Elected – What does that mean?
God chose Abraham and his descendants to be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:1-3). This applies exclusively to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 17:18-19; 21:12; Romans 9:7). Connected with this calling is the function of a yardstick. Thus, God set the borders of nations according to the ‘measurement’ of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:8). King David knew: “God rebukes kings for Israel’s sake.” Therefore, he admonishes the nations: “Do not touch my anointed ones, my messiahs. Do not harm my prophets!”(1 Chronicles 16:21).
Already Abraham had a prophetic-priestly function. Whosoever sought salvation had to turn to him, according to the commandment God gave to the Philistine king Abimelech (Genesis 20:7). Jesus himself stated later on, “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22). The gentiles attitude towards Israel decides about blessing and curse up to the last judgment (Joel 4:1-2; Matthew 25:40).
The living God has chosen the nation of Israel to convey his word to mankind. “You are my witnesses,” the prophet Isaiah (43:10) let his people know. And: “The Torah shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). Therefore, the non-Jewish nations are also going up to the mountain of the Lord.
Rejected – and the consequences
Israel is “cursed and separated from Christ,” Paul noted with sadness and pain looking at his own people. Nevertheless, the Apostle described a breathtaking wealth of those who are “Israelites”. This includes what he packs into the theologically charged Greek term “nomothesia,” literally “setting of the Torah” (Romans 9:3-5). Despite all their misguidedness and rebellion, the Jewish people remain the channel through which the living God speaks to mankind.
In Romans 11:11, Paul of Tarsus formulated one of the most prominent theses of his theology of Israel: The salvation in Messiah Yeshua came to the Gentiles, because the Jewish people rejected their king. The English Standard Version translated: “Through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles.”
God has kept the eyes of His chosen people closed so “that they may not see.” He kept their ears shut “that they may not hear,” and “understand with their heart, and be converted, so that I will help them.” Paul, a student of the famous rabbi Gamaliel the Great, explained this (Romans 11:1-10) with explicit reference to the apostles’ teaching (for example, John 12:37-40) and Scripture (Isaiah, chapters 6, 29, and 53).
Why God has done all this so and not otherwise; whether He could not have reached His purposes in other ways; what would have been if Israel had accepted his Messiah, and whether the Jewish people could have protected itself against the hardening of their God – all these questions the Apostle does not answer. Paul, himself deeply rooted in Hebrew thinking, rather seems to have had a fundamental problem with the structures of thought concealed behind Germanic subjunctives. The Hebrew of the Bible does not even know a subjunctive, neither does God’s revelation know all the “ifs” of the human mind.
The statement is simple, direct and unmistakable: Israel has rejected its Messiah. Therefore, the king of Israel has become the Savior of the nations.
Saved – to provoke
Every gift of God brings a responsibility, a calling, a task with itself. This also applies when the Redeemer of Israel suddenly cares for non-Jews, even suffers for them, dies, and after three days raises from the dead. When Israel had to fall, so “that the blessing of Abraham should come to the gentile nations in Messiah Yeshua, and that we should receive the promised spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14), then this as a consequence bears a commission in itself for those who were saved.
Paul said this in Romans 11:11 (according to the King James Version): “Through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.” In the preceding chapter the Apostle had already shown that Israel will not come to recognize her Messiah through preaching, but as already Moses had seen clearly: “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; I will make you angry with a foolish people” (Romans 10:19 with reference to Deuteronomy 32:21). Because he had understood this fact, Paul was so happy to be the apostle of the Gentiles. The goal of his mission to the non-Jews was, as he expressly wrote to the gentile believers in the Christian community in Rome, “whether I might provoke some of my relatives to jealousy, and thus save some of them” (Romans 11:13-14). According to these statements, Paul understood his mission to the gentiles as a means to reach out to his own Jewish people.
To provoke Israel to jealousy is a central task of the Gentile Christian community, if not from the point of view of the Apostle Paul, the real mission of the non-Jewish believers worldwide. Whether we as Gentiles have a preaching or teaching commission to Israel can be discussed – not only on the background of the sinister history of Christianity and its dealing with the Jewish people; Not only between liberal and conservative Christians; But also among those who fully accept the Holy Scriptures as inspired Word of God. It is, however, indisputably clear, according to the Biblical text, that salvation came to the Gentiles in Jesus, expressly for the purpose that Israel should be jealous of the Gentile Christians. The calling of all Gentile Christians, therefore, is to provoke Israel to jealousy.
To provoke to jealousy – Why?
Paul does not leave the question unanswered why Israel is so important to him, and why it is so crucial that the non-Jewish followers of the Messiah of Israel recognize their responsibility for the Jewish people. Using the old rabbinical method of exegesis “Kal VaChomer”, he concludes from Romans 11:11 in the following verse 12, from “light to heavy”, from “the easy to the difficult,” from “the small to the great”, from the “simple to the complicated”: If already their fall has been wealth for the world and their pity wealth for the Gentiles, how much more will it be wealth when their number becomes full.”
In the following verses 13 and 14, he reminds us again that provoking the Jewish people to jealousy is so decisively important, before he repeats in other words in verse 15, what had been said in verse 12 already: “If their rejection is the reconciliation of the world what will their acceptance be other than life from the dead!”
The ‘wealth’ that the world has acquired through Israel’s fall, through Israel’s pity or damage, is the revival, the spreading of the message of redemption in Messiah Jesus, which we have experienced during the past 2000 years. ‘More wealth’, then, would be considering the parallel of Romans 11:12, ‘more revival’. In Romans 11:15, Paul describes the ‘fall of Israel’ of verses 11 and 12 as ‘their rejection’, and says that this “has brought about the reconciliation of the world.” Parallel to verse 12, he concludes: “What will their acceptance be but life from the dead.” But what does this Greek expression, literally translated “life from dead”, actually mean?
The term “life from dead” only occurs here in the New Testament. Many interpreters claim that Paul meant the “resurrection from the dead” and “date” therefore the “acceptance of Israel” on the future return of Jesus.
Paul, however, does not say “resurrection,” although he quite well knew the Greek concept for it and used it several times. The parallel of verse 15 to verse 12 suggests that “life from dead” means “more wealth,” that is, “more reconciliation,” “more revival.” In fact, Paul used a remarkably similar formulation only a few chapters before, in Romans 6:13, when he asked his readers to “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (English Standard Version). Literally translated, Paul writes: “Make yourselves available to God as living from dead.” This instruction of the Apostle makes no sense whatsoever if “life from dead” signifies “resurrection”. It must mean: Present yourselves to God as those who were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, i.e. as those who experienced revival.
Paul shows here in Romans 11 that the spiritual state of the non-Jewish world is directly dependent on the spiritual condition of Israel. Israel is the key to revival of the whole world. According to the Apostle, the Gentiles, the non-Jewish followers of the King of Israel, the Messiah Yeshua, are performing a decisive function in their responsibility and calling towards the Jewish people. From this point of view, it is clear: If we have a responsibility for this world, then we have a responsibility for Israel.
Provoking to jealousy – Is that even possible?
Thus remains the question: How do we provoke Israel to jealousy?
There are no quick answers. However, we will never make anybody jealous to whom we have no relationship. And this relationship cannot be delegated to others in any form whatsoever. What is decisive, then, is not what we think about our responsibility for Israel, whether we are right in our theological thinking or justified by our biblical insights. The sole important question is, how the person who should to be provoked to jealousy feels and how he reacts. If I understand my Lord properly, neither my faith, nor my theological insight is decisive. Neither is my political balance important, nor the question whether I have succeeded in learning from history, in order to be a ‘critical’ friend to Israel, without doing any harm to any other’s feelings. The most important question is: What fruits have my life brought forth? (Compare Matthew 7:15-23).