“Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.'” (Jn.20:17)
The primary objection that any Jewish person will raise against the notion that Jesus is the Messiah and that the Christian gospel is true is the notion that “Christianity claims that Jesus is God.”
This accusation, if true, is evidence that Christianity is teaching a form of idolatry, which any self-respecting observant Jew is absolutely correct to denounce.
Is the accusation substantive? Sadly, yes. This is exactly what the Church teaches.
Also sadly, it is nearly impossible to discuss the issue with Christians (or even most Messianic believers) without being accused of denying the divinity of Christ. But does it have to be this way?
The core tenet of Jewish faith is recited three times a day by observant Jews (and by myself as well as many others):
שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד (Hear, O Israel, HaShem is our God, Hashem is One)
This is from Deut.6:4, and is given as a command from God to keep before oneself always.
What we need to do, desperately, is to learn to actually read what the Bible truly says, and what Yeshua said about himself, and what his followers said about him after his death, as recorded in the New Testament. Certainly, Yeshua is elevated and exalted by the apostles as the greatest of all men; the very expression and manifested character of God Himself.
However, the idea that there is One Lord, and the centrality of the perfect unity of the Almighty, is the single most important ethic that a Jew seeks to preserve within the framework of their observance of faith.
God is Savior, Redeemer, Provider. He is all. There is no one else beside Him.
John is the gospel that most go to reflexively when one wants to show Christ’s divinity the most clearly, and yet, of all the gospels, John is actually the one that most clearly displays him as entirely subordinate to the Father.
Here are a couple more from John’s gospel:
“If you ask the Father for anything in my name, He will give it to you…for the Father Himself loves you…” (Jn.16:23,27)
“I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (Jn.14:28)
“I can do nothing on my own initiative.” (Jn.5:30)
The apostle Paul also takes great pains, in his writings, to distinguish Yeshua from the Father, and to make sure that the reader knows that the Father is greater than the Son:
“Blessed be the God…of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor.1:3)
“Blessed be the God…of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph.1:3)
“We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Col.1:3)
“…According to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope…” (1 Tim.1:1)
“…According to the commandment of God our Savior…” (Titus 1:3)
We likewise see the same sense of the subordination of the Messiah before the Father in the writings of other authors of scripture as well. Consider the following:
“In the days of his flesh, he offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his piety. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from the things which he suffered.” (Heb.5:7-8)
“Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourself know – this man…you nailed to a cross…but God raised him up again…” (Acts 2:22:24)
Is the Jewish testimony in concert with the above verses? Consider the following passages (for a brief example), as well as commentary on them:
“You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens…” (Neh.9:6).
“Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and there is no savior besides me.” (Is.43:10-11)
“I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out the earth all alone…” (Is.44:24)
“It is written ‘Who is with Me?’ so that you not say Michael stretches from one side and Gabriel from the other, for the angels had not yet been created. This is the intent of ‘Who is with Me?’ That is, who participated with Me in the act of creation, the angels having not yet been created? Anyone who does not acknowledge this or who says that there is another god beside Him is a heretic in respect to the Godhead and a heretic in respect to the entire Torah. A heretic in respect to the Godhead, for it is written (Ex.20:3): “You shall have no other gods beside Me…” A heretic in respect to the entire Torah, for it is written (Num.15:22): “And if you go astray and do not do all of these mitzvot”, our sages…say, “The sin of idol worship is being referred to, which is over and against all of the mitzvot, as the master said: ‘How grave is idol worship! For all who acknowledge it is as if they were to deny the entire Torah; and all who deny it, it is as if they were to acknowledge the entire Torah!” (Genesis Rabbah 3:11)
The teaching that “Echad” means compound unity is troublesome to say the least. This is a teaching that weaves its way through the Messianic movement and even Hebrew teachers reiterate this deception. While it is true that, technically, the word can mean a unity that is potentially a combination of attributes, never in Jewish thought or teaching does it reference or even imply the possibility of a “multiplicity of persons”. This is just not found in Jewish understandings of the term, anywhere, ever. Consider the following:
“(The Lord is One, Echad) indicates that we must believe Him to be one and unique, with every kind of oneness, without adjunct or likeness, requiring none to complete Him. He is one also, without compound, alteration of act or alteration of decree, for all of His decrees are already known and revealed before Him – such oneness as His is not found in the world.” (Ma’aloth Hamiddoth, Rabbeinu Yechiel, 1300AD)
We should be careful to not establish a doctrine which is at odds with the religious worldview and theological perspective of the men who wrote the story. Was the idea of Jesus as a co-equal, co-eternal creator/god consistent with the understanding of the Jewish men who wrote the New Testament? No, it was not. The Trinity doctrine was not fully formed until the 5th Century, hundreds of years after the death of the oldest living disciple of Yeshua. So, we should ask, why is the doctrine defended with such force and vigor if it doesn’t even exist within the pages of the Bible? A good question. One which I am at a loss to answer.
There is no question that the apostles present Yeshua as a man who becomes divine. But not divine in the sense that he replaces God on His throne, heaven forbid. The writer of Hebrews makes this point in the opening chapter of his letter. But rather, it is like this:
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I will make you as God to Pharaoh…” (Ex.7:1)
My point here is not to be controversial and arrogantly trash many hundred years of Church dogma. My goal is to restore the gospel.
Yeshua came to reconcile us to the Father, not to himself.
Imagine, if you will, Yeshua, bent in agony in the Garden on the night of his trial and ultimate crucifixion, praying to himself for deliverance from the suffering before him?
It’s almost laughable to consider this, and yet, practically speaking, in many of our Christian songs and prayers and in our preaching, we essentially replace the Father with the Son, as though they are interchangeable parts of the same engine of faith.
It’s truly a shame that this is the case, and it greatly compromises the gospel message. We are misrepresenting the story of redemption by doing so, and worse, we are practicing a form of idolatry.
The gospel is the story of a Father and a Son, and the two are not the same. It is the story of the Almighty God who sends a Redeemer, One who is raised up from among his own people; a man who becomes the tzaddic (righteous one) who stands in for the people before God.
“For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” (Heb.9:15)
We need to restore the lost Jewish gospel message of the kingdom. This begins with a rediscovery of the Shema.
The Lord He is One Lord.