13 July 2017

Where do Jews fit into God’s kingdom?

When we confess Jesus as our Lord, and believe he’s alive, we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Duh. True of anybody—whether Christian, or people who kinda shun that title; whether women or men, young or old, knowledgeable or ignorant, gentile or Jew.

Particularly if you’re a Jew. ’Cause Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. He particularly came to save the lost sheep of Israel. Mt 10.6 And if anyone’s under the delusion there aren’t any Jews in God’s kingdom, they’re nuts. Their antisemitism is making ’em heretic.

But here we slam into a little bit of controversy.

Y’see a number of Jews don’t confess Jesus as their Lord. Don’t believe in their hearts God raised him from the dead. Yet they still figure they’re in God’s kingdom, ’cause they’re following his Law. (Their rabbis’ interpretations of the Law, anyway.) God saved the Hebrews from Egypt, gave ’em his Law, told ’em to follow it, said he’d make a kingdom out of them, so they do. So they’re in God’s kingdom, right?

Well… no.

Because people are not, and have never been, saved by following the Law.

Galatians 2.15-21 NET
15 We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then one who encourages sin? Absolutely not! 18 But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!

People are not, and have never been, saved by following the Law. Ro 3.20 That’s the false assumption people made ever since the LORD handed down the Law at Sinai, but it’s entirely wrong. The idea’s always been wrong. Every human, from Adam on down, is only saved by God’s grace.

The Hebrews were rescued from Egypt, not because they were good or mighty people, but because God chose to save ’em. We Christians are rescued from sin, not because we deserve it or grew up Christian, but because God chose to save us. None of us earned God’s favor. Nobody works their way to salvation. The Law was granted to an already-saved people. Same as Jesus’s instructions are granted to us Christians.

So when Jews claim, “I’m part of a special covenant with God, and that’s how I was saved; your insistence I can only be saved through Jesus isn’t valid,” they’re absolutely wrong.

See, an integral part of any relationship with God, no matter what form it takes, is faith. God offers us salvation, and we respond to his offer by trusting him and doing as he expects. Abraham believed God; his faith justified him; God saved him. Ge 15.6, Ro 4.3 What’s God expect of us nowadays? That we believe in the one he sent, Jn 6.29 namely Messiah Jesus. Jn 17.3 Especially if we’re descendants of Israel.

This idea that Jews get any special path to salvation which does an end-run round Jesus? Absolutely false.

Who claims Jews can be saved by their Law?

Well, those who practice Judaism frequently say so. Although there are many Jews who recognize grace is a mighty big part of it, ’cause every religion does grace. Christianity doesn’t own a monopoly on it. These Jews recognize it’s not about following the Law perfectly, but pursuing a relationship with God. The Law’s simply a guideline to set us on the right path.

And certain liberal Christians say so. Not because the scriptures teach any such thing; it’s because they don’t wanna rub our Jewish friends the wrong way, and insist they really do have to turn to Jesus to be saved. They’re figuring God’ll be so gracious, he’ll ignore rebellion. Even though he’s made it entirely clear he forgives rebellion, but he ain’t gonna ignore rebellion.

And lastly, dispensationalists say so. Y’see, according to the teachings of John Nelson Darby, God has multiple plans of salvation, or dispensations. According to him, in the past God saved people when they worked the Law. Because of Jesus, he switched systems; now God saves people by grace.

Dispensationalists can argue they’re technically not heretic, ’cause they’re not claiming God saves people for good works now. That was then; the salvation-by-Law dispensation ended once Jesus died. New dispensation, new rules.

Therefore when Simon Peter said the following in temple, to an audience which entirely consisted of Jews, it was because they needed to be informed the new dispensation had kicked in.

Acts 4.8-12 NET
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, replied, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today for a good deed done to a sick man—by what means this man was healed— 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone. Ps 118.22 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.”

Yet there are nonetheless many dispensationalists who claim present-day Jews can be saved by the Law. That God’s supposed salvation-by-Law arrangement wasn’t undone by Jesus: It’s still around. The special covenant God has with Israel still counts: If Jews expect to be saved by following the Law, they can.

According to these dispensationalists, God has two covenants: The Old Testament covenant for any descendants of Israel, and the New Testament covenant for gentiles. Christians get saved NT style, by trusting Jesus. And yeah, Jews can opt to be saved the same way; they’re not gonna kick Jews out of their churches. But Jews can likewise opt to be saved OT style, ’cause that covenant is still around. Any Jew who wants to dismiss Jesus, or even be an antichrist, will be saved nonetheless when they obey the Law.

I know; so much wrong with this idea. Still a popular one. Dispensationalists even use it as the foundation of a whole lot of their End Times ideas. If they can’t figure out how an Old Testament prophecy has been fulfilled, they leap to the conclusion it must therefore be an End Times prophecy. As a result there are a lot of “End Times prophecies” involving Israel. They figure Jesus is gonna rapture us Christians before the great tribulation; then during the tribulation, the Jews are all gonna magically come to believe in their Messiah, and God’s gonna use them to help fight the Beast. So don’t worry too much if Jews don’t come to Jesus just yet; they will during the End Times. Again, so much wrong.

’Cause anybody who claims salvation is found through any other route, just violated everything Peter taught. Nobody gets to the Father except through Jesus. Jn 14.6 No matter how good we might be, how righteous we might imagine ourselves, or whether we’re descendants of Abraham. You do recall God can turn rocks into descendants of Abraham, right? Mt 3.9, Lk 3.8

Did Jews get booted from the kingdom?

The idea God’s kingdom only consists of people who believe in God’s anointed king, shouldn’t be a controversial idea. But it is. And that’s mostly because of the way Christians have bollixed this idea.

Historically Christians have taught supercessionism, the idea that since Jesus’s new covenant supersedes the Law, He 8.13, 12.24 God’s kingdom no longer consists of solely Israel, nor people under the Law. Once the Pharisees and Judean senate rejected Jesus and Christianity, God rejected ’em right back and replaced ’em with Christians who do affirm Jesus. This is why supercessionism is also called “replacement theology”—’cause God replaced Jews with gentiles.

Parts of this idea are correct. Bigger parts really aren’t.

First of all, Paul stated God didn’t reject the Jews.

Romans 11.1-6 NET
1 So I ask, God has not rejected his people, has he? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew! Do you not know what the scripture says about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left and they are seeking my life!” 1Ki 19.10, 14 4 But what was the divine response to him? “I have kept for myself 7,000 people who have not bent the knee to Baal.” 1Ki 19.18
5 So in the same way at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

There are a whole lot of Jews among us Christians. More than most of us realize. Y’see, the first apostles and the first Christians were all Jews. Wherever Paul went to proclaim Jesus in the Roman Empire, he’d usually meet Pharisees in synagogue first—Jesus is their Messiah after all, so they oughta hear the good news first!—and many of them likewise became Christian. But after a few centuries of these Jewish Christians worshiping with, living amongst, and intermarrying with gentile Christians, their Jewishness faded into the background. And for centuries thereafter, when Jews became Christian—voluntarily or not—they often left their Jewish identity behind.

But not their DNA. This is why there are way more Christians of Jewish descent than we realize—as some of us are rediscovering when we look into our ancestry or test our DNA. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more Christians of Jewish descent, than practicing Jews of Jewish descent.

Like Paul pointed out, he was Israeli. Lots of early Christians were. God absolutely hadn’t thrown out his people: Many were following Jesus. And many weren’t; many Pharisees had chosen to follow their rabbis instead. Paul called the Israeli believers in Christ “a remnant… chosen by grace.” Like the 7,000 devout men in Elijah’s day, it wasn’t a majority, but it wasn’t nothing.

Here’s the problem: Supersessionism, as it’s frequently taught, totally disregards what Paul wrote, and acts as though God rejected Israel. Antisemites take this idea and run with it, claiming we Christians oughta reject he Jews too, not even bother to share the gospel with them, and even hassle, persecute, and condemn them as rebellious unbelievers. Yep, it’s used as the basis, or excuse, for racism, terrorism, and genocide. For evil.

Properly, Christians should treat Jews slightly different than other ethnic groups. Slightly better, actually. ’Cause our Lord is an ethnic Jew. These are Jesus’s people. He deliberately came to them first. He particularly wants ’em saved. He’s particularly their king: He’s everybody’s king, but Messiah is specifically a title of the king of the Jews, and it’s a shame when Jews don’t know their own king. When they get to know him, Jews’ relationships with Jesus are gonna be a little extra meaningful for just this reason: They’re in a privileged position. The fact anyone treats ’em otherwise, as if they’re lesser, just goes to show you how devilish antisemitism is.

Now yeah, some Christians have dangerously overcompensated for the antisemitism by insisting Jews have a special salvation-by-works covenant, and needn’t become Christian. Again, totally contrary to that Romans 11 bit I just quoted.

And a number of Messianic Jews also claim unbelieving Jews, and the nation of Isael, have a special setup with God. Mostly this is because many of the founders of the Messianic Jewish movement have a dispensationalist background. All those Old Testament prophecies, taken out of context and claimed for the End Times? They love those, ’cause their interpretation insists the nation of Israel is gonna defeat all its neighbors, rebuild its temple, and be restored to its glory days under King David—before Jesus returns, not after.

I would counter their “End Times” prophecies are a combination of misappropriation and wishful thinking. And have the bad habit of overlooking a lot of evil done by the Israeli government. Something that’s never wise to turn a blind eye towards. Pr 14.16

So does that mean Christendom is the kingdom?

The other problem with supercessionism is Christians figure the church is God’s kingdom. It is not.

That which we call “the church” consists of all the people we figure are Christian. Who claim allegiance with Jesus. Who participate in one church or another. The folks whom we popularly know as “Christianity” and “Christendom.” Problem is, not all of ’em recognize Jesus as Lord, and Jesus doesn’t know ’em either. Mt 25.12

A number of ’em figure they’re Christian because they grew up Christian—in a “Christian home,” with Christian parents, in a Christian nation. They’re culturally Christian. They’ll act Christian, as far as their culture defines acting Christian. But they don’t actually follow Jesus any, and I call ’em Christianists. Nobody knows their total number but God.

On the other side of the coin are the incognito Christians: People who don’t or can’t go to church. People who worship Jesus in secret ’cause their nations would kill ’em if they did in public. People who trust Jesus despite being mixed up in other religions, like a Muslim who trusts the prophet Issa of Nazareth far more than Muhammed, or a Hindu who figures Jesus is a way better avatar of God than Krishna. I’m not saying such folks don’t still have a number of wrong beliefs; who doesn’t? But Jesus considers them truly his, and considers them in his kingdom… even though the rest of us would have real problems even imagining them among our number.

Jesus’s true followers make up his kingdom. Jesus’s perceived followers—the folks we consider Christendom—are not. Theologians sometimes call this difference “the invisible church” versus “the visible church.” However you label it, the church we can see ain’t the kingdom.

But historically, supercessionists have figured the perceived followers are the kingdom. And based a lot of their teachings and behaviors on this idea. Like granting political power to clergy, namely bishops, popes, and pastors. Like endorsing kings and presidents who claim to be Christian. Like giving the benefit of the doubt to “good Christians,” and giving loads of doubt to everyone else. Never mind how Christian none of these people behave.

“My kingdom isn’t of this world,” Jesus stated. Jn 18.36 But Christendom doesn’t agree. Hence the -dom in that world: If we’re God’s kingdom, why aren’t we in power? Let’s take it!

But without King Jesus directly leading us, no we’re not the kingdom. At best we’re helping him get it ready. At worst, we’re making more of a mess of things, doing it in his name, and dragging his name in the mud as we do so.

Properly, supercessionism isn’t an accurate way to describe how God’s kingdom differs between Old and New Testaments. ’Cause the only substantial way it differs is that it now includes gentiles. It never wholly included every ethnic Jew; it only included those who cared to follow the LORD. God didn’t ditch this plan, but expanded upon it.

So it’s wholly inaccurate to say the church replaces Israel. Christendom is not God’s new kingdom. God’s kingdom arrives when our king does. Jesus hasn’t done away with anything. Mt 5.17 He’s made it better, bigger, more inclusive; he’s come not just to save Israel, but the whole world. 1Jn 2.2 The kingdom is good news for Jews and gentiles alike.