Did you catch the misquote in the title? No? Just wait, we will get to that.
This passage is one of the most (deservedly) famous of verses in the Bible. I don’t know how many sermons I have heard, books and web sites read, over the years that made good – or ill – use of these words in Romans 11:26.
THE POPULAR VIEW: FUTURE MASS CONVERSION OF NATIONAL ISRAEL
The most usual interpretation that I heard takes into account the verse before:
“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” Rom. 11:25
The most-common explanation of the passage is that at the time of Paul’s writing and up through our time God had switched His attention from His chosen people (national Israel) and turned it more fully on the Gentiles – all those who are not Jews. In order to flesh out this scenario other presumably related verses are pressed into service, most notably Zechariah 12:10 and Revelation 1:7:
“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” Zech. 12:10
“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. “ Rev. 1:7
The popular view as taught by two dispensationalists: John Macarthur and John Piper:
“So, what [Paul, in Romans 9] is saying is, Israel was set aside, yes, temporarily and partially. And in their setting aside, the riches was turned to the Gentiles. After the Gentiles fullness has come in, after the church is complete (that’s what that means) God will go back and redeem Israel. Zechariah tells us exactly how. He says, “They will look on Him whom they have pierced and they will mourn for Him as an only son.” That is an indication that their salvation comes about directly as a relationship of their focus on Jesus Christ. At that point, they will be saved. And, then He will fulfill His covenant, verse 27, He will take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, now, they have become enemies for your sake. In other words, their setting aside affected the salvation of the Gentiles. But, as touching the election, in other words, in God’s eternal purpose, they are the beloved for the Father’s sake, for God cannot change His covenant. His gifts and callings are without repentance, and so, He will bring them back. There is no question that He will bring them back. But, the bringing back has to be around the truth of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Macarthur, 1980
Original page here: http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/1301-Q-14.htm
Closer to the gist of the text are Piper‘s comments:
“The apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 that Christians “wait for [God’s] Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Jesus is the “the Deliverer” (ton heruomenon) from God’s wrath to come. The closest parallel in the New Testament to this word “Deliverer” is found in Romans 11:26, where Paul describes how “all Israel” will be saved. Verse 26: “And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer (ho heruomenos) will come from Zion [meaning Jerusalem or the heavenly Jerusalem], he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.
“So we see that this Deliverer is Jesus Christ. He is the one who will save “all Israel,” and his salvation will be from “the wrath to come.” And the way he will do it is by “banishing ungodliness from the people,” as we see in verse 26: “He will banish ungodliness from Jacob”—that is, from all Israel. And he will forgive their sins. Verse 27: “And this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” So Israel will be saved when Jesus Christ, the deliverer, comes from Zion and (1) takes away the ungodliness—that is, the hardening—from Israel and replaces it with faith [recall verse 23, “if they do not continue in their unbelief , they will be grafted in”), and so (2) their sins will be forgiven, and (3) they will be grafted in to the tree of salvation and promise as one people with the Gentiles who believe in Jesus.
…”Now how is this going to happen? I don’t know the details, but it seems to me that Paul does mean that in connection with the second coming of Christ there will be a great turning of Israel to Christ. Just how it works, I don’t know. But I find certain prophecies very suggestive. For example, Zechariah 12:10, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” And Isaiah 6:8, “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children.” And Matthew 23:39, where Jesus says to the hardened nation: “I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
“I don’t want to go beyond what is clear. So I say that I am not sure about the precise when and how of Israel’s conversion. But that it is coming and that it will be given by Jesus Christ, the deliverer who banishes ungodliness and forgives sins—of that I feel sure.
Original page here: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2004/164_All_Israel_Will_Be_Saved/
Both of these explanations have much in common. Both link together Old Testament prophecies with still-future fulfillment. Piper seems more careful to acknowledge his unsureness on just how this could possibly play out, yet nevertheless ends with certainty that the Dispensational scenario will indeed play out just as envisioned.
PROBLEMS WITH THE POPULAR VIEW
But is this the correct view? Will there be this extraordinary national conversion of Israel sometime in the future? Biblically there are several problems that come up. As we consider and deal with these problems, a better interpretation, hopefully, begins to present itself.
Did you find the misquote? The problem is not in the words, but in the sentence itself. By quoting this phrase – “All Israel will be saved.” – all together like that, the impression is given that the original was one small sentence. Well, in the Bible the sentence is much more involved. And this makes a big difference.
Here is the whole sentence:
“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.” Romans 11:25 – 27
In my Greek New Testament from the beginning of verse 25 to the end of verse 27 (the quotation from Isaiah) is all one sentence. Let us work outward from our main sentence – or what we perhaps thought was a sentence! We now have: “…and so all Israel will be saved,”. “And so” can better be interpreted as “and in this way” or “and thus”. This already makes a difference because now we have to ask: In what way? The answer is twofold: both before and after the phrase. This from an earlier article of mine:
“Context: This is where many, many translations and paraphrases do us a great disservice. How? Well, they effectively isolate “All Israel shall be saved” from the rest of the sentence! Did you know that the original sentence extends both before and after that more famous sound bite? The NIV and others especially separate the previous thought, cutting the sentence up. The sentence should read:
“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and so [that is, in this manner] all Israel will be saved…”
There are two clarifications as to all of Israel’s being saved.
A. It will be “in this manner” – the manner just described in the previous phrase: It will consist of both Jew and Gentile, the latter taking advantage of a blindness of the former. These two groups, Jews and Gentiles will thus make up the total number of the redeemed, the Israel of God.
B. It will be “as it is written” – according to the two passages cited by Paul. This brings us down to the third hermeneutic principle.”
A CLOSER LOOK AT “Until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in“
This phrase (Greek ACHRIS HOU) that is translated here by the word “until” can also be translated “while”. See Acts 27:33, Heb. 3:13: “but exhort one another daily, while [not, until] it is called “Today,””. So, if this interpretation is correct, the idea would be that, while part of Israel is being blinded, at the same time the Gentiles are being saved. The result of this will be that all of Israel (those who are inwardly Jews, the “Israel of God”) will be saved. I admit that a number of writers who generally have the same position as I do on Israel do not have, however, have this particular view on the word “until”. At any rate, I offer it for your consideration.
Whenever a prophecy from the Old Testament is written about, and when possible fulfillment of the same prophecy is put forth then, it seems to me that our attention should first be given to any passage in the New testament that claims to fulfill the prophecy. Am I being unreasonable in saying this? If we have a prophecy given – and then later in the Bible we are told “Here is the fulfillment.” shouldn’t that at least be touched upon?
Well, this is exactly what Macarthur and Piper did – or rather, didn’t do:
They both brought up Zechariah’s “They look on Me whom they pierced” (Zech. 12:10), posit Revelation 1:7 as the fulfillment – yet make no mention of John 19: 36 – 37, where the Bible says clearly that this is the fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10. Here is the passage in John, Note the underlined parts:
33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. 36 For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced. John 19:33 – 37
Two Scripture were fulfilled here. The one that concerns us is that second one. My question is: Why did Piper and Macarthur – and most futurists, for that matter – pass over this stated fulfillment in silence? They ought to have at least dealt with the passage, even if they believed in a double fulfillment. The fact that they made no mention of this fulfillment casts doubt upon the validity of their interpretation. We cannot ignore Scripture because it doesn’t fit our system. If John was inspired to say Zech. 12:10 was fulfilled at Calvary how dare we say otherwise?
DEFINITION PROBLEM: What is a Jew?
This a more serious problem for the opposition to contend with. Paul had already disclosed his definition of what a Jew was. Romans 2:28 – 29:
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:28 – 29
So, many who were physically Jewish, were not really Jewish in the most meaningful sense. Additionally, in Gal. 3:26 – 29, Paul shakes up the very foundation of nationalistic Judaism by proclaiming to the Gentile Galatians …
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Gal. 3:26 – 29
There is both subtraction and addition going on here, spiritually speaking; Many who pride themselves on their Jewishness are not really Jews, spiritually speaking. On the other hand, many who were total strangers – and often treated as such by physical Jews – are now included in the commonwealth of Messianic promise and divine grace. What a turnaround this is!
An additional and related problem is Paul’s – and the Bible’s – repeated theme, in Romans 2 and elsewhere, that there is no lasting spiritual advantage in being a Jew. God is not a “respecter of persons”. God, Jesus said, is able to raise up from the very stones “sons of Abraham“. Being a Jew was (past tense) only advantageous insofar as they were able to put to use the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2) in that that transition period of the New Testament times to embrace the New Covenant. Those who were noble, like the believing Bereans of Acts 17:11, compared those Old Testament oracles with Paul’s preaching and made the saving connection.
Not only was the Jewishness of the 1st century Israel not a spiritual advantage it became, because of their hardening themselves to the Gospel light, a damning liability. Their ritual acts and words were witnesses against themselves. By the time of the Book of Revelation they had become those “who say they are Jews, but are not” and the “synagogue of Satan”!
The point of all this is that it would be very inconsistent for all of this to change in the future for all of the Jews to saved en mass. They cannot be the synagogue of Satan in Revelation, all the while being “beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Rom. 11:28). God cannot deny Himself, neither will He alter His calling of those He has chosen. This brings us to the last objection.
This has to with both the nature of the Gospel, once-delivered to the saints, and to the very nature of God. Jude 3 makes an important statement concerning the Gospel:
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude 3
Our salvation is a common salvation – not as in ordinary, but as in being in common. We all share the same salvation.
Our faith – the Faith of Christianity – was once for all time delivered to all Christians (‘the saints”). The perfect tense means that the results of the action, once accomplished, is permanent.
Believing that there would be a different kind of faith in the future for the mass of Jews supposedly who will come to be saved, and a salvation other than our common salvation, is contradicting the Word of God. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”
Faith will always come by hearing of the Word proclaimed.
Faith will never – never – come by seeing Christ’s nail prints as He comes in the skies. If they don’t mourn now because of their offenses against God’s holiness, in common with all Christians, they will not mourn then when they are given an object lesson of their unbelief.
If they disbelieve the Word now, they will not be persuaded then by a sign. No sign will be given.
This brings us to Luke 16. The rich man in Christ’s account, after a life of ignoring God, woke up in the torment of the next life. For the first time – too late – he is awakened to his spiritual condition. He also is concerned for his brothers still living. He pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus from the dead to warn them so that they won’t share in this torment. Abraham answers that his brothers “have Moses and the prophets [today this would include more: “They have the whole Word of God”] let them hear them.” But the rich man realizes this would not be sufficient. Verse 30 – 31 complete the account:
“And he [the rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
The last words of Abraham to the rich Jew will be my last point in this article: There is no better, or other means of coming into the Kingdom than by Christ, the Word of Life. If we do not believe the words in the Bible we have no other way to be saved. Neither will the Jews, either now or anytime in the future.
For God to save the entirety of Jews living at some point in the future would require for Him to give them an opportunity that he did not give to the rich man’s brothers. If God would do this, the rich man would have had cause to bitterly complain that God was being unfair to him.
They were not given a sign.
They were not given a glimpse of someone warning them from the dead.
And neither will future Jews be given any such advantage.
The interpretation of Romans 11:26 that sees all of Israel in some future point of time being saved has serious and insuperable problems. That interpretation does not at all best explain the context of the verse or the passage. It ignores entirely Paul’s assertion concerning the true spiritual nature of Israel and, consequently, Jews. It overlooks Paul’s application of the cross-references in Isaiah, as well as the nature of spiritual Zion.
Even more seriously, this view would rewrite, for a certain favored future group of fortunate saints-to-be, the very nature of the Gospel. Yet, because God has made certain assurances to us concerning this Gospel and the way of salvation, the integrity of God Himself would be called into question – if there truly would be this anomalous imagined future move of God, entirely at odds with His promises to us..
Positively stated, these problems all disappear when we realize that God is currently building His Kingdom, the Zion of God, of Jews and Gentiles enjoying our common salvation. Because all those of faith are sons and daughters of Abraham they also inherit the promise given through Christ.
These promises are all attained through faith.
We read them.
The Spirit of Christ opens our eyes.
We believe them.
We live in them, rejoice in them.
Hallelujah. They are ours forever.
All the promises of God are Yes and Amen in Christ Jesus,
2 Cor. 1:20.
There are no other promises, either looked for or needed.