumcision, for better or for worse. When Abraham was commanded to circumcise, he was told to circumcise his entire household, including his 318 fighting men and his other domestic servants(Gen.14:14; 17:10-14).

Competent scholars imagine that Sheik Abraham’s household probably in-cluded at the very least 3000 persons. These servants multiplied as the years went by, and Jacob inherited them all (Gen. 27:37).

Although only 70 from the loins of Jacob went down into Egypt, so many servants went along that they had to be given the whole land of Goshen in which to live. All these people were Jews, but only a small fraction actually had any of Abraham’s blood in them. Later on we see many other people joining the Jews; indeed, the lists of David’s men include many foreigners, of whom Uriah the Hittite is the best known.

What this demonstrates is that covenant, not race, has always been the defining mark of a Jew (as it also is of a Christian). Genealogical records were kept for the immediate family, of course, since the Messiah had to be of the actual blood of Abraham, and later of David; but this could not have applied to more than a fraction of the total number of people.

So when Paul says that God has not abandoned Israel, who is he talking about? Did not Paul say in verse 1 and 2 of chapter 11 that his own conversion was an illustration of that fact?

Romans 11:1-2
1 I say then, Did God cast off his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
2 God did not cast off his people which he foreknew.
Paul’s individual conversion is evidence that God has not cast off His people. This is important to remember as we move along this passage. Every time an ethnic Jew turns to Jesus, the promise to Israel in this passage is fulfilled.
Christians should minister to national Jews, and try to convert them, and show them all kindness as fellow human beings; but Christians should understand that during the Church Age, the ethnic Jews are not the people of God. Rather, the Church is the people of God today.
Christians have the responsibility to minister to all nations until the day comes that God conquers them all through the Church, putting Satan under our feet in history.
“Christians who fall prey to anti-Semitism are trying to disrupt the grace of God for the whole world. It is counterproductive; it is anti-gospel. At the same time, loving the Jews … is not the same thing as approving of what the Jews do, or agreeing with Zionism, or agreeing with the present position of the current administration of the Israeli government. That is not the point. The point is that animus against the Jews is out, and to give way to it is to rebel against God’s gospel strategy.”
I quote this to point out that interpretation number two, the Universal interpretation, should not be regarded as anti-Semitic. God has sent us to make disciples of all nations , all peoples. Interpretation number two should also not be interpreted as denying the post-millenial hope. In line with this, I believe that many who call themselves Jews will, at the end of the church age, turn to Christ. I just don’t think that today’s passage teaches this, however convenient or fitting it might be to interpret it that way.
The kingdom of the Messiah is continuing to realize its fullness as elect Jews and elect Gentiles are added to the community of the redeemed in every generation. A day should not be anticipated in which Christ’s kingdom will manifest Jewish distinctives by either its location, “the land,”or by its constituency, or by its distinctive Jewish practices.
Another important aspect of Paul’s argument is seen in verses 13, 14.
Romans 11:13-14
13 But I speak to you that are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry;
14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy them that are my flesh, and may save some of them.
It is clear that Paul’s reference point here is the ministry that he was then involved in, not some undetermined event in the future. Paul is describing the desired consequences of his ministry to the Gentiles. As a result of his current ministry, he hopes to see Jews moved to jealousy when they see Gentiles believers sharing in the blessings of the messianic kingdom.
Paul’s query, “Has God rejected His people?” is often read to mean “Has God rejected ethnic Israel with respect to His special plan for their future?”
This interpretation, of course, prejudices the argument from the outset. A better approach is to ask if God has rejected ethnic Israel altogether. Have they stumbled in a way that they will fall, altogether?
Again, Paul says that God has not done so and he is the proof of it. Gentiles during Paul’s ministry, were being grafted in and Jews were being grafted back in at that time, In I Thessalonians 2 Paul says,

14 For ye, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judaea in Christ Jesus: for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews;
15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and pleased not God, and are contrary to all men;
16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always: but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. ‘
“The wrath of God is come upon them to the uttermost,” does not mean that some Jews after the flesh won’t embrace the Messiah of Israel. It means that Israel as a nation will no longer be the conduit for covenantal blessings. Individual converted Jews after the flesh are in, but corporate Israel is out, forever, to the uttermost, completely. God divorced her and destroyed her in 70 A.D.
Before we put all this to bed, there is a thorny passage that must be explained because, on the surface, it looks like it supports Interpretation number one, the National interpretation,
Here it is, Romans 11:25-26
25 For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in;
26 and so all Israel shall be saved: even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

There are three aspects of this passage that we should note:
1. “Hardening in part has happened to Israel. In part is often interpreted as having temporal meaning, like “for a while.” Context dictates that the phrase “in part” declares that either “partial hardening” or a “part of Israel” has been hardened. Either of these understandings would fit with Paul’s earlier discussion of a remnant of Israel that would be saved. In either case, ‘in part” does not have a temporal meaning.

2. The next term to be considered is “until.” By itself it cannot settle the question of a distinctive future for ethnic Israel either.
So what is the precise force of “until,” in this passage? It is essentially terminative. The phrase brings matters up to a certain point or until a certain goal is reached. Paul persecuted Christians until, up to, the ultimate point, death.
In I Corinthians 15, Paul declares that Christ must reign “until” He has put all enemies under His feet. The point is not that a day will come in which Christ will no longer reign. The point is that He will must continue reigning until the last enemy is subdued.
Thus we understand this passage to mean, Up until 70 A.D. hardening continued in part of Israel. During the destruction of Jerusalem, many Jews saw the truth and embraced their Messiah as God brought to pass the fullness of the Gentiles. “Hardening until” does not by itself indicate whether God will in the future deal with ethnic Israel in a new and distinctive manner.
Verse 26 begs an explanation. It says, “ And then all Israel shall be saved” What can this mean? The National Interpretation says that the Greek phrase for “then,” is temporal. Hardening has happened in part, but then, after that, after all the Gentiles have come in, all Israel shall be saved.
Not knowing Greek, you will have to accept my expertise in translating for you. If you want the Greek phrase so you can look it up in a Greek Lexicon, talk to me later. To translate it as “then” is incorrect. It should be translated, “and in this manner.”
John 3:16 uses this same construction. For God so/thus loved the world. God loved the world in such a manner, that manner is “He gave His own Son.”
The meaning of “In such a manner” Paul has already described in Romans 9-11. The promises and the Messiah were given to Israel. Israel rejected her Messiah and they were cut off from their position of distinctive privilege. All the Jews who embraced Jesus as the Messiah were grafted back into the olive tree. This process continued up to when the “fullness of the Gentiles “ came in, that is 70 A.D.
The idea that “All Israel” refers to ethnic Jews is fraught with problems. It overlooks the biblical definition of Israel, circumcision of the heart, and we know that God does not guarantee salvation because of external qualities.
“All Israel shall be saved,” refers to all the elect of God, whether Jew or Gentile. Gentiles were grafted in and ethnic Jews were grafted back in. Believing Gentiles have become Israelites, for circumcision is that of the heart and not of the flesh.”
There are at least two things we can take home from this message.
1. When faithful Christians disagree on issues that are not clearly proclaimed in Scripture, such as our passage today, we must grant liberty and not get too exercised about it. Though I know all things and have not love, it profits me nothing.
2. Paul also says,
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
The old creation has passed away. Israel after the flesh was part of that old creation that passed away in 70 A.D. when the final nail was put in the coffin of dead Israel.
The “fullness of the Gentiles” began in 70 A.D. when the new creation completely replaced the old creation in history.
Post- biblical Jews are simply one people group among all the rest. Today, there are no Israelites in the biblical sense, and there are no Gentiles. There are only people, people in Christ or people not in Christ.
And here is our hope and our joy:
Ephesians 2:1-10
1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Give glory to God. Salvation is wholly of the Lord. Grace prevails. Yes, God has saved and will continue to save some who call themselves Jews during the Church age, but they will be joined by a great multitude from every tribe, kindred tongue and nation. For of him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. And in this manner all Israel shall be saved. Amen.

 


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