Mystery of the Olive Tree

“For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written, “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:24-27, NKJV).[i]

Paul’s imagery of a cultivated olive tree and the mystery he reveals about the partial hardening of Israel’s heart is one of the more complex passages of the New Testament. In this teaching we will explore some answers to commonly asked questions, such as: Why did God harden Israel’s heart in the first place? What is meant by a partial hardening, and how does all this eventually lead to Israel’s salvation?

God’s ultimate desire and purpose has always been to dwell in the midst of His creation, seeking a dwelling place in which His presence is revealed in the nethermost level within this spiritually dark world that conceals His Godliness.[ii] The key word is “revealed,” which is the root of “revelation,” and is used to describe the supernatural disclosure to humanity of something divine that had been previously hidden or concealed. Behold, I will tell you the mystery of the olive tree.

Regarding the creation, God is concealed from it, and He has chosen to reveal Himself progressively throughout the generations—to Abraham, then to Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and thereafter to all of Israel at Mount Sinai. [iii] But even Moses could not see God’s face, as it is written, “Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back [in Hebrew is “achorai” suggesting the hinder or external aspect of Divinity]; but My face [in Hebrew is “panai” suggesting “pnimiyut,” the frontal or inward aspect of Divinity] shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:23). The full revelation of God was yet to come through the Messiah of Israel.

When the Israelites encountered the living God in the wilderness, even after hearing the Lord’s voice and seeing His glory on Mount Sinai, many of the children of Israel rejected the Lord and rebelled against Him. God therefore, made a promise that none of that generation would enter the land of Israel or His eternal rest.[iv] From that time forward the presence of God was concealed within the tabernacle of Moses, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Lord said: “And I will surely hide My face [My inward essence] in that day because of all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods” (Deuteronomy 31:18).

Moses pleaded with the Lord saying that Israel could not enter the land without His presence. In response, the Lord placed a veil between His Glory and His people and sent His angel to walk before them.[v] Sadly, there became a separation between God and His people, but we will see shortly how this would ultimately serve for their preservation.

The Lord told Moses that no person could see His face and live.[vi] What scripture is telling us is that God did not make a path of salvation for anyone who has been enlightened, has seen His inward essence and still continues to reject Him.[vii] This was the same judgment set for the angels who followed Satan, as the Bible tells us there is no path of redemption for those who have seen God and still chose darkness.[viii]

Many of Israel’s prophets received visions and dreams from the Lord, or were visited by angels; even the Angel of the Lord. For example, Isaiah saw the Lord sitting high upon a throne.[ix] This was not the case for the rest of Israel who relied on the testimony of the prophets. There is a great difference between apprehension of God through wisdom and knowledge, enabling us to grasp the external essence of God, and prophetic apprehension, where for example Moses saw God’s back and received a glimmer of the Lord’s inward essence.

The Jewish sages have taught that “A wise man is superior to a prophet,”[x] because he has believed and understood that which he has not seen. This affirms the words of Yeshua when He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). And yet, the Lord promised that Israel would be to Him a kingdom of Priests—a holy nation of those who have seen the inward essence of God.[xi]

The term “seeing” with regards to prophesy appears in a metaphorical sense, and does not necessarily imply that any of these prophets physically saw the Lord with their earthen eyes. Their prophetic vision refers to a type of seeing that allowed them to comprehend God on a spiritual level, and again differs greatly from someone who has merely heard about the Lord.

From Moses to Yeshua’s death on the cross, all those in Israel would rest on the promises contained within the covenant of faith made with Abraham, and to some degree the grace offered through the temporary sacrifices of the Mosaic Covenant. They believed what they had heard, but had not yet seen, as it was written, “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

When God established the Mosaic Covenant with Israel, it could not override God’s earlier covenant of faith, nor could the Law of Moses ever establish its own means of righteousness and salvation through its works.[xii] No, the works of the law remain the works of our own human efforts, as it is written, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Only those (under the law) who believed in the God whom they could not see, and by their “obedience of faith” to accept and observe the Law, were imputed His righteousness and were destined for eternal life.[xiii] This is what scripture tell us is “the law of faith.”[xiv]

When Yeshua died on the cross, He paid the price for all sin, once and for all time. He then preached to the dead and freed all the righteous saints who had been held captive in sheol, temporarily preserved and comforted in the bosom of Abraham.[xv] Those in sheol who saw and believed in Yeshua (because they had already believed by faith in His salvation) were immediately saved and brought into the kingdom, but those still alive of the generation who saw Yeshua and rejected their Messiah, God cursed and promised that they also would not enter His eternal rest. Hence, the symbolism of the withered fig tree—a picture of that fallen generation in Israel.[xvi]

Moreover, Yeshua also spoke of a time when the fig tree would once again become tender and put forth leaves, meaning that Israel would again believe in the Lord’s salvation, for He said: “When its [the fig tree’s] branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near” (Matthew 24:32). Therefore, we know and trust that God will reveal Himself again to Israel.[xvii] Until such time, Yeshua is concealed in heaven at the right hand of the Father where no man can see either one of them. The Lord’s Holy Spirit remains with us to teach and bring to remembrance all that Yeshua spoke, and yet it is only a deposit of His greater divine imminence that He will reveal,[xviii] as it is written, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Paul said this about Israel: “Their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil [that covers their eyes] remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:14), “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). In other words, if Israel continues to blindly observe the Law of Moses, even out of faith, their eyes will remain veiled to Yeshua. But once they believe, and even more significantly, once they see that Yeshua is the Christ and their Salvation, the scales will fall from their eyes and they will see and know their Messiah.

Yeshua is the express image of the Father, the manifestation of the glory of God which is His Divine imminence, also called the Shechinah.[xix] The word Shechinah comes from the Hebrew root Shachen (שכן), which means to descend and “rest” or “dwell” in lowly levels.[xx] Yeshua said: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

The Tabernacle in Hebrew, the Mishkan also originates from the same root word, and specifically means “the place of dwelling.” God’s promise to Israel was that He would dwell in their midst, suggesting they would all see Him,[xxi] as it is written, “The Lord has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see The salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:10).

For this purpose the Tabernacle was built—to create a place for God to dwell and rest with His people. Therefore, the Tabernacle is the embodiment of the Shechinah and is considered one and the same[xxii]“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).

The rabbis also correlate the Shechinah to the Word of God.[xxiii] Since we know that Yeshua is the Word of God made flesh, He is therefore both the Glory of God (Kavod), and His indwelling presence that is manifest (made visible) as His Shechinah. As it is written, “I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 39:29).

God’s face was hidden from Israel for a season, but has now been revealed through Yeshua. The Apostle John gave witness of this revelation when he said: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld [we saw] His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Therefore, all who have seen Yeshua have also seen the Father.[xxiv]

Yeshua said: “one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). We can therefore conclude that until Christ returns to the earth to establish His kingdom in Jerusalem, Israel remains under the covenant of faith that was made with Abraham, but also remains under the judgement of the Mosaic Covenant and the veil that comes from trying to fulfill the Law of Moses through their own human effort.[xxv]

Like those who lived before the birth and death of Yeshua, it is still possible for an Israelite today to have faith in God through the covenant with Abraham, but they cannot know Him intimately because the veil that comes through the Law of Moses prevents him from seeing his Savior. Yeshua is therefore, the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham—the covenant of faith—that is consummated through the Law of Faith, and the literal fulfillment of the Mosaic Covenant. This means that we believe in God’s law of substitutionary atonement and the propitiation Yeshua made for us on the cross,[xxvi] as it is written, “For whoever calls [by faith] on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Those who believe in Yeshua become purified from their sin and are promised everlasting life. We receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and intimacy with our heavenly Father in a way that was not possible before.

For this reason, an Israelite today, who accepts Yeshua, has not necessarily converted to Christianity per say, but has converted to a new way of thinking—that Salvation cannot come through the works of the Mosaic Law, but only through faith in the Salvation of Messiah. We do not cease to be Jews, but rather we become saved Jews who have received the promise of Abraham and are now a new creation in Christ. By faith we have believed when we heard what we have not seen (except when the Lord has revealed Himself through a dream or vision), and our apprehension of God has come through His divine wisdom and understanding.

In comparison, a gentile who accepts Yeshua is also not converting to Christianity per say, as if Christianity was somehow a new religion that was established without its Hebraic foundation. The gentiles have also converted to a new way of thinking, believing by hearing that salvation only comes through the God of Israel. These also become a new creation in Christ and “one new man” with the natural descendants of Abraham. There is only one path to salvation, which is through Yeshua,[xxvii] so our identity in Christ is the same—adopted children of God. Yes, Israel is His firstborn, but we are all His children.[xxviii]

Paul stipulates that some, but not all of the native olive branches have been cut away. However, he also says that God can and will graft them back in again, and so this is God’s will and judgment, not ours. Therefore, an Israelite today who remains zealous for God through his faith in the one true God, will not have his sin permanently taken away until he either believes by faith in the word of God, or receives and accepts the visible revealing (revelation) of Yeshua—the exposing and laying bare of his Messiah.[xxix] And since the Lord chooses the time of His revelation, we know that in regards to Israel it is tied to the fullness, or full number of the gentiles coming into the Kingdom of God.

Israel’s “partial” hardening therefore, implies they are hardened towards “part” of the Godhead—their Messiah—but not all of the Godhead. This tells us they can remain zealous for the “God of Israel” by believing in the One whom they have not seen, yet they will not be washed of their sins nor have intimate knowledge of who He is until they have received His full revelation—until they see Yeshua. This is why Paul says, “For I bear them witness [of Yeshua, i.e. telling them what I saw] that they have a zeal for God, but not according to [inward] knowledge” (Romans 10:2). And if an Israelite were to receive the full revelation of Yeshua and continue to reject Him, they also would be permanently cut off like the generation in the wilderness.

Just the same, Israelites today can hear the Word of God and believe in their Messiah whom they have not seen. Those who presently accept Yeshua will be taken as first fruits to the Lord and will make the entire remnant of Israel Holy. Also, as Abraham is the root of the olive tree, his imputed righteousness nourishes all the branches and makes them holy. The cultivated olive tree is a spiritual picture of the great assembly called the ecclesia (kahal in Hebrew). This universal church is comprised of Israel and the nations of the earth joined to her as one people of God.[xxx]

Here is revealed the mystery of the Olive Tree—that the partial hardening of Israel’s heart was not to eternally condemn nor to annihilate God’s people, but to preserve a remnant according to His grace by the covenant of faith He made with Abraham. God is seeking a remnant of Israel, who by reading the Torah would remain zealous for Him, yet by partially hardening their hearts to Yeshua, God has prevented all Israel from rejecting His inward essence and divine imminence—His Shechinah.

One day the Lord is going to do something great in the midst of His people. At His appointed time, Israel will be given the revelation, the sight of her Messiah, as the Lord said: “Then the Lord will be seen over them, And His arrow will go forth like lightning” (Zechariah 9:14); “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for [the death of] his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for [the death of] a firstborn?” (Zechariah 12:10).

At that time, the true Israel, being the true children of the divine promise, will see their Messiah who they rejected and lay bare when they condemned Him to be crucified, and they will repent and be saved. If the Lord had fully hardened their hearts, they would not even be able to repent, and their eternal fate would have been like Pharaoh.

The Lord has promised to show His mercy to Israel, and He has also promised to reveal His salvation to the whole world, for it is written, “The Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose Israel, and settle them in their own land. The strangers will be joined with them, and they will cling to the house of Jacob” (Isaiah 14:10). The Lord has also promised to make a new covenant with Israel, this time writing His laws in their minds and hearts,[xxxi] so that all Israel shall be saved, as it is written,[xxxii] these being the true seed of Abraham, who have believed by faith, and received the revelation by visibly seeing their resurrected Messiah—the inward essence and manifest glory of their heavenly Father.

[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
[ii] The Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg. Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun. Published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society.
[iii] Amos 3:1-2.
[iv] Psalm 95:11.
[v] Exodus 32:34.
[vi] Exodus 33:20.
[vii] Hebrews 6:4-6.
[viii] 2 Peter 2:4.
[ix] Isaiah 6:1.
[x] Ibid. The Tanya.
[xi] Exodus 19:6.
[xii] Galatians 3:15-18.
[xiii] Romans 4:9.
[xiv] Romans 3:27.
[xv] 1 Peter 4:6, Luke 16:23.
[xvi] Matthew 21:19.
[xvii] Jeremiah 24:1, Matthew 24:32.
[xviii] John 14:26, Ephesians 1:14.
[xix] Hebrews 1:3.
[xx] Ibid. The Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.
[xxi] Deuteronomy 23:16.
[xxii] Ibid. The Kabbalah Handbook.
[xxiii] The “word of God” is referred to as the Shechinah, in the terminology of the [Talmudic and Midrashic] Sages, of blessed memory—Ibid. The Tanya.
[xxiv] John 14:8-9.
[xxv] 2 Corinthians 3:15-16.
[xxvi] 1 Peter 2:24, 1 John 2:2.
[xxvii] Exodus 12:49, John 14:6.
[xxviii] John 1:12.
[xxix] Revelation—from late Latin revelatio(n-), from revelare “lay bare.”
[xxx] Zechariah 2:11.
[xxxi] Jeremiah 31:33.
[xxxii] Romans 11:26.