Romans 11: Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is ?
In Romans 9 & 10, Paul has dealt with Israels past and present. We see the reason for their rejection by God as Paul tells us in Romans 9:31-..but Israel who pursued a law of righteousness has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as it were by works. Romans 10 deals with Israels present rejection from the time of Pauls letter to this very day and we see it is still for the same reasons, they did not submit to Gods righteous. Paul wrote: Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. ( Romans 10:4) We read in these chapters of the sovereignty of Gods Divine Will and of Mans Free will, which seem in our finite minds to be in conflict. Yet when asked how he reconciled mans free will and Gods sovereign will, Spurgeon replied: I do not attempt to. I never try to reconcile friends.
Now in Romans 11, Paul answers the rhetorical question: Does God reject His people? Paul will call five witnesses to the stand to testify why this is not so. The current hardening of Israels heart, the blinding of their eyes is neither total or eternal, but as Paul will use these witnesses to rebut- it is partial and temporary.
The five witnesses Paul will call are : Paul, himself; Elijah, the Gentiles, the Patriarchs, and God Himself. With the logic of a brilliant courtroom lawyer, Paul will use his personal testimony as a witness, as well as Old Testament Scriptures to testify, even now as the Jews will this week celebrate Passover.
Listen now to Paul as he takes the stand: I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God DID NOT REJECT HIS PEOPLE. ( Romans 11:1-2)
Lets look at Paul, alias, Saul of Tarsus conversion experience and I want to bring to your attention two other references to that experience that speak to Israels future. In Acts 9, Dr. Luke records verbatim, ( I am sure) Pauls testimony of his conversion on the road to Damascus. On two other occasions in Acts 22 and 26, Dr. Luke records that Paul shared his testimony as this is one of the most effective ways of witnessing. When we read Pauls story of what happened on the road to Damascus, we realize this was the most unique of conversion experiences. Now turn to I Corinthians 15, one of the 10 most important chapters in the New Testament, according to some theologians because of the overpowering evidence of the Lord Jesus bodily resurrection, for as Paul writes, if Christ be not risen our faith is in vain; but He is risen indeed. I want to call your attention to verse 8, as Paul comes to the end of an impressive list and number of witnesses who had seen the risen Lord Jesus, then says:
and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (NIV) The KJV states as to one born out of due time. What did he mean? Paul says the way in which he was saved, born-again, was a pattern of the way the Israelites would be saved, converted in the end times of the Tribulation. Look at I Timothy 1:16 from the KJV, we read this: Howbeit- for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me, FIRST, Jesus Christ might show forth all long suffering for a PATTERN TO THEM WHICH SHOULD HEREAFTER BELIEVE ON HIM TO ETERNAL LIFE. Paul is saying his conversion experience is the pattern of the way and method the Israelites/Jews will be saved during the Great Tribulation. Zechariah 12:10 and Zech. 14 tell of that time in the future when the nation of Israel will have their eyes opened and see the One who they have pierced. Paul is saying he was born again as one out of due time, for this was to be the method in the end times. This week there will be those who partake of the Seder, the traditional Jewish meal at Passover which celebrates Gods miraculous delivery of the nation of Israel out of Egypt. Some are still looking for the Messiah to come, not realizing they missed Him the first time. Now do you see why Paul said even back 2000 years ago the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart
So close- yet so far away.
So Paul is the first witness, and stands as proof that God has not forgotten Israel and the Israelites, for he is one and he has been converted. Next he Paul calls Elijah, a well known prophet to all Israelites, who took on the prophets of Baal and defeated the prophets on Mount Carmel. Afterwards on the run from Jezebel, a depressed and frightened Elijah complained that he was the only one left, yet God revealed He had 7,000 who had never bowed a knee to Baal. God has always had a remnant. Even though at one time, in the day of Noah, there were only 8 souls left.
Paul uses this example to claim so, too at this present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were grace would no longer be grace.
Man has always been saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God not works, lest any man should boast. A reading of Hebrews 11, will show OT saint after OT saint with this same phrase: By faith Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the list goes on to Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets through faith conquered . Always faith comes- then works. ( Ephesians 2:10) In Romans 4, Paul had asked the question of his audience: What does scripture say? Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness? ( Romans 4:3) In fact a time line of Abrahams life will show this was years before Abraham was circumcised.
What happened to the majority of Jews that they were not saved? They hardened their hearts just life the Pharaoh did, until finally having crossed a line from which there is no turning back, the Lord hardened their hearts and blinded them so they could not see. Saul of Tarsus lost his physical sight temporarily so that he might gain spiritual sight. Each time one resists the truth of Gods word- the heart grows harder, until finally the word of God bounces off like the seed that fell on the wayside.
What was Israels problem? Ever heard the statement: Familiarity breeds contempt.? David says the table became a snare and a stumbling block. What was he referring to? David was referring to the very religious practices and observances that were point them to Christ, instead they became substitutes for the real experience of salvation. The priests baked the bread and sat at the table in the Holy Place to eat a meal of fellowship symbolically with Jehovah. Jesus after he was baptized and came out of the wilderness and began his ministry and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He came back home to Nazareth where he grew up and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and read from the scrolls from Isaiah and then stated: Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing The hometown crowds reaction: Isnt this Josephs son? Even his family doubted he was who he said he was. Familiarity can breed contempt and Jesus said- even a prophet is not believed in his hometown.
There have been Jews saved in every generation down through the ages. But Paul says not all of Abrahams descendants are true descendants. Paul says if you are in Christ then you are a descendant of Abraham and heir to the promises. For us- we are spiritual descendants and heirs to the spiritual promises, in fact we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.
There will be a group of Israelites who will be saved during the Tribulation, who will survive the tribulation and inhabit the land God gave to Israel in the Millineum kingdom.
Paul next turns to the Gentiles to continue to make his case. Again I ask: Did they( Israel) stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather because of their transgression, salvation came to the Gentiles. ( Romans 11:11) Note God always has a reason, here it is clear they stumbled but are not utterly cast down, but they stumbled because of their transgression- their sin of unbelief. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles- how much greater will their fullness bring.
We must understand from the beginning when God called Abram out of Ur with the promise to give him a land for his inheritance and make a great nation out of his descendants and through his SEED to bless all the nations, God was going to use the nation of Israel, the Jews, these chosen people to bless the nations of the earth- all the people. The Seed , of course was Jesus. However, the Jews did not do as God had commanded them to do and as a result the Gospel went to the Gentiles. Their rejection of salvation and righteousness by faith instead of by works became the reconciliation of the world. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said to the woman at the well in John 4- salvation is from the Jews. Their rejection meant reconciliation for the Gentiles. And in their reconciliation and blessing Pauls hope was somehow it would arouse the Jews to envy and save some of them. ( For after all- the contempt is described as a feeling that something or someone is beneath your consideration; a disregard for something that should be taken into account. This contempt can be turned into envy when that someone is blessed with every spiritual blessing.)
So when the Jews rejected the Gospel, God sent it to the Gentiles. Their loss was the Gentiles gain.
Now Paul uses two illustrations to describe the nation of Israel the dough offered as first fruits and the olive tree. In other words these two illustrations are not of individual believers but Paul is referring to the place of Israel in the plan of God. Remember, Gods plan was to bless the world through the seed of Abraham, and He accomplished that in spite of the majority of Israel not believing or accepting the Gospel.
The dough offered as the first fruit of the harvest. This would be the dough made from the first of the harvested grain. The firstfruits refers to the patriarchs to whom the promises were made- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God accepted the founders of the nation, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. No secret as to why God accepted them, their stories recorded in Genesis and underlined in Hebrews 11, where each one came into their relationship by faith. So they are the first fruit, the dough and God will honor His promise to the whole batch- and Romans 11:26- says all Israel will be saved. All of Israel? How will this be? Look at Matthew 24: 21,22: For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now- and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect, those days will be shortened. During the Tribulation, many Jews who will experience salvation will also be martyred. And there will be a remnant, spoken of here who will survive the Tribulation, to enter into the 1000 year reign of the Lord on earth and re-populate the earth, as the Lord Jesus inhabits the throne of David in Jerusalem and the nation of Israel will reside in all the land promised to Abraham by God.
Now Israel is also referred to here as the olive tree and again Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the roots of the olive tree. The branches of the olive tree ( remember the Olive Tree is the nation of Israel- not the church) that are broken off are broken off we are told because of unbelief and also that the Gentile believer could be engrafted into the olive tree, for if you belong to Christ then you are Abrahams seed and heirs according to the promises. ( Galatians 3)
THE FULLNESS OF TIME
So Paul concludes Israel has experienced hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in and then all Israel will be saved. The Church is the bride of Christ. In this present age, God is primarily visiting among the Gentiles and building His church, the Bride of Christ. This present age ends when the full number of Gentiles have come into the kingdom. There will also be individual Jews saved during this time also. When the last Gentile is saved that is to be saved in this age, God will tell His Son, the Lord Jesus to go get His Bride. This I believe is when the Rapture will take place followed by the Wedding supper of the Lamb in heaven.
But Isaiah 54 foretells of the future glory of Israel, listen to the terminology used to describe this relationship between God the Father, the Lord Almighty and the nation of Israel: For your Maker is your husband, the Lord Almighty is His name, the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth. The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit- a wife who married young only to be rejected says your God. For a brief moment I abandoned you but with deep compassion I will bring you back.(The story of Hosea and Gomer is a picture and illustration of this relationship.)
On more than one occasion we read verses or phrases referring to the fullness of time. Listen to these references: But when the time had fully come,. God sent His Son, born of a woman under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4) What did Jesus say at the wedding where His mother wanted him to do something about the lack of wine. Jesus said, Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come. Then in Matthew 26 on the night of Passover and his arrest: Jesus said: My appointed time is near.(is at hand,KJV) I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples .
Then at the point of death on the cross, Jesus last words: It is finished. Then following his 40 day resurrection ministry and just prior to ascending to heaven, his disciples once again wanted to know if it was time. Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? To which Jesus replied: It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. ( Acts 1)
And Paul writes in Ephesians 1: And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfillment- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Paul concludes this section by breaking into a doxology of praise to God for the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. Only a God as wise as our God could take the fall of Israel and turn it into salvation for the world. And in the end, God will keep His promise and covenants with Israel. The more we study His ways, the more we will come to praise Him for Who He is.
Here is what I have come to understand: time is short, life is fleeting. I already know, I got old too soon and smart too late. But it is never too late to do the right thing.
You see- there is really only One Person in the whole universe who really knows what time it is. And I am sad to say- there are many who do not really care what time it is.
My time and times are in His Hands.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90)