Monday, June 7, 2010

Jews for Jesus (Part 3)

There have always been tensions between followers of Jesus and Jewish people going back to the Book of Acts in the New Testament. I want to explain where Christians are coming from relative to Judaism based on New Testament passages. I’m hoping this will provide some understanding to my Jewish brothers and sisters. See my earlier posts on this topic.

This tension between Christians and Jews has recently been highlighted by the reprehensible anti-Semitic statement made recently by the reporter Helen Thomas. I don’t know much about Thomas, but I doubt if she’s a devout Christian. Most devout Christians who know their Bible are pro-Israel in the sense that they believe it is the Jewish homeland and the Jews are entitled to live there, especially given what was done to them in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. Let us all join in praying for peace in that region.

What I laid out in my earlier post does not in any way take away from Judaism as a “serious, ancient faith” to quote Michael Medved’s blog. On the contrary, Christianity came out of Judaism as does our code of behavior, the moral law. The Christian worship service is patterned after the synagogue service. Jesus was a Jew, as were his earliest followers and the writers of the New Testament.

The problem comes with the Christian understanding that the Israelite religious practices were temporary, and would be superseded by faith in the Messiah, Jesus. The Law of Moses laid the foundation for the Messiah, but would eventually yield to faith in him because Jesus would fulfill the righteous requirements of The Law. The Book of Hebrews, written to Jewish believers in Christ who were having second thoughts, expresses this understanding most clearly. Hebrews 9:11-15 (NIV) says:

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant

Regarding the Law of Moses and the sacrificial system, Hebrews 10:1-4 (NIV) says:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

While Christians should recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish religion, Christianity’s Jewish heritage, and the role Israel plays in the End Times, we also have to understand what the Book of Hebrews passages are explaining to us: Jewish religious practices have been rendered no longer necessary by Jesus. This statement is not meant to denigrate Jews and Judaism, but simply to state the New Testament understanding of Judaism in the Christian era. Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of The Law by his atoning death on the cross so we no longer have to, which he alludes to in Matthew 5:17 (NIV):

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

The Apostle Paul understood this and fervently desired that his fellow Israelites would come to faith in Christ, as he wrote in Romans 9:2-4 (NIV):

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.

More on this topic in a future post.

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