Will all of national Israel be saved in the end times? This is certainly a beautiful thought, yet are we to take Romans 11:26 literally? In this podcast I offer eight reasons I believe that many Bible-centered churches may be off base in their interpretation -- as well as answers to eight questions you may still have even after you hear this perspective on the conversion of "all Israel." The podcast is 41 minutes in duration.
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Principal text: Romans 11:25-27
EIGHT REASONS TO DOUBT AN IMPENDING MASS CONVERSION
- Ancestry. Earlier in his letter Paul distinguishes fleshly Israel from the true Israel, or "children of the promise" (9:8). Since faith is required to make one a son child of God, "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel" (9:6). Here "Israel" is used not in a national sense, but rather in reference to those with saving faith -- the true sons of Abraham and daughters of Sarah (Galatians 3:7; 1 Peter 3:6). Ancestry doesn't count. After all, God can raise up descendants for Abraham from stones (Matthew 3:9)!
- Remnant. Paul affirms that "at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace" (11:5). As in the days of Elijah and Isaiah, "only a remnant of [the Jews] will be saved" (9:27; Isaiah 10:22) -- not the entire nation.
- History. O.T. history argues against a pan-Israel conversion. Such a doctrine would reduce the words of the prophets, from Elijah to John the Baptist, to empty challenges to repentance. What's the urgency in responding to the message if you're going to be saved either way? Besides, it would be both arbitrary and unjust to deprive every previous generation of guaranteed salvation, and not the one still alive at the Second Coming.
- Relevance! What would have been the relevance of Romans 9-11 for Paul's readers if there were no application they could appreciate? "Don't worry about your Jewish friends; in 2000 years a whole generation of their descendants will come to Christ!" Cold comfort. People needed to know what the situation was with unbelieving Israel in their time -- not in ours. Romans was written not in 1958, but around 58 AD. And Paul tells them: a remnant will indeed be saved.
- Jealousy. Paul writes, "I make the most of my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them" (11:14). The conversion of the Gentiles was intended to provoke jealousy among the Jews in Paul's generation. They would realize they were missing out on the fulfillment of the promises, and decide to accept the invitation to the party. Remember that Paul was the uniquely chosen apostle to the Gentiles (11:13). Paul clearly sees his own ministry as a key part in the process of all (true) Israel being reached. As he explains, he envisions the salvation of some. He does not unrealistically expect all national or ethnic Israel to be saved.
- Prophecy. The Messiah came but was rejected (John 1:11) -- as foretold in Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12, Psalm 22, and elsewhere. Similarly, in Paul's day the Jews as a whole rejected the (new) covenant offered to them (11:27). Thus prophecy is one more reason we shouldn't be surprised that the majority missed the Messiah. Not all Jews will be saved.
- Free will. There's a serious problem with an exclusively ethnic view of Israel: free will is overridden. Paul speaks of God hardening some while electing others to salvation. Yet God only irrevocably hardens unbelievers (like Pharaoh) who harden their hearts to a point of no return (9:17-18; Exodus 7:13-14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34-35; 1 Samuel 6:6). In Paul's time, many of the Jews were still "retrievable"; Paul himself serves as a specimen. "I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham..." (11:1). Their hardening was only partial; not all ethnic Israel had yet responded to the gospel. Once they'd heard the message, presumably in the first century, the hardening was complete. The Jews then fell into the same category as the Gentiles: lost humanity, without a covenant and without hope.
- Second coming, not second chance. The second coming is the time for final judgment, not a second chance to surrender to YHWH (Hebrews 9:27). At the last day, every knee will bow -- Jewish and Gentile -- of course (Philippians 2:11). But then it will be too late.
A large spiritual revival among any segment of the human population is always highly desirable. Yet there is no true scriptural basis for an end-times mass conversion of modern-day Jews.
EIGHT QUESTIONS YOU MAY STILL HAVE
- What about return to the land? Return to land: Josh 21.43; 2 Chron 36 etc. Paul interprets Gentiles coming to Zion (Isa 2) in a metaphorical sense, not a geographical one. Zion for us has nothing to do with physical Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem that is above (Gal 4; Heb 12).
- What about 1948? 1948 (the end-result of the secular Zionist movement) was the result of politics, not prophecy. The Zionist movement was born of violence, its founder and most of its supporters atheists. Shouldn't we be supporting Israel? its military? There is no evidence that this is disposing Israelis towards faith. Besides, national Israel is no longer a biblically meaningful category.
- What about Ezekiel's prophecy? Doesn't Ezekiel 37:24+ say that the second David will lead the people in the land of Israel? Isn't Ezekiel 34-39 referring to the distant future? Some admit it was fulfilled under Ezra (partially) and at Pentecost (though only partially); yet they cannot believe there isn't more to come. God's prophetic oracles were often hyperbolic, or otherwise non-literal. "Fall" of Babylon, e.g. More important, Jesus claimed to be the second David and the Good Shepherd (John 10). He is already ruling. When he returns at the end of time it will be the judgment day, not a time for the extension of the gospel.
- Doesn't "full number" mean a clock is ticking? Isn't the mass conversion to follow the full number of Gentile converts--whenever that is? In 11:25, pleroma = fullness. Pleroma normally means fullness, completion. It is the word appearing in John 1:16; Romans 13:10, 15:29; 1 Corinthians 10:26; Galatians 4:4; and in several verses in Ephesians and Colossians.
- Matthew 19:28? What about Matthew 19:28 -- Son of man on throne (already!) and the apostles on thrones -- when is this? If the "restoration" of Acts 3:21 is yet future, then the traditional evangelical view has more weight. Otherwise this was fulfilled in the apostolic period. Yet the 12 thrones are likely symbolic--just like the 12 tribes in James 1:1. The church is a type of "holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9), Christ as sovereign ruler and his people extending his rule in the world.
- Holocaust. (Unspoken question, but perhaps felt:) Given the holocaust -- and crusades and pogroms and antisemitism-- don't these people deserve some compensation? That sounds fair, but if it's a free ticket to heaven this must be scripturally demonstrated, not merely asserted.
- Aren't God's gifts and calling irrevocable (11:29)? Paul exemplifies god’s faithfulness. Always depends on faith. Ironic that those insisting on faith alone will flirt with the idea that you can be saved even if you lose your faith (OSAS) or never had any faith in Christ (Romans 9-11). Paul intends 11:29-32 not in a literalistic sense, but just as he wrote 5:18—and 11:26.
- Don't we worship the same God? Presumably yes, but that's not directly relevant. If they will be saved because they faithfully serve and obey God, then obedient faith is necessary. Similarly, it could be asked, don’t we share the same scriptures? Largely, yes, but these are the scriptures that point to Christ....
The mid-first century was “a time of transition between the two covenants.” We no longer live in this period—any more than we live in the apostolic age.
- God is just. No one is to slip through the cracks. Yahweh can easily bring round the unlikeliest of converts. Paul considers himself a representative of the faithful in Israel.
- For a time the Gentiles would enter the kingdom in large numbers, both because it was a new message and because they had been prepared through the diaspora -- the seeding of the Mediterranean world with a message about the true Lord, the God of Israel. At this critical juncture the Israelites had to make a decision to accept the new covenant or harden their hearts. It is a volatile time. Think Joel (2:28-32, 3:14): "Multitudes, multitudes...in the valley of decision."
- For further study, please listen to David Bercot's two CDs on Dispensationalism (Scroll publishers).