To many people the doctrines of election and reprobation seem wrong because they appear to be arbitrary. “Arbitrary” means that there are no reasons for them. It means that God chooses one and not another as if He were plucking petals from a daisy, saying: “I love you…I love you not.” That is not an accurate picture, of course. True, we dare not think that God owes us an explanation for what He is doing or that we could fully understand it if He should give us a complete one. But even if we do not have an explanation, that does not mean that God does not have His reasons. God is a purposeful God, and we should rightly suppose that everything He does has a purpose, and an infinitely wise one at that.
However, God has given us some explanation of why He chooses some people and passes by others. We saw it when we were studying Romans 9. It is that God might be glorified, that is, that He might be known as He truly is. In Romans 9, Paul taught that God makes His patience, wrath, and power known in the case of the reprobate, whom He passes by and judges for their sin, and that He reveals His mercy in the case of the elect, whom He saves apart from any supposed worthiness in them. We remember that Paul is dealing with the meaning of history in these chapters, and this means that he is writing on what we might call a down-to-earth level as well as on a theological one. He has been talking about the passing by of the great mass of Israel, which has rejected Jesus as the Messiah. We might ask: “Does God have a purpose in that?” The verses we come to now teach that God does have a purpose. God is using the passing by of Israel to bring salvation riches to the Gentiles.
In Romans 11:11-12, Paul makes four points that govern his thoughts throughout the remainder of the chapter. (1) Israel has “stumbled,” but their stumble is not final. In this section he teaches that the unbelief of Israel will not be forever. They stumbled as a nation by their rejection of Jesus as their Savior and Messiah, but they will rise again. (2) Their “stumble” had a purpose: it would be used by God to bring salvation to the Gentiles. It’s an example of the “riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” about which Paul will write later (Rom. 11:33). (3) The salvation of the Gentiles will lead in time to the “fullness” of Israel that is to the salvation of the Jews as a nation and this in turn will lead to even greater Gentile blessing. It means that the Jews have not been cast off so that salvation might come to the Gentiles instead, but that through Gentile salvation the Jews themselves might find Jesus as their Savior. (4) The way this will happen is by the spiritual riches of the Gentiles making Israel envious. They will see what the Gentiles have, recognize that these spiritual blessings were intended for them, and long to possess them too.
When God sent Jesus to be the Savior, He sent Him not only to be the Savior of the Jews but as the world’s Savior, too. When Jesus died, God showed this by tearing the veil of the temple in two from top to bottom. That act signified that the way to God was now open to anyone who would come through faith in His sacrifice. In one sense that meant the end of Judaism, at least in its ancient form. No Jew today worships at a temple in Jerusalem. No Jew brings the required sacrifices for sin. The end of that system was the opening of salvation to the Gentiles.
The title of this study, “Life from the Dead,” is taken from the phrase Paul uses for the anticipated salvation of Israel as a nation in the final days of world history (v. 15). In verses 13-15 Paul speaks of Israel having been rejected, in verses 11-12 Paul made the same point by speaking of the people’s “fall” and “loss.” This is an all-too-sad reality, of course. As Paul saw it, the tragedy lay in Israel’s rejection as the Messiah, with all that entailed. For centuries the Jews had been waiting anxiously for the Messiah’s coming, asking themselves whether any leader who emerged above the average might be him. Israel’s rejection of Jesus was a rejection of the very future for which they had been hoping. It was a repudiation of their spiritual destiny. Paul was acutely aware of this and grieved for what his people had lost.
So why did the Jews reject Jesus, after all? The reason people (Jews and Gentiles alike) reject Jesus Christ is because they are dead in their sins, and being spiritually dead, they are unable to understand the extent of their need, comprehend the grace of God in the gospel, or yield their hearts to the Savior. This is what Paul was teaching in the earlier chapters of this letter (Rom. 3:10-11). Paul means that apart from a spiritual resurrection, which Jesus called being “born again,” no one is able to be good, understand spiritual things, or seek God. On the contrary, we run away from Him and make substitute gods to take the true God’s place.
So what is the solution? The solution is obvious. We need to be born again. We need a spiritual resurrection. We need God, because only God is able to give life and provide resurrections. But praise be to God, this is exactly what God does. God is in the resurrection business. I remind you of the death and resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). If the story was only about a physical resurrection, it would be spectacular enough. We have bodies, and our bodies die. We need physical resurrections if we are to stand before God, see His face, and worship Him forever – as we sense we have been designed by God to do. But the deaths of our bodies are not our greatest problem, nor is physical resurrection our greatest need. We also have dead souls, and we need the resurrection of our souls and spirits if we are to turn to Jesus Christ in living faith and find salvation in Him.
Fortunately, the story of Lazarus is also about spiritual resurrections and the promise that spiritual life is to be found in Jesus. He alone can do what needs to be done. He alone can call us from the dark, loathsome charnel house of sin. And He does. Everyone who has ever come to Christ in saving faith has experienced just such a spiritual resurrection. We were dead in our sins, but we heard Jesus calling, “come out.” And we responded. All who have ever heard that call have responded and have thereby passed out of spiritual death into spiritual life.
Have you? If you have not, I urge you to pay attention to the Bible, the Word of God, because it is through the Bible and its teaching that Jesus calls men and women today. Read it. Allow yourself to be exposed to sound teaching. Meditate on Bible truths. I believe that if you do that, you will hear Jesus calling and will find that His call is bringing you to new spiritual life.
This brings us back to Israel as a nation, for it is Israel we are talking about primarily, and it is the resurrection of that nation that is our chief concern in this passage. We are studying the teaching that the Jews will have a spiritual rebirth in the final days. I know there are people who consider that impossible for a number of reasons. But we are not talking on the human level here. We are speaking about God and resurrections, which only He is capable. “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Why should the future gathering in of Israel be thought impossible when it is God who is doing the gathering?
Romans 11:11-15 Reflection Questions:
Verses 7-15 (and all of Romans 9-11) echo the stories of tensions between younger and older brothers from Genesis (Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers) as well as Jesus’ own parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. In all these cases God establishes and vindicates the younger over the older. How is Israel now in the position of being the older brother in the prodigal son story?
How might jealousy, as described in verses 11-15, actually draw Jews to Christ?
How is it that Paul nonetheless has hope for Israel’s future and envisions its resurrection (vv. 11-15)?