And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:
“Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”[Romans 9:27-28]
In Part 1 of this post — I established the case that Israel will be saved in the end on the Day of the LORD. In this post I will attempt to explain what “all Israel” really means from the perspective of God’s word. The Biblical record is Israel-centric for a reason. The territory of Israel is that defined portion of ground on this earth where the Most High God has staked His claim and placed His name forever.
Just consider … Yahweh — the God of Israel — will save His people Israel by the Sword of the Warrior King of Israel — Yeshua the Messiah. The LORD is coming on the clouds to strike down the enemies of Israel. He is coming to establish the Messianic Age — when the Kingdom of Israel is the crown jewel among the nations and the glory of the LORD will shine forth from Zion.
It is impossible to tell the story of redemptive history without Israel. These represent some of the key promises that the LORD made to His People Israel.
God’s Covenant Promises to Israel Stand Forever
Yahweh made unconditional promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their natural descendants (offspring), and He intends to keep them. God always makes good on His Word to Israel, even though the children of Israel historically have been a rebellious and obstinate people who were faithless, God will remain faithful and keep His word to the children of Abraham according to the flesh.
The important distinction here is that Yahweh did make a covenant with the ethnic descendants of Israel and the nation of Israel — which represents a corporate/collective group. But as we will see in a moment, these covenant promises only are realized and applied to those who believe.
Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name:
“If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”[Jeremiah 31:35-36]
In this passage from Jeremiah, the LORD uses comparative language to emphasize His everlasting faithfulness to ethnic/national Israel. In other words, as long as the celestial order of universe remains, Israel will continue to be a nation before the LORD — His portion forever.
Furthermore, there are certain promises that the LORD made to Israel that have not yet been fully realized. These include …
- A nation and kingdom on earth
- A clearly defined territory and full restoration to the Promised Land
- A final victory and rest from all enemies
- An inclusion of the Gentiles into the commonwealth of Israel
- A King — a descendent of David — upon the throne forever
- A Messianic Age of peace and righteousness
- A Reunification of Heaven and Earth
As you can see, these promises were to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they have yet to be fulfilled. That is why the Day of the LORD is so very significant. It is the Day that all of God’s promises to Israel will come true!
Only a Remnant will be Saved
What does the Scripture mean when it says, “all Israel” will be saved?
First let’s try to clarify what it doesn’t mean.
It is not Universal
All Israel does not imply that every natural descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who have ever lived are automatically awarded eternal life and included God’s eternal kingdom. Many, if not most, of ethnic Israel seem to have perished in idolatry, gross immorality, rebellion and unbelief. As Paul reminds us, not all who are descended from Israel in the flesh belong to Israel.
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” [Romans 9:6-8]
It is not Allegorical
All Israel is not meant to represent an allegorical symbol of the Gentile church. Some want to paint Old Testament Israel as a mere poetic picture of the New Testament church. Some believe God effectively disinherited Israel for its unbelief, and the church since has taken its place to inherit all the covenant promises. In other words, “all Israel” is only a metaphor for the church, who will be saved in the end. But there is one glaring problem with replacing Israel with the church. You are cutting your legs out from under you … literally. Israel is the root, and the church is the fruit hanging off its branches! The Gentile church doesn’t replace Israel. It is supported by Israel.
“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” [Romans 11:17-18]
It is not Dispensational
While replacement theology is on one extreme of the spectrum, dispensational theology is on the other. Most dispensationalists believe the great tribulation does not apply to the church because of the assertion of a “pre-tribulation” removal of the church. Supposedly the church secretly is raptured to heaven prior to the last 7 years of history, which sends the earth into chaos. Dispensationalists believe that the greatest hour of trial — the time of Jacob’s trouble — is a special period of testing for Israel [aka the elect], not the church. The glaring problem with dispensational teaching is that Jesus and the Apostles clearly taught that the church — along with Israel — both will be present on the earth during the great tribulation. If not, then the prophetic teachings concerning the end times would be of no consequence or benefit to Jesus’ disciples. The elect refers to all believers who are in covenant relationship with God.
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” [Matthew 24:21-22]
It is not National
All Israel does not mean that the entire nation of Israel will be saved in the end. Throughout the great tribulation, or Jacob’s trouble, many national Jews will be deceived by the Antichrist and will be judged for idolatry and unbelief. Passages like Luke 21, Ezekiel 38, and Zechariah 14 remind us that Israel will be invaded and Jerusalem surrounded near the time of the end. Many Jews are expected to die by the sword or pestilence or be taken into captivity. Furthermore, passages like Isaiah 22 and Jeremiah 25 identify Jerusalem and Judah as suffering divine judgment in the last days along with the other Gentile nations. Although the God of Israel has promised again to turn His attention to Israel, once the fullness of the Gentiles is complete, the nation of Israel will not all be saved in the end.
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from My hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink from it. And they will drink and stagger and go out of their minds, because of the sword that I will send among them.” So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand and made all the nations drink from it, each one to whom the LORD had sent me, to make them a ruin, an object of horror and contempt and cursing, as they are to this day—Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and officials. [Jeremiah 25:15-18]
It is a Conditional Promise to those who Believe
When the Scriptures speak of Jacob being delivered out of his trouble and all Israel being saved in the end, there is only one way to explain it Biblically. Salvation has always been and always will be by God’s grace through faith. The righteous shall live by faith.
So … “all Israel” will be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. The natural descendants of Israel who are able to survive the great tribulation and endure to the end will be saved. Those of ethnic/national Israel who turn from their unbelief and trust in their King and Messiah — the Lord Jesus — will be saved.
This is what is meant in Romans 9:27 that “only a remnant will be saved.” The Scriptures are clear that from among the people of Israel, God always has preserved for Himself a remnant.
In Paul’s day, as in every generation, God had preserved a believing remnant in Israel. He says, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace” [Romans 11:5]. Paul goes on to clarify the reason so many of his fellow Israelites were “cut off” from God — unbelief. The condition for salvation and for remaining in right relationship with God is faith alone — both for Jews and Gentiles. There is no distinction.
In speaking of the last days, following the full inclusion of the Gentiles, Paul adds, “And even they [Israelites], if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” [Romans 11:23]. Again, the condition is belief.
Paul reinforces the necessity of faith alone in Christ in his letter to the Galatians.
“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith…. for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”[Galatians 3:7-9, 27-29]
They Will Look upon Him whom They Pierced
I have established that “all Israel” does not represent a universal, national, allegorical, or dispensational portrayal of Israel. Only the believing remnant of Israel will be saved by grace through faith in the end. The LORD had always preserved for Himself a faithful remnant, and it will be no different on the Day of the LORD. Many who have descended from Israel according to the flesh will not be saved on that Day, but the true Israel — the believing Israel — will be saved.
In one respect, there is only one people of God for all time and at any given time in history, and these are the people who are in a convent relationship with the Most High through saving faith. Israel is a unique and distinct people and nation, chosen by God for special purposes, yet only believing Israelites will be saved.
The Bible may refer to God’s people by different names, such as saints, children of God, remnant, the redeemed, elect, the church, kingdom of priests, citizens of heaven, family of God. There is only one true body of believers, regardless of ethnicity, and in the end every believer from all time will be incorporated into the commonwealth of Israel and inherit all the covenant blessings promised to Israel.
But how will “all Israel” be saved in the end?
The following passages paint a clear picture of the events on that Day. God will pour out His Spirit on Israel, and just as the Lord Jesus is seen coming in the clouds from heaven, Israel will weep and mourn and realize that Jesus is indeed their Messiah and true Savior of the world. In that grace-filled moment, all from Israel who believe will be saved.
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”[Zechariah 12:10]
For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome;
who can endure it?
“Return to the LORD Yet even now,” declares the LORD,[Joel 2:11-13, 32]
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster… And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
Alas! That day is so great
there is none like it;
it is a time of distress for Jacob;
yet he shall be saved out of it.
“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.
“Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD,[Jeremiah 30:7-11]
nor be dismayed, O Israel;
for behold, I will save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
and none shall make him afraid.
For I am with you to save you,
declares the LORD;
I will make a full end of all the nations
among whom I scattered you,
but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
and I will by no means leave you unpunished.”