“Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed 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. 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. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:19-24)
This passage is not teaching a loss of salvation. It is speaking of a loss of privilege. The natural branches represent Israel as a nation. As the natural branches of the root of patriarchal faith, the nation occupied a place of privilege. This held true for both the believing and the unbelieving Jew. In such a place of privilege, the Jewish people had the opportunity to bring forth the fruits of righteousness through repentant faith in the Messiah. Upon the national rejection of the Messiah, God removed Israel from her special place of privilege and took the wild branches of the Gentiles and grafted them in. This place of opportunity is available to the general assembly of the Gentiles. Should the Gentile nations harden themselves against God, He will cease to reach out to them in a special way as He did to unbelieving Israel. Those who are truly saved cannot be cut off because God has clearly shown that salvation cannot be lost. As a wild branch that has no legitimate right to the nourishment of the root, the Gentiles should be humble toward the things of God, not proud. Rather than encouraging an attitude of arrogance toward the Jewish nation, this place of special dealing should instigate humility. Truly, the Gentile believer should be the leader in encouraging such an attitude of humility and godly fear, but all too often, the Gentile believer is guilty of substituting Israel with the Church and robbing the Jew of his rightful place in God's divine plan. Along with such an attitude comes a failure to witness to the Jews.
Paul points out that Israel's cutting off is not permanent. At any time, should the Jew choose repentant faith in God, he too may be grafted back in to his rightful place of service. Verse twenty-four illustrates a doctrinal truth by presenting a process which is contrary to grafting. Wild olive branches are never grafted into a good root; otherwise, the wild branch will overcome the tree with undesirable results. Cultivated branches must be grafted onto a good root so that both may grow together in harmony. Concerning the Gentiles nations, God did just the opposite. Gentiles are liked to “wild branches.” According to nature, this grafting in of a wild branch should have failed; yet, God, in His power and wisdom, saw to it that these wild branches were subdued and made fit to produce fruit. This illustration vividly describes how God has made it possible for Jew and Gentile to serve together as natural and unnatural branches, both nourished by the life-giving trunk of patriarchal faith in the blood of the Messiah. This truth is demonstrated in the salvation of Jew and Gentile upon the birth of the early church.