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. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’
A crime or detective novel used to be called a ‘mystery.’ Agatha Christie was once called the writer of ‘mystery’ books or ‘whodunnits’. Anyone could turn to the last four pages of one of her books and the ‘mystery’ of the identity of the murderer would be revealed. So the suspense is maintained right until the dénouement at the climax of the book. Then, and only then, you’d know ‘who done it.’ There’d be no pleasure in reading such a book without knowing that you were going to be tickled pink finding out what actually had occurred. Endless suspense is unpleasant. We quickly grow weary with that, never knowing how the mystery was solved. And what would you think if some woman told you that she never read the last ten pages of a detective novel . . . never . . . that she preferred to work out for herself who killed the duchess with the revolver in the library, or who poisoned the butler in the potting shed. You’d ask in astonishment, “You . . . never . . . read . . . those . . . last . . . ten . . . pages?” “No, never. I prefer to work it out for myself. I find it is much better like that.” You’d judge that such a person thought a lot of herself. What if she were wrong, and often wrong? It’s the author who has created the characters and the tensions and the problems, and it’s the author who’s also going to give us the solution. But this woman doesn’t want the author’s answer. She wants her own theory of what had happened. You would judge that this woman was a very conceited person. Now in the Bible it is clear that we men and women have created the problem by the sin of our father Adam and our own sin, but it is God who has devised the solution, and he has explained it to us in Scripture. In the New Testament the word ‘mystery’ means that something has been revealed to us by God, and because of that we’ve found out what’s happened, because we’ve been taught it by Jesus and his apostles.
The appearance of the word ‘mystery’ here in verse 25 is one of seven occasions where it occurs in the New Testament. They might ring some bells when I sing them out to you; the mystery of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13, the great mystery of Christ and his church in Ephesians 5; the mystery of godliness in I Timothy 3; the mystery of the rapture of the saints in I Corinthians 15; the mystery of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2, and the mystery of God finished in Revelation 10. These mysteries are all explained to us by the apostles. They are opened to our examination and to our understanding. They are things we can read about, learn and know. We shouldn’t be in ignorance of any of them. That is Paul’s concern about the relationship and future of the Jew and the Gentile. He says, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers.”
All the time we ministers are trying to deal with ignorance in certain members of our congregation. A church is the most dynamic entity in the world. Look at a living congregation! See the visitors, illiterates, old people, children, slaves, new adherents, baby Christians – all these people turning up and sitting regularly with us. The long-standing Christians don’t mind hearing the pastor speaking on familiar gospel truths because they can see this new person and that one who need to be introduced to Christ and grounded in the basics of Christianity. The mature Christians are listening to it through their ears. In other words, those who know the gospel best are hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest. Now it is quite possible that with us, as there were members of the congregation in Rome, there are those who are awkward and restless, thinking, “This business of . . . Jews and Gentiles . . . and God’s plan . . . for the future – it’s really very confusing. I don’t really need to know about this, in fact I don’t know who does.” In this text Paul is saying, “Yes, you do need to know about what God has done and is doing with Jews and Gentiles and what he will be doing with them throughout your lifetime. He works by certain principles and you need to understand the principles because they apply in many of the circumstances you are going to meet in life.”
The Gentiles in the Roman congregation needed to know how to respond to the Jews, both the converted and the unconverted ones. I got a newsletter on Friday from a Scotsman I know vaguely. His name is Donald J. Morrison and he is an evangelist working on the streets of Glasgow for the Free Church (Continuing), but he also travels extensively through Scotland helping churches with their outreach work. I admire the work he does; you need a real gift for that. Well, a few weeks ago he was standing outside the Shettleston congregation in Glasgow. They had a special evangelistic meeting and so he was giving literature away on the pavement and inviting people to come in. He met a man and he said to him, “Welcome! You are welcome to come inside and hear the Christian message.” The man said, “No. That’s not the place for me.” “Yes, it is,” Donald said, “please come.” “No,” the man said, “and anyway you wouldn’t want me. I’m a Jew,” and he turned his head and showed a tattoo behind his neck of the Jewish Star of David. “How wonderful!” said Donald, stretching out his hand in greeting, “What a privilege to meet you. My own best friend is also a Jew, and whatever your religious label you are welcome to our meetings. “Oh you have a Jewish friend?” the man said to him.” “Yes, his name is Jesus Christ,” said Donald, and then he spoke to him passionately about how he should know this Jesus too, and what the Saviour could do for him. Where had Donald learned to speak so wisely and warmly to a Jew about Jesus? Here in the letter to the Romans. There is no anti-Semitism in this letter or in the New Testament.
You see how Paul, the converted Jew, addresses the Gentile congregation in Rome? “Brothers! . . . Brothers! . . .” (v.25). Would you have guessed that twenty times in this letter the word ‘brother’ is used. We’re naturally concerned about the behaviour of everyone who is our own brother or sister. “We are family . . . my brother and my sister and me.” We love one another, and so should be open to listen to one another, and share with one another, not keep things secret from one another. Paul wrote this letter with all the authority of his office as an apostle of Jesus Christ, so we listen with respect, but Paul can also come very close to us because he’s our brother. This letter to the Romans ain’t heavy; it’s my brother who’s written it to us. Just as I’m seeking to help you, my dear brothers and sisters, whenever we gather together. Paul is writing this part of the letter to help the Gentiles brothers relate in love to their Jewish brothers.
Now throughout this letter to the Romans there are sections where Paul has been telling us what is God’s plan for the Jews and for the Gentiles. The Jews killed their own Messiah and resisted the Christian preachers who came to them. They stoned some of them to death. The Christian Jews then turned to the Gentiles with the message and they were made mighty curious about this extraordinary person, Jesus Christ, and they cried, “Tell us who Jesus is and what he’s done!” and multitudes of the Gentiles heard and accepted the gospel. So God had been saving the Gentiles as well as the first Jewish generation and both through Christ alone. One name under heaven whereby we must be saved said the first Jewish Christians to their fellow countrymen. That is no longer a mystery at all. This has been revealed quite clearly to every Christian in the world. Read the book of Acts and you will see the ways, and times, and the men God used to do this. Paul is writing this letter to Rome, and he is concerned that this first century Roman congregation of Jews and Gentiles wasn’t ignorant for one minute longer about God’s purpose for them all. They ought to know all this because God has taken such pains to give us this knowledge in the Bible. If some of them didn’t know the right answer to the relationship of Jewish and Gentile Christian under the new covenant then was it because of the sin of conceit? There is the reality of possible Gentile conceit imagining that we Gentiles have completely replaced the Jews from this moment on, so that the church henceforth is an exclusively Gentile church. We imagine that we have replaced Jewish believers permanently – what conceit! We Gentile Christians can think of ourselves as special super Christians – what conceit! Those who are not ‘like us’ are second class – what conceit! Of course Jewish Christians could also be conceited because they could say, “We are the natural branches. We have not been grafted in.” Conceit is such a blockage to knowledge and growth in grace. I urge you to stop ignoring much of the Bible and please listen to sermons from the Bible.
Remember the men of Berea, what noble characters they were. We are told that they received the teaching of Paul “with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Be like them! Don’t be wise in your own conceits. Don’t cling in some vain way to your own theories . . . “Well I think of Israel and the Jews like this . . . I think what is going to happen is this . . .” Read what Paul has so carefully explained in this letter, the mystery of God’s plan for Jew and Gentile. He writes here, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited” (v.25). Maybe your greatest sin is conceit, and the terrible thing about conceit is that you can’t see it. That is the devilish nature of conceit, and it affects young people as well as old age pensioners.
I want to lay down certain principles here that I believe are behind all Paul’ reasoning.
i] The coming of Jesus into the world is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. I am saying that it is not the postponement of that promise. That promise that he is going to bless all the nations of the world has been fulfilled in preaching the gospel in Rome and the conversion of the Gentiles over the past 2000 years.
ii] It is the gospel church that is central to God’s purposes today. This is not some parenthesis that we are living in, heading for some extraordinary new time when God stops dealing with the gospel church, when God turns and he starts going back to Jerusalem and the Middle East and the state of Israel and the Jews. That is not going to be repeated all over again. The centrifugal force of the Great Commission going out from Jerusalem, to Judea, and to Samaria, is to the uttermost parts of the earth and is not going to end. The tape is going to be run backwards from the uttermost ends of the earth to Jerusalem. No. Jesus sent them out; he never brought them back. From now on God’s focus is the gospel church in all the nations of the earth where God works and saves and Jesus builds his church, until he returns in glory.
iii] God’s chosen people are Christians. They are no longer the Jews. Membership of the chosen people of God is open to Jew and to gentile on the basis of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. You see that in the Old Testament Scriptures, the concern about anticipated Jewish nationalism (Psalm 87:4-6 and Isaiah 56). Even in the Old Testament other races were welcomed into the true Israel of God, Rahab from Jericho, Ruth from Moab, Naaman the Syrian and Jonah sent to preach in Nineveh. In the New Testament the word ‘chosen’ is only used of the Lord Jesus, or it is used of converted Jews and Gentiles. They are . . . we alone under the New Covenant are . . . the chosen people of God.
iv] The promised land always belonged to God, and residence in it was always conditional on obedience to God. “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants” (Lev. 25:23). God never gave away the freehold. Residence in that land was always open to all of God’s believing people, like Rahab of Jericho and Ruth of Moab. Residence was on the basis of faith in the Lord not race. The Old Testament Christians like ourselves were not looking forward to some real estate, hills and wilderness and vineyards. We are told of Abraham, “He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebs. 11:10). He was looking forward to the glorious City of God, the New Jerusalem, the golden with milk and honey blest. He was looking forward to being with God. None of them had that in the Old Testament. They lived in the promised land for those years but they were conscious that there was something better.
v] God does not have a separate plan for Israel apart from the church. In the last verses of Romans 2 Paul declares, “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” (Roms. 2:27&28). We Gentiles have been grafted into the true olive and the true vine that is Jesus Christ. Barren branches have been pruned or cut off and we Gentiles have replaced them. We Gentile believers have received the Holy Spirit which is the promise God made to Abraham. We are the true circumcision. Gentiles and Jews who trust in the Lord Jesus are the true people of God.
vi] God has not rejected the Jews. They are pleaded with to put their trust in Christ and be saved. Whoever believes in him, Jew or Gentile, shall have everlasting life. There is now one new humanity. There is one olive tree. There is one new people of God. There is no longer Jew or Gentile; we are all one in Christ Jesus. We are the heirs of the promise.
vii] The Jews have experienced a partial hardening. Most of them identified with Caiaphas and their leaders who judged Jesus to be a phony, a blasphemer and a criminal who deserved the capital punishment he got. They judged Jews who believe in Jesus to be turncoats and wicked men at worst, and gullible, misguided fools at best. Unbelieving Jews experienced a hardening against Jesus Christ and his message. The sun of unbelief shone on the clay of their hearts and they became such stony hearts. But it was not a total and comprehensive resistance. The apostles themselves were all converted Jews, and so were the 3,000 converted to becoming disciples on the day of Pentecost, and so were the hundreds of priests who were a little later to believe in him. It was only a partial hardening of the Jews. Lots of them became Christians and become Christians still.
viii] The full number of the Gentiles is continuing to be added to the people of God. How did this great fulness of the Gentiles come in? Today there are millions of Christians filling the continents and countries of the world, as many Christians alive today as the full total of Christians of the first 19 centuries. You know how it came about, that these Jews, Matthew and Mark and certainly Luke (though from Gentile descent had become a God-fearing convert to Old Testament religion before becoming a follower of Christ). Then certainly John, Peter, Paul, James, Jude and the writer to the Hebrews, all these Jews accepted the gospel message. Then some years later they began to commit it into writing with the supervising help of the Spirit of God. They wrote the message of the whole counsel of God. When that was completed, in the full New Testament – all 27 books – it went out and out into all the world in the following centuries, sometimes in great irresistible surges of the Spirit as in the Reformation and the Great Awakening and in the Missionary Expansion of the church. And the effect of the Jewish written Scriptures read and preached was life from the dead for the blinded, deaf, idol-worshipping Gentile world. It transformed Europe and North America and Korea and increasingly China. All of them are amongst the full number of the elect men and women whom God the Father gave to God the Son before the foundation of the world. The Son willingly came into the world to live the life that they should have lived in obedience to God, and he died the death that they must suffer under the judgment of God, and he did all this as their substitute and advocate to become their Saviour. All those chosen, called and faithful Gentiles were saved and will be saved as the Jewish written Scriptures are preached to them in the power of the Holy Spirit.
ix] All Israel will be saved. That is, all the chosen and called and elect Jews will one day irresistibly be saved, not Judas, of course, and not Caiaphas, of course, and not any of those who refuse to repent and trust in Jesus, but all who believe upon the Lord Jesus of the Bible, they will be saved. Even though many of them lived during or immediately after the crucifying of the Son of God, still Jerusalem sinnerswere drawn into the family of God. Every Jew, like every Gentile, was saved by grace through faith in our Saviour alone. God had said this would happen and so it did, and so it continues to be done. The Jewish man in Glasgow whom I mentioned has turned up at a number of services since that first conversation. Donald says, “He may well be searching for the meaning of life, and how to be saved. His name is unknown to us, but not to God. What we do know is that he has a valuable soul and is in need of Christ and his salvation, whether he be conscious of it or not.” He is of the nation of Israel. May he become one of the fulness of Israel.
x] All Israel with be saved through personal faith in the Deliverer. Paul thinks, “Let me show you that this conversion of Jew and Gentile will certainly happen because Scripture says it will happen. Let me quote to you a potpourri of prophecies from the Bible in which these promises are made; “as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’” (vv.26&27). I would never have chosen those particular verses from the Bible to prove that God was going to save the elect Jews through his Son Jesus Christ, but I don’t know my Bible as well as Paul did. He probably had virtually memorized the entire Old Testament, and in the above verses he quotes from the prophecy of Isaiah 59 and verses 20 and 21, and then he goes on to quote some words from Isaiah 27 and verse 9, and finally he quotes from Jeremiah 31 and verses 33 and 34. He just slides from one quotation to another, running them into one another, and modifying them here and there as it suits this context, and he applies them to the congregation in Rome of Jewish and Gentile believers.
Listen! What did the prophets say? “The deliverer will come from Zion.” Who is the deliverer? Jesus the Son of God, of course, the only deliverer, that Jewish man, born in Bethlehem who lived in Nazareth, preached in Galilee, and died in Zion, in Jerusalem. But he didn’t start a Jewish cult of ‘Jesuits’ like the ‘teacher of righteousness’ did with his followers called the Essenes withdrawing to a ravine near the Dead Sea to live in an isolated commune surrounding their leader. No! Our great deliverer came from Zion. He leads his people from Jerusalem on to Judea and on to Samaria. He sends them forth and accompanies them to the ends of the earth. The deliverer came from Zion. He didn’t stay in Zion and demand that every Christian in the world go on a Mecca-like pilgrimage to Zion once in their life-time for merit! He came from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth with his people because he promised them he would be with them always. And so he opened the heart of Lydia in Greece, and he planted his church in Rome, and he sent Philip to a desert place near Gaza to save a man from Africa.
Then one thing is sure, that while he is doing all this, the Lord Jesus will never ignore the people of Israel; he has not rejected them to this day and never will. They are all going to saved.Think of the tsunami of godlessness that was sweeping Saul of Tarsus before it. You would think, “He’s done for. He’s going to be drowned.! No. God turned the flood of ungodliness away for the most brilliant Jew of his day, Saul of Tarsus. It did not destroy him. It was totally diverted from around him. God saved Saul of all Jews! Remember those important words with which this chapter begins: “Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew” (vv.1&2). What did the deliverer do to Saul? He turned godlessness away from him. Was there a more godless Jew in the first century than Saul? What did he call himself? The chief of sinners. Yet God of Jacob turned his godlessness away from him and from all of Jacob – the name for elect, believing Jewry. He changed their hearts, making them godly and god-fearing hearts.
What did he do for Saul and all the unbelieving Jews? He brought them into a covenant with them, and he took away all their sins. The leaders of this race had passed sentence on the Son of God. They had said, “Crucify him! He does not deserve to live! His blood be on us and on our children!” but when these men and women heard the gospel and asked God to show them mercy he did not tantalize and play hard to find. Immediately he heard their prayers and took away their sins. In this way any in Israel and all of Israel who were saved were indeed saved through the work of the great Deliverer. Here are some Scriptures that prove it, Paul says, and he gives us three, and there are hundreds and hundreds more prophecies of the great work the Messiah would do, he who came to be Saviour of Jew and Gentile. They all tell the same story of grace abounding and redeeming to all in Israel who are saved, grace that goes out from Zion to the ends of the earth and throughout the centuries. And that same grace from the same Saviour is offered to us, however bad we’ve been. There is a Deliverer who can deliver you from your addictions and weaknesses and the sins that so easily beset you. He can deliver you from those mighty chains that bind you to your past.
So who are these people whom Paul calls “All Israel” who are going to be saved? Now there is no point in my being coy with you at this juncture. You all want to know if this verse is teaching one day a huge percentage of Jews are going to be converted in a mighty Jewish-centric revival, and that then they will evangelize the rest of the world so effectively that we’ll see a latter day glory. All I can say is that no one can say that such an extraordinary event is definitely going to happen. I pray that it might. “Do it Lord!” But does this verse in particular require us to believe it? It seems to me that you can look at this phrase “All Israel will be saved” from three angles . . .
A] ‘All Israel’ could mean ‘the whole church.’ This has been how most of the Christian church understood the meaning of this verse in the early centuries, and this is how John Calvin interpreted this verse. The Bible proof text for believing that it means the whole church made up of Jews and Gentiles together being saved and bearing that rightful covenant name ‘Israel’ is found in Paul’s letter to the Gentile church in what today is Turkey but then it was known as ‘Asia Minor.’ Paul writes a farewell greeting to the Galatians, and he phrases it like this, “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God” (Gals. 6: 16). So ‘all Israel’ could mean every single Christian.
If it does mean that then of course the statement is absolutely true. They will all be saved, we Gentiles and Jews who have trusted in Christ, but the problem is that this word ‘Israel’ isn’t used in that sense in this whole chapter as comprising both Jews and Gentiles. Also it means that in just one sentence the word ‘Israel’ is being used in two different senses, to refer to the Jews exclusively (v.25) and then to refer to all the Gentiles and Jews together (v.26). Surely here ‘Israel’ must be restricted to believing Jews.
B] ‘All Israel’ could mean ‘all the Jews of the very last generation living on the earth at the appearing of Christ at the Second Coming.’ In other words, at the end of our age there will be a great turning to Jesus by the Jews, and the impact of their conversions and their evangelism will result in a great awakening amongst us Gentiles. It will be a latter day glory. There are differences of understanding, but one thing that all who hold this view agree upon is that there will be momentous events that immediately precede the second coming of Christ. There must then be the fulness of the Gentiles, and there will also be all Israel being saved. I agree that there is no one can say definitely that such spiritual blessing will never be poured out on the world. I pray that this will happen, but does this verse 26, and this chapter require me to believe that this is what it’s teaching and this is going to happen?
C] ‘All Israel’ could mean ‘all elect Israelites.’ It cannot mean all Israel without exception, all who have lived for the last 2,000 years and died in their rejection of the Lord Jesus – it is not referring to them being saved. It certainly means all Israel without distinction; just like the word ‘all’ in other parts of the New Testament means all without distinction – “even so in Christ shall all be made alive” means all kinds of men and women not the entire population of the world. So here ‘all Israel’ would mean every kind of Jew, Hassidic Jews, orthodox Jews, liberal Jews, atheistic Jews, Christ-hating Jews, American Jews, Russian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Welsh Jews, if all these people would but turn to the Lord Jesus then God will call them his people. This verse is teaching that the entire company of the Jews from the time of Abraham down to the very end of the age, all of whom God is pleased to call ‘my people’, they will all be saved.
Paul says, “And so all Israel will be saved,” and I am interpreting ‘all Israel’ to mean all the millions of chosen ones in Israel from Abraham’s time to the last blessed generation at the end of the world are finally going to be saved. Jews did a terrible thing when they killed the Son of God on a cross, but that didn’t result in their being cut off from God’s mercy for ever. Far from casting them off so that they are fallen beyond recovery (v.11), God has actively been at work in each generation in the history of the world. In other words, somewhere in the world while you are reading these words God is providentially bringing a Christian to meet a Jew and they are engaged in talking of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and God is not allowing one word to fall to the ground. He is saving people in Israel today. He is working out his own plan for them as I speak. Dr. Lloyd-Jones at the end of the summer and his customary long break from Westminster Chapel would hold an ‘At Home’ with members of the congregation. They would enjoy finger food together and then he would tell them of his visits to various parts of the world. One such September meeting he told them of a notable summer visit he had made to South Africa and his preaching there. He and his wife had gone to South Africa on a liner, and they would sit on the deck in the sunshine and read and talk to other people. He became friendly with a young man who finally told Dr. Lloyd-Jones that he was a Jew. “Oh,” said the Doctor, “I have been studying a book written by a Jew for a few years,” and he proceeded to tell the man about Paul’s letter to the Romans.” God arranged that meeting, and he blessed that conversation to that man, and I am saying that in that way all Israel is saved.
So when we read these words “And so all Israel will be saved” we are not to interpret the phrase as saying, “And then all Israel will be saved.” The words are not pointing forward to a time . . . next year . . . a hundred years’ time . . . a thousand years’ time, or just before the coming of Christ in the clouds with great glory and all his holy angels with him, that then all Israel will be saved. Rather he is saying this, that through the Bible written by these converted Jews, and the abundant kindness of God, the fulness of the Gentiles will come, and the conversion of many Gentiles will stir up such envy and longing in the hearts of Jews, that many of them will seek earnestly this salvation for themselves, and the elect will obtain it (v.7). That has been the way in every generation until the Saviour returns that all of them will be saved.
What manner of person I ought to be since these things will be. How I ought to love God’s ancient people and bear witness to them of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. If we see in the Word of God that there is now no longer a division between Jew and Gentile, that we are all one in Christ Jesus, what barriers in the world cannot be transcended in the Christian church. There are barriers of morality, and barriers of wealth, and barriers of language and nationality, and barriers of religion, but if anyone embraces Jesus Christ and lives a life in communion with him then these other differences seem so secondary. The spokes all get nearer to one another the closer to the hub they get and so it is with our union with Christ, the differences between us get smaller and smaller as we live with and for him – this great and glorious Saviour, Jesus Christ.
14th July 2013 GEOFF THOMAS