Because of our religious and secular preconditioning, these passages in in Romans 11 can be difficult to understand. Paul utilizes symbolic language to emphasize his point, which is the eventual restoration of the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a solid grasp of the context or of biblical symbolism. Trees are often symbolic of people, kingdoms and dominions. Babylon, for example, grew into a mighty tree conquering the known world. Its rootstock was Nebuchadnezzar. His tree grew into a great nation covering the earth, but in the end his tree was cut down. However, the stump and roots remained in the earth ready to spring up again at a future time (Daniel 4:11-15)
Concerning the context, keep in mind that Paul wrote to the Romans form Corinth. He was not visiting the city of Rome at that time. Thus, when he uses terms like ye, thee, thou and you, we aren’t exactly sure to whom he was speaking. As to the occasion of the writing of this epistle, Adam Clark says, “Paul had been made acquainted with all the circumstances of the Christians at Rome, by Aquila and Priscilla, (see Rom 16:3), and by other Jews who had been expelled from Rome by the decree of Claudius, (mentioned Act 18.2); and, finding that they consisted partly of heathens converted to Christianity, and partly of Jews who had, with many remaining prejudices, believed in Jesus as the true Messiah, and that many contentions arose from the claims of the Gentile converts to equal privileges with the Jews, and from the absolute refusal of the Jews to admit these claims unless the Gentile converts became circumcised (thus becoming Jewish proselytes), he wrote to adjust and settle these differences.”
Given the chance the Biblical will interpret itself. The CONTEXT of Romans 9-10-11 is fallen Israel. The Church is the Body of Christ. We are NOT Israel. Although Gentiles may be “grafted into” the olive tree, the Church, the Body of Christ, CANNOT!
This study focuses on Rom 11:17-24, the cultivated and the wild olive trees.
In this passage, we tend to be thrown off course right from the start. Our focus turns immediately to the two olive trees. We assume the timing is this Church age. But the context doesn’t support that assumption. Paul’s focus is on the nation of Israel’s future restoration, not the here and now. “God has not cast away His people which He foreknew,” verse 2. “…blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in,” verse 25—The “fullness of the gentiles” CANNOT happen before the rapture of the Church. Some Jews today accept Christ as their Savior and join with the Church…where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, just the Body of Christ…but the majority of Jews will deny Christ till this present age (the dispensation [Strong’s G3622] of the Grace of God, Eph 3:2), has ended. After the rapture will come great tribulation. As the tribulation draws to its climax, at the appearance of Jesus Christ to rescue His people, the hearts of the Jews will be broken. Zacheriah 12 and 13 tell how deeply they will mourn and cry over their King and Messiah they had rejected when Christ appears to redeem them.
Without going into great detail, keep in mind that God raised up Israel to be His elect (Isa 45:3-4). It was Israel’s “God assigned responsibility” to be a light to the nations drawing the Gentiles to God (Isa 49:6; Matt 5:14). But time and again Israel failed. God gave them chance after chance and still they failed. Finally, He sent His Son whom they rejected, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” John 1:11; (See Matt 21:33-21:40).
NOTE: There are only two “elect,” Israel and Christ. The Church is only elect “in Christ” Isa 45:3-4; Lk 23:35.
As we come to Rom 11:17-24, fallen Israel, we are confronted with several difficulties, one of which is the nature and identity of the two olive trees. Another is, who are those grafted in, and who are the pruned? Then there is the “elephant in the room,” the Church, the Body of Christ. Where does the Body of Christ fit in?
Misunderstanding of this chapter leads to a seeming conundrum. If our salvation is secure in Christ, (which it is) and each of us is an integral member of Christ’s Body (which we are), how can even one of us ever be hacked from the tree? The answer is quite simple and obvious, we can’t! Take note that in Paul’s epistles he addresses three distinct groups of people: the Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church (1 Cor 10:32). This fact always plays into the CONTEXT. Each needs to be viewed in its proper perspective. Let’s look at each: the wild olive, Gentiles; The good olive, faithful Israel; the Church, the Body of Christ.
The Wild olive tree…Gentiles…is rooted in the earth. It is uncultivated, left to grow on its own. Its most significant characteristic is that it bears no fruit (for God). The Gentile nations have no holiness. They have long ago, at Bable, abandoned God in favor of a pantheon of idols. Although God did…and does…provide them sunshine and rain in due season, He mostly left them to themselves, “he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” Matt 5:45. Occasionally, God would intervene as with Nineveh in the book of Johan, “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; (meaning children) and [also] much cattle?” Jonah 4:11. Wikipedia teaches us that the wild olive, which ancient Greeks distinguished from the cultivated olive tree, was used to fashion the olive wreath awarded victors at the ancient Olympic games. The ancient and sacred wild-olive tree of Olympia stood near the Temple of Zeus, patron of the games. Thus, the imagery is of something that is unfruitful and unholy.
The good olive tree, Israel, was blessed, tended, cultivated, groomed, watered, and watched over in hopes that she would bring forth abundant good fruit – thus drawing the nations to God as He intended. However, the Jews despised the Gentiles, considering themselves superior. Even the proselytes (Gentiles who convert to Judaism) were looked down upon.
Israel’s rootstock is Father Abraham and extends through Isaac and Jacob (Dan 1:8; 9:5,27; 2Ki 13:23; Jer 33:24-26). It is Abraham’s “faith” from which Israel grew. Abraham and his faith are why Israel is blessed and chosen…elect…people of God. He is why they are called a “holy nation,” “For if the firstfruit [be] holy, the lump [is] also [holy]: and if the root [be] holy, so [are] the branches,” Rom 11:16. Although they have failed, in God’s heart they are still a holy nation. He promises that one day, “…all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this [is] my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins,” Romans 11:26-27. Notice that this salvation is only after Jesus returns to save His people, the “remnant” of Israel, the faithful, the cultivated olive.
Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Ro 9:6 (KJV) BUT 28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. Ro 2:28-29 (KJV).
The Church, on the other hand, is composed of faithful followers of Jesus Christ also springing up from the rootstock of faithful Father Abraham (Rom 4:9-18). The Church is Christ’s flesh and bones, (Eph 5:30-32) and has no relationship with or path to God through Isaac or Jacob. The following passages give us a clear perspective as to where we, who are of the faith of Abraham, stand.
“Therefore [it is] of faith, that [it might be] by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,” Rom 4:16.
“Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, [saying], In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham,” Gal 3:6-9.
The answer to our dilemma is that the Church, Body of Christ, the faithful seed of Abraham, is NOT grafted into the olive tree…the earthly, faithful nation of Israel…into which believers will be grafted into after the rapture of the Church, when the age of Grace has ended. They are grafted in so that they will produce abundant good fruit—branches who will be fruit bearers. Both Jew and Gentile are blessed while the fruitless, unfaithful branches are cast away to be burned (John 15:6).
The Timing: In chapter nine Paul examined Israel’s history and reaffirms that Abraham’s earthly family will come through Isaac and Jacob because of their election, verse 11. In chapter ten Paul looks at Israel’s present state (first century A. D.). He says emphatically that Israel “has a zeal for God but without knowledge.” They seek to establish their own righteousness while denying Christ their Messiah and King, who is the righteousness of God. They were not producing fruit…they should have been a “light on the hill.” Heartbreaking as it is, in chapter ten Paul acknowledges that Israel lost her way, “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people,” Rom 10:21. Chapter eleven confirms Israel’s future restoration – which lies beyond this age of grace, when they will finally be that “light on a hill” drawing Nations to Christ as they evangelize the world during His millennial reign.
How do we identify the Gentiles who are grafted in? They cannot be members of the Body of Christ, the Church. As we have already seen, the Church is “in Christ,” eternally secure. Jesus isn’t going to be loping off His body parts: limbs, arms, fingers, ears, whatever. Each member of the Body is sealed by the Holy Spirit. It is our works…wood, hay, stubble – gold, silver, precious jewels…that will be judged, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (We are saved through our faith in Jesus Christ, not by our works. Our works will determine our rewards in heaven). Thus, the time of the grafting and pruning must be outside of this dispensation. In Paul’s day, the Church (Body of Christ) was under construction. It was a transition period during which Israel was diminishing as the Church grew. There were Kingdom Gentiles coming to God through Israel – The Centurion in Mat 8:1-13; the faithful Canaanite woman in Mat 15:22-28; Cornelius with his family and servants in Acts 10:1-38 are just a few examples of Jewish proselytes turning to Christ.
Where in the Bible can we find an occasion that fits this scenario? Is there an incident where some Gentiles are grafted into the Kingdom and others are pruned? YES!
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, (at the end of the Great Tribulation) then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand (grafted in), but the goats on the left (lopped off). 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, (the fruit bearing branches) Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, (the dead, fruitless branches) Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels… 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” Matt 25:31-34; 41-46.
Paul’s point in chapter eleven is twofold. First, “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew…” Rom 11:2. There will be a future restoration of the nation of Israel.
Second, through their fall…Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and King…salvation had come to the Gentiles. How has this happened? After the Jews rejected God, the pathway to Him for the nations was no longer through available through Israel, through the “oracles of God,” (Moses and the prophets). In eternity past, before the foundation of the world God had already devised a plan, a “mystery” which was kept secret from before the foundation of the world (Rom 16:25) – the Church, the Body of Christ. This would not be the church in the wilderness or the church in the four gospels, but a new creation, an ecclesia called out in Jesus Christ to spread the knowledge of His coming and the “Gospel of the grace of God” throughout all the earth. Beginning in Acts 9 Jesus raised up Saul and appointed him to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, to begin building His Church, His Body (Acts 9:1-6). As Israel has roots in an earthly Kingdom, the Church, the Body of Christ, is seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 1:21-23). The Church is both Abraham’s seed and coheirs with Christ thus bypassing Isaac and Jacob, the roots of Israel.
“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with [him], that we may be also glorified together,” Rom 8:17.
“And if ye [be] Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” Gal 3:29.
“and heirs according to the promise,” being the children of God, we are heirs of God; and being the spiritual children of Abraham, the children of the promise, which are counted for the seed, we are, according to the promise made to Abraham and his spiritual seed, heirs of the blessings of the grace of life, and of the eternal inheritance; of the blessing of justification of life, and of everlasting salvation; of this world and of the world to come; of all the spiritual blessings of the covenant of grace, and of the incorruptible and undefiled inheritance of the saints in light; to which they are begotten through the abundant mercy of God, for which they are made meet by the grace of Christ; and to which they have a right by his justifying righteousness.” John Gill‘s Exposition of the Entire Bible.
Shortly after Paul’s death (circa 68 A.D.) Israel was placed into abeyance. “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” Lu 21:24 (KJV). Israel was to lose her land, Temple and priesthood (Rome murdered every last priest – Josephus), and would be dispersed throughout the earth. However, they would remain a distinct people never to take root outside the land of Judea, “For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as [corn] is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth” Amos 9:9. During the Great Tribulation Gentile reign over the earth will end at the appearance of Jesus Christ to rescue His people – the faithful remnant of Israel including the multitudes of gentiles who will come to Christ during that time. Then, both the “times of the gentiles” and the “fullness of the Gentiles” will see their fulfillment.
During the “Kingdom age” Israel will finally fulfill her responsibility of being the “light to the nations,” drawing Gentiles (the millennial nations and their children) to Christ while living in a perfect world ruled by Jesus, Himself. Sadly, when Satan is released “for a little season“ at the end of the millennia, many will yield to their carnal lusts. Not satisfied with the abundance they enjoy under Christ’s reign and desiring to control and possess what their neighbors have, to their detriment they will follow after their father Satan and attack the saints of God and the holy city, (Rev 20:7-9).
Unlike the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ…His flesh and bones…neither Jews nor Gentile proselytes were ever “sealed” by the Holy Spirit (2Co 1:22; Eph 1:13; Eph 4:30). Yes, they were filled with the Spirit just as Old Testament prophets were, but never sealed. When Israel had her kingdom, Jews and Gentile proselytes could fall from faith and be pruned from the good olive tree—Just as it will be in the millennium.
A last thought. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is the Christ and trusts in Him as their Lord and Savior is sealed with the Holy Spirit and cannot lose their salvation. CANNOT! That is a promise from God. We are His “…children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with [him], that we may be also glorified together.” Rom 8:17 (KJV). “In whom ye also [trusted], after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Eph 1:13 (KJV). Unlike Israel, the Church, Body of Christ, has a relationship NOT based on Moses. Our relationship with God is entirely through Jesus Christ. We are neither grafted in nor can we be lopped off.
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