The following is a brief summary of my recent postings on “Preventing the Failure of the Messianic Jewish Movement.” It includes a response to those who imagine my approach to be weak on the New Covenant, as well as an application of this series for your thinking and action as observers, participants, and/or leaders in the Messianic Jewish Movement.
I believe that the Messianic Jewish Movement is in danger of failing entirely. This doesn’t mean everyone is failing, that every congregation is failing, that failure is all we find everywhere, or that very good people are not doing very good work. But it does mean that in general, the Messianic Jewish Movement seems in danger of failing when all is said and done. But failure can only be registered where there is a known goal toward which one has been striving. To the extent that we are vague or malleable in our goals, we can avoid any sense of having failed . . . but at what cost?
At its root, the Messianic Jewish Movement is in jeopardy of failing because the leaders of the Movement have not discerned, asked, or answered what I term “the Core Question.” And here it is:
“For what unique purpose did God raise up the Messianic Jewish Movement?”
This failure to ask this question could easily lead to “The Ephesian Consequence,” about which the Risen Messiah warned the congregation in Ephesus, in Revelation chapter two. Even though he lists many good and admirable things they had done, just as many in our Movement have done admirable things, he warns that because they have left their first love, failing to achieve the purpose for which he raised them up, unless they repent, he will remove their candlestick. And this is the Ephesian Consequence of which we ought to be wary.
Look at it this way: If God allowed his Holy Temple to be destroyed not once but twice due to the presumption of his people, then without a doubt the Messianic Jewish Movement could be left bereft without even so much as a retaining wall to pray against.
And this is why it is crucial that we determine the purpose for which God raised up our movement, applying ourselves to accomplishing that purpose. Again, our core question is this: “For what unique purpose did God raise up the Messianic Jewish Movement.”
Before answering the Core Question, two prior questions must be asked answered.
The first prior question is this:
What is God up to in the world?
My shorthand answer is what I term “God’s dream,” something which recurs in whole or in part throughout Scripture.
God’s dream is this: “I will be their God, they shall be my peoples, and I will dwell in the midst of them.”
God’s people Israel is central to this enterprise because they were and remain the first, central, and instrumental people of whom He desired and determined that “I will be their God, they shall be my people, and I will dwell in the midst of them.” However, at the end of all things this term “people” is pluralized to “peoples” because although Israel remains forever the foundational people of God, God wills himself to be the God not of one people only, but of all peoples. This is why we read this spectacular conclusion in Revelation 21:3 –
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”
The editors of the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament are to be commended for translating the term “peoples,” because most translators prefer a more conventional, and likely wrong textual tradition which simply says “people.” The term is actually “laoi”—“peoples” plural. This is God’s dream—it is what he is up to in the world.
The second prior question is this:
What is God’s purpose for his people Israel?
God’s purpose for his people Israel is to manifest his glory in the sight of all nations, and all things visible and invisible through his people Israel and his dealings with them.
You may check with my earlier posting where I explore this a at greater length (see here). This at last brings us to answering our Core Question:
For what unique purpose did God raise up the Messianic Jewish Movement?
God raised up the Messianic Jewish Movement that we might be a seed, a sign, a demonstration, and a catalyst of His consummating purposes for His people Israel to the end that he be glorified as Israel’s God and Israel be vindicated as His people, to the everlasting benefit of Israel, the nations, and the cosmos.
The purpose outlined above is robust and biblical. We examined it closely (here). Following is an abbreviated summary:
Seed – This seed function is wrapped up in our seeing ourselves as part of “the Remnant of Israel.” like Noah’s family in the ark, we are to be a seed from which will grow the fulfillment God’s consummating purposes for his people Israel.
Sign – As a sign we are to be a living demonstration that something is coming, something remarkable from God, a divine inbreaking.
Demonstration – We ought to be a demonstration of what God is up to with the Jewish people in these latter days. Just as the resurrected Yeshua was the first fruits of those who are asleep, the prototype of the resurrection of all, so we are meant to be the first fruits of Israel’s final redemption, a prototype, a display case of Israel’s destiny.
Catalyst – We should not only be a demonstration of this future, not only a test case, but we should be a means of accelerating what God is up to among the Jewish people at the end of the age.
The Everlasting Benefit of Israel, the Nations and the Cosmos – In Romans 11, Paul makes clear that when Israel enters into her consummation, this will be greater riches than the salvation of the nations. Why greater? Because the fullness of the nations meant the reconciliation of the world, but the fullness of Israel will mean life from the dead–that is, party time for the entire cosmos as the dead are raised to everlasting embodied immortality. So everyone has a vested interest in Israel reaching her consummation.
What Will The Fullness of Israel Look Like?
In earlier postings I went on to provide an outline of what the consummating purposes for Israel are, toward which God is working, and which should rightly set the agenda for the Messanic jewish Movement. To do this, I employed a list provided by the Prophet Ezekiel, where he describes what the fullness of Israel will look like of which we are called to be a seed, a sign, a demonstration and a catalyst. I showed how it has seven aspects. The list comes from Ezekiel 37:21-28:
- To gather Israel from all the nations: “Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their own land” (Ezk 37:21). This means the Messianic Jewish Movement should participate in and support Jewish return to the Land of our ancestors and the establishment of a stable Jewish state within secure borders.
- To unify the Jewish people as one nation in the Land: “and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms” (Ezk 37:22). This means we must learn to see the Jewish people as one people, and in real and consistent ways honor our covenantal bond with all Israel, seeing their wellbeing as our wellbeing, their tragedies as our tragedies, and seeing Jewish assimilation into other contexts as a negative.
- To spiritually renew the people of Israel (repentance-renewal): “They shall not defile themselves any more with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezk 37:23). We should be a movement characterized by ongoing repentance and renewal. We must consistently pray for, implement, assist, and welcome any signs of our people being spiritually renewed love of and faithfulness to the God of Israel, whether under our auspices or that of others, including the institutions of the wider Jewish world.
- To gather all Israel around our Davidic King, Messiah Yeshua: “My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd” (Ezk 37:24a). This of course is evangelism, but it is not simply one-by-one soul salvation, but more broadly, winning our people to allegiance, that is obedience, to the Risen Son of David. Not just salvation, but service!
- To cause all Israel to live in covenant faithfulness, obeying God’s ordinances and statutes: “They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes” (Ezk 37:24b). In the missions world, in the church world, and in the Messianic Jewish Movement, one can find multitudes who are committed to winning Jews to Yeshua faith, but who deny that these Jews should live as Jews in covenantal obedience to the ordinances and statues of Torah. But if such people affirm the first half of Ezekiel 37:24, how can they justify denying the second half of the same verse? This ought not to be done. Torah living and Yeshua faith are meant to be coordinate. This is God’s destiny for the Jewish people and we will only be judged negligent if we fail to implement both of these agenda items, and the others listed here as well.
- To bring Israel to a full and relational experience of the Divine Presence: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezk 37:26-27). This is the fullness of the Holy Spirit, but not as a personal endowment, but rather as a national reality—that all Israel will experience the fullness of the presence of God in fulfillment of God’s dream, “I will be their God, they shall be my people, and I will dwell in the midst of them.”
- To vindicate God’s name in the sight of the nations through vindicating Israel: “Then the nations will know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is in the midst of them for evermore” (Ezk 37:28).
This brings us back to the statement concerning God’s unique purpose for the Messianic Jewish Movement, “to be a seed, a sign, a demonstration, and a catalyst of God’s consummating purposes for Israel A catalyst of God’s consummating purposes for His people Israel to the end that he be glorified as Israel’s God and Israel vindicated as His people, to the everlasting benefit of Israel, the nations, and the cosmos.”
But What About the New Covenant?
Some people seek to avoid the explicitness of this kind of agenda by alleging this to be too Law-centered, arguing that it omits the perspective provided by the “greater light” of the Newer Testament. However, if we will take a closer look at Scripture, we will see that this objection has weak legs and can hardly stand, if at all.
A strong answer to this objection is to be found in what Scripture says about the New Covenant. This is altogether fitting, since the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah is God’s promise of a new and final way of dealing with his people Israel: it is indeed a covenant of consummation. There are three strands of this covenant, which I term “a three-stranded cord” that is not easily broken, as named in Kohelet/Ecclesiastes, chapter four. Here are the three strands.
Jeremiah’s New Covenant
“I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts;
|Spiritually Renewed Relationship with the Jewish covenantal way of life|
|I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will any of them teach his fellow community member or his brother, ‘Know ADONAI’; for all will know me, from the least of them to the greatest;||Spiritually Renewed Relationship with God|
|because I will forgive their wickednesses and remember their sins no more.”
|Spiritually Renewed Relationship with Yeshua the Messiah, through whom we have forgiveness of sins, and all of these benefits due to his atoning death and work for us as our Great High Priest.|
This might be termed the heart of the heart of the purpose for which God raised up the Messianic Jewish Movement, that we might lead the Jewish people deeper into Jewish life, deeper into Yeshua faith, and deeper into relationship with Himself. But is this the heart of the heart of the heart of what the Messianic Jewish Movement is up to in our day? I think not.
In an earlier posting I listed the various purposes of the Messianic Jewish Movement as discerned from the actions of the Movement in our day, not from its rhetoric. Here are those purposes? As you read these, ask and answer a final question.
Are these sufficient reasons for the Risen Messiah to leave our candlestick alone, or do you think we just might be facing our own Ephesian Consequence?
- To teach the church about its Jewish roots
- To reach the Gentile world with the knowledge of the True God, the God of Israel
- To be a place where Gentiles can learn to practice a form of Christian Judaism.
- To offer an alternative to an “apostate church” which fails to keep the Law and/or to “celebrate the feasts.”
- To win Jews to faith in Yeshua.
- To form a context where Jewish Yeshua believers can preserve their Jewish identity, passing it on and nurturing it in the next generation.
- To form Jewish style congregations where people of all kinds can praise God in e-minor
- To restore a pristine form of Yeshua faith that allegedly existed in the First Century.
- To be a vehicle for reconciling the Church to Israel, as per the Jerusalem II Movement
- To be a context where the One New Man, conceived of as a community which transcends Jew/Gentile distinctions, can be expressed and gathered
Tomorrow morning I am teaching a two and a half hour workshop about relational faith-sharing here at the Annual Conference of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. Below you will see what will be written on the front of my T-shirt.
And just maybe now you know why.