The Mystery of Israel
The mystery of Israel impacts our world. We live in a troubled world, where we see violence, hatred, and injustice every day. One of the most complex and controversial issues in our world is the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East. As Christians, we may wonder how we should relate to Israel and the Palestinians, and what God’s will is for them.
The Bible has a lot to say about this topic, especially in the book of Romans, where Paul explains God’s plan for Israel and the Gentiles. Today we will look at Romans 11:25-27, where Paul reveals a mystery that God has kept hidden for ages, but now wants us to know. First, let us understand what the term mystery is. Paul uses this term when he wants to talk about something that is new or novel. In other words, this was not completely known to those who know the Old Testament.
The Mystery Is Like a Christmas Present
I like to use the picture of a Christmas present. It’s something that is there by the Christmas tree. It’s been sitting there for some time. But it can’t be opened until Christmas. After Christmas, you discover what it is. The same is true with the phrase “mystery” in the New Testament. It’s something that the Old Testament can’t completely tell us until after the resurrection of Jesus.
THREE CLUES THAT EXPLAIN THE MYSTERY OF ISRAEL
God has not rejected Israel (v. 25a)
“I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you will not be conceited: A partial hardening has come upon Israel…” (Romans 11:25, CSB)
Paul says that he does not want us to be ignorant of this mystery, which is that God has not rejected Israel, even though they have rejected him. Many people think that God has abandoned Israel because they have been unfaithful to him and have rejected Jesus as their Messiah. But Paul says that this is not true. God still loves Israel and has a special purpose for them in his plan of salvation.
God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he will keep his promises to them and their descendants. He has not rejected Israel, but he has allowed them to experience a partial hardening of their hearts until the right time.
God has included the Gentiles (v. 25b)
“I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you will not be conceited: …until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Romans 11:25, CSB)
Paul says that the reason why God has allowed Israel to be hardened is so that he can include the Gentiles in his salvation plan. The Gentiles are all the people who are not Jews, who did not have the law, the prophets, or the promises of God. But God in his grace and mercy has opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles through faith in Jesus Christ.
Some Old Testament and Jewish texts predict that Gentiles will join the worship of the Lord in the last day; and some of them suggest that it is the Lord’s glory revealed in a rejuvenated and regathered Israel that will stimulate the Gentiles’ interest. But wholly novel was the idea that the inauguration of the eschatological age would involve setting aside the majority of Jews while Gentiles streamed in to enjoy the blessings of salvation and that only when that stream had been exhausted would Israel as a whole experience these blessings.
In other words, in God’s grace, He has allowed the Gentiles to experience salvation along with Israel. There is now this time when we can experience salvation. It’s not for some future time that we will miss out on.
This is a great mystery, because in the Old Testament, God seemed to favor Israel over the other nations, and the Jews looked down on the Gentiles as unclean and unworthy of God’s blessings. But now in Christ, there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, for we are all one in him.
God will save all Israel (v. 26-27)
“And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, The Deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:26–27, CSB)
Paul says that after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, meaning that all the people whom God has chosen from among the nations have believed in Jesus, then God will save all Israel.
What does “all Israel” in this verse? Does it mean that every Jew who lives at that time will be saved? I don’t believe so. To put it simply, as Dr. Stephen Runge, a theologian in residence with Logos Bible Software has stated:
Paul’s redefining of the true Israel as a group based on faith rather than ethnic or national identity.
A Large-Scale Conversion
The quote does not mean that every individual Jew will be saved. Instead, there will be a large-scale conversion of the Jewish people to Christ before his second coming. Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:20-21, where God promises to send a deliverer from Zion, who will remove ungodliness from Jacob, and make a new covenant with them, when he takes away their sins.
““The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of your children’s children, from now on and forever,” says the Lord.” (Isaiah 59:20–21, CSB)
This deliverer is Jesus Christ, who came from Zion, which is Jerusalem, and who died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead. He is the one who can remove ungodliness from us and make us righteous before God by his grace.
““Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at me whom they pierced. They will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for him as one weeps for a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10, CSB)
In Zechariah, we see a similar picture, of a large-scale conversion. Right now, individual Jews will come to Jesus, just like Gentiles will. But there will be a time when Jesus returns that a large-scale conversion of Jews from Judaism, or even secularism, will occur.
What does this mystery mean for us today? First, it means that we should not be arrogant or proud of our salvation as Gentiles, but we should be humble and grateful to God for his grace and mercy. We should not look down on Israel or despise them, but we should pray for them and love them as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Second, it means that we should not be complacent or lazy in sharing the gospel with others, but we should be zealous and faithful in fulfilling our mission as God’s witnesses to the world. We should not think that we have all the time in the world to reach people for Christ, but we should realize that there is an urgency and a deadline for God’s plan of salvation.
Third, it means that we should not be fearful or hopeless about the future of our world, but we should be hopeful and confident in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. We should not be discouraged by the evil and violence that we see around us. Instead, we should look forward to the day when Jesus will return and establish his kingdom of peace and justice on earth. We should not be anxious about what will happen to us or to Israel or to any nation, but we should trust in God’s promises and his power to fulfill them.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse et al., Second Edition., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 732.
 Steven E. Runge, High Definition Commentary: Romans (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 202.