The Apostle Paul, who was once a high ranking Jew, converted to Christianity by a miraculous work of God on a trip to Damascus. As one of the only Apostles called to primarily minister to the Gentiles, he had to answer this question to the Gentile churches: Are the Jews God’s chosen people?
The people in that century, especially in the Gentile churches, wondered who would receive the promises of God given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Did these promises of God apply to Gentiles who had received Christ or only the Jewish people? And would God still fulfill his promises to ethnic Israel?
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Gentile churches to address these questions.
First, he wanted to assure the Gentile believers that those who place their faith in Christ receive the spiritual blessings promised to Israel.
Here is how he explained it in his letter to the Galatians:
In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.
What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would make the Gentiles right in his sight because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith (Galatians 3:6-9 NLT).
Paul wanted to be clear that we receive the promises of God by grace through faith, not by following the Jewish law. Those who receive Christ by faith, whether Jew or Gentile, become children of Abraham and thus become recipients of God’s promises to Abraham. This was something he learned personally in his own life. Paul said, “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:9 NLT).
Paul wanted us to know that the promises of God aren’t received as a birth right. They are received by faith. By faith we are adopted as God’s children into God’s family. By faith we receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. By faith we receive the promises of a future glory that was given to Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets. By faith we become God’s chosen people. Abraham and the patriarchs are the roots, and Gentile believers are branches that are “grafted in” the Jewish family tree.
All of this troubled many devout religious Jews in Paul’s day. The fact that anyone could receive the promises of God by faith and not by following the law became a stumbling block for many Jewish people. Paul explained,”Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path” (Romans 9:32 NLT).
As they stumbled, Gentile believers poured in droves to receive the promises. Yet, as we come in, we must take a humble approach. Paul says, “Well,” you may say, “those branches were broken off to make room for me.” Yes, but remember—those branches were broken off because they didn’t believe in Christ, and you are there because you do believe. So don’t think highly of yourself, but fear what could happen. For if God did not spare the original branches, he won’t spare you either” (Romans 11:19-21 NLT).
The truth is that the majority of Israel was broken off because they did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. They rejected the message of grace and the saving promises found only in Jesus Christ. Paul’s Jewish brothers and sisters were hardened and it hurt him deeply. He wrote, “My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them” (Romans 9:3 NLT).
Israel’s hardening is not the final word however. God has not rejected his own people, the nation of Israel. The Apostle said, “Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it” (Romans 11:11-12 NLT).
Paul also says that a remnant of Israel has been preserved in this time of hardening. “So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened” (Romans 11:7 NLT).
There is a remnant of the Jewish people who have chosen to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. This remnant is prophetic proof that God is not finished with Israel. He will fulfill the promises made to the nation of Israel and his people. And while there is remnant now, there will be large numbers who will trust Christ in the future.
Paul assured us that there will be a future fulfillment of God’s saving promises to ethnic Israel. Paul wrote, “For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead! ” (Romans 11:15 NLT). God will do a new work in the future in which many more Jews will be saved.
So as we watch world events unfold that affect the nation of Israel, we can be assured that God has a plan and blessing in store for the nation of Israel. He has not forgotten his promises he made to them.
We need to remember this as we respond to the issues affecting the nation of Israel. God’s promises and call to them cannot be changed or revoked. “Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn” (Romans 11:28-29 NLT). God’s electing promise given to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be fulfilled in the future.
These future promises feature God’s great mercy. God saved the Gentiles when it seemed only the Jews would be saved, but in the future he will save the Jews in great numbers. All of this is done by his grace. It will be clear in that day that everyone’s salvation is by his grace and mercy alone.
(While you are here, check out my new book Out of Control:Finding Hope in a Broken World.)