Lesson 20: In This Way All Israel Will Be Saved – Part 2 (Romans 11.17-36)

“Remnant” was a familiar concept to Paul and his kinsmen, one taken from their history. When Israel entered into a covenant with the Lord, He had laid out a series of blessings which would result from their faithfulness and curses which would result from their unfaithfulness, the last of which was captivity in a foreign land (Deuteronomy 28.64-68). However, the Lord also promised that when the people returned their hearts to Him, He would return them to the promised land (Deuteronomy 30.1-3). Those who would return would constitute the remnant (see Isaiah 10.20-22; Jeremiah 50.17-20; etc.). Israel would violate her covenant with the Lord and would go into captivity (the northern kingdom in 720 B.C., the southern in three waves from 605-586 B.C.). But God was true to His word and a remnant returned: “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery.” (Ezra 9.8 ESV, circa 457 B.C.).

However, the true fulfillment of the “remnant” wasn’t in the return of physical Israel to the promised land, but the salvation of a remnant in Christ (Romans 9.27; 11.5). Even though it was prophesied that most of Israel would be lost and only a remnant would be saved, it was still a tough pill for Paul (and his kinsmen) to swallow. Also, Paul knew that hope remained that more of his kinsmen would put their faith in Christ and be saved. After all, the “remnant, chosen by grace” was not a predetermined number of individuals, but includes all who will truly believe in Jesus (Romans 10.8-13).

True to the theme of Romans, Paul knew that in Christ the true people of God were now comprised of both Jew and Gentile. So while in this section Paul’s main concern is over his physical kinsmen, he also emphasized that the true Israel was comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. He knew that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11.26).

The kindness and severity of God (vss. 17-24)

In vss. 11-14 Paul had revealed God’s plan for bringing people to Him: Jewish rejection of Christ resulted in the Gentiles accepting the gospel; Gentile acceptance provoked the Jews to jealousy; some of the Jews would be saved. At this point Paul was addressing his Gentile brethren (vs. 13), brethren who may have wondered how the Jews who had so thoroughly rejected the Christ could possibly be brought to faith in Him. Paul pointed them back to the “root” of the Jewish nation, the patriarchs who had faith in the Lord (vs. 16). What had begun as holy had not completely fallen away.

In this passage Paul uses the illustration of a tree representing God’s people. The people of God find their origin in Abraham and the Lord’s promises to him (Genesis 12.1-3), thus Abraham is the root and physical Israel comprised the original, natural branches. By their rejection of God and Christ, many of the natural branches had been pruned, but the Lord had added to His people from among the Gentiles (the wild olive branches).

Before we look at a couple of doctrinal applications, it’s important to note Paul’s point of emphasis: arrogance. Paul was concerned that his Gentile brethren would become arrogant toward their Jewish brethren (vss. 18,20). Their arrogance was based on the Jews rejection, but Paul reminded them that not only would God graft any believing Jew back into His people, He would also remove any Gentile who fell away in unbelief. Paul will return to the matter of arrogance in chapters 12-15. It’s a lesson we should take to heart, “do not become proud, but fear” (vs. 20).

The tree illustration in vss. 17-24 is an important one because it shows the standard used for branches being grafted in or cut off: faith! Vs. 20 states, “they were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith.” Note the implications:

  1. Election is not unconditional, but is predicated on faith.
  2. Grace is not irresistible, but is received through faith.
  3. “Once saved always saved” is patently false. As we’ve seen in Romans 8, there is great assurance for those in Christ but that assurance is only for those who continue in faith.

Finally, we would do well to “note the kindness and severity of God” (vs. 22). In context, God’s kindness had been shown to the Gentiles who were grafted in, while His severity had been shown to the Jews who were broken off. Paul’s point was that the nature of God has not changed: He will always be kind to those with faith and severe to those who do not believe. Which we experience, kindness or severity, is completely up to us.

In this way all Israel will be saved (Vss. 25-32)

Paul continued to address the possible arrogance of the Gentiles by warning them to not “be wise in your own sight” (vs. 25). Why? It all has to do with the “mystery”. Elsewhere, Paul defined the mystery as how the Gentiles would become part of God’s people (see Eph. 3.4-6). But in context the mystery involved the partial hardening of the Jews so that the “fullness” of the Gentiles could come in.

Note again that the term used for “fullness” in vs. 25 is the same term translated as “full inclusion” in vs. 12. This allows us to define what is meant by “all Israel” in vs. 26: the “all Israel” that will be saved is the fullness of the Jews (vs. 12) PLUS the fullness of the Gentiles (vs. 26). In other words, the full number of Jews and Gentiles that would place their faith in Christ, who would circumcise their hearts (see Romans 2.28-29; 9.6-7). Paul bolstered his point with quotations from Isaiah 59:20; 27:9. These quotations also argue against some end-time mass conversion of all Jews, because the “Deliverer” isn’t a figure we await, rather is Jesus. Paul wasn’t describing a future event, but what was happening even then.

So, even though it seemed to Gentile Christians that the Jews were their enemies, they should reflect on the fact that it was the Jews’ rejection of Jesus that paved the way for their salvation. Furthermore, the Jews were still loved by God since it was to their fathers (i.e. Abraham) that God made His promises. Those promises would not be revoked (vs. 29), so if any Jew would turn to Christ in faith, he would be saved.

Glory To God! (Vss. 33-36)

Paul concluded these thoughts, and the major theological section of the letter, with an exclamation of praise and wonder. Who could possibly foresee how God would save not only the Jews, but the Gentiles too? Who could know that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus would bring about salvation for the Gentiles? Who could know that the Gentiles coming to God would provoke some of the Jews to reconsider and come back to God? Who would know that this was how “all Israel” would be saved?

The concluding verse is very relevant: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever.” Given the wondrous way that God has revealed His grace to both Jew and Gentile, He is certainly worthy of glory. As we will see in the concluding chapters, that glory is expressed in our actions.

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