A Brief Historical Introduction
Have you ever wondered why there is so much strife between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East (and abroad)? The truth is, the Middle East has rarely been stable since the events that occurred at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.
There was the brotherly feud between Isaac (father of the Israelites and Edomites) and Ishmael (father of many Arabs), the two eldest of eight sons of Abraham whose progeny now dominates much of the Middle East (1 Chronicles 1:32). Abraham was also involved in a war where there were four kings against five in the Middle East (Genesis 14:7–16). Further conflicts arose due to strife between two more brothers, the sons of Isaac—Jacob (Israel) and Esau (father of the Edomites). And so it continues.
Needless to say, there have been problems brewing in the Middle East for ages. But why are the issues between Jews and Muslims so vicious today? They are clearly not on friendly terms. I suggest there was a culminating event that has triggered much of this aggression.
Two thousand years ago, the Jews, by and large, did not receive Jesus Christ as Messiah, the ultimate Passover Lamb, Savior, and deliverer who paid for sin once and for all. Because of this, they were still anticipating a messiah well after the time of Christ. In the days of Muhammad (late A.D. 500s and early A.D. 600s), some local Jews were familiar with the supposed prophet in Arabia, and some thought that he might be the long-awaited Messiah.1
Muhammad, favoring this idea, raised his hopes of being the Jewish Messiah and had many favorable things to say about the Jews (and Christians) in his dictated Koran. In time, however, the Jews realized that Muhammad did not fit the prophecies of the Messiah. When tested against the many messianic prophecies in Scripture, Muhammad wasn’t even close (e.g., not born in Bethlehem [Micah 5:2], not a descendant of Judah [Genesis 28:14], etc.).
So, because of this (as well as for other reasons), Muhammad’s attitude turned from one of kindness toward the Jews to hostility. From that time forward, there has been aggression toward the Jews (and Christians) from the Muslims because Muhammad labeled the Jews as “cursed” (Koran 4.46) and wanted his followers to “not take the Jews and the Christians for friends” (Koran 5.51). (Note that the Koran is not written in chronological order but from longest chapter to shortest chapter.)
Judaism in History
The words Jew and Judaism come from the name Judah, one of the 12 sons of Israel. Judah was one of the larger tribes that became dominant as its own country when the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom retained the name Israel (with 10 tribes), and the southern kingdom took the name Judah (with two tribes, one being Judah, naturally).
Although Judaism shares the same foundational history in the Old Testament with Christians—going back to God creating in six days and resting on the seventh—there is a stark contrast between what Judaism has become in comparison to what the Old Testament teaches. Judaism couldn’t properly be named “Judaism” until after Judah came into being!2 Let me state this more succinctly: Judaism is an off-shoot, or deviation, from the Old Testament.
In Old Testament days, when Israelites followed the clear teachings of the Old Testament Scripture, they were following the true religion. Obviously, if they were not following the Old Testament, they were not being godly and thus were not following the true religion!
In the first century, however, there was a division among those who followed the Old Testament: those of the Way (i.e., Christianity—e.g., Acts 19:23, 24:14) who followed Christ as the Jewish Messiah and all the implications thereof, and those who did not follow Jesus and were finally organized into the Jewish religion of Judaism, based on traditions as opposed to finding true freedom in the Messiah.
What Are the Holy Books in Judaism?
Where Christians follow the Old and New Testament Scriptures, those holding to Judaism follow the Old Testament and the Talmud (meaning the Babylonian Talmud).
The Talmud is defined by the World Book Encyclopedia as the following:
A collection of legal and ethical writings, as well as Jewish history and folklore. It serves primarily as a guide to the civil and religious laws of Judaism. Orthodox Jews believe the laws in the Talmud were given to Moses by God and passed down orally from Generation to Generation. About A.D. 200, scholars wrote down these oral laws in a work called the Mishnah. Later scholars explained and interpreted the Mishnah. Their comments were recorded in the Gemara, which was written between 200 and 500. The Mishnah and Gemara together make up the Talmud.3
There is also a less authoritative Talmud that was compiled by about A.D. 400 called the Talmud of the Land of Israel (or the Jerusalem Talmud). It also contains two parts, a Mishnah and Gemara, but is shorter overall than the Babylonian Talmud.
The Talmud is made up of the traditions that were often spoken of in the New Testament (e.g., Matthew 15:3; Colossians 2:8; etc.). Of course, they were still in oral form at the time of Christ. There were times when Jews elevated these traditions above the Scriptures of the Old Testament (e.g., Matthew 15:4–9; Mark 7:3–13), hence they came to the wrong conclusions on certain issues such as, “Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”(Mark 2:27). This is why interpretation of Scripture is best done by Scripture itself, as God is the best interpreter of His own Word, instead of relying strictly on the ideas of “scholars.”
The infiltration of man’s ideas has been a major issue in the history of the Israelite nation. How often does the Old Testament record deviations from the Word of God where Israelites began worshipping Baal or setting up high places to false gods? How many times did the Lord send prophets to call the Israelites back to His Word? Even the wise Solomon himself succumbed to the worship of false gods!
These types of seeds finally flourished into a version where man’s interpretations of the Old Testament (in the form of the Talmud’s Gemara) began to supersede the very Word of God. It becomes a major problem when man’s ideas are elevated to be greater than the Word of God. Consider the words of Isaiah:
Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed? (Isaiah 2:22; NASB).
What Are the Beliefs Within Judaism?
Of course, it would require extensive time to develop all the beliefs within Judaism. So I will be concise in this section. But something must be stated up front: many who are Jews do not hold to Judaism. There are many who are secular (that is, the primary humanistic religion) and are of Jewish heritage. So just because someone says they are Jewish doesn’t necessarily mean they hold to the tenets of Judaism. However, for the sake of simplicity, when I say “Jew” in this chapter on Judaism, I mean those who hold to the religion of Judaism, unless the context warrants otherwise.
Judaism is a set of informal beliefs about the world and how people should live their lives. Although Jewish beliefs vary, they can be summed up by medieval Jewish scholar Moshi ben Maimon’s (Maimonides) 13 articles:
- God alone exists and is Creator
- God is one and unique
- God is incorporeal and incomparable
- God is eternal (both first and last)
- We are to pray to God alone and to no other
- The words of the prophets are true
- Moses was the chief prophet, and Moses’ prophecies are true
- The Torah (first five books of the Bible) and oral Torah (Talmud) were given to Moses and divinely preserved
- There will be no other Torah since it cannot be changed
- God knows all things including the thoughts and deeds of men
- God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked
- The Messiah will come
- The dead will be resurrected.4
Take note that Christians easily agree with most of these points. However, a Christian would disagree with the idea that the Talmud is of divine origin. Replacing the Talmud with the New Testament (along with the remaining Old Testament books) in point 8 would make this statement accurate. And in point 12, we would change “The Messiah will come” to “The Messiah has come, and He is Jesus of Nazareth.”
In addition, although true, I would clarify point 11. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Psalm 116:11; Romans 3:23, 5:12), thus all would be classed as sinful, hence wicked in God’s eyes. The only way to be made righteous would be for God to assign the righteousness of His Son, the Messiah, to us so that we are seen as righteous and pure (clean) in the sight of God. More on this later.
Divisions in Judaism
There are several divisions within modern Judaism. The main divisions in religious outlook are Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism. This is not to be confused with cultures and traditions of various Jewish groups.
Allow me to explain the history of Jewish groups so that we can better understand the terms. Let’s go back about 2,000 years to see the division that existed then. At the time of Christ, there were already divisions in Jewish thought.5 These groups included Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Scribes, and Zealots. Here are some of their views and differences.6
- Pharisees—those who held to strict adherence of the Law of Moses and the Old Testament, but also held to oral tradition as the truth. Interestingly, they set aside the divisions set up by God in the Law of Moses (i.e., Levites were required to do certain things for worship and priestly service, but the Pharisees proclaimed these things could be performed by any and all Jews). Positively, they held to the resurrection of the dead. This movement traces its roots back to the Maccabean revolt around 150 B.C. The Pharisaical view became the basis for modern Rabbinic Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
- Sadducees—they trace their roots back to Zadok/Tzadok the priest (1 Kings 1:8) in David and Solomon’s day. Their name actually is a variation of Zadok (think “s”adok or Sadoksees) and means “the righteous ones of Zadok.” They held the priestly and ruling responsibilities at the Temple with prestigious positions. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (i.e., no afterlife, Matthew 22:23) and welcomed Roman rule.
- Essenes—they flourished for about 300 years ending prior to A.D. 100, likely due to the Romans. The Essenes may have been a division of the Sadducees and had become one of the three major divisions of the Jews around the first century. They lived in communes and abstained from worldly desires; they lived lives of poverty with very strict rules (think of something like monks and nuns within the Roman Catholic worldview). They were famous for the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were preserved in caves and not found for nearly 2,000 years.
- Scribes—these were highly trained scholars of their day who were often devoted to copying the Scriptures, but also had responsibilities as bankers, judges, governing authorities, and those sought for wisdom on some matters. There are still a few modern-day “Sofers,” as they are called, who are scribes that still do work like those in the first century. The Masoretes who meticulously copied the Hebrew Old Testament until the tenth century were Scribes.
- Zealots—these people were often fanatic for the nation of Israel and wanted to try to do away with Roman rule. This group goes back to the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire that failed in about 150 B.C. They likely influenced many Jews to wage war against Rome, which led to the utter destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple and Sanctuary, and much of Judea (e.g., synagogues) by the Romans from A.D. 66 to 73.
Out of all these divisions, the Pharisaical system basically took over after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 when the Jews were scattered or put into bondage. The added oral traditions, which were seen as Scripture, began to be put into written format about A.D. 200.
After the war with Rome that left millions dead in Judea, those Jews who survived were basically in two groups: those who fled from the grip of Rome and those who were taken captive by Rome. Of course, there were some who were left, but most in the region would fit into these two categories. Many of those taken captive by Rome became slaves that were sent to various parts of the Empire.
Groups of captive Jews were taken by Rome to Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and the Middle East (while some fled “under the radar”). In subsequent years when tensions were reduced, they became their own people known as the Sephardic Jews. This group is divided into two groups. The first is the Sephardim in Iberia, or Spain and Portugal, and the Mazrachim, which include those in North Africa and the Middle East. Many Sephardic Jews in Spain were expelled in 1492 and made their way to communities among the Mazrachim.
The Ashkenazi Jews are those who fled to the land of Germany. Ashkenaz was one of Noah’s great-grandsons (Genesis 10:3), and it was his progeny that populated Germany.7 Hence, many Jews refer to this land as “Ashkenaz,” and the Ashkenazi Jews were those who lived in Ashkenaz, or Germany.
It makes good sense for Jews fleeing the grip of Rome to go to Germany, since Germany, which is relatively close to Rome, was never fully subdued by Rome. This was the ideal place to reach if you could make your way across the mountainous terrain to get to safety. Germany was also safer for Jews to stretch out to many other places in Europe as Rome’s power diminished.
As a side note, this occurrence may be one reason for the tensions we still see today. Consider that these new German hosts were likely bitter about the massive numbers of new arrivals, and it might explain much of the tension between Jews and the Germans that has existed since that time. There were conflicts during the Crusades and during the Reformation. And one cannot forget the utter devastation at the hands of the evil Nazis. Sadly, there are still tensions in Europe today between Europeans and Jews.
Another group called the Messianic Jews should really be mentioned at this point. Many Jews who have received Jesus Christ as Savior and Messiah in modern times take this name. In many ways, they are merely Christians with Jewish backgrounds or converted Gentiles, but in another respect, they still retain certain aspects of Judaism (e.g., feasts, celebrations, and so on). They hold to the Old and New Testament as Scripture and Christ as the Son of God (one person of the one triune God; see appendix A).
Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism
As we have seen from our historical review, the modern groups within Judaism are primarily born out of Pharisaical teaching that held the Old Testament and the Talmud (traditions) as supreme authority. Even within this modern Judaism, there are divisions with three being the main groups:
- Orthodox Judaism—a movement holding traditional beliefs and practices such as kosher diets, Sabbath rest, and distinctive dress codes.
- Reform Judaism8—a modern movement begun in the 1800s that takes many liberal viewpoints and does away with conservative values and practices that are inherent to Orthodox Judaism.
- Conservative Judaism—a group that tries to balance between Orthodox Judaism and Reform Judaism.
There is one more group that is very prominent today that should be added to this section:
- Secular Judaism—those who still identify as Jews, most often by heritage, but are actually secular humanists (the popular religion of today). They have taken one more step beyond the Reform Judaist position to be purely secular in their religious outlook. They just retain the name for the sake of their ancestry.
Now that we are familiar with the names, divisions, and some history of Judaism, let’s proceed with the discussion. But before I go any further, let me speak my heart on this issue. I love the Jews, and I have a fondness for them and have often defended them. But I still have the hope, as the Apostle Paul did (Romans 11:13–14), that they would repent of their sin and receive Jesus as Christ and Lord.
The Jews are loved on account of the patriarchs (Romans 11:28), and so I echo this same love. But like atheists, Muslims, and so many others, the Jews are enemies of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the good news that can set them free and guarantee eternal life (John 3:36, 10:28, 17:3; 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 John 5:11). Now that Gentiles have been offered the gospel, this puts Jews and Gentiles under the same need in equal fashion in the eyes of God (Romans 10:12). And with that, there is only one name under heaven that men must be saved (Acts 4:12) and only one way to peace with God for Jew or Gentile, and that is through Jesus Christ (Isaiah 9:6; John 14:6).
Even with many similarities, the differences between Judaism and Christianity are stark. And there is no reason we cannot be open about them.
Arbitrariness and Inconsistency
The Old Testament is the Word of God, and to say otherwise would be arbitrary opinions of man compared to the absolute of God’s Word. Christians applaud those in Judaism who hold to the Old Testament as the truth. But at the same time, Judaists deny that the New Testament is the Word of God, based on their own arbitrary opinions.
Furthermore, adding oral traditions to the Word of God is also arbitrary. Naturally, these oral traditions are attributed to Moses by the Jews. But after 1,500 years of oral transmission in the hands of fallible and sinful men who were often in disobedience to the written Word, how can anyone know for sure that they are accurate? In the Old Testament, there were times when most Israelites knew precious little about the written Word due to so much false worship, let alone the oral traditions.
To prove this point, we could ask why is it that the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud do not contain the same teachings when certain topics are discussed (e.g., agricultural laws or sacrificial rites and laws at the Temple)? Why do they disagree with each other (one being rather anti-Gentile [Babylonian] and one not so much [Jerusalem])? This shows they were not preserved as the Word of God.
In the two Talmuds, there are opinions of rabbis that disagree with each other concerning Bible passages—too many to cite! Such inconsistencies show that it is not the Word of God nor should it be elevated to a position of being greater than God’s Word in the Bible. To cap the debate, Jesus Christ, who is God, affirmed that the traditions of men were not the Word of God and should not to be equated as such (Matthew 15:3–6; Mark 7:8–13).
To summarize, the Word of God was entrusted to the Jews. This is an honorable position—one that should not be taken lightly. All traditions should be judged by the written Word of God rather than allowing the written Word of God to be judged by oral traditions.
Borrowing from the Word of Christ
Obviously, those in Judaism have regarded much of the Bible as the truth, especially the Old Testament. Since Jesus, Immanuel, is God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23), the Old Testament is His Word. Therefore, Judaists borrow from Jesus’ Word for their religion. This helps clarify a misconception. Often, we hear that Christianity was born out of Judaism, but this is not the case. Judaism was properly born as a response to Christianity.
The Old Testament is a Christian document that points to Jesus Christ who is the ultimate author of Scripture (Luke 24:27; John 5:46). Professor of Church History Dr. Phillip Schaff rightly states that the Old Testament Jewish religion “was the true religion before Christ but not perfect, or final.”9
The New Testament, with Christ as the centerpiece, is like a blossomed flower with the Old Testament patriarchs, such as Abraham and Moses and the prophets as the stem, leaves, and roots. But where the New Testament perfected or finalized the Old Testament in God’s perfect timing, the Pharisees deviated and held man’s ideas in the oral traditions to be greater than God’s Word. Judaism is just that: a deviation from the clear teachings of the Old Testament caused by elevating the traditions of men and rejecting the New Testament of God.
In other words, Judaism was born out of an improper understanding of Christ’s religion (Old Testament) and a rejection of God’s Word in the New Testament, particularly the rejection of the Messiah, Jesus. This happened because they misunderstood the promise, which led to a misunderstanding of its fulfillment.
But since Jews and Christians have the Old Testament in common, there will be some beliefs on which they agree. In fact, Christians and Jews share many similar doctrines because they draw many of them from the same pages of Scripture.
As a side note, Christians break the Old Testament books into 39 while the Jews have a listing that contains about 24. For example, where we split Kings, Chronicles, and Samuel into two books each, the Jews have one book for each of these. Ezra and Nehemiah are put together into a single book, while all 12 of the minor prophets are combined as well. Nevertheless, it is the same content.
As Christians, we share the same foundation in Genesis as the Jews do, as well as draw from the patriarchal roots on up to the final prophets of the Old Testament. We both believe in one God (Genesis 1:1; Deuteronomy 6:4; Ephesians 4:6), hold to marriage as defined by God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:27, 2:24), and have a basis for logic, knowledge, and the truth since we are made in the image of a logical, truthful God (Genesis 1:26–27). We both understand that we live in a sin-cursed and broken world (Genesis 3) and have a need for a Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15; Daniel 9:25) and an everlasting covenant (Jeremiah 32:40).
There are many other doctrines in common, of course. But the differences begin where we start to see the outworking of the Old Testament as it flows into the New Testament (versus flowing into the Talmud). The Old Testament does not flow in two directions, so one direction must be wrong. The Old Testament naturally flows into the New Testament—its fulfillment. Because of this, there are many differences in doctrines, too many to discuss in one chapter, so we will focus on a few significant ones.
Obviously, diet is one well-known difference. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ (who is God) declared all foods clean in Mark 7:19. This initially shocked Peter, who was devout in his kosher diet (Acts 10:13–16)! The Judaists still maintain strict dietary restrictions (Colossians 2:16; 1 Timothy 4:3). Christians recognize Jesus as the Messiah, or Christ—God who came in the flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 1:14). But the Judaists still wait for a messiah and have a much lower view of who he will be. Their hope is that he will be a military leader to help free the Jews from some earthly crisis. Consider if the Jews had received Christ as Messiah the first time. Would they still have considered Muhammad to possibly be the Messiah? There would have been no reason to. Would there still be the conflicts with those of the Islamic faith? Only the Lord knows.
Of course, God’s Messiah did so much more than the Judaists are looking for. He set us free for all eternity from sin and the cares of this world. The Messiah was put to death—the punishment that we all deserve for sin—to set us free forever. And those in the Messiah (Christ) have nothing to fear when the resurrection comes. Here are just 20 of the many Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament and where they were fulfilled in Jesus:
|Messianic Prophecy||OT Reference||NT Reference|
|1||Seed of the Woman||Genesis 3:15||Matthew 1:20; Galatians 4:4|
|2||Line of Abraham||Genesis 12:3, 22:18||Matthew 1:1–16; Luke 3:23–34|
|3||Line of Isaac||Genesis 17:19, 21:12||Matthew 1:1–16; Luke 3:23–34|
|4||Line of Israel||Numbers 24:17||Matthew 1:1–16; Luke 3:23–34|
|5||Line of Judah||Genesis 49:10||Matthew 1:1–16; Luke 3:23–34|
|6||Heir of David||2 Samuel 7:12–13; Isaiah 9:7||Matthew 1:1–16; Luke 3:23–34|
|7||Eternal throne and everlasting Kingdom||2 Samuel 8:13–16; Psalm 45:6–7; Daniel 2:44, 7:13–14||Luke 1:33; Hebrews 1:8–12; 1 Peter 5:11; Jude 1:25; Revelation 1:6|
|8||He will be a prophet||Deuteronomy 18:18||John 8:28–29|
|9||Savior of both Israel and Gentiles||Isaiah 49:6||Luke 2:29–32; John 8:12; Acts 13:46|
|10||Called the Son of God||2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7||Matthew 3:16–17|
|11||He will be King||Psalm 2:6; Zechariah 9:9||Matthew 27:37; Revelation 7:14, 19:16|
|12||He will resurrect||Psalm 16:10, 49:15||Matthew 28:2–7; Acts 2:22–32|
|13||Sits on the throne of God||Psalm 68:18, 110:1||Matthew 22:44; Mark 16:19|
|14||He would be a sacrifice for sin||Isaiah 53:5–12||Romans 5:6–8|
|15||He would be pierced in His side||Zechariah 12:10||John 19:34|
|16||As in a proper Passover sacrifice, His bones would not be broken||Exodus 12:46; Psalm 34:20||John 19:33–36|
|17||His hands and feet would be pierced||Psalm 22:16||John 20:25–27|
|18||Born in Bethlehem||Micah 5:2||Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4–6|
|19||Born of a virgin*||Isaiah 7:14||Matthew 1:22–23|
|20||Called Immanuel (God with us)||Isaiah 7:14||Matthew 1:22–23|
Where Jews have looked to sacrifice and their good works for the possibility of salvation, Christians have looked to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus in whom they believe and have faith and the assurance of salvation. Faith, or belief in God and what He has done, has always been the means of salvation. Those prior to Jesus looked forward to Him for their salvation in the same way Christians now look back to Christ for our salvation.
But salvation has always been of God alone. This is a major point of disagreement between Judaism and Christianity. The Judaist holds works to be essential, but the Christian holds faith in Christ through grace as the means of salvation. Christians do good works to please God, not to gain salvation. Leading modern Jews Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin write,
Judaism stresses action more than faith.10
The major difference between Judaism and Christianity lies in the importance each religion attaches to faith and actions. In Judaism, God considers people’s action to be more important than their faith; acting in accordance with biblical and rabbinic law is the Jews’ central obligation.11
This naturally has implication for theology. Consider what Prager and Telushkin continue to say:
According to Judaism, one can be a good Jew while doubting God’s existence, so long as one acts in accordance with Jewish law.12
It is not, of course, our intention to deny the centrality of God in Judaism, but merely to emphasize that Judaism can be appreciated and practiced independently of one’s present level of belief in God.13
Where Jews look to works for the possibility of salvation, the Bible teaches that works can’t save a person. Sin still needs to be punished by an infinite and perfectly holy and just God. Josh McDowell pointed out the crux of the difference when he wrote:
Judaism, while admitting the existence of sin, its abhorrence by God, and the necessity for atonement, has not developed a system of salvation teaching as found in Christianity. Atonement is accomplished by sacrifices, penitence, good deeds, and a little of God’s grace. No concept of substitutionary atonement (as in Christianity in the person of Jesus Christ) exists.14
Yes, sin still needs to be dealt with properly—going back to the first sin in Genesis 3. Just as the coats of skins in Genesis 3:21, Abel’s fat portions in Genesis 4:4, and Noah’s sacrifices of clean animals after the Flood in Genesis 8:20, each pointed forward to the sacrificial laws given by Moses, so these sacrifices, as well as the Levitical sacrifices, ultimately pointed to Christ’s final and eternal sacrifice once and for all (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10). The sacrifices before the Law, and as a result of the Law, were still not sufficient to satisfy God’s full wrath upon sin. They were mere shadows of what was to come in the blood of the ultimate Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible makes it clear that the blood of bulls and goats are not sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God upon sin (Hebrews 10:4). An even better sacrifice, a sufficient sacrifice, was needed. And Christ, who is God, was that all-sufficient sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Old Testament sacrifices pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
We (and the animals used in sacrifice) are only created beings—far less than the eternal God. No created being could take the punishment we deserve from an uncreated, infinite God. God Himself was the only one in a position to remedy His punishment upon sin. God, the infinite Son, Jesus, became a man fulfilling the promised seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) and was the fulfilled seed of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and heir of David. The infinite Son, Jesus, took the infinite punishment from God, the infinite Father, when He was offered up as our ultimate Passover Lamb by the high priest of Israel nearly 2,000 years ago (Matthew 26:62–66; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
This is what makes salvation possible—not by our works, but by the necessary work of God so that He alone receives the glory. Salvation comes as a person repents of sin and receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And then Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner—whether Jew or Gentile. This is why sacrificial and ceremonial laws have been done away with—they are no longer necessary because they’ve been fulfilled in Christ. This is also why the Temple is no longer necessary. The body of the believer is now the new temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19).
Where Judaists still hope for a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31), Christians have recognized the coming of the new covenant (an eternal covenant) already in Christ’s blood (Luke 22:20). He is our ultimate Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). And we want those raised in Judaism to realize that they, too, need to receive Jesus the Messiah to be saved (Acts 4:12).
Few realize that Christians have been among those who have supported the Jews for many years in their plight, not only because of their love for the ethnic Israelites, but for the sake of the biblical patriarchs. Even though many Israelites have been saved over the last 2,000 years, it seems that many Jews have been blind to the gospel for so long, yet the door seems so open for Gentiles. Why is that?
To answer this question, we first need to remember that God is the God of both the Jew and the Gentile (Romans 3:29)! What has happened is that Gentile believers have been grafted into the root of Israel in the same way that Ruth (a Moabite) and Rahab (a Canaanite) were grafted into Israel.
Sadly, by the rejection of God’s Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, many Jews have been pruned from the tree of Israel. An Israelite Pharisee, Saul (Paul), who became a Christian nearly 2,000 years ago, writes about this mystery of why many Jews have been blinded to the truth (and only a remnant saved) and why the miracle of Gentiles being saved is so significant. He writes in the Book of Romans:
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: “I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.” But Isaiah is very bold and says: “I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.” But to Israel he says: “All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: “God has given them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day.” And David says: “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, and bow down their back always.”
I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.
Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved (Romans 10:17–11:26; NKJV).
As Christians, we need to remember that we, too, were enemies of God until the Holy Spirit saved us (1 Corinthians 12:3; Colossians 1:21). This is why our prayer is for those caught in Judaism to be set free by the promised Messiah, Christ Jesus our Lord. Our hope is for those in Judaism to receive the final Passover Lamb, Jesus, to have peace with God once and for all.
Just as God often left a remnant in the Old Testament, so a remnant of Israelites joined the firstfruits of the fulfillment of the Old Testament, such as Peter, Paul, John, Matthew, and many others. But the door is still open, as both Jews and Gentiles are called upon to receive Christ to be saved by the same measure (Acts 15:3–9; Romans 10:12). Gentiles, who were seen as unclean sinners by the Jews, are now made clean by the work of the Lord.
Is anything too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27)? Is it too hard for God to take a pruned, natural branch and re-graft it in? Not at all! By receiving the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the natural branch will be made fruitful again.
|God||Deny the Trinity; there is only one God; Jesus is not the Son of God or the Messiah; the Holy Spirit is not a person|
|Authority/Revelation||39 books of the Old Testament; Talmud; various rabbis and traditions|
|Man||Man is created in the image of God; mankind is fallen as a result of Adam’s sin; man is able to attain perfection|
|Sin||Disobeying the laws prescribed in the Old Testament|
|Salvation||Salvation is possible through the obedience of the individual to biblical and rabbinical laws; atonement is accomplished through personal acts of sacrifice and penitence; some see the future Messiah or the future restoration of the Temple sacrifices as a means of atonement|
|Creation||The universe and all that is in it was created out of nothing in six, 24-hour days about 6,000 years ago; all living things were created according to their kinds in supernatural acts of God; mankind was specially created by God in supernatural acts; many modern groups would accept certain forms of evolution|