Sunday, April 30, 2017

An Inherent Anti-Semitic Interpretation of the New Testament on the Part of Gentiles

One day while reading a book on the history of Christianity I ran across the following quote:

The martyrdom of Stephen marked a turning point in two respects: (1) It began the persecution that drove witnessing Christians from Jerusalem into all Judea and Samaria and (2) It moved Saul the persecutor towards personal conversion to Christ.

The authors of this particular book are reputable scholars yet I was alarmed by this quote on a number of levels.  I choose to address only one issue, here, which is what I regard to be the most important one.

In the Book of Acts in the Bible there is an account of a man named Stephen who, while speaking to a multitude of Jewish people, recounts Jewish history as it was recorded in the Tanakch (Old Testament), and uses it to show our (the Jewish people’s) need for an atonement that could only be satisfied through the then recent death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus.  In essence those Jews listening to Stephen’s message did not like what they heard and stoned him to death.  Another repercussion of this particular event was that massive persecution broke out against those who believed in Jesus throughout Judea.

As I write this essay, I’ve always thought of Stephen, the Apostles, those believers in Jesus who met daily at the Beis HaMikdosh (Temple), and in people’s homes, the 3,000 who’d come to believe in Y’shua on Shavuoth (Pentacost) and those who were “daily added to their number” as Jews.  In fact there is absolutely no specific mention of a Gentile coming to believe in Y’shua until late in chapter 10, three chapters later*. 

And so I was shocked at reading this books description of the recipients of the post-Stephen persecution as “Christians”.  This description carries with it unique connotations both to the Jewish mind as well as the Gentile mind:  The Jewish mind has been trained to think of the term “Christian” as being decidedly not Jewish.  The Gentile mind, likewise, sees those persecuted as one of them… namely Christians and not Jews (or even Jewish Christians).

The Gentile perception is unfortunate.  For one thing, it denies the reality that those first “Christians” were Jews and for another thing it creates in the minds eye, a “them vs. us” scenario in which the Gentile sees his people, the Christians, as being persecuted by THOSE Jews.  This perpetuates the notion that Jews are evil and "not one of us".  The resulting perspective is one of dispassionate indifference at best towards the persecutors.  The Jewish Christian, on the other hand, sees those who were doing the persecuting as “My Father, brother, my cousins… my family.”  His heart throbs with that of the Apostle Paul who said…

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Romans 9:1-3

Hence, the Jewish Christian innately loves the people who are persecuting him.**

The repercussions of this “them vs. us” exegesis on the part of the Gentile are far reaching!  It feeds the virus of white supremacy which fallaciously assumes that the early Christians were white Gentiles.  Hence, the Jews who literally gave them their Bible become the bad guys and objects of derision.  These resulting anti-Semitic behaviors and attitudes cause the “unsaved” Jew to believe the false notion that the New Testament is an anti-Semitic book written by Gentiles.  Furthermore, the Christian who takes on this interpretation of the text only causes angst on the part of the Jewish Christian who is allegedly the Gentile Christians "brother or sister in the Lord".  This is because the Gentile has only served to distance the Jewish-Christians loved ones from the Gospel by throwing another roadblock in the path of the Jews identification with the Good News of Jesus.

This “them vs. us” exegesis on the part of the Gentile has to stop! The Gentile must come to grips with and be willing to proclaim the reality that those early persecuted individuals were Jews and thought of themselves as Jews and he must come to the realization that his exegesis of scripture is false and incomplete without input from what is at least the heart of the Jew who is able to help the Gentile “rightly divide the Word of Truth”.

* The Ethiopian Eunuch of chapter 8 was, in all likelihood, a convert to Judaism.
** Admittedly there seem to be exceptions to this rule but I would hold that that’s all that they are… exceptions. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

You’re Invited to Wedding Celebration. Are You Coming?

God is inviting you to a wedding.  The food that will be there could only be described as “Heavenly”.  This wedding is called the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb”.  Why such an odd name?  Lambs don’t get married!  Ah… but this one does.  The lambs Name is Y’shua (commonly known as Jesus).  He’s described as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  But “how can He be described as a ‘lamb’?” you might ask.  After all He was a human being! 

True, He was a human being in every sense of the word.  But He was the Messiah which makes Him much more than merely human.  And so, among many other things, He was described as a lamb.

The lamb was a picture throughout the Old Testament of what the Messiah was supposed to accomplish…

The lamb was used to stave off plague. In Sh’moth (Exodus) chapter 12 a year-old unblemished lamb was to be brought into the homes of people in Egypt.  It was to be slaughtered and its blood splattered on the lintel and doorposts of people’s houses.  Then it’s flesh was to be roasted and eaten.  Any home that did not have that blood on the door would experience death to any firstborn son that lived in that household.

It’s interesting to note, as an aside, that you didn’t have to be a ‘Hebrew’ (Jewish) to apply this blood to the door.  If you were Jewish and you didn’t apply the blood, the plague would hit your house as well as the home of any Gentile.  It was the blood of the lamb that averted the plague.

The lamb or ram was used to atone for guilt in the sacrificial system that was used in the mishkan (tabernacle) and later on in the Beit HaMikdosh (Temple) e.g. Vayikra (Leviticus) chapter 5.  It was to be killed, consumed by fire, and it’s blood was to be poured out at the base of the Miz’beach (Altar).

It was a ram that served as a substitute in place of Abraham’s son, Isaac (Bereyshit / Genesis 22),  Indicating that, even as Isaac’s death was averted because a ram had died in his place, so our eternal death can be averted by ascribing the Messiah as our substitute.

Of the Messiah, it was written “Like a lamb to the slaughter, so He opened not His mouth” and “He shall make His soul an offering for sin”. (Isaiah 53)

So, you’re invited to this wedding feast where Jesus is the groom and the groom is a lamb and the lamb is also the main course meal.  So who are you?  You’re the guest. But you’re also the bride.  And the object of the Bride is to engorge herself in her love for the groom aware of the infinite love that the groom has for her.  At this point, you might protest “This doesn’t make any sense”.

Yes… this language could be merely metaphorical but I doubt it.  We human beings tend to make assumptions about the nature of God.  But is any of us actually God that we can emphatically assert those assumptions?  Likewise, I assume that many of us take ‘leaps of faith’ when it comes to our perspectives concerning death… something which I believe I’m safe to say you’ve not yet experienced if you’re reading this post.

So then, how much love does this groom, the Messiah, have for His bride?

Let’s compare for a moment, Jesus to Adam, the first man on earth.  Most people know that Adam and his wife, Eve, ate the fruit that they were told not to eat.  But most people forget what happened after that.  God asked Adam, “have you eaten of the fruit of the tree from which I’d told you not to eat?”  (Of course, God knew the answer, but He was testing Adam.) Adam replied… “The woman whom You gave me gave it (the fruit) to me and I ate”.  Adam had, in a very real sense, placed the woman between himself and God, attempting to use her, as it were, as a shield making her the brunt of the wrath of God.  That doesn’t make for a very good relationship.  Ever since then family relationships have been less than ideal.  Almost invariably there’s going to be some level of mistrust between the spouses.

In contrast, Jesus took it upon Himself to shield you from the wrath of the Father by dying, absorbing the wrath that you deserved.  This is truly the way that the ideal husband should or would behave towards his wife.  This is most certainly in keeping with the admonision of Paul, HaShaliach (Sent one/Apostle) when he said "husbands, love your wives as Messiah loved the ekklessia (church) and gave Himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). Such a husband, any woman would trust and fall in love with.  But why would Jesus do this?  Because He loves you and He wants to marry you and hence, as the perfect groom, showing we men what we should be like but aren't, He invites you as His guest and His bride to His wedding supper.

This imagery could be merely metaphorical but I do believe there's more to it than that.  We men, though we might be part of the "bride" will in some mysterious, magical way, not lose our masculinity but we will be more perfectly the type of individual we were meant to be.  I think that this is a genuine invitation for you and for me and there’s ample evidence that would support that built upon thousands of years of testing and challenging of the veracity of the Bible.  The invitation offered to you is the promise of a glorious eternity in the presence of the one who created you, loves you, wants your love in return and wants to embrace you with perfect love.

If you turn down this invitation you’ve done nothing less than deny yourself a wonderful hereafter and you will have spurned your creator.  

Consider this invitation seriously.  Yep, it's on a blog.  But it's meant specifically for you.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come."  Matthew 22:2-3