“The Jew first”

From the days of Abraham until the writing of the epistle to the Romans ‘The Jew first’ is a noticeable characteristic of God’s dealings with mankind.

During the earthly ministry of Christ He limited His ministry and that of His apostles to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matt. 15:24, 10:5-6). The Gentiles at that period were considered ‘dogs’ (see Matt. 7:6 and 15:26).

No Gentiles at Pentecost.

Peter, on the day of Pentecost, addressed his words to ‘Ye men of Judaea’, ‘Ye men of Israel’, ‘All the house of Israel’ (cf. Acts 2:14, 22, 36). The God in Whose name he spoke to the people was ‘The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers’ (Acts 3:13).

The Christ Peter preached was the One Who had been raised from the dead ‘to sit on David’s throne’ (Acts 2:30), and Who had been sent to Israel ‘first’ (3:26) and Who had been exalted a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance unto Israel’ (5:31).

Peter still a Law-Keeping Jew in Acts 10.

It is manifestly impossible to believe by the testimony of the chief speaker himself that a single Gentile had been admitted to the Church inaugurated at Pentecost. We can say this because when Peter constrained by a vision from heaven to yield to the request of Cornelius, he meets the man with the words: ‘Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation’ (Acts 10:28).

Peter, therefore, knew nothing of a Church where Jew and Gentile were all one in Christ. Further, by his own confession he would have classed Cornelius with dogs and swine up to the time of the vision at Joppa.

But God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean’ (cf. Acts 10:28 with 14).

Peter, therefore, knew nothing of the tradition that the ‘Church’ began at Pentecost. Peter’s attitude was not personal, it was the attitude of all believers at the time:

‘They of the circumcision which believed were astonished ... because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 10:45). These words forbid the idea that a single Gentile received the baptism of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

The Church at Jerusalem were equally ignorant of this tradition:

‘When Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them’ (Acts 11:2-3).

Truly the Church of the One Body is certainly to find in these chapters.

Finally, the testimony of Acts 11:18-19 is conclusive. For the first time the Pentecostal Church at Jerusalem recognized the possibility of a Gentile being saved:

‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life’. (v18)

‘Now they [the Jews] which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen ... preaching the word to none but unto the Jews Only. (v19)

The Jew first in Romans.

Space will not allow us to traverse the whole field of the Acts and the epistles of the period; it will suffice, however, to discover the dispensational position of Jewish and Gentile believers in the last epistle (Romans) written by Paul to Gentiles before the crisis in Acts 28:

  • In Romans 1:16 the gospel is to the Jew first.
  • In Romans 2:9 judgment is to the Jew first.
  • In Romans 2:10 blessing is to the Jew first.
  • In Romans 3:1,2 advantage and profit are admitted as pertaining to the Jew, although on the basis of sin there is no difference (3:9).

So tenaciously did the Jewish Church hold to their privileged position, that the apostle had to ask the question:

‘Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles?’ (3:29).

In Romans 9:4-5 the advantages and privileges of the circumcision (Israel) are detailed, every item of which is exclusive to Israel according to the flesh (their birth).

The Wild Olive.

In Romans 11:17-25 the position of Gentile believers dispensationally is set forth under the figure of an olive tree. Israel is the olive (Jer. 11:16,17), but ‘some of the branches’ had been broken off. The Gentile believers who ‘stood by faith were ‘wild olive branches graffed in among them’. There was no such thing as perfect equality, however:

Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee’.

When we come to Paul’s post-Acts epistle to the Ephesians, we find a completely different state of affairs.

The middle wall abolished.

‘For He is our peace, Who hath made the both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition’ (Eph. 2:14).

It will be of service if we make clear to every reader what ‘the middle wall’ really is. There has been discovered at Jerusalem a slab of stone bearing an inscription, the translation of which is somewhat as follows:

“No one being a foreigner may enter within the enclosure around the holy place. Whoever is apprehended will himself be to blame for his death which will certainly follow.”

You should remember the violent attempt made by the Jews upon Paul, because they believed he had taken Trophimus, a Gentile, into the Court of Israel. (cf. Acts 21:27-28)

While that middle wall stood, the Jew was first. At the setting aside of Israel at Acts 28 the dispensational superiority of Israel as the favoured nation ceased.

In the risen and ascended Christ a new sphere was found, no longer in the flesh, but in the spirit and in the super-heavenlies. The Gentiles ‘in the flesh’ were ‘without hope’ (Eph. 2:11,12).

The Jews ‘in the flesh’ had the advantage (Rom. 9). By contrast, in the Post-Acts 28:28 Church of the “One Body” there is perfect equality (Eph. 3:6). In this new sphere all distinctions vanish, and One NEW MAN is created (Eph. 2:15).

The both one.

Notice the emphasis upon the unity here made:

‘He is our peace, Who hath made THE BOTH ONE. (Middle wall broken down). Jewish distinctive ordinances abolished). To create in Himself of THE TWAIN ONE new man, so making peace: And that He might reconcile THE BOTH unto God in ONE BODY (Enmity slain - Peace preached). Through Him we THE BOTH have access by one Spirit unto the Father’ (Eph. 2:14-18).

Instead of being excluded from an earthly temple the Gentile believer is himself built together as a holy temple in the Lord. Instead of the Jew having the prior elevated place access now is for the both by one Spirit unto the Father.

The Threefold Equality.

The apostle Paul sums up the new position in Ephesians 3:6-7. Here the most important word is that which is expressed in English by ‘Co’ or ‘Joint’. It occurs three times:

‘That the Gentiles should be -

(1) Joint heirs, and a

(2) Joint body, and

(3) Joint partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel, whereof 'Paul was made a minister’.

Here is the charter of equality for every member of the One "Body of Christ".

It is higher and deeper than the covenant of Abraham.

It goes beyond the inheritance either of the promised land, or the New Jerusalem.

It is essentially linked with a new creation, a new man, a Super-Heavenly sphere, and a purpose pre-dating "the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4).

This doctrine is a special revelation. It was a mystery hidden by God until the time came to make it known.

That time was after Acts 28:28, and during Paul’s imprisonment at Rome. It is found with all teaching essential to it in the four prison epistles, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and 2 Timothy, and these epistles become the standard whereby the applicability of other Scriptures is tested.

For example, some Scriptures teach the observation of the Sabbath. Colossians 2:16 is the passage which decides this question for the member of “the One Body.” And so with all questions, regarding what we eat or drink, celebratory seasons, and days. These are done away in Christ. We are free from all external regulation and observances. We live by “the Spirit of life” and “the word of truth.”

Now we Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:” Colossians 2:16 (KJV)

  • Portions adapted from Charles Baker