Consider this post an addendum to the series I just completed.
In my last post I explained how in light of the meta-narrative of the scriptures, God’s purpose and plan of Israel was to be the people of God – Jews and Gentiles. Thus I hold to two distinct ways in which the phrase “Israel” is employed throughout Paul’s writings. For example, in Romans 9-11 I believe that Paul has both Israel’s in mind, a nation of Israel which has been hardened (11:25) for the sake of the Gentiles, the second being shorthand for “Israelites” as in, individual Jews (11:1) or as in Jews and Gentiles together (cf. Galatians 6:16). So naturally I understand “in this way all Israel will be saved” (11:26) as being a reference to Jews and Gentiles since the phrase “in this way” points to the phrase directly before it, “Until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”. But then I come to the verses immediately after verse 26 and 27 and I read this phrase:
“As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”
The “they” seems to point to the “Israel” of verse 26 who will all be saved, and seems to distinguish them from the Gentiles which – if this reading is correct – would throw an ugly monkey wrench into the hypothesis that “Israel” in vs. 26 is referring to Jews and Gentiles.
So naturally when I read verses 28 and 29 it sounds like it is speaking of a salvific privilege not based on the gospel, but based on election and on the irrevocable calling of God. But what if this reading is slightly off center? Close, but off center. What if verses 28-29 refer back to verse 25 rather than 26? When read together (vss. 25-32) it seems to me that the flow of the passage centers on the “Israel” of verse 25 that has been hardened with the continued question (which Paul is answering throughout Romans 11) being, “will any more Israelites be saved or has the church become a Gentile institute?” If that is true than verse 26 partially answers that question by placing Gentiles within “Israel” (“this is how “Israel” will be saved, when all of the Gentiles have been grafted in”) rather than placing Gentiles into a separate category. This reminds the Gentiles that there is no salvation outside of Israel.
And so if that is the case than vss. 28-32 build on that answer. The “they” is a reference to the nation of Israel, but not in a way that looks back to vs. 26 and imagines an ingathering of the nation at the end times. It is rather a reference to the nation of Israel (vs. 25) – or rather, to all Israelites who hailed from their forefathers as a result of the election of Abraham – that the offer of salvation stands for them too. It is not an offer in the future, but an offer in the present (vs. 31b, “they also may now receive mercy”).
To paraphrase the entire section in my own words the main thrusts from verses 25-32 reads (and here is the paradigm shift I suggest, which makes better sense in my opinion with the whole of Romans):
“Hey you Gentiles don’t be conceited in thinking that from here on out only Gentiles will be saved. Keep in mind that a part of Israel has been hardened for your sake, (to hold off judgment) until the fullness of the Gentiles have been grafted into the vine (with believing Jews). (Keep in mind that together you two make up the Israel of God), and so this is how all Israel will be saved. Remember that when the Gospel came – that is, the Messiah – that they rejected Him (thus resulting in their hardening) and became enemies of God. But don’t forget that God still loves them and will continue to call them to salvation (throughout this present age even now) because of God’s election of their forefathers. Because of their rejection of the Messiah judgment has been postponed allowing time for you Gentiles to be shown mercy. For this same reason – the reason being that they corporately rejected the Messiah – they too, individually as they put aside the law and accept the Messiah in this present age even now, will receive mercy. For God has handed everyone over to the law (that is, that they are all disobedient because all have fallen short of the glory of God), so that He may have mercy on all (who accept the Messiah.)”
If this understanding of Romans 11 is correct than I see no more major objections (within myself) as to who Paul is referring to in Romans 11:26. Not everyone will be convinced by this series, I suspect that if I came at this passage from the other perspective I too would tend to resist this (or any) paradigm shift, and so with respect I simply agree to disagree with them. Some may be convinced; at least enough to entertain this paradigm shift, to tease it out and work out its implications and in time it may be that they may change their mind. In any case, we each grow at a different pace. For my own part, I have been extremely blessed by this study of Romans 11 and am appreciative of Mike Birds series where he brings this subject up, albeit from the other perspective.
 N.T. Wright believes that this is the primary question Paul takes up in Romans 11; vss. 1-11, “will any Jews be saved?” vss. 12-24, “will any more Jews be saved?” and vss. 28-32, “Paul sees a constant steady flow of Jews being saved now, in this present age.” I follow Wright in this interpretation. Romans 11 is a polemic against anti-Semitism.