by Steve Lehrer http://solochristo.com/theology/nct/lehrer-israel.htm
of the most confused areas in evangelical theology today concerns the place and
standing of the nation of
After delivering the Israelites out of the hands of Pharaoh, God made certain that they did not enter the promised land because of their rebellion. Are we to understand this punishment as merely a temporal discipline which God gives to His children for their good (Heb.12:3-11)? Or should we see this as God’s eternal wrath poured out on an unbelieving generation? The book of Hebrews addresses this issue by using that generation of Israelites as an example to spur on believers who seem to be turning away from Christ due to hard times (Heb.3:7-14)
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “ Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, they shall never enter my rest.”
His (the author of Hebrews) concern is that the
community should maintain its integrity and continue to live in terms of the
divine promises. The memory of
The loss of inheritance that we see for the Israelites is the loss of the promised land. But clearly this is shown to be a picture of or analogous to spiritual salvation resulting in eternal life. Lane goes on to write:
In 3:7-19 the quotation from Ps.95 furnishes the
basis for the exhortation to remain sensitive to the promise of eschatological
salvation. His interpretation of the text was heavily influenced by Num.14.
According to Num.13-14,
What is illustrated for us in the Old Testament is a people unwilling to believe God’s promise concerning a physical inheritance and therefore a refusal to obey resulting in a loss of the inheritance. This is then interpreted by the Holy Spirit through the author of the book to point to the reality of people refusing to trust in the work of Jesus Christ alone to save them resulting in loss of a spiritual inheritance and receiving spiritual condemnation. This becomes alarmingly clear in of Heb.3:15-19:
As has just been said: “Today if you hear his voice do not
harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Who were
they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of
message of these verses can be paraphrased as follows: “The Israelites of the wilderness
generation turned from God and experienced his judgment. They were a
disobedient people who lost their inheritance because they were UNBELIEVERS.
Don’t be like them.” The wilderness generation, who had the blood of Abraham coursing
through their veins, was a generation of unbelievers. They heard the “good
news” and they did not believe and therefore received God’s eternal judgment.
This judgment is illustrated to us by their physical death before entering the
Promised Land. But this is only the first step in our journey in understanding
the biblical identity of the nation of
addresses this next generation as he is about to die and just before they cross
After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: “Take this book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to testify against them. For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and provoke him to anger by what your hands have made.”
are pretty strong words from Moses about the future of national
When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those
following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found
“sons of the kingdom” are the nation of
So the ‘subjects of the kingdom’ are the Jews, who see themselves as sons of Abraham, belonging to the kingdom by right. But Jesus reverses roles (cf.21:43); and the sons of the kingdom are thrown aside, left out of the future messianic banquet, consigned to darkness where there are tears and gnashing of teeth- elements common to descriptions of gehenna, hell. (Carson, D.A., “Matthew,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary 8, 1984, p.202-203.)
Matthew is plain that the majority of Israelites are going to face God’s eternal judgment because they have rejected Him. In this passage Matthew clearly states that the Israelites will be replaced in the kingdom of heaven by a people who actually love God.
the book of Galatians “the children of Abraham” are redefined as all those who
place their trust in Jesus Christ, that is Spiritual Israel, rather than those
who are simply related to Abraham by blood. Galatians is written to professed believers
Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham the man of faith (Gal.3:6-9).
The contrast in this passage is between law and faith. Abraham’s faith was “reckoned to him as righteousness. This is biblical shorthand to say that Abraham gained acceptance from God not by anything that he did, that is not by obedience to the law, but by taking God at His word. Now, we have the first mention of “sons of Abraham” in Gal.3:7. But this definition of who the sons of Abraham are should cause us to wonder. The impression we get from Gen.17 is that the children of Abraham are those who are physically descended from Abraham, the Jews:
Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you and I will be their God” (Gen.17:3-8).
There is nothing in the context of Genesis to lead us to understand the descendants or seeds of Abraham to be anything other than those who are physically related to him. But now in Galatians we find that the children of Abraham are all those who are “of faith.” Make no mistake about it, this is God’s inspired interpretation of who the children of Abraham really are.
Later in Galatians Paul refers to Gen.12:7 and the Abrahamic promise:
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ (Gal.3:16).
Now this should strike us as a very strange statement given that in Gen.15:4-5 God tells Abraham that the promise of a seed is “plural”:
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars- if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “so shall your offspring be.”
Again we have a clear redefining of terms by God through Paul in the book of Galatians. Paul is interpreting the physical picture given in the Old Testament and showing us the Spiritual reality to which it pointed. The Abrahamic Covenant is the revealing of God’s plan to save a people. Isaac as “the seed of Abraham” is the key to the promise given to Abraham. But of course that promise extends to all of the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac. Therefore, through Isaac the children of Abraham are as many as the stars in the sky. In the same way, God uses one seed, that is Jesus Christ, to save a Spiritual people and make them His own. Jesus Christ is the one seed that God brings into the world to save a people, and those who are united to him by faith become seeds or children of Abraham. We find this explicitly stated in Gal.3:29:
If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise.
So the children of Abraham are redefined as being all those who trust in Christ, rather than all those who are physically descended from Abraham.
Scripture clearly identifies the Israelites as an unbelieving people. There always has been a small remnant of believing Israelites, but they exist as the exception rather than the rule. [The Israelites were primarily unbelieving sinners rather than sinful believers.]
Is There A
by Steve Lehrer http://idsaudio.org/ids/pdf/scripture/romans11.pdf
In Israel: an
Unbelieving People, I argued that God’s evaluation of
The Argument of Romans 9-10
Paul’s message in Rom.9-10 is
extremely important for our understanding of Rom.11. In these chapters Paul
drives home 3 main points:
(1) God has always saved only a remnant of
(2) God has the right to show mercy, or harden, whoever He desires;
In Rom.9, after Paul
recalls all of the amazing privileges God has given to
Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom.9:7-13).
Unlike Isaac and
Ishmael—who were children of different mothers—Jacob and Esau not only had the
same mother, but also were created in the same act of conception! But God chose
to set His saving love on Jacob and not Esau. God’s promise of salvation to the
descendants of Abraham did not fail. However Esau, who was clearly a child of
Abraham, was not saved [see Children of Abraham http://pop.eradman.com/]. This leaves a bit of a theological problem for
us. Paul’s answer to this problem is two-fold:
First, since God is the creator He can have mercy on whomever He wants and harden whomever He wants (v.14-21).
Second, God has always promised only to save a remnant of the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh, and He will continue to do so:
“Isaiah cries out concerning
At the end of Rom.9 and continuing through Rom.10, the idea is introduced that God has given faith to the Gentiles, while the Jews who had everything were unable to find God:
“What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue
righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but
Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Paul makes the argument that the Gentiles responded to the God’s offer of salvation while the Israelites rebelled:
“And Isaiah boldly says, ‘I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.’ But concerning
Thus, Paul has established
the truths that,
(1) God has always saved only a remnant of Israel,
(2) God has the right to show mercy, or to harden, whoever He desires,
(3) Israel has rebelled against God throughout her history.
Romans 11: When is Paul writing about?
The majority of commentators (Jonathan Edwards; Charles Hodge; Herman Ridderbos; George E. Ladd; Geerhardus Vos; John Piper; Wayne Grudem; John Murray; etc.) hold that Paul is carefully building an argument about the salvation of national Israel—reaching its climax in v.25-26—concluding that in the distant future all or most of national Israel will be saved. But the passage seems to refer exclusively to the present time in Paul’s day. I don’t believe that Rom.11 is prophecy about end-time events. There is overwhelming evidence in the passage that Paul is concerned with the present time rather than the future:
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>In Rom.11:1, Paul’s answer to the question about whether God had rejected his people deals with Paul’s first century salvation, not something in the distant future.
<![endif]>In v.5, Paul answers the question about God’s rejection of
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>In v.13-14 Paul refers to his hope that his own evangelistic work with the Gentiles in the first century will arouse Israelites in that general time period to envy the Gentiles for having God’s salvation:
“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.”
<![endif]>Paul sees a pattern in the amazing wisdom of God, revealing a mystery of
His plan: The God-ordained fall of
“Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.”
Did God Reject His People? No! Remember the Remnant
Paul never changes the main
focus of his inquiry throughout Rom.9-11. The Apostle is relentless in his
analysis of this important question: Has God utterly rejected
Now there are two
possibilities concerning the meaning of Paul’s question.
First, he could be asking, “Did God reject
Second, he could be asking, “Did God utterly reject
Paul makes it clear that
the meaning of his question is certainly the latter, because his answer
in verse 1 is that God is presently, in Paul’s day, saving a remnant: “By no means (God has not rejected His people)! I am an Israelite
myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” The evidence—that Paul is
a Jew and that he has been saved—tells us that God has not utterly rejected
Our investigation so far
has led us in the opposite direction of the most popular interpretation. Paul
begins his argument not arguing for the salvation of the majority of ethnic
What then? What
Paul asks the same question and gives the same answer all over again in v.7:
“What then? What
At first, given Israel’s rejection of the Gospel, you might think that none of Israel obtained salvation, but Paul assures us here in verse 7 that there were elect within Israel and they were saved just as he assured us earlier in verses 1, 4-5.
Dealing with Difficult Language
Most commentators think
that Paul changes tracks in his argument at v.11. Douglas Moo neatly divides
the passage into two sections: “
“Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not
at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the
Gentiles to make
I have already made the
argument that the envy of
“But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!”
This language continues in v.15:
“For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”
I have already introduced a
pattern of thought that I believe is part of the warp and woof of Paul’s
thinking in this passage: God ordained the fall of
11- Rather because of their transgression
salvation has come to the Gentiles
12- But if their transgression means
riches for the world,
how much more will their fullness bring!
and their loss means
riches for the Gentiles
Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry
14- in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy
and save some of them
15- For if their rejection
is reconciliation of the world
what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
until the full number of the Gentiles has come in
and so all
30- as a result of their disobedience
Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy
31- so they too have now become disobedient
as a result of God’s mercy to you
in order that they too may now receive mercy
Some of the most difficult
pieces of Rom.11 for my particular understanding of this passage are listed
under the salvation (Jews) section. But notice that parallel in thought—with
“fullness,” “their acceptance” and “all
Boastful Gentiles Rebuked
We must try and jump into
the sandals (and perhaps togas) of the Gentile Christians that Paul is
addressing in the church in
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree (Rom.11:17-24)!
Notice that the thrust of
Paul’s argument is not as the popular interpretation would have us believe,
that there will be an overwhelming conversion of national
“Until”(achris hou) in verse 25
The word “until” in v.25 creates great amounts of confusion.
“I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so
that you may not be conceited:
Many assume that this verse
must mean that the partial hardening of
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Acts 22:4 “I persecuted the followers of this Way to (achris hou) their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison.” The use of our phrase here is focused on the goal of persecuting Christians to death and not the state of affairs after they are dead.
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Heb.4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double--edged sword, it penetrates even to (achris hou) dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Once again the emphasis is not on what happens beyond the division of soul and spirit, but the goal or termination point.
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>1 Cor.11:26 “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until (achris hou) he comes.” The point of “until” in this verse is that you proclaim the Lord’s death by participating in the Lord’s Supper all the way to the goal or termination point, which is the Lord’s return. Our phrase has no reference to the state of affairs after His return.6
Thus, in Rom.11:25 the use
of our phrase does not refer to the state of affairs occurring after the goal
or termination point: “I do not want you to be
ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:
“And so (kai houtos) all
The Greek phrase kai houtos is often
read incorrectly as “and then…” which gives it a temporal flavor. But in the
205 times that it is used in the New Testament, it never has an unambiguously
temporal meaning. It is far better to read it as “and in this way or in this
manner…” This fits the context perfectly. Paul is emphasizing the amazing way
or manner in which God has chosen for all of the elect of
So, the point of Rom.11:26
is not something absolutely new to the context—that God is going to save every
last ethnic Israelite who happens to be alive after the final elect Gentile has
come to faith. Instead, it is better to interpret v.26 within the framework of
Paul’s argument: that God has not forsaken the Jews entirely, but even from
within this rebellious people God has his elect. This was shocking news to the
Gentiles. They had seen and heard about Jesus’ and Paul’s rejection of the
Jews, who were still unbelieving and were persecuting the church. As we saw,
Paul adds more to his argument than just those bare facts. He gives us a
glimpse at the all-wise plan of God! God not only used the fall of
There are 5 options to consider:8
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>All ethnic descendants of Abraham. This option is knocked out in Rom.9:6.
<![endif]>All ethnic descendants of Abraham living when God initiates a special
working among the Jewish people. This option and option #3 are variations on
the most popular interpretation that I have argued against throughout this
paper as missing the context. These options specifically miss the emphasis on
the contemporary nature of Paul’s argument, as well as the consistent and
sustained emphasis on the remnant of
<![if !supportLists]>3. <![endif]>The majority of Jews living at the time of a special saving activity of God. In addition to the comments made above about this option, it has the added burden of explaining how “all” means “most.”
<![endif]>All elect Israelites within ethnic
<![endif]>Both Jews and Gentiles who together constitute the
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you (Rom.11:28-31).
Rom.11 is a difficult passage,
but I don’t believe it teaches that there is a promise for a national future
salvation for all of ethnic
1 I argue this point in the final section of my article “Israel: A Nation of Unbelievers”.
NT, 1996, p.683.
3 Acts 8:1-3, 9:1, 12:1-5, 17:5-9
4 You’ll find this
argument in the last section of the article “
5 O. Palmer Robertson, The
6 Two more examples of this are found in the following verses: Mt.24:38 “For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to (achris hou) the day Noah entered the ark;” 1 Cor.15:25 “For he must reign until (achris hou) he has put all his enemies under his feet.”
8 Ibid.,183. Robertson laid out the general framework for me but I take the blame for the additional comments.
9 The Reformation and Revival Journal (Eschatology – Vol.6, Num.2 – Spring, 1997).