Romans 11

The natural and grafted in branches of the olive tree illustrate how

both Jews and Gentiles can be saved.

 

Romans 11:1-6

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3"Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life." 4But what is God's reply to him? "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 5So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

When Paul began this section in Romans chapter 9, he stated his “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (Romans 9:2) because so many Jews were not saved.  In the next two chapters (Romans 9 and 10) he talked about salvation by faith.  As he begins the 11th chapter he asks a question that is extremely pertinent to the discussion, “Has God rejected his people?” (Romans 11:1) and answers it with a phrase we have become familiar with, “By no means!” (Romans 11:1).  He offers himself as proof.  He is an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, and from the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1).  His second assertion is that we have a history with God that says he doesn’t reject those who he foreknew were wanting to serve him.  He reminds them that in the days of Elijah, it looked as though no one was willing to follow God.  Elijah cried out, “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life” (Romans 11:2-3; this incident can be found in 1 Kings 19:9-18).  God’s reply to Elijah?  “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (Romans 11:4).  This led Paul to recognize that he was not the only Jew being saved.  As a matter of fact, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5).  He adds, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works” (Romans 11:6).  So the same belief that leads to justification and confession that leads to salvation (Romans 10:9-10), including calling on his name (Romans 10:12) and obeying the gospel (Romans 10:16) will lead to God’s grace for the Jews as well as the Gentiles!

Romans 11:7-10

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8as it is written,

"God gave them a spirit of stupor,

   eyes that would not see

   and ears that would not hear,

down to this very day."

 9And David says,

"Let their table become a snare and a trap,

a stumbling block and a retribution for them;

10let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,

and bend their backs forever."

The Israelites failed to obtain salvation by trying to work their way into it, but the “elect” did obtain it.  The elect obtained it and the rest were hardened (Romans 11:7).  Paul reminds his readers that this was prophesied in the Law (Romans 11:8b; see Deuteronomy 29:4), the prophets (Romans 11:8a; see Isaiah 29:10), and the Psalms (Romans 11:9-10; see Psalm 69:22-23).  This takes in the major parts of the Old Testament (see Luke 24:44).

Romans 11:11-12

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

So why would this happen?  Was the purpose just to make the Jews fall?  Paul again asserts his strong negative, “By no means!” (Romans 11:11).  “Rather through their (i.e. the Jews) trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11).  Though this made the Jews jealous, it provided “riches for the world” and “riches for the Gentiles” (Romans 11:12).  And their full inclusion would mean even greater riches! (Romans 11:12).

Romans 11:13-16

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

Paul’s point to the Gentiles is that they should see the big picture: The Jews rejection brought reconciliation between God and the world, and if that is so, their, i.e. the Jews’, acceptance would mean “life from the dead” (salvation) for Jews also (Romans 11:15).  He gives two examples: (1) holy dough makes the whole lump holy and (2) if the root that feeds the tree is holy, so will the branches be.

Romans 11:16-24

If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

The next section of the chapter uses the illustration of an olive tree to show the relationship between God and people.  To understand the illustration it is important to understand that the root of the tree is God, the natural branches are the Jews and the grafted-in branches are the Gentiles. Some of the natural branches (the Jews) were “broken off” and some wild branches (the Gentiles) were grafted in so that both the natural and grafted branches share nourishment from the same root system (Romans 11:17).  Paul’s admonition is that no one has the right to become arrogant because, “it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you” (Romans 11:18).  You are a branch that has been grafted in, but remember from whence comes your help (Psalm 121:1).  A second approach might be to say “I’m something special because ‘branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in’” (Romans 11:19).  Paul affirms this to be true, but asks them to remember why it happened: “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith” (Romans 11:20).  Recognizing this will cause one to stand in awe of God’s power rather than to be proud or arrogant.  We are asked to keep in mind that if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare the grafted in branches (Romans 11:21).  What one must always do is, “Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.  Otherwise, you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:22).  One must keep in mind that “even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief will be grafted in” (Romans 11:23a).  The reason: “God has the power to graft them in again”  (Romans 11:23b).  He points out that it is easier to graft the natural branch back in than it is to graft wild branches in their place (Romans 11:24).

Romans 11:25-32

Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

"The Deliverer will come from Zion,

he will banish ungodliness from Jacob";

27"and this will be my covenant with them

when I take away their sins."

   28As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election,                                                                                                they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Still concerned about the Gentiles believing that they are something special because they were grafted in, Paul urges them to not “be wise in your own conceits” but rather understand the mystery:  God allowed a partial hardening of the Jews so that the Gentiles could come in (Romans 11:25).  The Gentiles need to understand that all Israel can be saved in the same way they can, by being grafted into God’s olive tree by having the same faith as the Gentiles (Romans 11:26).  Although it had been prophesied that there would be those who didn’t believe (see Romans 11:8-10) it was also prophesied in Isaiah 59:20-21 and Isaiah 27:9 that the deliverer (Christ) would come out of Zion (the Israelite nation) and that there would be ones who would have their sins taken away (Romans 11:26-27).  “As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake” (Romans 11: 28) shows that their unbelief was necessary so that Gentiles could come into God’s family.  However, God wanted them to be saved every bit as much as he wanted the Gentiles to be saved and keeps his gift of salvation and his calling available (Romans 11:28-29).  The Gentiles in the past had been disobedient to God and so had the Jews (Romans 11:30-31).   The only way either group could be saved is by God’s mercy and he is willing to have mercy on all (Romans 11:32).

Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34"For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?"

35"Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?"

 36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

As Paul considers how good God has been to both Jew and Gentile and how that he has made it possible for all to be saved, he cannot help but honor God with one of the most beautiful passages of scripture.

 

Review Questions:

 

  1. What are the two proofs Paul uses to answer his question, “Has God rejected his people?” (Romans 11:1).

 

  1. What is the significance of Paul pointing out that the law, the prophets and the psalms all mentioned a particular thought?

 

  1. What are the “riches for the world” and “riches for the Gentiles” (Romans 11:12)?

 

  1. In Paul’s illustration of the olive tree, who are the “natural branches” and who are the “grafted in branches?”

 

  1. To keep the Gentiles from becoming too proud and arrogant Paul reminds them of two facts about the removal of the natural branches and how the grafted in branches remain.  What are they?

 

  1. In Romans 11:26, Paul says, “And in this way all Israel will be saved.”  What does this mean?
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