Monday, December 15, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

The main motivation of this series is to demonstrate that God's plan for the Jews is alive and well. The blessings of Abraham have not shifted exclusively to the Church, as judgment for rejecting their Messiah. To be sure some Jews rejected Jesus, but it was the Gentiles who miscarried justice and killed Him. Some, but not all, Jews rejected Jesus. Some, but not all Gentiles have accepted Him. If first century Jewish leadership resisted the Gospel, did the Roman citizens do any better?

This is essay #4 in this series. To start at the beginning click here.

Preterism has a few variations. But a common thread seems to be that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD was the "coming of the Lord" in wrath against the Jews because they had called for the blood of Jesus to be on their heads and the heads of their children. This doctrine has been a justification for anti-Semitic activities within Christendom, including the holocaust, which Hitler carried out in the name of Christianity.

This despite the fact that at the end of this section, Romans 9-11, Paul writes:

From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28-29)

The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. This is good news for the Jews, and it is good news for us. At the end of Romans 11, Paul connects the election doctrine in Romans 9 and proclaims that God's choice of the Jews flows from His promises and choice of their forefathers. As we will see, God has a plan for the salvation of the Jews. Our unconditional salvation is as assured as the promises that God made to His people. Besides His blood is on all of us. We sinned--He died. Only those who saw the wonders and His power and heard his teaching, but ascribed it to the devil had committed the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:28-30).

But let me get back on track and continue my analysis of Paul's words. Here is the opening of Romans 10:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4)

There is not a hint here from Paul, that the Jewish problem is one of rejecting their Messiah. It is rather that they will not recognize the role of faith in achieving the righteousness that comes from God. They have sought to establish their own righteousness based on obedience to Law. Here was the Jewish approach:

  • They divided the Law into two parts. The first part was the written Law of Moses, which we have in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The second part was the Oral Law, which consisted of stories and arguments that explained and further qualified the written Law. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews gradually committed the Oral Law to writing. This is called the Talmud.
  • One of the purposes of the Oral Law was to define a stricter standard to provide a protective hedge around the inner Law. Thus there arose, for example, the notion of a Sabbath's day journey. You could walk so far without violating the injunction against working on the Sabbath. Take one more step and you are in violation.
  • By focusing so much on the legal aspects of the Law, the Jews missed that aspect of righteousness having to do with love and mercy. So you had a synagogue leader who asked his congregation to come for healing after the Sabbath: not recognizing that the Sabbath and healing should be joined.

There is an important ambiguity in Paul's phrase, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." The Greek word, translated "end" is telos. This is the Greek word from which we get the word Teleology, which is the process by which we discern God in the universe by its order. The sentence could also be translated, "Christ is the goal of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Here Paul would be speaking not of the termination of the Law, but the end goal of sanctification as faith operates on the believer. Neither Jesus nor Paul called for the end of the written Law:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20)

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

Paul, in his letters, sometimes appealed to the Law. In the example, below, Paul appeals to the Law of Moses as the foundation for those who make a living from the Gospel.

I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? (1 Corinthians 9:8-11)

The problem comes when a Jew or Gentile defines their righteousness in legal terms: obedience = righteousness. The problem is that it does not go far enough. Especially when measured against the telos or goal of becoming like Jesus: the end of the race.

  • When is a thief not a thief? It is not when he is not stealing. That is a thief out of work. As Ephesians 4:28 says, "He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need." When a persons now labors to give to others, he is no longer a thief.
  • When is an adulterer not an adulterer? Not when is at home with his wife, because his thoughts are often with the next encounter. When a man drops his mistress and devotes himself to loving his wife as Christ loved the church, then he is no longer the adulterer.

And so Paul will continue defining the salvation that many Jews have failed to see. We will follow along. I believe that Paul takes the time that he does here, because he knows that some Jews will read this section and see the sense of it. His desire is for the salvation of his people.

Tuesday: Neither in Sky nor Sea

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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