Friday, March 28, 2014

Return to Zion

 One of the most quoted and song verses in Scripture is the following: "And the ransomed of YHVH shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isaiah 35:10).  However, few realize that in order to return, one would have had to be there in the past.  So who really are the ones returning to Zion?

Modern day Zionism came into being during the nineteenth century, inspired, at least in part, by contemporary nationalistic movements, which were prevalent in Europe of that day. But perhaps still greater was the contribution made by a few Spirit-filled Christian (Gentile) visionaries, who began to realize the importance of the Torah, the prophets, and the Jewish people's return to the ancient land of their ancestors. Relationships between these Gentile Christians (Zionists) and the Jewish community in Europe started developing already in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (ref. The Vision Was There by Franz Kobler, 1956). The Zionist movement, however, was not really acknowledged by nineteenth century historians as a viable or a definable phenomenon.  Jewish identity was still very much attached to religion, which preserved the uniqueness of the Jews as a people while in the "Galut" (diaspora, or exile). But the religious traditions left them with only a very slight hope of realizing any national aspirations. Saying "next year in Jerusalem," every Passover was not enough to extricate them from their host countries. Their identity was defined more by default than by anything positive. It wasn't until the time of Rabbi Alkalai and Kalishcher (two Jewish "prophets" of the 1800's) that seeds of national identity began to be sown.  They were followed by Moses Hess, Ben-Yehudah, Pinsker, Herzl, Nordau, Ahad-Ha-am, Bialik and others, whose names and writings have lost their prophetic significance today, and have become (in the eyes of most Israelis) mere signs posted on street corners in the cities of Israel.

The transformation, from religion to nationalism, began to grow in the hearts and minds of a remnant, ultimately resulting in the birth of the State of Israel, albeit not without tribulation (pogroms, persecutions and the Holocaust). The return of Judah (the Jews), as a nation, to the Land of Promise is a direct fulfillment of the End Time prophetic scriptures. It testifies to the fact that the God of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4), but "watches over His word to perform it" (Jer.1:12).

However, this is only half of the story. Zionism, as a national movement was not only evident among a remnant of Judah, but also began to surface in Ephraim, who is the other "witness" of the God of Israel's unending mercies and covenant keeping faithfulness.  It was at about this time (i.e. the nineteenth century), that a few born-again, spirit-filled believers in Europe, especially in the UK, received prophetic insight into the history of the Two Houses, the two witnesses, the two olive branches, the two sticks, the two families, the two kingdoms and the two nations, spoken of in the Bible. Many believed that the nations that made up Europe were primarily of the lost tribes of Israel. Intense studies of languages, culture, religion etc. began to emerge.  In 1887, a work by M.M. Eshelman, called The Two Sticks, was published.  Later, another, by J.H. Allen called Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright, 1917.  These works were evidence that the Spirit of the Lord was (and still is) working to turn the hearts of the children to our forefathers, and to restore the national identity of both houses of Israel (Ephraim and Judah).

In the covenant that God made with Abraham, He promised him a land and a nation (Goy) which was to come out of his own loins, (Gen 12:1-3). God would never forget the covenant, although He would scatter this nation into all the nations, and thus it is written that Ephraim is "well mixed into all nations" (Hos. 7:8), and that he would become their "fullness" (Gen 48:19). Yet, in Ezekiel 37:22 we read: "I will make them one nation in the land," (as well as in Jer 3:18). God's redemptive plan for this earth was, and still is, a united, redeemed, single nation of "Israel", living in the land that YHVH promised to the patriarchs.

Religious identity has kept the Two Houses divided. However, with the restoration of our national identity we can begin to tear down the age-old divisions of enmity and jealousy and build, under the guiding hand of the Messiah, the commonwealth that will be a light to the rest of the nations, a royal priesthood and a holy nation.  Both houses need to return to true Zionism, to the Zionism of the Torah. This Zionism is a very simple concept; it involves a land, a nation ("goy"), and a kingdom government. (to be continued)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Righteousness in Messiah

The question of how we attain righteousness always seems to be at the forefront of the discussion about the Torah.  Can we be righteous without Torah?  It has always puzzled me why Paul, an expert in keeping Torah, so much so that he was found “blameless” in the eyes of his contemporaries, was still regarded by YHVH as a man full of iniquity and sin whose righteousness was as “menstrual rags”. All of Paul’s righteous living and good works were ultimately defiled by his own sin nature. 

However, when Paul came into the revelation knowledge of the righteousness that is in Messiah he still did not abandon Torah, as is evidenced by the following: “Do we then make void [destroy, do away with, abolish] the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish [fulfill] the law”  (Rom 3:31).  “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good…  For we know that the law is spiritual” (Rom 7:12,14).  

In chapters five through seven of the Gospel of Matthew is found the portion known as “The Sermon on the Mount”, in which Yeshua reiterated aspects of Torah and expounded on them in great detail. He began his dissertation by saying: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy… but to fulfill…” (Matt 5:17).  Why did Yeshua go into such great detail to explain to His audience the Law of Moses?  Surely he knew that there was not one person sitting out there who could ever live up to its standards or keep it completely, so why would he bother going into such specifics to explain the commandments of His Father? The answer is found in His introductory statement: “I have not come to destroy but to fulfill”.  In actual fact, in this manner Yeshua was introducing Himself to his listeners. Bearing the righteous nature of His Father, He was the only one able to fulfill every requirement of the Law.  Did He actually expect the people, whom he knew to be sinners by nature, to keep all His sayings?  Didn’t He Himself proclaim that man’s heart was wicked and evil? “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23).  Wasn’t His very coming to earth intended for the elimination of the sin nature? He was “the lamb that takes away the sin of the world”.

Yeshua was the righteousness of Torah incarnate; in other words, the righteousness of Torah is the righteousness of Elohim.  They are one and the same.  Yeshua was righteous by nature. He did not have to keep Torah in order to become righteous.  He manifested Torah because it was natural for Him to do so.  Man, on the other hand, is under the spiritual powers of rebellion and disobedience and has taken on that nature.  Man cannot change his fallen condition by trying to be “like God”, or “like Christ”, through keeping the written Torah (and I might add the ‘Beatitudes’ too).  This will only result in religious pride, self-righteousness and judgmentalism or criticism of others. 

Yeshua declared that anyone who teaches disobedience to the commandments would be least in the kingdom of heaven, but then He made a reference to the religious leaders and said: “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven”  (Matt 5:20).  Remember, Paul was a Pharisees and a rabbi.  Yeshua’s denouncement of the Pharisees must have been a surprise to the people, as they held their religious leaders in great respect because on the outside they saw only the beautiful whitewashed sepulchers that they were (notwithstanding the proverbial dead men’s bones on the inside, ref. Matt 23:27).  So why did Yeshua expound Torah to the masses? What was Yeshua referring to when he said that “He came to fulfill”, while there was still a lot more to be fulfilled regarding His Father’s words in the Torah and the Prophets, even after the Messiah’s death and ascension? 

The issue of Yeshua’s entire dissertation was to reveal the righteousness of Torah, resident in Himself, as He was the Son of a righteous and holy heavenly Father.  If we go back to the Garden, Satan suggested to Adam and Eve that they could become “like Elohim” if they would only eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But what our first parents did not realize was that disobedience to their Creator would take them in the opposite direction.  They received what they wanted, but now they had a different spiritual boss (actually a different spiritual father) to demonstrate to them who they were going to look like.  They came under another law called the “law of sin and death”. They now had the knowledge of good and evil and were not aware of anything other than “self”.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “For without the law sin was dead.  For I was alive [to self] without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died”  (Rom 7:8-9).  In their self-life Adam and Eve were trying to live by the good, but the evil was right there with them as it was the very nature of the fruit of which they had partaken.  Paul, in explaining this phenomenon, says it this way: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do”  (Rom 7:19).  He therefore adds that it is “foolishness” for man to try to live the righteousness of Torah without a change in his nature. 

If we say we love Torah and want to be Torah-righteous, the only way to do it is through the channel that YHVH provided, that is through faith in what He has accomplished by His Son’s death, burial and resurrection.  Abraham our father was reckoned righteous because he believed YHVH.  We can only enter into that same righteousness if we believe what YHVH accomplished by sending His only begotten Son.  This is the message of the “good news” to those who by faith receive the free gift of grace.  Our eyes will no longer be fixed on ourselves, but on Him who is our new creation life and righteousness.  Thus, when we know Him, we know who we are as well. “For you are dead, and your life is hid with Messiah in God.  When Messiah, who is our life, shall appear [be revealed in us], then shall we also appear [knowing who we are as new creation beings] with him in glory” (Col 3:3-4). “But of Him are you in Messiah Yeshua, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption”  (1 Cor 1:30).  “For He made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom 8:4).