Can you explain Romans 11?

Question
Can you explain Romans 11? Especially the section about the Israel of God.
Answer

An answer to this question is quite involved, so it will be rather long and covered in four sections.

Romans 11:1-10

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? "Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life." But what is God's reply to him? "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day." And David says, "Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever."


Paul has placed his attention on the election of the "remnant of Israel." Romans 10:21 spoke of the covenant disloyalty of Israel and naturally raises the question, "Will God abandon "all" Israel - each and every one of them?" Has God rejected all of Israel? (Rom. 11:1). He passionately responds with a "Not!"



Paul himself was an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1; Acts 22:3, 6; 26:4-5; 2 Cor. 11:22; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:5) and was not abandoned. The apostle writes: "God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew" (Rom. 11:2). The word "foreknew" (Greek proginosko) means fore-loved from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5, 11; Gen. 1:26-28). Paul says he was set apart before he was born and even called by God's grace, that is, God was pleased to reveal his Son to him (Gal. 1:15-16; cf. Isa. 49:1; Isa. 49:5; Jer. 1:5; Acts 9:15).

In context, clearly "foreknew" speaks of God's election. God never forsakes his chosen seed (Deut. 31:6; Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5), and God will not forsake his chosen remnant in Israel either. (But this doesn't include every single Israelite, only the remnant.)



Paul progresses in his argument and uses Elijah as an example (Rom. 11:2-4; 1 Kings 9:1-18). Elijah feared for his life: "The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away" (1 Kings 19:10). When Jezebel threatened his life, he melted in self-pity, even thinking he was the last believer upon the entire earth. However, God spoke to Elijah saying, "Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him" (1 Kings 19:18). The Lord reassured Elijah that his remnant was still loyal to his everlasting covenant! According to the good purpose of his will (Eph. 1:4-5, 11) and to his delight, God preserved for himself a remnant.

Paul reassures his Israelite brothers, "So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace" (Rom. 11:5). This remnant (the few) was not chosen based on their works but by grace alone. (Rom. 11:6). Paul assures his audience that, as it was then, so it is now (cf. Rom. 9:11; 11:28).



The doctrine of the remnant is plentiful in Scripture. A few examples will suffice:

Remnant
Note
Texts
Noah and his family Few were saved Gen. 6:1-8; Luke 17:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:20
Lot and his family if he rescued righteous Lot Gen. 19:29; Luke 17:28-29; 2 Pet. 2:7
Isaiah's name Shear Jashub, meaning, "a remnant shall return" Isa. 7:3; 10:21

The remnant doctrine is also taught in such passages as Isaiah 1:9; 11:11, 16; 46:3; 53:1; Jer. 23:3; 31:7; Joel 2:32; Amos 5:15; Micah 2:12; 4:5-7; 7:18; Zephaniah 3:13 and is either specifically mentioned or implied in Romans 9:6; 9:18; 10:4, 11, 16; 11:14, 24-25. "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14).

In Romans 11:6 Paul writes, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace." Like in many religions today, salvation by works was the cornerstone of the Jewish faith and insufficient to please God (Heb. 11:6). Therefore Paul re-emphasizes that salvation is by grace alone (cf. John 1:13; Rom. 4:4; 9:16; Eph. 2:8-10; Gal. 1:6-9; 3:1-5; Tit. 2:11), not by works. We should note here that a Christian is saved "unto" good works, not "by" them. The phrase "otherwise work is no more work" (KJV) in the Majority text is probably not original [1]; it was possibly a scribal addition or marginal note that made its way into the text.



Paul continues:

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear down to this very day." And David says, "Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever" (Rom. 11:7-10).

So Israel failed to obtain the righteousness they were seeking by works, instead "the elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened" (Rom. 11:7). "Were hardened" is in the passive tense indicating they were hardened by an external power — God. There was given to them "a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear down to this very day" (Rom. 11:8). This is a two-fold witness (2 Cor. 13:1; cf. Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16), an echo of both the Law (Deut. 29:4) and the prophets (Isa. 29:10). "Stupor" (Greek katanuxis) means a bewilderment from being struck or like being in a deep sleep that you can't wake up from and thus you can't see or hear. This is God's judicial hardening (cf. Exod. 4:21; 9:12; 10:20). Clearly, God is not in the business of universal atonement.

Christ gave his life for the elect - and them only (2 Thess. 2:13). Not a single drop of his precious blood was ever wasted; rather it accomplished what it was meant to do. Christ died upon the cross not simply to make salvation a possibility, but to actually save those he died for. He actually died to save them, not merely to make them savable.



Christ literally became incarnate to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). The Bible explicitly teaches that Christ would see his sacrifice and be satisfied knowing that it would actually save his people (Isa. 53:11). "Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for his own chosen people." [2] See Isaiah 53:8, 12; John 6:37-40; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 2:13-14; Revelation 5:9. "It is finished" (John 19:30). Only those that believe will be saved (John 3:36).

Yes, some argue against Scripture and that Christ died for every sin of every man. However, they attempt to prove too much. If Christ died for EVERY sin of EVERY man, woman, and child, then NONE - absolutely NONE, could ever be lost (cf. even Pharaoh, Judas, Hitler, Bin Laden, etc.). "No," some say, see "you must believe." This is why some are lost; they don't believe!!! But is not unbelief a sin for which you say Christ has already died? Thus, they prove too much, as Hell is full of those that did not and will not believe. [3]


Romans 11:9-10 echoes Psalm 69:22-23 (or Psa. 68:23-24 in the LXX). Psalm 69 is a Messianic Psalm. Moo states:

Paul's attention was probably drawn to these verses also by their reference to "darkened eyes," a verbal link to Deut. 29:4 and Isa. 29:10. [Psa. 69:22-23] introduce David's prayer that the Lord might bring disaster on those who are persecuting him: "Let their table be a trap for them, a snare for their allies. Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually." What David prayed would happen to his persecutors, Paul suggests, God has brought upon those Jews who have resisted the gospel.

Romans 11:11-24

Paul, as the Apostle to the Gentiles, now speaks concerning Gentile engrafting into the olive tree — the true Israel:


 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.


Besides punishing Israel for their sin of rejecting the gospel (cf. Acts 13:44-48; 18:6; 28:23-28), are there any other purposes for God's judicial hardening of Israel? Yes, this hardening of Israel benefits the Gentiles, and this in turn serves to make the Jews jealous (Rom. 10:9; 11:11, 14; cf. Matt. 21:43) so that the yet unrepentant remnant (part of true Israel [the elect], Rom. 9:6) might come to God (Rom. 11:11).

In Romans 11:12 the ESV text reads, "Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!" However, the phrase, "riches for the Gentiles" is not in the text. Here is another textual problem as well. The genitive constructions "riches for the world" and "riches for the Gentiles" are not translated correctly. They should read, "the wealth of the world" and "the wealth of the Gentiles." These phrases appears numerous times in the LXX of Isaiah. It actually occurs in the same context in Romans 11:26 (cf. Isa. 59:20-60:22. See Isaiah 60:11; Revelation 21:24-26; Zechariah 14:16-19). What this refers to is, if Israel's rejection of the gospel resulted in a wealth of Gentiles flowing into the kingdom, then even more so will Israel's fullness be characterized by great wealth. In other words, all things are working for the good (Rom. 8:28) both for the remnant of Israel, who in time will be effectually called, and the effectually called Gentiles. In essence, this speaks of the invisible church (Rom. 11:26, "all Israel," cf. Rom. 2:28-29). [4]

Paul now begins to appeal more directly to the Gentiles. Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13; cf. Acts 9:15; 18:6; 22:21; 26:15-20; Rom. 1:5; 15:15-16; Gal. 2:2, 8; Eph. 3:1, 8; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 4:17). Though Paul is a Jew, he takes pride in his ministry to the Gentiles, hoping to provoke the yet unrepentant Jewish remnant to come to God (Rom. 11:14). Paul seems to be living out a spiritual reality: "To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Cor. 9:22).

Because of the hardening of Israel expressed in Romans 11:15-16, the apostle speaks of the elect Gentiles being reconciled to God (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-20). In the phrase "life from the dead" (Rom. 11:15), Paul is saying that at one time the elect Gentiles where dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1-3), but now they have life in Christ (Eph. 2:4-6).



In Romans 11:16, Paul writes, "If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches." The reference to dough refers to Numbers 15:17-21. When the Israelites presented a dough offering, the entire wheat grain harvest was consecrated to the Lord. In other words, it was covenantally set apart and therefore made holy (cf. Lev. 19:23-25). This speaks of the nation of Israel. From this, however, we should not understand that all Israel — the literal nation or ethnic Israel — will be saved. Paul expresses a similar truth when speaking of children in 1 Corinthians 7:14 saying, "For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." So, in context, being holy means set apart to the Lord and not necessarily saved.

Paul's meaning becomes even clearer when we observe that in Romans 11:17-21 some of the branches can be and are broken off. So, the meaning of the bread (Numbers 15:17-21) refers to being set apart in God's covenant, which includes both blessings and curses. Those cursed from eternity will be cut off (John 3:18; Jude 1:4). Only those remaining on the olive tree are saved — God's elect, his invisible church.



That Romans 11:15 refers to the complete restoration of Israel and later their absolute restoration culminates in the rebuilding of the literal temple is not a viable argument. The acceptance of such a doctrine would mean a return to animal sacrifices in the rebuilt temple and would be a rejection of Christ and without the continued acceptance of him (Heb. 9:11-14; 10:11-14). The earthly temple merely foreshadowed Christ (John 2:21), its chief cornerstone (Isa. 28:16-17; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:6) and his sacrifice (Heb. 9:23-24).

Christians are "the seed of Abraham" (Gal. 3:29). Paul calls the church "the Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16. Moreover, Peter describes the NT church with OT realities when he says in 1 Pet. 2:9, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (cf. Exod. 19:5-6; Deut. 4:20; 7:6; 10:15; 14:2; 26:18-19). In addition, Christians are the temple of God that the Lord is building (1 Cor. 3:9, 16-17, 19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6).



The NT church does not replace Israel, rather is the continuation of God's invisible church throughout all ages. In his reply to a Jew concerning the doctrine of Replacement Theology, McLaughlin writes:

"Replacement Theology" is a somewhat ambiguous term. Different people have used it in different ways. There may be some, though I don't know of any, who believe that God has completely cast-off Israel and is now concerned solely with the Gentile church. The "replacement" in this case is one people group for another. This is the kind of "Replacement Theology" of which Reformed theologians are often accused by Dispensationalists, but none of us believe this.

A very different way that the term "Replacement Theology" can be used is in reference to the idea that the visible covenant community of the church has replaced the visible covenant community of Israel as the people of God. This is not the idea that God has cast off the Jews and begun to deal only with the Gentiles, but rather the idea that the remnant of the faithful now exists within the community of the church rather than the community of Israel. The "people of God" are the visible covenant community that contains this remnant. In this sense, it is legitimate to say that the church has replaced Israel as the people of God. But it is not legitimate to distinguish between the church and Israel on ethnic grounds. In this view, the church is the true Israel, and it is very, very Jewish.

Remember, the church is not a Gentile organization, contrary to what Dispensationalists so often conclude. The church is a Jewish organization. From one perspective, we might describe it as the most loyal sect within Judaism:

1. Its Savior is Jewish
2. It was founded entirely by Jews
3. Its first converts were all Jewish
4. Its apostles were all Jewish
5. Most (and perhaps all) of the New Testament was written by Jews

As Paul put it in Romans 11, the church is a Jewish olive tree, and Gentiles have been grafted into it. This does not make it a Gentile olive tree. It makes it a Jewish olive tree wherein Gentiles depend on God's grace to include and sustain them as unnatural branches on the Jewish stalk.

To put it another way, the promises of the salvation of the Gentiles were not made to the Gentiles but to the Jews (Gal. 3:8). When Gentiles are saved, they are counted as being heirs to the Jewish promises. The reason for this is union with Christ. Christ is Jewish. He is the only one who ever kept the covenant perfectly, and he is the only one who inherits on his own merit the full blessings of God's covenant (Gal. 3:14-18). In a very important sense, he himself is the sole remnant. But by faith we are united to Christ, and in that union we are "clothed" with him (Gal. 3:27). Being clothed with him, we are counted as sons of God (Gal. 3:26), and therefore we are able to inherit the blessing of salvation offered to Abraham (Gal. 3:29) - who, while existing prior to the existence of people culturally designated as Jews, is called their (and our) father. This is very significant language. It means that in our union with Christ, we are counted as if we were Christ. That is, because I am mystically united to Christ, God looks at me and sees Jesus. More pointedly, he looks at me and sees a perfect Jew.

In the Old Testament the best covenant blessings were reserved for free male Jews. But in the New Testament we all receive the same blessings. Why? Because we are in Christ. Being in Christ, we receive his status as free male Jew. We might really be slaves; we might really be women; we might really be Gentiles. But because we have faith, we are clothed with Christ and counted as free male Jews, or more specifically, we are counted as the free male Jew named Jesus of Nazareth. To use Paul's metaphor from Romans 11 in a way recalling Jesus' description of himself as "the true vine" (John 15:1ff.), we might say that Jesus is the olive tree, and that being grafted into him we become Jewish.

Paul frequently taught this concept, though not always with the same metaphor. In Ephesians 2:11ff., he explained that God was bringing the Gentiles into the covenant community by merging them with the believing Jews into one new man. Because we are united to Christ; no longer aliens and strangers. Now we are part of God's household. In this same passage, Paul also used the metaphor of a building, with Jesus as the cornerstone and Jews and Gentiles alike being combined as the building materials founded on him. Notice that Paul was so strong on the idea that Gentile believers somehow became Jewish that latter in this same letter he referred to unbelievers as "Gentiles" (Eph. 4:17). In his mind, believing Gentiles weren't Gentiles anymore. In Christ, the distinction between Jew and Gentile that used to separate the two groups had been eradicated (Rom. 3:22; 10:12; Col. 3:11). We may be Gentiles "in the flesh" (Eph. 2:11), but spiritually we are all Jews (Rom. 2:26-29) and children of Abraham (Rom. 4; Gal. 3:29).

Going back to Amillenialism, it is related to this idea in that it sees the Old Testament covenant blessings as being fulfilled in the church rather than in national Israel. But this is not because we believe Gentiles have replaced Jews. Rather, it is because we believe that Jesus is the only one through whom any blessings come, and because the church is that organization which is faithful to him. The promises were made to Jesus the Jew, so if we want to share in the fulfillments of the promises, we have to share in Jesus.



Some forms of Dispensationalism teach another way to God's blessings, a way that doesn't include Jesus. Dispensationalism also claims that their system is honoring of Jews. Frankly, I don't believe they make a very strong case. It seems to me that Reformed theology places far more emphasis on the importance of being Jewish. [5] 


In Romans 11:17-21 Paul now issues a warning to the Gentiles. Though the church at Rome as a whole was rather healthy, this does not mean that there weren't any problems there. He has been rather rough on the Jews, but a sense of superiority, pride and arrogance could build up in some Gentiles. So, Paul desires to address this situation before it becomes a serious problem. In essence, he advises them to cast off pride (cf. Rom. 12:3; 14:1, 3-4, 10, 13; 15:1-2, 5, 7, 15-16).

In context, when he refers to branches, this represents people. Natural branches are those born as Jews and the wild olive branches are the unnatural branches or non-Jews — Gentiles. The branches that remain attached to the root or olive tree represent true Israel and are the faithful members of the covenant and those which are cut off symbolize the unfaithful covenant members (cf. Rom. 2:28-29).

To paraphrase what the Apostle is saying in Romans 11:17-21, we might say:

But if some of the natural Jewish branches were broken off, and the Gentile branches (not Jewish branches by nature) were grafted in among the remaining elect Jewish branches and now share in the nourishing root (Jesus) of the olive tree (true Israel), you Gentiles shouldn't be arrogant toward the Jewish branches. And if you are, remember that is not you who support the root. It's the root that supports you. Then you say, "The natural but unsaved Jewish branches were broken off so that we Gentile branches might be grafted in." That is true. The Jewish branches were broken off because of their unbelief, but you Gentile branches stand fast through faith. You Gentile branches shouldn't become proud, but have a wholesome fear. For if God did not spare the natural Jewish branches, neither will he spare you unnatural Gentile branches.

Paul is reminding the Gentiles who they are so they wouldn't become arrogant. The Gentiles had come from outside and had, by the grace of God, been spiritually grafted in among the Jews. This was the only way they could share in the benefits of the Jewish olive tree. It's also a reminder to the Gentiles that the gospel is a Jewish gospel and they should be thankful for Jews like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even the author of salvation is a Jew! [6]

There has been a lot of disagreement on who or what the "root" is in Romans 11:16-18. But here are the most prevalent answers:

1. The remnant of Jewish Christians. This is not likely it does not seem biblical to be sustained by a remnant of Jewish Christians who, though they were saints, were also still sinners(Rom. 3:23, et. al.).

2. Abraham and the patriarchs. This initially seems attractive. After all, Paul has already argued from the position of the faith of Abraham (Rom. 4:1-12). However, the faith of Abraham points towards an even a greater NT reality — the death and resurrection of Christ himself (Rom. 4:23-25).

3. "Firstfruits" meaning the remnant of Jewish Christians, and "root" meaning the patriarchs. This is incorrect for the same reasons as #1 and #2.

4. Christ himself, the branches being his bride (Eph. 5:23-27, 32). This is correct. In John 15:1, Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser." This seems rather indisputable. The word "root" seems to imply a firmly planted foundation. Jesus is the firm foundation, the chief cornerstone (Isa. 28:16-17; Eph. 2:19-21; 1 Pet. 2:6; cf. John 14:6). In the New Covenant, there are both blessings and cursings (Heb. 6:1-8, 9-12; 10:29; 1 John 3:6, etc.). Those cursed from eternity will be cut off (John 3:18; Jude 1:4). Only those remaining in the olive tree are saved — God's elect, his invisible church.

It should be noted that, while Israel is considered the bride of Christ (Isa. 62:4-5; Jer. 3:1-3, 20; Ezek. 16:8, 15-34; Hos. 2:2-5, etc.) and the New Testament church is too (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-27, 32), Christ is no bigamist. Christ only has one bride; he has only one church (Eph. 2:12-22) and that is his invisible church throughout the ages made up of both elect Jews and Gentiles.

Thus far, Paul has covered three major themes (Rom. 11:11-17): (1) the rejection of the unfaithful Jews (Rom. 9:27, 31; 10:21; 11:710, 15); (2) their being cut off (Rom. 11:17, 19-21); and (3) the inclusion of elect Gentiles in God's eternal plan (Rom. 11:11-12, 17, 19). Now Paul continues and says, "Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off" (Rom. 11:22). Whether it be saving some or rejecting others, in both cases God is sovereign. God is justified in showing salvation and kindness to whom he shows it (Rom. 11:11-12; cf. Rom. 2:4; Eph. 2:7; Tit. 3:4). God also delights in his judgments — both temporary and eternal — as justice brings him glory (Rom. 11:11-12; cf. Rom. 9:13, 17). In both, God is justified and in both he is glorified.

In Romans 11:23, the apostle Paul states, "And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again." The Spirit of God doesn't operate according to man's time table. He moves as he wills, and at times, even mysteriously (John 3:8). If those that were cut off are later brought to life by God's Spirit, they can be grafted back into the olive tree (as true Israel, the elect). However, the text does not state that all Israel will repent; only those who "do not continue in their unbelief" will be saved.

Then in Romans 11:24, Paul writes: "For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree." Essentially Paul says that if the unnatural Gentile elect branches could be grafted into true Israel, then so much the more the natural elect branches (repenting Israelites) could be.

Romans 11:25-32


 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Here Paul speaks to the entire congregation at Rome, both Jew and Gentile. God's plan includes both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 11:25). He will not lose one of his elect (John 6:37, 39-40, 44; 10:28).


Observe a brief summary of Paul's argument so far:

1. Part of Israel is disloyal to God's covenant.
2. These are rejected because of unbelief.
3. The gospel is then proclaimed to the Gentiles.
4. The elect Gentiles are saved.
5. God uses the inclusion of these elect Gentiles to provoke elect Jews (the remnant) to come to salvation.
6. In the providence of God, the Jewish remnant accepts Christ.

God is the author of each step described above. In each step, elect Jews and Gentiles are seen entering into the Covenant of Grace [6] and having their sins removed. Disloyal covenant members are seen as being cut-off by God. After the full number of the elect have been brought into God's kingdom, then the return of Christ can occur. The Belgic Confession of Faith (37) states:

Finally, we believe, according to God's Word, that when the time appointed by the Lord is come (which is unknown to all creatures) and the number of the elect is complete, our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, bodily and visibly, as he ascended, with great glory and majesty, to declare himself the judge of the living and the dead. He will burn this old world, in fire and flame, in order to cleanse it. Then all human creatures will appear in person before the great judge - men, women, and children, who have lived from the beginning until the end of the world.

The hardening of Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles happened side by side. In every age some Israelites have been hardened (Esau, Saul, etc.). Moreover, in every age, some Gentiles have been included in the covenant (Rahab, Ruth, etc. - both in the lineage of Jesus, Matt. 1:5). This is all part of redemptive history.

Now, with Romans 11:26-27 there is confusion for some, where Paul writes:

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins."

Given the context just previous to this, "all Israel" must refer to the both elect Jews and Gentiles — the invisible church.



To those that claim that Gentiles can't be included by the "all Israel" descriptor, we ask them to simply read in God's Word about other such cases. Christians are "the seed of Abraham" (Gal. 3:29), who was a "called Gentile" from the Ur of the Chaldees (Gen. 11:27-32). Paul calls the church "the Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16. Peter describes the NT church with OT realities: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. Exod. 19:5-6; Deut. 4:20; 7:6; 10:15; 14:2; 26:18-19). And Paul had just said in Romans 9:6, "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel" (Rom. 9:6). Therefore, the term "Israel" may be used in different senses.

Moreover, the ethnic Israel mentioned in Romans 11:25 does not have to correspond on a one-to-one basis with the Israel in Romans 11:26. Consider for instance Romans 4:13, 16:

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith... That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring [elect Jew and Gentile] — not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

And consider what Paul said earlier concerning Hosea as well (Rom. 9:25-27). In Hosea 2:23 we observe the phrase, "not my people," being applied to Israel and the phrase in Hosea 1:23, "Children of the living God" being applied to the Gentiles.

So, the variations of Paul's use of "Israel" in Romans 11:25 and Romans 11:26 is not an isolated case. Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is common to his writing. Paul has a concern for ethnic Israel (Rom. 9:1-5; 10:1-4). He loves his people and mentions ethnic Israel numerous items in Romans 9-11 (Rom. 9:4, 6, 27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:1-2; 11:7, 25). However, Paul is also the Apostle to the Gentiles. He just finished speaking of Gentiles being grafted into the olive tree, which is true Israel (Rom. 11:17-24). So, in context with the rest of Paul's gospel and the rest of Scripture, "all Israel" in Romans 11:25 refers to the elect Jews and Gentiles, the invisible church. Only they have had their sins removed (Rom. 11:27).


 Some do injustice to Romans 11:25-26 by insisting that "all Israel" will be saved after the great tribulation. However, the first resurrection of the saints is "in Christ" at their justification (Eph. 2:6 ["seated" is in the aorist tense indicating past tense]; Col. 3:1 ["raised" is in the aorist tense indicating past tense]; cf. Rom. 8:29-30 ["glorification" is in the aorist tense indicating past tense]; Rev. 20:5-6). [7] The second resurrection, which is at the second coming, will include "everyone" (the elect and non-elect). The Bible speaks of this general resurrection in a single breath, nowhere separated by a thousand years — a perfect period of time (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25:46; John 5:27-29; Acts 24:5). The judgment of the wicked is connected with the coming of Christ (2 Thess. 1:7-10) at the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24). This general resurrection will coincide with the consummation of the kingdom, and the end of the world and will immediately precede the final judgment (John 5:27-29; 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24; 1 Cor. 15:23; Phil. 3:20-21; Rev. 20:11-15). So, as there was one resurrection of Christ, so will there be one and only one resurrection of mankind; some to judgment, others to eternal glory. And since there is only one resurrection, then there can be no salvation of all ethnic Israel after the great tribulation. Indeed, throughout redemptive history we have never witnessed the "eternal" salvation of an entire race, including all ethnic Israel.

Continuing now with this portion of book of Romans, Paul writes, "As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers" (Rom. 11:28). In harmony with Romans 11:25-26, which speaks first of a hardening of part of Israel and then about "all Israel" (which includes elect Jews and Gentiles, the invisible church) being saved, the Apostle to the Gentiles now reminds the church at Rome, which is full of Gentiles, that the latter (Jews) are enemies as far as the gospel is concerned (cf. Phil 3:18-19). But as far as election is concerned, they are beloved (cf. Eph. 1:4-6) for the sake of their forefathers. Many Jews do not accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this way, they are enemies of the cross (Matt. 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 10:11; Acts 13:51). However, in another way it is through the Jews that the gospel came to the Gentiles. Therefore, the Gentiles should rejoice.

In Romans 11:29, Paul writes: "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29). This refers to both elect Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). He then continues in Romans 11:30-32 saying:

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Paul reminds the Gentiles at the church of Rome that they were once the same way: (1) disobedient (once enemies of the gospel) but (2) now obedient (seen among the elect). Paul states that the gospel sees all mankind initially as enemies of the gospel (Eph. 2:1-3), so that he may have mercy on all (both Jew and Gentile) his elect.

Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Paul closes Chapter 11 with a doxology reflecting on the unfolding mystery we observe in Romans 11:25-26; that is God's plan of the ages to justify all His elect = "all Israel." Paul is overcome with the depth of God's richness, wisdom, and knowledge in salvation. No wonder the angels desire to look into the salvation of God's elect (1 Pet. 1:12). "Inscrutable" (Greek, anexerauneta) means unable to search into, like a Navy SEAL Team not being able to track down his target. No wonder Satan was fooled by the tactical strategy of the Cross; "None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor. 2:8). Paul is overwhelmed in awe!

The "riches" of God refers to His kindness, forbearance, patience (Rom. 2:4), the riches of His glory (Rom. 9:23), and the blessings which Christ pours out upon all those He calls (Rom. 10:12). See Ephesians 3:8, 16 (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 4:19). Concerning God's "knowledge," He is omniscient, knowing all. In comparison, "wisdom" is understanding in total of what to do with the possession of all knowledge. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD" (Isa. 55:8; cf. Job 5:9; 11:7; Psa. 139:6; Isa. 40:28).

Paul asks three questions: (1) For who has known the mind of the Lord? (Rom. 11:34; Isa. 40:13; 1 Cor. 2:16; cf. Isa. 55:8) - Answer: No one; (2) Who has been His counselor? (Rom. 11:34; Isa. 40:3) - Answer: No one; and (3) Who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid? (Rom. 11:35; Job 41:11) - Answer: No one.

In the first question, we understand that the unregenerate don't accept the things of God because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14), but to the redeemed God says, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13), because "the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God" (1 Cor. 2:10). God has given His people His Spirit and Special Revelation to understand numerous mysteries (2 Tim. 3:16-17). However, even the redeemed of the Lord don't understand everything! Now we only know in part (cf. 1 Cor. 13:9, 12).

In the second question, we understand that no one can be God's counselor. Who could even begin to ponder God's wisdom, knowledge, or question His judgment(s) (cf. Rom. 9:20); "the secret things belong to the Lord our God" (Deut. 29:29).

In the third question, we understand that God has existed from all eternity. God is sovereign, He exists in and of Himself and does not depend on anything outside of Himself. God is independent in His entire being. He is absolutely self-sufficient. He is the uncaused Cause; the uncreated Creator (Exod. 3:14; Psa. 33:11; 115:3; Isa. 40:18; 44:6; Dan. 4:35; John 5:26; Rom. 11:33-36; Acts 17:25; Rev. 1:17; 4:11). So, since He has existed from all eternity, who can give Him anything that He doesn't already own?

Paul ends his doxology with, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). In context, "all things" probably refers explicitly to all things regarding justification of God's elect, however, implicitly it also must include everything in existence and nonexistence, as everything is interconnected in one Source (cf. Rom. 8:28). God is both the source and author of salvation; however, He also is sovereign over each and every event and nonevent and controls each for His own glory according to the purpose of His eternal plan. "To him be glory forever. Amen."

References:

[1] 'But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work,' ASV. There appears to be no reason why, if the words were original, they should have been deleted. The existence of several forms of the addition likewise throws doubt upon the originality of any of them. Metzger, Bruce Manning (1994). United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies, Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies), p. 464.

[2] J. I. Packer's Introduction to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen.

[3] Owen, John, For Whom Did Christ Die? (http://thirdmill.org/magazine/article.asp/link/http:%5E%5Ethirdmill.org%5Earticles%5Ejoh_owen%5Ejoh_owen.ChristDied.pdf).

[4] The Old/New Testament Church

[5] Amillennialism and the Jews and To The Jew First: A Reformed Perspective

[6] What is the Covenant of Grace?

[7] How can I be seated with Christ in the heavenly places if I'm still sitting upon the earth?

Related Topics:

What is the Visible / Invisible Church?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).