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Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Fulfilling the Prophesy of Amos, Part 1

conference2The most momentous decision the early Christian movement had to make was on the status of Gentiles who wished to join it. That Gentiles should join the movement was not in itself problematic, since there was a widespread Jewish expectation, based on biblical prophecies, that in the last days the restoration of God’s own people Israel would be accompanied by the conversion of the other nations to the worship of the God of Israel. Since the early Christians believed that the messianic restoration of Israel was now under way in the form of their own community, it would not have been difficult for them to recognize that the time for the conversion of the nations was also arriving. What was much less clear, however, was whether Gentiles who came to faith in Jesus the Messiah should become Jews, getting circumcised (in the case of men) and adopting the full yoke of Torah, or whether they could remain Gentiles while enjoying the same blessings of eschatological salvation that Jewish believers in Jesus did.

-Richard Bauckham
“Chapter 16: James and the Jerusalem Council Decision” (pg 178)
Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations

This should be a familiar theme to those of you who regularly read my blog. I spent a considerable amount of time and effort reviewing Luke’s Acts, thanks largely to D. Thomas Lancaster’s Torah Club series Chronicles of the Apostles, published by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). I was pleased to find that several of the articles in Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book addressed the same issues. But let’s back up a step.

Darrell Bock, in “Chapter 15: The Restoration of Israel in Luke-Acts” sets the stage for the drama of Gentile inclusion into a branch of normative Judaism by deconstructing the traditional Christian view of these books of scripture.

Burge argues for a landless and nationless theology in which the equality of Jew and Gentile in Christ is the key ecclesiological reality. In this view, Jesus as Temple or as forming a new universal Temple community becomes the locus for holy space. Israel is absorbed into the church and hope in the land is spiritualized to refer to a restored earth.

This chapter seeks to redress the balance. When I speak of Israel in this essay it is the Jewish people I have in mind as opposed to new Israel.

-Bock, pg 168

It is true that Luke-Acts is really all about the Gentiles. According to Bock…

Luke-Acts was written between CE 60 and 80 in part to legitimate the inclusion of Gentiles in an originally Jewish movement according to God’s plan. Theopolis (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1) is a Jesus-believing Gentile who needs assurance. Luke-Acts presents Jesus as God’s exalted and vindicated bearer of kingdom promise, forgiveness, and life for all who believe, Jew and Gentile. The bestowal of God’s Spirit marks the new era’s arrival…This message completes the promises made to Abraham and Israel centuries ago.

-ibid, pp 168-9

The Messiah movement was a wholly owned and operated franchise of Judaism (if you’ll forgive the slight levity here). It’s only natural to imagine that Gentiles hearing that they too could join might have been skeptical about the reality of this promise and the status that they would (or wouldn’t) be granted. Luke means to reassure them that they will be equal sharers in the blessings made to Israel, but make no mistake, there is another side to Luke’s narrative.

Luke argues that the church roots its message in ancient promises, a story in continuity with Israel’s promised hope found in God’s covenantal promises to her. The entire saga involves Israel’s restoration. For all that Gentile inclusion and equality in the new community brings, we never lose sight of the fact that it is Israel’s story and Israel’s hope that brings blessing to the world, just as Genesis 12:3 promised.

-ibid

Nothing Luke, let alone Bock, writes allows Gentile inclusion to delegitimize the Jewish people as God’s people and nation Israel. Messiah is depicted as “the light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel” (pg 171). We among the nations receive blessings because of Israel, not because we become Israel. Bock also states:

Thus, redemption involves both political and spiritual elements, nationalistic themes (Luke 1:71, 74) and the offer of forgiveness (1:77-78).

-ibid, pg 171

Redemption for Israel is not just spiritual, it’s national and physical. If Israel is obedient to God, Messiah will place Israel at the head of the nations and take up his Throne in Jerusalem. However, there is a problem. Bock does not cast the Gentiles as the primary roadblock to God’s restoration of Israel, but instead declares:

The warning to the nation is that if she rejects God’s message, then blessing may not come to her but may go to the Gentiles. Israel’s story has an obstacle, her own rejecting heart. The question is whether that obstacle is permanent or not.

-ibid, pg 172, citing Luke 4:16-30

the-prophetTraditional Christian supersessionism would say that the obstacle was permanent and the blessings forever left Israel and were transferred to the (Gentile) church. However, since the blessings promised to Abraham only come to the nations by way of Israel, if Israel were permanently eliminated what would happen to us? By definition, any roadblock confronting Israel can only be temporary, just as the Old Testament (Tanakh) record presents how God only turned away from his people Israel “momentarily,” turning immediately back when they humbled their hearts and turned to their God.

Luke 21:24 pictures a turnaround in Israel’s fate. Near the end of the eschatological discourse, Luke describes Jerusalem being trodden down for a time and refers to this period as “the times of the Gentiles.” It refers to a period of Gentile domination, while alluding to a subsequent hope for Israel.

…this view of Israel’s judgment now but vindication later suggests what Paul also contents in Romans 11:25-26: Israel has a future, grafted back in when the fullness of the Gentiles leads her to respond. These chapters certainly have ethnic Israel in view, not any concept of a spiritual Israel. Romans 9-11 develops the temporary period of judgment noted in Luke 13:34-35.

-ibid, pg 173

I should say at this point that Bock extensively cites scripture to support his statements. To restrict the length of this blog post (and I’ve already had to split it into two parts), I am editing out most of his references, so I encourage you to read his chapter in full to get all of the corroborating details.

In covering Acts, Bock deliberately omits Acts 15 and presents several other key areas. Using Acts 1:4-7, Bock establishes the “promise of the Father” which leads the disciples of Jesus to anticipate that the kingdom of Heaven is at hand and that Messiah, prior to (or instead of) the ascension, will restore Israel nationally and spiritually. He does no such thing, but not because the desire is inappropriate. It simply isn’t time yet. However in Acts 3:18-21, Bock shows us that Peter is completely aware that the “times of refreshing” refer to future “refreshment”, which promises the messianic age of salvation as foretold by the Prophets.

But what’s important for we Gentiles to note, is his treatment of Acts 10-11:

In the two passages involving Cornelius in Acts 10-11, the Spirit’s coming shows that Gentiles are equal to Jews in blessing, so that circumcision is not required of Gentiles. The Spirit occupying uncircumcised Gentiles shows they are already cleansed and sacred. The new era’s sign comes to Gentiles as Gentiles. There is no need for them to become Jews. Israel’s story has finally come to bless the nations.

-ibid, pp 175-6

Notice that the nations (Gentiles) did not have to actually become Israel, either by replacing them or joining them as Jews (or pseudo-Jews). We are blessed within one ekklesia made up of Israel (Jews) and the nations (Gentile believers).

As I mentioned before, Bock omits the most critical part of Acts for Gentile inclusion. Bauckham picks that theme up in the following chapter, which you’ll read, along with how we Gentile Christians fulfill the words of the Prophet Amos, in Part 2 of this meditation.

156 days

The Broken Soreg

0 RBut now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Ephesians 2:13-16

Paul states that the Messiah abolished the “enmity” between Jew and Gentile. This is not the same as saying he abolished the Torah. Instead, the Messiah abolishes the requirement for Gentile believers to undertake circumcision and the covenant signs of Israel (the Law of commandments contained in ordinances) before they may be regarded as one body with the Jewish people.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Commentary on Acts 21:15-22:30 (pg 689)
First Fruits of Zion’s Torah Club
Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Reading for Torah Portion Shemini (“Eighth”)

I’m sure most Christians will find Lancaster’s interpretation of Ephesians 2 to be very creative but not very convincing. The traditional Christian interpretation is that Jesus took down the wall by abolishing the Torah. Jews and Gentiles are identical in Christ and there are no distinctions based on Jewish observance of the Torah of Moses.

I’ve looked into Ephesians 2 before, but at the behest of someone who had the exact opposite opinion of this scripture. He said:

Ephesians 2 establishes gentiles as now part of the covenants, which I wonder how you deal with such, as I have never seen you address Ephesians.

This interpretation is probably just as startling to most Christians as Lancaster’s, since it declares that all believers, Jewish and Gentile alike, are obligated to the full observance of the Torah. In discussing the Hebrew Roots interpretation of Acts 15, Lancaster has this to say:

Hebrew Roots teachers often claim that the apostles only gave the four essentials to Gentile believers as a starting point. After that, the Gentiles were expected to learn the rest of the Torah in the synagogue every week. Eventually, they would be responsible for keeping all the laws of the Torah in the same manner as their Jewish brothers and sisters.

Acts 21:25 indicates that the apostles understood their ruling differently…Instead, the apostles viewed the four essentials as a standard for the God-fearing Gentile believers. They did not require a gradual process by which the Gentiles adopted the rest of the commandments.

-Lancaster, pg 686

I covered Acts 15 and its implications in much more detail in my multi-part Return to Jerusalem series so I’m not going to revisit that material here. I just wanted to briefly provide the different interpretations that could be applied to Ephesians 2 and where Lancaster stands on the matter of Jews vs. Gentiles and Torah observance.

But what about this “dividing wall of hostility” Paul mentions? I’m about to suggest something a little radical.

In the course of his massive remodeling of the Jerusalem Temple, Herod the Great extended the Temple Mount platform significantly by constructing a retaining wall and adding fill. A balustrade made of stone lattice work (soreg) marked off the original holy precinct. The balustrade functioned as a perimeter fence that kept Gentiles from straying into the sanctified area. The Mishnah reports the lattice work wall stood ten handbreadths (three feet) high. Josephus recalled it as slightly taller at three cubits (five feet) height. The people referred to the courtyard outside of the barrier as the Court of the Gentiles because Gentiles were allowed to congregate and worship in that courtyard, but they could not draw nearer than the balustrade. The Levitical guard posted plaques on the balustrade forbidding Gentiles from trespassing beyond that point.

-Lancaster, pg 688

middle-wall-partitionTo the best of my knowledge, there is nothing in the written Torah that mandates such a wall or a “Court of the Gentiles” on the Temple grounds, however especially during the days of Jesus and afterward, until the destruction of the Temple, there was much existing halachah that kept Jews and Gentiles apart. We see evidence of such in the vision Peter had in Acts 10 when Jesus makes clear to Peter that the halachah requiring that a Jew never enter a Gentile’s home was incorrect. God did not make the Gentiles an “unclean” people.

But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction.

Acts 11:9-12

Could Paul be using the idea of the soreg metaphorically in Ephesians 2?

I told you it was a radical idea. I’m not saying that this is even a valid interpretation of the text, but it is an interesting idea. In order for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles to be successful, one of the things that had to be broken down was Jewish hostility toward Gentiles. In the diaspora, by necessity, Jews had to interact, at least to a degree, with Gentiles, but in Israel and especially in Jerusalem, this was not the case (with the exception of forcibly having to “interact” with the Roman military occupation).

We see recorded in Acts 21:37-22:21, Paul apparently successfully defending himself against his Jewish accusers after the near riot he endured at the Temple when he was falsely accused of speaking against the Jewish people, the Torah, the Temple, and bringing a non-Jew past the Court of the Gentiles and into the Temple (Acts 21:28-29). It’s only when he mentioned the Gentiles, did his Jewish listeners go quite berserk:

And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this.

Acts 22:21-24

I’d certainly call that a “wall of hostility.”

So one interpretation of having “broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” is doing away with all Jewish Torah observance, which was apparently what was causing the separation and bad feelings between Jewish and Gentile believers. Except the Torah doesn’t say that. First century Jewish halachah said that and the lesson Peter learned was that such separation was incorrect halachah.

Another interpretation is that the wall being broken down was the wall that kept Gentiles out of membership in national Israel, and once broken down by their being “grafted in” (Romans 11:11-24), Gentiles gained full covenant relationship with God and Israel by essentially becoming Israel and thus, required to observe all of the Torah mitzvot. The only thing they didn’t have to do was convert to Judaism, but otherwise, they certainly looked like converts. That makes even less sense if the wall was broken down by “abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.” Nothing is abolished, the Gentiles are just added into the “law of commandments expressed in ordinances.”

Lancaster suggests that what Jesus broke down in his flesh when he was executed was how Gentiles were prevented from covenant relationship with God and the Jewish people without converting to Judaism. The legal requirement for conversion was the law that was abolished. This makes a bit more sense because it is through Messiah that we among the nations can become disciples and we are not required to convert to Judaism. But then, where does all the hostility come from that was preventing Gentiles from entering into covenant?

If what went away was a faulty interpretation and application of Torah that promoted an extreme hostility of Jews against Gentiles (which is not too hard to understand given that the Jewish nation was at that time being occupied by a harsh and cruel Gentile imperial army), Ephesians 2, especially when compared to Acts 10, begins to make more sense.

I’m sure my amateur interpretation can be criticized on a number of levels and again, I’m not saying that my little theory has much, if any, weight of evidence to support it, but I want you to think about it. I want you to consider the possibilities, especially in light of how Jewish audiences took less exception to the message of Jesus as the Messiah, and much more exception to the idea that such a message required doing away with the Torah, the Temple, and including unconverted Gentiles as equal covenant members.

infinite_pathsPaul was fighting an uphill battle and he was never entirely successful during his lifetime. In fact, after his death, the hostility between Jews and Gentiles continued to grow until Christianity was no longer a branch of religious Judaism, but instead, represented an entirely new theological discipline…one that was actually opposed to Judaism.

To the degree that Judaism and Christianity are still separate religions, with neither one wanting to have anything to do with the other for the most part (there are noteworthy exceptions), that wall of hostility still exists today. Part of why I write this blog is to offer avenues at, if not deconstructing the wall, punching a few holes in the “soreg” so we can see each other more clearly and even have a bit of a conversation.

When the Messiah returns, I believe he will finish what Paul started. I believe he will finish removing the wall we continually rebuild. I believe he will show us how to live with each other in peace. And Jews will remain a distinct people and nation as Jews. And Gentile believers will remain distinct from the rest of the world as non-Jewish disciples of the Master. And the different parts will truly act as one within a single body.

A Passover Seder in Philippi

passover-artBut we went out from Pilippi after the days of the Festival of Matzot.

Ma’asei HaShlichim (Acts) 20:6

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

D. Thomas Lancaster, in his Torah Club Vol. 6 commentary on Acts 20-21:14 states that Paul and his party had been trying to make it to Jerusalem for Passover, but various difficulties interrupted their trip.

Paul and the delegates immediately scuttled their plans. They did not dare board any vessel departing from Cenchrea together. They gave up hope of arriving in Jerusalem for the Passover. It was too dangerous.

-Lancaster, pg 651

But apparently, even in the days of the Second Temple, Jews in the diaspora commemorated the Passover in some fashion without traveling to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifice according to the Torah of Moses. So where was Paul for Passover that year?

Paul, Timothy, and Luke made their way backwards into Macedonia. They visited Berea and came to Thessalonica by Purim. They arrived in Philippi on (sic) time for Passover.

Paul decided to spend Passover with the believers of Philippi. The Philippians had far fewer Jews in their community than Gentiles. There simply were not many Jews in Philippi, so Paul decided to use the occasion of the feast to teach the Philippians the observances of Passover. He could teach them how to conduct a Seder according to apostolic custom in remembrance of the Master.

-Lancaster, pg 652

I’m not quite sure how Lancaster draws these conclusions, but it makes a wonderful picture of the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles teaching them a precious gift from the Master.

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Luke 22:14-20 (ESV)

It is unlikely that what we think of today as “taking communion” actually existed as a Christian practice in the days of Paul. It is far more likely that Paul and other apostles to the Gentiles, taught the believing God-fearing people of the nations of the Passover and the covenant of the Master that is commemorated in his body and blood on Pesach. We see in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, that they also knew and understood the Passover language and symbolism, supporting the idea that at some point, it was relatively common for Jewish and Gentile believers to observe Passover in the diaspora together.

One can imagine the disciples in Philippi pressed in tightly around the triklinium table of Lydia the purple dealer. Over the seven days of Passover, they celebrated the resurrection of the Master together and began to count the days of the Omer leading to Shavuot.

-Lancaster, ibid

passover-art-slavery-to-freedomA few days ago, I wrote about my personal trepidation regarding the approach of Passover and the anticipation of leading a Seder with my family. I’m proceeding a little more optimistically, especially after discovering the sudden appearance of boxes of matzah in the kitchen pantry. But it’s the renewed realization of Paul and his Passover with the Gentiles in Philippi that reminds me that a Christian commemorating the Pesach isn’t just a “nice custom” for us, it’s a responsibility.

A Jewish person in Israel offered this comment on my blog:

But you have an opportunity for a fuller appreciation of it, for its additional implications for those who remember Rav Yeshua as reflected in its symbolisms. You may indeed identify with those few Egyptians who were willing to risk censure from their own people and join with the Jews who were eating lamb and matzah, and painting blood on doorposts, in order to flee with them in a mixed multitude. You may savor the metaphor of fleeing likewise from sin, having attached yourself to follow Rav Yeshua as an exemplar of Israel. If you choose not to remain in the Israeli camp throughout 40 years of desert wandering, you may settle somewhere along the way for a separate existence that nonetheless eschews idolatry and respects Torah values. I don’t really know if it was possible in that time to be intermarried, remain among Jews, and yet remain distinct by not becoming absorbed into the Jewish commonwealth. Ignoring Torah instructions in that era as some Jews did was a recipe for being destroyed in some quite unpleasant fashion. Thankfully today a non-Jew among Jews isn’t under quite the same pressure.

And today, there are believing Gentiles not only commemorating Passover with Jewish families, but leading Seders as well. I thought it appropriate to offer up this sort of “meditation” since tonight, as you read this, is Erev Pesach, and Jewish (as well as a few Christian and intermarried) families all over the world will be sitting at their tables, reciting from haggadahs, eating bitter herbs, asking four questions, and at the end of the evening, shouting with earnest desire, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

I have desired to visit Jerusalem and particularly to pray at the Kotel during my lifetime. If God is gracious and it is within His desire, then this will occur. If not, then one day in the world to come, I will offer a sacrifice at the Temple and eat at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the presence of the King.

May this Pesach meal be in honor of my Master and may I give thanks that because he gave himself, his body, his blood, his suffering, that I can turn away from sin and turn to God as a partaker of salvation and redemption, and call myself a son of the Most High.

Chag Sameach Pesach!

Four Questions, Part 3

fall-of-jerusalemThis is a continuation on the topic I started discussing in Lancaster’s Galatians: Introduction, Audience, and What Happened to the Torah? and continued in Broad Strokes. I asked the first two of these four questions in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Part 3 presents the third question. Hopefully, the answer will be illuminating.

Just a reminder, all quotes from scripture will be from the ESV Bible unless otherwise stated.

Were the Jewish Apostles of Jesus Supposed to Remain in Jerusalem During the Fall?

History records that the Romans destroyed Herod’s Temple and exiled the Jews from Israel in the year 70 of the Common Era (CE). Israel was renamed “Palestine” by the Romans as in insult to the Jews. We also know that there was always a small remnant of Jewish people in “Palestine” from that time until the formation of the modern state of Israel in 1948. But of those who remained in Jerusalem and in the Land during and just after the destruction of the Temple, how many were disciples of the Master?

The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and the subsequent expulsion of the majority of Jews from what would be called Palestine marked a disastrous shift in the Jewish authority over the Messianic community. Up until that time, the head of the Jerusalem leadership of the Messianic community, otherwise referred to as “the bishop of the church”, had always been Jewish. Once the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem by Hadrian, for the first time a Gentile had to be elected into the role. As events moved forward from that point in time, the Gentile presence in the Messianic community grew dramatically while the Jewish leaders and worshipers of Yeshua struggled under the heartbreak of the loss of the Temple and the ejection from their land.

-James Pyles
“Origins of Supersessionism in the Church”
Part one in a four-part series
published in Messiah Journal
Issue 109/Winter 2012

I bring all this up because one of the topics Pastor Randy and I discussed was whether or not the Jewish disciples of the Way “abandoned ship,” so to speak, when the rest of the Jews were expelled from Israel at this point in history. It’s Pastor’s opinion that they did and that it was definitely the wrong thing for them to do. In his opinion, they should have stayed.

Should they have fought the Romans like the zealots? Should they have died like the Jews at Masada?

I don’t know if Pastor is suggesting such a thing. Dying, down to the last man as martyrs, may have been a dramatic move and even a faithful one, but it would not have allowed the apostles to survive and to spread the word of Moshiach to the Jews and Gentiles of the diaspora.

I remember when Pastor was delivering a sermon on the death of Stephen (see Acts 7:54-60) and the consequences that followed his demise.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Acts 8:1

According to Pastor, one of the effects of the scattering of devout Jewish believers away from Jerusalem was to allow the spreading of the gospel message throughout Judea and Samaria. This is how I see one of the results of the destruction of Jerusalem and the great exile of the Jews to the diaspora. Not that Paul had been unsuccessful in taking the message of the Messiah to much of the then civilized world, but this “allowed” (though it was a terrible thing) all or most of the believing Jews in the Land to take who they were and extend that into the galut to other Jewish and probably Gentile communities.

That’s one thought, anyway.

Did Jesus ask or require the believing Jews to stay in Jerusalem during this time of great tragedy?

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Luke 21:20-24

It seems clear that Jesus was telling those who are in Judea to flee to the mountains. Also, those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it. He knew that many [would] fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations. Nowhere in that short narrative do I hear the Master telling anyone to stay and die. In fact, it was necessary for Jerusalem to be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles [were] fulfilled.

I don’t know if the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled yet, but the modern nation of Israel has been in existence for over sixty years now, so if our time isn’t yet up, it soon will be.

I mentioned before, in quoting from my “supersessionism” article, that up until the destruction of Jerusalem, every leader of the Council of Apostles had been Jewish. When the Jews were expelled, the first “bishop of the church” had to be a non-Jew since at that time, they were “flying below the radar” of the Romans, so to speak. It’s not unlike the situation with Lydia and the devout God-fearing women in Philippi.

So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:11-15

jerusalem-at-nightThe Jewish population in that area had been expelled at some earlier point, but the God-fearing Gentiles were “under the radar,” and not included in the exile from Philippi because they had not been counted as Jews, even through they had been worshipping in the synagogue with Jews, praying with Jews, discussing Torah with Jews, and otherwise having fellowship with Jews. When Paul and his party came upon Lydia and her companions by the river, he must have understood that these Gentile women were all who were left of those devoted to Hashem to keep the worship of the God of Israel alive in that community. Perhaps the same can be said of the Gentile believers in Jerusalem after 70 CE, but it’s hard to tell.

There has always been a Jewish remnant in Israel for the past 2,000 years. When the Temple was utterly destroyed, when the golden menorah melted and flowed like water, when Jerusalem herself moaned in agony like a woman in hard labor, after all these things, who is to say if, among the Jewish remnant, there were followers of Yeshua HaMashiach or not. There’s no way to know.

I don’t think the Messianic Jews had a specific mandate to stay and endure the incredible suffering of Israel’s downfall under the Romans. If some did stay, so much the better, but I believe what happened was supposed to happen. I think God knew. I think the words of Jesus tell us that he expected it and expected those who listened to him to flee. The time of the Gentiles was upon them.

But that time is running out fast.

Only one more question left. Be here for Part 4 in the conclusion of this series in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.

Four Questions, Part 2

Apostle-PaulThis is a continuation on the topic I started discussing in Lancaster’s Galatians: Introduction, Audience, and What Happened to the Torah? and continued in Broad Strokes. I asked the first of these four questions in Part 1 of this series (please read it if you haven’t yet) but quickly discovered that I’d never get all four questions and their answers in a single blog post. Hence, Part 2 presents the second question. Hopefully, the answer will be illuminating.

Why Did Many Jewish People Reject Paul and the Message of the Messiah?

Let’s face it. Paul received a tremendous amount of opposition during his journeys as he spoke of Christ, not only from the Greeks and Romans, but from many individual Jews and Jewish communities as well. This is exquisitely documented in Luke’s Book of Acts and often gives support to the traditional Christian doctrine that the Jews rejected Jesus but the Gentiles accepted him, thus Jews are now universally without salvation and a place in Heaven, and the Gentile Christians have inherited all of the covenant promises that once belonged to the Jews, replacing them as God’s chosen, splendourous people.

Did the Jews reject Jesus? We’ve already seen in Part 1 of this series (link above) that not all of them did and actually, thousands upon thousands of Jews completely accepted the Christ and were devoted disciples of the Messiah. In fact, in one of my conversations with Pastor Randy, he said he believes that the Jewish population of “the Way” very likely outnumbered, and by a substantial amount, the population of any of the other sects of Judaism, most principally, the Pharisees. This is just conjecture on my part, but as Pastor Randy mentioned this, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Pharisaic sect as well as the Essenes, Sadducees and others, saw that their power bases would erode into eventual extinction should “the Way” take over the Jewish religious landscape by sheer weight of numbers in Jewish membership.

We’ve also seen within the borders of ancient Israel that the apostles and disciples of Messiah were considered a threat to the corrupt and compromised Jewish religious leadership streams (particularly the Priesthood) that were firmly in the pocket of the occupying Romans. Herodian rule was also threatened for similar reasons. The Son of God accused them all of falsehood and usurping the rightful place of the valid Priests and Kings of Israel. These false rulers had every reason to want to silence a small but rapidly growing group who might one day soon incite the people to overthrow them.

But that doesn’t explain the immense amount of resistance Paul experienced in the Jewish synagogues of the diaspora, who were outside the flow of those political currents.

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.

Acts 19:8-9

After three months, opposition to Paul’s message surfaced. It may have taken that long for the Jews of Ephesus to realize that Paul’s gospel invited Gentiles into the fold.

-Lancaster, Torah Club Vol 6, pg 620

This, I think, is the key to much (but not all) of the Jewish opposition to Paul and the Way. Besides announcing the salvation from sin and the life in the world to come promised through the Messiah, the number one thing that set Paul’s sect apart from all of the other Judaisms of that day was the inclusion of Gentiles as equal covenant members without the requirement that Gentiles undergo circumcision and convert to Judaism. This was unprecedented in ancient Judaism and in my opinion, the single largest stumbling block for Jews hearing the Messianic message of Paul and the other apostles.

Remember the Jews of Pisidian Antioch who, in Acts 13:42-43 couldn’t get enough of Paul, Barnabas, and the message of Messiah, and begged them to return to their synagogue on the following Shabbat to speak more about the Kingdom and the Son of David?

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.

Acts 13:44-46

This doesn’t mean, as we saw in Part 1 of this series, that Paul never again preached the good news to the Jews, but only on that occasion, when the Jewish leadership of the Pisidian Antioch synagogue spoke against him and reviled him. So what happened? On one Shabbat, the Jews couldn’t get enough of Paul and his teaching and exactly one week later, they can’t wait to shut him up and get rid of him. What changed?

But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy…

Crowds? Crowds of who?

The Jews of Antioch were not jealous that Paul and Barnabas has such appeal or that their message was so popular. They were jealous that the message of the apostles compromised theological ethnocentrism. The message of the apostles seemed to throw the doors of Judaism wide open to the Gentile world.

This is the “jealousy” to which Paul referred in his epistle to the Romans.

-D. Thomas Lancaster’s commentary on Acts 13:1-51 read with Torah Portion Bo (“Come”) Torah Club 6: Chronicles of the Apostles, pg 394

prayer-synagogue-riga-latviaI commented extensively in a previous meditation regarding this “jealousy” that the huge influx of Gentile God-fearers and pagans elicited from the Jewish synagogue leaders in Pisidian Antioch and you are invited to click the link above and read the full analysis of that event. Lancaster supports my understanding that the thing about the Way that summoned such a passionate and even hostile response from some Jewish communities was the unfettered admittance of non-Jews into what was once a wholly Jewish religious and community space.

Here’s more.

When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion.

Acts 21:27-31

Two major points must be considered here. The first is the fear and hostility elicited at the very thought that Paul would allow admission of a non-Jew into the Temple past the court of the Gentiles. After all, such a thing was not done. True, Paul hadn’t actually taken Trophimus into the Temple, but just seeing the two of them together inspired all sorts of terrifying fantasies in many of the Jerusalem Jews. The very thought of Gentiles having full and equal membership into a Jewish religious sect without first having to convert to Judaism and being compelled to obey the complete body of Torah mitzvot and halachah was unthinkable. For many Jews, access to the God of Israel was located in a “Jews-only” zone, which is understandable, given that Israel was a nation then occupied by a brutal Gentile army. Only the apostles and disciples of Jesus understood differently and even some of them would never completely reconcile themselves to Gentile admission.

Here’s the second major speed bump.

And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.

Acts 21:20-21

To the Jews in Jerusalem who were both devout disciples of Jesus the Messiah and zealous for the law, even the rumor that Paul was teaching the Jews in the diaspora, who were living among and worshiping with the Gentile God-fearing disciples, to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to [their] customs was a horrible and virtually unthinkable idea. It was completely and totally against everything the Messianic Jews in the Land understood about the life and character of a devout Jew.

Again, this rumor was completely untrue. Paul totally denied ever teaching such a thing to the Jews in the diaspora, so we can believe that Paul and the other devoted Jewish disciples of Messiah fully understood that there was no contradiction between their faith in Jesus and their lives as Torah-obedient Jews. The only thing that may have given the Jerusalem Jews the idea that Paul was teaching against the Torah to diaspora Jews is this.

Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.

Acts 21:24-25

Paul-ArrestedApparently, there was some confusion about the instructions James and the Council of Apostles issued to the believing Gentiles (see Acts 15) involving the limits of their obligation to the Torah as opposed to what Paul was and wasn’t saying to his Jewish audience. If word got back how Paul was instructing the Gentile disciples within the context of the “Jerusalem Letter,” it may have been assumed that such was Paul’s general message to everyone he encountered, including diaspora Jews (for a more complete treatment of the Council’s ruling of “Gentile halachah,” see my six-part series on Lancaster’s Acts 15 commentary, Return to Jerusalem).

I’m firmly convinced that among all the various reasons why individual Jews and Jewish communities rejected Paul’s message of Messiah, the number one “biggie” was the admission of unconverted Gentiles. Sadly, this was a problem that was never resolved and the cracks and fissures that developed between the Jewish Way and the rest of the Jewish sects eventually spawned a total split, ultimately resulting in a Gentile Christianity, and a stream of Judaisms moving forward in history that, by definition, were compelled to consider just about anyone a possible Messiah except Jesus Christ.

Rabbinic literature also reluctantly admits the reality of the miracles performed in Yeshua’s name but forbids it all the same. Some sages maligned the Master as a sorcerer, and they accused him of using a secret name of God to perform His miracles. By the second century, the sages forbade using the Master’s name for healing. They also forbade Jews from accepting the prayers of Yeshua’s disciples (b. Avodah Zarah 27b.)

-Lancaster on Acts 19:13-14, Torah Club Vol. 6, pg 623

Happily, there is a small but growing movement of Jewish people today who are rediscovering the Messiah Yeshua and who are devoted disciples of the Master within a completely Jewish worship, cultural, and lifestyle context. It is my belief that Messiah will continue to call the Jewish people who are his own back to him and back to the Gospel promise of personal salvation and national redemption of Israel.

Part 3 of this meditation will address the third question that came up as a result of my “Pastor Randy conversations” and I encourage you to return here and read the continuation of this series in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”

Four Questions, Part 1

jerusalem_templeA song of Asaph; God, God the Lord, spoke and called to the earth, from the rising of the sun until its setting. From Zion, the finery of beauty, God appeared. Our God shall come and not be silent; fire shall devour before Him, and around Him it storms furiously. He shall call to the heavens above and to the earth to avenge His people. Gather to Me My devoted ones, who made a covenant with Me over a sacrifice. And the heavens will tell His righteousness, for He is a God Who judges forever.

Hearken, My people, and I will speak, Israel, and I will admonish you; God, even your God am I. I will not reprove you concerning your sacrifices, neither are your burnt offerings before Me constantly. I will not take from your household a bull, from your pens any goats. For all the beasts of the forest are Mine, the behemoth of the thousand mountains. I know all the fowl of the mountains, and the creeping things of the field are with Me. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are Mine. Will I eat the flesh of bulls or do I drink the blood of he-goats? Slaughter for God a confession and pay the Most High your vows. And call to Me on a day of distress; I will rescue you and you will honor Me…One who slaughters a confession sacrifice honors Me, and [I will] prepare the way; I will show him the salvation of God.

Psalm 50:1-15,23 (JPS Tanakh)

This is a continuation on the topic I started discussing in Lancaster’s Galatians: Introduction, Audience, and What Happened to the Torah? and continued in Broad Strokes. These blogs were created as a reflection of my conversation with Pastor Randy in his church office on the evening of Wednesday, March 13th as we discussed the Introduction and Sermon One of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach (First Fruits of Zion, 2011).

I mentioned in Broad Strokes that it was impossible to include the entire content of Pastor Randy’s and my conversation in a single blog post, and now I find that it has been impossible to include it in only two. However, this third “meditation” (and what has developed into a series) is also an extension of topics Pastor and I have talked about during previous Wednesday night visits, and I find that the questions and comments continue to circulate through my thoughts as I read the Bible, ponder the Acts of the Apostles, and consider the past, present, and future of Jews and Judaism in the plan of the Kingdom of God, including the nature and continuation of Torah, and the future Temple and the sacrifices.

Four questions have come up (no, not those four questions, although Passover is rapidly approaching) that encapsulate what I’ve been thinking about and hopefully and prayerfully, I think I’ve come up with four satisfactory answers. Question one:

Did All Jews Reject Paul’s Message of the Gospel and Jesus Christ?

One of the issues that has come up more than once in my conversations with Pastor Randy is how quickly and thoroughly the Jewish people rejected Jesus as the Messiah during Paul’s “missionary journeys.” It is completely true that Paul received a “mixed response” from both the Jews and Gentiles he encountered, but I sometimes get the impression that Pastor believes the Jews almost universally rejected the teachings of the risen Messiah simply because they spoke of the risen Messiah (and Easter is fast approaching, too), and that almost no Jewish people anywhere actually embraced the knowledge of and teachings of Christ and became devoted disciples of the Master.

In an effort to counterbalance this opinion, I’m going to provide a series of quotes from scripture, exclusively from Acts, that indicates how many Jewish people did indeed accept the words of hope and salvation about the Messiah who came and died, who rose, and who will one day return as King. Note that this list is not comprehensive and yes, I acknowledge that I am deliberately not including an equal number of quotes regarding how many Jewish people and synagogues also rejected Paul and faith in Messiah. All quotes, unless otherwise stated, are from the ESV Bible.

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

Acts 1:14

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:36-41

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.

Acts 4:32

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

Acts 5:12-16

And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

Acts 9:41-42

As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:42-43

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.

Acts 17:11-12

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.

Acts 19:8

Apostle-Paul-PreachesAs I mentioned, this is only a partial list. You can also consider Acts 17:1-4, 18:7-8, 19:17, and 21:20. I only read up through Acts 21 in my inventory, so I imagine there are more examples of Jewish people enthusiastically accepting Paul and his message. D.Thomas Lancaster in his commentary on Acts 19:8 from Torah Club Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles for Torah Portion Vayikra (pp 619-20) says this:

He (Paul) spent three months in the synagogue, every Sabbath arguing persuasively about the kingdom. When Luke says Paul was “reasoning and persuading,” he refers to the standard rabbinic mode of teaching. The rabbis framed their discourses as arguments. Rabbinic argumentation does not imply acrimony or hostility toward opponents. It employs a legal discussion of proof-texts with back-and-forth dialogue, questions, counter-arguments, and logical deductions driving toward a conclusion. The mere fact that an Ephesian synagogue gave Paul a platform for his teaching for three months implies tht the congregation received his message and respected his opinions.

So did virtually all Jews everywhere who Paul came in contact with dismiss him and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ out of hand; the Jews rejecting their own Messiah so that Paul had no choice but to cut loose his own people from the words of salvation and give them only to the Gentiles? No. Of course not. A more complete reading of Acts reveals that Paul’s message almost always received a “mixed response” from both Jews and Gentiles, with some accepting it and some violently opposing it. I’ll address some of the reasons why Jewish populations may have experienced “the offense of the cross” in my next question, but I think we see that “the Jews” did not universally reject Moshiach and in fact, many came to accept and love the Messiah to the point of great suffering and death.

I foolishly thought I could “shoehorn” two questions into a single blog post but that would have made this missive well over 3,000 words long. To make these questions and answers more digestible, I’m creating this as yet another series. Thus Part 2 of this meditation will address the second question that came up as a result of my “Pastor Randy conversations,” and I encourage you to return here and read the continuation of this series in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”