The Hebrew author of the old testament book of Ecclesiastes stated that there is nothing new under the sun. At the time he was writing, I suppose this was true. However, the Torah and the prophets gave clear proclamation that something new and better would one day come with Israel’s Messiah.
The Judeo-Christian scriptures present a linear, unfolding revelation of our Creator’s spectacularly generous plan for humanity. When Jesus began to publicly speak, He spoke in terms of fulfillment: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of god is at hand…“ (Mk 1:15; Lk 4:17-21.) He spoke of new things – a new commandment, a new covenant, spiritual rebirth, a new life in His Spirit, the arrival of the long-awaited kingdom of God, resurrection and a new age to come.
Someone might object, “This is all old new stuff. Jesus said all of this 2000 years ago.”
Well, yes and no.
Our natural human condition hasn’t changed. All human beings continue to be born into a broken state, relationally separated from our Creator who is the source of life. It’s true that Jesus claimed to be the means to restore us to relational unity 2000 years ago, but the spiritual rebirth that He spoke of is new today for every modern person who chooses to believe and embrace Jesus and His gift of new life.
But there is another sense in which the works of Jesus are not ancient history, and this is what I want to focus on as we approach the Easter/Passover season.
Something new is happening, as we speak
Jesus and His apostles taught about something called “one new man;” something that could not have existed before the incarnation of Jesus (Eph 2:11-16; Jn 10:14-16.) One new man does not refer to individual regeneration and salvation. The one new man refers to both Jews and “the nations” (non-Jews) being fully united as equals, fully sharing in all of the blessings of the Jewish Messiah. Available recorded history indicates that this new and remarkable unity occurred only during a very brief time on a relatively small scale during the first century, during the time of the apostles. We can see the initial breakthrough described in Acts chapter 15, and elaborated in the writings of the apostles.
This is one of the great ironies of history: Contrary to first century Jewish tradition and expectation, the early Jewish followers of Jesus welcomed in non-Jewish believers as full brothers and sisters, without requiring them to become Jewish. They believed God had instructed them to do so. The Jewish apostolic leadership reached an agreement that “spiritually reborn” gentiles need not become circumcised and Torah-observant in order to be in right relationship to God, as this was now accomplished by faith in the salvific work of Jesus (Acts 15:7-11.) This full inclusion of non-Jews into the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12, Ro 11:13-36) changed the world, though not in ways anyone could have predicted. Certainly no one would have guessed that this would bring misfortune upon the Jewish people for centuries to come.
This is not to say that the inclusiveness of the early church leadership was wrong. Rather, it was the generations that followed who failed to abide by the teaching of the Rabbi Jesus and His Jewish apostles.
Many authors have documented the rift that grew between traditional Jews and the new church of Jesus, as it became increasingly gentile in composition. Eventually, as Roman rulers began to adopt “Christian” belief and identity, the situation became worse for Jews. Both civil law and church doctrine became increasingly hostile to Judaism, so that unity between Jews and gentiles was openly discouraged. In many times and places throughout Europe it became a punishable offense for a Christian to fellowship with or marry a professing Jew, or to participate in Jewish rituals. Both state and church leadership, (often one and the same,) sought to reinforce the establishment of two, separate religions – a triumphant Christianity and a subjugated Judaism. Religious times and seasons were changed accordingly as “Christian holidays” were established. For their part, traditional Jewish people were happy to comply with having nothing to do with the Jesus of the gentiles.
Today, the world accepts this status quo. Books and media dogmatically assume “three great Abrahamic religions” – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Christians have their holidays, and Jews have theirs. As far as Jewish people are concerned, if a Jewish person comes to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, that person ceases to become Jewish. Generations of intentional, religiously motivated segregation have reinforced this. The situation is now precisely upside-down: At the time of the Apostles, the question was, “Can a gentile become a follower of Jesus without becoming Jewish?” Today the question is, “Can a Jew become a follower of Jesus without becoming a gentile?!”
The answer to both questions is a joyful “YES!” The proof is that all of the first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and they rooted their recognition and belief in Jesus as God’s Messiah inseparably to the Hebrew Torah and prophets. The answer has always been yes, but anti-Jewish “Christian” theology made it almost impossible to see for the past 1900 years.
Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus came to establish a new religion called “Christianity,” distinct from “Judaism.” Jesus clearly stated that He came to fulfill the Torah and the Prophets (Matt 5:17.) What is described in the New Testament is Jesus establishing a new covenant, and the kingdom of God – both Jewish concepts! In fact, the Jewish apostle Paul states that the gospel of Jesus is “to the Jew first, and also to the gentile.”
What has changed?
We live in a unique time in history. The Bible is now widely available to a widely literate international population. New generations of Jews, who have been taught that the New Testament is a Christian book having nothing to do with Judaism, can now open it up and see for themselves if this is true. New generations of gentile followers of Jesus have generally not grown up with anti-Semitic ideas such as Replacement Theology. More so than ever before, Jews and Christians can now openly dialogue with each other about these things without fear of persecution. Most importantly, more and more Jewish people are embracing Jesus as their Messiah, and as part of their heritage. And more and more gentile Christians are becoming aware of the essential historic Hebrew roots of their faith.
Is this the same as saying “more and more Jews are becoming Christians”? No.
Is this the same as saying “more and more gentile Christians are becoming Jewish? No.
The whole point of the one new man idea is Jews and gentiles being united in the Jewish Messiah. It’s true unity in diversity. It transcends religion and religious tradition in favor of relationship. It’s restored relational unity with our Creator, resulting in restored community within the creation. It must include truth, forgiveness, grace, and love. It’s already beginning to happen. I am so in.
Imagine the impact on our jaded and fractured world when this begins to happen on an undeniable, global scale. After nearly 2000 years of sometimes-violent, religious persecution, the walls are coming down. And this is not due to a more liberal reading of the Bible, but a more careful one.
What you can do
I’m not Jewish, and I don’t attend a Messianic congregation. I don’t own a shofar, or a kippah, or a tallit. However, I think it is clear that the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures has chosen Israel to bring salvation to the world through Jesus. It grieves me that most Jews have been hindered from recognizing their own Messiah because of centuries of unbiblical religious practice on the part of the gentile church. It is time for the gentile church to educate itself as to the Hebrew foundation of our theology. It is time for the gentile church to put down any barriers that may hinder Jewish seekers from feeling welcome in our midst. It is time for us to go out of our way to love Jewish people.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can begin by clicking on the links in this post. If you live in Northern Colorado, I’d like to invite you to an event that my church puts on every Holy Week. It’s called the Holy Week Journey of Worship. The Journey of Worship is a self-guided, meditative event that takes place from 8am to 8pm (depending) in our darkened sanctuary from Wednesday through Saturday. Nine stations will walk you through the climactic events in the life of Jesus, explaining how the Hebrew feasts in the Torah of Moses foreshadowed each remarkable event. There is no speaker or program, but there is a fair amount of reading. I would suggest getting off the treadmill of normal life for an hour to go through it.
Following are comments:
“This was very beautiful. We were looking for a new way, a special way to celebrate this day. We were all moved, my husband, my teenage son, and myself. Thank you for opening this up to the public.”
“This was my first time coming to Journey of Worship and I LOVED IT. So great, cried my eyes out with the Lord. I love being that close to Him.”
“I just wanted to say that this has become such an important part of the Easter season in my life…It is a reminder of the intricate history tied to the awesome and supernatural events…Thanks.”
“This was a profoundly meaningful opportunity to worship and reflect. Thank you so much.”
Watch this VIDEO to learn specific times for the Journey of Worship.