As I begin I’d like to mention one thing first.
I want to say thank you. Thank you for being a church willing to take God’s Word as just that, God’s Word. These past months we’ve been slowly walking through Romans 9-11, and it’s true that this is not an easy section of Romans to work through, not at all. This is a technical portion of Scripture, that deals with many things we don’t speak of often. There are many issues to handle, realities to grapple with, and prejudices in us against God’s sovereignty to overcome. But throughout these past months you’ve not only been willing to walk through this, you’ve been eager to receive this as what it is, God’s very Word to us. And so I’d like to begin today by just saying, thank you. I count it a high privilege to pastor such a congregation.
Now, remember where we’ve been over the past two weeks. In 11:1-10, as Paul begins Romans 11 he’s eager to remind us that God has not rejected His people Israel, but has kept a remnant of faithful followers throughout the ages even down to today. So even though the vast majority of Jews reject the gospel, there remains a remnant alive and well chosen by grace while the rest of Israel has been hardened in their unbelief.
Then, in 11:11-24, we saw God’s purpose in hardening the majority of Israel was to get the gospel out to us, to the Gentiles, to the nations. Which, God says, will ultimately cause Israel to be stirred or provoked to jealousy as they see us Gentiles enjoying the great promises God first made to them. And from being so jealous God says many of them will return to the gospel. Praise God! Paul speaks of this great return to Christ in dramatic terms. He says there was and is great gain and riches in the Gentiles redemption through the gospel, but when the fullness of Israel returns, there will be much more gain, much more riches, much more blessing and glory to behold. Until then, Paul warns us Gentiles to not make the error of Israel and grow pridefule with a smug sense of superiority over the Jews who are hardened, as if we’ve totally replaced them as the people of God. No, we’re not to be proud, we’re to fear the Lord. After all, since God can do the harder thing and bring us in who were once strangers to these great promises of old, God can do the easier thing and bring Jews who believe back in.
Perhaps now we’re ready to finish the main bulk of Romans 11, found in v25-32.
The Mystery (v25-27)
“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob” ; “and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
As v25 begins we see an immediate connection with what has come before. The section before this, v11-24, contains a hefty warning against Gentile arrogance. We’ve looked at some of that already today as we began. See then how v25 continues on in the same vein. “Lest you be wise in your own sight…” is a strong plea for humility, but it also means that what Paul has been telling us and is about to tell us is practical through and through. We’ve discussed some elements of eschatology here in our time together as we’ve walked through this chapter, and I wonder if some of you at the very mention of the word eschatology thought to yourselves ‘Why in the world does this matter to me?’ You wouldn’t be alone in such thinking. Many people believe the great doctrines of our faith are cold and dusty, or clinical and lifeless. Far from it! Paul knows no such kind of theology. His theology, which should be our theology, is vibrant, full of life and practicality. v25 shows us this. Do any of you struggle with pride? Perhaps then, you need to remember who you once were apart from grace. As a Gentile you were once an alien, a stranger, a foreigner, wicked, dead in sin, hated by God and hating one another. Perhaps then you need to remember how God saved you, by grace and grace alone. Perhaps then we need to remember what will come about in the future. That Gentiles aren’t the end all be all of God’s plan. God will move and bring in the fullness of Israel through Christ. All this to say, Paul’s theology here is full of life and practicality because it shows us how no Gentile can boast about who they are after reading this passage. Ethnic pride was a problem in these Roman congregations, and it remains a problem in every age really.
See how Paul moves on. After warning against pride he tells us of a mystery he doesn’t want us to unaware of. This is one of Paul’s favorite ways of saying, ‘I really want you to be aware of this.’ What’s the mystery? Well first, that it’s called a mystery ought to be remembered. This is worth noting because while there are things we can know for sure about this, some of what he’s about to tell us will remain mysterious. Second, that it’s called a mystery shows us some of what is truly going on here. A mystery according to the world is something that cannot be known, something totally beyond our understanding. But according to the Bible and how this word is used in the Bible, mystery means something else. It is something that was once hidden and has now been revealed. And that it’s now revealed means it’s actually something we can know truly, although not fully.
Well, what is this mystery? Paul says it, “…a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved…” Of all the passages in Romans 9-11, v25-26a, what we just read, tends to be the most hotly debated sentence. So, follow this closely. Paul has already told us of Israel’s hardening for rejecting the gospel back in 11:7-10. Paul has also already spoken to us, in great anticipation, of what the return of Israel to God through the gospel will be like in 11:11-15, that when that day comes it will be life from the dead. Now, in v25-26 he tells us more. That Israel’s hardening, which was partial, will be removed at a specific time. What time? When the fullness or full number of the Gentiles have been saved. When that happens Paul says, “…all Israel will be saved…” I do think this is clear. The debate surrounds this last phrase. “And in this way all Israel will be saved…”? What does it mean?
Well, this phrase ‘all Israel’ could just mean the Church, all believing Jews and Gentiles together who make up the New Covenant people. Paul does speak like this in other places, clearly. In Phil. 3:3 he refers to the Church as the true ‘circumcision’ and in Gal. 6:16 he even calls the Church the Israel of God. This is the view that St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin taught, and this what I used to think this is what it meant, but I no longer believe that to be the case. While Paul truly does speak like that about the Church in other places he’s not doing that here in Romans 11. Rather, I think ‘all Israel’ in v26 refers to the bulk of the Jewish people who will one day return to the gospel. Why do I think this? Because all throughout Romans 11 Paul has been using the word ‘Israel’ to describe the Jews, contrasting them with the Gentiles time and time again. So Israel means Israel here, Paul isn’t going to use the word to refer to one thing throughout the whole chapter and then all of the sudden use it and mean something else. v25-26 shows us this. A partial hardening has come to Israel, to the Jews, and when the moment comes when the full number of the Gentiles has come in ‘all Israel’, or the bulk of the Jewish people, will return to the gospel. That’s what the phrase ‘in this way’ means in v26. The way all Israel will be saved in the end is that circular pattern of rejection – jealousy – return described in v11-24 which Paul summarizes in v25. This is Paul’s great concern here. He isn’t concerned with Israel as a governmental or political entity. He isn’t concerned with land of Palestine, not at all. His concern is with the Jewish people themselves, with Israel.
And just in case we might think all Israel will be saved simply because they’re Israel, simply because they’re Jews, Paul, once again goes back to the OT to correct us and show us the truth in v27 saying. “…as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob” ; “and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins.” These two quotations come from mainly from Isaiah. Paul does pepper in a few phrases from the Psalms here as well to make his point clear v27 reminds us the way Israel will be saved. Yes, when the bulk of the Jewish nation returns, they will return to God…(why?)…because they’re Jews? No. They will return only through the One called the Deliverer, who comes from Zion to save by taking away sins. Who is this One, who does this and establishes a New Covenant? This is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Where did Christ take away sins? The cross.
Church see it. Christ, is how the fullness of the Gentiles will be saved and Christ, is how the fullness of Israel will be saved as well. The gathering of Israel into the Church is therefore, not a possibility, and not even a probability, it is a promised certainty. When this occurs, don’t forget it. When we see the Jews return and trust in Christ it will be so astounding and amazing that it will be like life from dead as v15 tells us, and we all will rejoice!
All of this in v25-27 then, is the great mystery that was once hidden but is now revealed here in this passage. Having told us what the mystery is, Paul, in v28-32, will now explain this mystery further as he sums up his entire argument in Romans 9-11.
The Mystery Explained (v28-32)
“As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all.”
These verses might at first seem strange to hear. It is not very often that we hear it stated that Israel is a people who are both the enemies of God and the beloved of God. But such is v28. So, what do we do this? Rather than seeing this as Paul saying two opposite and contradictory statements at once, see v28 as Paul summarizing all he has said so far in Romans 9, 10, and 11. How so? Think about it. When the gospel is in view, Israel is indeed our enemy because the majority of Israel rejects the gospel. Was this not Paul’s point in the first half of Romans 9-11? Indeed it was. Chapter 9:30-10:21 powerfully speaks to this reality in tragic terms. Remember it? Israel is truly zealous for God, but their zeal isn’t according to knowledge. They truly seek after righteousness but not God’s righteousness revealed in Christ, they’re ever bent to establish their own righteousness. And even though the gospel is now going out to the ends of the earth, and even though God’s arms of everlasting love are held out to them all day long they still reject God and His Christ. What’s the result of this? 10:21 says it and it is a tragic blow, Israel is a disobedient and contrary people. That’s what Paul means in v11:28 when he says Israel is now our enemies in relation to the gospel.
But the rest of 11:28 tells us the rest of the story. “But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.” Was this not Paul’s point all through chapter 11:1-27? Indeed it was. There we read that God has not rejected His people, but has a future for them. Of all the nations in the world God chose them and set His affection on them and made great promises to the forefathers, the great patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yes God hardened them in their unbelief when they rejected the gospel, but the hardening was not full or final. For when the Jews see Gentiles enjoying the great promises first made to the forefathers of Israel, Israel will become jealous, and in such jealousy many will return to the gospel. All this to say, Israel is both an enemy when the gospel is in view, and beloved by God when the great promises of old come into view, and those promises will, in the end, show themselves to be firm! This again, is simply Romans 9-11 in summary form. But why are these things true? Because of v29, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” God’s promises are binding, unchangeable, unalterable, irreversible, constant, fixed, final.
So Israel does indeed have a place and future in God’s great plan, but, it’s not because of Israel that they still have a place and future in God’s plan, it’s only because of God and because God is forever faithful to His promises. In v28-29 then, Paul has summarized all of chapter 9-11.
But as he concludes in v30-32 he drives it home to us all, both Jew and Gentile, and shows us the great mercy of God. Hear it again, “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all.”
I love how the Gospel Transformation Study Bible puts it in the notes on this verse. “There is a mysterious symmetry and reciprocity in God’s judgment and mercy to both Gentiles and Jews. The bottom line is that God desires to “have mercy on all” because mercy is His heart, it is who He is.” Church, if it weren’t for the mercy of God we’d all be lost. That’s where the matter ends.
But even as the matter ends, and even as we’re now technically done with Romans 9-11, see where all of this leads Paul?
v33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 735.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – To God’s Glory (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 186.
 Lloyd-Jones, 168.
 Moo, Romans, 744.
 The Gospel Transformation Study Bible, note on Romans 11:25-32, 1519.