What About Israel? Finale
December 2, 2019

Over the past several weeks, I've argued that in Romans 9-11 Paul offers a first-century solution to a first-century problem.

Paul doesn't, I argue, predict a conversion of Jews in the distant future. He argues instead that Israel's role in the foundation of the new covenant takes the form of death and resurrection. Israel's stumbling leaves room for Gentiles, yet thousands of Jews are provoked to jealousy and turn to Jesus during the apostolic age (as recorded in Acts).

Jews are cast off to save Gentiles. Gentiles are brought in for the sake of Jews. The history of both Jews and Gentiles is conformed to the cruciform history of the Messiah, rejected for the sake of Israel and the nations.

Thus, the axiom proves true: Salvation is of the Jews. Even when Israel stumbles, salvation is of the Jews.

Where does that leave Jews in the new covenant age? Do they have any role? Does God have any special regard for Jews more than other nations? Can we still say, as Paul says of Jews in his time, "from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers"? (Romans 11:28).

I'm inclined to answer those questions with a tentative Yes. Or, better to capture my tentativeness, I should say: Yes is a possible answer.

Yahweh's love for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob persists through generations, including rebellious generations (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Even after centuries of idolatry, Yahweh showed compassion toward the northern kingdom of Israel for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2 Kings 13:23; 14:26-27).

Would a God such as this simply cast off the people whom He loved for centuries, through thick and thin? Perhaps the rejection of the Messiah and the Spirit was the tipping point, the last straw. But perhaps the Lord's memory of Abraham overcomes even that.

One response to this line of reasoning is: Modern Jews aren't the same people but descended from medieval converts to Judaism. But that doesn't matter. Yahweh's love for Israel never depended on ethnicity or blood descent. If God still shows favor to Jews, He shows favor whether or not they're genetically related to Abraham.

Another passage leads me to a similar conclusion. The harlot city Babylon (Revelation 17) is, I believe, Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish opposition to the early church. After the city falls, kings, merchants, and others from the city lament the city's fall, recognizing the justice of its punishment, even if they don't bow to the Lamb (Revelation 18). Revelation leaves these Jews in a liminal situation, no longer part of the old world but not fully participant in the Christian era.

That, I think, is an accurate portrait of the status of Judaism since AD 70. The fall of the temple brought radical changes in the life and piety of Jews. Without temple or sacrifice, synagogue worship looks a lot like Christian worship. Jews came out from under the "elements of the world," but without receiving the Spirit of Jesus by confessing Him as Christ.

None of this means that Jews are still the covenant people of God, or that there's a two-track covenant or a double people. Nor do I intend to dodge the New Testament's strong rebukes to the Jews who reject Jesus: They were (and some Jews still are) children of their father the devil (John 8) gathered in synagogues of Satan (Revelation 2-3). (In fairness, I say the same about some Episcopalians.) Nor am I implying that Jews are reconciled to God simply by being Jews. Like everyone else, they're saved when they receive the good news that Jesus is the anointed King.

Still, Christians need something like the argument I presented above to account for the uncanny persistence of Judaism, their remarkable history of tragedy and triumph, their continuing power to form the world we live in, the devotion of many to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the inescapable reality of a shared heritage and history.

I don't think Paul predicts a future revival among Jews, except in the sense that he expects a future pilgrimage of all nations to the heavenly Zion, where Jesus reigns. Yet, it's possible we can still say what Paul says: Though Jews are enemies for the sake of the gospel, they're beloved for the sake of the fathers. Not brothers, but distant, estranged cousins.

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