2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God,
but not according to knowledge.
3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God,
and seeking to establish their own,
they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
To obtain right standing before God, a person must come to God in the manner God prescribes. Most of Israel refused to do so. Rather than seek God’s righteousness on his terms, they trusted in their own righteousness.Paul’s heart and prayer for Israel (verse 1)
Based on Scriptures, Paul has concluded that only a remnant of the Jews will be saved (9:27). The others, he strongly implies, are “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (9:22). With this background, the fact Paul prayed for Israel’s salvation carries three lessons.
First, Robert Utley calls Paul’s prayer “the surprising counterpoint to predestination!” Paul prays for Israel’s salvation trusting that God will sort out divine election and human choice. Paul knows God has not finally rejected his people (see 11:1).
Second, Paul shows us how to respond to people who reject the gospel: pray for their salvation with heartfelt commitment. Especially we should pray for Israel. “A church which failed to pray for Israel’s salvation would be a church which did not know what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ” (Charles Cranfield).
Third, Paul “explicitly includes the Jewish people in God’s plan of salvation,” as Joseph Fitzmyer points out. There is no separate track along which Israel can be saved (see also 1:16). Jews have no recourse other than to trust in their Messiah, Jesus Christ.Israel’s zeal, positive and negative (verse 2)
Just as Paul is an example for the church in his prayer for Israel, Israel is for the church an example of zeal. Paul congratulates the Jews for their earnest desire to honor God, which puts to shame the pagans’ idolatry and immorality (see Romans 1:18-32). Phinehas (Numbers 25:7–11), Elijah (2 Kings 9– 10), and Jehu (2 Kings 9–10) are OT examples of righteous zeal. Paul tells us, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11).
Had Israel recognized Jesus as their Messiah, they might have tirelessly promoted the gospel. But their zeal had a fatal flaw—it was “not according to knowledge.” Uninformed zeal turned to tragedy as Jews used Rome to nail Jesus to the cross and then the zealots among them attacked his church.
Everett Harrison states, “Paul is able to analyze their trouble in expert fashion, for he has been over the same route in his spiritual pilgrimage.” Saul (not yet Paul) regarded his persecution of the church as zeal for the law (Philippians 3:6). Later, Paul as apostle and the churches he planted became the target of other zealous Jews, upon whom Paul pronounced God’s wrath (1 Thessalonians 2:14–16).Jews valued their own righteousness over God’s gift (verse 3)
Jews understood well that God is righteous. They did not understand that (1) God now reveals his righteousness exclusively in the gospel (see 1:16–17); (2) Jesus Christ is the exclusive way to that righteousness (John 14:6); and (3) faith in Christ is the exclusive means by which one lays hold of that righteousness (Romans 3:25–31, 4:22–25).
Douglas Moo argues that “the righteousness of God” includes both God’s activity of declaring people righteous and the status of righteousness that people receive when they respond to God in faith. “Paul’s use of the verb ‘submit’ shows that the righteousness of God is an active force to which one must humbly and obediently subordinate oneself.”
Jews’ unwillingness to submit makes plain the source of their ignorance. A disobedient heart obscures knowledge. In the words of Jesus, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17; see also 1 John 2:3). The Jews’ pride kept them from raising an empty hand to God, as a child would do when reaching for a gift from her father.
Rather than humble themselves to accept God’s gift in faith, Jews were content to establish their own righteousness. In this they would fail. We could say that the Jews remained stuck in the experience of Romans 7:22–23—delighting in the law but, in their disobedience, still captive to the law of sin. They refused, as Cranfield says, “to let grace be grace.”Christ is the end of the law for righteousness (verse 4)
This well-known verse is “the hinge on which the entire section 9:30–10:13 turns,” says Moo. Because the era of the law has come to an end in Christ, righteousness is now available only “to everyone who believes,” both Jews and Gentiles, a theme Paul will expound in the next nine verses.
Paul placed the phrase “the end of the law” first in the sentence for emphasis. His precise intent depends on the meaning of the word “end” (telos), which can denote termination, goal, or result. Perhaps, as Moo suggests, Paul resumed the analogy of a racecourse that he developed in the last four verses of chapter 9. Because the finish line is both the termination of the race and its goal, Moo sees Paul implying that “Christ is the ‘end’ of the law (he brings its era to a close) and its ‘goal’ (he is what the law anticipated and pointed toward).”
The book of Hebrews makes the same point using the language of covenant. The end of law’s reign came at the transition from one covenant to another. The first covenant, mediated by Moses, was made obsolete by Christ, the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 8:13).
It’s important to realize that apart from Christ’s death no one in either covenant era could have been saved. As Hebrews 9:15 makes clear, the redemption forged by Christ’s death looks backward and forward. His blood, not the blood of animal sacrifices, paid for people’s sins. Therefore, only by Christ’s work of grace was the law ever “for righteousness” (justification). Even then people had to obey God’s commandments with an attitude of humble faith. In verse 8 Paul will refer to one OT allusion to God’s grace in his quote from Deuteronomy 30:14.
“Christ is the point of the law; Christ is the goal of the law; Christ is the meaning of the law. So if you try to follow and obey the law, but avoid Christ, you have missed the whole point of the law,” says R. C. Sproul.Christ is the culmination, not elimination, of the law
The law continues to serve God’s people in several ways. All Scriptures (the law of Moses included) are profitable for our instruction (2 Timothy 3:16). The law cannot give us righteousness, but it can tell us about God’s righteousness, thus revealing our sin (Romans 3:20) and leading us to Christ so we might be justified by faith in him (Galatians 3:24). Christ fulfilled the law and now embodies God’s righteousness (Matthew 5:17).