All Israel Will Be Saved
by Paul Sumner
Reprinted with author’s permission.
Being a chosen people is perilous. Not only will others–the un-chosen–be jealous and cynical, but chosenness can lead to pride and self-delusion. In the Scriptures, being chosen does not mean being saved or in right standing with God or even imply that one is pleasing to God. Being chosen means being selected to do a task; it has nothing to do with a group’s or an individual’s character qualities or their everlasting destiny.
The pagan seer Balaam’s donkey was chosen by God to restrain “the madness of the prophet” (Numbers 22). The pagan Assyrians were selected to mete out God’s punishment on Israel (Isaiah 10:5). And a pagan king, Cyrus of Persia, was chosen to be God’s mashiach to accomplish a single goal (Isaiah 44:28-45:1). But there is no evidence in Scripture that these “chosen” servants of God were saved.
There is a more important term than chosen.
The concept of a remnant, a small portion within the larger whole, is central in the Tanakh. There is an Israel within the larger Israel; an inner concentric circle that represents both the chosen and the faithful of God.
A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the Mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return. (Isaiah 10:21-22)
To be an Israelite, a member of the Chosen People, does not guarantee membership in the Remnant People. Mere birth among the tribes of Jacob and circumcision of the body determine nothing about one’s soul. There are two circumcisions. The first one, a male has no choice about, for he receives it at eight days old and enters into the Covenant People. The second one, he (or any woman) has complete choice in. And he must exercise that choice to enter into the Remnant People: Circumcise then your heart. (Deuteronomy 10:16; cf. 30:6)
I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised–all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart. (Jeremiah 9:25-26)
The need for everyone in Chosen Israel to be “saved”–to repent of sin, be atoned for by sacrifice, and put trust in God–is a strong emphasis in Yeshua’s teaching and in that of his disciples. He tells Nicodemus, a leading rabbi of the time: “You–all of you–must be begotten from above” (John 3:1-10; literal Greek). Yeshua is speaking through this rabbi to the whole nation. Their physical descent from Abraham (as privileged as it is), their loyalty in Torah observance (as commendable as it is), and this rabbi’s devoted study and community status (as impressive as they are) are not enough. They must still be regenerated, rebirthed by the true Father, God himself. If they aren’t, they aren’t truly Israel, children of God.
This blunt word no doubt offended some in physical Israel. This would be like telling Christians their denominational baptism was inadequate, that they needed a real Bath to be acceptably clean before God.
Yeshua went to the heart of Jewish national self-image and, in many cases, ethnic conceit.
He unclothed their uncircumcision and their embarrassing need for the true one. To be the clean, unconcealed, sensitized nation that God called her to be, Israel must hear and obey this mitzvah about rebirth from her Messiah.
Yeshua’s call to Israel to inner transformation also formed a central part of the early preaching of his Jewish disciples.
Sparing no one’s chauvinistic feelings, the apostles time and again hammered the message home: “Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Yeshua the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). “For you [Jews] first, God raised up his Servant, and sent him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26). “[Yeshua] is the one whom God exalted to his right hand as a Prince and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).
One of Yeshua’s main emissaries in the early days was a Pharisaic leader named Saul, later named Paul.
This rabbi, who was once a member of the Sanhedrin, never veered from Yeshua’s call for national repentance and cleansing. From the start, Paul “kept declaring both to those of Damascus first [a city of the Jewish Diaspora] and also at Jerusalem and then throughout the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20). Thus, everyone–every Jew and Israelite, inside and outside the Holy Land and every non-Jew–faced the same demand from God.
Sidebar: The Gospel of Repentance and Trust in the Messiah is for Everyone–or No One
In his letter to messianic believers in Rome, Paul reiterated the message: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16); “There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek” (Romans 2:9); “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
In the tractate Sanhedrin in the Babylonian Talmud is a statement that flatly contradicts Yeshua’s teaching:
“All Israel have a portion in the world to come” (BT Sanh 90a; cf. Mishnah Sanh 10:1)
That is, all Jews–merely by being born within Israel–have an automatic inheritance in the Age to Come (i.e. the Messianic Kingdom). This is true even of those condemned to death by the Beit Din, the Rabbinical Court. This conviction was so theologically important that in Pirkei Avot (“Sayings of the Fathers”), the preeminent Mishnaic tractate on personal ethics, it is repeated at the head of each chapter as though a guardian promise.
Paul himself once made a similar statement: “All Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). But his point was quite different than that of Sanhedrin.
For he connected Israel’s salvation with a redemptive act described in Isaiah: “The Deliverer [Heb. Go’el] will come to Zion, he will remove rebellion [pesha] from Jacob” (Isa 59:20). According to Paul, Israel will enjoy God’s blessings only when her rebellion is removed. And that takes place only by drawing near the Go’el-Messiah and receiving atonement (cleansing, ransom, covering) from him. “All Israel” is the Israel that responds to God’s call and obeys in faith, not the Israel that is merely born.
The exact age of the passage in Sanhedrin is unknown. It is possible it originated before the time of Yeshua. If so, he may have issued his call for rebirth as a criticism of this widely-known dogma of Rabbinic Judaism, in order to contradict it. Or perhaps the Talmud’s declaration about Israel’s ethnic-based salvation may be a defiant denunciation of Yeshua’s (and his apostles’) doctrine. Either way, there is a fundamental clash between Yeshua and Rabbinic theology; one with the most sobering consequences.
The significance of Yeshua’s message, however, is that God wants no one in Israel to be cut off from him because of their sins. Yeshua’s doctrine was not one of hatred for or rejection of his people, but of profound, seeking-to-rescue love. (You warn whom you love.) His demand for rebirth is a humbling call lehayim–to Life.