Ignorance in prophetical matters
Having considered Pauls desire that the saints should not be ignorant regarding matters relating to the coming of Christ for the Church (1 Thess 4.13ff), we now come to deal with the future prospects of Israel nationally. "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (Rom 11.25-26).
The great subject of the Epistle to the Romans is the gospel, and it is often said that chapters 9-11 primarily look at the gospel in relation to Israel. In ch.9 their past; in ch.10 their present; and in ch.11 their future, and the two verses we have quoted certainly deal with Gods future dealings with that nation when, following the Rapture of the Church, He will turn again to them to fulfill His promise that "all Israel shall be saved" (11.26). In this verse "Israel" is clearly a reference to the nation that at present, in part, is blinded, as v.25 indicates. It is certainly not a reference to the Church as some would erroneously teach.
What this salvation embraces is seen in v.26, the turning away of ungodliness from Jacob, and thus bringing them to repentance and restoration. Paul adds, "as it is written", confirming that this recovery has been anticipated in the Old Testament Scriptures, and quoting from Isaiah 59.20-21, and 27.9. These are events linked to matters of which Paul would not have his readers to be ignorant. These verses clearly refute the error that sadly seems to be gaining ground in assemblies today, that there is no future for the nation of Israel, and likewise rebukes the strange attitude present with some believers, and encountered by the writer, that since the Church is to be taken at the Rapture these subjects are of no relevance or interest to us!
As to the present day, Paul says in v.25, "blindness in part is happened to Israel". Under the governmental, disciplinary hand of God, and on account of their rejection of Christ, God has, for the moment, given the nation up to their unbelief, and it is in connection with this that Paul says, "I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery". We should remember that in Scripture a "mystery" relates to truth that had not been made known to former generations, but is now divinely revealed, and is truth that can be known and appreciated today only through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Now the subject of the mystery, of which Paul is speaking here, is two-fold:
The first relates to the extent of the blindness. It is not total but partial. As to the blindness itself, it is not that the nation is partly blind: it is totally blind. But as to the people themselves Paul says, "blindness in part", because there were some, a remnant "according to the election of grace" (v.5), who had come to faith in Christ, a remnant to which Paul himself belonged (v.1). When Paul says this blindness "has happened" to Israel, he does not mean that it has "happened accidentally", but rather "happened judicially" (see Is 6.9-10).
The second aspect of this mystery relates to the duration of the blindness: it is "until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in". The meaning of this phrase has been disputed. It cannot be the blessing of the Gentile nations as a whole, for that is consequent upon Israels restoration and not preliminary to it. In v.12 the word "fulness" is used in relation to Israel itself where it has in view the time when the nation will fully partake of the spiritual privileges and blessings destined for them, in contrast to the "diminishing of them", also mentioned in that verse. Now, transferring that idea to v.25, it seems likely that the phrase has in view the culmination of Gods present activity in visiting the Gentiles, "to take out of them a people for his name" (Acts 15.14). If that is so then the point of time of which Paul is speaking is the completion of the Church at the Rapture.
Some feel however that the phrase "fulness of the Gentiles" is not to be identified with the completion of the Church, for that embraces Jews as well as Gentiles. They assert that we should remember that in Revelation 7 we are told that many Gentiles will come into blessing during the tribulation period (though not of course as members of the Church), and that it is not until Christ is actually manifest that this blindness will be turned away from the nation. Understood thus, "the times of the Gentiles", mentioned in Luke 21.24 concerning their governmental privileges, will end simultaneously with "the fulness of the Gentiles", which relates to their spiritual privileges. Against that view however we should observe that in Romans 15.16 Paul speaks of the "offering up of the Gentiles", and in v.18 of the obedience of the Gentiles, and both are relative to the present era.
But however we understand the phrase, the basic lesson is that this blindness is not permanent but temporary.
"And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer." We have already said regarding this salvation that Israel will be brought to humility and repentance (v.26); then they will come into the blessings of the New Covenant (v.27) spoken of in Jeremiah 31.31-34 and Hebrews 8.8-12, and their sins will be taken away (v.27). These events coincide with the completion of the 70 weeks of Daniel 9, the prophet being told in v.24 of that chapter, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy".
Here in Romans 11 Paul emphasizes that this is what God Himself will do, and the mention of their sins being taken away (v.27), as well as the reference to "sins" and "righteousness" in Daniel 9.24 are all of course consistent with the teaching of the Epistle to the Romans regarding justification.
Before we conclude we should observe the reason Paul gives as to why he would have them to know this mystery (v.25): "lest ye (Gentiles) should be wise in your own conceits". The knowledge, that God will in grace yet turn again to Israel, should act as a preventative to keep Gentiles from proudly thinking that Israel has been blinded and they have been brought in because they are morally and mentally superior to the Jews (see v.18). A consideration of the ways of God demonstrates that, whether for Jew or Gentile, salvation is all of Gods mercy (v.32).