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Romans 11: And So All Israel Shall Be Saved

From my study through Romans with S. Lewis Johnson, I now come to the great chapter of Romans 11.  Note:  S. Lewis Johnson also did a more extensive study of this chapter in “The Future of Ethnic Israel,” a six part study.  The full-book Romans series (which I’m currently listening to) includes four messages in Romans 11; in a few places he says he doesn’t have time to go into further detail on certain points, so I expect that his other, separate series on Romans 11 expanded more concerning these details.

It’s been a while since I’ve studied the Romans 11 text.  Concerning verse 26, “And so all Israel shall be saved” (ESV:  And in this way all Israel will be saved), SLJ discusses several of the interpretations that have been suggested, and the errors in the incorrect ones.

The “Dutch view” of the Holland Covenant theologians is that the text refers to the remnant trickle of all Jews saved throughout the Church age, rather than to a national conversion at Christ’s Second Coming.  A look at the context, though, shows that the referent for “and so” or “and in this way” is the immediately preceding verse, which has to do with the salvation of Gentiles:  the mystery, the partial hardening of Israel UNTIL the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Gentile salvation).  Thus, “all Israel” will be saved as a result and after the fullness of the Gentiles, as a result of the Jews being made jealous (verse 14).  Furthermore, these verses indicate future time, not present: verse 12 “how much more will,” also verse 15 “what will their acceptance mean.”  Some might try to argue that these are referring to the present, but then what about verses 23-24: “will be grafted in,” for God is able to graft them in.  The text is also national, referring to the nation Israel, not to individuals.

But the preceding context is most closely related, not to the salvation of Israel as it is to the salvation of the Gentiles.  He has just said, “Hardening in part has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles be brought in.  And so, by the bringing in of the full number of the Gentiles all Israel shall be saved.  What is meant is not what our Dutch friends mean, but rather, by the total salvation of the Gentiles, when that has been completed, Israel shall have been brought to jealousy and to return to the Lord.  “And so all Israel shall be saved” is the provocation by the full number of the Gentiles which will lead to Israel’s salvation.

Regarding John Calvin’s idea that this means “spiritual Israel” instead of ethnic Israel:  well, then all the verse means is that all the elect are going to be saved.  We already know that; that is not a mystery.

“I would not have you to be ignorant brethren of this mystery.  What does he mean when he says “this mystery,” this secret?  … Well, that’s not a mystery, that’s not a divine secret in the true sense.  There’s hardly anything that is clearer from the apostle’s writing than that the elect shall be saved.  There must be something more to the point when Paul says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant of this secret,” this divine secrets, “lest ye should be wise in your own conceits.”  I think that what he means is explained by the “that” clause.  That hardness, in part, has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.  The time, the meshing of the time of the salvation of the nation and the salvation of the nations, and how this is all to be worked out in the thousands of years of human history, is the secret.  In other words, we may put it by simply saying that the mystery is the divine program of the salvation of the nations in its various steps, that’s the mystery, it would seem.

Note, too, that the text cited immediately after “and so all Israel shall be saved” is from Isaiah 59:20-21, a text that is talking about the Second Coming.  The preceding verses (Isaiah 59:17-19) describe Him putting on garments of vengeance, repaying wrath to His adversaries and repayment to His enemies, and the people, worldwide, fearing the name of the Lord.  SLJ also notes a few other scriptural references and allusions here, blended together:  Isaiah 27:9 (Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be atoned for) and Psalm 14:7 (Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!).  Also, the background of all these quotations and allustions here – Isaiah 59, Isaiah 27, and Psalm 14 – includes the Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants, and thus reference to Israel’s election and salvation.

I’ve heard the spiritualized attempts to say that all of what the prophets said was really talking about what happened at the cross and our glorious church age.  But again, such a distortion of meaning leaves us with nothing more than Paul saying the mystery is that all the elect shall be saved.  Words do have meaning, and these verses are describing a condition that did not happen at the First Advent: Christ coming in judgment, which is His Second Advent.

Finally we consider if “all Israel” means every single individual:  of course other prophetic texts give more detail, such as Zechariah 13 (that two-thirds of the people will be cut off and perish during the Great Tribulation).  Further, the term “all Israel” is a technical term, an expression that refers to Israel as a whole, as a nation.  S. Lewis Johnson specifically notes the following interesting references to “all Israel”: 1 Kings 12:1, 2 Chronicles 12:1-5, and Daniel 9:11.  Additionally, Romans 11 itself gives us the clue to the answer:  the rejection of Christ by the nation at His First Coming.  We recognize, as something clear and undisputed, that the nation Israel rejected their Messiah at His First Coming.  Yet not every single individual Israelite of the first century rejected Him; Paul, the other apostles, and at least several thousand other Jews, did receive Him.  So too, at the Second Coming, the nation will accept Him, but not every single individual. The context of Romans 11 is again affirmed, that Paul is here talking about nations: the nation Israel and the gentile nations.  Yes, nations are composed of individuals, but the Bible still talks sometimes, as in Romans 11, about national entities.

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