Romans Chapter 11 is a pivotal chapter for recognising God’s plan of salvation for Jewish people and Gentiles. Sadly, some hold the opinion that the church has somehow replaced Israel or is the ‘New Israel’ or ‘True Israel’ , known as ‘replacement theology’ or in academia; ‘supersessionism’. Nevertheless neither of the terms ‘New Israel’ nor ‘True Israel’ are contained in Scripture and Paul consistently uses the term ‘Jew’ eleven times in Romans 1-8 in contrast with ‘Gentiles’ or ‘Greeks’ and it appears in no less than twelve occasions in Romans 9-11.[i]
Paul asks and responds to critical questions regarding Jewish people, Gentiles and salvation and quotes extensively from the Tanakh (Old Testament) to present his case.
Paul’s opening question in Romans 11:1a, “I say then, has God cast away His people?” is actually a rhetorical question. The fact that Israel is referred to as God’s people draws the reader’s attention to Deuteronomy 7:7-9 which demonstrates that God chose Israel not because Israel was more numerous than other peoples but because God loved Israel and is faithful to keep His covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant was an everlasting covenant with the land designated as an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:9), which would continue through Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 17:19; 28:13-14).
Paul presents himself and responds to his rhetorical question with an emphatic response, “Certainly not!” He immediately adds, “For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Benjamin (Romans 11:1b).”The implication is obvious since if Paul who came to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah has not been cut off, then clearly his countrymen may also come to believe themselves.
The case is strengthened further as Paul recounts Elijah pleading before God considering himself the only one left after the prophets had been killed, though the Lord had reserved for Himself seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal (Romans 11:2-4; c.f. 1 kings 19:10-18). It might appear as though there are not many Jewish believers following Jesus the Messiah although since the reestablishment of Israel as a Nation State on May 14th 1948, there has been a significant increase in believers and messianic congregations in Israel, and also in other parts of the world. This remnant is according to the election of grace which is predicated by God.
Salvation given to Gentiles to provoke Israel to discover the same
The next question is answered with a similar emphatic response and then explains that God purposefully gave salvation to Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy. “I say then, have they stumbled that they might fall? Certainly not! But through their fall to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11).”
Considering the most part, Gentiles have done anything but provoke Israel to jealousy through war, forced conversions, boycotting of goods and services, enforcement of clothing and restriction of residential locations and expulsion from various lands. More recently however, there is a growing number of Gentiles who love Israel and the Jewish people and who want to bless them and to bring them to Messiah.
The Gentiles might be reached
But how does this all come about? Israel is described as the olive tree and the branches were broken off for a time that the Gentile branches might be grafted in. It is unusual to graft a wild olive tree into a cultivated tree . This might not appear to be the means that a logical gardener would employ, though the wild olive was sometimes ingrafted into the fruitful one and when it started decaying this not only yielded fruit but also enabled the decaying olive to flourish and revive.[ii]
And so all Israel shall be saved
Paul explains that a temporary and partial blindness occurred to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25). Then “And so all Israel shall be saved (Romans 11:26).” This is not describing all Jewish people that ever lived or the church being saved. It is nonetheless describing a great ingathering of Jewish souls which will result in Israel’s national salvation in the last days.
This is routed in prophecy and further relates to God’s faithfulness to keep His covenant promise with Israel. “The deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins (Romans 11:27; c.f. Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9).”
Paul explains further that Israel is beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:28b-29).”Jeremiah 31:31-37 speaks of a new covenant with Israel and that if the sun, moon, stars, sea and waves were to cease from their ordinances then the seed of Israel would cease from being a nation. The implication is two- fold. God is faithful to Israel and keeps His covenant promises. If God were to break His covenant with Israel, then why could He not break His covenant with Gentiles also?
Though Israel was at once disobedient, through the mercy shown, they may obtain mercy (Romans 11:31-32). Considering the tremendous magnitude and intricacy of God’s plan for Jewish and Gentile people, Paul responds by praising God with an attitude of gratitude, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways past finding out (Romans 11:33)!”
[i] David H. Stern Jewish New Testament Commentary (Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville; 1992)
[ii] Matthew Henry Matthew Henry Concise Commentary (Moody Press, Chicago)