NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXII)
On the subject of firstfruit, lump, root, and branches Stern lets us see this from a Jewish perspective:
♦ The firstfruit is those of Israel established by faith through Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, etc. (re: verse 28).
♦ The lump/root are the same and represent the restored faithful remnant in Yeshua, and/or Yeshua Himself.
♦ The unbroken branches consist of those Israelites who received Yeshua and accepted Him as the Messiah and those Gentiles who were grafted into the faith via Yeshua.
♦ The broken branches consist of those Israelites who are rejected Yeshua and refused to accept Him as the Messiah.
Stern then continues with the “unbroken branches” that are set apart for the Lord, such as the Apostles, in their service to the Gentiles, vicariously suffering for the Gentiles, who are supported by the “root” (and not the other way around). This suffering may be compared to Psalm 44 which speaks of exiled Israel’s suffering, not as punishment, but as suffering for the sake of God’s name. The “root” is also a reference to the “Root of Jesse,” the ruler and hope of the Gentiles in the Congregation of Israel among whom they worship, as Paul brings this up later in this letter.1 Paul calls the unsaved Gentiles a wild olive tree as:
♦ Wild olive trees were unproductive and bore no fruit (i.e., Ephesians 2:10-13).
♦ The wild olive tree was a symbol in the Greek/Roman culture of these Gentiles.
♦ Paul stands up for Israel (i.e. Romans 10:2), by showing the cultivated tree as the community rooted in Judaism.
Some Gentiles incorrectly believed Israel had rejected its restoration through Yeshua, and, therefore, has been rejected by God. Paul makes it clear, beginning in verse 18 and forward, that they are treading on sacred ground.2
I have found it to be true in my ministry, especially in chaplaincy work in hospitals and nursing homes, that I was able to establish a very cordial and respectful relationship with Rabbis when I treated them like friends instead of enemies. It gave me an opportunity to witness to them without their fearing that I was proselytizing or putting them down. As fellow chaplains, I accepted them as brothers in the family of Abraham. It was amazing how many times they were willing to listen instead of thinking of how they were going to counter what I said in defense.
Verses 19-21: You might say, “Branches broke off so that I could be grafted into their tree.” That may be true, but remember, those branches broke off because they stopped believing. As you continue to be part of the tree because you are a believer, don’t become arrogant. Rather, be advised of this: If God did not let the natural branches of that tree to remain, He will not let you remain if you stop believing.
This is a good wake-up call for many today who feel that since they are the newest branches on the tree planted in Antioch centuries ago, they have priority on all the nutrients and sunshine provided to this tree by the Holy Spirit. Just as church history shows that branches sprout and then are either cut off or die, so this will be their fate if they don’t recognize who the keeper of the orchard is. It is also a good lesson for some today who think that they are the Church instead of them being part of the Church. They feel that the body of Christ survives only by their presence, instead of their survival depending upon the church being present. It’s quite a simple equation; the Church existed before they came along and will do so long after they’re gone. Their input did not matter until they became part of the church, yet they still believe that if they ever leave, the sourceless flame of the Church will die. Jesus said that nothing, not even a direct assault by the forces of hell will keep His Church from surviving and continuing to sprout new branches which will go on to produce new fruit.
And this is the point that Paul brings to the surface now. The Jews, as branches, were broken off the sacred tree because they no longer sought their strength and fruit-bearing resource from the God who planted them in His orchard. As Paul told the Jews when he arrived in Antioch in the country of Pisidia, that he came to them first to preach the Good News. But, because they bushed him aside and would not believe, he told them he must then take this message of hope and salvation to those who were not Jews.3 So now that the non-Jews were firmly planted in the House of the Lord, Paul wanted them to know that what faith brought them, faith will use to sustain them. As Paul told the Corinthians: “We are not trying to dictate how you must live out your trust in the Messiah, for in your trust you are standing firm. Rather, we are working with you for your own happiness,”4 he is now telling the Romans.
He wanted them to accept the same formula he shared with the Colossians: “Have your roots planted deep in Christ. Grow in Him. Get your strength from Him. Let Him make you strong in the faith as you have been taught. Your life should be full of thanks to Him.”5 Paul did not want the Roman believers to become self-confident in their own abilities to be all God wanted them to be and do all that God wanted them to do. As David said in his Psalm: “For even if the Lord is honored, He thinks about those who have no pride.”6 In other words, as you are thinking about God as He receives all the praise, glory, and honor for those things He accomplished through you as a vessel of His service, He is thinking about you. So Solomon had this admonition for those who wanted some of the glory: “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who lives by wisdom will remain safe.”7 Even the prophet Habakkuk gave this proverb: “As for the proud one, his soul is not right in him. But the one who is right and good will live by his faith.”8 So Paul did not want the non-Jewish believers in Rome to go off on a tangent and act as though they were the favorite among God’s children.
Paul wanted to convince the Corinthians to adopt the same attitude. He told them: “We break down every thought and proud thing that puts itself up against the wisdom of God. We take hold of every thought and make it obey Christ.”9 The reason Paul was so adamant about believers not assuming a position of superiority among their brethren and purporting that their wisdom and knowledge of God is greater than all others is that this is the spirit of the Antichrist. He tells the Thessalonians: “For the Day [of the Lord] will not come until after the Apostasy has come and the leader of those who separate themselves from the Word has been revealed. He is the man of sin. He works against and puts himself above every kind of god that is worshiped. He will take his seat in the house of God and say that he himself is God.”10 We have seen in our own generation how such people have become leaders of a cult that look up to them as being a god.
As a result of such pride and arrogance, Paul tells young Timothy: “They will not love each other. No one can get along with them. They will tell lies about others. They will not be able to keep from doing things they know they should not do. They will be wild and want to beat and hurt those who are good. They will not stay true to their friends. They will act without thinking. They will think too much of themselves. They will love fun instead of loving God. They will do things to make it look as if they are Christians. But they will not receive the power that is for a Christian. Keep away from such people.”11
Instead, says Paul, we should always have the deepest reverence and highest regard for our Lord God. Solomon said that he noticed that those who get away from the Word applaud what worldly people are doing while those who stick to the Word will speak against such people.12 That echoes what God told Isaiah: “Says ADONAI: The kind of person on whom I look with favor is one with a poor and humble spirit, who trembles at my word.”13 Contained within this admonition to the non-Jewish Christians now part of the church was Paul’s inference that if God was willing to bypass the Jews because of their pride and unbelief, then the Gentiles should beware that the same thing does not happen to them. It was his way of saying the same thing that God told the children of Israel through Jeremiah: “For this is what Adonai says: ‘Those who do not deserve to drink from this cup will have to drink it anyway (in Paul’s mind this would be the Jews), so should you go unpunished? No, you will not go unpunished; you will certainly drink it (to Paul this would be the Gentile believers).”14
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster continues his view of why some branches of the original olive tree – Israel, were allowed to break off. He is not pleased when a believing Gentile says that they can rejoice that the Jews did not believe, saying that their condemnation made room for the Gentiles. But the Jews were not condemned by God in order to let the Gentiles in. They condemned themselves by rejecting God’s Son that He sent as a gift, and by doing that, God then gave the Gentiles an opportunity to be saved. Paul wants to stop this boasting, so that we might rejoice in our salvation rather than insult the weak. For the man who insults a sinner is easily deceived.15
Starting in the early church era, down through the middle ages, and into modern times there are still Christians who look smugly down on the Jews as though they and their ancestors play no positive role in the Church being what it is. In the early 1500’s some branches that had been grafted in fell off because of unbelief, and so branches from the wild tree of Protestantism led by Martin Luther were grafted in. Then again, some of those branches fell and branches from the wild tree of Revivalism led by John Wesley were grafted in. And when some of those branches fell off because of unbelief, the branches from the wild tree of Pentecostalism were grafted in. So the question for us today would be, if some of those branches fall off, what wild branches will God find to graft in? Many Bible scholars will tell you that when this happens then God will harvest all the fruit of those branches still remaining and then regraft the branches of Judaism back in.
1 Romans 15:12
2 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Acts of the Apostles 13:46; See 18:6
4 2 Corinthians 1:24
5 Colossians 2:7
6 Psalm 138:6
7 Proverbs 28:26
8 Habakkuk 2:4
9 2 Corinthians 10:5
10 2 Thessalonians 2:4
11 2 Timothy 3:3-5
12 Proverbs 28:4
13 Isaiah 66:2 – Complete Jewish Bible
14 Jeremiah 49:12
15 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.