Clifford Denton, Tony Pearce, Christopher Barder, & Moshe Elijah
“Brethren, my hearts desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:1-2)
In this edition of Tishrei, we have encouraged our readers to consider the heritage of rabbinic Judaism, particularly in forming the background to our understanding of Scripture. We must not lose sight of the fact, however, that present day Israel is still under the hand of God, and that there are matters of far more significance than a study of rabbinics. There is a plan of salvation reaching a climax before the eyes of the world. God’s covenants with Israel are on centre stage, emphasising the fact that even the best of rabbinics are, indeed, in the background. There are many differences of opinion as we try to hold all these issues in balance. We seem to go from one mine-field to another as we consider different aspects of the role and history of Israel. However, we cannot sidestep responsibility, so we offer the following three articles as part of the necessary contemplation on the issue of what God and man are about in the Eretz Israel today.
Prophecy, Israel and Evangelism
It does not take much insight to recognise that the way people think affects the way they act: this is very clear in the Church’s response to the Jewish people. If Christians are taught that the Jews killed Jesus and are under a curse because of the crucifixion, it is not surprising that they are at best indifferent to the welfare of the Jewish people and at worst are the instigators of the crusades, inquisitions and pogroms of which the Jews are the prime victims. The terrible history of the Church’s persecutions of the Jewish people is a constant reminder of the need to return to the Jewish roots of our faith and to explain in our teaching the guilt of all mankind for the death of Jesus (Acts 4;27;28) and the benefits of salvation available to all in His resurrection.
Our involvement in recent controversies over ‘Kingdom Now’ and ‘Replacement Theology’ has also shown clearly the link between what people believe and how they respond to the Jewish people. If the Church is Israel, the ingathermg of the exiles from the north, south, east and west means Gentiles coming into the Church, not the dispersed Jewish people returning to the land of Israel. Therefore, political Israel has no spiritual significance and Christian claims that it has are in error and are seen as a barrier to the evangelisation of the Muslim world. Furthermore, if the promises of Israel’s restoration apply to God’s dealings with the Church in the last days, then such passages as Isaiah 2:1-4 speak of a great revived and restored Church and the Church reigns now over the nations.
If, however, we believe that Israel remains Israel, as I do, then the promises of Messiah’s reign on the earth contained in such passages as Isaiah 2,11; Zechariah 14; and Revelation 20 must be tied up in some way with Israel, and, therefore, the return of the Jewish people to the land is a significant step in the direction of the climax of history.
However, we need to see all this in perspective. Sometimes I feel that Christians who see the significance of Israel alienate those who do not unnecessarily with unbalanced and theologically inaccurate statements about Israel and the Jewish people.
The most important point to affirm is that we are all, both Jews and Gentiles, living in the dispensation in which God relates to us on the basis of the Gospel. The ‘two covenants’ theology, invented by Liberal Judaism at the end of the last century, denies this and is the guiding principle behind the Council of Christians and Jews in which Jews and Christians meet for interfaith dialogue. According to this theology the Jewish people relate to God on the basis of the Torah and the Christians on the basis of the Gospel. The two are like parallel lines of a railway track, going to the same destination, but separately from each other.
Even the most superficial examination of the teaching of the Apostles in the Acts and the Epistles counters this theory and reveals that these Jewish disciples of the Lord Jesus had no doubt whatsoever that theirs was a Jewish message for Jewish people. In fact it took a revelation from the Lord to persuade them to take it to the Gentiles. For them there was only one covenant through which we can know the Lord and have our sins forgiven, the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah, made with the house of Israel, sealed with the blood of Jesus, which the Gentiles are grafted into by faith (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8; Romans 11).
The book of Hebrews makes it clear that this is a better covenant than the former one which it also supersedes (Hebrews 6:10). It is true that Israel remains a nation before the Lord after the giving of the new covenant and as long as the earth remains (Jeremiah 31:35-37). However, since Calvary, salvation from sin and knowledge of God is mediated only through the Messiah Jesus to Jew and Gentile alike.
If we understand the implications of this then we will recognise that God’s purposes include not only the preservation of the Jewish people and their return to Israel in the latter days, but also their spiritual return to their own olive tree in relationship with the living God mediated through the Messiah Jesus. Returning to my original thought about the relationship between what we believe and what we do, this means that we should be involved in both the physical restoration of Israel and the evangelisation of the Jewish people worldwide.
What concerns me is that a number of pro-Israel Christians who are Bible believing and in other respects evangelical in theology, in effect adopt a variation of the two covenants theory when it comes to Israel and the Jewish people. They support financially and prayerfully works which are concerned to build up Zion by bringing Jewish people back to Israel or buying Israel bonds, but are indifferent or even opposed to those who are trying to bring the message of the Gospel to the Jewish people.
For example, there has been a great emphasis on the second Exodus and appeals for Christians to support efforts to take Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel. I am obviously not against this, but I do question whether we should enter into agreements with Rabbinic authorities that we will make no effort to share the Gospel with people we are seeking to help. From my experience of meeting Russian Jews, there are no people more open to hear about Jesus as the Jewish Messiah than they are.
The founders of the mission I represent, The Messianic Testimony, believed from scripture that there would be a restoration of Israel at a time when there was no human reason to believe in any such possibility. David Baron, perhaps one of the greatest Hebrew Christian Bible teachers since Apostolic times, attended the first Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897 and met with Theodore Herzl. In fact, when one of the speakers at the congress denounced Baron from the platform and said that as a Hebrew Christian he should not be allowed to attend, Herzl made a point of going over to sit next to him to show solidarity. I have no doubt that Baron used this as an opportunity to give Herzl a word of Testimony!
However, although Baron supported and recognised the prophetic significance of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century and believed that it would succeed in bringing to birth a Jewish homeland in Palestine, he also taught that it would fail ultimately as long as it was built upon the foundation of either secular Zionism or Rabbinic Judaism. A restoration in unbelief, according to his teaching, would lead to the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30) not to the Messianic reign of Isaiah 2:1-4. The latter would come only after the physical return of the Messiah Jesus. Therefore, the priority now should be the evangelisation of the Jewish people whether in diaspora or in Israel.
If we take this line it seems to me that we have a much more credible position in explaining our stand with those who deny the significance of Israel’s restoration on the grounds of Israel’s shortcomings and the problem of war, instability and refugees that have come about since the establishment of the Jewish state. We can say, “Yes we believe Israel is restored in fulfilment of prophecy and we defend her right to exist, but we also recognise that Israel is under judgment as are the other nations and in need of repentance and faith in Jesus the Messiah”. We are not making unrealistic claims or whitewashing Israel, but nor would we give place to those who seek the elimination of the Jewish State. With this as the basis of our belief, we contest those who support the PLO and Islamic sponsored programmes for the division of the land, knowing that their ultimate aim is the destruction of Israel. We also contest the Israeli Supreme Court when it denies Messianic Jews the rights of Israeli citizenship.
It is very important that we do not compromise on the Gospel in order to gain favour with the Israeli and Rabbinic authorities. Some on the ‘Christian Zionists’ wing have said that we should simply ‘comfort Zion’ in the present time by engaging in pro-Zionist activities and countering antisemitism. They say that we should not disturb the good relations with the Israeli authorities that these activities create by speaking openly of our faith that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and the one way to God. However, if we read the most favoured text to support this view we find that it reads: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2)
Can we say today that Israel’s warfare is accomplished and her iniquity pardoned? Sadly we can say neither. The prophetic scriptures all bear witness to the fact that the return of the Jews to Israel in the last days will be a time of trouble which would result in total destruction without divine intervention. Even with the Lord’s intervention to save the remnant of Israel at the end of the tribulation period, Zechariah 13 gives us a sobering prophecy that two thirds will be cut off and die in the final siege and temporary fall of Jerusalem. This passage also speaks of the Lord cutting off the names of the idols, the false prophets and the unclean spirit of the land.
Whether it is the high abortion rate, the occultism or the belief that an elderly Rabbi from New York is the Messiah, it is clear that there are many idols and unclean influences which need to be cut off in Israel and world Jewry today. The prophetic message of Jesus as Messiah points to one who is coming again in judgment on this wicked world to bring wars and injustice to an end. This is the message we need to be sounding out to Jew and Gentile alike as we see the storm clouds of the coming tribulation period on the horizon.
An Investigation into who is a Jew
It is a brave, or ill-informed and foolhardy, man indeed who dares to stray into this area. Yet it is so fundamental for the identity of the Jewish person who believes in Jesus as the Messiah of the Scriptures, that it should not, nay must not, be avoided.
It is an issue also which raises the fundamental question of extra-Biblical authority. The Israeli Law of Return has been interpreted in certain ways in a number of more or less celebrated cases, not only ignoring the way in which Herzl in the famous first Zionist Congress at Basle (1897) moved next to David Baron when he was under censure for his beliefs, but also flying in the face of the history of attitudes to those who supported Sabtai Zvi, and those who followed Bar Kochba after Rabbi Akiva had proclaimed him Messiah: followers of neither of these were stigmatised as not Jewish.
It has been generally perceived that the Jewishness of a person is a result of having a Jewish mother. This may be justified on social grounds, to protect the offspring of Jewish girls abused by Gentiles, whose viciousness of the past, under a ‘Christian’ banner all too often, had to be reckoned with. But it has also been justified Scripturally in terms of the Jewish line running through Sarah, rather than through Abraham who was the father of Ishmael as well as Isaac, the former not being Jewish by virtue of his mother, Hagar. At first glance, this appears an attractive theory. In fact it is not what the Scriptures say at all.
It is in these days, as in all days, crucially important to be free to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit for oneself when seeking the meaning of Biblical passages, and when studying other opinions. No received opinions can safely be accepted uncritically; not rabbinic, not papal, not episcopal, not denominational, for all are human, fallible. Rather we know that the Bible speaks with consistency. It interprets itself.
Thus the Bible is the only authority, and not anyone’s specific interpretation of it, necessarily.
A study of Biblical genealogy shows that it focuses on the male line. God’s promises of future nationhood were to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were all men. Nor were their descendents when directly disobedient to the Lord God thereby rendered no longer descendents, even when they went after other Gods, albeit that sometimes only a small remnant were properly loyal to Him.
It has sometimes been claimed that David’s great grandmother Ruth the Moabitess was a ‘convert’, but what she did was to accept the God of Naomi – exactly what Gentile believers, through Jesus, have done in accepting His Father; yet few would go so far as to say they were exactly Jewish. King David’s great great grandmother Rahab was a Gentile. So it seems that Jewishness cannot be simply a matter of female descent.
This is shown further since Moses’s son Gershom by Zipporah had a Gentile mother. Menasseh and Ephraim also had a non-Jewish mother (Poti-phera’s daughter, Asenath, Genesis 41:50-52). The Bible does not show a change in these women’s spiritual allegiance. But all would accept that the twelve brothers were ‘Jewish’. Yet we know that Jacob’s brother Esau is not so reckoned (Romans 9:6-8). The issue becomes one not of flesh but of Divine promise and of election, and response to that election personally.
So, ultimately Israel the nation has been chosen by God for His purposes on the Earth to be fulfilled, but individual responses to the call and promises of God are still required of each individual. (For Israel’s nationhood see, for example, Exodus 4:22 and 19:5-6; Isaiah 43:21; Ezekiel 37:27-28). The dichotomy between the plurality and the individual is fundamental (see 1 Kings 19:10; Isaiah 10:22).
A true Jew, Biblically, is not just part of a national group, like other people, but should individually be a son of God’s promise and election, not just after the flesh. Only by individual choice can a person be in personal relationship with the living God and only then because the Father calls him. Neither external custom nor tradition will produce this nor ever did, but rather the circumcised heart, such as must have turned the once Gentile Abram into the God believing Abraham to whom righteousness was accounted. God looks on the heart, not on the externals, on that part where the laws of God are to be written, and which must be guarded.
Paul put the matter in a way which has perplexed some (Romans 2:28) that he is a Jew who is one inwardly. Romans 9:6-8 in pointing out that the true descendents of Abraham are the children of promise, not simply those after the flesh, is making the same kind of point. In fact the very word ‘Jew’ gives a clue in its derivation from Judah, praise and, of course, this must be sincere praise from the heart set apart for God (circumcised) not rendered unable to approach Him through sin, but cleansed (with clean hands and a pure heart) and redeemed. Those who would have close fellowship with the Father must come to Him by the Messiah (John 14:6), and there is indeed no other way. So those who know the power of that cleansing blood are the remnant who personally, not simply by virtue of birth, can bring forth that praise in spirit and in truth. which most truly describes, from God’s point of view, who is a Jew. This seems best to fit the Biblical description. And one day all Israel shall be saved and will know the Lord; then will it be Jewish in spirit and truth; most wonderfully bringing praise to God (Romans 11:26 and Zechariah 12:10 and 13:1, for examples). ‘In those days it shall come to pass that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew saying “we will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you”‘
“… and ye need not that any man teach you..” (1 John 2:27y. Only the Holy Spirit can lead us into all truth, including about who is a Jew. If the above has prompted people to look afresh to the word of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, without preconditioning of men, it will have had some success.
I would like to acknowledge my debt to Arnold Fruchtenbaum, “Hebrew Christianity, Its Theology, History and Philosophy”, and S. Ostrosky, “What is a Jew?” in “A Way in the Wilderness”, edited by H.G. Einspruch, on which I have leant heavily.
Is There Salvation in Today’s Rabbinic Judaism?
In simple terms salvation is righteousness, peace with God, with eternal life and Heavenbound (future living in Heaven). The person “saved” (has salvation) has all his sins atoned, and is reconciled with God in Peace. He is in right standing with God, with all sins forgiven.
Original Sin of Adam and Eve
All of mankind came from Adam and Eve, who were created about 6,000 years ago by the Almighty God Yahweh (his personal name). He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of Israel. He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega – the only true God. Beside Him there is no other God – Isaiah 43:10-13; Isaiah 45:5-7, 12,18,21-22.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and thus fell from Grace. The Lord God expelled them from the Garden of Eden. Their sin of disobedience caused spiritual death – they were spiritually cut off from God, due to the Law of Sin and (spiritual) Death. The wages of sin is death – Romans 6:23; Romans 8:2. The descendents of Adam and Eve, the whole human race, were born in spiritual death, spiritually cut off from the life of God, disconnected from the Holy Spirit (Ruackh Ha Kodesh – in Hebrew).
New Testament Scripture
Romans 5:12-19: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and (spiritual) death through sin (i.e. due to the Law of Sin and Death), and in this way (spiritual) death (i.e. spiritually disconnected from the life of God) came to all men, because all sinned – for before the Law (of Moses) was given, sin was in the world. ……Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam…. For if the many died (spiritually) by the trespass of the one man (Adam) … The judgement followed one sin (of Adam) and brought condemnation (spiritual death to the whole human race)…. For if, by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man… Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men… For as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners…..”
Old Testament Scripture on Original Sin
A relevant scripture on original sin from the Old Testament, is the declaration of king David of Israel, in Psalm 51:5:- “Surely I (King David) have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
Atonement for all Sins
God provided atonement for our original sin and all sins through the atoning blood sacrifice of the Holy divine Son of God, the Holy Messiah of Israel, the Saviour of the world – the Lord Jesus Christ, Adonai Yeshua Ha Mashiach.
Covering of Sins Before Christ Came
Before Christ came into the world about 2000 years ago, God had allowed animal sacrifices through the Old Covenant of Law of Moses, for the covering of sins. However, these animal sacrifices all pointed to the only true, holy, and acceptable sacrifice – the blood sacrifice of the Holy Messiah. Thus the animal sacrifices were a shadow (like a deposit or down payment) of the forthcoming true and acceptable sacrifice of Christ, the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – John 1:29.
The Bible states in both the Old and New Testaments, that without the shedding of blood there is no atonement for sins – Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22. The Jewish Talmud also states this in the book of Yoma, chapter 5a. As stated previously, before Christ came, God allowed the sacrifices of animals for the covering of sins, which would then be atoned by the sacrifice of Christ. The animal sacrifices under the Covenant of Law of Moses could only be done within the Temple compound.
New Covenant Through the Blood of Christ
When Christ came, He ushered in the New Covenant which had been predicted by many of the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament, including Jeremiah in the book of Jeremiah 31:31-34. Christ declared this New Covenant in Matthew 26:27-28:-
“Then He (Christ) took the cup, gave thanks, and offered it to them (the twelve Apostles), saying ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’”
Soon after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (in 70 AD), thus stopping all animal sacrifices. There was to be no further need for animal sacrifices and salvation was only on account of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This is indicated by the following scriptures:-
Romans 10:4: “Christ is the end of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes (in Christ).”
Hebrew 8:7-9: “For if there had been nothing wrong with the First Covenant, no place would have been sought for another, but God found fault and said to the people: ‘The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” (this scripture is from Jeremiah 31:31-34 in the Old Testament) “By calling this Covenant ‘new’, He (God) had made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”
Thus we see there is no more righteousness/salvation to be attained through the sacrifices of the Old Covenant of Law of Moses, since Christ ushered in the New Covenant of Grace with His atoning sacrificial death on the execution stake (cross) in Jerusalem, shedding His holy blood for the remission of sins.
Now Christ is the only door to Salvation. There is now only one door to salvation, only one way to peace with God, only one Saviour from hell. It is through Christ only, as is indicated in the following scriptures:
John 14:6: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No – one comes to the Father except through Me.’”
Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Except the name of Jesus Christ, the Almighty Divine Son of God).
1 John 5:11-13: “And this is the testimony: God had given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God, does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name.”
There is now only one way to be saved – one Gospel of Salvation – by the Grace of God through faith in Christ (which includes repentance) for both Jew and Gentile.
Anybody who relies on observing the Laws of Moses or any form of Rabbinic Judaism, for the sake of salvation, is deluding himself, and remains under the curse of the law, according to Galatians 3:10-12: “All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse, for it is written (in the Old Testament – Deuteronomy 27:26):
‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no-one is justified before God by the Law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ The Law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’”
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value for salvation (Galatians 5:2-6, 11-12; Galatians 6:12-14). Anybody who believes in Christ, is reconciled to God. Christ died for us on the Cross, paying the penalty of the Law for us, so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes in Christ as their Lord and Saviour – Romans 10:4-6, 8-13. In Christ, we can be counted as fulfilling the Law with the righteousness of Christ – 1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 4:22-25, Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:1-4.
When Christ was crucified on the Cross, to die for the sins of the world, the curtain to the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn from top to bottom, so that anybody who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha Mashiach) would have access to the throne room of God – Matthew 27:50-51; Ephesians 2:18; 3:12.
Everyone has failed to obey all of the laws of God. This is why it was necessary for God to send His Son into the world to pay for our death penalty. “When you were (spiritually) dead in your sins and in the uncirumcision of your sinful natures, God made you (those who have faith in Jesus Christ) alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with it~ regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the Cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)
The essence of the Moral Laws are in the Love Commandments – to Love God, Love your neighbour, Love your enemies, as stated in Matthew 22:37; Matthew 5:44-45; John 15:12; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-14, 16-25; 1 John 4:20-21.
Heresy of Replacement Theology
The fact that works according to the Law of Moses do not lead to salvation does not mean, or result in, the promises of God to Israel being transferred to the Church. This is the heresy of Replacement Theology. God has not rejected Israel and will restore Israel finally. God has made promises to Israel which will be fulfilled, pointing particularly to the great spiritual harvest prophesied by Paul in Romans 11. Yeshua Hamashiach is both head of the Church and King of the Jews. There are many Jewish believers today as spiritual eyes are opening across the whole world. God will restore Israel because of unconditional, eternal Covenants. God has committed Himself to the Jewish nation of Israel by several strong, unconditional and everlasting covenants and promises. These covenants and promises include those made through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses (the Second, “Heart”, Covenant), King David, King Solomon, and prophets such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Amos. God is a covenant – keeping God. The Apostle Paul stated that the fall of Israel was temporary, to bring salvation to the world, to reconcile the world to God, but Israel’s future acceptance by God (which is happening now, with a revival in Messianic Judaism) will be like life from the dead – Romans 11.
The regathering and restoration of Israel today was predicted many times in the Bible – Isaiah 11:11-12; Ezekiel 36; 37; Isaiah 6:14; 43:5-6; Jeremiah 23:7-8; 16:14-15; 3:18; 3:7-9; Ezekiel 39:25-29; Deuteronomy 30:1-6; Luke 1:31-33, 68-75; 2:30-32; Romans 11:25-27; Acts 15:13-18 (which refers to Amos 9:13-15); Ephesians 2:12-13, 19; Romans 11:11-12.
In regard to God’s plan for salvation, therefore, there are still great plans and promises to be fulfilled for the people of Israel. This plan of salvation is far higher and more wonderful than any other consideration. Whatever merits rabbinic Judaism may have in providing a background to scripture and deepening our understanding on certain important issues, it has no means of salvation of itself. Only if fulfillment of Biblical prophecies are seen to be’ in Yeshua Hamashiach and if the law is seen to be a shadow of what is fulfilled in Him will there be any ultimate merit in its study. This truth must not be missed within the overall theme of rabbinic Judaism.
PRAISE THE LORD YESHUA HA MASHIACH!
(Reprinted from Tishrei Vol 2, No 2, Winter 1993/1994, Rabbinic Judaism as a Background to Scripture)