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Israel and Salvation – Romans 11

Read the Passage: Romans 11

God’s Remnant (11:1–10)

In Romans 9, Paul expressed his personal desire to see ethnic Israel saved, he showed that the present apostasy of Israel was prophesied in the Old Testament, and he defended God’s righteousness. In Romans 10, Paul furthered his discussion about the restoration of Israel by mentioning the Jews’ error of pursuing salvation by law-keeping, arguing that salvation is always by faith alone, and highlighting the need to spread the gospel. Paul begins Romans 11 by noting that “God [has not] cast away His people” (Rom. 11:1). In other words, despite the Jews’ apostasy, God’s predetermined love for and covenant with Israel will always prevail. This is continually evident by the salvation of a remnant of Jews in every era. Paul writes that this included himself—among many others—in New Testament times and Elijah—among 7,000+ others—in the Old Testament era. God is always faithful.

In Rom. 11:1–6 Paul taught that God is not unjust in saving the Gentiles before the Jews. This discussion prompted him to revisit an argument he had addressed earlier in Rom. 9:30–32—namely, the apparent injustice of God in redeeming the Gentiles who were not seeking Him, while not saving the Jews who were purportedly seeking God. In Rom. 9:30–32 Paul taught the reason why God did not redeem Israel is because they sought salvation by law-keeping, while the Gentiles eventually pursued salvation by faith alone. Consequently, concerning salvation, Paul writes, “The elect (i.e., the Gentiles) have obtained it, and the rest (i.e., the Jews) were blinded” (Rom. 11:7). This divine judicial blinding was meted out because of the hardness of Israel’s heart. In Rom. 11:8–10 Paul quotes Isa. 29:10; Deut. 29:4; Ps. 69:22–23 to make the point that the blinding of Israel was taught in the Old Testament.

God’s Plan (11:11–24)

In Rom. 11:11–15 Paul clarifies, in part, why God chose to redeem the Gentiles over the Jews—that is, “To provoke them (i.e., the Jews) to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:11). As he’ll explain in this passage, Paul brings this up to prevent the Gentiles from becoming haughty. In fact, twice in the space of four verses Paul observes that if the Jews’ fall resulted in blessing for the world, how much more of a blessing will it be when the Jews are redeemed. Paul writes, “Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! . . . For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Rom. 11:12,15). In between these verses Paul reveals that a main reason why he ministered to the Gentiles was to provoke the Jews to jealousy and salvation.

In Rom. 11:16–24 Paul continues his warning to the Gentiles about not being prideful or arrogant, as he utilizes a horticultural illustration. Here Paul reminds his Gentile readers that they were branches from a wild olive tree, which God chose to graft into His own cultivated olive tree. This illustration would have been understood in the agrarian culture of the biblical era. Moreover, the picture of an olive tree was used in the Old Testament to refer to Israel (cf. Jer. 5:10; 11:16–17). There is no place for boasting among Gentile believers, nor for anti-Semitism, as the grafted olive branches (i.e., the Gentiles) are completely supported by the root (i.e., Christ), not vice-versa. Furthermore, Paul warns that it was the pride of original olive branches (i.e., the Jews) that caused them to be pruned off. In addition, Paul teaches that if the Jews pursue Christ by faith, they will be grafted back into their own cultivated olive tree.

God’s Mercy (11:25–36)

In Rom. 11:25–36 Paul cites Isa. 59:20–21 to remind his Gentile readers that the nation of Israel is “beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Rom. 11:28). In other words, God’s covenant with the patriarchs, which included a promise of salvation, will one day come true. As Paul demonstrated earlier (cf. Rom. 9:6–13), this does not mean that all genetic Jews will one day be redeemed. Indeed, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Thus, when Paul claims in Rom. 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved,” he is not referring to all people who have ever lived who are part of the Jewish gene pool. Rather, he is using the term “Israel” to refer to God’s people—that is, the elect or those who put their faith and trust in Christ—which includes both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Gal. 3:29; 6:16). That the church is made of Gentiles and Jews is a “mystery” (Rom. 11:25) that moves Paul to praise God in Rom. 11:33–36.

Application Questions:

  1. What is God’s future plan for ethnic Israel? After salvation, is there any difference between a Jew and a Gentile who come to faith in Christ?
  2. Like Elijah in 1 Kings 19:10, have you ever felt like you were the only Christian present within a given context? If so, how did God comfort you?
  3. Is God unjust in blinding the spiritual eyes of those who do not seek Him? In practice, is it easier for a moral person or an immoral person to be saved?
  4. What causes spiritual pride? How can we keep ourselves from becoming prideful, especially when God is pleased to do great spiritual works in and through us?
  5. What does Paul mean in writing that “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26)? To whom is Paul referring in this passage and how will they be saved?
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