Romans 11:25-26 says, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.”
Keith Mathison, author, and professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College, wrote a great article on Ligonier Ministries concerning Israel and the Church in the New Testament. I encourage anyone to go read his article to follow up my article on “Who is the Elect” and “Root of the Problem”. However, he brings up an interesting point later in the article. He eventually addresses this “mystery” Paul speaks of here in Romans. His conclusion is very noteworthy, and I’d like to comment on it. His claim is that “all Israel” refers to national Israel; not necessarily every individual, but the nation as a whole will be saved. We would both agree that jealousy arouses Israel ultimately in the end to turn to Christ. However, he believes that the “mystery” spoken of here is that all national Israel will be saved. His reasoning is that “Paul is not in anguish over the salvation of the remnant. They are already saved. He is in anguish over unbelieving Israel. It is this “Israel” for whose salvation he prays (10:1), and it is this Israel that he says will be saved in verse 26.” He then goes on to conclude, “The interpretation of “all Israel” that best fits the immediate context is that which understands “all Israel” as the nation of Israel as a whole, but not necessarily including every individual member of ethnic Israel.” This would indeed be quite the surprise if that is the case.
I believe it makes more sense for us to understand this use of the term, “mystery”, in relation to how Paul has mentioned it elsewhere in his letters. In Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, he is seen once again mentioning a “mystery” of some sort. In Ephesians 3:2-6, Paul says,
“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
The mystery is very clear here, and no respectable scholar questions what this mystery is referring to. The gentile church was an unseen mystery to the Old Testament Prophets. The church age is a gap in time that was unprecedented by man. That’s why our interpretations concerning Daniel’s 70th week considers us in between the 69th and 70th “seven/week”. The 70th seven, or as we come to understand it, the final 7 years of Biblical prophecy, are future events that begin on a day and hour no man knows. That is because the current time we are living in, the time of the gentiles, was a mystery. Paul, here, very clearly describes this mystery for the Ephesians. Would it be unheard of for him to reference this same mystery again to the gentiles in Rome? Not at all. In fact, as we look at the context of the passage, we will see that this understanding fits much better and gives more clarity on who true Israel really is. Romans 11:13-26 says,
“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.”
What mystery does Paul not want them to be ignorant of? He doesn’t want them to be ignorant of the “mystery” that gentiles are grafted into the tree! The Mystery is the very thing Paul described for his audience in the statements prior. You cannot detach Paul’s whole message, on believing gentiles being grafted in, from the statement he makes immediately preceding it where he mentions “this mystery”. Mathison is trying to connect it to the statement following the mention of “this mystery”. We have more evidence to suggest otherwise, including scripture found elsewhere. This corresponds directly to how Paul referenced the mystery of the gentile church in Ephesians. “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 3:6. Is this not exactly what Paul described in Romans? This is not an additional mystery that reveals the entirety of national Israel will be saved. Elect gentiles, or those who the Lord foreknew since the beginning of time, will be saved. By that, all “true” Israel will be saved alongside their believing Jewish elect counterparts. The analogy of grafting in the church perfectly answers the question of why gentile believers are not to be ignorant. We are not to be ignorant because we are not our own tree. The original tree has not been cut down, merely some branches have due to unbelief. We are not to be ignorant of this mystery because we are not the root of the tree. We do not support the tree; the roots support us. What reason do we have to be conceited then? None at all! Though we are blessed by Christ through his extending hand of grace to the gentiles, we shall never allow it to “get to our head”. Our history is Jewish history. Our foundation is based on Jewish prophesy. Our pride is solely Christ, the fulfillment of the Jewish faith. This was Paul’s caution to his gentile audience. The gentile church was a mystery, but by no means is it a replacement. Faith has always been the condition for election. I’m jumping back one last time to drill this point home.
Romans 11: 1-8 says, I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”
It’s impossible to miss the fact that Paul is not referring the nation of Israel as the elect. In fact, it says they did NOT obtain it – salvation. The ELECT among them did. The elect, who were chosen by God as a remnant for their faithfulness to him. In other words, it’s not good enough that they are born Jews, descendants of Abraham. Biblically, you are not considered the “elect” just because you are a Jew. Obedient faith is the qualification. This truth has always been carried throughout scripture. Even for those who were not biological Jews, yet were welcomed alongside them because of their faith. Paul is addressing a primarily gentile audience with justification for why this “election” invitation has now been extended out to them. It’s deeper than blood. Election follows with the spiritual bloodline of Christ that is offered to all people.
As I said in “Who are the Elect”, I believe that there will be a final remnant of believing Jews at the end of days who will stir with righteous jealousy in their hearts when Christ comes and calls his Christ-followers home. I believe it is appropriate to understand that at the Day of the Lord, (the rapture of believers in Christ) these 144,000 Jews have no true faith in the Lord. They are as Paul says in Romans 10:2, that they have great enthusiasm for God, “but it is misdirected zeal.” In other words, they are earnestly trying to serve the Lord in their Jewish faith but have missed Christ; their faith is misdirected. However, God sees them as they are eternally. God is all knowing. He is Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the End. He foreknew his elect since the beginning of time. I think it’s therefore appropriate to understand that these 144,000 Jews are sealed based on God’s foreknowledge of their repentance on the day of the Lord, else they would just be gathered unto the Lord alongside everyone else who believes in Him. And lastly, I believe that this number is to be taken literally. I believe in a literal translation of the Bible. Though sometimes numbers have meanings behind them, I do not think we ought to abandon the literal numbers themselves as a dramatic response. 144,000 symbolizes “completeness” in the Bible. I think that is significant, but we shouldn’t throw away the literal number and completely allegorize it. These 144,000 Jews complete the full number of those who come to know Christ and are counted among the elect. You can take the literal number and still see the symbolic application as well.
Will all Israel be saved? YES! All of true Israel will be saved. (tricked you there) But not all of National Israel will be saved. It is very unlikely that there is yet another mystery Paul happens to know. He was told by God about the mystery of believing Gentiles being grafted into the promises of God and are now offered the gift of salvation by faith. However, we do not see or hear God ever telling him of this apparent “new” mystery that all National Israel will be saved. There are a lot more than 144,000 Jews living in our world today, and when Jesus comes, there will be many who’s hearts remained hardened in unbelief. Nonetheless, God’s story of faithfulness to Israel is beautiful, untarnished, and worth it. All throughout the pouring out of God’s wrath upon the Day of the Lord, it is repeatedly said that the people will be unrepentant. NO ONE will repent of their sin and give their life to the Lord. They will curse Him and blaspheme His name. But of all the people in the world remaining in a world without hope, there will be 144,000 of the very people who were first entrusted with the Word of God, who will bow their heads and submit their lives to the Lord in faith. They will humble themselves before the Lord and without expecting anything in return, begin worshipping Christ Jesus as Lord. They will go out and share the Gospel of Jesus. And just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, Christ will be with them, and they will not be harmed. They will walk out of the fire and into the Millennial kingdom of Christ unscathed.
I pray that you found this insightful and encouraging. God bless.