Romans Chapter 11

Branches and the Church Kingdom

Verse 16

Rom. 11:16 “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.”  This verse has both an eternal and a timely or temporal lesson.   

First, the firstfruit and the lump are concepts introduced to us in the Old Testament.  There were three feasts that the children of Israel were to observe each year: Ex. 23:14 “Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year. 15 Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:) 16 And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field. 17 Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD.”  The last two of these feasts: the feast of harvest and the feast of ingathering are tied together in that if the firstfruits are holy then the lump (ingathering) is holy.   

1 Cor. 15:20 “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”  Also, 1 Cor. 15:23 “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.”  These two verses explain the purpose of the Old Testament feasts of firstfruit and feast of ingathering.  Plainly, it shows us that Christ is the firstfruit from the dead and all the elect will be a part of the ingathering at his coming in the morning of the resurrection.  This is the eternal lesson. 

Several times in the New Testament the word, branches, is used in connection with the church kingdom of God on earth: 

                   1.  Matt. 13:31 “Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: 32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”

                   2.  Mark 4:30 “And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: 32 But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.”

                   3.  Luke 13:18 “Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.”

                   4.  John 15:4 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”   

As the above shows, God’s people in the church kingdom are described as the branches of the tree.”  Moreover, these branches can abide in the vine (Christ) and bear fruit or they can abide without bearing fruit and be cast off.  This is the timely aspect of the above verse.   

Notice that both the firstfruit and lump are holy.  The word, holy, means to be set apart by God.  In the covenant of redemption we were set apart to be glorified in the last day.  Also, the root and the branches are holy.  Christ and his word are the root by which the branches gather the nourishment they need to bear fruit.  The scriptures tell us in Eph. 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”  We are set apart in the new or spiritual birth to bear fruit in the kingdom of God.  In this manner both the root and the branches are holy.  This is the timely or temporal aspect of the above verse. 

Verses 17-22 

 Rom. 11:17 “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. 19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. 22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”   

At the time that Paul wrote this letter there were members of the church that were Jews and a number of members that were Gentiles.  Initially there had been a great number of Jews who believed the gospel beginning on the day of Pentecost and thousands added to the church after this as well.  However, there had gone out of Jerusalem men who perverted the gospel and taught the people that they must keep the law of Moses and be circumcised and tried to make circumcision a test of fellowship among the Gentiles.  In the book of Galatians, Paul called this a perverted gospel.  Subsequently, many who were initially believers of the gospel of grace, turned back to a legalistic system whereby they sought to established their righteousness through the teaching and commandments of men.  They had gone from believers to unbelievers in the grace of Christ and had been broken off from the true worship of God and the true church kingdom of God.  Thus as branches they had been broken off.   

Peter, thru the leadership of the Holy Spirit had been directed to the Gentile Cornelius and his household and friends, where he preached the gospel of grace, and these Gentiles believed and were added to the church kingdom on earth.  During this time the kingdom was being taken from the Jews who had turned away from the gospel truth and given to the Gentiles who believed the gospel truths.   

The Jews had the oracles of God for hundreds of years.  They were the natural branches.  The Gentiles did not have the oracles of God and most of their attempts at worship were rooted in idolatry.  Now the Gentile believers were being grafted into the church kingdom of God and many of the Jews who had been in the church kingdom were being broken off because of their unbelief.   

There is a warning in the passage above that is still applicable unto us today: “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.”  It is so easy to become boastful today that we know and have the gospel truths today and that others don’t have it.  Highmindedness (thinking too highly of ourselves) is a great danger to us today.  If God spared not the natural brances, we are to take heed lest he also spare us not.  We can be broken off just as the former Jewish believers were cast off. 

 “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”  Plainly this is a warning from God