Israel and the Church

Today there is a fissure that will become a chasm in relation to Israel and the Church. There are many in Christendom today who believe that God has finished with Israel and that the Jewish state has nothing to do with God placing the Jewish people back in Israel. These proponents are from the replacement theology camp.

Then you have some Messianic Jewish fellowships that go to the other extreme in the opposite direction saying that the Church has Hellenised the scriptures and by this have hijacked the truth concerning the Hebraic roots of Biblical Christianity. Some Messianic Jewish believers say that the doctrines of the Trinity and the Deity of the Lord Jesus are inventions of Roman Catholicism and the Gentile Church which is just not true.

In Romans chapters 9-11 Paul addresses the relationship between Israel and the church where he shows clearly the spiritual connection between them both. The focus of this article will be Romans 11:16-24

The Background

Claudius the Roman Emperor (41 to 54 AD) expelled all of the Jews from Rome. (Acts 18:2) This included those Messianic Jews who were worshipping with the Gentile believers. Once the Jews had gone the Gentile believers started to look down on their Jewish brothers and sisters. It was almost an early form of replacement theology. Most of the Gentile believers started to think of themselves as spiritually superior to their Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters. When Nero came to power in Rome (54-68AD) he brought all the Jews back to Rome realizing that they were good for business and for the well-being of Rome’s economy.

Once the Jewish believers came back into fellowship with their non-Jewish brothers and sisters in the messiah there were misunderstandings developing regarding their relationship to each other as fellow believers in the Lord Jesus the Messiah. One of the issues that Paul addressed appears in chapter two where he shows that Jews and Gentiles have all sinned and that they all need the righteousness that comes from God through faith.

In chapters 9-11 he shows the relationship between the Jewish and Gentile believers from God’s perspective. Paul also showed that the Church owes a great spiritual debt to Israel (Romans 9:4-5) While Paul devotes a sizable portion of his letter addressing this situation there is a section of the letter where he clearly shows the spiritual connection between Israel and the Church. Let’s now look at chapter 11:16-24.

(Romans 11:16-24) “…and if the root is holy, the branches are too.17 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, 18 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. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 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. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 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?”

Exposition

(Vs. 16) …”and if the root is holy, the branches are too.” 

The Olive tree gets its nourishment from the roots below the ground. The sap that flows up through the tree spreads out to the branches producing fruit. In its spiritual context it is speaking about Israel as the Olive Tree and that the root that sustains its existence is the Lord Jesus the Messiah, “the root of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:10) See also (Romans 15:12) (Revelation 5:5; 22:16). He is the one whom through His Spirit causes His people to bear spiritual fruit. (Galatians 5:22-24)

If the root is holy then its branches and their fruit will also be holy. God people get their holiness and righteousness directly from the Lord Jesus the Messiah. (1 Corinthians 1:30) (Philippians 3:7-9) In fact all believers in the Lord Jesus have been predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. (Romans 8:29) So we see that the root that sustains the Olive Tree being Israel and its branches is the Lord Jesus.

(Vs.17) “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”

The branches broken off were individual Jews who were broken off because of unbelief. They were not producing the spiritual fruit of faith consequently they were rejected, not because they were Jewish but because of their unbelief in God and His promised Messiah. The “you” are the Gentile believers who were not cultivated spiritually by the law and the prophets but were pagans without Torah law. These former “wild Olive branches,” through the same faith as the believing branches had, were grafted into the Olive tree among the natural cultivated branches and partook of the same spiritual richness that was found in the root of the Olive Tree namely the Lord Jesus the Messiah.

In other words Gentile believers become part of the Commonwealth of Israel, not by natural lineage or ethnicity, but by being spiritually connected to Israel through faith in the Messiah. Both believing Jews and Gentiles are spiritually nourished as they draw their spiritual life and produce their spiritual fruitfulness from the same source. Through faith both Jew and Gentile are children of Abraham and true Jews circumcised in heart by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 2:28-29)

(Vs. 18) “…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.”

The Gentile believers in Rome had started to look down on their Jewish fellow believers and had started to develop a kind of spiritual arrogance, something we see immerging in many churches today. Paul had to remind them that the same ‘root’ that supported and spiritually nourished the Jewish believers was the same ‘root’ that supported and spiritually nourished the Gentile believers. This is a lesson that many in the Church need to learn today with rising anti-Semitism in Christendom. In all of this the Olive Tree still stands today and that Olive Tree is the nation of Israel. The Church owes a great debt to Israel. As Paul also writes; “…who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:4-5)

(Vs.19-21) “You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.”

Once again Paul was writing about individual branches that were broken off and that individual Gentile believers were grafted into the Olive Tree to replace only those individual Jewish branches broken off through unbelief. If the Church has replaced Israel, as many are asserting today, then the Olive Tree would have to have been uprooted altogether but according to Paul the Olive Tree is still there. What many non-Jewish believers do not realise is that the first Church was Jewish and that the root of that Olive Tree the Lord Jesus was also Jewish. He is still Jewish and Israel is still Israel (Not Palestine!) Faith in the Lord Jesus for salvation is the spiritual connection between believing Jews and Gentiles. Through the death of the Messiah the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile believers has been broken down. As far as God is concerned they are one family in the Messiah but He is Jewish and the Olive Tree (Israel) to which the branches are connected still stands. (Ephesians 2:11-22) (Galatians 3:28)

God has not finished with Israel as a nation. They will inherit all of the Land of Israel because of God’s covenant promise sworn in blood to Abraham to give the Land of Israel (Not Palestine!) to the descendants of Isaac and Jacob to be for them “an everlasting possession.” (Genesis 17:7-8) This will be fully accomplished in the Millennial reign of the Lord Jesus after He has come back. Paul was telling the Gentile believers that they only stood by faith. Putting it this way Paul was saying if you become arrogant then you run the risk of falling into pride and unbelief and being cut off from the Olive Tree and the root.

Remember what the Lord Jesus said; “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:4-6)

He was speaking to all believers whether they were ethnically Jewish or Gentile. The secret of bearing spiritual fruit is to stay connected to the vine though the faith that produces obedience. (Romans 1:5; 16:26) The Lord Jesus calls Himself the true Vine because He was the full manifestation of what the nation of Israel should have been to the Gentiles but failed to be through unbelief and disobedience. Israel was to be a light to enlighten the Gentiles concerning the LORD but failed to be that light. The Lord Jesus himself was and still is the Light of the World, a light that has never gone out. Those into replacement theology are in fact practicing a form of spiritual arrogance and have forgotten that those who bless the seed of Abraham will be blessed and those who curse them will themselves be cursed. (Genesis 12:1-3) Added to this there is always the danger that those who are connected to the vine by faith can be cut off through unbelief whether they are Messianic Jews or Gentile believers.

(Vs.22)  “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.

One of the reasons that Israel as a nation has suffered so much in the past and more so than any other nation historically is because when they received the law of God there were blessings and curses attached to the covenant God made with them as a nation. (Deuteronomy 28) When Israel walked in unbelief and disobedience the curse came upon them and they were defeated by their enemies. When they walked by faith and obedience the blessings came upon them and they were victorious over their enemies. When the Lord Jesus the Messiah came to His own people Israel as a nation on the whole were spiritually bankrupt except for certain individual believing Jews who recognized the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. At the time the Lord Jesus came from heaven into this world to tabernacle among us the nation of Israel was in unbelief and disobedience and under the foot of Rome.

The ultimate tragedy came when the Jews called down a curse upon themselves and their children at the trial of the Lord Jesus, a curse that has been upon Israel to this day. When the Lord Jesus died on the cross we are told that He became a curse for us, for the sins of Israel and for the whole world. As it is written “The Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” —He redeemed us so that the blessing promised to Abraham would come to the Gentiles in the Messiah Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:13-14)

At the cross the curse was broken. When any person Jew or Gentile repents and believes in the Lord Jesus for salvation they receive the blessed Holy Spirit and the Spirit takes the blood of the Messiah and breaks the curse over their life by cleansing their heart and life from all sin. (1 John 1:7-9) They are cleansed, their sin atoned for and they are on their journey with the Lord Jesus that will deliver them out of this present evil age and bring them to heaven when they die or to the rapture and resurrection if they are still alive when the Lord Jesus comes back. This is the message all men need to hear including the Jewish people. The Lord Jesus never cursed Israel in fact at the cross He prayed “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” And so Paul admonishes the Gentile believers at Rome to continue walking in God’s kindness and more so exercising that kindness towards their Jewish brothers and sisters in the Messiah or they, the Gentile believers, risk being cut off from the Olive Tree (Israel) and from their root, the Lord Jesus.

(Vs.23)  “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.”

A day is coming when Israel as a nation will return to the LORD through a revelation of their Messiah the Lord Jesus. (Zechariah 12:10-14) There is a remnant foreknown to God who will come to faith in the Lord Jesus as their Passover Sacrifice and Messiah and inherit the promises of Abraham, both the spiritual blessings and the physical blessing, which will see the complete restoration of Israel to their Land in Israel. (Romans 9:27) (Ezekiel 37:1-10) The prophets all foretold this future event when Israel will be the head and not the tail and that Jerusalem will be the capital of the world. (Isaiah 2:2) Notice also that Paul writes that God is able to graft them in again to the Olive Tree and the root. In other words in God’s view Israel still stands today!

(Vs.24) “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?”

A wild Olive Tree is not a cultivated Olive Tree. The wild Olive Tree refers to those Gentile nations corporately that are living pagan lifestyles and have not had the Law of God the Jews had, but were pagan nations. The wild Olive branches are those Gentiles that were not saved through faith in the Lord Jesus. When they came to faith they were grafted into the cultivated Olive Tree (Israel) and connected to the root (the Lord Jesus) This is what Paul was seeking to convey to the Gentile believers in Rome after the Jewish Messianic believers had come back into the city. If God can save Gentiles, who do not have the law and commandments revealed to them other than on their conscience, and make them children of Abraham and citizens of the Commonwealth of Israel, how much more will He make the natural branches inherit the blessings of Abraham. After all the Jewish people are his physical descendants and inheritors of the Land of Israel through Isaac and Jacob, not through Ishmael and Esau. In the Millennial Kingdom Jews and Arabs will be reunited. Jacob and Esau will be reunited!

To Sum up

1. Israel is the Cultivated Olive Tree because they were given the Law and the Covenants of God and the nation through whom the Messiah would come. 2. The natural branches broken off are individual Jews who have not believed in the Messiah. 3. The cultivated branches connected to the Olive Tree are Jewish believers in the Messiah 4. The wild olive branches grafted into the Olive tree among the natural believing branches are Gentile believers in the Messiah 5. The root that sustains them spiritually is the Lord Jesus 6. The divine ‘sap’ that produces the spiritual fruit in both the cultivated and wild olive branches connected to the Olive Tree is the blessed Holy Spirit. 7. The faithful Church is an extension and by inclusion Israelites and inheritors of the promises of Abraham through faith. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

This was the message Paul wanted the believers in Rome to understand and that for both Jew and Gentile righteousness from God was provided for them in the Lord Jesus the Messiah and that His righteousness is bestowed upon all who believe and received by them through faith.(Romans 3:21-30) Abraham’s children are all who believe whether Jew or Gentile. (Galatians 3:7)

Having said this in no way annuls or cancels out God’s prophetic purposes and promises for Israel as a nation which the Jewish people will inherit in the Millennial Kingdom. As the prophet Obadiah writes; “But on Mount Zion (in Jerusalem) there will be those who escape, And it will be holy. And the house of Jacob will possess their possessions.” (Obadiah 1:17)  In that day Israel will be the capital of the world! (Micah 4:1-5) In that day “All Israel will be saved!” (Romans 11:26)

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