Here is the third of five questions I’m throwing at Romans 9-11: Why does Paul continue to care about Israel’s rejection of Christ?
Answer: Paul continues his argument about Israel because their rejection is part of God’s long plan, not a change to His plan.
If the answer to God’s faithfulness is that He always meant “Israel” to be the elect believers of any nationality, then 1) Would the Jews themselves swallow that interpretation? and, more significantly, 2) Why are chapters 10 and 11 still necessary? Paul maintains both that elect Jews and Gentiles are part of God’s people and that the Jews are still God’s elect nation. There is something shared and still a distinction.
There is something different about Israel’s rejection of Christ. It’s different because they should have known better. They had God’s law and should not have been ignorant of the righteousness that comes from Him. When the gospel was proclaimed they should have recognized the Lord. He is the “Lord of all,” so anyone who calls on Him will be saved (Romans 10:12). But the fact that Jews did not call on Him stands out because they had the Scripture already.
Their rejection is also different because it was foretold in their own Scripture. The Lord revealed in Deuteronomy (32:21) and in Isaiah (65:1; 29:10) and through David (Psalm 69:22-23) that they would reject Him:
as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.”
They are a disobedient nation (Romans 10:21) by plan, so that God might graft Gentiles into the root (Romans 11:11, 19-20, 25) without requiring their conversion to Judaism.
Which gets back to Paul’s own question, “I ask then, has God rejected his people?” (Romans 11:1) If “Israel” meant all believers, as in the church, then this question is nonsensical. To ask the question at all requires a maintained distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Their current rejection is what makes their future re-grafting (Romans 11:23-24) so gracious and such an witness for God’s trustworthy promises.