Pastor David B. Curtis


The Olive Tree

Romans 11:16-24

Delivered 05/27/2012

We are continuing our study of Romans 11. I have said in our study of chapter 11 that this is a Dispensational strong hold. They see this chapter as supporting their view. Bob Deffinbaugh writes, "Throughout verses 16-24, there is clearly implied a hope for the national restoration of Israel." I wish I understood what he was talking about. I don't see anything in this passage that hints at a national restoration of Israel.

We saw last week that the unbelief of Israel was ordained to promote the salvation of the Gentiles, which in turn promotes Jewish jealousy that leads to their salvation. So Israel's sin was to lead to her salvation just like the sin of Joseph's brothers led to their salvation from the famine. We ended last time with verse 15:

For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? Romans 11:15 NASB

If the rejection of Israel has been able to occasion the reconciliation of the Gentiles, what will their acceptance do? The acceptance of Israel, all Israel, which would be the remnant of Israel and the remnant of Judah, happens at the resurrection. It marks the end of the Old Covenant and the consummation of the New Covenant.

If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. Romans 11:16 NASB

Paul is drawing illustrations from Scripture. If we were familiar with Numbers chapter 15, we would know precisely what he is talking about when he says, "If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also." He refers to instructions that God gave Israel:

"Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When you enter the land where I bring you, then it shall be, that when you eat of the food of the land, you shall lift up an offering to the LORD. 'Of the first of your dough you shall lift up a cake as an offering; as the offering of the threshing floor, so you shall lift it up. 'From the first of your dough you shall give to the LORD an offering throughout your generations. Numbers 15:18-21 NASB

Paul uses the practice in Numbers 15, that calls for offering the first of one's dough up to the Lord as representative of the whole to express his confidence that the Lord is not finished with the Jews.

What Paul implies is that if God set apart the Patriarchs as the first piece of the dough or as the root, He is not finished showing mercy to their descendants. The point of this verse is that the whole is sanctified by the part.

The idea of the eschatological ingathering of Israel at the resurrection in verse 15 is born out in the reference to the "first fruit," in verse 16. Paul uses this same term in 1 Corinthians 15 with distinct reference to the resurrection:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:20 NASB

Paul already talked about first fruits in chapter 8:

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. Romans 8:23 NASB

"First piece" in 11:16 is the same Greek word as "first fruits" in 8:23. All of these verses speak of resurrection. Resurrection was the hope of Israel, and that is what Paul is dealing with here, Israel's hope, her resurrection into the presence of Yahweh.

On Romans 11:16, John Piper writes, "God has a future for corporate Israel. Someday the whole lump will be holy, and someday the tree will include an entire generation of Jewish branches." The big problem here is that this goes against everything we have seen thus far in 9-11. Paul said," They are not all Israel that are from Israel," they are not all children because they are Abraham's descendants, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants; it was Isaac, not Ishmael; it was through Jacob and not Esau:


Please hang on to what Paul says here, "it is the remnant that will be saved." Not every Israelite will be saved, but all of the remnant will be!

Verse 16 serves as a transition between verses 11-15 and 17-24. In verse 16 he talked about the root and branches, and now he uses that analogy:

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, 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. Romans 11:17-18 NASB

Olive Tree Analogy: The olive tree is used as a symbol of Israel:

I will be like the dew to Israel; He will blossom like the lily, And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. His shoots will sprout, And his beauty will be like the olive tree And his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. Hosea 14:5-6 NASB

We'll look at what Jeremiah says about the olive tree a little later. For now let's look at a little Olive Tree Ology. The olive tree has all through history been one of the most characteristic, most valued and most useful of trees in Israel. Olive trees are famous for their longevity and fruitfulness, which can last for centuries. It is prized for its fruit and wood. The olive tree is an evergreen tree that usually is about 16 feet high. The young tree has a smooth silver grey bark. As it gets older the trunk gets stout and knobby. It has numerous branches that form a dense, shady tree. The tree has a very large root system that can get enough water even in dry conditions. Many olive trees in the groves around the Mediterranean are said to be hundreds of years old, while an age of 2,000 years is claimed for a number of individual trees.

The olive is an important article of diet in Israel. Some are gathered green and pickled in brine, after slight bruising; and others, the "black" olives, are gathered quite ripe and are either packed in salt or in brine. In both cases the salt modifies the bitter taste. They are eaten with bread. More important commercially is the oil. This is sometimes extracted in a primitive way by crushing a few berries by hand in the hollow of a stone.

In Bible times, and even today it was very common to graft olive trees. A branch from a good olive tree was taken and grafted onto a wild olive tree. When the grafting process on an olive tree is started, the olive tree is cut down to almost nothing. There is basically only root stock left. The wild olive tree did not produce very good fruit. But the good cultivated olive tree did produce very good fruit. Wild olive trees would grow up and take up space with its root system. To keep from having to cut down a tree and plant a new seedling, a branch from the good tree would be grafted onto the wild tree. This good branch would then produce fruit while getting nourishment from the wild tree root system. Several branches would be grafted onto a wild tree.

If you take a nectarine branch and graft it into a peach tree, what does the branch grow from then on--peaches or nectarines? It still grows nectarines. The fruit is determined by the branch, not by the tree. The peach tree will grow nectarines on a nectarine branch, and plums on a plum branch, and so on:

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, Romans 11:17 NASB

"The rich root of the olive tree"-- Who or what is the "root"? N.T. Wright states, "The Messiah (most probably) is the 'root' through whom the tree now gets its life." I have a problem with this. Because if Messiah is the root, then Gentile believers are disassociated from Israel and their Hebrew roots.

I would say that the root is Abraham and the promises Yahweh made to him:

"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, Who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn And to the quarry from which you were dug. "Look to Abraham your father And to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; When he was but one I called him, Then I blessed him and multiplied him." Isaiah 51:1-2 NASB

It all goes back to Abraham. Notice what Paul says later in Romans:

For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, "THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME." Romans 15:8-9 NASB

Why bring up those "fathers" from the past? For one simple reason: God gave them Gospel promises and linked the promises to them.

Tom Holland writes, "Paul saw its root to represent the promises made to Abraham and its branches to represent his spiritual offspring--believing Jews and Gentiles who are justified and made holy by the same faith as their 'father.'"

So the root of the olive tree is Abraham and the promises Yahweh made to him:

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." Genesis 12:1-3 NASB

Do you see any "if's" in God's word to Abraham? This is not an agreement, it is a promise. You will read in vain in Genesis 12-15 to find anywhere where God says "If you will do...then I will do..." In other words, there were no conditions. To understand that this was a one-sided covenant, turn to Genesis 15:

And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:5-6 NASB

God took Abraham outside his tent at night and showed him the starlit sky. This was not the same sky that we see at night, which is adulterated with all the diffused light of a modern society. No, this was a brilliant, magnificent sky. God told Abraham to count the stars in that sky and said to him, in effect, "If you can count the stars of the heavens, then you will have some idea of what your eternal influence will be. There will be children born to you as innumerable as the stars in the heavens." What God was promising Abraham at this point, I believe, was an influence on eternity that would be immeasurable and would never end:

And He said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it." 8 And he said, "O Lord GOD, how may I know that I shall possess it?" 9 So He said to him, "Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11 And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him...17 And it came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: Genesis 15:7-18 NASB

"The Lord made a covenant." Genesis 15:18 is literally: "the Lord cut a covenant." Here we see that God cut a covenant with Abraham. He cut it in a way that was familiar to the people of the ancient Near East, but very unfamiliar to us. They would take a heifer and a ram and a goat, they would split the animal in half and lay the halves opposite one another on an incline, so that the blood would flow down and puddle in the bottom of a little valley. Then the stronger of the two that were entering into the covenant would go first and would walk through the blood. The blood would splash up on his ankles and legs, and it was symbolic: "If I fail in any way to keep the covenant, this is what you may do to me." That was the symbolism.

After that one would walk through the blood, the weaker of the two would then walk through the blood with the same symbolism: "If I fail to keep the covenant, this is what you may do to me."

As Abram is either asleep or perhaps still groggy from the deep sleep he had been under, he sees Yahweh do an amazing thing: pass through the animal parts all by Himself, while Abram watches on the sidelines.

Yahweh, represented by the smoking oven and the burning torch, passed through the animal parts by Himself as Abram watched, Yahweh showed this was a unilateral covenant. Abram never "signed" the covenant, because Yahweh "signed" it for both of them. Therefore, the certainty of the covenant Yahweh makes with Abram is based on who Yahweh is, not on who Abram is or what Abram does. This covenant cannot fail, because Yahweh cannot fail. Abram cannot break a covenant he has never signed!

So I see the "root" as Abraham and the unilateral covenant that Yahweh made with him.

"The rich root of the olive tree"--Who or what is the "olive tree"? Some commentators say that the olive tree is the equivalent of ethnic Israel. But we see that many of ethnic Israel have been broken off because of unbelief, and believing Gentiles have been grafted into the olive tree. So I think it is better to see the olive tree as the people of Yahweh, which is made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

So the root is the covenant promises made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). And the tree is the true believers in every age who embrace those covenant promises.

"But if some of the branches were broken off"--Paul had Jeremiah's description in mind by which he warned the houses of Israel and Judah:

The LORD called your name, "A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form"; With the noise of a great tumult He has kindled fire on it, And its branches are worthless. The LORD of hosts, who planted you, has pronounced evil against you because of the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me by offering up sacrifices to Baal. Jeremiah 11:16-17 NASB

Notice in our text that the Jews are not cut off entirely, a remnant is being saved. "Some of the branches were broken off"--"some" here is an understatement since the majority of Jews had failed to believe. Those of ethnic Israel who did not believe that Yeshua was the Messiah were broken off. And that remnant is receiving the promises of Abraham. The Gentiles are grafted in among them.

"And you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them"-- people say Paul didn't understand the way that grafting takes place, because it's only possible to graft a cultivated scion onto a wild stock, not wild scion onto a cultivated stock.

Well instead of grafting a good branch onto a bad tree, God took a bad branch and grafted it onto a good tree. God has done that which is highly unnatural. This was opposite of the way the first century people grafted olive trees. God had a good tree with a good root system.

Following Paul's analogy here, if we, a wild olive branch, were grafted into a rich cultivated olive tree, the fruit that would continue to grow would be the wild olives, bitter and shriveled; that which we already were producing. But God does a miracle with us. He changes us so that the fruit that comes forth is the fruit of the Spirit, and we begin to produce the rich, wonderful, fat fruit of the good olive tree in our lives.

Notice that the Gentiles did not graft themselves into the tree--that is into the family of God. Just as the Lord chose Isaac instead of Ishmael and Jacob instead of Esau (9:7-13), He chose you to graft you "contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree" (11:24). The apostle has not left the very humbling doctrine of election, of Sovereign Election.

There is a belief in the Hebrew Roots/Messianic movements that when one believes on Yeshua that they become grafted into the "tree of Israel," actually becoming Israel, obligating those believers to observe Israel's Mosaic Covenant Law. No, the Law is fulfilled in Christ. We keep all of the Law's requirements in Yeshua.

"And became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree"--Gentile believers become "partakers" with the Jews in the rich root. The word "partaker" here is from the Greek word sugkoinonos, which means: "sharers or fellowshippers together with them in the rich root of the olive tree." With them" is a reference to believing Jews. We become partakers of the rich root of the olive tree.

This is not "replacement theology" we did not replace Israel. We became partakers with the remnant of the Abrahamic Covenant. God did not replace the Hebrew tree with a Gentile tree, He grafted us into the Hebrew tree. This is fulfillment theology, the Church is the fulfillment of all the promises Yahweh made to Israel. The root now supports two types of branches, cultivated and wild, and together they are "one" tree:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:28-29 NASB

S.L. Johnson, who is a Dispensationalist, writes, "It is clear, from Paul's language that he conceives of the Gentiles as participating in Israel's blessings."

The Greek word here for "rich" is piotes (pee-ot-tace). Cranfield, Murry, and Schreiner see it as appositional here; designating the electing grace of God. Yahweh had chosen them to share in the elective promises that were given to the "root."

Alright, so Gentiles "became partakers with them of the rich root of the olive tree," then in verse 18 Paul says, "The root supports you"--the grafted shoot is sharing the same rising sap as the remaining original branches. The Gentiles are totally dependent on the covenant which God entered into with Abraham and the promises made to him. Faith in Christ is the link with the promises made to Abraham. Faith unites us to the nourishing root of the olive tree--the promises of God.

The Jewish root supports you, not the other way around. Being a Christian means becoming a true Jew. Being a Christian means finding your ancestry in Abraham and his offspring.

Christian theologians view Pentecost as the birth of the Church. There is not much argument here. So think this through with me: The first sermon to be preached in the infant church was delivered by Peter, a Jew, to a large crowd of Israelites in the Jewish temple in the city of Jerusalem on the Jewish feast day of Pentecost, and the sermon was about a Jewish Messiah. In this sermon twelve out of the twenty-three verses are direct quotations from the Jewish Scriptures. Peter's message is rooted in First Testament prophecy; prophecies given to Israel. Peter speaks of God's coming judgment on Israel and calls on the "men of Israel" to repent.

What does this tells us about the Church? It's roots are Hebrew. In the Bible the olive tree is a picture of God's people. Israel is God's olive tree. Isaiah says this:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:1-2 NASB

This is a Messianic prophecy. Jesus is the shoot out of Jesse's stump. So this predicts that out of the lineage of David would come Messiah.

Believers, you and I, Gentile believers, have been grafted into God's olive tree. God didn't get upset with Israel and go out and plant a new tree as Dispensationalism teaches. He grafted us into Israel, through Jesus who is Israel. We cannot exist without our Jewish roots. You cannot exist independently of Jesus, nor can you exist independently of your Jewish roots. Because Jesus is not a tree, He is a shoot out of a tree, and the tree is Israel. Believers, our roots are Jewish. If we are to understand Christianity, we must understand our Hebrew roots, which means we must learn the first three fourths of the Bible. The Church is the True Israel of God. We inherit all the promises God made to True Israel. Gentiles are dependent on the promises made by Yahweh to the Jews.

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. Romans 11:18 NASB

This is the main point of this section, it is a warning to Gentiles about the dangers of pride. "Do not be arrogant"--arrogance is that feeling of vaunted self-worth, verbalized or non-verbalized boasting, looking with spite at others, thinking oneself better than others. At the heart of arrogance is self-dependence (the root supports you) and self-approval instead of living in the grace of God revealed in the Gospel.

This type of arrogance had already gained a foot hold in the Roman Empire. Jews were mostly tolerated though looked down upon for their lower status in the Empire. They had been expelled from the Empire and were just now coming back. They were a defeated, subjugated people living under the heel of Roman authority.

At the heart of his concern is that the Gentile believers were beginning to look at their Jewish brothers and sisters with disdain, they rejected and crucified the Messiah.

Paul had warned the Jews against arrogance back in 3:27-30, now he gives the Gentiles the same warning:

You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." Romans 11:19 NASB

He expects them to say something like: "God has put almost all of the Jews out of the covenant community and we have replaced them. We were chosen, and grafted into the tree in their place. We are the privileged people, and they, the removed branches, have been abandoned":

Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; Romans 11:20 NASB

This is what Paul said in:

Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, Romans 9:32 NASB

Why were the branches broken off? For their unbelief, they did not believe that Yeshua was the Messiah. Why was it that the branches on the tree were there? Faith. You stand by your faith. The thing that separates the saved from the damned is belief of the truth. Their response should not be conceit, but fear. Fear here is phobeo ( Don't be conceited by in awe of what Yahweh has done for you).

for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Romans 11:21 NASB

Throughout this whole discussion Paul was viewing Gentile believers and Jewish unbelievers as two groups. This fact is clear from his use of the singular "you" in the Greek text (vv. 17-24). If he had been speaking of individual believers, we might conclude that this verse provides some basis for believing that a believer can lose his salvation. But that idea would go against what Paul has been saying since chapter 5.

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. Romans 11:22 NASB

We like to focus on Yahweh's attributes that we like, love and kindness, but Yahweh is also a God of wrath and severity. We must see the whole picture. Those who fell experience the severity of Yahweh. Those who believe receive His kindness.

"Otherwise you also will be cut off--are believers being threatened with the loss of salvation? Where are believers? We are in Christ. We are as righteous as Christ. We share all that Christ is and has, so how could we ever be lost?

John Piper writes, "The Bible threatens Christians in general that if they make shipwreck of their faith they will be lost. The reason this is not inconsistent is that these threats are one of the means God uses to keep His people faithful to the end." What did he just say? So the threat is not really valid. This is very confusing.

What we must understand here is that when Paul speaks about being cut off after having been grafted in, he is not talking about the individuals primarily. He's talking about national relationships, and so he's talking about the cutting off of Gentile salvation and not necessarily about an individual who has believed in Christ. This warning is not addressed to individuals regarding the loss of their salvation, but to Christian communities whose behavior may cause them to come under discipline with the subsequent removal of their witness. Notice what Yeshua says to the church at Ephesus:

'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent. Revelation 2:5 NASB

Jesus warned the churches, not individual believers, that He would come and "remove the lampstand" (a sign of His presence and blessing) if they did not repent. Every single one of those seven churches of Revelation ceased to exist. Once the Muslims conquered Turkey, Christianity virtually disappeared.

Along the same lines we can think of the church in North Africa that produced Origen, Augustine, and Tertullian, some of the greatest thinkers in the early church. But it, too, lost its vitality and was eventually overtaken by Islam. Today North Africa remains solidly in the Islamic fold. From being a birthplace of great theologians, North Africa has become one of the hardest areas for Christian witness.

The church in Rome to which Paul was writing thrived despite decades of persecution by the Roman Empire. But under Constantine, Christianity became accepted, the Holy Roman Empire was born, and the church, no longer persecuted, became protected and favored. But as is often the case, once the persecution ended, so did the spiritual vitality of the Christian witness, culminating centuries later in the corruption of many church leaders who sold salvation through the system of indulgences, which provoked Martin Luther to post his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517.

And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. Romans 11:23 NASB

The "they" here is the unbelieving Jews. If they turn from their unbelief and trust in Yeshua, Yahweh is able to graft them in again. This is the answer to the question that was asked in verse 11, "Did they stumble 'that' they should fall?" Have they stumbled that they should fall and that be all? May it never be! Jews can still be saved if they trust in Yeshua:

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 will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? Romans 11:24 NASB

If God did the difficult thing, namely, grafting wild branches (believing Gentiles) into the root (Abrahamic covenant), which is totally unnatural, it should not be hard to believe that He will do the easier thing. The easier thing is restoring the pruned branches of the cultivated tree (unbelieving Jews who will come to faith in Christ), which is natural, to their promises (as members of Yahweh's people).

This is not speaking of a national restoration of physical Israel. They are being grafted into the same tree as the Gentiles were. It is talking about ethnic Jews coming to believe that Yeshua is Yahweh, the God of Israel, and thus becoming part of the Church of Yeshua Ha'Moshiach.

Believers, we see again in this text that it is faith, and faith alone, that brings us into Yahweh's family. It is not about our works, it is not about our sacrifices, or any thing we do; it is about trusting in what He did for us that saves us.

L.S. Chafer put it this way: He said that when he dies, if God asks him, '"Why should I let you into heaven?" He will reply,"I am trusting in Jesus Christ and Him alone for my salvation." At that point if God says, "That's not enough," Chafer said, "I will simply walk away and burn in hell forever." What he was saying was, If faith in Christ is not enough to get him into heaven, then he will go to hell, because he has no Plan B. Jesus is his only hope. He was living and dying by faith in Him alone. I hope you feel the same way.

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