What is Israel’s Place in Redemptive History? (Exposition of Romans 11:11-32)

In a speech delivered on October 27, 1994 in Jerusalem, the President of the United States quoted the words of his pastor, “If you abandon Israel, God will never forgive you . . . it is God’s will that Israel, the biblical home of the people of Israel, continue for ever and ever.” President Bill Clinton concluded his speech by saying, “Your journey is our journey, and America will stand with you now and always” (cited in O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God, 1).

These words assume that Israel’s place in God’s plan is ultimately tied to a tiny strip of land in Palestine. The idea behind these words is a mistaken focus on the modern political state of Israel instead of her spiritual place in the kingdom of God.

Now, let me affirm that God did promise the land to Abraham and his descendants. This land was to belong to the physical descendants of Abraham as long as they remained faithful to God. However, because of their rebellion against God and rejection of the Messiah the nation as a whole has forfeited its divine right to the land. I believe that God will remain faithful to His promises to the believing remnant within Israel. Even Gentiles who place their trust in the Jewish Messiah will also receive the inheritance of the land. The promised land, though, has been expanded to include the entire earth which all believers (Jews and Gentiles) will inherit at the Second Coming.

It’s both very interesting and instructive that in this New Testament passage that most clearly deals with Israel’s place in redemptive history, the land is not mentioned once (contrary to the teaching of many which use this chapter to argue for Israel’s divine right to the land of Palestine). On the other hand, instead of physical blessings, the spiritual blessings of “life from the dead”, “salvation” and “mercy” are clearly the focus of this text.

So, what is Israel’s place in redemptive history? In Romans 11:11-32, the apostle Paul first states, then illustrates and finally explains Israel’s place in redemptive history.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (12) Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (13) Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry (14) in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. (15) For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (16) If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. (17) But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, (18) do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. (19) Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” (20) That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. (21) For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. (22) Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (23) And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (24) For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (25) Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (26) And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; (27) “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (28) As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. (29) For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (30) Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, (31) so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. (32) For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

There are three major sections in this text of Scripture. In each of these three sections, similar themes are highlighed. First in verses 11-15, Paul states Israel’s place in redemptive history. Next in verses 16-24, Paul illustrates Israel’s place in redemptive history. Finally in verses 25-32, Paul further explains Israel’s place in redemptive history and its great significance.

I. Israel’s Place in Redemptive History Stated, vv. 11-15.
First, in this section, the apostle Paul states Israel’s place in redemptive history in a very straight-forward manner. Paul skips the role of Israel before the coming of Christ which is well-known. He instead begins by focusing on the issue that everyone then wanted (and now wants) to know” What is Israel’s place now, in light of her apparent rejection of the Messiah? Paul has shown in the previous two chapters that, although Israel is responsible for her unbelief (chapter 10), God had a sovereign plan to harden many while electing to save only a remnant of believing Jews out of ethnic Israel in this present age (chapter 9). Here in chapter 11, Paul explains God’s purpose in His sovereign plan. It is a story in four parts, each of which are essentially repeated in each of the three major sections of this morning’s text.

  • First, the fall of Jews in unbelief is described.
  • Second, the salvation of the Gentiles comes as a result of the fall of Jews.
  • Third, Jews are provoked to jealousy by the mercy shown to Gentiles.
  • Fourth, this jealousy results in the salvation of the Jews.

In this four part story of Israel’s place in redemptive history, God always acts in the most unexpected manner. The reason God acts in this way is to magnify His goodness, mercy and sovereignty.

All of this explanation comes in response to the question posed by Paul in verse 11, “Have they stumbled that they should fall?” In other words, is Israel’s stumbling (described in Romans 9:32-33 and 11:9) final and complete? Paul’s answer is with the strong negative: “God forbid!” Israel’s stumbling is not God’s final word regarding the Jewish people. They still have a place in His plan of redemptive history.

In these verses Paul builds an argument from the lesser to the greater indicating that the future is indeed bright for the people of Israel. This argument highlights the great blessings that have come to the Gentile world through the Jewish rejection of the Messiah. In verse 11, Paul uses this argument when he asks, “If the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” In verse 15 the argument also takes the form of a question: “if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” The implication in both of these verses is that a great future awaits Israel in which the Jewish people accept their previously rejected Messiah.

Interestingly, there also seems to be a hint here at when this event will transpire. The phrase in verse 15 seems to indicate that this glorious event will occur near the time when the resurrection of the dead also occurs. This is understood in New Testament thought to be at the end of the age. So the “fullness” of the Jewish people when they “receive” their Messiah will also occur at the end of the age (There’s another hint of this in verses 25-26. See below.).

II. Israel’sPlace in Redemptive History Illustrated, vv. 16-24.
In this section, Paul illustrates Israel’s place in redemptive history by the example of the olive tree. But before he introduces this familiar image for the nation of Israel from the Old Testament, he first introduces another image from the Old Testament in verse 16. This image comes from Numbers 15:17-21 which states:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, (18) “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land to which I bring you (19) and when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall present a contribution to the LORD. (20) Of the first of your dough you shall present a loaf as a contribution; like a contribution from the threshing floor, so shall you present it. (21) Some of the first of your dough you shall give to the LORD as a contribution throughout your generations.

The idea is that since the “firstfruit” is set apart to the Lord, then the whole lump is also consecrated to the Lord. I believe Paul is saying that since the fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) were set apart to the Lord, so also is the remainder of the loaf of Israel.
Paul moves on to stretch the imagery to that of a tree whose roots are of a certain character and therefore, so also are the branches. The roots of the patriarchs were holy, so too are the branches of Israel.

In verses 17-24, Paul expands on this image of the branches of a tree with the illustration of the olive tree. This imagery of the olive tree was first applied to the nation of Israel by the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 11:16-17,

The LORD once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.’ But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. (17) The LORD of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.”

The comparison of Israel to an olive tree is now applied to Israel’s place in redemptive history in a way that corresponds to the story in four parts that we observed in verses 11-15. Some of the natural branches were broken off (fall of Jews), branches from a wild olive tree were grafted in (salvation of Gentiles), warning against boasting (Gentiles can be removed for unbelief, just as unbelieving Jews have been removed), God can graft believing Jews back in (salvation of the Jews).

The process of graffing in branches from a wild olive tree into an existent cultivated tree was an unusual one in the first century. Usually the opposite was done because branches from wild olive trees were notoriously non-fruitbearing. Branches from cultivated olive trees were usually grafted into healthy wild trees to take advantage both of the strength of the wild tree and the fruitfulness of the cultivated tree. Paul says here that God has done what is “contrary to nature” (verse 24). He has taken non-fruitbearing branches from among the Gentiles and graffed them into the Jewish olive tree and made them produce fruit. This only transpires after God has removed the unbelieving Jewish natural branches in judgment. However, Gentiles should not boast in their position in the tree since they are only there by God’s mercy through faith. Just as some of the natural branches have been removed because of unbelief, so too can the wild branches be removed if they are unbelieving. In this illustration we see Israel’s place in redemptive history depicted. The branches that were broken off represent unbelieving Israel. The branches that were allowed to remain represent the remnant of believing Israel. The branches graffed in from the wild olive tree represent Gentile believers. Finally, the future restoration of Jewish branches is held out as a possibility if the Jewish people cease their unbelief and embrace the Messiah!

III. Israel’s Place in Redemptive History Explained, vv. 25-32.
In this final section, Paul explains in more detail Israel’s place in redemptive history. It is explained as a mystery that had been hidden and has now been revealed. The mystery is that the majority of Israel would be hardened throughout the gospel age while multitudes of Gentiles would believe. But, there is an additional aspect to this mystery. At the end of this age, God will once again turn to the nation of Israel and remove their blindness. Then a vast majority of Jews living at that time will believe and “all Israel shall be saved.” Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:20-21 in verses 26 and 27 as evidence of this truth. In this passage a time is prophesied in which all ungodliness will be turned away from Jacob (v. 26b) and God “shall take away their sins” (v. 27). This has not yet happened and therefore a future event is being identified. It is the event that will transpire after “the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (v. 25). It is the event described in verse 26a as the time when “all Israel shall be saved”! This must refer to the end of the age just before the second coming since all of the elect from among the Gentiles will have placed their faith in Christ. This is the time which was hinted at earlier when this event was linked with the resurrection with the phrase “life from the dead”. This is the climatic event in human history before or at the return of Christ when Israel in mass turns to and embraces their Messiah.

Paul brings the discussion of Israel’s place in redemptive history to a fitting conclusion in verses 28-32. Here the Jews are seen as the enemies of God in the present age in order that God might show mercy to the Gentiles. But elect Israel is beloved on behalf of the patriarchs and therefore God will turn to them again and remove their spiritual blindness at the end of the age.
In this section too, we see the familiar pattern evident in the previous two sections of our text. Israel’s partial blindness has led to the fullness of the Gentiles which in turn will terminate with the salvation of Israel.

Throughout redemptive history God’s mercy has been highlighted. Gentiles, who were previously unbelieving, have now obtained mercy through Israel’s unbelief. In the future, Israel will obtain mercy through the mercy being shown presently to the Gentiles. Both Jews and Gentiles have had their unbelief exposed throughout history in order to magnify God’s mercy which is shown indiscriminately to both Jews and Gentiles who believe.

Conclusion:

God’s purpose in redemptive history has been to conclude both Jews and Gentiles in unbelief in order that He might have mercy on both Jews and Gentiles. Compare Paul’s words in Romans 3:22-23 and 10:12. Both of these verses emphasize that “there is no difference” in God’s eyes between the Jews and Gentiles. The first reference shows this is true in regard to man’s sinfulness. The second shows this is true in regard to the avalability of the gospel.

For there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Romans 3:22-23

For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Romans 10:12-13

4 comments

  1. I really enjoyed Sunday’s sermon. Romans 11 is one of those passages only mentioned in IFB churches in the prophecy seminars. I can honestly say that Sunday was the first time I have ever heard a sermon from Romans 11. Thats pretty sad…

  2. Steve,

    With respect to your efforts to explain Shaul’s passages in his letter to the Roman congregation I must ask, are you familiar with the prophecies in the previous covenant (OT) regarding the last days restoration of the two houses of Israel?

    Thank you

    Shalom

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