Romans chp 11 : 11-24 : 'The Olive Tree – A Magnificent Vision for a Magnificent Service' - J Stewart Gillespie 

There is a great danger in this present world of becoming caught up with ourselves. 

This section points us to the fact that we are not what God is doing, neither me, nor a nation, nor a church but rather we are part of what God is doing. 

This section invites me to take a step back and look at the bigger pitcher 


There is something very broad and expansive about this view of Gods dealings in grace. 

One of the sad things about this section is that many have approached it with a desire to rigidly define what God is doing in terms of people, places and groups. 

In many ways that is the very point of this section. 

It is a timely reminder firstly to Israel and then to us all, that none of us are indispensable, that Gods purpose and Gods work goes on with or without us! 

It is not about us at all, it is all about Him! 

It is God who is: 

Lord of this Olive tree 
Life into this Olive tree 
Longs for fruit from this Olive tree 

In common with other biblical pictures of the relationship between Christ and His people it is we who are dependent upon Him and not the other way around: 

The Vine and the branches (John 15:1ff) 
The Lampstand and the oil (Zech 4) 
The Lampstands and the Lord (Rev 1-3) 

When it comes to the olive tree in particular in the OT we see this truth in even greater detail: 

There are approximately 5 clusters of references to the olive tree in the OT: 

The Olive Leaf and the Dove (Gen 8:11) 
The Olive Oil and the Service of Tabernacle (Ex 27:20; 30:24; Lev 24:2) 
The Olive Wood and the Sanctuary of the Temple (1 Kings 6:2; 31-32) 
The Olive Trees and the Supply of Oil (1 Chron 27:28) 
The Olive Tree and the Sufficiency for Testimony (Zech 4:3; 11-12) 

The Olive Leaf and the Dove (Gen 8:11) 

A dove with the leaf / the branch or the twig of an olive tree in its beak; the Heb would hold either of these translation. 

Plucked from the remnants of a lost world 

Emerging from the flood waters of Divine judgment 

A whole world destroyed because of sin, a global catastrophe: Gen 7:10-12; 18-19; 21-24. 

In a scene of unsurpassed destruction and devastation the gentleness of the dove is seen to identify and to pluck a leaf from a world destroyed under the judgment of God! 

Gathered with the keen eyes of the Dove, sensitive to the first signs of new life and brought back as an evidence of the Grace of God to a world that for 1 long year had been under His wrath and condemnation 

A leaf from the flood waters of Divine Destruction 

Even in a secular society such is a symbol of hope 

The believer is able to look beyond the symbol and ask why? 

What is the reason for this hope? 

The reason lies surely in the Grace of God towards sinful man: “so Noah knew that the water were abated from off the earth” (Gen 8:11) 

Evidence of the wrath of God abated. 

Evidence that Grace worked again where the waters of Gods judgment had flowed 

Here was: “life from the dead” (Rom 11:15) 

Note the first associations of the Olive Tree: 

Grace towards a fallen humanity, hope and restoration after the judgment of God against sin. 
The Dove : 'yonah' = Jonah – appearing 5 X in this chapter 

The association between the Dove and the Olive tree is an interesting one 

The Dove appears 31 X in the OT and 11 X in the NT 

It emerges as: 

A sacrificial animal (Lev 1:14; 5:7,11; 12:6,8; 14:22, 30; 15:14, 29; Num 6:10) 
With reference to its eyes (Song of Sol 1:15; 4:1; 5:12; Isa38:14) 
Undefiled character (Song of Sol 5:2; 6:9) 

But if I were to try and identify of what or of whom the Dove would speak I would really have only 1 real candidate: 

4 X – once in each of the gospel accounts of the baptism of Christ: 'the Spirit of God' descends upon Christ like a dove (Matt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22; John 1:32) 

Interestingly when Christ comes to the temple in Matthew, Mark and John, He casts out not only the money changers but those who sold doves (Matt 21:12; Mk 11:15; Jo 2:14, 16)! 

The same feature of dove-likeness was to mark the disciples (Matt 10:16). 

The olive tree becomes a very precious picture of “life from the dead” (11:15) but  this only by the grace and power of Gods Holy Spirit. 

The Saving Grace of God 

The Olive Oil and the Service of Tabernacle (Ex 27:20; 30:24; Lev 24:2) 

In Exodus and Leviticus the Olive tree is now linked with oil 

I suppose that above all things the olive is linked with oil 

It is form the word for olive that the Greeks took their word for oil and it is from the Greek word for oil that we get our word for oil and so every time we use the word oil it is really a covert reference to the olive tree! 

This oil would be used to: 

Fuel the lamp in the tabernacle (Ex 27:20) 

The olive oil is the fuel to maintain the light in the tabernacle 

To produce the anointing oil for the tabernacle 

That Holy Anointing Oil is used to: 

 Anoint the tabernacle (Ex 30:24) 
Anoint the furniture (Ex 30:27) 
Anoint the vessels (Ex 30:27-28) 
Anoint the priest 

This Holy anointing oil: 

Sanctifies (Ex 30:29) 
Consecrates (Ex 30:30) 

In the NT  that anointing finds its fulfillment in the work of the Holy Spirit of God: 

It is the Spirit of God who anointed Christ (Lk 4:18; Acts 10:38) 
It is the Spirit of God who anoints Christians (1 John 2:20,27) 

The olive is linked with 'fruitfulness' (11:16) and 'fatness' (11:17) – that of the Spirit. 

All Sufficient Sanctifing Spirit of God 

The Olive Wood and the Sanctuary of the Temple (1 Kings 6:2; 31-32) 

In Solomons temple it is the wood of the olive tree that is to be found used in: 

The doors of the oracle (1 Kings 6:31) – the way into the presence of god was by means of the Olive Tree 

Suggestive perhaps of the activity of the Spirit of God? 

“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (Joh 4:21-24) 

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”(Joh 3:5) 

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”(Rom 8:26) 

“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” (Eph 2:18) 

The olive tree linked to being 'grafted in' (11:19,23,24), 'standing by faith' (11:20), to the idea of access and relationship with God by His Spirit. 

The Sanctuary Experience of  God 

The Olive Trees and the Supply of Oil (1 Chron 27:28) 

These olive trees of David were placed under the care of: 

Baalhanan – from 1167 - 'Baal' – master, Lord, husband & 2608 – Jah has Favoured; 2608 is from 2603 – to bend, to stoop, to give, to be gracious and 3050 – Jah 
Gederite – from 1445 / 1444 – a wall 

These olive trees were guarded in Grace and possessed in Grace 

The Sovereign Grace of God 

The Olive Tree and the Sufficiency for Testimony (Zech 4:3; 11-12) 

The lamp of testimony here in Zech 4 

The lamp of testimony in the tabernacle (Exodus 27) 

The lamp of testimony in the church (Rev 1) 

Are all maintained by oil 

The lamp here is fed by pipes leading ultimately to 2 olive trees, from these 2 olive trees the oil flows 

The interpretation includes: 

“Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech 4:6) 

What is this olive tree all about? 

It is a picture of that truth that: 

God Saves us 
God Sanctifies us 
God Sets us apart for Himself 
God Supplies us in Grace 
God Sufficient for His Work in and through us 

The Olive tree is really a broad picture of the work which God is doing and has done down through the years and generations. 

Unless I am very much mistaken we have just produced an outline of the book of Romans (almost): 

God Saves us – Romans chps 3-5 
God Sanctifies us – Romans chps 6-8 
God Sets us apart for Himself – Romans chp 8 
God Supplies us in Grace – Romans chp 5 
God Sufficient for His Work in and through us – Romans chp 11 

This olive tree then we are going to suggest is broader than many might consider it to be. 

In particular it is not 

The Church: 

Dis-guarded branches : (11:17,20) – unbelievers were never part of the church. 

Declaration of Christ : “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mat 16:18)- “I will build” - future tense 

Distinctive character of the church: “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;” (Eph 2:15) – not simply a continuation of Israel! 

Clearly Defined Foundation: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;” (Eph 2:20) 

Dispensational nature: Revelation chps 1 to 3. 

Not Exclusively Israel: 

More or less the whole of the nation in rebellion against God and in rejection of Christ (11:1; 10:1-4; 9:1-5) constitutes only “some of the branches” (11:17). This is out of proportion to national Israel, this is not restricted to Israel. 
Independent of the removal en masse of Israel from this tree “the root and fatness” remain (11:17). This goes beyond the resources of Israel. 
To be grafted into this tree is not simply to be grafted into Israel, although many from that nation have preceeded us but rather to be grafted into this tree is to be grafted into “the goodness” of God (11:22). 
Continued membership of this tree is defined not on terms of national identity but on “belief” (11:20,23) 
National identity as Israel is maintained even after removal from this tree (11:25-27). 

So not simply Israel, although unquestionably includes the true Israel of God. 

This tree is not definably purely in terms of people – that is the point. 

It is what God is doing! 

It is Gods relationship with His people: 

The Life of God in it (11:17) 
The Lordship of God over it (11:21-23) 
Longings of God for fruitfulness from it (11:6) 

Our understanding of the picture of the Olive tree must not cease with looking at: 

The members 
The ministers 

but rather: 

The master 

The truth being presented is that of our dependence upon Him and the results that flow from that relationship: 

Fruitfulness (11:16) 
Fatness (11:17) 
Fellowship (11:18) 
Faithfulness (11:20) 

This olive tree extends beyond Israel out to others: 

Naman the Syrian 
Widow of Zarephath 
The Widow of Zarephaths son 
Rahab of Jericho 
Ruth the Moabitess 
Children (Roms 5; Matt 18:10ff; Lk 8:47ff) 
Widow of Nains Son 

He is in charge – not us. 

Do we have a tendency to become introspective, inward looking and narrow minded? 

One of the hurdles that Paul had to overcome in his transformation from Saul the Pharisee to Paul the apostle was that of a narrow view of the Grace of God 

He must develop an expansive view of the Greatness of the Grace of God, a Grace that extended not only to the Jew but out to the Gentiles also. 

Gods Grace proved to be fa wider than the Pharisee had ever expected 

Perhaps we get a hint of this in 11:13: “I magnify mine office” 

His service as the apostle to the Gentile was an expansive, explosive and exciting commission, going beyond the barriers and middle wall of partition that had existed for 100s of years. 

In this picture of the olive tree we catch a glimpse of the expansive nature of the Grace of God. 

A Grace not limited to us, to the assemblies, even to this present Church age, but which flows behind and before as a mighty outpouring of the riches of Gods Grace in Christ. 

It is a Grace undefeated, unquenched and undiminished by the unfaithfulness of men 

As men reject, rebel and refuse, Gods Grace presses on, to higher ground, uncharted waters and regions beyond: 

'His love, floweth on, full and free as a river, 

His mercy endureth forever and ever' 

To grasp the breadth of the picture of Gods purposes in Grace we will need to trace the olive tree from its first shoots and leaves in Gen 8 to its final harvest in Rev 11. 

From a leaf that emerges from the flood waters of Divine judgment to the cutting off of the 2 olive trees at the midpoint of the day of tribulation and thus the subsequent out pouring of Divine judgment! 

What happens when the olive tree is finally removed? 

Let the Lord Jesus Himself give His verdict: 

“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning 

of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Mat 24:21)


Part of our bible study teaching series of messages preached through Paul's letter to the Romans. Free to download audio mp3 recordings of this sermon and other sermons are available at the end of this blog and on the website page.


Yours by Grace in Christ

Dr J Stewart Gillespie