“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. And in this way all Israel will be saved…” (Romans 11:26)
I want to start with an illustration of how branches are grafted into a tree. I’ve known this as possible, but honestly, I’ve never seen it done first hand. I’ve had to look up pictures and do a little research. Apparently, in certain trees, you can take branches from a tree, cut notches for them in another tree, tie them together, and they will grow like that together. This is often done with trees and shrubs to combine the best characteristics of the two plants. Grafting heirloom tomatoes, for example, has become popular because it lets gardeners enjoy the flavor of those tomatoes while reducing disease and other things like that. Paul uses this illustration in Romans to show us why we ought to be humble – because we, as Christians, are like foreign branches grafted into another tree. I want to come back to this illustration but let’s keep it in mind as we discuss that today. And it’ll make more sense.
So we’ve been studying Romans. While Romans is a difficult book, it really is a breath of fresh air from some of the Old Testament books who’ve been studying like Judges, Numbers and Leviticus. That’s because it’s full of the gospel. It looks back on the amazing moment in history when God, without ceasing to be God, became the man Jesus Christ. He lived a righteous life, died on the cross for our sin and rose again. That all who turn and trust in Him would have eternal life. That is really good news for you and me. This God, Yahweh – as He’s known in the Old Testament – revealed Himself to the world in a big way through Jesus. But it all started with the promise seed, the son, which started with Adam, back in Genesis 3:15. A promised line that made its way all the way to Noah, and his son Shem. All the way to Abraham and his sons, who began the people of Israel, leading to David and his descendant Jesus. So we have the gospel today, through the people of Israel.
Sometimes the Bible talks about there being two kinds of people in the world: Jewish and non-Jewish. Everyone who’s not Jewish are sometimes called gentiles. So I’m a gentile because I’m not Jewish. Most people in the world are, in fact, gentiles. And Romans is a letter from God, written through the Jewish Apostle Paul, sent to us directly by Jesus Himself. Right? Paul was sent by Jesus and wrote primarily to gentile or non-Jewish Christians here in Romans.
So Paul’s writing to Christians who are not Jews. However, a wide audience is in mind in Romans, and I think that it is important to remember that includes non-Christians. Paul is, of course, hoping some will be saved by hearing the gospel. So the audience includes non-Christian Jews who Paul hopes will be saved. The audience includes non-Christian gentiles who Paul hopes will be saved. But again, it’s written primarily to gentiles in Rome who are Christian. They are saved and they are a bit proud about it. They need some training and some correction. So with this context in mind, today I want to talk about a verse that’s very famous, but often misunderstood and, I think, confusing.
Before I read the verse, I’m going to do something a little bit different. So normally, I do inductive teaching, where I lead you to the conclusion. Today, I’m going to actually state the conclusion and then show you how I got there. The main point I’m trying to make today is that we as Christians, ought to have a healthy and balanced respect for the physical ethnic nation of Israel. Not only because of our heritage as Christians, but because the end of the current world as we know it, with the second coming of Jesus, will see its pinnacle with the nation of Israel on center stage. So that may sound a little complicated, so I’m actually going to say it again. We as Christians ought to have a healthy, balanced respect for the physical ethnic nation of Israel. Not only because of our heritage as Christians, but because the end of the current world as we know it, with the second coming of Jesus, will culminate with Israel on center stage. And I’m going to try to explain and prove that now.
So here’s Romans 11:25-26. I’m just going to be focusing on this verse, maybe pull in some others to kind of give some context, but this is what it says, “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. And in this way, all Israel will be saved…” So right off the bat, we’re told the purpose of these verses. It is “Lest you be wise in your own sight…” So that’s the purpose. And then he continues – but he says that because we’re told that we need to listen up. We need to be told “Lest you be wise in your own sight…”
The gentile or non-Jewish Christians, were exceeding the Jewish Christians in number. OK, so there are lots of gentiles. The number of gentile Christians grew rapidly. That rapid growth continues, and we can see that across the world today. So those gentiles saw themselves as the people of God, and were beginning to look down on the Jewish people. On top of that, if we’re following Paul’s logic, he just finished explaining that Israel herself has no reason to boast or be proud. He says, first of all, just because you’re Jewish, doesn’t mean you’re automatically saved. Romans 9: 6b says, “For not all, who are descended from Israel belong to Israel…” Then in Romans 9: 8 he says, “… it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” So just because you’re Jewish doesn’t automatically save you.
Second of all, it has nothing to do with how faithful Israel has been but everything to do with how faithful and gracious God has been. Romans 11: 5 says, “So too at the present time there’s a remnant, chosen by grace.” We may have already thought of Israel as being a small, little nation in the history of the world, then Paul says they are even smaller than you think. There are chosen people of Israel, within the nation of Israel. Now we find ourselves in Romans 11, and Paul’s about to bring some balance so that the rest of the Christians in the world don’t get too proud and look down on this little Israel.
I want to pause right here and point out again that this is the entire point of being told all Israel will be saved, because whatever it means for all Israel to be saved the point is to keep us humble. Paul says, we should know this “Lest, you be wise in your own sight…” Next, we know that this saving of all Israel is referring to the ethnic nation of Israel and that its salvation is something that will happen at the second coming of Christ.
Here’s how we know that. First, Paul is comparing those Jews who know Jesus to those who don’t know Jesus, when He says there’s a partial hardening that has come upon them (Romans 11:25b). Those who have hardness of heart toward the gospel, are not saved. In other words, this Israel who will eventually be saved is not the Israel just mentioned, who are chosen and saved, by grace. Right? In other words, we’re talking about unsaved Israel. That could only mean the other part of Israel. The rest of Israel – ethnic Israel – those Jewish by birth who are not Christians.
The first clue given about this, being during the second coming, is the word “mystery.” And I can’t take too much time today, but suffice it to say, this word is a clue that refers to the end times and has roots in apocalyptic language, like in the book of Daniel. In 1 Corinthians 15:51, Paul uses the word “mystery” again to refer to the second coming. He says, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed…” He’s referring to the resurrection.
The second clue that Paul’s referring to the second coming here in Romans, is the phrase, “… the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11: 25b). This language is really similar to what Jesus says in other places like Luke 21: 24, where He says, “… Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled“. And then in Matthew 24: 14, He says, “‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. ‘” And all nations, of course, is the gentiles.
So just when we’re saying to ourselves, how can this be? Again, if we are following Romans until this point, Paul just spent a really long time explaining that all people, whether they’re Jewish or not, are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. So just when we’re asking that, Paul says, “… all Israel will be saved…” (Romans 11: 26) Has he changed his mind? No, he explains by saying, “And in this way…” (Romans 11: 26) In other words, this is how. And he gives several allusions to four Old Testament scriptures in the quote that follows. These are from Isaiah 59; Isaiah 27; Psalm 14; Psalm 53. All of them point to Jesus. In other words, Israel will still be saved by Jesus and His gospel.
However that works; some imagine that God will save Israel similar to how Paul was saved when he was blinded and knocked to the ground, which is just by divine intervention. But however this mysterious event occurs, the point is that it will occur and that it will happen the same way as anyone in history has ever been saved: By God’s grace, through faith, because of Christ alone.
Paul concludes by saying “For just as you were, at one time, disobedient to God, but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy” (Romans 11: 30-31). In other words, God chose Israel to save us gentiles and now He has chosen us to be used to save them, which God will do at the end of this age in some amazing way.
OK, now there’s two special notes I think that need to be made when talking about this is… 1) What we mean by “all Israel” and 2) What happened with Jews before Jesus came. So first of all, the phrase “all Israel” doesn’t necessarily mean every single person who’s ever been Jewish, who’s ever lived and died.
Remember, Paul just got done saying there’s a remnant within Israel chosen by grace. He’s not rendering that remnant meaningless by saying “Oh, all will be saved in the end so it doesn’t matter.” No, “all Israel” there refers to the nation, not necessarily every single person. I found this really interesting. In Joshua 7:25, for example, we’re told that “all Israel” stoned Akin with stones. I don’t think we’re to imagine however many millions of people who made up Israel were throwing rocks that day. It meant it was a national public event.
Again, in 2 Samuel 16:22 we read how Absalom took his father’s concubines and that this happened before the eyes of “all Israel.” It’s not like every man, woman and child saw Absalom do these wicked things. But it was a national and public event. So I think we’re right to think that when Paul says that all ethnic Israel will be saved, it means it will be a national and public event, plain for all to see, that will happen because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That will come when Jesus returns and will glorify God. Or sometime around the second coming.
We know that before Jesus came, Jews were still saved by faith in Christ. Christ being a word, which means Messiah. We just did a whole study on this called Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. But if you’re still curious about this, here are five verses you can write down and look up later. Take a look at John 8:56-58; Hebrews 11:26; Jude 5; 1 Corinthians 10:4; John 12:40-41.
Now, there’s lots more questions we could ask about this. And many of those questions may have answers, maybe not. But again, we can conclude that the purpose of these verses we looked at today are to humble us so that we’re not wise in our own sight. The point is about our pride as Christians or even as non-Christians, not to look down our noses at the Jewish people. And here’s where we come back to the illustration of the tree. So Kendra, I wanted to ask you, have you ever seen a tree that’s been grafted into another one?
KLG: Eric, you know, I haven’t. But after the teaching is over, you better believe I’m going to google it.
EG: Yeah, well, I had to do a lot of googling. I’m going to start actually looking for these trees, because I really have only seen pictures. I suppose I’ve seen a tree growing out of a stump before. So I guess that counts.
But Paul gives us the illustration of an olive tree, in the verses before this and says, look, Israel is like a great big olive tree. (Romans 11:24) I’m picturing like a huge tree with a trunk that’s 1000s of years old. God Himself planted this tree at the beginning of time, and the rest of the world is like uncultivated wild, olive trees. They’re sickly, or all tangled up with weeds. And now after that great tree, that God planted and intended, grew up, He had to break off some of the dead branches. The unbelieving Jews are those dead branches. God broke off those branches to make room for us, believing gentiles. But Paul warns us gentiles, he says, “Look, just like God broke off those branches, He could break us off too if we don’t trust in Christ.” (Romans 11:21)
It’s amazing how you can actually take branches from one tree and tie them to another tree, and the tree will support and cause those new branches to grow and flourish. Paul says to us gentiles, You weren’t part of the original tree. See how fragile your spiritual life is apart from a miracle of God? Likewise, the Jewish nation of Israel is part of the original tree. Or they were, (those that have not believed or are no longer part of the original tree — they’ve been broken off). That’s the illustration’s focus. So, as it is hard to understand that all Israel will be saved, think about this: How much easier is it for God to take natural branches from the original tree and to graft them back in?
What does all this mean for us? Well, I don’t think it means that we idolize or elevate too high the nation of Israel. I think we can take our respect for our Jewish neighbors a little bit too far. For example, just because they’re Jewish doesn’t mean they’re Christians. If they don’t know Jesus, God’s Word says that they are not actually filled with the Holy Spirit as we are. As Christians, we believe we’re filled with the Holy Spirit upon faith in Christ. We see that in Ephesians 1 among other places in the Bible. So while we can learn some things about Jewish culture and history in the Torah, from Jews today, we’re not looking to them for the spiritual insight. Non-Christian, ethnic Jews today, do not believe Jesus is the Lord. So they will write and speak in such a way that actually seeks to turn people away from Jesus as the Lord.
I was just looking at some mission statements of some Jewish organizations that teach about the Old Testament, where they state that very thing explicitly. Their purpose is to steer us away from seeing Jesus as the Word. I also think sometimes we can take it too far as to how much we get involved politically, governmentally. God is in control, and He’s shaping history. Sometimes I think we forget that. I’m not saying we don’t ever get involved in politics. I’m just saying, maybe our prayers for Israel will go a lot further than our arguing would go.
So with all that said, I do think these verses mean we have great respect for our Jewish neighbors. Not just because Jesus was Jewish, or just because God used Israel to save us, but because, as Paul says, history is going to climax with them in the spotlight in some glorious way. They are still His people, even though they’ve rejected Him. So we don’t idolize them. We also don’t look down on or disrespect the nation of Israel. We can be grateful to God for what He’s done through us through the nation of Israel in providing Jesus and His gospel. We can seek to honor all those of Jewish descent, knowing they will still somehow play a great part in redemptive history in the future.
That future could be today. Jesus could come back today. We can honor Israel whether or not Israel has an official government. In other words, the respect and honor I’m talking about was possible before 1948, when Israel was recognized as an official nation, according to the standards of the rest of the world. No, Israel has always been recognized by God, whether the rest of the world has or not.
Another application, I think, is that we can stand in awe of God for His power, His justice and His grace. We see how God allowed the world to go its own way from the beginning so that He could show mercy to His people Israel. Then He has allowed Israel to go its own way so He can show them mercy through us through the proclamation of the gospel. There may be lots of other ways that this applies – I think there are. I just like to pose this question to our audience to think about: What is one way you could respect or honor the Jewish nation of Israel today, or sometime this year? It’s something to think about.
So to conclude, we as Christians ought to have a healthy balanced respect for the physical ethnic nation of Israel. Not only because of our heritage as Christians, but because the end of the current world as we know it – the second coming of Jesus – will see its pinnacle with the nation of Israel on center stage. I’d like to end with Paul’s reaction to this in Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and how inscrutable his ways“.
KLG: Thank you so much, Eric. There is so much that I want to spend time on and talk through, but I know we don’t have much time to do that. I think the one thing that I bolded, as I typed in my notes was, “See how fragile your life is, apart from the miracle of God.” I just thought that was so beautiful, how you brought that out. Thank you so much, even for the illustration of the tree and the grafting. I see that it’s such an intimate experience that the Lord has for us. It’s very similar to pruning of His hand is like breaking off the branches. The whole idea of pruning is a very intimate activity. Your lesson brought it to life. Thank you so much.
I’m going to go ahead and close us in prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank You for this teaching. Lord, we thank You for the whole study of Romans and just the way that every scripture is God breathed and every word is intentional. The fact that Eric pulled out the word “mystery” and unpacked it, it’s not by accident that it’s in Your Word, and we just thank You, that we have Your Word to go off of God. Lord, I pray that we take this teaching, and we really let it settle in our hearts. Lord, I pray that we are able to take that question of “how can we respect or honor the Jewish nation of Israel,” to heart, Lord, and You can just prompt us however that looks specifically in our own lives. Lord, we thank You for Your Son. We thank You for sending Jesus, Lord, so we can spend eternity with You. And we look forward to that day. It’s in Your Son’s name that we pray, Amen.