What about Israel? (Part three)
© C. O. Bishop 2/29/16 THCF 4/10/16
We have begun exploring Paul’s treatise in Romans chapters 9-11, explaining the current state of Israel, and how they still fit into God’s plans. Paul has already said how he feels toward Israel, not just as a nation, but specifically toward his fellow Jews. We saw how they rejected Jesus when He lived among them, and rejected His offer of salvation by grace through faith alone. The result has been that the Gentiles who were not even looking for a savior were then offered salvation…and many have joyfully received Him.
But Israel, who claimed to be seeking righteousness, and to be waiting for the Messiah, sought to do so by works of the Law, and had rejected faith. So, when their Messiah arrived, they rejected Him out of hand, as most still do today. They stumbled over the stumbling-stone that God set up throughout all the ages. Faith in a substitutionary sacrifice has always been the stumbling point. Cain rejected the blood sacrifice, and most people do, today, as a matter of fact. Jews and Gentiles alike stumble over this issue. But the Jews are a special tragedy, since it was their king, their Messiah, for whom they had waited, who they ultimately rejected.
What is Israel’s Position, Now?
10: 1Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
So, where does that leave Israel? Has God abandoned them? Paul says they do have a zeal for God, but not based on a genuine knowledge of His righteousness; that because they are ignorant (agnoountes…without knowledge) of the holy righteousness of God, they have worked to establish their own style of righteousness, sourced in self-will; they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. This is true of non-Jews, too. We insist that we can have a “do-it-yourself” salvation; a self-righteous standing before a holy God. Throughout the Bible, when people saw God, they usually collapsed in despair, seeing their own unrighteousness compared to His eternal Holiness. Isaiah 6 says that when the prophet Isaiah saw the LORD, he said “Woe is me! I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips!” The Apostle John simply collapsed. The prophet Daniel was in similar condition. No one who truly sees the holiness of God will ever again see himself as sufficient.
Paul goes on to further explain the plight of the Jews. He makes no excuses for their position, but also does not treat them as being “beyond hope”: Quite the contrary; his greatest desire is that they might be saved. They are his family, in the broader sense. He says that in terms of the righteousness of God (which they claim to desire), they have truly missed the point:
4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
The End of the Law for Righteousness
Paul declares that, had they embraced their Messiah, (as they say they will do, if He ever shows up, but in fact they did not do, when He did arrive), they would now be free from the Law of Moses as pertaining to personal righteousness.
5 For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.
Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5, here: under the Law, it was said, “if you do these things you will live.” That is not what the Gospel says. Moses brought a Law, saying “DO THIS and live!” The Law (and most Human religions) says “DO!” (“Do or Die”, in fact.) But Jesus offers something entirely different: in Romans 7 we saw that the Law was specifically inaugurated to show us that we CAN’T “do the things of righteousness.” The more we understand the righteousness of God, the more completely we realize the hopelessness of attempting to achieve such righteousness through our own efforts. And that was the intent of the Law: that we should be driven to the Messiah as our only hope. So: Jesus died to fulfil the demands of the Law toward sinners (you and me), and said “it is finished!” Where the Law said “Do!” Jesus said “It’s Done!”
If they knew the Messiah, they would know that the righteousness He provides puts an end to the involvement of the Law in producing righteousness. Law never could produce righteousness; it could only advertise the lack thereof. The Jews constantly thought that they could produce righteousness through works, just as most world religionists insist today. God says they can’t. In fact, Paul pointed out in Galatians 2:21 that, if righteousness could be attained by means of the Law, then Jesus died for nothing.
Here, in Romans 10, he simply says that Christ is the “end of the Law for righteousness”, to everyone that believes. The word “end” is “telos” in Greek…and it simply means “the end”: “termination”…not “fulfillment”. Yes, Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law; but in this passage, it clearly says he was the end of the law for righteousness. Law keeping is not even to be the outward sign of righteousness, in this age. Jesus said (John 13:34, 35) “by this shall all men know ye are my disciples”…how? If you keep the law? No: “If you have love one to another.”
6 But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)
7 Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)
8 But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Paul points out the sharp contrast between Law and Grace. Grace says that the word of faith, preached by Christ and all his servants, is the truth; and that “if you believe it…you shall be saved.” Notice I left out the “confess” part. Not because confession of faith is not important, but because the faith part is what saves you. Genuine faith will result in confession of that faith, but a strict adherence to the idea that “confession with the mouth” is part of what saves you would exclude every mute person in history. Jesus said that whoever believes the Gospel has eternal life now, period. (John 5:24) Paul reiterated it when he told the Philippian Jailer, (Acts 16:31) “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved!”
Calling Upon the Name of the Lord
12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
What does it mean to “call upon the name of the Lord?” By the host of passages that say, “believe…and be saved”, “look, and live”, etc., I would say that believing the Gospel, and claiming Jesus as your only hope for salvation is what moves a person from “death row” to full release in Christ. It requires a conscious decision: no one is “born saved”. If anyone tells me “Oh, I’ve always been a Christian!” I have serious doubts that they are saved at all. When we talk about “repentance” (which comes up a lot in scripture), usually the Greek word is “metanoia”…meaning a “change of mind”. There is a conscious change of mind involved, in choosing to take Jesus Christ as your savior…in deciding that His blood sacrifice is the payment for your sins. Whether it is public or private, spoken or silent, that decision must be made.
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
Paul points out an interesting chain of ideas, here: He says, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (quoting Joel 2:32). That implies a conscious decision…a choice. Then he poses a series of questions: “How can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe on Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?” This is “Missions,” friends! He is flatly telling you that if people don’t hear the Gospel they will not be saved. And that, if we are to be a part of the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we have to either be sending preachers or going ourselves as preachers. It can’t be any clearer. But obedience is scarce.
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Paul concludes that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”. That is a pretty solid passage pointing out the necessity of hearing and believing the Gospel, for salvation. We could already have concluded such a thing by reading Jesus’ promise in John 5:24 and many other, similar passages; Jesus said, “He that hears my Word and believes on Him who sent me, has eternal life…” Sounds pretty clear, all right. The problem is the response of the people. Paul states the problem, in the next few verses: Not everyone who hears the Gospel believes it.
18 But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.
19 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.
20 But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.
21 But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.
Israel, as a nation, has rejected the message of the Gospel, the messengers of the Gospel (the apostles and prophets) and the Messiah of the Gospel, Jesus Christ. So, can the Jews be saved?
Of course they can, exactly the same as anyone else! Unbelief is not the “unforgiveable sin”; otherwise every person in history would be unredeemable: we are all guilty of unbelief at one level or another. When a rebellious, proud, self-centered unbeliever (as I was) changes his mind (that is what “repentance” means) and chooses Jesus for his blood-sacrifice for sin, he is saved…regardless of his past unbelief and other sins.
Is Israel still God’s chosen people? Absolutely…but they are having a “time-out” right now. The time is coming when they will again be central to God’s rule on Earth…He says that His reign will be from Jerusalem, and that all the inhabitants of that city will be Holy to God, and they will be a nation of priests…a kingdom of priests. This is not the same as the promise that the Church will be kings and priests. We are a different group. The promises to Israel are to Israel. The promises to the Church are to the Church.
Paul points out, also, that they have had more than adequate warning. God said that the sound of the message has gone out to the whole earth, and that He would make His people jealous through a foolish nation, and through insignificant peoples (from human perspective, as they did not comprise nations, or clear-cut ethnic groups, but were simple tribes and villages.) He said that people who had made no attempt to seek the God of Israel, were going to find him, while the people who claim to be seeking God, are in fact being sought constantly by the one true God, and have consistently ignored His voice, down through the millennia…and so fail to see Him.
“Replacement Theology” is a Snare
There have been people for centuries—whole cults, in some cases—who have gotten the idea that the Church is the “new Israel”, and that God has permanently replaced Israel with the Church or even some particular nation. (There was quite a movement that believed Britain had replaced Israel, but it has lost momentum.) I don’t know how anyone can read Romans 9-11 and still believe that God had rejected Israel permanently. Perhaps, in their desire to “claim the promises” made to Israel, they honestly believe that they can seize the promises by fulfilling the Law at one level or another. But they are missing the point of relationship.
When I was a child, my father offered each of us kids $5 (a lot of money back then) to memorize a certain poem (Rudyard Kipling’s “If”). Suppose a neighbor child up the street had taken the initiative to memorize the poem, and tried to claim that prize? Should Dad have felt compelled to honor a promise he never offered to that child? There was a relationship involved: we were his offspring, and it was an exclusive relationship, whether anyone else approved or not. Could he have chosen to include them? Of course he could, but he was under no obligation to do so.
God entered into an exclusive, unilateral covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. God made the promise, and there was nothing for Abraham to do but believe it. In similar manner God has continued to broaden and extend that relationship through faith to believers ever since.
But part of the promise was to the physical “seed” of Abraham. That promise, including the land and the lineage of the Messiah, was continually narrowed, not broadened. It was narrowed to Isaac, in exclusion of Ishmael, as well as Midian, and his five brothers; sons of Abraham with Keturah. (By the way, the promise to Isaac was never rescinded.) It was later narrowed to Jacob, in exclusion of Esau. Part of the promise (the coming Messiah) was narrowed to the house of David, and then many generations later, it specifically excluded Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah, or Coniah), by name, saying that none of his offspring would inherit the crown, because of specific sin in his life. Finally, it centered upon the person of Jesus, who was the son of David through Mary; bypassing the cursed line of Jeconiah (from whom Joseph was descended), via the virgin birth. But the promise of the land remained to the children of Jacob—Israel—no other nation, or people. The Priesthood still was exclusively offered to the house of Aaron. None of those things changed until the destruction of the temple. Even now, if Israel was to rebuild the temple, they would have to come up with some Levites, and, hopefully, sons of Aaron, to serve as priests. But Jesus is the High Priest, in heaven, and will eventually reign on earth.
The promises to the Church are different, and not earthly, as a whole. They are heavenly in nature, and while we have the privilege of serving the God of Israel, we are in a different (and better) relationship. Ironically, any Jew today who believes in Jesus as his Messiah becomes part of this “New Man”, and is no longer technically part of Israel. He has “upgraded” to being part of the Bride of Christ. He is no longer just a “guest” at the wedding feast, but a part of the Bride.
How Should We Then Respond to Israel?
Once, years ago, I unexpectedly received an upgrade from economy to business class on an airliner. I was amazed at the difference in accommodations, leg-room, comfort and food! I was on the same aircraft as before, but in a completely different area, and was being treated accordingly. At the wedding feast of the Lamb, there will be many guests…but the Bride is in a special category. Don’t try to move into the “guest” area, when you are part of the Bride.
We must recognize the importance of Israel, and pray for the peace of Jerusalem: we are called to do both. Value the Jews highly, as a group, and as individuals. Reach out to them in friendship and Love. But don’t try to become a “part of Israel”, by attempting to keep the feasts and the Law. Continue to invite them to become part of the Bride, by Grace, through Faith.
Lord Jesus, help us to walk in the reality of our blessed relationship with the King, and seek to reach others for your Glory!