Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Fate of the Jews (part 3/3)

Lets us finish the discussion of Romans 11.
25For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
Here is where things start to get really juicy. Paul gives us an admonition that we should not be ignorant of this mystery (the fate of the Jews) lest we succumb to our own speculations (that is one mucho-ignored warning). Mystery doesn’t mean there is no answer, Paul is going to reveal the truth.

Pauls tells us blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. We need to exegete this phrase carefully. Note these points especially:
  • Paul talks about both Israel and Gentiles. This is further evidence that within this passage, Israel is used for the ethnic nation, not the church. Keep that thought in mind.

  • The partial blindness of Israel leaves room for Jewish converts (the remnant) to come to Christ at any time, but that is going to end, when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. What comes after that? Hold that thought too. The only thing we can be sure of is that it is something different from now, which might be described as a modest trickle of Jews converting to Christianity.

  • What is this "fullness of the Gentiles?" We read from Luke
    And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:24)
    What does that mean? Sorry, I don't know. Certainly the first part refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent diaspora. But the "fulfilling of the times of the Gentiles" is not clear. I more-or-less agree with Sproul who writes: 'When the last wild olive branch is grafted on to the tree, then God is going to do something again with the original tree.' Although I don’t think the "last" Gentile will be saved—and then no more, as Jews begin to convert. I look more to a successful (in God’s eyes) completion of the Great Commission. Exactly what it means, while quite interesting, is not very important. The important point is that something will happen to initiate a change of state—the word until in verse 25 demands it.
26And 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;
27For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins."
Here we have the oft-quoted "all Israel will be saved". Again, allow me to itemize some points.
  • Paul has consistently been using Israel to mean the ethnic Jews, there is no reason to assume that he now switches usage to Israel meaning the New Testament church. Besides, that interpretation would make little sense—would it mean that all the invisible church is saved? We knew that anyway. Would it mean all the visible church is saved? That is contrary to the rest of the gospel.

  • Likewise it cannot mean that all Jews will be saved in situ. Now God can do anything, but I would certainly be surprised if this verse means that subsequent to the fullness of the Gentiles all Jews everywhere will convert to Christianity. I believe that all Israel means the nation of Israel as a whole. It will again be in favor with God, and that will include sizable conversions. The ungodliness of Jacob (Israel) will be turned away and their sins forgiven.
We continue:
28Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. 32For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
As far as the gospel goes, at the present time the Jews as a whole are enemies in that they reject Christ. But they will be restored as a nation in God’s favor. This has been promised to the fathers. The Jews enjoyed special treatment, and then were condemned to disbelief because of disobedience. The Gentiles were brought in which fulfilled prophecy and (eventually, no sign of it so far) will provoke jealousy. Finally Israel will be restored and granted the same faith, repentance, and forgiveness of sins that we enjoy.
33Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
34"For who has known the mind of the LORD?
Or who has become His counselor?"
35"Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?"
36For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
Paul concludes by telling us what we should already know: We can never completely grasp the plans of an infinitely holy God. And how impertinent to assume that God owes us anything—even an explanation!

What about the current state of the world? Personally, and unlike my dispensationalist friends, I do not see the events in the middle east as a harbinger for a near term end of the present age. Present day Israel does not resemble the Israel that we have described here. It is a mostly secular state with no signs of an end to Jewish apostasy.

And as I said, I connect the fullness of the Gentiles with the completion of the Great Commission. To be sure that merely exchanges one unknown for another, as I can’t possibly know what constitutes that completion. But I see no reason to assume it is imminent.

The bottom line is that, as I see it, Romans 11 says enough about the restoration of Israel that it is a mistake to assume God’s sovereign plan is limited to the occasional Jewish convert. But it doesn’t say the church will be raptured followed by a preeminent Jewish theocracy.

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