An important question comes in to us from Brooke. “Hi Pastor John! My pastor believes that Jewish people, those who believe the Messiah is yet to come, will go to heaven because they are God’s chosen people — referencing some parts in Revelation. I disagreed with him because I believe that all must get to heaven through Jesus Christ. Where do you stand? Will all Israelites be saved in the end?”
No, all Israelites will not be saved in the end. And more specifically to Brooke’s concern, no Jews who are waiting for a Messiah and rejecting Jesus while they wait will be saved. Let me take those one at a time; that is, 1) Will all Israel be saved? and, 2) Will specifically Jews who are waiting for a Messiah be saved?
First, some passages on the first point. When Jesus saw the faith of the Gentile centurion in Matthew 8:10, he said he had not seen such faith among the Israelites. And then he adds this in Matthew 8:11–12: “I tell you, many will come from east and west” — that is, Gentiles — “and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom” — that is, the Jews that are rejecting him in his own day — “will be thrown into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Later in Matthew 23:29–33, he made it crystal clear what he was talking about when he said “outer darkness” and “gnashing of teeth.” He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees.” So, these are the Jewish leaders. Woe to you hypocrites. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).
“I believe there is coming a day when the whole ethnic group of Israel will be saved by trusting in Jesus.”
The apostle Paul makes it clear that this was what broke his heart and that his Jewish kinsmen with all their covenant privileges were rejecting Jesus as Messiah and were going to hell. So, he says in Romans 9:2–3, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” So, they were accursed and they were cut off from Christ. And Paul said: I could wish that I could take their place. But that creates for Paul an enormous problem. And he spent all of Romans 9–11 dealing with the problem and answering it; namely, how could the covenant people en masse, almost, perish and be lost forever?
His answer, his central point in Romans 9–11, is this: “It is not as though the word of God has failed” (Romans 9:6). So, he is answering his own concern. It looks like the word of God has failed: so many Jews are lost. And he says, “It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” His answer is: Not all Israel is Israel. That is Paul’s basic answer. So, from the beginning, with the difference between Isaac and Ishmael right down to this very day with the distinction between Jews who believe in Jesus and those who don’t, there is a true Israel and then there is an ethnic Israel — and he makes that clear where he says, “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:8). The children of the flesh would be all ethnic Jews today, but not all of those are the children of God.
So, Paul prays, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). And then he knows that only some will be. And so, he says in Romans 11:13–14, “I magnify my ministry [to the Gentiles] in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.” So, only some, he expects, will be saved. So who are those who will be saved? And he answers in Romans 11:23: “Even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in” — that is, to the true people of God, the Abrahamic covenant, which he talks about as an olive tree — “for God has the power to graft them in again.” So, right now, they are lying there broken off in unbelief. And he says: If they would just believe, they would be grafted back in.
“To reject Christ and wait for another Messiah is to show you do not have a saving relationship with God.”
Paul does, however, look for a day — and this may be what Brooke’s pastor was saying. There is coming a day, I think Paul says, when there will be a great turning of Israel to Jesus her Messiah, and the whole ethnic group of Israel will be saved by trusting in Jesus. I think that is what Paul is talking about in Romans 11:25–26 where he says, “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. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’”
So, my own view is that that refers to a future salvation of the great bulk of Israel. But the point is, only through Jesus will that salvation come to any Jew any time. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:16, “When one” — that is one of the Jews — “turns to the Lord, the veil” — that has been lying on their minds — “is removed.” When they turn to the Lord Jesus, the veil is removed. And when it is removed, what do they see? The glory of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Now, with regard to that other part of Brooke’s question: What about Jewish people today who are waiting for a Messiah but, in the process, they are not believing Jesus is the Messiah? That is exactly the situation in which John the Baptist found himself in his question in Luke 7:19. He said, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” So, that is John the Baptist’s very question. And Jesus answers him by pointing to his miracles and the uniqueness of his preaching to the poor. And then he says in Luke 7:23, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” — because Jesus didn’t look like how they expected the Messiah to look. And so, they stumbled over the stumbling stone (cf. Romans 9:32–33). And he said: Only those will be blessed who don’t stumble over me. And that blessing is valid for all who embrace Jesus — and the opposite will be condemnation.
“Only through Jesus does salvation come to any Jew at any time.”
So, over and over again Jesus tells us in the Gospels, he tells the Jews that, if they reject him, they reject God the Father. If they don’t love him and welcome him as Messiah and Son of God, they don’t love the Father. They don’t welcome the Father. And so, let me just give a few of those, because they are really the very essence of the matter.
John 14:7, “If you had known me [Jesus], you would have known my Father.”
John 5:23, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father.”
John 5:42–43, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me.”
John 8:42, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.”
1 John 2:23, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”
John 6:45, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
It is just hard to imagine how Jesus could make himself clearer that to reject him and wait for another Messiah is to show you do not have a saving relationship with God. That is true for Gentiles, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, secularists. Jesus is the only way to God because he is the incarnation of God.