NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XVII)
Martin Luther says we should not take what Paul says here too casually. The consequence of the Jews not accepting Jesus as the Messiah was the opening of the door for the rest of the world to be invited in. Yet, Luther believes this would have happened whether the Jews accepted Jesus or not, as we learn from what happened with the Apostle Peter in Acts 10:44-48. Luther notes that in this instance we see that the grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the heathen Gentiles at which the Apostles, who as yet were not sure of the rejection of the Jews, were greatly astonished.1 In a way, we could say that the rejection by the Jews of Christ, was simply a pause in God’s plan to save them. Rather than waiting for them to get ready before He invited the Gentiles in, like the king in Jesus parable about those who turned down his invitation to the wedding of his son.2 That’s why God commissioned the believing Jews, such as Paul, to go out and spread the Good News among the Gentiles.
John Calvin offers a unique way of looking at this. He agrees that this passage may seem somewhat obscure and perhaps distorted, but in his view, it can be better understood through inductive reasoning. He paraphrases the verse this way: “Since the rejection of the Jews made it possible for the reconciling of the Gentiles with God, how much more effect will it have when they get back into favor with God? Will it not seem as though they have been raised from the dead?” Then Calvin points out that Paul is constantly insisting that the Gentiles not become envious, thinking that if the Jews were restored in their fellowship with God that it would somehow jeopardize or diminish their fellowship with Him.
And furthermore, since God has resurrected life from death and light from darkness, how much more should we hope and pray that He considers that from His own people who, as it were, wholly dead, was able to bring life to the Gentiles. Calvin also feels we must reject that, as some allege, that there is little difference between reconciliation and resurrection. We should understand that resurrection, in the example, Paul is giving here, refers to our reconciliation when we are translated from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life. Although they are referring to the same principle of giving life, there is more force in the expression of resurrection than reconciliation.3
John Taylor looks at this from a more evangelical perspective. Instead of the Jews being reconciled to God along with the Gentiles, he has us imagine how we would feel about the world being reconciled to God along with us Christians. When we were first reconciled, by being converted to Christianity, we were raised from the spiritually dead to a new life in Christ.4 And the fast approaching dispensation, which Paul is speaking of here in verse 15, will again result in our being raised from physical death into eternal life with Christ. This should help us understand that our future state of being will exceed our present state even more than Christianity exceeds heathenism. It would be a whole new experience in a whole new world if the Jews joined us in praising and honoring Christ as their Redeemer, Lord, and Savior.5 Perhaps Taylor was thinking of the great outpouring of the Spirit in the last days.6 That should excite all of us and create within us great expectation for that day to come.
Jonathan Edwards seems to feel that the term “firstfruits” is represented by the first believers in Christ from among the Jews and then the Gentiles. For Edwards, that would mean that the “whole lump” would be another way of saying the whole world. Paul writes that these things plainly show that the time was coming when all of mankind would be invited into the church. Not only just parts of the Jews and Gentile world. He goes on to say that the exact time for the conversion of the nation of Israel is not known. But we may get some idea from the Scriptures that it will be before the glory of the Gentile church is fully accomplished because it is said that the Jews coming into the church will be as life from the dead to the Gentiles.7 Edwards goes on to say that this event must doubtless be before the millennium begins. That would certainly place it after the Rapture had taken place and the Tribulation was coming to an end.8
On the subject of how the children of Israel died spiritually as a result of their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, Paul states that he believed that God would still bring them back to spiritual life so that they too could enjoy the blessings of salvation by grace and not by works, I noticed that neither Calvin, Bengel or Clarke mentioned anything about this bringing to mind the same incident that came to me as I was reading it.
And that is the story of Ezekiel being told to preach to the skeletons lying around in the valley of dry bones.9 After Ezekiel did all that God instructed him to do, this was his last command: “The Lord God says: ‘My people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again and return to the land of Israel. And, then at last, O my people, you will know I am the Lord. I will put my Spirit into you, and you shall live and return home again to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have done just what I promised you.’”10 As we know, this happened in 1948.
Robert Haldane explains how the Gospel was preached to the whole world only after the Jews rejected it. But we must not think of this was the result of an accident. No! It was according to the fixed purpose of God. The wall that separated the Jews from the Gentiles was broken down. The command was given to preach the Gospel to every creature. After the great sacrifice had been offered, it was no longer to be limited to the lost sheep of Israel. The world was to hear the Gospel; that way the Gentiles would receive the grace of God in spite of the unbelief and rejection of the Jewish nation.
However, if the alienation of the Jews was such a blessing to the other nations of the world, certainly their being recalled to God’s favor would be a blessing even beyond that. In fact, it would spark a revival among the Gentile churches around the world, bringing them from a dead and almost lifeless state as though a resurrection had taken place. The numbers that would be converted will be as if all the dead had risen out of their graves. Furthermore, all the prophecies concerning the rejection and restoration of the Jews would be so fully accomplished that no doubt will any longer exist regarding the Divine origin of the Holy Scriptures. It would result in a great light being aimed at those parts of the world that at present are almost forgotten. So by the gracious favor of God, the result would be an unparalleled blessing for both Jews and Gentiles.11
Albert Barnes addresses this subject in his notes. There are some, he says, who suppose that the Apostle Paul is saying that it would take a literal resurrection of the Jews who have already died for such conversion to take place. But there is not the slightest evidence of this. He refers to the recovery of all nations from their state of being spiritually dead that would take place if Israel as a nation were converted to Christianity. Barnes thinks Paul was hoping for conversion of the Jews to the Gospel in his time and expected that their conversion would precede the universal conversion of the Gentiles to the Christian faith.
To Paul, there could be no event that would make such an immediate and decided impression on the pagan world at that time as the conversion of the Jews. They were scattered everywhere; they had access to all races; they understood all languages; their conversion would be like lighting up thousands of lights at once in the darkness of the pagan world.12 I might add that this dream of the Apostle is still a possibility today. And I can think of nothing more profound that would have a greater impact on the world than for Jews everywhere to accept Jesus as their Messiah. It would shake the world as never before. But what will it take? Could it be that after the Jews rejected the Messiah, God shared the Gospel with the Gentiles so that in the last days the Gentiles could be the ones holding the light for the Jews to see? In other words, instead of the Jews being the reason the Gentiles were saved, it will be the Gentiles who will influence the Jews to be saved.
Verse 16: If the first piece of bread offered to God is holy, then the whole loaf must be holy. If the roots of a tree are holy, the tree’s branches are holy too.
Now Paul chooses a new topic to continue the subject of how the Gentiles became part of the family of God that used to belong solely to the Jews. He speaks in Jewish terms of the firstfruit of the harvest. It was not a term he made up, but one that comes from the Torah. In the section on right living, God told the Israelites: “You are not to delay offering from your harvest of grain, olive oil, or wine.”13 In other words, before you pick any grain for yourselves or to sell, and once you’ve pressed the olives and bottled the olive oil, or stomped the grapes to make wine, I want my share first. This was, of course, to be dedicated to the Tabernacle to facility the worship activities there. In fact, God even told them: “Give a loaf of bread as a gift from the first of your grain. Give it as the gift of the grain-floor. From the first of your grain, you and all your children-to-come must give a gift to the Lord.”14 So Paul states that when this bread is brought into the Temple to be offered, any part of it that is offered to the Lord is holy, and this then makes the whole loaf holy.
So, Paul says, if that is true of a loaf of bread made holy by God, it would also be true of a tree dedicated to God’s use. A tree with holy roots would produce a tree with holy branches and, therefore, holy fruit. We find this discussed by the Rabbis concerning trees planted in Jericho. They wrote that the residents of Jericho were permitted to use the branches of carob or sycamore trees which had been consecrated and dedicated to the needs of the Temple. This still allowed for branches which grew later to be used even though they were not present on the tree during its time of consecration.15
We must also understand that the word “root” was often used in the Hebrew as a synonym of the original Patriarch of any tribe, and the branches would be his children and their children. For instance, in Isaiah we read about the Messiah: “And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, And a twig shall grow forth out of his roots.”16 It was also true of Israel when God brought them into the Promised Land like a vine and planted them there to bear fruit for His glory. This is illustrated in Jeremiah where God said: “I planted you as a choice vine of seed fully tested and true. How did you degenerate into a wild vine for me?”17 And of course, Jesus told the disciples that He was the true vine now, and they were the branches.18 These leads to Paul’s illustration about how branches from another vine or tree can be grafted into an existing tree so the fruit will take on this tree’s character.
Let me use another illustration of a more modern genre to help get this point across. Let’s say a rich uncle comes to you and tells you that one of your great-great grandfathers left a large inheritance for his children and grandchildren. You are the next in line to inherit what is left of that inheritance. So he places $10,000 dollars in cash on the table and tells you that as soon as he signs his living will, everything else still deposited in the bank will be yours. Furthermore, since the cash he laid on the table has been proven to be genuine, not counterfeit, that means that all the money still waiting for you is genuine. By this, he has given you a small portion of what remains of a larger amount. So it was that those who were the first Jews to be converted under the ministry of Jesus were a token of the whole Jewish Nation. They were presented to God as a token of all the rest of the Jewish people who would be His as well. Not only that but since the firstfruit of Christ’s labor were proven to be genuine, then all of those yet to be converted will only be those who are genuine.
1 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 160
2 Luke 14:15-23
3 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 See Romans 6:13
5 John Taylor: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 344
6 See Joel 2; James 5 and Revelation 3
7 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 249).
8 Ibid. p. 251
9 Ezekiel 37:1-11
10 Ibid. 37:12-14
11 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 534
12 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Exodus 22:29
14 Numbers 15:20-21
15 Mishnah: Second Division, Mo’ed, Ch. 4, Sec. 8
16 Isaiah 11:1 – Jewish Publication Society Version, 1917
17 Jeremiah 2:21
18 John 15:1-17