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JEWISH EVANGELISM AND DISCIPLESHIP
Article 3 of 13: GOD'S UNCHANGEABLE PLAN
Author: Sam Nadler
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Messiah: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, "The just shall live by faith’"(Romans 1:16,17).
Bible scholars agree that understanding these verses is the key to understanding the rest of the book of Romans. In truth, the Book of Romans is the key to understanding the New Covenant, just as the New Covenant is the key to understanding the Old Covenant (see John 5:39; Romans 10:4). Thus Romans 1:16,17 provides us with the theme to understand not only Romans, but the whole of Scripture!
God's Righteousness Revealed
Paul is quick to explain to his Roman readers why he’s unashamed to preach the Good News in Rome, which was the very center of the Gentile world! The Good News has the power of God to change lives. It is indeed “God’s righteousness revealed,” for it speaks of Yeshua, the Lord our Righteousness. How does that work? Imagine if you owed a one billion dollar IRS debt. Ouch! Now imagine if someone put all of Bill Gates’ six billion dollars into your account! The debt is now covered, right? Similarly, each of us owes a moral ‘sin-debt’ to God that we can never repay. Fortunately for us, Yeshua has more righteousness than Bill Gates has money, and He put all of His righteousness into your account, while taking all your sins upon Himself. This is why Paul wrote, He who knew no sin became sin (offering) on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
One Size Fits All
Paul is also unashamed of the Good News because the Good News is for everyone! God is no respecter of persons: He loves the world (see Jn. 3:16, 1 Jn. 2:2). Though Yeshua died for all people, He can only save those who believe. And He can’t save those who believe just any old thing, but those who believe the Good News (see 1 Cor. 15:1-4). Salvation is by faith in God’s righteousness in Yeshua, not our own deeds. Therefore Paul is unashamed because God’s own righteousness for everyone is revealed in the Good News.
To the Jew, First?
Why then does Paul bother adding to the Jew first, and also to the Greek? Because the Good News proclaims a God Who is faithful to the Jewish people: Yeshua is the faithfulness of God to keep His promises, and therefore reveals God’s righteousness. God keeps His word! Unfortunately some modern translations make understanding this passage even more difficult by translating from the Greek, “first for the Jew, then for the Gentiles (NIV).” These translators understood to the Jew first as referring to the ‘historical outworking’ of the gospel. As if Paul meant the gospel was formerly, or once brought to the Jews, but now it is for the Gentiles. Is this view possible? In a word, no. In Romans 1:16 the Greek word for first is proton. As Dr. Michael Rydelnik, Professor of Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute writes, “If Paul had meant ‘formerly’ or ‘earlier’ he would have used the Greek word proteron.” The same word for first (proton) is used non-historically three times in Romans: …tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek… (Rom. 2:9,10), and First of all (chiefly, NKJ ), that they were entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2).
Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs: unashamed, is and believes. All are in the present tense. The gospel is, not was, but is the power of God, it is to all who believe, and it is to the Jew first. The idea that the Good News was “first for the Jew and then for the Gentile” implies that the Good News is no longer for the Jew (i.e. “they had their chance”). Obviously, this cannot be true, for to this very day Jewish people are still coming to faith in Yeshua! Remember, Paul was writing to the Jew first, not regarding a past activity, but as his present and active ministry (compare Acts 13:46 with 14:1). He was not looking back on the first century advance of the Good News, but stating it as an ongoing principle for the future flow of history. Even as the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul’s ministry was always to the Jew first.
The Unchanged Call of the Jewish People
The Good News of Messiah is the fulfillment of the promises that God made to the Jewish people to redeem and save them (Rom. 1:2). In Romans the phrase as it is written, referring to the Old Covenant, or Tanakh, is used 14 times (as in v. 17), laying the Old Covenant foundation for New Covenant faith. This is why Yeshua said in John 4:22, salvation is of the Jews. It still is. This idea of first reiterates the idea that the Jewish people are God’s Chosen People (see Deut. 7:6). God made no promises to the nations, (see Ps. 147:19,20) but only through the seed of Abraham: Now the Lord had said unto Abram, … And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). But this is no cause for Jewish pride. In choosing the Jewish people, according to Deuteronomy 7:8,9; 9:6, God essentially ‘picked the runt of the litter,’ the least likely to succeed, in order to prove God’s ability to keep a people of His choosing. God’s purpose for the Jewish people was that they would be a blessing to the whole world (Gen. 12:2,3), ultimately fulfilled in Yeshua. Thus Messiah is the fulfillment of God’s purpose for the Jewish people, not the replacement of it (see Gal. 3:8-14). God has no plan “B”: these are a people He foreknew (Rom. 11:2).
The Unchanged Call of the Gentiles
God is equally caring toward Gentiles, for though it is to the Jew first, as writer David Stern puts it, “the Good News is especially for the Jews, it is equally for the Gentiles." Paul wrote as the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13) as to why he wasn’t ashamed to preach in Rome. To the Jew first did not refer to Paul’s personal “Modus Operandi.” Paul wanted the Gentile believers to understand and express their faith in light of God’s faithfulness to Israel. For Gentile believers to the Jew first was a reminder of their calling to make Israel jealous (11:11), and to minister to Israel the very mercy they themselves had received (11:31). God forbid that they should think that they had replaced Israel (see 11:17-19). Not at all, but rather, Gentile believers were to be God’s reminders of His faithfulness to Israel. Any Gentile who diminished the priority of bringing the Good News to the Jew first would be distorting God's message of faithfulness revealed in His word. In 2 Peter 3:12 it states that believers are to be hastening the coming of the day of God. So, if God has no plan B, can neglecting Jewish ministry actually delay the Kingdom of God? Can neglecting Jewish ministry delay even the return of Messiah, Who said that His return is contingent upon Israel’s repentance (see Matt 23:39)?
The Unchanged Character of God
The Good News is the very vindication of God’s faithfulness to His own Word and promises. As a Jewish person, Paul was unashamed, for the Good News is the faithfulness of God to our people. Some teach that God’s promises to the Jewish people are voided, or transferred to ‘the Church’, and that God has forsaken the Jewish people! If that is so, if His promises to Israel are nullified, how could anyone trust in any of God’s promises? Paul’s point was to establish the Romans’ confidence in the gospel, not to destroy it! The only hope for the Gentile world is that the Good News of Messiah is to the Jew first. Follow the logic: if the gospel is no longer to the Jew first, then maybe it is no longer to all who will believe; and perhaps it’s no longer the power of God for salvation either. If this is the case, then maybe we should be ashamed of our faith in Yeshua, and not share Him with others. Of course, the answer to all of this is a resounding NO! The Good News is still to the Jew first, for the Good News of Messiah is still the power of God unto salvation to all who will believe! To the Jew first reveals that God is faithful, and all who believe on His promised salvation in Yeshua will indeed be saved! And that’s the truth.
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Sam Nadler is director of Word of Messiah Ministries in Charlotte, N.C. This article is reprinted
with permission from Word of Messiah's website, and may be viewed in its original
form at http://www.wordofmessiah.org/feb_05_1.htm. Many other fine articles
and other features may be found at Word of Messiah. Thank you, Sam.
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