Many Christians today are confused about Israel and how Jewish people fit into the plan of God. Many Christians still consider Israel still the “chosen” nation. Other Christian may think God has totally abandoned Israel. How are we to think about Israel and Jewish people?
The majority of Israel in the first century failed to believe in Jesus. Did this mean that God had rejected his people? Paul says in Romans 11:1-16 definitely not.
At the very least there is one Jewish person that God has not rejected, Paul himself.
For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. (v1)
On top of that God has promised not to reject Israel.
God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. (v2)
Paul then in v2-4 gives an Old Testament example of God’s continuing grace towards an unbelieving Israel. Paul reminds the church of the time of King Ahab when Israel had turned to serve foreign gods. Elijah thought he was the only true believer left. God reminded Elijah that he had preserved a remnant, a group, a subset, by his grace, of those who were faithful. Israel had largely rejected God, but God preserved a faithful remnant.
In v6, Paul said that this was exactly what was happening at the present time.
Israel had rejected their God because they rejected the Messiah of God. What this means is: if you reject Jesus, you reject God. You cannot reject, ignore or sideline Jesus and still think you’re following God. After all, Jesus is God the Son, second person of the Trinity. If you reject Jesus; you reject God. If you undervalue Jesus, you undervalue God.
The majority of Israel had rejected Jesus and therefore they ceased to be God’s people; but God, in his grace, preserved a remnant i.e. Jews who followed their Messiah, Jewish Christians.
So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (v5)
Israel should not have been surprised that the majority had rejected Jesus because Israel had always been slow to understand, as v7-11 tells us. V7 says the elect or the remnant chosen by grace obtained a right standing with God, but the rest of Israel was and is hardened. Israel hardened their hearts towards God and God in turn hardened their hearts. God confirmed the majority of Israel in their unbelief, and Israel’s history is full of it. God has not rejected Israel; Israel had rejected God. But God, in his extreme grace, was and still is, calling a remnant within Israel to himself.
Therefore, we must continue to pray for our Jewish friends (just like we pray for our other non-Christian friends) that they would stop rejecting Jesus and serve him as Lord and King.
V9 is astounding because Paul quotes Psalm 69 from the Old Testament. Psalm 69 is all about the enemies of God and Paul applies this Psalm to the Jewish people who have rejected Jesus. But Israel has not fallen beyond God’s grace.
By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (v11)
Rather than being beyond God’s grace, God has done something we would never ever think of. God has used Israel’s trespass (their rejection of Jesus) to bring the gospel to the non-Jewish or Gentile world. The book of Acts, which is about the growth of the early church, tells us how this happened. By the Jewish trespass salvation came to the Gentiles.
But what would happen then? End of v11 says:
…so as to make Israel jealous.
Jewish people would see the great blessing Christians receive and become jealous wanting that for themselves. Israel’s hardening is not the final word. God planned history so that Israel’s trespass would open salvation for the Gentiles, and the Jews in turn would be provoked to jealousy when they see Gentiles being saved and enjoying a relationship with God.
Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (v12)
The term “world” is another word for Gentiles here. “Full inclusion” looks forward to the fulfilment of God’s promises when all the remnant is saved. If Israel’s sin brought salvation to the Gentiles, then the blessing will be even greater when all Israel (the full remnant cf. Romans 9:6) is saved.
For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world (people of all nations), what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (v15)
If the rejection of the majority of Israel has meant that many Gentiles are now reconciled to God through Christ, then the acceptance of the Jews (the future coming to Christ of the remnant) will mean new spiritual life, culminating in a resurrection – that all God’s people look forward to.
The bottom-line is that Israel has not fallen beyond God’s reach; God used their trespass in his great plan to reach the world with the gospel. God is now calling Jewish people to put their faith in Jesus to be declared right with God. No-one is beyond God’s reach.
If God could save and transform the Apostle Paul who hated Christians and killed them, he can do so for you. He can do so for the most orthodox Jew or even the most committed ISIS terrorist.
There is no place for anti-Semitism in Christianity. Jesus was Jewish. He came as the Jewish Messiah. Salvation is from the Jews.
We are to pray for Jewish people that they may trust Jesus and we are to keep praying for that person we may think is beyond the reach of God’s grace.