- To whom is the Bible referring when it uses the phrase, “All Israel”?
- What does the verse “Not all Israel … is Israel” really mean?
There are only a few possibilities. First, “all Israel” some say means every single Jewish person that has ever lived. The logic is that God’s covenants are eternal and are made with ethnic Jews and His promise to bring the nation of Israel into a place of spiritual revival is unconditional. Therefore every Jewish person is granted salvation on the basis of God’s covenants.
Second, others say “all Israel” refers a specific eschatological time in the future prior to the Second Coming and it refers to every single Jewish person alive at that moment in time.
Third, still others say that “all Israel” refers to a specific group of Jewish people that comprise a Believing remnant and although this will be a substantial number of Jews that are living when the Lord returns … it may not be without exception “every single” Jewish person alive on the planet when the Lord returns. I believe the answer to the second question is helpful in answering the first.
What does the verse “Not all Israel … is Israel” (Romans 9:6) really mean?
The problem we run into with the name “Israel” on the front end is that it is a multi-dimensional term. Meaning that Israel is: (1) A geographic area (2) A distinct ethnic group and (3) A spiritual entity comprised of two separate groups; namely believers and non-believers. To further complicate things the believing group is comprised of believing Jews as well as believing Gentiles, hence “not all Israel … is Israel.” Thus, there are those who are ethnic Jews whom God disqualifies when it comes to being identified as a true Israeli. These are clearly non-believing Jews.
This reality in no way takes away from nor does it diminish in any way God’s unique calling and promises that have been specifically given to ethnic Jews who live in a geographic region called Israel. (NOTE: This obviously includes and applies to Jews living elsewhere.) The promises that God gave to Abraham and his offspring were given specifically, however not exclusively, to the Jewish people (direct descendants of Abraham). God also included very specific promises that were given to a geographic area in the Middle East called Israel. His promises were always focused on both the people and the land. Be aware that Israel has never fully occupied her God given inheritance and will not do so until the next age. Although Israel is often mentioned in the press as occupying Arab land—the truth from scripture is that the Arabs are currently occupying a huge portion of Israel’s rightful inheritance. Just for the record.
Subpoint: I believe that a portion of “All Israel” that is rarely addressed are Gentile believers who have been, in the grace of God, called and set apart to join themselves to the Jewish people in an extreme way and are thereby recognized by God as Jewish, in the fullest sense of the word. The Old Testament term is “stranger” and “foreigner” and these were Gentiles who joined Israel (i.e. Ruth) and were granted full citizenship. These individuals feel compelled to celebrate the Feasts, Shabbat and other Jewish customs. This calling has been massively misunderstood and has caused much confusion and disruption in the Gentile Body of Yeshua. I believe this is a legitimate call and needs to be recognized and understood. For the record—I’m not one of them. I love being an “observant” Gentile. By “observant”, I mean a card-carrying member of the Acts 15 club.
I believe that “all Israel” (Romans 11:26) is a specific term and in this context applies to believing Jews who turn to the Lord before Jesus’ Second Coming. However, in a general sense we need to be aware that included in “all Israel” is a subset called believing Gentiles, we’ll look at Romans 9:6 and Galatians 6:16 in a moment. The scenario presented in Ezekiel 20 suggests that not all Jews will believe and receive Yeshua as their Messiah. Some Jews will continue to resist Him and are labeled “rebels” and will be restricted from entering the land of Israel. Not sure if their final fate is “the Lake of Fire” or exiled somewhere other then Israel but allowed to live during the Millennial Kingdom.
The Danger: Including believing Gentiles under the banner of Israel is a bit tricky and can at first glance appear to some to be a statement supporting Replacement Theology. However, unlike RT that attempts to transfer all the covenants and promises given specifically and in some cases, eternally to Israel; what I am referring to are the promises that make a clear statement that Gentile believers are now “grafted in” and have become “adopted” into the family of faith with Abraham and his natural off-spring.
Where we miss it:
- We have not been called to replace but rather, God, in His great mercy has opened a door called “faith” for those who believe in His Son and we have been adopted into things that were previously only available to the Jews.
- Their rejection of God, His covenants and their Messiah has done nothing to alter God’s original plan in the slightest. In fact, He saw it coming and went to extravagant measures (the cross) in order to promote a people (mostly Gentiles) who would fast, pray and provoke His people to reconsider the claims of Christ. Their destiny in God is stunning.
- The covenants and promises God made with ethnic Israel and their land are still securely intact. Nothing has been added or taken away.
- However, His promises to the Jewish people must be believed and appropriated by faith. Whereas being Jewish is contingent upon biology and DNA, being a true son of Abraham is conditioned upon believing the promises and covenants and by receiving their Jewish Messiah. Case and point, without faith in Messiah genealogy is meaningless when it comes to the issue of salvation.
- The Gentile church has been strictly warned (Romans 11) not to explain away, spiritualize or minimize the unique role that God has assigned to the Jewish people in redemptive history. That role has never been reassigned and will be fully appreciated in the next age. Their place in the plan of God is to be highly esteemed and supported, as it is the passion of God’s heart.
- Having an authentic love for God while carrying contempt for His people is an oxymoron.
Conclusion: To whom was God referring when He used the term “all Israel” in the context of end-time salvation in Romans 11:26?
A. “All Israel” I do not believe means “every single Jewish person alive when Jesus returns.” I think we need to be careful about giving that impression in the light of Ezekiel 20. “All Israel” I believe rather refers to every single Jewish person who genuinely puts their faith in their Messiah, which appears to be most at the end of the age. If we could insert one word it would make this verse a little clearer. That word would be “believing” or “spiritual”. In other words, I believe the thought Paul is conveying here is that “all believing Israel” or “all spiritual Israel” will be saved. It’s the equivalent of saying that “Every sincere believer will be saved.” I would add some strength to that by saying that Zechariah 12:10; Ezekiel 37; Romans 11:26 and numerous other passages, make a strong case for a corporate awakening. I still maintain that although this will affect most of the Jewish people alive at that moment in time, not every single one will yield to that revelation, however, most certainly will. I just feel a bit uncomfortable declaring unconditionally that every single surviving Jewish person will surely turn with their whole heart and follow Yeshua. I would be overjoyed to be totally off on this one.
B. The reason Paul said, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham”; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called” was because there is a distinct criteria for being identified with true Israel, spiritual Israel, believing Israel, One New Man, the Body of Yeshua, the “Israel of God” or whatever other term we might want to tag on it. The truth is there have always been believing and a non-believing Jews. Every generation has had a mixture of both. There is a spiritual component to being affiliated with the name Israel and Gentiles are certainly included in that title, but it must be clearly stated when we make that claim what it is we are really talking about. The name Israel is mentioned over 2,200 times in the Bible and all but two of those references, from my studies, are speaking specifically about ethnic Israel or the Jewish people. This is an extremely difficult concept for most believers to grasp.