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Ingrafted Branches April 21, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 11:11-24.

Summary: Paul begins this passage by asking whether it can be inferred from the preceding discussion that God’s rejection of most of the Jews is final. Clearly this is not the case; instead, God has worked through His temporary rejection of the majority of the Jews to advance the Gospel message among the Gentiles – which would cause the rejected Jews to want to follow the Gentiles’ leading. Now if the temporary downfall of the majority of Israel has brought good to the Gentiles, Paul asks: how much more awesome will be their restoration to God’s favor? Paul wants the Gentiles to be mindful of this fact, as it should prevent them from harboring negative attitudes towards the rejected Jews. Moreover, his primary calling entailed preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, yet he knew that their salvation would be a catalyst for the salvation of the Jews. The rejection of the majority of Israel had brought the Gentiles, who were once strangers to God, near to Him; therefore, the restoration of Israel to God’s favor must produce an even more awesome state. To further support his assertion of the certainty of the restoration of Israel, Paul notes that since the Jewish forefathers were set apart for God, their natural descendants will always stand in a special relationship with Him. Paul concludes this passage by using the illustration of an olive tree with a life-giving root and its dependent branches to warn the Gentiles against arrogance towards the temporarily rejected Jews. Indeed, the Gentiles should refrain from boasting or glorying in their current position relative to Israel due to the following facts:

  • the special relationship between God and Israel that was established during the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is something that the Gentiles lack
  • there is nothing inherent to the Jews that prevents them from being restored to God’s favor.

Thoughts: Verse 11 implies that the Jews’ rejection of the Gospel message was the catalyst for its effective preaching among the Gentiles. Hodge expands on this as follows:

The Jews, even those who were believers, were, in the first place, very slow to allow the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles, and in the second, appear almost uniformly to have desired to entangle the Gospel with the ceremonial observance of the law. This was one of the greatest hindrances to the progress of the cause of Christ during the apostolic age and would in all human probability have been a thousandfold greater had the Jews as a nation accepted the Christian faith.

This raises the following questions: if Israel had initially accepted the Gospel message, would we even have the book of Acts? If the chief priests and Pharisees had not perpetuated their lies regarding Jesus’ resurrection, and if the Jews throughout Judea, Anatolia and Greece had welcomed the apostles’ teaching with open arms, how would the course of history have been altered? Recall Paul’s deep sadness at his own people’s rejection of the Gospel message; what if he never had to deal with the frustrations and difficulties that stemmed from their persecution of him and his traveling companions?

Given the hostilities between Jews and Gentiles before the coming of Christ, it would not be surprising for Gentile believers, upon reading chapters 9-11 of Romans, to be resentful of the impending salvation of Israel. Hodge makes several helpful notes on this point:

This being the case, the Gentiles ought to consider the restoration of the Jews as in no respect inimical to their interests, but as most desirable…If the two events, the salvation of both groups of people, were intimately related, there was no basis for ill feeling by either party. The Gentiles need not fear that the restoration of the Jews would harm them, as though the happiness of one group was incompatible with that of the other.

I must admit that as a Gentile believer, I struggle to accept Paul’s assertion that “all Israel” will be saved in the last days. This stems from my (admittedly misguided) belief that “all Israel” is essentially getting a “free pass to heaven” after its long-standing rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. To overcome my struggles in this regard, I need to remember the following key facts:

  • as a Gentile, I too was once hostile to God and mired in sin; I refused to obey Him and accept His method for me to obtain righteousness
  • Paul never states that “all Israel” will get a “free pass into heaven,” and his exposition in Romans makes it clear that these believing Jews will accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
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