What Does the Olive Tree Symbolize
by Tony Warren
This dove bringing the leaf of the Olive Tree is a symbol that the judgment of God had receded, an illustration of the covenant of Grace wherein He had ceased from His judgment of man. In Scripture the Olive Tree is representing peace only as it pertains to the peace with God, and it is never seen as symbolizing of fertility. By this Olive leaf brought to Noah by the dove, God illustrates healing in the cessation of His judgment in the flood. It was a token of the covenant. This truth can also be seen in the sign of the rainbow after the flood, a token of that same promise or covenant in the cessation of His judgment.
As the rainbow was a token of the covenant or oath that God made, so the Olive leaf illustrated the covenant promise in the cessation of the judgment of the flood to Noah and the 7 souls within the Ark. This covenant symbolism in the Olive Tree holds true throughout the Scriptures. From the oil of the Olive Tree to light the lamps continually (Exodus 27:20; Leviticus 24:2) representing the light for God's covenanted people, to the Olive Oil used for anointing (Exodus 40:9; Deuteronomy 28:40) His chosen, to the two Cherubim made of Olive Trees (1st Kings 6:23; 6:31) of the Holy Temple, to believers spoken of as Green Olive Trees in God's House (Psalms 52:8), to the mount of Olives (Mark 11:1), to God's anointed (Psalms 52:8). They all ultimately point to the restoration work of Christ for God's people. Christ is the true anointing of God's people. The Hebrew word translated Olive Tree literally means tree of oil, and is from a primitive root meaning to be illuminated. God uses it to illustrate anointing, fatness, ointments, oil and the olive. It points to God's blessings or making Holy. So the question, "what does the Olive Tree symbolize," is answered in that God uses it to represent the anointed group of people that are His congregation. Whether on the Old Testament side of the cross or the New, the Olive Tree represents God's congregation. There is no greater illustration of this than what is found in Romans chapter eleven.
It is quite evident from the Scriptures, as well as nature itself, that the root of a tree is its support system, and not vice versa (verse 18). Thus the branches grafted in cannot boast against the branches broken off, as the root is the reason that they thrive there, not their own goodness. So there is no reason for pride on the part of Gentiles in any idea that they come into the covenant and stand by their own merit. For the Root represents Christ (Isaiah 53:2; Romans 15:8-12; Colossians 2:6-7; Revelation 5:5), the source of God's fulfillment of the covenant in the promised blessings to Israel. It is the Root (Christ) through whom the tree receives the sustenance of life. In this Spiritual portrait we must understand that without the Messiah as the Root through whom comes the fatness, all believers (both Jew and Gentile) would be disassociated from covenant Israel. This is how the Olive Tree represents God's covenanted people. Not that it is the Israel of God, but that it represents it. Just as the Holy Temple represents God's people, this tree is a token of God's anointed people. Indeed from comparing Scripture with Scripture, we learn from God's cryptic illustrations of the Olive Tree that this is true:
#1. The Olive Tree symbolizes one covenanted congregation of God in one body, not two.
So What does the Olive Tree symbolize? Look again at verse seventeen: "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..." Clearly the wild Olive Tree symbolizes the children of the nations (gentiles) of the world who were not God's covenanted people, coming in to the covenant relationship with the Jews. Even as it was prophesied or written before, which is exactly what verses 26 and 27 declares. God uses this Olive tree to illustrate that the promise of a Deliverer to Israel is fulfilled, and He point blank says, for this is My covenant with them:
It was prophesied long ago that the Messiah would come and deliver Israel from her sins, and God is declaring in Romans eleven that this is what this covenant tree symbolizes. These are God's people, Jew and Gentile in one tree, fulfilling that prophesy of the deliverer taking away the sins of Israel. So the Olive Tree can neither represent the political nation of Israel, nor the New Testament indivisible church. It signifies the covenanted congregation of Israel, made up of both Jew and Gentile.
Not as though the Word of God has been made of no effect by this, because in God's eyes they are not all Israel, which are of the nation of Israel. The Israel of God is not by flesh or by physical heredity (seed), but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. Jew and Gentile are all the Israel of God through this promised Deliverer, who is the true source Israel. So despite the irrational denials and much rhetoric about these truths being "Replacement Theology," it is clear that Gentiles are grafted in among them and enjoy the fatness with them, through the sustenance of their Root or Source. The Gentiles don't replace covenant Israel, they by promise joined with the Jews in Israel. Unambiguously, God does not separate the Jews and the Gentiles into two distinct or separate covenanted congregations. The Gentiles come into this very same relationship with God among them. In part, some branches are cut off from God's covenant in their unbelief and are separated from the Olive Tree. Thus despite claims to the contrary, they are no longer in this covenant Israel relationship with God. Romans chapter eleven simply continues in this theme of God's complete sovereignty in deciding who He will have as the Israel of God. In other words, it is only the remnant people for whom the promises actually pertained, rather than a whole nation.
God is arguing that He has not cast away His people Israel (Romans 11:1), because if He had, how is the Apostle Paul an Israelite and not cast off? But rather that the Olive Tree illustration is a portrait of a remnant of Jews and of Gentiles being covenanted Israel by His long standing promise. The remnant election of Jews and Gentiles are the Israel of God to whom the promise of the seed coming from many nations pertained. Namely, that they which were not God's people (the Gentiles), would become His people.
This is God's fulfillment of the remnant of Israel being sustained, while the rest are cut off and blinded. Thus, the promise or covenant with Israel is in fact kept--not as some Theologians suppose, but as God always intended. Note the grafting in of the Gentile branches show the telescoping of covenanted Israel before the cross with covenanted Israel after the cross (the old into the new) illustrated in this Olive Tree. The Jewish people of Israel are represented as the branches that were growing out of this very same Olive Tree. We read that some of the branches of this tree (Jews that were in unbelief) were broken off, and the elect from the Gentile nations (Symbolized by branches from a wild Olive Tree) were then grafted into that same representation of covenanted Israel. This signifying the telescoping of the Old covenant congregation of God into the New, with the breaking off of the disbelieving.
In Romans chapter eleven God is referencing Old Testament Scriptures concerning a covenantal analogy that would be known by those comparing Scripture with Scripture. The wording "so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God" points to Christ the Deliverer out of Zion prophesied to save Israel. This is the analogy of the covenant Tree of Israel. From this illustration in Romans we see that there is no new Israel, nor a double or separated Israel, as it is the exact same congregation that nos has an inclusion of the Gentiles. We must be clear on what this imagery represents before we can have any chance of truly understanding what is being said here about the Olive Tree as the one people of God and Israel. For there is the distinction seen here between the natural Olive Tree branches, which are the Jewish people originally covenant Israel. The wild Olive Tree branches are the people of the Gentile nations who now become covenanted children of God also. Fulfilling the prophesy that those who were not originally His covenanted people, are now brought into God's covenant relationship through Christ Israel. Once separated and deemed foreigners from Israel, they now become children of God and heirs of this same promise to Israel.
Jew and Gentile in Christ are now one family, one body of covenant Israel that is represented by the Olive Tree. God then anticipates the obvious objection (Romans 11:1) in that some might erroneously think this means the promise to Israel of a new covenant and an everlasting inheritance has been abrogated. God forbid! The promises, covenant and the Israel of God, shall be defined by God rather than the misguided, misinformed or mistaken. If we are in Christ, which is the only way anyone can be the true Israel (Hosea 11:1; Hosea 14:5-6; Matthew 2:15; Galatians 3:16-17), then we are all Abraham's seed and inheritors or heirs of the same promises (John 8:33; Galatians 3:28-29) to Israel. For Christ is the true Israel of promise that the Olive Tree represents.
This passage prophesies of Christ, the Only Israel of God with a mouth like a sharp sword in whom our God will be glorified. So it's very important to understand that distinction being made (Romans 11:16-17) of those coming into the Olive Tree partaking of the source with the Jews, and how this is representing covenant Israel. Because the symbolism in this Olive Tree 'proves' that this tree in the Old Testament is now telescoped into the New Testament era. It is a congregation made up of Jews and Gentile now brought together in one body. We cannot bifurcate this Olive Tree, negating its one body and one Root. It represents one undivided covenanted children of God.
Symbolism such as this is normative within God's Word, and using objects like trees to illustrate these things is a mainstay of Scripture. Thus it cannot be subject to our own private interpretations when its meaning is abundantly clear. To say anything less is to dabble in absurdity considering God's defining of the branches broken off and grafted in. The elect from the nations have forsaken the world and have entered into the covenanted Jews so that they are now heirs of the same promises made to them.
All followers of Christ today, whether Jew or Gentile, are part of covenant Israel, which this Olive Tree represents. By the same token, those branches broken off (Jewish people who were blinded) are no longer covenant Israel in God's eyes. In the Biblical vernacular, they have been cut off from their people (1st Kings 9:7). That is the illustration in Romans chapter nine where God makes it clear that, "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel." Some in Israel have no Root and without source sustenance cannot live. They are those who are branches broken off from the tree (covenant Israel) and are thus made spiritually blind. Just as the Gentiles who were once spiritually blind, have now been made to see in being grafted into Israel. All rhetoric aside, this is not only consistent, biblical and logical, it is the only rational conclusion conscientious Christians can come to. There is only one (1st Corinthians 12:13) Godly tree. There are not two bodies, nor two covenanted Israelites (one Jew and one Gentile). There is one children of God (Romans 9:26), one Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), one people of God (Romans 9:25) and one Jew of God (Romans 2:28-29). This is exactly as the passage of Ephesians chapter two so unambiguously declares:
It can't get any clearer than this plain unambiguous language that God has inspired. Where once we were Gentiles, being strangers and aliens (non-citizens or foreigners) of the commonwealth of Israel (God's covenanted people), now we are fellow-citizens of Israel. We can either listen to all the theological tap dancing and rhetoric that proliferates the modern church, or we can listen to the unadulterated Word of God concerning this matter. If we won't accept God's plain declarations on who Israel is, then indeed what will we accept? When God's Word says that we are no longer foreigners and strangers from covenant Israel, but are made fellow saints with them, what further witness does a faithful servant need? Being a follower of Christ makes us one family, all bound together as one as the Israel of God. We are "made nigh by the blood of Christ" who were once "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise." Those are God's Words. There can be no mistaking God's truths unless we are brainwashed to be predisposed to doing so. The Olive Tree is clearly representing this sanctified corporate congregation of God. It is man's ego, fear, pride, political agenda or church tradition that promotes the idea that God has two separate salvation plans for two distinct people. The false dichotomy between Israel and the church has been the stumbling block for so many Christians for a very long time. Yet from Scripture itself there is obviously one tree, one body, one Israel, and one deliverance of this Israel in Christ. This deliverance and restoration is not a future event, but one that has occurred at the time of the cross.
The Mystery is revealed. This is the covenant with Israel that includes the Gentiles. This Olive Tree of Romans chapter eleven simply cannot represent the literal or physical nation of Israel. Because if it did, that would mean Gentiles were leaving their physical nations from the time of the Cross unto today to go live physically (grafted) in the Middle Eastern nation. Likewise, the requirement for being part of the physical nation of Israel is not faith, but descendants. So we clearly understand that this good Olive Tree cannot possibly be representing that nation. We're not being grafted into the literal earthly nation of Israel and we're (Gentiles) not descendants, apart from the adoption in Christ. We are being grafted into a "covenant Israel," which is not a physical nation but a covenanted spiritual nation of God that was once represented by that physical nation. By Grace we understand the nation of Israel no longer represents the Kingdom of God. This too is written unambiguously for those who are not blinded.
So what does the Olive Tree Symbolize? It is an illustration of the anointed promise of God to Israel. The physical nation no longer represents the Kingdom of covenanted children of God. Likewise, the tree cannot be the spiritual or the indivisible Israel of God that many Christians believe it is either. Because in that true spiritual Israel from above, all within it are saved and thus none could have ever been broken off if it was true indivisible Israel. It's important for us to understand that this imagery represents corporate Israel, the outward/external covenanted congregation through both the Old and New Testament era. We should not lose sight of the fact that this is the same old era tree (how else could these Old Testament branches be broken off), but telescoping into the New Testament Israel dispensation. In the New dispensation (Ephesians 1:10; 3:2-6; Colossians 1:25-27) Gentiles are being grafted into covenant Israel. As indeed we did read in Ephesians chapter two. Am I being redundant? Maybe, but it is so important for us to understand what it cannot represent, so that we may better comprehend what it "must" represent, which is an external covenanted congregation of Israel relationship. A congregation where people who are in unbelief, but still calling themselves of God, may be cut off in their sins. Where any Jewish person who should come to belief in the Messiah, may be grafted back in--that no one may boast. The Olive Tree symbolizes the blessings of the covenant relationship with God through Christ.
So in closing may I say that many of God's congregation today (as many were in the nation of Israel, past) are not truly of God and they will be cut off from covenant Israel in unbelief. Indeed, in verse eighteen of Romans 11, God warns the Gentiles not to boast for being allowed in covenant Israel while many Jews were broken off, because if they do, they are deluding themselves. In thinking that they are somehow better, or that by their works they are the ones responsible for their inclusion, they are deceived. For by Grace we are included, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God. God assures the Gentiles, they didn't bear the Root, but the Root bore them. We'd all do well to remember that. Thus we should understand that we are privileged, and all benefits and blessings are by Grace of God alone. In other words, we have nothing to boast about, for Christ (the Root) is our sustainer, our strength and the author and finisher of our faith. We cannot take one ounce of credit, thinking we are somehow better than any Jewish person who was broken off. Such ego, arrogance and pride brings about the same fall that old congregation Israel suffered. It brings about a breaking off of branches from the Olive Tree.
There are three things that we all should receive and take careful note of regarding the olive tree.
First, the Gentiles who come to Christ are now become part of the covenant with Israel and are full heirs of Godís covenant or promise to them. It is important that both Jewish Christians and their supporters acknowledge that.
Second, Gentile Christians are spiritual Jews and should not consider themselves to be better or superior to the physical Jews because many were broken or cut off from God's covenant with Israel. For while they are not automatically saved or included by flesh or genetics, they are the natural heirs of the covenant and as such can easily be grafted back into the covenant. It is important that Gentile Christians and their supporters acknowledge that.
Third, the Olive Tree of Romans chapter eleven symbolizes the harmony of both Jew and Gentile being reconciled to God, through one covenanted household in Christ. Which is what we read about in Ephesians chapter two declaring both having been reconciled to God in one house. This is the true portrait of the Olive Tree that has both natural branches and wild olive branches in one tree, both being supported by the Root Holiness that sustains them. The Israel of God is in Christ and upon Him rests the foundation of the Jewish prophets and people of God, and thus we should not become puffed up with feelings of any superiority with respect to our Jewish brethren. It is by the Root that we have our standing, and not of ourselves. Serve God and give earnest diligence to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you shall never fall.
May the Lord continue to richly bless and enlighten our lives through the reading of His most Holy Word.
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