I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. – Romans 9:1-5 ESV
Paul was a Jew, through and through. His Damascus road experience had introduced him to his Messiah and justified him before God, but it had not eliminated or altered his heritage in any way. In fact, Paul was proud of his background. He once described himself as “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5 ESV).
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. while Paul’s assignment from God was to take the gospel to the Gentiles, he never lost his desire to see his fellow Jews come to faith. Virtually every place Paul traveled on his missionary journeys, the first place he went was to the local synagogue. – Acts 14:1 ESV
…they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” – Acts 17:1-3 ESV
Paul knew that the Jews were God’s chosen people. That’s why he wrote, “They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned” (Romans 9:4-5 NLT). The Jewish nation was the God-ordained conduit through which His grace and mercy were to flow to all mankind. God’s own Son was born as a Jew. Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews. And He was the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. And Paul knew, that in a church like the one in Rome, where there was probably a blend of both Jews and Gentiles, it would be easy for the Jews to be seen in a negative light. After all, they had rejected the Messiah. Peter made this perfectly clear when he addressed the Jews not long after Pentecost. “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:13-15 ESV). But Peter also told them, “I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus” (Acts 3:17-20 ESV).
Both Peter and Paul longed to see their fellow Jews accept Jesus as their Savior. Paul has made it clear in this letter that all men stand before God as guilty of sin and worthy of death. But he also made it clear that Jesus died so that all men, both Jews and Gentiles, might come to a saving knowledge of Christ. And Paul felt so strongly about his desire for the Jews to be saved, that he was willing to be damned, cut off from Christ, if it meant that his fellow Jews might be saved. The Greek word Paul used was anathema and it referred to “a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed, and if an animal, to be slain; therefore a person or thing doomed to destruction” (Outline of Biblical Usage). Of course, Paul knew that this was impossible. He could not die for his fellow Jews. But it expresses his deep longing that they come to a saving knowledge of Jesus as their Messiah. And in spite of the Jewish nation’s initial rejection of Jesus, there were many Jews who had come to believe in Him. And their path to salvation was no different than it was for anyone else. It was by faith alone in Christ alone. Their Jewish heritage was not enough to save them. Their prized position as descendants of Abraham did not earn them special favor with God when it came to His assessment of their sinfulness. Remember, Paul started out this letter with his thesis that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV).
One of the hardest things for a Jew to do was to let go of his pride and his trust in his own self-righteousness and accept the free gift of God’s grace offered through His Son’s death on the cross. Paul knew this first hand, which led him to quote the words of God found in the book of Exodus, “‘I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.’ So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it” (Romans 9:15-16 NLT). Paul longed for the Jews to come to faith in Christ. He deeply desired their salvation. But he knew that there was only way for them to be saved. And he made that way known to Timothy, his son in the faith. “…there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NLT).