But a Dispensationalist is not primarily concerned about U.S. (or any other non-Israel government’s) foreign policy. This is not about providing unquestionable military support or financial support, though it certainly does not allow for anti-Semitism either. The point is that their current disobedience to their Messiah is no more a hindrance to God’s mercy than our past disobedience (Romans 11:28-31).
Romans 9-11 exist to bolster our confidence in the gospel. Not one word of God’s promises fails. These chapters do have much encouragement for Gentiles. We are in God’s plan, part of His people, those who “now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree” (11:17). But don’t argue for what gospel-good the Gentiles get to have if you are unable/unwilling to explain why the Jews will get the blessings God guarantees to them. This “dispensation” is less of a parenthesis and more of an extension and even a springboard to the final chapter of history.
We are now ready to see what a Kuyperian Dispensationalist is, and that’s where all these Kuyperian and Dispensationalist posts have been headed.
Before that, though, what these truths should cause us to do is to sharpen our exclamation points! Who would have planned this?! How can hardening lead to softening?! How can distinctions be both dismantled and defended?! By the wisdom and grace to the glory of God. This is exactly why Paul finishes these chapters with exclamation and doxology.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
There are two more questions I want to ask about Romans 9-11. They are questions that come from reading the text in context and following Paul’s argument. The alternative answers are almost always pre-answers, as in, deciding beforehand what these chapters can’t mean, typically based on a theological bias.
Why does the “remnant” matter if there is only one identification of the people of God?
Answer: A remnant matters because the nation of Israel still matters.
Paul was the first example of how God has not rejected His people, that is the Jews, entirely. “I myself am an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1). He was an Israel-Israelite. A Gentile-Israelite is not a thing.
Then Paul shows the principle at work during Elijah’s days. Elijah thought that he was alone, but the Lord said that He had kept 7,000 for himself (11:2-5). “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (11:6). This is, again, a remnant of believing Jews. Gentiles believe, but they are not in the “remnant.” In other words, this remnant is in the church, but the church is not equal to the remnant.
There is even today an elect remnant, identifiable by their faith in Jesus among the physical offspring of Israel.
What is the point of “the fulness of the Gentiles” coming in?
Answer: This phrase in Romans 11:25 only makes sense if there is a distinction between Gentiles and Jews.
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)
The distinction is not worship of a different God, a different definition of righteousness, or a different means of receiving it. Salvation is by faith for all. Chapter 11 describes how Gentiles are grafted into God’s people (11:17-24), in one way. But Gentile ingrafting does not eliminate God’s purpose for Israel, a purpose that still remains, a promise that hasn’t been fulfilled yet. We Gentiles are grafted in and still called “wild” (11:24). There is a remnant now, most are rejecting. We know that the fulness of the Gentiles has not come in because all Israel has not been saved yet.
God is faithful to His promises and will include Israel again, and it will be a “full inclusion” (11:12). Israel will accept Christ (11:15). “Natural branches”—Israelites, not wild branch Gentiles—will be “grafted back into their own olive tree” (11:24).
This is the “covenant,” to banish ungodliness from Jacob (a.k.a., Israel), to take away their sins (Romans 11:26-27, quoting Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9). The New Covenant to the household of Israel, to ethnic Israel, to the nation of Israel, will be completely fulfilled in the future.
For now, God planned for Israel to reject Jesus, but the “gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). God planned for Israel to “stumble” (11:11), to “trespass” (11:11), and He planned that “for a time,” a time we are in, to extend salvation and riches of the world (11:12). But that is not the end! God planned their disobedience to show us mercy and He planned to show us mercy to keep expanding until “all Israel will be saved” before the new heavens and the new earth. That is, a generation of Israelites will see what we have and God will use that to grant them repentance and faith as a nation.
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.” (Romans 11:8–10)
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.
In the previous two posts we started working through Romans 9-11 and I said I’ve got five questions. Here is the second: How does Paul explain who Israel is?
Answer: Paul demonstrates God’s electing work among Israelites and distinguishes them from elect Gentiles.
In Romans 9:6, “it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” The principle at play is that God chooses. He chose Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau. Romans 9 is famously about God’s sovereignty in election, and famously bothers many who wrestle with the implications for salvation.
Election to salvation is the primary point, and the burden of the passage is how election to salvation applies to Israel. But note that “Israel” is still within Israel. That is, those chosen to receive the promises of Israel are still physical, ethnic descendants of Jacob. Paul does not say that true Israel are the elect whoever they are, from whatever nation. At the end of chapter 9 Paul maintains the distinction: “he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (verse 24). Gentiles “attained” righteousness (verse 30), they were not “my people” but now are called “sons of the living God” (verse 26). Israel did not succeed in reaching the law (verse 31).
But nowhere does it say that Gentile believers are now Jews or the “new” Jews or the “true” Jews, though it does say that God has elected to redeem many of them. If “Israel” meant something else, that would have been a lot easier for Paul to explain than what he does in these chapters.
For the Jews there are two categories: spiritual calling and national calling. National election does not equal spiritual election (as Romans 9:6 states), but that doesn’t mean that national election means nothing in any way. If the point of Romans 9-11 is to vindicate God’s faithfulness to His promises, the solution is not to redefine His promises. Israel by any other name would not be Israel.
The epistle of Paul to the Romans is Scripture famous. Is there a more beloved letter in the New Testament? There certainly isn’t one that develops and celebrates the good news as much as Romans. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”! The reality that we all have sinned and deserve God’s wrath, followed by the revelation that God justifies those who believe in the sacrifice of His Son, is amazing doctrine. By the time the reader gets to the end of Romans 8 he is overwhelmed. “We are more than conquerers through him who loved us.” Nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And as I brought up near the end of the previous post, wouldn’t it have been an obvious transition from the glories of God’s sovereign mercy and securing love in chapter 8 to the call to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God at the start of chapter 12?
This brings us to the first of five questions: Why are these three chapters here in the epistle?
Answer: the reason Paul wrote Romas 9-11 is to vindicate God’s faithfulness to His word to Israel.
The gospel promises are fantastic. They are worth living for and dying for. But a thoughtful reader of Romans would necessarily wonder 1) Why have so many Jews rejected Jesus? and 2) Has God changes His mind about the promises to the Jews? As it turns out, this is a huge issue. If God’s previous promises are revoked or redefined, then how can we trust that the gospel promises won’t be?
These chapters are dealing with the accusation against God that His word failed (Romans 9:6). Paul said it did not fail. But what is that word about? It’s about Paul’s “kinsmen according to the flesh.”
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:4–5)
Chapter 10 begins wth Paul’s desire for “them,” his national kinsmen, to be saved. Chapter 11 begins with the question: “Has God rejected His people?” And the answer is No, because Paul himself is a believing Israelite, not just that he is a believer.
The very presence of these chapters assumes that certain promises to Israel have not yet been fulfilled, otherwise there is no need to deal with the charge of “failure” in Romans 9:6. Even more, the placement of these chapters argue that our confidence in the gospel is inextricably connected to God’s faithfulness to the Jews. So the argument continues about a future fulfillment of His word, not a redefined or spiritualized fulfillment, and that is good news indeed.
If there was one thing I wish I was taking more time to do, it would be to keep pressing forward faster on this site. In the meantime, you get a post on a completely unpredictable schedule. So, enjoy this one while you can.
There have been numerous conversations provoked so far, and brothers are treating disagreeing brothers as brothers, even if one brother (temporarily) thinks the other brother is an idiot, which is as brothers do. It is good to drag our thinking through Bible verses, and also to put our thinking out in public for examination and sharpening. We are not snowflakes who need trigger warnings and safe spaces. We are living sacrifices of God who come to the Word for it to cut us up into acceptable pieces. We want to please God, and that includes submitting our thoughts to His.
That’s is what the series is for, to put on the table what we believe God wants us to believe and do. Our church is a kind of theological mutt, holding and practicing some things in tension because we think that’s what Scripture teaches even if that means we don’t conform neatly into one denominational purebred. All the elders at our church believe this, and I’m not saying it to distance ourselves or draw a line in the sand across which everyone else must come in order to keep fellowship. The main reason I say it is to make myself feel better that I am not the only crazy one. I recall a meeting our elders had almost ten years ago at Carl’s Jr. when we crossed a threshold, knowing that we were headed in a different direction than any of us had preciously traveled. This series is an attempt to explain why, and sure, it’d be great to persuade a throng to see these connections. We’re getting close to being done with the series, but the crescendo is still coming.
We’ve asked, What is a Kuyperian? A Kuyperian is a Christian who acknowledges God’s sovereignty over, and interest in, both spiritual and physical life. Christ is Lord who gives grace for salvation and who gives purpose for work on earth. “Kuyperian” is just a tag for that way of looking at the world. In the most recent posts we’ve been working on, What is a Dispensationalist? Based on a certain approach to Bible reading, a Dispensationalist acknowledges similarities, overlap, and differences between the Church and the nation of Israel. We considered the New Covenant promises in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, promises of new hearts to the household of Israel and also a return to the land of their fathers. I said that the New Testament itself does not allow us to read Gentiles into that promise in a way that makes the Jews irrelevant. The apostle Paul had even more to say about that.
Before getting to that, though, I want to deal with a phrase that is approaching the level of misreading that “judge not” in Matthew 7 gets. The phrase is found a couple places in Paul’s letters, including Galatians 3:27-29.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27–29)
What is Paul’s concern here? It is how to be justified with God. By faith in Jesus we are part of God’s family. Everyone who is in Christ is Christ’s by faith, not according to nationality, economic status, or gender. And praise the Lord! Amen! Yet it is a category mistake to say that because everyone is saved the same way that they are the same in every way. Male and female are God-ordained, biological categories of sex that are not mixed by faith into androgyny. There is not a separate Christ for men and Christ for women, but men and women are still differentiated while both being in Christ. Slave and free are a different sort of category, a civil identification. It is a category line that a man could cross, but not by default because of being “in Christ.” So also whether one is a Jew or a Greek depends on one’s parents. God can be your Father regardless of your father. But that doesn’t negate who your earthly father is and what belongs to you because of it. We are not gender, economic, or national egalitarians.
In Christ we have great things, great promises. As the Lord told Abram, all the families of the world would be blessed in him, and all of us who believe are receiving that blessing.
Paul wrote about this good news and these promises received by faith in the first half of his letter to the Romans. He demonstrated that Gentiles and Jews were guilty, that Christ’s work enabled Jews first and also Gentiles to be declared righteous in Christ.
What promises! There is no condemnation for those in Christ! His righteousness is credited to our account! Sin and the law no longer have dominion over us! We have peace with God and access to His throne of grace! All things work together for good to those He calls! All who are justified will be glorified! Be it physical suffering and death, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
These are astounding promises that depend on God, not us. All we do is receive them by faith and reckon them to be true. We are conquerors through Him who loved us, and it would be an obvious transition from the end of Romans 8:39 to Romans 12:1 – “therefore,” present our bodies as living sacrifices. The doctrine of the gospel of righteousness in chapters 1-8 leads to a life of righteousness in chapter 12 and following. But there are three chapters in between, chapters about Israel, election, a remnant, hardening, Gentiles, grafting, and it all ends in a doxology. Why?
This is the fourth question I’m asking and answering about Jeremiah 31:31-40: When was the New Covenant fulfilled?
The question is somewhat misleading. If you’ve been tracking so far with what we’ve read from Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, then you know that the answer is: the New Covenant has not been fulfilled yetin its entirety.
Jesus told His disciples that “this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). As with every covenant, sacrifice was required, and this time Jesus Himself provided the sacrifice rather than grain or goats or bulls. The apostles certainly understood that the Holy Spirit not only was moving, but was also indwelling believers after Pentecost. The covenant was purchased and it appeared that it was time for the covenant to be completed.
After His resurrection and before Pentecost Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God to His disciples. They asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6), as in, Is now the time for the Spirit and the land and our King? Jesus said No. They would be His witnesses, but they did not get to know “the times or the seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). But Jesus also did not say, “Actually, guys, now that you mentioned it, it’s going to be different than you’re thinking….”
The death of Jesus started to bear new covenant sort of fruit in Acts, and we continue to be fruit of His promise as well as declare His saving work among the Gentiles. There is an element of “mystery” in this as Gentiles share in some of the benefits of the promise. But the promise was not made to us—Gentiles, we—the Church—do not inherit the land of Israel, and the house of Israel must still be part of His plan or else the word of His promises cannot be trusted.
To Sum Up
In answering these questions we’ve also answered the Who, What, Where, and Why questions of the new covenant. We’re missing the When, and some of the means to the How.
Dispies believe that these all promises to Israel—the nation—will be fulfilled when Christ reigns on earth for a thousand years before Gog and Magog and the ends of the earth come to battle and lose. Then the devil and the beast and false prophet will be thrown into the lake of fire and the great white throne judgement will take place (Revelation 20). Then comes a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21). That is the general When. In an upcoming post I’ll try to show how we are part of God’s means to the How.
My point for now is not to describe in what ways we as non-Jews partake of the new covenant. We do partake of it in Christ, we do partake of it by faith, we are grafted in like branches as Paul wrote in Romans 11. God has granted repentance, and new hearts, to the Gentiles (Acts 11L18). But God’s grace to extend the saving blood of Christ among the Gentiles does not nullify His guarantee to apply it to the house of Israel. Except for a remnant, their hearts are still hard and they are currently still rejecting their Messiah. This must change in the future, or else God has redefined the “house of Israel.” And if God has redefined that, what else has He redefined?
In this series of questions about Jeremiah 31:31-40, here is the third: What guarantees the New Covenant? Or, on whom does the New Covenant depend?
Covenants are often distinguished between those that are conditional, “If you do this, then I’ll do this,” and those that are unconditional, “I will do this no matter what.” God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, when God put Abram to sleep and walked between the dead animal halves alone, showed God’s commitment to act for Himself. Abram participated by receiving, not by contributing. It is the same sort of language in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36.
The guarantee of these promises is the word of the LORD. He has said it, and He has said it for His own sake. He has also confirmed the likelihood of His completing the promises by comparing them to “this fixed order.”
The new hearts and the fruitful land for the house of Israel are as certain as planets in orbit and the ocean tide. “If this fixed order departs from me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever” (Jeremiah 31:35-36). The LORD adds also that if the heavens can be measured and the center of the earth found, so will Israel be done (verse 37).
Ezekiel also makes it clear. “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name” (Ezekiel 36:22). “I will vindicate the holiness of my great name” (verse 23), “I will vindicate my holiness” (verse 24). “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you” (verse 32). “I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it” (verse 36).
Has God changed His mind about these promises to act for His own name among the house of Israel? If it does not depend on them, if the whole point of this covenant is in fact that it depends solely on God, then when Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah on the whole, how could that change the covenant? They hadn’t obeyed the 10 Commandments either. All the Israelites ever offered were hard-hearts, but, by God’s grace, soft hearts weren’t the condition of the covenant.
This is a one-sided promise made by God, kept by God, and for God. That makes it really good news.
When it comes to the new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:31-40, there are four questions that we should ask about the text. The first question was, who is the New Covenant between? The second question is, What does the New Covenant include?
The new covenant is something new and Jeremiah explicitly stated that it is “not like the covenant” the LORD “made with their fathers” coming out of Egypt. This is not just an agreement with requirements and benefits, this is an agreement wherein God gives the additional benefit of causing Israel to fulfill the requirements for sake of receiving the other benefits. That is new, and significantly different.
Instead of stone tablets, “I will put my law within then, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Ezekiel described it as, “I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). This is exactly what they could not do on their own. They could not give themselves new hearts. The theological label for this is regeneration, spiritual life, and the in-dwelling of the third Person of the Trinity. This is salvation.
The covenant includes forgiveness: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). The covenant includes righteousness: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezekiel 36:25, 29, 33).
The fulfillment of these promises does not depend on Israel’s repentance, the promise is that God will grant Israel repentance. There is no condition for Israel to meet. The entire point of the new covenant is that God will do everything necessary to save Israel because they have not obeyed what He said previously.
These are not the only parts of the new covenant, however. Connected to this covenant is that “the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:38), with specific place names mentioned (“from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate”) to leave no doubt that the LORD means Jerusalem, and even how big Jerusalem will be. In verse 40 God includes the valley and fields outside of the city that “shall be sacred to the LORD” (verse 40).
Ezekiel is just as specific. Immediately following the promise to “cause you to…be careful to obey my rules,” the LORD says, “You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers” (verse 28). Then, “I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you” (verse 29, also verse 30). Then “says the LORD God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled” (verse 33). “They will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are not fortified and inhabited’” (verse 35). The New Covenant promises new hearts that will desire to obey God’s laws as well as all the material/earthly blessings promised by the LORD to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: land, a city, fields, grain in abundance.
I have heard it argued that the “land of their fathers” just represents that God’s people—all believers both Jew and Gentiles—will inhabit the whole earth. It’s said that a Jew who heard the new covenant promises would have understood the promise of grain and of no famine as symbolic of having plenty, not has having anything specific to do with where such fruitfulness came from. It could be in China, or Alaska, and a believing Israelite would have been fine with that. But what makes us think God has changed His terms?
When it comes to the new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:31-40, there are four questions that we should ask about the text. First, Who is the New Covenant between?
The passage itself identifies the two “parties” of the contract, multiple times, and the context of the entire chapter and book leave no doubt.
Jeremiah prophesied about both the destruction and rebuilding of Jerusalem. Chapter 31 comes after fourteen messages of condemnation on Judah’s idolatry, apostasy, and moral decay. Jeremiah’s people, the Jews, had been rebelling against God, and God is predicting two things for them: judgment and then salvation. The two parties are, therefore, 1) the LORD and 2) Israel.
Verse 31: “the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” The nation was divided at this point in their history into the northern and southern kingdoms. Yet Israel and Judah were still family. They are the ones descended from “their fathers” (verse 32). Which fathers? The ones that the LORD brought out of the land of Egypt, the sons of Jacob—the Twelve Tribes of Israel (the rest of verse 32).
To that growing group the LORD gave laws, also called the Mosaic covenant, summarized in the Ten Commandments. In the desert, and also once they began to occupy parts of the Promised Land, Israel disobeyed those laws. Would God move on to another people? No. “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel” (verse 33). They did not obey, their hearts were hard against Him, and this new covenant promises to get to the root of the problem. The LORD said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (verse 33).
After He finished making the promise, the LORD made a comparison about what it would take for these promises not to take place. We’ll look at those specifics shortly, but verses 35-37 repeat the parties: “Thus says the LORD,” “the LORD of hosts” (verse 35), “declares the LORD,” “the offspring of Israel being a nation,” (verse 36), and again, “says the LORD,” “all the offspring of Israel,” “declares the LORD” (verse 37).
The parallel passage in Ezekiel 36 is just as clear, and perhaps even more so as it distinguishes the “house of Israel“ (verses 22, 32, 37) from “among the nations” (verses 22, 23, 24, 30, and 36). There are three groups: the LORD, His chosen nation Israel, and all the other nations. The new covenant that the LORD made is not with any of the other nations than Israel.
It makes a Bible-reader wonder, as just one example, about the following note in the ESV Study Bible: “Do the terms in Jer. 31:27, 31, 36-37 focus the prophecy on ethnic Israel or on a redefined Israel (the Jewish-Gentile church)?” (page 1431, emphasis mine). Where is the warrant to redefine “Israel”? Would an Israelite accept such redefinition of terms?