For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation…
- Romans 11:25
Grafting, a technique whereby the branch of one tree is "joined" to the stock of another variety, allowing both to continue growing together, is a common practice in horticulture. This process yields multiple benefits that would not have been possible without both species
forming a union as one tree.
After branches are grafted in, the tree will produce fruit at an accelerated rate, cutting years off the time needed to harvest them. It also causes the cultivated tree to produce multiple kinds of fruit, as many as are grafted in. In this way, one tree can yield every type of fruit.
Finally, grafting strengthens the tree, allowing it to withstand extreme conditions such as drought, heat, and freezing cold. But in order to graft a new branch in, a cut, or wound, must first be made to one of the natural branches. This is where the new branch will be grafted in.
In his epistle to the Romans, Paul uses the analogy of grafting branches to an olive tree to explain how non Jews are included in God's plan of redemption. Wild olive branches (Gentiles), he says, are grafted into the cultivated tree (Israel), forming a union that will allow both groups to grow together. (1)
But in order to accomplish this, some of the natural (Jewish) branches had to be broken off. Some. Not all. Paul tells us that a partial and temporary hardening of Israel has been ordained until the full number of Gentiles have been grafted in, after which all of national Israel will be saved.
For this reason, he urges Gentile believers not to put themselves at the center of the narrative, reminding them that without the cultivated stock remaining intact, there would be nothing for them to be connected to. Because they're grafted in.
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, 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.
- Romans 11:17,18
But in the centuries that followed, the Church became predominantly Gentile, and Paul's exhortation was soon forgotten. Supersessionism (the belief that the Church replaced Israel) became the primary lens through which the Church viewed their connection to the Jewish race. (2)
According to this view, God has permanently cast Israel aside due to their rejection of Jesus and replaced them with the Church, who inherit Israel's promises alone. The purpose of Israel having been fulfilled, they're consigned to being the nation through which the Gentile's Savior came.
Not only is this view unbiblical in that it undercuts God's everlasting covenant (and by virtue, His reputation), but it also misses the analogy of the olive tree. Gentiles are grafted in, becoming partakers of a shared inheritance. Anticipating this would occur, Paul had a response prepared. (3)
You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either... and they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again…
- Romans 11:19-21,23
Paul goes on to say that Israel will be saved at the Day of the Lord, when Jesus returns to Zion. But despite this, supersessionism has dominated the Church for the majority of its existence. It's only been within the last two centuries that the Church has begun to recover a Biblical view of Israel.
But confusion still exists over the exact nature of the relationship between the two entities. Today, a large portion of the Western Church has adopted pretribulational
Dispensationalism, the belief that the Church exists within a separate "age" from Israel. And once the Church's age ends, Israel's will begin again. But in the meantime, the two are separate. (4)
But this view misses the analogy as well. How can branches that have been grafted in not be directly affected by what happens to the cultivated tree? If Dispensationalism were true, we'd be looking at two separate trees. But don't be ignorant of the mystery.
The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.”
- Galatians 3:8
When God cut a covenant with Abraham, He staked His faithfulness on three everlasting promises: The Jewish nation existing eternally, the Jewish nation possessing the land eternally, and all the nations sharing in this blessing. These promises are interdependent. Each one of them builds upon, and depends upon, the one before. (5)
So as it pertains to Gentiles, all the nations receiving salvation is contingent upon the outcome of Israel's story. Because they're grafted into it. Jacob's trouble isn't only Jacob's problem. The Church has a role to play in this story.
How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
- Isaiah 52:7
When Satan is finally cast out of heaven, he knows his time is short. It's his last chance to prevent his eternal demise. And the primary strategy that he employs? The attempted annihilation of the Jewish people. It's total war on God's everlasting covenant. A covenant we're grafted into. (6)
But his heart will be set against the holy covenant, and he will take action…
- Daniel 11:28
You see, Satan understands the olive tree. And if he's successful in preventing the fulfillment of even just one of God's promises, what happens to the rest? That's why he aims for the trunk. The branches will fall along with the tree.
But as always, God will declare the enemies' defeat through His people. Which means that the Church will stand in the gap for Jacob, laying down their lives for the sake of Jesus' name, which is inextricably bound up with the natural branches. (7)
So don't be unaware of the mystery, brethren. We Gentiles haven't replaced Israel, nor can our destinies be separated. We're grafted in. So may the Church's heart posture in the days ahead be just as Ruth, a Gentile woman who refused to depart from her (adoptive) Jewish family.
"For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me."
- Ruth 1:16,17
1.) Romans 11:1-32
3) Jeremiah 31:35-37
5) Genesis 12:1-3; 15:18,19; 17:7,8; Galatians 3:8
6.) Daniel 11:28-32; Revelation 12:7-17; Zechariah 14:1,2; Psalm 83:4; Ezekiel 38:7-12; Matthew 24:15
7.) Revelation 12:11,16,17 & 7:9-14; Daniel 11:32,33 & 12:3; Deuteronomy 32:21; Isaiah 52:7,8; Romans 10:14,15; Ephesians 3:10; Jeremiah 31:35-37