Lesson 8: The Remnant and All Israel-Romans 11
In the introduction to this study, we noted the possibility that Paul wrote Romans to a church somewhat divided by racial considerations. When Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in AD 49, that nearly eradicated the leadership of the Roman church. After his death five years later, the Jews began to return to Rome only to discover a large and thriving church that was solidly Gentile in its membership and leadership. The rapid influx of strong Jewish Christians created a tension among the existing membership. What would be the place of Gentile leaders when the former elders of the church returned to Rome? Paul may have written this book to foster unity among Jewish and Gentile elements in the church. If this is the case, chapter 11, with its discussion of the “remnant” and the “ingrafted branches” is particularly pointed.
Chapters nine and ten dealt with God’s sovereignty and His gracious inclusion of the Gentiles in His redemptive plan. That section ended with a sad indictment of the Israelites as “a disobedient and obstinate people” (Romans 10:21). However, that is not God’s last word on the Israelites!
Israel is not completely rejected-11:1-10.
Paul begins by declaring that God has not abandoned Israel. In fact, Paul himself is a Christian and is an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin (not Judah, so it is not strictly accurate to speak of Paul as a Jew). God is still interested in Israel and most of the early church was made up of Israelites. As an illustration, Paul refers to Elijah’s situation immediately after his triumph over the prophets of Baal. Paul quotes from 1 Kings 19:10, 14, 18 in making his point, but adds that God reserved “for myself” the 7,000. The point is that some of the Israelites did, in fact, accept God’s grace in Christ!
Even so, much of Israel failed to obtain what they wanted-a deep, satisfying and saving relationship with God. They rejected Jesus and, with Him, their opportunity for redemption. Some, though, accepted Jesus as Lord and Messiah and became of the “elect.” The rest were hardened by their confrontation with Christ. They fell into the same trap that caught the Israelites who were escaped from Egypt yet waiting to enter the Promised Land-they didn’t understand what they saw. Paul quotes from Moses’ speech in Deuteronomy 29 and then reinforces it with a quote from Psalm 69 in which David seems to refer to those who reject the Messiah!
The message of this section is that not all the Israelites have rejected Jesus. Some, a “remnant,” have obeyed the gospel and accepted God’s will. The others are a sad case, following in the footsteps of their unfaithful ancestors.
The Gentiles are accepted by grace-11:11-24.
The Israelites are not beyond redemption, but what has happened to them has served to open the door of salvation to the Gentiles. Ideally, the spectacle of hordes of Gentiles flocking to the obedience of God would rouse the Israelites to jealousy and stir them to return to their own God. The Israelites’ failure is grounds for rejoicing among the Gentiles who are receiving grace. If the Israelites were to repent and reclaim their position among God’s people, it would result in a manic celebration beyond belief.
Paul proceeds with a horticultural analogy based on prophetic passages in Jeremiah 11 and Hosea 14: the people of God as an olive tree. God’s chosen people, living in a right relationship with Him are pictured as an olive tree. However, some unfruitful branches are broken off-and the branches of a wild olive are grafted into the tree in place of those pruned away. The analogy is plain: unbelieving Israelites are removed from God’s special care while Gentile Christians are, by the grace and mercy of God, added to His household.
This absolutely forestalls any pride or arrogance on the part of Gentile Christians. We did nothing to earn our place with God. We should live in humility, knowing that God could much more easily restore Israelites to His favor should they repent and obey. Paul urges us to consider God’s nature and be warned: He is kind to the believing; stern to the unbelieving-whoever they are!
All Israel will be saved-11:25-36
The mystery of God’s redemptive plan comes clear in this: although some of the Israelites have rejected God, many Gentiles have responded obediently to Christ and are saved. This makes even Gentiles part of the Israel of God! They have struggled with God yet have submitted to His will (“Israel” means “struggles with God”-see Genesis 32:28). In support of this, Paul quotes from Isaiah 59 concerning God’s working of righteousness.
The Israelites made themselves enemies of the gospel. They were responsible for the persecution of the early church in most instances (see Acts 17:5-9, 13; 18:12; and 21:27-29 for example). The early Christian writers noted that in nearly every persecution of the second and third centuries, the Christians were most mercilessly prosecuted and persecuted by Jewish enemies. In spite of this, God treasured the Israelites because of their glorious heritage. They had preserved the Scriptures and the knowledge of God while the Gentiles neglected Him. They had honored the covenants and promises even if they didn’t obey properly. The truth is, all people of Gentile or Israelite descent have been disobedient toward God and may find mercy and grace from Him.
Paul finishes the chapter with exalted praise. The word “doxology” (as it is found in Bible publishers’ notes) literally means “words of glory.” Paul weaves together his own praise with quotes from Isaiah and Job to glorify the Sovereign God who chooses to save both Israelite and Gentile by the grace of Jesus Christ.
1. What modern tensions in the church mirror the Israelite/Gentile tension of the ancient church? What lessons could we learn about resolving these tensions by studying Paul’s words to the Romans?
2. Who is the “remnant” to whom Paul refers in this chapter? Who are we? Why would some be hardened by a confrontation with Christ while others would be humbled?
3. How could the Gentiles’ obedience stimulate Israelites to obey the gospel, too? Why hasn’t this worked? What is the lesson of the olive tree for us?
4. How could we transform ourselves from God’s chosen people to enemies of the gospel? What do we owe the Israelites? What are our “words of glory” to God?