Romans 11 and the "Fullness of the Gentiles"
“The Jews now remain, as it were, in death for lack of the Gospel: but when both they and the Gentiles shall embrace Christ, the world shall be restored to a new life.” (1560 Geneva Bible Notes on Romans 11:15)
What are we to make of “Israel after the flesh”? Amillennialists would say “nothing”, holding that Israel is the Church, for “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 9:8).
Luther and Calvin saw no future conversion of Judaists, holding that the Israel of Romans 11 referred to the universal church, consisting of both Gentiles and Hebrews yet to be converted. A great many Reformers, however, disagreed, most notably Peter Martyr and Theodore Beza. The vast majority of the Puritans followed suit. Jonathan Edwards wrote, "Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11" – (Jonathans Edwards Works, vol. I p. 607)
On the point of defining the children of Abraham as those of the faith (Galatians 3:7), Postmillennialists would agree with the Amillennial view. However, defining Israel in this way doesn’t quite work on Romans 11. The “Israel” in this chapter is distinguished from “the elect” (Romans 11:7). When Paul explains that Israel had been given “a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day," (Romans 11:8), this can hardly refer to the church? Paul goes on to explain that he magnified his ministry to the gentiles “in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.” (Romans 11:14). Thus he is clearly referring to his own countrymen. Richard Sibbes explains,
“The Jews are not yet come in under Christ’s banner; but God, that hath persuaded Japhet to come into the tents of Shem, will persuade Shem to come into the tents of Japhet, Gen. 9:27. The “fulness of the Gentiles is not yet come in”, Rom. 11:25, but Christ, that hath the “utmost parts of the earth given him for his possession”, Psa. 2:8, will gather all the sheep his Father hath given him into one fold, that there may be one sheepfold and one shepherd, John 10:16.
The faithful Jews rejoiced to think of the calling of the Gentiles; and why should not we joy to think of the calling of the Jews?" – (Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed)
There is much confusion today in trying to define “Israel after the flesh”, but the phrase in the Bible refers the religion of new covenant Judaism. The Christian faith blurs any line of distinction between races and countries (Galatians 3:28). It was the Christ-rejecting religion of Judaism that was the focus of the blinding that both Jesus and Paul spoke of, though most of them were of Hebrew origin. However, Paul looked forward to a day when the natural branches would be grafted back into the vine (Romans 11:23). Contrary to dispensational theology, there is only one Olive Tree, that being Christ. However, Paul explains that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Romans 11:25). This unfulfilled prophecy speaks of a time when the Great Commission will be completed in the gentile world, turning its focus on Paul’s “fellow Jews”. In doing so, there will be an age of Revival among the Judaists that will bring greater blessings to the Gentiles.
“Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (Romans 11:12)
During that time period, the Christian religion will be the majority worldview, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14), “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:11).
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
This age will be a time of unprecedented material blessings. There will “be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field! May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!” (Psalms 72:16-17). Expounding on the 72nd Psalm, David Brown writes,
“We need not have recourse to the miraculous fruitfulness of the earth which Papias feigned, in order to fulfill this prophecy. Plenty is the natural consequence of the moral change which takes place in the world at the millennium. The universal righteousness of that happy period will prevent despotism in government, anarchy in the people, as well as the devastations of war, by which the earth is left uncultivated, or its produce destroyed. The religion of that period will civilize savages, and destroy among civilized nations the numerous occupations that minister to the lawless passions of men; thus directing a great multitude of the human race to the useful arts of agriculture, who had been formerly idle and a burden upon the labor of others. The love universally felt and practiced in that period will lead those who have abundance to distribute cheerfully and freely to the necessities of those who may be in need". (The Second Advent, p. 400 - cited from Loraine Boettner's "The Millennium").
It is this postmillennial belief that was the foundation for the Christianization of Europe, the age of exploration, and for most of world’s missionary societies. It is this belief that sparked both the London and Scottish missionary societies, and it is this belief that will see the ultimate fulfillment of the Great Commission. The command for the church to “make disciples of all nations” cannot fail, for Christ has promised to be with us “until the end of the age”.