Previous article in this series: December 1, 2017, p. 109.
“…blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness 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.”
With Revelation 20 and Daniel 9, Romans 11 is one of the most important passages of Scripture for the dispensational premillennial doctrine of the last days.
According to the premillennial understanding of the chapter, at some time in the future God will complete His salvation of the church among the nations. In the language of verse 25, at that time, “the fulness of the Gentiles” will have “come in.” Whenever that time arrives, all the predominately Gentile church will be raptured off the earth into the clouds.
At that time, “all Israel shall be saved.”
By this language of Romans 11:26, premillennialism understands a mass conversion and salvation of Jews, and their restoration as an earthly kingdom of God in Palestine (Canaan).
How this salvation of Israel will occur is odd. Not Jesus Christ, but the Antichrist will accomplish the salvation of the majority of Jews. After the rapture of the church, the biblical Antichrist will come to power in the world. He will unite the nations to persecute the Jews. The effect of the persecution will be the spiritual salvation of the majority of Jews. Such will be their salvation that it will restore the Jews as the earthly kingdom of God.
At the very end of the period of Antichrist’s persecution of the Jews—three and a half years—Jesus will return to earth, bodily, to rescue the Jews—now the restored kingdom of Israel—from destruction.
Then will begin the millennium—the one-thousand-year period—of the reign of Israel over all the world, with heavenly King Jesus enthroned in old, earthly Jerusalem.
Criticism of the premillennial explanation of Romans 11
Important aspects of this bizarre doctrine of the last days I have already exposed as erroneous in my treatment of Revelation 20 and of Daniel 9, earlier in this series.
Israel as an earthly nation of Jews will not be restored as the kingdom of God in the world. Nor is there so much as a hint of such a restoration of Israel in Romans 11. The salvation of all Israel, announced in Romans 11:26, is spiritual, not carnal. The text itself declares the spiritual nature of the salvation of Israel. According to the text, the salvation of Israel consists of turning away ungodliness from Jacob and of God’s taking away their sins (vv. 26, 27). It is this spiritual salvation of Israel that is God’s covenant with Israel (v. 27), not a restoration of Israel as an earthly kingdom.
The longing of all premillennialists for a restoration of Israel as an earthly kingdom, with fleshly glory, finds absolutely no basis in Romans 11. On the contrary, the salvation of Israel is wholly spiritual: deliverance from ungodliness and from sins. And this is the nature of the covenant of God with Israel, for the salvation of all Israel is covenant salvation (v. 27).
That Israel’s salvation is spiritual, the older, traditional premillennialists ignored completely. For such founding fathers of the heresy as C. I. Scofield, the future salvation of Israel would be purely carnal, in Calvin’s apt phrase, treating the Jews like a herd of swine.
Contemporary, more “moderate” dispensationalism pays lip service to the spiritual aspect of Israel’s future salvation. But this spiritual aspect does not have the heart of the “moderate” dispensationalists any more than it had the heart of the traditional dispensationalists. For the “moderates” too, the main aspect of Israel’s coming salvation will be Israel’s restoration as an earthly kingdom, abounding in carnal power and material benefits.
The entire notion, fundamental to premillennialism, of a restoration of Israel as the earthly kingdom of God is completely foreign to Romans 11. There is not so much as a hint of such a national restoration. Premillennialism reads such a restoration into the text of Romans 11, as it does also regarding Revelation 20.
The explanation of this exegetical outrage is premillennialism’s literalistic interpretation of Old Testament prophecy. Because premillennialism is committed to the literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy of the future power and glory of Israel, it must find a New Testament fulfillment of this earthly power and glory of a nation of Jews wherever it can. Revelation 20 and Romans 11 are the best options, regardless that neither passage offers the slightest opening to premillennialism’s fantasy of a restoration of earthly Israel as God’s kingdom in the last days.
The fundamental error of premillennialism regarding Romans 11
The fundamental error of the premillennial interpretation of the good news of Romans 11 regarding Israel is the heresy’s mistaken understanding of verses 25 and 26, quoted at the head of this article.
In this passage, the apostle teaches that God has blinded Israel, that is, the Jewish race that in the Old Testament was the kingdom of God, until the entire church, chosen largely from the Gentile nations, has been saved. This blindness of Israel is not total, as though no Jew is saved in the time of the new covenant. But it is blindness only “in part” (v. 25). Always in the present age God has His elect among the Jews, and all of them are saved with the elect from the Gentiles.
This blindness of the Jews in part is a reality “until” the fullness of the Gentiles is realized.
“So all Israel shall be saved” (v. 26).
“So” in Romans 11:26 does not mean, and may not be explained as, ‘then,’ as though a salvation of all Israel follows the lifting of the blindness of Israel. Explaining “so” in verse 26 as ‘then’ is the characteristic premillennial error on behalf of their doctrine of a restoration of Israel. The “moderates” are as guilty of the error as were the older, traditional dispensationalists. Writing in the volume that advances a “moderating” dispensationalism, J. Lanier Burns explains Romans 11:25, 26 as teaching that “the temporal implication is that once Gentile fullness is attained, Israel’s hardness will end…. The text suggests that the divine hardening ends with the fullness of the Gentiles, which accordingly provides the occasion for the conversion of the fullness of Israel’s elect.”1
Similarly, Barry E. Horner, confessedly a Calvinistic dispensationalist, explains Romans 11:25 as predicting a “future salvation” of national Israel. Verses 25 and 26 of Romans 11 foretell “a future national conversion of Israel.” Explicitly disregarding that verse 26 begins with the word “so,” or “in this way,” Horner insists that there is “clear chronological connection or ‘temporal reference’…between vv. 25 and 26.” That is, verse 26 prophesies a future, mass conversion of Jews and their restoration as an earthly kingdom of God sometime in the future after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.2
Although he translates the opening word in Romans 11:26 correctly, as “thus,” contemporary premillennialist Dan Gruber also finds it impossible to refrain from explaining the word incorrectly as “then.” “Part of Israel [is] blinded until the full number of Gentiles [is] brought in. Then the blindness will be lifted, and all Israel will be saved.”3
Gruber insists on giving “so,” or “thus,” in Romans 11:26 the completely different, temporal meaning, “then”: “There will be a point in time when ‘the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.’ Then, not even a part of Israel will be blinded.”4
All premillennialists err, and err grievously, in this explanation of Romans 11:25, 26.
The error is not mainly that the premillennialists explain the salvation of all Israel as the restoration of the Jewish people as the earthly kingdom of God in the world, unfounded and false as this aspect of their error is.
But the error is the explanation of the passage as teaching a future mass salvation of Jews in an age, or dispensation, that follows the present age of the salvation of the Gentiles.
(to be continued)
1 J. Lanier Burns, “The Future of Ethnic Israel in Romans 11,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 211, 213.
2 Barry E. Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must be Challenged (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2007), 259, 260; emphasis added.
3 Dan Gruber, The Church and the Jews: The Biblical Relationship (Hanover, NH: Elijah Publishing, 2001), 173. The correct translation, “thus,” occurs on page 152. This book is highly praised by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Evidently, Kaiser has no objection to explaining the crucially important word, “so,” in Romans 11:26 as ‘then.’
4 Gruber, 272; emphasis added.