Israel and the Nations--Part 1
Mar 27, 2009
Near the beginning of His ministry, Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 10:5 and 6 not to go to the "Gentiles" or to the Samaritans, but to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." While some have taken this to be a mandate for all time, it is clear to me that this was only a temporary provision that was based upon priorities.
It was necessary for the Word to be preached first to these Israelites, because this Gospel had to start somewhere. Twelve men (and later the seventy) could not preach the Gospel to the whole world all at once. So the order of priority began here.
At the end of Jesus' ministry, He told them in Mark 16:15 to go into the entire world and "preach the Gospel to all creation."
The order of priority was given again in Acts 1:8 . . . "you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Here Jesus specifically included Samaria, something that was forbidden earlier in Matt. 10:5. A shortened form of this is found in Luke 24:47,
"and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem."
So Jerusalem was the beginning, but not the end of this missionary movement. The beginning took place in the book of Acts. We are now at the end of this mission. Some feel that every ministry ought to begin preaching in Jerusalem (or with Jewish missions), but I think that Paul and Barnabas would disagree. When the Jews rejected the Word, they moved on to more fertile fields (Acts 13:43-52).
In fact, Paul and Barnabas discovered that the "God-fearing proselytes" in the synagogues rejoiced over the message, because it showed that they were not second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. The Jews, however, were "filled with jealousy" (Acts 13:45). Why? Because they were too possessive of the Kingdom and thought more highly of themselves than they should have. Paul repudiated their pride by quoting Isaiah 42:6 in Acts 13:47,
" (47) For thus the Lord has commanded us, "I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles[ethnos, "nations"], that you should bring salvation [Yeshua, "salvation" or Jesus] to the end of the earth. (48) And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed."
Paul explained in Ephesians 2 that the dividing wall in the temple had been abolished by Jesus Christ. That dividing wall served to separate the genealogically "chosen" from all other ethnic groups. The non-Jews could only approach God from afar in the temple. This was standard theology, even though there was no biblical command to build a wall of separation in the outer court of the temple. In other words, Jesus tore down their traditions of men and opened up the Gospel to all men equally.
This was probably the most contentious issue in the book of Acts, because the Christians had disrupted the Jewish tradition that they were better than everyone else, that God had a special relationship with them that was based purely upon genealogy, and that no matter how much faith a non-Jew had, he would never be able to get very close to God.
I find it interesting that this same situation exists to this day. In general, Jews are tolerant of Christians, as long as they acknowledge the Jews as "chosen" and as long as they are willing to think of Palestinians and all other non-Jews as having an inferior relationship with God. Accepting Christ as Savior and King appears to have no bearing on the issue, for Jews are thought to be "chosen" whether they accept or reject Jesus, and non-Jews are second-class citizens regardless of their faith in Jesus.
So the same issue that filled the Jews with jealousy in Paul's day still fills them with jealousy today. And likewise Christians are found on both sides of the issue even today.
Paul is bold in his teaching and did not seem to care if he offended Jews or not. He says in Eph. 2:15 "that He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace." Both are reconciled to God through the cross, he says, and verse 18 says, "for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father."
He wrote this in the context of how Christ had abolished that middle wall of partition in the temple. The two groups, "Jews and Gentiles" have become "one new man," and both have equal access to the Father. One group is not better than the other, nor is one more "chosen" than the other.
The purpose of God choosing the seed of Abraham was to select a few people through whom this Gospel would be preached to the rest of creation. The problem with the "chosen people syndrome" comes when those who are so chosen think that this Gospel was given to them only, or that other people's inferior genealogy makes them less capable of having faith in Christ.
Being "chosen" is a matter of government and administration, not of citizenship in the Kingdom. Most of those who were "chosen" by genealogy were feeble in faith and degenerate in their character, and this disqualified them in spite of genealogy. Genealogy gave them better opportunity, because in essence God funded their education. But educational opportunity does not ensure learning. Only a "remnant," Paul says, actually believed, "and the rest were blinded" (Rom. 11:7).
Will these blind ones rule the Kingdom? Of course not. King Ahab may have been a ruler in Israel, but he will not be a ruler in the Kingdom of God. Because of Ahab's genealogy, he had opportunity to know the Word of the Lord, which other people lacked if they lived in Babylon or China. So there was much benefit in being an Israelite. But ultimately, King Ahab will be brought before the Great White Throne for judgment, and his genealogy will be no defense.
The Israelites were taken into the Assyrian captivity 200 years after this separation took place. Judah survived for another century before being taken to Babylon in an entirely different captivity.
The prophets speak prophetically of Israel and its restoration in the distant future. Judah was to return after just 70 years in Babylon, because it was prophesied that Jesus had to be born of Judah in the town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). So obviously, Judah had to return to the old land in order for this prophecy to be fulfilled.
But Israel is an entirely different matter. The regathering of Israel and its reunification with Judah under one Head (Hos. 1:11) was to take place by means of the Cross, so this prophecy could not be fulfilled prior to the Cross. Nor was it to be fulfilled in a genealogical way, as the New Testament shows. They and all men were to be united by faith in Christ, not by recognizing a common genealogy.
In this regathering, many "others" were to be gathered with them, Isaiah 56:8 tells us. The prophet tells us that they would be gathered at the "house of prayer for all people" (56:7). Paul tells us that this house of prayer would have no wall to divide the people into "better" and "inferior," but that they would be "one new man."
In other words, all men would come into the presence of God equally on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the Cross. They all have the same requirement. The fact that the Gospel was to be preached in Jerusalem FIRST does not mean others were excluded. In fact, they were NEVER excluded, as the story of Jonah shows. Solomon's prayer confirms this (1 Kings 8:41), as does Isaiah's prophecy.
To be continued . . .
This is the first part of a series titled "Israel and the Nations." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones