TO THE JEW FIRST
It is an ongoing struggle to help awaken the institutionalized church of its debt to the Jewish people… Salvation is “from the Jews,” said the King of the Jews to the “woman at the well” who mistakenly thought that God was “finished with Israel” (John 4:4-26).
Often it is not what is said that matters, but what is left unsaid… There is an unspoken assumption in the “theological culture” of many churches that Israel and the Jewish people are relatively unimportant for Christians today. There is little passion for the vision of Zion, and meager heeding the words of the prophets who repeatedly promised Israel consolation and a future and a hope. This is the proverbial “white elephant” in the room of institutionalized Christian churches. As I’ve said before, what you believe about ethnic Israel and Zion will affect ALL other areas of your theology.
Just the other day I met a pastor of a church in my area who believes that the “true Israel” are churchgoers (presumably like himself), and that ancient Israel belongs to the dustbin of history… According to him, Israel represents a sort of “object lesson” of what it means to be “cast off” and “forsaken” by the LORD! When I gently reminded him that God Himself chose to reveal Himself to the world as a Jewish man who spoke Hebrew and who read the Torah in synagogues, he was unmoved and even began to regard me with “theological suspicion.” Oy vey. How can Christian pastors and teachers dogmatically assume that the Torah is no longer applicable to Christians when they don’t even study Torah or bother to learn the meaning of the Hebrew texts? Indeed, how can they truly apprehend the language of the New Testament when they clearly suppress and disregard its God-given context? What are we to make of such cocksure ignorance, such institutionalized prejudice? As William James rightly observed, most people believe they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices…
“To the Jew first…” and this especially means that the message of the Messiah’s love is for the Jewish people. Christians who ignore their spiritual debt to the Jewish people and write them off as “unreachable” because of “God’s sovereign purposes” are like Pontius Pilate who vainly washed his hands of the guilt he richly warranted… So-called pastors or teachers who deny God’s unconditional promises given to ethnic Israel need to rethink whether they are serving the LORD God of Israel – or mere men (Gal. 1:10).
It is a scandal for “ministers of the gospel” to ignore the pattern given by the Apostle Paul himself, who regularly went to the Jewish synagogues to first proclaim the message of salvation, using only the Hebrew Bible to demonstrate how Yeshua is the Messiah and LORD who fulfills the true meaning of the Torah. Today Yeshua speaks to many Christian pastors something He said earlier to the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). (This unnamed woman was an early advocate of replacement theology, as the Samaritans themselves were transplants of the Jewish people brought in after the Northern Kingdom went into exile.)
Yeshua (Jesus) is the King of the Jews who loves the Jewish people… The gospel message was first proclaimed to them, and indeed, the plan of salvation will go full circle and return to them. As the Messiah said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
To pastors who talk “church” and who preach to crowds every week, I say: It is heartless to make a “philosophy” of why Israel is still in exile. Learn your Torah and be a light to the Jewish people… Equip the saints to know the full meaning of the salvation of the LORD revealed in Scripture, not just the parts you find palatable. And please, take the time to study Biblical Hebrew. How can you possibly hope to interpret the New Testament apart from properly understanding the “Old Testament”? The Hebrew of the Torah is the basis and the context for the entire New Covenant. Studying Koine Greek is insufficient since the Greek words of the Septuagint are translations from the original Hebrew. “Remember that it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (Rom. 11:18).
Recall that the term “New Covenant” (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned just once in the Hebrew Scriptures (though it is alluded to in many other places, of course), but in that very place we find an unconditional declaration of God’s eternal love for the Jewish people:
Thus says the LORD (יהוה), who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts (יהוה צְבָאוֹת) is his Name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease from being a nation (גּוֹי) before me forever.” Thus says the LORD: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) for all that they have done, declares the LORD. – (Jeremiah 31:35-36)
According to the great prophet Jeremiah, if you saw the sun shine today or the stars in the night sky, you can be assured that God’s promise to preserve the “offspring of Israel” is in effect. Indeed, in the world to come, the heavenly Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel prominently engraved upon its gates (Rev. 21:12).
Let me again remind you that while it is possible for the Torah to be true and the New Testament to be false, it is impossible for the New Testament to be true and the Torah to be false… In other words, the New Testament logically assumes the truth of the Torah and therefore studying Hebrew (and the Jewish roots of your faith) is primary to studying New Testament Greek. Reading in context is an axiom for correct interpretation.
It’s been wisely said that we must “unlearn” a lot during the days of our sojourn in this world, and that is especially true for those theologians who still assume that they know something about the Scriptures…. “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he needs to know” (1 Cor. 8:2). The message of the gospel is a scandal, and it is especially scandalous to the “religious” mind, the pastor, the teacher, the “leader” of a church, and so on. There is no “shortcut” to this process: “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). May it please the good Lord to save us from ourselves — and to deliver us from those “followers” who think they are doing God a favor… Amen.
Postscript: In light of my comments above, someone wrote me to protest that learning Hebrew is unnecessary to comprehend the Word of Truth, since the power of the Holy Spirit (alone) is sufficient for us…. My response to this person was to point out that were it not for certain servants of Lord who meticulously prepared and transmitted the Scriptures, and others who carefully translated their meaning into other languages, we would not even be able to talk about the Holy Spirit, or the Word, or the Truth, since these ideas were revealed to the Hebrew prophets that were later translated by those called by God to transmit the truth. We need Spirit and Truth, and indeed the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth for a reason — because the truth matters….