Romans 11:26–27—How can there be a future for the nation of Israel since they rejected the Messiah?
Problem: The nation of Israel clearly rejected Christ as their Messiah (Romans 9–10; cf. John 1:10–11). And the Bible says that the promises of Abraham go to his spiritual seed, not his descendants according to the flesh (Rom. 4; Gal. 3). Why then does Romans 11 speak of a future for the nation of Israel?
Solution: Abraham has both a spiritual seed (descendants) and literal descendants. Anyone who believes in Christ can become a spiritual heir of the promise for justification (Rom. 4; cf. Gen. 15), because Christ came of the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16).
However, there are also promises to Abraham’s literal descendants, the Jews, that have never yet been completely fulfilled. For example, God unconditionally promised that Abraham’s literal descendants would inherit the land of Palestine forever (Gen. 12:1–3; 13:15–17; 15:7–21; 17:8). Only one short time in Israel’s history did they inherit this land (Josh. 11:23), but God gave it to them by an unconditional oath (cf. Gen. 15:7–21) “forever” (Gen. 13:15), as an “everlasting possession” (17:8). Since God cannot break an unconditional promise (Heb. 6:17–18; 2 Tim 2:13), this promise is yet to be fulfilled for the nation of Israel.
Paul is speaking of the literal descendants of Abraham, the children of Israel in Romans 9–11. He calls them “my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” (Rom. 9:3–4) and “Israel” (Rom. 10:1). This same national group (Israel) that was temporarily cut off will be grafted in again into the tree, and “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Jesus spoke of this time in Acts 1 when asked by His disciples, “Will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) His answer was not a stern rebuke for misunderstanding the Scriptures, but an assurance that only the Father knows the “times or seasons” in which this will occur (v. 7). Earlier Jesus spoke of “the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, [and] you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). Indeed, in the final book of the Bible, the Apostle John spoke of God redeeming out of the tribulation “one hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (Rev. 7:4). So there is every reason to believe that God will honor His unconditional covenant to Israel to give them the land of Palestine forever.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.