3 I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my countrymen, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the divine service, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed unto the ages. Amen. (Rom9:3-5)
It is an extraordinary opening statement of Paul’s that he was even willing to be estranged from Christ for the sake of his fellow Israelites. But it is not mere patriotism – he knew what his fellow countrymen were intended to be and had already been: God’s chosen people. And as I have been in the business of demonstrating, that was not in the sense of being the only people God cared about or intended should play a positive role in His future plans for the human race, but the people through whom and under His Son’s leadership would inaugurate His Kingdom of Righteousness on Earth (Is49:6).
This is why Jesus Himself was a Jew and referred to His fellow Jews as “the children of the Kingdom” and Israel as a light to the nations, at the same time warning that they were about to be usurped in that role by others (Mt8:11-12). But this was not because it had been the Plan all along to admit Gentiles into the messianic community, it was a punishment for the Jews for their unbelief. Paul will make that clear in a couple of chapters time if only anyone would take him at his word. Also, he writes in the same chapter (11:24) that the Gentiles “were cut out from what is by nature a wild olive tree and against nature grafted into a cultivated olive tree”. Gentiles were uncultivated, the Jews were not – but they had failed in their calling to be a light and saving influence for the rest of the world (Is49:6). Many (e.g. the NASB translators) show by their utilization of capitalized pronouns that they understand the “servant” in Isaiah chapter49 to be referring to the coming Messiah. On the contrary, it is referring to the nation of Israel as verse 3 of the chapter affirms, as indeed does Paul when he quotes from that passage in Acts13:47 in the context of the Jews rejecting his message.
Israel – intended light to the nations
So, in what sense were Jews the cultivated ones? It was they, writes Paul, who were to be adopted into God’s family, come to experience God’s glory, benefit from inclusion within the Covenant of Promise and perform divine service (v4). “For you (Israel) are a people holy to the Lord your God; it is you the Lord has chosen out of all the peoples on earth to be His people, His treasured possession” (Deut14:2). Both Israel and the Church are also described as a nation of priests. This, together with what I have just quoted from Deuteronomy should illustrate that it was never God’s intention that the whole Old Testament world “become Jewish”. The same principles apply to the Church and its role in the world: “For you (also) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1Pet2:9). And it was as a result of Jewish unfaithfulness (Rom11 vv11,12,15,30) that members of the Gentile nations could now “come to share an inheritance with the sanctified” (Acts26:18), Having a right understanding of the global context of Israel and the Church has huge implications to broader providence which will be examine further when we look at Romans 11.
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