In the study of systematic theology there are seven great doctrines or divisions to work through. It begins with the doctrine of God, where God’s existence, nature, being, and attributes are studied. Next is the doctrine of man, where we learn about ourselves; what we were made to be, what we were made to do, the glory of our original position, and how we fell from such a state into sin. Then comes the doctrine of Christ, our Savior who though true and eternal God willingly became true man for our sake. After this is the doctrine of the Spirit, where His Person, work, and power are considered. Fifth is the doctrine of the salvation, where many of these threads come together as God’s gracious work in the redemption of sinners is described and displayed. Next comes the doctrine of the Church, the beloved people of God, and our twofold mission of worship and witness. Which brings us to the last division of systematic theology, eschatology, or the doctrine of last things.

All seven divisions contain beauty and majesty in their own right, and in these things the Church ought to have great unity. But in our day, the Church is anything but united, especially when it comes to eschatology. There are many competing eschatological camps. There is premillennialism, post-millennialism, and amillennialism. Within those three umbrella views you find even more views: pre, mid, or post-tribulationism, dispensationalism, partial preterism, full preterism, and pan-millennialism, the view thats frustrated over all the different views on these things, that throws up their hands and simply believes everything will ‘pan-out’ in the end. What do all of these ism’s have to do with us today? And why am I talking about this? Well, how you view eschatology is largely dependent on how you view Romans 11.[1] Why is that the case? Because, many have said it and I agree, Romans 11 is Paul’s most complete teaching on the future of the nation of Israel, and what one believes about the future of Israel largely determines how the last days will play out. Of course, if there never were a fall, we’d all agree on these things and would truly be in unity. But the world is fallen, and we’re fallen ourselves, so Christians quite often read the same verses and arrive at different conclusions. Which in and of itself ought to make us long for Christ to return and unify His Church once and for all. Until that day comes, we must labor for clarity in the Scriptures and unity in our conclusions.

Now, let’s come nearer to the text. I do have a view on these things. I don’t think I’m wrong in this view. I think the evidence overwhelmingly points toward the amillennial partial preterist position. But I also want you to know that I hold this view with an open hand. I don’t hold all doctrinal views so openly, not at all. We must never openly hold the existence of God, or the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the necessity of the Spirit’s work, the inspiration and authority of the Bible, or that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone! Those are hills to die on, and countless men and women have died for these truths in ages past. But hear me Church, not every hill is a hill to die on. Eschatology, though massively important, should not be a hill we die on. Now, that Jesus is returning one day bodily to usher in His Kingdom in full measure is a hill to die on, but the manner of His return, or the state of Israel at His return, and our position on the millennium is something we can disagree, even within the same congregation.

I really say all of this to say something simple but needed, Romans 11 is a chapter about these very things, so we can only enter into it with a great spirit of humility. So, in that spirit let’s begin. See first…

Not Rejected (v1-2a)

As we’ve seen many times now, Paul begins chapter 11 with a question. “I ask, then, has God rejected His people? By no means!”

This question arises because of 10:21. Chapter 10 ends with a sobering and negative charge against Israel, that all the day long God held out His arms of everlasting love to Israel, a people who proved to be, not faithful, but disobedient and contrary. Yikes. Paul knows his readers might then come to certain conclusions about Israel after hearing 10:21.[2] That because of this they are no longer God’s people, that God is done with them, and that God has turned His back on them forever. Is that true? Such a conclusion would be logical wouldn’t it? If they rejected God, shouldn’t God then in response reject them as well? In something of a surprising turn, Paul denies what appears to be logical with his common emphatic refrain, “By no means!” So, despite who Israel is, in all their sinfulness and rebellion, they remain the people of God, for He has not rejected them.

But, wait. Doesn’t that bring up an enormous question? How can Israel still be ‘the people of God’ if they’ve rejected Christ? Or, in what sense is Israel still God’s people? The rest of chapter 11 answers this very question.

See where Paul goes next in v1b. “For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” After stating that God has not rejected Israel, Paul speaks from his own experience. ‘God hasn’t rejected Israel, am I not a Christian now? Doesn’t that show God’s grace continued to be held out to us Israelites? After all I’m not only an Israelite, I’m a descendant of Abraham, and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.’ Why does Paul bring all this up about his Jewish identity and lineage? I think he’s telling us that he is living proof that God hasn’t abandoned His people. For the gospel is for Jew and Gentile alike![3]

The conclusion of the matter then comes in v2a, “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” If we didn’t get it from his emphatic “By no means!” we should get it from this. God has not rejected His people because God foreknew them. Where was the last time in Romans we came across this word ‘foreknew?’ Right, 8:29, “For those whom God foreknew He also predestined…” When we were there in that section we paused for a whole Sunday, basically on this very thing. We saw that the word foreknowledge in the Bible doesn’t mean God merely knows beforehand what people will do, but that to foreknow is to love and to place affection upon. And out of all the nations in the world, only Israel was loved by God or known by God in this gracious manner. So here in 11:2 we see something of the same thing. It’s the reason Paul gives as to why God won’t reject His people. We can put it like this. God won’t reject His people Israel because before the very foundation of the world He set His love and affection on them, and because of this He loves them still.

So again I say, despite who Israel is, in all their sinfulness and rebellion, they remain the people of God, for He has not rejected them. And again I ask, in what sense is Israel still the beloved people of God? Let’s keep on to see what comes next.

Those Chosen (v2b-6)

To explain all of this to us Paul goes back to the prophet Elijah. Look at v2b-4, “Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have demolished Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 

It is quite thought-provoking that Paul returns to and quotes Elijah to explain this to us. Does anyone know when this particular quote occurs in Elijah’s lifetime? Right, the Mt. Carmel episode. In 1 Kings 18 we see King Ahab fed up with Elijah for preaching the truth to him. Ahab gets so infuriated at him he calls Elijah the troubler of Israel. Elijah responds and says he has not troubled Israel but has only troubled Ahab for reminding him of the commands of the Lord that he has abandoned. Boldly and bravely then Elijah calls for a showdown. He invites 850 false prophets to come meet him on Mt. Carmel to see who’s god is truly God. They come, and what unfolds is the very definition of epic. 1 Kings 18 describes it simply. A sacrifice is prepared and Elijah challenges them saying, “…you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God…” And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” The false prophets then go into a zealous frenzy at this, trying to get Baal to show up, but nothing happens. It’s now Elijah’s turn. He calls for loads of water to be poured over the altar, to make it plain that only the Lord can consume this offering in a fiery blaze. He walks up and prays, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel…” The Lord answers, consumes the sacrifice in a blaze of glory, and fear falls on them all.

Remember what happens next? In 1 Kings 19 Elijah leaves, journeys out into the wilderness, sits down, and despairs of life itself. Out of his hopeless moment Elijah speaks the words Paul quotes, in v2-4, “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have demolished Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” What a dramatic shift in Elijah, right? Soaring in bold courage for the true God and then asking God to kill him because he feels so alone and miserable. Elijah felt he was justified to say these things because to him they were true. And this was perhaps the worst time in the history of Israel.[4] Their king was wicked through and through, and it truly did seem like the whole nation had abandoned the Lord. But what does God say? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even though he perceives it to be the case, the reality of the situation is different. Elijah’s not alone, for God has kept thousands of others true to Himself.

Question. Could it be that Paul feels a kinship to Elijah here?[5] Is that why he quotes Elijah here? I think so. Both were being used by God in powerful ways. Both saw the majority of Israel walk away from God. And both find hope in God’s preservation of His people. I think there’s a great parallel to see here between these two men. And this is exactly where Paul goes in v5-6, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

As God has preserved and kept a remnant of faithful Israelite worshipers in Elijah’s day, so too God has done the same among the Jews in Paul’s day, and Paul says God is still doing this among the Jews in our day.[6] Yes it may seem like the vast majority of the nation of Israel has rejected the Messiah and abandoned the Lord, but God has a remnant, He always has a remnant. Chosen by Himself, and kept for Himself. How could this be? How did God do this? Paul tells us. God does this by His grace, not by works. Paul is an amazing example of this very thing, is he not? He was “…an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin…” yet he also was a recipient of the grace of God when God interrupted his life and revealed the glory of Christ to him! What this is saying is that God is doing this with many others still in our day. Saving Jews, by grace, through the gospel.

This means Jews are now as Gentiles are. See that? Many think and teach today that Jews don’t need to be evangelized because they’re Jews, they’re already God’s people and will be saved in the end because of their great lineage and heritage. Paul couldn’t disagree more. No Jew is saved by being Jewish, or by being an Israelite. Only by grace are Jews and Gentiles saved. And in God’s sovereignty, He has ensured, He has chosen and predestined, many Jews to believe in the Lord Jesus. All who do form this faithful remnant still thriving today.

But what about the rest of Israel? See where Paul goes next in v7-10…

Those Hardened (v7-10)

“What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.”

Three OT passages are quoted here: Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and the Psalms. It’s as if Paul is bringing together all the OT (the Law, the prophets, and the writings) to prove his point about where Israel is headed. What’s he saying though? God has chosen a remnant within Israel through the gospel, by His grace. These believing Jews are part of God’s elect. But because the rest of Israel was rejecting the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own, God hardened the rest of Israel. Why? So that their eyes wouldn’t see, so that their ears wouldn’t hear, and so that their table (all the privileges they’ve enjoyed throughout the ages) would not be a blessing to them, but a curse and a stumbling block. It seems that what David desired and prayed God would do to his enemies in Psalm 69, God did and still does to Jews who reject the gospel.[7]

But, is this then the final word on the rest of Israel as a nation? That some believed and the rest of them were hardened. No, look ahead to v25. There we read that one day in the end the hardening will be removed once the fullness of the Gentiles have come in through the gospel. Why does God do it this way? We’ll see His purpose in this and more as the we move ahead in chapter 11 in the next few weeks.

Conclusion:

For now, think on this as we end. This is a chapter about the future of Israel, but there are many gems to pull out and apply to ourselves in this.

One grand lesson we can pull out is this: don’t despair at what you perceive around you.[8]

Elijah truly believed he was the only true and faithful Israelite left, that the entirety of the nation has abandoned the Lord. Yet, God reminds him that it isn’t so. Paul probably felt the same thing, but Elijah’s example taught him otherwise. So Church, what we perceive to be true and what is true, aren’t always the same thing. Or, perception and reality don’t always match. Or, don’t get carried away by numbers. It may seem to us that the world is spiraling out of control in a manner unforeseen and that it’s worse today than it’s ever been, and that the Church herself is following suit. Wrong. Ever since Genesis 3 the world has always been fallen, and ever since Genesis 3 God has kept, is keeping, and will keep a people for Himself. It doesn’t matter how many people fall away from the truth, God’s work carry’s on! So let us pick up our heads and encourage our weary hearts over the state of the world today, God will always keep fanning His great gospel work into flame.

We need to hear the resounding notes coming from v5-6. “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” The thing that guarantees that there will always be a remnant faithful to God is not that there will always be a group of good, decent people who hate the world, who believe in God, and who always act right. No. The thing that guarantees that there will always be a remnant faithful to God is that the grace of God is always active in the world, leading all things to one great and glorious end: the magnifying of the glory of Christ![9]


[1] R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 366.

[2] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 690–691.

[3] Ibid., 691.

[4] Sproul, Romans, 368.

[5] Moo, Romans, 694–695.

[6] Ibid., 695.

[7] Ibid., 701.

[8] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – To God’s Glory (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 22-25.

[9] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2015), 86.

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