Romans 11, Part 3
Dec 21, 2010
Beginning in Romans 11:17, Paul begins to explain how some of the "branches" of the Kingdom Tree were broken off and how other branches were grafted in.
(17) But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, (18) do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.
Paul was referring primarily to the prophecy of Jeremiah 11, which is a messianic prophecy of the plot against the coming Messiah. Beginning in verse 9 we read,
(9) Then the Lord said to me, "A conspiracy has been found among the men of Judah and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (10) They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.
God then tells Jeremiah not to pray for them, because "I will not listen when they call to Me" (11:14).
(15) What right has My beloved in My house when she has done many vile deeds? Can the sacrificial flesh take away from you your disaster, so that you can rejoice?
This tells us that the Old Testament sacrifices, apart from repentance, cannot prevent divine judgment. God is not impressed with such sacrifice and ritual. The people were plotting against Jeremiah, who represented God and was a type of Christ in this, for he is said to be "a gentle lamb led to the slaughter." (Compare this with Isaiah 53:7.)
(16) The Lord called your name, "A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form"; with the noise of a great tumult, He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are worthless. (17) And the Lord of hosts, who planted you, has pronounced evil against you because of the evil ofthe house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me by offering up sacrifices to Baal... (19) But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.
Even as the people plotted against Jeremiah, so also did they plot against the Messiah 600 years later. But the point of this is to show that Isarel and Judah was called "a green olive tree." God had planted this "tree" in the land of Canaan in the days of Joshua, but when it came time to bear fruit, its branches were "worthless." In Jer. 2:21, which is a similar prophecy, the "vine" is said to have degenerated into "a foreign vine" on account of their seeking after foreign gods.
The divine judgment for thus breaking the covenant is to burn up the worthless branches. God does to the tree what the people had thought to do to Jeremiah, who is himself pictured in verse 19 as "the tree with its fruit." The judgment of the law is "eye for eye," or in this case, branch for branch.
The (united) house of Israel is sometimes pictured as an olive tree (Jer. 11:16), at other times a grape vine (Isaiah 5), and also as a fig tree (Jer. 23). One must study the context to see how each prophecy is applicable. Yet when Paul discusses this topic in Romans 11, he uses the term "wild olive" in the sense of a foreign vine (Jer. 2:21). The olive tree was supposed to bear good fruit, but it bore either worthless fruit or no fruit at all.
The "wild olive" in Rom. 11:17 is obviously being grafted into the "tree" to replace the branches that had been broken off. So in this sense the "wild olive" represents the ethnos. They are not only non-Israelites by nature, but ex-Israelites of the dispersion who had become "wild" by following after other gods.
This "grafting" process is the prophetic expression of the regathering of Israel and other ethnos into the Kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ.
The other side of the prophecy, of course, is the fact that some "natural" branches were being broken off. These are the ones who had rejected Jesus Christ, who is both the "root" (Rev. 22:16) and "true vine" (John 15:1). Branches must be connected to Christ in order to have any life in them, for Jesus said in John 15:4-6,
(4) Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. . . (6) If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
Those who rejected Jesus Christ were branches that were cut off and "thrown away as a branch." They cannot claim descent from Abraham as a reason to remain "alive," for their life comes only by being connected to Jesus Christ.
Paul only warns the newly-engrafted branches not to be arrogant against those branches that had been cut off. It is as if he sensed that the Church would later come into a position of power and would use that power to oppress the Jews and punish them, trying to coerce them by the flesh into accepting Jesus Christ. That is the "arrogant" spirit that Paul foresaw in the Church.
(19) You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." (20) Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; (21) for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. (22) Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity; but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.
The Law of God is impartial toward all. Those with faith are treated with "kindness." Those who do not have faith receive the "severity of God." One cannot appeal to a genealogical connection with Abraham to obtain God's kindness (grace) or to avoid His severity. There is only one way to be a branch on the Kingdom Tree. It is by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
(23) And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.
Those Judeans who repent of their rejection of Jesus Christ are as easily grafted back into the Kingdom Tree as anyone else. Yet because of the Dual Covenant Theology that is becoming more and more popular today among Christian Zionists, let it be made clear that no Jew can be saved apart from Jesus Christ and the New Covenant. The only way that a Jew--or anyone else--will be grafted into this Tree is "if they do not continue in their unbelief."
(24) For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
Normally, one would graft good olive branches upon a wild olive stock to produce good fruit. But God does the reverse. He takes the wild olive branches and grafts them into the good olive stock (Christ). The only condition is faith, but faith is what changes the branches from "wild" to "cultivated." The problem in Jeremiah's day was the same as in the days of Paul--the people thought that their covenant with God was based on their genealogy, rather than upon their faith.
Paul refused to given them a free pass into the Kingdom, insisting that there is only one Door, and that is Jesus Christ.
This is the third part of a series titled "Romans 11." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones