Christianity & Judaism

May 12, 2009

We very often read the Bible in ways coloured by the secular academia, modern science, sociology  and our own historical biases, rather than approaching it on its own terms.  As a result, we look at issues in theology in cultural, sociological, and historical ways instead of biblically.

How about this one for starters: the relationship between ‘Christianity’ and Judaism.

‘Modern Jewish people believe in and worship the God of the Old Testament.  They keep the Feasts of the LORD, they would return to the Temple if they could.  They have so much of the truth but have simply missed out on the identity of the Messiah.  They’re so close!  The Messiah has come: they just need to realise that He has.’

Those things all sound true and make logical sense, but they are not really the way the Bible encourages us to look at the Jewish people.  Paul in Galatians 1 speaks about his ‘previous way of life in Judaism’, how he ‘persecuted the church of God’, and how he was brought out of this by a revelation of ‘Jesus Christ’.  Far from simply adding ‘the missing piece of the puzzle’, Paul says he has experienced a radical conversion when he met the risen Christ.  

The reason it’s so radical is that Judaism by the time of Paul (and by the time of the Incarnation of Jesus) was so far departed from the religion of the Old Testament.  In fact the religion of the Old Testament was often very far removed from the faith of the patriarchs.  The Bible is clear that the true religion of Israel under the Old Covenant was exhaustively Christ-centred: the sacrifices, feasts, laws, and promises all proclaimed to Him (Galatians 3v16, Colossians 2v16-17); the patriarchs and the saints knew Him (John 12v41, Hebrews 11v26) ; He was present ministering to His people throughout appearing variously as the LORD, the Angel of the LORD, El Shaddai, the Word of the LORD, Melchizedek, the Voice of the LORD, the fear of Isaac, I AM, the Rock of Israel, the Commander of the Armies of the LORD,  the Glory of the LORD, the Presence of the LORD, Son of Man, etc.

Yet by the time of Jesus’ earthly days, the religion had become so Christ-less that they were blind to the very Christ that their ancestors loved and served (Mark 4v12, Romans 9v33); they had departed from pursing righteousness by faith in Him (Genesis 15v6) to pursuing it through the keeping of the law, which is Paul’s great burden (Romans 9v31-32).  It is vital that we realise this: modern Judaism is not the continuation of the religion of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and the other patriarchs- these were believers in the coming Seed of Abraham, and therefore their faith is carried-on not in modern Judaism, but in all ‘children of Abraham’ who trust in Christ (Romans 9v6-8).  ‘Christianity’ is not a ‘sect of Judaism’, it was not founded 2000 years ago by a Jewish peasant.  It is the genuine prophetic, historical, theological, spiritual, revealed continuation of the faith of the patriarchs and saints from the very beginning of history.  Or to put it another way, if Abraham was allowed back to earth for a time he would be pleading with his Jewish brothers and sisters to trust in Jesus.

When we fail to assert this, we’ve simply conceded to a secular view of history which is apart from the Lord’s revelation of His work.  This means that Jewish evangelism is a different kettle of fish to that which we might conceive.  It’s far from being a casual nudge towards accepting the Messiah they failed to spot: it is reclaiming His position as the heart of the heritage that is theirs (Romans 9v4-7).  It is far more than adding the missing piece of Jesus to their nearly complete jigsaw picture of God.  It is showing that unless they call on the name of Jesus Christ, they are not calling on the name of the LORD of Israel at all (Romans 10v9-15).  It shows that the law they are pursuing is dead and useless unless they have been convicted of their sin by it, and led to Christ whom it proclaims (Galatians 3v19).  Indeed unless this has happened, they are condemning themselves (John 5v39-40).  It is not about persuading them with all our energy that they must upgrade to Jesus: it is about realising that they are spiritually blind (Romans 9v16, 10v2, 11v25) and need the proclamation of the gospel to open their eyes.  This works out in anguish and prayer (Romans 9v3, 10v1) and provocative living by Christians (Romans 11v14).  Most of all, it means speaking about Christ who is the cornerstone of the faith of their forefathers which has become twisted (Acts 4v10-12, Romans 10v14-15).  It also takes into account the promise that even though they have rejected God by rejecting His Son (John 6v45, 8v20, 8v42), God has not similarly rejected the Jewish people (Romans 11v1) but has held-out for them the offer of salvation in Christ.  He has not turned his back on them forever (Romans 11v11) because within the Jewish people are many of his chosen remnant (Romans 11v5, Revelation 7v9).

If we are to examine the relationship between Christianity and Judaism biblically (not socio-historically) we will see that modern Judaism has little in common with the religion of its claimed patriarchs.  What we call ‘Christianity’ is in fact the true faith of the Old Testament saints- even if we tend to imagine it dressed in post-Enlightenment, Western categories.  Those who love and trust in the Son of the living God for salvation are the heirs of the patriarchs.  Alec Motyer says this, 

[Early believers] should never have allowed the people of Antioch to get away with nicknaming them Christians. Our proper name is Israel. 
Banner of Truth interview 

When men and women of any ethnicity trust in Christ, they are joining the true ‘Israel of God’, the company of the sons and daughters of Abraham, the long line believers in the true and only living God.  There is no issue of national Israel being ‘replaced’ by a new entity ‘the Church’: the matter is all believers today pointing to believing Israel in the Old Testament and saying ‘That’s us!’, claiming the patriarchs as their genuine forefathers, and the Hebrew scriptures as a genuine proclamation of their own Saviour.

Even the study of modern religions must be subjected to the Truth that is found in Christ alone.