Salvation and the People of Israel - Harmonizing a Soteriological Dilema

When we try to discuss the topic of soteriology and the people of Israel, we are faced with a problem. Soteriology is a Christian concept, discussed in Christian theology and is part of Christian dogma. The word "soteriology" is commonly defined as the study of the doctrine of salvation. It discusses how Messiah's death provides salvation to those who believe in him And is therefore directly linked with the study of other doctrines derived from the belief that Jesus is the Messiah who died for the sinner. From the study of soteriology we derive the doctrines of redemption, justification, sanctification, propitiation, and the substitutionary atonement.

Soteriology and Judaism

Soteriology is the one area where Messianic Judaism and traditional Judaism collide; and this difference is not peculiar to Messianic Judaism and traditional Judaism, but it is also a point of contention between Christianity and other world religions. This conflict arises from the fact that a soteriology which is based on the Bible (Tanakh and Brit Hadasha) presents as fact the principle that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus the Messiah, and nothing else needs to be added to the formula for salvation.[i] The word soteriology is never found in Jewish literature, as the whole concept is alien and foreign to Jewish thought. Does it mean that Judaism has no concept of salvation? Not at all. But in considering soteriology and the people of Israel we encounter at least two discrepancies. The first is the fact that the etymology of the word "soteriology" is derived from two Greek words; the first being "soterion" commonly translated as "salvation," and "soter," the person who provides salvation (a savior). The ending is the English -logy understood as "the study of." We can say that in theological terms soteriology deals with salvation especially as brought about and accomplished by Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, the first point of divergence we encounter is that, if soteriology is the study of the saving work of Jesus of Nazareth, then Judaism has nothing to say about it as it denies the belief in Jesus as Messiah.

The second point of contention is the whole idea of salvation. How does Judaism interpret the concept of salvation? Is there a Jewish concept of salvation? What does Judaism teach about salvation?

The Relevance of this Topic

The need to better understand this subject has been brought to the surface by two recent events which are somewhat related to our Messianic Jewish life. The first of these events is the developing idea -held by several leaders of Messianic Jewish congregations-of the (hidden?) J was not unconscious... mediation of Jesus for the people of Israel. This concept is also called "the wider hope" of Israel. Given the fact that Messianic Judaism is part of the Jewish community and at the same time part of the larger Body of Messiah, in recent years the way in which this dual relationship is to be understood has been expressed in different ways. Most recently, the issue of Wider Hope has come to the forefront. While some firmly believe in the traditional evangelical view that it is necessary to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior-personally and consciously, a minority advocate the view that somehow there is a distinctive and unique way in which the sacrificial death of Jesus is applied to the salvation of the community of Israel as a whole, without the need of a personal and confessional acceptance. Only recently has such view emerged within the messianic movement and been publily articulated. A recently published book by Messianic Rabbi Dr. Mark S. Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism [ii] has made of the topic Salvation and the Jewish people a matter of intense debate within the Messianic Jewish movement. Kinzer's views are shared by other prominent Messianic Jewish leaders; other leaders vehemently oppose such views. The debate has raised valid questions that need to be discussed.

{josquote}The debate has raised valid questions that need to be discussed. {/josquote}

Thus, the idea of a symposium was birthed and a gathering of almost 70 Messianic Jewish theologians and leaders met in New York City this past October in what was called the Borough Park Symposium. The topic of the symposium was "The Gospel and The Jewish People" and several papers were presented, among them, "The Gospel Message," "Salvation and the Jewish People" and "Presenting the Gospel to our Jewish People."

Mark S. Kinzer, author of the abovementioned book, presented a paper titled "Final Destinies: Qualifications for Receiving an Eschatological Inheritance," which appears in this issue. Dr. Kinzer adheres to unconscious mediation-that the people of Israel may be saved through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, without their conscious individual acceptance of Him. In defining the issue Kinzer states:

What qualifications must individual human beings possess to inherit life in the world to come? Underlying this general question is a more specific one: Do we have grounds for hope that some who do not explicitly acknowledge Yeshua before death will be among those who inherit life in the world to come? Within the Messianic Jewish movement the driving concern is even more specific: Do we have grounds for hope that some Jewish people who do not explicitly acknowledge Yeshua in this life will be among the redeemed in the world to come? I call this the question of final destinies. In my view, the good news proclaimed and lived by the apostles is primarily concerned with final destiny (in the singular): the eschatological consummation of covenant history and the created order in Messiah Yeshua by God's Spirit. Most Messianic Jews would also consider salvation as dealing prominently with nations, and in particular with the nation of Israel."[iii]

The second issue that makes this topic relevant is a recently published book by Rev. John Hagee, "In defense of Israel: The Biblical Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State." [iv] Hagee is pastor of a non-denominational 19,000 member church in San Antonio, Texas. He is an ardent supporter of the State of Israel and the Jewish people in general, as evidenced by his website, [v] containing a plethora of comments and articles supporting Israel and the Jewish people. He is also founder of Christians United for Israel whose membership can be counted in the millions and whose purpose is "to stand in support of Israel and the Jewish people, thus fulfilling Isaiah 62: 1, "For Zion's sake I will not be silent."[vi] Rev. Hagee's support for Israel is unquestionable, yet he takes his position to the extreme by "excusing" Israel and Jesus' contemporaries for not accepting him as Messiah. Hagee's position is what I have termed "loving the Jews to death." Hagee makes the following arguments:

Five major points must now be made that are crucial to understanding that the Jews did not reject Jesus as Messiah .

1. Jesus had to live to be the Messiah

2. If it was God's will for Jesus to die from the beginning...

3. If it was Jesus intention to be obedient unto death...

4. If there is not one verse of Scripture in the New Testament that says that Jesus came to be the Messiah....

5. And if Jesus refused by his words or actions to claim to be the Messiah to the Jews, then how can the Jews be blamed for rejecting what was never offered? (emphasis by Hagee) [vii]

These two events-the Borough Park Symposium and John Hagee's book-have indeed made the topic of soteriology and the Jewish people very relevant, especially for Messianic Jews who have believed that Jesus is the Messiah and have made his Great Commission their raison d'etre and motive for their missionary endeavors. On the other hand, if Jewish people have been unconsciously and unknowingly saved by Jesus' sacrifice, or in Hagee's case, they were right in rejecting Jesus, what reason or right do we have to proclaim Jesus' messiahship to the Jewish people?

Salvation as Interpreted by Judaism

It is not uncommon to see on top of a church building a sign that read simply JESUS SAVES. Just by placing a sign with these simple two words these churches are stating their fundamental belief : the need for salvation and that Jesus is the one who provides it. And this is precisely a point of friction with traditional Judaism, namely, that there is a need for a savior, and that that savior is Jesus.

We need to go back to the earliest biblical texts to understand the Jewish concept of salvation. Based on God's unique relationship with the people of Israel as presented in the Tanakh, salvation is almost always understood as collective and national, not personal and individual. Thus, the Lord hears the cries of the children of Israel and delivers them from bondage. Passover is a national and collective celebration; it remembers how God saved the Israelites and formed them into a nation, and the same nation of people collectively accepted the Mosaic Covenant, thus endearing them as the chosen people. "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession."[viii] "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." [ix] Likewise, Yom Kippur was to be observed by the whole community of Israel, not just the individual. God's pact was not made with the individual Israelite but with the whole nation. Moses' words were:

You stand today, all of you, before the Lord your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today. [x]

 

Judaism believes that in the same way that the Lord saved the children of Israel in the past as a nation, he also promises to restore Israel as a nation, meaning collectively, not individually. This is the way that rabbinic literature understands every prophetic passage that deals with Israel's restoration, especially passages like Jeremiah 31:31 which clearly states that the New Covenant will be made "with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." Again, this restoration is collective and national.

In the Talmud, the rabbis taught: "The rest of the prayer: [Accept my] song, petition, supplication before Thee for Thy people Israel, which are in need of salvation."[xi] Again we cite the Talmud where it is implied that salvation is for all Israel "Said Raba, Samuel may have taken all Israel collectively, using the singular expression [verb], as it is written [elsewhere]: O Israel, thou art saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation, Ye shall not be ashamed?"[xii] In the Hebrew Bible, salvation comes from the Lord and is a favor bestowed upon the nation as a whole. In Deuteronomy 28: 23 and following Moses reminds the children of Israel of the consequences of disobedience: dispersion and bondage among the nation, a desolate land, sufferings and hunger. Conversely, the following chapter states that if they repent, their blessings shall be restored.[xiii]

In Messianic Judaism, the believer puts his hope in what the Messiah does for him by atoning for his sins. Judaism places that responsibility on the sinner himself. A difference must be noted because in traditional Judaism the blessings for obedience and the consequences for disobedience have effect in the here and now, not in the world to come. Messianic Jews and Bible believing Christians understand that salvation has eternal effects, that is, salvation not only applies to the here and now but also to there and then.

In a recent debate between Messianic Jewish scholar, Dr. Michael Brown, and renowned Orthodox rabbi, Schmuley Boteak, Rabbi Boteak said "You make it easy for you because you can sin all you want, and then leave it to Jesus to pay the consequences of your actions." [xiv] Judaism stresses the fact that instead of "salvation," one's relationship with God has to be based on three elements: repentance-"teshuva," good deeds resulting from repentance-"tzedakah and mitzvot" and a life of devotion-"kavanah and tefilah." The questions is whether these three things, albeit meritorous, are able to restores one's relationship with God.

We may find an answer when considering what was in Biblical times, God's remedy to man's disobedience. God provided a way for "covering" man's sin when He instituted Yom Kippur (the Hebrew root kopher; kippur means "cover"). In present day observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, devout Jews base their hopes for forgiveness on three main foundational principles: repentance, prayer, and the merits of the Patriarchs. We know that it would be impossible to observe this day the way God commanded, as there is no Temple, no priests, and no sacrifices. Can these be replaced with prayer, repentance and the merits of the Patriarchs? Why did not God establish these principles instead of the rituals commanded in Leviticus? It is my conviction that there was a need for sacrifice and although today there is no Temple to fulfill these requirements, in order to be saved from the consequence of sin there has to be a sacrifice. Was God incapable of stopping the Romans from destroying the Temple, or did He have another means that did not need the Temple while preserving the significance of sacrifices? It is my conviction that in Jesus the Messiah the sacrificial requirements were met: an innocent dying for the guilty, a blameless lamb accepted by God and the severity of sin erased by the shedding of blood.

One Dilema, Two Possibilities

There are only two options to the dilemma of salvation and the Jewish people; if we stand firm with the principles of salvation as expressed in the Scriptures, we then have to consider Jesus the Messiah as the provider (soter) of salvation. Conversely, if we deviate from biblical principles and replace them with man-made systems, albeit they seem reasonable, we may be at risk of having devised a way for salvation that puts in peril our eternal life. Although present day Judaism denies the need for individual and personal salvation, it acknowledges the need for forgiveness, atonement and repentance. I make mine the words of the Apostle Peter, when addressing the people of Israel after their rejection of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah; he declares "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."[xv] I have chosen to put my hope in Jesus the Messiah.

 

David Sedaca received his BA "summa cum laude" in Psychology from Harvard University, attended Biola University and continued at the Baptist Theological Seminary. David Sedaca studied Judaism in New York and continued Jewish studies at the School of Middle East Studies of the University of Belgrano. He also was the editor of Messianic Jewish Life magazine. David Sedaca is now vice-president of Chosen People Ministries.

 


Notes

[i] Ephesians 2:8-9

[ii] Mark S. Kinzer., Postmissionary Messianic Judaism (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005.

[iii] Mark S. Kinzer, "Final Destinies: Qualifications for Receiving an Eschatological Inheritance." http://www.boroughparksymposium.com/papers (see also this issue.)

[iv] John Hagee, In Defense of Israel ( Lake Mary, FL: Frontline, 2007), 135

[v] http://www.jhm.org

[vi] Ibid, introduction

[vii] Hagee,  135-136.

[viii] Deut. 7:6.

[ix] Ex 20:2.

[x] Deut 29:10-15.

[xi] Yoma 70 a.

[xii] Makkoth 23 b.

[xiii] Deut 30:1-10

[xiv] http://www.chosenpeople.com/debate.

[xv] Acts 4:12.

 
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