Jesus, the Jews and the path of Salvation

Jesus, the Jews and the path of Salvation

“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” (Matt.3:9)

E.P. Sanders, in his seminal 1977 work, “Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion”, submits a theory of “covenantal nomism”, and, in kind, a form of bilateral ecclesiology.

Essentially, and overly simply, the theory is that the Jewish people are in covenant status with God, and that this places them in a different category regarding the message of the gospel presented by the apostles. In effect, according to bilateral ecclesiology, there are two paths to salvation. One for the Gentile (Jesus), and another for the Jew (Jesus and/or covenant faithfulness in Torah).

This theory, further popularized by Mark Kinzer in his 2005 book “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People”, challenges a traditional Christian understanding of soteriology, as revealed in the New Testament.

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This post will not be able to adequately deal with all the implications of this theory, or the positive influence that these author’s works have had on the state of relations between Christians and Jews. Nor will I seek to criticize either author. Particularly Rabbi Kinzer, who, probably more than any other person, is chiefly responsible for the recent move by the Roman Catholic Church to revisit Her relationship with the Jewish people, even going so far as reflecting an official bilateral ecclesial position in a recent document released by the Vatican. See Rabbi David Rosen’s comments on this development here: https://www.rabbidavidrosen.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Jewish-Vatican_Relations_-_-Opportunities_and_Problems_October_2011.pdf

The path to reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity must necessarily include concessions and statements which we may struggle to embraces, as well as huge amounts of respectful dialog. From a Christian standpoint, at least, it can be deeply unnerving to consider the implications of such theories. In light of how the gospel is apparently presented in the apostolic texts, in which only confession of and faith in Jesus Christ is offered as an acceptable path to reconciliation with God, we should take some time to question the validity of “covenental nomism”. Continue reading

Working Out Salvation

Working Out Salvation

    “And He will be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is his treasure.” (Is.33:6)

Verses like the one above are like spiritual divining rods. Our perception of redemption is transformed by their theological breadth and application. “No,” it seems to say to us, “mere belief is just the beginning, not the end. Now, it’s time to get busy.” 

Commonly, we think of “salvation” as a one-time thing. Not a piling up in terms of a form of “wealth”, which implies accumulation. Can “salvation” be acquired like knowledge? Can it become a “wealth”? How do we understand this?

A passage in the Talmud discusses it, actually. Let’s compare what the sages had to say about this verse with the teachings of Yeshua and the apostles.

“Reish Lakish said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “And the faith of your times shall be a strength of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge, the fear of the LORD is his treasure” (Is.33:6)? Faith; that is the order of Zera’im, Seeds, in the Mishna, because a person has faith in God and plants his seeds (Jerusalem Talmud). Your times; that is the order of Moed, Festival, which deals with the various occasions and Festivals that occur throughout the year. Strength; that is the order of Nashim, Women. Salvations; that is the order of Nezikim, Damages, as one who is being pursued is rescued from the hands of his pursuer. Wisdom; that is the order of Kodashim, Consecrated Items. And knowledge; that is the order of Teharot, Purity, which is particularly difficult to master. And even if a person studies and masters all of these, “the fear of the LORD is his treasure,” it is preeminent.” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 31a, Koren Steinsaltz translation, Noe edition)

So the Talmud first informs us that this is a strength of salvation. So the idea is not a “piling up of a wealth of accumulated salvation”, but a strengthening of what you have gained. Let’s look at the order of explanation given.

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Raising the Cup of Salvation

Raising the Cup of Salvation

And when he had taken a cup and given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  (Matt.26:27-29)

In Jewish law, it is a mitzvah (act of fulfilling a commandment) to recite Grace after Meals. The one who recites it fulfills the mitzvah by sharing the cup with the other meal participants after the recitation of the blessing. This cup, the cup of blessing, is also known as the “cup of salvation”, and is certainly the cup which the Lord raised in our opening passage from Matthew. Not only does this reveal that Oral Tradition was both honored and followed by the Master, but when we look at the details of this tradition, it also reveals much concerning the salvation which is accomplished for us in Christ.

The cup of blessing, or cup of salvation, is called in Hebrew the “kos shel berachah”. The person reciting the blessing is to lift the cup with both hands. He then takes the cup in his left hand, which symbolizes God’s justice, and then transfers the cup to his right hand, symbolizing God’s mercy, which is meant to indicate that God’s mercy should overcome His justice. The halacha further states that he is to lift it from the ground at least a handsbreath, which makes the cup represent the cup of salvation, as it is declared in the Psalms:

What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me? I shall lift the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD. (Ps.116:12-13)

Continuing with the halacha of this mitzvah, the reciter is to focus his eyes upon the cup while reciting the blessing, so as to ensure that the ideas of God’s Attributes of Justice and Mercy will be in his mind as he recites. Finally, he is to send the cup around the table as a gift, sharing it generously, which is a symbolic act displaying the generosity of God’s mercy.

The passage in Psalm 116, in relation to the cup of salvation, is perhaps the inspiration for Peter as he quotes Joel 2 in his great sermon at the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2:21.

Certainly, the final Passover with the Lord would have been a fresh memory for the great apostle, and a poignant reminder of the work of salvation to which the Lord alluded to at that meal. This Jewish tradition concerning the cup of salvation also gives rich insight concerning the Lord’s answer to the High Priest during his mock trial:

“If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” (Lk.22:67-69)

The right hand represents God’s Attribute of Mercy.

Seated at the right hand of the Father, our Master always represents the flowing forth of grace from the Throne of the Almighty. The Talmud states that the blessing which flows from this cup is a “boundless inheritance” for those blessed by it:

Rabbi Yohanan said: Anyone who recites a blessing over a full cup, they give him a boundless inheritance, as it is stated: “And full of the blessing of the Lord, possess the sea and the south” (Deut.33:23), indicating that one whose cup is full will receive God’s blessing and will inherit from all sides. Rabbi Yosei bar Hanina says: He merits and inherits two worlds, this world and the World to Come….And he sends it as a gift to members of his household, so that his wife will be blessed. (Talmud, Berakhot, 51a-b, Koren Steinsaltz edition)

Israel, the bride of God, and all attached to her through Messiah Yeshua, are thus partakers of the blessing of the mercies of God, through the atoning work of Christ, as represented by the cup of salvation. The Lord himself has attached this symbolic blessing to his own work of atonement, by offering his own blood for the benefit and blessing of all, that we may be with him in his Father’s kingdom.

 

Agents of Salvation

Agents of Salvation

“When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses.” (Ex.14:31)

There is much spiritual talk in today’s world about where and how to find God. It is popular to think of God as a purveyor of good tidings to all who merely acknowledge Him. Many teachers and authors present God as the equivalent of a type of New Age Life Force who benevolently seeks to give you the desires of your heart, if you just believe. Images abound in Christian media of men and women, usually cast in a meadow, near the ocean, or on a mountaintop, reaching expectantly towards the heavens, arms outstretched, eyes closed, palms open, ready to receive His bounty. It looks like this:

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This woman has obviously found God

And this is all very nice.  Perhaps you will benefit in some way by standing on a rock near the ocean with your arms stretched towards the sun. But you will not find God this way, because this is not how God is found. This doesn’t mean that God’s handiwork is not revealed to us through these type experiences, but to know Him personally, we must believe the message of those He has sent to represent Him.

Even though the image above seems similar to the mental picture we have of Moses stretching out his staff to part the Red Sea, as we have described to us in Exodus 14, in reality it is far different than that. This is because Moses was the Agent of God, the First Redeemer, the man who delivered the children of Israel from bondage through the power God bestowed upon him. Moses was not trying to motivate or life-coach the people. He was not exampling mindfulness. Rather, he was fulfilling the mission for which he was sent, which was to be God’s Agent of salvation, his Chosen One.

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