So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
–Acts 1:6-8 (ESV)
At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
–Romans 15:25-29 (ESV)
It is believed by the sages that if all of Israel would observe a single Shabbat properly, the Messiah would immediately come, since obeying the Shabbat is equivalent to obeying the entire Torah. We could extend this idea to say that if all Jews were to perfectly observe all of the Torah mitzvot, the redemption of Israel would be at hand. Interestingly enough, the two portions of scripture I quoted above directly apply to this concept. Let me explain.
There is just so much I could say about the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference I attended a few days ago. In fact, over the next several days, I will blog almost exclusively on my different experiences at Beth Immanuel, however one particular presentation stands out. When I heard it on the evening of the last full day of the conference, I knew it would be the keystone to everything I took away from my trip and the centerpiece to everything I intend to write.
I’ll just tell you in advance that this is going to be challenging. Some people don’t like being challenged.
Boaz Michael, Founder and President of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) gave a presentation about, among other things, the redemption of Israel. But it’s not the sort of redemption that you are probably imagining. According to dictionary.reference.com, redemption, in a theological sense, can mean:
- deliverance from sin; salvation.
- atonement for guilt.
This falls in line with the traditional Christian understanding of the term “redemption” and often equates to “when I die, I’m going to heaven.” Being “saved” or “redeemed” is typically the single most important part of what happens to a Christian. Nothing else matters until you “confess Christ” and are “saved.” After that, you can live a life consistent with the teachings of Jesus knowing your eternal future in Heaven is secure.
But Jews think about meriting a place in the world to come quite a bit differently. The chief difference is that Jews aren’t really obsessed about being “saved” and “going to heaven.” While meriting a place in the world to come is certainly important, Religious Jews are far more concerned with obeying God in the here and now, and some even look for opportunities to perform a mitzvah that cannot often be accomplished. There is even a saying that the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah. This is actually a concept Christians should recognize:
For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. –Matthew 25:29 (ESV)
This is the point of the “parable of the talents” as told by the Master. As in the wisdom from the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), “the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah and the ‘reward’ of a sin is a sin,” we are “rewarded” for what we do, whether it is for the good or the bad. That reward can come either in this world or the next, according to Jewish thinking, but it’s directly tied to the sort of life a Jew lives right now. Jews have been commanded to obey all of the 613 commandments in the Torah but as you might imagine, being just as human as Christians or anyone else, they don’t do a perfect job. Unfortunately, God was very specific about the consequences to the Jewish people if, as a nation, they did not obey the commandments of Sinai.
The second Temple – when the Jews were involved in Torah, mitzvahs and acts of kindness – why was it destroyed? Because the Jews were guilty of harboring baseless hatred towards each other!”
-Rabbi Naftali Silberberg
-as quoted from askmoses.com
Most Christians believe that Herod’s Temple was destroyed in 70 CE and the Jews subsequently exiled from Israel because they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. As you’ve just seen, this isn’t how Jews understand the cause for their exile and in fact, during the days of the Second Temple and when Jesus walked among his people, proper Jewish religious observance was rather high; much more so than in the days of the destruction of the First Temple.
However, the sin of baseless hatred of one Jew for another was very severe. Jesus especially pleaded with his people to repent of this sin.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. –Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)
As recorded in Matthew 18:21-35, the Master illustrates how serious this sin is in the “parable of the unforgiving servant.” But sadly, tragically, Israel didn’t listen, resulting in dire consequences.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” –Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV)
It’s not as if every single Jew in Israel was guilty of this sin, but Israel is judged by God as a nation, not a collection of individuals. If the nation is in sin, every Jew suffers whether they commmitted the offense or not. To this day, the Jewish people are in exile, not because they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but because they refused to listen and obey his teaching to turn away from the sin of baseless hatred toward their brothers and to instead seek peace.
This has nothing to do with whether or not Jews merit a place in the world to come. God didn’t take away Jewish “salvation” as a result of this sin, He took away the posession of the Land of Israel from the Nation of Israel, and scattered them across the face of the earth. Redemption, for Israel, isn’t being saved so they can go to Heaven, it’s the restoration of the Jews to their Land and the ascension of Israel above all the peoples of the earth.
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem –Micah 4:1-2 (ESV)
Connect that back to Acts 1:6-8 and you’ll see that Israel, as a nation, awaits final redemption so it can be restored to the place at the head of the nations as God has always intended.
But what does that have to do with you and me? Even if we accept that this is true for the Jewish people, what sort of role would Christians have in Israel’s redemption?
I’ll give you the answer to that in Part 2.