An Inclusive Israel
Near the end of chapter 11, Paul reaches the climax of his discussion of Israel and what truly defines the chosen people of God. For the last time in his letter, he asks a question to be immediately followed by, “May it never be!”
stumbled over the stumbling stone, Jesus the messiah. Is this a fall beyond
recovery? Absolutely not! Instead, this stumbling has become the means by which
salvation has come to non-Jews. At the same time, the gift of salvation to
non-Jews causes the Jews to be envious of God’s blessing, giving them a strong
incentive also to turn to God’s messiah in faith (11:11; cf. 10:19). The
general failure of the Jews to accept Jesus as their messiah is the express
means by which non-Jews could find salvation (11:12). This idea goes back to
what Paul stated in the beginning of the letter—that the gospel of Jesus Christ
is “first for the Jew; then for the Gentile” (cf. 1:16). Since the people of Israel were the
chosen means by which God would bring to the world the Savior, it was only
right that they should be the ones first exposed to the gospel. Their rejection
of the message, however, meant that the missionaries were free to turn to
non-Jews with the message. This is exactly how Paul conducted his missionary
tours in Asia and Greece.
His “custom” was always first to go to the synagogue (Ac. 14:1; 17:2), but
if/when the synagogue Jews rejected his words about Jesus, he turned to the
non-Jews (cf. Ac. 13:44-46; 18:4-6; 19:8-10; 28:24-28). Still, this means of
reaching out to Gentiles did not close the door to Jewish salvation, and in
fact, Paul anticipates a “fullness” for the Jewish community as well. By
fullness Paul probably intends the full number of the Jews who would turn to
Christ Jesus for salvation, since he later will use the very same expression to
refer to the full number of Gentiles who turn to Christ for salvation (cf.
Paul especially targets his words to his non-Jewish readers, since his calling as an apostle was specifically to reach Gentiles (11:13; cf. Ac. 9:15; 15:12-18; 22:21; 26:17-20; Ga.2:7-9). He wants them to understand that God’s eternal purposes are not to exclude Jews from salvation. Hence, Gentiles must not suppose that they now have some sort of priority. Instead, the extension of the gospel to the non-Jews works as an incentive for Jews to accept Jesus as the messiah, too (11:14). That God has turned away from the Jewish nation as a whole has been the means for inviting the whole world to become part of his intimate family, and by the same token, when Jewish folk realize what has happened and turn to God’s messiah, it will be like they were raised from the dead (11:15)!
If Paul’s discussion has anything at all to do with the tension between Jews returning to Rome after the death of Claudius Caesar to a Roman church that was now largely Gentile, it may well have been the case that some Gentile believers resented the return of these Jewish Christians. Paul anticipates this resentment, and he urges his Gentile readers not to throw over their Jewish brothers and sisters.