Last week we began Romans 11. And as we began I mentioned that of all the chapters in Romans, chapter 11 is by far the most difficult and perhaps even more controversial than chapter 9. This is the case because when we enter into chapter 11 we enter into the realm of eschatology, the study of last things. And one of the main components of eschatology is the nation of Israel and its future. And Romans 11 is, without a doubt, Paul’s most complete teaching on the future of Israel. So naturally, what one believes about Romans 11 largely determines how we believe the last days will unfold. Considering this, I encouraged you last week (and I encourage you again today) to have firm and deep convictions about eschatology, but to not hold those convictions with a closed fist. After all, while there are many hills to die on in the Christian faith, not many of them are found within eschatology. This means that even within the same congregation we should be able to disagree and even discuss these things without tearing into each other.
So far we’ve walked through 11:1-10 and have seen how God always has a remnant. Even though the Kingdom of God in the world might appear to be weak, insignificant, and even entirely absent, that will never be the case. Because God in His electing grace always ensures there will be a faithful few who only bow the knee to Him. It was like this in Elijah’s day (even though he perceived he was alone), it was like this in Paul’s day (even though he might have felt like Elijah), and this continues to be true in our day as the majority of the Jewish people have rejected the Messiah. For so rejecting Christ v1-10 tells us that God has hardened Israel in their unbelief. But it also tells us that God has opened the eyes of some of them, Paul himself included, and we praise God for that.
This brings us up to speed. So let’s continue on with Paul to see where he takes us in v11-24. Two headings to work through today, The Circle in v11-15, and The Warning in v16-24.
The Circle (v11-15)
See v11 first, “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.”
Right away notice that v11 has much in common with v1. Remember Paul asks in v1 if God has rejected His people and remember Paul asked that question because chapter 10 ends with a tragic comment, Israel is now a disobedient and contrary people…naturally leading to the question in v1, has God then rejected His People? Paul’s answer is an emphatic negative! “By no means!” And in v1-10 he explains why that is indeed the case, that God has foreknown His people, that Paul himself is an example of God not rejecting His people, and that by grace God will always ensure that a remnant of faithful followers exist. But in explaining himself further in v1-10, we see more. v1-10 not only answers the question in v1 emphatically, it also shows us that Israel is now divided into two parts. There is ‘the remnant’ God has chosen by grace, and there is ‘the rest’ God has hardened. Israel is now a divided people, I think Paul’s clear on that. A new question comes in from this: is this divided Israel permanent? Will Israel always look like this, always be divided, even until the end when Christ returns? This is what Paul is asking in v11. Israel stumbled, what does that mean? They stumbled over the cornerstone, over Christ, at the work of God in Christ. And from stumbling over Christ, Paul asks if they will ultimately fall in the end. Paul’s answer once again is clear. Just as he does in v1, he emphatically responds, “By no means!”
What a pastoral heart here. Paul’s eager that we his readers do not arrive at wrong conclusions, see that? He could’ve said all this very briefly but he’s after us and aiming for us to truly understand what he’s saying. So he asks questions of us, he states truth to us, so that we won’t misunderstand him. So, we have the answer to the question of v11. Israel, while divided now, will not always be so. In other words, their hardening is neither full nor final.
But v11 continues on. First it says, “Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles…” and then second it gives us the purpose for Israel stumbling saying, “…so as to make Israel jealous.” Yes indeed Israel has stumbled. But they stumbled for two reasons: first, to bring salvation to the Gentiles, and second, for jealousy. What does this mean? Well, continue on reading in v12-15 and it will be clear what it means. “Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?”
There is a circle to see here. Israel truly stumbled over Christ, but they’re stumbling has been used by God to get the gospel out to the Gentiles, out to the nations. But that’s not the end of the story. When the Jews see the effect the gospel of Christ has on the Gentiles, and as the Jews see the Gentiles enjoying the blessings first promised to them, they will be provoked and stirred to jealousy. What will their jealousy lead to? As Paul says here in v14 some of them will reconsider the gospel they rejected and be saved in this way! See the circular shape of this? From rejection –to jealousy – to returning to the very gospel they once hated. That’s the gist of all of this. This circular pattern is why Paul speaks like he does in v14, saying he magnifies his ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles, not to make much of himself, not even to make much of how greatly God had worked among the Gentiles. No, Paul magnifies his ministry to the Gentiles to make his fellow Jews jealous, so that they’d be saved. Paul is aware that he’s being used by God in this way, and in this he is glad.
Now lean into this more and notice how Paul speaks of this.
Israel’s rejection of the gospel led to the riches of Christ going out to the Gentiles, which means when we Gentiles embrace the gospel what happens? We truly come to know the riches of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Paul uses a ‘how much more’ kind of argument in v12 and v15. In v12 he speaks of it in terms of riches, and in v15 he speaks of it in terms of resurrection. In both these two verses it’s about Israel’s rejection and return. If Israel’s rejection means riches spread out to the nations (that’s v12) and the reconciliation of the world with God (that’s v15), how much more glorious will it be when the Jews return to the gospel? If Israel’s loss was great gain to the Gentiles, how much more gain will both Jew and Gentile have when the fullness of Israel returns? v12 says the riches we know and enjoy will be far greater, and v15 says it will be like life from the dead! These comparisons aren’t between bad and good, or nothing and something. These comparisons are between riches and greater riches, or great blessing and massive abundance! It will be like life from the dead when God moves in power and brings Israel in through the gospel!
So, the circle of rejection – jealousy – and return is now complete. As Paul moves on ahead in chapter 11 he pivots and applies this circle to us Gentiles with a warning.
The Warning (v16-24)
See v16 first, “If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.”
In v16 Paul lays some groundwork for his warning with some familiar OT images: offerings with their firstfruits and a tree with its roots and branches. The foundational groundwork to see is simple, since the firstfruits are holy so too is the whole lump, and since the root is holy so too are the branches. There is no real debate about what the branches are in this whole passage, it’s the people of Israel. But while most agree on that, there is much disagreement and debate about what the firstfruits are in v16. But since most believe the branches to be the people of Israel, most also conclude the firstfruits to be the patriarchs of Israel, and I think that’s a good option. So, see the foundation laid in v16…Israel as a people are holy. They had holy roots in the patriarchs and they themselves are the holy branches on God’s tree. Now, we’re in a position to see Paul’s warning.
Hear v17-21, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.”
The people of Israel, remember, are the branches on this tree. And Paul explains that some of them were broken off. Why? Because they rejected the gospel! That’s the one main grief of Paul in all of Romans 9-11. When they were broken off, see it, other branches were grafted in. What branches were grafted in? Wild olive shoots, or Gentiles. Not just any Gentiles, but Gentiles who believe in the gospel, you and I. Paul goes further in v17 and says we who’ve been grafted into this tree now share in the tree and are nourished by the roots of this tree. What are the roots again? Well, if the roots are the patriarchs, it would seem to fit here. We Gentiles, who have no natural link or connection to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now become sons and daughters of Abraham through faith in Christ! The root we were once far from and strangers to, now nourishes us.
See that? Here comes the warning. Knowing we’ve been grafted into this tree and knowing we truly participate in its nourishing life, what does Paul say to us? v18, “Don’t be arrogant toward the branches!” Do we think this tree is all about us? Have we forgotten that the tree sustains and supports us? Or do we think we support it? Paul anticipates our response in v19, “But branches were broken off so that we Gentiles would be grafted in.” Then comes v20-21, where Paul drives it home to us. ‘Yes, most of Israel was broken off for their unbelief and many of you Gentiles have been grafted in for believing…lesson? Do not become proud, but fear the Lord. Why? Because if God didn’t spare the natural branches, He won’t spare you either.’
What does all this mean for us? There was once a time when Jews thought so lowly of Gentiles that they called them dogs. Not sweet little puppies you see on Instagram but rabid, mangy, disease ridden creatures who are hated by all. Jews viewed Gentiles like this. As foreigners who are vile, sinful, wicked, and outside the Kingdom of God. Paul turns this around on us and says our very real danger as Gentiles who’ve been grafted in is that we would now look on the Jews in the exact same way they once looked on us. As if we were the cream of the crop, a cut above the rest of humanity, deserving of God’s grace while others simply aren’t. Our great danger, simply put, is pride. Pride in our nationality, pride in our own self-defined worth, pride in our God-given gifts, pride that puff us up and ultimately leads us to despise others because we’re convinced we’re so much better than others.
Pride, is the complete anti-God posture, it’s the opposite of Christianity. “…do not be arrogant toward the branches…but fear God.” To fear God isn’t to have a slavish or frightful fear of God, but to take up a posture of reverence for who God is in His matchless majestic glory which leads to the death of pride and the birth and growth of humility in us, or a true awareness of who we are in our small sinful condition.
What does fearing God in true humility look like? See v22-24, “Note then (or more literal in Greek ,“Behold!”) the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.”
v22-24 is really just Paul expanding on the ending thought of v21, “So do not become proud, but fear.” What does look like? It looks like seeing God for who He is, in His kindness to those who repent and believe, and in His severity to those who refuse to repent and believe. In His severity God has cut off Jews who reject the gospel, and in His kindness He has grafted in Gentiles who believe. The call here is this: continue in His kindness, by continuing on in faith. Otherwise, we too, like the Jews, will be cut off.
And more so, Paul presses us Gentiles further in v23-24 when he says God can graft the Jews back in if they believe. It’s their tree remember? Gentiles are the stranger to these things. Since God can do the harder thing of grafting Gentiles into it, He can also do the easier thing and bring the Jews back into it, that is, if they turn to Christ.
I know these things might seem a bit distant to you in our day. I don’t think SonRise has an issue with hating Jews. But think back to this original context. It was immensely pressing on these Christians in Rome. Because in 49 AD the emperor Claudia, kicked out all the Jews in the city and banned them from returning. So this Roman Church Paul is writing to was by and large birthed and grew up in a completely Gentile environment. But by the time Paul writes his letter to them, that edict had been revoked and Jews were allowed to come back in. And when they did, the Jews who believed came back into the Gentile Roman churches, and problems occurred. The Gentiles had become puffed up with pride believing they had fully and forever replaced the Jews and God’s people. And that they were better than the Jews because of this. Naturally then, Paul’s words here in Romans 9-11, especially these verses in chapter 11 we’re in right now, would’ve been immediately applicable and very humbling for both Jew and Gentile to hear that they are now on equal terms before God, for they all stand or fall by faith.
This is where it comes home to us as well. Like I said I don’t think we struggle with hating Jews and feeling like we’ve replaced them. But I do think we modern western people innately have a great sense of superiority over the rest of the world. And not only these days is this sense of superiority really directed at the rest of the world, but it seems to have been privatized to us, so that now each individual in our culture thinks of themselves as superior over all others in our culture, and rather than thinking this way privately, what do we do? We post it online. Create our own brand. And slowly but surely craft an online presence that exports our own exalted opinions of ourselves, which is really just a call to others to join us in our pursuit of our own self-admiration.
We’d do well to remember Paul’s warning: do not become proud, but fear.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 701.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – To God’s Glory (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 60.
 Moo, Romans, 706–707.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 89.
 Moo, Romans, 715.
 Ibid., 719.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 86.
 Ibid., 118-124.