There is a great danger that they misunderstand that grace, just as the Jews had done.
This happened over many years, that came to be known as replacement theology, the gentiles thinking they had replaced Israel as God’s people, especially after the church took on a more political nature following Constantine. It’s the common association of our faith with our nationalist background, really for the cause of assuring our own safety and dominions. The church still hasn’t recovered from this today. The church still seeks political alliances for its well-being, at the cost of others who fall outside these alliances. If Paul was saying one thing in Romans, it was about this. We cannot allow our own considerations, least of all political or racial, to define our table of oneness in Christ. But this is just what we do. So, Paul explains that God includes the Jews as his people. On what basis? On the basis of grace, not on the basis of works.
(Romans 11:6) This isn’t a discussion on grace from the point of view our “Calvinist” debates, regarding speculation about the nature or source of personal faith. As valid, or interesting as such a discussion might be, it is not Paul’s concern in Romans. Paul wasn’t writing a theology of personal faith, for us to speculate about in its component parts, but he was writing about a faith-fulness in service towards one another, as seen by God in the cross of Christ.
By “works,” Paul first of all here means circumcision. Paul was speaking about the unity of God’s people. In passages like Colossians 2:8-15, Paul calls circumcision, and even baptism, “principalities and powers,” when they divide God’s people into destructive relationships. These powers do this to destroy the creation, that God is renewing. There is nothing wrong with circumcision or baptism in themselves, except when they become divisive.So, God doesn’t justify the Jews on the basis of circumcision.
If Paul was saying God hadn’t rejected the Jews, to correct gentile pride, he was commenting on circumcision here to correct the same in the Jews. With Abraham, circumcision was a sign of the covenant, while the law existed. This was before Moses, but law still ruled the heart of man, in his vengeful relationships at least. Outward signs of the covenant were necessary until faith came, that is, until love can rule the heart. The sign of the covenant now is love. “By your love, shall all men know you are my disciples.” (John 13:35) There is nothing wrong with sacraments in the church today, unless these sacraments become the substance, and not the love of Christ.
“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see…” (Romans 11:8) This doesn’t mean that God closed their hearts actively, or even by his secret decree, but rather he allowed them to have what they wanted. It means that when we reject God’s love, this is what becomes of our hearts. This rejection comes about by our own choice. The following verses are very sobering:
“Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see and bend their backs forever.” (Romans 11:910) This is from the Psalm 69:22. David said this about his enemies. If you read the whole Psalm, it includes verse 21, where they gave vinegar to David to drink, and David cursed them. But on the cross, when they gave Christ vinegar to drink, Christ forgave them and prayed for their salvation.
The point of Paul in Romans is that many Jews had taken these Psalms to be curses against their enemies, especially against the gentiles. But here Paul said their cruses upon others had instead come back upon themselves. It was because they would not love and serve their enemies, which really is the central topic of Romans as a whole, that they ended up cursing themselves. Nobody did this to them, not even God. God died on the cross to open their hearts to his love.
This is a warning to us all. The point of Paul in Romans is that gentiles must not do this to the Jews, or indeed to any other groups of people, as we have done and still do.
So, God hasn’t rejected Israel in their fall. (Romans 11:11) Rather, their fall ended up being the blessing of the world through the cross. And their fall was thus the way for them to come back, to receive the love of God, shared with them through the church. This way we complete each other. The Jews complete us, and the gentiles complete the Jews. No boasting. Only grace. It’s always the case, that when we reject others, we reject our own medicine. This is true no matter how badly the others are painted.
“Now if their fall meant salvation for the world… how much more will their inclusion mean?” (Romans 11:12) This can be understood in various ways. This might be a common “much more” phrase, in usage in that century. “If your fathers can give you good gifts, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts?” (Luke 11:13) That is, if we were blessed by the fall of Israel, how much more will we be blessed by their restoration?
That is, salvation doesn’t really work out unless we reconcile with one another. It is only in a united church, that the gospel works in renewing the world. If we reject others, the gospel doesn’t impact the world at all. The salvation is defunct. The people fail to become the renewing community promised to Abraham to renew all things. We only end up with an “individual salvation” that isn’t really a salvation at all. It is in the restoration of others that we are made complete.
Romans 11:12 could also mean, if the gentiles can be included in the gospel, how much more can Israel, as the original people, be regathered. This seems to be the meaning in verse 24: “For if you (gentiles) 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 (Israel), be grafted back into their own olive tree.” It is very unfortunate that the system of thought known today as dispensationalism, has taken hold on this chapter. It teaches that in the “end-times” the Jews are going to be grafted back into Christ and this will bring the return of Christ. There are all kinds of variations in this teaching. But it generally gives place to a political and militaristic faith, that is completely opposite to the reconciling faith that Paul is teaching in this chapter.
Paul isn’t teaching a hostility against certain groups, to favour others, to bring about the kingdom of God. Paul was teaching the reconciling of our different groups into one, without favouritism, in grace. He was speaking about one family based on love, not a repetition of the usual worldly hostility we have seen in the Crusades and other conflicts. These come about by a blindness to the Prince of Peace. We go into a stupor, with eyes that cannot see. Our rejection of the Muslims today is not different to our former rejection of the Jews.
“For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15) Here is where we see what Paul means by the acceptance of the Jews. He wasn’t speaking on some future event, like an end-times event. Paul was speaking of the resurrection of Christ. When Christ was raised it signalled then the acceptance and restoration of the Jews. And their acceptance in Christ is then shared with the world.
Paul was speaking of Christ identifying with Israel in their exile and restoration. Christ had identified with Israel’s fall in his crucifixion, and in his resurrection, he had brought Israel into restoration as a people. So, if in Israel’s fall, the world is shown the love and forgiveness of God on the cross, how much more in the resurrection of Christ, shall new creation come to us all? This is the meaning of Paul. We all come into renewed land in all our nations.
Paul was quoting themes from Isaiah, about Israel’s exile and restoration to the land, being restored back to their God. This tells us so much about Paul’s meaning. The “blessing to the world” Paul was speaking about, that the resurrection of Christ signalled, was renewed creation. This was the eternal life he was speaking of: restored relationships that brought renewal to all our nations of the world. This was Isaiah’s message about the kingdom of God.
This is what Paul meant by saying, “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…” (Romans 11:2526) “Fulness” here means life, “From his fulness we have all received.” (John 1:16) Dispensationalism teaches that after all the gentile nations have been saved, then at the “end-times,” God will save all the Jews. But this idea does not follow Paul’s track from Isaiah. Rather, Paul said that hardening came to Israel, so that the gentiles may be included in the gospel through the cross, so that we also might partake in the fullness of Christ… for the world to be renewed.
“All Israel” here are all the believing community, just as Isaiah said, “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” (Isaiah 54:2) “The children born during your bereavement will yet say in your hearing, this place is too small for us; give us more space to live in. Then you will say in your heart, who bore me these? I was bereaved and barren; I was exiled and rejected. Who brought these up? I was left all alone, but these—where have they come from?” (Isaiah 49:20) The bereavement of the Jews here means their exile. But it was in their exile that many sons were born to them through the gospel. This is what Isaiah was saying. It is the forsaken that increase, not the powers that cause exile, like Babylon, or Rome. “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break out into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labour! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 54:1) Restoration doesn’t come to the Jews in the “end-times” before Jesus comes, to be brought about by some violent confrontation with the nations. This isn’t the kingdom of God.
This isn’t the teachings of Christ on how the good land is possessed. All his teachings point to living out non-racial neighbourliness, as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This is his kingdom. Non-violence. We never win by violence. We are not to adopt the ways of the Zealots of Christ’s time, but the way of Christ himself.
Paul was teaching that restoration came to the Jews through the resurrection of Christ. He was teaching the exilerestoration theme of Israel, showing that it was fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ. The Jews aren’t restored after the gentiles. In Isaiah, the Jews are restored before the gentiles. It is because the Jews are restored in the resurrection of Christ, that the gentiles may partake and share in their salvation.
“If the first-fruits are made holy, then the batch is holy…” (Romans 11:16) The whole batch is the whole renewed Israel, including gentile believers. The gentiles are made holy, because Israel are restored in the resurrection of Christ. It is “the Jew first, then the gentile.” The whole reason for calling Israel, was so they may become leaven to bring in the whole world, to make us all the one people of God. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both (Jew and gentile) one and has broken down in his flesh (by the cross) the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)
The Jews were restored in the resurrection of Christ. They became the new temple in Christ. It was the Jews who stood up saved first on the Day of Pentecost, and from Jerusalem the word of the Lord went out to the gentiles of the world. “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 14:8) This is how all the Prophets depict it: the world participating in the blessings of a restored, elect people of God, Israel.
And as the gentiles participate in the blessing of Israel to the world, then we live in love, drawing all men to Christ, including our gentile and Jewish neighbours, who are yet to come in by faith-fullness. God had already restored Israel in Christ’s resurrection, so therefore, Paul was saying, the gentile believers should love their neighbours, including the Jews, so others can be awakened to restoration and come into Christ’s faith-fulness.
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall spread the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:2-3) This is restored Israel, the mountains, meaning the rule of God in the gospel, bringing salvation to the world. Then from the Messiah, the word of salvation goes out to the ends of the earth. As Isaiah says, when Israel are returned from their captivity in the Messiah, then the gentiles also shall be included in Israel’s restoration. So too does Ezekiel: when Israel’s temple is renewed in Messiah, then its water flows out to all the gentile nations. (Ezekiel 47) Israel are restored first in the resurrection, then the nations are brought in.
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” (Isaiah 40:1-5)
This is a picture of Cyrus restoring the Jews from Babylon, their return from exile. As they come back to the land, the gentiles are also saved and become part with Israel in the new kingdom of the Messiah. “All flesh shall see the glory of the Lord.” “All flesh” means the gentile nations. When God speaks comfortably to Israel and takes up the barriers in the way of their salvation and restoration, then he also brings the gentiles in to become part of Israel’s deliverance in Christ.
This is the narrative Paul is speaking of in Romans 1. It is the Cyrus narrative fulfilled in Christ. It shows us that Jews and gentiles become one in Christ. And because we are one, our land becomes renewed with peace and loving care. And because of this, the deserts spring like a forest, the waste places are renewed like a garden, the fruits of the land break out everywhere and the curse of sin is destroyed in our nations. This is all Paul is saying in Romans 11. He was saying to the Jewish and gentile believers in Rome that they should love one another as the one people of God in Christ.
And this is our witness today as the church to the world. It isn’t a political and militaristic salvation for the world, but a witness of renewed community, where we seek to bring and include our neighbour and enemy for their healing. This heals wounds, not the former ways of the fallen Adam.
And so, here is Paul’s conclusion to his discussion: “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” (Romans 11:2832) … So that we relate to each other, not on the basis of our supposed superiority, but on the basis of grace and love. This would include our relationships with all groups, whether Catholics closer to us, or Muslims we consider further away.
The principals are the same. Some of them may be enemies because of the gospel, or they might be enemies because of our ill behaviour towards them and our superior view. But they are loved by God and Christ died for them. We were also “one time disobedient” or maybe we still are disobedient, regarding what Paul was teaching us all here.
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36 )
He is bigger than us and bigger than our group. Don’t consign him to be any less than he is. He came for us all, not just for our group.