A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Experience of Merciful Purpose in Reception
There Will Be a Future Reception
Ezekiel 37 is a vision of the dry bones. God asked the prophet about the bones, and Ezekiel said, "I am not going to speak. They look pretty dry to me." Imagine taking a man out into a valley and asking him to talk to a lot of dry bones! The prophets had some hard things to do. But Ezekiel was obedient and he said, "I prophesied as I was commanded."
There is a stirring in the "bones" in the twentieth century. Many of Israel have gone back, but "there is no breath in them," that is, spiritual life. They are going back to their land unconverted. But even though that is the picture, the word comes to the prophet, "Son of man," these bones are the whole house of Israel." That is the divine interpretation. "What shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?"
Comparing verse 2 ("God hath not cast away His people") with verse 15 gives the appearance of a contradiction. The best way to explain this seeming contradiction is to look at Jonah. He was cast into the sea, and yet he was not cast into the sea. God cast Israel into the sea of nations, and yet He has not cast them away. He has cast them away in the nations; but in the nations He has preserved them, just as Jonah was preserved in the whale. Israel was told to preach to the Gentiles just as Jonah was told to go preach to the Ninevites. Jonah was three days in the whale, and "a thousand years are but as one day" in God's sight.
Then Paul discusses the olive tree. You are familiar with this story of the olive tree. A great many people have said that the olive tree here is the church, or that the olive tree is Jesus Christ, and as the Jews were in the church in the Old Testament and they by their unbelief were cast off, God broke them out as branches and put in the Gentiles. They say, "If you do not behave yourself, God will break you out." They use this figure to argue against the doctrine of eternal security.
Anyone who is a Bible student and also a horticulturist, ought to know better than to interpret this passage this way. As I happen to be the latter, you will pardon me if I tell you something about grafting. When you take a scion and graft it into another tree - for instance, take a pear and graft it on the apple tree- will this scion change its identity? Will this bit of pear grow into an apple? Certainly not! It will remain a pear. The moment the sap passes that little place, it begins to bear pears, though right below it the tree will bear apples. In other words, if in this olive tree Jews are put, they are still Jews. When Gentiles are put in, they are still Gentiles. But this is not true of the church, for in the body of Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. If the men who studied this passage and misinterpreted it only had known a little about horticulture, they would not have made that mistake.
What is this olive tree? It represents the place of favor or privilege. Abraham is the root, for "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). God first brought into favor the Jew, then He cast him out of favor and put in the Gentile. It does not save anyone to be in this olive tree. When you are saved, your nature is changed; but Paul is talking about "the wild branches." Gentiles are Gentiles, Jews are Jews in this olive tree. The apostle is saying that because the Jew did not live up to his privileges and the light God gave him, he has been cut out and the wild branches were grafted into the place of favor. Of course, the whole church is here too - all the professing members of the church - because all the Gentiles are here. Some are really believers and some are not. Those that are not will be broken off. They will be taken out. The great lesson of the passage is certainly this: that just as the Jew in the Old Testament became bigoted, proud, and exclusive, and thought that God knew him only, now that very same thing is happening in Christendom to the Gentiles. There is only one thing that can retain favor in the eyes of God, and that is faith (verse 20). When Christendom begins to manifest unbelief and apostasy, the time is coming that God will take the Gentile out of his place and put the Jew back in!
Paul's argument is very good here (verse 21). The Jew is the stalk. It is much easier to put the natural branch back in than it is to take a different branch and put it in.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 72 - "There will be a Final Salvation")