Tag Archives: Jesus

disciple

The Cost of Serving the King: Lessons in Discipleship

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

-Luke 14:28-33 (NASB)

The twin parables of the Tower Builder and the King Going to War (Luke 14:28-33) focus on the self-examination necessary to make a decision for surrendering to the call of Jesus. The ultimate commitment is demanded of every disciple. No one should make such a decision rashly. Just as cost estimation is needed to build a tower in a field and intense strategic planning is required to wage war, the one considering discipleship must weigh the cost. To complete the task successfully, one must consider each demand in Jesus’ teachings concerning the kingdom of heaven. Only after intensive self-testing should the decision be made to follow Jesus in his call to radical discipleship.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 12: The Decision: The Tower Builder and the King Going to War,” pg 222
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I can’t believe the day after I published this blog post discussing, in part, what it is to truly surrender our lives to Messiah and acknowledge him as Lord, that I should read the opening words of this chapter which address the same thing.

Many Evangelicals consider their work done when they inspire a person to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord by making some sort of initial statement. That person is “saved.” Move on to the next poor, lost soul.

Except I think the process of “salvation” may be more than a point event. I think it’s a process, sometimes a long process, before anyone actually arrives at the place where they recognize the very real cost of becoming a disciple of the Master and what it will really take to “surrender all” and to follow him. We are told to count the cost of becoming a disciple, making what, for all intents and purposes, is an irrevocable vow, and then binding ourselves in servitude to him, following our Master in all he desires from us.

D. Thomas Lancaster in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, addressed the ancient practice of teaching initiates into Messianic discipleship in two messages: Instructions About Washings and The Initiation. By comparison, what do we do today in the Christian Church to prepare those we have brought to the beginning knowledge of Christ to count the cost, leave their former lives behind them, pick up their cross and to follow him?

Not darn much, for the most part.

No disciple should begin training in the kingdom of God unless he or she has recognized fully the insistent demands of total commitment and has determined to shoulder the responsibilities with unrelenting resolve.

-ibid

How many of us, as believers, possess “unrelenting resolve,” especially in America where we are pretty much fat and happy? And if we are not prepared for the challenges of being a disciple, will be face the same consequences as one who starts building a tower and cannot finish or a King who goes into war and has his army smashed?

An ignominious defeat will ruin a king, destroy his kingdom, and cost him everything. The disciple’s defeat can be just as devastating.

-ibid, pg 223

FallingIn response to a “leap-before-you-look” kind of religious zeal that leads many people to “accept Christ” before knowing anything about him and what he requires, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his book Growth Through Torah (pg 358) responds with this advice:

“A Torah scholar should be consulted whenever questions arise.”

In the case of Christianity, the very people who are out evangelizing should be the ones urging each potential initiate to be cautious. Do not be premature. Learn. Study. Discover who this Jesus Christ is and what you must truly pay in order to follow him on his path.

For Luke these parables form a complex of teachings focusing on radical discipleship. Hating one’s parents or dying for one’s beliefs are concepts that perplex and challenge.

-Young, pg 223

Unfortunately, potential disciples are not told the truth of Messiah upfront. Often they (we) take months, years, or even decades to discover (if we are fortunate ever to do so) the cost of following the King of the Jews.

For Christianity, the cross has become more a symbol of salvation than a call to radical discipleship.

-ibid, pg 224

We tell people about salvation, forgiveness of sins as a free gift of Christ, an eternal life of bliss up in Heaven with Jesus, and all the really attractive stuff. We never tell them what they have to do once they “sign on the dotted line.”

But the danger of diluting Jesus’ radical call to action by spiritualizing his practical teachings is never very far removed from the preaching of salvation through the cross. In the teachings of Jesus, in contrast, the image of the cross was a call to radical discipleship. One must hear and obey. The stress was not on salvation but on obedience. The fear of God is rooted in the wisdom obtained through Torah learning and active involvement in fulfilling wisdom’s teaching.

-ibid

By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is strong,
And a man of knowledge increases power.
For by wise guidance you will wage war,
And in abundance of counselors there is victory.

-Proverbs 24:3-6 (NASB)

Knowledge and wisdom are absolute requirements before beginning to design and build a structure, whether it be a tower or a house. If you go in blind, depending on taking someone else’s word that everything will work out fine if you just “accept Jesus into your heart,” the walls could end up falling down around your ears.

Young ponders whether or not Jesus had Proverbs 24 in mind as he crafted his parables and believes it is likely. I suppose it’s possible Paul also was thinking in that direction:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

-Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

In my previous commentary on these verses, I mentioned that information was not lacking among the Jewish devout, but specific knowledge about how Jesus was and is the goal, the aim, the focusing crystal and makes the meaning of the Torah so much more clear was lacking in some, just as the basic, elemental principles of Christian faith are often lacking, not just in new converts to the faith today, but people who have been in the Church for years.

It is true that works without faith is dead, but what about an uninformed faith? Can you consent to give your life to something you don’t understand? Are you held accountable to words you cannot fathom? Actually, I believe you can.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

-Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

awareness-of-godJesus connects lawlessness with those who bear no fruit, that is, they do not lead lives transformed by their faith, and there is no evidence of the Spirit in their daily lives and no obedience to God. How can this be unless they have not actually, truly surrendered all of who they are (we are) to the demands of a very demanding King and Master. If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, then he may command anything and we must obey.

For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

-Luke 7:8 (NASB)

The Roman Centurion “got it,” but that’s what we can expect of a man who served in a brutal military hierarchy under the reign of an unrelenting Emperor.

Like I said, in America, in the church as well as anywhere else, we’re too “fat and happy”. We think discipline is going to the gym three or four days a week.

R. Samuel bar Nahman said in the name of R. Jonathan: By what parable may the verse just above be explained? By that of a king who lived in a certain principality. When the people of the principality provoked him, the king was angered [and would not abide in their midst]. He removed himself some ten miles from the city before he stopped. A man who saw him went to the people in the city and said: Know that the king is angry at you and may well send legions against the city to destroy it. Go out and appease him before he removes himself still further away from you. Thereupon a wise man who was standing by said to the people: Fools, while he was in your midst, you did not seek him. Now, before he moves further away, seek him out. He may receive you. Hence it is said “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6)…

See Pesik. Rab Kab., suppl. 7:3 (Pesikta Derav Kahana, ed. Mandelbaum, 2:472; English trans., Braude and Kapstein, Kahana, 491). Cf. the discussion of McArthur and Johnson, Parables, 194, as quoted by Young pg 227

But it is also said:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

-Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

And yet in verse 13, Paul states, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But you can’t call on someone you do not know. And you cannot know someone unless you learn of them, spend time with them, discover the desire of their heart. You cannot commit unless you are willing. You cannot commit unless you understand and agree to the price of commitment. We’re all taught about the “free gift of salvation” but never about the “real cost of discipleship.”

Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a teacher…

-Pirkei Avot 1:6

It’s ironic that in considering the cost, some might believe it is too high and then choose not to follow. However in the end, the cost of refusing to become indentured servants of the great King is higher still.

pearl

Seeking Treasure and Pearls

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

-Matthew 13:44-46 (NASB)

Are the parables concerned about the cost of discipleship or the cost of the kingdom? This is one of the most complex and difficult questions of Gospel scholarship. It is a crucial issue that must be resolved in order to understand the teachings of Jesus.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 11: The Find,” pp 220-1
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I didn’t want to review Young’s book piece by piece, but taking each of the parables in turn, something new keeps turning up in my perception of the Master’s teachings and I feel compelled to share.

The scripture from which I quoted above is actually considered two separate but related parables: The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. Christian commentators, theologians, clergy, and the average “believer in the pews” believe they have this one figured out.

Christian interpretations of the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price show a strong christological interest. Irenaeus taught that the treasure is Christ. Such an allegorical approach has been rejected, however, by the consensus of modern scholars.

To imagine that the historical Jesus told a parable in which he himself appears as the great treasure accidentally discovered…is nonsense. Even though Matthew suggests that these parables were taught to the disciples in private, the Jesus of history did not ordinarily speak about his person in such a way…

Origen, too, understood the treasure and the pearl as referring to Christ, but took the allegorical method one step further when he discussed the meaning of the field in light of salvation history. The field represents the Scriptures and the treasure is Christ. The Jews rejected him, hence the treasure has been passed on to the Christians.

-Young, pp 200-1

Frankly, that all sounds horrible. I know from a 21st century church perspective, it may seem “obvious” and easy to come to such conclusions, but when you fit these words back into their original context, coming out of the Master’s mouth, and that his audience was his Jewish inner-circle of disciples, then it seems ridiculous to believe he was teaching such supersessionism.

Young goes on:

As a kingdom parable, its message is closely tied to other teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. For instance, Flusser properly understands “selling all” as an allusion to “seeking first the Kingdom,” which means that these illustrations are connected to Jesus’ teachings concerning the reign of God (Flusser, “Gleichmisse,” 129-33).

-ibid, pg 202

treasureNow, at least for me, things are starting to make sense. If the “hidden treasure” and the “costly pearl” represent the coming Kingdom of God, then “seeking first the kingdom” can be linked to searching for that “treasure” and selling all we own, that is, making all of our other priorities and concerns subordinate to the Kingdom.

However, Young also compares the treasure and the pearl to the cost of being a disciple, although, as we see, he believes we must make a choice between the two interpretations:

The cost of discipleship is actually a secondary theme supporting the theme of overriding passion for God’s reign. Jesus is consumed with a passion to see God’s rule realized. The kingdom is above all.

-ibid, pg 221

As a brief aside, I should mention that in Young’s opinion, it is the Kingdom, not the Church that is Christ’s “overriding passion” and the Kingdom is inexorably tied to the primacy of Israel in the redemptive and salvational plan of God.

So we must choose an interpretation for these parables: the value of the Kingdom or the cost of discipleship. Young has come to his conclusion but in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” In other words, is it too much to ask for both?

Yes, I’m suggesting (though not demanding) that Jesus could have inserted more than one meaning into his parables. However, based on other material Young included in his chapter, there may be even more going on in these parables.

The parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price have a rich background in Jewish tradition when viewed in the context of Torah learning. Accepting the kingdom meant entering into obedience to God and searching the deeper meaning of his revelation in Torah. The Gospels portray Jesus as a dynamic teacher; who raises up his disciples for total commitment in the kingdom of heaven. In Jewish thought, the recital of the Shema was the acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom, because one was making a declaration that one has chosen the LORD to the exclusion of all other gods, and God’s way of living life. Praying the Shema opened up communion with the one true God. Such devotion to God and God’s revelation in Torah was not without sacrifices.

-ibid, pg 206

ShemaThis paragraph is pregnant with possibilities. The plain meaning, as I take it, is that we can find both the value in Torah study as a means of learning obedience to God’s commandments and by performing them, gain entry into the kingdom, and the cost of discipleship and Torah study relative to the sacrifices one makes as a student of the Master and a servant of God.

In this regard, the story of R. Johanan is of interest, even though it first appears in sources from the Amoraic period. Rabbi Johanan and R. Chaya bar Abba were traveling from Tiberias to Sepphoris. As they passed through some of the most fertile land in the entire country, R. Johanan began to recall how he sold certain plots of land in order to finance his studies. The talmudic legend stresses R. Johanan’s sacrifice for Torah. Rabbi Chaya bar Abba is concerned that his friend will not have the resources necessary for his old age. But R. Johanan is filled with joy because he learned Torah. The exchange was well worth the sacrifice.

-ibid, pg 208

Rabbinic commentary is replete with examples of self-sacrifice for Torah study, with revered sages being depicted as living frugally if not in abject poverty, all for the sake of studying Torah. But these tales tend to give the impression, at least to the outsider, that Torah study was for its own sake rather than for the higher purpose of performing the mitzvot which would be pleasing to God. After all, if all one did was study without putting their knowledge into practice, is a person complete?

While I think we can reasonably infer that Jesus, as a teacher, expected his students to study and learn his teachings within the larger context of the Torah, he also expected them to go and do, spreading knowledge of the Kingdom of God among the lost sheep of Israel and afterward, the nations of the world (Matthew 28:19-20).

I know this once again brings up the question of Gentile disciples and the Torah. Certainly we are not forbidden study of the Torah nor even obligation to the mitzvot, but it is an obligation that has its own distinctive nature and indeed, we Gentiles in the ekklesia of Messiah have a distinct role that we must not abandon if the purposes of God are to be fulfilled through us.

I recently read an article that stated in part, “My friend Aaron just called “Messianic”, Messi-Antics. When I have said Messianic in the past, I mean someone that (sic) believes the Torah is God’s way of sanctifying His elect unto Himself, whether Jew or Gentile,” implying that there is only a single method of obedience to God through the Torah, and that Jew and Gentile were offered the self-same behavioral path of sanctification.

But it’s not performance of the mitzvot that makes us holy, especially mitzvot that are not apportioned to us. Above all else, if we don’t consider ourselves as separated from the values of the world by our faith, our repentance, our turning to God with a pure heart, our steadfast walk in continually desiring an encounter with God in prayer, then donning a tallit and laying tefillin won’t make much of a difference, even for a Jew. Nor will it matter if we call ourselves a “Messianic,” a “Christian,” or anything else. What we value isn’t a name, a label, or a brand, but rather sanctifying the Name of God.

Helping the HomelessYes, obedience, as I said above, is part and parcel with that sanctification of God’s Name and seeking first His kingdom, but obedience isn’t complicated. Most of the  time, it’s not even specific to role:

As a person who wants for nothing, it hit me pretty hard this morning to hear Homeless Shelter’s (name changed for privacy) plea for donations to help the homeless beat the heat. The Shelter believes that every person has a right to safe and adequate shelter and they’ve been sheltering, supporting, and advocating for homeless adults and children since 2005.

Donations are down this time of year because people think, “Hey, it’s warm out. They’re fine.” But as you know, triple-digit temperatures cause many problems. That is especially true for homeless adults and children. And it’s not just discomfort, but heat exhaustion and other serious illnesses.

So because we are a responsible company who likes to give back to our community, we’re collecting donations to help the Sanctuary help those in need.

By next Friday, July 18, please leave with the receptionist any of these much-needed supplies that we may take for granted.

I received that in a company email at my “day job” yesterday as a request for donations to a local homeless shelter. The person who wrote it wasn’t a manager but a regular employee who approached the charitable contributions committee where I work and asked if they would help her in fulfilling what she felt was a personal commitment to help the homeless. Fortunately, my employer is very community minded and thus, we’ve all been prompted to make various donations in cash or goods for the sake of people who have far less than we.

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts…

-Romans 2:14-15 (NASB)

What is of value to God? Don’t we in some ways already know what to do to please Him, to obey Him?

This isn’t to negate Torah (Bible) study, since it is by study that our “instincts” to do good are refined and honed and we can not only feel but know what is right to do.

jewsSo far, all of the “different” interpretations of the parables in question seem to fit together. If the overarching commitment is to seek first the kingdom, that hidden treasure, that pearl of great price, then the means to do so is to study the Bible, to enter into discipleship, to subordinate all of our wants and needs to those goals, to perform acts of lovingkindness and mercy to our fellow human beings, even as God has been abundantly gracious and merciful to us. I’m less concerned about “looking Jewish” or having the wrong “religious label” than I am with buying a case of bottled water and various sun protection products and donating them to my local homeless shelter.

But beyond all of that, there is still another treasure to consider.

Clearly, these two parables (See Mekilta Derabbi Yishmael on Exod. 14:5) have a different reality behind their word-pictures than the Gospel parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price. Nevertheless, the images used in the colorful dramas as well as the action of the plot in each story are quite similar. The rabbinic parables illustrate the undiscovered treasure of the people of Israel, while the Gospel texts portray the intrinsic value of the kingdom and the cost associated with obtaining it.

The people of Israel became the precious treasure of God while the pharaoh of Egypt failed to comprehend the intrinsic value of the great nation he had released. By the same token, the disciple should recognize the intrinsic worth of the incomparable kingdom of God as he or she surrenders all to obtain it.

-Young, pp 212-13

Young compares the more traditional rabbinic parable of the treasure as the people/nation of Israel to the value of the kingdom of God and the cost of discipleship, but I want to take that comparison a step further. I want to say that we can bind these interpretations of value together, seeking first the kingdom, study of Torah, the cost of discipleship, and the preciousness of Israel. I think they’re interdependent. I don’t think you can separate them out into self-sustaining components.

For if you toss even one of those elements onto the trash heap, the rest will go with it.

Consider the recent abandonment of Israel by Evangelicals. Consider what I wrote about Yom Hashoah in the church. There is more than just human compassion in praying for the peace of Jerusalem. Even the Master said, “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22).

How can we seek first the kingdom? How can we search out the hidden treasure and then sell all we own to possess the pearl of great price? The kingdom isn’t just Torah study, nor is it just performance of the mitzvot (however we choose to interpret what “performance” means). It is also loving your fellow human beings and particularly loving and supporting your Jewish fellow human beings and the Jewish nation of Israel. That is the physical seat of the Throne of David and the center of Messiah’s Kingdom.

In order to assert that value, we “join the army,” so to speak, by making a commitment to Messiah as his disciples. We are students who learn by studying and by doing. We apply what we have learned by showing to others the mercy and kindness God has shown to us. Above all other nations, God has chosen to love Israel, so in that too, we must emulate the Almighty.

We are partisans or freedom fighters, declaring fealty to our Lord, holding our ground, defending his Land as he even now is on the journey to return and to re-claim that which is his own.

hopeAll of this constitutes the hidden treasure, the costly pearl. Am I saying in absolute terms that Jesus meant to imbue his two parables with the meaning I am assigning to them? No, of course not. How could I?

I am saying that a parable can contain more than one literal meaning. I am also saying that parables can be inspirational. Interpreting a parable is like interpreting a poem or an artistic painting. The reader or observer can often extract meaning from these works that the writer or painter never meant to convey. But the meaning is just as real and, in this case, I think, just as Biblical.

It’s what I hope to do with these “meditations” I write. I’m not just out to make some sort of theological point. I want what I write to inspire someone to do what they might not have done before, to entertain a thought that had never occurred to them before.

It’s quite possible that the Bible contains far more than we’ve given it credit for. I don’t mean to manufacture false interpretations or to add my own words to the Bible. However, I believe that the Spirit is with us when we read the parables of Jesus and the inspiration we feel when we consume his teachings goes far beyond just a series of words printed on paper, which is what they are without the Spirit.

Seek first the kingdom by seeking first the treasure beyond which all other treasures pale by comparison. Seek first God. His Spirit will provide all the wealth we will ever need.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and learn the true origins of the current (and historic) conflict between Jewish Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

empty tomb

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Resurrection of the Dead

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

-Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

According to Hebrews 6:1-2, the resurrection of the dead is one of the six basic doctrines of Messianic faith. In this teaching, D. Thomas Lancaster takes a look at the apostolic hope in the resurrection, distinguishing between the resurrection of the righteous and the general resurrection.

This is teaching number 25 in the Hebrews series and number 10 in special series on the elementary teachings of the Messiah. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, teaching 26 and the conclusion to the special series on the elementary teachings, titled “The Eternal Judgment,” was not recorded.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-five: The Resurrection of the Dead
Originally presented on August 8, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This sermon is closely tied to the previous one which I reviewed last week and continues to discuss a literal, physical resurrection of the dead.

It all starts with that empty tomb of Yeshua’s (Jesus). Why was it empty? Had Jesus risen into Heaven? No. He was physically, bodily resurrected. The same body that died, rose. He even had the same wounds.

Lancaster talked about resuscitation vs. resurrection. We have modern examples of resuscitation when a person is declared dead but then, through modern technology, resuscitated and is again alive, but that person was dead temporarily and the resuscitation is temporary. Eventually, that person will die again.

We see examples of resuscitation in the Bible such as Jesus raising Lazarus (see John 11:38-46). Jesus resuscitated Lazarus but didn’t resurrect him, otherwise Lazarus would have been immortal. At some point, he died again and, like the rest who are dead in Messiah, awaits the resurrection.

…knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

-Romans 6:9

That’s what it means to be resurrected. That’s why Jesus is the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). He was resurrected to prove a point. The point is that all of God’s promises to Israel are real and literal. When God speaks of the resurrection of Israel, He’s being literal and Jesus is the proof. If we believe God proved He will fulfill the resurrection, then we can believe in all of His promises.

In the day of Jesus, the Pharisees believed in a literal resurrection but the Sadducees did not. To settle the point in Judaism once and for all (ideally), Jesus died and was resurrected. For all those who were witnesses and all those who believe through faith in the literal resurrection, that is our hope that death isn’t the end and that a just God will punish evil and reward good.

Rambam (Moses Maimonides) established believing in the resurrection as one of the thirteen principles of faith. In order to be a religious Jew, you have to believe in the resurrection, according to Maimonides.

According to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, belief in the resurrection is one of the six principles of the Messianic faith.

Lancaster said that a belief in a literal, earthly resurrection has largely been rejected by the mainstream Protestant church. That’s kind of a surprise to me, but I guess if it’s common for Christians to believe they go to Heaven (and stay in Heaven forever) when they die as some sort of spirits, then a physical resurrection and a life with Jesus on Earth kind of kills the deal (no pun intended).

Lancaster goes so far as to say a Christianity that doesn’t believe in a literal resurrection is no longer Christianity, it no longer follows the Biblical faith of the Apostles.

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.

-1 Corinthians 15:13-14

If we don’t believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead in the same body he originally had, and we don’t believe that we too will be raised in the same manner as Jesus, then, according to the Apostle Paul, he, and all of the apostles and disciples who had been preaching Jesus, were preaching in vain. Not only that, but our Christian faith is also in vain if we don’t believe in the resurrection.

aliveThat’s pretty strong stuff. If you believe you’re going to Heaven as a “floaty ghost” (Lancaster’s words), then your body is dead and stays dead. You have some sort of spiritual existence in Heaven but you will never have a physical existence again. If this is what you believe, then you deny the resurrection, making Paul’s preaching and your Christian faith vain and worthless.

That’s pretty horrible. There goes your hope. Poof. Up in a (spiritual) puff of smoke.

Jesus is the definitive proof of a resurrection, if you’re willing to believe. If you believe, you have hope. If not…poof.

Not only will there be a resurrection, there will be two of them. The first is what is called the resurrection of the righteous which includes the exiles from Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) and all those in Messiah (that is, the Gentiles who are in the faith). We will be gathered to the Messiah and taken to the Kingdom. That happens at the beginning of the Messianic age.

The second resurrection, also called the general resurrection, happens at the end of the Messianic age and at that time everyone will be resurrected from the dead…to be judged.

Jesus even taught about it.

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

“If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.

-John 5:25-32

Those of us who hear the voice of the Master will be among the first resurrection because we are in him. However, not all of humanity is or will be in Messiah and those who are not in him won’t hear his voice. However, even those who are not in Messiah will hear him at the second resurrection and they will be judged by the will of God.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

-1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

RestorationA word about going up into the air. We don’t stay there, according to Lancaster. This isn’t the ride to Heaven most Christians believe in. We won’t be raptured to Heaven but rather to where the presence of the King of Israel will be…to Jerusalem.

That may be disappointing or even startling to some of you reading my words. Actually, after spending so much time hearing about the rapture, it’s still a little jarring to me. What? No Heaven with Jesus? Christians I know believe that “the Church” will be raptured to Heaven for the remainder of the tribulation, and then return to Earth with Jesus to conquer the enemies of the Church and take over the world.

But that’s not what Jesus taught or Paul wrote about.

… knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.

-2 Corinthians 4:14

The King will be in his Kingdom. His presence will be in Israel.

But how will we be raised. What will it be like?

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

-1 Corinthians 15:35-41

Orthodox Jews don’t cremate their dead, they always bury them. In fact, how one prepares the dead for burial and the rituals around treating the body of the dead all are built on the belief in the resurrection. A dead body is treated with great respect because it is a body that will come alive again.

jewish burialBut what about people who were cremated or suffered some fatal accident which destroyed the body? According to Paul, the body doesn’t absolutely have to be whole and intact. By using the “seed” metaphor, he suggests that all that’s required is some small, perhaps very tiny fragment of the original body. God will not be stopped in accomplishing the promise of the resurrection.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, [n]earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

-1 Corinthians 15:42-49

According to Lancaster’s understanding of scripture, we will be resurrected in our original bodies, warts, wounds, disabilities and all, God will heal our infirmities, and through a process we don’t understand, a process Jesus went through after his resurrection, our bodies will be transformed into immortal and indestructible bodies. In fact, all of Creation will be transformed, resurrected, so to speak, and death will be no more.

So although we mourn our loved ones who have died, it is not as if they died without hope, for in Messiah, we shall all be raised again.

My God, the soul that you placed in me is pure. You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me, and you guard it within me, and you will ultimately lift it away from me, only to return it to me in the future to come. For the entire time that my soul is within me, I give thanks to you, O LORD, my God and God of my fathers, Great One over all works, Master of all souls. Blessed are you, O LORD, who returns souls to dead bodies.

-Siddur

What Did I Learn?

As I said last week, the idea of a physical, bodily, earthly resurrection is not new to me, so no curve balls there. I did have a question of whether or not Lancaster believes that all Jewish people will be in the first resurrection or only those in Messiah, but from what I could tell on the recording, that was left somewhat ambiguous.

I’ve mentioned before in these reviews and in my reviews of Lancaster’s lecture series What About the New Covenant that it seems as if God intends to forgive the sins of all of Israel, so one way to interpret that is all Jewish people will be forgiven, redeemed, and be made righteous, and thus they will all be part of the first resurrection.

WaitingThat has problems when compared with much of Paul’s commentary about being resurrected in Messiah so I’ll reserve judgment on that issue. I don’t want to create the impression of a dual path to salvation.

Lancaster did say something interesting about how we should treat our bodies in the present age. He said we should treat them with respect and honor, doing only healthy things to our bodies. Of course, we will age or even possibly die in accidents that will be very damaging to our bodies, but the idea is that we don’t get new ones. We get the same old ones, even though they will be transformed, healed, and made immortal and indestructible.

God made our bodies as well as our spirits and even though at death, they are temporarily separated, one day they will be brought together again.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

-Revelation 21:5

When you go to sleep in the dust, you will also rise, just as you are, only better. You will be gathered with your King in the air and travel with him in triumph and glory to Jerusalem, City of David, as he is enthroned bodily in Israel as her King, as our King.

That last part, as I mentioned above, may throw some of you. I’ve heard this before. I’ll probably get some angry comments about it. But think about it. Would it be so bad to stay here with Jesus on Earth? Do we really have to go to Heaven first?

Oh, don’t worry about the next lecture, “The Eternal Judgment” not having been recorded. It’s covered in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles, so I’ll just review that chapter for next week.

Rabbis discussing

Forgiveness: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

-Matthew 18:23-35 (NASB)

Christian tradition has upheld the high ethical teachings of Jesus concerning forgiveness. While the parable of the Unforgiving Servant is found only in Matthew’s Gospel, its message is stressed in the Lord’s Prayer, which became a vital expression of Christian faith. The prayer for Jesus’ disciples with its dynamic petition, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” finds a prominent position in the Didache, which demonstrates that the early Christians emphasized the theme of forgiveness in the life of the church…Could the Lord’s prayer as recorded in the Didache have been influenced by the wording of this parable?

-Brad H. Young
Chapter 6: The Merciful Lord and His Unforgiving Servant
“The Parable in Christian Tradition,” pg 120
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I’m only a little more than half way through Young’s book but each chapter follows a similar pattern, taking a particular parable of Jesus (Yeshua) and running it past a specific analytical matrix. This isn’t unlike what Roy Blizzard has done in his book Mishnah and the Words of Jesus which I reviewed last spring. Blizzard compared various teachings of Jesus to those of the Rabbinic sages within a generation either side of the (earthly) lifetime of Jesus and determined that Jesus very much taught within the Rabbinic context of the late second Temple era.

The ParablesYoung, chapter by chapter, takes a specific parable of Jesus, shows his readers the traditional Christian interpretation, and then re-examines the parable through the lens of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries, as well as later Jewish writings. This method also reminded me of a teaching by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) founder and president Boaz Michael that he gave a few years back called “Moses in Matthew” which I had the opportunity to listen to (as an audio recording) and review nearly thirteen months ago.

This method of understanding the words of the Master brings into question traditional Church exegetical concepts such as “the sufficiency of Scripture” and “let Scripture interpret Scripture,” both of which suggest that all you need to understand the Bible in general and Jesus in particular is you and a Bible translated into your native language (which for me is English). While most Evangelical Pastors will also say that a good concordance is helpful and it’s even better to understand the original languages along with something of the context in which the Biblical writers authored their works, they tend to neglect understanding the Judaism in which each Bible writer lived, worked, learned, and taught.

Apprehending Scripture from within an ethnically, religiously, historically, linguistically, culturally, and experientially Jewish framework often yields different interpretative results than the traditions handed down by the Christian Church in its many denominational “flavors”.

Although humor is difficult to define and understand because of cultural barriers, Jesus’ dry wit comes through in this story of one very fortunate servant.

-Young, ibid

I quoted this short sentence to illustrate both the point of “cultural barriers” and how we could miss something so elementary as humor. When we read the Bible, we tend to believe that it is always written in the utmost seriousness and, in many conservative Fundamentalist churches, the literal meaning of the text is always given tremendous weight. But what if the writer is saying something ironic, using Hebrew and Aramaic wordplay, rabbinic idiom? What if the writer is telling a joke?

Delitzsch BibleIf we don’t access resources to support our understanding of how Jesus most likely was teaching and how his immediate audience (those listening to him) and extended audience (the originally intended readers of the Gospels and Epistles) were expected to understand what he said, we are left with what we think it all means from a 21st century Christian American point of view.

Please keep in mind that point of view almost never takes ancient Judaism into account let alone immerses itself in said-Judaism as a pool of interpretive wisdom. In other words, we’re probably making a lot of wrong assumptions and coming to many erroneous conclusions.

In the cultural context, the sacred calendar of the Jewish people may provide the setting in life for this parable. The ten-day period between the Jewish New Year and the day of Atonement was designed for seeking forgiveness between individuals. A person was not prepared to seek divine mercy during the great fast on the day of Atonement if he or she had not first sought reconciliation with his or her neighbor. The day of Atonement was the experience of the community as every person participated in the fast. The preparation for this collective experience, however, focused on the necessity to forgive one another on a personal level so as to approach God without a bitter heart. Mercy from above depended upon showing mercy to those below (Compare to Matthew 5:23-24).

-Young, pp 123-4

We can see a corollary in Talmud:

For transgressions that are between a person and God, the Day of Atonement effects atonement, but for the transgressions that are between a person and his or her neighbor, the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if one first has appeased one’s neighbor.

-See m. Yoma 9:9 (Mishnah, ed. Albeck, 247)
quoted by Young, pg 124

We see the scene of the parable being unpackaged right before our eyes in the pages of Young’s chapter to illustrate what we should plainly see Jesus teaching: that the forgiveness of God and atonement for sins is dependent on our forgiveness of others who have sinned against us. If we believe we have been forgiven by God and our sins washed away, and yet fail to forgive those who have sinned against us, will the God of Heaven truly forgive? If we have sinned against another and asked God alone for favor rather than first seeking out the forgiveness of the one we have offended, will God forgive in the stead of the person against whom we have sinned?

Of course, if we have sought forgiveness and been spurned, we can only be held responsible for our own part. We cannot make another person forgive us if it is not in their heart to do so.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

-Romans 12:18 (NASB)

A Rabbi TeachingThe lack of forgiveness in response to our sincere desire to repent to one against whom we have sinned is on the other’s head as long as we’ve done all we can to make amends and repay them for the wrong we have done.

There’s another implication in Young’s interpretation of Jesus’ parable based on his invoking the time period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Particularly in Orthodox Judaism, it is believed that a Jew is written into the Book of Life year by year. It is an opportunity to have God hit a sort of “cosmic reset button” for the year to come, but it requires great effort on the part of the individual to make amends for sins committed, both against man and God, to perform good deeds, and give to charity.

This is quite foreign to a Christian’s point of view, particularly if you believe “once saved, always saved.” The moment you confessed Christ as Lord and believed in him, you were saved from your sins and guaranteed a place in Heaven when you die. You need to nothing else, and in fact, it’s impossible for you to do anything else.

That’s the truncated version of the traditional Christian understanding of the Gospel message, anyway.

It is said that there are two resurrections. The first is called the “resurrection of the righteous” and only those who “died in Christ” will be resurrected at the second coming of Jesus. They/we will all be raised into the air to meet him, and according to traditional Evangelical doctrine, the Church will then be raptured into Heaven to wait out the full fury of the Tribulation on Earth. Then, when all the bad stuff is over, Jesus leads the Church back down to Earth to establish his Kingdom where the Church will rule with him over a New Earth.

Or so it goes as far as many Christian churches are concerned.

The second resurrection is called the “great white throne” judgment where everyone who has died is resurrected and judged by God, with the righteous living in bliss for all eternity, and the wicked being cast into the lake of fire to suffer torment for all eternity.

But how does that judgment work? If we just believe in Jesus will we be saved automatically? Will we be given a free pass into Heaven? What about being forgiven by God as we’ve forgiven others?

What if the final judgment is like the ultimate Yom Kippur service? Have you ever been to a Yom Kippur service? It’s the single most solemn day on the Jewish religious calendar, full of tears, fasting, remorse, repentance, trembling, and fear.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

-Hebrews 10:31 (NASB)

The unmerciful servant does not forgive like his master. The lord of the servants, however, is not only merciful but just. The one who would not forgive will not receive a reprieve. His fellow servants recognize the injustice and report the actions of their unmerciful coworker to the lord. He is enraged.

-Young, pg 128

MessiahBelief in Jesus is hardly sufficient by this Biblical standard. What you think and feel is only part of the equation. What you do out of your faith is what really matters.

They were passing through in the morning, and they saw that the fig tree had withered from its roots. Petros remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed is withered!”

Yeshua answered and said to them, “Let the faith of God be in you. For amen, I say to you, anyone who says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and moved into the middle of the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but rather believes that what he says will be done, so it will be for him as he has said. Therefore I say to you, all that you ask in your prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be so for you. And when you stand to pray, pardon everyone for what is in your heart against them, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions. But as for you, if you do not pardon, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgression.

-Mark 11:20-26 (DHE Gospels)

If this is so as we are judged by God day-by-day, how much more so is it true when we come before the Throne of God at final judgment and the great day of atonement?

Yet, for all its importance, the ritual of the synagogue is but a means to an end. In Judaism, behavior takes priority over belief. Faith without deeds will not change the world.

-Ismar Schorsch
“The Root of Holiness,” pg 553, July 12, 2003
Commentary on Torah Portion Balak
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

-James 2:14-20 (NASB)

It is doubtful that Schorsch meant to parallel the teachings of James the Just, brother of the Master, but this may reflect the fact that principles from ancient Judaism (for the teachings of Jesus and James are wholly Jewish), some at least, have survived the passage of time and endure in modern Jewish practice. As Christians, for anything we find good and gracious in our theology and doctrine, we must give thanks not only to God but to Judaism for its origins.

Ismar Schorsch
Ismar Schorsch

However, if we accept that, we must also accept that a Jewish understanding of the teachings of Jesus place a much greater burden on the shoulders of a Christian than many Pastors have led us to believe. Fortunately, I currently attend a church where this burden is taught and where sincerity of repentance and love and forgiveness of our neighbor and brother is held in great value.

Also fortunately, the God of Justice is also the God of Mercy:

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

-Exodus 34:6-7 (NASB)

He remembered His covenant for them and relented in accordance with His abundant kindness.

-Psalm 106:45 (Stone Editon Tanakh)

…but if that nation repents of its evil deed of which I had spoken, then I relent of the evil [decree] that I had planned to carry out against it. Or, one moment I may speak of concerning a nation or kingdom, to build and establish [it], but if they do what is wrong in My eyes, not heeding My voice, then I relent of the goodness that I had said to bestow upon it.

-Jeremiah 18:8-9 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

God is eager to do good to all those who call upon His Name in sincere repentance and who do what is right, but to those who call upon Him yet continue to do what is wrong, there is no mercy, but instead, righteous judgment.

As Christians, we cannot afford to take our (so-called) salvation for granted, for who is to say that God won’t keep His word as He has given it and as Jesus has taught it? Who is to say that our forgiveness (or lack thereof) of others won’t be the model by which God will (or won’t) forgive us?

Young writes this by way of conclusion to his commentary on this parable:

The parable shows the deep roots of Jesus’ teachings in ancient Judaism. Jesus’ Jewish theology of God saturates the drama of the story as the action moves from scene to scene. The listener is caught up into the plot of the mini-play and participates in the trial, triumph, and tribulation of the servant. What happens when it is impossible to pay one’s creditor?

…The cultural and religious background is based on the teachings concerning the great day of fasting in Israel’s sacred calendar, which each person seeks forgiveness from God. The creation of humanity, in the very image of God, demands full accountability, which means that one must be merciful in the same way that God shows mercy. The images created by the parable lead the listener to join the actors on the stage. Each individual must ask God for forgiveness of a colossal debt. To what extent, however, do I extend mercy to others who have wronged me?

-Young, pg 129

The answer would seem obvious and Young addresses it again in the following chapter, “Chapter 7: The Father of Two Lost Sons,” his commentary on the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32):

Jesus makes this a major theme in the prayer he taught his disciples: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” On the day of Atonement, the Mishnah instructs the people to make things right one with the other before seeking forgiveness from God (m. Yoma 8:9). Thus the idea of human forgiveness is strong in Jewish theology.

-Young, pg 134

These parables are not cute little sayings of Jesus to teach us some interesting moral lesson. They are cautionary tales, warnings to the disciples, including us, that what we do and why we do it really does matter, and, looking back to the words of the prophet Jeremiah, what we have been given can be taken away at any time should we prove to be faithless and insincere, both to God and to our fellow human beings (also see Matthew 25:14-30).

coffee-and-studyWhile I suppose it’s not absolutely necessary to study the Bible from a culturally and religiously Jewish perspective and still live a good and upright Christian life, we see here, as I’ve pointed out many times before, that without a little extra “help” through an understanding in the wider body of Jewish religious literature, we can often miss the point, giving more power to Christian traditional interpretations than in what Jesus said in context. The Church has been taught to avoid that context because it has been taught that (if not the Jewish people) Judaism has been sitting on the shelf long past its expiration date. The Law is dead. The Jewish people just don’t know it yet.

Except that’s not the case and can’t be. Without a Jewish understanding of the teachings of Jesus filtered through an ancient and arguably modern practice of Judaism, the words of Jesus are just words on a page, devoid of some or much of their actual meaning. And without that meaning, the depth of our faith and how we actually live it out, including forgiveness, is just as absent of meaning. It may be good and even sufficient, but it could be so much more.

To what then may we compare (entry into) the Kingdom of Heaven?

I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or provoked me or sinned against me, physically or financially or by failing to give me due respect, or in any other matter relating to me, involuntarily or willingly, inadvertently or deliberately, whether in word or deed: let no one incur punishment because of me.

-Bedtime Shema from the Siddur

high-priest-hebrews

When Jesus Returns, Will We Go To Church?

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

-Revelation 19:7-8 (NASB)

Who or what exactly is the “bride” of “the Lamb”? It’s presumed to be “the Church,” that is, the collection of individual Jews and Gentiles who came to faith in Jesus (i.e. converted to Christianity) prior to the great tribulation and the rapture to Heaven. Under this presumption, anyone converting to Christianity after the rapture is considered a believer, but not part of the Church. They can never be part of the Church. Only the Church goes up to Heaven with Jesus and only the Church returns with him.

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.

-Revelation 19:11-14 (NASB)

According to Pastor Randy, the head Pastor at the church I attend (and if I’m remembering this wrong, I hope he’ll let me know), the “armies” returning with Jesus is the Church, who becomes the bride of Christ (“the Lamb”).

The idea of “the Church” has bothered me for quite some time. I finally gave my concerns a voice last April in a “meditation” called Notes on the Church from an Insomniac and followed it up with When is Church not Church, based on D. Thomas Lancaster’s article “Before the Church Was Called the Church”, published in the Spring 2014 issue of Messiah Magazine.

In the first century CE, faith in and worship of Jesus of Nazareth, Yeshua ben Yosef, HaMoshiach, was a fully recognized branch of Judaism along with other branches such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and so forth (although “the Way” was most closely related to Pharisaism, and except for the realization of Yeshua as Messiah and it’s rather liberal attitude toward admitting Gentiles, was likely indistinguishable from Pharisaism).

Obviously, much has changed in the intervening twenty centuries or so, especially starting in the second century when Gentile Jesus-believers radically separated from their Jewish mentors and any Jewish practice, in order to form a completely divergent religion for Gentiles called “Christianity”.

But now that the Church has been created, has it replaced Judaism in all of the New Covenant promises God made with Israel (for instance, in Jeremiah 31:27-40)? With the Church as the “Bride of Christ,” what becomes of Israel and the Jewish people?

Let’s take a giant step backward. First of all, the concept of “the Church” isn’t presupposed in the Bible. Did I just shock you? What about all of those references to “the Church” in the New Testament? Did I just miss all of the times the word “church” is printed (in English) in my Bible?

synagogue_arkAs I’ve mentioned before, the Greek word “ekklesia” cannot directly be translated as “church”. In fact, the word “church” didn’t really come into being until many centuries after the New Testament canonization. Generations of Jesus-believers lived and died before anyone actually thought of or said the word “church”.

So, does “ekklesia” mean the same thing theologically and conceptually as “church”? That’s the $64,000 question and the answer might not be in the New Testament.

Thus says the Lord,
“Preserve justice and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.
“How blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who takes hold of it;
Who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from His people.”
Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord,

“To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
“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.”
The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
“Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”

-Isaiah 56:1-8 (NASB)

“For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord.

-Isaiah 66:18-21 (NASB)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘It will yet be that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go.” So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord.’ 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 8:20-23 (NASB)

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

-Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)

“It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
“Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

“I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth,
Blood, fire and columns of smoke.
“The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood
Before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.
“And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered;
For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
There will be those who escape,
As the Lord has said,
Even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.”

-Joel 2:28-32 (NASB)

Sorry for the lengthy series of quotes. I wanted to present a representative collection of scriptures (though hardly exhaustive) illustrating how the Old Testament depicts Gentile involvement in the “end times” and/or Messianic Age, coming alongside Israel and turning toward God.

RestorationIf I were to set aside the New Testament and concentrate on the scriptures in the Prophets, the image of Gentile worship of God becomes radically different from what we’ve been typically taught by the Church. There are a number of references to “survivors” of the Gentile nations who went up against Israel and who were defeated. There’s at least the suggestion of some sort of judgment against these Gentile nations and consequences for their behavior.

We also see Gentiles being gathered to witness the glory God bestows upon Israel and particularly Jerusalem, as well as statements illustrating Gentile observance of a weekly Shabbat, New Moon Festivals, and the Moadim (appointed times, sometimes referred to as the “Jewish festivals”) for those of us who have held tightly to His Covenant.

But where is “the Church?”

The Christian theology of Progressive Revelation states that from the past to the future in Biblical history, God revealed progressively more about Himself. This means the newer sections of the Bible contain much more information about God and His plan for Israel and humanity than earlier sections. This would lead most of us to conclude that we can “trust” the New Testament more than the Old, thus as Christians, our primary source of information about what to expect from God in the present and future should be the apostolic scriptures.

And yet, just yesterday, I reviewed an article written by Paul Meier called “Christian Theology and the Old Testament” published in Messiah Journal which solemnly described the severe dangers of taking a low view of the Old Testament and relying on the New Testament as our primary source for theology and doctrine. A low view of the Old Testament results in a low view of the Jewish people and the Jewish nation, Israel.

And yet, we rely a great deal on the New Testament to help us interpret and clarify many things we don’t understand about the Old Testament, including our understanding of how the New Covenant is being and will be applied to Israel and the nations. But are the New Testament scriptures really the problem, or is it merely how we choose to treat them relative to the Old Testament and the overarching message of the entire, unified Bible?

Progressive revelation teaches us that later parts of the Bible are more important, clearer, and better than the Older scriptures, but they are all Hebrew scriptures and the later parts cannot stand alone. They must be supported on the foundation of the earlier scriptures and later writings cannot and must not contradict earlier parts.

That’s where we have our problem.

The Old Testament is unequivocally clear that God has had a covenant relationship with Israel for many thousands of years and never has intended to abrogate that relationship. God may discipline Israel from time to time for disobedience, but the New Covenant language is extremely plain in its intent to create an environment within the Jewish heart and spirit that will result in individual Jews and corporate Israel being able to perfectly obey God through the Torah mitzvot and to know God, from the lowest to the highest Jewish person, in the manner of the Biblical prophets.

Unless God changed His mind or He’s a duplicitous liar (and God doesn’t change and doesn’t lie for He is truth), then anything in the New Testament that contradicts what I said in the previous paragraph must be erroneous interpretation on the part of the Church.

prayingSo what do we have? In the Old Testament, we have many, many examples of Gentiles from the nations choosing to join alongside Israel to go up to Jerusalem because the Jewish people are well-known to be close to God. Therefore, a Gentile can also become close to God by attaching themselves to Israel (which makes us “attached” or “grafted in” but not Israel itself).

But how do we do that and why does it work?

We know that based on one particular aspect of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, Galatians 3:15-16, Ephesians 3:1-13), by faith in the “seed of Abraham,” that is Messiah, Son of David, the people of the nations can also benefit from the New Covenant blessings (holding fast to the Covenant), and through adoption, be called “Sons”, and enjoy forgiveness of sins, redemption, salvation, entrance into the Kingdom of God, resurrection, and life-everlasting in the World to Come at the end of all things.

That’s pretty terrific.

However, if you’re a Christian, there’s a problem. Where does “the Church” come in?

What is the Church, or more to the point, what is the ekklesia of Messiah? In the first century, it was a Jewish religious stream whereby, through the inauguration of the New Covenant era by the death (blood) and resurrection of Jesus (Yeshua), as a promise of things to come, Gentiles who came to faith in the God of Israel through discipleship in Messiah, were able to receive the Spirit of God (starting in Acts 10) as did the Jewish disciples and apostles (Acts 2), receive legal standing as equal co-participants in the Jewish stream of “the Way” (Acts 15) and in this ekklesia, form “one new man” (Ephesians 2) made up of Israel, the Jewish people, and the “people of the nations who are called by My name” (Amos 9:12).

It is said that in Messianic days, God will establish a reign of peace and that the whole world will be united together, Jew and Gentile alike (Micah 4:1-5, Isaiah 11:1-10). I see the ekklesia of Messiah, especially in the first century, as an example of that Kingdom of unity and peace in microcosm. The so-called “Church” was supposed to be an example, a picture, and foretelling of what is to come in the Age of Messiah, when Jews and Gentiles really will have peace with one another under the rule of King Messiah, with Israel as the head of all the nations, and Jerusalem as the Holy City, raised high above all other cities and nations (so imagine how I see true Messianic Jewish synagogues, such as Beth Immanuel, with Jewish and Gentile members worshiping together, relative to a prophetic, Messianic future).

Thus the first century ekklesia wasn’t just another Judaism or some sort of expression of a new theology, it was, and I think will be again, the ultimate realization of God’s overarching plan for Israel and the entire world, to return the planet and everyone and everything on it to complete obedience and consistency with the nature and character of the God of Creation, the way it was in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) before the fall.

That means it is impossible for “the Church” to represent a subset of humanity all sanitized of their distinctions, especially distinctions that define Jewish Israel, because in the end, there will only be one body of people: Jews and Gentiles, one-hundred percent of humanity, all devoted to God.

But wait a minute. What about “survivors” and those people who went up against Israel and God, who are to be judged, and who will have consequences delivered upon them? That hardly describes “one humanity” under God.

True. There will be many, many Gentiles (or maybe just a few considering they’re called “survivors”) who up until the point where Messiah and Israel win and the rest of the world is subjugated under an Israel ruled by Messiah, are not of God’s people. They have chosen to be apart. But does that mean they can never join the ekklesia, the vast collection of Jews (Israel) and Gentiles (the rest of the nations everywhere on Earth)?

Why would it mean that? Is teshuvah limited? Under Messiah’s rule, can no one repent? Is that the hard line in the sand?

praying at the kotelAnd what will that world-wide ekklesia look like? It makes sense, based on more prophecies in the Tanakh than I can count, that the Jewish people still in exile will all be returned to and live in the physical nation of Israel. The majority of the human race who are also part of the ekklesia, the vassal nations all aligned with Israel as their head, will periodically go up to Jerusalem for festivals, to pay homage to the King, to pray at the Temple, but we’ll still live in our homes in the nations of the world.

How many religions will there be? If it’s still possible for people to willfully disobey God, there could still be a lot of religions and a lot of denominations within individual religious, but there will be one and only one way to worship God. It is said that one of the things Messiah will do in the Messianic Age is to teach the correct interpretation of Torah and even teach the hidden things of Torah, that which we cannot perceive or understand in the present age. I conclude based on that understanding, that Messiah will show Jews and Gentiles the proper way of prayer, worship, and devotion for Jews and for Gentiles.

I imagine there’ll be a lot of overlap between those two general populations who are under Israel’s God, but I also imagine that there will be distinctions, not the least of which is the fact that Israel will finally, truly be a wholly Jewish nation.

What will that body or religion (or will the term “religion” have much meaning when Messiah is King and we all “know God” because the Spirit has been fully “poured out on all flesh”?) look like? My personal opinion is that it will not be called “Church,” crosses will no longer be prominently displayed by Gentile devotees of God, Sunday will no longer be the primary day of worship, and if I read the Tanakh correctly, pork and shellfish will no longer be on our menus, we all will rest on Shabbos, observe New Moon festivals, and plan our vacations around the Moadim so we can present sacrifices and pray at the Temple in Jerusalem.

That sounds a lot more like a Judaism than any form of Christianity.

I’ve been planning on writing something like this for quite some time, but got a little push yesterday (today, as I write this), by reading an article written by Caleb Hegg at the TorahResource Blog and reblogged by Judah Himango at Kineti L’Tziyon called “Is Messianic Judaism Really a Part of Modern Judaism?”

I tend to take a different view on things than Mr. Hegg, and although I don’t possess the same background as he does, I must disagree regarding whether or not Messianic Judaism can be qualified as a modern Judaism. I know. A lot of people, both Christians like Mr. Hegg and most Jewish people, religious and otherwise, disagree with me. That’s to be expected. I haven’t done much in the way of research on this topic, so I can only guess folks will come along and attempt to poke holes in my arguments.

shabbosBut I’ve written not of what Messianic Judaism is today, but what I believe the world-wide, multi-national ekklesia will be in the days of King Messiah. As I mentioned above, if you have to assign a “religious” designation to that future ekklesia, given the Biblical prophetic record of the Messianic Age and the realization of the New Covenant as it reaches fruition, it will not be the Church. If we have to call it anything at all, it will be a Judaism.

The word “Messianic” is not simply a Hebrew-based way to say “Christian.” Messianic Judaism is the Judaism of the Messianic Era, practiced today.

-Aaron Eby
as quoted from Facebook

As a non-Jewish member of the ekklesia of Messiah, and summoning the future Kingdom of God, at least a little bit, into our present world, I wish you all a Good Shabbos, which also foreshadows the Kingdom to come.

Addendum: A few months ago, I wrote a blog post somewhat similar to this one called The Church When Jesus Returns, but I didn’t take my point as far as I have on the current “meditation.” I still think they “fit” together, though.

covenant

Briefly Revisiting Gentiles and the New Covenant

I see this has gotten out of hand.

I debated a long time before putting my fingers on the keyboard, but in the end, I can’t allow this misunderstanding to go unanswered.

It has been said by one individual that I believe Gentiles (i.e. Christians) are excluded from the New Covenant. Frankly, as the kids say, “that’s crazy talk.” Nevertheless, my recent blog posts Unity in Messiah: A Commentary on One Law and the Gentiles and Walking in the Dust of the Footsteps of Moshiach have inadvertently made me and my blog something of a minor lightning rod. That was hardly my intent.

I wrote these blogs, first of all, to speak of and expand upon some of the concepts behind a recent commentary on Torah Portion Shelach published online by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). Actually, that was the motivation for the first blog post. I wrote the second in response to some online misinterpretation of my intent and motives, but that only made things worse.

It seems I need to restate my beliefs about the New Covenant and the place of the nations in relation to Israel. That won’t be easy to contain in a single blog post, since the information is vast. It took me eleven or twelve blog posts to work through my original investigation and D. Thomas Lancaster covered the New Covenant material in five sermons on four CDs in his What About the New Covenant series.

Here’s the “Reader’s Digest” version:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “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.” (emph. mine)

-Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)

The direct objects of the New Covenant are the House of Judah and the House of Israel, the descendants of the object of the Sinai Covenant, the Israelites. The nations are not mentioned in the New Covenant language so they (we) are not directly connected. Then how are we involved at all? Consider the Abrahamic Covenant:

  1. Genesis 12:1-3 – God promises to make Abraham into great nation, bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham.
  2. Genesis 15:18–21 – God promises to give Abraham’s descendants all the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, and this area is later referred to as the Promised Land or the Land of Israel.
  3. Genesis 17:2–9 – God promises to make Abraham a father of many nations and of many descendants and the land of Canaan as well as other parts of Middle East will go to his descendants.
  4. Genesis 17:9-14 – God declares that circumcision is to be the sign of the covenant for Abraham and all his male descendants and that this will be an eternal covenant.

Abraham and the starsNotice that only portions of the first and third condition have anything to do with any other people besides Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob. The first condition promises that “all peoples on earth” will be blessed through Abraham, and the third condition states that Abraham would be a father of many nations. Of course that last part speaks to the wives of Abraham and the children he had with them after Sarah died, so that condition doesn’t really figure into how all of earth’s people will be blessed.

Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

-Galatians 3:15-16 (NASB)

We have to go to the apostolic scriptures and Paul’s epistle to the Galatians to understand how to interpret Genesis 12:1-3, but we see that the blessing to the nations comes through Messiah. He is the “mechanism” by which we Gentiles may be “grafted in” to the promises, not making us Jewish converts without a bris, but beneficiaries of the blessings such that we too can approach God as sons and not strangers (Ephesians 1:4-5).

lightSome things have been said about me ignoring that Israel is to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). The idea is that the Gentiles were to be attracted to that light (Deuteronomy 4:6) and then be prompted to join the nation, assimilating into the tribes and clans and becoming one with Israel.

I refer you back to FFOZ’s One Law and the Gentiles article for the details about what it was to be a “Ger” both in the days of Moses and in the time of the apostles.

Well over a year ago, I wrote Building My Model, which was my prior attempt at summarizing Gentile inclusion in the New Covenant. I reduced everything down to five points:

  1. God creates a provision in his covenant with Abraham that allows the Gentiles to be blessed through Messiah (Abraham 12:1-3).
  2. The New Covenant (Jer. 31, Ezek. 36) renews, affirms, and amplifies all of the previous covenants God made with the people of Israel and the people of Judah which, by definition, includes the Abrahamic covenant.
  3. Messiah alludes that the (new) covenant is poured out in his blood (death), (see Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20) for all people.
  4. Paul interprets the Abrahamic covenant provision referring to Gentiles as Messiah being our connection to God (see Galatians 3:15-16).
  5. Paul describes the process of Gentiles being made co-heirs to the Messianic promises through Messiah as a mystery (Ephesians 3:1-13).

There are multiple portions of the Prophets that mention Gentiles, the Temple being a house of prayer for all peoples, Gentiles holding fast to observing the Shabbat and the Festivals, and ten men of the nations taking hold of the fringes of a Jewish man’s clothing to go with him and to be near to God.

All of those passages speak to Gentile involvement alongside Israel in being devoted to God in the future Messianic Age, but in sending the Messiah the first time, God sent a message and a gift, a foreknowledge and guarantee of the coming Kingdom and confirmation that God will fulfill all of the New Covenant promises.

The coming of the first Gentiles into relationship with God by receiving the Spirit (Acts 10) just as the Jews did (Acts 2) is one of the signs of that promise and guarantee. The prophesies of Joel (Joel 2:28) must have come to Peter’s mind as he saw Cornelius and his household receive the Spirit, and when Paul, as Messiah’s emissary to the Gentiles, brought vast numbers of former goyishe idol worshipers to the God of Israel through faith in Yeshua, it must have seemed as if the Messianic Age was close to fruition, and that the New Covenant times were about to burst into completion.

That hasn’t happened yet, but we are in the midst of that process. The fact that Gentiles continue to be drawn to Messiah by the Spirit and to desire to learn about the Jesus of the Jewish scriptures is clearly a sign. Of course, we Gentiles are involved in the New Covenant, but only through Israel for the Master said “salvation comes from the Jews,” (John 4:22).

I’ve tried to compress a great deal of information about a very complex topic into one short article and I hope I’ve been successful. For a more complete picture of my understanding of the New Covenant, go through my eleven part series, starting with part one: The Jesus Covenant: The Foundation, and then click through the subsequent parts until you get to the end. Afterward, you should also read Gifts of the Spirit Poured Out on all Flesh which filled in one last piece of my investigative puzzle.

early_morning_skyI hope this puts a few frenzied souls to rest. I also want to remind everyone reading my blog that my opinions are solely my own. I may quote from First Fruits of Zion and similar resources, but that doesn’t mean I work for them or am their “mouthpiece.” I also quote from Aish.com and Chabad.org but that doesn’t make me an Orthodox Jew or Chabadnik. Like any researcher, I utilize different sources to support my commentaries. You can bug organizations like the UMJC if you want, but I am not affiliated with them in any way so my comments should not be taken as representing them. Nor do they (or any other organization) have the ability to censor or repudiate me.

Now will people please calm down? It’s OK to disagree, but any level of adult emotional maturity should enable a person to have differences of opinion with others without personalizing conflict. Otherwise, all we’re doing is engaging in “spitting contest” and I hardly think that sort of behavior is for the sake of Heaven.

“The world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.”

-Aaron Sorkin, American screenwriter

Thanks.