Most believers have no issue with the idea that the Jewish people were the chosen people of the one true God in the Old Covenant. But what about today? What about the Jewish people who have embraced Jesus? Are they part of what Paul calls the “irrevocable call” in Romans 11:29? And, if so, what does that mean?
As leaders, in Israel, we have been discussing this issue.
There are three views:
- Replacement theology: The Church has wholly replaced Israel as the people of God. God is finished with Israel (which we all agree, is wrong—but this was the dominating church view for 1,900 years and goes all the way back to the book of Romans).
- God’s hand is on Israel, but Messianic Jews are no longer connected to that, as they are now part of the Church. This view holds that when a Jewish person embraces Jesus, he comes up higher, into the One New Man and his identity as a Jew is no longer relevant. To make the claim that he is still “unique” as part of the chosen people can’t be legitimate because it excludes Gentile believers. Many Christian Zionists hold this view; they love unbelieving Israel but distance themselves from Jewish people who embrace Yeshua and continue to live as Jews. Many dispensationalists would claim that Israel will have a great role in the Tribulation—at the end of the church age.
- Jewish believers are both connected to Israel and her irrevocable call, as well as part of the global ecclesia (body of believers). There is no racial superiority or special standing, just a unique role to play, particularly in the end times.
Feelings over Theology
For those who oppose number three, which is our position, their opposition is almost always rooted in hurt feelings, misunderstanding or jealousy of God’s amazing love for the Gentiles, not theology. Indeed, many people who have come to the conclusion that replacement theology is correct (that the church replaces Israel and receives all her promises—while Israel is stuck with the curses), got there because they were bothered by how much the Bible speaks of Israel. The idea that they are Israel is great news and makes them feel better—even if it is bad theology.
Non-Jewish believers sometimes read about God’s central role for Israel and feel left out. However, that central role is foundation of God’s plan to save the Gentiles; it leads to the salvation and fullness of the nations (Rom. 11:25)—so they should not at all feel left out. God is building His “household” from every nation on earth. The primary reason that God called one nation, was to reach the whole world with the gospel.
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Is. 49:6)
The fact that God called Israel is proof of God’s great love for the nations.
The problem with the idea that Jewish believers are somehow cut off from Israel’s calling (the second view outlined above) is that we Israeli believers have citizenship in the modern state of Israel, from where I write, based on the fact that we are Jewish. Part of the irrevocable call is that God would draw us back here from all over the world in the end times. Are Jewish believers not part of that ingathering? If not, how can we be a witness to our Israeli brothers and sisters?
Furthermore, the promise of land restoration to Israel is the hope that believers have been praying into for millennia, understanding that it leads to Romans 11:26, where all Israel is saved! In the very chapters where Jeremiah promises that God will make a new covenant with Israel, he speaks about God bringing the Jewish people home to Israel. You cannot separate God’s promise to bring the Jewish people back into their own land from his promise of end-time spiritual awakening in Israel.
Ezekiel 36:24-27 says when God brings the Jews back to Israel, her eyes will be opened. “I will sprinkle clean water on you…I will give you a heart of flesh.” It seems strange that once her eyes are opened, she is no longer connected to Israel’s chosenness or calling. Hosea foresees that after Israel suffers, she returns to her Messiah in the last days.
“For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.” (Hos. 3:4-5)
Obviously, King David is long dead, and this refers to Yeshua.
Calling, not Value
We believe that Messianic Jews have a unique role according to Scripture. This role is not an issue of value before God, but one of calling. Someone left a comment on our site regarding a recent article and said, “I feel like, as a Gentile follower, I’m supposed to not belong.”
It bothers me deeply that this person feels this way. I connect with Gentiles leaders all over the world and I have never sought to make them feel “less-than” and I don’t think they have ever felt that from me. We should not be jealous of each other’s calling but rejoice with each other as we succeed in our unique callings.
For example, Eitan Shishkoff is one of the godliest pastors I have ever met. He oozes with mercy. Everyone loves him and feels love from him. I can remember when I first started out in ministry, I was jealous. Why didn’t I have that gifting? Also, I had seen prophets move in the Spirit and longed to be able to see in the spirit and hear from God as they did. However, as I developed my gifting as a communicator, fundraiser and writer, I was able to rejoice with others in their gifting and feel blessed in my own. No one in the kingdom of God should feel second class. However, if someone does feel that way, that doesn’t negate the fact that there are different gifts and callings.
Gentiles believers are just as close to Yeshua as Jewish believers. “But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Messiah.” (Ephesians 2:13) That is the issue of intimacy with God. There is no difference. Gentiles followers of Yeshua “are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.” (Ephesians 2:19) Notice he says with God’s people, not instead of.
The Gentiles drawing close and becoming citizens of the commonwealth of Israel, does not in any way negate the calling on Messianic Jews. We were already in the olive tree and they were grafted in. Jewish believers remain in the olive tree through faith, and Gentile believers join them there. But Romans 11 doesn’t intimate that the Jews who remain are no longer connected to the irrevocable call that he mentions just a few scriptures later.
Co-heir is not small thing!
There are some aspects of Israel’s call that are now also on the entire church. When Gentiles are grafted into the Jewish-rooted olive tree (Romans 11), they become co-heirs (Ephesians 2) and join in this calling, such as being a light to the nations (Matthew 5:14-16) and being a priestly nation (1 Peter 2:9).
Furthermore, in the age to come, we will rule and reign together. Revelation 5 begins by emphasizing the preeminence of Yeshua, the Jewish man/Messiah. He is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and the “Root of David”. But the people he has purchased with his blood (v. 9) are from every nation, and “they will reign on earth.”
Yes! One of the greatest mysteries revealed in the New Covenant is, “that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Messiah Jesus.” We are equal in the Messiah! (And just in case you are still a proponent of replacement theology, it says WITH Israel, not in place of.) There are no second class citizens in the kingdom!
The Irrevocable Call and messianic Jews
But there are some aspects that only a Jewish believer can fulfill—just as there are certain things that only a pastor can do, as someone gifted as a pure evangelist would not be suited.
1. Messianic Jews are said to sanctify the rest of the nation as the saved remnant of their people; foreshadowing the day when the rest of the nation will be saved. (Romans 11:5, 16.) We see this principle in Sodom when God was willing to spare the city if he could find 10 righteous men—a godly remnant. Also, God blesses a whole family based on the faith of one believing spouse. (1 Corinthians 7:14)
2. Only Messianic Jews can show God’s faithfulness to and God’s call upon the nation of Israel by declaring this from the reality of being the saved remnant of Israel, living in Israel as part of the people of Israel. We are a testimony to the church world that God is restoring Israel.
I was in Spain last week preaching at a conference on Israel. They sang songs written by Paul Wilbur and Sarah Lieberman—two Messianic Jewish worship leaders. They danced Jewish dances and had three giant flags of Israel. If there is no longer any significance to the Jewishness of believers, what was all that about? Are they deceived in loving and praying for Israel? Why are believers all over the world praying for Israel, blowing shofars and coming to Israel to meet Jewish believers? When they seek to connect to Israel through us, are they wrong? Or can that only be through the unfaithful majority as opposed to the faithful Messianic remnant?
There is a specific intercessory role that only the Messianic Jews can play: Declaring God’s faithfulness to the nation from the foundation of having accepted Israel’s King. We share in the prophetic fulfillment of Israel in returning to the Land and embracing the King. Note that Gentiles cannot play the role of returning to the Land or claiming the covenant of the Land. The covenant of the Land belongs to Messianic Jews in a special way and the Abrahamic land promises were only to his physical seed—the Jewish people.
3. Messianic Jews also show the meaning of God’s plan and purpose by maintaining the pattern of life in the Torah, Sabbath, Feasts, etc. These are all eschatological. These are pictures of redemption that we are called to live out. (Of course, the Feasts were originally connected to the agricultural cycle here in the Middle East, but in the Torah God adds to these cyclical harvest times, deep prophetic meaning [see Ex. 23:14-19]), The Gentiles are free to join us but do not have a covenant responsibility (Acts 15). Yes, we are responsible for the Torah as applied in the New Covenant as a key part of our intercessory life (but not for salvation of course). Every time we have a Sabbath or Feast celebration, we prophetically call into being what is portrayed—like prayer. This is why it is so important that Jewish believers do not simply assimilate into the larger Gentiles church and lose their Jewish identity, secondary as it is.
Why are Christians all over the world having Passover Seders and often inviting Messianic Jews to lead them? They want to see Yeshua in the Feasts. While Acts 15 lifted the burden of keeping Torah from the Gentiles; there is no hint that the Jewish believers forsook the Torah. (Acts 21:20-25 makes it clear that they did not.)
4. Only Messianic Jews can bridge the Body of Messiah with the nation of Israel since we are part of both. We are the corporate joining of Israel and the Church in our own corporate reality
5. Only Messianic Jews show that the Church is a Jewish-rooted reality, since we are the living reality of the Jewish connection of the whole Church. Since the resurrection of the Jewish wing of the body of Yeshua, we have seen more teaching on the Jewish Roots of the faith than ever before and a deep hunger in the church world to understand this.
6. Only Messianic Jews can play the role of demonstrating that when a Jew believes in Yeshua, he is still part of his people and their eschatological fulfillment.
7. When Yeshua returns, He does so to the growing Messianic remnant (Romans 11:26, Matthew 23:39, Revelation 1:7, Zechariah 12:10, 13:1) and the people of Israel, as a whole, who are under attack (Zechariah 14:1) in Jerusalem. When Paul speaks of natural Israel, he speaks of his people. When Paul makes his shocking comment, that he would go to hell if only his Jewish brothers would embrace Yeshua, it is clear that he is still part of the calling on the people of Israel.
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Messiah for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. (Romans 9:3-4)
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 1:1)
Final note on Jealousy
At the end of the day, it is all about God and His kingdom. In Romans 9, God says clearly that He is sovereign in whom He calls. The pottery doesn’t complain to the potter. Our goal is not to compare callings but to fulfill the one to which we are called. We will not be rewarded in the age to come based on how much we did, but based on what we did with how much was given.
The person with 10 talents will not be judged like the person with two. And any Jewish believer, who thinks he is “more than” because of his Jewish heritage, is deceived. God resists the proud.
I have many Gentiles who cheer me on in my calling as a Messianic Jew, without ever feeling “less then”. They are secure in their identity in Yeshua, which comes before calling.
Let’s bless one another in our callings and cheer each other on!