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What’s Yours is Yours

While every Jew is commanded to place a mezuzah on his doorway, the commentaries raise the question of whether a building that is owned in partnership by a Jew and a non-Jew also requires a mezuzah. [Of course, the Jewish partner would have to be the one who fulfills this obligation. Since non-Jews are in no way bound to follow the dictates of the overwhelming majority of the mitzvos of the Torah, no-obligation — financial or otherwise — can be placed on the non-Jewish partner to fulfill this mitzvah.]

Rashba (to Chullin 136a) observes that the answer to this question may be understood from a Gemara in Chullin (135b). The Gemara lists several mitzvos that, when the Torah commands them, it specifies that they must be done with an object that is “yours.” Some of the examples mentioned in the Gemara are obligations of giving terumah (the first portion of the crop) and reishis hageiz (the first shearing) to the Kohen [where the Torah tell us (Devarim 18:4): “The first of your grain, wine, and oil, and the first of the shearing of your flock shall you give to him”]…

…that these mitzvos are commanded only when dealing with an item that is totally yours…A field or animal that is partially owned by someone not obligated in these areas — a non-Jew — is not included in these directives.

-from A Taste of Lomdus
The Shabbos Commentary on Parashas Eikev, p. 60
A Daily Dose of Torah

I’ve had little motivation to write any of these “mediations” lately, but then someone contacted me via email and asked if I knew anything about this person.

If you click the link and read the article “My Long Road Home” authored by Yehudah Ilan (probably not his original name), you’ll discover the story of a person who grew up in a Christian home and after much Bible study, transitioned first into Messianic Judaism, and then shot completely out the other side, finally converting to Orthodox Judaism.

Over the years, I’ve appreciated the educational context Messianic Judaism and various ministries have provided for my elucidation into a better understanding of the Bible than the one I previously possessed. Of late though, many changes have been taking place in my life, and they’ve cast my role within any form of Judaism (and particularly Messianic) into question.

brain hack
Image credit: bebrainfit.com

First and foremost, I have a lot of personal “reinventing” to do, although I’ve come to think of my near-future tasks and goals as “rebooting and hacking”. But a singularly important aspect of how I plan to “hack” my life to make necessary changes and (hopefully) improvements, is what to do about my relationship with God.

While Messianic Judaism as a Judaism has afforded me certain intellectual and spiritual advantages over what I’ve experienced within the Church, I’ve come to realize there’s a difference between learning from within a Jewish perspective (as much as I can apprehend such a perspective, my not being Jewish) and actually having any real involvement “within” Judaism.

As I’ve been told time and again, Messianic Judaism is a movement by and for Jewish people who wish to experience and explore their discipleship under Messiah Yeshua as Jews.

I agree with that statement and support it.

But, and I’ve written about this many times, where does that leave Gentiles?

I’ve written about the answer many times, too. There are any number of Messianic congregations that welcome non-Jews as members, either primary or ancillary, and those non-Jews can have fulfilling roles within such a community.

If you, as a non-Jew, are interested or even fascinated with the benefits offered by a Messianic Jewish worship and learning experience, then I encourage you to seek such communities out, either in the physical sense or online. Just be careful about the doctrine and theology, and what sort of practices some of these groups are calling “Jewish”.

But even becoming involved in an authentic Messianic Jewish community, there’s a catch and a danger. There’s the risk of becoming confused and losing your way.

Since Jesus put on tefillin every day, I started putting on tefillin. Jesus did not eat shellfish, so I stopped eating shellfish. Jesus knew Hebrew and Aramaic, so I learned Hebrew and Aramaic. The more that I studied the New Testament from a historical perspective, especially the elements of the life of Jesus, the more Judaism I began to practice and the more Christianity I began to doubt or reject.

We were living in mid-central Minnesota in the boondocks, with no Jews for miles, and I would walk around town wearing a kippah and tzitzit. We built a kosher sukkah in our back lot and lit a Chanukah menorah in the front window.

coffee and studyLearning from Judaism isn’t the same as being required to practice Judaism.

Being devoted to Yeshua as the first fruits of the resurrection and the arbiter of the New Covenant and coming Messianic Kingdom is not the same as being devoted to the practice of Judaism for the sake of the Messiah being Jewish.

Yes, if you’re Jewish, then your devotion to God is expressed through the practice of Judaism.

But if you’re not Jewish, your devotion to God is to be focused on the coming Kingdom of God and whatever place the nations will have in such a Kingdom.

The recent Republican Presidential candidate debates, the various news stories (scandals) about Hillary Clinton, and many other political and social events are rapidly convincing me that this nation and our planet are not doing well, and they’re not going to get better any time soon.

Politics and political correctness are doing nothing to unite American citizens. In fact, they’re doing the opposite. People in this country are becoming more divided and more polarized every day. Whoever is elected the next President in our nation isn’t going to save us. He or she, in all likelihood, will just continue to travel on a path that will further divide us and result in an increase in hostility of American against American. There’s also our recent participation in events that have increased tension and threats of nuclear war in the Middle East.

There is only one Savior, one Messiah, one King. Our hope is in him, not just the hope for the Jewish people, although that’s his primary mission, but also for the world. Through saving Israel, Messiah will save the whole planet. He will rescue the devoted remnant of Jews and Gentiles, returning the Jews to their land, to Israel, and establishing peace and security for the rest of us as well, and for our nations.

But for that to happen, we, the devoted disciples among the nations, must not confuse Judaism with the worship of God. Judaism belongs to the Jewish people, not to the rest of us.

Some few Gentiles are called, for whatever reasons, to convert to Judaism (and who knows, maybe Yehudah Ilan was one of them), but that is not the path the rest of us are supposed to take.

I said there was a danger in a Gentile operating within Messianic Judaism, the danger of losing your balance. It exists, but I don’t want to overstate my point.

synagogueMany non-Jews have found a safe and secure place within Messianic Judaism and are firm in their identity as a “Messianic Gentile” (for lack of a better term).

But it’s not for everyone. I’ve determined it’s not for me for a few simple reasons. If my wife were Jewish and Messianic, there would be no dissonance in my particular “orientation” and my family would be united with me in how I understand God, Messiah, the Bible, and everything.

But they’re not. My wife is absolutely not Messianic, and she is definitely Jewish. She sees me as a Christian and, for the most part, we don’t speak of religion. When she talks about Judaism and what Jews believe, I don’t comment for the sake of peace in the family.

I’ve learned from difficult experience that for me to actively practice any form of Christianity or Messianic Judaism publicly and in community is not sustainable in my marriage. That’s not my wife’s fault…it’s the result of nearly twenty centuries of Christian-Jewish enmity, with the Jewish people usually getting the short end of the stick.

From her point of view, me going to Church or any sort of “Messianic” group is “sleeping with the enemy” (so to speak). No, she’s never said that, but we’ve been married for over thirty years. I think I know a few things about her by now.

But the other reason I’m pulling back from Messianic Judaism is that it’s just another system. Christianity is a system containing a lot of little subsystems…denominations and such. Judaism is system also containing subsystems, ways of orienting individual members toward God and community. The former system welcomes everyone as long as you comply with the requirements of the system. The latter system welcomes Jews and occasionally non-Jews (depending on which subsystems are involved), but it’s more closed because it’s serving a people and a nation, not just “believers”.

Messianic Judaism requires the non-Jew, at least at the level of the local community, to comply with the requirements of the system, but by definition, the requirements are heavily biased toward who really belongs in that system: Jews.

In quoting from A Taste of Lomdus above, I was hoping to illustrate the sense of belonging that Jews have within Judaism and relative to the Torah, even if Gentiles are somehow involved. In a joint Jewish-Gentile venture, only the Jews are obligated to what belongs to them: the Torah and the mitzvot.

I didn’t quote the part that said if a Jew and non-Jew lived in the same home, the Jew would still be obligated to put up mezuzah, even when a Jew would not be obligated to put up mezuzah if he/she owned an office building or other business with a non-Jew. I guess that means it is appropriate for my wife and I to have mezuzah on the doorposts of our home, not for my sake certainly, but for hers because she’s Jewish and the mitzvah belongs to her.

Becoming confused about what belongs to Jewish people exclusively and what belongs to the rest of us at least occasionally results in non-Jewish people making mistakes such as this one or even this one. You either decide the only solution to understanding the Bible and responding to God is to convert to Judaism or you can choose to deliberately seize Judaism and apply it to a non-Jewish life.

skyI can do neither. However,  there are still parts of the Bible that show God also accepting people of the nations into the coming Kingdom of Heaven (which isn’t Heaven in the sky but the Messianic Kingdom on Earth). We have a place, not as Jews nor as Gentiles practicing Judaism, but as people of the nations, just the way we are.

That’s all I can look forward to as a flawed and erroneous disciple of the Master, but I have a lot of work to do before I can even claim a toehold in that territory.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.

There are some people who sometimes read my blog and who only choose to contact me if I have offended them or, more to the point, if I’ve written something wrong, or something they object to, about their group or organization. I don’t want to harm anyone, but only “pinging” me to object to something isn’t a very good way to maintain a relationship.

Then there are some of you who have been very supportive of me, in spite of my obvious failings as a writer, a disciple, and a human being. Thank you.

There’s a quote attributed to multiple sources including Plato, Philo of Alexandria, Ian MacLaren, and John Watson:

Be Kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

I’d like to think that the appeal of this blog wasn’t that I was perfect (and I know I’m far, far from perfect) or some sort of “Mr Know-It-All.” I think the appeal was because I was and am fighting a hard battle, a battle that others could (and can) relate to, because all of you are fighting a hard battle, too.

In some ways, my task is both amazingly simple and incredibly difficult. The simple part is that all I really need to pay attention to is my relationship with God. That’s as easy as praying. That’s also as easy as reading the Bible and maybe paying a little extra attention to those passages of the Apostolic Scriptures regarding what the Master and Paul (and any others who may have written about it) that discussed what was expected of the non-Jew, both before the return of Messiah and following.

Granted, there’s not a lot of material to work from, but where else do I have to turn?

The hard part is changing on a fundamental level, rebooting the system and hacking my life to become different and more than what it’s been up until now.

meI’ve got a couple of “mediations” that are “in the can,” so to speak. I don’t know if I’ll publish them. I don’t want my writing to distract me from what I need to do, but on the other hand, I wrote them weeks ago.

I’ll think about it. There are just two of them, so they may show up by the by.

I may return here someday and resume or maybe even improve upon what I’ve been trying to do in the past…chronicle one life on a path of faith and trust.

I just need to have a better “me” with which to do that.

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Between Christian and Jewish Eschatology

Keith: Also, in my previous statement, I meant to say Bilateral Ecclesiology and NOT Bilateral Eschatology.

ProclaimLiberty: But I think that, philosophically, we could really have some fun with a notion like: “Bilateral Eschatology”! As Linus once exclaimed in Charles Shultz’s cartoon opus “Peanuts”: “Why, the theological implications alone are staggering!” [:)]

James: Interesting when you consider the differences between Christian and Jewish Eschatology.

ProclaimLiberty: Hmmm…. Your Wikipedia reference under the “Christian” link seems to open the notion up to “Multilateral Eschatology”; which really drives the theological impact up a notch or two (or seven). I do think I prefer the Jewish link.

James: Actually PL, so do I.

-from the comments on The Duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians to the Jews.

And the inspiration for another blog post was born.

I never really fully realized that one of the major differences between traditional Christian thought and Messianic Judaism is how they consider eschatology or that branch of theology that addresses what we call “the end times” or the final events in human history.

Since Messianic Judaism is a Judaism that accepts the revelation of Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, it makes a sort of sense to assume that much of Christian theology would be absorbed by that Judaism including the eschatological presuppositions involved, but what if that’s not true?

I’m going to use Wikipedia for my main sources which isn’t the best, but it has the advantage of not having to wade through someone’s religious bias.

Christian Eschatology and Jewish Eschatology seem light years apart, and the Christian version, at least as Wikipedia presents it, seems hopelessly confusing with far too many variations to be easily understood.

I decided to address three specific themes:

Resurrection

Christianity acknowledges that the doctrine of the resurrection predates the Church:

The word resurrection comes from the Latin “resurrectus”, which is the past participle of “resurgere”, meaning to rise again. Although the doctrine of the resurrection comes to the forefront in the New Testament, it predates the Christian era. There is an apparent reference to the resurrection in the book of Job, where Job says, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that he will stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though… worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I will see God.” [Job 19:25-27] Again, the prophet Daniel writes, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” [Dan 12:2] Isaiah says: “Your dead will live. Together with my dead body, they will arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust, for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth will cast out the dead”. [Isa. 26:19]

This belief was still common among the Jews in New Testament times, as exemplified by the passage which relates the raising of Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus told Lazarus’ sister, Martha, that Lazarus would rise again, she replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” [Jn 11:24] Also, one of the two main branches of the Jewish religious establishment, the Pharisees, believed in and taught the future resurrection of the body. [cf Acts 23:1-8]

In Judaism, although there is extensive information about the resurrection in eschatological thought, it doesn’t seem to be a major theme and references to the resurrection are less centralized. While some authorities in Orthodox Judaism believe that the resurrection will accompany the Messianic Age, Rabbi Mosheh ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides or the Rambam, didn’t directly associate the Messiah’s coming with the resurrection.

The Hebrew Bible, at least as seen through interpretation such as Bavli Sanhedrin, contains frequent reference to resurrection of the dead (Jacob Neusner The Documentary History of Judaism and Its Recent Interpreters 2012 – Page 138, also see Exodus 15.1; Joshua 8.30; 1 Kings 11.7; Psalm 84.5; Isaiah 52.8; Deuteronomy 33.6; Daniel 12.2; 12.13 and Proverbs 30.16). The phrase ‘olam ha-ba, (עולם הבא) “world to come”, does not occur in the Hebrew Bible.

PhariseesOf course, during the late Second Temple period, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection, the Essenes believed in the immortality of the soul, but the Sadducees believed in neither.

Later, the Mishnah (c. 200) lists the belief in the resurrection as one of the three necessary beliefs for a Jew.

Christianity has developed are far more involved doctrine around the resurrection than apparently Judaism has, based on the Apostolic scriptures, including two resurrections, the resurrection of the saints and the general resurrection, specifics about the nature of the resurrection body, and specifics associating the resurrection with the second coming of Christ.

See The Resurrection of the Ekklesia for more on this topic.

Christ/Messiah

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:9-11

According to the Wikipedia article, many but not all Christians believe:

  • The coming of Christ will be instantaneous and worldwide. “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” ~ Matthew 24:27
  • The coming of Christ will be visible to all. “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” ~ Matthew 24:30
  • The coming of Christ will be audible. “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  ~ Matthew 24:31
  • The resurrection of the righteous will occur. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:16
  • In one single event, the saved who are alive at Christ’s coming will be caught up together with the resurrected to meet the Lord in the air. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Notice that none of the prophesies about the coming of Messiah from the Tanakh (Old Testament) are listed here.

Judaism does have a rather extensive list of requirements for the Messiah’s coming, based on the Tanakh, that Christianity largely ignores:

  • The Sanhedrin will be re-established (Isaiah 1:26)
  • Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance (Isaiah 2:4)
  • The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:17)
  • He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via King Solomon (1 Chron. 22:8–10)
  • The messiah will be a man of this world, an observant Jew with “fear of God” (Isaiah 11:2)
  • Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)
  • Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)
  • He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10)
  • All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12, Zechariah 10:6)
  • Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8)
  • There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)
  • The dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)
  • The house of David shall be as God (Zechariah 12:8)
  • God will seek to destroy all the nations that go against Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:9, Isaiah 60:12)
  • Israel and Judah will be made into one nation again (Zechariah 11:12-14, Ezekiel 37:16-22)
  • The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)
  • He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Nations will recognize the wrongs they did Israel (Isaiah 52:13–53:5)
  • The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)
  • The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)
  • Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)
  • The Temple will be rebuilt (Ezekiel 40) resuming many of the suspended mitzvot
  • He will then perfect the entire world to serve God together (Zephaniah 3:9)
  • He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13–15, Ezekiel 36:29–30, Isaiah 11:6–9)

war and peaceI think Christianity acknowledges some of this such as the resurrection, the end of war, and that the whole world will worship God, but where many Christians get hung up is that they (we) expect to be raptured up to Heaven with Jesus and stay there forever. Others expect to be raptured for a certain period of time until the tribulation ends, and then to accompany Jesus back to Earth so the Church can rule and reign with him.

Jewish eschatology doesn’t talk about Heaven at all and expects a very human Messiah to be King and to rule over Israel and the rest of the world. By comparison, Christian eschatology is more focused on Heaven, and Earth seems to be reserved for those unbelievers who will suffer through the tribulation and later be judged and sent to hell.

While Judaism in general addresses the war of God and Magog, at the end of it all, when Israel’s enemies are all defeated, the final victory is here, not in Heaven:

Although Judaism concentrates on the importance of the Earthly world (Olam Ha’zeh — “this world”), all of classical Judaism posits an afterlife. The hereafter is known as ‘olam ha-ba (the “world to come”, עולם הבא in Hebrew), and related to concepts of Gan Eden (the Heavenly “Garden of Eden”, or paradise) and Gehinom. According to religious Judaism, any non-Jew who lives according to the Seven Laws of Noah is regarded as a righteous gentile, and is assured of a place in the world to come, the final reward of the righteous.

If you are at all familiar with how Messianic Judaism in general presents its eschatology, although it has elements of the Christian viewpoint, it primarily resembles a more Jewish perspective.

Jewish People in Eschatology

Christian views of the future of the Jewish people can be quite different depending on which eschatological model you are using. As far the 144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8) are concerned, there are three major perspectives:

  1. Futurist belief: Various interpretations of a literal number of 144,000, including: 144,000 Evangelical Jews at the end of the world, or 144,000 Christians at the end of the world.
  2. Preterist belief: A symbolic number signifying the saved, representing completeness, perfection (The number of Israel; 12, squared, and multiplied by 1000 = 144,000). This symbolises God’s Holy Army, redeemed, purified and complete.
  3. Historicist belief: A symbolic number representing the saved who are able to stand through the events of 6:17.

Now lets look at the actual scripture:

And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.

Revelation 7:4-8 (NASB)

tabernacleAlthough the literal text speaks of the “sons of Israel” and specifically names each of the twelve tribes, most of the prevailing Christian interpretations see this as symbolic and not literal and the one belief that takes the number literally, describes them as either “Evangelical Jews” (which probably means people who are Jewish by heritage and who converted to Christianity) or “Christians” (which most likely means Gentile Christians). In all cases, the Jewishness of these “tribes” is either minimized or eliminated altogether.

Christian hermeneutics regarding the ultimate future of the Jews vary depending on the specific emphasis:

Supersessionist: Under the Covenant of Works mankind, represented ultimately in a covenantal sense under Adam beginning from the Garden of Eden, failed to live as God intended and stood condemned. But beyond time the Covenant of Redemption was made between the Father and Son, to agree that Christ would live an acceptable substitutionary life on behalf of, and as a covenantal representative for, those who would sin but would trust in Christ as their substitutionary atonement, which bought them into the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace applies to all who trust Christ for their salvation, regardless of ethnicity, and thus the Covenant covers Jews and Gentiles alike with regard to salvation, sanctification, and resurrection. The Covenant of Grace forms the basis of the later covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the New Covenant in Christ.

Kingdom-Dominion: In the New Testament, God’s rule is exercised through Jesus Christ the King, who is also the temple of God (John 2:19-21), over his people the Church (of which Israel was a type). Salvation for all people in all times is found by trusting (explicitly or implicitly) in Jesus. Thus, Abraham, Moses, David, and all Christians today are saved by the same faith. The Jews are regarded as special in God’s plan (as in Romans and Ephesians) and yet the Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel find their fulfillment in Jesus and the Church rather than in a literal restoration of Israel.

Dispensational: History is divided into (typically seven) “dispensations” where God tests man’s obedience differently. The present Church dispensation concerns Christians (mainly Gentiles) and is a parenthesis to God’s main plan of dealing with and blessing his chosen people the Jews. Because of the Jews’ rejection of Jesus, Jewish sovereignty over the promised earthly kingdom of Jerusalem and Palestine was postponed from the time of Christ’s first coming until prior to or just after his Second Coming when most or all Jews will embrace him.

There will be a rapture of the Gentile church followed by a great tribulation of seven (or three-and-a-half) years’ duration during which Antichrist will arise and Armageddon will occur. Then Jesus will return visibly to earth and re-establish the nation of Israel; the Jewish temple will be rebuilt at Jerusalem and the Temple mount, possibly in place of the Muslim Dome of the Rock (see Christian Zionism). Christ and the people of Israel will reign in Jerusalem for a thousand years, followed by last judgment and a new heavens and new earth.

One last note from the Christian point of view relative to the future of the Jewish people:

Historicism v. Futurism: The division between these interpretations can be somewhat blurred. Most futurists are expecting a Rapture of the Church, an Antichrist, a Great Tribulation and a Second coming of Christ in the near future. But they also accept certain past events, such as the rebirth of the State of Israel and the reunification of Jerusalem as prerequisites to them, in a manner which the earlier historicists have done with other dates. Futurists, who do not normally use the day-year principle, interpret the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24 as years, just as historicists do. Most historicists have chosen time lines, from beginning to end, entirely in the past. But some, such as Adam Clarke have time lines which also commenced with specific past events, but require a future fulfillment. In his commentary on Daniel 8:14 published in 1831, he stated that the 2,300-year period should be calculated from 334 BC, the year Alexander the Great began his conquest of the Persian Empire. His calculation resulted in the year 1966. He seems to have overlooked the fact that there is no “year zero” between BC and AD dates. For example, the year following 1 BC is 1 AD. Thus his calculations should have required an additional year, ending in 1967. He was not anticipating a literal regathering of the Jewish people prior to the Second coming of Christ. But the date is of special significance to futurists since it is the year of Jerusalem’s capture by Israeli forces during the Six-Day War. His commentary on Daniel 7:25 contains a 1260-year period commencing in 755 AD and ending in 2015.

tzitzitEven under the best of circumstances, the Jews are considered “special” in the end of days, but always taking a back seat to the (Gentile) Church. The worst case scenario from a Jewish point of view is that they cease to exist, either because they have totally been assimilated into the Church or because they have all been killed.

Not a very rosy picture.

By contrast, Jewish Eschatology is all about Israel and the Jewish people (see the list above of all the things Messiah is supposed to do). Rather than the Jews going to the Church and converting to Christianity to be able to enjoy the New Covenant promises of God (which were made specifically with the House of Judah and the House of Israel – see Jeremiah 31:31), the Gentiles must attach themselves to the Jewish people:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”‘

Zechariah 8:23

“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

Isaiah 56:6-7

As far as the quote from Zechariah is concerned, although Judaism probably believes that any group of people from the nations (the number “ten” is considered symbolic rather than literal) will approach any Jew with this request, I’ve heard one interpretation that says the Jew in question specifically is Messiah. This folds into a Messianic Jewish viewpoint rather well placing Israel at the center of Gentile redemption rather than reverse-engineering the Bible and making the Jews come to the Gentiles to be redeemed by the God of Israel.

Conclusion

I don’t know that there’s a single Messianic Jewish eschatology. Certainly there are variations both in Christianity and the other Judaisms, so there’s no reason to believe that Messianic Judaism should have a single, overarching eschatology that is taught and believed.

I’m not writing this to tell you all the answers but perhaps to give you a starting place to begin re-conceptualizing what the future might look like when it’s not dominated by traditional Christian doctrine. It will also look different than the traditional Jewish points of view, since all other Judaisms do not anticipate a Divine Messiah who supernaturally comes (returns) to Earth having already been resurrected as the “first fruits of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20) some two-thousand years ago.

I’ve said in the past that I don’t think anyone has a terrifically clear picture of what’s actually going to happen. Whatever we have recorded in the Bible has been interpreted in many different ways over the centuries and no doubt we’ve distorted what was previously understood by original audiences. These days, it is common to take our theology and read it back into the Bible rather than the other way around, for to take a fresh look at the Bible and use some honest exegesis might result if turning our beliefs on their collective head and forcing us to revise if not totally rewrite what the future is going to bring.

Up to JerusalemAnd if that future sees Israel and the Jewish people ascending to the heights as the head of all nations, and the Gentiles must go to them to be close to God, then the Church might not be in such a hurry to face that reality. Of course, should the King of Israel, that head of the nations, turn out to be Divine and resurrected rather than someone who will be born in the generation of the final war and the final victory, then that would give most Jews a rather poignant pause.

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

Zechariah 12:10

Oh, just one more thing:

In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the one who is feeble among them in that day will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them. (emph. mine)

Zechariah 12:8

The “house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them.” Really? I know I’m going to be accused by some of misinterpreting or misusing the text, but it certainly seems like a Divine Messiah from the house of David isn’t entirely out of the question.

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.

Ezekiel and Paul on Messiah and Torah

destruction_of_the_templeFor they have committed adultery and there is blood on their hands and they have committed adultery with their idols; and even their children, whom they had borne for Me, they passed before them to be consumed. Moreover, they have done this to Me: They defiled My Sanctuary on that day, and they desecrated my Sabbaths, when they slaughtered their children for their idols they would come to My Sanctuary on that very day to defile it! Behold, they have done this in My Temple!

Ezekiel 23:37-39 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

Sorry. This is a long one. I was dozing in bed this (Sunday) morning when a few thoughts pulled together for me. This “mediation” is the result.

It seems that, according to the prophet Ezekiel (and many other prophets in the Tanakh), God really, really cared about the Israelites keeping His Sabbaths (the weekly Sabbath and the Moedim or Holy, appointed times), but Paul seems to think they don’t matter. Of course, the traditional Christian resolution is that Ezekiel lived on one side of the cross and Paul on the other. Jesus changed everything.

But did he?

I won’t be seeing my Pastor again for one of our conversations for another week or so, but in our review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, and specifically the chapter covering Galatians 2:15-16, Pastor asked me to read all of Galatians 2 as well as Romans 3 and 4, and Colossians 2 to prepare for our next discussion.

I can see where he’s leading.

Not too long ago, I reviewed an episode of the First Fruits of Zion TV show called The Torah is Not Canceled. The episode is based on a particular interpretation of the following words of the Master:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

crossYou can click the links I provided to get the deeper analysis from my review or by watching the episode, but the basic idea is that Jesus is saying he did not come to neglect the Torah or to teach others to neglect it, but rather to teach it correctly and to obey Torah himself. Of course, this too is on the “wrong side of the cross,” so my Pastor could just say that after his death and resurrection, Jesus changed his teachings. But that would be really confusing for him to teach one way before his death and then completely change things after the resurrection. Christian doctrine demands that he did so, but it defies not only logic, but the overall narrative of the Bible as God’s message to the Jewish people and the rest of the world.

In Ezekiel and many other places in the Old Testament, we see God caring very much about whether or not the ancient Israelites obeyed His commandments. There were dire consequences for them neglecting the mitzvot including exile and death.

Now the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord had commanded. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.

1 Kings 11:9-11 (NASB)

But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness. They did not walk in My statutes and they rejected My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; and My sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them. But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, before whose sight I had brought them out. Also I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands, because they rejected My ordinances, and as for My statutes, they did not walk in them; they even profaned My sabbaths, for their heart continually went after their idols.

Ezekiel 20:13-16 (NASB)

God expects obedience to His commands by Israel’s Kings, Prophets, and the nation as a whole. Disobedience carries dire consequences.

Do not imagine that I have come to violate the Torah or the words of the prophets. I have not come to violate but to fulfill. For, amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one yod or one thorn will pass away from the Torah until all has been established.

Matthew 5:17-18 (DHE Gospels)

messiah-prayerJesus tells his disciples and his critics that he has not come to disobey the mitzvot or to teach others to do so but rather, to teach others to obey the mitzvot and to obey them himself. Further, he says that heaven and earth will pass away before even the tiniest detail of the Torah passes away. Since heaven and earth continue to exist, long after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, logically, I have to conclude that the Torah still applies to the Jewish people as it did the day Jesus uttered those words.

But then, what do I do with the following?

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Galatians 2:21 (NASB)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

Romans 3:21-30 (NASB)

Of course, Paul immediately says in the next verse, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

From my point of view, Paul isn’t “undoing” the Torah (Law) but rather, he’s saying (and this is how I read his entire message to the churches in Galatia) that Torah obedience doesn’t justify anyone before God.

However…

…that doesn’t mean God disdains the Law that He Himself created or that Jesus unplugged Jewish obedience to God from God’s overall plan. Jesus said that the Torah wouldn’t pass away, not even in the smallest detail, until heaven and earth passed away.

So the “anti-Torah” portions of Paul’s letters either mean Paul was hopelessly conflicted about the Torah or that Christian tradition has erroneously interpreted Paul for a very long time now.

As you probably guessed, I read Ezekiel quite recently and I “discovered” some startling things about the future; about the Messianic Age that is yet to come:

And He said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord God, ‘These are the statutes for the altar on the day it is built, to offer burnt offerings on it and to sprinkle blood on it. You shall give to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who draw near to Me to minister to Me,’ declares the Lord God, ‘a young bull for a sin offering. You shall take some of its blood and put it on its four horns and on the four corners of the ledge and on the border round about; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it. You shall also take the bull for the sin offering, and it shall be burned in the appointed place of the house, outside the sanctuary.

Ezekiel 43:18-21 (NASB)

temple-of-messiahHere we see the future Temple, the one that will exist in the Messianic Era. God is describing the sacrifices that will be offered by the Levitical priests in the future Temple, just as those sacrifices were offered in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert and in Solomon’s Temple. In Ezekiel 44:15-31, God is describing the ordinances that apply to the Levitical priests, which mirror those originally given in the Torah.

And then we have this:

‘Thus says the Lord God, “The gate of the inner court facing east shall be shut the six working days; but it shall be opened on the sabbath day and opened on the day of the new moon. The prince shall enter by way of the porch of the gate from outside and stand by the post of the gate. Then the priests shall provide his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate and then go out; but the gate shall not be shut until the evening. The people of the land shall also worship at the doorway of that gate before the Lord on the sabbaths and on the new moons. The burnt offering which the prince shall offer to the Lord on the sabbath day shall be six lambs without blemish and a ram without blemish; and the grain offering shall be an ephah with the ram, and the grain offering with the lambs as much as he is able to give, and a hin of oil with an ephah. On the day of the new moon he shall offer a young bull without blemish, also six lambs and a ram, which shall be without blemish. And he shall provide a grain offering, an ephah with the bull and an ephah with the ram, and with the lambs as much as he is able, and a hin of oil with an ephah. When the prince enters, he shall go in by way of the porch of the gate and go out by the same way. But when the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, he who enters by way of the north gate to worship shall go out by way of the south gate. And he who enters by way of the south gate shall go out by way of the north gate. No one shall return by way of the gate by which he entered but shall go straight out. When they go in, the prince shall go in among them; and when they go out, he shall go out.”

Ezekiel 46:1-10 (NASB)

The Prince, that is, Messiah, will offer the traditional sacrifices in the Temple, and he shall, along with all Israel, observe the New Moons and Sabbaths in accordance with the commands of God in the Torah. This is all supposed to happen in the future Messianic Age, on the “right side of the cross,” and apparently in direct contradiction to what Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16-17.

So we have a few options to consider. If the traditional Christian interpretation of Paul is right, then in spite of all of the evidence in the Old Testament to the contrary, and especially Ezekiel, Jesus “undid” the Torah of Moses for the Jewish people. But that doesn’t make sense. Not only would Paul have to contradict the Old Testament prophets, but he’d have to contradict Jesus and even himself. The scriptures between the Old Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, and the different letters of Paul don’t match up.

If that option doesn’t work, where can we turn?

The only other direction to move in (unless we want to dismantle Christianity) seems to be the fact that the traditions Christianity have been using to understand the New Testament and probably the whole Bible need a bit of reworking. You can’t ignore one part of the Bible in favor of the other. If Paul seems to contradict the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself, then either Paul is wrong and our New Testament is hopelessly flawed (in which case, we have to dismantle Christianity), or we’re seriously reading things in the wrong way. We don’t understand Paul and we are forcing an interpretation on him that doesn’t fit and that Paul himself would never recognize.

Apostle-PaulWe know from Ezekiel that the Messiah and all Israel will once again offer sacrifices at the Temple, that all of the Sabbaths and New Moons will be observed, that the Levitical priesthood will be restored, and that the Torah mitzvot will be performed correctly by the Jewish people. From Matthew, we know that not one tiny detail of the Torah will pass away until heaven and earth pass away. And from Paul we learn that no matter how important obeying God is by observing the Torah mitzvot, behavioral obedience doesn’t justify anyone, Jew or Gentile, before God. Only faith justifies through God’s grace.

But we still have one little problem. If the Torah is still fully in effect for the Jewish people, what about Jewish disobedience? We have a long record in the Tanakh of the ghastly consequences for such disobedience. While the nation of Israel exists again today, it is still a largely secular nation. Also, many, many Jewish people still choose to live in the diaspora (exile) rather than making Aliyah to Israel and living in the Land, which is also a commandment. Many, many Jews in Israel and all over the world do not observe all or even some of the mitzvot.

What is God’s response to all of this?

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Acts 15:10-11 (NASB)

We see a couple of interesting things here. First of all, Peter calls the Torah “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” If that’s true, then why do we see so many complementary references to the Torah in both the Old and New Testaments? The answer, I believe, is the long history of Israelite disobedience to the mitzvot which resulted in God’s terrible wrath upon Israel. Faith and obedience to God in the Torah is wonderful, but the consequences of faithlessness and disobedience are disastrous, a yoke that Israel has not been able to bear.

But Peter also said something else. It wasn’t the words he used but the order of them. He said that “But we believe that we (Jews) are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they (Gentiles) also are.” As a Jewish person and an apostle, you’d have expected Peter to say that the Gentiles are saved in just the same way as we Jews are. That’s how it was expressed on previous occasions including Acts 10:45.

I think this might be the answer:

For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:10-14 (NASB)

clinging_to_torahI believe Paul is saying a couple of things here. First, he is continuing with his central theme in this letter that no one is justified by obedience to Torah in and of itself. If anyone depends on their Torah obedience to justify them before God, then they will be judged by God based on their obedience alone. Since we have a long history of Israel disobeying Torah or not obeying it completely, any disobedience carries with it the curses God proscribed for disobedience, namely things like famine, exile, war, and death.

There is evidence that some first century Jewish people, including some Jewish believers, thought that they could only be justified before God by obedience to the mitzvot (Acts 15:1-2 for example). I think the “light bulb” went off over Peter’s head as he was speaking in front of the Council in Acts 15. I think he understood the Gentiles were saved by faith but it suddenly dawned on him that the same “mechanism” that saves Gentiles also saves Jews…faith, not observance of the mitzvot alone and not being ethnically Jewish.

So what did Jesus “nail to the cross?” Not the Torah. We have too much evidence that says the “curse of the Law” isn’t the Law itself. I believe what he “nailed to the cross” were the curses for Jewish disobedience of Torah. The “yoke” that Israel has never been able to bear. This is the freedom the Jewish people experience in Messiah. And through Messiah, the blessing of Abraham has come to the people of the nations so we too can receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

I found a rather helpful individual comment on the blogosphere that I think helps illuminate this point:

I would like to add to this that Yeshua removed the curse of the Torah not by making this curse in itself invalid or inapplicable, but by introducing an atonement which exceeds the means of atonement provided by the legal system of the Torah. For in and through his sacrifice we can be justified from all things, from which we couldn’t be justified by the Torah of Moses (cf. Acts 13:39). In becoming a curse for us by being hanged on a tree, Messiah provided a means of atonement which results in eternal and definite forgiveness for those who truly repent, and in this manner he redeemed us from the curse of the Torah (Gal. 3:13).

More: Derek Leman has recently written a blog post on a related topic called Physical and Spiritual Election.

The Messianic Kingdom is not a Democracy

snow-in-jerusalem-bookFor centuries, Jerusalem has been a holy place for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It has been referred to as both the Center of the Universe and the Eternal City. Jerusalem has also been called the City of Peace despite the fact that it has often been the object of bloody battles over religion and territory.

Today, Jerusalem is a city within a city. Surrounded by Arab East Jerusalem and Jewish West Jerusalem is the ancient Old City, an area of some 220 acres. The Old City is encircled by walls built in the sixteenth century by the Ottoman emperor Suleiman the Magnificent. Visitors may enter the Old City through one of seven large gates.

Inside, the Old City is divided physically and culturally into four sections: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim (Arab) Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Christian Quarter. These divisions are not totally segregated, however, and include some overlap of cultures. Nevertheless, Jewish and Arab children go to separate schools…

-Deborah da Costa
from the Author’s Note of her book
Snow in Jerusalem

In her affecting but message-driven debut children’s book, da Costa relays the story of two boys who live in Jerusalem’s Old City Avi in the Jewish Quarter and Hamudi in the Muslim Quarter. A fluffy white cat wanders between the homes of the two boys, relishing the scraps each feeds her. Then weeks pass without any sign of the cat, alarming each boy. Looking skinny and dirty, the cat at last visits Avi, who then follows her to Hamudi’s neighborhood, where the youngsters begin to argue, each claiming the cat is his. As a rare snowfall begins, the boys stop bickering and, fearing that the beloved animal will freeze, follow her through Jerusalem to a dark alley where they discover four kittens in a box. As the mother purrs loudly and rubs against the boys, they conclude, “She does not want us to fight…. She wants peace.”

-from the Publisher’s Weekly review of the same book
found at Amazon.com

Tales of the Messianic Era series

My wife checked this book out of our local library (along with a dozen other children’s books) for our four-and-a-half year old grandson, Landon. I took last Friday off of work and spent the day with the little guy. After arts and crafts at the library, lunch of (homemade) macaroni and cheese, two or three episodes of Jonny Quest (1964), Legos and other toys, we got down to the business of reading. Da Costa’s “Snow in Jerusalem” was one of the books he wanted me to read to him while he was enjoying a mid-afternoon snack.

I enjoyed reading the book and especially the feeling of actually walking the streets of the Old City between the Jewish and Arab quarters, but reading the Author’s Note at the very end stopped me cold. I realized that this was a book promoting peace, not just between the characters Avi and Hamudi in the book, but between peoples and cultures. That’s not a bad thing certainly, but there was a further undercurrent suggesting a perpetual sharing of all of Israel, sub-divided between Jewish Israel and Arab Palestine.

That’s a popular solution for the conflict between these two people groups, especially among political and social liberals, but it flies in the face of the Bible and I believe is an affront to God. To be clear, I don’t think peace between all the different people of the world is the affront, but I do believe carving up Israel into different chunks for different people like separating the white and dark meat of a turkey on Thanksgiving is.

The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.

Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:1-5 (NASB)

gateway_jerusalemIn reviewing various scriptures in the Tanakh (Old Testament) about the Messianic Era and the future King of Israel, I don’t see any references to taking the Land of Promise, which God gave to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob, and all of the physical descendants of that specific line (and notice Ishmael is not included, nor any of Abraham’s other sons) and splitting it up into Jewish and non-Jewish portions. The only “splits” of the Land involved the different areas given to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Messiah will come to return all of the exiled Jewish people to their Land and to rebuild Jerusalem as the Jewish city.

The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
“Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:8 (NASB)

I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

Jeremiah 29:14 (NASB)

These are just a few of the examples in scripture declaring that Messiah will gather the exiles of Israel and restore them to their nation.

Peace is a wonderful thing. So is fairness, equity, sharing, friendship, and the like. But how we imagine these general concepts and their application in Messianic Days may not be how they will really play out. Remember, whether you are Jewish or Christian, the Messiah is King, not President or Prime Minister. A Kingdom is not the same as a Democracy. Citizens of a Kingdom ruled by a single Monarch do not get to vote on laws, rules, and ordinances. The King’s Word is Law.

We all assume that everyone will get what they want in the Messianic Kingdom. Perhaps that is true, but I suspect for some people it will not be so. What if you’re a Muslim and the Jewish Messiah comes to rule not only Israel (all of Israel) as a Jewish nation, but the entire planet? For that matter, what if you are a Christian and you suddenly realize just how Jewish your “Jesus” really is? What if the King establishes without any equivocation that the Jewish nation is the head of all the nations (rather than the United States of America), and that the Torah is the Law of the Land for Israel and incumbent upon all of the Jewish people? What if some portions of that Torah go forth from Zion, and apply to all the people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12)?

Don’t we get a vote on this? Don’t we have a say? How could this possibly be fair? Where is God’s justice?

There will be nothing else but God’s justice on Earth during the Messianic Age. People will get what they need but not always what they want according to the will of God. We will have peace. Our swords will be beaten into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, but only after Messiah has led a vast army to defeat all of Israel’s enemies (including, most likely, the United States of America). God Himself will fight for Israel, crush her adversaries, and establish her security.

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Zechariah 14:9 (NIV)

Are you getting the picture. The Lord will be one and His Name, One.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.

Isaiah 11:10, 12 (NIV)

ffoz-tvNot only will Messiah gather the Jewish exiles and restore them to Israel, but he will act as a banner for the rest of us, drawing us to him.

But remember, we won’t get a vote. This is Law.

The only and last functioning Theocracy (nation directly ruled by God) on Earth was ancient Israel before the people demanded that Samuel anoint Saul as King.

In the Messianic Age, that Kingdom, that Theocracy will be restored. A Davidic King, the last Davidic King will ascend the Throne in Jerusalem again, David’s Throne, which God promised to David and to his descendants forever.

For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols. Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness in the last days.

Hosea 3:4-5 (NASB)

For many, many centuries, Israel has been without a King, but it will not always be so. The King is coming. He will return. He will restore his people, the Jewish people, and all of humanity will go up to Jerusalem, and every knee will bow, to the Ruler, the Prince, the King, Messiah, Son of David, the Righteous Branch.

With respects to Deborah da Costa, while there will be peace within Jerusalem and her walls will forever be secure, it will not be the sort of peace established by a Jewish boy and an Arab boy arguing over possession of a cat and her kittens. It will be a brutally fought and hard-won peace where real adversaries will spill gallons of blood and mountains of dead flesh will decay in the sun and be eaten by carrion birds.

Enemies will be defeated in a war lead by a King whose rule is absolute. Peace will come when all of those enemies are dead, and the survivors of the nations defeated by Israel’s armies and by God must come to Jerusalem once a year to honor the King on Sukkot.

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

Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)

And then there will be peace.

Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken.

Micah 4:4 (NIV)

white-pigeon-kotelPeace comes when the Lord Almighty has spoken it, not when we have imagined some man-made utopia and think we can make it real just by publishing enough books, television shows, and movies based on that fantasy.

All that said, we can escape the fantasy and be part of building the way to Messianic peace now, at least a little of it. But we have to grasp onto the “fringes” of the garment of God, so to speak, humble ourselves, and speak the words of the coming Kingdom and the King who is to be. We can choose that path, or deny it and inherit a more terrible end.

“…and you will come up against My people Israel like a cloud to cover the land. It shall come about in the last days that I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me when I am sanctified through you before their eyes, O Gog.”

Ezekiel 38:16 (NASB)

That choice is ours to make. The King has been patient with us, but his patience will end, and we had better be ready when it does. We are either soldiers in his army or on the side that will see defeat. We will see peace in the Kingdom or find the peace of the grave. The Holy One of Jacob neither slumbers or sleeps.

And he is the King. We must bow or be broken.

Jerusalem has been called the Center of the Universe and the Eternal City. But it is also known as the City of David. One day it will truly be the City of Peace.

FFOZ TV Review: None Greater Than John

ffoz_tv11_1Episode 11: Jesus tells his disciples that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Immerser. Does that mean that the worst Christian is better than John? Episode eleven will clear up the confusion over this passage by putting terms back into their proper Hebraic context. It will be shown that Jesus meant that the most insignificant prophets of the Messianic Era will be superior to the greatest prophets of our era. One day soon we will all be like prophets, all mankind will have revelation, and through the gospel we can take ahold of this now.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 11: None Greater Than John

The Lesson: The Mystery of Least in the Kingdom

This episode departs from the discussion of atonement and restoration of national Israel and the world, which we viewed in the previous series of five or six episodes including repentance and the Messianic Kingdom is now, and explores something very specific about John the Baptist.

Amen, I say to you, none among those born of a woman has arisen greater than Yochanan the Immerser; yet the smallest in the kingdom of Heaven will be greater than he.

Matthew 11:11 (DHE Gospels)

First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki tells the audience that traditionally in Christianity, this verse has been used to say that even the worst New Testament Christian is better than the best Old Testament Jew. He also describes a form of dispensationalism, the Old Testament dispensation of the Law, in which John was the greatest prophet of his time, and the New Testament dispensation of grace, where believers in Jesus are even greater than John.

This belief has fueled a long history of replacement theology in the church as well as a great deal of blatant anti-Semitism. Strangely enough, some Christians have even interpreted this verse to mean that John the Baptist will not be in the Messianic Kingdom, even though Jesus already said that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be in the Kingdom (Matthew 8:11). How can this be? Well, it can’t be. There’s no logic in excluding John from the Kingdom, particularly if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be there, and here we see the danger in taking a single verse from the Bible and developing an entire theological position on it. As this television program has repeatedly stated, you must engage the original Jewish context of scripture and try to comprehend how the audience of Matthew’s gospel would have understood his words.

You also have to link the various relevant portions of the Bible together to add context and meaning to what you are studying, such as the following:

Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!

Matthew 11:11 (NASB)

Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Deuteronomy 34:10-12 (NASB)

ffoz_tv11_tobyEven among modern observant Jews, Moses is revered as the greatest prophet who ever lived. He was greater than any prophet who came before or since and certainly, he could be considered the greatest prophet of his generation. But in comparing the passages we read in Deuteronomy to Matthew, Toby tells us that what Jesus was actually saying is that John the Baptist was the greatest prophet of his generation, just as Moses was the greatest prophet of his generation.

Compare: “no prophet has arisen” to “there has not arisen anyone,” and you’ll see the linkage Jesus was using to paint a picture to his listeners of who John was in their day.

How was John great? He was the greatest prophet in his generation. Here we arrive at Toby’s first clue in our attempt to solve the Mystery of the Least in the Kingdom:

Clue 1: John was the greatest prophet alive in his generation, just as Moses was the greatest prophet alive in his generation.

But we won’t get very far if we don’t understand the Hebrew words and meanings behind the words “least” and “greatest” in our English Bibles. To take the next step, we visit FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel.

Aaron tells us that in Hebrew, the words Great and Least or Big and Little are “Gadol” and “Katan” or to say “little one,” “Katone.” Gadol isn’t just “big,” it can mean “great,” “older,” “more significant,” “mighty,” worthy,” and so forth. Katan can mean “little,” “younger,” “less significant,” “weak,” “unworthy,” and so forth. For instance, in Jeremiah 10:6, God is referred to as “great” (gadol) and His Name is “great” (gadol).

To describe katan or katone, Aaron cites the following scripture:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:1-6 (ESV)

ffoz_tv11_aaronHere, Jesus is using children as an example of significance or worthiness of people in the Kingdom of Heaven or the Messianic Era. He’s also, according to Aaron, talking about how disciples of ancient Jewish Rabbis were considered. An experienced and learned disciple was called “great” or “gadol,” but an inexperienced and unlearned disciple was called “least” or “little one,” which in Hebrew are katan and katone. So the “little ones” being referred to in the above verse aren’t literally children, but disciples of Jesus who were inexperienced, vulnerable, and uneducated. If you caused one of these inexperienced disciples, these “little ones,” to sin, it would be very, very bad for you.

Back in the studio, Toby pulls together Aaron’s language lesson to give us our second clue:

Clue 2: Great meant high-ranking, experienced, prestigious, while Least meant low-ranking, inexperienced, insignificant.

But we still don’t understand how Jesus could say that even the least or most inexperienced believer (who could be Jewish or Gentile) in the Messianic Age could be greater than the prophet John the Baptist. One more clue is needed to unravel the rest of the mystery.

To do that, Toby takes us back to the prophets in the Tanakh (Old Testament):

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)

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

Joel 2:28-29 (NASB)

Both prophets are talking about the Messianic Age, and Toby interprets their words to mean that everyone in the Kingdom, from the least to the greatest, will receive an overwhelming outpouring of prophesy, so much so, that by comparison, they all will have greater command of prophesy in that age than the degree of prophesy John possessed nearly two-thousand years ago at the close of the Second Temple period. This is the third and final clue.

Clue 3: In the Messianic Era, everyone will be a prophet.

The idea is that from the least of the prophets in the Kingdom to the greatest, the level of prophesy and apprehension of God they experience will still be greater than what John the Baptist experienced in his generation. This isn’t excluding John from the Kingdom and it isn’t saying that New Testament Christians are better than Old Testament Jews (or any Jewish person today), it’s saying that in the Messianic Era, God’s Spirit will be poured out to such a degree that an unprecedented surge of prophetic power will be possessed by literally everyone in the Kingdom.

What Did I Learn?

ffoz_tv11_childrenA lot. First of all, I didn’t even consider how Matthew 11:11 could be interpreted in isolation to support anti-Semitic thought and replacement theology in Christian history (and probably in some churches even today). I also didn’t fully capture the picture of the Messianic Era as being full of prophets, nor did I see the linkage between the different passages in the Bible that both Toby and Aaron referenced. I also had no idea that Matthew 18:1-6 referred not specifically to children but to the status of inexperienced and experienced disciples of a Rabbi, and specifically disciples of Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus).

When Toby mentioned Joel 2:28-29, I remembered a teaching he presented at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin last spring. He gave me my final “clue” to solve my own mystery of how Gentiles are connected to God in a covenant relationship while retaining our status as people from the nations who are called by His Name. I wrote about that experience nearly four months ago, and I invite you to read it as an extension of the material I’m presenting here today, as well as providing additional details to the television teaching of Toby’s and Aaron’s.

For me, this was a fascinating and eye-opening episode. I tend to think of myself as experienced enough in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish realms to be beyond the “Messianic Judaism 101” stage, but I guess I’m not, at least in this area. I do wonder about Toby’s source material though, especially in connecting Matthew 11:11 back to Deuteronomy 34:10-12. I don’t doubt Toby’s word and I have no reason not to believe he isn’t correct, but information doesn’t come out of thin air. One of the things I wish for this television series is a set of “digging deeper” links or even just a Bibliography of the sources used to construct the lessons provided in each episode.

I’ll review another episode next week.