Kingdom of God Q&A: Question Three
Romans 11 seems to speak of 3 separate groups of people: the remnant Israel, whom God had foreknew, the Gentiles, and the nation Israel. Is that correct? Does God make a distinction between the remnant and the nation Israel, or does God consider them one? What does Paul mean in Romans 11:26 (All Israel will be saved)?
Paul wrote Romans 9-11 to address Israel’s unbelief, considering God’s mercy toward sinners. He also addresses the issue of the election of Israel as the people of God. In Romans 8:38-39, Paul proclaimed:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This promise brings up the obvious question of Israel, whom God has set His love upon (Deut 7:7-9). Paul spends the following three chapters carefully addressing this question.
In Romans 9:1-5, Paul affirms his love for the Israelites. He also confirms that they are the ones who received all the promises of God. The Messiah even came from them. In 9:6-7, Paul states:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.”
In 9:6, Paul makes the case that Israel’s rejection of God does not nullify God’s promises to His people. This chapter proves that God has always preserved His remnant, who are the children of the promise (Romans 9:8). Paul’s purpose for writing this section helps us understand what he is saying in Romans 11.
The first question is who does Paul have in mind when he refers to Israel. His statement in 9:6 helps us understand this concept. He says, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel,” In other words, when Paul refers to Israel, he speaks of ethnic Israel – those who have descended from Israel. Among that group, God has always had a remnant according to His sovereign choice. Therefore, there is a subset of ethnic Israel who is saved according to God’s choice.
This answer leads us to the second question. Who is the remnant, which Paul refers to in Romans 11:5?
In the same way then, there has also come to be, at the present time, a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.
Notice that Paul says that there is a remnant “at the present time.” He refers to Israelites who have heard the Gospel and believed in Jesus as their Messiah in the church age. Starting from the beginning of the church, God has always preserved a remnant of Jews who trust in Jesus. These believing Jews are part of the church, along with believing Gentiles. According to Paul, Christ has removed the dividing wall and made the two groups into one within the church (Ephesians 2:14).
Therefore, Paul seems to have three different groups in mind – believing Gentiles and believing Jews who form the church he calls the remnant (Romans 11:5). He also refers to ethnic Israel. They are those who are Israel by descent but have rejected Jesus as the Messiah. One question remains. What is the future of ethnic Israel? Paul addresses this concern in Romans 11:25-27 –
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” “This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”
According to Paul, the hardening of Israel’s heart is partial (not complete) and will continue until all the elect of the Gentiles have come to know God. At a time yet future, “all Israel will be saved.” I would argue that Paul is referring to the entire nation surviving at the end of the tribulation. During that time, God will purify His people such that only those who are His will safely pass through His judgment into the Millennial Kingdom. At that time, a Deliverer will come from Zion and will remove the sins of His people. This number will include the 144,000 plus those who have repented at the hearing of their preaching. And the word of the two witnesses. In the words of John MacArthur, “They will be completely a nation of believers who are ready for the kingdom of the Messiah Jesus.”
Paul’s words in Romans 11 fully meshes with Jeremiah’s prophecy of a New Covenant with the house of Israel and Judah.
“At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:1)
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:27).