~ The Jewish Heritage ~
Many have the impression that God looked over the nations of the earth and chose Israel among all for the most special mission of bringing redemption to the world. Moreover is the popular belief that the Jewish people failed this mission, thus leaving it to the Gentiles to spread the Gospel (Good News) of Christ to the world. How sadly wrong on both counts!
Once upon a time, there was no Jewish nation. There were no Jews. God's redemptive plan was so crucial that He had to create an entirely new nation, nurturing them from scratch, so to speak, for this most sacred role of recording and safeguarding His revelations and of serving as the conduit of His own Incarnation in Christ.
A man named Abram, born in Ur of the Chaldeans, lived in Canaan as a wealthy livestock owner. Abram did not know God, but was introduced with an incredible promise: "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3, NIV).
So important was this covenant, "Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine" (Genesis 14:18a, NIV) to Abram, who, in turn, "gave him a tenth of everything" (14:20b). What a wondrous foreshadowing of the new nation's mission. Melchizedek, the bread and wine provider, means "king of righteousness" (Hebrews 7:2) and Salem, meaning peace, was also a short form of Jerusalem (Psalm 76:2). This king had no ancestry, never being born and never dying. Christ's priesthood was "in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron" (Hebrews 7:11, Psalms 110:4).
God confirmed His covenant by renaming Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of many) and instituting the rite of circumcision for him and his descendants. Later three angelic appearing men paid a visit to Abraham's camp to further discuss the unfoldment of this providence. One of the three was Yahweh Himself (The God of my salvation). (See Genesis 18.) This mission was so essential that the Incarnational Person of the triune God, Christ Immanuel (God-with-us) was personally preparing this man from Mesopotamia for his work even before he had one descendant. Now there was only one Jew in the whole world, and God chose Abraham. The footprints and handprints of Christ were already saturating the Scriptures yet to be written, right from the first chapters of Genesis.
This was an everlasting covenant. "He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham" (Psalms 105:8-9a, NIV). (See Romans 11.)
As decreed, Jesus the Christ was born through the nation of Israel. The scribes of that nation fulfilled the crucial task of copying the sacred Scriptures without error, whose accuracy were confirmed again by the discovery of the scrolls at Qumran along the Dead Sea in 1947. The following year the Jews, without a homeland for almost 2000 years, streamed back into their ancestral land, then a forsaken, barren desert. Consider this happened only 3 years after the holocaust and feel the miraculous works of God. Within only one generation of the Jewish people, Israel's second largest economic resource is agriculture. In a short time, the desert was blooming and water flowing. St. Paul declared that God determined the exact locations and lifetimes of all nations (see Acts 17:26). All this has been prophesized.
The sacrifice of Yahweh (God my Salvation) in the Christ (the Messiah) was prophesized by Daniel to the exact place and day. The Hebrew scholars knew this, so it was not a strange question to ask John the Baptizer and Jesus if either was the Messiah. Herod took the prophesy seriously as well, slaughtering the boys of Bethlehem.
To His exclusively Jewish apostles, Jesus instructed to make "disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:18). That was the plan from the beginning, as Jesus told them again, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:7).
The birth of Christ's body, His church, happened on Pentecost with the infusion of the Holy Spirit. Three thousand Jews became part of His body, "and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47b). Temple priests and Jewish pilgrims from other nations alike were embracing Christ and being baptized.
The exclusively Jewish Church of Christ grew into many thousands and carried the Gospel throughout the massive Roman Empire. Its power and prevalence became formidable, unlike the Jewish nation before Pentecost who enjoyed freedom of trade, commerce, travel and religious practices during the Roman occupation. The Roman Empire, under Nero, felt so threatened it began a systematic program of persecution and execution of those who professed Christ. Fearing for their own positions, Jewish political leaders scrambled to keep their alliance with the Empire and joined in the holocaust. This soon failed, since Christianity was a Jewish faith and movement and the target. Within just 40 years of Christ's crucifixion, in 70 AD, the holy temple, the center of the Jewish heart and life, was destroyed. Another great Jewish diaspora or dispersion began, lasting almost 2000 years, finally ending just after World War 2.
The Jewish Church did do as Christ commanded, and shared the Gospel with all nations. Gentiles and Jews became brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s plan for the task of Israel in being the vehicle of salvation to all the world was indeed fulfilled. While the salvation baton has been passed onto the Gentile Christians, the Jewish people merit our gratitude for this, plus for both the Old and New Testaments, written and copied by Jews (with the exception of Dr. Luke), giving us the precious Gospels, letters and wondrous Book of the Revelation of Christ.
Have we forgotten that the New Testament is also Jewish Scripture? This rhetorical question leads to a real one: Why, then, the nation of Israel does not believe in their own biblical writings? The answer begins in the Jewish staunch and adamant assertion that God is One. This, of course, is absolutely true and a gift of understanding from them to a world that was polytheistic. Gentile Christendom had many struggles and historical Councils attempting to explain the mystery of the Trinity, one God, three Persons, and agree on a creed statement.
Until the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the very apostles of Christ didn’t understand it any more than a Jew today. When Jesus said it was His time to formally present Himself for who He is in Jerusalem, the disciples were thrilled, thinking, “Finally, we’re going to reclaim our authority over the Roman Empire and the earth.” But Jesus said He was going to Jerusalem to die. This threw them into great confusion and denial. After Jesus resurrected, they still didn’t get it. “Later Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14, NIV). Before Christ’s ascension, they still didn’t understand, asking, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). And “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worship him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:16-17).
This was, and still is, the Jewish mind. To say they “rejected” Jesus is less accurate than to see, historically, how they were spiritually blind. Without the Holy Spirit, there is no vision and we are all just as blind to the truth. Indeed, Jesus said the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth, and that we can worship the Father only in spirit and truth.
Israel is planning to rebuild the temple. Liturgical vestments and vessels are being made. Oddly, the very orthodox Jews are protesting the plans. The Talmud (commentaries on the Torah) predicts the Messiah will descend from the heavens in the New Jerusalem temple, establishing the great Messianic Age, to which Christians refer as the Millennial Reign of Christ. The Book of Revelation says the same thing, but the Talmud said it first! Like the apostles prior to the Holy Spirit, Israel, as a nation, missed grasping the power of Christ’s First Coming and Resurrection. John the Baptizer even questioned Christ about His role.
Israel fulfilled God’s plan for which He created that nation. However, that plan isn’t finished. “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited. Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: [from Isaiah 59:20] ‘The deliverer will come from Zion [the Talmud says this is the Messiah]; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’ As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy on you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:25-33a).
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © June 1, 2002
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