To My Fellow Jews
Dear Mark and Reba,
You are people I have known and loved all my life. I can say this of very few people. But of you it is true. Perhaps you are so close to my heart because whenever we talk, we always seem to connect, and you always seem to be searching genuinely from the heart for understanding. For whatever the reason, I do love you and have prayed for you often that you might find God's love for yourself. I often regret we never got together for a meal, because there were many things I wanted to share with you. Now lately, I have been thinking of you a lot; since about two weeks ago I had a dream about you. I don't know all that it means; it was out of the blue. I dreamed that you wanted to receive Jesus. If this dream was inspired by God, then perhaps it time for me to say to you what I would have said at dinner. If the dream was not inspired, then be patient with me and consider this letter the ramblings of a kind, but senile, old rabbi. It is a long and complex letter and took me a couple of weeks to write, so do not try and digest it all at once. But think about it; argue with it. And write back and tell me what you think. So, without further ado, let me make my case for Jesus as the Messiah.
First of all, the entire New Testament (except for Luke and Acts) was written by Jews who lived with Jesus who believed him to be the Messiah. So, the NT quotations I use were written by Jews who were faithful followers of the Torah. Although for centuries there have been tensions between Christians and Jews, a proper reading of the whole bible shows that the persecution of the Jews is sinful in the eyes of God; it is an enmity that is without excuse. If Gentiles had only read the scriptures, they would have realized that this animosity is not only impermissible, it makes no sense:
We read in Paul's letter to the Romans: "Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God," (Rms. 3:1-2). That is are entrusted, not were entrusted; present tense, not past tense. The Jews, according to the New Testament are still favored; not were favored and are no more, but that before God they are still his chosen for the sake of his steadfast love, and still the Jews are entrusted with the promises and with the words of God. "For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable," (Rms. 11:29). God's promises to his chosen people cannot be abrogated, because God cannot be faithless to his word. And in spite of human sin and disobedience, in both Jews and Gentiles alike, He is faithful to his promises to us.
Now if a Christian were to be so led astray as to presume that he could be prejudiced against Jews and still be found in favor with God, then the very scriptures he pretends to believe would condemn him; for hear what the bible says:
If some of the branches (Jews) were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot(Gentiles), were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you (Gentiles) that support the root (Israel), but the root (Israel) that supports you,…For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree, (Romans 11: 17-18, 24).
The olive tree is a symbol for Israel in the Scriptures. The prophets described Israel as a cultivated olive tree, pruned and watched over by the Lord. The Gentiles were the wild olive shoot, that were grafted onto the tree of Israel, against their nature! The source and the root of faith is the Torah, the natural heritage of the Jews and the unnatural heritage of the Gentiles. Therefore, those Gentiles who believe in Jesus have been grafted onto the faith of Israel, and should consider themselves Jews; who now share the privilege of being children of the promise, not by nature but by grace. Therefore, there is no room for pride or prejudice, because all true Christians should and must consider themselves of Jewish descent, grafted onto the root of Israel's faith. Since, by nature, we have no right to be considered descendants of Abraham, but are given this privilege by the grace and mercy of God, how then should we prejudice ourselves against our very parents who gave us birth? Then we are prejudice against ourselves, for we who are Christians are Jews also! So not only is it impermissible, it makes no sense; and such prejudice definitely is sin, for it is hate against God's elect.
Now, within the New Testament itself, there is some evidence of hostility and tension; but for the most part, these tensions arose within Judaism itself. Jews of the dispersion and Jews of Greek cultural heritage (Hellenistic Jews) were not considered true Jews by Palestinian Jews. And there was even tension between Galilean and Judean Jews, (as Geza Vermes has pointed out in his book Jesus the Jew.) In fact, in Greek, the word "Jew" and "Judean," are the same word (judaios ). And much of the "prejudice" against Jews in the NT is in fact the prejudice of Galileans (Jews) against Judeans (Jews) and vice versa. It is a family squabble over the meaning and interpretation of the Torah. The Judeans were sophisticated, urban legalists who looked down on the barefoot, country moralism of the Galileans. Anyway, it was an in-house fight that was never meant to be taken as Gentile vs. Jew. Would Paul, who still considered himself a Jew call for the persecution of Jews? After Jesus was crucified, Peter and the rest of the disciples still celebrated Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, ate Kosher food, etc. It was not anti-Jewish sentiment, Jesus was fighting his own corrupt leaders; just as Elijah had to fight Ahab and Jezebel. Both were prophets, and both were not liked by those in authority. It was an in-house fight of Jew against Jew, not anti-semitism. So why has anti-semitism been such a continuing scourge throughout the centuries, and why have people been so willing to twist the scriptures to justify their own prejudice? Why especially against the Jews? The explanation of this evil only makes sense in the light of God's promises. More on this later.
First, it is the heritage of our common faith that our God is a God of promises. He not only makes promises to the undeserving, but he keeps them. For this reason that we can trust in him and call upon his name. If he was not faithful to do what he says, then we would have no reason to believe in him at all, for he might return evil for good; and who can trust a God like that? It would make more sense to be an atheist. But everything we have learned about God tells us that he is good and that he has fulfilled promises to his children. He made promises to Moses to set the captives free, and he led them out of Egypt, across the wilderness, and into the promised land, a land he promised he would give to Abraham. And by the mouth of the prophets, he promised to remove the children of Abraham from Judah because of their disobedience; but he also promised to bring them back from the exile after 70 years, which he did.
If God had been faithless to his word at any time during those centuries, there would be no Judaism and there would be no Christianity. Our faith would have died in the desert with the fathers, or in Babylon with the captives. The Jews would have disbanded and would be no more. They would have been absorbed into the nations that held them captive, just as every other people and culture have been absorbed through conquest into other nations throughout history. But the Jews have maintained a separate identity from every nation into which they have been dispersed, even though they had been without a homeland for almost 2,000 years! That is because God is not done with his promises to Israel! He has not forgotten his people, and there are promises he has given them that are yet to be fulfilled.
While in light of recent history some may doubt that God is faithful, it is precisely because God is faithful to his promises that I believe that Jesus is the Messiah. There are two promises upon which hinge my argument for Jesus. And if Jesus is not the Messiah, then I believe that God has failed his promises to Israel and that our faith in him is dead and worthless. Although there are many disputable passages in the Hebrew Scriptures which point to Jesus, because there is a debate as to their interpretation, I have chosen two which are indisputable and about which there is no disagreement among Christian and Jewish scholars.
The first promise is the one made to Abraham:
By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice. Genesis 22: 16-18.
In this scripture, God promised to Abraham that through his descendants, through the Jewish people, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God promised that all people of the earth would come to know God and worship him through Abraham's descendants. Has this promise been fulfilled? Yes. Through Jesus Christ, people in every nation have come to believe that the God of Abraham is the One true God of all the earth. Christians, those who believe Jesus is the Messiah, believe that the Hebrew Scriptures are indeed the words of God. They believe in the patriarchs; they believe in the prophets, and they believe in the promises made to Israel. What is more, you will find many, many committed Christians also deeply committed to Israel, for they believe, as I believe, that the Jews are still chosen. And they support Israel because they believe that there are promises made to Israel yet to be fulfilled. Because of Jesus, a Jew, we believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and we pray to this God and we ask him to forgive us and to bless us. If this is not a fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham, what is?
In fact, if Jesus is not the fulfillment of this promise, then I argue that the promise is void and that God is a liar, if not dead. For if we look around the world today, we can see that there is no nation that loves Israel and no people that loves the Jews. Rather, the Jews and the nation of Israel are a scourge and by-word to all the peoples of the earth. They are not loved and respected, but hated and despised. The only people who love Israel and consider the Jews part of God's family are committed Christians; who are followers of Jesus the Jew. If Jesus is not God's answer to Abraham, then God's promise is empty and unfulfilled, for rather than being a "light to lighten the Gentiles," the Jews are the scapegoats of the earth. Their God is mocked and their religion is cursed. If Jesus is not the one who has lightened the Gentiles, then God is faithless to his promises, and our religion is in vain.
God said to Israel: "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations (gentiles) shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning," (Is. 60:1-3). Has this prophecy come to pass? Who considers Israel to be a light to the earth? Who considers them to be bearers of the one true faith? Only Christians. Every other nation has rejected Israel. If this prophecy has come to pass, then only through Jesus; for only Christians believe that Israel is the light of the world.
Obviously, not every person in every nation would consider Israel God's elect, just as not every Jew was saved. In Isaiah's day, only a remnant was saved. So it is true, out of every nation, only a remnant will be saved; so only a few from every nation will come to the light of Israel. And those who do, come through Jesus the Messiah. They come no other way.
Now the second promise that had to be fulfilled through Jesus or not at all is this one that came to Jeremiah:
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest, says to Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
God promised to give you a new covenant, one that was not written on stone tablets, but one that was implanted in your heart. Call it conscience, if you will. Has God fulfilled this promise? Has he given this new covenant which he promised more than 25 centuries ago? He promised to change his covenant relationship with Israel. Has he done this?
God has said that he is a God who announces the things that are to come (Is. 44:7-8). In Jeremiah, he said he would give the Jews a new covenant. Has he done this? The Jews are still living by the old covenant; by the Torah. (Although most Jews live more according to conscience than according to the covenant; for how many still believe in animal sacrifice or in wearing tassels, and yet both are required by the Torah-- Numbers 15:37; Lev. 17:11) Where then is the new covenant? If God says that he will do something, and then does not do it, is he really God? He said he will give us a new covenant, written on our hearts. Did he fail? The rabbis say that God has been silent for over 2,000 years, and now all that is left are scribes. Then what of the promises made to his people through Jeremiah? If God has not fulfilled his promises, he has not only been silent, he has betrayed Israel, for he gave a promise he did not keep. He lied. He said he would do something and he did not do it. Then not only did he not give us a new covenant, he stopped speaking as well, for there have been no prophets in Israel for 2,500 years. Let me ask you this: how long has it been since God spoke to you and to the rest of Israel through a prophet? Malachi is the last, recognized prophet, and he lived 2,500 years ago. How could God forget his promises, not fulfill them, and not speak to his people for 2,500 years? God promised that he would never leave us without his word; that his word would never depart out of Israel (Isaiah 59:21). If he has remained silent, then I argue that our faith is dead and our hope in God is in vain, for then God has left us without his word, and he has not spoken to us by a prophet for 2,500 years. Could a faithful and loving God neglect his people for over two thousand years?
But we who call ourselves Christians believe that these promises were fulfilled in Jesus. For in former times, the Holy Spirit only rested on the prophets, and he moved certain men and women to speak from time to time. But we who have come to believe in Jesus as Messiah say that through him the promises of God to all humanity have been fulfilled. For we who believe in Jesus talk about being born anew, or being born from above, or being born of the Holy Spirit (all the same thing). What is this but the fulfillment of the promise given to Isaiah, when God said: "I will pour out my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring," (Is. 44:3); or when God said to Joel:
"And it shall come to pass in later days, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the men servants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit." (Joel 3:1-2, Hebrew version; Joel 2:28-29 in mine).
Before Jesus' death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit was given to but a few, but now, to all who believe, God has poured out his Spirit in richness and abundance so that even common men and women can prophecy, or dream dreams. Our being born anew, as Christians call it, is nothing more than receiving the Holy Spirit and having a new covenant written indelibly upon our hearts. It is the fulfillment of God's promise given through Jeremiah and through Joel. We are now the prophets, and God speaks through the common people, from the least to the greatest of all who believe. It is the fulfillment of the promises given to Israel 2,500 years ago; promises that are rightfully yours. And because Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed, the Holy one of Israel, God has chosen to give us the Holy Spirit through our belief in Jesus, for He is the one who saves us from our sins (Is. 53:10).
So, I say that belief in Jesus is not a rejection of your Jewish heritage, but the fulfillment of it, for through him the promise made to Abraham and the promises made to Israel through Jeremiah and Joel are fulfilled. But if Jesus is not the fulfillment, then God has in fact neglected to bless the nations, neglected to give a new covenant, and neglected to pour out his Spirit on all flesh, and then what heritage do you have left? Empty promises. Your hope is vain and your faith is dead. And unless Jesus is the fulfillment of promises made to Abraham and to Israel, we too are without a foundation for our faith, for our faith depends entirely on God's promises to the Jews. If God was faithless to the Jews, we have no heritage. We believe a myth and a lie, because our belief in Jesus is based upon promises given to the Jews, and if in fact these promises have not been fulfilled, then our whole Christian faith is in error. So our faith is dependent upon God's faithfulness to the Jews.
You have been told that to believe in Jesus is a betrayal of your heritage, but these were all promises made to Jews, not to Gentiles. They are a Jewish heritage, not a Gentile one. They are Jewish by right; and it is only by grace that we are made part of Israel's faith. It is only because God has blessed Abraham and Israel that we can claim these promises for ourselves. And this indeed fulfills the promise made to Abraham, that by his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. So, I say, claim the fulfillment of the promises made to your ancestors in Jesus of Nazareth, who is our Messiah.
One more small point: there also has been no sacrifice since 70 A.D., when the temple was destroyed. But the law requires blood for the atonement of sins (Ex. 30:10; Lev. 17:11). Why has God left Israel without an atoning sacrifice for 1,900 years? Because of Jesus, who died for all our sins, there is no longer a need for Temple sacrifice, but his blood is the atonement for us all:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53)
If this subject intrigues you, read the Letter to the Hebrews in the NT.
This letter I see is fast becoming a document. I hope you read it with patience, and I would love to hear your comments. But before I end, I promised you reasons for persecution of the Jews throughout the centuries. The answer only makes sense to me if Jesus is the Messiah.
Let me first ask why, why, this irrational prejudice against the Jews? They have been sought out as whipping boys by every power on earth. And otherwise normal and rational people excuse their prejudice against Jews, as if they were justified in this hatred. The answer comes from the book of Revelation:
And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman (Israel) clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (the 12 tribes); she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in her anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold a great red dragon (Satan, the Devil), with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his head… And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought fourth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron (the Messiah), but her child was caught up to God and to his throne… And when the dragon saw (that he could not get the child)… he pursued the woman (Israel) who had borne the male child…and the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring… (Revelation 12)
This passage may not make a lot of sense to you, since it is couched in apocalyptic terms, but what I understand of it is this: Israel brought forth the Messiah, Jesus, and when the devil could not kill him, the devil got angry and went out to destroy Israel: the one who gave birth to the Messiah. He is still out to get the Jews even after 2,000 years, because they are the bearers of the Messiah, and because they have God's favor, and Satan hates their privilege before God.
The prejudice against Jews is irrational, but it does make sense if there is a spiritual war going on between Satan and God; a conscious and intentional struggle between a creature of evil and a good God . Now, I would say that the world does not even know why it is so prejudiced against the Jews. They do not believe in God, they do not believe in Satan either. But if Satan is alive, then it is no surprise that he is at work in the minds of the ignorant to twist their thoughts towards hatred of God's elect; they are not even aware they are following Satan's design. But even without their knowledge, Satan is using their prejudice for his purposes. And Satan would destroy every Jew if he could; for he knows if he can cause God to fail his promises to the Jews, Satan would prove God to be a liar. This is why the devil has singled out the Jews for extermination. And indeed, the world would rejoice if Israel and all Jews were no more. This fact only proves what I say. It is a spiritual war in which Satan uses God's enemies, without their knowledge, to battle the children of the promise.
And what are these promises to the Jews that are yet unfulfilled? There are many even in Isaiah which speak of a time of eternal peace in the presence of God. These are not yet fulfilled for any of us, but the time may be drawing near. For we believe that the re-establishment of Israel is a sign of the Day of the Lord; the last days. For the evidence of this, we need to turn to the NT for the present promises of God. Listen to what Jesus said. In 30 A.D., He prophesied the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD: "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies; then know that its desolation has come near…For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations (the dispersion); and Jerusalem shall be trampled under foot by the Gentiles, until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled! " (Luke 21:20-24). The fact that Jerusalem is now in Jewish hands and Israel re-established is the sign that the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled and that God is about to fulfill his promise that he will bring his everlasting peace to his people (Isaiah 9).
A second evidence that God has not forgotten his people is a prophecy of Paul: "Lest you (gentiles) be wise and conceited, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of Gentiles come in, and then all Israel will be saved!" (Romans 11:25-26). As I said before, the time of the Gentiles is nearing its end. And the sign that this promise of the salvation of all Israel is about to be fulfilled is the conversion of large numbers of Jews to belief in Jesus as Messiah. Now, as you probably know, this is happening everywhere. Not since the first century have so many Jews come to believe in Jesus. But now Jews everywhere are proclaiming him the Messiah. And so even though it seems that God has forgotten his people for such a long time, these two prophecies are evidence that God has never forgotten his people. They are still elect and chosen. And by the signs of the times, it seems that the promises he made to Israel are about to be fulfilled.
And upon this note of hope, I rest my case.
The Lord of peace be with you,