Paul has just finished his olive tree metaphor.
- Gentiles are grafted in by faith.
- Hardened Israel is broken off due to faithlessness.
He warns Gentiles that they were wild olive shoots.
- Incapable of bearing fruit.
- Their participation in the all that God promised to the patriarchs (the root) is by the grace of God.
Because they were grafted in, “contrary to nature” (vs. 24)…
- They have nothing about which to boast.
Importantly…Paul ends with a hopeful expectation…
- Hardened Israel is not contrary to nature.
God can easily graft them back in…
- If “they do not continue in their unbelief” (vs. 23).
This expectation is a return to where he started:
- Paul laments for hardened Israel (Romans 9).
- But God has not rejected them (Romans 10).
- God’s “purpose of election” may look problematic for Israel…
- But be sure that God has not passed them up in favor of the Gentiles (Romans 9-11).
Romans 11:25–26a (ESV) — 25 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. 26a And in this way all Israel will be saved…
This text is easy enough to follow:
- (1) Don’t be wise “in your own sight”…or you will be “unaware”…
- (2) What is happening in God’s purposes of election as it pertains to Israel is a “mystery”…
- (3) They are now experiencing a “partial hardening…until”…
- (4) Until such time that the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in”…
- (5) “And in this way all Israel will be saved”.
The question is what do all of these statements actually mean!
- We will try to find out.
(1) Verse 25a:
“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware”
Paul is reminding the Gentiles that once again…
- Any claims they think they have to privilege before God are worthless.
I love how Fitzmyer puts it:
- “Gentile Christians should not conclude that their view of human history is the only valid one or that their share in salvation history is owing to their own merits” – Fitzmyer.
- They are claims from their “own sight” – ethnic pride and exclusiveness (Moo).
- They are not from the “sight” of God.
Paul will spell out what things look like from God’s “sight” in just a moment.
But first Paul says he doesn’t want them to be “agnoeo”.
Paul knows that the believer’s understanding of God’s redemptive work…
- Has an impact on the direction of a believer’s actions.
- Wrong knowledge can lead to wrong practice.
- Right knowledge informs right practice.
Here are a couple of other examples from Paul where he makes this connection.
- 1 Corinthians 10:1–6 (ESV) — 1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (ESV) — 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
The right practice in jeopardy if the Gentiles get it wrong in our text is found in verses 33-36:
(2) Verse 25b:
“of this mystery brothers”
- What is “this mystery”?
There aren’t but 4 choices.
- Either number 3, 4, or 5 from above – or all three of them.
- The hardening, the Gentiles, the salvation of Israel or all three.
To unpack this, it might help us to understand what Paul means by “mystery”.
Ephesians will help us here:
- Ephesians 3:3–9 (ESV) — 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things,
In this text, Paul tells us what he might mean by “mystery”.
- He seems to refer to it generally as…
- A plan that was previously unknown…
- Because it was “hidden for ages in God”…
- But is now known by Paul through “revelation”.
G.K. Beale puts it like this:
- “…the knowledge of a ‘mystery’ entails insight into the message of Scripture, which, although present, formerly was hidden and unknown” – Beale.
Fitzmyer points out that Paul’s use of “mystery” seems to include…
- “…an unfolding manifestation of God’s eschatological activity” – Fitzmyer.
- In other words, it involves a revelation about the future that God had always intended.
So whatever we conclude about the content of the “mystery” in our text…
- Paul is declaring that it was always part of God’s “purpose of election”…
- And that he is the one tapped to reveal it.
So back to our question…what is the mystery?
Doug Moo says this:
- “…what Paul has not yet explicitly taught, and what entails a reversal in current Jewish belief, is the sequence by which ‘all Israel’ will be saved: Israel hardened until the Gentiles come in and in this way all Israel being saved” – Moo.
- “…the heart of the mystery: the restoration of Israel” – Moo.
- That would be our number 5.
Why aren’t all of the choices the “mystery”?
Moo, and others, make the case that…
- Both a hardening of Israel and Gentile inclusion are present both…
- In Paul’s teaching elsewhere and in the OT.
- They haven’t been hidden!
But what Paul is revealing here for the first time is the mechanism for hardened Israel’s salvation.
- This has been hidden.
- So it is the “mystery” to which he is referring.
In fact, it is this mystery by which:
- “…God’s faithfulness to his promises to Israel is manifested” – Doug Moo.
- This is something new to Paul and his fellow Jews.
- (Some think he even came to this realization while writing this part of the letter).
(3) Verse 25c:
“a partial hardening has come upon Israel until”
Paul has made this clear throughout Romans 9-11.
- It’s been one of his motivations for writing this section.
- He is working out how to make sense of Israel’s rejection of its Messiah.
Knowing, of course, that a small number of Jews have given “pistis” to Christ the Lord.
- Remember – Paul’s entire ministry was predicated by Jewish rejection of Christ.
What is curious about Paul’s discussion of hardening here is his grammar.
- “has come upon Israel until”
The ending of the hardening is contingent upon a future event.
- And it can actually be read in two different ways given the grammar.
Doug Moo puts it like this:
- Either “…Paul is teaching  only that Israel’s hardening will continue ‘right up to’ the last day. No removal of that hardening is then envisaged. The Greek construction Paul uses could mean this, but it more naturally suggests  a reversal of the present situation…” of hardening – Moo.
(4) Verse 25d:
“the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”
This bit takes us into Paul’s ministry – his call to speak the Gospel to the Gentiles.
- He is saying that even his efforts to usher in Gentile inclusion…
- Are directly related to God’s purpose of election for Israel.
- “Israel’s partial hardening will last only until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in – and then it will be removed” – Doug Moo.
This sounds fantastic!
- What does this “fullness of the Gentiles” bit mean?
We have two choices:
- (1) Qualitative
- (2) Quantitative
In other words, as Fitzmyer puts it:
- “…until the full number of the Gentiles’ [a number] has accepted the gospel, as foreseen by God’s foreknowledge; or until the salvation of the Gentiles occurs to its ‘fullest extent’” – Fitzmyer.
Even on the qualitative view, it’s hard to escape the idea of a number being relevant.
- I like Michael Bird’s take…
- “…until such time as the Gentile mission is completed” – Bird.
(5) Verse 26a:
“And in this way all Israel will be saved”
Here we arrive at the heart of Paul’s “mystery”.
- The “in this way” – the partial hardening of Israel & Gentile inclusion – is the mechanism by which…
- “All Israel will be saved”.
Three questions arise here.
- What is “all Israel”?
- When do they get saved?
- In other words – when is the fullness of the Gentiles event?
- How will they “be saved”?
Michael Bird provides a helpful chart of the possible answers:
Question 1 – Who Is “All Israel”:
Doug Moo makes an obvious point:
- “Paul writes ‘all Israel,’ not ‘every Israelite’—and the difference is an important one” – Moo.
This does is a helpful distinction.
- It points out that Paul is likely using a figure of speech.
G.K. Beale points out that this figure of speech comes from Paul’s Bible.
- Deuteronomy 1:1 (ESV) — 1 These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab.
- Joshua 3:7 (ESV) — 7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.
In these examples, the language “all Israel” is making reference to:
- The nation/people of Israel generally, not to every single person.
Beale fleshes this out:
- “ ‘All Israel’ does not signify every descendent of Abraham for all time; rather, as an allusion to Scripture, it speaks of Israel as a corporate reality… Israel as a nation, as a people with a history, as an ethnic reality” – Beale.
- “[It] has a corporate significance, referring to the nation as a whole and not to every single individual who is a part of that nation. The phrase is similar, then, to those that we sometimes use to denote a large and representative number from a group; that is, ‘the whole school turned out to see the football game’; ‘the whole nation was outraged at the incident’” – Moo.
The problem is that this is not an option in Bird’s chart.
- He left it out.
- We’ll have to make the Moo/Beale idea letter “d”.
***See chart above***
Bird opts for “b” – which could easily be folded into what we just learned about “all Israel”.
- Those that go to the game, or those who are outraged…
- Are those that purchased tickets or were invested in the nation.
- These could be seen as the “elect” in a NT salvific sense.
Interestingly, N.T. Wright takes a different route all together:
- “Paul here takes it and widens its scope. All Israel? That means all the family of Abraham—and that includes believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews” – Wright.
Question 2 – When Does “All Israel” Get Saved:
The options here are essentially:
- Across time
- At one moment in time – the second coming of Christ
The answer seems pretty clear – both.
- But the 2nd coming of Christ…where does that come from?
- Apparently, Paul’s modified use of the OT in 26b through 27 is where this idea comes from.
However some, like Fitzmyer, argue it’s not both – it can only be the second.
- “The salvation of ‘all Israel’ can and will only occur when the full number of the Gentiles has come in” – Fitzmyer.
In other words, Paul is talking about a massive event future event.
- Whatever we call it when Jews, like Paul, come to Christ before this event….
- It wasn’t/isn’t the “all Israel” event Paul is talking about in our text.
- Because for Fitzmyer…
- It must be a massive eschatological event – “all Israel”.
- That is, after all, how Paul uses “mystery” – it has eschatological implications.
***See chart above***
Question 3 – How Does Israel Get Saved:
We really have two options to this question.
- By “pistis” in Christ…
- Or some other way.
A possible example of “some other way” would be:
- “God would honor that everlasting covenant by delivering Israel from its hardened position. Thus God himself would bring about the salvation of Israel—apart from Christ” – Fitzmyer.
Some argue for this approach because Paul hasn’t mentioned Christ since 10:17.
However, there is a problem with this “some other way” view:
- “…it is difficult to see how Paul would envisage two different kinds of salvation, one brought about by God apart from Christ for Jews, and one by Christ for Gentiles and believing Jews. That would seem to militate against his whole thesis of justification and salvation by grace for all who believe in the gospel of Christ Jesus (1:16)” – Fitzmyer.
- Romans 1:16 (ESV) — 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
So our answer must be “a”.
***See chart above***
I want to close this lesson with some helpful summations.
- “The present situation in salvation history, in which so few Jews are being saved, cannot finally do full justice to the scriptural expectations about Israel’s future. Something ‘more’ is to be expected; and this ‘more,’ Paul implies, is a large-scale conversion of Jewish people at the end of this age” – Doug Moo.
- “The final act in the drama of redemption is not the formation of a church that consists largely of Gentiles, but the creation of salvation for the people of Israel” – Beale.
In other words, something big is coming.
- And it ain’t all about us Gentiles!