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Every so often, I ask a question on Facebook in order to get us thinking about a concept mentioned in Scripture. This time I put the statement, “Salvation is through the Jews. True or false?” I received a myriad of responses including “false,” “true,” “yes,” and “it depends.” Some commenters simply trusted what they saw in Scripture. Others overthought the question and tried their best to explain away Scripture’s description. When I affirmed that salvation is both from the Jews (Cf. John 4:22) and through the Jews (Cf. Genesis 12; 15; 22; Revelation 21:12), I received a few messages arguing against Scripture’s explicit teaching. These arguments came from learned men, and I was a little surprised that they would argue against the explicit statement and wording in Scripture. As they explained their disagreements, they each assumed an interpretation of the text that I had not provided. I intentionally left the statement open-ended. I did not explain what Scripture meant when it claimed that salvation was from and through the Jews. In fact, I made as much known:
That leads to a couple more questions to consider. How is God blessing all nations through the Jews, and How is salvation from the Jews?
Still, an interpretation was assumed and those who argued against my reference to Scripture argued against interpretations that I had not provided. I love and respect these men. So, I would now like to look to the text and consider what the Bible means when it claims that salvation is from and through the Jews. Let’s consider the Bible.
Salvation is from the Jews.
During the course of His bodily ministry on this earth, Jesus stopped at a well and spoke to a Samaritan woman. The Samaritans were half-Jews and half-gentiles who lived in Samaria, between Judea and Galilee. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that He had water a person could drink and never go thirsty again. In fact, the water Jesus offered would become a well of water within the person springing up to eternal life (John 4:13-14). The woman asked for this water; Instead of giving her water, Jesus told the woman about her divorces and adultery. He revealed her sins and she confessed that Jesus was a prophet (John 4:15-19). The woman explained that the Samaritans worshipped at the place God instructed their forefathers to worship, probably Shechem (Cf. Genesis 12:6-7). Even though the Samaritans recognized what was, according to the Law, the proper place of worship (where Abraham built his altar), the Jews, “…you people” according to the Samaritan woman, claimed that the proper place to worship was in Jerusalem (John 4:20). In His reply, Jesus claimed that there would come a day when the Jews and Samaritans (the you is plural, here) would worship neither on the Samaritan mountain nor in Jerusalem (John 4:21).
This is the context in which Jesus says, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22; Italics added for emphasis). If we desire to be faithful to God’s word, we cannot argue against Jesus’s claim, here. All we can do is strive to understand what it means that salvation is from the Jews. First, Jesus’s statement has something to do with knowledge. The Samaritans worshipped what they did not know. Apparently, they did not know the Father or have the Father’s revelation available to them. The Jews did. The Apostle, Paul, recognized this truth when he claimed that the Gospel was given to the Jew first and then the Gentile and when he told the Athenians that for ages past God winked at the ignorance of the Gentiles but now calls all people everywhere to repent (Cf. Romans 1:16; Acts 17:30). Until Jesus, God dealt particularly with Israel, the Jewish nation. He revealed Himself to Israel. The Scriptures were produced through Israel. The Gentile nations were generally ignorant of who God was and the work God was doing. Those Gentiles who did worship God worshipped what they did not know. One day, probably the day the Holy Spirit would come, Satan would be bound from deceiving the nations (Cf. Matthew 12:29-30; Revelation 20:1-3), and disciples would be made of the nations (Cf. Matthew 28:18-20). Though it is true that Jesus is a Jew and the Messiah in whom the elect among the nations are saved, that’s not what Jesus is getting at here. When Jesus says that salvation is from the Jews, He means that Gentiles can only know God because God revealed Himself to and through the Jewish nation. This is why if we believe that salvation is not from the Jews, that the nations of Gentiles are not being blessed through Abraham’s descendants, then Christianity has created a new god and has not worshipped the God who revealed Himself in creation, to the Jews and through the Jews. Further, any worldview that claims God’s blessing from a source other than Abraham’s children and, particularly, the tribe of Judah, has created a new god. Why? Knowing God, salvation and eternal life (Cf. John 17:3), is explicitly from the Jews.
Jesus told the woman that an hour was coming when God’s people, Jew and Samaritan, would worship in Spirit and truth—such people God seeks to be His worshippers (John 4:23-24). Those among the nations who know God, who receive the salvation that is from the Jews, will worship Him by the power of His Holy Spirit. The Samaritan woman then confessed that the Samaritans were awaiting the Jewish Messiah who would come and declare all things to them so they may know God (John 4:25). Jesus claimed to be the Messiah who would reveal all of the knowledge from the Jews to non-Jews necessary to know God and have eternal life. Salvation, then, is from the Jews but only in the Messiah by the Holy Spirit.
A non-Jew does not need to become a Jew in order to receive salvation because Salvation is not found in the Jews—only Christ. A non-Jew does not need to seek the blessing of the Jews or partake in the ritual system in order to receive salvation because salvation is not by the Jews. Salvation is from the Jews but only in the Messiah by the Holy Spirit according to Jesus’s explicit teaching as John recorded.
- Jesus offers eternal sustenance, eternal life.
- Jesus reveals our need for a Messiah.
- Jesus brings His people to worship in Spirit and truth by revealing knowledge about God from the Jewish nation.
Salvation is through the Jews.
The greatest contention against this statement could be: Scripture clearly states that God sent His Son so that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:17). Scripture also claims that God’s people are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of their own (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet, salvation is also through the Jews. In Genesis 12, 15, and 22, we read about God’s promise to Abraham. God’s covenant with Abraham depended only on God. God promised that Abraham’s descendants would be more numerous than could be counted and that the nations would be blessed in His descendants (Genesis 22:18). When the Apostle, Peter, taught this verse in relation to the Gospel, he identified the Jews, particularly, as the descendants of Abraham; For the Jews first, God raised Jesus from the dead and sent Him to bless the Jews first—turning them from their wickedness (Acts 3:25-26). It can be said that all of those who believe upon Christ are Abraham’s spiritual descendants, but that is not what Peter got at in his sermon. The blessing (i.e. the Gospel) was in the Jews. Through the Jews, who received it first, it would go to the nations. More than 8,000 Jews turned to Christ in Jerusalem before Saul’s persecution scattered the new Jewish Christians into Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). They preached Christ as they went (Acts 8:4). The remainder of Acts recounts how the Jews took the Gospel to the rest of the world—Samaria, Ethiopia, Asia, and Rome. The nations were blessed in the Jews by the spreading of Christ’s Gospel through the Jews, particularly, according to the Biblical narrative. This is why, when John described Christ’s bride (Revelation 21:9), he symbolically described her (the church composed of His people among all nations, Jew and Gentile) as a city with twelve gates and twelve foundations. The gates through which the nations entered represented the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:12-13, 24-27). This cannot be interpreted as a sort of “true Israel” designation because John identifies the nations entering through the gates as having their names in the book of life (Revelation 21:27). John’s symbol has the Gentiles entering through the twelve Israelite tribes, including the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Jews)—not literally but symbolically. Why? Gentiles can only know God by looking at the Jews and because they have received the Scriptures from the Jewish nation—even most of the New Testament was written by Jews. Through the Jews, Gentiles received the Gospel. According to Scripture, this is how the nations are blessed through Abraham’s descendants and how the nations enter salvation through the Jews.
My favorite comment in response to my question was:
That depends entirely on what one means by through. You could mean through the lineage of the Jews, therefore pointing to Christ, as in John 4:22. One could also mean through the law of the Jews, ie. the sacrificial system and being righteous according to the law. One could also mean through being in the physical lineage of Abraham.Perry Tripp, Jr
Instead of brushing off Scripture’s claim that salvation is from and through the Jews or trying to explain away the details of Scripture, this contributor thought about what it could mean. As described above, Salvation is not through one’s keeping of the Law or Old Testament ritual system and not through one’s birth into the physical lineage of Abraham. The Messiah did come through the Jews, and it is through the Jews we must know God—as the Biblical narrative and instruction shows. John believed salvation was through the Jews because one must know God through the Jews and eternal life is knowing God (Cf. John 17:3).
Since God chose Israel because she was the least of all nations (Deuteronomy 7:6-8) and Scripture clarifies that the Jew and Gentile are saved the same way in Christ (Cf. Galatians 3:28), there is no reason for us to think that the Jews are elevated in Scripture as a superior race or more deserving people. Race was not in view when Scripture was written because it is a fairly new concept. The Jews have a particular role in God’s redemptive work. He chose the Jews and used the nation like He chooses and uses all people—by grace alone according to their weaknesses, not strengths. Why? His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). God chose the weakest nation through which He reveals Himself to the nations throughout redemptive history. He chooses the weakest people through whom He accomplishes His work because it excludes our boasting and glorifies Him alone as the author and finisher of our faith.