Through Paul alone we know that the church is not an organization, but an organism, the body of Christ; instinct with His life, and heavenly in calling, promise, and destiny. Through him alone we know the nature, purpose, and form of organization of local churches, and the right conduct of such gatherings. Through him alone do we know that “we shall not all sleep,” that “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” and that living saints shall be “changed” and caught up to meet the Lord in the air at His return.
The Remnant of Israel
1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. – Romans 11:1-6 ESV
In versus one Paul asks, “… has God rejected his people?” The verb as Paul uses here conveys the sense of vigorous pushing away from Himself. If we look at the form of this question in Greek Paul is anticipating a negative answer to the question. But rhetorically he answers his own question. “I myself am an Israelite” Paul says in answer to his question. In Philippians 3:5 and 3:6 we have a glimpse of what your linage must be in order to be defined, ‘an Israelite’
5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. – Philippians 3:5-6 ESV
Paul’s own impeccable lineage can be traced back to Abraham, the great patriarch, but also to Benjamin, the only son of Jacob to be born in Israel. It was the tribe in whose territory Jerusalem was and also the tribe of Saul, the first king. The apostle himself is evidence that God has not fully and finally rejected the people on whom He set His love. Just as a believing remnant could be found in Israel in Elijah’s day, so there continues to be a remnant formed by God’s grace. By grace the elect obtained the salvation they sought. The rest were hardened.
In versus two Paul hints that God’s special love and gracious choice of them makes it unthinkable that He should finally reject them as a people, even though they have now rejected Him by rejecting Christ.
‘But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works’. Again we see in versus six the way of grace is contrasted with works of the law.
Let’s look back at Romans 3:20, 3:27 and Romans 9:32 bring home that it is now by His Grace and not by our works.
7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
9 And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.” – Romans 11:7-10 ESV
Here Paul describes a biblical Old Testament pattern of divine activity in the judicial hardening of hearts—a pattern Paul sees repeated in his own day. Read these passages: Is. 29:10; Ps. 69:22-23)
But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. – Deuteronomy 29:4 ESV
For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep. He has closed the eyes of your prophets and seers, – Isaiah 29:10 TLB
22 Let the bountiful table set before them become a snare
and their prosperity become a trap.
23 Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see,
and make their bodies shake continually. – Psalms 69:22-23 NLT
Gentiles Grafted In
11 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. 12 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! – Romans 11:11-12 ESV
What is Paul trying to say to the church in Rome, what point is he making? Is it that the rejection of the Jewish people is neither total nor final?
Stumbled . . . fall, As Paul presents it here, there is a difference between stumbling and falling. Israel had stumbled, but they would not fall – in the sense of being removed from God’s purpose and plan. You can recover from a stumble, but if you fall you’re down.
God had a specific purpose to fulfill in allowing Israel to stumble. Was it so that salvation would come to the Gentiles? Certainly not, but through their fall, perhaps just to provoke them to jealousy? Paul has shown that God is still working through a remnant of Israel today, but wants to make it clear that the sinning majority of Israel is not lost forever. If by any means I may provoke to jealousy, yet Paul’s desire isn’t only that these riches would be enjoyed by the Gentiles only, but that the Jews would be provoked to a good kind of jealousy, motivating them to receive some of the blessings the Gentiles enjoyed.
Let’s look at verses 11 and 12 as it is translated in the Message Version:
The next question is, “Are they down for the count? Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut No. Ironically when they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in. But the next thing you know, the Jews were starting to wonder if perhaps they had walked out on a good thing. Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming! – Romans 11:11-12
Through their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles. We should not forget that in many instances the gospel only went out to the Gentiles after the Jewish people rejected it (Acts 13:46; Acts 18:5-6; Acts 28:25-28). What Paul means by this is further illustrated by the Nazarene parable found in Matthew 22:1-14.
1 When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities.
2 Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” 4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
Jesus’ Tribute to John
7 As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! 9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’
11 Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. – Matthew 22:1-14 NASB
Just as the rejection of Christ among the Jews has led to the acceptance of the gospel among the Gentiles, so God means to use the Gentiles to provoke the Jews to envy the Gentiles’ blessings, leading to their salvation and correspondingly greater riches.
“It is a matter for profound regret that just as Israel refused to accept this salvation when it was offered to them, so the Gentiles have all too often refused to make Israel envious. Instead of showing to God’s ancient people the attractiveness of the Christian way Christians have characteristically treated the Jews with hatred, prejudice, persecution, malice, and all uncharitableness. Christians should not take this passage calmly.” (Henry Madison Morris)
Starting in versus thirteen, Paul provides a unique insight into his thinking about his own ministry to the Gentiles.
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. – Romans 11:13-16
The church in Rome consisted of Jews and Gentiles. Paul sometimes addresses the one, and sometimes the other, as here he does it to observe unto them the grace and goodness of God, in enriching them with the Gospel of salvation so they might not despise the Jews. Paul was ordained and set apart by God, in his eternal purposes, to be a teacher of the Gentiles (remember knocked off a donkey and blinded); he was sent immediately by Christ to bear his name among the Gentiles specifically, though not to the exclusion of the people of Israel. Paul chiefly preached the Gospel to the Gentiles, though sometimes to the Jews also. You can say though that Paul’s success in his ministry was mostly among the uncircumcised. Paul sought by all ways and means to gain both Jews and Gentiles; hence he addresses the Gentiles with greater freedom and boldness, because he was their apostle.
Paul now reaches his main point in the letter to the Romans, a lofty attitude among the non-Jews against the Jewish brethren. In doing so he uses the parable of an olive tree with both natural branches as well as engrafted wild branches. He uses the parable of the olive tree only to illustrate the need to understand how easily God could lop off a non-Jewish branch and graft in a Jewish one. Despite this warning both Jew and non-Jew can expect God’s mercy.
17 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, 18 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. 19Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then 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. 23 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. 24For 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. – Romans 11:17-24 ESV
To help us understand the concept of “Grafting In” let’s look at Ephesians 2:11-13 from the Good News Translation (GNT)
One in Christ
11 You Gentiles by birth—called “the uncircumcised” by the Jews, who call themselves the circumcised (which refers to what men do to their bodies)—remember what you were in the past. 12 At that time you were apart from Christ. You were foreigners and did not belong to God’s chosen people. You had no part in the covenants, which were based on God’s promises to his people, and you lived in this world without hope and without God. 13 But now, in union with Christ Jesus you, who used to be far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 GNT
The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation
25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. – Romans 11:25-32 ESV
Here Paul lets the church in Rome know that of all judgments, spiritual judgments are the sorest. The restoration of the Jew is, in the course of things, far less improbable than the call of the Gentiles to be the children of Abraham. Though others (Gentiles) now possess these privileges, it will not hinder the Jewish members from being admitted again. But Paul also lets the church know that by rejecting the gospel and by their indignation at its being preached to the Gentiles, the Jews were become enemies to God; yet they are still to be favored for the sake of their pious fathers (Grace).
Recalling our discussions about the rift, the divide between Jew and Gentile, Paul is reminding the members of the Roman Church that even if at present the Jews who are enemies to the gospel, for their hatred to the Gentiles; that when God’s time is come, that will no longer exist, and God’s love to their (Jewish) fathers will be remembered. True grace seeks not to confine God’s favor. Those who find mercy themselves should endeavor that through their mercy others also may obtain mercy.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:33-36 ESV
Paul has explained both God’s judgments and his ways in the preceding chapters of Romans. When we speak of God’s judgments, we particularly mean his hardening of hearts, which ends in eternal wrath. But Paul also affirms that God’s judgments testify to his righteousness, as well as to his wisdom. God knows how to catch those who oppose him as if in their own snares, by handing them over to their perverted mind and self-chosen destruction.
Paul also lets us know that God knows how to make his judgments upon the godless and unbelievers serve his entire plan for the world. In contrast with the judgments his ways should be taken as God’s ways of grace, which lead to eternal life, life from the dead. How wonderful and wise are His ways, one truly has to marvel at divine wisdom when one considers the following:
- God has mercy on the disobedient
- He gathers out of the rebellious Jews and Gentiles a people who are his very own
- He converts some through others
- He uses both the faith and unbelief of some to turn others to salvation
- He preserves the world day after day despite the malice of humans, and will continue until he has carried out his counsel of grace in all his elect
Paul continues in his counsel to the Church in Rome, reminding them His wisdom is entirely immeasurable and unfathomable; His judgments and ways are inscrutable and incomprehensible and that it is here emphasis lies.
Scripture also reminds us of this by emphatically pointing to God’s ways and judgments. It is also revealed to us in Scripture, (Romans 9-11) that God’s judgments are caused by humans, and that God’s ways of grace have their foundation in God himself, in God alone. But this does not explain everything. The final causes and motives of divine ways, works, and resolutions are and remain veiled and hidden to us.
Paul confirms that the judgments and ways of God are inscrutable and untraceable with three questions, which he borrows from Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:3. “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has previously given him anything” – really: anticipated him7 – “that he should be repaid?”
For a long time most Biblical Commentators preached that there were only three cases in which a person could know what God had decided or how he would carry it out:
- If he looked into God’s heart,
- If he were a co-possessor of God’s heart, and
- If he, according to the measure he had given to God, could calculate the return measure on which he could rely
These three cases, however, are simply not the case for anyone. The fact expressed in all three questions has its basis, according to verse 36, in this:
Everything is from God, through God, and for God. Everything that is and comes to be has its beginning in God, is carried out by God, and serves God’s purposes, including the finis ultimus [ultimate goal] of glorifying God. God is the original self-supporting One and the absolutely independent One. He is the beginning, middle, and end of all things. Even evil, which is not from God and is contrary to God, is included in [all things] insofar as God permits, limits, regulates, and governs all things, and makes them serve his purposes according to his wise counsel. In this way everything is from, through, and for God. Therefore the possibility of taking any part in God’s working, counsel, and knowledge is excluded.
Now that was a mouthful… What do you think?
This exclamation is a general teaching against all prying questions concerning the secret counsels of God. Accordingly it should be given very careful attention.
From this place arises this extraordinary question: “As pertains to humans, there is one mass corrupted by sin, consisting of all people. As pertains to God, however, he is so compassionate and merciful that his entire being is compassion and mercy itself. Moreover, I think Paul is letting us know that faith is not a work of the flesh, but the gift of God. So why is it, then, that God is compassionate to Jacob and gives him faith, but not compassionate to Esau, allowing him to remain in unbelief? Why does God transform Paul through faith in an extraordinary way, but not Caiaphas? Why does he bestow faith upon the Gentiles, but does not preserve the Jews in faith?” Most say that the Jews were ungrateful and rejected Christ and his gospel, while the Gentiles readily acknowledged Christ. But the question keeps going around in a circle.
“Why did God not keep the Jews in the true gratitude and faith, since he could have preserved faith in the Jews just as easily as he gave faith to the Gentiles?”
To all these kinds of questions Paul responds in versus thirty-three with this exclamation, “O the depth of the riches,” etc. Paul restrains prying questions with apostolic authority. A distinction has to be made among the ages and among the truths themselves, which are opposed to our knowledge. For, just as there are two ages – the present and the future, or the worldly and the heavenly – so also there are two kinds of truths that must be identified. Some truths are revealed, so that they may be learned in this age. Others are hidden, so that they may be learned only in the age to come. Accordingly, the truths that should be learned in this age are disclosed through the law and the gospel of Christ. … But the other questions, some of which we mentioned a little earlier, are reserved for the age to come, in which (provided that in this age we will have possessed the true faith and shown obedience) we will learn all the mysteries of God.
“To him be glory forever! Amen.” With a Soli Deo Gloria! Paul draws this exclamatio [exclamation] to a close, along with the entire discussion in chapters 9-11, which basically comprises a theodicy. In saying this, he calls on all Christians not to search into the arcana Dei [mysteries of God], let alone find fault with them, but rather to adore them. We should give glory to God for both – for what he has revealed to us in his Word for our salvation, and for his secret and hidden wisdom. Even if this wisdom is hidden from us for the time being, we are still convinced that it is great, sublime, holy, divine, and worthy of adoration. TheSoli Deo Gloria! will indeed resound from our mouth even fuller and louder when the veil has fallen, when the whole counsel of God lies bare and uncovered before our eyes in the life to come.
Thus, in the closing prayer (vv. 33-36), the Paul calls on Christians to adore the unfathomable wisdom, the inscrutable and incomprehensible judgments and ways of God.
Thank you Jesus!