REFLECTIONS OF A FORMER "GENTILE"

By Brian J. Hennessy

Part 1

            What I want to share with you is a truth that has been lying dormant in the Scriptures, hidden from our understanding for centuries. But a truth that is now being fully revealed to the Body of Christ - especially the non-Jewish members - in these last days. It is a revelation so simple, so fitting, and such a perfect conclusion to the whole Biblical story, that it's almost ludicrous that we didn't see it sooner.

            To help us see and accept this truth now, the Spirit has been revealing it to us gradually - much like a man being fitted for a pair of glasses. With each lens adjustment, the truth, with all its ramifications, comes into sharper and sharper focus, until the whole revelation becomes perfectly clear. Already tens of thousands of followers of Jesus Christ have been fitted with new lenses. And they are seeing themselves in the scope of God's plan of salvation with brand new eyes.

            Here then is how my eyes were opened to understand that, although I may have been born a Gentile of Irish-American descent, in Christ Jesus I have been called out from among the "Gentiles" (or "goyiim," which also means "nations"), and been grafted into the chosen family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Not in some vague spiritual way, but literally and physically. In seeing this truth I finally understood that I belonged not to a religion comprised of spiritualized beings that had no physical roots or inheritance on this earth, but to a body of believers who are truly my "brothers and sisters" in the fullest sense of the words. That is, I found I have more than just a spiritual relationship with my brethren in the Lord - both Jewish and non-Jewish - but also a real physical, family relationship as well. And that we are all, physically and spiritually, part of the ongoing story of the holy nation of Biblical Israel.

            May the story of how I slowly awakened to this amazing truth become your own personal "Jewish" alarm clock.

            Studying my Bible one day, I found myself reading verses in Ezekiel that the Holy Spirit had used years earlier to explain to me my spiritual rebirth. That life-changing event had come upon me unexpectedly<?bigger> one night, and since I had no Bible training or spiritual person to teach me, I had no idea <?/bigger>what had happened to me. For a year and a half, my wife and I (who experienced a similar awakening at the same time) thought we were the only ones in the world who had come to know God in this intimate way. When I finally did come in contact with the Scriptures, it was this 2600-year-old prophecy by Ezekiel that gave me the words to understand my experience.

            I read the words again: "A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances" (36:26,27).

            But as I continued reading, it was the next verse that grabbed my full attention this time. "And you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your forefathers; and you shall be My people, and I will be your God." (v. 28) Dwell in the land of my forefathers? In Israel? Me? I thought that verse applied only to the Jews? Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were their forefathers, not mine. Yet that verse followed right on the heels of the one about the "new heart and spirit" that God had applied to my wife and I. Which meant it too must apply to us. How could this be?

            Up to then, all the teaching I'd heard on the subject of Israel and the Jews fell into two distinctly different teachings.

            The first teaching, which has been pretty much the mindset of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries, is usually called "replacement theology" or "supersessionism." Basically it takes the position that God has forever rejected the Jews from being His special people, and Israel His special nation. In this theology, Christians now replace Jews as the only people in Covenant with God. The only way Jews can gain any place with God now is they have to join the Christian Church (not necessarily have a born-again experience in Jesus, either), and put away their useless Jewish heritage and religious traditions. This teaching left the Jews as a people rejected and abandoned by God, and ultimately led to so much Christian anti-Semitism and the labeling of Jews as "Christ-killers." I had already moved away from this false teaching when I left Catholicism, the religion of my upbringing.

            The other teaching, often referred to as "the two covenants," was more appealing to me. Promoted mostly by evangelical Christianity, it made room for the Jews in light of the eternal promises made to them under the Abrahamic Covenant. Under this teaching God now had two peoples - Jews and Christians. But the teaching implied there was a fixed qualitative difference between the two. This was expressed in the promise of the "stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore" that God gave to Abraham as an analogy so he could visualize how numerous his descendants would be. The teaching said we Christians were the "stars," meaning we were His "heavenly people." The physical Jews, on the other hand, were the "sand on the seashore," making them His "earthly people." That difference also extended to our respective rewards. Heaven was our reward, while the Jews would get the land of Israel. Usually packaged with this theology also was the "rapture" teaching which had the Church being suddenly whisked up to heaven (along with the Holy Spirit, as 2 Thess. 2:6,7 was interpreted), leaving the Jews to face the antichrist on earth alone. Since I had no desire to face the antichrist, this teaching appealed very much to me. I didn't stop to consider how the Jews might feel about being left to face such a future. Or how awful it would be for them to be on the earth at that time without the Holy Spirit!

            But now this verse in Ezekiel suddenly challenged all of that teaching for me, and propelled me into a totally different perspective on the subject. One which time and study and the Holy Spirit would convince me was the more biblically correct one.

            What I caught in my spirit that day was that through my faith in Messiah Jesus I had somehow been physically grafted into biblical Israel - the marvelous family of Abraham that God had chosen and nurtured into nationhood and blessed so mightily. I became as excited as Alex Haley when he discovered that the tale of his African lineage that had been passed along by word of mouth for generations was not a fable, but the truth. Suddenly, I too had "roots." I no longer saw myself in just spiritual terms. I was not just a member of a visible or invisible corporate body of believers begun in the first century known as "the Church." Nor had I just been figuratively grafted into the nation of Israel, as it is described in Romans eleven. No, it was a lot more than that now. In Jesus I was now a true Israelite! In Messiah I had a land. And a people. And a history. Abraham was indeed my true ancestor, my Kunta Kinte, with a genealogy carefully written down in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.

            I realized that my true corporate identity was not found in the religion of Christianity. Nor in my ethnic heritage. Nor in the land of my national citizenship. But only in the chosen family of Abraham (the Body of Messiah, to use a NT term) - soon to be manifested as the Israel of God. As a former Gentile, I'd been "separate from Messiah, excluded from citizenship in Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world." But upon receiving the circumcision made without hands, I'd been brought into the very inheritance promised to Abraham and his seed. However, as Galatians 3:16 tells us, that "seed" is not plural, but singular. It refers to just one person: Messiah Jesus. So it is in Him, and only in Him, that a person is reckoned as a true descendant of Abraham and an inheritor. But the inclusion is more than spiritual. It brings us in completely - spirit, soul, and body.

            From then on I was not just a "spiritual descendant" of Abraham as I'd been taught. That term relied more on Greek philosophy than biblical truth. Yes, Abraham is "the father of us all" in the sense that he was the first to fully demonstrate the unwavering kind of faith that pleases God and results in righteousness. However, having a common spiritual relationship with Abraham wouldn't make me his "offspring," as Galatians 3:29 clearly states: "If you belong to Messiah, you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." That Scripture clearly describes me as a physical descendant, a member of his family (not as part of God's spiritual family).

            Furthermore, because I was in Messiah, I was in the line of Abraham's chosen descendants. (Many other descendants of Abraham, like Ishmael and Esau, were not.) Like Isaac, I was an heir, a child of promise (Gal. 4:28). I thrilled to realize that all the patriarchs and prophets of Israel were my forefathers as Ezekiel had said. We were mishpochah (Hebrew for family). Grafted in, I was now a bone fide citizen of the "Israel of God."
(At the time, I considered my inclusion in this Hebrew family of faith as some type of legal, heavenly adoption. Sort of the way Rahab was brought into the nation of Israel by her faith in helping the two spies Joshua had sent to Jericho. Or the way Jacob promoted his grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim, the sons of a Gentile mother, to full sonship and an equal share of the inheritance. Or the way Ruth was received into Israel by her desire to identify with the people of Israel, and follow the God of Israel. But that understanding changed later when I received yet another marvelous revelation that convinced me I could be an actual physical descendant also. I'll explain shortly.)

One People

            The ramifications of this whole revelation were mind boggling. It meant, contrary to most evangelical teaching, God did not intend to have two different peoples - but only one! And if His intention was to have only one Israel of God (I'll explain how the modern state of Israel fits in shortly also), then there couldn't be two different rewards or inheritances, only one. And that reward would not just be heaven - but heaven on earth. Heaven itself was never intended to be the inheritance promised to the followers of Jesus. As Psalm 115:16 declares, heaven is God's realm: "The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, but the earth He has given to the sons of men." Right now, heaven is the place His people go to temporarily until it is time for Jesus to return and establish His Kingdom on earth! Then He'll bring those who had "fallen asleep" back with Him in their new resurrected bodies, while, in the twinkling of an eye, He'll change those who are still alive at His coming - to reign with Him forever. The real promise to the Church then is the same as the one promised to Abraham and his descendants - which was that we'd be "heir of the world" (Rom. 4:13). And especially, as all the prophets proclaimed, of Jerusalem and the land of Israel. (Although we are now able to move between heaven and earth in the spirit, and even more so when we receive our spiritual bodies.)

            This meant also that I could no longer accept the notion that there was a natural Israel and a "spiritual" Israel. That teaching only creates a division among the people of God. From God's perspective there is only one Israel. Those Jews who have been chosen to be included by God into Israel make up one part of His nation ("not all who are from Israel (Jacob), are Israel" - Rom. 9:6). And those Gentiles who have been shown mercy and grafted in - make up the other part. Some of Israel has already been brought in, and the rest soon will be. In this manner, all Israel will one day be redeemed, restored and revealed to the whole world as God's people. We're just waiting now for "the fullness of the Gentiles to come in" (both the fullness of numbers and the fullness of maturity) and the veil to be removed from Judah's heart towards Jesus their Messiah (already begun) as prophesied in Romans 11:25,26.

            The goal of joining Jew and Gentile into one people, I soon realized, is promoted throughout both testaments.

Here are some examples in the New:

1. Speaking to his Jewish disciples, Jesus says, "And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold (referring to those He would redeem from among the Gentiles); I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd."
2. Paul's description of the olive tree (see Romans 11) clearly identifies the Gentiles as wild olive branches who are now grafted into the one tree of Israel along with the believing Jewish olive branches.
3. The great prayer that Jesus prayed, as recorded by John, asked that His Jewish disciples and all those who would hear and receive the gospel through their preaching (which would include the Gentiles) would become one. "I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who will believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one...that the world might believe that Thou didst send Me" (John 17:20,21).
4. And of course the clearest statement you could possibly want on unity between believing Jews and Gentiles was written by Paul to the Ephesian believers: "But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far off (i.e. - we Gentiles) have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For He is our peace, WHO MADE BOTH GROUPS INTO ONE, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make THE TWO INTO ONE NEW MAN, thus establishing peace..." (Eph. 2: 13-15).

But this was also a central theme that ran through all the sacred writings of ancient Israel also. For example:

1. God changed Abram's name, meaning "exalted Father," to Abraham - meaning "Father of many Nations." The Hebrew word for "nations" is also translated "Gentiles."
2. Numerous verses abound throughout the Psalms and prophets referring to the uniting of both peoples. For example, "Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, 'The lord will surely separate me from His people'....for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples" (Isa. 56:3,7). Paul quotes several more Scriptures to support his case in Romans 15: 8-12.
3. The great "two stick" prophecy of Ezekiel 37:15:28. Although speaking of the reunion of Judah and Ephraim, it is also prophesying of the future union of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah (Ephraim, or the Northern Kingdom of Israel, had been cut off by God from the rest of Israel and had melted into the Gentile world). Compare Ezekiel 37:17 with Ephesians 2:14,15.

Enemies For Our Sake

            Understanding that it was God's ultimate intention to bring forth a "new Israel" made up of both Jews and Gentiles who had been cleansed and sanctified by the blood of Messiah Jesus - still left unanswered a major question for me. What about the main body of Jewish people down through the centuries who didn't believe Jesus was their Messiah? Were they still God's people?

            Studying the Scriptures from every angle, I decided there could be no question that they were. For in Romans 11 we read, "Did God reject His people? By no means!" And, "I say then, they did not stumble as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression (i.e. rejecting Jesus), salvation has come to the Gentiles to make them jealous." I began to see God's marvelous plan of salvation. He had used their rejection of Him to actually further His plan for saving us and them as well. For Paul goes on to tell us that, "From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable." These Scriptures, which affirm their Godly position, explain why they've so strongly resisted and even actively fought against the gospel all these centuries. It was the mechanism God used to force the gospel to come to us! Their continued negativeness towards the gospel should have been a constant reminder of His mercy towards us. Instead, it made us angry - even arrogant towards them. The very thing Paul warned us about. This led us to think God had written them out of the script, but He never did. He never left them for an instant, or forgot them. He honored His commitment to their forefathers - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

            The very fact the Jews are still among us 2000 years later powerfully supports the reality of this Scriptural truth. For if God had indeed rejected them from being His people in favor of a new people called "Christians," then why haven't they disappeared? God had the perfect opportunity to let them fade into history in 70 AD when Rome burned their city and temple, and scattered them among the nations. But they not only remained a very viable community all through the centuries, but they have now even returned to their homeland and reestablished their nation, their language, and their culture. Something that has never been done before by any nation so despoiled after so long a time. And they have done it against absolutely overwhelming odds. So much so, that even if you had only one spiritual eye open, you'd have to admit they had more than their share of divine assistance. In fact, this restoration of the Jews to Israel has been the cause of a major identity crisis among Christians (whether we realize it or not). For it has challenged the long held misconception that we Christians are the only ones God has invested His name in. (A misconception that the Jews labor under as well.

            "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew" (Rom. 11:2). Nothing could be clearer. The Jews, who are called "Jews" because they are mostly the descendants of the tribe of Judah, may have rejected their Messiah, but they were never in turn rejected by God. They have continued like a people frozen in time, preserved by God for a great salvation and deliverance in the last days. And while they wait for Messiah (still a living hope among many of them), they've become a walking worldwide testimony to the historical truth and promises of the Bible. Their very presence declares that there once was a place called "Israel" through which the God of the universe was uniquely revealed. Which goes a long way towards explaining why they're so persecuted.

            However, although God has watched over them and sustained them, they have not enjoyed the intimacy with God, and the deep blessings of God, that were available to them through the shed blood of the New Covenant. A covenant that was promised to them (Jer. 31:31; Rom. 9:4). That covenant level of intimacy and blessing, as we know, is entered into only through the righteousness of faith in Messiah Jesus. Ironically, as Paul pointed out, "the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness...but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were of works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone" (Rom. 9:30-32). Many Jews did enter in, particularly in the first century, but most did not. But just because some refused the blessing doesn't mean they were disenfranchised. The remnant who believed established continuity. And "if the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also."

            Furthermore, I saw that God had tied the final redemption of the whole world to the time when they would at last believe and receive the gospel as truth. "For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15) Their rejection of the gospel had brought the message of salvation to the rest of the world. And their acceptance of it will finally bring about the full manifestation of that salvation - "life from the dead." Without them, the church cannot be completed. And the Kingdom of God cannot come!


My Brother's Keeper

            An immediate consequence of this unfolding revelation was that I developed a completely different attitude towards the Jewish people. They were no longer a mysterious people whose place in the big picture was shrouded with questions. They were lost family members who had now been found. A great love and compassion arose within me for their chronic plight. They had been exiled from their homeland for centuries, persecuted in every nation where they took refuge, and continually forced to move on. There were ghettos, the Inquisition, pogroms, and the horrors of the Holocaust. How did they endure? God had to have been with them. I desired to see them finally come into their long-awaited inheritance. Especially since I realized I could now join with them in their celebration.

            At the same time I experienced a deep sorrow and repentance as I learned of the sad part Christianity had played in bringing so much of the persecution they suffered upon their heads. Well known Christian leaders like John Chrysostom and Martin Luther, to say nothing of 800 years of papal inquisitions, had savaged them in word and deed. If they needed any more reasons to oppose the gospel, we amply supplied them.
Today, I believe, we are seeing that "the set time to favor Zion," as promised in the Scriptures (Ps. 102:13) has no doubt arrived. God is again blessing the Jewish people as He said He would. The re-establishment of the nation of Israel is perhaps the biggest sign. It is the embryo, I believe, of the coming Kingdom of God. The nation of God that is yet to be born (Isa. 66:8). But equally as dramatic is the fact that more Jews have come to believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah today then in all the generations since the first century. It won't be long now before the final ingathering.


Homecoming

            As I became more and more convinced that I was as much a part of Israel as Isaac, Joshua, Elijah, David, and the apostle Paul, I began to notice something else. There were an enormous number of Scriptures concerning the return of Israel to her land - like the one that first caught my attention in Ezekiel. These Scriptures have been virtually ignored in Christian teaching. I'm told there are over 700 of them, almost all in the Old Testament. There are very few subjects in the Bible that are spoken of more often than the re-gathering and restoration of Israel to the land of promise. Yet it is the rare Christian teacher who applies those Scriptures that speak of this future, earth-shaking event to the Church. If considered at all, they're either spiritualized or applied strictly to the Jewish people (an understanding most Messianic Jews support as well).

            Yet, when it comes to virtually every other word of promise to Israel in the Old Testament, the Church quickly appropriates it. And rightfully so! "For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen" (2 Cor. 1:20). For example, when God promises Israel that none of the diseases of Egypt will be put upon her, we also receive that as our rightful inheritance. When the psalmist tell us "the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want," we say Amen! When we read in the prophets that, "they that wait upon the Lord, shall mount up with eagle's wings," or "not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit," or "there is no weapon formed against us that shall prosper," - we say Amen! and Amen! and Amen! But what do we say when we read Scriptures that speak of Israel's restoration? Like... "'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the Lord, ' when they will no longer say, 'As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt,' but, 'As the Lord lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them. Then they will live on their own soil.'"
We say, "That's not for us! That's for the Jews!"

            But the truth is, this Scripture, as well as all the other 700, are very definitely for us! As well as for the Jews! Some might argue that the ingathering of Jews to Israel since the late 1800's has already fulfilled those verses. I would answer, only partially. For if you look closely at the verse I just quoted you see that the exodus described will be a lot more dramatic than what we've seen so far. It will be an even bigger 'show stopper' than the parting of the Red Sea under Moses (see also Isa. 11:11)! And that was probably the most dramatic miracle in the Bible! The ingathering to date is certainly a miracle - but as the carnival barker says, "you ain't seen nuthin yet!" When it finally happens, it's going to include all of Israel, both Jew and Gentile believer, from every corner of the earth. It's going to cause the entire world to sit up and realize that our God is indeed an awesome God!

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