Question: Will the Jewish nation always be a rejected nation, or will the entire nation yet come to repentance, believing and confessing that the Messiah has already come, and that Jesus is the Christ?
Answer: When speaking of the conversion of the Jews, we understand this to refer to the entire nation, and not only to Judah and Benjamin who had returned from Babylon and lived in Canaan until the destruction of Jerusalem. Rather, it also refers to the ten tribes. These tribes neither remained together nor are they hidden in an unknown corner of the world, as the Jews fabricate. Instead, they partially intermingled with the eastern nations, forsaking the Jewish religion. Another part, having dispersed themselves among the nations of the earth, continued to adhere to their religion; whereas a very large multitude also returned to Canaan and intermingled with the other Jews. Anna, the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Aser, served God at Jerusalem in the temple (Luke 2:36). Furthermore, very many from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi did not return from Babylon. Among those who did return were also very many who again left their native land due to internal disturbances, and thus were dispersed throughout the entire world among various nations, still maintaining the Jewish religion. James wrote to the “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (James 1:1). The dispersed Jews came from all manner of nations to Jerusalem on the feast days for the purpose of worship, as is to be observed in (Acts 2:5-11).
After the destruction of Jerusalem, the entire Jewish nation was dispersed and no longer has a specific residence. We are speaking here of this nation without distinction, and we believe that it will acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ—the Messiah who was promised in the Old Testament and anticipated by the fathers. This is the general sentiment of the theologians of all ages—even Lutheran and papist theologians. There are, however, also those who doubt this, and some deny it. In order to confirm this matter, we shall not now say all that can be said about it. Rather, we shall only take two proofs from the New Testament and give them a place of prominence, since they are not subject to any evasive arguments of substance. After having given a clear exegesis of them, the few proofs we shall present from the Old Testament will give us more clarity and steadfastness in this matter.
The Future Conversion of the Jews Examined in Light of Romans 11
Proof #1: This proof we derive from Rom 11. We shall give a brief exposition of the entire chapter, since the effectiveness of our proof is derived from the context.
This chapter has three divisions: 1) a question which is presented by way of an objection (vss. 1-2), 2) the answer to that question (vss. 3-32), and 3) the conclusion (vss. 33-39).
First Division. The question is stated in verse 1: “I say then, hath God cast away His people?” By God’s people the apostle understands the Jewish nation, which he generally refers to as Israel—also in this chapter. God had given Jacob the name of Israel after he had wrestled with the Lord, and his descendants were called by this name. In order to eliminate any secret doubts, one ought to know that throughout the entire New Testament the name Israel is never assigned to believers, that is, the church of the New Testament. Rather, it is always understood that this refers to the Jewish nation; that is, in distinction to and separation from all other nations. Only two texts need to be clarified.
Question: “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Rom 9:6-8). Is not the apostle here referring to the believers among the Gentiles as Israel?
Answer: Not at all; the apostle does not speak here at all of the Gentiles, but strictly of the Jews. His objective is to prove that God has not annulled His covenant with Abraham and his seed, even though the majority of them have rejected the Messiah, have not believed in Him, and have been disobedient to the gospel. “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect” (Rom 9:6). God has not annulled His promises and covenant, for not all who descended from Abraham were partakers of the covenant and the promises. Ishmael and the children of Keturah did not belong to the covenant, but only Isaac. Furthermore, all of Isaac’s children were not partakers of the covenant and the promises. Esau was cast out as an unholy one, but the covenant and the promises were Jacob’s. And so it goes on, for even though many of Jacob’s descendants were unbelievers in whom God had no pleasure, nevertheless God’s covenant remains steadfast with him and his seed in his believing descendants, who are accounted as that seed. And thus they are not all Israel which are of Israel, that is, of Jacob. Furthermore, the conversion of the Gentiles did not constitute the confirmation of the covenant of Abraham and his seed, for then the covenant with Abraham and his seed would have been confirmed even if none of his natural seed had been converted. This would be absurd. Paul is speaking of his kinship according to the flesh and God’s covenant with them, demonstrating that the covenant remains steadfast with them; that is, with the converted among them, even though many remained unbelievers. Thus, this text neither speaks of Gentiles at all, but only of Jews, nor does it call the New Testament church Israel.
Question #2: “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). Are not all believers, Jews as well as Gentiles, here called Israel?
Answer: No; for the church at that time consisted of Jews, and the Gentiles, as wild branches, had been grafted into the olive tree. The believing Jews insisted that the Gentiles, who joined them and were united with them in the church, be circumcised. The apostle opposed this, declaring that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision was of any value or engendered any privilege when it comes to faith, but only a new creature (vs. 15). While continuing to join circumcision and uncircumcision, he declared peace and mercy to be upon those who walk according to this rule; that is, upon the believers of the uncircumcision and of the circumcision. Them he calls the Israel of God, which is indicated by the word “and.” If he had not been speaking of both Jews and Gentiles, the word “and” would not fit here. Rather, the apostle is saying that peace and mercy were upon the believing Gentiles as well as upon the believing Jews, thereby exhorting them not to quarrel over circumcision and uncircumcision. “Israel” therefore refers to believing Jews and not to believing Gentiles.
As everywhere “Israel” is understood to refer to the Jewish nation, this is likewise true in this chapter. This is evident from the entire argument of the apostle, the purpose of which is to confirm that God has not annulled His covenant with Abraham and his seed, even though many would remain unbelievers. This covenant would not be confirmed by the conversion of the Gentiles, but by the conversion of the Jews during Paul’s time and thereafter. God would indeed annul His covenant if the Jewish nation were cast away in its entirety—and if this would continue to be so. Note the continual contrast between Israel and the Gentiles. Rom 10:20: “I was found of them that sought me not”; these were the Gentiles. Verse 21 reads: “But to Israel He saith …” This is likewise true in chapter 11:11: “… through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles”; verse 12: “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world …”; verse 13: “For I speak to you Gentiles …”; verse 14: “If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh …”; verse 15 “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world …”; and in verse 24 the Gentiles are as branches of a wild olive tree contrasted with the Jews as being natural branches. From all this it is evident that the apostle is here speaking of the Jewish nation, which he calls “Israel,” contrasting it with believing Gentiles. He calls the Jewish nation, which at that time (after the conversion of the Gentiles) had been hardened and cast away by God, the people of God. “Hath God cast away His people?” He does not call them the people of God due to their faith and conversion, for they were unbelieving and disobedient; but because of the covenant which God had established with Abraham and his seed (Gen 17:7). Peter demonstrates this as well: “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, and in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (Acts 3:25). We have dealt with this more extensively, so that in what follows there can be no resorting to the evasive argument that the apostle spoke of believing Gentiles, or also of believing Jews.
The question is: “Hath God cast away His people?” This question has its origin in what has been stated in the previous chapter. The apostle, having confirmed that faith is by hearing, declares in verse 18 that both Jews and Gentiles have heard the gospel, and that the Gentiles have received it (vss. 19-20), whereas the Jews rejected the Messiah, and thus had become a disobedient and gainsaying people. This the apostle confirms from the prophecies (cf. Dan 12:11; Isa 65:2). Out of all this the following question arises: Since God had established an eternal covenant with Abraham and his seed that He would be their God and they would be His people, did not God indeed break His covenant with this nation and did He not ultimately reject it fully when the seed of Abraham had rejected the Messiah and God had withdrawn His Spirit and grace from them and forsaken them? That is the question—the substance of the first portion of this chapter.
The second part of the chapter is the response to this question—which is twofold. The initial answer is brief, thereafter substantiated by various proofs. The short answer consists in a negation and in a confirmation of the opposite. The negation is not merely a factual statement, but it is stated with vehemence and indignation: “God forbid!” It is as much as to say, “It should not even enter one’s thoughts.” It is a sin to entertain doubts about this, for it is to doubt the faithfulness and veracity of God. Would God cast away His people? Would God break His eternal covenant established with Abraham and his seed? Would God be unfaithful? Would God not cause His Word to stand firm, and not fulfil His promises? That is impossible. The confirmation occurs by way of the vocabulary of the question, accompanied with an inner conviction: “God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew” (Rom 11:2). God will neither do it, nor intends to do it, nor is it possible that He would do it. He is the faithful God; they are His people, and they are His property from among all the generations of the earth. He has foreknown them. The foreknowledge of God whereby a given matter is predestined and predetermined makes this matter immovably sure. God has known and predestined Abraham’s seed, and taken them into an eternal covenant with Himself. It is thus impossible that God would reject His people. They are His people and they will remain His people. He has known them as such and He will know them as such.
The apostle adds various proofs to this, the essence of which is that God has neither cast away His people entirely, nor will cast them away ultimately. The apostle proves by his own example that God has not cast away His people entirely. He reasons as follows: “I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. However, I have not been cast away. Instead, I have been received, do believe, and am an apostle. Therefore, all of Israel has not been cast away.
“Furthermore, not only am I a believer who has been saved, but there is also a large multitude of Israelites with me. It is presently just as it was in the days of Elijah, who was of the opinion that all of Israel had forsaken the Lord and that he alone was left. God answered him, however, that there were yet seven thousand left. Likewise there are yet many thousands of Israelites who are faithful to the covenant, who acknowledge the Lord Jesus as the promised Messiah, and who believe in Him. This is therefore a certain proof that God has not rejected His people, but that there is yet a remnant according to the election of grace.”
Then the apostle proceeds to render proof that God will not ultimately, eternally, and completely cast away His people. In verses 7-10 the apostle makes a distinction between the believing remnant of the Jewish nation and the bulk of that nation who not only were unbelieving, but also had been blinded to the gospel. He shows the cause thereof and the prophecies of it found in Isa 29:10 and (Ps 69:22). Thereafter, he leaves the believing remnant to be what it is and no longer speaks of it. Instead, in what follows he speaks of this blinded nation, as is evident in nearly every verse. He speaks in verse 11 of those who stumbled, in verse 12 of those who have fallen, in verse 15 of those who are cast away, in verses 17-18 of natural branches which are broken off through unbelief, in verse 25 of the blinded portion of the nation, and in verse 28 of those who have become enemies for the sake of the gospel. Concerning this blind nation he declares that it would not always remain an outcast, but that there would come a time when God would convert them and bring them to Himself. In their state of exile He still has His eye upon them, thereby maintaining the isolation of this nation. Hereby their conversion, and thus the immutability of God’s covenant with Abraham and his seed, would be all the more obvious.
Concerning this blinded Israel the apostle asks in verse 11, “Have they stumbled that they should fall”; that is, in order that they would remain in their fallen state? His initial answer is brief, and thereafter he enlarges and proves his answer forcefully by way of four convincing arguments. He answers “God forbid” with the same earnestness, indignation, and abhorrence, saying how God would then break His covenant and not remain faithful to His promises. Man’s unfaithfulness would then nullify God’s faithfulness—which is impossible. Therefore, he answers indignantly: God forbid; absolutely not; this cannot occur. They have not stumbled in order that they would fall and remain fallen. They will rise again and be converted, being aroused to jealousy (vs. 11). The entire fullness of the Jews will come in again (vs. 12). They will become delightful again (vs. 14>). They will be grafted in again after they have been broken off (vs. 24). After their blindness and the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles, “all Israel shall be saved” by the Deliverer which shall come out of Zion, “and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (vs. 26). They will again obtain mercy (vss. 31-32).
Having determined that blinded Israel shall come to repentance, he enlarges upon this by speaking of its excellency and benefit (vss. 11-15). If their fall be the riches of the world, how much more will this be true for their fullness, for that will be a most excellent change!
(1) Their fall is the salvation, the riches of the Gentiles—of the world. It is not the essential cause, but rather the occasion. “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).
(2) The steadfast faith and the holy life of the Gentiles will provoke blind Israel to jealousy, cause them to be zealous to acknowledge, believe in, and live out of the Messiah who had been promised to them and came forth from them. The apostle knew that it was not yet their time, and therefore he labored that he might save some of them. This obligation also devolves upon us, even though their general conversion will not occur as yet.
(3) The general conversion of Israel, who at present are blind, will bring about much more blessing, light, life, and zeal among the Gentiles than did their fall. “How much more their fullness” (vs. 12); “What shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead” (vs. 15). When God will fill this blind nation with His Spirit and grace, resulting in the acknowledging and receiving of the Messiah (David, their king), then a wondrous love, joy, and holiness in believing will manifest itself in them. It will be a more eminent time than the age of the apostles. The church of the Gentiles will be so quickened and revived by the conversion of Israel that her former state will appear to be such as the difference between a dead and a living person. The unconverted will be converted in great numbers, and the converted will become partakers of a wondrous increase in the measure of grace. Oh, what a glorious time this will be! Who will then be alive?
Hereupon the apostle demonstrates the absolute certainty of their conversion by comparing two matters. “For if the firstfruits be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches” (Rom 11:16). The first analogy is derived from their instituted form of worship, whereas the second is derived from a natural process known to all. Among the firstfruits, also the firstfruits of the dough had to be dedicated and sanctified to God (Num 15:20- 21). Israel is called the firstfruits of God, for He claimed this nation for Himself from among the nations of the world (Jer 2:3). This is also true for believers (James 1:18). By firstfruits the apostle does not understand so much the Jews who were converted at the beginning of the apostolic period, for he calls them a remnant (vs. 5). Such a conclusion would be very weak since many Jews were converted at the beginning, and then the entire nation ought to have been converted thereafter. Rather, by the firstfruits the apostle understands in particular Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to which could be added the Old Testament believers. By the root the apostle also understands Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, out of whom the entire nation sprang forth as branches. He states that if the one is holy, the other must be holy as well. The word “holy” here does not refer to internal holiness and virtue, but to 1) a being separated from others, as Israel was a separated people unto worship (Deut 7:6); and 2) a being devoted to God (Exod 13:2). The latter occurs by entering into the covenant, be it in truth or in pretense (cf. Exod 19:6; 2 Cor 7:14). Abraham is not to be noted here as the father of his natural descendants, such as Ishmael and the children of Keturah also were; rather, he is to be noted as the father of the covenant established with him and his seed in Isaac, and through Jacob.
The dough is gathered together in a lump. From this lump, something is first taken and devoted to God, whereby the entire lump becomes holy and blessed to them. The root produces such branches as are of the same nature as the root. As the nature of the root is, so is the nature of the branches and the fruits. If, however—thus speaks the apostle—the firstfruits and the root are holy, that is, devoted and consecrated to God, then this is also true for the dough, and thus also the branches are holy. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are holy by virtue of the covenant, then also the entire nation is holy and consecrated to God. From this the apostle concludes that the nation neither will nor can be cast away forever, but will come to repentance and be received again by God. For if that were not to occur, and if they were to be cast away forever, then neither the dough would be sanctified by the firstfruits, nor would the branches be sanctified by the root. Since, however, they are sanctified thereby, the entire nation will also come to repentance.
In verses 17-24, the apostle applies this as a warning to the converted Gentiles. In this warning the apostle makes plain statements about the conversion of the Jews. He warns the Gentiles not to boast against the broken off branches, nor to be proud and conceited, despising blind Israel. For the Jews were the natural branches of the olive tree, whereas the Gentiles were grafted as wild olive branches into their stems—into the covenant established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They do not owe you any gratitude for having entered into covenant with God. Rather, they are the means that you have been brought into that same covenant established with them. You do not bear the root, but the root bears you. Furthermore, you are not to boast against them, thinking that God will cast them away forever. No, as natural branches they will again be grafted into their own olive tree. This is more compatible with nature, is easier to perform, and has better results than that you, being wild by nature, are grafted into their stem.
The apostle proves this from the Old Testament Scriptures in verses 25-27. He calls the conversion of blinded Israel a mystery. It was no mystery to anyone that during the times of the apostles a great multitude of the Jews believed in the Messiah. That was known to everyone. However, that this Israel, so hardened and hostile toward the gospel, would once embrace in faith, and with love and joy, the very gospel they now so hated, seemed entirely improbable—and nevertheless, this would transpire. It would not be the conversion of only a few—of a few individuals here and there—but it would be a conversion of the entire nation. “And so all Israel shall be saved”—that Israel, upon which hardening had been imposed, would once become so blessed that it would as yet turn to the Messiah. This does not mean that they will all be truly born again and become partakers of eternal salvation, but that they would all acknowledge and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Savior. And when would this be? “… that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (vs. 25). This condition will last so long and no longer, until the harvest of the Gentiles, a multitude foreordained, would, prior to the conversion of the Jews, be brought to conversion. This does not mean that there would still be a large multitude left, but rather that when the gospel would have borne its fruit among the Gentiles, it would return to the blinded Jewish nation which would also believe—a fact which would constitute a wondrous change and revival. The apostle calls this a mystery—not because God did not reveal it to him until now, nor that it had not been foretold in the prophetical Scriptures, but because it was neither observed nor understood. He wanted people to know this, desiring that they would view and anticipate this as a matter which would certainly come about. He did not want them to become proud and conceited, and to despise the Jewish nation, but to have pity upon them and anticipate their conversion. This already had been prophesied before, and Paul mentions some declarations made by the prophets. “And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord” (Isa 59:20); “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days … I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:33-34). Here we can neither argue nor quarrel about whether these texts are to be applied to a different time period, for to do so is to argue with Paul who spoke and wrote being immediately and infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit. He states that this points to the time when the fullness of the Gentiles will have come in. He asserts that these texts indicate that blind Israel will as yet come to repentance—and that is the end of all arguments.
The apostle adds in the last place a proof derived from the immutability of the covenant made with Abraham and his seed (vss. 28-32). In verse 28, the partakers of this covenant are described in a twofold manner in regard to their state. They are described in relation to the gospel, of which they are enemies (and therefore of all the Gentiles who have received the gospel); however, they are the beloved, not relative to their present state and as far as they individually are concerned, but relative to 1) the covenant with their forefathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and 2) election—not in respect to eternal election unto salvation, but to their election as partakers of the covenant. “The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself” (Deut 7:6); “For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto Himself, and Israel for His peculiar treasure” (Ps 135:4). The apostle declares this covenant with them, even though they are presently enemies of the gospel, to be unbreakable and immutable. “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (vs. 29). This is always, in all circumstances and for all persons, a matter of truth. Such is also the case with the calling of Abraham and with the covenant which God established out of free grace with him and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. That covenant neither can nor will be changed, God being immutable. Israel, which is blind at present, will therefore not always continue to be cast away, but Israel will again obtain mercy (vss. 30-32). Just as you who are presently Gentiles have previously been disobedient to God and have received mercy by reason of Israel’s disobedience, rejection, and persecution of the gospel, Israel will likewise, though presently disobedient (as was true for you previously), obtain mercy by reason of the mercy which you have obtained from God. When the Gentiles will flow to the gospel in great numbers, and will be filled with a great measure of the Spirit, grace, and holiness, blind Israel, being the people of God by virtue of the covenant, will become jealous of the fact that the Gentiles serve God and are loved by Him. Being aroused to diligence by the mercy and grace of God toward the Gentiles, they will then turn to the Lord. And after God will have concluded the entire nation under disobedience for a long time by giving them over to themselves and leaving them in their blindness and wickedness, He will then be merciful to them all and receive them again in grace.
The third section of the chapter is found in the concluding verses—verses 33-36. This is an acknowledgment of the unsearchable wisdom of God in all His dealings, particularly with respect to His people. This is true relative to judgments and blessings, as well as to all the ways by which God rules His church and leads the elect unto salvation.
When considering all this together, the attentive and truth-loving heart will be convinced that the apostle first concludes that God has not fully cast away His people, the people of Israel, for he himself, along with so many thousands, had believed in Christ, the promised Messiah. Following this, he made a distinction between the converted and blind Jews of that time, declaring, verifying, and confirming that this blind Israel will again return, be received, be grafted in, and obtain mercy after having been in a state of blindness for a long period; that is, after the fullness of the Gentiles will have come in.
Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Vol.4, pp. 510-520