In this way “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26–27)
In these verses Paul is concerned for those in Israel upon whom a partial hardening has come (v 25) in order that some gentiles will enter Israel. Paul affirms that God is going to save all Israel. But what is the identity of Israel? This article was an email in response to a question about the identity of Israel in Romans 11:26.
I am convinced that Paul has expanded the definition of what it means to be Israel to include repentant gentiles. Paul has moved the boundary markers outward to include gentiles who believe in Christ. Also see that Paul includes in Israel only those who have experienced “covenant” renew through Christ (“The Deliverer, who will take away their sins,” vv 26-27). What happens to the unrepentant Israel (ethnic Jews)? When Paul speaks of all of Israel, he is referring to the elect—elect ethnic Jews who believe in Messiah Jesus and gentile believers (11:7–12). Israel in v 26 is a reference to ethnic Israel/Jews, Paul’s fellow brethren.
These verses must be understood in light of Paul’s extensive discussion of Romans 9–11, which are crucial to his overall argument in Romans. These verses follow chapters 1–8 which reach a climax in chp 8. But what Paul says in chps 9–11 only make sense in light of his argument in chps 1–8. Note that Paul is explaining a mystery, something’s meaning which was once hidden and unknown, but now has been revealed. Paul has been explaining the mystery surrounding the salvation of the gentiles and the unbelief of the Jews. Paul’s fear is that the gentiles will trust their own understanding of the events surrounding the Jews (which leads to pride) for they began to look down on the Jews as losing God’s favor. Also note that Paul says, “in this way all Israel will be saved.” Paul appeals to Scripture to defend his understanding of the gospel and what God has done in Christ and its apparent fallout with the Jews. How will they be saved? Yahweh “will take away all their sins.” This is a reference to the efficacious death of the Messiah, whom “God put forward as a propitiation/covering by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24–25a). God showed restraint with passed sins so that He might show His righteousnessat the present time (3:25b–26).
Paul wants all of ethnic Israel to be saved. Paul wants this blindness of Israel to be lifted. Will that happen? No! But it is Paul’s earnest prayer and desire (9:1–3). Paul is willing to be cut off from Christ/Messiah on their behalf if it means that they will be saved.
Jewish ethnic identity was an advantage, because it was to their fathers (the patriarchs) that God gave the covenants, the promises, the law, the glory, and so on. But proximity to God does not mean that one is elected. Throughout Scripture there is a persistent argument that not all Israel is Israel. The is a prominent argument in the book of Isaiah. Not all Israel is Israel. A mix multitude came out of Egypt. Throughout the history of ancient Israel Yahweh narrows down the people to a faithful remnant. We see this as part of the function of the wilderness wandering and the Babylonian exile. We are left with Joshua and Caleb in the former, and we are left with those like Daniel and the Hebrew boys in the later. It’s not ethnic identity that makes one a member of God’s people. Rather it is faithful obedience to God’s commands that identifies and marks one of as God’s. This is why Paul can say in Romans 2 that God will reward those who “by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality” and that God will send tribulation and distress on those who “do evil, the Jew first and also the Greek” (Rom 2:6–11). God will give us according to our works! This is why circumcision of the heart is so important. Because the act of the Spirit is not only adoption by circumcision of the heart so that by the Spirit we will desire the things of the Spirit and so fulfill the works of the law. This is why God can judge Christians and non-Christians by our works. Christians by the Spirit produce the works that God is looking for.
Torah (the law) function to identify sin, to count sin, to increase sinfulness, but to point to Messiah (the ‘telos’ of Torah is Messiah). The works of Torah do not save. Rather Torah have the adverse effect—frustrating Israel (cf. Rom 7). Torah divides Jew from gentile, male (circumcision) from female, and slave from free. It divides rather than uniting. God uses Torah to focus sin upon Israel, so that He might atone for sin in the death of His Son. So in Messiah both Jew and gentile will find salvation (rather than wrath), forgiveness of sin, righteousness, covenant renewal, the blessings of Abraham, freedom from the Sin and the Death (Rom 5:1–11). In Messiah they are free from the lordship/bondage of the Sin. This is what Romans 6 is all about.
With that said, how can ethnic Jews do the will of God apart from the Spirit of God who is only given by faith in Messiah Jesus (Gal 3:1–4). Paul goes on to argue that there are some gentiles who keep the law without ever receiving the law formally like the Jews at Mt Sinai (Rom 2:12–16). How is this possible? Are they gentile believers of which Paul speaks? He does not explicit say? But we know that Paul will further describe gentile believers later in his letter which may prove that these are gentile Christians, who have circumcised hearts. Paul is arguing about the true identity of God’s people. A true Jew is not identified by ethnicity. A true Jew may be an ethnic Jew or not! How is this? Paul argues the true Jew is a Jew inwardly. It is not physical circumcision that is the badge of identity of a “Jew.” It is not keeping the feast days that marks off a “Jew.” It is faith in Jesus Christ! (Rom 3:21–31). The true “Jew” is just and righteous, that is, he or she is in right standing with God. Well who is this “Jew”? Show us an example, Paul? He does this by quoting Habakkuk 2:4 in his thesis statement, Romans 1:16–17. “The righteous one” or “the just one” is the Messiah. The Messiah lives by his faith(fulness)! Paul further explains when he says “the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (Rom 3:22). Jesus is the faithful Jew! It is through the faithfulness of Jesus that the righteousness of God is demonstrated. God puts the world to rights by acting in Jesus Christ the faithful and true Jew/Israel. With this in mind Paul can turn to the faith of Abraham, the father of us all, and Paul can argue that his faith(fulness) is that which the believer (Jew and gentile) possesses. This faith is the act of faith that God sees and calls righteous. This faith is the human appropriation toward an act of God made on behalf of the world. This is the faith God expects from the Jew first and then the gentile. God justifies the circumcised (the ethnic Jew) by faith and the uncircumcised (gentile) through faith (3:27–30). Like God who is one, and His people are one. It is faith that marks Israel not Torah, not the Land, and not ethnicity.
The hermeneutical and interpretive trap is turning a blind eye to the political behavior of ethnic Jews (who have rejected Messiah Jesus) and the nation of Israel because somehow they are God’s people. This faulty hermeneutic lies in the false notion that somehow we need the modern Israeli state to act in a certain way so that Jesus will come back soon. So we watch their behavior closely and cheer them on in their sin and unrighteousness because somehow God is using them to fulfill the events of the last days. This is a perverted approach to Scripture and God’s purposes. Paul mourned over the unbelief of his brethren. He saw in their unbelief God saving gentiles. So what ought we to say about the Middle East conflict? We should be preaching the gospel to the Palestinians and others. What is the nature and content of that God? God will judge fairly both ethnic Jews and non-Jews. He sees the unfaithfulness of those who have the advantage of Torah, the covenant promises, the judgments of God, and more (Rom 9:4-5). But they have not believed the prophets. They rejected their Messiah. Jesus brings peace not war between Jew and Palestinian (so-called gentile, but actually the brothers). So American Christians support an unrighteous so-called people of Yahweh who must call on the name of the Lord in an act of covenant renewal if they are too see the salvation of their God. We ought not to encourage unrighteousness. Paul argues that the righteousness of God has been demonstrated in the cross of Christ. He defends God’s course of act that was demonstrated in the faithfulness of Jesus when he died for the sins of both Israel and the nations. So we preach to both, ethnic Jew and gentile. To the Jew we preach covenant renewal. To the gentile we preach Jesus is Lord, master of the world, the judgment of the world. We identify sin and unrighteousness regardless of who might be the sinner. We are hear to be a light to the world and salt to the earth. We must not be partial in our judgments favoring Israel because they have an advantage in being God’s people so their acts must be OK in the big scheme of things. No! Paul would never say that! Paul argues forcefully that both Jew and gentile are under sin and must come by the way of the cross of the Messiah. But Paul does say that God is still saving ethnic Israel although it appears that He is saving only a few. Paul argues that God chooses some and others He does not. That is the argument Paul is making with Jacob and Esau (Rom 9:6–12).
Now that God has acted according to His promises to the patriarchs (Abraham, Moses, and David) when He set forth Jesus to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world, the ethnic makeup of Israel has changed in the direction of gentiles, whom God is grafting in. In actually there has never been two distinct people of God. There is only one! This is Paul’s argument in his letters. This Israel is made up of believing Jews and believing gentiles. There is ethnic Israel, but not all ethnic Israel belongs to Christ. Those who reject Christ stand outside of this true Israel of God. When reading Romans we must be care to follow Paul’s terminology with their definitions.
Traditionally, Romans 9–11 has been understood as breaking the continuity of Paul’s letter. These chapters were considered out of place. But now scholars see them as forming the heart and climax of Paul’s argument. Romans is not simply a gospel tract. Rather Romans is an argument for the righteousness of God, that is, God has acted faithfully according to His promises and covenant when He sent His Son Jesus born of David and declared the Son of God with power at the resurrection. What does this mean? God has acted faithfully toward Israel (ethnic unbelieving Israel and ethnic believing Israel). It appears in Romans that more and more gentiles were believing in Christ and entering the church. Before the edit of Claudius, which removed Jews from Roman because of disputes over one named “Chrestus” (Christ), there were more believing Jews who held positions of power in the house churches. Later after Claudius died and the edict was lifted, these Jewish returned but found the positions of power were taken by Gentile Christians who were now a majority. To the Gentile Christian it might appear that the Jews had lost favor in the eyes of the Lord. But Paul writes to say no, there temporary unbelief and stupor is part of God’s plan. It has happened so that you gentiles can be grafted into Israel! Then a time will come that more ethnic Jews will be saved that God has elected to salvation. Then it will be and can be said that “All Israel will be saved!” This Israel contains the complete number of redeemed gentiles and redeemed ethnic Jews God has elected to be saved!
Remember Paul is arguing that God has acted righteously, that is, that God has acted faithfully and in accord with His covenant promises to Abraham. Paul points to the will of God in election. Paul cites Isaiah, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people” to describe the gentiles who become His people, sons of Abraham, through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul previously defined a Jew as one who has been circumcised not in flesh but in the heart by the Spirit (Rom 2:29). He redefined what it meant to be a Jew. Actually it’s old definition established by Moses in Deut 30:6 (cf. Jer 31), when he promised that Yahweh will restore Israel. This is what Paul says God has done in Jesus. So now Israel must perform covenant renewal (Rom 10:9–10). Where Israel failed is in ethnic pride and boasting. This is what Paul criticizes in Romans 2:17–29. For this they failed to live up to their vocation. They were to bring a blessing to gentiles (Gen 12:1–3; 17:1–14). In True Israel, Jesus Messiah, God brings this blessing to all the families of the earth (Gal 3–4). Not all Israel has failed to call on the name of the Lord. Paul and the Apostles are the primary example. Paul criticizes the pretentious Jewish teacher who takes pride in knowing Torah, being a light to the nations and a guide to the blind. But this kind of Jew breaks Torah just like the gentile sinner. He is not the “Jew” that Moses describes. Rather he is a hypocrite and brings shame to God before the gentiles (2:23–24). This is the ethnic Jew who is in danger of the judgment and wrath of God. This is the fellow brethren for whom Paul prays earnestly in Romans 9–11.
Paul is grappling with the reality that many Jews have not believed in Jesus. What does this mean? What about ethnic Jews? What will happen to them? Paul knows some will be saved and some will not. That is how it has always been!
Something that we must see and fully appreciate is what the NT writers are doing with the OT. When they quote the prophets, particularly messianic prophecies, they see their fulfillment in the past events of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ. The NT writers see the prophecies of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the others having partial fulfillment in their time. For example, how should we take Paul’s use of Isaiah 59:20, 21 in Romans 11:26–27. Here in lies the crux of the matter and where divergent interpretations sprout. Paul usually quotes only several verses but he has entire passages in mind. Take Isaiah 59 where the prophet argues that Yahweh’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save (v 1)! The prophecy is preached to Israel! It is their iniquities that have separated them from God (v 2). They have been murders. They have been wicked. They have lied. They have been unrighteous (vv 3–8). If you are not careful when you read Isaiah 59 you might think you are reading Romans chapters 2–3. Israel is groping around in darkness. Justice is far from them (vv 9–10). Many are their transgressions and salvation is far from them (vv 11–13). They have denied Yahweh; they have turned their back on God. Sounds like the ethnic Israel Paul has been describing in Romans 9–11. Who will save them and how will salvation come to Israel??!! Yahweh find no justice among his people—none righteous no not one (v 15–16). So Yahweh put on righteousness and garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal (17). According to their deeds Yahweh will repay them (18). Doesn’t this sound familiar? Yahweh will come (19). And a Redeemer will come to Zion!! (20) Who is this? Jesus Christ preaching “Look the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Remember when Jesus entered Jerusalem and purged the temple of uncleanness. Jesus came to Zion to those in Israel who turned from transgression (20). There God made a new covenant with them through which Yahweh sets His Spirit upon them so that his word will not depart from their mouth and the mouth of their children. Doesn’t this sound like the fulfillment of Joel 2:28–29 (cf. Acts 1–2). Paul still sees that this time is not over. That the Redeemer will come at save all Israel. Paul sees that not all Israel has been saved. There are more to be redeemed. The Gentile Christians are now guilty of the same arrogance of the Jewish teacher of Romans 2:17ff. They had begun to identify God’s favor with non-Jews. Paul is warning them that is not the case. God is righteous and will fulfill the promises made to Abraham and ethnic Israel as will as to the gentiles. In the end Zion will be restored; Israel will be restored as the prophets saw it.
Now today we see a nation of Israel restored as a self-governing body. This is wonderful. But we should not confuse this with a redeemed Israel. Remember Paul is preaching while Jerusalem is still standing. The Temple had not been destroyed. Paul does not confused a Jewish Sanhedrin and Temple cult with a restored Israel. He identifies himself and other believing Jews with a partially restored Israel. In 70 AD the Temple is destroyed by the Romans. The judgment that the Lord Messiah Jesus prophesied over Jerusalem has fallen. The wrath of God has fallen unrepentant, disobedient, and unrighteous Jews in Jerusalem with its Temple. This does not mean that today some Jews will believe in Jesus.
The lesson is that we should not side with groups of people because they have been traditionally identified as God’s people, but who fail to do justice and openly reject Jesus as Messiah. We pray for them as Paul. But we don’t treat them better than others. Because God does not. In fact Yahweh holds them more accountable than the non-Jews because they have His promises, covenants, etc. He will disciple the Christians who pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ to apply to those who keep the works of Torah (circumcision and holy days) and reject Jesus. This is Paul’s warning and argument in the letter to the Galatians. Would Paul curse us today who have given ethnic Israel as free pass to act unrighteously toward the gentiles. Have American Christians spoken boldly about unrighteousness on both sides of the Palestinian debate? We typically side with Israel because somehow they fit in with our vision of the future. We are in fact rewriting the parable of the Good Samaritan. I’m not giving a pass to the Palestinians because they are been merciless and ideologically driven as well. What I am say is that “all (both Jew and Palestinian) have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We bring shame to God when we treat one group preferentially and neglect the issues of justice. God is not going to side with Israel because they are ethnic Jews and because they have Torah. God is with those who are righteous—act according to His stipulations—regardless of ethnicity.
Lastly, our understanding of the end times can be a dangerous thing. Paul did not understand the last days as we think he did. We look at the Middle East as a barometer indicating the nearness of the coming of the Lord. In fact, this is not biblically. If we read more closely and carefully the NT writers and Jesus point to the behavior of those who say they are Christians as an indication of the times. There has always been a conflict over the land of Palestine, even before the children of Israel arrived. The occupants of that land have always been at war. Today is not different. As Christian readers of the Bible, we must see that the NT writers have radically redefined the symbols of Israel (the land, the Temple, Torah), because the notion of what Israel is has been expanded to include gentiles and all the world. Also it is important to see how the NT writers use Jewish terms to describe the Church, the new covenant people of God, the Israel of God. They identify the followers of Jesus as the Israel to whom the promises of the OT were made. They read Scripture with a different hermeneutic. This is how the Essenes and other Jewish sects read Scripture. They identified with the righteous faithful remnant of the Israel of Scripture. So Jesus’ people are read back into the OT as God’s restored Israel coming out of Exile. This is what Paul and the other NT writers are doing with Scripture. Paul is faced with the reality that many of his people are not turning to Christ. What is he to do with Scripture? How will he now understand Scripture? Paul turns to the sovereign God who keeps His promises to Israel, although now redefined to include saved gentiles.
There is a tension in the NT that exists among the writers. This tension is over how God will fulfill His promises to ethnic Israel and the nations. This is the tension we must live with when reading Paul and the NT. There is a degree of uncertainty, but not with God. Paul is dealing with uncertainty of how things will fair with his people, his fear, and his sorry over their unbelief. But Paul is confident in God and Paul is not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to save both Jew and gentile who believe in Jesus. For in it the righteousness of God (covenant faithfulness of God) is revealed in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to the faith of the believing Jew and gentile who are blessed as Abraham’s offspring.
I believe we should read the NT as seeing the gentiles now invited to the party God is planning in the near future. Some Jews are not going to make it although they have been given the opportunity to accept the invitation. But all those at God’s feast are His people regardless of their past histories and genealogy. Jesus argues this in his parables. Paul may have been embarrassed that the Jews were not converting in droves. But he knows that God has acted in such a way so that the promises made to Abraham on behalf of the gentiles might be fulfilled. As gentiles Christians we are blessed.
Romans 9–11 is notoriously one of the most difficult section of the NT to handle. There are important hermeneutic factors to take into consideration
- Paul’s arguments through Romans must see understood in support of and further explaining his thesis/summary statement in 1:16–17.
- What exactly Paul is concerned about in the Letter to the Romans has been debated. But most scholars agree with the following:
- Paul writes a letter of introduction to win the support of the Christians in Rome for his missionary endeavors in the West (Spain).
- There is a historical situation for which Paul writes.
- The Edict of Claudius in 49 C.E. involving the situation between the Jews and Jewish Christians arguing over Chrestus (Christ)
- The gentile Christians are now a majority and hold possessions of authority in the household churches
- The Jewish Christians are now the minority when they return to Rome from exile.
- The gentile Christians are proud and look down on the Jews because they think that they have fallen out of God’s favor.
- Paul is not simply stating the gospel, rather Paul argues that God has acted righteously and faithfully in Jesus toward both Jews and gentiles.
- Paul is writing to defend the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel.
- Romans is a theodicy rather than a collection of theological propositions. Paul is not writing systematic theology. He’s addressing a real situation.
Paul argues that “all Israel will be saved” because the righteousness of God is at stake. It appears that the God of Abraham who has acted in Christ to fulfill the promises made to Abraham has forgotten the children of Abraham. The promises of salvation, restoration, and redemption were made to Israel through the prophets, who preached exactly what? Paul is going to reconcile what they are seeing on the ground with what God has spoken through the prophets. Paul sees a gentile arrogance not unlike that of the pretentious Jew who has reject Christ. He is warning the gentile Christians that they are drop out and the unbelieving Jews could again be grafted back in.
Paul argues that being an Israelite does not preclude that he or she is called. Throughout Romans he is shaking the confidence of the type of Jew who relies on his ethnic and religious advantages for righteousness before God. Paul vigorously argues that righteousness before God is not determine by one’s lineage nor by one’s effort to keep the works of Torah, which is unable to render one as righteous. To be declared righteous (that is to be acquitted of sin, declared in right standing with God, and to be included into God’s covenant family) is an act of God by grace through Christ that is appropriated by human faith, which also is a gift of God. Paul begins to focus on the righteous person. It is not determined by ethnicity nor proximity to God. God looks for faithfulness (faithful obedience to the covenant stipulations spelled out in Torah) in His people, but He has not found it except in one, the Righteous/Just One who lives by his faithfulness (Habakkuk 2:4). God’s righteousness (faithfulness to Abraham) is revealed in the faithfulness of Jesus, who does his Father’s will even unto the death of the cross. It is through Jesus’ faithfulness that the blessings of Abraham are not only available to sinful and unfaithful Israel but also to the gentile sinner. All Israel is found to be in sin and unrighteousness. There is none righteous, no not one.
With that said Paul knows that the gentile Christians think the Jews have fallen out of favor with God. But they are mistaken. Paul explains what appears to be God’s disfavor. It is a mystery and it deeply troubles Paul. But he knows the unbelief of his fellow Jews is to the present advantage of the gentiles. Paul returns to the Scriptures and reminds the gentile Christians that the promises were first made to the Jews. This is why Paul repeatedly saws “to the Jews first, and then to the gentiles.” Salvation belongs to the Jews. It was to Abraham and his offspring that God made the promises. But as we have seen these promises were also made to and for the gentiles (“that all the families of the earth will be blessed”).
Paul’s argument is clear on this, that the word of God has not failed! (9:6; cf. 3:1–8).
So what does Paul mean by “All Israel will be saved”? Who is this Israel Paul is referring to. I want to argue that Paul’s definition of Israel is not simply drawn across ethnic lines, rather it includes all the elect, believing ethnic Jews (the remnant) and believing gentiles, forming the one people of God, the body of Christ.
To understand 11:26–27, we must carefully trace Paul’s argument from 9:1 keeping in mind what he has said in chps 1–8.
What does Paul mean by Israel? First consider 9:6–7, where Paul writes, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” It is clear that Paul does not define Israel by simply ethnic identity. “Not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” This is argument is similar to that of Galatians. He goes on to say “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” The children of God are not identified by or marked off by ethic identity. Rather it is the Spirit of God who makes one a child of Abraham (Gal 3:22). The Spirit comes to the one who has faith in Jesus Christ (3:3, 14).
The Jews thought they were righteous because of the maintenance function of Torah keeping. Keeping Torah functioned to maintain covenant status rather than giving one entrance into the covenant community. But the function of Torah was misunderstood. Paul makes fascinating statement about Torah, which are bewildering. He says Torah is good, but then speaks of the curse of Torah. Paul calls Torah as schoolmaster that was designed to lead the Jews to Christ. Paul says the “end” (telos) of Torah is Christ. In Philippians, Paul says that when it comes to Torah observation that he was perfect and righteous. But then he says that none are righteous before God. What is this righteousness Paul is speaking of? And how does Torah keeping relate to it? I believe that the righteousness of God cannot simply be the works/observance of Torah practiced by the Jews in the first century. Remember the Israel is still in exile. They have not been fully restored. The Jews of the Second Temple period often reflected on the partial restoration of Israel. The monarchy had not returned and they were under the rule of Rome. They still awaited the promised son of David, the Messiah. Some Jews believed that by intensifying Torah keeping the Messiah and the full restoration of Israel would come. Some Jews believed that they must be righteous before Yahweh return from exile to sit on his throne in Jerusalem. But was this “righteousness” enough for restoration? For Paul their righteousness did not work the righteousness of God. It was not enough. In fact their behavior led to the crucifixion of the Messiah. For Paul Israel had been continued in unfaithfulness. But as Isaiah and the other prophets said God had promised to save a remnant of Israel (faithful ethnic Israel, whom Messiah would save)! See Rom 9:27. Paul and the other ethnic Jews who believed in Messiah Jesus were part of this remnant of Jews.
To further explain and to defend what the gentiles are seeing as Jewish unbelief Paul turns to the sovereignty and election of God evidenced from his call of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, and the voice of the prophets. It is in this context that Paul reveals more of the mystery, the inclusion of the gentiles into God’s people (vv 22–26). Wow, in a strike reversal of the expect, Isaiah crises “only a remnant of them will be saved.” God promised that Abraham’s seed would be in number as the sand of the sea. But now only a few will be saved. What does this mean? Ethnicity is not a factor in the election of God. The number of “Israel” is made up of gentiles as well as Jews (vv 30–31).
I’m mind full that Paul maintains distinctions in his discussion. He uses Israel and gentiles are two distinct categories of humanity. At times Paul has in mind ethnic Israel but this is to show that true “Israel,” the people of God, are marked off by faith(fulness) to Jesus Christ, the Deliver. This is why Paul says not all who are descended from “Israel” (Jacob) are “Israel” (9:6). The term “Israel” is not merely an ethnic marker, rather it is a marker for the people of God regardless of ethnic makeup. It has always been this way. Abraham was not a Jew. The Torah that was given by Moses marked off God’s people from the gentiles. But it marked off ethnic Israel and faithful Israel from the gentile sinners (a people who were not God’s people). But Israel, ethnic Israel including the faithful and unfaithful Jews, were called to be a light to the nations, a guide to the sinner. Isaiah argues that all of Israel (except one) had failed to live up to its calling. The Suffering Servant, the Messiah, is the faithful Israel through whom all Israel will be saved. But Paul understands by Scripture and the reality of the unbelief of his fellow brethren that the identity of faithful Israel is not found in ethnic identity, rather faith in Jesus Christ. This salvation is by faith which is offered to the ethnic Jew and gentile sinner. But out of these two groups will come the elect Jews and elect gentiles forming the restored Israel. There will not be two separate people of God. There is only one, Israel, made up of all the families of the earth.
Paul wants his primarily Gentile readers to understand the situation of on the ground as a moment of God’s doing. The momentary unbelief of the majority of Jews (descendant of “Israel”) is by divine design and is according to God’s plan. Paul is holding out that his fellow brethren will be saved, know that some will be lost. This is how it has always been, clear understood in the words of “Jacob I love. but Esau I hated.” Partial hardening has come upon ethnic Israel (offspring of Jacob) so that all the elect gentiles come into the people of God (the revealing of the sons of Abraham). Paul was to affirm how all Israel will be saved, so he restates the good news (vv 26–28) revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ. Though many of the Jews have rejected the gospel, and therefore are regarded as enemies of God (v 28), they are loved for the sake of the patriarchs. Paul (like many other Jews of his day, e.g., Essenes, Zealots) were critical of their people. Paul like the Essenes and John the Baptist, saw his fellow Jews, who rejected Jesus as their Messiah, as the enemies of God. But as the history of Israel teaches it is for the sake of Abraham and the other patriarchs that God will saved them. But this salvation will always be through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul is not necessarily referring to some future event of national restoration of ethnic Israel (apart from believing in Messiah Jesus).
We have constructed theologies and end-time scenarios that involve a mass restoration of Jews. I’m not saying this is not possible. I’m not saying that this is not part of the mystery of salvation. What I want to argue is God is saving the elect now by the preaching of the gospel of Christ to both the Jew and the gentile. Unfortunately for many of us our literal interpretation of Scripture has caused us to miss the significance of the NT writer’s words about the fulfillment of prophecy. It is incumbent that we read the NT more closely. We ought not to be afraid of the identification of believing gentiles with “Israel” (the restored people of God and in-grafted people who were not his people but now are). The NT writers repeatedly use Jewish terms to understand the church which is wholly a Jewish category.
What has happened to many believers in the States is a confusion of ethnic Israel with the faithful remnant. So we give a pass to the unrighteousness and unfaithfulness of Jewish people because somehow we are waiting for God to save them. But while we hold back from proclaim Jesus as their Messiah Jews are dying without their Messiah. These Jews are dying outside of the covenant; they are dying in sin, they are not going to be saved. As gentile Christians we have treated them unjustly! What we have done Paul would have firmly rebuked. I am not advocating intolerance (not at all). I’m concerned that we believe that somehow the Israelis actions are guided by God more so than that of the gentiles. So we excuse their injustice practices because it’s all going to work on in the end. We say, “All Israel will be saved.” Remember, “Jacob I love, but Esau I hated.” We don’t give our fellow gentiles a pass. God uses Gentiles too. In fact he called one over 3,000 years ago to a land. His name was Abraham. He believed God and it was counted unto him as righteousness. We are denying ethnic Israel restoration. We know that all the descendants of Israel will not be saved. But all “Israel” (elect Jews and gentiles) will be saved according to God’s sovereign election and will.
I believe it is a gross misunderstanding to expect a sovereign Jewish state that will one day rule the world. Not this promise is made to the people of God who are made up of both Jews and gentiles, headed by Messiah Jesus. Jesus, Paul, and the other NT writers clearly reapply the prophecies of Israel’s restoration to the followers of Christ. These promises were not made to solely ethnic Israel according to the NT writer’s understanding of Scripture. Jesus redefines what it means to be a member of the people of God (the kingdom of God). He redefines the notion of the Land and the Temple. Jesus rereads Scripture (correcting the misreading of his people). This is why the Jewish leaders want to kill him. He threatens Jewish identity, Jewish privilege, Jewish history, and Jewish property. Jesus threatens the Temple, the cultus, Jerusalem, and the Jewish exclusivity. We have failed to take Jesus’ words seriously! We must re-read his words and not parse them out according to a system of theology that holds ethnicity about the Spirit of adoption. Paul is controversial because he is redrawing what it means to be the Israel of God. He is excluding the function of the works of Torah to maintain covenant status (righteousness) with God. He replaces it with the faithfulness of Jesus appropriated by faith (Gal 2:20). He argues that genealogy was no guarantee of salvation then in now. But Paul wants to affirm that God loves ethnic Israel and has not forgotten them and will continue to save some as He sees fit.
What some of us have done is confuse the ministry and work of Christ simply for a period of time applying to a specific group of people. Then they have constructed a future period of time for the salvation of ethnic Israel called the Time of Jacob’s Trouble. I say we should read the Book of Revelation much more carefully. It’s shocking and surprising. It’s more likely that John is talking about the church (Israel, composed of believing Jews and gentiles) facing the persecution that seem so exclusive to Israel in the prophets. John is actually casting the church in the role of faithful ethnic Israel. John is reading US back into the prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zechariah, and the other prophets. It’s scary to say this, but we should not think we will simply escape. But there is a generation of Christians (the elect) who will go through this intense period of tribulation before the coming of Messiah. The more I read the more this is what John is saying to the seven churches. He wants them to be ready for the return of Jesus. This is what Paul was saying in First Thessalonians was well. Yes, in writing these words I have crossed over from Dispensationalism. I can’t turn back. It’s too plain. We just don’t understand the magnitude of the salvation of Jesus. God is not pouring out His wrath on the church; it is against the world. God disciplines His people. Tribulation is described against the plagues of Egypt. The children of Abraham were not the subject of God’s wrath. They were protected by a promise and by blood. This is the scenario John is actually explaining. That’s why in Revelation 18 he says, “Come out of her, my people.” I was thought we were not there. There is a remnant of God’s people who will be here. They are identified by ethnicity, they are identified by faithfulness of Jesus Christ. These last days as John describes them Paul saw as well. He lived in this end-times (eschatological) mindset.
Don’t throw me under the bus. But I want believers to understand how great our salvation is. We are part of the “Israel” of God, the one people of God. The gentiles have been given the same covenant promises of God. We are not some second-hand people. God never had a preference for ethnicity. God had a preference for a humble obedient contrite spirit. Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him as righteousness. He promised to bless ALL the families of the earth. And He has through His Son Jesus Messiah.
If we correct our theology, we would do better justice. We would be better peacekeepers. We could speak with moral authority. We could be the salt and the light along with ethnic Jews who have called upon the name of the Lord.
I said all this to say, yes to your question. I believe in verse 26 Paul uses “all Israel” to refer to believing ethnic Jews (remnant of the descendants of Jacob) and believing gentiles. Note that Paul says “in this way.” What way? By way of the gospel (v 28). Note by some end-time scenario that we imagine. God has a set number of ethnic children of Abraham that will be saved. As gentiles we don’t take over “Israel” we are added into “Israel” who is first and foremost Christ. There in Christ we find both Jews and gentiles, one people of God. So by the way of the gospel (the proclamation that the Deliverer has come from Zion to banish ungodliness from the ethnic descendants of Jacob and to renew the covenant with them taking away their sins) ethnic Jews will call on the name of the Lord and be saved. And in the meantime gentiles are believing too as God always intended.