Rom. 11: 15 appears to say that at the present time the world is reconciled to God. Is this true?


There are two passages of Scripture that directly bear on this matter: 2 Cor. 5: 17–20 and Rom. 11: 11–15—of which v15 (speaking of Israel) reads "For if their casting away [be the] world’s reconciliation, what [their] reception but life from among [the] dead?". But first we must be clear as to what reconciliation is.

   Sin "alienated" (Col. 1: 21) man and put him at a moral distance from God so that both Jew and Gentile became "enemies" (Rom. 5: 10) of God. But "God is love" (1 John 4: 8) and in keeping with His nature has acted through His Son to remove that moral distance entirely and to bring us to Himself. Thus, we read that Gentile and Jew are brought together in one body with no differences between them and are reconciled in that one body to God (see Eph. 2: 15, 16). Believers now "have been reconciled to God through the death of his Son" (Rom. 5: 10). But does reconciliation apply to the world at large as well?

   In the ways of God, "Jesus Christ became a minister of [the] circumcision for [the] truth of God to confirm the promises of the fathers; and that the nations should glorify God for mercy" (Rom. 15: 8, 9). Paul then quotes four OT passages to show that Israel’s fall was prophesied. The Lord came firstly to the Jew as their Messiah to set up the earthly kingdom promised in prophecy even though the Jews were morally just as alienated as the Gentile. The ministry of that kingdom is given in the synoptic Gospels. Now even though the Lord never spoke of reconciliation between God and man during His earthly ministry, the very fact of what people call the Incarnation demonstrated the spirit of reconciliation, of God drawing near to man as Emmanuel—God with us (see Matt. 1: 23). This is seen, for example, at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry in Luke 4: 16-20 where He read from Is. 61: 1, 2 but stopped short of reading the words "and the day of vengeance of our God". Why? Because it would have militated against the spirit of reconciliation. This brings us to 2 Cor. 5: 17–20 where we read "that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their offences" (v19). It was not the time of judgment but of offered blessing, of God coming near to man in Christ in the spirit of reconciliation. The Lord’s ministry had the character of reconciliation for man, even though that service was limited to Israel. The world was not actually reconciled otherwise what was the point of Paul saying in v20 "We are ambassadors therefore for Christ, God as [it were] beseeching by us, we entreat for Christ, Be reconciled to God"?

   However, the Jew rejected Christ and John’s Gospel takes account of that fact from the start (see John 1: 11). John writes when all hope of kingdom blessing was gone for the present. The sphere of testimony in John is described as the "world" (the word world occurs 21 times in the Synoptics but 74 times in John) and it is this world of which the Jew, along with the Gentile forms part. Now "God has not sent his Son into the world that he may judge the world, but that the world may be saved through him" (John 3: 17). This spirit of reconciliation is seen in, for example, "Neither do I condemn thee" (John 8: 11).

   Turning now to Rom. 11: 11–15, there the present is compared to the future and also Israel to the nations—that is Gentiles as distinct from Israel. Paul also speaks of the world in vs 12 and 15, and v12 shows that he equates the nations with the world as the same company. Now v15 may appear to say that at the present time, the world is reconciled, but as the translation shows, in much of this passage the definite article is omitted in the Greek. Now when the definite article is identified with a noun, what is conveyed by the noun is actual; if it is omitted, then whatever is conveyed by the noun is only characteristic. In v11, where there is no definite article, the text does not say that at the present time, the nations are saved but that "[there is] salvation to the nations"—salvation characterises the present time, not judgment. In v12 we have the thought of wealth, but again the definite article is dropped. The wealth is not specific or actual but characterises the present time—it is a time of wealth, not spiritual poverty. Israel’s downfall opened the door for the world to acquire spiritual wealth. It is the same in v15. With the definite articles, it would have meant that the world was actually reconciled now and that Israel would literally be raised from the dead in the future. But there are no definite articles. Israel’s "reception" will not be a literal physical resurrection but will have that character about it. The same is true of the first part of the verse: reconciliation is the character of God’s present dealings with the nations of the world. The world is not actually reconciled.

Updates