Jealously: A Theology of Jewish Provocation
One of the things Christians are known for is seeking God’s will and calling for our lives. We have books, seminars, conferences, and sermons geared toward helping us find God’s calling for us. Thankfully, the Bible reveals to us several callings that God has given to His people. We are called to love God with everything we are and to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:36-40). We are called to love and pray for our enemies (Matt. 5:44). We are called to judge rightly (John 7:24). We are called to share the Gospel with the lost (Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1). We are called to keep from sexual immorality and pursue holiness (1 Thess. 4:1-8). We are called to enthusiastically attend church (Heb. 10:25). There is a calling however that I believe we as Reformed Christians have neglected in both our communal and individual lives. That calling is one of jealousy.
Jealousy?! Isn’t jealousy a sin? Well, yes and no. The Bible defines certain types of jealousy as sin (1 Cor. 3:3; Gal. 5:26). There are other types of jealousy that are not sin, being the jealousy God feels for His people (Ex. 34:14) and the jealousy a husband or wife would feel for their straying spouse (Prov. 6:32-35). However, there is another type of jealousy that God prompts according to Romans 11.
This jealousy is one that occurs in the physical sons of Abraham by God’s gathering of the Gentiles into His eternal Kingdom. This act of God in saving non-Jewish men and women throughout the world incites an anger in the Jewish people as we see clearly in Acts 13:13-52 which then turns into a jealousy that those who were formerly “not a people…are God’s people” (1 Peter 2:10). We know Romans 9-10 as the passages that teach of God’s sovereign choice of individuals unto salvation and the importance of evangelistic preaching in the outworking of God’s plan of redemption. However, we usually don’t hear of chapter 11 as connected to Romans 9-10 which deals with ethnic Israel and their place in God’s overall plan.
After explaining that God is not done with national Israel, in Romans 11:11 Paul writes, “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.” In other versions (BLB and KJV) the word “provoke” is used. To “provoke” is “to cause the occurrence of a feeling or action” (Merriam-Webster, 2015). Since it is God who is the One who provokes Israel to jealousy, does that mean that we Gentile Christians have no responsibility in this particular work of God?
This is the same type of question as “If God is sovereign, why pray?” or “If God has already elected people to be saved, then why preach the Gospel?” It is a good question and the answer is that not only does God ordain the ends but also ordains the means by which to accomplish His ends. We are the vessels He has chosen to use in the provocation of the Jewish people and that means that we do play an active part which will be dealt with in a bit. But why is God in the business of making the Jewish people jealous in the first place?
The Purpose of Jewish Jealousy
God calls us as non-Jewish Christians to participate in this journey with Him and the purpose of God calling us to help make the Jewish people jealous is for their “full inclusion” (Romans 11:12c) into the Kingdom of God which will be a rich blessing to the world (Romans 11:12)! It is so that ultimately “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26a). God uses us, partners with us, to bring the natural branches of the olive tree (Romans 11:17-24) back home and what an honor and privilege that is! Why did God call us to this task however? Are there any advantages that we as Gentile Christians have?
I was honored and blessed to interview several Jewish Christians throughout the country for this piece, some of whom are rabbis of Messianic congregations. Cyril Gordon, Jewish missionary for Jews for Jesus which is an organization that seeks “to make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide” (Jews for Jesus, 2016), was one of the men I spoke to. He stopped me cold in my tracks during a conversation over the phone in which I said that he as a Jewish man had more of an “in” with his own people. He told me that I, as a Gentile believer, had more of an “in” with his people because as soon as they find out that he is a Jew who believes that Jesus is the promised Messiah, walls go up. They believe him to be a traitor to his own people, and no longer consider him Jewish. For me though, they assume and expect me to be a Christian so they’re more willing to listen to what I have to say.
There are some however who would disagree with Mr. Gordon. They would say that it is Jewish evangelists who have a better relationship and “in” with their own people. That they will not listen to a non-Jewish person because they need someone of their own ethnicity who understands them and their culture to be the ones who lead them to faith in Messiah. I personally spoke to one such Messianic rabbi who held to this general belief and sentiment. Is this true? Are those who hold this position correct? Instead of being at an advantage, are we actually at a disadvantage?
Moishe Rosen, Jewish Christian and founder of Jews for Jesus, seems to agree with Mr. Gordon and disagree with those who are believers in this particular Jewish evangelism mindset. In his informative book Witnessing to Jews, Mr. Rosen writes, “Jewish believers are not necessarily in a better position than Gentile believers to witness to Jews. If you are a Gentile believer, you may even have an advantage because most Jewish people have been conditioned to discount the testimonies of Jewish believers. At the first Jewish mention of Christ, an automatic battery of defenses kicks in. Whether Jewish unbelievers respond with anger or with politeness, they will usually reason away the testimony of a fellow Jew. On the other hand, they often will listen to Gentiles talk about the Messiah. Statistics show that most Jewish believers first heard the gospel from a Gentile believer” (Rosen & Rosen, 1998). I have personally experienced this truth and adhere to it.
Earlier this month, I had a conversation with a Jewish acquaintance who is antagonistic to Jesus and His Gospel. I told her I had been in conversation with various Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) and her immediate response was that they were not truly Jewish and were ignorant. She kept this stance even after telling her that these men had studied intensely and were knowledgeable about Judaism and Christianity. She wanted to hear nothing about their belief in Jesus as Messiah. However, she was willing to listen to me as we had a good dialogue on spiritual topics including the Messiahship of Jesus. The conversation ended with me sending her a link with several debates between different Jewish leaders on the topic of the Messianic claims of Jesus to which she was open to receiving.
This is not to say that God cannot and does not use Jewish Christians powerfully and mightily in evangelism to their own people for He certainly has and continues to. This is just to say that God has uniquely gifted and called Gentile Christians to the task of Jewish evangelism and that we have certain advantages in this area. This leads us to the important question of HOW we are to use our God given position to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy.
How, oh Lord?
Reconsider the Messiahship of Jesus
Rabbi Gary Derechinsky of Beth Ariel Messianic Congregation, said during an interview, “One of the callings of the Gentile believer is to…provoke them (the Jewish people) to jealousy in a positive way…to lovingly challenge the Jew to reconsider the Messiahship of Jesus.”
It was a blessing hearing Rabbi Derechinsky’s testimony of how a Gentile Christian was instrumental in his coming to a saving faith in Messiah. One thing I’ve learned through reading and speaking with various Jewish believers in Jesus is that often times we Gentile Christians are intimidated to talk to our Jewish friends, coworkers, and family members because we assume that person knows a lot about the Old and New Testaments.
Jewish Christians said many Jewish people today don’t have a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament. In fact, many Jews today are secular and even atheistic. Hence many have never truly studied for themselves the issue of whether Jesus is Israel’s promised Messiah but have simply taken the word of their respected rabbi(s) and/or relative(s). It is our responsibility to lovingly challenge them to reconsider or even consider seriously for the first time whether Jesus is in fact the “prophet like [Moses]” (Deuteronomy 18:15), the Messiah.
Reconsider their Relationship with God
Another essential way is to share the Good News of Jesus the Messiah with them in hopes that they might reconsider his relationship to the God of the universe. In the Bible, we see that the Israelites assumed that they had a right standing with their Creator by virtue of their ethnicity and lineage from Abraham. This is an eternally damaging and erroneous belief that is shown throughout the Scriptures, especially in the New Testament through the words of John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, and the Apostle Paul (Matt. 3:7-10; John 8:39-47; Rom. 9:6-8).
As Gentile Christians, we must lovingly, gently, wisely, and boldly challenge the Jewish person we are speaking with to reconsider where they actually stand with God for by the works of the “…law no human being will be justified in His sight…” (Romans 3:20a). We must show them salvation is only by grace alone, through faith alone, in Messiah alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). That it was their Jewish Messiah who perfectly obeyed the Law we sinners broke, died the death we deserved, rose from the dead three days later, and offers a perfect standing with our Creator through repentance and trust in Him alone (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Mark 1:15).
Reconsider God’s Love for Gentiles
Rabbi Joshua Brumbach of Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, during an interview, said that to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy was for us Gentile Christians to show through our words and actions that we have an intimate relationship with God through the Messiah and that we are to show the “Messiah’s love” to them by the Spirit.
Both rabbis agreed that part of lovingly provoking the Jewish people to jealousy is when a non-Jewish Christian claims a special relationship with “their” God, the God of Israel. In Isaiah 49:6b, Israel was given the charge to be “a light for the Gentiles, that [God’s] salvation may reach to the ends of the Earth” (this verse is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ). Although this was a responsibility for Israel, they seemed to have forgotten this divine mandate so when we tell them that the God who loves and will save Israel is also the God who loves and is saving the nations through His Messiah, they stumble at this which often leads to anger and jealousy.
In God’s sovereignty, He uses this anger and jealousy to lead a remnant of Israel to their Messiah (Romans 9:5). R.C. Sproul says in the commentary on Romans 11:11 in his Reformation Study Bible that “…the salvation of the Gentiles will cause the Jews to envy [and] the envy of the Jews will draw them to the same salvation as the Gentiles.” May it happen in our lifetime oh Lord!
A Word to African-American Christians
Allow me to finish this piece with a heartfelt message to my people both according to the flesh and according to the Spirit. African-Americans and the Jewish people have a history of persecution and hatred toward us as a people because of our ethnicity. Both of our ancestors have been slaves and reached freedom. Both have, sadly and unfortunately, been persecuted by those who have professed the name of Christ.
My Jewish acquaintance made the observation that African-Americans and the Jewish people were friends and allies during the Civil Rights movement. As Yael Eckstein, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s daughter and senior vice president of The Fellowship, stated in an article, “African-Americans are the Jewish people’s natural partners” (Jaffe-Hoffman, 2016). Thus, we are even more uniquely equipped to lovingly provoke the Jewish people to jealousy, to come alongside them in their search of Messiah, and in their struggle in this life. Therefore, let us use our unique position to fulfill our calling in this area and proclaim the Gospel, “because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16)!
Jaffe-Hoffman, M. (2016, May 31). Black Christian leaders visit Israel in blooming of “natural” partnership. Retrieved July 14, 2016, from Black Christian leaders visit Israel in blooming of “natural” partnership, http://www.jns.org/latest-articles/2016/5/31/black-christian-leaders-visit-israel-in-blooming-of-natural-partnership#.V4fUvusrLnA=
Jews for Jesus. (2016). About Jews for Jesus category. Retrieved July 14, 2016, from Jews for Jesus, http://jewsforjesus.org/about-jews-for-jesus/categories
Merriam-Webster. (2015). Definition of PROVOKE. Retrieved July 14, 2016, from Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/provoke
Rosen, M., & Rosen, C. (1998). Witnessing to Jews (1st ed.). San Francisco: Purple Pomegranate Productions.