Yeshua and Israel
The Jewish religion is not static, fixed in ancient times. New rulings of rabbinical interpretation of the law meet the modern milieu and even a new Jewish holiday can find its way onto the calendar.
The fifth day of the month of Iyyar marks the anniversary of the day in 5708 when the modern state of Israel was established. Yom ha-Azma’ut, Israel Independence Day, is observed by Jews throughout the world as a time to celebrate survival as a people and as a nation.
This modern celebration has taken on a religious focus as well. The Israel Chief Rabbinate constructed a special service on Yom ha-Azma’ut in which Psalms 97, 98 and 107 are recited. These thanksgiving psalms express appreciation to the God of Israel for redeeming our people from the hands of adversaries and for gathering our Jewish people from the four corners of the earth.
The service ends with the blowing of the shofar and the following prayer:
May it be thy will, that as we have been deemed worthy to witness the beginning of redemption, so also may we be deemed worthy to hear the shofar announcing the Messiah, speedily in our days.”
The Messianic Hope
Burning within the heart of the ancient nation Israel was the belief in the Messiah to come. Each successive generation faced new adversaries and new waves of oppression, yet the hope of a better day remained. All were looking forward to a time when the enemies of Israel would be silenced and peace would reign.
Even though the many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures speak of a personal Messiah who would save his people, rabbis differed in their understanding of what would be the nature of the Messiah.
Today there are those who see their own efforts and the efforts of others as the only hope for the future. Then there are those who look for a Messianic era, a time of peace when the whole world follows the high ethical teachings of the Jewish faith.
However, in the first century there was no doubt among those of the religious establishment that the Messiah would be an actual person. The differences had more to do with his role. The Zealots, the nationalist party, saw Messiah as a military liberator, restoring Israel’s independence from Rome. The Pharisees, the religious party, looked for the exaltation of God’s people under the rule of Messiah. This was to be accomplished, not by human action, but by the hand of God. Finally, there was the apocalyptic hope of God intervening, and of the Son of Man coming in clouds and glory to receive an eternal kingdom. This view was prevalent in the writings of the Qumran community.1 The Togetherness of Israel and Messiah
What would the Messiah be like? Some aspects of his identity can be seen by comparing and contrasting the person of the Messiah with the nation of Israel. The concept that explains the linkage between an individual and a group can be expressed in terms of a corporate personality. In theology, that is called the principle of “federal headship.” For example, when the president of a company speaks, it’s as if the company is speaking. Likewise, a monarch’s actions always carry significance for the country he or she rules.
One thinks, too, of that strong feeling for the corporate nature of society, so prevalent in the ancient world. As the sin of the individual was held to bring sin and a curse upon the group (Joshua 7), so might the righteousness of the individual be expected to procure justification for the group. (Genesis 18:22-23)2
The events of Messiah’s life acting in place of the nation has its roots in the covenant promise God made with Abraham:
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3)
This blessing was to come through Abraham’s “seed.” Beginning with Isaac, then Jacob and on down through the family line, Israel would be the instrument by which God would bless the nations of the world. Ultimately, this blessing of the nations would be accomplished through one individual, namely the Messiah, son of David. (Isaiah 9:6,7; 11:1-5) The nature of the Messiah and the role of Israel are inseparable; the Messiah is the ultimate fulfillment of all the nation ever hoped to achieve or represent:
The fate of Israel and of the Messiah seem to coincide to such a degree that it is often impossible to distinguish the one from the other…in other words, the Messiah is Israel par excellence. In the life and experience of the Messiah is Israel’s history re-enacted, but with a difference. Where Israel failed, the Messiah succeeds; what Israel was meant to be, the Messiah is the perfect Servant of God.3
If the bond between Messiah and Israel can be demonstrated, Jesus’ earthly actions can be seen as having been in character. And, as he fulfilled prophecy, it is evident that Jesus was substantiating his person. The idea of fulfilling prophecy is not just a matter of pointing to a particular passage of Scripture and saying that it was talking about Jesus. Yeshua’s approach was more holistic, for the Scripture is an organic unity.
>Then, by his intimate association, Yeshua demonstrated his love for the nation Israel by never divorcing himself from the fate of the nation. Also, by his demonstration of solidarity with Israel, he provides his followers today with a perfect model for attitudes and actions concerning Israel. The pattern for living in the kingdom of God and the example of the perfect servant is laid out in the life of Jesus. The aspect of the Messiah’s union with Israel that will be highlighted is in his role as the son of God.
The Son of God; the Nation of Israel
This appellation speaks of relationship; that of the father of creation to a chosen nation and his anointed one. As Israel groaned under its burden of Egyptian slavery, God heard their cries and responded not just with a decree of freedom, but with the promise of sonship:
Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.” (Exodus 4:22,23)
This statement of God’s protective desire to intercede on behalf of his covenant people is based on his promise to Abraham. Pharaoh was the possessor of God’s people. The Egyptian god-leader was demonstrating through his acts of unrelenting cruelty that he, not God, was their lord. There is a conflict over paternal power, and in the claim of the first-born, the God of Israel and the king of Egypt have clashed in a head-on encounter.4
Israel was chosen as God’s “son” by virtue of election to be the people of possession. (Deuteronomy 14:1)
In the Exodus 4 passage, Israel is called the “firstborn” son. In the Septuagint, this term is translated: prototokos. The stem of the word, protos, denotes priority within an order. In the ancient world, it is the firstborn son who inherits his father’s strength. It would also be normal for him to receive his father’s special love.5
There are many instances where the Scriptures refer to God as the “father” of Israel6 and there are several when Israel is hailed as God’s “first-born” son.7 In ancient Hebrew culture there were two ways that one could be someones father: biologically or by adoption. It seems the latter would have been most appropriate in this instance.
The choosing of Israel as the son of God was an adoption flowing from the free grace of God, which involved the loving, fatherly treatment of the son and demanded obedience, reverence and confidence towards the Father.8
A unique “father and son” relationship is formed between God and Israel, one which implies obligations for both parties. By his very nature, God must always be faithful to his paternal role. Yet, by human nature, Israel might not always live as a “chosen son” should.
And so the history of Israel reflects a long journey down, away from God. Speaking out against this breach of the father-son relationship are the prophets. They decry the conditions of the state of the heart of the people. Most notable are the decrees of the prophet Hosea. Here God is portrayed as the estranged husband and Israel, the adulteress wife. (Chapter two)
In chapter 11, Israel is seen as an adolescent child who has received love and provision for life from his father and responds with rebellion and defiance and, ultimately, departure:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. (Hosea 11:1,2)
At the time of the exodus from Egypt, Israel was adopted as God’s son, because God loved Israel (Deut. 4:37) even though this son did not, at the time, appreciate what his father had done for him.9
Still, Israel is uniquely described as God’s firstborn, only-begotten, or beloved son. This relationship is an abiding one, though the son is wayward and rebellious. There is a longing and waiting for the child to return to the father.
In the account of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the unwavering hope on the part of the father is to see his son repent. Never is there talk of banishment or disinheriting of the errant son. However, the business of the family must continue and this responsibility will fall to another as long as the son is away.
Yeshua, the Perfect Son
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are six references to Israel as being a son to God. Another eleven portray God as the father of Israel. In the first four books of the New Testament, there are at least forty references to Jesus (Yeshua) as the son of God. The increase in the number of New Testament references highlights an important truth. The sonship of the Messiah was a key aspect of Yeshua’s personality.
In the narratives regarding his youthful delay in the Temple, his baptism, and the temptation in the wilderness, the gospels make the point that for Jesus the underlying presupposition of his teaching and ministry was that of sonship.10
While the concept of the son of God as the anointed one was not foreign to first century Judaism, it was not often used. Surely as it would be applied to Jesus it would not be readily accepted or understood. This makes Peter’s declaration concerning Jesus to be even more relevant: “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.'” (Matt. 16:16) When Jesus spoke of himself as the son of God, he was not just using a prosaic metaphor; he was articulating the reality of his incarnation.
The realization that the Fatherhood of God was for Jesus a personal religious experience of unparalleled depth and intensity enables us to explain another phenomenon in the Synoptic record which, otherwise, must remain an enigma: that is, the fact already noticed that Jesus says very little about it, and that only to a chosen few.11
As the Messiah, Yeshua regularly “surprised” the people. His life and ministry continually reflected the presentation of known truths that were elevated to the status that God intended.
For example, when Jesus spoke of God the Father, it was in the most intimate of terms. In this regard, while Jesus did not say much that was new to the people of his time, there was an unwillingness to accept his words and to “hear” them with understanding.
He made God the Father real in the lives of the disciples, not by argument or by much speaking, but because it was obvious that the Father was the supreme reality in his own life.12 For when Jesus spoke of God the Father he would also reveal more of himself. In the Gospel of John, Yeshua proclaims: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) The response of some Jewish leaders was to pick up stones, for they saw this statement as blasphemous. They correctly perceived what he was saying. Yet Yeshua was not blaspheming, for what he said was the truth: before them did indeed stand the Messiah.
His declaration of the “son” relationship with the Almighty expressed the fullness of the relationship that the Messiah was to have. But the Messiah was also to be known as the exalted son of David. To the Israelites, this thought would bring to mind the installation of the Messianic king described in Psalm 2:
I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill. I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my Son today I have become your Father.” (Psalm 2:6,7)
Later, the writers of the New Testament letters brought together several kingly themes when they called Jesus the “first-born.” This is the same word found in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 4:22, prototokos. It was with this revelation that Jesus was further identified with Israel. He would far exceed anything the nation ever could do or be, for he was the perfect son. For, as the Messiah, he alone would be able to live a sinless life and do the Father’s will without wavering or fault. The title “first-born” would designate him as the mediator and vicar of creation:
He (Yeshua) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15)
Messiah was from time eternal; it would be improper to speak of his origins. And so he is called the “Alpha and the Omega.” Yeshua brings blessings and benefits into the lives of those who were once aliens to the family of God. Thus Paul speaks of the adoption now being opened to all and for all who would believe in Yeshua:
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)
For Jews who believe in Yeshua as the promised Messiah, this means a return to the Father’s house. For gentiles, it means that they now come to know the blessing of being adopted into a royal family. Whether one comes to faith as a Jew or a gentile, a son or a daughter, they can look to Yeshua as the perfect model of how a true child of God is to live.
Photos by ?ke Lundberg
Footnotes 1John Brright, The Kingdom of God, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1953), p. 119.
2Ibid., p. 148.
3Jacob Jocz, A Theology of Election: Israel and the Church, (New York: MacMillan Company, 1958), p. 106.
4Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974), p. 120.
5The New International Dictionary of the New Testament Theology, Editor, Colin Brown, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), Vol. I, p. 668.
6(see: Deuteronomy 32:6,18; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 31:9; and Malachi 1:6; 2:10.)
7(see: Exodus 4:22 and Jeremiah 31:9.)
8C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1864), Vol I, p. 458.
9George A.F. Knight, A Christian Theology of the Old Testament, (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1959), p. 170.
10Richard Longenecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), p. 96.
11Thomas Walter Manson, The Teaching of Jesus, (Cambridge: University Press, 1935), p. 108.
12Ibid., p. 102.