Before you think I have changed the gospel, let me be clear. The Jewish people did not atone for the salvation of the nations. That is not what this blog is about. Only Yeshua, through his sacrifice, can do that. It is only faith in his atoning death that can achieve salvation. But Israel did pay a price so that his message could be spread throughout the nations. At least, that seems to be what Paul is teaching, backed up by 2,000 years of history.
Romans 9-11 teaches that Israel’s rejection of Yeshua was connected to the Gentiles receiving salvation. But how does this make sense theologically? Why couldn’t God save Israel and the nations at the same time? “Thus, for some reason, the ingathering of the Gentiles requires a partial hardening of Israel. But why is this the case?” asks Mark Kinzer.
The answer is that Israel’s salvation would trigger the Second Coming. Both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament predict that the mass ingathering of Jews will cause the events leading to the Parousia and the Messianic age.
- Zechariah 12-14 reveals a national turning of Israel to Messiah (12:10), leading to mass forgiveness (13:1), which probably comes after the events at the beginning of Zechariah 14, judgment, leading to Messiah’s appearance on behalf of Israel and the kingdom’s establishment: “The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name” (Zech. 14:9).
- Revelation 1:7 speaks of the “those who pierced him” mourning at the Second Coming—a clear reference to “the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” from Zechariah 12:10.
- Matthew 23:39 predicts the Orthodox Jews of Jerusalem will one day welcome Yeshua. Paul, in Romans 11, speaks about the “greater riches” that will come with Jewish acceptance (v. 12), even using the words “life from the dead” (v. 15), a probable reference to the first resurrection (Rev. 20:5-6).
- The rabbis agree. “[W]ell-attested rabbinic tradition” also claims, “Israel’s repentance triggers the eschaton.”
In other words—if mass Jewish acceptance “trigger’s” the Second Coming, then God had to enforce Israel’s rejection, or the nations would be lost. This is the view of Terence Donaldson, “If Israel’s acceptance of Christ will accompany—indeed, precipitate—the Parousia (Second Coming), and if the Parousia represents the termination of the Gentiles’ opportunity for salvation, then Israel’s immediate acceptance of the gospel would have meant the closing of the door to the Gentiles.” Elizabeth Johnson adds:
Paul shares with several of his Jewish and Christian contemporaries a conviction that Israel’s repentance and faithfulness to God will inaugurate the eschaton (Messianic Age). From that vantage point, Israel’s immediate positive response to the gospel would have initiated the judgment and left the Gentile world under a death sentence. Only by God’s gracious restraint of Israel are the Gentiles successfully evangelized.
Israel’s Hardening and the Church’s Response
But “God’s gracious restraint of Israel,” for the benefit of the Gentiles, has been the greatest source of suffering for the Jewish people. Romans 9 teaches that God can harden whom he desires (v. 18) and have compassion and mercy on whom he wishes (v. 15 [from Ex. 33:19]). Romans 11:7-10 confirms that God did indeed harden his people, and v. 11 says their rejection because of this hardness brought the gospel to the Gentiles.
Ironically it was those “objects of his mercy,” Gentiles who benefited from Israel’s hardening, who became the primary persecutors of the Jewish people. Dr. Michael Brown recounts how the anti-Jewish rhetoric of the church fathers led to the shedding of the “blood of countless thousands of Jewish martyrs,” as he summarizes St. John Chrysostom’s (400 CE) sermons in these few words: “the Jewish people, the killers of Christ, are fit for slaughter.” Instead of recognizing that God himself, with a heavy heart, hardened them for the sake of the nations, the Church viciously persecuted the Jewish people for their rejection of Jesus. They had no idea that the rejection by Israel held open the doors of salvation for the nations—even until today.
David Pawson claims, “Chapter 11 is the climax of the letter in which Paul rebukes Gentile believers for their arrogance toward his own Jewish people.” He goes on to share, “Three times in chapter 11, [Paul] accuses the gentile believers in Rome of arrogance.” His purpose for Romans 11:25 was to warn the Romans that failure to understand this mystery (that God hardened Israel and has a plan for their return) would lead to conceit and pride over Israel. And sadly, that is exactly what happened!
Yet, the hardening was only “in part” and for a season. 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 50 righteous men. God agrees, and Abraham continues, getting God 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 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’?
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?
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. “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). Will God answer that prayer? Stephen enters into this type of intercessory love and prays the same on his killers. There is no prayer as these powerful as these types of priestly prayers. 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 as 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 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).
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.
Israel’s tragic role brings deep drama to the theological narrative of the past 2,000 years. Have Gentile believers fully understood how Israel suffered for their sake? What will their response be when they realize that the people they attacked made their salvation even possible? 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.
  Mark Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2005), 127.
 Kinzer, 127.
 Terrance Donaldson, Paul and the Gentiles: Remapping the Apostle’s Convictional World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 222.
E. Elizabeth Johnson, “Romans 9–11: The Faithfulness and Impartiality of God,” in Pauline Theology, vol. 3, ed. David M. Hay and E. Elizabeth Johnson (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002), 232.
 Clearly a reference to the Gentiles who came in, but not excluding Jewish believers (see v. 24).
 Michael Brown, Christian Antisemitism: Confronting the Lies in Today’s Church (Lake Mary: Charisma, 2021), 2.
 Brown, 2.
 David Pawson, A Commentary on Romans (Ashford: Anchor Recordings, 2015), 12.
 Pawson, 101.
 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.