The Forbearance of God: Romans 3:25-26
“25) … because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26) for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time…”
Paul now touches on a concept of God’s timing and patience that is seldom talked about or understood. The word “forbearance” as used in verse 25, related to God’s response to human sin for the duration of the Old Testament up to the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ on the cross as the payment for sin.
It can be argued that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament provided a temporary bases for covering human sin, but the work of Jesus Christ on the cross provided a permanent basis for human salvation and the forgiveness of sin. This is the argument behind the book of Hebrews and how Jesus Christ fulfilled everything from being a better priesthood to offering a better sacrifice than the blood of bulls and goats for human sin.
This can get very complicated and confusing, but the Old Testament saints were saved “by faith” looking forward to what was to come in Jesus Christ, and all of humanity beyond that point are saved “by faith” looking back at the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. This relates both to forgiveness of sin and eternal judgement. This is what makes the work of Jesus Christ the climax and focal point of all of biblical history.
Though there were cases of God’s wrath at certain times in human history like the flood of Noah’s day, this is small compared to the eternal judgement to come at the end of the book of Revelation. People from every time and era are awaiting the Great White Throne Judgement talked about in Revelation 20:7-15. That event will happen at the same time for all of humanity no matter when they actually lived on earth.
Peter also used this quality of God to explain His patience with people at the present time wanting more to come to salvation. (See 2 Peter 3:8-13) God will endure human sin for a period of time to allow the gospel to reach more people. But he points out that there will be an end to God’s forbearance. Time will run out and all of God’s promises will be fulfilled.
This brings up another significant discussion. Why did the Jewish people reject Jesus Christ as the Messiah? Part of the reason was that they expected the Messiah to come at the end of the six millennium and not at the end of the fourth millennium of biblical history.
This was based on the model of creation itself. God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh. In 2 Peter 3:8, Peter quoted Psalm 90:4 where a thousands years are as yesterday when it passes from God’s perspective. His timetable is very different from ours. With the Lord, one day is as a thousand years and a thousands years as one day.
This also illustrates the fact that the church age was a mystery to the Jewish people in the Old Testament. They understood the coming work of the Messiah from Scriptures like Isaiah 53, but the Old Testament was nearly silent about the salvation of the Gentiles and the establishment of the church age and the accompanying ministry of the Holy Spirit.
From a purely Jewish perspective, the nation of Israel and Jewish scholars are just now starting to look for the return of the Messiah. Why? Because we are just now wrapping up the sixth millennium of human history as revealed in the Bible. Biblical prophecy is rushing to a climax from both the perspective of the Jewish nation and the perspective of the church age. We can conclude that God’s forbearance is running thin.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global