1 Brethren, the desire of my heart and my prayer to God on behalf of them [is] for [their] salvation. 2 For I bear witness concerning them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For being ignorant of the righteous of God and seeking to establish their own [righteousness], they did not submit to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the Law unto righteousness for all who believe.
As I mentioned last week, Romans 10 really starts back in Romans 9. Chapter and verse divisions are not part of inspired Scripture; they are later additions to the text for the purpose of locating passages. When Paul wrote this letter, it was a continuous train of thought. This is why it’s a good idea to read it in a single sitting, since this is probably how he wrote it, and how it would have been read to the church in Rome. Romans 9 began with Paul expressing his heartfelt anguish over the Jewish people. Here he says that they are in his prayers, particularly that the desire of his heart–their salvation–would come to pass.
In Romans 9, Paul began addressing the question, “What of the Jews, then?” His argument up to this point has been that both Jew and Gentile stand before God on equal ground: both are sinful people in need of a Savior. The Gentile cannot claim innocence due to ignorance of God’s Law: the Law of God has been written into creation (Romans 1 and 2). But the Jew has an advantage in that he has known the Law of God, and has known that these are God’s requirements for men to be righteous in His sight. And yet the Jews have failed as badly as the Gentiles to keep the Law. So, why did God bother with the Jews in the first place? What is the Old Testament for? Did God not promise them a great inheritance? Has that promise failed?
Paul started answering that back in chapter 4, speaking of Abraham. His argument at that point was that it was Abraham’s faith that was credited to him as righteousness, not his works. So righteousness–salvation–has always been based on faith. Also the inheritance promise was given prior to circumcision, which was the mark of Abraham’s descendants, so it wasn’t based on being circumcised. In chapter 9, Paul continues this thought by pointing out that both Jacob and Esau were physical descendants of Abraham, but God chose Jacob to inherit the promise, not Esau. So simply being Abraham’s descendant wasn’t enough. Indeed, God’s choice of Jacob over Esau wasn’t based on anything they had done, so not even works of the Law gave Jacob favor before God. It was purely God’s sovereign choice.
It makes sense, therefore, that Paul prays for the salvation of the Jews. He doesn’t assume that being of the seed of Abraham, as Esau was, is a guarantee of salvation. But as Paul said earlier, not all Israel are truly Israel. Indeed, the promises made to Israel have been fulfilled in Christ, as has the Law.
Paul says that the Jews have a zeal for God, but not according to knowlegde (Greek: epignôsis). Is Paul commending their zeal? What does being “zealous for God” look like? For some background, I brought up the Maccabean Revolt, which was within relatively recent history. To summarize (greatly!), during the second century BC (200-100 BC) the Jewish people were under pagan (Greek) rulers, who wanted to create unity throughout their Empire. The Jews stuck out as an odd group because they were strict monotheists, had their own strange temple ritual, and they practiced circumcision. Further, their Law didn’t allow for flexibility in worship. This led to a large-scale persecution of the Jews, where they were forced on pain of death to accept pagan practices and give up their Law and ritual. Details of the punishments meted out on non-compliant Jews can be found in the first book of Maccabees, a work that we don’t consider Scripture, but is useful history (see 1 Maccabees 1:41-64). Many Jews capitulated, but some held out. Notably, a man named Mattathias rebelled and fled to the Judean desert with his five sons. After Mattathias died in 166 BC, one of his sons, Judas Maccabeus, led a revolt, that eventually overcame the pagan rulers, culminating in the cleansing of the temple. He set his brother, Jonathan, up as high priest, and thus re-established the Jewish religion in Jerusalem. The Jewish feast of Hanukkah celebrates this event.
I think this is a good example of Jewish zeal for God. They were, after all, trying to be obedient in keeping the Law and doing what God had revealed to them to do, and they would fight to the death rather than disobey what God had told them to do. (On a side note, is it any wonder the Jews were suspicious of the Gentiles–even somewhat repulsed by the idea that a Gentle could is just as righteous as a Jew in Christ, given the history?). Paul himself was zealous for what he believed God had commanded in His Law when he persecuted Christians.
Do we see this kind of zeal today? Certainly among Muslims. Also with Jehovah’s Witnesses and other groups that are active in knocking on doors and sharing their beliefs regardless of what people think. Indeed, such often put us to shame. But is that real zeal? Paul says that the Jewish zeal for God was “without knowledge” or “without understanding.” Such zeal looks good, but perhaps it’s all external: zeal because they don’t want to appear “unfaithful,” lest they be excluded from their group. Or zeal because they believe such zeal is necessary to be acceptable before God. Someone in the group made the comment that nominal Christians aren’t zealous. Since many such people teach that as long as you love, God will accept you, they don’t have anything to fight for. However, I think people like that would become quite zealous for their point of view if challenged. How many of them would come out fighting if you point out sin and the need for repentance? Words like “judgmental,” “divisive,” and “hate-monger” are not peaceful terms!
While Christians need to be zealous to stand up for their faith, and do what is pleasing to God regardless of the consequences, perhaps such zeal begins in our own hearts. First, we should be zealous in dealing with our sin, and holding ourselves up to a high standard of holiness–not because this earns us favor with God, but because of what God has done for us, that we might honor Him with our lives.
The zeal of the Jews is misguided, says Paul, because they are ignorant (Greek verb: agnoeô) of God’s righteousness, and rather than try to understand this, they establish their own righteousness. This goes back to 9:31-32, where Paul talks about Gentiles attaining God’s righteousness though they weren’t pursuing it, while Jews missed out on God’s righteousness even though they were striving for it. The key element is faith: the Gentiles believed and were considered righteous, but the Jews were trying to attain righteousness by means of the Law. As Paul has discussed before, the Law is good, but it was never meant to make anyone righteous. The Law shines a spotlight on our sin, which should then drive us to God in faith. In Christ, and Christ alone, is that right standing with God to be found. It is this righteousness proclaimed in the gospel message the Jews have rejected in favor of their own righteousness.
Paul says that Christ is “the end (Greek: telos) of the Law. In what sense? Does he mean that when Christ came, the era of the Law ended, such that the Law has been done away with? Or in the sense that Christ is the culmination of the Law, it’s fulfillment: the Law is still relevant, but it finds its completion in Christ? I think the latter view is more biblical. Indeed, Jesus said that he hadn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). This is also consistent with what Paul is saying about the Law: it’s good, and without it we wouldn’t recognize our sin for what it is. So it must have lasting validity. However, the Law is not an end unto itself. It’s end is Christ. The Law pointed to our need for Christ, the Torah–the first five books of the Old Testament–foreshadow Christ, and in Christ alone do we find the righteous requirements of the Law fulfilled on our behalf.
We’ll pick up with verse 5 on Sunday. If you were at the study and remember something important I left out, please mention this in the comments. Also, if you have any questions or further comments on what we discussed–whether or not you were there–please make use of the the comments!