NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XII)
John Calvin offers his advice on understanding what Paul says here about there still being hope for his fellow unbelieving Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah and be saved. He feels that the Romans might be hindered in understanding this argument unless they made note that sometimes he speaks of the whole nation of the Jews, and sometimes of single individuals. That’s why on the one hand he talks about the Jewish nation being banished from the kingdom of God and cut off from the tree of life which will hasten their destruction. But on the other hand, he denies that they had fallen from grace. On the contrary, they continued in the possession of the covenant and still had a place in the kingdom of God. In other words, Israel may no longer be the chosen children of God as a nation, but there are many among them who will be called into the fellowship of God’s children as Christians.1
Calvin goes on to say that while the Jews, for the most part, rejected Christ which allowed such thinking to pervade the whole nation, yet there were many who did accept Jesus as the Messiah. This was enough to conclude that while the Jewish nation had stumbled, it still was not finished for them universally with no hope of repentance. Calvin says that we should derive the following conclusion from all that Paul has said so far: Although they brought on their own ruin with spiritual blindness, he now gives hope of their rising again. These two things are totally different. The nation of Israel foolishly stumbled over Jesus being the Messiah and fell into destruction. Yet, every individual Jew was not automatically included so that even those who believed would perish or be alienated from God.2 In the words of a song we used to hear sung many years ago that said, “There is still room at the cross for one.”3
John Taylor is quick to point out that the fall of the Jews was not, in itself, the cause or reason for the calling of the Gentiles into the family of God. Whether or not the Jews had rejected Jesus as the Messiah it was already part of God’s original purpose to bring the Gentiles into the church under the final covenant. This was not decided when Paul was called as the Apostle to the Gentiles but was in God’s covenant with Abraham. For how could the unbelief of the Jews give the Gentiles any reason to believe? If it were not yet part of the divine plan to save the whole world, then Jesus would have had to return to the cross after his resurrection and die again, this time for the Gentiles. God’s grace would not be hindered from reaching every sinner on earth regardless of what the Jews did. So their rejecting Jesus as their Messiah and Savior was exclusive to them. The call going out to the Gentiles had been scheduled before the creation of mankind. In fact, it was the realization that the Gentiles were now included in the family of God that was supposed to make the Jews jealous and fight to keep their place at the banquet table with Abraham.4
Adam Clarke makes the same point that the fall of the Jews was not in itself the cause or reason for the calling of the Gentiles. Whether the Jews stood or fell, embraced or rejected the Gospel, it was the original purpose of God to take the Gentiles into the Church. This was clearly implied in the covenant made with Abraham, and it was by the goodness of God in that covenant that the Gentiles were now called, not just because of the Jews’ unbelief.
Simply put, the Jews, in the most obstinate and unprincipled manner, rejected Jesus Christ as God’s Savior which He offered to them in His name. That’s why the Apostles then turned to the Gentiles with the Gospel message, and they heard and believed. The Jews then perceived that the Gentiles would be given possession of similar privileges which they once enjoyed as the peculiar people of God. This they could not bear or even imagine to be possible. So they rallied all their strength in opposition and persecution against it.5
Robert Haldane comments on why he thinks God used jealousy to bring the Jews to a fuller understanding of their fallen state. It was meant to open the eyes of their when they saw how God was pouring out mercy and favor on the Gentiles, and that this would cause them to reflect on their own fallen condition, and desire to possess the same advantages. So when the Jews could no longer hide the fact that the God of their forefathers is now with the nations whom they once abhorred, they would be led to reconsider their disobedient ways and brought again into the fold of Israel. This is according to the prophecy already quoted by the Apostle Paul in the 19th verse of the preceding chapter.
Haldane believes that it was in this manner that God purposed to finally bring the Jewish nation to their knees in submission to Him in order be under His Shekinah cloud of blessings again. That’s why by His sovereign will, the fall and ruin of so many Jews would lead to the salvation of even more Gentiles. His dreadful judgments against the shameless transgressors of His laws should warn those who see it to flee from the wrath to come. On the other hand, the conversion of heathens who had been notorious sinners should excite some of the Jews to seek salvation from Christ. After all, who could have calculated how extensive, permanent, and glorious the effects of God’s redemption plan would be throughout all creation, and into the eternal ages, from the fall of angels and mankind for the Church and the whole world?6 We ought to remember that the Lord has very wise and gracious motives for His most severe and frightening decisions. We can see this in how the fall of the Jews became an occasion for the Gentiles to be enriched with the inexhaustible grace, love, and mercy that is in Christ so that the justice, the wisdom, and the faithfulness of God can be glorified even in the worst of times.7
Charles Hodge sums up what appears to be the accepted understanding of most Bible scholars. Since the rejection of the Jews was not total, neither was it final. They have not fallen so deep as to be hopelessly unable to rise again. First, it was not God’s design to get rid of His people entirely, but, by their rejection to facilitate the progress of the Gospel among the Gentiles. This, in turn, would make the conversion of the Gentiles the means of converting the Jews.8 Then Hodge notes that the Jews, even those who were professors of Christianity, were, in the first place, very slow to allow the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles; and in the second place, they appear almost uniformly to have desired to clog the Gospel with the ceremonial observances of the Law. This was one of the greatest hindrances to the progress of the cause of Christ during the apostolic age, which would, in all probability, have been a thousand-fold greater, had the Jews, as a nation, embraced the Christian faith. On both these accounts, the rejection of the Jews became a means of facilitating the progress of the Gospel.9
Frédéric Godet also comments on the apparent blessing that came to the Gentiles and will come to the Jews, because of their rejection of Jesus at His first coming. As he sees it, we can call this a wonderful result in that Israel, having been unwilling to concur with God in saving the Gentiles, will still, in the end, be responsible for themselves being saved through the salvation of the Gentiles. It is undoubtedly a humiliation for them to be the last to enter where they should have introduced all others to God’s kingdom. But on God’s part, it is the height of mercy.
There is perhaps a more remote reason for which the conversion of the Gentiles becomes a means for the salvation of the Jews. Paul indicates this in words borrowed from the passage of Moses quoted by later in verse 19. Seeing all the blessings of God’s kingdom such as pardon, justification, the Holy Spirit, and adoption showed in abundance on the Gentile nations through faith in the One they rejected, how can they still keep endlessly keep saying, “These blessings are ours?” And how can they not open their eyes and recognize that Jesus is the Messiah since in Him the works prophesied were accomplished? How can the elder son, seeing his younger brother seated and celebrating the feast at his father’s table, not ask that he may re-enter the paternal home and come to sit down side by side with his brother? Such is the spectacle of which Paul gives us a glimpse in the words: “to make the Jews jealous.” The sin of the Jews could modify the execution of God’s plan, but by no means prevent it.10
Preacher Charles Spurgeon shares his thoughts. He puts it this way: There will be a day when those who have for so long refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, will finally recognize the purpose of His mission and will mourn the fact that they stabbed Him in the side. When the nation of Israel finally shows sorrow for their sin with holy sincerity, there has never been a time of grieving that will match it. Once they discover that their nation rejected the Son of God when they crucified Jesus of Nazareth, their deeply religious spirit will be filled with the utmost remorse as they repent in tears of regret. Each man and each woman will cry out for pardon to the Lord of mercy. Then suddenly their weeping will turn to joy as they feel His forgiveness sweep over them. All their sins of ages past will be washed away in one moment. They will then perceive that the very side which they pierced has yielded a fountain to cleanse them from all their unrighteousness. They will look up and with great joy behold the cross on Calvary upon which was sacrificed the Lamb of God that brought them redemption and healing. They will see the sin-offering slain on their behalf. What a blessed day that will be when “all Israel shall be saved.” O that you and I might live to see that happy scene when all the Jewish race will behold their Messiah. For then shall Israel be joined with Gentiles believers in sweet communion forever and ever.11
H. A. Ironside comments about the Jews, then and today, and their relationship with God. He notes that many Christians have taken for granted that God is through with them as a nation forever. This, the Apostle now shows, is far from the truth. Did they stumble so many times that they finally fell? And did their fall result in removing any hope or possibility of Israel recovering? The answer again, “By no means.” God has used their present defection to make known His riches of grace toward the Gentiles, and this, in turn, will be used eventually to provoke Israel to become so jealous that they will turn back to the God of their fathers and to the Christ whom they have rejected. This recovery will be a means of untold blessing to that part of the world which has not yet come to a saving knowledge of the Gospel.12 It has been some seventy years since Dr. Ironside taught this lesson, and Israel is no closer to accepting Jesus as the Messiah now than then. But is God any closer to opening that door for them to see the truth and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of all? I’m sure He is. Oh, what a day that will be so that all heaven can rejoice.
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Room at the Cross for You: Lyrics by Ira Stanphill
4 John Taylor: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 342-343
5 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 218
6 Ephesians 3:9-11
7 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 532
8 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 560
9 Hodge: ibid., p. 562
10 Frédéric Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.