Paul’s statement in Romans 11 that “all Israel will be saved,” has baffled Christians for centuries. Here is a helpful article giving an Old Testament context and covenantal background of Paul’s statement. Max King is a genius with a way of making his point clear and taking the mystery out of otherwise confusing issues.
And So All Israel Will Be Saved
by Max R. King, July 9, 2005
Many look to Paul’s assertion in Romans 11:26, “And so all Israel will be saved,” and see a prediction of Old Covenant Israel’s national restoration to their former place of temple worship and service in ‘the land,’ which allegedly marks the beginning of an earthly thousand-year reign of Christ that supposedly fulfills promises to Israel that were not, and could not, be fulfilled in the ‘church age.’ Countless predictions and calculations allege that now is the time for it all to happen.
The restoration of national Old Covenant Israel is one of the major tenets of dispensational premillennialism. Dispensationalism stands opposed to amillennialism on the question of Israel’s national restoration. However, there is no general consensus on Romans 11:26 in the amillennial world. Some see it referring to a future mass conversion of Jews to Christ. Others feel that Paul spoke of the sum total of individual Jews who will eventually turn to Christ during an extended Christian age. Then, there are those who are not sure what it means—except they ‘know’ what it doesn’t mean.
Here is the picture. Premillennial theologians say that the amillennial proponents are wrong, and the amillennial scholars say that the premillennial position is wrong. The irony of all this is their united stand on that which causes both camps to miss the significance of this passage: namely, the assumption that Christ’s Second Coming is still future. It is precisely this supposition that leads both groups to miss the context and setting of biblical covenantal eschatology. Romans11:26 is no exception.
Here is the basic problem. The eschatology found in the New Testament emerges from the Old Testament. The setting of its fulfillment is the closing period (the last days) of fleshly (Old Covenant) Israel in the first century. One could rightly say that the New Testament has no eschatology of its own because eschatology pertains to the end of the Old Covenant, not to the end of the New. Naturally, since the apostolic writings were composed during the last days’ time of fulfillment they contained a ‘future’ perspective, but this future never extended beyond the full end or consummation of the Old Covenant age in 70 A.D.
We see in Romans 9-11 that Paul was not looking to some far-distant time for the salvation of “all Israel.” In Romans 11:25, he connects Israel’s salvation with the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles. Paul understood this as the goal of HIS Gentile ministry. Then in verses 26-27, he linked this goal with the coming of the Deliverer (Christ) out of Zion (his Second Appearing) in keeping with God’s covenant to “turn away ungodliness from Jacob,” and to “take away their sins.” The covenant under consideration here is the New Covenant that God had promised to make “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah saying, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:3ff.; Hebrews 8:7-13). With this one New Covenant, God would take away the sins of Israel and Judah.
Here is the problem as commonly presented. If this covenant was the New Covenant, and if the New Covenant was ratified in Christ’s death, how could Israel’s salvation (the taking away her sins) be ‘future’ when Paul wrote Romans years after the cross? And why would this act of God be tied to Christ’s Second Appearing rather than to His death, resurrection, or the beginning of the church on Pentecost?
The problem is resolved when considering of the role of “atonement” in eschatology and the range of action it involves. Israel’s yearly Day of Atonement typified the once-for-all atonement Christ made. But what did it entail? It consisted of three basic actions on the part of Israel’s high priest—(1) slaying the sacrifice; (2) entering the Holy of Holies with its blood to make atonement in the presence of God; (3) his returning and appearing to Israel at the door of the tent. His return was anxiously awaited by Israel because it signaled God’s acceptance of the atonement.
The atonement, therefore, was not completed when the sacrifice was slain, nor when the high priest entered the Most Holy Place. The ATONEMENT WAS ACCOMPLISHED when the high priest returned the SECOND and final time. Bear in mind that the priest entered TWICE with the blood of the sacrifice: first for his own sins [and those of his family and the priests], and then [the priest came out a second time] for the sins of the PEOPLE, Hebrews 7:27. The latter was the MAIN focus of his return and of a consummated atonement.
Hebrews 9 ascribes the SAME pattern of action to Christ’s fulfillment of Israel’s atonement. The Book of Hebrews intentionally prefaces comments on this matter in chapter 8 with a discussion about the New Covenant’s ability to take away the sins of Israel and Judah. Christ’s atoning action is under careful consideration in 9:23-28, where we see the three-fold atonement pattern: First, the offering of the sacrifice (Himself). Second, Christ’s entrance into the true Most Holy Place with His own blood to make atonement. Third, his returning or appearing “a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” to those eagerly waiting for Him (v.28).
The Book of Hebrews was written after Christ’s death, but before His “Second Appearing.” Thus, it was composed during the time he was making atonement in the Presence of God (9:24). In Christ’s case, the atonement involved His reigning “till His enemies are made His footstool” (10:11-12)—the last of which was death (1Corinthians 15:25-26). The author of Hebrews believed [and TAUGHT authoritatively] that Christ’s return (Second Appearing), that signaled a consummated and accepted atonement, was IMMINENT. The writer exhorted his readers, “To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (9:28). They could see the Day approaching (10:25). “For ‘soon, very soon’…he who is to come will come and will NOT DELAY” (10: 37, NEB). In this way, the writer encouraged the original audience to have “boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus” (10:19f).
Significantly, the author of Hebrews affirmed that Christ’s atonement, when consummated at his Second Appearing, would enable the saints to enter the presence of God in the true Holiest of All—the one not made with hands. This was not possible with the atonement made by Israel’s High Priest. The Old Covenant High Priest appeared at the door of the tent to bless the waiting congregation, but he could never receive them into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. He could not even remain there himself. However, Christ’s atonement and return would be of a different order, as Jesus himself noted in John 14:1-6.
We have, therefore, a biblical atonement setting for Romans 11:26 where Israel’s New Covenant salvation was still future (from Paul’s standpoint) since it was tied to Christ’s Second Appearing, which was near when the Book of Romans was written. “And do this, knowing the time, that NOW it is high TIME to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day IS AT HAND” (Rom.13:11-12).
Paul was not saying that they had received no salvation when they first believed. Rather, in view of the time, it was then nearer than when they first believed. Their salvation was nearer both in time and in fullness, as indicated in Romans 11:12. Here Paul spoke of “how much more” the Gentiles would benefit in the near future from Israel’s soteriological (salvation) “fullness.” The Gentiles received “riches” (reconciliation to God) through Israel’s fall, but the “much more” to be received in Israel’s acceptance would be “life from the dead” (11:15). The “dead” here is Israel, whose acceptance/resurrection would yield the benefit of life for the Gentiles.
Paul did not change from one salvation in 11:26 (for Israel) to another salvation (in 13:11). The salvation in 11:26 was not in the infinite future while the salvation in 13:11 was “nearer” and “at hand.” If he did, for whom is the salvation in 13:11? The Gentiles?
Were they to receive a different salvation than Israel was promised? That cannot be because Paul in chapter 11 states that the Gentiles were grafted into Israel’s olive tree to receive what precisely what Israel was to receive; nothing more, nothing less.
As noted above, the scriptures in Hebrews and Romans tell us that the salvation of all Israel in Romans 11:26 was in the immediate future, that it was tied to the New Covenant and to Christ’s Second Appearing, and that it pertained to consummated atonement. Both premillennial and amillennial theologians have overlooked this historical setting, covenantal connection, and theological background.
New Covenant atonement is eschatological, and it falls into the closing period of the Old Covenant age. The end in view when “all Israel” would be saved is the precise end addressed by Jesus in Matthew 24 which was marked by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This event ushered in Israel’s promised New Covenant creation (Isaiah 65:17f) wherein righteousness dwells (2 Peter 1:3).
Stepping into the middle of that short eschatological period of time (from the cross to the fall of Jerusalem) and breaking off that imminent future from its past and then-present action being recorded in the New Testament texts and transferring that immediate future to some alleged end of an extended “church age” disregards the context of the first- century historical situation and the Old Covenant theological grounding. Christ’s second appearing is integrally connected to his atonement, his death, and his entering the Most Holy Place. If Christ has NOT yet appeared the second time, then only one of two possibilities must be valid. One, the atonement is not yet completed. Or worse, it was not accepted by God. These are the only possible conclusions for the amillennial and premillennial positions.
The Essence of Israel’s Salvation
Identifying Israel’s salvation sheds light on the time and manner of its fulfillment. There is general agreement that Paul recognized Israel’s salvation as being rooted in God’s promise to Abraham as confirmed in Christ.Yet the dispensational position argues that that promise includes a restored earthly temple, kingdom, and animal sacrificial system in Canaan. Is this what hardened Old Covenant Israel failed to obtain—the fleshly ordinances (Romans 11:7)? This is precisely what Torah- zealous Israel held on to. This is not what Paul had in mind when he wrote that some branches were broken off from the holy rooted olive tree (Rom. 11:17). Paul would not permit the Gentiles to revert to the Old Covenant system by being grafted into Israel’s olive tree (the Abrahamic promise in Christ). They could not gain that which unbelieving Israel had failed to attain (9:30-33) by going back into the Old Covenant. Paul never affirmed that the Gentiles would attain to restored land, earthly temple, Jerusalem, kingdom, and animal sacrifices
If we can learn what the Gentiles obtained in Israel’s olive tree, then we can know the essence of Israel’s salvation in 11:26. Paul confirmed, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone” (9:30-32).
“Righteousness” is a historically controversial subject among theologians. Suffice it to say that Paul tends to use it interchangeably with “justification.” In Galatians 3:21 it is equated with “life”—the soteriological life and glory of God that humanity came short of (Romans 3:23). It is called “the righteousness of God” because it is God-given. And its only foundation is God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). The difference between the Gentiles’ attaining to God’s righteousness (not having pursued it) and Israel’s not attaining unto it (while having pursued it) is this. Paul said in 10:3, “For they [Israel] being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” What is Paul’s point?
First, he didn’t say that the Gentiles were not ignorant of God’s righteousness, although they were until its revelation in Christ through the gospel (1:16-17). On the other hand, Israel, who was chosen or elected of God to carry the promise forward to Christ (cf. 9:1-5), did not know God’s righteousness in advance of its revelation in Christ. They took matters in their own hands. Rather than waiting for God and the promise by faith, Paul said they set out “to establish their own righteousness” through “a law of righteousness,” which they presumed could be found (and handled) in the Law given through Moses. But they found the opposite of what they were seeking. Paul states the reason. “For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them’” (10:5). Thus in seeking a law of righteousness, Israel found instead “a law of sin and death” (8:2). Paul describes this dilemma more fully in 7:13-25.
The Gentiles, therefore, in attaining to righteousness by faith through being grafted into Israel’s olive tree (11:17f), demonstrated the true meaning and essence of Israel’s salvation in 11:26. They were proof that Israel’s promise in Christ excludes fleshly circumcision and subjugation to the Law of Moses and its ordinances. These were “shadows” of things to come, but Christ is the “substance” or body (Colossians 2:16-17). Hence, Christ was “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).
Yet, if the Gentiles already had attained to righteousness when Paul wrote Romans, does this not prove that the full salvation was not ‘future’ in 11:26? No, it merely confirms whatwe stated above about the past, present, and future range of eschatology in Paul’s time. We find it again in Galatians 5:5: “For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” How could Paul and the Galatians be eagerly waiting for this hope if it were fulfilled already? Elsewhere Paul said that “hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees” (Romans 8:24)? This illustrates consummated salvation or “righteousness by faith” cannot be simply collapsed into the time period of the cross or Pentecost. Furthermore, Paul’s “eagerness” shows that he expected the consummation to occur in HIS near future—not our extended future.
The Gentiles’ attaining to righteousness already (from the perspective of when Romans was written) is based on the benefits received in Christ through what he had done and was then presently doing as High Priest. Thus they could look with assurance and eager anticipation to the approaching consummation. It is the same situation seen with respect to the atonement in Hebrews 9 and the eager waiting for Christ’s Second Appearing.
In Romans 11:11-15, Paul spoke of the initial blessings (riches, reconciliation) that the Gentiles received through Israel’s fall, but there would be “much more” to be gained through Israel’s “fullness” and “acceptance.” Paul, therefore, had a definite future in view that would yield benefits for the Gentiles through God’s acceptance of Israel. These complete blessings would surmount those that they had already received. This promise refuted the notion that God had cast away His people whom He foreknew because the blessing to the Gentiles was contingent upon God’s acceptance of Israel.
What was this future and the “much more” that would come through Israel’s acceptance? How is it relevant to the fulfillment of “the hope of righteousness by faith” eagerly awaited through the Spirit”? Before answering this, we must address an overriding question.
Who Comprises the “All Israel” in 11:26?
There has been much discussion about the meaning of “all Israel” in this verse. But the context shows that Paul uses ‘Israel’ here the same way he uses it throughout chapters 9-11, as a reference to Jacob’s physical lineage. Changing here to a ‘spiritual’ usage to include Gentile believers (as some hold) would counter the point Paul makes. Paul was not replacing Israel with the church. He was not attempting to prove the supposed ‘spiritual identities’ of Jew and Gentile in 11:26. Instead, he was establishing for his Gentile audience that God had not cast away Israel and that “all Israel” will be saved.
Our task, then, is to see the connection between the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles and the salvation of not just part of Israel, but of “all Israel.”
Importantly, Paul links the salvation of the Gentiles and the salvation of all Israel. To see this connection, one must observe what Paul says in 11:26-27: “as it is written, The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is my covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” With whom is this covenant made?
To whom does the Deliverer come? Whose sins are taken away? Paul quotes from Isaiah 27:9 and 59:20-21, and this prophetic text is closely linked to the covenant that Jeremiah speaks of the in 31:31-34; i.e., the New Covenant that God would make, not with part of Israel, but with BOTH “the house of Israel” and “the house of Judah.” So, how does Paul’s mission to the Gentiles fit in with God’s fulfillment of His covenant with both houses, Israel and Judah?
Historically speaking, Christ came in the flesh to the house of Judah—the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in Judea. But where was the house of Israel? We know the answer to that. The ten tribes of the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 721 BC, never to be restored to their former tribal “people of God” status in Palestine. The few who were left in Samaria intermarried with non-Jews who were imported to occupy the vacated land and cities of Israel. Out of this amalgamation grew the Samaritan people despised by Second Temple Jews. Apparently a few managed to join with Judah either before Judah’s Babylonian captivity or at the time of her return and the restoration of Jerusalem. As for the rest of the captives who were scattered among the nations, nothing is recorded about what became of them.
But this much we do know. God’s casting away of Israel was not His last word concerning the ten tribes. The prophets foretold that in the days of the Messiah, Ephraim/Israel/the ten tribes would be gathered or assembled with Judah and become one nation. God instructed Jeremiah, “Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you. ‘For behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 30:2-3). And again, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people … He who scattered Israel will gather him, And keep him as a shepherd does his flock” (Jer. 31:1, 10).
Through Micah, God said, “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together like sheep of the fold, like a flock in the midst of their pasture; They shall make a loud noise because of so many men” (2:12).
The clearest, most graphic prophecy of Israel’s recovery and reunion with Judah is recorded in Ezekiel, chapters 36-37. In chapter 37 Ezekiel saw a valley of dry bones. He was told that these bones were “the whole house of Israel.” They depict Israel’s condition in captivity saying, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!” (37:11). Then God spoke to them saying, “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves” (37:12-13).
Next, Ezekiel was instructed to take a stick and write on it, “‘For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions.’ Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions.’ Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand” (37:15-17). Ezekiel is told that this means that Judah and Ephraim (the ten northern tribes) WILL BECOME ONE in God’s hand. “Then say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone … and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountain of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again” (37:21-22).
Furthermore, God said, “David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd … and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore … indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (37:24-28).
In John 10, Jesus echoed Ezekiel’s prophecy, applying it to himself. He told those of the house of Judah, “I am the good shepherd … and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have (the scattered house of Israel) which are not of this fold (the fold of Judah); them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:11-16).
Indeed, that is salvation, not for just part of Israel, but for all Israel—BOTH HOUSES, Israel and Judah. This is what Paul had in view in 11:26 when Paul spoke of the fulfillment that was occurring in HIS time.
“Not My people” versus “My people”
We are now ready to take up the prophecy of Hosea concerning God’s scattering and re- gathering Israel (the ten northern tribes). We will see its relevance to what Paul affirmed in Romans 11:25-26 concerning the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles and the salvation of all Israel.
The prostitution or idolatry of Israel (the ten northern tribes) and God’s punishment of them is pictured in Hosea 1. Israel is symbolized by through Gomer (the woman of prostitution whom God instructed Hosea to take for a wife). The children born of this union were Jezreel (meaning “God will disperse”), Lo-Ruhamah (meaning “without mercy”), and Lo-Ammi (meaning “no longer my people”). This was to show that God was going to disperse or scatter Israel without mercy in a place where they would not be his people, and thus “bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (1:4).
But Israel would not be cast away forever. Hosea foretold Israel’s restoration in chapters 1 and 2. “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; And they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel!” (1:10-11). In 2:23 the prophet wrote, “And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’”
Returning to Romans, Paul, in speaking of the vessels of mercy which God “had prepared beforehand for glory,” quotes the prophecy from Hosea applying it both to Jews and Gentiles in Christ (9:23-26). Paul related Hosea to the restoration of the ten tribes scattered among the nations. Why, then, did he apply it also to the Gentiles?
Israel became a “no people of God” when scattered among the nations or Gentiles. But how was Israel to be recovered? Not only did Christ not go to her during His earthly ministry, but he did not permit his disciples whom he sent out in Matthew 10 to “go into the way of the Gentiles,” nor to “enter a city of the Samaritans” (Matt. 10:5). Only after his death and resurrection would it be possible to assemble both Judah and Israel—not in the earthly but in the New (heavenly) Jerusalem of the new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:1ff).
How, then, would Christ gather His sheep, particularly His “other sheep” scattered among the nations? It would be by his ministry through the Holy Spirit imparted to his apostles, and by the preaching of the gospel in all the world for a witness before the final end of Israel’s earthly commonwealth (Matthew 24:13,14; 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). The remarkable ingredient to this commission was Paul’s call to be an apostle to the Gentiles. In going to the Gentiles, Paul had opportunity to preach to Israel scattered among the nations whom God said through Hosea, “You are not My people.”
But how would they become “the people of God”? In precisely the same way the Gentiles who (like scattered Israel) were a “no people of God” became his people. The Gentiles, therefore, served to demonstrate to Israel (and to Judah) the meaning of their adoption or sonship in Christ through His death and resurrection.
From that perspective, Paul (in Romans 9:23-26) drew the Gentiles into Hosea’s prophecy concerning Israel, for they too stood on equal ground as the “no people of God.” It is interesting to note that the place where it was said of Israel, “You are not My people,” (i.e., among the nations) there it would be said, “You are My people.” Peter confirmed the fulfillment when writing to the “Dispersion” in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia saying, “But you are a chosen generation … who once were not a people but are now the people of God” (1 Peter 1: 1; 2:9-10).
They did not have to be transported back to geographical Palestine to be God’s people. The new dwelling was “in Christ.” Christ fulfills the “land promise” for all Israel. The place of worship no longer is in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim (John 4:20- 24). As God said, “I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore … indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My People” (Ezekiel 37:27; Revelation 21:3).
The Gentiles’ Impact on All Israel’s Salvation
We now are set to see how the “fullness of the Gentiles” connects with the “salvation of all Israel” (11:25-26). While the word “fullness” denotes a filling up or bringing to completion, Paul was not concerned about aggregate numbers per se. He was interested in bringing the Gentiles from birth to full maturity in Christ (Galatians 4:19). He ministered among the Gentile to accomplish this. At the same time, he did not separate from Jewish believers in their midst, nor did he permit Gentile believers to isolate themselves from their Jewish brethren. Together they grew “into a holy temple … for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” Together they would “come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 2:19- 22; 4:11-16).
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Israel’s Resurrection “Fullness”
We learn from Romans 9-11 and Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles that in every
sense “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). God designed things that way by calling Abraham, giving promises to him, and choosing Israel to carry the promises to consummation in and through Christ. It follows, therefore, that every facet of eschatology pertains to the Comprehensive Grace of God in fulfilling Israel’s comprehensive salvation.
Therefore, all facets of this salvation are included in Israel’s “time of the end.” The resurrection, which is the core of salvation, is no exception. Resurrection was promised to Israel (Isaiah 25:8; 26:19; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Hosea 13:14; Daniel 12), and it constituted “the hope of Israel” (Acts 26:6-9). This hope resided at the heart of the gospel preached to Israel (Acts 2:22-39; 4:1-2; 13:32-39; 23:6; 24:14-15).
So, when Paul in Romans 11:12-15 points out to Gentiles that the “much more” of Israel’s “fullness” and “acceptance” would mean for them “life from the dead,” he referred to the fulfillment of Israel’s promised resurrection. The Gentiles, thus, benefited from Israel’s resurrection just as they profited from every aspect of Israel’s hope, promise, and inheritance of salvation.
It is from this perspective that we can read and understand Paul’s teaching on resurrection in his epistles. In his resurrection texts, he either corrected or gave further instruction to Gentiles relative to the fulfillment of Israel’s resurrection through Christ. He showed the relevance of this fulfillment to the Gentiles’ own soteriological fullness and perfection in Christ. They could not set aside Israel and claim any advantage or perfection in Christ independently of Christ’s making good God’s promises to the fathers of Israel (Romans 15:8-9).
Consequently, Romans 11 is concerned with stemming the tide of a Gentile renunciation of Israel’s place and role in salvation—influenced no doubt by Israel’s lingering hardness and opposition to the gospel. There is evidence of this at Corinth when some contended that “there is no resurrection of the dead.” This was not a denial of resurrection in general, but for a particular class labeled “the dead” who were perceived by some as being without hope of resurrection life in Christ.
“The dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:12 refers to Israel under the Law. Likewise, “the dead” in Romans 11:15 refers to Israel under the Law. Therefore, showing the consequences of the Gentiles’ denial of Israel’s resurrection, Paul follows the same logic in 1Corinthians 15 as he does in Romans 11—you Gentiles do not bear the root, but the root bears you. Christ came to fulfill Israel’s promises, but if there is no resurrection of the dead (Israel), then Christ (Israel’s covenant representative) is not risen, and if Christ is not risen, you (Gentiles) are still in your sins (cf. verses 1Cor. 15:12-17).
In other words, the resurrection of Christ, Israel’s Messiah, was the pledge or guarantee that all Israel would be raised. But if all Israel would not be raised, if Israel had been cast away, then there would be no resurrection life in her “olive tree” for the engrafted Gentiles.
With the olive tree metaphor, Paul links the salvation of all Israel with Israel’s resurrection. Also, he connects it to Israel’s “fullness” and “acceptance” (Rom. 11:12-15), without which there would be no hope of resurrection life and glory for the Gentiles. With this in mind, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 instructed the Gentiles as to the meaning and full benefits of Israel’s resurrection for all were dead “in Adam,” Jew and Gentile without distinction. The blessing through Abraham was to be for “all families of the earth” (Galatians 3:8).
For an extensive exegesis and analysis of 1Corinthians, I invite you to see pages 440-648 in my book, The Cross and the Parousia of Christ. In 1Corinthians 15, Paul defends and explains Israel’s hope, promise, and fulfillment of resurrection. We see it in his concluding statements on death’s defeat and victory through Christ (verses 50-57) where he quotes Israel’s prophets.
First, in 15:54 Paul quotes Isaiah 25:8. “[T]he saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” Isaiah prophesied concerning Israel’s release from the bondage of sin and death in the day that “the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His elders, gloriously” (Isa. 24:23).
The second prophecy that Paul quotes in 1Corinthians 15:55 comes from Hosea 13:14. It pertains to Israel’s restoration after being scattered among the nations. God said, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction.” See also Ezekiel 37 in this regard where, by means of resurrection from captivity, Israel and Judah are made one nation, under one King, having one Shepherd, with God’s sanctuary set in their midst. Paul argued in 1Corinthians 15 that Christ was fulfilling every aspect of this prophecy thereby bringing salvation to all Israel.
Paul saw Israel’s restoration as “redemption from sin”—hence a ‘resurrection
restoration.’ “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). Bear in mind that Paul is writing to a primarily Gentile church. Thus, in view of the surety of Israel’s ‘resurrection fullness,’ Paul, in verse 58, exhorted the engrafted Gentiles to be “steadfast, immovable … knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
Their labor was not in vain because Israel’s resurrection from death in sin was assured in the death and resurrection of her Messiah. Through Israel’s fall the Gentiles obtained riches, but through Israel’s acceptance/resurrection they would obtain “life from the dead.” Therefore, Paul encouraged them to be steadfast to the end (1 Corinthians 1:7-9) when they would receive the full benefits of Israel’s fullness—the ultimate adoption (Romans 8:23) as “sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36).
Paul reasoned in this manner because the Gentiles were not the producers but rather the partakers of Israel’s spiritual things. Israel’s resurrection is no exception to this rule.
Resurrection and Righteousness By Faith
Since “righteousness by faith” is the essence of Israel’s salvation, a brief word is in order at this point concerning the connection between resurrection and righteousness by faith. Paul said in Galatians 5:5, “For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”
What would fulfill this hope? In Philippians 3 Paul connected his obtaining “the righteousness which is from God by faith” to his being conformed to Christ’s death and knowing the power of His resurrection (Phil 3:7-16). The context shows he was speaking of past and present action—”to the degree that we have already attained” (Phil 3:16), in anticipation of consummated attainment—”Not that I have already attained … but I press on…” (Phil 3:12-14).
What Paul wrote here about dying and rising with Christ bears directly on his attaining to the resurrection from the dead (verse 12) and to his being “found in Christ, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ” (verse 9).
Firstfruits and Harvest
It will be helpful to see the explicit two stages of resurrection in Scripture— (1) the firstfruits and (2) the harvest. This stems from an Old Testament concept where the firstfruits were the first grain of the harvest to be cut and offered to God. This would be followed shortly thereafter by the ingathering of the entire harvest. In 1Corinthians 15:23, Paul calls Christ the firstfruits of the resurrection, thus indicating that the entire harvest was READY to be gathered in.
Paul referred to the firstfruits stage of the resurrection in Philippians 3. This was the time preceding the end of Israel’s covenantal age when others were becoming joined to Christ as firstfruits for the purpose of being built up in him in conformity to his image (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:13). The “remnant according to the election of grace” in Romans 11:5-7 belongs to this “firstfruits” category. Therefore this remnant was the pledge and promise of the whole harvest, the pending salvation or resurrection of “all Israel” in 11:26.
The “harvest” stage of the resurrection encompasses the Old Testament saints for whom Christ died (Hebrews 9:15), thus not limiting “all Israel” in 11:26 to Jews living at the time of Christ’s Second Appearing. His end-of-the-age coming would gather together “His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31). Both the living (the firstfruits) and the dead (the harvest) were to be caught up and united in him for eternity in Israel’s promised “new heavens and earth” (Isaiah 65:17f, Revelation 21).
We can identify the end goal of “the hope of righteousness by faith” eagerly awaited in apostolic time. In the words of Peter, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). A cursory reading of Daniel 9 sheds light on Israel’s time of the end “to finish the transgression,
to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.” (Dan. 9:24). Truly, God did not cast away his people whom he foreknew.
Romans 9-11 recognizes the process of the Northern Ten Tribes (“My people,” Hosea 1:4) becoming dispersed among the Gentiles (“not My people,” Hosea 1:4) only to be reconciled as the people of God (Hosea 1: 10-11; 2:23) through taking the gospel into all the world (to the Gentiles, Diaspora, etc.) before the end could come (Matthew 24:14).
The process of scattering and gathering allowed God to be faithful to his promise to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah, as well as to all nations (Gentiles) through the forming of a New Creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:1ff.).
Romans 9-11 gives us rich insights to Paul’s understanding of the scope and method of achieving the salvation of all Israel. He recognized that the time was near, that it was tied to God’s promise of a New Covenant with Israel and Judah, and that Christ’s atoning “Second Appearing” fulfills the promised salvation. He appreciated the irrevocability of God’s promise that ultimately “all Israel” would be restored to God as his people.
He wrote that “the righteousness of God by faith in Christ” was the essence of Israel’s salvation, and he realized the impact of his ministry to the Gentiles through Israel’s hardening, thereby provoking “many to salvation.”
Finally, Paul’s eschatology pertained to the closing period of the Old Covenant economy and to the full realization of all things “which the prophets and Moses said would come” (Acts 26:22). This was the gospel that he had been separated unto (Romans 1:1-6) and that he preached as “the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes … For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith’” (1:16-17).
First published in Living Presence Journal (vol. 9, no. 3, May/June 1998), this article has been updated to include fresh research and scholarship. Max’s book on Romans 9-11 is scheduled to be released in June 2006.
 I will explore this at length in my forthcoming book on Romans 9-11.
 Again, I will expand greatly on this in my book.