Tag Archives: Messianic Kingdom

Another Look at Torah Principles and the Gentile

Spirit, Torah, and Good NewsFor years, I’ve subscribed to daily updates from the Aish HaTorah Jewish educational website. I know, I’m not Jewish, but I find that the vast majority of their content “resonates” with me better than most traditional Christian commentary.

A few days ago, I came across an interesting question in the Ask the Rabbi column. Actually, it was the answer that was more interesting, but let’s look at the question first:

I’ve been reading Aish.com for years. But the other day someone asked me to describe the principles behind Aish. I must confess that I didn’t know. So what’s the answer?

Here’s the numbered list portion of the Rabbi’s response:

  1. Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.
  2. Aish HaTorah defines success as inspiring a commitment to grow Jewishly.
  3. Every Jew is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. We never know who is a better Jew.
  4. Every human being is created “In the image of God,” and therefore has infinite potential.
  5. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood.
  6. Torah is wisdom for living, teaching us how to maximize our potential and pleasure in life.
  7. Our beliefs need to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith.
  8. Each Jew is responsible one for another, and each is empowered to face the spiritual and physical challenges facing the Jewish people.
  9. The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world. The Jewish people’s history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.
  10. The Jewish people are bound together. Our power lies within our unity. Unified, no goal is beyond our reach; splintered, almost no goal is attainable.

Now, Aish HaTorah provides educational content created by Jews for Jews. No part of it (as far as I can find) targets anyone else, including (and probably especially) Christians. Obviously, I’m not blocked from visiting their website, and I could even come up with a valid reason for reading their material given that my wife is Jewish, but does any of this stuff apply directly to us.

When I say “us,” in one sense, I mean all Christians, but more specifically, I’m addressing we “Hebraically-aware” Gentile believers (if you’re Jewish and Messianic, you probably don’t even have to ask this question).

I know there’s quite a bit of disagreement about just how much of the Torah can be applied to we non-Jews who find ourselves attracted to Jewish praxis and thought. I’m not here to “solve” that puzzle. I have a personal answer that works for me, but your mileage may vary. Also, since I don’t belong to a faith community, there’s no higher human standard that can be authoritatively applied to me (though some have tried).

Let’s go over this one step at a time.

1: Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.

Assuming we believe that Christianity in general and Messianic Judaism in specific is the natural and planned extension of everything we’ve read in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible, Old Testament), is it fair to say that we Gentiles practice a form of Judaism (and I’ve addressed this question before)?

Maybe and maybe not. Perhaps the better question is whether or not the philosophy behind this first point can be applied to a Gentile’s spiritual journey with Rav Yeshua?

My guess is that most Christians would say “no.” Why? I think it has something to do with this:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. –James 2:10 (NASB)

Taken out of context, this seems to directly contradict the Aish Rabbi by stating that you have to keep every single commandment in the Torah perfectly, and if you break one law, you’ve broken them all (although a Christian would say we aren’t “under the Law”).

However, putting that verse back into its James 2 context, in my humble opinion, I think it means if you depend solely on your praxis to reconcile you with God, that’s the standard by which you’ll be judged. However, if you depend on faith, and out of that faith, comes your practice, you will receive mercy.

That could probably be said a lot better than I just put it, but it’s a more comfortable fit with the Aish Rabbi’s statement. After all, who among us is perfectly obedient to God all of the time? No one. Except for Rav Yeshua, I don’t believe that even the most devout of Jews has always perfectly performed the mitzvot every single hour of every single day.

In fact, the Bible is replete with statements emphasizing that rote behavior all by itself does not reconcile you with God, but instead Teshuva (repentance) and a contrite heart are needed.

Since even most traditional Christians believe we are all on a “spiritual walk with Jesus,” I think we could safely apply the “our faith isn’t all or nothing” principle to us as well.

2. Aish HaTorah defines success as inspiring a commitment to grow Jewishly.

On the other hand, point two doesn’t seem to have one darn thing to do with us, that is, we non-Jews. We don’t “grow Jewishly” since we’re not Jewish. No way around this one. Of course, success could be defined as inspiring a commitment to grow “Messianically,” but that opens up another can of worms.

3. Every Jew is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. We never know who is a better Jew.

Can we substitute “believer” or “Christian” for Jew? I think we can if we acknowledge that all human beings are created in the image of the Almighty. We already know that God desires all people to be redeemed, not just national and corporate Israel, you I don’t have a problem with believing that people are worthy of respect (though not all of them behave respectfully).

I also agree you’ll never be able to tell who is the “better Christian” just by looking. We all have our inner lives that only God is privy to. No matter how “holy” a person appears, it’s what God sees in their hearts that matters most.

Oh, this introduces a ton of questions about denomination, doctrine, and theology between Christians. For instance, nearly five years ago, John MacArthur held his Strange Fire conference where he and the other speaking Pastors did everything in their power to attack Charismatics. So much for “worthy of respect” (of course, I’ve read how some Orthodox Jews diss Reforms, so this is probably a human trait).

4. Every human being is created “In the image of God,” and therefore has infinite potential.

This is directly linked to item three, and seems to re-enforce it, so yes, we are worthy of respect and have infinite potential because we’re human beings. It’s just a matter of how we choose to apply that potential, and a lot of the time, we don’t do very well.

5. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood.

This one is a bit dicey since, depending on your point of view, a large block of the mitzvot don’t apply to us at all, even acknowledging that without a Temple, Priesthood, and Sanhedrin, there’s a lot of the Torah even Jewish people can’t currently obey.

This answer hinges on whether you believe any of the mitzvot apply to us, and if so, which ones. We’ve had this discussion on my blog many times before, and I doubt that this side of Messiah, we’ll ever come up with the final answer.

Of course, there are some obvious points we can all agree on. If we’ve been believers for very long, we all have a sense of the difference between right and wrong, or righteous behavior vs. sin. What we all puzzle over is the more “ritualistic” aspects of the Torah; wearing tzitzit, donning tefillin, and such. Should we pray in Hebrew or are our native languages good enough (assuming Hebrew isn’t our native language)? Maybe this goes back to point one.

I would agree that obeying God’s will is indeed an opportunity for personal growth, and study is the cornerstone upon which Acts 15:21 stands, so yes, we can study the Bible, not just read it.

6. Torah is wisdom for living, teaching us how to maximize our potential and pleasure in life.

There’s actually a lot of the Torah we can apply to ourselves, or at least the moral and spiritual principles behind the mitzvot, which is another good reason to study them. We may not be commanded to wear tzitzit, but understanding why God commanded Israel to do so, may help us realize what God wants from us as well, which then adds to our potential and pleasure in life.

7. Our beliefs need to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith.

This is where traditional Christianity and Judaism travel in opposite directions, because the Church emphasizes faith most of the time. It’s not that Christians believe their religion is irrational, and Biblical apologetics is a really big deal, but at the end of the day, the Church is all about having pat answers, not continually struggling with tough questions.

This is one of the reasons I tend to favor a Jewish perspective over a Christian one, because I don’t believe the Bible holds every single answer to our questions about God, Jesus, faith, and the universe. I don’t think God ever expected us to settle down in our pews and get comfortable and cozy. Instead, I believe that we all have a little “Jacob” in us as we struggle with our angels (or is it our demons?). I think we study and pray as part of that struggle, and through that crucible, we grow.

8. Each Jew is responsible one for another, and each is empowered to face the spiritual and physical challenges facing the Jewish people.

Are we our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper? The answer to that seems obvious, but Christianity isn’t the same sort of corporate entity as Judaism. We aren’t a single nation like Israel, we are all the rest of the nations, so we don’t share a unified identity.

Of course, not all Jews are the same, and in fact, just like the rest of us, they can be radically different, one from another. Certainly my wife isn’t like the local Chabad Rebbitzin, and although they’re friends, their personalities and level of observance are light years apart.

But if we see a brother sinning, are we responsible for doing something about it, or should we just turn a blind eye? Again, I think the answer is obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. On the one hand, Jesus did give his “new commandment” in John 13:34 only to his Jewish disciples, but why can’t we apply it to ourselves? Does it hurt to love one another just as we believe our Rav loves us?

9. The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world. The Jewish people’s history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.

Okay, here we have the closest statement so far that the Torah principles actually mean something to the nations, but only if Israel is the light. I’ve said before that as Israel’s “first-born son” (metaphorically speaking), Yeshua is that light, and that he directly commissioned Paul (Rav Shaul) to be his emissary to the people of the nations means he intended for that light to be passed on to the rest of us.

There seems to be a thread that we can trace through different portions of the Bible leading to the conclusion that one of the functions of Messiah is to direct Israel’s light upon the rest of the world, only we must remember it’s Israel’s light. We can only benefit from that illumination, we can never possess it directly.

10. The Jewish people are bound together. Our power lies within our unity. Unified, no goal is beyond our reach; splintered, almost no goal is attainable.

That’s probably true of any group. The unity of the original thirteen colonial states in the U.S. is based on that principle.

Christians talk about “the body of Christ” meaning the corporate unity of all Christians everywhere, even though there seems to be a terrific battle going on between at least certain denominations and churches (although, as we all know, within Messianic Judaism, things are very “messy” as well).

When Messiah returns, one of his responsibilities will be to gather together all of the Jewish people around the globe and return them to Israel, so yes, Jewish unity will finally be achieved. That part is certain.

What about the rest of us?

That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? In my imagination, I believe he will end all of our petty bickering and posturing as well, but I don’t know if that’s particularly mapped out in the Bible. Yes, after all of the wars are over, there will be “peace on Earth,” but will people ever get along? More to the point, will we all agree on matters of spirituality, faith, and praxis?

I don’t know. One of the other things Messiah is supposed to do is interpret Torah correctly. We saw him doing some of that in the Gospels, but will that ever be extended to the rest of humanity? Will we finally know the exact “nuts and bolts” of God’s expectations for us besides the apparent moral and ethical values?

I hope so. It would be nice. But maybe even in Messianic days, we will still be required to struggle. Then again, Jeremiah 31:34 does say that at least Israel and every single Jew, will have an apprehension of God formerly reserved only to Prophets; a full indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 10 shows us that even Gentiles receive the Spirit, so perhaps what the Jewish will know under the New Covenant will be passed along to us as well. Then blogs like this one will be unneeded and I won’t have to ask any more questions.

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How Will We Live in the Bilateral Messianic Kingdom?

When I started writing this missive, I thought the answer had all to do with the Apostle Paul. By the time I finished, I realized I was dead wrong.

Let me explain.

This issue is compounded by two additional assumptions, based on the New Testament book of Romans – written by Paul whose authority is questionable because he never met Jesus.

-Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
“Know How to Answer Christian Missionaries”
Aish.com

Articles like this make my heart ache because they are based on the assumption that everyone who has received and accepted the revelation that Rav Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah has an understanding of Jesus that’s exactly the same as Evangelical Christian theology and doctrine.

This is not consistent with many Messianic Jews I’ve met, either in person or over the web. In fact, most of those Jews have more in common with people like Rabbi Kravitz than they do with me.

But I’m not writing this to convince any Jewish person (or Gentile Noahide for that matter) of the validity of Yeshua’s identity and role, past, present, or future.

My current investigation has to do with a Gentile establishing and maintaining a relationship with Hashem outside traditional Christianity and Messianic Jewish community. For the former, this is the case because I’m definitely not a good fit for the Church, and for the latter, because I suspect any involvement on my part in either Christianity or the Messianic movement just drives my (non-Messianic) Jewish wife nuts.

Not that it’s her fault. That’s just the way it is. She’d probably get along famously with the above-quoted Rabbi Kravitz and eat up his responses to missionaries with a spoon.

So given my circumstances, and the circumstances of quite a number of “Judaicly aware” non-Jews who for many different reasons can’t or won’t join in a community, we turn back to the Bible and to God as our only resources.

I was trying to find a condensed list of the various directives that Paul issued to his non-Jewish disciples so I could “cut to the chase,” so to speak, but doing that search online is proving difficult. I keep encountering traditional interpretations of Paul as having done away with the Law and having replaced it with grace and so on.

I could turn to more “Messianic” or “Jewish” friendly commentaries, but many or most of them are quite scholarly and beyond my limited intellectual and educational abilities and experience.

I do point the reader to a source I’ve mentioned quite a bit of late, the Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle. This is a collection of articles written by various researchers who are part of the “new perspective on Paul” movement, those who have chosen to reject the traditional interpretation of the apostle and who have taken a fresh look at his life and writings within the context of first century Judaism.

The Jewish PaulYou get a really different opinion of Paul when you take off your Christian blinders (sorry if that sounds a tad harsh).

I did look up Paul at beliefnet.com and they do seem to state that Paul was Jewish, but unfortunately, they take a more or less traditional point of view on what the apostle taught.

They did say that of all the epistles we have recorded in the Apostolic Scriptures, scholars are sure he was actually the author of:

  • 1 Thessalonians
  • Galatians
  • 1 & 2 Corinthians
  • Philippians
  • Philemon
  • Romans

Even limiting my investigation to those letters, I’m still faced with a lot of challenges. Romans alone is worth a book, actually many books, and is so complex I doubt I’d ever do more than scratch the surface of its meaning.

But maybe I don’t have to start from scratch. After all, in the several years I’m maintained this blogspot, I’ve written many times on Paul. Maybe I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps all I have to do is read what I’ve already written.

Searching “Paul” on my own blog renders 33 pages of search results but I need to narrow it down more to what Rav Shaul specifically said about the Gentiles.

Actually, only the first two pages contain blog posts specifically with “Paul” in the title. It gets a little more generalized after that.

The added problem is typically, any time I wrote about Paul and the Gentile, it was usually in relation to or contrasting the role of Messianic Jew and Judaicly aware Gentile. I produced very little, if anything, about Gentiles as Gentiles. After all, I’ve been a champion (minor league, of course) of the cause of Messianic Jews to be considered Jewish and operating within a Judaism, just the same as other observant Jews in various other religious Jewish streams.

Only of late have I found it necessary to advocate for the Gentiles, and more specifically, me. Only recently have I realized that while it’s a good thing to emphasize Judaism for the Messianic Jew, it has some serious drawbacks for the so-called “Messianic Gentile,” not the least of which is resulting in some non-Jewish believers losing their identity because they’re surrounded by all things Jewish, including siddurim, kippot, Torah services, and tallit gadolim.

While I still believe that a significant role of the Judaicly aware Gentile as well as the more “standard” Christian is in support of Israel and the Jewish people, just as Paul required of his Gentile disciples in ancient times, I also believe there has to be something more for us to hang onto.

Or to borrow and adapt a hashtag from recent social media outbursts, #GentileLivesMatter (by the way, using Google image search to look up “goy” or “goyishe” returns some pretty anti-Semitic graphics).

multiculturalI did find a blog post I wrote in January 2014 called The Consequences of Gentile Identity in Messiah, but I’m not sure how useful it is in my current quest, in part because I wrote:

I wrote a number of detailed reviews of the Nanos book The Mystery of Romans including this one that described a sort of mutual dependency Paul characterized between the believing Gentiles and believing and non-believing Jews in Rome.

You can go to the original blog post to click on the links I embedded into that paragraph, but if part of who we non-Jews are is mutually dependent on Jews in Messiah, that leaves me pretty much up the creek without a paddle.

Of course, that’s citing Nanos and his classic commentary The Mystery of Romans, which describes a rather particular and even unique social context, so there may be more than one way to be a Judaicly aware Gentile and relate to God.

The problem then is how to take all this “Judaic awareness” and manage to pull a Gentile identity out of it that doesn’t depend on (Messianic) Jewish community. Actually, I would think this would be as much a priority for Messianic Jews as it is for me, especially when, as I’ve said in the past, in order for Messianic Jewish community to survive let alone thrive, Messianic Jewish community must be by and for Jews.

To put it another way quoting Rabbi Kravitz’s lengthy article:

The growth of Christian support for Israel has created an illusion that we have nothing to worry about because “they are our best friends.”

It would be a mistake to think the risk has been minimized, especially to Jewish students and young adults, just because missionaries are less visible on street corners and offer much appreciated Christian support for Israel.

Granted, R. Kravitz must paint the Church in the role of adversary if he believes that Christians are dedicated to missionizing young Jews so that they’ll abandon Jewish identity and convert to Goyishe Christianity, but we non-Jews in Messianic Jewish community are also sometimes cast as a danger in said-community because our very presence requires some “watering down” of Jewish praxis and Jewish interaction.

I suspect the same was true in Paul’s day and ultimately, it was this dissonance that resulted in a rather ugly divorce between ancient Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah.

Gentiles resolved the conflict by inventing a new religion: Christianity, and they kicked the Jews out of their own party, so to speak, by refactoring everything Jesus and Paul wrote as anti-Torah, anti-Temple, and anti-Judaism.

That does me no good because I don’t believe all that stuff, that is, I’m not an Evangelical Christian. I need an identity that allows for my current perspective, my pro-centrality of Israel and Torah for the Jews perspective, my King Messiah is the King of Israel and will reign over all the nations from Jerusalem in Messianic Days perspective, and still lets me be me, or the “me” I will be in those days, Hashem be willing.

Think about it.

All Jewish people will live in Israel. It will once again be a totally Jewish nation. As far as I can tell, people from the nations will be able to visit as tourists, but by and large, besides a rare exception or two, we will live in our own countries, which in my case is the United States of America…a United States devoid of Jews, synagogues, tallit gadolim, and all that, because they will only exist among the Jews in Israel.

MessiahI don’t know the answer to this one, but I think this is the central question I’m approaching. How will we Gentiles live in our own nations half a world away from Israel and King Yeshua? What will our relationship be to God?

The answer to how we’ll live in the future is the answer to my current puzzle.

As I ponder what I just wrote, I realize that even searching out Paul’s perspective on the Gentiles is a mistake. He was trying to find a way for Jews and Gentiles to co-exist in Jewish community. He never succeeded as far as I can tell. No one has succeeded since then, including in the modern Messianic Jewish movement.

But in the Messianic future, as such, Jews and Gentiles really won’t be co-existing in Jewish communal space. Jewish communal space will be the nation, the physical nation of Israel. We goys will be living every place else except in Israel. Maybe the Kingdom of Heaven will be more “bilateral” than I previously imagined.

Or have I answered my own question?

The Bilateral Ekklesia vs. The Kingdom of Heaven

I posted the following after a number of complaints were registered about my original content:

Okay, stop!

Obviously I’ve written more than one controversial statement in this blog post and it’s causing more trouble than it’s worth. So hopefully WordPress will let me “comment out” the HTML of the content so I won’t actually have to erase it. I could have reverted this blog post to “draft” status or simply deleted it, but then I’d have to explain via email to each person who asked what happened to it.

It seems clear that in my exploration to clarify things for myself relative to the “bilateral ekklesia” and its relationship to the Kingdom of Heaven, that I’ve stepped on more than a few toes, which was not my intention. I sometimes complain of the contentiousness of religious blogging, and I’ve been doing more than my fair share to contribute to it lately.

I have to fix this. This has to end. I have to find a different way to take the next step in my spiritual evolution, whatever that may be, without dragging everyone down into the mud and making a mess of things.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of taking a major step forward, but I guess that’s not obvious from what I’ve been doing lately.

I have an idea. Wait for it.

NOTE: No, WordPress won’t let the HTML comment out tags work, so the content is now deleted.

After much deliberation, I decided to restore the original content with the understanding that it is simply to provide context for those who happen upon this blog post and can’t make heads or tails of it. Again, I never meant for what I wrote to cause offense.

The original blog post content follows:

The kingdom of heaven prior to the final redemption can be likened to a partisan movement, such as Robin Hood and his men or the European freedom fighters that fought in Nazi occupied territory. The Partisans is a teaching on Hebrews 2 in light of Psalm 8 and the parable of Luke 19:12ff concerning all things in subjection to the Son and the revelation of the kingdom.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Eight: The Partisans
Originally presented on February 16, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This was the opening quote of my original review of Lancaster’s sermon I published in March of 2014.

Much more recently, about a week ago, I published my previous blog post The Hope of Healing in the Bilateral Ekklesia chronicling the recognition, both among the Jews in Messianic Judaism, and those non-Jews who are involved, that there is a rift between Jews and Gentiles in the ekklesia, and that, as disciples of Yeshua, we desire to be (somehow) reconciled with one another.

I’m about to say (write) something you may not expect out of me. I’m going to say that the major barrier in that healing is the emphasis on Judaism vs. the emphasis on the Kingdom.

I quoted Lancaster above because in that sermon and a number of others, he emphasized that the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, the Messianic Kingdom, was already emerging into our world, probably within Yeshua’s earthly lifetime we see recorded in the Gospels, and certainly after his ascension when myriads of Gentiles were being drawn to Hashem through the teachings of the Master.

But as I’ve said many times before, even in those days, the problem of what to do with the Gentiles was a major headache among the Jewish Messianic disciples and apostles, including the emissary to the Gentiles, sent to us by the Master himself, Paul.

I don’t believe Paul ever “solved” the “Gentile problem,” but as I’ve also surmised, maybe he didn’t think he had to. If he really believed Messiah’s return was imminent, then he probably figured our King would order our ways in the ekklesia and in the Kingdom.

But Messiah didn’t return within the last decades of the First Century CE, nor in the subsequent centuries between then and now. What resulted, as you well know, was a terrific rift between the devout Jews and the Gentile believers, until Jewish faith in Yeshua was finally extinguished and only the Gentiles, however imperfectly, kept faith in Messiah…in Christ.

But that’s not to say, as the modern Church believes, that the Jews went down a dead end path of religion by works which took them away from God as it took them away from Yeshua (and I have to thank Rabbi Stuart Dauermann for writing about this on his Facebook page last Friday).

Each body, Rabbinic Judaism and the Christian Church, has preserved something of the lessons of God down through the long years and to this very day. Each has a certain number of pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of redemption, but it seems whenever the two groups get together and attempt to assemble that puzzle, none of the Jewish pieces match up with the Christian pieces. Apples and oranges. Square pegs and round holes.

But wait a minute.

From a present-day perspective, looking back at the late 19th century, we find a small body of Jews who lived as Jews (rather than converting to Christianity) who accepted the revelation that Yeshua as depicted in the Apostolic Scriptures, is indeed the Holy Moshiach of Hashem, sent with the good news of redemption for all Israel and even for the Goyishe nations.

Rabbi Joshua Brumbach
Rabbi Joshua Brumbach

Nearly four years ago, Rabbi Joshua Brumbach published a couple of blog posts: Rabbis Who Thought for Themselves and Rabbis Who Thought for Themselves – Part II presenting the lives of a number of late 19th and early 20th century Rabbis who indeed, “thought for themselves,” certainly thought outside the box, and came to the realization that Jesus of Nazareth, when you wipe the Gentile “make up” off his face that the Church painted there, is indeed Moshiach and Son of the Most High.

Much later, in the 1960s, the “Jesus Freak” movement spawned something that would eventually become the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots groups we have today. For the past several decades, a small but growing body of Jews have accepted this revelation and have put Yeshua, Paul, and the other apostles and disciples we find in the Apostolic Scriptures, back into their ancient Jewish context.

It then became possible to study their teachings and written works the way any modern Jew would study Torah, Tanakh, and Talmud.

This is terrific news for Jews in Messiah who cannot and should not attempt to fit into modern Christianity, it’s the way to take what Rabbinic Judaism has preserved for the past twenty centuries and “marry” it to the good news of Messiah the Church has preserved, keeping in mind that what the Church believes about Christ has to be radically refactored in order to become (re)integrated with both ancient and modern Judaism, forming or at least crystalizing, some of what is called Messianic Judaism today (I word it that way because often many Gentile-driven Hebrew Roots groups and communities will call themselves “Messianic Judaism” or “Messianic” something).

But while this is good news for the Jews, what about the Gentiles? It seemed like good news at first, but as the blog series I’ve been writing lately has shown, there’s an uncomfortable flip side to all of this. If we support Messianic communities as being by and for Jews, where do the Gentiles go, the Church?

My personal experience has shown me that this isn’t always a sustainable alternative. Many of us don’t fit in at Church, much as we’ve tried.

But if Messianic synagogues are havens and sanctuaries for Jews in Messiah to live and worship in Jewish community, then by definition, we don’t fit in there as well.

Or do we?

There is a high degree of variability as to just how accepted non-Jews are in Messianic Jewish groups, at least in the U.S. For instance, Beth Immanuel in Hudson, WI touts itself as “Messianic Judaism for all Nations,” and while some Jews do worship there, its leadership is non-Jewish.

If you knew nothing about Beth Immanuel and you happened, as a non-Jewish disciple, that is, a Christian, to wander in for Shabbat services one Saturday morning, you might not realize it wasn’t a completely Jewish establishment. I’ve only been there for a couple of Shavuot conferences, so I don’t know what happens on a typical Shabbat, but I’d guess that there would be a traditional Jewish prayer service and a Torah service.

If an Oneg meal is shared, our hypothetical Christian would learn that the kitchen is kosher and no actual cooking is done on Shabbos. For those who choose, before a meal, they may practice netilat yadayim or ritual hand washing. And of course, being this is a kosher kitchen in what seems like a Jewish synagogue, any of the food served would also be kosher. No ham sandwiches or shrimp scampi on the menu.

messianic judaism for the nationsAnd yet, most of the people I’ve met at Beth Immanuel are non-Jews like me. That being the case, most of the men wear a kippah, don a tallit gadol for services, and I suspect many of them wear a tallit katan under their shirt on a daily basis, with the tzitzit tucked into their trousers.

You can see why it can be confusing to have that experience and at the same time hear messages about a strict segregation between Gentiles and Jews in Messiah in order to preserve the Judaism and Jewish life in Messianic Jewish community.

Of course there are many other Messianic Jewish congregations that have a Jewish leadership, such as Tikvat Israel in Richmond, VA, and yet there are numerous non-Jews in regular attendance in those shuls.

I’ve never visited Tikvat Israel, so I can’t comment about it in any detail, except to say that Rabbi David Rudolph, who is the head Rabbi, is Jewish, and that, at least in our email communications, he has treated me courteously and with compassion.

I know there are some notable Messianic Jews who believe the Messianic Judaism we have today is a fully realized microcosm of what the Messianic Kingdom will be when Messiah returns.

I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with that assessment (and I imagine I’ll hear about it, both in the comments section of this blog post and via email).

D. Thomas Lancaster believes that, using the “partisan” model, the Messianic Kingdom is slowly emerging, but the King is still absent, like an ancient King in exile, but one who has promised, one day, to return.

In the meantime, even though our world isn’t being run by our King, and in fact, it’s being run rather poorly by human agency, we are tasked to behave as if the Kingdom is already here.

Of course, that can be difficult without the proper Messianic “infrastructure” in place. We are partisans or members of the underground such as you’d have found in Nazi occupied France during World War II. We are fighting a difficult battle and we can’t always reveal ourselves to everyone as just who we are. Our “country” is occupied by an enemy force, and while in our hearts and in some of our actions we dedicate ourselves to our true King, in many other ways, we are inhibited or restricted. We can only behave as full citizens of the Kingdom once the King has set everything to right again.

As you probably can tell, we’re not there yet.

JewishThat’s why I think we cannot compare the current “bilateral ekklesia” with the future Messianic Kingdom. Right now, it’s important for the Jews in Messianic Judaism to focus on Judaism and the Jewish disciples of Messiah. Countless generations of Christians have made it clear that Jews cannot remain Jewish and convert to Christianity, while countless generations of Jews have made it clear that if you are devoted to Yeshua as Messiah, even if you live a fully religious Jewish lifestyle, you are considered an apostate.

So the only way for Jews in Messiah to survive and live a Jewish life is to contain themselves in a “Jewish bubble,” so to speak. If they associate exclusively with say, Orthodox Jews in order to maintain Jewish lifestyle, they may find their faith in Yeshua in danger of waning. If they associate mostly or exclusively with even Messianic Gentiles, let alone more traditional Christians, they may discover themselves diluting their lived Jewish experience and even becoming “Jewish-lite.”

I get that.

I also get that, in the Messianic Kingdom, the nations will have a place. We Gentiles, just as the Jews, will receive the full pouring out of the Spirit so that we too, from the very least to the very greatest, will have an apprehension of Hashem greater than even John the Immerser.

We too will have the resurrection and a place forever in the world to come. Our sacrifices will also be accepted in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We will be able to travel to Jerusalem, particularly during the time of Sukkot, and see the face of our King, bring honor and glory to his name, and standing on the streets of Jerusalem, the City of David, and in the Temple courts, we will worship Hashem, God of Israel, thanking Him for redeeming not only the Jewish people, but all of the Gentiles who have kept faith and trust in Him during the hard times.

But that’s then and this is now.

Some Messianic communities would not desire my presence because, as a Gentile, I would inhibit Jewish worship. Interestingly enough, I believe in other Messianic communities, I’d be “too Gentile” because I do not regularly cover my head, wear a tallit katan, keep strictly Glatt kosher (I only keep Leviticus 11 “kosher lite”), use a siddur in prayer, pray at the set times of prayer, pray in Hebrew, cease work on Shabbat, and many other “Jewish” things.

I know there are Jews in Messiah who have “issues” with Gentiles who outwardly behave “Jewish” (don tzitzit, lay tefillin, wear a kippah in public during the week), but I’ve sometimes wondered if there are other Jews (and some “Messianic Gentiles”) who have “issues” with those of us who, as a matter of conviction, have set aside even praying with a siddur?

It’s an interesting question.

The 17th of Tammuz started at sunset on July 4th this year and it begins a three-week period of increasingly intense mourning for the Jewish people (yes, it was a fast day and no, I didn’t fast) leading up to Tisha B’Av.

This is a Jewish time of mourning, so what does it have to do with Gentiles?

Well, one of the greatest losses to the Jewish people was the destruction of the Temple, razed by the Roman army in 70 CE. Consider two things: The Temple was destroyed by Gentiles, and the sacrifices of Gentiles, even in the days of Yeshua, were accepted. We also know they will be accepted again in Messianic Days.

So I think we have a legitimate reason to mourn as well. We also have a very good reason to spend these three weeks repenting. Repenting of what you ask? Two general areas: The first is for our sins. Oh, don’t be coy. You know you sin. So do I.

destruction of the templeThe second is to repent of all the crimes the Gentiles have committed against Jews and Judaism across the ages, including the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples.

We non-Jewish believers aren’t used to repenting for sins we ourselves didn’t commit. We aren’t usually held accountable for the sins of our ancestors. And yet, in the future, we know that the rest of the nations of the world, including the good ol’ U.S. of A., will go to war against Israel, nearly destroy her, and at the last second, God Himself will fight for the Jewish nation, and defeat the rest of us.

We know one of the consequences will be that every year at Sukkot, each nation will be responsible for sending representatives to Jerusalem to pay homage to King Messiah, and any nation that fails to do so, will receive no rain.

Even we non-Jewish believers and disciples of the Master will be citizens of the former enemy nations of Israel. Yes, we were underground fighters, holding the line, maintaining loyalty to our true King, but as citizens of America, Canada, or where ever, we also are (and will be) representatives of our individual countries. How many of you Americans out there celebrated the Fourth of July by having a picnic or barbecue, setting off fireworks, displaying an American flag at the front of your home, or something similar?

We have a lot to repent for, past, present, and future. Where do we fit in? Maybe nowhere yet. We’re underground, remember? Actually, Jewish disciples of Messiah are underground, too. They can’t always advertise to all of their Jewish relatives and friends that they acknowledge Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, for fear of rejection or some other adverse reaction.

At least we Gentiles can say we’re Christian without offending too many people (although that’s becoming kind of a problem in certain areas of social media lately).

We aren’t there yet. This isn’t the fully emerged and flourishing Messianic Kingdom. The Ekklesia of Messiah will no doubt one day be healed, but that day isn’t today. The rift still exists. We pretend it shouldn’t because a sizable number of Jews living as Jews now recognize our Christ as their Messiah. We want to be one big happy family.

We’re not. That much is more than obvious. We have problems. The “family” is dysfunctional.

I think I’m going to pay more attention to the three weeks this year, not because I think I should be emulating Jewish people, and not as a reflection of an arrived Messianic Era, but because of all the screw ups that have happened between Jews and Christians over the years, including the original screw up when Gentiles walked out of the ancient Messianic community.

Mourn the loss of a “healed” ekklesia, for it still lies rent and bleeding on the ground. Mourn that our ancient ancestors destroyed the very Temple that 70 bulls were sacrificed every Sukkot for the sake of the nations…us. Repent. Pray that Moshiach arrives quickly so there will be healing. Pray that you survive the horrors that are to come, the birth pangs of Messiah, when every hand will turn against Israel, and you’ll have to stop being underground and stand up for the Jewish nation against your co-workers, your neighbors, members of your own family, and against (probably) most of the Christian Church, which should know better.

Whatever conflict and alienation exists between Gentiles and Jews in Messiah will eventually be healed and we will be reconciled again. When and how that will happen and what it will look like when it does, I have no idea.

I only know it will happen.

And in the meantime, we’ll have problems, plenty of them.

For we Gentiles, our only assurance isn’t in Jewish community, it’s in the God of Creation and the Son of Man who has promised to return in clouds of glory.

Restoration
Photo: First Fruits of Zion

Pray that you remain strong in the faith until the end. I know that’s what I’ll pray for…the endurance and courage to stay the course, to not wander off to the left or to the right…to keep steady, no matter what’s happening around me or to me.

We can only celebrate the victory of the King if we keep fighting his fight.

Only then, I believe, will we finally be healed, and all men and women will live in peace with their brothers and sisters, Jew and Gentile alike.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Resurrection of the Dead

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

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

According to Hebrews 6:1-2, the resurrection of the dead is one of the six basic doctrines of Messianic faith. In this teaching, D. Thomas Lancaster takes a look at the apostolic hope in the resurrection, distinguishing between the resurrection of the righteous and the general resurrection.

This is teaching number 25 in the Hebrews series and number 10 in special series on the elementary teachings of the Messiah. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, teaching 26 and the conclusion to the special series on the elementary teachings, titled “The Eternal Judgment,” was not recorded.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-five: The Resurrection of the Dead
Originally presented on August 8, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This sermon is closely tied to the previous one which I reviewed last week and continues to discuss a literal, physical resurrection of the dead.

It all starts with that empty tomb of Yeshua’s (Jesus). Why was it empty? Had Jesus risen into Heaven? No. He was physically, bodily resurrected. The same body that died, rose. He even had the same wounds.

Lancaster talked about resuscitation vs. resurrection. We have modern examples of resuscitation when a person is declared dead but then, through modern technology, resuscitated and is again alive, but that person was dead temporarily and the resuscitation is temporary. Eventually, that person will die again.

We see examples of resuscitation in the Bible such as Jesus raising Lazarus (see John 11:38-46). Jesus resuscitated Lazarus but didn’t resurrect him, otherwise Lazarus would have been immortal. At some point, he died again and, like the rest who are dead in Messiah, awaits the resurrection.

…knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

Romans 6:9

That’s what it means to be resurrected. That’s why Jesus is the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). He was resurrected to prove a point. The point is that all of God’s promises to Israel are real and literal. When God speaks of the resurrection of Israel, He’s being literal and Jesus is the proof. If we believe God proved He will fulfill the resurrection, then we can believe in all of His promises.

In the day of Jesus, the Pharisees believed in a literal resurrection but the Sadducees did not. To settle the point in Judaism once and for all (ideally), Jesus died and was resurrected. For all those who were witnesses and all those who believe through faith in the literal resurrection, that is our hope that death isn’t the end and that a just God will punish evil and reward good.

Rambam (Moses Maimonides) established believing in the resurrection as one of the thirteen principles of faith. In order to be a religious Jew, you have to believe in the resurrection, according to Maimonides.

According to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, belief in the resurrection is one of the six principles of the Messianic faith.

Lancaster said that a belief in a literal, earthly resurrection has largely been rejected by the mainstream Protestant church. That’s kind of a surprise to me, but I guess if it’s common for Christians to believe they go to Heaven (and stay in Heaven forever) when they die as some sort of spirits, then a physical resurrection and a life with Jesus on Earth kind of kills the deal (no pun intended).

Lancaster goes so far as to say a Christianity that doesn’t believe in a literal resurrection is no longer Christianity, it no longer follows the Biblical faith of the Apostles.

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.

1 Corinthians 15:13-14

If we don’t believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead in the same body he originally had, and we don’t believe that we too will be raised in the same manner as Jesus, then, according to the Apostle Paul, he, and all of the apostles and disciples who had been preaching Jesus, were preaching in vain. Not only that, but our Christian faith is also in vain if we don’t believe in the resurrection.

aliveThat’s pretty strong stuff. If you believe you’re going to Heaven as a “floaty ghost” (Lancaster’s words), then your body is dead and stays dead. You have some sort of spiritual existence in Heaven but you will never have a physical existence again. If this is what you believe, then you deny the resurrection, making Paul’s preaching and your Christian faith vain and worthless.

That’s pretty horrible. There goes your hope. Poof. Up in a (spiritual) puff of smoke.

Jesus is the definitive proof of a resurrection, if you’re willing to believe. If you believe, you have hope. If not…poof.

Not only will there be a resurrection, there will be two of them. The first is what is called the resurrection of the righteous which includes the exiles from Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) and all those in Messiah (that is, the Gentiles who are in the faith). We will be gathered to the Messiah and taken to the Kingdom. That happens at the beginning of the Messianic age.

The second resurrection, also called the general resurrection, happens at the end of the Messianic age and at that time everyone will be resurrected from the dead…to be judged.

Jesus even taught about it.

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

“If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.

John 5:25-32

Those of us who hear the voice of the Master will be among the first resurrection because we are in him. However, not all of humanity is or will be in Messiah and those who are not in him won’t hear his voice. However, even those who are not in Messiah will hear him at the second resurrection and they will be judged by the will of God.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

RestorationA word about going up into the air. We don’t stay there, according to Lancaster. This isn’t the ride to Heaven most Christians believe in. We won’t be raptured to Heaven but rather to where the presence of the King of Israel will be…to Jerusalem.

That may be disappointing or even startling to some of you reading my words. Actually, after spending so much time hearing about the rapture, it’s still a little jarring to me. What? No Heaven with Jesus? Christians I know believe that “the Church” will be raptured to Heaven for the remainder of the tribulation, and then return to Earth with Jesus to conquer the enemies of the Church and take over the world.

But that’s not what Jesus taught or Paul wrote about.

… knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.

2 Corinthians 4:14

The King will be in his Kingdom. His presence will be in Israel.

But how will we be raised. What will it be like?

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

1 Corinthians 15:35-41

Orthodox Jews don’t cremate their dead, they always bury them. In fact, how one prepares the dead for burial and the rituals around treating the body of the dead all are built on the belief in the resurrection. A dead body is treated with great respect because it is a body that will come alive again.

jewish burialBut what about people who were cremated or suffered some fatal accident which destroyed the body? According to Paul, the body doesn’t absolutely have to be whole and intact. By using the “seed” metaphor, he suggests that all that’s required is some small, perhaps very tiny fragment of the original body. God will not be stopped in accomplishing the promise of the resurrection.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, [n]earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

1 Corinthians 15:42-49

According to Lancaster’s understanding of scripture, we will be resurrected in our original bodies, warts, wounds, disabilities and all, God will heal our infirmities, and through a process we don’t understand, a process Jesus went through after his resurrection, our bodies will be transformed into immortal and indestructible bodies. In fact, all of Creation will be transformed, resurrected, so to speak, and death will be no more.

So although we mourn our loved ones who have died, it is not as if they died without hope, for in Messiah, we shall all be raised again.

My God, the soul that you placed in me is pure. You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me, and you guard it within me, and you will ultimately lift it away from me, only to return it to me in the future to come. For the entire time that my soul is within me, I give thanks to you, O LORD, my God and God of my fathers, Great One over all works, Master of all souls. Blessed are you, O LORD, who returns souls to dead bodies.

-Siddur

What Did I Learn?

As I said last week, the idea of a physical, bodily, earthly resurrection is not new to me, so no curve balls there. I did have a question of whether or not Lancaster believes that all Jewish people will be in the first resurrection or only those in Messiah, but from what I could tell on the recording, that was left somewhat ambiguous.

I’ve mentioned before in these reviews and in my reviews of Lancaster’s lecture series What About the New Covenant that it seems as if God intends to forgive the sins of all of Israel, so one way to interpret that is all Jewish people will be forgiven, redeemed, and be made righteous, and thus they will all be part of the first resurrection.

WaitingThat has problems when compared with much of Paul’s commentary about being resurrected in Messiah so I’ll reserve judgment on that issue. I don’t want to create the impression of a dual path to salvation.

Lancaster did say something interesting about how we should treat our bodies in the present age. He said we should treat them with respect and honor, doing only healthy things to our bodies. Of course, we will age or even possibly die in accidents that will be very damaging to our bodies, but the idea is that we don’t get new ones. We get the same old ones, even though they will be transformed, healed, and made immortal and indestructible.

God made our bodies as well as our spirits and even though at death, they are temporarily separated, one day they will be brought together again.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

When you go to sleep in the dust, you will also rise, just as you are, only better. You will be gathered with your King in the air and travel with him in triumph and glory to Jerusalem, City of David, as he is enthroned bodily in Israel as her King, as our King.

That last part, as I mentioned above, may throw some of you. I’ve heard this before. I’ll probably get some angry comments about it. But think about it. Would it be so bad to stay here with Jesus on Earth? Do we really have to go to Heaven first?

Oh, don’t worry about the next lecture, “The Eternal Judgment” not having been recorded. It’s covered in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles, so I’ll just review that chapter for next week.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: A Sabbath Rest Remains

The Sabbath represents the Messianic Era and the menuchah of the world to come. In Hebrews 3:7-4:11, the holy epistle to the Hebrews compares this present world to the work week of preparation, and he warns us to prepare ourselves now for the kingdom and the world to come. This important message demonstrates that Hebrews 4 should not be used to justify a spiritual interpretation of the Sabbath that makes actual Sabbath observance obsolete.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Eleven: A Sabbath Rest Remains
Originally presented on March 16, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster spent about the first half of his sermon reviewing the previous sermon. Remember we were left with a cliffhanger? What is God’s rest? Is it…

  1. The Sabbath?
  2. The Land of Israel?
  3. The Messianic Kingdom/The World to Come?

We are told a number of stories in today’s sermon, most from the Talmud, such as one found in Tractate Sanhedrin 98a, of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi who, while meditating near the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, met the Prophet Elijah.

Rabbi ben Levi asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?” asked Joshua. “Ask him,” replied the Prophet. “The Messiah is at the gates of Rome, sitting among the poor, the sick and wretched. Like them, he changes the bindings of his wounds, but does so one wound at the time, in order to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

The Rabbi traveled to Rome, found the Messiah, and greeted him with ”Peace upon you, my Master and Teacher, to which the Messiah replied, ”Peace upon you, son of Levi.” When the Rabbi asked Messiah when he would come, Messiah replied, ”Today!”

But by the time Rabbi ben Levi returned to Elijah, the Messiah had not come. Messiah had lied…or did he?

Elijah explained “This is what he said to thee, To-day, if ye will hear his voice”, a reference to Psalms 95:7, making his coming conditional with the condition not fulfilled.

You should remember Psalm 95 from last week’s review, since it figured heavily in laying the foundation for our “mystery” of what is meant by “God’s rest” or for that matter, the mystery of “What is today?”

Before continuing, as Lancaster said, Hebrews 3 and 4 are frequently used by many Christian Pastors to prove that a literal Saturday Shabbat has been done away with and that it has been spiritually “converted” into Christ. Our Sabbath rest is Jesus Christ. Problem is, this letter was written by a Jewish writer to a Jewish audience who were still keeping the Sabbath. While Gentiles may not have been placed under that aspect of Torah obedience, these Jews were still Jews and were still performing all of the mitzvot including observing Shabbos.

But these guys were tired. They’d been waiting for the return of the Messiah for thirty years and their faith and patience were wearing thin. They either had been barred from the Temple because of their Messianic faith or were about to be. As we learned last week, the writer of Hebrews was adjuring them to keep their faith in Messiah or risk the fate of that faithless generation in the desert who disobeyed God and did not enter the Land of Canaan to take it as their possession. They did not enter God’s Sabbath rest.

But again, what is God’s rest?

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.

Hebrews 4:1 (NRSV)

Apparently it was something that the readers of Hebrews could still attain since ”his rest is still open.” If Lancaster is right, then it can’t be the literal Saturday Sabbath, because they were already keeping that. It couldn’t be literally the Land of Israel, because they were already there.

…again he sets a certain day—“today”—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Hebrews 4:7 (NRSV)

shabbat-queen-elena-kotliarkerLancaster went through a rather lengthy explanation of what “today” means, which includes literally this very day, that is, right now. But from our perspective, it’s always “right now” or “today.” Part of what the Hebrews writer is saying, according to Lancaster, is that as long as you are still alive, “hear (heed) his voice, do not harden your hearts, ” but repent and return to God.

But “today” is also idiomatic language for the Shabbat. I just got done saying this wasn’t about a literal Shabbat on Saturday, but what were the Hebrews risking by a lack of faith? And why did Lancaster tell the story of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, Elijah, and Messiah?

The object of the Midrashic story from Talmud was to say Messiah would come today if Israel would repent. The Jewish readers of the Hebrews letter will enter God’s rest if they repent. If the coming of Messiah is linked here to God’s rest, then what is to be entered is the Messianic Kingdom.

The Sages liken the Shabbat to the Kingdom of Heaven and the World to Come. It’s as if the days of the week and Shabbat represent the different ages of creation with the seventh day, the end of time, being a grand, millennial Shabbat, an age of great rest, and our weekly Sabbaths are merely a periodic reminder, down payment, or foretaste of that ultimate rest in Moshiach.

This seems to resolve Lancaster’s mystery or cliffhanger, but in fact, he states that it was a trick question. Since the Messianic Age is future oriented, then Hebrews 3 and 4 are not only a rendition of history but prophetic. It may surprise you to realize that all of the prophesies in the Bible have to do with Israel and Jerusalem and for all prophesies to be fulfilled, there must be an Israel and Jerusalem. No Israel, no fulfillment of prophesy.

So a literal Sabbath, a literal Land of Israel, and the Messianic Age to Come all figure into God’s rest and the object of Lancaster’s sermon for the past couple of weeks.

He says some interesting things about work and rest:

Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Hebrews 4:11 (NRSV)

one-of-ten-virgins-oilWhy do we work to enter God’s rest? I thought we were saved by grace. Lancaster says we must do all that is necessary to get ready for the Messiah’s return, even though it will never be enough. It’s like if you keep a traditional Shabbat. On Friday you work and work and work to get ready, but even if you don’t get everything done in time, Shabbat comes and then you stop, you are quiet, there is peace, and there is rest…

…whether you’re ready or not.

Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross (John 19:30) and in the past, I’ve said that it can’t mean literally all of Messiah’s work is finished. If it did, then he wouldn’t have to return. But in another sense, besides Messiah’s suffering, something else was finished, which was the inauguration of the Messianic Age. It started with the death and resurrection, so that part’s finished, but everything will not be completed until all of Israel (according to Lancaster) repents:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Matthew 23:37-39 (NRSV)

I should say that Rabbinic opinions differ on this point, with some saying that Messiah will come when all Israel repents, and others saying that Messiah will come when Israel is wholly corrupt and about to fall. Lancaster apparently is taking the former view.

So does “get ready” and “strive” and “work” mean “shore up your faith?” I can see why Lancaster says we’ll never be ready because no one’s faith will ever be perfect. Of course, we have the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) that says there are things to be done, preparations to make, to be ready for the coming of the bridegroom (Messiah), with the oil in their lamps representing perhaps our faith and devotion to God.

And yet without God’s grace, nothing we do could ever be enough all by itself to merit the Messianic Age and a life in the world to come, which is part of what Joshua ben Levi wanted to know from Messiah. But being faithful and obedient, by grace, we shall enter God’s rest if we persevere to the end (see 2 Timothy 4:7).

What Did I Learn?

I think I’ve been learning this lesson for a while now. I wrote a little bit about it nearly two years ago, and it also seems associated with something I wrote more recently.

Beyond that, someone commented about one of my blog posts on Facebook not too long ago. I’ll withhold his name unless he allows me to use it, but here’s what he said:

A.) There’s 6,000 years of linear-time human history since Adam & Chava ‘stepped out of Gan Edan into the physical world of existence.’

B.) For the sake of Israel, G-d will deduct ‘time served in the captivity of Egypt’ from the 6000 years. Consensus opinion is 210 years.

C,) Mashiach comes and ushers in a 1,000 year earthly kingdom with Israel as head of the nations

D.) At the end of this 1000 year “shabbat hagadol” the earth is ‘recreated’ and existence as we know it ends and begins in a new reality – THIS is the time of the New Covenant, as outlined in the Tenakh, the writings of the sages and the final chapters of the book of Revelation.

E.) The New Covenant existence is one of no more ‘evil,’ no more ‘free will,’ no more ‘choice,’ no more ‘sin,’ no more consequence of sin, i.e., death, suffering, sadness, etc.

Of course, the eye-catcher in all that is the 210 year idea and how it relates to the Jewish calendar. We are presently in 5774 which would mean another 226 years maximum to go (Messiah can come any time in a 40-year window before this but no later.) Now, deducting the 210 years for ‘time served in Egypt’ we have a year that corresponds to 2030 on our western calendars. This is not some modern nonsense to sell books. It is primarily from the Zohar first published in the 13th century. Rabbi Pinchas Winston has some interesting stuff on this.

This will all make more sense if you listen to Lancaster’s forty minute sermon on A Sabbath Rest Remains, since I hardly have related everything he taught. This is just a review. Also remember that taking midrash and mysticism too much to heart is a lot like playing with matches. It’s dangerous and you could get burned. Just saying.

practicing_faithAs I conclude this eleventh sermon in a series that is still ongoing over a year after it started, I find I could easily get lost. There is so much detail involved, so many sources and references, both inside and outside of the Bible, to consult and connect, that it’s hard for my mind to apprehend and hold in focus everything all at once.

OK, I admit it. I can’t keep everything Lancaster’s taught so far in my head in “active memory,” so to speak, all at the same time.

So, like most people, I have to reduce a lot of talking and studying into a small, manageable point. Faith is an active and even physical process. It may start with intellectual ascent of the existence of God and a spiritual awareness of the presence of the Creator, but that means nothing unless it also encompasses a lived obedience to God.

For the generation who died in the desert (except for a very few such as Joshua and Caleb), even the physical awareness of the Divine Presence with them for over forty years on a daily basis was not enough for them to merit entry into the Land of Israel or into the Messianic Kingdom. They failed to obey. They failed to fulfill the promise of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by entering the Land, going to war, and taking possession of Israel.

For the readers of the letter of Hebrews, like the generation in the desert standing on the eastern bank of the Jordan, they too stand on the threshold, risking everything, risking the fate of the faithless generation of Israelites, should they also test God as did that generation of their Fathers. Intellectual knowledge and spiritual awareness are not enough. Lived, active obedience to God in the continuation of their faith in Messiah as the future King who is coming but who already rules is an absolute requirement.

The readers of the letter had waited thirty years and their faith was wavering. We’ve waited almost two-thousand years. What about us?

For more about a traditional Jewish perspective on Messiah, the world today, and the world to come, see Moshiach and the World Today.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Enter My Rest

Three possible interpretations of Psalm 95:11 prepare us for understanding the discussion in Hebrews 3:7ff regarding the generation in the wilderness that did not enter into God’s rest. An important preface to the Sabbath discussion of Hebrews 4.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Ten: Enter My Rest
Originally presented on March 9, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This lesson covers all of Hebrews 3 and most of Hebrews 4, but it all hinges on an understanding of Psalm 95:

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would listen to his voice!
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they do not regard my ways.”
Therefore in my anger I swore,
“They shall not enter my rest.”

Psalm 95 (NRSV)

There are three possible ways of looking at this Psalm that affect today’s study. But before getting into that, we need to ask, what is “God’s rest?”

Lancaster took his audience through a quick Hebrew language lesson. The word “Shabbat” is based on the Hebrew verb “Shavat” which means “to rest.” But that’s not the word used in Psalm 95:11. Lancaster says it’s the Hebrew word “Minuchah” (noun) which is also based on a Hebrew verb for “to rest.” Lancaster cited another reference to the Shabbat in verse 7: “O that today you would listen to his voice.” In this context, “today” is a Hebrew idiom for Shabbat . Also, to “listen,” or more accurately rendered “to hear,” is idiomatic for “hear and obey,” and is better rendered in English as “to heed.”

So it sounds like those who did not “heed” (hear and obey) God’s voice will not enter His rest, which we could interpret as Shabbat. But who are we talking about?

How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they complain against me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the Lord, “I will do to you the very things I heard you say: your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me, not one of you shall come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become booty, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have despised. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness for forty years, and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” I the Lord have spoken; surely I will do thus to all this wicked congregation gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.

Numbers 14:27-35 (NRSV)

Mount SinaiBecause of the faithlessness of the Israelites, because they failed to hear and obey God and fulfill the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to enter and take the Land (all except Joshua and Caleb who desired to do so), they shall not enter God’s rest. This generation of Israelites, the ones directly redeemed from slavery in Egypt, would die in the desert and not enter.

Not enter what?

The first interpretation says they would not enter the Shabbat, but that’s ridiculous because they kept the Shabbat for the entire forty years they lived in the desert.

The second interpretation seems to make more sense. They did not enter the Land of Israel. Is that correct, though? I suppose it is literally, but could something else be going on?

Lancaster relates that according to Rabbi Akiva inTractate Sanhedrin, the generation in the wilderness would not enter the age to come. Now this gets a little confusing as sometimes this means the Messianic Age and on other occasions, it means everlasting life or eternity. Is Akiva saying the generation in the desert, to put it in Christian terms, are “damned?” Rabbi Yochanan disagrees and says that they will enter the world to come, that is, eternity, and offers accompanying proof texts.

Let’s get back to the word “Minuchah”. What does it mean? What can it mean? It can mean “rest” or “resting place”. After the Torah service, when the Torah scroll is returned to the ark, the ark is referred to as God’s resting place. One interpretation of Isaiah 66 is that God’s resting place can be the Temple or even Israel in the Messianic Kingdom.

So we have three possibilities. God’s rest or resting place is:

  1. Shabbat
  2. Israel
  3. The Messianic Kingdom

To find the correct interpretation for our study of Hebrews, we have to ask the Apostles or at least the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews. Starting in Hebrews 3:7, it says “according to the Holy Spirit,” implying that David, who wrote Psalm 95, was inspired by the Spirit. Verses 7 thought 11 quotes Psalm 95. Then, the letter writer states:

Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 3:12-14 (NRSV)

The writer of Hebrews is comparing the situation of his audience, who are suffering from a profound crisis of faith at losing access to the Temple (or at least potentially so) to the generation in the wilderness who lost faith and failed to obey God. Whatever fate the generation in the wilderness suffered for faithlessness, if the readers of Hebrews also loses faith and becomes disobedient, that consequence will be theirs, too.

soul_cries_outSo what would they lose? Shabbat observance? Unlikely. The Land of Israel? They, according to Lancaster, were living in Israel and since Lancaster dates the letter at about 63 CE, before the destruction of the Temple and the great exile, he doesn’t believe the writer or readers of Hebrews suspected any of that was coming. Entry into the Messianic Era seems to be the correct interpretation and what Lancaster is saying is that, just as the generation in the desert lost their place in the coming age of Messiah (which doesn’t mean they lost eternal life in the age to come, necessarily) for their faithlessness, if the readers of Hebrews continue on their path of faithlessness, they too will lose their place in the Age and Kingdom of Messiah when he returns.

So the letter functions both as an encouragement and a cautionary tale.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.

Hebrews 4:1 (NRSV)

There’s still time. This could go either way. If the readers of the letter choose to emulate the faith of Joshua and Caleb, who did merit to enter Israel and also a place in the Messianic Kingdom, then they too will share in that promise. However, if they should be like the faithless generation who died in the desert and lost entry into the Messianic Age, this too will be their consequence.

Oh, in verse 2, when the text says, “good news came to us just as to them,” that doesn’t mean Moses preached the Gospel of Jesus to the ancient Israelites, but rather the “good news” for the ancient Israelites is that the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was at hand, the promise of taking the Land for their own possession. Just “go get it.” The good news for the readers of Hebrews and for the rest of us is much more than personal salvation and eternal life, it is to enter the Messianic Kingdom by the merit of the Master, Yeshua.

Lancaster throws a monkey wrench into his well-oiled machine when verses 4 and 5 mention the “seventh day” again. So does this mean we are talking about Shabbat after all and not the Messianic Kingdom? Verses 7 and 8 also mention “today,” which as was mentioned above, is idiomatic for Shabbat.

However there is this:

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God

Hebrews 4:8-9 (NRSV)

So entering Israel isn’t “the rest” and losing Israel though exile isn’t losing the rest. What is that rest, then? Lancaster ends today’s sermon with that question. Come back next week when we all hope he can pull an answer out of this “cliffhanger.”

What Did I Learn?

Let’s revisit a few verses:

For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“As in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
though his works were finished at the foundation of the world.

Hebrews 4:3-4 (NRSV)

minyanA Kingdom that was already established since the foundation of the world and is not here yet should remind you of Lancaster’s sermon on Partisans which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. It also reminded me of Brad Young’s book The Jewish Foundation to the Lord’s Prayer which I reviewed last week. The Kingdom of God or the Messianic Kingdom, according to Young, is something each of us, as believers, makes up, as if we are individual bricks being used to construct that Kingdom. All together, we are the Kingdom, and every time someone comes to faith, they are added to the overall structure. But to lose faith and abandon the Master is to remove ourselves from the structure and we lose being part of the Kingdom. I think that could be what the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews is saying. Perhaps this is also what the generation in the desert lost through faithlessness.

One of the greatest continual debates in Christianity is whether or not a believer can lose salvation. Rabbi Akiva said that the faithless Israelites did lose their place in the world to come (eternity) but Rabbi Yochanan disagreed. Perhaps they did lose their participation in the Kingdom of Heaven, but this is different from eternity. A great mystery how this would work, I must admit. And here we are sitting on the edge of Lancaster’s cliff, hanging around, so to speak.

May next week bring and answer and more illumination in this fresh perspective on Hebrews.

Oh, I just want to remind you to actually listen to the forty minute sermon (the link is at the top). I didn’t write down everything Lancaster taught.