1. How do you understand Rom.11:25 (...until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and so all Israel will be saved). What time does this promise point to? Is there a concrete time (date) for it?
2. Is there still the Heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1, Phil. 3:14) for the heathen, or does this belong to the remnant of Israel?
These questions we got from one of our readers. And though we should not say so at first sight, they are in a way related. In both questions it is assumed that there are different callings for Jew and Gentile. And rightly so.
In dealing with the questions, we will try to let the Scriptures speak for themselves and hope to arrive to satisfactory answers.
When we come to Romans 9, we enter the dispensational part of this letter of Paul, which continues till chapter 11. In these chapters Paul discusses the position and future of Israel. In a way they are separated from the other parts of this letter, though, of course, together they form a unity.
To begin with, Paul ends with a song of praise, concluding these chapters. A doxology about Gods judgments and His ways. And we entirely miss our objective in writing when not at least some of our readers have the same longing to glorify God in their hearts.
The fullness of the Gentiles; upon our understanding of these words hinges the interpretation of the whole passage in Romans 11.
In the same chapter the word fullness is used in verse 12. There the fullness of Israel is spoken of and it is contrasted with their fall and their diminishing. The salvation of all Israel is spoken of in this place in contrast with the sad condition of God’s people at Paul’s time and in our times, when only a comparatively few of the beloved for the father’s sake are saved. This fullness of Israel points to a time when all Israel shall be saved (v. 26). Paul would certainly have used another word if he meant something entirely different for the Gentiles.
The fall of Israel meant the riches of the world and their diminishing the riches of the Gentiles. Is this the same as saying that this condition of Israel means the fullness of the Gentiles? Actually this, in substance, is the preconceived idea of most of the traditional or usual interpretations. But is it truth?
“Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness.” (Rom. 11:12). Paul says: if the fall of Israel has such blessed results for the Gentiles, how much more, their fullness. There is an “how much more” even for the Gentiles. This “how much more” will come in with the fullness of Israel. And it seems that with this “how much more” Paul refers to the fullness of the Gentiles.
There is much to say for this interpretation:
1. Paul talks of “the fullness of the Gentiles” as if it was something known to his readers. It could only be known through the Scriptures of Israel. Cannot it refer to these passages where the blessings of the Gentiles in relation to Israel are spoken of? Such as Isaiah 2:3, 4.
2. “Until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in”, or probably better: “comes in”. We almost naturally read as if it says that the fullness comes to its end, that it is filled up, that it is full, that the last elect Gentile is brought in. But that is not what the text says. “Until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.” Until it enters. When we enter a house, we are only at the beginning. This fullness has not yet entered. The blindness of Israel will last until this fullness of the Gentiles will come in. And at that time we will have two fullnesses. The fullness of Israel and the fullness of the Gentiles.
3. Paul tells his readers, the Gentiles, this mystery, lest they should be wise in their own conceits. What is that supposed to mean? The blindness of Israel was only “in part”. These words stand in contrast with the word fullness of the same verse. He says that Israel’s blindness will last until fullness of the Gentiles comes in. In the preceding verses he tells the Gentiles not to boast. There was nothing to boast of. Though Israel had fallen, the fullness of the Gentiles was not there either. The Gentiles were blind “in part” themselves! They should not be “high-minded” (v. 20), not arrogant. They should learn their lesson from unbelieving Israel, not boast against them. There wasn’t so much difference between their own position and that of Israel! They could rejoice in their faith but should realise that the fullness of the Gentiles was still to come even as that of Israel.
As to the time, the date of these things, we cannot say anything. There will be a time when it is possible for those fearing God and knowing the Scriptures to count the days. That is the time when antichrist has come on the stage (2 Thes. 2:3). This scene of the world’s drama has not started yet, so we must be patient and not let our minds get tired by vain and useless speculations.
The second question concerns the heavenly calling. This calling points to the heavenly Jerusalem. “For he looked for a city which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.” “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly.” (Heb. 11:10,16). In these passages Abraham in particular is in view. Do we realise that Abraham was a Gentile himself? A Gentile who went out of his own country by faith. He believed God. And now the Hebrews are exhorted to follow him in such a faith. To leave the traditions of man, to enjoy the blessings of the New Covenant and to become partakers of this heavenly calling. But, as I said, Abraham was a Gentile himself. “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” (Gal. 3:9). Paul wrote this to Gentiles. When they walk in the same faith as that of Abraham, they will be blessed with him. And to what other blessing can this point than to the heavenly Jerusalem? So to me it seems that the heavenly calling is one for both Jew and Gentile. The verses at the end of chapter 3 do confirm this. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
It is not the time and the place to speak of the different callings written down in the Scriptures. It is a subject far too extensive. But we wonder if the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus” of Philippians 3:14 refers to the same calling as described above. We encourage our readers to continue this study themselves.