Who is Israel?
The Letter to the Jews – part 2
After Paul says that God chose the second-born Jacob, over the first born Esau, this naturally raises a question. Is God being arbitrary? Is God being unfair? Therefore, Paul feels the necessity to digress somewhat to answer this question (from Rom. 9:14). But the digression is only apparent as we shall see. This question, about God being fair or not, leads to other questions which are relevant to our pursuit of the question who is Israel?
Pre-destination verses Free Will
Some have studied this section of the Bible and concluded that God pre-destines some to salvation and others to damnation. However, this forces the Bible to contradict itself, and impugns the love of God. The Scriptures testify that God wishes all to be saved:
As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Eze. 33:11.
… (God) will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth. 1 Tim. 2:4.
… (God is) not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Pet. 3:9.
Salvation is offered freely to all. But not all accept the Gospel invitation. Salvation is not forced upon us, against our will. If we choose to oppose and resist God’s purpose, we can and most do so. Divine foreknowledge, in no way excludes human liberty. Nowhere does Paul or any other Bible writer, suggest that God has predestined certain people to be saved and certain others to be lost, regardless of their own choice in the matter.
Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?
Oh, but what about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, someone might ask, doesn’t the Bible say that God did that? Yes it does! But the same Bible also speaks of Pharaoh hardening his own heart (see Ex. 7:13-11:10). In answering these objections it must first be pointed out, that in the Bible, God often gets the blame for what He does not prevent – just as He does today. God does not intervene in all situations – that would violate another firmly established Biblical principle – “we reap what we sow” (Gal. 6:7). It would also violate the principle of free will, which must operate in God’s government otherwise God’s love could only extend to the manufacturing of robots, not creatures that could love Him in return.
However, creating such creatures involved risk – the risk of disobedience and sin. The command not to eat of the Tree of Life carried with it the unspoken right, the choice, to break the commandment. God did not intervene to prevent Adam and Eve from exercising their free will. If God had intervened He could also have stopped His only begotten Son from dying on the Cross. The fact that, God allowed Adam and Eve to disobey, guaranteed that Christ would suffer a terrible death. This demonstrates that free will and the right to choose, is the foundation principle to the governance of His universe.
Similarly, God did not prevent the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and therefore, in a sense, one could say that God was responsible for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The process works like this: – just as God sends the rain and the sunshine on both the righteous and the wicked, it is we, who determine, to what use, we put His blessings. God sends the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to work on everyone’s heart and just as the sun will melt wax and yet harden clay, so too, does the action of the Spirit melt some hearts and harden others. The action of the Spirit does not cause the hardening, it is the condition of the material worked upon that, determines the outcome.
When the Holy Spirit ‘speaks’ to the ‘heart’ of an individual, that individual must steel or harden his own heart if he chooses to resist the Spirit’s prompting. Each time the Spirit is rejected, so is the heart that much more hardened, making it harder and harder for that heart to be reached. Because the attitude adopted is a ‘hard’ attitude, the heart is hardened. This was the experience of Pharaoh. In one sense it is possible to speak of God hardening his heart because God was actively trying to break through to him. But Pharaoh chose not to respond, so ultimately he was responsible for hardening his own heart. It is only in this sense that we can speak of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, or anyone else’s heart.
Did God Harden the Hearts of the Jews?
The reason why Paul needs to discuss these issues is because the same hardening of the heart that happened to Pharaoh also happened to the Jews. But just as God was not responsible for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, He was also not responsible for the hardening of the Jews hearts. The majority of the Jews chose out of their own free will to reject Christ:
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. Jn.1:11.
So, this is the next point that Paul wants to deal with. Why did this happen? Why did the majority of the Jews reject their Saviour? Paul begins his explanation by expressing his anguish for the lost state of his physical brethren:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. Rom. 10:1, 2.
Please note that Paul reiterates what he said previously, that he is grieving over the lost state of his physical brethren. He says his desire is that they might be saved – which must mean that they are not saved. Paul then explains why they are not saved. They are not saved because they established their own system of righteousness:
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Rom. 10:3.
And this is exactly what Jesus accused them of; giving up God’s appointed salvation, for their own concocted ideas of salvation, when He said:
Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? Matt. 15:3.
Jesus also explained what the consequences are when man abandons the will of God for his own ‘user friendly religion.’ He quoted what God said to Isaiah because this was a problem that started hundreds of years before the arrival of Christ:
Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Matt. 15:7-9.
We can only be saved in God’s appointed manner. We cannot go into the religious market place and pick and mix our own religion, choosing only those things that we are comfortable with. We have to conform to all those things that come with a ‘thus saith the Lord’ – anything else is human hubris, arrogance and delusion. Jesus made this very clear when he said:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Matt. 7:21.
The Jews were never able to learn what the will of God was because they never allowed their necks to be turned or their hearts to be opened, so that, the Holy Spirit could come in and teach them the will of God. When they demonstrated that they would not change with the crucifixion of their Messiah and the stoning of the first Christian martyr (Stephen) that is when they were rejected as the chosen instrument of the divine plan. Henceforth God would turn to the Gentiles to fulfil the plan.
When Paul began his ministry, he began one of his first sermons thus: “Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience” Acts 13:16. He concluded this sermon by saying:
It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. Acts 13:46, 47.
The Jewish Remnant
But someone will say, “doesn’t the Bible say that God did not cast away His people?” And the reference given is Rom. 11:1. However, this question is a product of confusion over what constitutes the remnant, which is mentioned in the same context. Paul’s first reference to a remnant occurs in chapter 9. He quotes the prophet Isaiah:
Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved. Rom. 9:27.
Here we see that it was prophesied that the great majority of the nation of Israel would be lost, only a remnant, [the remaining piece – a small part of the whole] would be saved. What then is the remnant? And who is it that constitutes this remnant. Paul leaves us in no doubt. He begins his discussion of the remnant by saying:
I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew. Rom. 11:1,2.
Paul is thus firmly including himself in this remnant, and then he goes on to explain what this remnant is by quoting the experience of Elijah. Elijah lived during a time of great apostasy, and he thought he was the only true believer left. But God assured him that:
I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Rom. 11:4.
Paul then makes his point that, the thing that happened in Elijah’s time has happened again. Namely, after a prolonged period of apostasy only a remnant of the Jewish nation has survived in a saved spiritual condition.
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. Rom. 11:5.
Paul further explains that although Israel failed, God’s election did not fail. In other words, what Paul is advocating, is the fact that, the Jewish believers in Christ separated themselves from the main body. It is this small group of believers that constitute the remnant. The rest were blinded. This is why Paul says that God has not cast away His people, because this remnant of Jewish believers was elected to constitute the nucleus of the new Christian Church. And this is why Paul includes himself, so emphatically in this group. The remnant was composed of literal Jews, who chose at this time, to join the newly established Christian Church of God. Paul definitely teaches that the rest of the original/physical Israelites were cast away. Later in this discourse, he says that the fall of the Jews means that God has opened the door for the Gentiles:
For if the casting away of them (the literal/unbelieving Jews) be the reconciling of the world… Rom. 11:15.
This is exactly the fulfilment of yet another parable that Jesus told, the Parable of the Marriage of the Kings Son. Where the original citizens of the kingdom were invited to celebrate the wedding but they refuse to go, so the King ordered his servants to go out and invite new citizens to come. (see Matt. 22:1-14).
Salvation for the Jews
However, all is not lost for the Jews – although the Jews have been rejected, as the chosen representatives of God that does not mean that they cannot be saved as individuals. Paul uses the same illustration of the tree that has been cut down, that John the Baptist and Jesus used to describe the Jewish nation. By the time of Paul’s writing the tree has already been cut down. But there is always a stump remaining in the ground after a tree is cut down. In this case the stump represents the remnant – the Jews that had ‘ears to hear’ and recognised Jesus as their Messiah. The branches that were cut off represent the stiff necked, hard hearted Jews who did not have ‘ears to hear’ and rejected Jesus as their Messiah.
Paul says that, because the branches have been cut off, then this means that the Gentiles ‘like a wild olive tree’ can be grafted in:
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree. Rom. 11:17.
Because Paul is now speaking about the Gentiles he switches to speaking directly to the Gentiles in the second person – “and thou being a wild olive tree.”
Paul says that God is doing this (putting Jew and Gentile into one ‘tree’) so that He can actually save the Jews too. God is bringing the Gentiles into the Kingdom of God, so that, the Jews might be provoked to jealously. And that they might seek to be grafted in again. And Paul says, that God will allow this because it is the Jews natural home:
And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? Rom. 11:23, 24.
Yes, the Jews can be grafted in again, but please notice the condition: “if they abide not still in unbelief.” In other words, the condition of belonging to God’s Kingdom (the olive tree), is belief in Jesus. This condition applies to both Jew and Gentile. The Jews do not get some sort of free pass because they are the descendants of Abraham or they inherit the promises made to the patriarchs. The condition of entry is and always will be acknowledging Jesus as one’s personal Saviour. There are no exceptions to this rule. Therefore if there are Jews living today who ‘remain in unbelief’ they cannot be a part of the Kingdom of God.
Paul continues his argument by stating that the unbelieving Jews have been “blinded.” And they remain that way “until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” – which means all who can be saved have been saved. This is why the next thing that Paul says is:
And so all Israel shall be saved… Rom. 11:26.
The modern day exponents of the futurist [dispensational] school of interpretation find in “all Israel” the greatest evidence for their fraudulent theology. They believe “all Israel” refers to the conversion of the Jewish nation at the end of time. Is this what Paul is teaching? What does he mean by ‘all?’ Paul has already expressed his anguish over the situation of the Jews (see Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1; 11:14). He is obviously distressed because the Jews are his family “my kinsmen according to the flesh.” But Paul has spent his entire time preaching and writing to prove that he has “kinsmen according to the Spirit” as well. Regarding the kinsmen according to the flesh, he has already expressed his hope that ‘SOME of them’ (Rom. 11:14) might be saved. Paul’s hopes are limited to SOME not all. It is evident from this, that he believed that many would reject all efforts to save them, and that accordingly he never envisioned the conversion of the entire nation.
When this Scripture is properly understood it can be immediately recognized as a logical conclusion to Paul’s argument. It is perfectly consistent with what has gone before. Here the little word ‘so’ is important. It helps us understand who “all Israel” is. The word ‘so’ in the Greek is ‘houtos’ – it means, ‘in this way – ‘in this manner.’ In other words, in the manner just described “all Israel” will be saved. Therefore, “all Israel” is referring to the tree mentioned just previously, where the Gentiles have been grafted into the stump and where Jews “who abide not in unbelief” have also been grafted in. And thus when the grafting process is complete and all who can be saved are saved “all Israel” will be saved. “All Israel” is therefore not referring to some future mass conversion of the Jews as some prophetic propositions have it.
Who are the Elect?
But does not Paul write that the Jews are the elect, because of the love that God has for their fathers? The verse in question is this one:
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes. Rom. 11:28.
In this verse Paul first says that the Jews are the enemies of the Gospel. Are we then supposed to believe that enemies of the Gospel are to be included in the elect? The key to understanding what Paul is saying here is in understanding the Biblical definition of the elect. Peter provides us with a good definition of who the elect are, when he wrote to the Christian Church at large:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. 1 Pet. 1:1, 2.
According to Peter’s definition, the elect are those who are being sanctified, by the Spirit and the blood of Christ, in order to obey Christ. This cannot possibly include those Jews who “abide still in unbelief.” So, what does Paul mean when he says, “but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes?” He is simply saying that the Jews are still loved by God because He loved their fathers, and that he wants to see them among the elect.
Paul has already mentioned, that a Deliverer would come and “turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26). This is an obvious reference to Jesus. The reference to Jacob is obviously a reference to the descendants of Jacob. Further, it is stated that, this promised deliverance will take away their sins (see Rom. 11:27). When is it that one’s sins are forgiven? The answer is when one receives Jesus as his personal Saviour. The next question is: How do these Jews, the ones beloved for the sake of their fathers, enter into this saving relationship? How do these Jews enter into a saving relationship with God? How does the Deliverer turn away their sins? Answer: by Christians bringing them the good news of the Gospel. Notice that they are not saved because they are loved, they are loved and then they are saved. In other words, God still loves the Jews and He is working to save them. But the same conditions apply to their salvation as to anyone else. Somebody has to introduce them to the Gospel, and they have to accept it.
Paul goes on to explain how this happens. He says that the Gentiles used to be disobedient, but now, they have obtained mercy because of the Jews disobedience. Likewise, the Jews can also obtain mercy because of the mercy shown to the Gentiles. This logic is in keeping with what Paul said before that the Jews might find Jesus because the Gentiles have found him (see Rom. 11:1, 14). What this means is that the roles are now reversed. God’s intention was that Israelites/Jews would be so blessed that the Gentiles would seek to be likewise blessed. Paul is arguing here in Romans that the roles are now reversed. It is now the Gentiles who are going to be blessed (because of their obedience) and it is now the Jews who would come seeking the blessings. The Amplified Bible explains it this way:
Just as you were once disobedient and rebellious towards God but now have obtained [His] mercy, through their disobedience, so they also now are being disobedient [when you are receiving mercy], that they in turn may one day, through the mercy that you are enjoying, also receive mercy [that they may share the mercy which has been shown to you – through you as messengers of the Gospel to them]. Rom. 11:30, 31. Amplified Bible.
Paul finishes by saying that this is a “mystery” (Rom. 11:33). In other words, it will not be clearly understood until it is fulfilled.