31 March 2012

Romans 11:25-36

"O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!" (v. 33)


Paul comes to the end of his discussion of the problem that has been occupying him throughout chapters 9 to 11: why have so few Jews responded to the good news about Jesus Christ while non-Jews (Gentiles) have been so much more responsive? After all, God made promises to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that they and their descendants would be God's people, obedient to God and under God's care. Those promises are surely irrevocable (verse 29), yet they do not appear to be being fulfilled.

With the eyes of faith Paul looks into the future and shares with his readers a "mystery" (v. 25), that is, something hidden from normal understanding but revealed by God to those who have faith. There is a pattern to God's work. Israel was called to be a special people so that the other nations might come to know God. This has begun to happen through the preaching about God's saving work in Jesus. Unbelieving Gentiles are coming to faith. When that is complete, the process will go into reverse, so to speak, and unbelieving Jews in their turn will come to faith. He implies that it will be by accepting Jesus as Messiah (the "deliverer" in verse 26). So in the end "all Israel will be saved" (v. 26).

Paul takes his cue, as always, from passages in the Old Testament. He is dealing, of course, with the broad picture and speaking in generalisations. He is not asking whether every individual Jew or Gentile, without exception, will be saved, and we do not know how he would have answered the question.

The passage ends with an outburst of wonder and praise for God's dealings with humanity - marvellous but quite beyond our full comprehension.

To Ponder

Is it appropriate to share Paul's optimism that eventually the Jewish people will come to faith in Jesus? Why?

Paul does not explicitly answer the question: will every individual eventually be saved. What answer do you think should be given?

How can we wonder at the way God works if we do not fully understand it?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..