“Life from the Dead.” (Rom.11:15)
Paul’s teaching in Romans 11 concerning the Olive Tree has often caused difficulties for students of the Scriptures. In particular the position of Israel, both throughout the Christian era, and afterwards, seems to present problems that are difficult to solve. I must confess that through the years I have myself been puzzled sometimes. Let me put it this way. There are currently two schools of thought about Israel. One is called Replacement Theology, (i.e. the Church replaces Israel) whilst the other, though nameless, strives to maintain that Israel was, is, and ever shall be God’s chosen people. I have read articles that seek to defend these positions, and both of them seem to have points in their favour. I wonder whether, as we dip into Romans 11 in this number, we may find some clarification to this problem?
First of all, we can recapitulate on what has been said already, namely that at the time of resurrection, several important things happen.
- The Mystery is finished. (This is the mystery of Ephesians, the oneness of Jew and Gentile in God’s Church)
- The fulness of the Gentiles has come in. (The gathering of the Gentile-elect has reached its fulness)
- The Mystery of Israel’s blindness is over.
Throughout the whole of the so-called Christian dispensation, God has not been operating on anational basis. Whereas from Abraham onwards the nation of Israel was a special part of God’s economy, this finished during the Acts period, and since then God has been dealing with the whole world on an individual basis. The Gospel was sent to all nations, making disciples out of all. History tells us that believers have been found from amongst all peoples, including the Jews.
From this point of view some of the ideas contained in the Replacement Theology are undoubtedly correct, in that God is not dealing with Israel as a nation at this present time. However, where they go wrong is when they lay Israel on one side completely. History has shown the incorrectness of this assumption. A great Russian leader of centuries past, when asked what proof he had for the authority of the Bible, said “The Jew.” In other words, there has been a strange but pervasive influence amongst the Jewish people in dispersion, that has kept them separate from other people. The very fact that we have upwards of 12 million Jews on the earth just now is evidence of the indestructibility of them as a people. And since 1948 they have once again obtained nationhood. This is the conundrum that causes people to ask questions. But the answers are found in Romans 11.
Israel was cast on one side, yes, but Paul spoke of a time when the Lord would graft them back into their own Olive Tree. This could only happen if the Jewish people remained as a distinguishable people throughout 2000 years. And yes they have. And the Russian leader (I cannot remember which one it was) was correct when he said that the very presence of Jews in the world was strong proof of the authority of the Bible.
“As for the Gospel, they are enemies because of you, but on the other hand they are beloved because of the fathers.” (Verse 28) Yes indeed, the Jews are still enemies in respect of the Gospel. Go to Israel today and ask around, and you will soon find the age-old hatred of the name of Jesus. They are still enemies for our sakes. But Paul insists that God has not forgotten them. Cast away, yes, but not forgotten. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance [i.e. change of mind]” Promises made to the nation of Israel in the O.T. still stand, even though the very words of the prophets have a double force, namely, a national force to Israel, and aspiritual force as applied to the elect from all nations. This is why the whole thing is puzzling to some. They see these two things operating in what seems to be a contradictory sense, and cannot fuse them into a complete picture.
As a clear example of this, take Hosea’s words about Israel. “Call his name Lo-Ammi [“Not my people”] for you are not my people, and I will not be your God.” (Hosea 2:9) Yes, there would be a time when God would “cast away” His people as Lo-Ammi, but it is not the end of the story. “In the place where it was said of them ‘You are not my people’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the Living God.'” (2:10) But Paul quotes these words in Romans 9:25, and applies them to the Gentiles! Hence this is a clear example of a two-tier understanding of prophecy. One may say that the Replacement Theologians are correct in saying that Israel is not God’s people, but at the same time remembering that it is only a temporary situation.
In order to maintain a correct humility amongst Gentile believers, Paul says, “You have obtained mercy through their disobedience.” As Gentile believers we should therefore always remember that Jews, though hostile to us, have provided the groundwork for our salvation. How amazing! But then Paul goes on to say, “that through your mercy they may obtain mercy.”(Verses 30-31) We have a responsibility, a heavy responsibility, to pray for the blindness on Israel to be removed, that they might receive God’s mercy of salvation. There is never any justification for a Gentile Christian to speak ill of Jews, but rather to see them as judicially blinded in this present era, until God has obtained the fulness of Gentile believers.
We must now have a look at this word “blindness”, used (incorrectly) in Romans 11:25. The Greek word is POROSIS, and our Lexicon uses words like dullness, hardness, insensibility, obstinacy, to define it in English. In modern medicine we often hear of elderly people suffering from Osteo-porosis, a hardening of the bones, making them brittle and easily broken. Although the word contains nothing about “blindness”, yet it is not altogether wrong when seen in the context of John 12:40. “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted.” Yes, this hardening, this blindness was something that pervaded the Jewish nation in Jesus’ day, and which led to His crucifixion. The quotation comes from Isaiah 6, and is found several times in the N.T.
This blindness, this hardness of heart, has existed throughout the last 2000 years, but an end to it is in sight. Paul says, “Hardness in part has happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles is come in, and so all Israel shall be saved.” These are strong, wonderful words that cause a tingle in the spine, as we take our spiritual binoculars and look forwards to a time when“The Deliverer will come from Zion and turn ungodliness from Jacob.” (11:26) God has remembered His everlasting covenant with Israel, and will “take away their sins” because of the Fathers.
This brings us to the focal point of this little essay. Our subject is resurrection, and Paul tells us that when this takes place “what will the receiving of them be but life from the dead.” (11:15) Yes, this is the wonderful thing that will happen at the time of resurrection. God will suddenly remove the scales from the eyes of the Jewish nation, just as He did from Saul of Tarsus, and“they will look upon Him whom they pierced, and will mourn for Him.” (Zech.12:10) “How much easier it will be for the natural branches to be grafted back into their own Olive Tree?” (11:24)
Zechariah tells us what it will be like when this judicial blindness is removed. “I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back because I have compassion on them, and they shall be as though I had not rejected them, for I am their God and I will answer them.” (Zech.10:6) Imagine that! It will be as though 2000 years had suddenly been eradicated from their minds, and the True Messiah is welcomed with open arms into their midst. Such a miracle is almost beyond the bounds of possibility when viewed in the light of present circumstances, but this is prophetically sure, and will certainly take place, and God will be glorified by it. Let us pray the prophecy into action. Let us not be as those who think ill of the Jewish people, but remember that as Gentiles we are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (all Jews), Jesus Christ the Cornerstone (who was born a Jew.)
(Footnote. I have received a very gracious letter from a friend who has been reading these articles. He found my criticism of “date setters” harsh and unjustified in the last edition. Whereas our Lord’s words stand, and “we know not the day or the hour”, yet to speak of such a one as “disobedient” was uncalled for. I accept his word of reproof, and apologise. Over 30 years ago my wife and I made the same mistake ourselves, and yet the Lord was gracious to us.)