1 - 6 A Remnant
1 I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in [the passage about] Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to [God’s] gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
V1. After all that has preceded, you might wonder if God has totally rejected His people forever. This question gets the same clear answer from Paul: “May it never be!” or: “Certainly not!” He can point to himself. He was an Israelite. He was of the seed of Abraham to whom God had given His promises. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, which had almost disappeared from among Israel because they refused to judge evil (Jdg 19-21).
V2-3. If God had rejected His people, there wouldn’t have been a place left for Paul. But no, God hasn’t rejected His people as a whole. God knew His people in advance; the infidelity of the people did not surprise God. It only gave Him an opportunity to show His grace in a very evident manner.
To illustrate this, Paul refers to what the Scripture says in the story of Elijah (1Kgs 18-19). Basically it came down to Elijah who was a hero on Mount Carmel where in the Lord God’s name he opposed the false prophets who claimed Baal was god. The people were watching. Elijah gained a great victory for the Lord that day, and the people were shouting: “The Lord, He is God” (1Kgs 18:39).
But a little later when he was threatened with death by Jezebel, he fled to save his life. Having lost courage, he reached Horeb, the mount of God. There this man of God started accusing the people of Israel. He began to tell God all the things they had done wrong. He felt he was the only faithful one. And now they wanted to kill him too. Is this a good reason to accuse the people before God?
Do you recognize yourself in all this? I recognize myself. It is tremendous to live for the Lord and to be successful like Elijah at Mount Carmel. You hear the praise of the people. How wonderful! Then you’re threatened, ridiculed, laughed at, and you’re on the run. No one cares for you. How alone you feel when left on your own! ‘Well’, you say to God, ‘this is a nice mess; if this is the way it works, I’m no longer interested. I’m the only one who serves You faithfully. The others take it easy. And now they’re even trying to silence me.’ And you are sure God agrees wholeheartedly. After all, you’re only telling the facts.
V4. But listen to the divine answer: “I have kept” (1Kgs 19:18). Ouch! That hurts! God always has many more people who have remained faithful to Him than you and I think. In Elijah’s case there were 7,000. God said: “I have kept for Myself.” This means God has taken care of it.
V5-6. I have applied Elijah’s history to you and me personally. But the aim of this quotation in Romans 11 is to show there is always a remnant of the people of Israel, according to the election of grace, even if we don’t see it. With this, God proves that even under judgment, He must rule over Israel; Israel’s rejection is not an overall one. To make it even clearer, if there’s a remnant, then it is by grace and not by works, which infers it is not by any merit of that remnant.
Did you know this reference to Elijah’s accusations is the only time an Old Testament believer’s sin is referred to in the New Testament? However, this shouldn’t cause us look down on Elijah. He remains a wonderful example of the courage of faith. After all, he stood firm against all those idolatrous priests while not one of the 7000 was anywhere to be found.
But as soon as he began to exalt himself for his faithfulness and started accusing others before God, he was set right by God. Accusing is a sin we all easily commit, but it is satan’s work. In Revelation 12 satan is called “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev 12:10). If we see unfaithfulness with our brothers and sisters, let us rather do what the Lord Jesus does. He is the One who prays for us, going to God for those who are His to ask Him to help them to become faithful again.
Now read Romans 11:1-6 again.
Reflection: Consider your prayers. Do you accuse your brothers and sisters or do you pray for them?
7 - 14 The Fall and Acceptance of Israel
7 What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8 just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.” 9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them. 10 “Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.” 11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! 13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.
V7. If God elects a remnant, it is by grace, not because that remnant deserves anything. This is how it was with you. Israel looked for an opportunity to build up its righteousness before God, but they didn’t receive it because they failed. God has given this grace to the elect. All others have been hardened. God only hardens someone if not a single opportunity to bring someone to repentance is left.
V8-10. In a threefold testimony from the Old Testament, Paul makes this hardening evident. He quotes texts from the prophets (Isaiah), the law (Deuteronomy) and the Psalms. In Isaiah and Deuteronomy it is God Who exercises this judgment of hardening by giving “them a spirit of stupor”. God’s patience will end. In Psalm 69 David asks for God’s judgment upon Israel because of their rejection of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus.
Such statements are not fitting for us. We live in the time of grace and we ought to ask God to forgive our enemies. This is what the Lord Jesus prayed while on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Therefore, grace can be offered now to the worst of sinners. Of these, Paul considers himself the most prominent example. He says that to him, the chief of the sinners, mercy was shown (1Tim 1:13-16). To the remnant grace has been shown through the intercession of the Lord Jesus at the cross according to the election of grace. But all others will fall under the judgment that God must bring over them because they put the Lord Jesus to death.
It was proper for His earthly people (in the Old Testament as well as in the future when the church has been taken up) to ask God to punish evil. And God will do that. He is the God of justice Who will bring about this justice for His elect. Later, when in the great tribulation (the church having been taken up and we thus in heaven), the believing remnant will suffer terrible persecution and the Lord Jesus will return to earth to save them (Zec 12:1-4; 14:1-4). He will do this by judging the persecutors. In many psalms the feelings of the believers in those future days resound with their desire for deliverance, imploring God to judge their enemies. In essence, this is what David does here.
V11. Now you may wonder if all this happened to Israel with the goal of allowing them to fall. But once again this idea is taken away when Paul says: “May it never be” or: “Certainly not!” They didn’t stumble to be rejected. But once they had stumbled, God offered His grace to the nations. He did so with the purpose of provoking Israel to jealousy. You must not restrict the sense of jealousy to a grudge, as if Israel would envy the nations because grace was offered to them. The sense is, it would cause Israel to long for the salvation that was offered to the nations.
V12. It is good to realize these riches have come to us as a consequence of Israel’s trespassing. Salvation wasn’t offered to us because we were better in any respect. It is through Israel’s trespass and loss, which is negative, that such riches have gone out towards the world. What blessing for the world then will result from Israel’s conversion and restoration! Then a wonderful blessing will go out from this people in which all the nations will share. This will be the situation in the Millennium, the Lord’s 1000 year reign (Rev 20:4).
V13-14. Although Paul was the apostle to the nations, he was still connected with his people in both heart and soul. He had an eye for their present state of hardening. He also had an eye for their future restoration. His commitment in his Lord’s service was closely connected with these people.
When he speaks of “some of them”, this means he didn’t think he could bring all the people to conversion. He saw it as a glorification of his service if he could save “some” out of Israel. The individuals who are now converted out of Israel form the remnant according to the election of grace in this present day.
Now read Romans 11:7-14 again.
Reflection: What is your attitude towards Israel?
15 - 17 God’s Testimony on Earth
15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will [their] acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the first piece [of dough] is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree,
V15. The rejection of Israel meant the offer of atonement could go out to the world – to the nations, to the Gentiles. In 2 Corinthians 5 it says: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor 5:19) This does not say the whole world was reconciled to God; it is only true for those who recognize the necessity of Christ’s work of atonement for themselves.
There is no such thing as a universal reconciliation – that everyone, even the devil, will be saved. This idea is often justified by saying that God is a God of love, but don’t let yourself be fooled by this! The Bible speaks clearly enough of an everlasting judgment (Rev 20:11-15).
This verse in Romans 11 is about the place before God of both Israel and the world. At the moment, God is not publicly dealing with Israel as a nation. When Israel will be again accepted, this will be “life from the dead”. A description of this is found in Ezekiel 37 (Eze 37:1-14).
V16. God desires to have a people on earth to give testimony of Him and proclaim His virtues. In the past, Israel failed to give a testimony of the only true God, and even today they don’t do so. At the present time, this testimony should be given by Christians. But is Christianity doing a better job?
The portion from Romans 11:16 onwards, is very important. It teaches you to understand something of God’s dealing with Christianity. Both from Israel and from Christianity, God expected a testimony to be given of Him in this world.
With the image of the olive tree and its branches, Paul shows the degree in which they have succeeded. In verse 16 we first read about the “first piece” or “first fruit” and the “lump”. The first fruit are the first fruits collected from the harvest. They are holy, which means separated to the Lord. From these first fruits, for example the first grains of wheat, dough is made. This dough would automatically be holy as well. This thought holds as well for a tree’s roots and branches. These two examples of the ‘first fruit’ and ‘lump’ and the ‘root’ and ‘branches’ speak of the fact that where the origin is holy, anything springing from this origin is also holy.
V17. Next we see a wild olive tree of which branches are broken off to be grafted into the good, cultivated olive tree in verse 24. In this way the branches of the wild olive tree could partake of the root and the fatness of the good olive tree. In addition, from the good olive tree, branches have been broken off. This was done to make room for the branches that had been broken off from the wild olive tree. By how Paul speaks of the branches, it is clear this is figurative language speaking of people.
Let’s go back now to verse 16. The root represents the origin from which something grows and becomes visible on earth. In verse 17 the following image then arises:
1. Some branches (= the unbelieving part of the people of Israel) are broken off (= being put aside by God).
2. Other branches remain (= the faithful remnant).
3. In the place of the branches that are broken off, branches of the wild olive tree (= the believers from among the Gentiles) have been grafted in.
4. As a result these Gentiles – who used to have no right to anything – could partake of the root and the fatness of the olive tree (= could partake of the promises and blessing that belonged to Abraham and his posterity).
It is important to realize that the subject here is God’s testimony on earth and how God judges it. Both Israel and Christianity are responsible for the testimony they show of God. God couldn’t maintain Israel as His witness. Christianity has replaced Israel as God’s witness on earth. But do Christians perform their task any better than Israel? This is what we will see in the next section.
Now read Romans 11:15-17 again.
Reflection: In which way can you proclaim God’s virtues (see 1Pet 2:9).
18 - 22 Pride Goes Before Destruction
18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, [remember that] it is not you who supports the root, but the root [supports] you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.
V18. We Christians are now the bearers of the testimony that God gives of Himself in this world. Israel has been put aside. There is a danger for us Christians to boast in the place God has given us. It is easy to feel we are better than Israel. Well, if you have some idea of the testimony that Christians give in the world, it wouldn’t even enter your mind to boast. Just think of countries where civil wars were and are fought between militant groups under outwardly-Christian religious names.
God in His grace gave this testimony to us instead of Israel. It’s only in this way that we have acquired the blessings which God wanted to give to His people. We, heathen by nature, had no right to anything. Remember, we don’t support the root, but the root is supporting us. God put unbelieving Israel aside and we have come in its place.
V19-20. But remember why Israel was put aside. They lost this place on earth because of their unbelief. They rejected God and His Son. It’s not because we are better that we have taken their place. Yet, to be able to keep this place, we must remain standing in the truth of faith. Here faith is not our personal trust of faith. Here it’s not that we believe, but what we believe. To be maintained by God as His testimony on earth, Christianity must have an undiminished adherence to the Bible because therein is our truth of faith.
V21-22. Now comes Paul’s warning for us not to be proud. Christianity as a whole shouldn’t think that God will maintain it. If they don’t fear Him, they will share in Israel’s fate. From other portions of Scripture, it is clear that Christianity as a whole also will become unfaithful and God will have to cut it off. This increasing unfaithfulness is already visible. In many denominations, doctrines are proclaimed about the work and Person of the Lord Jesus that are not scriptural.
More and more, Christendom is presented as a religion that is equal to other world religions. This hides the great difference between all other religions and Christendom. Christendom is the only religion to offer the solution for a lost man to become clean before God. This can only come through the Lord Jesus who said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn 14:6). This excludes every other possibility. The Lord Jesus is not merely one possibility among others. Christianity also is used to further political causes. The testimony of Who God is and Who the Lord Jesus is has been obscured by all this.
Man has been placed on earth to serve God. In the Bible the Christian has been given principles to know how to do this. It’s only by faith in the Lord Jesus and His completed work that he is able to do this. But faith is more and more evolving into something hollowed out. Christianity has already given up the greater part of the truth of faith and will continue to do so until the complete giving up of the Christian faith will be the eventual result. Christianity will not keep standing in the faith. This is what God’s Word teaches us.
Will we go this way too? In case this disturbs you, I will say something about it in the next section.
Now read Romans 11:18-22 again.
Reflection: What is the meaning of: ‘Be not haughty, but fear’ in verse 20?
23 - 29 All Israel Will Be Saved
23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural [branches] be grafted into their own olive tree? 25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” 28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of [God’s] choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
I concluded the previous section by asking if we will end up going the way of apostasy. Can we conclude from verse 22 that this will be so for you and me, even though we believe in the Lord Jesus? John 10:28-29 answers this (Jn 10:28-29). One who is a child of God will remain so forever. Unfortunately, we may on occasions behave unlike a child of God. This has to do with your personal responsibility. If you sin as a child of God, you must confess it.
In this current portion we see the responsibility of the Christian testimony that has taken Israel’s place. If this testimony as a whole becomes unfaithful, God cannot maintain it anymore than He could maintain Israel’s. With Israel some Israelites had a personal relationship with God, but in general Israel consisted of people who didn’t want God.
The same is true for Christianity. Some who call themselves Christians have a relationship with God on the basis of a personal faith, but in general in Christianity, emphasis is increasingly being placed on what man wants rather than true faith. God’s thoughts are not sought after. The Bible is left unread. As a result God can no longer recognize Christianity as His testimony on earth, so He will have to judge it. So you have to distinguish between one’s proper, personal responsibility before God and what God expects from Christianity as a whole. I hope this has helped to make the distinction clearer.
V23-25. Now on to verse 23. In this verse Paul says that Israel will again take the place of God’s testimony on earth. This is what he calls a “mystery” (verse 25). A mystery in the Bible is something that was unknown in the Old Testament, but is now made known. This mystery concerns the rejection and acceptance of Israel, including the current time when God has accepted another people for His name. In the Old Testament this wasn’t known.
To avoid being wise in your own opinion, you must realize the hardening or blinding that has come over Israel hasn’t come over all Israel, but only over part of it – the mass of unbelieving Israelites – which leaves room for a remnant.
V26. This remnant eventually will be all of Israel because all the ungodly and unbelieving Israelites will perish by God’s judgment during the tribulation. What remains will be “all Israel”. God will go on with this new Israel after the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (verse 25). This last expression means that the Christian testimony on earth will have completed the time of its testimony and reached its end. God will cut it off because it didn’t abide in goodness (see verse 22). After this, Israel will again be the object of His love.
The Redeemer or Deliverer will come out of Zion to liberate His people from the enemies who want to destroy them. Many Old Testament prophecies tell how this will happen.
V27. They also will receive the assurance that God will fulfill the covenant He made with His people by taking their sins from them. It is necessary to be free from the burden of sins to really enjoy God’s blessings. The huge burden weighing on the people will be their rejection of the Lord Jesus. They will confess Him as Lord, and God will forgive them. Zechariah 12-14 tells how all this will take place.
V28-29. God will execute His plans with respect to His earthly people. He will do what He has promised; He will not revoke it. Israel now behaves with hostility towards the preaching of the gospel, but as to election God loves them because they are descendants of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were the ones to whom God gave His promises. As a result of the people’s unfaithfulness, the fulfillment of the promises had to be put off. But with God, delays are no problem. He doesn’t revoke His promises. He doesn’t change His mind regarding what He has promised to His people and to which He has called them.
Now read Romans 11:23-29 again.
Reflection: What is a mystery?
30 - 36 To Him Be the Glory Forever!
30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him [be] the glory forever. Amen.
V30. The final verses of Romans 11 summarize all that Paul expounded in the preceding chapters. It became clear that we, belonging to the Gentiles, didn’t believe in God. By believing the gospel, we received mercy.
V31. But we also saw that the gospel could only have gone out to the Gentiles when the Jews failed to respond to the many times God called on them to repent. Then when they saw grace going out to the Gentiles, they couldn’t bear it and became enemies of the gospel. In Acts we read about this time and again. With this attitude they arrived at the same place before God that the Gentiles used to be. Just as we Gentiles didn’t believe in former days, the Jews don’t believe now.
V32. God’s purpose with this is to show us that all, without exception, are unbelievers. As a result, mercy has gone out to everyone without exception. He wants to prove He is merciful. Is there a better way to do this than first showing that everyone needs this mercy?
V33. This brings Paul to praise God in verses 33-36. In these verses he admires God’s wisdom and knowledge. In the Lord Jesus we see God’s wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1 He is called the “wisdom from God” (1Cor 1:30). Who would ever have thought of solving in this way the problems caused by the sin of man? God has perfect knowledge of all that has happened and He knows how to deal with it in a perfectly righteous way. This encloses a depth of wisdom which is unsearchable for us.
In His judging the situation that has arisen, or the perfect insight He has in the situation that has arisen, He is exalted far beyond us. For man, no prospect was left. He couldn’t offer a single solution. All he could do was make sin worse. Then God started working. Who can search the ways in which He has acted? No one can. Now, after the cross, we can admire Him since He has completed His work in Christ.
V34-35. Could anyone except God ever have devised this way? Would God have needed a counselor for this plan? Who could have been His counselor anyway? Everything God has in wisdom and ability, He possesses in Himself. He doesn’t have to take it from others. There is no higher power in the whole universe than God. And there is no one who could give Him something of which He is in need and of which He should repay. God alone is independent.
V36. “From Him” are all things. All things find their origins in Him. In Romans 4 God created the things that were not from within Himself. All sources of matter, wisdom and knowledge are within Himself.
And all things not only proceed from Him, but He Himself also accomplished and achieved all things. All things are also “through Him”. Finally we come to the “to Him”. Of all His plans and actions, He is the great Object in which it all ends. God glorifies Himself in everything He does. The astonishing and admirable thing that will eternally raise our adoration is that God has included us in His plan. In eternity you will be allowed to contribute to His glory. Isn’t it overwhelming, thinking of your former state, to see the place God has now given you?
You cannot but agree with Paul saying: “To Him [be] the glory forever.” There is nothing more to be added to this other than “amen.” This reminds me of Revelation 5 when, after the praise (Rev 5:13-14), an “amen” follows and all the elders fell down and worship. No words are heard anymore. Hearts lose themselves in a boundless and unspeakable admiration for God and the Lamb. Amen.
Now read Romans 11:30-36 again.
Reflection: Think once more about verse 36.