The Mystery of the Jew and Gentile
Being Equal in God's Plan
By Cooper Abrams
Several factors made it difficult for the early Jewish believers to understand that in "ekklesia" the church, Jews and Gentiles were "fellow heirs" of salvation and equal in God's eyes and in the church. As Paul revealed in his Epistles, the distinction between Jew and Gentile in the churches was removed. They were in a new dispensation in which God was not presently working with Israel, but with Jews and Gentiles who were to have a special relationship with Him. That relationship was that they would be the bride of Christ.(Rev. 18:23; 21:2,9; 22:17) Paul while in Jerusalem rebuked Peter for shunning the Gentiles by getting up from eating with Gentiles when a group of Jews came in. (See Gal. 2:11-14) This shows that even Peter, who have been used to take the Gospel to the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10-11) did not fully understand or had not totally accepted the Gentiles as equal with the Jews in the churches.
All of the first Christians were Jews. These Jews believed Jesus Christ was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament and they were looking for Him to set up His kingdom. Remember they did not have the whole of the New Testament Scriptures to teach them. The institution of the church is not mentioned at all in the Old Testament so they were ignorant God's plan for the makeup and mission of for the church. In Ephesians 3, Paul is states this truth in Scripture and making this principle clear to everyone.
This truth was first demonstrated by God in Acts 10, when Cornelius the Roman Centurion was saved. Peter then returned to Jerusalem and told the church that Cornelius had been saved and also that the Holy Spirit had come upon him and his household in the same way as He had come upon them. (Acts 2) In Acts 11:18, is says, "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." There now was no question that God had saved and indwelled the Gentiles the same way as the Jews.
Paul was called by God to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. (Rom. 11:13, 1 Tim. 2:7, 2 Tim. 1:11) In Acts 14, when Paul returned from his first missionary journey, he reported to the church at Antioch, "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." (Acts 14:27) This unmistakenly established that salvation was offered to all, Jew and Gentile alike.
Conflict between the Jews and Gentiles began to emerge as the church at Antioch grew, and many Gentiles were saved. The Gentiles had no background in the Old Testament Levitical laws and their practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols and which contained blood greatly offended the Jews. The Jerusalem council of Acts 15, addressed the matter setting special guidelines for the Gentile believers which would not offend the Jews and bring unity.
In Paul's epistles God directed him to made the truth clear that God saw no difference between Jew and Gentle. To the Galatians he wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28) To the Colossians Paul explained, "Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all." (Col. 3:11)
It was a least twenty five years after Christ began the institution of the local church that Paul wrote these epistles. So for a many years after Pentecost, when the churches began, there were those who still misunderstood. The Jews because of their Old Testament background failed to understand God's new program, which was the institution of the local church. They had difficulty accepting that they had no special place as being Jews in the churches as they had in the Old Testament's promise of a Kingdom. They did not understand they were now in a new dispensation that Paul called the "dispensation of grace."(Eph. 3:2) They had from childhood learned to respect and keep the Law. Now Paul was explaining that the Law had been set aside for the higher principle of grace. God's program for the Jews, which will be completed in the Millennial Kingdom, was postponed due to Israel's rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. Christ was now getting to Himself a people the "body of Christ."(Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 10:16; 12:27; Eph. 4:12) As the New Testament was written during the first century God progressively revealed that the Kingdom was being temporarily set aside and God had brought about a new dispensation, that being the "Church Age." In this new dispensation God was grafting in a people with a special relationship to Christ which would be mainly made up of Gentiles.(Rom. 11:17-24) The institution of the church, this new dispensation, did not replace Israel which is represented as the vine, but were grafted in to God's program for His coming Kingdom promised to the Jews. The coming of the Kingdom was assured, but God was now included the Gentiles in His program in this special dispensation.
It should be understood that the Gospel was first preached to the Jews. Paul states this saying "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."(Romans 1:16) In the book of Acts, when Paul began his missionary travels he would first go into the synagogues and preach to the Jews. God was still offering the Kingdom to the Nation of Israel. This must have added to their confusion and misunderstanding of the matter. Paul preached to the Jews that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, but most of them rejected the message and thus in time Paul stopped going to the synagogues because of their rejection of the Gospel. God's offer to Israel of the Kingdom was valid and had they believed and received Jesus as their Messiah. God would have at that time begun Daniel's 70th Week, which is the seven year Tribulation, and that would be followed by Jesus' Second Coming and then the establishment the promised Millennial Kingdom.
As the Gentile converts began to grow in numbers they took the leadership and within a century the makeup of the church was predominately Gentile. Thus, in the early churches there was a transitional period of time when God was still offering the Kingdom to the Jews and at the same time establishing the churches. It is my belief that God's offer of the Kingdom was finally withdrawn in AD 70, when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. Please note that this was only a temporary withdrawal of the offer of the Kingdom and that at the end of the Tribulation God will establish the Kingdom as He promised.
There were three principles about the "ekklesia" and Israel that must be understood.
Many miss the truth that God always had the Gentiles in mind for salvation. To Abram He said, "And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." (Genesis 12:2-3) The phrase "all the families of earth" clearly mean that the promised "seed" the Messiah would be a blessing to Jews and Gentiles. Not the following passages from the Old Testament that refer to the salvation of Gentiles"
"I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles" (Isaiah 42:6)
"And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6)
"And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." (Isaiah 60:3)
"O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit." (Jeremiah 16:19)
"For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 1:11)
Paul explains the "dispensation of Grace" that was revealed to the Gentiles by his preaching and epistles. (Eph. 3:1-2) He says by revelation, God made clear to him the "mystery" of the relationship of the Jew and Gentile in the church. He explains in verse 5, that in the Old Testament this truth of the coming of the institution of the local church was not revealed, but is now revealed by the apostles, and prophets (preachers) by the Holy Spirit. (V5)
What was the mystery that was now revealed? "That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." (Eph. 3:6) Paul tells them, that to him was given the task by God, "that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." (V8) In verse 9-10, he proclaims that this truth now should be known to everyone.
Clarifying this truth did several things in the early church. It showed all men that we all stand on level and equal ground before Christ. We are all sinners, saved only by Grace, through faith in Christ Jesus. It told the Jew he had no special place in the churches different from any other believer. It was further evidence that the Law was for the Jew in the Old Testament dispensation and that it had been set aside as had been the Kingdom. This revealed, to even a greater degree, the marvelous grace of God, and that Christians were to live by grace and grace alone. This truth too was a great encouragement to the Gentiles, who now understood that God accepted them equally with all men. To all the message is that we are joint-heirs with Christ Jesus. It proclaims the great of love of God for all men.