It’s salvation history in a nutshell, delivered by Paul in dizzying back-and-forth. To save Gentiles (“you”) and Jews (“they”), God orchestrates a reciprocal relationship between the disobedience of one and the mercy shown to the other, and then the mercy shown to one so mercy will be shown to the other.
In this chapter Paul has shown how the Jews’ refusal of the gospel (verses 11, 12, and 15) has led to Gentiles’ salvation, which in turn will lead back to the salvation of Jews—first a remnant and then the nation as a whole (verses 12, 14, 15, 24, and 25-26).
Verse 30: Gentiles were pagans—disobedient in the sense that they had no relationship with God. They were “strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). When the Jews rejected Jesus (“their disobedience”), God opened the spigot of mercy to flow in the direction of Gentiles, with the result that many of them are being saved.
Verse 31: Paul emphasizes that the Jews’ disobedience made it possible not only for Gentiles to be saved, but also for the further purpose that the Jews themselves will be saved. This is how God’s unseen hand guides salvation history.Meaning of “now”
Of the two “now” words in verse 31, a translation issue concerns the second, which appears in the phrase “they also may now receive mercy.” Some translations such as NKJ omit it. Colin Kruse says the textual evidence supporting its inclusion is evenly balanced, so it’s a tossup whether Paul included the second “now” in his letter.
Some scholars, assuming Paul did include the second “now,” see it as evidence Paul is not thinking of a national conversion of Jews in the future. Douglas Moo, believing the evidence slightly favors its inclusion, says this about what the second “now” might mean if it is included:
“Now,” says Moo, conveys the “typical NT perspective which views the new era of fulfillment as already having dawned and all the events belonging to that era as therefore near in time.” Charles Cranfield likewise says, “Paul sees the time which begins with the gospel events and extends to the Parousia as a unity. It is all the eschatological now.”Meaning of “mercy”
“Have mercy on me” was the cry of the blind, leprous, and demonized that tugged on Jesus’ heart to heal. It is a cry that can also get a person saved. God’s mercy expresses his compassion and pity for the needy and penitent. Faith beckons it, and gratitude follows it. Charles Swindoll explains the word in light of its OT parallel:
God clearly intends that the mercy he has shown to Gentiles will somehow result in mercy for Jews. By his providence, God uses human sin without implicating himself in that sin to save all people who trust in his mercy. It’s a magnificent plan, and by prayer we who have already benefited can cooperate with God in its conclusion.
to see Jesus, their Messiah, who died and rose for them as he did for us.
You promised to give them a new heart and a new spirit.
Now, just as you made us alive with Christ when we were dead in our sins,
having saved us by your grace, we ask that you give them life.
Awaken their slumbering spirits