The Apostle Paul called himself the Apostle to the Gentiles” (1 Timothy 2:7) yet he was also the greatest missionary to the Jews who ever lived. His example helped to inspire Operation Behold Your God.
In Paul’s day, just like today, the bulk of the world’s Jewish population lived in “the Diaspora” (outside the borders of what we think of today as Israel). The Jewish people had been scattered throughout the Mediterranean basin. By the time of Paul, it is estimated that the Jewish Diaspora numbered over six million. Jewish communities could be found in Egypt and along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. But the majority of the Diaspora was in western Asia Minor, Cyprus and along the northern Mediterranean basin in Greece, southern Italy and southern Spain.
Scripture records the four missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul, and it is striking how, in all four cases, his itinerary fell precisely within the areas where the Jewish Diaspora was concentrated. This was no coincidence! God specifically called Paul to some of these places (e.g., Acts 9-10). But we also see that in his planning and praying, Paul’s zeal for bringing his Jewish brothers and sisters to Christ brought him to the areas where they were living in the greatest numbers (Romans 9:1-5; 10:1).
Whenever Paul entered a new town, the first place he preached was the Jewish synagogue (Acts 17:2). Why? He explains in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” This tells us that:
1. Paul recognized that all people—including the Jewish people—needed the gospel for salvation.
2. Paul recognized that God had set a precedent in sending the gospel to the Jew first. Paul believed that because the Jewish people had been uniquely set apart by God, despite their frequent unbelief, God would expect that they be treated with respect and concern for His Name’s sake. This was true in Paul’s day and it is still true today.
It was only when the leaders of these Diaspora synagogues rejected and opposed the message of Jesus that Paul invested his missionary efforts in those who were most responsive to His message: mainly Gentiles. But remember that even so, Paul brought untold numbers of Jewish people to Christ during his missionary journeys. In fact, the Apostle Paul led more Jewish people to Jesus than any missionary in history. He went from city to city, urging all people—but first the Jewish people—to “Behold your God!”
Our contemporary Behold Your God itinerary does not follow the same map as the Apostle Paul’s journeys. Yet our vision remains the same—to reach the cities that hold the greatest number of the scattered ones of Israel. In doing so, we know that many Gentiles will come to Christ as well. It is a privilege to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, the greatest Jewish missionary ever!