We turn now from a study of doctrine to one of prophecy. A prophecy involving both Jews and Gentiles that unlocks a secret hidden from the foundation of the world. From among both, God would create a new race of man, neither Jew nor Gentile, called the Church. As Paul would write to the Ephesians, “His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two”(Ephesians 2:15) and to the Galatians, “You are all sons of God through Christ Jesus …There is neither Jew nor Gentile” (Galatians 3:26,28) and to the Corinthians, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks (Gentiles)or the Church of God.” (1 Cor. 10:32). It’s the Church who would inherit the Kingdom. Here’s how it happens.
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.(Romans 9:1-5)
With all his heart Paul wished he could somehow make the Jewish people understand and accept the gift that had been offered to them, even if it cost him his own salvation. But after waiting 4000 years for the Redeemer promised to Adam and confirmed in countless prophecies, when He came their leaders didn’t recognize Him and rejected Him as an imposter.
It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” (Romans 9:6-9)
God had always known that this would happen. By making Sarah and Abraham wait until they were 90 and 100 years old to have the child that was promised to them, God had been giving us a clue as to what was coming. Those who populate the Kingdom won’t do so because of a natural birth, but a supernatural one. And as it was with Sarah, at the appointed time God would again return and the Kingdom would be filled with His Children, supernaturally born. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.(John 1:12) Some were once Jewish and some were once Gentile, but having been born again they’re not either anymore. They’re now the Church.
Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13)
No one will come into this Kingdom because of a birthright, nor can anyone earn his or her way in. But God, with the same foreknowledge He demonstrated in telling Rebekah about the lives of her twin boys, has predestined those who choose Him to become the children of God. Remember from our study of Romans 8:28-30, predestination follows fore knowledge. Long before the event, God knows what we’ll do and then appoints it to happen.
Esau despised his birthright (Genesis 25:34) and sold it for a single meal. Afterward, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. All of his tears of regret were shed to no avail. (Hebrews 12:16-17) It was as if God had said, “Fine. You despise and reject that which you were born to inherit. Since that’s what you want, I’ll make certain that it happens.” Jacob received the blessing and Esau’s descendants wound up serving the children of Israel, just as God had foretold.
Jesus said the same to the leaders of Israel in the parable of the Tenants. “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matt 21:43) He was speaking to Israel about the Church. Like Esau, the leaders of Israel chose to reject the promise they were born to inherit. And again the Lord said, “Fine. Since that’s what you want, I’ll make certain that it happens. The tax collectors and prostitutes will come into the Kingdom before you.” (Matt. 21:31) Tax collectors and prostitutes had no more standing under the Law than Gentiles. But when John the Baptist showed them the way to righteousness they believed him. Notice that Jesus didn’t say instead of you, but before you. Unlike Esau, Israel will eventually be blessed, as we’ll see.
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:14-21)
If we were reading these verses in a vacuum, it would be easy to adopt the view that God determines who will be saved, not man. But fortunately we have the perspective of the entire chapter and beyond that the rest of Scripture. For example, how could John 3:16 or Romans 10:13 be true if man has no choice in the matter of his own salvation? And if God desires that none should be lost but that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), why didn’t He make it so? And why, if He determines who will be saved and who will not, did He tell His followers to make disciples of all nations? (Matt. 28:19) The Greek word translated nations is used 164 times in the New Testament. It’s translated “gentiles” 94 times, and nations, or people, the other times. Since it’s preceded by the word all, which means each and every one, it literally means the entire human family.
From the context of this chapter it’s clear that Paul is making God’s case for offering salvation to the Gentiles, even though the Jews were His Chosen and He had focused exclusively on them for the previous 2000 years. God created the Gentiles just as He had the Jews, and He has the right to offer salvation to one group just as He had to the other.
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea:
“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” [Hosea 2:23] and,
“It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ” [Hosea 1:10] (Romans 9:22-26)
Notice that Paul says, “Not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.” The idea that in God’s view it’s not a question of saving either Jews or Gentiles, but that through the creation of a new race called the Church He’s calling both, is made clear again.
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:
“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.” [Isaiah 10:22,23]
It is just as Isaiah said previously:
“Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” [Isaiah 1:9] (Romans 9:27-29)
These two quotes cap off the thought that salvation is not a matter of birthright. Jews who reject God’s call will be treated no differently than unrepentant Gentiles.
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” As it is written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”[Isaiah 8:14, 28:16] (Romans 9:30-33)
Paul combined two passages from Isaiah to imply that while Jesus is a “stumbling stone” to those steeped in the Law, everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, who pursues “a righteousness that is by faith” through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ will inherit His Kingdom. He told the Corinthians the same thing.
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:22-24)
As was His sovereign right, God chose the Jews to be the people through whom He would reveal Himself to the world. He could have picked anyone, but He picked Abraham, promising to bless all nations through Him. Now He was giving Gentiles the right to become spiritual children of Abraham as well, and together with the Jews, heirs according to the promise. To both the gateway to this inheritance was and is the atoning death of the Lord Jesus. Selah