(ROMANS 11:1-24)

by A.E. Knoch

I am saying, then: Does not God thrust away His people? May it not be coming to that! For I also am an Israelite, out of Abraham's seed, Benjamin's tribe. God does not thrust away His people whom He foreknew.

Or have you not perceived in Elijah what the scripture is saying, as he is pleading with God against Israel? Lord, Thy prophets they kill, Thine altars they dig down, and I was left alone, and they are seeking my soul. But what is that which apprises saying to him? I left for Myself seven thousand men who do not bow the knee to the image of Baal. Thus, then, in the current era also, there has come to be a remnant according to the choice of grace. Now if it is in grace, it is no longer out of works, else the grace is coming to be no longer grace. Now, if it is out of works, it is no longer grace, else the work is no longer work.

What then? What Israel is seeking for, this she did not encounter, yet the chosen encountered it. Now the rest were calloused, even as it is written, God gives them a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day.

And David is saying,
Let their table become a trap and a mesh,
And a snare and a repayment to them:
Darkened be their eyes, not to be observing,
And their backs bow together continually.

I am saying, then, "Do they not trip that they should be falling?" May it not be coming to that! But in their offense is salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy.

Now if their offense is the world's riches and their discomfiture the nations' riches, how much rather that which fills them! Now to you am I saying, to the nations, inasmuch as, indeed, then, I am the apostle of the nations, I am glorifying my dispensation, if somehow I should be provoking those of my flesh to jealousy and should be saving some of them. For if their casting away is the conciliation of the world, what will the taking back be if not life from among the dead?

Now if the firstfruit is holy, the kneading is also; and if the root is holy, the boughs are also. Now if some of the boughs are broken out, yet you, being a wild olive, are grafted among them, and became joint participant of the root and fatness of the olive, be not vaunting over the boughs. Yet if you are vaunting, you are not bearing the root, but the root you.

You will be declaring, then, "Boughs are broken out that I may be grafted in." Ideally! By unbelief are they broken out, yet you stand in faith. Be not haughty, but fear. For if God spares not the natural boughs, neither will He be sparing you! Perceive, then, the kindness and severity of God! On those, indeed, who are falling, severity, yet on you, God's kindness, if you should be persisting in the kindness: else you also will be hewn out. Now they also, if they should not be persisting in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were hewn out of an olive wild by nature, and, beside nature, are grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much rather shall these, who are in accord with nature, be grafted into their own olive tree!


IN THE divine summary of the Roman epistle there are two controlling themes. These are called "my evangel" and "a secret." The latter is enlarged upon, but the former, "my evangel," is merely mentioned (Rom.16:25-27).

If we recall how the Roman epistle opens, the reason for this will become clear, for there Paul's special service, as it differed from that of "the twelve," is set forth at length (Rom.1:1-7).

What difference is there between that "good-news," termed "the evangel of God," and this secret?

The "evangel of God" was promised before "through His prophets in the holy scriptures" (Rom.1:2). But those writings will be searched in vain for any trace of the secret, which God "hushed" during the eonian times past, when those prophets had lived. Even Paul himself, during the ministry then about completed (Acts 19:21; Rom.15:19,25) had not proclaimed this secret by word of mouth, for it is said to be "manifested now" through his prophetic writings (scriptures) (Rom.16:26). The eonian God issued the injunction to herald it to all the nations for the obedience of faith. This epistle itself and the second epistle to the Corinthians, also written at this juncture, are examples of Paul's "prophetic scriptures." Here we have a two-fold key to unlock the secret and to distinguish it from the "evangel of God" which Paul calls "my evangel."


Soon after Paul was severed for his evangel he stood up in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch and delivered a sample sermon which may well stand as an index to the doctrine which he made known during this, his itinerant ministry (Acts 13:13-41). One most salient point is justification by faith, for lawbreakers, including those of the nations as well as the Jews (verses 38,39). Our Lord is presented as the Son of God (verse 33), but His relationship, by physical ties, to David is also stressed (verses 34-37). This is also evident in 2 Timothy 2:8 as well as Romans 1:3.

This description of Paul's message given at Pisidian Antioch will also suffice for the first four chapters of the Roman epistle. Justification by faith, apart from the law, is the absorbing topic. Abraham's justification before being circumcised opens the door of faith to the nations. Nevertheless, our Lord is still the Seed of David, and the Jew is still first (Rom.1:3 and 1:16). This clearly shows that the first four chapters do not contain a secret, hitherto unrevealed.


But, beginning at chapter five, a change comes over the face of the epistle.

We leave the court room and the Judge's righteous bench and enter the presence of the Reconciler, seated upon His throne of grace.

Abraham and Israel's narrow pale fade from view as we go back and learn that Adam's one offense and its awful consequences to the whole human race is the type, in reverse, as it were, of that most marvelous grace - The Conciliation.


Where, in all the sacred scrolls, could be found a hint of such a thing? Whoever dreamed that so black a page could silhouette such wondrous glory? The type was there, it is true, yet surely the secret was successfully "hushed in times eonian."

In Isaiah's vision (Isaiah 6), a gleam of its glory seemed to pierce the gloom of Israel's dark defection. The prophet did not see the glory involved in the vision, but wished the duration of his people's blindness to be as short as possible. When the Lord was about to leave His disciples, they asked Him, "Lord, art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?" To have answered their question directly would have involved the disclosure of this secret. But He, in closest harmony with His God, "hushed" all inquiries of this sort. So He answers, "Not yours is it to know times or eras which the Father placed in His own jurisdiction" (Acts 1:6,7).


The apostle Paul, during his early journeys, went about in the character of a priest (Rom.15:16). A priest is appointed for men in divine affairs. He stands between man and God. He enters God's presence for them. But those who have access by virtue of the Conciliation need no priest, nor indeed, will they tolerate anything between them and their God, with Whom they are reconciled. Even Israel's priesthood will vanish in the new earth when God once more tabernacles with mankind (Rev.21:22).

The evangel of God was heralded to the nations by word of mouth. But the secret of the Conciliation was unfolded by written communications; prophetic scriptures, corresponding with its spiritual character (Rom.16:26). It takes the form of an "injunction of the eonian God," and is heralded to all nations, by ambassadors of peace (2 Cor.5:18-21).


Before proceeding to consider the national aspect of the Conciliation, as brought before us in the text which heads this chapter, let us define its relationship to the present secret administration, disclosed in the third chapter of Ephesians. The fact that this secret was made public some years before the secret (that, "in spirit, the nations are to be joint enjoyers [with believing Jews] of an allotment, and a joint body, and joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus") as revealed in Ephesians 3:6, is enough to distinguish the two secrets. But the Conciliation did not affect Israel's prior place. It was still "to the Jew first." This is parallel to the circumstances in the last eon, where the nations on the new earth will be reconciled, God Himself tabernacling with them (Rev.21:3), yet Israel in the holy city, the new Jerusalem, will remain the seat of all earthly government. The nations will gladly acknowledge her sway, even when her priestly offices are no longer needed and no temple exists, for God Himself will be their Temple (Rev.21:22). But the secret administration ignores all such privileges. The nations are placed on the same plane with Israel in that marvelous celestial favor (Eph.3:6). A celestial destiny is vital in this secret administration, for, on the earth, Israel can have no equal. This is why the celestial side of yet another secret, the secret of Christ (Eph.3:4), which is to "head up all in the Christ" (Eph.1:10), was not made known before, for the heavens themselves would be a dreary place with Christ limited to the earth.

The third item which characterizes this present secret administration (that the nations should be "joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus"), is founded upon the Conciliation.

Let us go back, then, to the National aspect of this wondrous truth, as revealed in the text which heads this chapter.


God is sovereign. Even the reign of Sin could not subvert His purpose. If lawlessness itself must bend beneath His iron will, how much more will grace serve willingly! The cross has made it possible and fitting that He should pour out, unrestrained, the inexhaustible treasures of His grace. Peace is proclaimed to all. Provision has been made for all. The efforts and the will of man are all opposed to God, and can only lead him to his doom. But let our hearts delight in this, that God is sovereign, and in His wisdom seasons all His acts with grace.

All had been done to make us His long before we knew Him. Nevertheless, many of His own spend years in the service of Satan before He calls them to Himself. His grace is not unbridled, but obeys His wise commands. Every blessing God bestows is based on the death of Christ, endured on Golgotha. By virtue of its power, all mankind will yet join in singing Conciliation's song, and new heavens as well as a new earth will display the many-sided glories that, as yet, lie dormant in its folds. Each blessing waits its proper season.


And so it was with the Conciliation. It was accomplished on the cross when the Son of God laid down His life, but it did not take immediate effect. First God will magnify His grace to Israel. He proclaims to them anew the Messiah they had rejected and crucified.

Full forty days Messiah lingers with His own, speaking of the things concerning the Kingdom of God. How natural that they should ask the questions which Isaiah and all the prophets entertained: "Till when?" "At this time?" (Acts 1:6). They did not know that they were trespassing upon God's secret things. The era which they were about to enter must first run many years before this question could be answered. Almost all commentaries covering the book of Acts proceed to explain it upon the assumption that this secret was well known instead of being positively concealed. That an era, in which the "complement of the nations" was to be gathered in, should intervene, was not only unknown to them, but unknowable. God hid it from them. Even when they asked the Lord point blank about it, He refused to divulge this secret. And the book of Acts can never be properly understood apart from a recognition of this ignorance.

The book of Acts knows nothing of the Conciliation. Excuses and explanations abound whenever God, in grace, reaches out beyond the narrow pale of Judaism. It is not until after its various ministries have failed or ceased that we read, " the nations was dispatched this salvation of God, and they will hear" (Acts 28:28).

This gives rise to three important questions:
(1) Does not God thrust away His people?
(2) For how long will Israel be set aside?
(3) What special blessings have come to the other nations through the Conciliation?


From what Paul had just finished stating in chapter 10 it would seem that God was through with His ancient and beloved people and was thrusting them away. "May it not be coming to that!" cries the apostle. The apostasy of Israel is only in part, and its term is temporary. Yet the Conciliation could not commence until Israel, as a nation, was "cast away" (Rom.11:15). God dealt with Israel, as a nation, quite apart from any personal ties which may have existed between Him and the chosen remnant which He always kept for Himself (Rom.11:5). So also in His dealings with the other nations. As nations, they are dealt with, quite apart from the true believers in their midst (Rom.11:16-24).


The question dealing with the duration of Israel's callousness is fully answered by the little word "until." Israel's callousness is limited to the period of the present ingathering of believers from among the nations (Rom.11:25).

The last question concerning the blessings which have come to the nations as a result of the Conciliation may be best answered by considering the lesson of the trees.


The Kingdom of God is "righteousness and peace and joy in holy spirit" (Rom.14:17). Though it does not consist of food and drink, the very physical sustenance of that day will form an index of its spiritual characteristics. In most exquisite symbolism it is known as a day when the sons of Israel shall sit under their own vine and their own fig tree (Micah 4:4). This will doubtless be true as to fact, but the fig tree will also be the protection of a righteous government; the vine, the spiritual cheer which Messiah brings.


In the eightieth Psalm we are told how God brought a vine out of Egypt, and cast out the nations, and planted it. The remainder of the Psalm describes its growth and desolation. Yahweh, through the prophet Jeremiah, laments, saying, "Yet I planted you a yellow muskrat, all of it a reliable seed, then how are you turned to Me into a degenerate foreign vine" (Jer.2:21)?

Jotham, in his parable of the trees, which is most interesting in this connection, tells us that the function of the vine is to cheer both God (Elohim) and man (Judges 9:13). We know that God found but little joy in Israel.

So, when the Messiah came, He could say: "I am the true Grapevine. "And of His disciples he could add, "You are the branches." And of the others, "If anyone should not be remaining in Me, he was cast out as a branch and is withered. And they are gathering them, and into the fire are they casting them, and he is being burned" (John 15:1,5,6). How true a prophecy of that unbelieving nation!

The parable of the evil farmers shows how little return Israel gave to Yahweh for His bounty (Matt.21:33-41). But, from His own, our Lord gathered much joy in the days of His earthly ministry. When He was about to leave them He told them that He would not drink henceforth of the product of the grape vine, till He drinks it new in His Father's kingdom (Matt.26:29).

In that day the regenerate nation will bring forth the fruits of the vineyard. Then, at Yahweh's marriage feast, His law will be transformed into brimming cheer, just as the water was in Cana of Galilee (John 2:6-10).

Some among the nations, not heeding the word which Jesus spoke to His disciples, that He would abstain from wine until that day, have thought themselves fit to take Israel's place as the vine. But we are certain that He has not tasted of the vintage which they offer Him.


Within the vineyard of Israel, God had planted a fig tree. As we have already mentioned, the fig tree pictures the protection of a righteous government, and political blessedness. But, when our Lord came, He found no fruit on it. Three years He looked for the sweetness and good produce Israel should have yielded to their God (Luke 13:6-9). Instead of real righteousness, He found only leaves, the same covering Adam had tried before God clothed him with the tunic of skin (Gen.3:7,21.


How touching and sad are the scenes we find clustered around our Lord's final entry into Jerusalem! Each step, each incident pictures forth a moral truth. The day was fast approaching when the remainder of Daniel's prophecy concerning Messiah (Christ), the Governor, must be fulfilled. The sixty-nine sevens had been fulfilled just prior to Christ's birth. Four hundred and eighty-three years had elapsed since the word to return and to build Jerusalem had gone forth (Dan.9:25). That "era" had been fulfilled (Mark 1:15). Yet Daniel had further stated: "And after the sixty-two sevens (plus the seven sevens for the rebuilding, equalling sixty-nine sevens), Christ shall be cut off, and there is no adjudication for Him..." (Dan.9:26). During the interval between the sixty-ninth heptad (seven year period) and the seventieth, Christ was to be "cut off," not receiving any of the earthly glories which belong to Him as Israel's Messiah. It is just prior to His being "cut off" that we find Him offering Himself for the last time to the apostate nation as their King.


A wild fig tree, Rome, ruled over Israel. Zaccheus, a Jew, a chief tribute collector for the imperial Roman government, desired to see Jesus. He climbed into a "fig mulberry" or wild fig tree, thus harmonizing his physical environment with his true moral condition. His high station above his fellows was by means of the office he held at the hands of the oppressors of his people. And so the Lord's first words to him were, "Hurry! Descend..." (Luke 19:4,5). Office in a hostile kingdom ill suits the occasion when the true King comes.


In those last days He comes to Bethphage, which, in Hebrew, means "the home-of-the-green-fig." But unripe figs are quite unpalatable and cannot satisfy His hunger. He goes to Jerusalem and returns to Bethany ("home-of-the-humble"). When He goes towards Jerusalem the next morning He is still unsatisfied, for He is yet hungry. A fig tree hangs over the way. According to the divine law, a tithe of its fruit was His. But, far from claiming His due as the great Lawgiver, He takes the place of the poor and alien, and gleans among its branches.

But He found nothing except leaves! No fruit to satisfy His hunger. And so He says, "No longer, by any means, may fruit be coming of you for the eon. And the fig tree withered instantly (Matt.21:19).

In order to better appreciate the significance of this event we must learn some of the characteristics of the fig tree in Palestine. Generally speaking, the fruit of the fig tree appears about the middle of February, nearly a month before the leaves sprout. The fruit shoots are without flowers and, as we have said, are prior to the leaf growth. This budding occurs during what we might call spring, for when its leaves are sprouting out, then summer is near (Matt.24:32). However, these dates all vary somewhat due to local conditions; the climate, soil, and amount of shelter provided.

We only mention, in passing, the "firstfruit" of the fig tree (Hosea 9:10), which is an early crop, few in number, usually gathered around June. Also there is the "green fig" (Song of Solomon 2:13) or unripened fig, which remains throughout the winter. This, as noted before, is included in the meaning of Bethphage (Home-green-fig).

The cursing of the fig tree occurred during the week prior to the Passover. This sets the date somewhere at the end of March or the beginning of April, a time of year when it would be most unusual for a fig tree, near Jerusalem, to be in leaf. Yet if the tree displays its precociousness by having leaves so early, it would also be expected to have fruit, although, admittedly, "it was not the season of figs" (Mark 11:13). Some influence had put the tree into leaf. Yet the appearance was false, for there was no fruit for the delectation of the Lord. He found "nothing but leaves."

It is this false exhibition of leaves, indicating ripened fruit, which is significant. The fig tree is a figure of the government of the state; the protection of a righteous ruling power; political blessedness. But Israel did not rule itself; they were the subjects of Rome. There was no "fruit" for Yahweh.

Despite this position, Israel endeavored to act as though they did possess the edible fruit! They usurped the place of authority and pressed their charges against Jesus, binding Him and taking Him before Pilate. Apart from the pressure of the leaders of Israel, Rome, as represented by Pilate, would not have crucified the Lord Jesus. Israel acted as though they ruled!

There was no fruit, only leaves, yet the false impression which the leaves gave, pictured what had taken place in Israel. Since the reality was lacking, the false appearance must be eliminated.

And so the Lord's curse descends, and the fig tree is withered from the roots, "for the eon" (Matt.21:19). Not "forever!" For, although Israel, as a nation, became withered and fruitless, yes, even without leaves (for they could not cover their unrighteousness); though they had no national standing left, the day seems not far distant when Yahweh will set up His righteous rule and the fig tree of Israel will bear an abundant harvest.

The other nations, with all their talk of civic and national righteousness, will never displace Yahweh's fig tree, Israel. They are wild and their fruit is so inferior as to be worthless to Yahweh.

If national righteousness and national joy are figured by the fruit of the fig and the vine, what figures peace, the remaining characteristic of God's kingdom?


Peace is symbolized by the olive tree. Since the dove came back to Noah with an olive leaf, the olive branch has been a symbol of judgment accomplished. Such is the lesson of its leaves, but its fruit is far more precious still. The oil of the olive is the source of divine illumination. The only light by which Yahweh's glories might be seen in the tabernacle or the temple was furnished by the oil of the olive berry. The oil is eminently the symbol of His spirit. It was used for anointing, and typified the spirit which He poured upon those whom He anointed and in unstinted measure upon His Anointed, Jesus, the Messiah (Messiah means Anointed in Hebrew).

This gives the olive pre-eminence among the trees: indeed it was their first choice for king (Judges 9:8). The righteousness of the fig tree is good and pleasant for man, but what does it profit God if men are righteous? As the true vine is the Messiah Himself, God and man both may rejoice in Him. And God and man both are glorified by the spirit of which olive oil is the symbol. And that is the great issue in Romans chapter eleven - God's glory. National righteousness and national joy are not in view and are not attained. But, by the olive tree, God's name has been greatly magnified among the nations.


Before the Conciliation, the figure of the olive tree was confined to Israel. And, even yet, they are the root and trunk and some of the branches. All divine light came through them. Our Lord could say to His disciples, "You are the light of the world" (Matt.5:14). To the Jew was entrusted the oracles of God (Rom.3:2). The source and strength of divine revelation is the sacred writings which were their special treasure.


The other nations can never be pictured by a cultivated olive tree. They are "wild." The berries of the wild olive, or oleaster, yield no light-giving oil. But God has grafted wild boughs into the cultivated olive tree in place of some of the branches which were broken out (Rom.11:16-24).

To graft a branch from a wild fig tree into a good stem would be ruinous to both. Our Lord expects nothing from the wild fig tree. Neither can you graft a wild grape into a good vine and obtain fine vintage. It is equally impossible for the nations to take Israel's place and produce grapes fit for pressing. But, strange to say, God has been able to graft the wild olive boughs into the cultivated olive tree and get berries bearing the precious oil.

No patriarchs or prophets or apostles are raised up from among the nations. The root and trunk of the olive tree remain the same. But, while a few of the branches remain, the great bulk are wild grafts. A few of Israel's sons are enlightened by God's spirit and publicly uphold His Word. But, apart from these few notable exceptions, God is using other nations to spread abroad the knowledge of Himself. All the philosophies of Egypt and Greece and India cannot supply a single ray of light. It is only as the nations leave their own wild fancies and uphold the enlightening verities of that Book which was once the exclusive boast of Israel, that they can draw the true unction from the root of the cultivated olive tree.

Thus we see that the righteous government of this earth, as figured by the fig tree, was never transferred to any other nation. Every new attempt at rule lands mankind one step further from the benevolent despotism which this earth will yet enjoy under the reign of Israel and Israel's Messiah. Neither has the cheer of that millennial day come true as yet. But one great boon has come to the nations. God no longer treats them as His enemies, but entrusts them with His most precious gift - the divine oracles. The light has left Israel and dwells with aliens. The nations are God's testimony in the earth.


Viewed from the standpoint of the individual who believes God, this present day of grace immeasurably surpasses the coming Kingdom on the earth. But this is not the proper viewpoint in Romans eleven. We are considering nations, as such, not individuals. In this light we can see that, if Israel's offense brought such riches to the world as comes through the Conciliation, how much greater shall be this earth's blessing when Israel is blessed!

Earthly, physical blessing is given to, and through, that nation. It is useless to look for such blessings apart from them. The Conciliation leads to transcendent spiritual blessings, but it does not promise temporal terrestrial prosperity. It imparts a power to turn trials into occasions of rejoicing, but does not avoid or remove them from us. Israel will not exult in trials in that day, for then trials will be a token of divine displeasure. They may be a sign of His favor now.

So, then, we see that, though the Conciliation was effected when God's Son entered death, it could not become effective until Israel was set aside. We find that it established peace between God and the nations, but did not bring about the righteousness and joy of Millennial days, which can come only through Israel. The nations, viewed as a whole, are entrusted with His Word, so long as they uphold that Word and shed its light abroad.


For a time Grace holds the scepter and the nations sustain God's testimony in the earth.

"You stand in faith" (Rom.11:20). If we desire to know the position of the nations at the present time as regards the Conciliation, all we need to investigate is their attitude toward the Word of God. So long as they believe God, all is well. But if they refuse to believe Him, then they are about to be hewn out of the olive tree and lose the place of privilege which they have held so long.


A cursory review of the course of Christendom will show it to be but a series of apostasies, with a few feeble returns to the truth. But never has there been such complete apostasy as at the present time, even in the very bodies which owe their rise to a return to God's Word.

Sound teaching is no longer tolerated. Teachers seek to please the crowds while the life-giving truths of God's grace are covered and condemned. Men prefer myths to God's marvelous message. We must, therefore, herald the word, stand by it, opportunely, inopportunely, expose, rebuke, entreat, with all patience and teaching (2 Tim.4:2-4). We need always to be reminded that the greatest danger to those who love God's Word lies, not in the carping critic, not from those who live on their emotions, for these do not exert nearly so great an influence as those defenders of the faith who are honestly endeavoring to oppose what they deem error.


Where, then, is there safety? Safety lies only in such a recognition of the prevalent apostasy as will lead us to pass by all human authority and supposition and tradition and found all our faith upon the facts of the Word.

Nor do we exclude ourselves from the list of those who should not be followed. We are human as the rest. But we hope that all who read these lines may be able to grant us this one grace - the highest compliment that we can crave - that the burden of our message is a return to God's Word; and that the facts as they occur in the original are truthfully and impartially presented for the consideration of our readers. Apart from these facts there is no possible return to His Word; no possible escape from participation in the prevailing apostasy.


To conclude, the main drift of the many diverse movements of modern times has been away from the Word of God. Movement after movement has been made toward the recovery of the truth, but, like the receding tide, the oncoming waves flow back faster than they come, and leave the faith stranded and forsaken.

Christ was crucified in the midst of God's chosen people and the faith is being crucified in the midst of its professed friends. The Conciliation has well-nigh run its course. The time seems near for the faithless nations to be cut out of the olive tree!

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