Bible Passage: Romans 11:1-10
Big Idea: The Remnant is more than Fulfillment, it is also Promise
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we continue our study of Romans 9-11 – thinking about the Jews. Last week, Paul explained that the main problem for the Jews is NOT that they haven’t heard about Jesus. Nor have they failed to understand Jesus. No! The reason so few Jews are saved is that God has turned his attention to the Gentiles in order to make Israel jealous. But how will this all end?
Well let me show you a question the Jews ask God in Isaiah 63. (Slide 2 – Isa.63:17). Now that is an awfully big question? Does God really withhold His tenderness and compassion from the Jews?
After all that Paul has explained in Romans 9 & 10 (about Gods Sovereignty and human responsibility) – we now have the tools to answer this question. Paul has explained that yes, God can withhold His compassion without it perverting God’s justice or nullifying man’s responsibility. But why would God do this to His chosen people? In Romans 11 – Paul begins to explain this mystery…
Show: Romans 11:25-26 (ENTER).
Paul explains that the reason so few Jews are saved is that ISRAEL has experienced a hardening in part – until the full number of Gentiles has come in. And so (or then) – “ALL ISRAEL” WILL BE SAVED. But what does Paul mean?
SHOW: (SLIDE 3) Some Christian pastors have argued that “all Israel” = THE CHURCH. Drawing on passages like Romans 4 which says Abraham is the father of the circumcised and uncircumcised they then argue that everyone who believes in Jesus is a descendant of Abraham. So all Israel = all Christians who have faith in Jesus = the church. But this position is very unlikely. To say “All Israel” = the church you must completely ignore the context of Romans 9-11 which is focussed on ETHNIC JEWS.
The second option is that when Paul says “ALL ISRAEL” will be saved he means all predestined Jews will be saved. This argument is more plausible. In Romans 9 Paul said; “Not all Israel is Israel.” So when Paul now says “All Israel is saved” we need to remember from Romans 9 that true Israel = ELECT ISRAEL. But this argument also has problems. Paul’s focus throughout Romans 11 is NOT on elect Israel, but on non-elect Israel or unsaved Israel.
The third option is that when Paul says “all Israel will be saved”; he means all Israelites at a specific point in the future will be saved. When all the Gentiles who are predestined for salvation finally come to a knowledge of Jesus – then God will soften the Israelites and they will recognize Jesus is their Messiah, and they will be saved. So on this reading “All Israel” means “all Jews alive at the end of the world, when the full number of Gentiles have come in.”
But which of these positions is correct? Well, lets get into Romans 11, and see which one most naturally fits Paul’s argument.
Point 1: God does NOT Reject His Chosen People
Show: Rom.11:1-4 (READ)
Explain: Well Paul asks “DID GOD REJECT HIS PEOPLE?” As we saw in the last verse of chapter 10 “All day long God holds out His hands to the disobedient and obstinate Jews” (as a nation). Paul now makes clear – what was implied? God has not rejected His people. “BY NO MEANS” And as God holds out His hands to them as a nation some disobedient and obstinate Jews (like Paul) have even been saved and continue to be saved.
Now I suspect that ALL THE CHURCHES heard Paul’s testimony at some point. If you don’t know the story – the apostle Paul is perhaps the biggest Jewish scumbag in all the Bible. He was the EPITOME of everything Matt G spoke about a few weeks ago. Paul totally stumbled on Jesus because he clung to works righteousness. He thought he was good enough for God while running around killing innocent Christians, just for being Christians. Talk about being a self-righteous hypocrite. Truly, if God is going to write off anyone – Paul has it in the bag.
But the good news is that Jesus came into this world to save sinners. (GOSPEL) We don’t make ourselves good enough for God’s salvation by reaching some pre-determined standard. It is all of God’s grace and mercy. And while some people may have written off the Jews or Paul or even written off themselves as being too bad for God, that’s not true. Sure, you may have been to prison. Perhaps you’ve been an ice dealer or had an abortion or done something else that worries your conscience.
Well, just like Israel, and just like Paul – God is still saving sinners. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done – God wants you to see His love for you in Jesus? CAN YOU SEE that God – died for you on the cross – to save you? (Yes. We all deserve to be punished for what we’ve done. But like a loving parent God comes to the rescue and accepts the penalty for our sins so that we can be saved). That means you can trust God. In Jesus – God is holding out his hands (to the worst of sinners) saying come home. I don’t care how disobedient you’ve been – just trust me and I’ll forgive you. If you believe in Jesus – God will forgive you. If you believe in Jesus God will help you. Will you come home?
(Slide 4) Paul writes in verse 2: God did not reject His people whom He foreknew. It is perhaps best to see this as a RULE. God never, ever has and never ever will – reject the people He foreknows. Now the word foreknew or foreknow – again has to do with election and predestination. In Romans 8 – God explains those 1) I foreknew, 2) I predestined, 2) those I predestined, 3) I called. Those 3) I called – 4) I also justified. And 4) those I justified – 5) I ultimately glorify (Rom.8:29-30). Paul was explaining in Romans 8 that those God foreknows and chooses (even as dirty rotten scoundrels) he ultimately saves – no matter how much they stumble, wander or stuff up – along the way.
Illustrate: John West (the fish company) says “It’s the ones we reject, that make us the best.” But God says “What makes me the best is that I never reject what I elect to save.”
Apply: But here’s the question (ENTER); Is Paul talking about himself in verse 2 as a specific example of election OR is Paul saying that Israel itself as a nation is in some sense elect of God (and so not rejected)?
Many scholars observe that Paul’s focus in Romans 11 shifts from what we might call A) elect individual Jews to what we would consider B) the “non-elect” or “unsaved” nation of Israel. This is what Douglas Moo NT Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (where Don Carson also lectures) says about this verse. (SLIDE 5). Now this doesn’t mean Moo is right. But it does mean we have to think. Does Paul’s focus in Romans 11 – stay on elect individuals within Israel OR is it shifting to the nation of Israel? Is the nation of Israel rejected by God?
Point 2: Elijah gave up on the nation of Israel, but God did not.
Show: Rom.11:2b-6 (READ)
Explain: Last week I explained that we shouldn’t just look at Old Testament quotes in isolation. We should seek to understand them in their broader Old Testament context. So when Paul writes – “Don’t you know the story of Elijah?” we need to think about the WHOLE story of Elijah. The story is found in 1 Kings 17-19 (and it covers a period of time) around 850BC. At this point the Jews were particularly disobedient and obstinate. 1) There was a terrible king named AHAB and 2) a terrible queen named JEZEBEL and the Jews worshiped a god called BAAL.
So Elijah pronounces God’s judgment and drought and famine come on all the people. Now while the Jews are under this judgment – God actually sends Elijah to a widow in Zarephath (1Kngs.17). In Luke’s gospel – Jesus tells us the widow was a Gentile. And while Elijah is with this Gentile woman – her oil and flour never runs out – despite the famine. Elijah even brings the widow’s son back to life – when he dies. It’s like God takes his favour away from the Jews and gives it to the Gentiles for a while.
So there is a little bit of parallelism going on with what Paul has said in Romans 10. Last week, Paul began to explain that because of Israel’s sin God has taken his favour away from the Jews and given it to the Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous.
Anyway (after 3.5 years) God sends Elijah back to Israel and he tells all the Israelites to go to Mt Carmel. God is going to do something to trun your hearts back to Him. So the Israelites all go to Mt Carmel with the prophets of Baal. And Elijah says “Ok, here is the deal. We’re going to have battle of the gods. You’re all going to set up a sacrifice to Baal and I’m going to set up a sacrifice to the LORD. We’ll slaughter some animals, we’ll put them on a pile of wood and then you guys cry out to Baal and I’ll cry out to Yahweh asking them to light up the sacrifice. If you guys can get Baal to send fire from heaven – then so be it – Israel can follow Baal. But if the LORD, the God of the Bible sends fire from heaven – then you all have to accept He is the true God.” So God is about to do something truly spectacular which Elijah says is to turn the JEWS HEARTS back to God. But Elijah, even gives Baal an advantage. Elijah says to the false prophets of Baal, you can use dry wood, but you can throw as much water on my sacrifice as you like.
In the end God wins the fire challenge. Baal does nothing. But Yahweh sends down fire from heaven and the whole sacrifice is burnt up. So the Israelites then repent of their sins, the drought breaks and the rains come back to Israel. HALLELUJAH. God does something extraordinary to win at least some of the Jews back to Himself. But queen Jezebel (is ticked that Baal lost the fire battle) so she sentences Elijah to death. So in a panic Elijah freaks out and runs away.
Ultimately, Elijah ends up at Mt Sinai (where God gave the Jews the 10 Commandments). The Hebrew in 1 Kings 19 says Elijah went to “THE” cleft or “THE” cave on Mt Sinai. It uses the definite article. Many scholars believe the writer in 1 Kings is saying Elijah was in the same cleft or same cave Moses was in – when God’s glory passed him by. Anyway God says to Elijah WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE MATE? It’s a rebuke. God sent him to the Jews and he’s sitting on a mountain. Elijah responds’ “The Israelites have rejected your covenant.” Basically he says “they are a bunch a deadbeats and a waste of time. I am the only one left and they’re about to kill me too.” This is the bit of the story that Paul quotes in Romans 11:3 (Look at it – READ).
Apply: Now basically God is saying “no, the Jews are not a write off. There is still 7000 I have reserved for myself.” Now the number 7 is God’s number and multiplied by 1000 it carries the idea of completeness or fullness. 7000 may still be a literal number. But it’s also a number that carries the sense of completeness or even perfection. So Elijah is saying “Israel is a write off” and God is saying “No, I’m pretty sure I still have a purpose for them”. But between Romans 11:3 and 11:4 – we actually have a theophany. God appears to Elijah. Elijah says the people are a waste of time. And God tells Elijah come out of the cave because I am going to appear to you. The language is the same as with Moses. So Elijah comes out of the cleft and there is this giant CYCLONE. But we are told God was not in the cyclone. Then there is a giant EARTHQUAKE. But God is not in the earthquake, Finally there is a GIANT FIRESTORM, but God is not in the firestorm. In the end “there comes a gentle whisper” and in the gentle whisper God tells Elijah to go back to the Jews and appoint a new king to lead them and appoint a new prophet to speak to them because God has preserved 7000.
God preserves the nation for the sake of the elect within the nation. But it truly takes a supernatural vision from God for Elijah to grasp that God is not yet finished with Israel as a nation. And Paul has just quoted this passage to answer the question whether God has rejected the Jews. Now many evangelical Christians believe that God did finish with Israel as a nation when Jesus finally came to earth. Many believe that God’s SOLE PURPOSE for Israel as a nation was to bring forth the Messiah. And once Jesus came – Gods purpose for Israel (as a nation) was done and dusted. But is this correct? Elijah’s experience of God on Mt Sinai was a reminder that the nation still contained some of God’s people. God saves not only individual Jews, he also saves the nation of Israel (appointing a new king and a new prophet) for the sake of the elect within it. Paul adds – that as it was in Elijah’s day – so it is today. God has not given up on Israel. He is still in the business of saving Israelites, as Israelites. But Paul adds that…
Point 3: God has Hardened the rest of Israel (for a Purpose)
Show: Rom.11:7-10 (READ)
Explain: Now I really want you to notice that in verse 7 Paul divides Israel the nation into two halves; 1) the elect and 2) the hardened. First Paul speaks of THE NATION as a whole. Paul explains that Israel as a nation did not obtain what they sought so earnestly. PRESUMABLY (as Matt G explained) – this is talking about RIGHTEOUSNESS. Orthodox, regular Jews tried to attain righteousness by obeying the law, and so failed to come to Jesus. Paul calls these “UNSAVED JEWS” who did not obtain Jesus righteousness the people of Israel.
But Paul adds (halfway through verse 7) “the elect among them did.” This is now talking about saved Jews or Messianic Jews.
These elect Jews received true righteousness, true relationship and true blessing through Jesus. But then, Paul flips back again to unsaved Jews. He calls them “the others”. Paul writes (end of verse 7) “the others were hardened.” This is again talking about what we would call “unsaved Jews”. And Paul says the unsaved Jews were HARDENED.
THIS IS A BIG STATEMENT. Paul has already explained that God turned His attention away from the Jews to the Gentiles in order to make unsaved Jews jealous. But now Paul is making the huge assertion that God actually hardened the unsaved Jews to the gospel. So to back up this huge claim Paul quotes from the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. The Jewish Scriptures were divided into 3 sections: the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. And if you really wanted to establish a point of doctrine among the Jews you had to prove that point from all three sections – the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. So in verse 8, Paul begins with THE LAW in Deuteronomy which says “God gave them a spirit of stupor,” OR perhaps “God gave them a spirit of slumber.” Paul says, see your own law says God can do such a thing. Then second half of verse 8 goes on “eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear.” This is from the prophet Isaiah. Finally, Paul quotes King David from Psalm 69. In verse 9 “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution to them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see and their back bent forever.” Paul is like; see the LAW, the PROPHETS and the PSALMS all foretold that God would harden, deafen and blind the Jews (and this is what has happened).
Now trust me when I say every Jew is now sitting forward in their seat. They’re like – you’re saying God blinded and hardened uncle Mosher and grandma Raquel so they wouldn’t be saved.
AND YES, that is exactly what Paul has just said. So come the end of verse 10 (and all the Jews are leaning forward in their seats) and we are focussed on the unsaved portion of Israel. The bit called “the others”. You know verse 7 – “the others were hardened.”
Now look at Romans 11:11. It says; ‘Again I ask: “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” (PAUSE) Who is “THEY” in this verse? Is Paul talking about elect Israel or “the others”? What about verse 12; It says; “But if their transgression means riches for the world…” Who is “THEIR” in this verse? Is it saved Israel or the others? What about verse 14? What about verse 15? (Yes. It’s still the others). What about verse 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24? Who are the broken off branches – elect Israel or unsaved Israel who needs to be grafted back in? (PAUSE). OK. Ok. So every verse after Romans 11:7 is focussed on the unsaved Jews. What Paul called “the others”. So let’s zoom back in on the key verses in Romans 11:25-26 (Slide 6 – READ). Who is Paul talking about in verse 25? The elect or the others? (PAUSE) Well this verse takes us all the way back to Romans 11:7 where Paul explained the hardened part of Israel (are called the others). So it’s still the others. The the focus of Romans 11 (from verse 7-25) is on the unsaved portion of Israel. Tell us Paul, what’s going to happen to UNCLE DAUID and GRANMA RAQUEL?
Apply: Friends, (I love John Calvin) but… there anything in the immediate context of Romans 11 that would suggest “all Israel” means the church? (Pause) Lets try, the others, the others, the others, the others, the others, the church will be saved. I’m sorry but there is nothing in Romans 11 (whatsoever) to suggest that “All Israel” now means a church body made up of Jews and Gentiles? That is not good or natural exegesis of this biblical text in context.
What about the SECOND OPTION? Perhaps “all Israel” means – “elect Israel”. Lets try that; the others, the others, the others, the others, the others, the others, the elect will be saved. This is better than the preceding option because at least Paul has talked about “ELECT ISRAEL” at the beginning of Romans 11. But it’s dubious because for the last 20 verses leading up to Romans 11:26 – Pauls focus is on non-elect, unsaved Israel – the others. It is actually the THIRD OPTION that makes the most sense in the context of Romans 11. When Paul says “All Israel will be saved,” he means all the others in Israel (who are not yet saved) will be saved. Let me show you – the others, the others, the others, the others, the others, the others will be saved – when the full number of Gentiles has come in. Friends, I think this is the most natural reading. We still need to work through the rest of Romans 11 and do the hard work. But we also need to remember that our goal is not to get God’s Word to fit our theology, but our theology to fit Gods Word. What is Paul saying – that both Jews and Gentiles are meant to comprehend?