1st Century Christians and Jews: Fractured Relations

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Pull up a chair!  We’re gathering at the virtual study table to follow up on yesterday’s foundational discussion about early Jewish-Christian relations, and God’s call of the Apostle Paul as a missionary to the Gentiles.  If you missed yesterday’s discussion, scroll back to it for a good foundation for today’s topic.

We have established that early relations between Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus were tenuous because of the differing backgrounds and traditions each brought to Christianity.  For the most part, Gentiles had pagan, idol-worshiping backgrounds, while Jews had temple worship and sacrifices.  Once Jesus came on the scene and Jews and Gentiles became believers, they faced obstacles.

However, another highly significant event, the destruction of the temple, occurred in 70 AD.  Keep in mind, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection happened around 32-33 AD and the book of Acts was written in the late-30’s or early-40’s.  There were a few decades of Jewish-Christian history prior to the destruction of the temple, and it wasn’t a smooth ride! (Keep in mind, “Christians” included Jews who followed Jesus!)

For example, there was evidence of persecution against Christians.  Birkat HaManim (“blessings”) were added to weekday Amidah (Jewish prayer liturgy) to invoke curses on followers of Jesus.  Therefore, Jews who followed Jesus and were unwilling to recite the Birkat HaManim were excommunicated.  Jesus followers were conflicted!  Wanting to continue with their traditional prayers, but resisting the new Birkat HaManim!

Then it happened!  In 70 AD, the Temple was destroyed and it turned the Jewish world upside down.  Even Jewish Christ followers still observed the feasts and many of the Jewish traditions that God had set forth for them in the Mosaic Covenant.  What were practicing Jews to do now that there was no longer a place to worship or offer sacrifices?

Not only did they not have a temple in which to worship or sacrifice, but the Romans siege scattered the Jewish people to the four corners of the earth following the destruction of the temple!  It was hopeless for practicing Jews!

It was at this point in history that Rabbinic Judaism arose.  This Pharisaic, law-imposing form of Judaism was birthed out of a Rabbinic Counsel meeting at Yavnah.  Because temple worship and sacrifices were no longer possible, these three things became the primary tenets of Judaism:

  1. Prayer (even today, observant Jews faithfully go to the Western Wall to pray)
  2. Good deeds (the idea of Tikkun Olam became woven into their DNA)
  3. Fasting on Yom Kippur (retaining an emphasis on repentance)

Thus, Judaic “religion” would now be based upon the interpretation of rabbinic laws by rabbis.

Consider, however, that the Jewish people were still seeking the messiah.  They did not recognize Jesus as Messiah, so they remained anxious for the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression.  Thus, in 132 AD when a man named Shimon Bar Kochba was declared to be the messiah, Jewish believers in Jesus were faced with still another dilemma.

A revolt of the few Jews still left in Israel was taking place, and Bar Kochba was seen by many to be their salvation.  Yet, by this time, Jewish believers were well aware of the New Testament warnings against false messiahs, so now they were faced with controversy among their kinsmen.  Gentile believers wanted nothing to do with it, so they distanced themselves from their Jewish believing brethren and, therefore, from their Jewish roots.

In the Gentile Christian sphere, there was little concern for anything Jewish and, in fact, the church became:

  • Less Jewish (little regard for Jewish roots), then
  • Non-Jewish (separation of Jewish/Gentile believers), then
  • Anti-Jewish (animosity toward Jews)

As a result, through the years, historical events such as these occurred in the name of Christianity:

  • Middle Ages – chastisement of Jews for killing Jesus
  • Crusades – Jews killed by European Christians in attempts to conquer Jerusalem
  • Spanish Inquisition – Roman Catholic attempts to force conversion of Jews
  • Renaissance/Reformation – continued forced conversion of Jews
  • Holocaust – attempt at the hands of European Christians to exterminate the Jewish people

Now, think back to last week’s focus.  What we see in today’s lesson is such a far cry from the Romans 9-11 blueprint of Jewish-Christian relations that we studied last week.  Furthermore, put that into context of our time frame: the Church Age.

Is it any wonder a dramatic split occurred, lasting into the 20th century?  As a Jewish person, what would be your perception of Christians and Christianity?

Food for thought….until we meet again tomorrow.  See you then.

Week 7 – Parting Ways

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Welcome to week 7 of our study, Why Israel Matters.  This is a summary of a live study we’re doing each Sunday morning at CalvaryPHX in Phoenix AZ.  (11am in Room 209…you are welcome to join us!)  Last week we discussed the Jewish roots of our Christian faith, and how Christians and Jews are to rightly relate to one another.

We’ll follow that up this week by taking a close look at what happened to cause a split in Jewish-Christian relations in the 1st century, and what took place following that.  As you can imagine, backgrounds and traditions were much different between 1st century Jewish and Gentile believers.  The Jews had a history with God which included temple worship and sacrifices.  Meanwhile, background for most Gentiles was one, primarily, of pagan idol-worship.  Thus, problems arose as traditions clashed!  (Should the potluck be kosher or not!?!)

As we begin to understand the dilemma, let’s reflect back to Abraham.  To keep it all in perspective, we must remember that God birthed the Jewish people through a covenant with Abraham.  Prior to that time, there were no Jews.  God called a Gentile (Abraham) to be father of the Jews!  He then planted our Christian roots in that soil!

What do I mean by that?  Well, consider that “Christian” means “Christ follower,” and we know Jesus Christ was a Jew.  (We follow a Jew!)  Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses, was circumcised on the 8th day (as all Jewish male babies were), was brought to Jerusalem and presented to God, entered and read in the synagogues, observed the feasts and, ultimately, was crucified as “King of the Jews.”

Likewise, the apostles, the New Testament writers and the first followers of Jesus were observant Jews.  Yet, they all serve a function in our planting as Christians in the soil of Judaism!

Given that, let’s focus a bit on Paul and dispel a couple of misconceptions.  Turn in your Bible to Acts 9:1-19 to discover God’s call on Paul.  (You will find another account in Acts 22:1-16 as Paul “shares his testimony” while on trial.)

In Acts 22:3, Paul clearly identifies himself as a Jew…and a very observant one, at that!  It is important to understand that Paul remained a Jew even after that encounter with God in which he became a Christ follower.  He did not stop being a Jew!  He continued observing the feasts (as Jesus did!) and remained Jewish in his customs and traditions.  (Though he did recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, etc)

The point is: Paul was not “converted” to Christianity.  He was simply a Jew who chose to follow Jesus!  In fact, all the first followers of Jesus were JEWS!  (It was a bit later when the door of salvation opened to Gentiles.  Keep reading in Acts for that!)

The other misconception is that, upon his “conversion,” Saul became Paul.  In other words, his name changed.  Not so!  You see, “Saul” is a Hebrew name, while “Paul” is a Greek/Gentile form of the same name.  Paul was called as an apostle to the Gentiles, to whom he ministered.  Therefore, he was known as Paul by his audience.

Now, let’s put some puzzle pieces together.  In Acts 9, we read about the life-changing event that took place in order to prepare him for God’s service.  He is known as Saul in chapter 9 and, in fact, immediately following the Damascus road experience, he began teaching in the synagogues.  That means he was teaching Jews!

Read verses 19b-30.  How was he received by the Jews?  What happened to him?

Thus, you see that, beginning in verse 31, the focus turns to Peter and his ministry, and it remains there for the next several chapters of Acts.  Saul is seldom mentioned again until Acts 13:9.  Take a quick peek at that verse, and a look at the chapter heading to see how God brought Paul into mission with Himself!

Fascinating, isn’t it!  If you have not read the book of Acts lately, it is a great read!  You will get a pretty full understanding of the ministry to which God called Paul.  You will also get a great foundation of knowledge about the 1st century church.

That serves as our backdrop for the rest of this week!  Stick with us as we continue down our path of examining the parting of ways!  See you tomorrow!

Life from the Dead!

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You’re back…and I’m so excited for today’s lesson that I’m jumping right out of my skin!  If you’re new here and have no clue what I’m talking about, we’re in the midst of a Bible study called Why Israel Matters.  This week we are focusing on the Jewish roots of our Christian faith and yesterday we hit the meat of Romans 11.  We’ll conclude yesterday’s stream of thought, so go back and catch it if you missed it!

We left off in verses 11-16, establishing the idea that Israel’s loss was gain to the Gentiles.  Because of their transgression, salvation came to the Gentiles and reconciliation to the world.  But, God is not done with them!  For if their rejection meant salvation and reconciliation to the world, how much more will their fulfillment be?  It will be LIFE FROM THE DEAD!

So, let’s pick it up there.  Recall that God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) was that ALL families of the earth would be blessed.  We have established that the blessing is salvation.  It is intended for all…Jews and Gentiles!  By their transgression, the descendants of Abraham set themselves aside and, in Romans 11, Paul addresses them as “Israel,” not as Jews.  Keep that in mind, as we will come back to it!

The next passage in Romans (verses 17-24) is a stern warning to Gentiles.  So, let’s identify the elements Paul speaks of:

  • Broken off branches = unbelieving Israel
  • Wild olive branches = Gentiles
  • Olive tree = Israel
  • Root = Abraham and his descendants

Because wild olive branches (Gentiles) may be grafted into the olive tree, Paul is illustrating the manner in which we Gentiles attain salvation.  After all, John 4:22 tells us salvation is from the Jews, thus God must establish a way in which we can attain it.

Wild olive trees do not bear fruit!  Thus, only when we are grafted into the cultured olive tree do we attain salvation and produce fruit.  However, broken branches (unbelieving Israel) may also be grafted back into the olive tree.  (Salvation is available to both Jews and Gentiles.)  It is as if Paul said, “So, Gentiles, don’t be arrogant!  You do not support the root…the root supports you.”  Because we have salvation, we must not lord it over those through whom salvation has come.

Then, Paul talks about another mystery!  Romans 11:25-27 identifies the mystery as the hardening that happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.  At that point, all Israel will be saved!  National salvation will come and a worldwide revival as never seen before will take place.  The transgression and sin that once set the descendants of Abraham aside will be removed and Jews and Gentiles will be one as Paul described in Galatians 3:28.

Now, back to verse 15 where we are told Israel’s acceptance will be LIFE FROM THE DEAD.  Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the spiritual state of all people without salvation: dead in trespasses and sin, forever doomed and dominated by the devil.  Beginning in verse 11 of Romans, Paul addressed Israel, rather than the Jewish people.  As “national” Israel set herself aside by transgression, God did not give up on “national” Israel!  In fact, He had “life from the dead” on His mind for all mankind, but illustrated it through His chosen people.

Ezekiel 37 clearly describes Israel as a valley of dry bones, which come back to life.  We know that, after suffering through many attempts at annihilation (including the Holocaust), the land of Israel was re-born on May 14, 1948.  The fulfillment of Ezekiel 37 began, and Israel demonstrated “life from the dead” on that day!

However, that was only a physical rebirth.  God’s promise to Abraham was one of salvation!  While a remnant of Jewish people have gained spiritual rebirth, the nation of Israel still lives in spiritual death.  But Romans 11:26 speaks of a day when ALL Israel will be saved!  God is not done yet…and we have a part to play.  It is our responsibility to move them to jealousy so that God will fulfill His plan.

It is no wonder Paul ends chapter 11 in the manner he does, and we’ll end this week’s study likewise.  But before we do, just know that the study launches into more exciting things as we look at what the Bible tells us lies ahead!  Stick with us!

Now, for Paul’s closing words:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?  Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Has God Rejected His People? May it Never Be!

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Study friends, we’re headed down the homestretch for this week’s lesson…but it may take us two days to get there!  Romans 11 is rich in content and that’s where we’ll hang out to finish our thoughts about the Jewish roots of Christianity.  I hope this key point is resonating with you right now: we need the Jewish people and they need us!

So, open your Bible to Romans 11, while I remind you how Paul ended chapter 10:

But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
~Romans 10:21

So, though God gave the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Jewish people through Abraham and his descendants, are the Jews in or out?  That seems to be the question, and if we stop reading at chapter 10, we are left with the impression God is fed up and put off by them.  But suddenly, opening chapter 11, Paul makes a definitive statement to the contrary!

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!
~Romans 11:1

He then spends the first 6 verses, using himself and Elijah as examples, to say, “Hey…listen up, you Gentiles!  God has saved a remnant of Abraham’s physical descendants who have not bowed the knee to Baal (false gods).  Also, let me remind you that it is grace, not works, that brought us here.”

Yet, by and large, the Jewish people (outside that remnant) did not attain what they desired.  Take a moment to read verses 7-16.  (No, really…stop and read it before going on!  I want you to hear it straight from God’s Word!)

Did you notice?  He now speaks about Israel, not the Jewish people.  Attention is turned to national (ethnic) Israel, and he says:

  • What they are seeking, they do not find.
  • But those who were chosen (those who received by faith) obtained it!  That’s the remnant (and believing Gentiles).
  • The others were hardened (given a spirit of stupor, eyes that see not and ears that hear not).

Then, verses 11-16 get really juicy!  Paul states that, though they may have stumbled over the Stumbling Stone (Jesus), they have not fallen (left without hope)!  In other words: God is not done with them yet!

Meanwhile, notice what resulted from their stumble:

  • By their transgression salvation came to the Gentiles!
  • The door was open for us so that we might move them to jealousy.
  • Their transgression means riches for the world and for the Gentiles.  (God’s promise to Abraham was that through him ALL the families of the earth would be blessed!)
  • If the Gentiles gain such riches, HOW MUCH MORE will be their fulfillment when they recognize and receive the Messiah!

Then, Paul nails it in verse 15:

For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Stop and meditate on that verse for a moment.

God promised salvation to both Jews and Gentiles in an everlasting covenant!  He also promised that it would be through Abraham and his descendants that the entire world would be blessed with salvation.

Once the Jewish people rejected it, they set themselves aside as “national” Israel and God proceeded with His plan for Gentiles.  It is not that God gave up on them.  It is that God has now called us to demonstrate the blessing that came through Abraham!

Thus, their rejection meant life…eternal life…for us.  Yet, they have remained in the state Paul described in Ephesians 2:1-3: dead in their trespasses and sin.  So, if their rejection means life for us, what will their acceptance be but LIFE FROM THE DEAD!

We’ll talk more about that tomorrow, so you’ll have to come back for “the rest of the story!”  Also, bear in mind that Paul’s message to the Gentiles is to avoid being arrogant.  Yes indeed, Israel’s loss was our gain, and our call is to move them to jealousy.  But he will put us in our place tomorrow!

It all comes together in a glorious crescendo in our next lesson, so don’t miss it!  See you then!