If what has been said already about Israel is true, then a question arises, “What about the nation of Israel today?” In this final part (of a three-part series), we’ll look at what the Bible says about Israel as an ethnic/national people. The key text for this discussion is Romans 11.
The question we are asking is, essentially, the same question Paul asked when he discussed this topic (which might be an indication that we are on the right track). Paul’s question, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” The answer is, “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite…” (Romans 11:1).
Romans 11 is notorious for the difficulty scholars have had coming to an agreement over its contents. I will offer you my thoughts on it to help you make sense of the chapter for yourself. Here is the way I read Paul’s statement.
First, it is not as though God’s plan has failed just because Israel (nationally/ethnically) has been cut off from God’s favor, “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6). Paul acknowledges that the situation after Christ is not so far removed from the situation before Christ; it has never been the case that everyone within the borders of ethnic or national Israel were actually the chosen of God.
God’s people have never been characterized by ethnicity. They have always—since Abraham—been characterized by faith—humbly believing as true that which God has revealed. The issue has never been about birth or land but always about mercy (so Romans 9:14-15). So, Paul states in 9:7, “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” Children of God were always and still are children by faith, not by birth.
Second, God has an over-arching, sovereign plan for all nations and people, including for Israel. In Romans 11:11, Paul asks, “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” His question wonders whether Israel is forever lost to Christ in the plan of God. His own answer is, “May it never be!” This verse (11:11) alerts us to the fact that God has a plan for people—including for people whose heritage is Jewish—through Jesus Christ.
Third, God’s plan displays an unexpected irony in that the present rejection of the Jews has the built-in purpose of making them jealous of the outpouring of salvation to the Gentiles (See 11:11). The fact that God’s people are now those with faith in Christ is expected to make the Jews (who had all the original promises and covenants from God) jealous—so that they, too, might be brought back to covenant love with Him.
At his own realization of the glory of God in putting together such a comprehensive scheme for Jews and Gentiles regarding salvation through Christ, Paul worships, shouting forth, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways….”
Fourth, for now, a hardening has come upon (ethnic/national) Israel. This hardening allows an on-going opportunity for the full number of non-Jews to come in to the kingdom. As Paul says in Romans 11:25, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” What is important to remember is that the hardening is partial, meaning not all Jews even now are rejected. Some are accepted by God through Christ. Some are believers. Paul stated that he was such an Israelite.
And so, any Israelite who stops his unbelief will also be brought into the family of faith and the kingdom of God (11:23). The partial hardening means some Jews are now being saved. Now is the time for the full number of Gentiles also to come into the kingdom of God, along with some of the Jews. “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (11:26). Jews and Gentiles together become one body with one Lord in one faith through Jesus Christ.
The favored people of God are those who have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ, there is no kingdom or covenant promise for any other people. In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son, Jesus. Anyone who has the Son, has life. Anyone who does not have the Son of God does not have life. National Israel is in a favored place only in the sense that there is a gospel witness in that land. May the Lord indeed grant for many to come to Christ through the preaching of this gospel.
Debates are sure to continue concerning Israel and concerning Paul’s instructions in Romans 9-11. These chapters divide Amillennialists from Dispensationalists and Dispensationalists from one another. Nevertheless, one basic truth pierces through all theological distinctions like a sword pierces through a chink in the knight’s armor: he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).
Those who take confidence in living on a certain strip of land or having a Jewish sir name should re-think their basis of security, taking no confidence in the flesh. Rather, like Abraham, they should have faith in God. Christians—those who by faith have received the promises of Abraham—must always remember to stay fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith (for Gentiles and Jews alike).