Israel, The Church, And The Hebrew Roots Movement
By Jack Kelley
I have always been a strong advocate of the idea that there is much to be learned about our Christian faith by studying the Old Testament, and especially the commandments and traditions surrounding the Feasts of Israel. Having served for a time as the leader of a Messianic congregation where we observed these feasts in their prescribed manner, I saw how dramatically they reveal the Messiah. In my opinion, Christians who don’t understand or appreciate the Hebrew origins of our faith lack the perspective this knowledge brings us.
Sadly, many in what’s now being called the Hebrew Roots movement seem to be going to extremes with this. It’s like they’re trying to become the polar opposite of Replacement Theology. (Most of you know that Replacement Theology claims the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan due to Israel’s rejection of the Messiah). Where Replacement Theology claims the only place for Israel is as part of the Church, some in the Hebrew Roots movement assert that the only place for the Church is as part of Israel.
While Hebrew Roots appears to teach that because of the Lord’s death, obedience to the Law is a privilege and not a requirement, a number of its teachers seem to be going well beyond that. They claim that in fact Torah observance is a requirement for all believers. Some have also abandoned the Greek based New Testament in favor of translations from Aramaic texts, due to alleged errors in the Greek based texts. They say those who call the Lord by His English name (Jesus) are actually worshiping a pagan god, which according to them makes traditional Christianity a pagan religion. They want us to believe that the only acceptable name for the Son of God is Yeshua (His name in Hebrew), and the only acceptable way to worship Him is by obeying the Torah and observing the Feasts of Israel.
(One of the favorite tactics used by people on both ends of the spectrum who can’t find support for their beliefs in the Bible is to say it wasn’t translated correctly. And yet the best scholars of each generation have poured over the ancient manuscripts to give us the most accurate translations possible. There are about 5600 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in existence, and cross checking has shown their consistency to be over 99%. In other words all these ancient Greek manuscripts essentially say the same thing. For additional support there are 19,000 early manuscripts in other languages. This exceeds the manuscript base for any other ancient book by a very wide margin.
Most reasonable people would agree that for all practical purposes our New Testament is an accurate rendering of these early manuscripts. Therefore the only conclusions we can draw are that either 1) all these scholars have somehow committed identical mistakes in their translation efforts, or 2) they’ve all participated in a massive conspiracy to mislead us that has spanned 2,000 years, or 3) the people who say the Bible is translated incorrectly because it doesn’t support their position are wrong.)
But even more importantly, neither Replacement Theology nor Hebrew Roots seems to recognize that Israel and the Church are uniquely different and that both have roles in the fulfillment of end times prophecies that are mutually exclusive.
Give Us Some Examples
In the Old Testament, God promised Israel that He would return one day to dwell among them in their land on Earth forever (Ezekiel 43:1-7). In the New Testament, Jesus promised the Church that He would come back and take us off the Earth to be with Him in His Father’s House (John 14:1-3). Both these promises will come true, so Israel and the Church will fulfill their prophetic destinies in different locations.
The purpose of the rapture of the Church is to remove us from the time and place of the end times judgments that will take place on Earth (1 Thes. 1:10, 1 Thes. 5:9, Rev. 3:10).
The purpose of the end times judgments is to completely destroy all the nations to which Israel has been scattered (Jeremiah 30:4-11) and to purify Israel in preparation for the coming Kingdom (Zechariah 13:8-9).
The Millennium For Israel
The primary purpose of this Kingdom (known to the church as the Millennial Kingdom) is to give Israel its long promised Kingdom Age, although the entire millennial world will benefit from it. After the Lord returns, Earth will be restored to the condition it was in when Adam was created (Matt. 19:28, Acts 3:21). This will include restoring peace between man and the animals, bringing back Earth’s original garden-like environment with its world wide sub-tropical climate, eliminating foul weather, killer storms, earthquakes and extremes of heat and cold.
Israel will be the preeminent nation on Earth during the Kingdom Age, and surviving tribulation believers and their descendants from all nations will come to Jerusalem to learn the ways of the Lord. He will settle their disputes, making war between nations a thing of the past.
The promised land will blossom as never before. The desert and wastelands will be transformed into a garden paradise so lush and beautiful that people will know its been transformed by the Lord himself. Everlasting joy will crown their heads while sorrow and sighing will flee away.
The wealth of neighboring nations will pour into Israel. Camels will be brought from Midian. Gold and incense from Sheba will adorn the Lord’s Temple in Israel. Flocks from Kedar and Nebaoith will be received as offerings on His altar there. (Midian and Sheba were descendants of Abraham and Keturah, the wife he took after Sarah died. Kedar and Nebaioth were sons of Ishmael. Their descendants are all part of the Middle Eastern Islamic nations of today.) The ships of Tarshish (Great Britain) will bring gold and silver from afar. Any nation that refuses to serve Israel will be utterly ruined by divine decree.
Although death will still occur among natural humans, the span of man’s life will begin increasing again to approach those of the Genesis patriarchs. Sickness and disease, those by-products of sin, will be greatly reduced. It appears the population of Earth will be sustained by their return to an agrarian economy, but with all the obstacles Adam faced gone as the curse of Genesis 3 will finally be lifted. The land will become so rich and productive that one season’s crop will barely be harvested before it’s time to plant the next one. Every man will easily produce enough for his family’s use, and enjoy doing it. None will labor unproductively, or for the benefit of others. Children will grow up without fear and adults will grow old in peace (A summary of Isaiah 2:1-5, 4:2-6, 35, 41:18-20, 60:10-22, 65:17-25, Amos 9:13-15, Micah 4:1-8, Zech 8:4-5).
The Millennium For The Church
Meanwhile, life will be far different in the home of the Redeemed Church. Although the Kings of the Earth will bring us their splendor, no unbeliever can ever set foot in the place, nor even a believer in his natural state. Our mansions in the sky will be built of the purest gold as will the streets that run before them, their foundations made from precious stones. There will be no Temple in the New Jerusalem because the Lamb of God will dwell there and is our Temple. The energy source that will light and warm us is the Glory of God, and our radiance will in turn provide light for the nations of Earth. (Rev.21:9-27)
Other than calling us Kings and Priests, the Bible doesn’t mention any kind of work for us. Our glorified bodies will have been released from their dimensional bonds, allowing us to appear and disappear at will, traveling back and forth through time at the speed of thought as we plumb the limitless delights of God’s Universe (1 John 3:2). No detail will be overlooked where our comfort and happiness are concerned. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:4), only the endless joys of exploration and discovery. As it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)
Our eternal home is not on Earth, but it’s not at the Throne of God either. Coming down out of the heavens but never landing on Earth, our home could be called a low orbit satellite in today’s terminology. 1400 miles high, wide and deep, it wouldn’t fit in Israel, let alone Jerusalem. If we did touch down on Earth we’d need a space equivalent to the area from Maine to Florida to the Midwest in the US, or all of Western Europe from Sweden to Italy. The New Jerusalem will be over 4000 times as tall as the world’s tallest building. Being nearly 2/3rds the size of the Moon, it simply won’t fit anywhere on Earth.
One God, Two Destinies
So the destiny of Israel has its place outside of the Church and the destiny of the Church has its place outside of Israel. The two are not the same and were never intended to be seen as such. The only thing these two groups will have in common is their belief that Jesus (Yeshua) died for their sins and rose again on the third day (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
But just as gentiles who converted to Judaism in Old Testament times became part of Israel, Jews who convert to Christianity in New Testament times become part of the Church. No matter what our background happens to be, conversion to Christianity makes us a new creation, neither Jew nor Gentile, part of an entirely new race of mankind.
Paul explained it this way. His (God’s) purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (Ephes. 2:15-16)
Calling it a mystery previously unknown on Earth. He said, This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephes. 3:6).
In the beginning there was one classification of mankind. But in calling Abraham, God created a new classification. From then on there were two, Gentiles and Jews, and they are forever different. It remained that way until the cross, when as Paul explained, a third classification was brought into existence. Taking some from among the Gentiles and some from among the Jews, but making them different from either, God created a new classification called the Church. No matter what their former status was, from Pentecost until the Rapture everyone who comes to faith in the Lord becomes part of the Church and will inherit the Church’s destiny.
Those who choose to express their gratitude for the free gift of salvation through living by the Torah are free to do so. In the same way, those who choose to express their gratitude by striving toward the victorious Christian life described in the New Testament are free to do so. But anyone who teaches that either form of expression is required to achieve or maintain their salvation has run afoul of clear Biblical instruction to the contrary.
Paul was a great Jewish theologian who, because of the revelations he received, had a better perspective on this than anyone before or since. He admonished us to go beyond “mere” salvation to battle for victory over the flesh (1 Cor. 9:24-27). But in some of the clearest statements in the New Testament he said,
“No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” – (Romans 3:20).
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” – (Colossians 2:16).
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3).
There’s Nothing New Under The Sun
This disagreement over the proper response to God’s gift of salvation is not new. In the earliest days of the Church there were those among the Jewish believers who insisted that the only path to salvation for Gentiles was to first put themselves under the laws and practices of Judaism. The council of Jerusalem put that idea to naught and authorized Gentiles to be received directly into Christianity. Still the “Judaizers” followed Paul from city to city trying to undo what he had done. Later, Gentiles who called themselves Christian forced whole communities of Jews to convert to Christianity upon pain of death. Both of these efforts were thought by their proponents to be pleasing to God, but in the end we can see that neither was.
That’s because when God looks into our future it’s not Jews and Gentiles He sees. It’s Israel and the Church. Each has its unique origin and each has its unique destiny. Whether it’s called Replacement Theology or Hebrew Roots, or anything in between, the idea of making either one a part of the other is man made and cannot be supported in Scripture. Selah.