(from a manuscript of a sermon preached on 11/3/13 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 11, and let’s read verses 7 through 27:
Romans 11: (7) What then? What Israel seeks, this it did not obtain, but the election obtained [it], and the rest were hardened; (8) even as it is written, God gave to them a spirit of slumber, eyes not seeing and ears not hearing until today, [this] day. (9) And David said, Let their table become for a snare and a trap, and for a stumbling block, and a recompense to them; (10) let their eyes be darkened, not to see, and their back through all bent. (11) I say, then, Did not they stumble that they might fall? Let it not be! But by their deviation [came] salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy. (12) But if their deviation [is the] riches of [the] world, and their default [the] riches of [the] nations, how much more their fulfilling? (13) For I speak to you, the nations, inasmuch as I am indeed an apostle of the nations (I glorify my ministry), (14) if somehow I may provoke to jealousy my flesh, and may save some of them. (15) For if their casting away [is the] reconciliation of the world, what [is] the reception, except life from [the] dead? (16) Now if the firstfruit [is] holy, [so] also the lump. And if the root [is] holy, [so] also [are] the branches. (17) But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree were grafted in among them, and became a sharer of the root and the fatness of the olive tree, (18) do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, [it is] not you [that] bears the root, but the root bears you. (19) You will say then, The branches were broken off that I might be grafted in. (20) Well! For unbelief they were broken off. And you stand by faith. Do not [be] highminded, but fear. (21) For if God did not spare the according to nature branches, [fear] lest neither He will spare you. (22) Behold, therefore, [the] kindness and severity of God: On the [ones] having fallen, severity. But on you, kindness, if you continue in the kindness. Otherwise, you will also be cut off. (23) And those also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in. For God is able to graft them in again. (24) For if you were cut out of the according to nature wild olive [tree], and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive [tree], how much more these, the [ones] according to nature, will be grafted into [their] own olive tree? (25) For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be wise among yourselves, that hardness in part has happened to Israel until the fulfilling of the nations comes in; (26) and so all Israel will be saved, even as it has been written, The [One] delivering will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. (27) And this [is] My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.
We’ve seen thus far in Romans 11 that God did not reject ALL of Israel; there has always been a remnant. And that remnant is made up of those whom God foreknew, as we saw in verse 2, and whom God elected according to grace, as we saw in verse 5. We saw that since this election was by grace, it could not have been by works. They are mutually exclusive. We then saw that what the lost Israelites sought, they did not obtain, which was righteousness. They were seeking to obtain righteousness by their own works. As Romans 10:3 says, “For not knowing the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God.” They were actively hardened by God to stumble at the Stone-of-stumbling and to be offended at the Rock-of-offense, being disobedient to the Word, to which they were appointed, as 1 Peter 2:8 says. We saw that it was the ELECT, the REMNANT, who obtained righteousness in the only way that it can be obtained, which is by grace, through the work of Jesus Christ alone.
Now we’re on to verse 11. Paul continues with his question-and-answer format: “I say, then, Did not they stumble that they might fall?” The “they” he’s talking about are the Jews. The question is this: Did the entirety of the Jewish nation stumble so as to fall to the point that there is no hope for anyone in the Jewish nation? Is all hope lost? Paul answers with the strongest of negations: “Let it not be!” There is still hope for individuals within the Jewish nation. Paul then goes on to give the reason for what the LITV calls “their deviation,” which means their trespass, their transgression. God used the transgression of the Jews to bring salvation to the Gentiles, and, in turn, used the salvation of the Gentiles to provoke the Jews to jealousy. This refers to Romans 10:19, where Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 32:21: “I will provoke you to jealousy by a non-nation, by an undiscerning nation I will anger you.” The Gentiles, who were not seeking or inquiring after God, found God, as Isaiah 65:1 and Romans 10:20 say. But the Jews, who thought they had already found God, were under the wrath of God’s outstretched hands, as Isaiah 65:2 and Romans 10:21 say. So the Jews, who thought that they only had the privilege of the truth, when they saw the Gentiles being called and brought in, were provoked to jealousy. And God used this jealousy as a means to save the elect Jews.
On to verse 12:
Romans 11: (12) But if their deviation [is the] riches of [the] world, and their default [the] riches of [the] nations, how much more their fulfilling?
Now this is worded in a way that is initially hard to understand, at least for me. So let’s go through this verse piece by piece. The word “deviation” is the same word used in verse 11. It means “trespass” or “transgression.” So this is still talking about the transgression of the Jews, in not believing the gospel. The word “riches” means “abundance” or “richness.” So the transgression of the Jews is the abundance of the world. What does that mean? That’s still a little hard to understand until you look at the context. Verse 11 says that “by their deviation came salvation to the nations.” So this part of verse 12 is a way of saying the same thing in a different way. By the transgression of the Jews came the abundance of blessing through the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. And if you look at the second phrase in verse 12, you see it is yet another way of saying the same thing - “and their default the riches of the nations.” The Greek word for “default” means “failure” or “loss.” So through the failure or loss of the Jews comes the riches of the nations. Again, this means that by the transgression of the Jews came the abundance of blessing through the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. So the first part of verse 12 says, “But if through the transgression of the Jews the blessing came to the Gentiles ...” and then we go to the end of verse 12, which says, “how much more their fulfilling?” Now the Greek word for “fulfilling” means “completion” or “fullness.” In order to keep a consistent meaning of words throughout this thought, the word “their” must mean the Jews. So this is talking about the completion or fullness of the Jews. This is talking about when the elect within the Jewish nation are saved. So here’s Paul’s reasoning: If the transgression of the Jews brings blessing on the Gentiles, how much more the salvation of the Jews! The salvation of the Jews will bring even more blessing on the Gentiles.
In verses 13 and 14, Paul says that he speaks to the Gentiles if somehow he may provoke to jealousy the Jews, with the hope that some will be saved. He says that the way in which he speaks to the Gentiles is by being the apostle to the Gentiles. Let’s turn to Acts 18:4-6:
Acts 18: (4) And he reasoned in the synagogue according to every sabbath, persuading both Jews and Greeks. (5) And when both Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was pressed by the Spirit, earnestly testifying to the Jews [that] Jesus [is] the Christ. (6) But [they] resisting, and blaspheming, having shaken [his] garments, he said to them, Your blood [be] on your head. I [am] pure [from it]; from now [on] I will go to the nations.
This is Paul’s official turning away from preaching the gospel to the Jews and turning to preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Now you can see here that when the Jews rejected the gospel, Paul turned to the Gentiles. So right here is the truth that the transgression of the Jews brings blessing on the Gentiles. Through the Jews’ rejection of the gospel, the elect Gentiles are brought in, as the gospel is preached to them, and they are saved. Back in Romans 11:13, Paul says, “I glorify my ministry.” The word for “glorify” means “honor”, and the word for “ministry” means “service” or “office.” He considers his office as an apostle to the Gentiles to be an honor. In verse 14, he calls the Jews “my flesh,” which is saying that they are his kinsmen according to the flesh, like he said in Romans 9:3.
Verse 15 is similar to verse 13:
Romans 11: (15) For if their casting away [is the] reconciliation of the world, what [is] the reception, except life from [the] dead?
If through casting away of the Jews the Gentiles are reconciled to God, what is the Jews’ reception or admission, which is the opposite of casting away? When the Jews are brought in, it means being brought to spiritual life from spiritual death.
On to verses 16 through 18:
Romans 11: (16) Now if the firstfruit [is] holy, [so] also the lump. And if the root [is] holy, [so] also [are] the branches. (17) But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree were grafted in among them, and became a sharer of the root and the fatness of the olive tree, (18) do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, [it is] not you [that] bears the root, but the root bears you.
Paul first uses the pictures of the firstfruit and the lump and the root and the branches. The first picture is taken from the ceremonial law, in which the firstfruits were offered to God, and through this, the entire lump of fruit was sanctified. The second picture is taken from nature, in which a good root makes good branches. Now who is Paul talking about here? Well, we can work backward, if you will, to find the answer. In verse 17, Paul speaks of some of the branches that were broken off. This is talking about the unbelieving Jews. So then if we go back to the last part of verse 16, we can put in the Jews for the branches. What about the root? There are some differences in interpretation here. Some say it is Christ, some say it is the patriarchs, and some say it is the first Jewish converts to Christianity. I don’t think it’s the last interpretation. It has something to do with the initial sanctification of the nation of Israel, whereby God chose Israel to be His people. The promise was made to the patriarchs, who were believers, so this is a plausible interpretation. This promise was a gospel promise of salvation conditioned on the work of Christ alone, so Christ and/or the gospel is a plausible interpretation. But whatever it is specifically, keep in mind that it has to do with the setting apart, the sanctification, of the nation of Israel by God. Then we can see in the first picture that the lump is the nation of Israel, and the firstfruit has to do with the initial sanctification of Israel through God’s gospel promise to the patriarchs.
Verse 17 gives the picture of some original branches of a cultivated olive tree being broken off, and some branches of a wild olive tree being grafted in. So I hope you can see this picture in your mind. The cultivated olive tree is the outward church, made up of professing believers, some of whom are true believers and some of whom are false believers. The original branches that are broken off are the unbelieving Jews. The branches of the wild olive tree that are grafted in where the original branches were broken off are the Gentiles who profess faith in Christ. So you see how this fits in with the previous verses that said that the Jews who rejected the gospel made way for the Gentiles to come in - the original branches were cut off, and the wild branches were grafted in. The end of verse 17 says that these wild branches “became a sharer of the root and the fatness of the olive tree;” they became part of that original tree and shared in its nourishment. The Gentiles became part of the covenant community.
Verse 18, in context with verse 17, says that if some of the branches were broken off and you were grafted in, don’t boast against the branches. Don’t think you’re better than the original branches. The Greek word for “bear” means “sustain.” You don’t sustain the root; the root sustains you. Do you think you, as a wild olive branch, would survive without the root? So there is no room for boasting.
In verse 19, Paul uses a rhetorical device that should be familiar to us by now. He starts out with, “You will say then” and then goes on to put forth an objection, and then answers the objection. The objector says, “But the branches were broken off that I might be grafted in. That must mean that I’m better than the broken off branches.” Paul answers the objection in the verses that follow. He first says “Well.” This means, “That’s granted. It’s true that the branches were broken off that you might be grafted in.” But then he gives the reason why some of the original branches were broken off in the first place. It was because of unbelief. And the Gentile, if he is a true believer, remains standing through faith, which is a gift of God, not of works, so he cannot boast. The admonition is then to not be “high-minded,” meaning to be arrogant, to think more of one’s self than one should, but to fear.
Paul goes on to say, “For if God did not spare according to the natural branches, fear lest neither He will spare you.” Now this verse is used by some to try to prove that either believers can lose their salvation or that believers should be in fear of losing their salvation. But you need to look at the entirety of the argument. Paul is addressing the objector in verse 19 who objected to Paul’s statement in verse 18 that you should not boast against the branches. If this person who is a professing Gentile believer is high-minded, then he should fear, because he, too, could be cut off just like those natural branches were cut off. This interpretation is borne out in verse 22. Paul contrasts the kindness of God with the severity of God. The severity of God is against those who have fallen, who have been cut off. The kindness of God is toward those who continue in God’s kindness. In other words, God’s kindness is toward the Gentiles who become part of the professing church and who stay there because they have been truly united to Christ. But look what the end of verse 22 says: “Otherwise, you will also be cut off.” If you, a Gentile who professes to believe the gospel, are grafted into the professing church, and you show yourself to be an unbeliever, you will be cut off just like the unbelieving Jews were cut off. Don’t think that God’s severity is just against the cut-off Jews; His severity is also against those Gentiles who became part of the professing church but who were found to boast in themselves. They will be cut off after they were grafted in. And verse 23 says that those Jews who were originally cut off because of unbelief can be grafted back in, because, as verse 11 says, they did not all stumble so that they might fall to the point where there is no hope for anyone within the Jewish nation. Verse 24 says that if the Gentiles were cut out of the wild olive tree – that tree of heathendom that they were part of by nature – and grafted in to a cultivated olive tree – that tree of the covenant community that they were NOT part of by nature – how much more the Jews, who were originally part of the covenant community, who got cut out of the covenant community, could be grafted back into the covenant community of which they were originally a part?
Verses 25 and 26 bring what Paul said about the Jews and Gentiles all together:
Romans 11: (25) For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be wise among yourselves, that hardness in part has happened to Israel until the fulfilling of the nations comes in; (26) and so all Israel will be saved, even as it has been written, The [One] delivering will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. (27) And this [is] My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.
Paul did not want the Gentile believers to be ignorant of the mystery. This mystery has to do with the bringing of the Gentiles into the covenant, as Romans 16, Ephesians 3, and Colossians 1 say. Paul did not want the grafted-in Gentiles to be wise among themselves, which is the same as being high-minded in verse 20. He then gives the reason why some of the original branches were broken off. Part of Israel was hardened by God to disbelieve the gospel until the completion of the Gentiles came in, and in this, ALL Israel will be saved. Now does this mean that every single person from the nation of Israel will be saved? That’s what some people think it means. But look at the context. Even in the Old Testament, there was only a remnant of Jews who was saved. Most of the national Israelites were not saved. There was a spiritual Israel within the nation of Israel. Then, in the New Testament, some more of the Jews are saved who believe in Christ, but most of them stumble at Christ. Paul is sent to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and some of these Gentiles are saved. These Gentiles become partakers of the promise. They become spiritual Jews, spiritual brothers to those national Jews who were believers. Some of the national Jews are provoked to jealousy and are saved. And thus, ALL ISRAEL is saved. Now who is the ALL ISRAEL here? Well, let’s turn to two familiar passages. The first is Romans 2:28-29:
Romans 2: (28) For not in the visible [one], he is a Jew, nor [is] the circumcision in flesh [a] visible [one]; (29) but in the secret [one] is [the] Jew, and circumcision [is] of heart, in spirit, not in letter; of whom the praise [is] not from men, but from God.
And then Romans 9:8:
Romans 9: (8) That is: not the children of flesh [are] children of God, but the children of the promise [are] reckoned for a seed.
Who are the true Jews, the true circumcision, the true children of God? Does it have to do with outward circumcision or nationality? Paul made it clear that it does not. So look what he is saying: The believing Jews and the believing Gentiles make up ALL ISRAEL. THEY are the ones who will be saved. This is the fulfillment of the mystery – Jews and Gentiles together, the wall of partition being broken down through Jesus Christ. In Christ, all Israel – all the children of the promise of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone - will be saved. Amen.