In Parts I & II we defined this root that Paul is discussing in Romans 11. You probably noticed that this definition is a combination of 3 of the 4 traditional definitions given in church history (see the end of part 1). But why is not Jesus Himself the root? Of course, Yeshua is the source and foundation of all, the one by whom and for whom all was created! (Col 1:16) But this is not the subject matter of Romans 11 and verse 18 makes it clear that the teaching here is about the right relationship of different people groups in the Body of Messiah, not the identity or divinity of Yeshua.
Application for Today
Honor your roots! Honor those who have preceded you and brought you the Gospel!
In many places the Bible teaches us to honor those who have gone before us in the faith, those who stood for the truth—and suffered—for their testimony. Hebrews 11, starting with righteous Abel, speaks of a “cloud of witnesses”—a long list of Old Covenant “saints” whose testimonies and memories we are to learn from and honor. The Ten Commandments teaches us the importance of honoring our mother and father. But in Romans 11, the Apostle is more specific: the Gentile, Roman Christians were to honor the Jews among them, as those who represented the Jerusalem Church, the first apostles through whom they received the Christian faith, and the Biblical history of Israel.
But if Paul were alive today would he write the same thing? After a long hiatus of about 1600 years, there is once again a recognizable Jewish “remnant” in the Body of Christ. According to the olive tree metaphor of Romans 11, there are now (in increasing numbers!) Jewish branches that have been graciously “re-grafted” into our own olive tree (11:23). And what’s more, many of us live in a renewed, independent nation called “Israel” in the Land promised to our Biblical patriarchs, thereby representing the fulfillment of many Biblical prophecies. But do we share the same closeness to the root as those Jewish “branches” in the 1st century? Does the warning of the Apostle “ring” the same way today? Yes and no….
First the “yes”: in concluding the teaching of Romans 11, the Apostle declared of the physical descendants of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, etc.): for the gifts and call of God are irrevocable (v.29). We Jewish branches are still those descendants—so whatever irrevocable gift and call, whatever “rootedness” was represented by the identity of the Jewish believers of the first century, it is still something that Messianic Jews can claim today. In our bodies, in the Land, and in the fullness of Messianic faith, we represent a continuity of, and proximity to, the full range of Biblical promises and covenants.
But there is also a “no” here, a situation which is very different, even inverse from the first century. Then, Paul warned the Gentiles by saying: “Don’t forget your indebtedness to the Jews, and to the Jerusalem church—you received the Gospel from them!” But over the last few generations of Messianic Jewish revival, the vast majority of Jewish believers were loved, witnessed to, discipled, trained, etc. by Gentile Christians and their churches. We might say: two thousand years ago Israel gave birth to the church, but today the church has given birth to a renewed Israel!
I believe that if the Apostle were writing today, he might warn us Messianic Jews of a kind of arrogance towards the church, one which says, “We’re the native branches, closest to the root; even though I came to faith in a Christian setting, now I know better, now I can find my identity as a Messianic Jew without reference to the church!” I say this because there has emerged a very real tendency among some Messianic Jews to insulate themselves from identifying in any way with “Christianity” or the “church”; some even speak of a “dual ecclesiology” as if there were two olive trees, or two wholly distinct parts of the Body of Christ—one Jewish and the other Gentile. Because of the anti-Jewish sentiments and doctrines of the historic church, this tendency can be understood, even sympathized with. But we must resist any efforts to legitimize, or institutionalize, this attitude. Our Messiah, King, and Savior is a Jew; the Jewish apostles gave birth to the early church, which is one whole, organic olive tree continuing to grow and spread its branches among the nations. While we strongly believe in the existence of Messianic Jewish congregations, I believe the warning of the Apostle would speak to us, pleading with us to stay connected and honor those Gentiles–and their churches–through whom we received the Christian/Messianic faith in our day.
So, as Jew & Gentile together in Messiah, we must both take the warning against pride very seriously! Romans 11:11-15 makes it clear that our restoration to the olive tree, likened to a resurrection from the dead (v. 15), is to be a great blessing of Gospel riches and reconciliation for all the nations!