A Productive Olive Tree
“In this manner all Israel will be saved.”—ROMANS 11:26.
1. What can be said about olive trees?
OLIVE trees are known to grow for hundreds of years. Even when the aged, often hollow, trunk finally dies, new stems sometimes spring from the roots, producing one or more new olive trees. Be that as it may, there exists an olive tree that was planted nearly 4,000 years ago and that is still alive and producing fruit today!
2. In connection with what promise does Paul speak of the olive tree, and what does it illustrate?
2 In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul uses the olive tree as an illustration of the wonderful manner in which Jehovah fulfills part of a promise He made to Abraham centuries before:
“I shall surely bless you and I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore; and your seed will take possession of the gate of his enemies. And by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves due to the fact that you have listened to my voice.”—Genesis 22:16-18.
The Abrahamic Covenant
3, 4. (a) How had Abraham just proved his faith? (b) What was prefigured by this episode?
3 Abraham had just proved that he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, his only son by his first wife, Sarah. (Hebrews 11:17-19; please read Genesis 22:1-18.) From earliest times Christians have seen in this episode a prefiguration of Jehovah’s sacrificing his Son and then receiving him back by means of the resurrection. Yes, “God loved the world [of mankind] so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.
4 So in this prophetic picture Abraham prefigured Jehovah God, and Isaac—a young man who could have resisted his 125-year-old father—pictured Jesus Christ, who willingly laid down his human life as the ransom sacrifice.—Hebrews 7:27; 10:12.
5. Regarding the promised seed of Genesis 3:15, what was revealed in God’s covenant with Abraham?
5 Because of Abraham’s great faith, Jehovah had earlier made with him a covenant that took effect in 1943 B.C.E. (Genesis 12:4, 7; Galatians 3:17) Some 50 years later, after having seen the tested quality of Abraham’s faith, even in connection with Isaac, Jehovah repeated and enlarged upon this covenant promise, as recorded in Genesis chapter 22. This fully expressed Abrahamic covenant supplied details as to the outworking of God’s wonderful purposes. It showed that the seed of deliverance promised in Eden would appear on earth as a descendant of Abraham, that it would be a multiple seed (the precise number not being revealed at that time), that it would vanquish its enemies and, finally, that by means of that seed all nations of the earth would get blessings for themselves.—Genesis 3:15.
Identifying the Seed of Abraham
6, 7. (a) Scripturally, who is the primary Seed of Abraham? (b) How do we know that there was to be a secondary seed of Abraham? (c) When was the exact number revealed, and what was it?
6 Every detail of that promise is of interest to persons who share Abraham’s faith and who want to be blessed by Jehovah. (Romans 4:16) Who, primarily, was the seed of Abraham, by means of whom all nations of the earth would eventually bless themselves? The apostle Paul identifies this primary Seed as being Christ.—Galatians 3:16.
7 Further, since Jehovah promised Abraham that he would multiply his seed, what persons would make up the secondary part of Abraham’s seed? Who would be the “heirs with reference to a promise,” “joint heirs” with the primary Seed, Christ? (Galatians 3:29; Romans 8:17) For some 2,000 years even the number of those who would make up this secondary ‘seed of Abraham’ remained unknown to humans, like “the stars of the heavens” or “the grains of sand that are on the seashore.” Then, toward the end of the first century C.E., the apostle John heard “the number of those who were sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel.”—Genesis 22:17; Revelation 7:4.
8. What special opportunity did the circumcised Jews have?
8 Still, from among whom would these 144,000 “sons of Israel” be chosen and sealed? If sufficient fleshly Israelites had followed the Law covenant as a “tutor leading to Christ [the primary Seed of Abraham],” they could have supplied the entire 144,000 members of the secondary seed of Abraham and thus become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” for the blessing of all nations of the earth. (Galatians 3:24; Exodus 19:5, 6) But did enough prove themselves to be true children of Abraham, “the father of all those having faith”?—Romans 4:11.
9. How did John the Baptizer show that the spiritual seed of Abraham would not necessarily be composed exclusively of Jews?
9 Even before Jesus began his earthly ministry John the Baptizer warned Jewish religious leaders: “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.” (Matthew 3:9, 10) By Paul’s time the wonderfully wise manner in which Jehovah would raise up the full number of the secondary seed of Abraham had been revealed. (Romans 16:25-27) Paul explains this in detail in his letter to the Romans.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans
10. What did the fleshly Jews erroneously believe?
10 The Jews were very conscious of being God’s chosen people. Regarding the expression “chosen people,” The Concise Jewish Encyclopedia states: “A designation expressing the belief that the Jews have a special relationship with God. The concept is based on the covenant with Abraham.” Proud of being Abraham’s offspring, the Jews thought they were the seed whereby all other nations would be blessed, and that they could justify themselves before God by works carried out under the Law covenant.—John 8:33, 39; Romans 9:31, 32; 10:3, 4; 11:7.
11, 12. (a) At the time Paul wrote to the Romans, what was the situation in the congregation in Rome? (b) Why did Paul write to Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome?
11 It was against this background that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christian congregation in Rome. Some of the Jews in Rome had become Christians, but by far the majority of them refused to put faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The Christian congregation in Rome was made up also of many non-Jewish Christians.
12 For different reasons both Jews and Gentiles had feelings of superiority—the Jews because they came from the original Abrahamic stock—the Gentiles because they had been admitted into special Abrahamic-covenant privileges as a result of lack of faith on the part of the unbelieving Jews. Paul sought to convince Christians of Jewish and non-Jewish origin that both groups owed their righteous standing before God to their faith in Christ rather than to works. (Romans 3:21-27) In writing his letter, Paul’s aim was Christian unity and productivity, to the glory of Jehovah for the wonderful manner in which he moves forward in fulfilling the promises of the Abrahamic covenant.
A Symbolic Olive Tree
13. Why did Paul express grief, and what did he illustrate by means of a cultivated olive tree?
13 The apostle Paul expresses grief that “not all who spring from Israel are really ‘Israel,’” and states: “Neither because they are Abraham’s seed are they all children [part of Abraham’s spiritual seed].” Then he goes on to illustrate how Jehovah ‘raises up children to Abraham.’ (Romans 9:1, 2, 6, 7) To describe how the Abrahamic covenant produces the full number of members of the spiritual seed of promise, he uses the symbol of a specially cultivated olive tree.—Please read Romans 11:13-26.
14. Who is the root of the symbolic olive tree, and what scriptures show this?
14 Paul mentions the root before speaking of the tree itself, and he says “the root is holy.” (Romans 11:16) Jehovah God is the “Most Holy One.” (Hosea 11:12) He is frequently called “the Holy One of Israel,” particularly in the book of Isaiah. (Isaiah 10:20; 29:19; 60:9) The apostle Peter counsels anointed Christians, saying: “In accord with the Holy One who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct.” (1 Peter 1:15, 16) Jehovah God, the Greater Abraham, is the root of the symbolic olive tree.
15. (a) In what ways is Jehovah the root of spiritual Israel? (b) Who is the trunk of the symbolic olive tree? Why?
15 As the patriarch Abraham was the root of the nation of Israel, so Jehovah gives life to spiritual Israel. As the 12 tribes of Israel stemmed from Abraham through his son Isaac, through Jacob and the 12 patriarchs, the 12 symbolic tribes of spiritual Israel stem from Jehovah through the Greater Isaac, Christ Jesus. He, as the primary Seed of Abraham, is symbolized by the olive tree’s stock, or trunk. (Galatians 3:16) Jehovah, the root, produces the full number of members of the secondary seed through his Son, Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:29) But how or in what manner does Jehovah produce the required number of symbolic branches?
Some Branches Lopped Off, Others Grafted In
16. What is the “sacred secret” mentioned by Paul in Romans 11:25 and Ephesians 3:3-6?
16 Paul goes on to explain this wonderful arrangement. He writes: “For I do not want you, brothers, to be ignorant of this sacred secret, in order for you not to be discreet in your own eyes: that a dulling of sensibilities has happened in part to Israel until the full number of people of the nations has come in, and in this manner [Greek, kai houʹtosa] all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:25, 26; compare Ephesians 3:3-6.) Jehovah would “raise up children to Abraham” by admitting into the secondary seed of Abraham the required number, or “full number of people of the nations [Gentiles].” By showing “the faith of Abraham” this limited number of non-Jews would prove to be spiritual Jews, part of spiritual Israel, “the Israel of God.”—Romans 4:16; 2:28, 29; Galatians 6:15, 16.
17. (a) What unusual procedure did Paul describe? (b) Who were pictured by the lopped-off branches and by the grafted-in shoots from a wild olive tree? (c) What exposure did this illustration make of the proud and haughty Jews?
17 Paul illustrated the outworking of this “sacred secret” by an unusual horticultural procedure. The normal procedure is to graft shoots from a cultivated tree onto a wild stock, in order to make it productive, as Paul was well aware. He told the Gentile Christians that they had been “grafted contrary to nature into the garden olive tree.” (Romans 11:24) He thus likened the non-Jews who would be admitted into the Abrahamic covenant to scions, or shoots, from a wild olive that would be grafted onto the trunk of a “garden olive tree.” They would replace the natural branches that had been lopped off, these representing the fleshly Jews who had been rejected because of their lack of faith. (Romans 11:17, 19, 20, 24) This unusual illustration served as a forceful exposure of the proud and haughty unbelieving Jews, who considered the Gentiles to be as lifeless as stones or as incapable of producing fine fruit as wild olive branches. It confirmed that Jehovah had “power to raise up children to Abraham,” even as John the Baptist had forewarned.—Luke 3:8.
18. (a) What occurred in 36 C.E., but were any lopped-off branches grafted back into the Abrahamic-covenant tree? (b) How did Paul promote unity within the Christian congregation?
18 Nevertheless, non-Jewish Christians who had been “grafted contrary to nature” into the Abrahamic-covenant tree as part of the spiritual seed had no reason to feel superior to the Jews. Paul explained: “They also [Jews], if they do not remain in their lack of faith, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.” (Romans 11:23) A small remnant of natural Jews accepted the primary Seed and became permanent branches in the symbolic tree. (Romans 9:27; 11:5) But the majority of the Jews had been broken off the Abrahamic-covenant tree in 36 C.E., at the end of the 70th week of years foretold by Daniel. (Daniel 9:27)b After that, however, some Jews had been grafted back “into their own olive tree” by putting faith in the Messiah, Jesus, the primary Seed of Abraham. (Romans 11:24; Acts 13:5, 42, 43; 14:1) By pointing these things out Paul promoted unity among the anointed Christians, for all had become ‘sharers in the olive’s root of fatness’ through “God’s kindness.”—Romans 11:17, 22.
A Fully Productive Olive Tree
19. How has the Abrahamic covenant gradually produced the spiritual seed, to the saving of “all Israel”?
19 Throughout the centuries, and particularly in the favorable part of this time of the end, other Jews and non-Jews were grafted into the symbolic olive tree. Thus the Abrahamic covenant produces the “full number” of Jews and Gentiles needed to complete the spiritual seed. “In this manner all Israel will be saved,” not fleshly Israel, but those who are “really ‘Israel,’” the 144,000 members of spiritual Israel.—Romans 11:12, 25, 26; 9:6-8; Revelation 7:4.
20, 21. (a) What reaction should the fulfillment of this most important part of the Abrahamic covenant produce in us? (b) What will be examined in the following article?
20 The wonderful manner in which Jehovah has fulfilled this most important part of the Abrahamic covenant, by producing the trunk and the full number of branches of this symbolic tree should fill us with wonder. Like Paul, we exclaim: “O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments are and past tracing out his ways are! For ‘who has come to know Jehovah’s mind, or who has become his counselor?’ Or, ‘Who has first given to him, so that it must be repaid to him?’ Because from him and by him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.”—Romans 11:33-36.
21 But what practical lessons can be drawn from the illustration of the grafted olive tree, both for the symbolic branches (anointed Christians) and others who may now bless themselves by means of the seed produced by the Abrahamic covenant tree? These aspects will be covered in the following article.
a “καὶ οὕτως = and thus; not merely temporal.” (The Expositor’s Greek Testament) Compare Today’s English Version (“and this is how”), Authorized Version, Revised Standard Version and New International Version (“and so”). Those who believe in the ultimate conversion and salvation of the entire Jewish nation make kai houʹtos mean “and then,” timewise. (See Romans 11:26, The Jerusalem Bible.) Many of Christendom’s Bible commentaries give this interpretation, even though it goes against Paul’s whole line of reasoning and against the facts of history, past and present.—Compare Romans 2:28, 29; 9:1-6, 27; 10:1, 21; 11:5, 7-10, 14; Acts 13:45, 46.
b See chapter 7 of the book “Let Your Kingdom Come” published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Did you grasp these key points?
□ What promises are included in the Abrahamic covenant?
□ Who are the primary and secondary seeds?
□ Identify the following parts of the symbolic olive tree:
—the lopped-off natural branches
—the natural branches left on the tree or grafted back
—the grafted wild-olive branches
□ What is the “sacred secret” mentioned by Paul in Romans 11:25?
□ Why is the symbolic olive tree fully productive?
[Diagram/Picture on page 17]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
THE SYMBOLIC OLIVE TREE—Type and Antitype
12 tribes of Israel
144,000 spiritual Israelites (secondary seed)
Isaac, Jacob and 12 patriarchs
Messiah Jesus (primary Seed)