The Problem of Israel’s Unbelief
October 24th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
THE PROBLEM OF ISRAEL’S UNBELIEF
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-24-82 10:30 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message entitled The Problem of Israel’s Unbelief. There are five sermons prepared in this doctrinal series on berithology, on the covenants and promises of God: last Sunday, Has God Cast Away His People; next Sunday, Israel in the Remembrance of God; the following Sunday, The Agony and Glory of Israel; and the last one, Peace Between Arab and Jew; and today, The Problem of Israel’s Unbelief.
The Book of Romans is a doctrinal treatise; it is a studied presentation of the revelation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And the first part of the Book of Romans, chapters 1 through 8 [Romans 1:1-8:39], establishes two theses. One, that we are all sinners, Jew and Gentile alike. A summation might be found in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” All of us, whether Jew or whether Gentile, all of us are lost sinners alike. The second thesis in those first eight chapters is that we have salvation and redemption in our Lord. You could sum it up in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” And in that first eight chapters of the Book of Romans, Paul avows 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, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” He has a word play there in the last clause: “whose praise is not of men, but of God” [Romans 2:29]. The Greek word for “Jew” is ioudaios, based on the Greek word ioudas, which is the Hebrew and the English word “judah,” which means “praise.” “Not of the letter, not of the flesh, but of the heart and of the Spirit; whose praise is not of men, but of God” [Romans 2:29].
After looking at that and reading that in the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans [Romans 1:1-8:39], in these concluding chapters—in Romans 9, 10, and 11 [Romans 9:1-11:36], Paul discusses God’s purpose with the nation Israel. And when he says that all of us alike are sinners [Romans 3:23], and that our only hope of redemption is in Christ Jesus [Romans 6:23], and that a real Jew is one of the heart and of the spirit [Romans 2:28-29], then the Jew has a question to ask, and all of us have likewise questions to ask.
The first question is this: has God then cast away the Jew? [Romans 11:1]. Has He no longer a plan and a purpose for the nation Israel? Is God ultimately and finally and perpetually and forever done with Israel?
We have another question to ask: what of the covenant promises that God made to the nation Israel? Are they never to be fulfilled and are they never to be honored? Did God promise and covenant and then forget what He had blessed, what He had promised in blessing to Israel?
Then there’s a third question we’d like to ask: is God like that? Does God make a sacred covenant, a solemn promise, and then turn aside from it, interdict it, forget it? Or, as Paul begins the eleventh chapter of this Book of Romans, “I say then, hath God cast away His people?” [Romans 11:1].
Now all of the theological liberals of the world—and many others besides—answer that question with a resounding, “Yes, God has cast away His people. No longer are they in the plan and purpose of Almighty God. The Lord is done, and forever, with Israel.” They say a second thing. Not only do all the liberal theologians and many others besides say God has forever cast away His people Israel, but they say the church is now Israel, and all of the covenants and the promises that God made to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to David, to the prophets, all of those promises and covenants are to be fulfilled in the church.
We’d like to ask some questions about that answer, that God has cast away His people and that the church is Israel. First question we’d like to ask is this: if that spiritualizing interpretation of the Word of God is true, then is it not also true what the infidel critic says about the prophets of ancient Israel, that they were patriots and dreamers and certainly not inspired by the Spirit of God? Another thing we’d like to say: if that interpretation is correct, and God has cast away His people, and that the church is Israel, and all of those covenants and promises are to be spiritually fulfilled in the church, then what of the avowal of the apostle Paul in Romans 11:29, that the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance, they are without change, they are unchanging, they are immovable, they are forever, they are perpetual? Paul said it in a falsehood; he has deceived us. The gifts and calling of God are with repentance; they are with change; they are not unchangeable.
Another thing we’d like to observe: if that is true—God has cast away His people and Israel is now the church—then it has no meaning when Jesus says in Acts 1:6, and Paul says for example in Ephesians the third chapter, the whole chapter, and what the apostle John has revealed to us in the Apocalypse, in the Revelation [Revelation 1:9-4:1], that the church is a mustērion in the heart of God and is a parenthesis, this age of grace, in the great vast sweeping purpose of God building His kingdom in the universe.
Then, of course, it is a diametrical opposite of what Paul says in Romans 11:1: “I say then, Hath God cast away His people?” They say He has. But Paul says, “God forbid. God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew” [Romans 11:2]. The apostle avows that Israel is never completely cast away as to individuals, and that the nation is never cast away in perpetuity, forever. And the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, which we’re going to expound this morning, is Paul’s answer to his avowal that God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew. And he gives three tremendous reasons why Israel shall ever be in the purpose and plan of God.
His first reason is God has not cast away His people as to individuals; “For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin [Romans 11:1], and I am a Christian believer and an apostle of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God.” The conversion of the apostle Paul is one of the tremendous patterns, types, models, revealed to us in the New Testament. Three times, three times is the conversion of the apostle Paul meticulously presented, recounted, delineated, in the Book of Acts. In the ninth chapter historically it is described [Acts 9:1-18]. In the twenty-second chapter Paul again presents it on the steps of the Tower of Antonio to the Jewish nation [Acts 22:6-16]. And in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, when he’s seeking to win to Christ the Jewish monarch Herod Agrippa II, he tells the story again [Acts 26:1, 12-23]. And Paul says, in 1 Timothy 1:16, that his conversion is “a pattern, a type, a model, of those who should hereafter believe on Christ to life everlasting.” He says, 1 Timothy 1:16, “For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a hupotupōsis to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.” Hupotupōsis, that’s an intensive of the Greek word tupos. The “u” becomes a “y” when we spell it out in English: a “type,” a type, translated here “a pattern, a model.” The conversion of the apostle Paul is a type, a model, a pattern, an adumbration of what is yet to come.
Now it is an adumbration, it is a type of what? For whom? And this plunged me into years of agony and distress, a wrong interpretation. I began my pastoral preaching when I was seventeen years old, and I was out in the country preaching for ten years. And those people, many of them, struggled toward an experience like the apostle Paul’s. At testimony meetings here would be a man who’d stand up and describe the marvelous conversion he had when a ball of fire fell on his head outside of heaven, and blinded him, and struck him senseless to the ground; that’d be one. Another over here would describe how an angel from God met him in the way and he was wonderfully converted. And another would describe how going along the pilgrim pathway of life he saw a great light from heaven. And after listening to those marvelous conversions, I concluded I was not saved, I was not born again, I was not a Christian because I was saved as a little boy ten years of age, quietly, humbly accepting the Lord as my Savior. So I lived through the agony of those first years. In the Sunday services, I’d be preaching the best that I could, and then every night get down by the side of my bed and pray to God that He would save me, that He would send a ball of fire, that He would send a light from heaven, that He would send an angel from heaven that I might be saved, and that I might have a testimony like those people and the apostle Paul.
When I think back over those days, I can hardly believe such a misinterpretation of the Word of God. First Corinthians 15:8, the apostle says after the Lord had appeared to Cephas [1 Corinthians 15:5], and then to James the Lord’s brother [1 Corinthians 15:7], who was pastor of the church at Jerusalem, “last of all he was seen of me also, hōsperei ektrōma.” Hōsperei, translated here “as of,” ektrōma, “one born out of due time”; Hōsperei, “as it were,” ektrōma, “in an abortion, a birth before the time” [1 Corinthians 15:8]. What Paul is avowing is that someday, according to Zechariah chapter 12, chapter 13, chapter 14 [Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:6-9], and the other prophets, someday the Lord will personally appear to the nation Israel and they will be saved. As Isaiah 66:8, says, “a nation shall be born in a day.” The whole family and the whole nation of Israel will be saved. There has never been a nation that was all Christian—the first one will be Israel, at the consummation of the age [Romans 11:26]. Paul is saying here that before that time, when according to the promise of God and the revelation of the prophets, before the time when heaven opens and Christ appears personally to the nation of Israel and they accept their Son and Savior, before the time, hōsperei ektrōma, as it were in an abortion, “before the time Christ appeared personally to me, and I was wonderfully saved” [1 Corinthians 15:8].
His hupotupōsin, his tupos, his type, is not for me! And for me to grasp after some kind of an experience alien to the mind of God is above all things a wrong interpretation of the Word of the Lord. And for me to seek to grasp some marvelous, impossible testimony like that is unthinkable! The conversion of the apostle Paul according to the Holy Word is a hupotupōsin, it’s a tupos, it’s a type, it’s a model, it’s an adumbration of the conversion of Israel. And Paul was converted like that, with a personal intervention and revelation of God from heaven in an abortion, ektrōma, before the time. That’s the first thing that Paul says in Romans . “God hath not cast away His people as to individuals, for I am a child of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob, of Benjamin; and I have been saved” [Romans 11:1-2].
A second thing that the apostle avows in Romans 11 concerning, “Has God cast away His people?” [Romans 11:1]. He says not all Israel rejects the Lord; there is a remnant according to grace, elect, who have received the Savior. Listen to him:
God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Know ye not what the Scripture saith of Elijah? How he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying,
Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, and digged down Thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
But what was the answer that God made to him? God said, I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.
So then at the present time there is a remnant of Israel according to the election of grace … Israel hath not obtained it, as a nation; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
[Romans 11:2-5, 7]
The second thing that the apostle says about the rejection and unbelief of Israel is, there is in Israel a remnant who have accepted the Lord their Messiah Christ and are holy and devout faithful Christians following our wonderful Savior [Romans 11:5]. That avowal of the apostle Paul is affirmed and confirmed by the history of the two thousand years of Christendom.
In the field of music, Felix Mendelssohn and those around him were Jewish Christians. In the field of history, none greater than Johann August Neander, a Jewish Christian. In the field of politics and government and statesmanship, none greater than Benjamin Disraeli, whom Queen Victoria so greatly honored, who was the architect of the British Empire; he was a Jewish Christian. In the field of biography there has never been a life of Christ written equal to that of Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, written a hundred years ago, still the pristine example of the life of Christ, Edersheim, a Jewish Christian. In the world of exegesis and interpretation, none greater than Adolph Saphir; he was a Jewish Christian. His volume on Hebrews is unexcelled. In the world of the missionary, none greater than Solomon Ginsberg, God’s wandering Jew, the missionary. And in our present generation there are no men who represent the understanding of the Holy Scriptures beyond a Charles Feinberg, or a Daniel Fuchs. There has never been a time when so many Jews were turning to Christ the Lord as in the last twenty-five years.
In the Hebrew community, one in one hundred fifty-six are now Christians. When you compare that to the other religions in America, there’ll be one in five hundred twenty-eight who turn. Right this moment as I preach, there are more than eight hundred Jewish preachers and staff members who are guiding the destiny of Christian congregations. They are everywhere—God’s remnant according to the election of grace [Romans 11:5].
I was on top of the Mount of Olives, staying in the hotel built there, the Intercontinental. And each day I visited with a lovely, gracious Jewish woman. In the lobby of the Intercontinental she had a display of beautiful paintings by Israeli artists. I bought one of them. As I visited with her, so cultured, so gifted, to my amazement I learned she was a devout Christian, and every Sunday drove to Tel Aviv to teach her Sunday school class. She was a close and intimate friend of Moshe Dayan. And she said to me, one December when she was preparing for Christmas she was eating dinner with Dayan. And as she described to him what she was doing at Christmastime, preparing to celebrate the incarnation of God in Christ, he looked at her and said, “Dear, you will never know how much I envy you.”
The second thing that Paul says in answer to, “Has God cast away His people?” is, they are not cast away as to their elect remnant [Romans 11:5]; there is always a number of Jewish people who are exponents, and preachers, and missionaries, and expounders of the truth in the revelation of God in Christ Jesus.
A third thing that the apostle avows: that Israel is not perpetually, forever, cast away as a nation. There is coming a time when all Israel will turn to the Lord. He says, beginning at verse 25 in Romans chapter 11, “I would not, brethren, that ye be without knowledge of this mustērion . . . that blindness in part is happened to Israel until the plērōma, the last number, of the Gentiles be come in” [Romans 11:25]. Now look at what he says: “So 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 unto them, when I shall take away their sin…For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” [Romans 11:26-27, 29]. Paul says that there is a day coming when the entire nation of Israel will be saved. They all will turn in repentance and in faith to the Lord Jesus.
Now when I turn to the Old Testament prophets, I could stand here the rest of this day and read to you Scriptures confirming that promise of God that the whole nation will ultimately be saved. For example, in [Isaiah 60:1-4]:
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen in thee.
And the nations shall come to the light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side.
Now look at verse 19 and following in that same chapter 60 of Isaiah:
The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give thee light by night: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.
Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.
Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.
A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in his time.
Can you imagine little tiny Israel over there, that’s not as big as the metroplex, being that? Out of a thousand other passages, allow me to read out of the thirtieth chapter of Jeremiah. Jeremiah chapter 30, beginning at verse 10:
Therefore fear thou not, O My servant Jacob, saith the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid.
Can you believe that? Surrounded as they are by fifty million hostile Arabs and a nation called Russia that hates them, can you imagine that?
For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet I will not make a full end of thee.
Now turn to 31, and let’s read, “Behold, the days come,” Jeremiah 31, verse 31:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them… out of the land of Egypt; which covenant they brake… But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people.
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me, all of them, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
The average Jew today is an infidel; he’s an atheist. Over there in Israel I’d say practically all of them are atheists. But there’s a day coming when all of them, the whole nation, shall believe, “And they will not teach any more his neighbor and his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me, from the least to the greatest: and I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” [Jeremiah 31:34].
Now you say, “Don’t you think that’s unusual, that God would intervene from heaven and save Israel, that He will appear personally to His people and save Israel? [Jeremiah 31:34]. Isn’t that unusual?” God has always done that for Israel. That’s not unusual, that’s just how God does for Israel. That’s how God does. Do you remember the story of the deliverance of Israel out of the slavery of Egyptian bondage? [Acts 7:20-41]. Didn’t God do that? Didn’t God send Moses down there with all of those marvelous, miraculous things that Moses did? [Exodus 3:9-10]. And didn’t God divide the Red Sea for Israel, and didn’t God deliver them? [Exodus 14:15-16, 21-31]. Isn’t that true? Didn’t God do that? When you read the Book of Judges, didn’t God intervene again and again and again to deliver His people? Didn’t God do that? When you read of the Babylonian captivity in Isaiah 44 and in Isaiah 45, doesn’t God name Cyrus by name two hundred years before he was born [Isaiah 44:28, 45:1], saying, “He is My anointed king to deliver My people Israel”—didn’t God do that?
Then shall I stumble at the tremendous prophecy of the prophets in the Old Testament and of the apostle Paul in the New Testament? There is coming a time, he says, when the plērōma of the Gentiles be come in, when the last Gentile that’s enrolled in the Book of Life is come in, when he comes down that aisle, when he’s saved, when the last one of the Gentiles has come in, then all Israel shall be saved, “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, without change” [Romans 11:25-29]. Shall I stumble at that? That’s what it is to believe in the mercy [Titus 2:5], and goodness and grace [Ephesians 2:8] of Almighty God: He has not cast away His people [Romans 11:2].
Now when that day comes, when that day comes, that God, that Christ opens heaven and reveals Himself personally to the Jewish nation, and the nation is born in a day [Isaiah 66:8], that brings to us the glory of the millennial kingdom [Isaiah 11:1-16]. Paul says, listen to him, “If their rejection and unbelief has brought to us our salvation, in the crucifixion of the Son of God, and in their unbelief, think,” he says, “what will come to pass when all Israel turns to the Lord.” This is the way he says it in Romans 11:11-12: “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles…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?” If we have been blessed by Israel and the preaching of the gospel, think of what it will be when Israel accepts the Lord as their Savior [Romans 11:26].
Look at verse 15: “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall be the receiving of them, but life from the dead?” [Romans 11:15]. God purposes for the world a glory beyond anything we have ever known [1 Corinthians 2:9]. And Israel will be a part of that infinite millennial glory [Isaiah 11:1-16]. It’ll be like heaven.
On a mission in Israel with five Israelis, we came at noon to a little village. And they had called ahead, and there was prepared for us a lunch at noontime. At a round table, a large round table, about that high, I sat on the floor with those five Israelis; leaned if I so wanted to on the table with my left arm as I ate—as Christ and His disciples did at the Last Supper [Matthew 26:26-28]. And after we were seated on the floor around that round not high table, in the center of the table there were round loaves of bread, not risen high, about like that. There was a stack of those round loaves of bread such as they cook over there in Israel. And after we were seated, the Israeli directly across the table from me reached his hand and picked up that top loaf of bread and extended to me and said, “My brother, my brother, will you break bread with me?” I had heard that phrase all of my life, “breaking bread”; I never knew until then what it meant. “My brother,” he says to me, “will you break bread with me?” I extended my hand and we broke the bread together; and then with each other, from side to side. For the years since then, I have thought of the mercy [Titus 3:5] and grace [Ephesians 2:8] of our dear Lord and the glory that accompanies it when Israel and we look up in faith to our wonderful Savior and break bread together.
Do you remember the last stanza of that old hymn we sing, “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship”? Do you remember that last stanza?
Let us love our God supremely, let us love each other, too;
Let us love and pray for sinners, till our God makes all things new.
Then He’ll take us all to heaven—
we’ll sit down—
at His table, we’ll sit down;
Christ will gird Himself and serve us with—
holy bread, with angels’ food—
with sweet manna all around.
[“Brethren, We Have Met to Worship,” George Atkins, 1819]
That’s what God purposes for the world. And the nation that shall lead the way into the millennial kingdom and the worship and adoration of the Lord of all the earth will be none other than His own people, Israel himself [Isaiah 11:1-16].
Aren’t you glad? God purposes some wonderful thing for them, and please God, for me and for you; elect according to grace and a member of the chosen family of God [Romans 11:5].
May we stand together? Our Lord, surely, surely, no sweeter thing could mind imagine or soul experience than to find fellowship, brotherhood, sisterhood, in the faith of our wonderful Lord [Hebrews 12:22-24]. We pray for that day when all Israel will be saved [Romans 11:25-26]. We pray for that day when the nations of the earth will come to Mt. Zion, there to be taught by Israel the truth of the kingdom of God [Isaiah 2:3]. And we praise Thee, Lord, that our names have been written in that Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27] and that the loving grace and mercy of Jesus had reached down even to us [Ephesians 2:8; Titus 2:5].
And in this moment that our people pray and wait just for you, in your heart, say, “Lord Jesus, I accept Thee as my Savior, and I’m on the way. I’m coming.” A family you, if you’re in the balcony, down one of those stairways, on the lower floor into one of these aisles and down to the front: “Pastor, we have decided for God, and here we stand.” A couple you, or just you, one somebody you: “This is God’s day for me, and I’m answering with my life.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing, come. God bless you. Angels attend you as you answer. And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us. In Thy precious and saving name, amen. Welcome, as we sing.