That Square Peg in a World of Round Holes Feeling

Worker Hammering Square Peg into Round HoleAccording to Ezekiel chapters 40-48, the millennial age will feature a magnificent temple (much larger than any historic temple of Israel) that will serve as the center for the priestly rituals and offerings. In attempting to explain the sacrifices of this temple, the thought is not that the death of Christ is insufficient but rather that the sacrifices are a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, much as those in the Old Testament looked forward to the fulfillment in Christ’s death. (emph. mine)

-John F. Walvoord from his book
Major Bible Prophecies
as quoted in my Sunday School class notes for Sept. 22nd

I’ve got material in my head for three, maybe four blog posts, but I’ve only got time to write one. So which one shall I write?

In going over my notes of Pastor’s sermon on Sukkot, I could make a blog post out of it, but I really think Pastor did a very good job on this topic. Nothing he said particularly surprised me and I don’t have hardly anything to disagree with him on (except maybe to say that while the future of Sukkot is the “meat” on his plate, we don’t have as much linkage into the future of “the feast” without a present, lived experience).

I have somethings I want to say about reading the last entry in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Torah Club and ending my year-long study of Volume 6, Chronicles of the Apostles, but I think I’ll save that for another later this week.

Especially as the Torah cycle is ending and about to begin again, which marks the approach of the first anniversary of my return to church, I want to write an update to my review of Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David, describing my own experience, but I’ll need more time to re-acquaint myself with the book’s material and view it through fresh eyes.

But I do want to comment on my experience in the Christian church through the lens of today’s Sunday school class. Notice in the above quoted passage from Walvoord’s book, I emphasized text that threw me for a loop. Am I reading this wrong, or is Walvoord (and by inference, my Sunday school teacher), saying that the Israelites of old while making offerings to God realized that somehow this was all deficient and they looked forward to their fulfillment in Christ’s death? Of course, after reading the sentence a few dozen times, I realize Walvoord may not have meant that the ancient Israelites thought this way, but that the Temple sacrifices “looked forward” to a time when they would be fulfilled (ended) by the crucifixion.

Either way though, the anachronism is blatant.

jerusalem_templeFrom the context of the Israelites at the time of the Tabernacle, and later, Solomon’s Temple, the sacrifices were korban, a way of drawing closer to God, by removing barriers and obeying the God who gave them the Torah through Moses at Sinai. I seriously doubt that most of them considered a future time when the Temple would not exist and certainly they never would have imagined that Messiah, hung on a tree to die, would kill the sacrificial system. Sure, from a traditional Christian perspective, we’ve been taught to believe such things, but that means we become incapable of putting ourselves in the shoes of a Jewish person of old and comprehending his or her lived experience and how wonderful they thought the Torah mitzvot were (and modern religious Jews continue to see the Torah as a joy). Read Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 for examples of what I mean.

How about this?

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

Zechariah 14:16 (NASB)

It shall be that all who are left over from all the nations who had invaded Jerusalem will come up every year to worship the King Hashem, Master of Legions, and to celebrate the festival of Succos.

Zechariah 14:16 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Now, here’s one of the questions in my Sunday school notes regarding this verse:

In verse 16, what will the unsaved Gentiles in the Millennium be required to do each year? (emph. mine)

Excuse me? Unsaved Gentiles? Where does it say that in the verse? Actually, the answer has to do with my teacher’s perspective on “the end times” and the “Millennial reign of Christ” based on very traditionally Christian sources. I actually challenged him, saying that the term “saved” was being anachronistically inserted into the Jewish text. It just says that each of the nations that went to war against Israel will be responsible for sending representatives to Jerusalem at Sukkot to pay homage to the Jewish Messiah King and to celebrate the festival. There’s no implication regarding their spiritual state.

(For an alternate commentary on this passage, see Toby Janicki’s blog post God-Fearers: Zechariah 14, Sukkot, and Anti-Semitism.)

churchesBut then I realized that he believes (or could believe) that all of the “saved Gentiles” were living with the “saved Jews” in Israel and only “unsaved Gentiles” lived in the other nations of the world. Of course, that implies that somehow we believing Gentiles are given a portion of the Land, of Israel, during Messiah’s reign. I’m not sure how or if that sort of thing works out and I’m inclined to believe it doesn’t.

Pastor preached on this when he said that once the Church is “raptured” (in his view, up to Heaven) with Christ, they (we) will return to Earth with him with special jobs to do, especially during Sukkot. This is very confusing because it seems as if there aren’t very many believing Gentiles and Jews around if we can all fit in a country about the size of New Jersey. It’s also rather strange if only we believers live in Israel and the rest of the world are “Goyishe sinners” living in all of the other countries on the planet…and yet somehow, they acknowledge that they are ruled by the Jewish King from the Jewish Kingdom of Israel.

I guess the idea is all of those “unsaved Gentiles” will use the time and opportunity to become “saved,” but then, as my Sunday school teacher asked, will they receive “glorified bodies” instantly or will only their children get those? My question is, when a Gentile is “saved” during the “Millennial reign,” do they immediately “make aliyah” to Israel?

I’m putting a lot of words and phrases in quotes because most of them are Christian anachronisms and theological concepts being forced into the Jewish text (and let’s keep in mind that the New Testament is also a Jewish text). I think I’m getting a headache.

Here’s something else from my class notes. I’m not sure if it’s from Walvoord since the citation seems a little confused:

Note: The battle of God and Magog here (after the Millennium) is totally different from that in Ezekiel chapters 38 & 39 (during the Tribulation) -Walvoord. There, Israel is attacked (while her “friends” watch) by a coalition of Russian and Muslim nations from the north at a time when Israel is at peace. (emph. mine)

Not that it couldn’t happen this way, but how can the author possibly know with such certainty exactly which nations/powers are involved? Couldn’t some European (or other) nations also be attackers (and the way the EU and especially the French have been treating Israel lately, I wouldn’t be surprised)?

In discussing Revelation 20:11-15, the class notes ask the question, When they face Jesus Christ as their Judge (II Tim. 4:1, Phil. 2:9-11), what 66 “books” will He open to judge “their works”? In class, the teacher said he supposed other books could be involved besides the Bible, but even putting such a detail in these notes assumes quite a bit about what we think we know.

The last such “interesting” bit of wording I’ll insert comes from the notes for next Sunday’s class on Acts 15:1-21 (one of my favorite themes):

In Acts 15:1-2 and 15:24, Now with what Satanically inspired and dogmatic false teaching did these “certain men from Judaea” try to infect the church at Antioch, and why according to Galatians 2:4-5? (emph. mine)

Apostle-Paul-Preaches“Satanically inspired” teaching? Since when is discussing opposing theological viewpoints considered Satanic. Most Wednesday evenings, I meet with my Pastor to discuss similar topics and we don’t always agree with each other. Is that disagreement “Satanic?” Am I being “Satanic” when I disagree with my Pastor, since he represents a more mainstream Christian theological perspective?

I know it seems I’m really bashing my Sunday school teacher. Actually, he’s a great guy and I like him. He teaches a lot of the retired guys in the church on Wednesday mornings, which I consider a mitzvah. He obviously loves his wife and she loves him. He has a heart for Christ and is enthusiastic about the Master’s return and the restoration of Israel and the world.

But there are just some times I get that “square peg in a world of round holes” feeling, particularly in Sunday school.

Addendum: See an extension to this “meditation” by reading The Obscured Messiah in the Bible.


20 thoughts on “That Square Peg in a World of Round Holes Feeling”

  1. It seems they are inserting much tradition and their own doctrine into the text. Just as there is junk science, there is junk theology. I would propose approaching the text, in its original language, as if one knew nothing and was performing a scientific experiment. Start with no presuppositions. There is nothing that would provide evidence that any of the nations “watch and do nothing.” It is clear in scripture that all the nations go up against Jerusalem. All the nations which the Jewish people have been scattered to will be destroyed, and I assume that is every nation. Perhaps some things are so painful, people don’t want to see them.

  2. I would propose approaching the text, in its original language, as if one knew nothing and was performing a scientific experiment. Start with no presuppositions.

    I’ve thought about that from time to time, but there’s no such thing as an unbiased person. Each of us views the text through the lens of what we know or what we think we know. The trick is to change lens periodically so that we look at what we think of as familiar scripture from an unfamiliar perspective. Only then will we learn something new and perhaps even realize that not all of our traditions are correct.

  3. “Now with what Satanically inspired and dogmatic false teaching did these “certain men from Judaea” try to infect the church at Antioch, and why according to Galatians 2:4-5?

    Yes, this concept is firmly established in Christianity.

    It’s supposed to be self evident that any Jew assuming that pagans needed to convert to Judaism must be coming straight from the pit of hell itself.

    How much more repugnant could one be than to assume Jews did anything correctly, knew anything about God and His ways etc…

    I say, why WOULDN’T they assume a conversion is necessary? It only makes sense, which is why the Jerusalem council is so shocking, and wasn’t determined based rejecting “satanic” teachings.

    It’s funny (sad, actually) how expecting “conversion” from Gentiles is supposedly satanic, yet it’s taught that Paul “converted” to Christianity. If anything, that is the satanic inspired teaching, if one understands the big picture and the Biblical distinction for a Jew.

  4. It’ll be interesting in Bible class next Sunday when I bring all this up, Ruth. I’ve been waiting for Pastor to preach on Acts 15, so the conversation in class after services is bound to be lively…at least if I have any contribution.

  5. I would agree that we all have biases. At least we can be aware of them, and seek to compensate. Ruth, you are correct in that the Greek has been purposefully translated in a biased manner, and this is what leads to misunderstanding by those who read the English translation as if it were a word from heaven. Just one small example is the Greek, “episynagogue” (sp) is translated, “gathering,” when referring to followers of Yeshua, and, “synagogue,” when referring to Jews or to an negative connotation, such as Revelation’s, “synagogue of satan,” could have been translated, “gathering of satan.” See the difference?

    1. And while you’re examining the linguistics, Chaya, that word “satan” is not spelled with a capital sigma or presented with any indication of it as a proper noun referring to an archetypical evil being rather than having a more generic meaning of “adversary” or “antagonist” (as it does in the Hebrew from which it was borrowed). There is quite a difference in feeling and implication between an “antagonistic gathering” or a “group of adversaries” and a “Satanic Synagogue”. But this is what can happen when the purpose for which language is used or interpreted is polemical rather than analytical. Those who look for the worst in a situation are likely to find it or invent it. Looking for the best can sometimes have better results.

  6. I agree that we should be aware of our biases so we don’t become enslaved to them, but as Ruth said, some concepts are so firmly rooted in Christian thought that they’re taken as “Gospel.” If a well-known Christian Pastor/Theologian/Author writes a book or a study guide saying such-and-thus, many times Christian readers will take it as fact rather than the writers (albeit professional) opinion.

  7. My take is that is idolatry; to accept the word of man as true without question or examination. I just don’t get how Christians, even those who are intelligent and educated, chose to outsource their spiritual life to, “experts,” and they don’t even know these people or their character. Perhaps it has been socialized into them that you don’t question or disagree with someone considered above you on the spiritual food chain, while in the Jewish tradition, debate and challenge is part of the learning process, as in the method of pilpul used in Yeshivot, that is, arguing a passage between study partners, and forcing a person to back up their interpretation. It is also childishness, that one desires to have someone think and chose for them, rather than doing the hard work of this for themselves. Here is my latest article, that touches on this somewhat:

  8. Why is one person a Catholic and another a Lutheran? Why do the Chabad Jews believe the Rebbe is the Messiah and will be resurrected? Even as people of faith, we don’t have ultimate open minds. We have to make some sort of decision as to who we feel is credible and who we feel isn’t. Most people, even most people teaching Sunday school classes in local churches aren’t actually scholars. They follow a pre-programmed study guide or read a couple of books that fit their basic theology and put together a teaching on that. It’s very difficult for most people to take it to the next level and to question their own assumptions, then present those different points of view in a teaching, trying to get people to open up to new possibilities.

    That’s what I’m trying to do with this blog by laying my own questions on the line, but when I’m in a group of believers, most of them won’t want to go that far. It’s human nature. Change is hard and it’s scary for most folks. Jewish traditions of arguing and debate don’t play very well in Christianity where we’re taught to agree and get along. You and I may disagree with that position, but it’s all too easy to understand.

  9. I looked up the verse in Isaiah 14:12 in Hebrew, and the word, “Lucifer,” is nowhere. I have seen so many mistranslations in Hebrew. I wish I knew a few people who knew Greek to clue me in on problems in the Greek, beyond what I have read in articles. I know one Greek scholar, but don’t want to annoy him too often. Imagine if an ancient copy of the apostolic writings in Hebrew was found buried in a genizah somewhere. You never know.

    1. How did you select Is.14:12 for discussion, chaya? The term Lucifer comes from Latin, and it is used to refer to Venus the bright morning star, as is the Greek term “eosphorus” (think about “phosphorus”) that is used in the Septuagint translation of this verse. The Latin term appears in the Vulgate translation. The term in the Hebrew text is “heilel ben shahar”, which also refers to this star, and it is a poetic reference to an outstanding personality. In the immediate context, it refers to the king of Babylon, but it is taken on another level to reflect an early conflict described in verses 13-15 whereby an angel associated with this bright morning star rebelled against HaShem and lost his position as a “light bearer” (“Lucifer”), thus becoming the archetypical adversary (“Satan”) whom we see featured so prominently in the story of Job. To add some further information that sets the stage for some confusion: there are references elsewhere to the Messiah in the role of the morning star or light-bearer or “Lucifer”. I guess somebody had to take on the job after the originally-assigned angel was fired. [:)] Seriously, though, its meaning as a poetic description of an outstanding personality makes perfect sense as a messianic reference; and does not connect it in any way with any other such poetic references such as the one to the king of Babylon (nor to Satan) in Is.14.

  10. Thank you PL or elaborating on the verse. I picked it because we were discussing mistranslation = misunderstanding, and the issue of hasatan. James, I absolutely agree with you. I read that one description of a healthy family is one in which there are no topics off limit for discussion. I’ve seen that most people, especially most religious people, desire answers with little or no ambiguity. Very few do anything other than accept at face value whatever English translation they prefer. We are told that upon maturity, we are to give up childish things. In my mind, this is a childish thing; mommy and daddy are perfect, or at least acting out of goodwill. And as one who grew up in the Jewish community, I prefer the Jewish way of argument and debate, along with one being required to defend their ideas. And as a minority among Christians and Jews socialized according to the Christian, “play nice,” doctrine. Unity of the spirit is not lack of questioning. My pastor welcomes questions and challenges, but few people are interested, even though they are intelligent and capable. And the Jewish community, depending upon the camp, also discourages questioning of pet beliefs and airing of family secrets. So, for those who see all the faults and weaknesses of the various Christian camps, and think they will find a place to lay their head in the Jewish camp, they need to listen to those who grew up in that world tell it like it is. We have some wonderful teachings from our sages, but you will find the community is far from living out those ideals. For groups like Chabad, it is kind of a bait and switch. The wonderful philosophy and hamishe feel draws people in. Later all the requirements, legalisms, subtle and not so subtle pressures to conform if one desires acceptance come in.

    I understand the typical process is to pick a camp or camp leader that one most closely identifies with. For some reason, I am incapable of doing that. Often it seems like a choice of which pagan temple you want to worship at, and I chose none of them. But we can learn from all men, and with that learning, incorporate change into our lives. Whatever we learn from the best of men is, “though a glass,” anyway. And then there are the things revealed to us from heaven.

  11. My pastor welcomes questions and challenges, but few people are interested, even though they are intelligent and capable.

    I pushed my Pastor pretty hard last night during our weekly discussion but he managed to take me into territory where I wasn’t really familiar with the content. I’ll publish a “meditation” about it on Sunday morning. I enjoy the debates and I find them highly educational, but I just don’t think I’m every going to make a good Baptist.

    1. Now, really, James — Has it ever been your goal to become a good Baptist? It seems to me that you have far surpassed anything that could be extracted from Baptist history or theology. I thought rather that your goal was merely to integrate with a local congregation of non-Jewish believers, who in this case happen to attend a church that affiliates itself with a Baptist organization. We’ve previously exchanged comments about adjustments that might be needed to enable you to sign any sort of standardized commitment on paper for official membership in such a congregation. Historically developed denominations face a significant challenge in today’s marketplace of ideas about religious community and the theologies or viewpoints that define a given community. The past four decades have seen a great deal of upheaval and development to challenge and correct long-standing (erroneous) Christian viewpoints, hence the historical denominational labels must be re-defined or dismissed as anachronistic. This is one reason for the rise of “non-denominational” churches and new “networks” of them that share common outlooks.

      And it seems to me that one primary theme in your explorations of ideas via this blog has been to develop questions that may lead toward re-invention of non-Jewish religious behavior and viewpoints in accordance with a model derived from first-century biblical (i.e., Jewish) perspective. Such development could lead to yet another religious social movement and “awakening” among non-Jews comparable to the Jesus movement of the 1960s. Existing denominations may then give way to new ones based on viewpoints similar to the “new perspective on Paul”. To some degree, this has already been going on in conjunction with the MJ movement, resulting in the HR movement and other variants. Neither of these movements has yet succeeded in completing its appropriately distinctive identity developments that then may be generalized to their relevant audiences. Now is a fine time for mature thinkers to develop and document guidelines that an upcoming generation may be inspired to adopt as their own and carry forward enthusiastically.

  12. Now, really, James — Has it ever been your goal to become a good Baptist?

    Actually, I was writing with a sense of irony, but I guess it doesn’t translate well into a text-only world.

    To some degree, this has already been going on in conjunction with the MJ movement, resulting in the HR movement and other variants. Neither of these movements has yet succeeded in completing its appropriately distinctive identity developments that then may be generalized to their relevant audiences.

    The next step as you seem to be saying, is to take that shift in viewpoints to the majority of Christians within “the Church” rather than having non-Jewish believers leave their churches and join other “religious organizations” in order to access the MJ perspective on Messiah, Paul, and so on.

    1. I suppose it could go either or both ways, James. Certainly the “Jesus movement” did so, resulting in the development of non-denominational churches and evangelicalism, which were new religious organizations and viewpoints, as well as impacting existing churches and denominations in varying degrees (Catholic as well as Protestant). Part of the shift in perspective at that time was a refocusing on being a “mere” Christian (in CS Lewis’ terms) rather than a denominational one. In the present case, there is also a redefinition of what it means to be a mere Christian. The effect on existing denominations will be determined by their flexibility — inflexibility will result in an exodus to new organizations that are willing to express the new perspective or which are formed for that express purpose (as exemplified by the prior formation of non-denominational churches). Another result of the previous shift was the exodus to newly forming messianic Jewish congregations and the consequent rise of Hebrew Roots organizations. HR could be a fine response for non-Jews if its theology and ecclesiology were adjusted, though one might say that this is exactly the same solution required of any other denomination. The only difference might be in the amount of historical baggage that must be discarded.

  13. I suspect James has some similar motivations as I do: To connect with those who are likehearted, even if they are not likeminded. Likeheartedness is far more important, as those who are likeminded today may not be likeminded tomorrow. We live in an imperfect world. When I first came to the fellowship I am now a part of, about 5-6 years ago, I felt the Holy One directed me there, but I was confused. This group did not share my preferred theology, ecclesiology, style of meeting and music or anything else. But I sensed that this was a group of people I could trust to have my back (and not with a knife) as time grew darker. It has turned out to be a place of receiving ministry, for myself and my family, and ministering myself to others.

    I don’t see any benefit, and much harm possibly, in seeking to reform the religious Babel of our day, or leaving it and creating our own Babel. And if your new movement/institution/denomination is not Babel yet; just give it time. The institution is a dangerous place to be, because the institution will compromise for the sake of survival.

    What we pass on to the next generation is the wisdom and revelation we have received, and hopefully with an attitude of humility, and encouragement for the next generation to do its own wisdom and revelation receiving.

  14. Overcoming inertia is difficult for anyone including me. I really had to “ramp up” quite a bit before even calling the Pastor for the first time and making an appointment to discuss my return to church. And when people are on their home ground, they have less motivation to makes changes. Hopefully though, they’ll feel more comfortable in listening.

  15. If they see something that is beautiful and spiritually meaningful, then there is no reason why they wouldn’t want to add it to their lives, if not pressured and not forced to do so under legalistic oversight. It seems the “non-denominational,” churches have become their own denominations, and taken on their own brand of rigidity. HR may not have baggage, but without any history, it just makes it up as it goes along, and with a spirit of bitterness that defiles many, along with pride, and we are warned that the proud he knows from a distance. Or you could join the emergents, who cater to the marketplace and this values of this generation, when we are cautioned to be saved from this wicked and perverse generation. There is no good system, and if it is good now, it won’t be for long. I suspect pastor has a heart for the Holy One and his people, and he may jettison the Baptist thing as it compromises with the world, as it is in the process of doing.

  16. HR may not have baggage, but without any history, it just makes it up as it goes along…

    I think Hebrew Roots (HR) has plenty of baggage. Most “grass roots” congregations and small fellowships didn’t create their doctrines and theology from scratch. They brought with them the various bits and pieces, based sometimes on discontent and sometimes on “alternate” points of view, whatever they had that ultimately made them leave more conventional religious streams.

    I suspect pastor has a heart for the Holy One and his people, and he may jettison the Baptist thing as it compromises with the world, as it is in the process of doing.

    He does have a heart for God. I also know that he isn’t “married” to the name “Baptist,” although he has told me he agrees with the vast majority of what Baptists believe (there’s more than one kind of Baptist, so thinking “Southern Baptist” won’t give you the correct picture). He is highly educated and very definite about his position, so I don’t see him making any radical changes, especially in the short run. However, to the degree that we continue to have these conversations, maybe a few of the things I’ve been saying have been food for thought.

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