Today we continue Paul’s letter to the Romans. In the first section of the letter, Paul explained the universal need for justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. All are sinners, and all need Christ. He then discussed the results of justification. It is those who are justified that are the true sons of Abraham, the man of faith. When we are justified, who we were ceases to be, for we have died with Christ. We are made new and live with Christ. This is all of faith, not physical descent.
Now, in the third section of the letter, Paul expounds God’s eternal plan for justification. All that has come before (chapters 1-8) play into what Paul is about to say. Paul so desires that the physical people of God would become part of the spiritual people of God (9:1-3). As he stated, they had the advantage of being God’s physical people who God entered into covenant with and gave the Law to (v. 4). They are the physical conduit from Abraham to Christ (v. 5). They should have been the first to place their faith in Christ! They had every reason to!
But they haven’t. And that was all according to God’s plan. Because all along, the true people of God were the spiritual people of God (v. 6). This is not a simple “Replacement Theology” that Paul is espousing.1 There is no replacing being done. This was always the case. God’s true people have always been his spiritual people. And before Christ came, the spiritual people of God were almost exclusively of the physical people, because they alone had the Word of God.
Paul then refers back to what he said in chapter 5. The children of Abraham are not of physical descent, but spiritual (vv. 7-8). Those of faith are his children. This is why Isaac was his child in this sense, but Ishmael was not. Isaac carried the promise by faith (v. 9). The same holds true for the next generation. Jacob was the spiritual offspring of Abraham, but Esau was not. (vv. 10-13). And this has nothing to do with anything the two had done. This was according to God’s purpose of election; because of Him Who calls (v. 11 – see 8:28-30). And this was God’s plan from Genesis (quoted in verse 12) through Malachi (quoted in verse 13).
So does this mean that God has been unjust towards physical Israel? Absolutely not (v. 14)! It is God’s sovereign right to have mercy and compassion on whom He wants (v. 15). This means that salvation is not the choice of man, but the choice of God (v. 16). This is plainly stated here. God is sovereign over the justification of men. Paul proves this by pointing out that God is also sovereign over who is not justified (v. 17). The choice is God’s alone (v. 18).
If Paul’s point is not that God is completely sovereign over the salvation of individuals, then his anticipated objection in verse 19 makes no sense. Paul knows what he just said, and he knows that people will think, “well, if I am not saved because God hasn’t chosen me, then it’s not my fault I’m not saved and I shouldn’t be punished for it.” And note that Paul doesn’t try to explain how God still holds us responsible for not having the faith that He has to choose to give us. He just says: “who are you to question God” (v. 20)? God has the absolute right to save whom He will and to leave whom He will in their sin (v. 21). What if God allows men to stay in their sin to reveal His power in them (v. 22), which is exactly what He did with Pharaoh (v. 17 – see Ex 9:16)? What if God allows some to remain in their sin for the sake of the elect (v. 23) whether Jew or Gentile (v. 24)? What if God allowed the Jews to remain in their sin, for the most part, in order to save the world (vv. 25-26)? This is what Paul declared as he turned to the Gentiles (see Acts 13:46-47). This is what God promised through the prophets, like Hosea (see Hos 2:23, 1:10). This is what He promised through Isaiah (v. 27-28 – see Isa 10:22-23) who said only a remnant of physical Jews would be saved, and that for the express sake of bringing forth Christ (v. 29 – see v. 5 and Isa 1:9).
Paul then asks “what do we say to all of this” (v. 30). He tells us. The nations have been justified by faith, but unbelieving Israel has not been justified because they sought justification in the Law (v. 31). They chose the Law that exposes their sin (see 7:7-13) over the faith that justifies them and actually fulfills the Law (see 3:21-31). Israel chose their physical heritage over their spiritual heritage, but the physical heritage was solely for the bringing forth of Christ, the true Israel. They chose their physical heritage over their physical offspring (see Gal 3:16). And they have stumbled over Him by not believing, as God planned (v. 33 – see Isa 28:16, 8:14).
Yet Paul still prays for their salvation (10:1). They have such a zeal for God. Their zeal is just misplaced (v. 2). They chose the Law over faith in Christ Who fulfilled the Law for those of faith (v. 3-4). We see here that there is still human responsibility for faith. But instead of faith, the Jews chose to seek justification through the Law. Paul points to Leviticus 18:5 (see also Galatians 3:12) where God requires those who follow the Law to live completely according to the Law (v. 5). But this was only to show man our inability to do so, and to show us our need for justification some other way. And that other way is faith (v. 6). Paul then quotes Deuteronomy 30:12-14 to show that human effort (works of the Law) is never what God required (vv. 7-8). He required faith (vv. 9-10).
Paul shows them from the Old Testament that this is what God always required. He quotes Isaiah 28:16 (v. 11 – see 9:33). That “everyone” who believes (the heart in verse 9) shows that this is not exclusive to physical Israel (v. 12). He quotes Joel 2:32 (v. 13). Again, that “everyone” who calls on the name of God (the confession of verse 9) will be saved shows this is not exclusive to Israel. And this faith comes through the Gospel (vv. 14-15). But Israel (the “they” of verse 16) have not believed the Gospel. Paul quotes Isaiah 53:1 that speaks of Christ and His work. Physical Israel has stumbled over Christ (9:33) Who is the purpose of the physical people (9:5).
So Paul asks: has Israel heard the Gospel? Indeed they have (v. 18). And Paul here circles back to his point in Romans 1:18-32. He even quotes Psalm 19 here. So did Israel just not understand the Gospel? They did not. And it was all according to God’s plan who promised that they would turn to false gods and He would turn to the Gentiles (v. 19 – see Deut 32:19-21). And the Gentiles would find faith where Israel would not, even though Israel had the same opportunity they did (vv. 20-21 – see Isa 65:1-2).
So does this mean God has rejected physical Israel wholesale? Of course not (11:1). Paul himself was a physical Israelite. God has not rejected anyone He ever intended to save (v. 2 – see again 8:28-30 about those God foreknew). Don’t be like Elijah who thought Israel had completely apostatized (vv. 2-4 – see 1 Kings 19:10-18). There are physical Jews who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone (v. 5). Paul is careful to make it very explicit that the saved Jews are saved not by works of the Law, but the same way anyone is saved (v. 6). The unsaved Jews failed to obtain justification because they sought it through the Law according to God’s will, whereas the saved Jews were justified because God chose them (v. 7). Paul is again saying this is God’s sovereign choice. He chose which Jews would be saved like He chooses any Gentile who is saved. The rest God sovereignly leaves in their sin (vv. 8-9 – see Isa 29:10, Ps 69:22-23).
So God chose some of the physical people to be His spiritual people (see 9:6-13). And God chose the rest of the physical people to remain in their sin for the sake of the elect (see 9:25-26) according to His eternal plan revealed in the Old Testament (v. 11 – see 10:19). The unbelief of the unsaved Jews was for the benefit of the world (v. 12). What does Paul mean by his next statement, “how much more their fullness (or completion)?” Remember, Paul was just talking about how some of Israel was saved, and some was rejected. He is making the same comparison here between those who “completed” and those who “failed.” Paul is saying that God’s salvation and power and glory are even more evident because He did not fully reject Israel, but included some of them in the church.
There are some who interpret this verse (v. 12) to mean that eventually, all of physical Israel will be saved. I do not see how the context allows for that, not only considering what Paul is talking about in the first eleven verses of this chapter, but what he says following verses. Paul is saying all of this to the Roman Christians, that is, Gentiles, because Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles (v. 13). But Paul has not turned his back on his physical countrymen. He hopes that through Gentile salvation, some of Israel will be jealous (according to God’s Word – see v. 11, 10:19, and Deut 32:21) and turn to Christ (v. 14 – see also below). Some of Israel. Not all. Some.
Paul is saying that if Israel’s rejection meant the salvation of the Gentiles, and the inclusion of some physical Israelites is even better (v. 12, 15), then the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s elect should be a benefit for physical Israel. This is what he says using the metaphor of the olive branch (v. 16). He takes this metaphor from the Old Testament prophets (see Isa 24:13, Jer 11:16). And, of course, the root is Christ (see Isa 11:10, John 15:5). That much of Israel stumbled and was rejected means salvation for the nations, is likened to branched being removed from an olive tree (unsaved Israel) and wild shoots (Gentiles) being grafted in (v. 17).
Paul is emphasizing that not all Israel has been rejected – some of the natural branches remain (see vv. 2-6). Gentiles (like the Romans) should not feel privileged above saved Israelites, because it is Israel that brought forth Christ (v. 18). We should not be arrogant that the unbelieving Jews were removed for our sake (vv. 19-20). Rather, we should fear God. If He sovereignly left physical Israel in their sin when they believed they were God’s true people, we need to be careful that we are, in fact, among God’s true people (vv. 21-22). In other words, if we do not persevere in faith, we are not among the spiritual people of God. And just because there are as-of-yet unsaved Israelites, that doesn’t mean they will not be saved (vv. 23-24). We do not know who the elect are. There are some in the visible church that will not persevere and will be revealed to be unsaved, and there are those currently outside the visible church that will prove to be elect. As he has said all along, Paul is telling the church not to make a distinction based on physical lineage, in particular, not to look down upon Jews. They have been the conduit to Gentile salvation (see below).
And that is what Paul is talking about in verse 25. The “mystery” Paul refers to is the removal of the distinction between Israel and the Gentiles (see Eph 3:6). Part of physical Israel has sovereignly been hardened by God so that the fullness (or completion) of the nations comes about. Paul is using the same language he uses in verse 12. The true Israel is the spiritual Israel, made up of physical Jews and Gentiles. God’s plan is to save all of His elect according to His eternal plan through physical Israel (see Isa 2:2-5, 11:10, 66:18-20, Micah 4:1-4, and the beginning of the fulfillment in Acts 2:1-11). And Paul has now explained how this happens three ways. It is through Christ, Who is the true Israel. It is through the rejection of Israel. And it is through the inclusion of part of Israel in the elect. In this way, all of the true Israel (see again 9:6-12) will be saved (vv. 26-27). Spiritual Israel. Spiritual Zion. The members of the New Covenant. Those who have been justified.
Once again, physical Israel was rejected for the sake of the elect Gentiles and were chosen to bring forth Christ (v. 28). This is what God promised the physical seed of Abraham (v. 29 – see 9:4, Gen 12:3). We were once disobedient (from Babel to Christ) but have received mercy because the Gospel has come to us because of Israel’s rejection (vv. 30-31). Paul again says that now we may be a blessing to physical Israel and save some of them (v. 31 – see vv. 13-14). Because there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile – we are all sinners (see chapters 1-4), and are all saved the same way (see chapters 5-8). And while we cannot understand why God did/does/will do all of this (vv. 33-35), we can know that He is sovereign and does all things for His own glory (vv. 35-36).
1 Replacement Theology states that God replaced Israel with the church after Christ’s First Coming. He in a sense transferred the promises, salvation, etc. to the church from Israel.