Previous article in this series: September 1, 2017, p. 471.
“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: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.”
In the preceding article I briefly described the premillennial explanation of Romans 11. The passage is of fundamental importance to the doctrine of the last things of dispensational premillennialism.
The premillennial understanding of Romans 11 is that the chapter promises a future salvation of multitudes of racial Jews. God will then restore them as His kingdom on earth, in old Canaan, with the earthly city of Jerusalem as capital, for one thousand years.
Especially significant for premillennialism’s interpretation of Romans 11 are verses 25-27. According to premillennialism, when sometime in the future God has finished gathering His church from the Gentiles, the present spiritual blindness of Israel—physical, racial Jews—will be healed. The result will be, in the words of verse 26, that “all Israel shall be saved.” This coming salvation of all Israel will include God’s establishing the nation of Israel once again as His earthly kingdom. He will bless the Jewish nation with abundance of material riches, tremendous political power, and blazing, earthly glory. With the risen Jesus ensconced on a material throne of ivory in the Jerusalem “which now is” (), this Israel will rule the world for a thousand years.
This conception of the future glory—carnal future glory—of a Jewish nation, oddly, is presented by dispensational premillennialism as the great hope of us Christians, indeed as the main hope of Christian eschatology.
There is no need to demonstrate that this explanation of Romans 11 dovetails with the premillennial ex planation of the other passages of Scripture that feature largely in the premillennial theology, particularlyand . The premillennial explanation of these passages I have already examined in this series.
Leading traditional premillennialists on Romans 11
Now I demonstrate that the erroneous explanation of Romans 11 I have sketched in the previous article in this series, especially with regard to verses 25 and 26, is the false doctrine, not only of the older, original, traditional premillennial theologians, but also of the more recent, purportedly more “moderate” dispensationalists, including, of late, a professing “Calvinistic” premillennialist. At the same time, the quotations will indicate the mistaken exegesis of Romans 11 by all premillennialists, “moderates” as well as radicals.
C. I. Scofield appealed toin support of his theology, that “Israel as a nation” has a future on the earth that is distinct from the promise to the church. This future will be that “Israel as a nation” will be “restored” so that that nation “is yet to have her greatest earthly splendor and power.”
This traditional dispensational premillennialist, a founding father of the sect, charged that the application of the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament to the New Testament church of believing Jew and Gentile constitutes “the Judaizing of the Church.”1 This charge—“the Judaizing of the Church”—by a father of dispensational premillennialism is significant. A contemporary proponent of dispensational premillennialism, Barry E. Horner, has picked up on this hoary charge by a father of premillennialism and developed it into the accusation that Reformed amillennialism is “anti-Judaistic,” in fact, the “arrogant anti-Judaism that Paul so adamantly opposed in Romans 11.”2 After Nazi Germany’s atrocities against the Jews in the twentieth century, this charge has strong emotional legs. The amillennial denial of a future earthly, Jewish nation as the biblical kingdom of God’s Messiah is tainted with Nazi anti-Judaism.
Dispensational theologian John F. Walvoord explains Romans 11—“the classic passage in the New Testament on the issue of Israel’s restoration”—as teaching that the nation of Israel “is destined for a glorious future.” Disregarding that Romans 11:26 states that “so all Israel shall be saved,” not “then all Israel shall be saved,” Walvoord declares that “the day is coming when the present time of Gentile blessing or fullness will come in and then Israel’s hour of blessing will follow.” After the “fulness of the Gentiles be come in,” according to Walvoord, will take place “Israel’s national salvation.” What this “national salvation” of Israel will consist of, Walvoord describes as follows:
Israel will also be delivered in that day from her persecutors, regathered from all over the earth and brought back to her ancient land, and there blessed spiritually and materially.
“[The nation of Israel, made up exclusively of racial Jews] has a future, a glorious one, which will be fulfilled subsequent to the return of her Deliverer.3
“Moderate” premillennialists on Romans 11
So-called “moderate” dispensationalists do not differ fundamentally from their more extremist dispensational forebears with regard to the interpretation of Romans 11. Writing in the volume that advertises itself as an expression of “moderate” dispensationalism, J. Lanier Burns insists that “Paul argues for a future for ethnic Israel in Romans 11.” This future for ethnic, national Israel will occur after the fullness of the Gentiles: “Once Gentile fullness is attained, Israel’s hardness will end.” Then comes “the conversion of the fullness of Israel’s elect,” the “future salvation of Israel.” “Ethnic Israel has a future because the unbelief of the majority of Israelites will not last forever…because God will accomplish salvation for Israel according to his new covenant promise. This awaits the fullness of the Gentiles, when Israel’s hardening will be removed.”
Israel’s history is not yet fulfilled. There is a future transition in history at the Parousia when the nation [of Israel, made up of racial Jews, and exclusive of believing Gentiles] will enjoy what only a remnant has presently experienced.4
Similarly, Kenneth L. Barker writes that “Romans 11 clearly affirms that all Israel shall be saved; God yet has a future for national Israel.”5
Robert L. Saucy also proposes the restoration of Is rael as the kingdom of God on earth on the basis of Romans 11: “The apostle’s…teaching of the divine mystery concerning a future work with Israel (Rom. 11:25-26).” The basis of this premillennial hope is the “many Old Testament promises that remain as yet unfulfilled.” 6
Bruce A. Ware makes clear that, for “moderate,” modern dispensationalists as for their extremist predecessors in the past, dispensational hope concerning Israel is national and carnal, not spiritual, and that this hope is based on Romans 11, especially verse 26:
Israel still awaits a future action of God whereby he will bring “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26), or the nation of Israel as a whole, under the provision of forgiveness of sin and Spirit-indwelling as well as territorial and political restoration that it will surely enjoy in their fullness when Christ comes again.7
Alva J. McClain spoke for both extremist and moderate dispensationalists when, in explanation of Romans 11, he said that “the time will come when the nation itself [of Israel] will be restored to its ancient place of favor and supremacy (Rom. 11:11-26).”
Indicating the fundamental agreement of premillennialism and postmillennialism in looking for a carnal kingdom of God on earth within history, McClain went on to announce “a ‘Golden Age’ upon earth in history.”8
How many millions of professing Protestant Christians hope for the “golden age” of a carnal, earthly kingdom of God in history! In this vain hope, they are one with the Roman Catholic Church, which has been dreaming this dream and mightily exerting itself to realize it for centuries.
As only a remnant believe with true faith, so only a remnant hope with genuine hope. Genuine hope is the longing and expectation of a perfected, spiritual, heavenly, everlasting kingdom in the new creation as the goal of history in the day of Christ.
An explanation of Romans 11 by a “Calvinist” premillennialist
Brilliantly illustrating the difference between mere “Calvinism” and the full-fledged Reformed faith, Barry E. Horner has recently written a vigorous defense of premillennial dispensationalism. Horner claims to be a Calvinist in his doctrine of salvation. But he is also an avowed dispensational premillennialist: “The basic premillennial model of biblical prophecy, and especially as it relates to ethnic and national Israel, is closest to the truth of Scripture.”9
As the sub-title of Horner’s book expresses, a major theme is that opposition to premillennialism, which Reformed amillennialism surely is, necessarily amounts to “anti-Judaism”: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must be Challenged. Lest anyone living after the Nazi regime of the 1930s and 1940s miss the implications of the sub-title, Horner expressly relates a rejection of the Judaism implicit in dispensational premillennialism with Hitler’s attempt to destroy the Jews.10 The issue between premillennialism and Reformed amillennialism, thus, is settled by the historical event of Hitler’s monstrous, genocidal assault upon the Jews.
The tactic is clever, if despicable. But, braving the false charge of anti-Judaism, which is, of course, redolent of the vicious charge of anti-Semitism, we Reformed think that doctrinal issues must by decided by appeal to Scripture and the creeds. In the light of these authorities, Reformed amillennialism is not “anti-Judaism,” but, to play off the language of Horner, “prochurch.”
The implication of “pro-church,” as the truth about amillennialism, for Horner’s premillennial theology, is intended. By ascribing the glories of the Messianic kingdom of God to a fictitious, future earthly kingdom of racial Jews, Horner, in concert with all dispensational premillennialists, is anti-church. He robs the church of Jesus Christ of her rightful honor. This is a far worse sin than “anti-Judaism.”
Having dismissed, if not demolished, his Reformed amillennial adversaries by the charge of anti-Judaism, “Calvinist” Horner argues for the standard eschatological doctrine of dispensational premillennialism. Basic to the argument is the typical premillennial explanation of Romans 11. On the basis of Romans 11:26, 27, Horner proposes a “future salvation of national Israel.” “‘Israel’ here refers to a future national conversion of Israel, the larger unbelieving segment in particular, that results in Israel serving under Christ in the promised land [earthly Canaan] with restored glory.”11
According to Horner, the “national salvation of all Israel” will take place after the fullness of the Gentiles, spoken of in Romans 11:25, has come in. Israel’s present hardening, or blindness, will end sometime in the future. Then will follow the national conversion of Israel. “There is,” on the reading of Barry Horner, “clear chronological connection…between vv. 25 and 26 [of Romans 11].”12 “Chronological connection” is temporal succession. This assertion, despite the grammatical fact that verse 26 of Romans 11 does not state, “And then all Israel shall be saved,” but, “And so all Israel shall be saved.” The salvation of all Israel does not follow the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles: then. But the salvation of all Israel takes place “so,” that is, ‘in this way’—the way indicated in verse 25, namely, that blindness is happened to Israel “in part.”
But why should mere grammar stand in the way of a campaign against “anti-Judaism,” or help to frame a doctrine of the last things, even though the grammar is the biblical grammar inspired of the Holy Ghost?
There must be a national conversion of Jews in the future to restore old Israel to its former power and glory. “‘All Israel will be saved’ (v. 26) en masse, nationally, eschatologically.”13 This national conversion will be accomplished by “the return of Jesus Christ…from the heavenly Zion…to earthly Zion in its present ungodly state.”14 Then there will be, for a thousand years, “a regenerated nation of Israel in the land under its acknowledged Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.”15 Still more, with regard to the risen, exalted Jesus Christ, there will be a “future millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth.”16
With the glorious colors that Scripture reserves for the perfection of the kingdom of God in Christ in the day of Christ, when the present form of creation gives way, through fire, to the new heavens and earth, when all the wicked shall be banished into the lake of fire, when the saints shall have been perfected in their resurrection body, and, especially, when there will be no sin in all of God’s renewed creation, Horner paints premillennialism’s earthly, millennial kingdom, in which there are yet sin and sinners, including reprobate sinners, indeed, the vulnerability to Satan himself:
The regenerate nation of Israel will inhabit the fruitful promised land under the reign of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem surrounded by regenerate Gentile nations. In this heaven come to earth, Israel and the Jewish people will be fulfilled (…To this end was the gospel sent forth.17
Carnal—“fruitful…land”; “heaven come to earth.”
Absurd—“the reign of [the exalted, heavenly] Jesus Christ from [earthly, sin-filled Jerusalem]” over a world that includes unregenerated, God-hating wicked, who in the end will revolt against Him.
Derogatory of the church, the beloved bride, precious body, and, yes, glorious kingdom of Jesus Christ—“the regenerate nation of Israel will inhabit the…promised land”; “Israel and the Jewish people will be fulfilled.”
Utterly mistaken as to the “end” or “goal” of the gospel—“To this end [of the carnal kingdom of the Jews for a thousand years] was the gospel sent forth.”
All dispensational premillennialists explain Romans 11 as predicting a restoration of racial Jews, in the form of the nation of Israel, as the restored kingdom of God in the territory that in the Old Testament was Canaan.
Basic to this explanation is the understanding of verses 25 and 26 of Romans 11 as teaching that at some future date the salvation of the Gentile church will conclude. Thereupon, at that time, Christ Jesus will save multitudes of racial Jews, so that they can take form once again as the nation of Israel in Palestine.
As the restored nation of Israel, these Jews will rule the world and enjoy material prosperity for a thousand years—the millennium of.
During this millennium, within history, the risen Jesus Christ in His resurrection body will function as king of earthly, still sinful Israel in earthly Jerusalem, in the midst of a world where dying and death continue, reprobate enemies of God and Christ live out their wicked lives, and Satan, though bound, is still a real threat.
And it is this restored, earthly, only very imperfectly holy kingdom in a world of sin and death that will be the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament and, in fact, the goal of all God’s works and ways.
That any Gentile Christian, indeed any believer at all, finds this prospect attractive is a mystery. It holds no attraction for the Reformed Christian.
This false interpretation of Romans 11, on behalf of a misbegotten idea of the Messianic kingdom of God and an utterly mistaken view of the last things, I examine critically in the next installment of this series on eschatology.
(to be continued)
1 C. I. Scofield, “The Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God,” in Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (New York and Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 7-17. The emphasis is Scofield’s.
2 Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must be Challenged (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2007), 188.
3 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 187-193.
4 J. Lanier Burns, “The Future of Ethnic Israel in Romans 11,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition, ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 188-229.
5 Kenneth L. Barker, “The Scope and Center of Old and New Testament Theology and Hope,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, 327.
6 Robert L. Saucy, “The Church as the Mystery of God,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, 155.
7 Bruce A. Ware, “The New Covenant and the People(s) of God,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, 96; emphasis is added: for premillennialism, “moderate” or extremist, the all-important future blessing of Israel is “territorial and political.” “Moderate” premillennialists now acknowledge a spiritual dimension of the future blessing of Israel, whereas the traditional premillennialists omitted this aspect of a future blessedness of Israel altogether. Nevertheless, also for the “moderate” dispensationalists the “territorial” and “political,” that is, carnal, characteristics of the coming earthly kingdom of God continue to hold pride of place.
8 Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom: An Inductive Study of the Kingdom of God (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1959), 399, 530.
9 Horner, Future Israel, xiv.
10 Horner, 33-36, 105-146.
11 Horner, Future Israel, 260.
12 Horner, 260.
13 Horner, 294.
14 Horner, 261.
15 Horner, 255.
16 Horner, 210.
17 Horner, 252.