The Problem of Israel’s Unbelief
October 24th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
THE PROBLEM OF ISRAEL’S UNBELIEF
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-24-82 8:15 a.m.
God be good to you. We are in this sanctuary this holy hour and the Lord bless the message to the uncounted thousands of you who share with us on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled, The Problem of Israel’s Unbelief. There are five messages prepared in this section of doctrine entitled Berithology: The Study of God’s Covenants, God’s Faithful Unchanging Promises: last Sunday, Hath God Cast Away His People? This next Sunday, Israel in the Remembrance of God; the following Sunday, Israel’s Agony in Glory; and the last Sunday, Peace Between Arab and Jew. And today: The Problem of Israel’s Unbelief.
The Book of Romans, written by the apostle Paul, is a doctrinal treaty. It is a theological presentation. It is a study of God’s purposes of grace for the world. The first eight chapters of the Book of Romans concern the sinful nature of all mankind, whether Jew or Gentile. You could sum it up in [Romans 3:23]: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God".
Another facet of those first eight chapters is the avowal that in Christ all mankind has hope and redemption. You could sum it up in [Romans 6:23]: "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord is eternal life". That is the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans; whether a man is a Jew or a Gentile, by nature he is lost, but to each one, whether Jew or Gentile, there is salvation in Jesus Christ. The apostle will write in [Romans 2:28-29]:
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh:
But he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God.
The word for Jew is loudas, from louda; Judah – which means "praise" – and he is playing upon that word, "Whose praise is not of men but of God." Now that is the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans.
In Romans, chapters 9, 10, and 11, Paul struggles therefore with the problem of Israel’s unbelief. The Jew has a question to ask. We also have questions to ask: Is God done with the Jew? Is He finished with the nation? Has God cast Israel aside? That is the first question: is the Jew no longer in the purposes of God in human history?
A second question and Romans is a book of one question after another. A second question: what of the covenants that God made with Israel and what of the national promises will they ever have any fulfillment?
A third question: does God break His unconditional promises, and does God not honor His faithful covenants? And that’s why in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans Paul starts off, "I say then, Hath God cast away His people?" Is God finished and done with Israel forever?
There is an answer to that on the part of all liberal theologians and many others besides. They answer the question: "Yes, God has cast away His people. God is finished and done with the Jew." And they add another addendum, "The church is now Israel, and all of the promises and all of the covenants that God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David are to be fulfilled in the church." But when we avow that answer, that God has cast away His people, that He is done with Israel, and that all of the promises and covenants that were made with Israel are to be fulfilled in the church, that the church is now Israel, there are some observations to be made about it, and the first one is this: if we thus spiritualize the Holy Scriptures, the covenants and the promises of God, then it is true what the infidel critic says: that the prophets were patriots and dreamers, but they were certainly not inspired of God. That is the first observation.
The second observation is this: when Paul avows in [Romans 11:29] that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, without change, without turning, he was mistaken. That is a lie. The calling and gifts of God are with repentance. They are not infallible and unchanging. God can make a covenant with you and break it. He can make a promise to you and not keep it. In other words, these covenants and promises that God has made are not worth the paper they are written on.
A third observation: if this is true, that Israel is cast away and if the church is now Israel, then it is meaningless what Jesus said in [Acts 1:6], what Paul avows in Ephesians, chapter 3 and what the whole Apocalypse is about; namely that the church is a musterion, a secret God kept in His heart and is a parenthesis, a time of grace in God’s eternal purpose to build a kingdom of Christ in this world including the Jew and the Gentile. So Paul asks his question: "I say then, Hath God cast away His people?" And Paul avows whether He is true or not, whether He is false or not, depends upon your acceptance of the Holy Scriptures; but Paul avows Israel is not cast away. "I say then, Hath God cast His people away? God forbid!"
The eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans is an avowal on the part of the apostle that Israel is not cast away as to individuals; and Israel is not cast away as to the nation; that the rejection on the part of Israel is not total and it is not perpetual. It is not forever. Then he begins, and he offers three proofs why it is that God has not cast away His people and why the rejection of Christ on the part of Israel is not total; and it is not forever; it is not perpetual; and this sermon now is an exposition of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans.
His first avowal, "God hath not cast away His people," his first avowal concerns himself. First verse, "For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." Not all Israel has rejected the Lord. "I," Paul says, "am an illustration. I am a Christian. I am an apostle. I am a preacher of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am an Israelite of the seed of Abraham of the tribe of Benjamin."
The conversion of the apostle Paul is emphatically presented in the Scriptures. Three times in the Book of Acts, three times is his conversion meticulously recounted: one time, historically in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts; a second time, before Israel when he stands on the steps of the tower of Antonio and describes the miraculous intervention of God in his life, in chapter 22; and the third time when he stands before Herod Agrippa II and seeks to win that Jewish monarch to the faith, in chapter 26. And the conversion of the apostle Paul, he says, in 1 Timothy, chapter 1, verse 16: "For this cause I obtain mercy, that in me Jesus Christ might show forth all long suffering, for a pattern to them which should have to believe on Him to life everlasting."
Hupotupasis – a pattern. That is an intensive word built around tupos – and we spell it out in English, "type, type". "Pattern" it is translated here. Paul says, "My conversion is a pattern, a type to them who should later believe."
Now when I think of that marvelous conversion of the apostle Paul when Christ opened heaven and came down and appeared to him, he says that is a "type" and a "pattern"; and that plunged me into an agony of doubt over a period of years. That, I didn’t begin preaching in the city, I began preaching in the country, in a wide open country where they plow a cotton furrow up to the front door of the church and then start again at the back door of the church and to the end of the field. And when I was preaching out in the country, I listened to those marvelous conversion experiences and testimonies of those country preachers and some of those country deacons. They would describe the most fantastic conversions!
A ball of fire came down from heaven and struck one of them blind and to the ground. Another one, he saw an angel appear from heaven; and another one, a great light shown around him. I’d never seen a ball of fire strike me blind. I’d never had an experience of an angel appearing to me. I’d never had any light shine from the bursting skies around me. I was converted as a ten year old boy, just accepting the Lord as my Savior, as He promised in the Book. So, even though I was the preacher and the pastor of the little country church, two little country churches, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t saved. I wasn’t a Christian.
So I’d preach on Sunday and then get down by my bed every night of the week and cry to God, "I’m not saved. I’m not born again. I’m not a Christian. I don’t have a great testimony to offer to the Lord. I haven’t seen a ball of fire. I haven’t seen an angel from heaven. I haven’t seen any light from the sky." My conversion was so simple, just trusting Jesus; and I lived in that agony for years. Paul’s conversion, a tupos, a "type", a "pattern" to them that should believe thereafter. That’s how a misinterpretation of the Bible can cause untold hurt and sorrow and agony of soul.
Then I began to understand the Word of the Lord: in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of 1 Corinthians, verse 8, Paul says – after the Lord appeared to Cephas, and then to James His brother, and the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, and then to the five hundred others at the – and then he says, "And last of all He was seen of me, He appeared to me, hosperei," translated here, "as of, as it were one born out of due time, ektroma."
All of that, "one born out of due time", is a translation of ektroma. "And last of all, He was seen of me also." Hosperei, "as it were"; ektroma, "an abortion; born before the time". What does he mean by hosperei ektroma? "As it were an abortion; one comes to the birth before the time." He is referring to the fact that one day, according to the prophecy, [Zechariah 12:13] and 14, that one day God is going to appear to the nation Israel, to people who are lost in rejection, to Israel. He is going to appear to them and a nation, according to Isaiah 66, is going to be born in a day. There has never been a Christian nation. Some day there will be one, and it will be Israel, a nation completely born into the love and grace of Christ. And I haven’t time to expatiate on that now-what’s going to happen when that time comes. But the time is coming when Christ will appear personally to Israel, and the whole surviving nation will be saved.
And Paul says, "Before that time, God, Christ appeared to me in an abortion, before the time of that great turning and conversion." "And my conversion is a pattern," he says, "it is a type, it is a model of what God is going to do to those in Israel who shall believe in that ultimate time, at that consummation of the age." And for me to accept the conversion of the apostle Paul as an experience that I ought to have is unthinkable! And for me to grasp after some kind of a testimony like that is inexcusable. It’s a pattern. It’s an ektroma. It’s an abortion. It’s a birth before the time when God will convert all Israel to the faith. That’s his first answer. "God hath not cast away His people. I am an Israelite. I am of the tribe of Benjamin and I have been saved by the direct intervention of God."
Now a second thing that he says – you know what, we are going to have to have preaching services at seven o’clock at night when anybody wants to come and listen to me preach, where I have time to preach. My time is practically gone, and I have not started yet. The second thing that he says, "God has not cast away His people." The second one is that the rejection of Christ on the part of Israel is never absolute. It is never complete. There are always many in Israel who accept the Lord.
God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says of Elijah when he says,
Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, digged down Thy altars; and I alone am left, and they seek my life.
And God said to him, I have reserved for Me seven thousand, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.
Even so in this age of grace there is a remnant of Israel according to the election of grace.
Israel as a whole has not accepted the Lord; but the election hath obtained it, while the rest are blinded.
There is always through every age a remnant of Israel that has accepted Christ, always, always. And when I read history-in music, Felix Mendelssohn and the other Mendelssohn’s were great Christian Jews. When I read history, one of the greatest historians is Johann August Neander, a Christian Jew. When I read the read the political development of nations, Benjamin Disraeli, the architect of the British Empire under Queen Victoria, was a Christian Jew and greatly loved by Queen Victoria. When I read of the life of our Lord, the greatest life biography of Jesus ever written was by Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, written by a Christian Jew. When I read The Exegetical Presentation and Discussion and Interpretation of the Word of God, the greatest book on Hebrews ever written, was by Adolph Saphir, a Christian Jew. When I read of the lives of our missionaries, one of the greatest missionaries of all time was Solomon Ginsburg, a Christian Jew. And, in the generation into which I belong, I have blessed immeasurably by Charles Feinberg and Daniel Fuchs, Christian ministers of the gospel. In the last twenty-five years, there are more Jews turning to Christ than at any other time since Pentecost. In America, one out of every 56 is now a Christian Jew. Other religions in America, there won’t be one out of every 528. Right this moment there are more than 800 Jewish Christians who are pastors of churches and on church staffs. The apostasy, the rejection of Israel has never been total, never.
I was in the Intercontinental Hotel in Jerusalem, built there on the Mount of Olives, and a lovely Jewish woman displaying a large group of paintings by Israelis, a gracious woman – as long as I was there, I visited with her and talked with her every day. I bought one of those paintings – to my amazement, as I spoke to her, I found that she was a Christian Jewess, and that every Sunday she drove down to Tel Aviv to teach a Sunday school class in a Christian church in Tel Aviv. And some, as I have named, of the greatest witnesses of Christ in the world are Israelis. That is the second thing Paul avows: the rejection of Christ on the part of Israel has never been total. There have always been some who have turned to the Lord.
His last avowal concerning, "Has God cast away His people?" is this: that the rejection on the part of the nation is not perpetual. It is not forever.
I would not have you without knowledge, brethren, that you be without knowledge of this mystery
– this musterion –
that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
And then all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall come out of Zion, the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
For this is My covenant with them, I shall take away their sin for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
And I have here and haven’t time to read out of Isaiah, God’s promise of that day when the whole nation will turn: and out of Jeremiah, that covenant, the new covenant when all of Israel shall turn; and these endless other passages where God has said He will appear to His people and the whole nation will turn.
Is that unusual that God should intervene to save Israel? My brother, that’s the whole story of their history and their life, the intervention of God to deliver them. Didn’t God intervene when they were slaves in Egypt? And God delivered them by the hand of Moses? Didn’t God intervene? In the story of the Judges, didn’t God intervene from heaven again and again and again? Didn’t He? when the people were carried away, the nation, into captivity and into Babylon? In Isaiah chapter 45 [verse 13], two hundred years before he was born, God called Cyrus by name and said, "I have raised him up, My anointed king to deliver My people."
Hasn’t God always done that? And why should we be amazed when God says in His Book at the end of the age that at the consummation of history,"I will appear to them, and they will turn, and all of Israel shall be saved, for My covenants, and My promises are without changing, without turning." And Paul says when that day comes, it will be the millennium.
I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles.
For if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them be the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?
For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
If in the rejection of Israel, salvation has come to us in the preaching of the gospel, what will it be, Paul says, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, when the whole nation accepts Christ as Savior, God having purposed some glorious thing for us, Jew and Gentile, and the millennial reign of our Lord; what shall it be but life from the dead? I try to picture that in my mind, finite, limited as I am, how it will be?
In Israel, I was on a mission with about five Israelis and noon time came, lunch time came. And they had made arrangements at this village for us to have lunch together at a little table about that high, round. Why we sat on the floor, or as they did in the Last Supper with our Lord, leaned on the table with our left arms. And in the center of the table were round loaves of bread, round like that and stacked up in the center, each one about that high and round as they bake over there. And when we sat down, the Israeli immediately across from me reached and picked up the top loaf of that bread, and he extended it to me and said, "My brother, my brother, will you break bread with me?" I had heard that phrase all my life. I never knew quite what it meant. "My brother, will you break bread with me?" And I reached forward my hand, and we broke the bread and then with each of the Israelis on either side.
Do you remember the last stanza of "Brethren We Have Met To Worship"? It goes like this:
Let us love our God supremely, let us love each other, too;
Let us love and pray for sinners, until God shall make all things new.
Then He’ll take us home to heaven, at His table we’ll sit down.
Christ will gird Himself and serve us
– with holy bread, with angel’s food –
with sweet manna all around.
["Brethren, We Have Met to Worship"; George Atkins 1819]
That is the millennial purpose of God for His people; and praise His name, I am included; we are included. Oh, what grace and what goodness! In this moment , we sing our hymn of appeal and on this first note of the first stanza, "Pastor this is God’s day for me and I am coming. I am going to give my heart to Jesus. I am going to be baptized as He said in the Book. I am going to put my life and letter here with this dear church." As God shall say the word to you and press the appeal in your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, come, and a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.