Book: Judaism— Revelation of Moses Or Religion of Men?

And in those days, men from all nations will take hold of the garment of a Jew saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.' “

Near the end of His ministry, in what was no doubt one of Jesus' most impassioned moments, He lamented, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem”—using Jerusalem to personify the Jewish leadership, primarily the scribes and Pharisees, as they sat in “Moses' seat”—”you who kill the prophets and stone those who have been sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you refused! Behold, your house is left to you desolate. And truly I say to you, you shall not see Me at all until the time comes [at My return] that you say, 'Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord' “ (Luke 13:34-35).

The phrase “your house is left to you desolate” has a double meaning—one physical, the other spiritual. The obvious meaning is that the Jews' rejection of Jesus as the Messiah would by 70 AD lead to the destruction of their “house”—their Temple and religious institutions, their Sanhedrin, their way of life, and, of course, Jerusalem itself. Less obvious, however, is the spiritual connotation behind the word desolate. While the scribes and Pharisees could hardly disagree with Jesus' support of the Law and the Prophets, they would have nothing to do with His repudiation of their precious oral laws and traditions. Consequently, the Jewish leadership would remain shackled to what Michael Hoffman calls a religion of “self-justification through works-righteousness” (Judaism Discovered, p. 965). In their overt rejection of Jesus, they would never even begin to approach the godly righteousness that is based on heartfelt obedience to the Scriptures through faith in the Messiah. Indeed, adherents of the Pharisees' religion of works would remain spiritually desolate, barren of fruit worthy of the Kingdom of God.

"I will require it of him"

In a parable aimed right at the heart of the Jewish leadership, Jesus labeled the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees as “evil husbandmen” who had failed to “render unto God the fruits of His own vineyard.” The result would be that the “vineyard” would be “leased to other husbandmen who would bring forth those fruits” (paraphrased from Matt. 21:33-41). Those “other husbandmen” would be oriented around the prophetic “Stone that the builders rejected” (verse 42)—the rejected Christ. Jesus concluded, “Because of this”—because of their rejection of the Messiah and their refusal to follow the written Torah as opposed to their oral traditions—”I say to you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and it shall be given to a nation that produces the fruits of it” (verse 43). That “nation”—which we will later examine in the context of Christianity's so-called “Replacement Theology”—is a spiritual nation, the ekklesia of God (see I Peter 2:4-10).

Of course, “the [Sadducean] chief priests and the Pharisees knew that [Jesus] was speaking about them” (Matt. 21:45). They had in fact heard it before. In Matthew 23:14, for example, Jesus warned them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven before men; for neither do you yourselves enter, nor do you allow those who are entering to enter.” After an intense encounter with the scribes and Pharisees concerning their “traditions of men” and how such traditions had a negating effect on the Scriptures, Jesus privately told His disciples, “Every plant that My heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13)—a not-so-subtle warning the Jewish leaders' days were numbered.

In fact, one of the reasons Jesus came was to judge the spiritual leadership of the Jewish nation. In John chapter nine, after healing a man who had been blind from birth, Jesus made a rather cryptic statement— intentionally within earshot of the Pharisees. “For judgment I have come into this world so that those who do not see might see, and those who see might become blind” (verse 39). Picking up on Jesus' insinuation, the Pharisees mockingly asked, “Are we also blind?” Jesus answered, “If you were blind you would not have sin. But now you say, 'We see.' Therefore, your sin remains” (verses 40-41). As occupants of “Moses' seat,” the scribes and Pharisees knew they were guilty of undermining the Word of God as they favored their traditions; moreover, they, along with the chief priests, knew that the time had come for the Messiah to appear. But, as we will see, the Jewish leaders were more concerned about maintaining the political and religious status quo than seriously watching for the Messiah. The Pharisees might as well have proclaimed, “We see!”—for they knew exactly what they were doing. As such, the religious leadership of first-century Palestine received the greater condemnation—for to him who is given much, much is required (Luke 12:48). This is why Jesus warned the scribes and Pharisees that they were in danger of eternal damnation through gehenna fire (Matt. 23:14, 33)—they knew too much!

The prophet Daniel, while in exile with the Jews in Babylon, brought to light the actual era when the Messiah would appear. His prophecy of Daniel chapter nine—though subject to some debate and various methods of interpretation—clearly pointed to the early part of the first century AD. In The Everlasting Tradition, scholar Galen Peterson writes: “In the case of Daniel, the facts [of the prophecy] speak for themselves. And they speak of a Messiah who came exactly when He was promised to come” (p. 53). Still, the exact date was not known; but the Jewish leadership of that day knew the time was right for the Messiah to appear. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, was a “good and upright man” who was “waiting for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:50-51). As the Greek indicates, he was “looking expectantly” for the kingdom, thus the Messiah's appearance. How did he know to be looking? The entire Sanhedrin knew to be looking!

Another interesting prophecy—found in Genesis 49:10—alerted the Jewish leadership to the imminent appearance of the Messiah. The passage reads, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes. And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” The term Shiloh means “the one to whom it belongs.” The Greek Septuagint reads, “the one for whom it [the scepter] is reserved.” Peterson notes that this passage was widely understood by Jewish sages to be a reference to the Messiah. “The rabbis [the Pharisaic scribes] had long agreed that Jacob's prophecy meant that the kingdom of Judah would retain its ability to govern itself until [the] Messiah came” (p. 64).

But the Jewish leaders of early first-century Palestine had a problem. Herod Archelaus, the Roman ruler over the province of Judea, was corrupt and oppressive. Faced with the threat of a Jewish uprising, Rome removed Archelaus around 5 AD. While this was welcome news to the Sanhedrin, Archelaus' removal had unintended consequences—it meant the loss of the Jews' right to enforce their laws. Instead, such power—the power of life and death—was placed into the hands of Rome's new appointee, Coponius. To the Sanhedrin this was a devastating blow. In their eyes, according to Peterson, the scepter had been removed. “The removal of the scepter resulted in the loss of their ability to administer the Mosaic Law. Although they would be allowed to enforce excommunication and minor forms of punishment ..... they would no longer be able to try capital cases. The supreme punishment of execution was the true standard of power. And now it was gone” (p. 62). While the precise application of the prophecy of Genesis 49:10 is uncertain, it is important to note that in the minds of the members of the Sanhedrin, the new circumstances “mandated that [the] Messiah be present” (p. 64).

Without a doubt, the Sanhedrin of Jesus' day knew full well that the time had come for the appearing of the Messiah. But, were they really looking? In what Peterson calls “the day the rabbis blinked,” he writes that the Jewish religious leaders arrived at several fallacious conclusions. First, they assumed that they—being the most learned and esteemed religious body in all of Judea—would certainly recognize the Messiah if He were to appear. Second, it was apparent to them, based on their limited understanding of the Messiah, that He had in fact not appeared. Finally, with great consternation, the Jewish sages came to the conclusion that God had “revoked His prophecy and His obligation.” Thus, according to Peterson, “an atmosphere had been created that stifled messianic anticipation” (p. 65). A few years later, when Jesus made His public debut, the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees were consumed by turf battles and efforts to preserve the political status quo. Still, in the back of their minds, they were looking for the Messiah, as evidenced by John the Baptist's encounter with the Pharisees in John chapter one. But would they recognize Him? Would they receive Him joyfully, with a genuine desire to follow Him? Moses had already warned what would happen to those who refused the Messiah. “The Lord your God will raise up unto you a Prophet from the midst of you, of your brethren, One like me. To Him you shall hearken” (Deut. 18:15). In verse 19, quoting God Himself, Moses adds that “whatever man will not hearken to My words which He [the Messiah] shall speak in My name, I will require it of him.”

Jesus a “Stone of Stumbling” to the Jews

Why did the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day fail to recognize Him as the Messiah? Was it simply oversight—or does the answer have more to do with human lust for power and status? As we have seen, at virtually every turn, Jesus rankled the sensitivities of the Jewish religionists. Moreover, He left them without excuse as to who He was. Granted, Jesus shied away from outright claiming to be the Messiah; in fact, as a thorough study of the gospel accounts will show, Jesus only hinted indirectly at His true identity. But His works and teachings spoke volumes. In John chapter 15, Jesus warned His disciples about the certainty of being persecuted for His sake; concerning those who hated Him—the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees—He said, “If I had not come and spoken to them [at which time He convicted them], they would not have had sin; but now they have nothing to cover their sin.... If I had not done among them the works that no other man has done [such as healing a man blind from birth], they would not have had sin; but now they have both seen [My works] and [still] hated both Me and My Father” (verses 22, 24). Again, Jesus left them no excuse. Even the pitiful man who had been healed by Jesus of his lifelong blindness gave a powerful testimony to the Jewish leaders. “This is truly an amazing thing, that you do not know where He has come from, yet He has opened my eyes. Now we know that God does not hear sinners. But if anyone is God-fearing and is doing His will, He hears him. From the beginning of the world it has never been heard of that anyone has opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:30-33). Of course, the Pharisees responded in self-righteous conceit: “You were born wholly in sin, and you are teaching us?” (verse 34). With such arrogance, how could they ever recognize the Messiah?

Attempting to explain the Jewish perspective on the Messiah, Rabbi Hayim Donin writes: “The Messiah in Jewish thought . would be a person who would bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the people of Israel through the ingathering of the Jews to their ancestral home of Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] and the restoration of Jerusalem to its spiritual glory” (To Be A Jew—A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life, p. 14). This is similar to what Jesus' own disciples expected: “Lord, will You restore the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6). Rabbi Donin adds that “claimants to the messianic title arose at various times throughout Jewish history. The criterion by which each was judged was: Did he succeed in accomplishing what the Messiah was supposed to accomplish? By this criterion, clearly none qualified” (p. 15; emphasis added).

But what was the Messiah supposed to accomplish? Their expectations of physical and political restoration were certainly justified from Scripture. But the Jewish leaders never expected a Messiah who was planning to die for the sins of the nation (as well as the whole world). To them, the idea of a “suffering Messiah” was not only foreign, it was offensive. As Barnes' Commentary explains: “[To] the Jews, the doctrine that the Messiah was to be crucified gave great offence; it excited, irritated, and exasperated them; they could not endure the doctrine, and treated it with scorn.... It is well known that to the Jews no doctrine was more offensive than this, that the Messiah was to be put to death” (commentary on I Cor. 1:23). Moreover, that the Messiah should die by crucifixion was especially offensive, since, as they understood the Law, such a one was accursed of God (see Deut. 21:23).

Clearly, as was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, the Jewish leaders had “stumbled at the Stone of stumbling” (Rom. 9:33; more on this passage below). In this regard, the apostle Peter describes Jesus as “a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense” to the Jews—especially to those scribes and Pharisees who “stumble at the Word, being disobedient [to God's command to acknowledge and listen to the Messiah], unto which unbelief they also were appointed” (I Pet. 2:8).

The scribes, Pharisees and Sadducean priests all suffered from a lack of belief-—rooted in their own pride and self-importance. Ultimately, preserving the status quo was more important than giving serious thought to the appearance of the Messiah. Why did the Jewish leaders really reject Jesus as the Messiah? Political expediency. After Jesus performed one of His most powerful miracles—raising Lazarus from the dead—the religionists were driven to their wit's end. “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council [the Sanhedrin] and said, 'What shall we do? For this man does many miracles' “ (John 11:47). Behind closed doors, they could not deny Jesus' miracles—but they could never acknowledge them publicly. To do so would be to admit that Jesus could be the Messiah, and would severely alter the tenor of their relationship with Him. They reasoned: “If we allow Him to continue in this manner, all [Judea] will believe in Him, and [ultimately] the Romans will come and take away from us both this place and the nation” (verse 48). Thus, from that day forward “they took counsel together, so that they might kill Him” (verse 53).

The Jewish leaders understood the dangers of irritating the Romans. They rationalized that nationhood itself was at stake; however, they were also acutely aware of a more personal risk—their own political and religious positions of authority and prestige. The scribes and Pharisees stood to lose their superior position as religious leaders and occupants of “Moses' seat.” The Sadducean priesthood stood to lose their political clout and aristocratic standing.

As we have seen, the Jewish leaders only made a pretense of following Moses. Thus Jesus reproved them, saying, “Did not Moses give you the Law, and [yet] not one of you is [genuinely] practicing the Law?” (John 7:19). Jesus also said, “But if you [genuinely] believed Moses [concerning both the Law and the Messiah, instead of being consumed by tradition] you would have believed Me; for he wrote about Me. And if you do not believe his writings, how shall you believe My words?” (John 5:46-47).

Just as Jesus had foretold, the Jewish leadership did not know the season of their visitation (Luke 19:44). And now, their unbelief had exacted a price no Jew could ever have imagined. The Messiah had indeed come, only to be rejected and killed; and soon, Jerusalem and the Temple would face complete destruction at the hands of the Romans. But an even greater desolation loomed, one that for centuries would imprison Jews in absolute spiritual darkness—a pseudo-righteousness based on Judaism's Talmudic works of law.

The Judaic Snare of “Works-Righteousness”

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul has much to say about false “forms” of righteousness—particularly the idea that one can become “righteous” through humanly-devised works of law. While there may be various applications to the apostle's teachings on this subject, it is obvious that his arguments apply quite well to the Pharisaic model. In fact, in many cases Paul directly addresses the problem of Pharisaic “works-righteousness.”

Paul speaks of those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). Only those in a position of religious authority can suppress the truth in such a manner. This brings to mind Jesus' statement that the scribes and Pharisees—guardians of “Moses' seat”—had nullified the Scriptures through their traditions (Matt. 15:6; Mark 7:6). In a nutshell, the apostle has aptly described the Jewish leaders' spiritual plight: In unrighteousness, the scribes and Pharisees had rejected the Scriptures as the ultimate source of truth, choosing instead to follow their own traditions—which they believed equated to righteousness. Paul continues: “When they knew God [during the restoration period under Ezra and Nehemiah], they glorified Him not as God”—they lost their fear of God and their reliance on God, looking instead to their own human understanding—”neither were they thankful [for the infallible truth of the Scriptures], but they became vain in their own rea-soning”—eventually imagining such ideas as their so-called “oral law”— “and their foolish hearts were [spiritually] darkened” (Rom. 1:21). Does this not accurately describe the Jewish religionists as we see them in Jesus' day—as well as what we see in Rabbinical Judaism today? Verse 22: “While professing themselves to be the wise ones, they became fools.” The ancient scribes were called wise ones, as are rabbis today.

It is in this context—the Jews' failure to simply believe God and honor His word—that Judaism has foolishly set about to establish a form of righteousness through works of traditional laws. Paul squarely addresses the issue, contrasting the Jews' failure to achieve righteousness with the Gentiles' newfound favor with God. In Romans 9:30-33, he writes:

“What then shall we say? That Gentiles, who had not been pursuing righteousness [as they had no prior knowledge of the Law], attained genuine righteousness, even the righteousness and justification which is by faith”—because they came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and as the “Living Torah” of God, through whom they would learn to obey the Law according to its spiritual intent, and through whom they would have spiritual redemption from past sins. “But the Jews [Paul uses Israel, meaning the Jews], though they [the Jewish leadership that held sway over the people] followed a 'law' which they believed would lead to righteousness, have never attained genuine righteousness. Why? Because they pursued a 'form of righteousness' and justification through Pharisaic works of law instead of through faith in Christ.” Belief in Jesus as the Messiah would have led them away from their Judaic traditions and into genuine, heartfelt obedience to the Scriptures. “In fact, they were offended by that 'stumbling stone'—exactly as Isaiah foretold: 'Behold, I place in Zion a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense, but everyone who believes in Him shall not be ashamed on the day of judgment' “ (author's paraphrase throughout Rom. 9-10).

David Stern writes that the Jews “missed the Messiah because they did not grasp that the first requirement of the [written] Torah is faith”—or belief (recall Jesus' statement to the Pharisees, “If you had believed Moses”). The truth is, one cannot please God without faith, which means believing God (Heb. 11:6). He adds that obedience to “the Torah of Moses requires faith and offers righteousness by faith, just like the New Covenant”—thus, “righteousness must be grounded in trusting God” (Jewish New Testament Commentary, pp. 392-393; “Rom. 9”). Stern defines faith simply as “trust in God,” adding that the Jewish leaders trusted instead in their own works (p. 392). The Jews have had the right goal, but they have gone about it all wrong; they understood that the Law offers righteousness (Deut. 6:25; etc.), but they went astray in thinking that such righteousness could be achieved by adhering to the “additions” and “amendments” which they made to the Scriptures—their so-called “oral law.” The apostle Paul continues, showing the exact nature of the Jewish leaders' misunderstanding.

“Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for the Jews is for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with correct knowledge” (Rom. 10:1-2).

It is important to note here that Paul says he was a first-hand witness of the Jews' zeal for God—proving that it was Pharisaic zeal. As a former Pharisee (Acts 26:5; etc.), Paul had fully participated in that same misguided fanaticism. This verse is critical because it demonstrates that Pharisaism was at the root of the Jews' failure to achieve righteousness. As has been amply demonstrated throughout this book, Pharisaism is based on a highly-flawed premise: the existence of a so-called “oral law” that supersedes the written Torah of Moses. This approach has led the Jews to seek what Hoffman, again, has rightly called “self-justification through works-righteousness.” Thus, at the heart of the Jews' failure to achieve righteousness was (and is) their disbelief in the exclusivity of the Scriptures and their insistence on their oral traditions. Verse three:

“For not knowing about God's righteousness”—not understanding that true righteousness comes through heartfelt obedience to the written Torah in a genuine spirit of belief and faith in God and His Messiah—”and seeking to establish their own righteousness” and self-justification through adherence to a humanly-devise code of law—”they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”

Note the Jews' failure to subject or submit themselves to God's way of making one righteous. Recall Jesus' words to the Jewish leadership in Luke 13:34, “but you refused!” Indeed, any chance the Jews might have had of experiencing true righteousness was made impossible by their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and their refusal to set aside their “oral traditions” in favor of the written Torah.

Paul then makes an enigmatic statement that has proven to be a huge stumbling-block for Protestantism. Verse four: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (NKJV). Given the fact that throughout the New Testament both Jesus and Paul uphold the veracity of the Law, it is impossible to assume (as does mainstream Christianity) that Christ was somehow the termination of the Law. What then could Paul mean by this statement?

The context of this entire passage is that the Jews—through a lack of belief or faith in both God (and thus His word) and Jesus as the Messiah— have failed to submit themselves to God's formula for righteousness. Genuine righteousness and justification before God can only be attained through a Messiah-centered approach to obedience to the Law.

Accordingly, in Stern's view, the Jews failed to “grasp the central point of the [written] Torah.” He adds: “Had [the Jews] seen that trust in God—as opposed to self-effort, legalism and mechanical obedience to [their own Pharisaic] rules—is the route to the righteousness which the To-rah itself not only requires but offers, then they would [have seen] that the goal at which the Torah aims is acknowledging and trusting in the Messiah.... [Thus, they would have understood] that the righteousness which the Torah offers is offered through Him and only through Him” (p. 395; “Rom. 10:4”; emphasis added).

Stern further writes that “a person who has trust in God, which the Torah itself requires, will—precisely because he has this trust, which forms the basic ground of all obedience to the Torah—understand and respond to the Gospel by also trusting in God's Messiah Yeshua [as opposed to stumbling at that “Rock of offence”].... Only by believing in Yeshua will [one] be able to [fully] obey the Torah” (p. 396).

Given the context of this passage—that the Jews failed to believe in God's way to righteousness through Christ, and that they were steeped in Pharisaic works of law as a way of self-justification—a paraphrased rendering of Romans 10:4-5 could include the following (to study this passage in greater detail, see Appendix Four):

“But for those Jews who believe God and accept His Messiah, Jesus has brought an end to vain efforts to achieve 'righteousness' through humanly-devised works of law. For Moses indeed writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the Torah alone shall find life by that righteousness.”

In other words, for those who genuinely believe God—which means following His formula for righteousness—justification and righteousness are achieved through Christ-centered obedience to the Torah of Moses, thus putting an end to futile attempts at self-justification through ritual works and human regulatory codes. On the other hand, Judaism's formula of adherence to a humanly-devised code of law founded upon a so-called “oral Torah” is a prescription for failure—ending only in delusional self-righteousness and spiritual oppression.

As a former practicing Orthodox Jew, Avi ben Mordechai—whose personal experience with Rabbinic Judaism was detailed in the previous chapter—has observed that those who choose to submit to Pharisaic Judaism will ultimately “end up in denial of the written Torah” (Galatians, p. 371). As we have seen, Judaism's oral law has been established only at the expense of the Scriptures. Mordechai brings out that not only are Judaism's traditional laws a clear violation of Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32— where we are commanded to neither add to nor take away from the Law— they also represent a clear lack of belief in God. On this all-important point, he contends that “when we allow for a new religious law [such as the “oral law”] to be enacted and legally annexed to [God's] existing Law, it is like saying to [God], 'we do not believe in You' “ (p. 244; emphasis added).

Mordechai has done extensive research into the apostle Paul's use of such phrases as “works of law”—particularly in the book of Galatians. Scholars have long recognized that the epistle primarily addresses the issue of “Judaizers” who wanted the Galatian believers to adopt Jewish customs, become circumcised, and even follow the traditions and laws of the Pharisees. Expressing dismay at how easily Judaizers had led them astray, Paul asks, “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you.....?” (Gal. 3:1). According to Mordechai, the Gentile converts of Galatia were under considerable “internal pressure to submit to local Pharisaic decrees and traditions.” (p. 217). When properly approached within the overall context of the book of Galatians, the phrase works of the law “can be understood as a false system of justification, which was [based on] a Pharisaic system of decrees and traditions.” He adds, “Works of the law, as it was understood in the first century, produced a torah of false 'righteousness' [the Talmudic code] replete with its many reforms [ostensibly] developed by using the Law of Moses as a source text. Works of the law had become another torah added to the written Torah of Moses” (p. 216; emphasis added).

It was within this framework that Paul had prefaced his corrective epistle by stating that “a man is not justified by works of law.” He adds that even “we [converted Jews] also have believed in Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law; because by works of law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16). He thus concludes, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness [and thus life] is through [Pharisaic] works of law, then Christ died in vain” (verse 21). Mordechai puts it like this: “If the Pharisaic system of law and tradition was able to impart life (which only the written commandments can do), then the death of Yeshua was for nothing” (p. 227).

In a key passage generally misunderstood by mainstream Christians, Paul writes, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the Book of the Law, to do them' “ (Gal. 3:10; NKJV). This verse is typically assumed to mean that the Law of God is a curse. But read the passage carefully: It quotes Deuteronomy 27:26, which says, “Cursed is he who does not confirm all the words of this Law to do them.” The curse is on the one who fails to obey the written Torah—because obedience to God's way of life brings life. This is why Jesus told the rich young man, “if you desire to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17).

What then could Paul mean by the earlier phrase, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse”? Again, given the irrefutable fact that throughout the New Testament Paul fully upholds the veracity of the Law, it is impossible to conclude that the laws and commandments of God are a curse. However, given the context of the book of Galatians as presented by Mordechai, it becomes obvious that Paul was referring to works of Pharisaic laws. As Mordechai discovered, those who choose to seek self-justification through Pharisaic Judaism—works of law—will ultimately “end up in denial of the written Torah.” As Jesus said in principle, one cannot “serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). The Scriptures and the Talmud are mutually exclusive. The Scriptures claim absolute authority (Isa. 8:20; etc.) and leave no room for an “oral tradition,” while the Talmud labors in vain to establish itself as authentic. In the end, those who attempt to attain righteousness by Pharisaic works of law (as do all practicing Orthodox Jews) are “under the curse.” Why? Because they will be in denial of the written Torah—they will not be in a position to “confirm all the words of this Law to do them” (Deut. 27:26).

Mordechai concludes that the “foundation of Paul's polemic was this: No amount of submission to the established traditions of men was (or is) able to justify (establish as righteous) one who wants to be joined to the 'saved' Torah community of Israel”—for “submitting to the Pharisaic oral law . was to essentially nullify the teaching and work of [Jesus]” (p. 218; emphasis added). Genuine righteousness is not obtainable by submitting to Pharisaic “works of law.” The Scriptures tell us that righteousness is attainable only by faithfully walking according to the commandments of God. “And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes—to fear the Lord our God for our good always so that He might preserve us alive, as it is today. And it shall be righteousness for us if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God as He has commanded us” (Deut. 6:24-25). Clearly, Jesus' straightforward teaching from Matthew five is that we are to observe only the written commandments of Moses according to their spiritual intent with an interpretation that is based on con-text—that is, letting the Bible interpret the Bible.

Moreover, righteousness also entails being spiritually justified in the sight of God. Such justification—wherein one is found to be in right standing with God—cannot be achieved even through perfect obedience to the Law. Why? Because, as Paul brings out in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Current obedience cannot atone for past sin. Thus, for one to be justified of past sin—and be in a fully righteous state before God—those sins must be removed through the application of Christ's sacrifice, just as was foreshadowed by the Passover and various Temple rituals. Ultimately, salvation is a matter of being justified of past sins, and of living a life of heartfelt obedience to the Scriptures through the help of Christ. To paraphrase Mordechai, the Messiah is the “living Torah,” and by His Spirit we are “led into Torah truth”—that is, we have the Law of God written in our hearts by God's Spirit (p. 221).

The Temporary Blindness of the Jews

From a Jewish perspective, one of the most contemptuous teachings of evangelical Christianity is the idea that God has replaced Israel (or the Jews) with the Church. In so-called “Replacement Theology,” the Church is now the new Israel. To say the least, the doctrine seriously offends Jewish claims of exclusively being the chosen people of God. The teaching insists that, because of the Jews' rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and their disdain for the Gospel, God has revoked the covenants He made with the nation of Israel. As Peterson notes, Replacement Theology teaches that the Church has “replaced Israel in every way and that the scores of [covenant] promises regarding the messianic kingdom must be interpreted symbolically” (The Everlasting Tradition, p. 100).

At first glance, certain biblical passages would seem to support the doctrine. Through Moses, God had warned the children of Israel that He would “move them to jealousy with those which are not a people” and “provoke them to anger with [an unlearned] nation” (Deut. 32:21). Likewise, Isaiah recorded this prophetic warning from God: “I revealed Myself to those who asked not for Me; I am found by those who did not seek Me. I said, 'Behold Me, behold Me,' to a nation not called by My name. [Meanwhile,] I have spread out My hands all the day to a rebellious people [Israel] who walk in the way that is not good, even after their own thoughts; a people who without ceasing provoke Me to My face.....” (Isa. 65:1-3). As we have seen, Jesus gave a similar warning to the Jewish leaders of His day: “Because of this [their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah], I say to you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and it shall be given to a nation that produces the fruits of it” (Matt. 21:43). Peter brings out that the elect, the ekklesia of God, is that nation: “But you are a chosen stock, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for a possession of God, that you might proclaim His excellent virtues [bring forth fruit worthy of the Kingdom of God], Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people, but now are the people of God; who had not received mercy, but now have received mercy” (I Pet. 2:9-10).

But does the Church, the elect, actually replace Israel in the plan of God? Unequivocally, no. The apostle Paul holds out great hope to Israel when he proclaims that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29; NKJV). To be sure, Paul's treatise in Romans 10-11 leaves no room whatsoever for Replacement Theology. Israel's original destiny—its “gifts and calling”—will yet be fulfilled. But Paul also shows that the Jews have been temporarily blinded by their own unbelief, and that the remedy for such blindness, according to God's wisdom, is for them to be provoked to jealously.

Paul notes that the Jews—the scribes, Pharisees and priests—had not believed the Gospel message (Rom. 10:16). Then, addressing the opening of the Gospel to Gentiles, he puts the above-quoted prophetic passages into perspective:

“Were the Jews not forewarned? First, God had said through Moses, 'I will provoke you to jealousy through those who are not a people. I will anger you through a people without understanding.' Then Isaiah boldly predicted, 'I was found by those who were not seeking Me, and I was revealed to those who were not inquiring after Me.' But to the Jews, God has said, 'All day long I have stretched out My hands in an offer of mercy to a people who are disobedient and contrary' “ (verses 19-21).

Note that for purposes of contrast with unbelieving Jews, Paul refers to the spiritual “people of God” as Gentiles—even though the calling of the elect (Rom. 11:7) began with Jews. Of course, as the Church grew it became predominantly non-Jewish. Moreover, from a New Covenant perspective, that “nation” is neither Jewish nor Gentile—for all are one spiritually (Rom. 10:12; Gal. 3:28). It is the fact that God has temporarily favored Gentiles over Jews that will ultimately provoke the Jews to jealousy (keep in mind the tremendous contempt Jews have for non-Jews).

Paul continues his key discourse in Romans chapter 11 (paraphrased and abridged):

“Now then I ask, 'Has God rejected His people?' May it never be! God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. What then has happened? The righteousness the Jews have sought through their own works of law has never been realized. Instead, an elect has obtained genuine righteousness through God's favor, and the Jews have been temporarily left to their stubbornness—just as it was foretold: 'God has given them a spirit of slumber, eyes that are not able to see, and ears that are not able to hear,' even as it is to this day” (verses 1-2, 7-8; see Deut. 29:4; Isa. 29:10; Jer. 5:21; etc.)

As this passage clearly shows, the Jews, even in wholesale unbelief, have not been “replaced.” Even the “elect” has not replaced the Jews. As we will see, both the Jews and the elect have distinct roles in the millennial age to come.

Again, the favor God has shown to Gentiles will be the catalyst for the Jews' repentance.

“Now, did the Jews stumble to the extent that their failure is permanent? May it never be! But in their failure, salvation has come to the Gentiles—why?—to provoke the Jews to jealousy! Moreover, if the Jews' stumbling means spiritual riches through the Gospel for the world—and if their condition of being temporarily less favored brings such riches to the Gentiles—then how much greater riches will result from the Jews' full restoration? For if their temporary rejection opens up spiritual reconciliation to the world (because the Gospel is now preached to all), what will happen when the Jews are fully reconciled to God and accepted? It will be like one raised from the dead!” (verses 11-12, 15).

The existing Jewish condition of unbelief—manifested in their ongoing rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and in their idolatrous obsession with Talmudic tradition—is not permanent. Clearly, as foreseen here by Paul, the Jews' condition will be reversed—once they are “provoked to jealousy” and repent. Then, as Paul also indicates, the Jews will become a tremendous blessing to all mankind! There is even the subtle suggestion in verse 15 that Israel's redemption and restoration in the messianic age will result in life itself. After all, Jesus did say that salvation is “of the Jews” (John 4:22).

Meanwhile, God is able to use the Jews' unbelief to further His plan of salvation. Using the analogy of an olive tree, Paul continues in Romans 11 showing that as some of the natural branches (Jews) were “broken off,” others from a “wild tree” (Gentiles, or the elect) were “grafted in”—to then partake of the nourishment of the root (verse 17). The root—which “bears the branches” (verse 18)—refers to the covenant promises God made to Abraham (see Deut. 10:15). As verse 28 notes, “concerning the election, they [too] are beloved for the fathers' sakes.” Indeed, God's covenantal commitment to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was designed to ultimately include Gentiles. Thus, through faith, non-Jews can become co-heirs with Israel of the blessings of the New Covenant. In the end, as long as the Jews “do not continue in unbelief,” God will “graft them in again” (verse 23).

In Romans 11:25, Paul begins to hold out marvelous hope for the Jews (and for all of Israel).

“Brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant of this previously hidden knowledge, lest what has happened to the Jews cause you to become wise in your own conceits. So understand this: There has been a partial hardening of the Jews' heart—but only until the elect is fully prepared.”

As we have seen, this hardening of the heart was foretold first by Moses in Deuteronomy 29:4, and later by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. The final phrase of this verse—”until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (KJV)—is quite vague in most translations. Keep in mind that throughout this section of Romans, Paul is using Gentile synonymously with the elect (Rom. 11:5, 7, 28)—the Church of God (Col. 3:12; II John 1). Paul's heavy use of the term is intentional, for it is the realization that messianic salvation has been offered to Gentiles that will provoke the Jews to repentance. Clearly, the phrase does not mean that the composition of the Church would be entirely Gentile, for it obviously began with Jews; nor does it mean that the Church must grow until it encompasses all Gentiles, for the elect would always be a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). Rather, this phrase shows that the problem of Jewish unbelief will be resolved at the return of Christ when His bride—the Church—will have fully made herself ready (Rev. 19:7).

Redemption and Restoration In the Age to Come

In rejecting the Jews, to whom salvation had come first (Rom. 1:16), God opened the Gospel to non-Jews. The astonishing realization that God has indeed passed over the Jews and offered salvation through Jesus the Messiah to Gentiles will ultimately provoke the Jews both to anger and jealousy. That anger and jealousy, coupled with genuine repentance, will be the catalyst for Jewish salvation. Thus, Paul continues in Romans 11 with this hopeful proclamation:

“And so all Israel shall be saved, according as it is written concerning the Messiah: 'Out of Zion shall come the Deliverer, and He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob [Israel]. For this is My covenant, which I [God] will make with them when I have taken away their sins' “ (verses 26-27). For, as noted earlier, the one-of-a-kind calling that God has given to the Jews (as well as to all of Israel) “is in no way revoked” (verse 29).

Romans 11:26-27 is taken from Isaiah 59:20-21. However, Paul does not quote the latter part of verse 21: “ '[And in that day,] My spirit that is upon you [shall not depart], and My words [the Scriptures alone] which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, nor out of the mouth of your seed, nor out of the mouth of your seed's seed,' says the Lord, 'from now on and forever.' “ This is similar in tenor to God's promise of a new covenant with Israel in the millennial age:

“Behold, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah [then rejoined as one]. Unlike the covenant I made with Israel when I brought them out of Egypt—which they continually broke, although I was like a husband to them—in this new covenant I will write My Law in their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No one will admonish his neighbor to 'know the Lord'—for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. And I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more” (abridged and paraphrased from Jer. 31:31-34).

In the age to come, Judaism will cease to exist—along with all other man-made religions. Only the true “religion” of the Old Testament will exist as amplified spiritually by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. For in those days, “people [from all nations] shall go and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain [government headquarters] of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob [Israel, including the Jews]. And He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3).

Even after having “disowned” Israel and the Jews for a time, God declares through Hosea that “the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered. And it shall be in the place where it was [once] said to them, 'Fou are not My people,' there it shall [instead] be said to them, 'Fou are the sons of the living God.' Then the children of Judah [the Jews] and the children of Israel shall be gathered together [as one nation], and shall set over themselves one head [a king of the Davidic line, possibly a reference to Jesus Himself] and they shall come up out of the land [of their end-time captivity].....” (Hosea 1:10-11).

Moreover, in the midst of soon-coming end-time calamity, Scripture shows that God will deliver the Jews from destruction and establish them again in the land of Palestine. “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people all around, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people. All who burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the nations of the earth be gathered together against it.... And it shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zech. 12:2-3, 9). God says that He will “open [His] eyes upon the house of Judah” and that “Jerusalem shall be inhabited again”—for He will “save the tents of Judah first” (verses 4, 6-7).

Moreover, the New Testament foretells of the end-time repentance and conversion of the tribes of Israel—but note that the Jews (Judah) are listed first (Rev. 7:1-8).

The Jews' Ultimate Destiny

The idea of destiny is central to the religion of Judaism. However, as David Ariel notes, “the question of Jewish destiny remains unresolved, as the fundamental issues concerning the Jews' place in the world are under continual [rabbinic] revision.” Thus, the rabbis are “constantly posing new approaches” to the Jews' “struggle with the issue of Jewish destiny and distinctiveness” (What Do Jews Believe?, p. 133).

What do Jews today think about their own destiny, about their status as God's “chosen people”? It seems they have lost sight of their original purpose of being a model nation. Instead, looking inwardly, Judaism has focused on being “treasured” by God. Ariel notes that, as a consequence of Rabbinical Judaism, Jewish distinctiveness is today found in “personal spirituality” and the pursuit of Jewish survival. “There are many Jews today who have abandoned the idea of chosen-ness in favor of the idea that the Jewish people have a mutual responsibility to one another to insure [the Jews'] survival and the survival of the State of Israel as a safe haven for Jews throughout the world” (p. 132).

Ariel continues: “Although there have been various interpretations of the higher purpose of Jewish existence—whether it is the belief in Judaism as a constant striving for the realization of an ideal or the belief that Judaism is a spiritual process—Jews can all agree that the search for such meaning is at the very heart of the Jewish people” (p. 133; emphasis added). Note that Ariel inextricably links Jewish destiny with Judaism. It seems that a biblically-defined destiny that finds purpose and meaning for the people of Israel as a whole has given way to a self-seeking destiny centered on Judaic religious practice. The following statements—which could easily apply to Eastern religion as well as, to a lesser degree, nominal Christianity—are highly representative of Orthodox Judaism and hint strongly at the Jews' watered-down approach to their own destiny: “The Jewish view of human destiny begins with the belief that God created the first human being in His own image. Each individual is the earthly representation of God, and all people participate equally in this noble stature.... Everything has a purpose, and the purpose of human life is to refine the image of God within us.... The spiritual dimension of Judaism is the emphasis on strengthening the image of God, the divine spark . [which] is within each of us.... Jews believe that all of human life can be understood as the spiritual process of experiencing God within the world. To experience the divine within the world is to realize God's presence. Ultimately, to know yourself is to know God” (Ariel, pp. 50-51).

This popular view of Jewish destiny compromises the idea of the Jews being God's “chosen people,” and effectively lumps the Jews in with the rest of humanity in its search for “spiritual enlightenment.” But from a biblical perspective, it is a huge mistake to confuse the destiny of the people of Israel with the destiny of the rest of the world. God calls no other nation “My elect” (Isa. 45:4; 65:9, 22); to no other nation has God said, “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, My friend, whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called you from its uttermost parts. And I said to you, 'You are My servant; I have chosen you, and have not cast you away' “ (Isa. 41:8-9). What other nation has been called to model God's way to the world (Ex. 19:6)? What other nation has teachings and laws so profoundly wise that the nations of the world would seek after them (Deut. 4:6)?

Without question, in the age to come, the nation of Israel will fulfill their original God-ordained role as a model nation for the world. But they will do so under the direct leadership of the glorified saints, those “grafted” in as “spiritual Jews” because of the Jews' unbelief. As noted earlier, the Jews and the elect have distinct roles. As spirit-born immortal children of God, the saints will rule as kings and priests over the earth with Christ (Rev. 5:10; 20:6). Under their leadership, the Law will go forth from Jerusalem (Isa. 2:3), and the knowledge of God's way of life will cover the earth like the seas (11:9). The twelve apostles will each rule over a tribe of Israel (Luke 22:30)—as the nation, in turn, fulfills its role as the premier “model” nation that all humanity will ultimately desire to follow.

In fact, the Jews' ultimate destiny is captured in a single, profound statement made by the prophet Zechariah concerning the millennial age: “In those days ten men out of all the nations will take hold of the garment of a Jew, saying, 'We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you' “ (Zech. 8:23; author's paraphrase). In the culture of Zechariah's day, taking hold of another's garment meant looking to that individual for guidance and protection. The ten men are representative of all nations—thus, the entire world will follow the then-righteous example of the nation of Israel.

Meanwhile, observant Jews continue to practice a “form of righteousness” as slaves to rabbinic codes of law. Following in the footsteps of their Pharisaic progenitors, they remain blinded by unbelief. In this age, Jews as a whole will never experience the genuine righteousness that comes from a true Scripture-based relationship with God through the mediatory role of Jesus as the Messiah. Indeed, Zechariah prophesied that the Jews would not recognize Jesus until He returns as the “Conquering Messiah” to rescue them in the “latter days.” In utter repentance, they will also understand that He is the same Jesus their ancestors had killed. “And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the Jews and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that when they see the One whom their own fathers had killed, they will in repentance mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and in bitterness weep over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10; author's paraphrase).

As the final Old Testament prophet, Malachi looked past his own time and into the period of Jewish history that would ultimately set the stage for the development of Judaism. In so doing, he predicted a grave crisis in godly leadership in which the laws and commandments of God would be held in contempt. Then, looking toward the consummation of the age, he warns of the coming of a final, end-time “Elijah” whose mission will be to turn the hearts of the Jews back toward their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—back to the true “religion” of the Old Testament (Mal. 4:5-6). In verse four, with a warning that seems particularly applicable to Jews caught up in Talmudic Judaism, the prophet appeals to his readers to “remember the Torah of Moses.”

The Jews will remember. And in the age to come, Jesus' words in John 4:22 will never be more true—that “salvation is of the Jews”!