To properly understand where we are in v. 26, we need to understand where Paul has brought us in ch. 11. Kim Riddlebarger offers us a nice contextual summary,
"Paul’s hope for the future conversion of Israel is connected to the fact that the root – Abraham and the patriarchs – remains holy, not because of works-righteousness or human merit, but because the root itself is holy. The root is symbolic of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Thus even though the nation of Israel is presently disobedient and has fallen under God’s curse, if God chooses to re-graft the members of ethnic Israel back into the righteous root, then even the disobedient members of Israel likewise can be brought to faith and reckoned as righteous. This is what God has done with the Gentiles when he justified the ungodly (Romans 4:5). God can do the same with ethnic Israel if he so wishes, since none of this depends upon human righteousness, but upon God’s electing grace and mercy."
So the question at issue in this chapter is whether or not Israel’s situation as divided into a remnant of believers and the rest who do not believe (cf. v. 7) will be permanent. Paul’s answer is that will not be. This current situation is not the final chapter of redemptive history as it relates to Israel. In fact it is all part of God’s redemptive historical plan. He is currently using the rebellion of Israel as a means to bring about the salvation of the Gentiles. Sam Storms lays it out this way:
Israel‘s transgression — Gentile salvation — Israel’s jealousy/salvation — Gentile blessing
In vv. 23-24, “Paul is asserting. . . that all Jewish people who embrace Christ by faith will be engrafted into the body of Christ. He’s holding out a firm hope for Israel here and he is speaking unequivocally about God’s ability to save.” (Duncan) This leads to Paul’s statement that “all Israel will be saved” in v. 26.
There are three primary views of what Paul means by this phrase. He is referring to:
the salvation of the church of Jesus Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, throughout history;
the saving of a remnant of Jews throughout history;
the salvation of the end-time generation of the Jewish people in the future.
Options 1 & 2 can be set aside with the same quick observations:
These views are unlikely because Paul has used “Israel” 10 times in Romans 9-11 and each refers to ethnic Israel. It would be difficult to suggest that he is now using the term “Israel” in a different way here.
v. 25 – “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” Based on the first point, this verse demonstrates that ethnicity is in view.
Option 3 is then the most likely. We can lay out a number of reasons for this: (cf. Storms, Schreiner, Moo, Riddlebarger, ESV Study Bible, et. al.)
it is clear that Paul is speaking about ethnic Israel and he is speaking about some future time (“will be”);
“and so” refers to Paul’s previous discussion about the “fullness of the Gentiles” (emphasizing ethnicity). This means that the salvation of Israel will happen once all of the Gentiles who are elect are saved. Thus Paul awaits the future salvation of the ‘fullness of Israel’ in the same way (cf. 11:12, 15);
it fits with the promises of God’s future work in 11:12, 15;
it is difficult to see how the salvation of a remnant of Jews all through history would qualify as a “mystery” (11:25);
the future salvation of ethnic Israel at the end of history accords with the climactic character of this passage;
Paul uses the phrase “all Israel” here in the same way that he did in 9:6, which demonstrates finally and fully how God is faithful to fulfill his saving promises to his people.
Let me pause here to deal with the word “all”. What does it mean? “All” could mean – everybody without exception (each or every); or it could mean – the group, but not the individuals. I understand it to be the latter. So that “all Israel” has a corporate “significance, referring to the nation as a whole and not to every single individual who is a part of the nation.”(Moo; Johnson – ‘all Israel’ is “a technical expression that means the nation Israel; all Israel, the nation as a whole. “; cf 1 Kings 12:1; 2 Chronicles 12:1-5; Daniel 9:11) The above contextual reasons contribute to this understanding.
We could say then, with Riddlebarger,
"Once the fullness of the Gentiles comes in and the gospel has gone to ends of the earth and even as the final number of elect Gentiles are coming to faith, God will bring the vast majority of ethnic Jews then living at the time of the end, back to faith in Jesus Christ. The salvation of all Israel then is the harbinger of the end of the age."
Sam Storms summarizes,
"the view of the majority of N T scholars is that Paul is describing a time subsequent to the salvation of the full number of God’s elect among the Gentiles, hence at the end of the age, when the partial hardening that has come upon Israel will be lifted and there shall occur the salvation of the full number of God’s elect among the Jews. At that time, “all Israel” will become Christian, members of the church, the body of Christ. This event will in some way be connected with the second coming of Christ."
So what does this mean?
1. On the topic of the nation of Israel:
Israel’s restoration is part of a “mystery” of which Paul has explained a part – It is an “open secret” (Duncan) and we need to leave it as such. Yet how much time, energy and ink is spent on trying to figure out what is going on in the nation of Israel at present and what it means for the future? We should leave it as a “mystery” and concern ourselves with the stuff in Scripture that is clear and plain. (cf. Riddlebarger)
We need to stop freaking out about Israel – There needs to be a show on Christian TV called, ‘Dispensationalism Gone Wild’, because that’s what so much of evangelical Christianity has become. It seems that whenever a rock is thrown in Israel, a missile is launched toward Israel, or a blood moon rises somebody writes something about Israel and the coming of the end times. Is there a future for ethnic Israel? (notice ethnic not national) Paul’s answer is “yes.” But what this looks like and when it happens is up to God alone.
“All Israel will be saved” does not mean that one day the nation of Israel itself will be re-instituted and every member will be a believer in God through Jesus Christ (cf. Duncan) – this is reading more into the text than what is here – way more. In fact you can’t find this idea anywhere in Scripture. Thus the re-establishing of Israel as a nation in 1948 or anything else that happens politically to that nation today has nothing to do with what Paul is speaking about here or anywhere else.
This verse does not mean that God abandons the Gentiles to turn his attention to Israel at the end – In other words, this is not proof of a pre-tribulation or mid-tribulation rapture, where God gets rid of the church in order to turn his attention to Israel. This kind of thinking, that there are two peoples of God and God deals with one, then the other, is a purely dispensational presupposition without biblical backing. Paul is not saying this at all. In fact he is speaking against this idea.
The future salvation of Israel is not connected to a future millennial kingdom – Paul doesn’t mention this here. Nor does he, or anyone else, anywhere in Scripture.
2. Amillennialism (of which I am a proponent) does not necessarily contradict a future for ethnic Israel (notice again, ethnic, not the nation) in God’s plan – Let me quote Riddlebarger, who is an amillennialist – “Paul’s whole point is that while there are two kinds of branches, Jews (natural branches) and Gentiles (wild branches), there is only one root, who is Christ. . . When the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, when Israel’s hardness of heart is removed, ethnic Jews will be saved in the same way in which the members of the present believing remnant are saved, only in such great numbers, Paul can say, “all Israel” will be saved.” (Italics mine) God’s promises to Israel are kept spiritually, and we should expect the fulfillment to be such. This is why Paul speaks about the people of Israel.
3. There is only ONE people of God – The metaphor of the olive tree indicates that Paul views God’s people as a unity that crosses ethnic boundaries. There is only one tree in which are both believing Gentiles and believing Jews. (cf. Storms) This is another reason (or many) why dispensationalism is in error. As Douglas Moo eloquently states,
"Gentiles who come to Christ become part of that community of salvation founded on God’s promises to the patriarchs. And ‘messianic Jews,’ following in the footsteps of their believing ancestors, belong to this same community. . . Paul suggests that the church, defined as the entire body of believers in Jesus Christ, is simply the name for the people of God in this era of salvation history – as ‘Israel’ was the name of that people in the previous age.”"
While the discussion of this passage has centered on the meaning of “all Israel will be saved”, we must not miss the whole point of these verses and the surrounding context – The salvation of both Jew and Gentiles comes about because of one thing– “God’s wonderful mercy in Jesus Christ.” (Riddlebarger)
Soli Deo Gloria