What does it mean that the gospel brings salvation to the Jew first and then the Gentile?Paul writes in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." The Greek word translated as "first," protos, means first in both chronology and emphasis, and these concepts of "firstness" go hand-in-hand for the Jews. Paul is saying that chronologically, the Jews had the gospel first since its message was central in the Torah and the Prophets. Similarly, because the Jews were the first to hear the gospel message even before it was fulfilled and have long awaited Jesus' coming, the gospel message is for them especially.
The Jews "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" (Romans 9:4–5). God chose the Jews out of the other nations in this world when He called Abraham and made a covenant with him. God makes it clear that Abraham did nothing great to deserve this choosing, rather it was out of God's love and providence that He picked Abraham and his descendants to carry a special blessing to the world. Moses tells the Israelites, "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers" (Deuteronomy 7:6–8). God entrusted to the Jews the gift of God's special revelation, and within that lay the promise of the Messiah. The Messiah was prophesied to be born a Hebrew (Isaiah 9:6) of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), a priest of the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4), a great prophet (Deuteronomy 18:18), and a king (Isaiah 11:1–5), who suffered for our sins (Isaiah 53:1–6). This Messiah is the Savior of the world (Genesis 22:18; John 3:16), and especially the savior of the Jews. The gospel is "to the Jew first" because they were the first to hear about Jesus' coming. Similarly, the gospel is "to the Jew first" in that the gospel is given to them "especially" because they were given the responsibility of knowing of Jesus' coming.
Because they were God's chosen people who held the promise of salvation, the gospel of Jesus' ministry went to the Jews first. Jesus came "that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning form Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47, emphasis added). While Jesus never rejected a Gentile who sought Him in faith during His earthly ministry, Jesus and His disciples' ministry focused on the Jews while Christ was on earth (Matthew 10:5–6). Even Paul, who understood his calling to minister to the Gentiles, would go first to the synagogue to preach the gospel when he entered a new city (Acts 13:46).
The gospel is "to the Jew first," and so is God's judgment for rejecting Jesus. Because the Jewish culture is filled with pictures of the Messiah they are held accountable for the great witness they were blessed with, and their rejection of Christ is taken more seriously. Paul writes in Romans 2:9–11, "There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality." The Jews have a position of great honor, and therefore great responsibility towards the gospel. Like Christ said, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrust much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48).
While the Jews occupy this place of "firstness," they are still equals with the Gentiles. The Jews do not have privilege in salvation or grace. They are saved the same way and to the same degree as Gentiles. God has not set aside the Jews nor neglected Gentiles. Christ has done away with these distinctions. Colossians 3:10–11 says, "put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, save, free; but Christ is all, and in all" (see also Galatians 3:28–29).
Ephesians chapter 2 has a beautiful and complete description of just how Christ joined Gentiles and Jews in His death and resurrection:
"remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross . . . For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord" (Ephesians 2:12–21; cf. Romans 11).
As Romans 1:16 says, the gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." The gospel is a message for all people. There is salvation only in Jesus Christ.
Who can be saved?
What does it mean that salvation is by grace through faith?
How are Christianity and Judaism different?
Does the Church replace Israel? Is Israel still part of God's plan?
How can I be saved?
Truth about Salvation