Paul's Message to Us about Israel Featured

Written by  Norbert Lieth
Ironically, the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul (Galatians 2:7-8), who is also referred to as “a teacher of the Gentiles” (1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11), shows in the epistle to the Romans the fundamental position of Israel in God’s plan of salvation.

Martin Luther called the epistle to the Romans the “main part of the New Testament.”

In it the apostle proclaimed the wonderful plan of salvation through which a righteous God calls a godless sinner just. The letter describes how man cannot be justified through the works of the law, but on the grounds of the sacrifice of Jesus, and how the work of Jesus Christ brings God more glory and man more blessing than he lost through Adam’s sin. Further, he shows how grace makes a sanctified life possible, which was never possible through the law.

The epistle to the Romans is the New Testament foundation of our faith, and in this very letter Paul speaks in detail about Israel. In chapters 9-11, he explains God’s dealings and plan with Israel and the nations. In the midst of his presentation about the temporary rejection of Israel, the apostle emphasizes in Romans 11:13, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office.”

In a fifth of the letter to the Romans, the apostle to the nations testifies to the nations (Gentiles) that Israel’s election is permanent.

No apostle to the Jews (such as Peter) proclaimed the position of Israel in God’s plan as the apostle to the Gentiles (Paul) did. It is as though he wanted to particularly impress it upon the Gentiles (whose apostle and teacher he is). Paul does not say anywhere that the promises of the Old Testament for Israel had been transferred to the Church.

We should be ashamed, therefore, that over the course of the centuries we have lost sight of the doctrine of Paul concerning Israel. We evangelical Christians hold fast to all the truths of the letter to the Romans, but hardly any of the statements of chapters 9-11 concerning Israel.

Paul brings various arguments in Romans 11 to prove that God has not given up His people. It is striking how much trouble he takes to emphasize that Israel has not been permanently rejected.

First argument

“I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew” (Romans 11:1-2).

The words “God forbid” show his horror that they could entertain such a thought.

Paul uses these words in the epistle to the Romans ten times, also concerning other matters. If we want to cast doubt on these words concerning Israel, we must also apply this to other themes; for instance, Romans 6:15, “…Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”

olivenzweigThen Paul uses himself as an argument. He is also a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. If Israel were rejected, then he would not have been able to come to faith in the Messiah.

Although Paul emphasizes that many Israelites were blind (Romans 11:7) and branches that had been broken off from the good olive tree Israel (Jeremiah 11:16) because of their unbelief (Romans 11:20), yet this also had a spiritual purpose for the nations. Even in our time, the “present time,” God has preserved a remnant (11:5). This believing remnant Paul calls in another place the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

Second argument

Paul explains in Romans 11:11 that Israel did not stumble so that she would fall, i.e. to remain lying on the ground, to be totally eliminated and unable to be restored. Also here—“God forbid!” The deeper meaning was so that salvation could come to the Gentiles.

“I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy” (Romans 11:11).

Third argument

The apostle continues with the explanation that God has not given Israel up.

In Romans 3:3, Paul mentions the fact that Israel’s unbelief did not affect God’s faithfulness. God does not return evil with evil.

“Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness” (Romans 11:12).

In verse 15, the apostle repeats this and says, “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15).

•    As sure as the temporary fall of Israel took place, there will surely be a restored fullness of Israel.
•    As sure as there was a temporary rejection, there will also be a re-gathering.

Paul experienced as no other the fruit among the nations through the fall of Israel, and he prophetically foresaw what a blessing the spiritual restoration of Israel would bring for the nations in the future millennial Kingdom of God on earth.

Fourth argument

Paul did not cease to argue, in that he continues and explains, “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches” (Romans 11:16).

Under the firstfruit, Israel of the first days is meant: the time of the patriarchs as well as Israel in Egypt, whom God chose and set apart for Himself in that He said, “Ye shall be unto me…an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

This means: if Israel was holy in the past, she will also be holy (set apart for God) in the future.

The comparison of the root and the branches says the same thing; that there was a blessed beginning of Israel, and she will come to a blessed climax which will end in holiness.

Zechariah speaks of the future Israel in the Messianic Kingdom of God on earth, “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD” (Zechariah 14:20).

Fifth argument

Then, Paul brings the example of the olive tree. Jewish branches were broken off the olive tree, Israel, on account of their unbelief, but the wild branches out of the nations will be grafted into the olive tree. This does not mean that the nations have become Israel, but that they now share in the blessing with Israel (Ephesians 2:19; 3:6). Moreover, Paul proclaims that God can surely graft in again the Israelites, who later come to believe as natural branches again (Romans 11:17-24).

OliveTree1Also, the olive tree refers to the patriarchs of Israel, from which the later Jewish nation came like branches.

If we as the nations are grafted into the olive tree, i.e. in the faith of Abraham, we are actually related to Israel (verse 19). In Romans 4:16 Paul says of Abraham, “…who is the father of us all.”

Thus, the Church in Rome was comprised of Jewish and Gentile Christians, with the Gentile Christians exalting themselves over the Jews. Paul admonishes them therefore:

•    “…Thou bearest not the root, but the root thee” (Romans 11:18). In John 4:22 Jesus says, “Salvation is of the Jews.” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the origin of blessing for the Gentiles.
•    “…Be not highminded, but fear” (Romans 11:20).
•    “…Take heed lest he also spare not thee” (verse 21).

Over the course of the centuries, however, these warnings were cast to the wind. Instead of observing these words, Replacement Theology was introduced and Israel was rejected by Christians.

At the end of time, nominal Christianity, institutional Christianity will be rejected and go under in the antichristian kingdom. The true Church will be raptured before, and then all Israel will be saved and thus grafted in.  Paul’s statement is also a prophetic warning therefore (verse 21).

Sixth argument

Later on, the apostle emphasizes the fact that Israel, according to their election, “are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:28-29). With these words the apostle Paul is referring to the one-sided, irrefutable Abrahamic covenant.

Seventh argument

Finally, Paul reveals a mystery (Romans 11:25-27), namely that Israel was experiencing blindness until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in. After that all Israel will be saved, not just a part as in the present time (verse 5). Thus, the rejection of Israel is for a limited time and was never final.

After the body of the Church, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, is united at the Rapture with the head (Christ), the Lord will later return to Zion in glory in order to save all Israel (Revelation 14:1; Isaiah 59:20; Ezekiel 36:33; Psalm 14:7).

At the end, God will turn His compassion to the Jews, just as He also showed the Gentile Christians.

•    We did not believe once and experienced mercy.
•    They do not believe now in order to experience future compassion. Altogether, God used this to show mercy to all (Romans 11:30-32).
•    Over this revelation, over this wisdom of God with Israel and the nations, Paul can only worship Him.

That God turns Israel’s failure around so that in the end only blessing comes out of it—and all this about Jesus Christ—causes the apostle to worship, and with this he concludes the passage (Romans 11:33-36).
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