Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"FAITHFUL GOD DECLARES THAT ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED"
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 111:5 (Psalm 105:3 After Baptism)
Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ!
What does Paul mean with his statement that "all Israel will be saved"? Over the centuries there’s been much discussion on that question. Those discussions have become the greater since the founding of the modern state of Israel in the Middle East in 1948, for the founding of that state in 1948 was seen as the first step to the fulfilment of the prophecy of our text. Especially in Dispensationist circles the expectation increased that God would work mass conversion among the Jews. The thought was this: soon the full number of the elect of the Gentiles will have come to faith, and then God will work conversion among the Jews (they’re all congregating already in Palestine), and when they are converted Christ will come back. Even amongst Reformed theologians adherents were found for this view. In fact, the footnotes of the New Geneva Study Bible –that’s the NKJV Study Bible many of us have, and the notes come from largely reformed theologians- goes in the direction of a mass conversion of Jews, be it without mentioning the modern state of Israel.
Is this correct? Does Paul in our chapter tell the saints of Rome that God plans one day in the future to return His attention to the Jews and work mass conversion in these offspring-of-Abraham-according-to-the-flesh? Is that the point of his sentence, "So all Israel will be saved?"
It turns out, congregation, to be not so at all. It’s a basic principle of reading never to isolate one sentence of a chapter or a book from its context. And the context does not allow for this interpretation. It’s equally a principle of Bible reading to compare Scripture with Scripture, and no where else in the Bible do we find the concept of mass conversion among the Jews before Christ comes back.
Instead, Rom 11 (and indeed, the book of Romans as a whole) speaks of Jews being saved, but not of all Jews being saved. Rather, God will invariably bring to salvation every Jew chosen life, for the remnant of the elect is the ‘all Israel’ of God. God is faithful, and that is why Gentiles as well as Jews need to embrace in faith the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.
I preach to you the gospel of God that "all Israel will be saved". I use the following theme:
FAITHFUL GOD DECLARES THAT ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED.
Who is ‘All Israel’
Paul is moved by the Spirit of God to declare that "all Israel will be saved." The big question is: Who, what is meant by the term ‘Israel’? There is a thought around that the term ‘Israel’ in our text refers to all the people of God from every tribe and tongue and nation. That’s to say: the "all Israel" that will be saved is the New Testament church, whether Jews or Greeks, Chinese or Australian.
Yet this cannot be the case. In chaps 9-11, Paul has used the term ‘Israel’ 10 times so far, and each time the term describes the people of Israel, those descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob commonly known as Israelites or Jews. For Paul now to use the same term in our text but load the term with a different meaning than previously (without saying so clearly) would be most abnormal. When he writes in our text about ‘Israel’, the apostle is certainly thinking about the real children of Abraham.
But what does he mean with the phrase ‘all Israel’? Are we to understand that Paul is thinking about every Israelite, every Jew? Is his point that every Jew will be saved?
That, of course, cannot be. The Old Testament has told us of certain children of Abraham who did not believe. Esau is an example. The gospels too tell us of Jews who rejected the Christ; think of Judas Iscariot. More to the point: in Rom 9 Paul made very clear that "they are not all Israel who of Israel" (vs 6). Paul worked that out to mean (you will recall) that God has chosen some from the descendants of Abraham to life but passed others by. In the context of the overriding question that prompted Paul to write Rom 9-11 (and that big question was: how come so many Jews reject the gospel?), this can only mean that God had sovereignly determined not to give salvation to every Jew. Some Jews God had made for honour, and some for dishonour. So the words of our text cannot possibly mean that every Jew will ultimately be saved.
Yet Paul uses the phrase ‘all Israel’. What does that phrase mean, then? I mentioned already that one needs to compare Scripture with Scripture. As it is, the phrase ‘all Israel’ appears over a 100 times in the Old Testament. But seldom does the phrase describe all Israel in the sense of every Israelite. It does mean every Israelites when Joshua, for example, relates that "all Israel" crossed the Jordan (Josh 3:17; cf I Chron 21:5; 29:21). But repeatedly the phrase describes Israel in the corporate sense, as a collective without necessarily including every individual. I read, for example, that "all Israel" stoned Aachan with stones (Josh 7:25). We surely are not to understand that each of the more than 1,000,000 Israelites travelling into the Promised Land threw a stone at Aachan, from old man to infant. ‘All Israel’ marched up against Ai (Josh 8:21), and yet we understand that the women and the children were not included; in fact, the passage describes ‘all Israel’ as ‘the people of war’ (vs 1,3). ‘All Israel’ heard Goliath blaspheme against the Lord (I Sam 17:11), and yet we understand correctly that the reference is not to every man, woman and child in Israel being witness to Goliath’s blasphemy, but only the army gathered within Goliath’s hearing. Altogether, then, we need to understand the phrase ‘all Israel’ not as describing each Israelite, but rather as those of the people gathered as their representatives.
In fact, the Old Testament has more to say about the concept of ‘all Israel’. The phrase, we learned, commonly describes Israel as represented by its leaders or its soldiers. This representative function of the phrase receives further refinement in later passages of the Old Testament. As apostasy ate its way into the people, the phrase ‘all Israel’ was used to describe the faithful, the remnant. For the faithful, the remnant, was the real Israel. You recall, for example, that the 10 northern tribes were carried off into exile, and some years later the 2 southern tribes were too. Of the two southern tribes, a minority returned from their exile in Babylon to the land of promise. Well now, these returned exiles are described in Ezra 2 as ‘all Israel’ (vs 70; Neh 7:72). If you would count noses, they were a very small part of the total number of Israelites in the world. But God moved Ezra to describe that minority who returned to the Promised Land as ‘all Israel’. So, when that remnant rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it, they offered "as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel" (Ezra 6:17; 8:35). That’s to say that this remnant knew itself to be the embodiment of ‘all Israel’, knew themselves to be the real ‘all Israel’. Those who strayed from God in the land of exile were no longer ‘Israel’ in the true sense of the word.
This, now, brothers and sisters, is the thought that Paul picks up from the Old Testament and transplants into his letter to the Romans. He uses the word ‘Israel’ numerous times in the course of his letter, and the reference is distinctly to the people of Israel, those descendants of Abraham. But when he speaks about salvation in our text, he does not use simply the word ‘Israel’, and write that "so Israel will be saved"; No, he adds an adjective to the word ‘Israel’, an adjective that he’s learned from the Old Testament, an adjective that captures the notion of Israel-as-remnant, the pious minority. When Paul in our text says that "all Israel will be saved" he is not describing salvation for every Israelite, nor salvation for most Israelites; he’s describing instead a remnant of Israel, a remnant that God sees as the true Israel. This is the people that will be saved.
Vs 1 had asked that pressing question: "has God cast away His people?" This, now, is the answer: certainly not. As God has repeatedly said throughout the Old Testament, a remnant will be saved (cf Is 6:13; 10:20ff). It happened in the days of Elijah; in the midst of all the apostasy in Israel, God preserved His 7000, that full number of the elect in the Israel of those days (vss 2-5) – a remnant preserved not by works but by grace (vs 6). So too in Paul’s day; he was himself "an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin" (vs 1) – evidence that God saves a remnant. It remains a fact: God has not forsaken His people, for "all Israel" will be saved; the remnant, the true Israel of God’s election, will receive the promised inheritance. Vs 7: "the elect obtained it", and that’s God’s grace, "and the rest were blinded" – and that’s God’s justice. Hence vs 26: despite Israel’s sins, God maintains His covenant and takes away the sins of His own.
We come to our second point:
How God Saves ‘all Israel’
The text begins with the words "and so". Those two words tie the text to what is written in the verses before the text. More precisely, they tell us that in the verses before the text Paul outlines how ‘all Israel’ will be saved. The manner is highlighted in the ‘mystery’ mentioned in vs 25, viz, "blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved."
The term ‘mystery’ grabs our imagination. But we need to understand, brothers and sisters, that in the Bible the term ‘mystery’ does not describe a secret adventure, nor does it describe an aspect of God’s revelation that had never been revealed before, something brand new and intriguing. Rather, the term ‘mystery’ describes the notion of making plain to the man of faith what was in fact said before but not fully understood. God had made plain in the Old Testament that the salvation He was working through Abraham and his offspring was not meant for Abraham’s physical descendants alone, but also for the benefit of the nations. Think, for example, of the word of God to Abram in Gen 12: "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (vs 3). In accordance with that promise David says in Ps 22 that
"All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You" (vs 27).
Isaiah put it like this:
"‘And it shall come to pass that … all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says the Lord" (Is 66:23).
But the details of how it would come about that the Gentiles would benefit from God’s saving work in Israel, and come to worship God was not so clear to the Jews of Paul’s day. That’s not because God hadn’t revealed it; He had. For the prophets were moved by God’s Spirit to state that Israel would turn away from the Lord, and a people not God’s own would turn to God. Hosea, for example, had to marry a harlot and name the resulting son "Lo-Ammi" – a term that means "Not-My-People" (1:8; cf Dt 32:18). The reference was to the people of Israel; since they had rejected God, God determined to reject them. But listen: the same prophet must speak of the mercy God will show to people of every tribe and tongue of the world; says God in Hosea 2:
"Then I will say to those who were not My people [and that would be the Gentiles!],
‘You are My people!’
And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’" (vs 23).
Altogether it means: in the Old Testament already God had indicated that Israel would reject their God and yet God would bring a people to Himself – of both Jews and Gentiles. It was revealed, but not understood.
Under the leading of the Spirit poured out at Pentecost, Paul opens up this ‘mystery’ in Rom 11. What was hidden in the Old Testament Paul makes plain for all to read. The mystery foretold in the Old Testament and not ‘caught’ until the Holy Spirit was poured out is God’s plan that "blindness in part [would] happen to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles would come in; and so all Israel would be saved."
To catch properly the mystery of which Paul speaks, we need, brothers and sisters, to go into further detail here. What is this blindness that happened to Israel? What contribution does that blindness have to the salvation of Gentiles – people like you and me? Paul has elaborated on this material in vss 11ff of our chapter.
The Jews, he says in vs 11, "stumbled that they should fall." That reference to ‘stumbling’ and ‘falling’ is the Jews’ demand before Pilate to crucify the innocent Christ and hence their rejection of Him (Mt 27:22f; cf Acts 2:23; 3:14: 5:30). Now, why should the Jews commit that crime of rejecting the Son of God? Was that so that all the Jews might fall for good, be lost forever? Not so, says Paul in vs 11. Rather, their trespass in condemning and crucifying the Christ had as blessed consequence that the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles was broken down (Eph 2:13ff). That’s vs 12: "their fall" –and literally the text speaks of "their trespass"- "their trespass is riches for the world."
Remember: in the Old Testament the gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the tabernacle came only to the Jews (Ps 147:19f). Similarly, the prophets of the Old Testament preached only to the Jews. Jesus Himself had the mandate to labour only amongst the Jews. To the Syro-Phoenician widow who desired crumbs from the master’s table, Jesus said that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 15:24). So, when Jesus sent out His disciples in Mt 10, He told them not to go to the Gentiles or a city of the Samaritans (vs 5f), but only to the people of Israel. But once Jesus has triumphed over sin and Satan, and been exalted as Lord over the entire world, the gospel must go to all the world. Hence the command of Mt 28: the disciples are to go and make disciples of all nations – and not of Jews only (Mt 28:19).
Certainly, the disciples are to bring the gospel to the Jews first - for to the Jews "pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises" (Rom 9:4f). As Paul also said in Rom 1:16: the gospel is "the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (cf Acts 1:8). That is why the apostles made it their business in their missionary journeys to confront first the Jews with the gospel of Jesus’ victory (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1). But see: time and again the Jews did not embrace the gospel, while Gentiles in the crowd did (Acts 13:42ff; 14:2; 17:5ff). That’s to say: these physical descendants of Abraham rejected the work of redemption that God was pleased to perform through their nation; they defaulted on the gospel. In accordance with the pattern disclosed in the Old Testament, this opened the door for the apostles to turn with a free conscience to the Gentiles. As Paul said in Antioch:
"It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46; 28:24ff).
The Jews, though so rich in promises and heritage, hardened their hearts to the gospel God prepared for the world through their race. That is why, says Paul in the picture of the olive tree in our chapter, God has broken off some of the natural branches "because of unbelief" (vs 20). Countless Gentiles (also in Rome!), though not God’s people in any way, believed the gospel of Jesus Christ. These, by God’s grace, were grafted into the olive tree of God.
That olive tree is Israel. The prophet Jeremiah had called Israel a "green olive tree" (11:16; cf Hos 14;6), and added that because of her sins God would break off her branches (vs 16f). That’s the imagery Paul picks up in Rom 11, but adds that new branches are grafted in. That’s to say: these new branches are made part and parcel of the original tree, are made part and parcel of Israel. This tree with the dead branches removed and the new branches grafted in becomes the real Israel, the true Israel. It’s as the apostle said in Rom 4: Gentile Christians became true children of Abraham by virtue of their faith. Abraham, after all, is "the father of all those who believe" (Rom 4:11, 16f) – be it persons of Jewish origin or persons of Gentile origin.
How, then, does God save all Israel? How does a remnant from the offspring of those who rejected and crucified the Christ come to salvation? The hardening and unbelief within Israel drove the gospel to circles outside of Israel – even as God had promised to Abraham already. And through the labours of these Gentiles the gospel came in turn again to the Jews – for Gentiles have sent missionaries to the Jews for centuries. As a result, in any given generation of church history, every Jew ordained to eternal life has come to faith in Jesus Christ – and so become, in New Testament terms, a true child of Abraham by faith – the remnant of which the Bible speaks.
That, my brothers and sisters, is how all Israel is saved. By a process of hardening within Israel, the gospel went to the Gentiles, and via the Gentiles back to the elect of Israel, the remnant chosen to life eternal. This remnant is the ‘all Israel’ as God sees the offspring of Abraham. Well does Paul burst into a song of exaltation:
"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (vs 33).
Who would have thought that God would work in this way?! Truly,
"…of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen" (vs 36).
The Application for us Today
The message of Paul as it comes to us in our text leads to particular applications that we need very much to keep in mind. I mention four.
The first is this: do not, beloved, do not think in terms of God promising to work a mass conversion amongst the Jews living today in Palestine. Dispensationalists may expect it (and then base their expectation on our text), but this is not what Paul says in Rom 11. Hear me well: with that I do not say that God is not able to work mass conversion among the Jews; He most certainly is able, and for all we know He may well do it. But the point is that He has not promised to do so in His Word, and that’s why we are not to count on it happening. On that point there is nothing special about Israel today any more.
Secondly, despite the fact that the Jews nailed Jesus to the cross, God has not rejected the Jews as a whole and damned them all to hell. Amongst the Jews, too, He has His elect. That is why there is no room for anti-Semitism amongst Christians, no room for hatred of Jews. Instead, for the Jews too there is only one way to be saved, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. That is why there is need for mission amongst the Jews today just as much as there is need for mission amongst other people of the world. Again, hear me well: we should not think that there is greater urgency to bring the gospel to the Jews than to some other ethnic group; there isn’t. But equally, we should not think that there is less urgency to bring the gospel to the Jews. The Jews of today need the gospel as much as you and I. As opportunity presents itself, then, the Church is to be engaged in mission also amongst the Jews.
In the third place, the Jews, says Paul, are the natural branches of the tree of salvation; to the Jews pertained the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises. Yet God cut them off, because of their unbelief. Here is warning, pointed warning to Gentiles –people like you and me- whom God has grafted into His Israel. We may not, may not presume on the covenant and grace of God in the conviction that we’re OK because we belong to God. As God preserved a remnant from His people of old, and called that remnant ‘all Israel’, so God can preserve a remnant from His people in church here today and call that remnant His entire church in Kelmscott. It’s faith and the obedience of faith that characterised the remnant of Israel, the true Israel, and it’s equally faith and the obedience of faith that shall characterise all the true people of God throughout the ages. Here is a call to each of us to accept daily the promises of God in faith.
Finally, the fact that God has not cast away His people points up how faithful this God is. God is God, and that is why "all Israel will be saved." Sure, we cannot comprehend the mind of the Lord, nor are we able to give Him counsel; so much of what He does is beyond our understanding. But nothing of that takes away from the fact that this God is so infinitely faithful. He established His covenant of grace with Abraham and his descendants, and maintains His covenant with the chosen; they are and remain the ‘all Israel’ of God.
That gives us courage in the face of the challenges before us. Despite human weaknesses and the barrage of Satan’s hellish attacks, the Lord God shall see to it that His Israel –the remnant chosen by grace- shall be saved; the devil shall not pluck a single chosen Jew from God’s hands. And the same is true for the elect of the Gentiles; despite our weaknesses and Satan’s anger, God shall preserve all His own in the face of hellish attack, and bring each to glory. What His hand has begun, He’ll bring to completion.
"So all Israel shall be saved." So much is written about this passage, so many expectations aroused for our day, and so much confusion generated. Let us, congregation, stay with the Scriptures of God, compare Scripture with Scripture. Then we’ll find in our text much comfort, so very much comfort in the midst of our struggles. So faithful is our God that the full number of the elect –of Jews and Gentiles alike- shall definitely receive the crown of glory.
Let that promise, my beloved, be sufficient. Amen.