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.”
Paul continues to address the Gentiles in Rome (see verse 13), wanting them to be aware of “this mystery.” Listening in, we are privileged to see in advance both God’s purpose and some of his process in human history. Two millennia ago Jews rejected their Messiah in unbelief, and ever since then God has been saving mainly Gentiles. But this is only a stage in God’s plan, because his heart is still set on the salvation of Israel.God’s self-revelation
As for God’s motive in Israel’s restoration, Paul’s quotation from Isaiah in verses 26b–27 points to God’s faithfulness to his covenant and the self-revelation of his merciful character. “Merciful and gracious” were the first words God said about himself as his divine glory passed by Moses (Exodus 34:6), and they describe how God wants to be known and what he has done and will do.
God choreographed those words at the cross, where his mercy triumphed over sins and ended the hostility between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:16). Believers from both ethnic groups have been slow learners, however. Jews claimed superiority over Gentiles all the way to the cross, and Gentiles have claimed superiority over Jews ever since. Thus both groups still need one final, indelible lesson about the meaning of God’s mercy for their mutual acceptance and unity.
Divine mercy cuts down pride by taking away human merit as the ground of acceptance by God. By saving Israel in a spectacular way at the end of this age, God will humble both Jews who must confess they were wrong about Jesus and Gentiles who must admit they wrongly estimated God’s faithfulness to Jews.
Paul’s use of the Isaiah quotation makes it clear, says Charles Cranfield, that Israel’s “final salvation will be a matter of the forgiveness of its sins by the sheer mercy of its God.” Indeed God extends his offer of mercy to all human beings. Everett Harrison makes the point this way: “The same mercy that has overtaken the Gentiles who were formerly disobedient will finally overtake the now disobedient Israel.”“This mystery”
As used in the NT, a mystery typically has three features: (1) it is a truth discoverable only by divine revelation, (2) it concerns God’s redemptive plan, and (3) it was concealed from previous generations and is now revealed and proclaimed. What is revealed is “not some isolated fact from the past which merely needs to be noted, but something dynamic and compelling” (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology). God revealed most of his mysteries to Paul, who used the Greek word mystērion 20 of the 27 times it is found in the New Testament.
So what is the “dynamic and compelling” revelation of this particular mystery? We know it concerns three things: the partial hardening of Israel, the salvation of a certain number of Gentiles, and the salvation of “all Israel.” From the Jewish perspective, not so much the events themselves but their sequence seems to be the mystery. We can also imagine the surprise of Gentile believers learning God intends to save the Jews in this magnitude and this manner.
Jews expected many Gentiles to be saved, because the prophets spoke of the “nations” and “foreigners” streaming to Israel in the latter days (see Isaiah 2:2-3, 56:6-7, 60:3-14; and Zechariah 14:16-17). But it was a “wholly novel” idea, says Douglas Moo, that “the eschatological age would involve setting aside the majority of Jews while Gentiles streamed in to enjoy the blessings of salvation and that only when that stream had been exhausted would Israel as a whole experience these blessings.” As Colin Kruse writes, “What is surprising about this mystery is that it constitutes a reversal of Jewish expectations—the entry of the Gentiles into salvation would precede that of Israel, and not vice versa.”
Another feature of this mystery is its apocalyptic nature. It will be acted out at the end of this age, at the climax of salvation history “in a final act after the hardening of Israel is removed and the destined number of Gentiles enter the kingdom” (Moo).
In the next entry we will look more closely at this passage. Moo calls the first line of verse 26 “the storm center in the interpretation of Rom. 9–11 and of NT teaching about the Jews and their future.” As Sproul says, “Verses 25–31 are the most important passage in this epistle, and probably in the whole Bible, concerning whether or not there will be a restoration of the Jews to Christ.”