The concept and personality of the Messiah can be found from the first book of Genesis to the last book of Revelation. The trail of His atoning blood is woven through the stories of kings and shepherds, farmers and warriors over a period of thousands of years. Students and scribes have traced the Messiah's blood line in both the old and new testaments, but an even clearer revelation of Him can be found within the types and shadows found in the rites and rituals of Judaism. Today, regardless of what form of Judaism is practiced, there are certain traditions observed common to all, and it is within these traditions that the identity of the long awaited Messiah can be unveiled. It is my hope, my desire and my burden that God will make your understanding fruitful, so that not only will you be able to see Messiah in a newer perspective, but that you will be able to share your understanding in a productive way with Jews and Gentiles who are struggling with Messianic issues.
For years, I struggled to even say the name "Jesus". As a child, raised in a conservative environment, the existence of the historical Jesus was not accepted nor discussed. Grandparents, all of whom were immigrants from Russia, Poland and Italy, were "religiously" superstitious. As a child, I once asked "Who is Jesus?", (because a little Gentile friend was unable to tell me who this baby in a manager was, and advised me to ask my Grandma, because Grandmas knew all that kind of stuff!), and it became the last question I ever asked Grandma about Him. She responded by slapping my face, and then spit over her shoulder three times, (to break the hex of saying "that Name" in her presence!) That unanswered question stay within my mind a long time. I was careful not to mention "the Name", in Jewish circles, where it was synonymous to the words like traitor, rebel, trouble maker, and even regarded as "mishagos"...( fairy tales or fables.)
The more involved my studies of Judaism became, the more aware I was of the mounting unanswered questions there were. It seemed never ending. Issues were never resolved, just shelved! When I inquired of my teachers, I was encouraged to do "good works"; to involve myself with B'nai Brith, help in the Sunday School, etc, but not to involve myself in scriptural issues that even the revered Rabbis could not settle. They encouraged me to do "mitzvahs", (good deeds), but not to try to understand things beyond me. I questioned why it should have to be beyond us to understand God and even having a working relationship with Him. I wondered why Moses, Abraham and Jacob, the patriarchs of our religion, all talked to God, and the Tenach, (Old Testament), teaches us that God spoke to them! I didn't have that kind of relationship...I spoke to God, but He never spoke to me! That disturbed me, because if I was to believe the Tenach had any validity, I would have to conclude that either there was something wrong with my relationship or attitude that G-d was silent to me, or that the patriarchs had something super-special going for them that I lacked. They were men, cut out of the same mold I was,..they were flesh and blood, separated from me only by time and culture. Why couldn't I enjoy the same inter-action with G-d as they did? Or, were some parts of the Tenach , indeed, fabrication? If so, how could I know what was valid history from what was "wive's tales and fables", as Peter referred to? It was a very tough issue for me to resolve, for I longed for a reality in G-d, if there was one to be had.
I did everything I knew to be considered a good Jew. I studied to be bat mitzvahed; I was confirmed; I went to religious school everyday after public school; I observed the holidays; studied Hebrew, but everything seemed to be formal and void of personal emotion. I knew about God; I knew the rites and rituals; I read the sedur, (prayer book), but I didn't have that personal relationship. I knew the Law, but hungered to know the law Giver! Eventually, I took my search outside the boundaries of Judaism. Still, the more I studied, the more questions I had, never really coming to grips with the reality of God. I began, what would become a two-year study of Catholicism, followed by studies of the Lutheran religon; the Methodist religion; the Baptist church, the 7th Day Adventists; the Church of the Latter Day Saints, ( including the Mormon doctrines and covenants), and the Jehovah Witness Watchtower Society. I found and made wonderful friends, some even until this day, but in all due respect, concluded that with all their doctrines and creeds, to "convert" would have been just a trade-off of rites and rituals, still leaving me void of experiencing God. I was not willing to do that!!
Eventually, The Lord provided an opportunity for me to actually be a part of supernatural healing experience, that convinced me, without a shadow of doubt, that God was indeed as real in this day just as I had read about in the Tenach. Encouraged by that healing experience, I sought for, and received the infilling of His Spirit, and immediately I knew that THIS was the reality I had been searching for all those years...I felt God; I heard God; He was real and I finally experienced relationship with Him! There was great excitement in my heart, and all the questions that I had hidden in my heart all those years were answered, one by one, and the doubts and fears and frustrations were replaced by peace.
It seemed to make my "Jewishness" more real and vital to me..the rites and rituals had a deeper meaning now, and I began to see God's plan unfolding from the Old Testament through to the last book of the New Testament. The traditions of the Passover were alive with promise and fulfillment! Yom Kippur had a deeper sense of awe for me when I knew there was actually a present day blood atonement to bring us to peace in our relationship with the Lord. Even Chanukah became more meaningful, with a new sense of re-dedication. Judaism was so much more meaningful to me now that I understood, not only the concept, but the reality of Who the Messiah was...I didn't have ever again ask Who Jesus was! My heritage, today, is even more precious to me, and my religion more real than ever before.
I now have that same relationship to my Messiah, Yeshua, (Jesus), that the patriarchs had, for, as the scripture says, "He is the same yesterday, today and forever", the great "I Am". I can practice being a better Jew today, than ever before, because of the knowledge I have of Him. Lack of understanding the Tenach was what kept me from understanding the real meaning and purpose of our very existence. Ezra, the Old Testament prophet, knew and understood that the lack of understanding God, and His ways, was the reason the Biblical Jews had such difficulty in living for God. Their entire history is one of repeated highs and lows in their relationship with God. Nehemiah 8:8 relates the story of how Ezra gathered the people and made them listen to the scriptures, and had the priests "cause them to understand"...to understand God's teachings is to enable one to have a right relationship to Him! Contemporary Judaism today reveals a large percentage of Jewish youth involved with eastern cults, New Agers, Moonies, Divine Light Mission, Hare Krishna , and others, only because of lack of knowledge of their own religious heritage and scriptures; which has produced apathy towards God. They have been told, as I was, that the very basis for their religion, the scriptures, may or may not be true...they feel as though they are on shaky ground...no absolutes..nothing valid to stand on. Someone needs to tell them that there are foundational truths they can depend on, and valid promises that were given and kept! There is a God who is real, and wants to minister to His chosen people...there needs to be Ezras today that will cause the Jews to understand what they are saying when they repeat the words of the foundational truth of Judaism, the shema," Hear O Israel, the Lord, our God is one Lord." (Deut 6:4) Don't misunderstand me...not for a minute am I implying that Jews are not sensitive to Spiritual things, or perceptive, intelligent and educated people. A roll call at any given University teaching science, medicine, law, physics, business, economy, education would reveal a long list of Semitic names. This world has been blessed by Jewish doctors, lawyers, professors, educators, etc. However, in spite of all their contributions to the arts and sciences, my people are sadly lacking in their knowledge of Who God is, and His will for their lives. They were chosen, and still are today, for a destiny they have yet to grasp. They have the philosophies of the Talmud writers, and the commentaries of the Mishna, with the writings of great Rabbinical minds. Unfortunately,they place more emphasis of man's interpretation and opinions than on the words of the living God, written in the Tenach. As an example, In Leviticus 17:11, (reading from the Hebrew text),"for the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that maketh atonement by the reason of life." This fact of atoning blood is still the only way man can become righteous, regardless of what the Rabbi teaches. Rabbi Akiba, a renown Rabbi of his day, reasoned that since the Temple was destroyed, and there was no longer a place to make the sacrificial blood atonement, this scripture was no longer valid or applicable. Blood atonement was then replaced by sincere repentance alone, which was a departure from what God instituted, and demanded, for man's reconciliation to his God. Without the blood, there is no reconciliation. The blood was to be an atonement. (A closer look at the word reveals its meaning: AT-ONE-MENT.) There cannot be atonement without the shedding of blood. Any other way is man's way, not Gods', and is not acceptable to God, no matter who instituted it. The only way man could have a right relationship with God was through the sacrificial blood of an innocent substitute, as taught throughout the Torah.
Rabbi Akiba was correct in teaching the need of repentance, but there is more. It is necessary to have a sacrificial offering, and this commandment was never rescinded. In all due respects to Rabbi Akiba, he tried to make it easy and convenient for the Jews to be righteous, but he depended upon his own intellect and reasoning, and not upon God's word. Proverbs 14:12 admonishes " there is a way that seemeth right unto a man,but the end thereof are the ways of death." Doing away with the blood atonement results in spiritual death. Do I think Rabbi Akiba and the other great men of faith of their day purposely distorted the scriptures? No..they were devout men, dedicated, but their failure to understand the Tenach limited their concept of the Lord and His purposes. Yes, the Temple had been destroyed in 70 A.D...it seemed logical that, in absence of a place to offer sacrifices, that the sacrificial laws ought to be eliminated, and replace it with repentance as a substitute. Did man think that God had been short sighted when He instituted the blood atonement? That God, the creator, was unaware that the Temple would be destroyed one day? God knows the end from the beginning! He is not short-sighted, but conversely speaking, from the prophecy He gives us in Leviticus 17:11, He was far sighted, for He was speaking about an event that would take place far in the future when He spoke of the final blood atonement in terms of His Own blood, "...I have given it to you upon the altar". The only way God could fulfill that scriptural promise and prophecy was to place His invisible Spirit within a body, and through that body, shed His blood upon an altar; and that "altar" was made from a tree on which that body was crucified! That flesh was the Messiah, Yeshua. Short sighted? No! A need to correct or reverse or alter the Scriptures? No! But by the minds of men, wresting the intent, the word and spirit of the Scriptures, we no longer have the pure undefiled Biblical Judaism that was once delivered through the hands of Moses. As a result of opening the door to many interpretations and different concepts, Judaism has become fragmented and divided into the many existing forms we see today: Orthodox Jews; Conservative Jews; Reformed Jews; Hassidic Jews; Lubavitch Jews; Humanists Jews; New Age Jews; and even atheis Jews!
During a course I took on Jewish Philosophy several years ago, that Rabbi mentioned that to be a practicing Jew today, there was no need to even believe in G-d! What a departure from the original concept that was recorded in the Torah, "and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might." (Deut 6:5) How can you love Someone that you don't believe exists? There is another sect of Jews I failed to list in the above statement...a fast growing segment, called the "Messianic Jews". They are practicing Jews, from some of all of the above groups, some even practice keeping kosher, but ALL are believers in the promises and prophecies of the Messiah. They have identified the Messiah by those prophecies from the Old Testament relating to His birth, His life, His message, His death and His resurrection. They believe Him to be the Spirit of God, manifested in flesh, in the body of a man called Joshua, (or, in Hebrew, Yeshua). These Messianic Jews are not bound or blinded by the rites and rituals of the Orthodox, nor by the traditions of the Conservative, or by the liberalism of the Reformed. Instead, they are free to worship in Spirit and in truth, and have experienced the reality of the Holy Spirit. Praise God, I am one of them! Saul, a Jewish theologian and Rabbi in the first century, wrote that the Jews were blinded as to Who the Messiah really was. Those of us, (Jewish and Gentile believer alike), who have a love in our hearts for the nation of Israel, should be ready to share the knowledge we have of Messiah, especially to the Jew first.
There are many current events in today's world happening around us that are direct fulfillment's of Old Testament prophecy, proving the validity of God's word. Prophecies that were written 2700 years ago spoke of the Jews returning from exile; the barren dry land becoming fertile and blossoming; nuclear irrigation in Israel, producing several harvest a year, etc. It's amazing to see these prophecies coming to pass with such precise accuracy, with events still unfolding everyday, but if one is not familiar with the Book of the prophecy, these prophecies are meaningless, and the hope of the Messiah means nothing. Most contemporary Jews are not familiar with the Old Testament, except for certain portions which are read on certain Holy days or certain events. But even without the knowledge of prophetic texts, the rites and rituals alone reflect Him, for within their framework, these rites point to His redemptive work and atonement for the nation. The Passover matzah, which was broken and pierced, was a shadow of a Messiah, Who would ultimately be broken and pierced in His death as the Passover sacrifice; Yeshua is alluded to again in the analogy of the Succoth booths of the Feast of Tabernacles; in the atonement offering of Yom Kippur, and as the Wave Offering in the Feast of Weeks. To know these truths that are hidden within the types and shadows of the Scriptures is a calling to fulfill the commission Rabbi Saul gave to the church, "...to provoke them to jealousy"; to be able to share with Jews the truths behind their rites and rituals, and show them the deep meaning of the ancient prophecies that speak of the Holy One of Israel, Who is their Savior. The Jew will be amazed that the Gentile knows so much about their God, and they will listen as their Torah is explained. What a blessing lies in store for the believer who will share Messiah with a Jew, for the Scripture promises, "I will bless them that bless you, and curse them that curse you." Go for the blessing!!
It is my desire to share with you the celebration of the Feasts, and show you how they relate directly to the Messiah and His coming. It is also my desire to demonstrate some of the cultural and ethnic practices that are replete with Messianic emphases, such as the Passover, to stimulate the inquiring Jewish mind. Jews will not regard the New Testament as a valid source of information, but there is overwhelming evidence within the pages of the Tenach, (Old Testament), to be convincing. There is an innate desire within man to know his God, and Jews have never stopped asking questions about the Holocaust, their exiles, and their persecutions through the centuries. Many have blamed God, and many have blamed the Gentiles, and many still wonder who to blame. If they could know the Scriptures, they would understand that these things have befallen the Jews as a result of their straying from God and His statutes. He has always used judgments to bring His people back in line. Their Old Testament history records this fact many times over, but blinded by their self righteousness, Israel still reaches out and blames the whole world for her problems. We could point them to the 5th chapter of the book of Hosea, where God withdrew His Spirit from them and brought judgment. God stated "for I will be unto Ehpriam as a lion, as a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away. I shall take away, and there shall be none to deliver him. I will go to my place til, (the Jews), acknowledge their offense, and seek my face in their trouble." When the Jewish people can understand how God is helping them, then they can see how the situation really is, and that it exists only from lack of their knowledge. "...because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me; seeing that thou has forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget they children." (Hosea 4:6) Destroyed for the lack of knowledge! Every effort must be made to reach the Jewish people, to teach them about their heritage in Messiah, and to put the words of the Old Testament within their hearts once again.
Our responsibility, as the Apostle Paul said, is "..to the Jew first." As the Body of Christ, seeking His will, we must realize this command.