V15. The rejection of Israel meant the offer of atonement could go out to the world – to the nations, to the Gentiles. In 2 Corinthians 5 it says: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor 5:1919namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.) This does not say the whole world was reconciled to God; it is only true for those who recognize the necessity of Christ’s work of atonement for themselves.
There is no such thing as a universal reconciliation – that everyone, even the devil, will be saved. This idea is often justified by saying that God is a God of love, but don’t let yourself be fooled by this! The Bible speaks clearly enough of an everlasting judgment (Rev 20:11-1511Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.12And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one [of them] according to their deeds.14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.15And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.).
This verse in Romans 11 is about the place before God of both Israel and the world. At the moment, God is not publicly dealing with Israel as a nation. When Israel will be again accepted, this will be “life from the dead”. A description of this is found in Ezekiel 37 (Eze 37:1-141The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones.2He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, [there were] very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, [they were] very dry.3He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.”4Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.6I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the LORD.’”7So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.8And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.9Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.”‘“10So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.11Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.’12Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.13Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.14I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,” declares the LORD.’”).
V16. God desires to have a people on earth to give testimony of Him and proclaim His virtues. In the past, Israel failed to give a testimony of the only true God, and even today they don’t do so. At the present time, this testimony should be given by Christians. But is Christianity doing a better job?
The portion from Romans 11:16 onwards, is very important. It teaches you to understand something of God’s dealing with Christianity. Both from Israel and from Christianity, God expected a testimony to be given of Him in this world.
With the image of the olive tree and its branches, Paul shows the degree in which they have succeeded. In verse 16 we first read about the “first piece” or “first fruit” and the “lump”. The first fruit are the first fruits collected from the harvest. They are holy, which means separated to the Lord. From these first fruits, for example the first grains of wheat, dough is made. This dough would automatically be holy as well. This thought holds as well for a tree’s roots and branches. These two examples of the ‘first fruit’ and ‘lump’ and the ‘root’ and ‘branches’ speak of the fact that where the origin is holy, anything springing from this origin is also holy.
V17. Next we see a wild olive tree of which branches are broken off to be grafted into the good, cultivated olive tree in verse 24. In this way the branches of the wild olive tree could partake of the root and the fatness of the good olive tree. In addition, from the good olive tree, branches have been broken off. This was done to make room for the branches that had been broken off from the wild olive tree. By how Paul speaks of the branches, it is clear this is figurative language speaking of people.
Let’s go back now to verse 16. The root represents the origin from which something grows and becomes visible on earth. In verse 17 the following image then arises:
1. Some branches (= the unbelieving part of the people of Israel) are broken off (= being put aside by God).
2. Other branches remain (= the faithful remnant).
3. In the place of the branches that are broken off, branches of the wild olive tree (= the believers from among the Gentiles) have been grafted in.
4. As a result these Gentiles – who used to have no right to anything – could partake of the root and the fatness of the olive tree (= could partake of the promises and blessing that belonged to Abraham and his posterity).
It is important to realize that the subject here is God’s testimony on earth and how God judges it. Both Israel and Christianity are responsible for the testimony they show of God. God couldn’t maintain Israel as His witness. Christianity has replaced Israel as God’s witness on earth. But do Christians perform their task any better than Israel? This is what we will see in the next section.
Now read Romans 11:15-17 again.
Reflection: In which way can you proclaim God’s virtues (see 1Pet 2:99But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;).