All Israel Shall Be Saved
Fullness Of The Gentiles

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 56a of 83


25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. 26  And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:  27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.  28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. 29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.  30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: 31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:25-32).

The most prevalent opinion about Romans 11 is that it teaches us that God has not rejected Israel permanently. According to this opinion, there will come a time when God will deal distinctly with Israel as a nation again.

But it appears to me from a careful study of the chapter that the apostle Paul is not really dealing with what will happen to Israel in the future in this chapter. He is concerned, rather, with what was happening in Israel in his own time, and throughout the whole period of time until the Last Day when Christ returns. He is saying that God has not cast away Israel completely.

This chapter has five major paragraphs.

The first paragraph is from verses 1-10. Here, the apostle Paul insists that though the nation of Israel is under the judgement of God and is no longer the covenant people of God as a whole; yet, there is a remnant according to the election of grace which God will save.

The second paragraph is from verses 11-16. Here, the apostle reminds us that in God’s plan Israel has fallen in order that His elect Gentiles might be brought in to the fold. But the Church may expect great blessings whenever a Jew in the flesh is converted, and therefore we should pray for their conversion even if we do not expect a national conversion of the Jews.

The third paragraph is from verses 17-24. Here, the apostle paints the visible church as an Olive Tree. In the Old Dispensation, the root, trunk and branches of the Olive Tree is almost entirely Jewish. But today, the unbelieving Jewish branches have been cut off and believing Gentiles have been grafted in. Today the branches on the Olive Tree are predominantly Gentile (although the trunk and root are Jewish). The apostle, therefore, warns us of two things: First, we must not boast against the Jews; Second, we must take heed to continue in the goodness of God manifested through the visible church, — lest we be cut off like the Jews. 

But now in the fourth paragraph, we are entering into the section of Romans 11, which is essentially the heart of the controversy surrounding this chapter. This is the paragraph which a majority of commentators claim to teach unequivocally that God will deal with Israel as a nation again in the end times.

We are living in the time of the Gentiles, they say. During this time, God has two people: Israel and the Church. God has a special providence for both His people. He is saving His Church. And He is protecting and blessing Israel as a nation—until the whole nation is ready for salvation.

When the “fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (v. 25), then “all Israel shall be saved” (v. 26)! This will happen after a great tribulation. After the tribulation, the hearts of the Jews will be so softened that they will regret what they did to Christ, and they will be converted en masse.

But is this what the apostle Paul is teaching? I do not think so. What then is Paul saying? Well, to put it simply, Paul is teaching three things in this paragraph:

·  First, in verse 25, Paul would have us know that it is God’s plan to save every of His elect Gentiles in these last days. This is what he means when he says “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (v. 25).

·  Secondly, from verses 26-29, Paul would have us know that it is God’s plan that His elect comprising Jews and Gentiles should be saved. This is what he means when he says, “all Israel shall be saved” (v. 26).

·  Thirdly, Paul would remind us that it is God’s plan that in these last days, the Jewish elect should be saved out of a climate of unbelief rather than a tradition of faith (v. 30-32). This is what he is suggesting in verse 32, viz.: “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

Let’s consider what he is saying in a little more detail.

1.   The Fullness of the Gentiles

Paul says:

25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. 

What is he saying? It is commonly understood that what he is saying is that God has for the time being suspended dealing with Israel as a nation. He has allowed a part of Israel to be blinded until the full number of the Gentile elect has been brought in, and then He will deal with Israel as a nation again.

That is to say: God was dealing with Israel, then He turned His attention to the Gentiles; and when He is finished with the Gentiles, He will turn His attention again to Israel.

According to this view, this is the mystery which Paul wants us to know.

Well, I do not think this is correct. The reason will become obvious when we consider our second point. But for now, we must realise that the phrase “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” does not necessarily imply that God will deal with the nation of Israel after that.

All that Paul is saying is that it is God’s plan to save every of His elect gentiles, and that He will not cease to do so until every one of them has come in. And throughout this period, Israel as a nation will experience blindness in part.

Whether the blindness on the part of the nation of Israel will be lifted up shall be seen when we look at verse 26, but the phrase “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” says nothing about any lifting of the blindness of Israel.

Let me put it this way: Suppose you are running in a race and I tell that I’ll cheer you all the way until you reach the finishing line, what will you take me to mean? Will you think that what I mean is that I will stop cheering for you the minute you touch the finishing line? Of course not! You will understand that all I am saying is that I will cheer you all the way! I am not saying that I will stop cheering once you reach the finishing line! If you win the race I will dance for joy and continue to cheer for you!

Now, this is the way that the word ‘until’ is usually employed in relation to the end times in the Scriptures. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:26, Paul teaches us to show forth “the Lord’s death till [or until] he come” (1 Cor 11:26) by observing the Lord’s Supper. Now the point he is saying is not that we will cease to celebrate the Lord’s Supper after that, but simply that we will continue to celebrate the Lord’s Supper until the end of time.

Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 15:25, when Paul declares that Christ must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet, He is not saying that He will not reign after that. He is simply saying that Christ must continue reigning until His last enemy is subdued.

So likewise, when Paul says: “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in,” let us understand that all he is saying is that: as long as God is saving the Gentile, the nation of Israel will be blinded in part.

We must not read any more into this statement.

Here then is the mystery that Paul would have us know. He would have us know that God is saving His elect Gentile until the full number be come in. And while He is doing so we can be sure that He will not be dealing with Israel as a nation. Blindness in part is happened to them. The other part, namely the elect remnant, will be saved, but God will not again deal with Israel as a nation, as He did under the Old Dispensation.

Why does Paul say that it is a mystery? Well, it is a mystery not that God will deal with Israel as a nation again. It is a mystery simply that God has made the Gentiles fellowheirs of His promise in Christ.

Consider what Paul says in Ephesians 3:1-6—

1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,  4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.

What is a mystery? It is something that was hidden but now revealed. What is the mystery that never ceased to amaze the apostle Paul? It is that “the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of [God’s] promise in Christ.”

This is the same mystery that Paul is referring to in our text. The mystery is not that God would deal with Israel again. It is that God should make the Gentiles His people, and that the Gentiles should be grafted into the Olive Tree and be partakers of Christ!

God has by His grace and wisdom hardened the Jews so that we who are Gentiles may be saved. We were no better than the Jews! Let us, therefore, never become wise in our eyes or proud. We ought rather to bow down under the wisdom of God, and praise Him for His mercy toward us.

This is all that Paul is saying in verse 25. He is not suggesting that the blindness of the Jews would be lifted. But what about verse 26, which teaches us that “all Israel shall be saved”?

 

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim