* * *
JEWISH EVANGELISM AND DISCIPLESHIP
Article 6 of 13:
GENTILES IN THE OLIVE TREE:
A Look at Romans 11
by Sam Nadler
|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 root and of the richness of the olive tree; don't boast against the branches. But if you boast, it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you. - Romans 11:17,18|
The Olive Tree Ministry
In Romans 11 there are two key points Paul wants us to understand: first, God has not
rejected Israel; and second, the olive tree is Israel’s present reminder of their future national salvation in Yeshua. In Scripture, Israel is pictured as a veritable garden of God:
1) The Fig tree, biblically symbolized Israel’s national life, (Hos. 9:10; Mk. 11:12-14, 20; Matt. 24:32-34).
2) The Vine, biblically symbolized Israel’s spiritual life, (Isa. 5:1-7; Ps. 80:9; Hos. 10:1, Jn. 15:1-6).
3)The Olive tree, biblically symbolized Israel's ministerial or service life, (Jer. 11:16, Hos. 14:6; Rom. 11:16-24).
In Romans 9:4,5 Paul reiterates Israel’s privileges of service, and represents that service with the Olive Tree. As every part of the Olive Tree was used in holy service, it came to typify Israel’s holy service for God (as noted by the rabbis in Ex. Rab. 36:1, and elsewhere).
Ignorance Leads to Arrogance
In writing to the believers at Rome, Paul had to deal with an issue common to all people: pride. Regarding Israel, Gentile believers had come to some erroneous conclusions and had “become arrogant toward the natural branches” who are the Jewish people, (Rom 11:17). Tragically, this arrogance that concerned Paul developed into anti-Semitism; throughout history this arrogance has prevented the Jewish people from hearing of Yeshua in a way that they can understand the message.
Once the apostles had passed from the scene, Gentile leaders in the Roman state church began removing any trace of Jewish identity from the faith, even to the point of separating Easter from Passover! Out of this attitude of superiority a false view of Scripture arose that bred contempt for the Jewish people and disregarded God’s promises to Israel, such as the idea that the olive tree represents ‘the church’, and not Israel.
Gentiles Are Wild Olive Branches
In Romans 11:17 it is critical to understand that only “some of the branches were broken off.” People may say that God is now through with Israel as a national witness, however Paul says it is only the unbelieving natural branches, as many as they may be, that are broken off from Israel. Unbelief, disobedience, brings loss of service. But think: was God through with Israel during Elijah’s day? (see 11:2-5).
No. In fact, Israel as a witness nation was both then and “at this present time” continuing on through the believing natural branches, and including the testimony of the grafted in wild branches, Gentiles such as Ruth and Rahab, Luke, and you (see Josh. 2, Heb. 11:31)! If you’re a Gentile you too have been grafted in among them, not to replace Jews, but among the Jewish people, to make them jealous (11:11)! Jewish believers are not grafted into a Gentile Church. Quite the opposite: Paul says that Gentile believers, as wild olive branches, are grafted into a Jewish tree!
From Root to Fruit
The Olive Tree is Israel in service, and the root is God’s promise to the Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, see Rom. 11:28,29, Isa. 51:1,2). Being grafted in means that you receive the blessing of the privileges which is always by promise. Gentile believers are grafted into a privileged position of service for both witness and worship. Jewish believers have to accept Gentile believers as co-heirs; Gentile believers have to accept Jewish believers as partners in God’s service, thus the same life-giving Spirit, or ‘sap’, nourishes all of the branches. Many Gentile believers love the Jewish people, but there are others who, because of arrogance, despise them. You can’t be filled with the Spirit if you are filled with yourself. The problem is, when one despises the ‘natural branches’ (Jews), they actually despise the ‘root’, which are the promises God made to the Fathers.
Since the olive tree doesn’t refer to salvation, but service, 'broken off' refers not to the loss of salvation, but to the loss of service. If God didn’t spare the natural branches, who sincerely fast and pray, can trace their ancestry back to Mt. Sinai, keep the feasts, strive to be righteous, etc., He’s not going to grant the privilege of service to those who are not only ignorant of His word, but arrogant as well. Arrogance toward the natural branches despises not only the promises, but the power of God. Therefore we should never be arrogant, because God has promised, and He does have the power to graft Jewish people back in again (11:23). They only need to believe! Yes, God is able! Nothing is too hard for God! This is the theme of Scripture. Can God bring Israel back to the land after 19 centuries? Indeed, for God is able!
For if you were cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more will these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? (Rom. 11:24). Usually a cultivated graft is placed into a wild tree to attain its vigor and to produce cultivated fruit. But God took the wild fruitless branch and grafted it into the cultivated olive tree. God worked contrary to nature: like ‘round pegs in square holes’. By grace He brought Gentiles to believe in His Jewish Messiah, by Jewish prophets, Jewish apostles, and Jewish scriptures, into a Jewish hope!
So, if God can save Gentiles, how much more can He save Jews? One might think that Jewish evangelism should be easy, but unfortunately this isn’t the case. Why not? Why don’t Jews feel at home in the average church? Could it be that non-Jewish expressions of worship found in most churches communicate to Jewish people, that faith in this Jesus is definitely not for them?
Similarly, Gentiles who do identify with ‘the olive tree’, a Jewish expression of faith, may appear to other Gentiles as contrary to nature: contrary to what ‘feels’ comfortable. Paul exhorts Gentile believers not to change their own expression of faith to accommodate themselves, because the Jewish people are still the natural branches; they are to fit into “their own olive tree”! Look at those words again: “their own olive tree.” Paul said that the local assembly is supposed to look like “their own olive tree” so that they would easily fit in by faith in Messiah.
Hey, Who Moved The Office?
Imagine this. I recently left for Kiev, and while I was away my administrator, Pat, decides to use my office (he wouldn’t really do this, but bear with me). He changes the pictures, the carpet and color of paint, knocks out walls, moves doors, etc. Upon realizing the location isn’t convenient for him, he moves my office nearer to his part of town. When I return, not only do I not recognize my office, I can’t even find it! Why? Pat acted as though I was never coming back! What ‘chutzpah’ (nerve)! Despite the promises and power of God, many Gentiles have historically acted as though the Jewish people would never come to faith in Messiah. But since God has promised that it will happen, what should our response be?
Let's Get Biblical
What is the most effective way to reach Jewish people with the Good News of Messiah? With their own olive tree, no distractions, no cultural stumbling blocks, no ‘Jew jokes’. If someone is not going to believe in Yeshua let it be because his own unbelief, not because of confusing cultural issues. Several years ago a Jewish man was invited to a Messianic congregation. He wasn’t interested in this Jesus, but just to placate his friends he attended. When he arrived and heard the Jewish music, and heard a message of the Jewish Messiah. He remarked, “This fits; I’m home.” After hearing the Gospel, he understood it and accepted the Lord. Today he is serving as part of ‘the Olive Tree’ to reach out to Jewish people, as well as Gentiles. God was able to graft him back in. And when I think about it, one of the things most ‘contrary to nature’ is… me in Heaven! But God is able! So, whether you are Jewish or Gentile, God has a specific plan and purpose for your life, to be a light in a dark world. Remember, reliance on the Lord is revealed in our regard for His branches.
Links to prior studies in the Jewish Evangelism
and Discipleship series may found in our Library
Sam Nadler is director of Word of Messiah Ministries in Charlotte, N.C. This article is reprinted
from Word of Messiah's website with permission, and may be viewed in its original
form at http://www.wordofmessiah.org/july_04_1.htm. Many other fine articles
and other features may be found at Word of Messiah. Thank you, Sam.
* * *
Return to Home Page