Isaiah (Part 28): Remnant Rejoice – Complete Romans 11
We have been reviewing the book of Romans because of its relationship to a principle from Isaiah 27. Once more we’ll begin by briefly outlining the first 10 chapters of Romans.
I. We are all guilty
a. God revealed himself and morality (Ch 1)
b. God judges us according to our works relative to morality (Ch 2)
II. God makes righteous those who have faith in his revelation
a. Jews entrusted with revelation (Ch 3)
b. Jesus is fulfillment of revelation (Ch 3)
c. Justification comes from faith in Christ (Ch 3)
d. Righteousness credited to all believers (Ch 4)
e. By grace we have access to God (Ch 5)
III. Since we are righteous, we should not live as if unrighteous
a. Continue in sanctification (Ch 6)
b. Conflict exists with as yet curse flesh (Ch 7)
c. No condemnation; God keeps us through the Holy Spirit; the resurrection of our bodies will come with the resurrection of all physical creation (Ch 8)
IV. The Jews’ path to righteous standing is the same as the Gentiles’
a. As sovereign, God has mercy on his choice rather than those of physical descent (Ch 9)
b. Gentiles showed faith; Israel did not (Ch 10)
At this point, the Jew must have thought that Paul was concluding that the Jews would be rejected by God. At the beginning of chapter 11, Paul poses that very question: “Has God rejected His people?” Immediately Paul answers, “Absolutely not!” Paul reminds them that he himself is a Jew. If God rejects his people, Paul would be among those rejected. Paul explains, rather, that even now (as always before in Israel’s history) God has kept for himself a remnant. This remnant are those who did not work for acceptance, but rather are accepted by grace. These are the elect—those chosen on the basis (condition) of faith.
Remember that faith is not some work or merit which God is required to reward with salvation. Having faith does not earn righteousness for anyone. It is merely a condition selected by God because of its relational basis. Therefore, although the condition must be present, salvation is still from beginning to end, all of God—devised, accomplished, and applied—by grace alone.
Verses 7 through 10 of Romans 11 go on to speak of the majority of Israel. Those without faith were, in their rebellion, hardened.
Paul again poses the question, in slightly different form, with which he began the chapter: “Have they stumbled in order to fall?” (11:11). He is asking if the Jews’ disregard for God’s revelation caused them to be eternally rejected? Again, Paul answers, “Absolutely not!” Paul explains, then, the working of God to bring about salvation—a salvation that is for everyone—Jew as well as Gentile.
Israel’s stumbling was their rejection of the Messiah—that final, ultimate relational revelation of God. Their rejection and subsequent hardening sent Christ to the cross. Had he been accepted, they would not have driven him to the cross. But Christ going to the cross was what made salvation possible to the world. This rejection and hardening, then, God used to be a blessing to the Gentiles. But the Jews also then had opportunity to be blessed in the same way—by a turning back in belief (rather than rejection) of the Messiah.
Paul illustrates this point with the imagery of the olive tree in verses 16-24. The tree is not salvation or the covenant. We know it is not salvation because branches are broken off and grafted back in. That doesn’t happen with salvation. It is not the covenant because Gentiles (as a whole) never entered that first covenant with the nation of Israel. But what did the Jews have from which they were broken off due to unbelief? And what did the Gentiles not previously have which was made available to them (as a whole)? Paul has already answered this question a couple of times in this letter so far. The Jews, as a nation, had been entrusted with the revelation of God leading to salvation. That revelation of God brought forth in its ultimate finality in Jesus the Savior was now, through the rejection by the Jews, made available to the Gentiles. Thus, the olive tree is the revelation of God.
We can see that Jews in unbelief are broken off from the revelation. We can see that Gentiles as a whole are offered participation in the revelation through grafting in. We can see that the Jews through belief (faith) may be grafted back in. We can see that Gentiles who do not believe will be broken off from participation in that revelation. This is faith electionism pure and simple. God provides revelation. Our response in belief or rejection results in the grafting or breaking off.
Paul continues by providing the consequence of the olive tree imagery in verses 25 through 32. He describes it as a mystery—a previously hidden or hinted at truth that has been made evident through God’s further revelation. By this process—the partial hardening of Israel sending Christ to the cross—the full number of the Gentiles are coming in to the New Covenant. The full number of the Gentiles does not mean every Gentile. Only those who believe (have faith) are part of the full number. Paul goes on “And so…” (KJV, NASB, NIV) or “And in this way…” (HCSB, ESV) “all Israel will be saved” (11:25). We must not ignore the first part of that statement. “All Israel” will be saved “in this way” or “in this manner.” What manner is Paul talking about? He just said through Israel’s partial hardening which caused Christ to go to the cross dying for sin, the full number of Gentiles would be saved. And just so, in like manner, he tells us, will all (or the full number) of Israel be saved. In other words, what God has done through the disobedience of Israel in sending Christ to the cross is to make away that the disobedience of both the Gentiles and the Jews may be overcome through faith in God’s revelation resulting in salvation to all who believe—both the Jew and the Gentile.
And Paul says exactly that in his summarizing verses 28 through 32. Even though Paul is the one explaining this to others, we can see his own excitement build as he thinks through the amazing, intricate, interweaving of God’s plan to accomplish God’s results. Not able to contain himself, he bursts out in praise in verses 33 through 36, marveling at the unsearchable judgments and untraceable ways that are Gods, and recognizing his unending glory!
This then is the connection to Isaiah 27. Back there we read of judgment by God to surrounding nations and to Israel itself. But although sins were the same (arrogance, trust in self, uncaring manipulation of others, etc.) we read in 27:7 that God did not strike Israel in the same manner as he did Assyria. Why? Was Israel better? Did they not sin as much? Why did God give mercy on them more than on Assyria?
Paul’s words from Romans 9 come to mind. God says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” It is God’s sovereign pleasure to operate in the faith election process of offering revelation and continuing mercy and hardening based on the faith/trust or rejection response of people. Israel as a nation had a covenant relationship with God that came about based on the faith of the patriarchs. And through that God gave mercy to those people by his gracious choice.