The Restoration of Israel Part One
Every Gentile Christian should have a keen interest in the future of the Jewish people. Without a firm conviction in a future plan for Israel, Gentiles can open themselves up to pride and arrogance toward the Jew. To believe that God has permanently cast away the Hebrew nation can lead to an attitude of spiritual superiority over Jewish people. However, to believe in Israel’s future restoration to the place of divine privilege and blessing leads to a proper self-evaluation and understanding of God’s grace.
In Romans 11:16–24, Paul addressed Gentiles in the church at Rome who looked down upon Israel for her unbelief By giving these Gentiles truths relating to Israel’s future restoration, the apostle warned them about the grave danger of pride and arrogance toward Israel. To indicate the glorious future of Israel, Paul gave two truths that relate to her restoration:
- The Principle of Restoration (vv. 16–22)
- The Possibility of Restoration (vv. 23–24)
The Principle of Restoration
The Illustration (Analogy) (vv. 16–17)
Paul began by presenting two analogies illustrating the principle of Israel’s restoration. He wrote, “For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches” (v. 16). The first analogy between a piece of dough and the whole lump of dough is a reference to the Mosaic Law in Numbers 15:18–21. Each time dough was prepared for baking bread, a little piece of the dough was to be given to the Lord (i.e., given to the priest). This was a symbolic act indicating that the whole lump belonged to God. If the first piece were set apart for God, then certainly the whole lump belonged to Him. The second analogy mentioned by Paul is that of the root of a tree and its branches. Common sense dictates that if the root of a tree were consecrated (holy) to God, then the branches that come from the tree also are set apart for Him.
Both of these analogies illustrate the principle of God restoring Israel to her place of privilege. The first piece of dough and the root of the tree represent the origin of Israel in the person of Abraham. The tree, which stems from the root, is the place of privilege and blessing stemming from the unconditional covenant made with Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3). The lump and branches refer to the Jewish people. Paul’s point was that since Israel is rooted in the covenant promises made to Abraham, the nation is, therefore, set apart for God. In other words, Because Abraham was set apart to God, then all the Jewish people which came from his loins have been set apart as well! Paul was using the term holy in the sense of being set apart for God’s use rather than being morally holy. If Israel has been set apart for God’s use, then her “stumbling’ must be temporary and her restoration inevitable.
However, in the process of temporarily setting Israel aside, other branches have been grafted in. Paul wrote, “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakes” of the root and fatness of the olive tree” (v. 17). When God set Israel aside, unbelieving Jewish branches were cut off from the tree. God then took branches from a wild olive tree (Gentile believers) and grafted them into the tree. Together with believing Jewish branches, Gentile branches enjoy the spiritual blessings that come from the covenant made with Abraham. However, these blessings do not warrant an attitude of boastfulness on the part of the Gentile branches.
A Warning to Gentiles (v. 18)
In the Church age, Gentiles who become Christians have spiritual privileges that Jewish unbelievers do not have. Therefore, Gentile branches must beware of religious pride. They can easily think of themselves as better than the Jews because they are in the place of blessing instead of the broken off branches. In response to this natural tendency of pride, Paul wrote, “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee” (v. 18). The apostle told Gentile believers not to look down on Jewish people who have rejected Christ. If they do exalt themselves, they should remember that they are not the source of blessing. Abraham, the Jewish root, is the source of the blessing that Gentile believers experience. Jesus said the same thing when He declared, “salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22).
Gentile believers are linked to Abraham in the sense that the patriarch is “the father of all them that believe” (Rom. 4:1, 11, 16–17).
The Apostle Paul anticipated another Gentile claim to superiority over unbelieving Jews by writing, “Thou wilt say, then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in” (v. 19). This Gentile branch believed that God cut the Jewish branches off from the tree of blessing because Gentile believers were more deserving of it.
When the Gentile church considers itself more deserving of salvation than Jewish people who have rejected Christ, then it displays an intolerable arrogance. Ironically, this attitude is similar to the thinking of Israel in Old Testament days. The ancient Jew was often bigoted and proud and thought that God could only establish a relationship with him and not Gentiles. Paul captured this haughty Jewish spirit when he described the attitude of superiority over Gentiles with these words, “And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them who are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, who hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law” (Rom. 2:19–20).
When Gentile Christendom exhibited a similar attitude of prejudice toward the Jewish people by thinking of themselves as more deserving of salvation, they received a rebuke from the apostle. Paul wrote, “Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear; For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” (vv. 20–21). In addition to rebuking these proud Gentiles, Paul explained why the Jewish branches were cut off, and he exhorted them to fear God. The reason the unbelieving Jewish branches were cut off from the place of blessing had nothing to do with Jewish inferiority to Gentiles but was related to the issue of faith. Unbelief was the cause of the Jewish branches being cut off, and Gentile branches were grafted in only because of their faith in Christ. Why, then, should Gentile branches fear? If God did not spare the original people of the covenant because of their unbelief, then He certainly will not spare Gentiles if they do not believe. “Why should God have any more regard for a faithless Gentile Christianity than for a faithless Judaism?”*
Would God ever cut unbelieving Gentiles off as He did unbelieving Jews? Paul answered this question by writing, “Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God on them who fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” (v. 22). Just as the olive tree had apostate, unbelieving Jews that were cut off, so the professing church certainly has apostate, unbelieving Gentiles that will be cut off. Paul isn’t suggesting that true believers will be lost, for he had already established the security of the believer in Romans chapter 8. However, much of what is called Christendom is the liberal, apostate church that claims to be Christian but denies the deity of Christ, attacks the Bible, and scorns the gospel! Just as all Israel is not Israel, so all Christendom is not the church (cf. Rom. 9:6).
Those Gentiles who turn from the goodness of God, as revealed in the gospel, will be cut off from the place of blessing While these unbelieving Gentile branches have never experienced salvation, there is a sense in which, by their association and identification with true believers, they have experienced some of the blessings God gives to His church (cf. 1 Cor. 7:14). However, there is a day coming when the false Gentile church will be cut off from the place of any blessing. After the Rapture of the church, the false church will continue into the Tribulation period until it is cut off by the Antichrist (Rev. 17).
The point the apostle made was that the issue of being in the place of divine privilege is strictly related to faith, not ethnic superiority. But if it is possible for the false Gentile church to be cut off because of her unbelief, then it must also be possible for Israel to be grafted back in if she believes the gospel. Therefore, Paul presented another truth about the future restoration of Israel.
The Possibility of Israel’s Restoration (vv. 23–24)
Can God restore Israel? The answer is Yes! Therefore, Paul continued writing to the Gentile branches, “And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again” (v. 23). Without specifically stating that Israel will turn to Christ, the apostle declared that if they do believe the gospel, God is able and willing to graft them back into the tree.
In addition to being possible, it would not be difficult for God to graft Jewish people back into the place of blessing. Paul wrote, “For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more shall these, who are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (v. 24). The following information on the grafting procedure helps us to understand this verse:
The olive, in its natural wild state, bears no berries, or but few and these small and destitute of oil The olive is wild by nature and must be grafted by the good before it will bear fruit, but here the apostle speaks of grafting the wild into the good, not the good upon the wild … observe, he expressly says that this is contrary to nature, as it really is. I have made particular inquiries on this point, and find that in the kingdom of nature, generally, certainly in the case of the olive, the process referred by the apostle never succeeds. Graft the good upon the wild and, as the Arabs say, it will conquer the wild. But you cannot reverse the process with success. If you insert a wild graft into a good tree, it will conquer the good. It is only in the kingdom of grace that a process thus contrary to nature can be successful. And it is this circumstance which the apostle has seized upon with admirable tact, to magnify the mercy shown to the Gentiles by grafting them, a wild race, contrary to the nature of such operations, into the good olive tree.*
Gentiles should never glory overt the unbelieving Jews’ present estate. If God can do such an unnatural thing as graft them into a good tree, then how much easier could He graft the natural branches into their own olive tree? In other words, Paul was saying, If God could take idolatrous pagans and bring them to the Jewish religion, then it would be much easier for God to lead the Jews who have gone astray hack to their own original religion.
While today many consider a Hebrew Christian something of a novelty, there is nothing more natural and normal than for a Jew to believe in Jesus. However, in light of the dark history of paganism, it is remarkable that so many Gentiles have placed their faith in Jesus Christ.
The future restoration of Israel depends upon faith. Today their unbelief prevents them from being grafted into their own olive tree. However, both the principle and possibility of restoration indicate a glorious future for the nation.
In our next article, we will focus on the promise of Israel’s restoration.