Eschatology Outlines: No. 5B Paul on Israel’s Rejection and Salvation (conc.)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Gentile Christians should understand the mystery at work in God’s salvation of Israel, Rom 11:25-27. In this context, the term mystery means something known and understood only by divine revelation.

I. A part of Israel, not all of Israel, has been hardened, Rom 11:25.

A. Note well: Paul says in 11:25 what he has already said in 11:5, 7: “a partial hardening has happened” = “the rest were hardened.” The hardening in Israel is not total; it is only partial. There is an elect remnant in Israel. Thus, “the elect obtained it, and the rest were hardened.”

B. Note well: Paul does not say, “a temporary hardening has happened.” Paul is not thinking of events that happen sequentially; rather he is thinking of events that happen concurrently (contemporaneously), 11:30-31: “the elect obtained it, and the rest were hardened.” There is both obtaining and hardening at the present time.

C. How long does this partial hardening last? When does this partial hardening end? It lasts until—it ends when—“the fullness of [= the full number of the elect remnant from among] the Gentiles has come in.”

II. What follows the end (completion) of Israel’s partial hardening? Will the hardening be lifted so that there is no longer just a remnant, but rather a total—or at least a vast-majority—restoration/conversion of the Israelite nation? Is Paul’s point in 11:12 that, after the fullness of Israel comes in, there will be blessing for the Gentiles even greater than during the period of Israel’s apostasy? The context must decide. Note: if all the Gentile elect are saved with Israel in a state of partial hardening, then there will be no more Gentiles left to save if that condition is ever remedied. This can only mean that the full number of the Israelite elect is saved while, not after the full number of Gentiles is saved. This means that the “resurrection” in 11:15, which follows the salvation of the fullness of Israel, cannot be a massive Gentile revival, but is best taken as a reference to the general resurrection of the dead.

III. And thus all Israel will be saved, Rom 11:26.

A. And thus tells us not when (= “And then, after the full number of Gentiles comes in, … “), but how—“in such a manner; by such a process; by this means”—all Israel will be saved. Paul’s point is not the fact that the totality of Israel (head for head) will be saved, but the fashion in which all the elect remnant of Israel will be saved. In the preceding verses, Paul has looked to the past and the present to understand the fashion in which God brings salvation to Israel.

B. all Israel: who are they?

1. Are they “all ethnic descendants of Abraham”? No, that’s a form of ethnic universalism, at least in a given generation; in the past and the present God has saved according to the principle of particularism (remnant).

2. Are they “all ethnic descendants of Abraham living in the future”? No, this too is contrary to the historical principles of election and reprobation. Moreover, Israel was never defined purely in ethnic terms: circumcised Gentiles were counted as Israelites; similarly, covenant-breaking descendants of Abraham were counted as non-Israelites, Gen 17:14. Israel was defined covenantally, not ethnically.

3. Are they “most ethnic descendants of Abraham living in the future”? There is no basis in biblical history on which to quantify the percentage that God will save most of those in any given generation of ethnic descendants. What we know is that historically God has consistently applied the principle of election. We must also keep in mind that God defines Israel covenantally, not ethnically.

4. Are they “all the elect of ethnic Israel, the full number of elect from Israel throughout the ages”? This interpretation yields a good sense of the text. It is consistent with the parallel term the fullness of the Gentiles = the full number of elect from the Gentiles throughout the ages. Its weakness is that it neglects the union of Jew and Gentile by ingrafting into the one olive tree in Rom 11:16-24.

5. The most satisfying answer: all Israel refers to the full number of elect from Israel together with the full number of the elect ingrafted from the Gentiles.

IV. Summary: God works the disobedience and obedience of Jews and Gentiles to the gospel together according to His purpose in election and mercy. Jewish disobedience leads to Gentile obedience; Gentile obedience anticipates Jewish obedience. From the Gospel perspective, Israel is a nation hostile to the gospel for the sake of the Gentiles. From the Election perspective, Israel is a nation beloved for the sake of the fathers. In other words, there is a remnant among the children of the flesh as there is among all the Gentile nations. God has not rejected Israel completely, but He has done so partially. Israel’s stumbling served God’s purposes beyond their fall, namely, the purposes of Gentile salvation and Jewish jealousy. We are not to think, however, that the provocation of the Jews to jealousy is a phenomenon only at the end of the age after the full number of the Gentiles has come in. Rather, the fullness of Israel and the fullness of the Gentiles are both coming in (i.e., being saved) throughout the interadvent age. When the fulness of the remnant from all the nations on earth comes in, then, Christ’s evangelistic mission will have come to an end, bringing about the resurrection and final judgment of the righteous and the wicked.

5 Comments

  1. October 11, 2021 at 4:07 pm

    […] Eschatology Outlines: No. 5B Paul on Israel’s Salvation and Rejection (conc.) […]

  2. Phil Rich said,

    October 14, 2021 at 3:59 pm

    This is good stuff Fowler. Are you going to publish it altogether somwhere?

  3. rfwhite said,

    October 14, 2021 at 4:09 pm

    Hey, Phil. Good to “hear” from you! I forget if you have commented here before. If not, welcome! I doubt that this material will be published other than on this blog. It’s really fairly derivative from what Robertson, Venema, Hoekema, and Storms have written. In fact, the series of posts on “Eschatology Outlines” is a repackaging of material I developed (and later reworked even more) when Dr. Reymond allowed me to teach a section on eschatology.

  4. Ron said,

    October 18, 2021 at 6:32 am

    I concur with your conclusion. Fowler, have you read Lee Irons? http://www.upper-register.com/papers/Rom1126.pdf

  5. rfwhite said,

    October 18, 2021 at 10:30 am

    Hey, Ron. It’s been a while, but I believe that I did read it. Thanks much for the reminder.


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