Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Romans 11: Israel Remains God's Elect

KEY TEXT: Romans 11:1-2, 28-29 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew... As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God 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.

KEY THOT: As an Israelite, Paul felt a strong burden for his fellow Israelites, the Jews who have rejected Christ. He asserts that Israel's current rejection of Christ is temporarily so the Gentiles may have the opportunity to come into God's kingdom: "a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (v.25). But nevertheless, Paul insists that "God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew" (v.2) and that Israel remains God's elect for the sake of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: "as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers." (v.28). And he concludes that for Israel, the "gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (v.29). 

In other words, even though there is a partial hardening of Israel from Paul's time up to the present time, the Israelites remain God's elect for the sake of their forefathers. Paul argues that Israel remains God's elect on the basis of grace. As much as Gentiles' disobedience did not disqualify them from becoming God's elect, so Israel's disobedience will not nullify their status as God's elect: "Just as you (Gentiles) were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their (Israel's) disobedience, so they (Israel) too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you (Gentiles) they (Israel) also may now receive mercy" (vv.30-31).

About 12 years later (AD 70), after Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (AD 57-58), Jerusalem was sacked by the Roman army under General Titus. The siege and subsequent destruction of temple resulted in deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews (Josephus claims that about 1 million Jews died). Those who survived were sold as slaves or scattered. Beside those in Jerusalem in Paul's time, there were also Jews that were scattered around the world, known as the Diaspora (Acts 2:5-10). In 1948, Israel was re-created after World War II and since then 7 millions of the Diaspora Jews have returned to present-day Israel. This is in fulfillment of  OT prophecies regarding Israel's re-gathering in the last days before Christ's return.

God has not abandoned Israel despite their rejection of Christ. The stage is now set for Israel's repentance and spiritual restoration once the fullness of Gentiles have come into God's kingdom: "Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand 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" (Romans 11:25-26). Paul warns Gentile believers not to become conceited and adopt a negative attitude towards Israel, for their hardening is for our sake. But one day, "all Israel will be saved."

In the meantime, God's promise to Abraham remains in force: "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." We must not despise Israel whom God has blessed, lest we find ourselves on the wrong side of God's grace.

Abba-Father, thank You that You have not rejected Your people Israel. May You open their hearts and their eyes to see Jesus as the Christ. May You continue to protect Israel from evil men who seek their destruction and grant them peace and prosperity. Amen.

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