Tag Archives: First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

In Our Time: The Church & Judaism

In Our Time Catholic and Jews.jpg

“Jews and Christians, as children of Abraham, are called to be a blessing for the world …” – Pope John Paul II 

As someone, sometime, somewhere has famously said, “Timing is everything”. As I post this today, the timing is not lost on me. It’s the beginning of Holy Week for Christians and today is Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the traditional day on the Christian calendar in which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey while the crowds waived palm branches and shouted “Hosanna in the highest”. According to the Gospels, this event happened a few days before the Passover festival was to begin in Jerusalem. Passover starts in just over a month. This is one example of a calendar difference, an issue of timing between Christianity and Judaism, but that’s another subject for another time. Today I want to share and highlight some of the not oft shared similarities between the two faith traditions as espoused in a recent document released by the Catholic Church. I highly encourage you to read the official document here.

Messiah Journal 122


 -Credit Where Credit is Due-

This post I’m sharing today was inspired by the Messiah Journal 122 article titled “The Vatican’s New Perspective on Judaism: New attitudes inspire hope for reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity” written by D. Thomas Lancaster and published by First Fruits of Zion, Winter 2016/5776. Order here.


Nostre Aetate is Latin for In Our Time. Nostre Aetate was the theologically revolutionary Catholic Church document released by the Vatican II Council in 1965. Nostre Aetate had at its core an objective to work towards repairing and strengthening the spiritual kinship shared by Christianity & Judaism. The document renounced anti-Semitism, the charge of deicide (killing God) and challenged the assumptions of replacement theology (the Church as Israel’s replacement in Gods plan). The effects of Nostre Aetate have remained increasingly relevant to Jewish & Christian relations since its release and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Nostre Aetate, the Vatican released a new theological document, based on Romans 11:29, titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable”. The new paper released by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, revisits, clarifies and updates the intentions of Nostre Aetate.

In the Preface for “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable”, the stated aim is to explore theological topics “such as the relevance of revelation, the relationship between the Old and the New Covenant, the relationship between the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ and the affirmation that the covenant of God with Israel has never been revoked, and the Church’s mandate to evangelize in relation to Judaism. This document presents Catholic reflections on these questions, placing them in a theological context, in order that their significance may be deepened for members of both faith traditions.” 

I first read about the new Catholic document “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable” a few weeks ago and I was immediately impressed with its progressive ideas, powerful statements and sound theology according to my estimation. I guess I was largely surprised by this because I was largely unaware of Nostre Aetate and the work that has been done in the past 50 years to bridge the gap between Christianity and Judaism by the Catholic Church. I’ve been on record with this blog in the past as someone who has been critical of Catholic doctrine and traditions and this new reflection is in no way an endorsement of Catholic theology as a whole. But reading this new paper from a Messianic Jewish perspective I was blown away by the succinct language employed by the Vatican to communicate Biblical and historical truths that have been neglected for millennia. Especially since the Church was the very reason why suspect theology beget such an unfortunate history towards the Jewish people in the first place. The FFOZ article highlighted the work that has been done by Messianic Rabbi Dr. Mark Kinzer, through him being a key participant in the Helsinki Consultation, which is an ecumenical forum that is focused on the relationship between the Church, the Jewish people, and the Messiah. Rabbi Kinzer discovered Jesus while in a Catholic setting and recently published a book ‘Searching Her Own Mystery’ which calls on the Church to consider its Jewish origins, close affinity and rootedness within the framework of Israel.

The new Vatican document speaks of the special theological status of Jewish-Christian dialogue of the two distinct and yet mutually related faith traditions. With that end in mind, I will share just a small sampling (way too many to include in a short post) of some of the direct quotes I found most stimulating. I urge you not just to blow through these statements but to really comprehend and think on what they’re saying and their implications. I cannot overstate that from a Messianic Jewish theological perspective this is fascinating stuff coming from a Catholic committee.

-On the Jewish Roots of Christianity-

“Jesus was a Jew, was at home in the Jewish tradition of his time, and was decisively shaped by this religious milieu. His first disciples gathered around him, had the same heritage and were defined by the same Jewish tradition in their everyday life.”

“One cannot understand Jesus’ teaching or that of his disciples without situating it within the Jewish horizon in the context of the living tradition of Israel; one would understand his teachings even less so if they were seen in opposition to this tradition.”

“Fully and completely human, a Jew of his time, descendant of Abraham, son of David, shaped by the whole tradition of Israel, heir of the prophets, Jesus stands in continuity with his people and its history.”

“From a theological perspective, Christians need to refer to the Judaism of Jesus’ time and to a degree also the Judaism that developed from it over the ages for their own self-understanding. Given Jesus’ Jewish origins, coming to terms with Judaism in one way or another is indispensable for Christians.”

“The soil that nurtured both Jews and Christians is the Judaism of Jesus’ time, which not only brought forth Christianity but also, after the destruction of the temple in the year 70, post-biblical rabbinical Judaism.”

“Thus Jews and Christians have the same mother and can be seen, as it were, as two siblings who – as is the normal course of events for siblings – have developed in different directions.”

“The first Christians were Jews; as a matter of course they gathered as apart of the community in the synagogue, they observed the dietary laws, the Sabbath, and the requirement of circumcision, while at the same time confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah sent by God for the salvation of Israel and the entire human race.”

“The separation of the Church from the Synagogue does not take place abruptly however and, according to some recent insights, may not have been complete until well into the third or fourth centuries. This means that many Jewish Christians of the first period did not perceive any contradiction between living in accordance with some aspects of the Jewish tradition and yet confessing Jesus as the Christ.”

-On Replacement Theology or Supersessionism-

“While affirming salvation through an explicit or even implicit faith in Christ, the Church does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel. A replacement or supersession theology which sets against one another two separate entities, a Church of the Gentiles and the rejected Synagogue whose place it takes, is deprived of its foundations.”

“There have often been attempts to identify this replacement theory in the Epistle to the Hebrews. This Epistle, however, is not directed to the Jews but rather to the Christians of Jewish background who have become weary and uncertain. Its purpose is to strengthen their faith and to encourage them to persevere, by pointing to Christ Jesus as the true and ultimate high priest, the mediator of the new covenant.”

“At issue in the Epistle to the Hebrews is not the contrast of the Old and New Covenants as we understand them today, nor a contrast between the church and Judaism. Rather, the contrast is between the eternal heavenly priesthood of Christ and the transitory earthly priesthood.”

-On Salvation and Evangelism-

“Nevertheless, from the theological perspective the dialogue with Judaism has a completely different character and is on a different level in comparison with the other world religions. The faith of the Jews testified to in the Bible, found in the Old Testament, is not for Christians another religion but the foundation of their own faith, although clearly the figure of Jesus is the sole key for the Christian interpretation of the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The cornerstone of the Christian faith is Jesus.”

“Therefore there are not two paths to salvation according to the expression “Jews hold to the Torah, Christians hold to Christ”. Christian faith proclaims that Christ’s work of salvation is universal and involves all mankind. God’s word is one single and undivided reality which takes concrete form in each respective historical context.”

“Since God has never revoked his covenant with his people Israel, there cannot be different paths or approaches to God’s salvation. The theory that there may be two different paths to salvation, the Jewish path without Christ and the path with the Christ, whom Christians believe is Jesus of Nazareth, would in fact endanger the foundations of Christian faith. Confessing the universal and therefore also exclusive mediation of salvation through Jesus Christ belongs to the core of Christian faith.”

“It is the belief of the Church that Christ is the Savior for all. There cannot be two ways of salvation, therefore, since Christ is also the Redeemer of the Jews in addition to the Gentiles.”

“While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah.”

My hope and prayer is that this Jewish-Christian dialogue continues to move forward with God speed in a real and tangible way and it reaches the masses and lay people of both faith traditions. It will be a mutual blessing and its end will be eternal riches in Messiah and the World to Come for all of God’s people. Amen & Amen!

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” – Romans 11:33




What is the Gospel?

The Gospel or not the Gospel?

A couple of months ago, a friend and I we’re driving home from a Passover Seder that was led by Rabbi Marty Waldman at Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue. My friend and I had purchased our tickets separately and were assigned to different tables. He was telling me about some of the discussions he had at his table with a couple of guys who felt that the “gospel” wasn’t being presented explicitly through-out the evening. This was perplexing to my friend and I because we felt that nothing but the “gospel” had been presented through the telling of the Passover story as it related to the Exodus from Egypt about God’s redemption and calling out of His people Israel up to Yeshua’s (Jesus’) Last Supper and sacrificial death on the cross.

Last week I was listening to an audio teaching by D. Thomas Lancaster on Evangelism. Lancaster is the congregational leader of Beth Immanuel in Hudson, WI as well as the Educational Director for FFOZ. In this audio lecture, he said that from time to time he will have listeners come and ask him why he didn’t preach anything about the “gospel” during his message that week. Lancaster says this question of not preaching the “gospel” is perplexing to him as well. From his perspective his message is always the “gospel” and nothing but the “gospel”.

So what is the common denominator for the discrepancy of the “gospel” being presented or not being presented accurately in these two stories?

More than anything it comes down to defining What is the “gospel”?

Do you have to say the word “gospel” in order for it to be about the “gospel”?

Is the “gospel” more than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

If you don’t talk about Yeshua’s death, burial and resurrection, has the “gospel” been proclaimed?

Most importantly, our definition of the Gospel and its corresponding goal must be reached from Scripture. Naturally, we are all influenced by what our Pastor or Rabbi teaches, what we read in commentaries and books, and what our home group and family/friends discuss. All these things and more will shape and fill in the spaces of what the Gospel means in our lives and how we live it out. Still though, our foundation for what the Gospel is must be built upon what Scripture says it is for us to have the most complete answer and scope of What is the Gospel?

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentile)”  Romans 1:16

For starters, let’s talk about the terms and word origins. The most commonly used term “gospel” literally means “good news” and is derived from the old-English word “God-spell” which literally means “the good (true) story”.

In Hebrew this word is “besorah” such as in Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news (besorah), who publishes peace, who brings good news (besorah) of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

In the Greek the word is “evangelion”. This is where we get the word “evangelism” which literally means “the proclamation of good news”.

The Gospel message is paramount! You could say that the Gospel message is the primary focus of the entire Bible, the meta-narrative and should be of primary importance in how we think and express those thoughts in actions when we’re alone and to the rest of the world. I’ve become increasingly convinced that the majority of us (myself included) have restricted the Gospel message (along with the Scripture that gives it) and we have a much much smaller view of the Gospel and its implications and potential than we can even fathom. Still, we all agree the Gospel is important, but what exactly is it?

To begin with, Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, who were a young congregation in the Lord, in chapter 15 that of “first importance“, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”. This is a fundamental “gospel” truth that most would probably think a “gospel” message should include. To complement this passage, Paul also says in 2 Timothy 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,”. In his letter to the Galatians chapter 3:8, Paul broadens our scope a bit about what the “gospel” message is when he says “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify [1] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” The “gospel” was that in Abraham’s seed, one would come (Yeshua) who would take away the sin of the world and offer relationship with God through himself. In Yeshua there is blessing for all the nations-that is a “gospel” message. In Acts 14:15, Paul broadens the definition of “gospel” once again when he says to the people of Lystra who were trying to worship him and Barnabas as “gods”, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” This sounds identical to the “gospel” ministry of John the Baptist and was Yeshua’s first public sermon about the “good news”, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. This one verse is the “gospel” in a nutshell and widens the scope yet again. As D. Thomas Lancaster said in “What about Evangelism?”, “Where is the Torah found in the Gospel message? In the word “Repent””. For it is the Torah that teaches us what is right and wrong (sin) and what it is we are repenting from and furthermore Who it is we are turning to. A “gospel” message is that The Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) has come, The King, Son of David has started building His Kingdom, The Kingdom of Heaven on earth but it’s not done yet, but we don’t have to wait for its completion, we can enter this Kingdom now and get a foretaste of what this Kingdom will be like when it’s brought to its sure perfection soon.

Going back to the TaNaK (Old Testament), Isaiah 52:7 proclaims one who brings the “gospel” as he who “who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Also, in Isaiah 61:1, which is a passage Yeshua applied to himself, we also get an explanation of what the “gospel” is and what it “looks like” when it says “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; [1] he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; [2]. The prophet Isaiah definitely proclaimed the “gospel”. See also Isaiah 53 (what many call, The Gospel of Isaiah).

In 1 Peter 1:23-25, Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6-8 which says “the Word of the Lord lasts forever”. Then Peter says “this Word is the Good News which has been proclaimed to you”. This Word that Peter is talking about is the Word that became Flesh as spoken about in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” On a separate level which is just as true, this Word is also what makes up our Scripture as recorded in Genesis through Revelation, what we also call “The Word of God” which is indeed “Good News”.

In the Book of Revelation chapter 14:6-7, we get another angle of the “gospel” defined. Except this time there is an adjective before the word “gospel”. In this passage an angel of the Lord has come to proclaim an “eternal gospel”. What is the “eternal gospel”? And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

So, What is the Gospel? To quote Matt Chandler from The Village Church “it’s about pushing back the darkness” with the light and testimony of Yeshua for God’s glory to all of creation!

The above Scriptures are just a sampling for there is much more height, depth and width that make up this “eternal” message. Would you have it any other way? Something so grand, mysterious and holy to search out and learn about for “eternity” and yet you don’t have to wait for “eternity” since you can start right now – sure sign me up for the Kingdom!

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!

Passover Combo

Today is the first official day of the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread Holiday. In our house we got started a bit early, and though we didn’t need a reason to start the celebration early, there are some good ones to note this year. To begin with, I love it when Passover and Passion week coincide together. To me it adds an extra element or sense of how big God’s community is around the world when you have billions of believers reading and memorializing the same texts and events at the same time. We hosted our first Seder for some family and friends this past Sunday night and had a wonderful evening. It was cool to us that this was Palm Sunday, which starts the Passion week and memorializes Yeshua riding into Jerusalem on the donkey while the crowds were shouting Hosanna and waving and placing palm branches at his feet. Also, depending on how you reconcile the Gospel accounts and which commentary you read, Yeshua could have had his last Seder with his disciples a night early and then was led to be crucified at the same time the actual Passover lambs were sacrificed the next afternoon.

For our first Seder at our house, we chose to utilize the recently updated Passover Encounter Haggadah by First Fruits of Zion. The Passover Encounter Haggadah is not an orthodox Haggadah but does follow the order of a traditional Seder and includes relevent texts from it. The heart of the Passover Encounter Haggadah and its main thrust is to connect Christians in solidarity with Messianic Jews and the Jewish community at large. To join the Jewish people in celebrating the historical Exodus from Egypt while at the same time focusing, honoring and making explicit our trust in Yeshua as the Messiah and the historical work that he did on the cross to provide forgiveness of sins and make redemption available to all mankind, Jew and Gentile. The flow of the Passover Encounter texts were easy to incorporate into a group setting and the optional discussion points were great for additional thoughts and ideas.

We had our second Seder last night with Sar Shalom Messianic Congregation. Sar Shalom used to be Heritage Fellowship and they just recently relocated from about 25 minutes from our house to less than five. This move made travel nice for us and now obligates us to check them out on a deeper level soon since they are now in our own back yard. This is the second year in a row that we have joined Rabbi Mark Griffin’s congregation for a Passover. Rabbi Griffin makes it a point to keep the focus on our Passover Lamb, Yeshua and make much of him through-out the traditional ceremony of the evening.  I commented to Rabbi Griffin after the Seder, that I have now been to half a dozen Passover Seder’s and no two have been alike. It’s true that the Passover Seder and it’s text the Haggadah are living events and texts in the truest sense with additional insight gained with every re-telling and enactment. By the way, the Violin Guy that has been there the past two years is absolutely amazing and has been a highlight and would be worth just an evening alone.

***Addendum*** My wife got a message from a friend on Facebook mid Tuesday afternoon about a Seder ticket for Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue that had just come available. Baruch Hashem is the Messianic congregation in our area we are most familiar with and have been visiting them regularly for the past few years. We had wanted to go to their Seder but it sold out (600+) before the tickets went public. My wife was already scheduled to go to work that evening so she was unable to go but she asked if I’d be up for it and I jumped at the chance. The Seder was led by Rabbi Marty Waldman and like I said above about the other Seder’s, was in many ways the same (obviously there is a traditional order) but was in many ways unique to the leader and congregational style. This was definitely the largest Seder I had been a part of by a long shot and I commented to a friend afterwards that I felt this was the first time I really connected and got the symbolism and parallels of the Afikoman and the piece of bread Yeshua blessed and broke after dinner. So I guess originally I wrote this blog a day and Seder too soon. If I had only waited I could have posted the Hat-trick instead of the combo:-).

May you be blessed by Messiah Yeshua this season and beyond with grace and truth! Happy Passover 2011!!!

Grafted In: Part II

This is part 2 of my book review on Grafted In (Israel, Gentiles and The Mystery of the Gospel) by D. Thomas Lancaster.

Lancaster is an effective story-teller and brings extra imagination to familiar bible stories. This makes reading his theological propositions very enjoyable indeed. In fact some of the first ?’s that Lancaster asks about the biblical narrative is “How do I fit in the story?” “Is Abraham, Isaac and Jacob really our fathers?” “Do I have permission to partake in Torah?” “Am I an Israelite?” Throughout the book Lancaster provides answers to these ?’s and more from his unique and often tongue in cheek perspective.

Lancaster himself is a non-Jew who leads a Messianic Jewish congregation that is primarily non-Jewish as well. A paradox you say? Definitely. Outside of this modern phenomenon of the last 40-50 years of a Gentile majority in what primarily began as a Jewish movement (Hebrew Christianity/Messianic Judaism) is there any historical parallels that we can look to? Ummm, surely you’ve heard of by now a little Jesus movement known as Christianity?! A glance through the book of Acts shows the beginning of what would become by the 2nd Century a Gentile majority in what began as a Jewish movement. The rest as they say is history and a very interesting and enigmatic history it is.

In Chapter 1, Lancaster asks “What is the Mystery of the Gospel?” and says that one could assume it was the Good News of Messiah Yeshua’s death, burial and resurrection that Paul proclaimed, one could assume this but they would be wrong. What about the “Offense of the Cross?”. Was it Messiah’s death on a tree that was so offensive to Jewish ears? Not exactly. Was it His voice from heaven or vision in the temple that Paul heard and saw of Yeshua that offended his Jewish brethren so much? Not really. From the Acts narratives (specifically Acts 13 and 21) it was Paul taking the message of inclusion to the Gentiles that sent the mob into a frenzy. Lancaster states that from the Acts narratives and Paul’s perspective in Galatians, the “offense of the cross” is the Gentile inclusion in Israel. It was for the offensive idea of Gentiles being included in God’s family (Israel) that got Paul into so much trouble.

Galatians 5:11 But if I, brothers, [2] still preach [3] circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

So What about the Mystery of the Gospel?

Ephesians 6:19-20 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

To Paul, the inclusion of the Gentiles into the House of Israel was the mysterious part of the Gospel.

Ephesians 3:1-3 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

And that’s not all, Paul goes on in Chapter 3 of Ephesians and reveals another mystery, the Mystery of Messiah (Christ)?

Ephesians 3:4-6 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is [1] that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The Mystery of Messiah is that Jews and Gentiles are heirs together as members of one body, a congregation of One New Man (Ephesians 2:15). To Paul this mystery which had been hidden for the ages was the mystery he had been entrusted to reveal God’s riches of Messiah to the world.

Ephesians 3:7-11  Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in [2] God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the matchless name of Yeshua the Messiah!

Grafted In: Part I

 This is a book review of Grafted In (Israel, Gentiles, and The Mystery of the Gospel) by D. Thomas Lancaster. I picked this book up a couple of months ago at the First Fruits of Zion Headquarters (FFOZ) www.ffoz.org on my way back from a Sukkot celebration in central Missouri.

I have to admit that I should have been through with this book over a month ago but my extra-biblical reading got derailed a bit the last month due to my lack of motivation and general laziness. This seems to happen every so often but fortunately it seems that I’m coming out of the fog once again. Praise HaShem!

The author D. Thomas Lancaster has become one of my favorite bible teachers to listen to and read from. He is the congregational leader of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship www.bethimmanuel.org and educational director of FFOZ. He has authored multiple books including Restoration and King of the Jews as well as being the main contributor to FFOZ’s expansive Torah Club commentaries.

Grafted In was originally published under the title The Mystery of the Gospel in 2003. Since the original release of Mystery of the Gospel, Lancaster and the team at FFOZ have continued to refine their brand of Torah Theology. Once labeled “One Law”, in 2009 FFOZ publicly made a transition from “One Law” Torah Theology to the self-defined “Divine Invitation” Torah Theology. With this further development of theology came updates to two of Lancaster’s books: Restoration and The Mystery of the Gospel, the latter newly retitled as Grafted In.

Grafted In deals primarily with the questions of Gentile inclusion and relationship with the people and land of Israel such as:

Who is Israel?

What is the Mystery of the Gospel and the Mystery of Messiah?

What is the offense of the cross?

In who should believers find their identity? Messiah? Israel? Both?

What is the Gentiles role within the people of Israel, Messianic Judaism and the Kingdom of Heaven?

These and many more questions are put forth and discussed in this oft-debated and generally misunderstood position of being Grafted In to the Messiah and people of God – Israel.

Who or what can be defined as physical Israel or Israel according to the flesh? Jacob, Jacob’s physical descendents, The Land, United Kingdom/Political Entity under the rule of David and Solomon, The 10 Northern Tribes, The Jews who returned from the Babylonian Exile, Judaism as a whole, and the modern political state and it’s citizens can all be described as physical or legal Israel.

Which of those groups do Gentile believers in Messiah Yeshua fit in?

Lancaster divides Israel into two groups: “Legal Israel” are those who are physical Israelites according to the flesh. “Kingdom Israel”  is made up of both physical (Legal) and non-physical (Spiritual) Israelites who are believers in Messiah Yeshua.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 10 Paul is writing to a community composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers. He starts the chapter by acknowledging that “our fathers” were in the wilderness with Moses. On one level Paul equates this community of both Jewish and Gentile believers with the community of Israel as the “forefathers” of even the Gentile believers of Corinth. But in verse 18, Paul makes the distinction with “Israel according to the flesh” and a legal privilege that separates the two groups.

1 Corinthians 10:1-5  For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

1 Corinthians 10:18  Consider the people of Israel: [1] are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?

When speaking of Gentile believers being included with Israel, Paul didn’t use the terms “Legal or Physical Israel” or even the terms “Spiritual or Kingdom Israel” but rather “Israel of God” and “Commonwealth of Israel”.

Galatians 6:15-16  For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

Ephesians 2:11-13  Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

The main borderline between Physical Israel and Kingdom Israel for Paul is not Torah observance but rather a status “in the eyes of men”.

Romans 2:28-29  For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

1 Corinthians 7:19  For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

Acts 15 and 21 is also telling in its distinction made between Jewish and Gentile believers. Acts 15 and 21 affirmed Jewish obligation to Torah but left room for Gentile participation perhaps due to a general misunderstanding of justification. However, the Gentiles were put on the trajectory of Torah since the Apostolic writings were built upon the foundation of Torah. “In Acts 15 and 21, the apostles affirmed that obedience to Torah is absolutely mandatory and binding for Jewish believers. But they granted Gentile believers significant space. The Gentile believers were placed on the trajectory of Torah by Acts 15, the writings of Paul and discipleship to Yeshua, but Paul and the other apostles were unwilling to place the Gentiles under the full obligation of conversion into legal Israel because that was wrongly understood as a prerequisite of salvation.”

Gentile believers do have a place in Israel. That doesn’t mean that they become Israel physically or that they replace the Jewish people who are and will always exist as Israel. The believing Gentiles are joined alongside the believing Jews as the “Israel of God” or “Commonwealth of Israel”. What Lancaster calls “Kingdom Israel”.

Romans 11:11-24  So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion [2] mean! 13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root [3] of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

The participation in Israel and Torah is the natural mode of faith expression for a member of Israel whether physical or spiritual. Yeshua asked how could we understand spiritual things if we don’t understand the natural. Both Israel and Torah have natural and spiritual components. Both Israel and Torah will play a primary part in the Kingdom. It’s long overdue for us as believers to start trying to understand these things in the here and now for a foretaste of the future.

Romans 11:33  Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the matchless name of Yeshua the Messiah!

Sukkot Summary

7 days + 1 = 8 days right? But can eight days constitute a week? Not conventionally speaking in our day or by the plain meaning of the Biblical creation account and further narrative of Scripture. Although in a bit of a mystical sense that pertains to God’s redemptive calendar perhaps it does. It has been proposed that history as we know it might consist of 8 days that correspond to roughly seven 1,000 year periods + one that never ends: 6 Days of Creation = 6,000 Years of Mankind, 7th Day Sabbath = 1,000 Year reign of Christ (Messianic Kingdom) + The 8th Day = The World to Come (Eternity). So again the question; can a week equal eight days? Note the lyrics to this Beatles song “Eight days a week, I love you. Eight days a week, Is not enough to show I care.” While by no means authoritative or theological in insight, the parallels are interesting. I can’t help it, I’m a music fan:-)!

My wife, two kids, sister-in-law and a best friend of mine spent Sukkot at The Lake of the Ozarks, Mo with a few hundred other Sukkot keeping believers from across the country at the Windermere Baptist Camp. This was our second year to spend at the Windermere camp and it is absolutely one of the most beautiful camping/retreat facilities I have ever been to. The Windermere staff is always top-notch in their service. We arrived midafternoon on Weds September 22nd after a quick 10 hour drive from DFW, TX and barely got our campsite set up before the festival Shabbat. We made the opening of the festival and welcome message by the festival organizers Season of Our Joy (SOOJ) www.season-of-our-joy.com. I immediately took note of the tone and expectations that were given by the director Tim Kelly. Tim’s opening message and prayer was for unity in diversity and love for your neighbor at this festival and in the broader Messianic and Christian communities. Unfortunately this has been a problem for God’s people through-out our history and more specifically threatens the progress and opportunity the Messianic community has to be a bridge of healing, education and reconciliation between Judaism and the Church. There were some highlights in regards to exhortation for understanding and unity within the greater Body of Messiah and the Jewish people at this particular feast; Dean Wheelock of Hebrew Roots Ministries www.hebrewroots.net gave a presentation on Repairing the Breach that was intended primarily for the Messianic Community within to strive for more synergistic efforts and to seek understanding with prayer and conversation no matter what view or background one is coming from in the movement. Boaz Michael of First Fruits of Zion www.ffoz.org gave two presentations that dealt with having a broader and mature view of The Church by creating dialogue and seeking change from within (dare I say – reformation:-). Boaz also gave a review on further defining FFOZ’s Divine Invitation Theology in respect primarily to Gentile Believer’s freedom in vs obligation to God’s Torah. Other highlights included our fellowship with some diverse Messianic believers from across the country and listening to their stories and testimonies and being encouraged by multiple ministries that they are involved with which ranged from ministries dealing with the blind, prisons and armed forces. There were some things that I was saddened by and discomforted in during the feast. These things were not done by all but a significant portion of those speaking and attending seemed from my perspective to espouse these views: 1. Torah is emphasized more than Yeshua (His person, nature and work). 2. Torah is primarily about Sabbath, Holiday’s, Dietary Laws and Tzitzit (This is a very, very narrow view of Torah that puts too much emphasis on expressive commandments rather than ethical ones and does a great disservice to the beauty and depth of God’s commandments). 3. Believer’s in the Church and those in broader Judaism need to wake up to the truth that we have a monopoly on and convert over to our almost infallible views of Scripture interpretation and practice (How arrogant to think that we have it all right and that all other forms of expression of faith in Messiah Yeshua and the God of Israel are wrong. Both Judaism and Christianity have had commentators and practitioners for thousands of years. We don’t have to accept carte blanche everything they have to say but we would do well to slow down and consider their wide array of studies and perspectives on our shared faith). To cap off our festival, my friend and I got the opportunity to visit the FFOZ headquarters in Marshfield, MO on our way back home. Boaz Michael was gracious to give us a tour of their facilities and sit and talk with us candidly and answer any ?’s we had in their Beit Midrash. We also got to spend some time browsing their library collection and marveling at the High Holiday’s crown topped and breastplate wearing Torah Scroll. All in all our time was indeed joyous and refreshing (at least mentally, I slept without an air mattress for 9 days so I was pretty exhausted physically). I have come back with a fresh vision and a greater scope for being all I can be for Christ and His Kingdom! Here are some pictures from our feast:

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the matchless name of Yeshua the Messiah!