Big Idea: Paul addresses Gentile Christians, about the Jews
Intro: Dear Friends and visitors, my name is Matt Johnson and we are now digging deep into Romans 11. Paul has just explained that God caused the Jews to TEMPORARILY STUMBLE so that Gentiles may be saved. But God’s intention after the full number of Gentiles have become Christians is to bring the Jews back in some significant way.
Well friends, as we think about “ALL Israel being saved”– we are talking about what is called ESCHATOLOGY. Eschatology is the study of how the world going to end? The fact is the world is going to end. Jesus is going to return, people will be judged and the question is; are you ready to meet God?
But the Bible also tells us that certain things are going to happen shortly preceding Jesus’ return. 1) We are told many Christians will fall away. 2) We are told there will be an Antichrist AND a mark necessary to buy and sell. 3) And we are told there will be a time of great tribulation and suffering. Amongst these end-time events many Christians also believe all Israel will be saved.
Now this raises a question. How do we understand these things? Is the Antichrist a real person OR just a SYMBOL of ungodly power? Will there really be a great tribulation OR is this just a SYMBOL of the pain and suffering that is normal in this world? Among Christian believers there are some who say that all these things should be read literally unless the Bible tells us something is SYMBOLIC. We know some things are symbolic because the Bible tells us they are symbolic. But everything else should be understood literally and plainly. However, other Christians say; lots in the Bible is symbolic and it needs to be understood typologically or symbolically. These Christians say that those who interpret the Bible literally are actually being LITERALISTIC and WOODEN in their interpretation. They say this is not reading the Bible intelligently. So there are two different eschatologies – one that is more literal and detailed AND one that is more general and vague.
But which one is correct? In the early church – nearly all the ancient church fathers read the Bible literally. It was only really Origen and Augustine that started to introduce more symbolic interpretations. But there was one detail they all still agreed upon – when Romans 11 said “ALL Israel was to be saved” – EVERYONE – understood this literally. In the first 550 years of the church – everyone, everyone, everyone believed in the literal salvation of ALL Israel as a nation. Let me show you half a dozen quotes (and I have a printout available for those who want more – I have three and half pages of quotes).
Show: (Slides 2-4)
Now to be honest – I can’t find a single theologian who teaches anything different to a literal salvation of all Israel – until John Calvin in the 1500’s. (If anyone knows of a theologian prior to John Calvin saying something different – I’d love to read it). But I can’t find it. It appears that prior to John Calvin (and some of his followers) everyone believed in a full, literal and complete salvation of the Jews – just prior to Jesus return.
Point 1: The Jews Salvation needs to be understood by Gentiles
Show: Rom.11:13-14 (READ)
Explain: PLEASE NOTICE that Paul is now explicitly addressing Gentile Christians. Now there is some really interesting EQUAL, but DIFFERENT stuff going on in this verse. For those who have ears to hear – we almost have a Jew-Gentile complementarian theology articulated in this verse. Worth pondering. But today, the MAIN THING I want you to notice is that Paul is now addressing GENTILE CHRISTIANS. In Romans 2 – Paul spent some time talking to just Jewish Christians. Paul said “Now if you call yourself a Jew and if you rely on the law…” Then Paul goes on for nearly half a chapter with teaching that is ONLY really relevant to Jewish Christians. And now, he has some teaching that is ONLY really relevant to Gentile Christians. If you are a Jew perhaps you can go to sleep. (No just kidding)
But I would suggest that everything Paul explains in the second half of Romans 11 – is primarily addressed to Gentile Christians. Paul doesn’t want Gentile Christians to think that they are somehow better than the Jews. If you look at verse 18 – you’ll see Paul says “Do not boast…” Half way through verse 20 – Paul says “do not be arrogant”. And then in Romans 11:25; “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery brothers, so that you may not be conceited…” The “YOU” in verse 25 is still primarily addressed to Gentiles and the danger is boasting, arrogance and conceit. Now I know EVERYONE has told me (over the last few weeks) that they have NO PRIDE OR PREJUDICE towards the Jews.
And really that should be the case. THERE SHOULD BE zero boasting, arrogance and conceit in the church because we are all saved by God’s grace? But the Bible also teaches us that sin has so corrupted our lives, our thinking and even our emotions – that sometimes we are not even aware of our prejudice. We are so intent on examining the speck in our brother’s eye – that we fail to see the log in our own eye.
Illustrate: In fact, I’ve had some brand new Christians (literally months after their baptism) telling me that my teaching is ALL wrong, that I don’t understand the Bible and that I’m perverting the doctrine of (FILL IN THE BLANK). Now this is not to say – everything I say is correct. But I tell you this story to illustrate – how easily we fall into pride and arrogance. I’ve got it all worked out better than you.
Apply: Pride seems to go with being the chosen ones. The Jews did it in the Old Testament. The minute the Jews realized they were the chosen ones – a pride, arrogance and conceit started creeping into their thinking. And I think Paul is now warning the Gentile Christians in Rome to be very careful that this pride, arrogance and conceit doesn’t creep into their thinking too. Paul has just explained that yes, God for a time has turned his attention to the Gentiles (instead of the Jews). And yes, as a Gentile you may now be a chosen one – elect of God’s grace. But this doesn’t mean you are somehow better than the Jews (who at present are hardened or in the minority). It doesn’t mean you have better morality. It doesn’t mean you have better theology
But all Christians are prone to this pride. For instance, I am a proud Sydney Anglican (and secretly we know our version of Christianity) is far superior to everyone else in the world. Our favourite song at synod is we are the chosen ones. We are the chosen ones – of the world. But just down Young st we have proud Pentecostals – who all know they have a double portion of the Holy Spirit – and they are the chosen ones. They are the chosen ones of the world.
This pride and prejudice also comes out in world missions. When we take the gospel from say America to Africa – we tend to impose a western way of doing Christianity. We all know (that in non-Covid situations) – the way you do church is you sing two songs, you then have a bible reading, a 30-40 minute sermon (definitely no longer), a few prayers and two more songs. You’re then in and out – in no more than 1hr 20 minutes and that’s Western drive through Christianity.
It’s perfect. There’s truly no better way of doing Church. But in Africa where they prize singing and prize community (in very biblical ways I must say) – they want to sing 22 songs, then have an extended lunch together. Maybe even a game of soccer. Then they listen to a sermon that might go for a 1 hr 52 minutes (if it’s a short week). But that’s ok – because they enjoy hanging out and they plan to sing another 14 hymns together as they watch the sun set. Yet as Christians in the west – we are all convinced that our way of doing drive through Christianity in 1hr 20 minutes is so much more biblical.
I think that such pride and arrogance is especially a problem across the Jew-Gentile divide. Most Jewish Christians still keep the food laws, and the Sabbath laws and they celebrate all the Jewish festivals – because they actually understand how each one is fulfilled in Jesus. This may sound obvious – but there is something very JEWISH about the way Jews do Christianity. And we Gentiles often don’t want to be part of that because we are convinced that is all just UNNECESSARY LEGALISM and the way we do Christianity with tinsel and trees at Christmas and bunnies and chocolate at Easter is far more biblical and honouring to Jesus. Really? Remember – last week Paul spoke about greater riches in the church – if and when Jewish Christians return. But do we realize that?
Point 2: The Jews return will bring blessing (beyond comprehension)
Show: Rom.11:15 (READ)
Explain: Last week Paul INTRODUCED us to this type of argument. If the Jews rejection of Jesus brought salvation to the world, how much more will the Jews acceptance of Jesus bring untold blessing to the world. This is a pretty common type of argument.
If getting a job at Coles as 1) a check-out “person” brings you this much blessing, how much more blessing 2) when you become CEO. Of course, minimum wage at Coles is now $19.84/hr. But the CEO of Coles base salary in 2019, was $2.1 million with a further $2.5 million in shares – if certain targets are reached. So, if becoming a checkout person brings you this much blessing, how much more blessing when you become CEO?
Well Paul does a similar thing. He says; “If the Jews rejection brought reconciliation with God to the world, what will the Jews acceptance be but life from the dead.” The point is that if the Jews rejection of Jesus actually brought salvation to the world and reconciliation with God, then how much more will their acceptance of Jesus blow your socks off in terms of blessing. It will be like a resurrection experience…
Now if you are just joining us today – the Jews rejection and putting Jesus to death was absolutely an essential part of God’s plan (GOSPEL). We are ALL sinners. Doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile we have all done wrong things. And in Romans 6 we are told the wages of sin is death. So if you have sinned against God you deserve to die. But God came up with a plan that if someone else, (perfect and without any sin themselves) died and went to hell for you, you could then be spared. That way God’s justice would be upheld and we would receive mercy. So God’s Son, the Lord Jesus, came to earth. He never sinned. So, he had NO DEBT with God. But he willingly allowed the Jews to reject him and put him to death on the cross to accept the punishment for our sin. Jesus died for you.
And if you believe Jesus did this for you and you truly thank him for doing it for you then – God will forgive you and you get to go to heaven. So the Jews rejection of Jesus was actually a good thing. IT MEANT A) Jesus became our Saviour. B) It meant we could receive the Holy Spirit and have a relationship with God. C) It also means we have the hope that just as Jesus rose from the grave, so we too will one day rise from the grave and enter into heaven. But when, when will this great resurrection take place?
Apply: Well Paul says “the Jews acceptance of Jesus” will be life from the dead. Now what does Paul mean by life from the dead? Is he speaking symbolically or literally? Many Christian scholars have observed that Paul may have in mind Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. In Ezekiel 37 – Ezekiel has a vision where he sees dry bones and skeletons scattered all over a valley. It is carnage and it looks like a scene off Terminator. There are bones and sculls everywhere. And Ezekiel asks God what is this? And God replies this is the whole house of Israel. The implication is that Israel is spiritually dead. But God tells Ezekiel that one day a prophetic word, applied by the Holy Spirit – will bring them all back to life. Now in that vision Israel’s spiritual resurrection is accompanied by a return to the promised land. And what Ezekiel’s sees raised up – is “the whole house of Israel” – all Israel. So when Paul talks about the Jews acceptance being life from the dead SOME THINK Paul has Ezekiel 37 in mind.
But others have noted that Paul’s phrase “life from the dead” is very close to language of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. You may recall Jesus’ Parable of two sons. One son stays home with his father (who is God), but the other son goes off and squanders his inheritance on prostitutes and wild living. But at some point the son wakes up to his stupidity and decides to go home. Then as the father who is God (sees his long lost son coming home) he runs out and wraps his arms around him and holds a special celebration and slaughters the fattened lamb.
Now at this point the other son – who has been with God all this time gets grumpy and says why are we celebrating. I’ve been with you this whole time. And God responds, “Son we have to celebrate because the long lost son is home – he was dead but now he is alive.” The context fits and the language is remarkably similar. The elect Jews come to Jesus and stay with God the whole time, but the other Jews leave and eventually come back.
Both these suggestions are attractive and have much to commend them. But both are interpreting life from the dead SYMBOLICALLY. They are saying Israel will have a spiritual resurrection. But Paul is speaking to Gentiles and he says if the Jews rejection of Jesus brought you this much blessing, how much more will the Jews acceptance bring you life from the dead. Remember the argument is – GENTILES if you have this much blessing from A, how much more blessing will you have from B. So life from the dead is probably talking about literal, bodily resurrection. Paul is clear in Romans 11 that once the full number of Gentiles have been saved, then the Jews will return to Jesus (and what is next on the eschatological table). (PAUSE). That’s right it’s the end of the world AND that is a good thing for everyone who believes. At that point there is resurrection life – for everyone who believes in Jesus. And yes, at that point the level of blessing will go through the roof. You think its good being a Christian now, wait until you get to heaven. At that point (shortly after the Jews are saved) – all believers get a promotion from being check out persons to being CEO’s with Jesus? (But please don’t push that analogy too far)…
Point 3: The Jews will be saved because of the Patriarchs
Show: Rom.11:16 (READ)
Explain: This is A CRUCIAL VERSE. Paul has just explained that the Gentile church has a vested interest in the Jews being saved. When all Israel is saved – we get the ultimate bowl of ice-cream. So, lets hurry up and help Israel get saved. “Go – Jews for Jesus.”
BUT THIS RAISES ANOTHER QUESTION. How can we be confident that Israel will ultimately be saved? If our own future as a church is tied up with Israel’s future as a nation – how can we be confident that they will all be saved. Well Paul wants us to confident. So he says (v.16) if the first part of dough is holy to God, then the whole batch of dough is holy. And if the root of a plant is holy to God, then the plant and branches that come from the root are also holy.
Now in the context of Romans 11 – first part of the dough and the root of the tree is talking about the JEWISH PATRIARCHS. Let me just show you. (Slide 7; Rom.11:16, 29). EVEN JOHN CALVIN agrees that in the context of Romans the first part is the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And Paul is saying because God set the Patriarchs apart (and gave them a special purpose) all their descendants are also set apart and have a special purpose. Now let me just say – that holy does not mean saved OR morally superior. The word holy – is being used in its most basic sense – of being set apart to serve a special purpose for God. Holy means set apart for God.
Now we know God set Israel apart (as a special nation) to reveal the problem of sin, to teach us about atonement and sacrifice and ultimately to bring Jesus into the world. But is that all God set Israel apart for or is there MORE? Paul suggests that there is something yet “MORE” that God has to do for Israel because of the Patriarchs and because God’s gifts and God’s call are irrevocable.
If God has promised certain things to the Jews (that are left unfinished) then God’s own glory and God’s own faithfulness is at stake. If God does not complete what he promised to the Jews – then God is not true and God is not faithful.
Apply: What Paul is explaining (as a Jew to Gentiles) is that election does not just apply to us as INDIVIDUALS saved by Jesus, election also applies to Israel as A PEOPLE OR NATION. If you look again at Rom.11:28 the word “ELECTION” now applies to the whole nation of Israel. It says; “as far as ELECTION is concerned “they”– are loved on behalf of the Patriarchs. Paul’s point is God still has a special or holy purpose for the Jews. Problem is we Gentiles often don’t really know or care what God promised the Jews because it doesn’t apply to us – so who cares. But Paul says God cares and the Jews tend to care. So if you ask any Messianic (Jesus loving) Jew – about eschatology and the end of the world – I guarantee that Jerusalem and the people of Israel – feature far more prominently than the eschatology I was taught by Gentiles. Among most Messianic Christian communities – events at the end of the world – pivot once more on things related to Israel. This was certainly the belief in the early Christian church and this seems to be what Paul wants us Gentiles to grasp. Gods purposes do not revolve around the Gentiles. Once the full number of Gentiles have been saved significant end of the world events are going to once more pivot on the Jews, Israel and Jerusalem.
Now of course, many Gentile Christians scoff at this idea. But most Messianic Jews who loves Jesus – see a much more Israel centric end of the world. And I think I’m beginning to agree. The problem is – pride is a little bit like prejudice. It often becomes such a big log in our own eye that it blinds us to all sorts of things. It even blinds us to our own prejudice and makes it all but impossible for us to accurately assess the small errors that may or may not be in our Jewish brother’s eye. WHAT IS THE PRIDE AND CONCEIT that Paul is especially warning Gentiles about? Let me pray…