Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 11:25–27—God will display his mercy in the salvation of “all Israel.”

25 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.
26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”

Having highlighted the background and meaning of “this mystery” in the previous entry, we’ll now explore the mystery’s plotline.

Israel’s “partial hardening”
Jews are blind to the gospel as a result of their own stubborn unbelief and God’s sovereign hardening, which is the emphasis here. But this hardening is partial and temporary, because God has preserved a faithful remnant (11:5 and 11:7) and now says through Paul in verse 25 when he will end it.

Paul captures the timing in one word: until (Greek acri). Its meaning is the subject of controversy. Some scholars have translated this word during or as long as to fit their understanding that Paul is saying the hardening of Jews continues right up to the last day and then many will be saved but without a future restoration of Israel. Douglas Moo says this translation, though possible, is not the most common use of the Greek word. All modern Bible translations go with the normal meaning—until.

That word, according to Moo, “suggests a reversal of the present situation: Israel’s partial hardening will last only until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in—and then it will be removed.” What is decisive for the normal interpretation, Moo concludes, is the context of Paul’s argument, “for Paul has throughout vv. 11-24 implied that Israel would one day experience a spiritual rejuvenation that would extend far beyond the present bounds of the remnant.”

As R. C. Sproul says, Paul would not have needed revelation to see into the mystery if he intended merely to say that Jews would convert to Christ throughout the church age. “Paul was preparing his readers for something far more emphatic, far more significant.”

Jesus’ use of “until”
We find that same word in Luke 21:24 where Jesus predicts the conquest of Jerusalem by the Roman General Titus in 70 A.D.: Jews “will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Three verses later Jesus tells of his second coming: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (21:27).

So Jesus was referring to approximately the same period as Paul in Romans 11. The beginning point for Jesus was the destruction of Jerusalem; the beginning point for Paul was a couple decades earlier when he took the gospel primarily to the Gentiles. The endpoint for both Jesus and Paul seems clearly to be the Lord’s second coming. Sproul, in his Luke commentary, sees the same meaning for acri there as in Romans:
The word in verse 24 that is translated “until” suggests a terminus—once the moment comes in redemptive history when the days of the Gentiles are fulfilled, then one expects a great work of God to bring Jews into his kingdom.

The period signified by until is already two millennia long. We recall the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6 as Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives prior to his ascension: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus does not deny the legitimacy of their question. He said only that it is not for them to know the Father’s timing (verse 7). Then two angels said Jesus would return in the same way they saw him go into heaven (verses 9-11).

“The fullness of the Gentiles”
The Father has imposed a time limit on how long the door will remain open for Gentiles to enter the kingdom. Meanwhile, the Jews’ spiritual blindness prevents them from even seeing the door. At some future point the “fullness” (meaning full number) of Gentiles will have been saved and the Jews then will have their eyes opened to the gospel of Christ. Only God knows this crucial number that determines the time limit denoted by until.

The “times of the Gentiles,” to use Jesus’ phrase, will come to an end when he returns in glory to save Israel from annihilation. You can read about the Gentile nations’ attack on Israel, the Lord’s return to the Mount of Olives, and Israel’s repentance in Zechariah 12-14 (see also Ezekiel 38-39). It’s noteworthy that these “times” are bracketed by Gentile armies attacking Israel. The Romans under Titus killed more than one million Jews; the mullahs of Iran seek to slaughter every last Jew.

I believe that God has appointed the United States as his agent—his doorstop—at this stage of human history to keep the door open for Gentiles to be saved. When you see the United States waiver in its commitment to Israel, take note. Unless God raises up another agent to protect Israel, nations inspired by the devil will see their chance to touch the apple of God’s eye (Zechariah 2:8). The return of Christ for judgment on the Gentile nations will then be imminent.

“And in this way”
Paul speaks of the process (“way”) and the extent (“all”) of Israel’s restoration.

Some people have suggested that God will save Israel in a special “way” that does not require acceptance of the gospel. In this view, God maintains a separate covenant with Israel that takes them on a different path to justification than the path Gentiles must travel. Such a conclusion has no biblical support. “All Israel” will be saved the same way the Jewish remnant throughout history has been saved—by grace through faith.

Charles Cranfield quotes Karl Barth as saying the fact that it is only “this way” clearly characterizes Israel’s salvation as “an act of the divine mercy… and not the recognition and satisfaction of human claims.”

“All Israel will be saved”
As for the meaning of all in “all Israel,” interpretations fall in these categories: (1) every Jew of all time; (2) all Jews and Gentiles (the church conceived to have replaced Israel) redeemed of all time; (3) Jews who have been redeemed since the beginning of the church age (the aggregate of the godly remnant or “true Israel”); (4) every Jew alive at a climactic time, likely when Christ returns; or (5) the nation (ethnic group) as a whole, but not necessarily every individual, alive at a climactic time, likely at Christ’s second coming.

The last option seems best. Sproul, a masterful logician, offers this well-reasoned conclusion:
The Jews as a people are presently under judgment. But as there was a national judgment, so there will be a national restoration. Their rejection, even though it was a national rejection, did not include the rejection of every individual. So the restoration doesn’t necessarily mean that every individual Jew will be saved, but the nation as a nation will be restored to God.

Paul likely uses “all” in the sense that we might say “the whole town came to the parade.” A few stayed home because not everyone enjoys parades. Paul clearly has in mind corporate Israel—quite a large number. Robert Utley notes, “As Americans we are culturally conditioned to ask individual questions but the Bible focuses on the corporate whole.”

Option number three—the idea that “all Israel” refers to the aggregate of the godly remnant throughout history—deserves consideration, Douglas Moo thinks, but he concludes, “Paul is probably using the phrase ‘all Israel’ to denote the corporate entity of the nation of Israel as it exists at a particular point in time.”

Harrison, noting that Calvin held the second view (all redeemed Jews and Gentiles), says this is unlikely because Paul does not refer to “Israel” as including Gentiles in these chapters, “and it is doubtful that such is the case anywhere in Paul’s writings, even in Galatians 6:16.” Like Sproul and Moo, Harrison holds to the fifth view, as do Cranfield, Utley, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Richard Longenecker. Kruse opts for the third option (the Jewish elect of all time).

Longenecker sees correspondence between Paul’s pronouncement here and his use of the “Christ hymn” in Philippians 2:6–11. Perhaps Israel’s salvation will come at the time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

God will take away Israel’s sins
With this quote of Isaiah 59:20–21 and 27:9 (another artful blending of Scriptures by the apostle), Paul confirms two things: (1) Israel’s salvation will take place at the Messiah’s second coming and (2) it will entail forgiveness of the nation’s sins. Christ the Deliverer will come from heavenly Zion (Hebrews 12:22) to the earthly Zion (Jerusalem) as a spectacular display of divine mercy.

“This mystery” is now public knowledge. No one who is not yet saved should wait for the climactic moment. The gospel beckons both Jews and Gentiles to humble themselves and partake of God’s mercy now.

“Oh, Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves
against all that might do you good!”
—C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew