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THE REMNANT

Romans 11:5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

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UNDERSTANDING ROMANS 11 VERSE BY VERSE

Verse 1 – “ I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”

Paul himself was a member of the believing remnant. He came from the small and sometimes despised tribe of Benjamin (cf. Judges 19-21), yet God had saved him.
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Verses 1-10

The first pericope gives hope for the future by showing that even now some Jews believe.
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Verse 2 “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying,”

The faith of Paul and other believing Jews, though relatively few compared to the total number of ethnic Jews, proves that God has not completely rejected the people whom He had elected (i.e, foreknew, cf. Romans 8:29). In Elijahs day Israel’s departure from God was widespread.
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Verse 3-4 “Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.

Elijah concluded that he was the only Israelite who had remained faithful to the Lord. God assured him that He had preserved other Israelites who constituted a believing remnant within the unfaithful nation.
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Verse 5 “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”

Likewise in Paul”s day and today there are believing Jews who constitute a remnant among the physical descendants of Jacob. By referring to Gods gracious choice, Paul identified the real reason for the presence of a remnant.
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Verse 6 “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”

Paul elaborated the final thought of Romans 11:5 here. It is the grace of God, not the works of the remnant, that is the real cause of their condition. Believing Jews are not superior, just greatly blessed.
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Verse 7-10 “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.”

Paul used these passages to prove the following point. The Israelites did not follow God faithfully even though they saw God’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt, experienced His preservation in the wilderness, and heard the warnings of the prophets. God gave them a spirit of stupor because they failed to respond to the numerous blessings that He bestowed on them. This was apparently an instance of God giving them over to the natural consequences of their actions ( Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28).

Paul would explain that Israel”s obstinacy and bondage would not last indefinitely ( Romans 11:26). Paul explained that God had brought upon the Jews what David had prayed would happen to his persecutors.

Even though as a whole Israel had reaped the fruit of her own stubborn rebellion against God, God had called a remnant within the nation for salvation. The presence of this remnant shows that God has not cast off His chosen people completely or been unfaithful to His promises to them.

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Verse 11 “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.”

The stumbling of Israel did not result in a hopeless fall (cf. Romans 9:32-33; Romans 11:9). God now deals with Gentiles on the same basis as Jews regarding their salvation because Israel as a whole rejected Jesus Christ. One reason God chose to do this was to make Israel jealous of the Gentiles as the recipients of God’s blessings so Israel would turn back to God.

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Verses 11-24

Now Paul put the remnant aside and dealt with Israel as a whole. Even while Israel resists God’s plan centered in Messiah, the Lord is at work bringing Gentiles to salvation. Gentile salvation really depends on Israel”s covenant relationship with God, as Paul illustrated with the olive tree. The salvation of Gentiles in the present age not only magnifies the grace of God, but it will also provoke Israel to jealousy and lead her ultimately to return to the Lord.

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Verse 12 “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?”

Paul here anticipated the national repentance of Israel that he articulated later ( Romans 11:26). God promised to bless the world through Israel ( Genesis 12:1-3). How much more blessing will come to the world when Israel turns back to God than is coming to the world now while she is in rebellion against God!

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Verse 13-14 “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.”

By evangelizing Gentiles Paul was causing more Jews to become jealous of God’s blessings on Gentile converts. He was thereby playing a part in bringing some Jews to faith.

The Gentiles are not saved merely for their own sake, but also for the sake of God’s election of Israel. However strange it may sound, the way to salvation of Israel is by the mission to the Gentiles.

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Verse 15 “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?”

When Israel returns to God and He accepts her, the results for all humankind will be comparable to life from the dead (cf. Ezekiel 37). God’s blessings on humanity now will pale by comparison with what the world will experience then (i.e, during the Millennium).

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Verse 16 “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.”

The firstfruits describe the believing remnant in Israel now, Christian Jews. The “lump” or “batch” refers to the whole nation, Israel. God has consecrated both groups to Himself.

The root and branches must refer to the Abrahamic Covenant and the believing and unbelieving Gentiles and Jews respectively in view of how Paul proceeded to develop this illustration in Romans 11:17-24.

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Verse 17 “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;”

The cultivated olive tree was a symbol of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament ( Jeremiah 11:16-17; Hosea 14:4-6). The wild olive tree represents the Gentile world. The rich root of the cultivated tree, Israel, probably corresponds to the Abrahamic Covenant from which all God’s blessings and the very life of the nation sprang. We might add to the illustration by saying that the roots derive their nourishment from God Himself.

Paul said that God grafted Gentiles in among the Jews. They became partakers with the Jews of the blessings that come through the roots. Paul did not say that the Gentiles became part of Israel, only that they partake with Israel of the blessings of the root. The olive tree is NOT THE CHURCH OR A “NEW ISRAEL” in which God has united Jewish and Gentile believers in one body (Ephesians 3:6). The wild olive branches retain their own identity as wild branches (Gentiles) even though they benefit from blessings that come through Israel (e.g, the Messiah, the Scriptures, etc.).

A common misunderstanding of this figure is that the olive tree is a symbol of all believers throughout history, all the people of God. The natural branches, in this view, represent Israel, and the grafted in branches represent the church. The Old Testament use of the olive tree as a symbol of the nation of Israel argues against this view. Furthermore this verse says some of the natural olive branches (Israelites, according to this view) were broken off the tree. If the tree represents all believers, this must mean that some believing Israelites have ceased to be part of the people of God.

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Verse 18 “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.”

Gentile believers should not feel superior to Jewish unbelievers, the branches that God has broken off the tree (Israel; Romans 11:17; Romans 11:19). Gentile believers might conclude that their salvation is what was responsible for the continuing existence of Israel (cf. Romans 11:14). Really it is God’s faithfulness in honoring the Abrahamic Covenant that is responsible for that.

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Verse 19-20 “Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:”

It is true that one of the reasons Gentiles have become partakers of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant is that many of the Jews have not believed. Of course, it was always God’s purpose to bless Gentiles ( Genesis 12:1-3). However the Gentile believer who may feel superior to the unbelieving Jew needs to remember something. The only reason he is where he is (partaking of blessing from the Abrahamic Covenant) is because he has simply believed God. He is not there because he has done some meritorious work that would be a ground for boasting (cf. Romans 5:2).

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Verse 21 “For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.”

Throughout this whole discussion Paul was viewing Gentile believers and Jewish unbelievers as two groups. This fact is clear from his use of the singular “you” in the Greek text (su, Romans 11:17-24). If he had been speaking of individual believers, we might conclude that this verse provides some basis for believing that a believer can lose his salvation. Paul’s point was, if God set aside Jews temporarily because of their unbelief, He could do the same with Gentiles because of their boasting.

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Verse 22 “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”

“Those who fell” are the unbelieving Jews, and “you” are the believing Gentiles. The positions are reversible. Gentiles can become objects of God’s sternness, and Jews can become the object of His kindness. This depends on their responses to God. Their response determines whether God will spare them ( Romans 11:21) or cut them off ( Romans 11:22).

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Verse 23 “ And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again”

Belief is what resulted in God grafting in believing Gentiles ( Romans 11:17), and belief could result in Him grafting in believing Jews in the future. In the illustration the whole trunk of the cultivated olive tree represents Israel and the natural branches are Jews.

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Verse 24 “For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?”

Here is another of Paul”s “much more” comparisons ( Romans 5:9; Romans 5:19; Romans 5:15; Romans 5:17; cf. Luke 11:13). If God did the difficult thing, namely, grafting wild branches (believing Gentiles) onto the trunk (Israel), it should not be hard to believe that He will do the easier thing. The easier thing is restoring the pruned branches of the cultivated tree (unbelieving Jews who will come to faith in Christ) to their former position (as members of Israel).

Obviously the branches formerly broken off do not represent the same individuals as those grafted in in the future. They are Jews who, in the former case, did not believe and, in the latter case, will. The grafting in of Jews will not involve the breaking off of Gentile believers in the future.

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Verse 25 “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.”

A “mystery” in the New Testament refers to a truth previously unknown but now revealed. That revelation in this case was that Israel (ethnic Jews) would experience a partial hardening from God until the full number of elect Gentiles would be saved. God’s plan to put the nation of Israel aside temporarily should not make Gentile believers think too highly of themselves. God designed this plan to display His own glory.

Biblical Israel was a sovereign nation among nations in the world that lost its sovereignty when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in586 B.C. God has promised that He will yet cause the great majority of Jewish people to believe on His Son and return to the Promised Land as believers in Him. This will happen when Jesus Christ returns to the earth. He will then reestablish Israel as the people of God and reign over them as their Davidic King (cf. Zechariah 12-14). The present State of Israel is presently not enjoying the abundant blessings God promised to bring on Israel when Christ returns.

The “fullness of the Gentiles” (NASB) refers to the “full number of the Gentiles” (NIV cf. Romans 11:12; Luke 21:23-24; Acts 15:14). When all the Gentiles whom God has chosen for salvation during the present age of Jewish rejection (setting aside) have experienced salvation, God will precipitate a revival of faith among the Jews. Even though some Jews trust Christ now, God is not presently working through them as Israel as He will in the future (i.e, in the Millennium), after multitudes of them turn to faith in Christ. He is now working through the church.

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Verses 25-32

Paul previously laid the groundwork for this section. His point so far was that God is able to restore Israel, which now has many natural branches (unbelieving Jews) broken off, to its former condition as a fruitful nation in the world. Now we learn that He is not only able to do it, but He will do it. This section is the climax of everything Paul wrote in chapters9-11.

The same mercy that has overtaken the Gentiles who were formerly disobedient will finally overtake the now disobedient Israel.

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Verse 26 “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:”

The first clause of Romans 11:26 is the storm center in the interpretation of Romans 9-11 and of NT teaching about the Jews and their future.

It is impossible to entertain an exegesis which understands “Israel” here in a different sense from “Israel” in Romans 11:25 .

Whenever the name “Israel” appears in the New Testament it refers either to the whole nation of Jacob’s racial descendants (ethnic Jews) or to the believing remnant within that group. It is not another name for the church. John Calvin believed Israel meant the church, and covenant theologians have followed in his train. “All Israel” does not refer to all Jews who have been believers throughout history either. If that were what Paul meant, this statement would be irrelevant to his argument.

It will happen when Messiah will come out of the heavenly Jerusalem ( Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22). This will be at His second coming ( Zechariah 12:10).

Israel was chosen for a fourfold mission: (1) to witness to the unity of God in the midst of universal idolatry (cp. Deuteronomy 6:4 with Isaiah 43:10-12); (2) to illustrate to the nations the blessedness of serving the true God ( Deuteronomy 33:26-29; 1 Chronicles 17:20-21; Psalm 144:15); (3) to receive, preserve, and transmit the Scriptures ( Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Romans 3:1-2); and (4) to be the human channel for the Messiah ( Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 28:10-14; Genesis 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 1:1; Romans 1:3).

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Verse 27 “For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.”

Isaiah 27:9 also predicted a great removal of Israel’s sins and connected it with the bestowal of the New Covenant blessings on Israel (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).

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Verse 28 “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes.”

Under the present economy God views Israel”s physical descendants as a whole as His enemies because of their unbelief. They are “enemies” of His, however, for the sake of the Gentiles to whom He extends grace in this period of Jewish unbelief. However from the standpoint of their national election for a special purpose, they are the objects of His love because of the patriarchs.

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Verse 29 “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”

The special privileges that God gave Israel are probably what Paul intended by his reference to God’s gifts (cf. Romans 9:4-5). They have intimate connection with God’s calling of Israel for a special purpose. God will not withdraw these from Israel. He did not choose Israel for her goodness, and He will not abandon her for her badness. Paul said virtually the same thing about the security of individual Christians in Romans 8:31-39.

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Verse 30-31 “For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

These verses are a warning to Gentile believers. Gentiles should beware of becoming critical of God for planning to bless the Jews in the future. We should also beware of becoming proud because we are presently the special objects of God’s favor. We need to remember that God chose Israel so we Gentiles could enjoy salvation ( Genesis 12:1-3).

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Verse 32 “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.”

The conclusion of the matter is this. As everyone has been disobedient, Gentiles and Jews alike, so God will show mercy to all as well (cf. Romans 3:9; Galatians 3:22). He will show mercy to all without distinction, not all without exception (cf. Romans 9:17). This is a great ground of assurance.

A critical frame of reference in Paul”s treatment of Israel”s salvation is a distinction between corporate and individual election.

Ethnic Israel has a future, because God will accomplish salvation for Israel according to his new-covenant promise. This awaits the fullness of the Gentiles, when Israel’s hardening will be removed and when Gentile provocation will have taken its course. All Israel will be saved in such a way that God’s mercy will be evident to all.”

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Verse 33 “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”

God’s “wisdom” is His ability to arrange His plan so it results in good for both Jews and Gentiles and His own glory. His “knowledge” testifies to His ability to construct such a plan. His decisions spring from logic that extends beyond human ability to comprehend. His procedures are so complex that humans cannot discover them without the aid of divine revelation.

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Verses 33-36

This doxology corresponds to the one at the end of chapter 8 where Paul concluded his exposition of God”s plan for bringing His righteousness to humankind ( Romans 8:31-39). There the emphasis was on the people of God. Here it is on the plan of God.

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Verse 34 “For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?”

Paul agreed with Isaiah again ( Isaiah 40:13-14). No one can know God’s mind fully. God is so wise that He has no need of counselors.

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Verse 35 “Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?”

Job”s observation that God has never needed to depend on human assistance that puts Him in man’s debt ( Job 35:7; Job 41:11) is also true. The fact that God makes people His partners in executing His will in the world does not mean that He cannot get along without us. He can.

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Verse 36 “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”

God is the source from which all things come, the means by which all things happen, and the goal toward which all things are moving. He is the originator, sustainer, and finisher of everything ultimately (cf.Colossians 1:16-17). In view of all these things ( Romans 11:33-36), He deserves all glory forever.

(Main source used for guidance: Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable)

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