The Church and Jewish Evangelism
By Dr. Mitch Glaser
As the leader of a traditional mission to the Jewish people, I believe that all Jewish people need to accept Jesus in order to have a place in the age to come (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). I do not believe that a Jewish person is capable of keeping the Law to the extent that their human efforts would in some way satisfy God’s demands for righteousness, enabling the individual Jewish person to enter heaven on their own merit (Gal. 2:15-16, 3:23-25, Romans 10:2-4 ff.). This is true of non-Jews as well, who are judged on a different basis than the Jewish people according to the argument of the Apostle Paul in the early chapters of Romans (Romans 2:12-16, 3:9-20), but non-Jews are also made acceptable before God by the same act of conscious faith in the Son of God who died and rose for our sins (Romans 10:9-12).
I also believe it is a biblical mandate for Gentiles in the Body of Messiah to reach Jewish people with the Gospel message. In fact, according to Paul’s statement in Romans 11:11, the Gentiles are to make the Jewish people jealous. The Great Commission has application to both Jewish and Gentile believers; however, the Scriptures do not present Jewish evangelism as simply one aspect of the Great Commission among many. It is a unique venture that is specifically addressed in Scripture and once again, Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, is the biblical spokesperson who argues for this position.
This mandate for Jewish evangelism (and discipleship) that Paul calls upon the Gentiles in the Body of Messiah to embrace is based upon many different passages from the New Testament, but the following two passages seem to be the most prominent.
Franz Delitzsch, the well-known Old Testament scholar, wrote, “For the church to evangelize the world without thinking of the Jews is like a bird trying to fly with one broken wing.”
The Apostle Paul expresses it this way, For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
It is in this thematic verse of Romans that one is able to see the clear progression of evangelism. The rest of the world is not to be ignored, but the first step is to reach out to God’s chosen people. Even the word “first” clearly exhibits that the Jewish people are the first priority for evangelism in time, place and rank.
…for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first…
Of course, Paul is not suggesting that the Roman believers withhold the Gospel from the Gentiles until every Jewish person in the world is reached.
Neither is the Apostle implying that the Gospel has already come to the Jewish people first and therefore preaching the Gospel to the “Jew first” no longer has any particular application now. Romans 1:16 is written in the present tense – so let’s follow the logic of the text. If the Gospel is still the power of God “unto” salvation and is still for “all who believe,” then the Gospel is still “to the Jew first.”
The Greek word used by Paul and translated first is protos. It implies a priority, rather than a sequential order of events. The word is also used in Matthew 6:33 where the Lord Jesus reminds us to “Seek first the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God should always be sought as a priority in our lives, even as we seek other things. In a similar way, reaching Jewish people with the Gospel must be a priority concern for all who know the Lord Jesus as their Savior.
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, focused his ministry on reaching non-Jews with the Gospel message. But this did not lessen his concern for the salvation of the Jewish people. Wherever Paul went in his ministry among the Gentiles, he also tried to preach the Gospel to the Jewish people living in that area (Acts 13:13-52; 14:1-5; 18:7-11; 19:8-10). He would regularly attempt to evangelize the Jewish people of a particular city before he spoke to the Gentiles. The salvation of the Jewish people was an ever-present concern for Paul, and his actions in the Book of Acts reveal his understanding of what he wrote in Romans 1:16.
However, all too often Jewish evangelism has become the Great Omission of the Great Commission. This is beginning to change and some church bodies are taking Jewish evangelism more seriously than ever before – and it is my hope that this will continue.
A wonderful story is told of the relationship between John Wilkinson, a Gentile missionary to the Jews who founded the Mildmay Mission to the Jews, and of J. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission (which is now OMF). It seems that every January, Taylor would send Wilkinson a check for a sum of money with a note attached, “To the Jew first.” Wilkinson would then send the same amount back to Taylor with a note that read, “And also to the Gentiles.”
I hope this is a true story, though it has almost reached the zenith of myth within the Jewish missions community! However, it does characterize the interdependence that missions to both Jews and Gentiles have in Scripture. One mission does not negate the possibility of fulfilling the other. We can reach Jewish people as a priority founded upon God’s own choice of Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, and still reach the world as commanded by our Messiah prior to the ascension.
Romans chapters 9, 10 and 11 are passages of Scripture with which most Christians are familiar, but which are not usually understood in respect to Jewish evangelism. These texts are often utilized by preachers to instruct believers in the doctrines of election and predestination – especially Romans chapter 9.
Romans 10 speaks about the role of preaching and the preacher in evangelism: “How can they hear without a preacher?” This is the passage believers use regarding evangelism in general and the role of the Word of God in evangelism.
In Romans chapter 11, where clearly the relationship of Israel and the Church is central to the Apostle’s thinking, the text is mostly known for the final few verses which form a doxology, “For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things, to Him be the glory forever and ever.”
Yet for our purposes, Romans 9, 10 and 11 are some of the most critical chapters of Scripture dealing with Jewish evangelism, the role of the Jewish people in God’s plan, and the role of the evangelist among the Jewish people.
In Romans 9-11, the Apostle Paul points out some key thoughts about the Jewish people and about Jewish evangelism.
For example, in Romans 9:1-3, we learn of Paul’s burden for the Jewish people. The statement “I wish that I would be accursed” shows Paul’s willingness to go to hell so that Jewish people might go to heaven. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, had a great burden for his own people.
In Romans 10:1 we learn about Paul’s desire to pray for the Jewish people. “Brethren, my heart’s desire, my prayer to God is that Israel might be saved.” The Apostle Paul relates his struggle in Romans 9-11 as he attempts to figure out how in God’s plan, the Jewish people did not embrace Jesus as their Messiah.
In chapter 11 Paul concludes that God has not rejected the Jewish people and that there is hope for their salvation in the present age and in the age to come.
The following summarizes the Apostle’s struggle and conclusion. Did all Israel reject Christ? Did God reject the Jewish people? No – all Israel did not reject Christ because Paul himself declares that he is a Jew in Romans 11:1 ! Had God rejected the Jewish people for their unbelief? No! Paul is living evidence of God’s faithfulness. I too am a Jewish believer in Jesus, and there is a remnant of Jews today who are accepting the gift of salvation through our various ministries.
God had preserved a remnant, and there is a remnant today as there was even in the Old Testament period, as evidenced by Paul’s recounting of the story in 2 Kings 18. Elijah went up to Mt. Carmel to stage a contest with the Ba’al worshippers. What ultimately happens is that God shows Elijah, when he feels all alone, that he has company because there are 7,000 men who have not bowed the knee to Ba’al.
This remnant doctrine is extremely important in Scripture and is mentioned throughout Scripture from Genesis through Revelation. Sha’ar, the remnant, is a key term and a very important concept in Scripture.
Noah is one example of the remnant. Also, God was willing to preserve a city, Sodom, for the sake of the remnant. Often you see the phrase, “except for the sake of the remnant, I would have destroyed…” Jewish believers today are also part of the remnant.
This doctrine points out that we are not alone. The Apostle Paul’s teaching reminds us that in every age there exists a remnant of Jewish people who are open to the Lord and willing to follow Him! In this age, clearly, accepting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah fulfills this faith in God.
One of the reasons I am excited about serving with Chosen People Ministries is because I know that in every corner of the globe and every community within our own country, there are Jewish people ready to hear the Good News and respond positively.
This is why we should preach the Gospel “to the Jew first” in our communities, knowing that the Lord has promised to save a remnant.
I hope we will follow the Lord’s mandate and proclaim the Good News to the Jewish people and keep Jewish evangelism close to our hearts, as we know from Scripture that God is not finished with His people yet! (Romans 11:25-27)
The practical implications of these few thoughts are clear. Gentiles within the Body of Messiah are called to reach Jewish people for Jesus. Chosen People Ministries exists, in part, to aid our brothers and sisters in accomplishing this great work. In fact, this is part of our mission statement – to help empower and equip fellow believers in Jesus the Messiah to evangelize and disciple Jewish people.
We hope to encourage, provide materials and to build strategic bridges with all believers in the Body of Messiah to fulfill this mandate in the 21st century.
Your Mission to the Jews has provided quite a bit of training and resources for you to use in sharing the Good News with your Jewish friends. For further reading, I highly recommend Dr. Richard Freeman’s book on Romans 9-11. This would be a great book for you to read to deepen your understanding of these magnificent chapters of Scripture, but it might also be a book you would want to pass on to your pastor or study at a home group or Bible study.
Chosen People Ministries exists to pray for, evangelize, disciple, and serve Jewish people everywhere and to help fellow believers do the same. The mission was founded in Brooklyn, New York in 1894 by Rabbi Leopold Cohn, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant with a zeal to share the knowledge of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah with God’s chosen people.