Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Romans 11:28-29

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and His call are irrevocable.

Paul, in v28-32, summarizes chapters 9-11, giving us another glimpse into God’s divine decree, the secret workings of God in His plan of salvation. God pulled back the curtain for us in Job 1-2, showing us that God and Satan were playing games with the man named Job, but, to our knowledge, God didn’t let Job in on those behind-the-scenes transpirations. And the purpose in that was to show Satan the faith of Job – upheld by God Himself who spoke to Job out of the storm. And here God tells us through Paul what He is doing, and why He is doing it, regarding salvation.

First, Paul explains a couple things we as Gentile Christians need to keep in mind as we understand the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. (A) How do the Jews relate to us in our union with God the Father through Jesus Christ regarding the Gospel? Paul wants us to see that they (Jews and the corporate nation of Israel) have stubbornly denied the Gospel and have thus become enemies of God on account of us, or for our sake. They have hardened their hearts to the truth that Jesus is Messiah. And that’s a summary of chapter 10, that man is accountable to believe the good news. That this is God’s plan to our benefit is summary A of chapter 11. (B) How do the Jews relate to us in our union with God the Father through Jesus Christ regarding election? Paul wants us to see that they (Jews and the corporate nation of Israel) are loved by God in a unique way, as they are in a unique position in God’s redeeming purposes; and this unique situation is based solely on account of God’s gracious covenant promises with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and not because of something in them. That’s a summary of chapter 9. As v29 says, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.” This refers us back to those things mentioned in Romans 9:4 (see also Isaiah 46:9-10). God has designed and is working history toward His desired end for His glory to reveal His mercy and will not be thwarted in that plan. God is not finished with Israel, and so neither should Gentile Christians be finished with Israel. And that’s summary B of chapter 11.

Why does Paul tell us that we need to have this two-fold view of the Jewish people? First, Paul doesn’t want Gentile Christians thinking they’re more deserving than the Jews. He doesn’t want Gentile Christians saying, “They didn’t believe and we did.” Faith, a most unnatural thing in this fallen world, is a gift of our gracious God. Faith isn’t something that the human heart contributes to the equation of salvation. Faith is an exotic transplant into the human soul. And if Gentile Christians boast and say, “Ultimately the difference between us and between the Jewish people is that they failed to believe and we believed,” they have failed to realize that God’s election brings about faith. Second, Paul doesn’t want Gentile Christians to quit evangelizing the Jews. He doesn’t want to them to fail to hope for the salvation of the Jewish people. Ironically, and tragically, the modern-day approach is to avoid sharing the Gospel with Jews altogether to keep from being called anti-Semitic, but Paul is saying here that failing to share the Gospel with them is the most anti-Semitic thing that could be done! The Gospel is first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile. Paul is saying not to neglect the Jews in evangelism, but to go to them first, in prayer and preaching and, above all, in love.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Romans 11:26-27

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come from Zion; He will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is [or will be] My covenant with them when I take away their sins" [Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33,34].

V26-27 – All Israel will be saved. What do you think it means? There are four views:

First, a few people think it means that every Jew ever to be conceived will be in heaven. But it certainly doesn’t mean that. Matthew 8:11-12 Jesus says, “Many will come from the east and the west [Gentiles], and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom [Jews] will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Romans 2:8-9 says, “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” So there is no thought of every individual Jewish person being saved.

Second, others believe that “all Israel will be saved” means that one day every individual citizen within the physical nation of Israel will become a believer in Jesus Christ.

Third, some believe, similarly, that the phrase refers to a future generation before the end of time, that God will bring a tremendous number of Jewish people into His kingdom believing in Jesus Christ. Perhaps evidence of this is that in the twentieth century more Jews became Christians than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. And these scholars suggest that it will be new life from the dead for the church that will be floundering under persecution and will gain new light from this influx of Jewish believers participating in the kingdom of God.

Fourth, still others look at this passage thinking that Paul is really just saying that the whole church will be saved and that this passage isn’t necessarily speaking about future ethnic or physical Israel.

John Piper offers five reasons for believing that one day, in connection with the second coming of Christ, the nation Israel as a whole (not every individual within the nation (see 1 Kings 12:1; 2 Chronicles 12:1)) will embrace Jesus as Savior and become Christian. (1) “Israel” in v25 and “Israel” in v26 most naturally refer to the same thing. The hardened Israel (the nation as a whole) will be the saved Israel (the nation as a whole). (2) The reference in v26 to “removing ungodliness from Jacob” fits with the national view of “all Israel.” (3) The parallel between the two halves of v28 point to all Israel as the nation as a whole. (4) The parallels in v12 point in the same direction. (5) The same thing is true about the parallels in v15.

The quote from the Old Testament found in v26-27 is designed to strengthen our hope in Israel’s salvation. It refers to God’s promise: “The Deliverer will come from Zion.” The Deliverer is Jesus Christ; “He will turn godlessness away” or remove ungodliness from Jacob. “This is [or will be] My covenant with them when I take away their sins.” Israel will be saved when Jesus, the Deliverer, comes from Zion (the second coming?) and takes away the ungodliness—the hardening— from Israel and replaces it with faith (v23, “if they do not continue in their unbelief, they will be grafted in”), and so their sins will be forgiven; they will be grafted in to the tree of salvation as one people with the Gentiles who believe in Jesus. Compare Isaiah 59:20.

This is Paul’s great message, that God is not finished with His ancient people Israel. How’s that all going to work out? I can’t say for sure; I’m not an expert on eschatology. I understand the various viewpoints, and I respect experts from each of those viewpoints. What I don’t understand is how they could be experts, yet disagree so intensely. Nevertheless, the point is that God’s goodness is mind-boggling. He keeps His promises beyond our wildest dreams.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Romans 11:25

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

In v25 alone, Paul does four things. First, he tells his Gentile brethren that he does not want them to be ignorant about the things that he’s talking about. And that’s useful for us, because many Gentile Christians today acknowledge that this whole series of topics discussed in Romans 9-11, especially the mystery mentioned here of God’s intentional hardening of His own people, the Jews, is very confusing and unimportant to our twenty-first-century lifestyle application. And Paul denies that; he begins by saying, “You need to know about this.” Second, Paul explains why Gentile Christians need to know about God’s salvific workings in Israel. This mysterious truth impacts our humility. Paul says that we need to understand so we don’t become conceited, so we don’t consider ourselves wise in our own estimation regarding God’s plans for Israel. Don’t be arrogant; don’t think the Jews need not be evangelized because they’ve rejected Christ. This truth humbles us to see that God has a plan for both Gentile and Jew. Third, Paul says that God’s dealing with the Gentiles and the Jews in His plan of salvation is a mystery. Now by “mystery,” Paul simply means “something once concealed now revealed.” Jacob and Moses and Samuel and David knew nothing of this mystery. It is something that we could not have understood unless God revealed it to us, which He did through Paul (Ephesians 3:4-9; Colossians 1:26). Once revealed to us in His Word, however, it is to be declared openly to everybody. It is not for just expert theologians; it’s something for everybody to understand. Fourth, Paul explains that God is not finished with Israel. And he’s emphasized this twice before in the passage.

V12a, v15a and v25b are parallel in this regard. V12 explains that the Jews’ sins bring riches for the world. V15 explains that the rejection of the Gospel by the Jewish people is reconciliation for the Gentiles. V25b explains that the hardening of Israel (in part) leads to the fullness of the Gentiles. And likewise V12b, 15b, and 26a are parallel. The Jews’ fullness brings greater riches (v12b); the Jews’ acceptance brings life (v15b); and all Israel will be saved (v26a). Over and over Paul is stating the order of God’s strategy: The Jews reject the Messiah, so that the Gentiles can and will embrace Him, so that the Jews will become envious and turn to Him, so that amazing benefit comes to both the Gentiles and the Jews within the Church, as they dwell together in faith in Christ. Hearing this truth repeated from Paul doesn’t make it easy to accept. We can understand it, but we don’t see how it all plays out just yet: We’re in the midst of it.