The Redeemer Shall Come Out of Zion – #2
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. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.
Romans 11:25-27 continues to be the source of almost endless speculation and discussion. We are told by most commentators that it refers to a yet future coming of the Lord at the end of time, at which point “national Israel” will be converted.
In this second article examining this great text, we explore the relationship between Romans 11 and some inter-textual citations that Paul incorporates.
Isaiah 65:7 – Filling the Measure of Sin – Isaiah 65 and Matthew 23
In the first century generation, as the gospel went forth, “to the Jew first, and then to the Greek” (Romans 1:16-17), the Jews refused to accept the message of a Torah free, Gentile equal, kingdom. They killed the messengers who proclaimed that message. (Compare Jesus’ parables in Matthew 21-22). Remember that Paul was writing in the midst of that persecution (Romans 5, 8, 12) that was instigated by the Jews. Paul himself had been a persecutor of the Way, killing and imprisoning followers of Christ on the behalf of the leadership of Israel (cf. Acts 21-22; Galatians 1; 1 Timothy 1).
Thus, in Romans 10-11, Paul directly quotes from two Old Testament prophecies of Israel’s salvation, and those prophecies anticipated the Lord’s judgment coming against Israel for shedding the blood of the righteous. This is significant in light of Matthew 23. (Isaiah 27 likewise anticipated the coming of the Lord to avenge innocent blood, but for brevity I am limiting my focus to Isaiah 59. For my discussion of Isaiah 27 see my Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory, available from my website).
Jesus said Israel would fill the measure of her sin, the sin of shedding the blood of the righteous, and be destroyed in his generation (23:29-34). The martyrs created by Israel’s blood guilt, described in Isaiah, would be included in Jesus’ promise that all of the martyrs all the way back to creation would be avenged in his generation. If they are included, and who could exclude them, then one cannot exclude the promises of Isaiah from the purview of Jesus in Matthew 23 – or Luke 21:22! Nor can one isolate and exclude the prophecies of Isaiah 27 and 59 – as cited by Paul in Romans 11 – from the interpretive equation.
So, here is what we have:
Paul is writing to the church in Rome that is experiencing “the sufferings of Christ” (Romans 8:16-18f).
In the midst of that suffering Paul promised them that God is faithful to His promises, and that included the promise that He had a righteous remnant (11:1-7).
While it appeared that God had cast off His people – and the Gentile converts to Christ were declaring that to be true – the apostle assured the saints that “all Israel” (the remnant – the ones being persecuted like the remnant of old – at the time) would be saved.
That coming salvation would be in fulfillment of God’s Old Covenant promises of the coming of the redeemer, the redeemer who would vindicate their suffering, by bringing judgment on their persecutors. This is directly parallel to 2 Thessalonians 1:4f where the same apostle promised the Thessalonians saints “relief” from their then ongoing persecution at the hands of the Jews, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
All of this is powerfully probative for positing Romans 11:25-27 in the context of the first century, the Jewish persecution of the church, and the coming vindication of the suffering saints of Christ in the Jewish War and destruction of Jerusalem.
✦ Thus, Romans 11:25f has nothing to do with the Dispensational doctrine of an end of time conversion of the Jews to save them from the anti-christ.
✦ It has nothing to do with a national conversion of Christ at the end of the Christian age, as posited by Postmillennialism. Romans 11:25-27 was the promise that, “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed”; “the night is far spent, the Day is at hand” (Romans 13:11-13); “the God of peace shall crush Satan under your feet shortly” (en taxei; 16:20).
Paul’s utilization of Isaiah 59 – the coming vindication of the martyrs and salvation of the remnant – is buttressed by an earlier OT prophetic quote by Paul in Romans 11: 9. He cites Psalms 69:21-28f, which also includes the motif of Israel’s blindness– “Blindness in part has happened unto Israel”:
They also gave me gall for my food, And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. Let their table become a snare before them, And their well-being a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; And make their loins shake continually. Pour out Your indignation upon them, And let Your wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their dwelling place be desolate; Let no one live in their tents. For they persecute the ones You have struck, And talk of the grief of those You have wounded. Add iniquity to their iniquity, And let them not come into Your righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, And not be written with the righteous (Psalms 69:21-28).
We know from John 19:28f that this Psalm was a Messianic prediction. The apostle cites this text to speak of what happened to Jesus on the cross – the giving of vinegar to drink. But notice what the Psalmist prayed for as result of the horrific suffering of Messiah: “Let their table become a snare before them, And their well-being a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; And make their loins shake continually. Pour out Your indignation upon them, And let Your wrathful anger take hold of them….” David is praying for the vindication of the suffering of the Lord’s Servant! He is praying for what Isaiah 59 would later predict, vindication of the martyrs at the coming of the Redeemer out of Zion. Much later, in Romans 11, Paul would draw on both Psalms 69 and Isaiah 59 as he discussed Israel’s blindness and the consequent rejection of the Gospel.
Look closer at Psalms 69:
Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always.
The rest of the Psalm is a prayer for the judgment of Israel because they killed (would kill) the Lord’s servant.
Notice that the Psalmist spoke of the blindness of Israel, the blindness that would cause them to persecute the Lord’s Servant: “Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; And make their loins shake continually” (Psalms 69:23).This motif of the blindness of Israel – a blindness that would lead to them rejecting the Lord and His Word, bringing judgment on themselves – is a recurring theme in Israel’s history.
Remember, we have seen that in Romans 10 the apostle spoke of Israel’s rejection of the Gospel. Here, he sees that rejection as the result of their blindness (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:1-4).
Observe that in the Psalm, the inspired writer says that in the persecution of the Lord’s Servant, Israel would add “iniquity to iniquity” (v. 27). This is the concept of filling the measure of their sin. It is the concept found in Isaiah 59 as we have shown above. Paul’s citation of Psalms 69 and application to Israel of his day thus demonstrates that he believed that Israel was in the process of adding “iniquity to iniquity”; she was filling the measure of her sin, just as Jesus had foretold in Matthew 23:29-34. This “chain” of thought is extremely powerful.
// Side Bar: It has been suggested by some commentators that the Psalmist’s prayer for the judgment on Israel “let their table be their snare” is referent to the judgment that would fall on her during her celebration of her feast days (Cf. Douglas Moo mentions this in his, New International Commentary on the New Testament, Romans, (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1996), 683, n. 684). This is what happened of course, so, I personally find this suggestion very attractive.//
Psalm 69 is a very powerful prophecy of the time of Israel’s judgment for her blindness and for killing the Lord’s servant. Remember, John 19 applies the Psalm to the crucifixion of Jesus. (Actually, numerous verses from this Psalm are applied by the NT writers to Jesus’ betrayal and Passion). In the Psalmist’s prediction of that Passion he follows it immediately with the prayer for the destruction of Israel. Paul’s quotation of the Psalm, as he was personally experiencing and witnessing Israel’s rejection of the Gospel and the persecution of the followers of Jesus, virtually demands that we understand that lying behind the citation is the understanding that judgment was coming on Israel.
Stay tuned for more on Israel’s blindness and its eschatological significance. In the meantime, be sure to get a copy of my book, Elijah Has Come: A Solution to Romans 11:25-27, for a fuller discussion of these important themes.