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Judaism, Jewish Talmud, Core Beliefs, Moshiach, Jesus – true Messiah, Messianic Judaism, The Amazing Jews, Source of the Jew, Defining the Jew, Today’s Jews, Jew by Descent, Jew by DNA, Atonement, Spiritual Blindness, Salvation of Jews, Evangelizing Jews, Messianic Jews, Future of the Jew, Millennial Jews
Judaism – Tradition of the Jews
The Star of David – probably the best known of Jewish symbols
Israel Spawns Judaism
It is important to see Judaism in its correct context. It is a religious tradition rooted in the history of the nation of Israel and some claim it originated at Mount Sinai (c1400 BC) when God gave Moses the ten commandments, link. Unlike the term ‘Jew’, the term ‘Judaism’ is not in the standard Bible, although there are references to Judaism [Heb ‘Yahadut’] in the Second Book of Maccabees 2:21 and 8:1 and the term was used in the early 1st millennium BC, link, link.
So on the one hand we have the biblical nation of Israel and on the other we have Judaism; we have the God-ordained nation of Israel compared to the human tradition or religion of Judaism. Clearly, it is the nation of Israel that is of primary importance to God. And today a body of Israelite people (Messianic Jews, following Messianic Judaism) are preaching a return from traditional Judaism to the true faith of Israel, namely, a real relationship between God and man as realized through faith in one Mediator between God and man:
There is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus
(1 Tim 2.5)
Bearing this in mind, Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic (only one God) religion and the term is used extensively in modern Jewish history in reference to the Jewish religion. The word literally means ‘Judah-ism’ or ‘the religion of the Yehudim’ – the religion of the Jews. That said, some identify themselves as ‘Jewish’ by race and culture rather than religion and so may not follow Judaism in one of its several forms (Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Judaism).
The Jewish Talmud – Rabbinic Commentaries on Jewish Law
Judaism is rooted in the written Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) as received by Moses from God on Mount Sinai. But, according to Jewish tradition, Moses received not only the written Torah on Sinai, but also the Oral Torah or Talmud, link. It is claimed this is a collection of traditions Moses gave the Jews in oral form, and Rabbis committed it to writing in the third and fourth centuries after Christ. Today, traditional religious Jews see the Talmud as the record of centuries of discussion expounding the written Law. The Torah alone, even with its 613 commandments, is an insufficient guide to Jewish life. So Jews see the Talmud as a comprehensive Rabbinic interpretation of the Torah’s scriptural writings, thereby serving as a guide to Jewish life, link, link. On the other hand, some claim Christ condemned the traditions of the early Talmud and those who taught it (Scribes and Pharisees), because it nullified the teachings of the scriptures, link. Certainly, its teachings about Christ and Christians are not helpful, link.
Core Beliefs of Judaism
Judaism focuses on the relationships between the Creator God and mankind, between God and His people Israel, and between His people and the land of Israel. Core Jewish beliefs are defined in 13 Articles of Faith (the Jewish Creed) as found in Jewish prayer books and recited in synagogues, link, link. The first 5 beliefs articulate truth about God (principally, there is only one eternal Creator God, articles 1 and 2), articles 6 and 7 concern Hebrew prophets (Moses is the chief prophet), articles 8 and 9 refer to the sacred texts of Judaism (the inspired and complete Torah), articles 10 and 11 refer to God’s relationship to humanity (as in His omniscience and rewards for righteousness), article 12 refers to the coming of the Jewish Messiah (the Moshiach) and article 13 refers to end-time resurrection and judgement.
Since article 1 stresses creation, many Jews believe in creation alone and deny/ignore the theory of evolution, link, link. And articles 12 and 13 are not officially accepted by Conservative and Reform Jews. But all these beliefs are essentially the Jewish bedrock of fundamentalist Christianity, a principal exception being in the understanding of Jesus Christ. Jewish liturgy is filled with prayers for redemption and the coming of the Moshiach, but he is not Jesus Christ.
Importantly, it is argued that Judaism long since stopped teaching that sin separates people from God, link – a clear distinction from the teaching of Christianity.
Moshiach – the Jewish Messiah
Israel’s Jews are either ultra-Orthodox (8%), religious Zionists (17%), Traditional/Orthodox Jews (55%), or secular Jews (20%), link. So some 80% of today’s Jews follow Old Testament (OT) belief in some way, from fundamentalism to loose Jewish practice. The key questions is “Who do these Jews believe their Messiah, Moshiach, to be? And did Jesus fulfill that role?
The vast majority of Jews do not believe that Jesus Christ is their promised Messiah. They do not believe Jesus to be the Moshiach (Hebrew for ‘Messiah’ or ‘Anointed’), the Redeemer of Israel. They believe their Messiah has not yet come. Jewish tradition teaches, link:
- The Messiah will not be the son of God
- The Messiah will be a mortal man, a descendant of King David
- The Messiah will be a prophet, like Moses
- The Messiah will be a human world leader who will reinstate the Davidic royal dynasty and redeem Israel
- The Messiah will not be crucified, and will not be raised from the dead
- The Messiah will not be a ‘Saviour’ giving redemption from sin
This view was evident in the Jews of the very early church. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus two disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35). Although they most likely had first-hand experience of Christ’s crucifixion, they seem to have missed the point. Talking about Jesus to someone they perceived to be a stranger, they said to him:
We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel (Lk 24.21)
Since Jesus came as a Lamb and not as the expected King to redeem Israel, they (and countless Jews after them) did not recognize Jesus as their expected “Moshiach”. Since then, and up to the present-day, the majority of Jews believe the Moshiach (‘the anointed one’) will be a great human leader, like King David, link, link. He will be anointed with oil as an earthly king and he will deliver Israel. He is not a ‘Saviour’ (as in the Christian ‘Messiah’) but a human political leader who has achieved a level of nobility and greatness not yet seen by the world. All the nations of the world will recognize him to be a world leader and he will usher in world peace. There are many messianic prophecies in the OT that could be taken to pertain to the Moshiach. For example:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah … until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people (Gen 49.10)
I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgement and righteousness in the earth (Jer 23.5)
Here lies the fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity; Jews do not recognize Jesus because He did not accomplish the tasks of the expected human leader; He did not come as King to deliver Israel, or usher in world peace. With the exception of a minority of Jews, Jewish beliefs do not acknowledge the empty cross of Christ – they do not accept that Christ is risen and lives.
Timeline Proof that Jesus is the Jewish Moshiach
It is generally accepted amongst Christian expositors that the term “Shiloh” in Genesis 49.10 (above) refers to a proper name, to Jesus, and that the King referred to in Jeremiah 23.5 is the returning Christ, the true Messiah, link, link.
There are many other Old Testament pointers to Christ. But there is a very interesting “proof” that Jesus really is the expected Moshiach – the expected Messiah. Jesus Himself pointed His Jewish followers to it in Mathew 24.15. Here, the word says we should understand the outworking of Daniel’s prophecy in chapter 9 verses 24-27. When the correct historical dates are applied to this text, then the true identity of Jesus is revealed. Here’s the full prophecy:
v24: Seventy (Heb: shivi’im) weeks (of years) have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin (Heb: chattat), to make atonement (Heb: kapporah) for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.
v25: So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah (meaning ‘Anointed One’) the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
v26: Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.
v27: And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.
The crucial concepts of sin and atonement are also found in the Orthodox Jewish Bible.
Verse 24 summarizes God’s key objectives: Over a period of 70 (not-contiguous) ‘weeks’ God was to achieve historic spiritual milestones. Here, each ‘week’ is interpreted as 7 biblical or ‘prophetic’ years each of 360 days, as consistent with, for example, Genesis 7 and Revelation 12, link. Whilst these historic events embrace all mankind, they apply specifically to Daniel’s people, the Jews. The text refers to ‘your people’ (the Jews), the ‘holy city’ (Jerusalem) and ‘the holy place’ (the Jewish Temple). Specifically, atonement for sin was to be achieved for Jews (and for all mankind) over a total of 490 ‘biblical’ years. The text implies that these are not contiguous years (there is a break) by referring to ‘your people and your holy city’. Historically, the ‘Jews’ (Jew in the broadest sense) were scattered throughout the nations and have been away from their ‘holy city’ Jerusalem until recently. The verse ends with a vision of peace (‘everlasting righteousness’) on earth and God’s anointing of the (new) Jewish temple. At this point in time there will be no need to foretell future events and prophecy will be ‘sealed’ or completed. The following verses explain how these milestones were to be achieved.
Verse 25: Here there is a timeline of, first ‘seven weeks’ (49 years), and then ‘sixty two weeks’ (434 years), totaling 483 years. According to Daniel, the city would be restored during the first 49 years and this is what happened (see Ezra 9 and 10; Neh 4, 6, 9, and 13). The Temple was established, the city walls were built, and the canon of the Old Testament was completed, all by around 396 BC, link. The decree to rebuild the city is described by the prophet Nehemiah and was issued in the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes (Neh 2.1). The career and dates of this king were recorded by ancient historians Herodotus and Thucydides (Herodotus was a contemporary of the King). These historians give the date of the decree as 445 BC. Secular historians agree this date and the exact day has been confirmed by astronomical calculations made by the British Royal Observatory, link, link. The day of Artaxerxes’ decree was the first day of the Hebrew month Nisan in 445 BC, or March 14th 445 BC.
The key point here is that the date of the coming of the Messiah is fixed at 69 weeks or 483 years from the issue of this decree. If we count 483 x 360 = 173,880 days from 14 March 445 BC we arrive at April 6th 32 AD, link. See detailed calculation. What is special about this date? According to the British Royal Observatory it was the Sunday before Jesus’ fourth and last Passover (which in 32 AD was on April 10th) and corresponds to the day Jesus entered Jerusalem as King of the Jews and the Jewish Messiah. In the Christian calendar it was ‘Palm Sunday’. Jesus fulfilled the prophet’s words to the day:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey (Zech 9.9)
For Christians, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. This particular day was indeed special but the Jewish leaders failed to recognize it in prophecy (and still do):
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes … ” (Lk 19.41-42 emphasis added)
Verse 26: Daniel’s prophecy states that after the sixty-two weeks i.e. after the 69th week the Messiah will be ‘cut off’. This is invariably understood to refer to the crucifixion of Christ at the time of His last Passover. A fuller translation is, link:
After the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off, so that He does not have the Kingdom which belongs to Him
Following this, ‘the people of the prince who was to come would destroy the city and the sanctuary’. This happened in 70 AD under Titus, link. The Romans committed genocide against the Jews, sacked the Temple in Jerusalem, and declared the land of Israel would be no more. The Romans expelled the bulk of the Jewish survivors from the country, although some returned to live in line with Roman rule, link, link.
Clearly, any remnant Jewish ‘ownership’ of Jerusalem was lost as the tribes of Israel were subsequently scattered throughout the nations. This is an important point in relation to Daniel 9.24. After 70 AD, Daniel’s people and their holy city to all intents and purposes ceased to exist; the people were scattered and their city and Temple destroyed. But the timeline in Dan 9.24 appears to apply only when Daniel’s people are in Jerusalem with their Temple. So many argue that Daniel’s 70th week cannot carry on immediately after the 69th week. After all, if it did, then the 70th week will have ended sometime in Acts. But Dan 9.24 was certainly not fulfilled at that time e.g. the holy place (the Temple) certainly was not ‘anointed’.
Verse 27: We can amplify the text here. For ‘he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week’ we can write ‘he (the prince who is to come, v26) will make an agreement with the people of Israel for seven years’. A futuristic view of this prophecy sees a secular world dictator (the ‘little horn’ in Dan 7.8, the ‘man of sin’ in 2 Thes 2.3, the ‘beast’ in Rev 13.1) making perhaps some peace agreement with Israel. But in reality it will be ‘a covenant with hell’ (Isa 28.15). This is a stern warning to present-day Israel. Jesus warns about this despicable person in Mat 24.15. The intense international pressure for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement suggests this ‘false peace’ is just around the corner.
CONCLUSION: Daniel’s 70 week prophecy gives a precise timeline for the coming of the Messiah to the Jews in Jerusalem. Dates from reliable historians and from astronomical calculations show that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecy to the day, and so He is the true Jewish Messiah – the real Moshiach. The accuracy of the prophecy was verified by historical events around 70 AD.
Judaism and the Plurality of God – A Problem
Jews seldom discuss this concept even though it is clearly there in Hebrew scripture. The Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) uses the plural masculine noun ‘Elohim’ for God 2602 times, link, which strongly suggests the plurality of the Godhead. This is supported by verses like Gen 1.26 and Isa 6.8 which use the personal pronoun ‘Us’. It is also interesting to note that the Tanach frequently uses plural nouns to describe objects that are by nature multi-dimensional or complex. For example, ‘water’ is described in dual form (mayim) because it is always changing form. On the other hand, acceptance of this theology could lead a person to consider Yeshua (Jesus) as God, and Rabbis denounce the idea that God would come to us in human flesh as utterly pagan. So various eloquent attempts are made to circumvent the clear implication of scripture, link.
Judaism and Atonement – A Problem
For Jews, God’s word is in the Torah (Heb: Tanakh) or first five books of the Bible, the prophets and the ‘writings’ e.g. Psalms. There is no New Testament. God’s Law is in the Torah, pointing out sin and the way of atonement for sin via blood sacrifice (Lev 17.11). But animal sacrifice for sin essentially stopped once the Romans destroyed the Temple in AD 70. After this, non-Messianic rabbis decided to radically restructure Judaism, substituting synagogues, rabbis, prayers, study and commandments for the Temple, priests and sacrifices. So what about atonement today? Some Jews maintain that according to the Tanakh a blood sacrifice is not the only way to atone for sin, link, whilst others believe that today God’s forgiveness for sins is obtained through repentance, prayer and good deeds (see also Hos 6.6), link.
It is perhaps because of their narrow OT worldview and their neglect of the full biblical teaching of forgiveness through Christ that the majority of today’s Jews are hurting inside. Whilst they celebrate Jewish festivals and feel that special OT relationship to God, they still hurt, not just because of the holocaust, but because Judaism offers no hope after death! Religious and secular Jew alike have no hope of the resurrection offered through Christ.
Religion and Spiritual Blindness
Since Jews do not see Jesus as their Messiah, the uncertainty of atonement today ultimately leads to a fear of God. Guilt and lack of hope remain, despite all the Jewish festivals. This is the path of religion and not freedom, a path unlit by the Holy Spirit of God. Reading God’s word is an intellectual exercise rather than a meeting of the heart with God. The New Testament says that these Jews are suffering a temporary spiritual blindness and a temporary hardening of the heart towards God and especially towards Yeshua, Jesus (Rom 11.25):
God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so they could not see (Rom 11.8)
More at Israel’s Spiritual Blindness
What is Messianic Judaism?
So Messianic Jews and Christians share the same core beliefs. With few exceptions, most Messianic Jews hold both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament to be divinely inspired scripture. They believe the Tenach (the Old Testament scriptures) provides the foundation of their Jewish faith, and the New Covenant scriptures complete their Jewish faith.
In contrast to most Jews, a minority of Jews (some 20,000 in Israel and 300,000 worldwide, link) have found freedom through belief in Yeshua as their Messiah. Messianic Jews are people who believe that Yeshua (also a Jew) is indeed the longed-for Messiah of Israel and the Saviour of the world. These Jews remain Jewish, but the truth about Jesus has been revealed to them by the Holy Spirit and their blindness has been removed. For the first time they experience the meaning of the cross, the love and presence of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, a similar blindness to the truth about Israel is seen in today’s Christian church.
This video illustrates Christ’s love for Israel’s lost Jews, as shown through the Messianic drug/alcohol rehabilitation center in Jerusalem. Government statistics estimate that Israel has over 20,000 hard-core drug addicts, and Beit Hayeshua (House of Salvation) was established as a non-profit organization to help such people. Today it reaches out to Israel’s lost, telling them the good news of Yeshua and helping them to obtain freedom through the power of God.
These Jews have found freedom through belief in Yeshua as their Messiah. They consider themselves a ‘stream of Judaism’ (remaining strongly Jewish in identity and lifestyle, observing Jewish holidays, rituals and customs) but the truth about Jesus has been revealed to them by the Holy Spirit and their spiritual blindness (Rom 11.25) has been removed. For the first time they experience the meaning of the cross and the love and presence of God. Non-Jews who join Messianic congregations are sometimes called spiritual Jews, completed Jews, or Messianic gentiles. More at Messianic Judaism.
Yad Hashmona: a Messianic Jewish Kibbutz
The Revive Israel ministry center is located on the property of Yad Hashmona, a village in the Judean Hills just outside Jerusalem. The village is well known throughout Israel and includes a country hotel, restaurant and biblical garden, coupled with the potential for development of an industrial park and agriculture-based projects. It is the only Messianic Jewish moshav (kibbutz) in the world, and as such it is a powerful testimony to the surrounding areas. Today, Yad Hashmona is fully Messianic and follows Yeshua’s’ command: “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1.8). They take this passage quite literally and believe the time has come to restore and complete this original apostolic commission, including the power of the Holy Spirit, world evangelism and “restoring the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6).
The Growth of Messianic Judaism
From 2003 to 2007, Messianic Judaism grew from 150 Messianic congregations in the United States to as many as 438, with over 100 in Israel. By 2008, the movement was reported to have between 6,000 and 15,000 members in Israel and 250,000 in the United States, link. As of 2013 there were an estimated 20,000 members and 150 congregations in Israel, and up to 300,000 Messianic believers worldwide, link. Some claim that “Messianic Judaism is the fastest growing stream of religious Jewish life since 1967”, link. See the testimonies of Jewish doctors after they discovered their real Moshiach – Jesus.
The growth of Messianic Judaism in Israel has been significant: 1949 – 29, 1967 – 200, 1980 – 3,000, 2014 – 20,000 [Tony Sperandeo]. On the other hand, Messianic Jews in Israel are still very much a minority and of some 6.2 million Jews in Israel (2015) only some 20,000 are Messianic i.e. only 0.3%. This partly reflects the strong opposition within the Jewish community to the evangelization of Jews, link, link. To the Jewish community, the word missionary is a negatively-charged word. Even the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus “refuses alliances with any group that actively pursues the conversion of Jews to Christianity”, link. And some Rabbis even suggest that Messianic Jews who share the Gospel deserve the death penalty, link.
The Amazing Jews
Israel itself is only the size of Wales, and in 2016 had a Jewish population of just 6.4 million. Worldwide, there were less than 15 million Jews. Yet, there are several factors that make this tiny Jewish nation stand out amongst the nations.
The Amazing Survival of the Jews
Isn’t it amazing that the nation Israel has survived for over 3,000 years despite 2,500 years of exile and persecution? When King Louis XIV of France (1643-1715) asked Blaise Pascal, the great Christian philosopher to give him proof of God, Pascal answered, ‘Why the Jews, your Majesty, the Jews!‘ The fact that the Jews have survived points to their unique role in the world.
Over 80% of the world’s population claim some religious faith and some 30% claim to be Christian, link. In contrast, only some 0.2% of the world’s inhabitants are Jews, link. Yet, the Bible says that the future of the world depends principally upon the tiny nation of Israel and that one day all Gentile nations will honour the Jews. Despite 3,000 years of persecution, the Jews survive. Even Tolstoy acknowledged that there is something very special about the Jew:>/p>
What is the Jew?… What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish [Leo Tolstoy]
Yes. Despite nearly 3,000 years of persecution (under, for example, the Babylonians, the Romans, the Spanish Inquisition, Protestant Europe, Russia and Nazi Germany, link) the Jews have survived. And according to Bible prophecy a remnant will continue to survive into the so-called Millennial Age. Surely there must be reason for their survival?
But how many in the Christian church acknowledge the amazing survival of the Jew? And how many in the church recognize that they are really part of God’s plan alongside Israel, rather than in place of Israel? This is a spiritual mystery which few understand:
Don’t be ignorant of this mystery … a temporary blindness has happened to Israel in order to bring some Gentiles to God (Rom 11.25 paraphrase)
So What is the Real ‘Mission’ of the Jew?
Put another way, we could ask: ‘What is the Purpose of Israel?’ These questions are only meaningful in a spiritual rather than secular context. According to the Bible, Israel is indeed a special nation, chosen by God to bless mankind and to make a name for Himself. To Abram (Abraham) God said:
I will make you a great nation … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen 12.2,3)
And King David exclaimed:
And what one nation on the earth is like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for Himself, and to do a great thing for You and awesome things for Your land (2 Sam 7.23)
History confirms the reality of such statements. Israel led to the Messiah, Jesus, and prophecy indicates that the land and people of Israel will be used to glorify God in the sight of the nations at the end of the age and in the age to come (the Millennial Age). Right now the world is starting to wonder why the nation of Israel has come to world prominence after thousands of years of obscurity! Why is tiny Israel continuously in the news?
The Intelligence of the Jews
Some claim that Jews exhibit a distinctive genetic signature. Nobel Prizes have been awarded to over 850 individuals worldwide, of whom some 23% were Jews or people of strong Jewish ancestry. Prizes were given to Jews in such fields as Economics, Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature and Peace Awards. For example, since 2000 prizes have been awarded in:
- theory of superconductors and superfluids
- quantum theory
- economic science
- analyses of markets
- discovery of RNA interference
- genetic regulation of organ development
- development of conductive polymers
- discovery of quasicrystals
- multi-scale models for complex chemical systems
This is an amazing achievement bearing in mind that Jews comprise less than 0.2% of the world’s population! More …
The Source of the Jews – the tribe of Judah
When God first called Abram, a Hebrew (Gen 14.13), He made him an historic, earth-shattering promise:
I will make you a great nation … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed
God fulfilled the first promise of ‘a great nation’ through the many descendants of Abram – the Hebrew people – and God acknowledged this multitude of people by changing Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning ‘father of many’. The descendants of Abraham formed the nation Israel around 1300 BC after their Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Then, under the leadership of Joshua, the Israelites settled into Canaan (the promised land) and Joshua divided the conquered lands among the twelve tribes of Israel. One of those tribes was the tribe of Judah, which leads us to the second promise in Gen 12.2,3 – the promise that ‘all the families of the earth shall be blessed’.
Some 1900 years later this blessing was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. He was from the tribe of Judah (Mat 1.1-16), and Judah was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, who was the grandson of Abraham. In other words, the blessing promised to Abraham was principally that of salvation for the world through Christ and it came through the tribe of Judah. In his dying blessings, Jacob prophesied that Judah would hold the royal scepter (Gen 49.10), a symbol of the kingship of Christ.
But besides holding the royal scepter of Christ, the tribe of Judah also led to the term ‘Jew’.
Defining the Jew
What do we understand by the term ‘Jew’? Strictly speaking, today’s Jews (Hebrew, ‘Yehudi’) are those who follow Judaism and who are descendants from the kingdom of Judah. But over time, the word Yehudi described anyone from the kingdom of Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi. Today, the word ‘Jew’ is used to refer to all of the physical and spiritual descendants of Jacob/Israel, as well as to the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac. So here we will loosely refer to the people of Israel as ‘Jews’. In 1915 there were just 83,000 Jews in Israel, but this increased to over 6 million Jews in 2013, link, corresponding to an amazing 7400% increase! In comparison, over the same period the UK population increased just 55%.
Let’s go a little deeper. As stated, the term ‘Jew’ (Hebrew ‘Yehudi’, pronounced ‘ya-hoo-DEE’) originated from the name Judah:
At that time, Rezin king of Syria … drove the Jews (KJV) [men of Judah (NKJV)] from Elath
(2 Kings 16.6).
But when Israel became divided into northern and southern kingdoms (the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah) the term ‘Jew’ came to apply to all those in the Kingdom of Yehudah (Judah). For example, when Nebuchadnezzar was attacking Jerusalem (which was within the Kingdom of Judah) the people in Jerusalem were referred to as ‘Jewish’ (Jer 34.9). So strictly speaking, today’s Yehudim (Jews) are those who follow Judaism and who are descendants from the Kingdom of Yehudah (Judah). This kingdom embraced the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, so Paul called himself a Jew since he was from the tribe of Benjamin (Acts 22:3).
Jew by Descent
Jesus was also a Jew. His lineage is traced to Judah by Paul (Heb 7.14) and by Luke’s genealogy (Lk 3.23-33), and so Jesus was a Jew in the original sense. Note that Luke’s genealogy is often taken to be that of Mary, link, link. This is interesting since, traditionally, Jewish status passes through the mother, not the father, so a person born to a Jewish mother is a Jew. Jesus was also crucified as ‘King of the Jews’ and one cannot be such a king without being a Jew. This explains why Jesus said, specifically, ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (Jn 4.22), referring to Himself as the sacrificial Lamb.
Jew by DNA
Molecular genetic tests can now be used to measure individuals’ whole genomes, and scientific research has begun to describe the genetic basis for a common ancestry of the whole of the Jewish population. Distinguished geneticists claim that Jews exhibit a distinctive genetic signature and as such can be defined as a ‘race’ (a people group with distinct biological traits), link. In other words, it is claimed there is a biological basis of Jewishness, which may even explain why Jews hold a relatively high number of Nobel Prizes and demonstrate a distinctly higher IQ than their European counterparts.
What is particularly interesting is that these studies are suggesting a region of ancestral origin. It is claimed that geographically and culturally distant Jews (Jewish diaspora communities) still have more genes in common than they do with non-Jews around them, and that those genes can be traced back to the Levant, an area including modern-day Israel, link. Moreover, this strong genetic claim contrasts with the wild ideological claim of ISIL that the Levant should be part of an Islamic caliphate, link. The truth is that scientific analysis claims exactly the opposite:
If you take all of the careful genetic population analysis that has been done over the last 15 years … there’s no doubt about the common Middle Eastern origin (of Jews)
[Marcus Feldman, Stanford University, a leading researcher in Jewish genetics]
So, besides biblical genealogies, DNA may also explain why the Jewish people appear to be (and indeed are) a unique people:
All things are mortal, but the Jew. All other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
By 700 BC the word Yehudi (Jew) came to mean any person descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and today it is common to refer to Abraham’s descendants as ‘Jews’. As already mentioned, according to Orthodox Jewish law, link, descent is one way a person can be a Jew – through matrilineal descent (birth from a Jewish mother). The other way is through proper conversion to Judaism by an Orthodox Jewish Beit Din (Court of Jewish Law).
Israel’s Law of Return (2nd Amendment) defines ‘Jew’ as “a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion”.
Broadly speaking, Israel’s Jews are either ultra-Orthodox (8%), traditional/modern-orthodox (72%), or secular (20%), link.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews, better known as ‘haredi’ Jews, ware distinctive dress (long coats, black hats) and live in insular communities with limited contact to the outside world. About half of ultra-Orthodox adults do not work, and many men are full-time Torah students with government stipends. They have secured government subsidies and exemption from military service, link. The claim that these are ‘right wing’ Jews is disputed, link.
Traditional/modern-orthodox Jews value traditional Jewish life and hold fast to most traditional Jewish beliefs and practices. In contrast to ultra-Orthodox Jews they can be viewed as ‘non-‘right wing’, link. They adhere faithfully to the principles and practices of traditional Judaism as in devotion to the Torah, synagogue attendance, and strict observance of the Sabbath, religious festivals, holy days, and the dietary laws. But they also partake of most aspects of the modern secular world and some view engagement with the world as a sacred opportunity to expand it, link.
Note that Orthodox Judaism differs from liberal forms of Judaism. For example, Reform Judaism seeks to integrate Jewish tradition with the realities of modern life e.g. it maintains that the conditions of modern life demand a relaxation of the traditional Sabbath laws, link, link.]
Summarizing, some 80% of today’s Jews in Israel follow the Jewish scriptures or Tanakh (the Torah, Navi and Ketuvim) in some way, ranging from fundamentalism to loose Jewish practice.
The Future of the Jews
The outworking of Bible prophecy is clear, even to those who hate Israel. In just 130 years God has gathered many of His people from out of the nations and established them in their homeland, link, link. But the in-gathering is not yet complete. As already mentioned, in 2016 the world Jewish population was approaching 15 million, of which only 6.4 million (43%) resided in Israel. What about those still dispersed amongst the nations? Prophecy implies that virtually all those dispersed among the nations will return to the Promised Land; God leaves “none of them there any longer” (Ezek 39.28). So it seems that aliyah is not yet complete. But when it is – what then?
When will Israel’s Blindness be Removed? When will they Recognize Christ?
As already pointed out, only some 0.3% of the Jews in Israel are Messianic and the vast majority do not recognize Yeshua as their Messiah. Put another way, some 80% of Israel’s Jews follow Old Testament belief in some way, from fundamentalism to loose Jewish practice, link, and they are looking for the Moshiach (‘the anointed one’), a great human leader. They are not looking to Yeshua. The remaining 20% of the Jews in Israel are not even looking for Moshiach since they are secular. Is all this of concern? Yes. Prophecy shows that Yeshua will soon return to the earth and reign from Jerusalem as King over all the earth, link. At this time He shall literally dwell with His people:
Son of man, this is the place of My throne … where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever (Ezek 43.7)
This prophecy speaks of the coming millennial age, when all nations – including Israel – will acknowledge Christ as LORD (Zech 14.16,20,21). So clearly, there must be a dramatic (and relatively rapid) change in the minds and hearts of the Jewish people before Jesus returns in order for them to acknowledge Him as their Messiah. So how do the Jews (Jew in the broadest sense) come back to their God, the God of Israel?
Biblical history shows that the people of Israel went after other gods and so broke the everlasting covenant God made with their fathers (Jer 11.10). First the house of Israel or the northern kingdom rebelled and then the house of Judah or the southern kingdom rebelled. Atonement for such rebellion is based upon God’s initial covenant with Abraham (Gen 12.1-3, Exod 2.24, Lev 26.42). A time is fast approaching when God establishes this covenant with them for His name’s sake, and in order that they may truly know Him. God promised this to the exiled people in Babylon through the prophet Ezekiel:
I will remember My covenant with you … and I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD … when I provide you an atonement for all you have done
What had Israel done? She had profaned God’s name among the nations by being cast out of their promised land (Ezek 36.20). But in these last days God sanctifies His name in the sight of the nations – He is hallowed or deified in their sight – and He also cleanses Israel and brings her back to Himself. Take a closer look. Ezekiel 36 reveals several distinct end time events in Israel:
- God calls scattered Israel back to the land promised to them in the Abrahamic Covenant (Ezek 36.24)
- God blesses the country, with many people, rebuilt cities and productive land (Ezek 36.10, 30,33-35)
- God is sanctified through re-gathered Israel in the sight of the nations (Ezek 36.23)
- God cleanses regathered Israel, gives her a new heart and puts His Spirit in her (Ezek 36.25-29)
The 20th century saw the promised regathering, although aliyah does not yet seem complete. And Israel now has productive agriculture and modern cities and infrastructure. But to date the God of Israel is largely ignored or even despised by the nations. And the majority of Jews in Israel still appear to have a heart of stone rather than a renewed spirit (Ezek 36.26). So how will the nations come to deify the God of Israel, and how will the Jews in Israel come to have a renewed spirit?
Knowing God by Observation
The amazing restoration of Israel seen over the last 100 years is catching the attention of the nations. For instance, in 2015 Israel’s innovative hi-tech economy was reflected on the stock markets, with Israel third after the USA and China on New York’s Nasdaq stock exchange. And the land of Israel has been totally transformed, link. The reaction of the nations and of the Jews themselves is prophesied:
So they (the nations) will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now … inhabited’. Then the nations … shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate (Ezek 36.35,36)
Then you (Israel) will know that I am the LORD (Ezek 36.11, see also Joel 2.21-27)
Jews Knowing God through Tribulation and War
In the last years of this age, Israel will experience a time of tribulation (‘Jacob’s trouble’, Jer 30.7) through Gentile invasions. In fact, prophecy suggests that there will probably be two major wars against Israel before the end of the age, link. The good news is that in both wars the invaders are miraculously defeated, and, as throughout history, a Jewish remnant is rescued or saved (Mat 24.21,22).
The Gog-Magog War is one of the first major events that bring Jews to their true Messiah. It involves an Arab-Islamic invasion from the north, probably led by Russia and Iran (Ezek 38.3-6). Today we see close Russian-Iranian collaboration and the war appears imminent. In both end-time wars against Israel the invaders are defeated by the God of Israel. This has a two-fold effect. First, the Gentile nations see a miraculous defeat of the invaders and are forced to acknowledge the God of Israel (Ezek 39.7). Second, the children of Israel begin to turn to their true Messiah:
I will set My glory among the nations; all the nations shall see My judgment (on Gog-Magog) … so the house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God from that day forward … for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel (Ezek 39.21-22,29).
The emphasis in Ezekiel 36-39 is on the whole house of Israel (Ezek 36.10, 39.5). At this time the historic northern and southern kingdoms are at last joined as one nation (Ezek 37.15-23). So this war opens the eyes of many ‘Jews’ (Jew in the broadest sense), and rebellious Gentile nations start to revere God when He defeats the invaders.
Similar events happen in the final end time (all-nation) war against Israel. Here, the inhabitants of Judah acknowledge God as they fight (Zech 12.5), and again the attacking nations are defeated (Zech 12.9). It is at this time that the house of David (Judah) reaches out to their true Messiah, Yeshua:
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace … they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him (Zech 12.10,11)
Note that Ezek 36 and Ezek 39 use the term ‘LORD’ (Heb: Yehovah or YHWH, see Strong), the proper name of the one true God. So how do the Jews ‘know their God’? Do they at last recognise Christ as LORD? In this end-time context, the use of Yehovah (pronounced yeh·hō·vä) surely is a pointer to the imminent return of Christ, the true Jewish Messiah. This is underscored by Zech 12.10 which clearly points to the coming Christ. So according prophecy the reconciliation of at least some Jews to Christ will occur quite suddenly, just before He returns to earth.
So according to prophecy it appears that end-time wars are a major factor in bringing many from the tribes of Israel (‘Jews’ in the broadest sense) back to their true Messiah. They are forced to acknowledge that the God of Israel has intervened on their behalf, and for His glory. War is a major factor in removing Israel’s spiritual blindness.
Knowing God through a Covenant Specific to Israel?
Should born-again believers (Gentiles or Messianic Jews) evangelize Jews? As discussed under Messianic Judaism, today only some 0.3% of Jews in Israel are Messianic. So, even at this late prophetic hour and despite the years of work of Christian organizations it seems God has still not healed the blinded eyes and deafened ears of His people (Rom 11.8). This leads some Christians to question the need to evangelize the Jews:
I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption … In fact, trying to convert Jews is a waste of time. The Jewish person who has his roots in Judaism is not going to convert to Christianity … they (already) have a faith structure … Jews already have a covenant with God that has never been replaced by Christianity.
[Pastor John Hagee, Houston Chronicle, April 30, 1988]
This statement could be seen to reflect the controversial ‘dual-covenant’ teaching, which teaches that Jews should not be evangelized. Dual-covenant theology teaches that since God’s covenant with the Jews is still valid for them, they don’t need the New Covenant (Lk 22.20) to be saved. Jews are saved simply by keeping the Law of Moses because of the ‘everlasting covenant’ between Abraham and God (Gen 17:13), link. It is argued that Jews don’t need to ‘come’ to God because they’re already with him, and have been since Abraham’s time e.g. Gen 28:15. So the dual-covenant theology of salvation basically states that God has established two different but equally valid covenants, one with His people Israel and the other with the Gentiles. This is the standard position of traditional Judaism (Ultra Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jews).
Do we see a separate covenant with Israel in scripture? Consider:
I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah … I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts … for they all shall know Me … for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more
For this is My covenant with them (Israel), when I take away their sins
Is this the ‘new covenant’ established by Jesus at the LORD’s supper (Lk 22.20)? Many would argue that it is because, since Jesus’ death and resurrection He is now the only way man can be reconciled to God:
There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2.5)
Some may argue that dual covenant theology can be seen in Ezek 36.24-28, which implies God saves Israel as she returns from the Diaspora to her own land. And it might be argued that Israel returns to her God by observing how God blesses the nation in terms of people, agriculture and modern infrastructure (Ezek 36.8-12, 33-38). It might also be seen in Ezek 39.21,22 when the house of Israel comes to know their God through the defeat of the Arab-Islamic armies. Let us be more specific: ‘Do these Jews come to know their God by acknowledging Jesus as their Messiah and Saviour?’ Yes – since there is now just one Mediator between God and man. This is clearly seen in Zech 12.10-14 when the house of David (Judah) at last comes to Christ as God pours out His Spirit specifically upon them. Note however, that in all these prophecies, salvation through direct evangelism is not implied.
Knowing God through Direct Evangelism: the New Covenant
As discussed, the dual-covenant theology of salvation holds that the Covenant in Moses and the Covenant in Jesus are complementary to each other. In short, dual-covenant theology holds that the Jews do not need salvation through Jesus (as do the Gentiles) and so do not need evangelizing. But many Christians refute this theology on the grounds that it is inconsistent with New Testament teaching, link, link.
The Urgency to Evangelize: Some prophecies indicate that regathered Israel will have a distinct and major role in world affairs in the last years of this age, just prior to the return of Christ. Specifically, they see a world-wide evangelistic role for Israel i.e. Jews evangelize the world. So many Christians in Israel and throughout the world maintain that it is the role of the (true) church to evangelize the Jews in order to facilitate a great end time evangelistic mission of the Jews to the Gentiles (see below). In fact, this view imposes a particular end-time theology, namely, that the end-time church must be here on earth until Christ comes in order to ensure that ‘all Israel will be saved’ (Rom 11.26). This particular eschatological view therefore denies the pre-tribulation rapture of the church, link. This circular argument is seen in Romans 11.11. To paraphrase:
Through the fall of Israel salvation came to the Gentiles, and their salvation now provokes Israel to be jealous (and so acknowledge their true Messiah, Jesus)
It is argued that only when Israel returns to her rightful place (physically and spiritually) will she be ready to be God’s servant (Isa 41.8,9), and that it is the role of the church to help facilitate this. Adherents of this view point to prophecies which suggest the Gentile nations actually help the Jews return to their homeland:
They (the Gentile nations) shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders (Isa 49.22)
As mentioned, today there are Christian organisations and Messianic Jews helping Jews aliyah to Israel and integrate into Israeli society.
The events in Ezekiel 36 and 39 are mirrored by the prophet Joel. Careful reading of Joel 2 reveals a timeline for Israel at the very end of this age. The ‘northern army’ (as in Gog-Magog) is removed and no longer threatens Israel (v20), the land (as in agriculture and horticulture) is blessed (v21-26), Israel realizes the blessing has come from God (v27), and after all that, God pours His Spirit out on the sons and daughters of Israel (v 28,29).
Do Jews Evangelize the Gentiles at the End of this Age?
It is clear from prophecy that at least some Jews come to know the LORD near the very end of this age through various end time events, including evangelism by believers. This scenario is summarized by Ezekiel’s vision of ‘the valley of dry bones’ (Ezek 37). Ezekiel sees the whole house of Israel coming to life and returning to their own land (as observed in the 20th century aliyah), and when they have returned they will know their God and be indwelt by His Spirit:
I will … bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD … I will put My Spirit in you …
We are talking about the very last years of this age, when some in Israel are filled with God’s Spirit and are ready once more to be God’s witnesses and servant (Isa 43.10). The true church may or may not have been raptured, depending upon prophetic interpretation. The pretribulation view sees the removal of the church (the Rapture) prior to the great Tribulation and the full salvation of Israel (i.e. prior to Jacob’s trouble and the great tribulation of the Jews, Mat 24.21, Rev 7.14). In which case, how will the Gentile nations hear the gospel? Answer: through the Jew! Some see the saved remnant as the firstfruits (firstborn, Exod 4.22, Jer 31.9, Rev 14.4) of a great and final world harvest of souls and maintain that this is actually God’s planned order: Israel first, Gentiles second. As Paul says:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile (Rom 1.16)
Here Paul was simply echoing Jesus’ primary mission – to rescue the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Mat 15.24). In Mk 7.27 Jesus states clearly that Israel should be first to hear the gospel, and only after that should the gospel be taken to the Gentiles. So some maintain that it is essential to evangelize the Jews today in order that they can then evangelize the end time Gentile nations and God can reap His final harvest, link.
This brings us to Revelation 7, where 144,000 Jews are drawn from the twelve tribes of Israel and sealed as God’s servants. They are male Jews, sanctified and set apart for a mission, (Rev 14.3-5). As God’s witnesses and servant they are to ‘turn many to righteousness’ (Dan 12.3) in very troubled times as nations crumble, governments fall (Lk 21.25, Dan 2.34,35) and the ‘Beast’s kingdom grows dark (Rev 16.10). These are literally the ‘last days’, when the gospel is preached throughout the world, followed by the end of this age (Mat 24.14). The result is a great end time harvest:
Behold a great multitude … of all nations … clothed in white robes … and crying out with a load voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (Rev 7.9,10)
This great revival appears to take place between the opening of the sixth seal (Rev 6.12), which brings great cosmic disturbances and fear upon the world, and the opening of the seventh seal, which is a prelude to the first of seven trumpets, again warning of God’s judgement (Rev 8.1). So it is not surprising that many Gentiles turn to God. Taking the pretribulation view, this ‘multitude’ refers those who accept Jesus after the Rapture of the church and who are martyred for their faith during the great Tribulation.
Israel’s Blindness Finally Removed
Does the ‘great multitude’ in Revelation 7 represent ‘the fullness of the Gentiles’ referred to by Paul?
Blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in … so all Israel will be saved (Rom 11.25,26)
If this is the case then world evangelism by a chosen few (the ‘144,000’) results in the remainder of Israel coming to acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah! Note that the multitude of people are drawn from ‘all nations’ (Rev 7.9) which must include Israel herself. Only at this point, in the very last days of this age, is Israel’s blindness fully removed.
BLINDNESS REMOVAL: SUMMARY
A remnant of rebellious Israel (the twelve tribes) will be brought to their God and their true Messiah, Jesus, in several distinct ways. It seems Israel is saved:
1) through the provoking to jealousy of Israel by the witness and evangelism of born-again believers – both Gentiles and Messianic Jews (Rom 11.14)
2) by simply observing the blessing Israel has received in recent years – land restoration, modern cities, advanced industries (Ezek 36.11, Joel 2.27)
3) through tribulation and the evangelism of a chosen few – the 144,000 (Rev 7, Mat 24.15-28)
4) through the witness of God’s hand in defeating invading Arab-Islamic armies (Ezek 39.22)
5) through the witness of God’s hand in defeating the final ‘all-nation’ attack on Jerusalem (Zech 12.10-14).
These appear to be some of the various ways God’s Spirit draws Israel to her true Messiah, Jesus (Joel 2.28). These are some of the ways God’s chosen people are grafted back into their own olive tree (Rom 11.24).
Jews in the Millennium
The concept of a millennial age has much support in prophecy, link, link. It is a time when the earth sees fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Davidic, Palestinian and New Covenants i.e. Israel will become a great nation, Christ will sit on David’s throne, Israel will be restored to her own land and God will write His Law on the hearts of both Jew and Gentile. It is a time when Israel has been restored to her intended place, namely, to be His servant and witness amongst the nations (Isa 43.10), it is a time when all the dispersed children of Israel are made ‘one nation’ in their own land (Ezek 37.22), and it is a time when the world at last recognizes that Israel is a very special people – God’s chosen people. At last, the Gentile nations acknowledge and value the unique role of the Jew:
In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’.