While God has used Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ as an opportunity
to spread the Gospel to the world, non-Jewish people are no more
deserving of the grace it offers. The salvation God provides is an
undeserved gift, and it is only truly received through faith. Jews and
Gentiles alike must humbly believe the Gospel or be excluded from the
kingdom of heaven.
The unbelief of the Jews on a national level is beneficial for the elect
of every nation. As Paul explained in 11:11-15, Israel’s rejection of
Christ provided the avenue for the Gospel to be widely proclaimed to the
Gentiles. Once Christ established His Church (Matt. 16:16-20), the
message of justification by grace through faith moved beyond Israel to
the all the world (Matt. 28:18-20). The Lord’s Church (consisting of
Jewish and Gentile believers) replaced Israel the nation as heaven’s
ambassador to the world (2 Cor. 5:20). Now God is provoking unbelieving
Jews to jealousy (vv. 11, 14) by using the predominantly Gentile Church
to advance His kingdom (v. 13).
A Jewish remnant (11:1-7) is coming to faith in Christ as they see the
result of their nation’s rejection. God is using their national
situation to draw them to their Messiah (vv. 11, 15). Thus the Lord is
ultimately preserving Israel for the kingdom (Deut. 30:1-6). He will
completely fulfill His national covenants with Abraham’s descendants who
share His faith (Lk. 1:68-75).
Gentile believers will inherit the kingdom because they likewise share
Abraham’s faith (Rom. 4:11). And so, as Paul said in 11:12, Israel’s
“…fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the
Gentiles”). However, Paul warns Gentile believers to keep all of this in
We must always view Israel through the lens of Scripture. God’s terms
for entering His kingdom are the same for all people. Unbelief always
results in eternal condemnation, and humble faith always results in
eternal life. Gentile Christians should always remember that we are the
beneficiaries of Israel’s rejection, and that should keep us humble.
For, unless the Gospel came to us, we could not believe and be saved
(Rom. 10:8-15). In the end, God justifies His elect for His glory
(11:36). Any professing believer who arrogantly believes otherwise
needs to examine their faith (2 Cor. 13:5).
With this in mind, we now continue Paul’s teaching on Israel, Gentiles
and the glory of God. We have already seen how Israel’s national
rejection has benefited the world of Gentiles (11:11-15). Now let us
begin to consider in Romans 11:16-24 that Gentile’s must receive the
benefits of that rejection with humility. For the salvation of Gentiles
is rooted in God’s promises to Israel as seen in verse 16-18. All must,
therefore, reverence His sovereignty in salvation as seen in verses
19-24. Today we will cover the first three verses of this section.
Israel, Gentiles & God’s Glory – Part II (11:16-18)
Received with Humility (vv. 16-24)
Rooted in God’s Promise (vv. 16-18)
God’s covenant with Abraham expressed His plan to establish His kingdom on earth and to
populate it with redeemed sinners. The nation of Israel itself was
called by God and given His moral law. The associated ceremonial
worship emphasized the atonement for sin that would ultimately be
secured by the coming Savior (9:4-5). This atonement was necessary to
actually be a citizen of the heavenly kingdom. The faithful were also
guaranteed an eternal inheritance in the Promised Land.
The Jews were required to obediently serve as the Lord’s representative
on earth or forfeit their privileged position (Deut. 28). Of course,
only those who trusted God as Abraham did were faithful. As a whole,
the nation failed miserably. This proved that unbelief receives a curse
and genuine faith produces obedience that leads to blessing. Such
obedience was first exemplified in the life of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This helps us to understand Paul’s statement in verse 16: “For if the
firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so
are the branches.” That is to say, there will be a believing remnant of
Jews who follow in the footsteps of their faithful forefathers. Since
God’s promise to Abraham was sure, then so it will be to all of his
descendants who share his faith in the Lord (v. 15). Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob were a foretaste of things to come for believing Jews.
The “firstfruit” actually refers to the first ripe produce of the
harvest that God required as an offering from Israel (Ex. 23:19; Lev.
2:12). The Jews were to celebrate a feast at the beginning of harvest
when the first of their crops were gathered. Then they were to
celebrate a feast at the end (ingathering; Ex. 23:16). The offering of
the firstfruits expressed faith in God to provide the entire harvest.
Since the firstfruit was set apart to God (i.e. “holy”), it represented
the entire harvest. Thus Israel’s food from the harvest in the Promised
Land (expressed here as a “lump” of dough used to make bread) was also
dedicated to the Lord. That is, the harvest God provided sustained them
as His people who represented His kingdom. This symbolized God’s
promise to bring all of Abraham’s believing descendants into the
It likewise identifies them as the firstfruits of God’s kingdom from the
human race. The Lord has since called believers from every nation to
experience eternal blessings in the kingdom (Gen. 12:2-3). God is
always at work in every age of human history to bring the elect into the
kingdom (Rom. 9:23-24; 11:5). Those who believe are a visible guarantee
of His salvation in every generation (Rom. 8:23; Jas. 1:18).
But Paul’s main point here is that unbelieving Jews in no way hinder the
elect from entering the kingdom by faith (cf. v. 11). God counted
Abraham’s faith as righteousness (Gen. 15:6), and so He will do for all
who believe the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 4:16). Therefore,
the Jewish patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) are the “root” in
Paul’s analogy, and their descendants are the primary “branches.”
Abraham was the beginning of the nation symbolized in verse 17 by an
“olive tree.” If God set Abraham apart as “holy” for His kingdom, then
the nation is also holy in that regard. After all, that is what God
promised. This does not, however, refer to the branches that were
“broken off” because of their unbelief. These are the sons of the
kingdom who are cast out (Matt. 8:11-12) – i.e. the physical descendants
of Abraham who have not shared his faith thus forfeiting the blessings
But it does include Gentiles who were “grafted in among them, and with
them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree” (v.
17). Israel is a cultivated olive tree, planted and tended by God as it
were. But as with a real olive tree, some branches do not bear fruit.
A gardener will break off those branches and may, as his discretion,
graft branches from another tree to make the tree more fruitful.
Gentiles were once part of the “wild olive tree” — those outside of the
covenant promises of God (“the root and fatness of the olive tree”). As
Paul says elsewhere, Gentiles “were without Christ, being aliens from
the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise,
having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). However,
through the blood of Christ, they have entered the kingdom (Eph. 2:13).
They were not part of the original tree.
So the faith of Gentiles is rooted in the promise of God to Abraham and
those who share his faith. As Paul says in Galatians 3:29: “…if you are
Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the
promise” (cf. Rom. 4:11, 13). For this reason, no Gentile has any
reason to “boast against the branches” (v. 18). The Jews are indeed not
worthy of receiving God’s salvation any more than the Gentiles. They
were nonetheless chosen by God to bring His salvation blessing to the
To “boast” implies that a Gentile might feel as though Israel’s
rejection of Christ made all Jews unworthy of the kingdom. And now,
since Gentiles are offered salvation through Christ, they must somehow
have a superior status. This is absolutely not true! Jewish Christians
do have a very distinct and prominent place in the kingdom (Matt.
19:28). Again, it is not because they are somehow more deserving. No,
God chose them for His purpose and His glory as it is with everything He
does. He acts sovereignly over His creation to do as He pleases among
us. He will always do that which guarantees His glory, and He owes us
Likewise, Gentile Christians have not superseded Jews. Both are, in
fact, unworthy recipients of God’s grace. So if Gentiles are tempted to
boast, they should quickly “remember that [they] do not support the
root, but the root supports [them]” (v. 18b). Realizing that the Gospel
is to the Jew first and also to the Gentile (Rom. 1:16), even though
both are equally unworthy, should keep both humble.
Gentile Christians should always receive the benefits of Israel’s
rejection with humility. It is the grace of God that He offers
salvation to anyone, and no one has any room to boast. Rather than
boasting, we should all praise the Lord for His willingness and ability
to save sinners through His Son. And we must remember that everything
is rooted in His promises, which are based on His eternal purpose (Rom.
As you go through the Book of Romans, are you understanding more about
God’s sovereignty in everything – especially in your salvation? Whether
you are a Jew or a Gentile, have you humbly turned in faith to Jesus
Christ for the forgiveness of your sins? Have you been “grafted” into
the kingdom of God by believing the promise of justification by grace
through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?
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