Before I go any further, a caveat needs to be clarified. As this is a very sensitive subject, please try to understand what I am saying, and not that which I am not saying.
First of all, I want to be absolutely clear that I am in no way “anti-Semitic” (or anti-Jew) any more than I am anti-Arab, or anti-German, or anti-French, or anti-American, or anti-any-other-race. I do not esteem one race of people any higher or lower than any other race. God created all people and loves all people equally. Ultimately, we all come from the same forefathers and, as such, we are all related somewhere back down the line. While it may not always be easy to do, my quest in life is to strive to love (or learn to love) all people equally as God also loves all people equally.
The Problem with Messianic Jews
Many Christians today have supported the concept of Messianic Jews. They see no problem with mixing religious aspects of Judaism with Christianity. The way I see it, the only significant difference between the Messianic Jew and the Orthodox Jew is that Jesus is brought into the mix of the Jewish religious rituals.
I’m reminded of friends who have served as missionaries in Haiti and who reported that there is a strange mix in parts of Haiti between Roman Catholic Christianity and Voodoo. Other cults like Mormonism and some Native groups do essentially the same thing. This is no worse than blending Jewish religious rituals with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The purity of the Gospel message is taken away and a host of other stuff is added to it.
There is a strong warning in Revelation 22: 18-19 about just those sorts of practices. There we read, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” We can debate all we want whether or not this refers only to the book of Revelation itself, or to the whole of the New Testament. However, such a debate is far beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice it to say, staying well off the fence and away from testing God by pushing the letter of the law (so to speak), is probably wisest.
Paul had the same concern with the church in Galatia. They too, like the Messianic Jews, started mixing Jewish religious rituals with their new faith in Christ. Here’s what Paul had to say to them: “How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Galatians 4: 9-11). Is that what is happening in Messianic Jewish congregations? Are they observing all kinds of special days and rituals characteristic of Judaism? These are not cultural events, but religious events, and I struggle offering them a place in Christianity. Colossians 2:8 cautions us to, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather on Christ.” Then in Colossians 2:20 Paul says further, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules…?”
If Judaism is full of rules and laws and man-made traditions, my question would be, why would any believer want to incorporate these things into their (grace) walk with Christ? True Christianity is about walking in love and relationship with other believers (the Body of Christ), and in so doing, we walk in love and relationship with our Heavenly Father. Is that not enough? Do we still need to complicate things and confuse people by adding a bunch of other stuff to the Gospel? In adding all that other stuff, is it even still rightly called “The Gospel?” How does all this fit with Paul’s suggestion in Galatians 1: 6-10 that those who pervert the Gospel of Christ be “eternally condemned?" I wonder.
There is in Christian theology this word called “dispensationalism.” While theologians may understand what it means, most people probably do not. According to the “Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology," dispensationalism is defined as, “A system of biblical interpretation and of theology which divides God’s working into different periods which He administers on different bases. It involves a literal interpretation of Scripture, a distinction between Israel and the church, and a premillennial, pretribulational eschatology.”
According to this dispensationalist way of thinking, God has viewed the nation Israel and the church in two different ways. As such, he will deal with the Jews and with the church in two different ways. In this camp, Romans 11:26 is often cited which says, “And so all Israel will be saved.” I will come back to that verse a little later.
The non-dispensationalist is usually more closely identified with having a “Reformed” theology. In this line of thinking, the physical and literal Israel is essentially swallowed up and displaced by the church. The church is often viewed as a “spiritual Israel” and Christians are viewed as being “spiritual Jews.” Those who follow this view will say that there is nothing left for God to fulfill regarding the physical and literal Israel and there is no special place left for them in God’s future plans.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2: 28-29)
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3: 28-29)
The Literal vs. Spiritual Church
Do we believe in a literal and physical church? Do we believe that the church is made of concrete and steel? If so, then we will likely also believe that the Lord Jesus will return to a literal and physical Jerusalem in the modern nation of Israel. If we believe that, then it is logical that we will also believe that God still has a special place for the literal and physical nation of Israel. Perhaps we might even dare go so far as to say that Jesus’ words in John 14:6 about Him being the “only way” applies only to our non-Jewish friends and that our Jewish friends will still have another option open to them for salvation by virtue of their DNA. However, Jesus is either the “only way” or He is one of “multiple ways” to God. If He is one of “multiple ways,” then that also begs the question, how many multiple ways are there? Perhaps then the Universalists might be on to something when they say that ultimately everyone will be saved.
On the other hand, do we believe in the spiritual church instead of the literal and physical church? Do we believe Jesus when He said in John 4:24, “God is spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth”? Do we believe that the Lord Jesus is going to be returning to a spiritual Jerusalem instead of a physical Jerusalem? Is God interested in the physical or the spiritual? I wonder.
What About the Covenant God Made?
Many will say that God has a covenant relationship with the Jews. While that was once true, is it still so? If a covenant is observed by both parties, then it remains in effect. But what happens if one party breaks the covenant? Does it still hold, or is it still valid? Obviously God does not break His covenant (Isaiah 54:10), so if the covenant is broken, then it is the other party that broke it.
Isaiah 24:5 says, “The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statues and broken the everlasting covenant.” Jeremiah 11:10 says, “They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant I made with their forefathers.” In speaking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah 22:8-9 says, “People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?’ And the answer will be: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served other gods.’” Through Ezekiel 44:7 God said, "you broke my covenant.” Even Paul said of them in Romans 1:32, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” And, if that were not all enough on its own, when God sent His Son, did the Jews accept Him? No, but instead, according to John 19:15, “They shouted, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’”
How many times have the Jews broken the covenant with God? How many times has He still loved them in spite of their unfaithfulness? How many times has God sent His prophets to address the seriousness of this problem to “His people” and how many times have they responded by killing the prophets, and even killing their own Messiah?
In a marriage covenant, the covenant is in effect until the death of one spouse. On the other hand, if one spouse is unfaithful to the marriage covenant, then and only then, is there is biblical justification for breaking the covenant (Matthew 5:32). Has the covenant been broken between God and “His people?” Yes it has.
Enter the Gentiles
As any Bible student will no doubt have noticed, some of God’s promises to the literal and physical Israel (the Jews), have seen their fulfillment in the spiritual Israel (the church). For example, Hosea 1: 6-11, God says that He will no longer show His love to the house of Israel, and, you are not my people and I am not your God. Then He says that in that place they will be called “Sons of the living God.” In Hosea 2:23 we read, “I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” Note now that, while this was addressed to the Jews, Paul in Romans 9: 24-25 applies it to the Gentiles as well. Clearly then, the two peoples (Jews and Gentiles) are now viewed by God as one. As we quoted earlier from Galatians 3:28-29, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Finally, Paul also says in Romans 10:12, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” There is now no longer any distinctions between Jews or any other race of people; the same Lord is Lord of all.
So why do the Jews still not believe in Jesus Christ as their Messiah? Part of the answer may lie in Romans 11: 25-32. There Paul says that “Israel has experienced a ‘hardening’ in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” This is a partial and temporary hardening of the Jews. It is partial because some Jews, like Paul, had already believed; and it is temporary because in due course, all the Jewish remnant will be saved. If there is one thing we see throughout the Scriptures, it is that God always has a faithful remnant. Here too, there is a Jewish remnant that will be saved.
The way I understand all this is that, since the Jews rejected Christ, God’s offer went to the Gentiles (Luke 14: 15-24). According to God’s “Sovereign” will (Romans 9), that “hardness” of the Jews is what is keeping them from accepting Jesus Christ as Saviour and Messiah and will be removed when the “fullness” of the Gentiles (Some Greek versions: nations) comes in. How many Gentiles make up that “fullness?” That number only God knows, but whatever it is, it has to do with His “purpose in election” (Romans 9:11). Paul further says in Romans 9: 14-15, “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’” Then in Romans 9:18 he says further, “Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.” It all has nothing to do with man’s desires or efforts but everything to do with God’s sovereign choice.
Does this mean that, once that number of “elected” Gentiles that God has “predestined” for salvation has come in, that the “hardness” of the Jewish remnant will be removed and the way will then be opened for them to also come into the Kingdom? Romans 11:26 says that, “all Israel will be saved.” The truly amazing thing here is, if we take that literally, there is going to be a mass Jewish conversion to Jesus Christ as their Messiah. Before “all Israel will be saved,” they still MUST accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, just like you and I did and must do. As we read in 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.” There is a remnant of physical and literal Israel (the Jews) that will be saved. They will join the spiritual Israel (the church) that already exists and become part of “the church.”
A Final Caution
Romans 11: 20-22 says, “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”
The lesson here is, I believe, be careful with your attitude. We best not think that we are all that! “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). A cocky, self-righteous and better-than-thou attitude towards our Jewish brothers and sisters (or towards anyone else for that matter) does not fit well with our call to love one another. I am convinced that the call to love transcends religions. The truth of the matter is that we are even called to love enemies. Remember, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).
If God in His sovereignty could choose to cut off the Jews, His historically chosen people, what makes us think that He cannot do the same thing to us? Fear the Lord and walk according to His kindness, lest “you also be cut off.”
I don't pretend to understand all this, and it could be that I too am still missing something here. Logically speaking, there is either only one path to God for all mankind (Jesus; John 14:6), or there are multiple paths, in which case none of this makes any difference. I prefer to believe the former.
Peace & Blessings to all.
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons