The Contours of Jewish Evangelism – May 2018 OIM News


Update

May 2018

The month of May, as it corresponds to the Hebrew calendar and modern day Israeli celebrations, has some very interesting dates to be recognized by followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After all, Israel and Jerusalem in particular, where the Almighty has placed His Name, are both recognized as critical aspects of God’s timepiece for His Creation by many Biblical scholars. While Israel could be seen as the clock, in some respects, Jerusalem might be considered the hour and minute hands. But according to Yeshua’s own words, because “no one knows the hour or the day” of His return to establish His Millennial reign on Earth, the prognosticators continue to guesstimate—despite the admonition to simply keep on the alert, and by faith, fulfill Yeshua’s Great Commission:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away. But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, except the Father. Keep on the lookout! Stay alert! For you do not know when the time is” (Mark 13:31-33, TLV).

Nevertheless, when ancient texts from Isaiah describe the reconstitution of a nation in one day, fulfilled by the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, Believers in the validity of the Holy Scriptures must take notice:

“Hear the word of ADONAI, you who tremble at His word: ‘Your brothers who hated you, excluding you for My Name’s sake, have said, “Let ADONAI be glorified, that we may see your joy”—but they will be put to shame.’ A sound of uproar from the city, a sound from the Temple—the sound of ADONAI who fully repays His enemies. Before she was in labor, she gave birth. Before her pain came, she delivered a male child. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children. ‘Will I bring the moment of birth, and not give delivery?’ says ADONAI. ‘Will I who cause delivery shut up the womb?’ says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her. Rejoice for joy with her all you who mourned over her. For you will nurse and be satisfied from her comforting breast. You will drink deeply and delight from her glorious abundance” (Isaiah 66:5-11, TLV).

Of course, recognizing that the Creator God is in sovereign control of His Creation—and how the timing of world events is according to His timeline—requires humility and a willingness to do more than just pay lip service to God’s existence. Hence, it is not simply coincidental that on May 13, 2018, the State of Israel will be celebrating Yom Yerushalayim (28 Iyar or Jerusalem Day), commemorating the fifty-first anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem from the Jordanians during the Six Day War on June 7, 1967. Instead, it is extremely providential that on May 13-14, 2018, the focus of the world’s attention will be directed to the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. One can only imagine the outrage and venom that is going to spew forth from the haters of God and the opponents of Israel, especially since the Muslim Ramadan begins on May 15, 2018! No better way to describe the reactions than what was declared by the Psalmist millennia ago:

“Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples mutter vanity? The kings of earth set themselves up and rulers conspire together against ADONAI and against His Anointed One: ‘Let’s rip their chains apart, and throw their ropes off us!’ He who sits in heaven laughs! ADONAI mocks them. So He will speak to them in His anger, and terrify them in His fury: ‘I have set up My king upon Zion, My holy mountain.’ I will declare the decree of ADONAI. He said to me: ‘You are My Son—today I have become Your Father. Ask Me, and I will give the nations as Your inheritance, and the far reaches of the earth as Your possession. You shall break the nations with an iron scepter. You shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s jar.’ So now, O kings, be wise, take warning, O judges of the earth! Serve ADONAI with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish along your way—since His wrath may flare up suddenly. Happy is everyone taking refuge in Him!” (Psalm 2:1-12, TLV).

In addition, who would have ever imagined even a few short years ago that on May 12, 2018, a monumental decision regarding the flawed Iranian nuclear (JCPOA) deal needs to be made by a controversial American president, who does not follow the established norms of the uproarious nations or is conveniently politically incorrect? How special is it to be able to view these circumstances through a Scriptural grid? Is there any doubt that the unseen powers and principalities of the world are doing everything possible to dissuade the U.S. president from doing what he believes is in the best interest for America, and by extension Israel, America’s greatest ally in the Middle East?

Therefore in this special month of May 2018, as the Counting of the Omer (Leviticus 23:15-16) is taking us to the celebration of Shavuot (Pentecost) on May 19-20, all “who take refuge in Him” should be in fervent prayer for the critical actions to be taken regarding Israel and Jerusalem throughout this month. Obviously, the leaders of Israel and the United States continue to need our prayers and intercession for wisdom and protection.

We want to thank all of our faithful supporters for your ongoing financial partnership with us. Your consistent, monthly offerings and donations are going a very long way! This Spring, Messianic Apologetics has inaugurated a daily LiveStream on both YouTube and Facebook. Just this past month, we have also started posting daily “Where Can I Find It?” broadcasts, designed to help you find that article, FAQ entry, book, commentary, or other resource to aid you in your Messianic pursuits. We are using social media to its fullest extent—while we still can—to aid today’s still-emerging and maturing Messianic movement.

Chag Samaech Shavuot!

Mark Huey


The Contours of Jewish Evangelism

by J.K. McKee

The original mission and purpose of the Messianic movement has always been to provide a venue for Jewish outreach, evangelism, and Israel solidarity. While reaching diverse groups of people with the good news or gospel message of salvation is not easy, no matter what one’s intended audience, the Apostolic Writings (New Testament) give ample testimony of how many Jewish people in the First Century were resistant to the news that the Messiah of Israel had arrived. So great was the agony of a figure like the Apostle Paul, that he actually wished himself accursed, to see his own flesh and blood redeemed:

“I tell the truth in Messiah—I do not lie, my conscience assuring me in the Ruach ha-Kodesh—that my sorrow is great and the anguish in my heart unending. For I would pray that I myself were cursed, banished from Messiah for the sake of my people—my own flesh and blood” (Romans 9:1-3, TLV).

While corporately in the First Century, and even until today, the Jewish people have largely dismissed Yeshua of Nazareth as the anticipated Messiah—it is not as though this has not been without a purpose. Paul noted that there has always been a remnant of Jewish Believers, himself being among them (Romans 11:5). He also detailed how “If their trespass means riches for the world, and their impoverishment means riches for the nations, how much more will their fullness mean!” (Romans 11:12, Kingdom New Testament). If a widescale Jewish dismissal of Israel’s Messiah means a massive salvation of those from the world at large—how great will it be when a concentrated salvation of the Jewish people is witnessed? There are complications to this taking place, however, notably as it involves the behavior of the wild olive branches, non-Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah, grafted-in to Israel’s olive tree (Romans 11:17-21). History is replete that rather than being moved with mercy and compassion and understanding for Jewish people, who need the salvation of Yeshua (Romans 11:31), arrogance, disdain, discrimination, persecution, and even terrible atrocities have been committed by far too many of those “claiming Christ.”

Every Messianic congregation or assembly, whether it is in Israel, North America, or elsewhere, is going to have some vehicle for Jewish outreach and involvement in the local Jewish community. Obviously each Jewish community is different. Here in the United States, the Jewish community in the Northeast, South Florida, Southern California, or other urban centers, is going to be a little different than the Jewish community in North Dallas, where my local congregation of Eitz Chaim is located. But regardless of how large, how small, how established, or how conservative or liberal one’s local Jewish community is—there are significant contours and facets which those who are a part of a Messianic congregation need to be aware of, when involving themselves in Jewish outreach. Jewish Believers for certain need to be involved in Jewish evangelism, as they testify not only to the salvation they possess in Yeshua—but most especially how believing in Yeshua does not mean an abandonment of one’s Jewish heritage or traditions. Likewise, non-Jewish Believers should also be involved in Jewish evangelism, as non-Jews in today’s Messianic community can not only be used by the Lord to provoke Jewish people to faith in Messiah Yeshua (Romans 11:11), but as those who have joined in common cause and unity with Jewish Believers, as a tangible sign that past centuries of Christian anti-Semitism and discrimination are indeed something in the past.

How do any of us “evangelize”?

In contemporary evangelical Protestantism over the past half century or so, there have been scores of different methods which Believers have employed, to genuinely reach out to others with the good news. Many of us have been involved in some form of local outreach, where we have handed out tracts, or have knocked on doors, asking people about where they stand in their relationship with God. Some of these evangelistic tools and methods have taken labels such as “the Romans road,” “the Four Spiritual Laws,” or quite possibly even “The Purpose Driven Life.” But as we are probably all aware, not all of these methods work indefinitely, and some of them do not have a lasting impact—as a number of people who make a profession of faith, may not necessarily get plugged in to a local assembly and network of Believers.

While we have probably all seen some of the successes and failures of customary Protestant methods of evangelism over the past three or four decades—Jewish outreach and evangelism tends to be something completely different from passing out tracts on a street corner. Jewish evangelism is innately tied in with long-term relationship building. History has borne out far too many examples of where Jewish populations were forced to convert to Roman Catholicism, likely involving confiscation of property, expulsion from one’s home, and perhaps even the threat of death. Even Protestantism, which on the whole has been far more tolerant and respectful for Judaism, has widely expected that Jewish people who come to faith in Jesus the Messiah cease being Jewish, start being Christian, and should find themselves fully assimilated into Western Christian culture.

Consequently, with a great deal of anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, or at least apathy toward Judaism present—when the issue of Yeshua of Nazareth is raised—seeing Jewish people truly receive the Messiah into their lives, tends to hardly be an instantaneous process. While we all might want to see the same kind of dynamic teaching and salvation present at Shavuot/Pentecost (Acts 2), because of too many of the forces of past history, Jewish evangelism is often a long term process. You might think that this would, of course, only be necessary if one is reaching out to Orthodox Jews who have developed opinions on the Tanach and Messianic expectation—but it even involves liberal Jews, who are nominally to non-religious, but whose Jewish identity and values are very strong. Does receiving Yeshua mean an abandonment of one’s Jewish heritage, and a betrayal of one’s ancestors?

When you get involved in Jewish evangelism, you should expect to have many meetings with an individual or family. Many of these meetings are not going to involve discussions of one’s religious faith, but instead establishing trust, as you get to know a Jewish person, learn about their family history and story, how they see the world, how they see Israel, how they respond to anti-Semitism and discrimination against them, and eventually what they think of Yeshua of Nazareth at least as an historical figure. Sometimes, per the adage “so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, TLV), the greatest testimony of a Messianic Believer to a Jewish person is going to be in tangible actions of being their friend, helping them out, standing in solidarity with them and with the Jewish community, and being a beacon of support and stability in their life. It might take a very long time to see your Jewish friend or Jewish neighbor be open to the good news of Messiah.

The Terms We Use, and Communicating Well to Jewish People

All of us at some point in our lives have been told that words mean things. How we communicate in an ever-changing and interconnected world, is vitally important. A term or phrase can mean something positive to one group of people, and can be taken as a striking insult by another group of people. In ministry today, if speaker tells an audience “God is raising up men in this hour to serve Him,” half of your audience has been immediately lost. If a speaker tells an audience, “God is raising up men and women” or “God is raising up people,” then the real message about how this is taking place can then be communicated to everyone present.

Have you ever wondered what Paul meant by saying, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20, NASU)? Frequently, 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 has been interpreted from the perspective that in declaring the good news, Paul would frequently change his behavior and actions, in order to do what was necessary in order to have a hearing. Was Paul a chameleon, flip-flopping around different First Century audiences in the Mediterranean? Not only this, but did Paul really not think his Jewishness was that important? While it is absolutely true that one’s identity in Yeshua the Messiah and His work on the tree overrides all human achievements (Philippians 3:4-10), Paul did see value in Judaism and in his Jewish heritage (Romans 3:1-2).

So what did Paul mean when he said “To the Jews I became as a Jew”? The categories of 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 are hardly exhaustive, as there were many more groups of people Paul and company encountered in the diverse Roman Empire. It can be validly concluded that “I became as,” means that Paul rhetorically identified with an audience he was tasked with declaring the good news to. How do you best communicate the gospel to a particular group of people? In the First Century C.E., identifying with the Jewish people involved far more than just understanding the story of Ancient Israel in the Torah and Tanach; it involved understanding the difficulties of the return of the Jewish people from Babylon exile, the fallout of the Maccabean crisis of the Second Century B.C.E., Judea as a province of the Roman Empire, and the struggles of a massive Diaspora Jewish community in the Roman Empire that faced discrimination and threats from polytheism.

In the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, we should be able to easily deduce that “To the Jews I became as a Jew” would mean more than having a good understanding of Ancient Israel from the Tanach and Second Temple Judaism; it is something that involves complicated histories and diverse Jewish communities. What happened after the fall of the Second Temple? How has Roman Catholicism historically treated the Jewish people? How has Protestantism historically approached the Jewish theological tradition? What were some of the terrors perpetuated upon Jews during the Middle Ages? What were the pogroms of the Russian Empire? How and why did the Holocaust happen? What are present Christian attitudes to the existence of the State of Israel? These questions, and many more, are involved in what it means to place oneself in the position of a modern Jewish person, who needs the good news of Israel’s Messiah.

Ever since the early beginnings of the modern Messianic Jewish movement, in late 1960s and early 1970s, there have been various lists composed of words common to today’s evangelical Protestantism—which while meaning many positive things to most of today’s non-Jewish Believers, can be quite offensive to Jewish people you are trying to develop a relationship with. Biblical Hebrew has approximately 3,500 words; Biblical Greek has approximately 5,500 words; modern English has approximately 150,000 words. There are legitimate alternatives that can be employed by today’s Messianic people, instead of the more standard words or terms employed in “Christianese.” While it is a process, particularly for non-Jewish Believers called by God into the Messianic movement, there are a number of terms which you need to be aware of, that do not facilitate Jewish evangelism too well. If you are ever called to speak in front of a Messianic congregation to give a testimony or issue a prayer, the following are some terms you need to really not be using:

Jesus is not the original name of the Messiah of Israel, but is instead an English transliteration of the Greek Iēsous, itself a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Yeshua, meaning “He is salvation” (Matthew 1:21). The name “Jesus” is hardly pagan, and there were many Jews in the Diaspora who actually bore the name Iēsous (Colossians 4:11). While it was perfectly acceptable in the First Century C.E. for Jewish Believers in Yeshua to call the Messiah Iēsous in a Greek-speaking context, with Iēsous as the Septuagint title of the Book of Joshua—calling the Messiah Jesus in Jewish settings in the Twenty-First Century is quite complicated. Throughout history, persecution has been inflicted upon the Jewish people using the name Jesus (or its derivative forms). When many of today’s Jews hear the name Jesus, they hardly think of a First Century Jewish Messiah, but instead as a figure who has been frequently responsible for enacting great tragedies upon the Jews. Today’s Messianic Jewish movement uses the name Yeshua (also frequently spelled Y’shua) for the Messiah.

Christ is a title derived from the Greek Christos meaning “Anointed One,” the equivalent of the Hebrew Mashiach or Messiah. While Christos does appear in the Greek Apostolic Writings, its post-First Century usage as a title has been more widely employed than Jesus, in fact, in the discrimination and persecution of Jewish people by religious authorities. Today’s Messianic Jewish movement uses the title Messiah.

Christian, derived from Christianos was originally a term of ridicule, or a slur, issued against the Believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26; see NRSV which has “Christians” in quotation marks). Today there are so many denominations, sects, sub-sects, and groups which use and employ the terminology “Christian,” that it is inappropriate to assume that the title “Christian” automatically means that one is a born again Believer. There are actually some today who have stopped using the terminology “Christian,” and instead will call themselves a “Christ follower” or “disciple of Christ.” Today’s Messianic people should similarly see no problem when calling themselves a Messiah follower or disciple of Messiah. When using terminology such as “Christian” or “Christianity,” it should be in reference to religious systems and institutions; Messiah faith or Biblical faith should not be referred to as Christianity. It is also most appropriate, given how many Jews associate the term “Christian” with Roman Catholicism and its non-Biblical to pagan traditions, to today not readily employ the terminology “Judeo-Christian,” but instead “Judeo-Protestant.”

The cross (and similarly the verb crucify) was the means by which Yeshua the Messiah was sacrificed for the sins of humanity by the Romans. But the cross has also been used as a symbol and banner of significant persecution by religious authorities, toward the Jewish people, for centuries. A frequent alternative employed for the term cross in today’s Messianic movement is execution-stake, as seen in David H. Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible. Messianic people will also frequently speak in terms of Yeshua being “nailed to the tree” (cf. Acts 5:30). A new alternative that can employed for cross would be wooden scaffold, as the very purpose of this form of ancient execution was to openly display the condemned, humiliating one before the public.

A church in the minds of many Jewish people, and for that matter many contemporary evangelicals, is a building with a steeple and stained glass windows. For others, the term church is not associated with the people of God, but instead religious institutions (or even principalities). The Greek term ekklēsia frequently translated the Hebrew qahal throughout the Septuagint, qahal itself often referring to the community of Ancient Israel (i.e., Deuteronomy 31:30). Many theologians today have recognized some of the complications of speaking of the people of God in terms of it being the “church,” and so there are specialty English versions today which more properly translate ekklēsia as assembly, such as Young’s Literal Translation or The Interlinear Bible by Jay P. Green. Today’s Messianic movement very much dislikes when its local faith community is referred to as a “church,” and so one’s local body should instead be called a congregation, assembly, or fellowship. (Many will employ the Yiddish shul, meaning school.)

Throughout a diverse array of Protestant traditions, to be sure, baptism for the people of God, has been approached from any number of different vantage points. The English verb baptize is derived from the Greek verb baptizō, but the term baptism, even from just an evangelical Protestant perspective, has a great deal of socio-religious baggage associated with it. Very early on, today’s Messianic Jewish movement began employing more theologically neutral terminology such as water immersion or immerse (as would be seen in Bibles such as the Complete Jewish Bible or Tree of Life Version). Many Jewish people, when hearing the terminology “baptize,” do not think of ritual immersions in water taking place, with their origins found in the purification rituals of the Tanach. When many Jewish people may hear the terminology “baptize,” they think of forced baptisms of Jewish people by Roman Catholic authorities throughout history, with the intention of them abandoning their Jewish heritage and traditions.

Many people do not see a problem with using the terms convert or conversion, describing the turning of people to Messiah faith. To many Jewish people who need to hear the good news, however, describing it in terms of “conversion” would mean that they would have to abandon their Jewish heritage and the great virtues of Jewish religion, to embrace another faith. The Messianic Scriptures are clear that the First Century Jewish Believers did not abandon Judaism. While one may be tempted to use convert as a neutral term—certainly as it is in many non-religious contexts—it is much better to employ terminology such as turn or turning, as in “the turning of the nations” (Acts 15:3, PME).

The proper name of God in the Tanach is composed of the Hebrew consonants yud, hey, vav, hey, often represented in English as either YHWH or YHVH. Today’s Bible scholars often think that it was originally pronounced as something close to either Yahweh or Yahveh. In most English Bibles, the Divine Name is rendered as “the Lord” in SMALL CAPITAL LETTERS, going back to the Second Temple convention of not speaking the Divine Name aloud. In the time of Yeshua, the Divine Name was only spoken aloud by the high priest on Yom Kippur (m.Yoma 6:2). Yeshua and the Apostles observed the standing Jewish practice of their day, by frequently using Hebrew titles such as Adonai or Elohim for the Supreme Being, their Greek equivalents being Kurios and Theos—the equivalents of our English titles Lord and God. Many Orthodox Jews today use the title HaShem, meaning “the Name,” to refer to God. Unfortunately, the Sacred Name Only movement, has infiltrated the Messianic movement via its literature and Bible versions, as it insists that one must affluently speak the Divine Name YHWH/YHVH in order to be truly saved. Speaking the Divine Name at a main function of one’s Messianic Jewish congregation, is going to create great challenges in presenting Jewish people with the good news—as they will most probably be offended and feel insulted, given the great sanctity with which Judaism has approached it. When in doubt, speaking of God as “God,” is entirely appropriate.

Approaching Messianic Prophecy

Integral to being involved with Jewish outreach and evangelism, is having some knowledge of the prophecies which foretell of the arrival of Yeshua the Messiah. Most Messianic congregations have regular teachings or classes on the Messiahship of Yeshua of Nazareth, which relate to prophecies from the Tanach (Old Testament). There have also been lengthy analyses produced, ranging from Michael Brown’s five-volume Jewish Objections to Jesus series to Isaiah 53 Explained by Mitch Glaser. It is critical that each of us has a cursory understanding of how many Messianic prophecies have been approached across time: from Second Temple Judaism to later Rabbinical Judaism, as well as to evangelical Protestantism and the modern Messianic Jewish movement. Eventually as you develop relationships with Jewish people—even if many of them are non-religious—the question of whether Yeshua of Nazareth is indeed the anticipated Redeemer from the Tanach Scriptures, will arise.

How should any of us approach prophecies which speak of Yeshua of Nazareth? 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 direct, “For I also passed on to you first of all what I also received—that Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (TLV). I once encountered a teacher who, in fact, denied Yeshua as the Messiah because he could not find a direct prophecy which spoke of the Messiah being raised on the third day. Too many of us, as Western people, are inclined to think that all prophecies of the Messiah to come are predictive in nature. Too often having binary minds that think in 0s and 1s, we are conditioned to approach Messianic prophecy as one predictive prophecy equaling one fulfillment, and so forth. Of course, it should be understood that there are indeed many predictive prophecies which foretell of the arrival of the Messiah Yeshua and His death for us (i.e., Micah 5:2; Daniel 9:23-25; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53:5-7), but there are other factors involving Yeshua’s Messiahship which must be approached more thematically or typologically (i.e., Hosea 6:2; 11:1). These often involve the identification of Yeshua the Messiah with the nation of Israel, embodying the hopes and aspirations of Israel and its kingdom. What has happened to Israel, or what has happened to significant figures in Israel’s history (i.e., Moses, David), have been to some degree repeated in the life and ministry of Yeshua of Nazareth.

An ongoing feature of continued study and research in Messianic theology definitely involves a refinement of our understanding and approach to Yeshua’s Messiahship. As the Messianic Jewish movement grew throughout the 1970s and into the 1990s, the Jewish anti-missionary movement also grew. Mainly made up of Orthodox Jews, the anti-missionary movement specifically targets Messianic Jewish Believers, in order to see them deny Yeshua as the Messiah. Frequently Jewish anti-missionaries will appear at Messianic Jewish conference events, or perhaps will even visit your own local congregation. Prominent Messianic Jewish evangelistic organizations tend to be those best equipped to handle some of the customary arguments of the anti-missionaries. Yet it also needs to be recognized that since the 1990s, as many more non-Jewish Believers have been directed into the Messianic movement, that the anti-missionary movement has been targeting many of these people as potential proselytes to the Synagogue. The Jewish anti-missionary movement affects everyone who is involved with declaring the good news that Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel.

Theological and Historical Complications

Having some handle on the Messianic prophecies of the Tanach is not going to be enough, in order to reach out with the good news to your Jewish friends and neighbors, as there are theological and historical complications you need to be conscious of. Some significant theological impediments toward reaching Jewish people with the good news, include the errant Christian theologies of supersessionism and dispensationalism. Supersessionism is more commonly known as replacement theology, the idea that since the Jewish people have corporately rejected the Messiah, that God has rejected His people Israel, and has transferred the promises He gave to Israel to a new, independent “Church” entity. Prophecies in the Tanach which speak to the restoration of Israel in the end-times are not to be taken literally, but are instead to be allegorized as signs of spiritual bounty for the faith community. Dispensationalism, while rightly affirming God’s continued fidelity to His promises with Israel and the Patriarchs, wrongly tends to divide up God’s Word, believing that in the present with the widescale Jewish rejection of Yeshua, that God has presently put Israel aside and is working through the non-Jewish Christian Church. This will only change until after the pre-tribulation rapture has taken place, and then God once again resumes His program with Israel. For non-Jewish Believers involved in Jewish outreach, these two extremes are to be avoided by stressing oneself as a fellow member of Israel’s Commonwealth (Ephesians 2:11-13), who is actively interested and involved in the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom (Acts 1:6).

More historically, significant impediments are present when non-Jewish Believers mainly, but also some Jewish Believers raised in minimally religious families, assume things about Judaism, Jewish tradition, and Jewish culture without doing any research. Time and time again, people in today’s Messianic movement have been caught saying inappropriate things about “the Rabbis” or “the Talmud,” without ever having read or consulted what such Rabbis or what the Talmud has actually said. Perhaps in the diverse array of ancient Jewish literature there are incorrect statements made, and incorrect conclusions drawn, about a whole host of issues (among the many things which are correct), but misunderstanding and miscommunication occur when people are unwilling to give others a hearing. It is unfair and inappropriate to make conclusions about Judaism and Jewish history, without having done some homework first!

Yeshua the Messiah issued the ever-imperative word, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22, TLV). Each of us in today’s Messianic movement needs to recognize how unique and distinct the Jewish people are, as the bearers of the Messiah (Romans 9:5) to the entire world. Jewish outreach and evangelism is not something easy—and your Messianic congregation and venue is different than someone else’s—but it is absolutely vital for each Messianic person to be contributing to this cause in some way!

TorahScope: B’har-B’chuqotai

B’har

On the mount

Leviticus 25:1-26:2
Jeremiah 32:6-27

B’chuqotai

By My Regulations

Leviticus 26:3-27:34
Jeremiah 16:19-17:24

“A Faithful Jubilee Reminder”


by Mark Huey

The Book of Leviticus, thematically devoted to admonishing the Israelites to be holy, comes to a close this week with a double Torah portion which not only specifies some additional instructions, but also reiterates some of the consequences of disobedience. From the opening verse of B’har to the closing verse of B’chuqotai, one finds how Moses admonished his ancient audience that he had received all of these instructions from the Lord on Mount Sinai:

“The LORD then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD”’” (Leviticus 25:1-2).

“These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 27:34).

Nevertheless, despite the lofty environs where these words were initially received by Moses from the Eternal One, the community of Israel not only historically—but throughout the ages—may be witnessed to have continuously struggled to comply with God’s commandments, even though there are multiple assurances that the Creator will bless those who adhere to His words throughout the Holy Scriptures. One way to surely minimize disobedience to His commandments is how the Lord included some interrelated physical activities, to remind His people about the blessings associated with obedience. We can, for example, consider the instructions regarding the sabbatical rest for the Promised Land and the year of jubilee, found in B’har-B’chuqotai. Even with these instructions not generally being followed because of modern circumstances, readers of the Torah still need to be reminded of their significance, as they not only teach us about our Heavenly Father’s character, but also about His purposes in the Earth.

With this in mind—especially during the current season of Counting the Omer as Shavuot approaches—it is difficult to overlook parallels of the weekly and yearly patterns, because of their similarity. Some profound spiritual enrichment can be derived during the annual reminder to Count the Omer for fifty days, and remember the benefits and blessings of the jubilee we are reading about this week. After all, for those who have faith in the atoning work of Yeshua the Messiah, one’s personal day of freedom from the ravages of sin, can and should be celebrated without reservation!

The Sabbath

The Divine institution of the Sabbath rest is first modeled in the account of the Creation, when the Lord rested after the six stages of His work:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:1-3).

In this ancient pronouncement, one finds that the Creator not only rested on the seventh day, but that He sanctified it or set it apart from all of the other days. Obviously, there was something very special about the seventh day of the week from the beginning of human history. Providentially down through the ages, the seven-day cycle for life’s many patterns, witnessed and detectable throughout the Holy Scriptures, has widely prevailed (despite various attempts to alter it by different civilizations). The inclusion of the command to remember the Sabbath rest is included in the Decalogue, intensifying its importance for followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).

As we examined last week in Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23), the significance of the Sabbath rest was reaffirmed when the Lord gave Moses the appointed times, with the Sabbath notably listed first:

“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these: “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings. These are the appointed times of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the times appointed for them”’” (Leviticus 23:2-4).

Sabbath for the Land

The Lord considered the seventh day of the week, as a sanctified and weekly set time for a holy convocation with Him. As our Torah reading commences, we are introduced to some ancient socio-economic policies, which build upon the one-day-in-seven pattern. While it might be said that Shabbat is to be a time of rest for the human being and communion with the Creator, a mandated seventh year Sabbath rest for the Promised Land in which the Israelites will settle, is detailed:

“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest’s aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year. All of you shall have the sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you. Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its crops to eat” (Leviticus 25:2-7).

While resting on the weekly Sabbath may have been a test of faith for many people, and it was something ostensibly adhered to during Ancient Israel’s desert sojourn with the provision of manna (Exodus 16) and a definite prohibition of work (Exodus 31:14-15)—what Moses introduced here went a bit beyond a once a week Sabbath rest for people. The Israelites were instructed to let the arable land they would possess, itself, have a “Sabbath rest,” making it lay fallow on every seventh year. No doubt, this direction was going to require a considerable amount of faith by the Israelites to rely upon the Lord to provide physical sustenance, with a year taken off from agricultural activity.

The Year of Jubilee

Moses further stated that after seven weeks of years, forty-nine years, when the fiftieth year arrived, there was to be a jubilee (Heb. yovel) or release and return of land to the original owners, as well as a release of indentured servants from their contractual commitments. Not only was the economy restored, but the land was to remain fallow an additional year, resulting in two consecutive years without any agricultural work. Hence for the year of jubilee, after receiving the Lord’s blessing to provide for them during the previous six years of normal agricultural activity, the Israelites had to expand their faith to believe that the Lord would provide for two uninterrupted years without any normal agricultural activity:

“You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. ‘You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field. On this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his own property’…If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee. He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale” (Leviticus 25:2-13, 39-42).

The Lord chose to have the year of jubilee, which occurred just once every fifty years, to be commemorated on the tenth day of the seventh month—on what was already designated as the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur:

“On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:27-28).

The contrast between the day the year of jubilee is announced—on what is supposed to be the most solemn convocation of the year—is something to contemplate. The year of jubilee is to be announced by the blowing of the shofar, which is also commanded to be blown annually on the Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:24). For forty-nine consecutive years the Israelites would, seemingly, humbly commemorate the Day of Atonement, with the high priest presenting the various offerings to atone for the sins of the people. But then on every fiftieth year, the blowing of the shofar announcing the year of jubilee, would likely have set in motion an entirely different set of emotions, as ancestral lands were returned to the original owners, indentured servants were released, and the socio-economic order was restored. Yet, nowhere does the Torah state that the perpetual observance of Yom Kippur was terminated—not even on the year of jubilee.

A Future Jubilee

Over the centuries, one can see how followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob associated the year of jubilee with the coming reign of the Messiah of Israel. This connection is perhaps best illustrated by the Prophet Isaiah, who spoke of the Servant of the Lord coming to bring release to the captives, freedom to prisoners, and the inauguration of a new age of justice and favor for the righteous:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise up the former devastations; And they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.  Strangers will stand and pasture your flocks, and foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers. But you will be called the priests of the LORD; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, everlasting joy will be theirs” (Isaiah 61:1-7).

For centuries following the prophecies declared by Isaiah, different Jewish traditions emerged, incorporating the blowing of the shofar into the Yom Kippur convocation, perhaps as a reminder of the dual purpose of the shofar blowing during the year of jubilee. After all, the joy associated with hearing the shofar blast on the day of jubilee with the arrival of the anticipated Messiah, contrasted with the solemnity of the shofar sounds on the Feast of Trumpets announcing the coming of the Day of Atonement, had to be disconcerting.

In a similar vein, perhaps this contrast explains some of the mixed emotions found in Nazareth, when Yeshua the Messiah read from the Isaiah prophecy on a Sabbath, and alluded to Himself being the fulfillment of the prophecy:

“And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD’ [Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6]. And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ And He said to them, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.”’ And He said, ‘Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.’ And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way” (Luke 4:16-30).

Shofars Blowing

Needless to say, the highly anticipated coming of the Messiah of Israel evokes a tremendous amount of emotion, whether it is linked to the themes of the year of jubilee and its shofar blast, and the shofar blast announcing His arrival, or simply His First Coming in the First Century and its attendant miracles. It can be generally recognized from both the Prophets and the Apostolic Scriptures, that there is definitely a trumpet to be sounded when the Messiah returns:

“It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13).

“Then the LORD will appear over them, and His arrow will go forth like lightning; And the Lord God will blow the trumpet, and will march in the storm winds of the south” (Zechariah 9:14).

“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (Matthew 24:30-31; cf. Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15).

“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).

Suffice it to say, since following the jubilee instructions largely ended centuries ago, primarily due to Ancient Israel’s disregard for even following the seven-year Sabbath rest for the land (Jeremiah 9:9-16; 25:4-18), there is a lack of consensus on when and how the jubilee should or should not be recognized not only in Judaism, but in Christianity.

However, for those observing the annual feasts of the Lord, there is a distinct parallel between what should have been done over every fifty-year period, and what is done on an annual basis during the Counting of the Omer for the seven weeks between Passover and the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. The similarities are difficult to ignore, because the “fifty day” pattern is so similar to the “fifty year” pattern. Perhaps the Lord wants people to make the connection each and every year. Faithful followers of the Holy One can be reminded of the benefits of the jubilee, whether it is a restoration of the economic order, or the setting free of the captives to sin, or the coming reign of the Messiah, when they come together to remember the Feast of Weeks on the fiftieth day of the Omer Count. While this day is recognized as a time of multiple offerings and proclamations, note some of the parallels in these verses from Leviticus 23. Not only is there a similar count, emphasizing fifty, but there is also a focus on taking care of the needy and the sojourner when restoration is made:

“You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD. You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the LORD. Along with the bread you shall present seven one year old male lambs without defect, and a bull of the herd and two rams; they are to be a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD. You shall also offer one male goat for a sin offering and two male lambs one year old for a sacrifice of peace offerings. The priest shall then wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering with two lambs before the LORD; they are to be holy to the LORD for the priest. On this same day you shall make a proclamation as well; you are to have a holy convocation. You shall do no laborious work. It is to be a perpetual statute in all your dwelling places throughout your generations. When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:16-22).

This week, may we reflect on the blessings of the jubilee year in our own personal lives—as there was a decisive moment in the past when through faith in Yeshua the Messiah, we were each set free from the bondage of sin (Romans 7). Whether one rehearses it on Shavuot, or every morning in prayer, or when reading a Psalm, we are reminded that the Earth and each individual soul is the Lord’s creation:

“A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2).

Perhaps in this season with Shavuot rapidly approaching, our appreciation for the reminder will be heightened. I hope that we will each remember all that He has done for us, and proclaim our thanks for His salvation!

Emor

Emor

Speak

Leviticus 21:1-24:23
Ezekiel 44:15-31

“Priests, Feasts, Equally Speaking”


by Mark Huey

This week’s Torah reading in Leviticus continues the major theme of the book, in how the community of Israel is to seek holiness and sanctification, just as the Lord Himself is holy. Holiness, as a message to be heeded, is noted multiple times throughout the Book of Leviticus:

“For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45).

“Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2).

Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).

After some of the previous Torah portions have dealt with a variety of commandments for the general population of Israel to observe, in order to maintain holiness before the Lord and be the Kingdom of priests and holy nation He desired (Exodus 19:6)—the emphasis on personal and individual holiness among the people shifts toward the Levites, because of their specific duties for the Tabernacle. Leviticus chs. 21-22 detail a wide number of restrictions and prohibitions placed upon the Levitical priesthood, which are particularly instituted to maintain the priests’ physical and spiritual purity before the Lord. In reading the various requirements for those responsible for offering sacrifices at the Tabernacle, limitations on how to handle the deceased, marriage parameters, physical requirements, dietary restrictions, and sacrificial specifications, are noted.

Even with the series of specific commandments given to regulate the Levitical priesthood—undoubtedly because of how consecrated the priests needed to be—readers see a constant reminder of how for those within the community of Israel, the overall instructions remain relatively the same. Whether someone is native-born of Israel, or is a sojourner who enters into the community, the instructions regarding the presentation of offerings before the Lord are uniform (cf. Leviticus 22:17-18).

In Emor, we do see that the Lord makes an important distinction between those who were to serve as Levitical priests, and the general population of Israel composed of both native-born and sojourners. The Levitical priesthood of Ancient Israel is best likened to a kind of aristocracy, or even royal family: you have to be born into it. Yet, even with some specific expectations designed to be fulfilled by the Levitical priesthood, the average Israelite was to still take some instruction regarding the principles of holiness and sanctification unto the Lord, from being informed about what He required of His priests.

After going into significant detail on what the Levitical priests were required to do, Leviticus ch. 23 turns to the details about the appointed times of the Lord. The overall instructions about how God’s people are to commemorate these moedim—which range from the weekly Sabbath, to the Spring season of Passover and Unleavened Bread, to the Feast of Weeks, to the Fall season of the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles—are delineated. It is these appointed times which basically frame the Hebrew calendar, from week to week and season to season. Since these commemorations are integral parts of what the Holy One requires of His followers, anyone who serves the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob should realize that remembrance of them is not only to be expected, but that these should be times of the year highly anticipated, for communion with one’s Creator and deriving special blessings from participating in them!

Emor further relates an incident witnessed in the camp of Ancient Israel, when a half-Egyptian, half-Israelite committed blasphemy against the Lord (Leviticus 24:10-12). What was to be done with this person? We read that when the matter was taken before Moses, anyone within the camp of Israel—be they native or sojourner—was to be given the same level of punishment for blasphemy. This scene helps to build how, perhaps unlike some other Ancient Near Eastern societies, the culture of Ancient Israel did not hold its natives to one standard of capital judgment, and everyone else in the community to another standard:

“They put him in custody so that the command of the LORD might be made clear to them. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then let all the congregation stone him. You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “If anyone curses his God, then he will bear his sin. Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. The one who takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life. If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him. Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good, but the one who kills a man shall be put to death. There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God.”’ Then Moses spoke to the sons of Israel, and they brought the one who had cursed outside the camp and stoned him with stones. Thus the sons of Israel did, just as the LORD had commanded Moses” (Leviticus 24:12-23).

Elsewhere in the Torah, there are additional instructions given, helping to support the premise that the same Law affects all within the community of Israel—be one native-born or a sojourner (Numbers 9:14; 15:13-16, 29-31). Obviously, readers need to be careful to understand what these instructions meant to their audiences in Ancient Israel first, and not haphazardly use little quotations about “one law” or “one Torah,” without understanding some of the original context.[1] Yet, the overarching conclusion, which one sees in the Pentateuch, is how all people within the ancient community of Israel were expected to heed Moses’ Teaching, in some form or another:

Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:12).

What various instructions detailing “one law” or “one statute,” often mean to people in today’s Messianic community, has been heightened by the significant number of non-Jewish Believers entering into a lifestyle of Torah obedience. It is absolutely true that not only does the New Covenant relate to the supernatural transcription of God’s Torah onto the hearts of the redeemed (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; cf. Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17), but that the nations are to come to Zion to be taught the Law (Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4). Such people are regarded as citizens of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13; 3:6) or the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), grafted-in by faith (Romans 11:17-18).

When today’s non-Jewish Messianic Believers read chapters like Leviticus 23, there tends to be a bit of a dilemma, because Christianity has historically not observed the appointed times of the Torah, and has interpreted various Pauline passages as speaking against them. These Pauline passages themselves, though, have some ancient contexts to be considered, per the original issues and circumstances facing their original audiences. Foremost to be considered would be how the appointed times were caught up in false, esoteric teachings and human traditions, present in fringe branches of First Century Judaism (Galatians 4:9-11; Colossians 2:16-17), as well as how disputable opinions that were disrupting communal fellowship had to be addressed (Romans 14:5-6).[2]

A reasonable conclusion to draw, from surveying the Gospels and the Apostolic Writings, does allow people to see that Yeshua the Messiah and His Disciples did observe the weekly Sabbath and appointed times. This is most especially seen in His Last Supper, a Passover seder meal, an intimate time that the Lord held with the Disciples (cf. John chs. 13-17) before being arrested and executed. For the season in which we currently find ourselves (2012), Counting the Omer between Passover and the Feast of Weeks, we can be surely reminded of how the early followers of Yeshua observed Shavuot (Acts 2:1; 20:16). Part of all modern-day Messiah followers needing to observe the appointed times is a definite component of His fulfillment of the Torah (Matthew 5:16-19), and in all of us—be we Jewish or non-Jewish—understanding the Father’s plan of salvation history. While there have no doubt been some changes to the spiritual economy naturally enacted by Yeshua’s sacrifice for human sin, to argue for a widespread dismissal of the Torah, as is too commonly seen in today’s Christianity, is unjustified.[3]

As we each read through and reflect upon Emor this week, how are modern-day, Messianic students of the Torah to take some fair-minded direction from a reading that deals with priests handling the sacrifices, the feasts of the Lord, and even a few verses in the Torah that speak to equal adherence and treatment of the native-born and the sojourner? How do we approach these things in a manner that causes us to be more holy and sanctified, as the Lord is holy?

Each of us, as redeemed men and women, has been called and consecrated unto the Lord for His service. And so from this, a modern-day follower of the Messiah Yeshua can surely take some pointers from the Levitical priesthood seen in the Torah, without some of the specificity that definitively relates to the priests themselves. Born again Believers are to recognize that they are to be intermediaries between the Creator God and the unredeemed world at large, fulfilling on a macro level, what the priests themselves were to do in their intermediary capacity for those who would be served by the Tabernacle.

What about participating in the feasts of the Lord? There have surely been religious authorities, both Christian and Jewish, over the centuries, who have denied the applicability of the appointed times to many followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet it can be clearly observed today how remembering the appointed times has seen many evangelical Christians not only exposed to their Hebraic Roots, but has been what has specifically drawn them to become Torah observant Messianic Believers. While there are those Christians who think that the Biblical feasts should only be understood from the perspective of “enrichment,” and not as a major part of all Believers’ lifestyle—there is definitely a more positive approach witnessed in much of contemporary Christianity toward the appointed times, than what was witnessed in the past. This is a start…

While it is not possible in this week’s teaching to get into all of the nuances of why opinions regarding the Torah’s instruction vary—I urge you, that regardless of how you feel about the application of the Torah’s instruction to God’s people, to consider some of the words of the Apostle Peter, one of Yeshua’s closest disciples. He emphasized how the requirement to be holy extended far beyond external cleanliness or rigorous devotion to detail, but how holy behavior was definitively required for those who recognized Yeshua:

“As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Messiah within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Messiah and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY’ [Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7]. If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Messiah. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER’ [Isaiah 40:6-8]. And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:10-25).

Peter reminded his readers about the most critical need to understand the message of the gospel above all. This is because once the good news of Yeshua has been understood and embraced, personal holiness must be sought by the Believer. The combination of truly knowing the Lord’s salvation, with a desire for personal holiness, should then result in a sincere love of the brethren and a fervent love for others from the heart. There are people in the Messianic movement today whom our family has encountered who do not know how to do this. And so, we must each heed the good instructions of Emor!

Knowing what is required of Levitical priests, or participating in the Biblical feasts, or even knowing that God’s commandments are anticipated to be heeded by all of His people—means very little if it is not accompanied with a sincere, unadulterated and unfettered love for all people, especially one’s brothers and sisters in the Messiah. The Apostle John puts it this way:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:7-13).

When you meditate upon this week’s Torah portion, remember that the Holy One of Israel desires all to truly know Him (cf. John 3:16). There may be those who strictly observe the commandments seen in Emor, but because they lacked a holy demeanor and sanctified way of approaching Him—with little care or concern for others—are likely to be excluded from His Kingdom. Make sure that your observance of the Torah is definitively coupled with a concern that all come to a saving knowledge of Yeshua as Lord!


NOTES

[1] Consult the article “Approaching One Law Controversies: Sorting Through the Legalism” by J.K. McKee.

[2] Consult the article “Does the New Testament Annul the Biblical Appointments?” by J.K. McKee.

[3] For a further discussion, consult the book The New Testament Validates Torah by J.K. McKee.