Tag Archives: ffoz.tv

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Our Hope is not in Heaven

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

The Evangelical gospel asks, “Are you certain you are going to go to heaven when you die?” The Christian objective seems to be to secure a place in heaven, but the Bible says very little about heaven. Find out why most passages about heaven are actually not about heaven at all in this installment on the basic teachings of the Messiah from Hebrews 6.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-four: Our Hope is not in Heaven
Originally presented on July 27, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster starts out his sermon by telling a joke about Heaven. I won’t retell it here. You can listen to it in the recording (link above) or read it at the beginning of Chapter 8: “Our Hope is not in Heaven,” pp 97-8 in his book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity. The thrust of today’s sermon is based on one phrase from Hebrews 6:2, “the resurrection from the dead.”

He’s talked before about what I call the truncated gospel message of Christianity which basically says, “Believe in Jesus so you can go to Heaven when you die.” That’s the whole point of being a Christian for many believers. The other part of it is to convince as many people as possible to believe in Jesus so they can go to Heaven when they die.

Except, you don’t go to Heaven when you die and you don’t stay in Heaven forever as a disembodied spirit after you die.

According to Lancaster, and I agree with him, there’s a lot of confusion about Heaven in Christianity, especially since the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about Heaven. If you are a traditional Evangelical Christian, that statement might seem confusing. After all, didn’t Jesus and the apostles talk about Heaven all the time?

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 3:2

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…

Matthew 6:33

And as you go, preach, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Matthew 10:7

Also see Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:5, and 2 Timothy 4:18 and many other verses in the apostolic scriptures that mention Heaven.

keys to the kingdomExcept the Heaven mentioned in all or most of these verses isn’t the Heaven in the sky where God lives, it’s what’s called a circumlocution, a way of talking about God without saying “God.” In other words, when Jesus said “Kingdom of Heaven” as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, he was really saying “Kingdom of God,” and that Kingdom will finally be completely established here on earth when Jesus comes back as King and Lord.

The First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come contains a number of episodes that discuss what the Kingdom of Heaven is, where it is, how it works, why Peter has the keys of the Kingdom, and how treasure can be stored there. See episodes such as The Kingdom is Now, Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, Keys to the Kingdom, Foretaste of the Kingdom, Treasure in Heaven, and Restoring the Kingdom for details. Each episode is about thirty minutes long and the content opens up and expands in great detail about the concepts Lancaster covers in his sermon. In fact, Lancaster seems to be summarizing all of that material in his thirty-four minute lecture today.

Just a couple of things. Philippians 3:20 talks about Christians having citizenship in Heaven. Does that mean when we die, we go live in Heaven as citizens, like how we have American citizenship (or whatever national citizenship you may have)? No. We are resurrected physically on earth and live here in bodies in the Messianic Kingdom. Our citizenship may be in Heaven, but we’ll be living here. After all, Paul was born a Roman citizen but he wasn’t born in Rome. He never even lived there, at least not until near the end of his life.

According to Lancaster, there is a paradise, a Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) where the spirits of the righteous go when the person dies, but that’s temporary. The spirit is reunited with the body at the resurrection.

Remember the empty tomb and Jesus?

While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.

Luke 24:36-43

This is the resurrection we can expect, because Jesus was the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We will also be resurrected in our original bodies (remember, Jesus still had the wounds, he didn’t get a new body) but we will not die again. This is what we can expect after we die and are resurrected, not going to Heaven like Casper the Friendly Ghost to float around on clouds for eternity.

What Did I Learn?

Since I’ve watched all of the FFOZ television episodes I mentioned above, I already had a pretty good idea what Lancaster was going to teach about. Lancaster based a number of things he taught on the writings of Christian theologian N.T. Wright, as well as his own teaching What About Heaven and Hell.

wind-sky-spirit-ruachLancaster also said that the reason Christians are so confused about Heaven and Hell is because Christianity separated itself from Judaism, and thus from the first century CE Jewish view of the meaning of the resurrection. He even went so far as to compare typical Christian understanding about what happens when we die to how the gnostics saw the dichotomy between the earthly corruptness and heavenly purity. Generally, Judaism doesn’t have “issues” with a flesh and blood physical existence (unless you get into Jewish mysticism, but that’s another story).

I see these comments as a continuation of the points Lancaster has made in other sermons in this series. He seems to be advocating a return to Judaism (specifically Messianic Judaism) for believers in Jesus, with an eye on first century C.E. Judaism. While the idea has merit, it’s important to remember that as the various Judaisms evolved over the last two-thousand years, they likely also do not contain perfect interpretations of the scriptures and probably possess a few misunderstandings of their own. We can all do the best we can to understand what God is saying to us in the Bible, but when Messiah returns, I suspect he’ll have to correct us in a few of the details of our doctrine and theology.

Is our hope in Heaven? It depends. If we put our hope, according to Lancaster, in being a “floaty ghost” in Heaven when we die, then no. If, on the other hand, we put our hope in God who is in Heaven (yes, Heaven is real), then yes…our hope is in Heaven, our hope is in God.

This too is one of the elementary teachings of the faith, as stated by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, one of those “milk” things.

I’ve become quite accustomed to the belief in a physical resurrection and an existence on earth as part of the literal Kingdom of God with King Messiah reigning on the throne of David in Jerusalem, so I didn’t experience any surprises or curve balls in today’s sermon. If, on the other hand, you are an Evangelical Christian who has been taught you’re going to become a “floaty soul” on a cloud playing a harp for all eternity when you die (actually the harps seem unescapable in Heaven based on Revelation 5:8, 14:2, and 15:2), then you might want to listen to Lancaster’s sermon or, better yet, spend a few hours viewing the selection of TV episodes I mentioned above (just click the links and view them online).

It could be an eye opener.

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Gifts of the Spirit in Balance

Carl KinbarMany years ago — it seems as if it was another lifetime — I was a Jewish Christian attending a very large charismatic conference. In the midst of literally thousands of worshiping men and women, I stood that day enraptured with the presence of God. Then, bowed by his majesty, I prostrated myself on the floor as the singing continued. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I did not look up. After a few moments, a man spoke these words to me: “You will feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” I waited for more, but that was it. “You will feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” When I finally glanced over my shoulder, the man was already walking away.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
“For the Common Good,” pg 19
Gifts of the Spirit

I really didn’t want to review this book chapter by chapter, but sometimes I have difficulty distancing myself far enough from a creative work to take it all in. Each chapter, such as this presentation by Rabbi Kinbar, packs in a great deal of information that is hard to ignore or dilute.

I remember Carl saying those words (the quote above) when I attended the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot Conference “Gifts of the Spirit” last May at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. I was taking notes as fast as I could and probably got some things wrong in what he and the other presenters said, which is why I’m grateful for this book.

I’m also grateful for this book because it arrived after my multiple commentaries on Pastor John MacArthur’s own conference addressing “gifts of the spirit,” which he called Strange Fire (thanks to the liveblogging of Pastor Tim Challies I was able to sample each presentation without wading through days of audio recordings).

I’ll try not to review each chapter of the “Gifts” book, especially as it would fly in the face of my previously stated intent to blog less often, but we’ll see what happens.

Going back to the above-quoted comment of Rabbi Kinbar with which he opened his “For the Common Good” presentation, Carl had no idea what had happened after his unusual encounter so many years ago, or what “the inheritance of your father Jacob” meant. Carl supposed the unknown speaker knew he was Jewish and chose the phrase “father Jacob” from that knowledge.

Ultimately, Carl learned that “the inheritance of your father Jacob” references Isaiah 58 and the various fasts. It also has “something to do with the land of Israel, the vision of Jacob’s ladder, and what God had promised to Jacob and his descendants.” (Kinbar, pg 20)

A few sentences later, Carl referred to the words he heard from that mysterious gentleman as a “prophesy.” As it turns out, the usage of that word seems appropriate.

Since I’m filtering “Gifts of the Spirit” through “Strange Fire,” I suppose I should mention that referring to the experience as a “prophesy” would no doubt make the “Strange Fire” folks a little uncomfortable. I didn’t think much of it at the time when I was listening to Carl at the conference, but I too must admit to always being at least a little skeptical about supernatural occurrences intruding on “real life”.

Nevertheless, Carl is one of the most theologically grounded and realistic people I know (and also a kind and gentle person). He’s the one who is likely to email me or comment on my blog when he thinks I’ve gone too far in making a connection between midrash and scripture. He’s never impressed me as someone who leads with his feelings at the expense of his intellect, and I consider him highly intelligent, very well-educated, and certainly well read. Hardly someone who experiences God on a purely visceral level.

I’m reminded of a rather interesting (though minor) experience of my own in church some months ago. I was sitting in Sunday school class waiting for the socializing to die down and the actual teaching to begin. I was feeling gloomy and discouraged. My presence in church wasn’t what I thought it would be and I was pondering how long I would last before someone would suggest I leave for “heretical” beliefs (such as the idea that the Torah mitzvot continues to be in force for all believing and unbelieving Jewish people) or that I’d just stop going.

Then a woman who I had never seen before approached me, smiled, and said “Shalom Aleichem.” I was momentarily startled by this greeting in such a Christian context. I assumed she knew my wife was Jewish and chose her words accordingly. After chatting with her for a few minutes, I asked why she had greeted me that way. As it turns out, she had no idea my wife was Jewish and couldn’t really articulate why she said “Shalom Aleichem.”

I was grateful anyway, and it did brighten my mood. It seems God knows who and what to send into your life at certain necessary points. Not quite what Carl experienced, which ultimately led him into Messianic Jewish studies and practice, but it will do.

In going over this chapter, I was taken with how Carl, who had spent the better part of forty years as a Jewish Christian in a Charismatic church, characterized the experience. He said they emphasized “worship and teaching” and I didn’t get the idea that anyone checked their brains at the door as they entered.

Charismatic prayerCarl said later in his presentation, that he didn’t believe that the gifts of the spirit were the same now as in the days of Paul, due to the change in purpose and context. He even admitted that there were times when he felt that some “spiritual healings” were not really on the up and up. He did also say that he has witnessed at least one authentic spiritual healing. On that occasion, he so inspired by the event that he kept the crutches of the healed woman (as she no longer needed them) in his office.

I got to thinking about one of the criticisms of the Charismatic movement by MacArthur and company was that these “gifts” were not consistent, while in the Bible, they never seemed to fail or to work only intermittently.

Except that’s not quite true:

When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

Matthew 17:14-20 (NASB)

It seems sufficient faith is required of the one attempting to exercise a spiritual gift and possibly the one who is the recipient. I don’t think such a thing can be reduced to a formula and in any event, the source of such gifts is God and if healing, casting out demons, or whatever, is not in His plan or for His glory, He will not empower the individuals involved with such gifts. I should say that while I can’t discount the existence and workings of the Holy Spirit as He empowers individual human beings on certain occasions, I consider them rare and I believe many of us can go though our entire lives and not demonstrate any such gifts.

For that matter, in the New Testament, and particularly in the Gospels, demon-possessed people seemed to be extremely common, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen one. If demon possession continues to exist in our world, then it must be as rare as dramatic spiritual gifts.

In my previous commentary on the “Gifts of the Spirit” book, I said that Boaz Michael described Torah and the Spirit as completely inseparable. Carl, in his presentation, linked Christ crucified, the Spirit, and the Torah together.

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:2 (NASB)

Paul was a well-educated man in the tradition of the Pharisees, so it’s unlike him to go into a situation armed with only the knowledge of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” yet, according to Carl, this is the crux of the matter for all of us. If we don’t fully apprehend why Jesus had to die as a sinless man, and then be resurrected, giving us all the promise of eternal life, then our faith is in vain (see my review of the FFOZ TV series episode Resurrection for details).

According to Carl, Spiritual gifts, particularly verbal gifts, are to impart wisdom. After all, we cannot understand the Word of God, the Bible, at all apart from the help of the Spirit of God. This was one of the reasons, perhaps one of the most important ones, why Messiah had to depart from us.

“But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

John 16:5-14 (NASB)

We have the Spirit with us as a helper, speaking not on his own behest but only the words from God, and it seems that Messiah’s intent was that the Spirit would continue to help us until his return (or perhaps even beyond that).

MysteryAnd the Spirit is supposed to impart wisdom about the Word for the purpose of drawing us nearer to God, not just as individuals (for Carl’s own experience was personal) but for the common good of the body of Messiah.

That’s why I can’t see the “gifts of the spirit” being authentic if they in any way distract us from God and who He is as well as Messiah, and him crucified. If spiritual gifts lead in a different direction, then they can’t be from the Spirit of God, which may account for some of the abuses attributed to the Charismatic movement.

Carl cited Isaiah 53:4-6 as a strong description of the knowledge of a crucified Messiah, which the Spirit points to, as well as this:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (NASB)

Let’s look at part of that again:

…for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?

Trying to visualize the Spirit of God searching the depths of God borders on the mystic. What does it mean except that the Spirit of God acts as a portal to all knowledge of God, not that human beings could access even the tiniest fraction of that infinite storehouse. The Spirit of God is the gateway into spiritual thought for people. Without that gateway, we would be locked outside in the secular world, with no way to know God or to even believe He exists.

Paul’s reason for emphasizing the verbal gifts was not that he thought healing and miracles are unimportant…

In 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, “wisdom” words appear nine times and “knowledge” words five times…

-Kinbar, pp 27 and 28

Paul was a scholar and a teacher. For him, spiritual gifts were God’s means to illuminate people with the knowledge of God and the crucified Christ, not to put on some sort of “magic show” or to elevate the possessors of said-gifts to some exalted status. If the manifestation of the Spirit does not reveal God, the Messiah, and the Word of God, then it is not from God, for that is the purpose (in my own opinion) of the Spirit in our world today.

Carl quoted the following to show the connection between Messiah and the Spirit, substituting “HaShem” for “the Lord”:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of [HaShem] will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of [HaShem].
And He will delight in the fear of the [HaShem].

Isaiah 11:1-3 (NASB)

The connection between the Torah and wisdom can be found in these verses:

See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as HaShem my God commanded me, so that you should do them in the land which you are entering to possess it. So guard them and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statues and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

Deuteronomy 4:5-6 (Kinbar’s translation)

Carl goes on to say that the “relationship between the Spirit of God and the Torah is seen even more vividly in Ezekiel 36, in which God promises to bring back the exiles of Israel to their land:”

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:24-26 (NASB)

That one threw me a little, since Ezekiel is describing a situation that has yet to occur, but it does serve to remind us that we cannot bifurcate the Spirit of God from anything else about God, such as Himself, His Word, and the Messiah.

While the Torah, Messiah, and the Spirit can be spoken about separately at times, they cannot be separated in reality. When Paul wrote about the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, he did not mention the Torah because of the specific circumstances in Corinth, but neither did he nor God ever intend for Torah to be left out of the picture permanently.

-Kinbar, pg 36

It’s difficult for me to compress Carl’s points in this blog post and still trace the path of logic adequately so if you think something’s been left out, I encourage you to get a copy of Gifts of the Spirit and read the entire article.

Carl did say one more thing I want to point out.

But the traditional charismatic framework is not adequate for a fully Messianic Jewish expression of the gifts of the Spirit.

-ibid

Carl, and the other presenters at the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, by necessity, must refactor the charismatic movement and that understanding of the “gifts of the spirit” into a form that is more appropriate for a Jewish and Messianic Jewish context.

A Promise of What is to ComeI’ve mentioned before, citing the FFOZ TV series A Promise of What is to Come, that by viewing scripture including the New Testament writings through a Messianic Jewish lens, we can capture a perspective that has been lost to the Church since the days of the apostles. This includes an understanding of the process of the Holy Spirit, how He worked in the past and how He is working today.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m something of a skeptic. Except for a few minor, transitory experiences, I can’t say that I’ve witnessed a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, and certainly not “spiritual gifts” in or around my own personal world of faith. Like I said, if they exist, they must be pretty rare or poorly advertised. I also think that enough charlatans have exploited the fertile spiritual soil so as to make the rest of us feel that anyone who claims “miraculous gifts” must be a rip-off artist.

It makes it difficult for me and people like me to listen objectively when someone talks about what they experience as an authentic spiritual occurrence.

Does the Holy Spirit work in our world today? Absolutely, otherwise, no one would come to faith and the Bible would seem like foolishness to all of us. Who was that man who touched Carl Kinbar on the shoulder so many years ago, and spoke of Carl’s feeding “on the inheritance of your father Jacob”? A prophet? An angel? I have no idea.

I do know, and I’ve said this before, that the FFOZ Book “Gifts of the Spirit” offers us an opportunity to read a counterpoint to John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference and to see for ourselves the differing perspectives of dedicated and devout men and women, all of whom, in all their different religious “camps,” are seeking to know God and to balance our understanding of Creator, Spirit, Torah, and Messiah.

FFOZ TV Review: The Restoring the Kingdom

A promise of what is to comeEpisode 26: The disciples ask Jesus “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were looking for a physical kingdom. Was the kingdom only spiritual, or were the disciples right to expect a physical, future kingdom? Episode Twenty-six will show the viewers that the kingdom of Messiah is not just spiritual. There is a literal, coming, restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Although we believers have laid hold of the kingdom and enjoy a foretaste of it, we have not entered the kingdom yet. It’s still ahead.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 26: Restoring the Kingdom (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of Restoring the Kingdom

In this final episode of the first season of A Promise of What is to Come, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby address the question of exactly what is the restoration of the Kingdom of God. From traditional Christianity’s point of view, the Kingdom has often been described as being Heaven, or being the Church, or being an invisible, spiritual Kingdom, the spirit that is in our hearts.

But this show uses a specifically Jewish perspective to read the Bible and understand how to interpret ancient prophesies. We can’t go only by what the words say themselves. We need to know how the original speakers and audiences in the Bible would have comprehended what was said. What did the disciples mean when they asked the following question to Jesus?

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

Acts 1:6 (NASB)

It was at this point that Jesus was about to ascend into Heaven to take his place at the right hand of the Father. He was leaving his disciples on Earth. They must have been puzzled that Jesus was leaving without finishing his work. Where was the Kingdom? Why hadn’t he established it? How could he depart when there was so much left for him to do?

Christian Pastors often criticize the ancient Jewish disciples for misunderstanding what Jesus taught. In the eyes of many modern believers, the Kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom, not a physical reality. But even today, devout Jews believe that one of Messiah’s major tasks is to restore the nation of Israel as a physical Kingdom on Earth, return all of the exiled Jews to their Land, and elevate Israel as the head of all the nations.

This is one of the reasons why most Jewish people don’t believe Jesus could have been the Messiah. They don’t believe he was resurrected and that he died without restoring and redeeming physical Israel. Even from a believing Jew’s point of view, Jesus as Messiah left before completing his work. That means he must come back at some point to finish the job. Otherwise, he can’t be Messiah.

Toby suggested at this point in the program, that it would be a good time to review some of the information about the Kingdom presented in previous episodes of the series. To this end, he quoted:

After Yochanan was arrested, Yeshua came to the Galil and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the good news.”

Mark 1:14-15 (DHE Gospels)

As you may recall, the Kingdom being “drawn near” or “at hand” meant that it was something that had arrived and could be appropriated at any time. It’s like standing at a doorway of a house. All you have to do is open the door and walk inside. In this case, the message was to repent, which was what Jesus was telling national Israel to do, in order to enter the Kingdom, the restoration of Israel to be accomplished by the Messiah.

Toby JanickiThe Torah, many of the Prophets, and even the Psalms, all speak of these Messianic promises, of a nation restored, a Holy people redeemed, a Land flourishing, the world at peace, all under the rule of King Messiah, Son of David. Here Toby paints a portrait of the prophesies that are continually additive, one linking to another, and to another, and to another, through the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) and across the so-called barrier between the Old and New Testaments, describing in a single, unbroken thread in the tapestry of God’s restorative and salvational plan.

It was this Jewish and Biblical understanding that told the disciples of the Master what to expect and led to the question we read in Acts 1:6. The Church says the ancient and modern Jews are all wrong and that no physical Kingdom was ever planned by God, in spite of the overwhelming evidence otherwise stated in prophesy. But what did Jesus say?

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority…”

Acts 1:7 (NASB)

Here, Jesus isn’t saying that they’ve misunderstood him, or that there would never be a physical restoration, or that his Kingdom is purely spiritual. He’s saying that he wasn’t going to tell them when the Kingdom would be restored, only that it would be restored at a time fixed by God’s own authority.

In other words, Jesus didn’t contradict the expectations of his disciples, he only said he wasn’t going to restore the Kingdom of Israel at that very moment and that they had to wait. He also said this:

“…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 1:8 (NASB)

The Kingdom of Israel would be restored, but before that was going to happen, Jesus said they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and with that power, they were to be Messiah’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the four corners of all the Earth.

It’s not that Messiah won’t restore physical, literal Israel as a Kingdom; the Kingdom above all nations, it’s only a matter of when.

Clue 1: Jesus taught that the Kingdom has not yet happened.

If you were to ask a room full of Christians if Jesus had finished his work in the first coming, most of them would say “yes” based on this:

Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

John 19:30 (NASB)

But Toby says Jesus was most likely speaking of his suffering and the atonement of sins, not his entire mission as a Messiah. I agree. If Messiah’s work was finished, then where is the world at total peace? Why don’t we all act as we should? Why is there still sin? And why is there a predicted second coming of Jesus?

Aaron EbyBoth Jews and Gentiles say today “Maranatha,” which means “O’ Lord, come.” Why do we say this if he has already finished everything he was supposed to do?

The scene shifts to Israel and FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby for a brief word study of “Maranatha.” As it turns out, in the Church, we get this word from two words in Aramaic Paul inserted at the end of 1 Corinthians. Aaron said, and I learned recently, that there were no spaces between words in the Bible. For instance, if we were to translate a portion of Romans 1:32 into English but not insert spaces between the words, it would look something like:

thoughtheyknowgodsrighteousdecreethatthosewhopracticesuchthingsdeservetodie

What a mess. No wonder Biblical translation is so challenging. No wonder there is such a great difficulty in organizing the context of the Bible and how creating chapters and verses can lead to misunderstanding of the original message.

But Aaron says that even though we don’t know how the Aramaic word “Maranatha” is separated, it still means the same thing: “O’ Lord, come.” Aaron believes that Paul not only acknowledged and preached about the great accomplishments of Messiah during the first advent, but longed for the Messiah’s return and all that he would do at that future time.

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
And declare in the coastlands afar off,
And say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him
And keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.”
For the Lord has ransomed Jacob.

Jeremiah 31:10-11 (NASB)

This is a key Messianic prophesy describing what Messiah will do for the Jewish people and for Israel, and describes the responsiblity of the nations to listen (and obey) the words of Israel’s King.

Aaron pointed to the miracle of modern Israel’s very existence and the restoration of the Hebrew language, which had vanished for many centuries. He used Zephaniah 3:9 as a prophesy of the restoration of Hebrew, and expressed what a miracle it is for even an Israeli child to be able to read from an ancient Torah scroll and grasp its meaning.

But as exciting as this all is, Israel is still in exile as long as even a single Jew does not live within her borders, and as long as it is still threatened by its enemies, and as long as it is still largely secular, and as long as there are still two foreign Mosques on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the most Holy place on Earth.

Believing and non-believing Jews all still cling to the twelfth of the Rambam’s thirteen principles of faith:

I believe with a perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, still everyday I pray that he will come.

The modern state of Israel is a good start, but it is hardly finished. There is so much more left to do.

Back in the studio, Toby gives us the second clue:

Clue 2: Jesus had not yet fulfilled all of the Messianic prophecies.

RestorationWe may not know when the Messianic Kingdom will come, but we know what it will be like. Toby links a number of passages in scripture together including Matthew 16:27, Isaiah 40:10, and Revelation 22:12. And Jesus himself said he had much work left to do. We read in Matthew’s gospel how he described his own return:

Then the son of man will appear in heaven, and all the families of the earth will mourn, as they will see the son of man coming with the clouds of heaven in power and great glory. He will send forth his angels with the sound of the great shofar; they will gather his chosen ones from the four winds, and from one end of heaven to the other.

Matthew 24:30-31 (DHE Gospels)

Jesus was referring to this prophesy:

It shall be on that day that a great shofar will be blown, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria and those cast away in the land of Egypt will come [together], and they will prostrate themselves to Hashem on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 27:13 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Jesus was speaking of what he had yet to do beyond his first coming, and that renders the third and final clue:

Clue 3: Jesus did not think his work was finished.

Unless you think the world is as it should be and that we have peace among the nations and kindness between human beings, then you must believe his work isn’t finished either.

What Did I Learn?

In this final episode of the first season of The Promise of What is to Come series, I learned pretty much what I already knew. It seems silly to imagine that Jesus had fulfilled all that he was supposed to do in his first coming. The world is still a mess and still needs a lot of fixing. Unless you are prepared to throw out large portions of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and replace the content with how the Church understands the apostolic scriptures, you must believe that the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus does not fulfill all of the Messianic promises we see in the Bible.

This is also where I believe embracing a Jewish understanding of those scriptures is handy. It does not require that we refactor what Jews believe as a physical Kingdom of God in Israel into some sort of spiritual environment we enter when we die. Jewish and Gentile disciples of Jesus the Messiah can all believe that what God said through Isaiah and Jeremiah and how it was understood was still true in the world of Jesus, Peter, and Paul and still is true in our world of the 21st Century of the Common Era.

As I’ve said before, many of the beliefs in the modern Christian Church have their origins in the earliest expressions of anti-Semitism and supersessionism created by our so-called “Church Fathers,” and preserved by the men of the Reformation many centuries later. What was once invention and tradition created to separate a nascent Gentile Christianity from normative Judaism (that is, how the Church sees the Jewish people, modern Israel, and the ancient Messianic prophesies), is now believed to be rock solid fact. It doesn’t occur to many Christians to question any of these assumptions.

The FFOZ TV show is dedicated to thoughtfully suggesting to its Christian audience that its assumptions be questioned in the light of a Jewish interpretation of Biblical truth. The numerous other resources offered at First Fruits of Zion and her sister organization Vine of David are designed to provide that perspective and expand upon it for both traditional Christians and the Jewish people who have yet to recognize the face of the Messiah as the Jewish face of Rabbi Yeshua in the Gospels.

Modern IsraelBut even learning this does not summon the Promise of the Messiah to our world. In order to finish our own work so that he may come, we must live out those truths that have been revealed to us. Visit the sick, give charity to the poor, donate food to the hungry, act only with kindness to any person that you encounter, speak of the good news of the Messiah to a damaged and dying humanity.

Only then will we be pursuing the path of our Master by participating in tikkun olam, repairing our desperately broken world.

It is said that the Messiah will return only when all of Israel, all the Jewish people, keep the Shabbat as one. It is also said that the Messiah will return only when all of Israel and the world has reached a level of deepest depravity.

I don’t know what to think. I only know that we introduce a tiny bit of the Messianic Kingdom into our world every time we extend a helping hand to another person. If we all committed one unasked act of kindness each day, then how Messiah-like would the world begin to appear? We wait for Messiah to return to finish what he started, but in the mean time, we can all do what we can, as we have faith in the promise.

FFOZ TV Review: Resurrection

FFOZ TV Episode 25Episode 25: In Jewish thought the ultimate expression of God’s power is the resurrection of the dead, and the ultimate resurrection was that of Jesus himself. In episode twenty-five viewers will discover that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was a foreshadow of the final resurrection of the dead that was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. Messiah rising from the dead was a promise, a guarantee that one day the great redemption will come, the great resurrection of the dead will take place, and the Messianic kingdom will arrive.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 25: Resurrection (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Resurrection

One of the biggest mysteries of the Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, there are no explicit prophesies in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible or Old Testament) that say the Messiah must personally die and then be resurrected three days later. In Christianity, we just take it for granted because it is a central if not the central tenet of our beliefs. But looking at the resurrection from a Jewish point of view, particularly a late Second Temple Era perspective, what did the resurrection of Messiah mean?

First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki started answering that question by reading the following:

And he began to teach that the son of man needs to suffer greatly, and the elders, the leading priests, and the scholars would reject him, and he would be killed, but at the end of three days he would surely rise. He spoke this word in the ears of all of them, and Petros took him and began to reprimand him.

Mark 8:31-32 (DHE Gospels)

Jesus himself taught that he had to die and be resurrected three days later, but the fact that at hearing this Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him, shows us that even Peter didn’t understand the meaning of Messiah’s death and resurrection. It must not have been an obvious belief common among Jewish people of that day (and it’s also not a belief in Judaism in our age). Peter certainly knew Jesus was the Messiah (see Matthew 16:16) so it wasn’t a matter of lack of faith or lack of knowledge. Even in the days of Jesus on earth, the death and resurrection of the Messiah was a great mystery.

A mystery we are trying to solve from a Jewish perspective today in this episode.

Jesus explained the meaning, at least partially, after he was resurrected:

These are the things that I spoke to you about while I was still with you. For every scripture about me will surely be fulfilled in the Torah of Mosheh, in the Prophets, and in the Tehillim. Then he opened their hearts to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, thus it is written and decreed that the Mashiach will be afflicted and will arise from the dead on the third day…

Luke 24:44-46 (DHE Gospels)

Toby points out that Jesus says his death and resurrection are prophesied in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms (Tehillim). But where? There’s nothing in these ancient writings that point-blank says the Messiah must die for the sins of humanity and be raised again three days later. What does Jesus explain to them that the Bible doesn’t explain to us? Won’t the Holy Spirit open our hearts to understand the scriptures?

Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades,
Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

Acts 2:27 (NASB)

Here, Toby tells us that Peter is quoting Psalm 16:10 as proof that the Messiah would not die permanently and that God would resurrect him. This is only one of a few cryptic “proofs” in the New Testament that the Old Testament prophesies spoke, or at least hinted at, the Messiah’s resurrection.

He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces,
And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 25:8 (NASB)

Your dead will live;
Their corpses will rise.
You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy,
For your dew is as the dew of the dawn,
And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.

Isaiah 26:19 (NASB)

ffoz_tv25_tobyToby quotes Isaiah as well as Ezekiel 37:3-6 to show that in the future Messianic Era, there will be a great resurrection of the dead, but this doesn’t specifically speak to the resurrection of the Messiah during his first advent.

There was no question among these ancient Jewish prophets that there would be a future resurrection of all the dead once the Messiah had come, and that brings us to our first clue:

1st Clue: The resurrection from the dead is a component of the Messianic Kingdom.

Toby makes a key point by saying that Jesus felt these prophesies also explained his own resurrection. But how? Is Toby employing more than a little theological sleight of hand in making such a statement?

To learn more, the scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel for a short language lesson about the Hebrew word for “Life.”

Life, or “Chaim” is a gift from God. Aaron references the following to illustrate:

The Lord kills and makes alive;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.

1 Samuel 2:6 (NASB)

This is part of Hannah’s prayer to God and shows us beautifully that life and death are from God and as He brings down into death, He also raises up back to life.

Today’s Orthodox Jews believe in the resurrection of the dead once the Messiah comes, even as the Pharisees did in the day of Jesus. Many Jewish dead are buried at the Mount of Olives where it is prophesied the feet of the Messiah will first touch the earth.

Three times a day, observant Jews pray for the resurrection, and the Mishnah states that if anyone does not believe the Torah speaks of the resurrection, that person forfeits their place in the world to come.

Aaron EbyAaron points out that in Acts 23:6, when Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem and brought before the Sanhedrim, he throws the whole court, which is made up of Pharisees who believed in the resurrection and Sadducees who didn’t, into an uproar by claiming that he was on trial for his belief in the resurrection. Apparently, not all Jews two-thousand years ago believed in the resurrection of the dead, but it was obviously a “hot button” topic.

The last of the Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith established by the Rambam, the great sage Moses Maimonides in the twelfth century is a declaration of faith in the future resurrection of the dead.

Back in the studio, Toby pulls all this together to form the second clue:

Clue 2: The future resurrection of the dead is a principle of Jewish faith.

But while all this certainly establishes that religious Jews, like Christians, believe in a future resurrection, what does it have to do with the resurrection of Jesus?

According to Toby, it goes back to the debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees about whether or not there would be a future resurrection. By God resurrecting Jesus three days after he died, it was supposed to settle the argument. Jesus, the Messiah, by being resurrected, establishes a future resurrection.

But there still one more connection to make, and it comes from the apostle Paul:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.

1 Corinthians 15:12, 20-21 (NASB)

In verse 12, Paul directly links the resurrection of Jesus with the future resurrection of all the dead, stating that if you don’t believe in the former, you are also denying the latter. Then in verses 20 and 21, Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus was a “first fruits of those who are asleep” (dead).

The Torah commands that all Israelite farmers are required to offer the first ripe fruit of their harvest to God. This presupposes that the larger harvest of the crops is not yet ripe. The metaphor illustrates that the resurrection of the Messiah was a first fruits or a foretaste of the resurrection and when the rest of the harvest of humanity is “ripe,” the great resurrection of the dead will come. This happens in the Messianic Era.

We have arrived at the third and final clue:

Clue 3: Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits of the final resurrection.

In other words, by the Messiah dying and then being resurrected, he was proving that all of the older prophesies about a great resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Age were valid, accurate, and will indeed occur.

What Did I Learn?

The major point I learned was how the purpose of the resurrection of Messiah was framed by Toby and Aaron. Basically, it was a theological and probably a legal proof to all of the Jewish people of that day that indeed there would be a great resurrection in the future age.

Today’s Orthodox Jews believe in that resurrection, but I’m not sure that all religious Jews everywhere do. All Christians believe not only in the resurrection of Jesus, but in the resurrection of all the dead, who will then be judged.

I don’t struggle with these concepts, but the great struggle today for non-believing Jews, just as it probably was among many of the Jewish people in the day of the apostles, was whether or not the Messiah had to die and then rise. While the focus of this episode was on the resurrection, to get a Jewish person to this point, you first have to get them past the death of Jesus, which wasn’t touched upon in this show.

I’ve tried to write to this issue using Jewish and Christian sources in blog posts such as The Death of the Tzaddik and The Sacrifice at Golgotha.

Jews, like Christians (and just about everyone else), find the idea of making a human sacrifice to God abhorrent, and from a traditional Jewish perspective, the death of Jesus to pay for our sins looks like a human sacrifice. Christians don’t consider this an issue in our faith, but from an outsider’s point of view, it’s a huge stumbling block.

tallit_templeThere are some aspects of Jewish faith that support the idea of the death of a great tzaddik or righteous one atoning for the sins of others, up to and including the sins of an entire generation of Jews. When we people of Yeshua faith attempt to cite those sources, we are sometimes accused of misreading the ancient Jewish sages for our own ends. I can see how some Jewish people would get that impression but this also illustrates that it is Jewish to believe a human death can atone for others, therefore, it’s not completely outrageous to believe that the Messiah’s death, the death of the greatest of all tzaddikim, could atone, not just for the sins of a single generation, but for the sins of all generations across time.

But I’m going off topic. Toby and Aaron were focusing on the resurrection, not the death of Messiah, and they’re addressing primarily an audience of traditional Christians, not traditional Jews. To that end, it’s almost as if Toby and Aaron were “preaching to the choir,” since the resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of all the dead are a “given” in the Christian faith. However, they did establish that the resurrection is not an uniquely Christian concept, but is founded strongly in Judaism and the Old Testament. They also showed, as I said above, that the resurrection proved to the Jewish people in the apostolic era, that the prophesies of a great, future resurrection would be fulfilled.

At the end of the episode, as usual, Boaz Michael, FFOZ’s President and Founder, came to announce the next and last show of this television series, which teaches the literal, physical restoration of Israel that is yet to come. This will be my last opportunity to review this television series and I will certainly miss it.

I’m not unmindful that this blog post is being published on Christmas Day. For all of my readers who celebrate Christmas, I give you warm greetings and may the Spirit of Messiah be with you on this day, inspiring love and generosity.

May the light of Messiah continue to illuminate our paths and to open our eyes to who he is and who we are in him.

FFOZ TV Review: Treasure in Heaven

FFOZ TV episode 24Episode 24: What did Jesus mean when he told his disciples to store up treasures in Heaven? Episode twenty-four will take a look at the phrase “treasures in Heaven” through a Jewish lens. “In Heaven” in this phrase does not mean “in the sky” but rather “with God.” Jesus tells us that God rewards his children openly for what they do in secret. Viewers will learn that being disciples of Jesus means being a generous person, giving to the needy, doing the work of the kingdom, and not focusing on earthly gain.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 24: Treasure in Heaven (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of Treasure in Heaven

This episode went pretty much the way I expected with just a few small question marks. First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) educators and authors Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby based today’s teaching on the following verses:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rottenness consume them, and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rottenness do not consume them, and thieves do not break in and steal. For in the place where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21 (DHE Gospels)

Toby asked about how one can actually store a treasure in Heaven? Is there some sort of cosmic retirement plan in the Afterlife? Is it possible to do something to store treasure in Heaven now so we’ll have it to spend after we die?

These seem like silly questions but throughout much of the episode, Toby kept returning to these points. I started to wonder what the traditional Christian teaching must be about this passage? Does the Church or some part of it believe that there is a literal treasure in Heaven that we get when we die?

For viewers who have been regularly watching this show, it should be apparent that the reference to “Heaven” doesn’t have to literally be the place where God lives. The Hebrew word for “Heaven” can also mean “sky”. However, given the general theme of this first season of the FFOZ TV show, “Heaven” is more likely being used as a circumlocution to avoid saying the most personal Name of God. For instance, the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” actually means “Kingdom of God” as in the coming Messianic Era.

That would mean storing up “treasure in heaven” means something like storing up “treasure in the Messianic Kingdom.” But that’s still mysterious if you don’t understand certain Rabbinic concepts and idioms.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:2-4 (NASB)

Toby JanickiThis should help provide clarity. Toby links “storing up treasure in heaven” to these earlier verses in the chapter. Jesus teaches a direct link between giving to charity in secret and being openly rewarded by God. This is also a Rabbinic concept, but one where Christianity treads lightly, since we are taught that salvation is a free gift and not tied to anything we can do, such as give to charity. Also, Isaiah 64:6 defines “righteous acts” as “filthy rags” so it would seem as if this interpretation of Jesus’ teaching contradicts not only older scripture but Christian doctrine as well.

We aren’t talking about “buying our way into Heaven” with our “filthy” righteous deeds, though. We are however, talking about a relationship between our giving to charity and some sort of reward from God. More specifically, we are talking about giving in secret, without using our “generosity” to draw attention to ourselves, and that is what God rewards openly.

As a side note, this makes me wonder why some churches today have listings on their walls or in some public document of the names of their larger contributors if Jesus taught to give in secret?

If you say, “See, we did not know this,”
Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?
And does He not know it who keeps your soul?
And will He not render to man according to his work?

Proverbs 24:12 (NASB)

It looks like Jesus isn’t contradicting this older portion of scripture and in fact, he seems to be teaching the same lesson. “And will He not render to man according to his work?” So what we do here in this life does seem to matter to God and God responds to our actions by giving back to us in the manner we’ve given (or not given) to others.

This brings us to the first clue for this episode:

Clue 1: When Jesus tells us to “store up treasures in heaven,” he is not telling us to store up treasures in the Afterlife, but to store up credit with God.

Storing up “credit with God” still makes it sound like we’re opening up a credit line at the Bank of Heaven and then drawing against it, but that makes no sense at all. There’s got to be more to this lesson.

As it turns out, there is:

The lamp of the body is the eye, and if your eye is whole, your entire body will be illuminated. But if your eye is evil, your entire body will be darkened — and if the light within you is darkened, how great is the darkness.

A man is not able to serve two masters. For he will hate the one and love the other, or he will cling to one and despise the other. You are not able to serve both God and mamon.

Matthew 6:22-24 (DHE Gospels)

OK, maybe that didn’t clear everything up. To get a better handle on what Jesus is saying, the scene shifts to Aaron Eby in Israel for a Hebrew lesson on the term “the evil eye.”

So what is the “evil eye” and the “whole” or “good eye”? Aaron tells his audience that one interpretation of an “evil eye” is a description of what happens to a believer who looks at forbidden things. Another tells of a believer who is not spiritually perceptive. But in the overall context of these verses, which seem to be addressing money, that doesn’t make sense.

Aaron EbyAs it turns out, having an “evil eye” in Jewish idiom means being stingy. Also, the words translated as “whole eye” or “good eye,” given the idiomatic meaning being referenced, are better translated as “beautiful eye,” meaning generous. But how does it make sense that your “eye” can indicate stinginess or generosity? According to Aaron, it has to do with how you look at or perceive others. If you look at someone with good intent or in order to see the good in them, you are looking at them with a “beautiful” eye and are inclined to be generous toward them. However, if you look at people with poor intent or in a negative manner, you are inclined to be withholding from the needy and thus have an “evil” eye.

Returning to Toby in the studio, we come to the next clue:

Clue 2: Jesus’ words about storing up treasures with God are directly linked to “beautiful eye” and “evil eye.”

Now we seem to be zeroing in on the solution to today’s mystery. But if God rewards believers for giving generously and in secret to charity, what sort of reward is provided? Toby said that it is not along the lines of prosperity theology. It’s not a matter of giving large amounts of money to certain charities or churches in order to get back a boatload of cash in this world.

So what is the answer?

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:25-26, 31-34 (NASB)

In a nutshell, this means that we shouldn’t worry about the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, and shelter, because God knows we need these things and will provide. Instead of devoting our resources to accumulating material possessions, we should seek first the Messianic Kingdom, and “the basics” will take care of themselves.

By being generous, we come closer to entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Conversely, a stingy person is removed or retreating from entering the Messianic Kingdom.

This sort of reminds me of what I wrote about the FFOZ TV episode on The Golden Rule. How we treat others brings us closer or places us further away from entering the Messianic Kingdom. But as I said before, although we’re not talking about buying our way into Heaven, how can being generous or stingy admit or inhibit living in the Era of the Messiah?

Unless it’s somehow related to the lesson of the “sheep and goats” we find in Matthew 25:31-46, which is also talking about generosity and stinginess. Even a believer who is stingy or has exhibited the “evil eye” may be rejected by the King upon his return. What we do does matter. This reading of the Bible makes that inescapable, although it’s not always easy to understand.

The final clue is:

Clue 3: Storing treasure in heaven is the same as seeking the Kingdom of God.

It doesn’t mean that God will provide a one-to-one system of giving vs reward whereby if you give a certain amount to your church or to charity, that you’ll automatically get back the same or more than you “invested.” In fact, that sort of theology goes against what Jesus taught, since he commanded giving in secret, which at least implies the idea of giving generously with no thought of reward.

What Did I Learn?

I actually knew the vast majority of what was taught today, but some of what was said got me to thinking. As I see it (and this is just my opinion), by being generous in the here and now, we are somewhat foreshadowing the coming Messianic Kingdom, which will be characterized by kindness, generosity to all, and peace. Just as each weekly Shabbat is a foreshadow and a preview of the lasting Shabbat of Messiah, so too every mitzvah of giving we commit, each act of tzedakah, is a momentary snapshot of how all humanity will behave toward each other one day.

tzedakah-to-lifeI have a better “feeling” about this being part of the “reward” rather than necessarily admittance into or rejection from the Messianic Era, but as the passage from Matthew 25 indicates, there will be those believers who get in and those who are given the boot.

Also, as I said above, I don’t see any sort of formula being developed out of these scriptures and this lesson whereby the more you give, the more you get in cash or material goods. There have been far too many saints or tzaddikim who have lived and died in poverty, even though they were abundantly generous with whatever they had, to make me believe that giving to charity is some sort of insurance against poverty or some other bad things happening to me. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes. Blessed be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). God does as He wills. Sometimes, even the most devout servants of God don’t have access to even the basics of food, water, clothing, or shelter, even though this seems to contradict the words of the Master.

But we don’t see this so much in the West because most of us can at least make ends meet if not live rather well, especially when compared to the kind of abject poverty we see in what we call “third-world countries.”

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”

Luke 21:1-4 (NASB)

I thought this deserved an honorable mention, since we are talking about giving generously. OK, so it’s not giving in secret if Jesus and his disciples can see how much everyone is giving, but we do see a woman living in great poverty, probably a state of lacking most of us have never experienced, giving all she had to live on for the sake of God and the Temple. I don’t think I could advise a person to do that, holding nothing back for themselves, but then again, maybe she was not worrying about her next meal, what clothes she was going to wear, or the place she was going to rest her head, just as Messiah taught.

It’s a hard lesson in this world of 401Ks, Medical Savings Accounts, and saving up to send the kids to college.

I seem to remember, probably from something Dave Ramsey said, that families should include charitable giving in their budgets in the same way as we budget for car repairs, groceries, clothing, and so on. This isn’t giving all we’ve got, but it is giving what we can if we are so inclined.

Only two more episodes in season one left to review.

FFOZ Friends: Become Part of the Promise that is to Come

Boaz MichaelPerhaps at some point this month you would find it a worthy blog to talk about the FFOZ Friends program and encourage your readers to join with you, with us, by becoming an FFOZ Friend. If we are all going to make an impact we need to work together…FFOZ is a worthy cause to invest into with funds that have already been designated for giving. FFOZ as you know and noted today in your review are creating materials that are communicating a balanced and challenging message.

-Boaz Michael, President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
from a private communication

I’ve been reviewing the FFOZ educational television series A Promise of What is to Come for almost half a year now, and have covered the vast majority of the available episodes. I’ve found the teachings offered by Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby to be informative, well-balanced, and provocative. They’ve expanded my understanding of the Bible and gone a long way to helping me see that the truly inspired Word of God cannot “jump the tracks,” so to speak, between the Tanakh and the later Apostolic Writings. The scriptures can and must be interpreted rightly and in a way that does not require the ascendency of Israel and the Jewish people we see in the Messianic prophesies of old to be reversed and replaced with “the Church” as “the Church” interprets the New Testament.

Through Boaz’s graciousness, I am an FFOZ Friend. What’s that?

Basically, it’s a method of participating in a support structure that allows the “Friend” to donate a specific amount of funds on a regular basis in exchange for access to FFOZ’s printed and online educational material. It’s a “win-win” in which the participant receives a view of God, the Messiah, and the Bible that is edifying, rewarding, and summons the coming Messianic Kingdom, while also supporting and enabling this ministry to not only continue its operations, but to produce even more innovative resources, and additionally, to expand its scope in order to reach greater numbers of Gentile Christian and Jewish audiences.

The FFOZ Friends main page describes this opportunity far better than I can:

An FFOZ Friend shares our vision and mission with us, and is a co-laborer with us in this work of restoration. FFOZ Friends facilitate the development and dissemination of our shared vision, and invest into this work as we labor daily towards the kingdom of heaven, “a promise of what is to come.”

The generosity of our FFOZ Friends helps meet the core operating needs of the organization and makes outreach efforts possible. FFOZ Friends are the source of funding for the development of books, teachings, educational resources, television programming, and extensive commentaries on the Bible from its historical, linguistic, and cultural context. These resources bring together the latest scholarship, ancient Jewish sources, and extra-biblical literature to present a Messianic Jewish reading of the Bible and early Jewish-Christianity.

I described generally about what you can accomplish by joining this program, but this FFOZ Friends infographic lays it all out for you (yes, please click the link).

In short, by becoming an FFOZ Friend, you will be supporting four key missions:

  • Jesus is Jewish
  • The Kingdom of Heaven
  • The Validity of Torah
  • The Jewish People

The infographic provides the details of each of these missions, but what I’ve listed in four short bullet points contains a vast span of information, knowledge, and wisdom that expands both Christian and Jewish thinking about the identity of the Messiah, the promise of the Kingdom to come, the continuation of Torah in Jewish lives and its application to the Gentiles who are called by His Name, and the restoration of the Jewish people and of Israel.

ffoz-teaching-teamI can’t think of any other single ministry that is accomplishing so much and opening eyes in such a unique, beautiful, and illuminating manner. So what does it take to be an FFOZ Friend?

Basically, there are three different monthly support levels. Each support level provides access to a different set of resources (you can find additional details by clicking the links I’ve provided):

  • Companions: $25 (or less, or more)
  • Allies: $50 or more
  • Pillars: $100 or more

If you are a member or regularly attend a church, chances are that you tithe a specific amount on a regular basis, say, once a week. If you are a member of a synagogue, you probably pay annual membership fees. If you support a particular charity (for instance, my wife and I have supported World Vision and other such worthy causes over the years), you probably don’t just mail them a check once and then ignore them. If that charity or ministry is indeed worthy, you probably budget so that you can make regular donations for their continued support.

Becoming an FFOZ Friend is just like that. It’s supporting a cause you find worthy, a cause you believe in, a cause that not only gives to others but gives back to you.

In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, what will you be supporting? The FFOZ main website gives you access to a fund of information about who they are and what they do. There are a wide variety of online materials, books, and other resources. Sure, you can purchase all of these separately, but being an FFOZ Friend, depending on the support level, will allow you to receive many of these resources just by participating in the program.

There are also a lot of educational assets that are being planned or under development right now that are scheduled to become available in the next year or two. FFOZ is working hard to make information about the coming Kingdom, about Messiah, about the relationship of the Gentile and Jewish believer to the Sabbath, to the Torah, and to God increasingly accessible. I’m personally looking forward to Season 2 of the FFOZ TV series which is currently being filmed, as well as their book “The Apostolic Decree” (Acts 15 is a favorite topic of mine) which should be released late next year.

Other projects you can look forward to include making information that was only previously available through The Torah Club formatted in multi-volume book form, book and audio resources to support Sabbath observance among Messianic believers, commentary on the Didache, and a great deal more.

Becoming an FFOZ Friend is more than just donating regularly and receiving and consuming resources. The ultimate goal is to change the world and to pave the road upon which the Messiah will walk on his triumphant return to Jerusalem and his ascendency to the Throne of David. It’s the road upon which the exiles will return from the four corners of the earth, it’s the road that we, the disciples of Messiah, will line in droves as we exuberantly cheer the victory of the King and the restoration of Israel, his Kingdom, and the final truth of God living among His people at last.

Becoming an FFOZ Friend is joining an effort to bring all this about and to contribute to repairing the world, and preparing the world for the promise of what is to come.

Boaz appears at the end of each FFOZ TV episode to announce the topic for the following show and to encourage the viewers. He always ends his presentation with the words, “What are we waiting for? Let’s get busy.”

prophetic_return1Why wait? Join the laborers in the field which is ripe for harvest. The Master said the laborers are few but it doesn’t have to be this way. Join them, join us. Brighten the world by becoming a light, just as the Master commanded us. Illuminate the path as well as your spirit. Become part of something bigger than any one person.

Become an FFOZ Friend.

When Boaz asked if I could blog about being an FFOZ Friend, I knew that some people reading this would probably misinterpret my response and my intent, and would see all this as just some sort of marketing effort. Marketing is just a method of making information and opportunities public. It’s an offer that allows you, the reader, to become aware, to learn more, and to make a decision. If you believe in the missions FFOZ stands for and what they are doing, then being an FFOZ Friend is the perfect response. If you believe in the Messianic vision for Gentiles and Jews then don’t just stand on the sidelines and wait. Join. Participate. Help spread the word. Summon the vision.

Thank you. Peace.