Dan Popp
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Romans: The most important book ever written
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By Dan Popp
May 11, 2011

At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. — Jeremiah 31:1, NRSV

The audience imperceptibly leans forward. We're anticipating the final movement of a symphony on God's intentions for His original Covenant People. This great work began in Romans, Chapter 9. Now the conductor picks up his baton at Chapter 11, verse 25:

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. [NIV]

The Great Physician has diagnosed your condition, you who say that He is finished with Israel, and only dealing with the Church from now on: You are conceited and ignorant.

And thus all Israel will be saved. [NASB]

Pause.

This is the climax of the symphony, the summation of Paul's argument. On a certain day in the future, when as many Gentiles as possible have been rescued, all Israel shall be saved. This is such a shocking conclusion that, even though we've been following the argument, we still want to debate the apostle.

There are only three words at issue: all, Israel, and saved. Some commentators want to fudge on the word saved. They say that re-grafting Israel into the olive tree (previously in this chapter) means only that Jews will be restored to their land, and partake of the earthly blessings of Abraham. Question: When Paul began this piece by saying, I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers (9:3), do you seriously believe he was concerned about his kinsmen having only one car in the garage?

Others would like to redefine Israel. They're stuck like a broken record on Chapter 9, verse 6: For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. But if this were the explanation for Paul's astounding statement above, there would be no need for the two-and-a-half intervening chapters! These folks want to turn his argument into a tautology: All who are saved are "Israel;" therefore all Israel will be saved. This reminds me of the child's joke, "Everyone who's not here, raise your hand."

I think we're going to find our explanation in the word all.

If by all here Paul means "every, without exception," then the statement is false on its face. Judas Iscariot is a Jew. Jesus called him, "the Son of Perdition" and pronounced the curse that it would have been better for him had he never been born. By everything we know from Scripture, Judas Iscariot is an Israelite who was not, is not, and never will be saved.

But is that how Paul uses this small but powerful word, all? Take a look at what he wrote in 1 Timothy 6:10; the well-known verse, "For the love of money is the root of all evil." It's the same Greek word for all. Does the apostle mean that everything bad can be traced to the love of money? No, of course not. His meaning is clear: Covetousness spawns many other evils. "From love of money all sorts of evils arise," renders Weymouth. So Paul sometimes uses all to signify an overwhelming number; he doesn't mean that there are no exceptions.

But how can we expect a mass conversion of Jews — so many that we could say this prophecy had been fulfilled? One of the most poignant texts of the Old Testament, Zechariah 12:10, looks very much like that.

    And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born. (NASB)

Paul quotes a different prophecy, Isaiah 59:20,21:

as it is written, "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." [NKJV]

Notice that the prophet used the poetic name Jacob for Israel. But Jacob was his pre-conversion name. If Paul were trying to transfer God's promises from the sons of Abraham to Christians, and close the heavenly books on the nation of Israel, this would be exactly the wrong scripture to use. It's not a prophecy of the "new Israel," but of the old.

As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. [ESV] ...As concerning the gospel, they are enemies of God — which is to your advantage. [Mof]

- enemies in the sense that many Jews then fought the spread of the good news, as Paul had.

but in respect of God's choice, they are His beloved for their fathers' sake. [Con] ...but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. [NKJV] ...on account of the Patriarchs. [TCNT]

This symphony began with the theme of election, God's choice, predestination. And the Composer has brought us all the way back to that foundational melody. When the Lord chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He chose their families as well. Does this thwart individual free will? No. It's only that God will take away the veil from many eyes.

for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. [RSV]

Objection: Didn't Paul say that being in Abraham's bloodline was no guarantee of welcome into the family of God? Hasn't he come all the way 'round to contradict himself by saying that Jews are somehow especially beloved for the sake of the patriarchs? The distinction may be that, while each individual is responsible for his own reply to the good news, here we're seeing God's more-than-faithfulness to the Jews as a group.

Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. [NIV]

Please notice the last word, all. Paul has used it again in the general way that leaves many exceptions excepted.

Just as in Chapters 3 and 5, we see that God has closed every mouth; condemned every Jew and every Gentile as a sinner; and imprisoned everyone in disobedience. Why? So he could have mercy on everyone. On everyone who hears of, believes in, and calls on Jesus, per Chapter 10.

The echoes of this last sweet chord fade away, and the symphony is done. God's foreknowledge and predestination have been interwoven with human will and responsibility so that neither cancels out the other. We've marveled at the counterpoint: His plans for the Jews benefit the Gentiles, and His dealings with the Gentiles only help the Jews. We have heard in this masterpiece how He sovereignly interacts with families without interfering with individual choices. And above all, we've seen that He keeps His promises even when we have broken ours.

The audience spontaneously rises as one and shouts, "Bravo!"

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! "For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" "Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?" For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. [NKJV]

© Dan Popp

 

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