All Israel will be Saved: The Future of 'Israel' with particular reference to Romans 11:26a

Taken from Foundations: No.81 Autumn 2021

Gareth Burke (Minister, Stranmillis Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ireland)

Introduction

Some years ago in Belfast the pastor of a well-known independent evangelical church was systematically preaching through Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The congregation consisted of faithful men and women committed to the gospel and very much of the view that man was lost in sin and that the only way of salvation was through faith in Jesus. The general theological tilt of the congregation was Arminian, with Dispensational leanings. There were, however, a number within the church of Reformed convictions who were very much looking forward to the pastor’s exposition of Romans chapters nine to eleven. His treatment of both election and the future of Israel was much anticipated. Amazingly, when the appropriate Sunday morning arrived when the next passage for consideration was Romans 9, the pastor announced that he had been praying and reflecting on the situation and had decided that it would be best to “omit consideration of Romans chapters nine, ten and eleven and instead to move directly to the opening verses of Romans twelve”!

These chapters have caused much debate and controversy within the Christian Church throughout the years. Much of the discussion has centred on the question which is at the very heart of this paper – the future of Israel. An attempt to interpret and understand Romans 11: 26a is our goal but before we arrive at this point there are certain steps we need to take along the way. As such, taking Romans 11:26a as our text (hereinafter referred to as “the text”), our approach will be as follows:

I. Approaching the Text

1. A Brief Consideration of the Epistle up to Romans 8
2. A Brief Consideration of the Teaching of Romans 9 and 10
3. A Brief Consideration of the Overall Teaching of Romans 11

II. Examining the Text

1. A Consideration of Romans 11:25-27
2. A Consideration of the Different Interpretations of Romans 11:26a

III. Discussing the Text

1. Questions for Discussion

I. Approaching the Text

1. A Brief Consideration of the Epistle up to Romans 8[1]

1:1-17

Paul, an apostle, writing from Corinth, introduces himself and his theme in the opening verses. He has not been to Rome personally but he greets his recipients warmly knowing that they “are loved by God and called to be saints” (v.7). His great theme is the gospel which he describes as being a powerful message by which men and women can be made right with God (vv.16-17). At the heart of the good news of the gospel is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose two natures are referred to by the Apostle in verses 3 and 4.

1:18-32

Having, in verses 16 and 17 introduced his theme – the gospel – and having set forth his conviction that it is through the gospel that the righteousness of God is revealed, Paul now shows the lost and fallen condition of mankind. Although the existence and power of God can be clearly seen in God’s creation, men and women have rejected God. This rejection manifests itself in depraved and sinful conduct. Another significant matter in this section is the Apostle’s conviction that God is a “God of wrath” (v.18) This wrath is “a fixed, unchanging, perfectly controlled attitude of God to sin. God hates it and is irrevocably set against it”[2]. This wrath towards sin is seen by him “giving them up” to impurity, to dishonourable passions and to a debased mind (vv.24, 26, 28).

2:1-16

All men, both Jews and Gentiles, will ultimately face the judgment of God. There is a day approaching when Jesus will be the judge of all mankind (v.16), a judgment based on the law of God. Jews have received the law while the Gentiles have not. Yet,

When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law (v.14).

2:17-29

Paul responds to the Jews who believe that by possessing the law and being circumcised they are automatically favoured by God and not liable to his judgment like everyone else. He argues rather that,

Circumcision is indeed of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? (vv.25-26).

3:1-8

Paul counters the argument that there is therefore no advantage in being a Jew since all men, Jews and Gentiles, will be ultimately judged by God with whom there is no favouritism. Instead, the apostle outlines the privileges of being recipients of the “oracles of God”. He shows that it is not the mere possession of the law but what you do with it that really matters.

3:9-20

The apostle reinforces the truth that “none is righteous, no not one” (v.10) by several Old Testament quotations.

Recap

  • All are sinners
  • All are under the wrath of God
  • All will be judged
  • The Jews have been wonderfully blessed (law, circumcision etc) but these blessings are only spiritually advantageous if acted upon.

3:21-31

Once again, the apostle clearly asserts that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v.23), but there is also good news for all, both Jew and Gentile. He writes in this section of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (v.22). He clearly demonstrates that there is only one way of salvation: “He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (v.30).

4:1-12

Paul now cites two Old Testament believers – Abraham and David – as examples of those who were saved (justified) by grace, through faith, in Christ:

He (Abraham) received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised (v.11).

4:13-25

In this section Paul asserts the necessity of faith and demonstrates that Abraham, “the father of us all” (v.16), was supremely a man of faith.

5:1–11

Paul now begins to outline the particular blessings that belong to those who believe in Christ. In these verses he reminds his readers of the particular blessings that flow from justification:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (v.1).

5:12-21

The first Adam and the last Adam (Jesus) are compared and contrasted. Essentially, through Adam, ruin came to all who are united to him. Christ brings justification and salvation to all who are united to him.

Recap

  • All are sinners
  • All are under the wrath of God
  • All will be judged
  • The Jews have been richly blessed but these blessings are only spiritually advantageous if acted upon
  • The good news is that God has made it possible for men and women to be in a right relationship with him
  • Through faith in Jesus Christ all can be justified in God’s sight
  • Faith in Jesus Christ is crucial. The mere possession of the law or outward adherence to Jewish rites and ritual will not achieve salvation.
  • This faith is clearly seen in Old Testament believers with Abraham in particular providing for us a clear example of faith
  • When men and women trust by faith in Jesus Christ, they are not only made right with God but they receive numerous blessings from the hand of God

6:1-23

Paul now shows how those who have faith in Jesus Christ are to live. It is not that there is uncertainty about who they are to serve – the old master (sin) or the new master (Jesus). No, those who are in Christ must consider themselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v.11). He urges them:

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but rather present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life… (v.13).

7:1-25

Paul outlines the believer’s relationship with the law. He is free from the law in the sense that he does not need to keep it in order to be saved. However, as one who is saved, he wants to keep it to demonstrate his love for God, the giver of the law.

However, attempts to keep the law are often thwarted by indwelling sin. In verses 14-25 Paul speaks out of his own personal experience about the great ongoing struggle with sin. He looks forward to being “delivered from this body of death” (v.24) – a reference to the glory that awaits the believer.

8:1-39

Here Paul outlines the blessings that belong to those in whom “the Spirit of God dwells” (v.9). There is now “no condemnation” for them (v.1), an assurance that God is at work in every detail of their lives (v.28), and the certainty of future glory (vv.18ff). In this life there will be suffering and groaning (vv.18-23), but ultimately we will be glorified (v.30).

Recap

  • All are sinners
  • All are under the wrath of God
  • All will be judged
  • The Jews have been richly blessed but these blessings are only spiritually advantageous if acted upon
  • The good news is that God has made it possible for men and women to be in a right relationship with him
  • Through faith in Jesus Christ all can be justified in God’s sight
  • Faith in Jesus Christ is crucial. The mere possession of the law or outward adherence to Jewish rites and ritual will not achieve salvation.
  • This faith is clearly seen in Old Testament believers with Abraham in particular providing for us a clear example of faith
  • When men and women trust by faith in Jesus Christ, they are not only made right with God but they receive numerous blessings from the hand of God
  • Those who have faith in Jesus Christ must recognise that sin is no longer the reigning, dominant influence in their life
  • Christians need to recognise that they are to live to God’s glory and they are to obey the law of God, not as the means of obtaining salvation, but as an expression of their love for God
  • Whilst sin is no longer the reigning dominant influence in our lives as believers, we must acknowledge that sin has not been eradicated and that until we enter into glory we will be involved in an ongoing struggle with indwelling sin
  • However, “life in the Spirit” is an indescribable blessing which means that although we are not free from suffering, we have the privilege of knowing that glory most certainly awaits us

Having spoken much in the letter about the Jews – their immense privileges but their sad rejection of God and the gospel – Paul now turns in Chapters 9-11 to a consideration of his own people, Israel. Essentially, he is asking the question in these chapters – “Is God finished with the Jews?”

2. A Brief Consideration of the Teaching of Romans 9 and 10

9:1-5

Paul expresses here his deep-seated longing for the salvation of Israel. He details in verses 3-5 the enormous privileges that have been given to the Jews, not least that “from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (v.5).

9:6-13

However, Paul is clear that to be born a Jew does not mean that you are automatically saved, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (v.6). The apostle then sets forth God’s purpose of election and demonstrates that this is a key doctrine in terms of understanding his gracious purposes. The reality is that some are chosen and some are not: “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated” (v.13).

9:14-32

To those who feel that God’s choosing of some for salvation and of passing others by is unfair, Paul compares God to a potter who has the right to “make out of the same lump (of clay) one vessel for honoured use and another for dishonourable use” (v.21). There is no injustice with God. He says: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (v.15). In this section Paul also asserts that not all Israel will be saved but “only a remnant…” (v.27). Towards the end of this section the apostle indicates that God has been gathering in his people, his elect, from among the Gentile nations (vv.25-26, 30-33).

10:1-21

In this chapter Paul again alludes to the Lord being at work among the Gentile nations (vv.19-20). He also asserts that Jew and Gentile will be saved in exactly the same way: “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek” (v.12) and “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v.13). His heart for the salvation of Israel is laid bare in the opening verses and his distress at their rejection of the gospel is also clearly seen: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel” (v.16).

3. A Brief Consideration of the Overall Teaching of Romans 11

11:1-10

Paul is looking at the question of whether God has rejected his people (v.1). He begins answering the question by referring to himself who, as a Jew, has trusted in Christ. He also refers to the seven thousand who, in Elijah’s day, did not bow the knee to Baal. He develops this theme by speaking of “the remnant”: “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace” (v.5). Yet the reality is that the majority of Israel rejected the Saviour and the salvation to be found through faith in him. This “hardening” was foretold in the Old Testament (vv.7-10).

11:11-12

Paul declares that the “fall” of the Jews has meant salvation for the Gentiles. But now he also begins to look forward to the restoration of Israel and suggests that something greater lies ahead in terms of God’s blessing: “how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (v.12). What exactly this fuller blessing is, or what exactly it will look like, is not developed at this point.

11:13-16

This idea that the restoration of Israel will lead to great blessing for the world is developed further in this section when the apostle says that “their (the Jews) acceptance will mean life from the dead” (v.15). It seems best to understand the term “life from the dead” spiritually and to see it as a reference to future spiritual blessing rather than a reference to the resurrection of the last day.

11:17- 21

Here Paul describes the Jews as an olive tree. Because of their unbelief some branches have been cut off and, in their place, wild olive branches (the Gentiles) have been grafted in. These Gentiles must be careful not to become arrogant or boastful because “if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (v.21). Also, the Gentile believers must forever maintain an attitude of humility, recognising “It is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (v.18). By this statement Paul is reminding the Gentile believers of the root – our Jewish forefathers like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – to whom they owe so much.

11:22-24

Continuing with the analogy of the olive tree, Paul reminds the Gentile believers (the wild olive branches that have been grafted in) that God is able to save the Jews and that the “natural branches can be grafted back into their own olive tree” (v.24).

11:25-32

These verses will be treated more fully in the next section. Paul is repeating, in a slightly different way, what he has taught earlier that once “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (v.25) there will be a significant movement spiritually among the Jews – “all Israel will be saved” (v.26).

11:33-36

Paul concludes this section with an outburst of praise to God: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (v.33).

II. Examining the Text

1. A Consideration of Romans 11:25-27

Before beginning to examine the different interpretations of Romans 11:26 and especially the different views as to what “all Israel” means it would be best for us to pause for a moment and to closely consider the text itself. We shall consider verses 25 to 27 in order to place the opening words of verse 26 in their proper context:

Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob;
and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins” (vv.25-27).

“Lest you be wise in your own conceits”

Paul warns the Gentile believers not to be puffed up with themselves and not to adopt an attitude of superiority, thinking that the Jews have been cast off forever.

“I want you to understand this mystery, brothers”

A “mystery” in the New Testament is something that has been previously hidden from men. It is something that God reveals, that he makes known – something previously unseen and unknown (see, for example, Romans 16:25).

“A partial hardening has come upon Israel”

In referring to ‘Israel” Paul speaks of ethnic Israel, the Jews. In the eleven references to Israel in Chapters 9-11 it is evident that the term refers to “his kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:3). Great significance should be attached to the word “partial”. Yes, as has been already demonstrated in these chapters, there has been a “hardening” among Israel but here Paul makes it clear that it is not total as there is a remnant who have believed.

“Until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”

What does it mean, the fullness (or times) of the Gentiles? To my mind it is this: God begins with the Jewish nation as his chosen people. The Jewish nation, in large measure, falls into apostasy; the olive tree that God cultivated becomes rotten and many branches are cut off. God does not cut down the tree, but he grafts in the wild olive branches. He brings Gentiles into the community of faith and he has a definite number of such. When the last wild olive branch is grafted on to the tree, then God is going do something again with the original tree.[3]

“And in this way all Israel will be saved”

Leon Morris suggests that “in this way” refers to what precedes:

…that is, through the divinely appointed process whereby the hardening of part of Israel brought salvation to the Gentiles, a temporary hardening effective only until the “fullness of the Gentiles” has come in.[4]

“All Israel” will be discussed more fully below, but it is appropriate at this point to note that however we understand the term, men and women of whatever nationality can only be saved in one way – through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written,

The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will banish ungodliness from Jacob:
And this will be my covenant with them
When I take away their sins (vv. 26-27)

Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:20 and Jeremiah 31:33 to prove that he is propounding no novelty, but is only bringing to more explicit expression what has been long foretold in scripture.[5]

2. A Consideration of the Different Interpretations of Romans 11:26a

There are essentially three main interpretations of the term “All Israel” in verse 26. Each of these views is supported by excellent, faithful, Bible-believing scholars whose research and writings have been of great usefulness to the church of Christ throughout the ages. It is my intention to simply state the three main views and then to quote from one of the exponents of each interpretation.

View 1

“All Israel” refers to the elect of God, both Jews and Gentiles, throughout all the ages of time and has no particular or exclusive reference to the Jewish nation or people.

Essentially, all that Paul is saying when he states that “All Israel will be saved” is that God will ultimately, before the end of time, gather in all the elect from “every tribe, nation and tongue”.

Supported by John Calvin in his commentary:

Many understand this (and so all Israel) of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God… The same manner of speaking we find in Galatians 6:16. The Israel of God is what he calls the Church gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles.[6]

Critique

Paul makes it clear that something special is going on here in this section of the epistle. He wants his readers to understand “a mystery” – that is, something that was previously kept hidden but which God has now wonderfully revealed to him and perhaps to others as well. Without in any way minimising the grace of God or taking away from the blessings of salvation it can hardly be described as a mystery – a special revelation – that God is going to save his elect! This view also involves us understanding “Israel” not to refer to the Jewish nation, whereas in all the other ten references to Israel in chapters nine to eleven it always refers to the Jewish people.

View 2

“All Israel” refers to the elect of God from among the Jewish people. “All” has a particular reference to the elect among the Jews. Paul is saying that all the elect among the Jews will be gathered in and will be saved.

Supported by Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology:

All Israel” is to be understood as a designation not of the whole nation but of the whole number of the elect out of the ancient covenant people.[7]

Critique

Again, in common with View 1, it can hardly be described as a “mystery” that God is going to save the elect! These two views do not do justice to the special nature of the situation which Paul is obviously outlining here.

View 3

“All Israel” does not refer to every last Jew that will be found alive at the moment of Christ’s second advent but, nevertheless, Paul is suggesting that before the return of Christ there will be a significant, notable and definite turning among the Jews to the Lord for salvation. This restoration will take place once “the fullness of the Gentiles have come in” which the present writer understands to mean that once the full number of the elect among the Gentiles have been gathered in to the kingdom of God then the Lord will be pleased to work mightily in salvation among the Jewish people. The natural branches will be grafted in again.

Supported by John Murray in his commentary:

If we keep in mind the theme of this chapter and the sustained emphasis on the restoration of Israel, there is no other alternative than to conclude that the proposition, “all Israel shall be saved”, is to be interpreted in terms of the fullness, the receiving, the ingrafting of Israel as a people, the restoration of Israel to gospel favour and blessing and the correlative turning of Israel from unbelief to faith and repentance. When the preceding verses are related to verse 26, the salvation of Israel must be conceived of on a scale that is commensurate with their trespass, their loss, their casting away, their breaking off, and their hardening, commensurate, of course, in the opposite direction. This is plainly the implication of the contrasts intimated in fullness, receiving, grafting in, and salvation. In a word, it is the salvation of the mass of Israel that the Apostle affirms.[8]

Critique

While the present writer holds to this view it has to be acknowledged that none of the views are free from difficulty. Perhaps the weakness of this position as outlined above is that it is evident from verse 12 and from verse 15 that once Israel is restored there will be even greater gospel blessing to come upon the world. It is hard to understand what that blessing will look like if the elect among the Gentiles have been gathered in and the Jews have been spiritually restored.

Iain Murray, in his book The Puritan Hope has a section in which he considers the Puritan treatment of Israel in Romans 11. He states that, among the Puritans, the following view was adhered to by many:

Nothing is told us in Romans 11 of the duration of time between the calling of the Jews and the end of history. The end of this world shall not be till the Jews are called, and how long after that none can tell (Parr).[9]

Parr’s quotation is certainly worth pondering long and hard, but the present writer is of the view that the ingathering among Israel will occur just before the return of Christ. The language of Romans 11:25-26 is very much the language of completion. There is a finality to what Paul is speaking about – the “fullness of the Gentiles coming in”, Israel being restored and the end of the world occurring as Christ returns in power and glory. Perhaps the future blessing spoken of earlier in the chapter is the glory of the new heavens and the new earth.

By God’s grace we look forward to these days of blessing in the future.

III. Discussing the Text

1. Questions for Discussion

  1. If we accept View 3 as being the correct understanding of Romans 11:26a and, as such, we believe that Jesus will not return until there is a significant movement spiritually among the Jews, how do we reconcile this conviction with Matthew 24:43-44?
  2. No reference was made in the paper to the whole question of the land of Israel or the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The present writer rejects the premillennial position – both historic and dispensational premillennialism – but is intrigued to know what others think about the vexed question of the land. The following quotation from R. C. Sproul might aid us in our discussion:
    • I don’t know what the significance of it all is. But I will tell you this, we should be watching very carefully. It is a remarkable event in history that the city of Jerusalem is now back in Jewish hands, under Jewish control. As Jesus said, Jerusalem will be trodden under foot until the fullness of the Gentiles be fulfilled (Luke 20:24). And Paul says that after the fullness of the Gentiles have come in, there will be a restoration of the Jewish nation. All of these things are put in context by Jesus when he tells his followers to watch and pray, for their salvation is drawing near’.[10]
  3. If your church is located in an area of the UK where the Jewish population is very small, what is the significance for you and the fellowship to which you belong of Romans 11:26?
  4. Should every evangelical church in the UK give support, both prayerfully and financially, to a missionary society which is exclusively devoted to Jewish evangelism?
  5. To what extent, if any, should we as evangelical Christians be involved in the ongoing debate within the UK media and society on anti-Semitism?

Gareth Burke has since 1984 served in the ministry of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ireland and for the last twenty years has been minister of the Stranmillis congregation in the University area of Belfast.

NOTES:

  1. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by Harper Collins, 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. back

  2. Eric Alexander, Sermon on Romans 1:18-32 (Audio). back

  3. R. C. Sproul, Romans: Focus on the Bible (Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 189. back

  4. Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1988), 420. back

  5. Geoffrey B. Wilson, Romans (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 194. back

  6. John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, reprinted 1989), 437. back

  7. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 699. back

  8. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1959), 98. back

  9. Iain H. Murray, The Puritan Hope (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1971), 76. back

  10. Sproul, Romans, 191 (footnote). back


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