Chapter eleven concludes this section of the letter by focusing on Israel’s future as a nation. Based on the truths of chapters nine and ten, Paul asked, “God has not rejected his people, has he?” (Romans 11:1-4) The answer is an emphatic, “No!”, and Paul used himself as proof. If God were really through with Israel, how could Paul have come to faith in the Messiah? In reality, there has always been a believing remnant, as in Elijah’s day, even though it seems as if no one else believes. So then, even today there is a remnant of Jews who have come to Jesus by grace through faith rather than the law, even though the nation at large is prohibited from turning to him quite yet (Romans 11:5-10).
Yet their falling away was not “irrevocable” (Romans 11:11-16). Even though more Gentiles than Jews are believing, God’s purpose is that the Jewish people would become “jealous” that their Messiah is being accepted by Gentiles. And if Gentiles are being saved by the Jewish Messiah through faith, how much more will Jews be saved if they would respond in faith?
Romans 11:17-24 contains the famous olive tree analogy, which is often misunderstood and misapplied. A common interpretation is that the olive tree is Israel, so believing Gentiles become part of the “true Israel.” Not only does this contradict many other portions of Scripture, it is indefensible from this passage. Romans 11:24 shows that the tree in the analogy belongs to Israel; it is “their own olive tree.” It is a different matter to say that the tree is “Israel” instead of “Israel’s.” The olive tree represents something that was given to Israel, which Paul had already enumerated at the beginning of chapter nine – the prophets, covenants, patriarchs, etc. Most importantly, though, the Messiah is Israel’s (Romans 9:1-5). Salvation is “to the Jew first” (Romans 1:16) because “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), because the Savior is a Jew. However, many Jews do not believe, so they are removed from the tree. Gentiles who believe are “grafted in,” not to become Jews, but in order to participate “in the richness of the olive root,” which is Christ himself. Thus, there is no Scriptural basis to teach that Gentiles have taken Israel’s place as the people of God or that the promises made to Israel have been transferred to the Church. Rather, Gentiles who believe get to participate in the blessings of Christ, while the promises made to Israel stand firm (Romans 11:1).
The chapter concludes with a final promise that, even though Israel is under a partial hardening by God himself, one day the blinders will be removed and “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-32). As a nod back to the first section (chapters 1-8), as he prepared to move into the final section of the letters (chapters 12-16), Paul responded to those who cannot understand why all people are imputed with Adam’s guilt (Romans 5:12). It is actually a gracious act of God who has “consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all.” If not everyone were equally guilty, there would have to be many ways and plans of salvation. By considering us all the same, each one is equally able to come to Jesus through faith – equally sinful, equally savable. This thought caused Paul to break out in joyful praise to God’s transcending “wisdom and knowledge…unsearchable…[and] fathomless. … To him be glory forever!”