Is the Gospel for Israel?

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If you are a Christian lover of Israel and keep up with the news in Israel, you are probably aware of the controversy surrounding Shelanu TV. Just in case you have not heard about it; some people in the Messianic community had decided to set up a Hebrew channel with God TV to spread the gospel to the Jewish people in Israel. This idea has come under tremendous attack from the religious authorities and one minister is trying to shut it down. The situation is now being fought in the courts although legally, freedom of religion and speech is protected by the legislature in Israel.

Some religious leaders in Israel have sought the support of Christian leaders overseas, particularly in the United States and some of these leaders have come out to say that believers should not preach the gospel to the Jews. They may have different reasons for doing this; some probably want to maintain their relationships with Jewish religious and government leaders, or out of fear of opening age old wounds inflicted by the church upon the Jews, while others may subscribe to what is called “dual covenant theology”, which is the idea that Jewish people do not need to believe in Yeshua (Jesus) to be saved; that they are saved under a separate covenant.

What does the Bible say about the salvation of the Jews? Are they saved by a different covenant? Let’s go through some scriptures to see.

Yeshua spoke primarily to Jews

When a Gentile woman came and pleaded with Yeshua to heal her daughter, He said that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 15:24). After hearing her faith response, He had compassion and healed her daughter, but His priority was the people of Israel, the Jews.

In John chapter three, Yeshua was having a conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the ruling council, the Sanhedrin. It was to this man that Yeshua said “unless a person is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven (John 3:3).

In John 14, Yeshua was speaking to His disciples, bear in mind that they were all Jewish, and He told them – “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6). Thus saying there is no other way for a person, Jewish or not, to enter the Kingdom of God.

So in both these cases we see that Yeshua was speaking to Jews and telling them that they could not be saved apart from Him.

The Church was born as a Jewish entity.

In the first chapter of Acts, Yeshua told His Jewish disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, He said that after they received this promise they would become His witnesses starting from Jerusalem i.e. with the Jewish people. In other words they were commanded by Yeshua Himself to preach to the Jews.

We are all aware that the church was born on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, what many Christians are unaware of is that Israel had been celebrating this feast since the days of Moses. It is one of the Biblical feasts that God commanded them to observe in Leviticus 23. It was a pilgrimage feast wherein Jews were commanded to return to Jerusalem to celebrate.

Acts 2:5 says “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” NIV

These were Jews from the Diaspora who had come to Jerusalem for the feast which is called Shavuot in Hebrew or, in English Pentecost. So when we read of the different nations gathered there in verses 8 and 9 we must understand that although they were from different nations they were all Jewish.

So when Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, rose to speak all those who heard him were Jewish. In fact in verse 22 he addresses the crowd as “men of Israel” and we know the result that day, three thousand people came to faith and were baptised, then again in chapter 3 after the crippled man at the temple was healed, Peter and John were clearly addressing the people of Israel, Peter said “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you?” (Acts 3:12) he then proceeds to give glory to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to tell them that Yeshua was the prophet Moses had spoken of. The result of this was that two thousand more (Jews) were added to the number of the church (Acts 4:4).

Following this he and John were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin and told not to preach the name of Yeshua anymore. It was to the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Jewish leaders that they said “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). They were telling Jewish religious leaders that the only name by which they could find salvation was the name of Yeshua.

In Acts 21 we see the account of the time when Paul returned to Jerusalem and met with the church leaders, he testified about all that God was doing among the Gentiles, then the Jewish church leaders testified of what God was doing among the Jews: “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20 NKJV)

The word myriad in Greek is “murias” which means ten thousand, so myriads would indicate at least twenty thousand. That tells us that there were at least twenty thousand believers in Jerusalem at that time. Historians estimate that in the first century the population was around six hundred thousand, which would have made it nearly 6% of the population. What is more interesting is that “they were all zealous for the law (Torah)” which would make them religious Jews who had come to faith in Messiah Yeshua.

So the gospel was growing in Jerusalem in the first century, it could not have happened if the early disciples had not been preaching to the Jews.

Paul’s Burden for the Jews

Finally let us look at the Apostle Paul; whilst he was called primarily to the Gentiles, he was also deeply burdened for his own people, the Jews. Over and over again in the book of Acts we see him going first to the synagogue in every city he visited, there he preached about Yeshua.

In the book of Romans he clearly states that the gospel of Yeshua is to the Jew first then the Gentiles (Romans 1:16). Furthermore in chapters 9 and 10 he clearly expresses his heart’s desire to see his people (Jews) be saved i.e. through Messiah Yeshua. In 9:1-3 we see that he is so burdened for their salvation that he would have been willing to lose his own salvation if it meant that some Jews would be saved. If this was only Paul’s heart for his own people, then why did God allow it to be included in the Bible? I believe these are not merely the sentiments of Paul, but the heart of God Himself, for His own people whom He had chosen, to come to faith in His Son.

Having said all this, we have to balance it with a right understanding of Jewish salvation. In the past, the church made some terrible mistakes by forcing Jews to “convert to Christianity”. By “conversion” they meant that when a Jewish person converts he/she has to renounce all Jewish practices including keeping the dietary laws, worshipping on Saturday, keeping the Biblical feasts etc. Sadly the church forced these things upon the Jews to the point where their they could not believe that Yeshua could possibly be Jewish, let alone their Messiah.

The gospel allows us to keep our ethnic identities particularly the Jewish people. They do not have to become Christian, i.e. worship on Sunday and keep the Christian festivals and eat non-kosher food. The early Jewish church kept their identity, so we must allow the Jewish people to keep their identities as Jews, while embracing their Jewish Messiah Yeshua. By this we honour them as our older brother.

So, ultimately the gospel is for all people, Jews as well as Gentiles. Our duty as Gentile believers in Yeshua is to provoke the Jews and make them jealous (Romans 11:11), but we must do it in a gentle loving fashion so that they will know and accept Yeshua is their own Messiah. We must also support the work of the Messianic body in Israel who are bringing the message of Yeshua in a totally Jewish context to His own people. Galatians 6:10 tells us to do good to all especially the household of faith, in Israel this means the Messianic Jews, who are our brothers and sisters in Messiah.

This article originally appeared on One New Man Asia, May 27, 2020, and reposted with permission.