Appendix 5: “To the Jew first”
5-1 Why We Should Preach To Israel
There is some quite compelling evidence to this effect:
- The Gentiles " have now obtained mercy (i.e. the merciful opportunity
to hear the Gospel) through their (Israel's) unbelief. Even so have
these (Israel) also now not believed, that through your mercy they may
obtain mercy" (Rom. 11:30,31). " Mercy" here cannot be
read on a surface level; it cannot be that by showing mercy, another
race may obtain mercy. " Mercy" is surely being used as a
figure for the preaching of the Gospel. Through our mercy to them in
this way they can obtain mercy.
- The theme of Romans is the Gospel, and in this context Paul makes
the point that because both Jew and Gentile are saved by the Gospel,
therefore we should preach to both Jew and Gentile (Rom. 10:9-18).
In this context, Paul quotes from Is. 52:7 and Nah. 1:15, both concerning
preaching to Israel: " How shall they hear without a preacher?
as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them (cp. 'he'
in the originals- our preaching is a manifestation of the Lord) that
preach the Gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings" . The Nahum
passage is in the context of preaching to Israel the good news of their
ultimate freedom from the Assyrian invasion which was then imminent.
We are in a strikingly parallel situation in these last days. Rom. 10:16
then goes on to quote Is. 53:1, which again refers to the preaching
of the Gospel to Israel, and applies it to our preaching.
- Although Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, I understand Rom.
11:25,26 to mean that he preached to the Gentiles motivated by the knowledge
that when the full number of the Gentiles had “come in”, then “all Israel”
would be saved by the Jews then turning to Christ. The conversion of
Israel was primary in his thinking. In any case, although he was the
apostle to the Gentiles rather than the Jews, he usually sought to offer
the Gospel to “the Jew first” in his missionary work. He tried “by any
means” to provoke Israel to acceptance of Christ (Rom. 11:14). This
alone indicates how we should preach to Israel!
- The primacy of preaching to Israel is reflected in Paul’s reasoning
in 1 Cor. 14:21,22. He reasons that the Law had foretold that one of
Israel’s punishments was that they would be spoken to in languages which
they did not understand; and Paul applies this to the gift of speaking
in foreign languages. He concludes: “Wherefore tongues are a sign, not
to them that believe, but to them that believe not…but if all prophesy,
and there come in one that believeth not…”. The major example of speaking
in tongues was of course to the Jews in Acts 2. “Them that believe not”
are clearly the Jews, in Paul’s thinking. And Paul’s concern is that
the Jews should be preached to in languages which they understood, rather
than ‘rubbing in’ their curse for disobedience by speaking to them in
languages they didn’t understand. His whole thinking is based around
the assumption that our priority in preaching is to the Jews.
The Jewish conscience about the cross is predicted by the Lord in Jn.
8:28: “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that
I am he”. But the Jews generally were not subsequently persuaded that
Jesus was indeed Messiah, bearer of the “I am” Name of God. Potentially,
in their consciences, they did know that He was, once they crucified
Him. The words of Jesus were of course true. But they didn’t confess that
faith, because they suppressed it in their conscience. This is why to
this day there is this Jewish conscience about the cross. And it’s why
conversion to the Lord Jesus cannot be far from the heart of every Jew.
Paul explains his approach to Jewish conversion in 2 Cor. 3:15-18. Whenever
they read Moses, they have a veil over their minds, but when a Jew turns
to the Lord, that veil is removed. He is perhaps alluding to the Jewish
practice of covering their head and even face with a prayer shawl or tallit
when reading or hearing God’s word (Mk. 12:38). And this perhaps
is behind his demand that brethren should not cover their heads in ecclesial
meetings in 1 Cor. 11:4. They are like Moses, hiding his face behind a
veil. But when the veil is removed by conversion, then the glory of Christ
will shine forth from them. The implication surely is that a true Jewish
convert to Christ will in turn radiate forth the Lord’s glory to others.
We each , with unveiled face, have like Moses seen the glory
of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18). When Moses saw the glory, he was immediately
given a ministry to preach to Israel, to share that glory with them (Ex.
34:34). And Paul drives home the similarity; we each have had
the experience of Moses, and so “therefore seeing we (too, like
Moses) have this ministry”, “we each” are to exercise it to Israel.
The glory of the “similitude of the Lord” that Moses saw and reflected
(Num. 12:4) is likened to “the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of
God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Like Moses, Jewish people have that glory, but they
have it veiled; they potentially have it, but it is hidden, because their
minds are veiled. This could possibly suggest that Paul saw more potential
in the Jewish mind for Christ than other races; thus he speaks in Rom.
11 of how the natural branch which has been cut off [Israel] will be more
effectively grafted back into the olive tree than the wild Gentile branches.
This of course has similarities with the Lord’s teaching about Himself
as the vine, whose unfruitful branches had been cut off (Jn. 15:2). Israel
“much more” than the Gentiles can be grafted back in, whereas Gentile
converts do this “against nature” (Rom. 11:24). In the context of Israel’s
final repentance, God speaks of how every one of the Jewish people has
been potentially created for His glory, because they carry His Name (Is.
43:7). Although Israel have been “quenched as a wick” for their sins (Is.
43:17 RVmg.), we are to realize that the wick is still smouldering, and
are to follow the Lord’s example of never totally quenching it but instead
seek to fan the wick of Israel back into life (Is. 42:3).
Paul’s positive approach to Israel’s conversion is reflected in his whole
reasoning in Romans 11, his classic statement about preaching to Israel.
He begins by saying that God has not cast off His people Israel totally,
because some, e.g. himself, have turned to Christ. So, seeing that God
will not cast off His people Israel in the ultimate sense, it perhaps
follows that in every generation some of them will come to Christ as Paul
did (Rom. 11:1,2). In some sense, God has cast off His people (2 Kings
21:14 RV; Zech. 10:6); and yet, because a minority of them will always
accept Christ, it is not true that God has cast off His people in a total
sense (Rom. 11:1 RV). It was only because of this remnant that Israel
have not become like Sodom (Rom. 9:29)- even though Old Testament passages
such as Ezekiel 16 clearly liken Jerusalem to Sodom. Yet they are not
as Sodom ultimately, for the sake of the remnant who will believe. Perfectly
in this context, Paul draws out the lesson from Elijah’s mistake (Rom.
11:2); Elijah had thought that God had totally cast Israel off, but he
didn’t appreciate that there was a remnant of faithful within Israel.
And the existence of that remnant may likewise have been concealed from
the Christian church, Paul is perhaps implying. Only part of
Israel are blind to Messiah; a majority, but not all of them (Rom. 11:5,7,25).
I don’t think that Paul is merely speaking of the situation in the first
century, where clearly some Jews did believe. I say this because Jer.
31:37 clearly states that Israel will never be “cast off”; yet, according
to Romans 11, Israel are only not cast off because some of them do believe
in Christ. The fact Israel are not now totally “cast off” therefore indicates
that there always will be a remnant of faithful Jews- faithful to God’s
Son and trusting in grace rather than law (Rom. 11:6). Therefore we should
be hopeful that at least a remnant will respond to our preaching to them.
The Jews who do not believe were “cast off” at the very time the world
was reconciled to God, i.e. when they crucified Jesus (Rom. 11:15 cp.
5:10,11). It was through their “trespass” in crucifying Him that salvation
came (Rom. 11:11 RVmg.). And the resurrection and second coming which
actualizes that salvation will only come once they repent (Rom. 11:15).
So, Israel as a whole are not “cast off” because of the remnant of Jews
who will always believe in the grace of Christ; but those individuals
who crucified the Lord and uphold that position have cast themselves off
from God. The practical upshot of all this is that we should preach to
Israel, with faith that some will repent!
The Love Of God
Israel is so often set up as the bride of God (Is. 54:5; 61:10; 62:4,5;
Jer. 2:2; 3:14; Hos. 2:19,20). This is why any infidelity of theirs to
God is spoken of as adultery (Mal. 2:11; Lev. 17:7; 20:5,6; Dt. 31:16;
Jud. 2:17; 8:27,33; Hos. 9:1). The very language of Israel 'selling themselves
to do iniquity' uses the image of prostitution. This is how God feels
our even temporary and fleeting acts and thoughts of unfaithfulness. This
is why God is jealous for Israel (Ex. 20:15; 34:14; Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15)-
because His undivided love for them is so exclusive. He expects them to
be totally His. When God said that " I have been broken
with their whorish heart" (Ez. 6:9 RV), He meant it. Sinful Israel
broke the heart of Almighty God. The tone of God’s speeches in Jeremiah
varies wildly, moving abruptly from outraged cries of pain to warm entreaties
of love, and then to desperate pleas for a new start. He is responding
like a jilted lover, who gained His Israel by wooing them in the wilderness.
He felt the pain of Israel’s rejection, and went through very human-like
reactions to this. The book of Hosea shows all this lived out in a real
human life. Hosea was representative of God, and yet he married a slut
called Gomer, and in their life together they portrayed graphically the
pain of God’s relationship with His people. The image of God as the wounded
lover which we meet in Hosea and Jeremiah ought to deeply impress us.
The God who created all of existence subjects Himself to such humiliation
from His creation. One is almost haunted by the reality of a God who lets
our response to Him count that much. It inspires us to implore Israel
and all men, on our hands and knees, to not reject the love of God which
is in the Gospel. I feel I want to beseech Israel for the sake of God's
hurt and pain over them alone, if for no other reason. Just think of His
emotional response to them. He tells them He has punished them less than
their iniquities deserve; but then He feels He’s been too hard on them.
He tells Jeremiah not to pray for them as He won’t hear him; but then
Jeremiah does pray and God hears and changes His mind as a result of this
In Hosea 11, God likens Himself to Israel’s father, teaching His little
child to walk for the first time. As the child ‘makes it’ into the Father’s
arms for the first time, there must be a tremendous excitement
for the Father. A few uncertain, jittering steps- and He is thrilled and
telling the whole world about it with joy. No matter how clever or powerful
that man is in the world. And so this is how God was with His people,
it’s how it is with us too as we take our first unsure steps after baptism.
He has the capacity for thrill and excitement, just as we do, who are
made in His image. Remembering how He had felt towards His child Israel
in earlier days, God cries out with a stab of pain: “How can I give you
up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?”. The memory of Israel’s
childhood was just too much. It made God change His mind with regard to
totally rejecting His wayward son. In preaching to Israel, we are beseeching
the prodigal child to return to the desperately grieving Father...for
His sake we do this. It is too much for me to think of God so hurt...we
surely have to do something about it, to appeal to His people.
Ezekiel 25:3,6,8,15 reveal how sensitive God is to what is said
and felt about the people whom He loves. Because Ammon mockingly said
“Aha!” when Israel went into captivity, because Moab sneered
that Judah were like any other nation now, because the Philistines had
“despite of soul” (RV) against Israel… therefore God so condemned them
even though Israel were so spiteful to Him at that very time. Even though
they betrayed Him, His sensitivity for them, His feeling, His emotion,
His passion, His pleading with them…surely inspires us to plead likewise
with them, for His sake. For the sake of His feelings, His passion…
In another figure, God speaks of Israel as if they were His beloved baby
child: “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But [so tragically] my
people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me…oh that
my people would hearken unto me, that Israel would walk in my ways!” (Ps.
81:10-13 RV). This passage alone makes me want to plead with Israel to
return to their so loving Father.
And the love of God for Israel isn’t just something in the past. You
may have noticed how the blessings for Israel’s obedience are actually
in a strange way somehow still given to them even in their disobedience.
The blessings of many children and general prosperity have somehow been
fulfilled to the Jewish people; they have somehow prospered “in all that
thou settest thine hand unto…and all people of the earth shall see that
thou art called by the name of the Lord…and the Lord shall make thee plenteous
in goods…and thou shalt lend unto many nations…thou shalt be above only,
and thou shalt not be beneath” (Dt. 28:3-13). This has all come true for
the Jewish people in their unbelief, from the Jewish taxi driver in Vilnius
who somehow makes more than the other guys, to the Jewish bankers of New
York- and all achieved despite every man’s hand against them. Here we
see the grace and love of God for Israel. And thus finally He shall give
them the valley of Achor, symbol of their shameful disobedience, for a
door of hope. The ineffable love of God for Israel continues. And we,
as God’s children, should show forth that same love, expressed supremely
in seeking to turn them to Messiah.