What does Romans 9:23 mean?
ESV: in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory —
NIV: What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—
NASB: And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon objects of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,
CSB: And what if he did this to make known the riches of his glory on objects of mercy that he prepared beforehand for glory —
NLT: He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory.
KJV: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
NKJV: and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,
Verse Commentary:
Paul, making the case that God has and exercises the right to show mercy or not to humans as He pleases, has compared God to a potter. What if God, the potter, purposefully made some to be vessels of wrath, explicitly prepared for destruction? However, what if He endured with much patience those vessels even though He desired to show His wrath and power?

More specifically, Paul asks, now completing the thought, what if God endures those vessels of wrath with patience, not yet destroying them, in order to make known the riches of His glory for the vessels of mercy? He finished by stating that the vessels of mercy have been prepared beforehand for glory. That last thought fits with what Paul wrote in the previous chapter about all of those who are in Christ (Romans 8:31–39). God predestined, called, justified, and will glorify all who come to Him by faith in Christ.

Paul's main idea here, though, seems to be this: God's relationship to "vessels of wrath" somehow serves His purpose to reveal His glory to the "vessels created for mercy." He will use the destruction of the dishonorable vessels to accomplish His purpose of mercy for those in Christ.

Theological difference aside, we can take certain universal points away from this. Some vessels—some people—are destined for destruction and will suffer God's wrath, which all people deserve because of sin (Romans 3:10; 3:23). Other vessels—other persons—will be shown mercy, even though they also deserve wrath because of God's merciful work through Christ. However the choice is made, or how the details might work, God will call people to faith in Christ—He will elect, or predestine—anyone He wants to. He will hold all others responsible for not trusting in Christ. Not only is this just, it's also merciful, and entirely within His rights as the Creator. He is God.
Verse Context:
Romans 9:19–29 deals with the issue of whether or not God's sovereign choice to bless some, and not others, is ''fair,'' in the way we often use that term. Paul's essential argument is that God is God, and as the Creator, He has the right to do as He wishes with His own creation. A potter can choose how to use clay, and that clay has no cause to complain that it was chosen for one purpose or another. In the same way, God has the absolute right to choose whom He will save. Quotations from Hosea and Isaiah are used to show that this sovereignty extends to God's plan to include Gentiles in the plan of salvation.
Chapter Summary:
Romans 9 begins with Paul describing his anguish for his people Israel in their rejection of Christ. After describing all the privileges God has given to the Jewish people as a nation, Paul insists that God will keep those promises. However, not every person born to Israel belongs to Israel, he writes. God reserves the right to show mercy to some and not others, as Paul demonstrates from Scripture. God is like a potter who creates some vessels for destruction and others for glory. God has called out His people from both the Gentiles and the Jews to faith in Christ, the stumbling stone.
Chapter Context:
Romans 8 ended with Paul's grand declaration that nothing can separate those who are in Christ Jesus from the love of God. Romans 9 turns a sharp corner and finds Paul heartbroken that his people, the Jews, have rejected Christ. He insists that God will keep His promises to Israel, but that not everyone born to Israel is truly Israel. God will show mercy to whomever He wishes, calling out His people from both the Jews and the Gentiles to faith in Christ. Romans 10 will find Paul discussing how Jewish people can be saved.
Book Summary:
The book of Romans is the New Testament's longest, most structured, and most detailed description of Christian theology. Paul lays out the core of the gospel message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. His intent is to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in accurate and clear terms. As part of this effort, Paul addresses the conflicts between law and grace, between Jews and Gentiles, and between sin and righteousness. As is common in his writing, Paul closes out his letter with a series of practical applications.
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