As we continue to work our way through Matthew 24 on Sunday mornings, I would like to address a question that often arises in our discussions of the end times: Does God have a special plan for the salvation of Israel in the last days? There are differing viewpoints on the question. Strict dispensationalists contend that Israel and the Church are always separate in God’s eyes and that God has one specific plan for the final salvation of the Church and another specific plan for the salvation of Israel (though both plans are based on the atoning work of Christ). Those who strictly adhere to the perspective of covenant theology contend that there is no separation between Israel and the Church. The Church is fulfillment of all that Israel was meant to be, and therefore, God’s promises to Israel are kept to the church and there is no special plan for the salvation of national Israel in the end times.
A synthesis of these views is what Scripture actually teaches. Very clearly, Paul teaches us that the true children of Abraham are those who live by faith: “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Gal 3:7, also see Rom 2:28-29 and 9:6-8) Given this teaching, we must agree with Scripture that there is but one universal church that is composed of believers of all times from all nations, including believing Old Testament Jews and believing New Testament Gentiles. God has made us both one and broken down the dividing wall (Eph 2:14-20). “Christians” are now God’s people, whether they be Jews or Gentiles. Thus, I am covenantal in this regard.
However, Paul also states very clearly in Romans that after the time of the ingathering of the Gentiles, all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:26), meaning that there will be a mass conversion of Israelites in the last days as Christ brings them into the church in fulfillment of prophecy. Scholars like J.C. Ryle, John Murray, Tom Schreiner, Douglas Moo, and John Piper have written very sound explanations of this truth. Piper notes that, “Rightly understanding the historical process of how God saves Gentiles and Jews undercuts Jewish and Gentile pride.” He gives 5 exegetical reasons for his view from Romans 11:
1. The term “Israel” in verses 25 and 26 most naturally refers to the same thing. Verse 25: “Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel. . . .” That must refer to the nation as a whole from generation to generation. He continues, “. . . until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (26) And in this way all Israel will be saved.” I don’t think the meaning of Israel changes between verses 25 and 26. The hardened Israel (the nation as a whole) will be the saved Israel (the nation as a whole).
2. The reference in verse 26 to banishing ungodliness from Jacob fits with the national view of “all Israel.” Verse 26: “And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’” This seems most naturally to be a picture of the second coming. Christ’s banishing ungodliness from Jacob refers most naturally to the removal of the hardening referred to in verse 25. “Jacob” is not a natural or typical reference to the elect remnant of Israel. The hardening lasts until the full number of the Gentiles comes in (the climax of world missions), and then Christ lifts the veil and removes the hardening — he banishes ungodliness from Jacob, from “all Israel.”
3. The parallel between the two halves of verse 28 point to all Israel as the nation as a whole. Verse 28: “As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake.” Now this half of the verse surely refers to the nation as a whole — they are enemies of God. So the second half of the verse surely refers to the nation as a whole as well: “But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.” The point of this verse is to show that even though Israel now is a covenant-breaking, unbelieving nation, it is going to change. The nation that are enemies now will be converted later because of election and love.
4. The parallels in verse 12 point in the same direction. Verse 12: “Now if their [the Jewish nation’s] trespass means riches for the world [salvation for the Gentiles], and if their [the Jewish nation’s] failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion!” Here “their full inclusion” most naturally refers to the same nation as “their trespass” and “their failure.” So “their full inclusion” refers to the salvation of “all Israel” and is national.
5. The same thing is true about the parallels in verse 15. “For if their [Jewish nation’s] rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their [Jewish nation’s] acceptance mean but life from the dead?” The nation now rejected will be accepted. So the “acceptance” of the Jewish nation most naturally refers to the salvation of “all Israel” — the salvation of the nation as a whole some day.
“How is this going to happen? I don’t know the details, but it seems to me that Paul does mean that in connection with the second coming of Christ there will be a great turning of Israel to Christ. Just how it works, I don’t know. But I find certain prophecies very suggestive. For example, Zechariah 12:10, Isaiah 66:8, and Matthew 23:29. I don’t want to speculate about details we are not given. I am not sure about the precise “when and how” of Israel’s conversion. But that it is coming and that it will be given by Jesus Christ, the deliverer who banishes ungodliness and forgives sins — I feel sure.”