I want to mention chapter 8 again which is, of course, a great chapter. And it ended on a real high. It was as if Paul had led us up a mountain and at the end of chapter 8 we reached the top where Paul concluded with these marvellous words:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And everyone who reads those words and has grasped what Paul was saying throughout the whole of the chapter wants to stand up and throw out their arms and cry: ‘Hallelujah! What a Saviour!’ It’s all so marvellous. No condemnation. That’s how that chapter began. And no separation. That’s how it ended.
But then, chapter 9 began, and Paul was heartbroken. He was weeping. We’re praising God for his salvation. But Paul is weeping. And he was weeping because it seemed to him that so many of his fellow Jews were still under God’s condemnation and they were still separated from his love, because they would not believe in the Saviour.
However, I don’t know if you remember this, but when we began to study chapter 9 I mentioned that, even though we may not notice it, Paul in fact leads us up another mountain in chapters 9 to 11. And the reason I said that, and still say it, is because: look how chapter 11 ends. It ends with this doxology:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?’ For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Paul has been leading us, by the hand, up another mountain; and at the end of chapter 11 we’ve reached the top, and Paul wants to sing for joy to the Lord.
What is it that makes Paul want to praise God in this way? Well, it’s what we’ve been reading in chapters 9 and 10 and 11 and how God has been working out his purposes for the Jews. His word of promise to them hasn’t failed. And he hasn’t rejected his people in their entirety. And he hasn’t caused them to stumble so that they will all fall away for ever. There is still hope for the Jews. And Paul explained that though many of them have rejected the gospel, their rejection of the gospel meant that Paul could take the gospel to the Gentiles. So, we’ve benefitted from their unbelief, because the gospel has come to us and God has enabled us to believe the good news so that we’ve been added in to the people of God. Remember the image last time of the tree and the wild branches that are grafted in? Well, it was a picture of how believing Gentiles are added in to the people of God. And then Paul also wrote about how the Jews would be provoked to jealousy by the believing Gentiles. The Jews would become envious and would want what the Gentiles now have. They would want forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life with God. And so, provoked to jealousy, some of them will also come to believe.
So, God has it all worked out: he’s worked out his plans and purposes for the Gentiles and for the Jews. Salvation for the Gentiles. Salvation for the Jews. Salvation for all who will believe in the Saviour.
And knowing that God has it all worked out, and knowing that he is working out his purposes in the world, Paul ends chapter 11 on this note of praise and worship and adoration:
Oh, the depths of the riches of wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgments and his paths are beyond tracing out!
Paul is astounded by the knowledge and wisdom of God, and how he was able to work out salvation for the Gentiles and salvation for the Jews. The judgments he made, the decisions he took, are beyond our understanding. And, Paul asks, who would be able to follow the path he took? Think of two people looking at a map, and one of them explains the way he’s going to take. And then he asks:
Have you got that?
No, show me again.
Well, who is able to grasp fully the way that God has taken to bring salvation to the world?
And then look at verse 34: God didn’t need a counsellor; he didn’t need anyone to guide him or to advise him. And look at verse 35: he’s not in anyone’s debt. In other words, he didn’t need to rely on anyone else for help or advice. And look at verse 36: All things are from him, because he’s the Creator of all things. All things are though him, because he’s the Sustainer of all things. All things are to him, because it’s all for him and for his glory alone. And so, to him be the glory for ever and ever. He’s the one who deserves all praise and worship and adoration.
Verses 25 and 26a
That’s how Paul ends these three difficult chapters. He’s been leading us up the mountainside; and at the top, Paul wants to sing for joy to the Lord. However, before we get to the top of the mountain, we need to navigate our way through verses 25 to 32. And, in particular, verses 25 and the first part of verse 26 are difficult to interpret.
Paul begins verse 25 by referring to a mystery which he doesn’t want his readers to be ignorant of. Now, in the Bible, a mystery is some truth or doctrine which God has kept hidden from us, which we could never work out on our own. We wouldn’t ever be able to figure it out ourselves. The only way we can ever know the secret of a mystery is if God tells us the secret. So, it’s something hidden from us, which God needs to reveal to us if we’re to know it. And, according to Paul in verse 25, God has now revealed to him one of these mysteries. What is it? Well, it’s all there:
Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so, all Israel will be saved.
So, first of all, the people of Israel had experienced a hardening. This links back to chapter 9 where Paul told us that God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. Just as he once hardened the Pharaoh’s heart, in the days of Moses, so that the Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, so God hardens the heart of the Jews so that they refuse to believe the gospel.
But notice what Paul says in verse 25:
Israel has experienced a hardening in part.
In other words, part of Israel has experienced this hardening. When the gospel was first preached, the church consisted mostly of Jewish converts. Think of the 3,000 who were converted in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and of the others who were converted through the preaching of Peter and John in the temple. And, of course, though many of the Jews were heard Paul refused to believe, some did believe. And Paul himself was a Jew who was converted to faith in Christ. So, only part, and not all, of Israel has been hardened to the gospel because some believe.
And then Paul adds:
Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
This links in with what we were thinking about last time. When Paul went to a city, he preached the gospel in the Jewish synagogue. Very often, many of the Jews refused to believe. So, Paul turned to the Gentiles; and many of them believed and were saved. And the Lord Jesus, from his throne in heaven, is still extending his kingdom and building his church throughout the world through the preaching of the gospel. And he’ll continue to do so until the full number of Gentiles has come in to his kingdom. We don’t know what the full number is, but God does, because the full number of the Gentiles is the full number of Gentiles whom God chose before the creation of the world and whom he predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.
And Paul continues:
Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so, all Israel will be saved.
Now, very often people will interpret Paul’s words here to mean this:
Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And then, all Israel will be saved.
In other words, Gentiles are being converted now through the preaching of the gospel. Then, whenever the full number of elect Gentiles have been saved, God will do something new so that all Israel will be saved. However, Paul doesn’t say ‘and then’. He says: ‘And so’. In fact, a better translation is:
In this way, all Israel will be saved.
In what way? In the way Paul has been describing in the previous verses: the gospel is preached to the Gentiles; the Jews are provoked to jealousy; and some of them will, in turn, repent and believe. So, in this way, all Israel will be saved.
Often we think that Paul is talking about something new that’s going to happen in the future after all the elect Gentiles have been converted. However, throughout this chapter, Paul keeps referring to his own ministry in the present and to the way he was hoping that some of his fellow Jews would be saved as a result of his own ministry to the Gentiles. He’s not thinking about the distant future; he’s thinking about what is happening in his own day and in our day and to what will continue to happen until the full number of believing Gentiles comes in. The gospel will continue to be preached; Gentiles will be convinced and converted to faith in Christ; and the Jews will be provoked to jealousy so that some of them will also repent and believe the good news; and so it will continue, until the full number of believing Gentiles has come in.
But what does Paul mean by ‘all Israel will be saved’? Well, there are at least five options: 1. Every single person who was ever descended from Abraham will be saved in the end. 2. Every single person who is descended from Abraham and who is alive at the end will be saved. 3. Most of those who are descended from Abraham and who are alive at the end will be saved. Now, let me pause there, because usually we assume that the correct option is one of those three. That is, in the end, God will somehow save every single Jew or he’ll save most of the Jews. However, we need to remember what Paul said back in verse 6 of chapter 9:
For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
There’s ethnic Israel: all those people who are physically descended from Abraham. And then there’s the true Israel which comprises only those who believe the good news. In the days before the coming of Christ, the true Israel believed the good news that God was going to send the Saviour into the world. In the days since the coming of Christ, the true Israel believe the good news that God had sent the Saviour into the world and he’s Jesus Christ. And so, the remaining two options are these: 4. All elect Israel (i.e. all the true Israel) will be saved. 5. All elect Jews and Gentiles — who together make up the people of God — will be saved. It seems to me that either of these two options fits in better with everything Paul has been saying about how not everyone descended from Israel is a true Israelite, but only those whom God has chosen and who believe the good news. And so, God has sent preachers into all the world to make known the good news. And everyone who hears and believes and calls out to Christ the Lord for salvation will be saved, whether that believer is a Gentile or a Jew.
Verses 26 to 32
And so, Paul quotes from the Old Testament in verses 26 and 27 and to God’s promise to take the sins of the Israelites away. And this relates back to chapter 9 where he asked if God’s word of promise had failed? And the answer was: No, because his promise of forgiveness was for all who will believe.
And then in verses 28 and 29 he refers to the election of Israel as a nation and to all the benefits the Israelites received from God when he chose them from all the nations of the world to be his special people. And this relates back to the beginning of chapter 11, where Paul asked if God has rejected his people; has he revoked his call to them? And the answer was: No, because he’s willing to save some of them, even though most of them are disobedient.
And then, in verses 30 to 32, Paul addresses the Gentiles believers in Rome and says to them: Once you were disobedient; but God had mercy on you. And then he goes on to say that many of the Jews are now disobedient, but God will have mercy on them too. And this relates back to everything Paul has said before, because all the way through the letter to Romans Paul has made the point that all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God, but are justified freely by his grace. All kinds of people — Jews and Gentiles — have been disobedient. And God has made us disobedient so that he can show mercy to all kinds of people — to both Jews and Gentiles.
And so, Paul has led us up the mountain. And he’s so amazed at the wisdom of God’s plan and of the wonder of his grace and mercy that he wants to sing for joy to the Lord. And so should we, because he’s thought of everything and he’s done everything so that disobedient sinners like us who deserve nothing but condemnation instead receive mercy from him. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!