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The Olive Tree and the True Vine
27 August 2014
Two articles ago I shared an entire chapter from the New Testament, written by the apostle Paul, regarding God's continuing plan for the Jewish people. Because that first article of this series is the foundation for today's article, be sure to read Romans 11 — The Olive Tree before continuing here.

Next, in my previous article, part two of this series, we took a comprehensive look at what the New Testament says about roots. However, it wasn't all-inclusive, because I skipped the four references to roots found in Romans 11. Because this is such an important passage of Scripture, I wanted to dedicate a separate article to it.

Now that I've laid the ground work in the previous two articles, it is time to turn our attention to an in-depth look at what God is saying through these writings of Paul.

Romans chapters 9 through 11 are vital for understanding God's dealings with Israel under the New Covenant, and for understanding the relationship between followers of Yeshua and the majority of the Jewish people who don't confess Yeshua as their Messiah. These three chapters are so crucial that David Stern, in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, devotes a whopping 42 pages to covering the issues involved in what Paul wrote.

Mr. Stern starts this section by declaring that "chapters 9–11 of the Book of Romans contain the New Testament's most important and complete discussion of the Jewish people." I will be quoting from his Jewish New Testament Commentary more fully a bit later in this article.

Well, I suppose if we are going to investigate this passage, we had better refresh our memories a bit. Here is the relevant excerpt from what I shared in full in Romans 11 — The Olive Tree.
Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there's bound to be some holy fruit. Some of the tree's branches were broken off and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root gives you no cause to crow over the broken-off branches. Remember, you aren't feeding the root; the root is feeding you.

It's certainly possible to say, "Other branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in!" Well and good. But they were broken off because they were deadwood, no longer connected by belief and commitment to the root. The only reason you're on the tree is because your graft "took" when you believed, and because you're connected to that belief-nurturing root. So don't get cocky and strut your branch. Be humbly mindful of the root that keeps you lithe and green.

If God didn't think twice about taking pruning shears to the natural branches, why would He hesitate over you? He wouldn't give it a second thought. Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God — ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot. But don't presume on this gentleness. The moment you become deadwood, you're out of there.

And don't get to feeling superior to those broken branches down on the ground. If they don't persist in remaining deadwood, they could very well get grafted back in. God can do that. He can perform miracle grafts. Why, if He could graft you — branches cut from a tree out in the wild — into an orchard tree, He certainly isn't going to have any trouble grafting branches back into the tree they grew from in the first place. Just be glad you're in the tree, and hope for the best for the others.
In Paul's metaphor of the Olive Tree, the references to the three types of branches — Jews who confess Yeshua as the Messiah, non-Jews who confess Yeshua as the Messiah, and Jews who do NOT confess Yeshua as the Messiah — are clearly explained and easy to understand. It even seems clear that the Olive Tree Paul is referring to is the Jewish people as a whole.

But what he really doesn't explain at all is what the "root" is and/or means. In the Jewish New Testament Commentary, Mr. Stern asks the same question:
... who or what is the root...? Three distinct possibilities are:
  1. The believing remnant of Israel that is truly Israel (Romans 9:6-7), that is, the Messianic Jews (Romans 11:1-15)
  2. Avraham [Abraham] (Romans 4:12) or all the Patriarchs (Romans 11:28)
  3. Yeshua the Messiah (Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 15:20), who alone makes Israel holy.
Any of these fit the context of verses 17-18 (above), but the material in [Romans] chapter 4 about Avraham (alluded to again in verse 28), as well as the truism that firstfruits are offered first [see verse 16], suggest something chronologically anterior, hence the people who trusted first, either Avraham or all the Patriarchs. Although some of the Church Fathers and Karl Barth opted for possibility (3). I suspect that this idea gained currency in the early Church because of its tendency to want to deprive the Jews of their place as God's people, the root and firstfruits of faith.... whether the root is Yeshua, Avraham, the Patriarchs, the Messianic Jews or all the Jews, it is a Jewish root, and don't you forget it!
Although I think it likely that Paul had Abraham and the Patriarchs in mind when he was referring to the root, I still believe that there is a strong case for understanding that Yeshua is the root. But before we dig deeper into that, I want to take a look at a passage of Scripture in which Yeshua Himself uses an analogy very similar to Paul's:
"I am the True Vine and my Father is the Vinedresser. He cuts off every branch of Me that doesn't produce fruit. And every branch that is grape-bearing He prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

"Live in Me. Make your home in Me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear fruit by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you abide in Me.

"I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with Me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from Me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with Me and My words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. When you produce much fruit, you are My true disciples. This brings great glory to My Father." (John 15:1-8)
Yeshua states that He is the True Vine, which includes the root, and that human beings are the branches, just as in Paul's metaphor of the Olive Tree, where also people are the branches. Paul continues, explaining that some branches "were broken off because they were deadwood, no longer connected by belief and commitment to the root."

Yeshua said almost the exact same thing: "Anyone who separates from Me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire." In both analogies it is Father God who is removing the unbelieving branches from the tree / vine. In both cases, it's the root which nourishes and supports the branches, not the other way around.

As I mentioned previously, I think it likely that Paul had Abraham and the Patriarchs in mind when he was referring to the root. They are the "fathers of the faith" — especially Abraham. Romans 4, Galatians 3 and Hebrews 11 all have a lot to say about Abraham and his faith:
Abraham is father of ALL people who embrace what God does for them while they are still on the "outs" with God, as yet unidentified as God's, in an "uncircumcised" condition. It is precisely these people in this condition who are called "set right by God and with God!" Abraham is also, of course, father of those who have undergone the religious rite of circumcision NOT just because of the ritual but because they were willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God's action for them, the way Abraham lived long before he was marked by circumcision.... For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our racial father — that's reading the story backward. He is our faith father. (Romans 4:11b,12,16b)

"Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith." The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God. The [Old Testament] Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the non-Jews to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this Good News to Abraham long ago when He said, "All nations will be blessed through you." So all who put their faith in Messiah share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.... Through Yeshua the Messiah, God has blessed the non-Jews with the same blessing He promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.... For you are all children of God through faith in Yeshua the Messiah.... There is no longer Jew or non-Jew, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Yeshua the Messiah. And now that you belong to Messiah, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God's promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Galatians 3:6-9,14,26,28,29)
In the end, what WAS the faith of Abraham and the Patriarchs? Paul gave us a hint in the verses from Galatians 3 which I just quoted: God had proclaimed the Good News to Abraham about how, one day, God would declare the non-Jews to be righteous because of their faith. All peoples would be blessed through Abraham because of his descendant, as Paul also explained in Galatians 3: "God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn't say 'to his children,' as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says 'to his child' — and that, of course, means Yeshua" (verse 16).

Yeshua Himself makes a similar statement in even clearer language:
"Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to My coming. He saw it and was glad."

The Jewish leaders said, "You're not even fifty years old — and Abraham saw you?"

Yeshua replied, "Believe Me, I am who I am long before Abraham was anything."

That did it — pushed them over the edge. They picked up rocks to throw at Him. But Yeshua slipped away, getting out of the Temple. (John 8:56-59)
The other Patriarchs had the same, "looking ahead to what God would do in the future" kind of faith, just like Abraham:
Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.... All the Patriarchs died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

Moses thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Messiah than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.... All the Old Testament believers earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had provided something better with us in mind, so that they should not reach their goal apart from us. (Hebrews 11:10,13-16,26,39,40)
And now we come back full circle. Even if Abraham and the Patriarchs are the "fathers of the faith" and the root of Paul's Olive Tree, their faith was in the coming Messiah, Yeshua. As we saw in the previous article — The New Testament On Roots — Yeshua declared that He is The Root (Revelation 22:16). This reality is described in various ways throughout the New Testament:
No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Yeshua the Messiah. (1 Corinthians 3:11)

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.... all things have been created through Messiah and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And Yeshua is the head of the Body, the Church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything Yeshua might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Messiah. (Colossians 1:15,16b-19)

Yeshua has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Messiah all will be made alive. But each in turn: Messiah, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
So when Paul wrote in Romans 11, "If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches" (verse 16), we see from the rest of the New Testament that Yeshua is The Firstfruits as well as The Root.

Even if the non-Jewish followers of Yeshua are grafted onto the faith of the Patriarchs, the faith of the Patriarchs was actually in the Messiah. Ultimately, Yeshua is The Root, that He might have the supremacy in everything. But He IS a Jewish-born Messiah — "it is a Jewish root, and don't you forget it!"

This brings to a close my three-part series of articles exploring what the New Testament teaches about roots. I hope you've enjoyed the journey!

For another look at John chapter 15 and Yeshua as the True Vine, see my article Abide In Messiah.
This article is 22nd a series of articles on this Web site related to Exploring New Testament Realities which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
19  Sep  2013
1  Oct  2013
7  Oct  2013
12  Oct  2013
15  Oct  2013
16  Oct  2013
30  Oct  2013
13  Nov  2013
28  Dec  2013
8  Jan  2014
15  Jan  2014
16  Jan  2014
21  Jul  2014
26  Jul  2014
27  Jul  2014
31  Jul  2014
5  Aug  2014
10  Aug  2014
11  Aug  2014
24  Aug  2014
25  Aug  2014
The Olive Tree and the True Vine
27  Aug  2014
16  Sep  2014
17  Oct  2014
18  Oct  2014
21  Oct  2014
28  Oct  2014
8  Nov  2014
13  Dec  2014
24  Dec  2014
11  Jan  2015
20  Jan  2015
21  Jan  2015
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