What does Romans 11 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
This passage concludes a significant section of Paul's letter, contained in Romans 9—11. These three chapters ask and answer the question, "What about Israel?" This is an objection Paul's opponents often asked. If Israel is God's chosen people and they have rejected faith in Christ as the way of salvation, what will happen to them?

Paul has acknowledged that Israel has, for the most part, rejected faith in Christ. He begins this chapter by asking if that means that God has rejected Israel. His response is another resounding "no." After all, Paul himself is an Israelite who has come to faith in Christ and has been saved, showing that this is possible for all Jewish people. Paul refers to the smaller subset of Jewish people who have turned to Christ as a remnant, comparing them to the remnant of those in Israel who had not bowed to Baal in Elijah's day. By His grace (Romans 9:6–8), God has set aside this remnant of Jewish Christians as true Israel (Romans 11:1–5).

Paul also makes a clear point about any attempt to mix salvation by grace with salvation based on works. In short, they are totally incompatible. If something is truly by "grace," it cannot be in any way based on works, and vice versa (Romans 11:6).

What about the rest of Israel, though? What of those who refused to believe in Christ as the Messiah? Paul's startling revelation is that God has hardened their hearts in their initial unbelief. He has caused them to trip over the stumbling block of Jesus, but not permanently. Their hardening is only for a time (Romans 11:7–10).

One reason for Israel's unbelief, Paul writes, is to make room on the main body—referred to as "the root"— of God's tree. This open space is intended for the non-Jews in the world. These Gentiles who are coming to God through faith in Christ are like the branches of a wild olive tree that have been grafted onto the trunk of a cultivated plant. The old branches, unbelieving Jews, have been broken off for a time to make this possible (Romans 11:11–16).

Paul warns the Gentile Christians not to be arrogant toward these unbelieving Jews, however. The time is coming, after the right amount of the Gentiles have believed in Christ, when God will remove the hardening from the unbelieving Jews. They will turn to faith in Christ and, as a people, be grafted back onto God's symbolic olive tree, from which they had previously been pruned. God is not done with Israel (Romans 11:17–24).

In spiritual terms, the Israelites may be enemies of the gospel of faith in Jesus Christ, for now. They were certainly the spiritual enemies of Paul during his lifetime. And yet, the Jewish people of Israel remain deeply loved by God because of the promises He made to the patriarchs. God never breaks His promises. His gifts and His calling on Israel can't be taken back. God will use His grace and mercy toward the Gentile Christians to make Israel jealous. He will use these events to bring her back to Himself as a nation, in the form of those individual Jews who eventually trust in Christ at some future time (Romans 11:25–32).

Paul concludes this section with what has become a beloved poem, like a hymn, about the vast un-knowable-ness and independence of our merciful God (Romans 11:33–36).
Verse Context:
Romans 11:1–10 finds Paul insisting that God has not rejected Israel forever, despite her refusal to come to Christ. For one thing, Paul himself and a remnant of Jewish people have trusted in Christ by God's grace. God has hardened the rest of Israel in her unbelief, causing her to trip over the stumbling block that is Jesus Christ. They remain unable, for now, to see that following the law will not bring them to God's righteousness. But the story isn't over.
Romans 11:11–24 describes why God has hardened Israel in her unbelief in Christ. It is to make room on God's figurative olive tree for the Gentile Christians. The old branches of unbelieving Jews have been broken off for now, and the new branches have been grafted in to the root. In turn, the salvation of so many Gentiles will provoke Israel to jealousy, drawing her back to God through faith in Christ when He removes the hardening of her unbelief. When that happens, after enough Gentiles have believed, the old branches of Jewish believers will be grafted back into the tree.
Romans 11:25–32 wraps up a long section about God's plans for His Israelite people. In short, He plans to remove the hardening of unbelief and renew His covenant with Israel. This will occur as many Jewish people come to faith in Christ at some future time. Israel remains deeply loved by God because of His irrevocable promises and calling for the patriarchs. In the end, God will show mercy to all Jews and Gentiles who come to Him through faith in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
Romans 11:33–36 is Paul's poetic, hymn-like praise of God and His amazing wisdom. He quotes Old Testament texts such as Isaiah and Job. The prior passage explained how God's intent for Israel came with some level of mystery. As limited, created people, we will never be able to fully grasp the mind of God. The proper response, when we realize how beyond our understanding He is, is praise and worship.
Chapter Summary:
In Romans 11, Paul concludes his exploration of God's plan for His chosen people Israel. It's true that as a nation, Israel has rejected faith in Christ, but a remnant of Israelites has believed in Jesus. God has hardened the rest in unbelief, but will bring Israel back to faith when enough Gentiles have come to Him through Christ. Then many Israelites will trust in Christ, as well, and God will renew His covenant with His people. Paul concludes this section with a powerful poem or hymn about God's independence and how He is beyond our full comprehension.
Chapter Context:
Romans 11 concludes Paul's discussion about God's plan for the Israelites begun in Romans 9 and 10. Paul insists that, though Israel as a nation has rejected Christ, a remnant of Jewish Christians exists by God's grace. God has hardened the rest in their unbelief until enough Gentiles have come to Him through Christ. Then God will release Israel to believe in Christ and restore His covenant with her as many individual Jews come to faith in Christ, as well. Paul stands in awe of God's vast and unknowable mind and complete ownership of all things.
Book Summary:
The book of Romans is the New Testament's longest, most structured, and most detailed description of Christian theology. Paul lays out the core of the gospel message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. His intent is to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in accurate and clear terms. As part of this effort, Paul addresses the conflicts between law and grace, between Jews and Gentiles, and between sin and righteousness. As is common in his writing, Paul closes out his letter with a series of practical applications.
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