Tag Archives: Jesus

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.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Glory to Glory

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?

For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.

-2 Corinthians 3:7-11

In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul teaches a short discourse contrasting the glory of the Old Covenant and the glory of the New Covenant, employing the metaphor of the veil that concealed the light of Moses’ face. This passage is frequently understood to imply replacement theology the cancellation of the Torah, but a closer look reveals a the role of the Torah in both old and new covenants.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Three: Glory to Glory
Originally presented on December 7, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Before getting into today’s review, I should mention that this is pretty much the same material I reviewed from Lancaster’s lecture series What About the New Covenant. You’ll get most of my commentary from my previous review of From Glory to Glory (which you should read if you haven’t done so already), but you won’t get all of it. That’s because Lancaster changed a few things around and became more overtly “mystic” in today’s sermon. Maybe that’s because he’s talking to his home congregation vs. producing a teaching for a more generalized audience.

The new stuff I learned came packaged in the two “Prologues” to his sermon (also see Zechariah 12:10).

Prologue One

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, “Have everyone go out from me.” So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed [terrified] at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.”

-Genesis 45:1-7 (NASB)

Prologue Two

It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him. So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them. Afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the Lord had spoken to him on Mount Sinai.

-Exodus 34:29-32 (NASB)

Let’s take a look at what these two passages have in common.

joseph-and-pharaohFirst we have Joseph, you all know about Joseph, who his brothers had sold into slavery, who was first a slave in Potiphar’s house, then a prisoner, and finally raised to the station of ruler over Egypt second only to Pharaoh, King of Egypt.

His identity was hidden from all his brothers. They never recognized him, even though they faced him repeatedly, even in Joseph’s household. Only when Joseph directly revealed himself, taking off his veil if you will, did they recognize him…and were terrified. After all the rotten things they’d done to Joseph, they suddenly knew that not only was he alive but he was virtually the most powerful man on Earth, capable of any act, good or bad, and they were totally in his power.

But Joseph was merciful. He forgave them, all of them. He told them not to be afraid. He told them to come near and when they did, they were all reconciled.

Now how about Moses. The “back story” is when Moses was up on the Mountain with God the first time, the Israelites rebelled, created the Golden Calf, and worshipped it as the “god” who had brought them out of Egypt. Moses came down with the first pair of tablets and when he realized what they were doing, smashed them. God wanted to wipe out the Israelites, but Moses interceded on their behalf, made a second set of tablets at God’s command, and renewing the covenant, took the tablets down to Israel.

What Moses hadn’t realized was that in his time with God, his face started glowing with a sort of reflection of the light of the Divine Presence. When Moses returned to the Israelites, they saw him, the tablets, and his glowing face and they were afraid and ashamed, especially so soon after the incident of the Golden Calf. But Moses forgave them, all of them. He brought with him God’s Torah and he bade his brothers to come closer. And when they did, they were all reconciled.

To summarize:

  1. The revelation of the identity (Joseph and Moses).
  2. The reaction of fear and shame (brothers and Israelites).
  3. He (Joseph and Moses) asks his brothers/Israelites to come near to him.
  4. His brothers/Israelites come near.
  5. They are all forgiven and reconciled.
  6. The Renewed Covenant is presented (Moses).

Now imagine this is a picture of the Second Coming of Christ (Messiah). Remember, I mentioned Zechariah 12:10.

The revelation of the identity of Messiah to the Jewish people could very easily be anticipated by the six-point list above including Yeshua (Jesus) presenting what Lancaster calls the Supernal Torah, the Heavenly Torah, unfettered by the “clothing” that was necessary to present the Earthly Torah at Sinai.

I knew of the comparison between Joseph’s revelation to his brothers and Messiah but I hadn’t factored in Moses before.

2 Corinthians 3 is the link. It makes a “lighter to heavier” comparison between the Old (Sinai) and New Covenants using Moses’ glowing face and the veil.

When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.

-Exodus 34:33-35 (NASB)

lightMoses’ face absorbed some of the light of the Divine Presence but eventually his “charge” faded. He uncovered his face in the presence of God, absorbing the light. He kept his glowing face uncovered when he spoke with Israel, revealing the light. He covered his face with a veil so they wouldn’t realize the glow was fading.

According to what Lancaster says, although the Sinai Covenant is exceedingly glorious, the New Covenant still blows it away because, mystically and metaphorically speaking, the “glow” of the New Covenant’s mediator, that is Messiah, never fades.

Lancaster believes this is the difference between mortality and immortality. Moses, like all men, was mortal, and so were all the Priests and Prophets, but one of the requirements of the job description of Heavenly High Priest, the mediator of the New Covenant, is to be immortal.

Another thing:

Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

-2 Corinthians 3:12-16 (NASB)

Lancaster compares this to a Chassidic rebuke that can only be understood via mysticism (I’m sure I’m losing some of my audience here). This is not a comparison between Judaism and Christianity, it’s a comparison between Jews who study the Torah without the “lens” of the revelation of Messiah and those who do. Those who are not yet aware of the identity of Messiah may be compared to Moses wearing a veil with the glow faded. Those who study Torah with the revelation of Messiah may be compared to Moses with his face unveiled and glowing with the reflected glory of God.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

-2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NASB)

Lancaster commented that he wished Paul would have said more about “there is liberty” at the end of verse 17. Liberty from what? From the Torah? From observing the mitzvot? That doesn’t make sense given the context of the New Covenant he’s been teaching for the past few sermons. What does make sense is freedom from condemnation. One of the purposes of the Torah under the Sinai Covenant was to identify and condemn sin. The penalty for unrepented sin was/is death. But under the New Covenant, the sins of all of Israel are forgiven and with the New Covenant written on human hearts, comes everlasting life.

For without the revelation of the New Covenant, we see through a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12), as did all the Prophets of old save Moses who saw God clearly. With the revelation of the New Covenant, faces are unveiled and our eyes can see as “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord…”

I think you can get the other important points Lancaster made from my other review. Of course, to be sure, you should listen to the sermon yourself. It’s only about forty minutes long.

Oh, one more thing:

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

-Hebrews 8:13 (NASB)

For his sermon, Lancaster used the NASB translation rather than his usual ESV. He said that the ESV does “unforgivable violence to the text.” More specifically, it all has to do with verb tenses. The ESV makes it sound like it’s all said and done and that the Old Covenant is totally extinguished and replaced by the New. Classic Evangelical doctrine.

Light under the doorHowever, the actual Greek doesn’t say things like has become obsolete” but rather is becoming obsolete,” describing an active process that is still happening today (as Paul and the author of the Hebrews epistle were writing). In other sermons, Lancaster said that we are still living in Old Covenant times. We may have one foot in the New Covenant, but we still aren’t through the doorway yet. We won’t be until the dead are resurrected, Messiah returns, his identity is revealed, and his brothers and sisters, that is, the Jewish people, recognize him, come close to him, and are reconciled with him in the forgiveness of sins.

In those days, King Messiah will be revealed to the world, he will reveal the Supernal or Heavenly Torah and teach us all the things we currently misunderstand and all of the hidden things that in this life, we cannot possibly know. And he will be our King and we will be his people, all of Israel, and the people of the nations who come alongside and who are called by his name.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Better Promises

The Messiah “has obtained a more excellent priesthood” than the Aaronic priesthood because he is “the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). What are the better promises? How well do you really know the “new covenant”? This discourse takes a closer look at the “better promises” of the new covenant as described in the prophecies of Jeremiah.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Two: Better Promises
Originally presented on November 23, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

I covered the vast majority of the material from today’s sermon in my previous review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s lecture “Better Promises” from his What About the New Covenant audio CDs.

In comparing my notes from today’s sermon with my prior review, I found that they were almost identical, so I suppose you could just click the link I provided above, read that review, and then call it good.

But, I think I’ll go over some of that material again. It can always use repeating.

But now He 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 8:6 (NASB)

Better promises. Jesus (Yeshua) is supposed to be a High Priest in Heaven with a superior priesthood to the Levites, and a mediator of a superior covenant than the Old Covenant based on better promises. What are these better promises?

night-and-dayTo find out, we have to go to Jeremiah 31 since the New Covenant isn’t in the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament), it’s in the Tanakh (Old Testament):

“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.”

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:
“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”
Thus says the Lord,

“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the city will be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will go out farther straight ahead to the hill Gareb; then it will turn to Goah. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord; it will not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.”

-Jeremiah 31:31-40 (NASB)

I broke out the different better promises step-by-step in my previous review but now I’ll just give them as numbered and bulleted lists. But first a few introductory points.

  • This is a prophesy about the end of times, the Messianic future, the final redemption.
  • It is a prophesy that the New Covenant will be like the Old (Sinai) Covenant in that it will also be made exclusively with the House of Judah and the House of Israel, that is, with the Jewish people. The Gentile nations are not mentioned, just as they are not mentioned in the Sinai Covenant.
  • It’s not like the Old (Sinai) Covenant in that it’s based on better promises.

And now, just what are those better promises?

  1. The Torah will be written on every Jew’s heart so that every Jew will intuitively, naturally obey God’s commandments.
  2. God will be Israel’s God and they will be His people. This is the promise of redemption and is actually marital language based on a marriage declaration a man made to a woman in the ancient near east.
  3. Every Jew will have an intimate and inclusive knowledge of God, a personal knowledge of God rather than knowing about God.
  4. God will completely and permanently forgive Israel of all of her sins (see Romans 11:25-27).
  5. Israel will always be a nation before God, that is, the Jewish people will always be a separate and unique national, physical entity called Israel in God’s sight, just as long as there is such a thing seasons, the sun, the moon, and the stars.
  6. Jerusalem, the Holy City, the center of King Messiah’s government, will be rebuilt

Those are great promises but there’s still more. If you read Jeremiah 32:36-42, a number of promises are present including:

  • The ingathering of the Jews.
  • The redemption of the Jews.
  • The betrothal.
  • The Torah written on Jewish hearts.
  • The New Covenant will be everlasting.
  • The New Creation.

Cutting BranchesBut that’s not all (I feel like some cheesy salesman selling vegetable choppers on the shopping channel *jk*). Jeremiah 33:14-26 speaks of God’s promise to raise up a “righteous branch” from the House of David, which is King Messiah, as well as rebuild the Temple, restore the Levitical priesthood, and reinstitute the sacrifices. And these promises can only be broken if day and night should cease to exist.

The latter verses speak of how the nations say that Israel is not a nation before God and that God has rejected Israel (which historically the Church has done). God is telling foolish ones who say such things that if day and night cease only then would God reject Israel. This is rhetorical language meaning that God will never reject His people Israel, the Jewish people. Never.

These are all terrific promises and there are still more that are written in the books of the prophets Amos, Ezekiel, Joel, Micah, and others.

Yes, they’re all great promises…if you’re Jewish.

But what about the Gentiles? What about us?

I also covered the answer to this question in my previous review but I think Lancaster worded part of his answer differently here.

What Did I Learn?

What did I learn new about how Gentiles are included in the New Covenant when we aren’t explicitly included in the New Covenant? Lancaster mentioned Abraham but didn’t explicitly describe how a portion of the Abrahamic Covenant is connected to Gentile inclusion in New Covenant blessings. You can read about that in a detailed summary I wrote.

Lancaster did say that as a result of the Acts 15 legal decision made by the Council of Apostles and Elders, Gentiles were given an honorary status within the commonwealth of Israel, an affiliation with the Jewish people by being grafted in as adopted sons and daughters of Abraham. By sharing Abraham’s faith, we are the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham that “all the families of the earth will be blessed” through him.

Lancaster said that Gentiles have a share in the New Covenant but (and it’s a big but) only by virtue of their/our association with Israel, that is, the nation of the Jews, through our faith in Messiah, for as the Master said to the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).

But how?

According to Lancaster (and this is where you may think that things are getting a little bit fuzzy), King Messiah conquers the world, that is, he defeats all of the armies that go up against Israel in the final war. And since he conquers every nation on Earth, he annexes them and their people. And under that annexation, God extends the New Covenant blessings to include the people of those annexed nations, effectively granting them (us) citizenship under the Messiah’s government; citizenship in the Kingdom.

This could be a problem because some people have told me that even in Messianic Days, there will be nations not sworn to acknowledge the King of Israel as their King and people who remain disobedient. That means, if correct, that Messiah does not conquer literally all of the nations and some remain outside his authority.

However, according to Lancaster, for those Gentiles in the present age who have sworn an oath of fealty to the King, we are already annexed, so to speak, and thus gain access as vassel servants to the King, achieving citizenship in the Kingdom of God now, even though it has not yet arrived.

This goes back to the themes I’ve addressed in a number of my blog posts over the last week or two about the actual status of Gentiles as disciples of the Master in relation to the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and obedience to the Torah mitzvot.

sefer-torahLancaster tossed around terms like “Torah written on Gentile hearts,” “commonwealth of Israel,” and “citizenship” without so much as a “by-your-leave,” but I don’t think he was implying anything you could call “One Law”.

He seems to be saying that when the New Covenant’s better promises are delivered in full to the Jewish people and they are made into a strong and mighty nation, a nation that is at the head of all the nations, those of us who are among the Gentile nations who have been loyal to the Messiah King and who have served him will also be blessed with the fruits of those same promises. Indeed, we are already being blessed as we serve him and cleave to him (which may not necessarily require wearing a kippah and tallit if you aren’t Jewish).

For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

-2 Corinthians 1:19-20 (NASB)

God’s promises find their “yes” in Messiah. All the many promises I listed above and so much more have their “yes” in Jesus Christ for those who believe and who faithfully serve the King and the Kingdom until it comes and then beyond.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

What I Learned in Church Today: The “Lost” in the Church

When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.

-Acts 28:23-24 (NASB)

Today’s (as I write this) sermon and Sunday school lesson at church was on Acts 28:17-31, the end of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Pastor Randy has spent more than three years and given seventy-two sermons on the Book of Acts and next week, he launches into a sermon series on, no, not Romans, though I was looking forward to it, but on the Ten Commandments starting out in Exodus 19. That promises to be full of interesting information and my Sunday school teacher, who was not exactly thrilled with the idea initially, is going to have his hands full with me.

But I digress.

At one point early in his sermon, Pastor said that God keeps all His promises, including His promise to return the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel, His promise to raise Israel as the head of the nations, and His promise to rebuild the Temple. Pastor said if we can’t trust God to keep His promises to the Jewish people, we can’t trust that He will keep His promises to us.

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. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

-Romans 10:1-4 (NASB)

And then he said that the Jewish people chose to follow Rabbinic Judaism rather than the plain meaning of the Biblical text. Pastor had such a great start, too.

It would be difficult to convince most people at church that what we call Rabbinic Judaism (is there any other kind of religious Judaism?) today is an extension of Pharisaism and that the first century Jewish religious stream of “the Way” is simply Pharisaism with a “Messianic twist” and an unusually liberal policy about admitting Gentiles. It would be almost impossible to convince them that God may well have imbued the sages with the authority to make binding halachah for their communities, and thus that God continues to be involved positively with Jews practicing Judaism in the present age. I guess that’s yet to come.

One of the things that was driving me nuts, both in the sermon and in Sunday school, was the constant mention of Christianity. Christianity didn’t exist in Paul’s lifetime. It was a variant religious discipline within larger Judaism, just as was practiced by the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Qumran Community. They all shared a common core Judaism but outside of that, had widely differing beliefs and to a degree, practices.

In Pastor Randy’s notes, he had one of the three main themes of the Book of Acts as “the hostility of the world towards Christianity.” I rewrote it in my copy of the notes to say “hostility toward God” since “the world,” and by that I assume Pastor meant the pagan Greek and Roman world, wouldn’t have noticed a difference between “the Way” and any other form of Judaism.

One other good thing Pastor said was regarding the quote from Romans 10:4:

For Christ is the end of the law…

The word translated in English as “end” is the Greek word “telos” which Randy translated as “goal” or “purpose” and which can be expressed as “the reason for,” thus we could say:

“For Messiah is the purpose of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

MessiahMessiah is the purpose for, the goal, the reason for the Torah, the target, the focus that gives Jewish observance of the mitzvot its clearest meaning as the conditions of obedience to the Sinai and New Covenant and the lived experience of Jewish devotion to God.

I know how I understand what all that means, but I wonder what Pastor understands since in our previous conversations, he seemed to indicate that the Torah was passing away in this “transitional period” of Jewish and “Christian” history and was soon to be extinguished?

I wonder what the people in the sanctuary were thinking as they listened to him? Nothing radical if Sunday school class, which studies the sermon material, is any indication. I suspect (hope) that Pastor’s sermon series on the Ten Commandments will expand on this topic, but here too, I know Pastor’s perspective. He believes that the Ten Commandments can be generally applied to Christianity but not the entire set of Torah commandments (which are organized into 613 commandments in modern Judaism based on the teachings of 12th century sage Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides or the Rambam). Further, he believes the Torah commandments no longer are an obligation for the Jewish people, particularly Jewish believers in Christ.

However, I agreed with Pastor when in his sermon he said how we Gentiles are grafted into the root through the faith of Abraham, which connects nicely with how I see what bridges the gap between Gentiles and the New Covenant blessings.

And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying,

‘Go to this people and say,
“You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;

For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

-Acts 28:25-28 (NASB)

We find after listening to Paul’s evidence from the Torah and the Prophets establishing Yeshua is Messiah, that some of the Jewish leaders in Rome were convinced and came to faith and others did not. Since they didn’t all agree, Paul quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 which one person in Sunday school class pointed out was the statement God made to Isaiah after commissioning him as a prophet to Israel to bring them to repentance. Isaiah was to speak of repentance but God told him point-blank in advance that no one was going to listen.

So apparently it was the same in Paul’s day as well, except that some did repent. I wonder if some individual Jews repented in the days of Isaiah but that it was not enough to save the nation from God’s wrath?

But what does that say of the Jews in Paul’s day let alone in ours?

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”

And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.

“Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?

-Romans 11:7-11 (NASB)

working handsThis seems to say that some Jewish people were chosen to accept Messiah but the rest were hardened against such acceptance quoting Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10, and Psalm 69:22,23

Verse 11 continues:

May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

I won’t get into the whole “provoking jealousness” or “zealousness” thing right now since I’ve written about it before, but I want to compare two conditions:

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

-Acts 28:28 (NASB)

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”

“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

-Romans 11:25-27 [see Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34] (NASB)

So on the one hand, the Jewish people, most of them anyway, were temporarily hardened against coming to faith in Messiah, and on the other hand, a time will come when all Israel will be saved.

In Isaiah 6:10, God states that if Israel would turn (make Teshuvah), God would heal them, but I’ve read a paper by Dr. Mark D. Nanos titled ‘Callused,’ Not ‘Hardened': Paul’s Revelation of Temporary Protection Until All Israel Can Be Healed (PDF) in which he states this “hardening” can be compared to calluses on the hands, which are a temporary protection after injury (I lift free weights regularly at a local gym so I know about calluses on my hands) and which can be softened and eventually healed.

Paul was pulling from Jeremiah 31 which famously contains some of the New Covenant language:

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 31:34 (NASB)

It all comes back to the New Covenant and how we can understand it applying to Israel and the nations.

And just for emphasis, lest anyone be mistaken:

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:

“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”

Thus says the Lord,

“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.

-Jeremiah 31:35-37 (NASB)

Cutting through the metaphorical language, God is saying that one of the blessings of the New Covenant for Israel,  all the Jewish people, is that they will always be a people and a nation before Him and He will never cast them off or reject them.

It doesn’t get much plainer than that.

MitzvahIn his sermon, Pastor said that Acts 28:17-21 was just the latest in Paul’s declarations of innocence that he had said or done nothing against the Torah of Moses, the Jewish customs, and the Temple (See Acts 13, 22, and 23). In other words, he never, ever taught the Jews in the diaspora not to circumcise their sons and to not observe the mitzvot in the manner of the their fathers. Paul also kept the commandments in obedience to the Covenant Israel made with God, and in spite of what men like John MacArthur have said, there is no concrete evidence that this was some sort of “transitional period” in the Bible between Jewish observance of the Torah commandments and being “Law free”. We have every indication that Paul never saw any sort of change in a Jew’s duty to God based on the New Covenant, and a careful reading of all of the New Covenant language in the Prophets indicates that the conditions of the New Covenant are identical to the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, that is, the mitzvot of Moses.

One of the questions in the Sunday school teacher’s notes is:

How is God bringing His good out of the blindness of the Jewish nation? Has He forsaken them? Have you or I? (Rom. 11:1 & 25-29, Zech. 12:9-31:1)

I asked the teacher if he was talking about the Jews in Paul’s time or in ours and he said “ours”. My response was that I was aware of a number of Jewish people who had come to faith in Messiah within their own context.

I’m sure everyone in class missed the “within their own context” part or at least no one mentioned it or asked what I meant by that. What I meant by that, in case you can’t guess, is that I’m aware of Jews who are disciples of the Master who live fully realized Jewish lives, observant to the mitzvot and the customs of their fathers and zealous for the Torah of Moses, given its full meaning through faith in Moshiach.

“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…”

-Acts 21:20 (NASB)

As it was then, may it be so now.

The message is so close and so nearly apparent to the Christians I study with at church that I still can’t believe people aren’t tripping over it, but somehow they still can’t quite see it. They still feel all this means that in the end, the Jewish remnant is going to convert to Christianity and that they will still be a Jewish people and national Israel (as such), but there will be no practice and lived experience of Judaism, the traditions, the mitzvot, the Torah as a continuation of a Jew’s duty and obligation to the God of their fathers and in obedience to the Sinai and New Covenants.

I try to steer the class a little bit closer to the realization of a continuation of lived Jewish experience among Jewish disciples of Messiah each week, but in order to put it right under their noses (so to speak), I’d have to hijack the class, and that’s not going to happen. More realistically, I’d have to teach a class, because the answer to all this can’t be properly expressed in response to the questions asked by another teacher in a lesson that is less than sixty minutes long.

Acts 28:23-25 describes a day-long “sermon” if you will, given by Paul to the leading Jewish people in Rome. He cites both the Torah and the Prophets to prove his case, convincingly enough to bring some to faith. What did he say? I don’t know, but in class, I said I wished Luke had written it all down, just as I wish he had written down all the Master said during that fateful journey on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

The answers are there if we just knew where to look and especially, if we knew how to interpret from the perspective of the Master, Paul, and their Jewish audiences. I said out loud in class (and there were a couple of guests visiting the church who were passing through from South Carolina on their way to California to see their kids, so it was kind of “cheeky” of me) that I study the Bible and Christianity through a Jewish (I didn’t say Messianic Jewish) lens because it’s impossible to understand Jesus without understanding the Old Testament from a Jewish perspective.

Abraham and the starsOf course, it’s more complicated than that, but basically, I’m trying to tell these folks that they can study the Bible using standard Christian theology and doctrine all day long and still hit a wall in their ability to learn and comprehend based on the limitations contained in Christian tradition.

I don’t know if they’ll ever have an “ah ha” moment when the light bulb goes off over their collective heads and they actually “get” what I’m saying. If they ever do, they’ll either become highly curious and want to know more or (and this is probably more likely), they’ll figure I’m a heretic, an apostate, or a cult member, and boot me out of the church.

Pastor Randy said that the mistake the Jews of Paul’s day made was to pursue Rabbinic Judaism and not the plain meaning of the Biblical text, but in reading Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and the other prophets who speak of the New Covenant, this is the plain meaning of the text!

The last question in the Sunday school teacher’s notes is:

Do you and I allow rejection to affect our ministry or love for others?

Pastor asked something similar at the end of his notes about how it is the responsibility of every believer to proclaim the Gospel and what are we actually doing about it?

What am I doing about it? Certainly, I’m blogging incessantly but that’s not enough since by and large, I’m reaching an audience that already has a conceptualization of the Bible similar to my own. One of the responses to his question the Pastor gave was to direct us to ask God to give us a “burden for the lost.”

But what about the “lost” in the Church? What about all those Christians in all those churches who read a truncated Gospel or worse, those who don’t read the Bible at all and just depend on their Pastor or their teachers to tell them what the Bible is saying? Even under the best of circumstances (and at the church I attend, the perspectives on the Bible, Jewish people, and Israel are pretty good), they still will get only part of the story. They’ll never understand why Paul went to the Jew first and only afterward to the Gentile. They’ll never understand that the Good News of Moshiach is even better news for Jewish Israel than it is for the Gentile nations. They’ll never get that the “better promises” (Hebrews 8) are better for Israel and that it is only through God’s redemptive plan for Israel that we people of the nations have any hope at all.

Paul said he was in chains in Rome for the “hope of Israel”. We are here because of that hope, too. But the Church will never know the full extent of what that hope means unless they open their eyes. To that degree, Isaiah 6:10 could have been talking about the “lost of the Church” as well as Israel.

Only by grasping the meaning of the New Covenant blessings for Israel and then what they mean to a grafted in Gentile humanity will our hearts become sensitive, our ears learn to hear, and our eyes begin to see, and when we return to the Jewish King, God will heal us too, after He heals His people Israel.

Reflections on Romans 6

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

-Romans 6:1-4 (NASB)

I realized the other day that I haven’t written one of these “reflections” in a while and thought I should get back to it. Chapter 6 is fairly short so hopefully this will be a short blog post as well (but don’t count on it).

Remember, these “reflections” are just that…a set of impressions I received and took notes on as I was reading Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in a single sitting. I’m not taking a look at the Greek or doing anything in-depth. Take this for what it’s worth.

Since Paul wasn’t creating chapters and verses in this letter, it’s not really fair for me to “review” the Epistle this way, but if I didn’t, I’d have to write one really long blog post, which also wouldn’t be fair (to my poor aching fingers or to you, my readers). So here we are. Paul is continuing the thought he was pursuing at the end (for us) of the previous chapter:

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

-Romans 5:18-21 (NASB)

This is the comparison and contrast between Adam, the first man, and Jesus (Yeshua) the “antidote” for Adam’s bringing sin into the world. As sin increased, God’s grace increased in proportion to the sin. So then Paul asks (Romans 6:1-2), “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” Even though grace increases as sin increases, this is hardly a reason to continue sinning.

Then Paul gives his reasoning. We were baptized into the death of Messiah and so as he died for our sins, we died to sin.

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

-Romans 6:5-11 (NASB)

When we became baptized into the name of the Messiah, we entered a unity with him via an oath of fealty, but it seems something even closer. We became united with him in dying, in this case to our old, pagan natures, and resurrected, both as the promise of the physical resurrection of the faithful to come, but also in terms of a change of our natures.

“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.”

-Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NASB)

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.

-Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB)

new heartThis is classic New Covenant language describing how God will circumcise the Jewish heart, write His Torah upon it, and give Israel a new Spirit, all of which will enable the Jewish people to perfectly obey God’s commands and to observe His mitzvot flawlessly.

This, of course, does not happen until the resurrection of the faithful from the dead, so just as Jesus was resurrected in a perfected body, so too will we be resurrected into perfection, not only of our bodies, but our spirits so that we too will be without sin, not only having our past sins completely atoned for, but not sinning in the Messianic Age.

Paul directly ties Messiah’s resurrection into our own resurrected states so our bodies will never die again and in the realization that we are dead, but only to sin.

However, the Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 passages are specifically addressed to Jewish Israel and not to the peoples of the rest of the nations, but Paul is writing to a Gentile audience in his epistle. How do we reconcile this apparent inconsistency? How can Paul apply the writing of Torah on the hearts of Gentiles?

On yesterday’s morning meditation, ProclaimLiberty commented giving part of the answer:

Now that I have addressed the notion of “Torah on the heart” as a covenantal anticipation and partial fulfillment as promised to Jews, how may we envision it having an impact also on non-Jews who attach themselves to the Jewish Messiah? They do not become members of Israel or participants in the covenant per se, and they are not legally obligated by the Torah covenant. Therefore, something must become available to them because of their increasingly close proximity to the knowledge of Torah and its impact on those who actually are members of the covenant. In one other recent post, I invoked the analogy of gentiles entering the Temple’s “court of the gentiles” in order to offer sacrifices in accordance with Torah stipulations for gentiles doing so. I compared the symbolic sacrifice of Rav Yeshua to such sacrifices, but offered in the heavenly sanctuary by Rav Yeshua as a mediating Melchitzedekian priest. Such symbolism reflects the ratification of continual repentance, after which the forgiven offerer learns to walk in newness of life in accordance with HaShem’s guidance (e.g., the aspects of Torah that apply to him or her). In another recent post I addressed the notion of a gentile ‘Hasid and the appropriate reflections of Torah that may be applicable — in which a gentile might become thoroughly immersed in order to experience the same sort of spiritual intimacy with HaShem, and enter into the perceptive environment of the kingdom of heaven in its metaphorical sense in anticipation of its future physical realization. Thus non-Jews would experience spirituality from outside and alongside the covenant in the same manner as intended for Jews inside the covenant.

Sorry for the large block of text but that’s a direct quote.

bedtime-shemaYou can click on the link to see his entire comment, which includes an interesting perspective on Gentiles reciting the Shema. What I get out of it is a way to look at how Gentiles are included in the New Covenant blessings, also being given a new heart and new spirit with the Torah written with us even though the nations aren’t directly addressed in the New Covenant and accounting for variability in application of the Torah to Jewish and Gentiles co-participants.

But that hasn’t happened yet…or has it?

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

-Romans 6:11 (NASB)

Paul is saying to his Gentile readers that they are to be “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” right now (as he was writing his letter). That’s not in the future Messianic Era but rather in the present for his audience. But how could Paul expect them to be dead to sin if their hearts were not yet changed and they hadn’t been given a new spirit yet?

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

-Acts 10:44-45 (NASB)

OK, so did the Jews and Gentiles have the spirit or not? Clearly they had the spirit but as D.T. Lancaster has said in different sermons in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series, the spirit we see given to the Gentiles in Acts 10 and to the Jews in Acts 2 is a pledge or down payment, a mere foretaste of the full filling of the Holy Spirit we will be given when the New Covenant times completely enter our world with Messiah (also see 2 Corinthians 3:3 and Ephesians 1:13-14).

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.

-2 Corinthians 5:5 (NASB)

The Greek word translated above as “pledge” can also be rendered “down payment,” “deposit,” or “guarantee.” The idea is that we have the spirit, but it’s not nearly as much as we are going to have. It’s like putting a down payment down on a car. You get the use of the car without paying the full price, but with the idea that your down payment is your pledge that you will pay the full amount when it comes due.

So we have a portion of the spirit and perhaps the finger of God is beginning to write the Law on our hearts, but it’s not to the degree that all of the promises are within our grasp yet…we just know by what we have now, we can be assured that the rest will be coming.

Rising IncenseBut even though “the goods” haven’t arrived yet, we are expected to live, to the best of our abilities, as if we have already received everything we were promised. I guess this is the part where the person who gives the down payment on the full amount gets to drive the car right away. God can expect us to behave as if the Law were already within us (as it applies to different populations) even though it isn’t yet. That’s the point of verses 12 through 14 in the current chapter.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

-Romans 6:15-18 (NASB)

So if we are no longer to consider ourselves slaves to sin, we are to consider ourselves slaves to righteousness. After all, we are always slaves to something, it’s just a matter of choosing our Master.

But it looks like Paul might build some “wiggle room” into this system:

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

-Romans 6:19 (NASB)

Paul speaks of “human terms” and “weakness of your flesh” seemingly indicating that we aren’t really “there” yet in terms of the ability to be sinless. He’s also presenting us with a choice given our weaknesses, to chose to present our “members as slaves to lawlessness or slaves to righteousness”. I guess the implication is that prior to becoming disciples of the Master, we really didn’t have a choice. We were slaves to lawlessness being without the Law (or rather slaves to a different law as we’ll see below), that is the Law that leads to sanctification.

But there’s another law to consider:

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Romans 6:20-23 (NASB)

Under the law of sin and death we were free from righteousness, but now under the Law of Righteousness, we are free from sin.

“The wages of sin is death” is the Law of Sin which Paul periodically contrasts with the Law of Righteousness (Torah). If you didn’t know that, then every time Paul writes “law” it would be easy to assume that he’s always talking about the Torah. That, I think, is why many Christians take a dim view of “the Law” since they’ve been taught that the Law brings increased transgression (see Romans 5:20). That’s also why reading the Bible and getting “impressions” or “reflections” as I’m doing is a little dangerous, especially given the various English translations, because Paul’s meaning isn’t always plainly written on the surface of the Bible’s pages. Sometimes you have to dig for what he’s really saying.

brand-new-daySo at the end of this chapter, we’re left in an interesting place. We are baptized into the name of our Master and therefore in unity with him on a very intimate level. Just as he was resurrected into a perfected body, we are to consider ourselves also resurrected as a new person free from sin and a slave to righteousness. The trick is that we have only been given a down payment on the full amount of God’s promises and it’s only that full amount of His Word and Spirit that will truly perfect us.

Nevertheless, we are expected to behave as if we have already received the full gift, even though we must constantly struggle to present ourselves for righteousness and to disdain acts of sin and lawlessness.

One question, in verse 10 when it says “He (Jesus) died to sin once for all,” how could he die to sin if he lived a completely sinless life?

Another Letter from the Outside

I have heard a lot of anti-Israel sentiment from my friends who support the Palestinians. A good client of mine questions the validity of Israel’s existence, saying: “How do you justify inhabiting an already populated land through force? How can you contemplate the horrors of the Holocaust and then inflict such suffering on the Arabs?” Some of these people say they respect Judaism, but question why it is acceptable to “steal” land from a people and keep it yourself.

I am not attacking Israel, just trying to investigate the issue. Do the Jews have a valid claim on Israel? From the times of Abraham and Moses, how many years was the land ours? I could also use some info on the history of U.N. declarations, etc. Thank you.

-A question from the “Ask the Rabbi” column at
Aish.com

I know I said I didn’t want to make this debate the center of my life, but reading the various articles at Aish this morning made a few things line up. I still don’t have the time to read large blocks of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the other prophets to continue to search for substantiation (or lack thereof as some people are trying to convince me) that God gave Israel exclusively to the Jewish people, but I don’t think it would hurt to take a look at how Jewish people see their own connection to the Land.

The question framed above apparently comes from a Jewish person who is having doubts about the Biblical and historical right of Jews to claim Israel as their own nation.

The Aish Rabbi started his reply with:

The Jewish people are not stealing anything. They were granted the Land of Israel by God, as is stated in Genesis 15:7 and 21:12.

In fact, the very first thing that God said to Abraham was: “Go from your land of your birth… to the land that I will show you, and I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:1). When Abraham and Sarah got to Israel, God promised them, “To your descendants have I given this land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River.” In God’s eyes the deal was considered set in stone, which is why He said “I have given this land” in the past tense, as if the thing were already done and impossible to undo. (Genesis 15:18, Rashi)

Of course all this is from the point of view of the “Old Testament” and so Christians often write off Jewish exclusivity to possession of Israel based on later, New Testament scriptures.

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…

-Ephesians 3:1-6 (NASB)

lightSpecifically the portions of verses 4 and 5 which say “mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men,” are used to derive the “fact” that Gentile inclusion into Israeli citizenship was not revealed to the prophets of the Tanakh but only to Paul and the “holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit,” thus, by definition, most Christians believe that there was never supposed to be evidence of Gentile inclusion into Israel in the Old Testament.

But continuing with Ephesians 3, let’s see what else Paul has to say:

…to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the ekklesia to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. (emph. mine)

-Ephesians 3:6-13 (NASB)

I took the liberty of emphasizing certain words and phrases in the above-quoted scripture (I also changed “Church” to “ekklesia” for clarity) to illustrate what Paul says that our faith in Jesus (Yeshua) makes us “fellow heirs” to. To Israel? It doesn’t say so. It says to the body. The body of what?

…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

-Romans 12:5

As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

-1 Corinthians 12:20

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

-1 Corinthians 12:27

So we are fellow heirs and fellow members of the Body of Messiah, fellow partakers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua.

What did he promise, that everyone who believed in him would become citizens of national Israel?

Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…

-Acts 16:31

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

-2 Peter 1:4

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:19

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

-John 14:27

This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

-1 John 2:25

everybodyThat’s only a partial list but it seems as if we were promised salvation from our sins, to be able to share in his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption, to have all of our needs satisfied, to have peace of mind and heart, and of course, eternal life in the resurrection.

In a comment I read recently, someone rendered part of Ephesians 2:11 as “You who were formerly Gentiles…” as if faith in Jesus changed us from being Gentiles to being, if not Jewish, then citizens of Israel or somehow “naturalized Israelites”. But the New American Standard Bible translates that same verse as:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh…

Biblical Greek comes without punctuation, so depending on the translator, the text can be made to read “you former Gentiles” or “remember that formally you, the Gentiles of the flesh…were at that time separate from Christ.”

In other words, “You Gentiles were formerly separated from Christ but through faith, have been brought near.”

…excluded from the commonwealth of Israel…But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

-Ephesians 2:12-13

I truncated these verses to emphasize the point of what is being said. Formerly, the pagan Gentiles were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel but in Messiah, we who were formerly far off, have been brought near. Near to what? The commonwealth of Israel and Jesus Christ.

I still have a lot of homework to do, but based on this and my recent reviews (see Part 1 and Part 2) of one of J.K McKee’s books, I’m still not seeing God using Paul to rewrite or negate the older portions of scripture that promise the Land of Israel in perpetuity to the Jewish people. Nor do I think that being “brought near” to the “commonwealth of Israel” equates “being brought into national Israel”.

Our “co-heirness,” so to speak, is in the resurrection and the other New Covenant promises of the forgiveness of sins, having our hearts changed from stone to flesh, having God’s Word written on our hearts so we will not sin, having eternal life in the Messianic Kingdom of peace.

I don’t have a single problem with any of those promises.

Another part of the Aish Rabbi’s response is:

Although Abraham knew that God had given him the land, he nevertheless chose peaceful measures and paid exorbitant amounts for a field in Hebron (Genesis 23:4, Rashi). This became the Jewish holy site, the Tomb of the patriarchs, 4,000 years ago. Similarly, Jacob purchased Shechem (Genesis 33:19), and King David bought Jerusalem (2-Samuel 24:24). Note that Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for more than twice as many centuries as Islam has even existed!

puzzleAs I’ve said, I still have a lot of reading to do, but as I also said, I’m not going to be able to drop everything and pursue this. It’s just that stuff turns up in my field of view and it helps complete part of the puzzle, so I share those puzzle pieces here.

I try to be an honest researcher and yes I do have a bias. Everyone has biases. As stuff comes up, I’ll write more.

In the meantime, if you’ve ever wondered why Israel is considered so special from a Jewish point of view, try reading The Centrality of the Land of Israel.

Also, I’ve explored some of this before in Sampling Ephesians and Stealing a Conversation About Ephesians, Jesus, and Being a Christian.