It is quite commonly supposed that until several years after the ascension of Christ nothing had ever been done for the Gentiles, and that the carrying of the Gospel to them was something in the nature of an afterthought, even with the Lord. Without realizing how dishonoring to the Lord such a thought is, men have rather taken it for granted that the Lord loved the Jewish people more than He did any other people, and that all of His plans for centuries were with reference to them alone. Yet the whole teaching of the Bible is contrary to such an idea, as the following points will in part show.
We may note, in passing, that more than two thousand years of the world’s history passed before there were any such people as the Israelites. In this period we may note Enoch, the faithful prophet and teacher, and Noah, the “preacher of righteousness,” whose message was to the whole world. Coming to Abraham, the head of the Jewish race, we find that God called him when he was a Gentile, in the midst of heathen people. His faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. “How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised; that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also” (Romans 4:10, 11).
So we see that in the very call of Abraham the Lord showed that He is no respecter of persons, but that “in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:35). Abraham was to be the father not simply of a certain race, but of all them that believe, no matter of what nationality. In the very days of Abraham there was Melchizedek, a king in the land of Canaan, and a priest of the Most High God, who was a greater man than Abraham, and whose greatness Abraham recognized in receiving his blessing, and paying tithes to him (Hebrews 7:1-10).
That God did not cast off the Gentiles in choosing Abraham, is shown not only by the fact that Abraham was himself a Gentile, but also by the fact he would not give Abraham and his seed an inheritance in the promised land until the present occupants of it had been proved to the full (Genesis 15:16). As in later times He bore with the Jews until they should fill up the measure of their iniquity, and as He gave the people before the flood a probation of one hundred and twenty years after the flood was threatened, so to the inhabitants of Canaan He gave a probation of four hundred years. This is an illustration of the truth that God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). It is an instance of the longsuffering of God, who is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
We come to the time when God sent Moses to Egypt to deliver the children of Israel from bondage. In doing this God did not doom to destruction all the rest of the inhabitants of the world. His wonderful works for Israel were that His name might be declared throughout all the earth (Exodus 9:16). Therefore in delivering the Israelites, it was for the purpose of making them missionaries to the whole world. The only reason for making His name known throughout the whole earth was that people out of every nation might believe on Him. Evidence of this is seen in the fact that when the plagues came on Egypt, warning was given, so that any among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the Lord might save themselves and their cattle. (See Exodus 9:18-21). The blood upon the door-post would have saved the lives of Egyptians as well as the lives of Israelites, if they had believed. The only advantage of the Jew was that to them were committed the oracles of God (Romans 3:1, 2). To them was given the high honor of carrying the Gospel to the nations.
We find that the purpose of God in bringing the plagues upon the obstinate Egyptians was fulfilled, because His name was declared throughout all the earth. When the spies entered the house of Rahab, forty years after, she said to them: “I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what you did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed, and as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath” (Joshua 2:9-11). All the inhabitants of Canaan had heard of the Lord and His power. Rahab believed, and “by faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace” (Hebrews 11:31). All the other inhabitants of Canaan might have been saved, as well as Rahab, if they had only believed, as she did. The opportunity was given them.
It is true that the Israelites were forbidden to make any league with the inhabitants of the land. And why? Because the Israelites were the congregation, or church, of the Lord, and He would not have His church in alliance with the world. The union of Church and State is a thing that is utterly abhorrent to the Lord, since it destroys the life of the church, and makes the world no better. But all who had faith might in those days, as well as in these become identified with the church, and thus come out and be separate from the world. See in the case of Rahab.
It is a sad fact that the Jews did not accept the high commission given them, and did not proceed to evangelize the world. Once in the land of Canaan, they settled down to their ease. They assumed that what the Lord had done for them was because He thought more of them than of any other people in the world, and so they began to trust in themselves that they were righteous, and despise others. This spirit was shown in the case of Jonah, which also shows God’s care for other people besides the Israelites. How strange it is that with the case of Jonah before them, men will think that God had no care for any people but the Jews! It is far more strange then that the Jews themselves should have thought so.
Throughout the prophecies of Isaiah we find many references to the Gentiles, and there are prophecies addressed especially to them. The same is true of other prophets. At length, because the Jews would not make known the truth of God to other people, they were carried into captivity, God Himself delivering them into the hands of their enemies, in order that in captivity they might do that which they refused to do in freedom. And so God’s name was made known throughout the world. Nebuchadnezzar himself was given a wonderful dream, and its interpretation. Through the three friends of Daniel the truth of God was made known to all the rulers of the kingdom. In all the history of the captivity we find that six hundred years before Christ, as well as in the days of Paul, God was desirous of having His name borne before kings.
We come to the birth of Christ. When the angel appeared to the shepherds on the plain, he said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). When Jesus was presented in the temple, six weeks after His birth, the aged Simeon took Him up in his arms, and said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, that Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). So there was no reason in the world for the exclusiveness which the disciples of Christ manifested. What Simeon knew they might all have known. For through the prophet Isaiah the Lord had said of Christ, “I have put My Spirit upon Him; and He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles,” and had said that He was to be given “for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isaiah 42:1, 6, 7).
In the presence of His disciples Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). To them, together with the assembled multitudes, He said, “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). This shows the position that He wishes His people to occupy. And this is what He designed them to be from the beginning. The disciples might have known and ought to have known, that the mission of the Gospel was to the whole world. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16) And when was Christ given? “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot; who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Peter 1:18-20). God changes not; therefore from the beginning, and all the time, He has been working for the salvation of the whole world. Ever since the fall it has been as true as it is now, that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Take the instance in which to the superficial reader Jesus seemed to be the most indifferent to suffering, and regardless of any but the Jews. “Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto Him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and besought Him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But He answered, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:21-24). Yet He granted the woman’s request, and healed her daughter, thus showing that when He said, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He did not mean that He was not sent to every one that would believe on Him. By her faith the woman showed that she was one of the house of Israel. The fact that Jesus granted her request should have taught the disciples that He was not exclusive in His work.
All this is only a beginning of the evidence that from the first God’s plan has been the same. When Peter went to Cornelius, and, after hearing the whole story of how God had brought him there, he said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but to every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:34, 35). This was the first time that Peter had perceived that truth, but it was not a new thing. God did not at that hour cease to be a respecter of persons. He had never been one. God was at that time just what He had always been. And thus it will be that before the throne of God will stand at last a multitude “of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (Revelation 7:9). The closing message of the Gospel, which is “to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6), is but the last note of the song which was begun in Eden, after the fall, and which the angels echoed to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. As Christ was sent “that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17), so are His disciples sent to all the world; not aside from the Master, but together with Him for the assurance is, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
(This article was taken from the June 29, 1897 issue of The Present Truth. Some grammatical editing was done for this publication. Editor)