CLEARING UP SOME OF THE CONFUSION FOUND AMONG SOME MESSIANIC BELIEVERS REGARDING JEWS, GENTILES, AND THE LAW OF MOSES by Rev. Fred Klett
Today among some within the movement called Messianic Judaism there is confusion regarding the promises of God to Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus. There is also a corresponding uncertainty as to what obligation Jewish and Gentile believers have to keep the Law of God. Many are saying it is a sin for Jewish believers if they don't keep kosher. Many Gentiles are even keeping kosher! Some Gentile believers in Jesus are even "converting" and becoming "Jewish." Perhaps we can best express these issues by posing and then answering the following questions:
1. Are there different promises given to Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus?
2. Are believers today to keep the Law of Moses?
3. Are there differing obligations before God for Jewish and Gentile believers?
Let's examine the scriptures and see what we find to answer these questions.
1. Are there different promises given to Jewish and Gentile believers?
This question implies there may be some difference between Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus and therefore there may be additional promises given to Jewish believers which are not given to Gentiles who trust Messiah.
Let's think about this. On what basis do we receive the promises of God? Do we receive them because of anything in us? Do we receive salvation because of our ethnic background? Absolutely not. John 1:12-13 says: "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God --children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." So entrance into the family of God is not by natural descent, not even by natural human will, but it is through supernatural birth by the will of God. True, the gospel is for the Jew first and the God has a special interest in people because of the patriarchs, but without from faith no benefit is derived from the promises.
Jesus said something shocking and disturbing to native born Israelites who rejected Him: "If you were Abraham's children then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is you are determined to kill me....You belong to your father, the devil" (John 8:39-44). Unbelieving Jews, no less than unbelieving Gentiles, are of their father the devil. Furthermore, God is able to make children of Abraham, spiritually speaking, from Gentiles. Why do I say this? Because He can even make them out of stones! John the baptizer said: "Do not think you can say to yourselves `We have Abraham as our father'. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham" (Matthew 3:9). If God can make children for Abraham out of stones than how much easier out of Gentiles! Indeed, Abraham himself was a Gentile! God called him and justified him by faith. "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
From the very beginning receiving the promise was of faith, not merely natural descent. Ruth, the Moabitess, became the ancestor of King David himself. According to the Rabbis, a proselyte to Judaism comes into all the covenant promises of God! They are right --but a Judaism which denies its Messiah saves no one and brings no one into the promises of God. It is only through New Covenant Judaism, also known as Christianity, that the promises given to Abraham are realized both for Jew and Gentile. I don't mean to cause offense, but Rabbinic Judaism at it's core denies Messiah, and is therefore a false religion. It is just as false as apostate liberal Christianity which equally denies Messiah. Both groups are of the spirit of Antichrist. "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Messiah. Such a man is the antichrist..." (1 John 1:22). Congregations which deny Jesus are called "Synagogues of Satan" and not true Jews by Jesus himself (Rev. 2:9). Apostate Judaism is no better than apostate Christianity, Unitarianism, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. All may have some truth in them but all deny Jesus and oppose the truth. But I digress. The point is that the promises of God are received by faith. Apart from true faith one has nothing.
Romans 4:11 tells us of Abraham: "So then he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised...." So Gentiles who share in Abraham's faith are children of Abraham right along with Jews who share in the faith of Abraham. How can this be? How is it that Gentiles become children of Abraham?
Here is the key concept: Jesus himself is the ultimate seed of Abraham. Please seriously consider the implications of what Galatians says. We are told Messiah is the one who alone is truly worthy to inherit the promises of Abraham. Galatians 3:16 states: "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The scripture does not say `and to seeds,' meaning many people, but "and to your seed", meaning one person, who is Messiah".
Galatians 3:16 clearly says that Jesus alone is the heir of the promises to Abraham, this one person, not many people. Sorry. I didn't say this, Paul did. It doesn't matter what your ethnic background is, you can make no claim on the promises to Abraham in unbelief apart from Messiah. But through faith in Messiah, both Jew and Gentile can come into Messiah's inheritance. Certainly the gospel is "for the Jew first" (Romans 1:16). Paul says: "You are all (Jews and Gentiles who believe) sons of God through faith in Messiah Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourselves with Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, you are all one in Messiah Jesus. If you belong to Messiah then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:26-29). Do you see it? Jesus is the heir to all the promises. Believers are united to him and only by that become co-heirs with him.
"He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles..." (Galatians 3:14). Gentiles believers come into the full blessing of Abraham and full reception of the promises given to Abraham because of the principle of "sonship."
We become accepted in the beloved son Jesus and all Jesus owns he gives to us. Believers are "heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah" (Romans 8:17). Gentiles who believe become full heirs of the promises given to Israel. Paul states: "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 3:6). Clearly, beyond any doubt at all, the Bible teaches that Gentile Christians come into the full inheritance of Israel. There are no promises given to Israel that Gentile Christians do not share in, for indeed, Gentiles who believe are now "fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household" (Ephesians 2:11-19). The Bible clearly says that Gentile Christians are citizens of Israel. All this is because Jesus is the true heir and the true son of Abraham, and if we are in Messiah we have it all. What could possibly be added?
But some will still insist, in spite of what the above verses clearly state: "Are there are not promises given to ethnic Israel yet to be received? Does God not have any special place for the Jewish people?" Certainly he does! He has promised them the greatest blessing ever promised to any people: He has promised that they will one day return to the gospel. There is no greater blessing promised to the Jewish people than restoration to Messiah promised in Romans chapter 11. If you think there is something lacking in this statement perhaps you do not fully understand the fabulous extent of the gospel promise. If you think the Jewish people are somehow cheated out of something because there is nothing to be had beyond what we have in Messiah, perhaps you yourself do not really realize the extent of the glorious blessings in Messiah. Think about it. If you believe there is something to be had in addition to Messiah arent you diminishing what we have in Messiah? I say if you have Messiah you have everything, as you are a fellow heir with him! And without him you have nothing!
All the promises of God find their fulfillment in Messiah. "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are `Yes' in Messiah" (1 Corinthians 1:20). It is in Messiah that ethnic Israel can experience the promises they have been given. Only in Messiah. Apart from Jesus ethnic Israel has only one promise: to be brought back to Him. And how precious and valuable beyond riches and realms is this promise to return to faith in Jesus!
In Messiah all who believe are promised much, much more than the portion of land given to Abraham, for "the meek shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). The promise to Abraham was threefold: Land, seed, and blessing. In Messiah, the true seed, we have full blessing, but we also have all the land. Not just a portion of the Middle East, but all the land, that is, the whole earth! The promise is still to "the Jew first, and also to the Gentile" (Romans 1:16), but there is no reception of the promise at all apart from the gospel. There are no promises given to ethnic Israel which are not received by Gentiles who are in Messiah. What belongs to Messiah also belongs to all who trust in him, are baptized into Him, and who are clothed with Him. In Messiah all are fellow heirs to all that belongs to Him -- the whole earth! What more could anyone want?
When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:15b-17). The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13)
Read that again. All believers are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah! We inherit the WHOLE WORLD through faith. Is there something more you want?
2. Are believers to keep the Law of Moses?
Let's make it crystal clear that "by observing the Law no one will be justified" and "if righteousness could be gained through the Law, Messiah died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:16 & 21). Just as Abraham was justified by faith, so also through faith in Jesus we can be justified. "But now a righteousness from God, apart from Law, has been made known, to which the Law and the prophets testify" (Romans 3:21). Observing the Law will save absolutely no one. But what about after salvation? We know we are saved apart from the Law, but don't we follow the Law now out of obedience and love?
Believers do not in any way have an obligation to practice the Ceremonial Law today. It has been fulfilled in Messiah and was but a typological shadow of the greater reality to come. What do I mean by the Ceremonial Law? Simply the Laws associated with the Levitical system of purification and atonement. These are clearly fulfilled in Messiah. this is the whole teaching of the book of Hebrews. This Old Testament ceremonial Law is "obsolete," says Hebrews 8:13, and will "soon disappear." The Levitical rites and practices are obsolete and never again to be re-instituted. They are "spiritual dinosaurs" belonging to another age and priesthood now past. Never again will God's people go back to that which was "only a shadow of the good things that are coming -- not the realities themselves" (Hebrews 10:1).
So the Levitical laws of atonement and purification are no longer to be observed by believers. We have them fulfilled in Messiah, who has come in the new and superior "Order of Melchizedek" according to Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7:11-18.
What do those Levitical rites include? The sacrifices for sin found in Leviticus chapters 1-8 and 16, the rules for the Levitical priesthood found in chapters 9-10, which has been fulfilled and replaced with the Melchizedek priesthood, and the Laws of ritual purity, including the laws of clean and unclean animals, childbirth, mildew, skin diseases, and discharges (Leviticus chapters 11-15). We can't follow these laws since they are associated with a priesthood and Temple no longer in existence. The laws against eating blood were connected with the Levitical sacrificial system, according to chapter 17. There are, however, some "moral" laws in Leviticus found in chapters 18-20, but mixed in with them are some laws which only make sense within the context of the Temple priesthood and some which only make sense for the particular historical, cultural and agricultural setting of the Mosaic economy. Great care must be taken when seeking to apply the principles of these laws today!
Are the Levitical Kosher laws really obsolete? Has God done away with them? Without a doubt, yes. There are several passages which could be cited, but let's just consider one. With laser-beam clarity Paul states: "All food is Kosher (clean)" (Romans 14:20). Paul, addressing a congregation of Jewish and Gentile believers, says even what the Geneiles eat is now clean.
New Covenant Kosher is both easier and harder than Levitical kosher. The intent of the heart comes into play. Though all food is Kosher, we must take into account what may stumble another (Romans 14:21) and remember that in all we do, including what we eat, it must be done to the glory of Messiah (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is our kashrut. Certainly we are free to keep any kind of dietary laws we want, according to what may help further our witness and what suits our tastes, but there is no requirement for anyone to keep Levitical Kosher. It is obsolete as far as obeying God is concerned.
Is the whole Law of Moses irrelevant to our practice today? Of course not. On the positive side, all the moral commandments of the Torah are still relevant for us. God's nature does not change and His moral laws are still our guide today. We are to keep the heart of the Law. We are to "love the LORD your God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength" and "love your neighbor as yourself." We have the Ten Commandments, and beyond them we have examples, explanations, and applications of how they were to be obeyed. Also, the civil laws of the Bible give us insight into how we are to govern ourselves, but again, they must be understood in their historical context and how they too point to Messiah. The civil penalty of "hanging on a tree" (Deuteronomy 21:23) was an application of the curse. Jesus was hung on the tree to remove the curse and achieve our blessing (Galatians 3:13-14). Even the civil law had spiritual implications and we must interpret and apply it accordingly. All of the Law of Moses is relevant for all believers today, but it must be understood in terms of the completed revelation of God found in the New Covenant scriptures and the completed redemption Messiah has brought.
3. Are there differing obligations before God for Jewish and Gentile believers?
I believe the answer to this question becomes obvious in light of what we have seen. If not, consider these verses:
"For in Messiah Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Galatians 5:6)
"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two....Consequently, you (Gentiles) are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household....a holy temple in the Lord." (Ephesians 2:14-21)
"In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Messiah, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Messiah. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.... Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Messiah. Since you died with Messiah to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: `Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Since, then, you have been raised with Messiah, set your hearts on things above, where Messiah is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Messiah is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 2:11-3:14)
What do we see in these verses?
The barrier between Jew and Gentile has been broken down in Messiah and He has made one new man from the two. ONE NEW MAN. Gentiles are now fellow citizens of Israel and have become part of the new Messianic Temple. There is no Greek or Jew, all who believe are part of God's CHOSEN PEOPLE. No longer does God require circumcision, since ALL WHO BELIEVE ARE CIRCUMCISED IN MESSIAH..
Jewish believers are the same as Gentile believers in terms of what God requires of them. Both have come into the New Covenant. This is the covenant they both operate under. Jesus said that all partake of the Lord's Supper receive the sign of the "New Covenant in my blood which is poured out for you" (Luke 22:20) and that Paul was to the Corinthians a minister of the New Covenant to them, not of the letter that kills, but of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6). Both Jewish and Gentile believers in Messiah participate in the SAME NEW COVENANT, and are therefore bound by the SAME principles of conduct, the moral teachings of God's Law, but not the ceremonial laws.
If Jewish believers in Jesus, or even Gentiles, for that matter, wish to keep Jewish customs, even Kosher laws, even Rabbinic Kosher Laws, for that matter, they are free to in certain circumstances as long as it is clear to them and to unbelievers they are in contact with that this is in no way required by God and that it in no way establishes righteousness before God. In rare circumstances, for example if having an Orthodox Jewish friend over for a meal, we need to keep kosher in order to remove any stumbling blocks to belief. It probably isn't a good idea to invite Jewish friends to a pork roast! But we must not give our Jewish friends the impression that keeping these ceremonial Laws are what really pleases God. If we do this we put another stumbling block before them which obscures the gospel. This is ultimately destructive the those Jewish people we seek to reach. We must tell them it is Jesus who makes us Kosher! And most Jewish people do not keep kosher. If believers make a big show of keeping kosher than may actually alienate shrimp-eating Reform Jews!
Sometimes this can mean keeping Jewish traditions in order to facilitate our witness as to the fulfillment of these same traditions in Messiah. However, we are limited as to how far we can and should go. No tradition, which in it's very keeping denies the fulfillment of the Law in Messiah, can be kept. This means the Levitical sacrifices and laws of clean and unclean. Anyone is free to abstain from pork or dog meat, but we should never do it because we think God requires it. Anyone is free to slaughter a goat, but never as a sin offering. Anyone is free to circumcise his child as a cultural exercise, but never as something still required by God. Baptism is the New Covenant sign for both Jewish and Gentile believers, not outward circumcision.
Furthermore, praying a prayer which states that God has commanded certain things found only in Rabbinic tradition (the traditional prayer for lighting Sabbath and Hanukkah candles for example) is denying the authority of the apostles and the New Covenant and affirming the authority of the rabbis and their oral law. Sadly some Messianic groups still say such prayers.
Are we free from all law? No. Both Jewish and Gentile believers, by God's strength and God's grace, in loving gratitude, are obligated to keep the Moral Law of God summarized in the Ten Commandments, and to give God glory in all things we do. Both are to keep the commands of Messiah to bring a new depth to the moral laws and to realize their strengthened spiritual meanings, as Jesus taught us. This is the direction we are to take with the Law.
Though this is only a start, but I hope this has clarified some of the issues we see arising out of some trends in Messianic Judaism regarding the Law and the Promises. I hope the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Messiah has been clarified, the relationship of all believers to the Law has been made more understandable, and that it has been seen that the great fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham has been made available to all who believe, to the Jew first, then the Gentile, through Jesus, Israel's Messianic King and the conqueror of the Gentiles.
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