ISRAEL’S REJECTION BROUGHT SALVATION TO THE GENTILES
AND WILL ULTIMATELY RESULT IN ISRAEL’S ACCEPTANCE
Frank Thielman: This second part of 11:1–32 (11:11–32) does not merely assert that hardened Israel will one day be saved but explains why, from God’s perspective, so many within Israel opposed the gospel in the first place (9:30 – 10:21). This was part of a complex plan of God to enclose “all people within disobedience in order that he might have mercy upon all people” (11:32). God used “disobedient” (ἀπειθοῦντα) Israel (10:21; 11:30–31) to shift the focus of the gospel’s proclamation to non-Israelite people groups. This shift in focus, however, will eventually benefit Israel. As Israel sees gentiles receiving the blessings meant for them, they will emulate the gentile’s faith and receive God’s mercy also. In the future, vast numbers of Israelites will be saved, and God will stand vindicated as both impartial in his dealings with all humanity and yet faithful to his promises to Israel. In 11:11–32, then, Paul completes his answer to the question he raised in 9:6 about the failure of the word of God by placing God’s faithfulness to Israel on a firm footing. Anyone who might doubt the credibility of Paul’s claim that nothing in all creation can separate the people of God from the love of God (8:39) should be confident that when history is finished, God will be found faithful to Israel. . .
Main Idea: The rejection of the gospel among many Israelites does not mean that God’s promise to bless all Israel has failed. The present situation in which Israelite believers are a remnant within Israel and gentile Christians are growing in number will one day change. Once the number of gentiles within the people of God has reached its climax, many Israelite unbelievers will see the blessings that have come to the gentiles and seek to emulate their faith in the gospel. In the end, vast numbers of both gentiles and Israelites will populate the people of God in an amazing display of God’s power and wisdom.
Thomas Schreiner: The lapse of Israel is part of God’s all-encompassing purpose, for by means of their trespass, salvation has come to the gentiles. . . God planned that the Jews would reject the gospel in large numbers, and in response to their rejection the message was proclaimed to gentiles (cf. Acts 13:45–48; 18:6; 28:24–28). Munck (1967: 123) observes that the order is a surprise, since most Jews believed that they would inherit the blessings of the kingdom first and then some gentiles would also be included. Paul foreshadows Rom. 11:30–32, and the reversal of order is designed to emphasize that the salvation of both Jews and gentiles is the result of God’s mercy. Israel will appreciate and praise the mercy of God with a depth that would have been impossible if they had preceded the gentiles, since the latter scenario is what they expected. The inclusion of the gentiles before the Jews reminds all that God works in unexpected ways and that no one deserves his saving grace.
Everett Harrison: Having dealt with the remnant, Paul returns to a consideration of Israel as a whole, insisting that her rejection is not final and that during the period when the nation continues to resist the divine plan centered in the Messiah, God is active in bringing salvation to the Gentiles. The figure of the olive tree emphasizes that Gentile salvation is dependent on Israel’s covenant relationship to God. Gentiles have to be grafted into the olive tree. The purpose of gentile influx into the church is not merely to magnify the grace of God toward outsiders, but to evoke envy on the part of Israel as a factor in leading to her ultimate return to God as a people. This in turn prepares the way for the climax in 11:25-27.
I. (:11-16) ISRAEL’S LOSS LED TO GAIN FOR THE GENTILES AND HER END TIME ACCEPTANCE WILL MEAN EVEN GREATER GAIN
A. (:11a) Basic Question: Is Israel’s Rejection Permanent?
“I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?”
Frank Thielman: Israel, then, has stumbled on a stone in its path that has knocked it off balance, but not so badly that they “fall” (πέσωσιν).
B. (:11b) Benefit of Israel’s Temporary Rejection
- Emphatic Rebuttal of Unspeakable Question
“May it never be!”
John MacArthur: They are a disobedient people, a contrary people, a blind people, a deaf people. Their own table becomes for them a snare and a trap, that is the things religiously that they think they’re feasting on are going to consume them in reality. And yet with all that judgment talk in verses 8 to 10, he comes right back in verse 11 and says, “Have they stumbled that they should finally and ultimately fall?” And the answer is no. It’s no.
Is it a permanent falling? It is not a permanent falling. Did the mass of Jews stumble? That verb is interesting, ptai, it’s an interesting verb. It just means “a stumbling.” Did they stumble in order that they might fall? That verb means fall in a situation where you could never get back up again. It’s one thing to stumble, it’s something else to hit with such a crash that you’re totally debilitated and can never get up again. Did they fall in order that they would never be able to come back? Is their stumbling complete and irreversible? Is it a permanent falling from which no recovery is ever possible? Is national Israel dead? Are they never to receive the promises? The answer is God forbid. God forbid.
- End Time Objective Revealed
a. Inclusion of Gentiles in God’s Salvation Plan Now
“But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles,”
b. Incitement of Jews to Jealousy to Spur Them to End Time Salvation
“to make them jealous.”
James Dunn: God has not abandoned his people even in the act of hardening them. He has not torn up his covenant with Israel and started again. Even his punitive action against the bulk of Israel has Israel’s salvation in view as well. Herein Paul’s earlier conviction, that Israel’s unfaithfulness has not nullified God’s faithfulness (3:3–4), begins to achieve coherent expression. Paul the Jew at last begins to show how even his own people’s unbelief and disobedience provides a double source of comfort for his anguish expressed earlier (9:1–3; 10:1); it is precisely that unbelief and disobedience which led to the gospel being offered to the Gentiles, which in turn will spur his fellow Jews to faith. So too what was implicit in 9:14–24 becomes at last clear: that God’s outreach in wrath is bound up within his purpose of mercy. In the mysterious workings of divine providence God uses human reactions one to another, even when motivated by protective self-interest, to further his own larger outreach of grace.
John MacArthur: So the Lord has humbled His people Israel for a positive reason, by allowing their stumbling, not that they should forever be destroyed, but that Gentiles should be redeemed who become the testimony to the Jews and whose faith the Jews desire to emulate. So by blinding Jewish eyes and hardening Jewish hearts, and deafening their ears, God opens the fount of salvation to all of us. And we can say this, dear friends, we shouldn’t be proud either, we shouldn’t be proud either, because it is by God’s grace and by God’s sovereign setting aside of His chosen people Israel that we have even been brought the gospel. And the lives of us who are redeemed Gentiles should be powerful, joyful, peaceful, hopeful testimonies of what God can do in a life that should be attractive to Jews who have rejected the Savior. And how we live before the Jews and how we act and how we speak and how we manifest the love of Jesus Christ in the transformed life is, I believe, the single greatest testimony we have to Israel. I’m so thrilled when I see Jews come to Christ because they’re attracted by the reality of Christ in the life of His church.
C. (:12-16) Bright Future for Both Jews and Gentiles
- (:12) Prosperity Abounds
“Now if their transgression be riches for the world
and their failure be riches for the Gentiles,
how much more will their fulfillment be!”
John MacArthur: Negatively, if their sin accomplished that, can you imagine what their righteousness will accomplish? That’s his argument. If they accomplish so much in a negative way, it’s hard to even conceive of what will happen in a positive way. If a negative can produce such results, what can a positive produce?
Frank Thielman: In Paul’s thinking, God was enormously rich (11:33), particularly in kindness (2:4; cf. Eph 1:7; 2:7) and glory (Rom 9:23; cf. Eph 1:18; 3:16; Phil 4:9; Col 1:27), and believers shared in these riches (1 Cor 1:5; 2 Cor 6:10; 8:9; 9:11; Eph 3:16; Phil 4:19). When Paul preached the gospel to the Jews first in the various cities to which he traveled and they rejected it, he then focused on the gentiles, many of whom believed the gospel and received a share in God’s wealth (Acts 13:44–49; 18:5–8; 19:8–10; 28:17–28). . .
Far from adopting an arrogant attitude toward Jews (cf. 11:18), gentile Christians in Rome ought, like Paul, to appreciate the important role that physical Israel has played and will play in God’s saving purposes for all peoples of the world.
Everett Harrison: The word “fullness” refers to the conversion, meaning the full complement in contrast to the remnant. It will mark an end to the state of hardening that now characterizes the nation.
John Murray: “Fulness” often means the plenitude or totality. It can be the full complement. In this instance it is not merely contrasted with “loss” but also with “trespass”. Whatever might be the precise term by which to express the import here, it is obvious that the condition or state denoted is one that stands in sharp contrast with the unbelief, the trespass, and the loss characterizing Israel when the apostle wrote. It points, therefore, to a condition marked by antithesis in these respects. This means that Israel is contemplated by the faith of Christ, by the attainment of righteousness, and by restoration to the blessing of God’s kingdom as conspicuously as Israel then was marked by unbelief, trespass, and loss. No word could serve to convey the thought of the thoroughness and completeness of this contrast better than the term “fulness.” For if “fulness” conveys any idea it is that of completeness. Hence nothing less than a restoration of Israel as a people to faith, privilege, and blessing can satisfy the terms of this passage. The argument of the apostle is not, however, the restoration of Israel; it is the blessing accruing to the Gentiles from Israel’s “fulness”. The “fulness” of Israel, with the implications stated above, is presupposed and from it is drawn the conclusion that the fulness of Israel will involve for the Gentiles a much greater enjoyment of gospel blessing than that occasioned by Israel’s unbelief. Thus there awaits the Gentiles, in their distinctive identity as such, gospel blessing far surpassing anything experienced during the period of Israel’s apostasy, and this unprecedented enrichment will be occasioned by the conversion of Israel on a scale commensurate with that of their earlier disobedience. We are not informed at this point what this unprecedented blessing will be. But in view of the thought governing the context, namely, the conversion of the Gentiles and then that of Israel, we should expect that the enlarged blessing would be the expansion of the success attending the gospel and of the kingdom of God.
Grant Osborne: Israel’s acceptance does not mean that the riches given to the Gentiles will be taken away; rather, when the Jews are saved, the Gentiles will enjoy even greater blessings along with them.
James Dunn: The meaning is plain: Israel’s rejection brought benefit to the rest of humankind; Israel’s acceptance will bring still more benefit to humankind. And the point is clear too: Israel’s future conversion does not mean that the benefits which have accrued to the Gentiles will be withdrawn; on the contrary, Gentiles will enjoy still greater benefits along with Israel. Israel’s spiritual prosperity and the rest of world’s are not antithetical; “the wealth of nations” means wealth for all.
- (:13-14) Paul’s Role as Apostle to the Gentiles
“But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.”
Frank Thielman: Paul inserts into this brief and allusive statement of his thesis a reference to his own role in these significant events. He is an apostle to the gentiles, and so God is using him indirectly and partially to accomplish these salutary results for hardened Israel (11:13–14).
Grant Osborne: Paul is emphasizing God’s sending him to the Gentiles in order to somehow arouse his people to envy and save some of them. Paul’s reference to envy means that he hopes to cause the Jews to recognize that God greatly blessed the Gentiles when they believed in the Jews’ own Messiah. The Jews might then realize that those blessings are still promised to them as part of God’s covenant with them, but they can only be obtained by faith in Jesus Christ. Again Paul is revealing his great desire to see his people be saved (see 9:1-3; 10:1).
- (:15-16) Permanent Future of God’s People (Jews and Gentiles) Will Be Glorious
a. (:15) Two Illustrations of Israel’s Positive Impact on the World
1) Illustration Based on Israel’s Historic Rejection
“For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world,”
2) Illustration Based on Israel’s Future Acceptance
“what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”
John MacArthur: Life from the dead. And he’s not talking about personal resurrection. He’s not talking about the resurrection from the dead which would be the Pauline term. Life from the dead refers to the rebirth, if you will, of the nation and the rebirth of the world in the glory of the kingdom. I think that’s the proper way to interpret it. When Israel is received, he’s not speaking about individual resurrection from the dead, but life from the dead, a unique phrase used here, which I believe refers to national resurrection of the nation Israel to the place of blessing and world resurrection, as it were, in the recreated new heaven and earth of the millennial kingdom, right? That’s the life from the dead. The nation and the world, when the kingdom comes, will be delivered from its spiritually dead state and there will be new life. It is not, as I said, the phrase, “resurrection from the dead,” which is Paul’s concept that he refers to when he refers to individual resurrection, but the resurrection of the nation into kingdom glory. It’s that which Romans 8 describes as the glorious liberation of the children of God, the manifestation of the sons of God, when we enter into the glorious kingdom and are made manifest to the world as the true children of the living God.
A. Berkeley Mickelsen: This undoubtedly refers to the climax of reconciliation in the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the deliverance of creation from slavery to deterioration or decay (8:21), and the glorious reign of Christ.
Grant Osborne: Though we may not grasp all the nuances of Paul’s extensive argument, his purpose is unmistakable. He wants to give Gentiles every reason possible to welcome their Jewish brothers and sisters in the faith with open arms. At the same time, he wants to help his Jewish brethren reciprocate that welcome. Neither group is to claim supremacy in the church. The message is: God has made room in his family for both of you, so you must get along together.
b. (:16) Two Illustrations of Israel’s Permanent Sanctification
1) Illustration from First-Fruits
“And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also;”
2) Illustration from Root and Branches
“and if the root be holy, the branches are too.”
Thomas Schreiner: Paul is more likely using two illustrations to make the same point: God’s choice of the patriarchs indicates that the people of Israel as a whole are consecrated to him (cf. Byrne 1996: 340). The illustration from first-fruits was used because the notion of holiness relates more appropriately in this instance than it does in the case of the root and branches. . .
Thus both illustrations make the same point: the election of the patriarchs sanctifies Israel as a whole. Ethnic Israel is not cast off but still remains the elect people of God because of the promise made to the fathers (vv. 28–29). Does this contradict the earlier argument (9:6–13) in which ethnic and spiritual Israel are separated? Paul seems to assert here that Israel is holy because of its relation to the patriarchs. The reason for the difficulty is that Paul’s answer as to whether Israel is part of the people of God is both yes and no. No individual Israelite can presume on God’s election, since God has always chosen some Israelites and not others. Yet it is also the case that he does not reject the people of Israel corporately, and he has promised to save the great majority of the end-time generation.
Grant Osborne: Each of these illustrations conveys a different idea. In the first, a sample, or tithe, or first-fruits represents the whole. In the second, the foundation, source, or root determines the quality of the particulars (branches).
A. Berkeley Mickelsen: The first fruits of dough and the root refer to Abraham and the other patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob (see Paul’s stress on “the fathers” in 9:5 and 11:28).
John Witmer: In both illustrations the principle is the same: what is considered first contributes its character to what is related to it. With a tree, the root obviously comes first and contributes the nature of that type of tree to the branches that come later. With the cake presented to the Lord, the flour for the cake is taken from the ground meal, but that cake is formed and baked first and presented as a first-fruit. Since it set apart to the Lord first, it sanctifies the whole harvest. The first-fruits and the root represent the patriarchs of Israel or Abraham personally, and the lump and the branches represent the people of Israel. As a result Israel is set apart (holy) to God, and her “stumbling” (rejection of Christ) must therefore be temporary.
Warren Wiersbe: No matter how far Israel may stray from the truth of God, the roots are still good. God is still the “God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6; Matt. 22:23). He will keep His promises to these patriarchs. This means that the olive tree will flourish again!
James Dunn: The recipients of the letter would probably feel no compulsion to interpret both metaphors of v 16 in precisely the same way; as metaphors all they have in common is the chronological sequence of the two halves in each case. On the contrary, indeed, it is important to recognize the different reference of the two metaphors, for they are complementary rather than synonymous. “The mixture” and “the branches” certainly have the same reference—the people of God in its final composition. But “the first offering” and “the root” refer precisely to the two different elements which will constitute God’s elect in the end: on the one hand, the Jews and Gentiles who have already believed, and, on the other, historical Israel. The holiness of the end-time saints is dependent both on their continuity with the original Israel and on the word of faith which constitutes the remnant and the gentile mission. In this way Paul maintains his double loyalty, flesh of Abraham’s flesh, faith of Abraham’s faith, a Jew who is also apostle to the Gentiles, called to proclaim the gospel of God’s Son to Jew first but to Gentile as well.
II. (:17-21) NO ROOM FOR PRIDE OR BOASTING – JUST FEAR OF THE LORD
A. (:17-18) Gentiles Must Not Be Arrogant But Respect Israel’s Heritage
- (:17) Gentiles Share Covenant Blessings with Foundational Israel
“But if some of the branches were broken off,
and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them
and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree,”
- (:18) Gentiles Are Supported by the Root of Judaism – Don’t Be Arrogant
“do not be arrogant toward the branches;
but if you are arrogant,
remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.”
Frank Thielman: It might seem natural for Gentile believers in Rome to gloat in triumph over the irony that they had actually attained what Israel’s heritage should have led Israel to attain (cf. Rom 9:30 – 10:4), or that God had hardened Israel so that the gospel might go to the gentiles (11:11). Here Paul forbids any such triumphalism by pointing out the fundamental theological misunderstanding that such an attitude would represent. Gentile believers have only attained the righteousness of God through their attachment to Israel’s heritage, and that heritage contains God’s unbreakable promises to Israel (11:28–29).
B. (:19-21) Gentiles Must Not Be Conceited But Fear God
- (:19) Danger of Conceit
“You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’”
- (:20a) Determining Factor = Faith Not Merit
“Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith.”
John MacArthur: So, verse 20 says, “Be not high-minded.” That is, don’t get yourself way up here looking down on other people. Don’t think high about yourself. Don’t have lofty thoughts about your superiority. The only difference between you and an apostate Jew is he didn’t believe and you did believe. That’s the only difference. You’re no more or less worthy in and of yourself of salvation. It’s just that they didn’t believe and you did. And that by the grace of God, right?
- (:20b-21) Danger of Rejection – Don’t Be Conceited But Fear God
“Do not be conceited, but fear;
21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.”
Frank Thielman: Compared to the Israelite, it is easy to see that the gentile who belongs to God’s people is there only by trust in God’s gracious offer of reconciliation through the death of Christ. The gentile who has adopted a haughty attitude toward Israel should fear God’s judgment because this attitude betrays a lack of faith. It hints that the gentile believer imagines God is somehow obligated to him or her. If this is not true for the Jew, Paul says here, it is hardly true for the gentile.
Thomas Schreiner: The example of the Jews should inspire not pride but fear, for God will not spare gentiles either if they relapse into unbelief (v. 21). Instead of being proud, gentiles should ponder God’s kindness and severity (v. 22). He has been severe to the Jews who have fallen away, while his kindness has been bestowed on gentiles. But this kindness is conditional. The gentiles will be cut off from the olive tree as well if they depart from God’s kindness. . .
By capitulating to pride, gentile believers ironically were falling into the same problem that plagued the Jews. Paul warns the Jews throughout Romans (esp. chaps. 1–4) of the danger of vaunting themselves above gentiles because of their elect status. Now he admonishes the gentiles that they are prone to the same deception (rightly Dunn 1988b: 662). Thus we have canonical warrant for the claim that the temptation to pride is not uniquely Jewish but is fundamentally human. It also follows that the warnings addressed to the Jews can be applied in principle to believers of today, since 11:17–24 indicates that gentiles (and therefore all people) are liable to the same sin committed by the Jews. This text strengthens the case that there were problems between Jews and gentiles in Rome, and this theory is confirmed by 14:1 – 15:13, where tensions between Jews and gentiles come to the forefront.
James Dunn: If God’s electing purpose for Israel can comprehend within it the rejection of so many Jews, if this is the way election and judgment can be seen actually to work out in practice, how much more easily could a few Gentile branches be lopped off without modifying God’s overall purpose one whit, and how much more should the individual Gentile be on his guard against the fatal pride.
III. (:22-24) DON’T FORGET GOD’S KINDNESS, SEVERITY AND ABILITY
A. (:22) God’s Kindness and Severity
- Description of God’s Character = Kindness and Severity
“Behold then the kindness and severity of God;”
- Demonstration of God’s Character
a. Severity Demonstrated towards the Jews
“to those who fell, severity,”
b. Kindness Demonstrated to the Gentiles
“but to you, God’s kindness,”
c. Conditional Nature of God’s Kindness
“if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.”
John Witmer: This does not suggest that a Christian can lose his salvation; it refers to Gentiles as a whole (suggested by the sing. you) turning from the gospel much as Israel as a nation had done.
B. (:23-24) God’s Ability – Argument from the Greater to the Lesser
- (:23) His Ability to Ultimately Graft Israel Back into Covenant Acceptance
“And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief,
will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.”
A. Berkeley Mickelsen: Now Paul stresses God’s ability. God is powerful, strong, mighty – able to graft these in again. Since, in the language of the metaphor, the Lord did what was contrary to nature, he can certainly put natural olive branches back into the natural olive tree.
- (:24) His Ability Already Demonstrated in His Integration of the Gentiles
“For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”
James Dunn: Not surprisingly, given Paul’s train of thought, the conclusion to his extended metaphor of the olive tree of Israel is a reversion to the hope of his kinsfolk’s restoration to their former place within God’s covenant purpose. Not only can the gentile branches be lopped off (if they turn from faith to unfaith), but the old branches can be grafted in again (if they turn from unfaith to faith). For God is able to do it. Paul recognizes how far his exposition is straying from the metaphor, but the horticultural impossibility becomes a way of emphasizing the power of God. Here again grace needs only faith as the opening through which it can pour its life-giving energy to revitalize even branches withered by Israel’s false assurance. For if God can perform the physiological impossibility of making Gentiles full members of the covenant people, seed of Abraham and heirs of the promise, how much more easily can the natural seed and heirs be reincorporated into what is actually their own people and their own inheritance. Once again, Paul implies clearly, what he has in mind is by no means a wholly new beginning, but rather a concept of the people of God whose basis and character has been obscured by Israel’s misunderstanding, is being discovered afresh through the gospel not least by the Gentiles, and will shortly be reestablished among the rest of Israel as well.