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Jews Who Evangelize the Nations

“They will proclaim My glory among the nations.”  (Isaiah 66:19)

The Jewish people have always held a special commission from God to teach Gentiles (non-Jews) about Himself and also to warn them of judgement for their treatment of His Chosen people.

He spoke these words through the Jewish prophets of old, such as Jonah, Nahum, Jeremiah, and Obadiah.

God also spoke words of hope and restoration for every non-Jew in every nation that can only come through the Jewish Messiah.

Nineveh (in modern-day Iraq), the ancient capital city of the Assyrian Empire as conceived by archaeologist Henry Layard (1817–1894)

Jonah Offers a Brutal People Repentance and God’s Forgiveness

God really does not want any person to perish, and He proved it when He called a simple prophet named Jonah (c. 780–750 BC) to preach repentance to the Ninevites (Assyrians), who were brutal enemies of Israel and Judah.

The Lord even named the city of Nineveh, “the bloody city” and one “full of lies and pillage.”  (Nahum 3:1)

Jonah despised the idea that God wanted to grant His forgiveness, mercy, and grace to evil Ninevites, who amputated hands and skinned men alive.  Thinking only in the flesh and not in the Spirit, Jonah wanted to see these Gentiles destroyed forever!

So, when God spoke to him telling him to go to Nineveh, he boarded a ship in Joppa and headed to Tarshish instead, a city 2,500 miles from Israel in the opposite direction of Nineveh!

The Israeli port of Joppa (or Jaffa) in Tel Aviv.

On the way there, the crew threw Jonah overboard and he ended up inside a whale.

Did this really happen?
Bible skeptics have long disbelieved the story of Jonah.

However, let’s consider the fin whale, which is the second largest whale in the world and lives throughout the Mediterranean Sea, including off the shores of Israel.

They have an average length of about 14 tall men (82 feet) and a weight of about 15 elephants (74 tons).
Would such a whale ingest a man without eating him? 
Yes, because fin whales do not have teeth.  Instead, they have rows of baleen that are like bristles, which are made from keratin, the same protein that makes up our hair or fingernails.

The mouth of a whale with baleen bristles instead of teeth.

The stomach of a fin whale has three chambers, each with a different function.

The first chamber is called a forestomach, which is a holding chamber that can contain 1,300 pounds (600 kg) of food.  The second chamber is the main stomach, which holds hydrochloric acid to help breakdown what the whale eats.  And the third stomach neutralizes the stomach acid.

Fin whale skeletons show the great length of the body and size of their bellies (below: 18.8 m – 62 ft small fin whale skeleton at the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco)

Perhaps it is possible that a man can survive in the stomach of a fin whale for three days.

And even if it is not possible in the natural, certainly God could supernaturally allow Jonah to live inside the whale.

After God created the world and all the nature in it, including whales, He also created Adam from the earth and Eve from his rib!

So, if God wanted one of His created mammals to swallow one of His created humans in order to sustain it for three days, He could have easily “created” a way for it to happen.

Although many do not believe in Jonah’s adventure in the whale (or any miracles God performs), Yeshua confirmed it when He said,

“Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”   (Matthew 12:40)

The whaling historian Sigurd Risting sitting on the baleen bristles of a fin whale that landed at a whaling station in the Shetland Islands (1912)

When the whale spit Jonah out of its mouth on dry ground (Jonah 2:10), God spoke to him again, “Arise! Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message that I will give you.”  (Jonah 3:2)

When he arrived, Jonah preached that in 40 days the city would be overthrown.

The Prophet Jonah Before the Wall of Nineveh-Rembrandt

The Prophet Jonah before the Walls of Jericho (c. 1655), by Rembrandt

However, the Ninevites fasted, prayed, and repented for their evil ways, and God’s wrath against them relented.

After seeing the incredible change in these non-Jews, Jonah’s self-righteousness and resentment erupted once again.  He became so upset with God’s compassion for them that he even rebuked God!

“Was not this what I said while I was still in my own country [Israel]?  That is why I hastily fled to Tarshish, because I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.  Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”  (Jonah 4:2–3)

God responds to Jonah, telling of His great love:

“Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”  (Jonah 4:11)

Clearly, the excessive cruelty of the Ninevites resulted from them either not knowing or just not caring about doing good instead of evil, perhaps because they were never told about God, the Creator of the universe.

This is why we need people today — Jew and Gentile alike — taking God’s word to everyone.

Moreover, in the Scripture above, we see God is concerned in saving all of His creatures, including saving animals, whose care He entrusts to humanity.

Adam and the Animals, by Jan Brueghel the Younger  (1601–1678)

Nahum, Jeremiah, and Obadiah Pronounce Judgment

Though God offered the Gentile nations and people His forgiveness, some utterly rejected him, and they incurred the consequences.

Sadly, 150 years after Jonah, the capital of the Assyrian Empire had returned to its “endless cruelty,” including witchcraft and sorcery.

The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, and nearly conquered Jerusalem, the capital of Judah.

So, the Prophet Nahum declared a coming day of destruction for the Ninevites mixed with much comfort for the Jewish people.

“Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, Judah, and fulfill your vows.  No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed.”  (Nahum 1:15)

The Jerusalem mountains have been repopulated with lush tree life.

Mountains surrounding Jerusalem.

Though God brought nations against Nineveh, which essentially destroyed it by 611 BC, perhaps Jonah’s preaching had planted a seed in the spiritual DNA of the Assyrian people.

By the time of Yeshua (Jesus), the descendants of the ancient Assyrians, who spoke the common Aramaic language that Yeshua and the Jewish people spoke, were some of the first Gentiles to hear the Gospel, repent of their sins, and believe in Yeshua as their Savior.

Remarkably, today, the great majority of the 2–3.5 million Assyrian descendants are Christians and they still speak Aramaic.

About 30-40% live in northern Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran/Persia.

The majority live primarily in the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America.  About 1,000 live in Israel.

Assyrian Christian family making butter in Mawana, Persia (date unknown).

God Speaks through Jeremiah and Obadiah to Pronounce Judgement

Though the prophet Jeremiah’s ministry focused primarily on preaching repentance to His own Jewish people, he also delivered several messages to the leaders of other nations for how they treated Israel, such as the Assyrians for taking over the land given to the tribe of Gad.  (Jeremiah 49:1–6)

Map of Edom at the height of its territory. The dark red area represents southern Judea, an area occupied by Edomites after they helped Babylon lay siege to Jerusalem in the 6th century.  Edom was absorbed into the Roman Empire during the time of Yeshua.

And he pronounced judgments over several nations because they did not honor the ways of the God of Israel (chapters 46–51).

Similarly, God called the prophet Obadiah to preach judgment to the nation of Edom (they were the descendants of Esau the brother of Jacob) for their assault on Jerusalem and treacherous treatment of God’s people.

Obadiah reminded the people of Edom of its crimes and delivered God’s message of judgment:

“Because of violence to your brother Jacob [Israel], You will be covered with shame, and you will be cut off forever.”  (Obadiah 1:10; see also Isaiah 34:5–8; 63:1–4)

Isaiah Declares Healing and Blessings

While God has declared serious judgments over many ancient Gentile nations, He also promised healing and blessings over some of them, such as Assyria and Egypt:

“He will strike them but heal them.  They will turn to the LORD, and He will hear their prayers and heal them.  In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria.  The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria.  The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together.  In that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing upon the earth.  The LORD of Hosts will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”  (Isaiah 19:22–25)

Moreover, Isaiah and many prophets helped us to see that eternal salvation for all Gentiles is an individual gift that He made available through the Jewish Messiah Yeshua.

Isaiah 53:5, Messiah,

The Jewish Messiah and His Jewish Disciples

The greatest Jew to ever bring the message of hope to the Gentiles was Yeshua the Jewish Messiah.

He came first “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), though His purpose was to redeem everyone.

Yeshua Heals Roman Centurion’s Servant, by William Hole

The prophet Isaiah speaks for God saying, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  (Isaiah 49:6)

Yeshua often ministered to non-Jews who placed their faith in Him:  He healed a Centurion’s son, a Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter, a Samaritan woman’s broken spirit, and often went to the other side of the Galilee where non-Jews lived to teach them and offer them healing.

After his death and resurrection, Yeshua gave the following commission to His Jewish disciples:

“You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8) 

In other words, Yeshua commissioned them — and thereby all disciples — to spread the message to the Jewish people first — the people of Israel — and then to the Gentiles.

The Jewish Rabbi Shaul (also known as Paul) was “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), but he also made it clear that the Gospel was the power of God for salvation “to the Jew first” then to the Gentiles.  (Romans 1:16)

When Paul left Israel to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, he first went to the synagogue in every city in those countries where he preached.  And only after visiting the Jewish communities did he preach to the Gentiles of that city.

Paul Preaching in Athens (1515), by Raphael

Though Paul often spoke in terms the Gentiles were familiar with, all the apostles kept the message grounded in a Jewish context, just as Messiah Yeshua Himself did.

Yohannan’s (John’s) Gospel, for instance, contains many references to Messianic prophecies and allusions, such as John 1:1; 2:17; 12:14–16, 38; 13:18; and 19:24, 28, 36.

He also mentioned God’s appointed days (moadim) in John 2:23, 5:1, 6:4, 7:2.  Some of these appointed days of the Lord (Biblical Jewish Festivals) were outlawed in the 4th century AD, and, sadly, most non-Jews know nothing about them today.

However, as non-Jews come to understand the Jewish roots of the faith, they gain a deeper love and appreciation of the Jewish people and the Bible that they have given to the non-Jewish world.

Reading the Bible with a new Believer.

Though most Gentiles do not know Jesus in His Jewish context as Messiah Yeshua, billions over the past two millennia have come to believe in Him as their savior.

In the meantime, “a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in,” then “all Israel will be saved.”  (Romans 11:25–26)

Until that day occurs, a remnant of Jewish people who believe in Yeshua continue to spread the salvation message to both Jews and Gentiles, just as the ancient Jewish prophets and apostles did.

“Sing the praises of the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what H has done.”  (Psalm 9:11)

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