Romans 11:11–36. Lesson 20. The Conclusion to the Special Problem of Non-Believing Jews.
Key Notes: Does jealousy work? Contributions of the Remnant in recent times. Grafts on the olive tree. So all Israel will be saved.
To orient ourselves to the passage, let us look at the end, the doxology, first.“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable are His ways!” (11:33)
Now we know that we will not be able to come to a complete explanation. There are aspects of God’s will, His purposes and knowledge which are always going to be beyond us. For example, why would God wait a couple of millennia (or more) to accomplish His large-scale salvation of the world?
But we are undergoing a paradigm-shift, a sea-change in the way we view ourselves, the Gentile Church, and Israel and God’s program. The idea that we could dismiss Israel after Pentecost is not correct. Although most evangelical commentaries read Rom. 9–11 and believe that Israel will eventually be saved, the intervening events are only now coming into view. Israel is now a nation, and one that is the focus of world attention.
11:11 Is Israel’s failure of no significance? Is it just a fall? Hardly. Gentile salvation incites Jews to jealousy. Paul’s basic strategy was to offer salvation to the Jews, let them refuse, and then let them hear the singing and rejoicing of the Gentiles, next door as Paul did in Corinth. (Acts 18:7). The house of Titius Justus where the believers met was next door to the synagogue from which Paul had been evicted. Paul always followed his priority “to the Jew first, and also the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). I find ten episodes in Acts where Paul was rejected by the Jews and went over to the Gentiles with successful ministry.
It is the psychology of offering a cookie to the older child and when he hesitates and refuses because he wants them all, offering two cookies to the younger child. That may very well get a response: “Why didn’t you offer me two cookies?”
Does jealousy work?
“Is it only the Jew who is incapable of seeing and hearing all that others see and hear? Are the Jews stricken with blindness and deafness as regards Messiah Jesus, so that to them alone he has nothing to say? … Understand, then, what we shall do. We shall bring him back to us. Messiah Jesus is not dead for us—for us he has not yet lived: and he will not slay us, he will make us alive again. His profound and holy words, and all that is true and heart-appealing in the New Testament, must from now on be heard in our synagogues and taught to our children, in order that the wrong we had committed may be made good, the curse turned into a blessing, and that he at last may find us who has always been seeking after us.”
(Constantine Brunner,’18, quoted in Romans, Vol. 3, J.M. Boice, Baker,’93, p. 1381.)
God is using a psychological method to entice people who have not responded to endless admonitions by the prophets, or to His severe chastisement. Let them see what a demonstration of salvation looks like. Let them hear the singing and the testimonies. Let them see the joy of Gentile believers. (One of my Jewish friends loves our hymns: “Jesus, Keep Me near the Cross.” )
11:12 If their trespass means riches for the world; if their failure means riches for the Gentiles; how much more will their full inclusion mean?
Now add 11:15 to the argument.
11:15 If their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? Nonbelieving Jews have made great contributions to American life in music performance and composing, in literature and art, as well as science and technology.
In 2002, World Magazine (March-April, 2002, p. 8–52) published thumbnail sketches of the lives of perhaps 60 outstanding Jewish believers since 1550. These Hebrew-Christians have published enduring works (Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah), and composed beautiful music (Mendelssohn’s "Elijah"). They have been missionaries in the Middle East and pastors in the US. They have made notable astronomic discoveries; Hershel discovered the planet Uranus. There were successful politicians such as Disraeli, Prime Minister of Britain. They have fought against theological liberalism (Neander against Schleiermacher), and opposed abortion. Dr. Bernard Nathanson was an abortionist but became strongly pro-life. Mortimer Adler co-edited the University of Chicago’s edition of the Great Books. Moishe Rosen founded what is arguably the most successful modern Jewish evangelism program. If these achievements were done by 5% of Jews who are believers (current estimates), what could the other 95% accomplish? Something wonderful, we know, because about half of the Nobel Laureates in the U.S. are Jews. No evangelical is in that elite company. Perhaps a third of American medical doctors are Jews, although they are 2% of the population (6 million). If the lot of them were spiritually on fire, who knows what would happen?
11:13 Paul addresses the Gentiles. The whole nation is holy because the first-fruits (of Pentecost and beyond) are holy. When an offering was made to the priest in the temple, only a portion was actually sacrificed; the rest was blessed as well. God has reserved the nation to Himself.
“As regards the Gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake, but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.” (11:28). That is, God’s love reaches beyond their animosity because of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David.
11:17–24 Paul introduces a word picture—the olive tree. The natural branches (Israelites) were broken off and wild branches (Gentiles) grafted in. That is “contrary to nature” (11:24), as we know. Normally, domestic, productive olive branches are grafted onto a wild stock. The wild stock has the energy but not the genes to make good olives.
Draw a picture of a tree. The root of the tree is Christ; the trunk consists of the patriarchs, the prophets, and the apostles. God broke off Israelite branches on one side and grafted in Gentiles. Many dead branches lie at the base of the tree. The Gentile branches now fill the tree, numerically overwhelming the Remnant of Jewish believers so that it looks like a huge wild olive tree.
We Gentiles can be patronizing, condescending, contemptuous, even loathing of Jews, especially unbelieving Jews. That is to forget that the Jewish trunk and stems support us Gentiles. We are the dependents. We do not support the root; the root supports us. We should be thoughtful, respectful and loving toward God’s chosen people. That is contrary to our instincts. It is easy for an older sister to lord it over younger siblings, not realizing that birth order is something over which she has no control.
11:25 The second admonition is concerning our spiritual security. Paul says God broke them off to graft us in. He is certainly capable of breaking us off as well. But God’s kindness to us is conditioned by our faithfulness to Him. We “stand fast only through faith”. “…neither will He spare you.” (11:20–21)
This is a classic example of the problem—"The Great Puzzle""—God’s part and ours. In Romans 8, Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God—nothing, not anything in all creation—except our own spiritual rebellion and indifference. The book of Hebrews is full of admonitions of this kind. You are held. Hold on.
The word hardening (11:7) is a thickening, like a tissue that is turning to bone, “a heart of stone.” It well describes my closest Jewish friend. She needs a heart transplant.
11:25 This hardening will persist until the full number of the Gentiles--Moslems, Hindus and Buddhists, animists and secularists-- has come in, and so all Israel will be saved. Then the floodgates will be opened.
11:26 “…so all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion; He will banish ungodliness from Jacob,’ and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
It sounds as if Jesus’ Second Coming is being prophesied. We can visualize Jesus’ return in the light of Zechariah’s prophecy:
“…when they shall look on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly over Him as one weeps over a firstborn.” (Zech. 12:10)
This is the climax of the three chapters. It may not sound like a happy ending—weeping and mourning—but it really is. Things for Israel will turn out right in the end. Then we will all celebrate and dance.
So we conclude as we began. And we are reminded that in the end, it isn’t about us, and it isn’t about Israel— and it is about God.“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” (11:33)
“For from Him and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be glory for ever." (11:36)