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Friday 12 April 2024

Romans 11 Means Fight For Israel?


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One of the most interesting phenomenon’s that I have observed when discussing the nature of who God’s people are, and the relation or lack thereof of this to the modern nation of Israel, is the common and automatic response to bring up Romans 11.

“Haven’t you read Romans 11? God is not finished with Israel.”

“Romans 11 shows that everything coalesces around Israel.”

Romans 11 shows that Israel are still God’s people.”

“The fact of Romans 11 saying all Israel will be saved shows that we should fight for Israel.” I have even heard that one, believe it or not. 

But what does Romans 11 actually say? Let’s read the relevant passages:

First Paul addresses whether Israel has been abandoned. His answer:

“1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God's reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
    eyes that would not see
    and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”

And David says,

“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
    a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
    and bend their backs forever.”

Paul asks directly: has God abandoned his people? He answers, “By no means.” And then he goes on to explain how the Jews are God’s people and modern Israel is the continuation of the nation of David… Does he do that? No, of course not. What does he actually say? God has not abandoned those who believe in him, the remnant saved by grace, not by works.

To support this he gives the example of the 7000 God had reserved in the days of Elijah. In other words, of course God has never abandoned his people. But his people are not defined by nationality or race, they are defined by faith, as he spent the entire last chapter, chapter 10, explaining, and as he will reiterate in Romans 11.

So, Paul is not defending the physical nation or even the Jewish people being the people of God. He is pointing out that among that often rebellious nation God always had a remnant who were true Israel, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”

Then he notes that the Gentiles have been grafted into Israel.

“11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were 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, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.”

Paul is talking about the composition of Israel here. He begins by noting that God has always had a remnant in Israel. This means that those who did not believe were not part of this remnant, they were cut out of the tree. And who was grafted in? Us Gentiles who believe, “13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles…17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,…”

Paul’s argument here is that the olive tree, the natural olive tree, is Israel, and there has always been a true remnant, but all unbelievers were cut out, and all who believe in Jesus were grafted back in. How? By faith, “19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.” The emphasis of his argument is very clear here. Those who do not believe have been cut off, they are no longer part of the tree. Those who have faith, including the Gentiles, are grafted into the tree, made part of Israel. Paul’s whole emphasis here is to prove God has never abandoned Israel. Not meaning the unbelieving Jews who deny Jesus, but the faithful remnant, either Jew or Gentile, who believe in Jesus.

Then he points forward to a time when all Israel will be saved:

“25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 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”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

So, what is meant by all Israel? Well, Paul has been arguing this entire time that not all Israel is Israel, only the remnant who believe are part of Israel, and now Gentiles are grafted into Israel. So, the obvious way to take this is all Israel means all believers through all time, including a revival amongst the Jews, will be saved, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,…” The Jews were hardened, so that Gentiles could be saved. Because the hardening of the Jews meant Jesus was crucified and this brough salvation to all. "All Israel" is best understood as all God's people will be saved, all "true Israel". 

Now, how you understand Israel here is debateable. I think the context makes it clear that this means all believers, because all who believe are grafted onto the olive tree, Israel. However, some see a shift back to national Israel here, and they might be correct. Certainly in verses 28-32 physical Israel appears to be the topic, and Paul is therefore implying that once enough Gentiles are saved, then there will be a revival amongst the physical people of Israel. I’m ok with this, I can see how you get this from the text. It still would only mean though that "all Israel" is the whole remnant that believes among Israel. 

However, here are some serious mistakes people make:

1)     They see this as the modern nation of Israel. This is not the case. Israel in the Bible is never synonymous with the modern nation state of Israel, which is made up of mostly Jews and a large minority of Arabs. They are not synonymous. So reading the modern state of Israel being in this passage is a mistake.


2)     Some say it is the churches job to preserve Israel till the final revival. But there is nothing in this text, or any text that says we must do this. In fact, the text says the opposite, it says God will preserve them for a future act of mercy. There is no reason here or justification for fighting Israel’s wars, funding their nation or any other of these things that Christian Zionists advocate. No other New Testament passage supports this, either. In fact Jesus said when you see Jerusalem surrounded flee, and early Christian Jews took this literally. They refused to participate in Judea's wars against Rome, as did the early Gentile Church, and both flourished as a result. So if anything the New Testament explicitly says avoid fighting for physical Israel. 


3)     People often immediately read their particular reading of this passage, based on their end times theology, into their political views in the modern world. Nothing is more divisive in the church than eschatology. It is a hotly debated topic. And how to understand “all Israel” in Romans 11:26 is hotly debated as well. The previous context points to it including all believers, the following context may point to it meaning a remnant of physical Jews, or physical Israel. Either way, this passage should have no bearing on your political understanding of modern Israel because they are completely unrelated. Modern Israel is not the “all Israel” of Romans 11:26, it cannot be, because the “all Israel” of Romans 11:26 is saved. That means they confess Jesus. And modern Israel in large measure is antichrist, not Christ professing. To read the modern state of Israel into this passage is just to misunderstand the passage at every level. 

So those who see any criticism of Israel and then immediately say, “What about Romans 11?” really need to sit down and read what Romans 11 says. It says nothing about politics. It says nothing about supplying Israel with weapons. It is a hotly debated passage, at least in regarding who “all Israel” is, and therefore, to bring this passage up in relation to criticizing the modern state of Israel can only be attributed either to biblical ignorance, or even more likely reading this passage with such a narrow lens that whenever you see the word Israel here you reflexively see the modern nation of Israel. This is a mistake.

In fact, I would say it is a dangerous mistake because this sort of reading of Romans 11 is often used by those who justify wars in the Middle East. Rather, if this passage were going to inspire Christians to any action in the Middle East it should be mission, because “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in…” a partial hardening will remain on the Jewish people. Therefore, instead of going to war with far off Arab and Muslim nations, we should be sending missionaries, church planters, and other evangelists to get this work finished, so we can see the fullness of the gentile harvest come. The church has its strategy for reaching physical Israel completely backwards. Paul is clear, if you want to see revival amongst the physical Israelites, you need to evangelize the Gentiles. So, shouldn’t we be about this work?

It's almost as if every action of our modern globalist elites is conditioned to hamper this very goal. Something to think about. 

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