The religious doctrine of “premillennialism” entails the notion that after the Lord comes back to the earth, the Jews as a nation will be converted by the gospel. They base this contention, at least in part, on a misunderstanding of Romans 11:26 where the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” is found. To understand that expression in its context, one has to familiarize himself with the context. Otherwise, the expression becomes by misconstruction a conclusion that is not intended.
In the context, Paul is developing the idea that God has used both Jews and Gentiles historically in such a way as to make the gospel accessible to all men. The gospel first went to the Jews (Acts 2) in harmony with what the Lord had predicted in Acts 1:8. Jesus had told the woman at the well that salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22). The Jews were the first ones to enter the church, and so were the ones from whom the gospel later was provided to non-Jews. Paul affirms in Romans 11 that he hoped that by preaching to the Gentiles, that his Jewish kinfolk would be moved to jealousy and so come to understand the gospel. My father, Roy Deaver, points out in his good commentary, Romans—God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness, that the jealousy to which the Jews were moved was a jealousy with regard to their own Jewish law. That is, the divine strategy was that when Paul preached to Gentiles, Jews would be so jealous of their law that they would be moved to investigate it further so as to disprove what Paul and others were preaching. If they had honest and good hearts, by their jealous search of their Scriptures, they could come to understand the gospel. In Beroea we later find some noble Jews willing to search the Scriptures to see if the gospel was in harmony with the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 17:11). In Romans 11:11-15, Paul shows that the gospel reached the Gentiles by means of the falling of the Jews. We see this strategy demonstrated in Acts 13:46 at Antioch of Pisidia. Luke informs us that when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what Paul preached (13:45). “And Paul and Barnabas said, It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you. Seeing ye thrust it from you, and just yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” This is the very strategy that Paul is discussing in Romans 11. He is showing that by means of the rejection of the gospel on the part of some Jews, the gospel then went to the Gentiles. Gentiles are represented in Romans 11 as a wild olive tree (11:17), and the Jews are represented as a good olive tree (11:24). Paul says that Jewish branches were broken off and wild Gentile branches were grafted in. If natural branches (Jews) came to faith, then they could be grafted back into the good olive tree. No one had to be lost; all could be saved. But salvation came by faith. Unbelief was not a condition in which a person (either Jew or Gentile) had to remain (20-24). And God had so arranged history so as to make the gospel accessible to all Jews and all Gentiles so that all could be saved (11:32). It was a remarkable divine scheme which evoked the great doxology that Paul by the Spirit provides in Romans 11:33-36.
Back in verse 25 Paul said, “a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” The rejection of the gospel by some Jews provided the historical circumstance in which the gospel then went to the Gentiles. Paul was even “an apostle of Gentiles,” and he hoped that by this Gentile ministry he could provoke Jews to jealousy that would motivate them to come to faith and be saved (11:13-14). The Jews could come back to the gospel if they would, and Paul so hoped. In fact, he desperately desired that they would (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1-3). But we also remember that he desired the salvation of all Gentiles as well as all Jews, while knowing that only some would be saved (1Corinthians 9:19-23). In Romans 11:25 Paul warns Gentile brethren against arrogance with regard to their salvation. They came into the church because of “the hardening in part” that befell Israel “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” And then he said, “and so all Israel shall be saved.” Notice, in the text we find in verses 25-26 (1) Israel, and then (2) all Israel.
Now, as before stated, premillennialism affirms that verse 26 declares that the time is coming when all of the ethnic Jews will be converted by the gospel following the Lord’s return (which they also wrongly declare will be a return to the earth to live on it). No passage says Jesus will ever set foot on earth again. Not one! And Romans 11 does not teach the universal salvation of the Jews at some future time. But let us proceed.
In my father’s commentary on Romans, he makes the point that the Greek word for our English word “so” in Romans 11:26 is an adverb (p. 414). The passage means that in the same manner by which the Gentiles were saved, all Israel would be saved. The word “so” is not a conclusion reached regarding numbers, but rather a word showing that Jews and Gentiles had to enter the kingdom in the same way or manner if they entered at all.
Now, please think about the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” in Romans 11:26 and compare it with the expression “so also in Christ shall all be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22. Read both passages very carefully, and then consider the following argument:
- If the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” in Romans 11:26 means that all ethnic Jews would in the future at some point be saved, then the expression “so also in Christ shall all be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 means that all men would be saved.
- But, it is false that the expression “so also in Christ shall all be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 means that all men would in the future be saved (Revelation 20:11-15; Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24; 1 Corinthians 15:23).
- Therefore, it is false that the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” in Romans 11:26 means that all ethnic Jews would in the future at some point be saved.
Also, please consider that it is contextually possible that in Romans 11:26, when Paul uses the expression “all Israel,” he is not referring to ethnic Jews but rather to all the members of the church. Remember, back in Romans 2:14-15, Paul pointed out that Jews and Gentiles in days prior to the gospel system would be judged based on their laws. The Jews would be judged by the law of Moses, and the Gentiles would be judged by the moral law. And he pointed out that by means of the gospel, there was a new definition of an Israelite. A Jew, under the gospel, is not one by outward sign but by inward condition (Romans 2:28-29). And in Romans 9:6 he says, “they are not all Israel that are of Israel.” In other words, the church of the Lord constitutes spiritual Israel. Furthermore, in Galatians 6:16, Paul plainly identifies the church as “the Israel of God.”
So, it seems to me that it is possible in Romans 11:26 after referring to “Israel” in verse 25, Paul may well be referring to the church as a whole in verse 26. That is, all who come into the kingdom come in the same way, and this group constitutes “all Israel.” It would be similar (though not parallel) to what he had done earlier in chapter eight. In speaking of the suffering experienced in this world, Paul spoke of (1) the creation, and (2) the whole creation (8:19, 22). In context, “the creation” seems to refer to the church, and “the whole creation” would then refer to all of mankind. My father has an excellent discussion of this point in his commentary (pp. 280-283). Here in Romans 11:25-26 Paul refers to (1) “Israel” and then to (2) “all Israel.”
Let me make one further additional observation. If “all Israel” in Romans 11:26 implies the universal salvation of the Jews, then the “fulness of the Gentiles” would imply the universal salvation of the Gentiles. And if Romans 11:25-26 implies a time in which all the Gentiles and all the Jews will be saved, then we would ask, “Why didn’t that occur following the coming of the Lord the first time when the gospel was preached throughout the whole world? If there could be no guarantee of such a universal result following the Lord’s incarnation, his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back to the Father’s right hand (John 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 2:33), his dispatching of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; Acts 2:1-4, 33), the apostolic preaching throughout the whole world with the accompaniment of miracles (Mark 16:19-20; Colossians 1:23), then how could there be a guarantee of such a universal result in some alleged future time since God has always desired the salvation of all men (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4)?