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22 April 2015

Greetings from Central Scotland! Between teaching sessions, Vicki and I are taking in the incredible spring weather. Skies are blue. The air is cool and pure. The snow is melting off the mountains, running in rivulets down into the lochs. The trees are just starting to bud.

Scotland's night skies are stunning -- studded with stars, planets, and a crescent moon -- a testimony to the Creator! Last night the sight was so stellar, I had to jump out of bed for one last look through the binoculars. Speaking of inspiring vistas, on the flight to Amsterdam we were dazzled by an enormous, shimmering blue curtain. Never (for us) have the Northern Lights been so clear! It feels like the Lord is seeking our attention.

Tempting as it is to write an article on the creation, that's not the plan. We will examine the knotty question of God's purposes (if any) for modern Israel. Most evangelicals believe there are unfulfilled prophecies concerning the Middle East and a mass conversion of the Jews. Are they correct in thinking so?

After reasoning from the scriptures that salvation is by faith (Romans 1-8), Paul turns to the question of Israel (Romans 9-11). Are they still in the picture? What should we make of the key passage in Paul's letter to the Romans?

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. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written... (Romans 11:25-26)

So, will all of national Israel be saved in the end times? This is certainly a beautiful thought, yet I would like to offer eight reasons why I believe that this interpretation is off base.

8 Reasons to Doubt an Impending Mass Conversion

  1. Ancestry. Earlier in his letter Paul distinguishes fleshly Israel from the true Israel, or "children of the promise" (9:8). Since faith is required to make one a son child of God, "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel" (9:6). Here "Israel" is used not in a national sense, but rather in reference to those with saving faith -- the true sons of Abraham and daughters of Sarah (Galatians 3:7; 1 Peter 3:6). Ancestry doesn't outweigh faith. After all, God can raise up descendants for Abraham from stones (Matthew 3:9)!
  2. Remnant. Paul affirms that "at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace" (11:5). As in the days of Elijah and Isaiah, "only a remnant of [the Jews] will be saved" (9:27; Isaiah 10:22) -- not the entire nation.
  3. History. History argues against a pan-Israel conversion. Such a doctrine would reduce the words of the prophets, from Elijah to John the Baptist, to empty challenges. What's the urgency in responding to the message if you're going to be saved either way? Besides, it would be both arbitrary and unjust to deprive every previous generation of guaranteed salvation, and not the one still alive at the Second Coming.
  4. Relevance! What would have been the meaning of Romans 9-11 for Paul's readers if there were no application they could appreciate? "Don't worry about your Jewish friends; in 2000 years a whole generation of their descendants will come to Christ!" Cold comfort. Romans was written not in 2015 AD, but c.55-58 AD. People would be curious about the prospects for Israel in their time -- not ours. And Paul tells them: a remnant will indeed be saved.
  5. Jealousy. Paul writes, "I make the most of my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them" (11:14). The conversion of the Gentiles was intended to provoke jealousy among the Jews of Paul's generation. Realizing they were missing out on the fulfillment of the promises, they would accept the invitation to the party. Remember that Paul was the uniquely chosen apostle to the Gentiles (11:13). He clearly sees his ministry as a key part in the process of all (true) Israel being evangelized. As he explains, he envisions the salvation of some. Paul does not unrealistically expect all national or ethnic Israel to be saved.
  6. Prophecy. The Messiah came but was rejected (John 1:11) -- as foretold in Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12, Psalm 22, and elsewhere. Similarly, in Paul's day the Jews as a whole rejected the (new) covenant offered to them (11:27). Thus prophecy is one more reason we shouldn't be surprised that the majority missed the Messiah.
  7. Free will. There's a serious problem with an exclusively ethnic view of Israel: free will is overridden. Paul speaks of God hardening some while electing others to salvation. Yet God only irrevocably hardens unbelievers (like Pharaoh) who harden their own hearts to a point of no return (9:17-18; Exodus 7:13-14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34-35; 1 Samuel 6:6). In Paul's day, many of the Jews were still "retrievable"; Paul himself serves as a specimen. "I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham..." (11:1). Their hardening was only partial; not all ethnic Israel had yet heard the message. Once they'd heard, presumably in the first century, the hardening was complete. The Jews then fell into the same category as the Gentiles: lost humanity, without a covenant and without hope.
  8. Second coming, not second chance. The second coming is the time for final judgment, not a second chance to surrender to YHWH (Hebrews 9:27). At the last day, every knee will bow -- Jewish and Gentile -- of course (Philippians 2:11). But then it will be too late.
A large spiritual revival among any segment of the human population is always highly desirable. Yet there is no true scriptural basis for an end-times mass conversion of modern-day Jews.

Next time: Considering the brevity of our treatment of this weighty issue, you may still have questions. That's why next week we will address 8 questions related to the place of Israel in God's plan. In the meantime, you may want to look up any of this week's scriptures that may have been unfamiliar to you.
Scotland is amazing. We wish you were here with us. (Not really -- we're having some husband/wife time. So...) But this weekend, by all means, if you're in the Edinburgh area, drop in for an evangelistic presentation From Facts to Faith.

Till next time... please remember us in prayer.

Your brother,
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