Commonwealth and Cooperation: How Jews and Christians Can Work Together Part II
This is the second in a three part series that addresses the implications of Christian support for Israel.
Common Ground and Uncomfortable Differences
In defining the Commonwealth of Israel, let me begin be reviewing the things Christians and Jews have in common:
- We all believe in the One True God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- We all believe that God has given His Holy Word to us so that we may know Him and have instructions on how to live.
- We all believe that God will send his Messiah (Christ as the title appears in Greek) to teach us about himself and show the way to connect with God just as our ancestors Adam and Eve connected with him in the days before our unhindered relationship with God was broken.
- We all believe that something has separated us from God, or at least prevents us from achieving our full created potential. Christians call this original sin. It is hard to generalize the various Jewish positions on this question. Sin, when it factors into Jewish belief (Orthodox, Reformed, or Conservative), is defined much the same way that Christians define it as disobedience to God, or even as rebellion against God. The result is the same: separation from the Creator and inability to achieve his intent for humanity.
These areas of agreement provide considerable room for cooperation, but we also have considerable differences that we must take into account:
- Regarding the Word of God, Jews are not willing to acknowledge the New Testament (the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation) as Scripture. Christians acknowledge that all the Old Testament – the Tanakh – is Scripture, but do not consider it as important as the New Testament. In fact, a popular idea in the Church has been that much of the Old Testament no longer applies to Christians because Jesus “did away with” the Law.
- Regarding Messiah, Christians assert that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah because he fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies regarding Messiah and sufficiently established his claim to be the Son of God. Jews cannot acknowledge Jesus as Messiah because, even if he did fulfill those prophecies, they see that Jesus’ followers do not follow God’s Torah (Law, Teaching, Commandments). Messiah should be the one who follows Torah perfectly and instructs God’s people to keep it perfectly, according to Deuteronomy 18:
And the Lord said to me: “What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:17-19, NKJV)
Moreover, God specifically commanded Israel not to follow a false prophet who teaches something other than obedience to the commandments of God:
If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods”—which you have not known—“and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, NKJV)
Thus the argument could be made that Jews do not acknowledge Jesus as Messiah because God commanded them not to. If Jesus really taught people not to obey God’s commandments, then he is a false prophet worthy of death, according to the commandment of God in Deuteronomy 13.
- Regarding salvation, Christians believe that a statement of faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, along with belief that God raised Him from the dead, and with a desire to turn from sins will bring salvation (Romans 10:9). As with the concept of sin, it is difficult to generalize about Jewish beliefs on salvation. Where salvation is articulated as a doctrine, it is tied to the need to reconnect with God by observing the provisions of Torah. This entails keeping the commandments of God and genuine repentance from sin. However, until there is a new Temple with atoning sacrifices, the question of salvation from sin is still largely unresolved in rabbinical Judaism.
Yet even with these differences, Christians and Jews can and must work together in the context of the Commonwealth of Israel. “Commonwealth” is from the Greek, politeia (πολίτης, Strongs #G4177), referring to a political entity like a state or nation. The term is used only once, in Ephesians 2:12. Here is the phrase as it appears in context:
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh – who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands – that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13, NKJV, emphasis added)
What is the Commonwealth?
This passage illustrates the reconciliation of non-Jews with Jews in an entity we could call “Greater Israel”. The vehicle which makes that possible is the work of Christ, that is, Messiah, Who somehow makes the non-Jews acceptable to God and able to join with Jews in His Covenant.
Admittedly, much of the reasoning presented here is based on New Testament passages, which as stated above Jews do not acknowledge as Scripture. However, all but one of the New Testament writers were Jews, and all were knowledgeable of Torah and used it as their inspiration. One (Paul) was the star disciple of Gamaliel, the premier Torah teacher of the day. Therefore any disagreement Christians and Jews have over the New Testament is not about the principals articulated in the Tanakh, but the way Messiah is to fulfill those principals.
In fact, the Commonwealth of Israel is something God promises in the Tanakh, as seen in the following passages:
For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose Israel, and settle them in their own land. The strangers will be joined with them, and they will cling to the house of Jacob. (Isaiah 14:1, NKJV)
“I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by My name.” (Isaiah 65:1, NKJV)
“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel!” (Hosea 1:10-11, NKJV)
Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “As for you, son of man, take a stick for yourself and write on it: ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions.’ Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions.’ Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand. And when the children of your people speak to you, saying, ‘Will you not show us what you mean by these?’ – say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will join them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.”’ And the sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. Then say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God. David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”’” (Ezekiel 37:15-28, NKJV)
These passages indicate Christian tradition is in error in the supposition that God created two entities by which he deals with humanity, namely Israel and the Church. “Church”, is a rendition of the Greek word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία; Strongs #G1577), the congregation or assembly of God. Ekklesia corresponds to the Hebrew qahal (קָהַל; Strongs #H6951), a term used throughout the Tanakh to refer to the congregation or assembly of all Israel. The evidence of Scripture indicates that God created only one entity: Israel. His purpose since the days of Abraham has been to establish a way for all the nations of the earth to be brought into fellowship with himself through the nation of Israel. From the beginning, the purpose of the nation of Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6) that would serve as a vehicle of salvation for all the nations.
Various Church doctrines over the ages have emphasized the global salvation mission of Israel, but have failed to explain adequately how the Church could fulfill that role, or how Jews fit into this picture. This has led to the error of Replacement Theology, which asserts that the Church is now “Spiritual Israel”, and that Jews are no longer relevant in God’s plan except in terms of the wrath yet to be poured out on them and the rest of the unbelieving world during the Great Tribulation.
The Commonwealth of Israel is not Replacement Theology. It is an understanding that Jews and Christians each have a piece of God’s plan, and that they must join together to understand the fullness of His Counsels. Christians do not replace Jews, but instead join with Jews in the fulfillment of God’s plan for all humanity. This is based on the writings of Paul that those who believe in Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah are the spiritual seed of Abraham. He presents this train of logic in Romans 9:6-8 and Galatians 3:15-29, culminating in this assertion:
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29, NKJV)
Paul does not state here that non-Jewish believers in Yeshua have replaced Jews as the seed of Abraham. Instead, he affirms that non-Jews now have a place alongside Jews in the promises of God. In Romans 11 he uses the symbol of an olive tree for the nation of Israel, stating that Gentiles have been grafted into the tree by virtue of their belief in Israel’s Messiah, and therefore have full part with Jews, the “natural branches” of the tree. In other words, to paraphrase Paul’s statement in Romans 9:6, all Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews.
God is not finished with Israel. In fact, Israel is much bigger than both Jews and Christians commonly suppose. Messiah will make it possible to reconcile and unite Jews and Gentiles in the Commonwealth of Israel. God did not establish a separate entity called the “Church” through the Person of Jesus Christ. If Jesus, or Yeshua, really is the Messiah, then he fulfilled the Torah of God and made it possible for all people, Jews and non-Jews, to partake of fellowship with God together in the context of his Commandments. As Yeshua himself said:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20, NKJV)
If it is true that God is dealing with humanity through a single entity, then Christians as well as Jews may claim to be citizens of Israel – the Commonwealth of Israel that God has established through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and is expanding through Messiah, the Son of David. In that sense, the blessings of Israel do accrue to the “Church”, or ekklesia. However, if the ekklesia is another expression of the Commonwealth of Israel, then the responsibilities and obligations of Israel to keep God’s Commandments also apply to the Church. By this reasoning, the consequences of disobedience are also very much applicable. Specifically, just as Israelites in ancient times were exiled from the land because of disobedience, so also would Israelites at the end of this age be exiled for the same reason. That is why Yeshua could say
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness [Torahlessness]!” (Matthew 7:21-23, NKJV)