Although some may want to limit God’s grace to certain people, God distributes his grace to all—believers and unbelievers—in some form.
God’s Plan for Israel (vv. 25-27)
Paul directs a warning to the Gentiles whom he had previously reminded had been grafted into the tree of Israel. It was a warning not to brag about their salvation. God’s plan had always included Gentiles and that his people would include them, but the Jewish people became proud and began to think they were the only ones who could be saved. Gentiles only had hope if they became proselytes to Judaism.
Paul’s warns any Gentiles who might be tempted to do what little kids often do when the tables are turned: “Nanny, nanny, boo-boo.” Translated this means, “Ha, ha I fooled you,” or “I got it anyway.” God would punish the Gentiles if they became proud and boastful as the Jews had. They could be set aside like Israel.
Remembering our salvation is all of God, and that all we have done is responded to his offer of grace, should remove all temptation to boast. The human tendency is strong to look at ourselves and imagine we have some trait that impressed God. Then God said, “You know, he’s a pretty good guy. I think I could use him in my kingdom’s work. I’ll think I’ll save him.”
Paul warns us not to feel proud or to brag. But we like to brag. We may disguise it under the cloak of humility, but secretly we want to flaunt our wisdom, skills, donations, possessions, and other things we feel will impress others and perhaps even God.
Some startling statements are made in these verses concerning the Jews. Many of them had hard hearts as shown in their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. According to Paul, this will only last until the full number of Gentiles is reached. Then he says, “all Israel will be saved.” Theologians and lay people have disagreed over this question throughout Christian history. As previously mentioned, one’s millennial view will play a part in any conclusion.
Millennial views fall into three categories with one subset: Premillennial (with the subset of Dispensational Premillennialism), Postmillennial, and Amillennial. The millennial is the thousand years referenced in Revelation 20:1-6. Premillennials believe the thousand years are literal, while those holding the other two views see it as figurative, noting that much of the book of Revelation is written in symbols.
Millennial views also divide believers over what part, if any, Israel will have in God’s future plan. Historical premillennialists, postmillennialists, and amillennialists see little if any special place for Israel. God dealt with them in the Old Testament but is now working through the church and will until the end of time.
Dispensational premillennialists, on the other hand, see Israel as having a major part in the millennial. When Christ returns at the beginning of the thousand years and raptures his church, God’s attention will again be focused on Israel, and the arrangement will be similar to the Old Testament—even to the degree of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem and offering sacrifices. Some even take Paul’s statement to mean all Jews will recognize and accept Jesus as Savior during this time.
As mentioned, believers have divided over this and other end-time interpretations throughout Christian history, and one’s personal understanding is not grounds for division but simply an admission that the Bible is not completely clear on how these events will occur or which symbols in the Bible should have a literal interpretation.
A suggested solution is reached by remembering that the church and Israel are distinct entities and by also remembering there is a spiritual aspect involved. Not all who are circumcised are real Jews nor are all the uncircumcised forever lost without hope. There is a spiritual aspect to what the Jews held dearly as a sign of their covenant relationship with God that goes far beyond the physical ceremony.
The solution probably lies somewhere between the opposite poles that have tended to color interpretations. God does not deal with people or classify them based on race, color, or creed. We are Christians if we have accepted Christ, no matter where we fall in our interpretation of end-time events. Additionally, the church is spiritual Israel, and many of the promises made to physical Israel have been fulfilled in the church according to New Testament writers. This does not mean there is no place in God’s future plan for national Israel. Whatever the future may hold for them, it will include coming to Christ the same way Paul has espoused through this letter: by faith. There are no other means of entrance into God’s grace than by this method.
Paul’s statement that all Israel will be saved does not necessarily mean every Jewish person will be saved. It may be a reference to some point in time when a large-scale conversion of the Jewish people will take place and then enter the church. All is not always used in the extreme inclusive sense. It can be a general statement. Paul appeals to Isaiah 59:20-21 and Jeremiah 31:31-34 to support his conclusion.
All Israel will be saved when the fullness of the Gentiles arrives. Only God knows this time frame. The phrase “and so” can also be translated “in this way” or “this is how” and may refer to the means Israel will come: through Christ. If the thousand years of Revelation are literal, then this wide-scale conversion will likely occur after the rapture of the church.
God’s Plan for the Gentiles (vv. 28-32)
Gentiles need to pay close attention to the example of the Jews. Examples don’t always have to be good for us to learn from them. It is similar to errors made on tests. The correct answer tends to linger in our mind much longer than the answers scored correctly.
Rather than bragging over how God has set aside Israel, it is now the responsibility of Jew and Gentile alike, the church, to use their gifts and talents to spread God’s love. The Gentiles have benefited from the Jew’s unbelief, but the day will come when many Jews will benefit because they see what God is doing in those who are not Jewish. Disobedience is the lot of all, no matter what race they come from. Everyone needs God’s mercy, and there is no privileged class we can be born into that removes this necessity.
Hymn of Praise for God’s Mercy (vv. 33-36)
As Paul reflects on what he has just said, he erupts into a hymn of praise for God’s mercy. Israel’s unbelief didn’t stop God’s plan to show his love for the nations, nor will God’s current dealing with the Gentiles leave out Jews who wish to enter the church by faith. All have the opportunity to come.
Paul lists some traits of God that merit our praise of him. God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are great. He owns it all and we are simply stewards, but we are also joint heirs with Christ. Therefore, we own everything that God owns, which is everything. Your name may never be on the deed to land or a home, but you own it all. God’s ways are higher than ours and beyond our understanding, but we can know the mind of Christ and realize his plan for us. There is nothing we have to give God, whether in goods or works, that would place him under obligation to save us. Everything exists merely because he allows it. With one command, he could bring all things to a close, including our lives.
God is powerful and gracious enough to save all who request it. His message of love is for all people regardless of race, culture, or physical descent. And our vision of the church should be similar to Paul’s: a place for all who are willing to accept Christ by faith.
Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash
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