In Romans 9:22, Paul is speaking about Pharaoh and Moses. What does “prepared for destruction” mean?
Romans 9:22 is part of the first volley of Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11 concerning his people, the Jews, and how God has dealt with them over time. Calvinists love this chapter because it contains words like election (Romans 9:11) and concepts like God choosing one over another.
But that’s not what this section of the chapter is about. Paul opens by talking about how he wishes all of Israel will be saved. He is in anguish over the fate of Israel, his people. He talks about the concept of being a spiritual Jew rather than an ethnic Jew.
God’s chosen people are not from one race. They are people who are part of the children of promise from Abraham, Isaac. This is why Paul is upset. There are Jews who will not be in heaven as far as he understands it because they are not choosing their Messiah, Jesus
Paul introduces several foundational concepts in this first part of Romans 9. The first is the idea that God has a sovereign choice that he can make. He chooses Jacob over Esau and that is his prerogative. But he then made his family open to whoever accepts Jesus Christ.
The second concept Paul introduces in this section of the chapter is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart Romans 9:16-18). But during the plagues, Pharaoh hardened his heart over and over before God finalized it and hardened his heart (Exodus 7:13, 23; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 35; 10:20, 27; 11:10).
Throughout the whole series of the plagues Pharaoh hardens his heart over and over until the Lord hardens it because he has made that decision and refuses to change. God honors our decisions and they are finalized at the moment of our death. It is the same for Jews who do not accept Christ and become believing Jews.
Then Paul brings up God’s sovereignty again and says that he can make out of the Clay whatever he wishes. He can make vessels for honorable and dishonorable use. This is where Romans 9:22 comes in. The argument still concerns the Jews and the Gentiles.
Paul is the missionary to the Gentiles. He understands that God has opened the door for the Gentiles to receive his salvation. Later he will introduce the idea of grafting in the disciples to the Jews, God’s chosen people. He will make a new tree, what I call, “the composite people of God.” This includes believing Jews and believe in Gentiles.
This leaves the question of who the vessels are. Calvinists get the idea from the words “prepared for destruction” and “prepared beforehand for glory” that these things were set in motion and can’t be changed.
But what Paul is talking about is that anyone who believes in Jesus is prepared for glory beforehand (meaning that at the moment of salvation they were prepared) and that those who are not part of the believing tree of people are prepared for destruction.
You don’t have to understand this as something that God set in motion before the creation of the world. The idea here is that the people who are part of the tree are then prepared for glory and those who are not part of believing “Israel” (God’s people) are prepared for destruction because of their choice to harden their heart against the message of the gospel of the Messiah (Christ).
This is why Paul is upset. He wants his people, the Jewish nation, ethnic Jews, to be saved for eternity. But they must believe in Christ, the Messiah, Jesus. God cannot accept an ethnic Jew just because he is an ethnic Jew. The key is not ethnicity. The key is belief in Jesus.