Caesar Claudius, not wanting censure for a devastating Rome fire in 49 A.D, blamed the Jews. Punishment: expulsion from the city. So, the church became entirely Gentile. The edict was eventually relaxed and Jews began filtering back into city and church. By then however, Gentiles were boasting of their status as God’s people, especially since so many Jews rejected Messiah Jesus.
In 9:6 Paul argued that God’s word to Israel hadn’t failed. In today’s text, 11:16-36, he explains that God isn’t finished with Israel.
HOLY DOUGH AND HOLY TREE
“If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you (Gentiles), a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree” (11:16-24).
When the Lord commanded Israel to offer the first “part of the dough” as holy, he considered that holiness to extend to the whole batch (Numbers 15:17-21). So, Paul implies, the holiness of the believing remnant of Israel will eventually spread to “all Israel” (11:26).
Changing metaphors, Israel’s holy believing remnant is like “the root” of an olive tree. The holiness of the root/remnant will extend to “all Israel” (11:26 below). God can “graft in” Israel, “if they do not persist in unbelief”. Hint: Meanwhile, Gentiles must not become proud, because God can “break them off” if they don’t “continue in his kindness”.
“So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob. ‘And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins’” (11:25-27).
Paul wants the Gentile members “to understand this mystery” to “save [them] from congratulating [themselves] on [their] own good sense” (New Jerusalem Bible).
The Greek mustayreeown (“mystery”) refers to revelation mediated from God (Friberg Greek Lexicon). What’s going on with Israel’s unbelief in Messiah Jesus? Only God knows; but he has revealed it to Paul, who now tells the Roman church. “ . . . a hardening has come upon part of Israel . . .“. Implication: God has done this (as he had hardened Pharaoh’s heart—Exodus 10:1; 11:10). “ . . . until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”—The sovereign God has an undisclosed “full number” of Gentiles who will be saved.
“And in this way, all Israel will be saved . . .”. Rather than digging into the “theological weeds” of various commentators’ comments, let’s cut to the bottom line. The majority of New Testament scholars seem to agree that, once the full number of Gentiles are saved, God will (at the end of the age) lift the partial hardening on Israel and save the full number of his chosen ones from among Israel. Paul cites Isaiah 59:20,21 and a clause from Isaiah 27:9—“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.” Some commentators argue Paul is referring to the second coming of Christ, others conclude Paul is referring to Christ’s first coming which “set in motion” the salvation of God’s chosen ones.
“As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:28-32).
Paul (still to the Gentile church members): The majority of Jews has come under God’s curse for rejecting the gospel, so God has mercifully brought the gospel to you. But, because of God’s covenant with Abraham (“the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”), God will show mercy to (his chosen) among Israel.
Big question: What does Paul mean by “all Israel”? Possibly Paul uses “Israel” here the way he does in Galatians 6:16—that is, of all the saved, Jew and Gentile–(“Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.” More likely, he uses “Israel” to refer to the nation, or the chosen among the nation, as he has throughout Romans 9-11.)
Many commentators agree that “all Israel” doesn’t mean every individual Jew, but a significant number will be gathered in at the end of the age, just before Jesus returns. That it will still be just a remnant of Israel seems plain from 9:27 where Paul quotes Isaiah–“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.”
Paul began this section of his letter (Romans 9-11) grieving over Israel’s unbelief. He concludes it with a . . .
HYMN OF PRAISE
“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (11:33-36).
“ . . . riches” —Paul likely refers to the wealth of God’s grace to undeserving sinners. “ . . . wisdom” of God’s salvation plan for both Gentiles and Jews together. “ . . . [God’s] knowledge” of us, perhaps even a reference to his foreknowledge of us (8:29; 11:2).
Paul marvels that God’s judgments regarding condemnation to sinners and forgiveness to sinners are impossible for the human mind to understand. His ways of providentially bringing salvation to his people are unfathomable.
God, writes Paul, is exalted high above us. Who has ever figured out God’s mind? Who has ever counseled God in what was best to do? Who has ever given God a gift that made God his debtor?
For “all things” have their source in God. “ . . . all things” come though God. And “all things” are to God’s glory. This is Paul’s benediction: that, in view of God’s merciful, mysterious way of salvation, he receive the glory (Greek doxa—“honor, praise, power”) forever!
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So, we have a general idea of what God is doing with Israel. Should we care? Yes. Not about prophecy specifics, but about God specifically. This we can clear care about. God’s “running the show.” He’s directing history. He’s choosing particular Gentiles to be saved—and how many. He’s hardened Israel in unbelief, yet his chosen ones among them will be saved at the end of the age.
With that general “mystery” revealed, we still can’t figure out God’s mind. God doesn’t need our input to run the universe or complete his plan to save his people for a new creation. God isn’t in debt to us to do anything for us. Yet God has revealed his saving mercy in Christ to me–and you!
Of all things . . . God is the source. God is the means. And God is the end.
So our place is to understand what we can of what God has revealed. To trust him to do what he promised even though our understanding is at kindergarten level. And to make the climax of Paul’s hymn of praise our song of praise too . . .
“To him be the glory forever! Amen!”