The most famous Jew of the Bible, after the Judean Jesus, was Paul, the self-described “Pharisee of Pharisees.” That chief persecutor of Christians who was known first by his Hebrew name, Saul, adopted the Latinized version “Paul” after being famously, uniquely saved and anointed for service by the ascended Christ Himself on the road to Damascus, as recorded in Acts 22. When giving that testimony to King Agrippa in Acts 26:14, Paul reported that Jesus had said “in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
To kick against pricks (thorns) has ever since been a metaphor for foolishly harming oneself by persisting in futile acts against God’s will. Significantly, the thorns in question were almost certainly from the same plant of which Jesus’ Crown of Thorns was made: “Euphorbia milii,” known commonly today as “Christ thorn.”
Paul believed he was serving God by opposing the Christians but was only hurting himself because he didn’t understand God’s plan for the church until his spiritual eyes were opened – by being (temporarily) physically struck blind.
Likewise, many Christians in today’s “anti-Zionist” camp don’t understand God’s plan for the Jews and are thus “kicking against the pricks” by denying their right to the Holy Land.
As God’s post-conversion Apostle to the Gentiles, the Jews’-Jew-become-Christian Paul was uniquely qualified for his special mission as God’s messenger to non-Jews, and his letters provide us most of the reasoned systematic theology that defines Christianity. God’s perspective about the Jews and Judaism is scattered throughout Paul’s letters, but is most complete in his letter to the Romans, including the critical question of how Gentiles are to treat Jews in the Gentile age, filling the entire 11th chapter, key excerpts of which follow:
I [Paul] ask then, did God reject His people? Certainly not! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject His people, whom He foreknew. … What Israel [as a whole] was seeking, it failed to obtain, but the elect [those few Jews who accepted Christ] did. The others were hardened. … I ask then, did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Certainly not! However, because of their trespass, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous. … For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? … Now if some branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others to share in the nourishment of the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, remember this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.
You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” That is correct: … And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut from a wild olive tree, and contrary to nature were grafted into one that is cultivated, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you will not be conceited: A hardening in part has come to Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved [at the Second Coming, when] … The Deliverer will come from Zion. … For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.
Romans 11 is an unequivocal proof-text against “supersessionism” (replacement theology), which holds that the church fully replaced the Hebrews as the beneficiary of His covenant. Supersessionism (and its pernicious cousin punative supersessionism) is the great error of Roman Catholicism (which was largely retained by Protestantism in the Reformation), justifying the persecution of the Jews in many pogroms throughout history, and in turn causing Jews to create their own culture-shaping/controlling mechanisms in self-defense, as God gave them the power to do (Genesis 22:17c). My only goal here is to seek the objective truth above that fray.
As much as I love both Roman Catholics and Talmudic Jews whom I have known, both religious camps represent a departure from Scripture through the undue elevation of (sometimes false) human-created doctrines and interpretations that came to define them. But just as Paul noted in Romans 11:2-5, there has always been a remnant of true believers in both Christianity and Judaism (which fact does not nullify John 14:6).
One teaching of Romans 11 that is missed even among the otherwise biblically literate is the two house teaching. Recognizing the two houses is key to correcting both the false doctrine of supersessionism among Christians, and the false doctrine among religious Jews that Christians are unclean blasphemers. Paul’s reference to it may be more obvious to Jews than Christians, because it goes to the symbolism of the olive tree. The olive tree represents the original covenant-based house of Abraham and Isaac, which became two trees/two houses upon Jacob’s marriage to two wives. The two trees/two houses are “the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:1-14) who are also “my two witnesses … the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth” (Revelation 11:3-4).
When Paul cites “Israel” and “all Israel” in Romans 11 he means all 12 tribes of Jacob/Israel’s house. But when he cites the “wild olive tree” he means the 10-tribe House and Kingdom of Israel which was divorced by God, banished among the Gentiles (where it went wild), and then restored through Christ – ever since which it has been defined by Christianity.
And when Paul cites the batch of branches broken off from the cultivated “natural” olive tree, he means the (partially hardened) two-tribe-plus-Levites House of Judah (Judaism) that will be restored as a whole at the second coming of Christ (Matthew 23:39).
Thus, when Paul says in Romans 11:26 “all Israel” will be saved, he is talking about the harmonious reunification of the two houses under Christ in the Millennial Kingdom (Ezekiel 37:15-28) – the start of which is the second coming.
The Jews, though still (temporarily) blind to Jesus, have a prominent role in God’s plan, and so fighting against their clearly prophesied right to be in His land in these last days, or parroting the false supersessionist doctrine that they have no inheritance in Him, is just “kicking against the pricks.”
For more on this topic see Scott’s book “The Prodigal Son Prophecy: God’s Amazing Plan for the Restoration of the Two Hebrew Houses and the Salvation of the Gentiles,” which you may access without charge here.
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