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  • Writer's pictureKathy Berry

Attention, Olive Tree Members: Cliffhanger, An Olive Tree for These End Times, Part 2

We return to our discussion on Jew-Gentile relations, their identities, and the importance of distinctiveness as we move closer to the end of these last days before Messiah’s return. Romans 11, which I hope you have had a chance to peruse since our first discussion (see “To Do,” post 1), describes a mystery that Paul receives from God. In receiving it, he proclaims with awe and wonder: “Oh, the depth and riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33a).

Paul introduces a kal v’chomer—a rabbinic hermeneutical device, as a formulated conditional response to the conundrum when some natural branches experience breakage. Paul remarks: “For if you [Gentiles] were cut out of the olive tree, which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Rom. 11:24, emphasis added). It is a rhetorical question because the “if…how much more” formula posits a common-sense acceptance of the premise. Here, Paul reveals the mystery of God regarding Israel. Through the prophet Zechariah, God promises salvation to Israel. It isn’t a “carte blanch” favoritism if that’s a concern. He pours grace and supplications upon them, and they repent. In their mourning, they invite their Messiah (Zech. 12:10; Ps. 118:22; Matt. 21:42).

Likewise, Paul splices portions of Isaiah 59:20, 21a; and 27:9b to illustrate God’s faithfulness towards Israel, one which Gentiles can expect. Paul summarizes these verses by saying, “All Israel will be saved.” We can argue about the meaning of “all,” but I believe all means all. And why not? Does it not glorify God when people open their eyes to his saving grace? What was Paul’s intent by piecemealing these scriptural portions if not to propose Israel’s total repentance?

Why must these branches remain ethnically Jewish and Gentile? Furthermore, why is distinctiveness critical in these end times? Herein lies the “meat and potatoes” of the mystery, grounded in an understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant. God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants, which is inextricably tied to Israel’s calling as a light to the nations (Isa. 49), is two-fold. Israel is to be blessed and to be a blessing: “My desire is to bless those who bless you, but whoever curses you I will curse, and in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed” (emphasis added, Gen. 12:3). The promise unfolds within the branches of the olive tree if they are ethnically Jewish and Gentile (nations). In other words, there can be no replacement theology; both must remain entwined among one another. One does not replace the other, as so often translated. The traditional translation, “grafted in their place,” is grossly ill-mannered and, at least, incorrect (v. 17). The correct translation of the Greek phrase “en autois” is “among them.” The wild branches are grafted among the others—not in their place. I strongly encourage reading Mark Nanos’ books, Reading Romans within Judaism and Reading Paul within Judaism.

To sum up, this cycle of blessing and being blessed accomplishes Israel’s calling, having fallen abysmally short so often throughout its history. As an emissary from Israel to the Gentiles, Paul reiterates the cycle by being a blessing (v. 13). However, the nations must, likewise, bless. Where Paul calls Gentiles to provoke to zeal the non-believing Jews, Gentiles have done little more than simply provoke. Partakers of the nourishing root—the faith of the patriarchs—the nations were admonished not to boast against the branches (v. 18).

You see, the exponential growth that Paul speaks of in Romans 11 can only happen if the horticulture allows for both natural and grafted branches, whether the grafted are from the nations or new Messianic Jews. The engrafted branches force, as it were, the tree to draw nutrients, producing hardened calluses (pōrosis, v. 25) by which nourishment and healing flow. The surge of nutrients stimulates exponential growth. The faith community becomes robust and empowered against the darkness characteristic of the end times. The Church becomes battle ready!

Olive tree theology embodies Yeshua’s plea to the lost sheep of Israel, Israel’s history and calling relived in Yeshua, and the Abrahamic Covenant. Yes, the olive tree analogy must allow distinctiveness. Severing viable natural branches through replacement theology only accomplishes a sickly community; in truth, we severe ourselves because it is a Jewish tree!

Shalom and Blessings—

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