The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Judaism

Title: The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Judaism

Text: Matthew 26:63-66, Hebrews 9:22, Matthew 26:59-61

Time: July 26th, 2012

 

I’m in the middle of a message series on the most shocking beliefs of the major world religions. Last time I talked about the most shocking beliefs of the Muslim faith – that Mohammed is held in greater esteem than Jesus, that the Koran is viewed as more authoritative than the Bible, and that for Muslims spiritual salvation is obtained not by faith primarily but by submission to Allah’s divine law. Some of these points may not seem shocking at all, but for most Christians they are because they contradict Christianity. It demonstrates once again that Muslims and Christians do not “just believe about the same things.” Today, I come to the religion of Judaism, and in respect to Christianity Jews almost do believe almost the same thing as Christians, except the big difference is centered on the identity of the Messiah Jesus Christ. Christians, of course, see Jesus as Savior, Messiah and Lord; Jews, on the other hand, see him as neither. For Jews, Jesus is at best some kind of prophet – although they aren’t sure what kind of prophet they’d categorize him; or, they reject him outright as a false prophet who led many Jews and many more Gentiles astray. Now in today’s contemporary world it’s not popular to emphasize the differences between religions, especially between the religions of Christianity and Judaism. Hasn’t the relationships between Jews and Christians been tense enough? Do we really need to add to the division by debating and discussing their differences again, today? Well, yes, it is important to outline the major differences between world religions, and yes, also between the religion of the Jews and the religion of the Christians. It’s important because ignorance is never the answer. Many people still continue to confuse the beliefs of Jews and Christians. Others understand and acknowledge there are differences but aren’t particularly interested in talking about them because they feel that one religion is as good as another, just as long as it helps the individual believer. But that post-modern and relativistic view of faith isn’t very helpful in seeking the truth. I’m aware that many people in the modern world have given up on seeking after any religious truth, since they feel that faith is essentially more about psychology than objective reality. But as Christians we oppose such radical skepticism. We believe in objective truth, and we believe that Christianity brings such truth into the world through the person of Jesus Christ. We believe the Bible teaches truth, not just subjective inner truth, but also external, objective truth as well. That’s why it’s important to know what other religions teach and practice, in order to test their teachings against the objective truths of the Bible. What we believe and how we live really do make a difference, in this life and the life to come. So let’s explore today three of the most shocking beliefs found in Judaism today.

 

The First Shocking Belief – Jews reject the Jewish Messiah Jesus. Matthew 26:63-66, “But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God; Tell us if you are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ ‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered.” Two thousand years ago in Jerusalem the most important Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as Israel’s Messiah – and that basic attitude has prevailed for the vast majority of Jews up to today. Now in one sense, this news isn’t very shocking because nearly everyone knows it – Christians believe Jesus is Lord, while Jews reject Jesus as Messiah. What’s shocking about that? Well, there’s nothing shocking about the news that the Jews reject Jesus as Messiah, but what is shocking is that they would reject him as Messiah. I should note that not all Jews do reject Jesus as Messiah. Certainly in the 1st Century there was a percentage of Jews who did accept Jesus as Messiah, because the beginning of the Christian church was made up of mostly Jews. All the great New Testament heroes like Peter and Paul were Jews. So there were Jews who accepted Jesus right away as Messiah, and a look at church history in between then and now reveals that there have always been Jews who see themselves as both good Jews and as good Christians. Even today, there is a growing population of “completed” or “messianic” Jews, such as Jews For Jesus, who accept Jesus as the Messiah. But the vast majority of Jews down through history, starting in Jerusalem in the 1st Century until today, have rejected Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Now why is this shocking? Because first of all, Jesus was a Jew and his disciples were Jews and the early Christian church was made up of nearly all Jews. You’d think that somewhere down the line someplace in Jewish history that Jews might start asking the important question, “Was our Jewish leaders’ decision in the 1st Century to reject Jesus as Messiah correct?” But unfortunately, Jews have typically been trained from their youth to reject Jesus as Messiah because, “that’s just what we Jews do, that is, reject Jesus as Messiah.” The thinking is, if you accept Jesus as the Savior, Lord or Messiah, then you are Christian, not Jewish. It’s been that either/or thinking that has locked Jews into rejecting Jesus for two thousand years. But it’s refreshing to see groups such as Jews For Jesus challenge fellow Jews to take another look at Jesus and as a result some Jews are actually accepting Jesus as Messiah. There is no logical reason why one cannot be both Jewish and Christian. There is nothing inherent within Judaism that says that one must reject Jesus as the Messiah. In fact, according to Rabbi Saul (the Apostle Paul) in the New Testament one can only be fully Jewish by accepting the messiah-ship of Jesus. Unfortunately, most Jews haven’t been persuaded by Paul’s argument and continue to reject Jesus. This is the sad and shocking truth.

 

The Second Shocking Belief – Jews consider sacrificial blood atonement today unnecessary. Hebrews 9:22, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” When on the cross Jesus uttered the word, tetelistai, Greek for “It is finished,” he not only indicated that his atoning work for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins was over, but also, as it turns out, that the Jewish sacrificial system carried out by priests in the Temple was over as well. Historically, the animal blood sacrifices of Judaism didn’t officially end until A.D 70 when Rome smashed a Jewish rebellion by burning down the Temple, thus ending all sacrifice offerings for Jews. But I find it very odd that the Jews at the time of the Temple’s destruction would simply accept that an essential part of their religious belief and practice – blood atonement sacrifices – would simply cease. After all, before there even was a Temple in Jerusalem, Jews carried out atoning animal blood sacrifices in a portable temple called the Tabernacle. Even during their wilderness adventure for forty years the Jews never went without offering blood sacrifices to God. So then, why was it simply accepted by the Jews of the 1st Century that sacrifices would stop and never again be restarted? Or that sacrifices could be stopped and Judaism could go on without them? Surely if Jews had wanted to continue offering sacrifices there could have been a way to keep them going, even if they couldn’t be performed in Jerusalem. They could have put together some means to revert back to the temporary Tabernacle method and continued the priestly animal blood sacrifices in it instead of in the Temple. There was precedent for this. It could have been revisited. But no, the Jews opted to simply cease offering the atonement sacrifices altogether. Why? How can we account for such a radical break in the religious practices of members of a major world religion? It would be like Christians, for some reason under some unknown circumstance, were to suddenly stop observing the Lord’s Supper or Communion. Even if all the church buildings in all the world where to suddenly become unavailable for carrying out the rite, I’m sure Christians would adapt and come up with some way to observe it. So why didn’t the Jews come up with some way to carry out sacrifices? The Christian answer, of course, is that God providentially kept them from it, because the atoning, sacrificial death of Christ on the cross essentially ended any need to offer any kind of blood atonement anymore. The Book of Hebrews explains it this way, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” In other words, when Christ offered his life as the final sacrifice for sins, it was over, really over, for all time. It’s as if the Jews subconsciously knew this and therefore do not push to restore sacrifices again. But still, it’s shocking that Judaism thinks it can continue on without a key feature of its historic religion.

 

The Third Shocking Belief – Jews consider the Temple isn’t necessary. Matthew 26:59-61, “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, ‘This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.”’” Here is a scene from the trial of Jesus before the Jewish leaders. When Jesus said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days – he was actually talking about his body, God’s temple or tabernacle on earth during the Incarnation. Of course the Jews misunderstood him because they were thinking solely in terms of the large Temple of Jerusalem that centralized worship for Jews in one location. Now what is shocking is that when the actual, physical Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70 the Jews never rebuilt or replaced it. I already mentioned in respect to the sacrificial system that the Jews never did restart it after it ended with the destruction of the Temple. But now the Temple itself was never replaced or rebuilt by the Jews either. So here are two major components of Jewish belief and practice, yet they are discarded, so it seems, rather casually in the 1st Century. Again, couldn’t the Jews of the time organize the construction of a temporary Tabernacle after the design of the one used by Moses in the wilderness? Couldn’t there have been something to take the place of the Temple in Jerusalem, at least temporarily. The Temple itself had been destroyed a few times before and Jews had always rebuilt it – not always as grand as the previous ones, but at least something was constructed to meet the need of this important feature in Jewish worship. But after A.D. 70 nothing was done, and nothing has still been done to restore temple worship. Yes, there are Jews now in Jerusalem who are talking about rebuilding the Temple, some even gathering materials presently for its rebuilding; but there’s one problem standing in the way now – the Islamic mosque that currently sits on the exact same spot. In order to rebuild the Temple today, the mosque would have to go. But even the most radical Orthodox Jews don’t want to start a war with Muslims over that spot. So they wait. But most Jews aren’t waiting because they don’t feel that the Temple is essential to Judaism, just as they don’t see the sacrificial system as essential to their religion today. What can explain this casual or blasé attitude towards features of Judaism that used to be seen as essential to the faith? Again, from the Christian perspective, it’s because God’s Temple is no longer a physical, material building but now it’s seen as Christ’s own body, broken for sin on the cross, and resurrected to new life for salvation. The Jews don’t officially see it this way, but spiritually and subconsciously they act as if it is so, just as they do towards the cessation of the sacrificial system after Christ’s atoning work on the cross. The two are linked together in the true spiritual history of mankind.

 

So we see three very shocking beliefs or practices of Jews that only make sense from the Christian perspective. It’s ironic that the only way to fully understand the actions of Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is to turn to the Christian interpretation of events; but that is the case. Only if Jesus really is the final atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind can the Jewish failure to reestablish its own blood atonement system make sense. I once asked a Jewish rabbi why Jews hadn’t started up blood sacrifices again after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. He answered that it wasn’t God’s will for them to restart it. That answer only makes sense from the Christian perspective that Jesus was the final sacrifice for all men for all time as atonement for sin. The Jews don’t accept that answer, but they act as if it’s true nonetheless. It’s the same with the Temple. After all these years, why hasn’t there been a solution to the Temple’s absence been put forward? If not a new temple, then why not something temporary? I haven’t asked any Jewish leader about this question, but I’m guessing he’d give a similar answer as to the restarting the sacrificial system – because it hasn’t been God’s will to do so. But again, this answer only makes sense from the Christian perspective – Christ’s body, God’s temple on earth during the Incarnation, was broken and destroyed for our sake, for our sins, for forgiveness, and restored through the power of resurrection. The earthly temple is no longer needed because it accomplished its purpose. God calls us now to worship through the power of the Holy Spirit, not in any building built with the hands of man. Church buildings are helpful, but not essential to worshipping God today. How ironic it is that the only way to fully understand Judaism today requires knowledge of Christianity. We need to continue to pray for Jews today, that they would finally and fully recognize Jesus as Messiah, that they would understand that he is the final atoning sacrifice for sins, that his body broken for us on the cross opens us a whole new and better way of worshipping God. From one perspective traditional Judaism today is in pieces, it is dissolving. But from another perspective this isn’t all bad, because it forces everyone to see Judaism for what it truly is, a remnant of the foundations upon which God carries out his final activities on earth through the Christian church. There can be no going back to old Judaism, that’s over, never to be revisited. It served it purpose. Now God’s activity involves his church. Let us pray that Jews around the world today recognize that and desire to build on the Jewish foundation, but build up God’s Christian church. Let us pray Jews join in with its construction.

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: