“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1 Tim. 1:15).
From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians
Paul was God’s chosen mouthpiece based in large part upon the huge gulf between the true and the false in Paul’s own past experience in mistakenly persecuting the early church. The outpouring of God’s forgiving grace upon Paul at Damascus translated perfectly into the gospel outreach to the equally misguided polytheistic pagan culture of the Greco-Roman world. Paul’s new covenant message contained a very large dose of giving up our old misguided way for God’s correct new way. Back then as today, this was not clearly apparent, understood, or welcomed by everyone in Antioch Pisidia.
By contrast, the few Gentile “God-fearers” listening to Paul’s opening message in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia (recorded in Acts 13) about Jesus the crucified and risen Savior for the remission of sin, had no interest in the political and economic fortunes of the small and obscure Roman-occupied nation of Israel. To the Gentiles convicted of their sin nature through the Holy Spirit preaching of Paul, the immediate concern was not the restoration of Israel, but the restoration of their lost souls.
This same condition persists to our day. Many Jews today reject Jesus of Nazareth as a viable candidate for messiah, based solely upon a mistaken belief that He failed to fulfill the Old Testament messianic prophesies regarding the setting up of a glorious earthly rule and reign in Jerusalem, to end disease, evil, suffering, and sin in our present world. Many of the Jews in the first century were deeply disappointed in Jesus of Nazareth because they mistakenly combined all of the promises and expectations of the messianic prophesies into one single advent (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Many of the Jews of that day did not comprehend, accept, or practice personalized belief in God as patterned in the Old Testament examples of journeys-of-faith based upon God’s intimate participation in our lives, in contrast to their more familiar experience of pursuing righteousness by the works of the law according to their own self-directed religious observances (John 5:42; Romans 10:3). Paul’s message of deliverance from the bondage of self-sovereignty through the liberty of the cross of Jesus Christ was just as foreign sounding to some of the Jews in the first century as it is to worldly-minded people today.
As recorded in the Old Testament, God asked Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Samuel, Gideon, Esther and Mordecai, Elijah, and Daniel, to name a few, to do the difficult and hard thing, often at the risk of their lives. If Jesus had commenced His full reign in Jerusalem in the first century, without any personal sacrifice of His own, He would have assumed an elevated position of power on top of the backs of other people’s self-sacrifices. With the benefit of clear hindsight today, the basic management principle of leading by example should have been obvious to the Jewish scholars, theologians, and rulers in first century Israel as they attempted to interpret messianic prophecy. But this true spiritual insight requires a personal experience following God equivalent to the positive journeys of faith recorded in the Bible, to be able to see and understand this fundamental leadership-based prerequisite.
The first advent of the messiah had to conform to the Psalms 22 and Isaiah 53 picture of a suffering servant, according to the universally recognized virtue of a leader never asking people to do something they themselves would not do. Jesus setting up His earthly reign in Jerusalem in the first century would have been disappointingly inconsistent with what God had been doing in Israel through the lives of people of faith, during the previous two thousand years. Jesus beginning His reign prior to experiencing the cross would have been below the high standards God sets for Himself, and below the high standards God had asked of people up to that point in time.
Jesus was about to ask his disciples over the next two thousand years to also do the hard and difficult thing, often again at the risk of their lives. Perfect divine virtue required Jesus Christ to go before us in this aspect of choosing the hard and difficult way for the advancement of truth. Most of the people in Israel missed this logical separation of the two advents of the messiah, because they themselves were not personally engaged in a biblical journey of faith following God’s lead that might have illuminated this basic leadership principle.