Sunday, October 05, 2014

What is the difference between the Jew and the Gentile?

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Romans 11:25

In my rather long time of being a Christian, I can remember once having a friend discover that his father was Jewish, and that fact seemed to alter my friend’s understanding of who he was before God. He seemed to think that God now favored him even more. Which, of course, raises a very interesting question: does God make a distinction between the Jew and the Gentile?

The short answer is that it depends on when we are looking at the Jew and the Gentile. During the time of Jesus, the Jew had the experience of being God’s chosen people for thousands of years. Their attitude of being chosen had to be repeatedly rebuked by Jesus, who famously said that God was able to make descendants of Abraham from even rocks (Matthew 3:9). Saul is the epitome of the proud Jew, working for God’s approval in every way, yet without the faith to save one to the uttermost. Remember that Jews were forbidden even to travel through Samaria, which directive Jesus broke for the sake of the Samaritans, still reminding them that “salvation is of the Jews.” What did Jesus mean when he said salvation is of the Jews?

The Bible assures the Jew at every turn that they have been chosen of God. Paul tells us of this yet again in Romans, “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (9:4,5). It was God’s plan all along to choose the Jews as a special and precious people. Here Paul reminds us that the Jewish forefathers received the covenants, the very glory of God himself, and even the covenant of the Law. What are these covenants, and what meaning, if any, do they have for the church today?

The space for this brief answer does not allow for a full development of what covenants are. Instead, I will try to briefly put some of the covenants out for us to look at. Most of us are somewhat familiar with the Mosaic Covenant, which is more easily known by the law. The Mosaic Covenant has a term—it was given until Christ came, who, we are told, was the fulfillment of the Law. Christians often are familiar with this covenant, perhaps because God replaced it with the Covenant of grace, the period which we are now in.

But perhaps we are not so familiar with the Abrahamic Covenant, a covenant from God, made to Abraham unconditionally that one day he will give the land of Israel to his descendants. Not so with the Palestinian covenant, for God made that covenant conditional on the support of Israel, that they should keep the law. There are whole passages throughout the Bible that make it very clear that God is not through with Israel yet, and that he fully intends to bring these covenants to pass. It is most important, I think, to note that God never intended the Palestinian Covenant to be kept; he knew fully well that the task he had given the Jewish people was impossible for them to keep, and that is made very evident from a study of Deuteronomy 29, where Moses accurately predicts their failure, “The Palestinian Covenant gives the conditions under which Israel entered the land of promise. It is important to see that the nation has never as yet taken the land under the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant, nor has it ever possessed the whole land (cf. Ge 15.18, with Nu 34.1-12).”1

Thus it can be clearly seen that failure on the part of the Jews was clearly foreseen, and God provided them with a promise given generations before, to Abraham. That includes a promise of future restoration to Israel, and the Bible depicts a scenario where nations all over the world are subjects of this little insignificant nation, Israel. But to get back to the question, how are Jews and Gentiles different?

During this present age, in the Covenant of Grace, the wall between Jew and Gentile has been completely broken down. “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Romans 10:9). All may approach God, but only in one way, and that is through the doorway of faith. Both Jew and Gentile are condemned as sinners, but to both Jew and Gentile is offered redemption through the price paid upon the cross—Christ coming and freely giving his life.

So, perhaps this question might be answered best in three different ways. Before the coming of Christ, God had separated the Jewish people alone, out of all of the world, and bestowed many of his promises upon them, some conditional promises, but many promises which were not. He arranged the long prophesied one who would bruise the head of the serpent to come through the Jewish people. The Jewish people were indeed the chosen people—a special designation that no other people have ever obtained.

But today, most of these Jews remain disdainful of his provision. So for today, the answer is quite different. There is no difference between Jew or Gentile; all are condemned equally as sinners in need of redemption, and Christ is the only possible place to get that redemption. In the sovereignty of God, we are told that a blindness is over the Jews, but it is only to last for a period of time. “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:25). The partial blindness to the nation Israel has allowed the grace of God to be extended to all other peoples, and indeed we see the message of Christ carried throughout the world, being received in many unlikely corners.

In the future, however, the answer will be yet again different, and the Jew will become a people of privilege. “There is abundant prophecy announcing the fact that in the coming kingdom age the Jew will again and forevermore be divinely exalted above the Gentiles (Isa. 14:1,2; 60:12).”2 The very next verse, after the partial blindness of Israel is foretold, Paul exclaims, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (11:25). Zechariah adds to the words of Paul with this, “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” (Zach. 14:16).

So I think my friend was wrong about thinking his Jewish heritage gave him benefit; rather it was his faith in Jesus which has garnered for him a place in the family of God. To be called “sons of God”! Can there be any greater heritage?

1. Scofield, Cyrus Ingerson (2011-10-05). Study Bible KJV - Scofield Reference Bible (Kindle Locations 10597-10599). FLT. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, L. (1993). Systematic theology (Vol. 2, p. P. 317). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

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