The Jews are the people who came from the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Paul speaks about them in particular because God had made special promises to their nation. God did that because he wanted to use them to tell people in every nation about himself (Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 49:6).
The Greeks are really the people from Greece. However Paul uses the word to refer to people from all the other nations too. We can see that from 1 Corinthians 1:23, where Paul uses the word for ‘nations’ instead of ‘Greeks’. Paul uses the word ‘Greeks’ only because he was writing to people in Greece.
In Greece especially, people considered wisdom and special knowledge to be very important (Acts 17:18-21). They believed that these things came from the gods. And they had many gods (Acts 17:22-23). They thought that they would know the thoughts of their gods by their study of wisdom.
The Jews knew about the real God. They knew about the powerful things that he had done to rescue their nation in the past. Their nation was in a weak state. They wanted God to do powerful things like that to rescue them again.
But God alone has the right to choose how he will save people. He did not choose to save people by the sort of powerful act that many Jews wanted. He did not choose to impress people by his great wisdom, as people from other nations wanted. Instead, he sent his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross. That is how he saves people. Jesus suffered the punishment for their evil deeds.
That fact disappoints many people. But it does not disappoint the people whom God has saved. In the death of Christ, they can see both God’s wisdom and his power. And by the death of Christ, God can save both Jews and people from all the other nations.
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© 2014, Keith Simons.