It remains to be seen if God’s story will include Israel embracing Jesus as their messiah.
Until the moment the baptismal water fell on the Ethiopian eunuch, the chosen people of God had always been Jewish. Any Gentile had been accepted into the people of God as converts to Israel. But as we have seen, the people of God had now been expanded to all nations without the requirement of switching national identity. The Ethiopian eunuch never ceased being Ethiopian.
But very quickly after the first disciples left Jerusalem “speaking the word to no one except Jews” (Acts 11:19), the Gentile Christians vastly outnumbered their Jewish brethren. If you were a Jewish Christian this had to mess with your head. From your youth you had believed that your relationship to God necessitated your relationship with Israel, and now that was no longer the case. Paul and the rest of the apostles believed Jesus, first and foremost, was Israel’s messiah and must have been heartbroken as they saw their fellow countrymen rejecting him. In fact, because of this rejection by Israel, the destruction of the nation was looming ominously on the horizon (Matthew 23:37-39).
Many think the destruction of Jerusalem (the epicenter of the nation of Israel) was predicted by Jesus in his “Olivet Discourse” (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21). Jesus was walking by the temple when one of his disciples commented on how beautiful the temple buildings were. Jesus responded, “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2) Rightly alarmed, they asked when this will be and what will be the sign that this was going to happen. Jesus responded with a two-fold answer.
First he said, “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” (Mark 13:9-10). This first part was fulfilled by the end of the book of Acts. The apostles were: delivered over to councils (Acts 4 and 5), beaten in synagogues (Acts 18:17; Acts 22:19), stood before governors (Acts 24:1) and kings (Acts 25:13), and the gospel was proclaimed to all nations (meaning, not just Israel). These were all were fulfilled pretty quickly.
There are, of course, a small number of Christians of Jewish descent in the present. But there are many who believe that there will be a great influx of Jewish Christians at some point in the future.
The second part of Jesus’ response was, “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Mark 13:14) This second part is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the future Roman Emperor Titus, fulfilling Jesus’ statement that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Mark 13:30).
Heeding Jesus’ warning from roughly 40 years prior, the Jewish Christians left the city of Jerusalem as the Roman army advanced and fled to the mountain city of Pella (now in modern-day Jordan), according to the church historian Eusebius.
A Jewish Christian community existed in Pella before eventually dying out in the 5th Century, at that point known to the other churches for its heretical practices.
Because of the rejection of Jesus as the messiah, God judged the nation of Israel, while also fulfilling his promise that he would protect his elect. (Mark 13:20) Jesus even says of those who identify as Jews at the time of the Book of Revelation as “the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie.” (Revelation 3:6) Harsh words. So, was that the end for Israel? Is God done with them? That’s a good question.
There are, of course, a small number of Christians of Jewish descent in the present. But there are many who believe that there will be a great influx of Jewish Christians at some point in the future. They point to statements like when Jesus said to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:39), and when Paul said, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:25-26). Perhaps a day will come when we see Jews overwhelmingly embracing Jesus as their messiah. Only time will tell. In our next episode, we’ll return to Rome and to one of the most amazing things to happen in all of church history.