In reference of Israel, Paul asked in Romans 11:11-32, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious (jealous). But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!
I’m talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root’s holy, so are the branches.
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, don’t consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You don’t support the root, but the root supports you. You’ll say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Don’t be arrogant, but tremble. For if God didn’t spare the natural branches, He won’t spare you, either.
Consider therefore, the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they don’t persist in unbelief, they’ll be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that’s wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way, all Israel will be saved. As it’s written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion; He’ll turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is (will be) my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”(Isaiah 59:20-21, 27:9, Jeremiah 31:33-34)
As far as the gospel is concerned, they’re enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they’re loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Target Audience = the Gentiles
When reading this, the thought that came to my mind was those old cartoons (like Popeye), or movies where a girl wants attention from her boyfriend, so she breaks up with him and dates somebody completely opposite of her now-ex, not because she likes him but because she wants to make her ex jealous. She pretends like she’s totally into this new guy when they’re in public, hoping news gets back to her ex in order that he might become jealous. But when she’s alone with her new guy, she’s cold. And he wants to brag to everyone about her, but she threatens to do the same to him as she did with her ex if he should brag. So he’s just a tool for her selfish purposes. Because when and if the ex does try to get her back, she’ll (without hesitation) dump her tool for her ex, who’s learned his lesson.
But understand, God is NOT like that and this is NOT what Paul’s trying to communicate. We know this because we know God, but we also know this because of all the other places throughout the Bible where God talks of not just the Jews, but people from every nation joining in (being grafted into) the Kingdom of God.
Understand also, Paul is NOT saying that all Jews will be saved regardless of their views about Christ. For notice, they were cut out because of their disbelief and disobedience. If they were to (finally) believe and obey, then they will be returned to the Tree of Life (Christ). But unless they turn and believe, they will remain broken off and condemned.
How do we know this? Several places in the scripture, such as Ezekiel 33:11 – “‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live’.” (NRSV) In this passage, God’s Target Audience was the Israelites (Hebrews). He was telling them to turn from their wicked ways and disobedience, turn towards Him (repent and follow His Law and Decrees) so they may live. But obviously, if they don’t turn, then they won’t live. They’ve been cut off from God and will only be renewed/returned when they turn and believe (believe and obey).
So what is Paul saying then? Well, we first need to remember that the point of Paul’s letters is often in response to some current issues within the Church. We don’t know for sure if the issues mentioned in this letter were in response to issues within the Roman church, but from Paul’s Q and A format, we can see that much is in comparison with /response to the arguments and minds of those to whom he had ministered throughout the years, as well as behaviors of Christians throughout the churches. They bragged of their salvation (as did the Galatians) and saw themselves as superior (as did the Corinthians)…
So here, Paul explains about salvation (possibly even part 2 to his talk with the Jews, now to the Gentiles) who were predestined for salvation. Remember, the Jews were predestined for salvation. But many (most?) rejected God’s Messiah. So now, because of their rejection, the Gentiles have free access to it, should they believe and obey. So what a great honor this is for the Gentiles! It’s like they’re being rewarded for their belief and obedience. But Paul grabs their ankles and yanks them back to ground level. God’s people can’t brag of their blessings and salvation because:
- They’re gifts from God, not earned
- God’s people live under God’s mercy and grace, as ones who had/have no rights to the Kingdom, but have received it only because of God’s mercy and grace, given to us when we heard, believed and obeyed.
- Adopted children were given the same treatment and rights as the blood-related children. But if the father did such to the blood-born child, then the adopted child should also be careful, lest they do the same and receive the same treatment. And if the adopted child believed and obeyed, thus receiving salvation and citizenship within the Kingdom, how much more should the original child if they return home!
So Gentiles have no right to brag, for such were simply adopted into the family of God when they believed and obeyed. Therefore, be careful, lest you fall into the same pit as the Israelites of old, as well as the unbelieving and disobeying Jews of today.
Here are some additional notes from some of my Study Bibles:
- Oxford NRSV Bible:
- :1-16 = Israel’s rejection not final: 1-6 = As in Elijah’s time (1 Kings 19:10,18), there’s a remnant of the faithful. Paul, as a Jew, was no more alone than Elijah was.
- :7-12 = The resistance to the Gospel on the part of many Jews is providential: God has hardened (Greek = dulled) their hearts for a loving purpose, namely that the Gentiles might have an opportunity to hear and receive the Gospel
- :13-16 = The reconciliation of God’s will have the effect of making the Israelites jealous and thus of drawing some of them to Christ.
- :16 = The dough (Numbers 15:18-21, LXX) likely stands for a converted remnant of Jewish Christians: The root (Jeremiah 11:16-17) Israel’s ancestors (v.28) Israel’s ancestors through whom Israel has been consecrated.
- :17-24, Olive Tree Metaphor: The tree (including root and branches) = Israel
- Branches broken off = unbelieving Jews
- Branches grafted in = Gentiles who believed in Christ
- :20-22 = Having been made a part of the tree, only because of faith (not merit or works), Gentile believers have no reason for pride, else God who has grafted them into the tree may later cut them off.
- :24 = The restoration of Israel will be easier for God than the call of the Gentiles.
- :26 = Mystery: A truth once hidden, but now revealed by God. All Israel = possibly all the elect (Jews/Gentiles) the elect of Israel as a people or Israel as a whole, but not every Israelite. (Isaiah 59:20-21, 27:9)
- :28-29 = Although some Jews may be temporarily enemies of the Gospel, the election of the Jews is irrevocable.
- NLT Study Bible:
- :11 = Stumble and fall: Into final ruin. The Israelites’ temporary rejection of the Gospel could be used by God for good. Their rejection provided the occasion for salvation to come to the Gentiles. The Gentiles’ acceptance, in turn, would provoke the Jews to jealousy and ultimately bring about their repentance.
- :16-18 = Abraham and the Patriarchs = The Greek refers to “dough offered as first fruits”. Here: The first fruits = to the godly patriarchs of Israel. The entire lump of dough = Israel. Paul calls the lump “Holy” to show that God still plans to save Israel. Just a branch, not a root = Salvation of the Gentiles depends on God’s promise to Abraham and on his revelation to the world through Israel.
- :25 = “Mystery” = Something unknown until it’s revealed by God. The temporary blindness of Israel will lead to the salvation of the Gentiles and finally to the salvation of Israel. Thus, Gentiles should not be proud of what God has done for them. Complete number = The complete number of Gentiles who will come to Christ.
- :29 = His Call = God’s call to Israel to stand in a unique relationship to Himself and to be His special agent for bringing salvation to the world.
- Never be withdrawn = Can’t be changed. God’s plan for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles will be fulfilled.
- Archaeological NIV Bible:
- :16 = Part of the dough made from the first of the harvested grain (first-fruits) was offered to the Lord. This consecrated the whole bunch (Numbers 15:17-21)
- :17 = The usual procedure was to insert a shoot or slip of a cultivated tree into a common or wild one. In verses 17-24, however, the metaphor is used of grafting a wild olive branch into the cultivated olive tree. Such a procedure is unnatural, which is precisely the point. Normally, such a graft would be unfruitful.
- :24 = obviously, the reasoning in this verse is more theological than horticultural. It would be difficult horticulturally to graft broken branches back into the parent tree, but the Jews really “belong” (historically and theologically) to the parent tree (and “God has the power to do so”).
- :25 = Mystery: The so-called mystery religions of Paul’s day used the Greek word “Mysterion” in the sense of something that was to be revealed only to the initiated. Paul used the term to refer to something formally hidden or obscure, but now revealed by God for all to know and understand.
- :26 = The Talmud (a Jewish collection of religious instruction) understood Isaiah 59:20 to be a reference to the Messiah. Paul also appears to have used it this way.
An interesting thing on this whole “make the Jews jealous” thing though is that today, if you should talk with a Jew about salvation, Heaven or Jesus, or sit through one of their funerals, you’ll notice that:
- They believe they’re all going to heaven when they die.
- Jesus to them is nothing more than a Joseph Smith or other cult/false leader to them (words from an Orthodox Jews: “He lived, but that’s it.” – Just some guy in the history books). But they certainly do not recognize Him as their Messiah.
- There’s absolutely no jealousy on their part. If anything, denial, frustration and offense that Christians continue to claim salvation is through Christ alone and that this Jesus-fellow that they’ve convinced themselves is not the Messiah, is the only way there.
They’re not jealous, they’re reject-ful. They reject Jesus as the Messiah, not because of all the other 300 and some scriptures that Jesus fulfilled, but because of their misunderstanding and stubborn stance on what they believed Jesus didn’t do, which was rescue them from their enemies (which at the time were the Romans). But then, if they were to look at their Scriptures with their human eyes, then there are more flaws to be reckoned, such as David’s seed to establish God’s Kingdom and David’s throne. If we were to look at this with human understanding and literal translation, then we would have to look at one of David’s sons. But Solomon killed off all of David’s other heirs; history also tells us that Solomon didn’t accomplish such a goal, and neither did any of his sons, for after Solomon, the Kingdom was NOT established, but split into two.
Also, when I talk with Jews today, I often learn how many recognize the Scriptures as “outdated”. I mean, yeah, they ARE outdated, because Christ fulfilled them and we’re no longer bound by Law, but under the Covenant of grace. But today’s Jews neither recognize the Covenant of grace, nor the relevance of their Law. Confusing, isn’t it?
Actually, except for the traditions, I find that Judaism today is almost NOTHING like the Judaism of Paul’s day (before the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple’s destruction). Granted, the Temple was not yet destroyed, but even after it was, Judaism changed. I actually wonder if there is any “original” version of Judaism today. But then, we look at Christianity…Christianity is the fulfillment of the old Judaism and their Law. WE recognize the Scriptures of the old Covenant because we have to if we’re to understand the New Covenant. We don’t change our God to fit our understanding of His Word, but let His Word change us from within by the works of His Holy Spirit, who comes in and lives inside us when we receive Christ Jesus. Judaism is a confused religion today, and in order to continue in their ways, they had to make human changes to God’s decrees about sacrifice and forgiveness of sins, thus making them more of a quasi or pseudo-Judaism,. But isn’t that what they always did, even leading up to the Babylonian exile? Isn’t that what they did, leading God to rise up Judges? Isn’t that what their kings did, those mentioned in Scriptures as “Evil in the Lord’s sight”? Isn’t that what they’d done since God rescued them from Egypt? Isn’t that what many religions are today — man-made changes to God’s commands and decrees in order to fit man’s preferences and agendas? Don’t they change scriptures’ meanings to their better understanding and acceptance of it?
Jesus is/was the Hebrews’ (Jews’) Messiah. Many (not all) have rejected Him as such. Then, even when things happened that Jesus had foretold, instead of believing, they altered their religion. So now, Judaism is not the religion that God set up, nor is it the religion that the religious leaders during and after the Babylonian exile pieced together, but a religion that man had developed in response to the Temple being destroyed in 70 A.D.. Therefore, “the Temple is no longer needed”, they say. So did God change when He told them to sacrifice in the Temple? The Greek text tells us that the Temple (building) is no longer needed because Christ is the everlasting Temple, but it’s not “no longer needed”. When I asked about this and atonement for their sins, the Orthodox Jews say, “Atonement is now accomplished through prayer”. But Hebrews 9:22 reminds us that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. So if they reject Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross, and they don’t have a Temple building in which to offer sacrifices, then there’s no forgiveness of sins.
There’s only one way to Heaven, and that’s by hearing, turning, accepting and obeying God, and this can only be accomplished through Jesus Christ – God’s Son, God the Son, the Jews’ Messiah, the world’s Messiah. Any other suggestion is only man-made and invalid.