As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all (Rm. 11:28-32).
[Warning: Post is at present unedited] This passage of Scripture is perhaps one of the most difficult passages in Romans, perhaps in all of Scripture, to grasp. It is so because of the language that is used in it– language that is complicated by our natural tendency to assign strict definitions to words that do not in themselves demand strict definitions. In this particular passage, the word of which I am speaking is the word that is translated “election” in v. 11:28, which I shall deal with in short order.
First, as always, we must understand the context in which this passage is spoken. As has been so throughout Romans 11, Paul is speaking of two groups of people–the Jews and the Gentiles. And because of God’s good wisdom and pleasure, he has decreed that salvation would only come to Gentiles if the Jews on the whole (less the remnant) would reject the Messiah. This purpose of the Lord is summed up in the apostle’s final statement in Romans 11 concerning the matter, viz. “For God has consigned all [both Jews and Gentiles] to disobedience so that he may have mercy on all.” This is a reiteration of what the apostle has declared earlier in the epistle, viz. “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (Rm. 3:9). For what reason? “So that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (v. 3:19). Therefore, just as the law has stopped the mouths of the whole world (for they have no justification in themselves), so too this section is designed to stop our self-righteous mouths and declare what the apostle declares at the conclusion of this treatise: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! etc.” (vv. 11:33-36).
Now, what we must understand as Gentiles in this mystery is this: that the Jews in respect to the Gospel are the enemies of God for our sake, but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers (cf. v. 11:28). This passage is somewhat difficult on the surface, because, as said before, we wish to apply definitions that we have given to particular words in other passages to different passages where such definitions do not work. In this particular instance, we take the “election” of Rm. 9:11 which is, in that context, regarding particular persons, and apply that “personalized” definition to the corporate election spoken of in v. 11:28. What we should do however is understand that “election” in its most basic of definitions is the sovereign choice or decree of God, not necessarily the choosing of particular persons from the foundation of the world unto salvation (which is indeed true in several instances). Understanding this, we can attempt to grasp the mystery the apostle is speaking of in this passage.
The reason that we must understand election this way is first because the context demands it and second because we would have a terrible contradiction on our hands if we did not. For in the same breath the apostle declares that the Jews are the enemies of God on the one hand and are beloved for the sake of their forefathers on the other. Now, if this “belovement” was salvific in nature, the Gospel would be void and Paul’s deep concern in Rm. 9:1-5 for his brothers according to the flesh would be empty. However, we must understand as Paul declares earlier in this chapter, that there will be many of the Jews who are not “elect” and will by their unbelief and lawless deeds bend their backs forever (cf. vv. 11:7-10).
Therefore, this election of the Jews for the sake of their forefathers is the same of which the apostle has already spoken in the chapter, which he declares in his self-answered question: “Did [the Jews] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means!” (v. 11:11a). In other words, Israel’s disbelief has not come so that they might be rejected forever corporately but so that “through their trespass salvation [would] come to the Gentiles” (v. 11:11b). Therefore, it can be said that on the one hand that the Jews on a whole are presently the enemies of God with regards to the Gospel and their personal salvation, but with regard to the promise made to their forefathers and God’s sovereign plan, they are corporately beloved. In other words, as the apostle clearly declares throughout the chapter, God is not finished with corporate Israel (i.e. the descendents of Abraham according to the flesh) but has decreed that one day they, by the grace of God, will come to the Jesus Christ for salvation.
What we must gather from this passage as Gentiles is not some eschatological truth (for it is not clear from this passage that this future belief of the Jews is eschatological in nature), but it is that salvation is from the Lord. Romans 9-11 exists chiefly to remind us of this truth and for us to be humbled by it. For if it were not for God’s good pleasure, we as Gentiles would have continued in our disbelief (cf. v. 9:30) and the Jews who are now unbelieving would never come to repentance. But God, being rich in mercy has consigned the whole world to disobedience so that he might have mercy on all, both Jews and Greeks. We who are in Christ are mere vessels of God’s grace and mercy given for his glory and for his glory alone. For “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (v. 11:36).
Categories: Fridy Night Bible Study