Israel, the Church, and the Nations – Part 4

Norbert Lieth

God used Israel’s fall to reach the nations with the Gospel and make one body of Jews and Gentiles. But if their fall has already meant wealth to the nations, how much more then will their restoration in the messianic kingdom! A redemptive-historical and prophetic interpretation of Romans 9—11.

THE LORD’S “NEVERTHELESS
The Apostle Paul writes: “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. Wot ye not what scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (vv. 1-6).

This passage is reminiscent of a parallel in Hebrews 4:8-9: “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”

Over the course of its history, Israel had failed to enter into a time of rest because of its disbelief and disobedience. Nevertheless, a sabbath rest remains for the people, which I believe indicates the messianic kingdom.

Paul gives four arguments on why God has not completely cast out His people.

1. The divine “Certainly not.” “God forbid” should truly suffice. “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num 23:19). It could well be that Paul is leaning on Psalm 94:14 in his rhetorical question: “For the LORD will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance.”

2. The Apostle Paul’s threefold testimony.

a. He is an Israelite

b. descended from Abraham

c. from the tribe of Benjamin. If God had cast out His people, Paul could not have been saved. His salvation is evidence that there is still a remnant in Israel.

3. God’s faithfulness. “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.” In verse 29, Paul reemphasizes that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (NIV). In His essence, God is unconditionally faithful: “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13).

4. History. Even Elijah thought that the entire people of his time had fallen away. But God responds that He had kept 7,000 men who had remained faithful. Likewise, the believing portion of Israel from the Apostle’s time to the present day, is a remnant that God has preserved for Himself. The Hebrews who believe in Jesus are therefore the true Israel of our day. They are all saved by grace and not by works. These are the ones of whom Paul says: “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).

Although the Church is one body, that body is made up of Jews and nations. The believing Jews within this body are the Israel of God. According to Scofield, there is a sevenfold “remnant” in Israel’s history. God has shown them His loyalty throughout the ages.

1. In the days of Elijah, there were 7,000 (1 Kings 19:18).

2. In Isaiah’s time, it was the “very small remnant” for whose sake God spared the nation (Isa 1:9).

3. During the Babylonian captivity, there were individual Jews such as Esther, Mordecai, Ezekiel, Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.

4. At the end of the Babylonian captivity, a remnant returned to the land under Ezra and Nehemiah.

5. At the time of Jesus’ incarnation, the remnant was made up of John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, and “all them that looked for redemption” (Luke 2:38).

6. During the Church Age, the remnant is made up of Jews who believe in Jesus (Rom 11:4-5).

7. In the future, during the Great Tribulation, a remnant from all over Israel will convert to their Messiah (for example, the 144,000 sealed as firstfruits, followed by others). Revelation is, among other things, the book of Israel’s restoration and the conclusion of all the prophetic promises. Paul later refers to this final remnant of Israel in Romans 11:25-26.

THE ELECTION
“What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway. 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. 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?” (Rom 11:7-12).

This passage makes three fundamental assertions:

1. Almost doesn’t count. “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for.” The people of Israel sought salvation in the wrong place; namely, in obedience to the Law instead of obedience to Jesus through faith (Rom 9:31; 10:3). What’s worse, they haven’t been convicted to a better path, but their behavior has hardened them. Paul uses harsh words to describe their position: hardened, dazed, blind, deaf, recompense, snare, trap, stumblingblock, darkened, bowed.

In the parable of the four soils, the Lord Jesus was speaking of just this circumstance: “And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth … Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matt 13:4-5, 13-15).

This shows us what can be missed by not believing in Jesus.

2. Bullseye. At the same time, however, the present segment of believing Jews in the Church is a remnant by choice. “But the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Rom 11:7b). “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (v. 5). The disciples were already part of this believing remnant of Israel. That’s why, in the parable of the four soils, Jesus said of them, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear” (Matt 13:16).

There is a great mystery in all of this: the unbelieving part of Israel was responsible for their own stubbornness, even though it was foretold, “their eyes they have closed” (Matt 13:15). But the believing part chose Jesus and belonged to the elect. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:29).

3. The further goal beyond it. God achieved a further goal with this event in Israel: “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. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them be the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” (Rom 11:11-12). Israel wasn’t destined to fall, and yet it had to happen. This isn’t a contradiction in divine omniscience and planning; God used Israel’s fall to reach the nations with the Gospel and make one body of Jews and Gentiles. But if their fall has already meant wealth to the nations, how much more then their restoration in the messianic kingdom! “Fullness,” therefore, refers to all of Israel, which will be saved in the end (v. 26). And when all of Israel is saved, an unimagined stream of blessings will flow through the world of nations.

THE PINNACLE OF SERVICE
“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. 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?” (Rom 11:13-15).

The Apostle explains three facts:

1. The high purpose of his ministry. Various translations express it as follows: “I magnify mine office.” “I magnify my ministry.” “I take pride in my ministry.” The Apostle to the Nations honored his ministry by placing Jews and Gentiles on the same plane, thereby inciting jealousy among his fellow kinsmen (v. 14). The aim wasn’t to vex them, but to save some through it: “through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy” (v. 11). He hoped that the conversion of the Gentiles would cause many of his fellow Jews to open their eyes to their own lost state.

2. Paul clearly sees Israel’s rejection in the current age of salvation. Israel has actually been placed to the side right now. This people is no longer God’s instrument of salvation. That function belongs to a new people: the Church, consisting of Jews and the nations. The Apostle explains elsewhere that this was a great mystery that had been previously unknown (Eph 3:3; Rom 11:25). Paul himself goes so far as to say that he now regards everything that had been of value to him in Judaism as loss: his circumcision, his lineage, his observance of the Law, his Jewish zeal (Phil 3:2-9).

3. Paul can also see the people’s future re-adoption as a nation, and the blessings this brings to the whole world. Israel’s rejection is only temporary, and pertains to the present time. It will later be abolished (v. 25ff.). He compares what happens then to resurrection from the dead.

Paul is an example for us in these three issues:

1. In our ministry, we should also remember the spiritual situation of the Jewish people. This burden should be included in our prayers and in our message. It’s a tragedy when the Old Covenant is imposed and made binding in churches.

2. We must soberly recognize Israel’s condition. We must not abandon the Israel of the present, but we must also not fanatically extol it. Israel must not become our idol. There’s no need for us to believe that Jewish rituals are of spiritual help to us. Paul attacked Judaizers very harshly (Phil 3:2), and even called them “evil workers.”

3. But we must not lose sight of Israel’s future either, and should refer to it again and again.

News from Israel - 04/2022

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