Romans and the Fate of Israel by A. Andrew Das

In the Left Behind novels—the inspiration for the 2014 Nicholas Cage movie—Christian believers are raptured away during a seven-year period of tribulation on earth. The seven years end with the inauguration of Christ’s thousand-year earthly reign from Jerusalem. Such “dispensational” views of the end time derive their position from biblical texts and emphasize the unique role of the modern nation of Israel at the end of time. Central to this position is Rom 11:26, where Paul announces that “all Israel will be saved.” But whom does the Jewish apostle really have in mind?

What does Romans 11:26 mean?

Rom 11:26 continues a line of argument begun already much earlier. At the end of Rom 8 (e.g., Rom 8:15, Rom 8:17, Rom 8:28-29, Rom 8:33), Paul had claimed that the privileges and heritage of historic Israel would be given to believers in Christ. This bestowal of Israel’s prerogatives on believers in Christ, including non-Jews, leads Paul immediately to lament for the people of Israel (Rom 9:1-5). He refuses to give up on his fellow Israelites despite the failure of many to agree with his claims about Christ. He tackles the problem in stages, but it all leads to Rom 11:26’s climactic claim that “all Israel will be saved.”

Some interpreters have argued that the “all Israel” being saved in Rom 11:26 is a church inclusive of both Jews and non-Jews. The fatal flaw in this approach, despite its popularity, is that Paul has been very careful throughout Rom 9-11 to distinguish “Israel” from non-Jewish gentiles. Paul may have stated that not all “Israelites truly belong to Israel” (Rom 9:6), but he quickly explains that he is not talking about gentiles. Rather, he is talking about a subgroup within ethnic Israel. Romans 11 explains the difference by using the metaphor of natural and wild olive branches. Gentiles may benefit from Israel’s history and heritage, but they remain the wild branches. When Rom 11:25-26 speaks of “all Israel,” then, Paul is continuing to carefully distinguish between what God is doing for the gentiles and what God is doing for Israel. Ultimately, Paul is holding out hope for his own people even in the face of the rejection by many of the Messiah Jesus. He maintains that Jesus is Lord of all, Jew and non-Jew, and that all are to place their faith in him (Rom 10:9-13). Yet, Paul explains, the people of Israel remain firmly within God’s plans.

Do those plans necessarily include a nation-state like modern Israel?

Consider Paul’s comments in Rom 4. Paul explains that both the circumcised and uncircumcised who place their faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 4:24-25) are descendants of Abraham—and the promises are even grander. Paul envisions that Abraham’s descendants would inhabit not a single nation or land, but the entire world (Rom 4:13)! The Left Behind novels are right to affirm God’s irrevocable promises to the historic people, but Paul never imagines a nation-state of Israel. He envisions the gentiles’ worldwide inclusion among God’s people spurring his own people to faith in the Messiah Jesus. Paul’s hope was to take the gospel message to one of the furthest reaches of his world, Spain (Rom 15:23-24Rom 15:28).

A. Andrew Das, "Romans and the Fate of Israel", n.p. [cited 24 Oct 2021]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/passages/related-articles/romans-and-the-fate-of-israel

Contributors

das-andrew

A. Andrew Das
professor of religious studies and assistant dean of the faculty, Elmhurst University

A. Andrew Das is a professor of religious studies and assistant dean of the faculty at Elmhurst University. He is the author or editor of eight books, including Paul and the Stories of Israel, Solving the Romans Debate, and Scripture, Texts, and Tracings in Romans.

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

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Rom 11:26

26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”

Rom 11:26

26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”

Rom 8:15

15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Rom 8:17

17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Rom 8:28-29

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predest ... View more

Rom 8:33

33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

Rom 9:1-5

God's Election of Israel
1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—2I have great sorrow and unceasing angu ... View more

Rom 11:26

26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”

Rom 11:26

26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”

Rom 9-11

God's Election of Israel
1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—2I have great sorrow and unceasing angu ... View more

Rom 9:6

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel,

Rom 11:25-26

All Israel Will Be Saved
25So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come ... View more

Rom 10:9-13

9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes w ... View more

Rom 4

The Example of Abraham
1What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has someth ... View more

Rom 4:24-25

24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses a ... View more

Rom 4:13

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

Rom 15:23-24

23 But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on ... View more

Rom 15:28

28So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain;

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