Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

Today will be my last essay on this topic. It will consist of some final random thoughts.

Random Thought #1

I have been addressing a narrow point in these essays. As I stated in the beginning, I am addressing that aspect of Preterism that says that the Jewish Age has ended. David Heddle quoted a preterist author who referred to the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem as the "annihilation of the Jewish nation." I have presented my Biblical case for this to be wrong. I see in both the New and Old Testament a promise that the nation of Israel will again rise on the earth, that it will belong to the Jews, and that they will experience a national salvation.

Romans 9-11 contains hints that the destinies of the Jews and Gentiles are linked. For some 2000 years the Jews had the light while the Gentiles lived in darkness. Then for some 2000, the Gentiles have had the light while the Jews have lived in a partial hardening. Paul says that the salvation of the Jews, as a people, will be "life from the dead." I try not to speculate further, but then I think of the emergence of Messianic Judaism in my lifetime, and I conclude that the situation needs watching.

Random Thought #2

Some might quote these words from Paul:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

I am in Christ, but still a male. I belong to Christ, but I am a free man. I am a Gentile and not a Jew. We may be all one in Christ, but the distinctions still exist and the New Testament maintains those distinctions. For example:

  • After the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, Paul carried a letter to the Gentile churches with the news that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to be part of the community of faith. Along the way Paul hooks up with Timothy and circumcises him because his mother was Jewish.
  • Paul arrived in Jerusalem carrying the gifts for the Jerusalem saints. At the advice of James, Paul makes a temple offering, pays the expenses for 4 other Jewish men taking the same vow, and does so to show that he was not "teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. (Acts 21:21)" and that he, himself, "also walk(ed) orderly, keeping the Law. (Acts 21:24)"
  • Throughout Romans, Paul addresses Jews and Gentiles as separate entities. The gospel is for "the Jews first and also for the Greek."

My being grafted, as a wild olive branch, into a natural live tree and becoming a virtual descendent of Abraham permits me as a Gentile to participate in the blessings of Abraham's line. If in Acts 15 the issue of the day was whether Gentiles could be in the body as Gentiles, the issue for our day is whether Jews can be in the body as Jews. Until the re-emergence of Messianic Judaism in the 1970's the answer from Christendom had become, "No." We required Jews to convert, to leave synagogues, to leave their communities, and become Hebrew Christians.

Random Thought #3

The history of Christianity is full of anti-Semitic remarks and actions, none of which can be found in the New Testament.

Random Thought #4

The real divide between millennial positions is one of hermeneutics, or the rules by which Biblical truth is understood. Premillenialists rely most heavily on a grammatical-historical method and tend to read Old Testament passages at face value. Postmillennialists rely most heavily on reading the Old Testament in light of New Testament revelation freely allowing newer revelation to deepen the meaning of older revelation. Charges of "hyper-literalism" and "spiritualizing" abound. This divide is so fundamental that it makes dialog and discourse very difficult, perhaps impossible. 

However, I observe that one's view of eschatology seems to have no connection with Christian life or maturity. I see no blessings withheld. I see no lack of love. I see the Holy Spirit fully working. Perhaps this suggests that each group possesses essential truths needed by the other.

I have discovered another set of hermeneutical methods that go back for centuries. I have written about it and have passed the paper among my premillennial friends and they have received it with interest. David Heddle, a preterist postmillennialist, has read it and has endorsed its reading. I cannot say that any of these people have adopted it, but given that neither side has disparaged the idea, I believe that it has promise.

What makes this interesting is that the method comes from the Jewish rabbis. What legitimizes it is that one can see where the New Testament authors used these rabbinic methods in their use of the Old Testament Scripture.

So I invite you to explore this further by clicking and reading "Hints, Allegories, and Mysteries--the New Testament Quotes the Old"

Perhaps there is a more unifying scenario that can emerge.

Random Thought #5

There are many Messianic Jewish synagogues that are delighted to have Gentile believers visit. I would encourage you to visit a few services. My family and I attended Beth Hallel in Roswell, Ga for over 5 years. It was a valuable experience. Although we left there nearly 10 years ago, I still teach a morning Bible study to a group of men from there. Knowing Judaism has, I believe, enhanced my understanding of the New Testament.

If you want to look at Messianic Judaism from more of a distance, I would recommend reading "The Messianic Jewish Manifesto" by Dr. David Stern.

Random Thought #6

I said at the beginning and I will close now by saying that I have the greatest respect for David Heddle and his blog. Although we differ on several points, we also agree on most. I read him daily and actually enjoy those times when he makes me uncomfortable and causes some shaking on issues I thought long settled. That is a good thing. It is a far better thing to read of preterism and postmillennialism from someone who holds them, than to read a critique form one's own camp.

I am glad for sites that teach. It is my prayer that many more grow up and that they become well known.

Closing Thought

For those of you who are still studying and learning about the issues of the end-times and the place of the Jews, I hope that this study has given you some insight and convinced you that there is still a national blessing for the physical descendants of Abraham and that there is still a special place in the Lord's heart for the dispersed sons of Israel. If you have made up your mind on this issue, I hope that I have shaken your foundations just a little and given you some reason to revisit the issues.

Happy New Year! May God bless all of you in 2004. I will pick up blogging again next Monday.

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

Preterism has encouraged anti-Semites. I do not say that it is a necessary outcome. I do not say that it demands it. I certainly do not say that anyone holding a preterist position will be anti-Semitic. I am only saying that historically there is a connection. If I were a Christian and anti-Semitic, I would find the theological justification in preterism. After all, if the Jewish Age is over, what sense is there for there still to be Jews?

What is the significance of Spain and the year 1492? Most of us would answer, "That is the year that Columbus sailed from Spain and discovered the New World." That answer is correct. It was also the year that Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain. The acquisition of abandoned Jewish property may have helped finance the Columbus' voyage. 

The year 1492 was a terrible time for the Jews in Spain. But England expelled the Jews in 1290, Portugal in 1497, France in 1306, Germany in 1348, Austria in 1421, Hungary in 1355. Germany's later holocaust speaks for itself.

During such times, many Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or be killed. They lost life and property in the name of Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther wrote a treatise called "The Jews and Their Lies." There is much material in there about the destruction of Jerusalem as wrath poured out upon the race of Jews. It also contains these words in chapter 15:

What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:

First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly and I myself was unaware of it will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.

In Deuteronomy 13:12 Moses writes that any city that is given to idolatry shall be totally destroyed by fire, and nothing of it shall be preserved. If he were alive today, he would be the first to set fire to the synagogues and houses of the Jews. For in Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32 he commanded very explicitly that nothing is to be added to or subtracted from his law. And Samuel says in I Samuel 15:23 that disobedience to God is idolatry. Now the Jews' doctrine at present is nothing but the additions of the rabbis and the idolatry of disobedience, so that Moses has become entirely unknown among them (as we said before), just as the Bible became unknown under the papacy in our day. So also, for Moses' sake, their schools cannot be tolerated; they defame him just as much as they do us. It is not necessary that they have their own free churches for such idolatry.

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them the fact that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. For they have justly forfeited the right to such an office by holding the poor Jews captive with the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 17:10) in which he commands them to obey their teachers on penalty of death, although Moses clearly adds: "what they teach you in accord with the law of the Lord." Those villains ignore that. They wantonly employ the poor people's obedience contrary to the law of the Lord and infuse them with this poison, cursing, and blasphemy. In the same way the pope also held us captive with the declaration in Matthew 16:18, "You are Peter," etc., inducing us to believe all the lies and deceptions that issued from his devilish mind. He did not teach in accord with the word of God, and therefore he forfeited the right to teach.

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let them stay at home. I have heard it said that a rich Jew is now traveling across the country with twelve horses his ambition is to become a Kokhba devouring princes, lords, lands, and people with his usury, so that the great lords view it with jealous eyes. If you great lords and princes will not forbid such usurers the highway legally, some day a troop may gather against them, having learned from this booklet the true nature of the Jews and how one should deal with them and not protect their activities. For you, too, must not and cannot protect them unless you wish to become participants in an their abominations in the sight of God. Consider carefully what good could come from this, and prevent it.

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us an they possess. Such money should now be used in no other way than the following: Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest. With this he could set himself up in some occupation for the support of his poor wife and children, and the maintenance of the old or feeble. For such evil gains are cursed if they are not put to use with God's blessing in a good and worthy cause 

How different these words of Martin Luther are from the words of Paul in Romans 9-11. Connect the dots between Luther and Hitler. My question is, whose tone and whose attitude should we adopt? Luther's? Paul's? Paul was willing to suffer eternal separation from God for His people and countrymen, Martin Luther wanted to abolish them from the earth. Even though Luther declared that Moses "would be the first to set fire to the synagogues and houses of the Jews," Moses actually interceded for the Lord to show mercy:

The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation." 

Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" 

So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Exodus 32:9-14)

Martin Luther was a great man. His call to the Church to return to essential doctrines was a crucial and valuable moment in Christian history. But because he could not see that the Scriptures still look forward to a day of national salvation for the Jews, he sowed the seeds for the German holocaust where 6,000,000 Jews suffered and died.

David Heddle in an installment of his study, Lesson 7: Bringing in the Kingdom: Postmillennialism from a partial-preterist perspective, writes:

Concerning why this had to happen (apart from the fact that it is the fulfillment of prophecy), there are different views, some not so politically correct (which doesn’t make them wrong):

the annihilation of the Jewish nationality therefore removed the most formidable antagonist of the gospel and brought rest and relief to suffering Christians.

And yet the Church, itself, has become its own "formidable antagonist of the gospel" to the Jews through its persecutions of them. With the annihilation of the "Jewish nationality" taken care of by God, we have followed up with words and deeds to annihilate the Jews: never asking why God still preserved them; never asking why there were prophecies of there dispersion and return.

I have many believing Jewish friends. One of the things that they had to push through in their coming to faith in Messiah was being called "Christ Killers" as children. Paul commanded us Gentiles not to be arrogant concerning our position in the Olive Tree. We have been far more than arrogant. We have not sought, as Paul did, to make the gospel for the Jews first. We have not sought ways to make them jealous.

Wednesday: Final Random Thoughts.

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

Monday, December 29, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

Here are a few verses to provoke some more thought about the issue of Jews, Salvation and Israel:

And the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, "Have you not observed what this people have spoken, saying, 'The two families which the Lord chose, He has rejected them'? Thus they despise My people, no longer are they as a nation in their sight. 

"Thus says the Lord, 'If My covenant for day and night stand not, and the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

"But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.'" (Jeremiah 33:23-26)

And these:

Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is His name: "If this fixed order departs From before Me," declares the Lord, "Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever." 

Thus says the Lord, "If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done," declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:35-37)

This is another essay in a series exploring the relationship of Jews, Gentiles, and the Gospel. To start at the beginning click here.

Spiritual Israel

As I understand it, the preterist makes a distinction between physical Israel and spiritual Israel. The physical Israel consists of the physical descendants of Abraham and those who have joined the line through marriage. It is comprised of all Jews. Spiritual Israel consists of all believers whether they are Jew or Gentile. Belonging to the first is a matter of biology. Belonging to the second is a matter of faith. Salvation has always been by faith, as demonstrated by Genesis 15:6, "Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." The end of the Jewish Age has come about because:

  1. The Jews rejected the Messiah and came under the wrath of God.
  2. God no longer needed the nation as a carrier and holder of the covenant writings.

I deduce from this that God, according to the preterist, has always had His face on the forming of the Church. The nation of Israel is of minimal importance. There was no actual program or covenant with the Nation of Israel, only those within the nation who believed and who really belonged to the Church.

In terms of salvation, what the preterist say is correct. Salvation has always required faith and its outworking. A Jew without faith derives no benefit from physical descent and the Gentile with faith suffers no harm from not being of Abraham's line.

The question is whether or not God has a program or future for the Nation of Israel, held in escrow by the Jews scattered among the nations. As the Lord told Jeremiah, "If this fixed order departs from before Me, then the offspring of Israel will also cease from being a nation before Me forever." Here, tied to the regular cycle of day and night, is a promise to the "offspring of Israel (Jacob)" that they will be a Nation before the Lord. How does such verses read to one not familiar with preterism? Can one, without systematic theological lenses of certain prescription, read Church here?

What about the uncanny accuracy of these words from the Lord in Deuteronomy?

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. (Deuteronomy 30:1-6)

When the virgin Mary praises God for the child she carries, she concludes:

He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever. (Luke 1:54-55)

Read again through the verses I have brought together today. They are just a sampling. Note the time references. They all point to a persistent covenant between God and the physical descendants of Abraham. It is a covenant that expected unbelief and the need for discipline.

How can we declare the end of the Jewish Age when the Jews, in uncanny accord with Moses' words above, have been scattered across the globe and have maintained their Jewish life and culture and look forward to the day when they will occupy the promised land again?

Tuesday: Preterism and Anti-Semitism

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