Great controversy continues until this day over the question, "Has God cast away his people?" referring to the natural seed of Abraham. Some Amillennialists have argued that God was finished with Israel when Jesus died on the cross in A.D. 30. They not only fail to grasp the implications of Israel's hope (resurrection from the dead, Acts 24:14-15; 26:6-8; 28:20) being yet unfulfilled and very much alive when Paul wrote Romans, (Rom. 8:24-25); they also fail to understand that Paul's hope as a Christian was identical to that for which Israel prophets hoped. Some are exasperated when Romans 11 is introduced as a text which speaks of Israel's future beyond A.D. 30, clearly overturning the milk cart of their sacred cow.
Paul answers the question of natural Israel as clearly as possible. He said God had not cast away his people whom he foreknew. That was the state of affairs in the first century, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, which is a major consideration in this discussion.(Rom. 11:2)
Paul and Converted Israelites Were Proof in the Pudding
Paul cited himself as an example of an Israelite of the lineage of Abraham and the tribe of Benjamin. He had converted to Christianity. He affirmed that at that present time there was a remnant according to the election of grace. In other words, Paul said, I am proof God has not cast away his people. Israelites who converted to Christianity did not lose their ethnic identity anymore than a black or Latino person loses theirs. However, that is not the same as saying one's ethnic origin has priority or non-priority significance after conversion to Christ. It has none whatsoever. God is not a respecter of persons. In every nation the one who fears him and works righteousness is equally accepted of him. (Acts 10:34-35; Gal. 3:28).
To be part of the remnant was to be part of Israel whom God had reserved for himself (Rom. 11:4). The election of grace means the grace which came as a blessing through the gospel of Christ.
Hope Denied Through Default of Faith
The natural descendants did not receive their hope, not because it was not offered or unavailable as evidence above, but because they sought it through the works of the law.
"What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." (Rom. 9:30-33).
The Remnant (Believing Israel) Obtained What Unbelieving Israel Did Not
What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded." (Rom. 11:7) The elect are the remnant or believing Israel. The rest are unbelieving Israel who had not attained what it sought. This gives us insight into what Israel sought. They sought salvation, righteousness or "life from the dead". That is the hope we established above.
The Firstfruit Is Holy
In speaking of the remnant who accepted the terms of salvation through grace, they become the firstfruits from the dead. Paul uses three metaphors all of which convey the same idea. The firstfuits means the rest of the harvest is holy. The root means the branches are holy.
Some of Israel's branches were broken off through unbelief, and Gentiles were grafted into "Israel", i.e. "among them" and "with them" became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree. (11:17)
This is critical. The Gentiles did not become part of a different tree (replacement theology), they became part of the root (Abraham's seed) "with them". They joined the remnant who were already part of that tree. For this reason they were not to boast because they could be "broken off" in unbelief just as national Israel was. God purpose severity toward the unbelieving of the nation but goodness toward the Gentiles on the condition that they remained in that goodness. Not only was salvation conditional to Israel (which is why they were cut off), it was also conditional to the Gentiles, who themselves also could be cut off. (11:20-23)
The Cultivated Olive Tree
These Gentiles (unnatural branches) along with the remnant were added to Israel's "cultivated" olive tree. How much more will "these" who are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree. (Rom. 11:24). This is devastating to the Dispensationalists and Christian Zionists. God is said unbelieving Israel could be grafted into her own olive tree. That is the same tree into which the remnant and the Gentiles were grafted.
Why was natural Israel cut off? (Because of unbelief, 11:20). Why were the Gentiles grafted in? Because of faith, (11:20). How was the remnant grafted in? By faith, for their Scriptures said, whoever believes on him shall not be ashamed. (Rom. 9:33; 10:11)
This is the Mystery
"For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in." (Rom. 11:25)
We can now know for a certainty what blindness of Israel is. It is their disobedience to Christ. their refusal to accept the Messiah. We also know what the mystery is. Is is the same uniting of Israel and Gentiles together in one body, (Eph. 3:6) by faith. That is the only point Paul has discussed throughout Romans 11.
How long would this blindness continue? It continues until the "fulness of the Gentiles has come in". But what or when is this? Some believe it is a number. It is not. God is not counting the people who were being saved so as to "cut off" the waters of salvation when the last Gentile took a sip.
So All Israel Would Be Saved
Paul says all Israel, not simply the remnant and the Gentiles, but all Israel would be saved in the manner he had described throughout the chapter. He is not saying that the remnant and the Gentiles up to that point were all Israel. That would negate his argument on the fulness of the Gentiles coming in. If others were yet coming in, then those who were in did not constitute all Israel, but were a part of the whole. Futher, it would likewise negate his argument that if Israel turned from their unbelief they could be grafted in. In like manner, if the remnant who were already saved were the entire remnant, then no further Jews would be accepted into the faith.
He is not however, arguing for the salvation of "all Israel" in unbelief outside of Christ and apart from this last days gathering of the remnant and the Gentiles. He is simply saying all Israel who came to faith would be saved just as the remnant and particularly the Gentiles up to that point (the time of writing) had been saved. In other words, Paul did not want the Gentiles to shut down God's progress and long-suffering in saving Israel or the Gentiles before the work of salvation was completed. Maybe because the time was near, they believed it was finished, thus giving rise to their conceit.
The text is parallel to Acts 15:11: "But we believe that through the grace of God we shall be saved in the same manner as they".
The Fulness of the Gentiles
The times of the Gentiles has a terminal point as indicated in the next verse. It is the coming of Christ out of Zion. He comes to turn away ungodliness from Jacob and take away their sins. (v. 26).
Paul speaks of the time of the coming of the Lord in Romans 13:11-12. He writes that it was the "hour" to awake out of sleep. The night was far spent, the day was at hand. It was time to take off sleeping garments and put on the attire for the day of God. They were in the last hour. See also 1 Jn. 2:18-19.
The coming of Christ was imminent. It was nearer then when they had first believed. The text refers to Jesus' coming in A.D. 70 to destroy Jerusalem, (Lk. 21:20-24). Lk, wrote that Jerusalem would be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled. He also emphatically stated, that generation would not pass till all had taken place. (Lk. 21:32).
Therefore, we cannot contextually extend the time of the Gentiles beyond A.D. 70. For those who believe that after this time, Jerusalem would be reborn (as they claim for 1948), nothing in the text remotely suggests such. The word until does not suggest anything would occur after Jerusalem's demise.
Nothing suggests Israel's blindness would in fact change. In fact, the very opposite is expressed at Christ's return. In light of his "at hand" (imminent return), the scriptures stated, "He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still." (Rev. 22:10-12).
Finally, for those who view Christ's return as yet future, thus rejecting its' first century fulfillment, are locked into a tragic dilemma. Since the "blindness of Israel" does not end until the return of Christ, there is no possible manner for Israel to be saved as a nation in their unbelief. This is proof-positive that the Zionist state of 1948 is not a regathering of Israel. To claim such is to claim Christ returned in 1948, for only at his return would the fulness of the Gentiles be consummated.