Tag Archives: birth pangs

Pondering the Birth Pangs of Mashiach

Update: I was going to publish this last Friday morning but as you all know by now, certain events have resulted in me making a rather drastic change in my comments policy as well as my writing schedule. I decided to go ahead and let this blog post publish since I already had it ready to go. What happens after this, I really don’t know.

I’ve received a lot of emails that were very encouraging and I want to thank everyone who took the time to reach out to me with such kind remarks. I have other projects that I can pursue and who knows what the future may bring. Blessings.

In these days especially, when by G-d’s kindness we stand at the threshold of redemption, we must make every conceivable effort to strengthen every facet of our religion. Mitzvot must be observed b’hidur, with “beauty,” beyond minimal requirements. Customs must be kept scrupulously, nothing compromised. It is a Mitzva and duty of every Rabbi in Israel to inform his congregation that the current tribulations and agonies are the “birth-pangs of Mashiach.” G-d is demanding that we return to Torah and mitzvot, that we not hinder the imminent coming of our righteous Mashiach.

“Today’s Day”
for Tuesday, Sh’vat 8, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

This is exactly what I was trying to say yesterday. This is the idea communicated in Ezekiel 36:27:

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

This is a direct link between the New Covenant promises God made “to the house of Judah and the House of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:31), Israel’s observance of Torah, and Israel’s apprehension of the Divine Spirit.

And as we see, this also illustrates a link to the “current tribulations and agonies” of our times, which are defined as the “birth-pangs of Mashiach.”

But those words should also be familiar to most Christians:

And Yeshua (Jesus) answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Mashiach,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.”

Matthew 24:4-8 (NASB -adapted)

Seems to be a close parallel to what you read in the quote at the top of this blog post. Here’s something more:

Rab said: The son of David will not come until the [Roman] power enfolds Israel [2] for nine months, as it is written, Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. [3]

‘Ulla said; Let him [The Messiah] come, but let me not see him. [4]

Rabbah said likewise: Let him come, but let me not see him. R. Joseph said: Let him come, and may I be worthy of sitting in the shadow of his ass’s saddle. [5] Abaye enquired of Rabbah: ‘What is your reason [for not wishing to see him]? Shall we say, because of the birth pangs [preceding the advent] of the Messiah? [6] But it has been taught, R. Eleazar’s disciples asked him: ‘What must a man do to be spared the pangs of the Messiah?’ [He answered,] ‘Let him engage in study and benevolence; and you Master do both.’

Sanhedrin 98b (emph. mine)

Talmud Study by LamplightI’m periodically accused of misusing Jewish writings and I can see how some folks may see me playing fast and loose with ancient and modern Rabbinic commentary. On the other hand, I don’t see any other valid lens by which to view and comprehend my faith. Chances are I’m getting at least something wrong, and perhaps a good many things in the details. But it’s the only way for me to read the Bible and understand the plan of God as a single unit rather than a “Plan A” shifting to “Plan B” some time around Acts 2, or worse, as the Almighty pulling the world’s biggest “bait and switch” with His people Israel.

The New Covenant promises and prophesies (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36) God made with Israel must come true, otherwise, not only does Israel have no hope but the rest of the nations of the world (i.e, Gentiles and particularly Christians) are hopeless as well.

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

John 4:22 (NASB)

That’s the Master speaking to a Samaritan woman and he might as well have been speaking to all the Gentile nations, that is, to us.

For nearly two-thousand years, Gentile Christianity and devout Judaism have charted divergent paths through history, pulling apart starting in the late first century and extending into the second, and traveling many light years away from each other ever since.

But I think that’s changing, at least a little. One of the “birth pangs” I see happening (and this is just my personal opinion), is the dialog and debate occurring between Judaism and Christianity or more specifically between mainstream/normative Judaism and Messianic Judaism, including with those of us who identify as “Messianic Gentiles.”

It almost seems like a (well-mannered) battle at times.

But at least we’re talking.

I mentioned before that Jewish Torah observance is a requirement for the return of the Messiah and particularly for Jewish disciples of Yeshua. We have historical records of individuals and small communities of Jews who were Yeshua disciples and who lived wholly religious and observant Jewish lives. This is also beginning to happen today, although such communities are small and far apart.

There are accusations that the number of Jews in the Messianic movement is actually decreasing. I can’t speak to that except to say if true, this is also part of the birth pangs as I understand them. It’s supposed to get darker, more bleak, and look more hopeless as the “birth pangs” continue. The gate is supposed to be narrow.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:13-14

Of course that’s less than an opinion. It’s just a belief that God will call as many as who will listen to Him. I’ve been reminded recently that how God calls people, particularly Jewish people to Him, can be seen in at least a couple of different ways. I think I know just a tiny bit how a Jew might feel being proselytized by a Christian when just about everything I write is challenged from an Orthodox Jewish point of view (Hi, Gene).

pregnantBut I truly believe what I’ve written. I believe that supporting Jewish Torah observance is part of the requirement for the return of Messiah and the establishment of the Messianic age. I just don’t know how to get that point across without both Christians and Jews more or less quarreling with me, forging an unwilling partnership for the sake of my personal growth (as Rabbi Zelig Pliskin would put it).

I guess you could say this is part of the personal “birth pangs” we go through when different individuals and factions are involved and presenting their particular theologies and doctrines. Somehow, I think it’s important to survive with my relationship with God intact, for in the end, I won’t be judged in the religious blogosphere, but in the court of the God of Heaven, in spite of (or maybe because of) the “current tribulations and agonies.” So will we all.

There are questions to which G-d says to be quiet, to be still, to cease to ask.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Be Quiet”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Sounds like good advice and maybe I’ll take it for awhile. We’ll see.

Oh, if you are looking for me, I’ll be over here. No “religious” comments allowed.

Footnotes

2. I.e., the whole world in which Israel is scattered.
3. Micah V, 2: ‘therefore will he give them up’ is interpreted as meaning to a foreign — viz., the Roman — power, and the duration of their servitude is fixed by ‘until the time etc.’ i.e., nine months, the period of pregnancy.
4. V. n. 7.
5. [Following the reading in Yalkut (v. Levy,) [H]. Our texts read: [H], ‘dung’.]
6. These troubles are generally referred to as birth pangs, being the travail which precedes the birth of a new era.

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A Christian Seeking Messiah ben David

Everyone agrees with all the wonderful advice and ethics written in the books of the sages. Everyone agrees that this is the way to run your life. The only issue each one of us has is whether those words are truly meant for me, or for someone else in some other time and place.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“For You”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

In some strange way, these few sentences capture the struggle we encounter at the intersection of Christianity and Judaism. I know that many Christians and Jews don’t believe their two worlds intersect at all, but in spite of 2,000 years of “discomfort” between us, we just can’t seem to get away from each other.

The other day, on my commute home from work, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Judeo-Christian.” I wish I could have talked to the driver to find out what they were thinking when they put that on their car.

Let me explain.

Judeo-Christian is a term traditionally used to describe a specific set of ethical or moral values often associated with American historical and cultural beliefs. It artificially forces a connection between Christianity and Judaism that most Jews don’t appreciate. Christianity doesn’t mind so much because of the knowledge that we wouldn’t exist as a faith without Judaism, at least the ancient Judaism that ended (from the church’s point of view) with the destruction of the Second Temple.

When pushed, Jews and Christians will admit to sharing some common values and goals, such as feeding the hungry and and visiting the sick, but the foundations of how Judaism and Christianity view God, the world, and just about everything else are fundamentally and radically different from each other. In some sense, it’s amazing that Christians and Jews can have a meaningful conversation at all, at least on the topic of God (I’m sure there’d be no problem discussing the World Series or something like that).

As many of you know, I’ve recently been trying to describe the linked relationship between Christianity and Judaism as part of Israel’s national redemption. It’s slow going because the idea that God would actually intertwine the destinies of the Gentile church and the inheritors of Sinai is foreign to the two groups. Even within the realm of Messianic Judaism, which should be a friendly environment for both, the idea that Christ can only come back if Christians support and embrace Jewish return to Torah has met with significant resistence (Read Redeeming the Heart of Israel, Part 1 and Part 2, as well as Disconnect Reconnect Disconnect if you don’t believe me).

Paul in Romans 11 explains that it was necessary for there to be a separation between the Gentile believers and the Jews for the sake of the nations. But after so very long existing apart from each other, overcoming the walls we’ve built between us is no easy task.

So how do we live together while maintaining our separate identities? How do two people who are married maintain their own lives and wills and uniqueness?

I don’t know, except to say that who we are is built into us. No matter how much you may love your spouse, that love doesn’t erode your personality so you stop being you and start being them.

Something does happen, though. You learn to set aside some of your personal desires and preferences and to act for the benefit of your beloved husband or wife because you want to do good for them.

Our Master did no less for us.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” –John 10:11-18 (ESV)

The difference between him and us is that Jesus is our Master and we are his disciples and servants. We are not greater than the one who sent us. But with our spouse, neither husband nor wife is elevated over the other.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. –Galatians 3:27-29 (ESV)

But I’ve been wrong before.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. –Micah 4:1-2 (ESV)

I was having coffee after work the other day with a friend and we were discussing this whole matter. We realized as we were talking that, after 2,000 years of ascendency; after 2,000 years of being the sole owners and arbiters of salvation through Jesus Christ, the Christian church might not want to acknowledge that “the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains.” They might not want to repeat the words of the Master when he said (John 4:22) “salvation is from the Jews.”

In other words, we Christians might not want to face the fact that when the Jewish King returns, he will restore Israel to its rightful place at the head of the nations, he will establish forever the full redemption of his Jewish people, and it is we from among the nations who will “flow” up to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to honor the King of the Jews and to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Rather than the church expecting it to be the other way around. Rather than the Jews “flowing up” to Christianity and abandoning Judaism, the Torah, and ultimately, the Jewish Messiah King.

Kind of humbling for we Christians, isn’t it?

I cheated a bit when I quoted Rabbi Freeman earlier. Here’s the full text of what he said:

Everyone agrees with all the wonderful advice and ethics written in the books of the sages. Everyone agrees that this is the way to run your life. The only issue each one of us has is whether those words are truly meant for me, or for someone else in some other time and place.

If it is truth, it is meant for you, now, here.

There is a truth about our existence in this world that we aren’t always aware of. Maybe we’ve never been aware of it, but it rests inside of us, like a cocoon which appears dormant or even lifeless, and yet contains the beginnings of what will become a spectacular butterfly.

Like a new life being nurtured in a mother’s womb, the will of God for each of us is embedded within our souls, waiting for the right moment to begin to stir. I believe that’s what is happening now in Christianity and Judaism. I believe this is part of what the Master called in Matthew 24:8 “the birth pangs” (please don’t overanalyze that metaphor and say he was really talking about wars and earthquakes…I think he was also talking about what I’m talking about).

Any woman who has ever given birth can tell you that it is a wonderful, and terrifying, and ecstatic, and agonizing experience. So too are the birth pangs we are approaching as Christianity and Judaism, divided for so many centuries, approaches an intersection that God saw and destined before He built the foundations of the Universe.

Our Lord, our Master, our Messiah is coming, but we all play a vital part in summoning his presence. We in the church must encourage the Jewish return to Torah and national redemption of Israel. Israel must be that light to the nations, drawing us all to God. Then the Moshiach will come, the Jewish King will ascend his throne, and the Temple of God will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.

For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. –Hosea 3:4-5 (ESV)

Blessed be the nation of Israel and may she return her heart to God and the Torah, that she may be redeemed and restored. And may the Messiah come soon and in our day.