Judaism and Christianity

What I Learned in Church Today: The Eisegesis of 1 Timothy 1:8-11

In church today, Pastor Randy preached on Deuteronomy 5 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 but I want to preface this “meditation” by citing some of the notes from the Sunday school class, which taught on Deuteronomy 9.

What can cause us to not give God credit for our successes and blessings? Why is it important for us also to “remember and never forget” (citing Deut. 9:4-7) what God has done for us “in Christ”?

The obvious answer to that first question is “pride” and that plays into the next classroom question.

Have you or I been a source of frustration to someone in leadership responsibility over us? Give examples of our acts or omissions that make their job more difficult.

For me, the answer is “Well, yes, of course” and my examples would be most of my conversations with Pastor Randy over various theological issues, principally the issue of the continuation of the Jewish obligation to the Torah commandments.

Now I have to be very careful. Before the beginning of class, the teacher was telling me what a challenge putting together this week’s lesson was and later during class, he said that he prepares a full two-page lesson outline so we’ll have to study for several days before class and not just whip out our notes the night before.

Except I didn’t think his lesson was particularly challenging and I did complete the worksheet the day before in something under an hour.

To be fair, I have probably spent more time studying the Torah than most of my fellow students so grasping the essentials of the material seems a fairly straightforward affair, at least as my teacher presents them.

And I have to watch out for that “pride” thing. I had to keep stopping myself (my train of thought) in class and remind myself not to be so arrogant, which I’ve written about before. I thought I had successfully re-evaluated my role in church but I still find that I am struggling with some very difficult but very typical attitudes in Christianity.

One last question from Sunday school before I get started on the sermon.

In Deut. Chs. 9 and 10, God answers Moses’ prayer not to destroy the nation. He goes up for a 2nd written copy of the 10 Commandments. How easily do you and I give up on others?

As I’ve mentioned many times before, although Pastor and I don’t see eye-to-eye on very much in terms of theology and doctrine, I have a great deal of respect for him as a person, a scholar, and a Pastor. When he preaches, I usually am frantically taking notes and writing commentary and critique on the various points he makes, but this was the first time when, after he said something quite specific, I almost stood up and walked out in mid-sermon.

But let me back up a bit.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Pastor is taking several weeks to lay the foundation for a series on the Ten Commandments and his assertion that these specific commandments are universal, timeless, and apply to all Christians today. He’s lifting just the Ten Commandments out of the Torah and saying they are the only parts of the 613 Commandments that remain in force for the Church (although he has an interesting spin on the commandment to keep the Shabbat), and that the rest of the Law ended with Jesus (Romans 10:4, Galatians 3:19).

All this, I knew and it didn’t surprise me, but when he left Deuteronomy 5 and moved on to 1 Timothy 1, I was in for a surprise. I suppose I should insert the specific text for reference. Actually, it’s a little more than just verses eight through eleven.

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

-1 Timothy 1:3-11 (NASB)

Talmud StudySo the issue, as I’m reading it, was that Paul was relating to Timothy how in Ephesus some men were teaching “strange doctrines” that had to do with “myths” and “endless genealogies” and giving rise to “mere speculation”. Apparently, these guys wanted to be “teachers of the Law” but according to Paul, they didn’t know what they were talking about.

It would seem to indicate that these men weren’t Jewish since it would be fairly likely that Jewish teachers would have some idea of how to teach the relevant essentials of the Law (Torah) to newly minted Gentile disciples of the Master. I suppose the “endless genealogies” could be indicative of Judaism since we find numerous genealogies in the Torah and later, when the Apostolic Scriptures were canonized, we find that the genealogy of Jesus (Yeshua) is included and considered important in establishing his credentials as Messiah. But I hardly think that Paul would consider anything related to the Torah, including Jewish commentary on the scriptures, would qualify as “myth”. This is more reminiscent of how I have experienced, at different times over the past ten years or so, some non-Jewish teachers have rendered their interpretations of the Torah, and more than a few theories have been rather fanciful.

So what “strange doctrines” were the fellows Paul describes trying to pass off on the disciples in Ephesus?

In verse eight, Paul says that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully…” but while Pastor acknowledged the wordplay in Greek (“Law”, “lawfully”), he chose to translate the latter word as “properly”. Toward the end of his sermon, in his notes, he asked “What is the improper use of the law?”

One of the misuses, according to Pastor, is following speculations, controversies, and myths rather than “sound doctrine”. So who is engaging in these speculations, controversies and myths?

Although it would have been impossible for Paul to have meant this, Pastor is applying this “misuse of the Law” to Rabbinic Judaism with all their “man-made rules” (which most Rabbis consider the interpretation of the various mitzvot and their application across history and the differing requirements and circumstances that arise). He also cited the teachings of Seventh-Day Adventism as distracting from the doctrine that one is saved only through faith in Christ.

And then he mentioned Messianic Judaism as “speculative” and “controversial” with their proposition that a Jew can have faith in Jesus as the Messiah and still realize that the Sinai Covenant and its conditions, the statutes and laws of the Torah, remain obligatory for Jewish Jesus-believers.

I know all of the areas that Pastor and I disagree upon, but this is the first time, especially publicly, that he directly hammered on the theological and doctrinal platform which is the foundation of my understanding of the Bible.

Imagine being a Seventh-Day Adventist and listening to this part of the sermon. How would you feel? Or at different times, Pastor or others in the church have taken exception to Pentecostals, Catholics, and Mormons. Imagine being a member of one of those denominations or orientations and being a guest in Pastor’s church to listen to such sermons and teachings.

Like I said, my first impulse was to stand up and walk out. My second impulse was to wait until the sermon was over and then leave, skipping Sunday school.

I thought better of both actions and when I’m caught off guard, it’s usually a bad idea for me to go with the first thought that pops into my head.

So I’m writing about it instead.

I used the word Eisegesis in the title of this blog post, which is basically reading your theology and doctrine into the Biblical text, as opposed to Exegesis which is reading the Biblical text and allowing it to develop your theology and doctrine, and I never thought I’d say something like this about Randy.

Although we disagree on many things, I know that he’s an intelligent, well-educated and well-read, thoughtful, and honest researcher. I know, like most of us, that he comes from a particular theological tradition and that perspective colors how he reads the Bible. My perspective equally colors my interpretation of the Bible, and I don’t believe any human being can be perfectly objective, especially in the realm of religion.

However, I do believe that my theology is driven by a more straightforward view of what the Bible says and treats all of scripture as a single, unified document which doesn’t require suddenly “jumping the tracks” from one major version of God’s redemptive plan to another at Acts 2. But to equate Paul’s comments on speculations, controversies, and myths specifically to variants on religious Judaism, as well as a Christian denomination that is generally accepted by most other mainstream Christian denomination, is pure opinion and cannot be reasonably derived from the text.

rabbis-talmud-debateI know that even Christians who say they love Jewish people and Israel, draw the line at Judaism as a religion, generally expressing at least some disdain at what is considered “the traditions of men” (and remember, it wasn’t that long ago in Church history when we were burning volumes of Talmud and calling said-volumes “obscene”), but I know that the “love” many Christians say they have for the Jews, once you throw religious Judaism into the mix, has a severe limitation.

I suppose this is just my opinion, but what if when Messiah returns, the way we will be worshiping and studying will be more like a Judaism than a Christianity? After all, “ekklesia” doesn’t mean “church”. I’ve written before that the word “church” didn’t come into existence for many centuries after the Bible was canonized.

Pastor himself said assembled Israel was referred to in Biblical Hebrew as “kahal” which is (interestingly enough) translated in the Septuagint as “synagogue”. The Apostolic Scriptures use the word “ekklesia” and they all (more or less) mean a gathering of people for a specific purpose.

I think it’s a shame that all English Bibles translate the word “ekklesia” as “church” not only because it’s anachronistic (although referring to the Children of Israel in Deuteronomy 5 as “synagogue” is as well) but because it sends the message that the Jews as Jews are out of the picture and replaced by Gentile (and Jewish) Christians.

Now to his credit, Pastor spent a significant amount of time saying that all of God’s promises to the Jewish people in the Bible are true and, if they aren’t, then we (Gentile) Christians have no assurance that God’s promises to us aren’t true as well (although all of God’s covenant promises are made with the House of Judah and the House of Israel…and only His covenant with Noah involves the rest of humanity…we’re just grafted into the blessings of the New Covenant).

But how can God’s promises to Israel all still be true if virtually all the conditions of the Sinai Covenant expired when Jesus died on the cross (something God never mentioned even once when He made the Sinai Covenant)? How can God’s promise that the Aaronic priesthood is an eternal covenant (Numbers 18:7) if, as Pastor says, the Priesthood of Melchizedek replaces the Aaronic? The Prophet Ezekiel says in no uncertain terms that the sons of Zadok, who are from the sons of Levi, will be the priests in the future Temple that will be built in Messianic times (Ezekiel 40:45-46).

It would be impossible for all of the Torah precepts except for the Ten Commandments to have ended permanently “at the cross.” If that were true, the Levitical priests in Ezekiel’s Temple wouldn’t know what to do with themselves since their duties are described down to the last detail only in the Torah.

That’s also why, when the New Covenant fully emerges into our world in Messianic Days, the Torah must continue as the conditions of that covenant, even as they remain the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, which is still incumbant on the Jewish people (including Messianic Jewish people) today.

Maybe in a later blog post, I’ll insert the diagram Pastor put in his sermon notes, which map the Ten Commandments to 1 Timothy 1:9-10 and which supposedly serve as proof of Pastor’s assertion that only the Ten Commandments survive out of the full body of laws given at Sinai. It is (again, this is all my opinion) wildly speculative to somehow read this portion of 1 Timothy and believe this is what Paul was presenting, rather than the Apostle writing to address a situational problem occurring at that point of time within the ekklesia at Ephesus.

Although his comments on Messianic Judaism were the real “capper” for me, I was still astonished with him explaining that the two greatest commandments we see Jesus teaching in Matthew 22:34-40 were “proof” that Jesus said only the Ten Commandments apply in Christianity (nevermind that Jesus was still alive so the Law hadn’t been “nailed to the cross” with him yet, that he was a Torah observant Jew, and that with rare exception, all of the people he spoke with and taught were Torah observant Jews) because the Ten Commandments can be divided into those laws that relate to God and man and those laws that relate to men and other men.

And yet, all of the 613 mitzvot can be divided into those two general groups, so Matthew 22:34-40 is not a good proof text to support Pastor’s assertion.

I know Pastor is well-educated in theology and I’m just an interested amateur, but I feel like I could walk through the gaping holes he left in his presentation.

I’m sorry, I really am. I know I’m probably going off half-cocked and I’m trying really hard not to let my feeling like my tail has been stepped on overwhelm my good sense, but it just seems fantastic to me that Pastor’s read on the Ten Commandments and especially his opinion on Messianic Judaism being a controversy and even a myth isn’t a projection of Christian traditions being read back into the Bible in order to support what he considers “sound doctrine”. It’s more like a defense against the idea that God really did make permanent covenants and that His promises actually do endure just as God uttered them and had recorded in the Bible. Pastor admits that the Jewish people will always be a nation before God, but he’s missing just how they’re supposed to remain recognizably and “covenantally” Jewish.

I inserted my Sunday school class notes above in part because they included a suggestion that disagreeing with church leadership is a bad thing. Am I being disobedient and prideful by disagreeing, especially so strongly, with the Pastor’s teachings? Is this my pride talking or am I allowed to have my own theological opinions independent of what’s being taught? God did make Randy the head Pastor of this church. He has authority over everyone who chooses to attend. Who am I to argue?

I stopped referring to Randy “my Pastor” when he called me on the fact that I disagree with him on almost everything. But why is it only “sound doctrine” when it’s stuff that he teaches based on the particular model of theology to which he subscribes? More than ever, I’m convinced that the Church teaches on principles that more resemble sound tradition. What one considers “sound” simply depends on what Christian traditions are employed to interpret scripture.

ChurchI don’t want to be prideful, disobedient, and arrogant, thinking I’m right and everyone else is wrong. Believe me, I know I’ve got a lot to learn. But what am I supposed to do, especially now, when I feel like I’ve been backed into a corner?

I used to worry that I’d never make any sort of impact in this church environment but now I’m worried I am making an impact, a bad one. If this is the result of my discussions about Torah and the Jewish people with Pastor in specific and with others more generally, then what a terrible thing I’ve done.

Oh, and yes, I plan to go back to church next week if for no other reason than because Pastor said that today’s and next week’s sermons are necessary to understand the foundation he’s putting down. He’ll be speaking on Galatians 3 next week. Oy.

prohetic return

Between Christian and Jewish Eschatology

Keith: Also, in my previous statement, I meant to say Bilateral Ecclesiology and NOT Bilateral Eschatology.

ProclaimLiberty: But I think that, philosophically, we could really have some fun with a notion like: “Bilateral Eschatology”! As Linus once exclaimed in Charles Shultz’s cartoon opus “Peanuts”: “Why, the theological implications alone are staggering!” [:)]

James: Interesting when you consider the differences between Christian and Jewish Eschatology.

ProclaimLiberty: Hmmm…. Your Wikipedia reference under the “Christian” link seems to open the notion up to “Multilateral Eschatology”; which really drives the theological impact up a notch or two (or seven). I do think I prefer the Jewish link.

James: Actually PL, so do I.

-from the comments on The Duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians to the Jews.

And the inspiration for another blog post was born.

I never really fully realized that one of the major differences between traditional Christian thought and Messianic Judaism is how they consider eschatology or that branch of theology that addresses what we call “the end times” or the final events in human history.

Since Messianic Judaism is a Judaism that accepts the revelation of Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, it makes a sort of sense to assume that much of Christian theology would be absorbed by that Judaism including the eschatological presuppositions involved, but what if that’s not true?

I’m going to use Wikipedia for my main sources which isn’t the best, but it has the advantage of not having to wade through someone’s religious bias.

Christian Eschatology and Jewish Eschatology seem light years apart, and the Christian version, at least as Wikipedia presents it, seems hopelessly confusing with far too many variations to be easily understood.

I decided to address three specific themes:

Resurrection

Christianity acknowledges that the doctrine of the resurrection predates the Church:

The word resurrection comes from the Latin “resurrectus”, which is the past participle of “resurgere”, meaning to rise again. Although the doctrine of the resurrection comes to the forefront in the New Testament, it predates the Christian era. There is an apparent reference to the resurrection in the book of Job, where Job says, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that he will stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though… worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I will see God.” [Job 19:25-27] Again, the prophet Daniel writes, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” [Dan 12:2] Isaiah says: “Your dead will live. Together with my dead body, they will arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust, for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth will cast out the dead”. [Isa. 26:19]

This belief was still common among the Jews in New Testament times, as exemplified by the passage which relates the raising of Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus told Lazarus’ sister, Martha, that Lazarus would rise again, she replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” [Jn 11:24] Also, one of the two main branches of the Jewish religious establishment, the Pharisees, believed in and taught the future resurrection of the body. [cf Acts 23:1-8]

In Judaism, although there is extensive information about the resurrection in eschatological thought, it doesn’t seem to be a major theme and references to the resurrection are less centralized. While some authorities in Orthodox Judaism believe that the resurrection will accompany the Messianic Age, Rabbi Mosheh ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides or the Rambam, didn’t directly associate the Messiah’s coming with the resurrection.

The Hebrew Bible, at least as seen through interpretation such as Bavli Sanhedrin, contains frequent reference to resurrection of the dead (Jacob Neusner The Documentary History of Judaism and Its Recent Interpreters 2012 – Page 138, also see Exodus 15.1; Joshua 8.30; 1 Kings 11.7; Psalm 84.5; Isaiah 52.8; Deuteronomy 33.6; Daniel 12.2; 12.13 and Proverbs 30.16). The phrase ‘olam ha-ba, (עולם הבא) “world to come”, does not occur in the Hebrew Bible.

PhariseesOf course, during the late Second Temple period, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection, the Essenes believed in the immortality of the soul, but the Sadducees believed in neither.

Later, the Mishnah (c. 200) lists the belief in the resurrection as one of the three necessary beliefs for a Jew.

Christianity has developed are far more involved doctrine around the resurrection than apparently Judaism has, based on the Apostolic scriptures, including two resurrections, the resurrection of the saints and the general resurrection, specifics about the nature of the resurrection body, and specifics associating the resurrection with the second coming of Christ.

See The Resurrection of the Ekklesia for more on this topic.

Christ/Messiah

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

-Acts 1:9-11

According to the Wikipedia article, many but not all Christians believe:

  • The coming of Christ will be instantaneous and worldwide. “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” ~ Matthew 24:27
  • The coming of Christ will be visible to all. “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” ~ Matthew 24:30
  • The coming of Christ will be audible. “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  ~ Matthew 24:31
  • The resurrection of the righteous will occur. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:16
  • In one single event, the saved who are alive at Christ’s coming will be caught up together with the resurrected to meet the Lord in the air. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Notice that none of the prophesies about the coming of Messiah from the Tanakh (Old Testament) are listed here.

Judaism does have a rather extensive list of requirements for the Messiah’s coming, based on the Tanakh, that Christianity largely ignores:

  • The Sanhedrin will be re-established (Isaiah 1:26)
  • Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance (Isaiah 2:4)
  • The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:17)
  • He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via King Solomon (1 Chron. 22:8–10)
  • The messiah will be a man of this world, an observant Jew with “fear of God” (Isaiah 11:2)
  • Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)
  • Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)
  • He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10)
  • All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12, Zechariah 10:6)
  • Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8)
  • There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)
  • The dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)
  • The house of David shall be as God (Zechariah 12:8)
  • God will seek to destroy all the nations that go against Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:9, Isaiah 60:12)
  • Israel and Judah will be made into one nation again (Zechariah 11:12-14, Ezekiel 37:16-22)
  • The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)
  • He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Nations will recognize the wrongs they did Israel (Isaiah 52:13–53:5)
  • The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)
  • The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)
  • Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)
  • The Temple will be rebuilt (Ezekiel 40) resuming many of the suspended mitzvot
  • He will then perfect the entire world to serve God together (Zephaniah 3:9)
  • He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13–15, Ezekiel 36:29–30, Isaiah 11:6–9)

war and peaceI think Christianity acknowledges some of this such as the resurrection, the end of war, and that the whole world will worship God, but where many Christians get hung up is that they (we) expect to be raptured up to Heaven with Jesus and stay there forever. Others expect to be raptured for a certain period of time until the tribulation ends, and then to accompany Jesus back to Earth so the Church can rule and reign with him.

Jewish eschatology doesn’t talk about Heaven at all and expects a very human Messiah to be King and to rule over Israel and the rest of the world. By comparison, Christian eschatology is more focused on Heaven, and Earth seems to be reserved for those unbelievers who will suffer through the tribulation and later be judged and sent to hell.

While Judaism in general addresses the war of God and Magog, at the end of it all, when Israel’s enemies are all defeated, the final victory in here, not in Heaven:

Although Judaism concentrates on the importance of the Earthly world (Olam Ha’zeh — “this world”), all of classical Judaism posits an afterlife. The hereafter is known as ‘olam ha-ba (the “world to come”, עולם הבא in Hebrew), and related to concepts of Gan Eden (the Heavenly “Garden of Eden”, or paradise) and Gehinom. According to religious Judaism, any non-Jew who lives according to the Seven Laws of Noah is regarded as a righteous gentile, and is assured of a place in the world to come, the final reward of the righteous.

If you are at all familiar with how Messianic Judaism in general presents its eschatology, although it has elements of the Christian viewpoint, it primarily resembles a more Jewish perspective.

Jewish People in Eschatology

Christian views of the future of the Jewish people can be quite different depending on which eschatological model you are using. As far the 144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8) are concerned, there are three major perspectives:

  1. Futurist belief: Various interpretations of a literal number of 144,000, including: 144,000 Evangelical Jews at the end of the world, or 144,000 Christians at the end of the world.
  2. Preterist belief: A symbolic number signifying the saved, representing completeness, perfection (The number of Israel; 12, squared, and multiplied by 1000 = 144,000). This symbolises God’s Holy Army, redeemed, purified and complete.
  3. Historicist belief: A symbolic number representing the saved who are able to stand through the events of 6:17.

Now lets look at the actual scripture:

And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.

-Revelation 7:4-8 (NASB)

tabernacleAlthough the literal text speaks of the “sons of Israel” and specifically names each of the twelve tribes, most of the prevailing Christian interpretations see this as symbolic and not literal and the one belief that takes the number literally, describes them as either “Evangelical Jews” (which probably means people who are Jewish by heritage and who converted to Christianity) or “Christians” (which most likely means Gentile Christians). In all cases, the Jewishness of these “tribes” is either minimized or eliminated altogether.

Christian hermeneutics regarding the ultimate future of the Jews vary depending on the specific emphasis:

Supersessionist: Under the Covenant of Works mankind, represented ultimately in a covenantal sense under Adam beginning from the Garden of Eden, failed to live as God intended and stood condemned. But beyond time the Covenant of Redemption was made between the Father and Son, to agree that Christ would live an acceptable substitutionary life on behalf of, and as a covenantal representative for, those who would sin but would trust in Christ as their substitutionary atonement, which bought them into the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace applies to all who trust Christ for their salvation, regardless of ethnicity, and thus the Covenant covers Jews and Gentiles alike with regard to salvation, sanctification, and resurrection. The Covenant of Grace forms the basis of the later covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the New Covenant in Christ.

Kingdom-Dominion: In the New Testament, God’s rule is exercised through Jesus Christ the King, who is also the temple of God (John 2:19-21), over his people the Church (of which Israel was a type). Salvation for all people in all times is found by trusting (explicitly or implicitly) in Jesus. Thus, Abraham, Moses, David, and all Christians today are saved by the same faith. The Jews are regarded as special in God’s plan (as in Romans and Ephesians) and yet the Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel find their fulfillment in Jesus and the Church rather than in a literal restoration of Israel.

Dispensational: History is divided into (typically seven) “dispensations” where God tests man’s obedience differently. The present Church dispensation concerns Christians (mainly Gentiles) and is a parenthesis to God’s main plan of dealing with and blessing his chosen people the Jews. Because of the Jews’ rejection of Jesus, Jewish sovereignty over the promised earthly kingdom of Jerusalem and Palestine was postponed from the time of Christ’s first coming until prior to or just after his Second Coming when most or all Jews will embrace him.

There will be a rapture of the Gentile church followed by a great tribulation of seven (or three-and-a-half) years’ duration during which Antichrist will arise and Armageddon will occur. Then Jesus will return visibly to earth and re-establish the nation of Israel; the Jewish temple will be rebuilt at Jerusalem and the Temple mount, possibly in place of the Muslim Dome of the Rock (see Christian Zionism). Christ and the people of Israel will reign in Jerusalem for a thousand years, followed by last judgment and a new heavens and new earth.

One last note from the Christian point of view relative to the future of the Jewish people:

Historicism v. Futurism: The division between these interpretations can be somewhat blurred. Most futurists are expecting a Rapture of the Church, an Antichrist, a Great Tribulation and a Second coming of Christ in the near future. But they also accept certain past events, such as the rebirth of the State of Israel and the reunification of Jerusalem as prerequisites to them, in a manner which the earlier historicists have done with other dates. Futurists, who do not normally use the day-year principle, interpret the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24 as years, just as historicists do. Most historicists have chosen time lines, from beginning to end, entirely in the past. But some, such as Adam Clarke have time lines which also commenced with specific past events, but require a future fulfillment. In his commentary on Daniel 8:14 published in 1831, he stated that the 2,300-year period should be calculated from 334 BC, the year Alexander the Great began his conquest of the Persian Empire. His calculation resulted in the year 1966. He seems to have overlooked the fact that there is no “year zero” between BC and AD dates. For example, the year following 1 BC is 1 AD. Thus his calculations should have required an additional year, ending in 1967. He was not anticipating a literal regathering of the Jewish people prior to the Second coming of Christ. But the date is of special significance to futurists since it is the year of Jerusalem’s capture by Israeli forces during the Six-Day War. His commentary on Daniel 7:25 contains a 1260-year period commencing in 755 AD and ending in 2015.

tzitzitEven under the best of circumstances, the Jews are considered “special” in the end of days, but always taking a back seat to the (Gentile) Church. The worst case scenario from a Jewish point of view is that they cease to exist, either because they have totally been assimilated into the Church or because they have all been killed.

Not a very rosy picture.

By contrast, Jewish Eschatology is all about Israel and the Jewish people (see the list above of all the things Messiah is supposed to do). Rather than the Jews going to the Church and converting to Christianity to be able to enjoy the New Covenant promises of God (which were made specifically with the House of Judah and the House of Israel – see Jeremiah 31:31), the Gentiles must attach themselves to the Jewish people:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”‘

-Zechariah 8:23

“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

-Isaiah 56:6-7

As far as the quote from Zechariah is concerned, although Judaism probably believes that any group of people from the nations (the number “ten” is considered symbolic rather than literal) will approach any Jew with this request, I’ve heard one interpretation that says the Jew in question specifically is Messiah. This folds into a Messianic Jewish viewpoint rather well placing Israel at the center of Gentile redemption rather than reverse-engineering the Bible and making the Jews come to the Gentiles to be redeemed by the God of Israel.

Conclusion

I don’t know that there’s a single Messianic Jewish eschatology. Certainly there are variations both in Christianity and the other Judaisms, so there’s no reason to believe that Messianic Judaism should have a single, overarching eschatology that is taught and believed.

I’m not writing this to tell you all the answers but perhaps to give you a starting place to begin re-conceptualizing what the future might look like when it’s not dominated by traditional Christian doctrine. It will also look different than the traditional Jewish points of view, since all other Judaisms do not anticipate a Divine Messiah who supernaturally comes (returns) to Earth having already been resurrected as the “first fruits of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20) some two-thousand years ago.

I’ve said in the past that I don’t think anyone has a terrifically clear picture of what’s actually going to happen. Whatever we have recorded in the Bible has been interpreted in many different ways over the centuries and no doubt we’ve distorted what was previously understood by original audiences. These days, it is common to take our theology and read it back into the Bible rather than the other way around, for to take a fresh look at the Bible and use some honest exegesis might result if turning our beliefs on their collective head and forcing us to revise if not totally rewrite what the future is going to bring.

Up to JerusalemAnd if that future sees Israel and the Jewish people ascending to the heights as the head of all nations, and the Gentiles must go to them to be close to God, then the Church might not be in such a hurry to face that reality. Of course, should the King of Israel, that head of the nations, turn out to be Divine and resurrected rather than someone who will be born in the generation of the final war and the final victory, then that would give most Jews a rather poignant pause.

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

-Zechariah 12:10

Oh, just one more thing:

In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the one who is feeble among them in that day will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them. (emph. mine)

-Zechariah 12:8

The “house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them.” Really? I know I’m going to be accused by some of misinterpreting or misusing the text, but it certainly seems like a Divine Messiah from the house of David isn’t entirely out of the question.

emerge

The Resurrection of the Ekklesia

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles

-1 Corinthians 15:1-7 (NASB)

Scholars commonly see in 1 Corinthians 15:1-7 material of an early “pre-Pauline” confession that focuses on Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and appearances to select witnesses. But there are continuing disagreements over what kind of event is referred to in vv. 3-5 where Jesus is described as “raised on the third day,” specifically whether this refers to a resurrection/transformation of Jesus’ mortal body or some other kind of event, e.g., a “spiritual” one that left his mortal body in the grave. I’ve just read a new study of the matter that seems to me pretty effective in guiding exegetes to the correct answer: James Ware, “The Resurrection of Jesus in the Pre-Pauline Formula of 1 Cor 15.3-5.” New Testament Studies 60 (2014): 475-98.

-Larry Hurtado
“Paul on Jesus’ Resurrection: A New Study”
Larry Hurtado’s Blog

Being just a regular guy and not a Bible scholar or academician, it never really occurs to me that people drill down into such a level of detail regarding certain Biblical events such as the resurrection. I’ve always been taught that Jesus was physically resurrected on the third day and that for the next forty days, he was seen and touched by many, many people, the witnesses of his resurrection, which serves as evidence of the promise of the resurrection of the “saints” in the Messianic Age.

But here we see Dr. Hurtado explaining how James Ware (probably this author) has investigated the various scholarly positions on what “raised on the third day” actually means. Incredibly (from my point of view), there are those who must not believe in a literal resurrection but somehow imagine that Jesus left his body behind and spiritually rose and ascended, something like “Caspar the Friendly Ghost”.

But why is a bodily resurrection important?

He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces…

-Isaiah 25:8

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from death?
O Death, where are your thorns?
O Sheol, where is your sting?

-Hosea 13:14

But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

-Acts 23:6-8

There are any number of prophesies that speak of a general resurrection from the dead at the end of days and it was upon those prophesies that the Pharisees based their faith. This was the same faith that the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) had since their Messianic beliefs were largely Pharisaic with only a few minor differences that had to do with Gentile admission and status.

new heartIf there was no physical, bodily resurrection for Jesus, then what hope do we have in a resurrection for us?

While I’m stunned that there are still those who, like the Sadducees of old, deny the resurrection today, fortunately…

Ware reviews a wide range of previous scholarly views, carefully assessing their merits, noting the limited force of some and the dubious force of others. His own particular contribution is a more in-depth analysis of the use of the Greek verb translated here “raised”: εγειρω. Essentially, Ware contends that all other uses of the verb describe one or another kind of action involving the raising up, rising up, or setting up of something or someone from a prone or seated position to an upright, standing position.

This, he argues, means that proposals that the verb here refers to an ascension of Jesus, a transportation of him in some “spiritual” mode to heavenly glory, is ruled out. Instead, Paul refers to a raising up or restoration to life of the executed body of Jesus.

To be sure, as Ware notes, later in 1 Cor 15, Paul engages the question of “in what kind of body” are the dead to be raised (vv. 35-49), and Paul here posits a dramatic and profound transformation, those raised being “changed” powerfully. In vv. 42-44, in particular, Paul makes a series of contrasts between the mortal body and the resurrection body: corruption/incorruption, dishonour/glory, weakness/power, “soulish”/spiritual. And Paul also makes the claim that the resurrection of believers will be modelled on Jesus’ resurrection.

-Hurtado, ibid

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

-1 Corinthians 15:20

Messiah is the “first fruits” of the dead, the first to rise, the first to experience the bodily resurrection from death through “a dramatic and profound transformation” unlike anything that had ever occurred before. As “first fruits,” he illustrates that the promises of God about a general resurrection are true, for the Master powerfully demonstrated the reality of the resurrection with his own body.

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.

-Acts 1:1-3

MessiahI won’t go into an inventory of all the different witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection that are recorded in the Gospels, but we have every indication that perhaps five-hundred people or more were witnesses that he physically came alive from the dead, that his wounds were still present, that he ate and drank, and that he wasn’t just some sort of vision or “floaty ghost,” but was a real, live human being who once had been dead. He appeared to witnesses so we would have living accounts of the resurrection, so that we could believe, not mindlessly or blindly, but based on what actual human beings saw and experienced in his presence.

Of course, we have to believe that the Biblical record is accurate regarding these witnesses, and some two-thousand years later, it’s possible to introduce some doubt, but these things can only be discerned through the Spirit:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.

-1 Corinthians 2:10-16

What people saw with their eyes and heard with their ears, we must accept as true by faith and through the Spirit. Without the Spirit, they sound like ridiculous nonsense.

When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.

-Acts 25:18-19

And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?

-Acts 26:6-8

During the various legal hearings to which Paul was subjected after his arrest in Jerusalem, one of the things the Romans could not comprehend was the matter of a “dead man” coming back to life and the fact that different groups of Jews would argue violently over such a thing. To the pagan Romans, it seems like incomprehensible nonsense.

That’s what it seems like to much of the world today without the ability to read the Bible through “spiritual” eyes, so to speak. But once we have our eyes opened and we can see, then we can believe by faith that not only was the bodily resurrection of Jesus real, but that it is evidence for the faithful that we too will be resurrected when the Master returns for us.

However, there’s one last paragraph from Dr. Hurtado’s blog I want to toss into the mix for your consideration:

So, Paul posits a profound change involved in the resurrection. But, as Ware so deftly points out, all through the passage Paul refers to the body of believers as changed. That is, Paul insists that the resurrection is an event that changes the nature of the embodied existence of those raised. The “spiritual” body, Ware persuasively argues, has to be in context a description of the animating force of the resurrection body, for the contrast is not with a “fleshly” body but with a “soulish” (ψυχικος) one, i.e., the mortal body animated by “soul” (ψυχη), which here appears to be Paul’s reference to what we might call mortal, “biological” life.

The Jewish PaulWhen I first read the phrase “Paul refers to the body of believers as changed,” I thought he was referring to the “ekklesia of believers,” the “body” as the corporate entity of Jesus’ disciples. Re-reading that part of the blog, I know now he was talking about the biological, physical bodies of the believers, but consider something for a second. It’s not just that we will be resurrected and redeemed as individuals, but the collective “personality” of the ekklesia or the assembly of Messiah will also be changed, that is, the nature of the body of Christ won’t be as it is today.

Today, we have many arguments and disputes between different churches or different theologies that all acknowledge Christ as Lord and King, but who otherwise have widely (and sometimes wildly) different perspectives on many matters of the faith. I previously mentioned those Christians today who seemingly don’t believe in a bodily resurrection but rather believe that only our souls or spirits will ascend and live with Jesus in Heaven while our dead bodies remain in the grave forever.

But with the bodily resurrection I believe will also come a resurrection of the combined ekklesia such that the “body of Christ,” the unified humanity of disciples will also be transformed radically and demonstratively into something new, alive, and spiritually perfected:

“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

-Jeremiah 31:33-34

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.

-Ezekiel 36:25-28

Yes, I know the New Covenant was made exclusively with the House of Judah and the House of Israel, and yet I’m liberally sprinkling this covenant language also upon the Gentiles. Many times before, I’ve written about the New Covenant and how I believe it can and must be applied to anyone who comes to faith in the righteous promises of God enacted through the Messiah, including the Gentiles:

Jewish teachers believed that God’s righteousness (his promise-keeping by which he would include the Gentiles) would come through education and conversion. But Paul says “now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” and he calls it “the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Messiah for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). What Paul means by “the law” here is not a person striving to impress God by their morality, but rather the idea that education in the law and keeping it will make a Gentile acceptable to God in spite of the fact that they were not born into the chosen people. God’s promise-keeping is not dependent on Jewish teachers or Gentile students. It is not by education in or adhering to aspects of the law. God is including Gentiles through his own initiative, through the faithfulness of Messiah who lived (was resurrected) as a result of faithfulness. Messiah lived the commandments and returned to life by his worthiness. Through his merit, Jews and Gentiles are accepted by God.

-Derek Leman
“What’s Wrong with the Jews (in Romans 9-10)? Part 2″
Messianic Jewish Musings

spiritWe know from Joel 2:28-29, 32 that the Spirit will be poured out fully on all flesh, all human beings will benefit and be redeemed and reconciled to God through faith, not just the Children of Israel, but all Children of God among the nations, as long as we endure and run the race faithfully.

Someday each of us will be resurrected, renewed, and perfected, but more than that, as a body of believers, and assembly of disciples, we will collectively be perfected. We will think with one mind and love with one heart, and we will all know God.

The Alter Rebbe interpreted the statement, “Whoever saves a single person of (the people) Israel is as though he saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a): One must perceive a Jew as he stands in the primordial thought of Adam Kadmon. There, each soul stands with all the generations destined to descend from it until the coming of Mashiach, the righteous Redeemer. When one does a favor to an individual, it is a favor to all those souls until the end of all generations.

-Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943) from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tikvat Israel

The Duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians to the Jews

There is a lot of confusion about tithing among believers today. Are we required to tithe? Does the Torah obligate us to give 10 percent of our incomes? If so, to whom should we be tithing? At First Fruits of Zion, we get these kinds of questions about tithing all the time. It’s one of the frequently asked questions we see most often.

-Toby Janicki
“Introduction,” p.1
What About Tithing?

I started reading Toby’s book with the idea of writing a review (which I will soon), but for some reason, I found my thoughts distracted by a topic I periodically visit on my blog: the state of those of us who are called Messianic Gentiles and our relationship with Jews who live halachically Jewish lives in the acknowledgement of the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah.

I suppose it has to do with the rather “dynamic” discussion being conducted in the comments section at the Rosh Pina Project blog in their blog post What Makes a Messianic Congregation Messianic in Israel?.

The following quote from one of the comments made by Rabbi Russ Resnik crystallizes the matter at hand:

As a non-Israeli, I won’t comment on the state of Messianic Judaism there. I represent a group of congregations mostly in the USA, but worldwide as well, working to sustain a genuinely Jewish Messianic Judaism. Here’s how we define it: “The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) envisions Messianic Judaism as a movement of Jewish congregations and groups committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, and renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant. Messianic Jewish groups may also include those from non-Jewish backgrounds who have a confirmed call to participate fully in the life and destiny of the Jewish people. We are committed to embodying this definition in our constituent congregations and in our shared institutions.”

Traditionally in the Church, when we receive a Jewish person who has confessed Jesus as Messiah (in “Christianese” as “Lord and Savior”), we tend to retrofit modern Christian theology, doctrine, and practice into their lives. Even under the most benign circumstances when we “allow” the “Jewish Christian” to continue to voluntarily observe some Jewish practices such as lighting the Shabbat candles and celebrating events such as Chanukah and Passover, we really expect them to become full-fledged, card-carrying “Gentile” Christians and assimilate into our culture.

But that’s not what Rabbi Resnik is talking about and certainly not what blog author Simon Ben David is advocating. To the best I can understand their (the Messianic Judaism described by R. Resnik) position, it would seem that they desire to create an environment of Jewish people living a fully developed religious and cultural Jewish lifestyle integrated with the revelation of Yeshua HaMashiach within Judaism. Devotion to Messiah then becomes a fully lived Jewish experience completely consistent with every other aspect of Jewish life, whether one lives in Israel or any other part of the world.

Given the history of Messianic Judaism during the last thirty to forty years, that’s not going to be an easy task. Modern Messianic Judaism emerged from within Evangelical Christianity and it has been difficult to cast off that cloak and to reinvent itself as a wholly experiential Judaism, particularly with all of “Christiandom” and not a few “Hebrew Christians” perceiving Rabbinic Judaism (is there any other kind) to be alien if not antithetical to Christian theology and doctrine.

synagogueI’ve argued in support of exclusive Messianic Jewish community in the past and continue to advocate for its necessity, at least for some groups of Jewish people in Messiah, but that’s obviously a controversial subject. Where there are a number of authentically (in my opinion) Messianic synagogues in the U.S. that also admit Gentile members and attendees, this doesn’t really solve the problem of what it is to create an actual Jewish community and environment that is designed to serve Jews and that preserves Jewish people and Judaism within the Messianic context. It has been argued that admitting even a small minority of Gentiles (apart from intermarried couples) “breaks” the Jewishness of the community.

I could say that this dilemma wasn’t one that Paul worried overly much about, although we see in his Epistle to the Romans that he had a terrific time mediating between Jews and Gentiles within the synagogue, at least if my reflection of Romans 9 is any indication.

But if “Judaically-aware” Gentile believers like me want to honor the necessity of exclusive Jewish community for Messianic Jews, what happens to us?

In reading Toby’s book, one of the points he makes is that none of the Torah commandments related to tithing particularly apply to Gentiles and, in reading how the Apostolic Scriptures, including Paul’s letters to the Gentiles, treat the subject, there’s no clear “smoking gun” that directly impresses Torah mitzvot upon Gentile minds and hearts  (you’ll have to wait until I write my book review to see how all that finally worked out).

So even in Jewish community within the ekklesia of Messiah, Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles. There are areas where God does treat both groups impartially, specifically in receiving the Holy Spirit, the promise of the resurrection, and a life in the world to come for the faithful, but in the nuts and bolts of day-to-day living, we are sometimes light-years apart.

I know one of the proposed solutions is for Messianic Jews to maintain exclusively Jewish communities and for “Messianic Gentiles” to maintain exclusively Gentile communities, separate but equal, so to speak. The latter Gentile communities are readily available in just about any part of the world. They’re called churches. But “church” is almost a “dirty word” to many Gentiles who align with the Messianic movement and almost certainly with all or almost all non-Jews within what has been called “Hebrew Roots” or “Jewish Roots” which encompasses sub-groups such as “One Law,” “One Torah,” “Two-House,” and “Sacred Name.”

I’ve defended identifying myself as a Messianic Gentile based on how I conceptualize Bible study and particularly how I operationalize the New Covenant, and it’s that “mindset” that largely separates me from the vast majority of Evangelical (and just about any other kind of) Christians in existence past and present. So while it’s technically correct to call me a “Christian,” I actually don’t see key portions of my faith in the same way as the folks I go to Sunday school with.

One of the things I took away from Toby’s book is that the practice of tithing has become adaptive over time, especially after the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 C.E., and yet tithing has continued. Reading the Didache which Toby also cites, shows us how this particular Torah principle was modified and presented in the teachings of the novice Gentiles training to be disciples into the 2nd century and beyond.

In fact, Toby quoted D.T. Lancaster’s “Torah Club: Unrolling the Scroll” (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2007), p. 598, saying:

The early believers were Torah keepers, and they wanted to continue keeping the commandment…

-Janicki, p. 49

Defining what I think Toby meant by identifying Gentiles as “Torah keepers” is outside the scope of this essay, but suffice it to say that the principles of ethical monotheism enshrined in the Torah were adapted on various levels to apply to the legal status of the Gentiles who were operating as equal co-participants in the Jewish religious and communal space of “the Way”.

Reading of the Torah at Beth ImmanuelWe aren’t removed from the principles of “the Law,” and Gentile believers were never to be considered “lawless,” but even nearly two-thousand years ago, integration of Gentiles within a Judaism was problematic at best, and the sociological and historic reality is that the relationship ended in a messy divorce.

So are we (Gentile) Christians or Messianic Gentiles or what the heck are we?

As individuals or Gentile groups of believers, I think we end up having to define ourselves by our theology, doctrine, and preferred associations, but in relation to Messianic Judaism it becomes a bigger issue. I know I’ve opened up this can of worms before and closing it again is never easy. But if you go to the Rosh Pina Project blog, read the blog post in question and particularly some of the more emotionally charged comments, you’ll see there’s another side to the coin besides the Gentile side.

I don’t think it’s selfish, and as I mentioned quite recently, I find it quite necessary for both Jews and Gentiles to recognize the distinctions between our roles and identities in Messiah:

When writing on Deuteronomy 22:7 and 22:10, R. Pliskin crafted commentaries called Even when engaged in a mitzvah be sensitive to the feelings of others and Be careful not to cause others to envy. The underlying principles being expressed here are applicable both to Jewish people observing the mitzvot and Gentiles who think they should do so in the manner the Jews are commanded.

One of the things I must (sorry to say this) criticize J.K. McKee for was a statement he made in his book One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit about the issue of Jewish distinctiveness in the Messianic community of believers. I don’t recall the exact quote, but he made what I consider to be some rather snarky remarks about these Jewish people being exclusivist and even petty in desiring to have their covenant role as Jews recognized and respected.

And yet we see there’s a principle in Torah observance that recognizes distinctiveness of roles and even that a person whose role does not include the performance of particular mitzvot can actually hurt or inflict pain upon others. While we Gentiles may believe Jews are deliberately provoking us to envy because of their status before God, we, for our part, when we claim mitzvot that are not consistent with our role, are being injurious to the very people and nation we claim to love.

Sorry to “butt heads” with Mr. McKee again, but the quote was required to illustrate my point.

I still don’t have an answer to this conundrum because one doesn’t exist yet. Paul never solved this problem. I think he saw it coming and was helpless to stop it, even though his letter to the Romans was an impassioned plea urging Gentile respect and even submissiveness to the Jewish synagogue authorities for the sake of not being a stumbling block for those Jews still struggling with faith.

Twenty centuries ago, Jewish believers were at least a little hesitant to absorb large numbers of non-Jews, particularly those recently coming out of paganism, without having them undergo the proselyte rite, converting to Judaism, and integrating into Jewish community as Jews. The last two-thousand years or so have given world Jewry many good reasons to be leery of Christianity, both in its emphasis in attempting to remove Jews from Judaism and assimilate them into a wholly Gentile lived identity, and in the perception from other Jews that any Jew who associates with Gentile believers has turned against their people, their heritage, and the Torah and have become aliens and Christians.

daveningMessianic Judaism as a movement is a diamond in the rough, a work in progress, certainly a work of art, but the paint is only partially applied to the canvas and the artist is still considering His brushes and His color palette in anticipation of continuing to create His Masterpiece, which I believe will only be finished with the coming (return) of Messiah Ben David.

But if that makes you Messianic Gentiles uncomfortable, remember that Messianic Jews are in no less an uncertain state as the aforementioned guest blog post by Simon Ben David attests. Standing aside and not debating the wisdom of Jews establishing Jewish communities for the Jews in Messiah may be the best thing we can do as non-Jewish believers to serve the work of the Kingdom. Rather than require that Jews abandon their covenant responsibilities to God by abandoning the Torah or inappropriately “shoehorning” our Gentile selves into those Jewish obligations, the path of charity, kindness, compassion and, if you must think of it as such, self-sacrifice for the sake of your Jewish brothers and sisters in the ekklesia, may in the end be the best way we can serve the redemptive plan of God for Israel and ultimately, for the world.

Oh, I’m including one more thing I think is relevant to the topic:

Kippah for a Non-Jew

I have a few Jewish friends who wear kippahs and sometimes when I’m hanging out with them I feel out of place. Even though I am not Jewish, would there be any problem with me wearing a kippah, too?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Well, on one hand, the Pope wears a kippah.

But on the other hand, a non-Jew should not wear a kippah, since that might deceive others into thinking that he is Jewish.

In practice, non-Jews will sometimes wear a kippah while attending a Jewish religious function (many world leaders have been photographed at the Western Wall wearing a kippah), but in general a non-Jew should not wear one, due to the confusion it may cause.

However, since the idea of a kippah is to have the head covered as a reminder of God, you could certainly use some other head covering, like a cap, to serve that purpose.

torn veil

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Protos and Deuteros

Bible teachers often use Hebrews 9 as proof that the disciples of Yeshua abandoned the Old Testament rituals of Temple worship and sacrifices as vestiges of an old covenant that had been replaced by a new covenant. A closer look reveals an entirely different message. Hebrews 9 uses the layout of the Temple to present a mystical illustration of the passage from this world to the world to come.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Four: Protos and Deuteros
Originally presented on December 14, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster finished his survey of the New Covenant as it applies to Hebrews 8 in the previous week’s sermon which I reviewed here. This also should have finished Hebrews 8 and have taken us into chapter 9 but there’s something Lancaster wanted his listeners to get first. Protos and Deuteros.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. (emph. mine)

-Hebrews 8:7 (NASB)

The first or in Greek “Protos” covenant was the Sinai or Mosaic covenant and the second or “Deuteros” covenant is the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36). There needed to be a Deuteros covenant because God found fault with “them” not “it”. That is, He found fault with people not the Protos covenant and not the conditions of the Protos covenant, the Torah, and not with the enactment of some of the covenant commandments which involve the Temple and the Priesthood (all this is covered in previous reviews and you can listen to the recording of this sermon to pick up more details).

After verse 7, Lancaster quickly reviewed verses 8 through 12 which quote Jeremiah 31 and the New Covenant language and then he focused on verse 13:

When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

Verb tenses are really important here which is why some English translations of the Bible, including the English Standard Version (ESV) are bad, because they make everything sound like it’s in the past tense, which is not what the actual Greek says. Remember, interpretation begins at translation. Some translators read their theology back into the text when they do the translation, changing the literal meaning to fit their assumptions and all of the classic, though erroneous, perspectives they’ve been taught as part of Christian tradition.

The reason Protos and Deuteros are important is because Paul makes a lot of symbolic use of these two terms as we enter chapter 9.

What is becoming obsolete and getting ready (but hasn’t yet) to disappear?

holy placeNot the Torah, because it represents the conditions of both the Sinai and the New Covenants. Not the Temple because the Temple was still standing when this epistle was written and there will be a Temple in the Messianic Age. Not the Priesthood because God declared that the Aaronic Priesthood is eternal.

So what does Protos represent that is in the process of becoming obsolete and getting ready to disappear.

The Olam Hazah or the Present Age. The age that we have with us now. The age of everything before the Messianic Age and the Age to Come. That’s what is just about to, but hasn’t yet because we’re still in it, get ready to pass away.

Now this next part has to be followed carefully. Once you get it, it’s rather simple to comprehend, but it’s easy to get lost if you don’t get it. Lancaster admitted that he makes it all sound more complicated than it really is.

Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

-Hebrews 9:1-5

Both Lancaster and the writer of the Hebrews epistle are hip deep in symbolism at this point.

The Holy Place described in these verses is the Protos or the Present Age. The Holy of Holies is the Deuteros or the Age to Come. Lancaster goes into a lengthy and detailed explanation of what each of the objects in this analogy of the letter writer’s description means but basically, the Present Age is where all of the daily duties of the Priests occur. It’s where we live today. Here’s what I mean.

holy-holies2

Remember, Lancaster says that he believes the Temple was still standing when this letter was written, so he’s being quite literal. But also, this is representative of the fact that he was describing the Present Age, the age in which he and his readers were living and the age in which we continue to live. We have daily access to the holy things and the service to God as described in the Sinai Covenant (and remember, this is a Jewish person writing to Jewish people so for them, it’s all about the Sinai Covenant). It doesn’t matter that the Temple is now destroyed because Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and there was a long period between that and the building of Herod’s Temple, and yet the Sinai Covenant was (and is) still in effect.

The Holy of Holies by contrast, represents the Age to Come which begins or which is beginning in the Messianic Age, the place where not just any Priest but only the High Priest could enter, and not on a daily basis but only on one day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the High Priest could only enter carrying blood.

He’s saying that the Holy Place, representing our reality today, still has Godliness but there’s a big difference between what we have now and what is going to happen.

Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.

-Hebrews 8:6-10

Verse 8 is the key and where we have to pay close attention to the verb tenses:

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time.

The way into the New Covenant age has not been shown to us nor will it be while the current age exists, the Present Age, the age we are living in right now. So the Old (Sinai) Covenant still is in effect and we are still living in the Present Age under the rules and conditions of the Old Covenant. Nothing has been replaced, including the Sinai Covenant, the Torah, the Temple (since it will be rebuilt) and the Priesthood (since it’s an eternal Priesthood and will make sacrifices in the Temple in the Messianic Age).

But why isn’t the New Covenant Age open to us yet?

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

-Matthew 27:50-51

Most Christians take these verses to mean that once Yeshua (Jesus) died, the Priesthood was abolished and everyone could enter the (spiritual) Holy of Holies and stand before the throne of God. And yet the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews is saying that this isn’t true and it won’t be true until the New Covenant Age which Messiah will bring to completion, or near completion, when he returns.

What Did I Learn?

I was following Lancaster along pretty well but this next part was new to me. The Present Age is represented by the Holy Place, where our daily service to God takes place and where the Sinai Covenant remains in effect. The Present Age is slowly beginning to pass away and about to become obsolete, but since it’s still here and we’re still here, it still has some life left in it.

The Messianic Age can be compared to the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Both resurrected/perfected people, the Saints, so to speak, in Christ who will rise at the first resurrection and the rest of the people alive at his Second Coming who are yet to be resurrected. It’s the intersection between covenants which is why there will have to be a Temple.

world-to-come

But the Messianic Age is relatively brief, only about a thousand years or so, and once passed through that veil, we’ll be fully in the Age to Come:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.

-Revelation 21:22-23

It is only at this point in future history, after the Messianic Age has passed away, that the Sinai Covenant will also pass away and there will no longer be a need for the Temple. It’s difficult to imagine what life will be like here, but this is part of what’s being described.

But it’s not as relevant as what happens in the Messianic Age and indeed what’s happening now.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, [m]having obtained eternal redemption.

-Hebrews 8:11-12

Even though we can’t actually enter the Deuteros, the second, the New Covenant Age yet, we still have a stake in it that allows us to live as if we have already entered. How can we do this? Because we have a High Priest who has entered before us, the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). How can he enter where we cannot?

The High PriestBecause he already died and was resurrected into a perfected body. We haven’t done that yet. Also, since even the High Priest cannot enter without blood, the blood he shed in the Present Age he “carried” (spiritually, not literally with his hands) from the Protos to the Deuteros as a one time event (not an annual event as is the present Yom Kippur) as a forerunner for the rest of us, and to provide an anchor for us, bridging the gap from the Present Age to the Age to Come.

As I was listening to Lancaster, I realized that when the Temple veil was torn top to bottom the moment Jesus died, it wasn’t a sign that the Old Covenant was dead and buried right then and there so we all could immediately enter the Holy of Holies and stand naked before the Throne of God. It was a sign that the High Priest of Heaven, Messiah Yeshua could now enter…but only him, and only in the Heavenly Holy of Holies, and only with the blood, his blood.

The sermon ended abruptly at this point so I can only imagine Lancaster will continue to follow through next time. Only eleven sermons left to complete the series. It’s getting pretty exciting. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Reflections on Romans 9

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Romans 8:37-39 (NASB)

That’s how Paul wrapped up the eighth chapter of his Holy Epistle to the Romans (as we count the chapters and verses) and as I recorded in my previous reflection on this letter. Paul is offering a note of comfort and conciliation to his Jesus-believing Gentile readers in Rome that in spite of all the adversity they face, they will never be separated from God’s love through Messiah.

But while Paul wasn’t writing letters in chapters, what we call chapter 9 does seem to start off with a major shift in topic.

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

-Romans 9:1-5

I’ve always wondered why Paul began this part of his letter by saying he wasn’t lying. Who would have thought, over halfway through reading the epistle, that Paul started being duplicitous or disingenuous?

Of course, there’s this:

And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many (tens of) thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

-Acts 21:20-21

Paul had enemies in some Jewish communities in the diaspora and they had apparently been spreading rumors that he had been teaching the Jews in the galut that they did not have to follow the Torah of Moses or the traditions of their Fathers. Perhaps some Jews and Gentiles hearing these rumors (and remember, at the point Paul is writing this letter, he’d never been to Rome before so none of the people reading this would likely have met him before) thought they were true. If indeed Paul was following the instructions for teaching the Gentiles formally adopted by the Apostolic Council’s halachic ruling as chronicled in Acts 15, he was teaching the Gentiles that they were not obligated to the yoke of Torah as were the Jewish disciples. I can see where this could have been confusing.

The Jewish PaulBut either through malice or miscommunication, the rumors existed and the Gentile (and Jewish) disciples in Rome may have believed they had good cause to doubt Paul’s affection for his fellow countrymen. So given that Paul’s about to launch into an impassioned plea for unbelieving Jews, a strong preface of “I’m not lying” may have seemed necessary. Of course, all this is guess-work on my part, but as I’ve said before, these “reflections” on Romans are just my impressions at reading the letter “cover-to-cover,” so to speak.

Paul says he’d rather be accursed and separated from Christ. The ESV translation uses “cut off” in place of “separated” which immediately brings to mind the following:

For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people.

-Leviticus 18:29

If (and it’s probably a big “if”) the Apostle to the Gentiles meant “cut off” in the sense of the Hebrew word “Karet” as described by Derek Leman, then Paul was indeed saying he was willing to undergo great suffering, complete isolation from Israel, and perhaps even death for the sake of the salvation of some of his brethren in the flesh, that is, for other Jews.

On the heels of that declaration, Paul then says that his unbelieving Jewish brothers (and indeed all Jews) are those to whom belong “adoption as sons,” “the glory and the covenants,” “the giving of the Law (Torah),” “the Temple service,” and “the promises, whose are the fathers.”

In other words, the promises God made to Israel, that is, all Jewish people, as recorded in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings (what Jews commonly call the Tanakh and what Christians refer to as the Old Testament), all of them, still belonged to all of Israel, to all Jews from Paul’s point of view as he was writing his letter.

Remember, Paul was writing after the crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Messiah, the Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father and who is our High Priest in the Heavenly Tabernacle. Apparently, none of that deleted, watered down, erased, or “fulfilled” any of those aforementioned promises in order to make them go away or to transfer them from Jews to Gentiles.

So if the Jews had all those advantages, why was it so important to Paul that they accept the validity of the revelation of Yeshua as Messiah?

…whose are the fathers, and from whom is he Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

-Romans 9:5

What an odd way to end that sentence. What does Christ (Messiah) have to do with everything Paul said in the previous verses?

But now He [Messiah] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

-Hebrews 9:6

D.T. LancasterYou’ll have to read my sermon reviews of D. Thomas Lancaster’s lengthy sermon series on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, particularly Better Promises and Glory to Glory to get the full meaning of what I’m saying here, but a big, big part of those “promises” of “the fathers” (also translated as “the patriarchs”) are the promises of the New Covenant, which Paul has been referencing heavily so far in his letter, a Covenant for which Yeshua is the mediator.

In order to access those promises fully, the next step in Jewish religious life and faith was to acknowledge the revelation of the Messiah and it was so important to Paul that Jewish people do so, that they claim their own heritage, he was willing to voluntarily surrender his part in those promises, including the final and total forgiveness of sins and the resurrection into the Messianic Kingdom.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac;  for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

-Romans 9:6-13

This set of verses has been misused time and again by Christians including those belonging to some portion of the Hebrew Roots movement, to say that Christians are “spiritual Israel” or that Jesus-believing Gentiles actually are Israel in fact.

But hold up there, Tiger. Not so fast.

Verse 6 may say “for they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (and we typically think of “Israel” = “Jacob”), but look at the verses that immediately follow. I suggest that what Paul is actually saying is that not all offspring of Abraham are Israel, but only the descendants of Isaac, the child of the promise (remember, Paul was talking about promises God made to the patriarchs). God loved Jacob but hated Esau. In other words, God loved the child of promise Isaac and Isaac’s child Jacob, but He hated Isaac’s child Esau. Only one of the twins could inherit the promises and that child’s offspring became the Twelve Tribes of Israel who are now the Jewish people.

It has nothing to do with Gentile Christians and only has to do with Gentiles in the sense of the non-inheriting offspring of Abraham and Isaac since their descendants are not Israel, not Jewish.

I think this is Paul’s way of saying that all of the direct descendants of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob are loved because of the promises God made to each of them (see Genesis 12:1-3; 17:21; 22:15-19; 26:2-5; 28:10-17). Those promises and all the other promises God made with Israel were never rescinded, thus they all remained (and still remain to this day) in force, but only for the Israelites.

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

-Romans 9:14-18

calvinism vs arminianismI once heard these verses used to support Calvinism or the idea that God selected only specific individuals for salvation from before the creation of the Earth and not others. Since God is sovereign over the universe, He has the right to do this, but was Paul inventing Calvinism in these scriptures?

Look at the context and especially what he wrote above. He’s been talking about how “God loved Jacob” (Israel) and “hated Esau” (the non-children of promise from Abraham and Isaac, and perhaps all pagan peoples descended from them). Is this unfair of God? According to Paul, no. God had/has the right to choose Israel from among all the nations of the Earth for special blessings, promises, and duties (and make no mistake, being the sole objects of the covenants and obligated to their conditions by performing the Torah mitzvot is indeed a challenging set of duties).

Now recall that Paul isn’t writing to the Jews in Rome but to the Gentile believers, very likely because he had heard of some strife between the Gentiles and Jews sharing community space in the Roman synagogues and that the Gentiles might have been getting a bit arrogant in their special status of equal co-participants in Jewish worship life without the obligation to undergo the proselyte rite. I’ve said in previous “reflections” that the non-believing Jews may have been pushing back by emphasizing their special chosen status as Israelites and no doubt that had the intended effect of “stinging” Gentile pride.

I think what Paul is saying here is that God had every right to choose the Israelites for whatever reason or not reason at all, and that God is not being unfair. God can have mercy on who He chooses and there’s nothing we can do to change God’s mind. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh whose heart God hardened during Moses’ numerous appeals to secure freedom for the Israelite slaves, and God did this for His own glory, even though you might think it was unfair, since this hardening ultimately lead to the deaths of many, many Egyptians.

But God is sovereign and Paul is saying because of such, God can choose Israel for special blessings and quite frankly, we Gentiles have nothing to say about it.

I didn’t fail to notice that such a position has applications in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements of today. Many non-Jews involved in each of these two disciplines can sometimes get that “I’m on the outside looking in” feeling when it comes to Talmud study, davening in a minyan, or even reciting the blessings of donning a tallit, that is, those mitzvot that are distinctively Jewish.

Some non-Jews attached to these movements have said it’s unfair for Messianic Jews to withhold the observance of these mitzvot to themselves and have even gone so far as to say that Messianic Jews are exclusivist and racist.

And yet we have Paul strongly stating that God has every right to give the Torah to the Jewish people and not assign the same chosen status to those of us who are not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My impression of Paul is that he would have little patience with the demands of such folks.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

-Romans 9:19-24

claySo being clay, all of us, in the hands of our molder, that is God, who are any of us to complain if He made some clay Jewish and some clay Gentile? Those He made for “honorable use” (I know this is going to sound unkind) can be compared to the Jewish people, while those made for “common use” are the Gentiles. After all, relative to the entire world population, the Jewish people have always been only a tiny number, apparently reserved for a special use while the rest of us, because we are so many, are more “common.”

I think this was Paul’s message to the Roman Gentile Jesus-believers. He sounds like he was definitely playing “hard ball” in this letter, but since he wasn’t with them in person to emphasize his points, he had to make sure there would be no way his readers could misunderstand him. Going back to that part of the chapter where Paul said he wasn’t lying, maybe he had a good reason to say things in as definite a manner as possible.

Thus the “vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand for glory” to whom God would “make His power known” are the Jewish people, but some of that glory also extends to us, “not from among the Jews only, but also from among the Gentiles.”

This is the hook Paul uses to keep the Gentiles engaged so they wouldn’t be completely put off by everything he just said. Further:

As He says also in Hosea,

“I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’”
“And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold,

“Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity,
We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”

-Romans 9:25-29

Now Paul flips the Prophets, so to speak, emphasizing where the Gentiles are included in the promises, showing them where they/we are involved. Paul has made his point that the Gentiles can’t assume the role and place of the Jews and now he’s showing the Gentiles where their role and place lies using the relevant scriptures.

Finally (for today’s meditation):

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written,

“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

There are not two paths to justification and salvation, faith for the Gentiles and the Torah for the Jews. That the Gentiles are not obligated to “pursue righteousness” through the Law in the manner of the Jews but are saved by faith alone, does not make them better or worse than the Jews, but the Jews, having the Torah (pursuing righteousness through the mitzvot), must still walk by faith. If a Jew (as perhaps some of the Roman Jews had been thinking) believed that mitzvot observance alone justified them before God, then the Torah became a “stone of stumbling” and “a rock of offense” for them. Torah doesn’t replace faith, it is by faith that the Jewish people walk the path of Torah.

TorahIf Paul expected both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master to pursue righteousness by observing the same Torah statues and commandments, then he would have said the “stone of stumbling” and the “rock of offense” was for both Jews and Gentiles who lacked faith, but he didn’t. He deliberately juxtaposed the faith of the Gentiles and the Law of the Jews, for it was the Gentiles who were bragging that by faith they were saved and that they had no obligation to the mitzvot, rubbing Jewish noses in Gentile “freedom,” so to speak.

In spite of the differences in role and responsibility between the Jewish and Gentiles disciples, the common denominator, the place where God was totally impartial as far as Israel and the nations were concerned, where He broke down the dividing wall between the two groups (Ephesians 2:14), was that only the faith of Abraham justifies anyone before God. We are all justified by faith in God through the mediator of His promises, Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus).

What an illuminating “reflection” Romans 9 turned out to be.

'For him, there was no small or unimportant Jew. There were no unimportant non-Jews either. As the Rebbe made clear, no human being created "in God's image" could ever be regarded as "small" or unimportant.' -Joseph Telushkin

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