Throughout Romans, Paul has been refuting slanderous charges made by competing Jewish authorities about his gospel message. Paul is deeply sad that Israel, as a nation, has rejected Christ. Israel is God’s chosen nation, and Paul wishes that every Israelite had faith in Christ.
After rebuking the slander of the competing Jewish “authorities” throughout Chapters 1-8, Paul takes the time to explain Israel’s current status in Chapters 9-11, and answers a different version of slanderous charges. Before beginning his argument he appeals to the authority of Christ saying, I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit.
The competing Jewish “authorities” in Rome are mainly trying to get the Gentile believers to follow Jewish law, specifically their interpretation of the law. That would put the Gentiles under their rule, since they determine who is condemned.
It follows that the competing Jewish “authorities” would also argue that if the law no longer applies, then God has rejected the Jews. The law was an integral part of God’s covenant with Israel. “If you live according to the law, I will bless you” as in Deut 30, which Paul will refer to in the next chapter. So if the law is rejected, the competing “authorities” would argue, then God’s relationship with Israel is rejected. However, in verses 1-5, Paul makes clear God has not rejected the benefit of the Temple or religious practice for Jews. It just doesn’t bring righteousness.
The overall theme of Paul’s letter to the Roman believers is the question “What is righteousness, and how can it be achieved?” The clear argument of the competing Jewish “authorities” is that righteousness can only come one way, through the law and through the Jews. The clear argument of Paul is that righteousness can only come one way, through faith and through the Spirit of Jesus.
Paul is an Israelite himself, and he is profoundly upset that the nation of Israel rejected Christ, saying, I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. It was the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who demanded Jesus be put to death, and when the people of Jerusalem were given the chance to free Jesus, they demanded He be put to death, just like their leaders wanted (Matthew 27:22).
Even though some Israelites put their faith in Christ, the gospel is spreading much more rapidly to the Gentile nations, at the time of the writing of this letter. In Romans 1:8, Paul says that the Roman Christians’ faith is being talked about throughout the whole world; conversely, he’s had to deal with false teachings from competing Jewish “authorities” in Rome, who have misrepresented his gospel and are trying to lead Roman believers to submit themselves to the Old Testament law.
In this letter, Paul is directing the believers toward faith, obedience, the Holy Spirit, and God’s grace, and away from legalism, rules, and slavery to sin. It grieves Paul that Israel, as a nation, rejected Christ, so much so that he wishes he could be cut off from the blessings of God if it would make room for his kinsmen saying, I wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. He does not mean he would go to Hell, because nothing can separate a believer from justification-salvation. Later on in chapter 11, Paul uses an analogy of branches being cut from an olive tree to make way for wild branches to be grafted in, meaning Jews who have been set aside (due to their rebellion) to make way for Gentiles. Romans 11:2 says, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off”; Paul is explaining that it’s possible for believers to be cut off from God’s kindness/blessings if they sin; in the same way Paul wishes that to some extent he could be set aside from Christ if it brought Israel as a nation to come to faith in Jesus.
Paul’s language is hyperbolic, in any case, meant to communicate how sorrowful he is that Israel is in its current state, and that neither he nor God have given up on the Israelites, despite Paul’s ministry being largely geared toward Gentiles.
God chose Israel to be His nation and His people. In the Old Testament He freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and from then on was their God, giving them the law, making promises and covenants with them, dating even further back to the father of the nation: Abraham. Paul explains the special opportunity his kinsmen had, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. But Christ was rejected by the leaders and people of Israel, and it grieves Paul that his own people are separated from God. All of their history should have led them to accept Christ, but they rejected Him.
However, Paul will make it very clear that God is not rejecting Israel although Israel has rejected God. In fact, Paul will tell us that all the promises to Israel will be fulfilled, and the believing Gentiles will play a key role in the fulfillment.
1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
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