God has always worked with a faithful remnant, calling successive groups of people out from a larger population and making covenants with them. In the time of Yeshua, the Jews were considered to be the latest remnant, while the Samaritans, descended from the ten tribes who rebelled during the days of Jeroboam, were considered to be those left behind. Now the Christians are considered to be the latest remnant, and the Jews have been left behind because they did not believe in their Messiah. This situation has persisted for almost two thousand years, but since the physical restoration of Israel many Jews have believed, and have excelled in their understanding of the Scriptures to the point of making the Christians jealous. The current revival among the Jews is analogous to a previous revival that occurred among the Samaritans in the days of Yeshua. We have to be charitable toward the Jews today, just as Yeshua was charitable to the Samaritans. As we live in the expectation of the imminent return of Yeshua, we need to be aware that when God does something new, He remembers those who were left behind last time round.
Although the “Remnant” theory has been much abused, with successive remnants falling into pride and despising those left behind, the idea is nevertheless Biblical. Noah was called out because he was faithful, and was saved from the flood. Abraham was called out from among the faithful line of Shem, and God made a covenant with him and his descendants, through the line of Isaac and Jacob. The twelve sons of Jacob and their descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel and were given the Torah during the days of Moses. Ten tribes rebelled during the days of Jehoshaphat and went to Samaria, separating themselves from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Judah was the dominant tribe so that those who remained in Jerusalem and the surrounding area were called Judeans. They were subsequently known as Jews. The ten separated tribes were subjugated by the Assyrians, assimilated, and some of them taken captive. The Judeans, because of their unfaithfulness, were invaded and besieged, and many of them were taken captive into Babylon, but they returned after 70 years. At the time of Yeshua, the ten tribes were known as the Samaritans, and they had their own place of worship on Mount Gerizim. They were excluded from the Temple worship in Jerusalem, except for small minorities from some of the tribes who renounced the Samaritan worship and joined themselves to the Judeans.
When Yeshua came, many people believed in him during his early ministry, but there was opposition from the Jewish religious leaders, who denounced him as an agent of the devil. He proceeded to train his own disciples as the leaders of a new Messianic remnant which subsequently became known as the Church, and at the same time he prophesied the physical destruction of the nation of Israel, an event which came to pass in AD 70.
This latest Messianic remnant maintained its Jewish identity throughout most of the first century, but became swamped with Gentiles who wanted to observe the Word of God on their own terms. The Christians lost touch with their Jewish roots, with obvious consequences for their understanding of the life and teaching of Yeshua, but they have been faithful insofar as they have preserved the written text of the New Testament. Some Messianic Jews today describe this as a miracle. They say “We abandoned Yeshua, but God miraculously raised up a remnant from among the Gentiles who preserved the New Testament for us, so that 2,000 years later we could learn about our Messiah”.
In recent times, tensions have occurred between Gentile Christians and Messianic Jews. Some Christians would prefer the Jews to make a straightforward conversion to Christianity, abandoning Shabbat and all the Biblical festivals and switching over to Sunday worship, Christmas, Easter and all the rest of it. Some Messianic Jews reject this, insisting that they should observe Judaism as it was practiced by the first century church. The Messianic Jews, having at last received the New Testament that has been preserved for them, can understand it better than the Gentiles because they recognise its Jewish context. Some Gentiles resent this, saying “You have been absent for 2,000 years and you think you know better than us?”. There is rivalry and sometimes outright hostility. Some Christians consider themselves to be the “Israel of God”, and do not recognise any alternative, Judaistic Israel. This problem is discussed in more detail in my article entitled The Elect Remnant of Israel. The article also discusses in greater detail the Biblical Remnant concept.
History of the Samaritans
From the Tanakh (Old Testament)
975 BC. The history of the Samaritans begins with the rebellion against King Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon and grandson of King David. Solomon had placed heavy burdens upon them, but Rehoboam attempted to make it even worse, saying:
My little finger shall be thicker than my fathers loins … I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. (1 Kings 12:10-14).
Many of the Israelites objected and followed a rebel leader called Jeroboam, who set up his kingdom in Shechem and built altars for idolatrous worship in Bethel and Dan. At first only the tribe of Judah remained in Jerusalem, but then many of the fighting men of Benjamin joined them (1 Kings 12:20-21). Throughout the remainder of the two books of Kings, the ten rebel tribes are called “Israel” and those who remained with Rehoboam and his successors were called “Judah”.
730 BC. Hoshea began to reign as king of Israel, but Salmaneser, king of Assyria invaded Samaria and subjugated him, allowing him to rule for a while as a puppet king. Then the king of Assyria (probably Sargon the son of Salmaneser) took Israel away into captivity. (II Kings 17:1-6). It is likely that only a proportion of them were taken away, because the policy of the Assyrians at that time was to subjugate nations by taking away the leaders and skilled workers from a number of different places and moving them around, creating unworkable ethnic mixtures.
The same chapter tells how the king of Assyria brought men from a number of different places to Samaria, but some of them were devoured by lions because they were worshipping their own gods. So they sent for an Israelite priest to be brought back from captivity to teach them how to worship the Lord. They practiced a form of mixed worship. They worshipped the Lord and they also worshipped their own gods. (II Kings 17:24-41).
The same policy of subjugation by ethnic mixture was practiced by the Babylonians and was inflicted on the Judeans some time later. (II Kings 24:14 and 25:12).
623 BC (approx). Although there was enmity between the Israelites and Judeans, there was a time of reconciliation during the days of Josiah, king of Judah. The Israelites who were left behind in Samaria were allowed to join together with the Judeans in the celebration of Passover. (II Chr. 35:17-19).
535 BC. The people who lived in Samaria offered to help with the building of the Temple, claiming that they also worshipped the Lord. (Ezra 4:1-3). Although there was some credibility to this claim, they were considered to be an unreliable religious and political mixture and were identified as the “adversaries of Judah and Benjamin”. The Jews refused to allow them to help build the Temple, saying they would build it themselves.
445 BC. Sanballat opposed the building of the wall of Jerusalem in the days of Nehemiah, and asked for help from the army of Samaria. (Nehemiah 4:1-2).
Ministry of Yeshua to the Samaritans
The following references from the Gospels are arranged in chronological order, according to the Harmony of the Gospels given in Thomson’s Chain Reference Bible.
On his first visit to Samaria, Yeshua spoke to a woman who had come to draw water at a well, and many Samaritans believed in him. (John 4:3-43).
Some time later, Yeshua wanted to visit a Samaritan village and sent messengers ahead of him to prepare the way, but he was not received because he was going to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51-56). This is in contrast to his previous visit (John 4:3-43) when he was welcomed, probably because he was going in the opposite direction, away from Jerusalem. The disciples wanted him to call down fire from heaven to consume them, but he rebuked the disciples and said he had not come to destroy people but to save them. The disciples were having to un-learn their anti-Samaritanism (the predecessor of a modern-day phobia called anti-semitism). Note: Luke describes this journey to Jerusalem in great detail, so that Yeshua doesn’t actually get there until Luke 19.
On his next attempt to pass through Samaria, on his way to Jerusalem, Yeshua was able to get through. He healed ten lepers, but only one of them came back to thank him. (Luke 17:11-19). They might not have all been Samaritan, but the one who came back was Samaritan. I wonder if the number ten is an allusion to the ten tribes?
Yeshua’s visits to Samaria, and his obvious concern for them, made him the subject of anti-Samaritan attack, and he was accused of working for the devil. (John 8:48-49)
Continuing on his way to Jerusalem, Yeshua gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, to show that they are the neighbours of the Jews and that neither he nor the Samaritans should be targets for anti-Samaritan abuse. (Luke 10:29-37).
Ministry of the Early Church to the Samaritans
During the very early days of the Church, before they had even considered preaching to the Gentiles, and before Peter’s visit to Cornelius (Acts 10), they had a ministry among the Samaritans. There was persecution in Jerusalem so that many of the believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Philip went to Samaria and preached, and many people believed (Acts 8:1-8). At that time they normally preached only to the Jews (Acts 11:19), but they made an exception in the case of the Samaritans because of their claims to Israelite descent, and because Yeshua had been favourable to them.
One of the Samaritan believers, a sorcerer called Shimon, turned out to be a heretic. He offered money to the apostles in return for spiritual power, but was sharply rebuked. (Acts 8:9-24). Although this is a sad event, the appearance of a heretic among the Samaritans does not lessen the revival. Most revivals produce a few heretics, and we just have to avoid being taken in by them. He didn’t influence the Apostles, and they continued preaching in many villages of the Samaritans. (Acts 8:25).
First to the Jews, then to the Samaritans …
When Yeshua gave the Great Commission, he instructed his disciples to go to the called-out remnants in reverse order:
But ye shall receive power, after the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8).
This indicates clearly an order of priorities, and is not just a list of places they would pass through on their journey away from Jerusalem. It is confirmed by the Apostle Paul:
… to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16)
Jerusalem and Judea were considered to be the same, as this was the home of the Judeans who had remained faithful to King David and his successors, and had returned from Babylon. The Samaritans were next in order of priority, because they had been faithful until the days of Rehoboam and then rebelled. After that comes the Gentiles who were never under the covenant of Abraham in the first place, but were under the covenant of Noah. The command was initially misunderstood, and was taken to mean they should preach to the Jews and Samaritans wherever they might happen to be in the world. However, the experience of Cornelius proved that this was not so, and the Gentiles were to be included.
First to the Christians, then the Jews, then the Samaritans …
If we believe that the Christians are the latest remnant, and the Jews have been left behind for the last 2,000 years, then the principle of ministering to population groups in reverse order needs to be taken a step further. Considering the number of Christians who have fallen by the wayside during the last decade and the churches that are emptying and being sold off, we should be going first to those who at one time used to be Christians, or at least had some Christian heritage. Then we go to the Jews. As for the Samaritans, they are largely assimilated among the Gentiles and to some extent they might have contributed to the so-called “Judeo-Christian” culture that we have today. There is still a small group of Samaritans who live in Nablus and celebrate the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles each year on Mount Gerizim. Finally, we go to the Gentiles who have had no contact with Judeo-Christian culture at all.
What Happened to the Jews left behind in Babylon?
During the days of Nebuchadnezzar, Jerusalem was besieged and Jehoiachin, king of Judah, was taken captive into Babylon, together with his armed men and the smiths and craftsmen, a total of 10,000 people. Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah was appointed as a subjugated puppet king over the poorer people who remained, and his name was changed to Zedekiah, but he rebelled against the king of Babylon. (2 Kings 24:8-20).
Jerusalem was again besieged and Zedekiah fled by night with all his armed men but he was captured. The city and Temple were burnt, the walls broken down, and all the people remaining in Jerusalem were taken captive into Babylon, except for an even smaller number of the poorest people, who were left behind to look after the farms and vineyards under the supervision of a Jewish governor called Gedaliah. He encouraged the Jews to serve the Babylonians, as an act of appeasement, but he was assassinated, and the people fled to Egypt. (2 Kings 25:1-26).
After 37 years in captivity, Jehoiachin was taken out of prison and was given a position of authority among the kings of Babylon. (2 Kings 25:27-30).
After a total of 70 years of captivity, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, according to the decree given by king Cyrus. The number who returned with Zerubbabel was about 50,000 people including servants (Ezra 2:64-65, Neh. 7:66-67). There is no record of the total number of people taken captive into Babylon, but it was a national deportation and the number taken captive is likely to be much greater than the number who returned. Nehemiah spoke of the “remnant” that were left of the captivity, meaning the population had been depleted. (Neh. 1:1-3). He also said that the city was large and great, but the people were few. (Neh. 7:4). They prospered and built houses while in Babylon, and there is no record of slaughter on a genocidal scale, so it appears that many of the people who went to Babylon settled there and never came back. The 50,000 people who came with Zerubbabel are described as “those who came up first” (Neh. 7:5). When the Temple had been rebuilt and rededicated, Ezra came up from Babylon with an additional 1,496 males, and there must also have been some females. He noticed that there were no Levites among them, and he was concerned that there would be a shortage of priests for the Temple service, so he sent for some Levites and 220 of them came up with the rest of the people. Considering that even the Levites had to be coaxed into coming up to Jerusalem, it makes you wonder how many others were still left behind in Babylon and what happened to them.
It would be easy to denounce them as rebellious, but we have to remember that after 50 years of the history of modern Israel, the majority of worldwide Jewry still has not gone there. It’s a big upheaval, uprooting whole families, closing businesses and moving children to a new culture when they are half-way through their education. The same situation must have existed after 70 years in Babylon. God was doing something new, but some of the Jews were left behind because they were unable or unwilling to go up to Jerusalem. Does this mean they were excluded from God’s purposes and forgotten? We know that Yeshua was favourable to the Samaritans, but did he also remember the Jews left behind in Babylon? He never mentioned them specifically, at least there is nothing recorded in the Gospels, but some of his disciples must have gone there because a church was established.
The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you, and so doth Marcus my son. (1 Peter 5:13)
So the same principle applies, that when God does something new, He remembers those left behind last time round and does not miss anybody out.