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Abraham's Spiritual Children

One of the greatest errors that has been adopted by the main stream "Christian" churches is that the teachings of Judaism were done away by the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. This has been challenged by the Messianics and, as it turns out, by the Bible itself which teach that the Old Testament has not been replaced by the New Testament.

Today, let's talk about Abraham's spiritual children.

Please turn to Romans 11. We will use the KJV or NKJV for most references.

(Rom 11:16-27 NKJV) For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. {17} And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, {18} do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. {19} You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in." {20} Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. {21} For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. {22} Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. {23} And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief [but most have continued], will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. {24} For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? {25} For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. {26} And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; {27} For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins."

What are these verses talking about? They are describing the fact that we Christians are grafted into the Hebraic root of the patriarchs, specifically Abraham. Let's read it again, this time from the NIV for added clarity and I will try to clarify the meaning of some of the differences:

Rom 11:16-27 (NIV) If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

The KJV uses the word "firstfruit" instead of "dough". The Greek word is "ap-ar-khay'", G536, meaning to offer or take away firstfruits from the production of the land. The use of the word "dough" apparently comes from a comparison with a Hebrew word in Num 15:19-21 which describes the first portion of dough from which sacred loaves were to be prepared. The translator's choice of the word "dough" rather than the word "firstfruit" was probably due to the word "lump" being used later in the verse. "Lump" comes from the Greek word "phu'-ram-ah", G5445, which means "to mix a liquid with a solid", such as would be performed in the preparation of bread dough.

I feel the KJV's use of "firstfruit" is a much more accurate translation for it signifies "the first who rose permanently from the dead" or "the first of a great harvest of saints". Paul's argument may have been in the form of an analogy: That as the separation unto God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from the rest of mankind, as the parent stem of their race, was as real as the offering of first fruits which hallowed the produce of the earth during the waving of the wave sheaf offering in Lev. 23:10 or the firstfruits offering of loaves of bread referred to in Lev. 23:17. Let's read verses 17-25.

{17} If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, {18} do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. {19} You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." {20} Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. {21} For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. {22} Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. {23} And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. {24} After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! {25} I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

The "hardening" of Israel we just referred to is defined as "blindness" in the KJV. The Greek word is "PO'-ROS-IS" and can be described as "callousness". This is one place where the archaic language of the KJV can be misleading.

{26} And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. {27} And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins."

Verse 27 is another example of a dangerous trend in modern "New" translations: Verse 25 refers to a time when the full number of Gentiles has come into the root of the Patriarchs. Verse 26 refers to a time when the Deliverer shall come out of Zion and turn godlessness away from Jacob. Neither event had happened by the time Paul wrote this verse - about 25 years after Christ's death - nor has it happened yet. Verse 27 in the KJV states "For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins". The word "is" is in italics because it is not in the original. Verse 27 in the NIV and many other "new" versions says "And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins". The KJV more accurately places the time of His new covenant to the time when Christ returns while modern translations claim His new covenant had already arrived in Paul's day. In my opinion, the new covenant applies to the Saints and those who will become Saints anytime. Satan is very interested in convincing people that observance of the old covenant, including the ten commandments, is not required anymore because we are now under the new covenant when everyone will be controlled by the Spirit which God has put into everyone's minds and hearts. One look at our society and pagan societies will show you that has not happened yet, except for the Saints (and those being called).

Romans 11:16-27 also make it pretty plain that it is easier for a Christianized Jew to be regrafted into the cultivated root of Abraham than for wild root Gentiles to adapt to a cultivated source. What else are they saying? A lot. I think they say, among other things, that all Christianity springs from Hebraic roots.

The new WCG is currently discarding the OT in the same manner as most of the Protestant world. They are saying that the old covenant ended at the time of Christ's death and that we are now under the new covenant. They have decided to discard everything in the Old Testament which is not found in the New, including unclean foods, working on the Sabbath, tithing, and many others. They are, in effect, rejecting the law and depending only on faith, just like the rest of the Protestant world. They talk of the faith of Abraham, not his obedience. Let's look at some scriptures which describe the obedience of Abraham:

(Gen 12:1-4 NKJV) Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. {2} I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. {3} I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." {4} So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

(Gen 17:1-2 NKJV) When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless [the word is translated "perfect" in the KJV]. {2} "And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."

Nothing here about faith is there? The requirement was obedience. Does this say Abraham lacked faith? No, of course not. But God was demanding obedience and for that God established a covenant or contract. Can we have faith without works?

(James 2:14-26 NKJV) What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? {15} If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, {16} and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? {17} Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. {18} But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. {19} You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe; and tremble! {20} But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? {21} Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? {22} Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? {23} And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. {24} You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. {25} Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? {26} For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Now some may say that the works described here are those of kindness, not the keeping of the commandments. More on that later. Anyway, back to our father Abraham. All Jews trace their ancestry to Abraham as father of the Hebrew nation. Many other knowledgeable Israelites do too.

Isa 51:1-2 (NIV) "Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; {2} look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many.

(Acts 3:12 NKJV) So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: "Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

verse 25 (NKJV) "You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'

Peter was telling his fellow Jews that Abraham's seed, Jesus Christ, would be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. He is also inferring that all Israelites (children of Abraham) would carry a blessing to the peoples of the earth. There is little doubt that the Israelitish nations have done that.

Paul uses the same theme when addressing the gentiles in Galatians 3:

(Gal 3:8 NKJV) And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed."

Verse 29 (NKJV) And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

These scriptures should remind all of us that our roots are in Abraham. Our family roots may interest us. Many try to trace their roots back several generations. As true Christians we need only read scripture to trace our biblical roots back to Abraham. It then becomes a puzzle why most of Christianity has little if any knowledge of their biblical roots. In fact much of Christianity disavows their biblical roots. The top man in the Christian church in Jerusalem, for instance, has been allied with the Arabs against the Jews. As I just mentioned, even the WCG is now moving toward what they perceive as the new covenant and away from the old covenants with Abraham and Moses. Gentiles and Jews are branches of the root of Abraham if they believe in Jesus Christ.

We have talked and quoted Paul. How should we look at Paul? He and other New Testament writers all claimed to be Jews even though they wrote in Greek. Should we look at them through the eyes of Hellenism or Judaism? Many view the apostle to the gentiles as basically Greek but Paul in 2 Corinthians writes:

2 Cor 11:22 (KJV) Are they Hebrews? so <am> I. Are they Israelites? so <am> I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so <am> I.

And in Philippians:

(Phil 3:5 NKJV) circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee;

No, Paul went to the gentiles and wrote in Greek but he was a Jew through and through. [I am using the word "Jew" generically.] But as he talked to the gentiles, he made them see that they were now part of the Jewish family. Let's look at Ephesians:

Eph 3:6 (KJV) That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

And at 1 Corinthians 10:

(1 Cor 10:1-4 NKJV) Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, {2} all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, {3} all ate the same spiritual food, {4} and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

In the early church, Jew and Gentile claimed a common spiritual ancestry with the Hebrews of old. They both felt a commonality with Old Testament writings. For the earliest church, to think Christianly was to think Hebraically. We are not surprised that the understructure of the New Testament is Hebraic when we remember that Jesus was a Jew and all the apostles were Jews. Hebrew culture and language gave birth to and nourished Christianity.

In Romans 9-11, Paul discusses the present and future of Jew and Gentile in the plan of God. His stress on justification by faith rather than the works of the law leads some to argue that Paul sees the Jew and the Torah permanently set aside. But Paul says, "By no means!" We read that in Romans 11:1. We also read that Gentiles were not to boast about being grafted into Hebrew stock.

Now let's talk about grafting. As we read in Rom 11:17,24, Paul depicts Gentiles as branches from a wild olive tree which have been grafted into a cultivated olive tree. In Ephesians, Paul describes Gentiles as those who were uncircumcised, excluded, without hope....Let's read it:

(Eph 2:11-13 NKJV) Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh; who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision [i.e. the Jews] made in the flesh by hands; {12} that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. {13} But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

God certainly shows His mercy to the Gentiles. They were pagan idol-worshipers who had little to offer in and of themselves. In contrast Jews had all kinds of advantages. We can see that the taking of those who were wild by nature received sudden value by being joined by their intimate association with choice, cultivated stock. The Gentiles with no claim to human merit or superiority were suddenly infused with full life and vigor through the Jewish people. As we have already seen, the root represents the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the forefathers of the Jews and all Israelites.

Unfortunately, Paul's warning not to become arrogant has fallen on many deaf gentile ears. From Paul's time until the present, the Christian church has tended to view its existence independently of Israel. In Paul's view any church which exists independently of Israel ceases therein to be the church as a part of God's salvation plan and becomes simply another religious society. Such, regrettably, is the apparent destiny of the WCG.

The olive branch has long symbolized peace. It is both ironic and tragic that while the figure Paul uses in Romans 11 depicts the unity of two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, their relationship has proved historically to be the opposite. Most Christian churches have never seriously heeded Paul's warning to stand in awe, to be afraid, as Paul states in Rom 11:20. It was purely God's grace that brought the Gentile world into this olive-tree relation with God's ancient covenant people. Yet, as early as the middle of the second century the Church had arrogated to itself the very position of the olive tree. This arrogant takeover, with the severing of Jewish roots and the long history of anti-Judaism to follow is something well documented in the history books, though some today would like to deny it - even denying such repugnant recent history as the holocaust. The resultant distrust of Christians, even Evangelical Christians, by Jews is still evident.

In Ephesians, Paul writes:

(Eph 2:19 NKJV) Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

The very matrix of Christianity is Judaism: Christianity is the very bone of Judaism. What do I mean by that? Christianity provides the real strength to Judaism but Judaism is that which makes Christianity work by creating the right surrounding and environment for the Christian way of life.

Most Christian churches believe that Judaism teaches salvation by the works of the Law, whereas Christianity is a religion of grace. Let me attempt to show you what I believe is the intentional deception of this view. Paul emphasized that the true sign of belonging to the seed of Abraham is not physical but spiritual:

(Rom 2:28-29 NKJV) For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; {29} but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

This teaching of Paul is nothing new, however. Moses and the prophets taught the same thing.

(Deu 10:16 NKJV) "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.

(Jer 4:4 NKJV) Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, And take away the foreskins of your hearts, You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Lest My fury come forth like fire, And burn so that no one can quench it, Because of the evil of your doings."

Paul further states in Ephesians 2:

Eph 2:8-9 (KJV) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: <it is> the gift of God: {9} Not of works, lest any man should boast.

And again when writing to Titus:

Titus 3:5 (KJV) Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit;

These emphases were not strange to Paul's Jewish upbringing. They are deeply embedded in Jewish Scriptures. The common teaching of first-century Judaism was that election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God's mercy rather than by human achievement. Jews believe that salvation is God's prerogative, though Judaism has not placed the same emphasis on faith that Christianity has.

We in America and most of the western world associate ourselves more with western philosophy, such as Greek or Platonic thought, than with the ancient Near East. It is difficult for us to get inside the Hebrew mind. But it has not always been so. Hebraic mortar cemented the foundations of American democracy, probably encouraged by a requirement to study Hebrew in early American universities. Modern Christianity, however, lays claim to this mortar for themselves. One Jewish writer, Stuart Rosenberg, stated, "Before one can be fully Christian, one must also know what it means to be a Jew."

Let's get back to the Bible by discussing Paul and the Law. As we have indicated, Paul did not view Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism. Instead he interpreted his traditions in the light of Christ. Just as Jesus, who was born under law, recognized its authority throughout his life, so Paul upheld the validity of the Law. Let's look at some scriptures to verify this:

Gal 4:4 (NKJV) But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

Rom 15:8 (KJV) Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises <made> unto the fathers:

Rom 3:31 (KJV) Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

Rom 7:12 (NKJV) Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

Rom 7:22 (KJV) For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

1 Tim 1:8 (NKJV) But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully,

Rom 7:14 (KJV) For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

In other passages Paul seemed unduly negative about the law. You can refer to 2 Cor 3:6 and Gal 3:25 for examples of this. But the problem with the law was because of the people, not because of the law. When Paul appears negative, it is usually in the context of those who tried to use conformity to the Law as a basis of self-righteousness. For Paul, not simply the words of Jesus constituted the New Torah; rather it was the totality of His life, death, and resurrection, the Living Person of Christ, who constituted the New Torah.

Did Paul throw out his "Jewishness" in order to become a Christian? He answers that question in 1 Cor 9:

1 Cor 9:19-21 (KJV) For though I be free from all <men>, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. {20} And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; {21} To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.

Paul felt at liberty to adhere to the regulations of the Mosaic Law in matters such as circumcision (Acts 16:3 where Paul circumcised Timothy), the Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18), and the purification ritual (Acts 21:20-26). At the end of his third missionary journey, Paul, still faithful to what today is considered by most as Jewish practice, wanted to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost (Acts 20:16). Paul was not unconditionally bound, except to his Lord. Like Moses, the prophets, and Jesus, right-standing before God was not something mechanically achieved by human effort (Rom 3:21,28). Rather, it was walking with God by faith, in obedience and love.

We started off by reading Romans 11:16-27. In what sense ought gentile believers to become "Jewish" in identity and life-style through being spiritually "grafted" into Israel? What can be done to restore our loss of Jewish perspective as we study God's Word, both New and Old Testaments? Let's review some of the verses we read in Romans 11 from this perspective. This time, let's start with verse 1:

Rom 11:1 (NKJV) I say then, Has God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, <of> the tribe of Benjamin.

God has not cast away His people Israel in exchange for gentiles. Although some (not all) of the branches of the olive tree have been broken off through unbelief, - let's read verse 17:

verse 17 (NKJV) And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree,

"God is able to graft them in again".

verse 23 (NKJV) And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief [unbelief that Yeshua is the Messiah], will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

Israel, however, remains a "holy" people, for "the root is holy".

verse 16 (NKJV) For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

Israel is yet "loved on account of the patriarchs"

verse 28 (NKJV) Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.

for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.

verse 29 ( NKJV) For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

The common belief today, that Gentiles have replaced the Jewish tree, rather than being grafted into it, is a position of post-New Testament Christian triumphalism that finds no support in Romans 11.

It is generally accepted that the New Testament writings (twenty-seven documents produced from ca. AD 50 to AD 100) constitute the authoritative foundational bases of Christian thought and doctrine. The most important single source for understanding the New Testament is what is perceived to be the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. But unlike historic Christianity, modern Judaism does not embrace one authoritative source, but many - though all reach back to the Torah as the bedrock. We should all strive to read as much about Jewish history about the time of Christ as we can get our hands on. Josephus is one source. 1 and 2 Maccabees and Sirach are another. Books on the Temple Scroll are also valuable.

Any time you can spend familiarizing yourself with the tone, fabric and logic of Jewish society of about the time of Jesus and his Jewish apostles will be richly rewarded in your understanding and appreciation of the basis of Christianity.

In summary:

This sermon was taken, with permission, from an article in the publication Hebrew Roots. I hope I have given you greater appreciation of a true Christian's Jewish roots. I will try to add to your knowledge of this subject in future sermons.

Sermon given by Wayne Bedwell
18 December 2010
Copyright 2010, Wayne Bedwell

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