Romans Bible Study Lesson 48

Printer friendly version

 

More Olive Tree

Romans 11:18—27

So far we have seen that the root of the olive tree picture represents Abraham. Israel sprang out of Abraham and was therefore the object of physical and spiritual blessing promised through Abraham. We are also of Abraham but are only promised spiritual blessings.

Genesis 12:3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Romans 4:11—12 11and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.

Galatians 4:6—7 6Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.

Galatians 3:13—14 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”– 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

Romans 15:27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.

Faith is the common ground between Abraham and the Church, the Body of Christ. Just as he came to God in faith, we who are believers did the same thing. Our connection to Abraham is faith. Abraham spans Jew and Gentile. He was a Gentile when his faith was counted for righteousness but is connected to the Jews through circumcision. For both groups, faith was needed to come to God.

We also learned that the branches represent groups of people; the Jewish nation, true Israel and believing Gentiles. I believe the tree currently is composed of believers because the branches are holy (Verse 16).

Please note that the tree does not symbolize salvation but represents a special dispensational position. When all of Israel was a part of the tree, God was working through her to reach the world. When they failed their assigned task God removed unbelieving Israel from the tree of testimony. This happened when Israel rejected the call of the Holy Spirit, through Stephen, to repent and turn to God. Paul was raised up and God is now using believing Gentiles to reach the world. The tree illustrates how God changed from the Kingdom program to the Grace program and also shows how He will eventually close out this current program to finish His program with the Jews. Keep in mind that the branches are groups, not individuals.

Verse 18—21

It appears that some of the Gentiles were proud of the fact that God was now working through them. I could imagine that after hearing the boasts of the Jews that some Gentiles were glad to see Israel fall and God now dealing with them. Paul cuts them short and reminds them about their position. First Paul reminds them that they receive their support from the root. They would not be of any value apart from the tree. He later reminds them (verse 24) that the natural branches will easily graft into the tree once again after the wild branches are removed. They should fear God instead of thinking too highly of themselves.

Verse 22

God demonstrates both His kindness and severity. The word for severity speaks of a swift cutting off, very abrupt. Before God cut off unbelieving Israel, He was very patient with them and gave them every opportunity to repent and come back to Him. However, after the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, He abruptly cut them out of the tree (Matthew 12:31—32).

God’s kindness was shown toward Israel when they were put in that favored position in the olive tree. It came out of God’s grace. His kindness then turned toward believing Gentiles. This word is also used in Titus 3:4 concerning God’s kindness in sending His Son to redeem man.

Titus 3:4—6 4But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

With this declaration of God’s kindness comes a warning. The Gentile believers must focus on the work of being God’s spokesmen and being a faithful witness to the world of God’s grace or they too will be cut off. Again, we are not talking about individuals nor is this a reference to salvation. It only indicates the group through whom God decides to work with as His witness to the world. This group is in a place of favor and God can decide to change the group He works through at any time if they are not faithful in carrying out His purpose.

 

Verses 23—24

The group cut off by God has a chance to be grafted in again but only if they do not stay in unbelief. Not only can God graft them in but for those who say Israel will never be a part of the tree again, Paul makes it clear that the natural branches that have been cut off can be easily grafted back into the tree. This again shows that Israel is not completely nor forever removed from God’s place of favor. If the Gentiles, as a wild olive branch, can be grafted into the tree, how could it be that the natural braches will not be able to become a part of the tree again?

The cutting off the original branches, the insertion of the wild olive tree branches, the cutting off the wild olive tree branches and the reinsertion of the natural branches all correspond to some very specific biblical events. Some of these already happened while some will happen in the future.

The cutting off the original branches corresponds to the cutting off of unbelieving Israel. Christian scholars and theologians almost universally accept this interpretation. The disagreement arises as to the time of the cutting off of Israel. Many would say Israel was broken off in Acts 2. They point to this as the time when God formed the present church, got rid of the unfaithful Israelites and brought in the Gentiles in place of unfaithful Israel. I believe their cutting off can be traced to Israel’s final rejection of the Kingdom with the stoning of Stephen.

Cutting off the original branches

When Jesus was on earth during His three-year public ministry He proclaimed that the Kingdom was at hand. It was not yet offered but was in their presence. This is not a mystical, often spiritualized kingdom, as so many try to make it, but the very physical Millennial Kingdom that was promised to Israel throughout the Old Testament. From man’s vantage point and according to prophecy, Christ needed to die, be buried and resurrected and then the Holy Spirit would be given. It was only after the Holy Spirit was given that the Kingdom could be offered. When Jesus Christ met with the Disciples for the last time just before His ascension He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. They logically assumed the Kingdom was going to be restored shortly because Jesus Christ said the Holy Spirit was coming (Acts 1:4—6; 3:21; Joel 2:28). They finally understood what the Old Testament prophesies were all about and knew what the next event would be. They knew nothing about the Mystery and the coming of the Church, the Body of Christ, because that was not yet revealed. The offer of the Kingdom could not have been given in the Gospels until Jesus had finished His work on the cross and the Holy Spirit was given. It was only in Acts 3 that Peter could legitimately give the invitation for them to have the Kingdom come. It would then have been set up after the seven-year Tribulation period (Luke 12:49—50). We also note that God, through the Holy Spirit, told Peter to select a new Apostle to replace Judas. This needed to be done because there were 12 thrones for the 12 Disciples in the Millennial Kingdom. It’s interesting to note that when James was put to death that he was not replaced. This is because God’s mystery program had begun with Paul in Acts 9 while James was put to death in Acts 12. (Luke 22:30; Acts 12:2).

Acts 2 dispensationalists must believe that the Kingdom was offered while Jesus was on earth and that nailing Christ to the cross amounted to a rejection of that offer. They say since the offer was rejected that God then turned to the Gentiles in Acts 2 by cutting off unbelieving Israel and starting up the Church. To make this theology fit they need to reject the idea that God forgave Israel for killing His Son, as requested by Jesus on the cross, nor do they understand how God gave Israel one more chance to repent through the testimony of the Holy Spirit after they killed Christ. They also lack an understanding about the meaning of the parable in Luke 13:6—9 that shows Jesus’ three-year ministry and then one additional year. It was at the end of this fourth year that Israel stoned Stephen and rejected the final call of God for them to come into the Kingdom. It was right after this last rejection that God cut the unfaithful branches of Israel from the olive tree and raised up Paul with the Gospel of God’s Grace to the Gentiles—the wild olive branches.

Grafting in the wild olive tree branches

As soon as the unfaithful branches of Israel were broken off there was room to graft in the wild olive tree branches of the Gentiles. I believe this was done immediately after the other branches were removed and corresponds to the raising up of Paul with the Mystery that was hid from ages past (Colossians 1:26). As pointed out above, the Disciples didn’t have a clue that God would work with the Gentiles in this way and only focused on the coming promised Kingdom. This is, after all, what Jesus taught them in person for the past three years. They knew nothing else.

Cutting off the wild olive branches

Paul says the wild olive branches could be cut off if they do not continue in His kindness (Verse 22). We do know that God will cut off the Gentiles when the Rapture occurs. At that point we will have finished our job as the witnesses of God to the world and He will again begin dealing with Israel as a nation.

Grafting in the natural branches

Once the wild olive tree branches are cut off the natural branches can be grafted back in. God originally raised up Israel to be the means by which He would make Himself known to the world. They largely failed their task so God went to the Gentiles. Once believing Gentiles are taken home, all of Israel will be back into the tree. Israel is considered holy because they are set apart for God’s purpose even though not every Israelite is saved. This will happen just before the beginning of the Tribulation, picking up with Israel’s prophetic program right where He left off.

Verse 25—27

The whole purpose of the illustration is summed up in this verse. Israel has been partially hardened and will remain that way until the Fullness of the Gentiles. Don’t confuse this with the Times of the Gentiles which points to the trampling of the Jewish nation by the Gentiles beginning with the Babylonian captivity (Luke 21:24). This fullness of the Gentiles refers to the last Gentile being brought into the Body of Christ. The whole illustration of the olive tree was to help us understand that Israel has been temporarily hardened but that they will be placed back into God’s favor in the future. It would be impossible for anyone to think that God was through with Israel after reading this chapter.

After the fullness of the Gentiles, God turns back to Israel and the completion of her prophetic program. When Paul speaks of this program he quotes many Old Testament passages but when speaking of the Mystery program he only can point to it in his own writings (but he does use the Old Testament for illustrative purposes but never to show our formation or destiny).

Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:20 to show Israel’s future after the branches are regrafted. Their Messiah will come and deliver them and He will remove all their sins as promised. He will then take up residence on the throne in Jerusalem in the Millennial Kingdom.