The Jewish People
Paul is proud to be a Jew. But he's also totally depressed that not every single Jew in the world has accepted Christ like he has. He wants it all, we guess.
There are two distinct groups of Jews that Paul is addressing in Romans. Jews who don't believe in Christ and Jews who do. He has different things to say about each of them since they're both getting it wrong it different ways. What can we say? Paul really likes finding fault with people.
The Hebrew Bible talks about a messiah that would come and finally fix all the problems the Jewish people have been having over the years. He'll bring all the Jews out of exile. Bring back law and order. Get rid of sin and evil. Reward good people. And restore the Temple to its former glory. Yeah, he's gonna be pretty great.
Paul thinks that Jesus fits that bill rather nicely. He's pretty positive that Jesus is the fulfillment of thousands of years of Jewish tradition, law, and prophecy, and that as soon as he tells people this, adoring crowds will come flooding through his doors. Any second now…
But many Jews in the first century didn't see it this way. Though there were some Jews who did put their faith in Christ (like the original disciples and Paul), the majority of Jewish folks weren't very interested in throwing their lot in with this Jesus guy. They'll just keep waiting for the real messiah to show up, thank you very much.
This makes Paul pretty darn sad. He's been trying to convince the Jews for years that Jesus is the best thing since sliced bread, but he just isn't making much headway. And Paul can't understand this. Why would his own people turn their backs on their messiah? The guy who was sent by God to bring truth and peace to the world? Sheesh.
What's a Nice Jewish Boy to Do?
Paul is really struggling throughout Romans to explain why God's chosen people don't seem to be choosing him right back. Paul is still holding out lots of hope for the Jewish people, though. They've got lots going in their favor:
- The good news of Jesus was given to the Jews before anyone (1:16). Sweet! First!
- Jewish people have tons of advantages because of their special relationship with God that goes way back to the very beginning (3:2). That's Genesis, right there.
- God promised his people that he would save them and so now he totally has to (11:1). No take backs, Lord!
Okay, so God is cool with the Jews. He digs them. They're his peeps. God's gonna keep his eye out for them. But on the other hand, Paul also believes that the only path to God is through Jesus. You have to believe in him in order to get to God. That seems to leave these Jewish non-believers out. So, how could this have happened?
Well, Paul has got some ideas:
- Maybe the Jews who rejected Jesus aren't really Jews deep down in their heart of hearts (9:6). Oh, that's a thought.
- Or maybe God never really planned to save all the Jews. Paul thinks that God might have hinted around to this somewhere in scripture (10:21).
- It's also possible that God went and hardened people's hearts (11:25). God's a pretty big fan of doing this for some reason. Exodus, anyone?
Yeah, one of those things could totally be it.
The main point is that Paul sort of wants to have it both ways. No, non-believing Jews won't be saved because they're just "hearers of the law" not "doers of the law" (2:13). But on the other hand, there is no way in heck God has rejected his people (11:1). Wrap your mind around that one.
In the end, Paul has to conclude that someday, somehow, God will make it right. Maybe one day, once all the Gentiles believe in Jesus, then God will bring the Jews on board.