Tag Archives: Sinai covenant

Does the Pope Know Something The Rest of Us Don’t?

The Vatican says the Catholic Church must not try to convert Jews to Christianity.

Instead, the Catholic Church must work with Jews and Jewish institutions to further dialogue and mutually understand and fight anti-Semitism, according to the Vatican, which pledged “to do all that is possible with our Jewish friends to repel anti-Semitic tendencies.”

It [the document “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable”] added, “In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”

Goals in Jewish-Catholic dialogue, according to the document, include “joint engagement throughout the world for justice, peace, conservation of creation, and reconciliation” in a way that would make the religious contribute toward world peace. “Religious freedom guaranteed by civil authority is the prerequisite for such dialogue and peace,” it said.

“In Jewish-Christian dialogue the situation of Christian communities in the state of Israel is of great relevance, since there — as nowhere else in the world — a Christian minority faces a Jewish majority,” the document said. “Peace in the Holy Land — lacking and constantly prayed for — plays a major role in dialogue between Jews and Christians.”

from the article “Vatican Says Jews Don’t Need Christ to be Saved”

Well, that’s quite the revelation.

I’m sure anti-missionary groups such as Jews for Judaism will be happy to hear they won’t have to worry about Roman Catholics trying to convert Jews anymore.

I do agree that, as much as evangelism is a priority for the Christian Church, most Christians seem to think of converting Jews in a different light than any other people group. Maybe they think they get extra “points” from God when they convert a Jew (not that most Jewish people would feel good about this).

According to an Arutz Sheva story on the same matter, the authors of the aforementioned paper state:

How Jews being saved while not believing in Christ “can be possible remains an unfathomable mystery in the salvific plan of God,” they say.

judeo-christianI tried to find Christian reactions to this situation, but the closest thing I could find was at Rapture Forums (the name already has my spider-sense tingling).

One person wrote:

Clearly, they don’t believe the Bible…Acts 4:12.

The word MUST, must be emphasised.

Another person commented:

So much for John 14:6.
Don’t need that anymore.

Another referenced Matthew 23:37:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

The news is pretty new, so a lot of folks may not have weighed in with their opinions yet.

I turned to Facebook and something called The Truth is Viral displayed the most comments of anyone posting this story, at least as far as my short search could find.

Of 27 comments, the first two that appeared were:

Ronald: The Babylon Whore that rides on the Beast and commits fornication with the kings of the Earth . The Anti-Messiah who is drunk with the blood of the saints.

Matt: There was a Twilight Zone like this, the whole world had to change and we thought it was to get along but the reality was to see who was strongest and we destroyed ourselves.

pope francis
2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea

Others accused the Pope of worshiping Satan, that Mohammad was a false prophet (though Mohammad and Islam have nothing to do with this as far as I can tell), and other similar statements.

I decided to return to an old source for a more sane perspective:

But the Gospel for Jews works differently. It’s the same Gospel, but because the Jews are already God’s people, the Gospel of Yeshua the Messiah comes in a different way. It is still the case that through the Messiah, and only through Him, individual Jews receive atonement and forgiveness of sin – “For there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by whom we must be saved!” (Acts 4:12). But Jews are not alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, they are the commonwealth of Israel! They already have the covenants and the promises; and therefore in a communal sense they already have hope and “have” God. Before accepting Yeshua, Jews do not “have” God and His hope in the same sense as after accepting Him. After accepting Yeshua they have hope and God in an individual, salvific sense – they have forgiveness of their sins, God sees them as righteous because of Yeshua’s atoning death, and they have the certain hope of eternal life with God. Before accepting Yeshua a Jew does not have the certain hope of eternal life with God, but he does share in the communal promises to the Jewish people as a whole – for example, a share in the Land of Israel. A Jew needs God in both the communal and individual senses because this is how God has ordained that it should be.

The Christian attitude toward the Jewish people should be, “The Jews are my home, my family.” Whether the Jewish people will accept Christians as family will depend on how the Gospel is presented to them, and it is the task of Christians and Messianic Jews to find the right way. But an essential aspect of this presentation will be defining the Gentile Christian in the way I have done – rather than in the way Christians have, by their words and deeds, defined themselves: either as enemies of the Jewish people, alienated from their national life, or as people who have no connection with the Jews and can be oblivious to them, or even as outsiders who respect and love the Jews a lot. These definitions not only contradict texts Christians claim to believe, but often foster behavior toward the Jewish people that is sinful, behavior which distances Jewish people from the Gospel and from the Gentile branch of the People of God.

Christians need to redefine who they are in relation to the Jewish people – and then act on the consequences of that redefinition with a renewed commitment to bringing the gospel to Jews. This is the biggest challenge facing the Church.

-Dr. David H. Stern
taken from his book Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel
as quoted at Tikkun Ministries

I’ve heard it said, according to a source I quoted over eighteen months ago, that one of the primary functions of Yeshua’s first coming was to provide proof that God’s New Covenant promises to the Jewish people were true.

emergeFor instance, the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36) promises a universal resurrection from the dead. Yeshua was the first person resurrected from the dead, also called “the firstborn of the dead” (Colossians 1:18). He’s the first, but certainly not the last. His resurrection establishes proof that God will resurrect all of the dead in time.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to the point where even the least among humanity will have an apprehension of God greater than the prophets of old, was also established, first by Yeshua (Matthew 3:13:17), then by the Jewish apostles (Acts 2:1-4), and finally even coming to the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46).

The New Covenant states that God will forgive the sins of all Israel, which is restated in Romans 11:25-27, and Yeshua forgave the sins of many due to their faith in Hashem and his ability to do so.

Thus Yeshua made a partial delivery on God’s promises and he will complete his mission fulfilling all that Messiah is to do upon his return.

You can click this link to read my thoughts on an insightful comparison between those Jews who have accepted the revelation of Yeshua as Messiah and those who haven’t. In essence, it seems to partly agree with the Pope that the Jewish people are already born into a covenant relationship with Hashem, so that even those who reject Yeshua are not excluded from the Sinai covenant or necessarily from the New Covenant, even though Messiah is the arbiter of that covenant.

I also have to agree somewhat with this latest assessment by the Catholic Church that we do not fully understand the exact mechanism by which Hashem will accomplish all these things. We do know from the New Covenant language that He has promised to do it, and so He will.

MessiahYeshua points Israel back to Hashem and His promises to them. For the rest of us, who were born with no covenant relationship with God whatsoever (unless you accept what is written in Genesis 9 as the Noahide covenant which is binding on us), God, through His mercy and grace, is willing to include us in many of the blessings of the New Covenant, even though we are not named participants, and for the sake of His prophets who declared that every knee will bow (Psalm 72:11; Isaiah 45:22-25; Romans 14:11).

So it’s not like Yeshua is a moot point to the Jewish people or Israel. But Israel’s status in relation to Hashem is somewhat different from that of the Gentile believers because they have a pre-established relationship with God that the rest of the world lacks. Yeshua is the lynchpin, but as Stern pointed out, that works out somewhat differently for the Jewish people than it does for everyone else.

I think I understand, at least a tiny bit, what the Pope is trying to do, relative to establishing better relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, but how he delivered his information, or at least how it’s been covered in the media, is probably going to kick up a major dust storm in the Christian world, particularly with conservative Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.

Christians, in general, believe the New Covenant fully replaced all prior covenants God made, and so they believe that God’s relationship with everyone, including Jews, is identical and that the Jews have no special status. Until the Church learns to accept that Israel remains in covenant relationship with God, they will continue to woefully misunderstand the Jewish people and God’s plan of redemption.

I can only imagine that this blog post could be read with considerable “annoyance” by some Jewish people as well as some Christians, and believe me, I did not write this to offend. I did want to explain (and obviously, I’ve written on similar matters previously) that what the Pope’s comments touched upon is a highly complex situation that is poorly understood by the vast majority of believers, including Christian clergy and scholars.

For that matter, the role of Yeshua as the forerunner of the completed New Covenant promises is poorly understood by both Christians and Jews. Again, I say this not to offend, but to illustrate that what we think we know from the Bible is a highly nuanced and subtle set of messages that requires careful unpacking and analysis. This is difficult for most people because long-established traditions on both sides of the aisle have been constructed to obscure this perspective.

JerusalemIf anyone is tempted to complain to me about this, I ask that you first consider these words:

Instead of complaining about someone’s behavior toward you, it is more constructive to work on your own behavior toward him.

Ignore another person’s grouchiness and anger, and speak cheerfully and with compassion. If you find this difficult, pretend that you are an actor on stage. Adopting this attitude can keep people from much needless quarreling and suffering. Do it consistently and you will see major improvements in their behavior toward you.

Be flexible. People differ greatly on what they evaluate as “positive,” and it is necessary to understand the unique needs of each person you’re dealing with. If one approach is unsuccessful, try other approaches. But keep trying.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Put On Your Best Act”
from the Rabbi’s book Gateway to Happiness, p. 137
quoted at Aish.com

As I mentioned a few days ago, in a difficult situation, it is best to seek that small encouraging light in otherwise dark and foreboding surroundings. A fitting sentiment for the current season.

Messianic Jews and the Torah

I know I’m probably opening up a big can of worms here, but I’ve read a couple of things online today (yesterday as you read this) that really have me scratching my head (in puzzlement, not because I have an itch).

The first was from the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish.com. Someone asked:

I get upset when I see different Jewish denominations at odds with each other. Why doesn’t everyone just accept everyone else? Or perhaps is there a way to know which of the denominations is the most correct?

I’ll only quote part of the Rabbi’s answer:

Historically, any Jewish group which denied the basic principles of Jewish tradition – Torah and mitzvah-observance – ultimately ceased to be part of the Jewish people. The Sadducees and the Karites, for instance, refused to accept certain parts of the Oral Law, and soon after broke away completely as part of the Jewish People. The Hellenists, secularists during the Second Temple period, also soon became regarded as no longer “Jewish.” Eventually, these groups vanished completely.

Early Christians were the original “Jews for Jesus.” They accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah, but not the eternal, binding nature of the commandments. Initially, these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan. But the turning point came when Paul, realizing that Jews wouldn’t accept the concept of a dead Messiah, opened up membership to non-Jews. At that point, these “Jews” experienced a total severing of Jewish identity.

My understanding of the early Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) puts me at odds with this Rabbi. The Rabbi pre-supposes that Paul “opened up” membership into the First Century CE Jewish religious stream once called “the Way” to the Gentiles because “Jews wouldn’t accept the concept of a dead Messiah.” Except the record in the Apostolic Scriptures shows that Yeshua (Jesus) commanded his apostles to make disciples of the Gentiles (Matthew 28:19-20), and that he later commanded Paul to be an emissary to the Gentiles (Acts 9). The Biblical record also doesn’t present the issue of a “dead” (resurrected) Messiah as one of the objections some synagogues had to Paul’s message.

In fact, based on the following, a great many Jews initially accepted devotion to Messiah:

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:37-41

As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:42-43

You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…

Acts 21:20

The Jewish PaulI don’t perceive that Paul switched his emphasis of going first to the Jews with the good news of Messiah and then only to the Gentiles (Romans 1:16), nor that he was encouraging Jews to abandon the Torah (as he was falsely accused of). And yet these seem to be common themes that run through most Jewish objections to Yeshua and particularly to Paul.

I do think the Rabbi is somewhat correct in saying that the large influx of Gentiles into the ancient Messianic movement ultimately resulted in a messy Jewish/Gentile schism that did not remove Jewish identity from Jewish Yeshua believers, but did transform the movement into the new Gentile religion of Christianity (which was done by the early Gentile “church fathers,” not by Paul). Jewish participation in Yeshua-devotion as a Judaism subsequently dwindled and finally was extinguished for many centuries.

But the Aish Rabbi said something else that is interesting if not entirely accurate:

Early Christians were the original “Jews for Jesus.” They accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah, but not the eternal, binding nature of the commandments. Initially, these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan.

My opinion based on scripture is that the early Yeshua-believing Jews very much did accept the Divine revelation of the Torah and the eternal and binding nature of the commandments.

There was no dissonance between Jewish identity and performance of the mitzvot and the revelation of the resurrected Messiah.

(I suppose I should say that yet another typical misconception many Jewish people make is equating the specific organization Jews for Jesus with both the ancient and modern Messianic Jewish communities.)

That was pretty much going to be my point for today’s missive, but then I read an article on the Rosh Pina Project’s blog called Rabbi Telushkin: If Jews believed Messiah has come, they wouldn’t keep Torah. The title alone is baffling and I hope I’m reading this wrong, but I truly don’t understand what’s being said here:

Here at RPP, we very much believe that Messianic Jews are free to observe the Torah, or not to, according to their consciences. There is certainly no obligation to keep Torah.

Some Messianic Jews still keep Torah as a “witness” to other Jews. If we keep Torah, the logic goes, Orthodox Jews will realise that it’s okay to be Jewish and believe in Jesus. When it comes to “witness”, however, we think that continued Messianic Jewish Torah observance has the opposite effect.

It sends a mixed message to the Jewish community. According to Judaism, when Messiah comes the Torah is abolished. Messiah’s followers now keep to a new law, not Torah.

So when Jews see us claiming the Messiah has come, but we should still keep the Torah, we are sending a mixed message. We are saying Messiah has come already, but we’ll act as if nothing has changed by continuing to keep Torah.

According to Judaism, when Messiah comes, there is no more Torah.

In order for Messianic Judaism to act consistently with the values of Judaism, Messianic Jews would have to abandon Torah.

TorahUm…since when have Jews believed that when Messiah comes they will stop observing the mitzvot? I’ve never heard of such a thing before. In fact, according to this Jewish source…

The King Messiah and the Sanhedrin will restore the Sabbatical system and the Jubilee (which involve seven-year counts and a fifty-year count), as well as all other Commandments that we are unable to fulfill today. He will uphold and restore complete performance of the commandments and complete obedience to Hashem and His Torah. He will cause all Jews in the entire world to fulfill the Commandments of the Torah, and to uphold and strengthen the one and only true Judaism. Likewise, he will succeed in getting all the nations of the world, everyone alive, to acknowledge and serve the One True G-d, Hashem. This does not mean that they will convert and become Jews. It means that they will keep the Seven Laws that Hashem commanded the children of Noah.

The King Messiah will be extremely learned in Torah and absolutely observant of all the Commandments as taught and explained in the Oral and Written Torah.

The Messiah will not need to perform any miracles to prove who he is. Nor would the miracles be very significant. The Messiah’s purpose is to bring about the return of the Jews from exile, to restore our united practice of the Commandments of the Torah, to raise our conciousness to a high level of fear and love of Hashem, and to reinstate the Jewish kingdom in the Holy Land of Israel as Hashem originally established it under King David. Those are the Messiah’s essential purposes. Even bringing peace and affluence to the world will be only so that the world will be able to peacefully pursue our purpose of serving Hashem through Torah study and prayer — Jews as Jews, and Gentiles as Gentiles. Performing miracles is not particularly meaningful, since the Messiah will be an obviously righteous man, and the Torah commands us to obey the righteous.

What I’m driving at here is that all the miracles in the universe do not make someone Messiah, if he is not righteous. jesus, who contradicted the Torah, could not have been the Messiah, no matter how many miracles they claim he performed. The real Messiah, when he comes, may or may not perform miracles, but he will certainly not contradict the Torah in any way, shape or form.

-from the article “What the Messiah is Supposed to Do”

Sorry about the really long quote, but I wanted to make sure that I got the point across (and to that end, I bolded the word “Torah” above) that the Jewish understanding of Messiah does not require the removal of Torah observance and in fact, Messiah and Torah are inexorably intertwined. The RPP writer is entitled to their opinion, but I really don’t see that such a viewpoint is sustainable based on the Tanakh, Apostolic Scriptures, or Jewish traditions.

Jews, Messianic or otherwise, are required to observe the mitzvot because the mitzvot are eternal. Even the Master is famously quoted as saying so:

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

Matthew 5:17-19

Photo: First Fruits of Zion

You should also watch this thirty-minute episode of First Fruits of Zion‘s television program The Torah is not Canceled (free to be viewed online).

I say all this in support of Jewish Torah observance, whether Messianic, Orthodox, or otherwise. Messianic Jewish observance of the mitzvot isn’t a “witness,” it is obedience based on covenant obligation. The Jewish view of the New Covenant makes this plain.

I’m forced to disagree with both the Aish Rabbi and the RPP author that Jewish devotion to Yeshua results in loss of Jewish identity and abandoning Jewish covenant responsibilities to Hashem (or making Torah observance optional for Jews). Granted, in the long history of Christianity, the Church has required that Jews surrender their identity when coming to faith in Messiah, but all that has changed. Gentile Christianity no longer is the sole keeper of the Keys to the Kingdom, and Jews now have an avenue by which they can reclaim their own King and their own Kingdom and remain Torah observant Jews.

I realize that I’ve most likely really offended a bunch of people by writing and publishing this and certainly that’s not my intention. I am quite aware that opinions differ widely within Messianic Judaism as to just how “Jewish” Jews in Messiah should be. I suppose some would see me as a radical for my belief that Messianic Jews should remain firmly rooted in Jewish identity, Jewish community, and Jewish devotion to Torah and to keeping and guarding the commandments. Yes, I’m speaking of an ideal state of the movement rather than the fractured reality of today’s Messianic Judaism, but I believe there will come a time when all Jews will be drawn back to the Torah by Messiah.

If anything, and I’ve said this just recently, the job of Gentiles in Messiah is to help facilitate Jewish observance of the mitzvot. A Christianity (or Messianic Judaism) that preaches otherwise denies the New Covenant promises God made to Israel.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Mediator of the New Covenant

In the New Covenant, Yeshua acts as priest, sacrifice, and mediator. Installment 36 in the Beth Immanuel Hebrews series finishes Hebrews 9 with a discussion on Hebrews 9:15-28 and the Messiah’s role as a mediator between Israel and God.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Six: Mediator of the New Covenant
Originally presented on December 28, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

“Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
catch me a catch”

-from “Matchmaker” by Jerry Bock
from the play and film “Fiddler on the Roof”

Lancaster started off his sermon on a different note than usual this week, stating that he’d been reading a book called A Jewish Response to Missionaries produced by Jews for Judaism, which is an “anti-missionary” organization. According to something in the book, Lancaster said that Judaism has a prohibition against mediators since a mediator between a person and God violates the second commandment not to have any god before Hashem.

Except that’s not true.

Sure, we can pray as individuals, and in any event, God knows our every thought, so it’s not like we need someone to help us communicate to God what we’re thinking and feeling. On the other hand, if the Jewish people didn’t need a mediator, why was there a priesthood? Why were there sacrifices? Why was there a Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle? And why was there Moses?

Actually, Chasidic Judaism very much believes in mediators and relies on a tzaddik, their Rebbe, to act as mediator.

So the Jewish prohibition against mediators seems to only apply when combating Christianity, as Lancaster says.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.

Galatians 3:19-20 (NASB)

The Jewish PaulPaul himself said that the Torah was delivered to the Israelites through a mediator and would remain in effect until such time as “the seed” would come, meaning Messiah. This isn’t to say that the Old Covenant and the Torah are not in effect today. They still are. But we are still living in Old (Sinai) Covenant times. The New Covenant won’t fully arrive until the resurrection and return of Messiah (but I’m getting ahead of myself), but even then, the Torah remains as the conditions of the New Covenant, too.

What is a mediator? Someone who negotiates an arrangement between two parties. Paul said “God is only one,” so the other party to the Sinai Covenant must be Israel. Lancaster says that the midrash likens Moses to the friend of the bridegroom (God) so to speak, like a matchmaker arranging a “match” between a man and woman for marriage (think Fiddler on the Roof, which is what the image at the very top of the blog post references).

Picture Moses going up and down the mountain carrying messages between Israel and God and between God and Israel, like a friend carrying love notes between a man and a woman who are courting. And in Exodus 24 Moses even performs the ceremony as such. Oaths are exchanged, blood is splashed, and afterward, everybody gets together in the presence of the bride and groom for a covenant meal, like a wedding reception.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

Matthew 26:26-29

Lancaster says that the Last Supper, or Last Seder if you will, also functions like a covenant meal in the presence of both parties, with the Master in the role of the mediator, representing the groom (God the Father), and the Apostles representing Israel, just as the elders of the tribes at the first covenant meal represented Israel.

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2:5-6

Seems like a pretty pointblank statement to me. Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant between man and God.

However, there’s a part of these verses that has always hung me up and I think Lancaster solves my problem.

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.

Hebrews 9:15-18

testamentDepending on the translation you have, you either see the word “covenant” being used or “testament” as in “last will and testament.” Except a covenant and a testament are not the same thing at all. It’s pretty confusing in English. But apparently, “covenant” and “testament” are the same word in Biblical Greek and Paul was using a bit of word play. It makes sense in Greek but is useless in English.

However, it’s really just a simple point as Lancaster says.

Just as a last will and testament doesn’t come into effect until a person dies, a covenant doesn’t come into effect until there’s been a sacrifice and shedding of blood.

That’s all the writer of the Book of Hebrews is saying here. Don’t get hung up on any deeper symbolism or meaning. It doesn’t exist except in the thoughts of theologians, scholars, or sometimes people who like to find what isn’t there.

Verses 19-22 describe the events of Exodus 24 with some minor variations, and then Lancaster goes on to compare Moses and Jesus, whereby Moses made the Sinai Covenant come into effect by splashing the blood of the sacrifice, Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant with his blood.

Lancaster was very careful to say that Jesus didn’t literally enter the Heavenly Holy of Holies carrying a bowl of his own blood, this is symbolic language and imagery. He entered the Most Holy Place in Heaven on the merit of his righteousness and sacrifice as the greatest tzaddik of his or any other generation, not because he was a literal human sacrifice.

Verses 24 and 25 use the illustration of the Aaronic High Priest who every Yom Kippur, enters the Holy of Holies with blood to offer atonement for the people of Israel. He offers the blood of the sacrifice and he prays for the people. According to midrash, he was told not to pray too long because while the High Priest may be basking in the Holiness of God, the people outside, since no one can go in with the High Priest, are “freaking out” wondering what happened to him and if the act and prayers of atonement were successful.

So too are we waiting for our High Priest to return so that we know, so to speak, that his atonement for us was also successful (though we know it was and is). Yeshua, our High Priest, is tarrying in his prayers of atonement on our behalf. This is still a “virtual” Yom Kippur. He will emerge from the Heavenly Holy of Holies upon his return to us and then we will know.

Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Hebrews 9:26

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

John 14:6

Jesus as our High Priest, our sacrifice, and our mediator, is the way into the New Covenant through our faith in what his work accomplished, and that faith and acknowledgement of him as mediator is required for us to participate in the blessings of the New Covenant.

Verse 28 speaks of those who eagerly await Messiah’s return. That applies to us as we eagerly await him, await the resurrection, await the terrible and awesome days of the Lord, and await the establishment of his Kingdom and the life of the world to come.

What Did I Learn?

Just about all of this was an eye opener. I had some vague notion of Jesus being the New Covenant mediator as Moses mediated the Sinai Covenant, but Lancaster added a great deal of detail, putting flesh on the mere skeleton of information I possessed as far as Hebrews 9 is concerned.

high_priestI especially appreciated the comparison between the Aaronic High Priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur and Yeshua as the High Priest in the Heavenly Holy of Holies, which represents the Messianic Age to come, a place, like the earthly High Priest, where only he can go, and we can only anxiously wait for him on the outside, wondering what’s happening in there and how long it is going to be before he comes back for us. How long, Moshiach? How long?

Lancaster has a talent for taking what seems to be very mysterious portions of scripture and removing the disguise, so to speak, to give the words and passages a plain and understandable meaning. Reading all this before, I don’t know what I thought about it, but now it makes a lot more sense.

Only four more chapters to go in Hebrews, which will take nine more sermons, nine more weeks for me to review. I didn’t cover everything Lancaster taught in today’s sermon, so you might want to listen to it yourself. This one is fairly brief at just barely 29 minutes. You can find the link above.

What I Learned in Church Today: Christians Approaching Sinai

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

Exodus 19:1-6 (NASB)

I probably talked a little too much (or a lot too much) in Sunday school class today. I may have even gotten on a few nerves. It was difficult not to. The sermon was on Exodus 19:1-25 which is Pastor Randy’s introduction to a sermon series on the Ten Commandments and how they apply to the Church today.

Before even getting to the Ten Commandments, he’s going to spend separate sermons on Deuteronomy 5:1-5; 22-23, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, and Galatians 3:1-14. After that, he’ll spend one sermon on each of the Ten Words (Aseret ha-Dibrot).

I had the opportunity to speak with Pastor before service began. He knew I’d be particularly interested in these sermons and also knows the points where I’m likely to disagree. That’s OK since there are other areas where I do agree, one of which is that most Christians really need to hear more about “the Law” and how not only was it valuable in ancient days, but that it is valuable and relevant for not only present day Jews, but all modern believers in Jesus Christ.

I won’t spend a lot of time on his sermon, but he did reference a Christian children’s song that goes Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line. Happily he said that these lyrics are not true and that the Bible must be studied carefully to determine which of the promises can be applied to the Gentile Christian. He also said “we (the Church) are not Israel,” to which I wholeheartedly agree.

I actually ran out of room on the sheet of paper given out before services to take notes on the sermon. What Randy explained was worth a lot of ink to preserve his thoughts. Pastor got into such detail that he ran out of time, only getting to verse nine out of twenty-five, so we’ll pick it up starting with verse ten next Sunday.

I told Randy that I didn’t feel sorry for him (in the sense that we don’t always see eye-to-eye) since he is a careful, honest, and thorough researcher and instructor. My Sunday school teacher on the other hand, I do feel sorry for.

I didn’t get a chance to talk with teacher before class began but given the topic and the fact that he knows my areas of emphasis, he should have expected my “active participation.” It didn’t help that not a lot of other people in class were speaking up much. Again, like last week, we had new people in class, so I also felt a little sorry for them since I’m not a typical Sunday school student.

In his notes, teacher quoted from one of Walt Kaiser’s books:

The “sign” given to Moses in Ex. 3:12 is fulfilled here: he has returned to the “mountain of God.” The presence of the “if” in Ex. 19:5 did not pave the way for Israel’s decline from grace into the law.

“Decline from grace into the law?” Since when did the two become mutually exclusive?

Torah at Sinai

I’m not sure that’s what Kaiser was saying and teacher did try hard to emphasize that the grace shown Abraham (Genesis 15) ran parallel to the giving of the Law at Sinai.

I tried hard to demonstrate the relationship between the Abrahamic, Mosaic (Sinai), and New Covenants bit by bit as I responded to questions in the teacher’s notes, but had to disagree with Pastor and teacher that all of the laws of the Torah constitute the Sinai Covenant. Actually, the Covenant is stated in just two verses:

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

Exodus 19:5-6 (NASB)

That’s the Covenant. The Torah, all of the commandments, statues, and ordinances, are the conditions of the Covenant, the things the Israelites agreed to obey to uphold their end of the Covenant.

But both Pastor and teacher introduced an interesting parallel:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:9-10 (NASB)

These are just about the same words we see in Exodus 19 where God describes who the Children of Israel are to Him in the Covenant, but Peter is addressing a non-Jewish audience. Pastor said that in the body of Christ, it is not the peoples but the people of God, singular. But since he also said that the Church is not Israel and recognizes Jews in the Church (presumably) as “Israel,” then there are distinctions, though I recognize more distinctiveness between believing Jews and Gentiles than he does.

And yet, it is the ekklesia (assembly) who are “chosen,” “a royal priesthood,” “a holy nation,” a possession” (Am Segulah — a treasured, splendorous people) according to Peter. Israel became a people and a nation before God at Sinai (and according to Jeremiah 31:35-37 they will never stop being a people before God) and when the people of the nations become disciples of the Jewish Messiah through faith, we too become “chosen” and “treasured” as grafted into the root.

Teacher filtered the Exodus 19 experience through Romans 7, 8, and Galatians 3. I used some of the information from my Reflections on Romans series to head off the idea that the Torah in any sense could be “bad” or cause sin. This was surprisingly acceptable to teacher but I have no idea what anyone else was thinking. Pastor Bill was in class, so if I’d said something too far out of line, you’d think he’d have brought it up.

Like I said last week, it’s like they’re shooting all round the target and are just short of a bullseye as far as “getting it” in regards to the continuation of the Torah in Jewish lives.

Teacher even mentioned Psalm 19 which is one of David’s strongest endorsements of the beauty of the Torah. And yet in past classes, teacher has also said how relieved he was that we Christians aren’t under the law, so some dissonance is happening somewhere.

I brought way more notes to class than I needed (or had time for), but one I did bring up, though I didn’t have time to quote it, is this:

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NASB)

Obviously God expected that when Israel said “All that you have said we will do,” they would and actually could do it. The Torah is a delight. It always has been. Only human weakness and frailty make it difficult if not impossible for the Jewish people to be able to fulfill their vow before God. But while perfection in the performance of the mitzvot isn’t something that can reasonably be achieved, God’s plan of redemption through the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36) will make it possible.

Since we people of the nations, through a portion of the Abrahamic Covenant (Abraham 12:1-3, Galatians 3:15-16) solve the mystery of the Gospel (Ephesians 3:1-13) on how Gentiles can receive New Covenant blessings and yet not be of the House of Judah and the House of Israel, we also benefit from that redemptive plan. But if not for Israel and God’s promises to her, there would be no hope for us.

I managed to get all that out in class but I don’t know if it made the impact I wanted it to. I think Pastor’s goal and mine for his sermon series are pretty much alike. I think we both want the people at church to see the Bible as one, big, unified book, and not a document that describes a “before” and “after” picture, or a bunch of different plans God had, trying out one after the other until he found one that would work.

Rolling the Torah ScrollPastor’s going to teach a class this Fall called “God’s Big Picture” where he presents the Bible as the single, overarching Word of God. I’d attend but I’ve spent over a year having almost weekly private conversations with him about these topics, so we both know where the other stands. I’d just serve as a speed bump to the other people who want to listen to Randy, but then again, maybe that’s what I’m doing in Sunday school, too.

I came away from class feeling pretty flat and regretting that I spoke up so much. I was still holding myself back but there was so much I felt needed to be said. I realized that when I was responding to questions, I wasn’t really answering them, but then, I think that was because I didn’t agree with how the teacher organized his entire lesson. His “vision” of how to teach the material and mine are more than a little different.

I guess I’ll have more than one shot at this, so next week when we delve into Deuteronomy, I’ll try again. Hopefully, God will help me become a more effective participant unless He doesn’t want me to speak up at all. But then again, what would be the point of going if I couldn’t participate because, and I’m sorry to put it this way, I believe I have a better handle on topics related to the Torah than my Sunday school teacher.

Yeah, that sounds incredibly arrogant, even to me. So much for the month of Elul.

Addendum: Monday, September 1st: If you read the comments below, you’ll see that several people pointed out my mistake regarding 1 Peter 2. The intended audience of the epistle is not a non-Jewish but rather a Jewish audience, thus we Gentile disciples of the Master cannot consider ourselves “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” In retrospect, this actually strengthens my prior statements that the people of the nations called by our Master’s name cannot be Israel, since only they are referred to by the language from the Sinai Covenant.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The New Covenant

Discussion on Hebrews 8 and Jeremiah 31 regarding the New Covenant and its meaning from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Discover why the New Covenant is not the New Testament, the “Renewed Covenant,” nor the “Brit Chadashah.” Find out what the New Covenant really is and how the Torah is part of the New Covenant. A foundational teaching for everyone interested in Messianic Judaism and the role of Torah in the lives of disciples of Yeshua.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty: The New Covenant
Originally presented on November 9, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

I suppose I could just point you to part 1 of my review of Lancaster’s lecture series What About The New Covenant and call it good since it seems he intends to repurpose that material in the next four “Hebrews” lectures, but that probably wouldn’t be fair. Also, I don’t think he presents the information in exactly the same way, so I should review today’s sermon on its own merits.

I’ll skip over Lancaster’s introductory section since I don’t think it adds very much, and cut to the chase. The Old Testament does not equal the Old (Sinai) Covenant and the New Testament does not equal the New Covenant. Christianity has very poorly named these two major sections of the Bible, or at least named them with the intent of misrepresenting what the Old and New Covenants really mean.

Christians really take this naming convention seriously, though. I remember having a conversation about this with the head Pastor at the church I currently attend, and when he said that the books of the New Testament really were the New Covenant, I could scarcely believe my ears. How could someone so intelligent, well read, and well-educated as Pastor Randy actually believe this?

D. Thomas Lancaster
D. Thomas Lancaster

And yet it is a common, though wholly illogical doctrine of the Church. Lancaster told a story of how years back, he had worked for some place called Master’s Institute, a Lutheran seminary, and on his first day, he taught that the New Testament wasn’t the New Covenant. He promptly lost his job without so much as a “by your leave.”

That’s how seriously Christianity takes the doctrine of New Testament = New Covenant. But as Lancaster establishes in his sermon, that doctrine is dead wrong.

Lancaster knocks down all of the standard Christian arguments and if you want to know what they are, you can listen to the audio recording. The link is at the top of the page. What we call the New Testament is really the writings of the Apostles or what I call the Apostolic Scriptures. They contain information about the New Covenant, but the actual covenant is found in the Old Testament writings or the Tanakh.

The writer of the book of Hebrews, just as he made a comparison between the Levitical and Melkizedekian priesthoods and between the earthly and heavenly Temples, is now introducing a new comparison. He compares the Old and New Covenants (see last week’s review: Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Shadow and a Copy for more information).

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.

Hebrews 8:6-7 (NASB)

Here’s one of the places Christians point to in the Bible and say, “See? The Old Covenant is bad and the New Covenant is better,” implying not only that grace is better than the Law (and that the two are mutually exclusive) but that it replaces the Law.

Except as we have heard in previous sermons, what was at fault with the Old Covenant priesthood wasn’t that the Law was bad or that the Temple or sacrifices were bad, but rather, all of that couldn’t grant resurrection and immortality. The Levitical priests were human, they were mortal, they died. They also had their own sins to deal with. But then again, as Lancaster has said already, that system was never designed to remove sins permanently and to make us sinless human beings.

New CovenantThat’s why we need a New Covenant and why God had it planned all along.

But what is a Covenant? I mentioned that the New Testament is not actually the New Covenant and thus the Old Testament isn’t the Old Covenant.

Guess what? The Old Covenant isn’t the Torah, it’s not the Law. Some of you, unless you already know or have read my commentaries on the New Covenant, are probably shocked that I had the nerve to say that. But it’s true.

Then Moses came and recounted to 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 which the Lord has spoken we will do!” Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on 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!”

Exodus 24:3-7 (NASB)

That’s the Old Covenant, also called the Sinai or the Mosaic Covenant, in a nutshell. God makes a proposal.

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

Exodus 19:5-6 (NASB)

If the Israelites agree to obey God and keep the conditions of His Covenant, then He will be their God and make them into “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

That’s the Sinai or Old Covenant. The Law or Torah are the conditions of the covenant but the not the covenant itself. The covenant is an agreement between two parties, in this case between God and the Children of Israel. The Torah contains the conditions that must be obeyed, what the Israelites agreed to do as their part of the bargain.

Here’s a news flash:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.

Deuteronomy 4:26-31 (NASB)

light of torahWhen Israel failed to hold up their end, that is, when they disobeyed God by not observing the conditions of the covenant, God had no intention of abandoning them (see verse 31). He swore never to fail the Israelites and never to destroy them. He swore that even if Israel was faithless, He would never “forget the covenant with [their] fathers which He swore to them.”

Here’s another news flash. We are still living in Old Covenant times. The New Covenant hasn’t arrived yet and it won’t until Jesus (Yeshua) returns. That means the covenant and all its conditions established at Sinai are still in effect. Jewish people, including Jews in Messiah (Messianic Jews), are still under a covenant obligation to observe the Torah mitzvot. Please Christians, don’t try to talk them out of it. That would be a mistake.

OK, if that’s the Old Covenant, what’s the New Covenant?

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”

Matthew 26:27-28 (NASB)

No, that’s not the New Covenant, that’s Jesus in the process of inaugurating the New Covenant with those present at the Seder. By eating and drinking, they are entering the very leading edge of the New Covenant which is near but will not arrive until the return of the Master when he drinks the fullness of it:

“But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

Matthew 26:29 (NASB)

The New Covenant will not reach fruition until the Master drinks the cup of the Covenant in the Messianic Kingdom to come.

But what is the New Covenant then? The writer of Hebrews quotes from it starting in Hebrews 8:8 but Lancaster directs his audience to the source of that quote, which is in Jeremiah 31:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

Jeremiah 31:31-33 (NASB)

There’s a lot more to it of course, but this is as far as Lancaster intends to go in his first sermon on the topic.

Torah at SinaiRemember, that a covenant is an agreement and the agreement contains certain terms and conditions that each party is supposed to uphold. In the Old Covenant, God’s part was He would be a God to Israel and make her a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. But that’s only as long as Israel did their part, which was obey the terms and conditions listed in the Torah. When Israel failed their end of things, God withdrew but not completely, sent the nation into exile, and applied any number of disciplinary measures. When Israel repented, God returned to them and returned them to their Land, the nation of Israel.

So what changes in the New Covenant?

“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

Isolating just that sentence, it seems that God intends to write His Law, that is, the Torah, on the hearts of the Israelites and He will continue to be their God and they will continue to be His people.

Here’s how Lancaster laid it out.

The Old Covenant

  1. God spoke the Torah
  2. Moses wrote it down and read it to the people
  3. The people said they would do everything in the Torah

The New Covenant

God puts the Torah inside of people rather than them accessing an external source and attempting to obey the covenant’s terms and conditions. The terms and conditions under the New Covenant are made internal for all the Jewish people so it’s natural for them to obey said-terms and conditions of the covenant.

But they are the same terms and conditions listed for the Old Covenant!

The only difference between the Old and New Covenants is where the terms and conditions are written.

The Torah isn’t bad or too hard to obey or a bait and switch to teach people that God’s standards are beyond our reach. In fact, the Torah is beautiful:

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.

Psalm 19:7-10 (NASB)

There’s nothing wrong with the Old Covenant conditions except that human beings are faulty.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says…

Hebrews 8:7-8 (NASB)

sinaiThe first covenant was not faultless, not because the covenant was at fault but they were at fault, that is the Israelites were at fault. They agreed to obey God but they repeatedly disobeyed. God’s solution to the problem of repeated disobedience wasn’t to annul the Old Covenant and its conditions but to make its possible for people to obey the covenant conditions by creating a New Covenant.

God didn’t change the Law, He changed, or rather, He will change the people.

The Church teaches that God did away with the Old Covenant and all of its terms and conditions completely and “dumbed down” the standards for human obedience. Instead of obeying God all we have to do is believe in Jesus Christ. Except that’s not what the Bible says the New Covenant is. But as I mentioned above, the Christian doctrine of the New Covenant is a dearly held assumption, even if it’s completely in error.

In Lancaster’s understanding of the New Covenant, it’s not here yet but it’s near. Jesus said repeatedly, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). That’s our job. To repent and to repent now! As much as we are able, we should try to live as if the New Covenant Era has already arrived, we should try to have as high a fidelity to the standards of God as we can in preparation for what is to come.

No, it’s not easy, but before it gets easier, it’s going to get a whole lot harder.

What Did I Learn?

As I’ve already said, I’ve gone over this material before so it’s not exactly a revelation, but as I was listening to the recording, I came up with an obvious problem.

We people of the nations are included in the New Covenant blessings. That is, by faith in Messiah, we too will be resurrected in the next age into immortal bodies and live in an era of total peace and tranquility.

But what will we have written on our hearts? The Torah? Will we be like the Jews? Will we be “grandfathered in” to Judaism? Will we be Jews?

Lancaster may cover all this in subsequent sermons, but it’s a compelling set of queries to consider now.

Remember though that the prophet Jeremiah was writing to the houses of Judah and Israel who were about to be sent into the Babylonian exile. Most of his writing was really bad news and he inserted the information about the future New Covenant times to give them hope. But Jeremiah wasn’t writing to Gentiles at all.

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews was Jewish and he was writing to other Jews. He wasn’t writing to Gentile disciples, so he didn’t have to take them into account when he crafted the language of his letter.

Coffee and BibleWe Gentile Christians read Hebrews and the rest of the Apostolic Scriptures (and the rest of the Bible) as if it were written exclusively for us in the present age. But while the Bible certainly does have applications for us in our world today, that doesn’t mean every single page is addressing us and our issues. Maybe this epistle doesn’t present an explanation of the New Covenant that takes Gentile disciples into account.

I guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks or so.

Review of “What About the New Covenant,” Part 1

“I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

Jeremiah 31:31

Does the New Covenant really replace the Old Covenant? Christian replacement theology is solidly based on a misunderstanding of the meaning of the new covenant. The church teaches that the new covenant cancels the Torah and God’s covenant with the Jewish people.

Messianic Judaism teaches that Yeshua did not abolish the Torah, but if that’s true, what about the new covenant? Doesn’t the new covenant of grace and faith replace the old covenant of works and law? In five engaging lectures, Torah Club author D. Thomas Lancaster digs into the Bible’s prophecies to dispel many of the common myths and misunderstandings about the new covenant.

-from the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) webpage for the
What About the New Covenant sermon series

Introduction to the Series

About eighteen months ago, I began my personal investigation of the covenants in an attempt to understand how Gentiles (including me) were able to have a covenantal relationship with God without converting to Judaism. This investigation resulted in an eleven (twelve, really) part blog series I euphemistically called “The Jesus Covenant” which I started here. It took over six months of study and anguish, but I finally arrived at a place where I could be at peace about where I fit in the New Covenant as a Gentile.

When I received the five-part audio CD lecture series called “What About the New Covenant” from FFOZ in the mail several days ago, I was interested in how my discoveries and conclusions map to those of theologian and teacher D. Thomas Lancaster. Was I completely off base or would Lancaster confirm that I am standing on solid, Biblical ground as far as my understanding of the covenants, and especially the New Covenant?

The material on this set of audio discs is repurposed from several sources, including parts of Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, FFOZ’s Torah Club Volume 5: Depths of the Torah, and Lesson 3 from FFOZ’s HaYesod Program.

That said, organization and presentation of this information is completely new, and these teachings, once “trapped” within much larger tomes and recordings, have been “freed” so we can access specifically what Messianic Judaism teaches about the New Covenant. One caveat: this is Messianic Judaism as First Fruits of Zion sees, understands, and practices it. I should emphasize like any other Judaism or any other Christianity for that matter, Messianic Judaism isn’t a single, monolithic entity and opinions among the various groups may differ somewhat.

Session One: The Covenant Maker

The first session is nearly fifty minutes long and as you might imagine, is pregnant with both amount and depth of information. Here, Lancaster takes his listeners on a grand tour of all of the covenants God made with humanity and Israel (all of the covenants except the Noahide covenant were made with Israel) and attempts to answer the all important question, “What is a Covenant?”

A good question has a long afterlife.

-Ismar Schorsch
“What Do I Look at When I Pray?” (pg 382)
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemini
from his book Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

It’s true, we don’t really understand what “covenant” means in our world today. The only covenant we have left in modern times is the marriage covenant, and even that one has been nearly destroyed by our lack of understanding of the binding nature of covenants. If we did understand, divorce wouldn’t be such an epidemic, at least among the faithful.

noah-rainbowI mentioned the Noahide covenant that God made with all life, including all of humanity. God created a set of obligations for humanity and in exchange for obedience, God promised not to destroy the world again by flood. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow we periodically see in the sky (see Genesis 9 for details).

But it’s not until Lancaster begins talking about the covenant God made with Abraham and all of Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob, the Jewish people, that we begin to understand the nature of this covenant and all the covenants to follow.

The first big point to get is that all subsequent covenants build on prior covenants rather than replacing them. In fact, this is really important for ancient and modern Israel because whenever Israel violated the covenant made with God at Sinai (such as the incident of the Golden Calf recorded in Exodus 32), it was God’s promises made in the Abrahamic covenant that allowed Him to repeatedly redeem Israel. You might want to review God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants by looking at Gen. 12:1-3, 7, and 22:18. You’ll also see this covenant being inherited by Abraham’s son Isaac in Gen. 22:18.

Interestingly enough, although it is commonly believed that Abraham had no obligations he had to fulfill apart from participating in the sign of this covenant, which was circumcision for himself and all the male members of his household, this is not actually true. Abraham was required to have a lived-out faith that God periodically tested. And the results of those tests really, really mattered.

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Genesis 22:15-18 (NRSV)

Abraham and the starsGod said “Because you have done this…I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven.” These are conditions. You did this and in response, I will do that. Abraham had to demonstrate perpetual fidelity to God by faith, trust, and obedience, and doing so, God responded by fulfilling the covenant promises He made to Abraham and his descendants.

It is the same for us as James, the brother of the Master famously wrote in James 2:14-26. Lancaster says we are justified by faith and works, which is a rather radical thought in traditional Christianity, but as you’ll discover, his presentation of covenants including the New Covenant, is also not the “norm” from an Evangelical perspective.

As a side note relevant to justification and deeds, see Derek Leman’s blog post Our Deeds are Not Filthy Rags.

As far as the “duration” of the Abrahamic covenant, according to the Apostle Paul:

Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.

Galatians 3:15-17 (NRSV)

In other words, later covenants do not get rid of, annul, cancel, or make obsolete earlier covenants. In addressing the covenant God made with Abraham, Paul says it’s forever. A later covenant can only ratify an earlier one, not abolish it.

Lancaster spends some time on the Mosaic covenant, the covenant God made with the Children of Israel, that is, Abraham’s, Isaac’s, and Jacob’s descendants, at Sinai. One important point he makes is that this later covenant builds on the earlier one and in fact, the making of this covenant actually fulfills sections of the earlier, Abrahamic covenant. One example is the continuation of the promises that Abraham’s descendents would possess the Land of Israel, cementing this promise by establishing the laws specific to the Jewish people living in that Land.

Another important issue Lancaster brought up is the difference between the covenant and the Law. The Torah is not the Sinai covenant, it represents the conditions of the covenant, defining the responsibilities of each party: God and the Children of Israel. It also defines the sign of the covenant which is the Shabbat.

This sign is unique in that it is not a manifestation in nature, such as the rainbow, or a physical condition or procedure, such as circumcision. Shabbat is an “island in time” or, as Lancaster quotes Abraham Joshua Heschel, “a sanctuary in time.”

Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever… (emph. mine)

Exodus 31:16-17 (NRSV)

Notice that the Sinai covenant and its sign are forever and perpetual. No exchanges or replacements allowed.

As I mention above, whenever Israel disobeyed the conditions of the Sinai covenant, according to those conditions, God punished Israel. There is no provision in the covenant for its annulment. All covenants God made with Israel are forever. Is that clear?

King DavidLancaster moved on to describe the Aaronic covenant, which is the promise that Aaron’s descendants will always be High Priests, and the Davidic covenant that states David’s descendants will be Kings over Israel. The conditions state that should a King disobey, he would be disciplined, but God would not remove his love from the Davidic dynasty (see 2 Samuel 7). The Davidic covenant is also the hope of the Messiah, for a sinless King must rule one day over Israel, that is, King Messiah.

So far, all of these covenants are built one on top of the other. Each later covenant expands upon the previous covenant in some way. But what about the New Covenant?

First, let me, thanks to Lancaster (though I knew this already), relieve you of a burden. The New Testament, that is the collection of scriptures from Matthew through Revelation, does not equal the New Covenant. I heard a highly intelligent, well-educated, and abundantly accomplished Pastor tell me once that the New Testament is the same thing as the New Covenant and I almost fell out of my chair.

According to Lancaster (and I agree with him), the New Testament is a collection of scriptures that record how Yeshua (Jesus) initiated some of the conditions of the New Covenant, but it is not the covenant itself. Lancaster (and again, I agree) says that the New Testament would be better named “The Apostolic Writings” or “The Apostolic Scriptures”. Just as the Torah is not the Sinai (or “Old”) Covenant, neither is the “New Testament” the New Covenant.

So where do we find the New Covenant? It’s all over the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, but as you hopefully already know, the key scriptures are these:

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)

I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:24-28 (NRSV)

Taking all this together, first notice that the New Covenant is made only with Judah and Israel. No mention is made of the Gentiles and particularly “the Church” at all. It seems that outside of the Jewish people, God has no covenant relationship with humanity and never will. Also notice that nothing in this language whatsoever changes, annuls, cancels, or abolishes anything in any of the previous covenants God made with Israel. That means, among other things, that the Torah is perpetual and that Jesus didn’t lie:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Matthew 5:17-18 (NRSV)

CreationJesus never intended to come and abolish what God established in relationship with Israel, and the Torah will not change at all until Heaven and Earth pass away and until all is accomplished.

Well, Heaven and Earth are still here as far as I can tell. But what needs to be accomplished? I mean, didn’t Jesus say “It is finished” on the cross right before he died? (John 19:30) (Hint: If he said “It is finished” and then died, it’s very likely that what was finished was his suffering).

I said before, echoing Lancaster, that Jesus initiated the New Covenant by his death and resurrection. Jesus himself said that the bread and wine the Apostles ate at the last meal with the Master (and Lancaster taught that after a covenant was made in the ancient Near East, a meal was always eaten together by the participants of the covenant) were the New covenant in his body and blood (Luke 22:19-20), so the New Covenant started at that point. Jesus got the ball rolling. But what happened to the covenant after that?

Look at the passages from Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 again. Do you see all that happening? How can the Word of God be written on our hearts if we as believers still sin? How can the New Covenant be initiated but not completed?

For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen,” to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 1:20 (NRSV)

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 5:5 (NRSV)

What is this promise and guarantee? It’s the sign of the New Covenant. Lancaster says that the New Covenant encompasses all of the previous signs (Shabbat, for instance) but also has its own sign. It’s also unique in that the sign functions as sort of a down-payment or promissory note that Messiah will return to complete what he started, that is to deliver on the rest of God’s promises outlined in the New Covenant language.

That’s why we as believers have the Holy Spirit but still don’t see evidence of the full arrival of the Messianic Kingdom, the Kingdom promised by the New Covenant. It is a promise of what is yet to come.

I said before that the New Covenant doesn’t annul or change any of the previous covenants but then why is it “New?” Look again at Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Judah and Israel are still obligated to obey God’s Torah but the big difference, the only real difference, is that this time, God will make it possible for man to obey.

Many Christians say that God gave Israel the Law to prove that they were incapable of obedience to God’s standards and, once He made that point, He replaced the Law (Torah) with the Grace of Jesus Christ, which doesn’t rely on man having to do anything, including, if you’re a Calvinist, exercising enough free will to accept that free gift of salvation. Lancaster says that God didn’t change His expectations of obedience, there has always been grace, and that knowing man cannot obey God consistently out of his own will, God places His Spirit in man and God writes His Torah on man’s heart, circumcising that heart, so that man will “naturally” obey God’s desires. That’s the “New” in “New Covenant.”

This is a beautiful way to dispense with the requirement in the Church that we retrofit modern Christian theology into the Old Testament and invent new interpretations to explain Christian doctrinal dissonance in trying to make the older and newer scriptures fit together. Lancaster creates a seemless progression across all scripture that doesn’t make it necessary for us to “jump the tracks” at Acts 2 and invent a never prophesied entity known as “the Church”.

But I mentioned before that the New Covenant, like all of the prior covenants except the one made with Noah, were made with Israel, that is the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is really good news, the gospel message to the Jewish people, but what about the Gentiles? Have we been left out in the cold after all? Where is the gospel for us?

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14 (NRSV)

New CovenantThe Apostle Paul (Romans 11:11-24) said that the God-fearing Gentiles are grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel through fidelity to the Jewish Messiah King, that is, to Jesus, and that by swearing such allegiance and in obedience to our King (which I speak of in this blog post), we are added in to that commonwealth alongside the born citizens of Israel, the Jewish people.

Lancaster was quick to point out that such “grafting in” does not make Gentile believers (i.e. Christians) Jewish nor does it obligate us to the Torah in the same manner as the Jews. Yes, we Gentile believers are obligated to some of the conditions in the Torah, but that obligation is unique to us as Gentiles, and many other conditions are only applied to Jewish people, whether believers or not.

Again, this does not mean there is one, identical application of the Torah mitzvot for both Jews and Christians, and it absolutely doesn’t mean that the Church, under the New Covenant, has replaced Israel and the Jewish people or anything in the Old(er) Covenant made at Sinai…or any of the other of God’s covenants.

…remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2:12-13 (NRSV)

This particular doctrine on the New Covenant is certainly a lot easier to make sense of and follows the flow of the entire Bible much better than the traditional Christian understanding outlined, for instance, by gentlemen such as Dr. Thomas Schreiner in his book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law which I reviewed a time or two.

I’m grateful to Lancaster and the other fine folks at First Fruits of Zion for producing this teaching and making it available to people like me. It certainly is a breath of fresh air and illuminates the Bible in a manner that we’ve gotten far away from in Christianity over the long centuries. It’s time to take back the lessons taught by the Apostles and to lead a new “reformation” of our own in the Church.

I strongly suggest that you acquire this audio series for yourself. I didn’t include everything Lancaster taught on disc one (though you must imagine I did given the length of this blog post) and he presents further information that solidifies his argument regarding the New Covenant.

I look forward to writing reviews on the rest of the series and having Lancaster show me just “how deep the rabbit hole goes” (with apologies to Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne).