The Gospel of Messiah – First for the Jew

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Dr. Arnold Frank wrote, “As it was with Israel, thus it is with the Church of Christ. Only where Jesus is preached as the crucified and risen Saviour, has the Church the right to exist.”[1]

In September 2001, the synod of the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany issued a declaration repudiating evangelism among Jews: “We oppose all attempts which have their aim to dissuade Jews from their own religion. We support, however, the encounter of Christians and Jews during which they will listen to their respective faith testimonies while respecting the differences of the other party.”

The irony is that the church that Dr. Frank led for almost fifty years is among those supporting this declaration.

Dr. Frank, himself a Jewish convert, dedicated his life work to spreading the gospel among the Jews. Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok, a prolific author on religion, refers to the ministry of Arnold Frank in his book on ‘Messianic Judaism’: [2]

“…the Presbyterian Church of Ireland had sponsored Jewish missions from the middle of the nineteenth century. By 1927 they supported three missionary stations employing 60 workers. In Hamburg missionary work had begun in 1845 under the direction of Dr. Samuel Craig. Pre-eminent among Jewish workers in this major port was the Reverend Dr. Arnold Frank. Originally from an Orthodox Jewish background, Frank became a Jewish believer in Hamburg; while working in a bank, he met the Reverend J.D. Aston of the Irish Presbyterian Mission. Under his patronage, Frank completed his schooling in Ireland and attended the Presbyterian College. Ordained in 1884, he was sent back to Hamburg to serve under Aston.

“During 54 years of service in Hamburg, Frank led hundreds of Jews to Christ and baptized them. Over 50 became ministers or missionaries. Under Frank’s leadership, the Hamburg mission grew in strength, and the Jerusalem Church which had been founded previously built new premises which housed over 400 people. In addition, a modern hospital, a deaconesses’ home, and a clinic were established, as well as a holiday retreat for deaconesses. From 1899 to 1936 Frank published a monthly magazine Zion’s Freund which was distributed throughout Europe. By means of this magazine Frank was able to raise funds to enlarge the Hamburg mission.

“With the rise of Nazism, Frank encouraged his flock to emigrate. As he explained: ‘The plight of the Jewish Christian was even worse since to the Jews he was an apostate and to all others a Jew … church members now found it dangerous to associate with one whose Christian faith was offset with Jewish blood … the Nazi propaganda had done its work all too well and there were congregations where Jewish Christians were not wanted and were advised to leave.’

“In 1938 Frank was arrested and held by the Gestapo. Due to the Foreign Secretary’s intervention, he was released and returned to Hamburg. Eventually he and his daughter left for London ….”

Although the Nazis put an end to Dr. Frank’s work in Europe, his labours continue to bear fruit through those whom he led to the Saviour. Our own ministry, “Messianic Good News” originates in the work of Dr. Frank, through one of his disciples who also fled Germany in 1938. John Düring was a citizen of Cologne where he came to believe the gospel and received Jesus as his Messiah. After his father disowned him for his faith, he stayed for a while with Moritz Weissenstein, who was a missionary under the auspices of the West-German Society and also one of Arnold Franks’ disciples. With the help of Dr. Frank he travelled to Liverpool in England and from there to Cape Town, South Africa. Düring continued to publish the Neuer Zion’s Freund and in 1950, with Dr. Frank’s support and blessing, registered the “Good News Missionary Society”. Düring established a strong witness to the Jewish people through the excellent literature produced by the society. This work continues under the name of Messianic Good News to this day.

The article “Make disciples of all nations” challenges the argument by which the current leadership of the Jerusalem Church claims a biblical basis for repudiating Jewish evangelism, with particular regard to the explanation given to the meaning of “all nations” in the context of the apostolic commission, and to the question of who Jesus is.

The professed motive for the repudiation of evangelism to Jews is that “attempts to dissuade Jews from their own religion fosters anti-semitism and are unacceptable and inconsistent with Christian faith.” [3]

The implication of this statement is that modern Rabbinic Judaism,[4] which is predicated upon a denial that Jesus is the Messiah, offers a valid alternative approach to God that must be respected by Christians. But the apostle John – himself a Jew – wrote: ‘Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Messiah… No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also’ (1 Jn. 2:22). The declarations and statements of the German Lutheran Church renouncing Jewish evangelism, while understandably an attempt to compensate for the church’s failures in the Nazi era, has the effect of simultaneously repudiating the plain teaching of the New Testament that there is no reconciliation with God apart from faith in Jesus the Messiah. We who believe are described as “ambassadors of Christ, as if God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” We have “the ministry of reconciliation” and this ministry is not in the first instance for reconciliation between Jew and German or Jew and Christian, but reconciliation between God and sinful man. “….God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).

While we abhor any attitude of hostility or disrespect towards the adherents of any other religion in the name of Christ, to maintain a witness to the truth, false representations of God that set themselves up against the knowledge of the truth have to be challenged, albeit with gentleness and respect (2 Co 10:5, 1 Pet. 3:15).

Paul was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles and in this way fulfilled the calling of Israel to be a light for the nations. That does not mean that the people of Israel need not themselves come to the light of the Messiah. Paul did not invent a new religion for Gentiles – he called the Gentiles to the true faith of Israel that was rooted in the Messianic hope.[5] Gentile Christians are a “wild olive branch” which has been grafted into the redeemed assembly of Israel (see Romans chapter 11), so that they have become ‘heirs together with Israel, members of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Jesus the Messiah’ (Eph. 3:6). If Jesus is not the Messiah of the Jews the nations have no promise or inheritance to share in.

The gospel of the kingdom of God, given for the salvation for all who will believe, cannot be understood except as the fulfilment of God’s promise to Israel, particularly His promise to Abraham. “We [Jewish evangelists] tell you [fellow Jews in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch] the good news: What God promised our [Jewish] fathers he has fulfilled for us [Jews], their children, by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:32).

Everything written by Moses and the Prophets culminates in the revelation of the Messiah and the kingdom of God. With this even the Talmud agrees: “All the prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah” (Ber. 34b). ‘Philip found Nathanael [also a Jew] and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”‘ (John 1:44-45). And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27).

The faith that we are not ashamed to proclaim is that Jesus is indeed the Messiah-King promised through the Hebrew Scriptures, the rightful heir to the throne of David – i.e. King of the Jews and Lord of the world. That many Jews, and Gentiles for that matter, will not believe or submit to his authority does not alter that truth. Ezekiel was commissioned to preach the word of God to his people whether they listened or failed to listen (Ezekiel 2:1-8). But everyone will be called to account based on their response.

In stark contrast to the position taken by the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church the example set by Paul, following the pattern of Jesus, was that the gospel was taken to the Jews first (Acts 9:20, 14:1, 19:8-10).

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).

“We had to speak the word of God to you [Jews] first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:44-46).

The early Jewish church contended with the unexpected fact that God showed his mercy towards many Gentiles and included them among the redeemed people of Israel. It was surprising to some that the good news of salvation and eternal life through the Jewish Messiah, which was first announced to the Jews in Jerusalem before going forth through Judea, to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth, was intended not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles who would believe the message. How is it, then, that some Gentile Christians now believe that the good news was not – and is not – intended for the Jews, to whom all the prophetic promises of salvation were made?

And now the LORD says – he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honoured in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength – he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:5-6).

Nazi persecution put an end to Dr. Frank’s work in Europe – one of the most effective Jewish missions in the modern age. Nazi racial laws forbade Jews from holding office in the Church and effectively ostracized Jewish Christians from Christian fellowship. What an irony that the church is now the proponent of a position that has the same ultimate effect as Nazi policy, i.e. preventing evangelism and excluding Jews from the body of Messiah.

The Nazis could not, however, destroy anything more than the flesh. The LORD Jesus taught his followers: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” These words must have strengthened the many Jewish Christians who died in the camps along with the others.

The German church has openly confessed its failures during the Nazi era. But is it not yet again failing the Jews, this time in an even more culpable manner? And this no less because it is failing this time in a manner that wins the Jews’ approval.

See also “Make disciples of all nations”


[1] From an essay entitled “The Building of our Spiritual Temple” republished MGN June 1999.

[2] Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Messianic Judaism, p.42-43, Continuum Int. Publishing Group Ltd, 2000.

[3] Renunciation of “Missions to the Jews” by ‘Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation’ Hamburg 1995.

[4] See our article “Challenging the Rabbis…on the origins of Rabbinic Judaism MGN 1stQ2004.

[5] For more on this subject see our articles entitled “Heirs of Abraham – what is the orthodox faith of Israel?”The mystery of the olive treeThe Great divide between Church and Synagogue.