In this week’s message, we will be discussing how Paul compares Israel to the natural branches of a cultivated olive tree and the Gentile believers to the branches of a wild olive tree in Rom 11:11-24. The natural branches (Israel) were broken off, and the wild branches (Gentiles) were grafted in (verse 17).
The Gentiles, then, have been made partakers of the promises and inherit the blessings of God’s salvation.
It is important to understand how God called Israel to be His people and how they failed to fulfill that calling. As the seed of Abraham, the children of Israel were chosen by God to be a separate people, holy to the Lord.
God’s design was for them to be a light to the Gentiles so that they, too, might know God. Instead, the Israelites chased foreign gods and betrayed their calling. But God, who knew they would do this, had already promised to restore His kingdom to Israel after they rebelled and then eventually repented. So God sent His Son, preceded by a forerunner, to invite Israel to “repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand”
However, when Jesus revealed Himself as the promised Davidic King who would restore Israel, He was rejected by the Jews, exactly as Isaiah 52-53 had prophesied. Therefore Jesus called His disciples to fulfill Abraham’s commission to bless the nations by preaching the gospel of the Kingdom to all nations.
That’s what Paul did, bringing the good news to the Gentiles, who in turn became Abraham’s spiritual seed by faith and heirs of the promises to Abraham. This is what Paul meant in Romans 11 by the Gentiles being “grafted” into the “olive tree” and nourished by the “root” (the promises to Abraham).
The tree thus signifies the collective people of God; the “wild branches” grafted in are Gentile believers; the “natural branches” that are cut off are the Jews in unbelief. Jewish believers remain in the tree but are joined with Gentiles and “made” into a “new body,” the Church (Eph. 2:11-22)
Paul anticipated a question that would surely arise among his non-Jewish readers who might be tempted to dismiss Israel because of its failure to obey God. Even today, there are those who advocate replacement theology which holds that the Church has completely replaced Israel and will inherit the promises to be fulfilled only in a spiritual sense.
In other words, according to this view, ethnic Israel is forever excluded from the promises—the Jews will not literally inherit the Promised Land. What then would happen to Israel? What about the Old Testament prophecies that Israel as a nation would repent and be re-gathered to the land in the last days as a permanent possession? (see Deut. 30:1-10)
Romans 11 shows Gentile believers that God is not yet “done” with Israel. God’s purposes are not complete until Israel is grafted back into the people of God to share in the promises to Abraham. This brings full circle God’s larger redemptive plan as we will see in Rom. 11:30-36 for both Jews and Gentiles as distinct populations within the people of God’s Kingdom as the “final form” of the olive tree, both Jews, and Gentiles as God’s people. (see Zech. 8:13,20-23). Finally, we can expect Israel, the natural branch, will be grafted back into the olive tree and eventually will be saved by turning to her Savior.