Romans 11:26 plainly says, “All Israel will be saved.” The question that arises is: “What is meant by Israel?” Is the future “Israel” literal or figurative (i.e., referring to the ethnic Jews or referring to the Church)? Those who take a literal approach to the promises of the Old Testament believe that the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be restored to a right relationship with God and receive the fulfillment of the covenants. Those who advocate replacement theology basically affirm that the Church has completely replaced Israel and will inherit God’s promises to Israel; the covenants, then, will be fulfilled only in a spiritual sense. In other words, replacement theology teaches that Israel will not inherit the actual land of Israel; the Church is the “new Israel,” and ethnic Israel is forever excluded from the promises—the Jews will not inherit the Promised Land as Jews per se.
We take the literal approach. The passages that speak of future Israel are difficult to view as figurative for the Church. The classic text (Romans 11:16–24) depicts Israel as distinct from the Church: the “natural branches” are the Jews, and the “wild branches” are the Gentiles. The “olive tree” is the collective people of God. The “natural branches” (Jews) are “cut off” the tree for unbelief, and the “wild branches” (believing Gentiles) are grafted in. This has the effect of making the Jews “jealous” and then drawing them to faith in Christ, so they might be “grafted in” again and receive their promised inheritance. The “natural branches” are still distinct from the “wild branches,” so that God’s covenant with His people is literally fulfilled. Romans 11:26–29, citing Isaiah 59:20–21; 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33–34, says:
“And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’ As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”
Here, Paul emphasizes the “irrevocable” nature of Israel’s calling as a nation (see also Romans 11:12). Isaiah predicted that a “remnant” of Israel would one day “be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD” (Isaiah 62:12). Regardless of Israel’s current state of unbelief, a future remnant will in fact repent and fulfill their calling to establish righteousness by faith (Romans 10:1–8; 11:5). This conversion will coincide with the fulfillment of Moses’ prediction of Israel’s permanent restoration to the land (Deuteronomy 30:1–10).
When Paul says Israel will be “saved” in Romans 11:26, he refers to their deliverance from sin (verse 27) as they accept the Savior, their Messiah, in the end times. Moses said, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Israel’s physical inheritance of the land promised to Abraham will be an integral part of God’s ultimate plan (Deuteronomy 30:3–5).
So how will “all Israel be saved”? The details of this deliverance are filled out in passages such as Zechariah 8—14 and Revelation 7—19, which speak of end-times Israel at Christ’s return. The key verse describing the coming to faith of the future remnant of Israel is Zechariah 12:10, “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” This occurs at the end of the tribulation prophesied in Daniel 9:24–27. The apostle John references this event in Revelation 1:7. The faithful remnant of Israel is epitomized in Revelation 7:1–8. These faithful ones the Lord will save and bring back to Jerusalem “in truth and righteousness” (Zechariah 8:7–8, NASB).
After Israel is spiritually restored, Christ will establish His millennial kingdom on earth. Israel will be regathered from the ends of the earth (Isaiah 11:12; 62:10). The symbolic “dry bones” of Ezekiel’s vision will be brought together, covered with flesh, and miraculously resuscitated (Ezekiel 37:1–14). As God promised, the salvation of Israel will involve both a spiritual awakening and a geographical home: “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land” (Ezekiel 37:14).
In the Day of the Lord, God will “reclaim the surviving remnant of his people” (Isaiah 11:11). Jesus Christ will return and destroy the armies gathered against Him in rebellion (Revelation 19). Sinners will be judged, and the faithful remnant of Israel will be set apart forever as God’s holy people (Zechariah 13:8—14:21). Isaiah 12 is their song of deliverance; Zion will rule over all the nations under the banner of Messiah the King.