Reflections on Israel's Salvation: Looking at Romans 11

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
The Liberator will come from Zion;
He will turn away godlessness from Jacob.
-Romans 11:26

The Salvation of Israel

All of Israel will be saved.  Does this mean the State of Israel, or all of ethnic Israel?  And is this going to happen at a certain time?  When we study this phrase and then look at it in context, the answer is very simple and clear.

The key that helps us understand are the previous words, that answer the question of 'how?', and they are, "in this way".  What is this way that Israel will be saved?  The answer is: All of Israel that will be saved, may be saved in the same way that Paul and the remnant of Jews in his day were saved, and that is through faith in the gospel.

Israel will be saved as they respond in faith and receive mercy from God, in the same way and through the same mercy, in which God saves any and all peoples.  The offer of mercy has gotten more appealing, interesting, and attractive; in the light of the Gentiles taking God up on his offer of salvation.

The Letter to The Roman Church

What about God's promises to Israel?  Was God's faithfulness to believers in Christ taking over his faithfulness to Israel?  These are questions that Paul addresses in the passage of Romans nine through eleven.

These chapters seem like an aside, for modern Gentile readers.  Chapter 8 ends on the glorious and triumphant expression of Christian faith that says:
For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
And chapter 12 begins with a big therefore, that says in a sense, in light of all this teaching, here are some thoughts on how to live out the life in Christ:
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.

Doctrine, Heart, Practice

The section on the questions about Israel is sandwiched between profound orthodoxy (true and correct doctrine) and profound orthopraxy (true and correct practice).  But Romans 9-11 is orthopathy or orthokardia (true or correct heart or affections).  It teaches or imparts to us wisdom about having the right affection or the right heart.

Listen to Paul's tone, as he begins Romans 9:
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit— that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood.
Do you have intense sorrow and anguish in your heart over your unsaved loved ones?  Do you weep over the lost?  Do you share Jesus' heart for those who have rejected him?

As a christian child, pretty much all of my best friends were non-believers, and I experienced this agony for them.  I also had a grandmother, who was a proud atheist.  I worried and agonized over her salvation.  But she or should I say God surprised us one day, by telling us she believed in Christ.

The Heart of God and His Renovation of Our Hearts

The heart of God is filled with love and joy and affection over his children.  We need to experience God in his affection as a way of life.  But God also has great affection and a heart of love for those who are not yet saved and do not yet know him.  His heart both enjoys his children he has, and has great affection for those who are not yet living in his embrace.

It makes perfect sense that this section of Romans is where it is, because after we are given understanding about the truth (orthodoxy), we must first address racial or ethic prejudice, where we lack affection or heart and are prejudiced against people of different race or ethnicity than ourselves; before we address how to live (orthopraxy) under right understanding about God.

We cannot just be knowledgeable about God, but we also must live our lives under the correct thoughts about God.  But that is not the whole picture and leads to disaster, if we leave out the renovation of our hearts.  We must have affection, towards God and towards other people,  created in God's image, before we can learn how to live under truth.

Paul's message, that all Christ-followers need to get in their hearts, "is that there is a new race that has been created by God through Jesus and empowered by the Spirit to live in this Present Evil Age in a different way" (Griffin, p. 249).  Racism has no place in Christ.  Antisemitism and Christianity are antithetical and diametrically opposed.

Questions About Israel

The Roman church was a church of Jewish and Gentile converts to Christ.  The question was naturally coming up of how do we view our selves and our unsaved brethren?  Because of the new covenant, in Christ, are the bearers of the old covenant forever cut off and done, because of their (by and large) rejection of Christ?  The Gentiles in the Roman Church may have held this view, and that is perhaps why Paul wrote these chapters, to which the answer to that question in "no".

The question before the Jewish Christians in the church, was; should they view Jews outside of Christ as apostates, or express such a large degree of solidarity with them, that they were in danger of losing their connection to Gentile Christians?  Another question or a version of the same question, was, are there going to be two kinds of Christians?

Paul's argument, presented in the first eight chapters of Romans, is that the gospel is not a new innovation, but the fulfillment of the promises of God to the fathers in the Hebrew scriptures.  The gospel has always been that the way to righteousness is by faith.  Paul's argument is that it is the same today for us as it was for Abraham.

The question then stands out, why then have many of Abraham's descendants refused to believe the gospel?  How can this paradox be explained: that the nation that had been prepared for Messiah, through whom which Messiah came, would reject him?  These questions are what Paul addresses in chapter 9, verses 1-5.

These questions lead to the next question: Has the word of God failed (9:6)?  And the answer of course is "no".  And the explanation is the simple phrase that says, "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel".


Calvinists or deterministic advocates like to quote Romans 9 as their proof.  But Romans 9 actually may teach the opposite.  Are people predetermined to a certain destiny, by God?  Foreknowledge does not equate to determination.

People still choose.  God calling out for people to come to him is not an act with scripted, predetermined outcomes.  That is a human perspective that looks at life as predetermined.

God has a different perspective that sees choices.  There has been a debate about how election works, with vigorous proponents with different perspectives (2).

God can choose, like how he chose Mary and Joseph.  God's choosing is for God to do his wider work through you.  So, God's choosing or calling has always been about getting his mission accomplished through people, and not for individual salvation's.

One God in The Whole Story

Jesus Christ is God.  Father God is not a different God, with a meaner, harsher personality.  And Jesus  was not different before he had his incarnation.   If Jesus came to show us the Father, then Jesus is the lens that we must see God through for the whole story, Genesis to Revelation.


Much of the Bible, including some of Jesus' words, were hyperbole.  Hyperbole is like exaggerating, to make a point.

Two common hyperbolic expressions that we use are like these: "My wife is going to kill me when she sees what I did to the kitchen", and, "I am so hungry, I could eat a horse".  The husband does not really believe his wife will literally kill him, and most of us do not know people who could eat a whole horse.

"Jacob I loved and Esau I hated", and, "No one can be my disciple unless he hates his mother and father", are both hyperbole.  The first one does not teach the predetermination, and the second one does not teach that Christians must literally hate their parents.

Choice and Faith

At the end of Romans 9, which is the first of three chapters that asks, 'what about the Jewish people?', Paul says that the issue is their choice and their faith.
What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written:

Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over
and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame.  
-Romans 9:30-33

This was not predetermined by God, but determined by themselves.  People get mercy in response to their faith and people receive hardened hearts due to their unbelief.  We have it backwards, if we say that God arbitrarily hardens some hearts who in turn, have unbelief, while arbitrarily having mercy on others, who in turn have faith.

Hardness of Heart

The famous person in the OT, with the hard heart was Pharaoh.  God did not script the man to be obstinate, but worked despite the man's obstinance.  God hardened his heart, because of his unbelief.

At the end of Romans 11, Paul writes:
A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 
-Romans 11:25c 

Hardness of heart is not fatal or terminal, because there is always hope and God's mercy stands, available, and may always be chosen.  The calling of God still stands, but will they choose to hear the call and come?  They may and they will.

Jesus Saves

The answer to how "all Israel shall be saved" is Christ, the grace of Christ, acted upon in faith; or faith in Christ, acted upon through grace. The whole "this is how" is explained in the whole of chapter 11, which fits into the whole discussion of chapters 9-11, which fits into the whole of the book or letter to the Romans, which fits into the whole of the New Testament, which fits into the whole Bible.

The Letter to The Romans

The message of Romans is: "God has created a new humanity by the death of Jesus".  The first half of Romans (1-11) is about salvation by faith, while the second half (12-16) is about Christian living.  Another way to look at Romans is that it has 4 sections: Slaves to sin (1:18-3:20), slaves to God (3:21-8:39), salvation of Israel (9:1-11:36), and service to God (12:1-16:24).

How Will All Israel Be Saved?

When Paul  writes that "all Israel will be saved", he prefaces that by saying, "in this way".  And "the way" is the same way everyone gets saved, and that is through faith in Christ by grace.

"All Israel", means Israel, as a whole.  This means comprehensive, but not all inclusive.  This means the people already saved, with all the yet to be saved, or who may come into salvation, as a people.  Just before Paul writes, "And in this way, all Israel will be saved", he mentions, "A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in."

"Full number of the Gentiles", does not mean all or every breathing Gentile, but the comprehensive harvest of Gentile souls.  It means a comprehensive harvest.  We will have a full harvest of Gentiles and then Jews, or ethnic Israel, before the end.

These are like layers of sound in music.  One part comes in and gets loud, while underneath the second part comes in, softly at first, then gets louder and louder, until the two parts are both loud, and the piece of music ends.

There is a school of thought or lens or grid, that some people use to interpret Romans 11, that sees a massive harvest from the Jewish people after the Gentile church flies away, in what they call "the rapture".  That is not at all what Paul is teaching here.

Romans 11 and The Olive Tree As The True Israel

The message of Romans 11 is to Gentile and Jewish Christians both.  And that message is that you can be cut out, cut in, cut out after being cut in, or cut in after being cut out of the figurative olive tree of the believers, or people of God, who are the true Israel.

Earlier, I noted how the context of Romans 11 falls into the whole piece of chapters 9-11, and of course 9-11 fits into the whole letter, which fits into all of Paul, which fits into all of the NT, which fits into the whole Bible, which fits into God, who is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, who is alive, and building his church in the world today.

In that light, I gave some notes about chapter 9, with an emphasis on the thought that God does not predetermine for people to sin, express unbelief, or do evil.  You have to interpret texts with a bias or a man shaped grid, to believe that God determines that some people will do bad and are only born to eternally never get it.  That is not the Father, nor the Son, nor the Spirit; told of in the Bible and history.

The Way of Salvation, Not The Predetermined Time

I started my discussion of Romans 11, with the verse that says, "all Israel will be saved".  We make a mistake, if we read that line to say, "at a time, all Israel will be saved", because it does not say that.  Paul is writing about what was happening then and into the future.

Paul makes the case, argues or illustrates, that he is hopeful that the hearts of ethnic Israel will soften, as the Gentiles come into Israel, and the gospel goes out and through all the Gentile nations.  'All Israel will be saved", is similar in expression as, "the full number of the Gentiles".  It does not literally mean 'all', but means 'whole', as in 'fullness'.

Every person who comes into the kingdom, becomes saved, has faith, and becomes a part of true Israel, which in the church; has to come through Jesus.  A very incorrect way to read this verse is to think that at a magic time, God will save all the Jewish people, outside of the faith of Abraham in Christ.

Romans 11, Verse by Verse
1I ask, then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.
-God has not rejected Israel, even if they are disobedient or defiant (10:21).  Paul says, look at me, as an example.
2God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he pleads with God against Israel?

3Lord, they have killed Your prophets
and torn down Your altars.
I am the only one left,
and they are trying to take my life!
4But what was God’s reply to him? I have left 7,000 men for Myself who have not bowed down to Baal.
-Foreknew means 'believer' or 'Christian': Christian Jews who will become saved, like Paul.  The point is, some Jews are Christians.  Paul uses this story about Elijah, to illustrate the concept of the remnant.  Elijah says, in hyperbole, "I am the only one left!", but God says, "Not true, there are many others".
5In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace.
-Paul says, that it is the same now.  There is a remnant, from the whole.
6Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.
-Salvation is by faith in Christ, but by birth, nor by works.

7 What then? Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened, 8 as it is written:

God gave them a spirit of insensitivity,
eyes that cannot see
and ears that cannot hear,
to this day.
-The elect are those that choose God and love God.  Election is not something prehistoric, where God predetermines people's choices.  We are not 'scripted' to choose a certain way, but God might know how we will choose.   The elect are at times, the minority or a remnant.

The hardening is judgement for lack of love for God, and lack of faith or the continuing expression of unbelief.  People can be religious, even very religious, and not love God.  People can be religious and not be living in or believing in salvation through faith in God's faithfulness, but living in a legalistic, works-righteousness that is paradoxically, a style of unbelief, that lacks trust, love, and faith in God.  The law abiding religious person may experience hardness of heart toward God and the gospel, because of their unbelief.
9 And David says:

Let their feasting become a snare and a trap,
a pitfall and a retribution to them.
10 Let their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent continually.
-Paul quotes Psalm 69, where David is speaking against other Jews.  This is the word of God, the voice of Christ, speaking about Jewish people who are temporarily blinded; with the exception of a remnant.  Psalm 69 is quoted many times(1), by the NT authors, regarding the passion of Christ; including applying Ps. 69:25 to Judas Iscariot.
11 I ask, then, have they stumbled in order to fall? Absolutely not! On the contrary, by their stumbling, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous.
-The stumble of ethnic Israel is not an irrevocable fall.  God is not done with them nor run out of mercy.  Paul here is making an interpretation of the words of Moses, that he quoted in chapter 10, from Deut. 32:21:
But I ask, “Did Israel not understand?” First, Moses said:
I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that lacks understanding. (Rom. 10:19)
-God is provoking ethnic Israel to jealousy, by the salvation of the Gentile peoples.  From a practical perspective, Paul is saying that the Gentiles have ended up coming into salvation, because the Jews, by and large, have rejected the gospel.

This was not God's script or predetermined iron-clad plan.  This was God working, in spite of Israel's rejection and hard hardheartedness.  They made their move, their choice; and then God made a counter move, his choice.

But, their move away from Christ, their rejection of the gospel, is not irrevocable.  The door, the path, the way, and repentance and the softening of their hearts, as a people, is still an option.  God's mercy stands.
12 Now if their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number bring!
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brings reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
-These verses do not predict the future.  The key word, in verses 12 and 15, is 'if'.  'If' means it is an open question, a hopeful possibility.  This is Paul saying "what if?", or "can you imagine?".  And, it is God saying it through Paul.

God acts, yes.  But God calls people to act.  God gives us a playing field to play out our lives, calling plays and running plays.  God does not give us a micro-managed script or program us to live as his robots.

God lets us choose, but says consider the possibilities.  In every negative move by other people, by the enemy, or by bad circumstances; God has good provision or blessing for those who love him and have faith in him (Romans 8).

God has always had the desire to bring something spectacular out of the tragedy of the Jewish people rejecting Jesus and the gospel, and he has been doing it.  But there's more, says Paul.  God still wants to get all the Jewish people saved.

This message says to the Jewish Christian, "don't lose heart"; and to the Gentile Christian, "don't disrespect the unbelieving Jew, because not only were you once in darkness, but your proud judgmental attitude can give you a hardened heart and get you cut off from God".
16 Now if the firstfruits offered up are holy, so is the whole batch. And if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree, 18 do not brag that you are better than those branches. But if you do brag—you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”
-The tree is Israel and the church, or believers.  The root are holy people of faith, rooted in God.  Not all Israel is Israel (Rom. 9:6).  The broken off branches are unbelieving, ethnic Israel.

Jewish believers are in the tree.  Gentile believers have been grafted into that same tree, sharing the same root with the old branches.  In ancient Israel, there were always Gentile proselytes, who were in, and Jewish apostates who were out.

Israel as a people has always been defined as Jewish and Gentile people who are faithful to God.  All of the believing people are in the tree.  There was once more Jewish people in the tree, but now there are more Gentiles and less Jewish.  This can, may, and will change.

There is not a 'replacement' for the people of God.  The tree has always been one tree, that represents the people of faith.  God has always had one people who are called the people of faith, who love him.

The root of the tree is the faithfulness of God, finally expressed in love, by the coming of Jesus, and is the source of the one faith, and one path of salvation, from the one God.
20 True enough; they were broken off by unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either.
-The danger for any branch/people is the pride of being in the tree, thinking that the favor or grace of God was somehow merited, as if they were born superior and are entitled.
22 Therefore, consider God’s kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God’s kindness toward you—if you remain in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
-"If you remain", is key.  God's kindness is available, if  we continue to abide in it.  Salvation is conditional on our remaining in the faith, or in the tree.  Salvation is an event and a process.

If we do not remain, abide, or continue in the faith; then we are opting out or ceasing the salvation process.   If we no longer continue in a faithful relationship with God, then we are no longer saved.  The righteous live by faith, which is lived out through action based upon confidence in God.
23 And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.
-Any Jewish person can become a person of true Israel, a person of faith, who loves God; just by faith.  Being cut off from the tree does not have to be permanent.
24 For if you were cut off from your native wild olive and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these—the natural branches—be grafted into their own olive tree?
-Curiously deciding to pursue faith is always an open question.  We do not do the saving.  We step into faith or step out of faith.   God does the saving while we express faith or unbelief.

God can both take a former non-believer, who decides to believe, into salvation and belonging to the people of faith; and he can take a person or people who formerly or who's ancestors formerly had faith, but who have been in unbelief, but now have come to faith; he can make them saved also and cause them to belong also to the one people of faith, again.
25 So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

The Liberator will come from Zion;
He will turn away godlessness from Jacob.
27 And this will be My covenant with them
when I take away their sins.
-Paul has been writing about what is happening now.  This whole message, teaching, or argument is present orientated.  It is what has happened, and is happening.

What has happened and now is, is mentioned or answered in verse 7 and then expounded upon in the following verses.  Verse 7 reads:
What then? Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened
This is where they were when Paul wrote this and he has been explaining how it works and how it can be and hopefully will be remedied.  Gentiles will continue to come into the people of faith, all the way up until the second coming of Christ.

"In this way", is now, and refers to the parabolic illustration of the olive tree, that Paul has been expounding on.  Paul is saying "this is how it is working, or can work".  There has been this hardening of the Jews and the Gentiles are coming in, who in turn will spur the Jewish people to jealousy, as in a softening of hearts and a curiosity, to take another look and see if something is there.

"In this way", means the method.  There is one olive tree of believers.  The wild one and the cultivated one are now one.

There have been branches of unbelief from the cultivated olive tree that were cut off and the wild branches that were cut in have given the original tree new vitality and fruitfulness.  Seeing this will cause, will hopefully cause, can cause, and the door is open to, the cut off branches to being re-grafted back in.  God can do this and will, if faith is expressed.

There is one people of God, one people of Faith, one Israel that is the true Israel, one church, Jew and Gentile.  This is how it is and always has been.
28 Regarding the gospel, they are enemies for your advantage, but regarding election, they are loved because of the patriarchs, 29 since God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable.
-Paul says that the rejection of the gospel, by the majority of the Jews has been a blessing in disguise for the Gentiles.  God's plan has always been to get everyone saved that wants to be saved.  But Paul is speaking to the present condition and questions that the Roman Christians found themselves in.

Do not make the mistake of hearing Paul say that ethic Israel is saved by the faith of the patriarchs.  What Paul is saying is the invitation that the patriarchs took God up on, still stands, is still available, because of God's loving faithfulness.  The whole letter is woven through with the treatise on why merit from lineage or good works does not bring forth salvation.
30 As you once disobeyed God, but now have received mercy through their disobedience, 31 so they too have now disobeyed, resulting in mercy to you, so that they also now may receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable His judgments
and untraceable His ways!
34 For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been His counselor?
35 Or who has ever first given to Him,
and has to be repaid?
 For from Him and through Him
and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
-The key word is may.  The question has been about unbelieving Israel.  They may receive mercy, and this is how they all will be saved.

It does not say that they all will receive mercy.  This is not a prediction, like a prophetic word; but a promise that is an invitation, that depends on the invited one to accept the invitation.  The word from Paul is that the door is open and will open more and more as the time goes on towards the end of the age.

This whole chapter explains how they will be saved.  Paul explains it and gives hopefulness for how it can come about in the best case.  "They also (with the Gentiles) now may (depending on their volition) receive mercy."

God Wants All To Be Saved

Paul's doxology that closes this chapter says that God wants to save everybody.  Paul was a hopeful universalist, hoping for everyone to be saved through believing in Christ.

This final statement by Paul does not mean that God controls everything, as if we are all living out his script for us, for good or bad, faithful or faithless.  "From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things" means that God works through giving us all free will.  Even though and when some people resist God's will, God's invitation, or God's plan; God still works to make his overall purpose come about, and gets glory no matter what happens.

1. Jn 15:25, 2:17; Rom 15:3; Matt 27:48; Acts 1:20; Rom 11:10; link to Bible Gateway
2. Grudem, Systematic Theology (1994), pp. 669-90; 

Romans, F.F. Bruce (1963, 1983 reprint), pp. 181-224
God's Epic Adventure, Winn Griffin (2007), 248-50
How Do You Respond to Romans 8:29-30, Greg Boyd (2008)
How Do You Respond to Romans 9?, Greg Boyd (2008)
Rethinking Election, part 1, Greg Boyd (2015)
How Do You Respond to Romans 9:18?, Greg Boyd (2008)
How Do You Respond to Romans 11:36?, Greg Boyd (2008)
The Hard Sayings of The Bible: All Israel will Be Saved?, Manfred T. Brauch, pp. 566-72
Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Hawthorne & Martin, Eds.: Letter to The Romans, J.D.G. Dunn, pp. 847-9
Steve Gregg, Romans 11: video, audio (2015)