It is true that we do believe the same things about the same God and read the same Scriptures as those Jews who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. In Messianic Judaism, we are even part of the same religion. Despite all that common ground, there is one great difference between us. The difference is not in what we believe about God but how we believe about God.
Devout Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah believe the same things about God that we believe, but they do not do so in the light of the revelation, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They believe outside the light of that transforming, from-faith-for-faith experience that Paul spoke of when he said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 4: Faith Toward God,” pp 55-6
Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity
I read this book not long ago but decided not to review it since it leverages material from Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, including portions I haven’t listened to yet. I’ll probably intermix my comments on certain parts of the book in various blog posts as I come across the corresponding material in the audio series.
Except for this part. This part is special because it answers a question that has been bugging me for a long time, a question I haven’t been able to adequately answer until recently. I mentioned this question just the other day.
Prior to the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Torah laid out exactly what a Jew had to do to worship and relate to God within the context of the Sinai covenant. Yes, there were the sacrifices and the Temple rituals including the moadim (the appointed times or festivals), but Jews also had (and have) a day-by-day relationship and interaction with the God of Israel. Jews pray directly to Hashem. We see this all over the Bible and we see it in the modern lives of observant Jews.
And yet Christianity is telling Jewish people (and everyone else) that you can’t worship God directly anymore. It’s not possible. It’s not effective. You have to worship God by worshiping Jesus.
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one will come to the Father except by me.
–John 14:6 (DHE Gospels)
That seems quite plain…and final. I have heard an interpretation that likens Yeshua (Jesus) to a door and once we enter through the doorway, we encounter the reason we entered the ekklesia of the Way, we encounter God the Father, the God of Israel.
But in many churches, this verse is used to make it seem as if Jesus replaced God the Father, as if God the Father retired and is sunning Himself on a beach in Florida while Jesus the Son is running the family business, and in a very different way than “Dad” ever did. But if God is unchanging across time and if Jesus doesn’t do anything except what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19, 30), then how can there be a discontinuity between Son and Father, between Messiah and God?
How can the Son replace the Father as the object of worship for the Covenant community, for Jews who are born into the Covenant and for Gentiles who are grafted in?
What did Jesus change when he inaugurated the New Covenant era at his death and resurrection? What does he bring to the table? How does he fit in to the plan of God as the New Covenant is beginning to unfold?
I know how the Church would answer, but the answer is full of supersessionism and replacement theology. Jesus came to replace the “ceremonial portions” of the Law (Torah). He came to replace behavioral obedience with grace and mercy. He came to release the Jews (and arguably, everyone else) from the Law so they could be free in his grace. For Jews, instead of going to the Judges and the Priests and the Temple and the Torah to get to God, you go through Jesus. He is now the gatekeeper, he holds all the keys, he guards all the doors. The Torah (or major sections of it including just about everything that defines a Jew as a Jew) has gone “bye-bye” and Jesus is large and in charge and is here to stay.
Except that makes absolutely no sense.
First of all, I previously said that there is abundant evidence that in ancient and modern Judaism, living a life of obedience to God’s mitzvot is a joy, not a horrible burden. Further, the Torah is a tree of life for all who cling to her. What could Jesus possibly add to all that to become such a game changer and yet still not violate all of the Torah and the Prophets, including the actual New Covenant language found principally in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36?
That’s where Lancaster’s commentary I quoted above comes in. In order to explain his point, he tells a parable. I’m going to include it here in its entirety because I think it clears things up a lot.
Remember, this is a parable, a metaphorical story:
Once, a man who had two daughters went off to war. Before he left, he promised to return to them, and he also promised them, “When I return, I will bring you each a fine string of pearls and a summer dress.” No one except the two girls knew about the promise. After many years, the man had not returned, and everyone presumed him dead. His daughters, however, continued to hope, believe, and wait. A decade passed, and they grew to become adult women, but neither of them forgot their father or his promises. Deep in their hearts, they continued to hope and to believe. One day a messenger came seeking the girls. Finding only one daughter, he told her, “I have news of your father. He is returning, and he sends you this gift.” The messenger presented her with a fine string of pearls.
Now both girls still believed in the promise of the father, but one had received a token of the promise, and the other had not. One had faith in the father’s promise on the basis of her hope and confidence in the father’s promise, but the other had faith in the father’s promise on the basis of the good news that she had already received and on the basis of the partial fulfillment of her father’s promise. She already had the pearls. She had no question in her mind that she would soon see her father face to face. Think of that girl’s confidence, certainty, and joy. She no longer had any doubt that her father was coming. She knew that he would bring the summer dress because she had already received the pearls.
-Lancaster, pg 56
The Father made a promise to the nation of Israel and to all Jewish people everywhere that He will return the exiles to their Land, defeat all of Israel’s enemies, and not just restore national Israel’s fortunes but elevate her to the head of all the nations of the Earth. Also is the promise of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life for the covenant people, as well as having the Torah written on human hearts rather than stone or paper so that human beings with the full indwelling of the Spirit will naturally obey all of God’s commandments, the conditions of the Sinai and New Covenants, the Torah. All of Israel’s sins will be forgiven. The world will be made completely peaceful, all people will be safe and secure, and a King from the line of Judah and the house of David will sit on the Throne in Jerusalem forever.
And Jewish people have been waiting ever since but so far, those promises haven’t been fulfilled…any of them…
…or have they?
It should be obvious that the two daughters are two branches of Judaism. The metaphor actually doesn’t work completely because the two daughters must initially be all Jewish people. Then one daughter received the gift sent by her father and believed a messenger. The messenger is Jesus. He is from the Father, from God. He brings a gift, something to confirm that God will fulfill His promises in due time. The messenger does not come to fulfill all the promises but in fulfilling some of them, he brings a guarantee that they will all ultimately come to pass.
But what promises did Jesus fulfill? Did he rebuild the Temple? Did he return all of the Jewish exiles to their land? Did he place Israel as the head of all nations? Is he sitting on the Throne in Jerusalem reigning with justice and peace?
No. He didn’t do any of those things…yet.
How do we know he’ll do any of them at all? Because he brought a gift. Actually, more than one.
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven you.” Those reclining with him began to say in their hearts, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in shalom.”
–Luke 7:48-50 (DHE Gospels)
Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here; for he has risen. Remember what he had spoken to you while he was still in the Galil, saying, “For the son of man must be handed over to sinful men and be crucified, but on the third day he will surely rise.”
–Luke 24:5-6 (DHE Gospels)
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
–Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?”
–Acts 10:44-47 (NASB)
And that’s not even the entire list. Jesus the messenger from Heaven, brought several “gifts” with him, a sort of down-payment on the promises of God, an illustration and evidence that God will someday do all that He promised. Here’s what Messiah demonstrated:
- The forgiveness of sins through faith.
- The resurrection from the dead.
- The giving of the Holy Spirit.
These weren’t the “full meal deal,” so to speak, but only an appetizer. Jesus forgave the sins of those who had faith as an illustration of how someday all of Israel’s sins will be forgiven. Jesus died and was resurrected as a confirmation that someday there will be a general resurrection of the dead (see Matthew 27:52-53). The Holy Spirit was given first to the Jews who believed, and then later to believing Gentiles also, to show that one day the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28).
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
–Ephesians 1:10-14 (NASB)
Jesus, the messenger, comes as a pledge of our full inheritance as believers, first to the Jew but also to the Gentile, that God will redeem His own and fulfill His Word.
The metaphor Lancaster used, as I mentioned, doesn’t exactly fit. One daughter has to choose to believe in the messenger, that he really is from their father, and that the gift he brings is genuine and can be accepted by faith as from their father as a promise that he will come and bring his other gift.
One daughter would choose to believe the evidence of the gift and the other wouldn’t. In Lancaster’s parable, this draws a distinction between Jesus-believing Jews and all other Jews, but we can also apply it (since the rest of the world has the potential to be grafted in) to believing and unbelieving Gentiles.
Based on everything I’ve just said, Jesus is now cast in an almost completely different role. Instead of being a replacement for the old, worn out, obsolete Law, he’s the bringer of “better promises” (Hebrews 8:6), not that the previous promises were bad, but as good as things were, God has something even better in mind, something that builds on what happened and what was given before rather than replacing it. It’s as if God is saying, “If you think the Torah is the Tree of Life, you haven’t seen anything yet. Don’t believe me? Here’s a small sample of what is to come.”
Jesus has been called the capstone (Matthew 21:42), the one key object in the structure that completes it and holds it all together. Without that stone, not only would the whole structure remain incomplete, it might actually fall apart.
So, in his first coming as Yeshua ben Yosef, Messiah came as the messenger from Heaven bringing gifts as a guarantee that all God had promised would be fulfilled. And he did this without replacing anything at all. In fact, if he had replaced anything previously promised or established by God, then Jesus would have failed in his mission to bring the Good News to Israel. When properly interpreted and understood, the teachings of Jesus and those of the apostles, including Paul, show us that Jesus brought exceedingly Good News to Israel and also to the Gentiles, that God intends to do great good to Israel and as one of the results of His actions, even the Gentiles will receive blessings.
Unfortunately, when the Gentiles split off from the Jesus-believing Jewish ekklesia to form their (our) own religion called “Christianity,” they “reinterpreted” the ancient Holy Scriptures as well as the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to make it seem as if the Good News was only good for Gentiles. The Christian “good news” was only good for Jews who were willing to give up the original promises of God (and give up being Jewish), for Jesus brought those “new” promises, according to the Christian Church, to replace the old.
That’s when the craziness, the bizarre disconnect occurred between different parts of the inspired, “God-breathed” Word of scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That’s when the two sisters drifted apart, but the hope and the promise is that someday their father will return to reunite them as a family.
Have I proved my case? Will non-believing Jews read this and be convinced?
First of all, my commentary on the role of Jesus and all that he did is hardly comprehensive. A detailed and scholarly analysis would certainly reveal much, much more. No doubt there will be people who will never be convinced and who would even be insulted at my efforts (not that it is my intension to insult anyone).
But I’m trying to show both Jews and Christians that the way they are looking at the Bible and looking at Jesus isn’t really how the Good News was originally presented. The original Jewish Good News didn’t require an evangelical approach that says Jews are “cursed” or that they’re “hypocrites”. Sadly, the Christian Church is its own worst enemy, not even by intent, but by continuing to accept a flawed interpretation of the Gospel that was forged with the early “Church Fathers” and cemented by the men of the Reformation.
Without a strong and sustained effort by mainstream Christianity to set aside their traditions and to look at the Bible, and particularly Jesus and Paul, with fresh eyes that take into account that Israel is the entire focus of God’s Good News and blessings, we Christians will continue to be a curse upon Israel and the Jewish people, and as a result, only a fraction of Gentile believers, a remnant so to speak, will continue to bless Israel, to elevate Israel, and to await the return of the messenger who will be King.
What curses await all those others who perpetually, even without meaning to or desiring to, set aside the centrality of Israel and the place of honor at God’s table for the inheritors of Sinai, the Jews?
Not everyone who says to me, “My master! My master!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but rather the one who does the will of my father who is in heaven. It will be on that day many will say to me, “My master, my master, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many wonders?” Then I will answer them, saying, “I have never known you. Depart from me, workers of evil.”
–Matthew 7:21-23 (DHE Gospels)
I beg those Christians reading this to take my message seriously, because this isn’t just me popping off and being difficult to live with, this is your life and your relationship with God.
A person should always be flexible like a reed, and not rigid like a cedar.
Yesterday was the newest holiday on Israel’s calendar, Jerusalem Day or Yom Yerushalayim. Jerusalem is where the Temple was and will be again. Jerusalem is where he was condemned to die. Jerusalem is where he will one day return as triumphant King and be enthroned in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The ekklesia, the body of his devout ones, who believed the promises, who held tightly to the gifts in faith, who realized that Jesus was and is a vital messenger in the plan of God for Israel and for the nations, will be there celebrating with joy. But part of the foretaste, the sample that Jesus brought is that we can experience a little joy right now.
Many who observe a proper Shabbat have joy in the day of rest as a preview of the future perpetual peace on the Earth. Shavuot is less than a week away and for those who choose to observe the festival in some manner, that too is joy, for we celebrate the giving of the Torah and also of the Spirit. Even now, there are Jews and Gentiles who call themselves Messianic and who share a common vision of who we are and what the future holds.
In the Messianic Kingdom, there will be Israel and the nations, the Jewish people and also the Gentiles who are called by His Name. We will be many peoples but we will have one King and one God. Jesus came first to bring the Good News that God’s promises will be fulfilled and he brought gifts as proof. By faith, we continue to believe in the message and the messenger. By faith, we continue to wait. By faith we experience joy.
Someday all of the promises will be fulfilled and we will have joy in His Presence forever.
“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”
-Karl Barth, Swiss theologian
Be grateful. Be joyful. We have received the Good News. The King is coming.