By Will Pavone, MBC Tysons Young Adults and Edge Community Pastor
Romans 1:16 is a great verse for the McLean Bible Church family to memorize together because it best summarizes the apostle Paul’s ministry as a bondservant of Christ. Some scholars suggest that verses 16 and 17 of Romans 1 are THE summary statement of the whole book of Romans. Everything Paul writes in the rest of the letter is built upon that statement. Since these words form the most important sentence in the most important letter ever written, why wouldn’t we memorize it together?
Much can be said about this great verse, but we will focus on the last phrase, “To the Jew first and also to the Greek.” What does this mean? God is telling us through Paul that the Jewish people play a key role in God’s history of redemption. God chose Israel to be His set-apart people, through Israel came the law of God, they were called to be a light to the Gentiles, and most importantly Jesus the Messiah came from the Jewish people. The importance of Israel’s role in redemptive history is a topic that is fully fleshed out later in chapters 9–11 of Romans.
Practically, we see this play out in Paul’s ministry. As he went into a new city to preach the Gospel, Paul would first go to the local synagogue to preach to the Jewish community. One of those occasions was on his second missionary journey. When Paul and his missionary team arrived in Thessalonica, we read that he spent three consecutive Sabbaths preaching the Gospel in the synagogue. A reading of the New Testament shows us that Paul’s preaching to the Jewish community was usually met with mixed reviews. When he preached in Thessalonica, some of the Jews believed the Gospel and were converted, but others ran Paul and his team out of town (Acts 17:10). Paul’s preaching of the Gospel was met with some success among Jews, but it’s clear that the majority of Paul’s converts were Gentiles. At this point you may be wondering, “If the Jewish people play such a key role in the plan of salvation then why have most Jews rejected the Gospel since the first century up until now?” The theological answer to that question is found in Romans 11. I really encourage you to read it carefully and thoughtfully, but before you do, please understand this: God isn’t finished with the Jewish people!The Scriptures point to a large-scale conversion of Jewish people at the end of the age (Ezekiel 37). There will be a generation of Israel who will be awakened spiritually and will embrace Jesus Christ as their Messiah, their hardness and blindness will be lifted, and they will repent and believe the Gospel. Until that day comes, the church of Jesus Christ must preach the Gospel to all people (Mark 16:15) including the Jewish people! In closing, a commitment to Jewish evangelism is an important component of a healthy, biblical church, and it gets right at the heart of the phrase,“To the Jew first and also to the Greek.”