We have arrived at Paul’s thunderous conclusion to the theological aspects of this letter in showing how Jews and Gentiles are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. The mystery of God has been revealed: not all Israel is the true people of God. Jews and Gentiles are branches in the kingdom of God and Jesus is the root. Gentiles are not excluded and neither are Jews excluded. God has not rejected his people, but continues to open his arms to the world. In this way all Israel will be saved (11:26). This salvation is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when God would remove the sins of the people and is the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy that God would establish a new covenant that offered forgiveness of sins. This quotation, yet one more time, proves Paul’s earlier assertion in Romans 9:6, "It is not as though the word of God has failed." Paul brings his message to its conclusion concerning this theme.
Mercy For All (11:26-32)
Unfortunately, the Jews are enemies of the gospel. These seem to be consoling words as he writes to Gentile Christians. In regards to the gospel, they are enemies against you. They are persecuting you and causing you grievous problems. But even though they are enemies of the gospel, God still wants them to be saved. God has not closed the door to the Jews outright. They can return and they can be grafted back in. It is interesting to note that the basis of this mercy seems to be on the promises God made to the patriarchs. God promised that their descendants would have the opportunity for God’s blessings if they obeyed. While they are currently enemies of the gospel, God wants all people to receive salvation. God’s promises are irrevocable. God keeps his word and he has kept his word. What God has said still stands.
To help the Gentiles Christians act properly toward the Jews, Paul gives them an important reminder. Don’t forget that at one time you were also disobedient toward God. But now you have received mercy as the door was opened to the Gentiles through Israel’s failure. In the same way, the Jews are now disobedient to God. But just as the Gentiles have received mercy, the Jews can still receive mercy. In fact, Paul states one more time that it is the hope of God that the Gentiles receiving mercy will cause the Jews to seek God’s mercy and become obedient to Jesus.
Verse 32 sums it up. All are disobedient. This sentence reminds us of what Paul taught back in chapter 3. There is no one who is righteous and all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. All of us are like Adam. All of us are trapped by our sins. No one is a favorite with God. All are under the condemnation of sin. However, it is God’s purpose to have mercy on all. Notice that it is not God’s purpose to have wrath on all. God has worked history in such a way so that he would have a people who would receive mercy and salvation. It is important to recognize that when Paul says, "all" he is speaking about all groups of people. Paul is not saying that every person is unconditionally saved. Rather, Paul’s thrust has been on "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." That is, all people whether Jew or Gentile, may now receive mercy. No group deserves salvation and God’s saving work is the result of his merciful grace.
This needs to be in our minds at all times in terms of evangelism. We were disobedient at one time to God, but now have received mercy. We should look at the disobedience of the world as our motivation to bring them to Jesus so they also can receive mercy. Paul always kept this in his heart and considered himself the "chief of sinners." We must never forget the mercy that has been given to us because are disobedient. We are not righteous. God has given us right standing and declared us justified by his grace.
How Great Is God! (11:33-36)
Paul breaks into praising God for riches of his wisdom and knowledge. Praise God for revealing how God would save the world! What an amazing way that God has worked through history to save people. Think about the complexity of what God has done. God creates humans knowing that they would sin. Rather than sending a sacrifice for their sins immediately, God wants the world to learn the power and gravity of sin. But the world is disobedient. So God chooses to have a people that will be different from the world and through whom would reveal God. He does not choose this people because of who they are, but because God needed a people. So God creates the nation of Israel through Abraham. But this nation, who are to be the representatives of God to the world and a light to the world, ended up acting worse than the nations. Rather than illuminating the nations, Israel is involved in greater iniquities than the nations. God must treat Israel like the rest of the nations, bringing severe judgment. The rest of the world, however, does not have this special relationship that Israel has. At the right time in terms of the iniquity of Israel and the readiness of the world, God sent Jesus to die for the sins of the world. All who believe in Jesus will be forgiven of their sins and be in a relationship with God. This promise was not only to Israel but to the world. As Israel rejected this message of salvation through Jesus, God’s messengers turned to the rest of the world and preached the message of Jesus to them. As the nations accept this good news about Jesus and enter into a relationship with God, it is God’s desire that Israel will return from their hard heartedness and disobedience and accept Jesus as Lord.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33 ESV)
Look at the riches of God! Look at his wisdom! Look at his knowledge! Paul backs this praise with two quotations. The first quotation comes from Isaiah 40:13.
"For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" (Romans 11:34 ESV)
I would like to read the next verse of Isaiah. "Whom did he consult and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?" (Isaiah 40:14). God’s wisdom and God’s ways are inaccessible to humans, unless God reveals his wisdom and ways to us. This is why Samuel was trying to get Saul to understand. We cannot presume to know the mind of God. No human being has enough wisdom to understand the mind of God. No human being has the wisdom to advise God on how to run the world. How often we act like we do! Too often we call God into question as if we have any right to question the ways of God because we have greater understanding than him!
The context of Isaiah’s quotation is important and comes into play with Paul’s argument. When Isaiah declared these words, they were words of comfort that God could deliver Israel. Even though deliverance seemed impossible as the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon. In the same way God has planned history in such a way that he fulfills the covenantal promises in an unexpected way. Who could have guessed that this was the way that God would bring mercy to the world?
Paul’s second quotation comes from Job 41:11. The context of Job is also useful. One of Job’s major complaints during his suffering was that God was unjust. In Job 38-41 God reveals himself to Job and rebukes Job for questioning him. Job is too limited and too finite to call God’s justice and judgments into question. Again, the context is fitting for Jews or Gentiles to question to way God would save people. God’s plan to save Jews and Gentiles is just and good. God is a debtor to no one’s wisdom, strength, or goodness.
To add another important dynamic of this quotation to Paul’s overall message, God does not owe us anything, especially regarding salvation. No one has ever given anything to God so that God owes any person. God is the giver, not the recipient, of wisdom. God gives all things to us, and does not receive benefits from human hands. God is the source and means by which all things are accomplished. The reason why is stated in verse 36. "For from him and through him and to him are all things."
- See how great God is!
- It should humble us!
- It should comfort us!
Recapping Romans 1-11
Chapter 1: Everything points to Christ. The gospel is God’s power to save the Jews and the Gentiles because God’s righteousness has been revealed. God is faithful and God is calling for his people to be faithful.
Chapter 2: Do not presume on the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience. There is equality in judgment, to the Jews and also to the Gentiles. True Jews are circumcised in the heart.
Chapter 3: But Israel’s unfaithfulness has not thwarted God’s plan to have a people. No one can be justified by themselves because both Jews and Gentiles are under sin. No one can be justified by the works of the Law. But God’s way to give the status of justified and covenant membership in God’s family comes through the faithfulness of Jesus to all who believe. These are justified by grace. Through Jesus God is able to be just and the justifier.
Chapter 4: Abraham was declared righteous by faith before the sign of circumcision was given. Therefore salvation is not through the works of the Law. We are declared righteous when we walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham.
Chapter 5: Because we are justified we have peace with God. God shows his love for us while we were sinners and enemies of God. What Adam did changed the world. Therefore what Jesus did changed the world. One introduced sin into the world and one introduced grace into the world.
Chapter 6: Just because there is grace, we cannot remain in the dominion of sin. Baptism means that we are dead to sin and alive to Christ. Do not let sin be in charge for the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life.
Chapter 7: Therefore, we have been set free from the Law to live a new way in Christ. But we are still engaged in a daily battle with sin.
Chapter 8: But there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. We are called to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. We are sons of God and not slaves. If we are his children, then we are heirs of the promises of God. Despite our suffering, God searches the heart and knows what we need. Our suffering does not change the fact that we are children of God. God is for us and we know this because he did not spare his own Son.
Chapter 9: God’s word has not failed. Not all Israel is truly Israel. Physical Israel has resisted God’s plan and there is only a remnant. The Gentiles on the whole have attained righteousness while the Jews on the whole have not. They stumbled over Jesus as their Messiah.
Chapter 10: The Jews tried to establish their own righteousness and did not submit to God’s righteousness. Everyone who believes (both Jews and Gentiles) will be saved. But Israel has not obeyed. They have heard and knew. But they are a stubborn and disobedient people.
Chapter 11: But God has not rejected his people. The elect obtained righteousness, but the rest were hardened. God has used this hardening to bring in the Gentiles and make the Jews jealous. Gentiles must not be proud or arrogant because Gentiles are included only by grace. The Jews can be grafted back and the Gentiles can still be cut off. So stand firm in the faith. This is how all Israel will be saved. God has been giving grace to the Jews until the Gentiles have the opportunity to fulfill the divine demands. But then the Jews will receive their just judgment. All of this extols God’s great wisdom and knowledge.