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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

The Gentiles replaced the Jews.

Christianity began as a reform movement within Judaism. Jesus was a Jew; so were all twelve of the apostles. The book of Acts opens with a hundred and twenty timid disciples—all of them Jews—meeting secretly in an upper room for fear of their enemies.

A generation later the gospel had been preached as far west as Rome, and there was a thriving Christian church in almost every city of significance in the eastern part of the empire. What began as a Jewish sect in A.D. 30 had grown into a world religion by A.D. 60.

Along the way there was no clean break with Judaism. For a time Christianity remained closely tied to Judaism. It took many years to develop its own image to the point where it was recognized as a separate religion.

It was only natural that in time the Gentiles would come to outnumber the Jews, for the simple reason that the Jews represented only about 7 per cent of the population. Moreover, the Gentiles proved more receptive to the gospel. Most of Paul’s audiences were made up of Jews, proselytes, and Gentiles. Most of his converts came from the two latter groups.

In every city it was the Jews and their leaders who opposed Paul and his message—so much so that in Antioch in Pisidia Paul said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). The same thing happened in other cities as well.

The strongest statement on this matter is found in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church. Speaking of his own beloved people, the Jews, he said: “Who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all men by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sin. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last” (1 Thess 2:15-16).

After a time the church ceased in her efforts to convert the Jews. The Christians grew impatient with their recalcitrant spirit and came first to hate and then to persecute them.

“Such an injustice as that done by the Gentile church to Judaism is almost unprecedented in the annals of history.... The daughter first robbed her mother, and then repudiated her.”

Consequently Christianity never took root in Jewish, or even in Semitic, soil. Like Buddhism, it died out in the land of its birth and came to bloom in distant parts.

Nor did Judaism survive in Palestine beyond A.D. 135, when the fanatical Jews under Bar Cocheba made their last desperate attempt to regain their freedom. After three flaming years and more than a million casualties the Jews were crushed, not to rise again until the twentieth century.

From this moment they entered their Middle Ages.... No other people has ever known so long an exile, or so hard a fate. Scattered into every province and beyond, condemned to poverty and humiliation, unbefriended even by philosophers and saints, they retired from public affairs to private study and worship.... Judaism hid in fear and obscurity while its offspring, Christianity, went out to conquer the world.

This does not mean that God has completely forsaken His ancient people. Paul makes that quite clear in Romans 11, where he says: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” (v. 1).

There always has been, and always will be, a believing remnant. Their present “rejection” is partial and temporary and is an integral part of God’s plan and purpose for the world. “Through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles” (v. 11).

Paul goes on to say: “If their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (v. 15). The rejection of the Jews was occasioned by their unbelief, but Paul intimates that their unbelief will not last forever.

He says: “If they do not persist in their unbelief, [they] will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them again” (v. 23). He concludes his argument by saying: “So all Israel will be saved.... For the gifts and call of God are irrevocable” (vv. 26-29).

J. Herbert Kane, Christian Missions in Biblical Perspective

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