Wildcard Wednesdays – Not Missionaries . . . Prophets!

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This is another of our Wildcard Wednesday postings, which in the nature of the case can deal with just about anything. Today’s contemplation is a step toward reinventing the entire paradigm of how Jewish Yeshua-believers ought to conceive of themselves and their task in sharing with other Jews the good news of Yeshua.  My major point?  We Jews who believe in Yeshua as Messiah should think of ourselves not as missionaries to our people, but rather as prophets. And this is more than simply a change in terminology—far more.

The prophets of the Older Testament were God’s authorized prosecuting attorneys who brought a covenant lawsuit against the nation.  They reminded the people, the priests, leaders, and the kings of the covenant that God had made with their forefathers at Sinai and of their guilt before the throne of God for having violated it. They warned of God’s judgments to come if the people did not repent: war, famine, and exile.  All of these negative sanctions had been spelled out in the original covenant document (see Deut 28:15-68) as had the blessings that awaited a truly repentant people (see Deut 28:1-14).

These prophets were cultural insiders who sought to remind their own people of their covenantal responsibilities as Jews, calling them back to fundamental Jewish covenantal responsibilities.

To define the principle then,

prophet-koederIn our in-reach to Jewish people, Messianic Jews should function as cultural insiders, and thus prophets, rather than as cultural outsiders, and thus, missionaries,  calling other Jews to repent for covenant violation and rejection of God’s ultimate messenger, Yeshua the Messiah. Our goal should be to see Jews turn toward God as evidenced in deepened covenantal living in solidarity with Jewish precedent, in repentance for rejection of the Messiah to whom they now demonstrate allegiance, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The term “prophetic” is used here not of an office, or of a self-designation. Rather it refers to a stance, a way of relating. Yeshua-believing Jews should relate to other Jews as the prophets did, calling our people to accept God’s messenger (here, Yeshua) and the message (to repent in view of the drawing near in Yeshua of the eschatological Kingdom of God) bearing fruit that befits such repentance: Spirit-empowered covenantal living, Torah obedience, to the honor of God and in anticipation of the fullness of Israel yet to come.

The term “in-reach” is used here rather than “outreach” to emphasize the intra-communal nature of this model. The missionary model, by contrast, connotes representatives of community B going to community A. It is an inter-communal model. Proper Messianic Jewish in-reach involves us as prophetic witnesses and members of community A communicating with other members of community A. This is an intra-communal model.  We would do well to see ourselves more as prophets than missionaries.

Just as Jewish sin has two aspects: rejection of the demands of God’s covenant and rejection of the messenger who comes to remind us of those demands, so Jewish repentance has two corresponding aspects; a turning toward obedient acceptance of the demands of the covenant coupled with submitted reception of the messenger.

It is clear from Scripture that in Messianic times, HaShem will bring the Jewish people back to obey his chukkim and mishpatim (statutes and ordinances), the nuts and bolts of Torah living (See Ezk 36:27; 37:24 for example).  Missionaries are traditionally unprepared to deal with this reality because their theological constructs hold that the Torah way of living is expired or transcended with the coming of Yeshua.  However, the model I am outlining here stresses the passages the missionaries tend to avoid on this matter, and holds that a restoration to Torah living amongst Israel as a sign of the Messianic Age.

This model holds that the Torah and its way of life were given to the people of Israel, who have been custodians of this legacy for thousands of years. Yeshua taught that the Pharisees sit in Moses seat, indicating their fundamental right and responsibility to interpret Torah—to clarify what it means to live as Jews.  While Yeshua says we are not to do as they do, explaining, “for they do not practice what they preach,” to indicate that while their teaching is on the whole sound, their practice is not always so.   If we are to live Torah obedient lives, we cannot properly simply ignore that community to whom it was given, nor their tradition of interpretation under the leadership of those upon whom Yeshua himself says that responsibility rests, even if their practice and emphases are not always appropriate.

I often ask Jewish believers in Yeshua, “Do you think Jesus died so you can eat a ham sandwich?”  Of course the answer should be “No.”  The Bible rightly understood does not encourage us to imagine that the Messiah came so that Jews would no longer be obliged to honor God through honoring Torah. The prophets of Israel always ought to call Jews back to this. The ultimate Prophet to Israel did no less. Remember it is Yeshua Himself who said,


‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’

Yeshua called the Jewish people to repent by returning to the obedience spoken of in the Law and in the Prophets, and by saying of him, God’s ultimate messenger, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.”  Things haven’t changed. We too ought to be calling our people into an ever-deepening engagement with Jewish life, in allegiance to Yeshua, the Messiah.

We need to see ourselves as prophets, not simply missionaries. We need to see ourselves as calling our own people back to the faithfulness from which they are estranged.  Bringing his people Israel to allegiance to the Messiah is one of God’s agenda items at the time of the end. It should be our agenda item too. But it is not enough to call Jews to Yeshua faith, for unless they return to honoring God in accordance with Torah, they have not fully repented.  If ours is a prophetic message, this is part of what we should be saying and how we should be living.

Shalom!

12 Comments

  1. “These prophets were cultural insiders who sought to remind their own people of their covenantal responsibilities as Jews, calling them back to fundamental Jewish covenantal responsibilities.[…]”

    ” The Bible rightly understood does not encourage us to imagine that the Messiah came so that Jews would no longer be obliged to honor God through honoring Torah. “

    Profound, as always.

    What amazing days we live in. That we can openly talk about things that weren’t even acknowledged mere decades ago, i.e., The Jewishness of Jesus and his disciples and the NT; the everlasting nature of the covenant between God and the Jewsih people, and now, a way to relate to them in a biblically organic way devoid of the Christian model of missionizing.

    This is beautiful!

  2. I couldn’t agree with this more! I think its important that we get our semantics lined up as well. Stop using catch phrases that the church missionaries use, live out Torah genuinely in our lives and don’t be afraid to be confrontational when necessary. Confrontational is not passive. It can be very loving, but hard-hitting. None of the prophets of old were pacifists! I care too much about my community to sit on my hands when it comes to opening my mouth.

  3. Certainly a better paradigm than the missionary model! Excellent!

    However, we all know the penalty for errant prophecy. Now, the message of Yeshua’s messiahship is certainly not errant. However, are we really so certain of our own interpretive abilities with regard to theological details and specifics that we’re willing to call ourselves prophets? Personally, my faith in Yeshua stands, but I’m not so confident that I’ve got the finer points of theology worked out to a degree where I’d assume the role of prophet.

    Also, while it’s clean and clear-cut to define the prophets as Group-A-to-Group-A insiders and contrast them with missionaries as Group-A-to-Group-B outsiders, is that rule a solid one?

    Many of the prophets spill a fair amount of ink addressing, warning, or rebuking the goyim. Yonah could arguably even be called a missionary in the typical sense. Even for the others, though, there’s quite a bit of text that seems to blur the insider-insider vs insider-outsider categorization of these roles.

    1. I responded to this letter already, Mr Pittard, but apparently it got gobbled up in cyberspace. Here goes again!

      As to your first point, please revisit my blog bost where you will read the following comment, showing that I am NOT claiming Prophet status for myself nor advising anyone else to do so! “The term ‘prophetic’ is used here not of an office, or of a self-designation. Rather it refers to a stance, a way of relating. Yeshua-believing Jews should relate to other Jews as the prophets did.”

      You make a good point that biblical prophets did indeed at times address other nations, and so were not strictly in-group voices. This is most glaringly true of Yonah, as you say, and of Nahum, both of whom addressed Assyria. And the other prophets also at times had oracles for the other nations. Yet, the rule was that prophets were introduced to us as prophesying to Judah, Israel, or both . . . their rootage and primary role was to address their own people, speaking of other nations only as these were related to the wellbing of their own Jewish people. So I think my admonition retains its weight: that we think of ourselves as functioning as the prophets did, calling our own people back to covenantal faithfulness and embrace of God’s ultimate Messenger.

      1. Thanks for the reply, and I’m sorry you had to type it out twice!

        I caught what you said about prophetic stance rather than office. That definitely helps, but I’m just leery of perhaps subconsciously slipping between the two nuances, even if one never intends to do so. Still, the mindset you suggest is far better than the classic missionary model.

        You’re certainly right that when the prophets address other nations, they do so (n most cases) as a tangential or adjunct focus. I think the insider-insider / insider-outsider line is somewhat blurred by these occasions, but it’s definitely not obliterated. Thanks again!

    1. Thank you, Melinda. It is part of a cluster of related ideas that I express from different angles. Apparently this way of touching on these realities has resonance with people. I am convinced that this insight is true, that it resonates deeply with how the Bible presents things and how Messianic Jews ought to consider themselves, others Jews, and their responsiblities. Thank you again.

  4. I agree with the prophet model whole heartily but the challenge is how does a MJ like my husband share about the Messiah to a member from Chabad who is following the Mispatim and Chukkim. Great thought provoking message as usual, Stuart!

    1. That is a problem, one that I have pointed out to the MJ Movement for a while: if we are not obeying Torah ourselves, how can we preach to Jews the message of a Messiah who ratifies Torah, especially to Jews who are themselves observant? The question which I like to ask such truly obserant Jews is this: “You believe Yeshua is NOT the Messiah, then you’d better make sure he is NOT the Messiah, because if you are wrong about this, then every day you insult the God who sent him and whom you serve.”

  5. Hi Stewart,

    I guess because of what I do-a Jews for Jesus missionary- I’m obliged to argue for a pro missionary position, but I think you raise an interesting and legitimate point about our orientation toward the Jewish community. I do however have a question.

    Unlike the older testament prophets who were “authorized prosecuting attorneys,” Jewish believers today often find themselves in a different position. By virtue of their faith in yeshua as messiah, we illicit a very different response. Not always negative one, but most certainly not an authorized one. Given this situation, why would we not embrace that we are both? Both that our message is sometimes presented from an insider position and sometimes as a outsider position? Sometimes from within the gates and sometimes from outside the gates? Sometimes with a prophetic voice and sometimes with a missionary’s?

    Are we not both prophet and missionary?

  6. Hi Stewart,

    I guess because of what I do-a Jews for Jesus missionary- I’m obliged to argue for a pro missionary position. I think however you raise an interesting and legitimate point about our orientation toward the Jewish community. Speaking to Jews as a Jew has long been a value I hold, more than a methodology. Hopefully I stick to that value. I do however have a question.

    You began your argument with a interesting statement about the role of prophet in the Biblical period. Unlike the older testament prophets who were “authorized prosecuting attorneys,” Jewish believers today often find themselves in a different position. By virtue of their faith in yeshua as messiah, we illicit a very different response. Not always negative one, but most certainly not an authorized one. Given this, why would we not embrace that we are both? Both that our message is sometimes presented from an insider position and sometimes as a outsider position? Sometimes from within the gates and sometimes from outside the gates? Sometimes with a prophetic voice and sometimes with a missionary’s?

    Are we not both prophet and missionary?

    1. Thank you for your intelligent and welcome response, Josh. I think you touch on the issue, but don’t quite catch the point I was making and which we MUST bear in mind. The key issue is not what do others think of us, nor what role they assign and attribute to us! Rather, the entire issue is how do we see ourselves? Jeremiah and Elijah were both rejected prophets, but that did not change their perception of who they themselves were. And MORE to the point is this: are we leading the Jewish people DEEPER into their communal commitments or AWAY to other commitments we deem more appropriate. The former position is prophetic, the latter is, in the most negative manner, missionary in the old sense of the term. And you cannot, as you suggest, be both. Either you are validating Jewish life and covenantal identity or you are not. None of this is a matter of technique: it is a matter of truth.

      I am reminded of something I heard Avi Snyder say years ago which was extremely wise, which is why I have never forgotten it. Suppose a Jewish person comes to Yeshua-faith and his mother says, “You’re not my son anymore. Go to hell!” The next Thursday, if it was always his custom to call his mother on Thursdays, he should again call his mother. If the mother then says, “I told you, you’re dead to me! You’re not my son anymore,” the young man should say, “Don’t be ridiculous! You’re my mother and I’m your son. I always call you on Thursdays.” His point? We should not accord to other people the right to define us.

      So my question again is this: how do you define yourself?

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