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TEXT: Romans 11
SUBJECT: Eschatology #8: The Conversion of Israel
At the end of last year, we began a monthly examination of Last Things. Among Bible-believing Christians, no doctrines are more hotly disputed than these-and that's a shame. Because our agreement is far deeper and wider than our disagreements. We all believe the Lord is coming again; and that when He does, He will raise the dead, judge the world, welcome His friends into heaven and send His enemies to hell.
These are the things that matter most, but in the heat of debate, we forget this, and we fuss and even divide over the things that matter far less, like when the Rapture will take place, who the Antichrist is, and the fate of Israel.
Speaking of which, that's the topic for today-the fate of Israel. Or, to put a finer point on it, the future conversion of the Jews.
Before we get to that, let me explain what we're getting to. All Christians believe that Jews need to be saved, can be saved, and will be saved. Many of us know Jewish Christians, and we pray for unbelieving Jewish friends, that they too would find eternal life in Jesus Christ. Will some Jews be saved? That is not the question.
What we're looking into is this: Has God promised to save all (or most) Jews at or shortly before the Second Coming of Christ?
I'm not asking if He might bring revival to the Jews before the Second Coming, but has He promised to do it? That's the question for today.
Most Christians believe God has made that promise. Some of them are premillennial in their doctrine. Billy Graham, for example, says the nation who rejected Christ at His first coming, will accept Him when He comes again. Many fine people agree with him. I think of Moshe Rosen, who founded Jews for Jesus, and John MacArthur, who in my opinion, is the best teacher you can listen to on the radio.
Others also believe in the mass conversion of Israel, though they come to it in a very different way. They are postmillennial in their doctrine. They don't believe the Jews will be saved by the Second Coming of Christ, but that-in the last days-God will pour out His Spirit on Israel and millions of Jews will come to Christ in a very short time. The Puritans believed this; and so did Jonathan Edwards, the leaders of the Scottish Revival, the great missionaries of the Nineteenth Century, and everyone's favorite Baptist, Charles Spurgeon. My friend, Jerry Marcellino, is always touting this, Baruch Maoz believes it, and my favorite living author, Iain Murray, wrote a great book on it.
This is the majority view of the Evangelical and Reformed churches. For three hundred and fifty years, it has been, and it still is.
Does the Bible teach a great ingathering of Jews at or shortly before the Second Coming of Christ? The people I just named think so. And they didn't dream it up for themselves or get it from old dusty books. They say the Bible plainly teaches it. They can quote many verses to support their argument, but they all come to Romans 11 for proof positive. In particular, they cite vv.25-29.
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins'. Concerning the Gospel, they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.
From these verses a powerful argument is crafted. It goes something like this:
The nation of Israel has been hardened by God until the Gentiles are saved. When the Gentiles are saved, the hardening will be taken away from Israel and the whole nation will come to faith in Christ. This should not surprise us because the Bible says 'The Deliverer will come to Zion and take their sins away'. Thus, even though the Jews were the bitterest enemies of the Gospel (back in the First Century), the nation is still loved by God and will some day receive all the blessings He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Jonathan Edwards and Billy Graham would differ on some of the fine print, but on the big idea, they see eye-to-eye. One of these days, All Israel will be saved.
Do I believe All Israel will be saved? Of course, I do-it's in the Bible, Romans 11:26! But I do not think the verse teaches what John MacArthur or the Puritans say it does. Though I hold these men in the highest regard, I do not agree with them on this one.
And I'm happy to tell you, neither did John Calvin.
THE THEME OF ROMANS
Before we get to the key verses, let me remind you of what's around them. The Book of Romans is about the righteousness of God. Paul develops the theme in the first eight chapters. But then, when he gets to chapters 9, 10, and 11, he runs into a brick wall!
If God is righteous, how come He has broken His promise to Israel?
Long ago, He promised to be their God and to make them His people. But now, the nation is in unbelief and is under His wrath.
How do you square the righteousness of God with the rejection of Israel?
Paul answers the objection in chapters 9-11.
ROMANS 9 AND 10
We don't have time to even summarize chapters 9 and 10, but I must highlight a few ideas that bear directly on our topic.
Paul loves Israel and longs for their salvation.
God loves Israel and wants them to repent and be saved.
An Israelite is saved in the same was as anyone else, by 'Calling on the name of the Lord'.
There are-and have always been-two Israels, one connected to Abraham by birth, the other by faith.
ROMANS 11 IN SUMMARY
This brings us to Romans 11, which again, we have to speed through until we get to the key verses, 26-29.
In vv.1-10, Paul answers the question: Can a Jew be saved? This sounds rather harsh and bigoted to us, but we have to understand why the Gentiles of Paul's day wondered about it. The Roman Empire, at the time, was tolerant of Christianity. As long as the disciples of Christ paid their taxes and obeyed the law, the Romans didn't care. But the Jews did-fanatically! Everywhere Paul went, the Jews were after him, accusing him to the Romans, stirring up the mobs, and speaking evil of him worldwide.
The Gentile believers had to wonder: Are these people beyond salvation? Paul's emphatic answer is, No! God forbid that you should feel this way!
He proves it in three ways:
By pointing to himself. 'Of course Jews can be saved because, I'm a Jew!'
By recalling the doctrine of Election. God has chosen to save sinners from every nation, including Israel. He has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.
By reminding them that looks can be deceiving. Back in the days of Elijah, it seemed that only one Israelite was saved, the prophet himself. But Elijah was wrong, seven thousand were quietly worshipping the Lord in the dark days of Ahab and Jezebel. In the same way, there are Jews now serving Christ, though you don't see them very often.
What about the other Jews, the ones who don't believe in Christ and who now persecute the Church? God has hardened them in their unbelief, but rather than proving His unfaithfulness, this demonstrates that God keeps His Word to the letter, because He always said He would do it! He quotes Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:22-23 as proof.
So, can the Jews be saved? Yes they can be.
In vv.11-24, he takes up the question, Can more Jews be saved? The Romans knew that some were already saved-Peter, Paul, James and John were all famous converted Jews. In their own church they had Aquilla and Priscilla, Andronicus, Junia, and Heodion, who were certainly Jews; and the Mary he mentions probably was too. But has God quit saving the Jews?
Once again, he answers, God forbid! The Lord is not through with Israel; other Jews will be saved-many of them will yet come to Christ.
This is the doctrine, but Paul never stops with doctrine. From the fact that many Israelites are saved and will be saved, he commands the converted Gentiles to not sneer at the Jews who are still in unbelief.
Their unbelief-after all-is the very reason the Gospel has come to you so quickly. Men like Paul drove the Christians out of Israel and got them witnessing to the Gentiles all over the world. Now, if their unbelief brought a blessing to you, you'll be far more blessed when they put their faith in Christ! In other words, you've got a stake in the conversion of Israel. There's something in it for you!
If Paul does not want them to think too lowly of the Jews, he also doesn't want them to think too highly of themselves. The Jews were God's first tree, but because of their stubborn unbelief, He broke off most of the limbs and grafted in other limbs, the Gentiles. But if the old branches were broken off because of their pride, the new branches will be too, if they start looking down on the Jews as the Jews have always looked down on the Gentiles.
Using the same figure of speech, Paul reminds them that when Jews believe in Christ, they will be grafted back on to the tree of God's Grace.
And so, the Jews can still be saved. Of course they're sinful, but Christ died for sinners-and the Gospel offers salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
'ALL ISRAEL SHALL BE SAVED'
This finally brings us to our text, Romans 11:25-29.
Paul starts with a wish, v.25a,
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion.
What is a 'mystery'? It is not a riddle that only smart people can figure out. It's a doctrine that used to be hidden, but has now been revealed. What brought it to light was the coming of Christ, His crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Paul was not smarter than Moses, but he saw things the older man didn't because of where he lived on God's calendar. Christ did not abolish the Old Testament, but He put it in a new light.
What mystery is it that Paul did not want them to be ignorant of? We don't have to guess; he tells us, v.25b,
That hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in.
He wants them to know that the hardening of Israel is only in part. Many Jews are closed to the Gospel, but not all of them; some are still open to it.
What is this hardening? It is a judgment of God on the stubborn. God hardened Pharaoh's heart, the Bible says. Very often in the Old Testament He hardened Israel's heart (or threatened to). At the end of Acts, Paul warned the Jews in Rome to repent or run the risk of being hardened (or put to sleep) by God. What follows hardening? It is not salvation, but a worse judgment!
He also wants them to know that this hardening will continue until the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in. This means that most Jews will remain in unbelief for a long, long time. Not all, but most.
What happens when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in? The Judgment falls on the Jews who are still hardened.
How does this fit into the chapter? Well, remember, Paul is arguing for the righteousness of God and warning the Gentiles to not look down on the unbelieving Jews. God's judgment on a stubborn and unbelieving people is fully justified. But, if it's God's judgment and if it falls only when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, Gentile believers should not hate the Jews, give up on them, or take revenge on them for their evil and persecuting ways. Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. In His own good time.
V.26a brings us to the climax of Paul's long and involved argument,
And so all Israel will be saved
The Greek word translated, and so, does not mean 'after this'. It means 'in this way'. If you have a concordance, you can look it up. Therefore, and so all Israel will be saved cannot possibly mean, after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then all Israel will be saved. The Bible may teach that, but not here!
Here, Paul explains how all Israel will be saved. It is through the hardening of many ethnic Jews (but not all) and the calling of the Gentiles to Christ.
This means all Israel will be saved because All Israel means All of God's People, both Jewish and Gentile!
The Church has not replaced Israel; it has become Israel. Under the New Covenant, there is no Israel but those who believe in Christ as Abraham did way back when!
But what about the End Time prophecy that follows in vv.26b-27? It seems to peg the salvation of Israel with the Second Coming of Christ,
The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness in Jacob; For this is My Covenant with them when I take away their sins.
The Deliverer, of course, is our Lord Jesus. Israel will be saved when He comes to Zion. But the verse doesn't say when He comes to Zion, but from Zion. In other words, All Israel will be saved, not when the Lord comes to Jerusalem, but when He leaves it to call the Israel of God out of every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue!
After this stirring climax, Paul puts in a footnote, to once again remind the Gentile Christians to not look down on the Jews.
He doesn't whitewash his people, but he admits, concerning the Gospel, they are enemies. The unbelieving Jews are not against the Church, they're against the Gospel!
But this is not all they are-enemies. They're also beloved for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
Because God loved Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He also loves their children-their true children, I mean, the ones chosen by God, including the Jewish ones. God will never take His gifts away from them or revoke their calling to be the Light to the Gentiles. Which believing Jews were, are, and ever will be.
All this made Paul rejoice in the sovereignty, wisdom, and love of God,
Oh the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His ways and His judgments past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?
For of Him and to Him and through Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
It should have the same effect on us. God has not called us in to advise Him, to tell Him what He ought to do or what we'd do if it were up to us. It's not up to us!
He wants us to marvel at His grace and wisdom and power and justice. He wants us to say, He has done all things well. And we can do that, whether we'd do it His way or not, because The Judge of the earth shall do rightly.
God may well save the Jews by the millions before the Second Coming of Christ. He has the love and power to do it; and we ought to ask Him to do it. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper who love you.
But He has not promised to do it. And so we should not say He has and we should not speculate on whether He will or not. By all means witness to your Jewish friends; support missions to Israel, but remember, God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and He will harden whom He will harden.
Whatever you do, don't put off witnessing to Jews and praying for them in the hope that they'll be saved when the Lord comes again anyway. They won't be, for the Second Coming of Christ does not bring salvation to unbelievers, but judgment.
Finally, remember who you are. Many Christians feel rootless and homeless; they don't know who they are, or where they belong. Who are you? You're an Israelite, a child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and most of all, an heir of the promises of God. Where do you belong? You belong in the True Israel, with God's People wherever they meet. If you belong to Christ, you've got a place in the Church. It's not those people welcoming you in (or not), it's your church, your home, your nation, your people.
Every circumcised man had a place in Israel. And, We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh.
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