When Jesus Returns, Will We Go To Church?

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Revelation 19:7-8 (NASB)

Who or what exactly is the “bride” of “the Lamb”? It’s presumed to be “the Church,” that is, the collection of individual Jews and Gentiles who came to faith in Jesus (i.e. converted to Christianity) prior to the great tribulation and the rapture to Heaven. Under this presumption, anyone converting to Christianity after the rapture is considered a believer, but not part of the Church. They can never be part of the Church. Only the Church goes up to Heaven with Jesus and only the Church returns with him.

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.

Revelation 19:11-14 (NASB)

According to Pastor Randy, the head Pastor at the church I attend (and if I’m remembering this wrong, I hope he’ll let me know), the “armies” returning with Jesus is the Church, who becomes the bride of Christ (“the Lamb”).

The idea of “the Church” has bothered me for quite some time. I finally gave my concerns a voice last April in a “meditation” called Notes on the Church from an Insomniac and followed it up with When is Church not Church, based on D. Thomas Lancaster’s article “Before the Church Was Called the Church”, published in the Spring 2014 issue of Messiah Magazine.

In the first century CE, faith in and worship of Jesus of Nazareth, Yeshua ben Yosef, HaMoshiach, was a fully recognized branch of Judaism along with other branches such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and so forth (although “the Way” was most closely related to Pharisaism, and except for the realization of Yeshua as Messiah and it’s rather liberal attitude toward admitting Gentiles, was likely indistinguishable from Pharisaism).

Obviously, much has changed in the intervening twenty centuries or so, especially starting in the second century when Gentile Jesus-believers radically separated from their Jewish mentors and any Jewish practice, in order to form a completely divergent religion for Gentiles called “Christianity”.

But now that the Church has been created, has it replaced Judaism in all of the New Covenant promises God made with Israel (for instance, in Jeremiah 31:27-40)? With the Church as the “Bride of Christ,” what becomes of Israel and the Jewish people?

Let’s take a giant step backward. First of all, the concept of “the Church” isn’t presupposed in the Bible. Did I just shock you? What about all of those references to “the Church” in the New Testament? Did I just miss all of the times the word “church” is printed (in English) in my Bible?

synagogue_arkAs I’ve mentioned before, the Greek word “ekklesia” cannot directly be translated as “church”. In fact, the word “church” didn’t really come into being until many centuries after the New Testament canonization. Generations of Jesus-believers lived and died before anyone actually thought of or said the word “church”.

So, does “ekklesia” mean the same thing theologically and conceptually as “church”? That’s the $64,000 question and the answer might not be in the New Testament.

Thus says the Lord,
“Preserve justice and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.
“How blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who takes hold of it;
Who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from His people.”
Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord,

“To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
“Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:1-8 (NASB)

“For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord.

Isaiah 66:18-21 (NASB)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘It will yet be that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go.” So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”

Zechariah 8:20-23 (NASB)

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. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)

“It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
“Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

“I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth,
Blood, fire and columns of smoke.
“The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood
Before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.
“And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered;
For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
There will be those who escape,
As the Lord has said,
Even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.”

Joel 2:28-32 (NASB)

Sorry for the lengthy series of quotes. I wanted to present a representative collection of scriptures (though hardly exhaustive) illustrating how the Old Testament depicts Gentile involvement in the “end times” and/or Messianic Age, coming alongside Israel and turning toward God.

RestorationIf I were to set aside the New Testament and concentrate on the scriptures in the Prophets, the image of Gentile worship of God becomes radically different from what we’ve been typically taught by the Church. There are a number of references to “survivors” of the Gentile nations who went up against Israel and who were defeated. There’s at least the suggestion of some sort of judgment against these Gentile nations and consequences for their behavior.

We also see Gentiles being gathered to witness the glory God bestows upon Israel and particularly Jerusalem, as well as statements illustrating Gentile observance of a weekly Shabbat, New Moon Festivals, and the Moadim (appointed times, sometimes referred to as the “Jewish festivals”) for those of us who have held tightly to His Covenant.

But where is “the Church?”

The Christian theology of Progressive Revelation states that from the past to the future in Biblical history, God revealed progressively more about Himself. This means the newer sections of the Bible contain much more information about God and His plan for Israel and humanity than earlier sections. This would lead most of us to conclude that we can “trust” the New Testament more than the Old, thus as Christians, our primary source of information about what to expect from God in the present and future should be the apostolic scriptures.

And yet, just yesterday, I reviewed an article written by Paul Meier called “Christian Theology and the Old Testament” published in Messiah Journal which solemnly described the severe dangers of taking a low view of the Old Testament and relying on the New Testament as our primary source for theology and doctrine. A low view of the Old Testament results in a low view of the Jewish people and the Jewish nation, Israel.

And yet, we rely a great deal on the New Testament to help us interpret and clarify many things we don’t understand about the Old Testament, including our understanding of how the New Covenant is being and will be applied to Israel and the nations. But are the New Testament scriptures really the problem, or is it merely how we choose to treat them relative to the Old Testament and the overarching message of the entire, unified Bible?

Progressive revelation teaches us that later parts of the Bible are more important, clearer, and better than the Older scriptures, but they are all Hebrew scriptures and the later parts cannot stand alone. They must be supported on the foundation of the earlier scriptures and later writings cannot and must not contradict earlier parts.

That’s where we have our problem.

The Old Testament is unequivocally clear that God has had a covenant relationship with Israel for many thousands of years and never has intended to abrogate that relationship. God may discipline Israel from time to time for disobedience, but the New Covenant language is extremely plain in its intent to create an environment within the Jewish heart and spirit that will result in individual Jews and corporate Israel being able to perfectly obey God through the Torah mitzvot and to know God, from the lowest to the highest Jewish person, in the manner of the Biblical prophets.

Unless God changed His mind or He’s a duplicitous liar (and God doesn’t change and doesn’t lie for He is truth), then anything in the New Testament that contradicts what I said in the previous paragraph must be erroneous interpretation on the part of the Church.

prayingSo what do we have? In the Old Testament, we have many, many examples of Gentiles from the nations choosing to join alongside Israel to go up to Jerusalem because the Jewish people are well-known to be close to God. Therefore, a Gentile can also become close to God by attaching themselves to Israel (which makes us “attached” or “grafted in” but not Israel itself).

But how do we do that and why does it work?

We know that based on one particular aspect of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, Galatians 3:15-16, Ephesians 3:1-13), by faith in the “seed of Abraham,” that is Messiah, Son of David, the people of the nations can also benefit from the New Covenant blessings (holding fast to the Covenant), and through adoption, be called “Sons”, and enjoy forgiveness of sins, redemption, salvation, entrance into the Kingdom of God, resurrection, and life-everlasting in the World to Come at the end of all things.

That’s pretty terrific.

However, if you’re a Christian, there’s a problem. Where does “the Church” come in?

What is the Church, or more to the point, what is the ekklesia of Messiah? In the first century, it was a Jewish religious stream whereby, through the inauguration of the New Covenant era by the death (blood) and resurrection of Jesus (Yeshua), as a promise of things to come, Gentiles who came to faith in the God of Israel through discipleship in Messiah, were able to receive the Spirit of God (starting in Acts 10) as did the Jewish disciples and apostles (Acts 2), receive legal standing as equal co-participants in the Jewish stream of “the Way” (Acts 15) and in this ekklesia, form “one new man” (Ephesians 2) made up of Israel, the Jewish people, and the “people of the nations who are called by My name” (Amos 9:12).

It is said that in Messianic days, God will establish a reign of peace and that the whole world will be united together, Jew and Gentile alike (Micah 4:1-5, Isaiah 11:1-10). I see the ekklesia of Messiah, especially in the first century, as an example of that Kingdom of unity and peace in microcosm. The so-called “Church” was supposed to be an example, a picture, and foretelling of what is to come in the Age of Messiah, when Jews and Gentiles really will have peace with one another under the rule of King Messiah, with Israel as the head of all the nations, and Jerusalem as the Holy City, raised high above all other cities and nations (so imagine how I see true Messianic Jewish synagogues, such as Beth Immanuel, with Jewish and Gentile members worshiping together, relative to a prophetic, Messianic future).

Thus the first century ekklesia wasn’t just another Judaism or some sort of expression of a new theology, it was, and I think will be again, the ultimate realization of God’s overarching plan for Israel and the entire world, to return the planet and everyone and everything on it to complete obedience and consistency with the nature and character of the God of Creation, the way it was in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) before the fall.

That means it is impossible for “the Church” to represent a subset of humanity all sanitized of their distinctions, especially distinctions that define Jewish Israel, because in the end, there will only be one body of people: Jews and Gentiles, one-hundred percent of humanity, all devoted to God.

But wait a minute. What about “survivors” and those people who went up against Israel and God, who are to be judged, and who will have consequences delivered upon them? That hardly describes “one humanity” under God.

True. There will be many, many Gentiles (or maybe just a few considering they’re called “survivors”) who up until the point where Messiah and Israel win and the rest of the world is subjugated under an Israel ruled by Messiah, are not of God’s people. They have chosen to be apart. But does that mean they can never join the ekklesia, the vast collection of Jews (Israel) and Gentiles (the rest of the nations everywhere on Earth)?

Why would it mean that? Is teshuvah limited? Under Messiah’s rule, can no one repent? Is that the hard line in the sand?

praying at the kotelAnd what will that world-wide ekklesia look like? It makes sense, based on more prophecies in the Tanakh than I can count, that the Jewish people still in exile will all be returned to and live in the physical nation of Israel. The majority of the human race who are also part of the ekklesia, the vassal nations all aligned with Israel as their head, will periodically go up to Jerusalem for festivals, to pay homage to the King, to pray at the Temple, but we’ll still live in our homes in the nations of the world.

How many religions will there be? If it’s still possible for people to willfully disobey God, there could still be a lot of religions and a lot of denominations within individual religious, but there will be one and only one way to worship God. It is said that one of the things Messiah will do in the Messianic Age is to teach the correct interpretation of Torah and even teach the hidden things of Torah, that which we cannot perceive or understand in the present age. I conclude based on that understanding, that Messiah will show Jews and Gentiles the proper way of prayer, worship, and devotion for Jews and for Gentiles.

I imagine there’ll be a lot of overlap between those two general populations who are under Israel’s God, but I also imagine that there will be distinctions, not the least of which is the fact that Israel will finally, truly be a wholly Jewish nation.

What will that body or religion (or will the term “religion” have much meaning when Messiah is King and we all “know God” because the Spirit has been fully “poured out on all flesh”?) look like? My personal opinion is that it will not be called “Church,” crosses will no longer be prominently displayed by Gentile devotees of God, Sunday will no longer be the primary day of worship, and if I read the Tanakh correctly, pork and shellfish will no longer be on our menus, we all will rest on Shabbos, observe New Moon festivals, and plan our vacations around the Moadim so we can present sacrifices and pray at the Temple in Jerusalem.

That sounds a lot more like a Judaism than any form of Christianity.

I’ve been planning on writing something like this for quite some time, but got a little push yesterday (today, as I write this), by reading an article written by Caleb Hegg at the TorahResource Blog and reblogged by Judah Himango at Kineti L’Tziyon called “Is Messianic Judaism Really a Part of Modern Judaism?”

I tend to take a different view on things than Mr. Hegg, and although I don’t possess the same background as he does, I must disagree regarding whether or not Messianic Judaism can be qualified as a modern Judaism. I know. A lot of people, both Christians like Mr. Hegg and most Jewish people, religious and otherwise, disagree with me. That’s to be expected. I haven’t done much in the way of research on this topic, so I can only guess folks will come along and attempt to poke holes in my arguments.

shabbosBut I’ve written not of what Messianic Judaism is today, but what I believe the world-wide, multi-national ekklesia will be in the days of King Messiah. As I mentioned above, if you have to assign a “religious” designation to that future ekklesia, given the Biblical prophetic record of the Messianic Age and the realization of the New Covenant as it reaches fruition, it will not be the Church. If we have to call it anything at all, it will be a Judaism.

The word “Messianic” is not simply a Hebrew-based way to say “Christian.” Messianic Judaism is the Judaism of the Messianic Era, practiced today.

-Aaron Eby
as quoted from Facebook

As a non-Jewish member of the ekklesia of Messiah, and summoning the future Kingdom of God, at least a little bit, into our present world, I wish you all a Good Shabbos, which also foreshadows the Kingdom to come.

Addendum: A few months ago, I wrote a blog post somewhat similar to this one called The Church When Jesus Returns, but I didn’t take my point as far as I have on the current “meditation.” I still think they “fit” together, though.

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3 thoughts on “When Jesus Returns, Will We Go To Church?”

  1. You cite an interesting Facebook quote from Aaron Eby, that “Messianic Judaism is the Judaism of the Messianic Era, practiced today.” There’s perhaps some truth in that, except that the practice of Judaism in the restored kingdom will differ in many of the same ways by which modern rabbinic Judaism, that was re-structured for the Second Exile, differs from the Judaism that was practiced when the Temple was in operation and from the version that will be practiced when the Temple is restored to operation (which will likely synthesize and integrate the two). So, in the Messianic Era, Messianic Judaism will consist of this updated version, because at that point no arguments will remain about who is the Messiah, and the qualifying adjective “Messianic” will no longer be meaningful.

    Until that time, Jewish messianists must continue to practice Judaism as defined at present for the conditions of the Second Exile, insofar as possible, despite that it is done thusly all too rarely and by too few. This shortcoming is, perhaps, responsible for the mistaken view that Messianic Judaism, as practiced today, is not a Judaism. Too much focus has been directed to people who call themselves MJs but who do not actually practice the Judaism that is MJ. The Torah Covenant, whether in original Sinaitic form or in its upgraded “new” form, focuses on the behavior of the Jewish people as their expression of knowing HaShem. Those who eschew the practice of Judaism are not expressing that covenant, not even in any sort of “new” form. If one must draw any inferences from this failure to practice MJ as a Judaism, they must include the suggestion that more practice is needed by MJs to conform with common Jewish Torah praxis.

    On the other hand, when non-Jews “instinctively” act in accord with Torah (as Rav Shaul noted in Rom.2:14), they “instruct” themselves in the ways of righteousness, and likely they demonstrate the work of HaShem’s Spirit in their own hearts (else how would Rav Shaul have described it as “instinctive”). This is not quite the same thing as gentiles practicing any form of MJ, though it should appear to be a righteous praxis informed by Torah; and if its forms should evoke references to prophetic projections for the Messianic Era, such as coming up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot even before the restoration of the Temple, so much the better.

    Shabbat Shalom

  2. PL said: So, in the Messianic Era, Messianic Judaism will consist of this updated version, because at that point no arguments will remain about who is the Messiah, and the qualifying adjective “Messianic” will no longer be meaningful.

    In the Facebook discussion, I believe Aaron said something very similar. I used his initial quote as an attempt to counter some opposing statements I’d read stating Messianic Judaism isn’t and can’t be a modern “Judaism”. I also want to draw attention to, especially for traditional Christians, the idea that “the Church”, that is, today’s Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christianity, won’t the the center of God’s attention or the primary set of worshipers of Messiah in the Kingdom of God. We will all be practicing some sort of Judaism, even the Gentiles will be within this body, not as Jews of course, but in a manner I imagine will be similar to the first century ekklesia.

    Until that time, Jewish messianists must continue to practice Judaism as defined at present for the conditions of the Second Exile, insofar as possible, despite that it is done thusly all too rarely and by too few.

    This is the problem, at least in the U.S. Too many groups calling themselves “Messianic Judaism” aren’t really practicing a Judaism that has significant fidelity to the standards of Jewish practice. A lot of these groups are actually Gentile driven Hebrew Roots groups, many of which have only some vague idea of what they’re doing, and others who say they don’t follow the “traditions of men” and believe there’s any such thing as a purely Bible driven Torah observance.

    There is a Messianic Judaism today and I believe it is growing, but it’s a lot smaller than many people believe because most of these groups across the nation are Gentile “owned and operated” and are not truly invested in much of what you would call “Jewish practice and study.” To the degree that they are devoted to the Messiah, assuming that they are serving others and not just focused on the length of their tzitzit, I credit them for a desire to draw closer to God and to minister to human beings, but you can do that without necessarily practicing a Judaism. Plenty of the people in churches are compassionate, devoted to God, give to the poor, and in every measurable way, striving to make the world a better place and pave the way for the return of the King.

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