18. Israel Hardened

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 18:  Israel Hardened

Rom 11:25   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.

Already in this chapter Paul has hinted at what he is now coming to: if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!” (v.12) and “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (v.15) and “if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (v.23) and “how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!” (v.24b)  Four times he has hinted that there will be coming a time when there is a possibility of Israel being restored to God.

So now he starts to bring it out into the open by acknowledging, first of all, that it is a mystery: “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers” (v.25a) and he is saying this for the benefit of the Gentiles: “so that you may not be conceited” (v.25b) i.e. don’t get over proud for I’ve already said your salvation is pure grace anyway and you have nothing to boast about, but also now I tell you that Israel still do have a part to play in God’s plans, not just you.

And then he makes this statement of policy if you like: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” (v.25c) That is a monumental statement. Note three parts to it. First, “Israel has experienced a hardening.” There is almost an implication that this was imposed on Israel, but as we’ve seen in the previous meditations earlier in Romans, God hardens where there are already hard hearts. Second, “in part.” The truth is that there are Jews today who are Christians, who have received Christ, so it hasn’t meant every single person who is a Jew.  Third, “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”  This period of hard heartedness is limited. It seems that in God’s plans there will come a time when He will wind all things up and the number of people saved by the blood of Jesus in the wider world (the Gentiles mainly) will come to an end. The period of church history will come to an end.

Now, if it stopped there we could speculate that this simply meant that throughout the Church period few Jews will be saved because of their ‘national’ hardness and at the end that is it, but it doesn’t stop there. Paul has an even bigger statement to make: “And so all Israel will be saved.” (v.26a) There is coming a time when obviously what we normally call revival is coming to Israel so that the entire people come to belief.

Now having said that we are aware that there are a variety of theories about the meaning of the words in that little phrase:

i) ‘Israel’ there simply means all the saved people of God through history – but elsewhere in this part of Scripture Israel is used in contrast to the Gentiles. i.e. a distinct people.

ii) ‘All’ means all the Jews living at that point in time – as I have suggested – but some suggest this is unfair on those who lived earlier and were rejected. Revival, as I’ve suggested, is simply a time when God moves very powerfully and people respond; it’s His choice when He brings it.

iii) ‘All’ means all the Jews throughout history – this, I suggest, ignores the basic tenet that God judges the unrighteous, the hard-hearted and rebellious, and this would mean a special favoring of a specific group of sinful people.

iv) ‘All’ simply means all the elect Jews who have turned to Jesus throughout history. As much as I like this it doesn’t seem to fit what follows.  Only the Lord knows the truth and time will tell it.

Paul seeks to justify what he is saying by quoting from the Old Testament yet again: “as it is written: “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.” (v.26b,27) This, however, is not a single quote but appears to be Paul drawing together from several quotes (i.e. Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9;  Jer. 31:33,34). Note the three parts: “The deliverer will come from Zion.”  This confirms a deliverer will come to Jerusalem – Jesus. “he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.” His purpose is to reconcile men to God. “And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” His purpose is also to bring about a new covenant, where sins are forgiven.

Now that is interesting because that ‘compiled quote’ could just as much apply to the Gentiles as the Jews, a summary of what God has done through Jesus, but we must accept the context and admit that he is applying it to his own people at that end time, which seems to fit in with a variety of Old Testament quotes that indicate that at the end, Jerusalem features largely in God’s purposes, including the blessing of His people there. We are, we must admit, in an area that has caused much controversy and much disagreement and much debate and so rather than join it, we conclude by saying, that God alone knows what He has planned for the very end of time and it may or may not pan out as we think it will from our vantage point of history.  Let’s be united in our speculative disagreements!!!!

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