The chassidic community in Poland was in a state of shock. The great chassidic master Rabbi Moshe of Lelov had decided to ascend to the Holy Land and settle there. How could they possibly go on without his leadership?
To his closest disciples the rebbe revealed that when he was a small boy, his father, Rabbi David of Lelov, had said to him: “I did not merit to see the Holy Land, but you must go there. Through your divine service which you will perform there, you will succeed in bringing Moshiach sooner, and hastening the Redemption.”
-Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles
“The Shattered Goblet”
Last spring, after Shavuot, I wrote a two-part meditation called “Redeeming the Heart of Israel,” Part 1 and Part 2. I received a certain amount of criticism because I was perceived as somehow elevating Israel and the Jewish people above the non-Jewish believer in the Messiah. While the church is slowly moving away from its stance of supersessionism (I know, I used that word, again) and anti-Israel/anti-Jewish beliefs, it is still difficult for many Christians to take Paul at his word and believe that “all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26)
Part of the problem is understanding what redemption means. From a traditional Christian point of view, individuals are redeemed; we are saved by our faith in Jesus Christ, which generally means, when we die, we go to Heaven. All seems so nice and simple and reassuring. But that’s generally not how Jews see the concept of redemption and the coming of Messiah. As we see from Rabbi Tilles’ story, it is clear that the coming of the Messiah is closely coupled with the redemption of national Israel, not necessarily focused on each individual’s redemption (although this too is important). However, the Jewish point of view is often criticized by Christians as extra-Biblical and thus invalid.
But is this actually true or did Christ’s own disciples believe he was supposed to accomplish Israel’s national redemption?
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)
I’ve mentioned all this before, but I don’t know if anyone is taking the message seriously. I’m not trying to “undo” or contradict the doctrine of personal salvation through Jesus Christ, but to illustrate that one of the things he will do upon his return, that was expected the first time he was here but not accomplished, is to restore Israel as a nation to a state of rule over the earth, and return the Jewish people to their Land and heritage in glory and honor.
That’s the part some Christians, including some of those in the Hebrew Roots movement, have a problem with. The “inequality” among the body of believers in the form of salvation coming from the Jews. (John 4:22) Traditional Christianity has historically taught (and thankfully, this is changing) that the church has replaced the Jews in all of the covenant promises, and that Jesus killed the Torah in the process. Hebrew Roots maintains that the Torah still lives, but that the distinctions between Jew and (Christian) Gentile have been totally eliminated and there is only one new identity before God, the “Messianic” identity, despite the fact that God has promised to be a God to the Jewish people forever, to return them to their Land, and to establish Israel as the head of all the nations (i.e. the rest of us).
If you read all of Rabbi Tilles’ tale, you’ll see that sadly, Rabbi Moshe of Lelov never accomplished his mission to reach the Kotel and summon the Moshiach. It is believed that this occurred because the time for the Moshiach’s arrival had not yet come. While Christianity doesn’t believe we can do anything to hasten the return of Jesus, Jews believe by performing acts of tikkun olam or “repairing the world,” that we all, Jews and Gentiles alike, can take part in bringing the time of his coming (or return) just a little bit closer.
In the face of everything I’ve just said, we Christians have a couple of choices. We can accept that the Bible is telling us that we are dependent on the Jews for our salvation through the Jewish Messiah and our covenant relationship with the God of Israel, or we can ignore those parts of the Bible that present this information and focus on either the traditional church doctrine of supersession, or one of the variants being created in minority movements within larger Christianity (which includes Hebrew Roots in general and it’s subgroups such as One Law, which indeed is a Christianity and not a “Judaism”).
Probably the most lively debate on this topic currently happening (though it seems to be winding down) in the blogosphere is on Gene Shlomovich’s blog. I’m actually learning a great deal from a few of the individuals posting (and I may mine some of those comments and pull them together for a future “meditation”), mixed in with the more expected objections to Jewish “choseness” within the Messianic body. But I struggle to remember a lesson that I very recently wrote discouraging the acceptance of someone else’s “gift” of their own anger and hostility, which is not an easy task on the web, but one that is absolutely necessary if we are to truly call ourselves disciples of our Master.
We see in the early chapters of Acts that the community of disciples of Jesus Christ were all Jewish and that, upon accepting the Spirit and declaring their discipleship, the Jews did not deviate in any way from being Jewish. In fact, in the Torah Club commentary I’m reading this week, the early Jewish disciples are referred to as “The Temple Sect.”
Contrary to popular assumptions, the disciples did not teach against the Temple or the Levitical worship system. If the gospel did cancel the Torah and the Levitical worship system, the apostolic community in Jerusalem seems to have been ignorant about the change. They continued to revere the Temple and participate in its services throughout their lives.
The disciples of Yeshua revered the Temple because their Master revered it. He regarded the Temple as his “Father’s house.” As a boy, Yeshua was reluctant to leave the Temple courts. As an adult, He was found in the Temple teaching and attending the festival services. He spent the last days of His life, prior to his crucifixion, in the Temple. He prophesied its coming destruction only with sorrow and weeping…
After the ascension, his disciples “were continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:53). They were likely in the Temple when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost. Aftr that, they remained day by day in the Temple together.
As I continue my study of the book of Acts in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Torah Club, I hope to find that my perceptions are becoming clearer on these points, including what redemption truly means for Israel and the nations, and where we all stand, Jews and non-Jews, as brothers and sisters in the Messiah.
In my Days series, I’ve been recording my plans to return to more traditional Christian fellowship, in part to reconcile on some level with the larger body of Gentile believers. I don’t know how successful I will be, but I’ve been challenged to trust God more than I have in the past. Hopefully, the ground will remain firm rather than falling out from under me.
Walter Donovan (Julian Glover): As you can now see, Dr. Jones, we are on the verge of completing a quest that began almost two thousand years ago. We’re just one step away.
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford): That’s usually when the ground falls out from underneath your feet.
from the film
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Hopefully and with God’s grace, my journey toward reconciliation and redemption will also have a “happy ending.”