The last time I mentioned that Romans 11 is a difficult chapter. All of Romans is difficult. But Romans 11 is especially difficult; and the commentators discuss various words and phrases in this chapter and they try to make sense of Paul’s words. And one commentator makes one conclusion:
This is what Paul means.
And another commentator reaches a different conclusion:
This is what Paul means.
And still another commentator reaches a third conclusion:
This is what Paul means.
It’s a difficult chapter. But we tried our best with verses 1 to 10 the last time, where Paul begins with a question:
Did God reject his people?
So, has God rejected the Jews completely? Had he washed his hands of them, because they’ve been so disobedient and obstinate? And Paul replied with a very firm ‘no’. And to support his very firm ‘no’, he pointed to himself as Exhibit A as if to say:
I’m a Jew and God hasn’t rejected me. So, he hasn’t rejected the Jews completely and in their entirety, because he accepted me.
And then, Paul reminded his readers of the story of Elijah in the Old Testament and how Elijah thought he was the only one left, the last faithful Israelite. And the Lord spoke to Elijah and said to him:
No, you’re not the only one left. You’re not the last faithful Israelite. I have kept 7,000 for myself who have not bowed down to worship Baal.
In other words:
I’ve kept a remnant for myself who still believe; and who are still faithful.
And Paul applied that to his own day, and to how, yes, many, many, many Jews refused to believe in the Lord Jesus; however, there were some who did believe. God had graciously chosen some of the Jews to belong to him and to believe in the Saviour and to remain faithful to him. Some stumbled over Christ the Saviour; but others believed in him. And wasn’t that the case when Paul went from place to place, preaching the gospel? We read about it in the book of Acts. He would arrive in a new city and go into the Jewish synagogue to preach about Jesus Christ. And many among the Jews who heard refused to believe. But some did believe. Some stumbled over the good news of Jesus Christ; others believed the good news of Jesus Christ.
Today we come to verses 11 to 24. And these verses also begin with a question. Look at verse 11:
Again I ask: ‘Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery.’
Paul once again is referring to the Jews. And what he’s asking is whether the reason for their stumbling was in order that they might fall away for good. You see, they stumbled in the sense that they stumbled over the message of Jesus Christ. Instead of believing in him, they rejected him. So, they’ve stumbled. But did God cause them to stumble over the message of Jesus Christ because he wanted them to fall away for good? Was that the purpose, or the reason, for their stumbling?
And once again, Paul answers with a very firm ‘no’. And he goes on to explain what the purpose, or the reason, for their stumbling is. Why did they stumble over the message of Christ? Paul tells us in the rest of verse 11:
because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles.
The purpose of their stumbling, the reason for their stumbling, was so that the Gentiles might receive salvation.
Just think back to the book of Acts. Paul would arrive in a new city. And he went straight to the Jewish synagogue. And there, he’d preach to the Jews about the Lord Jesus. Some Jews believed; most did not. And sometimes those who didn’t believe stirred up trouble and opposition and persecution. So, Paul would leave the synagogue and he’d find a hall or somewhere else and he’d preach there to the Gentiles. And many of them were convinced and converted to faith in Christ. And the reason they got to hear the message of salvation was because the Jews refused to believe. Because the Jews stumbled over the message of Christ, the Gentiles got to hear it; and those who believed, received salvation.
Listen, for instance, to what we read in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas are in Pisidian Antioch. They preached in the synagogue one Sabbath. After the service, the people invited them to come back the next Sabbath day and to preach some more. So, the next Sabbath day, the synagogue was packed. During the week, people had been talking about this new message and they wanted to hear for themselves. But we read in verse 45 that when the Jews saw the crowd, they were filled with jealousy and they talked abusively against what Paul was saying. And Paul and Barnabas answered them and said:
It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.
And we read in verse 48 that when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. They Jews rejected the message. And so, Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles. And many of the Gentiles believed.
In Romans 11:11, Paul is describing what happened in Pisidian Antioch and in so many other cities where he went. The Jews stumbled over the good news. And therefore, salvation came to the Gentiles. But look: Paul isn’t finished. The Jews stumbled over the message; salvation therefore came to the Gentiles; and therefore the Jews became envious. They became jealous. Isn’t that interesting? We just read about that in Acts 13 where it said that when the Jews saw the crowds who had come to hear Paul, they became jealous. And what Paul seems to be saying in Romans 11 is that the Jews became jealous, or envious, because what was once theirs has now been taken from them and given to the Gentiles. Think of a child who becomes jealous of the new baby who is born, because once Mum and Dad gave all their time and attention and affection to him, but now they’re giving time and attention and affection to his baby sister. And he doesn’t like it. Well, says Paul, the Jews didn’t like it, because — while once they could boast that they were God’s chosen people — it now seems that God has directed his love and grace and mercy away from them and onto the Gentiles. And they didn’t like it.
Before we move on, we should note that Paul is going to hold out hope for the Jews. Yes, many, many, many of the Jews in his day refused to believe. Yes, they were provoked to jealousy by the Gentiles. However, Paul is anticipating that their jealousy will lead some of them to faith. Some of them will come to understand that salvation is through faith in Christ alone. And so, they too will come to believe in him so that they might receive the salvation which the Gentiles are currently enjoying. So, that’s where Paul is going in the verses which follow.
Verses 12 to 15
Look now at verse 12 where Paul says that the transgression of the Jews means riches for the world. What was their transgression? Well, it was their failure to believe the good news. Their failure to believe the good news means riches for the world, says Paul. And as we’ve seen, whenever they rejected the good news, Paul turned to the Gentiles and many of them received salvation. So, their transgression means spiritual riches for the Gentile world.
And in the next line, Paul repeats the same thought in different words:
Their loss means riches for the Gentiles.
They lost out on salvation, because they did not believe. But Paul was therefore able to bring the message of salvation to the Gentiles.
And then Paul adds:
how much greater riches will their fulness bring!
Now, what he seems to be saying here is that, while many of the Jews in his day did not believe, and their failure to believe meant spiritual riches for the Gentiles, nevertheless, he was anticipating that over time more and more Jews will come to believe in the Saviour until at last, at last the full number of Jews — or as Paul puts it here ‘their fulness’ — will be reached.
He’s talking — isn’t he? — about the full number of those among the Jews who will believe in the Lord Jesus. In other words, when he mentions ‘the fulness’ in verse 12, he’s referring to the remnant, which he mentioned back in verse 5: chosen by grace from among the Israelites for salvation. Or he’s referring to the elect, which he mentioned back in verse 7: those elected or chosen by God from among the Israelites for salvation. And, Paul says, when the full number has been reached — and we don’t know when the full number will be reached — but when the full number has been reached, it will mean even greater spiritual riches for the world.
What does he mean by these ‘greater spiritual riches’? Well, we need to wait until verse 15 to find out. But look at verses 13 and 14 first of all, where Paul explains to his Gentile readers in Rome what he was hoping to accomplish by his ministry. You see, whenever he preached the gospel to the Gentiles, he was hoping, not only to see those Gentiles converted to faith in Christ, but he was hoping that his fellow Jews would be provoked to envy and jealousy so that they too will believe and be saved. He was hoping that his fellow Jews would see what they were missing, and would want it for themselves.
You see, God hadn’t given up on the Jews, but it was always his intention to save some: the remnant among them, the elect among them, the full number that only he knows. God hadn’t given up on the Jews. And Paul hadn’t given up on the Jews either, because when he was preaching to the Gentiles, he was hoping and praying and longing that his fellow Jews would also believe and be saved.
And look now at verse 15. Paul says that their rejection meant reconciliation for the world. And he’s referring to their rejection by God. God has cast them off. So, God casting them off meant reconciliation for the world, because the gospel has now been preached to the Gentiles who believed and were reconciled to God. But Paul was hoping that the Jews will be provoked to envy, so that they too will believe and be accepted by God. And he goes on to say in verse 15 that their acceptance with God will lead eventually, eventually to life from the dead. Do you see that at the end of verse 15? Life from the dead: that’s the greater spiritual riches which Paul mentioned in verse 12. You see, whenever the full number of Jews has been converted, and whenever the full number of Gentiles has been converted, then the end will come. Jesus Christ will return in glory and when he comes, the dead will be raised, and all of his believing people — Jew and Gentile — will be with him for ever and ever in glory.
And so, the gospel is being proclaimed throughout the world. Gentiles are being convinced and converted to faith in Christ. We want to pray for this and rejoice in it. But at the same time, with Paul, we want to pray that among the Jews, many will be provoked to envy so that they too will want what we have and will trust in the Saviour.
Verses 17 to 24
By now, some of you may be thinking:
This is all very interesting, but what does it mean for us?
Well, in verses 17 to 24 writes to warn people like us — Gentile believers — that we need to remember both the kindness and the sternness of God. And we need to be careful that we continue in his kindness.
So, in verse 17 he uses the picture of a tree. Now, some of the commentators suggest that the tree stands for the Patriarchs, men like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Its stands for them, because they were the root, the beginning, of God’s people. Others suggest it stands for Jesus Christ, because we all need to be united with him through faith. Or perhaps it stands for the church, God’s people.
Anyway, some of the branches of this tree have been broken off; and some new branches have been grafted on. Now, the original branches which have been broken off stand for the Jews. They were once part of God’s church, God’s people. But they’ve been broken off and they no longer belong to God’s people because of their unbelief. On the other hand, the new branches stand for the Gentiles who now believe. They’ve been added to God’s people. They’ve been added to the church.
Paul is warning the new branches — Gentile believers like us — not to boast over the Jews. In other words, we’re not to despise them and we’re not to think that we’re better than they are. Yes, they may have been broken off; and we may have been added in; but don’t despise them, says Paul.
And furthermore, since they were broken off because of unbelief, be careful, be careful lest you too fall away from the Lord and his people because of a hard, unbelieving heart.
And isn’t that an important message for us today? Everyone listening to this who professes faith in Christ needs to be careful lest we become proud and arrogant as if we don’t need the Lord. We need to be careful lest we stop believing God’s promises as if we don’t need his forgiveness. We need to be careful lest our hearts grow cold and heart so that we stop responding to God’s word with faith and humility. It can happen so easily, can’t it? So, we need to be careful so that we won’t ever fall away from Jesus Christ and from his people and from his salvation, just as the Jews fell away because of their unbelief. Remember chapter 8? No condemnation; and no separation — but only for those who are united with Christ and who remain united with Christ by faith.
And so, Paul warns us to remember the kindness and sternness of God. Sternness to those, like the Jews, who fell. So don’t become like the Jews who refused to believe. But kindness to those who believe, and who continue to believe throughout their lives.
But then the passage ends on a note of hope for the Jews, because Paul reminds his readers that if any of the Jews who fell because of unbelief should ever believe, then they will be grafted back in. Though they once said ‘no’ to the gospel, if they ever turn again and say ‘yes’ to the gospel, God will graft them in to his people.
So, do you see the kindness of God? Somebody says ‘no’ to us, and that’s it, we’ll not look at them again. We asked them for a favour, or to do something for us. But they said ‘no’. So we don’t want anything to do with them again. But the Lord is willing to receive and to accept and to forgive whoever comes to him, even if for years and years they’ve gone astray. And perhaps there’s someone listening to this who can say that they know this by experience, because for years and years, they were saying ‘no’ to God. But then, when they turned to him, with faith and repentance, they found he was waiting for them to come, and he washed away their guilt, and he clothed them in the righteousness of Christ, and he brought them into his family. That’s what he’s like. And he’s able to pardon all who believe, because of Christ our Saviour who loved us and who gave up his life so that all who believe in him may have the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in the presence of God when Jesus Christ returns.