Tag Archives: the church

The Meaning of Purim and Easter

Our people have survived for the past 3,500 years … and not by accident. We did it against all odds — Crusades, Inquisition, Pogroms, Holocaust … There are perhaps 12 million Jews in the world today where by conservative demographic projections, there should be 400 million. However, they were lost to murder and assimilation. Why are we still Jews and how can we ensure our grandchildren will be Jewish?

There are questions all of us must ask ourselves: How important is it to me to be Jewish? What does it mean? Am I willing to die to remain a Jew? If I am willing to die as a Jew, am I willing to live as a Jew?

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
-from “Shabbat Shalom Weekly” commentary
Aish.com

Somewhere between 90 to 96 of the present era, after the death of the last Apostle, John, we have a head-on collision as the Hebrew words of the Bible are assigned new meanings by the gentile church leaders who are products of the Greek/Roman culture. The leadership of the Church shifted from Jerusalem to Antioch and finally, Rome. By 311 CE when Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, issued the Edict of Toleration, the spiritual situation was already critical. Just think of it, Constantine, head of the greatest empire on the face of the earth at that time, became a Christian. Anything that was good enough for the Emperor was good enough for the subjects, so, Constantine began to award medals, prizes, and money to those who converted to Christianity. Would it surprise you to know that most who converted did so for the medals, prizes, and money?

-Dr. Roy Blizzard
“What Has Happened to the Church? Is it Pagan or Hebrew?”
BibleScholars.org

purim
Purim Parade in Hebron

Given that Purim begins this Wednesday (tomorrow) evening at sundown and concludes a little over 24 hours later, and Easter is this coming Sunday, the 27th, I thought their close proximity on the calendar this year justified some juxtaposition between Judaism and Christianity.

From Rabbi Packouz’s point of view, Jewish survival of a nearly endless stream of “Purim-like” genocidal events is due, not only to the love and mercy Hashem has for His covenant people, but because Jewish people throughout history have remained steadfast to community, Torah, and Talmud. It’s their dedication continuing generation after generation, to preserving Jewish life and traditions, to raising children and grandchildren to, not just be ethnically or DNA Jewish, but to have a lived Jewish experience through the mitzvot.

From Dr. Roy Blizzard’s perspective, the once united Church of Christ splintered very early in history, within less than 100 years of its inception, and since that time, has continued to fragment again and again until today we have 400+ denominations of Christianity, all vying for the right to say, “Lo, here’s Christ.”

OK, I’m being kind of negative where the Church is concerned, and I must admit that Judaism as a religious stream has also fragmented across the last two thousand years, and today is represented by multiple, competing communities. However, unlike Christianity (and to make matters worse), there are also an unnumbered population of secular and assimilated Jews who have no seeming connection to the God of their Fathers at all (obviously, a secular Christian is a contradiction in terms).

Where these two parallel trajectories across history meet, where Christianity and Judaism collide, is at the aforementioned (by Rabbi Packouz) “Crusades, Inquisition, Pogroms, Holocaust” as well as “murder and assimilation.”

You don’t see too many Christian Crusades against the Jewish people these days (unless you count evangelizing the Jews as a “crusade”), but you do see a great deal of assimilation. My Jewish wife’s siblings were all assimilated, and two of them are avowed Evangelical Christians.

Is that such a bad thing? Not according to this article at the Rosh Pina Project. However, if a Jew has to come to the Jewish Messiah King by renouncing Jewish religious and lifestyle praxis and assimilate into the churches of their historic adversaries and conquerors, then I must disagree that it’s a good thing, particularly given Dr. Blizzard’s assessment of the rather poor spiritual state of the Church today.

Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Rabbi Kalman Packouz

The way R. Packouz sees it, if Jewish families want to support not only the observance of the mitzvot and Jewish religious praxis, but the continuation of the Jewish people as a population, this is what must happen:

If parents want their children and grandchildren to be Jewish, the parents must be a role model for living Jewishly. Any person I met who has positive feelings about being Jewish has told me it’s because he remembers his father making Kiddush, his mother lighting Shabbat candles, the Passover Seder. Memories, emotions and values only transfer through actions; philosophy does not pass to the next generation — unless it’s lived. Remember, a parent only owes his child three things: example, example, example!

Do you want your grandchildren to be Jewish? Then today go and buy To Be a Jew by Rabbi Hayim Donin. Read it. Make your decision. And then institute a gradual program of change that will lead to your living a fuller Jewish life. Then your children will have something that they value and want for themselves and for their children!

We actually have a copy of that book in our home and I know my wife has read it, and frankly, I wish she were more observant…much more observant.

As far as Dr. Blizzard goes, he believes that the restoration of the Church into what the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul) envisioned so many centuries ago, is possible in this manner:

I want to emphasize something before you misunderstand what I am talking about. Restoration is never going to be accomplished on a denominational level. It can only happen on an individual basis. If you are in the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, or whatever denomination, restoration can happen. It will happen as there is an increased hunger and desire on the part of God’s people for true factual information. It will happen as individuals begin to ask questions about their religious beliefs and test them against linguistic, cultural, and historical facts. The good news is that it is probably already happening to you.

I also think this is beginning to happen as small groups within their churches are becoming aware of a more Hebraic interpretation of their Bibles. Some remain in their church communities and become lone voices of restoration among their peers and the Pastoral staff, while others leave the Church altogether and either seek out like-minded souls, or lacking that, go on a solitary journey of discovery in the company of the Holy Spirit.

ChurchI wrote the blog post Standing on the Jewish Foundation of the Bible in November 2013 when I was attending a small, local Baptist church. I was having weekly private meetings with the head Pastor to discuss our relative points of view on the Bible, with him trying to turn me into a good Baptist, and me trying to enlighten him with the radically Jewish nature of the Messiah and his laser-like focus, not on the Church, but on the restoration of Israel.

Neither one of us were successful, in large part because of my conviction that the Church as it exists today, for all the wonderful things she has done, still represents a Two-Thousand Year old Mistake.

When the early non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) and their Jewish mentors and teachers each demanded an ugly divorce, the Gentile Christian Church rose out of the seeming ashes of its Jewish origins and began describing a drunken course through history much as Dr. Blizzard has described.

On the flip side of the coin, the number of Jews who retained fidelity to Rav Yeshua dwindled over the decades and centuries until Jewish devotion to Yeshua as the revealed Moshiach was extinguished.

This is what made it possible for the various incarnations of the Church to persecute the Jewish people, burn synagogues, burn volumes of Talmud, burn Torah scrolls, and burn the Jewish subjects of the Jewish King, all in the”Gentile-ized” name of that King; in the name of Jesus Christ.

But the Jewish people and lived Judaism have continued to survive, in spite of the persistent spirit of Haman which has followed them across the pages of history, attempting time and again to finish what he started as we read in the Scroll of Esther (see your Bible for details).

In a tiny handful of hours, Jews all over the world will be gathering together and celebrating Jewish survival from historical and modern genocide (represented today in part by ISIS, Iran, the PLO, Hamas, CNN, Barack Obama) by the observance of Purim. And on Sunday, in sunrise services around the world, Christians will be gathering together to celebrate the meaning of a risen Christ.

Unfortunately, a nasty side effect of Easter, again, at least historically, is that “after every passion play, there’s a pogrom.” In other words, while Easter is supposed to be a celebration of life, particularly eternal life in the Kingdom of God, the crucifixion of Christ, memorialized on Good Friday (and with supreme irony, Purim ends the evening before Good Friday this year) has been expressed in harassment of the Jews because “they killed Jesus.”

judeo-christianI used to believe that way of thinking had gone the way of the Dodo bird, until I read of an incident that happened earlier this year:

When Catholic Memorial School, an all-boys high school in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, played Newton North High School in a closely-fought basketball game last Friday, tensions were running high among the crowd.

Fans of Newton North High, which serves the suburb of Newton, a leafy suburb known for its high academic performance and its sizeable Jewish population, teased the Catholic Memorial School for its all-boy makeup, chanting, “Where are your girls?”

As the crowd got rowdy, a group of between 50 and 75 supporters of Catholic Memorial started a chant of their own. “You killed Jesus!” they yelled at Newton’s team and supporters, repeating the slur over and over through the gym.

The Newton students fell silent, shocked and upset.

This happened within the past few months, not the past few decades. These Catholic sports fans wouldn’t have known to taunt the Jewish basketball players and their families with such an insult if they hadn’t learned it somewhere.

Perhaps there are certain corners of the Christian Church that haven’t put their houses in order yet.

Dr. Blizzard believes that the restoration of the “Hebrew” Church is happening one individual at a time, and in the present age, I believe that’s true. I also believe that there’s a war coming; a terrible war.

I believe every nation on Earth is going to turn against Israel in an attempt to finally accomplish Haman’s mission and wipe every single Jew from the face of our planet. I believe the western nations, particularly the United States, will be among those standing against Israel. I expect my neighbors, co-workers, and people I’ve worshiped with in church will be among those supporting such a war (though I hope there will also be those who will join me in opposing it).

fall of jerusalemHowever, the Bible tells us that when all seems lost and Israel is about to be buried for the last time, Hashem Himself will fight for her and He will win. Messiah will restore Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, return all of the Jewish exiles to their Land, and…

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

Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)

As such, I don’t think there will be a Church, at least as we understand the concept today, when King Messiah rules from his throne in Jerusalem. I believe there will be an ekklesia, a world-wide multi-national community of those devoted to the God of Israel, who are the disciples and servants of the Jewish Messiah King, made up of two basic people groups, Jewish Israel, and everybody else.

From Wednesday night to Thursday night, Jews around the world will celebrate continued Jewish survival in a way that looks like a cross between Halloween and April Fools Day. And without really understanding the significance from a Jewish point of view, on the very the next day, on Good Friday, Christians will commemorate the crucifixion of Christ, which has historically (and as we’ve seen, also in the current era) been used as an excuse to attempt to deprive some Jews of continued survival.

The Bible tells us the story of Purim and the meaning behind it throughout Jewish history, and in the end, Israel wins, and finally, all of Israel’s enemies, including us, will be made subservient to the nation we have forever attempted to destroy. Does this mean Purim wins over Easter, too? Well, sort of. But not actually.

Ironically, although this will elude a traditional Christian viewpoint, the resurrection of Rav Yeshua was originally supposed to be understood as the beginning of the restoration of Israel, the Jewish people, and the lived experience of Judaism through the Torah mitzvot. Only after all of that, will the rest of the world, we devoted ones from among the nations, be restored as well. Zechariah 14 paints this picture for us very clearly.

Fortunately for us, God is infinitely merciful, trustworthy, and kind. Although He could have assigned us inferior roles in the Kingdom of Messiah as a consequence of being from among the nations who declared (will declare) themselves as enemies of God’s Holy Nation of Israel, He did (and will do) this instead:

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

Isaiah 56:6-7

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:26

“And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.

2 Corinthians 6:18

We will join ourselves to the Lord, minister to Him, love His Name, be His servants, be taken to His Holy Mountain (the Temple), be made joyful in His House of Prayer (the aforementioned Temple), our burnt offerings will be accepted, and we will all be privileged to call ourselves the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.

Up to JerusalemOur takeaway from both Purim and the Resurrection (though not necessarily the modern expression of Easter), is that we serve our Rav by celebrating the risen King Messiah who is the mediator of the New Covenant promises to provide for the continued survival of the Jewish people and the restoration of the Jewish nation as the head of all the nations (Jeremiah 31:7).

This year and every year, we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav (i.e. Christians everywhere) should celebrate Jewish survival and the Jewish state as signs of our risen King, who upon his return to us, will destroy the spirit of Haman once and for all and establish lasting peace not only for Israel, but for our contentious and weary planet. And in the end, we will finally be healed.

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Revelation 22:1-2

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Exploring Reformed Theology: Why the Church Is Not Israel

James, a lot of effort went into your response to Sproul’s video, and I’m kind of bummed about that because it was all based on a misunderstanding. Sproul’s perspective, as in most of Reformed theology, is that, “…the church has always been the Israel of God and the Israel of God has always been the church.” Rather than replacement theology as they are so often accused of, this is a Super Covenant perspective that accords well with Scripture.

So in your article (and in your listening to Sproul’s video) you make an assumption that Sproul never does. You ask, “So what’s all that got to do with the rest of us, that is, we non-Jewish believers?” But Sproul takes for granted that what Jesus does for the Jews, He does for all who believe, because there is one people of God, whether Jew or Gentile.

In this blog post called “R.C. Sproul, Jesus, and the Doctrine of Active Obedience,” I mentioned that my interest in this teaching was spawned by reading a Facebook post from someone I know virtually and have met once face-to-face.

After putting a link to my review of Sproul’s small sermon (actually a sermon excerpt) into that Facebook discussion, he responded (I don’t want to use his name without his permission) by writing what I quoted above.

He also pointed me to an article called The Church and Israel in the New Testament by Keith Mathison:

Dr. Keith A. Mathison is professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla., and author of “From Age to Age.”

Apparently, there’s supposed to be something about Reformed Theology that has a leg up on Biblical exegesis compared to other Christian theologies.

keith mathison
Dr Keith Mathison

The link I provided just above leads to a rather extensive write-up, and if I’m curious enough, I may go through it one day. But I needed something a tad more concise for the present and came across this resource:

Reformed theology is generally considered synonymous with Calvinism and most often, in the U.S. and the UK, is specifically associated with the theology of the historic church confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Three Forms of Unity.

I have a pretty dim view of Calvinism and consider the Calvinism vs. Arminianism duality (the link leads to part one of a four-part series) to be a totally artificial and false dichotomy. The Calvinism/Arminianism debate for me is literally a non-starter.

Nevertheless, the “theopedia” page provides a bullet point list of what it is to be “Reformed”:

  • It means to affirm the great “Solas” of the Reformation. (See the Five Solas)
  • It means to affirm and promote a profoundly high view of the sovereignty of God.
  • It means to affirm the doctrines of grace. . . to see God as the author of salvation from beginning to end. (See Calvinism)
  • It means to be creedal. . . to affirm the great creeds of the historic, orthodox church. (See e.g. the Nicene Creed)
  • It means to be confessional. . . to affirm one or more of the great confessions of the historic orthodox church. (see e.g. the Westminster Confession)
  • It means to be covenantal. . . to affirm the great covenants of Scripture and see those covenants as the means by which God interacts with and accomplishes His purposes in His creation, with mankind. (see Covenant Theology)
  • It means to take seriously the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. . . to affirm the primacy of mission and understand that mission.
  • It means to have a distinctly Christian worldview that permeates all of life.

Just on the surface, I don’t see that Reformed theology changed very much anymore than I think the Reformation 500 years ago changed very much about the basic anti-Israel, anti-Judaism platform of basic Christianity laid down by the “Church Fathers”.

Now let’s get to Dr. Mathison’s article:

The first to believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah are Israelites— Andrew, Peter, James, John. But in the Gospels, we also hear Jesus speak of building His church, and we see growing hostility between the leaders of Israel and Jesus. We hear Jesus speak of destroying the tenants of the vineyard and giving it to others (Luke 20:9–18). In the book of Acts, the spread of the gospel to the Samaritans and Gentiles leads to even more conflict with the religious leaders of Israel. So, is Israel cast aside and replaced by this new entity known as the “church”?

There are those who would say yes, but the answer is not that simple, for we also run across hints that God is not finished with the nation of Israel.

churchFirst of all, the word “church” is used anachronistically in this context, and the concept was completely unknown to Rav Yeshua (Jesus) or anyone else in First Century C.E. Israel. One night, nearly two years ago, in a bout of insomnia, I researched the word “church” and found, among other things, that the Greek word “ekklesia” cannot be directly translated as “church” within the context of the Bible. Anyone who does so is taking quite a few theological and linguistic liberties.

But we have a hint here that Mathison may not subscribe to “replacement theology,” at least as we commonly understand it.

Mathison goes through passages of scripture, focusing mainly on Rav Yeshua and Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul), but then he takes a quick left-hand turn into the Twilight Zone:

During most of the Old Testament era, there were essentially three groups of people: the Gentile nations, national Israel, and true Israel (the faithful remnant). Although the nation of Israel was often involved in idolatry, apostasy, and rebellion, God always kept for Himself a faithful remnant—those who trusted in Him and who would not bow the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). This remnant, this true Israel, included men such as David, Joash, Isaiah, and Daniel, as well as women such as Sarah, Deborah, and Hannah.

Wait! What? “National” Israel vs. “True” Israel? I can see this being abused pretty easily.

The problem is that nowhere in the Tanakh (Old Testament) is this distinction made. Mathison refers to Bible verses such as Luke 2:25-38, Romans 2:28-29, and Galatians 3:16, 29 to define the difference between these two “Israels.”

In a nutshell though, in the “Old Testament,” “true Israel” were those Israelites who did not succumb to idolatry, and in the “New Testament” (Apostolic Scriptures), “true Israel” are those Jews (and arguably Jews and Gentiles) who come to faith in Jesus.

israelI have a problem sub-dividing Israel into national and true, because when Israel was blessed by God, all of national Israel was blessed, and when Israel was cursed by God (such as being sent into exile), all of national Israel was cursed and sent into exile.

Consider the prophet Daniel and his companions. As he stated in a quote above, Mathison considers them to be part of “true Israel,” and yet, they were sent into exile along with all of the other Israelites.

Also, consider the destruction of Jerusalem and the razing of the Holy Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. When the Jewish people were exiled from their Land, the “true Israelites” were not allowed to stay while the non-Jesus believing “national Israelites” were exiled to the diaspora.

Now let’s go to something that Mathison neglected to mention, the New Covenant:

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

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)

Notice, Hashem, through the prophet Jeremiah, doesn’t say that only “true Israel” will be participants in the New Covenant, but rather the house of Judah and the house of Israel. God calls them “My people” and says He will put “My Law within them” and that “they will all know Me” and that “I will forgive their iniquity.”

JerusalemWhile God has interacted with specific individuals among His people Israel, He generally acts toward Israel corporately, as a unit, not cherry-picking this Jew and that one as “true Israel”.

Further…

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”

Ezekiel 36:22-28

If you read the above-quoted passage carefully, you will see that God mentions two general populations: Israel and the nations. He doesn’t subdivide Israel into “true” and “national”. Again, He addresses Israel corporately and nationally. He will cleanse Israel of her “filthiness,” give Israel a new heart, and put His Spirit within Israel, so that they will walk in His statutes and observe His ordinances. That is, with God’s Spirit within Israel, they will observe the Torah mitzvot as second nature. Their sins will be forgiven. Israel will be perpetually obedient in New Covenant times (which haven’t fully arrived yet, by the way).

OK, Reformists believe that when God said “Israel” he also meant “the Church,” and that everything He promised Israel was also promised to the Church, once it (the Church) was created in New Testament times.

Mathison’s article is rather lengthy (but hey, who am I to talk?) so I’ll cut to the chase. When Paul writes in Romans 11:25 that “all Israel will be saved,” who is “all Israel?”

Charles Cranfield lists the four main views that have been suggested: (1) all the elect, both Jews and Gentiles; (2) all the elect of the nation Israel; (3) the whole nation Israel, including every individual member; and (4) the nation Israel as a whole, but not necessarily including every individual member. Since Paul repeatedly denies the salvation of every single Israelite, we can set aside option (3).

And of these options, which one does Mathison believe represents “all Israel?”

The interpretation of “all Israel” that best fits the immediate context is that which understands “all Israel” as the nation of Israel as a whole, but not necessarily including every individual member of ethnic Israel.

Torah at SinaiThat’s good as far as it goes, but it also, in my opinion, somewhat misses the point. What makes Mathison think that this entity we refer to as “the Church” will exist as such upon the coming of King Messiah?

By stating that Israel and the Church are the same thing, Mathison denies the fact that the Sinai Covenant was made exclusively with the Children of Israel, that is, the biological descendents of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, and that non-Israelites could only be admitted to that covenant by assimilating into Israel, typically by intermarrying into the tribes (in modern times, we’d say that they would have to convert to Judaism).

If Mathison believes that Israel = Church and that Church = Israel, then all of the covenants God made with Israel must, by definition apply to Jews and Christians equally.

That means he is either validating the “One Law” proposition, and all we believing non-Jews are obligated to the identical set of commandments of Torah as are the Jews, or that after Jesus “fulfilled” the Torah commandments, they became null and void, since putting your faith in Jesus made it as if you had already fulfilled the Torah and thus, Christ’s righteousness is transferred to you.

That basically destroys the Jewish people as a people group and nation unique to God and effectively, any believing Jew at that point converts to Christianity.

Except that’s not what the New Covenant language in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 says. Re-read the text from those parts of the Bible I quoted above. They are worded such that Israel would literally observe the Torah commandments in the New Covenant era, an era which arguably was inaugurated with the life, death, and resurrection of Rav Yeshua, but one that will not be completely realized until our Rav returns as King Messiah.

In other words, this is all future tense. Israel will observe the Torah in the future when Moshiach rules Israel and the world from his throne in Jerusalem. If we are to live as if the King were already on his throne, even though he is still absent, a King in exile so to speak, then one might say Israel, national Israel, that is, the Jewish people, the objects of the Sinai and New Covenants, should observe the Torah commandments now.

This is especially true of Jews in Messiah since they have the “down-payment” of the Spirit, and thus there is greater emphasis to observe the mitzvot based on both Sinai and the New Covenant.

If Church = Israel, then it means Gentile believers in Yeshua should also observe the mitzvot in a manner identical to the Jews.

Abraham and the starsI don’t believe that’s true, of course, and I’ve written many times on why, including in this summary article about how it’s possible for we non-Jewish people of the nations who have joined ourselves to Israel through Rav Yeshua can benefit from some of the New Covenant blessings.

The conclusion of Mathison’s article reads like this:

The relationship between Israel and the church in the New Testament is not always easy to discern, but it can be understood if we remember the differences between national Israel and true Israel in both the Old Testament and the New, and if we keep in mind what Paul teaches in Romans 11. Israel’s present hardening has a purpose in God’s plan, but this hardening is not permanent. The future restoration of the nation of Israel will involve their re-grafting into the olive tree, the one people of God. The restoration of Israel will mean their becoming part of the “true Israel” by faith in Jesus Christ the Messiah.

In general, Mathison believes that national Israel (though not necessarily each and every individual Jewish person) will be “saved”, that is, merit a place in the world to come, along with the “Church”.

But if I don’t believe there will be a Church when Jesus returns, then who are we and what will we be?

“In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David,
And wall up its breaches;
I will also raise up its ruins
And rebuild it as in the days of old;
That they may possess the remnant of Edom
And all the nations who are called by My name,”
Declares the Lord who does this.

Amos 9:11-12

We will be the people of the nations who are called by His Name. OK, “Christian” is easier to say, but that term comes with a lot of baggage; a lot of anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish people, anti-Judaism, and anti-Israel baggage.

Judaism and ChristianityThat’s why people who think, believe, and behave like me tend to refer to themselves/ourselves by some other “label” than “Christian,” such as “Messianic Gentile” or “Talmid Yeshua”.

Ultimately, Mathison and those Christians associated with Reformed Theology aren’t replacement theorists, and they do believe that in the end all (or most) of Israel will be saved, but I don’t agree that there’s a “true” Israel vs. a “national” Israel. That totally invalidates the vast majority of the Jewish people over the past nearly two-thousand years who have lived and died having true faith in the God of their forefathers and who have declared in the Shema that “Hashem is One.”

It also invalidates the covenants, since every single Jewish person who has ever lived was born into a covenant relationship with God. Every single Jew, not just Jesus-believing Jews.

Mathison doesn’t say it as such, but the feeling I got reading his article was that the Church was at the top of the heap and Israel, because nationally they’ll only come to faith in Jesus in the end, is somewhat “lesser”. I think causality was reversed.

Even Rav Yeshua said “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), so it is the attachment of the non-Jew to Israel through Rav Yeshua that leads to salvation. Without Israel and her King and without the grace of God, the nations of the world are destined for destruction because we have no covenant status before Hashem (unless you consider Genesis 9 as a binding covenant).

Mathison flirts with some pretty good ideas, he just doesn’t take them far enough. He doesn’t flip the paradigm so that non-Jewish disciples are dependent on our relationship with Israel and her King rather than the Jews being dependent on Jesus and the Church.

I don’t think any body calling themselves “Christian” or “the Church” will ever truly admit that reality this side of the Messianic Era. I think many of those Christians who “get it” finally have to leave their churches, go someplace else, and do something else, while they/we are waiting for the return of the King (though there are those who do hang in there and are able to maintain their balance).

No, I’m not “church-bashing”. During my two-year sojourn in a local, little Fundamentalist Baptist church, I met quite a few men and women who really did have the heart of Jesus, who were doing good, who loved God, who went out of their way to take care of the needy, the hungry, the lonely, and the lost.

MessiahI admire these people greatly and aspire to be more like them, because they are more like Rav Yeshua (although they wouldn’t think of him as such).

I just think Christianity needs to go further back into the Bible and completely rethink and reinterpret scriptures while setting aside anything that “the Church” has taught them. This is why I read and understand the Bible from a fundamentally Jewish point of view (as best as I am able, that is). It’s the only way that the overarching message of the Bible makes any sort of sense.

The truth is coming.

When Jesus Returns, Will We Go To Church?

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Revelation 19:7-8 (NASB)

Who or what exactly is the “bride” of “the Lamb”? It’s presumed to be “the Church,” that is, the collection of individual Jews and Gentiles who came to faith in Jesus (i.e. converted to Christianity) prior to the great tribulation and the rapture to Heaven. Under this presumption, anyone converting to Christianity after the rapture is considered a believer, but not part of the Church. They can never be part of the Church. Only the Church goes up to Heaven with Jesus and only the Church returns with him.

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.

Revelation 19:11-14 (NASB)

According to Pastor Randy, the head Pastor at the church I attend (and if I’m remembering this wrong, I hope he’ll let me know), the “armies” returning with Jesus is the Church, who becomes the bride of Christ (“the Lamb”).

The idea of “the Church” has bothered me for quite some time. I finally gave my concerns a voice last April in a “meditation” called Notes on the Church from an Insomniac and followed it up with When is Church not Church, based on D. Thomas Lancaster’s article “Before the Church Was Called the Church”, published in the Spring 2014 issue of Messiah Magazine.

In the first century CE, faith in and worship of Jesus of Nazareth, Yeshua ben Yosef, HaMoshiach, was a fully recognized branch of Judaism along with other branches such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and so forth (although “the Way” was most closely related to Pharisaism, and except for the realization of Yeshua as Messiah and it’s rather liberal attitude toward admitting Gentiles, was likely indistinguishable from Pharisaism).

Obviously, much has changed in the intervening twenty centuries or so, especially starting in the second century when Gentile Jesus-believers radically separated from their Jewish mentors and any Jewish practice, in order to form a completely divergent religion for Gentiles called “Christianity”.

But now that the Church has been created, has it replaced Judaism in all of the New Covenant promises God made with Israel (for instance, in Jeremiah 31:27-40)? With the Church as the “Bride of Christ,” what becomes of Israel and the Jewish people?

Let’s take a giant step backward. First of all, the concept of “the Church” isn’t presupposed in the Bible. Did I just shock you? What about all of those references to “the Church” in the New Testament? Did I just miss all of the times the word “church” is printed (in English) in my Bible?

synagogue_arkAs I’ve mentioned before, the Greek word “ekklesia” cannot directly be translated as “church”. In fact, the word “church” didn’t really come into being until many centuries after the New Testament canonization. Generations of Jesus-believers lived and died before anyone actually thought of or said the word “church”.

So, does “ekklesia” mean the same thing theologically and conceptually as “church”? That’s the $64,000 question and the answer might not be in the New Testament.

Thus says the Lord,
“Preserve justice and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.
“How blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who takes hold of it;
Who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from His people.”
Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord,

“To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
“Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:1-8 (NASB)

“For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord.

Isaiah 66:18-21 (NASB)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘It will yet be that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go.” So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”

Zechariah 8:20-23 (NASB)

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

Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)

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

“I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth,
Blood, fire and columns of smoke.
“The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood
Before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.
“And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered;
For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
There will be those who escape,
As the Lord has said,
Even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.”

Joel 2:28-32 (NASB)

Sorry for the lengthy series of quotes. I wanted to present a representative collection of scriptures (though hardly exhaustive) illustrating how the Old Testament depicts Gentile involvement in the “end times” and/or Messianic Age, coming alongside Israel and turning toward God.

RestorationIf I were to set aside the New Testament and concentrate on the scriptures in the Prophets, the image of Gentile worship of God becomes radically different from what we’ve been typically taught by the Church. There are a number of references to “survivors” of the Gentile nations who went up against Israel and who were defeated. There’s at least the suggestion of some sort of judgment against these Gentile nations and consequences for their behavior.

We also see Gentiles being gathered to witness the glory God bestows upon Israel and particularly Jerusalem, as well as statements illustrating Gentile observance of a weekly Shabbat, New Moon Festivals, and the Moadim (appointed times, sometimes referred to as the “Jewish festivals”) for those of us who have held tightly to His Covenant.

But where is “the Church?”

The Christian theology of Progressive Revelation states that from the past to the future in Biblical history, God revealed progressively more about Himself. This means the newer sections of the Bible contain much more information about God and His plan for Israel and humanity than earlier sections. This would lead most of us to conclude that we can “trust” the New Testament more than the Old, thus as Christians, our primary source of information about what to expect from God in the present and future should be the apostolic scriptures.

And yet, just yesterday, I reviewed an article written by Paul Meier called “Christian Theology and the Old Testament” published in Messiah Journal which solemnly described the severe dangers of taking a low view of the Old Testament and relying on the New Testament as our primary source for theology and doctrine. A low view of the Old Testament results in a low view of the Jewish people and the Jewish nation, Israel.

And yet, we rely a great deal on the New Testament to help us interpret and clarify many things we don’t understand about the Old Testament, including our understanding of how the New Covenant is being and will be applied to Israel and the nations. But are the New Testament scriptures really the problem, or is it merely how we choose to treat them relative to the Old Testament and the overarching message of the entire, unified Bible?

Progressive revelation teaches us that later parts of the Bible are more important, clearer, and better than the Older scriptures, but they are all Hebrew scriptures and the later parts cannot stand alone. They must be supported on the foundation of the earlier scriptures and later writings cannot and must not contradict earlier parts.

That’s where we have our problem.

The Old Testament is unequivocally clear that God has had a covenant relationship with Israel for many thousands of years and never has intended to abrogate that relationship. God may discipline Israel from time to time for disobedience, but the New Covenant language is extremely plain in its intent to create an environment within the Jewish heart and spirit that will result in individual Jews and corporate Israel being able to perfectly obey God through the Torah mitzvot and to know God, from the lowest to the highest Jewish person, in the manner of the Biblical prophets.

Unless God changed His mind or He’s a duplicitous liar (and God doesn’t change and doesn’t lie for He is truth), then anything in the New Testament that contradicts what I said in the previous paragraph must be erroneous interpretation on the part of the Church.

prayingSo what do we have? In the Old Testament, we have many, many examples of Gentiles from the nations choosing to join alongside Israel to go up to Jerusalem because the Jewish people are well-known to be close to God. Therefore, a Gentile can also become close to God by attaching themselves to Israel (which makes us “attached” or “grafted in” but not Israel itself).

But how do we do that and why does it work?

We know that based on one particular aspect of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, Galatians 3:15-16, Ephesians 3:1-13), by faith in the “seed of Abraham,” that is Messiah, Son of David, the people of the nations can also benefit from the New Covenant blessings (holding fast to the Covenant), and through adoption, be called “Sons”, and enjoy forgiveness of sins, redemption, salvation, entrance into the Kingdom of God, resurrection, and life-everlasting in the World to Come at the end of all things.

That’s pretty terrific.

However, if you’re a Christian, there’s a problem. Where does “the Church” come in?

What is the Church, or more to the point, what is the ekklesia of Messiah? In the first century, it was a Jewish religious stream whereby, through the inauguration of the New Covenant era by the death (blood) and resurrection of Jesus (Yeshua), as a promise of things to come, Gentiles who came to faith in the God of Israel through discipleship in Messiah, were able to receive the Spirit of God (starting in Acts 10) as did the Jewish disciples and apostles (Acts 2), receive legal standing as equal co-participants in the Jewish stream of “the Way” (Acts 15) and in this ekklesia, form “one new man” (Ephesians 2) made up of Israel, the Jewish people, and the “people of the nations who are called by My name” (Amos 9:12).

It is said that in Messianic days, God will establish a reign of peace and that the whole world will be united together, Jew and Gentile alike (Micah 4:1-5, Isaiah 11:1-10). I see the ekklesia of Messiah, especially in the first century, as an example of that Kingdom of unity and peace in microcosm. The so-called “Church” was supposed to be an example, a picture, and foretelling of what is to come in the Age of Messiah, when Jews and Gentiles really will have peace with one another under the rule of King Messiah, with Israel as the head of all the nations, and Jerusalem as the Holy City, raised high above all other cities and nations (so imagine how I see true Messianic Jewish synagogues, such as Beth Immanuel, with Jewish and Gentile members worshiping together, relative to a prophetic, Messianic future).

Thus the first century ekklesia wasn’t just another Judaism or some sort of expression of a new theology, it was, and I think will be again, the ultimate realization of God’s overarching plan for Israel and the entire world, to return the planet and everyone and everything on it to complete obedience and consistency with the nature and character of the God of Creation, the way it was in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) before the fall.

That means it is impossible for “the Church” to represent a subset of humanity all sanitized of their distinctions, especially distinctions that define Jewish Israel, because in the end, there will only be one body of people: Jews and Gentiles, one-hundred percent of humanity, all devoted to God.

But wait a minute. What about “survivors” and those people who went up against Israel and God, who are to be judged, and who will have consequences delivered upon them? That hardly describes “one humanity” under God.

True. There will be many, many Gentiles (or maybe just a few considering they’re called “survivors”) who up until the point where Messiah and Israel win and the rest of the world is subjugated under an Israel ruled by Messiah, are not of God’s people. They have chosen to be apart. But does that mean they can never join the ekklesia, the vast collection of Jews (Israel) and Gentiles (the rest of the nations everywhere on Earth)?

Why would it mean that? Is teshuvah limited? Under Messiah’s rule, can no one repent? Is that the hard line in the sand?

praying at the kotelAnd what will that world-wide ekklesia look like? It makes sense, based on more prophecies in the Tanakh than I can count, that the Jewish people still in exile will all be returned to and live in the physical nation of Israel. The majority of the human race who are also part of the ekklesia, the vassal nations all aligned with Israel as their head, will periodically go up to Jerusalem for festivals, to pay homage to the King, to pray at the Temple, but we’ll still live in our homes in the nations of the world.

How many religions will there be? If it’s still possible for people to willfully disobey God, there could still be a lot of religions and a lot of denominations within individual religious, but there will be one and only one way to worship God. It is said that one of the things Messiah will do in the Messianic Age is to teach the correct interpretation of Torah and even teach the hidden things of Torah, that which we cannot perceive or understand in the present age. I conclude based on that understanding, that Messiah will show Jews and Gentiles the proper way of prayer, worship, and devotion for Jews and for Gentiles.

I imagine there’ll be a lot of overlap between those two general populations who are under Israel’s God, but I also imagine that there will be distinctions, not the least of which is the fact that Israel will finally, truly be a wholly Jewish nation.

What will that body or religion (or will the term “religion” have much meaning when Messiah is King and we all “know God” because the Spirit has been fully “poured out on all flesh”?) look like? My personal opinion is that it will not be called “Church,” crosses will no longer be prominently displayed by Gentile devotees of God, Sunday will no longer be the primary day of worship, and if I read the Tanakh correctly, pork and shellfish will no longer be on our menus, we all will rest on Shabbos, observe New Moon festivals, and plan our vacations around the Moadim so we can present sacrifices and pray at the Temple in Jerusalem.

That sounds a lot more like a Judaism than any form of Christianity.

I’ve been planning on writing something like this for quite some time, but got a little push yesterday (today, as I write this), by reading an article written by Caleb Hegg at the TorahResource Blog and reblogged by Judah Himango at Kineti L’Tziyon called “Is Messianic Judaism Really a Part of Modern Judaism?”

I tend to take a different view on things than Mr. Hegg, and although I don’t possess the same background as he does, I must disagree regarding whether or not Messianic Judaism can be qualified as a modern Judaism. I know. A lot of people, both Christians like Mr. Hegg and most Jewish people, religious and otherwise, disagree with me. That’s to be expected. I haven’t done much in the way of research on this topic, so I can only guess folks will come along and attempt to poke holes in my arguments.

shabbosBut I’ve written not of what Messianic Judaism is today, but what I believe the world-wide, multi-national ekklesia will be in the days of King Messiah. As I mentioned above, if you have to assign a “religious” designation to that future ekklesia, given the Biblical prophetic record of the Messianic Age and the realization of the New Covenant as it reaches fruition, it will not be the Church. If we have to call it anything at all, it will be a Judaism.

The word “Messianic” is not simply a Hebrew-based way to say “Christian.” Messianic Judaism is the Judaism of the Messianic Era, practiced today.

-Aaron Eby
as quoted from Facebook

As a non-Jewish member of the ekklesia of Messiah, and summoning the future Kingdom of God, at least a little bit, into our present world, I wish you all a Good Shabbos, which also foreshadows the Kingdom to come.

Addendum: A few months ago, I wrote a blog post somewhat similar to this one called The Church When Jesus Returns, but I didn’t take my point as far as I have on the current “meditation.” I still think they “fit” together, though.

Notes On the Church From an Insomniac

Old English cir(i)ce, cyr(i)ce, related to Dutch kerk and German Kirche, based on medieval Greek kurikon, from Greek kuriakon (dōma ) ‘Lord’s (house),’ from kurios ‘master or lord.’

I’ve always wondered how you get “church” out of “ekklesia” and in a bout of insomnia, I decided to find out. It’s not so much that I want to know about the usage of “church” as a building or even an organization, but as the entity that has, in some circles, replaced Israel as the focus of all His New Covenant prophesies and promises (see my five-part review series on D. Thomas Lancaster’s lectures, What About the New Covenant for more).

The definition above is what I first came up with in a Google search using the search string “origin of the word church”. Here’s more detail:

church (n.) Old English cirice, circe “church, public place of worship; Christians collectively,” from West Germanic *kirika (cognates: Old Saxon kirika, Old Norse kirkja, Old Frisian zerke, Middle Dutch kerke, Dutch kerk, Old High German kirihha, German Kirche), probably [see note in OED] from Greek kyriake (oikia), kyriakon doma “Lord’s (house),” from kyrios “ruler, lord,” from PIE root *keue- “to swell” (“swollen,” hence “strong, powerful”); see cumulus. Phonetic spelling from c.1200, established by 16c. For vowel evolution, see bury. As an adjective from 1570s.

Greek kyriakon (adj.) “of the Lord” was used of houses of Christian worship since c.300, especially in the East, though it was less common in this sense than ekklesia or basilike. An example of the direct Greek-to-Germanic progress of many Christian words, via the Goths; it probably was used by West Germanic people in their pre-Christian period.

Also picked up by Slavic, probably via Germanic (e.g. Old Church Slavonic criky, Russian cerkov). Finnish kirkko, Estonian kirrik are from Scandinavian. Romance and Celtic languages use variants of Latin ecclesia (e.g. French église, 11c.).

-from Online Etymology Dictionary

This resource has links that define the sources used to generate the information above so please click the link for more.

As you can see, it’s not as simple as saying that “church” equals “ekklesia” which is how it seems if you simply read your English-language Bibles.

Now what about “ekklesia” (alt. “ecclesia”)?

noun, plural ec·cle·si·ae [ih-klee-zhee-ee, -zee-ee] Show IPA .

1. an assembly, especially the popular assembly of ancient Athens.

2. a congregation; church.

Origin: 1570–80; < Latin < Greek ekklēsía assembly, equivalent to ékklēt ( os ) summoned ( ek- ec- + klē-, variant of kal-, stem of kaleîn to call, + -tos past participle suffix) + -ia -ia

The same source, dictionary.reference.com also provides the following:

— n , pl -siae
1. (in formal Church usage) a congregation
2. the assembly of citizens of an ancient Greek state

[C16: from Medieval Latin, from Late Greek ekklēsia assembly, from ekklētos called, from ekkalein to call out, from kalein to call]

churchAccording to biblehub.com, the “English word “church” comes from the Greek word kyriakos, “belonging to the Lord” (kyrios).” By comparison, “ekklēsía(from 1537 /ek, “out from and to” and 2564 /kaléō, “to call”) – properly, people called out from the world and to God, the outcome being the Church (the mystical body of Christ) – i.e. the universal (total) body of believers whom God calls out from the world and into His eternal kingdom.”

So as nearly I can figure, not being a linguist or etymologist, we can understand the word “ekklesia” as originally meaning (for the purposes of this brief study) an assembly of Greek citizens or more specifically, a popular assembly in the city of Athens. In its most generic sense, it was probably used to mean any assembly of people for a common purpose.

There’s also a sense, when used to describe an assembly of believers, as it’s used in the New Testament, that said-assembly is a group of people “called out”. This is probably (in the minds of the Jewish writers of the New Testament) related to the Hebrew word Shaliah, meaning “legal emissary” or “agent,” equivalent to the Greek word “apostolos” from which we get the English word “apostle”. It’s reminiscent of the use of the word Shaliach as employed by the Chabad to mean “a member of the Chabad Hasidic movement who is sent out to promulgate Judaism and Hasidism in locations around the world.”

That probably fits since historically and into modern times, one of the primary functions of the Christian Church as an institution is to send out members as missionaries or “sent out ones” to “promulgate Christianity in locations around the world.”

Called out ones, sent out ones. In either case, a population of individuals separated from the larger group for a common purpose. From a Christian standpoint, “the Church” is called out of the generic population of the nations for the purpose of being worshipers of Jesus Christ. An important secondary mission (Matthew 28:19-20) is to spread the gospel message of salvation to the world, creating more called out ones to join “the Church.”

Except, as you may have noticed above, the word “church” is more related to the Greek word “kyriakos,” so I’m not sure it’s reasonable to directly translate “ekklesia” as “church”.

But I haven’t written this in the middle of the night to be that picky. I’m just using it as background.

In studying Lancaster’s What’s New About the New Covenant lecture series, I started wondering, given the centrality of Israel in all the New Covenant language, how “the Church” managed to replace Israel or usurp her position in that Covenant. Actually, I’ve wondered this for a while and it keeps bothering me.

PaulI’ve learned in past conversations with Pastor Randy at the church I attend, that “the Church” was created in Acts 2 at Pentecost, was originally made up of mostly Jewish people, and was centralized around Jerusalem and the Temple. Subsequently, the Church began to spread and its locus of control was shifted to the assembly at Syrian Antioch (see Acts 11 starting at verse 19 and subsequent chapters) as more Gentiles were added. Paul returned to Antioch after his first two “missionary journeys” rather than Jerusalem, to give a report of his activities. He only returned to Jerusalem after his third journey (Acts 21) at the prompting of the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:22-23), not as a missionary going back to his “home church” to make a report, but for a larger and most likely eternal purpose.

From this perspective, as time goes on, starting during the lifetime of Paul, “the Church” becomes less and less Jewish and less and less of a Judaism, and increasingly describes a body of Jewish but mostly Gentile people focused on the worship of Jesus Christ, while divesting themselves of the various practices, perspectives, and even thoughts that previously associated it with a first century stream of Judaism (very similar to the viewpoint of John MacArthur on this topic).

Can you see why this bothers me? I’ve mentioned recently that if God really did reject Israel and replace her with “the Church” in all of the covenant prophesies and promises, then it would be like a man cutting off his own legs and expecting to run a marathon afterward.

It would be impossible.

All of the New Covenant language we see in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 is focused on Israel as the object of God’s prophesies and promises, not another entity, and certainly not an entity that isn’t Israel and Judah (which “the Church” isn’t). It’s as if traditional Christian thought on the New Covenant starts in the Gospels and particularly the Epistles, and then works its way backward into the “Old Testament,” proceeding to engage in some significant theological and eisegetical gymnastics to rework the words of the Prophets in order (some how) to make them fit the way institutional Christianity chooses to interpret Paul.

I’ve also mentioned recently how at least some of what Paul wrote is all too easily interpreted as anti-Torah, anti-Judaism, and anti-Jewish people, making Paul a big problem for understanding the New Covenant as it’s described in the Prophets, and giving “the Church” the (apparent) leverage it needs to reinterpret the New Covenant in a Gentile-focused manner that diminishes Israel and the Jewish people in favor of Goyim Christianity. At this point, if the Jews weren’t kicked out of the Church (unless they converted to Christianity and gave up Judaism and being Jewish people), they would have walked out, since the “no Jews allowed” sign had been raised. The Church isn’t a Jewish place, it’s a Gentile place.

“The older I get, the more I realize how different it is to be a Jew in a Jewish place as opposed to a Jew in a non-Jewish place. It’s definitely a different feeling in terms of how freely you can be yourself and celebrate your culture and religion.”

-Natalie Portman

Etymology is defined as “the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.” As we’ve seen above, the etymology of the word “Church” isn’t as straightforward as the casual users of that word might believe. In fact, “Church” is more related to a completely different Greek word, but most people don’t know that.

JudaismI suggest that the way most Christians understand the word “Church” today isn’t how the original apostles and disciples of the Master understood “ekklesia” or meant for anyone to understand it. The “ekklesia” were the called out body of Messiah, but did not call out Jews from Judaism. If the New Covenant prophesies mean anything at all, then primarily, it was the non-Jewish peoples who were “called out” of paganism in order to be grafted in to the commonwealth of Israel to benefit from the blessings of the New Covenant through their Abrahamic faith in Messiah, Son of David. The Jewish disciples may have been called out of other Jewish streams and into the Judaism of “the Way,” but if they had been called out of Judaism as modern Christians believe, then they (and we) would have exited the New Covenant altogether.

But just as we see how the word or words that eventually became “church” in English went through many changes throughout history, the meaning, purpose, and composition of the body of believers has also “morphed” a great deal over time. I doubt Paul would recognize a modern group of Christians in a Sunday worship service because of the result of nearly two-thousand years of evolutionary changes.

I wish I could do this wee study more justice, but it would take more study and time than I have right now. I fell asleep exhausted several hours ago, woke up way too late (or too early) and now I can’t sleep at all. For some reason, I keep thinking of “the Church” in general and the little local church I attend in specific.

I emailed one of the associate Pastors earlier today in relation to the church’s website, and one of the things he asked in response was, “How are you doing in your walk?”

Given how unusual I am in relation to just about everyone else in church, I didn’t know how to respond. I feel “fine” in my “walk,” but I don’t know if that’s how I’d appear from his point of view.

I suppose I should try to get some more sleep. Morning will come all too soon and I’ll regret it if I go to work with my brain in a fog. Maybe I’ll write a “part two” to this when I get more time and can do more research. I don’t really feel like I’ve said what I wanted to say, except that I wanted to say that what the Church has become today, not as a building or even an institution, but as an entity or even a concept, seems to have changed a great deal from the hopes and dreams of the apostles and from the spirit of what was intended in the New Covenant, a covenant non-Jewish people can only partake of through Israel and her firstborn son, Messiah, Son of David…the person we call Jesus Christ.

Read Part 2: When Is Church Not Church?

The Two-Thousand Year Old Christian Mistake

Ezekiel 36:26. You don’t need to turn to it, just listen. God says, now watch this promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” verse 27. “And I will put my Spirit within you.” Now do you read any conditions there? What are the conditions for getting the Spirit? What are they? Is there an if there? Nope. God says I will do it. Now the credibility of God is at stake. If a Christian has to do something to get the Holy Spirit then in theory, there are some Christians who never do that something so they never get the Holy Spirit. Therefore the promise of God is invalidated in their behalf. No the credibility of God is at stake. And secondly the credibility of Jesus is at stake in John 14, verse 16.

-Pastor John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 3: Have you Received the Holy Spirit?”
Commentary on Acts 19:1-7, Jan. 27, 1974
GTY.org

I know, I know. I promised no more MacArthur, but in this case, “Big Mac” actually did me a favor. He helped me (though I’m sure it was unintentional) figure out why “the Church” thinks the New Covenant is all about them and why the New Covenant is supposed to replace the Old. I’ve read the relevant scriptures many times, but could never figure out how Christians fit themselves (ourselves) into the New Covenant language. But let’s review a bit. I looked back on a series I wrote called “The Jesus Covenant” (no, there’s no such thing, but at one point, I had no clue how non-Jewish people could enter into any sort of relationship with God at all related to covenant, and I had to call the series something) and found the key scriptures recorded in The Jesus Covenant, Part 1: The Foundation.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law (Heb. “Torah”) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 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 on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:22-28 (ESV)

It actually helps if you read Jeremiah and Ezekiel cover-to-cover, rather than taking verses out of context in order to preserve the entire flow of thought of these prophets. You get a much more cohesive picture of what they’re actually saying. The exile

Notice in both of the above-quoted portions of scripture that God is specifically addressing “the House of Judah” and “the House of Israel.” Unless you subscribe to the Two-House theology and believe that any non-Jew who is at all attracted to Judaism and the Torah must be a hidden member of one of the “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel,” then you can plainly see that the verses in Jeremiah and Ezekiel referencing the New Covenant have absolutely nothing to do with the non-Jewish nations of the world, that is to say, most of humanity.

The New Covenant language applies only to the descendants of Judah and Israel in our modern world, the Jewish people.

Period.

You can see why it took me eleven or twelve separate blog posts in order to figure out where we Gentiles fit in. There’s no smoking gun, no signposts on the road to tell us, as there is with the Jewish people, where non-Jews fit in as far as God’s plan of redemption, restoration, and Messianic Kingdom world peace is concerned. You don’t have to read the whole series (though I wouldn’t mind if you did) to get the answer.

I basically spelled it out in The Jesus Covenant, Part 8: Abraham, Jews, and Christians and in The Jesus Covenant, Part 11: Building My Model. The only thing I couldn’t figure out is how in all of Church history, Christianity had misinterpreted these scriptures so badly, forcing a connection between the Church and the New Covenant which does not exist and which specifically bumps Israel out of the picture entirely.

Then, in editing my third and final review of John MacArthur’s “From Judaism to Jesus” lecture series, I saw the quote that spelled it all out. I posted it at the top but here it is again, with emphasis added:

Ezekiel 36:26. You don’t need to turn to it, just listen. God says, now watch this promise. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” verse 27. “And I will put my Spirit within you.” Now do you read any conditions there? What are the conditions for getting the Spirit? What are they? Is there an if there? Nope. God says I will do it. Now the credibility of God is at stake. If a Christian has to do something to get the Holy Spirit then in theory, there are some Christians who never do that something so they never get the Holy Spirit. Therefore the promise of God is invalidated in their behalf. No the credibility of God is at stake. And secondly the credibility of Jesus is at stake in John 14, verse 16.

Do you see it? Do you see where MacArthur, and presumably all the denominations of anything calling themselves “Christian” in any way anywhere made their mistake? Israel

All of the New Covenant language expressed in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-28 is specifically addressed to the House of Judah and the House of Israel. Further, when you take into account the larger context of these verses, you must realize that the prophets are talking about the Messianic Age, when Messiah comes (returns) as King and inaugurates the Messianic Era, when the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh in such a way that the least of all human beings will still “know God” in a greater way than John the Baptist (read Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, Joel 2:28-29, 32 and Luke 22:14-23 for context). Do you really think we have that today as Christians?

Since we don’t yet have a new heart and a new Spirit in us (I’m not saying that believers don’t have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but that’s only the “first fruits,” just the very leading edge of what these prophets are talking about) so that we are all functionally prophets, and since we (Gentiles) aren’t of the House of Judah or the House of Israel, then the New Covenant language can’t be talking about the rise of “the Church” beginning with Acts 2 and progressing across the rest of the New Testament and into the last nearly two-thousand years of “Church history!” The very best we can say, as I mentioned above, is that the giving of the Spirit to the Jewish apostles in Acts 2 and the giving of the Spirit to Gentiles, starting with the Roman God-Fearer Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, are a sort of “first fruits” of the New Covenant promise that is yet to come!

This will definitely not make any traditional Christian at all happy. It might make some Christians angry and defiant. Some Christians, hopefully those who investigate and realize that the Bible doesn’t actually read the way they’ve been taught, might feel a sense of loss and even depression that “the Church” isn’t the center of the universe and our guarantee that all Gentile believers are the best thing God created since sliced bread and peanut butter.

But we really have no reason to be depressed or experience loss. It’s not as if God doesn’t love all the world. It’s not like this invalidates John 3:16. God still “so loves the world,” that is to say, all the people in it, not just the Jewish people. He has a plan for us, it’s just not the plan that “the Church” believes in. This hidden but massive error is the very foundation of supersessionism and anti-Semitism at the root of all expressions of Christianity everywhere on earth. We don’t see it or feel it because it’s buried so deep in our theology. It is the heart of what Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann has called cryptosupersessionism.

Christianity is completely unconscious of its presence and yet it colors everything we in the Church say, do, think, and feel about Christianity and what we believe being a Christian means. I know a lot of Christians including a lot of Hebrew Roots Christians will be upset about what I’m writing, saying I’m doing something terrible, elevating Israel above the Church, creating inequities and all that, but it’s not like we don’t have an exceptionally vital role to play in God’s plan.

RestorationI don’t want to repeat myself, since I’ve written at length a number of times before about the plan God has for the people of the nations who are called by His Name. For examples see Provoking Zealousness, How Will Christians Perfect the World?, The Consequences of Gentile Identity in Messiah, and my recent blog post Don’t Argue. This is why First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) President and Founder Boaz Michael in his Tent Builders presentation (see his book Tent of David for the details of his plan to correct the Church’s faulty vision) says that:

The church is the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah.

We’ve all been taught to believe what John MacArthur believes about the New Covenant. The Christian Church in all its incarnations is guilty throughout its existence of the most heinous act of eisegesis in the history of the Bible and Biblical studies. We’ve chronically and grossly misinterpreted the Old Testament and New Testament text (and even those titles are a tremendous misrepresentation of contents and purpose) in such a way that it forces the anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah presuppositions, agendas, and biases of the Church into and onto the text.

This is the error of “the Church”. This is where, for all the good Christianity has done, the Church has gone wrong since almost the beginning. This is the problem that the Reformation failed to address. This is why Gentiles are in the Messianic movement, not to move in on Jewish worship and identity space, but to right a two-thousand year old wrong. May Heaven grant strength and endurance for those of us who are delivering this message that some ears may hear and understand and not reject and disdain.

A brother will betray his brother to death, and a father will betray his son, and children will rise up against fathers and kill them, and you will be hated by everyone for the sake of my name. But the one who keeps waiting until the time of the end will be saved.

Matthew 10:21-22 (DHE Gospels)

This is why I’m here. This is why I write. To deliver a message that the Church doesn’t want to hear. To point to the scriptures that Christianity doesn’t want to understand. Check those scriptures for yourself leaving your eisegesis and your assumptions at the door. Do you see what I see? If you do, why are you here and what do you need to do now?

There’s going to be an extra meditation today. I need to inject some balance into the messages I’ve been writing lately about the Church. In spite of all I just said, there is also much good in the Church. You’ll see.

Climb!

It is well known that we live in a time when there is terrible hester panim -God’s presence is not easily perceived. The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, uses this concept to explain why we have so many amenities in our times. “God saw that people were very weak spiritually due to the obscuring of God’s presence and could not survive dealing with the hardships of living without conveniences to make life easier. He afforded access to electricity and all of the appliances that use it, and subsequent generations find such things essential to their survival.”

We sometimes find Talmudic statements that don’t seem to apply today. On today’s daf, for example, we find that if a pregnant woman walks on cut fingernails she will miscarry. Yet this seems a bit farfetched to us here in the twenty-first century. When someone asked the Chazon Ish, zt”l, about whether this principle is still in effect, he replied with characteristic clarity. “In our generation, with such great hester panim, I would not be surprised if a woman who is expecting treads on fingernails and nothing happens to her fetus at all.”

The Shelah HaKadosh, zt”l, gives a similar explanation for why we no longer find that people are struck with tzora’as for sins like leshon hara and the like – although the Gemara explicitly states that certain sins cause the ailment. “The matter of tzora’as is only applicable when we had a Beis HaMikdash and God’s providence was clearly seen. After the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, God’s providence was hidden. During such hester panim, we are no longer sent tzora’as as a clear message from heaven that one must rectify his sins.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Cloaking of Providence”
Niddah 17

Don’t panic. I have a hard time believing that a pregnant woman would miscarry just because she walked on cut fingernails, too. Nevertheless, this story tells us an important lesson about the nature of the church today.

As you may know if you’ve been reading my “morning meditations” (or any religious blog) lately, there is no more contentious an environment than the religious blogosphere. We may treat each other pretty much politely or with (sometimes feigned) respect when we meet face-to-face in our churches and our synagogues, but once you get us on a web and we have access to a “submit” button on a discussion board or blogger’s comment form, all bets are off. When I wrote Will a Soul Cry Out Against You several days ago (even though I only posted it this morning), I didn’t really have this specific topic in mind. Today, I can’t get the topic out of my head (you’ll see it appear again in tomorrow’s “meditation” on this week’s Torah Portion).

A friend of mine has been communicating something similar recently (no, it’s not the friend some of you may think). The Christian church, our faith and our community, is having “issues”.

Pick up and open any popular book on Christianity and you’ll read about problems. The church has problems. Christianity has problems. We aren’t functioning correctly. In some way, we’re broken; we’re sick. People are leaving churches, youth aren’t keeping their faith into their college years, pastors are suffering from burnout and doors are closing all over the country.

The New Testament church wasn’t this way. It grew exponentially. It rocked its world. It set in motion a movement that now compasses the globe. Why don’t we see that kind of movement in the church down the street?

Why doesn’t our church look like Acts 2, or 1 Corinthians 13, or Philippians 4? Why aren’t converts becoming devoted disciples? Why do people in church seem to complain so much? What’s with the backbiting and shallowness? Where’s the depth? Where’s the passion? Where’s the love?

Good questions. Really good questions. I wish I had the answers but, as you know, questions are my primary message. Sometimes they’re only the breadcrumbs available to guide us along the path.

We in the church are a pretty disappointing lot, but maybe we have an excuse. God doesn’t seem to be very present in the world today. His Face seems to be truly hidden and the Messiah’s light is very much concealed under a bowl. But then again, maybe God’s “absence” is caused by the dismal performance of the church and the members of her body, particularly in the areas of graciousness, respect, and compassion. If God treated us the way we treat each other, the Earth would be a slowly cooling cinder in space, devoid of life and light.

The weight of graceless Christianity (I include myself among the crowd) presses heavily upon my shoulders and like a weak and aged Atlas, I can no longer hold it up. When the Divine Presence filled the Tabernacle in the desert for the first time, Moses wasn’t able to enter the tent of meeting because the glory; the weight of God’s Presence was too heavy (Exodus 40:35). I only wish the weight that keeps me from standing, let alone rising, were from the same Source.

But as much as collective Christianity sometimes makes me want to throw in the towel, there are some out there who are also encouraging. That’s what I need, that’s what we need. We need to be encouraging one another all the time (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13) and to love one another (John 13:34-35) so that people will know that our faith is not in vain. We need to do this in a world where we cannot easily see the face or feel the weight of God so that we can be reassured that our faith is not in vain.

At times like these, it’s easy to imagine myself as a spacecraft in a decaying orbit, about to burn up in the atmosphere, or a plane that is spinning out of control into a nose dive toward the unyielding ground beneath me. Small wonder that so many people crash, burn, burnout, and leave the faith. Small wonder that the secular world around us seems to have so many more people in it capable of compassion, kindness, and love.

One of the commentaries on this week’s Torah portion reminds me of a very special quality Moses needed in order to do the job God gave him to do.

One of the greatest attributes possessed by Moshe was his humility, as the Torah attests in the portion Beha’alosecha : “Moshe was extremely humble, more so than any other person on the face of the earth.”

Of all the Jewish people, G-d selected Moshe to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Then G-d chose him, and him alone, to receive the Torah, and learned with him for 40 days and nights.

Moreover, in the portion Beha’alosecha the Torah states that Moshe was able to converse with G-d whenever he wished; that he shared his spirit with the 70 elders and lacked not because of it; and that his relationship with the Jewish people was that of a nurse carrying an infant.

How was it possible for an individual who was so great to be so utterly humble. Was Moshe not aware of his stature? Especially so, since knowing one’s true station is a prerequisite to proper service of G-d. For a person must serve G-d according to his rank, and in order to do so one must be aware of both his virtues and his faults.

The Master taught a lesson that could have come right out of Moshe’s play book.

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” –Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)

I’m no Moses and certainly neither are any of the other folks who comment in religious blogs such as mine (though the vast majority of them are very fine and worthy servants of God), but humility in leading can also transfer to humility in speaking and humility in writing. It’s a challenge when you’re “semi-anonymous” on the web and you don’t have to look anyone in the eye. So many people out there feel they have a message to transmit that others need to hear. I guess I’m as guilty of that thought and feeling as anyone. But I implore you (as I implore myself) to consider how much you want or even need a “ministry” that puts you in the public eye, even if it’s only on the Internet. Really wise people avoid the spotlight if they can.

After the passing of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, the elder chassidim gathered and decided to confer the mantle of leadership on his middle son Rabbi Sholom DovBer. A delegation visited Rabbi Sholom DovBer and requested that he assume his father’s place as Rebbe. Rabbi Sholom DovBer heard them out in silence, playing with the chain of his pocket watch, and did not respond in any way.

Soon after they left, Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Chein, an intimate friend of Rabbi Sholom DovBer, entered the room. As soon as the door closed behind him, the new Rebbe burst into tears. “If you are truly a friend of mine,” he wept, “you would tie a rope around my neck, secure it to a heavy stone, and throw me in the river…”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Agony of Leadership”
Based on Numbers 11:28
Chabad.org

Rashi’s commentary on the above referenced verse from Numbers was, “Annihilate them” – Appoint them to a position of leadership, and they will deteriorate of their own accord… These days, all it takes to erode a person once strong in the faith is to “promote” them to “blogger.”

OK, that’s really cynical and my original motivation in writing this “extra meditation” was to try and be encouraging and uplifting, as much for me as for anyone who is reading this.

These days, my son David and I go to the gym together at about five every weekday morning to work out. This morning, I was on one of the aerobic machines. The last five minutes of a workout, I go into a cooldown mode trying to get my heartrate back down to something more or less reasonable. Often, I’ll close my eyes and imagine that I’m running alone on a path that’s climbing to the crest of a hill. It’s dark, but I can see the light of a new sunrise beckoning ahead of me. The light gets brighter as I near the top. It’s almost as if I can see the breath of God intermingling with my own as we approach each other. I jog toward the crest of the hill but never quite reach it before the timer on my machine gets to zero.

But in the last seconds of my fatal descent from the heavens, I manage to pull back up, avoiding a fiery disaster, and with my wings fully extended and my engines roaring with new life, I begin to climb.