The Woman in Travail: A Deeper Look at Revelation 12

There’s much discussion that’s going around online and in many Christian groups about the coming constellation event, called “The Revelation 12 Sign,” that’s supposed to occur on September 23, 2017, in little more than a week.  There are various views being presented as to the meaning of this constellation event.  And, of course, there are a number of skeptics who are sounding their objections to the pro-theorists.  Although the focus of many is on the stars, they are missing the hidden prophetic meaning of Revelation 12, an important message for Israel and all believers in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).

MISINTERPRETATIONS ABOUND

There have been many misinterpretations about Revelation 12 throughout the centuries, and that is certainly true today.  Some have interpreted the “woman” in Revelation 12 as the Church; some have seen it as Mary, the mother of Jesus; and, of course, you have “end-time teachers” who are now claiming it to be the constellation Virgo.  All of these interpretations are in error for the same reason, they ignore what God taught about the “”woman in travail” within the Old Testament (Heb. Tanakh), specifically within the writing of the Prophets.

WHAT IS A “PRE-TRIB RAPTURE”?

Many believe in what is known as the “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” [also called “Pre-Trib Rapture”] when Messiah will return in a secret catching away of believers, both those who have died and the living, before the tribulation begins.  The “tribulation” is a 7-year period when God’s judgments are poured out upon it.  However, in my research as you will see, almost all references point to a post-tribulation resurrection, with a couple of references suggesting a mid-tribulation rapture.

THE DANGER OF THIS POSITION

But it should be noted that the word “tribulation” does not mean “wrath” but “persecution.”  And there are millions of Christians in the world today who are already facing persecution, torture and death.  Consequently, I could not find any real biblical support for the idea of a “Pre-Tribulation rapture.”  But I do believe that this idea is a dangerous one, for it sets Christians up with the expectation that they will avoid persecution, leaving them unprepared for the possibility.  People don’t take the time to study and memorize Scripture, spend the needed time in prayer, or whatever else they need to do to prepare for this time.  Instead, they believe they will be “taken up” before all this happens, leaving them unprepared and in shock when this time of persecution comes upon them as many Christians oversees experienced.  Instead, the best mentality a Christian should have to be prepared for whatever happens.

A WHOLE BIBLE OR PARTIAL ONE?

Another point before getting into this study is that many Christians are not living their lives reading and studying all of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but only a partial one, based on the erroneous belief that the Old Testament (what Jews call the Hebrew Scriptures or Tanakh), or more often the Law (the commandments given to Moses) were “done away with,” “annulled,” or “set aside,” even though more than 80% of the New Testament actually comes from the Old Testament.  If we say that the Old Testament is “no longer valid for people today,” then more than 80% of the New Testament is likewise invalid.

For example, if before the Civil War, I created an entire economy on Confederate money, then when the south lost the war, then that entire economy that I created is no longer any good.  Why?  Because I based it on confederate money, and if the confederate money no longer has any value (which it doesn’t), then that economy no longer has any value either.  In the same way, if the Old Testament is no longer valid for anyone, then over 80% of the New Testament is likewise invalid, since over 80% of the New Testament is based upon the laws and teachings of the Old Testament.  Consequently, for anyone to teach that any part of the Bible is no longer valid is destroying the authority of all of Scripture.

Understanding that all of the Bible is relevant for one’s study is especially important when looking at biblical prophecy.  Too many people think that the only relevant material is in the New Testament.  which is not true.  There’s actually more material in regard to the “last days” and “the day of the Lord” in the Old Testament than there is in the New Testament.  Consequently, Christians greatly limit themselves and their understanding by merely spending time reading and studying the New Testament.  And this is true regarding almost all of the images that we find in the book of Revelation, including the “woman in travail.”

“A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL” –  A COMMON IMAGE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

To begin, it should be noted that within the writings of the Old Testament, the image of “a woman in travail” is used 18 times.  It is used once by the psalmist, 6 times by Isaiah, 8 times by Jeremiah, once by Hosea, and 2 times by Micah.  Of course, the problem with these supposed “end-time teachers” is that they haven’t searched the Old Testament Scriptures, for if they had, they would not have been looking up to the constellations for answers; they would be pointing them to the Scriptures themselves.

“A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL” – AN IMAGE OF SUDDEN CALAMITY AND PAIN

Throughout the Old Testament, the phrase “a woman in travail” (KJV) or “a woman in labor” (newer translations) is often used to symbolize sudden calamity, destruction, pain, and anguish coming upon individuals or a nation.  It is in the psalms that we first see this used,

God is known in her [Jerusalem’s] palaces for a refuge.  For lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together.  They saw it, and so they marveled; they were troubled, and hasted away.  Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL.  You break the ships of Tarshish [Tarsus] with an east wind.  (Psalm 48:3-7; Emphasis Mine)

What is it that causes these kings to marvel and respond in fear?  The answer to that question gets thrown off by the use of the word “it,” but in the Hebrew, the word “it” is the word “Him,” meaning God.  It is how God has protected and blessed the city of Jerusalem at this time that has the surrounding non-Jewish kings in awe.  And when God destroys the “ships of Tarshish” to protect Jerusalem from invasion, fear and pain takes ahold of these kings, “as of a woman in travail.”

In other words, the phrase “a woman in travail” is being used here in Scripture as a simile, a figure of speech, that’s used by the writer to describe two unlike things using “like” or “as,” and in this case, the two unlike things are the fear and pain felt by the kings, and “a woman in travail.”  Although newer translations use the phrase “a woman in labor,” they could have communicated the idea of “travail” better, if they would’ve used the phrase “a woman in hard labor” instead.  Particularly, since the Early Modern English idea of “travail” would’ve been understood to mean “hard and intense pain and anguish,” much like a woman experiences when she has entered into “hard labor.”

The Old Testament Hebrew prophets likewise used this same literary device in the same way within their writings.  For instance, in this same passage from the prophet Isaiah, he is describing his own feelings when hearing about the fall and destruction of Babylon:

Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold of me, as A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL: I was bowed down at the hearing of it, I was dismayed at the seeing of it.  My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me.” (Isaiah 21:3-4, King James Version; Emphasis Mine)

Here is the same verse from the New American Standard Bible (a newer translation):

For this reason my loins are full of anguish; pains have seized me like the pains of A WOMAN IN LABOR.  I am so bewildered I cannot hear, so terrified I cannot see.  My mind reels, horror overwhelms me; the twilight I longed for has been turned for me into trembling. (Isaiah 21:3-4; Emphasis Mine)

I included the newer translation to prove that “a woman in travail” and “a woman in labor” are indeed interchangeable.  And although younger people today may not recognize the image of “a woman in travail,” they do understand the image of “a woman in hard labor.”  Here is another example from the prophet Jeremiah.  In this passage, he is describing those in Damascus when it was being attacked:

Damascus waxed feeble, and turns to flee, and fear has seized on her: anguish and sorrows have taken her, as A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL.  (Jeremiah 49:24; Emphasis Mine)

Finally, here is another example from the book of Jeremiah describing the king of Babylon when he heard of the attack that was happening to his city:

The king of Babylon has heard the report of them and his hands waxed feeble: anguish took hold of him, and pains as of A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL.  (Jeremiah 50:43; Emphasis Mine)

As can be seen in these examples, the use of the phrase “a woman in travail” is used as a descriptive simile in each of the above examples.  When it is used in this way, it is not to be taken literally to refer to an actual woman in labor, but it’s used as a descriptive phrase to try and emphatically describe some event or personal trauma.

“A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL” – AN IMAGE ASSOCIATED WITH “THE DAY OF THE LORD”

But the image of “a woman in travail/hard labor” is also used by several prophets in conjunction with “the day of the LORD,” a day in which God pours out His judgment upon a nation.  For example, in describing God’s judgment against Babylon, by having this empire destroyed by the Medes in the future, the prophet Isaiah writes,

Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.  There shall all hands be faint, and every man’s heart shall melt: they shall be in pain as A WOMAN THAT TRAVAILETH [A WOMAN THAT’S IN HARD LABOR]; they shall be amazed [shocked] at one another; their face shall be as flames.  Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both in wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and He shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.  (Isaiah 13:6-9; Emphasis Mine)

Here we can clearly see the image of “a woman that travaileth” [or is in hard labor] within the context of “the day of the LORD.”  A day in which God pours out His anger and judgment upon a people and nation for their rejection of Him and His commandments.  For example, we see this also used by Jeremiah in his prophecy about Jerusalem’s coming destruction by the Babylonians (an event that happened in 586 B.C.E.):

For I have heard a voice as of A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL [Hard Labor], and the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands, saying, Woe is me!  for my soul is wearied because of murderers. (Jeremiah 4:31; Emphasis Mine).

Although the phrase “the day of the LORD” is not explicitly stated here, it is there by inference since the context deals with the coming judgment of Jerusalem by God, because the Israelites [the Jewish people] had turned away from Him and His commandments to worship false gods and to participate in those religions.

Here are some other references to the phrase “a woman in travail” being used by the prophet Jeremiah, in regard to God pouring out His judgment upon the people or nation:

We have heard the fame thereof: our hands wax feeble: anguish has taken hold of us, and pain, as of A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL. (Jeremiah 6:24; Emphasis Mine)

What will you say when He shall punish you?  For you have taught them to be captains, and as chief over you: shall not sorrows take you, as A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL  And if you say in your heart, why have these things come upon me?  For the greatness of your iniquity are your skirts discovered, and your heels made bare. (Jeremiah 13:21-22; Emphasis Mine)

In each of these passages by Jeremiah, the use of the phrase “a woman in travail [or hard labor]” is used as a simile, a literary device, to describe the sudden pain, anguish, calamity and turmoil that a person or nation feels when the day of God’s judgment (“the day of the LORD”) suddenly happens to them.  Hosea and Micah likewise used this phrase the same way in their prophecies as well:

The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is rid.  The sorrows of A TRAVAILING WOMAN shall come upon him.  (Hosea 13:12; Emphasis Mine)

Now why do you cry out loud?  Is there no king in you?  Is your counselor perished?  For pains have taken you as A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL.  Be in pain, and labor to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL.  For now shall you go forth out of the city, and you shall dwell in the field, and you shall go even to Babylon; there shall you be delivered; there the LORD shall redeem you from the hand of your enemies. (Micah 4:9-10; Emphasis Mine)

In fact, so horrible and dreadful is God’s judgment on people that He pronounces a “woe” (a judgment) upon anyone who wishes for that day to happen:

Therefore the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord, says therefore; Wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! alas! and they shall call the hasbandman [farmer] to mourning, and such as are skillful of lamentation to wailing.  And in all vineyards shall be wailing: for I will pass through you, says the LORD.  WOE UNTO YOU THAT DESIRE THE DAY OF THE LORD!  to what end is it for you?  THE DAY OF THE LORD is darkness, and not light.  As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.  Shall not THE DAY OF THE LORD be darkness, and not light?  even very dark, and no brightness in it? (Amos 5:16-20)

Because God is the ultimate expression of holiness, He must judge sin.  And although “the day of the LORD” does come for people and nations, it is not something that we are to desire or to wish upon anyone.  As we have seen, the phrase of “a woman in travail” may be used to speak of a time of calamity, destruction, pain and anguish, but it can also be used to denote a time of God’s judgment upon a people.  The question is how do we understand its use in Revelation 12?

REVELATION 12:1-2

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: and she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pain to be delivered.

Unlike many of today’s “end-time teachers,” who do not look to the Old Testament in order to understand this prophecy, they come up with all types of “off-the-wall” speculations about what this means.  I even read one Christian’s interpretation that the woman was Mary and the child Jesus.  However, as we have clearly seen, “a woman in travail [or hard labor]” is a repeated image that’s used as a simile to describe some sudden calamity, destruction, or pain and anguish falling upon a people or nation.  So in light of this vision, the two questions we need to ask is:

  • What people or nation is being represented here?
  •  Is this calamity and destruction the result of God’s judgment or does it have another source?

If we examine verse 1, we are given in the vision the needed details we need to identify the nation as Israel.  John is not viewing a constellation, but he is alluding again to the Old Testament, as he does so often, specifically, in this case, to the second dream of Joseph.

ABOUT JOSEPH AND HIS DREAM

Because of Joseph’s obedience and loyalty to his father, Jacob gave him “a coat of many colors” (Genesis 37:3), and this coat indicated to the rest of the family that Jacob had chosen Joseph, over his older brothers, to lead the family after Jacob’s death.  This, of course, caused a lot of animosity between Joseph and his brothers.  But it is only after Joseph received this coat, this image of leadership, that Joseph begins to have these strange dreams regarding his future.  The dream dealing with the sun, moon, and stars was the second dream that Joseph shared with his father and brothers.

And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, “Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.”  And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed?  Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow down ourselves to you to the earth?”  (Genesis 37:9-10)

Now some may say, “But Joseph’s dream only contained 11 stars, not 12.”  This is true, but the 12th star was Joseph himself, and in many places of the Old Testament, the people and nation of Israel are portrayed as a virgin woman, such as in the following passages:

The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise: she is forsaken upon her land; there is none to raise her up. (Amos 5:2)

Again, I will build thee, and you shall be built, O virgin of Israel: you shall be adorned with your tabrets, and shall go forth in the dances of them that make merry.  (Jeremiah 31:4)

Consequently here, John is not seeing a vision of the constellation Virgo, as being taught by many “end-time teachers,” but his vision concerns a coming calamity, destruction, pain and anguish to the people and nation of Israel.

HIDDEN MESSAGE #1: THERE IS COMING A DAY OF CALAMITY AND ANGUISH COMING TO THE PEOPLE AND NATION OF ISRAEL.

There is coming to the people and nation of Israel in these final days, a time of great calamity, anguish, pain, and horror.  Some may believe that the Holocaust that Jews in Europe experienced under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime was the fulfillment of this, and I wish with all that’s in me that this was true, but it is not.  There is another Holocaust coming, but this time it will not be confined to Europe, but it will be global in scope.  For example, the prophet Isaiah writes,

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand again THE SECOND TIME to recover the remnant of His people, which shall be left,…and He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah FROM THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH. (Isaiah 11:11a, 12; Emphasis Mine)

The signs of this are all around the world.  The growing anti-Semiticism in Europe with the Neo-Natzi Movment, the Middle East among the radical Muslims, and signs of it have been appearing in the United States as well.  This unfortunately will continue to increase, until another Holocaust occurs.  I am sure many are asking, “Why?  Why would this happen again to the Jewish people, particularly since their hearts cry regarding the last Holocaust is “NEVER AGAIN!”?

The unfortunate reality is that there is a dark entity that hates anything that represents God and the Scriptures.  And the people of Israel (the Jewish people) were chosen by God to represent Him and His Torah, and it is for that reason that this dark entity hates everything there is about the Jew.  It is he that has been flaming the fires of hatred against the Jewish people, and he will not rest until every Jew has been destroyed.  And it is this dark entity that John identifies in the next two verses of Revelation 12.

REVELATION 12:3.

And another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.

THE GREAT RED DRAGON

Prior to the woman [Israel] giving “birth,” another sign appears in heaven.  This one, though, is of “a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.”  Now there are some “end-time teachers” who are trying to say that the constellation Draco is the “great red dragon” here.  However, John, just 6 verses later, identifies the “dragon” as “Satan:”

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world:… (Revelation 12:9a)

Obviously, then, the “great red dragon” that John sees in verse 3 cannot be the constellation Draco.

REVELATION 12:4.

And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven, and threw them to the earth.  And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.

This is where the constellation argument falls apart.  How would Draco, a constellation, throw a third of the stars to the earth?  Obviously, it couldn’t.  Therefore, this “great red dragon” could not be possibly the constellation Draco, but as John states, it is a picture of Satan.  His tail sweeping down the “third of the stars” has been traditionally interpreted and taught by most Christians as referring to the third of angels (i.e., “the stars of heaven”) that fell when they joined Satan in an open rebellion against God, and as a result, they were cast out of heaven unto the earth.  These “fallen angels” are what later became known as “demons.” But as we see in this part of the vision, the dragon (Satan) is standing before the woman (Israel), who is “about to give birth,” so that he might “devour her child.”

WHO IS “THE MALE CHILD”?

So who is this “child” that the people and nation of Israel is going to give birth to, that Satan, the “great red dragon,” wants “to devour” and destroy?  An indication of the identity of “the male child” is seen in verse 5.

REVELATION 12:5.

And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.

Because the “male child” here is described as being a “male,” who is “to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” and someone who “was caught up to God and to His throne,” the automatic assumption of most Christians is that the “male child” here refers to Jesus Christ.  And on the surface, this seems logical.  However, when we compare Revelation 12 with Isaiah 26, we see some very interesting commonalities between the two passages.

ISAIAH 26 AND REVELATION 12

When we compare these two prophetic passages, the common elements that we see are a travailing woman, the mention of a child, and a resurrection.

Isaiah 26:17-21 Revelation 12:1-2, 5-6
  And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.
A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL

Like a woman with child, that draws near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and cries out of her pains; so have we been in Your sight, O LORD.

And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
THE MENTION OF A CHILD

We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.

And she brought forth a man-child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron:
THE MENTION OF A RESURRECTION

Your dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for your dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.

And her child was caught up unto God, and to His throne.

As we can see, there are definite parallels between these two passages.  In both passages, the woman (Israel) is in great travail, as if “we have been with child,” but in the Isaiah 26 passage, Israel was not able to bring forth any deliverance on their own, but in the Revelation 12 passage, we see Israel bringing forth “the male child.”  But right after their discussion of not being successful in bringing forth deliverance to the world, there is a description of the resurrection of the dead, which interestingly corresponds with the birth of the “male child” being “caught up unto God, and to His throne.”

This provokes some really interesting questions, particularly when we consider the following two verses, Isaiah 26:20-21, with Revelation 12:6.

Come, My people, enter into your chambers, and shut your doors about you: hide yourself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty (1260) days.
For, behold, the LORD comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.

In both Isaiah 26:20 and Revelation 12:6, there is a hiding away of God’s people for a time, before “the LORD comes out to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isaiah 26:21).  I believe it would be rather naïve of anyone to say that these similarities are “merely coincidence.”  Instead, John, who grew up and lived his life as an Orthodox Jew (an Orthodox Jew who had found his Messiah), would have drawn heavily upon the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., “the Old Testament”).  And we indeed see an abundance of evidence of this in his gospel, his first epistle, and especially in the book of Revelation.  And so it is not surprising for God to reveal the future to John using the same or similar images, and their associated meanings, as we see within the writings of the Old Testament Prophets.

REVELATION 11 AND REVELATION 12

Consequently, what we see is that the time of Israel’s coming suffering precedes the resurrection of the dead.  Therefore, is this coming constellation event a sign regarding the rapture of the church?  No, it is not.  What we do see in the birth of the “male child” is that it occurs just after the mid=point of the 7-year period.

Ministry and death of the Two Witnesses (1260 days; or 3.45 years).   These two witnesses minister for the first half of the Tribulation. (Revelation 11)
The sounding of the 7th Trumpet (“the last trump”).  After the sounding of the 7th trumpet, we find the 24 elders in heaven, praising God, and then saying, “And the nations were angry, and Your wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear Your name, small and great; and should destroy them which destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:17-18).
The Birth of the “Male Child” (Revelation 12:5).  After this is exclaimed by the 24 elders, there is the “woman in travail” and the “birth of the male child.”
The Woman (Israel) Hidden for 1260 days (or 3.45 years),  It is after the “male child’s birth” that the woman is pursued by Satan and she is hidden for 1260 days (or 3.45 years).

I’ve discovered that although John wrote down the visions in the order he received them, they are not in the order in which they will occur.  For example, as we can see from these two chapters, the ministry length of the two witnesses will be about 3.5 years and the time length that the woman is hidden is about 3.5 years.  If you add them together , you get approximately 7 years, yet chapter 11 happens midway into the book.  Also, the opening of the first seal, and the coming of the first rider on a white horse (Revelation 6:1-2) corresponds to the rise of the Beast and his false prophet in Revelation 13.

“A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL” –  “A TIME OF JACOB’S TROUBLE”

So as we can see in our discussion so far, the “woman in travail” does not refer to the Church, nor does it refer to Mary, but it refers to the people and the nation of Israel suddenly and unexpectedly experiencing a time of great calamity, suffering, pain, and anguish.  This perfectly describes a period known as “the time of Jacob’s trouble.”

And these are the words that the LORD spoke concerning Israel and the concerning Judah.  For thus says the LORD, We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace.  Ask now, and see whether a man does travail with child?  Wherefore  do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL, and all faces are turned pale?  Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even THE TIME OF JACOB’S TROUBLE; but He saved them from it.  (Jeremiah 30:4-7; Emphasis Mine)

Here we see in Jeremiah’s prophecy, the image of “a woman in travail” used to describe “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” the last half of this 7 year period.  I believe that the hiding of the woman for 1260 days is God’s way of telling the Jewish people that during this coming time, He will keep His promise that He made to them through the prophet Jeremiah.

“A WOMAN IN TRAVAIL” & “THE MAN CHILD” IN ISAIAH 66

A final point I want to discuss is that not only is “the woman in travail” discussed within the ancient Hebrew prophets, but in the book of Isaiah, so is her male child.  For example, consider Isaiah 66:5-9,

Hear the word of the LORD, you that tremble at His word; your brothers that hated you, that cast you out for My name’s sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but He shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.  A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that renders recompense to His enemies.  Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a MAN CHILD.  Who has heard of such a thing?  Who has seen such things?  Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once?  For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.  Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth?  says the LORD:  shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? says your God. (Isaiah 66:5-9)

So as we can see hear, both Isaiah 66 and Revelation 12 refer to a woman in travail and to the birth of a “man child.”

And what is the context of Isaiah 66 and the birth of the “man child”?  God’s final judgment upon the nations of the world; that is, “the day of the LORD.”  The exact same theme and context as John’s visions in the book of Revelation, including the vision of “the woman in travail.”

THE MAN CHILD – ONE BIRTH OR TWO?

However, although the two passages deal with the same theme, the same time period, and use the same terms, there is a difference between the “man child” of Isaiah 66 and the “male child” of Revelation 12:  the timing of the man child’s birth.  In Isaiah 66, the “man child” is born BEFORE “she travailed,” BEFORE “her pain came” (Isaiah 66:7).  However, the “male child” of Revelation 12 is born DURING her time of pain and travail (Revelation 12:2, 5).  This conflict in timing seems to suggest the possibility of two separate births: one before the “travail” and one during the “travail.”

WHAT WE HAVE SO FAR

So in summary, Isaiah 26 indicates that the time that the “woman” is “in travail” occurs right before the resurrection, God’s people being hidden for “a little moment,” and the LORD coming “out of His place” to “punish” the nations of the world for “their iniquity.”  Isaiah 66 seems to indicate the possibility of two “births” from the nation and people of Israel: the first being the “man child” before “the time of travail,” and then of “her children” during the time of the travail.  All three references – Isaiah 26, Isaiah 66, and Revelation 12 – all indicate Israel being in a time of “travail” (suffering, calamity and pain) when “a child” is born.  Only the Isaiah 66 text indicates a miraculous birth of a “man child” that will occur BEFORE the time of “travail.”

THE MAN CHILD – SAME NATION, TWO DIFFERENT BIRTHS

So although Isaiah 66 indicates two births, one of the “man child” BEFORE the indignation, God’s judgment being poured out on the nations of the world, and the birth of “her children,” which occurs during her travail (or hard labor), I believe that the “man child” of Isaiah 66 and the “male child” of Revelation 12 represents parts of the same people or nation.

First of all, the inference of Isaiah 66 is that just as “the woman in travail” represents a nation, so does the “man child” (or “male child”) represent “a nation.”  For example,

Who has heard such a thing?  Who has seen such things?  Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day?  or shall A NATION BE BORN at once?  For as Zion travailed, she brought forth HER CHILDREN. (Isaiah 66:8)

This “man child” of Isaiah 66 is “a nation” who will be born at one time from the people and nation of Israel [“Zion”], BEFORE the nation of Israel undergoes a time of extreme calamity, anguish, destruction and pain.  This “nation” (or “man child”) will be born in “the last days” when God is “judging the nations.”

But not only will this “man child” nation be born in the last days BEFORE the days of Israel’s travail, but its birth will shock and surprise many people.  It will leave them reeling with wonder and questions.  Some might think that Jesus here is the “man child” referred here, but Israel was in travail from the persecution and abuse of Rome.  It did not happen BEFORE the travail.

Another reason why this “man child” could not be Jesus is because just 8 verses later in verse 15, we read,

For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with His chariots like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire.  For by fire and by His sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many. (Isaiah 66:15-16)

Obviously Jesus cannot be the “man child” of verse 7 or part of “the children” of verse 8, if He is the one coming with fire and with His chariots to bring God’s judgment upon the nations.  Obviously, then, He cannot be the “male child” of Revelation 12 for the same reason.  He cannot be born and bringing judgment at the same time.  This is also confirmed by the prophecy of Micah 5:

But you,  Beth-lehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel. (Micah 5:2)

Anyone having read the New Testament recognizes that this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  However, what should interest us in this study is the two verses that follows this prophecy:

Therefore will He give them up, UNTIL THE TIME that SHE WHO TRAVAILS HAS BROUGHT FORTH; then the remnant of His brothers shall return unto the children of Israel.  And He shall stand and feed in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; and they shall abide: for now shall He be great unto the ends of the earth.  (Micah 5:3-4; Emphasis Mine)

Notice that it will be when “she who travails brings forth” when Messiah will return to His people.  Others might believe that Israel becoming a nation on May 14, 1948, would be the fulfillment of this prophecy concerning the “man child” in Isaiah 66, but again the time sequence is wrong.  Israel became a nation as a result of Israel’s travail in Europe, not BEFORE it happened.

THE MAN CHILD – A NATION WHO WILL RULE WITH A ROD OF IRON?

Another clue to the identity of the “man/male child” is found in Revelation 12, the “male child” will “rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to His throne” (Revelation 12:5).  It is this description that prompts most Christians to identify the “male child” as Jesus.  Because as the Messiah, He “will rule all nations with a rod of iron” (Psalm 2:9) and who else but Him has been “caught up to God and to His throne”?

THE MAN CHILD – THE OVERCOMING BELIEVERS

in Revelation 2, Jesus promises something to two churches out of the seven that’s relevant to end-time prophecy.  The first church was the church of Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29),

And he that overcomes, and keeps My works unto the end, to him will I give power [or authority] over the nations: and he shall rule [or shepherd] them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of My Father. (Revelation 2:26-27)

I have heard ministers quote this verse and say that it applies to all Christians; however, that ignores the context of the statement.  These seven churches, in Revelation 2-3 represent the types of churches that will exist in each period of history until Christ’s return.  Even though each type of church will exist in each period of time, there will be one type of church that will dominate in a particular period.  For example, I believe in the United States right now, the dominate church that we see is the “Laodicean Church”  (Revelation 3:14-22).

Jesus did not give this promise to all the 7 churches,  but only to those who “overcome” and “keep [His] works unto the end.”  The word “keep” here has a much broader meaning than what we see in the English.  It means “to keep, to watch, to maintain, and to observe or practice.”  Consequently, those who will be given the authority over the nations to “rule them with a rod of iron” are those who continue keeping, maintaining, and observing and practicing “His works unto the end.”  Merely calling oneself a “Christian” or even calling Jesus “Lord” does not automatically entitle one to this promise.  For Jesus taught the people who followed Him [and continue to follow Him]:

Not everyone that says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? and in Your name have cast out devils? and in Your name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity (or lawlessness). (Matthew 7:  21-23)

As He taught [and continues to teach through the Scriptures], merely calling Jesus “Lord,” even if it is done emphatically, is not enough to get one into heaven.  In Luke’s gospel, Jesus likewise asks the question, “And why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and don’t do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)  Biblical “faith” or “believing” includes obedience, not merely accepting something to be true.  Consequently, it is my belief, based on the textual evidence of Scripture, that only those believers in Jesus (Yeshua) who are faithfully serving Him, keeping all the commandments of God, including those in the Old Testament and who continue to keep, observe and practice “His works” will comprise “the man child” of Isaiah 66.   For as we noted in this passage, the prophesied “man child” is “a nation” of people, not one individual.

When this happens it will wake up those who are left, and if they remain faithful to Jesus during this time, they will make up the “male child” of Revelation 12.

AN ANCIENT EXTRA-BIBLICAL CHRISTIAN SOURCE

The Didache, also known as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” dated from about 75- 150 C.E., is one of the oldest Christian writings, if not the oldest.  Now I am not trying to suggest that it is divinely inspired, but it does give us a non-biblical view of how those who lived during this time understood the end-time event of Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead:

For in the last days the false prophets and corruptors will abound, and the sheep will be turned into wolves, and love will be turned into hate.  For as lawlessness increases, they will hate and persecute and betray one another.  And then the deceiver of the world will appear as a son of God and “will perform signs and wonders,” and the earth will be delivered into his hands, and he will commit abominations the likes of which have never happened before.  Then all mankind will come to the fiery test, and “many will fall away” and perish, but “those who endure” in their faith “will be saved” by the accursed one himself.  And then there shall appear the signs of the truth: first the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet, and third, the resurrection of the dead – but not of all, rather, as it has been said, “The Lord will come, and all his saints with him.”  Then the world “will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.” (Lightfoot and Harmer, Trans., The Apostolic Fathers 2nd ed.,p. 158)

Obviously, this late 1st century to mid-2nd century view of the believers of that time believed that Christ’s return and the “resurrection of the dead” would occur at the end of the tribulation period, rather than “before the tribulation” (Pre-Tribulation or “Pre-Trib”), as is commonly taught by many churches and ministers today.  I have heard many ministers and evangelists claim that the 1st century church believed in a “Pre-Tribulation rapture;” however, the teaching of the Didache calls this teaching into question.

CONCLUSION

I have much more research on this topic, which I am presently putting together in a book form.  I think this study that I have presented here clearly demonstrates that there’s a lot more material and depth to this topic than what is normally presented or discussed in most churches or Christian groups.  But by the same token, it also opens the doors to many more questions about this as well.

I hope you enjoy what I have put together and presented here, and I pray that it will prompt you to do your own study of the Scriptures, regarding this and other topics as well.

 

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The 12 Things the Old Testament Teaches Us about God’s Grace (Part 1/4)

GRACE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?

Did you know that the theological concept and spiritual reality of grace is, in fact,  in the Old Testament?  Contrary to what most Christians have been taught, God’s grace is not a New Testament revelation, but it is God’s modus operandi (“method of operation”) throughout all Scripture.  Some may ask, “Then why don’t we see the word ‘grace’ in the Old Testament?” There are a couple of places where the word “grace” does appear (e.g., Genesis 6:8; Ruth 2:2); these are the English translations of the Hebrew word chen. However, chen is not dominantly used in the Old Testament, as we see “grace” used dominantly in the New Testament.   But there is another word that’s dominantly used in the Old Testament that also means “grace,” but in our English Bibles, it is usually translated in other ways.

A LESSON IN HEBREW

Many years ago, I learned an important lesson about the Hebrew language.  Many of the Hebrew words have various levels of implied meanings that Hebrew speakers and readers understood, but was not understood to Greek speakers of the Second Temple period.  For example, let’s compare Deuteronomy 6:4-5 with the quotation of it in the New Testament:

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Mark 12: 29-30

“Hear, O Israel  The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!  And you shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might.” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is One LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind, and with all of your strength.”

Obviously, there are two main differences between these two texts.  The first one is the translation of the Hebrew YHVH echad (“the LORD is one”) where the Hebrew word ‘echad (“one”) is obviously last in the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:4, but in the Greek version, the word “one” comes before the word “LORD.”  Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) would have spoken this verse in Hebrew, so Mark here is translating what Jesus (Yeshua) said in Hebrew into Greek for His Roman audience.  The change from “the LORD is one” to “One LORD” by Mark would’ve been to emphasize and reiterate to his Roman readers the belief in one God, particularly since Roman culture was polytheistic, meaning it believed in many gods and goddesses.

The other difference is the inclusion of the phrase “with all of your mind” in the Greek New Testament, which is not stated here in the original Hebrew text.  Hebrew speakers, then and now, understand both the Hebrew word Lev (“heart”) and nephesh (“soul”) also include the mind.  Therefore, the command to love God “with all of your mind” was understood by Hebrew speakers, but what was implied and understood for them needed to be made explicit for the Greek speakers and readers.  This is why we find this phrase in the New Testament, but not in the Deuteronomy text.  And just like the phrase “with all of your mind,” the concept of grace is also an implied and understood concept within the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament.

CHESED – THE HEBREW EQUIVALENT

Many years ago, God placed this study of grace in the Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh] upon my heart, and as I was going through the various references, God revealed to me that the Hebrew word chesed was the Hebrew equivalent of the New Testament word charis, or “grace.”  I then wrote down what I learned about grace from these Scriptures, although I never published this study.  Then, a number of years later, I heard Joseph Prince on TBN discussing a trip he had made to Israel, and while he was there, he discovered that a group of Jewish scholars is currently translating the Greek New Testament into Hebrew, and he asked one of the scholars involved in the project, “What Hebrew word are you using to translate the word grace?”  And the scholar responded, “chesed.”  This again confirmed in my heart what God had previously revealed to me.

Therefore, the Old Testament (or Hebrew) word for “grace” is the word chesed.  We have not realized this before, because for a variety of reasons, which would take more room than I have here to discuss them all.  But one reason, obviously, is the fact that rather than using the word “grace,” a variety of other words have been used to translate this Hebrew word chesed into English instead.  For example, “love,” “steadfast love,” “mercy,” “lovingkindness,” “merciful kindness,” “goodness,” “mercies,” and “merciful.”  For example, I remember a chorus we used to sing in church while I was growing up.  It begins with the following lines:

Thy lovingkindness is better than life,
Thy lovingkindness is better than life.

My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee.
I will lift up my hands unto Thy name.

This song is based on Psalm 63:3, and in this verse, the English word “lovingkindness” is the translation of the Hebrew word chesed.  We could translate this as “love and grace,” and we would have a fuller grasp of what the psalmist meant by the word chesed in this verse.  Note: I’ve even explained this to congregations, and then had them re-sing the song using “love and grace,” rather than “lovingkindness.”

This word chesed is so abundantly full of different meanings and levels of meanings that scholars have filled volumes of studies and books trying to determine the best way to translate this one Hebrew word.  But two Greek words that are definitely used as expressions of this one Hebrew word are agape (“love”) and charis (“grace”).  This is why we find “love and grace” paired up so often in the New Testament.  So although the Hebrew word chesed includes God’s abounding, extravagant, steadfast love, it also includes His unmerited favor and grace, as modern Jewish scholarship has determined and that God revealed to me many years ago.

WHAT DOES THE OLD TESTAMENT TEACH ABOUT IT?

Chesed is abundantly used in the Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh], just as charis (“grace”) is abundantly used in the New Testament, but what do we learn about chesed, God’s grace, in the Old Testament?  In this article, I want to discuss twelve (12) things that I discovered was taught in the Old Testament regarding God’s chesed (His “grace”) and some sample passages where it is used.  In this first part, I will present the first six (6) things, and then in part 2, I will present the last six (6).

Chesed is one of God’s major attributes.

God’s chesed – His grace – is one of God’s major attributes throughout the Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh] Scriptures.  For example:

And the LORD passed by before him [Moses], and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness [Heb. chesed, “grace”] and truth, keeping mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”] for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7)

In this passage, we learn that God is abundant in chesed (“grace”) and He keeps chesed (His “grace”) for thousands.  In this passage, we can see the use of the word chesed (“grace”* in connection to God’s “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”  Doesn’t the New Testament also teach grace in connection to “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”?  Doesn’t this indicate a God who is consistent in His approach to sin, rather than one that changes? How about this next reference in Psalm 32:10?

          Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusts in the LORD, mercy
          [Heb. chesed, “grace”] shall compass him about.

Isn’t this also a consistent image of grace that we are taught within the New Testament that God surrounds those who put their trust in Him with His grace?  Or how about the following:

How excellent is Thy lovingkindness [Heb. chesed, “grace”], O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings. (Psalm 36:7)

Isn’t this a beautiful image of God’s chesed, His grace?  It is due to His chesed (“grace”) that “the children of men put their trust” in God.  And how true that is throughout the Scriptures!  And I just love the image of “the shadow of Thy wings.”  Anyone familiar with the tallith (Jewish prayer shawl) knows that the corners of it are referred to as “the wings.”  This verse gives us of an image of a loving Father who is bending over and embracing His child, and as He does, His prayer shawl is covering the child there in His arms.  The child is hidden and protected “under the shadow of [the Father’s] wings.”  And there are so more beautiful verses like this, about God’s grace being one of His traits.  I’ll include one more just to prove my point.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”].  He will not always chide: neither will He keep His anger forever.  He has not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.  For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”] toward them that fear Him. So far as is the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:  8-12)

From this passage, we learn that God is “plenteous” or “abundant” in chesed (“grace”), and that as a result, “He has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities,” and that His chesed [“grace”] is so great toward those who fear Him that He removes their sin from them as far as “the east is from the west.”  Isn’t this the same thing we are taught about God’s grace in the New Testament?

We need to realize that God does not change (Malachi 3:6).  He is eternally the same, and His grace is also the same in both the Old Testament {Heb. Tanakh] and the New Testament.  This doctrine that God’s grace is a New Testament revelation is obviously not the case and needs to be corrected.

God’s chesed Is eternal

Besides God being “abundant in chesed,” It is also eternal, for God Himself is eternal.  For example,

For the LORD is good; His mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”] is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations. (Psalm 100:5)

If God’s chesed – His “grace” – is eternal, then how could His grace have begun in the New Testament?  Obviously, it didn’t.  The problem has been our lack of understanding of grace as an expression of God’s chesed.  Let’s look at a few more examples.

For the mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”] of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children’s children. (Psalm 103:17)

O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good: for His mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”] endureth forever.  Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy….Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness [Heb. chesed, “grace”], and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.” (Psalm 107: 1, 2, 8, 9)

God’s chesed (“grace”) is “from everlasting to everlasting,” it is eternal, it “endureth forever.”  Did you catch the rest of the verse?  It says,

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy…Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!

Have you experienced His grace and His redemption?  Are you sharing what God has done for you with others?  Are you praising Him for His chesed, His “grace” and “goodness?  Has his chesed, His “grace,” satisfied your “longing soul and [filled your] hungry soul with goodness”?  Again and again, we see a consistent presentation of God’s grace in both Testaments.  It has been the same since the beginning of time and it will continue into eternity.

Our relationship with God is based on His chesed.

O continue Thy lovingkindness [Heb. chesed, “grace”] to those who know Thee, and Thy righteousness to the upright in heart. (Psalm 36:10)

We can see here that God’s chesed, His grace, is “to those who know Thee.”  The word “know” here does not mean “know about God,” but rather it means “to know intimately, in an intimate relationship”; consequently, then, God’s grace is the basis of our relationship with Him.

He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness [Heb. chesed, “grace”] toward those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103: 10-12)

Again, we can see that because of His chesed, His “grace,” God does not deal with us according to our sins or iniquities, but He removes “our transgressions [far] from us,” “as far as the east is from the west.”

Cause me to hear Thy lovingkindness [Heb. chesed, “grace”] in the morning; for in Thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto Thee. (Psalm 143:8)

In this verse, hearing or experiencing God’s chesed, His grace, is so desirable that the psalmist prays to “hear” it “in the morning,” and that God would cause him “to know the way wherein [he] should walk….”  why?  Because he lifts “up [his] soul unto [God].”  His great enjoyment of God’s chesed, His grace, then, can be seen to be what motivates Him to respond to God in praise and in worship.

The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those that hope in His mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”].

Finally, we read that God takes pleasure in them that “fear Him,” and “that hope in His” chesed, His grace.  Do you “fear Him”?  Are you hoping “in His grace”?  Let’s walk in the truth of the whole Word of God, not just in certain parts here and there.

God’s chesed is the basis of His salvation or deliverance.

The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”], forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.  Pardon, I [Moses] beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of Thy mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”], and as Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.  (Numbers 14:18-19)

Notice in this passage that Moses is interceding for the people and nation of Israel, and he is appealing – not to the people’s obedience to the Torah – but to the “great mercy” or the great chesed (“grace”) of God, since it is by His grace that He forgives our “iniquity and transgression.”  Also, notice that Moses was well aware that the only reason that Israel had not been totally destroyed by God so far was because of God’s “mercy” (chesed; His “grace”), and not because they did anything to deserve God’s blessings or because of any “righteousness” of their own, but all because of His “mercy,” His chesed.

Even later in Israel’s history, the psalmist, King David, understands and trusts in the chesed (“grace”) of God.  In this psalm, David is praising God for His salvation, for God saving him from those who wanted him dead.

Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that troubled me rejoice when I am moved.  But I have trusted in your mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”]; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. (Psalm 13:4-5)

David trusted in God’s “mercy” (chesed; His “grace,”) and God saved him from his enemies and those that wished to see him harmed.   Again, we see God’s interaction with humanity is based on His grace, just as it is within the New Testament.  Our God does not change.  In Malachi 3:6, God says, “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”  It is because God does not change that Israel still exists, and that God has not destroyed them due to their sins.  Our God, indeed, is mighty to save, and He is great in His chesed (“grace”).

Not only is our relationship to God based on His chesed (“grace”), but God wants to see chesed (“grace”) developed within His people as well.

Finally, the Old Testament teaches us that we are to demonstrate chesed (“grace”) in our lives as well.  By doing so, we are imitating God.  Just as a Father (or parent) wants to see his child imitate him, so God wants His children to imitate Him as well.  And one way we can do this is by learning to show grace, chesed, not only to one another, but also back to God Himself.  For example, consider the following passages:

The merciful [Heb. chesed] man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself bad.  (Proverbs 11:17)

What is desirable in a man is his kindness (Heb. chesed, His “grace”), and it is better to be a poor man than a liar. (Proverbs 19:22)

He who pursues righteousness and loyalty (Heb. chesed, “grace”) finds life, righteousness and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

As we can see in these passages, chesed (“grace”) is a trait that God wants to see developed within His people.  In fact, God says that the one who pursues “righteousness and loyalty (or chesed/ “grace”) will find life, righteousness and honor.”  Indeed, a wonderful promise of God for His people.  Let’s look a few more references.

Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness (Heb. chesed; “grace”); break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD until He comes to rain righteousness on you. (Hosea 10:12)

How we sown into the lives of people “with a view to righteousness”?  Are we breaking up the “fallow ground” of our hearts?  Are we seeking the LORD?  God promises that those who so will “reap in accordance with kindness or chesed (“grace”).  How long are we to do this?  Until He comes, and then He will “rain righteousness on you.”  Let’s look at one more reference.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness [Heb. chesed; “grace”] and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

In this summary statement by the prophet Micah of what God expects of His people, he mentions three things: “to do justice, to love kindness [chesed; “grace”], and to walk humbly with your God.”  Do you love chesed (“grace”)?  Is it a trait that you are developing within your heart and life?  Are you being an imitator of God and His ways? God expects more from us than just us receiving His grace, His chesed, but He also expects to be imitators of Him by developing God’s chesed within ourselves, and then showing it to others.

Grace – A Whole Bible Revelation

So is “Grace” a New Testament revelation?  No, it isn’t.  As we have seen in the first half of this study, we see the same things taught about God’s grace in the Old Testament (Heb. Tanakh) as we do in the New Testament.  Just as it is taught in Malachi 3:6, “For I, the LORD, do not change.”  We need to change our understanding of the Scriptures.  We need to quit teaching that “Grace is a New Testament revelation,” and begin to teach the truth of the Scriptures, “Grace is the way of God, from Genesis 1:1 to the end of Revelation.”  God has not changed in His person, and He has not changed in His approach to us.  The same God we see in the Old Testament is the very same God we see in the New Testament.  He is the same God of love and grace. The whole Bible bears witness and testimony to this wonderful truth!  Let’s quit preaching a divided revelation, but the truth of the one revelation that’s taught to all of us throughout the pages of the Bible.

 

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Tisha B’Av: My Own Meditative Thoughts

Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.  Let us lift up our
heart with our hands unto God in the heavens
” — Lamentations 3:40-41.

ABOUT TISHA B’AV

Tonight begins Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) on the Hebrew calendar, and it lasts until tomorrow evening (from the evening of July 31 to the evening of August 1).  Tisha B’Av is a time of mourning, fasting, prayer, in which a number of different tragedies that happened to the Jewish people are remembered, including the two destructions of their Holy Temple in Jerusalem: Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians and Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D.  by the Romans.

During this time of fasting and mourning, it’s customary to read the biblical book of Lamentations, in which the prophet Jeremiah writes regarding the destruction of Israel’s first Temple, built by King Solomon, by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.  In addition, while mourning these various tragedies, it is customary to do the following:

  • to abstain from eating or drinking
  • to abstain from wearing any leather footwear
  • to abstain from bathing or washing oneself
  • to abstain from swimming
  • to abstain from applying ointments or creams
  • to abstain from engaging in any marital relations or any form of intimacy
  • to abstain from sending gifts
  • to abstain from engaging in outings, trips, or similar pleasurable activities
  • to abstain from wearing fine, festive clothing

It should be remembered that this is a day of mourning for the loss of not only God’s two temples that once stood in Jerusalem, but also for the loss of many lives over the years that had been killed on this day as well.

However, as a modern-day disciple of Yeshua/Jesus who believes that all Scripture (Old Testament and New Testament) is for believers today, I have to call into question the traditional practice of not bathing or washing, as well as not using ointments or creams, because Yeshua/Jesus taught us in the “Sermon on the Mount,”

Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.  Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; that you appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret; and your Father, which sees in secret, shall reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16-18)

Am I saying that Jewish people today are making a show by fasting and mourning?  No, absolutely not! But there were some during Yeshua’s/Jesus’ day who would overdo it simply so that they could gain people’s pity or attention, and make them feel sorry for them.  We are not to use opportunities like Tisha B’Av to gain outward attention for ourselves by trying to look hungry, unkept, or pathetic to others.   Again, I am not saying that Jewish people are doing this; I am merely noting that some people may use occasions like this for that purpose, and this is NOT something that any Christian should do since it clearly violates Yeshua’s/Jesus’ teaching on fasting.  In accordance with His teaching, then, we should outwardly look like we are not fasting, and then what we do in secret to our Heavenly Father will be honored and rewarded by Him.

However, I do believe that we should join and support Israel in this fast and time of mourning.  In Romans 12:15, we are told –

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep (or mourn) with them that weep (or mourn).

In joining Israel in this fast and time of mourning, we will be showing them that they are not alone, that they do have Christian friends in the United States who care for them and support them.  We should also remember the Israelis who have been recently shot or knifed by radical Muslims, and pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and for those Israeli families, who had loved ones who were wounded or killed.

My Own Thoughts

As a Christian, I am fully aware of atrocities that have been done to the Jewish people in the name of Messiah/Christ over the centuries, and I plan to use part of this time to ask God’s forgiveness for these criminal acts against the Jewish people by Christians, Early Church Fathers, Reformers (such as Martin Luther), and even Christians in our day.  Yeshua/ Jesus never told anyone to verbally and/or physically attack others, including the Jewish people, much less cause them any type or form of harm.  Instead, He taught us to –

You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be children of your Father which is in heaven: for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love them which love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the publicans (sinners) do the same?  And if you salute your brothers only, what do you more than others?  Do not even the publicans (sinners) do so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Yes, there are some Jews who do hate Jesus and Christians, but a lot of that, I believe, is in response to the persecution, torture, and killing of Jews that’s happened over the centuries by Christians (e.g., pograms, inquisition, holocaust).   But many evangelical Christians today are trying to show their love and support of Israel to demonstrate the true heart of Yeshua/Jesus for His people, a heart of passionate love and concern for them.  Some Jews are still skeptical about this change in attitude, while others are willing to openly accept these new found Christian friends.  Personally, I believe we should pray for all Jews, those who have accepted Yeshua/Jesus and those who have not.  We should also pray for all rabbis (whether they are believers or not) that God would bless their lives and ministries, and that God would reveal Himself to them and to the members of their congregations in miraculous ways, leaving no doubt to anyone that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the one and only true and living God.

Last year, my wife and I went to Jerusalem for three months, and while we were there, we met many Jews, as well as a Bedouin family, who all treated us quite kindly and did not mistreat us in any way.  We left there having gained some new insights on the land and the issues there, as well as having made some special Jewish friends.

But in looking at what’s happening around the world, there are reports of great persecution going on against Christians by radical Muslims.  They are being beaten, tortured, raped, and some beheaded and some crucified for their faith.  Yeshua/Jesus did not teach us to respond to persecution with anger and violence, but with love and prayer.  We are not to respond to hatred with hatred, nor respond to their violence with violence.  Just as Yeshua/Jesus told Shi’mon Peter,  “for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

We should also use this time to pray for the living Temple of God, the Body of Messiah.  We should not only pray for those who are enduring persecution right now around the world for their faith in Messiah, but we should also pray for the body of Messiah here in America.  The Enemy is attempting to use politics and racism to bring division and hatred into God’s Temple, among His people.  We need to remember that we are first and foremost citizens of God’s Kingdom and secondly citizens of the United States.

As citizens of God’s Kingdom, we follow the laws and teachings of God first and foremost, and then the laws of the United States second.  This priority is crucial because whatever we identify as our first and primary citizenship will be where we derive our values and beliefs.  If God’s Kingdom is first and foremost in our lives, then we derive our values and beliefs from that Kingdom, but if the United States is where we identify our citizenship first and foremost, then we will derive our values and beliefs from there.  And right now, in the United States, there are many values and beliefs which are in complete opposition to those of the Kingdom.  It is my continual prayer that I may “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), rather than the values and beliefs I see currently all around me in our culture today.

In conclusion, I would like you to join me in praying for Israel, the Jewish people, the rabbinical community, the radical Muslims who are persecuting Jews and Christians, the persecuted Church and their families, as well as the Church here in America during Tisha B’Av.  I believe this time can bring about true breakthroughs and blessings in the lives of the people we pray for, as well as in our own lives, if we are willing to reach out in love and prayer for these various issues and groups in the name of our beloved Master, Lord and Savior, the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. Amen.

 

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2 Things Most Christians Don’t UnUnderstand about God’s Law

There are two things about the commandments of God that most Christians don’t understand. First of all, obedience to the commandments is not about “being perfect,” but it’s about loving God enough to be obedient. Many Christians say they “cannot obey the commandments,” even though God says, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” (Deuteronomy 30:11, NIV). So is God wrong or are they? There is no where in all of the Old Testament where God says if you obey all the commandments, then you will be perfect. It simply is not there.

God knew the people He was giving His commandments to were not perfect. If He expected perfection, He would not have allowed for divorce, nor would He have allowed people to make up their observance of the Passover, if they could not make it to Jerusalem on time; nor would He have given them the “cities of refuge,” where people could go for safety if they had accidentally killed someone. And most definitely, He would not have given them the priesthood, the temple, and the various sacrifices for atonement. The fact that He did all of this means He did not expect people to be “perfect,” but He did expect them to love Him enough to be obedient.

For those who say that we cannot obey the commandments, please explain to me the lives of Zacherias and Elizabeth. In Luke 1:5-6.

“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacherias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and the ordinances of the Lord blameless.”

Did you see what Scripture says about them? “They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and the ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Were they perfect? No, but they both loved God and they kept His commandments. And it was their love for Him expressed through their obedience to His commandments, which is what what God wanted and expects of each of us. As a result of this, they were “righteous before God” and as far as the commandments go, they were “blameless.”

So for those Christians who say the commandments cannot be kept, explain Zacharias and Elizabeth. It seems to me the evidence is there that it can be done. Does this mean that God is only interested in us following a bunch of rules? Absolutely not! Just like your human parents, if you told them that you loved them, but then turned around and disobeyed everything they told you to do, then they would question whether or not you truly loved them. In the same way, we cannot tell God we love Him, and then turn around and diobey His commandments, and not expect Him to question our love for Him.

God says over and over again in His word, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The commandments are not about being perfect, but about God giving us a way to express our love for Him. The real question is, Do we love God enough to obey His commandments, or is the real reason we’re following God is because we don’t want to go to Hell? Is our commitment to Him motivated out of love or out of fear?

Secondly, most Christians don’t seem to understand that obedience to the commandments has nothing to do about getting to heaven. There is not one promise anywhere in the Old Testament that says if we obey the commandments, then when we die, we get to go to heaven. Check all the blessings for obedience in Deuteronomy 28:1-14, for example, or Joshua 1:8 or Psalm 1:1-3, and there is not ONE single promise anywhere that deals with the afterlife. ALL of the promises deal with our lives here NOW during our lifetimes. So where do we get this ridiculous idea that if we keep all the commandments, then “God will have to take us to heaven”? I don’t know who came up with that one, but it sure is not based on the Bible.

In fact, we are told in the Bible,

“Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me ALL THE DAYS THEY LIVE ON THE EARTH, and that they may teach their children.” (Deuteronomy 4:10; emphasis mine)

As this verse demonstrates, the commandments deal with our lives here on earth, not about what happens to us after we die.  Consequently, the commandments have NEVER EVER been about getting people to heaven, they were given to us by God, as a gift of His love and grace, to teach us about Him and His ways, so we could learn to imitate Him, as well as learn how to love one another, and to have a long and fulfilling life down here on earth. In teaching us about Him and His ways, He also taught us what are not His ways (i.e., sin), so we could avoid those things and learn to be more like Him and have a better life.

In the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus taught that,

“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

Notice that both those who “annul” even “the least of these commandments” and “teaches others” to do the same, as well as those who keep “and teaches them” are in the kingdom of heaven. Our level of observance does not determine our entry into the kingdom, but it does determine our future status within His kingdom.

In light of all this, I believe it’s important for me to say, I don’t obey God because “I have to,” I do it because I love God, I love His Word, and I want to put a smile on His face. It doesn’t matter to me that I don’t need to obey the commandments to get saved (i.e., to go to heaven); the question of my salvation has already been settled for me. The only question I have is how do I put a smile on my Heavenly Father’s face? And the answer I have repeatedly found in the Bible is “Fear (reverance and love) God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

So we in the church need to quit using “we’re not perfect,” as an excuse for our disobedience, as well as dropping this erroneous idea that in the Old Testament they were “saved by the Law.” People have NEVER EVER been “saved” or entered into a relationship with God as a result of their obedience to the commandments. A relationship with God has ALWAYS been by faith through grace, from the garden of Eden to the end of time. So let’s start teaching what’s in the whole Bible, not just parts, and begin to walk in obedience to His commandments, as opposed to expecting God to look away every time we choose to live life our own way instead of doing things His way.

 

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God’s Law – Not About Perfection?

Over the past few weeks, I have been online discussing the Torah (usually trans. “Law”) and God’s commandments with a group of Christian ministers, but over and over again, there was this insistence that we cannot obey the commandments because we’re not “perfect.” This belief that we must be “perfect” to live in obedience to God’s commandments has been perpetuated throughout much of Christian history, but is this belief valid or is this an “unsupported tradition” that’s been handed down through history.

Are We Willing to Examine the Evidence? 

Unfortunately, because of the mainstream erroneous belief within Christendom that the Old Testament, or at least the Law, was done away with by Christ at His death, Christians are not being taught what the Old Testament Scriptures actually do teach in regard to the Scriptures themselves.  And this is sad.  There’s so much within the Old Testament (Heb. Tanakh), and particularly within the Torah (the first five books) that would really benefit Christians in their life and in their service to God, but many of them have been so indoctrinated by ministers and their denomination against the Torah that they are not even open to looking at the Scriptures to see if what they are being taught actually lines up with the Bible.

And as a Christian and as a college professor who taught argument, research, documentation, and writing for 25 years, I firmly believe that we have to research and learn if what we believe is supported by the evidence.  Some say that if you can point to evidence, then you don’t need faith.  This is just another example of an erroneous belief that people have (This will have to wait for another article; too much to discuss here).  There are different types of evidence that can be used to support any argument, and there are forms of evidence used within the Bible itself to support various forms of arguments and ideas.  So how can evidence be in opposition to “faith”?

Biblical Teaching vs. Christian Tradition?

For example, there are things taught by ministers that are not even mentioned in the Bible.  I’ve heard many ministers teach that it was an apple that Adam and Eve ate that resulted in the Fall, even though the Bible does not tell us what kind of fruit it was.  Also, there’s the tradition that three kings came to see Jesus at His birth at the manger, even though the Bible teaches that they were wise men (not kings) who came and saw Him as a young child (not a babe) and He and His parents were living in a house (not a manger). These things may be “fun tradition,” but shouldn’t we teach what the Bible actually says, rather than these unscriptural “traditions”?

Another “tradition” that Christians have held onto is this idea that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) ended at the cross.  As one who has spent the past 25 years of my life examining arguments and their use of evidence, and then weighing that evidence to determine the validity of the argument, the argument for the Torah ending at the cross is not valid; in fact, the whole basis of the argument is superficial at best.  This is why we need to teach people how to critically examine texts and evidence, and to weigh the evidence of what’s being taught, so that they can examine and understand the truth of what all of the Bible teaches, from cover to cover, not just what some theologians think a small selection of verses mean.

Therefore, it is very important that we be like the ancient Bereans who “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  And when I follow this practice of examining the evidence provided within the Scriptures, and then weighing this evidence, I do not see any support for several ideas about the Torah that Christians have, including this idea that we have to be “perfect” to obey God.

Torah – Our Erroneous Perspective?

For instance, Christians have been brought up and taught several erroneous ideas and perspectives regarding the Torah, and there’s an abundance of evidence to support this.  To illustrate this, let’s look at the following textual passage.  In the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus teaches the following:

For truly I say to you, UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law [Torah], UNTIL ALL IS ACCOMPLISHED. (Matthew 5:18; Emphasis Mine)

These two lines, “UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY” and “UNTIL ALL IS ACCOMPLISHED” are spoken and written in Hebrew parallel form.  This means that Jesus is equating these two lines in His teaching here, or in other words, He is telling His audience that when “HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY” is when “ALL” will be “ACCOMPLISHED,” and only then, at that time, will God allow “the smallest letter or stroke” to “pass away from the Law, not but until then.”  But why?

Very simply, “heaven and earth” were the two witnesses that God called to observe the covenant that He made with the children at Mt. Sinai.  For example, consider the following texts:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you might live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him: for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.  (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Not only did God call “heaven and earth” to witness the covenant, but so did Moses:

Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. (Deuteronomy 31:28)

Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. (Deuteronomy 32:1)

In all three of the passages, the “heavens and the earth” are called to witness the covenant that God made with Israel, by God Himself and also by Moses.  Then in the New Testament, Jesus teaches us that as long as these two witnesses – “the heavens and the earth” – “live,” not the smallest letter or even stroke of a pen can be removed UNTIL the “death” (or “passing away”) of these two witnesses.  Have the witnesses “passed away”?  No, so not “the smallest letter or stroke of a pen” has “passed away” from the law (Torah) either.  And those who teach that it has are teaching in opposition to Christ, if not in opposition to God’s own word:

Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:32)

By teaching that God’s Torah, His “Law,” is not for believers today, they have deleted it, “taken away from it,” from their lives and the lives of those within their congregation.  Simply ask yourself, Has heaven and earth passed away?  No, obviously not, then therefore, not the smallest letter or stroke of the Torah has been done away with either.   But when will “ALL” be “ACCOMPLISHED“?  Jesus teaches us that it will be when “HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY” (i.e., Revelation 21-22).

Likewise, look at the very life of Jesus.  He embraced the Torah with love and devotion.  He did not violate it, nor did He view it as “bondage,” “legalism,” or as some form of hardship to do.  In fact, during his 40 days and nights of temptation out in the wilderness, He relied on the Torah to fight the Enemy, Satan.  As we all know, when we are being severely tested and tried, we go to those things are very dear to us.  And where did Jesus go?  The book of Deuteronomy (i.e., the Torah).  Each and every one of the statements that Jesus quotes to refute the Enemy Satan comes directly from the pages of the book of Deuteronomy.  The very source that Jesus embraced and used for comfort, we are taught by many Christian ministers and theologians to be “legalism,” “bondage,” and “spiritual chains.”  This Christian attitude towards the Torah is definitely not a reflection of the mind of Christ.

In Philippians 2:5, we are instructed, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”  Again, is this “mind” (or attitudes) seen in the Christian view of the Torah?  No, so then we must ask ourselves as modern day Bereans, “Why do we teach that the Torah ended at the cross when Jesus makes it quite clear that not one letter or stroke of it can be removed until the “passing away” of the two witnesses, the time period of the new heavens and new earth?”

Most ministers and Christians take Jesus’ final statement on the cross “It is finished!” to be the time when “all” will be “accomplished,” totally negating the statement made by Jesus that “all” will be “accomplished” at the time period of the “new heavens and the new earth.”  Jesus’ statement that “It is finished!” is actually part of the Passover liturgy that was spoken by the high priest when he killed the Passover lamb; it had nothing to do with the ending of the Torah at all.  What was “finished” at the cross was our slavery to sin, not the Torah.  I already know some of you out there are wondering about the renting of the Temple veil.  Wasn’t this a sign that God brought Torah (“the Law”) to an end at the cross since it rent from top to bottom when He died?

Actually, no, it was not.  I’ve heard many Christian ministers teach this, but it is not true. God had just watched the betrayal of His Son by some of the Jewish leaders at the time (not all the Jewish leaders and definitely not all the Jewish people as a whole), as well as the cruel torture and death of His Son by the Romans, so He did what any loving Jewish father would have done: He ripped the cloth over His heart from top to bottom, signifying His anguish and mourning over what had happened.   What was the cloth over the heart of God?  The Temple Veil.  So contrary to the teachings of many, this was NOT an act signifying that the Law and the Temple system had been brought to an end. Absolutely Not!  In fact, the Temple system in Jerusalem did not come to an end until the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., almost 40 years later.

(Hint: If you read the book of Revelation, you will discover the heavenly Temple system, the original pattern for the Tabernacle in the Exodus and the Jerusalem Temple, is still going strong.  Ask yourself, “If Jesus brought this system to an end, why do we still see it in use by God Himself throughout most of the book of Revelation?”  And your questioning really intensifies when you study the writings of the Old Testament prophets and discover during the Messianic Kingdom that God is going to bring back the Levitical priesthood and Temple system.  It sure doesn’t sound like God thinks it’s done, does it?)

Well, What is “Torah”?

Torah is a Hebrew word that can be translated as “Teaching, Instruction, Guidance, and/or Directives.”  It does not mean “Law.”  As a result, it can be applied in a wide spectrum of scenarios.  For example, it can be applied to one verse, one chapter, one section of chapters, a whole book, several books, the first five books, the entire Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh], or even both the Old Testament and the New Testament together.  Yes, the whole Bible, the Old and New Testament, can be said to be Torah because all of it contains God’s teachings or instructions.   Therefore, the only way a Christian cannot be under Torah (usually trans. “Law”) is by not living in submission to any part of Scripture.  But that would put the individual in complete opposition to God and His Word, wouldn’t it?

In fact, the book of Hebrews teaches that the New Testament has been established as Law (Torah), in exactly the same sense as what Moses received on Mt. Sinai.   The verse that hides this is Hebrews 8:6.  The following is a from the King James Version:

But now hath he [Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

The verb phrase translated as “was established” is the Greek word nenomothetêtai, according to Dr. David H. Stern,  this compound word is made up of two Greek words: nomos [“law”] and the common Greek verb tithêmi [“to put, place”] (50).  Dr. Stern further explains that if the subject matter of this text had been Greek law, rather than Jewish law, “it would be appropriate to translate this word as ‘enacted, established, legislated'” (50).  Consequently, then, this verse could more accurately communicate the intended meaning of this verse if it had been written this way:

But now hath he [Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was [enacted, established, or legislated as law based] upon better promises.

When we understand the actual meaning of this compound Greek word, then we understand that ALL of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are Torah.  You see in a covenant, you can reaffirm it, add to it, build upon it, improve and strengthen it, but the one thing you CANNOT do is TERMINATE IT.   And the book of Hebrews teaches that God has acted appropriately with His covenant that He made with Israel at Mt. Sinai: He has added to it, built upon it, and improve and strengthened it, but He did NOT TERMINATE it.

Think of the Old Testament as the original program given to us by God, and the New Testament as the update.  If you use only the original program, you miss the benefits of the Update, but if you try to use only the Update, well that doesn’t work either.  The only way to get the desired result that the Programmer (“God”) intends is to use both the original program AND the update together (i.e., a Whole Bible Approach).

I hope from these few examples, you can see that there is a major problem with our traditional view of the Torah.  It falls flat when you consider the teachings of the Old Testament, the teachings of the Gospels, Acts, the epistles by Peter, James, and John, Revelation, as well as what is taught in the Old Testament prophets regarding the upcoming Messianic Kingdom.  And believe it or not, Paul likewise do not teach against the Torah when you put his writings back into context.

Unfortunately, due to our Christian anti-Torah bias that’s been  traditionally taught by the mainstream ministers and denominations, translators today choose words that present the Torah in a negative manner, which again only reinforces this traditional anti-Torah presentation that people read and see within the New Testament.

Obedience to the Torah – NOT about “Perfection”? 

In discussing what we have, I think you will agree that the mainstream Christian view of the Torah is flawed.  You see, obedience to God’s commandments does not make one “perfect,” as I’ve heard repeatedly argued, it simply makes one obedient.  In fact, nowhere in the Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh] does it say or teach that if you keep all these commandments, then you will become a perfect human being.  It’s simply not there.   God promises blessings to those who are obedient, but nowhere does God say these commandments will make one perfect.   To illustrate this point, let’s consider some sample passages.

Deuteronomy 29:9.  So keep the words of this covenant to do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.

So where in this verse does it say that by keeping the commandments that you would become a “perfect person”?  I don’t see it, but what I do see is that it says that we will “prosper in all that [we] do.”  Well, what about the next one?

Joshua 1:8.  This book of the law (Heb. Torah) shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success.

Again, where in this verse does it say that as a result of studying, meditating, and observing all that’s written here in the Torah that we will become “perfect human beings” or even that we will inherit eternal life?  No, it says, that by doing so, we will make our way (or way of life) “prosperous” and have “good success.”  I’m still not seeing it, so let’s look at another passage.

Psalms 1:1-3.  Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law (Torah) of the LORD; and in His law (Torah) does he meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper. 

Again, where does this passage say anything about us becoming “perfect” human beings if we make the Torah our “delight” and “meditate” on it both “day and night”?  It doesn’t. Instead, it promises that “whatsoever” we do “shall prosper.”  Obviously then, as we can see from these passages, obeying the commandments does not make us “perfect,” but obedient, and as we live our lives in obedience to God, He then begins to pour out His blessings upon us.

Well, what about in the New Testament?  James, the brother of Jesus, likewise teaches and holds to this view of the Torah.  In his epistle, James draws on the Psalms:

The law [Torah] of the LORD is perfect, converting [or restoring] the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)

This first Psalm is written in Hebrew parallel form, which means that the two lines are actually saying the same thing in two different ways.  For example,

The law [Torah] of the LORD” parallels “the testimony of the LORD.”  In addition, the word “perfect,” which means “whole” or “complete,” parallels the word “sure” (or “reliable”).

In the second part of each line, “converting the soul [or returning or restoring the person]” parallels “making wise the simple.”  But in what way does the Torahreturn or restore the person“?  The Torah teaches us what God expects of us and how we are supposed to live here on earth, so therefore, it restores (or returns) the person to living in conformity to God’s commands and expectations for our lives.  And in so doing, it “makes wise the simple,” since the Torah is our “wisdom and understanding” (see Deuteronomy 4:6).

So shall I keep Your law [Torah] continually forever and ever.  And I will walk in liberty: for I seek Your precepts.

In this passage, the Psalmist is committing to keep God’s Torah “forever and ever,” and as a result of him seeking to obey God’s Torah, His “precepts,” he will walk “in liberty” or “in freedom.”  James, draws on these two passages and refers to God’s Torah as “the perfect law” and “the law of liberty” within his epistle, but notice that what he says about God’s Torah is completely consistent with the three previous passages:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he was looked at himself and gone away, he was immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who looks intently at the perfect law [Torah], the law [Torah] of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)

For James, looking into God’s Torah means looking to see who it is that God wants him to be and to strive to become that man.  There’s nowhere in the life or teachings of James where he ever even hints at the possibility of the idea that God’s Torah is in any way “legalism,” “bondage,” or that it has been “done away,” “annulled,” or “terminated,” as we hear Christians and ministers teach.

Also note that what the believer will experience in their life – not by just listening to the teachings of the Torah, but in actually doing them – is the same in Deuteronomy 29:9; Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:1-3, and here in James 1:25, “this man shall be blessed in what he does.”  So ask yourself, Why would anyone not want to enjoy the blessings of God?  Has God changed His mind about the Torah‘s purpose or about His desire to bless His people? Malachi 3:6 gives us God’s response to this question: “For I am the LORD, I change not.” God does not change, and because He does not change, His Word does not change.  I pray that the LORD will bless you as you consider the evidence of His Word.

 

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Easter vs. Firstfruits: It’s Time to Abandon Paganism and Return to the Bible

EASTER – A PROBLEM?

For centuries, Christianity has preached that Jesus rose again on Easter.  However, if anyone has read the Scriptures and studied the Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh], as well as researched this topic, one would come to the unfortunate realization that this message of the church is a deception, a lie, and it is not true.  Jesus did not bodily rise from the dead on Easter, but on the biblical feast of “Firstfruits.”  Before discussing “firstfruits,” though, I want to point out the problem with Easter.

THE BLINDNESS OF CHRISTIANITY

There are many people in Christian churches who are totally unaware or blind to Easter’s pagan roots.  I did not know about them either.  However, in doing some research about the resurrection, I came across the material.  I could not believe what I was reading.  No, not just from one or two sources, but from multiple credible sources, including Christian sources!  The history of this pagan celebration was clearly there, so why does the church continue to celebrate this vile unholy day?  I can think of only one reason – “Tradition!  Tradition!” (In my head, I hear Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” singing these words.) But tradition, regardless of how “sacred” it may be, is not reason enough to connect the death and resurrection of our holy Savior with such an unholy vile day.

THE PAGAN ROOTS OF EASTER

ishtarHere is an ancient statue of Ishtar (another name and version of Easter).  This was a hand-sized statute that people would carry around with them.  Easter is the name of a fertilty goddess that was worshipped throughout ancient western Europe. She was known by many other names as well, like Ishtar, depending on the region.  According to W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr.’s Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words:

The term ‘Easter’ is not of Christian origin. It is another form of Astarte, one of the titles of the Chaldean goddess, the queen of heaven. The festival of Pasch [Passover and the Feast of Unleavens] was a continuation of the Jewish [that is, God’s] feast….from this Pasch the pagan festival of ‘Easter’ was quite distinct and was introduced into the apostate Western religion, as part of the attempt to adapt pagan festivals to Christianity.” (“Easter,” page 192)

As we can see, this pagan connection is also well known among this and other Christian sources.   Easter/Ishtar/Astarte/Ostara (another name for her) had her Temples and Temple prostitutes, who engaged in all types of immoral sexual practices with whoever paid them, male, female, or groups of people.  In the Middle East, this fertility goddess was also known by the name Astarte or Asherah, the wife of Baal.  That’s right, Astarte/Asherah, the wife of Ba’al and the biblical nemesis of Israel’s God, YHWH, throughout the Old Testament (Heb. Tanakh) is embraced and celebrated each Spring by Christians around the world. Easter/Ishtar/Asherah and God are brought together in one annual celebration in defiance of the clear teachings of the Bible.  For example,

You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the LORD your God, which you shall make for yourself. (Deuteronomy 16:21)

In the article “What is an Asherah pole?” on the Christian website, GotQuestions?org, the writer explains that,

An Asherah pole was a sacred tree or pole that stood near Canaanite religious locations to honor the pagan goddess Asherah, also known as Astarte. While the exact appearance of an Asherah pole is somewhat obscure, it is clear that the ancient Israelites, after entering the land of Canaan, were influenced by the pagan religion it represented.

In the Bible, Asherah poles were first mentioned in Exodus 34:13. God had just remade the Ten Commandment tablets, and Moses had requested God graciously forgive the Israelites for worshiping the golden calf. Verse 10 begins the covenant God made: if the Israelites obey Him, He will drive out the tribes living in Canaan. But they must cut down the Asherah poles. Deuteronomy 7:5 and 12:3 repeat the command nearly verbatim, while Deuteronomy 16:21 commands the Israelites not set up any wooden Asherah poles of their own. Two books later, In Judges 3:7, “The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” (www.gotquestions.org/Asherah-pole.html)

The Asherah pole was a phallic symbol and, of course, named after Asherah, the goddess of fertility, and people went there to worship her and to engage in all types of sexual practices and orgies.  And yet, in spite of all of the commands and teachings of God for His people not to associate themselves with her, the ancient Israelites had trouble obeying these commands.  And for most of church history, Christians have likewise not separated themselves completely from her.

Although Christians do not engage in sexual practices and orgies in the church, her Western European name, Easter, and two images for her ancient practices, the bunny and the egg, are used and brought into the church once a year.  As a side interest, the modern churches are as full of people engaging in sexual immorality, homosexuality, lesbianism, orgies, etc., as the people who make no claim at all to have faith in God or the Bible.  Even though most ministers may not intend for this, I do believe there’s a pagan influence coming into the church through this connection.

I believe Satan is thrilled when Christians come together to celebrate Easter because although the death, burial, and resurrection is being discussed, Satan still has a foothold in the churches and in the lives of all those who attend, particularly in the lives of our children.   Considering the rampant sexual immorality in our churches today, it is something worth considering.

In looking back at the annual celebration of Easter/Ishtar/Asherah, people would give up something forty days before the day of Easter/Ishtar/Asherah in the preparation of her day.  This is the origin for Lent.  Then on her day of worship,  ten of the village’s most beautiful women would be chosen, stripped down, and then given a head start into the field.  The men in the village would then chase them down and raped them in the field, believing that one act of fertility would end result in the fertility of the crops.  And this practice was widespread in the ancient world.

However, in my research, I discovered that when Alexander the Great conquered the known world, establishing the Greek Empire,  that two images were then used in substitution for the rape and sexual abuse of women: the bunny, because they are the most fertile of all land animals, and the egg, because they believed by doing this every year, they were bringing eternal life to their crops.  I found a number of stories and myths at this time of the goddess coming down from heaven in a giant egg, coming out of the egg, and then transforming herself into a bunny and handing out food to children.  These stories were told in order to connect these two images, the bunny and egg, with the worship and celebration of the goddess Easter.  Yes, based on my research, I would say that Playboy and the Playboy “bunnies” have a much closer connection and tie to Easter than Jesus’ death and resurrection ever could.

HOW DID EASTER COME INTO THE CHURCH?

Easter started coming into the church in the 2nd century, C.E.  Christian missionaries went into Europe to spread the Gospel.  However, the people there told them that they could not convert to Christianity because if they stopped celebrating the national holidays, like Easter, they would be killed.  So the missionaries came up with a plan. They told the people that they would be allowed to keep the name of the feast, the name of this pagan fertility goddess, but that they would “Christianize” the meaning of it and its images (the bunny and the egg), so that as far as everyone else was concerned, they were still celebrating the national holiday, but they could also, then, convert and join the church.  This “plan” spread throughout western Europe until the 4th century, C.E., when Constantine, the last Roman emperor, made “Easter” the official worship day of the church, and it has been that way ever since.

Consequently, Easter did not begin with Jesus.  It had been going on for centuries and centuries before He was ever conceived.  Rather, in order to get people into the church (“to fill the pews”), they compromised the integrity and holiness of God and His word and brought a pagan celebration into the church under the guise of giving people a “Christian alternative.” Many churches are doing the same thing today with Halloween.  If you research the policies and actions of the Roman Catholic Church, you would find that this became “the standard practice” of the church and their religious leaders.  How could they do this?  Simple.  The belief of the Roman Catholic Church is that the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, etc., are of higher authority than the Bible so they can do whatever they wish, even if the Bible plainly teaches against it.

IT’S TIME TO RETURN TO SCRIPTURE

With all the historic information and facts, I believe it’s clear when one discovers the true origin of Lent and Easter, and you examine the teachings of Scripture, such as Deuteronomy 12:29-31a,

When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?”  You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods;…

God does not approve of us taking pagan practices and using them with Him, even if we “Christianize” them in the process.  Instead, we need to repent for our sins of idolatry, and return to the true worship of God, by returning to what God has taught us to do in His Word.

WHAT IS “FIRSTFRUITS”?

Firstfruits is the third biblical Spring feast that comes on the day (Sunday) after the Sabbath following Passover. It’s discussed in Leviticus 23:9-11.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.'”

The Israelites were to bring the firstfruits of their crops on this day, the 17th of Nisan,  to the High Priest who would wave them as an offering to the LORD. If the LORD accepted them, then His acceptance was a guarantee that God would be faithful to bring in the rest of the crop.  This is also confirmed by Grant R. Jeffrey, a renowned Christian prophecy teacher and writer, in his book “Armageddon: Appointment with Destiny” (1988).  Jeffrey writes,

The third of the seven feasts is celebrated on the seventeenth day of Nisan, the Feast of Firstfruits. This was the time for the harvesting of the early crops of spring. God wanted Israel to acknowledge that they owed Him not only the firstfruits, but that all they had was from God, a daily gift from His gracious hand” (60).

The point of this feast is to remind us, as His people, that all things that we receive are His gifts given to us, not something we earned (I can see a possible sermon on “Grace in the Old Testament,” do you?)

Some other references to Firstfruits can also be found in the book of Exodus:

You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God.  You are not to boil a kid in the milk of its mother. (Exodus 23:19)

You shall bring the very first of the first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God.  You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.  (Exodus 34:26)

In both of these commands, we see the same instructions: (1) We are to bring the choice (or very first of) first fruits of our soil into the house of the LORD; and (2) we are not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk.  Since this prohibition is connected to firstfruits in both cases, I would assume this was a pagan practice that the surrounding cultures did during the celebration of their crops.  But this only reaffirms my point that God hates it when we use any type of pagan practices with Him – regardless of the reason.

THE NOAH’S ARK CONNECTION?

Another thing that I found intriguing was that Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Ararat on the same day that would later become the feast of Firstfruits:

And on the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat.  (Genesis 8:4)

At this point, Israel’s secular calendar is being used since the religious calendar had not been formed yet (This would happen at the beginning of the Exodus).  So the seventh month from the New Moon in September (or Rosh Hashanah) would be the month of Nisan, and on Nisan 17, the ark safely landed on the mountains of Ararat.

This was likewise conformed in Jeffrey’s book.  In his book, he states that the theme of this day is “resurrection,” and that there were “four historically important anniversary events that happened on this day:”

  • Noah’s ark rests on Mt. Ararat;
  • Israel miraculously crosses over the Red Sea;
  • Israel eats the firstfruits of the Promised Land; and
  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ. (60)
Yes, all of these events happened on the same day, same feast, but of course, different years.  And when I saw all of these events listed together, I realized that there was so much more to this day than the bringing in of crops to the temple to be blessed by God. Included in this feast is a promise of “safety and security.”
  • Noah experienced “safety and security” when the ark finally rested on the mountains of Ararat;
  • Israel experienced “safety and security” when miraculously crossed the Red Sea and the Egyptian military was drowned in the Red Sea by God;
  • Israel again experienced “safety and security” when they miraculously crossed the Jordan and ate the first fruits of the Promised Land; and most of all,
  • As individuals, we are able to experience “safety and security” in our relationship with God as a result of Christ’s bodily resurrection on this day.

Paul refers to this in his first epistle to the congregation at Corinth.  In his epistle, he writes,

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the FIRST FRUITS of those who are asleep (I Corinthians 15:20; emphasis mine).

Jesus us our “safety and security” with God, because His resurrection on this day means that His sacrifice of His life on the cross for our sins was accepted by God.  And now as our firstfruits, He is our guarantee that God will raise us up (the rest of God’s “crop”) on the day of the resurrection.  There is so much here, so many connections that could be made with these four events.  And I find it sad that we forsake such depth of learning, simply because we are afraid of challenging “tradition.”

A SUGGESTION FOR TEACHING FIRSTFRUITS

I was thinking a cool way to teach this in the church is to have people bring fruits, vegetables, and grains to the church on that day, and place them on a table at the front where everyone can see them.  And then discuss the meaning of firstfruits, and then connect that feast and its meaning to Christ’s resurrection. Then afterwards, just to make the day more enjoyable, have a meal for the whole congregation that includes fruits, vegetables and grains. This would be a much “healthier” alternative, both physically and spiritually, to the traditionally approach, which connects the death of our holy Savior to the unholy pagan practices associated with the fertility goddess of Easter.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Please think about and consider the origin and truths connected to these two very different days.  As believers in Christ, we tell our children that we believe in the Bible and that we should observe its teachings, but then we turn around during Easter, Christmas, and Halloween, and we celebrate things and days which are directly opposed to God and to the teachings of the Scripture.  The rest of the world knows the hypocrisy of what we say and what we do.  The only ones who don’t seem to realize this are those in the church.  We’re not fooling anyone by not openly discussing this.
Instead, we should be consistent with our proclamation of basing our life and practices on the Scriptures.  We should celebrate our Lord’s resurrection on the biblical feast of Firstfruits and use biblical imagery, rather than pagan imagery, to do this. These pagan connections do not honor the Lord in any way; in fact, they upset Him greatly. So this year, let’s do things differently.  Let’s do things the biblical way and put a smile on God’s face, rather than following pagan traditions that were brought into the church centuries ago in violation of Scripture, and that makes God angry and perhaps cry due to our lack of consideration and love for Him.

What is the “Messianic Movement”? A General Overview

“MESSIANIC” – What?

Have you ever heard someone refer to themselves as being “Messianic” and wondered, “What does that mean?”  It’s a question that many are asking today, both inside of the movement and outside of the movement, and although there are those who are trying to hold on to a simple answer to this question, their response does not adequately describe the reality of the movement today.

As a non-Jew who has been a part of this movement for many years (on and off since 1982), I would like to share some of my own views and insights about this movement in hopes of clarifying up some of the confusion. To do this, though, I have broken this study down into a seven-part series, in which I would like to present my research and response to the following questions:

  1. What is the “Messianic Movement”?
  2. What is “Messianic Judaism”?
  3. Why are we finding more Scriptural depth here?
  4. What about all the Gentiles within the Movement?
  5. Why is the Movement currently struggling with its own self-definition?
  6. What is the Messianic Kingdom Movement?
  7. Why focusing on the Messianic Kingdom as a political & religious reality would provide a much-needed direction for the Movement?

It is my hope that by the end of the study that you will have a much clearer understanding of the Movement, its present struggles and complexities, but also how a new focus, which I am entitling – “The Messianic Kingdom Movement” – could help to eliminate many of the problems that the general Movement is currently facing.

ITS BASIC MEANING

To begin, let’s start with the word’s most basic meaning.   The term “Messianic” simply means “that which is characteristic of, or pertains to, the Messiah.” Of course, this raises another question, “What is a ‘Messiah’?”  This is a study in itself, but the basic meaning pf the word “Messiah” is “Anointed One.”  It was a term used in the Tanakh (Old Testament) to refer to one of the three national leaders of Israel: the king, the priest, or the prophet. It also came to be specifically used for a special son (or descendant) of David who would be anointed and rule and reign with all three anointings, as king, priest, and prophet, over the nation of Israel and the nations of the world from the city of Jerusalem in the last days.  The Greek equivalent of this term “Messiah” is Christos, which comes into English as “Christ.”  “Messiah” then is the Hebrew way to say it, and “Christ” is the Greek-English way to say it.

The implication of using the term “Messianic” is that we are placing the Scriptures back into its original historical-cultural context, i.e., “a Hebrew point of view,”rather than looking at it outside of its context, i.e., “a Greco-Roman point of view,” which is the perspective that the traditional church has historically taken.  This is why many people in the movement refer to themselves as “Messianic believers” (a term derived from the Hebrew), as opposed to “Christians” (a term derived from the Greek).

A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

The early Yeshua/Jesus Movement was comprised of two groups of people: the Nazarenes (the Jewish branch) and the Christians (the non-Jewish branch).  And although the term “Christian” had been around for about 20 years when Paul (Heb. Rav Sha’ul Paulus) was arrested and brought before Felix the governor, he was not identified as “a leader of the Christians,” but as “a leader of the Nazarenes”:

For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. (Acts 24:5)

The Nazarenes was the name given to the Jewish sect, or part of the Movement, began by Yeshua/Jesus within Israel during the Second Temple period of the 1st century, C.E.; whereas, the term “Christian” was first used in Antioch, Syria, for the disciples there (Acts 11: 26), a dominantly non-Jewish region outside the land of Israel, and the name came to identify the non-Jewish believers within the movement.

According to the New Testament (Heb. B’rit Chadasha), the Nazarenes were extremely zealous in their observance of the Torah given by God to Moses:

And after he [Paul] had greeted them [James and the Jewish Messianic leaders in Jerusalem], he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles [non-Jews] among his ministry,  And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law [Heb. Torah].” (Acts 21:19-20; emphasis mine)

And although the Nazarenes (the Jewish branch) were all excited about how many “tens of thousands” of Jews who had not only accepted Yeshua/Jesus as the Promised Messiah but were also zealous in their observance of the Torah.  However, what would result in a large division within the early church is that the Christians (the non-Jewish branch) were not at all excited or zealous regarding the Torah.  Instead, many of the non-Jewish believers came to view the Torah as a “Jewish superstition” and “bondage.”

In fact, according to many reliable historical sources, there was a split between the Nazarenes and the Christians after the death of James, the brother of Jesus, in 62 A.D.  This split widened even more after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD.  However, even after Christianity began to move into and dominate Western Europe, the Nazarenes in the Middle East remained faithful to the teachings and the beliefs of mainstream Judaism.  This insistence, though, was not looked upon favorably by many of the Church Fathers or Christians throughout history.

And even when Christianity was tolerated in 313 C.E., and the Church leaders got together to discuss what should constitute “proper Christian beliefs,” practices, etc., the Jewish leadership was never invited to any of these Church councils. Eventually, in the 4th century, Christianity officially rejected the Nazarenes, labeling them as “heretics,” and the following decree was sent by the Church of Constantinople to the Jewish believers that they had to affirm to remain with the Christian Community:

I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations, and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce absolutely everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom. … and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Cain and the leprosy of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable.  And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down ith Satan and the devils. (qtd. in David H. Stern, Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message for Christians, p. 8)

In essence, the Jewish believer had to leave behind everything that God commanded them to uphold and become “a Christian.”  Of course, none of the Jewish believers could do this in good conscience, so the Nazarenes – the original Jewish branch – who took the gospel to the non-Jewish world was now being excommunicated by the descendants of those believers.  Various Christians, though, maintained a watchful eye on this “heretical sect” from a distance by continuing to document their beliefs and existence in many of their writings up through 6th century, C.E., and some say to about 1300 AD:  However, after 1300, there’s no further mention of the Nazarenes in the historical records.

A RESTORATION

Consequently, the Messianic Movement should also be seen as a “restoration” movement, for it seeks to restore to the body of Messiah the original beliefs and practices of the Nazarenes, the early Jewish branch.   Also, it seeks to restore to the body of Messiah the various teachings and practices given in the Torah given to Moshe (Moses) by God that was removed by the Early Church Fathers and the Catholic Church, such as Sabbath observance, the biblical feasts, the dietary laws, etc.

I remember the first Passover seder I participated in, and how afterward, as a result of that experience, how many passages within the Scriptures just came alive for me.  It gave those passages a new depth of meaning that I had never known before, and it set my heart on fire for God and gave me a ravenous hunger for more of Him and His Word.  And like me, there are many others in the movement who have had their own experiences and insights that have moved them to become a part of this growing movement as well.

A RETURN

Also, the Messianic Movement is “a return.”  It is the desire of those in the movement to return back to the original beliefs, model and practices of Yeshua/Jesus and His early disciples during Israel’s Second Temple era.  Yeshua (Jesus) is an Israeli Jew who lived and taught as a Jewish rabbi of the 1st century, C.E., within the land of Israel, proclaiming and teaching the Torah (God’s Law) and about the Basar Malkhut Hashamayim (“the good news of the kingdom of heaven”).

So contrary to the accusation by many Christians who see this movement as trying to rebuild the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) or the accusation by mainstream Judaism that this is just a trick to con Jews into Christianity, it is neither. It is the sincere desire of those within the movement to return to what is taught and seen in the pages of the B’rit Chadasha (New Testament), which is a Jewish movement consisting of Torah-believing Jewish people within mainstream Judaism who believed and taught that Yeshua (Jesus) is the promised Messiah of Israel.

Growing up in the church, I remember many sermons by pastors who preached that we needed to return to a New Testament model.  It was said again and again. However, as I grew older, I realized by “New Testament model” they meant only one aspect of the New Testament that they felt was missing in the church.  But I took the message to heart, and I began to search the Scriptures to see what was truly presented within the pages of the New Testament, and after many years of research and study, it was this same heartfelt desire that led me to become a part of this movement.  And like me, it is this same heartfelt desire for a return that is motivating many – Jew and non-Jew alike – to also join and become a part of this growing movement.

A REFORMATION

In addition, the Messianic Movement is a “reformation.”  The term “reformation” refers to “the act or process of improving something or someone by removing or correcting faults, problems, etc.”  Therefore, the Messianic Movement is seeking to improve the faith by returning to the original model, adding those elements that were there but were removed, and then also removing those non-biblical elements that were added through the centuries by the Roman Catholic Church.  It should be remembered that from the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church in the 4th century, C.E., until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, C.E., a time period of 12 centuries, there was no other church in the Western world but the Roman Catholic Church.

A BRIDGE

Finally, the Messianic Movement is a bridge that intersects and connects the two biblically-based world’s religions: Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.  The point of intersection between these two religions is their belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the writings of the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), or what Christians call the “Old Testament.”

This “bridge” includes a huge and diverse grouping of people from one side of the bridge to the other side of the bridge.  On the one side of the bridge, you will find Christians of all denominations who may have an interest in a particular feast, such as Passover, or want to learn about the Jewish roots of their faith, to the other side of the bridge, where you will find Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Promised Messiah, as well as everyone in-between these two spectrums.  So to say that one is “Messianic” only really denotes that one is somewhere on this bridge; it does not identify one’s religious affiliation, whether one sees oneself as belonging to Judaism or to Christianity.

FOUR CORE BELIEFS

I have researched and/or been involved in the Messianic movement since 1982, and over the years, I’ve noted that those who claim to be “Messianic,” including myself, share four common core beliefs:

  1. That Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth is the Promised Messiah of Israel and the Nations as foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh/Old Testament);
  2. That all of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is for believers in Yeshua/Jesus today (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  3. That Christianity as a religion was a break off from 2nd Temple Judaism, and that there’s at least an interest in putting Christianity back into its original context and finding out more its original Jewish roots; and
  4. That it was God who established Israel as a nation and as an eternal homeland for the Jewish people (i.e., “Zionism”).

So if someone says that “I am Messianic,” it only denotes that they are “on the bridge” and share these four common core beliefs; it does not indicate, however, what religion or theological perspective and world view that they affiliate themselves with, whether Christianity or Judaism.

Not only are there two religions represented on this “bridge,” but to add to the diversity, there are actually four main positions (3 are religious in their orientation and the last one involves a much broader perspective) that one can take on that bridge, which I am calling –

  • Messianic Christianity. These are people (Jew and non-Jew) who share the four common core beliefs of the Messianic movement, but beyond that, they follow and adhere to mainstream Christian thought and practice.
  • Messianic Judaism. These are people (Jew and non-Jew) who likewise share the four common core beliefs of the Messianic movement, but beyond that, they follow and adhere to mainstream Jewish thought and practice.
  • Messianic Syncretism. This is a much smaller group in comparison to the other two, but they are there in the movement.  These are people (Jew and non-Jew) who see themselves as standing in the middle of the Messianic bridge, and so they draw from and mix in their own unique way, the beliefs, teachings and practices from both Christianity and Judaism. And even within this group, there’s an even smaller group who will, depending on their background and interests, add, or draw from, one or more non-biblical religion(s), such as Native American Religions, Buddhism, Daoism, etc., in regard to some belief, teaching, or practice they want to incorporate and add to their life.
  • Messianic Kingdom.  Although these previous positions view the movement as a religious movement, I would like to propose a much broader scope and perspective of the movement.  I do not believe that Yeshua/Jesus had any intention of establishing another religious movement, but a Kingdom movement.  A kingdom, by definition, is a governmental body or entity that is political, social-cultural, historical and, in this case, religious in nature; therefore, to define it strictly as “a religious movement” or in terms of a religion is extremely narrow in its scope at best and misrepresentative or deceptive at its worst.  Consequently, I believe that both Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity have erred by restricting and transforming God’s Kingdom movement into a religion.  As a result, it is my (and hopefully others) desire to return to what God and Yeshua/Jesus had originally intended and taught. (I will discuss this further later in the study)

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, then, at its most simplistic level, the Messianic Movement deals with those beliefs, practices, and lifestyle lived and taught by the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus); it’s a movement that views itself as being involved in a return to its original model, beliefs and practices, and thereby involving a restoration and reformation to the faith, and at the same time, this movement is also a bridge that intersects and connects two world religions, Judaism and Christianity.

As a result, this movement is so diverse in its beliefs and practices that to try and give a concise and streamline definition is really an impossibility.  In the next article, I want to examine how “Messianic Judaism” – the Judaism side of the bridge – has defined itself as a movement before getting into the third article, which will examine the struggles it is facing with those definitions.

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The whole Bible for the whole person for all time.