Judaizers! Part Six
Do the Jews have "Special Salvation Status"?
Many seem eager to believe it. And at least one New Testament passage seems to say it.
Romans the 11th chapter and 26th verse, states the following:
"…and so all Israel will be saved…"(NASB)
The passage – viewed on its own - seems to make a very straightforward statement that is easily understood – "all Israel will be saved". The difficulties arise when you begin trying to harmonize the salvation of "all Israel" with the remainder of the New Testament's teaching.
The prevailing view of this passage is that it speaks of events to occur in "the end-times". According to this view, Romans 11:26 teaches that all Israel alive at that time will be saved. But there is also a more radical view; namely that all Jews are going to be saved simply by virtue of being Jewish. Those who subscribe to this view believe and teach that the Jews will be saved even without Christ. Being Jewish is enough. The Judaizers of Paul's day would have loved it.
Actually, I know of this teaching first-hand. While a young school-aged child, being raised in a Presbyterian church, I remember asking about the Jews. I was concerned about what happened to them since they did not believe in Jesus. I was told that there was no need for concern because the Jews were "God's chosen people".
Apparently the number of those who believe this exact thing is growing. In 2002, 21 members of the "Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations" published an official statement to the effect that "Jews are in an eternal covenant with God" and enjoy a "special salvation status". Their belief is that "faithful Jews" are already saved and should not be targeted for conversion. They also seemed to believe that rejection of their view is "anti-Jewish". According to their statement, acceptance of the Jews' salvation is a "Sacred Obligation" within Christendom. You can read the article for yourself at:
The "Christian Scholars Group…", though, was actually taking a more moderate stance than the one that I learned of as a small child. They at least apply their statements to "Faithful Jews", whereas I was told that all Jews were saved. Either way the teaching assumes that there are people who can be saved apart from Christ.
But not everyone accepts this:
John the baptist – Christ's forerunner – did not believe that Jews had special salvation status.
John appeared in the wilderness as the forerunner of Christ, preaching the following:
8"Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. – Matthew 3:8-9 (NASB)
John's audience – who were exclusively Jewish – needed to be warned even in that day that being a descendant of Abraham was not, by itself, enough. He went on to speak of every tree without good fruit being cast into the fire and the wheat being separated from the chaff, which was to be burnt up with unquenchable fire. The inspired prophet and Christ's forerunner, John, obviously did not believe that all of fleshly Israel would be saved.
John's message was intended to correct a prevalent misconception about what it meant to be a Jew. The Jews of that day believed that being descended from Abraham was – by itself – enough to assure good standing in the love of God. They believed this prior to the coming of Christ and continued to believe it once the gospel was fully given. This unfortunate attitude became the foundation of the Judaizers' entire mindset but John the baptist showed this foundational mindset to be wrong.
Jesus Christ – God's divine Son – did not believe the Jews had special salvation status.
In John the 8th chapter and 24th verse, Jesus gave the following warning to the Pharisees who were contending against them:
"Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (NASB)
In John 8:33 those same Jewish religious leaders claimed to be "children of Abraham". Contrary to what they believed, this was not enough to justify them with God. But it wasn't even true; not in the way that really mattered. In John 8:44a, Jesus identified their true father:
"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father..." (NASB)
There is no fact more certain than this: those who live as the children of the devil here will live with him hereafter. Jesus did not believe that all of the Jews would be saved and we shouldn't either.
Even Paul, who wrote that "all Israel will be saved", rejected the notion that the Jews had special salvation status.
In Romans chapter 2, Paul is speaking of the absolute justice of God. Look at what he says of the judgment in verses 5 through 11:
5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. (NASB [emphasis mine - RW])
Please notice that Paul warns in no uncertain terms that all of those who are selfishly ambitious and who do not obey the truth should expect wrath and indignation from God at the judgment. This applies to Jews as well as gentiles, for there is no partiality with God.
There are additional passages, even within the book of Romans, showing that Paul considered unbelieving Jews lost:
- Romans 9 opens with a lament for his unbelieving Jewish brethren, stating that he could even wish to be accursed for their sake.
- In Romans 9:27 Paul quotes from Isaiah 10:22, who states, "though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved."
- In Romans 10:1 he announces that his prayer is for their salvation.
- In Romans 11:14 Paul hopes that somehow, some of his countrymen might be saved.
- In Romans 11:17-22 speaks of branches in an olive tree. The natural branches (Jews) were broken off because of unbelief. But wild branches (gentiles) were grafted in. The natural branches were not spared – verse 21. They were dealt with severely – Verse 22.
Romans 11:26 is not talking about fleshly Israel.
Descent from Israel according to flesh alone is not enough:
Consider carefully the following passages:
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. – Romans 2:28-29 (NASB).
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants… - Romans 9:6-7a (NASB)
In the first of these passages, Paul shows us that there is more to being a real Jew than fleshly descent. And in the second, he shows (much like John in Matthew chapter 3) that not every descendant of Abraham is a part of the true Israel. And Paul is not the only New Testament writer to teach this truth. The apostle John – in the book of Revelation – records messages of rebuke from our Lord concerning those who claimed to be Jews but were not. These messages were given to Christians in the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia:
"I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." - Rev 2:9 (NASB)
"Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie--I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you." - Rev 3:9 (NASB)
Who were these people who claimed to be Jews but were in fact a "synagogue of Satan"? They were either unbelieving Jews or Judaizers both of which continually troubled the early church. Either way, they were men of Jewish descent in terms of the flesh. But they trusted in the flesh and refused to embrace Christ and His gospel.
There is also a true Israel – an "Israel of God' – and it is this Israel of which Paul speaks at Romans 11:26.
Turning to Paul's epistle to the Galatians, we read the following:
15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. – Galatians 6:15-16 (NASB)
Verse 15 reminds us of some other writings from Paul, including at least one we have just looked at. The mention of physical circumcision being worthless certainly links with Paul's thoughts of Romans 2:28-29. And Paul's "new creation" remark reminds us of Jesus' teaching on the need to be "born again", not to mention 2Corinthians 5:17.
We can very reasonably assume, then, that the "Israel of God" spoken of in Galatians 5:16 is made up of those who have had a "new birth / new creation" and whose circumcision is not in the flesh but "of the heart by the Spirit". In other words, the "Israel of God" is made up of Christians. This conclusion – in fact – is affirmed earlier in the book of Galatians, at Chapter 3, Verses 26-29.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
Who is the Israel of God? The Israel of God is the Lord's church, made up of those who are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, who have been baptized into Christ, clothing themselves with Christ. In becoming Christian, every class distinction is dissolved, including the distinction between Jew and gentile (Vs. 28). Those who belong to Christ are Abraham's true descendants, heirs of the promise that was given to him.
These people, and these people alone are the "Israel of God". And "all Israel shall be saved". Fleshly Israel is in no sense cut off from the grace of God but Jews must receive God's grace in exactly the same way as the people of any other race.