The Great Divide

The most important thing to be understood about the Book of Acts is that it is about Israel.

‘Even so then at the present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace…the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded…through their fall salvation has come unto the Gentiles…Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world…For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world…the branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in’ (Romans 11:5,7,11,12,15,19).

‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, BUT A NEW CREATURE. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be UPON THEM, and mercy, AND UPON the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:15,16).

‘And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written UNTO YOU; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction’ (2Peter 3:15,16).

I am going to try my hardest to resist the urge to go beyond the boundaries of what this study is intended to be, namely, an exposition of the historical and doctrinal issues contained within Romans chapter 11, with special attention to the “remnant,” particularly verses 5 and 7.

Having said that, we will need to preface this study with a brief introductory note concerning the Book of Acts to properly “put it in its place.” Its place, not surprisingly, is after the Gospels and before Paul’s epistles, the Book of Romans specifically and immediately. Romans chapter eleven reviews the history of Acts within its doctrinal context. The most important thing to be understood about the Book of Acts is that it is about Israel. Now, don’t misunderstand, the whole purpose of Acts 9-28 is to show how “salvation went to the Gentiles” in light of Israel’s “stumbling” in Acts 1-7. Without Acts 9-28, Romans through Philemon makes absolutely no sense. Following the prophetic program, after Acts 1-7, it is Hebrews through Revelation that should follow. Acts 9-28 records the fact of the dispensational change, but the facts in relationship to Israel. The doctrinal exposition and significance of “the mystery” is what Paul’s ministry in Romans through Philemon is about, and it is what Acts 9-28 is preparing you for so that when you arrive at Paul’s epistles-starting in Romans-you know precisely what has happened historically and where you are historically. Again, while the “one new man” is present in Acts 9-28-the dispensational change having taken place with Israel’s “fall”-that is not its focus and purpose. Acts 9-28 is all about the dispensational change but specifically as it relates to God “turning from Israel.” Or, to sum it up nicely, as Paul will in Romans 11, the Book of Acts is the historical record of Israel’s “stumbling,” “fall” and “diminishing.”

“STUMBLING”/ “FALL” / “DIMINISHING”

Acts 1-7 / Acts 9 / Acts 9-28

The reason there is often much confusion concerning Acts, particularly Acts 9-28, is because it is precisely that-confusing-and Paul constantly recognizes and affirms that. This is a unique issue which is highlighted in his Acts epistles (those written during the Acts period).

While he knew perfectly well what was going on, and while God Himself knew perfectly well what He was doing and had been planning to do from “before the foundation of the world” (1Cor 2:7;Eph 1:4 -though He had intentionally been keeping it “secret”), nevertheless, the actual ushering in of this dispensational change and “making known” this knowledge is taking place within time and a historical context. God’s program with Israel and the “things to come” were clearly laid out. Being a ‘mystery’ and ‘unnatural’ in light of what the scriptures had foretold, an explanation was in order.

Acts 9-28 is a time of knowing “in part” and “seeing through a glass darkly” as God has Paul conduct a special “provocation” ministry to put Israel on notice that “through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11). There is a special time of “diminishing” following their “fall” where the elements of Israel’s program fade into the background as God transitions into this new program and has the “foundation” laid for this new purpose that He will fulfill with the Gentiles (Romans 15:14-29; 16:25; 1Cor 3:10). Peter and the “ministry of the circumcision” fade away and the issue is increasingly the ministry of Paul and this new thing that God is doing with the Gentiles. In order to see that ministry to the Gentiles though you must read Romans through Philemon.

There are aspects of this special “provocation” ministry which can be confusing and Paul recognized that. Once Israel’s “diminishing” was over, the “revelation of the mystery” was made “fully known” and there was a clear record of what all had happened-along with the doctrinal exposition-all would then be “clear” and available for all to “read” (Eph 3:4) and “study” (2Tim 2:15; 3:16,17). But again, the exposition of the issues surrounding Israel’s “diminishing” in Acts 9-28 is not our focus here.

They are told in Acts 9-28, and we are told here in Romans 11, that God’s response to their unbelief was to suspend-temporarily-their program and do something with the Gentiles. Just why God did this is something which Paul will not elaborate upon in exacting detail till later, but will prepare you for it as this is the “establishment” epistle (Romans 1:11; 16:25) upon which the package of doctrine and knowledge of the “revelation of the mystery” will rest. But again, Acts 9-28 or “the provocation” is how they know that God has left Israel and gone to the Gentiles as it were. Jews are most certainly dealt with today, but it is in accordance with God’s current program with the Gentiles, just as Gentiles had been dealt with previously in “time past” (Eph 2:11,12) but in accordance with Israel’s program.

And so, following Israel’s “stumbling” in Acts 1-7 the following happened:

1.) The remnant “obtained” it (Rom 11:5,7).

2.) The “rest were blinded”-the “Fall” (Rom 11:7,12,15).

3.) That “rest” was “provoked to jealousy” by Paul’s ministry whereby they were put on notice of what God had done in connection with this “fall.” Israel’s program “diminishes” and fades out (Rom 11:11,12).

4.) Having put them on notice of Israel’s “fall” and God going to the Gentiles through that “fall,” Paul then seeks to “provoke them to EMULATION” for as the “chief” and “pattern” (1Tim 1:14-16) it is only his “hope” that any Jew can “obtain” today for as long as God keeps “the rest blinded” (Rom 11:13,14).

5.) Finally, and obviously, this “blinded” status is only temporary, not permanent. God “broke off” His prophetic dealings with them for a reason. When that “purpose” is completed He will “break off” the Gentiles, graft the “natural branches” back in and resume His prophetic dealings with the nation (Rom 11:15-29).

What is going on today is not because Israel “stumbled.” It has to do with the “purpose” of God. Israel’s failure did NOT necessitate this dispensation-obviously, since that “election” is still alive and God will fulfill it. What is going on today is occurring because God had determined in His “foreknowledge” (Rom 11:2) that when Israel “stumbled,” rather than continuing on with the program, He would cause them to “fall,” be “blinded” and go to the Gentiles.

There was never any inkling that their “stumbling” would result in this. What is going on today is happening because when they “stumbled” historically and prophetically, God responded with a dispensational change, caused them to “fall” and revealed that He had a secret “purpose” and that “through their fall” salvation would go to the Gentiles whereby He would fulfill the “mystery of Christ” and the “mystery of His will” and only when this secret purpose had reached its “fullness” would He leave the Gentiles and return to Israel.

As always, it is imperative to first understand Israel’s program else there will be ignorance and mishandling concerning what God is doing with us and why. Ignorance such as thinking that Israel’s failure could in any way prevent God from fulfilling His promises to the nation. In connection with this the thing that Paul focuses upon and directs our attention to first and foremost is their “stumbling.” It is obvious that Paul and the Holy Spirit understood there would be great ignorance concerning what had and had not happened to Israel in connection with Paul’s ministry (Rom 11:25) and that many would conclude that since Israel “stumbled” and failed that therefore God was forever done with them. But this is pure ignorance of God’s program with Israel, plain and simple. Israel had always failed and was prophesied to fail and never once does that interfere with what God has purposed for the nation. Their failure is fundamentally part of the program. The whole reason that the Lord’s Day comes prophetically is precisely because the nation as a whole fails to respond positively to the “witness of the Holy Ghost” in Acts 1-7. Israel’s “stumbling” in no wise explains what is going on today and why. Yes, Israel “stumbled.” So why then hasn’t the Day of the LORD arrived as was scheduled to take place following their “stumbling”? Israel’s “stumbling” meant bad news for the apostate nation and even WORSE news for the Gentiles (Joel 3:9-17; Mt 3:7,11; 24:21,22,29; Lk 21:25,26,28,31; Rev 14:6-11). Within Israel’s program it has always been a remnant, and that remnant will figure very prominently in the Lord’s Day. So simply because the nation failed and “stumbled” explains absolutely nothing about a dispensational change. Furthermore, it is obvious that God has nothing against “the Jew” individually since He chose Paul to be the “chief” of what He was beginning to do with the Gentiles in connection with this dispensational change and to be the representative of the “one new man.” Moreover, it would be a strange thing indeed to “provoke to jealousy” and “provoke to emulation” if God’s sentiment was one of “good riddance” to the Jew.

So, what has happened to Israel? Well, what has not happened to Israel?

Have they “stumbled”? Yes, most certainly. And moreover, they DID “fall.” But, have they stumbled “that they should fall”? NO. Obviously not, since their “stumbling” was nothing surprising and was not going to interfere one bit with God fulfilling His purpose with the nation. Indeed, in light of Israel’s “stumbling” the remnant did “obtain” it. That is, without any hint of “the mystery,” Israel was supposed to (prophetically) “stumble” and the program was to move on-as it eventually will. Again, Israel “stumbled,” but that didn’t keep the remnant from “obtaining” it. It never has and it never will.

So then, why did they “fall”? Because God had a “mystery” purpose “in Christ” which He had been keeping “secret.” Actually, the “why” is something that Paul will deal with later in Ephesians through Colossians. Right now he deals with the what. That is, their “fall” was not a result of their “stumbling.” Their “fall” was God’s mystery response to their unbelief.

It is only through their “fall” that we Gentiles possess the “blessings” and “fellowship” that we enjoy TODAY, namely the “fellowship” of Romans through Philemon and all that is attached to it (Eph 3:9). What was God’s response to Israel’s “stumbling”? Rather than the Lord’s Day, which was the prophesied response to their unbelief, He caused them to “fall.” He “blinded” them and “cast them away”-temporarily (in part)-and instead would “provoke them to jealousy” by “blinding” them and going to the Gentiles. Their being “blinded” is what provides us Gentiles with the dispensational position we enjoy today which is why Israel has been made “enemies for our sakes” as a result of Paul’s gospel (Rom 1:1; 11:13; 16:25; Eph 3:7; 1Tim 1:14-17).

That is the whole point of the dispensational change. The “program” has been temporarily-“in part”-postponed. They have lost “favored nation status.” The Jew who believes today is not a member of the remnant of Israel, but rather is a member of the “one new man” with its “calling” and “election” in accordance with the “purpose” of God. With this ‘new creature’ and what God is doing ‘in Christ’ TODAY-’but now’-’neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision’ (Gal 6:15; Eph 2:11-13). Our future “hope” as the ‘one new man,’ which has been determined by our “calling” and “election,” is related to the “heavenly places” and God’s “reconciliation purposes’ (Eph 1; Colossians 1).

The “election” of Israel is still in existence as the tree has not been uprooted. They (and their program) have not been permanently “cast away,” but only temporarily-in part-until something else-the mystery-is completed. Again, the tree has not been uprooted, only the natural branches have been “broken off” in connection with this temporary dispensational condition. The ‘time past’ status will have to wait for the ‘to come’ which won`t take place until the ‘but now’ is over (Eph 2:11-13; Rom 11).

But, someone had already “obtained” it before the “blinding” –temporary breaking off-took place. It is this “broken” and “blinded” status which prevents any Jew from “obtaining it’ today. The Jew will only be able to “obtain it” when God is finished with the Gentiles-the Mystery.

And all of that finally brings us to the remnant of Israel that was in existence when this dispensation was ushered in and God “blinded the rest.” They figure very prominently in Paul’s Acts epistles and continue under the “ministry of the circumcision” as they see their program “diminishing” (Rom 11:16; 15:25-27; 1Cor 15:6,9; Gal 2; 6:16). In connection with this doctrine there are many inter-dispensational issues that ought to be appreciated as they relate to God’s purposes “in Christ” That is, there are inter-dispensational things we have been “made partakers of” but in accordance with a dispensational change. However, that is not our focus in this study.

In short, they (the remnant) “obtained” it prior to the “blinding”-temporary breaking off- and it is this present “broken” and “blinded” status which prevents any one from “obtaining it’ TODAY. The “identity,” “calling,” “hope” and “election” of that remnant did not change with the ushering in of this dispensation. They were in existence ‘at the present time’ and continued under the ‘ministry of the circumcision’ (Rom 15:8; Gal 2) as they watched their program ‘diminish’ (Rom 11:12) and God conversely had Paul ‘magnify his office’ (Rom 11:13) in accordance with what He was now doing with the Gentiles. If you think that ‘according to the election of grace’ (Rom 11:5) means it has to be this dispensation then you are simply woefully ignorant of Israel’s program, the New Covenant, the fulfillment of Gods purposes with Israel, and have failed to appreciate the very basic inter-dispensational issues that have been crucial to Paul’s entire argument in the previous chapters of Romans up to this point. See John 1:17 and 1 Peter 1:13 just for starters. God’s program of grace with Israel is unfortunately often under-appreciated, and this often leads to a mis-characterization of just what ‘the mystery’ and this dispensation is and is not as God ‘shews forth all longsuffering’ (1Tim 1:16) and ‘the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus’ (Eph 2:7). But that discussion is for another time.

The remnant is not a reference to Jews who believe today and become members of the one new man. Paul’s point is the exact opposite. It says they “obtained” it. It does not say they are “obtaining” it. Which is precisely the point of the dispensational change. Having been “blinded” they CAN’T “obtain” it TODAY and it is precisely this point which is cause for “provocation.” Jews who believe today, following Paul’s lead (Rom 11:13,14), are part of the “blinded” crowd (Acts 9:8,12). The “rest” can most certainly “obtain” something, as Paul’s own conversion testifies to (Acts 9; 22; 26) as ‘one born out of due time’ (1Cor 15:8; Gal 1:15,16). If anyone had committed the “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” it was him. This is related to Paul’s position as “the last and the first” and we will have cause to turn to that in a future study. What the remnant “obtained” was that which was in accordance with “the promises made unto the fathers” (Mt 25:34; Acts 3:24; Rom 15:8). It is the identity of, and what has been promised to, those that are part of that “election.” What the “rest” may “obtain” today is that which Paul was “separated” unto (Rom 1:1-7; 2Tim 2:8) and was “kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25).

But the point is that they have been dispensationally “blinded” and cannot “obtain” the “election” that the remnant did. It is the remnant’s existence at that time as the “firstfruit” (Rom 11:16) which above all would prove that God was not forever done with Israel and there was a “lump” (Rom 11:16) to come in fulfillment of the promises (Rom 9:4,5; 11:28,29; 15:8). The whole point of the passage is that God is not forever done with Israel and must return to His prophetic dealings with them. Simply pointing to the fact that a Jew could be saved today would be absolutely meaningless as far as God’s promises to the nation are concerned. The salvation of Jews today is specifically not in accordance with the promises, but rather in light of the “fall” and temporary ‘casting away’ of the nation. The mere existence of believing Jews today certainly wouldn’t necessitate or mean that God had to do anything with Israel in the future. The remnant’s existence at that time, however, demonstrated just that and the whole point of the passage is for the reader to understand the nature of the dispensational change and God’s program with Israel so one will not be “ignorant” concerning what did and did not happen to Israel and therefore just what is and is not going on today. Or in other words, as Paul puts it, that dispensational discourse is given so that you “know what time it is” (Rom 13:11).

Again, one must first understand Israel’s program and what occurred before this dispensation if one wants to understand what is to come and why God could never be “all done” with Israel. To think such is to not understand His program with Israel and to not appreciate the nature of the dispensational change that has taken place. That is, Paul’s apostolic existence was a testimony, not that God’s promises to the nation were being fulfilled (as if he were part of the remnant). Paul’s point is precisely the opposite. He testifies to the fact that they had been “blinded for a season” (Acts 13:11)–and therefore not seeing the fulfillment of the promises-but why that blindness was not, and could not be permanent. It is precisely that they still need to be fulfilled which needs to be understood by the Gentiles. It is this program with the Gentiles which is “unnatural,” not His “time past” and “to come” dealings with Israel, and as a Gentile you had better get that down pat lest you suffer from the “identity crisis” that will result from suffering from the “ignorance” and “conceit” that Paul warned about in connection with not understanding what has happened to Israel (Rom 11:25).

So, it does not say “obtaining,” nor does it say “will obtain.” While that is most certainly true for the remnant to come when God brings an end to this temporary dispensational change, and something Paul will highlight later in the chapter, what is in view is what had happened and the position of the nation in light of the dispensational change and the remnant that was therefore in existence ‘at the present time’ (Rom 11:5). This is what happened historically when the dispensational change took place. The “remnant,” the “little flock,” the “Israel of God” had “obtained it” and rather than Israel’s program continuing on into the Lord’s Day as was scheduled, the “rest were blinded.” Their only “hope” now is the hope which Paul had. It is those who were “blinded” of which Paul, and we, are trying to “save some” of (Rom 11:14).

That remnant had been “called” in accordance with that “election” before this dispensation was ushered in, and they share the same ‘identity’ and ‘hope’ as the remnant which will be “called” when God ends this current dispensation of His grace to the Gentiles, breaks off His special dispensational dealings with us and resumes His program and purposes with Israel. Indeed, that remnant’s existence at that time was a testimony to the fact that Israel’s “election” is alive and well and the “blinding” and “casting away” of the nation is only temporary. Their identity as the remnant of Israel is proof of the “lump” to come. They “obtained it.” The “rest” CAN be “saved” and “obtain” something today, but not “it”-Israel’s election-because their “blindness” prohibits it. They can “obtain” the “election” of the “one new man” by “emulating” Paul. Again, it is precisely the fact that no Jew today can be a member of that “remnant” who “obtained it” prior to the “rest” being “blinded” which is the cause of “provocation.” When a Jew believes today, he is not part of those that “hath obtained it” which is the whole point of the dispensational change and its impact on an Israelite. Rather, when he believes today he is among the “rest” who is living in a time following the “fall” and temporary “casting away” and is among the “some” (Rom 11:14) who are “saved” (Rom 11:14) by believing Paul’s gospel (Rom 1:1; 11:13,14; 16:25).

The issue today is not Israel’s election, but rather Israel’s “fall,” Paul’s “office” as the “apostle of the Gentiles” and the “election” of the “one new man” as Jesus Christ is preached “according to the revelation of the mystery” and God continues to “make known” through Paul’s epistles His formerly secret purpose “in Christ.” And so, once again, what we basically have here in Romans chapter 11 is a re-cap of the historical record of the book of Acts in its doctrinal setting.

“For to provoke them to jealousy” (Rom 11:11).

This is what is occurring in Acts 9-28 during the time of Israel’s “diminishing” following her “fall” when God “blinded the rest,” raised up Paul and went to the Gentiles to begin to form His “one new man” and fulfill the “mystery of his will.” Acts 9-28 records Paul’s “provocation” ministry where God through him puts Israel on full notice that He has broken off His prophetic dealings with them and is now doing something special with the Gentiles.

Having been “provoked to jealousy” and put on notice of the dispensational change, the issue for Paul was to “provoke to emulation” in an attempt to “save some.” Once again, you would do well to follow your King James Bible which rightly says “emulation” the second time around in verse 14 and not “jealousy.” Merely being “provoked to jealousy” won’t save anyone. Following Paul is what will show a Jew how to be saved today. If a Jew is going to have any “hope” TODAY, it will be the one that Paul had and there is nothing that you or anybody else can do about it. The “rest were blinded,” period. The only “election” and “hope” that can be “obtained” TODAY is the hope of the “one new man” in light of Israel’s “fall,” “blinding” and temporary “casting away.” The only thing that will change that predicament is when “the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” Only then will God turn once again to the “calling” and “election” of Israel’s program so that it may reach its “fulness.”

Once again, what we see here in Romans 11 is the doctrinal review of what we saw historically in Acts. That is, in Acts Paul conducts a “provocation” ministry to show that through Israel’s “fall” salvation is “gone unto the Gentiles.”

“But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:45,46).

“And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6).

“Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it” (Acts 28:28).

And so here we stand today awaiting the “trump” of God when Christ will “appear,” “catch away” the “one new man,” provide us Gentiles with our “fullness” in accordance with our ‘election’ and once again return to the “calling” and “election” of His program with Israel (1Thess 1:9,10; Titus 2:11-13).

“As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:28,29).

David Winston Busch

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