So if the Jews are God’s people, where do the Christians fit in? The simple answer is that they were “grafted in.” Since that leaves so much unsolved, true to form, we will discuss the more complex answer.
It is possible to break a branch off of one tree and graft it into another tree. Think of it like an organ transplant, except it’s a branch transplant. The newly added branch now receives its nutrients from the roots of the new tree. A truly amazing phenomenon.
This is the metaphor Paul uses in Romans 11 to describe how the Gentiles (non-Jews) are now benefitting from the promises made to Abraham. He says that the Jewish people are branches of a cultivated tree. They are nourished by good “roots” of promises made to their forefathers. Other nations are like wild trees.
Israel was intended to be a light to the surrounding nations, an example they could follow toward righteousness. Unfortunately, many times, Israel followed the example of the “wild trees” and turned toward wickedness. For this reason, the Jewish “branches” were broken off of the tree. This vacancy is filled by anyone who would choose to believe the promises of God. Then they are nourished by the “roots” of God’s promises to Abraham and David.
At a glance, it sounds like the Jews have been hopelessly cut off and the Gentiles are now better off. Paul immediately squashes this idea. He says that any Jews who turn back to obedience to God will be added back to the tree. He reasons that since the wild branches, Gentiles, can be grafted in to the tree then it is certainly easy enough for the tree’s natural branches to be added back. Altogether, Jew and Gentile, everyone who benefits from the promises of God are a part of the tree, which is called the Church.
God’s promises are irrevocable. If we are obedient to his commands, we benefit from the nourishment of the tree. However, whoever is not obedient to God’s commands disqualifies their self and will be pruned off of the tree.
Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, we are commanded not to boast in our branches. There is a clear message of hope in the metaphor of being grafted in but there is also a stern warning. We should fear God. He will certainly cut lifeless branches from the tree and throw them into the fire. But for those who seek him with all their heart and obey His commands, He is mighty to save them and bless their life.
A brief description of the “grafted in” symbol: the menorah at the top symbolizes God’s covenant with Abraham to make him into a great people; to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. The star in the middle represents God’s covenant with David to establish his royal bloodline over a kingdom that would last forever (this was culminated in the life of Jesus for He is the King of Kings). The fish at the bottom represents Jesus. The word Christian originally meant “little Christ” and was used to describe anyone who followed Him.
A Christian, covered by the blood of Jesus, now shares in the promises made to David and Abraham because they have been “grafted in.”
– Pastor Jon Helms