"I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin." NIV translation
In chapter ten, we saw the fact that most of Israel rejected Jesus Christ. Paul picks up there in his usual style of asking a question and immediately giving its answer. The question he is asking is basically: Does Israel have a future? At the end of the last chapter it seemed pretty unlikely but, here, Paul assures them that they have a bright future because there was a remnant of Jews who believed. This principle of God's remnant goes all the way back to the time of Noah (see Genesis 6), continues through the entire Old Testament, and is demonstrated again in the entire book of Revelation. Paul immediately answers the question by identifying himself as a part of the remnant of Israel as he reminds them of his roots in the tribe of Benjamin.
"God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah - how he appealed to God against Israel:" NIV translation
Paul reminds the Jews about their history and another time where God had preserved a remnant of His people.
Romans 11:3 & 4
"'Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me'? And what was God's answer to him? 'I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.'" NIV translation
The history that Paul reminds them of is found in 1 Kings 19. Elijah had cried out to God out of fear that the remnant of His people (meaning himself) was going to be eliminated by the enemy. God's answer to the prophet was with the simple fact that Elijah was not alone but he was unaware of the fact that there were indeed seven thousand more that were called and protected by God. This would have been an encouraging reminder to the Jews of Paul's day as many times they felt alone and persecuted. It can also be an encouragement to the Israel of today in that God has always taken care of the remnant and He always will.
Romans 11:5 & 6
"So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace." NIV translation
Just as always in the past, God has a remnant (part) of mankind that is His. The difference between now and in the past is that this remnant is "chosen by grace". These people know and hold to the fact that all that is required for salvation is accepting the gift that has been given through Jesus Christ. Grace, which is a gift, is the opposite of works where a man deserves his wages.
Romans 11:7 & 8
"What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written: 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.'" NIV translation
God's people (Israel) were trying so hard to please God with their own efforts that they could not see and understand grace. Some (the remnant) did but most did not. The same thing is true today as we can tell everyone about this grace but God must soften the heart, open the eyes, and allow the people to hear.
Romans 11:9 & 10
"And David says: 'May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.'" NIV translation
Paul quotes the words of King David from Psalm 69. This song tells of the life of Jesus and the fact that He not only died on the cross but suffered scorn and shame on our behalf. We are reminded that the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah did not just reject Him but tried to stop anyone else from following Him.
"Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious." NIV translation
In his usual style, Paul asks a question and then gives the answer. In this, we see that God has not abandoned the people of His promise (Israel) in fact He is using the Gentiles to bring them back to Himself. We also see comfort in this for all of us who have loved ones that have rejected Jesus but are still alive. They, too, have not fallen beyond recovery and hopefully they can see God at work in our lives and come to want what we have in Jesus Christ.
"But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!" NIV translation
We, as Gentiles, were blessed by the fact that the Jews rejected Christ and opened the door for us to have salvation. We will be even more blessed when all of the Jews are brought back into the family of God.
Romans 11:13 & 14
"I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them." NIV translation
Why would God send a former Jewish leader to the Gentile people? We see the answer as Paul says the purpose of his ministry was to make the Jews jealous of the salvation of the Gentiles in hopes of winning them to Christ. This is also what is going to happen at the midpoint of the tribulation as described in Revelation 11. The purpose of the two witnesses is to demonstrate God's power and to arouse the Jews to envy (just like Paul said).
Romans 11:15 & 16
"For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches." NIV translation
This envy is going to cause the Jews to turn to Jesus and be saved. Just as Jesus is holy (set apart), so are the Jews and this will be the greatest evangelical event ever.
Romans 11:17 & 18
"If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you." NIV translation
We must remember the fact that our roots in the faith come from the Jews and God's promise to Abraham. There are some that teach that we have replaced Israel as God's people but that is simply not the case. As we see here, we are brought in among the Jewish believers and the root that supports us all is Jesus who was a Jew.
"You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.' Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either." NIV translation
We do not boast over the fall of others but instead look to God for strength to keep us from falling. Instead of being proud of what we have accomplished in the faith, we must remain focused on what Jesus has done on our behalf for it is by that faith that we are saved.
"Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!" NIV translation
This passage holds out so much hope for all of the Jewish people who have not accepted Jesus Christ. We see that it is the Father's will that all of them simply believe in Jesus Christ and be spiritually rich which is what an olive tree symbolizes.
"I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, 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 so 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.'" NIV translation
The mystery speaks of how God has made a way for both Jew and Gentile to be a part of His family. There are those who have said that "the Church has replaced Israel" but that is simply not the case as we see Paul tells us that this comes from pride and arrogance. This rejection of Christ by many Jews is only temporary as this quote from Isaiah shows us.
Romans 11:28 & 29
"As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable." NIV translation
Though many Jews have rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ, they will come to accept it and be saved. God made a promise to Abraham and to his descendants and God keeps His promises. Israel has always been His people and they always will be because of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This passage should also bring comfort to us Gentiles who are in Christ as we see that our salvation is irrevocable.
"Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all." NIV translation
There is nobody that deserves to have a right relationship with God other than His Son Jesus Christ. We (Gentiles) are saved by God's mercy as an example to the Jews that they will be saved in the same manner.
"Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?' 'Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." NIV translation
When Paul reflects on this mystery of God (the union of Jew and Gentile through Christ), it cause him to burst out in worship and praise. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah and reminds us that God is sovereign and only He knows all things. We are also reminded that He owns everything since He created everything.