61. What does the conversion of Israel mean?
Despite the judgments on the Jews for their rejection of Christ, and the breaking down of the wall between Jew and Gentile, both the Old and New Testaments indicate that, towards the end, large numbers of Jews will repent and believe resulting in blessing for the worldwide Church.
Despite the judgments on the Jews for their rejection of Christ…
God has placed a heavy sentence of judgment upon the Jews for their rejection of Christ (Matt. 8:11-12; 21:28-46, esp. Matt. 21:31, Matt. 21:43; 22:1-14; Luke 13:6-9, esp. Luke 13:7).
Matt 8:11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matt 21:28 But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. 29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. 30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. 31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him. 33 Hear another parable: There was a certain- householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged- it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: 34 And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. 35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. 37 But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. 38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. 39 And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. 40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? 41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. 42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become- the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 43 Therefore- say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. 44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever- it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. 45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
Matt 21:31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
Matt 21:43 Therefore- say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
Matt 22:1 And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, 2 The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, 3 And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. 4 Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. 5 But they made light of it, and went their ways, one- to his farm, another to his merchandise: 6 And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. 7 But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. 9 Go ye therefore into the highways-, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. 10 So those servants went out into the highways-, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. 11 And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: 12 And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. 13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
Luke 13:6 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon-, and found none. 7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? 8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung- it: 9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after- that thou shalt cut it down. 7Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
…and the breaking down of the wall between Jew and Gentile…
Regarding the privileges of the Gospel, there is now no Jew nor Gentile (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). All have equal access and entitlement.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Colossians 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
…both the Old Testament…
The Old Testament did not predict Israel being substituted with the Church but that through Israel the whole world would be blessed. It also holds out hope that though Israel would reject the Messiah and be judged for that, the day would come when Israel as a people would turn back to the Lord in unprecedented numbers (Ezek. 36:33; Zech. 12:10; 13:1).
Ezekiel 36:33 Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded.
Zechariah 12:10 And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom- they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
Zechariah 13:1 In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.
…and the New Testament indicate that…
Luke 21:24 and 2 Cor. 3:15-16 hint at a day when Israel will turn back to the Messiah they rejected. But it’s Romans 11 that really focuses on this. And we will look at this in more detail next.
Luke 21:24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
2 Corinthians 3:15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. 16Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.
…towards the end, large numbers of Jews will repent and believe…
Premillennialists maintain that there will be a national restoration and conversion of Israel. They say that the Jewish nation will be re-established in the Holy Land immediately before or during the millennial reign. The argument for this follows the following steps:
Step 1: Ethnic Israel is in view
I and many other commentators who believe in a turning of the Jews to Christ do not necessarily tie it to a national restoration of Israel as a political or national entity. We prefer to speak of ethnic Israel rather than national Israel. The key verses for this view are Romans 11:12, 15, 25-32. Paul introduces the section dealing with the role of the Jews by speaking of his “kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3). In Romans 11:11-12, he contrasts Israel with the Gentiles.
Rom 11:12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?
Rom 11:15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
Rom 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest- ye should be wise in your- own conceits-; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. 26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. 28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. 29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. 30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: 31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
Rom 9:3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
Rom 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God- forbid-: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. 12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?
Step 2: Israel’s casting away is paralleled with its restoration
The casting away of Israel is the rejection of Israel as a people collectively. The rhetorical questions of Rom 11:12, 15 imply that there is to be a reception of them again. The same collective aspect must apply to the restoration to make the contrast meaningful. The parallelism of Rom 11:12, 15 guide us to the meaning of Israel’s “fullness” in v12.
Romans 11:12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
Romans 11:15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
Step 3: One tree and three types of branches (Rom. 11:17-24)
Natural branches are the Israelites living at the time of Christ who had been saved by grace in the old dispensation. They passed into the new dispensation as true members of the church. The cut off branches were the Israelites who rejected the Messiah. The wild olive branches are the Gentiles that had been called into the fellowship of Christ and His church. There is only one tree, representing the one family of God in all generations. The cut off branches could be grafted back into the tree if they believed, and their grafting would feel more “natural” (Rom 11:24) in contrast to the Gentiles who were grafted “contrary to nature.”
Romans 11:17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest- of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. 19Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. 20Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: 21For if God spared not the natural- branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. 22Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. 23And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. 24For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural- branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
Step 4: “All Israel” means a vast number of Israelites
“And so all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). “And so” means “and then” or “after that.” After the fullness of the Gentiles (most of the Gentiles) have been saved, there will be a widespread acceptance of Christ by the Jews. Just as most but not all of the Jews rejected Christ, so most though not all Jews will accept Christ.
Some say that “all Israel” means “spiritual Israel” a body made up of the remnant of believing Jews plus the believing Gentiles in all ages. They take “And so” to mean “in this manner.” However, throughout this chapter when Paul speaks of Israel he has been speaking of Jews as opposed to Gentiles. See the immediate context of Rom. 11:25 and Rom. 11:27 and following for Israel being used of the ethnic body rather than a spiritual body.
Some say that “all Israel” means the elect remnant of ethnic Israel in all ages. Again “And so” is taken as an adverb of manner rather than of time. “And so in this way…” However this seems to be anticlimactic and irrelevant to Paul’s concern in Romans 9-11. The fullness of Israel will come to salvation (Rom. 11:12) – this is the same as the acceptance of Israel (Rom. 11:15), the grafting in of Israel (Rom. 11:23-24), all Israel (Rom. 11:26).
“And so” does refer primarily to the manner in which all Israel will be saved – as Israel is provoked to jealousy by the conversion of the Gentiles (Rom. 11:11,14). However the temporal aspect cannot be ignored as in Rom. 9-11 Paul is describing a sequence of events in redemptive history which concludes with “and so…” The main point of Rom. 11:25 is that the hardening of Israel will come to an end and Israel will be restored.
…resulting in blessing for the worldwide church.
The Jews will be brought into the church producing one worldwide Church of Christ. This will result in life from the dead for the church (Romans 11:15). This does not necessarily mean numerical blessing.