The Tree of Israel (Part II) – Romans 11:16-24

by Roger McCay
8 March 2020
Sermon Passage: Romans 11:16-24
Link to Audio Version

A+B=C   ….  ½ + ½ =1   …   50% + 50% = 100%. The sum of an items parts equals a whole. This is the simple math of Romans 11:1-24.

In this passage, Paul explains the current and future situation of the Jews and gives it an application for the Gentile Christians. Paul explains that the Jewish elect and the Gentile elect together make up the tree that is “True Israel.” The sum of its parts is a whole.

While the math is simple and straightforward, there are some who hold to what is called “Replacement Theology”—the idea that the church has somehow superseded Israel. You see this teaching in various forms with erroneous theologies such as Dispensationalism, including Dispensational Premillennialism (the dangerous theology represented in the fictional “Left Behind” books), and in what is called “Two-Covenant Theology.” We don’t have time this morning to delve into these erroneous theologies, their serious problems, and how they harm the church. I’m going on the general principle of showing what a real dollar looks like so that you can spot the counterfeit. Keep in mind, however, that any theology that divides God’s people into two groups (the Israel of God and the Church of God); any theology that says God works differently (with two different covenants) among the Jews and the church of Jesus Christ; any theology that divides God’s people and how he brings about their salvation, is seriously wrong—a twisting of God’s Word.

Now, some confuse the erroneous thinking of Replacement Theology with Covenant Theology. Yet, such an association betrays a misunderstanding as to the nature of Covenant Theology. Covenant theology holds to the Scripture’s teaching that there has been one covenant all along (the Covenant of Grace), which was first announced in Genesis 3:15, after the fall. Over time, God worked his redemptive purposes through what might be called “sub-covenants” with God’s people (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David). Each covenant was an unfolding of the Covenant of Grace, finding its fulfillment in Christ with the New Covenant in his blood. God’s Covenant of Grace unifies the teachings of the entire Bible. God’s covenant also unifies the people of God. The church is a continuation of Israel under the same Covenant of Grace that God has been working all along. As one man put it “the church has always been the Israel of God and the Israel of God has always been the church.” True Israel has always been the remnant of God’s people, either within the Jewish nation or within the visible Church—the chosen of God, the elect. True Israel has always been saved by grace through faith in the Lord, whether Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab the prostitute of Jericho, Ruth the Moabitess, David, Isaiah, the Apostles, Luke the Physician, Lydia, and so forth, including you—if you are indeed a true believing disciple of Christ.

This continuation of True Israel is what Paul hammers home in our passage today. He uses the illustration of an olive tree. So doing, he also confronts the arrogance of anyone who would brush off the Jews with an arrogance towards Israel, thinking that the Church replaced Israel.

Last week we took a look at Rom. 11:1-15. There we considered Paul’s attestation to how God has never and will never abandon all the Jews. He always saves for himself a remnant. Those who are of the remnant of Jews are saved not because of any intrinsic merit or achievement (be it ethnic heritage or keeping the Law). Rather, they are saved because God chose them according to his grace. Many Jews will harden their hearts against Christ and suffer God’s wrath (the reprobate). Many Jews will ultimately trust in Christ as Savior and Lord and receive all the benefits of God’s grace (the elect). Some Jews are hardened against God, but are elect, so their hardening is an initial hardening. These Jews eventually will trust in Christ, and it will be a wonderful thing—life from the dead. Furthermore, Paul reveals that God overrules the jealousy of the Jews towards the Gentile Christians in order to bring many Jews to grace in Christ. Hence, it is imperative for Christians to evangelize the Jews (and those Gentiles who are like the Jews), by living in obedience of faith, following Jesus, in both word and deed.

After his exposition on the Jews, Paul gives a couple of illustrations in v. 16.

16 If the first-fruit is holy, then the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches are also holy.

What is that about? The first-fruit of the dough is a clear reference to Old Testament offerings and sacrifices. In the offering of the first-fruit, the priest took some of the dough from the larger lump and offered it to God (Num. 15:17-21). Paul explains, consistent with the logic of Lev 19:23–25, that in the representative piece the whole is consecrated (made holy)—God’s possession. The holiness of the first part of the dough becomes the holiness of the whole lump of dough.