3,000 Jews in one day declared their faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah under the anointed preaching of Peter. They came from Rome and from Persia, from Carthage and from Cappadocia. There is no way of knowing the lasting harvest of this event. Probably Stephen’s conversion dates from this event; certainly many returned to their homes and became the bedrock of congregations that Paul later visited and developed.
Not many years after this influx, however, the tide of Jewish converts slowed to a trickle. In his letter to the Colossians Paul writes that of all the leaders with him only three were of the Jewish faith. (Colossians 4:11)
Was that decline an indicator that God had a new chosen people, replacing the Jews with the Gentiles? Were there new contours of grace, leaving behind the Passover and Yom Kippur? Did God put aside the Jews until “the fullness of time?”
Paul addressed these questions head on throughout the Epistle to the Romans. He clearly refutes those ideas with passionate, personal, and persuasive logic, and then he gives an adamant affirmation of God’s eternal faithfulness to the Jews.
In chapters 9-11 Paul addresses us Gentile Christians about the Jews and our relations with them. These we ought to note carefully:
- The Jews were and always will be God’s chosen people. “How much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Rom. 11:24).
- The Jews are the trunk of the olive tree onto which Gentile Christians are grafted. What God has given the Jews—“the glory, the patriarchs, the covenant, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Rom. 9:14)–those which He given to no one else, those comprise the trunk of our tree.
- The question for Gentile Christians is, “How well do we know the trunk?” My hunch is that we know it only from the vantage points that support our particular slant on the Gospel. How much more could we—should we not!—learn of our new olive tree through the eyes of those who have known it for four thousand years. Yes, there are a myriad of volumes on the trunk written by Jewish scholars.
- “Do not be arrogant” (Rom. 11:18), Paul warns us. Do not sneer at Jewish unbelief and pass them by. Rather, remember who we are—“wild branches” somehow attached to what is inherently not ours. It is for us to show humility, appreciation, respect, and a learning attitude to those things which are naturally foreign to us.
- Then he gives a simple strategy for evangelism: “I magnify my ministry to make my fellow Jews jealous” (Rom. 11:13). That means a sacrificial affection, an understanding of their history, a presence in joys and in sorrows, a deep and trusted friendship.
Then, and only then, can we give an answer to the question the woman at the well asked Jesus, “Are You greater than our father Jacob” (John 4:12)?
JEWISH NUMBERS, JEWISH SOUL, JEWISH FAITH
First, Jewish numbers:
(These are from the WCT; other sources cite different numbers.)
Jewish population in the world today: 2000 – 14,400,000; 2015 – 15,200,000; by 2025 – 16,200,000
Jews are in 134 countries.
Number of Jews in the United States: 4,893,000
Jews in Israel: In 1948: 650,000; today 8,477,000
Number of Jews born in Israel (Sabras): 1,271,000
Russian Jews in Israel: 340,000
Events shape the soul of a people, defining the character and aspirations. The Holocaust of WW II left a profound and national wound. 5.7 million Ashkenazy Jews were killed, as well as nearly 1 million Christian Jews.
Dates shape the soul. 1492 reminds people of the Americas of our starting point. The date also holds a grievous scar in Jewish memory. As the three ships of Columbus sailed out from Seville, they passed ships carrying the last of the 180,000 Jews expelled from Spain. 350,000 were forcibly converted to Christianity, and 12,000 were burnt at heretics.
As Nahmanides said, in 1267, to a Christian king inquiring why Jews did not recognize Jesus as Messiah, “The coming of the Messiah was to be followed by a period of peace and justice. As long as Christians themselves conduct wars and as long as there is so much injustice in the world, we cannot believe the Messiah has already come.”
Israel has 1500 Christian workers. There are 146 Christian agencies (like www.CMJ-USA.org) and 200 major institutions (like Christ Church, Jerusalem).
These numbers tell the story of the growing number of Jews worshipping in Messianic synagogues.
In 1970: 13,000
Before these lead us to expect the full entrance of the Jews, we do well to realize these represent less than 10% of the Jewish population of Israel. Do we not look for a greater harvest of God’s people? 44% of the Jews of Israel remain unevangelized.
The last word goes to King David: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” Ps. 122:6).