Tag Archives: good news

Messianic Evangelism

Some people object to this. When they see Messianic Jews declaring the Gospel to other Jewish People and to Gentiles, they say, “Why are you doing that? That’s not Jewish. We Jews are not a proselytizing faith.” Well, that may be a popular notion to many people, but it isn’t true. In Matthew 23:15, Yeshua says, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees. You hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert and, when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” Clearly, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were proselytizing. They were telling people about God. They were winning converts, Yeshua says. So, sharing our faith is definitely Jewish. Not only was it true in the First Century, and before Messiah came, but it is also true today.

-Jonathan Bernis
“Good News for Israel”
Jewish Voice Ministries International

Last Sunday afternoon, I had my regular “coffee meeting” with a friend of mine. We meet every other week to talk about all sorts of things, but mainly to maintain relationship, friendship and community in Messiah. My friend is one of the few people in my life (face-to-face or online) who can really challenge me and present me with questions that make me stop and think. It’s not always comfortable but is it always inspiring.

Over lattes, he asked me how I’m personally sharing the good news of Messiah to the people around me as a Messianic Gentile. He didn’t word it exactly like that, but I have a reason for expressing the query this way.

Just about anyone I can think of who is involved in either Messianic Judaism or some aspect of the Hebrew Roots movement entered these movements by way of a Church experience. Before I entered Hebrew Roots and then became more Messianic in my practice and study, I came to faith in a Nazarene church here in Southwestern Idaho. Even the Jewish people I know, with rare exception, entered Messianic Judaism after coming to faith in Jesus (Yeshua) as Messiah within normative Christianity.

In other words, it wasn’t a Messianic Jewish or Messianic Gentile evangelist who shared the good news of Moshiach and the coming Kingdom of God with any of these folks. For me, a more traditional Christian evangelist (in my case, a youth Pastor and friend of my brother-in-law) asked me that standard question, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where your soul would go?”

share the gospelThat’s a horrible introductory line in my opinion, and the actual process of me coming to faith took a large number of specific steps and encounters over a six month to one year period of time. But in the end, I made the initial baby steps of coming to faith and then my life fell apart.

But how would a person with a Messianic Gentile perspective on the Bible come to evangelize, not Christians in the normative Church, which is what we’re used to doing, but atheists or even people from completely unrelated religious traditions, telling them of the plan of personal salvation through Christ?

It’s not an easy question to answer, because I believe the “good news” of Messiah is so much more than just a plan for personal salvation. Scot McKnight expanded on this idea in his book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited and I agree that we (the Church) have reduced the actual gospel message down to a bullet list of talking points centered around individual salvation so that a person may be forgiven of their sins and go to Heaven when they die.

The gospel message of Jesus is often simplified down to believe in Christ and your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven when you die. In episode eight this common misconception will be challenged. Viewers will discover that the main message of the gospel is one of repentance and entering into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not the place we go to when we die but rather God’s kingdom coming down here on earth. The gospel message is about preparation for the Messianic Age.

from the introduction to Episode 8
The Gospel Message
from the First Fruits of Zion television series
A Promise of What is to Come

The episode is only about thirty minutes long and free to view by clicking the link I provided. It offers a more expanded understanding of what the good news or gospel message of Messiah is really all about.

The Gospel MessageBut that story is aimed at people who already have faith in Christ and who are looking for a deeper understanding of what that faith actually means based on a Hebraic examination of the scriptures.

How do you introduce this sort of stuff to people who have no background in it at all? If I go up to someone, tell them I’m a Christian, and ask if they would like to talk about Jesus, they may say “yes” or they may say “no,” but they’ll at least have some idea of what I’m talking about. If I go up to that same person and tell them I’m a Messianic and ask if they would like to talk about the coming Kingdom of God and the blessings of the Messianic Age, they’d have no idea what I was saying and would probably think I’m some sort of religious cult nut.

The Sunday before Easter, one of the Pastors at church announced from the pulpit the opportunity for anyone who desired, to join with others on Good Friday to go door to door in the neighborhood offering to share the gospel message and to pray with people. For a brief instant, I imagined myself doing such a thing, but then all the questions about the true nature of the gospel I mentioned above came flooding in.

I want to share my faith, but it doesn’t always have a lot in common with the doctrinal position of Evangelicals, so how could I employ Evangelical religious tracts and Evangelical language and concepts in any program of sharing faith as I understand it?

Arguably, there are only two populations that Messianics attempt to engage: normative Judaism and the Church. Messianic Jews attempt to communicate to wider Judaism about the Moshiach, Yeshua HaNazir, and the New Covenant promise of a restored Israel and a reunited Jewish people as the head of all peoples and nations of the Earth. Messianic Gentiles and Hebrew Roots Gentiles tend to try to convince people in the Church or people who are disaffected and who have left the Church, that the Messianic and/or Hebrew Roots perspective on scripture tells a more authentic and accurate story about the relationship between God and humanity.

But how do we (or do we ever) communicate our message to people outside of those frameworks, people who don’t have the theological background we usually require of our audiences, and help them understand what it is to be a disciple of the Master?

I know of only one, single missionary effort currently operating, in this case in Uganda, that works to evangelize unbelieving populations directly from a Messianic perspective: Acts for Messiah. As the introductory text regarding their mission states:

ACTS for Messiah serves to follow in the footsteps of Yeshua and the apostles, providing for the needy, feeding the hungry, and providing a home for the children left in the streets. Our current area of operation is in Tororo, Uganda, where Emily Dywer brings ministry to small villages and runs an orphanage rescuing children from desperate and dangerous situations, giving them hope and a future…

That might be the answer or at least part of it. It’s not just what we say, but what we do and how we live. The answer may not be in the differences in perspective between Christians and Messianics (and of course, Messianics are Christians who simply view scripture from a different and more Hebraic perspective), but the similarities. At the end of the day, it’s all about humble obedience to the teachings of the Master, following the path, feeding the hungry, providing clothing, offering comfort, showing kindness, even to the unkind, for they are the ones who need kindness the most.

the missionary next doorI’m not a big fan of knocking on doors and offering to share the good news with strangers. I’ve been at the receiving end of door-to-door evangelists of one type or another and an unanticipated visit is usually an interruption. On the other hand, I am discounting the Holy Spirit and encounters previously arranged outside human awareness.

We have to start somewhere. We can’t just talk to ourselves about what we already know and we can’t just target limited populations if we really believe we have a good message that people need.

But where to begin? If you call yourself a Messianic anything, do you share your message with strangers or at least with atheists with whom you’re acquainted? How do you talk to someone about faith in a Jewish Messiah within the context of Messianic worship and faith?

The comments section is now open.

The Ironic Good News of Galatians

Commentators sense the need to argue this point to varying degrees, although none finds it necessary to go to any great lengths. In other words, this conclusion is apparently self-evident. James Dunn’s approach is representative: “The fact that Paul uses the Christian technical term for ‘the gospel’ also is clear indication that those whom he was about to attack were also Christian missionaries. He calls their message ‘another gospel’ because it was significantly different from his own; but he calls it ‘gospel‘ because that was the term they no doubt also used in their capacity as missionaries like Paul.”

-Mark D. Nanos
“Chapter 10: Paul’s ‘Good News Of Christ’ Versus The Influencers’ ‘News Of Good,” pg 285
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

As I write this, I have just finished reading this book (I know, it took a long time) and I really do intend to review it as a unit rather than chapter-by-chapter as I’ve historically reviewed other books. However, gathering my notes together for a comprehensive review will take a little more time and I have a good reason for pulling Chapter 10 out of the stream and devoting special interest to this topic.

As Nanos points out in this chapter and more generally in his book, the issue of what exactly the “gospel of Paul” vs. the “gospel of the influencers” indicates is of great importance in understanding Paul’s letter to the Galatian assemblies as well as the identity of the influencers.

I’ve commented before about how the word “church” (ekklesia) has taken on a life of its own in modern Christianity when the most general use of the word in the time of Paul simply meant “assembly,” as in any group of people coming together for a common purpose. This does not deny that the “ekklesia of Messiah” isn’t something quite a bit more specific, but the twenty-first century technical term “church” seems to be used in a way that we may not be able to anachronistically retrofit back into the first century text.

And so it goes with the word “gospel” (I can’t reproduce the original Greek here as Nanos does in his book). If we believe, as modern normative Christianity does for the most part, that Paul’s use of the word “gospel” in Galatians and his other letters must always specifically mean “the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” and can never mean any other kind of “good news,” then we (Christianity or at least Christian doctrine and scholarship) may again be guilty of employing anachronistic retrofitting to force modern Christian theology back, two-thousand years in time and halfway around the world, into Paul’s thoughts, intentions, and writing when it may not have been what he meant at all or at least not all of the time.

I am surprised that you are so quickly defecting from him who called you in [the] grace [of Christ] for a different good news, which is not another except [in the sense] that there are some who unsettle you and want to undermine the good news of Christ.

Galatians 1:6-7 (Nanos, pg 286)

In the original quote from the book, Nanos inserts the Greek text alongside the English words, which I’ve already indicated I am unable to duplicate here. But focusing on this bit of scripture, can the “good news” of the influencers be related to the “gospel message of Christ” and at the same time be “not another” and “different”? For that matter, what is Paul’s “good news” to the Gentiles and is it what we think of when we read our Bibles or listen to a message from a Pastor on Sunday morning?

Paul actually denies that this other “good news” should rightfully be considered “another.” Paul does not exactly say with F.F. Bruce that it is “no gospel,” but he gets thereby at the sense of Paul’s usage, for Paul does reverse himself in calling it that “which is not another…”

-ibid, pg 287

As I was reading this chapter, I was reminded of the First Fruits of Zion television series episode The Gospel Message which I reviewed last summer. According to the introduction to this episode:

The gospel message of Jesus is often simplified down to believe in Christ and your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven when you die. In episode eight this common misconception will be challenged. Viewers will discover that the main message of the gospel is one of repentance and entering into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not the place we go to when we die but rather God’s kingdom coming down here on earth. The gospel message is about preparation for the Messianic Age.

Scot McKnight
Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight in his book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited also produces strong evidence that the way “the Church” commonly understands the term “gospel” today does not entirely (or even mostly, sometimes) fit its original and intended meaning. Moreover, the term “gospel” meaning “good news” can mean different kinds of “good news” depending on context.

The good news of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of Paul’s life and work. But the issue for identifying the influencers and their relationship with Jesus Christ is whether Paul’s use of…must be limited to the lips of believers in Jesus or even to a declaration about Jesus in a formal sense that it has come to have in the Christian tradition, with the results then applied to exegesis of Gal 1:6-7, as the conclusions of the prevailing views assume…

Because gospel is and has been for a long time used as a uniquely Christian term, it is anachronistic for our investigation, having lost the more fluid sense of good news or announcement or message of good originally communicated, and its verbal cognate is further limited by the lack of an English verbal form of “gospel” (i.e., “to gospel”), thus the translation “announcing” or “proclaiming the gospel.”

-Nanos, pg 288-9

Mark Nanos
Mark Nanos

This suggestion is bound to offend some Christians, and it’s certainly not my intention to do so. It is my intention to use what Nanos presents in his book to “shake the establishment” so to speak, and investigate an aspect of the writings of Paul that I think has been long neglected, especially at the level of the local community church: reading Paul specifically within the intent and context of his letters and letting Paul tell us what he meant rather than letting centuries old Christian tradition tell Paul and us what he meant. While I can’t promise that Nanos’ viewpoint is 100% correct in all respects, I think his approach shows much promise and has the ability, if we let it, to shake Christianity out of its apathy regarding our understanding of the Bible, and getting us to see the scriptures in a way that has been abandoned since the death of the last apostle.

On page 290, Nanos defines the usage of the plural of the word we translate as “gospel” in the time period of Paul and how it functioned within the “imperial cult for the announcement of significant event concerning the divine ruler: birth, coming of age, enthronement, speeches, decrees, and actions are ‘glad tidings’ of happiness and peace…” He also presents this by way of illustration:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (emph. mine)

Isaiah 52:7 (NRSV)

We can start to see the Greek word we read in English as “gospel” or “good news” having a somewhat more diverse or expanded meaning beyond what we consider in the Church, but lest I cast Nanos in an uncomplimentary role or misrepresent him, he did also say the following:

It should be clear by now that I do not intend to suggest that the usage of…in its various forms for the message or proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ by Paul generally represented anything other than messianic eschatology, but at the same time I want to make it clear that this was not the only way in which it could be or was used by Paul or his Jewish or pagan contemporaries, to which I now turn.

-Nanos, pg 292

In other words, Nanos isn’t saying that “gospel” is never used by Paul to refer to “messianic eschatology”, only that Paul doesn’t always use the Greek word for “good news” in the same way. It isn’t a matter of either/or but depends on the immediate context of the message.


That instance (2 Sam 4:10; 2 Kgdms 4:10 in LXX) also constituted an ironic twist on the double meaning of… (though in the plural): the messenger thought that he was “bringing” David “good news” … about the death of Saul, only to be killed, for the value of the news was perceived differently by David… (emph. mine)


PaulThis brings up the point of how the difference in the good news of Paul vs. the good news of the influencers was intended. We know that Paul intended his good news to be good for the Gentile addressees of his letter, but what about the influencers (I’ll speak more about the identities of the addressees and influencers in my forthcoming general review of “Irony”)? On page 314, Nanos says that “it is not to say that the influencers did not regard their message as good news for these Gentiles. I think they did.” I’ll expand on this in my next review, but from the influencers’ point of view, as understood by Nanos, the Jewish influencers really did think they were doing the Gentile believers in Christ a big favor by “completing” their transition of identities from pagan worshiping goyim, to God-fearing Gentiles, and finally to fully integrated members into the Jewish community in which the Gentiles were then worshiping and participating through entry into the proselyte rite.

In other words, “good news” is in the eye of the beholder. While Paul may have referred to the message of the influencers as “good news” ironically and even sarcastically, Nanos maintains that the influencers were sincere in their intent to bring good to the Gentiles, not understanding or not wanting to understand that through Christ, the Gentiles would be equal co-participants in Messiah-devotion and worship of the God of Israel in a Jewish synagogue and community context.

But this flies in the face of how Nanos defines the following verse:

For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves…

Galatians 6:13 (NASB)

While many Christians understand that piece of scripture to be Paul’s accusation that the Jewish people who were trying to entice the Gentiles to convert and to “keep the Law” hypocritically did not observe the mitzvot themselves, Nanos says that Paul had one very specific Law in mind:

…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…

Leviticus 19:18 (NASB)

While the Jewish influencers in the Galatian synagogues may not have been aware that Yeshua of Nazareth cited this as one of the two greatest commandments (see Mark 12:31 for example), they would have been quite aware of the commandment in Torah. Nanos says that Paul accuses the influencers of not observing this specific mitzvot by ignoring what was actually in the best interests of their Gentile neighbors in Christ for the sake of the influencers’ own interests. Again, I’ll speak more on this at a later time, but I mention it now only to draw attention to the seemingly contradictory motivations of the influencers as presented in the Nanos book.

Moreover, the association of the declaration to Abraham of the promise of a son with the label good news continued in the rabbinic tradition on Genesis, though obviously with no association with Jesus: Gen 18:1-15; b. Baba Mesia 86b; Mekita, Pischa 14; cf. Fragment Targum to Gen 21:7 and Gen. Rabbah 50:2.

-Nanos, pg 294

A Jewish person recently commented on one of my blog posts how Christians have sometimes erroneously misinterpreted the sages to support their (our) stance that Yeshua is the Messiah and that the Messiah is Divine. Further, in one of my reviews of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, I stated that there is a very real danger in reading Talmud and interpreting Midrash written well after the Apostolic Era as if it existed in the same form during the time of the apostles. On the other hand, Nanos is presenting his argument by establishing the usage of the Greek word for “gospel” at the time of Paul first, and then projecting it forward in time rather than trying to make the future apply to the past.

It occurs to me now that without saying so explicitly, what Nanos does in “Irony” may also be (though I say this rather provisionally) what Lancaster is doing in his lectures. That still doesn’t excuse deliberately reading into the Rabbinic sages what they never intended relative to the identity of the Messiah (which is something I’ll need to write about someday), but I think it’s valid to establish a method of reading the Apostolic scriptures “Jewishly” and then looking forward in time through Jewish literature at how that perspective has been maintained or evolved across history.

Another important aspect of Paul’s application of the broader semantic field of…comes to the front when we consider his usage of this language with regard to the figure of Abraham. Paul appeals to “the good news proclaimed beforehand…” to Abraham (i.e., before his circumcision). The content of this good news was that “In you shall all nations be blessed” (3:8). This good news was obviously proclaimed before Jesus or any message could be directly attributed to him or his followers…


Certainly the scripture in the above-referenced quote is about Jesus as the Messiah, but said-good news was not delivered by the followers of Jesus (which would have been historically impossible) and thus while the good news does address a future Messiah who would be a blessing to the nations, it was not specifically describing the “mechanics” of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of personal salvation, which is how the Church understands the “good news” today.

The Jewish PaulNanos continues to deliver additional examples of how “gospel” could have been meant differently by Paul in different contexts, and how “gospel” as attributed to the influencers could have been considered “good” to the Gentiles by them, even as Paul considered it “another gospel” which is “not a gospel” at all, for it undermined the good news of the Messiah for Paul’s Gentile students in the Galatian communities.

Nanos paints a portrait of the letter-writing Paul not as crafting a cold, calculated, and logical religious treatise as much as he was delivering a “snarky” commentary as an offended parent to misbehaving teenagers who were being led astray by a misinformed group of “agents of social control” in their local Jewish communities. While being “snarky” doesn’t mean Paul checked his brain at the door and was incapable of composing a complex and scholarly dissertation in letter form, it does mean that Paul was writing a letter in response to a specific event or set of events, and he was quite possibly hurt and angry as he addressed the error of the addressees and the troublesome actions, though possibly even well intended on some level, of the influencers.

My take away from this chapter is that we need to stop being married with the highly technical meanings we assign to certain words and phrases in Christianity, and instead, we should “get down in the mud” so to speak, with Paul as he’s writing his letters, get into his head, get into the situation, as much as history will allow, and experience, in this case, Paul’s Holy Epistle to the Galatians as a letter fired off by a fired up Paul trying to avert what he could only see as a disaster, if his Gentile protegés were led off the path of Paul’s “gospel” to believe in another “gospel,” one that said they would never be equal co-participants in the Jewish community of Messianic followers and worshipers of the God of Israel unless they were circumcised and converted through the proselyte rite into Judaism.

Paul had the good news of the Messiah for the Gentiles that through the covenant promises God made to Israel, by faith as Abraham exhibited before his circumcision, the people of the nations could be grafted in and be made part of the glorious hope that began with God’s elevating the Hebrews, continued with the first stirrings of the New Covenant in the life of Jesus and the Apostolic Era, and that will ultimately be realized with Messiah’s return, a promise of what is to come.

Addendum: The full book review is now online.

FFOZ TV Review: The Gospel Message

tv_ffoz8_1Episode 08: The gospel message of Jesus is often simplified down to believe in Christ and your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven when you die. In episode eight this common misconception will be challenged. Viewers will discover that the main message of the gospel is one of repentance and entering into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not the place we go to when we die but rather God’s kingdom coming down here on earth. The gospel message is about preparation for the Messianic Age.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 8: The Gospel Message

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Gospel

This episode seemed to cover a lot of previous material, not in the details, but in the theme. It is most closely related with Episode 1: The Good News since gospel means good news. There’s also a close link to Episode 7: Exile and Redemption and Episode 8: Ingathering of Israel. The television series now seems to be stringing individual episodes together to paint a much larger panoramic picture of the prophecies about and the coming of the Messianic Era.

Of course, probably all Christians think they know what the good news or the gospel message is: Jesus died for our sins and if we believe in him, we go to Heaven when we die. And while that’s good news, as previous episodes have told us, that’s not the extent of the gospel message. In fact, most Christians have been given a truncated gospel or an incomplete idea of that the good news really means. To get the whole picture, you have to look at what the gospel message means through a Jewish lens.

The definition of the gospel message of Jesus is actually really easy to find:

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)

FFOZ Author and Teacher Toby Janicki tells us that Jesus was just beginning his ministry at this point and that these verses provide us with the first clue in solving the Mystery of the Gospel:

Clue 1: The Gospel Message means we should repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

But what does that mean exactly? What is the “Kingdom of Heaven” and what is “at hand?” The phrase “at hand” is sometimes also translated as “near”. Jesus was saying to his listeners that they should repent because the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven was really close and about to happen or occur.

Jewish people in the late Second Temple period, particularly because their nation was occupied by the Roman Empire, were especially waiting for the Kingdom of Heaven to arrive and to their ears, it certainly was good news or the gospel message that Jesus was preaching. It was a message that we find repeatedly in the Gospels.

Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 3:1-2 (NASB)

We also find examples of this message in Matthew 4:17 and Matthew 10:7. But we also find that the good news is sometimes referred to as the “Kingdom of God” while other times, it’s the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Toby tells us that the term “Kingdom of Heaven” is closer to the correct phrase in Hebrew. The word translated as “Heaven” is the Hebrew word “Shamayim.” Does that mean that Jesus was talking about Heaven, where God is and where we’re going to go when we die?

Not according to the Jewish understanding. That’s not how Jesus’s disciples and listeners would have interpreted his message.

The scene shifts to FFOZ Teacher and Translator Aaron Eby in Israel for a better understanding of “Kingdom of Heaven” or in Hebrew, “Malkut Shamayim.”

“Shamayim” can mean just “sky” in Hebrew, but that’s not how it’s understood in the phrase “Malkut Shamayim.” Aaron explains the concept of circumlocution, or avoiding using the Tetragrammaton, the most Holy and personal name for God, the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Jewish people use many other names for God to avoid the offense of taking His most holy name lightly. Names such as “Hashem,” “Holy One,” “Creator,” or “Our Father.”

Another circumlocution for God’s most holy name is “Shamayim” or “Heaven.” You see it often in Talmudic writings, but it’s even in the Bible.

And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules (emph. mine).

Daniel 4:26 (NASB)

Daniel, using the Aramaic equivalent of “Shamayim,” is not saying that literally Heaven, a place, rules, but that God rules. He was merely using a circumlocution for God’s most holy name.

tv_ffoz8_aaronAaron tells us that the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” isn’t God’s Kingdom that is located in a place called Heaven, but it actually means the rule and dominion of God on Earth.

Why do we then sometimes see this phrase rendered “Kingdom of God?” In the thoughts of the gospel writers in Hebrew, they would have used “Malkut Shamayim,” but then translating that phrase into Greek, what words should they have used? Matthew, who was writing primarily to a Hebrew speaking Jewish audience, chose to translate the Hebrew phrase literally as “Kingdom of Heaven.” However, Mark and Luke, who were writing primarily for Greek speaking Jews and non-Jews, translated the phrase idiomatically as “Kingdom of God.” Either way, they were saying the same thing.

Back to Toby and the studio, we have our second clue.

Clue 2: Kingdom of Heaven is not Heaven in the sky but God’s rule and reign on Earth.

Look up the Lord’s prayer and you’ll even find it in how Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

What is God’s rule on Earth? The Messianic Era. The time when Jesus will return and establish his rule as King in Jerusalem, establishing an age of peace, not just in Israel but in the entire world.

Toby solved most of the mystery, but one more clue is needed to answer a final question. Why is the Messianic Era good news?

Isaiah 11:1-4 tells of the prophesy that King Messiah will indeed rule Israel and the world from his throne in Jerusalem. Isaiah 11:6-8, 10 further tells us that Messiah’s reign will be one of complete and total peace. The portrait of such peaceful animals is poetic language describing such a peace. Complete tranquility and bliss, such as was experienced in Eden, long before there was any such thing as war and strife among human beings.

And when such peace comes upon all the earth from Israel, the Gentiles in the nations of the world will see and they will repent and turn to God, inaugurating an age of total, worldwide revival.

But it won’t be totally peaceful:

Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people, who will remain, from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He will lift up a standard for the nations and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

They will swoop down on the slopes of the Philistines on the west; together they will plunder the sons of the east; they will possess Edom and Moab, and the sons of Ammon will be subject to them.

Isaiah 11:11-12, 14 (NASB)

We see that Messiah ingathers the exiles of the Jewish people from all the nations of the world and returns them to live in complete peace in their Land, in Israel. God Himself delivers justice to all the nations who have been enemies of Israel, vanquishing them, thus insuring Israel’s continual peace.

Now we have the final clue:

Clue 3: Kingdom of Heaven is about Messiah’s reign on Earth.

Toby recaps the lesson, summing up the three clues and solving the mystery. He describes a time when the Jewish people will live under their King in peace and return to the Torah, the law of God. I can only hope that future episodes will flesh out how this actually works relative to both Jewish and non-Jewish people, but that wasn’t the point of the episode.

What Did I Learn?

As I mentioned before, a lot of this material was addressed from other perspectives in previous episodes and I’ve learned about it from other sources as well. What Toby didn’t mention was that, by Jesus teaching that he was the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy and calling the Jewish people to repentance as preparation for the soon to arrive Kingdom of Heaven, it explains why the apostles and his disciples were so incredibly devastated when he was crucified. All of them were expecting that he was going to overthrow the Romans at any minute and assume the Throne of Israel as the promised Messianic King.

tv_ffoz8_tobyWhen he died, it must have seemed as if they were completely mistaken about him, that he couldn’t have been the Messiah, that he must have been just another of a long line of pretenders to the throne who came before him. It’s how most Jews see Jesus today, another would-be Messiah among the many who have since come and gone in Jewish history.

But then, when he was resurrected, so was hope, only there’s a problem of sorts:

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 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 1:6-8 (NASB)

Given that Jesus had said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” or “near,” once he was resurrected, it made perfect sense to his disciples that he was now ready to ascend the throne. Except he didn’t. He left instead and the disciples waited.

“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Matthew 16:28 (NASB)

Many believed, based on these words of the Master, that although Jesus wasn’t going to immediately establish his kingdom, it would be within a human lifetime, just a matter of decades. But when the last apostle, John, died of extreme old age, sometime in the last years of the first century CE, the disciples must have felt a keen disappointment again. Messiah had not come to restore his kingdom. Where is he? How long, O’ Lord, how long?

I generally don’t mention this in my reviews, but at the very end of each episode FFOZ President and Founder, Boaz Michael appears on camera to give the audience a brief peek at the next episode. At the end of this episode, Boaz explained that the next episode would pick up the same theme and describe more in detail the process of repenting to prepare for the kingdom and to believe. But Jesus didn’t say “believe in me” he said “believe in the gospel.” What does that mean?

It’s the mystery for next week.

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel

kjgospelContemporary evangelicals have built a ‘salvation culture’ but not a ‘gospel culture.’ Evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the message of personal salvation. This book makes a plea for us to recover the old gospel as that which is still new and still fresh. The book stands on four arguments: that the gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus; that the gospel is found in the Four Gospels; that the gospel was preached by Jesus; and that the sermons in the Book of Acts are the best example of gospeling in the New Testament. The King Jesus Gospel ends with practical suggestions about evangelism and about building a gospel culture.

from the description of Scot McKnight’s book
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
at Amazon.com

Several months ago, D. Thomas Lancaster suggested this book to me and I was able to insert it into my reading list. I can see why Lancaster made the recommendation and while I generally agree with the core message McKnight is presenting, it seems like he could have made a few improvements (in my humble opinion).

But first things first.

The part I liked about McKnight’s book is that he was recasting the gospel message from one that only contains the message of personal salvation to one that is expanded to include the story of Israel.

In his Foreward to the book, N.T. Wright says:

…according to Scot, and I am convinced he’s right: “the gospel” is the story of Jesus of Nazareth told as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world.

Well, that’s true as far as it goes, but this statement illustrates what I see as one of the unfortunate limits of McKnight’s book. While he is correct in stating that the actual gospel message includes the return of Jesus as King of Israel and redeemer of the world (rather than just saving individuals one person at a time), he seems to end the story of Israel after the resurrection of Christ. The end. Israel’s story shifts to the story of a homogenized Kingdom of God in the Messianic Age.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that McKnight’s vision of a future Israel just got lost between the lines, so to speak. Part of his main point, which he emphasized over and over again (the book was kind of repetitive) was:

Most evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples.

I couldn’t agree more. But again, the story of the good news of Messiah goes much further than making disciples. It’s the story of Jesus as the Messiah, the King, the one who will establish his rule of peace on the Earth. This is part of McKnight’s message as well and again, I totally agree.

McKnight also addressed the question of whether or not Jesus and Paul preached the same gospel and (to me), amazingly, whether or not Jesus preached the gospel at all. I was astonished (I don’t know a great deal about the specific theological mechanics of organized Christianity in its various denominations) to discover some Pastors think it was impossible for Jesus to have preached his own good news about himself.

I replied, “A book about the meaning of gospel.”

“That’s easy,” he said, “justification by faith.” After hearing that quick-and-easy answer, I decided to push further, so I asked him Piper’s question: “Did Jesus preach the gospel?”

His answer made me gulp. “Nope,” he said, “Jesus couldn’t have. No one understood the gospel until Paul. No one could understand the gospel until after the cross and resurrection and Pentecost.” “Not even Jesus?” I asked.

“Nope. Not possible,” he affirmed. I wanted to add an old cheeky line I’ve often used: “Poor Jesus, born on the wrong side of the cross, didn’t get to preach the gospel.”

The above transaction gave me a cold chill. It’s terrifying to imagine that hundreds of thousands (or more) of Christians are attending church services, attending Sunday school, attending mid-week Bible classes, and being taught that Jesus could not possibly have understood the good news about himself. Doesn’t anyone read the Bible anymore?

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21 (NASB)

scot-mcknight1That’s pretty much Jesus preaching the good news of the Messiah in a nutshell. It was apparently missed by the above-mentioned Pastor because the gospel message to him is only “justification by faith.” It has nothing to do with Israel, King Messiah, or the national redemption of Israel at all.

I want to make clear at this point that I do believe Jesus does provide the Gentile and the Jewish person salvation from sins on a personal level, but like McKnight, I believe it goes so much further. The gospel message isn’t just about the plan of salvation. It’s the good news that Israel is to be liberated, the exiled Jewish people will be restored to their Land, and national Israel will be elevated to the head of the nations in the physical Kingdom of God.

But you don’t get this in most churches.

…the gospel has lost its edge and its meaning. Nothing proves this more than the near total ignorance of many Christians today of the Old Testament Story.

This is true. It’s impossible to comprehend the full meaning of the Apostolic Writings without a very good grasp of the Torah, Prophets and Writings (Old Testament).

McKnight spends a lot of time saying that to understand the gospel message, you have to start in 1 Corinthians 15. Frankly, that would never have occurred to me as a natural starting point, but then again, I’m not a Bible scholar or a theologian. In fact, to get a good summary of the meaning of the gospel, all you have to do is watch television for about thirty minutes.

Oh not just any show.

I wrote a review of the First Fruits of Zion TV series episode The Good News not too long ago. Here’s a description of the episode from the FFOZ TV web site:

Most Christians believe that the gospel message of Jesus is that he died for our sins and if we have faith in him we will be given the gift of eternal life. While certainly this is a major component of the gospel, it is not the whole story. In episode one viewers will learn that the concept of the gospel wasn’t invented by Jesus or the disciples, but rather was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. The “Good News” was the promise of the coming messiah and that he would bring redemption to the children of Israel.

This sounds very similar to some of McKnight’s writing and I suppose it’s possible this book could have been available (it was published in 2011) to the writers of this television episode, but the content between the two isn’t identical.

Two of the problems I had with McKnight’s definition of the gospel message was that the story of Israel seemed to end with the coming of Messiah (which is a common theme in Christianity) and that he seemed to miss the ascendancy of the Nation of Israel as the core of the Kingdom Messiah is to establish on Earth upon his return. He didn’t say why the Messiah’s gospel message was good news to Jewish people. I summarized this good news for Jewish people in my review:

Toby Janicki, Aaron Eby, and the rest of the FFOZ ministry have “solved” the mystery of the gospel and clued us in on the rest of the message: Jesus came to die for our sins and to deliver the promise of everlasting life for all who believe. But, and this is extremely important, as Messiah King, he came to deliver the promise of good news to all of Israel that when he returns, he will release the captives in exile, restore sight to the temporarily blinded, free the oppressed Jewish people, and proclaim freedom for Israel, the year of favor from the Lord.

This is why I think that Luke 4:16-21 is a better summary of the gospel message of Messiah and proof that Messiah knew what the gospel message was and indeed preached it to Israel. Because the good news of Messiah is first and foremost aimed at Israel nationally and at the Jewish people. After all, Jesus said he came for “the lost sheep of Israel” not the “lost sheep of planet Earth.” Also, Paul always went “first to the Jews and also to the Gentiles.” Why? Because the gospel message is most focused on the Jewish people and made the most sense to the Jewish people.

If McKnight had gone that far, I’d have enjoyed his book a lot better. As it was, I think he made a very important point, but he stopped too soon. He also spent too much time going over and over his central point. I get that he wanted to be thorough and I get that often, an important message needs to be repeated so the reader “gets it,” but I “get it.” I just wanted to get more.

But maybe this is why I didn’t get more.

It is sometimes forgotten that “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. The word Messiah means “anointed King…”

ffoz-teaching-teamI wasn’t surprised when I saw something so elemental in McKnight’s book. I’d gotten past my surprise after writing my review of the FFOZ TV episode Messiah. Exactly the same point was made during this 30-minute episode: the fact that “Christ” is a word that contains a lot more information and meaning than just the “last name” of Jesus.

Like the FFOZ TV show, McKnight is likely writing to the widest possible Christian audience, attempting to tell the largest number of believers that they have been taught a common misconception about the gospel message. After all, if at least some Pastors have adopted a limited vision of the gospel, how can the people who sit in the pews every Sunday be held accountable for not knowing the wider meaning?

Again, I disagree that Jesus has completed Israel’s story at this juncture. Israel still has a story and it will continue to be central to the good news throughout the Messianic Age and beyond. Israel will be the head of the nations and the people of many nations will stream to the Temple in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:1) in the days of Messiah.

McKnight’s book is readable and educational as far as it goes and I’d recommend it if you want to get out of the traditional rut of gospel equals plan of salvation, period, end of story. But I still wish he’d have taken the story further into the future and presented the Messiah as Israel’s King and his rule on the Throne of David in Jerusalem, his gathering of the exiled Jewish people to himself, and the total redemption of national Israel as well as the people of the nations who are called by his name.

Oh, and this is my 900th blog post on “morning meditations.”

FFOZ TV Review: The Good News

ffoz_tv1Episode 01: Most Christians believe that the gospel message of Jesus is that he died for our sins and if we have faith in him we will be given the gift of eternal life. While certainly this is a major component of the gospel, it is not the whole story. In episode one viewers will learn that the concept of the gospel wasn’t invented by Jesus or the disciples, but rather was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. The “Good News” was the promise of the coming messiah and that he would bring redemption to the children of Israel.

At the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference last spring, I told FFOZ President Boaz Michael that I’d like to spread the “good news” of their television ministry through my blog by reviewing one episode of their TV show per week. Obviously, I’ve fallen down on the job. My life has been busy and there have been so many things I’ve wanted to write about. A few months ago, I did write a review about the FFOZ TV series as a whole, and watched a few episodes to get a “flavor” of how the show is organized. But that doesn’t impart the nature of the message each show offers its audience.

Today (as I write this), I’ve revisited my promise and watched the first episode, The Good News. This is actually about the “mystery” of the good news or gospel, since what Christians believe about the gospel message is only part of the story.

The Lesson: What is the Good News?

Toby Janicki is the main speaker and teacher for this and every episode and he asks the question, “what is the gospel message?” Christians think we know the answer. The gospels are the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the gospel message is that Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected. Through his atoning work, anyone who believes in Christ will have their sins forgiven, receive eternal life, and go to heaven when they die.

Toby doesn’t deny any of that for a second but tells us that it is only part of the message of the gospel or “good news.”

This episode, like the entire TV series itself, encourages the viewer to look at the New Testament from its original First Century CE Jewish context. What would the Jewish people in the time of the apostles have heard and understood when Jesus spoke? How the church presents the gospel today does not carry forward that context and what we hear preached every Sunday is only a portion of the message. That’s the value of this television series to its defined audience, traditional Christian believers. Know Christ better by learning to understand the Jewish Jesus.

Jesus and the apostles were teaching the gospel or good news message long before the crucifixion and it wasn’t “Jesus will die for your sins.” In fact, Jesus spoke the good news in the very beginning:

The Spirit of Hashem is upon me in order to anoint me to bring good news to the humble. He has sent me to care for the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the exiles, and for the blind an opening release … to send the oppressed free … to proclaim a year of favor for Hashem.

Luke 4:18-19 (DHE Gospels)

I used the Delitzch Hebrew Gospels translation for these verses, which Toby also reads from on the show when he quotes from the gospels. It imparts a greater sense of the Hebrew message by “retro-translating” the Greek text into Hebrew and is very helpful in drawing the mind of the Christian reader into the Jewish world of the Messiah.

You may also know that, in the above-quoted verses, Jesus was reading Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue and he was speaking about himself. That scripture, along with several others from Isaiah, will provide valuable source information later in the show that is used to define “good news”.

So who are exiles, the blind, and the oppressed and what do they have to do with the gospel message?

The fact that the apostles didn’t seem to understand that Jesus had to die, and when he did, the shock, disappointment, and fear they experienced before his resurrection, as well as the surprise they felt after he was, tells us that they did not realize the good news had anything to do with the death and resurrection of the Messiah. What then did they think they were preaching to Israel and what was this “good news?”

Then Yeshua traveled around in all the Galil. He taught in their synagogues, he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom, and he healed every sickness and every disease among the people.

Matthew 4:23 (DHE Gospels)

It’s interesting that Toby notes Jesus never defines what the good news is to either the apostles or to anyone he preaches to. He assumes they already know what the gospel message is. But if even the apostles didn’t realize it meant that Jesus was to die, what were they supposed to know?

In this and the other FFOZ TV episodes, Toby presents information and then summaries it as clues, in this case three clues. The first is that the gospel or good news is actually the “good news of the Kingdom” as stated in the above-quoted passage from Matthew. This was a message specifically meant for the Jewish people in Israel and it was good news they were wanting to hear, a message of something they had been waiting for.

To understand what the gospel message is, the scene switches from Toby in the studio to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel. He provides the Hebrew language background for each lesson including this one.

ffoz-teaching-teamAaron takes us through a series of passages from the book of Isaiah including Isaiah 40:9, 52:7, 60:6, and of course, 61:1. In each case the good news is the message of the Messianic mission, the redemption of Israel, that is, physical, national Israel, as well as the entire world, when the Messiah comes to reign as King. The Hebrew word for “good news” is related to the Greek word and its variants that we translate into English as “evangelism” and “gospel”. It’s easy to see how the church has historically understood the message in one sense, but missed its larger meaning.

The scene shifts back to Toby who gives us the second clue: there is a gospel message in the Old Testament. That also takes us to clue 3: the gospel in the Old Testament is the promise of the coming of Messiah and the redemption of Israel, the Jewish people.

We can clearly see that the apostles expected this after the resurrection:

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 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 1:6-8 (NASB)

Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke the apostles for desiring national redemption and self-rule, he just says they don’t have the right to know when it will occur. He does say that before his return and the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom, they will receive power from the Holy Spirit to be Messianic witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth,” which is exactly what we see in the rest of the book of Acts and the New Testament.

Toby then takes the audience through a more detailed examination of each of the previously identified passages in Isaiah, closely drawing the meaning of the good news out and illustrating for us repeatedly how the Jewish audience in the time of the apostles would have understood the good news of Jesus as the coming of the Messiah and the redemption and restoration of Israel, and a reign of peace throughout the entire world.

Who are the exiles? Who are the blind? Who are the persecuted? Exiled and persecuted Israel, temporarily blinded to the Messiah for the sake of the Gentiles:

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

Romans 11:25 (KJV)

The Greek word most Bibles translate as “hardening” or some variant, is sometimes rendered as “blindness,” such as the King James Bible does. Read in a Jewish context and heard through a Jewish consciousness, when Jesus recited the words of the Prophet Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19, he was saying that he was the Messiah who had come to bring the good news to Israel and to one day redeem and restore her as a physical Kingdom on Earth.

Toby said something interesting about one of the Isaiah prophesies I want to share:

An abundance of camels will envelop you, camel colts of Midian and Ephah, and all of them will come from Sheba; gold and frankincense will they bear, and they praises of Hashem will they proclaim.

Isaiah 60:6 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Toby relates that according to the Jewish sages, this describes the Gentile nations coming to Jerusalem to pay tribute to King Messiah. However, we have already seen something similar in the Magi of the East coming with gifts to pay tribute to the newborn Jesus. Of course, it is quite possible that Isaiah’s prophesy may have more than a single application. And it’s important to know the relationship between Gentile Christianity, the redeemed Israel, and the Jewish Messiah King.

The other interesting thing that Toby brought up (and I never realized this before) is that Jesus is actually speaking in Isaiah 61:1. Notice the text says (as translated in the Stone Edition Tanakh) that “the spirit of my Lord, Hashem/Elohim, is upon me, because Hashem has anointed me to bring tidings to the humbled; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…

The emphasis is obviously mine and I include it to illustrate that it is the Messiah who is directly speaking in these verses, the voice of Yeshua bringing hope to Israel in the pages of the Old Testament.

When Christians read about the redemption of Israel in Isaiah, they often interpret the prophesy to mean “spiritual Israel” or “the church.” And yet, the Jewish hearers of Jesus and the Jewish readers of the gospels of the apostles would have understood the message much differently. They would have understood that the good news of Jesus is the promise of the coming Messiah and the redemption and restoration of national, physical Israel as a Kingdom on Earth.


This does not unwrite or replace the fact that Jesus died for our sins and that in his resurrection, we have forgiveness and an eternal place in the world to come if we believe. However, we Gentiles are grafted in to the commonwealth of Israel, as Toby teaches. We don’t replace Israel, we come alongside her and partakers of the promises, and as subjects and servants of the Jewish Messiah King.
What Did I Learn?

I’ve consumed a great deal of this material at FFOZ conferences or from their audio CD lectures as well as reading it in their printed material, but this television episode titled “The Good News” helped me organize that information into something that is easier for me to remember and transmit to others, a message to my Christian reading audience (and I am a Christian among them) that we have only been taught part of the story of the good news.

Toby Janicki, Aaron Eby, and the rest of the FFOZ ministry have “solved” the mystery of the gospel and clued us in on the rest of the message: Jesus came to die for our sins and to deliver the promise of everlasting life for all who believe. But, and this is extremely important, as Messiah King, he came to deliver the promise of good news to all of Israel that when he returns, he will release the captives in exile, restore sight to the temporarily blinded, free the oppressed Jewish people, and proclaim freedom for Israel, the year of favor from the Lord.

If you found this message of the true good news of Jesus Christ interesting and illuminating, I highly encourage you to watch the complete episode The Good News, which is the first in the series, at tv.ffoz.org. It is First Fruits of Zion: A promise of what is to come.

I hope to review the next episode very soon.