|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
We have come to the final study in the section of Romans that deals with the situation of the Jews. Chapter nine began with Pauls heartfelt concern for his own people, the Jews. Here the apostle tells us that God has not failed to keep His promise to Israel, which is salvation, but the problem was that the Jews had failed to realize what God meant by Israel.
It is not the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that constitute Israel, says God. It is those who are spiritual descendants. We covered this in detail. You need the faith of Abraham; you have to have the new birth experience, born from above, as was Isaac; and you have to have the perseverance of your faith like Jacob, before you qualify to be true Israelites.
Then, in chapter 10, Paul goes on to explain in detail that, if the Jews are lost, it is entirely their fault. Why? Because, number one God kept His promise. He promised salvation and fulfilled it in Christ. They are lost because they have deliberately, persistently, and ultimately said, No, we dont want your gift. We dont want your salvation, through unbelief. So they must take the blame.
Now there is chapter 11. Paul concludes his discussion regarding the Jews by pointing to two important facts, facts that have a lesson for us which we need to keep in mind in terms of our mission:
With this in mind, let us look at chapter 11. Christ declared to the Jews just before His crucifixion [Matthew 23:38]:
Look, your house is left to you desolate.
He did not mean that, when probation closed for the Jews as a nation, that no Jew could be saved after that. He did not mean that. Simply what He meant was that, from now onwards, the Jews will no longer be the ones who will represent Him. He had taken the torch from them and given it to the Christian Church, which was primarily Gentiles. In other words, what Paul is saying in this first part of Romans 11 is that the rejection of the Jews is not total. There will be many Jews like there were in the past until the end of time who will accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. And the best example he can give is himself. Paul was converted after the stoning of Stephen, after the rejection of the Jewish nation. So in verse one of chapter 11 he says:
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.
So theres still hope for the Jews, he says. Then in Romans 11:2a:
God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.
I need to pause here because you see there is much confusion today even within our own ranks between foreknowledge and foreordination. The word that Paul used comes from the two Greek words pro and ginosco. Pro means before and ginosco means to know. Therefore, what Paul is saying is that God did not cast away those He knew beforehand who would accept His Son Jesus Christ as their Savior. He has never rejected any Jew who said, Thank you God for your gift, Jesus Christ. And then he gives an illustration in the rest of Romans 11:2:
Dont you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah how he appealed to God against Israel....
Here is Elijah talking to God about Israel. Do you know what Elijah said to God? Look at verse three; Paul is quoting from 1 Kings 19:10,14. He says:
Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me
Who is the they that Elijah is talking about? He is talking about the Jewish nation. He is talking about Israel, Gods covenant people. He is saying to God, God, do you know that all your people have forsaken you? They have become Babylon and Im the only faithful one. Was he right? He was a prophet, but was he right? No. Why not? He was judging by outward appearance. May this be a lesson to us. Let us never judge people by their outward appearance.
I have learned this in Africa when the communists took over, when we had the Marxist revolution in Ethiopia. The ones we thought would give in were the ones who were loyal. The ones we thought would be upholding the truth were the ones who gave in. So never judge people. Elijah made that mistake. He judged His people. But what does verse four, the divine response say to you?
And what was Gods answer to him? I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have no bowed the knee to Baal.
Elijah, you do not realize, He says, I have reserved for myself not two or three or a handful but seven thousand men. Please notice that, in those days, men was referring to not individuals only but to their families. Seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Who is Baal? You may say today, I have never bowed my knee to Baal. The word Baal simply means Lord. Thats all it meant. Then whats the implication here? The word Baal is when you make yourself lord and replace yourself or your mind or your works, anything that is true of you, you replace Gods salvation in Jesus Christ with that. For example, Marxism is Baal worship today. Humanism is Baal worship today. Liberal theology is Baal worship today because in liberal theology you make your mind the measuring stick of truth. Wherever there is self, there you have Baal worship.
But God is saying to Elijah, there are seven thousand. Now how does Paul define those faithful seven thousand? See verse five:
So too [just like the faithful believers in the days of Elijah], at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.
There are two important things that I want you to notice here in verse five. We need to get clear the definition of the word remnant in the New Testament. Sometimes we give it a wrong picture. We say that we are the remnant. What does the Bible mean by the word remnant?
The word remnant used in this context and also in the book of Revelation refers to those who are faithful to God and to His truth in the midst of apostasy. Israel as a nation had apostatized in the day of Elijah but there were seven thousand Jews who did not yield to Baal worship. They were still faithful in the sense that they believed that their salvation was not in themselves but in the promise of God in Jesus Christ. They are called the remnant and they are also called the election of grace.
The word elect means to be chosen. How many did God elect to be saved in Christ? All people. Not only all Jews but all people. But God will not force that choice upon you. God is not a Marxist. When I was in Ethiopia, one of the Russian Marxists said to me, You Adventists have tried desperately to help these people to give up smoking through your five-day program. He was familiar with our program because he was in the medical line. But, he said, we have a better way of solving the problem.
I said, Really? Will you tell me your way?
It is simple, he said. We pass an order, a law that there should be no more smoking in the country of Ethiopia.
I asked, What happens if a person doesnt want to do that, he wants to smoke?
He said, You dont understand. When we say there is no smoking, there is no smoking, period. Otherwise he swallows lead [is shot].
God doesnt do that. He doesnt say, I have chosen all of you to stop smoking and because Im sovereign, and I have chosen you, you will be saved. That is Calvinism. That is not Biblical. God doesnt say that because He has elected you and because He is sovereign, you will be saved. He has chosen all people to be saved but if you refuse the choice, His choice for you, which is the only way you could be saved, He will give you what you have chosen, which is death. Because if you reject Christ, you have chosen death. How do I know this? Look at verses six:
And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Please notice God has elected all people to be saved by grace. Thats what the Jews rejected. They rejected grace in place of works.
May I remind you that Paul is not discussing here the fruits of salvation, which involves lots of works. He is not talking about works or faith. Hes talking about works as a means, a method of salvation. When we study chapters 12, 13, 14, and 15, Paul will discuss the fruits of salvation which produces a lot of works. But they are the evidence, never the means. Here the Jews did not choose works as simply the evidence of being children of God but as a means of salvation, which is Baal worship. All pagan religions are based on salvation by works. Verse seven:
What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened,....
What was Israel seeking? They were seeking salvation. Why did they not obtain it? May I remind you of chapter nine, verses 30-33. They sought by the wrong method, by works of the law, and they failed. The Gentiles sought it by faith and they succeeded. So Paul is saying here: What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks but the elect, those who have accepted salvation by grace, have obtained it.
The rest of the Jews have been hardened. Then he quotes from different passages of the Old Testament that God was not taken by surprise. But I want you to notice the first part of verse eight:
As it is written: God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.
Now this is one of the statements that are difficult. There are several statements made in the Bible that are difficult. If you take that statement at face value, it gives you the impression that God is the one who gave them a spirit of stupor. He was the One who closed their eyes and their ears. It sounds that way. There are other texts, God hardened Pharaohs heart. And there is even a text in the Old Testament where God said, I created evil. Of course, we Western people read that text and say, See, God is to blame. We need to understand this in the Middle Eastern concept. There are two things we must keep in mind. Number one, God is sovereign. Do you know what that means? It means that nothing happens without Gods permission.
If I am at the edge of a cliff, lets say the Great Escarpment, the Rift Valley of Kenya. Theres a big drop, thousands of feet. The Rift Valley begins in Israel and goes right through Africa. And there is a family whos visiting that area, too, and they have a little two-year-old baby. While they are watching the animals with their binoculars, the baby begins to crawl towards the edge of the cliff. The parents dont see this happening, but I see it. Now I know very well that if they allow the baby to keep on, it will go over the edge of the cliff and drop to its death. I simply watch, knowing very well what is going to happen and I could do something about it but I did not do anything about it. Who is to blame if that baby falls over the cliff and dies? I must take some of the blame because I saw it happening. I did not warn the parents. I did nothing about it. I just waited and watched it happen.
Now there are many terrible things that have taken place in this world. The holocaust, for example. Couldnt God stop it? Satan tempting Adam. Couldnt God stop Satan from coming to this world and tempting our first parents? Yes. He could have stopped all those things. He didnt do it. And so He assumes the blame because Hes sovereign. He only assumes the blame but, in the judgment, every knee will confess because its only in the judgment that God will reveal to the universe why He held back. And so the Bible says in the judgment every knee will bow down, including Satan, and will confess that God is right.
So God is not the One who put the spirit of stupor into the eyes, minds, and hearts of the Jews. Hes saying that because He allowed it. Why? because God never forces anyone to accept His salvation. Then Paul quotes David saying the same thing. In other words, the Jews were all without exception elected to be saved. But the reason why many are lost is because they hardened their hearts. So God had to say to them, I leave your house desolate. But is this rejection final? No. Verse 11 onward says, No, it is not final. Romans 11:11:
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.
You know, Im amazed at my God. Do you know what Paul is saying here in verses 11 to 14? Here God had chosen all the Jews to be saved but many of them have rejected it. What does He do? He takes their failure and He turns it into good. How? Two ways:
Im going to be honest with you. Both my wife and I joined this church out of fear. I was scared of the judgment which I was told began in 1844, which I believe is correct. But I was scared because I was a Roman Catholic who was keeping Sunday and I would be judged by the commandments. Here I was breaking one, which meant breaking all. The Bible says so in James 2:12 and so, out of fear, I joined Gods commandment-keeping people. Im still looking for them but I joined people who claimed to be keeping the commandments. But I still see fighting and jealousy in my church so I am still waiting for God to produce a people who will love each other in spite of what they are. Thats keeping the commandments.
But I thank God that I have discovered it. I discovered this five years after I was ordained a minister. Terrible! That we are sinners saved by grace entirely and that works are the fruits. Anyone who says the gospel makes you lazy is a liar. If I were to have a time sheet, some of you would be surprised. I dont believe in resting. Ask my wife. Our vacation this year was in meetings all over the country. Not because Im good, but I cannot keep quiet. I want the world to know that there is a hope for everyone of us.
So God has taken this occasion and given the Gentiles a chance. In verse 14, God is saying, I want even to use jealousy if it will save some Jews. Romans 11:13-14:
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people [i.e., the Jews] to envy and save some of them.
In the judgment, God will say like Jesus said to the Jews, I did everything. I even used jealousy to get you to accept my gift, and you would not. So you have forced me to leave you desolate. Then, in verses 15 to 24, he brings out an illustration. It is an olive tree. Romans 11:15-24:
For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in. Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree.
All I will do here is to explain the significance of it. Its a symbol. Hes using the olive tree as a symbol to explain a truth.
...Do not boast over those branches [have been broken off]. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. [It is Christ who is your Savior, not you who saves yourself or Israel.] You will say then, Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.
Did God say, Well, I dont have room for everybody, and if I take all the Jews to heaven there will not be room for the Gentiles, so let me get rid of some of the Jews so that I may take some of the Gentiles? No, thats not the reason, Paul says. Why? Because there is room in heaven for everybody, Jew and Gentile. Then why did He break off the branches? Look at Romans 11:20:
...But they were broken off because of unbelief....
Unbelief is the willful, deliberate rejection of the gospel. Unbelief is the only sin that God will not pardon. Every sin against the law is forgivable, but the sin against grace God cannot forgive because His love will not use compulsion. He will not force people into heaven who have said, No, I dont want it.
So Paul says, Because of unbelief they were broken off and you Gentiles stand by faith. Do not be haughty or proud but remember, what happened to the unfaithful Jews can happen to you.
Its a lesson for us, folks. Please dont say that because youre an Adventist that you are beyond making the mistakes of the Jews. We can repeat the same mistake and God forbid that we should become proud and self-righteous and look upon ourselves as if we were the only true Christians and the others are not. Be careful lest we find ourselves in the same shoes as the Jews. Verses 21-22a say:
For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God....
God is merciful, but Hes also just. Consider that. If you continue in His goodness, theres no problem. If you are faithful unto the end to the truth in Christ, there is no problem because, as a child of Jacob, you belong to Israel. Verse 23:
And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
If the Jews today would turn back and say, God, we made a mistake; we did crucify the Messiah, what will God do? Would He say, Its too late!? No, folks, He will take the Jews and graft them back into the olive tree. That is why we have a mission to the Jews, also. Have you ever been to our church in Jerusalem? Its the worst church Ive ever been to. When I was there in 1975 there were 13 members. The youngest was 65. Terrible!
Its true that its hard to win souls in Israel but Ill tell you, the Pentecostals are having tremendous success. How? Because they are infiltrating the Jewish community. You cant win the Jews by simply holding evangelistic meetings. You have to infiltrate them. You have to love them. You have to admit that you are as much a sinner as they are and that we are both saved by grace. Thats how Paul concludes in verse 24:
After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree.
God is still concerned about the Jews today. Now we come to verse 25, the conclusion:
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
I wrestled with that one. Im going to give you some texts and I hope that you will wrestle with it, too. What Paul is saying here is the Jews as a nation have rejected the Messiah. That was way back in 31 A.D. and 34 A.D. when Stephen was stoned. That was the final stroke. What did God do? He took the gospel and He gave it to the Gentiles. How long is He going to give it to the Gentiles? Until every Gentile gets a chance to accept or reject the gospel. How long will that be? Turn to Luke 21. In this chapter, like Matthew 24, you have Christ giving the prophecies of the last days, our time. He makes a very interesting statement that I hope will give you some food for thought. It begins in Luke 21:20-24. This is in the context of Christ saying to the Jews, I leave your house desolate. Here Jesus is explaining to His disciples the reality of that. Luke 21:20:
When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.
In other words, when you see Jerusalem surrounded by the Roman army, you know that the reality of that desolation will become history. Luke 21:21:
Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.
For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.
What does it mean? God has removed His protection. Chapter one of Romans, God withdraws because they have rejected Him. Now look at Luke 21:23:
How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people.
I wish I had time to explain what this is all about in history but it was terrible. The Jews were actually eating rats. They were actually eating their own babies that had died in order to keep alive in Jerusalem. Thats how bad it was. And verse 24 adds to that:
They will fall by the sword [the Roman sword] and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on [occupied] by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
The Romans took Jerusalem in 70 A.D. They drove the Jews out. They were followed by the Saracens, Ottomans, then the British, Palestinians, all Gentiles, until 1968 when the Jews came back to Jerusalem. Now they didnt occupy all of Jerusalem. Forty-five percent of the inhabitants of Jerusalem are still Palestinians. Does that not tell us that we are approaching the fullness of the time of the Gentiles?
But in terms of Pauls writing, we must be honest with Paul. The Jews returning back to Jerusalem is not the main issue. The main issue is that God will not close probation for the Gentile world until this gospel has been preached to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. What we are seeing in Israel is only warning us that the end is about to come. The reason why the Palestinians in Jerusalem have not been driven out is because we as a people have not done our job. We have not yet preached the gospel to the whole world. In fact, we have not even preached the gospel completely to our own people. Most Adventists are still in legalism or some subtle form of it, like Galatianism. They are insecure about their salvation.
But, my dear people, when God has given the Gentile world every opportunity to hear the gospel, do you know what Hes going to do? Hes going to step back and say to the Jews, I want to give you one more chance. And He will give the Jews another chance. Not those who are dead but those who are living at the end of time. He will say to the Jews, Please, you have turned your backs on Me for so long, wont you accept Me? When I read the concluding verses of Romans 11, this is what comes across. Verse 25b says:
Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
Hardness has happened to the Jews not permanently, not finally, but until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. Come into what? Come into Israel by faith. And so all Israel will be saved. Romans 11:26-27:
And so all Israel [that means all the believing Jews from Abraham right up to the end of time] will be saved, as it is written: [then he quotes the Old Testament] The Deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness [which has taken place in the last 2,000 years] away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.
Then in verses 28-31 he says:
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriachs, for Gods gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of Gods mercy to you.
Look, concerning the gospel, they are enemies. They rejected the gospel. They became enemies of the gospel but, because of this, you got the gospel, Gentiles, for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. God promised the fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that all of those who qualify to be Israel will be saved. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
God never changes His mind about your salvation. It is you who can change your mind. He will never change. He will never say, I dont want to save you. He will say at the end of time, How often I tried to show you. How often I pleaded with you to accept My Son, but you would not, so you have to get what you have chosen, not what I have chosen for you. Verses 30-31:
Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of Gods mercy to you.
Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners. None of us deserve salvation. We are all in the same camp. There is no difference, says Paul, in Romans 3:23:
...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
...Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.
We have no right for salvation. We all are disobedient. Romans 11:32:
For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
The Jews and the Gentiles are saved by grace alone. Then he has this song of praise in verses 33 to 36:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.