Why DOES Israel Matter?

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Pull up a chair and hang out for a bit.  This week we are concluding our study, Why Israel Matters and we have covered lots of ground.  So, we’re pulling it all together this week.

Early in the study we discussed some reasons Israel matters.  Do you remember some of those reasons?  Let’s jog the memory.  Israel matters in many ways, including:

  • Socially.  The desire of Israelis to make the world a better place (tikkun olam) is demonstrated in the way they treat other nations.  Often first on scene for natural disasters around the world, a leader in helping third world nations provide food and water for their citizens and sending aid into places like Syria are common for the Jewish state.
  • Geopolitically.  Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, guaranteeing freedoms not possible in other lands in the region.  She is a city on a hill, shining brightly in a dark area.
  • Intellectually.  The “Innovation Nation” is a world leader in medical, agricultural and technological advancements.  The genius of that tiny country impacts the entire world.
  • Militarily.  The IDF (Israel Defense Force) is one of the world’s elite militaries.  Couple their innovation and technological prowess with the commitment of young men and women who clearly understand what they are fighting for and you have the most dominate military in the region.

We’ve discussed those and other reasons why Israel matters.  However, perhaps the most significant reason is because Israel was chosen by God to carry out a unique role in history.  In Genesis 12:3, God promises to bless Abraham and make him and his descendants a great nation.  Beyond that, He vowed that all the people of the earth will be blessed through Abraham.  That blessing is salvation, the greatest blessing ever conceived!

Our Father in heaven knew what it would take to implement that blessing, and it came in the form of a triumvirate of covenants, all of which must be in play in order to obtain salvation:

  • Abrahamic Covenant: the covenant of decision.  God decided before the foundations of the earth that He would devise a way that would allow every person to obtain the blessing of salvation.
  • Mosaic Covenant: the covenant of instruction.  Because the world failed (and still does) to see the need for salvation, God gave the law to Moses.  It’s purpose was to serve as a tutor, to show us our need for redemption.
  • New Covenant: the covenant of ability. God had to design a way in which we could enter into the blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant.  Thus, He sent His Son to die for our sins and resurrect to give us new life.  That is the essence of the New Covenant.

All matter, and all are essential.  Just like a 3-legged stool, if you remove any of the three, God’s blessing of salvation falls short!

To add excitement to the mix, the New Covenant has a reward!  One day, Jesus the King will return to earth to rule and reign in righteousness.  All Israel will have been saved during the tribulation and they, along with all believers in Jesus the Messiah will reign with Him during the Millennial Kingdom.  Here is how Revelation 19:11-16 describes that coming:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

At Jesus’ first coming, the Jews were looking for a conquering king…one who would save them from the oppression of Roman rule.  Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey was symbolic of a king coming in peace, thus they did not recognize Him as Messiah.  The next time He comes, He will be that conquering king, and they will surely recognize Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Hasten the day, Lord Jesus!

We’re not done, my friends, so come back tomorrow as we continue our study together.  See you then!

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.