For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. (Romans 11:16-20)
Who are the chosen people? In the Old Testament, clearly, they are the children of Israel. So also in the New Testament. But where the Old Testament uses the word “chosen,” the New Testament uses the word “elect.”
Paul tells us quite a lot about God’s chosen people in Romans 11, where they are portrayed as an olive tree. He tells us that some of the branches were broken off and other branches were grafted in. The natural branches that were broken off represent ethnic Jews who rejected Israel’s Messiah — they were broken off because of unbelief. The wild branches that were grafted in, were grafted in through faith in Israel’s Messiah. These are the Gentiles — the pagans! — who believe on Jesus the Messiah. What, then, of the natural branches? Is that the end of the story for them? No! Paul says,
And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 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? For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:23-25)We should note that Paul is not referring to Jews and Gentiles as individuals but as peoples. Though individual Jews may die in unbelief, as do many Gentiles, what Paul has in mind is a wholesale turning of the Jewish people to Jesus as Messiah. In the meantime, God has allowed their turning away from Jesus to be an opportunity for the pagan nations to turn to Him. Even so, Paul’s expectation is that the branches that were broken off through unbelief will one day return, through faith in Jesus, and be grafted back in — “and so all Israel will be saved” (v. 26).
Concerning the election [i.e., being chosen] they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. (Romans 11:28-32)The “election” is still for them, and so also the gospel — and the Messiah. But God has allowed their present disobedience so that the nations might come to the obedience of faith in Messiah and receive God’s mercy. In a similar way, God is using the mercy He has shown to the wild branches as an opportunity for the broken branches to return to the obedience of faith through Jesus. When they do, then God’s mercy will be on all — even as Paul spoke in verse 15: “For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”
So, then, unbelieving Jews, though they be the natural branches, have been broken off from the olive tree (Israel) because of their unbelief. However, when they return to belief and receive Jesus the Messiah, they will be grafted back in. Believing Gentiles, on the other hand, though they be wild branches, are grafted into the olive tree, the chosen people, through faith. And because they are grafted into the olive tree, it can be truly said of them that they are now part of the olive tree, too — one with God’s chosen people.