Monday, March 11, 2013

Has God Turned His Back on Israel?

During the Holocaust, "some Jews were marched into gas changers under signs that read, 'You are being killed in the name of Jesus Christ.'"1  Before that time, the Middle Ages found Crusaders "massacr[ing] Jewish communities" as they marched across Europe to Jerusalem.  Likewise, during the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were "forced by the edge of the sword to convert to Christianity or be killed."2

History is ripe with examples of so-called Christians persecuting the Jews.  In our present-day American society, this anti- Semitism seems less pervasive than in the past, but still, there is an attitude in the Christian church that we Christians are simply better than the Jews are.

I personally remember shaking my head when reading those New Testament passages that show Jesus fulfilling one of hundreds of Old Testament prophesies, asking myself just how God's people who knew the Scriptures better than I did could do anything but see Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.  Just how stupid were they!?

The problem with such an attitude is that it leads to a feeling of superiority over the Jews, a "Look at us!  We Gentiles accepted Jesus as Messiah when 'those Jews' didn't!  Who's the chosen people of God now!?"  And with this superiority comes what is called "Replacement Theology," an idea that Christians have "replaced" the Jews as God's chosen people.

This could not be further from what God has in mind.  If anything, we Christians should feel nothing but gratitude, love, and thankfulness for the Jews. And what's more--we should be concerned about the state of the Jewish nation's souls. Why?

To understand, we need to look to the Old Testament, which repeats the pattern wherein the people of Israel turn their backs on God, repent, then turn their backs again.  Each time, God begs them to return and repeatedly warns them through His designated watchmen of His wrath to come.  When they don't listen, He finally does turn His back on them, removes His holy presence from the temple at Jerusalem, and allows His holy city to be burned to the ground while His chosen ones are ripped away from the Promised Land of covenant and scattered around the globe in exile.

This break in communion between God and His people ushered in the age of the church, Christianity, and the age of the Gentiles, the time in history we are living in presently when God is extending His offer of grace, mercy, and salvation to the world--to YOU and ME so that we can make our place in God's Kingdom.

Yet, in Romans, Paul warns us as Christians against pride over our salvation.  To do this, he uses a metaphor of the olive tree wherein the Jews are the "natural branches" and and we Christians are "wild olive shoots" grafted into the tree.

Paul warns against our arrogance and pride towards the Jews: "But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you...Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?" (Rom. 11:17-24).

The Jews were cut off so that we Gentiles might have a place in God's Kingdom.  The Jews' hardness of heart concerning Jesus was God-ordained as an expression of God's "kindness" so that we might be saved.  Paul repeats again that the Jews' rejection of Jesus was our only chance at salvation: "their rejection is the reconciliation of the world" (Rom 11:15).  He then implores Christ followers to understand "that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:25-26).

In other words, the age of the Christian, of the church, isn't going to last forever.  We Christians are not the end of it all.  Instead, God still has His eye of what He refers to throughout the Old Testament as His "remnant," Jews who will be saved and grafted back into the kingdom of Christ. 

History isn't going to just end with Christianity apart from the Jews.  Instead, Scripture records that there is still a remnant of Jews that God is gathering back to the land of promise, gathering back to Himself.  The Kingdom of God, the church of God, is to be composed of both Gentile and Jew, together serving God the Father.

In Jonathan Bernis' new book, A Rabbi Looks at the Last Days: Surprising Insights on Israel, the End Times and Popular Misconceptions, he speaks to Christians, begging them to take a second look at what Scripture says about the Jews, about Israel as a nation, and about the church's role in evangelizing the Jewish community.

Bernis argues that the Christian Age is quickly coming to a close, as is evidenced by Jews beginning to be saved in large numbers.  He says, "Fifty years ago not a single Messianic Jewish congregation existed anywhere (there were only a handful of Hebrew Christian groups), and very few Jews professed faith in Yeshua--several thousand at best.  By 2012, more than 500 Messianic Jewish congregations existed around the world, including at least fifty in Israel...Conservative estimates indicate the number of Jews who believe in Yeshua...range somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 in the United States and 250,000 to 500,000 worldwide.  An estimated 20,000 Messianic Jews live in Israel today"3.

Christians have not "replaced" the Jews as God's chosen people.  Yes, we have been grafted in to the body, but God remembers that the children of Israel are His people. He still both remembers and honors His covenant with Abraham.

All one need do is look at the end of each Old Testament prophecy to Israel to see God concluding with a word of prophetic hope that He will keep His covenant and save a remnant, which will rise up in the last days.   Ezekiel, Daniel, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi--their endings all look to Israel's restoration.  (See my article "Happily Ever After" for a look at these prophets' final outlook for Israel in Scripture). 

As Christians, this knowledge should shape our attitude towards any Jewish persons we know and towards Israel as a nation in general.  Let us not be prideful of our position in Christ.  Let us not write off the Jews around us as "blowing their chance."

Instead, let us learn how best to evangelize the Jewish community.  Let us pray for Jews to come to know Jesus as their Messiah and Savior.  And let us not be prideful over our salvation but rather be humbled by the thought that, as Paul says, some Jews were allowed to fall off so we could be grafted in to God's kingdom.

(**If you only read one book other than The Bible this year, I recommend it be Jonathan Bernis' new release, A Rabbi Looks at the Last Days.   Not only does Bernis give an intriguing look at the history of Christianity and the Jews, but he also explains signs of the Last Days from the standpoint of a Messianic Jewish Rabbi while giving Scripture to back up everything.  What's more, he also gives a wonderful few chapters on "how to" share Jesus with a Jew, explaining how the usual Christian lingo means something different to a Jew and how to avoid inadvertently building up those walls when sharing Jesus with them.)

1.  Bernis, Jonathan.  A Rabbi Looks at the Last Days.  Minneapolis: Chosen, 2013. (p. 159-160).
2.  Rose Price, A Rose from the Ashes: The Rose Price Story.  San Francisco: Purple Pomegranate Productions, a Division of Jews for Jesus, 2006 (p. 81).
3.  Bernis (p. 73-74).

No comments:

Post a Comment