Romans (Part 35) – The Israel of God (11:11–36)
Our redemption discussion started with understanding the nature of our infinite, creator God. He created for relationship because he is a relational God, existing in Trinitarian multiple-in-oneness to base relationship on his one essence of truth, goodness, and beauty while expressing it in love. We found that the first created image-bearers (created as image-bearers so as also to base relationship on God’s TGB) turned to look for TGB elsewhere than from its source in God. That rip at relationship condemned them to non-relationship, or separation (death), from God. Yet they weren’t immediately destroyed. God in his infinite abundance of TGB-motivated love had already fashioned redemption’s plan for restoration. And that plan was taught through the OT Scriptures in the covenant process:
—From the flood and the Noahic covenant, we learned that sin is paid for with death, that God must separate from sin, but, from the covenant, that God would hold off the necessary death penalty because of his plan for redemption.
—From the Abrahamic covenant, we learned that physical creation would be redeemed (a bodily redemption from emphasis on the physical), that new life would be born from death, but that ultimate blessings come from justification by faith.
—From the Mosaic covenant, we learned about faith (trust and dependency) in God, that we cannot have relationship with God founded on anything else but his own truth, goodness, and beauty, but that we cannot achieve that on our own; we need a rescuing redeemer.
—From the Davidic covenant, we learned that a representative leader would come to lead us to God and that, as he reigned, we would reign (live in the same TGB) with him.
These OT covenant lessons were surrounded with the storyline that emphasized certain truths. We learned that God’s blessing was given to Israel (just as Paul had insisted in Romans 3:2 and 9:4–5). Blessing can be defined as God’s communication of his TGB. We saw that blessing first delivered after the fall to Adam and Eve who were not utterly destroyed immediately after sin but were given blessing in anticipation of Christ’s future redeeming work. Thus, the source of blessing is Christ. And from this we learned the lesson that Paul emphasizes in Romans 9: blessing is not payment for merit but rather based on the design for redemption’s plan.
So then Israel as well received blessing (the communication of God’s TGB) sourced from that redemption plan in Christ. Yet in rejection—in the turning aside from the revelation of blessing, Israel was hardened, and God hardened Israel by withdrawing his hand of blessing. And that hardening made possible the rejection of the true Messiah so that he was crucified by the very people who had experienced, more than any other people, the blessing of God sourced in that very one they would crucify.
As a clarification here, we sometimes may get the idea that God was complicit in the death of Jesus. Did he not withdraw his hand of blessing from Israel to harden them? And precisely when Israel was most hardened, did God not pick that time to send Jesus into their midst for rejection and crucifixion? Yes, he did, and yet he remained not complicit. Not only was sin the cause for the hardening, but God’s righteous action (faithfulness to his Covenant of Operational Essence) demanded the withdrawal of blessing. Had God continued to soften through blessing rather than harden through withholding blessing, God, in essence, have prevented Christ’s crucifixion, which would have prevented the redemptive possibility, which would then have made all God’s actions in blessing unrighteous. Redemption was necessary for God to remain righteous (Ro 3:21–26). Thus, to redeem—not to be complicit in sin—God righteously withdrew blessing, hardening, and succeeding in the restoration plan. While God knew the course of their hearts and action, God’s action did not offer encouragement to their crime; God’s activity was a just withdrawal from their lives.
The illustration of the olive tree provides the picture to understand this formation of the redemptive plan. However, the first point is that the olive tree itself must be understood as the blessing of God. Of course, the ultimate blessing from God is in redemption. Yet, we defined blessing as the communication of God’s TGB—not in its ultimate result. Therefore, when we think of the olive tree in the analogy, we cannot see it as the redemption result but rather in blessing—the communication of God’s TGB. So then, in this sin-entrenched world, God’s blessing (communication of TGB) falls on the redeemed and unredeemed alike in giving physical life and other associated pleasures. We have also discussed that redemption’s Christ is the source of those blessings, and thus analogous to the root of the tree. Those blessings (as far as our tree illustration goes) were particularly focused on Israel—the branches. So Israel, the branches, receives God’s blessing sourced from the root, Christ. As Israel rejected God’s revelation and blessing, hardening themselves, they shriveled and were broken off from the tree and its source of blessing. But that occurred so that Gentiles (the wild olive branches) could be grafted in to the tree.
Now pay close attention to this illustration. The illustration argues that, by their grafting, Gentiles would receive blessing—not necessarily salvation. What was the blessing to the Gentiles? It—as all blessing—was sourced in Christ. Christ’s redemptive work was offered to all Gentiles—that was the blessing—that was the result of being grafted into the tree of blessing. Yet now with this construct, we can also conclude that should those grafted in reject the revelation and blessing of God (the offer of salvation), they will harden, shrivel, and also be broken off. Likewise, if formerly broken off Jews cry out for the blessing of God in relationship, they may be grafted back in to receive blessing. At this point—since the action and revelation of Christ’s redemptive work—blessing and faith work in conjunction with redemption.
And the result is life! Paul argues that with the Full number of Jews of faith (11:12) and the Full number of the Gentiles of faith (11:25), All Israel will be saved (11:26). In case you missed the emphasized words in the last sentence, let me point them out. Paul is arguing that all Israel will be saved. But we cannot simply define Israel without the context of the chapter. We would make the text hopelessly incoherent if we defined All Israel in terms other than Paul’s context. If we insist that Israel here means the physical, ethnic nation of anybody physically born into that ancestry line, we have an impossibility for fulfillment, putting God’s righteousness and Scripture’s rightness at risk. All physical Israel can never be all saved because certain descendants have already died in unbelief (Mt 8:10–12). If you try to get around that by saying “all” doesn’t really mean All but should be limited to those Jews physically alive at a future time, how can you justify your limited interpretation from the text? Paul simply doesn’t say that. You’ve only succeeded in reading your interpretation into the text.
Rather, Paul has already said that “a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart” (2:28–29). He has also said in this same chapter 9–11 section, “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (9:6b). Paul’s insistence on “all” must then be on the true meaning of “Israel”—the prevailing people of God. And the prevailing people of God—the true Israel of God—Paul has defined elsewhere (e.g., Gal 6:15–16) as those of faith, both Jews and Gentiles alike. Therefore, when we come back to Romans 11 and see Paul arguing that waiting for the “full number of the Gentiles [to] come in” is the way “all Israel will be saved,” we are left with no other interpretation than that Paul is here concluding God’s redemption plan in the rescue of all the faithful! That vision is precisely the glimpse of glory he urges his readers to see in 11:13–16: Gentiles receive the revelation of the gospel; Jews receive the revelation of the gospel; the result is life—relationship with God!
Even in his following quotes from Isaiah and Jeremiah, Paul choses passages that distinctly show the gospel opened to the world for New Covenant fulfillment.
Paul is overcome. He ends the chapter singing a glorious hymn of the wisdom, judgment, and righteousness of God for how he has constructed and implemented this redemption plan coming through the righteousness of Jesus to ensure righteousness for the faithful and accomplishing the righteousness of God.
The end is God’s beginning purpose: everlasting love relationship with his image bearers. And Paul sums up his whole argument by giving the answer to every philosophy’s struggle. Philosophies are intent on the three subjects of origin, purpose, and destiny. They ask, “Where did I come from? What am I doing here? Where am I going?” Paul’s answer shows both the reasonableness and sufficiency found only in Christianity: “For from Him[origin] and through Him[purpose] and to Him[destiny] are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (11:36).