One topic that intrigues many Christians is the salvation of Israel proclaimed by Paul in Romans 9-12. Here are some of my thoughts regarding this matter.
First thing first — as basic as it may sound — you cannot just jump ahead to chapter 12 without reading the previous chapters.
Equally important is our understanding of what Israel can mean in the Scripture.
Most of the world would understand Israel as the nation-state of Israel that was declared by 1948.
But the Scripture also gives Israel three meaning: Jacob, the second son of Issac; Jews as the chosen race in the Old Testament; and the new people in Christ who consists of believing Jews and Gentiles.
In Genesis 12, we see God promising to make Abraham (then-Abram) a great nation and his name great. God blessed him so that he could become a great blessing himself, in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed. In Genesis 17, God made a covenant between Him and Abraham — again, with the promise of making his name great, but this time God especially emphasised he will be the “father of nations”, that nations shall be blessed through him.
These promises can be linked back to Genesis where God promised Adam and Eve the seed of the Serpent-crusher. Galatians 3:19 referred Christ as “the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. “
Galatians 3:16 speaks, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” Verses 3:27-20 further say, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”
To put it shortly, Christ is the Seed, the seed of Abraham. As we put our faith in Christ, we also become Abraham’s seed, co-heirs with Christ according to the promise.
So what is the Israel that Paul is talking about in Romans 9-12?
Let’s begin with chapter 9 first,
Romans 9:1-2 “I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” (if only we share Paul’s heart…I mean, Christ’s heart!)
In verse 3, Paul went on to say he would rather be cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers – “my kinsmen according to the flesh” – these are, as verse 4-5 continue, the Israelites whom to them belong the adoption, glory, covenants, laws, worship , promise, patriarchs, and from their race and according to the flesh is the Christ!
So here Israel refers to the Israelites, the Jews as the chosen people in the Old Testament.
Paul knew people would ask him questions such as, why then are the Israelites still not saved yet? Why do they still reject the gospel? Therefore, in verse 6, we see a but…
“but not all who descend from Israel belong to Israel…” (Romans 9:6). Paul reminds us that not all children of the flesh are children of God; the children of promise are those who put their faith in Christ, the seed of Abraham.
In Romans 9:15-18, Paul asserts that God will have mercy on whom I will have mercy with reference to the story of Pharaoh. Nevertheless, one, when reading this passage, must remember Pharaoh hardens his heart first initially. God searches and knows his heart, and then he declares he will harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21; 7:3). God knows Pharaoh will resist Him (3:19-20).
Romans 9:27 describes the number of sons of Israel is like the sand of the sea, but only a remnant of them will be saved. Logically, Paul here is still dealing with the Israelites in flesh as the chosen people in O.T. Paul went on to speak that his desire and prayer is that they may be saved (Romans 10:1)
In Romans 10, Paul begins to, just as he has done in other epistles, stress that the new humanity in Christ consists only of those who confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9). In Christ, there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all (Romans 10:12).
Paul then asks, “has God rejected His people?” (Romans 11:1) with an immediate answer of “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” Again, we here Paul talking about the Israelites according to flesh.
In verse 4-5, we see Paul confirming that there is indeed a remnant among the Jews chosen by grace.
Romans 11:11 and 14 have great implications to us as gentile Christians. Paul writes that salvation has come to gentiles to make Israel jealous. Again, Israel here refers to Israelites according to flesh. Are we living our Christian life — enjoying Christ’s riches —-in a way that make them jealous?
Romans 11:15 further impresses, for Paul says this rejection is for the reconciliation of the world. Their acceptance, however, is even more glorious as life from the dead!
Romans 11:18 gives us a sober reminder that we need to remain humble. We are not be arrogant to the Jews, for we were once wild olive shoot who are now grafted in to this olive tree, sharing in Christ as the root.
I am curious, however, that can Christians do the same like the Jews who were broken off due to their unbelief? Can we wilfully the same? After all, you cannot be broken off unless you were initially part of the tree with God as the root. I ask this question even though I am not an Arminian.
Here comes the most mysterious part, concerning the mystery of Israel’s salvation (of course).
Verse 11:15 tells us that a partial harding has come upon Israel until the fullness of gentiles has come in. Israel here then clearly refers to Israelites according to flesh.
The most debatable verse is 11:26, with the claim that all Israel will be saved. Is Paul talking about Israel as the whole race according to flesh? or the remnant of Israelites? Or is it the “new Israel” consisting of believing Jews and gentiles?
In my opinion — based on the previous chapters where Paul repeatedly stress that the seed of Abraham are those who believe in Christ, and that those who are in Christ are the same tree, and that not all who descend from Israel are from Israel — all Israel means the whole of the new people in Christ consisting of the fullness of Gentiles and the fullness of the remnant of believing Jews.
Nevertheless, if one proceeds forward to verses 11:28-29, where Paul writes that “regarding the gospel, they are enemies for our sake, but regarding election they are beloved, for the gift and the calling of God are irrevocable”, we see that he is once again talking about Israelites according to flesh.
What does it leave us with? We can never be so certain when something is not explicitly explained, lest it leads us to spiritual blindness and pride. A few things are sure: we are not to be arrogant to the Jews (and of course we are not to be so to anyone!); there will be more Jews coming to Christ; our job is to live a life that attracts others, including Jews whom Paul says will be made jealous by us, to the way of Christ.
On the other hand, is the nation-state of Israel today the “promised land” to the Israelites? With full conviction, my answer is no. As many Christians would agree, all the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Christ; they are not to be found in a political entity. The Church is now the New Jerusalem. However, it is my personal conjecture that God will use the nation-state as a means to draw the remnant Jews back to him, just as He has always worked all things for good. How? of course I cannot say exactly – the best I can give are perhaps 1) with the establishment of the nation-state, Jews await even more eagerly for their promised political Messiah. However, the long wait may frustrate them eventually, leading them to gradually see Christ is indeed the promised king. 2) Since many Jews are no longer scattered but regathered in the state is Israel, Christians are able to preach the gospel to a multitude of them more easily by going there.
I know these are just my silly human speculations. Our job is, as I mentioned, to live a life that can draw all kinds of non- believers to Christ (by the grace of God, of course). Love them as you would love yourself. Love them with the love that you have received from God.
It is fascinating that while we are tempted to debate, Paul ends his writing praising the Lord. Romans 11:33-36 are probably one of the most beautiful praises written. How unsearchable and how inscrutable are God’s judgments and ways! Who has known the mind of the Lord; who has been His counselor? Who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? Indeed, let us praise along with Paul, declaring that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him!