by Roger McCay
15 March 2020
Scripture Passage: Acts 11:25-32
Link to Audio Version
Superman – He was born from the minds of two Jewish young men back in the 1930s, Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster. For 82 years, since his first Action Comics appearance in 1938, this icon of America has captured the imagination of adults and children. Why?
You may remember the popular TV series, Smallville, which aired for 10 years, ending in 2011. At the beginning of each show, the theme song speaks to this question of why the Superman remains such an iconic hero. The song is titled “Save Me,” by Remy Zero, where the lead singer, in a sense of desperation, screams “Somebody save me!” as part of the chorus.
Thousands of comic books, books, and movies have told the story over and over of how Superman comes to save the day when everything seems lost. People seem to crave the story and the powers of this fictional “savior.”
You may remember the Superman movie called Superman Returns, starring Brandon Routh, which came out in 2006. This was the stand-alone one that came out in-between the movies starring Christopher Reeve, in the 70s and 80s, and most recently Henry Cavill, both playing the iconic hero. Superman Returns’ storyline was a bit different, kind of out of left field, and, for continuity’s sake, I’ve found it best just to consider it an Elseworlds story from DC. It does have some pretty awesome scenes in it, though.
Anyway, Superman had gone away for five years to seek-out some trace of his home-world, Krypton. Upon his return to earth, he found out that Lois Lane, the woman he loved, had written an editorial titled “Why We Don’t Need a Superman.” She actually won the Pulitzer prize for it.
In one scene, however, Superman pointed something out to her. He gently took her for a flight high-up into the skies with Metropolis spread out all below them. It was quiet up there with just a breeze and the two of them.
Superman whispered to Lois, “Listen, what do you hear?”
And she answered, “Nothing.”
Superman paused, then in a sad voice said, “I hear everything…” He looked at her and explained, “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior… but every day I hear people crying for one.”
Don’t we all need a Savior? This character, born of Jewish minds, sums up very well the condition of the whole human race. We need a Savior. We saw in how God has brought the Gentiles into the tree of true Israel, engrafting them in to be part of the whole people of God, benefiting from all the promises and blessings of God’s covenant. Paul left us with a question in v. 24, which sets us up for vv. 25-32.
24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
This rhetorical question sets up what is to follow. Paul reveals to us a mystery—a mystery concerning God’s engrafting natural branches back into true Israel, and also some of the way God is doing it. Look at 11:25-26a.
25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved …
What is Paul telling us here? It seems his motivation in revealing this “mystery” is a continuation of his warning to the Gentiles (which he repeats in vv. 18, 20, and 22) to not boast against the Jews and to not be arrogant and conceited due to the engrafting of Gentiles Christians into the true tree of Israel. So, Paul tells us a little about the Jews situation in relation to the Gentile Christians.
First, in v. 25, Paul mentions a “partial hardening of the Jews.” What does this mean? From the context we looked at over the last few weeks, we understand there is a remnant of the Jews. God always reserves a remnant to himself. There are also Jews who have not yet received Christ, but who will receive Christ because they are God’s elect. Hence, over time, all the Jews whom God predestined to eternal life will be engrafted back into the tree of true Israel. God will continue to do so until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
What does that mean? Simply, when all the Gentiles who are to be saved are saved, the fullness (meaning the full number of the Gentiles that God will ever engraft into the tree of true Israel) will bring to completion the part of the people of God who are not of natural Jewish descent.
Simultaneously, the Jews will continue to receive Jesus as their Savior and Lord, in the same way that the Gentiles do (by grace though faith). When the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, all of the hardened Jews God has elected to salvation will no longer be hardened against Christ and will trust in Jesus. Hence, as v. 26 puts it, “And in this way, all Israel will be saved.”
Notice that the context does not allow for a universal salvation of every Jew. Paul made this clear in , “…not all those are Israel who are from Israel.” The Jews that God has reserved for himself, the remnant, are the only ones who will be saved.
So, in the same way that God saves the Gentiles, grafting the wild olive shoots into the olive tree (the tree of true Israel—), the elect Jews who are now hardened will be saved—by grace through faith … natural branches grafted back into the tree.
Therefore, the full number of the Jews along with the full number of the Gentiles, unified together as one people, all true Israel (all God’s people) will be saved.
There is much we don’t know here concerning God’s exact workings with the Jews. For example, we don’t know how many ethnic Jews will be saved—will it be the majority? God doesn’t tell us. However, based on God’s sovereign foreknowledge and election, I think we can safely say the “perfect number” of Jews will be saved.
We also don’t know the exact timeframe. We can’t chart the progression of the Jews salvation on a graph. There are no graphs in Romans. And, when it comes to such things, we need to be very careful and not allow our imaginations to speculate too much into the text.
What we do know is this: When all the Gentiles destined for salvation are saved, so too will all the Jews destined for salvation be saved. Thus, all God’s people will be saved.
Should this be a big surprise that God will save the Jews? No! God’s promise in the Scriptures is clear. Verses 26b-27:
11:26b as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
These quotations are from and .
Why quote these prophecies? Essentially, it seems, Paul is pointing out that God promised, in the Scriptures, to save Israel. This is not at all a new idea.
The Deliverer, as we know, is Jesus Christ. Paul actually changed just a little from being “will come to Zion,” to say “will come from Zion.” He was emphasizing that Christ had already come to earthly Zion (meaning Jerusalem) in his first coming. There Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and, at the finish of his earthly ministry, ascended into heaven. It is the Lord’s second coming that Paul is referring to now. Christ will return from the heavenly Jerusalem (which calls Mount Zion) where he currently reigns supreme over all the heavens and the earth. From there, Jesus will come for the final salvation of His people.
What does this show us? When God banishes ungodliness from Jacob and forgives their sins, he brings into consummation the covenant that he had with Abraham. Through Abraham, God promised to bless all the families of the earth. His descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore. The Lord would be their God, and they would be His people.
Furthermore, when the Lord brings this covenant to its consummation, God will remove the ungodly from the midst of Jacob leaving the remnant of true Israelites – the true believers. So, at Christ’s return, when everyone stands before Christ at the final judgment, all the believing Jews will be acknowledged as part of God’s people; their sins forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, just like Gentile Christians. Their salvation will be complete.
Look at vv. 28-29:
28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
That sounds a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? What is Paul getting at? Well, Paul is now summarizing the seeming dilemma that he has been tossing back and forth throughout . As one man puts it, “The Israel now at enmity with God because of the gospel is nevertheless the Israel to whom God has made irrevocable promises of blessing.”
With respect to the gospel, the unbelieving Jews are enemies of God for the sake of the Gentiles. This is referring to the Jewish nation as a whole. Paul’s statement is a rehash of what Paul had gone over earlier in —God hardened the Jews so that salvation could be extended to the Gentiles.
However, because of God’s election of the Jews (his people through whom he worked out salvation for the whole world ultimately in Jesus Christ), and since they are the posterity of Abraham and the other patriarchs, whom the Lord loved and established his covenant, God still loves the Jews. Hence, as puts it, “God has not rejected His people whom he foreknew.” God kept for himself the remnant of believers, the elect Jews within the Jewish nation. To exclude the Jews from the salvation offered through Christ Jesus would be to revoke his promises and blessings and God’s calling of them to be his people. God doesn’t work like that. As puts it, “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” God proves his faithfulness to his people and his promises to them by saving the Jews.
This brings us to the finish of Paul’s discussion of all God’s people (vv. 30-31).
30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.
Simply put, whether Jew or Gentile, we all have sinned and been disobedient. We all deserve judgment. We all deserve to be abandoned by God because of our sin against Him. Despite this, God is merciful.
As we saw in , the Jews rejection of Christ made it possible for the Gentiles to have the gospel preached to them and to receive it. So now, the Jews, having been disobedient and essentially being in the same boat that the Gentiles were in, may receive God’s mercy. All the Jews who receive Christ in faith—trusting in him—will be saved in the same way the Gentiles are saved, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
And so, we come to , which has been taken out of context and used to “prove” that God ends up saving everybody—a heretical idea called universalism.
32 For God has consigned [imprisoned, bound] all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Well, it does say “all.” Doesn’t all mean everybody? The answer to that question really depends on the context. We know from Paul’s extensive argument through the first few chapters of Romans that “all have sinned” and deserve God’s judgment and condemnation. In this way, absolutely everybody is consigned, “bound” in disobedience due to our sin.
Paul, here, is addressing the Gentile Christians concerning the Jewish remnant—the two parts of the whole People of God—all of God’s people. So, it seems that while it is true that everybody is at some time bound to sin, the specific reference is that all of God’s people were bound to sin at one time.
So, what about the phrase “so that He may have mercy on all”? Understanding the context (who is being addressed and the point Paul has been building up to) … understanding the context makes it clear that “all” here is again referring specifically to all the elect people of God—all the Christians both Jew and Gentile.
Therefore, God put everyone on the same playing field of disobedience so that He might have mercy on everyone in the same way through Jesus Christ—redeeming us from our sin, setting us free from our slavery to sin. There is no difference in how anyone is redeemed. All who believe in Jesus will be saved.
What can we take from all this? What does it mean to us?
Sometimes life gets really tough. It can get where you pray and pray, but you don’t see any drastic answers. As a result, you might start to wonder if God has abandoned you. Maybe you end up feeling like he has taken off and left you all alone.
Sometimes life throws what may seem to you like a personal holocaust. It can be a cheating spouse, or the death of a dear loved one. It could be financial disaster, a prison sentence, serious health problems, disabilities, even the slowing down of old age.
Whatever your troubles and struggles, it can all feel like a never-ending hell.“Where is God? I’m sure he’s abandoned me!” you might think. Hard times can be very lonely and discouraging.
Life is hard. But there is hope in Jesus Christ. This passage today encourages our hope. God does not abandon His people—no matter what.
While troubles and struggles may be terrible for you (and it may even seem that God is not listening), my Christian friends, you can rely on God. He keeps his promises. Our hope is a sure thing. Hope is a confident expectation based on His promise, reinforced by his consistency of actions concerning his people. God saves all of his people!
Don’t lose sight of what is to come in the end. Keep your eyes upon Jesus. Even if you are going through the worst kind of hell here on earth, even if you die, it does not matter whether your ethnic heritage is Jew or Gentile. God will not abandon His people. Every true Christian, God’s elect, the remnant, the wheat, citizens of the Kingdom of God, the tree of true Israel, will ultimately be saved and live eternally.
We all need a Savior. Jesus Christ is He. Trust in Jesus.
Because God saves all His people, we must hope in Him.
 Remy Zero. “Save Me.” The Golden Hum. Elektra Entertainment Group, 2001. CD.
 Superman Returns, Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc., 2006. DVD.
 Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse et al., 2d Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 744.