Episode 01: Most Christians believe that the gospel message of Jesus is that he died for our sins and if we have faith in him we will be given the gift of eternal life. While certainly this is a major component of the gospel, it is not the whole story. In episode one viewers will learn that the concept of the gospel wasn’t invented by Jesus or the disciples, but rather was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. The “Good News” was the promise of the coming messiah and that he would bring redemption to the children of Israel.
At the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference last spring, I told FFOZ President Boaz Michael that I’d like to spread the “good news” of their television ministry through my blog by reviewing one episode of their TV show per week. Obviously, I’ve fallen down on the job. My life has been busy and there have been so many things I’ve wanted to write about. A few months ago, I did write a review about the FFOZ TV series as a whole, and watched a few episodes to get a “flavor” of how the show is organized. But that doesn’t impart the nature of the message each show offers its audience.
Today (as I write this), I’ve revisited my promise and watched the first episode, The Good News. This is actually about the “mystery” of the good news or gospel, since what Christians believe about the gospel message is only part of the story.
The Lesson: What is the Good News?
Toby Janicki is the main speaker and teacher for this and every episode and he asks the question, “what is the gospel message?” Christians think we know the answer. The gospels are the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the gospel message is that Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected. Through his atoning work, anyone who believes in Christ will have their sins forgiven, receive eternal life, and go to heaven when they die.
Toby doesn’t deny any of that for a second but tells us that it is only part of the message of the gospel or “good news.”
This episode, like the entire TV series itself, encourages the viewer to look at the New Testament from its original First Century CE Jewish context. What would the Jewish people in the time of the apostles have heard and understood when Jesus spoke? How the church presents the gospel today does not carry forward that context and what we hear preached every Sunday is only a portion of the message. That’s the value of this television series to its defined audience, traditional Christian believers. Know Christ better by learning to understand the Jewish Jesus.
Jesus and the apostles were teaching the gospel or good news message long before the crucifixion and it wasn’t “Jesus will die for your sins.” In fact, Jesus spoke the good news in the very beginning:
The Spirit of Hashem is upon me in order to anoint me to bring good news to the humble. He has sent me to care for the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the exiles, and for the blind an opening release … to send the oppressed free … to proclaim a year of favor for Hashem.
–Luke 4:18-19 (DHE Gospels)
I used the Delitzch Hebrew Gospels translation for these verses, which Toby also reads from on the show when he quotes from the gospels. It imparts a greater sense of the Hebrew message by “retro-translating” the Greek text into Hebrew and is very helpful in drawing the mind of the Christian reader into the Jewish world of the Messiah.
You may also know that, in the above-quoted verses, Jesus was reading Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue and he was speaking about himself. That scripture, along with several others from Isaiah, will provide valuable source information later in the show that is used to define “good news”.
So who are exiles, the blind, and the oppressed and what do they have to do with the gospel message?
The fact that the apostles didn’t seem to understand that Jesus had to die, and when he did, the shock, disappointment, and fear they experienced before his resurrection, as well as the surprise they felt after he was, tells us that they did not realize the good news had anything to do with the death and resurrection of the Messiah. What then did they think they were preaching to Israel and what was this “good news?”
Then Yeshua traveled around in all the Galil. He taught in their synagogues, he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom, and he healed every sickness and every disease among the people.
–Matthew 4:23 (DHE Gospels)
It’s interesting that Toby notes Jesus never defines what the good news is to either the apostles or to anyone he preaches to. He assumes they already know what the gospel message is. But if even the apostles didn’t realize it meant that Jesus was to die, what were they supposed to know?
In this and the other FFOZ TV episodes, Toby presents information and then summaries it as clues, in this case three clues. The first is that the gospel or good news is actually the “good news of the Kingdom” as stated in the above-quoted passage from Matthew. This was a message specifically meant for the Jewish people in Israel and it was good news they were wanting to hear, a message of something they had been waiting for.
To understand what the gospel message is, the scene switches from Toby in the studio to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel. He provides the Hebrew language background for each lesson including this one.
Aaron takes us through a series of passages from the book of Isaiah including Isaiah 40:9, 52:7, 60:6, and of course, 61:1. In each case the good news is the message of the Messianic mission, the redemption of Israel, that is, physical, national Israel, as well as the entire world, when the Messiah comes to reign as King. The Hebrew word for “good news” is related to the Greek word and its variants that we translate into English as “evangelism” and “gospel”. It’s easy to see how the church has historically understood the message in one sense, but missed its larger meaning.
The scene shifts back to Toby who gives us the second clue: there is a gospel message in the Old Testament. That also takes us to clue 3: the gospel in the Old Testament is the promise of the coming of Messiah and the redemption of Israel, the Jewish people.
We can clearly see that the apostles expected this after the resurrection:
So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
–Acts 1:6-8 (NASB)
Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke the apostles for desiring national redemption and self-rule, he just says they don’t have the right to know when it will occur. He does say that before his return and the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom, they will receive power from the Holy Spirit to be Messianic witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth,” which is exactly what we see in the rest of the book of Acts and the New Testament.
Toby then takes the audience through a more detailed examination of each of the previously identified passages in Isaiah, closely drawing the meaning of the good news out and illustrating for us repeatedly how the Jewish audience in the time of the apostles would have understood the good news of Jesus as the coming of the Messiah and the redemption and restoration of Israel, and a reign of peace throughout the entire world.
Who are the exiles? Who are the blind? Who are the persecuted? Exiled and persecuted Israel, temporarily blinded to the Messiah for the sake of the Gentiles:
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
–Romans 11:25 (KJV)
The Greek word most Bibles translate as “hardening” or some variant, is sometimes rendered as “blindness,” such as the King James Bible does. Read in a Jewish context and heard through a Jewish consciousness, when Jesus recited the words of the Prophet Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19, he was saying that he was the Messiah who had come to bring the good news to Israel and to one day redeem and restore her as a physical Kingdom on Earth.
Toby said something interesting about one of the Isaiah prophesies I want to share:
An abundance of camels will envelop you, camel colts of Midian and Ephah, and all of them will come from Sheba; gold and frankincense will they bear, and they praises of Hashem will they proclaim.
–Isaiah 60:6 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Toby relates that according to the Jewish sages, this describes the Gentile nations coming to Jerusalem to pay tribute to King Messiah. However, we have already seen something similar in the Magi of the East coming with gifts to pay tribute to the newborn Jesus. Of course, it is quite possible that Isaiah’s prophesy may have more than a single application. And it’s important to know the relationship between Gentile Christianity, the redeemed Israel, and the Jewish Messiah King.
The other interesting thing that Toby brought up (and I never realized this before) is that Jesus is actually speaking in Isaiah 61:1. Notice the text says (as translated in the Stone Edition Tanakh) that “the spirit of my Lord, Hashem/Elohim, is upon me, because Hashem has anointed me to bring tidings to the humbled; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…
The emphasis is obviously mine and I include it to illustrate that it is the Messiah who is directly speaking in these verses, the voice of Yeshua bringing hope to Israel in the pages of the Old Testament.
When Christians read about the redemption of Israel in Isaiah, they often interpret the prophesy to mean “spiritual Israel” or “the church.” And yet, the Jewish hearers of Jesus and the Jewish readers of the gospels of the apostles would have understood the message much differently. They would have understood that the good news of Jesus is the promise of the coming Messiah and the redemption and restoration of national, physical Israel as a Kingdom on Earth.
This does not unwrite or replace the fact that Jesus died for our sins and that in his resurrection, we have forgiveness and an eternal place in the world to come if we believe. However, we Gentiles are grafted in to the commonwealth of Israel, as Toby teaches. We don’t replace Israel, we come alongside her and partakers of the promises, and as subjects and servants of the Jewish Messiah King.
What Did I Learn?
I’ve consumed a great deal of this material at FFOZ conferences or from their audio CD lectures as well as reading it in their printed material, but this television episode titled “The Good News” helped me organize that information into something that is easier for me to remember and transmit to others, a message to my Christian reading audience (and I am a Christian among them) that we have only been taught part of the story of the good news.
Toby Janicki, Aaron Eby, and the rest of the FFOZ ministry have “solved” the mystery of the gospel and clued us in on the rest of the message: Jesus came to die for our sins and to deliver the promise of everlasting life for all who believe. But, and this is extremely important, as Messiah King, he came to deliver the promise of good news to all of Israel that when he returns, he will release the captives in exile, restore sight to the temporarily blinded, free the oppressed Jewish people, and proclaim freedom for Israel, the year of favor from the Lord.
If you found this message of the true good news of Jesus Christ interesting and illuminating, I highly encourage you to watch the complete episode The Good News, which is the first in the series, at tv.ffoz.org. It is First Fruits of Zion: A promise of what is to come.
I hope to review the next episode very soon.