Tag Archives: Jesus

Christians, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Gentiles: Commentary on Caleb Hegg’s Blog

I’m not going to lie. It was difficult for me to transition from the church to the synagogue. While my father worked out his theology concerning the Torah, it struck me that perhaps the Christian church was wrong. To be honest, I felt a little lied to. I felt like the church was wrong, and had been feeding me a string of lies my entire life. I felt like they were leading people astray, and it made me mad! By the time I left for Israel in 1999 (I was eighteen), I wanted nothing to do with the church. I had gone to the other end of the spectrum, wearing mostly black and white, growing out peyot, and desperately longing to study Torah at a hasidic yeshiva (at that time I was unaware of how off base the hasidic faith is). Needless to say, the church had left a bad taste in my mouth, and I openly and abrasively stood in opposition to it.

-Caleb Hegg
“I don’t hold to ‘Christian’ doctrine, I’m a ‘Messianic’!”
calebhegg.blogspot.com

If you know any of the names I’m about to mention, then you’ll realize that Caleb Hegg and I, along with his father Tim Hegg, don’t have a lot in common theologically, at least on certain specific matters. However, when I saw a mutual friend had posted this to Facebook, I decided to give it a read. I must admit, Caleb says some interesting things (Note that I’ve copied the text from Hegg’s blog “as is,” so any spelling, capitalization, or other errors are his…just sayin’).

I suppose I should mention that once upon a time, I met Tim Hegg. In fact, I met him more than once when he was still associated with First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). Some years ago, when I was still with my former Hebrew Roots congregation, a number of us visited his group in Tacoma, Washington, and I even spent Erev Shabbat in the Hegg home. As I recall, I was treated very well and the Hegg family was gracious and charming.

So there’s nothing personal in any disagreement or differences of opinion that are between the Heggs and me, it’s just that we’ve taken different paths.

But speaking of path’s, Caleb’s description of his path in the above-quoted paragraph seemed so familiar to me. Not that I exactly felt like he did, but I can’t think of hardly anyone I met when I was involved in Hebrew Roots that didn’t have those same feelings of being betrayed by the Church and becoming somewhat to excessively enamored with all things Jewish.

I think it’s a developmental stage most non-Jews go through when they become involved in either the Hebrew Roots (including One Law/One Torah and Two-House) or the Messianic Jewish movements. They/we become convinced that the Bible has been at least somewhat erroneously interpreted by the Gentile Church, starting with the early Church fathers, as an attempt to separate from their Jewish teachers and mentors, and we come to believe that only a “Judaic” or “Hebraic” interpretation yields the true message of the Bible.

That’s not entirely a wrong idea, but as Hegg points out, what is wrong is any effort on our part to “demonize” Christians and Christianity, portraying them as bad, wrong, apostate, “Babylon,” and anti-Bible (or at least anti-Torah).

Has the Messianic faith come to an enlightened understanding of theology that the Christian church has missed for two thousand years? To be blunt, absolutely not! Is it true that those who uphold the Torah in the life of all believers are reading the Scriptures as they are written, and that those pushing against Torah are holding to church doctrine that goes back to the second century? Yes. But what I see happening is Messianics believing that since “the church” is wrong on SOME laws of Torah, they must be wrong on everything else too. I say SOME laws of Torah, because quite often we as Messianics tend to forget that our Christian brothers and sisters keep a whole lot of Torah, even if they don’t like calling it that. While kosher laws, festivals and the Sabbath are a important part of the Torah, other things such as loving your neighbor as yourself, taking care of widows and orphans, not gossiping and other such torah commands are practiced every day by Christians.

ChurchI think Hegg is including any congregation to which he is affiliated and his personal theological identification as “Messianic Judaism” or “Messianic” and it gets kind of “messy,” actually.

I tend to separate Hebrew Roots from Messianic Judaism since, in my opinion, they actually describe two different group identities. I realize that many/most/all Hebrew Roots groups call themselves “Messianic Judaism,” but while the “Messianic” part is more or less correct, I can’t say that they are a “Judaism” if for no other reason than few if any actual Jewish people are involved. Beyond that, although the ritual practices resemble a “Judaism,” the underlying collective history and group identity does not.

A little over three months ago, I wrote a two-part blog post called Acting Jewishly but not Jewish (the link goes to part one) based on a paper by Mark D. Nanos called ‘Paul’s Non-Jews Do Not Become “Jews,” But Do They Become “Jewish”?: Reading Romans 2:25-29 Within Judaism, Alongside Josephus’ (free PDF download) which drew a bit of attention centered around Judaism and Jewish identity in the Messianic realm. It becomes somewhat ambiguous as to who or what one encounters when you enter a prayer service and the majority of people davening with siddurim, wearing kippot and tallitot (the men, anyway) are not Jewish. Is that a “Judaism” or Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah acting “Jewishly”?

I’m not writing all this to start another online argument. Frankly, I’d like to avoid it. I know how they go and they never end well. But I do want to point out something I think Hegg was saying. We non-Jews in Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism sometimes lose our focus. In this sense, I think traditional Christians may have the upper hand. They know who the center of their faith is and that center is not a “movement”. It’s not putting on a kippah before prayer, and it’s not saying prayers in Hebrew, and it’s not even wearing tzitzit. It’s Jesus, that is Yeshua HaMashiach.

In that, Hegg sounded more like a Christian than a Hebrew Roots follower and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, although he also admitted that at one point in his history, he even denied being a Christian, though he didn’t mean to deny his faith in Christ.

We are used to defining ourselves in terms of being different or distinct from other people and groups and unfortunately, we can easily slide into an “us vs. them” mindset. It’s one of the reasons I was hesitant to even write this blog post, because even if Caleb Hegg or his father don’t take offense (and I hope they don’t because none is intended), probably someone who follows their teachings will.

The one thing that Hegg’s pro-Church commentary reminded me of was the tone expressed in Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile.

Now I know I just offended one-hundred percent of my regular readers by making that comparison, and probably “ticked off” almost everyone else involved in any part of Hebrew Roots or Messianic Judaism. However, hear me out.

Boaz also made a very pro-Church statement in his book and focused at different points on the commonalities between the traditional Christian and the “Messianic Gentile”. He even mentioned, as did Hegg, that Christians observe many of the Torah mitzvot, even though they don’t call it “Torah”. Much righteous and holy behavior can be learned in Church.

Granted, there still are distinctions of course, and I don’t doubt that there are differences between how Caleb Hegg sees himself and how he sees most mainstream Christians. That isn’t a bad thing, but if the differences are all we see, then we don’t allow ourselves any common ground with our Christian brothers and sisters.

For two years, I participated in a self-assigned “project” or “experiment” in attending a local Baptist church. I hadn’t regularly attended a church in years and frankly, the prospect was intimidating.

But I learned a great many things, was befriended by the head Pastor, and met a number of very devout, kind, knowledgable, and generous people. If things had worked out differently, I’d probably still be going there. Unfortunately, the dynamic tension between the Pastor’s views and mine came to a head and I had to make a hard decision about whether I was an asset or a nuisance, and sadly it turned out to be the latter.

multicultural-celebrationI can’t pretend there aren’t differences, important ones, that separate me from the viewpoint of most Christians, but that shouldn’t lead to enmity of any kind. There are differences within the Messianic Jewish movement and I don’t agree with everything all of the sub-groups believe or teach. The same goes for the different branches of mainstream Judaism. None of that means I experience any hostility toward them. We don’t have to personalize disagreements and turn them into conflicts.

Hegg’s blog post focused on differences between how some Messianic (or Hebrew Roots) groups see the Divinity of Messiah vs. more traditional Christian doctrine, but I’m not going to speak to that. If you want a Messianic Jewish opinion on the subject, it can be found on Derek Leman’s blog, and it’s possible that Hegg and Leman have more in common, at least on that particular topic, than either of them realize.

That’s the point of reading each other’s stuff. Yeah, we disagree and if we want to, we can get into some sort of spitting contest over it. On the other hand, we all have experiences in common, we’re all human beings, we are all disciples of the Master, and we are all children of God. Let’s start with that.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Ani Ma’amin (I believe)

What do Maimonides and the book of Hebrews have in common? Find out how the Talmud and the book of Hebrews intersect when it comes to the question of faith in Messiah. The book of Hebrews continues with a call to hold fast to faith in the coming of the Messiah.

References Hebrews 10:32-39; Isaiah 30:18; Habakkuk 2:3-4.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Forty: Ani Ma’amin (I believe)
Originally presented on January 25, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.

-Isaiah 30:18 (NASB)

Lancaster’s sermon took a different route this week, the long way around to Hebrews 10:32-39 through the above-referenced prophets, the Talmudic writings, and Mosheh ben Maimon otherwise known as Moses Maimonides or the Rambam.

Lancaster states that the above verse from the prophet Isaiah is very important as a Messianic prophesy. The Talmud interprets “How blessed are all those who long for Him” or “wait for Him” as those among the righteous waiting for the redemption of the Messiah.

Verse 20 says “your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher,” indicating that our Teacher, that is, Messiah, is currently hidden from us (or from Isaiah’s audience, the Jewish people) but that in the coming age, he will be revealed. Verse 21 continues “Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left,” speaking of walking in the Holy Spirit (the “word behind you”).

But when it says “therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you,” this isn’t speaking of Messiah, but of Hashem, of the God of Israel, for He waits for the Messiah, too…at least according to the Talmud.

Why would God have to wait? You’ll see in a bit.

Lancaster then shifted gears and started quoting from Tractate Sanhedrin about a 3rd century CE Rabbi who came across a Gentile who had discovered a scroll in the Roman treasury. Without going into all the details, the scroll seemed to likely have been looted from Jerusalem by the Romans, perhaps from the Temple itself.

The Rabbi, who believed the scroll to be an authentic Jewish Holy writing, purchased the scroll and discovered it predicted the end of the world and the coming of the Messiah in the year 4291 from Creation, with the final renewal of the world being accomplished in the year 7000.

ancient scrollsProblem is, the Jewish year 4291 corresponds to 531 C.E. which has long since come and gone.

The Talmud uses this story to issue a stern warning against attempting to calculate the dates related to Messiah coming and an admonition against those who insist on calculating such dates. Thus far, everyone who has attempted to predict the return (or coming) of Messiah has been wrong.

This is where Habakkuk comes in:

I will stand on my guard post
And station myself on the rampart;
And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me,
And how I may reply when I am reproved.
Then the Lord answered me and said,
“Record the vision
And inscribe it on tablets,
That the one who reads it may run.
“For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay.
“Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.”

-Habakkuk 2:1-4

Within the context of Habakkuk, this does not seem to have anything to do with Messiah. Habakkuk had just heard from God that the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem was at hand because of their many sins. Habakkuk was upset, not that God had ordered the destruction, but that He had chosen an instrument for that destruction much more evil than Judah and Jerusalem. So he sat in a guard post and waited (probably for a long time) for God to answer his objection.

That said, the Talmudic sages interpret, especially verses 3 and 4, as very much having a Messianic application, and Lancaster agrees, specifically since the Talmud interprets this portion of scripture as stating the date of Messiah’s coming is hidden. I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of Lancaster’s explanation. The link to the recording is at the top of this missive so you can listen to the forty minute sermon for yourself.

But then we get back to why is even God waiting for Messiah? Why should God wait? Why not send Messiah now?

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

-2 Peter 3:9

God’s justice (and I believe mercy as well) demands that He wait because those of us who also wait receive a blessing by the merit of the act of waiting, for as it says “Though he tarries, wait for it” (the Hebrew pronoun can also be “him”), and again, “the righteous will live by faith”, and as it says in Isaiah, “Blessed are all those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 30:18 NKJV).

Rambam
Mosheh ben Maimon, the Rambam

Many have been born, lived, and died waiting for Messiah and he didn’t come, yet their waiting wasn’t in vain, for by the merit of their faith, they gained eternal life in the resurrection.

I mentioned the Rambam above. He codified what is known as The Thirteen Principles of Faith, the twelfth of which states:

I believe with a complete faith in the coming of Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless every day I believe that he will come.

This is also known as Ani Ma’amin (I believe) and is traditionally sung at the conclusion of the Shacharit or Morning prayers. The Talmud states that such a lived faith in the coming of the Messiah equals performing all of the 613 commandments (and the version we have today was also organized by Rambam). Yes, it’s that important.

However, when Habakkuk says that “the righteous will live by faith,” he doesn’t just mean that they live a life of faith, but that they will merit life, eternal life in the resurrection, by clinging to their faith in the coming redemption of Messiah. This is an essential principle in Judaism, according to Lancaster, and not only do we see it in the prophets and the Talmud (and Hebrews), but the Apostle Paul referenced it in Romans 1 and Galatians 3. Instead of trying to figure out when Messiah will come (return) and only expecting him then, always expect him today and every day; always live a life of daily expectancy.

Then Lancaster (apparently) switches tracks and talks about how the passage from Habakkuk is very different in the Greek. Why is that important? Because Jewish teachers used the Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) or Septuagint, when teaching Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles. The writer of Hebrews was addressing Greek-speaking Jews living in or near Jerusalem.

For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come, and will not delay.
But My righteous one shall live by faith;
And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.

-Hebrews 10:37-38 quoting Habakkuk 2:3-4

Especially the last line seems quite odd: And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” Lancaster says this speaks of one who shrinks back or loses his faith, specifically in the coming of Messiah, for if one loses his faith in Messiah, he loses God’s favor.

But “My righteous one shall live by faith” in that even if Messiah does not come when expected or even in your lifetime or mine, we must live by faith so that we will live in the resurrection and not lose our place in the world to come. We must seek first the Kingdom as our focus.

Now (finally) Lancaster turns to Hebrews 10:32-39.

He gives a very brief summary of the Hebrews epistle, an exhortation to Jewish believers who because of their faith in Messiah, have been denied access to the Temple and the Priesthood, and who, for that reason, are strongly tempted to renounce their Messianic faith. The Hebrews writer is encouraging them to remain faithful because they always have access to the Heavenly Temple and Priesthood through Messiah as High Priest, and warning them of the consequences of losing faith.

“But remember in former days” is a reference to the early persecutions (read the beginning chapters of Luke’s Book of Acts including the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8) and the “murderous threats” of Saul (the beginning of Acts 9). They were persecuted in many ways and yet “accepted joyfully” those hardships, enduring in the faith. “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence” for in doing so, they would also throw away their reward. They needed to endure as they did before.

Hebrews then quotes the Greek version of Habakkuk, and you should see at this point how well it fits the flow of this part of the letter, and concludes (well, not really…it just concludes the artificial division of chapters):

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

-Hebrews 10:39

But there’s more. I didn’t expect Lancaster to cover Chapter 11 as well, but when he did, it clicked right into place:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.

-Hebrews 11:1-2

faithThis is the so-called “faith chapter” of the Apostolic Scriptures and Christians often cite it as a “stand alone” definition of what “faith” is, without considering how it fits into the overall message of the epistle.

The writer of the epistle has been encouraging his readers to maintain their faith in the Messiah’s coming, to not abandon that faith, even under the tremendous pressure of not being able to offer korban in obedience to the commandments, for in renouncing Messiah, they would also be renouncing their reward in the Kingdom.

The rest of chapter 11 is a list of examples of people of faith who maintained that faith even though they never saw the promised rewards in their lifetimes. Abraham was promised the Land but died never receiving the promise. So too did Isaac and Jacob. Read the chapter for yourself and see what it looks like now that you have the context Lancaster constructed around it.

Lancaster concludes his sermon by reading verses 32 through 40, but I’ll just quote a portion:

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

-Hebrews 11:32-34

“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me…” The list of the faithful is endless, or seemingly so. It’s not like the writer of Hebrews is asking for the impossible, as if no one who came before ever exhibited such a faith, maintaining it even to the death. While modern religious Judaism doesn’t emphasize the Messiah’s coming all that much, in ancient days, the days of the prophets, the days of the apostles, and the days of the writers of the Talmud, it was much clearer that faith in the coming (return) of Messiah was the lynchpin of Jewish faith in God and the coming New Covenant times.

What Did I Learn?

I’ll never be a Talmud scholar, so all of the tie-ins from Talmud back into scripture are a revelation to me. Lancaster said that the writer of Hebrews and the other apostles read Habakkuk exactly the same way as the sages of the Talmud. This is a very important point because it re-enforces my emphasis that you cannot know or understand having faith in the Messiah unless you study Judaism! This is why I study from within a Messianic Jewish framework.

I hate to slam Christian studies and teachings because I have high regard for those people I know in the Church, but traditional Christian doctrine compared to Messianic Jewish (and other Jewish) studies is like the difference between an eighty-year old frayed black and white still photo and the latest vibrantly colored 3D motion picture in surround sound.

I hope I’m not overstating the metaphor, but a lot of these teachings in Messianic Judaism hit me like someone opened up my skull and poured in a couple of quarts of “Ah Ha! That’s what that means!”

I was also pleasantly surprised when Lancaster mentioned having read the biography of Brother Yun, an evangelist in Communist China who suffered terribly for his faith. I also read the book at the urging of a friend, and as a reminder that I can get tremendously caught up in the “head knowledge” of the Bible at the expense of a living faith in Messiah.

The message of the epistle to the Hebrews is also a message to us nearly two-thousand years later. The Jewish believers reading this letter had a faith in the return of the Messiah who had died, was resurrected, and ascended to Heaven about thirty years prior, within the living memory of a generation, and yet they were tempted to abandon that faith. We have possession of the same faith almost twenty-centuries after the event, and no one alive on earth is a direct witness today. If they were tempted living so close in time to the flesh and blood Jesus, how much more so will we be tempted, especially in a culture of atheism, humanism, and progressiveness, to be lured into abandoning our faith in the return of Messiah?

Which is why we can’t. Which is why Hebrews 11 is so important to us as an example of living and dying and yet not receiving the promise of his return.

For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

-Romans 11:15

lightIf some of the Jews in Paul’s generation not coming to faith in Messiah is compared to death, but their coming to faith is compared to the resurrection. So it is with us. For those who have never come to faith and possibly never will, we can have pity, but we must mourn tragically for those who once had faith and deliberately set it aside for whatever they thought was better, perhaps under some form of social pressure to do so.

I mourn for those every day and I know more than one. Pray that they haven’t shut up their ears permanently, and that they will go from being “cast away” by their own decision, to “acceptance” once again and “life from the dead.”

Are Messianic Jews Not Expected to Practice Judaism?

Question: Is formal conversion really necessary to be considered part of the Jewish people? After all, so many synagogues welcome non-Jewish members and so many rabbis sanction interfaith weddings.

Answer: It’s true that Jewish communities have become more inclusive of non-Jews, particularly non-Orthodox synagogues. Many Reform and some Conservative synagogues grant membership to non-Jews, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis will officiate at interfaith weddings, and some Jewish cemeteries will grant burial rights to non-Jewish spouses.

“There are plenty of people who want to sojourn in the synagogue and not convert and still know they’re part of the Jewish family,” said the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs. They’re “living in the Jewish community.”

-from “10 Questions About Jewish Conversion You Want to Know but are Afraid to Ask”
VirtualJerusalem.com

No, I’m not considering converting, but this particular question and answer has bearing on a theme I’ve been addressing this week. You could consider today’s “meditation” to be a “Part 3″ to my Upon Reading a Rant and Diminishing blog posts.

The theme I’ve been discussing has to do with the relative roles of Jews and non-Jews within the modern Messianic Jewish (or just “Messianic”) community. As the comments section of my blog posts indicate, opinions vary widely. However, in the above-quoted question and answer, I see a sort of “marriage” between the two major viewpoints, an illustration of how a non-Jew can be part of the Jewish “family” as such.

We have to remember that this discussion or something like it, was taking place nearly two-thousand years ago. It was occurring in the synagogues and other communities established by the Apostle Paul as he endeavored to find a way for the Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus) to co-exist in a mutually shared Jewish environment as co-equals (and please recall what I’ve said before about equality not requiring uniformity).

Jewish prayerBut there’s a distinction between the Jewish communities mentioned in the article I cited above and Messianic Judaism today. In all of the other Judaisms, it is well-known that they are first and foremost, Jewish communities, and that being a Gentile who is a participant in those communities does not automatically make the Gentile identical in form and function to the Jewish people in membership.

I only quoted part of the answer to the question above. Here’s the rest:

Indeed, surveys show that actual converts to Judaism are far outnumbered by Americans born outside the faith who consider themselves Jewish despite having never formally converted to Judaism. However, even in the most liberal Jewish communities, there is a dividing line that excludes non-Jews. Practically no synagogues allow non-Jews to be called to the Torah (unless they are accompanying a Jewish spouse at their kid’s bar mitzvah). Jews married to non-Jews are barred from admission to rabbinical school. And, of course, non-Jews can’t marry Jews under Conservative or Orthodox auspices.

Most importantly, you can call yourself whatever you want – friend of, member of, parent of. But unless you formally join, you’re no Jew.

The big issue that seemingly separates the Judaisms described above from Messianic Judaism, is the assumption by Gentile believers who are among Jews who have sworn fealty to the Moshiach, that by virtue of such a faith, all differences and distinctions between Jewish and Gentile disciples are rendered moot, and the ekklesia ceases to be a Jewish community in favor of a Messianic community, as if the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

And yet, we forget that the ekklesia of Messiah began most forcefully as a Jewish community, one in which few if any Gentiles were to be found.

So then, those [Jews] who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand [Jewish] souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.

And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those [Jews] who were being saved.

-Acts 2:41-42, 47 (NASB)

“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

All Jews, all living, working, and glorifying God together in Jewish community. No one batted an eye and in fact, the only upset occurred when Gentiles started to enter the mix in great numbers.

As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were slandering him. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.

-Acts 13:44-46

Apostle Paul preachingThe tale of Paul’s encounter at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch is well-known, although most Christians are taught that these verses indicate Paul’s permanently turning away from the Jews to the Gentiles, which is patently untrue. Nevertheless, this is a portrait of the extreme difficulty that many Jewish communities had in understanding the New Covenant imperative of including the Gentiles in the community of Messiah without having them undergo the proselyte rite as formal initiates into Judaism.

Paul attempted to communicate that imperative to his Jewish listeners (see verse 48) by quoting Isaiah 49:6:

‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles,
That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’

(As a side note, when Paul says “I have placed You and “That You may…”, the “You” in both cases is singular in the Greek.)

In all this, I am not saying that Gentiles and Jews in Messiah cannot co-mingle and cannot share community. I am saying that it is not strange, bizarre, or even unBiblical to understand that community, the Messianic community, as distinctly Jewish.

On a previous and related blog post, Pete Rambo said:

The question Messianic Judaism has to answer is, ‘Who are they desiring to please? Abba, or Judaism?’

To quote Tony Stark by way of an answer, my response is, “Is it too much to ask for both?”

To find out more about how Jews and Gentiles in Jewish community finally didn’t work out in the late First Century CE, please read Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and “Honey, I Want a Divorce”.

It’s fairly easy to understand why “Messianic Gentiles” of one sort or another might object to the idea that Messianic Jews have a right to Jewish community and even a right to Jewish rituals, practices, and religious objects based on the long history between Christians and Jews, but what about Messianic Jews who object to this way of thinking?

No, I’m not talking about Messianic Jews who are willing to share their communal space with Gentiles with the understanding that Jewish and non-Jewish roles within the ekklesia are, by definition, differentiated. I’m talking about those few Jewish individuals who truly believe there is one and only one single application of the mitzvot for all populations everywhere and that Jews are not distinct in any behavioral or covenantal sense.

Question: I recently saw a “Jewish” professor speaking at an anti-Israel rally. When I voiced my disgust to a friend who knew him as a child, I learned that his parents converted to Catholicism back in Europe, he never had a circumcision or a bar mitzvah, and he is married to a non-Jewish woman. He claims in his speeches that he is a Jewish son of a Holocaust survivor. He may be the son of a survivor, but can we say once and for all that he is not Jewish?

-from “Is a Self-Hating Jew Still a Jew”
Chabad.org

self hatingThis may not seem applicable but hear me out. There are Jewish people who have come to faith in Messiah (or in Christ, as it were) who truly struggle with the apparent dissonance that results from being Jewish and being a Christian. After all, the Church generally teaches that you can’t practice Judaism and Christianity simultaneously. Actually, that part is probably true, but the underlying message is that you can’t be Jewish and be a Christian. You have to choose one. Messianic Judaism, to many Christians, seems like a messy “mash-up” of the two faiths (many Jews see it that way, too), a way to “pretend” to be one while actually being the other. But interestingly enough, Christianity was “invented” by Gentiles starting in the Second Century CE and beyond (see my aforementioned review of Zetterholm) and the original faith in Messiah has always been Jewish.

Hebrew Christians and Hebrew Roots Jewish people have the same struggle from two different directions. They both do not believe that “Judaism” has much if anything at all to do with faith in the Jewish Messiah. While they can acknowledge (and I could be stepping into deep doo doo expressing this opinion since I’m not Jewish) their Jewish ancestral and “DNA” heritage, there’s a difference (for them) between being Jewish and practicing Judaism. For them, faith in Messiah transcends Judaism and becomes something else entirely. So in this, Hebrew Roots is in agreement with traditional Christianity, though their expressions are quite different.

Chabad Rabbi Aron Moss answers the above-quoted question in part by saying:

And so, in a twisted way, he expresses his Jewishness by being the anti-Jewish Jew.

Yes, he is using his Jewishness as a weapon against Jews.

No, he should not be invited to speak at any Jewish event.

But yes, he is a Jew.

People like that can do a huge amount of damage. But the biggest damage is to themselves. Here is a Jewish soul yearning to connect to Jewishness, who has blocked his own path. Here is someone whose primary preoccupation, whose main claim to fame, is his Jewishness, but a tormented Jewishness. Rather than embrace it, he fights it. He is an accomplice in his own persecution.

While the “anti-Jewish Jew” in question doesn’t exactly fit the circumstance to which I am writing, there is an approximate match. I do not believe that you can separate being Jewish from practicing Judaism if you are at all a religious Jew in Messiah. Yeshua observed the mitzvot faithfully. So did his brother Jacob (James). So did Peter and the other apostles who walked with Yeshua. So did the later apostle Paul, emissary to the Gentiles. So did tens of thousands of other Jews in Messiah who were all zealous for the Torah of Moses (see the previously quoted Acts 21:20).

JudaismPracticing Judaism today is not like practicing Judaism in the days of the apostles. Practicing Judaism in the days of the apostles was not like how it was with the Prophet Daniel in the Babylonian exile. Practicing Judaism was also different in the days of Solomon, in the days of David, and it was different in the days of Moses.

Torah is Torah and the Word of God is permanent and inviolate, but how it is interpreted and applied across the wide tapestry of Jewish history is changeable and adaptable. The method of allowing non-Jews to join the assembly of Israel for example, has undergone much change since the days of Moses and Aaron, and it has changed again since the days of Paul, Peter, and James.

Of course, accepting the idea of the modification of the application of Torah is contingent upon the belief that God authorized or at least permitted the Jewish people to make such adaptations due to changes in circumstance and environment, particularly as related to the passage of time. Assuming this is true, then the current varieties of practicing Judaism are no less valid than they were Apostolic times. Are they all “right”? Probably, at least in the same sense that different Christian denominations are also all “right” (though it might be more accurate to say that none of them are completely right or completely wrong relative to their interpretation and application of the Bible).

I can’t throw out the baby with the bath water, though, whether it be in the case of Christianity or Judaism. Jesus taught and worked within the Judaism that existed in his day. He may have criticized specific teachings and practices, but he didn’t dismiss those Judaisms as entire ways of life with a wave of his hand. He accepted that these people were Jews and that by and large, especially when it came to the Pharisees, their overall teachings and halachah were acceptable and authoritative.

Jesus didn’t preach the destruction of Judaism with the idea of replacing it with “the Church” as Christianity teaches, nor did he believe Judaism (for Jews) should be replaced with anything else, as far as I can tell. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have operated within the normative Judaisms of the late Second Temple period nor would he have permitted the Jewish apostles to do so after his ascension to the right hand of the Father.

With all that in mind, why do both Jews and Gentiles in the Hebrew Roots system of belief insist that Jesus wants the destruction of the practice of observant Judaism among Messianic (or any other kind of) Jews now?

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Single Sacrifice for Sin

Hebrews 10:10-18 presents the death of Yeshua of Nazareth as the “single sacrifice for sin,” but does that make Yeshua a sin offering like those once offered in the Temple? In what sense is Yeshua a sacrifice? How can he be a sacrifice when his death does not accord with the Levitical laws for the sacrificial services whatsoever? This teaching, based upon the final chapter of D. Thomas Lancaster’s booklet What about the Sacrifices? answers the difficult question of how the death of the Messiah provides atonement for sin.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Eight: Single Sacrifice for Sin
Originally presented on January 11, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws upon their heart,
And on their mind I will write them,”

He then says,

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

-Hebrews 10:10-18 (NASB)

In today’s sermon, Lancaster continues to build on the points he made in previous weeks, including last week’s sermon in which he strongly differentiated between the nature, character, and purpose of the Temple sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood, and the purpose of Jesus as the single and final sacrifice for sin in the Heavenly Temple.

Now he specifically takes on a really big issue that even many Christians struggle with: just how does the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross take away sins and why doesn’t that mean God approves of human sacrifice?

LambThe “official” answer of the Church is that the sin and guilt sacrifices as well as the annual Yom Kippur sacrifices of the Temple took away the sins of the people of Israel, sacrifice by bloody sacrifice, year by year until Jesus was crucified, taking our sins away forever. Then the Temple system was rendered meaningless, having been replaced once and for all (Hebrews 9:27-28, 10:12) by the blood of Jesus, for as John the Baptist said (John 1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

But we have some problems with this theological theory. The Torah is very specific about what qualifies as a sacrifice according to God. Lancaster laid out a very convincing list:

Condition 1: An acceptable sacrifice must be an unblemished, undamaged, uninjured kosher animal, and usually a specific animal or set of animals relative to the particular sacrifice. Jesus wasn’t an animal of any kind, he was a man, and he certainly wasn’t unblemished or uninjured, having been whipped and bloodied before ever being nailed to the cross.

Condition 2: Any sacrifice must be made in the Temple, according to the Torah. Jesus was executed outside the walls of Jerusalem, not in the Temple.

Condition 3: The blood of the sacrifice must be splashed on the altar. This did not happen with the blood of Jesus.

Condition 4: The sacrifice must be performed by Levitical priests. Jesus was killed by people who weren’t even Jewish, the Romans.

Condition 5: The sacrifice must be slaughtered in a highly specific manner, with the throat cut by a very sharp knife. The animal must be bled out and suffer no pain whatsoever. If it suffers, it is disqualified as a sacrifice. Jesus certainly did suffer and suffer greatly, and no knife came anywhere near his throat.

Condition 6: God forbids human sacrifice and finds it repugnant.

All this means that Jesus absolutely, positively could not be a literal sacrifice for the atonement for sin and guilt.

Lancaster brought up the obvious objection of the Akedah or the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) but the flaw here is that God did not allow Abraham to actually kill Isaac. It was a test, not a human sacrifice.

This is the problem with Christianity reading from the Gospels and Epistles backward into the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. If you start with a New Testament mental and interpretive template, it forces standard Christian doctrine into the Old Testament text. Unfortunately, this results in erroneous conclusions based on Christian tradition.

So if the blood of goats and sheep never, ever took away sins in the first place, and Jesus can’t in any sense be considered an acceptable sacrifice, how does his death take away sin? Are the anti-missionaries and apostates right? Is Christianity a crock?

First of all, the writer of the Book of Hebrews says that the death of Jesus takes away sins once and for all in his single sacrifice:

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

-Hebrews 10:10

After that single act, Jesus waited and still waits.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.

-Hebrews 10:11-13

LevitesOn Earth, the Levites had to daily minister in the Temple, but the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem were never designed to take away sins, but instead, to cleanse the bodies of those desiring to draw near to the Divine Presence physically (Hebrews 9:13). The sacrifice of Jesus was qualitatively different in that it enables people to draw near to God spiritually (Hebrews 9:14). But now that the single sacrifice of Jesus has been made, he need offer no other sacrifices in the Heavenly realm, but waits seated at the right hand of the Father for the final battle to begin, when his and Israel’s enemies will be laid at his feet.

Verses 14-18 cite the New Covenant, specifically how God will write His Torah on the hearts and minds of the people of Israel and he will cleanse them of sin forevermore. In fact, verse 12 says for all time,” which Lancaster interprets as from the beginning of human history and the sin of Adam and Havah (Eve) to the end. So the blood and death of Jesus cleanses you and me of our sins two-thousand years after he was slain, and cleanses Abraham of his sins two-thousand years before the crucifixion, even though Jesus was executed at a single point in time, the early First Century CE. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

But first, we have to solve the mystery of how Jesus can be an effective sacrifice to atone for sin for all time and yet not be a literal Temple sacrifice. I mean, when John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God” do you really think John believed Jesus was a four-footed animal who grew wool and went “baa”? Of course not. John wasn’t being literal, the was being “literary”

The hearers and readers of the teachings of the Bible, that is, the ancient Jewish people, received these teachings within a certain conceptual context. They understood the Hebraic metaphors, symbolism, and wordplay being employed by the Prophets and the Sages of each time period in which the Biblical text was authored. As Christians almost twenty centuries later, we can make the mistake of either allegorizing the Bible, rendering God’s promises to Israel as “really meaning” promises to “the Church,” or we can be overly literal and attempt to directly compare the sacrifice of a sheep on the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem on Passover with the execution of a late Second Temple itinerant Rabbi, and one who ultimately was proven to be Moshiach, by a bunch of Roman soldiers at the command of the local Roman governor.

So if Jesus wasn’t a literal sacrifice, and comparing him to a lamb and the spilling of his blood to the splashing of the blood of lambs on the altar is metaphor, how does his sacrifice work?

self sacrificeThe answer isn’t very obvious in the Bible, which tends to throw a lot of people, but it has to do with God’s quality of absolute justice and something called “measure for measure.” That is, the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished.

Period.

Problem is, we see very little of that kind of simple justice in the real world:

Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?

-Jeremiah 12:1

Good question.

According to Lancaster, the Pharisees answered Jeremiah’s (and our) question this way:

  1. Death is not the end. If it were, then our world, and God, is unjust.
  2. Justice is delivered in the resurrection when the righteous and the wicked are judged before God, with the righteous being rewarded and the wicked being condemned.

The righteous may suffer in this world, and even suffer horribly, but they will be rewarded in the Messianic Kingdom and the life in the world to come.

…strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

-Acts 14:22

Of course, even the best among us isn’t completely sinless. Even Lancaster admitted to having committed acts of which he is still ashamed and probably will be for the rest of his life. It can be said that we suffer in this world, at least in part, as a consequence of our own imperfections and our own sins, and thus, when we die, it can be said that our death is just because we have sinned. Even Paul said “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

But what if a totally and completely sinless person should die unjustly? If he’s not suffering and dying in his own sins, when why is he suffering and dying at all?

Another explanation of AND THOU SHALT MAKE THE BOARDS FOR THE TABERNACLE. Why does it say FOR THE TABERNACLE? Should it not rather have said ‘ into a tabernacle ?  R. Hoshaya said: Because the sanctuary stands as a pledge, so that if the enemies of Israel became deserving of destruction, it would be forfeit as a pledge. Moses said to God: Will not the time come when Israel shall have neither Tabernacle nor Temple? What will happen with them then? ‘ The divine reply was: ‘ I will then take one of their righteous men and retain him as a pledge on their behalf, in order that I may pardon all their sins. Thus too it says, And He hath slain all that were pleasant to the eye (Lam. II, 4).

-Exodus Rabbah 35:4

This Talmudic text points back to Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant, and specifically verse 11 which states:

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities. (emph. mine)

The Death of the MasterAlthough the traditional Jewish interpretation of these verses render the suffering servant as Israel, I have to agree with the Christian view in this case, and say that the Prophet is writing about Messiah, who as an individual person and who was completely without sin, suffered and died to justify the many.

The concept of the Suffering Tzaddik is known in Rabbinic literature and Lancaster even delivered a sermon on the topic. Although I haven’t listened to that sermon, I wrote a commentary of my own on the same subject several years back. Here’s part of one of the texts I quoted:

“… suffering and pain may be imposed on a tzaddik as an atonement for his entire generation. This tzaddik must then accept this suffering with love for the benefit of his generation, just as he accepts the suffering imposed upon him for his own sake. In doing so, he benefits his generation by atoning for it, and at the same time is himself elevated to a very great degree … In addition, there is a special, higher type of suffering that comes to a tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to the ultimate perfection of mankind as a whole.”

Derech Hashem (The Way of God)
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
As translated and annotated by Aryeh Kaplan
Feldheim Publishers
Jerusalem, 1997, p. 122.
Quoted from Yashanet.com

To extend the thought, if a tzaddik or righteous one among the sages may die and atone for the sins of his generation, how much more so can death of the great tzaddik, the most righteous one, who was completely without sin, take away the sins of all peoples in all generations across the vast span of time.

Thus, the death of Jesus is effective to take away the sins of the world, but not because it was based on the sacrificial system that took place in the Temple as commanded by the Torah of Moses. It was effective based on God’s justice and the principle of “measure for measure.” If the completely sinless Jesus died an unjust death, to balance justice, since he did not die for his own sins, in the merit of his death, his blood atones for the sins, not just of many in a single generation, but of all people across all generations.

This also means that any comparison or “competition” between the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrificial system of the Temple is like comparing apples and airplanes. The one has nothing to do with the other. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was employing metaphor so he could get his point across, not saying Jesus was a literal lamb, or a literal sin offering. This is like saying Jesus is a Priest of the Order of Melchizedek. Jesus didn’t really establish and belong to this “order” of priests (and he certainly wasn’t literally Melchizedek). The Hebrews writer was using metaphorical language to say how Jesus could be High Priest in the Heavenly Court, even though he can’t and won’t qualify to be a Priest of any kind in the Earthly Temple (including the future Temple) in Jerusalem.

What Did I Learn?

The biggest thing for me was nailing down the “time span” within which the sacrifice of Jesus atoned for sins. Lancaster says that metaphysically, it covered all sins across human history, from Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the very end of the age including our age and beyond.

…“for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

-Jeremiah 31:34

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

King DavidThis seems to answer the question, “are the Old Testament Jews saved?” The answer is “yes” if they sincerely repented of their sins. Like David’s lament in Psalm 51, it wasn’t the sacrifices of bulls, goats, and sheep that atoned for his willful sin with Bathsheva, it was repentance and a broken heart.

Lancaster didn’t address this, but it brings up the question of a Jewish person and if he/she must believe in Jesus in order to be saved. A Christian would say “yes,” and further, a Christian (at least some of them) would say that only Jews who believed in Jesus after the crucifixion were saved, since no one comes to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6). However, if that is literally true, than all of the Jewish people who were born, lived, and died before Jesus (and the rest of humanity as well) were automatically condemned to eternal damnation.

But that violates the language of the New Covenant promises as well as Romans 11 and Hebrews 10. While I don’t understand it completely, the Jewish people, not just in the age when Jesus returns, but across time, will “mourn for him as one mourns for an only son” (Zechariah 12:10).

These conclusions won’t sit well with most Christians (and most Jews, since Lancaster will be accused of playing “fast and loose” with the Talmudic texts), especially the Bible literalists, but they have the benefit of making the older scriptures harmonize rather than drastically conflict with the Apostolic Scriptures. If we are to consider the Bible as a single, unified document describing God’s overarching redemptive plan for Israel, and through her, for the rest of the world, then we can’t have that plan jarringly switch tracks somewhere between the end of the Gospels and the beginning of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

If the Bible doesn’t appear to have a seemless flow that preserves God’s promises and integrity, and avoids making Him a liar by pulling the biggest “bait and switch” with Israel the world has ever seen, then the problem isn’t with the Bible, it’s with how the Bible is interpreted.

“And their sins and their lawless deeds
I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

-Hebrews 10:17-18

Restoration
Photo: First Fruits of Zion

The consequence of the New Covenant promises to Israel is just that. On the merit of the death of the great tzaddik Yeshua who is the mediator of that covenant, God remembers the sins of Israel no more and writes His Torah within them so they will never sin again (but see last week’s review for why sin offerings will continue, even in the absence of people sinning). From that time on, with all sins forgiven, there will no longer be any offering for sin, for there will be no need for Israel to make sin offerings. They have drawn near to their God in Spirit and in truth.

May it be so for all of us who believe and make teshuvah before Hashem by the merit of Moshiach.

Tonight begins the festival of Sukkot. Chag Sameach Sukkot.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: A Body You Have Prepared

Dive into Hebrews 10 with an entertaining, fast-paced discussion of an apostolic midrash on Psalm 40 and it’s appearance in the argument regarding the suffering of the Messiah as an atoning sacrifice for sin.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Seven: A Body You Have Prepared
Originally presented on January 4, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster touched on this in one of his previous sermons, but in today’s lecture on the Book of Hebrews, he goes into depth about why we can’t compare the Temple sacrifices to the death of Messiah, and also why the death and resurrection absolutely doesn’t cancel the Temple service…because it would be like saying apples cancel oranges (my metaphor, not Lancaster’s).

Lancaster, as he starts talking at the beginning of this recording, admits that his opinion of Hebrews chapters seven through ten, disagrees with all New Testament commentators everywhere. On the one hand, he says this probably makes him an unreliable source (and I know folks who would agree) since no other scholar corroborates his opinions. On the other hand, the traditional interpretations of Hebrews (and the rest of the Christian Bible) are fundamentally based on the theological necessity to remove the Torah and the Sinai Covenant post-crucifixion and replace it with New Testament (Gentile) grace. I’ve mentioned how more than once, Lancaster has pointed out how the theology of the Bible translators has been read back into the Bible such that they render the Greek incorrectly.

Here’s what I (and Lancaster) mean:

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves.

-Hebrews 10:1 (NLT)

This is how the New Living Translation (or the “New Living Targum” as Lancaster quips) renders the first sentence of this verse. The word “only,” which I put in bold, doesn’t appear in the Greek, and the word “dim” is not indicated in the original text.

The NASB, which is the translation I most commonly use, isn’t much better.

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.

At least the words I’ve bolded above appear in italics in the online translation of this verse, but a casual reader might not realize something is amiss.

Lancaster then reads from Young’s Literal Translation which, while sounding awkward, renders the Greek text without attempting to interpret it.

For the law having a shadow of the coming good things — not the very image of the matters, every year, by the same sacrifices that they offer continually, is never able to make perfect those coming near…

“Coming near” is a technical term, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

What this sentence boils down to once you remove the translation bias, is to say:

The Torah is good because it contains a shadow of the coming good things.

No indication that those good things have already arrived (because they haven’t) or that anything has been done away with. Just a statement that the ceremonies of the Torah foreshadow the Messianic Age and beyond.

Period.

Lancaster explained his main point and I believe I got it, but it was hell trying to take notes so that point would be easy for me to explain. I’ll try to create a more straightforward statement than what I heard in the sermon, and then I’ll go back and cite some of Lancaster’s proofs.

The Sacrifice - detailThe sacrifices for sin listed in the Torah were never, ever meant to actually forgive intentional sin. In fact, there is no sacrifice for intentional sin in the Torah, only for unintentional sin.

So what happened when a Hebrew in the days of the Tabernacle or the Temples intentionally sinned? Or, for instance, what happened if a Jew lived in the diaspora, the lands other than Israel, far away from the Temple, and he sinned? Did he have to go all the way to Jerusalem to give a sacrifice? But I guess that wouldn’t matter. Even if the Jewish person lived in Jerusalem and committed an intentional sin, was that person destined to burn in Hell for eternity because there was no sacrifice for intentional sin?

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

-Psalm 51:16-17 (NASB)

This is David’s prayer to God after his sin with Bathsheva. He deliberately, purposefully, has an illicit affair with a married woman, impregnated her, tried to trick her husband to sleep with her by getting him drunk, and when that didn’t work, had her husband Uriah murdered, then quickly married Bathsheva so he could claim the child as his as a premature birth.

However, none of that was hidden from God and David’s sins were “outted” through the prophet Nathan.

But this was a series of premeditated and deliberate sins. How could David have possibly atoned for such sins since there is no sacrifice for them? Even David says that God would not be pleased with animal sacrifices. But he does say God would be pleased with a broken spirit and a contrite heart, or more accurately, that those sacrifices God “will not despise.”

Lancaster says that prayer and teshuvah (repentance) have always been effective for the atonement of deliberate sins.

But then, why did God command the sacrifices at all if they weren’t effective for the forgiveness of sins? Was it that they “covered” the sins whilst the death of Jesus finally, completely washed them away? Lancaster said that’s not it.

The sacrifices were never designed to atone for sins.

OK, wait a minute. What about Yom Kippur when the Aaronic High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies once a year to make atonement for the sins of all Israel?

But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

-Hebrews 10:3 (NASB)

If the Yom Kippur (“year by year”) sacrifice never took away sin and neither did the required sin offerings for even unintentional sin, what did they do? What was their purpose?

Remember, a Jew (anyone, actually) who sins intentionally or otherwise, can receive atonement for those sins through prayer and sincere repentance, so technically, there’s no real reason for making animal sacrifices, even when the Temple was standing, for the forgiveness of sins if you weren’t going to enter the Temple.

PriestsBut God commanded Temple services for all Israelites for a number of specific occasions such as Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Jews had to enter the Temple for those moadim and to commemorate a number of other events and acts as well, including offerings when an unintentional sin was discovered. But if a person sinned, even if spiritually he was forgiven, according to Lancaster, he still needed to enter the mikvah and perform the required sacrifices for the purity of the body, so that the person could draw physically near to God’s Divine Presence.

Even a woman who had recently given birth had to offer a sacrifice for sin, and even then, not until forty days after giving birth as commanded in the Torah. It wasn’t that giving birth was a sin. Far from it. But it’s a requirement for physical purification in order to draw near (the word translated “sacrifice” in English is “Korban” in Hebrew, meaning “to draw near”) to God’s Divine Presence. For imagine praying to God when His physical manifestation was only a few meters away. What an incredible experience to actually be commanded to enter into God’s Holy Presence at the Temple.

I have to admit, this one is hard for me to wrap my brain around, since so much of the Torah language does speak of atoning for sins and forgiveness. Even Lancaster says as much. And yet, if sin, even unintentional sin, defiles a person’s body, he or she cannot enter the Holiness of the Temple and draw near the presence of God without purification of the body which was defiled because of that sin. Even if the person was forgiven on a spiritual level through repentance, and remember, some events, such as giving birth, required a sin offering even when there was no sin, there still remained the need for physical cleansing.

That’s an especially important point because it means that Jesus (Yeshua) in his earthly existence, could still have been required to provide a sin offering at the Temple, even though he never sinned. He would just had to be in some state of ritual uncleanness (which is not a sin). That also means, certain prophesies about “the Prince” (Ezekiel 45:22) offering a sin sacrifice in the Messianic Age could indeed be about the sinless King Messiah. No supernatural hocus pocus required and no contradiction involved in a sinless person offering a sin sacrifice.

This also has the benefit of helping us realize that the death of Jesus on the cross didn’t have to cancel the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood, the Temple, and the Torah, since it didn’t replace the actual function of that system. Animal sacrifices didn’t take away sin and then have to be replaced by Jesus who did. Prayer to God and authentic repentance has always provided for atonement.

As far as Yom Kippur is concerned, the Aaronic Priest offered the required blood sacrifices and then he prayed for the forgiveness of his own sins and those of all of Israel.

So what is so much better about the sacrifice of Jesus? It inaugurates by the merit of his holiness and suffering, the New Covenant era which does provide for the permanent perfection of human beings to make them sinless.

What Did I Learn?

Lancaster compared Hebrews 10:5-8 with Psalm 40:1-9. Here are the relevant verses:

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,

“Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But a body You have prepared for Me;

In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.

“Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come
(In the scroll of the book it is written of Me)
To do Your will, O God.’”

After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.”

-Hebrews 10:5-9 (NASB)

Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.

Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.

I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.”

-Psalm 40:6-8 (NASB)

Levites singingThe writer of Hebrews, although apparently quoting Jesus, is actually putting the words of Psalm 40 in his mouth, so to speak, since it is a prophetic Psalm. Psalm 40 was one of the songs sung by the priests in the Temple, probably during a Thanksgiving Offering. David is giving thanks for being delivered from some difficulty.

Notice in verse six, he says that God “opened his ears” (in Hebrew, it literally says “dug out my ears”) meaning, according to Lancaster, that God enabled him to hear God in order for him to do God’s will.

But Hebrews 10:5 renders the quote of that verse as “a body you prepared for me.” What happened?

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is likely a Greek-speaking Jew writing to Greek-speaking Jews and is using the Septuagint, the Greek Translation of the Tanakh, as a Biblical reference. Lancaster says a scribal error actually mistranslated the verse about “God opening ears” to “preparing a body” (you’ll have to listen to the recording to get the detailed explanation). However, the Hebrews letter writer makes good use of this error.

If you’ve read all of Psalm 40, you’ll have noticed that verse six also mentions God not wanting sacrifices. Again, this isn’t replacing sacrifices, since a few verses later, David says that he delights in doing God’s will and God’s Torah is in his heart. He is again saying that the sacrifices aren’t designed to forgive sins, though they certainly are a part of a Jew’s obedience to God.

By the way, the part of the verse in both Psalm 40 and Hebrews 10 that says “he was written about in the scroll of the book” is usually interpreted to mean Messiah, but Lancaster says it’s more likely that David meant the Torah speaks of anyone who does the will of God.

However, as far as the body being prepared, Lancaster does say that this is the sacrifice that actually does provide for the permanent atonement for Israel’s sins and perfects them such that they will sin no more in Messianic Days. It brings forth the question of whether or not anyone will have to offer a sin sacrifice in the Days of Messiah, but remember, there are other reasons for making those sacrifices that have nothing to do with actually sinning.

After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

-Hebrews 10:8-10 (NASB)

OK, so the second replaced the first. Sure sounds like the sacrifice of Jesus replaced the Temple sacrifices but what are the “first” and “second?”

The first is that in order to draw near to God in the earthly Temple, the first system, the sacrificial system, was necessary, but this won’t work to draw near to God in the life of the world to come. The “second” speaks of a time past the Messianic Era when there will be no Temple.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple

-Revelation 21:22

In Messianic Days, there will still be a Temple because while the redeemed will be perfected, not everyone alive then will be among the redeemed. However, in the world to come, when all evil has been extinguished and God once again lives among His people, the Temple will no longer be needed, just as at the first, when Adam and Havah (Eve) dwelt sinless in the Garden.

Lancaster pointed out something interesting about Hebrews 10:9:

He takes away the first in order to establish the second…

The Greek verb translated above as “takes away,” also translated as “sets aside,” “cancels,” “does away with,” and “abolishes” is never, ever used in any other part of the New Testament or Septuagint to mean that. In any Greek lexicon, the word has two possible meanings:

  1. Kill or slay
  2. To take up, to lift up, to carry

It doesn’t make much sense to say:

He kills the first in order to establish the second…

Lancaster thinks the second meaning in my list, which Greek lexicons indicates is the most common usage, is the more likely meaning:

He takes up or lifts up the first in order to establish the second…

From Lancaster’s perspective, it’s high time that the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews receive a fresh translation into English to do away with centuries of mistaken translations and interpretations based on the errors required by Christian tradition.

praying_at_masadaMessiah came to do the will of his Father and by that will, we have been sanctified due to the offering of his body and the merit of his holiness.

I have only touched on some of the points Lancaster made. In the approximately forty minute lecture, he inserted a lot more detail. I hope I’ve been able to adequately summarize his sermon and make it understandable. For this one especially, I recommend listening to it yourself. Lancaster says, and I agree, that his interpretation is highly unorthodox, but it has the benefit of not throwing the baby out with the bath water, or in this case, extinguishing the Temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the Torah in order to establish and lift up the Messiah as the mediator of the New Covenant, for in fact, the earlier must flow seamlessly into the latter for the Bible to make any cohesive sense at all.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Mediator of the New Covenant

In the New Covenant, Yeshua acts as priest, sacrifice, and mediator. Installment 36 in the Beth Immanuel Hebrews series finishes Hebrews 9 with a discussion on Hebrews 9:15-28 and the Messiah’s role as a mediator between Israel and God.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Six: Mediator of the New Covenant
Originally presented on December 28, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

“Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
catch me a catch”

-from “Matchmaker” by Jerry Bock
from the play and film “Fiddler on the Roof”

Lancaster started off his sermon on a different note than usual this week, stating that he’d been reading a book called A Jewish Response to Missionaries produced by Jews for Judaism, which is an “anti-missionary” organization. According to something in the book, Lancaster said that Judaism has a prohibition against mediators since a mediator between a person and God violates the second commandment not to have any god before Hashem.

Except that’s not true.

Sure, we can pray as individuals, and in any event, God knows our every thought, so it’s not like we need someone to help us communicate to God what we’re thinking and feeling. On the other hand, if the Jewish people didn’t need a mediator, why was there a priesthood? Why were there sacrifices? Why was there a Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle? And why was there Moses?

Actually, Chasidic Judaism very much believes in mediators and relies on a tzaddik, their Rebbe, to act as mediator.

So the Jewish prohibition against mediators seems to only apply when combating Christianity, as Lancaster says.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.

-Galatians 3:19-20 (NASB)

The Jewish PaulPaul himself said that the Torah was delivered to the Israelites through a mediator and would remain in effect until such time as “the seed” would come, meaning Messiah. This isn’t to say that the Old Covenant and the Torah are not in effect today. They still are. But we are still living in Old (Sinai) Covenant times. The New Covenant won’t fully arrive until the resurrection and return of Messiah (but I’m getting ahead of myself), but even then, the Torah remains as the conditions of the New Covenant, too.

What is a mediator? Someone who negotiates an arrangement between two parties. Paul said “God is only one,” so the other party to the Sinai Covenant must be Israel. Lancaster says that the midrash likens Moses to the friend of the bridegroom (God) so to speak, like a matchmaker arranging a “match” between a man and woman for marriage (think Fiddler on the Roof, which is what the image at the very top of the blog post references).

Picture Moses going up and down the mountain carrying messages between Israel and God and between God and Israel, like a friend carrying love notes between a man and a woman who are courting. And in Exodus 24 Moses even performs the ceremony as such. Oaths are exchanged, blood is splashed, and afterward, everybody gets together in the presence of the bride and groom for a covenant meal, like a wedding reception.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

-Matthew 26:26-29

Lancaster says that the Last Supper, or Last Seder if you will, also functions like a covenant meal in the presence of both parties, with the Master in the role of the mediator, representing the groom (God the Father), and the Apostles representing Israel, just as the elders of the tribes at the first covenant meal represented Israel.

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

-1 Timothy 2:5-6

Seems like a pretty pointblank statement to me. Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant between man and God.

However, there’s a part of these verses that has always hung me up and I think Lancaster solves my problem.

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.

-Hebrews 9:15-18

testamentDepending on the translation you have, you either see the word “covenant” being used or “testament” as in “last will and testament.” Except a covenant and a testament are not the same thing at all. It’s pretty confusing in English. But apparently, “covenant” and “testament” are the same word in Biblical Greek and Paul was using a bit of word play. It makes sense in Greek but is useless in English.

However, it’s really just a simple point as Lancaster says.

Just as a last will and testament doesn’t come into effect until a person dies, a covenant doesn’t come into effect until there’s been a sacrifice and shedding of blood.

That’s all the writer of the Book of Hebrews is saying here. Don’t get hung up on any deeper symbolism or meaning. It doesn’t exist except in the thoughts of theologians, scholars, or sometimes people who like to find what isn’t there.

Verses 19-22 describe the events of Exodus 24 with some minor variations, and then Lancaster goes on to compare Moses and Jesus, whereby Moses made the Sinai Covenant come into effect by splashing the blood of the sacrifice, Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant with his blood.

Lancaster was very careful to say that Jesus didn’t literally enter the Heavenly Holy of Holies carrying a bowl of his own blood, this is symbolic language and imagery. He entered the Most Holy Place in Heaven on the merit of his righteousness and sacrifice as the greatest tzaddik of his or any other generation, not because he was a literal human sacrifice.

Verses 24 and 25 use the illustration of the Aaronic High Priest who every Yom Kippur, enters the Holy of Holies with blood to offer atonement for the people of Israel. He offers the blood of the sacrifice and he prays for the people. According to midrash, he was told not to pray too long because while the High Priest may be basking in the Holiness of God, the people outside, since no one can go in with the High Priest, are “freaking out” wondering what happened to him and if the act and prayers of atonement were successful.

So too are we waiting for our High Priest to return so that we know, so to speak, that his atonement for us was also successful (though we know it was and is). Yeshua, our High Priest, is tarrying in his prayers of atonement on our behalf. This is still a “virtual” Yom Kippur. He will emerge from the Heavenly Holy of Holies upon his return to us and then we will know.

Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

-Hebrews 9:26

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

-John 14:6

Jesus as our High Priest, our sacrifice, and our mediator, is the way into the New Covenant through our faith in what his work accomplished, and that faith and acknowledgement of him as mediator is required for us to participate in the blessings of the New Covenant.

Verse 28 speaks of those who eagerly await Messiah’s return. That applies to us as we eagerly await him, await the resurrection, await the terrible and awesome days of the Lord, and await the establishment of his Kingdom and the life of the world to come.

What Did I Learn?

Just about all of this was an eye opener. I had some vague notion of Jesus being the New Covenant mediator as Moses mediated the Sinai Covenant, but Lancaster added a great deal of detail, putting flesh on the mere skeleton of information I possessed as far as Hebrews 9 is concerned.

high_priestI especially appreciated the comparison between the Aaronic High Priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur and Yeshua as the High Priest in the Heavenly Holy of Holies, which represents the Messianic Age to come, a place, like the earthly High Priest, where only he can go, and we can only anxiously wait for him on the outside, wondering what’s happening in there and how long it is going to be before he comes back for us. How long, Moshiach? How long?

Lancaster has a talent for taking what seems to be very mysterious portions of scripture and removing the disguise, so to speak, to give the words and passages a plain and understandable meaning. Reading all this before, I don’t know what I thought about it, but now it makes a lot more sense.

Only four more chapters to go in Hebrews, which will take nine more sermons, nine more weeks for me to review. I didn’t cover everything Lancaster taught in today’s sermon, so you might want to listen to it yourself. This one is fairly brief at just barely 29 minutes. You can find the link above.