And so all Israel will be saved:

Reflections on a Christian Zionist reading of Romans

A sudden, happy insight tells Paul that the “stumbling” of Israel is, in fact, an integral piece of God’s cosmic plan for the salvation of all humankind, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Romans 9 to 11 is undoubtedly one of the most challenging passages in the New Testament. Here Paul wrestles passionately with questions that shake him to the core. These questions lead him to ponder the imponderable, as he struggles to understand the purposes of God in the world. How does Israel fi gure within God’s redemptive purposes, since Israel does not recognize Jesus as the Messiah whom God has sent for their salvation? What becomes of God’s covenant with Israel? “Has God rejected his people?” (11:1). “Have they stumbled so as to fall?” (11:11). Paul answers his own questions with utmost confi dence: “By no means!” (11:1, 11). A sudden, happy insight tells Paul that the “stumbling” of Israel is, in fact, an integral piece of God’s cosmic plan for the salvation of all humankind, Jews and Gentiles alike. In God’s “inscrutable ways” (11:33) the “stumbling” of Israel means that “salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous” (11:1). And this “jealousy” will ultimately lead to Israel’s “full inclusion” (11:13) and the salvation of “all Israel” (11:25). For Paul, this matter is a theological conundrum that he simply entrusts to the infi nite wisdom of God. But in the post-1948 world, Paul’s words are as politically controversial as they are theologically challenging. Who is the “Israel” to whom Paul points? What relation does this “Israel” have to the modern State of Israel, founded in 1948? And what is meant by the “salvation” of “all Israel”? The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ), a prominent Christian Zionist organization, sees itself called “to declare the truth of God’s word that bequeaths to the people of Israel the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession.” Accordingly, the ICEJ views the modern State of Israel as the prophetically grounded restoration of biblical Israel. And it is within this theo-political framework that the ICEJ appeals to Romans 9 through 11. Christian Zionists thus connect Paul’s words in Romans and the national aspirations

of the Jewish people. But is the picture this simple? Careful attention to Paul’s message in Romans 9 through 11 would suggest otherwise. This much is historically indisputable. In 1948, a new state came into being in the Middle East. This new state, intended as a homeland for Jews from around the world, was named “Israel.” But serious questions must be raised about the relationship of this new state to biblical “Israel,” in specific, to the “Israel” of which Paul speaks in Romans 9 through 11. Four observations come into focus.

1. The socio-political “Israel” of Paul’s day is not an autonomous nation, but a people living under military occupation.

2. The “Israel” of which Paul speaks is, rather, a people group, Paul’s own “kindred according to the flesh” (9:3). More to the point, it is a faith community. It is this people group and this faith community over which Paul anguishes as he considers the purposes of God.

3. Paul views the purposes of God in messianic fashion. Accordingly, Paul’s anguish in these chapters stems from Israel’s failure to recognize Jesus Christ as the central actor in God’s redemptive purposes. Paul’s words about the “salvation of Israel” point not to the national aspirations of an occupied people, but to their membership—”their full inclusion” (11:12)—in the messianic faith community through which God’s salvation purposes are being worked out.

4. Paul’s vision in Romans 9 through 11 includes both Jews and Gentiles as mutually essential actors in the drama of God’s redemptive purposes. {this IS THE NRE ISRAEL COMPOSED OF ALL WHO CALL ON JESUS}  Israel’s present “hardening” (11:25) opens the door to salvation for the Gentiles (11:11, 12, 15, 25). And the incoming of the Gentiles into the messianic faith community creates a “jealousy” among the Jews that will ultimately lead them to “full inclusion” (11:12), “life from the dead” (11:15), and the salvation of “all Israel” (11:26). God’s redemptive purposes, in Paul’s view, have nothing to do with a “restored Jewish state.” As Paul sees it, God’s redemptive purposes seek to draw all humankind—Jews and Gentiles alike—into the inclusive and reconciling fellowship of the messianic community of Jesus Christ. —Dorothy Jean Weaver

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