Updated: Jan 12
(To have the full context and before you start to wonder if I am trying to change the gospel—which I am not!—I recommend that you start with Part I which we published last week.)
Romans 9-11 speaks of God's hardening of Israel to give the Gentiles time to respond to the gospel. Yet, the hardening was only “in part” and for a season according to Romans 11:25. Michael Brown paraphrases Romans 11:25 like this:
My Gentile brothers and sisters, it’s essential that you grasp what I’m saying. Otherwise, you will become proud. You see, Israel is not hardened for all time, nor is the hardening on every individual Israelite. Even now, there is a remnant that believes, and at the end of the age, when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, the hardening will lift and all Israel will be saved.
Paul speaks of a group of believers of Jewish ethnicity. “Paul calls this portion ‘the remnant’ and describes it as a representative and priestly component of Israel that sanctifies Israel as a whole.” We first see this principle in Sodom. God tells Abraham he’s about to destroy Sodom. Abraham bargains with God, asking if God would spare the city if they were just 50 righteous men. God agrees, and Abraham continues to appeal to God's mercy, getting Him down to 10 righteous men. Thus, the righteous remnant sanctifies the whole.
While Elijah thought he was the only one faithful, there were indeed 7,000 who had not yet bowed the knee to Baal. Paul adds: “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (Rom 11:5). God has chosen a remnant of Jewish believers, and they serve a purpose for all Israel, who has been hardened.
Paul teaches, “If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches” (Rom. 11:16). While there are many interpretations as to who is the firstfruits dough and who is the whole batch, I agree with Kinzer, that in context, it is Messianic Jews and the rest of Israel.
The “first fruits” mentioned here are probably to be equated with the remnant. The “whole batch” and the “branches” refer to “all Israel,” that is, the nation as a whole. Therefore, Paul sees the Jewish remnant as contributing to the sanctification (and salvation) of all Israel so that it is now truly holy—despite its serious spiritual limitations.
Douglas Harink makes a startling statement:
The chosen remnant is not to be understood as the “saved” minority portion of Israel over against the “lost” majority. The remnant is rather the representative part of the whole, the very means by which the whole of Israel (including the hardened portion) is already made holy. “If the . . . first fruits [are] holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy” (11:16).
The remnant intercedes for the whole, like Moses and Paul. Moses boldly tells God, “forgive [Israel’s] sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book…” (Ex. 32:32). This moves God’s heart not to start over with Moses but to have mercy. Paul, in Romans 9:1-5, offers to trade his own salvation or that of Israel. Could it be that Paul’s sacrificial prayer on behalf of the believing remnant for the unbelieving had the effect of Moses’ plea?
Considering this. We have to ask, “What does ‘all Israel being saved’ (Rom. 11:26) mean?” Is the apostle saying that considering Israel’s imposed unbelief, the faithful remnant serves to make the rest holy, that all Israel for all time will be saved? That does seem what Kinzer is saying when he adds and salvation in parenthesis. To be clear, I am not saying that—but I would like to explore the limits of God's mercy.
God’s Love vs. Our Love
It would be absurd to think that Abraham was more compassionate than God, or that Moses persuaded an angry God because of Moses’ great compassion. Surely, God was setting them up to intercede because God loves mercy. God was not surprised that Moses didn't take up his offer to start a new nation with him. He knew Moses would respond like that and wanted him to. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jam. 2:13b).
What we see in Abraham, Moses, and Paul are manifestations of God’s mercy transcending into his creation. If Abraham, Moses, and Paul are devastated over possible judgment, how much more is God? One of John Wesley’s four ways to interpret scripture is reason. If we, being made in the image of God, shudder in horror at the idea of six million Jews in hell, how much more God? (Not to mention the victims of the Crusades and Inquisition. The only witness these Jewish people received was from a church that presented a Jesus who hated Jews.)
Yeshua, on the cross, looks with compassion on his killers and prays, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Did God answer that prayer? Stephen enters into this type of intercessory love and prays the same on his killers. There is no prayer as powerful as these types of priestly prayers, prayed for one's enemies. And it would be foolish for us to assume that God does not hear them.
I believe with all my heart that salvation is obtained only through a confession of faith in Yeshua’s work on the cross (Romans 10:9-10, Acts 4:12). Every believer should desire to reach the Jewish people with the gospel as the temporary hardness is lifting. “Joel Rosenberg estimated that the number of Jews in the world who believe in Jesus is at an all-time high—possibly as many as 1 million.” The Gentiles are called to provoke Israel to jealousy, seemingly saying that as a result of this jealousy, Jews would confess faith.
While I believe there is some mystery regarding the world to come—who will be there and who will not—I leave that to God. But I live like I must reach Jewish people. I lead a Hebrew language digital TV channel to reach Israelis, and that will always be my disposition: Reach Jewish people.
It would be foolish to rest in the hope that all Jews are saved as a result of the remnant. That does not seem to gel with the zeal of the apostles to reach Jewish people. Paul suffers often by going first to the synagogue in each new city (see Acts 13:5, 14, 14:1, 17:2, 10, 17, 18:4, 19, 29, 19:8). Paul hopes he "may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them" (Romans 13::13-14). If he hopes to save them, he sees them as not saved. It seems that Paul felt that Israel’s lostness had consequences, as he is broken over Israel’s rejection—willing to be “cursed and cut off from Messiah for the sake of my people…the people of Israel” (Rom. 9:3-4). And yet I am always leaving out hope for God's mercy… Possibly things I do not understand.
We should continue with even greater zeal to reach Jewish people while believing Abraham’s words: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). In context, Abraham was asking for mercy for those who deserved judgment. How deep does the principle of the remnant go? How many people will the Lord reveal himself to just before death, as he can turn a nanosecond into a week? These are theological concepts with which I wrestle, while staying focuses on reaching my people.
Israel’s tragic role brings deep drama to the theological narrative of the past 2,000 years. Have Gentile believers fully understood how Israel has suffered for their sake? What will their response be when they realize that the people they attacked for killing Messiah made their salvation even possible? (Not through atonement, but because of God's imposing a hardness on their hearts—giving time for the gospel to reach the whole world.)
What will they do when they understand their theological rhetoric against Israel made the Holocaust possible? Is that not unlike how Jewish people will react to a Messiah they rejected when he reveals Himself to them, as Joseph did to his brothers? It would seem that just as an awakening is coming to Israel regarding Messiah, an awakening is coming to the Church regarding Israel. What a beautiful day it will be when these new Jewish believers embrace the millions of Gentiles who prayed for them to come into the kingdom. One New Man.
 Brown, 131.  Kinzer, 151.  Kinzer, 125.  Douglas Harink, Paul Among the Postliberals, Pauline Theology Beyond Christendom and Modernity (Eugene: Wiph & Stock, 2013), 174.  “We are called to love God with our minds as well as with our hearts. To the best of our ability we need to think things through in the light of reason. This means becoming aware of different points of view, and using our own critical thinking to make sense of God's world.” “The Methodist quadrilateral,” The Methodist Church, accessed December 11, 2022, https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-church/what-is-distinctive-about-methodism/the-methodist-quadrilateral.