In Terms of the Terms

If there was ever a time when precise explanation was required to clearly communicate what we mean by the key terms we’re using when engaged in any kind of meaningful and constructive theological discussion, that time is now. Given the cultural pervasiveness of self-styled narratives to account for just about anything under the sun that is even remotely transcendent in nature, and given our inherited resistance to biblical teaching (rightly interpreted) presenting the complete and final word needed to resolve disagreements over these types of issues, we really can’t assume any shared mutual understanding of what is meant by the definitional and descriptive language we’re using when attempting to articulate why we believe what we believe. So having said all that, allow me to lay my presuppositional cards on the table.

Jew – A physical descendent of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15-16; 15:4-5; 26:2-5, 24; 28:13-15). From the repeated statement in the Abrahamic covenant that a nation will come through the biological blood line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Bible defines Jewishness in terms of nationality. This nationality is based on descent not geographical location. Therefore, it is not confined to the state of Israel alone. It includes all Jewish people wherever they live.
Gentile – Anyone who is not a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Christian – A Jew or a Gentile who at some point in their life have personally trusted Messiah Jesus as the one who made atonement for their sin.
Messianic Jew – A Jew who acknowledges that they are both a Jew (biblically defined) and a believer in the Messiahship of Jesus.
Israel – The people God called to Himself who are the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This corporate entity is depicted in the Bible as the wife of Yahweh; unfaithful in the past, divorced in the present, and to be reunited in the future. God has made four unconditional covenants with this elect nation that have remained unfulfilled: a) Abrahamic Covenant – Gen. 12:1-3 b) Land Covenant – Deut. 29:1-30:20 c) Davidic Covenant – 2 Sam. 7:11-16 d) New Covenant – Jer. 31:31-34. God intends to fulfill all His covenant promises to Israel in a literal way just as His covenant warnings and judgments were fulfilled in a literal way. In Israel’s history of unbelief there has always been a believing remnant according to the election of grace (cf. Rom.11:5). There will be a national regeneration of Israel at which time all of the provisions of the unconditional covenants will be fulfilled, including the seed, land, and blessing aspects.
Church – The Church is the body and Bride of Messiah. It is composed of all Jewish and Gentile believers from Pentecost to the Rapture. Entrance into this body is by Spirit-Baptism which takes place at the moment of belief. By this definition then the Church is clearly distinct from Israel because it is a multi-ethnic totally redeemed community whereas presently Israel, as a geographically scattered nationalistic entity, is a mono-ethnic partially redeemed community by virtue of the ever present believing Jewish remnant. Plus, while the Church shares the spiritual blessings of the Jewish covenants with Israel, it neither fulfills them nor has taken possession of them from Israel.

These definitions, in no way – shape – or form are intended to assert that non-Jews are less significant or have less standing before God than Jews. These descriptions simply reflect and affirm emphases recorded in the Word of God. There is absolutely nothing intrinsically superior about Hebrew patriarchal ancestry as compared to any other type of ancestry. Whatever one’s God-given ethnicity and gender is, we’re all part of a fallen human race in a fallen earthly place; which means that we’re all sinners in need of a Savior. God’s decision to initiate and establish a unique covenantal relationship with the Jewish people is an outworking of His sovereignly dispensed unmerited favor (grace) that has no relationship whatsoever to any degree or expression of human merit. In fact, given that the Jewish people were entrusted with written revelation (cf. Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4) as compared to God making Himself known to humanity at large with less specificity through His physical creation (cf. Rom. 1:20), there is actually a Jewish priority with regard to the receiving of God’s righteous judgment (cf. Rom. 2:8-9).

The ethnic distinctions in view here involve position and function. Biblically speaking; all are equal, yet distinct. Both Jews and Gentiles are on equal footing with God, because God is not a respecter of persons. Again, we are different only in position and function, not intrinsic worth and value.

Doing Well What We All Do

Theology: Dry – Divisive – Derisive? Often is. Doesn’t have to be. Shouldn’t be. Good theology connects the dots of what is above us and what is within us to explain what is and why it is. In some way – shape – or form – we all do this.  Anytime we express anything right or wrong about God – including denial of His existence – we’re doing theology.

God has made Himself known. In the beginning God created…Genesis 1:1. In the beginning was the Word…John 1:1. Doing well what we all do involves:

1) Inductive Observations
2) Exegetical Interpretations
3) Practical Applications
4) Deductive Summations

Doing theology is the great business of life because it intersects with every aspect of life; both in this world and in the world to come. There’s no need to feel intimidated by this. This is not an academic competition. It’s an act of worship for an audience of One. It is faith seeking understanding.

A student once asked Karl Barth if he could summarize his whole life’s work in theology in a sentence. Barth said, “Yes, I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Hebrew Greek

Escape!

With apologies to Rod Serling and Bob Dylan; for your consideration – the parting of the Red Sea in The Exodus Zone:

“There must be some way out of here,” said the Hebrew to the Chief
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief

Egyptians work my people, till they fall on earth
None of them know what your covenant is worth”

“No reason to get excited,” the Chief He kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that I Am that I Am is but a joke

But you’ve already been through that, and slavery is not our people’s fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”

Today’s taste of Torah is the Great Escape. The escape of the Israelites through the Red Sea. Our text is Exodus chapter 14 verses 15 and 16, and verses 21 and 22. It reads: 15 The Lord said to Moses,” Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the Israelites to break camp. 16 As for you, lift up your staff, stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left.

After 430 years of exile, the Jewish people are on their way toward the Land Yahweh promised to them. However, at this juncture, they’re literally caught between a big army and a big body of water. The reason for the army is that the LORD had hardened Pharaoh’s heart one final time so that he would pursue the Jews and attempt to bring them back to Egypt. The reason for the water is that instead of leading Israel along a direct route to the Promised Land, God directed them south, into the desert, so they wouldn’t be attacked by the Philistines. So the Israelites first traveled from the Nile Delta to the Eastern border of Egypt. After this they went south to Etham, at the edge of the desert, where the Shekhinah Glory, the visible manifestation of God’s presence, appeared as a Pillar of Cloud by day and as a Pillar of Fire by night.  That holy illumination guided the Israelites on their journey. Then, God redirected the Israelites to camp out at a location close to the shore of the Red Sea.  And that was where the Egyptian army finally caught up with them.

The Israelites were terrified and began to blame Moses for their dilemma. Moses reassures them of God’s deliverance and raises his staff to divide the waters of the sea. And then for the entire duration of the night on which this miracle took place, the Shekhinah Glory protected Israel from the Egyptian army and provided light so the Israelites could cross through the sea on dry ground.

Moses faced his greatest test when he stood at the edge of the Red Sea. And yet everything, everything God had brought him through up to this point in time, enabled Moses to have the courage to step out and trust God to deliver the children of Israel from the Egyptians.

Now perhaps you’re saying, “John, I get it. Moses was a stud but I feel like a dud. Help me out here.” I will. Here’s the deal. Within the framework of our own unique divine design, within the framework of our own unique circle of influence, and within the framework of our own unique God-given will for our life; like Moses, we can serve God and His people courageously! You say, “How do you know that?” I know that, because if we trust God, if we have confidence in the goodness of His character, He will open doors and enable us to take specific steps to overcome our own unique set of issues! Our past baggage will become less and less of a future hindrance. He will literally rebuild, from the ground up, the way we perceive ourselves. We will start acting, like we really believe, that we can do all things through Messiah who strengthens us (cf. Phil. 4:13)! Instead of focusing on our inadequacies we’ll rest in His sufficiency. Bottom Line: God will give us faith building opportunities to serve Him. And as we cooperate and participate in that, we’ll be steadily advancing to the place where He wants us to be; not parting the Red Sea – but free – from, “It’s all about me!”

The Storm Before the Kingdom

With Auschwitz in the rear view mirror the Time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jer. 30:7) draws near. Holocaust Past is fading – Holocaust Future is on the horizon. Before “Never Again” is never again  – there’s an again! History repeats itself to a degree that is measurably larger in scale than the previous genocide which has left an indelible scar on the collective Jewish psyche. There’s no way to sugar-coat or dance around this sobering apocalyptic scenario. Yet when this short-lived escalation of evil is suddenly and dramatically terminated a thoroughly righteous theocracy will commence.

Armed with the authority and inspiration of the God of Israel, the prophet Zechariah, looking far into future saw a day when two-thirds of the Jewish people inhabiting the entire earth will actually perish (Zech. 13:8)! This satanically orchestrated and demonically energized wholesale destruction of human life happens during the Great Tribulation when Israel will suffer tremendous persecution (Mat. 24:15–28; Rev. 12:1–17). The underlying reason for this persecution is Satan’s antipathy toward the Jewish people because they are the human means through whom God brought His Word and Son into the world; the very two things that predicted and will execute the ultimate demise of this ultimate example of a created being rebelling against its Creator.

Yet the final and everlasting outcome for the one third of Jewish people who survive this unprecedented persecution is truly miraculous and glorious. The Messianic deliverer coming from Zion will turn godlessness away from Jacob and enable the faith required for universal Jewish salvation (cf. Zech. 12:10, 13:1;  Rom.11:26). In its surviving totality, Israel, for the first time in its long and difficult history, is a completely redeemed corporate entity. The believing remnant is now a believing nation. And when that happens, there will be a complete uprooting and overthrowing of the present world order resulting in the full establishment of the Kingdom of God on planet earth!

Before “Never Again” is never again, the Divine Jewish Liberator must appear again. And we can rest assured that He will because His covenant love and loyalty toward His physical brothers and sisters demands nothing less. When He quenches the storm peace and righteousness will be the norm. So within whatever allotment of time the Lord chooses to give us, let’s courageously shoot straight with people about what’s coming around the bend and how the end of the story is eternally good for those who take refuge in His saving grace.

Grace Makes Free

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year’s edition of the event also marks the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. And upon arrival at that infamous death factory, victims passed through a gate which sadistically read, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes Free.)

In order to falsely promise the freedom our divine design requires, in one form or another, the enemy of our souls is busy marketing this same “Work Makes Free” deception. And here’s how this lethal mirage is often presented. In the vortex of our brokenness and pain the adversary seductively whispers, “The depravity of man invalidates the truth of God;” a demonic mantra that uses the undeniable presence of evil as an apologetic for atheism.

Now if this spiritual propaganda fails to produce a denial of God’s existence, the next plan of attack is to cast seeds of doubt regarding the reality of God’s grace. And if the reality of God’s grace is rejected then there’s no rational basis for faith embracing the unconditional nature of God’s redeeming love!

We live in a time when revisionist narratives driven by a pernicious jihadist ideology claiming to purport the real story behind the Mid-East conflict are widely and uncritically accepted. This in turn has spawned a simultaneous latent/blatant anti-Semitism that is increasingly commonplace even in some evangelical circles. Therefore it remains vitally important to corporately bring the horrors of the Holocaust into the light of historical reality. In fact, given the sheer magnitude and dark systematic nature of this horrific extermination, such reflection is appropriate on multiple levels. And so today as we remember, let us also shame the Devil by proclaiming the truth that work does not make us free. The Son sets us free. And if the Son sets us free, we will most certainly be free because Grace Makes Free (cf. John 8:36)!

Passover Means Not Being Passed Over!

In today’s taste of Torah, we see that Passover means not being passed over; not being passed over in the sense of getting to be a beneficiary of God’s sovereignly bestowed unmerited favor. In other words being Passovered corresponds with not being passed over.  To say that another way, receiving the good of grace enables deliverance from the bad of sin!  This is about judgment averted without justice perverted – because the death penalty sin requires fully transpires.

Our text reads: 21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel, and told them, “Go and select for yourselves a lamb or young goat for your families, and kill the Passover animals. 22 Take a branch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply to the top of the doorframe and the two side posts some of the blood that is in the basin. Not one of you is to go out the door of his house until morning. 24 You must observe this event as an ordinance for you and for your children forever. 25 When you enter the land that the LORD will give to you, just as he said, you must observe this ceremony. 26 When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’– 27 then you will say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, when he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck Egypt and delivered our households.'” The people bowed down low to the ground, 28 and the Israelites went away and did exactly as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron (Ex. 12:21-22; 24-28 NET).

From an exclusively older covenant perspective, Passover is the top of the line/cream of the crop commemoration celebration. And like most Jewish holidays it can be summed up as, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” And part of the traditional prelude to this momentous meal, is a biblically informed set-up bursting at the seams with vivid Messianic redemptive significance. We’re talking about the presence of parsley stems on the Passover table. The parsley stems represent the hyssop plant depicted in this Exodus passage. Hyssop is a spongy like plant which grows in the Middle East. And in preparation for the first Passover, our Jewish people would take a bunch of hyssop, dip into a basin of lamb’s blood, and then carefully distribute the lamb’s blood on top and on both sides of their door frame. Now when God saw the blood of a substitutionary sacrifice that was not only acceptable in His sight but in fact designated by Him, He said what -“Pesach – I will Passover you! No death will required of the male first-born in your household, I will Passover  – and visit your Egyptian neighbor with this gruesome and dreadful plague!”

Now that same exact principle is in operation right here right now; for the Lord looks down from shamayim (from Heaven) – to see if you and I have put our faith, our trust, and our confidence in the total sufficiency of Messiah’s atonement for us!  And if we have, if we have, there is a literal Passover for us as far as judgment for our sins is concerned; for the Bible says that Yeshua – Jesus bore them all in His body on the tree of a Roman execution stake. Praise God for so wonderful and comprehensive a deliverance from spiritual slavery  that is foreshadowed and even fulfilled in the Passover. The Passover that did not pass us over!

A Kosher Goy Story

I don’t think I would be guilty of unwarranted hyperbole to suggest that Romans 11:11 is the Gentile Great Commission. This verse is loaded with far-reaching soteriological (doctrine of salvation) truth with profound and practical implications. It reads: I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make Israel jealous (NET).

Within the surrounding context of the entire chapter of Romans 11, the following points can be extracted and related to the broad subject categories of rejection, redemption, desire, conduct, and conclusion:

Rejection: The Jewish people have not stumbled beyond recovery in their national rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus. Jewish rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus is not permanent. Jewish rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus is not total. In every generation there is always a remnant of Jewish people who believe.

Redemption:  Jewish national rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus was the divinely ordained precursor to the salvation of non-Jewish people. Jewish rejection of Jesus made it possible for non-Jews to come directly to God. It is no longer necessary for non-Jews to identify with Israel in order to be saved. There is non-Jewish numerical dominance in this present age of the Church. There is equal spiritual status between Jews and non-Jews in the body of Messiah.

Desire: God’s purpose in using Jewish unbelief to facilitate non-Jewish belief is to make Jewish people desirous of the forgiveness of sin and eternal life freely offered through trust in the Messianic person and finished salvific work of Jesus. In the original language, the word from which the phrase “to make jealous” is derived means to make someone desire what rightfully belongs to them by giving it to someone else. The gospel rightly belongs to the Jewish people by virtue of the four unconditional biblical covenants of promise made with the nation of Israel: 1) Abrahamic Covenant – Gen. 12:1-3, 2) Land Covenant – Deut. 29:1-30:20, 3) Davidic Covenant – 2 Sam. 7:11-16, 4) New Covenant – Jer. 31:31-34.

Conduct: Vital to one’s understanding and evangelistic application of Romans 11:11 is a recognition and respect for the Jewishness of faith in Jesus. This involves a recognition and acknowledgement that God prepared the gospel for the Jewish people. This involves a recognition and acknowledgement that Gentile inclusion and appropriation of Jewish covenant blessing explicitly does not mean that the unconditional promises associated with these covenant blessings and pledged to the Jewish people have been terminated due to the present, partial, and temporary condition of Jewish spiritual blindness and corresponding unbelief (cf. Rom. 11:1-2; 25-26). Grammatically speaking, the present tense of the verbs in 11:28-29 (also cf. Rom. 9:4-5) indicate that even in unbelief, Israel fully retains its covenant status with God. This status pertains to Israel’s corporate national election, not individual election resulting in salvation.

Conclusion: In short, solely through faith, non-Jewish people have become partakers (not taker-overs) of unconditional Jewish covenant spiritual blessings. Tragically however, concerning these blessings, the majority of the contemporary church subscribes to a replacement model which basically asserts that Gentile inclusion results in Jewish exclusion; a position which I would argue is theological confusion reflective of ethno-centric eisegesis in its handling of the biblical text. Yet here’s the deal. There is soon coming a day when in the immediate aftermath of the Messianic deliverer coming from Zion turning godlessness away from Jacob for the purpose of enabling universal Jewish salvation (cf. Rom.11:26), there will also be a complete uprooting and overthrowing of the present world order resulting in the full establishment of the Kingdom of God on planet earth! And that means that the conclusion to this Kosher Goy Story is Divine Eternal Glory!