The Salvation of the JewsRomans 11:11-15
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, May 29, 2011
Copyright © 2011, P.G. Mathew
God’s purpose in history is to save his people, both Jews and Gentiles, so that he may be glorified. In this passage, Paul describes how God accomplishes this purpose.
The Jews became disobedient and stubborn (Rom. 10:21). But did God reject his people, whom he foreknew? The apostle gives us five proofs that God has not rejected the Jewish people. The last one is the eschatological proof, as revealed in Romans 11:11-32. God has a great end-time plan for salvation of the Jewish nation. Then he will save, not just a minority of the Jewish people, but a large majority. Paul speaks about this future salvation: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Rom. 11:26-27). At present, God is saving a remnant. But the time is coming when God will save the vast majority of Israel.
God is not surprised by our unbelief, stubbornness, and sin. He works out his eternal plan of salvation in history in spite of human sin. He will save those who are his people, both Jews and Gentiles, from their sins. God chose Abraham and the Jewish nation for this eternal purpose, and God’s purpose in election always stands, that in the seed of Abraham all the families of the earth will be blessed. That seed is Jesus Christ, the crucified, risen, and reigning One.
The gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16). Paul declares, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him. For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'” (Rom. 10:12). Have you called on the name of the Lord?
In Romans 11:11-15, Paul makes four points: first, the unbelief of the Jewish nation, who killed their Messiah; second, how this unbelief caused the door of salvation to be opened to the Gentiles; third, when the Jewish nation observes the Gentiles experiencing great salvation, they will be provoked to positive envy and also desire to be saved; and, fourth, this subsequent national salvation of the Jewish people will redound to yet greater blessings for the Gentiles.
The Unbelief of Israel
Romans 11:11-15 speaks of God’s purpose in history in saving the nation Israel. This historical process begins with their national unbelief. Paul asks, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” (v. 11). Then he gives an emphatic denial: “Absolutely not!” Then he explains the process in verses 11b through 15.
Israel’s sin of unbelief is the starting point of a process that will lead them to faith in their Messiah, which then will result in unimaginable blessings both to them and to the Gentiles. The rejection of Israel by God is not total and final. It is only temporary, even though it has lasted two thousand years. God is not yet finished with his people Israel, in spite of their present unbelief. It is true the Jews stumbled by their stubborn unbelief in their Messiah. They sought to establish their righteousness on the basis of their own works and not on the basis of grace that flows from the work of Jesus Christ. So they stumbled over the stumbling stone, which is Jesus Christ. They rejected their Messiah and refused to believe on him. They refused to submit to God’s righteousness. They did not realize, as Paul did, that “Christ is the end of the law so there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” on him (Rom. 10:4).
So they rejected Christ. Peter says, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). They stumbled over the stumbling stone and fell. But did they stumble and fall irretrievably? Is there any hope for salvation of the Jewish nation? Yes, there is. They will rise again. They will as a nation welcome their Messiah.
Our sin and stubbornness can never frustrate God’s plan to save his people. In fact, it only promotes it. God’s eternal plan to save us takes our sin into account. Christ died for the sins of the people of the world, both Jews and Gentiles.
By the sinful unbelief of the nation of Israel (Rom. 11:12), a shift in salvation history took place from Jews to the Gentiles. It was God’s plan to save the Gentiles through the Jewish nation. But Israel failed to function as the light of the world. They made it difficult for the Gentiles to be saved. They despised the Gentiles and called them dogs. The Jews were proud of their privileges and work-righteousness. They demanded that the Gentiles be circumcised and embrace all ceremonial and dietary laws. Even the newly saved Jewish Christians made the evangelization of the Gentiles difficult, requiring them to bear the heavy yoke of law, as we read in Acts 15: “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses'” (Acts 15:5). Paul also mentions this in his letter to the Galatians: “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh” (Gal. 6:12-13).
Thus, through the unbelief of Israel, God opened the door of the gospel to the Gentiles. To a Gentile’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul gave the answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Whether Jew or Gentile, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, plus nothing.
Salvation came to the Gentiles through the unbelief of the Jews. We read in Acts 13:44-48:
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world. Salvation in any other name is a lie and an illusion. The apostles proclaimed, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the only atonement for our sins. Without this atonement, there is no salvation. Without the shedding of the blood of Christ, there is no forgiveness of sins. The gospel of God is the gospel of his Son, who died for our sins and was raised from the dead for our justification. This gospel alone saves us from God’s just wrath, from eternal death, which is the wages of sin.
The Jews refused to embrace their Savior Messiah. But God cannot be frustrated. He opened the door to the Gentiles, who gladly believed on the Lord Jesus and were saved. For we read, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Have you believed the gospel preached to you? Have you trusted in the only Savior Jesus Christ? I command you this day to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Escape from death and judgment that is coming upon the unbelieving people of the world. Have you been saved from God’s just wrath that is revealed against you? You will not frustrate God by not trusting him. He will move on to another sinner and save him according to his eternal plan.
The Gentiles’ Salvation
The unbelief of the Jews opened the door to salvation for the Gentiles. Who are the Gentiles? Paul describes them in Ephesians 2:1-12 as those who are Gentiles by birth, uncircumcised, separate from Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, foreigners to the covenants of the promise, dead in trespasses and sins, ruled by Satan, slaves to sinful passions, objects of God’s wrath, without hope and without God, children of disobedience.
But all of a sudden, the gospel came to the Gentiles. The sun rose, the darkness was dispelled, and they were made alive in Christ. They were enabled to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ. They were justified and adopted as sons of God. They were indwelt by the Holy Spirit and became people of the holy Scriptures. Gentiles have been saved and made rich by God. So Paul writes, “But if [Israel’s] transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring” (v. 12). “Fullness” means the full salvation of the Jewish people.
Three times we are told “riches . . . riches . . . riches.” Jesus Christ enriches us when he saves us. Friends, I was dead but now I am alive. I was blind but now I see. I was an enemy of God but now I am a friend of God by his reconciliation. I was poor but now I have been made rich in Jesus Christ. I am very rich, and so are you, if you trust in Christ. True Christians are the richest people in the world.
Why do you think I am rich? Because the God who created the world is my inheritance. The psalmist declares, “You are my portion, O LORD; I have promised to obey your words” (Psalm 119:57). He also says, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living” (Ps. 142:5). Again, he asks, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26). The rich man died and went to hell (Luke 16). God sends the rich of the world away empty (Luke 1:53). The riches of this world deceive man into thinking he needs no God. He boasts, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and have need of nothing.” But Jesus declares, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). That is what he is speaking to those who are simply rich in the world. Those who are rich without Christ are poor fools who will only realize their utter poverty in hell. Those who believe in Christ are truly rich. Jesus tells the believers in the church of Smyrna, “I know your afflictions and your poverty-yet you are rich!” (Rev. 2:9). Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). He also says that he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich” (2 Cor. 6:10). That is what we do also. By the preaching of the gospel, we make many poor people rich in God. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He also told his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:32-34). About Moses we read, “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:25-27).
The unbelief of the Jews brought riches to the Gentiles in terms of salvation, reconciliation, and life from the dead. But a graceless man is a wretched man. A Christless man is a miserable man. He is hopeless, godless, and poor.
Salvation of the Nation of Israel
The salvation of the Gentiles is designed, in turn, to provoke the Jewish people to become envious in a positive sense. This plan of God was already prophesied in Deuteronomy and referred to by Paul in Romans 10:19: “Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, ‘I will make you envious by those who are not a nation.'” Envy is not always sin. When your friend receives a medal for being the top student in the university, it should make you positively envious to work harder. When you see a formerly heavy person lose weight, you should become envious and say, “I can also lose weight.” If you see a previously poor man who is now financially secure, you should say, “I can do that too.” Positive envy of successful people is a good thing! Above all, we should be envious of true Christians and say, “I want to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.”
Paul is saying that the unsaved Jewish people will be envious as they see the salvation of the Gentiles. They will desire for themselves the good things the Gentile Christians enjoy-salvation and reconciliation, forgiveness of sins, justification, adoption, and so on. (PGM) So they will be provoked to emulate the Gentiles and put their trust in their Messiah, Jesus Christ, en masse. This prophecy, therefore, is saying that a vast majority of the Jewish people will turn to the Lord and be saved. They will abandon their trust in their works. They will be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning work on the cross.
Today the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur has no meaning because the Jews do not believe in substitutionary atonement. Like the Pharisees, they are resting in their own works. But Paul is speaking of a future day when the Jews will look to their Messiah and be saved. This is the revelation Paul received from God concerning his own people. He explains, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26a).
God also gave Paul a revelation of the mystery of Gentile salvation. He writes:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:1-6).
But the revelation about the future national salvation of the Jews is yet to be fulfilled. Not only a Jewish remnant (the leimma) is going to be saved, but in the future the full number of the Jews (the plíªrí´ma) will be saved.
Paul worked very hard in evangelizing Gentiles so that he could provoke his Jewish people to this positive envy and turn to their Messiah. He gloried, as he writes in verses 13 and 14, in this apostolic task of preaching of the gospel. There is no greater vocation than this preaching of the gospel. I was called to preach when I was a junior in college. At first I said, “Thank you, but no thanks.” But God so ordained my life that I finally said yes.
The gospel ministry is a holy, high, and heavenly calling. A preacher is called and sent and must faithfully preach the true gospel. What a privilege it is to be called by Christ and sent to preach the gospel! It is a great honor to be an ambassador or Jesus Christ, the King eternal. It is a privilege to share this good news with sinners, who can then call upon the name of the Lord to be saved from God’s wrath.
Yet it is not just the professional preachers who must preach the gospel; every believer is commissioned to do so. We read in Acts 11:19-21: “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Every Christian is under obligation to share the gospel. Rahab the prostitute became a great evangelist; her example puts us to shame (Josh. 2; 6:25). It is time that we became exercised about our families’ salvation and began to share unashamedly the gospel.
All of us must share the gospel for the salvation of elect Gentiles and Jews. Stand firm, Paul says, and work hard, “because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). Our labor contributes to the fulfillment of God’s plan to save all his people. It is not the job of angels; we are to preach and share the gospel. How else can others be saved? Faith comes from hearing the sharing of the gospel. May God’s Spirit come upon us powerfully so that we will open our mouths and say who Jesus is and what he has done!
Greater Blessing for the Gentiles
Jewish unbelief, therefore, leads to Gentile salvation. Then Gentile salvation leads to positive envy of the Jewish people and they are saved as a nation, which causes God to bless the Gentiles in an unparalleled and unimaginable fashion in the future.
Paul makes this argument, beginning with verse 12: “If their trespass” – that is, the trespass of the Jewish people – “riches of the world” – that is, the Gentiles – “if their loss, riches of the Gentiles, their fullness” – speaking of the full salvation of the Jewish people – “will be greater riches for the Gentiles.” And verse 15: “Their rejection by God reconciliation of the world; their acceptance will be like life from the dead.”
The future salvation of the national Israel will result in much greater blessings to the Gentiles. It is called “life from the dead” (v. 15). This phrase is interpreted in three different ways. First, it can be seen as a literal resurrection, that is, a general resurrection from the dead leading to blessed eternal life. In other words, the conversion of Israel will signal the resurrection of the last day. The restoration of the Jews at once will bring on the end. The dead will be raised and the Messiah’s kingdom will be set up glorious and incorruptible. Professor Ernst Kí¤semann says, “The conversion of Israel is . . . also the last act of salvation history.”1 However, Paul does not use the words anastasis, or egeirí´, which speak about literal resurrection.
Second, “life from the dead” can have a figurative meaning. Professor Charles Hodge says it is a joyful and desirable event.2 Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says it is a hyperbole “so glorious that we cannot compare it with anything else.”3 Life from the dead means the greatest blessing imaginable that can be likened to life from the dead. It is like Lazarus being raised from the dead.
Third, “life from the dead” can refer to a spiritual resurrection or quickening of the whole world, a worldwide salvation in unimaginable proportions, especially for the Gentiles. Professor Godet says it is “a powerful spiritual revolution which will be wrought in the heart of Gentile Christendom by the fact of the conversion of the Jews”4 – an en masse conversion of the Gentiles. The conversion of Israel functions as a tonic to the world. In other words, Jewish unbelief leads to Gentile salvation, which in turn leads to national Israel’s salvation, which in turn brings unimaginable worldwide conversions of peoples, especially the Gentiles.
God works out his eternal plan in history in spite of human sin and arrogance. He will do what he pleases. So Paul exhorts the Gentile majority of the Roman church not to be proud and not to despise the Jewish minority. Gentiles did not replace the Jews in God’s plan, in spite of the present unbelief of the Jews. Their present hardening means only that Gentiles also are included in God’s plan.
- What about you? God’s wrath is revealed against our sin. Have you been saved from his wrath by believing savingly in Jesus Christ? We are all going to die. Man is destined to die once and then face divine judgment. If you are not a believer, you will die like the rich fool.
- Are you truly and eternally rich? Can you say, “The Lord is my inheritance and portion”? Are you united with Christ and living in vital union with him? The Bible says we receive fullness, completeness, in Jesus Christ alone.
- Is Jesus Christ your good shepherd? If so, then you will lack nothing. In fact, that means you have everything. If we are in Christ, we have fullness and lack nothing. He provides, protects, and guides his people. So we must ask: Is Jesus Christ leading and guiding you?
- Paul wanted to save some of his brothers. He said, “If somehow I may save some” (Rom. 11:14; 1 Cor. 9:22). Have you tried to save someone? Don’t go to heaven alone. Bring someone with you-hopefully your spouse and children and their spouses and children, for generations to come. God uses us, not angels, to speak the way of salvation to lost sinners.
- Have you thanked God for sending a person to speak the gospel to you? How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! God ordained that person from all eternity to come to you, whether it was at home or work or when you were traveling. Some human being shared the gospel with you and made you rich. May God help us to rejoice in our salvation and share the good news with everyone he sends us.
1 Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 307.
2 Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1989), 362.
3 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 11, To God’s Glory(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1998), 91.
4 Frederic L. Godet, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, trans. by A. Cusin, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1889), 243.
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