(Rom. 11:25-26 ESV) 25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon [ethnic] Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
It’s a mistake, I think, to assume that the fullness of the Gentiles’ salvation (Rom 11:25) is the Second Coming. It’s far more likely that it happened fairly early in the church’s history. After all, if Paul is right, God only needed enough time to make the Jews jealous of the Gentiles’ salvation (Rom 10:19-21). And why delay the entry of the Jews until the end of the age? This wouldn’t do much good for most Jews.
The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is a possible time, and may be exactly when this happened. It’s possible that many Jews converted to Christianity in the wake of God’s obvious rejection of the Jews when the Temple was pulled down by Roman grappling hooks. But history doesn’t speak either way. It’s a good possibility and would fit well with Paul’s anticipation that it could happen as quickly as during his own life.
But there’s another possibility that interesting to consider. Little studied in American history classes, much less in Sunday school, and even not in most theological courses, is the very important Bar Kochba (or Kokhba) rebellion. Around 132 AD, the Jews rebelled a second time, this time under Emperor Hadrian.
Many Jews considered a Judean the messiah — the son of the star (Shimon Bar Kochba). Even the great rabbi Akiva (or Akiba) was persuaded. The rebellion was widespread. Jews across the Empire rebelled, and the Romans put the rebellion down ruthlessly.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library,
The turning point of the war came when Hadrian sent into Judea one of his best generals from Britain, Julius Severus, along with former governor of Germania, Hadrianus Quintus Lollius Urbicus. By that time, there were 12 army legions from Egypt, Britain, Syria and other areas in Judea. Due to the large number of Jewish rebels, instead of waging open war, Severus besieged Jewish fortresses and held back food until the Jews grew weak. Only then did his attack escalate into outright war. The Romans demolished all 50 Jewish fortresses and 985 villages. The main conflicts took place in Judea, the Shephela, the mountains and the Judean desert, though fighting also spread to Northern Israel. The Romans suffered heavy casualties as well and Hadrian did not send his usual message to the Senate that “I and my army are well.”
The final battle of the war took place in Bethar, Bar-Kokhba’s headquarters, which housed both the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Court) and the home of the Nasi (leader). Bethar was a vital military stronghold because of its strategic location on a mountain ridge overlooking both the Valley of Sorek and the important Jerusalem-Bet Guvrin Road. Thousands of Jewish refugees fled to Bethar during the war. In 135 C.E., Hadrian’s army besieged Bethar and on the 9th of Av, the Jewish fast day commemorating the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples, the walls of Bethar fell. After a fierce battle, every Jew in Bethar was killed. Six days passed before the Romans allowed the Jews to bury their dead.
Following the battle of Bethar, there were a few small skirmishes in the Judean Desert Caves, but the war was essentially over and Judean independence was lost. The Romans plowed Jerusalem with a yoke of oxen. Jews were sold into slavery and many were transported to Egypt. Judean settlements were not rebuilt. Jerusalem was turned into a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina and the Jews were forbidden to live there. They were permitted to enter only on the 9th of Av to mourn their losses in the revolt. Hadrian changed the country’s name from Judea to Syria Palestina.
The key point is the following (emphasis added):
In the years following the revolt, Hadrian discriminated against all Judeo-Christian sects, but the worst persecution was directed against religious Jews. He made anti-religious decrees forbidding Torah study, Sabbath observance, circumcision, Jewish courts, meeting in synagogues and other ritual practices. Many Jews assimilated and many sages and prominent men were martyred including Rabbi Akiva and the rest of the Asara Harugei Malchut (ten martyrs). This age of persecution lasted throughout the remainder of Hadrian’s reign, until 138 C.E.
Sounds like a moment in history when the Jews might have become jealous of the salvation of the Gentiles, reconsidered their unbelief, and converted in large numbers.
According to Jewish History,
[Hadrian] realized that the final solution to the Jewish problem lay not only in killing Jews but in destroying Judaism. As long as the Jews had their religion no one would ever really be able to eradicate them entirely. Therefore, he issued decrees that outlawed Judaism on the pain of death. The decrees of Hadrian were the most fearsome in history against the Jewish people.
Teaching Torah was the worst “crime” a Jew could commit under these circumstances. Jewish tradition is rich with stories about the “10 Martyrs Murdered by the [Roman] Government.” It is during Hadrian’s reign that this happened. He was not content merely killing these great rabbis, but doing it in public display of brutality and torture, hoping to crush the spirit of the Jewish people. Foremost among the martyrs was Rabbi Akiva.
Hadrian did not stop there. He forbade mention of the name Jerusalem and renamed the holy city, Aelia Capitolina. He also forbade Jews from living there. Most notable of all, he employed an army of slaves to plow over the Temple Mount. He simply lowered it almost 1,000 feet. When one goes to Jerusalem today, the mountains around the Temple Mount (such as the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus) are taller. Before Hadrian, however, Mount Moriah (the mountain upon with the Temple stood) was the highest mountain there. Hadrian literally reconstructed the landscape in order to prove to the Jews that it would never be rebuilt again.
Overall, Hadrian unleashed an eight to ten year reign of persecution after the defeat of Bar Kochba almost unmatched in Jewish history. It did not end until Hadrian died. His successor, Antoninus Pious, not only overturned his decrees but was very benevolent toward the Jews. Even so, the Jewish people after Hadrian were crushed almost beyond recognition. Bar Kochba’s defeat marked the end of any sort of Jewish autonomy in the Jewish homeland until the twentieth century.
The Wikipedia advises,
Modern historians view the Bar-Kokhba Revolt as being of decisive historic importance. The massive destruction and loss of life occasioned by the revolt has led some scholars such as Bernard Lewis to date the beginning of the Jewish diaspora from this date. They note that, unlike the aftermath of the First Jewish–Roman War chronicled by Josephus, the majority of the Jewish population of Judea was either killed, exiled, or sold into slavery after the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, and Jewish religious and political authority was suppressed far more brutally. After the revolt, the Jewish religious center shifted to the Babylonian Jewish community and its scholars. Judea would not be a center of Jewish religious, cultural, or political life again until the modern era, although Jews continued to sporadically populate it and important religious developments have still taken place. The Galilee became a more important center for Rabbinic Judaism, where the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled in 4th-5th centuries CE.
After the Bar Kochba rebellion, the Romans developed a distinct hatred for the Jews as disloyal and traitorous. The Jewish institutions were severely suppressed, and Christianity came to be perceived as something distinct from Judaism. Indeed, the roots of European Jewish discrimination start here. It’s easy to imagine many of the Jews that survived becoming jealous of the salvation of the Gentiles and converting.
(Rom. 10:19-21 ESV) 19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” 20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” 21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
To me, this sounds very much like the aftermath of the Bar Kochba rebellion. The Christians were not a nation at this time. During the Fourth Century, shortly after Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of Rome and all but mandatory. The Christians in fact became a nation. Hence, we might take Paul to say that “those who are not a nation” are the Christians in the aftermath of the Bar Kochba rebellion. The “foolish nation” was Rome (hardly a term the Spirit would use to refer to Christians). And the Jews who’d just rebelled yet again against Rome, following a false messiah, only to suffer severe persecution at the hands of the Romans, certainly fit the definition of “a disobedient and contrary people.”
This seems a far preferable interpretation to assuming that God is going to bring the Jews into the Kingdom in the distant future. After all, by the time of the Bar Kochba rebellion, the gospel had been taken to the entire Empire and to many surrounding nations — to the entire known world (cf. Rom 10:18; Col 1:6, 23) — and was rapidly growing.
I’m speculating, of course. The records from this period of history are very scanty. The Romans made a point of destroying as much Jewish literature as they could manage, and the Christian church was not yet in the habit of writing its own history. Or it could be the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. That may well fit Paul’s words as well, if not better.
I don’t think Paul meant to say that every single Jew would be saved, only that the hardening of their hearts would end so that, having been shown to be a disobedient people, they could be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Messiah.
As a matter of history, we don’t know how many Jews converted to Christianity at this time, but we know that many did and that they had every reason to compare the kingdom brought by Messiah Jesus, a spiritual kingdom, with the kingdom brought by false messiah Bar Kochba, a worldly kingdom — and surely by then it was obvious that —
(Matt. 26:52 ESV) 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
(Jn. 18:36 ESV) 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”