Tag Archives: Toby Janicki

Listening for the Spirit Within Us

Hashem descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was upon him and gave it to the seventy men, the elders; when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but did not do so again.

Two men remained behind in the camp, the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad, and the spirit rested upon them; they had been among the recorded ones, but they had not gone out to the Tent, and they prophesied in the camp.

Numbers 11:25-26 (Stone Edition Chumash)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

As at least some of you may know, the first quote is from Torah Portion Beha’alotcha, which was read in synagogues all over the world last Shabbos.

The second quoted scripture is the famous Pentecost event when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit of God and began speaking in many different languages, languages they did not normally know.

As Christians, we are taught that anyone who comes to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) immediately receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit will guide us in all things. Yeshua said something to this effect.

These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

John 14:25-27

However, in each and every scripture I’ve quoted, the objects of receiving the Spirit and the audience of Yeshua’s words are Jews. So far, all we know (if we knew nothing else) is that Jews receive the Holy Spirit under certain circumstances, perhaps like the seventy elders and the Apostles, to prepare a specialized population for a highly specific set of duties.

But then there’s this:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Acts 10:44-48

cornelius
Peter and Cornelius

Obviously the Roman (Gentile) Centurion Cornelius and all those other Gentiles in his household received the Holy Spirit. Peter and the Jews who were with him were direct witnesses to the event and it was something that was obviously apparent to them in a physical manifestation.

“These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 11:12-18

Peter reported all this to the “apostles and the brethren” in Jerusalem, and after hearing his testimony, they glorified God saying “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

This was even confirmed later by Peter at the legal proceeding held by James and the Jerusalem Council for formally establishing the status of Gentiles in Messianic Jewish community:

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.”

Acts 15:7-9

Clearly, God intended for non-Jews to enter into the community of faith and be saved in a manner identical to the Jews, receiving the Holy Spirit, just as the Jewish believers did.

More than that, it was foretold long before these events that many nations would turn to the God of Israel:

Many nations shall become a people unto Me, but I will dwell among you — then you will realize that Hashem, Master of Legions, has sent me to you.

Zechariah 2:15 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Every Knee Shall Bow
Photo credit: art.jkirkrichards.com

The Tanakh is replete with prophesies regarding the nations turning to God at the dawning of the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom Yeshua’s advent inaugurated into our world, but I’ll only quote this one as it was part of last week’s Haftarah portion.

It seems my last blog post caused a disturbance among some of my non-Jewish readers relative to the uncertainty of our status in modern Messianic Jewish community. It was never my intension to upset or disturb anyone. Actually, quite the opposite.

I wanted to emphasize that even though, as we saw in the passage I quoted from Zechariah, God will dwell among Israel, even as He rules the entire world, Gentile lives matter, too. We’re not just an afterthought in God’s redemptive plan. We are not just God’s left-handed, red-headed step-children, the ones you hide in the closet when company comes over. We have a very specific purpose in the Kingdom.

But it’s sometimes easy to get the idea that Gentiles are indeed an afterthought given all the emphasis on Jews and Judaism on Messianic Jewish websites and blogs, and in such publications, and sermons.

However, I also brought up some uncomfortable ideas regarding our existence in my previous article: we don’t have a very exact roadmap regarding mitzvot or lifestyle, at least nothing as detailed as do the Jewish people.

I decided to focus on the Holy Spirit in today’s “morning mediation” for a few reasons:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; 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 I will make it so that you will follow my decrees and guard my ordinances and fulfill them.

Ezekiel 36: 26-27 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

This is part of the New Covenant promises Hashem made to Israel, the giving of the Holy Spirit, which we saw fulfilled in Acts 2 when it was given to the Jewish Apostles, and in Acts 10 when Peter witnessed it being given to the faithful Gentiles in the household of Cornelius.

But it’s interesting that a promise made exclusively to Israel somehow was transmitted to those Gentiles who came to faith in Yeshua as the foretold Messiah.

Actually, we have another giving of the Spirit that needs to be included.

Then Yeshua came from the Galil toward the Yarden to Yochanan, to be immersed by him. But Yochanan tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be immersed by you, and yet you come to me?” Yeshua answered and said to him, “Permit me, for so it is appropriate for both of us to fulfill the entire tzedakah,” so he permitted him. When Yeshua was immersed, he quickly came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God descending in the likeness of a dove, and it rested upon him.

Matthew 3:13-16 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

hebrews_letterPart of what I learned in listening to D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews is that Yeshua, as the arbiter of the New Covenant, came, in part, to deliver “samples” of the New Covenant blessings to Israel, and apparently through them, to the Gentiles. This was to be evidence that God will indeed keep His promises to Israel (and somehow some of those promises also apply to the nations) at the appropriate time.

We see the New Covenant promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit in Ezekiel 36, we see Yeshua receiving the Spirit in Matthew 3, the Apostles receive the Spirit in Acts 2, and some faithful Gentiles receive it in front of Jewish eyewitnesses in Acts 10.

This should be pretty encouraging to some of the people who were dismayed at the content and discussion regarding my chopped liver blog post.

There’s just one problem:

The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:34-39 (NASB)

The Ethiopian eunuch (a subject worthy of his own study), who was (in my opinion) most likely a Jew, did not receive the Holy Spirit, or at least Luke didn’t record it. But why, if he received the Spirit, would Luke have omitted this important point? If it was just assumed by Luke, then why did he include that the eunuch was baptized, which also could have been assumed?

Furthermore:

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.

Acts 19:1-6

Apparently it’s possible to come to faith in Yeshua, to receive a water baptism, but not to receive the Holy Spirit.

tongues of fireI’m just shooting in the dark at this point, but as a believer for many years, while I can recall the moment I came to faith, no specific physical event occurred indicating that I had received the Holy Spirit. I was baptized in the Boise River along with my wife and children in August of 1999, but nothing like the Acts 2 or Acts 10 events occurred (although Acts 10 does not describe what Peter witnessed that told him Cornelius and his household had received the Spirit except that they spoke in tongues  and praised God).

Is it possible in the community of faith for some of us to possess the indwelling of the Spirit of God and others to not possess it? Further, with no physical evidence of the Spirit resting upon us as described in the multiple Bible quotes I’ve offered, how can we say the Spirit is on us or in us at all? Did you speak in tongues and utter prophesies? I didn’t.

I know that there’s a general consensus in Evangelical circles that the “age of miracles” ended when Christian Biblical canon was closed, but there are all sorts of anecdotal stories other Christians tell of spiritual manifestations and even miracles that happen all around us (though they seldom if ever make it into mainstream news reports).

I don’t have a definitive answer to all this. Maybe someone out there does. I have to take it on faith that I do possess the Holy Spirit, only because Christian tradition says I must if I’m a believer.

On the other hand:

Not everyone who says to me, “My master! My master!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but rather the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. It will be that on that day many will say to me, “My master, My master, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many wonders?” Then I will answer them, saying, “I have never known you. Depart from me workers of evil!”

Matthew 7:21-23 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

That’s rather sobering.

Think about it. There’s a class of believers who are capable of performing actual supernatural acts, apparently in the name of Yeshua, and yet, the Master does not know them and even calls them “workers of evil”.

How about this?

But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”

Acts 19:13-15 (NASB)

I’m not sure this is an example of what Yeshua was talking about, but just paying the Master lip service, so to speak, doesn’t seem to be enough to get you “into the club,” as it were.

So what do we do as faithful Yeshua-followers?

Yeshua said to him, “Love HaShem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your knowledge.” This is the greatest and the first mitzvah. But the second is similar to it: “Love your fellow as yourself.” The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.

Matthew 22:37-40 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

I know Yeshua was speaking to a Jewish audience, but I think that it is appropriate to consider this a commandment that also applies to us, that is, we non-Jews in Messiah. Why shouldn’t we also love God with all of our resources and love other human beings as we love ourselves? It would seem this “Torah” is one that also forms the core of our existence as disciples of the Master and worshipers of Israel’s God.

I still feel like I’ve opened a can of worms I can’t seem to close again. With all of this, what are we supposed to do next, particularly if we, in some way, exist either directly or tangentially in Jewish community?

That might take a long time to find out. Certainly an inventory of each and every instruction Paul gave in his epistles to the Gentile disciples, as viewed from a Paul Within Judaism perspective, would be in order.

109
Messiah Journal 109

Actually, back in February 2012, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) published an article written by Toby Janicki in Messiah Journal issue 109 called The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses. Unsatisfied with my original review which I wrote at the time, I wrote another one over a year later (which was nearly two years ago now).

It doesn’t answer the conundrum regarding the Holy Spirit or how some people could sincerely believe they were serving Yeshua and yet be so horribly wrong, but as far as getting some sort of handle of who Gentiles are supposed to be in what is essentially, a Jewish religious form, it might be a good place to start, at least for those of you who are experiencing a crisis of community.

The rest will have to come along by the by.

Advertisements

If Israel is the Light of the World, What Happens to the Church, Part One?

After the exiles are gathered and Israel’s enemies destroyed, those who are left from the nations will not only dwell peacefully with the nation of Israel, but all peoples will come to recognize the one God of Israel and will serve him. It will be a worldwide revival such as we have never seen before. While it is Messiah’s job to bring this global repentance about, it will be accomplished through the agency of the Jewish people and will come about when they dwell securely within the land. Indeed, this awakening can only happen when the children of Israel are connected with the land of Israel.

-Toby Janicki
“Light to the Nations,” p.43
Messiah Journal issue 118/Winter 2014

I think most Christians would agree that Messiah (Christ) will inaugurate an era of worldwide peace and tranquility upon his return, but they might be puzzled as to what the Jewish people and the land of Israel have to do with it. Isn’t the Church supposed to rule and reign with Jesus? Aren’t the Jews supposed to convert to Christians and effectively eliminate any and all Jewish presence on Earth for the first time since Abraham?

One of the reasons I don’t share a theological perspective with most of my Christian brothers and sisters is because, even though there may be those who recognize that the Jews have “some part” in God’s future plans to redeem the Earth, couldn’t possibly imagine that it is national Israel and the Jewish people, not “the Church,” which is the principal mechanism by which we will all be saved, even as the Master said, “salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22).

However, Toby Janicki in his article makes the argument that the children of Israel was and is God’s chosen people and nation for a very good reason, and that reason stretches all the way back to Sinai.

To fully understand how the Jewish people will bring the nations to the knowledge of HaShem, we need to understand why God singled out and chose Israel in the first place. We need to examine the Jewish people’s role as a light to the nations. This begins with HaShem designating Israel as his chosen people.

-ibid

Toby cites Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 14:2, Deuteronomy 32:9-10, and Romans 3:1-2 to define and support Israel’s continued election from among the nations. But the “choseness” of Israel has always been a bit of a problem to the rest of us.

In today’s modern society the idea of this kind of election can be troubling. The premonition of God choosing one nation out of all the others does not sit well with our Western sense of egalitarianism. But before jumping to conclusions, we must ask the question, what does it mean that Israel is chosen?

-ibid, p.44

Christianity has attempted to respond to Israel’s chosen status in a couple of ways. The traditional response of the Church was to establish a binding tradition declaring the Christianity and the community of (Gentile) saints as having replaced Israel’s special status with God as an act of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.

Of course this makes Messiah a traitor to his own people and the nation he loves. Can Yeshua turn away from God’s treasured, splendorous people, HaShem’s Am Segulah (Deuteronomy 14:2), wholly decoupling himself from the Jews, the Jewish land, and his very identity as a Jew, and cleave only to a foreign people, making himself, in essence, a foreign god?

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “no”.

There is another competing opinion that sadly treats the Jewish people no better. What if Jewish election is meaningless? What if the work of Messiah was simply to take all the Gentiles who become his disciples and make them “Israel” too? That would mean in the Messianic Kingdom, there would only be two people groups, Jewish and non-Jewish Israel, and the unbelieving Gentile nations. Since the former group, by definition, are resurrected and immortal, and the latter group is not, after the latter group dies, only “Israel” made up of Jews and non-Jews remains and there are no nations of the earth. Being Jewish would mean nothing since the Gentiles in “Israel” would be every bit as “chosen” (although much later in the game) as the Jews.

This violates more prophesies than I have room to cite and both of these misguided theories eliminate God’s original choosing of the children of Israel as His chosen people and nation, either by removing that status from the Jews or making to totally meaningless.

It seems people have to rewrite God’s original work to fit their own needs and requirements, more’s the pity.

But if Yeshua is the light of the world (John 8:12), why does he need Israel and the Jewish people to fulfill his mission to be a light to the world? Why does he need anyone at all?

But what if he and Israel are inseparable components within that light?

Toby quotes Rabbi Levi Welton to answer the question he asked above.

In other words, one separates something to do something, not just to be something. So the Jewish people were separated for a purpose, not to carry a higher rank or be a “favorite.” This purpose is to tell the world that they are also “chosen to do good,” as Isaiah says it, “to be a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6).

-ibid

This suggests that the Jewish people had and still has a special mission to bring knowledge of monotheism and the One true God of Creation to the rest of the nations. But how were they supposed to do that, especially since post-Biblical times, most Jews do not acknowledge Yeshua as the Messiah?Up to Jerusalem

According to Toby:

In the minds of the sages the Jewish people’s exile (galut) from the land of Israel was not only punishment for Israel’s sin but also served a redemptive purpose for all mankind?

-ibid, p.46

That’s bound to bend the minds of some Christians since it means that the Jewish people as a whole were still being used by God in post-Biblical times as exiles among the nations, and that non-Jesus believing Jews are fulfilling God’s purposes to this very day.

According to one source:

Eleazar also said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, did not exile Israel among the nations save in order that proselytes might join them, for it is said: ‘And I will sow her unto Me in the land’ (Hosea 2:23); surely a man sows a se’eh in order to harvest many kor!” (b.Pesachim 87b)

-ibid

Toby continues:

…and therefore this saying is a metaphor for the knowledge of HaShem being spread among the nations of the world through the exile of Israel.

-ibid

This would seem to create some problems. First, it puts Judaism and Christianity in direct competition to make proselytes (converts) as part of spreading the knowledge of HaShem in the former case, and the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ in the latter case.

It also means that, from a Jewish perspective, if spreading the knowledge of HaShem requires making proselytes, then no Gentile person could benefit unless they converted to Judaism, which is also against many of the prophesies in the Tanakh (Old Testament).

But there’s a catch:

Although we have seen some fulfillment of Israel enlightening mankind throughout history, and although the nation’s exile has served a redemptive purpose, Israel’s call to be a light to the nations can be fully fulfilled only when they dwell securely within their land with their own sovereign monarchy.

-ibid

So here we have a connection between Israel as a light to the nations and Messiah, since one of Messiah’s critical tasks is to re-establish the sovereignty of Israel and to return all of the Jewish exiles to their Land. If Israel can’t be a light to the nations until those events have occurred, then Messiah is absolutely required in order to allow Israel to complete her mission.

This brings up a question about the role and function of Gentile Christianity. If everything hinges upon Israel having complete rule over her nation, all the Jews returning to Israel, and King Messiah being established on his throne, what happens to us? Toby writes all this as future events, but we are here now, aren’t we? What are we, chopped liver?

Toby doesn’t address this question and he seems to indicate that only Israel will participate in the worldwide revival and return to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I can see those non-Jews who identify as “Messianic Gentiles” within some recognized form of Messianic Judaism participating in a supporting role, but with no mention of the Church in this scenario, I can imagine many Christians feeling left out in the cold.

lightAnd yet, I know of many Christians who live holy lives, who do good, and who are devoted to God, and yet they do not have a “Messianic Jewish” perspective on the scriptures, nor do they anticipate Israel having such a “stellar” role in God’s redemptive plan. They fully expect that it will be the Christian Church who will step in and be “the light of the world” alongside Jesus Christ.

I wonder what happens to them?

Since Toby’s article is rather packed with information and meaning, and since I want to cite another author in the current issue of Messiah Journal, I’m going to stop here. See you in Part 2 of this article.

Subbotniks, Proselytes, and Messianic Gentiles

I was reminded of this once again when I recently came across some articles on the Russian Subbotniks. The Subbotniks were a break-off group from the Russian Orthodox Church. They observed a seventh day and also faithfully observed the laws of Torah. When researching their account, I was not only intrigued by its many similarities to the situation of increasing numbers of Gentiles disciples of the Master returning to the practice of Torah, but I was also struck by some dangerous pitfalls revealed by their story. If we are not careful, we might fall into the same traps. In that regard, the tale of the Subbotniks is as inspiring as it is cautionary.

-Toby Janicki
“The Subbotniks,” pg 49
Messiah Journal Spring 2014 (115) issue

In 1451, Pope Nicholas V issued a decree forbidding all social contact between Christians and Jews. The Church sought to stop Christian converts to Judaism; throughout Europe, those who did so were liable to the death penalty.

This Day in Jewish History
For 24 Adar 5774 – March 26, 2014

To be honest, I’ve been avoiding reading Toby’s article because the title just didn’t “resonate” with me, but now I’m glad I did. Lately, I’ve been writing about the nature of Messianic Judaism for Jewish people and just how Jewish should Jews in Messianic Judaism be. However, as I’m always reminded, there’s the other side of the coin; Gentiles who remain devoted disciples of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and yet who are also attracted to the practice and/or perspective of Judaism on their (our) faith.

But I included the quote about Pope Nicholas V for a reason. When I first read it a day or so ago, I found myself wondering why this Pope found it necessary to forbid contact between Christians and Jews and why there was such a “problem” with Christians converting to Judaism in 15th century Europe? How many Christians were converting anyway, and why? What was the allure?

I suppose the story of the 18th century Subbotniks might contain part of the answer. It seems that periodically in the history of the Church, some sub-group of Gentile believers breaks off from their local, normative expression of Christianity and either converts to Judaism or, without abandoning their faith in Jesus, begins to take on more “Jewish” practices and perspectives.

Luther’s open letter of 1538 condemning Sabbatarian tendencies among Christians in Silesia and Moravia after 1527 is a key work marking the transition toward the anti-Judaic attitudes of the late Luther. Marked by a new severity toward the Jews on Luther’s part, the letter had its origin in Luther’s response to a new Sabbatarianism arising among radical Protestants, which Luther saw as a victory for Jewish legalism over sound evangelical teachings.

-Dr. Lowell H. Zuck
“Luther’s Writing Against Emerging Sabbatarianism”
ConcordiaTheology.org

Apparently, the Reformation didn’t end of the problem of Christian Sabbatarians anymore than Pope Nicholas did.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

I’ve often thought that the authors of the Reformation didn’t take things far enough. Sure, they stood up against the errors and abuses of the Roman Catholic church as it existed in the 16th century, but they didn’t change as much as you might imagine. They still kept the Sunday worship day and continued to adhere to and enforce theologies and doctrines that were anti-Semitic and anti-Judaism, even accusing “the Jews” of attempting to mislead Christians (probably relative to the Shabbat):

I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that these miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them. I would not have believed that a Christian could be duped by the Jews into taking their exile and wretchedness upon himself. However, the devil is the god of the world, and wherever God’s word is absent he has an easy task, not only with the weak but also with the strong. May God help us. Amen.

-quoted from “The Jews & Their Lies” (1543) by
JewishVirtualLibrary.org

I’ve been accused in the past of bashing Luther a little too hard, so I’ll try to be a little less aggressive here, but the history of Christians being attracted to aspects of Judaism doesn’t seem to be an isolated one.

Why? What’s the attraction?

Initially, these former members of the Christian Church continued to view both the Old and New Testaments as divinely inspired, but they believed that nothing in the New Testament abolished the commandments of the Torah, including the laws of kashrut (dietary laws). While still considering themselves disciples of the Master, the Subbotniks wrestled with the traditional Orthodox Church’s teaching on the Trinity, and they developed some of their own thoughts regarding Christology and Yeshua’s role as a prophet and miracle worker. They also squarely rejected icons and frescoes of the Orthodox Church as idolatrous.

-Janicki, pg 50

shabbos1My guess is when my traditionally Christian readers hit the word “Trinity” in the quote above, you may have decided that the Subbotniks were heretics and wrote them off, but hang in there. Also, for the Protestants out there, you may be thinking that the Subbotnik reaction to the “icons and frescoes” of the Orthodox Church may have been appropriate, but they certainly wouldn’t have that sort of issue with Protestant Christianity today. They certainly wouldn’t have left a (for example) Baptist church to take up Sabbath-keeping, would they?

Having spent some number of years in the Hebrew Roots movement (which meant I also exited traditional Church worship and thought), I’ve interacted with many, many people who “left the Church”. They (we) have a lot of reasons for doing so. For me, it was that the Christian Pastors and church members (Sunday School teachers, rank-and-file in the pews) weren’t able to answer all of my questions about the Bible and why Christians do and teach certain things (a Sunday Sabbath, replacement theology). But some people felt much, much worse about Christianity than I ever imagined.

Some people were actually angry at their former churches and their former Pastors. Some people felt lied to. They had discovered, through various processes, that the New Covenant didn’t say what many churches teach, it isn’t a recipe for replacing Israel with the Church in God’s covenant promises, and it isn’t the “swan song” for the Jewish people and Judaism. Many of these people, and some expressions of Hebrew Roots, attempted to follow a path similar to those of the Subbotniks, remaining believers in Jesus (or Yeshua, if you will), but adopting many of the practices of modern Judaism to varying degrees of observance. The logic is that if the fundamental theology and doctrines of Christianity are wrong because they are anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and misrepresent the “Jewishness” of the foundations of “Christian” faith, the true answer to how we Gentiles are to be devoted disciples of Jesus can only be found by seriously revisiting the first century Judaism of “the Way” and building a worship practice and teaching from there. That point of view also accuses the Reformation of not going far enough or perhaps not going far enough back in time as I previously mentioned.

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

As I quoted Toby saying, the example of the Subbotniks and of all the various non-Jewish groups across history who have devoted themselves to Jesus by devoting themselves to Jewish study and practice is inspiring for modern-day Messianic Gentiles like me, but he also said their story is a cautionary tale.

Toby relates that the Subbotniks were persecuted by the Orthodox Church and the government, but it’s fairly unlikely Messianic Gentiles in the western nations would face the same treatment today. The separation of church and state means the U.S. government has no vested interest in enforcing a state religion as such, and how exactly is a Catholic or Evangelical (or any other kind of) church going to persecute us? No, we won’t be persecuted. Some Christians and some Churches are actually curious about Messianics. Up to a certain point, they find it interesting or even a little fascinating to be just a little more “Jewish” as Gentile Christians and to even “allow” a certain level of Jewish practice among Jewish believers.

But when they finally grasp just how people like me think Jewish believers should be completely Jewish, these Christians back off while rapidly raising their “you’re under the Law” shields. Even Christians like me, who don’t have a significant “Jewish” practice but who utilize a Messianic Jewish informational and educational platform in interpreting the Bible, are at best thought of as intelligent but mistaken and at worst as a member of a cult or even a heretic (what do you mean “the Law” wasn’t nailed to the cross with Jesus?).

But Toby’s right. Messianic Gentiles walk a fine line, at least potentially. We must never mistake Jewish perspective or Jewish practice as the object of our faith. The true focus must be Messiah as the “doorway” by which we may approach the Throne of God.

At the same time, the story of the Subbotniks cautions us about potential pitfalls. What began as a life-giving revelation ended in causing the people to deny Yeshua as Messiah — the very one who had brought them to the truth. This story is not just an interesting footnote for the history of religion. Both Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement face the same issues today that the Subbotniks did.

-Janicki, pg 57

I don’t have any numbers to draw from, but anecdotal information suggests more than a few Gentiles in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements have “swung to the other side,” so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism. One of the best arguments “the Church” has to dissuade Gentiles from becoming involved in Jewish practices and studies is the danger of apostasy and conversion. This is as big a problem now as it was five-hundred years ago. The understanding that the Church labors under a set of misunderstandings, some of which go back to the very foundations of (Gentile) Christianity, creates the false impression that Christianity is bad and Judaism is good.

jewish-traditionI’m not denigrating Judaism, but I am saying that, for my part, it is a lens through which I gain a clearer (in my opinion) focus on what the Bible is actually trying to say, and a better view of the original intent of the Bible writers including the ever controversial Apostle Paul. One of the reasons I limit my “Jewish” practice is to avoid falling into the trap that captured the Subbotniks and that pulls many believers out of Yeshua-faith and into conversion to normative Judaism every year (I should say though, that it’s not my only reason).

In my opinion, Messianic Gentiles will continue to struggle with our own “identity” issues, regardless of whether we find ourselves in a Messianic Jewish synagogue or a traditional church. I’ve participated in adding some resources to a website called MessianicGentiles.com, created by Rabbi David Rudolph, in order to assist in building a positive identity for people like me. While I believe that it is vital for Jews in Messianic Judaism to have authentic Jewish community in the movement so as to not be cut off from larger Jewry, just like Messianic Jews, Messianic Gentiles must never forget that the central focus of our faith is not our practice but the Messiah.

If Judaism were the focus, then Jews in Messianic Judaism could find community in any synagogue of any of the other branches of Judaism. And if Judaism were the focus for Gentiles, then our answer would be to convert to some branch of normative Judaism and that would be that.

But then we end up denying the Master, Yeshua…Jesus. Having come this far under difficult circumstances, being dismissed by other Christians, trying to help our families understand why we do what we do, being accused of being “wannabe Jews,” are we to fail now in our faith and apostatize by becoming Jewish proselytes and casting Messiah aside like an old love affair?

Once Again Foolishly Rushing In

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

-M. Scott Peck

I post quotes in the sidebar of my blog to honor this “mission” to offer “morning meditations,” and so I added Peck’s to the list. But then I’m wondering if Peck lived a religious life ( I guess I should do a little research before asking such dippy questions)?

Judah Gabriel Himango to Toby Janicki:

With all due respect, you are not the Apostle Paul. You’re choosing to amplify “these other people needing correction” *over* the positive report from the Jewish world. That is disappointing.

You suggested we end the discussion. OK, I will not reply any further.

I am going to reproduce this discussion over on my blog, because it is noteworthy and important to understand the direction FFOZ has taken.

Shalom.

Judah Gabriel Himango to James:

James, you claim Hebrew Roots people are “attempting to appear indistinguishable from Chabadniks.”

The very first photo in the article shows the people at the conference. Please tell us which ones are indistinguishable from Chabad practitioners.

James to Judah Gabriel Himango:

I’m basing that on the quote from the article, Judah.

Kaiser said: “Many of the thousand-plus people who attended Revive 2013, a religious conference held at the Dallas Sheraton last June, wear tzitzit. Many keep kosher and observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Some of the men have beards and peyos.”

-from comments made on the blog post
“God-Fearers: The Balance of Torah”
by Toby Janicki
blogs.ffoz.org

What part of “peyos” don’t you understand? Anyway…

I didn’t transcribe the full conversation because it would have consumed too much space. Please visit Toby’s blog to read the article that inspired this set of transactions and the complete dialog that followed.

One thing I said when I first commented was:

I keep asking myself if I want to touch this conversation with a ten-foot pole, especially since it’s going to be enshrined in infamy on Judah’s blog, but here I am with my fingers tapping on the keyboard.

At the keyboardI was right. I am living to regret being the “monkey at the keyboard” and entering yet one more “spitting contest” between different factions of the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots world. Actually, only one individual created a level of “discomfort” but that’s all it takes.

This is actually a reflection of a larger dynamic, a much larger dynamic, that has been going on for years and years. It waxes and wanes and I thought it was waning and that we’d finally get past all this “jockeying for position” and actually focus on something worthwhile like, oh…I don’t know…serving God, but then stuff like this happens, to which I respond and then based on a follow-up comment, respond again.

Finally, I read a Chabad commentary (one of my favorite sources, I must admit) and since it reminds me of the latest incarnation of our little debate, I write one more thing. I must be self-destructive or more likely, just a compulsive writer (are they the same thing?).

I should have removed my fingers from the keyboard and kept them off when I read Toby’s latest blog, especially when I saw that Judah was already involved but I didn’t listen to the voices of wisdom in my head.

As Alexander Pope famously wrote, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Guess what that makes me?

This is just my latest rant on how I periodically lose my faith in religious people but now I’m starting to ask, is involvement in religion worth it?

Note, I didn’t ask if my faith was worth it, but faith can be lived out in an entirely positive environment and doesn’t really require that anyone knows I even exist. I can give to charity, donate to my local food bank, and perform many other acts of kindness and compassion without having to argue about whether Gentile believers should wear tzitzit and payos or not. Really, why should I care?

“Speak (keyboard) in haste, repent at leisure,” to bend the Hasidic proverb all out of shape.

Of course, it’s not just the Messianic vs. Hebrew Roots “duke fest” that’s contributing fuel to today’s “extra meditation.” Part 1 and Part 2 (Part 3 publishes next Sunday morning) of my John MacArthur vs. Judaism reviews figure prominently in my disillusionment of religion and religious people.

Incidentally, I did consider, just for the sake of “balance,” sampling some sermons by R.C. Sproul but when I saw the one titled “Israel Rejects the Gospel,” I lost heart.

I’ll probably get over this after a good night’s sleep, but the overwhelming and competing demands of different religious groups and different religious individuals cannot be easily managed if at all. Muslims get violent if anyone draws a cartoon of the Prophet, and some Messianic Jews are rankled if a Hebrew Roots Gentile wears tzitzit on his belt loops or claims to be of the (two) House of Israel.

I get bent out of shape when John MacArthur says that God killed Judaism in Acts 2 on the first birthday of the Church.

God isn’t so chaotic so why are we?

Is religion worth it?

Up until recently, I’ve taken the Hebrews 10:25 directive to not neglect meeting with one another as a sort of commandment by God to regularly congregate with like-minded believers. But in my case, “like-minded” is hard to come by, which is also part of the problem I’m facing. If I had never encountered Hebrews Roots and later Messianic Judaism, I might be blissfully cruising along in some church oblivious to any of these debates and fully convinced (like many Christians) that my particular paradigm was always right about everything and all discussions were settled by God and the Bible, at least as my church interpreted them.

keyboardTomorrow morning, my latest review on D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series will published. The day after that, a commentary comparing the Jewish perspective on Oral Tradition to Christianity’s hidden but no less powerful Protestant tradition on Biblical interpretation will appear. Following that, my final review of MacArthur on Judaism will become available on Sunday and then my Pastor’s interpretation of the same portion of scripture will be published on Monday.

Is it all worth it? I mean, does it matter? Does God care? I know I can irritate or even anger people if I use the right “hot button” words and phrases (see the comments between Judah and me above).

Rabbis write for Jews, Preachers sermonize to their parishioners. Usually religious writers and speakers write and speak to already defined and self-contained audiences who are predisposed to accept their messages for the most part, or at least audiences that will not respond significantly if they disagree.

But then we have this little corner of the blogosphere, which is just part of the larger religious blogosphere and when populations collide, feathers fly.

Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? The one who learns from every person…Who is brave? The one who subdues his negative inclination…Who is rich? The one who is appreciates what he has…Who is honored? The one who gives honor to others…

Pirkei Avot 4:1

Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

Proverbs 26:11 (NASB)

No, I’m hardly calling myself wise and yes, I’m definitely the fool at the keyboard.

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

Really Dr. Peck? I can think of only one place that my discomfort could propel me to step out of my “ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

End Rant.

Addendum: Since my wife’s car is in the shop, she has mine, so she and my grandson picked me up from work this afternoon. He and I spent the evening playing with his toys, eating pizza, reading books, and watching Jonny Quest. Since he has pre-school tomorrow, we had to take him home rather early, but after all that, I decided I didn’t want to have to manage a “controversy magnet” of comments (I saw what happened on Toby’s FFOZ blog) for the rest of the evening and into tomorrow, so I’m summarily closing comments. For those of you who had something to say, I apologize that those comments won’t see the light of day, but we’ve had this conversation before. Time to wind down the evening and hope for a more pleasant tomorrow, God be willing.

FFOZ TV Review: The Restoring the Kingdom

A promise of what is to comeEpisode 26: The disciples ask Jesus “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were looking for a physical kingdom. Was the kingdom only spiritual, or were the disciples right to expect a physical, future kingdom? Episode Twenty-six will show the viewers that the kingdom of Messiah is not just spiritual. There is a literal, coming, restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Although we believers have laid hold of the kingdom and enjoy a foretaste of it, we have not entered the kingdom yet. It’s still ahead.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 26: Restoring the Kingdom (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of Restoring the Kingdom

In this final episode of the first season of A Promise of What is to Come, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby address the question of exactly what is the restoration of the Kingdom of God. From traditional Christianity’s point of view, the Kingdom has often been described as being Heaven, or being the Church, or being an invisible, spiritual Kingdom, the spirit that is in our hearts.

But this show uses a specifically Jewish perspective to read the Bible and understand how to interpret ancient prophesies. We can’t go only by what the words say themselves. We need to know how the original speakers and audiences in the Bible would have comprehended what was said. What did the disciples mean when they asked the following question to Jesus?

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

Acts 1:6 (NASB)

It was at this point that Jesus was about to ascend into Heaven to take his place at the right hand of the Father. He was leaving his disciples on Earth. They must have been puzzled that Jesus was leaving without finishing his work. Where was the Kingdom? Why hadn’t he established it? How could he depart when there was so much left for him to do?

Christian Pastors often criticize the ancient Jewish disciples for misunderstanding what Jesus taught. In the eyes of many modern believers, the Kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom, not a physical reality. But even today, devout Jews believe that one of Messiah’s major tasks is to restore the nation of Israel as a physical Kingdom on Earth, return all of the exiled Jews to their Land, and elevate Israel as the head of all the nations.

This is one of the reasons why most Jewish people don’t believe Jesus could have been the Messiah. They don’t believe he was resurrected and that he died without restoring and redeeming physical Israel. Even from a believing Jew’s point of view, Jesus as Messiah left before completing his work. That means he must come back at some point to finish the job. Otherwise, he can’t be Messiah.

Toby suggested at this point in the program, that it would be a good time to review some of the information about the Kingdom presented in previous episodes of the series. To this end, he quoted:

After Yochanan was arrested, Yeshua came to the Galil and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the good news.”

Mark 1:14-15 (DHE Gospels)

As you may recall, the Kingdom being “drawn near” or “at hand” meant that it was something that had arrived and could be appropriated at any time. It’s like standing at a doorway of a house. All you have to do is open the door and walk inside. In this case, the message was to repent, which was what Jesus was telling national Israel to do, in order to enter the Kingdom, the restoration of Israel to be accomplished by the Messiah.

Toby JanickiThe Torah, many of the Prophets, and even the Psalms, all speak of these Messianic promises, of a nation restored, a Holy people redeemed, a Land flourishing, the world at peace, all under the rule of King Messiah, Son of David. Here Toby paints a portrait of the prophesies that are continually additive, one linking to another, and to another, and to another, through the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) and across the so-called barrier between the Old and New Testaments, describing in a single, unbroken thread in the tapestry of God’s restorative and salvational plan.

It was this Jewish and Biblical understanding that told the disciples of the Master what to expect and led to the question we read in Acts 1:6. The Church says the ancient and modern Jews are all wrong and that no physical Kingdom was ever planned by God, in spite of the overwhelming evidence otherwise stated in prophesy. But what did Jesus say?

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority…”

Acts 1:7 (NASB)

Here, Jesus isn’t saying that they’ve misunderstood him, or that there would never be a physical restoration, or that his Kingdom is purely spiritual. He’s saying that he wasn’t going to tell them when the Kingdom would be restored, only that it would be restored at a time fixed by God’s own authority.

In other words, Jesus didn’t contradict the expectations of his disciples, he only said he wasn’t going to restore the Kingdom of Israel at that very moment and that they had to wait. He also said this:

“…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Acts 1:8 (NASB)

The Kingdom of Israel would be restored, but before that was going to happen, Jesus said they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and with that power, they were to be Messiah’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the four corners of all the Earth.

It’s not that Messiah won’t restore physical, literal Israel as a Kingdom; the Kingdom above all nations, it’s only a matter of when.

Clue 1: Jesus taught that the Kingdom has not yet happened.

If you were to ask a room full of Christians if Jesus had finished his work in the first coming, most of them would say “yes” based on this:

Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

John 19:30 (NASB)

But Toby says Jesus was most likely speaking of his suffering and the atonement of sins, not his entire mission as a Messiah. I agree. If Messiah’s work was finished, then where is the world at total peace? Why don’t we all act as we should? Why is there still sin? And why is there a predicted second coming of Jesus?

Aaron EbyBoth Jews and Gentiles say today “Maranatha,” which means “O’ Lord, come.” Why do we say this if he has already finished everything he was supposed to do?

The scene shifts to Israel and FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby for a brief word study of “Maranatha.” As it turns out, in the Church, we get this word from two words in Aramaic Paul inserted at the end of 1 Corinthians. Aaron said, and I learned recently, that there were no spaces between words in the Bible. For instance, if we were to translate a portion of Romans 1:32 into English but not insert spaces between the words, it would look something like:

thoughtheyknowgodsrighteousdecreethatthosewhopracticesuchthingsdeservetodie

What a mess. No wonder Biblical translation is so challenging. No wonder there is such a great difficulty in organizing the context of the Bible and how creating chapters and verses can lead to misunderstanding of the original message.

But Aaron says that even though we don’t know how the Aramaic word “Maranatha” is separated, it still means the same thing: “O’ Lord, come.” Aaron believes that Paul not only acknowledged and preached about the great accomplishments of Messiah during the first advent, but longed for the Messiah’s return and all that he would do at that future time.

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
And declare in the coastlands afar off,
And say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him
And keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.”
For the Lord has ransomed Jacob.

Jeremiah 31:10-11 (NASB)

This is a key Messianic prophesy describing what Messiah will do for the Jewish people and for Israel, and describes the responsiblity of the nations to listen (and obey) the words of Israel’s King.

Aaron pointed to the miracle of modern Israel’s very existence and the restoration of the Hebrew language, which had vanished for many centuries. He used Zephaniah 3:9 as a prophesy of the restoration of Hebrew, and expressed what a miracle it is for even an Israeli child to be able to read from an ancient Torah scroll and grasp its meaning.

But as exciting as this all is, Israel is still in exile as long as even a single Jew does not live within her borders, and as long as it is still threatened by its enemies, and as long as it is still largely secular, and as long as there are still two foreign Mosques on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the most Holy place on Earth.

Believing and non-believing Jews all still cling to the twelfth of the Rambam’s thirteen principles of faith:

I believe with a perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, still everyday I pray that he will come.

The modern state of Israel is a good start, but it is hardly finished. There is so much more left to do.

Back in the studio, Toby gives us the second clue:

Clue 2: Jesus had not yet fulfilled all of the Messianic prophecies.

RestorationWe may not know when the Messianic Kingdom will come, but we know what it will be like. Toby links a number of passages in scripture together including Matthew 16:27, Isaiah 40:10, and Revelation 22:12. And Jesus himself said he had much work left to do. We read in Matthew’s gospel how he described his own return:

Then the son of man will appear in heaven, and all the families of the earth will mourn, as they will see the son of man coming with the clouds of heaven in power and great glory. He will send forth his angels with the sound of the great shofar; they will gather his chosen ones from the four winds, and from one end of heaven to the other.

Matthew 24:30-31 (DHE Gospels)

Jesus was referring to this prophesy:

It shall be on that day that a great shofar will be blown, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria and those cast away in the land of Egypt will come [together], and they will prostrate themselves to Hashem on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 27:13 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Jesus was speaking of what he had yet to do beyond his first coming, and that renders the third and final clue:

Clue 3: Jesus did not think his work was finished.

Unless you think the world is as it should be and that we have peace among the nations and kindness between human beings, then you must believe his work isn’t finished either.

What Did I Learn?

In this final episode of the first season of The Promise of What is to Come series, I learned pretty much what I already knew. It seems silly to imagine that Jesus had fulfilled all that he was supposed to do in his first coming. The world is still a mess and still needs a lot of fixing. Unless you are prepared to throw out large portions of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and replace the content with how the Church understands the apostolic scriptures, you must believe that the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus does not fulfill all of the Messianic promises we see in the Bible.

This is also where I believe embracing a Jewish understanding of those scriptures is handy. It does not require that we refactor what Jews believe as a physical Kingdom of God in Israel into some sort of spiritual environment we enter when we die. Jewish and Gentile disciples of Jesus the Messiah can all believe that what God said through Isaiah and Jeremiah and how it was understood was still true in the world of Jesus, Peter, and Paul and still is true in our world of the 21st Century of the Common Era.

As I’ve said before, many of the beliefs in the modern Christian Church have their origins in the earliest expressions of anti-Semitism and supersessionism created by our so-called “Church Fathers,” and preserved by the men of the Reformation many centuries later. What was once invention and tradition created to separate a nascent Gentile Christianity from normative Judaism (that is, how the Church sees the Jewish people, modern Israel, and the ancient Messianic prophesies), is now believed to be rock solid fact. It doesn’t occur to many Christians to question any of these assumptions.

The FFOZ TV show is dedicated to thoughtfully suggesting to its Christian audience that its assumptions be questioned in the light of a Jewish interpretation of Biblical truth. The numerous other resources offered at First Fruits of Zion and her sister organization Vine of David are designed to provide that perspective and expand upon it for both traditional Christians and the Jewish people who have yet to recognize the face of the Messiah as the Jewish face of Rabbi Yeshua in the Gospels.

Modern IsraelBut even learning this does not summon the Promise of the Messiah to our world. In order to finish our own work so that he may come, we must live out those truths that have been revealed to us. Visit the sick, give charity to the poor, donate food to the hungry, act only with kindness to any person that you encounter, speak of the good news of the Messiah to a damaged and dying humanity.

Only then will we be pursuing the path of our Master by participating in tikkun olam, repairing our desperately broken world.

It is said that the Messiah will return only when all of Israel, all the Jewish people, keep the Shabbat as one. It is also said that the Messiah will return only when all of Israel and the world has reached a level of deepest depravity.

I don’t know what to think. I only know that we introduce a tiny bit of the Messianic Kingdom into our world every time we extend a helping hand to another person. If we all committed one unasked act of kindness each day, then how Messiah-like would the world begin to appear? We wait for Messiah to return to finish what he started, but in the mean time, we can all do what we can, as we have faith in the promise.

FFOZ TV Review: Resurrection

FFOZ TV Episode 25Episode 25: In Jewish thought the ultimate expression of God’s power is the resurrection of the dead, and the ultimate resurrection was that of Jesus himself. In episode twenty-five viewers will discover that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was a foreshadow of the final resurrection of the dead that was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. Messiah rising from the dead was a promise, a guarantee that one day the great redemption will come, the great resurrection of the dead will take place, and the Messianic kingdom will arrive.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 25: Resurrection (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Resurrection

One of the biggest mysteries of the Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, there are no explicit prophesies in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible or Old Testament) that say the Messiah must personally die and then be resurrected three days later. In Christianity, we just take it for granted because it is a central if not the central tenet of our beliefs. But looking at the resurrection from a Jewish point of view, particularly a late Second Temple Era perspective, what did the resurrection of Messiah mean?

First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki started answering that question by reading the following:

And he began to teach that the son of man needs to suffer greatly, and the elders, the leading priests, and the scholars would reject him, and he would be killed, but at the end of three days he would surely rise. He spoke this word in the ears of all of them, and Petros took him and began to reprimand him.

Mark 8:31-32 (DHE Gospels)

Jesus himself taught that he had to die and be resurrected three days later, but the fact that at hearing this Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him, shows us that even Peter didn’t understand the meaning of Messiah’s death and resurrection. It must not have been an obvious belief common among Jewish people of that day (and it’s also not a belief in Judaism in our age). Peter certainly knew Jesus was the Messiah (see Matthew 16:16) so it wasn’t a matter of lack of faith or lack of knowledge. Even in the days of Jesus on earth, the death and resurrection of the Messiah was a great mystery.

A mystery we are trying to solve from a Jewish perspective today in this episode.

Jesus explained the meaning, at least partially, after he was resurrected:

These are the things that I spoke to you about while I was still with you. For every scripture about me will surely be fulfilled in the Torah of Mosheh, in the Prophets, and in the Tehillim. Then he opened their hearts to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, thus it is written and decreed that the Mashiach will be afflicted and will arise from the dead on the third day…

Luke 24:44-46 (DHE Gospels)

Toby points out that Jesus says his death and resurrection are prophesied in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms (Tehillim). But where? There’s nothing in these ancient writings that point-blank says the Messiah must die for the sins of humanity and be raised again three days later. What does Jesus explain to them that the Bible doesn’t explain to us? Won’t the Holy Spirit open our hearts to understand the scriptures?

Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades,
Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

Acts 2:27 (NASB)

Here, Toby tells us that Peter is quoting Psalm 16:10 as proof that the Messiah would not die permanently and that God would resurrect him. This is only one of a few cryptic “proofs” in the New Testament that the Old Testament prophesies spoke, or at least hinted at, the Messiah’s resurrection.

He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces,
And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 25:8 (NASB)

Your dead will live;
Their corpses will rise.
You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy,
For your dew is as the dew of the dawn,
And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.

Isaiah 26:19 (NASB)

ffoz_tv25_tobyToby quotes Isaiah as well as Ezekiel 37:3-6 to show that in the future Messianic Era, there will be a great resurrection of the dead, but this doesn’t specifically speak to the resurrection of the Messiah during his first advent.

There was no question among these ancient Jewish prophets that there would be a future resurrection of all the dead once the Messiah had come, and that brings us to our first clue:

1st Clue: The resurrection from the dead is a component of the Messianic Kingdom.

Toby makes a key point by saying that Jesus felt these prophesies also explained his own resurrection. But how? Is Toby employing more than a little theological sleight of hand in making such a statement?

To learn more, the scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel for a short language lesson about the Hebrew word for “Life.”

Life, or “Chaim” is a gift from God. Aaron references the following to illustrate:

The Lord kills and makes alive;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.

1 Samuel 2:6 (NASB)

This is part of Hannah’s prayer to God and shows us beautifully that life and death are from God and as He brings down into death, He also raises up back to life.

Today’s Orthodox Jews believe in the resurrection of the dead once the Messiah comes, even as the Pharisees did in the day of Jesus. Many Jewish dead are buried at the Mount of Olives where it is prophesied the feet of the Messiah will first touch the earth.

Three times a day, observant Jews pray for the resurrection, and the Mishnah states that if anyone does not believe the Torah speaks of the resurrection, that person forfeits their place in the world to come.

Aaron EbyAaron points out that in Acts 23:6, when Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem and brought before the Sanhedrim, he throws the whole court, which is made up of Pharisees who believed in the resurrection and Sadducees who didn’t, into an uproar by claiming that he was on trial for his belief in the resurrection. Apparently, not all Jews two-thousand years ago believed in the resurrection of the dead, but it was obviously a “hot button” topic.

The last of the Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith established by the Rambam, the great sage Moses Maimonides in the twelfth century is a declaration of faith in the future resurrection of the dead.

Back in the studio, Toby pulls all this together to form the second clue:

Clue 2: The future resurrection of the dead is a principle of Jewish faith.

But while all this certainly establishes that religious Jews, like Christians, believe in a future resurrection, what does it have to do with the resurrection of Jesus?

According to Toby, it goes back to the debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees about whether or not there would be a future resurrection. By God resurrecting Jesus three days after he died, it was supposed to settle the argument. Jesus, the Messiah, by being resurrected, establishes a future resurrection.

But there still one more connection to make, and it comes from the apostle Paul:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.

1 Corinthians 15:12, 20-21 (NASB)

In verse 12, Paul directly links the resurrection of Jesus with the future resurrection of all the dead, stating that if you don’t believe in the former, you are also denying the latter. Then in verses 20 and 21, Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus was a “first fruits of those who are asleep” (dead).

The Torah commands that all Israelite farmers are required to offer the first ripe fruit of their harvest to God. This presupposes that the larger harvest of the crops is not yet ripe. The metaphor illustrates that the resurrection of the Messiah was a first fruits or a foretaste of the resurrection and when the rest of the harvest of humanity is “ripe,” the great resurrection of the dead will come. This happens in the Messianic Era.

We have arrived at the third and final clue:

Clue 3: Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits of the final resurrection.

In other words, by the Messiah dying and then being resurrected, he was proving that all of the older prophesies about a great resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Age were valid, accurate, and will indeed occur.

What Did I Learn?

The major point I learned was how the purpose of the resurrection of Messiah was framed by Toby and Aaron. Basically, it was a theological and probably a legal proof to all of the Jewish people of that day that indeed there would be a great resurrection in the future age.

Today’s Orthodox Jews believe in that resurrection, but I’m not sure that all religious Jews everywhere do. All Christians believe not only in the resurrection of Jesus, but in the resurrection of all the dead, who will then be judged.

I don’t struggle with these concepts, but the great struggle today for non-believing Jews, just as it probably was among many of the Jewish people in the day of the apostles, was whether or not the Messiah had to die and then rise. While the focus of this episode was on the resurrection, to get a Jewish person to this point, you first have to get them past the death of Jesus, which wasn’t touched upon in this show.

I’ve tried to write to this issue using Jewish and Christian sources in blog posts such as The Death of the Tzaddik and The Sacrifice at Golgotha.

Jews, like Christians (and just about everyone else), find the idea of making a human sacrifice to God abhorrent, and from a traditional Jewish perspective, the death of Jesus to pay for our sins looks like a human sacrifice. Christians don’t consider this an issue in our faith, but from an outsider’s point of view, it’s a huge stumbling block.

tallit_templeThere are some aspects of Jewish faith that support the idea of the death of a great tzaddik or righteous one atoning for the sins of others, up to and including the sins of an entire generation of Jews. When we people of Yeshua faith attempt to cite those sources, we are sometimes accused of misreading the ancient Jewish sages for our own ends. I can see how some Jewish people would get that impression but this also illustrates that it is Jewish to believe a human death can atone for others, therefore, it’s not completely outrageous to believe that the Messiah’s death, the death of the greatest of all tzaddikim, could atone, not just for the sins of a single generation, but for the sins of all generations across time.

But I’m going off topic. Toby and Aaron were focusing on the resurrection, not the death of Messiah, and they’re addressing primarily an audience of traditional Christians, not traditional Jews. To that end, it’s almost as if Toby and Aaron were “preaching to the choir,” since the resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of all the dead are a “given” in the Christian faith. However, they did establish that the resurrection is not an uniquely Christian concept, but is founded strongly in Judaism and the Old Testament. They also showed, as I said above, that the resurrection proved to the Jewish people in the apostolic era, that the prophesies of a great, future resurrection would be fulfilled.

At the end of the episode, as usual, Boaz Michael, FFOZ’s President and Founder, came to announce the next and last show of this television series, which teaches the literal, physical restoration of Israel that is yet to come. This will be my last opportunity to review this television series and I will certainly miss it.

I’m not unmindful that this blog post is being published on Christmas Day. For all of my readers who celebrate Christmas, I give you warm greetings and may the Spirit of Messiah be with you on this day, inspiring love and generosity.

May the light of Messiah continue to illuminate our paths and to open our eyes to who he is and who we are in him.