God has promised that He will save all Israel. What, exactly, does this promise mean?
Many have taken this to mean that at some point in the future the earthly nation of Israel is going to be converted. The earthly nation as we know it today remains in unbelief. But those who hold to such a position say that a radical change is someday going to take place, and the nation of Israel is going to repent of their sins and turn to God in faith.
Is this really true? Are we to expect such a conversion? This would be unlike anything that has ever taken place in the past. Is it really going to happen? Or does God mean something else when He promises that all Israel will be saved?
The Dispensational View of Israel’s Future Conversion
There are, of course, many passages that speak of the salvation of Israel. But the following is the central passage used by many to prove that Israel as a whole will experience a national conversion at some point in the future:
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins,
Dispensationalists are not all agreed as to when this conversion of Israel will take place. Some speak of it taking place during the time of the Great Tribulation, and others speak of it happening at the very moment Christ returns:
…the Scriptures predict that at the second coming Israel will experience spiritual revival. This is intimated in
and is involved in the fulfillment of the numerous Old Testament passages of which
may be taken as representative.¹
It should be clearly evident that this latter notion is false. Nowhere do we read of people who will be converted right at the moment that Christ returns. Rather, we read that Christ will not come until all God’s elect people have come to repentance (II Pet. 3:9), and that all unbelievers will be punished (not converted) when the Lord returns:
…when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power,
God’s people are converted by means of the preaching of the gospel. And those who will not hear Moses and the prophets (Luke 16:31) will not believe even when they see our Lord coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
A Salvation for Unbelievers?
At least some dispensationalists maintain that this salvation of Israel refers to God saving them from persecution, and not necessarily from sin:
It is obvious from Scripture that not every individual Israelite will be saved from the guilt and power of sin. In
it is predicted that the rebels in Israel, those who were not saved prior to Christ’s second coming, will be purged out, and only those converted will be allowed to enter the millennial kingdom. Accordingly, the deliverance in salvation which is referred to in verse 26 [i.e.,
—J.A.L.], refers to a national deliverance, that is, a cessation of their persecution of the Gentiles. Those delivered are not necessarily saved in the sense of being saved from the guilt and power of sin.²
But how could this be? God’s promise to His people always has to do with salvation from sin. God’s promise is gracious. And the grace of God is a power that always delivers the recipient from his sin.
In fact, the Romans 11 passage itself makes very clear that the salvation spoken of is a cleansing from sin. The inspired apostle proves his point by quoting the Old Testament where God promises to “turn away ungodliness from Jacob” and “to take away their sins.” The salvation spoken of in this very passage is not some carnal deliverance from military forces, but a complete deliverance from sin and Satan.
Who Is Meant by “Israel”
To understand what is meant by the salvation of all Israel, we must first understand who is meant by “Israel” in Romans 11:26. Dispensationalists err when they refer to the unbelieving nation as Israel. Rather, it refers to the believing remnant that constitutes the true nation of Israel.
In Romans 9-11 the term “Israel” is used to refer to those elect people of God who are also blood descendants of Jacob. Sometimes in Scripture the word “Israel” is used to refer to the church of God as a whole. But in this portion of the epistle to the Romans the term is used to refer specifically to those in the body of Christ who are also blood descendants of the patriarch Jacob.
That this is the way the term “Israel” is being used is evident from what Paul says at the very beginning of this section:
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises,
Scripture here is speaking of God’s people who are also Paul’s “kinsmen according to the flesh.” It is speaking of the remnant of Israel that God has promised to save.
As has been pointed out before, the promise to the one Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a promise to Christ and to all those whom God has chosen to be in Him (Gal. 3:16, 29). But this promise to save Jacob’s seed included a promise to save a remnant from among those who came forth from the loins of Jacob.
Only the elect descendants of Jacob were truly Israelites, as the following passage makes clear:
Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed,
God’s covenant is with Abraham’s seed. And it has always been the elect children alone—the ones called in this passage “the children of the promise”—who have been counted for this seed.
God says here that “they are not all Israel that are of Israel.” Not all those who were blood descendants of Israel really belonged to Israel. There were always many who were “of Israel” (i.e., by blood), who were not truly part of Israel. But God continued to save a remnant from Jacob’s blood descendants. He never forsook His people and started over with a new covenant people.
How “All Israel” Is Going to Be Saved
Understanding whom God is referring to as Israel, we move on to consider how “all Israel” is going to be saved. Paul began this section by expressing his personal longing that all Israel would be saved. Now this section ends with an emphatic statement that explains how it is that all Israel really is going to be saved.
There have been many, however, who have taken thisRomans 11 passage to mean that at some point in the future the entire nation of Israel is going to be converted. Some may interpret “all” to refer to every individual in the nation. Others may say that it means simply the majority of the people. But all of them are united in teaching that there is a certain point of time in the future in which God is going to convert the earthly nation of Israel.
In addition to having a wrong idea about who is meantthen all Israel shall be saved,” but “and so (i.e., in this way) all Israel shall be saved.” The passage is not speaking of when Israel will be saved. Rather, it is explaining how it is going to happen. It is speaking not of a sudden, massive conversion that will take place in the future, but of a gradual conversion that is taking place throughout history.
There was a converted remnant that God saved in the days of the old dispensation, and God will continue to save a remnant throughout the days of this new dispensation. Verse 25 states that blindness “in part” has happened to Israel at the present time, which means a remnant is being gathered still today (Rom. 11:5). When you add together the remnant gathered in the Old Testament days and the remnant gathered in the New Testament days, the two groups together constitute the “all Israel” that God promised to save. The totality of the remnant is what is meant by all Israel. And thus, by saving a remnant throughout history, God is going to save all Israel. That is what this passage is teaching.
Now some may think that the saving of a remnant and the saving of all Israel are contradictory ideas. But such is not the case. In fact, God shows elsewhere that to save the remnant is to save all Israel.
I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee;
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel,
In this passage, all of Jacob (mentioned in the first part) refers to the same people as “the remnant of Israel” (mentioned in the second part). The remnant of Israel constitutes all Israel.
What we have in Micah 2:12 is an example of what is referred to as parallelism. Parallelism is found often in the Old Testament (and not infrequently also in the New). The Hebrew writers of Scripture often wrote two similar statements that said basically the same thing. Such similar statements are said to be “parallel,” and thus the rhetorical device is called “parallelism.”³
There is repetition in parallelism, but this repetition is not pointless. Rather, it serves to bring out some very important relationships. For example, in Micah 2:12 we see that “O Jacob, all of thee” is parallel with “the remnant of Israel.” The fact that they are placed parallel to one another indicates that these two are identical. In other words, this parallelism teaches us that the remnant constitutes the true Israel, so that the saving of all the remnant amounts to the saving of all of Israel.
Understanding this is of great importance. In fact, this same principle has an application to the other nations as well. God, after all, promised to save all nations. For example, the saving of the remnant of the French amounts to the saving of all of France. Then the saving of all the remnants together constitutes the saving of the entire world. Understanding what it means for God to save all Israel helps us to see what it means for God to save all the world.
¹ John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1959), 274.
² John F. Walvoord, Every Prophecy of the Bible (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1999), 454.
³ There are other types of parallelism. For example, sometimes the second part states the opposite of the first part.