Tag Archives: torah club

Sampling Tent Builders

The church is supposed to be a partner with Israel. If it doesn’t see this then it’s not fulfilling it’s function.

-Boaz Michael
“Envision the Ideal Church” session
Tent Builders presentation

I mentioned a few days ago that I’d received a DVD in the mail from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) providing an eighty-two minute “sampler” of the day-long conference called “Tent Builders” which is meant to accompany and augment the message in FFOZ President Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile.

I’ve read Boaz’s book more than once but never had any of the education or training that is supposed to equip the target audience on methods of approaching the Church with the Messianic message of just how Jewish the Jewish Messiah is and what it means to “partner” the Church with Israel.

The sampler DVD is divided into four portions:

  1. Envision the Ideal Church
  2. The Strategic Mission
  3. Interview with Boaz’s Pastor
  4. About the Book Tent of David

This review focuses on the first two portions which were taken from a presentation Boaz gave in Atlanta, Georgia. I won’t try to dissect everything Boaz taught and certain sections of his teaching came, more or less, out of the book, so if you’ve read “Tent of David,” you already have some familiarity with the message. The sampler disc contains excerpts of what I imagine is supposed to be a DVD containing the entire conference sessions, so that people who weren’t able to attend the in-person conferences, could still benefit from everything that was taught. It’s also meant to be accompanied by a workbook and presumes that the audience has already read “Tent of David.”

The goal of the conference and of participation is to become a “sent out one” or an emissary into the Church, to share the wonderful message we as “Messianic Gentiles” were given in order to assist the Church in ceasing to be the stumbling block standing in the way of Israel seeing the truth of Messiah. One of Boaz’s key phrases is that we must change the Church for the sake of Israel.

This was actually born out of Boaz’s own experience at a small Baptist church in Marshfield, Missouri where he and his family have been living. He actually began attending this church almost by accident, thanks to a visit to Marshfield by Rabbi and Messianic blogger Derek Leman. It was out of the development of the relationship between Boaz and his wife with the members of their local church that Boaz realized this “model” could be replicated “on the ground” so to speak, by many, many other Christians across the country.

For over two decades, FFOZ has been producing books, magazines, seminars, and many other educational materials trying to get its message out, but in spite of the expectation that at any minute, the floodgates would open and the Christian Church as an entire unit across the world would “see the light,” nothing happened. Groups of Christians would leave the Church disillusioned by shallow teachings and Christian disdain for Israel, and they would join small groups of like-minded Gentile believers, but over the years and decades, these groups didn’t grow, didn’t show fruit, and nothing happened. The Church certainly didn’t change and most of these small groups stayed small groups, generally spinning their wheels and sometimes complaining about “Christians.”

BoazOccasionally, through his contacts, Boaz would know of a motivated family of Gentiles who were “Messianically” minded and know of a willing and open Pastor in the same community. He’d put them together and the combination would result in change in the local church. Boaz and his wife Tikvah in their own local church had the same experience. It seemed like something that could be replicated on a large-scale, but at the grass-roots level.

But it’s not that easy. It wasn’t easy for Boaz and Tikvah and it isn’t easy for anyone else. While some churches have managed to change trajectories away for teaching supersessionism and toward an enlightened view of the Jewish Messiah (which is a lot more than just saying “Jesus was Jewish”) and the significance of Israel and Torah, it required tremendous sacrifices in time, money, and participation in portions of church teachings that are not always spiritually enlightening. It also isn’t always accepted and Boaz even said that it’s a message the Church usually doesn’t want to hear.

Boaz challenged his audience in the first session to envision the ideal church, write down their description, and then participate in making that ideal church happen at the local level.

I have a vision about what an “ideal church” would look like too, but I haven’t the faintest idea how to make it happen, especially all by myself. But as I listened to Boaz, I began to feel guilty because he described many Messianic Gentiles as either complainers or just people who wanted others to do the work of changing the Church for the sake of Israel. Am I a bad, complaining, lazy person for feeling discouraged?

Moving to the “Strategic Mission” session, Boaz expanded on what was needed. He used to think that having a good message was enough, but that hasn’t worked for the past twenty years. He finally discovered, though a gentle rebuke by someone he trusted, that without the involvement in the Holy Spirit and without relationship and familiarity, the message was never going to be successfully delivered.

The core of “Tent of David” is derived from a passage in Amos 9:11-12 that’s quoted by James in Acts 15:16-18. You can look up the text, but it paints portrait and prophesy of a time when the people of the nations will partner with Israel in rebuilding the fallen tent of David and restore Israel in the Messianic Age. James, leader of the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem saw the participation of the first Gentile disciples in the Jewish movement of “the Way” as the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophesy. The prophesy of Gentiles coming alongside Israel to strive for a mutual goal without requiring that those Gentiles convert to Judaism and take on the full yoke of Torah. In fact, the prophesy can’t be fulfilled if Gentiles convert to Judaism or otherwise are circumcised to become “pseudo-converts” with the belief that they are obligated to the full yoke of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jewish people. Jews and Gentiles must continue distinct roles and identities within the body of Messiah and become interdependent elements in the creation of the Messianic future.

ChurchIs this how the Church sees its role in relation to Christ? In most cases, probably not. In fact, the apostles including Paul, would not even recognize what most Churches teach today as having much or anything to do with the original gospel message they transmitted to Jews and Gentiles in the first decades after the resurrection and ascension of the Master. The Church, for the most part, thinks the greatest revelation and the only revelation of Jesus has already happened: the message of Salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Of course that is amazingly good news, but the story doesn’t stop there and in fact, according to Boaz, the best part is yet to come…the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom with Jesus on the Throne of David in Jerusalem, raising Israel to the head of all the nations, returning all the exiled Jews to their Land, and establishing a reign of world-wide peace. It’s the promise of what is yet to come.

And the Church has missed it. Oh sure, churches talk all the time about the “end times” and the “return of Jesus” and how “the Church” will be the thing that’s elevated and glorified, but at the end, people go up to Heaven as opposed to what it actually says in the Bible of God coming to earth and living among His people as He once did in Eden.

Boaz unpackaged the message that he believes the “grass-roots tent builders” need to be taking back into their local churches. I won’t go into all of his points, but I want to cover the one that I think is most important but also the message that the Church will find most difficult. The centrality of Israel. What does that mean?

The Church believes that it’s all about “the Church.” The Church will be raptured to Heaven, the Church will return with Jesus, the Church will rule and reign.

In reading the Bible, if I substitute the Greek word “ekklesia” for “church,” and I realize that generically “ekklesia” just means an assembly of people gathered for a common purpose, the “magical significance” of the word “church” is taken down a peg or two. When Jesus speaks of his “church” he is speaking of an assembly of human beings gathered together to begin to fulfill the prophesy of Amos (and many other prophesies) to establish the first fruits of a partnership of Jews and Gentiles together in the body of Messiah, to ultimately summon the coming Messianic Age which will see Jesus as the King of Israel who will bring total peace to humanity.

ancient_jerusalemBut this requires we realize that in all of the ancient prophesies and how they were understood by the apostles and first century Jewish and Gentile disciples, it was always Israel that was restored, and Israel that was central to God’s entire redemptive and restorative plan, and Israel that was the center and lynchpin of the entire Biblical message and the good news of Messiah. This is not the message Christianity has promoted and instead, they have caused the basic concept of “ekklesia” to evolve, morph, and develop into a separate and self-defined entity known as “the Church,” which across Christian history and into modern times has wholly separated from Israel, from its original purpose and mission, and has watered down the gospel message into “merely” one of personal salvation, denying the vast, panoramic scope of the Messianic Kingdom to come that we must all strive to bring to fruition.

As Boaz continued to lay out everything involved in this grand plan, I started to feel overwhelmed. Every time he said something meant to inspire his audience to greatness, I compared it to my actual experience in my local church. Boaz sees success in the Tent of David plan because it puts together enthusiastic Messianics with Pastors in local churches who are at least receptive to relationship and partnering, but what if the local church leaders are so assured of their theology and doctrine that they see the relationship as one where the church needs to convince the intelligent but misguided Messianic that Church tradition based on the Reformation, Calvinism, and Dispensationalism (none of which existed in the time of the apostles) is actually the true message of Jesus Christ?

So my primary take away as I ejected the DVD from my computer and prepared for bed was a combination of guilt and feeling overwhelmed with more than a hint of failure added to the mix.

Boaz ended his “Strategic Mission” session with a story about his daughter who is currently serving with the IDF. I don’t know how much I should reveal about her, even though she has been uncompromising in her devotion to Messiah and has not hidden this from anyone who knows her in Israel. Also, as Boaz said, he’s a public figure, so it wouldn’t be hard to find out who his daughter is and what her family believes.

It’s actually an amazing story. I knew some of it just because I’ve briefly spoken with Shayna a few times and am her “friend” on Facebook, but Boaz filled in the details as only a very proud father can. Boaz and Tikvah raised all their children with a strong sense of mission. I guess growing up within the context of the development and progression of First Fruits of Zion’s mission must have had a strong impact.

Boaz laid that sense of mission and dynamic struggle squarely at the feet of his audience. Of course, I only got to see a small portion of the conference and nothing at all about how the students received the message or interacted with Boaz and each other. I have absolutely no idea at all how this is actually playing out in churches across America and I don’t know anyone else who is a “Tent of David” graduate and how they have met with success, failure, or anything else.

Boaz in churchBoaz said that in the church he attends, two HaYesod classes had been taught, one Torah Club cycle had been completed, and there was a group viewing the various episodes of FFOZ’s television series A Promise of What is to Come and using them as topics of discussion.

I won’t lie. That really sounds wonderful, but in my current context, none of that will ever be received. I previously mentioned that having Tent Builders graduates attempt to go into some place like Pastor John MacArthur’s congregation would likely result in a less than enthusiastic reception. It is true that time, relationship, and familiarity helps the “Messianic Gentile” in church gain credibility and even a minority voice in Sunday school discussions, but there will always be churches that will listen and decide that they see and hear nothing that should deter them from what they have always believed to be true about the Bible, about Jesus, and about God, Judaism and Israel notwithstanding.

I’m enjoying D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews and recently I discovered the sermons of Rabbi David Rudolph. I can “feed my head” all I want and struggle in my personal relationship with God and what all this is supposed to mean, but except for how some people see my blog as a positive or even inspirational influence, that still has little or no effect at the level of the local church, and it certainly isn’t a testimony to changing the Church for the sake of Israel.

Do I think the “Tent Builders” mission is good? Yes, of course I do. You may be surprised to read that sentence after everything else I’ve said, but I still think it’s essentially sound. The thing that Boaz didn’t say in the DVD sampler though he mentions it in his book, is that the mission isn’t for everyone. He also doesn’t mention, though it should be obvious (it certainly is to me) that not only does the Church not want this message, but in some cases (how many, I don’t know), the message will be continually resisted, regardless of relationship, and ultimately rejected.

The Messianic Gentile can then decide (assuming he or she hasn’t been ejected from the local church) to either continue going for the sake of fellowship (which Boaz recommends) and perhaps with hope beyond hope that eventually some people will be more accepting of the paradigm shift Boaz suggests, or that Messianic person can leave.

I don’t know if there’s a “plan B” built into the Tent Builder’s mission profile. Try again at another church after months or years at the first? Try a less formal venue such as a local Bible study or home fellowship? Retire into the world of virtual study and quiet contemplation? Boaz maps out a highly public, visible, dynamic mission of reaching out to the local church, all of the local churches with the Tent Builders message built on relationship and familiarity, inspired and supported by the Holy Spirit, with the ultimate end goal to show the Church their true priority and purpose in partnering with Israel to bring the time of the return of the Messiah.

a-better-placeI suspect that it is not going to come very quickly. Conferences aside, it’s like the ads for going back to the gym that are popular right after New Years when people are feeling the remorse of eating too much during the holidays. People get pumped up and excited and join a gym, but I can tell you from personal experience that after the enthusiasm wanes or, in this case, the conference is over and months have passed, there’s only you and the weights. You either show up each morning and start working, or you stay home and get fat.

This metaphor breaks down when you realize that exercising is between you and the exercise machines. All you need is motivation and the will to carry on over the long haul. In the local church, what people think about you, about your message, about Jews, about Judaism, and about the very real threat that change represents makes a huge difference, and you have control over none of that. You can do everything “right” and still fall flat on your face.

There are no “magic” answers. Win, lose, or draw, there is only God.

Good Shabbos.

The Last Reading of the Chronicles of the Apostles

study-in-the-darkIn the two decades following the Bar Kochba revolt, three major personalities came to represent three different types of second-century Christianity. A philosopher named Justin Martyr championed the dominant, orthodox Christianity that would soon become the normative expression of Christian faith. A bishop named Marcion of Sinope brought anti-Jewish, Gnostic Christianity from obscurity to the mainstream where it became a serious threat to true faith. The bishop Polycarp of Smyrna continued to defend and represent the old-fashioned, Jewish, apostolic Christianity he had inherited from the disciple John. As a short epilogue to our studies, the Chronicles of the Apostles concludes with a brief look at each.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“End of the Chronicle,” pp 1407-8
Study read with Vezot Ha’Bracha
Torah Club Volume 6, Chronicles of the Apostles

This is the last reading in my year-long study of the “Chronicles of the Apostles.” It began with Acts 1:1 and proceeded through an adventure of learning and re-learning about the life of Paul and well beyond, as recorded in scripture, historical texts, and even myth. My Torah Club readings have been a fixture of my Shabbat studies and I will miss them. It seems fitting as one Torah cycle closes and another opens, that I offer a brief review and commentary of the last Chronicle of the Apostles of D. Thomas Lancaster.

For the Law that came from Mount Horeb is now old, and it belongs to yourselves alone, but [the Law of the New Covenant] is for everyone. Law against law has abrogated the one that came before it, and a covenant which comes later cancels the previous one. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 11)

-quoted by Lancaster, pg 1410

Justin Martyr doesn’t sound all that different from modern Protestants, at least in some churches. Martyr was a lot closer to the original writings of the New Testament but even he seems to have forgotten something. Perhaps he didn’t have access to Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, written a mere century before:

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.

Galatians 2:17 (NASB)

To extend Paul’s words, can we say that the New Covenant, which isn’t even fully enacted as yet, invalidates “a covenant previously ratified by God?” Justin Martyr seems to think so. So do a lot of Christians today.

In Justin Martyr’s dialogue with Trypho, they even addressed a topic on which I often write:

Trypho pressed the question further. He asked, “Are there some Christians who believe that Jewish believers will not be saved if they keep the Torah?”

Justin replied, “There are such people, Trypho. And these [Christians] refuse to have any dialogue with or to extend any hospitality to such persons, but I do not agree with them.” In other words, Justin Martyr admitted that his own opinion on the question of whether or not a Torah-observant Jewish believer could be saved represented the more liberal, broad-minded view. Other Christians in his day refused to have any interaction whatsoever with Jewish believers who still observed the Torah. Justin’s final statement on Jewish believers who still observed the Torah refers to them as “weak-minded” but probably not damned…

-Lancaster, pg 1411

Things haven’t changed very much in the past almost twenty centuries. Justin Martyr’s thoughts and opinions still seem well represented in the church today. But we can hardly say that he was completely anti-Judaic, at least not compared to Marcion the Heretic:

Marcion taught a radical dichotomy between the Jewish Scriptures and the gospels. Like other Gnostics, he believed that the Old Testament God of the Jews was a corrupt and inferior being who had marred His creation with His own imperfections. The physical matter, which He created, possessed intrinsically evil qualities. Marcion taught that the Jewish God’s own scriptures revealed His complete ignorance and incompetence.

-ibid, pg 1413

Christus_Ravenna_MosaicI suppose today, we’d call Marcion a “nut” or a “cult leader” for espousing such “fringy” beliefs, but as we know, nuts and cult leaders are able to gather followings, sometimes really large ones.

Lancaster records how Marcion created his own version of the apostolic scriptures, leaning heavily on only one gospel and ten of Paul’s epistles. He even edited out any references to anything from the Old Testament, thus building his theological house on shifting and unstable sand.

However, saying that…

Marcion’s New Testament collection spread quickly, and Marcionite churches began to flourish. Marcion’s form of Christianity was easier to understand and naturally appealed to people. It removed the inherent contradictions between Christian theology and Judaism that conventional Christians like Ignatius and Justin Martyr attempted to retain and gloss over. It seemed more logical. Marcionite Christianity assessed Judaism as the religion of legalism, laws, and concerns with the corrupt world of physical matter. According to Marcion, Judaism stood in antithesis to Christianity’s teachings about grace, love for one’s neighbor, and spiritual salvation. Marcionite Christianity instantly appealed to Gentile Christians who felt uncomfortable with their relationship with Judaism and the hated Jews who had persecuted Christ and Christians.

-ibid, pg 1414

Although the “nuts and bolts” of Marcion’s theology may no longer be with us, the “echo” of it seems to be thoroughly woven into the fabric of Christianity (if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor), at least in terms of the dichotomy many Christians believe exists between the Torah of Moses and the Grace of Christ, as if these are two mutually exclusive concepts, wholly divorced from one another. Many Christians give intellectual assent to the idea of our faith having Jewish origins, but in the same breath, they will say that there is no valid Jewish context for Christianity. The legacy of the heretic Marcion in the twenty-first century Church.

All this while, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna and the last living disciple of the last living disciple of the Master, continued steadfast in the ways of the apostles. Like his teacher John, Polycarp lived to an advanced age. The Christians in Smyrna considered him to be a prophet. They said, “For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished.”

-ibid, pg 1415

Of any of the three people presented in Lancaster’s last chronicle, this is the one I’d like to meet. If any of these three individuals had a clue as to the true intent of Messiah in how we all should live and relate to each other and to God, it was Polycarp of Smyrna.

In 154 CE, the new bishop of Rome, a man named Anicetus, attempted to force the Christians of Asia Minor to abandon their observance of Passover. Roman Christians commemorated the Master’s death by fasting from the Friday that falls during the seven days of Passover until midnight on the subsequent Saturday. They broke the fast by taking the Eucharist together in celebration of the Master’s resurrection.

Anicetus tried to force Christians everywhere to adopt the Roman custom. The Christians who refused to adopt the Roman custom were called “fourteeners” (quartodecimans) because they insisted on keeping Passover on the fourteenth of Nisan. They kept the Passover “on the fourteenth day of the month at evening” (Exodus 12:18), more precisely speaking, at the beginning of the fifteenth day.


Polycarp’s followers seem to have adhered to more of the “Jewish” practices, but we have no clear picture of exactly how this was accomplished in a wider range of behaviors. If we understood more about Polycarp and his stream of Christianity, we might get a better idea of the nature of the relationship of Gentile and Jewish believers, especially in terms of identity and religious practice.

Here ends the Chronicles of the Apostles — men of whom the world was not worthy. I have collected these things after they had almost faded away due to the passage of time. So too, may our Master Yeshua the Messiah gather me along with His chosen ones into His kingdom.

-ibid, pg 1419

reading-torahThe last paragraph of the last page of the last teaching of the last Torah Club volume. As you read this, it is Shemini Atzeret and tomorrow is Simchat Torah. We read the final words at the end of Deuteronomy soon and immediately begin again with the reading of the first words in Genesis. My Pastor says this is a reminder that we are never done with reading the Bible. I see it as part of the lifecycle of people of faith, even as we mark the cycles of our lives each year in birthday celebrations.

But although the Torah is timeless, not so the years of man. I’m not quite the same person I was a year ago when I began this study. I’d like to think I’ve gained a bit in my studies but as with aging, there are a few things I’ve lost as well. It’s nearly time to pack up the sukkah for another year. In synagogues all over the world, it will soon be time to re-roll the Torah scrolls for another year. Many things are endless and many more are not. The future is shrouded in fog and mystery. What will the coming year bring? What will begin once again…and what will end?

Re’eh: Seeing to Learn

gerizim_ebalSee, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced. When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and possess, you shall pronounce the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal.

Deuteronomy 11:26-29 (JPS Tanakh)

These words are spoken to the entire Nation of Israel, at the very end of a forty-year term in the desert. Two distinct mountains were on open display. Mount Grizim is plush, rich, and flowering with the promise of life. Mount Eivil in stark contrast is conspicuously barren and empty. This visual aid is employed to etch into the psyche of the assembled the lesson of remaining loyal to the task and mission of Torah and Mitzvos. In the recording of the event Moshe refers to that day as- “today”. What’s so special about that day? Every day he spoke was also a “today”. Why was that day worthy of a title for all time “today”?

The Ohr HaChaim answers that that day they were capable of understanding his lesson based on the statement of the sages, “A person does not stand on (truly grasp) the knowledge- opinion of his teacher until after forty years” (Avodah Zara 5B).

That means that now after forty years they can begin to truly comprehend what Moshe had told them back then. Why does it take forty years? Were these not brilliant people?

-Rabbi Label Lam
“See What Can Be Seen”
Commentary on Torah Portion Re’eh

Nearly a year and a half ago, I reviewed Toby Janicki’s article “The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses,” published in Messiah Journal #109/Winter 2012. I remember at the time being a little surprised at even the title, since my understanding back then was Messianic Judaism was striving for pretty much total isolation between Messianic Jewish and Christian/Messianic Gentile religious practice, at least publicly.

I happened to recall my review the other day when I noticed in the analytics for this blog that someone had viewed it.

I went through the original review and realized that my perspectives have changed in the last eighteen months or so. My fuzzy understanding of the Torah of Moses and its connection to the Gentile believers in Messiah is a little bit clearer. This isn’t to say I have everything “dialed,” so to speak, about the Bible and how it works, but I think it’s fair to say that I’m capable of learning and growing intellectually and spiritually.

While the quote from the Ohr HaChaim speaks to the necessity of the passage of time for learning, I’m not going to take it too literally (in forty years, I’ll either be nearly 100 years old or dead). But I am inspired to re-read Toby’s article and to re-review it as processed through the brain I have now vs. the one I had at the beginning of 2012 (I can only imagine that Toby will chuckle because I continue to wrestle with something he understands so clearly).

There has been a tremendous struggle between Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots relative to who “owns” the Torah. That’s an overly simplistic statement, of course, but the surface perception is that the Jews in Messiah get to keep the Torah for themselves while the Hebrew Roots people want them to share. On top of that, traditional Christianity says that we don’t need the Torah at all, just the grace of Jesus Christ.

Like I said, I’m being overly simplistic, so don’t take what I’ve just said too literally.

simhat-torahThe truth of the matter is that we all need the Torah. Even before the Christian Era, I believe that the Jewish people saw themselves as a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6) and that we would all learn from the Torah as “the Law went forth from Zion.” (Isaiah 2:3). How does one learn the ethical, moral, and holiness standards of God apart from the Torah, the teachings of God? We don’t.

However, that concept has been misunderstood to mean (at least in certain circles), that we Christians must learn and observe every single mitzvot in the Torah (or at least the ones that can be observed without the existence of the Temple, the Priesthood, and the Sanhedrin) in exactly the same way as the Jewish people.

Acts 15 shoots that concept down in flames (I know this is debatable but then again, everything is) as I painstakingly chronicled in my review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s commentary on the matter, but Toby Janicki picks out of the ashes, the “phoenix” of Torah that applies to the non-Jewish believers.

And it’s a lot.

I don’t think we ever got a chance to really see the results of the Jerusalem Letter in action. We don’t see a detailed report in the New Testament of how those declarations were understood and practiced in early Christian congregations, the ones that would have existed during Paul’s lifetime and soon after. More’s the pity, because a document providing such details would answer a lot of questions and solve a lot of problems.

Once you rocket through history much past Paul’s death, the wedge between believing Jews and Gentiles was already being pounded into place, and by the time we get to the third and fourth centuries CE, we’ve been split apart and any recognizable form of “Torah practice” among non-Jewish believers had gone the way of the Dodo bird (I’m not quite sure how much help the Didache would be since it’s dated to the late first or early second centuries, but I guess I could buy a copy and find out).

What all this means is that you can expect my review of Toby’s 2012 article sometime next week. If anyone can suggest which copy of the Didache I should purchase from the list presented at the above-link, that would help, too.

In a way, I don’t really blame Hebrew Roots folks for finding the Torah beautiful, praiseworthy, and desirable in study and practice. I’m attracted to it as well. I really don’t understand Christian aversion to “the Law” as something horrible, and awful, and too terrible to even consider but then again, that’s what most churches teach. It isn’t that I think Christians should don tallitot and lay tefillin and try to look like Jews, far from it. But we should admit that we need the Torah for two basic reasons: The first is that it defines our relationship with Jesus and with God the Father through the Abrahamic covenant. The second is that every ethical, moral, and spiritual principle that we live by as Christians is found in the Torah. The Torah was taught by Jesus. Without an understanding of the Torah and the Prophets (and this should be huge in Christianity), we have no hope of understanding anything Jesus ever taught!

torah-what-isThat’s actually true of Paul and any of the other Apostles, so in my opinion, the first class that any newbie Christian should ever attend is Torah 101. Starting new Christians in the Gospels and the Epistles sounds nice but it’s almost next to useless. It’s like trying to teach a four-year old Calculus before they’ve even learned how to count to ten. It’s why I think First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) Torah Club volumes are tremendously important. Not only do they teach Torah, but in a way that is very “Christian friendly.”

From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom.

Psalms 119:99

The Psalmist is telling us that he learned from everyone, that everyone was his teacher. From some, he learned what to do; from others, what not to do.

If we learn from others’ mistakes, we need not make our own.

Just as we can learn from every person, we can learn from every event. Positive experiences are obvious sources of learning, because each positive act we do adds to our character and prepares us to better face the next challenge in life. Negative experiences can be valuable, too, but only if we are sufficiently alert to learn from them.

The list of lessons that we have learned the hard way may be long, but each one has taught us what not to do and thereby it becomes a positive experience. Indeed, the Talmud states that when people sincerely regret their mistakes and change themselves for the better, the wrongs that they did become actual merits (Yoma 86b). Only when we fail to learn from our mistakes and, rationalizing and justifying, obstinately insist that we were right, do our misdeeds remain deficits.

We have the capacity to make life itself a tremendous learning and growth experience.

Today I shall…

…try to look for lessons from everyone and everything, whether my teacher is positive or negative.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 17”

I don’t think the problem is dealing with positive vs. negative teachers but just with “unanticipated” teachers. For traditional Christians, I think Jewish teachers or teachers very familiar with the Jewish (especially Messianic) perspective on Torah and Messiah are important. Jewish teachers aren’t necessarily a problem for Hebrew Roots people, but often, Christian teachers are. Many people in Hebrew Roots no longer see themselves as affiliated with anything called “Christianity” and sometimes they even define themselves by a completely new religious identity in order to separate themselves from the “crimes of the church,” real and imagined. “The church” is something they’ve “come out of,” like a Jew might have escaped the Soviet Union in the 1960s or one “comes out of pagan Babylon,” a den of iniquity and sin.


I’m hardly what you would call a traditional Christian, but I must say that I’ve learned a tremendous amount in my conversations with my Pastor. For Hebrew Roots folks, at least some of you, it might not hurt to find a Christian to connect to and even “embrace” on some level if, for no other reason, than to overcome what for davening_morningsome people I’ve personally met, is a phobic response to Christians and Christianity. Really, we’re not all that bad and in my time in church (in spite of my meditation of yesterday morning), I’ve met a few very kind, gentile, and Holy people.

Remember what Rabbi Twerski said about everyone being a teacher? That means Everyone, not just the people you are attracted to as teachers.

Whether you call yourself a Christian, a Hebrew Roots person, or something else, you…we all have a blessing and a curse set before us as well. We can accept the blessing and choose to learn the Torah as it was intended for us and to take upon ourselves teachers we never thought we’d share a classroom or corner of the blogosphere with, or we can choose to isolate ourselves in our own comfortable little silos, and learn only what we want to learn, which means in that case, very little and nothing new and illuminating.

It may take some time before it all begins to sink in. Like me, you might have to wait awhile and then rediscover something that didn’t quite make sense before but comes into crystal clarity now. That’s OK, too. Just as long as you’re willing to open your eyes and see what God has set before you this day.

Good Shabbos.

54 days.

Ekev: Christians Clinging to Torah

clinging_to_torahAnd if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the Lord your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers: He will favor you and bless you and multiply you; He will bless the issue of your womb and the produce of your soil, your new grain and wine and oil, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock, in the land that He swore to your fathers to assign to you. You shall be blessed above all other peoples…

Deuteronomy 7:12-14 (JPS Tanakh)

If, then, you faithfully keep all this Instruction that I command you, loving the Lord your God, walking in all His ways, and holding fast to Him…

Deuteronomy 11:22 (JPS Tanakh)

God made great promises to the Children of Israel in the Torah which were contingent upon the Israelites obeying “these rules”, “loving the Lord your God, walking in all His ways.” But it can become very confusing about how or if that has any sort of impact on Christians or what it even means for Jewish people today? What does it mean to “hold fast” or to “cleave” to God, and what does that have to do with Torah?

What does it mean “to cleave to the Almighty”? The Almighty has no body or corporeality to hold on to.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen comments that this verse is the commandment to trust in the Almighty. Cleaving, clinging to the Almighty means that we trust in him like a king’s son who relies on his father. His father loves him and, being a king, has the ability to supply him with all his needs. This is our relationship with the Almighty. He is our King and our Father. We must make our efforts, but understand that success is ultimately a gift from the Almighty.

Cleaving to the Almighty means living with this awareness. The immediate benefit to a person who internalizes this attribute is an inner feeling of peace and serenity.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Ekev
Based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
as adapted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz

According to the commentary by Rabbi Shlomo Katz at Torah.org, it would be impossible to literally cling to God, who is an all-consuming fire. The sages say one “clings” to the Almighty through Torah study and performance of the mitzvot. In the Siddur, the phrase “You who cling to HaShem, your G-d, you are all alive today” is part of the Torah service, thus clinging to God and the reading, studying and performance of Torah are associated if not equivalent acts.

This could sound very attractive to some Christians. After all, why wouldn’t we want to “cling” to God? What do we have to do? Read, study, and observe the Torah? Cool? How do we do that?

Several days ago on his blog, Derek Leman wrote an article called Torah and Non-Jews: A Practical Primer. It might have better been called “What Does Torah Mean to Jews and What Should Christians Do About It”. I’ve long since set aside my illusions that I have to look and act “pseudo-Jewish” in order to obey God’s will for my life, but over the past several months, I have been attempting to defend Jewish Torah observance, especially among Messianic Jews, in conversations with my Pastor. However, one of the sticking points is trying to define just what “Torah” is.

Of course I wrote a blog series on the purpose of Torah for Messianic Jews, but it never quite satisfied me as a unified and complete answer to Pastor’s query.

In Leman’s response to some Christian questions about the Torah, he disassembled the Torah commandments in what I thought was a useful way:

There are a lot of differences and categories we could note in the commandments in the Torah. First, there are positive (“remember the Sabbath,” “you shall love”) and negative (“you may not eat,” “you shall not”) commands. Second, since Torah is an actual constitution for people living in the Iron Age in the ancient Middle East, it has criminal and societal laws which cannot be applied directly. It assumes a theocracy with the actual Presence of God guiding the king and priests. Do not think that stoning people is part of Torah practice now! Third, it permits some things from ancient culture which are no longer permitted (owning a slave, taking a war bride, practicing blood vengeance). Fourth, it contains some things which are the highest expressions of love, justice, and faithfulness. The concern in Torah for the defenseless and needy, the insistence on truth in justice for the powerful and powerless, the provisions of generosity, these things are the height of Torah. This list is not as detailed as it could be, but the point is, Torah requires long, habitual, careful study.

torah-what-isThat isn’t exactly an “in a nutshell” lesson on Torah, but it does communicate the level of complexity for someone approaching Torah with the intension of becoming “Torah-compliant” or “Torah-observant” or “Torah-submissive.” However, the upshot of Leman’s article is that it takes a lifetime of study to approach and refine one’s understanding and observance of Torah. It is true that, for practical purposes, observant Jews operate in a set daily pattern relative to their responsibilities to the mitzvot, but it’s also true that with continuing study and understanding, that observance evolves and deepens, not only on the level of behavior and cognition, but particularly (ideally) in devotion to God. Remember, we are discussing the relationship between Torah and “cleaving” to God.

Most people would comprehend why an observant Jewish person would study the Torah in order to understand and perform the mitzvot in the appropriate manner, but Christians may not be aware that we need to study and understand Torah as well.

But, why? Even if you don’t believe that Christ’s grace replaced the Torah for the Jews, most Christians believe the Law has nothing to do with them.

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)

Most Christians believe that this is the pronouncement of James and the Council of Apostles replacing the Law with grace for the believers, Jewish and Gentile alike. Some believe that James and the rest of the Jewish disciples of Messiah continued to apply Torah observance to their lives but removed such obligations from the lives of the newly-minted Gentile disciples since, as Peter said, “why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”

Torah observance isn’t required for salvation for Gentile or Jew, but from a Jewish point of view, the Torah defines the identity and lifestyle of the descendants of those who stood at Sinai and “as one man” who agreed to do all that Hashem their God commanded.

But does this mean Gentile disciples (Christians) have no obligation to Torah at all? Certainly not. Leman continues:

If you are not Jewish, God was not speaking directly to you when he gave Torah. Read Exodus 19. You can learn about God, about holiness, about love and the ways of God for people to live in the Torah. But it requires translating and interpreting it from one context (Israel’s constitution) to another (how you, as a Messiah-follower, should live your life). Even for the Jewish people translation and interpretation is required from one context (Israel in the Iron Age when it was a theocracy with God present in the sanctuary) to another (Israel in the long exile without the direct Presence of God in the sanctuary). Look to Torah as a late arrival at the party. Israel is already there and you are a guest. What can you learn from God’s instructions to this people? What in these instructions and teachings apply to you as someone outside of the specific group? The truth is, most of what is here has meaning for you, but interpretation and integration of multiple ideas will be required.

torah_up_closeIn a very real way, the Torah is Israel’s story, even as the Gospel message of Messiah is the story of good news to Israel, but it doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t involved. I wrote extensively on this topic in a multi-part series called Return to Jerusalem, which is an analysis of Acts 15 based on the commentaries of D. Thomas Lancaster in the Torah Club, Vol. 6: Chronicles of the Apostles.

For Christians, Torah study is exceptionally important because Torah does apply to us, but it doesn’t apply in a manner identical to the Jewish people. We can’t simply put on a tallit gadol, avoid bacon and shellfish, and call ourselves “Torah-submissive kosher.” If it requires a lifetime of study for a Jewish person to live out the Torah and to draw closer and to cling to God, it should require the same for Christians.

As Leman states:

There is a community that has been studying Torah for millennia. Many Torah-keeping non-Jews retain from their church life a prejudice against things Jewish. The rabbis don’t believe in Jesus, so they must not know anything! Never mind that God promised his Spirit would never depart from Israel (Isa 59:21). Never mind that God established in Israel judges and priests to know the Torah and teach it (Deut 17:8-13) and that the rabbis have come to occupy that place during the two-thousand year exile. Studying what Judaism teaches about the Torah is not easy. FFOZ (First Fruits of Zion) makes it easy through their Torah Club volumes. If you really want to know Torah and how to practice it, Torah Club Volume 5 is for you. Meanwhile, you cannot keep Torah and ignore what Jewish tradition says about it.

Torah study for Christians is Bible study, but it’s Bible study from a perspective that rejects supersessionism, anti-Judaism, and anti-Israel mindsets. As Leman says, you cannot divorce the Torah (or the Bible as a whole) from Israel and Judaism since the Bible is specifically the story of God’s involvement with Israel (with applications for the rest of us). Gentile Christians have gotten all too comfortable thinking the Gospel message is “all about us because we have Jesus,” but “Jesus” is Yeshua, the Messiah God sent to redeem first and foremost Israel and also the nations of the world. We can no longer afford to be arrogant lest Messiah humble us severely upon his return.

We also can’t afford to ignore that Jewish people including Messianic Jewish people, have a special relationship with God, even above the Gentiles who are called by His Name, and a special relationship with Torah, whereby additional commandments apply to them that don’t apply to Gentile Christians. Beyond that, studying Torah and the rest of the Bible should reveal that the Torah never “expired” for the Jewish people and indeed, it tells the story of future restoration of Israel:

“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.

“Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. The Lord your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the Lord, and observe all His commandments which I command you today. Then the Lord your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

Deuteronomy 30:1-14 (NASB)

resources-studyI could do a study just on these verses as far as how the words of Moses apply to the restoration of future Israel, the New Covenant for Israel, and the accessibility of Torah for the Jewish people, including how God completely and honestly intended Israel to observe the commandments. He didn’t just give the Torah to Israel to prove a point about how hard it is to obey God and then pull a bait and switch, inserting Jesus and grace in its stead.

If God had annulled the Torah, then not only would He have eliminated everything that Jesus taught, but He would have destroyed any possible access to God for the Gentiles, since it is through the promises God made to Abraham about Messiah, which are contained in Torah, that the Gentiles are saved at all.

Yes, Christians. Study the Torah. Learn. Comprehend. Obey as the mitzvot apply to you. Live out the Word and Will of God. Just don’t assume that it’s easy. Please believe that it will take the rest of your life to even scratch the surface. Start one day at a time. Start now.

If you’re a Christian who is at all interested in the Torah and how it applies to a life of faith in Jesus (and believe me, a lot of it applies), you can also read Torah Study for Christians to get an introduction and find a starting point on your path.

Addendum: I know one of the complains against arguments like mine from some folks in Hebrew Roots (and for that matter, traditional Christianity) is that those of us who support a Messianic perspective don’t account for non-Jewish covenant connection with God. I used to wonder how we were connected to God through Messiah myself, but frankly, once you know where to look, it’s incredibly obvious: Abraham. Read Abraham, Jews, and Christians and Sharing with Abraham to put the covenant connection of believing Gentiles to God in proper perspective. I’ll be talking more on this subject in Sunday’s and Monday’s “morning meditation.”

Good Shabbos.

61 days.

Prophesies of the Master

jewish-revolt-against-romeDo the prophesies of Jesus Christ about the final tribulation really mean what we think they mean?

By the time the Jewish revolt against Rome began, only a few of the Master’s original twelve disciples remained alive. Most had already fallen asleep in various places throughout the world. Thomas continued his work in India; tradition says he died in 70 CE. Simon the Zealot followed up on the work of Thaddeus in Armenia and Parthia, but according to “The Golden Legend,” he did not escape martyrdom, and he may have already been dead by the outbreak of the war with Rome. John continued his labors in Asia Minor where he kept a low profile through the years of the Jewish revolt. James the Less appears to have been still alive in Galilee near the end of the Jewish revolt.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“War in Perea and Judea,” pg 1037
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

This is how Lancaster begins the study of the “Acts of the Apostles” for the week of Torah Portion Balak. This part of Volume 6 of the Torah Club covers the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome, which leads up to the siege of Jerusalem and culminates in the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of most of the Jewish inhabitants of Israel into the diaspora.

I thought it was appropriate, since we are currently in the three weeks of mourning between 17 Tammuz and Tish’a B’Av, that I cover a little bit of that “territory” in the history of the Jewish people.

Actually, what captured my interest in the Torah Club study, were the prophesies of the Master regarding this period in Israel’s history. Within this particular lesson, Lancaster recounts several prophesies of the Messiah that not only provide a direct revelation regarding this tragic time for the Jewish people, but which, in my opinion, tells us something new about the words of Christ. For the sake of length, I’m only going to comment on three of the prophesies.

“Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

Matthew 23:35-36 (NASB)

The Zealous implemented a state of martial law in the city. They positioned guards at all the exits and allowed no one to leave as they rounded up men culpable in the uprising against them.

-Lancaster, pg 1041

Lancaster recounts the general circumstances in Jerusalem during the Shevet-Tevet, 68 CE time period as recorded by Josephus in Jewish War. In describing the events associated with the above-quoted prophesy of the Master, he relates how the original Sanhedrin was executed by the Zealots and an illegal court was created in its place. But at the “trial” of Zecharyah ben Baruch, a wealthy citizen in Jerusalem who was thought to be a Roman collaborator, Zecharyah’s defense was so convincing, that the Zealot’s puppet court found him innocent of the charges.

But the Zealots were not out for justice and their response fulfilled the Master’s prophetic words:

The Zealous rose up in fury. Two of the Zealot leaders unsheathed their swords and ran the plaintiff through. They said, “You also have our verdict. We acquit you too.” Then they dragged his body into Solomon’s Colonnade and threw it from that height into the valley below. The other Zealots struck the seventy legislators with the flats of their swords and drove them from the Temple. That was the last trial a Sanhedrin conducted in the city of Jerusalem.

The incident fulfills a word spoken by Yeshua in reference to the murder of Zecharhiah the son of Jehoiada in the Temple.

-ibid, pg 1042

The second of the prophesies of Jesus I’m citing here is even more illuminating and perhaps controversial.

I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. [Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”] And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

Luke 34-37 (NASB)

nyc-sandy-aftermathMost Christians believe they have a complete understanding of the meaning of these verses, and it provides a great deal of theological comfort to them. But notice that the section in brackets is not contained in the oldest manuscripts, which may hint at something about the meaning of what Luke is trying to communicate.

The Zealots kept the city under their martial law. They punished all crimes with death, regardless of how serious the offense. They refused to allow anyone to leave lest he defect to the Romans. They struck down those they discovered escaping and left them unburied. Corpses lay along the roadways into the city. They refused to allow burial for any man they put to death.

To the people of Jerusalem, it seemed as if the Zealots had declared war against Rome and God both. They left the dead bodies to putrefy in the sun. They put to death anyone who dared to bury one of their victims. Josephus says, “He that granted the favor of the grave to another soon stood in need of a grave himself.” In those days, the words of the Master were fulfilled.

-Lancaster, pg 1043

This is a very different interpretation of the Master’s prophesy I quoted above than what we are used to hearing. There is no relation to “the rapture” at all (and I know I’ll probably “get in trouble” for even quoting Lancaster’s interpretation). One is taken by the Zealots for various crimes, real or imagined, and the other, who is not a suspect, is left behind. And where the dead bodies are left in the street, there the vultures gather.

You may have heard stories of Hitler’s Gestapo kidnapping political enemies in the middle of the night from their homes and from their beds. Similar stories have been told of the KGB in the Soviet Union. Under any despotic rule, citizens can be taken away without due process, imprisoned, or killed. There is no justice and no mercy. Why then could this not be the fate of many in Jerusalem during the Roman siege against the city as the Zealots ruled inside the city’s walls with brutality and force?

For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

Matthew 24:21-22 (NASB)

This is another prophesy that is attributed, in Christian tradition, to “the rapture,” stating that “the elect” will be whisked into Heaven before things get too bad on earth in the last days before the Messiah’s return.

However, according to Lancaster’s commentary, this prophesy may well have been fulfilled during the Fall of Perea in the month of Adar, 68 CE. Again, Lancaster’s source is Josephus’ Jewish War.

As the springtime drew near, Vespasian commenced his campaign. The rebels in Perea held the city of Gadara (or Gedora), which Josephus called “the capital of Perea and a city of some strength.” The leading men of Gadara had sent ambassadors to Vespasian urging him to come and liberate their city from the rebels. Vespasian took the tenth legion from Scythopolis (Beth-shan) and marched them to Gadara. On the fourth day of Adar, the legion came within sight of the city. At the sight of the approaching legion, the rebels abandoned the city and fled. Gadara surrendered immediately.

Vespasian left his tribute Placidus and five hundred cavalry and three thousand footmen to pursue the fleeing rebels. He returned to Caesarea.

-Lancaster, pg 1043

Placidus pursued and harassed the rebels, killing them as they ran and eliminating the populations of any hapless villages the rebels happened to take refuge in. Finally the rebel forces were trapped, hemmed in between the rain-swollen Jordan river and Placidus and his men.

By the time it was all over, more than fifteen thousand corpses floated down the Jordan and washed into the Dead Sea. Placidus continued his assault all the way to the Dead Sea, taking all the villages and towns of Perea except the fortress Macherus.

This slaughter happened just south of Pella where the Jewish believers had taken refuge inside the walls of that city. From their perspective in the city, it seemed as if the Master’s words had come to pass.

They prayed ardently for the coming of the Son of Man to cut the days of tribulation short. They looked for a sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and they listened for the sound of His shofar, but He did not come.

-ibid, pp 1043-44

Broken FaithLancaster presents more prophesies of Jesus as applied to the says that preceded the fall of Jerusalem, verses that most Protestant churches attribute to a final tribulation in which the faithful will be taken up and those who are not chosen are “left behind.”

Can I say what these prophesies mean? No, of course not. I present this interpretation from the Torah Club for two reasons. The first I’ve already mentioned, to recount and commemorate these three weeks of mourning in solidarity with the Jewish people. The second is to illustrate that prophesy is one thing and theology and doctrine based on long-held Christian tradition is something else entirely.

I’ve often wondered what would happen in the final days of tribulation, before the return of Christ, if we all finally realized that there is no rapture…what would happen to us…what would happen to the faithful?

However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

Matthew 24:8 (NASB)

If there is no rapture, if terrible times arrive and we are not rescued, if like the believing Jews who sought refuge in Pella, we look to the sky and pray, if like those devout ones, we gaze up to in the air and the Master does not come in the clouds when we expect him to, what happens to us? What will become of our faith if we fail to hear the sound of his shofar? Then, when Messiah does come at the time appointed by the Father, will he find that we still have faith…or will it have fled along with our courage as our theological expectations and the traditions of the church turn to dust?

Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Fulfilling the Prophesy of Amos, Part 2

Receiving the Spirit

When this group of Gentiles believed in Jesus, they immediately received the Holy Spirit in so evident a way that Peter could only conclude that God had extended salvation to them as Gentiles, not requiring that they first become Jews. He therefore baptised them, admitting them to the messianic people of God without expecting them to be circumcised or to observe any more of the Torah than they already did (as God-fearers who worshiped the God of Israel and lived by the moral principles of the Torah).
-Richard Bauckham
“Chapter 16: James and the Jerusalem Council Decision” (pg 178)
Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post. If you haven’t done so already, read Part 1 before proceeding here.

Bauckham seems to be making a few assumptions about what Peter expected, but they are reasonable assumptions, since we have no record that Cornelius (or any other Gentile disciples of the Master) was ever circumcised or ever assumed a greater obligation or duty to Torah as time progressed, at least as an expection of or obligation to God. Bauckham states that “these Gentiles received the same blessing of eschatological salvation that Peter and other Jewish believers in Jesus had received at Pentecost.” The Jewish and Gentile believers were two bodies within a single ekklesia, sharing the hope of the resurrection and the promise of the life in the world to come as co-heirs of Messiah.

But so far, this is confined to Peter’s observation of Cornelius and his household. What about the other Gentiles? What about James and the Council of Apostles (who Peter had to give an accounting to in Acts 11)?

Peter’s testimony before the council (Acts 15:9) indicated that he understood that God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile, specifically in relation to “cleansing their hearts by faith.” Whatever “impurity” that the Jewish believers saw, even in the Gentile God-fearers, was set aside (which was the point of Peter’s vision in Acts 10) as a result of the Spirit being received even by the Gentiles “through the grace of Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:11). The “distinction” that was eliminated between Jewish Israel and the believing Gentiles was the distinction between the “holy” and the “profane” with the Gentiles also receiving access to holiness through faith in Messiah.

It became possible to envisage the messianic people of God as a community of both Jews and Gentiles, the former observing Torah, the latter not. Of course, neither Peter nor any of the Jerusalem leaders entertained the idea that Jewish believers in Jesus should give up observing Torah. But Torah observance no longer constituted a barrier between Jews and Gentiles, since their fellowship was not based on Torah, but on faith in Jesus the Messiah and experience of the transformative power of the Spirit.

-ibid pg 180

Bauckham doesn’t reference Ephesians 2, but his statement seems to evoke “abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” in this case, by making Torah a “non-issue” between Jewish and Gentile believers, since it is faith in Messiah that binds them, not Torah obedience.

Bauckham’s statement will be difficult to accept for almost anyone in Christianity, both in mainstream Protestantism and the numerous variant worship platforms. However it does line up with content written by FFOZ’s Lancaster and numerous other contributors and cited sources in the Rudolph/Willitts book. In the church, we have gotten so used to the idea that we have permanently altered if not replaced Jews, Judaism, and Jewish Torah observance, that it never occurs to us to ask why Judaism should have had to change in order to accomodate the entry of Gentile disciples. We were (and are) the ones who need to change, since Israel and her King were totally foreign to any one except Israel. Faith in Yeshua HaMashiach is a perfectly expected developmental progression in Israel’s history. The really dramatic event is that the nations, Gentile Christianity, were allowed entry into the Jewish religious branch “the Way.”

apostles_james_acts15In Acts 11:1-8, Peter already convinced the Council that the Gentiles could receive the Spirit as part of God’s plan for the nations, and they praised God for His graciousness to the Gentiles. In Acts 15, Peter reminds the Council of these events, and James, in deliberating the matter, offers Amos 9:11-12 (part of last week’s Haftarah portion) as the proof text supporting what Peter had observed and in support of Paul’s position to admit Gentiles without requiring they be circumcised. In using the words “all the nations over whom my name has been invoked”, according to Bauckham, James is stating that God has declared “ownership” over “all the nations” (Amos 9:12) just as He had declared ownership over Israel as His own people (e.g., Deut 28:10; 2 Chr 7:14; Jer 14:9; Dan 9:19).

It shows that in the messianic age, Gentiles, precisely as Gentiles, will no longer be “profane” but will join the Jews in belonging to God’s holy people…

-ibid, pg 182

Now I suppose you’re going to ask about the four prohibitions James laid upon the Gentiles, otherwise known at the “apostolic decree.”

The reason these four are selected from the commandments of the Torah as alone applicable to Gentile members of the messianic people of God is exegetical. They are specifically designed as obliging “the alien who sojourns in your/their midst” as well as Israelites. Applied to the situation of the messianic people of God, this phrase could be seen as referring to Gentiles included in the community along with Jews. But the point is made more precisely by the use of this same phrase in two of the prophecies about the conversion of the Gentiles in the messianic age: Jeremiah 12:16 (“they shall be built in the midst of my people”) and Zechariah 2:11 (LXX: “they shall dwell in your midst”). In light of these exegetical links, the Torah itself can be seen to make specific provision for these Gentile converts, who are not obligated, like Jews, by the commandments of Torah in general, but obligated by these specific commandments.

-ibid, pg 183

I can certainly see many of the points D. Thomas Lancaster made about Acts 15 in his Torah Club essays (which I recorded in my Return to Jerusalem series) may have had their origin in the research and documentation of Bauckham and other scholars. Boaz Michael, First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ’s) Founder and President, also made similar points in his book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile.

We see in Bauckham’s analysis, that he not only answers the Protestant Christian question about whether the Jews should continue to observe the Torah, but also the Hebrew Roots Christian question about Gentile Torah obligation. I know that neither population of Gentile believers, for the most part, will accept this position, even though it’s based on good biblical research and scholarship, but we must begin to challenge our thinking and our traditions which lead both platforms of Gentile faith in Jesus to misunderstand the plan of God for the Jews and Gentiles within the ekklesia.

Although we know that not all Jewish believers in the days of James, Peter, and Paul could accept Gentile inclusion into Jewish religious worship of Messiah, especially by allowing the Gentiles to remain as Gentiles, the alternative was to deny the words of the Prophet and the plan of God, that not only the Jews but the Gentile nations would be called by His Name, and that the nations would also belong to Him.

“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 (NASB)

We can hardly fulfill our role in prophesy if we believe we must convert to Judaism as a requirement of Messianic disicpleship or forcably take on the full Jewish obligation to Torah observance (becoming “pseudo-Jewish”) in direct defiance of the ruling of the Council of Apostles. If we believers from the nations, insist that we too are “Israel,” then all believing humanity is “Israel” and thus, the prophesy of Amos is either a lie or it will remain forever unfulfilled.

155 days.