“Church History and Israel’s Future” by Nathan Busenitz
Romans 11:26 promises that all Israel will be saved. Dispensationalists understand this verse to refer to a national salvation of ethnic Israel after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
Non-premillennialists sometimes imply that such an interpretation is a dispensationalist invention, because it means that God still has a future plan for national Israel.
But did you know that many throughout church history, including many in the Reformed tradition have shared that same interpretation?
None other than John Calvin, in his commentary on Romans 11:25-26, noted that “when the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith.” Other Reformers, such as Martin Bucer, Peter Martyr, and Theodore Beza similarly concluded that there would be a future calling and conversion of the Jewish people.
A belief in the future salvation of national Israel was especially strong among the Dutch Reformed and the English Puritans of the seventeenth century. Regarding the Dutch Calvinists of that time period, J. Van Den Berg explains that for “virtually all Dutch theologians of the seventeenth century, ‘the whole of Israel’ indicated the fullness of the people of Israel ‘according to the flesh’: in other words, the fullness of the Jewish people. This meant that there was a basis for an expectation of a future conversion of the Jews—an expectation which was shared by a large majority of Dutch theologians” (Puritan Eschatology, 140).
Commenting on the English Puritans, Iain Murray similarly notes: “This same belief concerning the future of the Jews is to be found very widely in seventeenth-century Puritan literature. It appears in the works of such well-known Puritans as John Owen, Thomas Manton and John Flavel. … It is also handled in a rich array of commentaries, both folios and quartos – David Dickson on the Psalms, George Hutcheson on the Minor Prophets, Jeremiah Burroughs on Hosea, William Greenhill on Ezekiel, Elnathan Parr on Romans and James Durham on Revelation: a list which could be greatly extended.” (The Puritan Hope, 43).
But a belief in national Israel’s future salvation actually goes all the way back to the early church. What follows, then, is a brief sampling of theologians throughout church history who have affirmed that future reality. Others could be added, but these should suffice to make the point:
1. Justin Martyr (c. 100–165) held that the tribes of Israel would be gathered and restored in accord with what the prophet Zechariah predicted: And what the people of the Jews shall say and do, when they see Him coming in glory, has been thus predicted by Zechariah the prophet: “I will command the four winds to gather the scattered children; I will command the north wind to bring them, and the south wind, that it keep not back. And then in Jerusalem there shall be great lamentation, not the lamentation of mouths or of lips, but the lamentation of the heart; and they shall rend not their garments, but their hearts. Tribe by tribe they shall mourn, and then they shall look on Him whom they have pierced; and they shall say, Why, O Lord, hast Thou made us to err from Thy way? The glory which our fathers blessed, has for us been turned into shame.”
2. Tertullian (c. 155–230) urged Christians to eagerly anticipate and rejoice over the coming restoration of Israel: “It will be fitting for the Christian to rejoice, and not to grieve, at the restoration of Israel, if it be true, (as it is), that the whole of our hope is intimately united with the remaining expectation of Israel.”
3. Origen (185–254) believed in “two callings of Israel.” The first calling of Israel refers to Israel’s calling before Christ that eventually led to their stumbling and falling. The second calling of Israel, however, is future and will take place after the period of the fullness of the Gentiles. In Origen’s words: “But when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then will all Israel, having been called again, be saved.”
4. John Chrysostom (349–407) said this in regards to Romans 11:26:
[Regarding the fact] that they [the Jews] shall believe and be saved, he [Paul] brings Isaiah to witness, who cries aloud and says, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” (Isaiah 59:20.) … If then this has been promised, but has never yet happened in their case, nor have they ever enjoyed the remission of sins by baptism, certainly it will come to pass.
In his homilies on Matthew, Chrysostom also noted:
To show therefore that [Elijah] the Tishbite comes before that other [second] advent … He said this. … And what is this reason? That when He is come, He may persuade the Jews to believe in Christ, and that they may not all utterly perish at His coming. Wherefore He too, guiding them on to that remembrance, saith, “And he shall restore all things;” that is, shall correct the unbelief of the Jews that are then in being.
5. Augustine (354–430) concurred: It is a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful, that in the last days before the judgment the Jews shall believe in the true Christ, that is, our Christ, by means of this great and admirable prophet Elias who shall expound the law to them. . . . When, therefore, he is come, he shall give a spiritual explanation of the law which the Jews at present understand carnally, and shall thus “turn the heart of the father to the son,” that is, the heart of the fathers to the children.
6. Cyril of Alexandria (378–444): Although it was rejected, Israel will also be saved eventually, a hope which Paul confirms. … For indeed, Israel will be saved in its own time and will be called at the end, after the calling of the Gentiles.”
7. Theodoret of Cyrus (393–457): And he [Paul] urges them not to despair of the salvation of the other Jews; for when the Gentiles have received the message, even they, the Jews, will believe, when the excellent Elijah comes, bringing to them the doctrine of faith. For even the Lord said this in the sacred gospels: ‘Elijah is coming, and he will restore all things.’
8. Cassiodorus (c. 485–585) [commenting on Psalm 103:9]: This verse can be applied also to the Jewish people, who we know are to be converted at the world’s end. On this Paul says: Blindness in part has happened in Israel, that the fullness of the Gentiles should come in, and so all Israel should be saved.
9. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274): It is possible to designate a terminus, because it seems that the blindness of the Jews will endure until all the pagans chosen for salvation have accepted the faith. And this is in accord with what Paul says below about the salvation of the Jews, namely, that after the conversion of the pagans, all Israel will be saved.
Note: Other early theologians who believed in a future salvation of Israel include Prosper of Aquitaine (390–455), Gregory (540–604), Isidore (560–636), Bede (d. 735), Peter Damian (1007–1072), Anselm (1033–1109), and Bernard (1090–1153).
10. The Geneva Study Bible (16th century): He [Paul] speaks of the whole nation, not of any one part. … The blindness of the Jews is neither so universal that the Lord has no elect in that nation, neither will it be continual: for there will be a time in which they also (as the prophets have foretold) will effectually embrace that which they now so stubbornly for the most part reject and refuse.
11. William Perkins (1558–1602): The Lord says, All the nations shall be blessed in Abraham: Hence I gather that the nation of the Jews shall be called, and converted to the participation of this blessing: when, and how, God knows: but that it shall be done before the end of the world we know.
12. Elnathan Parr (d. 1630) [on Romans 11:26]: That all the elect shall be saved? Who ever doubted that? But of the calling of the Jews there is doubt. He calls their salvation a secret or mystery but there is nothing mysterious about all the elect being saved. He shows that there is an unbroken reference to Israel/Jacob, that is, ethnic Israel. [From verses 25-28 Parr concludes,] Before the end of the world the Jews in regard to their multitude will be called.
13. Matthew Poole (1624–1679): [On Romans 11:26] By Israel here (as in the precedent verse) you must understand, the nation and people of the Jews. And by all Israel is not meant every individual Israelite, but many, or (it may be) the greatest part of them. … These prophecies and promises [from Isaiah 27:9; 59:20 and Jer. 31:33], though they were in part fulfilled when Christ came in the flesh, (see Acts 3:26,) yet there will be a more full and complete accomplishment thereof upon the Jewish nation and people towards the end of the world.
14. Increase Mather (1639–1723): That there shall be a general conversion of the tribes of Israel, is a truth which in some measure hath been known and believed in all ages of the church of God, since the Apostles’ days.
15. Matthew Henry (1662–1714): Another thing that qualifies this doctrine of the Jews rejection is that though for the present they are cast off, yet the rejection is NOT final; but, when the fullness of time is come, they will be taken in again. They are not cast off for ever, but mercy is remembered in the midst of wrath. … The Jews shall continue in blindness, till God hath performed his whole work among the Gentiles, and then their turn will come next to be remembered. This was the purpose and ordination of God, for wise and holy ends; things should not be ripe for the Jews’ conversion till the church was replenished with the Gentiles, that it might appear that God’s taking them again was not because he had need of them, but of his own free grace.
16. Cotton Mather (1663–1728): This day, from the Dust, where I lay prostrate before the Lord, I lifted up my Cries … for the conversion of the Jewish nation, and for my own having the Happiness, at some time or other, to Baptize a Jew that should by my ministry be brought home unto the Lord.
17. Thomas Boston (1676–1732): There is a day coming when there shall be a national conversion of the Jews or Israelites. The now blinded and rejected Jews shall at length be converted into the faith of Christ. . . .[Continue reading at the Cripplegate]