By Dr. Erez Soref
As we trace from Jacob to Jesus we can see a Biblical emphasis on their parting words. Jesus’ last instruction to his disciples is often referred to as the “Great Commission”; he charged them with the daunting task of letting the whole world know about the Good News, starting in Jerusalem.
If this task seems a little horrifying in its scope, I hope to encourage you with a few words about God’s principles that each one of us can apply.
With God, there is no ‘plan B’. He only has a ‘plan A’.
This has not changed, right from the beginning. His one and only plan will unfold. We can choose to walk alongside Him in His plans or not, but make no mistake, his plans cannot be thwarted. God has always been universal redemption business. As we survey Genesis 1-11, we can see the steady deterioration in the human condition, starting with the fall, swiftly followed by murder, and continuing until God had to take drastic action, leaving the only eight righteous people alive after the flood. Yet the human heart and sinful nature continued, and got even worse. In the tower of Babel, humanity sets itself up as God, refusing to give an account to their creator, and defiantly seeking to make themselves the center of worship. So the peoples of the earth were scattered, and nations, languages and cultures developed in the wake of God’s actions.
In this new reality of different peoples filling the earth, God’s strategy was to create one nation through which he could reach them all. You could say that God’s choice was quite poor – an elderly couple with no children from a background of idol worship! Yet God sets his plan into action with Abraham, giving him these three promises in Genesis 12:1-3:
Firstly, the promise of a seed – that he would father many nations. Through this seed would come Isaac, Jacob, Judah, eventually King David, and the precious line of the Messiah.
Secondly God promises Abraham a land – the land of Israel.
Thirdly He promises his divine protection – whoever would bless Abraham would be blessed, and whoever cursed him would be cursed.
As we look through history, this divine promise is only reason the Jewish people still exist today. God also promised that through Abraham, all the families of the earth would be blessed, and God has been faithful to that promise.
So God began His grand plan of redemption by choosing the Jewish people, and later in Romans 1:16 we see that God’s divine order is once again to start with the Jewish people. Paul writes, “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”. Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, yet whenever he was in a new place, the first place he would find would be the Jewish temple. He understood the principle of taking the gospel to the Jew first.
The principle of Firstfruits
But why does God lay down this principle? Is it because the Jews are better in some way? Certainly not. In fact, the Bible specifically says the opposite in Deuteronomy 7:7, where God declares:
“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples”.
This way, God gets all the glory; His name is glorified in our weakness. Going to the Jew first is a priority for God because this is his strategy, his divine order and plan.
An illustration of this principle is found in the Jewish Feast of Weeks, where farmers bring their firstfruits into the temple. This feast is also known as Pentecost, because the Israelites had to count fifty days from beginning of Passover, after which the firstfruits were presented to the Lord. On the first day after Passover, farmers would go out to look at their harvest to find the buds that sprang first. They would have special ribbons to mark those buds, and for the next fifty days they will tend their crop, paying careful attention to the ones they had marked. On the third day after Passover, the farmer would walk around again, and those buds that were ready to be presented would be cut right away, taken to the temple and waved before God. Of course, this speaks to us of Yeshua rising again on the third day, the firstfruits of those to be resurrected. On the fiftieth day, the farmer cuts all his marked plants but nothing else. Rather than only bringing ten percent, the entire crop of firstfruits are taken and left in the temple. He can do this with joy and faith, because he knows that when firstfruits are given to God, the entire harvest will be blessed.
The divine pattern in practice
Just as the apostle Paul understood this divine pattern, Hudson Taylor, who led the China Inland Mission, also put this principle into practice. Today there are over 300 million Chinese Christians, but at the beginning of their work, the China Inland Mission would always start every year by writing a check to a mission agency that was reaching Jewish people. The check would be accompanied by a note saying, “To the Jew first”. It is not unrelated that the gospel in China has borne so much fruit. Apparently, the Jewish mission agency would later send a check for the same amount to the China Inland Mission, with a note that read “And also to the Gentile”! But as Hudson Taylor followed God’s strategy, God gave him the nation of China.
Initially of course, the church was made up of Jewish people in the land of Israel, but over time as the good news went out across the earth, the percentage of Jewish believers dwindled dramatically, to become only a tiny drop in the bucket. After the reformation when more people were reading the Bible for themselves and saw the principle of reaching the “Jew first”. Many missions to Jews were formed at this time as a result, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Jewish people started coming back to God. For too long Jewish people have viewed those who bring the gospel in terms of “them and us”, but today there are now approximately 20000 Jewish believers in Israel, proclaiming the gospel to their own countrymen, in their own language and culture. Now it is a matter of “us and us”! As the church expands in Israel, both among Jewish people and also among Arabs, the need for leadership training is becoming critical. This is the heart and soul of Israel College of the Bible – raising up Jewish and Arab believers to be equipped to serve and teach those who are coming to faith in the land where God first chose Abraham to be a source of blessing to all the families of the earth.
Dr. Erez Soref is President of Israel College of the Bible