The Remnant & the Rich Root
After the return from the Babylonian captivity, the priesthood formed the center of the new religious life, and the pious in Israel who were anxious to practice the commandments of the Lord naturally attached themselves to the divinely - appointed and the time-honored tribe of Levi. The Jews who followed the high priest even when he contradicted the Torah became known as Sadducees. Those committed to following the Torah refused to follow the high priest and became known as the Pharisees (dissenters). The new method of Torah interpretation, called “Derush,” meant that oral tradition would be enforced and binding on all, just as the written Torah had been. This was the religious and political environment at the time the Messiah appeared.
At the same time, the high priest stopped being from the lineage of Zadok. The remaining priests of Zadok formed a community in Qumran, located northwest of the Dead Sea. They were known as the Essenes, and their community is likened to the early Christian church, supporting each other by selling their properties to support the entire group (see Acts 4:32-36).
Behind the Essenes
Josephus recognized the Essenes as committed to a strict observance of the Sabbath, eating together after prayer, devoting themselves to charity and benevolence, forbidding the expression of anger, studying the books of the elders, preserving secrets, and were very mindful of the names of the angels kept in their sacred writings. In addition, they saw themselves as dedicated priests and prepared their members, accordingly, emphasizing personal study of Scripture and other ancient works as well as purity of life. They represent the remnant of their day. Josephus gives testimony to their manner of life in the first century:
Since [they are] despisers of wealth—their communal stock is astonishing—one cannot find a person among them who has more in terms of possessions. For by law, those coming into the school must yield up their funds to the order, with the result that in all [their ranks] neither the humiliation of poverty nor the superiority of wealth is detectable, but the assets of each one have been mixed in together, as if they were brothers, to create one fund for all. They consider olive oil a stain, and should anyone be accidentally smeared with it, he scrubs his body, for they make it a point of honor to remain hard and dry and to wear white always. Hand-elected are the curators of the communal affairs, and indivisible are they, each and everyone, [in pursuing] their functions to the advantage of al. The Jewish War, Book II, 8.3.122-123
God is not done with Israel
In Romans 11, Paul reminds the believer that God is not done with the Israelites, even after their rejection of Jesus as Messiah. With the advent of the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, a new covenant is introduced to the world, which has new and unique requirements in contrast to the old covenant, a conditional covenant. Jeremiah 7:23-24 summarizes the old covenant in this way, “But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ “Yet they did not obey or incline their ear but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart and went backward and not forward.” Only the remnant lived with an anticipation of the Messiah, looking for [expecting] the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38), These included John the Baptist, Simeone, Anna, and other Essenes.
I say, then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I, too, am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew [proegno – those He has a meaningful relationship with]. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? "Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE." But what is the divine response to him? "I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL." In the same way, then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise, grace is no longer grace. Romans 11:1-6
Using Elijah’s interaction with God in 1 Kings 19 as Elijah was running for his life, Paul further explains the principle of the remnant, those that remain faithful, in light of God’s gracious choice. Preserving God's remnant is God's work of God and not of men. Elijah was unaware of the other faithful followers. This passage is Paul’s confirmation that salvation, whether Jew or Gentile, is by grace, through faith, and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). The remnant represents those Jews who found faith in the person of God, expressed as an expectation of the coming Messiah.
Apostle to the Gentiles
Paul’s heart is for his people, the Jews, but what does the open door of salvation to the Gentiles mean to his fellow countrymen? He concludes that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and the new covenant creates an incentive for Gentiles in the form of spiritual riches, the reconciliation of the world, as well as the ideal opportunity to display the grace of God when Jews come to believe in Jesus as Messiah. This is the heart of Paul’s ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. Paul always had the Jew in mind when spreading the gospel, as he wrote in Romans 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. When entering a new city, he always went first to the synagogue.
If the first piece of dough [aparche -first fruits] is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. Romans 11:16-18
In the above passage, Paul uses the principles of the first fruits, the branch, the wild olive, and the olive tree, to make a profound point about the future of the Jews. Understanding what each principle represents is necessary to appreciate his point fully. First fruits speak of the Jewish patriarchs and ancestors. In Verse 16, Paul appears to reference Numbers 15:17-21, which speaks of the Lord’s command through Moses to offer the first of your dough, you shall lift up a cake as an offering as they entered the promised land. The principle of offering first fruits is a measure of one’s devotion to the Lord. If the tree's root is a by-product of that devotion, then the branch will also represent that devotion. Paul is referring to the remnant, defined by their dedication.
The Wild Olive Tree
In Verse 17, Paul discusses branches broken off, those Jews who were not of the faith, still stuck in the old covenant, religious or nationalistic Jews as many are today. They are not connected to the root of the olive tree. He addresses the Gentiles (But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles, Verse 13) as being a wild olive tree. This tree is uncultivated in the truths of the heritage of Judaism, either unfruitful or producing useless fruit. Jeremiah warned of idolatry that the house of Israel (Northern Kingdom) and the house of Judah (Southern Kingdom) would commit in Jeremiah 11:16-17:
The Lord called your name, Green Olive Tree, Lovely and of Good Fruit. With the noise of a great tumult, He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are broken. "For the Lord of hosts, who planted you, has pronounced doom against you for the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done against themselves to provoke Me to anger in offering incense to Baal."
The engrafting of the wild olive tree is the fulfillment of Galatians 3:6-9, which ties the Gentiles to the promises given to Abraham, the rich root of the olive tree: Even as Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." So, then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. These Gentile believers are not to be arrogant toward the branches, Jews who have yet to exercise their faith.
The Fullness of the Gentiles
Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise, you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. Romans 11:20-25
Though the branches may be broken at present, it is not a reason to treat these Jews with disdain or contempt since the Lord leaves open the door that they, too, may be engrafted into the olive tree. It is the kindness of God that leads each of us, both Jew and Gentile, to repentance (Romans 2:4). What has happened to Israel is a partial and temporary hardening until the fullness of the Gentiles, the end of the Church Age, when the last of those now converted to the faith are confirmed. At the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, Peter declares how God first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name (Verse 13-14). Gentile believers are those chosen people for His name.
The Abiding Gentile
As the remnant (those that remain) defines the faithful Jew, the abiding Christian (Greek word meno – those that continue, endure, and remain) characterizes the committed Gentile believer in Christ. He is the one who recognizes that, apart from Christ, he can do nothing. See John 15:4-7:
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
We find references to the remnant during the Great Tribulation, after the completion of the Church Age and the rapture. In Revelation 6:9, the fifth seal reveals the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony which they had maintained. These are the Tribulation saints, martyred for their faith. In Revelation 7:4-8, the number of those who were sealed is one-hundred and forty-four thousand, twelve thousand from each tribe to bear witness to any surviving Jews of a living faith in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the meantime, the plan of God is heavy at work, wooing Jews into a saving relationship with their Messiah since they are still His chosen people.
In any age, the Lord’s eyes are on the remnant, those who abide in Him. “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His (2 Chronicles 16:9).
Johnson, Ken. “The Ancient Mysteries of the Essenes: The Ken Johnson Collection.” Defender Publishing Flavius Josephus. “The Jewish War”.
New Scofield Study Bible, page 1604