1 What Does It Mean for All Israel to be Saved? I. INTRODUCTION A. The apostle Paul makes an incredible prediction in Romans 11:25-26: 25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of 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 ; (Romans 11:25 26 ESV) 1. Paul predicts a time in the future when the expansion of the gospel among the gentiles reaches fullness. 2. Paul says this process will result in all Israel being saved. B. Paul makes this salvation of Israel a great commission issue by joining it with the fullness of the gentiles. Understanding Paul s prediction is important to understanding how the Great Commission will come to conclusion and that is important for us to understand to that we can labor in the Great Commission with understanding. C. In order to understand what Paul is saying it is important that we interpret the phrase all Israel correctly. 1. Because Israel can refer to land, a people, or a nation, we have to define how it is being used in this context. In this context Paul is using Israel to describe the Jewish people. In Romans 9 he refers to them as his kinsmen according to the flesh, (Romans 9:3-4) and as the passage develops he uses the term Israel primarily to refer to the Jewish people. 2. Paul is predicting that a time will come at the end of the mission to the gentiles when the people of Israel ( all Israel ) will come into salvation. Paul is not predicting that every Jewish person ever born will be saved. This is clear from Romans 9 where Paul expresses his unimaginable grief over the condition of those Israelites who have rejected the gospel. 1 I am speaking the truth in Christ I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9:1 3 ESV)
2 D. Paul s prediction of Israel s salvation is not a new prediction. He is summarizing a number of Old Testament predictions and speaking from an understood Old Testament context. In order to understand what Paul is predicting and what he is referring to, we need to look at those passages. PAGE 2 II. IS ALL ISRAEL FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE? A. Is Paul s use of the term all Israel meant to be taken literally or is it hyperbolic language intended to communicate that a really large number of Israel will be saved? 1. The Bible sometimes uses this kind of hyperbole to describe a large majority of people. For example, in Matthew we are told that all Jerusalem, Judea, and the region of the Jordan came out to see John the Baptist: 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, (Matthew 3:5 ESV) 2. While it is possible that everyone in the region went out to see John the Baptist, the verse is only intended to communicate that large crowds from the region went out to see him. It is not necessarily communicating that every single person in Jerusalem, Judea, and around the Jordan made the journey to see John. It is a hyperbolic statement that communicates how profound John s influence was. We do the same thing when we say everyone was there or everyone s talking about it when what we mean is a large majority not literally every single person. B. In order to understand Paul s use of the phrase all we need to look at the Old Testament passages he was drawing from. Let s examine a number of them to see if the prophets are communicating a large majority or if they intend to communicate every single person within Israel receiving salvation at this time of salvation. C. The first prediction of Israel s salvation begins with the promise made to Abraham. We will look at this more in a minute, but Abraham was given a promise of descendants who make his name great and there is an implication of righteous descendants in the promise. In light of the New Testament we would call this a saved Israel. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2 ESV) D. Moses continues with a similar prediction in Deuteronomy:
3 PAGE 3 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6 ESV) E. As the redemptive story unfolds, the prophets give far more detailed descriptions of what Israel s salvation will look like. F. Isaiah gives a number of predictions describing Israel s future salvation. 1. Isaiah 4 predicts a time when everyone in Jerusalem will be holy. 2 In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. 3 And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, (Isaiah 4:2 3 ESV) 2. Isaiah 45 describes a glorious day of future salvation for Israel. 17 But Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity. (Isaiah 45:17 ESV) 23 By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance. 24 Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. 25 In the LORD all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory. (Isaiah 45:23 25 ESV) a. In verse 17, Isaiah promises a day when a permanent salvation comes for Israel. If the nation is saved with an everlasting salvation and will never be put to shame or confounded for all eternity the implication is that the entire nation is saved. If a part of the nation was not saved, it would still cause shame on the nation, but Isaiah records a dramatic, bold statement that implies an entirely saved nation.
4 PAGE 4 b. In verses God distinguishes between Israel and the nations. He predicts that every knee will bow in obeisance to him, but then specifically states that all the offspring of Israel will be justified. While this statement certainly could include the saved gentiles (Revelation 12 refers to saved gentiles as the rest of her [Israel s] offspring ), the entire chapter is written as a prophecy of Israel s glorious future. While gentiles are grafted into that future, Isaiah would have understood this prophecy as a prediction of a future time when the entire nation of Israel was saved with an eternal salvation. 3. Isaiah 54 predicts a future time when all of Israel s children are instructed in the Lord, which indicates a time when the parents and the children in the nation are all walking with Him. 13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. (Isaiah 54:13 ESV) 4. Isaiah 59 contains the passage that Paul specifically quotes in Romans 11:26. Looking closely at this chapter helps us to understand what Paul was thinking about and why he chose to quote this passage. In verses 20-21, Isaiah predicts a day when God s words will not depart from the nation or it s children. Again, this implies a saved nation forever faithful to God. 20 And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, declares the LORD. 21 And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children s offspring, says the LORD, from this time forth and forevermore. (Isaiah 59:20 21 ESV) 5. Isaiah 60 explicitly states that a time is coming when the entire nation is saved. God tells Isaiah that a day is coming when your people shall all be righteousness. It will happen in the future and in its time the Lord will hasten it. 20 Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. 21 Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. 22 The least one shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it. (Isaiah 60:20 22 ESV)
5 6. Isaiah 61 and 66 both describe a future day where Israel is known and celebrated in the earth. This implies a saved nation. PAGE 5 9 Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed. (Isaiah 61:9 ESV) 22 For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. (Isaiah 66:22 ESV) G. Jeremiah also predicts a future day of salvation. 1. Jeremiah 31 predicts a coming day when everyone in Israel knows the Lord in such a way that they do not need a teacher to show them the way to the Lord. In this day God will not remember their sin any more with the implication being that the nation no longer is subject to sin. Such a scenario is possible only if the entire nation is saved and this is what the first part of verse 34 describes. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, Know the LORD, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33 34 ESV) 2. Jeremiah 32 also contains the language of national salvation. Jeremiah predicts the nation will return to God and have one heart and one way to fear the Lord forever. At this time the Lord will not turn away from doing good to them. The only way such a promise could come to pass would be if the entire nation is saved. 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. (Jeremiah 32:38 40 ESV) H. Ezekiel also predicts a future time of national salvation.
6 PAGE 6 1. Ezekiel 20 uses the phrase all the house of Israel and all of them to describe a future day when Israel serves the Lord. 40 For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, declares the Lord GOD, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land. There I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred offerings. (Ezekiel 20:40 ESV) 2. Ezekiel 36 predicts a time of restoration for the whole house of Israel and he follows that phrase with all of it to emphasize that all of Israel will be restored. This restoration implies a national salvation. 10 And I will multiply people on you, the whole house of Israel, all of it. The cities shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt. (Ezekiel 36:10 ESV) 3. Ezekiel 36 goes on to describe a time when God cleanses Israel from all her uncleanness and gives her a new heart and the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable the nation to obey His laws. Again, something that is only possible if the entire nation is saved. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:25 27 ESV) 4. Ezekiel 37 describes the restoration of the entire nation under a single Messianic king and predicts that, at this time, the people will no longer defile themselves and instead by careful to obey my statutes. 22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 24 My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. (Ezekiel 37:22 24 ESV)
7 PAGE 7 5. Ezekiel 39 predicts a day when Israel is in right relationship with God as a nation and a people. In this day God no longer hides his face and He is able to pour His spirit on the nation. God hides His face from Israel as a result of sin (Isaiah 59:2), so the promise to never hide His face indicates that sin is no longer an issue in the nation. 22 The house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God, from that day forward 29 And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 39:22, 29 ESV) I. Joel predicts a day when the nation will no longer be put to shame. The nation is only protected from shame when the entire nation is saved so again national salvation is implied. 26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. (Joel 2:26 27 ESV) J. Zephaniah 3 predicts a time when God causes everyone in the nation to call on His name. At this time no one will do injustice or speak lies. Again, it s the description of a saved nation. 9 For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD, 13 those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. (Zephaniah 3:9, ESV) K. Across the Old Testament we find promises that either explicitly state that everyone in Israel is saved or describe a future time of national salvation that is not possible unless the entire nation is saved. 1. When we look at how passages use different language to describe this time of salvation the only reasonable interpretation of the passage is that the prophets are consistently pointing to some time when the entire nation is saved.
8 PAGE 8 2. Surveying a few of these prophetic passages, the kind of passages that Paul was summarizing in Romans 11, makes it apparent that when Paul describes the salvation of all Israel that he did not just imagine a day when the majority of his people were saved, he believed in a day when all his people were saved. That alone could fulfill all the various predictions made by the prophets. L. Some have tried to apply these passages to the church, but when we look at passage after passage it becomes clear that there must be a specific application for the Jewish people. 1. The prophets predict the salvation of an entire nation including details of the covenant, the issue of land, and specific language to refer to Israel. 2. The gentiles can benefit from these promises tremendously and receive great blessing from them, but only a national salvation of Israel can fulfill the details of these passages. 3. Romans 9-11 shows us that Paul still expected these promises to be fulfilled as they were written with a specific application for Israel. He separates the salvation of the gentiles and the salvation of Israel in Romans 11:25-26 revealing that he sees specific promises related to Israel s salvation that are different from the salvation of the gentiles. 4. Paul contends for both Jewish and gentile salvation and both must come to salvation through Jesus, but Paul clearly believes that there are specific Old Testament promises related to Israel s salvation that continue to apply to Israel. 5. Paul had great revelation of God s mysteries and clearly expounded them in his letters. If the mystery of Israel s salvation was accomplished in the salvation of the nations, Paul would have explained that mystery. Instead, Paul maintains that these promises of national salvation for Israel remain Israel s promises. Romans 9-11 begins with Paul s deep anguish over his people and ends with Paul s hope of their future salvation. Throughout this section Paul shows how God s plan for Israel and the nations is deeply connected, but he also identifies how each play a unique part in the redemptive plan. III. THE COVENANTAL ISSUE THAT MUST BE RESOLVED
9 PAGE 9 A. So why is it that the prophets predict a salvation of all Israel? The answer in short is that there are covenantal issues that must be resolved related to Israel and these can only be resolved with the salvation of the entire nation. This is the reason that the prophets predict a day when the entire nation is saved and it is why Paul predicted a day when all of Israel would be saved. There are two covenantal issues at play. One is a promise that must be fulfilled and the other is a covenant threat that must be resolved. B. In Genesis 12, God made a great promise to Abraham that he would have many descendants who would make his name great in the earth. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2 ESV) 1. If we read the promise carefully and in context it requires more than many descendants. Abraham is promised that he will become a great nation. The word great is not just quantitative, it is also qualitative. It is a word that is also used when the Scripture says that God is great. In the same way, Abraham s descendants must become a nation that is great. Biblically a great nation is a righteous nation, a nation that can serve as an example to the nations. 2. One of the key ways God will bless Abraham is by transforming his descendants into a great nation that makes his name great in the earth. Abraham s name will be great as a result of this nation that comes from him. Of course this has been fulfilled in a small measure because of the gift of Messiah but God predicts a much bigger fulfillment. 3. The promise made to Abraham is not just the promise of a Messiah; it is a promise of a great nation coming from Abraham. In the same way that the Messiah is the righteous individual the righteous king from Abraham, there must also be a corporate expression of greatness that comes from Abraham. A great nation must emerge and, when it does, it will also cause Abraham s name to be great across the nations. 4. The only nation capable of fulfilling the promise made to Abraham is a nation that is entirely saved. Only a nation free of sin and fully redeemed is capable of being the great nation that Abraham was promised. It is an error to assume that Abraham was simply promised many descendants. Wicked descendants who never inherit the promises of God are not a promise at all. The promise was far more than that. It was the promise of a saved nation.
10 PAGE 10 C. Not only is there a covenant promise that must be fulfilled, there is also a covenant threat that must be resolved. By threat we mean the threat of the covenantal curses related to the covenant made at Sinai. 1. The covenant made at Sinai is a very unique covenant. Nothing else like it exists in redemptive history. An entire nation heard the voice of God (Deuteronomy 4:9-13, 32-36; 5:1-4) and agreed to certain terms of a covenant. Those terms offered blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience. Moses summarizes the terms of the covenant in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy According to the terms of the covenant, any time there was sin in Israel, the nation would eventually come under judgment. God did not make this covenant with an individual, like He did with Abraham or David, He made it with an entire nation who all heard His voice. 3. The nation entered into covenant with God and this meant for subsequent generations that those in Israel, even the righteous, would suffer greatly because of the sin in the nation. There was always a righteous remnant in the nation, but the righteous remnant has never been able to overcome the sin in the nation because any sin in the nation is a breach of the covenant and causes the nation to experience God s judgments rather than enjoy the blessings promised to Abraham. 4. Something must be done to resolve the threats of the covenant made at Sinai. The threat is that, so long as there is sin in Israel, God remains bound by His word to ultimately respond to that sin in judgment. The only way to fulfill the promises made concerning Israel in the prophets is for the nation to become entirely righteous. Because Israel made the covenant as a nation, Israel has to resolve the covenant as an entire nation. To say it another way, the only way to finally break the power of the curses in the Mosaic Covenant is for the entire nation to become righteous and in the process become fully free from the curses of the covenant. 5. Many assume that the covenant made at Sinai passed away with the first coming of Jesus. That is true, but there is a process to ending the effects of the covenant. Jesus secured salvation from the covenant curses, but that salvation is only secured for those who are in Jesus.
11 PAGE So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, (Galatians 3:24 25 ESV) 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4 ESV) a. This is why the New Testament says the law is in the process of passing away. 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13 ESV) b. Freedom from the curses of the law has been secured, but to obtain that freedom an individual must be in Jesus. This is why Paul calls the law a tutor to lead us to Jesus. The covenant curses remain in order to lead us to salvation and freedom in Jesus. Until we experience that freedom we remain under the law, but once we come into Him we are instantly and completely free. 6. Therefore the only way to become forever free from the curses of the law is to come into Jesus. In Israel s case, that requires a day when the entire nation is saved and obtains freedom from the curses of the law. For example, even if 80% of Israel were saved, that means 20% remain under the law and the covenant curses continue to threaten the nation because of the sin of the minority. The only way for Israel to ever come into the promised blessings of the Abrahamic covenant and fulfill the predictions of the prophets is for the entire nation to be saved and obtain complete freedom from the Mosaic covenant through Jesus. Israel came into the covenant at Sinai as a nation and there is a coming day when the covenant at Sinai must be fully resolved as a nation. 7. This is illustrated by the sin of Achan in the book of Joshua. The entire nation experienced judgment because of the sin of one man. One man s obedience put the entire nation in peril. 10 The LORD said to Joshua, Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand
12 PAGE 12 before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. (Joshua 7:10 12 ESV) 8. Paul, as a Jewish theologian and apostle, understood this well. He knew it would require a salvation of the entire nation to finally set the people completely free from the curses of the law. He knew that only a salvation of the entire nation could fulfill the promises the prophets had made and ensure that Israel would experience blessing and be free from the threat of curses. D. With a deep understanding of Israel s history, Paul understood it would take a national salvation to set the nation free forever from the curses of the covenant. For all these reasons, when Paul predicted the salvation of all Israel he understood what he was saying a day must come for Israel when the entire nation enters into salvation. IV. ROMANS 11 IS AN ASTOUNDING PREDICTION A. Paul s prediction in Romans 11 is a truly astounding prediction. It is a summary of Israel s long history in the Old Testament. In a few words, Paul summarizes the hope the prophets always gave the nation of Israel: a time will come when Israel is an entirely saved nation hosting the glory of God and serving as a light to the nations. B. The best way to understand the salvation of all Israel is to understand God s plan with humanity. Human beings were uniquely called by God to a divine purpose. Humanity fell and most of humanity has rebelled against the purpose. However, God remains committed to mankind s purpose and we are currently in the plan of redemption to bring man into his calling. 1. A day will come when the wicked are judged and God will move forward with a redeemed humanity. The unredeemed will be judged and the redeemed will continue with God in His eternal purpose. 2. This is exactly what is happening with Israel. Israel was called for a very special purpose. That purpose remains. Their election is irrevocable. 3. Though most of Israel throughout history has fallen away from that calling, God remains committed to it. A day will come when the nation will be entirely redeemed and that nation will fulfill God s original purposes for Israel.
13 PAGE At that point in history, a redeemed Israel will enter into the promises of God with no more rebellion within the nation. In that way, Israel s national future is a picture of man s future. C. God is fully committed to a remnant in every tribe and tongue (Matthew 24:14; 28:19; Revelation 5:9; 7:9), but His great plan for the nations also includes the salvation of an entire nation. To fulfill the promises of the Scripture, God will have to do the impossible save an entire nation down to every last man, woman, and child. D. The salvation of a remnant from every tribe and tongue is a pretty staggering prediction, but even more staggering is the prediction of the salvation of an entire nation. Paul s prediction is not hyperbolic it is precise. A day must come when all Israel will be saved. Nothing less can fulfill the promises made.