Over the past year we have received two letters from godly people who feel uncomfortable with some aspect of Israel's rebirth and reinstatement to her position as the Israel of God. To quote from one letter:
"...some of you spend much time denying that the Gentiles who live by a Jewish Messiah, and who have been grafted in among the natural branches of Israel, are also Israel. In so denying us, you deny God's magnitude." The other reader wrote us as follows:
"It seems you have confused God's dealings with Israel as a political entity and the born-again position of those Jews who have entered the "New Covenant" of Jeremiah 31:31-34...Political Israel-which your article seems to believe-will become "spiritual Israel" and once again assume its mission to the world. That has been clearly abrogated by I Pet 2:5-9."
Both of these concerns can be addressed and answered. We believe overwhelming evidence of the Scriptures shows that indeed (1) physical Israel is to be resurrected spiritually, and that (2) the nations or Gentiles who turn to God are also His special treasure, His blood-bought people. At the same time, godly Gentiles are not Israel. For then God could only have one nation. And He has prepared a remnant from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people in the world for His Kingdom.
DID PETER CANCEL ISRAEL'S MISSION?
As for the claim that Peter cancelled Israel's mission, we can only say that Peter the Apostle to the Jews would never do what Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles said would never happen. (Incidentally, many scholars feel Peter's opening remarks indicate he was writing specifically to the born-again Jews in exile.) To our above correspondent, we say with all our hearts, "Read Romans 11!" Paul says that all Israel (we understand this to be all of the remnant) will be saved BECAUSE "the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable." Rom 11:29
However, it is not our intention to try to answer the many arguments and debates between the Gentiles and Jews which have developed over the centuries. Our purpose is to deal with the spirit and attitudes which cause such debates. To that end this and next month's newsletters are dedicated.
THE JEWS GLORIED IN BEING CHOSEN FOR ITS OWN SAKE
The Jews who were chosen of God to be His peculiar treasure became blinded to the fact God had indeed chosen them for a special job: to be a light to the nations. They, as a nation of priests, were to take the knowledge of God to the ends of the earth. So say the prophets over and over again. (Isa 60)
Instead, the Jews concentrated on the honor of being chosen, seeing it as a favored position over the rest of the world. They looked upon the Gentile as inferior, to be consigned to the ranks of the heathen.
The Jews came to believe that just because someone was born Jewish, automatically gave him a key to heaven. In fact, Orthodox Jews, for the most part, believe that today. (They also believe that Gentiles who keep the covenant that God gave to Noah will also go into God's Kingdom.)
It did not really matter what a Jew did in his lifetime (except perhaps in extreme cases) as long as his father was Abraham.
Thus, a large percentage of the Jewish people, especially in the last 2500 years, became indifferent or repulsed by the idea that they should in any way pursue a course of action to bring the Good News to the world. It was enough just to be a Jew. It was enough just not to be a Gentile.
GOD BECAME A "LOCAL" GOD
By the time the First Century A.D. had come along, the God of Israel had become a "local" God to such an extent that Peter had to explain to his fellow believers in Jerusalem that the Lord had given him a supernatural vision to tell him that "God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life." Acts 11:18
It goes without saying that the unbelieving Jews were not able to catch on at all. When Paul was mobbed at the Temple in Jerusalem, he was arrested by the Roman commander who then gave him permission to speak to the crowd. The crowd quieted and allowed him to give his testimony about how he met Yeshua the Messiah on the road to Damascus.
The mob listened to him intently until he reached the part where Yeshua told him "Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles." (Acts 22:21) At this they became so incensed that they were actually ready to kill him on the spot.
In their zeal for God, and in their desire to hold on to the promises of special relationship as a nation with God, they could not tolerate the idea of sharing Him with others unless, of course, those others became Jews.
Thank God, it was never true of all Jews; there was always a remnant that understood and implemented the long range plans of God.
THE GENTILES NOW TAKE FIRST PLACE
Over the next hundred years, the ranks of the Gentile believers began to flourish and grow in numbers. By the Second Century, however, there were rumblings this time from both sides concerning who--Jew or Gentile--had the favored position with God.
As the Church began to multiply into the millions, leaving the Jews numerically a tiny minority, a godly scholar by the name of Origen began to work out a new theology whereby he spiritualized the Scriptures. In other words, he explained that many of the Scriptures are not literal, but allegorical-especially those concerning Israel. He and others concluded from his new system that the vast masses of Gentiles who had been either born again into the Church or who "converted" by the command of their rulers, were now the new Israel.
By the Fourth Century, the victorious Church had presumed a complete replacement of Israel. In so doing, she came to see herself as in the most favored position of God's special people, while the Jews were transformed into an almost mythical monster, a non-human being. One excerpt from the outstanding Church Father Chrysostom in A.D. 387 will summarize how the Church viewed the Jewish people.
"They are become worse than the wild beasts, and for no reason at all, with their own hands they murder their own offspring, to worship the avenging devils who are the foes of our life... The Jews do not worship God but devils, so that all their feasts are unclean. God hates them, and indeed has always hated them. But since their murder of Jesus, He allows them no time for
repentance. It was of set purpose that He concentrated all their worship in Jerusalem that He might more easily destroy it... When it is clear that God hates them, it is the duty of Christians to hate them too..." (The Conflict of Church and Synagogue, James Parkes, p. 164-5).
CHRISTIAN ANTI-SEMITISM AN INTEGRAL PART OF CHURCH THEOLOGY
Thus the seeds of Christian anti-Semitism were deeply planted and would bear much tragic fruit over the next sixteen centuries. Church theologians such as Augustine continued to develop doctrines explaining how the Church now replaced the rejected Israel with herself. She, the Gentile Church, was the only true Israel. The blessings of Abraham and the Mosaic Law belonged to the Church totally and completely. The curses, however, were magnanimously left for the Jews.
The history of the Church's persecution of the Jewish people is relatively unknown to the Christian of today. Incredible as it may be, the Roman Catholics and the historic Protestant denominations, such as Lutheran and Anglican, have instigated centuries upon centuries of massive, deadly, and relentless persecution.
"Christians" killing, yes, raping, and pillaging the Jewish community continued through the Byzantine period, the Dark Ages right up to the Reformation. Would it stop then? Tragically, but surely, Luther echoed the sentiments of the Church Fathers on down to his time. In 1543 Luther writes:
"What then shall we Christians do with this damned rejected race of Jews?...”
Shall we say more? You can deduce the spirit of the answer. Luther seriously suggested that Christians burn down their synagogues or schools, raze their houses, destroy their prayer books, take their gold and silver, abolish safe conduct on the highway for them, etc., etc. (David A. Rausch, A Legacy of Hate, p. 29).
NAZISM FED OFF CHURCH THEOLOGY
It was no accident that the nation of Germany, with its Christian heritage that first brought the light of the Reformation, was also seduced to elect a man to office who would do all that had been in the minds of the leaders of the Church down through the ages. In fact, Hitler quoted Luther in his justification of exterminating the Jews.
Today, the Evangelical Church is dividing sharply over the issue of the Jewish people. Sadly, many are following the long, bitter heritage of the Church Fathers against the Jewish people. These replacement theologians feel they must prove that they now have the superior position.
Others, however, have gone farther back than the Church Fathers-to the Scriptures themselves-and have found a strong unshakable base to believe, pray and work for Israel's promised glorious spiritual resurrection!
Yet, there are some sincere Christians who see Israel's place in the Scriptures, but feel somehow that they must assure themselves that they, the Gentile Christians, are in no way second-class citizens of the Kingdom of God. They must be certain that they can prove that Israel does not have a more favored position than themselves. Obviously anyone, be he Jew or Gentile, who concentrates on proving his equality or even superiority over another is apt to have feelings of animosity towards the other.
What is our sure foundation in such dilemmas? There of course is only one possibility--to search the Scriptures with a humble heart to find how God looks upon this question. This we must do on this subject.
JAMES AND JOHN WANTED TO SHARE FIRST PLACE
The New Testament relates that these same human foibles were found in the heart of the mother of James and John. She boldly requested from Yeshua that her two sons be given the most preferred positions in the Kingdom: two thrones immediately alongside the Messiah's throne.
His answer to the mother was that this was the attitude of the heathen. The great men of the world exercise authority over others. That is what makes them "great."
But in Yeshua's Kingdom, that principle does not operate. In His Kingdom, there is another entirely different set of principles at work which, when understood, will govern our attitudes. Greatness in the Kingdom is given to those who have mastered
"Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave." (Matt. 20:26) "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all." (Mark 9:35) "Let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant." (Luke 22:26)
Yeshua brought this subject up (or His disciples brought it up for Him) several times. At one point, He admonished his disciples not to call themselves Rabbi, teacher, father, or leader. (Matt. 23:7-10) The spirit of His teaching (for the letter kills) was that His followers were not to exalt their spiritual calling in any way.
They were not to dwell on their relative position with others, but rather do the work they had been called to do, secure in His love for them. Indeed, the Holy Spirit admonishes His disciples "not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think" and Yeshua promised, "Blessed are the humble for they will inherit the earth."
Through His discourses the Lord did, however, reveal certain aspects of what will make a person great in His sight. As we have noted, His principles and measurements of greatness are in direct opposition to those we learn in this world. Let us look at some examples.
GREATNESS MAY MEAN SEVERE PERSECUTION
We all know the Scripture when Yeshua asked His Father, "if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: yet not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matt 26:39)
The cup meant persecution, death.
When James' and John's mother asked for preferred seating for her boys, Yeshua answered, "You don't know what you are asking." (Matt 20:21) In other words, "Lady, it's different in my Kingdom. You think you are asking for something that everyone would ooh and aah over."
But instead He revealed that those who suffer the most for the Kingdom of God will be considered great. He therefore asked the sons, "Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?"
They answered in the affirmative, and indeed they did. Acts 12:2 records that James was one of the first martyrs to fall under the sword of Herod. John was a prisoner of many years on the Isle of Patmos.
This principle is again seen in Matt 5: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of God." (v. 10) Those who are slandered and reviled can rejoice and be glad, "For your reward in heaven will be great." (v. 11,12)
We see specifically in the Book of Revelation that those who are beheaded by the Beast will reign with the Messiah for a thousand years. (Rev 20:4) Now who wants to be great?!
THIS IS A PRINCIPLE WE MUST ACCEPT WITHOUT HESITATION
We also see from several of the parables that the Father reserves the right to appoint people to different positions as He wills. Yeshua clearly states this in His parable where God gives according to a man's abilities one, two, and five talents. He rewards them according to their abilities and their faithfulness. Matt. 25:14-23
We learn two principles here: (1) It is the faithful that will be exalted. (2) The Father reserves the right to position people anywhere He desires.
DIVERSITIES OF GIFTS, ADMINISTRATIONS, OPERATIONS
Being chosen by God for different positions and jobs is seen on every side of us in real life. There is only one Moses, one Elijah, one Billy Graham, one Reinhardt Bonkke, to use examples from the Bible and our present day.
Another might feel jealousy, and says, "God, why didn't you make me a Billy Graham?" Why does he get to be ‘it’?"
Why did Yeshua choose only the twelve? What right did He have to keep others of Israel from having their chance at those twelve thrones? (Luke 22:30) But such speculations Yeshua did not encourage. It is true, a few times he gave us an opportunity to look through a "dark glass."
For example, when he exclaims, "there has never arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist...," Yeshua goes on to say that in some way he was even the great Elijah. Yet the Lord concludes, "He who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
I am not sure anyone can fully comprehend the depths of this riddle. Does this mean that the men of the Old Testament such as Moses, Abraham and Elijah will automatically have a lower position in heaven than the least New Testament believer? I hardly think so!
LET'S NOT WASTE OUR LIMITED HUMAN RESOURCES ON DEBATING WHO'S THE GREATEST!
We can conclude from the Scriptures and from the lessons of our Jewish and Christian forefathers, that energies wasted on debating who is the greatest can only bring sadness to the Father's heart.
In fact, this "law of nature" is instinctively in our own hearts. Even if we are a family of wealth, fame, and fortune, we would never allow our child to tell a poorer friend that our offspring is superior in position, smarts and looks!
If we are settled on the happy conclusion that we do not have to worry about position, we, whether Jew or Gentile, are now free to look without fear or apprehension at what the Scriptures do say about God choosing individuals and nations in His own wisdom.
What has God shared with us concerning physical Israel? What has He said about the born-again Gentiles among the nations who, along with believing Jews, make up the worldwide Community which is His Bride? We will do just that next month in the second part of this subject.
NEXT YEAR WE WILL CELEBRATE THE FEAST AT HOME
This month of October brings the Yom Kippur Fast (starting the evening of October 8th) and the Feast of Tabernacles which begins five days later.
By this time next year, we will have long ago arrived back home in our land of Israel, celebrating these feasts with our people.
We are anxious to get home, but know we must stay in America until we have raised the funds needed for a Messianic Jewish Institute of Learning.
We still need many friends who have a heart to share in Israel's spiritual resurrection to pledge $10,000 over the next ten months. As the end of the year approaches, perhaps this would be the best time for you to make a serious pledge towards the Israeli Bible School.
Of course, donations of any size are gratefully received. Numbers of our co-laborers have made pledges and we look forward to receiving those gifts. It goes without saying, this ministry needs your monthly support to continue our work among the Jewish people.
We, ourselves feel the urgency of doing today what we can, as we do not know what next year will bring, economically or otherwise. We wish only to obey His commandments to us, to the greatest extent of our abilities, looking to Him who is able to energize us with His wisdom and strength. We believe you feel the same.
In our Master's service,
Ari & Shira Sorko- Ram
P.S. (Notice we have not used the word "Church" in its Biblical sense, as its principle meaning among Jews and Gentiles has meant for centuries the Gentile-dominated body. Rather, the original word in Greek means "Community of Believer," all the Living Stones of His Building. By using the word "Community" we encompass the concept of both believing Jews and Gentiles in one Body.)