Does Israel Have a Future? – Part 4

Norbert Lieth and Johannes Pflaum

Christ calls a Church from both Gentiles and Jews that has direct access to the God of Israel. Because of this, the Church of Jesus should never forget that it has found refuge under the wings of the God of Israel. Paul takes up this theme in Romans 9—11.

The Apostle to the Gentiles and the “God of Israel”

Ironically, it is Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2:7-8)—also described as a “teacher of the Gentiles” (1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11)—who explains Israel’s fundamental position in God’s plan of salvation in his letter to the Romans.

Martin Luther called Romans, “truly the most important piece in the New Testament.” In it, the Apostle proclaims that a righteous God justifies ungodly sinners through the wonderful plan of salvation. The epistle states that man is not justified by works of the law but by Jesus’ sacrifice; and that the work of Jesus Christ brings more glory to God and more blessings to mankind than was ever lost through Adam’s sin. He goes on to show that grace enables a sanctified life that had never been possible under the Law.

The Letter to the Romans is the New Testament foundation of our faith. And it’s precisely in this letter that Paul writes extensively about Israel. In chapters 9—11, he uses a special essay to explain God’s dealings with and plans for Israel and the nations. In the midst of his explanation of Israel’s incomplete rejection, the Apostle emphasizes: “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostles of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office” (Rom 11:13).

The Apostle to the Gentiles uses one fifth of the Letter to the Romans to testify to the Gentiles that Israel has been permanently chosen. No Jewish Apostle (such as Peter) proclaims Israel’s position in God’s plan the way that Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, does. It’s as if he wanted to especially impress this on the Gentiles in his role as Apostle and teacher. Paul never says that the Old Testament promises to Israel were transferred to the Church.

Therefore, it is to our shame that we have lost sight of Paul’s doctrine about Israel over the centuries. We have forgotten that our history didn’t originate with replacement, but with grafting. There are also parallels with the story of Ruth in the Old Testament.

Ruth was a Moabite, a Gentile. Since the Moabites were proven enemies and deceivers of Israel (Numbers 22—25), a Moabite removed by up to ten generations was forbidden from entering the Lord’s temple (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Yet along came Ruth, a Moabitess, who found refuge among the people of Israel: even becoming a member of David and the Lord Jesus’ family tree! In Ruth 2:12, she is admonished never to forget that she has taken refuge under the wings of the God of Israel. Remarkably, it does not just say “of God” or “of the Lord,” but expressly emphasizes who this God is that is giving her refuge as a heathen and a Moabite woman; namely, the God of Israel.

From an Old Testament point of view, access to the living God is only possible through His covenant people, Israel. Gentiles outside of Israel are considered unclean. Then, in the New Testament, the miracle happens: Christ calls a Church from both Gentiles and Jews that has direct access to the God of Israel. Because of this, the Church of Jesus should never forget that it has found refuge under the wings of the God of Israel. Paul takes up this theme in Romans 9—11.

Paul uses a variety of arguments to prove that God has not forsaken His people, especially in Romans 11. It is striking how much effort the Apostle puts into stressing that Israel is not permanently rejected.

“I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew…” (Rom 11:1-2a).

That little sentence, “God forbid,” in the original Greek expresses horror that such a thought could even be entertained. Paul uses the phrase ten times in Romans regarding completely different topics. For example, Romans 6:15: “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”

Then Paul presents himself as an argument. He is also a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. If Israel had been rejected, then he shouldn’t have been able to believe in the Messiah.

Paul also emphasizes that a number of Israelites were hardened (Rom 11:7) and their branches broken out of the cultivated olive tree (Jer 11:16), because of their unbelief (Rom 11:20). But this also had a purpose for the nations in redemptive history. And, even in “this present time,” God has preserved a remnant (Rom 11:5). Elsewhere, Paul calls this believing remnant “the Israel of God.”

Paul explains in Romans 11:11 that Israel didn’t stumble that it should fall—that is, to stay on the ground, completely disconnected and unable to be restored. “God forbid” to that as well! Rather, the deeper meaning lies in allowing the Gentiles to receive salvation:

“I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.” 

The Apostle goes on to explain that God hasn’t forsaken Israel. As early as Romans 3:3, Paul brought up the superlative fact that Israel’s unfaithfulness does not annul God’s faithfulness. God does not repay in kind: “For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid” (Rom 3:3-4a). And now in Romans 11 he emphasizes:

“Now 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?” (v. 12). The Apostle doubles down in verse 15, saying:

“For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?”

•  As surely as Israel’s temporary fall came, there will be a restored fullness of Israel.

•  As surely as there was a temporary rejection, there will be a re-acceptance.

Through Israel’s fall, Paul experienced fruit among the Gentiles like no one else. He also prophetically foresaw the blessings that Israel’s spiritual restoration will bring to the Gentiles in God’s future millennial kingdom on earth.

Paul doesn’t end his argument there, but continues by declaring:

“For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches” (Rom 11:16).

The firstfruits are to be understood as the Israel of its first days—the time of the Patriarchs—as well as the Israel that arose in Egypt, which God chose and set apart for Himself, saying: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Ex 19:6). This means that if Israel was holy (set apart for God) in the past, it will also be holy in the future.

Likewise, the comparison of the root and the branches expresses that there was—and will be—a blessed beginning for Israel, ending in holiness.

Zechariah speaks about the future Israel in the messianic kingdom of God on earth: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness Unto The Lord” (Zech 14:20a).

Then Paul offers the example of the olive tree. In it, although Jewish branches were broken off from the olive tree of Israel due to their unbelief, those from the nations that had become believers were grafted into it as wild olive branches. This doesn’t mean that the nations have become Israel, but that they now share the promises with Israel (cf. Eph 2:19; 3:6). In addition, Paul announces that God can very well graft the Israelites who later believed back in as natural branches (Rom 11:17-24).

The olive tree also refers to the Fathers of Israel (the Patriarchs), from whom the Jewish nation later sprouted like branches. If we as the nations were grafted into the olive tree (that is, the faith of Abraham), then we are actually related to Israel (v. 19). In Romans 4:16, Paul says that Abraham “is the father of us all.”

The Church in Rome also consisted of Jewish and Gentile Christians, with the Gentile Christians elevated over the Jews. So Paul exhorts them:

• “Thou bearest not the root, but the root thee” (v. 18b). In Romans 15:12, Paul makes it clear that Christ is the root. He is the root of both Israel and the believers from among the Gentiles who were grafted into the olive tree (Jesus is also the Shepherd and the Stone of Israel—Genesis 49:24—and the Rock upon which Israel lived in the desert season—1 Corinthians 10:4). For this reason, the Lord will accomplish His purpose with Israel as well as with His Church. Any rejection of Israel having a future is thus invalid. Christ Himself pointed out that salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22b). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the origin of the Gentiles’ blessings.

• “Be not highminded, but fear” (v. 20b).

• “Otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” (v. 22b).

But over the centuries, these warnings were ignored. Instead of heeding them, Replacement Theology was instituted, and Israel was rejected by Christians.

Therefore, at the end of time, nominal (institutional) Christianity will be rejected and perish in the anti-Christian kingdom. But the true Church will be raptured beforehand, and then all of Israel will be saved and thus grafted in again. Thus, Paul’s statement is also a prophetic warning (v. 21).

Later, the Apostle emphasizes that Israel remains “beloved” with respect to election for the sake of the Fathers, because God’s gifts and callings are irrevocable (Rom 11:28-29). With these words, Paul refers to the one-sided, indissoluble covenant with Abraham, which we will cover later.

Finally, Paul reveals a mystery (Rom 11:25-27); namely, that Israel is suffering a partial hardening until the full number of the Gentiles has entered the spiritual body of Christ. After that, all Israel shall be saved—no longer just a part, as in the present time (v. 5). Thus, Israel’s rejection is temporary and never permanent.

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written [Isa 59:20-21], There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom 11:25-29).

“Zion” isn’t a place that can be in any other part of the world but Israel alone. When the full number of the Gentiles has entered the body of the Church, it will be caught up from the earth. After that the Lord will return to Zion, save Israel, establish the New Covenant with them, and remove their sins. Since this hasn’t yet occurred, we await the prompt fulfillment of these statements in living hope.

If God’s covenant with Abraham cannot be invalidated (cf. Gal 3:17), this also means that it is still yet to be fulfilled in the future. However, since God’s covenant with Abraham refers to the earthly people of the land of Israel (Gen 15; 17), it will inevitably be fulfilled there as well.

The prophetic book of Revelation also draws attention to the fact that the Lord will return to Zion: “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads” (Rev 14:1).

It’s evident that this statement doesn’t mean a heavenly Zion but an earthly one, due to John emphasizing that he heard a voice from heaven twice in this chapter. When John hears a voice from heaven, it means that he is not in heaven but on earth. Accordingly, he sees Jesus’ return on the earthly Mount Zion. Later, beginning with verse 14, John describes seeing the Lord coming on a cloud to judge the earth. This also makes it clear that the Lord means earthly Zion is where He is returning (cf. Zech 14:4).

“And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (Obad 21).

Thus, in Romans 11:26-27, the Apostle Paul (quoting Isaiah 59:20-21) confirms that the Lord will return to Zion in glory to save all Israel (Rev 14:1; Isa 59:20; Ezek 36:33; Ps 14:7).

In the end, God will extend His mercy to the Jews as He did to Gentile Christians.

• We once did not believe, yet experienced mercy.

• They currently do not believe, in order to experience mercy in the future. God used everything together to have mercy on all (Rom 11:30-32).

Paul can only worship at this revelation, at this wisdom of God concerning Israel and the nations.

The fact that God uses all of Israel’s failures in such a way that only blessing arises in the end—and all of this about Jesus Christ—causes the Apostle to worship. And worship is how he concludes this section (Rom 11:33-36).

News from Israel - 10/2022

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