Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Fate of the Jews (part 2/3)

We continue our reading from Romans 11:
11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!
13For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
In verses 11 to 15, Paul asks if the Jews have stumbled so far that they are utterly and totally lost. His answer to his own question is: certainly not! As Charles Hodge wrote: 'As a rejection of the Jews was not total, neither was it final.' The Jews have a future. Paul goes on to say that the salvation of the Gentiles is useful in provoking the Jews to jealousy. It serves no good purpose to provoke jealousy in the Jews if they are forever lost—jealousy only makes sense as a precursor to repentance. Paul adds that if the gentiles have befitted from the fall of Israel, how much more will they benefit from a restored Israel. Everyone in the kingdom benefits everyone else—this is not a zero-sum game. The Jewish restoration, such as it will be, is not at the expense of the Gentiles. To emphasize that the Gentiles are not solely used to provoke jealousy, Paul proudly declares himself an Apostle to the Gentiles, and adds, in effect, that arousing some of his own race is a fringe benefit of his ministry.
16For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
In verses 16-18 we read of the olive tree metaphor. The tree has roots and branches. The roots are holy, the branches require cultivation. The roots are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. They are not removed from the tree. Some of the branches of the tree have been broken off, these are the Jews that have rejected Christ. Some of the branches remain, these comprise the remnant. And now wild branches, the Gentiles, have been grafted onto the tree. In verse 18 we are reminded again not to boast, and not to assume we have replaced the Jews—our roots are not 1st century Christian Gentiles (They are but branches) but rather the Jews, viz., Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
19You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in." 20Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.
Verses 19-21 are quite interesting. First of all, I love that in verse 19 Paul tells his audience what they will say, and then in verse 20 tells them that it was well said! Seriously though, these verses are important. They demand that our response as Gentiles should be fear, not pride. And they also, taken together, warn against anti-Semitism, which sometimes uses verse 19 in isolation to support its hateful agenda.
22Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.
Here we (the Gentiles) are again told to seek humility. God has shown mercy to us, we have not earned it. And we must continue in faith. For if God was willing to break off the natural branches, He certainly will not hesitate to break off the wild branches should we slip into apostasy.
23And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
In verses 23 and 24 we are reminded that if God can graft the wild branches onto the tree, how much easier will it be to graft the natural branches, if they come to faith. Now with God, nothing is in the "if" category. Paul is merely using it as a rhetorical device. For, as we will see in the next installment, the question is not if but when.

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