I’m behind on reading the comments. This week we are running a children’s day camp at Tikvat David and I am a tent leader. Fun, it has me away from the computer nearly the whole day. This post is an answer to a brilliant comment by Gene Shlomovich. I will try to catch up and do some more commenting and replying as well.
The discussion has been helpful. We started with the issue of promoting Yeshua-faith and how important it is or should be for Messianic Judaism. We have had a number of helpful responses and some good questioning and dialogue. One that stood out to me was Rabbi Brumbach’s comment that being a Yeshua-community should precede promoting Yeshua-faith. Yesterday I posted a response: “The Way to Have a Message.”
Then yesterday Gene Shlomovich added a bombshell of a comment:
. . . everything you listed is already practiced by those devout non-MJ Jews who go above the letter of the Torah (imperfectly, of course, but then again, what you listed here is an ideal few if any will ever attain), and of course all this is already part of the traditional Jewish teaching. Ironically, historically speaking and at least after the first century, the Jewish community has a much better record in all of the above than a Christian community (you can say that Jews, overall, have been better ‘Christians” without actually being them – including suffering for one’s faith even unto death and persevering in the face of great adversity). Is there more to the message of Yeshua that would make these Jews desire to become Yeshua-disciples?
In other words, given the teachings of Judaism, who needs Yeshua?
Here are some steps along the way to an answer:
- We should not discount the goodness and rightness of Judaism. Gene understands, but many readers do not, that Judaism is right and true. It does not belong, as some Christians think, in the category of “false religion.” The overlap between Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and Christianity is vast. I do think that in a Jewish community, where faith in Yeshua is absent, most but not all of the ideals of a kingdom community can be realized. Yet I also think that Yeshua adds crucial and vital elements missing in mainstream Judaism, as I will delineate below.
- Yeshua gives us a more specific view of God. Judaism is all over the place on the nature of God (to be fair, many Christianities have deficient views of God, but the difference is we can say that these Christianities are not being true to Jesus). In Judaism, it is easily possible to believe in the God of the philosopher, the Maimonidean rational being, who is completely transcendent. In Yeshua, we must say that God has come down to us and even joined with humanity in the person of Yeshua. The God of Yeshua is transcendent and immanent, far and near, above and within, hidden and active. Some in Judaism share this view of God (I am enamored with Abraham Joshua Heschel’s view of God as being so very much like the God Yeshua reveals). Ultimately, and this is vital, Yeshua shows us that God is beyond knowing, that he sends manifestations to reveal who he is, and that we must always revise our views of God to be beyond the horizon and approachable through Yeshua (not on our own).
- Yeshua gives us a more specific view of the kingdom (world to come). Jewish ideas of the messianic age are all over the board. Jewish ideas about how to bring about the messianic age are also very diverse. Many ideas in these categories are right and true. Yeshua gives many specifics about the world to come or kingdom and its timing, how to bring it about, and what to expect. In Yeshua our knowledge of the kingdom and our hope and our course of action is much more clearly defined. This is not to say that Yeshua’s teaching is counter to Judaism — it fills out the Jewish hope and gives it specificity, at once narrowing the options and expanding the view.
- Yeshua shows us what certain aspects of Jewish hope look like when they come to pass. The most obvious Jewish hope that is answered by Yeshua is the Messiah concept. If you want to know more about who and what this deliverer and teacher of righteousness will look like, look at Yeshua. How good is it to get beyond vague, shadowy concepts and see the real thing? How good is it to leave behind a variety of false options about Messiah and discover the true Messianic King? There are many other aspects of Jewish hope that Yeshua brings to new levels of revelation. I might mention what is probably the second greatest category: purity and holiness.
- Yeshua brings the Presence in a new, more concentrated fashion and also in a universal fashion. If you are not aware of the biblical and Jewish traditional notions of the Presence of God (shekhinah, Glory, Word, Memra, Dibbur, Sefirot, etc.), it is a fascinating topic. There are levels of dwelling Presence. In the incarnation (the Son of God becoming human), the Presence comes to us in a new, liberating way. In the ascension (the Son returning to the Father, the Word going back to be with God), the Presence is released upon God’s people in a new way: the Spirit dwelling on the disciples in community. It is what Israel experienced at times and was to experience ideally: the communal dwelling of the Spirit on the people. It is in the messianic promises of Israel’s prophets. It is not automatic and I have to admit Christianity and Messianic Judaism have largely been missing it much as Israel has largely been missing it. But in Yeshua the way is open for the communal dwelling of the Spirit on all peoples well beyond the borders of Israel.
- Yeshua opens the way to direct and unveiled access to God. The Tabernacle and Temple left people separated, standing outside, with God behind a veil and inside the sanctuary with the people outside. The offerings of animals brought people near to God, but not all the way into the Presence. The purity and holiness system of Israel enabled Israel to live with God in the midst, but left persons unclean, unable to be with God individually. The death of Messiah leaves people clean, pure, holy and able to dwell with God directly. This idea needs much more explanation and has been too cheaply understood. The Christian theological category is “theories of atonement” and I recommend Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement.
- Yeshua has demonstrated the resurrection and given us his actual resurrection to firm up what has been a vague hope in Judaism. Jewish ideas about afterlife have been diverse and contradictory. The right and true notion of bodily afterlife in a renewed world is a strong theme in Judaism as in Christianity, but Judaism has also had many competing options. I might mention reincarnation as the most damnable. In Yeshua we have the revelation of resurrection, the demonstration of resurrection, the realization of resurrection causing the kingdom to be present as well as future.
I want to thank Gene for bringing up the issue. I want to challenge us all to think much more specifically about the question, “Why Yeshua?” At one time I accepted a simplistic idea: God sent Jesus and requires all people to believe in him (just because God makes the rules and can do this if he wants) or he denies them hope beyond this life. That is massively inadequate. It makes Jesus (Yeshua) simply a whim of God, a new requirement just-because. We need to see what Yeshua truly adds.