Grafting from the Wild Olive Tree
“However, if some of the branches were broken off but you, although being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became a partaker of the olive’s root of fatness, do not be exulting over the branches.”—Rom. 11:17, 18.
1, 2. Why are dead branches on a fruit tree undesirable, and how did John the Baptist use this in an illustration?
WHICH are more desirable, dead branches on a fruit tree or live ones? The answer is obvious. Fruit is not produced by what is dead. A fruitgrower will therefore trim off dead, unproductive branches, that a tree’s production will not be hindered. In ancient Palestine the fruitgrower was interested in productive trees not only because of the income they brought him but also because fruit trees were taxed. He could not afford to have unfruitful trees taking up valuable space or have a tree filled with unproductive branches. He quickly cut off that which was dead.
2 This commonly known fact was used by John the Baptist as an illustration. He wanted to impress upon natural Israel the foolishness of trusting in their fleshly relationship with Abraham as grounds for expecting God’s favor and blessing. Here is what he said: “So then produce fruit that befits repentance; and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘As a father we have Abraham.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Already the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree, then, that does not produce fine fruit is to be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 3:8-10) John thus forewarned the nation of the typical day of vengeance that came A.D. 70. It was a national judgment. Only a remnant of fleshly Israel bore good fruit like productive trees and received a favorable judgment from God.
3. To what did the apostle Paul liken the real seed of Abraham?
3 Another illustration showing the Israelites that they could not rely on fleshly ties with Abraham was given by the apostle Paul. In his illustration he used one of the principal fruit trees of Palestine, the olive. He likened the stock and branches of a cultivated olive tree to the real seed of Abraham, mentioned in God’s covenant with that patriarch. As was pointed out in the preceding article, the real seed of Abraham is spiritual, not fleshly. It consists first of Christ and then of 144,000 spiritual Israelites, who exercise the faith of Abraham.
4. Why is it unnecessary to be of fleshly descent from Abraham to be his seed?
4 It is not necessary to be of fleshly descent from Abraham to be of his seed. As John the Baptist pointed out, God is able to raise up children to Abraham from the very stones. He is therefore not obligated to use only fleshly descendants of Abraham to fulfill his promise to that faithful man. This is pointed out at Galatians 3:28, 29: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. Moreover, if you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” Since this is the case, the branches of the symbolic olive tree in Paul’s illustration consist of more than members of the Jewish nation.
5. What does the trunk of the olive tree represent?
5 Christ is the chief Seed of Abraham, and those who are united with him as spiritual Israelites gain life through him. He is therefore represented by the trunk of the olive tree, which supports the branches. Jesus made this comparison himself under the illustration of a vine. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He that remains in union with me, and I in union with him, this one bears much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing at all.”—John 15:5.
6. How are Christ’s followers adopted by God, and what is their prospect?
6 The faithful footstep followers of Christ who form the branches in these two illustrations are adopted by Jehovah God as his royal sons. This was made possible by their being declared righteous by means of Christ’s sin-atoning sacrifice and by being begotten by God’s spirit as spiritual sons. “For all who are led by God’s spirit, these are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.” (Rom. 8:14-17) The 144,000 followers of Christ who experience this adopting are spiritual Israelites, the true seed of Abraham. They have the prospect of being glorified to immortal life as spirit creatures in God’s heavenly kingdom with Christ.
7. What is the root of the olive tree, and how does this make the trunk and branches holy?
7 The root of the symbolic olive tree is Jehovah God, for life comes from him through Christ to the 144,000 spiritual Jews. As the root of this theocratic organization he is its strength and its life-sustainer, just as the root system of a tree holds the tree in place and sustains it with nourishment. Since the root is Jehovah, who is holy, then the trunk and the branches are also holy. “As obedient children, quit being fashioned according to the desires you formerly had in your ignorance, but, in accord with the holy one who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’”—1 Pet. 1:14-16.
SOME BRANCHES CUT OFF
8. What is the fate of unproductive branches in the symbolic olive tree and why?
8 The theocratic organization, as symbolized by the olive tree, is a holy organization. It is completely devoted to righteousness and to the praise and honor of Jehovah’s name. Should any of the branches become dead and unproductive they will be cut off, just as unfruitful, dead branches are lopped off a fruit tree.
9, 10. (a) How did Jehovah sustain fleshly Israel? (b) Why may they be considered as the natural branches of the olive?
9 Paul points out in his illustration that some branches were indeed cut off and branches from a wild olive were grafted in to take their place. To understand this we must first know what the branches of the cultivated olive and those of the wild olive represent. As has been pointed out, the natural Jews had enjoyed a unique relationship with Jehovah from the time of their deliverance from Egypt and the making of the law covenant at Mount Sinai. It was a position of favor that non-Jews did not share. Because of the Abrahamic covenant, fleshly Israel received special favors and privileges from God. The root, Jehovah God, sustained them.
10 As God’s chosen nation they were in line to provide the branches of the symbolic olive tree, and thus make up the kingdom of heaven. Hence, they can be considered as the natural branches of the cultivated olive tree. If they succeeded in supplying all 144,000 branches, no Gentile would be taken into spiritual Israel. The hope for all Gentiles would then be earthly life as subjects of the Kingdom.
11. How was Israel’s position in the olive conditional, and when did their big opportunity to manifest faith come?
11 It should be kept in mind that the position of the fleshly nation of Israel in the symbolic olive tree was conditional upon their faith and obedience. Their big opportunity to manifest faith came when Jehovah presented his beloved Son to them. They had been told to expect him. Hundreds of years in advance prophecies spoke about him and foretold the things he would do. Even the date for the beginning of his ministry was indicated. The Mosaic law itself pointed to him and stressed the need for his perfect sin-atoning sacrifice. Yet when he presented himself they, as a nation, rejected him.
12, 13. How did Christ become a stone of stumbling for them?
12 Instead of accepting the King God had chosen, they rejected him for Caesar. Their cry was, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15) Thus Christ became a stumbling stone for the fleshly descendants of Abraham. “But Israel, although pursuing a law of righteousness, did not attain to the law. For what reason? Because he pursued it, not by faith, but as by works. They stumbled on the ‘stone of stumbling’; as it is written: ‘Look! I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock-mass of offense, but he that rests his faith on it will not come to disappointment.’”—Rom. 9:31-33.
13 The nation stumbled over him in unbelief. In spite of all the prophecies he fulfilled and in spite of all the wonders he performed before their eyes and the wisdom he spoke, they refused to exercise faith. They were deaf and blind, just as Jeremiah said: “Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; that have eyes, and see not; that have ears, and hear not.”—Jer. 5:21, AS.
14. (a) What did their lack of faith cost them? (b) Who were like the good branches that were left in the tree?
14 Their lack of faith lost for them the privilege of forming the spiritual olive tree and of receiving the blessings of immortal life in the heavens as kings and priests. They lost the opportunity to become witnesses of Jehovah’s King and kingdom. They had proved to be like dead, unfruitful branches that are cut off and thrown into a fire. A remnant of the nation, however, did exercise faith. These were not cut off but, like good branches, were left in the symbolic olive tree.
GRAFTING FROM THE WILD OLIVE
15. To whom did God turn to find a replacement for rejected Israel, and how was this foretold?
15 Since Jehovah God had purposed that there should be 144,000 members in the Kingdom, where would enough sons of Abraham be found to make up this number, since the fleshly descendants of Abraham had for the most part proved unworthy because of lack of faith? The only answer is, Among the non-Jewish nations. They would have to fill up the number even though Abraham was not their fleshly forefather. Regarding this the apostle Paul says: “Nevertheless I ask, Israel did not fail to know, did they? First Moses says: ‘I will incite you people to jealousy through that which is not a nation; I will incite you to violent anger through a nation without understanding.’ But Isaiah becomes very bold and says: ‘I was found by those who were not seeking me; I became manifest to those who were not asking for me.’ But as respects Israel he says: ‘All day long I have stretched out my hands toward a people that is disobedient and talks back.’”—Rom. 10:19-21; 9:25, 26.
16. What was the result of the special favor shown Israel from A.D. 29 to 36?
16 From A.D. 29 to 36 the nation of Israel had extended to it exclusively the invitation to became united with Christ as spiritual sons. Christ and his apostles preached just to the house of Israel, giving them first opportunity. At the end of those seven years only a small remnant of the nation had responded to the invitation. God therefore turned to the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name. The Israelite nation lost that special privilege.—Acts 15:14.
17, 18. How did the Gentiles gain from Israel’s unbelief, and why should the Gentiles not boast?
17 Men of faith among the Gentiles, like the Roman army officer Cornelius, manifested themselves. They heard the good news about Jehovah’s King and kingdom and they rejoiced over it. Because of their faith, these non-Jews were adopted as sons of the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God. They became heirs to the promise given to Abraham. They received what the fleshly descendants of that patriarch lost through unbelief. Such unbelief was to the gain of the Gentiles. This means they were grafted into the symbolic olive tree like branches from a wild olive. This is described for us in the eleventh chapter of Romans: “However, if some of the branches were broken off but you, although being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became a partaker of the olive’s root of fatness, do not be exulting over the branches. . . . You will say, then: ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ All right! For their lack of faith they were broken off, but you are standing by faith. Quit having lofty ideas, but be in fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. See, therefore, God’s kindness and severity. Toward those who fell there is severity, but toward you there is God’s kindness, provided you remain in his kindness; otherwise, you also will be lopped off.”—Rom. 11:17-22.
18 The grafted-in Gentiles were required to maintain faithfulness in order to remain in the symbolic olive tree. Otherwise they would be cut off just as natural Israel had been. That is why the apostle says they have no reason to boast over the natural branches that were cut off. They too could be severed from the trunk. Hence they must always appreciate the undeserved kindness God had shown them.
19, 20. What was the proof that Peter was used by God to unlock Gentile understanding of the divine purposes and open the way for them to become spiritual Israelites?
19 When Peter used the second of the kingdom keys to open up Gentile understanding to the purposes of God and to the kingdom of heaven class, he was under the direction of God’s spirit. Proof that God was indeed extending his favor to non-Jews through him was seen in the fact that Cornelius and his household were begotten by holy spirit while Peter was preaching to them. Jehovah gave visible evidence that these Gentiles had been adopted by him as spiritual sons. This was a marvelous thing in the eyes of Jewish Christians, for this privilege had been, up until then, exclusively for the Jews. (Acts, chapter 10) Later Peter reminded Jewish Christians that this was of God’s doing:
20 “Now when much disputing had taken place, Peter rose and said to them: ‘Brothers, you well know that from early days God made the choice among you that through my mouth people of the nations should hear the word of the good news and believe; and God, who knows the heart, bore witness by giving them the holy spirit, just as he did to us also. And he made no distinction at all between us and them, but purified their hearts by faith.’”—Acts 15:7-9.
UNITING OF TWO PEOPLES
21, 22. How is the uniting of two peoples shown by the grafting of wild olive branches into the cultivated olive tree, and what does this signify as regards the law covenant?
21 The cutting off of natural Israel from the spiritual olive tree proved to be a blessing for the Gentiles. It permitted believing ones among them to become joint heirs with the Seed of Abraham, Christ Jesus. This was a joining together of two peoples that had long been separated by the law covenant as if by a wall. The Law had kept them far apart. This wall of separation was broken down when Christ fulfilled the Law. Through him God abolished it and made the uniting of Jews and Gentiles possible. This is pointed out in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “But now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have come to be near by the blood of the Christ. For he is our peace, he who made the two parties one and destroyed the wall in between that fenced them off. By means of his flesh he abolished the hatred, the Law of commandments consisting in decrees, that he might create the two peoples in union with himself into one new man and make peace, and that he might fully reconcile both peoples in one body to God through the torture stake, because he had killed off the hatred by means of himself. And he came and declared the good news of peace to you, the ones far off, and peace to those near, because through him we, both peoples, have the approach to the Father by one spirit.”—Eph. 2:13-18.
22 The grafting in of wild olive branches into the cultivated tree well illustrates this uniting of the two peoples in God’s new nation. The Gentiles would not be considered as aliens or temporary residents without any right to citizenship, as was the case in natural Israel. But in the new nation they would be citizens with the same standing before God as the remnant from natural Israel would have. Paul pointed this out when he said: “Certainly, therefore, you are no longer strangers and temporary residents, but you are fellow citizens of the holy ones and are members of the household of God.”—Eph. 2:19.
23. With what nation does God now deal?
23 The new nation under a new covenant, with a new priesthood, a new mediator and a new sacrifice, is the nation God deals with. It is the true Israel of God. He has no dealings with any other nation, and that includes fleshly Israel. She had her opportunity to become this nation but rejected it. God has therefore abandoned her nationally. He has cut her off like a dead branch and has grafted in Gentiles to the privileged position she could have had.
24. What forms the heavenly government that God has purposed to rule the earth?
24 The new nation, consisting of a remnant of natural Israel along with faithful Gentiles, forms the heavenly government that will rule this earth. It is the Kingdom for which Christ taught his followers to pray. Its 144,000 members are rewarded with immortal life as spirit creatures and are privileged to rule with the King Christ Jesus as priests and kings. It is written in reference to Christ: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought persons for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will rule as kings over the earth.”—Rev. 5:9, 10.
25. How was this heavenly government foretold, and what symbolizes it?
25 This is the only government since the fall of the Judean kingdom that God has authorized or empowered. Long before the choosing of its members began with Christ’s ministry, the prophet Daniel foretold that it would destroy all other governments on earth and stand forever. “And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” (Dan. 2:44, AS) About 200 years before Daniel’s day the prophet Isaiah spoke about it and said it would bring permanent peace. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever.” (Isa. 9:7, AS) It is a government that will be a real blessing to the human race. The symbolic olive tree represents this theocratic government, along with the One who empowered it and sustains it.
26. How did Christ fulfill his promise to the symbolic branches of the olive tree, and what is the responsibility of the remnant still on earth?
26 It was with regard to the symbolic branches that Christ made the promise to go away and prepare a place for them in the heavens and then return to take them to himself. This was done A.D. 1918, when he came to God’s spiritual temple. Those members of the Kingdom class who were sleeping in death were raised to immortal life in the spirit and joined with Christ. The remainder or remnant of the 144,000 chosen ones still living on earth would receive their change as they died. They would not have to sleep in death, however, but would receive an immediate change. (1 Cor. 15:50-53) In the meantime they would have the responsibility of organizing the earth-wide preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom and overseeing the work of warning earth’s inhabitants of the coming war of Armageddon.
27. (a) Who have been associating with the remnant? (b) How do they bring blessings to themselves?
27 This remnant was formed into a New World society. Multitudes of people have come into this society to associate with them in the undefiled worship of Jehovah God. This is in fulfillment of Zechariah 8:23 (AS): “Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, they shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” The “ten men,” symbolizing all people of good will, associate with the remnant, the living members on earth of spiritual Israel. They show kindness toward these who are Jews inwardly, who have had circumcision of the heart. By showing kindness toward these spiritual brothers of Christ, the multitude from the nations bring blessings upon themselves from the Greater Abraham. Not only do they receive an accurate knowledge of God’s Word and purposes but they receive the promise of eternal life on earth as subjects of Christ and his 144,000 associate kings.
28. How does the number making up spiritual Israel and the great multitude compare, and how is this shown in Revelation?
28 This great multitude of earthly subjects is not limited in number as are the branches of the symbolic olive tree. Because God limited the number of branches to 144,000, the branches that were grafted in were no more than the dead branches that were cut off. But no such limit was placed upon the subjects of this spiritual nation. This is clearly shown in the seventh chapter of Revelation. It first mentions that the 144,000 spiritual Israelites come from the twelve tribes of Israel. This is done to show that as the twelve tribes of natural Israel were children of Abraham, so spiritual Israel would be children or spiritual sons of Jehovah, the Greater Abraham. After speaking about the 144,000 who form the branches of the symbolic olive and who are joined with the olive’s trunk, Christ Jesus, the chapter then speaks about a great multitude from all nations. (Rev. 7:9) These are the ones who are coming into the New World society and are associating with the remnant of spiritual Israel. They are helping the remnant to pass on to others good fruit.
29. Who may receive blessings under the rule of God’s holy nation?
29 All who want, Jews included, may become part of this multitude and receive the blessings in store for it. By exercising faith in Christ, the Seed of Abraham, they bless themselves. Peace and eternal life will be theirs under the just rule of God’s holy nation of spiritual Israel.