In keeping with my previous post on Christian-Jewish relations, this week I’m sharing a painting commission that touches on the topic. The couple who commissioned this painting took an active part in its development, which is part of the fun of commissioning an original painting. The male half of this couple is an avid climber, so I suggested that he might have a particular mountain or view that might serve as the motif for the painting. Also, since I knew these people were lovers of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, I suggested that they might have a favorite passage that could be the inspiration for the painting.
They liked the latter idea and chose a passage from the gospel of Luke that depicts what is traditionally called “the presentation in the Temple.” This account describes Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem in order to fulfill the circumcision and purification requirements of the Torah, following the birth of a firstborn male. Luke states:
“…And it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Torah, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.’
And his father and mother marveled at what was said about him…” (Luke 2:26-33)
There’s a lot packed into those few sentences. We see that Jesus and His family are Jewish and fully Torah-observant under the Mosaic Covenant. We see that they are apparently a poor family as they offer doves, which is the sacrifice allowed for poor families. We see that the old man Simeon was in a state of expectation, as were many during the time period of the second Temple under Rome. But Simeon had even more than the word of the prophets to go on. It says the Holy Spirit had somehow shown him that he would not die before seeing “the Lord’s Christ.” What does this phrase mean?
Christ means anointed. The “Lord’s Christ” means God’s anointed one. In the Hebrew scriptures, leaders would be anointed with oil, symbolically setting them apart for a special purpose. By the time of Simeon, there was an understanding that the Hebrew scriptures foretold a specific anointed person who would bring about the redemption of Israel – “the Christ.” (Examples: Jn 4:25,26; 7:31; Mt 22:42; Lu 23:39.) Simeon had received a promise that he would see this Messiah-savior.
Notice Simeon’s somewhat surprising description of the Lord’s Christ: “A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Now compare his words to what you see in the world today. Would you say that Jesus has become these things to gentiles? To Jews? My guess is most of us would say that the “light for revelation to the gentiles” part has become true a million times over. Many of us would say it’s personally true for us. I certainly would. And, of course, some 2000 years after His death and resurrection, the religion that has developed around the person of Jesus is the largest in the world. Furthermore, many would argue that, where the news of this Christ has gone, “light” has followed. (One example.)
But what about the second part – “for glory to your people Israel?” Who would argue that this is true today? In defense of the Bible I wish I could argue that since Jesus came from Israel, He is therefore a glory to Israel. But that argument rings a bit hollow to me for a couple of reasons: 1) The vast majority of Jews today and throughout church history have viewed Jesus as a pretender and a false messiah, and 2) for the great majority of church history, the church has allowed Israel zero legitimacy; certainly allowing nothing that could be called “glory”. In fact, with the gentilization of the church, early church fathers began re-interpreting the Hebrew scriptures through a “Christian” lens so that even old covenant figures like Abraham and Moses were no longer considered Jewish, but Christian! Jesus was essentially taken away from Israel. Added to this was the insistence, during much of church history, that a Jew converting to Christianity repudiate any identity with Judaism at all, making the separation total. Following is an excerpt from a baptismal confession for Jewish converts. Other such documents have survived as well:
‘AS a preliminary to his acceptance as a catechumen, a Jew ‘ must confess and denounce verbally the whole Hebrew people, and forthwith declare that with a whole heart and sincere faith he desires to be received among the Christians. Then he must renounce openly in the church all Jewish superstition, the priest saying, and he, or his sponsor if he is a child, replying in these words:
‘I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations, and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce absolutely everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom…and thus, with my whole heart, and soul, and with a true faith I come to the Christian Faith. But if it be with deceit and with hypocrisy, and not with a sincere and perfect faith and a genuine love of Christ, but with a pretence to a be Christian that I come, and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Cain and the leprosy of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils’
( B: Profession of Faith, from The Church of Constantinople,
From Assemani, Cod. Lit., 1, p. 105. )
Heart breaking. Not much room for glory to Israel there. This is a cartoonishly divisive departure from the Bible, written by non-Jews who believed they were honoring God and obeying His Word! For these reasons I have to conclude that the world has yet to see Simeon’s “for glory to your people Israel” part of the prophecy.
Am I suggesting that the religions of Judaism and Christianity are one and the same? No. They are not. I am suggesting that, according to the Bible, religion is the wrong paradigm for understanding what God has accomplished for us in His Messiah. What He has accomplished is a better relationship. “The Lord’s Christ” never told anyone to create a new, distinct religion around Him. He did not tell his disciples to go and preach “the Christian religion.” Search for yourself – the linear, unfolding, progressive revelation of the Bible advocates something far better and deeper than a string of divisive, man-made religions. God’s Messiah preached something called the “kingdom of God”, and made possible a new relationship with God as sons and daughters that only arrived with the Messiah’s New Covenant. In this scenario, Israel has an irrevocable place according to the apostle Paul (Ro 11:11,24,26-29.) For those interested in studying this topic, Christian, Jew, or otherwise, here are some key places to start: Luke 24:24-53; Roman ch 11; 2 Corinthians ch 3; Galatians ch 3-4:7; Hebrews ch 8.
In closing, I hold up the couple who commissioned this painting as one microcosm of what can be. She was raised by Presbyterian Christian missionaries in Africa. He was raised in a non-observfant Jewish home in California. Today they are united in marriage, a Jew and a gentile Christian. Their children understand the Jewish roots of their faith in Jesus and embrace the unity of the whole of scripture. For the past few Easter/Passover seasons, my family has celebrated Passover with them in full recognition that God’s Messiah has come, fulfilling – not obliterating – everything that was written in the Torah and the prophets. This truth excites everyone present, both Jew and gentile. In the end, it’s all about love and unity between God and man, and between man and man – a unity that God has created in His Messiah (Eph 2:11-16; Matt 22:36-40.)