Paul has come to an important concluding point of a large part of his argument. However, it is important to realize that his reasoning and explanation of the gospel are certainly not yet complete. He has demonstrated that the universal gospel for both Jew and Gentile is the only means of salvation for any and every man. He has shown how only in Christ is there forgiveness of sin, which every man needs. He has also shown how only in Christ is there hope of a new nature that is not in bondage to sin and corruption, which every man desperately needs as well. At all points, he has carefully shown how the Jewish hope in the law is of no help to bring salvation. If any man wishes to be saved, he now understands the means and the way to find his salvation.
But is that the whole of the story? We today (perhaps it is self-centered humanity rather than anything particular about “today”) think so much in terms of the salvation of the individual man that we are tempted to think that Paul has brought his argument to a full conclusion. Many times we think the gospel is now fully explained by the end of chapter 8, but Paul does not think so. His perspective, and that of the whole of the Bible is much larger than any one individual man’s salvation. Rather, the great picture must encompass the whole of mankind, the whole of the world. Paul has already begun to turn our mind to that in the closing half of chapter 8 as he talked about the redemption of all creation side by side with the revelation of the sons of God. We have already seen the importance of thinking in terms of the whole of the race as Christ has been set forth to us as the second Adam, the second Head of humanity, bringing forth a whole new race of mankind, so to speak, that descends from Him, a race of men who do not exist in the flesh but who exist in the Spirit.
Most of this emphasis has been implicit and not explicit, but now Paul is going to focus directly upon the larger picture of how God is going to work the redemption of mankind as a whole. He cannot be finished with explaining the gospel until he has done this. As much of a climax as the end of chapter 8 truly was , it was not the final climax of the gospel. Paul will be found later praising yet further the great plan of God and His wisdom that is in it. By the end of chapter 11, this praise will be called forth in the greatest measure because at that point the whole of the picture of God’s working among mankind will have been set forth. The mystery of God has still not yet been explained in full. But it is about to be.
As Paul considers the redemption of mankind as a whole and how God plans to accomplish it in the historical reality of His dealings with men, there is no escaping the centrality of the division of mankind into Jew and Gentile. Since very early days in the history of mankind, God chose a special people through whom to work, the Jews. Since the days of Abraham, then, there has been a distinction between the chosen line and the rest of mankind. It even had intimations and predictions back in yet earlier days, such as in Noah’s blessing and cursing upon his sons after the flood. Ultimately, the promise and language of a chosen seed finds its roots even in the very garden of Eden, where God first declared redemption to be forthcoming.
If we consider the fact that the record of the life of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, begins in Genesis chapter 12 and that from that point onward, the Jewish people dominate the sacred Scriptures, then we will begin to appreciate how central they have been in God’s dealings with mankind. Only 11 chapters precede the history of the Jewish people, and the whole rest of the Old Testament centers on them. There are, of course, some important times of attention given to the Gentiles as well, but the vast bulk of the content of the Old Testament centers on the Jews.
To make sense of what God has been doing in the salvation of mankind, there will have to be some explanation of just what is the nature of God’s dealings with the Jews, how that compares with and relates to His dealings with the Gentiles, and how all that God has previously done relates to the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ that Paul has just talked about at such length in the first 8 chapters.
We are about to find out that God was following His wise plan from start to finish. The Jew had a vitally important role in all of that, but the sad reality is that he did not well understand it far too often. Paul will have now to correct some large misconceptions of the Jewish mind about the Jew’s position and relationship with God. Paul has been having to correct Jewish misconceptions throughout the book of Romans, as we have seen, but this will be perhaps the most basic and central of those errors of thought.
And it is a vitally important concept to grasp, this matter of the role of the Jewish nation. What was God’s purpose and plan for the Jew? What was the meaning of His calling them? What was the nature of their election as a people? If almost all of the history of the Bible focuses upon this chosen people, what does that imply?
It is vitally important to understand what Paul is going to demonstrate in these next three chapters. He is about to bring our understanding of salvation into the fullest view by demonstrating the greatest scope of God’s purpose in accomplishing the salvation of all the world. The history of the Jewish nation is not about the Jewish nation in and of themselves. As much as the Bible focuses upon them as a people, we have missed the point if we fail to realize that God’s calling of Abraham was for the definite and clear purpose of saving all the world. And this is exactly the point that the Jew did indeed miss. And Paul is bent upon clarifying that mistake.
It is such a huge matter of importance because we are now beholding the largest and fullest purpose of God: To save all the world through Christ. The history of the Bible begins with the creation of the world. The final end of the history of the Bible is the salvation of the whole world. The dealing of God with mankind throughout the various stages of history all are parts in the working out of that final purpose. The large epoch of God’s working through the Jewish nation is one of the most important of those stages. Yet it remains but a stage of God’s working towards a larger and more important ultimate goal. This is what Paul desires us all to see, the Jew included. God’s full purpose of salvation is coming into view, and God’s manner of accomplishing it by working first through the Jew and then through the Gentile is going to be understood.
This focus is not exactly an introduction of a new topic. It has been in view since the very early verses with their emphasis upon the salvation of all the nations. The largest scope of the discussion has been directed towards this end from the start.
At the same time, a true understanding of the spiritual principles of salvation such as Paul has already set forth will become very helpful and important in understanding God’s dealings with the Jewish nation. Paul will apply the implications of the message of salvation by faith to the true nature of God’s dealings with the Jew and the Gentile, and the reality of what results for each will be set forth. Here we will see how the theory of the message of true salvation works itself out in the history of how God is working to save mankind, both Jew and Gentile. It will be rewarding to see what Paul has to say, and I pray that it will call forth from us the same praise and wonder that it inspired in Paul’s heart and mind when he wrote these chapters.
In the first five verses of chapter 9, we find a transition, a transition from the discussion of the spiritual principles of salvation to a more direct focus on the larger picture of God’s working among the whole of mankind. That transition has plenty of connections to what has just been in view. Paul’s consideration of the glorious assurances of security given to the believer in Jesus Christ at the end of chapter 8 links well with the coming thoughts concerning the nation of Israel in God’s worldwide plan. The initial statement, though, introduces the focus on the nation of Israel rather abruptly:
I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience bearing witness together with me in the Holy Spirit, that grief to me is great and anguish is ceaseless in my heart. For I were praying to be accursed myself from Christ on behalf of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (9:1-3)
There has not yet really been any connection made, and so this declaration seems at first glance to come almost out of nowhere (especially if we have still not yet recognizes Paul’s overriding concern with the matter of Jew and Gentile in this epistle). Such is not really the case, though, of course. We have already briefly looked at the large-picture connections in Paul’s thought that lead him into the following discussions. Moreover, there are important connections on the smaller scale between the believer’s certain salvation as we find it in chapter 8 and the falsely assumed security of Israel as a nation. This contrast really becomes the connecting link between these two larger sections of Paul’s thought.
Paul has shown us how certain the believer is to remain secure in God’s love because of the immensity and centrality of the person of Christ. Because Christ is God’s own Son, and because of what He has done on our behalf, even laying down His life, we can be sure that nothing will take away God’s love from us if we are found in Him. On behalf of Christ, many blessings are ours.
But was not the same to be said also of Israel, one might recall? What about all the blessings that were given to them? Paul himself recognizes many great blessings and promises as belonging to the Jewish nation:
Such as who are Israelites, whose are the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law-giving and the temple-worship and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom came the Christ according to the flesh. (9:4-5)
Paul has almost overwhelmed us with this list of blessings and privileges that belong to the Jews. The truth is, this list names the key blessings that have been attributed to the Christian and then still a fair bit more. We as believers in Christ have just been assured of sonship and glory, for example. The Jews likewise had these promises and others.
A couple of important questions might naturally arise from this statement that the Jews were the rightful possessors of these blessings. First, there might be a bit of a dispute from the Jew as to how Paul could attribute some of these same key blessings to the Gentile believer when they had already been given by right to the Jewish nation, as Paul here freely admits. The Jew might argue that these blessings cannot be given to the Gentiles because they have already been promised to the Jews and thus seek to disprove Paul’s argument.
The second question is really just the same matter approached from the other side, and it is really the question that Paul is raising and which becomes the focus of the discussion. Rather than asking how the Jew’s rightful possession can be attributed to the Christian, Paul is going to be asking the question of how the Jew can have all these blessing and still fail to obtain salvation which ultimately belongs only to the one who has faith in Christ.
“I thought that the Jew had all of these blessings,” is the basic point. How does that fact relate to all that Paul is saying? Does the Christian truly have them if the Jew was promised them first? Has the Jew lost these blessings somehow, and, if so, how can the Christian be sure that the same loss will not take place for him? Is he really so secure as Paul has been assuring?
Well, Paul’s perspective is plain and easy to gather. He is very grieved on behalf of his Jewish brothers. Why? He later makes explicit (in the beginning of chapter 10) what here is plainly implied: The Jews, as a nation, have tragically lost the blessings that they thought were theirs and are outside of the blessings of salvation. Salvation is not theirs.
Yet Paul is not at all shaken in his confidence that the believer in Christ need fear no such loss himself. In fact, the very form of his expression of love and concern for the Jews is an assurance that a believer in Christ can never be accursed by God. Even though he could wish that such were the case for him personally if it would benefit his Jewish brothers, such is not possible. How can this make sense? How can Paul be so sure of his own security as a believer when the security of Israel proved insufficient? What does Israel’s fall mean about the faithfulness of God’s word and promises?
An answer to all of these questions will be forthcoming in the chapters ahead. This will provide the perfect opportunity for Paul to lay out the true nature of God’s working among men, His plan for the salvation of both Jew and Gentile, what role Israel has in that plan, etc. Paul’s first step will be to affirm the truthfulness of the word of God, which will require an explanation of this matter. There are answers and explanations to be given, and these are exactly what we find in what follows.