For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16)
In Montreal, there are about 100,000 Jews, and we are often confronted by this question: “Why should we go to the Jew first? Isn’t Romans 1:16 purely historical?” The underlying argument is that we are perhaps being too exclusive in our outreach and way too sympathetic and partisan to the Jew first. I often ask our brothers and sisters in the faith who object to this approach if they have had opportunity to witness to at least one Jewish person. Lo and behold, most of them confess that they do know perhaps one, two, or more Jewish people, but they cannot confirm that they have ever approached them with the gospel. So I encourage them, and arguing from Romans 1:16, I point out that they ought very well to include the Jews within all the people groups who need to hear the Word. They must not themselves be so tendentious. In light of the great commission given by Yeshua, all nations were to be reached with the gospel, barring none.
While Jews make up only one-tenth of one percent of the world’s population, their voice and presence often compensate for the lack of numbers. Therefore, if you have found one, it could very well be that God drew you to him. So, how about starting with one Jew?
Historical or rhetorical?
While so many today insist that Romans 1:16 is historical, others have gone a long way to make sure that the other reference to the Jew first is to be taken literally for today. This reference is in Romans 2:9 and says: tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile. The charge of deicide because of Jewish rejection of the Messiah is often used as the answer why we should take Romans 2:9 literally today. While I agree that this verse, along with Romans 1:16, should be taken literally, let’s point out two important aspects: One, to whom much is given, much is required, and so while we do know that the oracles and covenants were given to the Jewish people, in terms of that responsibility, their rejection has brought untold judgment. Could the tribulation and anguish Israel has endured also be related to her being ousted from the church after its first planting? Where were the Jews in the last 2,000 years of church history? What happened to the thousands of Jews who believed (Acts 2:41, 4:4)? What happened to the hundreds of Ebionites and Nazarites? How come Jewish believers in Jesus were excluded altogether from participating in the formation of the Nicene Creed? How come that many statements made by the church about the Jews were anti-Semitic in nature?
Today, few in the ecclesial world stand with Israel. She is increasingly being isolated and ignored, although the Hebrew prophets and Yeshua spoke of the dramatic persecution she will undergo during the tribulation. So then, if tribulation and anguish is to the Jew first, perhaps we can begin to bring salvation to them, starting with one Jew. Let us ignore wrong rhetoric and answer the command in love.
In contrast to the suffering predicted in Romans 2:9, the Lord provides great compensation for Israel in Isaiah 40:2: Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
Although this passage was to console Israel and show her that the Babylonian exile would soon end, it also covers a future period when her sins would be covered (her iniquity is pardoned). This period extends into the messianic era, when Israel will be compensated doubly for all her suffering (she has received from the LORD’s hand double). How wonderful it would be for the Gentile believers in the church today to be part of this ongoing promise given to Israel, proclaiming to her, “Yes, your sins are now covered through the Messiah’s death (Isaiah 53), and God does give a future to the nation, for He will never leave or forsake her (Deut. 31.8)!” This is one way we can fulfill God’s command: Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, meaning “Speak comfort to Jerusalem.” I am not suggesting that everyone have great grief and continual sorrow for Israel (Rom. 9:2), but can we not begin by sharing the gospel with one Jew?
Our view of the Jew can be more fully appreciated by examining the Parable of the Hidden Treasure. There, we meet the merchant who found a hidden treasure in a field (Mt. 13:44). He then hides it again until he sells all he has and comes back to buy the field. This hidden treasure is Israel. How then are we to treat God’s own treasure, His segulah (Ex. 19:5), His thesauros (Mt. 13:44)? We speak comfort, starting with one Jew.
The God of What People?
Considering the future of Israel in Bible prophecy, should we neglect the climactic role Jews will play in the ultimate return of the Messiah? Not only will 144,000 chosen Jews be instrumental in bringing myriads to faith during the tribulation (Rev. 7:1-8), but the invoking by Jewish believers for the return of Yeshua will lead to the inauguration of the messianic kingdom (Mt. 23:37-39). The pivotal importance of the nation of Israel must not be overlooked. We believers will not have the opportunity to bring Jews to faith during the tribulation, because we will not be here. However, we can start our pre-rapture preaching today, explaining to anyone who will listen what will soon happen. This we can do, starting with one Jew.
At least two hundred times, the God of the Bible is called the God of Israel. Clearly, the Bible is this book of the history of the Jews from Genesis to Revelation and beyond. Even in eternity, in heaven, each of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel is written on each of its twelve gates (Rev. 21:12). This means that every time we will come in and out of heaven, we will remember Israel.
An Early Sabbath
There is a saying, a prophecy, in Orthodox Jewry that if every Jew would properly respect just one Sabbath, then this would hasten the coming of the Messiah. An interesting parallel can be seen in Romans 11:15: For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be, but life from the dead? When all the believing Jews will look upon the Messiah, voicing their confession and acceptance of Yeshua, He will return. New life will spring forth, and the curse on creation will begin to see its demise. Imagine if every believer today were to seek out one Jew and exercise mercy on him or her, what a Shabbat that would be!
Numbers Count and None Is Too Few
Statistically, the majority of Jews come to believe in Yeshua mainly through Gentile believers. Gentiles should feel so very privileged to be given the calling to seek Jews and share the gospel! They are not to become Jews, but are to make Jewish people jealous of their zeal and knowledge of the Jewish Messiah.
When I first heard of my Savior, it was through a Gentile who presented Isaiah 53 to me. What surprised me most is that he was a Gentile who knew so much more about my religion than I did. I became jealous. It was a healthy jealousy, which eventually brought me to a saving knowledge of the Messiah.
Paul wrote in Romans 11:11: I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Through the Jews, salvation has come to the Gentiles. They, in turn, can bring the Jewish people to faith by provoking them to jealousy. This principle is not without blessings, for God promised: I will bless those who bless you (Gen. 12:1-3). Why should Gentiles not enjoy this great blessing when going to the Jews?
We have learnt in our congregation in Montreal that going to the Jew first includes going to all the nations of the world. We have a group of Gentile believers who go weekly from door to door, offering Hebrew/ English and Hebrew/French Bibles. Although this ministry aims specifically at Jewish homes, there are quite a few times when the team members come across Gentiles. They might meet a non-Jew on the street. The caretaker or friend who answers the door in one of these Jewish homes might be a Gentile. Sometimes the outreach team has come across Gentiles who never removed the mezuzah from their doorpost once they moved into a house previously owned by Jews. Because of the mezuzah, the team knocks on the door, but the occupants are not Jewish. In every case, the team openely and joyfully shares the gospel with the Gentile too. Our experience has been that if you seek out Jews, you will ultimately find Gentiles as well, and so your audience is broader. If you seek only Gentiles and exclude the Jews, your audience is limited, and so are the potential blessings that come along with the ministry.
None is too few. How about starting with one Jew today?
This article was first published in Ariel Magazine Spring 2017, Vol. 1, Number 22. It is republished on this website with permission from the publisher and copyrights owner: Ariel Ministries USA, San Antonio, TX. All rights reserved.
 Shemot Rabba 25:12; y. Ta’anit 1:10: “Though I have set a limit to ‘the end,’ that it will happen in its time regardless of whether they will do teshuvah or not . . . the scion of David (Mashiach) will come if they keep just one Shabbat, because the Shabbat is equivalent to all the mitzvot.”