Romans 11:28-31: God’s gifts Part One


  • Christ and the temple
  • Christ’s and the priesthood


The Third Temple is the name given to the Temple which certain eschatological views hope to see rebuilt in the Millennium. Presently on the temple mount in Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple once stood now sit two Muslim structures preventing the rebuilding of any temple. Orthodox Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple mount and so pray at what is called the Wailing Wall. But everyday they pray for the rebuilding of Ezekiel’s temple. Orthodox Jews are divided as to whether any sacrifices need to be offered in the temple because when Herod’s temple was destroyed the Rabbi’s taught the now templeless Jews that prays were the sacrifices God desired not blood sacrifices. Not so with modern day Christians. There are many Christians who because they read OT prophecy in a certain way insist that Ezekiel’s Temple must be rebuilt in the Millennium, and that this temple will observe all the sacrifices mentioned in Ezekiel, observe the Saturday Sabbath, have a Davidic royal line with princes, and other OT things like circumcision and feast days. One of the verses used to argue this point is Romans 11:29, ‘For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.’ They think that the list of privileges in 9:4-5 must be the gifts Paul means here so the Land, the temple, the priesthood, the sacrificial system, the feast days and many other OT practices can have a legitimate revival in the Millennium.

So today we are going to do three things. We are going to give a brief interpretation of 11:28-31; then we will demonstrate how Christ fulfils the temple and then how He fulfils the priesthood. We hope to show how any return to these things is going backwards and runs the risk of denying the gospel. And I trust you will be better positioned to know the strength of the salvation we have in Christ.

V28, ‘As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.’ Paul is in the process of explaining the mystery he mentioned in v25. He is headed towards the worship of v33-36 which falls down in adoration before God’s inscrutable ways. We have looked at the various interpretations that have fought over this verse and we have concluded that the mystery which is intended for us to understand is twofold, firstly, that God has an elect among Israel and that He never intended every Jew to be saved and embrace the Messiah, this he calls partial hardening, the remnant, or the Israel within Israel. Secondly, we have seen God’s surprising design that by means of Jewish unbelief Gentiles believe, and then by Gentile belief Jews are provoked to faith. Resulting in God’s plan of salvation being that both Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith into one olive tree until Christ’s second coming.

Continuing with that mystery and seeking to amplify the tension Paul makes a series of ‘difficult’ statements. In v28 he tells us that the elect Jews are both enemies of God and beloved of God at the same time. They are enemies of God for our sake, namely for the sake of Gentiles believing. But they are beloved for the sake of the Father’s, in other words on account of the various promises made to the Father’s about being made a nation. The Gentiles in Rome assumed that they were only enemies and so Paul adds v29 to further argue why they must also be beloved, and the Gentiles accept that they can be saved, v29, ‘For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.’

Now this is the verse we will be seeking to develop. On the one hand we have those who say that the gifts and calling are things bound up with a future national, geo-political and religious re-establishing. In other words any promise ever made to Israel which does not seem to have literally been fulfilled must still be literally fulfilled in the Millennium. We will be stopping here for a while to demonstrate that this thinking is wrong and show how the Bible in fact shows what that fulfilment looks like. Today we will only have time to consider the notion of a future temple and priesthood as impossible given the finished work of Christ. Let me assert here that the words ‘gifts and calling’ interpret the words, ‘and in this way all Israel will be saved.’ The words, ‘gifts and calling’ are synonyms for salvation not a future national geo-political and religious reestablishment. In particular Paul has made reference to the New Covenant blessing of sins forgiven. So for us to intrude our questions that relate to national reinstatement is to read into the text and force it to answer questions it is not answering. In Romans 5:15-17 we see Paul speaking about receiving the free gift of righteousness; and in 6:23 the gift of God being eternal life. To try and invade the text with OT issues is to read the text counter to its concern. Secondly, we have the word ‘calling’. How has Paul used the word calling in this letter so far? Paul talks about being called as an apostle 1:1; he talks about the Romans who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ, 1:6; those called to be saints 1:7; those whom God has predestined are called, justified and will be glorified. We can see that for Paul the word called has connotations of God working by His power to cause His people to be saved. No one can come to God unless they are drawn by His power. God’s call is an effectual call, the Spirit working by the word causes us to be born again and believe. In the context of speaking about salvation for all of elect Israel this must be Paul’s sense. Paul therefore is not talking about the Jews receiving land, temple, priesthood, and a Davidic throne in Jerusalem but salvation.

Next Paul puts before us what he sums up in the difficult words of v32, ‘For God has consigned all to disobedience that He may have mercy on all.’ In v30-31 He writes, ‘For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.’ Both elect Jews and Gentiles were under sin and both are brought to mercy. This of course raises a number of questions but these are nipped in the bud by Paul’s ensuing worship where he places God above accusation by describing Him as inscrutable, v33-36.