Romans 11:28-12:1 – The Mercy of God

Chapter breaks in the Bible can often be very distracting. One of those is the chapter break between Romans 11:36 and 12:1. Why on earth would anyone put a chapter break right before the word “therefore”? What is even funnier to me is that people will quote verses like Romans 12:1-2 and start the quote with “therefore” but never think to go and look before the “therefore” to see what in the world Paul or others are working off of when they wrote it. Notice also at the end of Romans 11 how many times Paul uses the word “mercy.”

11:30 – have now received mercy
11:31 – may now receive mercy…as a result of God’s mercy
11:32 – so that he may have mercy
12:1 – I urge you…in view of God’s mercy

Could it be that Paul is still talking about the same thing in Romans 12 as he was in Romans 11? There are certainly some connecting pieces (you can read more about that in this post on reading Romans 12:1-2 in context).

Paul calls the Jews “enemies for your [Gentile’s] sake. That sounds harsh and the word basically means someone who stands in opposition to them. History does bear that out and I guess you could say that may be part of the hardening that Paul mentioned in 11:25. In the first century there were stonings of Christians by Jews. The Jews also changed one of their 18 benedictions to be a curse on the Christians. D.A. Carson provides us with a translation of the curse in his Pillar commentary on the Gospel of John (p.370).

“For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and the Nazarenes and the heretics perish as in a moment and be rooted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant”

Carson tells us these benedictions were to be recited daily by pious Jews. The basis of all this mistreatment was the acceptance of the Gentiles by Christians Jews without requiring circumcision or obedience to certain parts of  the law. That is clearly the background problem of what Paul is dealing with in Romans and also in Galatians.

In 11:29-32 Paul basically puts Jew and Gentile on the same page in that all have been disobedient at one time or another and so all have received mercy from God. The point here turns to the mercy of God. No one deserves to be in the family of God. Even Abraham himself was chosen by God…God could have picked anyone he wanted but he chose Abraham. God’s choice is by mercy and grace and not because of how good any of us (Jew or Gentile are). It is all based on the mercy of God. In Romans 12 we see that God then expects that as we live in light of that mercy we will be willing to give 100% of our lives to God because he is so benevolent. When we do so, he will transform us and then we will be able to test and approve his will for our lives.

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Romans 11:25-26 – What Does Paul Mean by “All Israel Will Be Saved”?

The toughest couple of verses in all of Romans are contained in Romans 11. After Paul’s illustration of the olive tree and how God selects those branches (whether native to the tree (Jews) or wild olive branches (Gentiles) that belong in his tree he makes a statement that is a little perplexing in 11:25-26…

“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. 26And so all Israel will be saved…”

It is difficult to say which mystery Paul is talking about when he says “this” mystery. He could be talking about the olive tree and God’s “kind and stern” actions toward his people. Or “this” could refer to what he is about to say regarding Israel’s hardening but eventually acceptance. Last night in our men’s class I made the point that the mystery points back to the olive tree example but the more I think about it, I think it mostly points forward to what Paul is about to explain – God’s plan to save Israel. That is, after all, what Paul is trying to explain all through chapters 9-11. Paul says God has planned the salvation of Israel in three steps – 1) hardening of some of the Jews, 2) acceptance of some Gentiles, 3) all Israel will be saved.

At this point we have some issues. When Paul writes that “all Israel will be saved” we either have to define Israel by a certain set of people in order to make that consistent with all Paul has said about the necessity of righteousness to come by faith in Christ or we have to assume all Jews will eventually put their faith in Christ, or that God is going to save them no matter what (which is not consistent with what Paul has written to this point in Romans). Some people have wanted to say Paul is talking about “Spiritual Israel” here but that just doesn’t bear out through the context. Paul is talking about ethnic Jews here. So either they all will eventually put their faith in Christ or Paul is defining Israel in a slightly different way than meaning every single person who is a direct descendent of Abraham. Paul and Jesus agree that not all ethnic Jews are actually children of Abraham (see John 8:39-41 & Romans 4:12).

It has always been the case that God has called his people “Israel” when some Jews were not included in that number. Two places we see this in the OT are the concept of the remnant and also through blessings and curses in Deuteronomy (for more on that see the first paragraph in this post on Galatians 3:10-14). In Deuteronomy blessings and curses are repeatedly laid out before God’s people. The gist of it is, if you follow God and keep his commandments you will do well in the land. But if you double cross God, rebel and go your own way you will be under a curse. This curse was basically considered a removal of the blessings of God and of covenant status with God. That basically would put an ethnic Jew out of “Israel” and into the same status as the Gentiles (who were also thought to be cursed and devoid of God’s blessings). So my contention here when Paul says “all Israel will be saved” is that he is talking about “true Israelites” (as Jesus refered to Nathaniel as in John 1:47)…those who obeyed the law and were led by that law, as it was intended to do, to Jesus Christ. So this does not mean every single Jew who ever lived will be saved and it does not mean that every single Jew will somehow get a second chance to believe in Jesus at the last day (although I can see how some would interpret it that way). It probably means faithful Jews will turn to Christ and be redeemed and that in some way, shape or form, there may be more of that to come than we realize. That is the plan that God had from the beginning. The only difficulty I see in this interpretation is that it is difficult to keep the Israel of verse 25 consistent with the Israel of verse 26. Hank’s suggestion that the ESV translation of this verse may help us a little here – “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved…”