“…to the Jew first and also to the Greek”
Of all the people in the world, the apostle Paul said, the Jewish people need to hear the gospel most—but they also should understand God’s judgment better than all others. Paul used the phrase “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” several times in Acts, demonstrating the Jewish people’s central role in God’s plan of redemption. Chris begins a series on the transformational truths of the book of Romans this week, first addressing the priority Paul assigned the Jewish people.
Chris addresses the differing perspectives that shaped Jewish and Gentile thinking in Paul’s day. These groups understood the weight of sin and the glory of God differently, but Paul masterfully wrote his letter to the Romans to drive readers to the Good News of the gospel and the eternal redemption awaiting us in Christ. What could be better than this!
Steve Conover: Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. With me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. All month, we're asking you to consider how you might support the broadcast ministry of the Friends of Israel. If this program has been meaningful in your spiritual life and in your having a better understanding of God's Word and program for Israel, the church and the nations, we’d ask you to consider supporting the work. More on that later.
Chris Katulka: Steve, we're going to actually start a series today. We're starting a series on the letter to the Romans, actually one of Paul's most significant letters in the New Testament, and today we're going to actually begin to build a basis for Paul's argument in the letter to the Romans and really the need for a savior. You're going to see that come out all the time as we read through Romans together and as we begin to understand Paul's greatest argument, that we need Jesus.
Steve Conover: But first in the news, the Jerusalem Post reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told nearly 400 influential Christian leaders this month that they are the Jewish state's greatest friends. This despite escalating tensions between Israel and the Evangelical Christian community. The Israeli Prime Minister spoke during a virtual conference organized by Mike Evans, the founder of Friends of Zion.
Chris Katulka: Well, Steve, here's my take. It's true. Netanyahu's government is applying pressures the evangelical community has never faced before, but I don't believe this is the sentiments of the majority of Israelis, and I don't believe it's the sentiments of Benjamin Netanyahu himself. As Mike Evans said, "as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is Prime Minister, Christians have nothing to worry about, no matter what anyone says in his government to the contrary."
Chris Katulka: So today we're going to start a series on the book of Romans, one of Paul's most significant letters in the New Testament. The famous theologian and leader of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther said this "This letter to the Romans is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is the purest gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while, not only to memorize it word for word, but also to occupy himself with it daily as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes." The Romans is theologically deep and meaningful, giving definition to many of the doctrines we hold near and dear. Paul gives definition to sin, the need of a savior, salvation, Christology, justification, sanctification, security, and even the place of Israel in God's plan today and in the future.
Well, today I want to talk about the phrase that appears twice in the first few chapters of the letter to the Romans, and that will set the foundation for the letter. Three times in the first two chapters, the phrase "to the Jew first and also to the Greek appears". In Romans 1:16 Paul writes, "for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God's power for salvation to everyone who believes to the Jew first and also to the Greek". And again in Romans 2:9 he writes, "There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil on the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good for the Jew first and also for the Greek." This phrase "to the Jew first and also to the Greek" is extremely interesting to me because it highlights Paul's thoughts about the gospel.
The Bible typically speaks into two different types of people in the world. There's the Jewish people and then there's the Gentiles. In Greek, Gentiles is actually goyim or “the nations.” That's everyone else who isn't a Jewish person. Even Paul here highlights the two people, the Jew and the Greek. And here in the context, Greek is another term for Gentile or the nations. Now, a lot of people often listen to Paul and see that he's not ashamed of the gospel. “For it is God's power for salvation to everyone who believes to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” And when people read this, they often think the gospel must go to the Jewish person first. We have examples of this. Jesus did this in his ministry. He admitted that in his ministry he was called to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That's the Jewish people.
The apostles ministered to the Jewish people. The apostle Paul himself and apostle to the Gentiles would enter into a city in the book of Acts and first appear in a synagogue to announce that the Messiah had come according to the Hebrew scriptures. He too went to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. The Greek word for first is actually proton. Proton can certainly mean first like the first in order, the first in line, the first to finish the test. So in that sense, it means that you share the gospel first to the Jewish people and in order. The word proton can also mean "especially", like I especially enjoy reading the Bible or sleep is especially important for growing children. So in the case of the phrase "to the Jew first and also the Gentile", Paul could be saying to the Jew especially, and also the Greek, which means it's not that you need to share the gospel with a Jewish person first, but that of all the people in the world, Jewish people especially need to hear the Good News of Jesus.
Why? Well, Paul explains it further in Romans nine when he says this about the Jewish people, he says this, starting in verse one of chapter nine, "I am telling the truth in Christ. I am not lying, for my conscience assures me in the Holy Spirit. I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart for I could wish that I myself were accursed, cut off from Christ for the sake of my people. My fellow countrymen who are Israelites, to them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs and from them by human descent came the Christ who is God over all blessed forever. Amen." Why should Jewish people hear the gospel especially? Because the whole concept of sin and salvation, the need of a savior, the study of Christology, justification, sanctification, and security, all of it is rooted in the promises made to the Jewish people in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament.
Paul opens his letter to the Romans with this concept of the Jewishness of the gospel. The good news by saying this in Romans 1:1 "From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle set apart for the gospel of God, this gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures concerning his son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh who was appointed the son of God in power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ, our Lord." Why is the gospel to be given to the Jewish people especially? Because the gospel was promised beforehand through his prophets, the Jewish prophets in the Holy Scriptures, the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. Of all the people to understand the gospel, especially the Jewish people. So whether you believe it's to the Jewish people first as an order or the Jewish people especially, the idea that Paul is conveying is that of priority. To the Jew first or especially and also to the Greek, but you know the same can be true for God's judgment.
Look, Paul explains that Gentiles are in need of the good news because they exchange the truth of God for a lie. Just listen to what Romans chapter one starting in verse 24 says, it says, "therefore God gave them Gentiles over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the creator who was blessed forever." Amen. I believe the "them" that Paul is talking about are the Gentiles. It was Gentiles who engaged in pagan practices. It was Gentiles who worshiped and served the creation rather than the creator by worshiping idols made with human hands. But see, Paul will argue that being Jewish doesn't excuse you from God's judgment. Yes, Gentiles practiced heinous acts mentioned in the end of Romans chapter one. I'll let you read that yourself, but Jewish people are without excuse as well.
Paul writes, "He will reward each one according to his works, eternal life to those who by perseverance and good work, seek glory and honor and immortality, but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth, but follow unrighteousness. There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil on the Jew first and also on the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good for the Jew first and also for the Greek." Listen to this verse 11 of chapter two says, "for there is no partiality with God".
Of all the people to understand the gospel, the good news of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, it's the Jewish people, but of all the people to understand God's judgment for not calling on his name in repentance and turning to God as the prophets had cried out in the Old Testament, especially the Jewish people. The Apostle Paul is setting the stage in the letter to the Romans by saying, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23. And that's why when we come back, we're going to unpack that powerful saying, one I'm sure you've heard before, but what does it actually mean "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"? Stick around.
Steve, for almost nine years I've had the privilege of hosting the Friends of Israel Today radio show and serving with you.
Steve Conover: Chris, I love getting to create these programs with you and Tom and to think that this radio program has been around since 1991.
Chris Katulka: I know, for almost 32 years the Friends of Israel has been producing radio content, and that's why it's an honor for us to both ask you, our listeners today, to join us on the ground level to help broadcast biblical truth all around the globe. Whether the Friends of Israel today is airing on a local radio station or through our online podcast, never before has it been so needed to have the truth of God's word running over the airwaves.
Steve Conover: It's what I love about radio that we have an opportunity for people to hear God's word. In fact, Romans 10:17 says "so then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God". Friends, we need your help to continue to produce and broadcast the good news of our savior on the radio program and through our podcasts.
Chris Katulka: The Friends of Israel Today radio program is actually supported by donors, listeners, and friends like you, which is why we need your help to share biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, Jesus to the world. Now, our goal is to raise $25,000 to produce and broadcast the program that you're listening to right now. So with your financial gift today, you'll be taking the gospel to the ends of the earth with trustworthy, uncompromising Bible teaching.
Steve Conover: If the Friends of Israel Today radio has been a blessing to you and you want to make it possible for all to hear, you can make a gift right now at foi.org/radiosupport. From the bottom of our hearts thank you, and again, it's foi.org/radiosupport.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back, everyone. We're beginning our series on the letter to the Romans, and here's what we've determined so far. The gospel is Jewish through and through. Therefore, the Jewish people should especially understand it and also the Greek, but Paul uses the same terminology to show that everyone who does evil will face affliction and distress, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, also known as, you ready? Everybody. God shows no partiality. The law cannot save you as a Jewish person and as Gentiles, you've exchanged the truth of God for a lie. So ultimately, everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Listen, that's a very important sentence in the scriptures, but did you ever stop and ask what does that actually mean? Well, again, Paul is speaking to two audiences here. He's speaking to Jewish believers in Jesus and Gentile believers in Jesus.
Now, Judaism understood sin as a moral offense against God. Just read through the Torah, the law, the first five books of Moses, sin was real and it was an offense to God. So you can imagine that in Jewish culture, the concept of sin was not only understood in their own community, but also how Gentiles would sin against the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But now let's turn to the Gentiles. So Jewish people have a good understanding of sin, but Gentiles, see, they had a less dramatic sense of sin. Jewish people knew everybody had sinned. However, Greek moralists believed that faults were inevitable, which significantly diminished the weight of sin. Falling short of the glory of God. God's glory is a Jewish idea that humanity lost God's glory when Adam sinned. Hence, each generation repeats Adam's sin over and over and over again, and for that reason, no one lives up to God's standard of justice.
Oftentimes, I hear this verse "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", and that's where the conversation ends. But one thing that I want you to see when you're studying Romans is that Paul gives us the bad news that then gives way to the good news, the gospel, that then gives way to even better news. The Apostle Paul in all these things is pushing us to see the eternal redemption that awaits us in Christ. Yes, we fall short of the glory of God, but God is going to restore that glory. Romans 5:1-2 says this, "Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access into this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in the hope", here it is, "of God's glory through faith."
This is what Paul's saying. Through faith in Christ, we have peace, because now, because of what Christ has done, we can live up to God's standard of justice, all because of what Christ did on the cross, which gives us the ability to rejoice in the hope of God's glory. No longer do we fall short now, we hope in God's glory.
Paul says in Romans 8:18, "for I consider that our present sufferings cannot even compare to the coming glory that will be revealed to us." Hey, listen, that's prophetic. It's prophecy. Before Christ, we all fell short of the glory of God, his standards, his character, his nature. Now in Christ we have peace because we've been reconciled to God today, and for that reason we have hope in God's glory. But see, Paul doesn't stop there. He actually says that our present sufferings today cannot be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us, the glory of God, which is a representation of everything that makes up who God is. It's no longer something that we fall short of or even hope in. Paul says that divine glory will be revealed to us in the future. To the Jew especially, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Steve Conover: Chris, I want to make sure I'm clear on what you're saying and even what you're not saying. If the gospel is for the Jewish person especially, what would you say to someone that's been called to share exclusively to a Gentile people group? Should they question their call?
Chris Katulka: Oh, no, not at all. Paul was called to the Gentiles. The idea that I think Paul's trying to convey is that of all the people to understand these concepts of a Messiah, a savior, someone who would be called the king of kings and Lord of lords, of salvation, and deliverance, of forgiveness, of sacrifice, all of these things that we hold near and dear as Christians, those are all grounded in what the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament had taught.
You can't have the New Testament without the Old Testament. It's built on each other. So for that reason, Paul is saying of all the people to understand these deep theological concepts, these truths about who Jesus is, the Jewish person especially, and also the Greek, which means there has to be a mission to the Gentiles, there has to be a mission to the nations. That's what Christ has called us to do.
Steve Conover: Thanks, Chris.
Israel, on the verge of becoming a state, a teenaged Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know his search for a new life in the Holy Land would lead him to the Messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine, Israel My Glory. While Zvi is now in the presence of his savior, his collected writings from well over 50 years of ministry continue to encourage believers worldwide. Now Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life of Zvi.
Mike Kellogg: In these times of great uncertainty in Israel, the rabbis of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, have decided to compose a new prayer, a poem to comfort the people of Israel. One is the leader of a large synagogue in my neighborhood. For a long time, he would not even look at me because of my faith in Jesus, but when members of his synagogue told him I often make repairs to their homes for free, he gradually changed his attitude. We have since become good friends. When I met him recently, he was the first to say Shalom, and I knew immediately he wanted my help. I was happy to do the work he requested, and as always, I did not charge him. When I was finished, he asked, "see, have you lost your head believing in this man Jesus." Because we were in his synagogue. I pointed to the extensive library and said, "can you show me even one copy of the Bible here?"
He answered, "most of the books are prayer books. Other rabbis and I are trying to compose a new prayer. Could you offer any help in composing the new prayer?" I replied, "if you want to know how to pray, you must ask God directly for his help. All of the poems and prayers in the world will not help you if they do not come from your heart. They're nothing more than what King Solomon called vanity in Ecclesiastes 1:2." A rabbi was listening intently, and then he asked, "how do you pray?" I opened my Bible to Psalm 25 and read "to you, Lord, I lift up my soul. I trust in you. Show me your ways. Oh Lord, teach me your paths. For you are the God of my salvation." I told him, these are the words of King David. He prayed all that was in his heart without worrying about whether it was a nice poem.
Use David's words as an example of his simplicity and humility before God. The Rabbi asked, "how do believers in Jesus pray?" I replied, "we pray what is in our hearts at any given time, in any given situation. The ability comes through the Holy Spirit of God as people place their faith in the Lord Jesus. Hannah prayed silently in the temple of Shiloh, but her petition came from deep within her heart. God heard her prayer and gave her the desire of her heart, and the result was the birth of Samuel. We come before God with open hearts and he answers our prayers according to his will."
The Rabbi was surprised I read from the Bible because he was sure believers in Jesus did not use the Bible. He said, "I have learned much today, but the distance between us is still very great." I said, "you must not try to bridge the distance between you and me, but between yourself and God. As it is written in Isaiah 53, 'he was bruised for our sins and Christ for our iniquities, and because of all he has done for us, we must come to him in the way he has directed in His word.'" The Rabbi and I parted on a very friendly basis that day. I trust the Lord to do a work in this man's heart.
Chris Katulka: The impact of Zvi's life in ministry in Israel, it didn't end when he went home to be with the Lord. In fact, Zvi's legacy lives on. Our Friends of Israel ministry representatives continue to share the gospel in Jerusalem, Israel, and really all throughout the world. We also serve Holocaust survivors and their families. We provide free food, medicine and clothing, and we even promote the safety and security of the state of Israel and the Jewish people everywhere. So when you give to the Friends of Israel, your donation actually allows us to advance the gospel of our Messiah Jesus. You can give online by visiting FOIradio.org. Again, that's FOIradio.org. You can click right there on our donate link. Also, be sure to let us know where you listen when you contact us.
Steve Conover: Thank you so much for joining us this week. We're headed back into the book of Romans next time. Chris, where's our focus next week?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, so we've been talking about the development of Romans and the importance of Romans and kind of the basis for where Paul's going to begin his theological discussion on these deep, important doctrinal issues. Next week, we're actually going to be looking at the Christology of Paul, which means the study of Christ, how he shares the good news of who Christ is and what he came to do in order to bring us our eternal redemption by his blood.
Steve Conover: We look forward to it. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, edited by Jeremy Strong, who also composed and performs our theme music. Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold. And I'm Steve Conover, executive producer.
Our mailing address is FOI Radio PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. I'll give you one last quick reminder to visit us at foiradio.org.
The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
The Friends of Israel Today radio program is supported by donors, listeners, and friends like you. We need your help to share biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, Jesus, to the world! With your financial gift, right now, you will be taking the gospel to the ends of the earth with trustworthy, uncompromising Bible teaching and timely interviews. We need your help to continue to produce and share the Good News of our Savior on the radio, podcasts, and our website. Visit foi.org/radiosupport or click the button below to show your support.
Apples of Gold: How Do You Pray?
During times of great uncertainty in Israel, the rabbis of Cabala (Jewish mysticism) decided to compose a new prayer – a poem to comfort the people of Israel. One of the rabbis was the leader of a large synagogue in Zvi’s neighborhood. For a long time, he would not even look at Zvi because of his faith in Jesus, but one day a kind gesture opens the door for Zvi to share with the rabbi about prayer and the Messiah.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
Your gifts help us to continue proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.