2 Things Most Christians Don’t Understand 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.

Return to the Top

PROOF: The Sinai Covenant is NOT THE Relationship Covenant

THE RELATIONSHIP COVENANT?

In the last blog article, I argued that “the relationship covenant” of the Hebrew Scriptures/ Old Testament is the Abrahamic Covenant – not the Mosaic Covenant (see article, “The Promise of a Lamb: The Connection Between Abraham and the Cross“).  In this article, I would like to build on that, by proving and demonstrating from the Scriptures themselves that the Sinai Covenant is not, in fact, the relationship covenant.  Although it does serve other purposes, such as –

  • to mold Israel into a model nation within God’s Kingdom for the other nations of the world;
  • to provide Israel with instructions for operating as a nation;
  • to function as a wedding covenant between God and His Bride;
  • to provide God’s people with “wisdom and understanding” (Deuteronomy 4:6);
  • to provide a written description of the Messiah (John 5:45-47);
  • to provide a working definition of what makes God happy and what upsets Him (i.e, sin); and
  • to function as an evangelistic tool to bring people to God (Deuteronomy 4:6-8).

Obviously, God’s laws, commandments, ordinances and judgments are much more than just a list of “Do’s and Don’ts.”  Also, in contrast with popular opinion, God’s Law is not what establishes one’s relationship with God, rather it guides, teaches, and instructs what one is to do and believe once one is already in a relationship with Him, and this can be easily demonstrated from the Torah (first five books of the Bible) itself.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

This is important in order to have a proper perspective of the Torah (God’s commandments) and its role within the overall Scriptures.  Since the second century, C.E., Christians began to have an erroneous perspective of the Torah (God’s Law) due to their separation from their Jewish roots (due to actions on both sides).  They began to teach that Yeshua/Jesus died and rose again to do away with the Law of God; that it had ended at the cross.  However, as I want to show here, what would be the point of that if the Mosiac covenant is NOT, in fact, the relationship covenant?  Also, how can His death and resurrection free me as a non-Jew from the Law of God since, according to Scripture, unbelieving gentiles (non-Jews), are not under the Law of God (Mosiac covenant)?

remember that you [gentiles/non-Jews] were at that time separate from Christ [Messiah], excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers [foreigners] to the COVENANTS OF PROMISE, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12, Emphasis Mine)

The phrase “covenants of promise” would most definitely include the Mosiac covenant. Consequently, when I was an unbelieving non-Jew (or “gentile”), I was a “stranger (or foreigner) to the covenants of promise,” which meant that I was not under them; as a result, Rav Sha’ul (Paul) writes, I had “no hope” and was “without God in the world.”  This was my condition in the world before I came into an intimate relationship with the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus.

You see, in order to be redeemed from something, you FIRST must be under it.  If you are not under it, you can’t be redeemed from it.  Therefore,  gentiles who are not in submission to the Lordship of Christ (Messiah) can not be redeemed from “the covenants of promise” (including the Mosaic covenant) since they are NOT under them.

But Rav Sha’ul’s (Paul’s) argument does not end there.  He then continues,

But now in Christ Jesus (Heb. Moshiach Yeshua) who formerly were far off have been brought near (or made a part of) by the blood of Christ (Messiah). (Ephesians 2:13).

In other words, rather than the death and resurrection of Messiah removing us from the previous “covenants of promise” (as Christians have traditionally taught), it “brought us near” or made us a part of Messiah and the biblical covenants of the Tanakh (“Old Testament,” including the Mosaic Covenant), and in so doing, also made us a part of “the commonwealth of Israel.”  The exact opposite of what Christianity has traditionally taught.  However, there is a law that every human being, whether Jew or non-Jew (“gentile”), has been born under, and that God, from the very beginning, has seen as bondage, and that is the law of sin and death, and it is from this law that Yeshua/Jesus died to set us free from its power and control over our lives, so we can now live in intimacy with God and Him, and be able to walk in obedience to the Scriptures.

Some may believe that in spite of this argument that the Mosaic covenant is still the relationship covenant of the Tanakh/Old Testament.  Fair enough, let me give you at least three reasons from the Scriptures why the Mosaic Covenant could not be the relationship covenant of the Tanakh/Old Testament.

THE RELATIONSHIP PRE-EXISTED SIANI

First of all, Israel was already in a relationship with God before Mount Siani, so how could Siani be the place where that relationship began when the relationship was already there? For example, prior to Israel reaching Mount Siani, God is already involved in doing the following with Israel:

  • God hears their groaning due to the intensity of their slavery, and remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 2:23-24);
  • God communicates with Israel through Moses and protects Israel during the plagues (Exodus 6-12);
  • God is leading Israel as a pillar of smoke in the daytime and a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:17-22);
  • God is defending Israel from the Egyptians (Exodus 14);
  • God is providing for the needs of Israel [food, water] (Exodus 15:22-16:21; 17:1-7);
  • God is teaching Israel about the Passover (Exodus 12-13) and the Sabbath (Exodus 16:22-30).

And all of this occurs before Israel even gets to Mount Siani.  So how is Siani the beginning place of Israel’s relationship with God, if God is already involved in a relationship with Israel before they even get to Mount Siani?  Also, how is the foundational commandments for the Sabbath and Passover part of the Mosaic covenant when these are given BEFORE Israel ever reaches Siani?

SIN OF THE GOLDEN CALF

The next evidence that the Mosaic covenant is not the relationship covenant can be seen in the intercession that Moses presents to God after Israel’s sin with the golden calf. Contrary to the classic film, The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston, Moses was not up on Mount Siani THE FIRST TIME receiving the commandments when Israel commits the sin of idolatry with the golden calf.  This movie’s presentation implies that Israel sinned in ignorance since Moses had not brought the commandments down from Siani yet when this sin was committed.  However, as I will show, this clearly contradicts the biblical record.

According to Scripture, Moses goes up on Mt. Siani the FIRST TIME, and he receives from God orally the Ten Commandments, as well as laws and commandments regarding the proper treatment of slaves, personal injuries, property rights, various other laws, laws regarding the Sabbath and the land,  the three national feasts, and the conquest of the land (Exodus 20 – 23).  Moses then comes down from the Mount, tells the people “all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:3), and the people positively respond to the instructions, teachings, laws and commands by saying,

All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do! (Exodus 24:3)

So the people were, in fact, informed of the requirements God had of them.  Not only that, but Moses “wrote down all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:4).  This means that Moses had written out everything that God had told him – including the Ten Commandments – BEFORE God engraved them on tablets of stone.  And Israel would have had this written document with them at the base of the mountain when Moses went up the mountain again to receive the tablets.  They could have reviewed these documents any time they wanted, so how could they have not known what God expected of them?

Not only did Moses tell the people God’s expectations and write down everything, but they also sealed the people’s agreement with a blood covenant.  They offered up burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings.  So Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls (Exodus 24:5-6), and then it says,

Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” (Exodus 24:7)

So Moses told them God’s expectations TWICE and they agreed to it TWICE.  Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel go up onto the mountain and have a covenant meal to solidify the covenant with God, and Moses writes,

and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank. (Exodus 24:10-11)

After them hearing God for themselves (Exodus 20), Moses recounting God’s instructions, laws and commands twice and them agreeing twice, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders physically see God themselves, and then eat and drink while sitting up there seeing Him before they go down the mountain.

Then God has Moses come up the mountain again, but this time to receive the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments on them, as well as to receive the instructions, laws and commands regarding the Tabernacle, its various elements, the Levitical priesthood, and more on the Sabbath (Exodus 24:15 -31:18).  Consequently, it is while God is nearing the end of all these instructions, laws and commands regarding the Tabernacle, priesthood and Sabbath that Israel commits the sin of idolatry with the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-10).  Consequently, the Tabernacle and the priesthood are not the result of Israel’s sin with the golden calf, as I’ve heard erroneously taught several times by Christian ministers, since God was completing His instructions on these when the sin of the golden calf was being done.

MOSES’ INTERCESSION FOR ISRAEL

It is after God informs Moses of this heinous sin by Israel that Moses begins interceding for Israel.  God was so angry about their sin that He was willing to wipe them all out and start all over again with Moses, as God had begun with Abraham (Exodus 32:7-10).

Moses begins interceding by stating that if God destroys all the people of Israel, then the Egyptians will think that God delivered them and brought them into the wilderness with the evil intent of destroying them (Exodus 32:11-12).  This would, of course, impugn God’s character among the Egyptians, especially since He had gone through all the trouble with the plagues to demonstrate His character and power among them.  However well formulated this line of reasoning may seem, it did not change God’s mind.

Then Moses brings up the covenant that God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It is only after he reminds God of His covenant with the patriarchs that He changes His mind.

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You did swear by Yourself, and did say to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.  So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Exodus 32:13-14)

If the Mosaic covenant was the relationship covenant, then why didn’t Moses bring that covenant up?  I mean, God was going to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.  Their relationship with Him was definitely in trouble, yet Moses does not even say, “Hey, God, don’t you remember the covenant we just made with You?  Remember all the sacrifices?Remember Aaron and I, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders coming up and having a meal here?”  But he doesn’t.  Why?  Because the Mosaic covenant is not the relationship covenant, but the covenant that God made with Abraham in Genesis 15. (Again, see my article, “The Promise of a Lamb: The Connection Between Abraham and the Cross“)

‘TIL THE LAST DAYS

A third reference which clearly demonstrates that the Mosaic covenant is not THE relationship covenant is found in Deuteronomy 4.  In this passage, God prophesies what will happen to Israel in the future:

And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, where the LORD shall drive you.  And there you will serve other gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. (Deuteronomy 4:27-28)

But even though this will be the case, God makes Israel a promise of restoration:

But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.  When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, IN THE LATTER DAYS, you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice.  “For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant WITH YOUR FATHERS which He swore to them. (Deuteronomy 4: 29-31)

Notice that this promise is good, even to “the latter days” or “the last days.”  This is an example of a passage that has not been fully fulfilled in the Law of God.  The other interesting thing to notice is the phrase “the covenant with your fathers.” Who are “the fathers,” according to Scripture?  “The fathers” is a biblical term for the three patriarchs of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel (Exodus 3:15-16; Exodus 4:5; Deuteronomy 6:10; Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 29:13; and Deuteronomy 30:20).

Ask yourself the question, “Why is God going to remember that particular covenant, even when someone confesses their sin before God?”

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness, which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me – … then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land. (Leviticus 26:40, 42)

Notice what covenant is God remembering when people confess their sins: the covenant He made with the three patriarchs of Israel – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – that was established in Genesis 15, and then handed down to Isaac, to Jacob, to Joseph, and then renewed with Israel when they reached Mount Siani.  It was this same covenant, found in Genesis 15, that Yeshua/Jesus fulfilled when He died on the cross and was resurrected again on the third day:

And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], that God has fulfilled this promise to the children in that He raised up Jesus [Yeshua],… (Acts 13:32-33a)

This is a small part of the sermon preached by Rav Sha’ul (Paul) on his first missionary journey in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch.  Notice that he connects the “good news” with “the fathers” and the resurrection of Yeshua/Jesus.  By doing this, he is arguing that the resurrection is, in fact, the fulfillment of God’s promise to the fathers.

Going back to the passage in Leviticus, notice that Moses does not say that God will remember the covenant of Siani or Horeb when people confess their sins – but the covenant of the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This, of course, ties in with Rav Sha’ul’s (Paul’s) presentation of the good news: that God had fulfilled His promise to the fathers through the death and resurrection of the Messiah.  The Mosaic covenant then did not begin the relationship, but instead, it built upon the foundation of that relationship (Genesis 15), intensified the intimacy of the relationship, and then explained the responsibilities and privileges of those who would choose to participate in that relationship more fully.

MARRIAGE – AN EXAMPLE

My relationship with my wife did not begin the day we were married, rather we began to get to know one another socially, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually while we were dating.  However, when we got married – a type of covenant – we intensified the relationship by intensifying the relationship in all areas, including becoming one physically, which was not part of the original dating relationship.  In the same way, God intensified His relationship with His Bride, Israel, at Siani, but not to the extent He desired since Israel pulled back from Him and committed the sin of the golden calf.  The full extent of the level of intensity that He desired would begin to occur centuries later in the Upper Room (see Acts 2:1-4).  Even today, God is still working on developing the level of intimacy He desires among His people.  It is a level of intimacy that has not yet been fully realized or reached.

FINAL QUESTION

Did Yeshua/Jesus die to do away with or annul God’s law?  No, what would be the point of that since God’s law is not the foundation of a relationship with Him?  There is no reason to do away with it, annul it, or replace it.  Instead, Yeshua/Jesus died to deal with the sin issue, and to free us from the power and control of the law of sin and death.  God’s laws, commandments, statutes and judgments were given to teach us, God’s people, how to live in this world with Him and with one another.  They did not establish the relationship, they merely expounded upon and explained our obligations and privileges as participants within that relationship.

 

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The Promise of a Lamb: The Connection Between Abraham and the Cross

The secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.” ++ (Psalm 25:14)

A HIDDEN COVENANT?

There is a “hidden” covenant alluded to in Psalm 25 since it is “the secret of the LORD” that He will “show” those who “fear Him”?  The word translated “secret” is the Hebrew word sodh, and it carries with it the idea of “secrets” or “mysteries” that is often shared between those who are in a close, intimate relationship.  But what is this “secret” or “mystery” and which “covenant” does it deal with?  And why will the “covenant” need to be “shown” to them?  Aren’t all of God’s covenants clearly discussed and described in Scripture?

A FRIEND’S CHALLENGE

It was back in the late 1980’s, and I was beginning to get pretty heavy in studying the Jewish Roots of the Christian faith.  This was before I had ever heard of the Messianic Movement or of any any such groups.  All I knew was that the Lord was revealing things to me from the Torah (five books of Moses), and I was seeing how they made the whole Bible come alive for me in ways like I had never experienced before.  And I was so excited about these discoveries that I was trying to share them with family and friends.

Everyone around me thought that I had lost my mind, including a close friend of mine, who challenged me to go back and re-read the book of Galatians in the New Testament.  I decided that I would go above and beyond that.  I got out my Greek New Testament and my dictionaries and concordances, and I went verse-by-verse, and I re-translated the entire book from the Greek language to English, but I tried to do it from the mindset of an Orthodox Jew, which Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) was, from the first century.  It was during this process that I stumbled across God’s “hidden” covenant.

A PROMISE?

The term that caught my attention was “promise.”  It is a term that’s repeatedly used by Rav Sha’ul (Paul) in his teachings and writings.  For example,

And now I am standing trial for the hope of THE PROMISE made by God to our fathers; (Acts 26:6; Emphasis Mine)

What “promise” is he referring to, and who are “our fathers”?  I wondered.  But then as I continued my translation of Galatians, I came across this portion of the letter:

What I am saying is this, the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. (Galatians 3:17)

There it was again, “the promise.”  I began to wonder, what was this “promise”?  Obviously, it was not part of the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Siani since it came 430 years before that event.  I kept reading.

For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. (Galatians 3:18)

In both Romans and Galatians, the one individual that Rav Sha’ul (Paul) refers back to repeatedly is Abraham.  The promise that he spends so much time talking about and discussing has to do with a promise that God gave to Abraham.  But what promise?  The following is what God’s Spirit revealed to me as I researched this further.

GOD’S CALLING OF ABRAHAM

In my previous post, “The Life of Abraham: An Important Lesson for Every Believer,” I mentioned that we see four principle stages illustrated in the life of Abraham: God’s calling of him, a time of development of that relationship, God entering into covenant with him, and then, afterwards, God requiring obedience of him as a way of walking out and expressing that relationship.  I also mentioned that any individual who seeks a relationship with God will go through the same basic stages.

In God’s calling of Abraham, there’s an illusion to this promise, which comes at the end of God’s promise to bless him:

And I will bless those who bless you, and the ones who curses you I will curse.  And in you shall all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

Notice it says that “all the families of the earth,” meaning Jew and non-Jew alike, will “be blessed” in “you” (Abraham).  Have you ever wondered, “How do I find my blessing from God in Abraham?”  I did.  This same verse is quoted by Rav Sha’ul (Paul) in the book of Galatians:

And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles (non-Jews) by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Nations shall be blessed in you.”  So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (Galatians 3:8-9)

So this last line in Genesis 12:3 is in some way connected to the gospel (or “good news”) preached by Yeshua/Jesus, the early disciples, and by Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul).  But the connection was still unclear.  It wasn’t until I got to chapter 15 of Genesis that God revealed to me the connection.

GOD’S COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM

As i mentioned in my previous post “The Life of Abraham,” the covenant process begins with a question about how Abraham would know that God would indeed give him the land.  Although I did not get real detailed in that post, I need to now in order for you to see “the promise” and its connection to the good news proclaimed throughout the B’rit Chadasha (“New Testament”), particularly in the writings of Rav Sha’ul (Paul).

THE COVENANT PROCESS

In response to Abram’s (later changed to Abraham) question, God instructs him to get the following animals: a three-year-old heifer, a three-year old she goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtle dove and a young pigeon.  Except for the two birds, He instructed him to cut the animals in half lengthwise and to put one half of the body on one side and the other half of the body directly across from it, making an aisle in the middle between the two parts.  The two birds were not cut in half but remained whole.

This particular covenant was well known to Abram, and, in fact, it is also used partially again by the officials of Jerusalem and Judah in Jeremiah 34:18-20, but they violated the covenant, in contrast to God who always keeps His covenant.  But according to some researchers, elements of this covenant process is still used by some tribes in Africa.

The two parties would then make a figure eight as they walked between each of the pieces, making the sign of infinity, and then they would meet in the middle.  This walk is known as “the walk of death” since this is a life and death agreement that the two parties are making with one another.  Then when they meet in the middle, the two parties would then exchange vows and curses.  Again, this was an UNBREAKABLE covenant, and if Person A did violate the covenant, then PERSON B was to chase down and kill Person A in a physically violent and painful way as symbolized by the cut up animals that each of them had just walked through.

During the exchange of vows, for example, they would —

  • Exchange coats.  A coat was a symbol of one’s status and authority.
  • Exchange belts.  A belt contained one’s weapons, and in exchanging them, they would say, “I shall teach you and protect you”.

After making these vows of what they would do to bless the other, then they would exchange curses of what would happen if the other would break the covenant, including killing the other in a physically violent and painful way as previously stated.

THE PHYSICAL MARK (OR SIGN)

After the exchange of vows and curses, there would be physical mark that was made.  Usually, each of the two parties would cut their right hand and then bind them together to formulate them into one new family.  As their right hands were bound together, they would raise it and swear by the blood of their tribes and families, an oath was made, followed by the statement, “I will never leave you or forsake you, so help me God.”

SIGNS OF MEMORIAL

After this, this some stones would be set up as a memorial or marker of the covenant that had been made that day.

COVENANT MEAL

Upon completing the covenant process, then the two groups would enjoy a meal together, further making the two parties one, since the same food becomes part of the bodies of both parties.  During this meal, the elders would feed one another and say, “This is my body, take eat,” meaning “I’ll die and let you eat my flesh before I will let you starve.”  And then, they would feed each other wine, representing the essence of life, saying, “Everything that I have is yours, even my sons, daughters, food, possessions, everything.”

A SPECIAL CREATION?

This is what Abraham was expecting to do with God.  However, when the time came for Abraham and God to participate in the covenant ritual, the Scriptures state, that God placed Abraham “in a deep sleep” (Genesis 15:12). This same phrase is used in Genesis 2 when God places Adam “in a deep sleep” and then creates Eve (Heb. Chavah; Genesis 2:21).  In using this phrase, there is an indication in the text that God is about to do some creative work here.

In a vision, Abram saw a burning furnace and a flaming torch pass between the pieces.  Both Jewish and Christian commentators agree that these two images represent God.   But what I found interesting is that the Scriptures says, “In the same day, the LORD made a covenant with Abram…” (Genesis 15:18a).

Now every text that I have seen written on this portion of Scripture has stated that by God walking between the pieces alone, He was changing the essence of the covenant from a conditional one to an unconditional one since Abram did not take part in the covenant process.  In essence, this covenantal process was just an elaborate way for God to tell Abram, “I promise.”  However, I believe that there is more here than what they see.

WHY DIDN’T GOD ALLOW ABRAM TO PARTICIPATE?

The one question I had was, Why didn’t God allow Abram to participate in the ritual with Him?  I discovered that if He had, then when Abram died, then the covenant would have died with him.  However, since God is an eternal Spirit and does not die, then by God walking through the pieces, He makes this covenant eternal, just as He, Himself, is eternal.

WHAT ARE THE LEGAL RAMIFICATIONS?

But if God walked through the pieces Himself since Abram was “in a deep sleep,” what were the legal ramifications for God, since the text says, “On that day, God entered into a covenant with Abram”?  I believe that the commentators are wrong when they say that this is just an elaborate promise.  I believe that God walked through the pieces not only for Himself, but also for Abram.  In essence, He became Abram’s legal proxy.  So by doing this, God took upon Himself not only His own legal obligations to satisfy the requirements of the covenant, but Abram’s as well.

  1.  What did this mean for God?  First of all, by doing this, God was promising to keep
    and to maintain the promises He made to Abram and to his seed.  Also, it meant that He was promising to give Abram and his seed all that He is, His Spirit, His characteristics and strength, His possessions and resources, as well as God’s enemies now became Abram’s.  We see the same thing happen when two people get married, another type of covenant.  What was mine, became my wife’s, and what was my wife’s became mine.
  2. What did this mean for God as Abram’s Legal Proxy?  It meant that God was taking upon Himself the responsibility to make sure that Abram and his seed maintained and kept the covenant.  This explains the giving of the Torah at Mt. Siani, the sending of the Prophets and their constant plea for the people to return to the Torah, the need for the B’rit Chadasha (“new covenant”), and for the giving of the Holy Spirit (Heb. Ruach HaKodesh), so that “the seed of Abraham” could be empowered and equipped to walk in obedience to the covenant.But it also meant that if Abram or Abram’s seed should break the covenant, that God would have to die a physically painful and violent death represented by the cut up animals that He walked between.  God had walked these pieces alone.  Abram was “in a deep sleep,” so God took upon Himself in this legal act to suffer the penalty of death for the sins of Abram and his seed.

But not only that, but Abram’s assurance of the Promised Land, as well as all the other promises God made,  was also based upon the act of God walking between the pieces, His act and promise of legal proxy.

ON WHAT DAY DID GOD MAKE THIS COVENANT WITH ABRAM?

What I found really interesting was on what day this covenant was made – Passover.  Although it was made 430 years before the day became known as “Passover” in Exodus 12, it was on this “self-same day” as when this covenant was made.  For before God walked between the pieces, God prophesied the following to Abram:

Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.  But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. (Genesis 15:13-14)

Did this happen?  Yes, the book of Exodus begins by describing how after Joseph died, there arose a king who did not know Joseph and enslaved the people of Israel.  And it then goes on to describe how God liberates His people from Egypt using Moses as His mediator. And it is in Exodus 12, after the last plague against Egypt, the death of the firstborn, that the Scriptures say,

And it came about at the end of the four hundred and thirty years TO THE VERY DAY, that all of the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:41; Emphasis Mine)

On the very day that God promised Abram that his descendant would “come out with many possessions,” God liberated His people in the Exodus from Egypt.  Rav Sha’ul (Paul) also refers to this in his letter to the congregation in Galatia,

What I am saying is this, the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.(Galatians 3:17-18)

Therefore, the covenant that God made with Abram happened on Passover – before it was called Passover, and He fulfilled His promise to Abram on the same exact day that He made it, although 430 years later.

DID ABRAM AND HIS SEED BREAK THE COVENANT?

But what about the promise that God made when He walked between the pieces?  Did Abram or any of his seed violate and break the covenant?  The answer is yes, they did.  We know from the testimony of Scripture that Abram’s seed, or descendants, did, in fact, break the covenant on numerous occasions.  One of them being the sin of the golden calf, described in Exodus 32.  Consequently, if Abram and His seed did break their covenant with God, then the question we would wonder if how is it possible for God, who is an eternal Spirit, to keep His covenantal obligation to to die a physically painful and violent death?

It should also be remembered that the Scriptures state, “On that day, God entered into covenant with Abram.”  So the covenant was made between God and Abram and his seed.  So since it was Abram’s seed, or descendants, who violated the covenant on a number of different occasions, then justice would demand that someone representing the seed of Abraham should likewise pay the penalty of those violations.

GOD’S SOLUTION.

God’s solution to this dilemma is found in the writings of the B’rit Chadasha (“New Testament”), and it is commonly referred to as the incarnation.  God sends an angel to a young virgin girl named Mir’yam (Mary) in the village of Nazareth:

Do not be afraid, Mary: for you have found favor with God  And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus [Heb. Yeshua].  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His Kingdom will have no end. (Luke 2:30-33)

Through the incarnation, the child born to Mary would be both God and a Jew, a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thereby representing both sides of the covenant in Genesis 15, God and Abram and his seed.  Just as the first anointed one mentioned in Scripture is Aaron, the Priest, and then later the various kings, Saul, David, and Solomon, so the Messiah came first to be a priest, offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins committed by Israel and the nations, in fulfillment of God’s promise of walking between the pieces, and then in the next coming, He shall indeed comes as King and reign over Israel and the nations.

This is why Yeshua/Jesus had to die such a physically violent and painful death, and why it had to happen on Passover, on the very day that God walked between the pieces, although two millenniums later. This is why Rav Sha’ul (Paul) states in Acts 13:32-33,

We tell you the Good News: what God promised our fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus (Heb. Yeshua)

Rav Sha’ul (Paul) refers to this promise again in his trial before King Agrippa, as I stated previously,

And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. (Acts 26:6)

Finally, Yeshua/Jesus Himself refers to the fact that Abraham witnessed His coming and His death:

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day; he saw it and was glad. (John 8:56)

Question:  “When did Abraham see the day of Yeshua/Jesus?”

Answer: “When he saw in a vision God passing between the pieces.”

Question:  “What about the non-Jewish world?  How do they have a part in this?”

Rav Sha’ul (Paul) answers this question.  He writes,

Understand, then, that those who believe are the children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7)

If you belong to the Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)

Notice that Rav Sha’ul (Paul) did not write, “If you belong to the Messiah, then you are heirs according to the promise,” but “If you belong to the Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed,” and it is when we are part of the seed of Abraham, having accepted God’s fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant in and through Messiah, that we then become “heirs according to the promise.”

So by belonging to the Messiah, whether one is a Jew or a non-Jew, we are made a part of this renewed covenant that God has fulfilled in and through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah.  And in addition, the promise of God’s own Spirit, living on the inside of those who are part of this renewed Abrahamic covenant, is also made available to all who will believe:

He redeemed us in order that the blessings given to Abraham might come to the Nations through the Messiah Yeshua, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Galatians 3:14).

And it was Shi’mon Petros (Peter) who said in his sermon on that first Shavuot (Pentecost) after Messiah’s death, burial, and resurrection, when Shi’mon Petros (Peter) and the other disciples of Yeshua/Jesus had received the baptism (the full immersion) of the Holy Spirit (Heb. Ruach HaKodesh)::

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Yeshua HaMoshiach (Yeshua/Jesus the Messiah) for the forgiveness of sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, and for all whom the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:38-39)

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

What will you do with God’s gift, the fulfillment of His promise to the fathers?  Will you accept it and begin to enjoy intimacy with God, the living of His Spirit on the inside of you, and His other blessings as part of the fulfilled Abrahamic covenant?  The covenant is open to all who will come, whether Jew or non-Jew.  And with each person that comes to God, accepting His fulfillment of His promise to Abraham, then God’s promise to Abraham comes closer to its complete fulfillment:

And in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

If you wish to receive this promise, pray the following:

Father, forgive me of my sins.  I accept the gift that you have given, the fulfillment of your promise to the fathers by Yeshua (Jesus) coming and dying on the cross for my sins, and I ask you to come into my life and fill me, so that I might experience the intimacy and blessing of covenant that Chris has described in this article.  I, like Abraham, want to have such a close relationship with you that I too might be called “a friend of God.”  Thank you Lord for your gift, in the name of the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and have asked God to make you a part of His fulfilled Abrahamic covenant, please email me at followingmessiah@gmail.com, so that I might pray with you once more and answer any further questions that you might have.


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Christian, Messianic, Orthodox Jew: Does the Terminology Matter?

REALLY?

I am appalled at how we use “names” or “titles” to distinguish or separate ourselves from one another.  Even within Christianity itself, people identify themselves according to their own denomination or even by what church they attend to distinguish themselves from another church within the same denomination.  It’s ridiculous.  I asked a pastor friend of mine once, why these churches within the same denomination on the same side of town didn’t work together to do an outreach to that part of town?  His response shocked me.  He said, it was because there were simply too many egos involved.  People, he said, would argue over who got what people and who would get the credit for what.

EGOS AND TITLES VS. LOVE

When we are more concerned with our egos and titles, rather than working together to demonstrate God’s love to those around us, there’s something very wrong at what we are doing.   I mean, does it really matter whether we call ourself “a Christian,” “a Messianic,” “an Orthodox Jew,” “a Conservative Jew,” “a Baptist,” “a Nazarene,” “a Lutheran,” “a Pentecostal,” “a Catholic,”or some other man-made title?  It should be remembered, as I said, that all religious titles are just man-made entities used to distinguish one group from another.  Personally, I really don’t believe what name a person uses to describe themselves matters.

WHAT IS IMPORTANT

What does matter is whether or not the individual is in God’s Kingdom.  I believe we could eliminate a lot of division between denominations, religious branches, and groups if we would just focus on what’s really important – on whether we are entering and actively participating in the kingdom of God.

Let me give an example of what I mean.  A few years ago, Moore, Oklahoma, was devastated by a couple of tornadoes, tearing down homes and businesses.  People from all over the United States came to lend a helping hand with food, supplies, labor, etc.  People in Texas didn’t say, “Well, those people in Oklahoma are not part of our group in Texas, so as a result, we are not going to help them.” No, all divisions, and even competitiveness between states in sports, were all put aside.  All that mattered was that there were Americans who were in trouble and needed help.

What would happen, for example, if people in God’s kingdom took on that same mind set.  What if they could put aside their church and denominational differences and work together simply because they saw other Kingdom people in trouble or they saw some need around them?  Can you imagine the impact that would have when people, outside of God’s kingdom, could witness that kind of love and unity at work – rather than the division, conflict, fighting and criticism that is often seen?

WHAT I AM NOT SAYING

Now let me be clear what I am not saying here.  I am not saying that all religions are equal, nor am I advocating that people should just believe or do whatever they want.  God is King, and as such, it is He who sets the standards for what is right or wrong, not us.  A kingdom is a monarchy, not a democracy.  Consequently, in a kingdom, people do not have the right to choose or vote upon which laws they want to follow and which ones they can simply ignore.  In a religion people can, but in a monarchy, they cannot.  The word of the king is law, and it is up to the citizens of that kingdom to follow and adhere to the laws of that kingdom.

KINGDOM VS. RELIGION

Contrary to what many people have been taught, God really is not interested in establishing a religion on this planet.  This world all ready has way too many religions as it is.  For example, God did not give His commandments, judgments, and decrees to Moses simply so that they could be used to formulate a religion, but people did turn them into a religion.  Nor did Yeshua/Jesus come to this earth, teach for three-and-a-half years, die a gruesome death on a cross, and then rise bodily from the dead, so that people could turn His teachings and life into yet another religion, but people did.  But contrary to people’s consistent turning of God’s work into religions, God’s central focus and desire is on establishing His Kingdom here on earth – not on us continuing to take His kingdom efforts and using them to formulate yet another denomination or religion.

THE PROBLEM – THE NEED FOR CONTROL?

You see, religion takes us away from the kingdom, not towards it.  Throughout Yeshua’s/ Jesus’s years of ministry, He proclaimed THE KINGDOM of God, NOT the RELIGION of God. Man’s deepest need is found in God’s KINGDOM, not in the formation of another religion. For example, Yeshua/Jesus began His ministry proclaiming,

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel (or good news).  (Mark 1:15)

What was the focus of the gospel?  The kingdom of GodNOT the religion of God.  You see, people enjoy formulating something into a religion, because then they can control it. They can decide what to believe and what not to believe.  For example, how many branches and denominations of Christianity have decided which parts of the Bible is “for today” (i.e., what they’ve chosen to believe and practice) and which parts aren’t?  The fact is, there is no where in the Bible where human beings are given the right to decide what part of the Bible they will accept and what part they can reject.   But when people turn something into a religion, then they can take that right upon themselves.

When it comes right down to it, it’s a control issue.  We like control.  What we don’t like is the idea that someone other than ourselves has any control or power over us at all.  We want to be the ones who control our own lives, our own beliefs and values, and even our own destinies.  But the idea that there is a real God out there, who objectively exists outside the minds and imaginations of people, who wants us to turn over the control and right of our lives into His hands, even to a loving, benevolent God, is not acceptable to the majority of people.  If we give God the control of our life, then He will have the right to indicate what our values and beliefs should be, how we should live, and even how we should treat others, etc., and deep down inside, that just goes against our natural human beliefs and desires.  Am I saying that giving our lives to God is bad?  No, I am saying it goes against our natural, carnal human nature.

I mean, think about how often in America, for example, we focus on having things done “our way.” For example, there was Frank Sinatra’s renowned song, “I Did It My Way.” or Burger King’s theme song, “Have It Your Way.”  We even feel that the most American thing that we can do is pull ourselves up by our own “bootstraps” and to do things ourselves.  Consequently, we are taught and trained within the American culture to be completely independent and self-reliant.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT?

Some may wonder, What is wrong with that?  Shouldn’t we want to be “independent and self-reliant”?  Of course, the problem with this is that in being “independent and self-reliant,” we are the ones in control, not God.  Many American Christians may question this by saying, “We believe in God; We go to church.”  But when you begin to really dig down at how they view themselves, you discover that most American Christians view themselves first and foremost as “Americans, who happen to be Christians, seeking to live the American dream until they die, and then hope after they’ve died that they will go to heaven.” However, that’s a whole different mindset than viewing yourself as “a citizen of God’s Kingdom, serving the needs and desires of your king, until the time of your king’s return or until you die and enter into His Presence.”  The latter is a Kingdom mindset and perspective of oneself, which is not the dominant one held by most people.

The values and beliefs of America and the American dream are NOT, in fact, synonymous with Kingdom living.  In fact, in many ways, they are in direct contradiction to one another.  And during my own lifetime, I have noticed that the contrast between the two have been growing larger and larger.  In viewing our own self-identity, the question we each need to ask ourselves is, Whose values and beliefs am I embracing: the values and beliefs of my nation or God’s?

Does this mean I ignore my country?  No, it means that we realize that as believers, we are first and foremost citizens of God’s kingdom, and secondly, citizens of the nation where we have been born and live.  For example, I’ve heard people say that God is on America’s side or that He is on this party’s side or even that God is on the side of some team.  But this is not the correct perspective.  The correct question is not whether God is on the side of the United States (or any other nation, party, or team), but whether the United States (or any other nation, party, group or team) is on the side of God?  It is God who sets the standard of what is right or wrong, not our birth nation, party, group, or team we happen to belong to.

THE BIBLE – NOT SIMPLY A RELIGIOUS TEXT?

Also, the majority of people view the Bible as just another “religious text,” or just a “list of do’s and don’ts.” However, this really is a gross misrepresentation of the Bible.  In fact, the Bible is God’s Kingdom Manual.  It is in His manual that He presents and discusses all aspects of Kingdom life and living, including His own identity, character, and revelation of Himself as our Creator and King, a description of His kingdom, as well as His laws and guidelines regarding all aspects of Kingdom life, such as agriculture, politics, social values and norms, relationships (between men and women, family dynamics, working relationships, and other social interactions), and yes, there are even some religious aspects to kingdom life and living.

SO IS YESHUA/JESUS IMPORTANT TO THE KINGDOM?

Now some may wonder, Is Yeshua/Jesus important at all to God’s Kingdom, or is He just something that Christianity added?  The answer to this question is He is absolutely central and important to the kingdom!  Why?  Because He came to teach us more about the Kingdom, to correct erroneous ideas about it and its teachings that were being taught at that time, to proclaim to all God’s invitation to come into His Kingdom, and to provide the way into the Kingdom through His death and resurrection.  It is only through Messiah Yeshua/Jesus that we have access into the Kingdom and to the person of God Himself.

As a result of Yeshua’s/Jesus’ faithfulness, even to the point of dying on the cross, God has set Him as ruler over all that He, God the Father, has created, both in heaven and on earth. This is what Yeshua/Jesus meant when He said prior to His ascension to the right hand of Power:

All authority (or “power” KJV) has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28: 18)

Notice that “all authority has been given” to Him “in heaven and on earth”?  But “given” to Him by whom?  God the Father, the Supreme King over all that He has created.  Many ministers argue that Yeshua/Jesus was not given “a promotion in status,” since He was already God or “Lord.”  However, those who argue this position are only looking at Yeshua/Jesus in His Divinity, not His humanity.  As a human being, more specifically, as the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua/Jesus only had authority over those who resided in His own country, Israel. However, after His death, burial and resurrection, there is a change in His authority.  Prior to His ascension, we learn He now has authority over all of God’s creation, both in heaven and on earth, and it is only after receiving this authority from God the Father that He now sends His disciples out to all nations.

Shi’mon Petros (Peter) likewise refers to God’s choice of setting Yeshua/Jesus in authority over all things in his sermon in Acts 2:36:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him [Yeshua/Jesus] both Lord and Christ [Messiah] – …

Notice, again, it was God who made Him “both Lord and Christ [or Messiah].”  The term “Lord” was commonly used by Caesar since he had control over an entire empire, involving many different countries.  It is also used of God, for God rules and reigns over all of His creation, including all the nations and peoples of the world.  The word “Lord” means “Owner” or “Master,” and since God is the Creator, He likewise has the right of ownership and control over all that He has created.  However, God has also given to us as individuals the right of free choice.  We have the right to choose Him or to reject Him.

In addition, though, as the Supreme Ruler over His creation, God has the right to decide who will rule and reign over His kingdom, and He has already made that choice, the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus.  Rav Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] communicated this same idea this way:

Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [Heb. Yeshua HaMoshiakh] is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:9-11)

I used to think when I was growing up and I heard ministers say, “Won’t you make Jesus the Lord of your life?” that each time a person said, “Yes,” it was like each person was casting a vote for Him, and if we got enough votes, then Yeshua/Jesus would then be Lord. But then, in my late thirties it hit me as I read Acts 2:36 and Philippians 2:9-11 that God has already placed Yeshua/Jesus in the position of being Lord.  There is no vote.  The decision has already been made.  He is Lord over all of humanity right now, whether a person happens to believe this or not.  Our belief in (or denial of) His Lordship does not change His position as “Lord,” rather it determines our relationship to Him and to His Kingdom.

WHAT IS “SALVATION”?

Salvation entails more than simply having membership in the “right church or synagogue,” or regularly attending services or giving your tithes.  It also entails more than carrying your Bible around or knowing facts from it that you use to quote at people. Instead, salvation involves an inner transformation that occurs when one willfully and heartfully gives their life completely over to the Lordship of Messiah (Christ).  Rav Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] communicates this in Romans 10:

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (non-Jew); for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for “Whosoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

In the Bible, God’s Kingdom Manual, the heart and the mouth are continually connected, for it is taught that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45; Matthew 6:34).  As a result, we must not only “believe in our hearts,” but we must also “confess Him with our mouths.”

WHAT ABOUT THE TORAH?

Does belief in Messiah Yeshua/Jesus do away with or in any way annul God’s Torah, His commandments, judgments and decrees?  Absolutely not!  The Torah is God’s revelation of Himself and describes kingdom life and living.  It is, in essence, the Constitution of God’s Kingdom.  I’ve got friends who were not born in the United States and became citizens or who were students from other countries who came to the United States to study.  Both of them have told me that even though they obey U.S. laws, it did not automatically make them U.S. citizens.  Instead, the U.S. has a specific program that people have to go through to become U.S. citizens.

In like mannet, just because someone obeys God’s commandments, judgments, and decrees, it does not make him or her a citizen of God’s kingdom.  God has a special program that people have to go through to become kingdom citizens: they must willingly and heartfully accept the gift of Messiah Yeshua’s/Jesus’ death on the cross for their sins and His resurrection, as well as His Lordship over their lives (see above under “What is ‘Salvation’?”).  Consequently, there is no conflict between one’s faith in the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus and obedience to the Torah, God’s commandments, judgments, and decrees.

IT’S OUR DECISION

Consequently, then, in closing, it is our decision whether-or-not we are going to acknowledge and submit to whom God has placed as the authority over all of our lives or not.  If we accept the gift of His death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, as well as declare our loyalty and allegiance to Him as “Lord” and to His Kingdom, then we are “saved” and become a part of His Kingdom.  Believers in the first century understood the connection between making Yeshua/Jesus Lord and swearing their loyalty and allegiance to Him and to His Kingdom.  However, that political aspect has been forgotten in today’s world.  So once we are “born again” into His Kingdom, then we need to demonstrate and walk out His Lordship over our lives each day by submitting to God’s kingdom teachings and expectations – found from Genesis 1 to the end of Revelation – and to the leading of His Spirit.

But as long as we continue to reject His offer of salvation, then we are outside of God’s Kingdom, since to reject Yeshua/Jesus is to reject whom God has placed as Lord over us, and this is, in fact, then, to reject God Himself.  For example, Yeshua/Jesus said to the masses:

He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me….And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.  He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.  For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. (John 12:44, 47-49)

We cannot reject Yeshua/Jesus and then expect to be accepted by God in His Kingdom.  We must accept Yeshua/Jesus as Lord to be accepted by God into His Kingdom.  In addition, note, it is what God the Father told Yeshua/Jesus to say that’s recorded in Scripture and that will be used to judge each individual on the day of judgment – not which church, synagogue, or denomination they happen to belonged to.  God will want to know if we lined up to His teachings or didn’t we? And these teachings not only include what is in the New Testament (Heb. B’rit Chadasha) but also what is in the Tanakh (or “Old Testament”).

Again, we are the ones who must choose whether we will accept or reject His Lordship over our lives.  This is why Yeshua/Jesus told Nicodemus,

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name (or person) of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

God gave us the gift of His Son.  We choose what to do with that gift.  In fact, the word translated “believes” doesn’t just mean “to mentally acknowledge,” but it entails us “trusting,” “being reliant upon” and “submitting and obeying” Him.  In other words, it’s not enough just to submit to Him “mentally,” but we must completely, totally, and willingly bend our knees and submit to Him each day from our hearts.  Merely going through the motions will not do it.  Also, this is not just a one-time decision, but it is a decision we must make each and every day.

Also, note that “he who does not believe has been judged already.”  Why?  “Because he has not believed in the name [or person] of the only begotten Son of God.”  But for those who do believe, John writes,

But as many as received Him [Yeshua/Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

WHAT IS YOUR DECISION?

So what is your decision?  Will you accept His sacrificial gift and His offer of the Kingdom, or will you reject it?  The choice is yours to make.  The choice is not what religion is right or wrong, or what denomination to belong to, or even what title to call oneself, but on whether you will accept God’s conditions on what it takes to enter into His Kingdom.  God tells each of us, as He told the children of Israel at Mount Siani:

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 may live, you and your descendants. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

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