Tag Archives: Old Testament

Review of Messiah Journal: Christian Theology and the Old Testament

I’ve slowly been reading through the various articles in the latest issue of Messiah Journal (issue 116/Summer 2014) but haven’t had the time to comment on it before this. While there are many good and worthy articles contained therein (as always), I was most taken with the one written by Paul E. Meier called “Christian Theology and the Old Testament” (pp 76-94).

First, a little background:

Paul Meier and his wife, Inge, spent over three decades as Bible translators with Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International in Nigeria before retiring in 1996. Meier and his wife heard Messianic Jewish pioneer Abram Poljak in Switzerland in the 1950s and, since 2000, have worked with friends who knew Poljak to preserve his writings in an online archive at www.abrampoljak.net. To learn more about their experiences in Bible translation, visit their website at www.israel-pro.org.

-from the article’s introduction, pg 76

I’ve spent almost no time on either website mentioned above. I want to focus on Meier’s article and what it means to me both generally and in terms of recent issues in my little corner of the blogosphere.

Meier compares the Bible to a structure with two stories. Access to that structure is on the main floor. To understand the structure as a whole, a visitor must start with the first room on the first floor, visit each room in turn, and only then proceed to the second floor and visit all of those rooms in turn. Upon completing the visits to all of the rooms, the visitor then returns to the first floor, exits the building, and contemplates the experience as a whole to gain insights as to what the structure means.

The first floor is what Christianity calls the Old Testament and the second floor is the New Testament. The building is locked, so to gain entrance to the main lobby, you need a key. This key is “interpretation”. In many Christian churches, the main agent of interpreting the Bible is the Holy Spirit.

But…

If we believe that God inspired the books of the Bible, we must also accept that God had an overarching plan and purpose as he inspired these various texts. Yet if this is the case, we need to ask, why are there so many extant interpretations of these same texts? Why do so many interpreters arrive at different conclusions? How can they all claim to have been led to these disparate conclusions by the same Holy Spirit?

-Meier, pg 77

Meier “hooked” me at “overarching plan and purpose.”, because I believe the Bible is a holistic document describing the historically sweeping panorama of God’s plan for Israel and the world, not something to be carved and sliced like a Thanksgiving turkey (“I only like the drumsticks”). I have asked the exact same question that Meier posed above to Pastors and online religious pundits, and their answers have ranged from “sin” to “not trusting the Holy Spirit” to “being influenced by the interpretations of men.” None of these responses have been particularly satisfying, since you’d expect some subset of Christians who are truly receiving interpretive revelations from the Spirit to all share an identical perception and understanding of the Bible.

And that body does not exist. Instead, we have churches upon churches upon churches and many other congregational groups that all have their individual “take” on the Bible, and even within a single congregation, it’s common to encounter many different individuals who have their own way of looking at different areas of scripture. I think I’m getting a headache.

Meier’s answer makes as much sense as any other one and perhaps more sense than most:

Scripture points out that the understanding of individual believers is fragmental; each one of us has been granted a different degree of insight (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). The dimensions of God’s love are so vast that the whole body of believers is needed in order to comprehend them (Ephesians 3:18). God may give more insight to some than to others; he gives to each one according to the measure of his grace (Romans 12:3, Ephesians 4:7).

-ibid

In other words, not all believers are created equal in terms of how the Holy Spirit will speak to them of the Bible, nor are all believers identical as far as their innate cognitive, perceptual, and interpretive skills sets relative to the Bible. We are each granted the gifts God has provided “according to the measure of his grace” which may have something to do with why we all see the message of the Bible differently.

That doesn’t explain why many of us have contradictory perceptions of the Bible, but what can and does get in the way is our own humanity, our needs, our wants, our “I’ve got to have it this way”. This may also explain why it’s better for us to congregate in somewhat diverse groups rather than go it alone in Bible study or only study with people who think and believe exactly as we do.

Think of it as a group of people all trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together. But the pieces of the puzzle aren’t loosely collected in a central box, they’re loosely collected in the pockets of the different people building the puzzle. First, these people have to come together and be willing to cooperate by sharing their pieces with the others. Ideas of how the pieces fit together will vary, sometimes widely, but (and this is where I think the Holy Spirit comes into my little analogy) finally with all the pieces on the table, one by one, the group begins to see a pattern starting to emerge.

puzzleBut what if you go to a Baptist church, and the person who holds some of the vital pieces to the interpretive puzzle attends a Messianic synagogue thousands of miles away? Interesting problem. We might have to expand our understanding of Biblical hermeneutics to realize that it’s not just the particular method we employ in our interpretive process, it’s the people we have on our team, the necessary talent that they possess and we lack, that will make the difference.

A second principle to keep in mind is the fact that the different texts that comprise the Bible were written in diverse literary styles; furthermore, they were composed over hundreds of years, and each text reflects a then-current understanding of the past, present, and future. Different parts of the story were revealed at different times; God alone sees the entire story from beginning to end.

-ibid

This will likely appeal to dispensationalists and progressive revelationists, and Meier does believe that God progressively revealed himself in history. On the other hand, most dispensationalists believe that the text of the Bible becomes more important and relevant as time passes, leaving the older sections of the Bible to decay and finally become obsolete. This leads most Christians to possess a very high view of the New Testament and a lower to very low view of the Old Testament, with some church Pastors almost never referring to the Old Testament at all in their sermons and classes.

As Meier says (pg 78), the “Christian aversion to the Old Testament is not a modern phenomenon.”

Meier spends some time on the “church fathers,” introducing Marcion (the Heretic) who we tend to dismiss but who nevertheless has an echo of influence on the modern Church. And then there’s this:

Marcion’s contemporary Justin Martyr was one of the first to articulate a position of replacement theology, also known as displacement, transfer, or supersessionist theology. Avner Boskey succinctly described this theological stream as “an expression of Gentile triumphalism in the early church.”

-ibid, pg 81

churchThis hasn’t subsequently gone away. Any church that teaches “the Church” is the primary body of Messiah and the center of God’s attention and relegates national Israel and the corporate body of Jewish people to playing second fiddle is an inheritor of “Gentile triumphalism.” And lest you are tempted to include Jews in “the Church,” I must remind you that the price of admission a Jewish person must pay for entry into “the Church” is a surrender of most if not all that makes that individual a Jew, apart from a string of DNA, including any view of the Torah that has the mitzvot remaining relevant and obligatory for a Jew.

If you are thinking the “men of the Reformation” corrected all of the errors that came in before them, think again:

The great reformers Calvin and Luther modified their inherited filter and read the Old Testament in fresh light; unfortunately, they were not able to overcome their inherited tendency to interpret many Old Testament prophecies allegorically.

-ibid, pg 84

Thus the history of the (Gentile) Church, from its very inception in the second century CE into the modern age, has inherited interpretive traditions and structures that are so integrated into general Christian theology and doctrine as to be indistinguishable from actual “God-breathed” scripture itself. My own attempts to summarize Gentile involvement in the New Covenant, which depart from standard Christian fare, illustrate how tightly bound are inherited interpretive tradition in Christianity to what the Bible does and doesn’t say.

If I could give the Meier article to each person reading this review, I would, because it’s just that important to how Christians interpret and (often) misinterpret the Bible. I can’t describe everything Meier wrote, but I can point to a few important matters related to how we generally devalue the Old Testament and build our New Testament “castle” in the clouds with practically no foundation at all.

The Old Testament is a record of the history of the Hebrew people, the history of Israel. A theology in which Israel has no prophetically significant role in the future is a theology in which Israel has no significant role in the present.

-ibid, pg 79

I point you to recent events in Israel to illustrate Christianity’s (or some of its representatives) disdain for the Jewish people as a result of the devaluation of Israel’s history, the Old Testament.

Further:

If all prophecies concerning Israel have been fulfilled in Christ and all that remains to be accomplished is the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth, then there is no difference left between Israel and the church or between Israel and the nations. (emph. mine)

-ibid

Messiah JournalThis is the classic error in much of Christianity including some portions of the Hebrew Roots movement, and their requirement for this lack of distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the body of Messiah necessitates them making artificial, interpretive shifts in their viewpoint of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, to justify their position.

If Israel has been replaced by the church, either through having been deprived of its original identity or else through having been set aside during the so-called church age, then all the prophecies concerning the future of Israel must be divorced from the context in which they were delivered — the context of the greater story of Israel as told by the Old Testament. (emph. mine)

-ibid

Do you see where this is going? Regardless of whether Israel’s original identity as a unique and especially chosen nation, the Jewish nation, is removed (Hebrew Roots/One Law) and/or replaced with a fused Jewish/Gentile identity, or it is set aside during the “church age” (Christianity), the result is exactly the same, and the cause is a misunderstanding and misapprehension of the content and significance of the Old Testament in being the chronicle of God’s covenant relationship with Israel.

When we do not understand the Old Testament on its own terms, it becomes difficult if not impossible to understand God’s nature, plan, and purpose. We find it difficult to explain why God chose one nation through which to reveal his being to the rest of mankind and to express his desire to bring salvation, because we fail to acknowledge the historical reality that Israel and God have been in covenant for millennia and that God chose to reveal the texts of the Old Testament within the context of this covenant relationship.

-ibid, pg 80

And yet, many, many Christians put the New Testament at a far more exalted level than the Old Testament, ironically enough, cutting themselves (or the true understanding of salvation and the Good News of Messiah to Israel and then the nations) off at the knees.

A third problem is that many Christians believe that the Old Testament must be understood through the eyes of the New Testament.

-ibid, pg 82

Abrahamic CovenantI’ve spoken with Christians, both in person and online, who do not believe that any rendition of living relationships and events in the Old Testament have any intrinsic value or meaning, but only exist as “types and shadows” of Jesus and the Church. Some don’t even believe that the people we see in the Old Testament were real people, only “stories” pointing to Jesus. From their perspective, Abraham and Sarah never existed as actual individuals. Neither did Boaz and Ruth. They were mere representatives of Christian redemption and salvation. Only the Church matters, just “me and Jesus”.

An interesting variant of supersessionism is brought out by Meier, one that I hadn’t considered before. Typically, I have run into a replacement theology that says the Church has taken the place of Israel and the Jewish people in all of the covenant promises and blessings. But something else has emerged:

As a result, he now incorporates, as N.T. Wright has put it, “Israel-in-person.” This type of “fulfillment” theology is merely a new incarnation of replacement theology, regardless of what exactly was fulfilled in the life of Jesus…

-ibid, pg 83

I ran into this “Israel-in-person” theology just the other day in the Jesus-believing blogosphere which illustrates that even with the best intentions, and even with believers who have a strongly stated love for Israel and the Jewish people, it is still quite possible to let a deeply underlying tradition and multi-generational history of how we view the Old Testament and consequentially, the Jewish people, distort the reality of God’s New Covenant plan for Israel (and for Gentile Christians), present and future.

You may be thinking that I’m (again) removing the Gentiles from any connectedness to the New Covenant, for it is only through the blessings of that covenant that we may be saved, but look at this:

Jesus stated that he was sent only to the house of Israel, yet he came to prepare that house to carry God’s message to all humanity. This plan was described throughout the Old Testament (for instance, Psalm 87, Isaiah 49;6).

-ibid, pg 85

JudaismThe plan and purpose of Messiah in relation to Israel, the New Covenant, and inclusion of Gentiles can only be properly understood by taking a high view of the Old Testament and being willing to make the Old Testament the foundation of your understanding of the Bible, reading scripture from earlier to later rather from Paul backward. Otherwise, you end up with what Meier calls a “Christianized Jesus” rather than Moshiach, Son of David, the Jewish King.

One of the key points Meier made was:

God revealed his nature and his intentions progressively across the history of Israel. Yet later revelations do not replace earlier ones; rather, they build upon them.

-ibid, pg 86

If you remove the earlier covenants and their conditions in order to “make room” for later ones, you are removing the foundation and framework of the house in order to put on the siding and the roof. You end up with a structure that cannot possibly stand.

Of all the different forms of replacement theology Meier described, I found the following most illuminating as it describes my current church experience:

On the other end of the spectrum, the most conservative scholars take an overly restrictive stance, teaching that one must rely on these kinds of typological interpretations only when the New Testament explicitly confirms them.

-ibid, pg 88

Have you ever heard a Christian Pastor or lay teacher say that commandments in the Old Testament only remain valid for Christians if confirmed in the New Testament? I have. It’s like saying the “sacrament” of marriage remains valid because it was confirmed by Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:8) but keeping Kosher is not, presumably because of Mark 7:19 and Acts 10:15.

Really, who made that rule up? Obviously someone who didn’t believe “all scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). For if all scripture comes from God, and the only Bible Paul had when he wrote those words was the “Old Testament,” then whatever we have in those ancient scriptures can stand on its own “legs” and doesn’t need the writings of the apostles to support it.

sefer torahThere’s a lot more I wish I could share with you about Meier’s article, but this blog post is long enough as it is. I may write one more “meditation” on something Meier said about how much we do (or don’t) translate sections of the Old Testament into the languages of people in other cultures who have never been exposed to the Bible before. How much of the Bible do we really teach them in their own language, and what impact on their understanding of the true Jesus Christ do missionaries impart who not only distort the Old Testament due to their devaluing it, but who actually leave out much or most of the Old Testament books in their work with new disciples of the Master?

I don’t believe Meier is attributing bad motives to Christians who take a low view of the Old Testament. After all, they (we) are doing what Christians have been taught to do for hundreds and hundreds of years, by a tradition that goes back to the early church fathers and was then inherited and re-enforced by the men of the Reformation.

But a low view of the Old Testament means a low view of Israel in God’s past, present, and future plans, and a low view of Israel fragments the foundation upon which the redemption and salvation of Gentile Christianity is supposed to rest. When we disdain the Old Testament and set aside the centrality of Israel, we not only insult God, we destroy our own future in the Kingdom.

This is why I keep on writing as I do. I cannot allow so many believers to innocently, unknowingly face a supposed salvation in which they feel utterly secure, but in reality, one that is constructed firmly on shifting sand.

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Review of “What About the New Covenant,” Part 2

Session Two: The Breit Chadashah

D. Thomas Lancaster started this second lecture in the series by taking me more than a few years back into my own history in the Hebrew Roots movement. He said that when he first became involved in Messianic Judaism, even though most people in his group didn’t know Hebrew, there were a few “Hebrewisms” that everyone was expected to observe.

Never say “Jesus”. Always say “Yeshua”. Say “Messiah” instead of “Christ”. Say “Torah” instead of “Law”. Really remember to say “Rav Shaul” rather than “Paul.” Also, say “Breit Chadashah” instead of “New Testament.”

Although some of my readers are scrupulous to use these “Hebrewisms” when emailing me or commenting, even though they may not be well-versed in Hebrew (though a few are quite proficient), some of them probably feel they have to follow this sort of “Messianic Political Correctness speak” in order to be acceptable or perhaps they feel they’re correcting past wrongs and, after all, Messianic Gentiles and Hebrew Roots Christians don’t want to sound too “church-y”.

But there’s a fundamental misunderstanding that most people in the Church and many in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic movements have, that the “New Testament,” that is the books in our Bibles that start with Matthew and end with Revelation, is the same thing as the “New Covenant.”

It’s not.

But to understand that point, we have to understand what the Old Covenant is and that the Old Covenant is not the same as the Torah or what Christians call “the Law.”

I covered some of this territory in last week’s review but Lancaster adds more detail in today’s sermon.

Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. The people all answered as one: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.

Exodus 19:5-8 (NRSV)

This is the Old Covenant in a nutshell. It’s an agreement and a rather simple one at that. God says, if you, Israel, obey me, then I, God, will make you a ”priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” More simply put, God agrees that if Israel obeys Him ”Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:7)

Once the people agreed to the Covenant, then Moses initiated it.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Exodus 24:3-8 (NRSV)

Moses at NeboThis formally sealed the Covenant relationship between Israel and God. If you look at verses 9 through 11, you’ll see representatives of Israel having a meal in the presence of God since, in last week’s lecture, Lancaster said it was traditional behavior among two human parties, such as a great King and a vassal nation, to share a meal after a treaty had been settled.

The actual Covenant was the agreement between God and Israel, and Israel, for their part, were responsible to obey God in order to hold up their end of the bargain. But how? That’s where the Torah comes in. It defines the specific conditions and stipulations that Israel must obey.

However, there’s a problem. Israel’s obedience was rather poor. In fact, the first time they disobeyed was very soon after their initial agreement by building the Golden Calf (see Exodus 32). After that, the Covenant had to be renewed and it was renewed many times. But Israel, sadly, fell into a pattern of disobedience and sin. As part of the Covenant conditions, if the people obeyed, then God would be their God and they would be His people, but when they disobeyed, He ceased to be their God and they ceased to be His people. Then God sent an army and great destruction usually happened, sometimes with the people going into exile. Once they cried out to God and repented, God would send a rescuer, defeat Israel’s enemies, and restore the people to their Land.

And this happened over and over again. The Book of Judges is a good chronicle of this but the pattern is recorded in much of the Tanakh (Old Testament).

I mentioned that a lot of New Covenant language is found in Jeremiah 31 and Lancaster said that we need to understand the context of Jeremiah to get this.

In Jeremiah 3:1-5 we see Israel depicted as an unfaithful wife, and in spite of many calls to repentance, such as in verses 6 though 25, Israel remains uncaring and God sends the armies of Babylon to destroy Jerusalem.

But amid this tragic tale, Jeremiah introduces hope in the form of a future redemption, but one like Israel had never seen before.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NRSV)

Now remember, the conditions of the Covenant are not the Covenant itself. The conditions of the Old Covenant are the Torah, but Jeremiah isn’t saying that the conditions are what’s new, it’s the Covenant that’s new.

Sofer-Sefer-TorahWhat’s so new in the New Covenant?

In the Old Covenant, God spoke the words of the Covenant to Moses who spoke them to Israel. Israel agreed and everything was written down on scrolls or tablets and the people were to refer to those conditions to, first understand what they had agreed to, and then to actually do what they’d agreed to do by performing the mitzvot.

In the New Covenant, instead of doing all that, God writes the conditions of the Covenant on the hearts and puts them in the minds of the people of Israel and then it becomes second nature for them to obey. The Torah conditions are internalized rather than being externally referenced.

The Old Covenant was written on scrolls and the New Covenant will be, or is in the process of being, written on human hearts and human natures.

But the conditions are the same.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking if Gentiles are also benefiting to the New Covenant through faith in Jesus (Yeshua), then are those same conditions being written on our hearts as well?

Yes and no.

In the Torah is there a condition for Gentiles to circumcise their males on the eighth day of life? No, that requirement is only for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Gentiles are exempt. I’ve said before that the Acts 15 decision formally spelled out the conditions that Gentiles are responsible for carrying out, and it’s only through the blessings of one part of the Abrahamic covenant that the nations are attached to the New Covenant at all. Jews already knew the conditions that applied to them because they were the same ones established by the Sinai (Old) Covenant and they never changed.

But what about this?

But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.

God finds fault with them when he says: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…

Hebrews 8:6-8 (NRSV)

Torah at SinaiIt’s scriptures such as this that Christians use to prove that the Old Covenant was replaced by the New, but look at what the writer of Hebrews is actually saying. As he is about to quote from Jeremiah 31, he says, ”God finds fault with them (emph. mine)…” He doesn’t say God found fault with it, that is, the Old Covenant, but with them, with Israel, with the people, because they didn’t obey the conditions of the Covenant because of sin.

The solution wasn’t to change the Covenant but instead, to change the people, so it would be possible to fulfill the conditions of the Old Covenant originally spelled out at Sinai. The New Covenant (and not renewed) is a new method of delivery and institution so Israel will be obedient by design.

So how did we get into the mess we’re in as Christians today? How did this get screwed up?

According to Lancaster, the Church Fathers in the second and third centuries CE knew that they didn’t have to keep the conditions of the Old Covenant as did the Jews but they didn’t know why. The Apostles taught that Gentiles had a different (and somewhat overlapping) set of conditions but once the last of the Apostles died, the Gentiles made a few assumptions (or perhaps a few deliberate errors to serve a specific purpose, but that’s my opinion). Lancaster said these Gentile Christians assumed that everyone, Jew and Gentile in Jesus, kept the Gentile standards of obedience, and the Gentile Christians actually criticized (and later persecuted) Jews for not abandoning the “Old Covenant” conditions.

The other shocker for some Christians is that we aren’t really living in New Covenant times right now. Sure, the death and resurrection of Jesus started a process by which the New Covenant era began to arrive but it’s not fully with us yet. Otherwise, we wouldn’t sin. Otherwise the conditions of the New Covenant would be written on our hearts rather than in the Bible and we would all just naturally obey God.

Sadly, I must confess that I do not naturally obey God. I have to struggle with obedience. Chances are, you do, too. It will only be when the New Covenant Era fully arrives that we really will be “new creatures” and “new creations”. We aren’t there yet. We’re a work in progress.

That doesn’t stop you and me from repenting now. Why wait? Messiah is coming.

If my reviews are piquing your interest, you can find the complete, five-disc set of Lancaster’s New Covenant lectures at First Fruits of Zion. I’ll review the third lecture next week.

For more on this topic and how historical and modern Christianity has misunderstood the New Covenant, see my blog post The Two-Thousand Year Old Christian Mistake.

The Face of the King

lion-in-the-stormThe sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.

Ezekiel 37:20-23 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

This is a time yet to come. This is a time when God will restore all of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as a single, united people. The kingdoms will not be divided as they were in days of old. One Israel under One God.

“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”’”

Ezekiel 37:24-28 (NASB)

More over, united Israel will be ruled by One King, King Messiah, Son of David. But look at this. Messiah, the King of Israel and Ruler of the World will be their prince forever.

That would be pretty hard to do if Messiah were merely mortal. Of course, in the Messianic age, many will be resurrected, never to die again, so we could say the same of Messiah. But as a Christian, I must believe that Messiah is more.

God also says that the people of Israel, the Jewish people, will “walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.” I know I recently wrote about all this, but I’m going through my notes on my recent reading of the latter portion of Ezekiel, so I thought this would be a good time to try to pull them together. I hope I can avoid repeating myself too much.

One puzzling thing I found was this:

Then I heard one speaking to me from the house, while a man was standing beside me. He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever.

Ezekiel 43:6-7 (NASB)

I checked a large number of translations of Ezekiel 43:7 and all except one said that the Divine Presence would inhabit Ezekiel’s Temple, the Temple of the Messianic Era, forever (Young’s Literal Translation says “to the age”). You can read the larger context of that chapter to confirm that God is speaking of inhabiting the Temple of Jerusalem in the Messianic age forever. Why is this such a big deal?

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

Revelation 21:22 (NASB)

This describes events after the arrival of the New Jerusalem, after the thousand-year reign of Messiah, after all that had to come to pass has come to past. Humanity is restored in the Garden as such, and God dwells with His people as He did in the beginning.

temple_jerusalemSo how can God dwell in Ezekiel’s temple forever if in the New Jerusalem there is no temple. More to the point, God and the Lamb are the temple. I’m not even sure what that means. I posed the question to a friend of mine and he suggested that as human history ends and we all move into eternity, maybe “forever” ends, too. After all, Messiah said that the Torah wouldn’t pass away until heaven and earth passed away (Matthew 5:18). At some point, heaven and earth, as we understand them, must pass away and something eternal must come in their stead.

Still, one of the things I’m trying to accomplish on this “mission” is to discover any dissonance between how the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament depict the Messiah and the age to come. The above definitely seems to qualify.

Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord,
For what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you?
It will be darkness and not light…

Amos 5:18 (NASB)

We all want the Messiah to come to rescue and repair our broken world, but we also forget that it won’t be *poof* Messiah comes and instantly everything is fixed. There is going to be terrible war against Israel’s enemies which probably will include everyone. It won’t be pretty. Good thing the Church will be raptured up to Heaven for those seven years (I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek).

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Revelation 7:13-14 (NASB)

Wait a minute. Who is coming out of the tribulation?

Verse 14 doesn’t identify these people beyond saying that they are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, but they can’t be the Church, at least from a Christian point of view, since the last we see of the Church on earth is in Chapters 4 and 5. Everything in Chapters 6 through 19 is about the tribulation which the Church misses…

…or do they (we)?

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. (emph. mine)

Revelation 13:7-10 (NASB)

What are “saints” doing on earth during the tribulation and undergoing such harsh conditions for the perseverance of their faith? Of course, they could be people who came to faith after the Church was raptured, but would they be called “saints?” Usually people in the Church are called “saints.”

waiting-for-mannaThe doctrine of the Rapture didn’t come along until the 17th century, so it wasn’t as if the concept most Christians are pinning their hopes and dreams on has been around since the beginning. In fact, Googling “rapture doctrine” returns a series of links, many of which lead to web pages (of unverified validity) that criticize this very recent Church doctrine.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 speaks of apostasy or “falling away” of the faithful that will occur when many are deceived by the “man of lawlessness.” I can’t directly tie any “falling away” to Christians expecting a rapture to Heaven that never arrives, but I could very well believe that a lot of Christians will indeed fall away once the tribulation starts and they’re still here during the war between Messiah and Israel’s enemies. Why weren’t we given the break and free passage to Heaven we were promised from the pulpit?

I’m not saying all this to be mean-spirited but as a cautionary tale. What if Amos 5:18 is talking to believers, explaining to us that we shouldn’t be so quick to desire the coming of Messiah because it will be “the great and terrible day of the Lord.”

“I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
“And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.”

Daniel 7:13-14 (NASB)

This is obviously a vision of Messiah’s coming, but I’ve always wondered why Daniel phrased it “one like the Son of Man?” Here we have a description of the Son of Man’s Kingdom never being destroyed, we have a vision of him coming on clouds of heaven (as opposed to just being born and being a great but totally human Jewish leader as most of Judaism believes of the Moshiach), and we get the sense that he is more than human.

Renowned Talmud scholar Daniel Boyarin wrote a book called The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, which I reviewed on more than one occasion. Boyarin, who is Jewish and not a believer, makes a credible case for why a large number of first century Jews in Israel and the diaspora came to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah. Part of his evidence for why Yeshua would be seen as a legitimate candidate for Messiah comes from Daniel 7.

This classic and mysterious Jewish text by a well-known but possibly not a well understood prophet may be one of the keys to unlocking the identity of Moshiach. I sometimes receive criticism from Jewish people for my continuing faith, but somewhere between traditional Christian evangelism and Jewish anti-missionaries, may be an unbiased truth in the reading of the Bible. We must seek it out in order to escape our “religious blinders” about Messiah, so that we can see him as he truly is, not as how one doctrine or another imagines him to be.

And the children of Zion, rejoice and jubilate with the Lord your God, for He gave you the teacher for justification, and He brought down for you rain, the early rain and the late rain in the first month.

Joel 2:23

the-teacher2I had to go to Chabad.org to find a translation that describes Messiah as a teacher. Most Christian Bible translations render “He gave you the teacher” as something like “He has given you the early rain…” (NASB translation).

The Douay-Rheims Bible says “he hath given you a teacher of justice,” and Young’s Literal Translation says “He hath given you the Teacher for righteousness.”

The Jewish understanding of Messiah is that, among other things, he will come to teach us what we need to know of his ways and how we should serve him. Christianity expects a warrior, a priest, and a King, but we miss how he will teach us the Torah of justice and righteousness, tzedakah if you will (see my review of the FFOZ TV episode Seek First the Kingdom for a more detailed description of the relationship between tzedakah [charity] and justice and righteousness).

So what can we conclude from my brief (and hardly comprehensive) review of Messianic prophesy?

  • Messiah will come as the One and eternal King of Israel, return the exiled Jews to their Land, the Land of Israel, and unite them as a one people in one Kingdom ruled by one King Messiah forever.
  • The “law of the land” (Israel) will be Torah, and the Jewish people will walk in God’s statues and ordinances as in days of old, but with the Torah written on their hearts rather than on scrolls.
  • The Divine Presence will once again inhabit the third and final Temple in Jerusalem forever (though we have difficulty reconciling this with Rev. 21).
  • There will be “saints” going through the tribulation who suffer and who are killed for the sake of their faith, drawing into sharp dispute the accuracy of the modern doctrine of “the Rapture,” which states “the Church” will be literally removed from earth and into Heaven for the entire length of those troubled days.
  • The Messiah is the Son of Man and the Prince, who seems to be more than a man, who will reign eternally, who will come on the clouds of heaven, possibly in direct contradiction of modern Jewish religious thought (for the most part) which states Messiah will be completely human with no supernatural (and certainly no Divine) nature.
  • Of his many roles in the age to come, Messiah will be a teacher of justice and righteousness.

Who is the King in the age to come? Who is Messiah, Son of David, Son of God?

Christians know him as Jesus Christ. Most religious Jews see him as King Messiah. Any similarity between the two is faint at best and at worst, nonexistent.

But if you believe in a Messiah at all as either Christian or Jew, you have a duty to set aside your preconceptions and what you have been taught (and what has been assumed by your religious stream for hundreds of years) and investigate for yourself what the scriptures say. In my case, this is paying close attention to any dissonance that may occur between the Old and New Testaments. Messiah is an objective being, apart from our need to paint his portrait one way or the other. Instead of seeking his portrait, I need to see his face.

What Else Could We Possibly Need?

the-teacher2The unique quality of Mashiach is that he will be humble. Though he will be the ultimate in greatness, for he will teach Torah to the Patriarchs and to Moshe Rabeinu (alav hashalom), still he will be the ultimate in humility and self-nullification, for he will also teach simple folk.

“Today’s Day”
Monday, Menachem Av 1, Rosh Chodesh, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

I agree that through the Abrahamic Covenant we are to understand that the New Covenant is also a way of understanding God’s relations with Gentiles in the coming age. Though not stated directly, when Israel is living the New Covenant promises the nations will be part of expanded Israel (Ephesians 2 language) and the parts of Torah that are for everyone will be the ways the nations follow.

from Derek Leman’s comment to me in his blog post
The New Testament is Not the New Covenant (Updated)

This is about the closest I’ve ever gotten to reblogging someone else’s blog post. I generally prefer to be inspired by the work of others and to add my own commentary, but I couldn’t think of anything to add to what Derek already wrote. He’s offered his audience a nice, neat, concise description of the role the New Testament writings play in the lives of believers and why the written Apostolic Scriptures are not equivalent to the New Covenant as mentioned in Jeremiah 31 (please click the link I’ve provided above to read Derek’s excellent article, including the comments section where Derek responds to Scot McKnight and 2 Corinthians 3:14-18).

This has important implications for Christianity and particularly churches that still cling to the old, outmoded doctrine of supersessionism, which is also sometimes known as replacement theology or fulfillment theology. If Christianity is supposed to replace Judaism in the covenant promises, we need something with which to replace the Law…and it’s not in the NT documentation.

I know what you’re going to say. Grace replaced the Law. Except that isn’t true. Grace is all over the Tanakh (Old Testament) starting with Adam and Eve in Eden and beyond. It was faith and grace that brought Abraham near to God. It was grace that followed Jacob and his children on their journeys and down into Egypt. It was grace that brought Moses close to God and grace that sent Moses down into Egypt to bring up the Children of Israel.

And in spite of all of their failures, it was grace that constantly brought Israel back to God when she strayed after other “lovers” like an unfaithful mate.

It was grace that brought the Messiah down to us from Heaven, the Divine in the form of flesh and blood, to announce the good news of redemption and salvation for Israel and through Israel, even for the people of the nations.

So grace didn’t “replace” the Law. In terms of its function in the life of humanity, it likely preceded the Law, at least in the form of a document, but at Sinai grace and Torah co-existed; two sides to the same coin. In fact, I’ll make a case that the Torah was one of God’s greatest gifts of grace to Israel rather than a puzzle that was always too hard for the Israelites to solve.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11 (NASB)

Many Christians think God only gave the Law to illustrate how tough it was to keep and to show, by comparison, how easy the yoke of Messiah was to uphold.

But again, that implies replacement, and we don’t see the Messiah bringing a different and better gift. Everything he taught and the entire way he lived was all built on what happened at Sinai. However, if Messiah is the culmination of the promises, what Torah always points to as the model of Holiness for Israel before the Father, then where do the Gentiles come in?

lifting-torahI’ve already answered that question. If you put that together with Derek’s commentary on the Old and New Covenants, you get a fairly complete picture of the history of how God works with human beings and the nature of salvation and redemption. You need only make the Jewish Gospel (part 1) and (part 2) more explicit, and you pretty much have the whole enchilada, so to speak.

How Christians have been taught to read and understand the Bible has missed some very important points and as a result, the church has felt well justified in walking all over Judaism and the Jewish people for many centuries. We are just now coming out of a very dark period and beginning to learn to take seriously the words of Messiah when he said “salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22). Gentile believers have not replaced the Jews in the covenant promises nor have we taken them over so that we too must look and act “Jewish” thereby eliminating the Jewish people as distinct and chosen.

It is human nature to want what you don’t have. We always want to acquire more.

A person is both wise and wealthy when you master the art of appreciating what you already have. View all that you have as a personal gift to you from our Father, our King, Creator and Sustainer of the universe. The outcome of mastering this is that you will live a joyous life. (Guaranteed!)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #874”
Aish.com

We who were once far away have been brought near by grace through faith, just as Abraham was brought close. As Paul shows us (Galatians 3:16), it is through his “seed,” that is, Messiah, that we non-Jewish disciples of Christ are brought into a relationship with God alongside the Jewish people, the inheritors of Sinai. It is through Israel’s Messiah that we Gentiles are also gathered by God, all of us who believe and are willing.

With such good and gracious gifts of God being given to mankind, what else could we ask for? What else could we possibly need? If we think we’re missing something, as the Chabad commentary about Mashiach states at the beginning of today’s “meditation,” a wise and humble Messiah will teach us all Torah as it applies to our roles and our lives, and the finger of God will complete the job of writing that Torah upon our hearts.