Begin at Jerusalem, to the Jew first? Yes and no

In our time, there is a groundswell of Christian interest in the Jewish roots of Christianity. A common sign of this is the presence of the Israeli flag, either in a church, or on home walls, or the star of David (magen David/mogen Dovid) around the neck. Necklaces are normally light. There is another kind of necklace, though unlike the popular South African method of placing a burning tyre round your enemy’s neck, which is a burden that many Christians, in their desire to be faithful to the Gospel, are eager to carry. Such a burden will not burn your neck or your boats, but may indeed burn you out. What is this burden?

‘’Go to the Jew first.’’ I argue that this directive, although, applicable to those Jesus was addressing, this does imply to believers – Jews and non-Jews.

There are some who pit Jesus against Paul: Jesus says go to the Jews only; Paul says, no way, the Way is, “Go to the goys as well.” (See Jesus versus Paul: Salvation for the Jews only) . I don’t discuss this issue here, instead I consider the scriptural directive: “Begin at Jerusalem“). Here is Jesus:

Luke 24

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Art Katz, a Jewish believer in Jesus whom I deeply respect and praise God for, is execrated by most “Messianic Jews” and Zionist Christians (supporters of the State of Israel) because he maintains, first, that the Jewish “holocaust” is God’s judgment, and second, that the present Jewish State is headed for destruction and its occupants for exile. Why should I admire such a person? Not because he says the present Jewish State is headed for destruction (which is not impossible), and not because he says the “holocaust’’ was decreed by God – what else could it be if God does what he wills, and everything that happens is what he wills? The reason why I think highly of Art Katz is because he understood and faithfully taught the teachings of Paul the Apostle – many “Messianic Jews“ do not do so – which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ taught by all the other Apostles. 

Although I am Jewish and have been a “Christian,” on and off – and on, since university days when I was baptised into the Roman Catholic faith (which I left about three decades ago) , it was only after reading Art Katz that I began to understand and take an interest in the future of ethnic Israel in God’s plan of salvation. Katz, like me, also only began after 30 years as a Christian to realise the importance of the Jewish people in the life of the church. (He went to be with the Lord in June 20071).

Although, says Katz, I’m in my third decade as a believer – over twenty years in full-time service and beginning as a missionary to the Jews – up till now I’ve never had a message on Israel and prophecy. I have to confess that, in fact, I’ve been chafed by these conferences on prophecy. I don’t know how to explain, but something wasn’t quite right, almost like an illicit interest, a kind of misplaced preoccupation, especially on the part of Gentile Christians, prevailing about the future of Israel. And then, I’ve watched a more recent development with those who have this fixation on Israel, oftentimes as only an attraction to the Jewish mystique. There’s something about Israel and Jews that seems to touch non-Jewish believers that equally offends me. And, for that reason I have shied away from things pertaining to Israel. And, while my whole focus and interest have been with the church, I need to say that although that’s been true, I can say modestly that I have affected as many Jewish lives as anyone who has made that their primary calling and activity. 

But, I have to say the Lord has now opened my understanding, and that I have a perspective about the mystery of Israel and the church which really speaks to my heart as it encompasses the word ‘apostolic’ which has always intrigued me. The apostolic perspective is rooted beyond the Jew himself and even the church itself. It’s rooted in the glory of God. And that’s what distinguishes what is apostolic.’’ 

Apostolic’’ is a transliteration of the Greek apostolos meaning a delegate, an ambassador of the Gospel. There are the 12 Apostles and the mini-apostles that every Christian is meant to be. 

In True Repentance for the German and the Jew , an address to a German congregation, Katz castigates modern German Christians for ignoring the Jew in their midst.  He goes further:

“The church, continues Katz, has a direct mandate in Scripture, This gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ [Romans 1:16]. We are guilty of having consciously circumvented God’s priority and order.”

And where lies the heart of Jewry (Judah)? In “Jewrusalem.” Here is John Gill’s commentary “to the Jew first.”

to the Jew first; who as they had formerly the advantage of the Gentiles, much every way, through the peculiar privileges which were conferred on them; so the Gospel was first preached to them by Christ and his disciples; and even when it was ordered to be carried into the Gentile world, it was to begin with them, and became effectual for the salvation of many of them:.

It is not only Katz but many in the “Messianic” movement who send Christians on a guilt trip. Is it warranted or is Katz and others tripping over their own zeal. Yes, Jesus and Paul do say go to Jew first; indeed Jesus goes further, or should I say nearer (to home) – to Jerusalem.

The Bible, like all kinds of language, consists of literal and figurative language. We should be careful, though, not to cross our linguistic wires. (The amillennialists do so by emptying “Israel” of Jews and replacing it with “Church“). Here is one example of crossing our wires: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” Well then, what are you waiting for; go chop down that tree and do what you have to do. Oh forget it, you’ll never do it in time. There see, Jesus has already left you far behind.

Which brings us back to “Begin at Jerusalem”/”to the Jew first,” where I now turn to the remarkable Charles Spurgeon.

“The servants of God, begins Spurgeon in his “Begin at Jerusalem,” were not left to originate a gospel for themselves, as certain modern teachers appear to do, nor were they even left to map out their mode of procedure in the spreading of the glad tidings. They were told by their great Master what to preach, and where to preach it, and how to preach it, and even where to begin to preach it.”

And where was that? Jerusalem, naturally. Why naturally? Before Spurgeon explains why, here is our text again. Jesus, after his resurrection, is talking to the two disciples he had met on the road to Emmaus:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

(Luke 24:45-49 ESV)

Spurgeon begins with the prophets and then gives eight reasons for beginning at Jerusalem. It seems to me that what the prophets said about beginning at Jerusalem should be one of the reasons. No matter.

Isaiah

“Out of Zion shall come forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). Where other than Jerusalem was the Jewish ear most receptive? But more importantly, Jerusalem was the place that the Lord had chosen from which his word would pour forth. And that is what the Lord (Jesus) was fulfilling in Luke.

Joel

“In mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance;” (2:32) and “The Lord shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem” (3:16).

“How, asks Spurgeon, could those promises have been kept if the gospel had begun to be preached in the deserts of Arabia, or if the first church of Christ had been set up at Damascus?”

Obadiah

“Saviours shall come up on mount Zion” (v. 21; Obadiah has only one chapter). These were miniscule saviours proclaiming the majuscule Saviour Jesus Christ.

Zechariah

“In that day, living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem…” (14:8)

וְהָיָה בַּיֹּום הַהוּא יֵצְאוּ מַֽיִם־חַיִּיםמִירוּשָׁלִַם “Ve-haya bayom hahu yayze-u mayim chayim miyerushalayim”

I don’t think the Zechariah passage fits because the context here, for the Christian, is the second coming of the Messiah. Yet, it sure is true that living waters did flow once the fire came down at Pentecost in Jerusalem (see Luke 24 passage above), where Jesus told his disciples to wait for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (the Baptism of fire).

Here are Spurgeon’s eight reasons for beginning at “Jerusalem.”

Reason 1

Jesus said begin at Jerusalem, and who should know better, so do so.

Reason 2

The central events of the Gospel occurred in or close to Jerusalem; where Jesus died, was buried, rose and ascended into heaven. Because, Christianity is not something sucked out of a Roman emperor’s mythological thumb but based on a historical events, it was easy to thrust and parry against the enemies of the Gospel. “If, says Spurgeon, our Lord had said, “Do not say anything in Jerusalem. Go away to Rome and begin preaching there,” it would not have looked quite so straightforward as it now does when he says, “Preach this before the scribes and the priests. They know that it is so. They have bribed the soldiers to say otherwise, but they know that I have risen.” In Jerusalem, there was the lame man who, when Jesus healed him, did cartwheels (I’m getting carried away, its so wonderful). There were those who had eaten bread and fish that came out of nowhere. There were people who were healed of horrible diseases. Spurgeon: “Our Lord seemed to say, Point to the very place where my death took place. Tell them that they crucified me; and see if they dare deny it.”

Reason 3

Here Spurgeon offers the opinion that the Lord Jesus knew that one day some of his followers would turn against the Jews, and so, by telling them to begin with the Jews (Jerusalem), he is emphasising that they very important in his plan of salvation. This is probably so, but I would add, and this is very important, that this does not mean that just because they must start with the Jews that the Jews are of primary worth in God’s eyes. Many “Messianic Jewswill disagree with me on this. Spurgeon has a high regard for the Jew:

“This, says Spurgeon, is a standing commandment, and everywhere we ought to preach the gospel to the Jew as well as to the Gentile; Paul even says, “to the Jew first.” Some seem to think that there ought to be no mission to the Jews—that there is no hope of converting them, that they are of no use when they are converted, and so on. I have even heard some who call themselves Christians speak slightingly of the Jewish people. What! and your Lord and Master a Jew! There is no race on earth so exalted as they are. They are the seed of Abraham, God’s friend. We have nobles and dukes in England, but how far could they trace their pedigree? Why, up to a nobody. But the poorest Jew on earth is descended linearly from Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham. Instead of treating them with anything like disrespect, the Saviour says, “Begin at Jerusalem.” Just as we say, “Ladies first,” so it is “the Jew first. Jesus would have us entertain a deep regard to that nation which God chose of old, and out of which Christ also came, for he is of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh. He puts those first who knew him first. Let us never sneer at a Jew again; for our Lord teaches us the rule of his house when he says, “Begin at Jerusalem.” Let the seed of Israel first have the gospel presented to them, and if they reject it we shall be clear of their blood. But we shall not be faithful to our orders unless we have taken note of Jews as well as Gentiles.” (My italics).

“But we shall not be faithful to our orders unless we have taken note of Jews as well as Gentiles.” That’s it. Jews and Gentiles, both are of equal value. God is not a respecter of persons (that is, of race or creed). “All that the father gives me will come to me and those who come to me I will not cast out (John 6:37)….No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44)

Reason 4

Reason 4 is a practical one. This one kicked me in the chops. “Begin, says Spurgeon, where you are tempted not to begin. Naturally these disciples would have said one to another when they met, ‘We cannot do much here in Jerusalem. The first night that we met together the doors were shut for fear of the Jews. It is of no use for us to go out into the street; these people are all in such an excited frame of mind that they will not receive us; we had better go up to Damascus, or take a long journey and then commence preaching; and when this excitement is cooled down, and they have forgotten about the crucifixion, we will come and introduce Christ gradually, and say as little as we can about putting him to death.’ That would have been the rule of policy—that rule which often governs men who ought to be led by faith. But our Lord had said, “Beginning at Jerusalem,” and so Peter must stand up in the midst of that motley throng, and he must tell them, “This Jesus whom ye have with wicked hands crucified and slain is now risen from the dead.” Instead of tearing Peter to pieces they come crowding up, crying, “We believe in Jesus: let us be baptized into his sacred name.”

Summary: ”We ought always to try to do good where we think that it will not succeed.”

Reason 5

Begin at your Jerusalem, where you are. Spurgeon quotes the proverb, “The cobbler’s wife goes barefoot.”

What’s the good if you witness effectively out there but neglect to do it in your family. I didn’t do a good job with my own kids, while kids I taught at school aeons ago write me thanking me for being instrumental in their coming to faith. I told my eldest child (now in his thirties) that I should have taught him more about Jesus. He told me that he was glad I didn’t. One thing that makes me happy, though, is that he believes in intelligent design. But so did – eventually – the world’s cleverest atheist, Anthony Flew; but without faith in Christ, what does it ultimately matter?

Reason 6

Begin (again) where you gave up: your immediate social circle, AND where you would think that you need not bother – your church. It is possible to love the Jesus of the Gospel – “he’s so loving and understanding” – to love your fellow church members and other Christians and still not have saving faith. If you have spoken to fellow church members, it’s probable that you discovered that many of them haven’t much of a clue what the Gospel is about. You say, says Spurgeon, “I would rather go and preach to the outcasts.” So would I (replies Spurgeon); but you and I are not allowed to pick our work.”

Here is Spurgeon: “Suppose that for twenty years you were to sit in this Tabernacle side by side with an unconverted person, and you were to speak to that person twice every Sunday and twice in the week, and all the twenty years it should be in vain; yet if the individual was brought to Christ at last would not his conversion repay you? Is your time so very precious? Is your ability so very great? Oh, my dear friend, if you were an archangel it would be worth while for you to work a thousand years to bring one soul to Christ! A soul is such a precious jewel that you would be abundantly rewarded if a century of service only brought you one conversion. Wherefore, in working for Christ, do not hesitate to go to those who have refused the gospel hitherto, for you may yet prevail.”

I am reminded of CS Lewis’ warning in one of his essays in “God in the Dock” that the next time we sit next to that old bat in church, get it into your think noggin that if you could see her soul you would be tempted to ”bow down and worship” or something to that effect. I have been looking all over my house for my copy of ”God in the Dock” to try and ensure I’m telling the story correctly, but no luck. What I am quite sure about is the “bow down and worship” the ole nag. No; bowing down to a creature, even one who has been raised into heavenly places (Ephesians 1), may belog to “Mere Christianity” (one of CS Lewis’s books) but it sure ain’t real Christianity (or real Judaism for that matter).

Reason 7

“Begin, says, Spurgeon, where the day of grace is short; begin with those near their journey’s end; if they are ”unsaved, there is but a little bit of candle left by the light of which he may come to Christ” (Spurgeon).

Reason 8

Begin where Jesus is hated most; begin in Jerusalem. “Be hopeful, says Spurgeon, of the man who will not let you speak to him, he is one that you must approach again; and if, when he does let you speak to him, he seems as if he would spit on you, be grateful for it. He feels your words. You are touching him on a sore place. You will have him yet. When he swears that he does not believe a word of what you say, do not believe a word of what he says; for often the man who openly objects secretly believes.”

Spurgeon cites from John Bunyan’s “The Jerusalem Sinner Saved.”

(It is not clear whether Spurgeon is quoting or paraphrasing Bunyan)

”I have no doubt that the Saviour bade them begin at Jerusalem, because the biggest sinners lived there. There they lived who had crucified him. The loving Jesus bids them preach repentance and remission to them. There he lived who had pierced the Saviour’s side, and they that had plaited the crown of thorns, and put it on his head. There dwell those who had mocked him and spat upon him; therefore the loving Jesus, who so freely forgives, says, “Go and preach the gospel first to them.” The greatest sinners are the objects of the greatest mercy. Preach first to them. Are there any such here? My dear friend, we must preach the gospel first to you because you want it most. You are dying; your wounds are bleeding; the heavenly surgeon bids us staunch your wounds first. Others who are not so badly hurt may wait awhile, but you must be first served lest you die of your injuries. Should not this encourage you great sinners to come to Jesus, when he bids us preach to you first?”

Although the last bit of Spurgeon’s sermon is not directly related to his main theme, “Go to Jerusalem first’, it is directly relevant to how sermons should end: with something exhortatory and wise: ”It seems a very simple thing, but that is why it is so hard. If it were a hard thing you would more readily attend to it; but being so easy you cannot believe that it is effectual. But it is so; faith does save.

In conclusion

To the Jew first” for all time puts a burden on believers. Paul went to the Gentiles, Peter to he Jews. Witness wherever you are. Grasp opportunities; that is the brief of witnessing to the Gospel.

1 A Note from Sissie (Art’s daughter): At the time of writing, it appears that Dad is nearing his final hours here on earth and that soon he will be home with the Lord in an eternal resting place. Dad choose to stop all of his medication three days ago and his physical body is rapidly deteriorating. A few days ago he said, “I am looking death in the face.”…how long? Hours?? At most a few days, unless the Lord raises him up. He is not eating and takes sips of water and juice with encouragement. We are all here at his bedside. Ariel is here from Florida. Currently, John MacDonald and his son Tim are here and we are worshipping God at Dad’s bedside. Dad is ready to go, he is ready to be with the Lord. He is slowly loosing consciousness but is coherent from time to time. Please pray that he will by God’s mercy and grace, fall into a peaceful sleep and wake in the arms of his Father in Heaven. Blessings!

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24 thoughts on “Begin at Jerusalem, to the Jew first? Yes and no

  1. “This is probably so, but I would add, and this is very important, that this does not mean that just because they must start with the Jews that the Jews are of primary worth in God’s eyes. ”

    As usual you conveniently omit the verses that don’t fit your agenda…..

    “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.
    Behold, you house is being left to you desolate!
    For I say to you, FROM NOW ON YOU SHALL NOT SEE ME UNTIL YOU SAY ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!” (Matt. 23:37-39).

    Do you understand what this means, or I have to feed you with a spoon?

  2. Yeshua spoke to an entity, Jerusalem, Israel, not to an individual. he said that until this entity-Israel will say “blessed He who comes in the name of the Lord.” He is not coming back, since he will come back to Mount Olive in Jerusalem, not South Africa….

    • So, the Messiah only will return when Israel says – in Jerusalem – ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!” (Matt. 23:37-39)

      [at which time they will look on him whom they have pierced: 10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit[a] of grace and supplication. They will look on[b] me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. Zecharia 12:10)].

      Still not clear. I tell you being an African is hard. What has Matt. 23:37-39 got to do with “Begin (witnessing) at Jerusalem?”

    • So, the “they” in Zecharia 12:10 are the Romans, who will also be mourning their tears out. Caiaphas is at least as guilty as Pilate. I would say much more than Pilate.

      What shall we do with Jesus?

      Crucify him crucify him!

      • It was a joint effort. Caiaphas was probably more guilty than Pilot–but Jesus was hanged by the Romans. That said, the point is that Jesus said, “I lay down my life of my own accord; no one takes it from me.” (me paraphrasing again).

        • I don’t agree that that is the point.

          Mark 14:18-20
          they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. 19 And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? 20 And he answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish. 21 The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.

          God decrees that Judas betray Jesus. Without the betrayal, no redemption. yet Judas is held responsible. The point we are discussing is who on earth should be held accountable for killing Jesus.

          Another example: in Genesis 50, Joseph says to his brothers, “you meant it for evil (they were guilty of a crime) but God meant it for good.

          A difficult one in the Bible is how to reconcile the perfect goodness of God and the fact that he decrees evil where the persons committing this evil are held accountable.

          • Raphael, Raphael. I am drawn to you like a moth to the flames. Is there nothing we can agree upon? My point is a valid one. But if you all insist on pinning the blame for killing Christ on a particular group, wouldn’t that group have to include everyone who has ever sinned?

            Regarding Judas, may I contribute a bit of trivia? In Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” you will find a salt cellar that has fallen in front of Judas. Spilled salt was once considered bad luck (I hate to use the word “luck”).

              • The problem with the question of “who killed Christ” has led to much anti-semitism. That’s why I pointed out that Christ laid down His life of His own accord. That said, I thought you would like to know that the great theologian Cecil B. DeMille put the blame on Caiaphas (“King of Kings,” 1927).

                • Shucks, De Mille, if not exactly a theologian, sure had that historical detail right. Just think of it, if it weren’t for Caiaphas Jesus would not have been crucified.

                  As for that fact occasioning anti-semitism, or another fact that the Gospel occasions the hatred of the world, we must look for the cause not in the facts but in the heart of radically corrupt humanity.

  3. “Las Vegans gamble, South Africans (like moi) and the British gambol. I’m pulling your jambe (gambe).”

    I always knew that smile of yours is just larceny…..You steal my thunder…..LOL!

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