Dr. S. Lewis Johnson discusses the Church Age as derived from the writings of Paul the Apostle in this first of three lectures.
[Prayer] Father we are thankful and grateful for the privilege that is ours and we ask Thy blessing upon us as we study again the word of God and seek to understand the things that God is doing in the present age as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. We pray that Thou will give us understanding, desire to know and also desire to live the things that we see in the Scriptures. We give Thee thanks for the marvelous grace that is shown to us. We thank Thee that in the things that are revealed in Holy Scriptures the name of the triune God is glorified. We think of this chapter that we shall look at and where we read the words that of him and through him and unto him are all things to whom be the glory and we give Thee praise and thanks for that which Thou hast shown to us from Scriptures. We pray, Lord, that Thou wilt continue to unfold the word of God to us. Bless each one of us who are present here tonight and we pray that our time together may build us up in our faith.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
[Message] We are looking at “The Nature of the Present Age.” And in our last few studies and, particularly, in our last study we looked at “The Nature of the Present Age: The Viewpoint of James.” And we had in mind, particularly, Acts chapter 15, where in that chapter James referring to Amos’ prophecy in Amos chapter 9, made certain application of it to the situation in the city of Jerusalem and, in a sense, unfolded to us the ideas that he had with reference to the age in which he was living, which is, of course, the age in which we are living. And the things that we noted to very simply sum them up were these; that today is the day of a limited Gentile salvation as he expresses it in Acts chapter 15, verses 13 and 14, “And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first or first time did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.” And so it’s evident from that particular statement that the present day is a day of limited Gentile salvation. That is a certain people is taken out of the Gentiles and made into a people for the name of God. So today is a day of limited Gentile salvation not Gentile salvation as whole but limited Gentile salvation.
Then the second thing that James pointed those that were in Jerusalem to was Amos chapter 9, where in verse 16, and following we read, “After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord.” James says that the words of the prophets agree with what he has just stated in verse 14. Now, what we said with reference to that was that verse 15, 16 and the first part of verse 17, set forth the hope of the future restoration of the Davidic kingdom. And then the third point that James suggests by the application of that prophecy was that in the future there is a biblical hope that all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called might seek after the Lord. So while today is the day of limited Gentile salvation in the future or in the present, we have hope of a future worldwide Gentile salvation as set out in the latter part of verse 17, “That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.” So very simply James has said today is the day of limited Gentile salvation. God is visiting the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name but today is of the hope of a future restoration of the Davidic kingdom and the day of the hope of a future worldwide Gentile salvation.
Now, our study tonight and the study for next week as well is directed to Paul’s view of the present age and two passages call for attention. And the first that we’re going to look at and the one we’ll look at tonight is Romans chapter 11, verse 1 through verse 36.
Now, obviously to do the entire chapter would be far beyond the capacity of us to study it in one hour’s time. So what I’m going to do is to look at it in a rather brief way, generally. In other words, we’ll trace Paul’s thought from Romans 11, as you will note from the outline, Roman I: Paul’s argument in Romans 11. Then we will look, specifically, at verse 25 through verse 27 and pay a bit of attention to the future of Israel that is set forth there. And, finally, we will sum up Paul’s view of the present age and if we have just a moment or two try to compare Paul’s view to James’ view. So without further ado we turn now to Paul’s argument in Romans 11, and as I say this is a cursory summary of what Paul has in mind as he writes the chapter.
For those of you who are interested in further study with reference and, particularly, what I might say if I had seven hours instead of one hour, I suggest that you get the copies of the messages that were delivered over KRLD a couple of months ago. They are, I think, available all of them now and you’re welcome to tell the office that you would like to have them sent to you. Call Mrs. Ray or call the office and they’ll be happy to send them to you. There’re seven studies in Romans chapter 11, and the seven studies match the seven parts of the outline that I have here under Romans chapter 1.
Now, in order to do this, I’m just going to read through the chapter and make a few comments as we go along and so we look first at the question that the apostle seeks to answer in Romans 11. And he states it in verse 1, when he says, “I say then, ‘Hath God cast away his people?’” Now, that will tell us immediately that the apostle is going to answer that question negatively and even if we didn’t know anything about the original text because the very idea of individuals being his people obviously implies that he will not cast them away for he is immutable in his divine election. Now, that’s a very comforting thing for us individually to know that when he elects it is an immutable election. That is it’s an unchanging election because he loves eternally and when he sets his love upon someone and we are speaking about the love of divine election and salvation that is an immutable and infinite love. So the very fact that he says “his people” would give us a clue that the answer will be of course not, but looking at it from the standpoint of the original text in Greek, the Greeks had a way of letting you know that kind of answer they expected, and so if they used one particle, the answer was no, if they used another particle in an interrogation, the answer would be yes. And here the apostle uses a particle, a negative particle, that expects the answer no. So we would translate this, “I say then, ‘God has not cast away his people has he?’” So that’ll let you know right at the beginning that the answer is no and, I think, although I didn’t look this up this afternoon but the New American Standard Bible, I believe, renders it something like that. So you can see that that’s not something that I’ve invented. The very previous chapter in the last verse of it has said this, “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” And that’s what raises the question, “I say then, ‘God has not cast away his people has he?’”
Now, Paul will answer it and the way he answers it first of all is to suggest the very idea cannot be entertained because his love his immutable. His elective purposes are immutable and so he says, “God forbid.” But then he goes on to say more than that because some people need a little more than that and he goes on to say, “For I too am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” That would let you know that he has not cast away his people because I’m an Israelite and I belong to his people. “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.” Incidentally, this statement, “God hath not cast away his people,” is found three times in the Old Testament in specific statements and so if the persons who are reading Paul’s epistle were familiar with the Old Testament they would know the answer to that question because the Old Testament sets it forth on at least three occasions specifically. So Paul states in verse 2, very plainly that God has not cast away his people which he foreknew. “Don’t you know what the scripture saith of Elijah? How he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying, ‘Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.’ But what saith the answer of God unto him? ‘I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.’” The point of Paul’s comment here is to simply say the idea of a general disavowal of the mass of people is not contrary to the immutable promises of God and so in Elijah’s day Elijah thought that everybody had abandoned the Lord but the prophecies or the narrative in the Old Testament said, “I have reserved for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” So when Elijah thought he was the only one God had a remnant. So the existence of general apostasy but specific remnant salvation is found in the Old Testament.
Now, I want you to notice to how the Old Testament puts it. He says, “But what saith the answer of God unto him?” This is verse 4. “I (that is God) have reserved to myself seven thousand men.” Now, you can see from that that seven thousand in Elijah’s day who had not bowed the need to Baal were the product of God’s activity. “I have reserved to myself.” So that very fact indicates that the salvation that they enjoyed was the result of divine elective grace to them. And in the fifth verse Paul makes the application to the present time. He says, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” The very fact that there is a remnant is indicative of the fact that God has not cast away his people. So today within the Christian church in Paul’s day there is a remnant of Israelitish people.
Now, it’s clear he’s talking about the nation Israel because in verse 21 of chapter 10, he had said, “But to Israel he saith, ‘All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.’” So he’s talking about the people Israel and in verse 5, when he says, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” It’s a remnant of the nation Israel. So we right at the beginning we get an indication of the sense in which the apostle is using the term Israel. So the question of verse 1, is answered by the statement in verse 5, that there is a remnant according the election of grace. God has not cast away his people.
The thought of the election of grace is something that causes the apostle to make a comment concerning grace and so he does. In verse 6, he says, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” Now, you have to read chapter 9, 10 and 11, to get the force of that because that’s what he’s been talking about the way by which individuals come to be righteous before God. And he’s been pointing out that Israel sought to be righteous before God by their works. And so this statement is designed to apply to that, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” Israel is still seeking to be justified by what they do and Paul points out that when a man comes to the knowledge to the truth of God, it’s upon the basis of the principal of grace.
Now, then well what about the failure of the mass. Well, verses 7 through 10 explains further. “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” And now Paul appeals to the Old Testament. Actually, he appeals to three passages from the Old Testament in order to support what he’s saying. The election has obtained what Israel has sought for righteousness, justification before God, but the rest were blinded. Now, you all notice, of course, the apostle is he’s not saying the rest blinded themselves. He saying the rest were blinded. Now, if you have any question about who is responsible for the blinding, well all you have to do is read down through these statements that follow because it’s evident that Paul is talking about divine retribution. Notice what follows, “According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber.” Did you notice that? God hath given them the spirit of slumber. “Eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear; unto this day.” And after appealing to the the law he now appeals to David, “And David saith, ‘Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompense unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.’” So the apostle here points out that the explanation of the present situation is unbelief on the part of the mass of the nation and the mass is suffering divine retribution. A remnant, the elect remnant, is a remnant of people who have been saved by grace. So in effect then, the apostle if saying God has not cast away his people but so far as the mass of the people is concerned the mass have been blinded.
Now, then the apostle goes on in verse 11 through 15, to analyze the present situation a little more carefully. “‘I say then he asks, ‘Have they stumbled that they should fall?’” And, I think, that what he’s talking about is an irrevocable kind of falling. “I say then, ‘Have they stumbled that they should fall?’ God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them, that is Israel, to jealousy.” Now, that’s a remarkable statement that he’s making. You see what he’s saying is that in answer to the question have they stumbled that they should fall? He answers no but as a matter of fact their fall has a further purpose and their fall is that salvation may come to the Gentiles in order to provoke Israel to jealousy.
Now, that may be that may seem very strange but in chapter 10 the apostle has already quoted a text or referred to a text that will explain what he’s talking about. So if you’re puzzled about it turn to chapter 10 in verse 19, and listen as I read that verse, “But I say, ‘Did not Israel know?’ First Moses saith, ‘I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.’” So a long time ago in the song of Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 32 in verse 21, God had said to Israel. Remember he told Moses to give that song to the children of Israel. It was a forecast of the things that would happen to them in the latter days and included in it was this expression. So they would not be surprised when these things did transpire. They depart from the Lord God and as a result of it God will use the Gentiles to provoke them to jealously. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says now in verse 11, “I say then, ‘Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.’” That is to provoke Israel to jealousy.
He continues, “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world.” That is Gentile salvation in the present day. “If the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them.” That is the mass to the remnant. “How much more their fullness?” I’d like for you to notice that carefully because the apostle is arguing that if Jewish disavowal, the disobedience of the mass of the Jewish people has been the occasion of the wide Gentile salvation that the people who were reading the Epistle to the Romans had seen taking place, then what can you expect when the future restoration of Israel takes place in the Gentile world. So the apostle is arguing, as we would say, a fortiori. He’s arguing from something that is less to something that is greater. He’s arguing from something that is less to that something that is greater and so he says, “How much more their fulness? For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine service.” The apostle doesn’t call his apostleship an office he calls it his service. It was a spiritual gift. “If by any means I may provoke to emulation or jealousy them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.” You’ll notice the apostle does not anticipate the salvation of all Israel at the present time but some of them. “For,” he continues in the same kind of argument, “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” So if Israel’s disavowal, Israel’s casting away has been Gentile salvation, we can expect when Israel comes back into the place of blessing through the grace of God a magnificent worldwide salvation that will make this age of Gentile salvation pale in comparison with it. So that is the apostle’s argument.
We call this a fortiori. It means really argument from the stronger and so if one thing is done, something else to sure to be done. You might in by reverse do it something like this. If I don’t have enough confidence in you to let you use my bicycle, I surely will to have enough confidence in you to use my automobile except in my case that won’t work since my automobile will hardly run any time but anyway. [Laughter] In fact, it needs fixing right at the present time. So, but anyway, as a general thing that would be true. If I don’t trust you with my bicycle, I surely would not trust you with my automobile.
Well, now, Pau — remember he’s talking to Gentiles because the church in Rome is largely a Gentile church. So in verse 15 and 16, now he goes on to say, “For if the casting away of them be.” Well, I’ve read that. Verse 16, “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” He’s merely making a comment based on two figures from the Old Testament that support the idea of Israel being the people who have the unconditional promises of God given to them and I suggest for further treatment of that you look at those studies that I’ve referred to but it’s a little complicated. It will waste our time here, I think, to go into detail on verse 16, and the following illustration is understand, is, I think, very understandable otherwise. Just remember this in the Abrahamic covenant God gave unconditional promises to Abraham. He promised him a name. He promised him a seed. He promised him the land. These promises were unconditional and the very way by which they were ratified in Genesis chapter 15, underlined the unconditional character of the Abrahamic promises. Remember, God passed between the pieces of the animals and Abraham was not invited to follow him. A token of the fact that God was committing himself to the Abrahamic promises and committing himself to fulfill them and if we look only at that we would conclude that everything depended upon the Lord God. If someone would say, well surely he’s not going to bless unrepentant people. No, he’s not going to do that but he’s going to make the unrepentant repentant and that’s the point. So beginning now at verse 16, he will or 17, he will illustrate this by his famous illustration of the olive tree. “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree.”
Now, remember when we say here that if some of the branches were broken off, we’re talking in the context here obviously about the mass of Israel. If some of the branches were broken and you being a wild olive tree, that is you Gentiles, were grafted in among them, and them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree.” Paul is simply saying, I think, as plain as can be said that Israel as a nation is disavowed. Gentiles have been grafted in and, furthermore, have become fellow partakers of the Abrahamic promises. That is why the apostle will call in Galatians believers in Christ in the present age seed of Abraham, sons of Abraham not seed of Israel not sons of Israel but seed of Abraham, sons of Abraham. There’s a vast difference between the sons of Israel and the sons of Abraham. So the apostle makes the point then that the Gentiles who belong to the people of God today have the Abrahamic promises. They belong to them. They are fellow partakers of those promises. We’ll see that specifically in Ephesians chapter 3, when we look at it next week, the Lord willing.
We go on to read, “Therefore,” verse 18, “Boast not against the branches,” that is you Gentiles don’t boast against the branches “Because you have been saved and Israel has been cut off. “But if you boast, thou bear not the root, but the root bears you.” In other words, it’s the Abrahamic unconditional promises by which we are blessed not because of our good works. “You will say to me then, you Gentiles, the branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.” And, incidentally, in the Greek text there’s quite a bit of stress on that I. You were broken off, that I, Gentiles, might be grafted in. Well, Paul says, “Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Therefore be not high-minded, but fear:” That’s a warning against Gentile arrogance and pride. “For,” he says, “if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”
Now, it is clear from this that the apostle here is not talking about individual salvation primarily. He’s talking about the movement of national entities Israel, the Gentiles because obviously it’s inappropriate to lay stress upon the fact that an individual who is already in possessing the Abrahamic blessing could be cut off. Verse 23, continues, “And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.” Now, notice again. In other words, the mass of Israel has been cut off in the present day but God has the ability to graft them back in again to restore them to the place of Abrahamic blessing.
And verse 24, explains and adds further not only is he able but it is logical to expect that he will. Listen, “For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree.” The apostle refers to horticulture practices that are quite different from that which we expect but then he talks about contrary to nature doesn’t he? He says wild branches were grafted into good stock. That’s the reverse way that you do graft work. You take cultivated Zion and graft them into wild stock but he says contrary to nature were grafted into a good olive tree how much more, another a fortiori argument, how much more shall these which be the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree. So if Gentiles have taken out of a wild olive and have been brought into the possession of the Abrahamic promises, why there’s even more to be expected, more logically to be expected, that Israel shall be grafted in again to their own olive tree. That’s very striking that he says the olive tree belongs to Israel. In other words, the blessings are those that flow from the Abrahamic covenant and the tree belongs to Israel. It’s their own olive tree and in the Greek text that’s very emphatic. In fact, Paul is making the point their own olive tree. Gentiles possess a salvation that was promised to Abraham and to his seed and when you think about the Scriptures and the Old Testament and the nation Israel and the things that God gave them and realize that our salvation today is the salvation of participation in the blessings that were promised to Abraham and to his seed. It’s their own olive tree.
Now, I don’t want to be quoted too carefully on what I’m going to say but it’s very common for people to talk about the church as being the new Israel. I don’t think that’s a valid thing. Nowhere in the New Testament is the church ever called the new Israel and we’ll point that out later on but as a matter of fact the reverse is more likely true. The church is the old Israel rather than the new Israel but I wouldn’t want to push that to its logical extreme either. The point I’m making is that the blessings that we posses are blessings that were promised to Abram and his seed the term Israel always ethnic Israel and so it’s their own olive tree.
Now, then, with that we come to what you might expect. He has said it’s possible for God to restore Israel to the place that she had. It’s logical to expect that that would happen and now he says it’s been prophesied verse 25 through verse 27, “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel.” After all there’s been a remnant according to the election of grace down through the years. “Until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” Until the full number determined by the elective purpose of God should come in. “And thus all Israel shall be saved.” In other words, this divine program of Israel being cast away, the mass, Israel disavowed as a nation Gentiles being saved in the present day, a limited number of Gentiles called by Paul the full number of those that make up the elect Gentiles peoples of this day. When that particular elect number reaches its consummation then through Gentile or really through the causing of Israel to be jealous as a result of Gentile salvation all Israel shall be saved. That’s what is meant by, “And so all Israel shall be saved and thus.” In this way, that is the way in Deuteronomy 32:21, “by provocation to jealousy by Gentile salvation.” “And so all Israel shall be saved,” and here are the texts of Scripture that shall support it. “As it is written, there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.”
That’s a remarkable citation. I wish I could talk about it in detail. It’s made up of three passages in the Old Testament. The primary one, one that has to do with the Davidic covenant, Isaiah chapter 59, but not only has it contained within it a reference to the Davidic covenant but also a reference to the Abrahamic covenant in the expression “for this is my covenant unto them.” That particular phrase is traceable back to the Abrahamic covenant and, specifically, words in Genesis chapter 17. And then the reference to the taking away of their sins, that is very plainly a reference to the new covenant. So we have all three of the unconditional covenants of the Old Testament: The Abrahamic, the Davidic and the New Covenant combined in a merged quotation in verse 26 and 27. This is the day of mergers in the business world. Well, there is no relationship to this merging of passages from the Old Testament but it’s not uncommon, of course, for the New Testament authors as they cite the Old Testament to cite phrases from different passages and put them together and this is an illustration of it. And this one is so appropriate because these three covenants are unconditional covenants depending upon the sovereign activity of God.
Now, then in verse 28 through verse 32, that as Paul has thought over what has happening and is to happen his thoughts naturally go to God’s overall plan for the nation and the nations and so in verse 29, he in a sense philosophizes in the biblical sense over what God does with the nation and the nations. “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies,” he said, “for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes.” In other words, Israel’s ultimate salvation depends upon divine elective choice, the Abrahamic blessing. “For,” he adds, “the gifts and calling of God are not to be regretted.” Those Abrahamic covenantal promises of the Old Testament made to Abraham and to his seed are promises that God does not regret because he intends to fulfill them. Verse 30, “For as ye in times past have not believed God.” He’s talking about the Old Testament period of time. “Yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.” So the apostle looks over the Old Testament he sees it as a time of Gentile lack of mercy, Jewish mercy, but now at the present time Jewish lack of mercy, Gentile mercy. So he goes on and says, “For God,” and the reason back of this is, “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.”
Now, of course, when Paul says this he is not suggesting in any way that the fact that God has concluded everyone in unbelief means he’s going to universally save everyone. Remember he is talking about the nation and the nations. This is a national chapter, primarily. Individuals are involved, of course, but it’s a national chapter. And so he says, “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief.” That is Jews and Gentiles. “That he might mercy upon all.” That is Jews and Gentiles. And now as you might expect from Paul having spoken about the plan for the nation and the nations, he in a marvelous doxology, extols God’s excrutible wisdom and knowledge which, of course, suggests I haven’t given you everything that could be said about this program of God. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.” So Paul as he thinks about the divine program of the ages as suggestively set forth here glorifies God for his independent sovereignty.
When we think of the sovereignty of God what do we really mean by that? You know there are lots of people who talk about the sovereignty of God and they like to say I believe in the sovereignty of God but when you ask them what they mean by it what it turns out to be the sovereignty of man not the sovereignty of God. What is meant by the term the sovereignty of God? Well, it means, of course, his supremacy. It means his independence. It also means his optional power. That is he has within himself the power to save and to pass by. That’s a power that resides in him alone. We cannot say that when God saves and when he passes by he has to do that because of some power outside of him. That’s optional that would not be optional power. That would be something to which he was responsible and the power would be a power that had control over him. He has the optional power to save and to pass by. Or to put in the terms of this very section of the Epistle to the Romans chapter 9 in verse 15, “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” That’s optional power so supremacy, independence, optional power and then Paul adds, “to whom be glory forever.” All the divine attributes in their perfections represent the glory of God.
Now, let’s turn for few moments to verses 25 through 27, and the statement, “And so all Israel shall be saved.” We don’t have time to deal with this in all of its details but I’d like to say just a few things about it anyway. There are different views that people have taken over the expression, “and so all Israel shall be saved.” Let me say, first of all, that when the apostle uses the term all Israel he doesn’t mean every single individual Israelite. One can turn to passages in the Old Testament and you can see that very plainly. For example, in 1 Kings chapter 12 in verse 1, that precise expression is used and yet the context makes it plain that it doesn’t mean every single Israelite. 2 Chronicles chapter 12 verse 1 through verse 5, has the same usage. Daniel chapter 9 verse 11, has the same usage. The term all Israel is a term that means a nation as a whole, but there may be individuals who do not represent the viewpoint of the nation as a whole or may not be referred to by the nation as a whole.” So when we read here then that “all Israel shall be saved,” we should get out of our mind the idea that Paul is trying to say that every single individual Israelite shall be saved. That’s not what is in his mind at all. He’s talking about the people of God as a whole. That was the way the chapter began. God has not cast away his people has he? Well, in what way have the people been cast aside? Not all of them but the leadership and the great majority.
Now, when he says, “all Israel shall be saved” it’s reasonable to think and the passages of Scripture that bear on this underline it and support it. That what is meant by “all Israel shall be saved” is the great mass of the people together with the leadership shall turn to the Lord in the future.
Now, John Calvin’s view of this was a view that many in the Christian church have held down through the years. For Calvin, the expression “all Israel” was a term that referred to not simply to Israelites but also to Gentiles. So when the text of Scripture reads, “all Israel shall be saved” what Calvin meant by that was all of the elect Israelites and Gentiles are to be saved. Listen to what he says, “Many understand this of the Jewish people as though Paul had said that religion would again be restored among them as before but I extend Israel to all the people of God according to this meaning when the Gentile shall come in the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God which shall be gathered from both, and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place being as it were the first born in God’s family. So for John Calvin then the expression “all Israel” was a reference to both Israel and Gentiles. There are compelling objections to this. First, the term Israel is never used in the New Testament in that sense. In fact, historically, it’s weak too since there’s no evidence that the church was ever identified with Israel before 160 A.D. The early church did not have that usage of the term. Further, in eleven times in which Israel is mentioned of this section of the Epistle to the Romans 9, 10 and 11, in ten of the cases, that is the other ten cases, it’s plain that it means ethnic Israel. Why should we abandon that here? And, finally, such a sense would introduce hopeless confusion into the interpretation of verse 25 and verse 26. If Israel refers to spiritual Israel composed of Jew and Gentiles, what’s the meaning hardening in part has happened to Israel? It wouldn’t make any sense at all and so consequently the viewpoint of Calvin, I hate to admit this, but Calvin was a good interpreter in general. It’s not the teaching of the Apostle Paul.
Another view that has commanded a little bit of attention in recent years has been what I would call the Dutch interpretation. The reason I call it the Dutch interpretation because while there is evidence that it perhaps goes back to Melangthon. The chief propagators of this view have been Dutch theologians. G. C. Berkhouwer, who is retired from the Free University of Amsterdam as professor of systematic theology, and particularly Professor Ridderbos, another reformed theologian in Kampen in the Netherlands, has set forth this view in an exegetical way. Their viewpoint is this that when the text of Scripture says “all Israel shall be saved,” what is meant is that down through the years we may expect a remnant of Israelites to be saved, to be part of the Christian church and so the expression “all Israel shall be saved” is simply a statement to the effect that all of the remnants that have existed down through the years will be saved, so there is not to be expected a future ethnic conversion of the nation as a whole. This is the view of Berkhouwer, Ridderbos, Anthony Hoekema in the present day, who has followed them very closely, and several other men whose names it’s not necessary to mention.
In my opinion, there are weighty objections to this and again I suggest that you read the section that I wrote on this particular point although I didn’t select all of the reasons that could have been used against that view. But first of all, it must be kept in mind constantly that the passage has to do with Israel as a nation, as a people. As a people, they’ve been rejected. They’ve fallen away and the mass of the people, the majority, have rebelled and have been hardened. The figures of the passage are collective in nature not individualistic in nature people olive tree. And what is prophesied in this passage is a reversal of the present situation in this collective sense. Notice that statement God is able to graft them in again. So the same sense in which they had been cut off is the sense in which they are to be restored.
Anthony Hoekema whose defense of the Dutch view, has found in his fine book of eschatology takes all Israel to be simply the sum of the remnants of Jewish believers in the church throughout history but the sum of the remnants cannot equal all Israel as the usage of the term indicates. The sum of the remnants through the ages is still the remnant within Israel. We should never forget that.
Secondly, there are two related concepts in the passage that militate against Hoekema’s view or the Dutch view. There is the concept of the reversal of fortune as I’ve mentioned. The other concept is that of the future transsummation of Israel’s status before God. The note of the future tense found here should not be overlooked. In verse 24, we read, “Shall be grafted into their own olive tree.” Then in verse 26, “And so all Israel shall be saved.”
Third, if all that Paul means in this section that there is a taking place a constant grafting in a believing Israelites into the olive tree since this would have been a rather obvious truth, why would the question God is not rejected his people has he never have arisen in the first place. If all that is meant is imply elect people from Israel shall be saved. The first question with which the chapter deals has God cast away his people could hardly have become the cause for an entire chapter from the hand of the Apostle Paul.
And then fourth, and very important, the a fortiori arguments of verse 12 and verse 15, taken together with the future sense of the passage support the doctrine of the ethnic future of Israel. In the case of Berkhouwer and Hoekema and Ridderbos, there is no real casting away and no real receiving, no imposition of judicial hardening, and no lifting of judicial hardening. And further, well, I won’t go into details. We don’t have time to do this but if you will look at Romans chapter 11 in verse 12, and then verse 15, you will find that the pronouns have to be given different sense. In verse 12, he says, “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world.” Well, that’s the nation as a whole. “And the diminishing of them the nation as a whole the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” But that’s not the nation as a whole there. That’s simply the elect Israelites according to that interpretation. Or verse 15, “For if the casting away of them the whole nation be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be.” Now, we have to supply them but that’s the sense. “What shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” So the thems have to be two different kinds of thems. So exegetically that view is extremely weak. It cannot in my opinion be supported.
I have five, six, and seven some more reasons too. I’ll mention them very quickly for you. Hoekema equates the continuing remnant with all Israel but the context of the chapter certainly seems to contrast them. In other words, we have the remnant in verse 5. We have all Israel in verse 26. Those two expressions are contrasted in this passage. There’s a remnant today but all Israel shall be saved. According to that view, there’s no contrast. It’s simply the remnant down through the years that are saved and after all, is that very much of a surprise that the elect people shall be saved. I don’t see how that could have been any question at all when you come to the conclusion. What the Dutch view says essentially is elect people shall be saved. Well, that conclusion to my mind as about as weak as you could have and certainly very vapid and doesn’t have any real point. In Romans, of course, the elect people are going to be saved. Why is there any need to mention such a thing?
Sixth, in verse 23, Paul says that Israel shall grafted in again. If this is said of the remnant as Hoekema says how can this take place. The remnant of the elect were never broken off if they are elect people and the remnant is elect people. How can they be broken off? They were never broken off. So it’s obvious the grafting in again of Israel must be then the grafting in again of those broken off the mass of the nation or the nation as a whole, his people who have been cast away but shall be received again by virtue of the faithfulness of God to the covenantal promises made to them.
Seventh, I ought to stop at number seven but the interpretation of Berkhouwer and the others destroys the climactic element in Paul the statement that all Israel shall be saved. As I said, if all that is meant is that the elect of national Israel shall be saved well then that’s a very weak conclusion from a magnificent chapter.
And, finally, while there’s reason for honest difference over this the Scriptural citation Isaiah 59:20 and 21, chapter 17 verse 9 the Book of Genesis, chapter 27 of Isaiah, and combined also with the phrase from Jeremiah that quotation refers to the messianic salvation at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and not to the first coming and therefore, that requires a future salvation of the nation Israel. There’re other reasons that I could give but for the sake of time I won’t do it.
I am just amazed. I am really astounded and amazed that individuals who do exegetical work could actually come up with an interpretation like that and persuade some good men that it’s a valid interpretation. The only thing I can say that there is a characteristic that belongs to all of us as students of the Bible and to me as well, we really hate to face interpretations that we have not held or thought were wrong. We tend to hold to our interpretations no matter that if God shines the greatest of light upon us we refuse to respond to them. It’s really a lesson to us and we are responsible to the word of God and to remember it’s the word of God to which we are to be responsible.
It’s like Mr. Hendriksen whose commentaries have been very helpful to me in many ways. William Hendriksen is now with the Lord and I’m sure he’s saying Lewis please tell them I was wrong on this point but when it came to Galatians chapter 6 in verse 16, and the expression the Israel of God he couldn’t bring himself to believe that the term Israel of God could be a reference to true believing Israelites. And so this is what he said, “I refuse to accept that interpretation.” You refuse to accept an interpretation on what ground. Well, you just refuse to accept an interpretation and as I wrote in the article having to do with that it reminded of Irving Kristol’s famous comment, famous to me, “When we lack the will to see things as they really are there’s nothing so mysterious as the obvious.”
So let me sum up then in just a word the view of the present age by Paul in Romans 11. Today is a time of Jewish disavowal. Now, of course, that’s precisely what James said. James said, “Today is the day of limited Gentile salvation,” and he said that in the context of Jewish disavowal. Today is the time of Gentile reconciliation. Paul says that in verse 12, “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” Notice the expression the riches of the world the Gentile world. Further, he will say, “blindness in part has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles have come in.” That’s the elect number of Gentiles God visiting the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name. They’re all known to God. The number of them too and you know even God knows the names of them. And he knows that one of them is Lewis Johnson and you can put your name there too. That’s the second character of the present age. Paul agrees with James and of course, James had the hope of the restoration of the Davidic dynasty and the building again of the tent of David and of course we’ve already referred to that in the citation in verse 26 and 27, when we read, “There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, to turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.”
In other words, Paul and James have the same view of the present age Jewish disavowal, limited Gentile salvation, but the hope of national salvation for Israel and worldwide Gentile blessing; all the Gentiles as Amos put and James citing and here in Paul such a thing as life from the dead. So they would have agreed and this place and this at least I stand with the apostle and the brother of our Lord.
Let’s bow together in a word of prayer.
[Prayer] Father we are grateful to Thee for this magnificent chapter, which we’ve only been able to survey. We thank Thee for the marvelous unfolding of all of the things that Thou art doing in the present day. We thank Thee for the faithfulness of God to the covenantal promises that Thou hast not cast away Thy people for we belong to that [End of Tape]