Are Non-Jewish Believers Really a Part of Israel?

Are_Non-Jewish_Believers_Really_a_Part_of_Israel

originally posted 05 March, 2013
reproduced from Are Non-Jewish Believers Really a Part of Israel?

The Messianic Jewish movement that has grown and been emerging in the late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Centuries has achieved much for the Kingdom of God, which it should be genuinely proud of. It has made a significant, positive contribution in the lives of many Jewish men and women who have come to saving faith in the Messiah of Israel, giving them a place where they do not have to assimilate and give up their Jewishness.

Perhaps an unforeseen side-effect is that it has also made a significant, positive contribution in the lives of many non-Jewish, evangelical Christian men and women, who have come to know the Jewishness of Jesus and the New Testament in a much more profound and tangible way. Many of these people have entered into the Messianic movement and its congregations, and have made a Torah obedient lifestyle their own, as they seek to emulate Messiah Yeshua. As we continue to see various developments occur within a broad Messianic community, which in the 2010s includes both Messianic Judaism and various other independent forms of Messianic and/or Hebrew/Hebraic Roots faith expressions, the question of how non-Jewish Believers relate to Israel—especially given the end-time reality of the nations coming to Zion to be taught God’s Law (Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4), and those of the nations joining with the Jewish people (Zechariah 8:23)—is undeniably going to increase.

Many of the people who compose and/or encounter the broad Messianic community are in a state of relative confusion, or at least uncertainness, when it comes to the subject of ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is not a word they tend to hear in their weekly Shabbat teachings, or at their various Torah or Bible studies. They certainly do not read about it that much, if their spiritual regimen is mostly constrained to various devotion books. Yet, ecclesiology, the study and identity of God’s elect, is a theological discipline that is going to begin to draw some heavy lines of demarcation and division among various groups of Messianic Believers—especially as the Messianic community continues to grow, and more and more non-Jewish Believers, in particular, are convicted by the Holy Spirit that they need to be embracing their Hebraic Roots in a very real and tangible way.

Many of you reading this are familiar, but many of you are not familiar, with how there has been a wide amount of literature composed over the past two to three decades—most of it since the late 1990s, though—on the development of contemporary Messianic Judaism. This includes perspectives from Messianic Jews, evangelical Christians, and Jews in general, summarizing some of its different leaders, and the different contours, perspectives, and visions present.[1] Whether you are aware of it or not, this volume of material has doubtlessly influenced various Messianic Jewish leaders of note, and people within the broad Messianic community, at least in the context of people understanding how modern Messianic Judaism emerged in the late 1960s, and how it has grown and developed to the present.

Concurrent with this, and part of it necessarily geared toward enlisting evangelical Christian support and understanding for Messianic Jewish ministry, have been a number of books, which have addressed the issue of non-Jewish involvement and participation in the Messianic movement, and/or unity with Jewish Believers. Some of these have principally been focused on Christian support of the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and in countering the evils of anti-Semitism in the post-Holocaust world, and with it some need to understand the Jewishness of Jesus and the New Testament.[2] Other books, which have received wide distribution within the Messianic community, regard concepts such as non-Jews being “grafted-in” to the olive tree (Romans 11:16-17), the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13), the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), as well as various aspects of general Torah obedience for all (in various degrees).[3] And yet some other publications, particularly as of late, have sought to limit the non-Jewish Believer, rightly thinking that he or she is a part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, fellow citizens along with the Jewish people in the community of God, but with their differences to be primary to their common faith.[4]

With a great deal of information out there about Messianic Judaism, non-Jewish Believers and their Hebraic Roots, and differing views of ecclesiology—not only is it fair to say that various sectors of the Messianic community are in a state of confusion when it comes to the subject of God’s elect—it is sadly also to be observed that a growing number of accusations and hostile claims are starting to abound, from multiple sides, as it regards Jewish and non-Jewish Believers and Israel.

If one were to survey the broad Messianic movement, and how it would answer the question Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel?, you are likely to see four main, distinct answers. The following chart compiles what I have classified as the Hard No / Hard Yes and Soft No / Soft Yes answers. If you have at all been a part of the Messianic movement for any period of time, or have been exposed to an array of Messianic beliefs and views, you are likely to have encountered answers like the following:

ARE NON-JEWISH BELIEVERS REALLY A PART OF ISRAEL?

HARD NO:
Gentile Christians are a part of the Christian Church, an entity entirely separate from Israel or the Jewish people

SOFT NO:
Gentile Christians are a part of the Christian Church, which along with Israel or the Jewish people are the two entities which compose the Commonwealth of Israel

SOFT YES:
Non-Jewish Believers are a part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, with a restored Twelve Tribes of Israel at its center, and with the Kingdom reign of Messiah Yeshua being expanded to incorporate the righteous from the nations

HARD YES:
Non-Jewish Believers are not only a part of the Kingdom of Israel, but most of them are physical descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim

The two main positions that one finds in today’s broad Messianic community—between most of Messianic Judaism, and a largely independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement (which may nor may not use the term “Messianic”)—are going to be the Soft No and Soft Yes answers.

The Hard No answer largely represents those Messianic Jewish groups, which would still strongly adhere to some kind of dispensational theology, and the Hard Yes answer is largely found in the Two-House sub-movement.

The Soft No answer, that the Commonwealth of Israel composes Israel/the Jewish people and the Christian Church, has been a position widely held in contemporary Messianic Judaism, and now tends to be labeled or defined as a bilateral ecclesiology. The Soft Yes answer, that Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are a part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, which may also be termed the Commonwealth of Israel, is something that you will likely see present in various parts of Messianic Judaism, particularly within congregations and assemblies which emphasize all Believers composing “one new man/humanity” (Ephesians 2:15), as well as various other independent assemblies and home fellowships.

The position that a ministry like Outreach Israel and Messianic Apologetics believes is the most Biblical, the most provable, and above all the most inclusive for all of God’s people, is the Soft Yes answer.

When we answer the question Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel?, the “Israel” we are talking about is not the modern-day State of Israel, which while reborn through the fulfillment of Bible prophecy (Isaiah 66:8) and a major player in the future via God-ordained prophecy, is obviously not the restored Kingdom of Israel with Messiah Yeshua ruling and reigning. We are not talking about non-Jewish Believers entering into their local non-Messianic, Jewish synagogue, and somehow expecting to be recognized and fully included as members of the Jewish community (as though they were ethnic Jews). We are certainly not talking about non-Jewish Believers traveling to the modern-day State of Israel and expecting to make aliyah and become citizens, taking up some sort of misguided claim to a piece of the Promised Land.

We are instead talking about non-Jewish Believers being a part of the Kingdom realm the Messiah came to restore, which invites the righteous from the nations into its polity, as brothers and sisters in the Lord of the redeemed, equally from the Jewish people and the world at large. As we will discuss, this is a Kingdom of Israel which has placed at its center a restored Tabernacle of David, and which has enlarged itself, incorporating those of the nations as people who recognize the King of Israel, Yeshua, as their Sovereign (Amos 9:11-12; Acts 15:15-18, MT and LXX). Suffice it to say, there is no separate “Church” entity of which non-Jewish Believers may be regarded as composing.

Understandably, there are many aspects of God’s elect composing this enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel which need to be further explained, defined, and defended from the Scriptures. The undeniable distinctiveness of the Jewish people as descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their great virtues and contributions to the Kingdom of God and humanity at large, need to be recognized and honored—but along with this the inclusive nature of Israel’s Kingdom to all people needs to be acknowledged. Changes occurring, both positive and negative, throughout the Messianic movement need to be recognized, so that individual Believers and families of Believers can adequately know what to do as salvation history moves forward.

Ecclesiology: A Subject in Flux

Ecclesiology is a subject which is ostensibly “in flux” across today’s broad Messianic movement. Ecclesiology is not just in flux because of the need for each of us to truly consider who the people of God compose, and the mutual relationship and interconnectivity of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers to one another—but also because of changing spiritual dynamics, and changing theological positions, of various figures and teachers within our faith community. The changes to be considered do not necessarily regard minor points or fine details that have needed to be better specified and documented and laid out and reasoned through—but are rather on major points and radical shifts regarding interpretation of and approach toward substantial Biblical passages and issues.

As you prepare to read this analysis, there will be some engagement with perspectives which have been present within our Messianic faith community, that have influenced the thoughts and ideas of many Jewish and non-Jewish Messianic people. Do keep in mind that some of the quotations or references offered have notably been placed with a year in parenthesis ( ), given the possibility that there might be some later changes seen in the position of the person who made the statement, as a theological position represented could later be (substantially) altered or completely different, and/or to represent the possibility of future theological alterations. There is, sadly, nothing worse for people in today’s Messianic community, than for a teacher or ministry with a well-known reputation, to purposefully change or alter a major feature of his or her theology, simply so that he or she can have influence over and/or acceptance among a (new) sector of people—as opposed to genuinely changing because of theological, intellectual, and philosophical conviction.

Many Messianic people do agree that we are steadily approaching the return of the Messiah—and with this we have probably reached some of the final phases of salvation history. As we address the question Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel?, we will be considering not just the salvation of the Jewish people, but the definite, key role that non-Jewish Messianics have to play in it. This is certainly something that the enemy does not want to see come to pass, and so there is a critical need to remain consistent to the issue, and true to the Biblical text.

The Jewish People Are Distinct

That all people on Planet Earth are distinct, is a concept I learned as a small child from one of America’s foremost philosophers. Fred Rogers began or ended his television program with something to the effect: You are special, there has only been one person like you who has ever existed, and there will only be one person like you who will ever exist. Each one of us is not only special, as a human being made in God’s image and who is valued by Him, but we each have unique gifts, talents, and skills. Each one of us, in our different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, is likewise special and distinct.[5]

In current Messianic discussions and debates over ecclesiology, those who generally want to keep non-Jewish Believers out of, or distant from, the Messianic movement, will make arguments to the effect that the presence of non-Jewish Messianics will either blur distinctions between the Jewish people and the nations, or that such distinctions (which need to be rigidly maintained) could even be abolished.

Obviously, the Jewish people—even with their broad dispersion to the four corners of the globe—have distinct ethnic, cultural, and personality traits, which while appreciated by non-Jewish Messianics such as myself, are not things which I have chosen to make a part of my own self.[6] What is more important for the Bible reader and examiner, in considering the current condition of ecclesiology, is in recognizing some of the main traits which make the Jewish people distinct, which no other group of people—even those which recognize Israel’s Messiah as the Savior of the world, and may even consider themselves a part of Israel’s polity through Him—can claim.

What are some of the key traits that make today’s Jewish people distinct, detectable from any basic survey of history?

  • The Jewish people are the undeniable physical descendants of the Ancient Israelites who were delivered by God via the Exodus, to Mount Sinai, and later into the Promised Land.
  • The Jewish people are descendants of those who lived during the reigns of Kings David and Solomon, when Ancient Israel was at its pinnacle in terms of power and influence.
  • The Jewish people are descendants of the survivors of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles who returned to the Promised Land, those who endured the Maccabean crisis, and who endured the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
  • The Jewish people of today are the descendants of those who have remained resolute to stay true to their heritage, in spite of what occurred to them during the Middle Ages, the pogroms in the Russian Empire, and more recently the Holocaust of World War II, and those who have been able to see the modern-day State of Israel established.
  • The vast and positive array of contributions of the Jewish people to fields such as science, industry, philosophy, and economics are widely unmatched by any other ethnic or cultural group. If there were no Jewish people, there would be no advanced, modern world.
  • The Jewish people have an eternal right to the Land of Canaan, the Holy Land, as originally promised to the Patriarch Abraham by God Himself. Even if we regard non-Jewish Believers as being citizens of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, the Holy Land is the ancestral right of only the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Recognizing these kinds of historical, indisputable facts, is something that is most imperative for each and every one of us. A non-Jewish Believer such as myself, appreciates the historical distinctiveness of the Jewish people, the Jewish struggle throughout history, the contributions many Jews have made to modern society—and I genuinely want to learn the best I can from it all. Even in spite of a widespread Jewish dismissal of Yeshua of Nazareth throughout history, God has been faithful to bless His chosen people, and Jewish persons who have (at least to mortal knowledge) not made a public declaration of faith in Yeshua, have still contributed vastly to human civilization.

Compiling a list of Biblical distinctives about the Jewish people would fill the pages of another book. From the Apostolic Scriptures, though, Romans 3:1-2 is one specific passage that is quite direct in asserting the uniqueness of the Jewish people, in the course of salvation history:

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1-2; cf. 9:4-5).

Furthermore, even with a widespread Jewish rejection of Yeshua present in the First Century, which was to lead to the good news spreading to the world at large (Romans 11:12a)—the Apostle Paul says, “how much greater riches will their fullness bring” (Romans 11:12b, NIV), as the restoration of “all Israel” (Romans 11:26) and the full arrival of the Messianic Kingdom awaits. Given the warnings to the non-Jewish Believers in Rome about being wild branches in possible danger of being broken off of the olive tree (Romans 11:19-24)—one can argue from Romans chs. 9-11 alone that the Jewish people are distinct and that God is not at all finished with them, even as many natural branches have been broken off. The Jewish people are not to be unfairly derided at every spiritual and theological turn, which may seem to afford itself (to the uninformed layperson). On the contrary, one must be as mortified as the Apostle Paul, given a widescale Jewish rejection of Yeshua (Romans 9:3).

Consistent with what has been listed previously, we can all reasonably conclude that while the Hebrew Tanach composes the spiritual heritage of all Messiah followers, the Hebrew Tanach also most especially composes the ethnic and cultural heritage of the Jewish people—and with this there should be an extra impetus by Jews to make sure that its words and instructions are heeded by them. Likewise, only the known physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, namely the Twelve Tribes of Israel, can make a definite, Biblical claim on living in the Land of Israel (discussed further). While welcome to visit for sure, non-Jewish Messianics cannot make such a permanent claim on the Holy Land. There are many customs and ceremonies found in Judaism and Jewish culture—principally those seen in life-cycle events which are family oriented (i.e., weddings, funerals) and not congregational activities (i.e., corporate Sabbath worship, the appointed times)—where non-Jewish Messianics may be more likely to do things more concurrent with their (Protestant) Christian heritage. And while a great concern to many of today’s Messianic Jews, because of the tendencies of generational assimilation—particularly over the past century among Jewish Believers—I personally think that intermarriage of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers is something that should not be entered into lightly or casually, without much thought, prayer, or guidance.[7]

From the perspective of many Jews and Messianic Jews, though, it is Torah observance—and more specifically instructions such as keeping the Sabbath, appointed times, kosher dietary laws, and circumcision—which are what make the Jewish people distinct.[8] When Torah observance is made something relatively universal for God’s people, it is thought to downplay or dismiss Jewish distinctiveness. Even when Torah observance for all of God’s people is taught with an emphasis on the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; cf. Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17), the nations coming to Zion to be taught God’s Law (Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4), and that in the Millennium all males will be circumcised of flesh (Ezekiel 44:7, 9), it is still often thought to blur distinctions. Even with it to be recognized that within Ancient Israel, the daily, overall Torah adherence of the sojourner or ger was largely indifferent from that of the native Israelite, because of the complicated history of Jews and Christians since the First Century,[9] many Messianic Jewish leaders still think it best for non-Jews to be discouraged as much as possible from entering into Messianic congregations and assemblies. If non-Jewish Believers keep the seventh-day Sabbath, for example—even though the ancient ger was to rest on Shabbat (Exodus 20:10; 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14)—it is thought that this might cancel out or nullify one of the distinct practices of the Jewish people, which has seemingly identified them for centuries.

Is observance of Torah institutions such as the seventh-day Sabbath/Shabbat, the appointed times of Leviticus 23, and kosher dietary laws—certainly adhered to throughout history by the Jewish people—what make the Jewish people decisively distinct from the nations?[10] There is no doubting how in history, Jews have principally been those who have observed these things. There is also no doubting the fact that there are various customs or traditions associated with these things, which are distinctly Jewish, and which are likely to only be followed by Jews and Messianic Jews. Major distinctions, though, are most likely to be witnessed in terms of Torah application, than in Torah relevance or validity, between Jewish and non-Jewish Messianic people.

While there has been a great deal of negative energy released in recent days, throughout many sectors of the Messianic movement, regarding today’s non-Jewish Believers keeping the Torah[11]—it cannot be over-emphasized enough that the Torah is a part of a Jewish person’s distinct ethnic and cultural heritage. The Torah is not a part of a non-Jewish Believer’s ethnic or cultural background, but instead only his or her spiritual background (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1). And the most distinct feature about the Jewish people—which has been found to be greatly under-emphasized in too much of the discussion—is the Messiah’s own claim, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Without the Jewish people, those from the nations have no Messiah Yeshua and no salvation. Unfortunately, rather than this being a cause of honor and respect on the part of others, who have received the Jewish Messiah into their lives—to the Jewish people—it has been widely ignored. And concurrent with this, there is definitely a need to reverse much of the supersessionist mentality that arose in the Christian Church of the Second-Fourth Centuries.[12]

No Messiah follower who is honest with the Bible or with history can deny how the Jewish people are distinct, and that Jewish distinction should be recognized and honored. When the Messiah returns, or even now before His return, the vision of the Holy Scriptures is not at all one where there is going to be a single homogeneous people of God, where Messianic Jews are all intermarried and assimilated away into some melting pot of the nations.[13] Without some level of distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish people as recognizable, it does diminish the plan of salvation, in that those from the nations do not have to be ethnic Jews in order to be eternally redeemed (contra: m.Sanhedrin 10:1).[14]

There is, rather, going to be a single, heterogeneous people of God—a people made up of peoples as it were (cf. Revelation 21:3, Grk.), a tossed salad rather than some sort of melting pot. And within such a people, even if we were to conclude that all of God’s people are to be following God’s Torah—barring the challenge of intermarriage—Jewish men and women are going to be quite distinct and noticeable. Their identity and heritage are not at all going to be erased or obliterated by non-Jews keeping the Sabbath, appointed times, or eating kosher—especially as there will be a wide variety of customs and traditions associated with these things, which are not likely to be observed by them. Jews will be quite recognizable, for sure. Yet as the current Messianic community gets bigger, and more and more non-Jewish Believers embrace their Hebraic Roots, claims of Jewish obliteration via non-Jewish participation in the Messianic community and Torah observance are likely going to increase.[15]

Given the widespread complementarianism (“equal but separate”) of the broad Messianic community, though—many cannot see that while distinctions do exist among God’s people, they do get blurred in view of the overwhelming reality that every human being is a sinner in need of redemption from their sins. The human distinctions which exist among Jewish and non-Jewish Believers tend to mean far more to the limited mortals who have them, than they do to our eternal Creator.[16] For a number of today’s Messianic Jewish Believers (but not all), their Jewish distinctions do tend to matter to them more, than the common faith we are to all possess in Yeshua. This is now beginning to manifest more consciously, as the Messianic movement enters into some new phases of development now in the 2010s, which we will have to navigate through.

Unfortunately, when God sees far too many of His human creations—while still a loving Heavenly Father—He sees people who are condemned in their sins. The distinction that we all possess—without salvation in Yeshua—is observed by Paul in Romans 3:9, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin[17].” If we could understand ourselves more from the perspective of being redeemed sinners, while our distinctions can indeed be special, they can also be a cause of concern, limiting our spiritual growth and maturity (cf. Philippians 3:7-10).

A Brief Summary of the Messianic Movement

Many within the broad Messianic movement, including many Messianic Jewish Believers themselves, tend to look at the 1960s and the development of modern Messianic Judaism, thinking that the stages of development and the challenges we are witnessing, are only the result of the past four to five decades. It is true that while the most concentrated growth and development of the Messianic movement, which includes Messianic Judaism and the various, largely non-Jewish independent offshoots—is something that has only really been witnessed in the past fifty or so years—this has all been preceded by a wide array of developments going back to the early 1800s, with some of the very early Protestant Christian evangelistic outreaches to Jewish people.

The developments which led to the establishment of the modern-day Messianic Jewish movement have already been covered in various publications, some of which are quite accessible to the layperson, by those inside and outside of the movement.[18] The two most familiar stages of development, for many people, are recognizing the emergence of the Hebrew Christian movement in the late 1800s, which was basically an association of Jewish Believers within non-Jewish, Protestant Christianity, to the transition of Messianic Jewish congregations in the latter third of the 1900s. Previous Hebrew Christian churches were basically associated with mainline Protestant sects, the only major difference being that their main attendees were Jewish people observing mainline Christianity, and any sort of traditional Torah observance was conducted, on the side, even in privacy, mainly out of cultural identification with Judaism, and not necessarily out of a genuine fidelity to God’s commandments. This resulted in a great deal of intermarriage, assimilation, and with various Christian people today not knowing that they might actually have a Jewish great-grandparent or two. Messianic Jewish congregations, somewhat contrary to this, stressed greater association with Judaism, the Synagogue, Jewish tradition, and to various degrees, Torah as well. This would also help to prevent intermarriage, assimilation, and provide for Jewish continuance across the generations.

A brief summary of some of the main developments going back to the 1800s, and what has been seen up to our own time, is provided by Richard Harvey in his 2009 book Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology:

“In 1809 Joseph Samuel Christian Frey, son of a rabbi from Posen, Hungary, encouraged the formation of the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Among the Jews, which became the Church’s Ministry Among the Jewish People (CMJ). Encouraged by CMJ and other Jewish missions of the growing number of ‘Hebrew Christians’, as they called themselves, formed their own Prayer Union (1866), British (1888) and International Alliances (1925), and Hebrew Christian Churches in Europe, Palestine and the USA. By the end of the 19th century it was estimated on the basis of baptismal statistics that over a million Jewish people had become Christians, many for reasons of assimilation and emancipation from the Ghettos into European society with access to commerce, education and secular society. Nevertheless a recognisable number, such as Alfred Edersheim, Adolph Saphir, Augustus Neander and Bishop Samuel Schereschewsky wished to retain aspects of their Jewish identity alongside faith in Christ and were both a blessing to the Church and a testimony to their people.

“After the Second World War, the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, Jewish believers in Jesus from a new generation were concerned to rediscover their ethnic roots and express their faith from a Jewish perspective. In the wake of the Jesus movement of the 1970s ‘Jews for Jesus’ moved from being a slogan used on the streets of San Francisco to an organisation of Jewish missionaries to their people. At the same time, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America encouraged the establishment of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues. In Israel a new generation of native-born Israelis (‘sabras’) were acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, and starting Hebrew-speaking congregations. At the beginning of the twenty-first century an international network of Messianic groups exists, expressing denominational, theological and cultural diversity, but united in belief in Yeshua.

“To varying degrees Messianic Jews observe the Sabbath, keep the kosher food laws, circumcise their sons and celebrate the Jewish festivals. They celebrate Passover showing how Yeshua came as the Passover Lamb, and practise baptism, linking it to the Jewish mikveh. They worship with their own liturgies, based on the Synagogue service, reading from the Torah and the New Testament. Their hermeneutic of scripture repudiates the tradition of Christian Anti-Judaism according to which ‘the Jews killed Christ’ and the metanarrative of supersessionism that the Church replaces Israel as the ‘new Israel’. They argue for the continuing relevance of Torah observance, identifying themselves as Jewish members of the Church, and as a believing ‘remnant’ in the midst of Israel.

“Messianic Jewish Theology (MJT) has developed in the light of its Protestant Evangelical background and its engagement with Jewish concerns. The doctrinal statements of Messianic Jewish organisations are uniformly orthodox, but are often expressed in Jewish rather than Hellenistic thought forms, and are more closely linked to Jewish concepts and readings of scripture. The Charismatic movement influences many Messianic Jews, although an increasing number opt for more formal styles of worship using the resources of the Jewish prayer book. They incorporate standard liturgical features such as the wearing of the tallit and the use of Torah scrolls. Most Messianic Jews are Premilliennial (but not necessarily Dispensationalists) in their eschatology, seeing God’s purposes for Israel being played out within various degrees of linkage to the present political events in the Middle East. Many advocate aliyah for Messianic Jews, although the majority of Messianic Jews live in the Diaspora. A growing number are concerned for reconciliation ministry with their Arab Christian neighbours.”[19]

Tracing a history for the modern Messianic Jewish movement, which can actually go back to roots in the Napoleonic Era—is quite important for each one navigating the currents and eddies of current Messianic development, to recognize! The key, early developments of the Hebrew Christian movement, occurred during the Victorian Era, which then parallel to the development of Zionism in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, took on various facets in Europe, North America, and the Middle East. Most attention is understandably given to the post-World War II, post-Holocaust, and even post-recapture of the Old City of Jerusalem timeframe, when Messianic Judaism as a modern movement began and grew.

Harvey’s summation is largely only concerned about Messianic Jewish Believers embracing their heritage in the context of faith in Yeshua. In the late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Centuries, the wide numbers of non-Jewish, evangelical Christian Believers, swelling the Messianic Jewish movement and/or starting their own fellowships and assemblies with a Jewish Roots or an Hebraic Roots emphasis, became a phenomenon with which to reckon. What is to be done about this? Seth Dralle addresses some of this in his article “The Emergence of Messianic Judaism”:

“…Gentiles began wondering if Messianic-styled worship was something that they could embrace as well. By the 1990s, Gentiles had become a majority presence in Messianic Jewish congregations.

“Gentile participation in Messianic Jewish congregations began to cause tension, with Messianic Jews who wanted to build an authentic expression of Judaism becoming troubled by the substantial presence of Gentiles in their synagogues. Gentile observance of Sabbath, Torah implementation, Jewish tradition, and even cultural Jewish trends began to alarm Messianic leadership. Gentiles started looking and sounding more Jewish than the actual Jews in their congregations! Messianic Jews became concerned that such practices would blur the line of Jewish cultural distinction.

“To address these concerns, different camps of Messianic Judaism have responded to the Gentile question differently. Some groups within Messianic Judaism recently began to offer conversion for Gentiles under an official Messianic rabbinical council. In defending this decision, leaders pointed out that Messianic Judaism is the only form of Judaism that previously did not have a conversion process. In order for Messianic Judaism to be a legitimately recognizable Judaism, a conversion process would be necessary. The conversion-concept has caused dissent within Messianic Judaism, and many still hold that Jews should remain Jews practicing in synagogues (whether Messianic or traditional) and that Gentiles should remain Gentiles in churches.

“Most Gentiles found both the Christian Church option and the Messianic Jewish conversion unpalatable and therefore founded new organizations void of such concerns….”[20]

As things stand today in 2012-2013, there continues to be a great deal of friction, tension—and in some cases outright anger—when the future of the Messianic movement is addressed. Various sectors in Messianic Judaism want to continue to work toward it being acknowledged as a formal branch of Judaism, alongside of branches such as Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, among others.[21] Other sectors of Messianic Judaism, those influenced more by charismatic Christian ideas, do want Messianic Judaism to stay widely constrained as a movement to Messianic Jews—limiting the number of non-Jewish participants in various degrees—but would rightly recognize some of the potential pitfalls if the Messianic Jewish movement sought out a high degree of human recognition, as opposed to Holy Spirit recognition, if formal acknowledgement as a branch of Judaism were ever attained. The widely independent, and as should be expected, unorganized or disorganized and even disenfranchised, Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement, which composes groups of non-Jewish Believers (and may or may not call itself “Messianic”), can be a conundrum to these people, and a cause of significant frustration. Obviously, in spite of the different positive achievements—but also human limitations—the Eternal God of Israel is bigger than all of it, and His plans transcend any mortal plans or preferences (cf. Isaiah 40:13; 1 Corinthians 2:16).

There is no doubting the fact that Messianic Judaism has been used mightily by the Lord to see many Jewish people brought to faith in Yeshua, establish the fact that Jewish Believers do not have to give up on their heritage when expressing trust in Israel’s Messiah, and they have served as an important bridge to the evangelical Christian community. When we reflect upon some of the historical development of the Messianic movement—even going back to the early Nineteenth Century—it should not be difficult to detect that the early Twenty-First Century presents the broad Messianic community with some options for its next phase of development.

My family got involved in Messianic Judaism in 1995, has been exposed to independent forms of Messianic expression to be sure, and has now been in full time Messianic ministry with Outreach Israel for a decade since 2002 (with the TNN Online website, now Messianic Apologetics, having originally started in 1997). There are two main options for the next phase of Messianic development, which I detect:

  1. Noted sectors of Messianic Judaism can continue on the course to being recognized as a branch of Judaism. The questions that this will raise regarding non-Jewish people becoming some sort of Messianic Jewish “proselytes,” as well as what it will mean for Christology and how people view the nature of Yeshua, are likely to be rather staggering. Does our Creator God ultimately want this to just be another form of “Judaism,” or a unique and valued move of His that can change lives? What major changes are also in store for soteriology, the study of the doctrine of salvation, and who needs or who does not need to recognize Yeshua for eternal redemption?
  2. More and more Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are going to enter into the Messianic movement. As prophecies regarding the salvation of the Jewish people come to pass, so will prophecies regarding the riches of the nations coming to Zion (i.e., Isaiah 45:14; 60:5-17; Micah 4:13), and the nations coming to Zion to be taught God’s Torah (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3) and joining with the Jews (Zechariah 8:23) also come to pass. Are these people going to be asked to leave Messianic assemblies (the vast majority of which are in the Diaspora), or are they to be welcomed as fellow brothers and sisters, and fellow citizens of the Commonwealth of Israel? Are we going to learn how to be mutually submissive one to another (Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:3-4), decisively emerging into the “one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:15) or not?

There are going to be many individual Messianic Jews, and likely even various Messianic Jewish congregations, who are going to recognize some of the dangers at seeking to be recognized by various religious authorities as another, formal branch of Judaism. (A few of them may even decide to leave various Messianic Jewish denominations, and be independent, not unlike various non-denominational churches.) It will be enough, on the part of these Messianic Jews, if they are just recognized as still being Jewish, and not faithless to their heritage, from their fellow non-Messianic Jews.

These are the people who will put Yeshua and the plan of God first, and they recognize the great spiritual power that can be unleashed as Messianic congregations have both Jewish Believers and Believers from the nations fellowshipping in one accord, similar to the model which was widely present and most ideal from the First Century C.E. They know that repentance from a complicated, past history, of Christian anti-Semitism and misunderstandings of Judaism—but now a genuine appreciation for them as Jewish Believers—is something that they have witnessed in their assemblies. They know that to turn non-Jewish Believers away, might very well be contrary to the will of the Holy One of Israel.

Yet, before we can really hope to address some of these particulars, there are still some significant questions of ecclesiology to be resolved…

Models of Ecclesiology Present in Contemporary Protestantism and the Messianic Movement

What are some of the models of ecclesiology, which each of us have been affected by in some form or fashion, present not only within our contemporary Messianic community, but also Protestant Christian thought?

Covenant theology and dispensationalism are the two most widespread models of ecclesiology found in today’s evangelical Christianity. They widely compose the following, as defined by the Westminster Dictionary of the Theological Terms:

  • covenant theology: “A theological perspective most developed by 17th century Reformed theologians. It focuses on the way in which the divine-human relationship has been established by ‘covenant.’ These include God’s covenant of grace and works, though the latter is not recognized by all Reformed theologians.”[22]
  • Dispensationalism: “A view of God’s activities in history expounded in The Scofield Reference Bible and traced to John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). Each dispensation is a different time period in which humans are tested in responding to God’s will. Seven dispensations cover creation to judgment.”[23]

The noticeable difference between Reformed covenant theology, and dispensationalism, is where the two systems stand in relation to Israel and the Jewish people.

Covenant theology is marked by its adherence to supersessionism—more commonly known via the vernacular, replacement theology—in that Old Covenant Israel is believed to have been superseded by the New Covenant Church. In much of Reformed theology, there is no place for believing that prophecies in the Tanach speaking of a restoration of the Kingdom of Israel to the Holy Land, are ever going to take place. All of these promises should be spiritualized and transferred over to the new Christian Church, and interpreted along the lines of the great bounty that God has provided those who trust Christ. Many adherents to covenant theology do not support the existence of the State of Israel on Biblical grounds (but perhaps will support it via some sort of democratic, Jewish self-determination). While committed to supersessionism, Covenant theology does tend to have a high view of what it regards to be the “moral law” of the Mosaic Instruction, and does tend rightly to emphasize the unity of God’s people and the whole Bible being relevant instruction for all.

Dispensationalism, while being widely associated with doctrines such as the pre-tribulation rapture,[24] holds to an ecclesiology of God having two groups of elect: Israel/the Jewish people and the Christian Church. Dispensationalists widely adhere to the idea that in the present time, God is mainly working through the Church, which is to be removed at the time of the rapture, and then God will resume working through Israel, with the Messiah returning to Jerusalem at the end of the Tribulation period. A positive feature, of dispensational theology, is that there is a commitment to recognizing that Tanach promises and prophecies regarding Israel and the Jewish people have not been nullified, and that Christians should support the modern-day State of Israel and Jewish causes. A definite weakness, of dispensationalism, is the tendency to see not only the people of God, but also the Bible “split up,” as it were, among those texts which were clearly directed to Ancient Israel, and those believed only for the nations. This basically leaves today’s non-Jewish Believers with some parts of the Book of Acts, and the letters of Paul, as being the only texts that are thought to speak to non-Jewish issues. Jewish Believers in Yeshua, according to many dispensationalists, are not a part of Israel, but instead the Church.

Ecclesiology, across the broad Messianic community, is still widely in development. There are older figures, who have strongly adhered to various forms of dispensationalism,[25] but more commonly, Messianic Jewish leaders have tended to widely disparage both covenant theology and dispensationalism. As David H. Stern says in his work, Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement With an Ancient Past,

“Christian theologians have usually followed one of two approaches in dealing with this subject. The older and better known is generally called Replacement or Covenant theology…Under any name it says that the Church is the ‘New’ or ‘Spiritual’ Israel, having replaced the ‘Old’ Israel (the Jews) as God’s people. In the nineteenth century there arose in Protestant quarters Dispensationalism, which, in its more extreme form, says that the Jewish people have promises only on earth, while the Church has promises in heaven.”[26]

When evaluating where much ecclesiology in the Messianic Jewish movement, at least, can be found, one must recognize how a theologian such as Stern has formulated some creative charts, either based on an olive tree (cf. Romans 11:16-17ff) or what appear to be some Venn Diagrams on the relationship of the Jewish people, Messianic Jewish community, and a widely non-Jewish Christian community.[27] These are definitely charts that, if you have ever attended a class or two at a Messianic Jewish congregation, you are likely to have seen. One chart, which lays out the relationship of the Jewish people, Christian Church, and the unsaved world at large, is seen on p. 45 of his book Messianic Judaism:

The recognizable feature of this model, as would be inherited from dispensationalism, is that God recognizes two groups of elect. What is different, is that Messianic Jews, because of their faith in Yeshua, actually may be regarded as belonging to both entities, which together constitute the Commonwealth of Israel. What this can perhaps mean, to some at least, is that the Messianic Jewish movement can be regarded as both a part of Judaism, as well as Christianity.

Many of the ideas, such as Messianic Jews composing a middle area between their fellow Jews who do not largely acknowledge Yeshua, and non-Jewish Christians who do acknowledge Israel’s Messiah—but with there still being a wide distinction between Israel and the Church—have been developed further into what is now commonly called bilateral ecclesiology. However one takes it, this belief is that the elect of God are to be decisively composed of two groups: the Jewish people/Messianic Jewish community and the non-Jewish Christian Church. Its acceptance within the mid-2000s to the present can be widely attributed to the release of Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005) by Messianic Jewish theologian Mark S. Kinzer.

A major feature of Kinzer’s book was intended to get Messianic Jews and Christians to think beyond the Messianic Jewish movement only being some missionary outreach to see Jews brought to salvation. A bilateral ecclesiology of Israel and the Christian Church would be important to see implemented, according to Kinzer, so that the Messianic Jewish community can fulfill its intended role in bringing about the restoration of Israel. He summarizes the main points of such bilateral ecclesiology in Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism:

“Our ecclesiology can be summarized in five basic principles: (1) the perpetual validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people; (2) the perpetual validity of the Jewish way of life rooted in the Torah, as the enduring sign and instrument of that covenant; (3) the validity of Jewish religious tradition as the historical embodiment of the Jewish way of life rooted in the Torah; (4) the bilateral constitution of the ekklesia, consisting of distinct but united Jewish and Gentile expressions of Yeshua-faith; (5) the ecumenical imperative of the ekklesia, which entails bringing the redeemed nations of the world into solidarity with the people of Israel in anticipation of Israel’s—and the world’s—final redemption…According to this pattern, the Jewish ekklesia serves the wider Jewish community by constituting its eschatological firstfruits, sanctifying the whole and revealing the eschatological meaning of Jewish identity and destiny. It also serves the wider Jewish community by linking the redeemed of the nations to Israel’s corporate life and spiritual heritage, thereby enabling Israel to fulfill its mission as a light to the nations.”[28]

Anybody, in any part of the broad Messianic spectrum, is going to find areas where they agree with Kinzer. Messianic Jews should keep the Torah and be faithful to their traditions, those redeemed from the nations should seek to bless the Jewish people and Messianic Jews, and we should all be seeking the grand redemption anticipated in Holy Scripture.

As bilateral ecclesiology has grown in much of Messianic Judaism, so has a rigid emphasis on distinguishing between Israel/the Jewish people and the Christian Church. Concurrent with this has been an emphasis that many non-Jewish Believers who are attracted to Messianic Judaism and a life of Torah obedience, may need to just stay put in their churches and not make any significant lifestyle changes. This has definitely caused a great number of people being hurt, it has helped fuel divisions and resentment, and in some cases a few non-Jewish Believers, who should have found a welcome place in Messianic Jewish congregations, have instead gone to non-Messianic synagogues (and may have even converted to Judaism, denying Yeshua in the process). As bilateral ecclesiology grows in acceptance in various Messianic Jewish quarters, non-Jewish Believers, who are being led by the Lord into the Messianic movement, are finding themselves turned away. Most of these non-Jewish Believers have left Messianic Jewish environs for some kind of home fellowship or Torah study group, widely identifying itself as being a part of the Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement—which today, although independent and widely disorganized, has become much larger than the Messianic Jewish movement.

While again, it has to be recognized that Messianic ecclesiology is something largely in development—religious politics being what they are—any alternative to the bilateral ecclesiology, is prone to be chastised and labeled as being some form of replacement theology, or at least a displacement of the Jewish people. For lack of a better description, though, the main alternative to bilateral ecclesiology, which can be witnessed, may be best labeled as Commonwealth of Israel/Grafted-In. This kind of ecclesiology would affirm that God is not finished with His Jewish people, and He has every plan on seeing His promises to them in the Tanach come to pass. But rather than the nations being a part of a separate entity, they get to join as members of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13), being grafted-in as the wild olive branches (Romans 11:16-17), a real part of Israel’s polity, even though they will not participate in being gathered back physically into the Promised Land.

Someone like Kinzer can acknowledge how non-Jewish Believers, maintaining a high degree of their own ethnicity (presumably purged of sin and unbiblical practices), can be “joined to an extended multinational commonwealth of Israel and can legitimately identify with Israel’s history and destiny.”[29] But is this Commonwealth of Israel an enlarged Kingdom of Israel, or is it a community composed of the two sub-communities of the Jewish people and Christian Church?

If there is one thing that an ecclesiology model labeled Commonwealth of Israel/Grafted-In would not acknowledge, is that there are two separate groups of elect. A bilateral ecclesiology, by its very label, recognizes two separate groups of elect. A Commonwealth of Israel/Grafted-In ecclesiology treats the ekklēsia, or assembly of God, as being an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, which welcomes in the redeemed from the nations as equals. While there are going to be natural distinctions between Jewish and non-Jewish people—even with a nominal number of Torah commands more applicable to the former than the latter (a point not often noted by adherents of a [legalistic] One Law/One Torah theology)—they are not to be rigidly separated out or away, and all are to appreciate and bless one another as fellow brothers and sisters in the Messiah. Kinzer is actually not too off the mark in concluding,

“[T]he leadership of the Yeshua movement determined at an early stage that the ekklesia as an eschatological extension of Israel was to be an essentially transnational reality in which the cultural peculiarities of different regions and ethnicities would be expressed within the broad framework of Israel’s messianic faith.”[30]

Kinzer’s weakness is not in connecting the salvation of the nations to the redemption of Israel, and he is to be commended for recognizing the blessings of God present among different ethnic groups, which can even be shared with Jewish people to enrich them as much as the Jewish people are to enrich others. The significant mistake of bilateral ecclesiology is ultimately that the Shepherd Messiah who wanted one flock of sheep (John 10:16)—even with such sheep spread over a rather large pasture of Planet Earth—ends up having two flocks.

Bilateral ecclesiology is not too different from dispensationalism—in fact it may even be described as an unidentical twin to dispensationalism—the major difference being a wider emphasis on the need for non-Jewish Believers to take a more active interest in Jewish and Messianic Jewish concerns, and likely a more post-tribulational eschatology.[31] The flaw of dispensationalism has widely been seen in today’s evangelical Christians largely having an anemic understanding of a Tanach or an Old Testament that is to essentially only concern Israel or the Jews. Bilateral ecclesiology would discourage non-Jewish Believers from thinking that they have little connection to the Tanach Scriptures—but would inappropriately encourage non-Jews to read it through bifurcated lenses.

As with many of the issues that divide today’s Messianic people, not enough detailed examination of the relevant Biblical passages—in conjunction with the salvation history plan of our Heavenly Father—have been conducted…

The Term Ekklesia

Across the broad Messianic world, regardless of which model of ecclesiology is expressed, there tends to be a widespread amount of annoyance or displeasure when it comes to the term “church.” Even among Messianic Jews who think that the Christian Church is a separate group of elect, there still is not a huge amount of excitement witnessed as it regards the English word “church.”[32] (This especially takes place when Messianic Jewish Believers are asked that ominous question, “Where do you go to church?”)

Contemporary Messianic Bible versions like the Complete Jewish Bible or Tree of Life—The New Covenant—perhaps following in the wake of specialty versions like Young’s Literal Translation or the Literal Version of the Holy Bible by Jay P. Green, which render ekklēsia as “assembly”—will invariably have things like “C/community” (Matthew 16:18, CJB/TLV). This is not at all inappropriate, as renderings such as assembly, congregation, or community do rightly recognize that most usages of the Greek ekklēsia in the Apostolic Scriptures, concern localized fellowships of people, and not the Body of Messiah as a whole.

There are even various Christian teachers and examiners one will encounter, from time to time, who think that it is probably wise to translate ekklēsia as something other than “church.”[33] This is because of a widespread, common misconception among many laypeople, that when “church” appears in an English Bible, it is akin to a type of church building, with a cross and steeple, as opposed to a grouping of brothers and sisters in the Lord.

How is the Greek word ekklēsia generally defined by some standard lexicons? Does the term ekklēsia have any kind of relationship to the assembly of Israel in the Tanach?

The Liddell-Scott lexicon (LS), principally concerned with classical usages of Greek words, provides this definition of ekklēsia—which obviously indicates that it does not have to always be rendered as “church”:

an assembly of the citizens regularly summoned, the legislative assembly, Thuc., etc.:-at Athens, the ordinary Assemblies were called [kuriai], the extraordinary being [sugklētoi], ap. Dem.; [ekkl. sunageirein, sunagein, sullegein, athorizein] to call an assembly, Hdt., etc.; [ekkl. poiein] ‘to make a house,’ Ar.; [ekkl. gignetai, kathistatai] an assembly is held, Thuc.; [ekkl. dialuein, anastēsai] to dissolve it, Id., etc.; [anaballein] to adjourn it, Id.

1. in N.T. the Church, either the body, or the place. Hence [ekklēsiazō][34]

An older Greek lexicon, which is still used somewhat today but not as frequently as in the past, by Joseph H. Thayer (hence Thayer), includes both classical and theological remarks on the term ekklēsia. While recognizing ekklēsia as a localized gathering of Messiah followers, some usage of ekklēsia in association with the Hebrew qahal via the Septuagint, is also noted:

[ekklēsia, ekklesias, hē] (from [ekklētos] called out or forth, and this from [ekkaleō]); properly, a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly; so used

1. among the Greeks from Thucydides (cf. Herodotus 3, 142) down, an assembly of the people convened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberating: Acts 19:39.

2. in the Septuagint often equivalent to [qahal], the assembly of the Israelites, Judg. 21:8; 1 Chr. 29:1, etc., especially when gathered for sacred purposes, Deut. 31:30 (Deut. 32:1); Josh. 8:35 (Josh. 9:8), etc.; in the N. T. thus in Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:12.

3. any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance or tumultuously: Acts 19:32,41.

4. in the Christian sense, a. an assembly of Christians gathered for worship: [en ekklēsia], in the religious meeting, 1 Cor. 14:19,35; [en tais ekklēsiais], 1 Cor. 14:34; [sunerchesthai en ekklēsia], 1 Cor. 11:18; cf. Winer’s Grammar, sec. 50, 4a. b. a company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal Salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs according to regulations prescribed for the body for order’s sake; aa. those who anywhere, in city or village, constitute such a company and are united into one body: Acts 5:11; 8:3; 1 Cor. 4:17; 6:4; Phil. 4:15; 3 John 1:6 (cf. Winer’s Grammar, 122 (116)); with specification of place, Acts 8:1; 11:22; Rom. 16:1; 1 Cor. 4:17; 6:4; Rev. 2:1, 8, etc.; [Thessalonikeōn], 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; [Laodikeōn], Col. 4:16; with the genitive of the possessor, [tou Theou] (equivalent to [qahal ADONAI], Num. 16:3; 20:4), 1 Cor. 11:22; and mention of the place, 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1. Plural, [hai ekklēsiai]: Acts 15:41; 1 Cor. 7:17; 2 Cor. 8:19; Rev. 1:4; 3:6, etc.; with [tou Theou] added, 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:4; [tou Christou], Rom. 16:16; with mention of the place, as [tēs Asias, Galatias], etc.: 1 Cor. 16:1, 19; 2 Cor. 8:1; Gal. 1:2; [tēs Ioudaias tais en Christō], joined to Christ (see evn [en], I. 6b.), i. e. Christian assemblies, in contrast with those of the Jews, Gal. 1:22; [ekklēsiai tōn ethnōn], gathered from the Gentiles, Rom. 16:4; [tōn hagiōn], composed of the saints, 1 Cor. 14:33. [hē ekklēsia kat’ oikon tinos], the church in one’s house, i. e. the company of Christians belonging to a person’s family; others less aptly understand the phrase of the Christians accustomed to meet for worship in the house of someone (for as appears from 1 Cor. 14:23, the whole Corinthian church was accustomed to assemble in one and the same place; (but see Lightfoot on Col. 4:15)): Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 1:2. The name [hē ekklēsia] is used even by Christ while on earth of the company of his adherents in any city or village: Matt. 18:17. bb. the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth; collectively, all who worship and honor God and Christ in whatever place they may be: Matt. 16:18 (where perhaps the Evangelist employs [tēn ekklēsian] although Christ may have said [tēn basileian mou]); 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 1:22; 3:10; 5:23ff,27,29,32; Phil. 3:6; Col. 1:18,24; with the genitive of the possessor: [tou Kuriou], Acts 20:28 (R Tr marginal reading WH [tou Theou]); [tou Theou], Gal. 1:13; 1 Cor. 15:9; 1 Tim. 3:15. cc. the name is transferred to the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven: Heb. 12:23 (on this passage see in [apographō], b. and [prōtotokos], at the end). (In general, see Trench, sec. 1, and B. D. under the word Church, especially American edition; and for patristic usage Sophocles’ Lexicon, under the word.)[35]

The summary of ekklēsia provided by A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, the Bauer, Danker, Arndt, Gingrich lexicon (hence BDAG), is somewhat more theological, when compared to the previous LS and Thayer entries. One can see classical usages of ekklēsia referenced, but also various usages from the Bible and ancient Christian literature. Yet, many of the same points, about ekklēsia pertaining to assemblies, groupings of Messiah followers, and with ekklēsia having some kind of connection to Ancient Israel via the Septuagint, can be seen:

[ekklēsia, as, hē] ([ek + kaleō]; Eur., Hdt.+)

1. a regularly summoned legislative body, assembly, as gener. understood in the Gr-Rom. world (Jos., 12, 164; 19, 332, Vi. 268) Ac 19:39 (on ‘[regular] statutory assembly’, s. [ennomos] and IBM III/2, p. 141. The term [ennomē e.] here contrasts w. the usage vss. 32 and 40, in which [e.] denotes simply ‘a gathering’; s. 2 below. On the [e.] in Ephesus cp. CIG III, 325; IBM III/1, 481, 340; on the [e.] in the theater there s. the last-named ins ln. 395; OGI 480, 9).—Pauly-W. V/2, 1905, 2163-2200; RAC IV 905-21 (lit.).

2. a casual gathering of people, an assemblage, gathering (cp. 1 Km 19:20; 1 Macc 3:13; Sir 26:5) Ac 19:32, 40.

3. people with shared belief, community, congregation (for common identity, cp. the community of Pythagoras [Hermippus in Diog. L. 8, 41]. Remarkably, in Himerius, Or. 39 [Or. 5], 5 Orpheus forms for himself [tēn ekklēsian], a group of wild animals, who listen to him, in the Thracian mountains where there are no people), in our lit. of common interest in the God of Israel.

[a.] of OT Israelites assembly, congregation (Dt 31:30; Judg 20:2; 1 Km 17:47; 3 Km 8:14; PsSol 10:6; TestJob 32:8 [tēs euōdous e.]; Philo; Jos., Ant. 4, 309; Diod. S. 40, 3, 6) Hb 2:12 (Ps 21:23); e.g. to hear the law (Dt 4:10; 9:10; 18:16) Ac 7:38.

[b.] of Christians in a specific place or area (the term [e.] apparently became popular among Christians in Greek-speaking areas for chiefly two reasons: to affirm continuity with Israel through use of a term found in Gk. translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, and to allay any suspicion, esp. in political circles, that Christians were a disorderly group).

[a.] of a specific Christian group assembly, gathering ordinarily involving worship and discussion of matters of concern to the community: Mt 18:17; [sunerchomenōn humōn en e.] when you come together as an assembly 1 Cor 11:18; cp. 14:4f, 12, 19, 28, 35; pl. vs. 34. [en e. exomologeisthai ta paraptōmata] confess one’s sins in assembly D 4:14; cp. 3J 6 (JCampbell, JTS 49, ’48, 130-42; for the Johannines s. ESchweizer below). In Ac 15:22 the ‘apostles and elders’ function in the manner of the [boulē] or council, the committee of the whole that was responsible in a Gr-Rom. polis for proposing legislation to the assembly of citizens.—Of Christians gathering in the home of a patron house-assembly (‘house-church’) [Priskan kai Akulan…kai tēn kat’ oikan autōn e.] Ro 16:5; cp. 1 Cor 16:19. [Numphan kai tēn kat’ oikon autēs e.] Col 4:15; [hē kat’ oikon sou e.] Phlm 2.—FFilson, JBL 58, ’39, 105-12; other reff. [oikos] 1aa.—Pl. [e. tōn hagiōn] 1 Cor 14:33; [e. tōn ethnōn] Ro 16:4.1 Ti 5:16 prob. belongs here, s. [bareō] b.

[b.] congregation or church as the totality of Christians living and meeting in a particular locality or larger geographical area, but not necessarily limited to one meeting place: Ac 5:11; 8:3; 9:31 (so KGiles, NTS 31, ’85, 135-42; s. c below), 11:26; 12:5; 15:3; 18:22; 20:17; cp. 12:1; 1 Cor 4:17; Phil 4:15; 1 Ti 5:16 perh., s. a above; Js 5:14; 3 J 9f; 1 Cl 44:3; Hv 2, 4, 3. More definitely of the Christians in Jerusalem Ac 8:1; 11:22; cp. 2:47 v.l.; 15:4, 22; Cenchreae Ro 16:1; cp. vs. 23; Corinth 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; 1 Cl ins; 47:6; AcPlCor 1:16; Laodicea Col 4:16; Rv 3:14; Thessalonica 1 Th 1:1; 2 Th 1:1; Colossae Phlm subscr. v.l. Likew. w. other names: Rv 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7; IEph ins; 8:1; IMg ins; ITr ins; 13:1; IRo 9:1; IPhld ins; 10:1; ISm 11:1; Pol ins. Plural: Ac 15:41; 16:5; Ro 16:16; 1 Cor 7:17; 2 Cor 8:18f, 23f; 11:8, 28; 12:13; Rv 2:7, 11, 17, 23, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 22:16; the Christian community in Judea Gal 1:22; 1 Th 2:14; Galatia Gal 1:2; 1 Cor 16:1; Asia vs. 19; Rv 1:4, and cp. vss. 11 and 20; Macedonia 2 Cor 8:1. [kat’ ekklēsian] in each individual congregation or assembly Ac 14:23 (on the syntax cp. OGI 480, 9 [s. 1 above]: [hina tithēntai kat’ ekklēsian] in order that they [the statues] might be set up at each [meeting of the] [e.]). On [kata t. ousan e.] Ac 13:1 cp. [eimi] 1 end.

c. the global community of Christians, (universal) church (s. AvHarnack, Mission I4 420 n. 2 on Ac 12:1): Mt 16:18 (OBetz, ZNW 48, ’57, 49-77: Qumran parallels; s. HBraun, Qumran I, ’66, 30-37); Ac 9:31 (but s. 3bb); 1 Cor 6:4; 12:28; Eph 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23ff, 27, 29, 32 (HSchlier, Christus u. d. Kirche im Eph 1930; also ThBl 6, 1927, 12-17); Col 1:18, 24; Phil 3:6; B 7:11; Hv 2, 2, 6; 2, 4, 1 (with the depiction of the church as an elderly lady cp. Ps.-Demetr. 265 where Hellas, the homeland, is represented as [labousa gunaikos schēma]); 3, 3, 3; IEph 5:1f and oft.—The local assembly or congregation as well as the universal church is more specif. called [e. tou Theou] or [e. t. Christou]. This is essentially Pauline usage, and it serves to give the current Gk. term its Christian coloring and thereby its special mng.:

[a.] [e. tou Christou] (Orig., C. Cels. 1, 63, 22) 1 Cor 1:2; 10:32; 11:16, 22; 15:9; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:13; 1 Th 2:14; 2 Th 1:4; 1 Ti 3:5, 15; Ac 20:28; ITr 2:3; 12:1; IPhld 10:1; ISm ins al.

[b.] [e. tou Christou] (Orig., C. Cels. 5, 22, 14) Ro 16:16.

[g.] both together [e. en Theō patri kai Kuriō Iēsou Christō] 1 Th 1:1.

[d.] [hē e. hē prōtē hē pneumatikē] the first, spiritual church (conceived in a Platonic sense as preexistent) 2 Cl 14:1; [e. zōsa] the living church the body of Christ vs. 2; [hē hagia e.] Hv 1, 1, 6; 1, 3, 4; [hē katholikē e.] ISm 8:2; [hē hagia kai katholikē e.] MPol ins; [hē kata tēn oikoumenēn katholikē e.] 8:1; 19:2; [hen sōma tēs e.] ISm 1:2.—The literature before ’32 is given in OLinton, D. Problem der Urkirche in d. neueren Forschung (s. esp. 138-46) ’32 and AMedebielle, Dict. de la Bible, Suppl. II ’34, 487-691; before ’60, s. RAC; also s. TW, Sieben, and JHainz, Ekklesia ’72. Esp. important: EBurton, Gal (ICC) 1921, 417-20; KHoll, D. Kirchenbegriff des Pls usw.: SBBerlAk 1921, 920-47=Ges. Aufs. II 1928, 44ff; FKattenbusch, D. Vorzugsstellung d. Petrus u. d. Charakter d. Urgemeinde zu Jerusalem: KMüller Festschr. 1922, 322-51; KLSchmidt, D. Kirche des Urchristentums: Dssm. Festschr. 1927, 259-319, TW III 502-39. S. also: EPeterson, D. Kirche aus Juden u. Heiden ’33; KLSchmidt, D. Polis in Kirche u. Welt ’39; WBieder, Ekkl. u. Polis im NT u. in d. alten Kirche ’41; OMichel, D. Zeugnis des NTs v. d. Gemeinde ’41; NDahl, D. Volk Gottes ’41; RFlew, Jesus and His Church2, ’43; GJohnston, The Doctrine of the Church in the NT ’43; WKümmel, Kirchenbegriff u. Geschichtsbewusstsein in d. Urg. u. b. Jesus ’43; DFaulhaber, D. Johev. u. d. Kirche ’38; AFridrichsen, Kyrkan i 4. ev.: SvTK 16, ’40, 227-42; ESchweizer, NT Essays (Manson memorial vol.) ’59, 230-45; EWolf, Ecclesia Pressa—eccl. militans: TLZ 72, ’47, 223-32; SHanson, Unity of the Church in the NT ’46; HvCampenhausen, Kirchl. Amt u. geistl. Vollmacht in den ersten 3 Jahrh. ’53; EKäsemann, Sätze hlg. Rechtes im NT, NTS 1, ’55, 248-60; AGeorge, ET 58, ’46/47, 312-16; in ATR: JBernardin 21, ’39, 153-70; BEaston 22, ’40, 157-68; SWalke 32, ’50, 39-53 (Apost. Fath.); JMurphy, American Ecclesiastical Review 140, ’59, 250-59; 325-32; PMinear, Images of the Church in the NT, ’60; BMetzger, Theology Today 19, ’62, 369-80; ESchweizer, Church Order in the NT, tr. FClarke ’61; RSchnackenburg, The Church in the NT, tr. WO’Hara ’65; LCerfaux, JBL 85, ’66, 250-51; AHilhorst, Filología Neotestamentaria 1, ’88, 27-34. S. also [episkopos] 2 end; [Petros]; [petra] 1.—B. 1476f. DELG s.v. [kaleō]. M-M. EDNT. TW. Sv.[36]

Having just reviewed some of the main lexical entries for the Greek term ekklēsia, it is fair for us to recognize that there is: (1) a non-religious classical use of ekklēsia, with some sort of assembly in view (perhaps ranging from an unruly mob to the Roman Senate), (2) a Septuagintal usage, in association with the Hebrew qahal or assembly of Ancient Israel, and (3) a usage by the First Century Messiah followers, to either label their congregations and/or their association together.

In discussions and debates over ecclesiology, do the usages of ekklēsia in the Greek Apostolic Scriptures, at all imply that it forms a new group of elect, independent from the congregation or assembly of Israel? Or, is the ekklēsia intended to be representative of the restored, eschatological Kingdom of Israel, which includes the redeemed of the Jewish people and the righteous from the nations together?

Various people within the Messianic movement have had, to be sure, reckon with the Biblical data regarding connections between ekklēsia, qahal, and what they mean regarding the composition of the people of God.

The rather popular and well-known Messianic ministry First Fruits of Zion, in their weekly eDrash for Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20), in 2011, actually stated that rendering ekklēsia as “church” is a mistranslation that appears in English Bibles:

“The portion begins with Moses assembling the whole Israelite congregation. The verb used for assemble here is qahal…, one of the words which in its noun form passes into the Greek version of the Bible as ekklesia, which, in turn, is the word that is mistranslated in our English Apostolic Scriptures as ‘church.’”[37]

The 2011 Tree of Life—New Covenant, which is part of the Messianic Jewish Family Bible Project, and has on its board of reference fifteen different Messianic Jewish ministries and organizations, includes this description for the English term “community” in its glossary:

community—a formal or informal group of people with shared interests or common beliefs. The first use of the Greek term “ekklesia” in the New Covenant occurs on the lips of Yeshua, who says He will build His community on Peter (Matthew 16:18). But this term was first used in the Septuagint when Moses reveals that God told him “gather to Me” the people, that they might hear My words and teach their children (Deuteronomy 4:10, LXX). The emphasis is on people—a holy community “called out” to be “set apart” for God. As Messiah’s community expanded globally, new groups gathered and the teaching spread through the shlichim [apostles] and their letters of instruction, which were preserved and passed on to us as part of the New Covenant. Starting from the Hebrew kahal…, the Greek word “ekklesia” is also translated assembly, congregation, or church. (Acts 7:38—Israelites; Romans 16:1; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Philemon 2—local gatherings and house groups; Matthew 18:17; Acts 15:22; 1 Corinthians 11:18—gathering to address community concerns; Acts 5:11; 8:3; 9:31—all believers living in a region; Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 1:22—Messiah’s global community)[38]

The TLV has offered an extremely useful summarization of the connection between the Greek ekklēsia and Hebrew qahal. In the related, 2012 Messianic Jewish Shared Heritage Bible, Barney Kasdan made the following remarks in the short piece, “The Intertestimental Period (400 BCE-4 BCE)”:

The Intertestimental Period also saw the development of vitally important Jewish religious literature. The Septuagint (LXX) was an important translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek about two centuries before Yeshua. Since it was the Bible of Jews throughout the Hellenistic Diaspora, the New Covenant writers frequently quoted it and it influenced the way the Greek language was used in the New Covenant. For example, the Septuagint used the word ecclesia (literally “called out ones”) to translate the Hebrew word kahal (assembly)—the New Covenant writers used ecclesia to describe the gathered believers, translated as “church” in English Bibles today, but perhaps better rendered as “congregation” or “community.”[39]

Yet, what none of the previously quoted Messianic Jewish pieces have done, is specify what such an ekklēsia really is, given its established connection to the qahal of Ancient Israel. Is the ekklēsia as the Body of Messiah, in the Apostolic Scriptures, an entity to be regarded as separate from the Kingdom of Israel? Or, is the ekklēsia, composed of the redeemed from the Jewish people and the nations, representative of the restored Kingdom of Israel, expanding beyond its Jewish center—a Kingdom which will obviously culminate via the return of the Messiah and His reign from Jerusalem?

Even with some of these basic linguistic associations between ekklēsia and qahal to be likely acknowledged by various Messianic Jewish leaders and teachers of note—“the Church” is still probably going to be treated as a separate group of elect, even though it will be viewed as closely related to Israel/the Jewish people. Yet, if the Tanach background of ekklēsia via the Septuagint holds true for the Apostolic Scriptures, then ekklēsia is intended to purposefully direct readers back to the assembly of Ancient Israel at Mount Sinai.

A final resource to consider, which has made light of the Greek ekklēsia (evkklhsi,a) and Hebrew qahal, are the short remarks made in the widely liberal Jewish Annotated New Testament for Matthew 16:18, which in the NRSV appears as, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Aaron M. Gale notes,

“Gk ‘ekklēsia’ (cf. 18.18), comparable to Heb ‘qahal,’ ‘congregation’ (Deut 4.10; 9.10; 18.16; 31.30; 2 Sam 7; 1 Chr 17; 1QM 4.10).”[40]

Gale directly connects the terms ekklēsia and qahal, and seemingly associates what Yeshua has stated in Matthew 16:18 with a variety of previous Tanach passages, and a statement from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here are some of them:

Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me [Heb. MT: haq’hel-li et-ha’am; Grk. LXX: tēs ekklēsias hote eipen Kurios pros me], that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children’” (Deuteronomy 4:10).

“The LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God; and on them were all the words which the LORD had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly [Heb. MT: b’yom ha’qahal; Grk. LXX: hēmera ekklēsias]” (Deuteronomy 9:10).

“This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly [Heb. MT: b’yom ha’qahal; Grk. LXX: hēmera tēs ekklēsias], saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die’” (Deuteronomy 18:16).

“Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel [Heb. MT: qahal Yisrael; Grk. LXX: ekklēsias Israēl] the words of this song, until they were complete” (Deuteronomy 31:30).

“The Rule of the banners of the congregation: When they set out to battle they shall write on the first banner, ‘The congregation of God,’ on the second banner, ‘The camps of God,’ on the third, ‘The tribes of God,’ on the fourth, ‘The clans of God,’ on the fifth, ‘The divisions of God,’ on the sixth, ‘The congregation of God [qahal El]’” (1QM 4.9-10).[41]

It is not at all inappropriate to see that there are legitimate connections to be made between the terms ekklēsia and qahal, with an intention that the Body of Messiah is not some new phenomenon, but is the continuance of an assembly established at the base of Mount Sinai—indeed the continuing fulfillment of promises given to the Patriarch Abraham and Ancient Israel.

Yet if this really is the case, why do we just not see the redeemed, community of God directly referred to as “Israel” in the Apostolic Scriptures? Obviously, there are some notable places where Israel is mentioned by name, that involve Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in the Kingdom realm of God. But the main thing for each of us to keep in mind, is that many usages in the Apostolic Scriptures regarding “Israel,” are speaking of the ethnic Jewish people, no different than usages in the Tanach itself describing ethnic Israelites.[42] It would be inappropriate for non-Jewish Believers to just be described as “Israel,” without any qualification. They are instead described as being a part of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13) or the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16)—likened unto the assembly of Israel that stood before God in the Tanach, composed of both native born and welcome sojourner.

Today, when asking the question Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel?, the statement must be quickly followed by some qualifiers—because the community in view is ultimately not a nationalistic group of people. It is a spiritual community of people, a qahal/ekklēsia who represent the redeemed of the Jewish people and the nations joined together, eagerly anticipating the return of King Messiah.

What do the Apostolic Scriptures say regarding non-Jewish Believers and Israel?

While we can trace and summarize some of the developments present in the contemporary, broad Messianic movement regarding ecclesiology, and note some of the important features of terms like ekklēsia and qahal—the answers regarding the question Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel? can only really be answered by turning to a key selection of passages from the Apostolic Scriptures. Many of these are passages that you have heard discussed, taught and preached upon, and perhaps even sung about in various Messianic praise songs. Many of these are also passages which a variety of Messianic writers and teachers have discussed.

Because our intention is to get a feel for what various individuals in our Messianic faith community have said about the issue of non-Jewish Believers, Israel, and ecclesiology—I have purposefully refrained from going too far into Christian sources, other than various language studies. (Christian sources are mainly seen in the various excerpts made from the Practical Messianic commentary series by Messianic Apologetics.) Many of you will recognize some of the names mentioned, and some of you may notice how over time a few positions may have changed. I do not particularly agree with everything espoused by those quoted, but I have referenced various teachers and writers, so we can fairly gauge different ideas and thoughts circulating. I have also, where appropriate, consulted the Jewish Annotated New Testament, even though it needs to be recognized that most of its contributors are non-Messianic Jews. For your convenience, passages have been left in their standard, canonical order.

Matthew 16:18-19

“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

It is most amazing to see, how in various Messianic examinations of ecclesiology, there are almost no discussions of substance on Matthew 16:18, and not a great amount of consideration of the source language present.[43] We are at a disadvantage as it concerns the amount of commentary and statements to evaluate on Matthew 16:18 from Messianic people.

Yeshua’s statement, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church” (NASU), has been traditionally interpreted by Roman Catholicism, that with the Apostle Peter began an unending line of papal succession, with Peter serving as the first bishop of Rome. Protestants, who obviously reject papal claims, tend to offer a variety of other explanations for who or what “this rock” (tē petra) is or represents. Some will adhere to “this rock” still representing Peter, or Peter as the main apostle representative of the other Apostles. Some adhere to “this rock” representing Peter’s confession of faith in Yeshua as the Messiah (Matthew 16:16). And, others think that “this rock” represents the Messiah Himself, per various Tanach passages which describe God as the Rock (i.e., 2 Samuel 22:3).

I personally view “this rock” as being the Messiah Himself, and with authority being granted by Yeshua to His Disciples, it can be said that the ekklēsia established has “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua Himself being the corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). Yeshua is the cornerstone, and the work of God’s vessels in the world continue what He has started for His people.

Messianic examination of Matthew 16:18-19 has actually tended to focus more on the issue of binding and loosing—a well-documented Hebraism regarding prohibiting and permitting—and how what is in view pertains to the establishment of halachah or orthopraxy for the faith community.[44] This is an authority that the Messiah granted to the Apostles. As the issue of halachah is considered by today’s Messianic people, there is a delicate balance that is often desired between Apostolic authority in the Messianic Scriptures, and fairly considering many of the perspectives and views of the Sages and Rabbis of Judaism. Yet, to the person interested in ecclesiology and the identity of God’s chosen, more attention should understandably be focused on Matthew 16:18 and not 16:19, and to the assembly that Yeshua stated He would establish.

In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, Stern only comments on the term ekklēsia, which he renders as “community” in his JNT/CJB. He makes some connections between ekklēsia and qahal:

Community, Greek ekklêsia, which means ‘called-one ones,’ and is used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew kahal, ‘assembly, congregation, community.’ The usual English translation of ekklêsia is ‘church’; and from it comes the word ‘ecclesiastical,’ meaning, ‘having to do with the church.’ The JNT sometimes uses ‘Messianic community’ or ‘congregation’ to render ekklêsia. What is being spoken about is a spiritual community of people based on trust in God and his son the Messiah Yeshua. This can be all people throughout history who so commit themselves, or a group of such people at a particular time and place, such as the Messianic community in Corinth or Jerusalem. The phrase, ‘the ekklêsia that meets in their house’ (Ro 16:5), refers to a particular congregation. Unlike ‘church,’ ekklêsia never refers to either an institution or a building.”[45]

While making a connection between the Greek ekklēsia and the Hebrew qahal, as well as some useful observations on the usages of ekklēsia in the Apostolic Scriptures—conspicuously absent from Stern’s remarks on Matthew 16:18, is how qahal is used in the Hebrew Tanach. What “community” or “assembly” is being established by Yeshua here?

More recent Messianic Jewish reflection on Matthew 16:18 can be seen in the commentary Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah, by Barney Kasdan (2011):

“Many English Bibles translate the word ekklesia as ‘church’ but this is merely an English adaptation of the Greek which itself is derived from the Hebrew kehilah. Upon this inspired confession of Yeshua’s messianic identity the entire community of New Covenant believers (both the Jewish and Gentile branches) would be built. In fact, the physical setting of this dialogue strongly confirms this view. One can imagine Yeshua standing at the foot of the massive cliff at Caesarea Philippi and bending down to pick up one of the many stones. It would have been a graphic object lesson as he quite logically held up a small stone as a symbol of Peter and then pointed to the massive cliff as symbolic of the foundational confession of Yeshua’s messiahship.”[46]

Kasdan interjects his own observations here: the community that Yeshua came to establish has two branches, or is composed of two sub-communities. Yet, other than making some kind of connection between ekklēsia and kehilah, he has made no real exegetical observations of significance. Such details, as will be further explained, have been overlooked for far too long in Messianic examination of Matthew 16:18.

Perhaps the most detailed examination, to date, of Matthew 16:18-19 in the Messianic world, is found in the 2009 volume, I Will Build My Ekklesia by Tim Hegg (pp 23-30). Aside from discussing the necessary spiritual implications of Yeshua’s ekklēsia emerging via His sacrifice for sinful humanity, the power of Sheol being nullified, and the necessary aspects of the Disciples and Apostles being granted authority to establish halachah/orthopraxy—what we should be most interested in, is whether or not this ekklēsia is a new assembly of chosen ones or elect. This makes the principal clause of interest, in Matthew 16:18, epi tautē tē petra oikodomēsō mou tēn ekklēsian, most worthy of attention:

“The statement of Yeshua in our text (Matt 16:18) not only promises the success of the ekklesia but it also discloses the methodology by which Yeshua would build His ekklesia. First, the use of the metaphoric ‘build’ (,…oikodomesõ, ‘I will build’), envisions the assembly of believers as a ‘house’ or ‘building.’ This is in concert with the commonly used phrase ‘house of Israel’ or ‘house of Judah’ ([beit-Yisrael] / [beit-Yehudah]) so often found in the Tanach. Moreover, throughout the Apostolic Scriptures, the assembly of believers in Yeshua is pictured as ‘God’s house’ ([Theo oikodomē], 1 Cor 3:9), ‘God’s household’ ([oikeioi tou Theou], Eph 2:19), and as a ‘spiritual house = Temple’ made up of ‘living stones’ ([lithoi zōntes oikodomeisthe oikos pneumatikos], 1 Pet 2:5). This metaphoric language of the Apostles rests, no doubt, upon the words of Yeshua in our current text.”[47]

Here, Hegg acknowledges some kind of connection between the concept of Yeshua building (Grk. verb oikodomeō) the ekklēsia, and various Tanach concepts witnessed in the Apostolic Scriptures regarding Israel, God’s House, God’s Temple, etc. He further elaborates, on how Yeshua’s word is connected not just to the prophesied restoration of Israel, but also with the Abrahamic blessing spreading to the nations via His work:

“…[I]n some aspects the ekklesia is new, while in others it is not. It is new in the sense that it incorporates the ingathering of the elect from the nations, something that could not occur until the time of consummation. It is not new because the remnant of Israel had always constituted the people of God in an eternal sense, and thus existed before the incarnation of Yeshua.

“….If, as we have suggested, the ekklesia in its simplest definition is ‘the people of God,’ and if we further define the ekklesia in eternal aspects as ‘those who have a true saving relationship with God,’ then the remnant of Israel throughout the ages constituted the ekklesia of God. When, however, Yeshua declared ‘I will build my ekklesia,’ He was envisioning the consummation—the completion of the promise made to Abraham. His ekklesia would be the realization of the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31-34) in which the Torah of God would be written on the heart. What is more, Yeshua teaches us that it would be through His own death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession that the ingathering of the Gentiles would take place. His final commission to the Apostles (Matt 28:18-20) makes this clear, for the commission is given on the basis that ‘all authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth.’ His ekklesia, then, would be ‘new’ in the sense that it would be fashioned to include the elect from the nations. The ingathering of the Gentiles, that necessary step to bring the covenant promises to fruition, was the new aspect of Yeshua’s ekklesia. And this new aspect would require instruction and setting forth of those divinely ordained measures by which Jewish and Gentile believers could be reckoned as that ‘one new man’ (Eph 2:15), demonstrating the equal blessing of God to both through Yeshua’s saving work.

“But the ingathering of the Gentiles was not to a new entity. They would be gathered into the believing remnant of Israel, which was also necessary for the fulfillment of God’s promise. For He told Abraham, ‘in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’ (Gen 12:3). Granted, elsewhere the promise is stated ‘in your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed’ (Gen 22:18), and we know that the ‘seed’ can be understood as Yeshua Himself (cf. Gal 3:16). But it is ‘both-and’ not ‘either-or.’ The elect of the nations would be blessed ‘in you’ (=in Abraham’s family) and ‘in (or by) your seed’ (=Messiah). Thus, the ingathering of the nations in the final harvest is new. But the covenant people into which the Gentiles are gathered is not new—they constitute the believing remnant of Israel throughout the ages.”[48]

Even with a number of Calvinist presuppositions which I am not in full agreement with—there are points made in the above quotation with which people across the Messianic spectrum are bound to agree, and certainly have to factor into their evaluations of Matthew 16:18.

It might be that the answer, of what assembly Yeshua intended to establish, can be easily deduced by conducting one of the most basic parts of Inductive Bible Study: seeing where the verb “build” appears elsewhere, either in the Apostolic Scriptures or Greek Septuagint. This is one important feature of the discussion over “upon this rock I will build My community” (Matthew 16:18, TLV), that I have yet to see any Messianic examiner, to date, really consider.

The verb translated as “will build” in most English Bibles, is the Greek future active indicative oikodomēsō. Here are some key places where oikodomēsō appears in the Greek Septuagint (LXX), which need not escape our notice:

“Almighty Lord God of Israel, thou hast uncovered the ear of thy servant, saying, I will build thee a house [LXX: oikon oikodomēsō soi; MT: bayit ebeneh-lakh]: therefore thy servant has found in his heart to pray this prayer to thee” (2 Samuel 7:27, LXE).

“And it shall come to pass, if thou wilt keep all the commandments that I shall give thee, and wilt walk in my ways, and do that which is right before me, to keep my ordinances and my commandments, as David my servant did, that I will be with thee, and will build thee [LXX: oikodomēsō soi oikon; MT: u’baniti lekha bayit] a sure house, as I built to David” (1 Kings 11:38, LXE).

“I will establish thy seed for ever, and build up [LXX: oikodomēsō; MT: u’baniti] thy throne  to all generations. Pause” (Psalm 89:4, LXE).

“For I will build thee, and thou shalt be built [LXX: oikodomēsō se kai oikodomēthēsē; MT: eb’neikh v’niv’neit], O virgin of Israel: thou shalt yet take thy timbrel, and go forth with the party of them that make merry” (Jeremiah 31:4 [38:4], LXE).

“And I will turn the captivity of Juda and the captivity of Israel, and will build them [LXX: oikodomēsō autous; MT: u’benitim], even as before” (Jeremiah 33:7 [40:7], LXE).

When we see these varied usages of oikodomēsō, they all pertain to either the establishment of the Davidic monarchy, the building up of the Temple of God, or even the end-time restoration of Israel. It also appears in Mark 14:58, in reference to the work of Yeshua: “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build [oikodomēsō] another made without hands.’”

Two notable definitions of the verb oikodomeō, provided by BDAG, include “to construct a building, build” and “to help improve ability to function in living responsibly and effectively, strengthen, build up, make more able.”[49] AMG offers the definition “to rebuild or renew a building decayed or destroyed,”[50] which is something which surely fits the context of the restoration of God’s people in the eschaton.

With some of these passages in view—notably Jeremiah 31:4 and 33:7—it sits within the semantic range of definitions to render Matthew 16:18 as “upon this rock I will rebuild My assembly.” And, the assembly that Yeshua came to build/rebuild was hardly a new ekklēsia of chosen, but rather a restored Kingdom of Israel brought to fruition via His work, and certainly enlarged to incorporate the righteous from the nations.

There has not been a huge amount of contemporary discussion among examiners—that I have been able to find, at least—making any substantial connections between passages like Jeremiah 31:4; 33:7; and Matthew 16:18 and oikodomēsō. There is one connection, though, that I ran into when conducting the work for my Ephesians for the Practical Messianic commentary (2008), seen in Peter T. O’Brien’s commentary (Pillar) on Ephesians 4:12,[51] where he observes,

“According to the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, the restoration of Israel after the judgment of the exile is promised in terms of God building a people for himself (Jer. 24:6; 31:4; 33:7), and he does this by putting his words in the mouths of his prophets (Jer. 1:9-10). Matthew 16:18 (‘I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’) expresses the idea that…the Messiah Jesus is the one who builds or establishes the renewed community of the people of God.”[52]

If Matthew 16:18 can be directly associated with various Tanach promises about God restoring, i.e., rebuilding Israel—then what does this do to a number of Messianic Jewish claims about “the Church” being a separate entity, perhaps related to but ultimately outside of, Israel? It severely weakens, if not demolishes, bilateral ecclesiology. The assembly in view, in Matthew 16:18, is none other than an explicit claim from the Messiah to restore Israel upon the work of Himself, and subsequently the Apostles. The assembly of Israel He came to rebuild (oikodomēsō) surely involves the fulfillment of the many promises of regathering and the end of exile for the Jewish people and the Twelve Tribes at large—but also the expansion of Israel to include the righteous of the nations into an enlarged Kingdom realm.

There is not a big surprise in my mind, why some of the finer details of Matthew 16:18—beyond ekklēsia and qahal being somehow related—have not really been explored by some of today’s Messianic Jewish teachers and leaders. No different than the Christian teacher who wants to dismiss Matthew 5:17-19, affording a degree of continuity and validity to the Torah of Moses[53]—so does Matthew 16:18 not affirm the establishment of a new entity of elect, but instead affirms the Messiah’s mission to restore Israel. This is not just an anticipated national restoration of Israel, but is a spiritual entity incorporating far more than just ethnic Jews or Israelites into its polity.

Sadly, there is rhetoric present throughout contemporary Messianic Judaism, where if non-Jewish Believers get to be incorporated into Israel’s Kingdom realm—which has been expanded and enlarged—that one might as well be guilty of promoting replacement theology. Yet, interpreters such as myself have not denied the Jewish right to the Holy Land, nor have we denied the promises to the physical descendants of the Patriarchs; I am not going to be making aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. I am simply one who considers himself as a citizen of Israel’s Kingdom (Ephesians 2:11-13), a realm whose rule reaches beyond the Holy Land. As a non-Jewish Believer, I am a part of the righteous remnant from humanity that has sought the Lord (Acts 15:15-18; Amos 9:11-12), and I surely get to participate in Israel’s restoration and expansion, without expecting to live in territory only specifically promised to Israel’s Twelve Tribes.

With the Gospel of Matthew in view for Matthew 16:18-19, Kinzer makes note of the infancy narrative, which includes some of the ancestors of Yeshua (Matthew 1:3, 5-6) and the wise men (Matthew 2:2; cf. Psalm 72:10-11, 15; Isaiah 60:6, 12, 14-16). He actually thinks,

“Matthew’s infancy narrative anticipates the future turning of Gentiles to the God of Israel. However, this conversion of the Gentiles is represented also as a turning to the Israel of God. The converted Gentiles do not replace Israel but are joined to her.”[54]

While I may think that “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) pertains to the eschatological, restored and expanded realm of Israel (discussed further)—Kinzer does address how the righteous from the nations will be attached to Israel, and rightly does not consider it to be some sort of replacement, but rather an addition. Of course, while being joined to Israel sounds good on paper, putting this into practice, where all can feel welcome and worship together as one body—has hardly been easy to implement.

John 10:14-18

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

Yeshua’s words pertaining to, “I am the good shepherd…,” are those which have had a tendency to speak very deeply into the hearts of many of His followers throughout history. In addition to the statements that He makes about being the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep, Bible readers should also be reminded of how the Lord said,

For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (Matthew 18:11-14; cf. Luke 15:3-7).

Bringing a single sheep of His into His fold, is something very special to the Lord. Likewise, bringing groups of sheep together is not to be dismissed or downplayed as unimportant. An individual’s salvation is to naturally be followed by an understanding of the corporate redemption which is to come to all of God’s own.

John 10:14-18, delivered during Yeshua’s time at the Portico of Solomon during the Festival of Lights (Chanukah), were extremely significant words when it came to the mission He was to fulfill from the Father. Of importance regarding the people of God is the Messiah’s assertion, “I have other sheep which are not from this pen; I need to bring them, and they will hear my voice; and there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16, CJB). It is widely and appropriately recognized by interpreters across the spectrum that “Other sheep may refer to Gentile followers” (Adele Reinhartz, Jewish Annotated New Testament).[55] At the time of Yeshua making this statement, the principal flock of sheep He was serving were His own Jewish people in Judea. He anticipates, on behalf of His coming sacrifice, that sheep from the nations will be gathered in as well—and that together the Jewish sheep and those sheep from the nations will become “one flock,” mia poimnē.

In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, Stern offers the following general remarks on John 10:16:

I have other sheep which are not from this pen, namely, Gentiles, whom Yeshua says he will combine with the Jews into one flock under himself, the one shepherd. Although at first he sent his talmidim only to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Mt 10:5) and spoke of his own commission in the same way (Mt. 15:24), this limitation applied only to his life before resurrection. Moreover, he intimated the coming inclusion of Gentiles when he healed the Roman army officer’s orderly (Mt. 8:5-13) and the daughter of the woman from Cana’an (Mt 15:22-28), ministered to the woman at the well in Shomron (4:1-26), and prophesied that many would come from the east and the west to sit down with the Patriarchs (8:11) and that some nations (or Gentiles; see Mt. 5:46N) would be judged favorably (Mt. 25:31-46&N).”[56]

Some more compelling elaboration on John ch. 10, and its implications for Jewish and non-Jewish Believers—not only in the Body of Messiah, but also in Israel proper itself—have been witnessed in at least one popular book found in today’s Messianic movement. D. Thomas Lancaster has commented quite poignantly on John ch. 10 in Chapter 7 of his 2009 book Grafted In: Israel, Gentiles, and the Mystery of the Gospel, titled “The Flock of Israel” (pp 77-88), with the flock of sheep which Yeshua is speaking of being Israel, and additional sheep from the nations joining into this flock. He first asserts the Biblical truth of how,

“Over and over again, the Bible compares Israel to a flock. She is the flock of the LORD. Her leaders are her shepherds, appointed by her ultimate shepherd, the LORD himself. ‘You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron [Psalm 77:20],’ the psalmist sings. ‘Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock [Psalm 80:1].’”[57]

Much later in his discussion on John ch. 10, he makes light of Yeshua’s words in Matthew 8:11-12:

“I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

It is important to note how Lancaster’s Grafted In has had a wide distribution in many Messianic sectors,[58] including Messianic Jewish congregations (likely in their bookstore or Judaica shop) which may not always tend to think of non-Jewish Believers as being a part of the polity of Israel. This is important to keep in mind, as his conclusions on these sayings of Yeshua need to be referenced, given ongoing debates over Jewish and non-Jewish Believers coming together:

“In this saying, the many who will come from the east and the west are Gentiles like the centurion [Luke 7:4-6]. He and his faith are contrasted against the faithlessness of Israel. Those who come to be seated are Gentiles. Those who are cast out are Israelites.

“This is a hard saying because it seems to play into the hand of replacement theology. However, it does not mean that all Israel will be rejected and replaced by Gentiles. The banquet prophecy is close to Paul’s olive tree analogy. In that passage, some branches are broken off so that wild branches may be grafted in. So too with the feast in the age to come. Some unworthy elements of Israel are sent from the table in order to make room for worthy Gentiles to sit down….

“Being seated at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not second-class citizenship. The Master regarded Gentiles as legitimate citizens in the kingdom of heaven, seated at the table of the righteous, even seated with the patriarchs! To be seated with the fathers, one must be part of the family. Those Gentiles brought from the east and the west were not Israel, but they were seated with Israel and thus have become a part of Israel.

“When Yeshua said this, he assigned Gentiles of faith the highest possible honor according to anyone in the whole of the kingdom of heaven. From his perspective, there is no cause for a Gentile inferiority complex. The Gentiles of faith will sit at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the table of Israel—together with Israel.”[59]

Returning to Yeshua’s statements in John ch. 10 about His flock of sheep, Lancaster further asserts in Grafted In (2009),

“Notice that the Master does not say, ‘There shall be two flocks.’ Rather, there will be one flock. And it is the Gentiles who are joined to the flock of Israel, not vice versa. In the parable, Yeshua leads the Gentiles into the flock of Israel. Again, the Master does not assign Gentiles second-place status, nor does he separate them from Israelites. They are all to be in one flock, with one shepherd. The Gentiles have full participation in the flock of Israel because the Good Shepherd joins them to the flock of Israel….He envisioned a day when he would lead the Gentiles like a flock of sheep and join them to the flock of Israel. From the Master’s perspective, Gentiles of faith are to be identified with Israel and in Israel.”[60]

In these quotations that I have offered from Lancaster and his book Grafted In (2009), there is nothing which I personally disagree with, in reference to “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16, NIV). Here, Lancaster has actually gone further than I probably would have, in asserting that non-Jewish Believers via the Messiah get to enter into Israel, alongside of righteous Jews, and get to sit at the same table with them. If I were commenting on John ch. 10, I would have focused more on God’s righteous sheep from His Jewish people and the nations coming together, having been atoned for by the work of His Son, and how on this basis they are to be united, because of their common sinful humanity requiring the same redemption. In actuality, any thoughts about the nations coming into Israel and being identified with Israel, as claimed by Lancaster, would actually have been tertiary thoughts, for me at least.

As we see new developments in Messianic ecclesiology, though, and readers and interpreters obviously will have to consider John 10:14-18, what changes could we anticipate? That John 10:14-18 envisions unity among all of God’s people in Messiah as composing “one flock” is an undeniable claim of the text. However, because of complicated religious politics and entangling alliances, it is possible that various voices who once stated that non-Jewish Believers—while clearly not replacing the Jewish people when entering into Israel via their Messiah faith—could modify their statements, emphasizing that they probably need to now be regarded as a separate pen of sheep, in distinction to God’s Jewish pen, even though they are still to be “one flock.” Problematic for such an conclusion, though, is the level of unity further required by Yeshua’s prayer of John 17:11, presenting a goal which is likely never going to be entirely reached by any His followers: “…that they may be one even as We [Father and Son] are…”

Acts 1:6

“So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’”

The Apostles’ question, “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6, TLV), apokathistaneis tēn basileian tō Israēl, is obviously most important to consider in the scope of salvation history. Not only would this have involved, for the Apostles, but more so their contemporaries living in Judea, a defeat of its Roman occupiers and total expulsion of paganism from the region—but it would have also involved a regathering of the exiles of Israel, a restoration of the Twelve Tribes to their home country, and a permanent sovereignty over the Promised Land. Obviously when reading Acts 1:6-11 fully, something a bit different—and much bigger—from what the Apostles originally thought, was planned:

“So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’ And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Yeshua, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:6-11).

More obviously had to transpire—such as the good news of the Messiah’s salvation, going out to the entire Earth—before the total restoration of Israel could be accomplished.

In his Jewish New Testament/Complete Jewish Bible, Stern renders Acts 1:6 with the view that what is being described is only the defeat of the Ancient Romans and the restoration of Jewish autonomy: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore self-rule to Isra’el?” He then comments in his Jewish New Testament Commentary about some views of Acts 1:6, which appear less concerned about the Biblical setting, events, and associated events with Israel’s restoration—and more about the problem of replacement theology in various Christian sectors:

“[T]here is a different point which many Christians need to learn from Yeshua’s answer, namely, that God will indeed restore self-rule to Israel. There is an ancient, widespread and pernicious Christian teaching that the Church is the ‘New’ or ‘Spiritual’ Israel, having replaced the Jews as God’s people. In this view…God’s promises to Israel were nullified when ‘the Jews’ refused to accept Jesus (never mind that all the first believers were Jews). This false theology, impugning the character of God by suggesting that he will welch on his promises, has provided apparent justification for many antisemitic acts in the Church. It also lies behind most Christian protestations that the present-day regathering of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is without theological or biblical significance.”[61]

Kinzer, surprisingly, actually has a much better handle on the subject matter than Stern does. He has a wider salvation history perspective on Acts 1:6 and the intentions of the Book of Acts. Kinzer suggests that there is potential intertextual reliance on Zechariah chs. 12-14, and he even recognizes an inclusion of the nations in the restored Messianic Kingdom subsequent to the Second Coming. He states the following in his book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism (2005):

…The apostles ask Yeshua, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). He does not answer this question but instead urges them to devote themselves to the task of being his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This verse has often been read as an anticipation of the geographic structure of the book of Acts. In the next verse Yeshua is “lifted up,” and he ascends to heaven in a cloud (Acts 1:9). While the apostles stare into the sky, two angelic figures appear and assure the astonished onlookers that their Messiah, “who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11). The unit concludes by informing us that this all took place on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12).

What is the meaning of the angelic prophecy? What is intended by the words “in the same way”? Verse 12 likely offers the key to answering these questions. It points us to Zechariah 14:

For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle . . . . Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley. . . .Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. (Zechariah 14:2-5)

Just as Yeshua ascends now from the Mount of Olives, so he will descend at the end to the Mount of Olives. Just as he ascends now from Jerusalem, so he will descend at the end to Jerusalem. Jerusalem will suffer many things, just as Zechariah 12-14 foretells. But she will be consoled when her Lord comes to defend her at the end, his feet standing on the Mount of Olives.

This intertextual reading of Acts 1:6-12 confirms the hypothesis that Luke in Acts deliberately tells an unfinished story. The story reaches its end only when the people of Israel as a whole responds to Yeshua with words of welcome, saying, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Then the Messiah will return to Jerusalem, restore his people, and consummate all things. In the meantime, the geographic arc remains incomplete.

We may tentatively go even further. Might Luke think of what is yet to occur, not as a completion of his second book, but as a new and unwritten third book? This notion arises through recognizing the relationship between Luke-Acts and the first two of Israel’s pilgrim feasts—Passover and Pentecost. Early in Luke we read of Yeshua and his family sojourning to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover (Luke 2:41). As we already noted, the central narrative of Luke is then structured around Yeshua’s journey to Jerusalem, again in order to celebrate the Passover (Luke 22:1, 7-8, 11, 13, 15). The book of Acts has a similar relationship to the second pilgrim festival, Pentecost. The book begins with the giving of the Spirit on this day (Acts 2:1). Later the book describes Paul’s final journey to Jerusalem in a way that makes it resemble Yeshua’s pilgrimage before his death. But whereas Yeshua went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, Paul goes for Pentecost (Acts 20:16). If this relationship between Luke-Acts and Passover-Pentecost is deliberative rather than accidental, we are justified in asking, What about the third pilgrim festival—the Feast of Booths? The festival year is incomplete without this crucial feast, which anticipates the final harvest and Israel’s redeemed life (with the nations) in the world to come. Are we facing another mere coincidence in the fact that a key reading for this holiday is Zechariah 14?

And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one. . . . Then all who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths. (Zechariah 14:9, 16)

If the Gospel of Luke is related to Passover, and the Acts of the Apostles to Pentecost, then the as-yet-unwritten conclusion to this trilogy will be related to Booths—as Acts 1:6-12 intimates.[62]

Kinzer, who may be considered the main figure responsible for those in Messianic Judaism who adhere to a bilateral ecclesiology, actually has a much more engaged and more proper perspective, than does Stern, on Acts 1:6. Kinzer has obviously thought through Acts 1:6-12 much more thoroughly, concluding that there are some deliberate typologies being communicated between Yeshua going up from Jerusalem, coming down to Jerusalem in the future, Yeshua going to commemorate Passover in the Gospel of Luke, and Paul going to commemorate Pentecost/Shavuot in the Book of Acts. Most especially telling, in association with the question of the Disciples, as to whether or not the Messiah will restore the Kingdom to Israel, is how Kinzer asserts that “the Messiah will return to Jerusalem, restore his people, and consummate all things.”[63] While surely involving the restoration of Israel proper, this obviously has to involve much more. He further acknowledges how in the eschaton will be witnessed “the final harvest and Israel’s redeemed life (with the nations),”[64] quoting Zechariah 14:16 (NRSV) and how the nations will all be definitely observing the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles in the Millennium.

Even though Kinzer would assert that God’s Kingdom is to be regarded as composing a bilateral ecclesiology model of Israel/the Jewish people and the Christian Church—the nations being involved in the restored Kingdom of Israel in the Messianic Age is nevertheless present. Interpreters such as myself, in association with other passages (discussed further), would see God’s Kingdom not via some model of a bilateral ecclesiology, but instead via an enlargement model of Israel’s Kingdom realm. The survivor nations (not separate independent states/kingdoms, but instead ethnic/people groups incorporated into Israel’s reign) will have no choice but to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, lest they not have any rain (Zechariah 14:17). This is a definite indicator that King Messiah is the One who is to rule the whole of Planet Earth with a strict rod of iron.[65]

Acts 2:36-39

“‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah—this Yeshua whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Yeshua the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’”

Individual Messianic people are generally astute enough to: (1) recognize that the Holy Spirit being poured out to those gathered at Pentecost, was in actually a major prophetic fulfillment of the Torah-prescribed festival of Shavuot, and that (2) this hardly constitutes the birth of some second group of elect known as “the Church.”[66] The main audience which is targeted with Peter’s dynamic preaching in Acts 2:36 is stated to be his own fellow Jews, gathered in Jerusalem to commemorate the appointed festival: “Therefore, let the whole house of Isra’el know beyond doubt that God has made him both Lord and Messiah—this Yeshua, whom you executed on a stake!” (CJB). The message of salvation in Yeshua, as Peter further specifies, “is for you, for your children, and for those far away—as many as ADONAI our God may call!” (Acts 2:39, CJB). Regardless of whether “children” are considered to be the children not in attendance here in Jerusalem, or the succeeding generations, the message that Peter declared was one which was inclusive across time and across the ancient Mediterranean social spectrum.

That the good news of salvation in Israel’s Messiah is to be universally declared to the entire world, is not something that any rationally thinking Messianic person today disagrees with. Obviously, there are many dynamics of the good news or gospel message, beyond that of personal redemption—particularly as they pertain to further growth in holiness and sanctification, and the good works of grace and mercy which are to manifest in a heart and mind changed by the Messiah—which are not emphasized enough in contemporary Christianity. Yet, failing to recognize that early on in Acts 2:36-39, that the good news of salvation declared to the House of Israel, was also intended by Peter for everyone on Planet Earth, is something that can be documented by some of today’s Messianic Jewish leaders. Such misunderstanding of missiology, can decisively affect a person’s judgment when it concerns answering the question, Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel?

In his book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile (2013), Boaz Michael makes a glaring textual omission in regard to Acts 2:38-39:

“Yeshua surely preached the gospel; his message—‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’—is just as much ‘the gospel’ today as it was two thousand years ago. When Peter adjured the crowds after the coming of the Spirit on Shavuot in Acts 2:38-39, his message was not ‘believe in Jesus; go to heaven.’ It was ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’

“Notice several things about this exhortation. First, repentance, not baptism, is primary. Second, ‘the promise’ of the giving of the Holy Spirit is specifically given to a corporate people, Israel: ‘for you’—that is, those Jews and proselytes who were present—‘and for your children’—that is, the next generation of Jews—‘and for all who are far off’—those Jews in the Diaspora who had not made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem that year. (The Gentile mission did not enter Peter’s mind until eight chapters later, in Acts 10.)”[67]

Michael’s assertions in the first paragraph are right to emphasize that the good news, in its entirety, is a message of repentance and transformation of one’s behavior and lifestyle, as a Messiah follower will be a person oriented toward God and good deeds.[68] His quotation of Acts 2:39, in the first paragraph, did not make any error. The verse says, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (ESV). But in Michael’s commentary in the second paragraph, he only makes light of “all who are far off,” and totally excludes “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself,” hosous an proskalesētai Kurios ho Theos hēmōn. He concludes that “all who are far off” are just those Diaspora Jews who were unable to attend Shavuot/Pentecost at the time.

Who does Michael think constitutes “as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:39)? This is where he, as a Messianic Jewish leader of reputation, whether he consciously knows it or not, reveals a definite bias against non-Jewish Believers. Without having to go very far, the statement “and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (NIV), is recognized by two study Bibles which sit within armreach on my own desk, the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible[69] and the venerable NIV Study Bible,[70] to have some kind of intertextual relationship with Ephesians 2:12-13, and the salvation of the nations as those who “formerly were far off.” That something quite obvious like this was missed for a book like Tent of David—anticipated to have wide distribution in the broad Messianic world—is rather unacceptable. Even if a concentrated declaration of the good news to the nations did not really begin until Acts 10, Peter’s message declared at Shavuot/Pentecost was not one exclusively to his own Jewish people, especially given Yeshua’s own instruction to the Apostles earlier (Acts 1:8).

Acts 15:15-18

“With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After these things I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,’ SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO [Amos 9:11-12, LXX].”

The statements made by James the Just, half-brother of Yeshua the Messiah, at the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council, were squarely intended to place the salvation of the nations within the context of the final restoration of Israel. The Apostolic assembly had been gathered to address a tenuous situation which had arisen in Antioch, where various hyper-conservative Jewish Believers, who were Pharisees, had insisted that the new, non-Jewish Believers be circumcised as proselytes and be ordered to keep the Mosaic Torah for eternal salvation (Acts 15:1, 5). The Apostle Peter testified before the representatives that to do so would be tantamount to tempting God, as Jewish people and those of the nations were saved equally the same way, by the grace of Yeshua (Acts 15:7-11).

James the Just, who would issue the Apostolic decree (Acts 15:19-21, 29)—which would mandate the new, non-Jewish Believers to adhere to four, non-negotiable essentials in order to have fellowship with Jewish Believers, beginning their path of discipleship—is the one who made the connection between the salvation of the nations and Tanach prophecy taking place. He indicates, “Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name” (Acts 15:14). It cannot be overlooked here that as God’s intention is to bring forth “a people” or laos, ex ethnōn or “out of the nations,” that there is some important background behind this associated with Israel. The Greek term laos is quite loaded, because in the Septuagint it frequently translates the Hebrew am. “In the LXX laós occurs some 2,000 times, seldom in the plural, and with a specific reference to Israel as God’s people. In most instances the Hebrew original is ‘am” (TDNT).[71]

The Greek term laos or “people” is frequently seen in the Septuagint as a reference to the people of Israel (i.e., Exodus 6:7; Deuteronomy 4:20, 14:2; 26:18-19; 32:9). Deuteronomy 14:2 from the LXX affirms, “For you are a people holy [laos hagios] to the Lord your God, and it is you the Lord your God has chosen to be an exceptional people to him out of all the nations on the face of the earth” (NETS). The thrust of Zechariah 2:11 is often thought to be behind what James is claiming of the nations’ salvation in Acts 15:14:

“Many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day and will become My people [v’hayu li l’am]. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.”

In the Hebrew MT, this prophecy employs the term am, and in the Greek LXX it is translated by the term laos. Stern, as a Messianic Jewish commentator, actually does note in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, “Although at [Acts] 10:2 and [Acts] 10:42 [laos] refers to the Jewish people…here the implication is that Gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be included in the laos, because God is now doing something new.”[72] The viewpoint of James was how the non-Jewish Believers coming to faith in Israel’s Messiah were going to be incorporated into the am Yisrael, as anticipated by the Prophets (Acts 15:15). But this would surely not be represented as somehow replacing or displacing James’ own Jewish people—rather, as is seen in the prophecy of the Tabernacle of David, the borders of the people of God, indeed Israel itself, would be enlarged.

Anticipating people coming from the nations and joining with the Jewish people, is not something unexpected, but is something to be anticipated by the Tanach Scriptures. Before referencing Amos 9:11-12—and certainly to discount the meddling nature of those who wanted to demand that the non-Jewish Believers become proselytes—James’ placed all attention on the responsibility to heed the Prophets. He said, “With this the words of the Prophets agree” (Acts 15:15), hoi logoi tōn prophētōn, with both “words” and “prophets” in the plural. This indicates that while Amos 9:11-12 may be quoted, James would by no means limit the inclusion of the nations, or the scope of events to be anticipated, to this single prophecy.

It is easy to detect from English Bibles, when consulting Amos 9:11-12 and Acts 15:16-18, that there appear to be some differences between what Amos prophesied and what James stated. It has long been recognized among expositors that what appears in Acts 15:16-18, is actually from the Greek Septuagint.[73] Other than the fact that Amos 9:11-12 in the LXX does represent some ancient Jewish views of the restoration of David’s Tabernacle (or Tent), it should not be surprising why James appealed to the LXX, as what he would be ruling would have a decisive influence on how the good news was communicated to ancient people in the Mediterranean basin.

The chart below compares and contrasts the readings of Amos 9:11-12, from both the Hebrew MT and Greek LXX:

AMOS 9:11-12 (MT)

AMOS 9:11-12 (LXX)

“In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old; That they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,” declares the LORD who does this.

 

On that day I will raise up the tent of Dauid that is fallen and rebuild its ruins and raise up its destruction, and rebuild it as in the days of old in order that those remaining of humans and all the nations upon whom my name has been called might seek out me, says the Lord who does these things (NETS).
[11] b’yom ha’hu aqim et-sukkat David ha’nofelet v’gadar’ti et-pir’tzei’hen v’harisotayv aqim u’benitiyha k’ymei olam [12] l’ma’an yirshu et-sh’eirit Edom v’kol-ha’goyim asher-niqra shemi alei’hem ne’um-ADONAI oseh zot

 

 

[11] en tē hēmera ekeinē anastēsō tēn skēnēn Dauid tēn peptōkuian kai anoikodomēsō ta peptōkota autēs kai ta kateskammena autēs anastēsō kai anoikodomēsō autēn kathōs hai hēmerai tou aiōnos [12] hopōs ekzētēsōsin hoi kataloipoi tōn anthrōpōn kai panta ta ethnē eph’ hous epikeklētai to onoma mou ep’ autous legei Kurios ho Theos ho poiōn tauta

The main difference that one should be able to immediately notice between the MT of Amos 9:11-12, and what appears in both the LXX and James’ quotation, is the usage of “THE REST OF MANKIND” (Acts 15:17, NASU) instead of “the remnant of Edom.” Here, the MT reading of sh’eirit Edom is rendered by the LXX as hoi kataloipoi tōn anthrōpōn. This difference can be explained on the basis of how Edom is closely connected to adam, which is not only the name of the first person in the Bible, but also means “mankind, people” (HALOT).[74] The interpretation of “the remnant of man” simply passed into the LXX, which employed anthrōpos, itself meaning “the human race” (BDAG).[75]

A second difference that appears between the MT and LXX is less easy to spot. The MT reads with “That they may possess the remnant of Edom” (Amos 9:12), whereas the LXX has the totally different “SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD” (Acts 15:17, NASU). Aside from the LXX’s theological value judgments, the MT of Amos 9:12 uses the verb yarash, meaning “take possession of, inherit, dispossess” (BDB),[76] speaking of the restored Tabernacle of David taking a hold of Edom. Contrary to this, the LXX uses ekzēteō, “to exert effort to find out or learn someth., seek out, search for” (BDAG),[77] speaking of this remnant of humanity trying to find the Lord as a major result of the restored Tabernacle of David.

In addition to any theological opinion interjected by the LXX’s Jewish translators, it might also be that the verb darash, “resort to, seek” (BDB),[78] could have been the original reading.[79]

The main point of drawing the attention of the Jerusalem Council to Amos 9:11-12, was to emphasize how a restored Tabernacle of David (sukkat David; tēn skēnēn Dauid)—representative of a united Kingdom of Israel of all Twelve Tribes at its center—would expand beyond itself. If one follows the Hebrew MT, this is represented by how during the reigns of David and Solomon, not only was the Kingdom of Israel at its height of power, but Edom was annexed by it (2 Samuel 8:14). Or, if one follows the Greek LXX, God’s faithful remnant from among humanity will seek Him, come to a knowledge of Messiah Yeshua, and be a part of the Messianic Kingdom with Him as the Greater David. Either way, a larger restoration of Israel is in view, and there are worthwhile reasons for us to consider both the MT and LXX to have prophetic validity. There will be a decisive enlargement of Israel’s Kingdom realm, of which those from the nations get to be citizens. Gary Gilbert, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, concurs,

“The Hebrew version speaks of Israel’s possessing other nations. The Septuagint, which in Luke’s version here is what James quotes, refers to God’s act of restoration of all peoples, Jews and Gentiles.”[80]

James placed the nations’ coming to faith within the prophecies of the restoration of the Tabernacle of David and Israel’s Kingdom. The imagery of David, representing King Messiah, rules over the Kingdom of Israel, and His reign obviously affects not only the Jewish people—but most especially the whole world. Isaiah 49:6, a rather general word, details how the restoration of Israel via the Messiah, involves the tribes of Israel and the nations both being impacted with His light:

“It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

James knew that the restoration of Israel had started with King Messiah’s reign having begun, and not only with many of his fellow Jews having acknowledged Yeshua, but also with people from the nations coming to faith in Him. A long, hard process had started. So, James’ attestation in Acts 15:19, prefacing the Apostolic decree, “wherefore I judge: not to trouble those who from the nations do turn back to God” (YLT), was a wise word. Requiring the new, non-Jewish Believers, to become instantaneous proselytes to Judaism, keeping the Torah to be saved (Acts 15:1, 5), was surely contrary to the will of the Spirit. The New Covenant enacted by God’s Spirit would write the Torah onto the hearts of His people (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:27)—something that would take place at His pace, not the pace of any demanding mortal. The nations were to come to Zion and be taught from the Torah, as the word of the Lord or gospel went forth (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3).

James emphasized that since the nations coming to faith is something prophesied in the Tanach, that those who were turning to the God of Israel need not be troubled. The Greek verb epistrephō, in Acts 15:19, mainly means “to cause a pers. to change belief or course of conduct, with focus on the thing to which one turns” (BDAG).”[81] It is notable, though, that it appears in a prophetic word like Amos 9:14—“Also I will restore [Heb. MT: shuv; Grk. LXX: epistrephō] the captivity of My people Israel…”[82] With the very verb describing Israel proper’s return applied to the salvation of the nations, this should be taken as a good indicator that the Apostles not only recognized that the salvation of the nations signaled a major step forward in Israel’s ultimate, corporate redemption—but they really did consider the non-Jewish Believers coming to faith to be participants within such a restoration, along with them (Acts 15:14; cf. Zechariah 2:11). Jewish and non-Jewish Believers were all going to be involved, and all were to be brothers and sisters in the Lord. It was/is to all culminate in what is embodied by the promise,

“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them” (Ezekiel 37:24).

Even today, we have still not witnessed the complete restoration of David’s Tabernacle. Many of us believe that the very reason the Messianic movement has now truly been emerging in our generation, growing in significant numbers, is to see Israel’s restoration completely come to fruition one day. Although many things will need to be sorted out by God’s sovereign hand, it is something that involves more than just Jewish people coming to faith in Israel’s Messiah; it will affect the whole world and people from all nations who call upon Yeshua for salvation.

If we interpret Amos 9:11-12 and Acts 15:15-18 from the perspective of representing an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel—with a restored Twelve Tribes at its center, King Messiah’s reign extending beyond itself, and the righteous from the nations likened unto those annexed territories like Edom—obviously, then non-Jewish Believers are not a part of some separate “Church” entity per bilateral ecclesiology. But what have some notable others, in the contemporary Messianic movement, said about Amos 15:15-18? Here is where we actually witness some variances of interpretation, but most notably, variance of application.

Stern only offers some rather general observations on Acts 15:15-18 in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, appropriately acknowledging that the Septuagint version is what is quoted, but only going so far as to state that the salvation of the nations is a beginning component of the Tabernacle of David being restored:

“Kefa [Peter] has described recent events; Ya’akov [James] ties them to received prophecy in the Tanakh. The quotation itself (vv. 16-18) is Amos 9:11-12, approximately as found in the Septuagint….The complete fulfillment of Amos’s prophecy will take place when the undivided realm of King David’s time is restored. Meanwhile, this is a beginning.”[83]

Lancaster offers some rather extensive remarks on the Tabernacle (sukkah) of David in his book Grafted In (2009), which are quantitatively similar to my own, as previously summarized:

“…[I]n the days of Amos, the Davidic monarchy wasn’t what it had been. David’s house used to rule over a united Israel. All twelve tribes served under David and under David’s son Solomon. There was peace and prosperity when all the tribes of Israel were unified under the shelter of David’s sukkah. But Amos lived in a time when ten of the twelve tribes were outside of the Davidic monarchy. They had their own king, Jeroboam II. They had their own capital and their own holy places. The Davidic monarchy, which used to rule over all the tribes of Israel, retained only two tribes: Judah and Benjamin. By comparison to what it once was, it had collapsed.

“The prophet saw that one day David’s house would collapse completely and there would be no king from the line of David sitting on the throne of Israel or Judah. But after that, Amos tells us, David’s fallen sukkah will be rebuilt. The dynasty will be restored. A new Davidic king will sit on the throne of all of Israel again. The broken places of the monarchy will be repaired; the ruins of David’s dynasty will be restored.

“When that happens, the house of David will possess ‘the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear [the LORD’s] Name.’ It is a picture of the prophetic ideal. Things will return to the way they were in the good old days. It will be like it was in the days of Solomon, when Edom was a vassal state of Israel and all the nations brought tribute to King Solomon in Jerusalem. A Davidic king will rule out of Jerusalem. His house will possess Edom and all the nations will be subject to him, and all the nations subject to him will bear the LORD’s Name.

“The Gentile nations who bear God’s Name are nations like those the prophet invokes in Amos 9:7: ‘Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites? Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?’ (emphasis added). God’s point is that he is working with other nations too. He is not just the God of Israel; he is the God of the whole world. His plan of redemption is universal in scope and not limited only to Israel. When David’s fallen sukkah is restored, all these nations that he has patiently worked with will bear God’s Name and become the possession of the House of David. They will be ruled by the king of Israel as part of the commonwealth of Israel.

“The Septuagint reading of Amos 9:12 is slightly different. According to the book of Acts, James quotes a reading of the Hebrew closer to the Septuagint’s rendering of the passage. That version of the passage tells us that David’s fallen sukkah will be restored so ‘that the remnant of men, and all the Gentiles upon whom my Name is called, may earnestly seek me.’ Therefore, the purpose of a restored Davidic king is that all mankind may seek God.

“This Septuagint version apparently read the Hebrew Edom as adam, meaning all mankind. The two variants are not contradictory; rather, they complement each other’s meanings. According to the traditional Hebrew reading, the restored Davidic dynasty will possess the remnant of Edom (a Gentile nation) and, in fact, all the nations that bear God’s Name. According to the LXX reading, the Davidic dynasty will be restored so that the aforementioned nations may seek the LORD.

“In either case, the Gentiles who bear God’s Name are Gentile nations who will be subject to an Israelite monarchy, a monarchy that will afford them the opportunity to seek the LORD.”[84]

The expectation of Amos 9:11-12, referenced by James the Just in Acts 15:15-18, with the restoration of the Tabernacle or Tent of David, does not at all envision the Jewish people or a restored Twelve Tribes of Israel, as being displaced by those of the nations. It is more appropriately concluded that an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, or a Super-State of Israel, as it were, will ultimately emerge, with Yeshua the Messiah Himself as its Sovereign Monarch. The Jewish people surely do not stop being “the people” (cf. Acts 26:23), but the Kingdom of God does receive many new citizens—citizens that only the work of the Messiah Himself could see enter in.

There are, of course, many ways that the restoration of David’s Tabernacle, or Tent, can be applied by Messianic teachers or leaders. Some can choose to use it as an emphasis of unity and inclusion for Jewish and non-Jewish Believers within our faith community. Others might choose to use it as a means to emphasize distinctions among people.

In his book Tent of David (2013), Michael has some observations on what the Tabernacle or Tent of David is, which generally all readers should be in agreement with, myself included:

“The Tent of David is a reference to the Davidic kingdom, which Amos envisions will encompass even the Gentiles, non-Jews who attach themselves to Israel and to Israel’s Messiah. James reckoned that the believing Gentiles of his day were the first fruits of the fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy.”[85]

After quoting Acts 15:16-18, Michael has some observations to make on what the Tabernacle or Tent of David is, tying it to a vision or missional vocation, which he thinks is appropriate for a great many of today’s non-Jewish Messianic people:

“The concept of the Tent of David, central as it is to the identity of the church and the Messianic Gentile, is seriously underappreciated. The prophets envisioned a kingdom that brought myriads of Gentiles to the knowledge of the Messiah and submission to his rule. Isaiah (2:2) prophesied that people from all nations—Gentiles—would flow to Jerusalem and worship there. Later in Isaiah (11:10-12), Messiah is said to inspire Gentiles to come to him as well as regather the scattered Jewish people. Isaiah 49:6; Micah 4:2; and Zechariah 8:22-23 contain similar prophecies.

“The Lord’s brother saw the potential and the prophetic necessity for Yeshua-believing Gentiles and Jews to partner in making the prophets’ vision a reality. The Messiah had come and Gentiles were coming to him in droves. Paul’s ministry was devoted to making the ‘obedience of faith’ a reality in the Gentile community, connecting his Gentile believers to Israel and teaching them how to properly submit to the rule of King Messiah.

“The apostles desired that Gentile believers would partner with the believing Jewish community, begin practicing what would have then been considered a form of Judaism in solidarity with the Jewish people, live a life of submission to the Messiah King, and work alongside Messianic Jews to spread the message of the kingdom throughout the nations. The apostle Paul called the resulting alliance between believing Jew and Gentile the ‘commonwealth of Israel’ (Ephesians 2:12).

“The Gentile believers, as part of this commonwealth, had a unique and vital role in the process of building the Tent of David, using their numbers and resources to empower and spread the message of the kingdom in their own culture. In this way, the apostles envisioned the imminent restoration of the Tent of David and the establishment of Yeshua’s hegemony over the entire world. This apocalyptic-eschatological vision was really the defining impetus of the apostles’ entire Gentile mission. It would hardly be an overstatement to say that this apostolic vision is Christianity’s raison d’être, its reason for existing.”[86]

Even though the title of his book is actually Tent of David, this is all that Michael says specifically about the Tabernacle/Tent itself, as there is no further theological examination about what it really is or will be from either Amos 9:11-12 or Acts 15:15-18. Much of what Michael says above is truthful, about Jewish and non-Jewish Believers coming together, partnering together, spreading the good news of God’s Kingdom, and with the latter’s numbers and resources aiding immensely to the cause. I do not think that any of us can really disagree with non-Jewish Believers using their monies and energies to build up the Commonwealth of Israel (even though any Biblical passage about money, especially where Jewish ministry is concerned, can surely be exaggerated).

Yet, when one examines the remainder of Tent of David by Michael (2013), one sees that this has become a catch phrase for the real purpose of his book (220 pages), which may be quite different than what either the Prophet Amos or the Apostles envisioned. Michael’s intention is to see a great many Messianic non-Jews or Gentiles, be placed into so-called “strategic areas” of the modern-day Church system, and from within, softly get them to change attitudes on anti-Semitism, supersessionism, and be a bit more friendly to Jewish Torah keeping and Christianity’s own Jewish and Hebraic Roots. While he has not directly said that a bilateral ecclesiology of those of the nations composing “the Church,” has guided much of his ideological reasoning, it is definitely detectable in how he states, “The concept of the Tent of David…[is] central as it is to the identity of the church and the Messianic Gentile….[They are to use] their numbers and resources to empower and spread the message of the kingdom in their own culture”[87] (emphasis mine). This can be viewed as positing the Christian Church as a second component member of the Commonwealth of Israel, alongside of the Jewish people/Messianic Judaism, as the prime component.

None of today’s Messianic people should deny the fact that there are finer details regarding the restoration of the Tabernacle/Tent of David, which are likely only going to be known as the Messiah’s return draws nearer in future time. The reality is, though, when Amos 9:11-12 and Acts 15:15-18 are read in concert with other passages—the impetus witnessed is one where the righteous of the nations move toward the Jewish people and toward Israel. They might not be physical Israel, but by having sought Israel’s Messiah, they do get incorporated into Israel’s Kingdom realm. While there are many positive, admirable, and most laudable virtues of Christianity over the centuries—especially since the Protestant Reformation—the vocation of today’s Messianic Believers, while hopefully offering an open hand of love and respect to our Christian brothers and sisters, is not to remain in a sphere of influence where “the Church” as a separate group of elect is affirmed or where “the Church” replaces Israel. Messianic non-Jewish Believers, as much as Messianic Jewish Believers, should be in places where they recognize that the Messiah’s Kingdom is an enlarged realm of Israel.

Truly, there are going to be future developments of the Tabernacle/Tent of David, present within our Messianic faith community to witness—some of which will be quite positive, and others not so much.[88]

Romans 2:28-29

“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”

Romans 2:28-29 is a place where it is commonly asserted that non-Jewish Believers can possibly be viewed as some sort of “spiritual Jews.” Even though not born Jewish in the flesh, or perhaps even physically circumcised, such people may be perceived as having a “Jewish heart” via their faith in the Jewish Messiah.

It is difficult to avoid how there is obviously a connection made in the text, where the Greek Ioudaios serves to represent the Hebrew Yehudah, which on the basis of Genesis 29:35[89] and 49:8,[90] is widely regarded to mean “to give thanks, laud, praise” (TWOT).[91] The true “Jew,” is one who can have praises issued from the God of Israel, the Creator, and not other mortals:

“For one is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something visible in the flesh. Rather, the Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—in Spirit not in letter. His praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29, TLV).

Interpreters, whether lay readers or even some professional expositors, tend to be divided, as to whether or not the person who is Ioudaios in view in Romans 2:28-29, is simply among the many Jewish people who constituted the community of Messiah followers in Rome, or how any person regardless of ethnicity who trusts in the Jewish Messiah may be regarded as “Jewish,” likely in some sort of connection to Him. Not surprisingly, both views of Romans 2:29-29, are detectable within our contemporary Messianic movement.

One who is reflective of the view that non-Jewish Believers may actually be regarded as “spiritual Jews” to some degree, is Lancaster, in his book Grafted In (2009):

Paul implies a difference between legal Israel and Kingdom Israel in Romans 2 when he distinguishes between one who is only Jewish “outwardly,” according to the flesh, and one who is Jewish inwardly:

For he is not a Jew who is so outwardly, neither is circumcision that which is outward in flesh; but a Jew is he who is so inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in spirit, not in letter, of which the praise is not of men, but of God. (Romans 2:28-29 YLT)

Paul concedes that a Gentile who is a Jew “inwardly” and therefore part of Kingdom Israel (but not legal Israel) has no legal standing in Israel in the eyes of men. Therefore, his “praise is not of men, but of God.”[92]

In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, Stern actually devotes several pages to Romans 2:28-29 (pp 336-340), which in his JNT/CJB are rendered as:

“For the real Jew is not merely Jewish outwardly: true circumcision is not only external and physical. On the contrary, the real Jew is one inwardly; and true circumcision is of the heart, spiritual not literal; so that his praise comes not from other people but from God.”

In reviewing some of Stern’s remarks, it is not quite clear where he stands on the audience being addressed in these verses. He first makes the attestation that these statements by Paul should be read with people who are actually Jewish in mind, but then wavers a bit:

“It is obvious that in v. 28 the people spoken of as not real Jews are in fact born Jews, for no one needs to be told that Gentiles are not Jews. But in this passage, exactly who is a real Jew? Is Sha’ul talking about born Jews who are also born again (Yn [John] 3:3), that is, about Messianic Jews? Or is he making a radical and dramatic assertion that some Gentiles (as well as some born Jews) are actually Jews in God’s sight by virtue of being Jews inwardly, having circumcised hearts that offer praise to God? In other words, is he saying that both Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians are Jews?”[93]

As he deliberates on the various options presented to the interpreter, Stern bears a reliance on the Medieval Jewish PaRDeS hermeneutic, thinking that while literally it is impossible for non-Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah to be regarded as “Jewish,” spiritually it is something possible to consider:

“Carrying many new ideas in his head, Sha’ul could produce a sentence that had both a simple sense (p’shat) and a hint (remez) of something more profound; furthermore he would not be averse to making an allegorical or homiletical application (drash) of his own words or looking in them for a secret meaning (sod); because these four ways of interpreting texts were well known among educated Jews…

“Thus a born-again Gentile, one who has come to faith in the God of Israel through trusting Yeshua the Messiah, is indeed a Jew inwardly; his heart is circumcised even though his flesh is not; he is a true God-praiser, whose praise comes from God and not from other people—in many senses a real Jew…”[94]

Stern takes some serious liberties, such as assuming that the PaRDeS hermeneutic was even in usage in the First Century C.E., when by all accounts while midrash was, PaRDeS was not.[95] Furthermore, this part of the Epistle to the Romans is plainly, by the text of the letter itself, directed to a sub-audience: “if you bear the name ‘Jew’ and rely upon the Law and boast in God” (Romans 2:17). Or as Stern himself has rendered it in his JNT/CJB: “if you call yourself a Jew and rest on Torah and boast about God.” The Apostle Paul communicated to a broad and mixed Jewish and non-Jewish audience in Rome, and there should be no doubt that certain parts of his message concerned more Jewish concerns, and other parts concerned more localized Roman issues.[96]

While there are those who think that non-Jewish Believers in Yeshua, as some sort of “spiritual Jews,” are in view for Romans 2:28-29—there are others, commenting specifically from a Messianic perspective, and recognizing the mixed audience of Jewish, Greek and Roman Messiah followers among the assemblies in Rome—who think that the Jewish Believers in Rome are specifically being addressed here. This is a sub-group in Paul’s letter which Paul specifically admonished, as he emphasized that personal “Jewishness,” including the distinction of being physically circumcised from the time of birth, is not enough for them to be regarded highly by God. This is especially true when the tenor of Romans 2:14-16 is considered, and how various people from the nations—and some think even pagans who have sought God only via His natural revelation in Creation at large (cf. Romans 1:19-20)[97]—are shown to be more obedient to His Instruction than various Jewish people:

“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Messiah Yeshua.”

Jewish people must possess a stellar personal character—one which is embodied by the proper name Yehudah/Ioudaios—and receive accolades not from any of their fellow human beings because they are Jewish and circumcised, but from God Himself. In his commentary on Romans (2005), Hegg is reflective of this position:

“What is Paul saying…? First, let’s remember that he is addressing the Jewish constituents within the Roman synagoague [sic] at this point in the chapter. His reference to the Gentile who keeps the Torah [Romans 2:27] is simply a way to rebuke and shame the Jews who were insincere in their pursuit of God. Secondly, he is speaking within the sphere of Jewishness, and asserts the same axiom which he speaks plainly in 9:6, namely, that not all physical (outward) descendants of Jacob are actually (inward) Israel. For Paul, it cannot merely be physical lineage which makes a person Jewish—there must be more. If ‘not every descendant from Israel is Israel’ (9:6), who is a descendant of Israel? Paul’s answer is that there must be circumcision of the heart to match the physical circumcision, or there is no value whatsoever in the physical circumcision. Physical lineage has value, even apart from faith, for the descendants of Jacob still comprise the chosen nation of God. What is more, the temporal blessings of the covenant (and these should not be minimalized) remain the possession of the nation of Israel, even in their unbelief. But Paul is emphasizing the eternal promises of the covenant (‘whose praise is not from men, but from God’), which are the possession only of those who believe and are therefore righteous. These are those who are circumcised both in flesh and in heart (cf. Ezek 44:7-9).

“The circumcision of the heart is a Torah concept (cf. Lev 26:41; Dt 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4, 9:26), and apart from it the Jewish person fares no better than the pagan before the bar of God’s justice. The circumcision of the flesh, which marks him as a covenant member and therefore the recipient of God’s blessing, apart from the corresponding circumcision of the heart is considered as though he were no covenant member at all (his circumcision has become uncircumcision) in terms of the eternal promises of the covenant.”[98]

Another voice to be considered, who looks at Romans 2:28-29 not from the perspective of a non-Jewish Greek or Roman Messiah follower actually being a “spiritual Jew”—but instead that Paul’s words are directed to admonish the Jewish Messiah followers in Rome—is seen in Mark D. Nanos’ statements in The Jewish Annotated New Testament. He first comments on Romans 2:28, “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical” (NRSV),[99]

“Paul refers to the ideals to which circumcised flesh for Jewish males bears witness: For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, lit., ‘for the Jew is not (ultimately) the one conspicuously known to be (a Jew)’; nor is true (Gk. lacks ‘true’) circumcision something external and physical, lit. ‘nor is the one known to be circumcised in the flesh thereby necessarily the ideal Jew.’”[100]

Nanos goes on, in commenting on Romans 2:29, “Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God” (NRSV),[101] how true Jewish character is expressed from the heart:

“Paul’s point is not that Gentiles are the true Jews, or that the foreskinned are the true or real circumcision; quite the opposite: the terms ‘Jew’ and ‘circumcision’ are reserved for Israelites. Real circumcision (Gk lacks ‘real’); it is spiritual and not literal, lit., ‘by spirit (made manifest in the way one lives), not by inscription (i.e., not [merely] by a cut into the flesh).’ Thus this verse could be translated: Rather, the deepest character of the Jew, even the purpose of circumcision, is about the spirit, the intentions of the heart (at work through the way one lives who is so marked), not (merely) inscribed (in flesh) (as if a mark alone fully defined who one is).”[102]

While the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; cf. Ezekiel 36:26), is surely something which is universal—not only to Jewish, Greek, and Roman males, but also to females—to assert from Romans 2:28-29 that non-Jewish people can be “spiritual Jews,” is to misapply the text. The purpose of Paul, here in his letter, was to actually issue some admonitions to various Jewish Messiah followers in Rome, who may have looked at their circumcision status as one of superiority and pride. To the Apostle Paul, a true Jewish person was one who could receive praise from God, and should rightly not take any accolades from mortals—who may be prone to fawn over them for being Jewish and circumcised from birth—because Paul himself certainly did not (Philippians 3:5), as his status was based firmly in what the Messiah had accomplished for him.[103]

Romans 2:28-29 is not a text which directly concerns the question Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel?, given the ancient audience of the Epistle to the Romans. This is a question that more concerns the salvation-historical narrative provided by the Apostle Paul in Romans chs. 9-11 (discussed further), the great agony that he had for his fellow First Century Jews who rejected Yeshua, and the place that the redeemed from the nations were to play in helping to see salvation brought to the Jewish people. However, Romans 2:28-29, when examined properly, does speak to a negative spiritual dynamic present where various Jewish people will seek recognition via their heritage—and will not always represent the foundational ethics that their heritage should convey to the world at large.

Romans 9:3-6

“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Messiah for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Messiah according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.”

Romans chs. 9-11 are some of the most important Scripture passages for the entire Messianic movement, as they convey a largely salvation historical narrative to what God is doing with His Jewish people, the nations, and the final restoration of Israel. It is no surprise at all, that Romans chs. 9-11 need to be considered when asking the question, Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel?, as there are multiple places of importance which appear in this section, needing to be evaluated. As this vignette of Paul’s letter opens, there should be no doubting how the Apostle is absolutely distraught at the widescale rejection committed by a great many of his fellow Jews toward Yeshua:

“I am telling the truth in Messiah, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Messiah for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:1-3).

Whether you look at Paul’s statement, “I could wish myself actually under God’s curse and separated from the Messiah, if it would help my brothers, my own flesh and blood” (CJB), as literal or metaphorical—Paul was that heartbroken over many of his fellow Jews not wanting anything to do with Yeshua. Yet he is clear to acknowledge that, in spite of a widescale rejection of their Messiah, these are people who are still to be honored, as they are the original recipients of God’s Torah, His covenants, promises, and things such as the Temple worship—and the natural distinction which goes along with it:

“[They] are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises” (Romans 9:4).

Paul will later make a remark, which has confused a number of Christian, and even Messianic Bible readers, at times: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Romans 9:6). What is this to mean? Some have taken Romans 9:6, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (NIV), as meaning that Paul has non-Jewish Believers, who have placed their trust in Israel’s Messiah, as being regarded as a part of Israel too. While there are other Pauline passages worthy of note in Romans chs. 9-11, where non-Jewish Believers being joined to Israel are in view (Romans 9:24-26; 11:16-25), this is not what is being described in Romans 9:6, when the surrounding cotext is adequately considered. What is actually being considered, is that if Jewish people reject Yeshua, they will be cut off from Israel’s Kingdom.

The clause which can confuse many is ou gar pantes hoi ex Israēl houtoi Israēl, “for~not all the ones of Israel – [are] Israel” (Brown and Comfort).[104] Messianic versions like the TLV render Romans 9:6b as, “For not all those who are descended from Israel are Israel,” with The Messianic Writings having, “not all who are from Israel are Israel.” The NRSV actually has a fair extrapolation: “For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel.” The point being made by Paul here—which was quite painful for him to admit—was that even though physically Israelites, many of his own Jewish people would not belong to Israel in the end. Such an “Israel” should be regarded as the restored, Messianic Kingdom, ruled by Yeshua the Messiah. And Paul substantiates this, by emphasizing that simply because there were many physically descended from Abraham, does not automatically make them children of promise:

“[N]or are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: ‘Through Isaac your descendants will be named’ [Genesis 21:12]. That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Romans 9:7-8).

While the issue of various Jewish people—who are without question physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—not truly being considered of “Israel” in the end, is most unsettling and uncomfortable, a Messianic Jewish commentator like Stern has to recognize, in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, the reality that the Tanach does detail various instances of where God’s chosen people can be cut off from Him:

“Here, where his focus is on the Jewish nation as a whole, in its capacity as God’s people, Israel…he introduces the concept of the faithful ‘remnant,’ an idea which pervades the Tanakh (see vv. 27-28&N, 11:1-6&NN). In fact, the Tanakh warns that in certain cases of disobedience a person may be ‘cut off from among his people’ (see Ac 13:38-39N). That the notion was accepted in non-Messianic Judaism can be inferred from the fact that in the Mishna the well-known statement, ‘All Israel has a place in the world to come,’ (Sanhedrin 10:1, quoted more fully at 11:26aN) is immediately followed by a list of Israelites who have no place in the world to come.”[105]

Stern goes on to describe, “It should not be thought that God is quick to cast away his sons, meaning the Jewish people (Exodus 4:22).”[106] He makes light of a discussion to this effect in the Talmud:

R. Judah says, ‘If you conduct yourselves in the way good children do, then you are children, and if not, you are not children [of the Lord your God].’ R. Meir says, ‘One way or another, “You are children of the Lord your God.”’ And so Scripture says, ‘Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea…it shall be said to them, “You are the children of the living God”’ (Hos. 2: 1) [B.’s version: ‘They are sottish children’ (Jer. 4:22); ‘They are children in whom is no faith’ (Deu. 32:20), ‘A seed of evil doers, sons that deal corruptly’ (Isa. 1: 4), then Hos. 2: 1] [Sifré Deu. XCVI:IV.1]. Why all these further verses? If you should reply, then only when they are foolish are they classified as sons, but not when they lack faith, come and take note: ‘They are children in whom is no faith’ (Deu. 32:20). If you should reply, then only when they have no faith they are classified as sons, but when they serve idols they are not classified as sons, then come and hear: ‘A seed of evil doers, sons that deal corruptly’ (Isa. 1: 4). And should you say, well, they’re called sons that act corruptly, but not good sons, then come and hear: ‘Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea…it shall be said to them, “You are the children of the living God”’ (Hos. 2:1)” (b.Kiddushin 36a).[107]

It is useful for us to keep these Talmudic sentiments in mind—lest any non-Jewish Believers in today’s broad Messianic movement, at all choose to gloat or be prideful of the fact that various Jewish people might not be considered “Israel” in the final scheme of things (cf. Romans 11:19-21). This is something that the Sages surely wrestled with, as here they offered a wide selection of Tanach Scripture passages, to prove—however desperate it may seem—to offer a status of “Israel” to the most sinful of chosen people.

Hegg has also commented on Romans 9:6, in his 2007 commentary:

“The explanation…that Paul…gives us, is ‘For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel ([ou gar pantes hoi ex Israēl houtoi Israēl]), literally, ‘for not all those out of Israel they are Israel.’ ‘Out of’ ([ek]) is understood to mean ‘descended from.’ Thus, ‘Israel’ in the first instance refers to the individual (Jacob) while the second ‘Israel’ denotes the nation.

“We must be careful here to understand the point Paul is making lest we fall into the same trap of the Church fathers and take this verse to be an open door to the replacement theology which they spawned. Paul’s point is quite simple and straightforward: physical descendency from the patriarchs does not guarantee citizenship in the chosen nation of Israel. In fact, Paul’s point from the outset of this section is that God is dealing with the present nation in exactly the same way as He dealt with the patriarchs, that is, on the basis of His election. If Ishmael, for example, was not chosen to be the progenitor of the chosen nation, yet was from the loins of Abraham, this proves the elective decree of God. In like manner, Esau, though physically descended from Isaac, is not counted as the progenitor of the nation of Israel, a fact which has its basis in God’s having chosen Jacob his brother for this position.”[108]

Even if you do not totally agree with some of Hegg’s reliance on a Calvinist soteriology, he is entirely right in the points that he makes about how physical descent from Jacob/Israel, does not automatically guarantee one membership in the restored, Messianic Kingdom of Israel, with the Messiah Yeshua as its Sovereign.

As Messianic ecclesiology continues to develop, Romans 9:3-6 is a passage that non-Jewish Messianics, when considering its implications, need to be absolutely distraught over. It is entirely incorrect to interpret, “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel,” as regarding non-Jewish inclusion in Israel. The exact opposite here is true: the exclusion of various Jewish non-Believers from Israel. The Apostle Paul himself was mortified over the fact that a great number of his own people would be eternally condemned. If non-Jewish Believers consider themselves a part of Israel’s polity, this should only stir within them a greater need to see Yeshua’s own Jewish people brought to Him—and with it, them never being discounted from being Israel!

Romans 9:23-29

“And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, ‘I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, “MY PEOPLE,” AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, “BELOVED.”’ ‘AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, “YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,” THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD’ [Hosea 2:23; 1:10]. Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly’ [Isaiah 10:22-23].”

There should be little doubting the fact, that even with a salvation historical motif present for Romans chs. 9-11, and the Apostle Paul surveying a history of Ancient Israel and his First Century Jewish people—that Romans 9:23-29, vs. 24-26 in particular, stands out as being a little strange. There are surely controversies present in the intertexutal references of Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 and the salvation of the nations, followed by Isaiah 10:22-23. What are these things supposed to mean? How do they affect Messianic ecclesiology, and in particular whether or not non-Jewish Believers are part of a separate entity called “the Church,” or whether they are a part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel?

When reading Romans 9:23-29, it is not difficult to recognize how Paul has two groups of people, those being brought to saving faith in Yeshua from among the nations, and his own Jewish people, in view:

HOSEA 2:23; 1:10 ROMANS 9:24-26
“I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, and I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hosea 2:23).

“Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and in the place where it is said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ it will be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God’” (Hosea 1:10).

Even us He called—not only from the Jewish people, but also from the Gentiles—as He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not loved, ‘Beloved.’ And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God” (TLV).

 

ISAIAH 10:22-23

ROMANS 9:27-29

“For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; a destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord GOD of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land.” Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of B’nei-Israel be as the sand of the sea, only the remnant shall be saved. For ADONAI will carry out His word upon the earth, bringing it to an end and finishing quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless ADONAI-Tzva’ot had left us seed, we should have become like Sodom and resembled Gomorrah” (TLV).

The second set of quotations, where Isaiah 10:22-23 appears in Romans 9:27-29, is much easier for readers to reckon with. As painful as it is for Paul to recognize that many of his fellow Jews have rejected Yeshua, and hence are going to be cut off from Israel (Romans 9:6), it is not as though there is no Biblical precedent for this. The stark word of Isaiah 10:22 is, “For, although your people, Isra’el, are like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return” (CJB). While in this case, along with the themes of Isaiah ch. 11 following, a return from the exile and the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom are foretold for physical people—Paul is looking at things principally from a spiritual vantage point, as presumably only redeemed persons get to really enter into the Messianic Age, hence participating in Israel’s restoration and its culmination.

A spiritual dynamic is afforded to him by how the Hebrew sh’ar yashuv, was rendered by the Greek LXX, as to kataleimma autōn sōthēsetai. The verb shuv, appearing in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice), “turn back, return” (BDB),[109] was actually translated with sōzō, “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction” (BDAG),[110] relating to either physical salvation or spiritual salvation. Here, the latter is what is emphasized by Paul—because even with a sizeable enough number of physical Israelites, only a small amount will be saved/rescued and return as is anticipated by the Prophets.

The first set of quotations, where Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 are quoted in Romans 9:24-26, can really catch some readers off guard. Here, the Apostle Paul has claimed, “he called us, not only from Jews, but also from Gentiles” (Brown and Comfort),[111] ekalesen hēmas ou monon ex Ioudaiōn alla kai ex ethnōn. In asserting that God has called people ex ethnōn or “from the nations,” as well, Paul is speaking here in terms of how these people are called to salvation. Yet, rather than quoting a general passage, such as Isaiah 49:6, which emphasizes both the restoration of Israel’s tribes and salvation going out to the whole world—a specific prophecy regarding Israel’s restoration is associated with the salvation of the nations. And, not only is a specific prophecy of Israel’s restoration applied to the nations; the declarations of Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 principally concerned those of the Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim being restored to God in the eschaton. So, not only is it important for Bible readers to find a fair answer for how Romans 9:24-26 is involved with the question Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel?, there are some additional factors also in play, which have not always been approached too well by some in the broad Messianic movement.

Stern recognizes in his Jewish New Testament Commentary that Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 are quoted in Romans 9:24-26, and draws the conclusion that Paul had to have been speaking midrashically—obviously via some kind of allegory—when it came to applying a prophecy regarding Israel’s restoration to those from the nations:

“Sha’ul uses these texts from Hoshea midrashically. Hosea was not referring to Gentiles but to Israel itself; he meant that one day Israel, in rebellion when he wrote, would be called God’s people. Sha’ul’s meaning, which does not conflict with what Hosea wrote but is not a necessary inference from it, is that ‘God’s people’ now includes some Gentiles.”[112]

Stern appears to admit, a bit reluctantly, that those to be regarded “My people,” as stated in Hosea 1:10, may include non-Jewish Believers.

Hegg has also addressed the issue of Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 in his Romans commentary (2007), and a bit more thoroughly. He goes into more detail as to how literal Paul intended his words to be taken here, and how connected Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 are to Isaiah 10:22; 1:9 following:

“The question that comes to us first is whether or not Paul has given the quotes from Hosea their historical, literal meaning, or if he is using them as illustrative of the point he wishes to make, more on the basis of pesher or midrash rather than strict interpretation. In attempting to answer this question we must also consider the next quote, at least generally. In vv. 27-29 Paul links together quotes from Isaiah 10:22 and 1:9, which are linked to the quotes from Hosea with the connective ‘and’ ([kai]). The structure of the quotes is such that we must understand him to be using both Hosea and Isaiah to prove the same point. Most importantly, the quotes from Isaiah return the theme of the ‘remnant’ to Paul’s argument. That is to say, Isaiah clearly teaches that the remnant are those who are called and those who are actually saved. Israel may be like the sand of the sea (a phrase that links the two sets of quotes), but only the remnant is saved.”[113]

Hegg has a worthwhile perspective about an emphasis being placed on the “remnant” which will be saved by God. Following this in an excursus labeled “The Ephraimite Theory,”[114] as the Two-House sub-movement tends to go to extremes with claiming that most non-Jewish Messianic people are descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim. Romans 9:24-26 and its appeal to Hosea 1:10 and 2:23, is often cited as a text of importance by Two-House advocates. Whether or not those from the nations, ex ethnōn, in Romans 9:24-26, may be regarded as distant descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom or not, must be viewed as making some assumptions—assumptions which require empirical evidence not often provided by Two-House people.

An interpreter like Hegg takes issue with Two-House views, instead drawing the conclusion that if God has to show mercy to His own people once regarded as “not a people,” then He should also show mercy to those of the nations, pagans in rebellion to their Creator, who were definitely “not a people” to Him:

“…Paul does not interpret Hosea’s prophecy as speaking of the ingathering of Gentiles nor of those who just ‘think they’re Gentiles but really aren’t.’ Hosea prophesies the return of wayward Israel, God’s chosen nation, exiled to the lands of her enemies because of her sin, but returned to God through the power of His great compassion. Paul understood the historical, grammatical sense of Hosea’s text and uses this to bolster his message at this point in the epistle. Here is Paul’s main point: do not try to use externals as a measure of God’s election. He can bring even the most unlikely candidates into His covenant, and therefore under His arms of blessing. This is proven by the fact that even those of His own nation, Israel, whom He severely disciplines, He will bring back. If He is willing to bring back those who have disregarded His covenant (and in doing so were reckoned as ‘not My people’), He is just as able to draw to Himself those who are strangers to His covenant (i.e. Gentiles, who are also ‘not My people’).”[115]

While there should be no doubting the fact that the God of Israel is a loving and gracious Heavenly Father, who desires to show mercy toward all of His human creations—some questions of logic are necessarily raised when looking at Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 and Romans 9:24-26.

I do not take issue with people in the Two-House sub-movement who believe that there are a series of Tanach prophecies involving the descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim, which are unfulfilled at present, and involve their reunion with the Southern Kingdom of Judah (i.e., Isaiah 11:12-16; Jeremiah 31:6-10; Ezekiel 37:15-28; Zechariah 10:6-10). These are prophecies which need to be considered in relation to the Second Coming of Yeshua and the Messianic Age. But who are these descendants, mainly? There are pockets of people in remote corners of places like Southeast Asia, Southern Asia, the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean basin, and the environs of Central Africa, who claim to be descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom via some kind of oral tradition, and/or what can appear to be Jewish-style customs—and most probably are. (Sometimes this has been enjoined with some credible DNA analysis, confirming distant Semitic descent.) These are the areas which generally fall within the sphere of influence of the old Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Empires, and where the exiles of the Northern Kingdom could have been legitimately deported, scattered, and/or assimilated (cf. Jeremiah 31:10; Hosea 8:8-9; Amos 9:8-9).[116] The problem is that many Two-House advocates assume that the descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom are in every corner of Planet Earth today, and they really do not take into consideration the steadfast Torah word: “Then you shall be left few in number, whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, because you did not obey the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:62).

Any assumption that all, or even most, of the non-Jewish Believers in Yeshua from the First Century were some sort of “Ephraimites” (as various Two-House people may think) draws a conclusion that not only an Apostle like Paul did not make—it is something that someone like him could not have humanly known, in the event there were a few descendants of the Northern Kingdom “swallowed up” (Hosea 8:8) and assimilated within small parts of his First Century world in the Mediterranean basin. If very few of the non-Jewish Believers in the First Century world of the Apostles were indeed descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim—then not unlike the true identity of the Unknown Soldier, such knowledge would have only been known to an Eternal God.

It is safe to conclude that those in passages like Romans 9:24-26 were genuinely people of the nations at large. At the same time, it can be said that a kind of entirely spiritualized or typological application of restoration of Israel passages to the nations, such as Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 quoted in Romans 9:24-26, does not do enough. A general word like Isaiah 49:6 is clear to explain, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” The salvation of the nations, generally, is a part of the grand restoration of Israel. Isaiah 49:6 is appealed to, for certain, concerning the nations’ redemption (Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:23). If Paul wanted to emphasize to his mixed Roman audience that God was calling people to salvation from both his own Jewish people and the nations, this is the kind of passage that one would expect to see quoted.

When all is considered, the safe—and most provable approach—is that the nations are participants in a larger restoration of Israel.[117] Whatever main substance is represented by Hosea 1:10 and 2:23, is something that the redeemed from the nations are beneficiaries of as well. Obviously, this would regard those non-Jewish Believers in Paul’s day, mainly Greeks and Romans, who had acknowledged Israel’s Messiah, and were surely to be reckoned among God’s people along with Jewish Believers who had likewise recognized Israel’s Messiah. Surely, if the Lord can demonstrate mercy and grace to the descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom—whose ancestors once lived in the Promised Land, saw the Temple of Solomon and God’s presence within it, and then fell into gross idolatry—would He not also be compelled to save those of the nations at large, who were just flat turned over to sin and their lusts (cf. Romans 1), welcoming them as participants in Israel’s restoration?

It is witnessed in Romans 9:24-26 that prophetic passages regarding Israel’s restoration are applied to the nations—with non-Jewish Believers from the nations participating in Israel’s restoration. With concepts such as Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 applied to non-Jewish Believers and their salvation—such people are hardly part of some separate “Church” entity.

Romans 11:16-24

“If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”

Romans 11:16-24, and 11:25-29 following, are obviously two of the most important parts of not only the Epistle to the Romans—but of the entire New Testament—for today’s Messianic movement. It is in Romans 11:16-24 and 11:25-29 where the common description of non-Jewish Believers being “grafted-in” originates. Because of how significant this piece of Romans is for our evaluations on Messianic ecclesiology, I have chosen to break them into two segments.

What are non-Jewish Believers, who have recognized Israel’s Messiah, grafted-in to? What does it mean to be broken off? And, what would some of this have meant per the Apostle Paul’s ongoing anguish over his fellow Jews largely rejecting their Messiah?

Paul prefaces his discussion of the olive tree, with the following statements:

“I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:11-15).

Few of today’s Messianic people should deny the fact that the discussion of the olive tree in Romans ch. 11, affects our ecclesiology. There are fine details, of course, in Romans chs. 9-11 in total, which our analysis here will be unable to fully probe. Yet, one of the major positive thrusts of Paul’s words in Romans 11:11-15, preceding his description about non-Jewish Believers being “grafted in,” is 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 something miraculous—“the reconciliation of the world” at large (Romans 11:15)—has come about via a widescale Jewish rejection of Yeshua, what on Heaven or Earth will come about via a widescale Jewish acceptance of Yeshua?

The horticultural example provided of the people of God, is as an olive tree with natural branches of the Jewish people, and wild branches of the nations. While there is some debate and discussion as to whether the olive tree represents God, the Messiah, or the Patriarchs of Israel—it cannot be avoided that a Kingdom of Israel needing to be restored, presumably via the work of the Messiah, is described as being an olive tree in the Tanach:

“The LORD called your name, ‘A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form’; with the noise of a great tumult He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are worthless. The LORD of hosts, who planted you, has pronounced evil against you because of the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me by offering up sacrifices to Baal” (Jeremiah 11:16-17).

“Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips. Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses; nor will we say again, “Our god,” to the work of our hands; for in You the orphan finds mercy.’ I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like the lily, and he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. His shoots will sprout, and his beauty will be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. Those who live in his shadow will again raise grain, and they will blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:1-7).

Suffice it to say, the idea that non-Jewish Believers get grafted-in to the Kingdom of Israel, via their Messiah faith, is one which has a basis in the Tanach. They get to participate in the restoration of Israel, along with Jewish Believers.[118]

What is the process of being grafted-in? Obviously, given the description of non-Jewish Believers as “a wild olive” (Romans 11:17, 24), they are being transplanted from one sphere of influence, to another sphere of influence. And this is a good thing, because God is the One who grafts in branches to the tree, as well as removes them (Romans 11:21-23). Appearing in Romans 11:17, 19, 23, 24, the verb egkentrizō means, “to cause (a shoot or bud: scion) to unite with the stock of a growing plant, graft of trees” (BDAG).[119] Obviously, in this case, when a wild olive branch is grafted-in to a different olive tree, the wild olive branch will continue to produce the same kind of olives it produced on the previous olive tree. So, if non-Jewish Believers are grafted-in to the olive tree of Israel, it may be said that they do preserve a noticeable degree of their own ethnic and cultural distinctiveness. The olive tree hardly becomes homogenized with the same type of olives, but is rather diversified among a variety of olives, with distinct but overall consistent olive flavors. Yet, whether one is a natural or wild branch, they are all to be regarded as olives, i.e., of the human race. This is not like grafting pear branches onto an apple tree; nor is it like grafting apple branches onto a plum tree.

Also, not to be overlooked are some slight differences in the verbs rendered as “broken off” (Romans 11:17, 19, 20) and “cut off” (Romans 11:22, 24). The natural olive branches, those of the Jewish people, are said to have been “broken off.” This is a very serious negative action, as ekklaō means, “to separate someth. from someth. with force, break off” (BDAG).[120] However, whether it is the wild olive branches, those of the nations, being taken away from their previous olive tree, or being threatened with being removed from the tree they are grafted-in to, they are said to have been “cut off.” This is actually an even more serious action, as ekkoptō means, “to cut so as to sever, cut off/down,” or “to do away with, exterminate” (BDAG).[121] While the wild olive branches being cut off from a worthless, relatively dead tree of the sinful world is a good thing (Romans 11:24), being cut off from Israel’s olive tree after being grafted-in is a bad thing (Romans 11:22).

The main purpose of the Apostle Paul describing non-Jewish Believers being grafted-in to Israel’s olive tree, obviously does have a major component of ecclesiology to it—but it is specifically intended to stop any non-Jewish arrogance toward Jewish rejection of Yeshua, and includes the threat of such people being cut off from the tree. If non-Jewish Believers are indeed grafted-in to Israel’s olive tree as wild branches, and are experiencing the blessings intended for natural branches—should this not cause the natural branches, having been broken off, to be jealous (Romans 11:11)? This is entirely contingent on the proper behavior of the wild branches (Romans 11:17-18). As Paul observed, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off” (Romans 11:22). The only major way that the natural Jewish branches can be grafted-back-in to their olive tree (Romans 11:23-24), is for the wild branches to demonstrate God’s kindness and grace in Yeshua to them (Romans 11:31). Unfortunately for far too many throughout religious history since the First Century C.E., what Paul intended was never truly attempted. Craig S. Keener observes in the book Awakening the One New Man,

“Paul’s vision of Gentile believers provoking Israel’s turn to the Messiah did not fail in principle; it was simply never tried the way Paul articulated it. Paul’s appeal to Israel involved repentant Gentiles turning to the God and Messiah of Israel; what arose instead was a Gentile church that conveniently forgot from whom they learned about God and the Messiah. Note what Paul wrote to Gentiles grafted in as wild branches to the olive tree: Do not be arrogant against the natural branches; God could graft back in the fallen natural branches more easily than he grafted you in to begin with. Moreover, if you are arrogant, God can cut you off as he cut off the natural branches (see Rom. 11:17-24). What Paul warned Gentiles against doing is precisely what subsequent generations proceeded to do, ignoring his warning.”[122]

Obviously, our Eternal God, as the Master Arborist, is the only One for certain who knows those who have been decisively cut off from Israel’s olive tree. The direction, for non-Jewish Believers, is to “maintain yourself in [God’s] kindness” (Romans 11:22, CJB).

Romans 11:16-22 is quite important for today’s broad Messianic movement, not only for non-Jewish Believers being grafted-in as wild olive branches—but most especially also for new Jewish Believers being grafted-back-in as natural olive branches. How these concepts inform discussions of ecclesiology among some in today’s Messianic Judaism, needs to be recognized.

Stern makes some keen remarks on Romans 11:18, “don’t boast as if you were better than the branches! However, if you do boast, remember that you are not supporting the root, the root is supporting you” (CJB). He summarizes in his Jewish New Testament Commentary,

“…[T]o make Sha’ul’s point as clear as it can be, whether the root is Yeshua, Avraham, the Patriarchs, the Messianic Jews or all the Jews (see v. 16N), it is a Jewish root, and don’t you forget it!….[N]otice that Sha’ul is reminding Gentile Christians that trusting God also means joining God’s people. It is no different now than it was with Ruth: ‘Your people shall be my people and your God my God’ (Ruth 1:16). Gentile Christians have joined Israel, not the reverse…For a Gentile Christian to look down on the people he has joined is not only chutzpah and ingratitude but also self-hate.”[123]

Not surprisingly, Stern makes some negative statements against replacement theology in his evaluation of Romans 11:19-24,[124] and how it has been responsible for anti-Semitism in Christian history, and about the problems of dispensationalism and how it rigidly divides God’s people too much into widely unrelated spheres. At the same time, stating the importance of the olive tree discussion in Romans 11:17-24, Stern is forced to recognize (1992) the importance of an “olive tree theology” for contemporary Messiah followers, but one which still needs to be developed a great deal:

“The ‘olive tree’ analogy of vv. 17-24 casts new light on the important theological question, ‘Who are God’s people?’ The most common theology in non-Messianic Judaism would answer this question, ‘The Jews.’ The most common theology in Christendom answers, ‘The Church.’ But from the olive tree we learn that there are three distinct groups at present who are all in some sense part of God’s people, and no proper theology can ignore any of them.

“(1) Messianic Jews, who are the natural branches that are part of the cultivated olive tree.

“(2) Gentile Christians, the wild olive branches which have been grafted into the cultivated olive tree.

“(3) Non-Messianic Jews, the natural branches which have fallen off the cultivated olive tree but can easily be grafted back in again.

“What I call ‘olive tree theology’ must take into account all three groups, all three kinds of ‘branches,’ in defining and describing the past, present and future of God’s people

“….

“…[L]et theology picture God as a juggler. Traditional Jewish theology sees God as throwing one ball into the air, the Jews. Christian Replacement theology sees him as having thrown the Jewish ball into the air in the past, but now he has let it fall and is juggling the Christian ball. Two-Covenant theology and Dispensationalism see God as somewhat more coordinated—he can juggle two balls at a time, both the Jews and the Christians. But only ‘olive tree theology’ credits God with being able to juggle all three balls at once, Gentile Christians, Messianic Jews and non-Messianic Jews, without letting any of them drop to the ground.

“At this point ‘olive tree theology’ is relatively undeveloped. But it is in ferment: theologians are proposing solutions to the problem of who is God’s people that include all three groups and allow for both universal personal salvation and Jewish national salvation only through Yeshua—although no one of these solutions is widely known and taught.”[125]

One of the main reasons why there continues to be an amount of tension present in various sectors of the broad Messianic movement, when the subject of “olive tree theology” is brought up, is because it requires us to recognize the stark reality that there are going to be some natural branches which will be permanently broken off of the tree. This means that there are going to be Jewish people to be regarded as unredeemed, and consigned to eternal punishment—presumably with those from the wild olive tree, of the nations at large, who were not grafted-in. Likewise, for those wild olive branches grafted-in to Israel’s olive tree, does it mean that they have become fellow citizens and heirs, along with the natural olive branches not broken off?

It should be noted that even with some limitations, such as concluding that “the Church” is a separate sub-group of God’s people, Russell L. Resnik can still properly acknowledge, in his book The Root and the Branches: Jewish Identity in Messiah (1997), how the olive tree represents a Kingdom of Israel enlarged to welcome in the righteous from the nations. He even observes how this does not constitute an obliteration of the Jewish people:

“…Paul dealt in depth with this issue {the people of God} in Romans 11, where he portrays the people of God as an Olive Tree made up of Jewish and gentile branches. In Paul’s vision there is one people of God, and one ultimate purpose for Israel and the Church in Messiah. Israel is not obliterated, but is expanded to embrace all who become children of God through faith in Messiah.”[126]

At least with this quote, the only issue that I would take is that an expanded Kingdom of Israel does not manifest in the expanded component being known as “the Church”; the expanded component is simply the righteous from the nations as co-heirs with the Jewish people (Ephesians 3:6). These people are obviously going to have their own ethnic and cultural distinctions to many degrees, and they should not at all anticipate a tribal inheritance in the Land of Israel—but they will also bear a significant degree of commonality to their Jewish brothers and sisters, as they worship the God of Israel together and obey His Word.

Romans 11:23 asserts the reality, “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” Jewish people who have been severed from their own tree, can be grafted back in—and this is something that non-Jewish Believers are to definitely work toward, as a way to hasten the return of the Messiah. Hegg draws our attention to some important things to anticipate in future redemptive history, in his Romans commentary (2007):

“Even as the Gentile believers should not be smug in thinking that they are secure outside of a genuine faith, Paul makes it clear that God is able to bring those natural branches already cut off to genuine faith in the Messiah. Their separation from the covenant is not necessarily permanent. Even as the Gentiles were at one time apart from the covenant (Eph 2) but are now grafted in by faith, so those of the natural branches who were cut off may likewise be grafted in to the tree that belongs to them.

“But Paul calls the Gentile believer to more than just a recognition that God is able to this. He calls them to believe that He will do it, and to live within the expectation of this miracle.

“The affirmation that ‘God is able’ (…dunatos gar estin ho theos) seems at first blush to be superfluous. Of course God is able! But Paul adds this because he intends to overcome the notion that Israel’s stubborn refusal of Yeshua as Messiah was final and irreversible. God is able to do what man could never imagine—He is the God of the impossible.

“In fact, this is also part of what faith sees, that God can do what otherwise could never be done. To expect Israel to turn to Yeshua not only stretches the imagination, but it baffles it. Yet God has promised He would, and God is able to fulfill His promises. Paul expects the Gentile believers to live in the reality of this faith and to await the time when those branches broken off are once again grafted in.

“But the grafting in again must be accompanied by faith—faith in Yeshua as the Messiah. These words of Paul do not envision some end time ‘second chance’ but considers the possibility even those who have denied Yeshua may, if God is pleased to turn them to faith, confess Him and be reunited with the covenant tree.”[127]

Hegg’s conclusions on Romans 11:24, “For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”, need to also be mentioned:

“Paul’s logic is clearly a kal v’chomer argument. Put simply, if God is able to graft into a cultivated olive tree branches that are not cultivated (i.e., wild), then certainly He is able to graft in branches that once were part of the original tree. Once again Paul shows us his understanding of the tree. It is the covenant made with Abraham, and it belongs to the descendants of the Patriarchs. Paul has already stated this in 9:4—the covenants belong to Israel. Israel and Israel alone is the locus of God’s covenant promises. Salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22). It is therefore entirely contrary to God’s revealed plan of salvation to see it unfold apart from Israel. Always, and in every place, God’s salvific work is done in connection with the covenants He made with the fathers. And these covenants are always worked out in connection with the nation known as Israel. Surely the covenant promise envisioned all nations, but never as separate from Israel. The blessing that was to come upon all the families of the earth was a blessing tied inextricably to Israel.

“This verse helps explain why it is, in one sense, wrong to speak of Jewish believers having undergone a ‘conversion,’ since such might imply being grafted into another tree (to use Paul’s analogy). Paul’s use of ‘by nature’ and its opposing ‘contrary to nature’ ([para phusin], [kata phusin]) makes this clear. When a Jewish person receives Yeshua as the true Messiah, from Paul’s perspective he remains or is grafted into the tree of which he was already a part—it is a tree that is natural for him in the sense that it is his covenant. When a Gentile is grafted into the tree, he comes into a relationship which is contrary to his sinful station in life, being ‘separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of (the) promise, having no hope and without God in the world’ (Eph 2:12).

“This is not to imply that the Jewish person is in any less need of salvation than a Gentile. Quite the contrary. All are sinners, and all fall short of the glory of God, as Paul has shown in the opening chapters. But the point is this: the Jewish person, by the very fact that they are part of the people chosen by God from of old, have a natural connection with God in this world that the Gentile does not. While this is mysterious…it is nonetheless Paul’s theology. And to lose sight of it is to overlook a key aspect of Paul’s soteriology.”[128]

It is probably safe to say, looking forward to additional developments in Messianic ecclesiology and Romans 11:16-24, that there will continue to be some teachers and leaders, who will be elusive about what it means for non-Jews to be “grafted-in”—and then others who will be somewhat assertive about the olive tree representing the restored Kingdom of Israel in Messiah, with mixed natural and wild branches.

Why there will be some elusiveness might have less to do with non-Jewish Believers, who have recognized Israel’s Messiah, being grafted-in as wild olive branches—and even Jewish Believers being grafted-in as natural olive branches. It likely has to do with how there will be natural branches of Israel’s olive tree that remain permanently broken off because of unbelief. This is why Paul was so insistent that those of the wild olive branches, non-Jewish Believers, not become arrogant. Not only has it been a considerable challenge—and in far too many cases, near impossibility to see Christians throughout history not harboring arrogance toward Jews who have rejected Yeshua—it is even a challenge today to see non-Jewish Messianic Believers from not having some degree of arrogance toward Jewish people, even Messianic Jews.

Romans 11:25-29

“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.’ ‘THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS’ [Isaiah 59:20-21; Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34]. From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

Romans 11:25-29 has an important salvation history trajectory to it: “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). No one in today’s broad Messianic movement denies that involved with this will be a significant salvation of the Jewish people in the Last Days, which we have already started to witness via the presence of the modern Messianic Jewish movement. In writing to the non-Jewish Believers in Rome, Paul urged them not to “be wise in your own conceits” (Romans 11:25, KJV). This is because Israel has been partially hardened, until a point in the future when “the fullness of the nations” has entered in. Much of what is to take place, he notably labels as a “mystery,” which might require some unconventional thinking.

In just reading through Romans 11:25-29, some key questions need to be considered, including:

  • What have those of the nations “come in” to (Romans 11:25)?
  • Who are “the fullness of the nations” (Romans 11:25)?
  • What is supposed to take place (Romans 11:26-27)?
  • What is the irrevocable calling (Romans 11:29)?

It is not difficult at all, to see how the Apostle Paul’s assertion in Romans 11:29, “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable,” has stirred some strong emotions among various leaders within Messianic Judaism. Obviously, the Apostle Paul believes that the Jewish people have a vocational calling placed upon them, which no matter what they might do, is something that has not only not been revoked or nullified—it will never, nor can ever, be revoked or nullified. Such a calling, I believe, is the foundational vocation upon Ancient Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), serving as representatives of Israel’s God to the world. There are many Messianic Jewish teachers and leaders, who would concur with this.

When the question is raised, however, whether or not non-Jewish Believers get to participate in this calling as well, via their Messiah faith (cf. 1 Peter 2:9-11)—and the need to express God’s grace and mercy to all unredeemed human beings—it is can then be asserted that such a calling is something that they decisively do not get extended to them. Here is a sampling of some thoughts, by some voices of note, within contemporary Messianic Judaism:

  • Mark Kinzer (2005): “[T]he New Testament regards the Jewish people as recipients of a particular calling and as servants with a distinctive role and mission in the divine purpose. They are not elevated above Gentile Yeshua-believers, but they are distinguished from them. Whatever the distinctive calling, role, and mission of the Jewish people may be, it is not transmitted or absorbed by the multinational ekklesia as a whole.”[129]
  • Daniel C. Juster (2007): “The inclusion of Gentiles through the New Covenant does not invalidate Israel’s calling. However, it extends the priesthood and the meaning of being the people of God to those called from all nations. Those from the nations are grafted into a Jewish olive tree (Rom. 11:24)…[T]here are separate callings for Jews and Gentiles and these have both parallels and differences.”[130]
  • Boaz Michael (2013): “The prophets envisioned an eschatological scenario in which Gentiles, members of the nations, join together with Israel and worship the God of Israel together—yet retaining their distinctive roles. This prophetic vision requires both Jew and Gentile to apprehend and live out their unique role and calling….Messianic Gentiles must embrace their identity as believing members of the nations and not conflate their identity with that of the Jewish people.”[131]

Of the three leaders quoted above, the most Biblical observations actually come from Juster. He is correct that the calling originally upon Israel is not revoked per a widescale Jewish rejection of Yeshua. He is also correct in how the power of the New Covenant “extends the priesthood and the meaning of being the people of God to those called from all nations.”[132] Is this not what Bible readers encounter later in 1 Peter 2:9-11 when the titles of distinction and honor, regarding Ancient Israel, are applied equally to Jewish and non-Jewish Believers: “A CHOSEN RACE [Isaiah 43:20, LXX; Deuteronomy 7:6; 10:15], A royal PRIESTHOOD [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], A HOLY NATION [Exodus 19:6], A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION [Isaiah 43:21, LXX; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2]”? Is this not an expansion of the original calling upon Ancient Israel to be a royal priesthood and holy nation, to the redeemed of the nations as well, as Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are actively serving the fallen world, so that all might turn in repentance to God? Surely, this should Biblically not be taken as a replacement of the Jewish people, but instead an expansion of the mission of God.

Unfortunately, due to various fears and phobias present in sectors of the modern Messianic Jewish movement, to suggest that a calling which can never be removed from the Jewish people, does get to be shared to some degree with non-Jewish Believers—or even that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26) pertains to the culmination of the Messianic Kingdom, involving the fullness that the Jewish people will experience (Romans 11:12), and the Messiah’s return, and His reign over the entire Earth in the Millennium—one, such as myself, might actually get a label of “supersessionism” or “replacement theology” haphazardly slapped and thrown at himself.

Even with the vocational calling upon the Jewish people never at all to be revoked, we may consider how it would be necessary for non-Jewish Believers, as part of being “the fullness of the nations” (Romans 11:25), to accomplish this priestly calling (1 Peter 2:9-11) as vessels of mercy and grace to Jewish people who need Messiah Yeshua (Romans 11:31). Far from God transferring His gifts and calling to another, non-Jewish Believers being part of a kingdom of priests and holy nation, must employ such virtues precisely with the intent of seeing that those to whom they were originally given might be redeemed (Romans 11:11)! When accomplished properly as such “fullness,” this should then bring about the full restoration of Israel and the consummation of the age.

My approach to Romans 11:25-29 is examined in the following excerpt, from my book When Will the Messiah Return? (2012), in Chapter 5, “The Restoration of All Things and the Emergence of the Messianic Movement” (pp 115-136):

 

 

One of the most important passages of the New Testament, for generally all of today’s Messianic movement, is understandably Romans chs. 9-11. In this vignette, Paul expresses some of his deep anxiety and concern for his fellow Jews, who by this time in the mid-First Century, appear to be widely rejecting Yeshua as Savior. In communicating to the Roman Believers, whom he is preparing to visit, he emotes many of his concerns for the salvation of his countrymen, rightly recognizing how God is not at all finished with them—but also how the good news has been widely embraced by the nations for some special Divine purpose.[133] Romans chs. 9-11 speak very salvation-historically, as Tanach passages from the history of Ancient Israel are appealed to. Within this absolutely “loaded” section of text, Paul states something very poignantly to the non-Jewish Believers in Rome, many of whom run the serious and absolutely deplorable and condemnable risk of gloating over the widescale Jewish non-acceptance of Yeshua. Paul warned them to be quite sober, careful, and aware of the negative potential of what many of them were thinking. While acknowledging that the redeemed of the nations have been grafted-in to the olive tree of Israel, the non-Jewish Believers were not to be arrogant or spiteful toward the Jewish people or the natural branches:

“I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:11-24).

The Apostle Paul asked the non-Jewish Believers in Rome a direct question about the then-present, widescale Jewish rejection of Messiah Yeshua: “If their tresspass means riches for the world, and their impoverishment means riches for the nations, how much more will their fullness mean!” (Kingdom New Testament). If the corporate rejection of the Jewish people to the Jewish Messiah results in the world coming to a saving knowledge of Him, posō mallon to plērōma autōn, “how much more their fullness” (TLV)? Here, the term plērōma is best taken to mean “that which is brought to fullness or completion” (BDAG),[134] which when applied to human beings in the Pauline letters, generally regards ethical, moral, or spiritual maturity.[135] When the time comes in history for the Jewish people to experience their fullness—a fullness that only the Messiah Himself can bring to them—one can only imagine the spiritual power and abilities which can be accessible for them! (And indeed today, when one encounters a Jewish Believer who has been truly changed by the Living Yeshua, the supernatural power present can be most awesome to witness.)

The ancient First Century challenge, which has widely persisted throughout the centuries, has been that far too many non-Jewish Believers have not recognized that too many of the natural branches of Israel’s olive tree have been broken off. Quite the opposite of the Apostle Paul from being absolutely mortified over his own Jewish people widely rejecting their Messiah—many Christians throughout the centuries have gloated over it, or have just been downright prideful and anti-Semitic. Far too many Christian people have just haphazardly dismissed Paul’s personal distress over the widescale rejection of Yeshua on the part of his own Jewish people: “For I would pray that I myself were cursed, banished from Messiah for the sake of my people—my own flesh and blood, who are Israelites” (Romans 9:3-4a, TLV).

While the calling of Israel to be a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Romans 11:29; cf. Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 42:6; 1 Peter 2:5, 9) is something that can be shared with the redeemed of the nations who are grafted-in—there is no justification for anyone to claim that it has been taken away from the Jewish people and totally given to someone else. If, in the event that Believers from the nations have to mainly accomplish the calling of being a light of God to the world at large, more than the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—such is a result of circumstance, and not at all something to be excited about. Yeshua Himself expressed the thought that even rocks could cry out, declaring of Him (Luke 19:40), meaning that redeemed human beings from the nations at large declaring of Him—as priests and a holy nation—can certainly take place.

Paul’s word of Romans 11:25-27, which he notably does label as a “mystery,” presents some questions to each of us, which have started to be seriously considered in our day:

“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins’” (cf. Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9; Jeremiah 31:31-34).[136]

The complete restoration of Israel, decisively seen in the word “all Israel will be saved”—and by this we can safely assume that this means what will result from the return of the Messiah—will not occur “until the fullness of the nations comes in” (Kingdom New Testament), achri ou to plērōma tōn ethnōn eiselthē.

What is this “fullness of the nations”? A wide variety of English Bibles, reflecting a Calvinistic interpretation of a specific number of people predestined to eternal salvation, communicate “the full number of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:25, RSV/NIV/NRSV/ESV/HCSB). However, if the immediate, previous usage of plērōma in Romans 11:12 is taken into consideration—regarding the spiritual fullness that the Jewish people are to have when they recognize Yeshua as the Messiah—then some kind of spiritual, ethical, and moral fullness (and likely also intellectual fullness) of those from the nations who have also acknowledged Him, can also be posited.

What has been one of the most difficult things for non-Jewish Believers, over many centuries, to really consider regarding their relationship with the Jewish people who have widely rejected the Messiah? Consider Paul’s word in Romans 11:30-31:

“For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.”

One of the statements, which should immediately jump out at us from the text, is not just how Believers from the nations have been shown mercy—widely because of a Jewish rejection of the Messiah—but how “through your mercy they also may obtain mercy” (KJV).[137] What if the “fullness of the nations” arriving on the scene of history does not involve some kind of predestined number of non-Jewish Believers coming to salvation, or some other proposed group of people[138]but instead a spiritually mature group of Believers from the nations who are grand vessels of mercy to the Jewish people? Consider how difficult it has been to see this manifested in human history. Holding to “the fullness of the nations” entering in, being a group of Believers of an excelsior spiritual, ethical, and moral variety—and thusly bringing about the full restoration of Israel’s Kingdom realm, consummate via the Messiah’s arrival—is probably the most difficult interpretation. And it is not difficult because it accounts for how plērōma appears in either Romans 11:12 or 11:25; it is difficult because it challenges all of today’s non-Jewish Believers to evaluate whether or not they are truly demonstrating the mercy of Yeshua the Messiah, and significant empathy and understanding, toward their Jewish brothers and sisters. This involves, on the part of today’s non-Jewish Believers, a great deal of effort, spiritual, intellectual, and philosophical reasoning to strive to understand the Jewish struggle throughout history—as opposed to some of the arrogant and obnoxious trends which have been witnessed in recent years.[139]

Thankfully, via the emergence of today’s Messianic movement, and Jewish and non-Jewish Believers striving to put a complicated past widely behind themselves, many of the mistakes that Paul warned the Romans about are being solved. It is not an easy process to be sure, and various voices within our broad Messianic faith community[140] have made some severe mistakes along the way—especially in being welcoming to all people—but progress is being steadily made. As it is made, we should be able to witness the completion of the Tanach or Old Testament prophecies which Paul made reference to in Romans 11:26-27 (cf. Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9; Jeremiah 31:31-34), which when decompressed from their wider cotext, include the important words:

“‘A Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,’ declares the LORD. ‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ says the LORD: ‘My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,’ says the LORD, ‘from now and forever” (Isaiah 59:20-21).

“Therefore through this Jacob’s iniquity will be forgiven; and this will be the full price of the pardoning of his sin: When he makes all the altar stones like pulverized chalk stones; when Asherim and incense altars will not stand. For the fortified city is isolated, a homestead forlorn and forsaken like the desert; there the calf will graze, and there it will lie down and feed on its branches. When its limbs are dry, they are broken off; women come and make a fire with them, for they are not a people of discernment, therefore their Maker will not have compassion on them. And their Creator will not be gracious to them. In that day the LORD will start His threshing from the flowing stream of the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up one by one, O sons of Israel. 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 27:9-13).

“‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

These are the specific prophecies referenced by the Apostle Paul, although there are surely other key, related oracles.[141] Yet, we should most especially be able, when considering the above quotations, to understand the tenor of his doxology in Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor [Isaiah 40:13, LXX; Job 15:8; Jeremiah 23:18]? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again [Job 41:3]? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

When the Messiah does finally return, and we can be informed directly from Him of all of the aspects of the mystery of which Paul spoke—then we will truly express our wonder at the great mind and purposes of our Eternal God. Until then, we can only continue to probe and inquire of what the Lord’s purposes actually are.

While there are aspects of Romans chs. 9-11 which will continue to evade or perplex many readers and examiners, being a part of the grand mystery of God widely withheld to mortals—and which will hopefully drive us to Him for understanding; there is one thing which is no great mystery to God’s people:

we need to each have salvation in Yeshua, be vessels of God’s grace and mercy to one another, and in so doing eagerly anticipate the Messiah’s return.

How do we learn how to do this? Much of it regards the difficulty of applying the thrust of Philippians 2:4 to our own personal lives: “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” In my own experience, a great burden of proof has been placed on not only today’s non-Jewish Believers who love Israel and the Jewish people—but specifically non-Jewish Messianic Believers, who are convicted that they are a part of the community of Israel along with their fellow Jewish Believers, yet might be experiencing some trials with them at present.[142]

Speaking for myself and what I can do as a teacher, much can be solved by each of us seriously considering the tenor of Ephesians 5:21, “be subject to one another in the fear of Messiah,” as Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in today’s Messianic community learn to love and appreciate one another. For indeed, many of the contemporary challenges and growing pains we have encountered, have their decisive resolution in the Messiah’s own direction, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, TLV). Yet the most challenging to be sure, especially as it regards the anticipated end-times, is our Lord’s word: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). In spite of the many challenges and difficulties we have to overcome in the days in front of us—will we be willing and able to make the ultimate sacrifice for one another? I actually believe that many of us will care for one another, to the point that we will…

Romans 16:4

[W]ho for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the [assemblies] of the Gentiles.”

Romans ch. 16, the closing greetings of Paul’s letter to the Roman Believers, is often overlooked by many readers, but it actually contains important demographic details about the composition of Paul’s Roman audience, as well as the composition of the First Century Body of Messiah. This can aid readers of the Epistle to the Romans a great deal, especially in terms of the Jewish Believers, Greek and Roman Believers, those from the higher or lower classes, and even those from different home fellowships which might be spoken to in his letter.[143] There is a huge amount of debate over Romans 16:7 and the gender of the apostle named Iounias, which a wide, growing number of scholars will rightly admit is the female apostle named “Junia” (CJB/TLV).[144]

One verse, which as to my knowledge is not widely emphasized in more academic Messianic discussions regarding bilateral ecclesiology—but which is referred to by a selection of Internet bloggers, and those who widely (and perhaps inappropriately) employ social media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) to express their views—can be Romans 16:4. In this single salutation, the Apostle Paul makes a reference to “the churches of the Gentiles” (ESV). To various advocates of bilateral ecclesiology, mostly laypersons, “the congregations of the Gentiles” (The Messianic Writings) must be a separate grouping of Messiah followers, independent of other assemblies and fellowships of Jewish Believers.

What is interesting to be aware of, about the clause hai ekklēsiai tōn ethnōn, is how it is actually translated in two Messianic Jewish Bible versions of note. The Complete Jewish Bible has, “the Messianic communities among the Gentiles,” and the Tree of Life—The New Covenant has, “Messiah’s communities among the Gentiles.” Rather than translating the genitive (case indicating possession) tōn ethnōn as just “of the Gentiles/nations,” a preference toward “among the Gentiles/nations” is definitely seen.

There are a variety of potential types of genitives which tōn ethnōn could belong to, as classified by Daniel B. Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. These include: a genitive of material [made out of, consisting of],[145] a genitive of content [full of, containing],[146] a genitive of source (or origin) [out of, derived from, dependent on],[147] a genitive of place/space [where or within which],[148] a genitive of association [in association with],[149] or perhaps a genitive of destination (a.k.a. direction) or purpose [destined for, toward].[150]

In reviewing Wallace’s categories here, in my evaluation, the closest to be considered, allowing for tōn ethnōn to be translated as “among the Gentiles/nations,” would appear to be the genitive of association. As he defines it,

“The genitive substantive indicates the one with whom the noun to which it stands related is associated. This usage is somewhat common, but only in certain collocations.”[151]

Wallace goes on to indicate how within a genitive of association, one should expect a rendering along the lines of: “For of supply with, or in association with.[152] One example that he lists, which should pique the attention of today’s Messianics, is Ephesians 2:19: “you are fellow citizens with the saints,” tōn hagiōn. If, as a genitive of association, tōn hagiōn were rendered as “among the saints,” the same intention would be conveyed: non-Jewish Believers get to be a part of the same community as Jewish Believers, the saints. However, in the case of tōn ethnōn being rendered as “among the Gentiles/nations” in the JNT/CJB and TLV, the intention of being “among” takes on a definite locational quality.

An important sentiment to be aware of, is probably witnessed in the book To The Ends Of The Earth: How the First Jewish Followers of Yeshua Transformed the Ancient World, by Messianic Jewish teacher Jeffrey L. Seif (2012). He makes the important conclusion,

“Paul is observed making his way around the Greco-Roman world, where he frequents synagogues and tells of the life and teachings of Yeshua. He advocates for a community of Jews and Gentiles together. He makes friends and enemies in the process.”[153]

If a wide variety of today’s Messianic Jewish leaders and teachers, such as those who have participated in the Tree of Life, Messianic Jewish Family Bible Project (including Seif)—really wanted to emphasize bilateral ecclesiology and force it upon Messianic people—then why does a Bible version like the TLV have “Messiah’s communities among the Gentiles,” for Romans 16:4? Unlike the JNT/CJB by Stern, which is largely the product of a single expositor—the TLV has over fifteen different Messianic Jewish ministries and organizations on its board of reference! And, this does include those who (strongly) adhere to a bilateral ecclesiology of the Commonwealth of Israel being composed of the Jewish people/Messianic Jewish community and the Christian Church.

A rendering like that seen in the TLV, “Messiah’s communities among the Gentiles,” actually provides more support for mixed assemblies and fellowships of non-Jewish and Jewish Messiah followers, than two sub-communities of Messiah followers separated out. Taking tōn ethnōn to mean “among the nations,” of course, makes this being a locational setting, perhaps as a genitive of association, within the Mediterranean basin outside of the Land of Israel/Roman province of Judea.

1 Corinthians 10:1-11, 18

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Messiah. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play’ [Exodus 32:6]. Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come…Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?”

The Epistle of 1 Corinthians certainly presents many challenges to readers, particularly in terms of the composition of the epistle as likely the second, in a series of at least three, directed to the Corinthians (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9), the factionalism in Corinth, the libertinism practiced by many, and generally a disregard for authority and acceptance of sin. Much of what Paul has to argue to the Corinthians in this letter, is done widely on the basis of logic alone, and whether their current course of action and behavior is at all profitable and constructive. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, a definite appeal is made to the example of Ancient Israel, and the incident of the golden calf, of an idolatrous event that should never be repeated by any succeeding generation of God’s people. So significant is this, that it cannot be ignored how tupikōs, in 1 Corinthians 10:11, is rendered by a version like the RSV as “warning.” It is not just enough to take instruction from Ancient Israel’s indiscretions; there are warnings in them to be strongly heeded.

No reader of 1 Corinthians denies that a significant part of the readership of this letter was non-Jewish, as Ancient Corinth was a metropolitan city of Greeks, Romans, and many Easterners. This afforded a community of Messiah followers in Corinth composing Jewish Believers, and likely those from Greek, Roman, and other backgrounds. Paul actually told this mixed audience of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1). In referencing the Exodus generation, Paul could have spoken in terms of “those from ancient times,” “those in the wilderness” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:5) or “at the mountain,” or even just the obvious, “my fathers.” But Paul does not do this. To a mixed Corinthian audience, he labels those of the Exodus generation hoi pateres hēmōn, or “our ancestors” (1 Corinthians 10:1, NRSV/TNIV). The reference to the Exodus generation as the ancestors of the Jewish and non-Jewish Corinthians—needing critical instruction—is something which surely plays some role in ecclesiology.

There is no comment in a resource such as Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary, per what “our fathers” (1 Corinthians 10:1, CJB) is to mean. Shira Lander, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, simply identifies those in view as, “Ancestors, Israelites, the Corinthians’ spiritual forebears (Gal 3.7).”[154]

Obviously, a majority of the people in the Corinthian assembly were not physical descendants of the Exodus generation. But, in referring to them as “our ancestors,” this was something that seemingly invited the non-Jewish Believers to tangibly view themselves, as though they had experienced the Exodus. If they were to learn lessons from the Exodus generation—not to be repeated—then what other lessons, from the same Exodus generation, were not to be repeated? And certainly to be considered, if Paul referred to the Corinthians’ “ancestors” as those of the Exodus generation, could he actually have perceived of the non-Jewish Believers being a part of some separate “Church” entity, as opposed to an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, welcoming in those of the nations?

While there has not been too much Messianic discussion pertaining to the assertion of 1 Corinthians 10:1, that the Corinthians “ancestors” were those of the Exodus generation, the statements which have been made in some popular books are worth noting. A very early statement made in Grafted In by Lancaster (2009) says,

“At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul referred to the generation of Israelites who followed Moses as the ‘forefathers’ of the Corinthian believers. To Paul, the Corinthians were part of Israel….Gentiles in Messiah must belong to a broader definition of Israel.”[155]

Further on in Grafted In, Lancaster further specifies,

“As Paul wrote to the mixed multitude at Corinth (a congregation of Jewish and Gentile believers who were proving to be no less a headache for him than the exodus generation had been for Moses), he made a passing comment about this passage of Torah. He said, ‘I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were immersed into Moses in the cloud and in the sea’ (1 Corinthians 10:1).

“Paul refers to the generation that left Egypt as the ‘fathers’ of the Corinthian believers. He regards the Corinthian believers, both Jews and Gentiles, as children of Israel.”[156]

Lancaster’s colleague, Toby Janicki, while noting what is stated in 1 Corinthians 10:1 about the mixed assembly in Corinth approaching the Exodus generation as their ancestors, describes how only a connection to Israel could make this possible for non-Jewish people. As he says in his book God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel (2012),

“If the nations were going to find a place at the table of God, it would have to be done within the context of the family of Israel….[W]hen addressing the mixed congregation in Corinth, [Paul] even refers to the Israelites that came out of Egypt as ‘our fathers’ (1 Corinthians 10:1). This indicates that the Patriarchs and the Exodus from Egypt have now become a part of the Gentile believer’s spiritual heritage.”[157]

The conclusions, asserted by both Lancaster and Janicki, provided here, are consistent with my own. 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, while being used to chastise the behavior of the Corinthians, makes the claim that the Ancient Israelites of the Exodus are their “ancestors.” The best way that this is to be understood, is that both Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are, together, part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, which welcomes in those from the nations who recognize Messiah Yeshua.

A further statement made by Paul, not to be overlooked, is in 1 Corinthians 10:18, where he asks his audience, “Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” (NKJV). While commonly rendered as “the nation Israel” (NASU), ton Israēl kata sarka is more literally something like “Israel according to the flesh” (LITV), for First Century purposes, the known physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the Jewish people. To some readers, this might be something not too important, as it pertains to how the priests of Israel have a Torah right to eat a portion of the Temple sacrifices. In his book Grafted In (2009), though, Lancaster has taken the reference to “Israel according to flesh,” and makes what he calls a distinction between “legal Israel” and “Kingdom Israel”:

“…[W]hen writing to the Corinthians—a community composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers—he says, ‘Consider Israel-according-to-the-flesh. Are not those who eat from the sacrifices part of the fellowship of the altar?’ (1 Corinthians 10:18, my translation).

“In this verse, Paul refers to Israel as a group distinct from the Corinthian assembly. He speaks as if the Corinthians are on the outside of the group. He also adds a qualifier to the term Israel: he calls it ‘Israel-according-to-the-flesh.’

“In 1 Corinthians 10:18, Israel-according-to-the-flesh is composed of those individuals who may eat of the holy sacrifices. In Paul’s day, that group consisted only of those who were halachically (legally) Jewish. Paul was defining Israel-according-to-the-flesh as those who were born Jewish or who had undergone a legal conversion to Judaism: ‘both Jews and converts to Judaism’ [Acts 2:11].

“Why did Paul feel it necessary to add the qualifier ‘according to the flesh’ when describing those who were legally Jewish? Why not just say ‘Israel’?

“The qualifier must have been necessary because the Corinthians also had an identity in the generic term Israel. If there is an ‘Israel-according-to-the-flesh,’ there must be an ‘Israel-not-according-to-the-flesh.’ The not-according-to-the-flesh version would have been the believers, including the Corinthians.”[158]

One does not have to totally agree with all of Lancaster’s reasoning, to recognize the Biblical reality of how ultimately, ton Israēl kata sarka or “Israel according to the flesh,” is not as important as those who constitute the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13), Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), who are grafted-in as either wild or natural branches to Israel’s olive tree (Romans 11:16-24). Membership in a restored Kingdom of Israel, ruled by Messiah Yeshua, is imperative—and must come ultimately via a transformed heart. Membership in the Messianic Kingdom, while most imperatively intended for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is also very much intended for the nations of the world as well.[159]

Galatians 2:7-10

“But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.”

Adherents to a bilateral ecclesiology of the Commonwealth of Israel composing the Jewish people/Messianic Jewish community, and the Christian Church, will often make some kind of appeal to the meeting held between Paul, and the pillars Peter, John, and James, in Galatians 2:7-10. It needs to be recognized how there is no agreement among interpreters, as to whether the Galatians 2:7-10 meeting is actually the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, or is Paul’s relief mission of Acts 11:28-30. If it is the former, then it presents some issues pertaining to the incident with Peter in Antioch, which follows in Galatians 2:11-21, where what the Apostolic council agreed upon would be immediately put into jeopardy by some hypocritical actions of a main leader in the Body of Messiah, Peter himself. If it is the latter, and Galatians 2:7-10 is a relatively private meeting between Paul and the Jerusalem assembly leaders, then the Epistle to the Galatians largely helps resolve issues, which would have been finally handled at the Jerusalem Council, regarding the inclusion of the nations in the Body of Messiah.

No reader of Galatians 2:7-10 denies how the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter, both had some distinct vocational ministry callings upon them from the Lord to proclaim the good news of Yeshua. Paul asserts how, “the same God who was at work in Peter as a shaliach to the Jews, also was at work in me as a shaliach to the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:8, TLV). This is preceded by the claim, “they saw that I had been entrusted with the Good News for the uncircumcised just as Peter was for the circumcised” (Galatians 2:7, TLV).

Are the ministry duties of the Apostle Paul going to the nations, and the Apostle Peter going to the Jewish people—to be reckoned on the basis of their unique gifts, talents, skills, and most of all, their specializations? Or, are the ministry duties of the Apostle Paul going to the nations, and the Apostle Peter going to the Jewish people—to be reckoned on the basis of a distinct message of salvation going to the nations, and another distinct message going to the Jewish people?

In the view of a Messianic Jewish teacher and leader like Kinzer, Galatians 2:7-10, and the ministry activities of Paul and Peter, should be taken as clear evidence of a bilateral ecclesiology. He views “the circumcised” (Jews) and “the uncircumcised” (the nations) as two widely separate communities of Messiah followers, even though they are to recognize some degree of relation to one another:

“The agreement demarcates two distinct corporate spheres of responsibility: the circumcision (the Jewish people) and the uncircumcision (the non-Jewish nations). It implies, not only two distinct missions, but also two distinct networks of communities resulting from those missions and two distinct leadership structures overseeing those missions and communities….The one ekklesia of Messiah Yeshua is not made of individual Jews and Gentiles, mixed together in an undifferentiated collective, but of two distinct corporate entities joined in what should have been an indissoluble bound of love and mutual commitment.”[160]

There is no question that Kinzer’s model of a bilateral ecclesiology, with Galatians 2:7-10 offered as proof, is something that has found increasing support in various sectors of the contemporary Messianic Jewish movement. Not only this, but there are many Messianic Jewish individuals (and even some non-Jewish individuals), who have been led to think from this, that there are perhaps even two different gospel messages: one for the uncircumcised, and one for the circumcised. While there should be no doubting the fact that some ancient Jewish people, who were a part of the Body of Messiah, may have likely believed that the good news was a bit different for them, Paul’s own words to the Corinthians should be seriously considered:

“[E]ach one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Messiah.’ Has Messiah been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 11:12-13).

While it is more likely to hear various Messianic Jewish laypersons, who adhere to a bilateral ecclesiology—claim that there is a distinct “gospel for the uncircumcised” and another “gospel for the circumcised”—Paul made it clear that there was only one people of God, who were to be found in the Messiah. Paul being widely entrusted with the ministry calling and responsibility of declaring the Messiah of Israel to the nations, would obviously mean that there would be some different emphases or approaches, as the needs of people in the Ancient Mediterranean world were considered. Yet the basic message of salvation via God’s grace and mercy were the same. Peter acknowledged it as such: “God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).

Even with Paul having a specific commission to go to the nations, and Peter having a specific commission to go to his fellow Jews—no honest Bible reader can deny how Paul did declare the good news to his fellow Jews, and Peter declared the good news to Greeks and Romans. Shaye J.D. Cohen observes, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, “Acts 10 depicts Peter as bringing the Gospel to Gentiles (cf. Mt 28.19), and Acts 13 depicts Paul as first evangelizing Jews.”[161] To also be considered, if the Epistles of 1&2 Peter are properly recognized as having a mixed Jewish and non-Jewish Diaspora audience, is how Peter would reach out to those of the nations in later ministry service, following the Galatians 2:7-10 meeting.

In his 2011 book, The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach, where he is, in some places, friendly to some various aspects of bilateral ecclesiology, Lancaster at least partially recognizes how missional specificity is in view for Galatians 2:7-10:

“The apostles in Jerusalem saw that Paul had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, meaning that they acknowledged that Paul had been given a mission by God. They recognized that God had given Paul grace and favor to declare the message of the gospel to the Gentile world. They recognized his calling; they endorsed his message, and they endorsed his apostleship to the gentile world. One might say, they ordained him….

“This is not to say that Paul would never again declare the gospel of Yeshua to Jewish people. His first calling, mission, and goal, however, was to minister to the Gentile world…

“Simon Peter, on the other hand, as head over the Twelve, worked primarily among the circumcised, that is, among Jewish people and proselytes to Judaism. His apostleship (and that of the Twelve) was first and foremost to the Jewish people. Not that Peter would never present the gospel to non-Jews. He certainly did….”[162]

Hegg’s perspective on this part of Galatians, in his 2002 commentary, appropriately emphasizes that the message declared by either Paul or Peter, is the same gospel, even if there is some specificity of emphasis to be considered by different audiences:

“Paul does not consider his apostleship any less or greater than that of Peter’s, nor visa versa. The point is simply that the same gospel (though delivered from two different angles) was empowered by the same Spirit to the end that both Jew and non-Jew were born again to a living faith in Yeshua. Here Paul comes back to his primary theme: the gospel he was preaching was no different than the gospel Peter had proclaimed. But in both cases, it was a gospel that had at its core element faith in Yeshua, not the fulfillment of ritual. And it was a gospel that knew no ethnic boundaries, for it was not ethnically or culturally based, but it was the good news ‘to all who believed, to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Rom 1:16).”[163]

Paul’s calling as given to him by the Lord was, “for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). The primary people grouping mentioned by Yeshua is enōpion ethnōn, “before nations” (YLT). To some degree this was much more difficult than Peter’s call to simply proclaim that the Messiah of Israel had come to his fellow Jews. Peter would not have had to largely understand the pagan religions and customs of the time, and somehow hope that his audience would understand their need for redemption in the Holy One of Israel.

Paul wrote the Galatians, “For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:8, NIV). Paul recognized that Peter had been chosen by God for a unique mission, just as he had also been chosen by God for a unique mission (cf. Romans 11:13). The primary calling upon the Jerusalem Apostles was to reach out to their fellow Jews, but Paul’s visit here was to discuss how that calling was expanding beyond Jerusalem as Yeshua had said (Acts 1:8). Paul recognized and blessed the unique diversity in specific calling for service that exists.

Anyone in ministry today should not only recognize what God has called them to do in service to Him, but recognize God’s calling upon others who have been called to do different things. The key is that we all recognize that He is at work in each other. This is the issue of Galatians 2:7-10, not that of a bifurcated Body of Messiah, of two sub-communities to be separated out from one another.

Galatians 6:15-16

For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”

In contemporary discussions of Messianic ecclesiology, a great deal of importance will often be attributed to a closing remark made by the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians. He informs his audience, “And as many as order their lives by this rule, shalom upon them and mercy, and upon the Isra’el of God!” (Galatians 6:16, CJB).[164] There is much debate surrounding the identity of the group classified as “the Israel of God.” Many view this as a reference to either the Jewish people, or at least the First Century Messianic Jewish Believers. Others, in past history, have identified “the Israel of God” as being the New Testament Church, which has apparently superseded Old Testament Israel as the new people of God. In today’s Messianic community, we encounter those who interpret “the Israel of God” as either composing the Jewish people and/or Messianic Jewish Believers, or as those who possess membership in the restored Messianic Kingdom of Israel, be they Jewish or non-Jewish.

To consider what Galatians 6:16 communicates, much is actually contingent on how one chooses to approach the clause eirēnē ep’ autous kai eleos kai epi ton Israēl tou Theou, and specifically the placement of the conjunction kai. Although there are many exceptions in the Apostolic Scriptures (and Septuagint) to be sure, all contingent on contextual usage, the conjuction kai is most often rendered as “and.”[165] Those who might choose to see the “Israel of God” as something separate, could offer the placement of the conjunction kai in kai epi ton Israēl tou Theou, “and upon the Israel of God,” as evidence of their view. Alternatively, a common usage of the conjunction kai can regard how it is “explicative; i.e., a word or clause is connected by means of [kai] w. another word or clause, for the purpose of explaining what goes before it and so, that is, namely” (BDAG).[166] The Brown and Comfort interlinear actually renders eirēnē ep’ autous kai eleos kai epi ton Israēl tou Theou along these lines: “peace upon them and mercy, even upon the Israel of God.”[167] The NIV, which one may be more common to encounter, has “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.”

Another alternative, as provided by Vincent’s Word Studies, is that the conjunction kai is to be viewed as connective:

“The [kai] and may be simply collective, in which case the Israel of God may be different from as many as walk, etc., and may mean truly converted Jews. Or the [kai] may be explicative, in which case the Israel of God will define and emphasize as many as, etc., and will mean the whole body of Christians, Jewish and Gentile. In other words, they who walk according to this rule form the true Israel of God. The explicative [kai] is at best doubtful here, and is rather forced, although clear instances of it may be found in 1Co 3:5; 1Co 15:38. It seems better to regard it as simply connective. Then [hosoi, those] will refer to the individual Christians, Jewish and Gentile, and Israel of God to the same Christians, regarded collectively, and forming the true messianic community.”[168]

Linguistically, it should be observed how the presence of the conjunction kai, in the clause kai epi ton Israēl tou Theou, can relate to the whole community in view. And with this conclusion, “and upon the Israel of God,” such a community composes Jewish and non-Jewish Believers who are fellow citizens of the Messianic Kingdom of Israel. It is notable, that if the Greek of Galatians 6:16b read with ekklēsia, producing a rendering such as, “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the church/assembly/congregation of God,” there would be absolutely no debate as to whether or not “the ekklēsia of God” were a separate entity, to be differentiated from those who walk by “this rule” (Galatians 6:15-16a); “the ekklēsia of God” would be viewed as a description of the entire community of redeemed, with a specific blessing for those who walk by “this rule.” Only because some group of people, is defined as “the Israel of God,” is there a debate over ecclesiology. Could the Apostle Paul at all be altering the commonly perceived parameters as to who does, or does not, compose a group labeled with and associated with the name “Israel”?

What have some voices of note within our contemporary Messianic community, specifically said about Galatians 6:16? It cannot be avoided that many of them have acknowledged, on various levels, that “the Israel of God” does include some kind of mixed faith community of both Jewish and non-Jewish Believers. Stern, who is notably committed to a (form of) bilateral ecclesiology model in his works, still has to reluctantly conclude in his Jewish New Testament Commentary,

“[H]e is indeed talking about genuine believers, both Jewish and Gentile—the Messianic Community—but polemically (not didactically), as a concerned pastor writing against the Judaizers who threaten his work for the Gospel…Believers are the Israel of God, God’s people, God’s ‘Israel,’ so to speak.”[169]

Stern goes on to conclude, though, “Nevertheless, ‘Israel’ refers to the Jewish people, not the Church.”[170]

However, it should be interjected at this point, that those such as myself who reject bilateral ecclesiology do not hold to a separate entity of elect called “the Church” existing. As discussed in our previous deliberations on Matthew 16:18-19, Yeshua the Messiah came to restore and rebuild the assembly of Israel, which would not only bring restoration to His Jewish people—but would see the borders of Israel’s Kingdom realm expand to incorporate the righteous from the nations.

Cohen, in the rather liberal Jewish Annotated New Testament, is a bit more honest than Stern, in assessing the people who compose “the Israel of God.” He concludes that it really does involve both Jewish and non-Jewish people who have recognized Jesus as the Messiah:

“This is the first time Galatians uses Israel, and the only time anywhere that Paul qualifies Israel with of God, a locution never found in the Hebrew Bible. Elsewhere Paul argues that ‘not all Israelites truly belong to Israel’ (Rom 9.6); ‘Israel according to the flesh’ (Gk, 1 Cor 10.18) is not the same as the ‘real’ Israel, what Paul here calls the Israel of God. Presumably Paul’s opponents argued that if the Galatian Christians wished to be part of God’s chosen, the people Israel, they need to be circumcised and observe the Torah. Paul argues that the old distinction between circumcision and foreskin, between ethnic Israel and ethnic Gentile, no longer obtains (3.28), because the true Israel, the Israel of God, consists of all those who are a new creation in Christ (cf. Rom 2.29; Phil 3.3).”[171]

Obviously, today’s Messianics might not totally agree with all of the specific details stated by Cohen above, but he does conclude that “the Israel of God” composes a mixed group of Jewish and non-Jewish people.

Those Messianic people today, who are not committed to a bilateral ecclesiology, are likely to agree with the thoughts of Hegg on Galatians 6:16, from his commentary (2002):

“…[T]he ‘Israel of God’ has eschatological ramifications, for the ‘Israel of God’ envisions the final gathering of Israel to faith…[T]he followers of Yeshua, both Jew and Gentile alike, joined in faith within Israel, would eventually be used by God as the means of Israel’s national salvation. The Israel of God is therefore not a group ‘other than’ those who walk by this rule, but the larger covenant community in which the believing remnant exists. And this view of Israel, that it includes those Gentile[s] who have joined her throughout the centuries, is in accordance with the promise of the Abrahamic covenant which is the central focus of Paul in this epistle. The Gentile believers are not a new entity now blessed by God, but have expanded Israel as the covenant promised [Genesis 12:3].”[172]

Paul’s reference to the “Israel of God” really is a reference to all of those who are redeemed—both Jewish and non-Jewish—but who are most especially truly accomplishing the mission that God originally gave to Ancient Israel. They are the ones who recognize themselves as composing the new creation (Galatians 6:15), and are those who should not only have grace and mercy issued to them—but should be about seeing grace and mercy issued to all in the world who need the salvation of Yeshua. In the case of the First Century Galatians, they were a small group of the many more who would come to redemption in the Messiah of Israel, which will eventually culminate in how “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26), involving the resolution of some important Tanach prophecies (Romans 11:27-28; cf. Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34). Most imperative, for today’s non-Jewish Messianic Believers to consider here, is how those from the nations, who have received the salvation of Israel’s Messiah, are to be vessels of mercy and grace to the Jewish people who have widely rejected Him (Romans 11:31).

There is valid reason to think that when Paul issues eirēnē…kai eleos or shalom v’chesed (Salkinson-Ginsberg),[173] that this is actually his adaptation of a Jewish blessing that would later be integrated into the traditional Shemoneh Esrei prayer.[174] This blessing, repeated in countless synagogues and many Messianic congregations, should be every familiar: oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’ase shalom aleinu, v’al kol Yisrael, v’imru: Amein, “He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us, and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.”[175]

Of course, Paul’s wish of “peace and mercy” upon Israel is also easily derived from Psalm 125:5 and 128:6:

“But as for those who turn aside to their crooked ways, the LORD will lead them away with the doers of iniquity. Peace be upon Israel [shalom al-Yisrael]” (Psalm 125:5).

“Indeed, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel! [shalom al-Yisrael]” (Psalm 128:6).

There has been some more, key discussion, regarding the identity of “the Israel of God,” by those who are (partially) friendly or sympathetic, to bilateral ecclesiology—yet who have to definitely conclude, on the basis of the Biblical text and the thrust of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, that “the Israel of God” composes the Messianic Kingdom of Israel ruled by Yeshua. Lancaster details in his book Grafted In (2009),

“The use of the term ‘Israel of God’ in Galatians is remarkable because it comes at the conclusion of a long treatise on why it is unnecessary for Gentile believers to become circumcised as proselytes…Paul uses the term ‘Israel of God’ to imply something more than simply legal Israel in the conventional sense. It may also imply that Paul would not have been comfortable telling the Galatian Gentiles, ‘You have a place in Israel,’ without further qualification. Instead, he would say, ‘You have a place in the Israel of God.”[176]

Similar conclusions are further seen by Lancaster, in his book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians (2011),

“[I]n Paul’s theology, Gentile believers have come to be, through association with Messiah, part of a larger Israel, the Israel of God….The ‘Israel of God’ is Paul’s broader, eschatological community of Israel. He regarded his God-fearing Gentile believers as spiritually part of that broader Israel. It was not a flesh relationship, nor was it a literal or legal identity. Rather, it belonged to the realm of faith, a matter of the Spirit, and a part of the inheritance of Messiah.”[177]

Lancaster’s conclusions are most appreciable, and they generally represent my own views of “the Israel of God” representing the eschatological people of God, all of whom are members in the Messianic Kingdom of Israel ruled by Yeshua as sovereign.

In the future, as discussions and debates over Messianic ecclesiology become more pronounced, the terminology “Israel of God” is likely to be thrown around as a talking point, by those of multiple sides. Those who adhere to a bilateral ecclesiology will likely insist that “the Israel of God” only composes the Jewish people and/or Messianic Jewish community. Those who adhere to an ecclesiology of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel composing a restored Jewish people and the righteous from the nations, will insist that “the Israel of God” represents the redeemed Messianic Kingdom ruled by Yeshua. Suffice it to say, even with there being strong support for the latter being what is in view, the fact that “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) is mentioned in a closing salutation, should indicate that this expression should never be used isolated by today’s Messianic Believers. If people choose to refer to members of Yeshua’s Messianic Kingdom of Israel as “the Israel of God” from Galatians 6:16, it should be quickly joined with concepts such as “grafted-in” (Romans 11:16-17) and “the Commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:11-13).[178]

Ephesians 2:11-13; 3:6

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah…[T]he Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua through the gospel.”

Ephesians 2:11-13 and 3:6 are some of the most important verses for people in today’s broad Messianic movement, and no one from any side denies how they definitely play a role in understanding ecclesiology. There are some notable interpretations present in contemporary Messianic Judaism as they concern what “the Commonwealth of Israel” actually is (Ephesians 2:12), what the “one new man/humanity” is supposed to be (Ephesians 2:15), and what it means for non-Jewish people to be fellow heirs along with the Jewish people (Ephesians 3:6). There are methods of interpretation and application which tend to be inclusive, welcoming non-Jewish Believers into Messianic congregations and assemblies as fellow brothers and sisters—and then others which are exclusive. How are these verses to be approached? Given the complexity of the issues present, and important points to consider, I thought it best to go ahead and adapt much of the examination here for Ephesians 2:11-13 and 3:6 from my commentary Ephesians for the Practical Messianic (2009/2012), which you can read for further referencing all of Paul’s letter. I have amended it where necessary with further quotations from various Messianic publications, and perspectives of various leaders of note. While I believe that the concept of “the Commonwealth of Israel” speaks to an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, there are others who will disagree with this.

Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:11 are directed to non-Jewish Believers, by him saying, “remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh” (NASU). What this specifically means has been disputed among many non-Jewish Believers in today’s Messianic community (especially with the rise of the Two-House sub-movement), who make a strong point to claim that they are “former Gentiles.” The clause under close scrutiny is pote humeis ta ethnē en sarki, “once you the nations in [the] flesh” (my translation), and specifically what pote relates to. Pote has a variety of lexical definitions, including “once, formerly, at one time; ever, at any time” (CGEDNT).[179]

Some would say that pote relates to these people no longer being “the nations in the flesh,” meaning that their ethnicity or race somehow changes after receiving salvation. This would be a problem because one’s ethnicity in the flesh certainly does not change because of a proclamation of faith in Yeshua; Paul’s principal audience still remained “Gentiles by birth” (NIV), and they could not change who their immediate parents were. One’s status in regard to the corporate people of God, however, does change because of a proclamation of faith in Yeshua, and so only in that sense can one’s status be changed from “of the nations,” those without the God of Israel and Yeshua the Messiah, to “of Israel” (cf. Ephesians 2:12; Galatians 6:16).

It would be best for readers to connect pote with the following words in Ephesians 2:12: hoti ēte tō kairō ekeinō, “once…that you were [at] that season” (my translation).[180] Any issue of these people regarding “formerly you,” relates to their separation from Israel from the time of birth now having been rectified via salvation, not their DNA being rewritten once they receive Yeshua. One’s race or ethnicity or gene pool should never, ever be grounds for inclusion or non-inclusion within the Kingdom of God! And, if non-Jewish Believers are indeed a part of the community of Israel via their Messiah faith, this does not automatically make them culturally Jewish.

Paul’s principal point in Ephesians 2:11-12 is to focus on the condition of his largely non-Jewish audience prior to knowing Yeshua, and their condition after knowing Yeshua. A status of being removed from Israel’s Messiah, Israel’s polity, Israel’s covenants, and being without the hope and knowledge of the Creator God—is what is really considered to be the former status for the non-Jewish Believers addressed in Ephesians. This is one which has been fully reversed. The non-Jewish Believers in Asia Minor now know Israel’s Messiah, they are a part of Israel’s polity, they now benefit from Israel’s covenants, and they are truly known by the Creator God. This is a condition that is connected to the concept of the Commonwealth of Israel.

Paul’s own Jewish brethren had some negative things to say about those of the nations. He indicates that the nations “are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision.’” One status is akrobustia or “foreskin” (LS),[181] when compared to peritomē or “circumcision.” “Foreskin” was used as a derogatory term—when compared to “circumcision” as a self-inflated covenantal term. Paul has “circumcision” as a reference to status in mind, as opposed to a physical procedure, as easily seen by his description of it as en sarki cheiropoiētou. F.F. Bruce renders this clause as “the so-called man-made external circumcision” (NICNT),[182] and Ben Witherington III has “the circumcision handwrought in the flesh.”[183] This is to be understood in light of Paul’s parallel remarks in Colossians 2:11, where “in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Messiah.” The circumcision requirement for inclusion among the people of God in Paul’s teachings is emphasized to be the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 30:6; cf. Romans 2:29; Philippians 3:3),[184] something enacted by one’s faith or trust in Yeshua via the gospel.

The adjective cheiropoiētos, “made by human hands” (BDAG),[185] is used most frequently throughout the Greek Septuagint in relation to idol-making.[186] The styled label of “circumcision,” described by Paul in Ephesians 2:11, regarded what his own Jewish brethren called themselves when compared against the nations. Paul in no uncertain terms considers this “Circumcision in the flesh made by hands” (KJV) to be akin to those in rebellion to God making idols. Did this ritual procedure as offered by the religious authorities enhance or retard Israel from being a light to the nations? This is not a remark made against the value of circumcision as a physical procedure, or even as the memorial sign of the Abrahamic Covenant—but would have had more to do with circumcision as the ritual of a proselyte being the only entryway for those of the nations to have membership among God’s people, perhaps made more important to faith or belief in God. And as it can be validly pointed out, if circumcision and removal of foreskin is really the only way to enter among God’s people, what then did the women have to distinguish them?[187] Such a circumcision had become a symbol of significant pride and thus also of problems.

Being circumcised was the pinnacle of Jewish identity in the First Century. T.R. Schreiner indicates, “in the intertestimental period circumcision was typically required for one to become a proselyte to Judaism…any diminution of the rite would naturally inflame both the cultural and religious passions of the Jews.”[188] In Romans 4:9-10, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that the Patriarch Abraham was in righteous covenant status with God while in uncircumcision, in that it was his faith in God which accorded him such righteousness (Genesis 15:6), something that many Jewish people of his time had forgotten. He received circumcision at a later time at the age of ninety-nine (Genesis 17:23-24) as a seal or physical reminder of his faith (Romans 4:11). Much of the First Century Jewish handling of “circumcision” was certainly to be expected given the onslaught of Hellenism and of uncircumcision imposed by the tyrannical reign of Antiochus Ephinanes during the Maccabean crisis (1 Maccabees 1:15), and it became more of a national sign of identity than a simple affirmation of the Abrahamic promise (Genesis 17:4-5).

Circumcision construed as a strong national sign for the Jews of the First Century is seen in both Jewish and classical sources. The Jewish historian Josephus expresses the opinion that the reason God gave Abraham circumcision was “in order to keep his posterity unmixed with others” (Antiquities of the Jews 1.192).[189] The Roman historian Tacitus says, “They have introduced the practice of circumcision to show that they are different from others,” specifically as something “Proselytes to Jewry adopt” (The Histories 5.5).[190] This is a circumcision that kept, perhaps a majority of the Jewish people separate from the nations—impeding Israel from being a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6)—and was something that Paul himself likely advocated prior to encountering Yeshua (cf. Galatians 5:11). The proselyte conversion “circumcision” caused a great number of problems, putting the proverbial cart before the horse in many cases, as a ritual procedure for membership in Israel could widely have been given precedence over one’s trust in the God of Israel.[191] Such a practice was not that unlike fashioning a god of human hands, and Paul implies that this kind of circumcision drove a wedge between the Jewish people and the nations that needed to be removed.

The former status that Paul calls his audience to remember is specified: “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12, NIV). These “nations in the flesh” (Ephesians 2:11, YLT) were once “alienated” (RSV) or “estranged” (CJB) from the Messiah in their previous condition. The verb apallotrioō is only used one other time in the Apostolic Scriptures, in Colossians 1:21 where fallen humanity is “alienated [apallotrioō] and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds.” Paul will later say in Ephesians 4:18 that the world is “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.”

Because of not knowing Yeshua as Savior, the nations were “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel.” As previously stated, Jews in the First Century did admit non-Jewish proselytes via ritual circumcision, but it was not an easy process by any means. Those undergoing this ritual procedure were often made to take vows “to keep the whole Law” (Galatians 5:3; cf. Nehemiah 10:28-29),[192] being subject to extreme scrutiny by the community they were entering into. This was not the Lord’s original intention when He told Abraham “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3; cf. Galatians 3:8). He desired a community that would fulfill a mandate of being a blessing, not being grossly suspicious of its members!

Without Israel, salvation cannot be brought to the nations. Yeshua Himself is undeniably clear that in His day, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). People who are outside of this Israel have no Messianic expectation, they do not know of the blessings of being Israel and of the promises made to Israel (i.e., Genesis 15:18; 17; Exodus 19:5-6), and most significantly they do not know the One True God.[193] From the status of being atheos or “godless” (Lattimore), one from the nations was separated from the promises of Israel’s God and the promises of a Redeemer to come. These people were truly “alienated” from the blessings available in Israel.

So what has the nations’ acceptance of Yeshua brought to them? Peter T. O’Brien remarks, “Being separated from the chosen people of Israel was a serious disadvantage since it meant being outside the sphere of God’s election and isolated from any covenant relationship with him.”[194] This is something that was tantamount to being “dead” (Ephesians 2:1-2), to which the gospel so profoundly speaks and provides an answer for. Witherington’s opinion is to the point: “in light of v. 13 it is reasonably clear that Paul is saying that Gentiles have become a part of the community of God’s people through Christ.”[195] But what is this community? A valid question should be asked when interpreters such as Ralph P. Martin conclude, “Paul sees these covenant promises fulfilled in Christ in the church.”[196]

Paul uses ancient political terms to describe what his largely non-Jewish audience had been separated from. Prior to their faith in the Messiah, they were removed from tēs politeias tou Israēl. The key term here is politeia, “the right to be a member of a sociopolitical entity, citizenship” (BDAG).[197] Yet, now having access to this citizenship, they have to start considering another part of politeia: “behavior in accordance with standards expected of a respectable citizen, way of life, conduct” (BDAG),[198] something which surely dominates Ephesians chs. 4-6 (and has a definite Torah background).

Many of today’s Messianic Jewish leaders have not denied that non-Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah are indeed a part of “the Commonwealth of Israel.” But how they have approached and defined such a Commonwealth of Israel, can be a bit varied.

A rather general definition for “commonwealth” is encountered in the 2011 Tree of Life—New Covenant glossary:

“a community founded for the common good of its members. Israel enjoys the privileges of being God’s nation, called to covenant relationship at Sinai. In Ephesians 2:11-14, Paul tells his Gentile readers that they have joined the commonwealth of Israel as fellow citizens through the reconciling work of Yeshua. (Ephesians 2:12)”[199]

In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stern remarks how non-Jewish Believers being part of the Commonwealth of Israel, “implies an obligation to observe a godly life that has its origin in God’s relationship with the Jewish people. More than that, it implies an obligation to relate as family to the Jewish community to whom their faith has joined them…”[200] He considers Ephesians 2:12 to relate to the inclusion of individuals like Ruth (Ruth 1:16) among Israel, and that it requires non-Jewish Believers “being involved with the Jewish people, both Messianic and non-Messianic.”[201] It would imply that non-Jewish Believers should have a relationship not only with their fellow Jewish brothers and sisters who have acknowledged the Messiah, but that they should take a keen interest in the well being of those Jews who have not yet acknowledged the Lord Yeshua.

Stern is absolutely right to say that non-Jewish Believers “who regard Jewish Christians as the strangers and themselves as the rightful possessors and those who accept Jewish believers but reject nonbelieving Jews, are not submitting to the message of these verses.”[202] Non-Jewish Believers, as made clear by Paul’s words, had no hope and were without God in the world without Israel. As the origin of their salvation is Israel, when bad things happen to the Jewish people, bad things happen to all of those who believe in Israel’s Messiah. When good things happen to the Jewish people, non-Jewish Believers should rejoice with their Jewish brothers and sisters. Non-Jewish Believers are called to befriend the Jewish people and be grateful to them, not only because of the spiritual heritage they have in the Synagogue, but also for the great contributions the Jewish people have made to the world.

Stern is proper to emphasize that non-Jewish Believers should not regard the Jewish people as alien or strange. But what happens when Jewish Believers treat non-Jewish Believers, who desire to grasp hold of their responsibilities as members of Israel’s Commonwealth, as strange or second class? This is a great dilemma, and one that has arisen in the past decade or so because of the significant growth of the Messianic movement among evangelical Christians. Taking hold of their Hebraic and Jewish Roots, non-Jewish Believers have often been treated with extreme suspicion, if not hostility at times, by some Messianic Jews. Is this appropriate? While non-Jewish Believers are to surely respect and support the Jewish people, what if Jewish people who know Messiah Yeshua (and presumably have been transformed by His love) do not treat them with such respect in return? Why at times do Messianic Jews not recognize them as a part of or even related to the “community of Israel” (NEB)?

While the spiritual roots of why some Messianic Jews might not recognize non-Jewish Believers in their midst as their equals is a complicated, and rather difficult subject to diagnose—the theological roots are quite easy to diagnose. There is often a large misunderstanding and application of the term politeia, as employed here in Ephesians 2:12. Throughout various Messianic Jewish theological materials, it is taught that the Commonwealth of Israel is actually to be viewed as something similar to the post-World War II, Twentieth Century and post-Imperial, British Commonwealth of Nations—a Commonwealth of Israel made up of two sub-groups: the ethnic Jewish people and the Church.

If you have ever heard this point of view, but have never seen it documented before, then note how it widely goes back to the writings of Messianic Jewish pioneer Daniel C. Juster, as he expresses in his book Growing to Maturity (1987):

“The biblical understanding of the relationship of the church to Israel is more clearly understood by the concept of commonwealth. Israel is the national center of the worldwide commonwealth under her king Yeshua.

“Thus, all who become true Christians from all lands become signs of the future order of the Messiah’s worldwide rule. Ephesians 2 describes them as once lost, strangers to the covenants, but now having been brought near, made recipients of the promises, and members of the commonwealth of Israel (RSV). The church has sometimes forgotten its Jewish roots and often lost sight of this, but that makes it no less true. Christians are recipients of the benefits of covenant by being under the beneficent rule of Israel’s king and have all the promises of Scripture, except those which would not benefit or apply to them, such as the promise to live in the land of Israel.

“The New Testament presents a mystery, previously unrevealed, that Israel the nation does not accept her own king. This can be illustrated in this way: The church is the people of God, the commonwealth, in and from all nations. Israel is the nation and all nations, as nations, will join the commonwealth when Messiah returns.

“Let’s use an analogy of England under King George. Suppose England rejected the rule of King George, while the nations of the British commonwealth continued to accept his rule. There would be a British commonwealth without its central member. King George would continue to fight to reestablish his rule over England. As an Englishman, he would even say he had chosen England as the center of his rule. It is possible that the other nations in the commonwealth might feel they had replaced England, even though the commonwealth is rooted in England. The king, however, would have none of this talk. Even though he had established his rule in other nations, he would continue to woo and pressure England until he was finally received and could rule his empire from London. In the meantime he would extend his rule over other nations.

“So it is with Yeshua the Jew. He is the rightful King of Israel. Though accepted in the commonwealth and rejected in Israel, He has chosen Israel to be His people. She is beloved for the fathers’ sake and will be wooed and pressured and kept until she turns to Him. This is the prediction of Zechariah 12:10 and Romans 11:26. The king of England would not destroy or forsake his homeland. Neither would Yeshua destroy or forsake His homeland and people.

“When Israel accepts her king, the commonwealth will be in the order ultimately intended for it. God’s blessing will thus flow out to all nations (Zechariah 14). The great mystery of the age is that the commonwealth of Israel, under the Messiah Yeshua, is extended during this age without Israel itself being under the Messiah’s rule.

“….

“…Gentiles become partakers of the covenants of God with Israel. They are no longer strangers to the covenants, but joint heirs. Through the Messiah, they are now attached to Israel and the nourishment of the sap of the tree feeds them (Romans 11:18, 24). Israel’s acceptance of Yeshua’s rule should be the concern of the whole commonwealth, since it will bring greater blessing to the whole commonwealth. Reading Romans 11 in the light of the commonwealth concept is a great joy; the passage speaks naturally with no violence done to its intended meaning. This fulfills the promise to Abraham that his seed (Messiah and Israel) will be the source of blessing to all nations.”[203]

Recognizing how there are various Christian interpreters, namely dispensationalists—who have insisted that non-Jewish Believers are decisively not a part of the Commonwealth of Israel—Juster’s proposals were absolutely subversive to a 1980s dispensationalist, who was likely to support Messianic Jewish ministry on some noticeable level. Granted, Juster did make the mistake of many Americans in his discussion, and actually equates “England” with “Great Britain” (much to the chagrin of Irish, Welsh, and Scots, who also compose the home nations of the United Kingdom).[204] Still, his intention was to see Christians connected to Israel and the Jewish people, beneficiaries and joint heirs with them (Ephesians 3:6). He only specified here, at least, that the only non-applicable instructions for them from the Law would be things like living in the Land of Israel—which is obviously only granted to members of Israel’s Twelve Tribes,[205] and those select few of the nations who will get to live among them in the Millennium (Ezekiel 47:22).

Whether or not the Commonwealth of Israel can be likened to the British Commonwealth of Nations—where those who recognize the British monarch are still relatively independent states who share a common head of state (i.e., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Bermuda, the Bahamas)—would principally regard uses of the Greek term politeia and its cognates, as seen in Scripture and ancient Jewish and classical literature. Messianic Jewish scholar David Rudolph, is one who claims that politeia “in the first-century Greco-Roman context could mean a community of nations or ethnic groups sharing a common allegiance to a monarch.” He considers the Commonwealth of Israel to be a broad federation or confederation made up of two groups: Israel and “the Church,” and that “commonwealth” is an ideal rendering of politeia, being “a relatively simple way of describing the relationship between the Church and Israel.”[206] Rudolph is obviously following the conclusions drawn by a Messianic Jewish forbearer of his like Juster.

While the English term “commonwealth” may allow at times for one thinking of the people of God as akin to a British Commonwealth of Nations,[207] with multiple independent states, the Greek term politeia in its classical usage does not easily allow for this. The Liddell-Scott lexicon, chiefly interested in classical Greek, defines politeia with:

  • the condition and rights of a citizen, citizenship
  • the life of a citizen, civic life
  • as a concrete, the body of citizens
  • the life and business of a statesman, government, administration
  • civil polity, the condition or constitution of a state
  • a republic, commonwealth[208]

While these definitions surely do allow for an internally diverse community of people who should contribute to the well being of all, they do not lend support for a collection of multiple, largely autonomous and independent communities which make up a broad “commonwealth.” Consider the following examples from ancient classical and Jewish sources, which employ the term politeia. You will not see a single monarch ruling over a collection of separated, largely independent states implied:

POLITEIA IN ANCIENT USAGE

EPHESIANS 2:12

CLASSICAL REFERENCES[209]

remember that you were at that time separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. He was one of the souls who had come from heaven, having lived his previous life in a well-governed state [en tetagmenē politeia], but having owed his goodness to habit and custom and not to philosophy… (Plato Republic 10.619c).[210]

A constitution [or politeia] may be defined as ‘the organization of a city [or polis], in respect of its offices generally, but especially in respect of that particular office which is sovereign in all issues’. The civic body is everywhere the sovereign of the city; in fact the civic body is the constitution itself [to politeuma tēs poleōs, politeuma d’ estin hē politeia] (Aristotle Politics 3.1278b).[211]

The term ‘constitution’ [politeia] signifies the same thing as the term ‘civic body’ [politeuma]. The civic body in every city [polis] is sovereign [to kurion]… (Aristotle Politics 3.1279a).[212]

JEWISH REFERENCES

And to set before their eyes the injury that they had unjustly done to the holy place, and the cruel handling of the city, whereof they made a mockery, and also the taking away of the government of their forefathers [tēs progonikēs politeias] (2 Maccabees 8:17, KJV).

Among other things, we made known to all our amnesty toward their compatriots here, both because of their alliance with us and the myriad affairs liberally entrusted to them from the beginning; and we ventured to make a change, by deciding both to deem them worthy of Alexandrian citizenship [politeia] and to make them participants in our regular religious rites…[T]hey not only spurn the priceless citizenship [politeia], but also both by speech and by silence they abominate those few among them who are sincerely disposed toward us; in every situation, in accordance with their infamous way of life, they secretly suspect that we may soon alter our policy (3 Maccabees 3:21, 23).

The Jews also obtained honours from the kings of Asia when they became their auxiliaries; for Seleucus Nicator made them citizens [politeia] in those cities which he built in Asia, and in the Lower Syria, and in the metropolis itself, Antioch; and gave them privileges equal to those of the Macedonians and Greeks, who were the inhabitants, insomuch that these privileges continue to this very day (Antiquities of the Jews 12.119).[213]

The classical Greek meaning of politeia (which I was certainly taught at the University of Oklahoma as a political science undergraduate), also witnessed in ancient Jewish works, does not imply a kind of citizenship where a single monarch rules over a collection of separate states, but rather speaks of either a single government or a way of conduct within a society (sometimes within the context of a city). Of critical importance to us are those notable places where politeia, and a related term like politeuma,[214] appear in the Apostolic Scriptures, designating citizenship:

“The commander answered, ‘I acquired this citizenship [politeia] with a large sum of money.’ And Paul said, ‘But I was actually born a citizen’” (Acts 22:28).

“For our citizenship [politeuma; ‘commonwealth,’ RSV] is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah” (Philippians 3:20).

Anyone who would try to equate the Greek term politeia with a kind of multiple nation-state commonwealth in mind, does not have strong support either from classical usage or Biblical usage of the term.

What Paul describes as Believers possessing politeuma in Heaven, should not escape our notice. No one would honestly argue, for example, that born again Believers have different kinds of “citizenship” within the Kingdom of Heaven; it is all the same citizenship. Some might represent themselves as citizens of God’s Kingdom better than others, and some Believers do not always take advantage of all the spiritual benefits of being citizens of God’s Kingdom—but all who profess Yeshua are still citizens of the same Divine state.[215] The difficult concept that many Believers have to recognize is that God’s Kingdom happens to be Israel. Today’s Messianic Jews need to understand that while they are honored and respected members of this Israel to be sure (cf. John 4:22; Romans 3:1-2; 11:29), they are not at all the only members. The Commonwealth of Israel is to be viewed as a single state ruled by the King Messiah, but one which is internally diverse in terms of its ethnic makeup. The non-Jewish Believers were at one time “strangers to the covenants of promise” plural, tōn diathēkōn tēs epangelias, and having been integrated into the community of Israel are to look at Israel’s story as their own story (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1). According to Paul, those from the nations “are no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19).

Similar to this perspective, are some of the remarks made by D. Thomas Lancaster, in his 2009 book Grafted In:

“[I]t is not Israel that is joined to the church; it is the church that has been joined to Israel. Gentile Christians are adopted into Israel with the rights of sonship. We are adopted into Israel, not vice versa. Moreover, because the biblical adoption is absolute, we have real standing in the commonwealth of Israel. We are not second-class citizens. We are not stepsons or even grandsons. We are as much a genuine part of the family as are the Jewish people and legal converts to Judaism. After all, Paul tells us, even the natural born Israelite is an adopted child, adopted by God [Romans 9:4].

“This does not mean that Gentile believers are Jewish. But it does mean that we have as much a place in Israel as our Jewish brothers. It means that we have a right to celebrate the Sabbath. It is part of our inheritance in Israel. We have a right to keep the festivals. They are part of our inheritance in Israel. We have a right to follow the Torah. It is part of our inheritance in Israel. We have a right to say, ‘Abraham our father,’ ‘Isaac our father,’ ‘Jacob our father,’ because we have been joined to the family of Israel.

“The good news for Messianic Gentiles within Messianic Judaism is that we no longer should feel compelled to find that elusive Jew in our genealogy. We don’t need to find some external validation for our participation in the community of Torah. The inheritance is already ours. We don’t need to pose. We don’t need to feel like pretenders. We have full participation.

“To be a genuine part of Israel, we don’t need to tell Yiddish jokes, eat gefilte fish, or wear a yarmulke. (Although I recommend the fish; it’s not too bad.) Our position is guaranteed in Messiah. Our role is to grab hold of the fringes of his garment. He gives us standing among the tribes of Israel.

“….

“Paul called himself the apostle to the Gentiles—the apostle to those who are strangers and aliens to God’s people Israel. The good news is that through Messiah, we are strangers and aliens no more. We who were far away have been brought near. We who had no share or claim in Israel have been granted the status of citizenship in the commonwealth of Israel. We are citizens of Israel through Messiah. This is not just symbolic status. This is a real position in and among the people of God.”[216]

For many in today’s Messianic Judaism, claiming that non-Jewish Believers being a part of “the Commonwealth of Israel”—means having citizenship in Israel’s Kingdom realm, and that non-Jews are a part of Israel too—is a somewhat provocative claim. Perhaps this is why Lancaster has had to craft his remarks in the sense of “the Church joining Israel.” And, even with non-Jewish Believers from the nations having no sizable claim to ever really live in a Promised Land only reserved for the physical descendants of the Patriarchs—these people keeping things like the seventh-day Sabbath or appointed times, is not always liked by various Messianic Jews.

Lancaster’s own colleague in ministry, Boaz Michael, in his later publication Twelve Gates (2012), reflects a somewhat different perspective on what the whole “Commonwealth of Israel” concept is in Ephesians 2:12-13. His statements reflect far more of a bilateral ecclesiology, especially with a direct appeal made to a Messianic Jewish theologian like Rudolph:

“…Paul is not necessarily arguing that Gentile converts are citizens of Israel; rather, taken together, these Gentile converts and Jewish people constitute the ‘commonwealth of Israel,’ which David Rudolph describes as ‘a multinational expansion of Israel proper that has emerged in the form of the Church.’ It must be further noted that these Gentile converts are called ‘heirs together with Israel’ in Ephesians 3:6 [NIV; author’s note: Greek source text notably does not mention the proper name Israel at all][217], again implying that they do not take on the identity of Israel.

“To reiterate, had Paul desired to make his readers believe they were a part of Israel, or Israelites, he would have surely made it clear. However, the one time he comes close to teaching this in Ephesians 2-3, he uses distancing language—‘commonwealth of Israel’ rather than ‘Israel’; ‘together with Israel’ rather than ‘as a part of Israel.’”[218]

By 2013, it has become controversial in various quarters of Messianic Judaism, to affirm that the Commonwealth of Israel is a single, Divine state, with King Yeshua as its sovereign—made up of citizens who are natural born descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and those from the nations at large. Some leaders have obviously forced various writers and publishers to change or alter their theological positions. So, if various parts of today’s Messianic Judaism continue on a path toward wanting the Commonwealth of Israel to be defined in terms other than being a single yet internally diverse people of God, how much will it really achieve for Him? It may achieve some things, but surely not as many as it could.

There is a significant phenomenon of non-Jewish Believers entering into Messianic things—with a great deal going against them—and nobody should surely want to be in a position of going against salvation history, and the nations coming to Zion to be taught God’s Law (Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4) and joining with the Jewish people (Zechariah 8:23). These are all people in the Diaspora, who attend Messianic congregations and fellowships every week on Shabbat, similar to how things in the First Century Body of Messiah were (discussed further).

In Ephesians 2:12, Paul has just said that prior to knowing Yeshua, the nations “were estranged from the national life of Isra’el. You were foreigners to the covenants embodying God’s promise. You were in this world without hope and without God” (CJB). But now that they know Yeshua, a significant change has taken place: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13, RSV). The sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah on behalf of humanity at large has caused something to break, enabling the audience of Ephesians to be “brought near.”

What does it mean to have been far off? Paul has just said that being “far off” is “having no hope and without God in the world.” Yet, as Isaiah 57:19 says, “‘Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,’ says the LORD, ‘and I will heal him.’” Restoration is available equally to the one who is near, and to the one far away. Preaching at Shavuot/Pentecost immediately following the resurrection of Yeshua, Peter declared, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:39). Likewise, the Messiah called Paul, “For I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21). Being far off is obviously being estranged or alienated from the Creator God, and all the negative consequences that such a state entails.

In Ephesians 2:12, Paul has just made the point of describing not one—but two—things that his non-Jewish audience suffered from: (1) their alienation from Israel (2) led to their not knowing the One True God. Israel, after all, was to be the holy nation that gave a witness for this God in the world. Not having access (or at least easy/easier access) to Israel, surely a bad state, led to the worst state possible by being alienated from the Creator.

In spite of this having transpired, with Yeshua having arrived on the scene and via the work of Paul’s own ministry, their negative fortunes have now reversed. The sacrificial work of Yeshua has brought the nations “near.” But what does it mean to be “brought near,” specifically? Some have suggested that Paul is turning proselyte language up on its head,[219] as the Jewish people of his day made such a process the only way of entering into Israel, against God’s original intention. Andrew T. Lincoln indicates, “it is surely along the lines of traditional proselyte terminology that the writer of Ephesians has formulated his statement of the change that has taken place.”[220] Those administrating the ritual proselyte circumcision to Judaism would say that their converts were “brought near” via their circumcision. But here, the Apostle Paul asserts that the nations have been “brought near” via the Messiah’s sacrifice.

But what have the nations been “brought near” to? Certainly they have been “brought near” to God; every interpreter of Ephesians is in agreement with this. Yet, the assertion that the nations have been “brought near” to Israel and incorporated into Israel’s Commonwealth—thus being citizens of the Kingdom along with their fellow Jewish Believers—is not fully agreed. Significant divergences take place between today’s Messianics and most Christian interpreters. Dispensationalists, for example, commonly argue that being “brought near” to the Commonwealth of Israel does not mean being made a part of it, but perhaps is just an observation that today’s Christian Church must appreciate its Jewish origins.

The problem with being “brought near” not meaning that non-Jewish Believers who receive Yeshua are a part of Israel, is that it does not align with what the Tanach tells us about being “near.” Being “brought near” to God does not mean that a person is not a part of His people. Isaiah 56:3 gives us an important clue: “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely separate me from His people.’” One who is “brought near” to God is surely a member of His own. There are scores of references in the Tanach that physical non-Israelites who join themselves to Israel are to be treated with honor, and afforded the same basic rights as the native born.[221] Such imperatives are no doubt in the mind of Paul as he tells his largely non-Jewish audience that they have been “brought near” to the God of Israel. Stern’s observations in How Jewish Is Christianity? 2 Views on the Messianic Movement, are especially worth noting:

“After Yeshua it became clear to believers in him that Gentiles who believed in him had joined God’s people….The term ‘brought near’ doesn’t mean ‘brought close but still outside’; rather, it means ‘brought all the way into the national life of Israel.’ This is clear from the following verse (Ephesians 2:14).”[222]

The nations being “brought near” to God was nothing less than them having the same status before God that Israel itself had as described in the Tanach. Psalm 148:14 declares, “He has lifted up a horn for His people, praise for all His godly ones; even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the LORD!” Deuteronomy 4:7 puts it even more clearly, as the nations are to look to Israel for a nation that is close to God: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?” Being “brought near” to God is by no means being a part of some separate “Church”; it is being brought near to God by being incorporated into His own—even if this is to be regarded as an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, with a restored Twelve Tribes at the center, and Israel’s borders expanded to welcome in the righteous from the nations (Acts 15:15-18; Amos 9:11-12).

The difficult concepts that interpreters, Christian or Messianic, often have difficulty balancing are the facts that the Lord is surely the God of all the Earth—but Israel is the vehicle by which His purposes are to be accomplished. One side sees Israel giving way to a separate ekklēsia, and the other can often downplay the worldwide mandate the Lord has placed upon Israel.

Christian interpreters have an especially hard time with being “brought near” to God as being made participants in the Commonwealth of Israel, because the responsibility of heeding/following the Torah inevitably would come with such a status.[223] It is not insignificant that various Ephesians commentaries assert something like, “the ‘now’…does not speak of Gentiles joining the commonwealth of Israel” (Pheme Perkins),[224] because the Torah cannot be factored out of the equation if such were/is the case. However, such views often ignore the fact that the expectation of Paul’s mission among the nations was something truly “in accordance with the Law and what is written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14; cf. Exodus 19:4-6; Deuteronomy 7:6). This salvation of the nations, anticipated in the Tanach, is sometimes de-emphasized or under-played in some branches of Christian theology, and is a definite sign of much of the Church’s ignorance of the Old Testament (or at least ignorance on the part of some New Testament specialists). Christopher J.H. Wright reminds us, though,

“God did not choose Israel that they alone should be saved, as if the purpose of election terminated with them. They were chosen rather as the means by which salvation could be extended to others throughout the earth…his people should be the instrument through whom God would gather that multinational multitude that no man or woman can number.”[225]

Paul himself disagrees with many theologians today who say that non-Jewish Believers are not made a part of Israel’s Commonwealth. He previously told non-Jewish Believers in Rome that they were “grafted in” (Romans 11:17). They do not replace natural born Israel, or the Jewish people, but as Witherington concludes, Ephesians 2:12-13 reflect “a sort of incorporation theology that one already finds in the discussion of Jew and Gentile in Romans 11.”[226] In his olive tree metaphor, he compared the “wild olive” of the nations to the “natural branches” (Romans 11:21) of his own Jewish people. It is not as though one species of plant is grafted into the trunk of another, violating the principle of sowing two kinds of seed together (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:9). Paul is describing different kinds of olives composing the tree of God’s faith community, as opposed to multiple species of fruit growing from the same tree. The nations in a very real sense become a part of Israel via their faith in Yeshua the Messiah.

Moving forward to Ephesians 3:6, the Apostle Paul asserts, “the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua through the gospel.” Because of the good news of salvation, the nations are to be sugklēronoma kai sussōma kai summetocha. Here we see three terms that begin with the prefix sun-, generally meaning “with.” Sometimes sun- can be used in Greek as “two together or by twos… like Lat. bini, terni, etc.” (LS).[227] The Williams New Testament renders this as “the heathen through union with Christ Jesus are fellow-heirs with the Jews, are members with them of the same body, and sharers with them of the promise through the good news.” Here, we see a complete equalization of status for both non-Jewish and Jewish Believers—one which had not necessarily been available for the foreigner or stranger who was welcome into Israel, a foreigner or stranger who was still to some degree treated as alien, at least from a social standpoint.

The mystery was not about non-Jewish people being made a part of Israel, as that had always been a feature of the Tanach and was certainly an expectation held by the First Century Synagogue.[228] The mystery was that they were a part of the Body of Messiah—something new in that it went beyond mere national identification. While the original promise to Abraham was “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3; cf. Galatians 3:8), the mystery of the Messiah coming and making all equal in Him regardless of ethnicity was certainly something radical for Paul to say. It was not inconsistent with the prophetic expectations of the Tanach, but was undoubtedly an unforeseen trajectory for many. Witherington makes the important point, “Syssōma is not found elsewhere in Greek literature and seems to have been coined by Paul himself.”[229] If this is indeed true, then the significance of the mystery of Messiah is only heightened with Paul having to invent new words to describe what Yeshua has brought! Messianic Believers cannot be in complete disagreement with the dispensationalists, as Harold W. Hoehner is right to say,

“Thus the mystery is not something mysterious, but is a sacred secret hidden in Ages past but now revealed. This is made possible through the gospel: believing Jews and Gentiles are in one body. The mystery is not that Gentiles would be saved, for the Old Testament gave evidence of that, but rather that believing Jews and Gentiles are joined together. That was a revolutionary concept for Jews and Gentiles alike!”[230]

Paul has already detailed in Romans that the nations would be blessed by God via the gospel, justifying this with a large litany of Tanach quotations:

“[A]nd for the [nations] to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, ‘Therefore I will give praise to You among the [nations], and I will sing to Your name’ [2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 18:49]. Again he says, ‘Rejoice, O [nations], with His people’ [Deuteronomy 32:43]. And again, ‘Praise the Lord all you [nations], and let all the peoples praise Him’ [Psalm 117:1]. Again Isaiah says, ‘There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the [nations], in Him shall the [nations] hope’ [Isaiah 11:10]” (Romans 15:9-12).[231]

That the nations could become a part of Israel is something seen in the Tanach. That the nations would be the equals of their fellow Jewish Believers in the Messiah was something largely unexpected and unanticipated. The classic situation of the Jewish proselyte is seen in the Mishnah, who while undergoing circumcision and pledging himself to the God of Israel, “when he prays in the synagogue, he says, ‘God of your fathers’” (m.Bikkurim 1:4).[232] In direct contrast to this, Paul asserts “our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1). The mystery of all Believers being equal in Messiah is something that is in full alignment with God’s original calling of Israel, but does include some elements that were only to be fully manifest after the Messiah’s ministry on Earth.

With the advent of the Messianic movement in the past thirty to forty years (1960s-present), many Messianic Jews today are willing to concede that non-Jewish Believers have a faith connected to Israel. This is a step forward to the type of unity Paul envisions in Ephesians. However, many Messianic Jews are not willing to accede such non-Jewish Believers an equal status and responsibility within the Commonwealth of Israel. Is this in alignment with Paul’s words of how the nations are to be sugklēronoma kai sussōma kai summetocha, “joint heirs and fellow members of the same body and co-sharers” (TLV)? With the Messianic movement preparing to enter into a new chapter of its spiritual and theological development in the 2010s-2020s, significant changes are in store—first with some tension, likely to be second followed with controversy, and then third followed with genuine progress.

In today’s Messianic movement, when many non-Jewish Believers have made a point to claim an equal status within an enlarged community of Israel along with Jewish Believers, can come some severe hostility on the part of Jewish Believers. There are many reasons as to why this can be the case, some of them being legitimate. High among the list of reasons is non-Jewish Believers in the Messianic community expressing little or no regard for mainline Jewish traditions, or in some way belittling the historic Jewish people with no degree of honor expressed toward them, as though they actually have nothing legitimate to contribute to the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom. Joined with this is often an equally deplorable level of hostility demonstrated toward the Christian Church, as though it has made no contributions for the Kingdom of God, ever, in human history. There are anti-Jewish and anti-Christian attitudes which have manifested, which definitely border on violation of the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16).

A fair-minded way of applying Ephesians 3:6 can often elude today’s Messianic Believers, and we all need to learn to constructively approach various issues when they are presented. Better understanding much of what it means for all of us being a part of the same body, is not going to be easy, because the current Messianic generation is conditioned too far and too much by a complementarian view of God’s people, stressing differences and not commonality first. We know this is the case, because in recognizing that Ephesians 3:6 says that Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are part of the same body, Messianic Jewish leaders and teachers tend to immediately compare their unity together like that of husband and wife, and where the so-called “distinct roles” emphasized is clearly based on a patriarchal reading of Scripture, and not an egalitarian reading of Scripture:

  • Russell L. Resnik: “Just as husband and wife have distinct roles within God’s ideal of a unified, joyful whole, so it is with his calling of Israel and the nations.”[233]
  • Mark S. Kinzer: “[T]he unity of Jew and Gentile does not imply the elimination of all distinction between the two, any more than the unity of husband and wife eliminates all gender differentiation….[I]f Jew and Gentile blend together in such a way that the distinction between them is utterly effaced, how can their unity be a sign of anything?”[234]

No relatively conservative, egalitarian reader of Scripture believes that men and women in Messiah lose all of their distinctives because of their faith in Yeshua—because each certainly has different reproductive anatomy. We hardly believe in the emergence of some unisex person in Christ. But, both man and woman do have the same equal amount of brainpower and intelligence, the same abilities to have spiritual gifts, and they should be afforded opportunities to learn and teach the Bible. An egalitarian reader of Scripture does strongly believe that a woman can be a leader in the Body of Messiah, the same as any man.

An egalitarian reader of Scripture, quite different to the complementarian, is going to emphasize the common bonds between husband and wife, as co-leaders of the home and family, to raise and discipline children, without any sense of rigid hierarchy—but as husband and wife as equal partners. An egalitarian reader will read Ephesians 5:22-33 in light of Ephesians 5:21: “be subject to one another in the fear of Messiah.”[235] And, an egalitarian would have different readings of passages like 1 Timothy 2:12, 15, at the very least in approaching it from the perspective of the Ephesian false teaching that Paul’s disciple Timothy had to see stopped (although more likely via different translations of some controversial terms and clauses),[236] and not at all speaking of universal circumstances. As egalitarian perspectives are considered and welcomed more and more by today’s Messianic people,[237] the kind of arguments made above by Resnik and Kinzer, are not going to have as much influence as they would want them to have.

The widespread Messianic Jewish concern is whether non-Jewish Believers are going to cancel out their distinctiveness, by entering into the Messianic movement and becoming Torah obedient. I can say that for myself, as a Scottish American—that even though I keep Shabbat, observe the appointed times, and eat a kosher style diet—I have not at all given up on my cultural background, from any side of my family (Scottish, English, French, Dutch, German, Irish). Obviously, there are many good and wholesome things from my family’s largely British background, yet there are various parts of it laden with sin, which do not align with the ethos of Scripture, and should be totally jettisoned. When every Messianic Jew I have ever encountered meets me, he or she assumes that I am not a Jew.[238] He or she knows that even when worshipping in a Messianic congregation on Saturday morning, that they are in the presence of a tall man from the nations—even with me wearing a yarmulke for synagogue protocol. He or she assumes that I am not going to try to run off to live in Israel, making aliyah—or even down to the local non-Messianic synagogue to become a member. He or she assumes that if I take them home with me, that my office, while full of religious books, is not stock full of Judaica items from Israel.[239] He or she assumes that I am fully content in my ethnic and cultural background—even with partaking of my Biblical heritage in God’s Torah, and respecting and valuing the Jewish heritage of a Messianic Jewish style of worship on Shabbat and congregational commemorations of the moedim.

The broad Messianic movement has a way to go, in recognizing the egalitarian trajectory of Scripture (i.e., Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:3-4; Galatians 3:28)—where common faith in the Messiah is more important than natural distinctions—and it is unlikely that enough Messianic people will be able to see its importance in the short term. We are not all exactly the same. But the religious culture, where our differences outweigh our common values and faith in God, is one which prevails too much in today’s Messianic world. It might really be a while before we understand Paul’s word, “to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10, NRSV).[240]

Titus 2:13-14

[L]ooking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Messiah Yeshua, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”

As I know from conducting my 2010-2011 Wednesday Night Bible Study on the Pastoral Epistles of 1&2 Timothy and Titus—while the Pauline letters generally receive a low amount of attention from today’s Messianic people, these letters, in particular among the Pauline corpus, receive the lowest amount of evaluation and attention to detail. This is especially true of the Epistle to Titus, to which a rather miniscule amount of contemporary Messianic examination, of any kind, has been given. Much of this, whether today’s Messianic teachers and leaders—across the spectrum—wish to really admit it or not, is due to the fact that Titus was a Greek Believer in Yeshua, and that he was given considerable responsibilities in overseeing fellowships of Messiah followers on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5). The fact that Titus, a Greek, and one who was uncircumcised (cf. Galatians 2:3), would be afforded with such responsibility, is something that a wide selection of today’s Messianics choose to generally ignore.

It is quite easy for today’s Messianic Bible readers to just overlook the Epistle to Titus, as though it really has no bearing on their contemporary spirituality. Yet, as it concerns the question, Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel?, the statements of Paul in Titus 2:14, need to definitely be factored into our deliberations. The evitable Apostle, making some observations on the return of Yeshua the Messiah,[241] strongly asserts how “He gave Himself for us so that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and so that He might purify for Himself a chosen people, zealous for good deeds” (TLV). In the notes for a Messianic version like the TLV, Exodus 19:5-6 and Deuteronomy 26:18 are referenced.[242] Yet, there are some more, key Tanach concepts to be considered. My following statements are largely adapted from my commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic (early 2012).

Paul exhorts Titus on how Yeshua the Messiah “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14, ESV). The verb lutroō means “to free by paying a ransom, redeem” (BDAG).[243] Past (Titus 2:11) and future (Titus 2:13) redemptive acts are both in view within the argument here. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom [noun lutron] for many.” 2 Clement 17:4 further elaborates, “For the Lord said, I come to gather together all the nations, tribes, and languages. Herein He speaketh of the day of His appearing, when He shall come and redeem us, each man according to his works.”[244] The concept of redemption is deeply rooted within the deliverance of Ancient Israel from Egypt (Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 7:8; 2 Samuel 7:23), as it not only involves individuals being freed from their sins but also Divine intervention as God’s people are freed from the oppression of their enemies.

More of the current aspects of redemption are described in Titus 2:14, as individuals and the people of God as a whole are to live responsibly, reflecting the salvation that Yeshua has provided them. The main reason Yeshua was sacrificed was to deliver people apo pasēs anomias, “from all violation of Torah” (CJB) or “from all lawlessness” (ESV/HCSB). Yeshua the Messiah frees born again Believers from what they have done contrary to God’s Torah, as “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), as He was sacrificed for those who stood under the Torah’s condemnation (Galatians 4:5). It is easy to see connections between Titus 2:14 and Tanach assertions about how Israel’s sins[245] will be remitted by the Holy One:

“And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities [Heb. MT: m’kol avonotayv; Grk. LXX: ek pasōn tōn anomiōn autou]” (Psalm 130:8).

“They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions [Heb. MT: u’v’kol pish’eihem; Grk. LXX: apo pasōn anomiōn autōn]; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 37:23).[246]

Titus 2:14 continues, detailing of the Messiah, kai katharisē heautō, “and might purify to himself” (YLT), with the verb katharizō meaning “to purify through ritual cleansing, make clean, declare clean” (BDAG).[247] To a degree, Paul and Titus declaring to the Believers that true cleansing is available in Yeshua would subvert whatever the Cretan troublemakers had said about being pure in whatever they espoused (Titus 1:15-16), as this is a supernatural cleansing only available in the gospel. Parallels between this and Tanach promises that Israel will be purified can be seen, such good news having been anticipated many centuries earlier:

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness [Heb. MT: u’teharttem m’kol tum’oteikhem; Grk. LXX: kai katharisthēsesthe apo pasōn tōn akatharsiōn humōn] and from all your idols” (Ezekiel 36:25).

“Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness [Heb. MT: m’kol tum’oteikhem; Grk. LXX: pasōn tōn akatharsiōn humōn]; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you” (Ezekiel 36:29).

“Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities [Heb. MT: m’kol avonoteikhem; Grk. LXX: ek pasōn tōn anomiōn humōn], I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt’” (Ezekiel 36:33).[248]

These linguistic connections between Titus 2:14 and Ezekiel chs. 36 and 37 regarding Yeshua’s salvation activity, point to the fact that all of those who acknowledge Him—Jewish or non-Jewish—as Savior are not only reckoned a part of the community of Israel, but they are also somehow to be participants in Israel’s restoration. The most important stage within Israel’s restoration is seeing people cleansed of their sins, and restored to a right relationship with the Creator. The Ezekiel 36:25-27 promise is most important, because when coupled with Jeremiah 31:31-34, it is the New Covenant imperative that with remission of sin will come the supernatural capacity on behalf of God’s people for them to truly follow His Torah/Law.[249]

The ones who are specifically purified are stated to be laon periousion or a “special people” (LITV). This is a definite description of Ancient Israel in the Tanach directly applied to all born again Believers who recognize Israel’s Messiah (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; cf. 1 Samuel 12:22; 2 Samuel 7:24; Psalm 135:4). It is referenced as such, by Jennifer L. Koosed, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament:

People of his own, lit., ‘chosen people’ (‘laon periousion’), only here in the NT but five times in the LXX (Ex 19.5; 23.22; Deut 7.6; 14.2; 26.18; see also Ezek 37:23) to refer to Israel’s election. The (predominantly Gentile) church sees itself in continuity with Israel.”[250]

That those Messiah followers on the island of Crete, largely non-Jewish Believers—could be regarded as being a chosen people, called out by God as special and purified—means that they should be regarded as people who do not replace historical Israel, but are rather part of a community of Israel enlarged via the Messiah’s work and inclusion of the nations.

With born again Believers making up the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13) or the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) via their trust in the Messiah, a mature man or woman of God is to be zēlōtēn kalōn ergōn, “a zealot for good works” (Titus 2:14, WBC).[251] This concurs with Ephesians 2:8-10, where Believers are saved by grace through faith, but they are saved for the purpose of demonstrating good works as a positive result of their redemption, something brought about by the cleansing work of the Messiah (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 8:1-9; Galatians 5:17-18).

Today’s Messianic community experiences fewer challenges than today’s Christian Church, as Jewish and non-Jewish Believers brought together recognize themselves—in some form or fashion—to be a part of the community of Israel in Messiah Yeshua. There are hurdles and obstacles still to be overcome for certain, especially regarding missiology and making sure that we perform the array of good works that our Heavenly Father wants us to have. Nevertheless, we have been uniquely positioned to help see many Jewish people come to saving faith in Messiah Yeshua and help evangelical Christians gain a new appreciation for their Hebraic Roots.[252]

1 Peter 2:9-11

“But you are a chosen race [Isaiah 43:20, LXX; Deuteronomy 7:6; 10:15], A royal priesthood [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], a holy nation [Exodus 19:6], a people for God’s own possession [Isaiah 43:21, LXX; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2], so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy [Hosea 2:23]. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.”

It is not difficult, in reading through 1 Peter 2:9-11, that there is a wide variety of some significant titles of honor and distinction—which are directly taken from the Tanach or Old Testament—applied to the audience of the letter. These titles are principally directed to stimulate good and proper behavior, becoming of born again Believers, which reflect upon the righteous character of God. It is most convenient to see a figure like the Apostle Peter apply these titles to Jewish Believers, as they involve not only the vocational calling upon Ancient Israel to be a Kingdom of priests and holy nation, but also God’s plan to restore Israel in the eschaton. However, a wide number of examiners of the Epistle of 1 Peter, including people in contemporary Messianic Judaism, are forced to recognize how this letter, at the very least, had a mixed audience of First Century Jewish and non-Jewish Believers. That non-Jewish Believers could be described with honorificates designated for Israel, surely has a bearing on ecclesiology.

The audience of 1 Peter is stated to be a wide grouping of Messiah followers in Asia Minor. The Apostle Peter also goes on to acknowledge how, at least a major part of his audience, were once engrossed in paganism—which decisively means that a huge number, of those who received 1 Peter, were non-Jewish Greeks and Romans. Their condition as “aliens” is one of sojourning on Planet Earth, in anticipation of the return of the Messiah:

“Peter, an apostle of Yeshua the Messiah, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen…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” (1 Peter 1:1, 14-19).

Obviously, the call to holiness is one which is issued to all Messiah followers. Yet, when reviewing 1 Peter 2:9-10, and recognizing that the intertextuality seen describes not only behavioral holiness but also the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom—that Jewish Believers and non-Jewish Believers, are participants in all of this together, is certain. Here are some of the main Tanach passages quoted in 1 Peter 2:9-10, appearing in order:[253]

  • “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
  • “Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 10:15).
  • “‘[A]nd you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel” (Exodus 19:6).
  • “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” (Isaiah 61:6).
  • “The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise” (Isaiah 43:21).
  • “But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today” (Deuteronomy 4:20).
  • “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2).
  • “I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, and I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hosea 2:23).

The role that 1 Peter 2:9-10 has for today’s emerging Messianic movement, and what it specifically communicates, is one which is most important. Not only are we to be a holy people who faithfully serve the Lord in the world, but it cannot be avoided that the Apostle Peter applied a prophecy of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim coming back to Him (Hosea 2:23) to a mixed audience of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers. Similar to the challenges of interpretation present with Romans 9:23-29 (previously addressed), so are there some challenges of interpretation present with 1 Peter 2:9-10.

Many of today’s populist Two-House teachers will just quickly conclude that Peter’s non-Jewish audience were “Ephraimites” of some sort, which Peter does not say.[254] The focus of Peter himself is on the vocational calling of Israel—which is not limited to his own Jewish people exclusively, or the nations. He applies a restoration of Israel prophecy, in the process of being fulfilled, to non-Jewish Believers—but more in the sense of all Believers being participants involved in it. And, the ethical and moral aspects of this are more imperative. From a standpoint of ecclesiology, all Believers, Jewish and non-Jewish, are part of the Kingdom realm of Israel where these prophecies will take place—meaning that non-Jewish Believers are hardly a part of some separate “Church” entity. From a standpoint of missiology, all Believers, Jewish and non-Jewish, are to live holy and upstanding lives, reflecting the love and righteousness of God to the world.

Recognizing some of the challenges present in 1 Peter 2:9-10, the titles which involve Ancient Israel and the restoration of Israel, and the audience of the Epistle of 1 Peter—what have various voices and resources of note, in Messianic Judaism, said about this?

Stern, albeit reluctantly, recognizes in his Jewish New Testament Commentary that Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are addressed in 1 Peter 2:9-10, with the latter being addressed, in his estimation, a bit metaphorically. However, he spends more time focusing on the mistakes of replacement theology, than considering the ramifications of non-Jewish Believers being labeled with honors, presumably only intended for Israel, and what it means for ecclesiology:

“In the Tanakh these terms are applied to the Jewish people, Israel. Kefa applies them to the readers of his letter, who, according to 1:1N, are, firstly, Messianic Jews and, secondly, Messianic Gentiles who truly identify with them…Many Christian theologians have used this verse [1 Peter 2:9] as evidence that the Church (the Christians) has replaced Israel (the Jews). If I am right about who the readers of this letter were, then these Christian theologians are wrong. Even if I am wrong about the readers, Replacement theology is inconsistent with Ro 11:17-26, Ep 2:11-22, and other references at Mt 5:5N. I would put it this way: Christians are indeed a chosen people, priests for the King, a holy ‘nation’ (in a metaphorical sense), a people set aside for God to possess—not by way of superseding the Jews as God’s people, but by way of being joined to them by faith in the same God and in the Jewish Messiah. A so-called ‘Christian’ who opposes or looks down on the Jews merely as God’s ‘former’ people has missed the point altogether and is probably not a Christian at all.”[255]

A much more textually and missionally engaged approach, to what the Epistle of 1 Peter communicates, is seen in the brief introduction to 1 Peter in the Tree of Life—The New Covenant (2011). It is appropriately stated that non-Jewish Believers, being described with the same titles of honor as Israel, is not at all some sort of replacement theology, but is instead a fact of how the Kingdom realm of Israel has been enlarged to incorporate the righteous from the nations:

“Peter was known as the shaliach [apostle] to the Jewish people, but perhaps that was not his only audience. In 2:12, exactly who should keep their conduct honorable among the Gentiles? Jewish readers in Diaspora who have contact with non-Jewish people? Gentile believers within the communities? Much of Peter’s letter does seem to address Gentiles who have joined the believing community—[given the] talk about the futile way of life (1:18) and advice to stop past pagan lifestyles (1:14; 4:3-5).

“Peter includes Gentiles in the people of God by applying to them the language of the Tanakh. His readers in 1:4 have an inheritance; in 1:15 they are called as kedoshim [saints] to be holy; in 2:9 they are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; in 4:17 they are the family of God. This is not the church ‘replacing’ Israel. It is the enlargement of Israel to now include Gentiles according to God’s plan. It is the same idea we find in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (2:12-13).”[256]

While I am perhaps most comfortable, personally, with the TLV language such as, “It is the enlargement of Israel to now include Gentiles according to God’s plan,”[257] and focus on non-Jewish Believers possessing citizenship and membership in an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel—Lancaster actually goes even further in his book Grafted In (2009):

“‘Chosen people,’ ‘royal priesthood,’ ‘holy nation,’ and ‘people belonging to God’ are all titles of Israel. They are the very roles God offered to Israel at Mount Sinai if only she would ‘hear his voice and keep his covenant.’ Now the Gentiles have…entered that covenant, to keep it through the auspices of Yeshua. They have become a part of Israel the bride.

“As Gentile believers, we find our position in Israel spelled out here. We are no longer to be regarded as merely Gentiles. We are part of the people of God. We have become a ‘chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.’ We have been so made on the basis of an ‘imperishable seed’ planted in us ‘through the living and enduring word of God,’ not a perishable seed inherited from distant ancestors, nor on the basis of a legal conversion. We have become a part of the people of Israel.”[258]

What is most provable, from evaluating the audience of 1 Peter (1:1, 14-19) and the titles of honor directed to them (1 Peter 2:9-10), is that a mixed Jewish and non-Jewish group of people in the First Century, were all to fulfill the vocational calling originally placed upon Ancient Israel—as well as be participants in the restoration of the Messianic Kingdom. This was not replacement theology, but rather an expansion of the borders and activities of Israel’s Kingdom. Would such words, applied to non-Jewish Believers, truly indicate that they were a part of some separate entity called “the Church”—or the assembly of Israel that Yeshua came to build anew via His work? It is hard to see the Apostle Peter applying titles of honor, originally concerning Ancient Israel—to a mixed audience of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers—unless he considered both of them to be a part of the same community of God.

Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6

“[A]nd He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:6).

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Revelation 5:10).

Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Messiah and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).

In passages like Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6, it is witnessed that all of those who recognize Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), as their Lord and Savior, are to be regarded as some sort of priests. This has its wording and mission rooted within the Tanach or Old Testament, as Exodus 19:6 originally instructed the Ancient Israelites, “you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Also to be considered should be Isaiah 61:6, “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.” In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, Stern recognizes it as much: “The language comes from Exodus 19:6, Isaiah 61:6.”[259] Yet, the statement by David Frankfurter on Revelation 5:10, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, is even more of note:

Kingdom and priests, Ex 19.6 is here democratized from Israel to all people (cf. 1 Pet 2.9).”[260]

That the understanding, of what the Kingdom of Israel composes, is reworked a bit around its King, Yeshua the Messiah, is something undeniably present in Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6. It is not at all that the original Twelve Tribes of Israel get replaced, because they do not; it is that the original Kingdom of Israel composed of those twelve tribes reaches out to all people of the human race, so that they might have redemption in Israel’s Messiah, serving the Creator God for His glory. Even with some specific details necessarily needing to be worked out as these oracles take shape in future history, Isaiah 66:18-21 foretells that many persons from the nations, who helped regather the scattered descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob back to their homeland, will actually be made into priests and Levites by God:

“‘For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Rosh, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the LORD, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,’ says the LORD, ‘just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,’ says the LORD.”

Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6, and its assertion that Messiah followers are to be a kingdom of priests, is ultimately tied into the vision of the New Jerusalem, with its twelve gates for the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This is a city which is not closed to anyone, except those unredeemed persons who are eternally exiled from God’s presence[261]:

“It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements. The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:12-27).

Even with some of limitations,[262] Michael has to acknowledge the inclusive component of the New Jerusalem—which welcomes all people of all nations, into Israel—in his publication Twelve Gates (2012):

“The day is coming when the holy city, the New Jerusalem, will descend, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. The twelve gates of the city will be open, day and night. Three look to the east. Three to the north. Three to the south. Three to the west. Each gate is made of precious stone. The names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel are inscribed upon the gates, just as they were inscribed on the twelve stones of the high priest’s breast piece.

“Through which gate will you enter?

“The Bible teaches that in Jesus, ‘the Gentiles are fellow heirs, and members of the same body’ with the Jewish people (Ephesians 3:6), and ‘fellow heirs with Christ’ Himself (Romans 8:17). The point of the vision of the New Jerusalem is not to exclude the non-Jews from the city; rather the gates of Israel stand open to the Gentiles, beckoning them to enter into the eternal reward that God has prepared for His people. The vision of New Jerusalem is not one of exclusion but inclusion, as it says, ‘the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day…They will bring into it the glory and honor of the Gentiles.’”[263]

That the Kingdom of God is to ultimately be represented by the city of New Jerusalem—and its twelve gates, inscribed with the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel—is something absolutely profound.

Three gates, representing Canada, Australia, and South Africa, currently surround Buckingham Palace in London. Only two of those three countries today still recognize the British monarch as their head of state (with Australia notably having had a republic referendum in 1999, to abolish the Crown, which narrowly lost). Their relationship with the original, colonial and imperial power, is not at all what it used to be.

Quite contrary to this, the New Jerusalem, with its entry ports inscribed with the names of twelve Biblical figures—some of which were not always honorable people, but who have undoubtedly affected the world in more ways than they could have ever possibly known—bears an undeniable testimony to the purposes of our Eternal and most Loving God to work through some of the most unlikeliest of people, that He might bring His redemption to all.

As inclusive as the New Jerusalem will be, welcoming in “the glory and honor of the nations” (Revelation 22:26, TLV), this city will possess an eternal distinction, as those who enter in will encounter the names of Israel’s twelve tribes. However, as those who enter in must pass through a gate labeled after Israel’s twelve tribes, the redeemed from the nations must reckon themselves as a part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel—brought to fruition via the work of the twelve Apostles (Revelation 21:14)—not some separate “Church” entity. Otherwise, the gates should be named after the Apostles, and the twelve foundation stones after the Twelve Tribes.

Zechariah 8:23: Ten Taking Hold Versus Making Proselytes

There is no doubting the reality, that when one surveys a selection of most Messianic Jewish congregations, in the Diaspora—and mainly in North America at that—that a majority of the constituents are likely to be non-Jewish. While exact numbers vary from assembly to assembly, the total numbers of Jewish people in a Messianic congregation might be one-third or less. Understandably, in anticipating the future growth and expansion of the Messianic movement, various Messianic Jewish leaders are a bit concerned. A Messianic Jewish movement which originally began as an evangelical outreach to fellow Jews—while seeing many Jews brought to faith in Yeshua the Messiah—has also seen many evangelical Believers enter in, and embrace their Hebraic Roots and a lifestyle of Torah observance. Will the Messianic movement actually emerge into a movement, where there are little or no Jews?

There are some very big controversies about the demographics of the Messianic movement, which have been brewing and stewing for years (and for which there are no easy answers). This largely relates to whether or not the Messianic movement is going to remain something relatively homogenous to Jews, or become more heterogeneous to other people groups. It involves issues of leadership in the local assembly, as well as more intimate subjects such as intermarriage. Many individual Messianic Jews, think that it is a good thing that non-Jewish Believers have become a part of their assemblies—obviously putting a complicated past history of anti-Semitism, and much misunderstanding toward Judaism, behind them. Many Messianic Jewish leaders, though, have been less-than-excited about non-Jews, seemingly swelling their numbers.

How are we to sort through much of this? One way would be to obviously consider that some important prophetic oracles are taking shape in the midst of our faith community, according to the predestined will of God. Another way would be to limit the activity of God’s Spirit, and see people corralled and sub-divided, with non-Jewish Believers indirectly pressured that being part of a Messianic congregation is not really for them. Yet, even with the decisions of various leaders and teachers trying to limit the activity of non-Jewish Believers in the contemporary Messianic movement—they seem to still just “keep coming.” Even when not always welcome in Messianic Judaism, some place in a less-than-formal independent Messianic fellowship or home group is found, rather than a return to a standard church setting.

A significant passage from the Prophets, Zechariah 8:20-23, is something that I have heard spoken, repeated, exposited on, and even speculated on, by many people in the Messianic movement. This includes many Messianic Jews, when they consider how non-Jewish Believers have been drawn into their midst, in some way, to be exposed to their Jewish Roots or the Biblical feasts. While some of these people might not be attending Shabbat services in a Messianic Jewish congregation every week, many of them do absolutely tend to swell services during the appointed times, such as at a congregational Passover gathering or the Fall High Holidays. What does Zechariah 8:20-23 tell us?

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘It will yet be that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts; I will also go.” So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.’ Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”

Here, it is said that people from all over the world will come to Jerusalem, seeking the God of Israel. They will follow after a Jew, knowing that the Creator God is with him. This passage bears some similarities to the oracle of Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4, about the nations coming to Zion to be taught God’s Torah. The reality is, whether today’s Messianic Jewish leaders wish to admit it or not—is that all of these prophecies are taking place in their very midst. Many non-Jewish Believers are decisively turning to God’s Torah, and are attending Messianic Jewish congregations. Many non-Jewish Believers are taking a hold of the proverbial garment of a Jewish person, knowing that his or her destiny lies with Israel.

Eli Cashdan, in the Soncino Books of the Bible commentary, observes on Zechariah 8:23, “Many men of different nations will press round a single Jew in their eagerness to join him in the worship of God, or to be recognized with him as belonging to the people of God.”[264] Is this not what we have in many Messianic Jewish congregations today? Not only do we often see a diverse number of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers—but the demographics on the non-Jewish side are widely diverse themselves. It is not at all, as though the overwhelming majority of non-Jewish Messianics are white Caucasians; there really are non-Jewish Messianics from all nations.

Zechariah 8:23, “Thus said the LORD of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold—they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (NJPS), is a prophetic word which is occurring in our midst today. We see it happening in Messianic congregations all over the Diaspora. While many Messianic Jews are a bit upset, disappointed, and distraught over non-Jewish Believers outnumbering them in their congregations—this is precisely what the Bible says is going to happen. The ratio of Jewish-to-non-Jewish people might end up being one-to-ten. Yet as prophecy is taking shape, the non-Jewish people have a conscious responsibility to be highly respectful, inquisitive, and recognizing of the Jewish leadership (cf. Romans 3:1-2), irrevocable calling (Romans 11:29), and that salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22). The only way you can really be in a Messianic Jewish congregation, which is almost one-hundred percent Jewish, is to be a part of one in the modern-day State of Israel.

While it is a bit stark to consider the reality that non-Jewish Believers might end up outnumbering Jewish Believers ten-to-one, in Diaspora assemblies—this does not all of a sudden mean that legitimate Messianic Jewish spiritual and theological issues go away, that concern for events in the Land of Israel go away, or that all Messianic Jewish children are going to all be intermarried away. If it is recognized that those from the nations are depicted as principally joining with Jewish people in worship, in Zechariah 8:20-23, then what we are basically looking at is a sharing of “sacred space” for spiritual fellowship, several times a week. A good teacher will always elaborate on Jewish spiritual and theological concerns. A good leader will make sure to present a potential married couple, with all of the various issues that may face them in marriage (which might discourage a wide amount of possible intermarriage).

While there are Messianic Jewish congregations—and certainly various independent Messianic expressions—which are honest with the thrust of a passage like Zechariah 8:20-23, there are others, in notable parts of the Messianic Jewish movement, who will be offering other alternatives. Among those who adhere to a bilateral ecclesiology of the Commonwealth of Israel composing the Jewish people/Messianic Jewish movement and the Christian Church, it is widely thought—that other than some limited contact here and there between Christians wanting enrichment from their Hebraic Roots—that the Messianic movement is not a place for non-Jews. A definite sentiment of many who adhere to bilateral ecclesiology, is to see the Messianic Jewish movement acknowledged as a formal branch of Judaism. A major practice, of all branches of Judaism, is to offer non-Jewish people the option of proselyte conversion.

The issue of proselyte conversion was one of various topics debated in the 2001 book, Voices of Messianic Judaism. Michael Wolf argued against offering Messianic Jewish conversions,[265] and John Fischer argued in favor of offering Messianic Jewish conversions.[266] In the past decade or so, while there continue to be debates over whether or not Messianic Jewish denominations, or groups with such denominations—should offer non-Jews the option of becoming Messianic Jewish “proselytes”—the fact is, is that there is a growing acceptance of it. In his 2009 work, Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology, Harvey referenced how “the innovations of the Hashivenu movement within the UMJC…welcomes the conversion of Gentiles to Messianic Judaism.”[267] The Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council, founded in 2006, is a group of Messianic Jewish leaders who have endorsed the idea that offering proselyte conversions for non-Jewish people in their congregations, might be a good thing.[268] Others in positions of influence in the Messianic community, while once being rather opposed to the option of Messianic Jewish proselyte conversions, have now demonstrated a more open position toward it.[269]

Much of the growing acceptance of non-Jewish proselytes to Messianic Judaism, while being spurred from the demographics of non-Jewish Believers outnumbering Jewish Believers, has been due to a total misevaluation of the Apostle Paul’s word of Galatians 5:3. As it appears in the NASU, Paul says, “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.” It is hence concluded by many Messianic Jewish leaders, on the basis of this verse, that only native-born Jews and circumcised proselytes are those who are required to keep the Torah, specifically things like the Sabbath, appointed times, or dietary laws. Non-Jews who want to feel like they should keep these things, probably need to consider looking into proselyte conversion.

There has been little examination with the surrounding cotext of Galatians 5:1-4, where a loss of God’s salvation in Yeshua is in view. Galatians 5:4 actually says, “You have been severed from Messiah, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” This is hardly the word one would have issued to a Greek or Roman Believer of the First Century, if some kind of “obligated” Jewish identity were the presumed issue. Alternatively, given the more literal rendering of opheiletēs as “debtor”[270] in Galatians 5:3 (KJV/NKJV), the commitments made by the person seeking proselyte circumcision, likely pertained to various oaths and vows issued to keep the whole Torah as a part of the conversion process/procedure (i.e., Nehemiah 10:28-29; 1QS 5.7-13), and also an acknowledgement to incur curses/penalties for ever breaking it. A debtor is one who can have penalties claimed. Because Yeshua is to have decisively broken the condemnation of Torah breaking for those who are in Him (Galatians 3:13; cf. Isaiah 24:5)—an ancient Greek or Roman Believer becoming a proselyte, was most likely to nullify His salvation, by claiming such curses, reverting back to a life of slavery to sin (Galatians 5:1).

Sadly, there has not been a huge amount of examination on Galatians 5:1-4 seen by any of today’s Messianics, thinking through the implications of the verses, or considering the source text in any detail.[271] That opheiletēs could mean “debtor,” has often not even appeared on the radar or sonar of some rather capable examiners in the Messianic movement—much less been factored in to the spiritually complicated implications of Galatians 5:1-4.[272]

What will an acceptance of non-Jewish proselytes to Messianic Judaism mean for our broad faith community? It is surely not the plan of God for proselytes to be made of the nations. Ancient proselytes to Judaism, who received Yeshua in the First Century C.E., were acknowledged and accepted as-is—but you never see the process employed by the Body of Messiah itself. (The circumcision of Timothy in Acts 16:3 was hardly a case of proselyte conversion, because he was already half-Jewish; it was a medical procedure to stop any potential conflict with non-believing Jews, given that he had a Greek father.)

While it is unknown what the definite procedures will be for any kind of Messianic Jewish conversion—if it at all involves presumed Believers claiming curses of the Mosaic Covenant, what would this mean for someone who has presumably had such curses broken via Yeshua’s salvation? Are we not to be people of the New Covenant, with decisive forgiveness and atonement for sin (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27)? What negative spiritual dynamics could be unloosed upon us if various Messianic Jewish denominations embrace non-Jews becoming proselytes via their auspices? Is this consistent with Zechariah 8:20-23; Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4? While Messianic Jewish groups offering proselyte conversion would enable them to have identification with the larger Jewish Synagogue—Yeshua the Messiah did not look favorably on the process (Matthew 23:15). And, an acceptance of Messianic Jews making many non-Jews into proselytes—especially so that they can “stay” in their congregations—might not look that unlike the steady acceptance that homosexual marriage and ordination of homosexual clergy has had in various liberal sectors of Judaism and Christianity.

The First Century Non-Jewish Believers, and the Messianic Movement Today

There is a general sense, in much of the broad Messianic movement, that what was present in the First Century Body of Messiah, is something which is most ideal and beneficial to try to recapture. While this should not include returning to a Mediterranean culture dominated by an oppressive power such as Rome, or include the presence of deplorable practices such as slavery and the oppression of women, or even Believers in Yeshua suffering public humiliation by the state—it does mean returning to the sense of unity and interconnectivity presented to us in the Book of Acts, with Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in camaraderie and solidarity with one another, as fellow brothers and sisters, sharing “sacred space” on a weekly basis with one another. While these people surely had their issues—as all human beings do—trying to recapture some of what they had, is an admirable goal, and one which many feel is present in today’s mixed Messianic congregations of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers.

The Apostolic decree of Acts 15:19-21, 29, issued by James the Just, made it quite clear that the new, non-Jewish Believers coming to faith in the Mediterranean basin did not have to be ordered to be circumcised as proselytes, or keep the Torah to be saved (Acts 15:1, 5). There were some non-negotiable entry requirements to be observed by them, however, for table fellowship, given their new associations. When followed, abstinence from idolatry, sexual immorality, strangled meats, and blood, would have had the effect of seeing Greeks and Romans severed from their old spheres of social and religious influence. This would in turn make the Jewish community, and fellowships (be they formal or informal) of Jewish Believers, their new spheres of social and religious influence. There are examples in the Book of Acts and Pauline letters, where the Apostolic decree was certainly followed, and there was a wide degree of involvement on the part of Greek and Roman Believers in the local Jewish community. There are also examples where the Apostolic decree was followed, and there was a wide degree of exclusion, because of Messiah faith, with many Jewish Believers actually removed from the Jewish community. And, there are examples of where the Apostolic decree was not followed, and where sin abounded. While there is variance, the Apostles’ intention was to surely see the new, non-Jewish Believers, attached to a community that recognized Israel’s One God.[273]

Today’s Messianic Believers are in wide, general agreement that the First Century ekklēsia did not practice Sunday “church,” and that there was no Christmas and Easter, certainly as holidays as we now know them today. These observances, which have made contemporary Christianity doubtlessly distinct and in contrast to Judaism, did not begin to emerge until the Second Century and after the death of the Apostles and some of their immediate successors. While today’s Messianic Believers rejoice over the fact that Yeshua was born in Bethlehem, and that He was sacrificed and resurrected for our sins—most of them do not celebrate Christmas or Easter in their homes.[274]

The inclusion of those from the nations in the Body of Messiah, as noted by James the Just, was predicated on the basis of “the words of the Prophets agree” (Acts 15:15). While including the oracle of Amos 9:11-12 quoted thereafter (Acts 15:16-18), many more Tanach prophecies involving the nations turning to Israel’s God and people, had to have been in his mind. We see no forced Torah observance of the nations, as was sought by some (Acts 15:1, 5), because the course of prophecy instead needed to be fulfilled. This would have involved oracles like Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4, about the nations coming to Zion to be taught God’s Law. It surely involved Joel 2:28 and kol-basar or “all flesh” (RSV) receiving God’s Spirit (Acts 2:17-21). Consequently, a major work of God’s Spirit is to supernaturally write His Instruction on the hearts and minds of His people, as part of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17). No one, even Jewish Believers, needed to be forced to obey God’s Law—when the supernatural compulsion of His own Spirit can work absolute wonders. For, only the Spirit imbuing a heart and mind, can enable transformed men and women to truly have love for God and neighbor.[275]

While there is every indication in the Messianic Scriptures, that the Apostles believed that the righteous from the nations were participants in Israel’s restoration along with them—there is no indication that the nations could participate in every single aspect of such restoration. They were part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, with a restored Twelve Tribes at its center, and with the borders of Israel expanding themselves, as envisioned by the Tabernacle of David oracle appealed to by James the Just (Amos 9:11-12). Those of the nations would doubtlessly be welcome to visit the Land of Israel and express honor and respect to different sites of importance—but the territory of Israel’s Twelve Tribes for permanent residence, was largely to be reserved for ethnic Israelites alone. While the new, non-Jewish Believers in the First Century would have to be purged of their paganism, there would still remain ethnic distinctions between Jewish, Greek, and Roman Believers. There would also still remain various cultural distinctions, simply by virtue of Greek and Roman Believers being conditioned by the geography and climate of diverse areas outside of the Land of Israel. While certainly needing to be reformed and influenced by a Biblical ethos, various types of clothing, cuisine, music, artwork, entertainment, architecture, and even literature, would certainly not all be synthesized to look and feel like First Century Israel or Second Temple Judaism. I cannot totally disagree with Mark S. Kinzer, who asserts,

“[T]he leadership of the Yeshua movement determined at an early stage that the ekklesia as an eschatological extension of Israel was to be an essentially transnational reality in which the cultural peculiarities of different regions and ethnicities would be expressed within the broad framework of Israel’s messianic faith.”[276]

Kinzer goes on to properly acknowledge how a great majority of the early, non-Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah, were wide participants in the Jewish community with them:

“At first, Gentile Yeshua-believers apparently expressed their solidarity with the Jewish people by participating along with Jewish Yeshua-believers in the wider Jewish world. They attended synagogue gatherings and experienced Jewish life directly. Only Yeshua-believing Jews would have accepted them as equals and as sharers in Israel’s eschatological blessings, but this need not have prevented them from active involvement with the rest of the Jewish community.”[277]

Most probably as an observation of what would come in the centuries following, increased anti-Semitism in the Roman Empire, and later forced conversions of Jews to Christianity, with Jews having to give up their heritage—Kinzer concludes that only a Body of Messiah composed of two sub-communities will work in our time.[278] Today, what this equates to is that the Messianic Jewish Synagogue and largely non-Jewish Christian Church, should remain largely separate. This is the only way, in his mind, that Jewish distinction can be adequately preserved. So, unless a non-Jewish Messianic has thoughts of a Messianic Jewish proselyte conversion, he or she probably needs to consider returning to a standard church setting.

A slightly less stark position is presented by Resnik, speaking on behalf of one Messianic Jewish denomination, where he does acknowledge how “Messianic Judaism is not an exclusively Jewish movement, but includes a subgroup of uniquely called Gentiles who share in the life and destiny of the Jewish people. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine today’s Messianic Jewish community apart from the faithful and visionary participation of many non-Jewish leaders and members.”[279] Quite contrary to the actual circumstances of many congregations and assemblies on the ground, and the sentiments held by both people and various leaders, Resnik concludes, “We do not portray ourselves as an ideal restored first-century community…We do not…encourage Christians to leave their church in order to attend a Messianic congregation.”[280]

What is happening today, with many evangelical Christians entering into Messianic congregations—while it may wish to be slowed or stopped by various Messianic Jewish leaders—is something that cannot be halted, if it is indeed a genuine move of God’s Spirit and salvation history. Even with some protestations that the Messianic Jewish movement is not trying to recapture some sort of First Century ideal, this is what a majority of people in the broad Messianic movement believe is happening.[281] Even with many, many details needing to be sorted out, the notion that God is restoring all of us to the ancient paths (cf. Jeremiah 6:16), is an unavoidable reality. As many non-Jewish Believers join with their Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters, in mixed assemblies—and this continues to get bigger—how will this be joined with other prophecies concurrently taking place (i.e., 2 Thessalonians 2:3a)[282]?

Being Careful and Watching One’s Terms

The position defended in this publication, is one which is adhered to by many people across the broad Messianic spectrum: non-Jewish Believers do have citizenship within the community of Israel, along with Jewish Believers. They are a part of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13), fellow heirs (Ephesians 3:6), grafted-in to Israel’s olive tree (Romans 11:16-17), members of the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). But what are some of the implications of this?

There has doubtlessly been opposition from various Messianic Jewish leaders, as well as evangelical Christian leaders, when an alternative to a bilateral ecclesiology has been presented. When non-Jewish Believers being a part of Israel has been opposed by those of “the establishment,” it is often been responded to with some less-than-constructive behavior, by non-Jewish Messianics. A widescale dismissal of mainline Jewish tradition in Torah observance, for example, is one of many negative things that has manifested.[283]

While it is inspiring and moving to see non-Jewish Believers, via their connection to the Messianic movement, reconnect with their Hebraic and Jewish Roots—non-Jewish readers of the Bible need to exhibit caution, when reading the accounts of Ancient Israel in the Torah. They should not simply personalize what they encounter, but instead be able to read such accounts as primarily being ancient stories involving ancient people.[284] Non-Jewish Messianics should be surely encouraged to look at such accounts as a part of their spiritual heritage—the consequences of Ancient Israel’s sin being endemic to all of humanity, and thus Yeshua’s sacrifice rightly affecting everyone—but the Torah is not a part of their ethnic or cultural heritage, unlike Jewish Believers.

While non-Jewish Believers are participants in the restoration of Israel via the return of Israel’s sovereign King Messiah, the promised return of the descendants of Israel to the Promised Land will not directly involve today’s non-Jewish Messianic Believers. This is because the tribal territories in the Holy Land (Joshua chs. 15-21; Ezekiel 47:13-48:35) are very specific to the Twelve Tribes of Israel (and a handful of outsiders in the Millennium).[285] Non-Jewish Believers may be regarded as a part of a Kingdom of Israel with a restored Twelve Tribes at its center (cf. James 1:1), whose borders have widened themselves, but they are nonetheless not ethnic Israelites and are not entitled to permanent habitation in a rather small Land of Israel.

While non-Jewish Believers should consider themselves a part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel (Amos 9:11-12), this does not make them ethnically or culturally Jewish. They can legitimately claim the Biblical story of Israel and the Jewish people as their own story (1 Corinthians 10:11); they cannot claim the post-Second Temple Jewish experience as their own story, as important as that story is to know and appreciate. As much as non-Jewish Messianics can all learn from and appreciate Jewish tradition and culture, and even integrate it into their praxis of faith—most likely in congregational activities—it should never take away from the unique backgrounds and virtues of non-Jewish Believers’ own ethnic heritage. We are not all going to be exactly the same. There are, as the Apostle Paul says, “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18), which can be taken as all of the gifts, talents, and skills imparted to each of us by our Creator, by which we are to bless and enrich one another. Many of these qualities come directly from one’s own ethnic and cultural background, which while likely to have been molded by a Biblical ethos, might have some useful perspectives which are different than those seen in contemporary Jewish culture.

Non-Jewish Believers should never expect, because of being granted citizenship in the Israel of God, to similarly be granted citizenship in the modern-day State of Israel. Even when Yeshua returns, and with Jerusalem and the Land of Israel as the major global hub of activity, there is no indication that all Messiah followers will, in total, ever live in the Land of Israel (cf. Isaiah 19:23-24; Zechariah 14:16-19). Yet, the “nations” we see in the Millennium will be submitted to the rule of the Messiah and Jerusalem, and should be rightfully considered to be distinct ethnic groups, not independent political states.

Non-Jewish Messianic Believers should never call themselves some sort of “Israelites”—most especially because “Israelite” is most closely associated not only with ethnic descent from the Twelve Tribes of Israel, but the pre-exilic period of Ancient Israel’s history. Even when non-Jewish Messianic Believers associate the proper term “Israel” in reference to themselves, in the company of Messianic Jewish Believers, some sensitivity needs to be employed. A non-Jewish Believer should not readily say that he or she is “Israel”—which is likely to confuse or offend various Messianic Jews—but instead say something like “I am a part of Israel too.” This should then be immediately explained by appealing to concepts such as the Commonwealth of Israel or being grafted-in to Israel’s olive tree.

While more caution and tact need to be employed by more of today’s non-Jewish Messianic people, many Messianic Jews themselves need to exhibit more sensitivity when interacting around non-Jewish Believers. Messianic Jews need to be historically accurate, in terms of not referring to the Ancient Israelites at Mount Sinai as either “the Jewish people” or “the Jews,” when the term “Jew” (Yehudi) was not readily employed until after the Babylonian exile.[286] Calling those at Mount Sinai “the Ancient Israelites” is what is historically correct, and is something that cannot be refuted by anyone in Biblical Studies. Messianic Jews also need to be rather careful with those non-Jewish Believers in their midst who may be offended at the term “Gentile,” taking it to always mean “pagan,” and try to expel some degree of effort of employing valid alternatives like “the nations.”[287]

The Final Stages of Salvation History

The final stages or phases of salvation history, with God’s plan to fully restore the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6), are beginning to take shape. This has involved both the arrival of the Messianic Jewish movement, and seeing many Jewish people brought to faith in Yeshua—as well as seeing many non-Jewish Believers exposed to and embracing their Hebraic Roots and spiritual heritage in Judaism. There should be no denying the fact that the Messianic movement is going to play a very prominent role in end-time events, culminating in the return of the Messiah. It should also be no surprise to see—if the Messianic movement is going to play a major and much more prominent role in future things—why there has been so much division, confusion, suspicion, and even some outright hatred among brothers and sisters. The enemy does not want to see God’s intentions come to pass.

The final stages of salvation history are likely a little further out than not, and so in the more immediate future, we face the next big phase of development within a Messianic movement having modern roots going back to the early Nineteenth Century. One definite option, which is often advocated by Messianic Jewish leaders who adhere to a bilateral ecclesiology, is to see Messianic Judaism be steadily and more formally acknowledged as a branch of Judaism. Cohn-Sherbok, a somewhat progressively-minded Reform Jewish scholar, recognized it as much in his book Messianic Judaism. He describes, “Today there no longer exists one monolithic form of Judaism; instead there are seven distinctly differently Judaisms, each with its own ideology. These branches of Jewish faith converge as well as diverge from each other at central points: they are united at the base, but separate in their expressions of the Jewish faith.”[288] He then goes on to display a chart, loosely based on the menorah:

Given the fact that Messianic Judaism could only possibly be recognized as a formal branch of Judaism, per the existence of hyper-liberal branches such as Reconstructionist or Humanistic Judaism, may not serve the cause as much as some Messianic Jews may think.

Now there is no problem, on my part, of Messianic Jews wanting to be recognized as Jewish by their own people. Messianic Jewish individuals being integrated to a wide degree with the greater Jewish world should not be an issue. But should being recognized as still “Jewish” by fellow Jews, take place formally or organically? Orthodox Jews generally consider non-Orthodox branches of Judaism apostate. There will always be Jewish individuals who have a mistrust of Messianic Jews, because they believe in Yeshua, and are to some degree going to be associated with Christianity. And, even among Jews who acknowledge that Messianic Jews can still be regarded as Jewish, the issue of Yeshua as God, will be debated, and there will be Messianic Jews who will deny Yeshua’s Divinity to make Him more “palatable,” so to speak, for other Jews. Being recognized as another branch of Judaism, for the next stage of Messianic development, has many potential risks.

Alternatively, and far more consistent with the Holy Scriptures, the next phase of Messianic development will not involve some formal recognition as another branch of Judaism—but will instead involve really considering prophetic words such as Zechariah 8:20-23; Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4. It will involve trying to recapture much of what was lost in the Second Century C.E., when emerging Christianity and post-Second Temple Judaism largely went their separate ways. It will involve seeing the Messianic community emerge into something more inclusive, for Jewish and non-Jewish Believers, and will seek to meet the diverse spiritual needs of all.

Over the next two to three decades (late 2010s-2030s), far more Christian people, than ever before, will be absolutely exposed to the Messianic movement and their heritage in Judaism—and they will be far more open to considering the value of Torah study and obedience, than those of the preceding generation. This is principally to do with the fact that not only, given the steady decline in morality,[289] will there be a steadfast need to return to a Biblical ethic rooted in the Old Testament—but that the next generation will not have most of the anti-Semitic social hangups, which many of this generation still tend to have. In the meantime, there is much work still to do, to theologically prepare for the greater masses which will be coming into the Messianic community. The fundamentalism, complementarianism, and overall disengaged approach to issues that was demonstrated in the 1990s-2000s, are going to need to find themselves fading away in the 2010s-2020s.

If today’s Messianic people sincerely desire to see our faith community used by God in the future, then among the sectors of the broad Messianic movement, there is going to have to be some significant housekeeping. Many people are going to have to make some concessions, and give some things up, which they are largely not going to want to give up at present.[290] Given current controversies of ecclesiology, there does need to be some soul searching, and a retaking of spiritual inventory. As a definite shifting of the generations has begun, many of those who came before teachers like me were responsible for not only polarizing the theological options of Messianic people—but also being responsible for a spiritual culture where extreme, overly-emotional positions and views, were only those which were to be heard and considered.

Non-Jewish Believers Really Being a Part of Israel…

Reviewing the condition of the broad Messianic movement, today in 2012-2013, too many Messianic Jewish leaders—some for theological reasons, and some for religious-political reasons—cannot and/or will not, break out of some mentality that there is a kind of separate “Church” entity. In this publication, we have adequately defined the Commonwealth of Israel as an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, composed of a restored Twelve Tribes of Israel at its center, and the righteous from the nations at large incorporated as fellow citizens along with them—thus meaning that no separate “Church” entity at all exists. Yet, we have hopefully, in the process, preserved the uniqueness of the Jewish people, for whom the heritage of the Tanach or Old Testament is not only a part of their spiritual, but also their ethnic and cultural birthright. Even with many non-Jewish Believers today following the Torah along with their fellow Jewish Believers—both as the power of the New Covenant writes God’s commandments onto their hearts—the latter have a definite impetus to observe it as a part of their heritage, far more than those of the nations generally.

Is it at all possible to offer Bible readers and interpreters, a feasible, non-supersessionist alternative, meaning a non-replacement theology alternative, to either dispensationalism or bilateral ecclesiology? It is possible to present an alternative to many individual people in the current Messianic community. Because of the complicated religious politics of today’s Messianic movement, it is likely not too possible among all leaders—but is surely possible among many individual people and families.

Any non-supersessionist alternative of ecclesiology, the study of God’s elect, which is to be presented, has to recognize three valid points:

  1. The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was according to Bible prophecy (Isaiah 66:8), as is the return of scores of Jewish people to the Land of Israel. Non-Jewish Believers have a Biblical responsibility and duty to support the State of Israel, and stand up against anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in our world.
  2. Ethnic Jewish people or ethnic Israelites alone, have a Biblical right to permanent residence within the Holy Land (cf. Joshua chs. 15-21; Ezekiel 47:13-48:35), with a few small exceptions likely only determined following the return of Yeshua (cf. Ezekiel 47:22-23).[291]
  3. Non-Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah are to be regarded as incorporated into an expanded or enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel (Amos 9:11-12; Acts 15:15-18), rightly considered to be the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13) or the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), specifically likened unto the wild branches of Israel’s olive tree (Romans 11:16-24).[292]

In his 2005 work Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, Kinzer was entirely right to recognize,

“When the ekklesia contained a visible Jewish nucleus, its right to claim continuity with Israel was reasonable and not necessarily supersessionist. When that nucleus disappeared, the claim to direct continuity with Israel became spiritual and abstract, and easily morphed into a claim to be a replacement for Israel.”[293]

While it may sound quite rudimentary to many of the people, Jewish and non-Jewish, involved with today’s contemporary Messianic movement—and most especially persons such as myself, and my immediate family—it is not as rudimentary as one may think to the more independent, maverick, and substantially rogue sectors of the Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement:

You cannot have an authentic restoration of Israel without the salvation of the Jewish people, and Jewish men and women coming to a saving knowlege of Yeshua the Messiah, retaining a noticeable degree of their Jewish religious, cultural, and ethnic heritage.

One of the main reasons why many of today’s Messianic Jewish leaders are likely to think of those widely independent, non-Jewish led Hebrew/Hebraic Roots groups, as being some sort of aberration—may not be because they are trying to be places of fellowship welcoming of all of God’s people—but instead because legitimate Jewish, spiritual concerns, are not at all being met. When no sensitivity is at all present toward the complicated Jewish struggle throughout history—compiled with so-called “traditions of men”[294] rhetoric, issued against mainline Jewish customs and traditions[295]—an environment is not exactly facilitated, by which distinct Jewish issues can be legitimately appreciated, recognized, worked through via the good news of Messiah, and resolved. What does it at all mean, for example, when a presumed, largely non-Jewish “Messianic congregation” as it were, claims some kind of solidarity with the Jewish people and Israel proper—but profusely speaks forth the Divine Name of YHWH/YHVH against New Testament practice and custom,[296] and observes the appointed times on a quantitatively different calendar[297] than that of the Jewish and Messianic Jewish communities? It means, to a family like mine at least, that such an assembly does not really care that much about bringing unity to Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in Messiah Yeshua—and has widely misdiagnosed those areas to decisively and truly disagree with many of today’s Messianic Jewish leaders (cf. Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).[298]

A wide number of today’s non-Jewish Believers—who have been Divinely directed into today’s Messianic movement—should not at all try to make aliyah to the Holy Land, and claim something that is not legitimately theirs by ancestral right. Yet, in spite of some of the limitations present in our day, such non-Jewish Believers are not at all trying to grossly outnumber, outposition, outmaneuver, and totally stamp down today’s Messianic Jews—to the point that the legitimate, recognizable, and most edifying contribution of Messianic Jewish Believers to the Body of Messiah is somehow nullified, erased, and completely disregarded.

With the considerable majority of the broad Messianic movement present in the Christian West, most of today’s contemporary non-Jewish Messianic Believers—in common cause—wish to put centuries of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism behind them. They widely believe that the Lord, in these final stages of salvation history, has actually given His people a “second chance”—as it were—to be as close to the spiritual experience of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in the ancient Mediterranean, as was intended by the Apostles in the First Century. Such was not a faith community where the differences of Jewish Believers in Yeshua HaMashiach, and Greek and Roman Believers in Iēsous Christos, as a single, albeit internally diverse body of men and women, in worship before the Eternal Creator (cf. Romans ch. 12), was something rigidly and strictly emphasized.

In spite of some of the protestations, and various human agendas, it is a fact that more and more non-Jewish Believers, in our day, are going to continue to be led by the Lord to embrace their Hebraic and Jewish Roots in a very real and tangible way, as the final stages of salvation history (Ger. Heilsgeschichte) manifest themselves. Many of these people, even in spite of some of the pressures against them, are going to enter into today’s Messianic Jewish congregations, either as regular visitors or even, in some cases, as registered members of such assemblies. While part of them being a part of Messianic Jewish congregations is so that they may be in fellowship and solidarity with Jewish Believers, another part of them being there is to fulfill Tanach prophecy.[299] Even with a strong disapproval issued toward them, on the part of various Messianic Jewish leaders of note in the current generation, no mortal can ultimately stop God’s Word from being fulfilled, or His plan for a larger restoration of Israel from being achieved.

This publication has offered some strong evidence, particularly from the Apostolic Scriptures passages considered,[300] which indicate that non-Jewish Believers are not at all to be regarded as part of some separate “Church” entity—but are instead a part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel. In spite of some of the detail to attention, various Hebrew and Greek issues, and intertexuality with the Tanach presented—most of the current generation of Messianic Jewish leaders, which tend to be somewhat welcoming of non-Jewish Believers, are still, on the whole, not too likely to embrace an ecclesiology of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel. This would be an ecclesiology which would decisively deny the existence of some sort of “Church,” as a second group of elect. Why these persons would deny a definite and clear thrust of Scripture, is likely due to: (1) a fear of reprisal from fellow Messianic Jews, (2) the fear of reprisal from Messianic Jewish-friendly Christian colleagues, and (3) the fear of a loss of significant evangelical Christian (financial) support for Messianic Jewish ministry.

In spite of the various religious-political elements which today’s Messianic generation is plagued with—which people like me have the definite responsibility and necessity of seeing the succeeding generation work beyond—Biblically and exegetically speaking, non-Jewish Believers are not a part of some separate “Church” entity. Alongside of their fellow Jewish Believers, non-Jewish Believers might not have a right to permanent tribal residence in the Holy Land, and they may (rightly) maintain a (high) level of their own ethnic and cultural background, purged of its sin laden effects to be sure—but they have citizenship in the Kingdom of Israel the same as any Jew. They are a part of the restored, Messianic, Kingdom of Israel alongside of their fellow Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters. And if such non-Jewish Believers, or even various Jewish Believers, or even a great majority of contemporary Protestant Christian leaders—fail to recognize such Biblical truth from a reasonable and fair reading of the Holy Scriptures—it does not mean that our Eternal God, all of a sudden, does not see all of His redeemed ones as a part of the same, overall, assembly of elect.

Much of the challenge for our Messianic future concerns a definitive change in the ideology, philosophy, and overall worldview of our faith community which is required: Are we going to be a move of God based on social differences, or common faith first? The current generation has largely answered, incorrectly, in favor of the former option; the next generation must answer, correctly, in favor of the latter option.

And so, all I can say, is let the necessary work of change begin… Let us understand what it means to place our common bond of being human beings, made in God’s image, and in need of redemption via Yeshua the Messiah—at the center of all we do!


NOTES

[1] This includes, but is not limited to:

Daniel C. Juster, Growing to Maturity (Denver: The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations Press, 1987); Jewish Roots (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 1995); David H. Stern, Messianic Jewish Manifesto (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992); Russell L. Resnik, The Root and the Branches: Jewish Identity in Messiah (Albuquerque: Adat Yeshua, 1997); Shoshanah Feher, Passing Over Easter: Constructing the Boundaries of Messianic Judaism (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 1998); Carol Harris-Shapiro, Messianic Judaism: A Rabbi’s Journey through Religious Change in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999); Dan Cohn-Sherbok, ed., Messianic Judaism (London and New York: Continuum, 2000); ed. Voices of Messianic Judaism (Baltimore: Lederer Books, 2001); John Fischer, ed., The Enduring Paradox: Exploratory Essays in Messianic Judaism (Baltimore: Lederer, 2000); Louis Goldberg, ed., How Jewish is Christianity? 2 Views on the Messianic Movement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003); Mark S. Kinzer, Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005); Richard Harvey, Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology: A Constructive Approach (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009); Paul Liberman, The Fig Tree Blossoms: The Emerging of Messianic Judaism (Kudu Publishing, 2012).

I regret that the new volumes, Daniel Juster, Jewish Roots: Understanding Your Jewish Faith, revised edition (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2013); David J. Rudolph and Joel Willitts, eds., Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013) were not released soon enough for me to consider in preparing this analysis.

[2] This includes, but is not limited to:

Sid Roth, The Incomplete Church: Bridging the Gap Between God’s Children (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2007); Robert F. Wolff, ed., Awakening the One New Man (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2011); Myles Weiss, An Epic Love Story: Jews & Gentiles One in Messiah (Dallas: Zola Levitt Ministries, 2011); Michael Cohen, Two into One will Go: Jews and Christians Destined to Become One (San Giovanni Teatino, Italy: Destiny Image Europe, 2012).

[3] Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz, Take Hold (Littleton, CO: First Fruits of Zion, 1999); Tim Hegg, The Letter Writer: Paul’s Background and Torah Perspective (Littleton, CO: First Fruits of Zion, 2002); Fellow Heirs: Jews & Gentiles Together in the Family of God (Littleton, CO: First Fruits of Zion, 2003); D. Thomas Lancaster, Restoration: Returning the Torah of God to the Disciples of Jesus (Littleton, CO: First Fruits of Zion, 2005); Grafted In: Israel, Gentiles, and the Mystery of the Gospel (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2009); Toby Janicki, God-Fearers: Gentiles & the God of Israel (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2012).

[4] Boaz Michael, with Jacob Fronczak, Twelve Gates: Where Do the Nations Enter? (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2012); Boaz Michael, Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2013).

[5] If you have never read it, the author highly recommends you read the book Amy Hollingsworth, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor (Nashville: Integrity Publishers, 2005).

[6] This is a place where the author would be personally, and somewhat familialy, compelled, to appeal to the various sentiments seen in works such as Duncan A. Bruce, The Mark of the Scots: Their Astonishing Contributions to History, Science, Democracy, Literature and the Arts (New York: Citadel Press, 1998); and Arthur Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001).

[7] This is an opinion I hold to, principally because I am affected by my paternal grandmother being ex-communicated for marrying my paternal grandfather. She was Roman Catholic, and he was Protestant, and it was a scandal in her family. Because of my father growing up not knowing his mother’s family, my grandfather was most insistent that he marry a Protestant.

Obviously, things have changed in America since the 1940s and 1950s, and there are examples of intermarriage which work out quite well. Yet, given the challenges of marriage in general for young people, especially in the post-2008 financial crisis world, adding intermarriage as an additional component is, to me, to make things more complicated for many young couples, which many do not need.

[8] Cf. Mark S. Kinzer, Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), pp 50-51.

These areas of Torah observance are specifically addressed in various publications by Messianic Apologetics, notably including our Messianic Helper series, and the author’s books Torah In the Balance, Volumes I&II (the latter is planned for release in 2013, and will particularly address the complexities of the circumcision issue).

[9] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Torah Keeping for the Gerim/Sojourners in Ancient Israel.”

Also see some of the useful observations in Craig S. Keener, “The Blessings and Mission of Those Grafted in,” in Robert F. Wolff, ed., Awakening the One New Man (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2011), pp 192-193.

[10] The Torah instead says that those who keep its commandments will be blessed, holy, and sanctified (i.e., Deuteronomy 4:5-8; 28:9). The call to holiness is one issued to the descendants of the Patriarchs, and all who claim the God of Israel as their own (i.e., Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16).

[11] This is further analyzed in the author’s article “Approaching One Law Controversies: Sorting Through the Legalism.”

[12] Kinzer, pp 181-212 does make some useful observations and summaries on this.

[13] Boaz Michael, “Messianic Judaism: Reconsidering the One Law, Two-House Trajectories” Messiah Journal Issue 111, Fall 2012/5773:58 was entirely right, in my opinion, to chastise someone who wrote him, “God’s intention was to make one homogeneous people.”

[14] “All Israelites have a share in the world to come…” (Jacob Neusner, trans., The Mishnah: A New Translation [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988], 604), which was an ancient Jewish position that ethnic heritage automatically guaranteed a Jew, and by extension a proselyte who was circumcised, salvation.

[15] Michael, “Messianic Judaism: Reconsidering the One Law, Two-House Trajectories,” 57 summarizing some of the challenges of various sectors of the One Law/One Torah sub-movement, has said,

“[T]here is a movement that embraces superssionism, embraces replacement theology in a…subtle and dangerous way. This replacement theology comes wearing a tallit, waving the Israeli flag, and proclaiming that the Jews are God’s uniquely chosen people.

“Yet in reality, this movement strips Jewishness of every single one of its unique and defining attributes. It rips the Torah out of the hands of the Jewish people. In many cases, it even denies them their unique right to the land of Israel.”

His justification for making these over-statements, is that “In our [One Law] movement, no one would ever know you’re Jewish. In a few generations, there won’t even be Jews here any more” (p 58), which is obviously geared toward intermarriage, assimilation, and not always appreciating the Jewish theological tradition (i.e., widely denigrating the Rabbis and Sages as “traditions of men”).

Yet, weekly congregational worship, association, and fellowship of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in Messianic assemblies in a widely social and platonic, and not intimate manner—which is what is actually being witnessed in the vast majority of cases—is a far cry from this.

[16] This is discussed in more detail in the author’s article “Galatians 3:28: Biblical Equality and Today’s Messianic Movement,” appearing in his commentary Galatians for the Practical Messianic.

[17] Grk. pantas huph hamartian einai.

[18] These include summaries by Messianic Jews such as Russell L. Resnik, “Messianic Judaism Reborn,” The Root and the Branches: Jewish Identity in Messiah (Albuquerque: Adat Yeshua, 1997), pp 47-64; (2010). Introducing Messianic Judaism and the UMJC (pp 16-19). Retrieved 25 November 2012, from <http://umjc.org>; Louis Goldberg, “The Rise, Disapperance, and Resurgence of Messianic Congregations,” in Louis Goldberg, ed., How Jewish is Christianity? 2 Views on the Messianic Movement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), pp 13-26; Kinzer, pp 263-302; Richard Harvey, Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology: A Constructive Approach (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009), pp 1-5.

Some useful summaries by non-Messianic Jews are those by Carol Harris-Shapiro, Messianic Judaism: A Rabbi’s Journey through Religious Change in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), pp 1-43; Dan Cohn-Sherbok, ed., Messianic Judaism (London and New York: Continuum, 2000), pp 15-86.

[19] Harvey, pp 3-5.

[20] Seth Dralle, “The Emergence of Messianic Judaism” Messiah Journal Issue 102, Fall 2009/5770:29.

Ibid. goes on to specifically consider how “Angus and Batya Wooten [sic], proponents of the Two-House Theology, founded the Messianic Israel Alliance (MIA) largely out of the concern that Gentiles did not have a place within Messianic Jewish congregations. They also taught that Gentiles are probably the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel and therefore just as Israelite as Jewish people.”

For further evaluation, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Two-House Teaching.”

[21] Cf. Cohn-Sherbok, Messianic Judaism, 212.

[22] McKim, 64.

[23] Ibid., 79.

[24] Consult the author’s publication The Dangers of Pre-Tribulationism.

[25] This is particularly seen in Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1996).

[26] David H. Stern, Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement With an Ancient Past (Clarksville, MD: Lederer, 2007), pp 46-47.

Stern goes on to conclude, “both oversimplify and in the process arrive at manifestly antisemitic conclusions.”

[27] Ibid., pp 50-51.

[28] Kinzer, 264.

[29] Ibid., 152.

[30] Kinzer, 152.

[31] Among today’s Messianic Jews, a post-tribulational eschatology is noted in Dan Juster and Keith Intrater, Israel, the Church and the Last Days (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 1990).

[32] The idea that the English word “church” actually originates from ancient paganism, has been well discounted, as it likely originates via “Gk. kuriakós—‘belonging to the Lord’” (G.W. Bromiley, “Church,” in Geoffrey Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988], 1:693).

Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Church, word of pagan origin.”

[33] TDNT remarks that “Since the NT uses a single term, translations should also try to do so, but this raises the question whether ‘church’ or ‘congregation’ is always suitable, especially in view of the OT use for Israel and the underlying Hebrew and Aramaic…‘Assembly,’ then, is perhaps the best single term, particularly as it has both a congregate and an abstract sense, i.e., for the assembling as well as the assembly” (K.L. Schmidt, “ekklēsía,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abrid. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], 397).

[34] H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 239.

[35] Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), pp 195-196.

[36] Frederick William Danker, ed., et. al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), pp 303-304.

[37] Vayakhel (2011). And Moses Assembled, 20 February, 2011. First Fruits of Zion. Retrieved 21 February, 2011, from <http://ffoz.org>.

The Hebrew v’yaq’heil Moshe et-kol-adat b’nei Yisrael, appearing in Exodus 35:1, was actually rendered by the Greek LXX as kai sunēthroisen Mōusēs pasan sunagōgēn huiōn Israēl.

[38] Tree of Life Messianic Family Bible—New Covenant (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2011), 492.

[39] Messianic Jewish Shared Heritage Bible, JPS/TLV (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2012), 1064.

[40] Aaron M. Gale, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Annotated New Testament, NRSV (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 30.

[41] Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996), 155.

[42] Obviously, this is contingent on context and usage. R.J.D. Knauth, “Israelites,” in T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 453 points out how, “within the laws placed at Mount Sinai, beyond the general designation of the collective congregation of the ‘children [sons] of Israel [Heb. b’nai Yisrael],’ a distinction is regularly made between the ethnic Israelite (brother, native, Hebrew, etc.) and the ethnic ‘alien’ living within the congregation or envisioned as later living within the land of Israel.”

Many places where the sons/children of Israel or Israelites are addressed, it is to the mixed community of natives and sojourners alike. Other places, attention needs to be fairly given to where there are differences, especially as the sojourners in Ancient Israel had once been outsiders who later entered into the community.

[43] Grk. kagō de soi legō hoti su ei Petros, kai epi tautē tē petra oikodomēsō mou tēn ekklēsian kai pulai Hadou ou katischusousin autēs.

Various Messianic versions have rendered Matthew 16:18 in the following ways:

“‘I also tell you this: you are Kefa,’ [which means ‘Rock,’] ‘and on this rock I will build my Community, and the gates of Sh’ol will not overcome it’” (CJB).

“And I also tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My community; and the gates of Sheol will not overpower it” (TLV).

“I also tell you that you are Kefa. And on this bedrock I will build my community, and the powers of Sheol will not prevail against it” (The Messianic Writings).

[44] For an important review, consult Raymond F. Collins, “Binding and Loosing,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1:743-745.

As Matthew 16:19 is rendered in a version like the CJB, “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

[45] David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992), 54.

[46] Barney Kasdan, Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah: A Messianic Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2011), 174.

[47] Tim Hegg, I Will Build My Ekklesia: An Introduction to Ecclesiology (Tacoma, WA: TorahResource, 2009), 26.

[48] Ibid., pp 29, 30.

[49] BDAG, 696.

[50] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1993), 1030.

[51] “[F]or the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Messiah” (Ephesians 4:12).

[52] Peter T. O’Brien, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), pp 304-305.

[53] Consult the author’s exegesis paper on Matthew 5:17-19, “Has the Law Been Fulfilled?”, appearing in The New Testament Validates Torah.

[54] Kinzer, 102.

[55] Adele Reinhartz, “The Gospel According to John,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 179.

[56] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 185.

[57] D. Thomas Lancaster, Grafted In: Israel, Gentiles, and the Mystery of the Gospel (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2009), 77.

[58] This is the 2009 version, notably having been released subsequent to the publishing ministry First Fruits of Zion having abandoned its “One Law” position, as explained in Boaz Michael and D. Thomas Lancaster, “‘One Law’ and the Messianic Gentile” Messiah Journal Issue 101, Summer 2009/5769; Aaron Eby, Toby Janicki, Daniel Lancaster, and Boaz Michael (2009). Divine Invitation: An Apostolic Call to Torah. First Fruits of Zion. Accessible via <http://ffoz.org>.

[59] Lancaster, Grafted In, pp 83-84.

[60] Ibid., 85.

[61] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 216.

[62] Kinzer, pp 120-121.

[63] Ibid, pp 120-121.

[64] Ibid., 121.

[65] Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:27; 12:5; 19:15.

[66] Consult the relevant sections of the Messianic Spring Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

[67] Boaz Michael, Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2013), 87.

[68] The associated issues regarding the intermediate state between death and the resurrection, are addressed in the author’s publication To Be Absent From the Body.

[69] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, NASB (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1994), 1438.

[70] Kenneth L. Barker, ed., et. al., NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 1688.

[71] H. Strathmann, “laós,” in TDNT, 499.

[72] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 277.

[73] Erwin Nestle and Kurt Aland, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 27th Edition (New York: American Bible Society, 1993), 366; Tree of Life—The New Covenant, 221; Leonard Greenspoon, “The Septuagint,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, pp 562-563.

[74] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds., The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2001), 1:14.

[75] BDAG, 81.

[76] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 440.

[77] BDAG, 302.

[78] BDB, 205.

[79] Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 459 indicates, “[I]nstead of yārēsh (will possess) as in the MT, the LXX presupposes the reading dārāsh (will seek)…It is not impossible that the LXX here is offering a more accurate reading of the original Hebrew than the Masoretes offered.”

[80] Gary Gilbert, “The Acts of the Apostles, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 229.

[81] BDAG, 382.

[82] Cf. Amos 9:9.

[83] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 277.

[84] Lancaster, Grafted In, pp 112-113.

[85] Michael, Tent of David, 21.

[86] Ibid., pp 21-22.

[87] Ibid.

[88] For a further discussion, consult the author’s commentary Acts 15 for the Practical Messianic.

[89] “And she conceived again and bore a son and said, ‘This time I will praise the LORD.’ Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing” (Genesis 29:35).

[90] “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down to you” (Genesis 49:8).

[91] Paul R. Gilchrist, “Yehudah,” in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:369.

[92] Lancaster, Grafted In, 6.

[93] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 338.

[94] Ibid., 339.

[95] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “PaRDeS.”

[96] Consult the author’s entry for the Epistle to the Romans in A Survey of the Apostolic Scriptures for the Practical Messianic.

[97] This controversial issue is explored in the author’s exegesis paper on Romans 1:18-25, “Is Salvation Only Available for those who Profess Faith in Yeshua?

[98] Tim Hegg, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: Chapters 1-8 (Tacoma, WA: TorahResource, 2005), pp 57-58.

[99] Grk. ou gar ho en tō phanerō Ioudaios estin oude hē en tō phanerō en sarki peritomē; “for~not the outwardly Jew he is nor the outwardly in flesh circumcision” (Robert K. Brown and Philip W. Comfort, trans., The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament [Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1990], 537).

[100] Mark D. Nanos, “The Letter of Paul to the Romans,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 259.

[101] Grk. all’ ho en tō kruptō Ioudaios, kai peritomē kardias en pneumati ou grammati, ou ho epainos ouk ex anthrōpōn all’ ek tou Theou; “but the inwardly Jew [is], and circumcision [is] of heart in spirit not letter, whose – praise [is] not from men but from – God” (Brown and Comfort, 537).

[102] Nanos, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 259.

[103] Consult the author’s article “The Faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah,” appearing in The New Testament Validates Torah.

[104] Brown and Comfort, 555.

[105] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 389.

The key statements from the m.Sanhedrin 10:1, which classify the groups unqualified to enter the world to come, include, “He who says, the resurrection of the dead is a teaching which does not derive from the Torah, and the Torah does not come from Heaven; and an Epicurean” (Neusner, Mishnah, 604).

[106] Ibid.

[107] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. MS Windows XP. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005. CD-ROM.

[108] Tim Hegg, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: Chapters 9-16 (Tacoma, WA: TorahResource, 2007), 277.

[109] BDB, 996.

[110] BDAG, 982.

[111] Brown and Comfort, 557.

[112] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 392.

[113] Hegg, Romans 9-16, 297.

[114] Ibid., pp 298-300.

[115] Ibid., 300

[116] I.e., as would be particularly seen in a work like Quest for the Lost Tribes A&E, 1998, DVD 2006, hosted by Simcha Jacobovici, and the concurrent comments witnessed in Jonathan Bernis (2005), The Scattering of the Tribes of Israel, March/April 2005. Jewish Voice Today. Available via <http://www.jewishvoice.org> and Sid Roth, The Incomplete Church: Bridging the Gap Between God’s Children (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2007), pp 17-18.

[117] Most examination of the two-stick oracle of Ezekiel 37:15-28, as witnessed in the Two-House sub-movement, quantitatively fails to mention the fact that it is not just Judah and Israel/Ephraim who are united together, but that a third group of companions—seemingly the righteous from the nations at large—are also involved.

For a further discussion, consult the author’s exegesis paper on Ezekiel 37:15-28, “Have the Two Sticks Been Reunited?”, appearing in his book Israel in Future Prophecy.

[118] Against: Nanos, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 276.

[119] BDAG, 273.

[120] Ibid., 303.

[121] Ibid., 305.

[122] Craig S. Keener, “The Blessings and Mission of Those Grafted in,” in Robert F. Wolff, ed., Awakening the One New Man (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2011), 202.

[123] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 414.

[124] Ibid., pp 414-417.

[125] Ibid., pp 415, 416-417.

[126] Russell L. Resnik, The Root and the Branches: Jewish Identity in Messiah (Albuquerque: Adat Yeshua, 1997), 43.

[127] Hegg, Romans 9-16, 358.

[128] Ibid., 359.

[129] Kinzer, 97.

[130] Daniel C. Juster, The Irrevocable Calling: Israel’s Role as a Light to the Nations (Clarksville, MD: Lederer, 2007), pp 2-3.

[131] Michael, Tent of David, pp 24, 102-103.

[132] Juster, The Irrevocable Calling, 2.

[133] For an overview of the entire Epistle to the Romans, consult the author’s article “The Message of Romans,” appearing in the Messianic Torah Helper (forthcoming).

[134] BDAG, 829.

[135] D.S. Lim, “Fullness,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 319 concludes that for Romans 11:12, it “suggests moral or spiritual consummation.”

[136] Aland, GNT, 551.

[137] Be aware of some of the translation differences in Romans 11:31 regarding to humeterō eleei, hina kai autoi [nun] eleēthōsin, rendered by in the LITV as “so that they also may obtain mercy by your mercy.” Here, the dative clause to humeterō eleei is taken to be “your mercy.”

In the view of Jamieson, Fausett & Brown’s Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1961), 1173 Paul “seems to mean that it will be by the instrumentality of believing Gentiles that Israel as a nation is at length to ‘look on Him whom they have pierced and mourn for Him,’ and so to ‘obtain mercy.’” This would support the premise that only by non-Jewish Believers being “the fullness of the nations,” fullness representing a spiritual and ethical maturity, and be vessels of mercy to the Jewish people, that the restoration of all Israel will finally commence.

[138] There has certainly been a great deal of controversy caused in some Messianic sectors, between a possible connection between the Greek to plērōma tōn ethnōn and the Hebrew melo-ha’goyim, used by the Patriarch Jacob (Genesis 48:19). Yet, none have really probed the ethical, moral, and spiritual aspects of “fullness.”

[139] Consult the chapter, “Anti-Semitism in the Two-House Movement,” in the author’s book, Israel in Future Prophecy.

[140] This would involve leaders and teachers in Messianic Judaism, the One Law/One Torah, and Two-House sub-movements, and their associated religious politics, maneuvering, and slandering of each another via various position statements (as opposed to actual theological analyses, exegesis papers, and commentaries on books of the Bible).

[141] Making some useful references on the greeting of James 1:1, Douglas J. Moo, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), pp 49-50 references some appropriate Tanach passages to also be considered: Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 31:8-14; Ezekiel 37:21-22; Zechariah 10:5-12:

“Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Behold I am bringing disaster on them which they will not be able to escape; though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them. Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they surely will not save them in the time of their disaster’” (Isaiah 11:11-12).

“‘Behold, I am bringing them from the north country, and I will gather them from the remote parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together; a great company, they will return here. With weeping they will come, and by supplication I will lead them; I will make them walk by streams of waters, on a straight path in which they will not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn.’ Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare in the coastlands afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ For the LORD has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the hand of him who was stronger than he. They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion, and they will be radiant over the bounty of the LORD—Over the grain and the new wine and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; and their life will be like a watered garden, and they will never languish again. Then the virgin will rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old, together, for I will turn their mourning into joy and will comfort them and give them joy for their sorrow. I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance, and My people will be satisfied with My goodness,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:8-14).

“Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I 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 will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms’”” (Ezekiel 37:21-22).

“They will be as mighty men, treading down the enemy in the mire of the streets in battle; and they will fight, for the LORD will be with them; and the riders on horses will be put to shame. I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them back, because I have had compassion on them; and they will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them. Ephraim will be like a mighty man, and their heart will be glad as if from wine; indeed, their children will see it and be glad, their heart will rejoice in the LORD. I will whistle for them to gather them together, for I have redeemed them; and they will be as numerous as they were before. When I scatter them among the peoples, they will remember Me in far countries, and they with their children will live and come back. I will bring them back from the land of Egypt and gather them from Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon until no room can be found for them. And they will pass through the sea of distress and He will strike the waves in the sea, so that all the depths of the Nile will dry up; and the pride of Assyria will be brought down and the scepter of Egypt will depart. And I will strengthen them in the LORD, and in His name they will walk,’ declares the LORD” (Zechariah 10:5-12).

The greeting of James 1:1, “Jacob, a slave of God and of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, To the twelve tribes in the Diaspora: Shalom!” (TLV) is further evaluated for its First Century dynamics in the author’s commentary James for the Practical Messianic (forthcoming in paperback 2013). The wider subject matter, reflected in the prophecies referenced above, are considered in the author’s work, Israel in Future Prophecy: Is There a Larger Restoration of the Kingdom to Israel?, where the specific significance of Tanach passages like Isaiah 11:12-16; Jeremiah 31:6-10; Ezekiel 37:15-28; and Zechariah 10:6-10, and the controversy they have caused in the contemporary Messianic movement, is fairly considered.

[142] Consult the author’s thoughts in his article “Is God’s Purpose Bigger?”, appearing in the Messianic Torah Helper by Messianic Apologetics (forthcoming).

[143] Consult the author’s entry for the Epistle to the Romans in A Survey of the Apostolic Scriptures for the Practical Messianic.

[144] Peter Lampe, “Junias,” in ABD, 3:1127; Bonnie Thurston, “Junia,” in David Noel Friedman, ed., Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), pp 756-757.

Among Romans commentators of note, this includes C.E.B. Cranfield, International Critical Commentary: Romans 9-16 (London: T&T Clark, 1979), 788; F.F. Bruce, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 258; James D.G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary: Romans, Vol. 38b. (Dallas: Word Books, 1988), 894; Douglas J. Moo, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), pp 921-924; Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), pp 387-390.

Hegg, Romans 9-16, 449 also recognizes this apostle as a female.

For a further evaluation, consult the author’s blog-editorial, “Jumpin’ Junia!

[145] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), pp 91-92.

[146] Ibid., pp 92-94.

[147] Ibid., pp 109-110.

[148] Ibid., pp 124-125.

[149] Ibid., pp 128-130.

[150] Ibid., pp 100-101.

[151] Ibid, 128.

[152] Ibid.

[153] Jeffrey L. Seif, To The Ends Of The Earth: How the First Jewish Followers of Yeshua Transformed the Ancient World (Clarksville, MD: Lederer, 2012). [eBook for Amazon Kindle]

[154] Shira Lander, “The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 302.

[155] Lancaster, Grafted In, 3.

[156] Ibid., 69; cf. Ibid., 166.

[157] Toby Janicki, God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2012), pp 19, 22-23.

[158] Lancaster, Grafted In, pp 2-3.

[159] For a further evaluation, consult the author’s article “The Message of 1 Corinthians.”

[160] Kinzer, pp 163, 164.

[161] Shaye J.D. Cohen, “The Letter of Paul to the Galatians,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 336.

[162] D. Thomas Lancaster, The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2011), pp 72, 73.

[163] Tim Hegg, A Study of Galatians (Tacoma, WA: TorahResource, 2002), 56.

[164] The TLV has the similar, “Now as many as live by this rule—shalom and mercy on them and on the Israel of God.”

[165] Cf. LS, 391; BDAG, pp 494-496.

[166] BDAG, 495.

[167] Brown and Comfort, 667.

[168] E-Sword 9.9.1: Vincent’s Word Studies. MS Windows 9x. Franklin, TN: Equipping Ministries Foundation, 2011.

[169] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 576.

[170] Ibid.

[171] Cohen, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 344.

[172] Hegg, Galatians, 234.

[173] The UBSHNT has the similar, yet slightly different, shalom v’rachamim.

[174] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, pp 572-573; Hegg, Galatians, 232.

Cf. Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia (Philadephia: Fortress Press, 1979), 321; F.F. Bruce, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), pp 273-274.

[175] Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz, eds., Complete ArtScroll Siddur, Nusach Ashkenaz (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1984), pp 430, 431.

[176] Lancaster, Grafted In, 4.

[177] Lancaster, The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, pp 275-276.

[178] For a further discussion of these and the relevant surrounding passages, consult the author’s commentary Galatians for the Practical Messianic.

[179] Barclay M. Newman, Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies/Deutche Bibelgesellschaft, 1971), 148.

[180] Take important note that pote is used once again in Ephesians 2:13, again describing the previous status of “the nations in the flesh”: humeis hoi pote ontes makran, “you who once being far away” (my translation).

[181] LS, 30.

[182] F.F. Bruce, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 291.

[183] Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 251.

[184] This does not make physical circumcision unimportant (i.e., Romans 2:25 and 1 Corinthians 7:19, Grk.) for Believers today, just that neither it—and especially not ritual proselyte circumcision—should ever be considered the grounds for inclusion among God’s people, as that is reserved only for belief in God and the Messiah He has sent.

Consult the author’s article “Is Circumcision for Everyone?”, appearing in Torah In the Balance, Volume II (forthcoming) for a further review of this topic.

[185] BDAG, 1083.

[186] Leviticus 26:1, 30; Isaiah 2:18; 10:11; 16:12; 19:1; 21:9; 31:7; 46:6; Daniel 5:4, 23; 6:28 (all LXX).

[187] Bruce, pp 292-293.

[188] T.R. Schreiner, “Circumcision,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 138.

[189] Flavius Josephus: The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), 40.

[190] Cornelius Tacitus: The Histories, trans. Kenneth Wellesley (London: Penguin Books, 1992), 273.

[191] “Circumcision” primarily relating to the ritual of a proselyte is discussed more affluently in the author’s commentary Galatians for the Practical Messianic, as it is not specifically mentioned any further in the letter of Ephesians.

[192] As Witherington notes regarding this verse, “A close examination of Ancient Near East covenanting procedures, including those followed by the Israelites, shows that the sign of a covenant was often connected with oath curses that went with the covenant” (Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 366), lending support to the view that Galatians 5:3 has an oath-taking procedure of a Jewish proselyte in view.

Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Galatians 5:2-3.”

[193] Ralph P. Martin, “Ephesians,” in D. Guthrie and J.A. Motyer, eds., The New Bible Commentary Revised (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 1111.

[194] Peter T. O’Brien, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 189.

[195] Witherington, Philemon-Colossians-Ephesians, 258.

[196] Martin, in NBCR, 1111.

[197] BDAG, 845.

[198] Ibid.

[199] Tree of Life—The New Covenant, 492.

[200] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 582.

[201] Ibid.

[202] Ibid.

[203] Daniel C. Juster, Growing to Maturity (Denver: The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations Press, 1987), pp 221-222, 223; cf. David H. Stern, Messianic Jewish Manifesto (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1991), 57; Daniel C. Juster, Jewish Roots (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 1995), 35.

[204] Juster also did not specify here which King George he was referring to, as a presumed “Englishman,” considering the fact that George I and George II were both born in Hanover (Germany), and that George III, the monarch who lost the American colonies, was the first British monarch born in Britain itself, never left Southeastern England.

It was George V who actually renounced all German titles and changed the official name of the royal family to the House of Windsor during the Great War/World War I. (This is the same King George for whom King George Street in Jerusalem was named after.)

[205] To use the presumed analogy to Great Britain, tribal inheritance in the Land of Israel—for physical descendants of Israel’s Twelve Tribes proper—can be likened unto the “landed estates” of British aristocracy. Only those who have a long standing ancestral claim on certain quarters of land, i.e., the Promised Land of Canaan, can legitimately claim them as their own.

[206] David Rudolph, “Mashiach” Verge Vol. 2, Iss. 2, February 2010:2.

[207] The first definition of “commonwealth” in Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus (Cleveland: Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2002) is, however, “the people of a nation or state” (p 123), implying a single body politic.

[208] LS, 654.

[209] The Greek source text for these works has been accessed via the Perseus Collection <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/>.

[210] Plato: The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee (London: Penguin Books, 2007), 366.

[211] Aristotle: Politics, trans. Ernest Barker (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 97.

[212] Ibid., 100.

[213] The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, 315.

[214] Meaning, “the business of government, an act of administration” (LS, 654).

Often together, the related terms “[politeia] and [politeuma] are said to have the same force” (Andrew T. Lincoln, Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians, Vol. 42 [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990], 137).

[215] Maxine Grossman, “The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 348 notes,

Citizens, enfranchised members of God’s household; cf. 3.15; 5.21-6.4; 1 Tim 3.15; 1 Pet 4.17.”

[216] Lancaster, Grafted In, pp 60-61, 130-131.

[217] The source text of Ephesians 3:6 actually reads:

einai ta ethnē sugklēronoma kai sussōma kai summetocha tēs epangelias en Christō Iēsou dia tou euangeliou.

“[that] [are] to be the Gentiles joint-heirs and a joint-body and joint-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the good news” (Brown and Comfort, 674).

[218] Michael & Fronczak, Twelve Gates, 51.

[219] O’Brien, 191.

[220] Lincoln, 139.

[221] Exodus 12:48-49; 20:10; 22:21; 23:9, 12; Leviticus 17:8, 10, 12; 19:33-34; 20:2; 22:18; 24:16, 22; 25:6; Numbers 9:14; 15:30, 15-16, 29; 35:15; Joshua 20:9; Ezekiel 47:22; Malachi 3:5; Psalm 146:9.

[222] David H. Stern, “Summary Essay: The Future of Messianic Judaism,” in How Jewish is Christianity: 2 Views on the Messianic Movement, pp 189, 190.

[223] O’Brien, 191.

[224] Pheme Perkins, “The Letter to the Ephesians,” in Leander E. Keck, ed., et. al., New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 11 (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), 11:398.

[225] Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), pp 263, 264; cf. pp 260-262.

[226] Witherington, Philemon-Colossians-Ephesians, 258.

[227] LS, pp 765, 766.

[228] Cf. Genesis 12:3; 2 Samuel 7:19; Psalm 2:8; Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Amos 9:11-12.

[229] Witherington, Philemon-Colossians-Ephesians, 266.

[230] Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 629.

[231] Cf. Aland, GNT, 560.

[232] Margaret Wenig Rubenstein and David Weiner, trans., in Neusner, Mishnah, 167.

[233] Russell L. Resnik, Introducing Messianic Judaism and the UMJC (p 24). Retrieved 25 November 2012, from <http://umjc.org>.

[234] Kinzer, pp 170, 171.

[235] Concurrent with this, egalitarian readers of Ephesians 5:23, tend to approach the term kephalē, speaking of “head,” as being akin to “source” or “origin,” per the Apostle Paul’s word, “husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28), as Adam was the head/source of his wife Eve, and was to love and cherish her, as she originated from him (cf. Genesis 2:23).

For further consideration, consult the author’s commentary Ephesians for the Practical Messianic.

[236] Of particular notice, should be how the verb authenteō can be legitimately rendered as “usurp authority” (1 Timothy 2:12, KJV), and how the clause dia tēs teknogonias is quite literally translated as “through the childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15, LITV), in reference to the Incarnation of Messiah Yeshua (cf. Genesis 3:15).

For further consideration, consult the author’s commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic.

[237] For general consideration, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Women in Ministry.” Also consult the useful publications James R. Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005); Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).

[238] Note that this is in spite of one or two family lines purporting to have some distant Jewish ancestry from the Middle Ages.

[239] About the only item of prominence I have is a paper model of the Second Temple, which I acquired in Israel in November 2004.

[240] For a further discussion of these and the relevant surrounding passages, consult the author’s commentary Ephesians for the Practical Messianic.

For a useful discussion, also consult the author’s article “The Faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah,” appearing in his book The New Testament Validates Torah.

[241] One of the most important statements surrounding the Divinity of Yeshua the Messiah, is how Titus 2:13 does say, “We wait for the blessed hope and appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior, Messiah Yeshua” (TLV), tou megalou Theou kai Sōtēros hēmōn Iēsou Christou.

Important discussions on the Granville Sharp rule, which requires the rendering “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (ESV), are detailed in David Alan Black, Learn to Read New Testament Greek, expanded edition (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), pp 181-182; David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek to Me (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 80; Wallace, pp 270-290.

[242] Tree of Life—The New Covenant, 378.

[243] BDAG, 606.

[244] BibleWorks 7.0: Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers in English. MS Windows XP. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC, 2006. CD-ROM.

[245] It may surprise some Messianic Bible readers that there is really not a word in the Hebrew Tanach for “lawlessness,” as avon is typically translated “iniquity” (i.e., Jeremiah 31:34).

[246] Cf. Philip H. Towner, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 761.

[247] BDAG, 488.

[248] Cf. Towner, 762.

[249] Consult the author’s exegetical paper “What is the New Covenant?”, appearing in his book The New Testament Validates Torah.

[250] Jennifer L. Koosed, “The Letter of Paul to Titus,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 400.

[251] William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Vol. 46 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 420.

[252] For more detailed discussions and examinations, it is highly recommended that you consult the author’s commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic.

[253] Aland, GNT, pp 788-789.

[254] For a further evaluation of this controversial subject matter, consult the author’s book Israel in Future Prophecy: Is There a Larger Restoration of the Kingdom to Israel?

[255] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 747.

[256] Tree of Life—The New Covenant, 413.

[257] Ibid.

[258] Lancaster, Grafted In, 103.

[259] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 807; cf. Ibid., 845.

[260] David Frankfurter, “The Revelation to John,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 474.

[261] This is analyzed further in the author’s publication Why Hell Must Be Eternal.

[262] This is detectable in Michael & Fronczak, Twelve Gates, 56 and their statement, directed to non-Jewish Believers, “Work within the calling to which God has called you” (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:20). They have misinterpreted “calling” (klēsis) as a vocation or station in life here, and not a calling to salvation and sanctification.

The issues surrounding 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 are examined further in the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “1 Corinthians 7:17-24.”

[263] Ibid.

[264] Eli Cashdan, “Zechariah: Introduction and Commentary,” in A. Cohen, ed., Soncino Books of the Bible: The Twelve Prophets (London: Soncino Press, 1969), 302.

[265] Michael Wolf, “Conversion of the Gentiles—‘No Way!’”, in Voices of Messianic Judaism, pp 133-139.

[266] John Fischer, “The Legitimacy of Conversion,” in Ibid., pp 141-149.

[267] Harvey, 38.

[268] Richard Nichol (n.d.). The Case for Conversion: Welcoming Non-Jews into Messianic Jewish Space. Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. Retrieved 06 January, 2013, from <http://ourrabbis.org>.

[269] Lancaster, The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, pp 2-3, 239.

[270] LS, 580.

[271] As these verses appear in the Author’s Rendering of the Epistle to the Galatians (adapted from the 1901 American Standard Version), in Galatians for the Practical Messianic:

“For freedom Messiah has set us free; stand fast therefore and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Messiah will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every person who receives circumcision, that one is a debtor to do the whole Torah. You have been severed from Messiah, you who would be justified by the Torah; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:1-4).

The point made is that born again Believers are not supposed to be those who are debtors to do the Torah; they are to rather be fulfilling the Torah by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 6:2; Romans 8:4).

[272] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Galatians 5:2-3.” Also consult the relevant sections of the author’s commentary Galatians for the Practical Messianic.

[273] This is examined in further detail, in the section “The Implementation of the Apostolic Decree and Acts 21:17-26,” in the author’s commentary Acts 15 for the Practical Messianic.

[274] For some further discussions, consult the relevant volumes of the Messianic Helper series by Messianic Apologetics.

[275] Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; cf. Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.

[276] Kinzer, 152.

[277] Ibid., 153.

[278] Ibid., 152.

[279] Resnik, Introducing Messianic Judaism and the UMJC (p 22).

[280] Ibid (p 23).

Resnik’s statement, “We are not offering an alternative to the supposedly ‘pagan’ Christianity around us…We do not indulge in church bashing,” is appreciable. I have a longstanding, personal loathing, toward the many “Christianity is pagan” over-statements which litter the independent Messianic and Hebrew/Hebraic Roots world. While there are various practices of contemporary Christianity which are non-Biblical, there are many evangelical Christian virtues and perspectives that need to be highly lauded and embraced—by today’s Messianic people, no less.

[281] An equally disturbing statement is seen in Janicki, God-Fearers, 127, where he says “We do not have any indication that the apostles reinvented Judaism or objected to contemporary interpretations, seeking to restore a Moses-era interpretive model.”

While there is no doubting the fact that the Apostles of Yeshua were First Century Jews, who widely adhered to mainline customs and traditions in Second Temple Judaism—to argue that they basically followed Judaism without any deviations of any kind, is an unsupported supposition.

[282] “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first…” (2 Thessalonians 2:3a).

[283] This will be examined in the author’s book Torah In the Balance, Volume II and the Messianic Torah Helper by Messianic Apologetics (planned for 2013).

[284] This is detailed more fully in the author’s article “Addressing the Frequently Avoided Issues Messianic Encounter in the Torah,” appearing in the Messianic Torah Helper (forthcoming).

[285] Ezekiel 47:22-23.

[286] Cf. J.A. Sanders, “Jew,” in George Buttrick, ed. et. al., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), 2:897; W.W. Gasque, “Jew,” in Geoffrey Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 2:1056.

[287] This is examined further in the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Gentile, Term.”

[288] Cohn-Sherbok, Messianic Judaism, 212.

[289] Consult the FAQ entry on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Romans 1:26-27,” which addresses one major aspect of the current debate raging over homosexuality.

[290] In my estimation, viewing the broad Messianic movement, this includes the following:

  • Messianic Judaism, while rightly emphasizing the Jewishness of Yeshua and that Jewish Believers do not have to give up on their Jewish heritage, is going to have to dispense with bilateral ecclesiology, and recognize non-Jewish Believers as their equals in the Lord, fellow citizens in an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel.
  • The Two-House sub-movement, while rightly acknowledging that there are unfulfilled prophecies involving the descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim, is going to have to stop promoting the unsupportable idea that just about every non-Jew in the Messianic movement, must be one of those descendants, and instead look to pockets of people groups which sit within the sphere of influence of the old Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Empires.
  • The One Law/One Torah sub-movement, while rightly emphasizing that God’s Torah should be heeded by all of His people, is going to have to decisively recognize some post-resurrection era realities and changes, which have been directly affected by Yeshua’s sacrificial work, and recognize much of the judgmental legalism it has been responsible for promoting.

[291] This group, “the strangers who dwell among you, who will bear children in your midst; they shall be for you like the natives among the Children of Israel; they are to be alloted an inheritance with you, among the tribes of Israel” (Ezekiel 47:22, ATS), are considered by me, at least, to be a very small, specialized group of non-Israelites—who have no physical descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—yet who during the Millennial reign of Yeshua the Messiah are, for various unique reasons, likely as a reward given to them by the Lord, permitted permanent residence in the Land of Israel.

[292] Cf. Jeremiah 11:16-17; Hosea 14:1-7, where Israel is described as an olive tree.

[293] Kinzer, 43.

[294] Grk. tēn paradosin tōn anthrōpōn; the inclusive language “human tradition(s)” (NRSV/CJB/TNIV) should be more preferable.

[295] Little care has often been taken for how while Yeshua the Messiah did condemn some human traditions adopted by the Rabbis of His day, the majority of these pertained to how various practices subtracted from the Torah’s ethical and moral imperatives. A clear example would be claiming to use family finances as an offering unto God, while failing to use those monies and provide for the well being of one’s aged parents (Mark 7:8-13).

These issues are planned to be addressed, on various levels, in the author’s book Torah In the Balance, Volume II, and in the Messianic Torah Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

[296] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Yahweh, Should We Use.”

[297] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Biblical Calendar.”

[298] Consult the author’s exegetical paper on Galatians 3:28, “Biblical Equality and Today’s Messianic Movement,” appearing in his commentary Galatians for the Practical Messianic.

[299] Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23.

[300] Matthew 16:18-19; John 10:14-18; Acts 1:6; Acts 2:36-39; 15: 15:-18; Romans 2:28-29; 9:3-6, 23-29; 11:16-24, 25,-29; 16:4; 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, 18; Galatians 2:7-10; 6:15-16; Ephesians 2:11-13; 3:6; Titus 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9-11; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6.

About J.K. McKee 633 Articles
J.K. McKee (B.A., University of Oklahoma; M.A., Asbury Theological Seminary) is the editor of Messianic Apologetics (www.messianicapologetics.net), a division of Outreach Israel Ministries (www.outreachisrael.net). He is a 2009 recipient of the Zondervan Biblical Languages Award for Greek. He is author of numerous books and commentaries, dealing with a wide range of topics that are important for today’s Messianic Believers.

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