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Jewish Messiah or Gentile Savior (Don McGee)

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(Gleaned from Crown & Sickle Ministries, Don McGee, Director)

    The church is strictly Jewish in origin.  She was founded by Jesus, a Jew, on a Jewish holiday, Pentecost, was led by Jews in her early years, and she is eternally and necessarily rooted in the Jewish scriptures, commonly called the Old Testament.  After the church began to spread to the pagan Gentile world her leaders began coming from that same world.  Unfortunately, the heathen baggage those early Gentile leaders brought with them from their former pagan lives soon began taking a toll on the way successive Christian generations viewed the church and her roots.
The fallout has been that the church’s image of Jesus has morphed from being the Jewish Messiah to being solely the Savior, and to be more precise, the Savior of the Gentiles with the Jews taking a back seat to such a degree that they have, in practical fashion, become the collective object of Christian disdain.
That the church will never be destroyed, that she is the bride of Jesus and that she will see glory too wonderful to imagine are all great truths, and we joyfully take our stand on them.  But, to ignore the world’s anti-Semitic influence on her is to ignore the obvious; an influence that, by the way, began early in her history.
The four gospel records of Jesus’ work were, of course, written by four different men to four different readerships from four different perspectives.  That said, it is true that Matthew, Mark and Luke are somewhat parallel in content and are thus called the “synoptic” gospels.  John’s gospel is different in that he did not write in a parallel fashion as did the other three, and his main focus was the divinity of Jesus, i.e., “The Word became flesh…”.
For the last several decades it has been in vogue to recommend to new Christians that they begin their study of scripture with the Gospel of John in order to see clearly that Jesus is God.  This idea seems to be connected to some degree with the coffee-house “Jesus Movement” of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Campus Crusade’s Explo ‘72 and other such events.  The inclination to ignore any Messianic role of Jesus certainly did not begin back then, but there seems to be no argument that what happened in those religiously heady days greased the slope for those sliding away from the Messianic understanding of Jesus, and there has been little recovery.  Interestingly, many of the participants in the Jesus-Movement came directly from the hippie counter-culture crowd.
Though reading John early in one’s Christian walk is good, and believing Jesus is God is certainly of fundamental importance, I believe beginning in John is not always the best advice.  For one thing, new Christians are fully convinced of Jesus’ deity at their conversions.  If they are not, then there is no conversion.  Secondly, as seen in Philipp’s answer to the Ethiopian eunuch’s question just prior to his baptism, the foundation of his faith had to be directly associated with his believing Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 8:26ff).
Could it be that at least a portion of the church’s modern anemia is because Christians are so focused upon Jesus as Savior that they have lost sight of His Messiah-ship?  Consider that when Jesus said to the Jewish religious leaders and to the people of His day, “Except you believe that I am He…” (John 8:24), He was not saying His hearers must believe He is Savior.  He was saying they must believe He is the Messiah, the One whose coming they should have been expecting.  Being Messiah, of course, inherently means He is Savior –

the two are not mutually exclusive.  But, in a very practical fashion the church, through the centuries, has made them so, and that is not a good thing.
It seems evident we are seeing some fallout from the church’s general unfamiliarity with Jesus being the Messiah.  Specifically, an entire facet of His work, His Person, and His purpose (past, present and future) has become skewed.  Consequently, many Christians are simply unable to reconcile a number of Old Testament and New Testament texts regarding Jesus being the Jewish Messiah with those texts regarding Him as the Savior.  And it seems that almost by default their only way of dealing with those textual “conflicts” is to spiritualize them.  Spiritualizing a text means the teacher makes it mean anything except what it says.
The Old Testament texts regarding the Messiah offer no other conclusion except that He would be God in human flesh, and thus the Savior.  From God’s prophetic words in Genesis 3:15 regarding Messiah being the seed of woman to the work He will do in the regeneration as King of kings and Lord of lords as in Isaiah 11, Messiah’s identity is encapsulated in His being Savior.  Again, the two are not mutually exclusive but the mainline church, in its determined effort to replace Israel with the church, has essentially made them irreconcilable in their biblical meanings.
Matthew was a Jew who wrote to Jews about a Jew.  The Holy Spirit led him to emphasize Jesus’s Messiah-ship in order for his obstinate Jewish people to see Him as such.  For this reason it might be good for Christians, both the novice and the veteran, to take another look at Matthew’s gospel, perhaps for the same reason.
The problem for the Jews was they could not accept the fact that Isaiah 53 had anything to do with their Messiah.  Likewise, most of the Christian world cannot accept the fact that Zechariah 14 has anything to do with their Savior.  The fact that He is both somehow goes beyond the grasp of both groups; a limitation, by the way, that is self-imposed.  The two roles are held by Jesus and are inseparable.  The truth of the matter is there has been nothing in the history of the Jews or in the history of the mostly Gentile church that has scripturally negated either one.
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).  This, the very first verse written by Matthew, is firmly anchored in messianic theology.  Matthew notes the name given to the Jewish Messiah is Jesus, and at the same time attaches that name to His title, which is Messiah (Christ).  Of course, the word “Christ” is not another name of Jesus, but is His official title which means “anointed one”.
Interestingly, others in Bible history have been called “anointed”.  For example, Cyrus was referred to as God’s shepherd and anointed one in Isaiah 44:28-45:1.  However, only Jesus can ever be called “the” Messiah because only He is qualified to be “the” Savior, God in human flesh.  Cyrus certainly was not God in human flesh.
Each year Christmas dramas around the world include a particular Old Testament text.  From Isaiah 9:6-7, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this.”  Obviously, there is nothing directly stated in that prophecy that has anything to do with Jesus being Savior.  But, the Messianic implications cannot be missed.
Thus, in a practical way, for generations children have been taught that the birth of Jesus is all about the Savior of the church to the exclusion of His being the Jewish Messiah.  The truth of the matter is that the shepherds were told that a Savior had been born that night while the Magi had been in search of the Jewish King.  Is this a conflict, or some kind of inconsistency of scripture?  Not hardly.  Rather, the problem lies in the attitude Christians (leaders especially) have long had about “God’s punishment of Israel by replacing the nation with the church”.  Indeed God punished Israel for her disobedience, but it was by means of geographical dispersion, and not by utterly destroying the nation and replacing it with His church.  God is very clear about this in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
Further, consider Moses.  The Hebrew writer said, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26).  Moses knew nothing about the future virgin birth of a man who would be named Jesus, His crucifixion, His resurrection or His ascension.  However, he did know about the Messiah (Christ).  His refusal to be a part of Pharaoh’s family seems to be rooted more specifically in his anticipation of the promised Jewish Messiah than in any anticipation of a Savior of the entire world that would include Gentiles.  That was a mystery in those days.
Religious Jews have always looked for their kingly Messiah.  Their scriptures spoke of His coming and of His work as Israel’s King in the dynasty of David.  But, their looking for Messiah was not enough to prevent their failure on two major fronts.  They failed to keep the law that was given at Sinai about 3500 years ago, and they rejected Jesus as their Messiah about 2000 years ago.  But, God made it clear that neither would permanently estrange the nation from Him.  Ezekiel, Paul and others wrote of that clarity (Ezekiel 36; Romans 9-11, etc.).

However, what the modern church ignores, or spiritualizes, is that the Jew’s refusal to keep the law did not void God’s unconditional promises to them; promises that were made 430 years before the Law (Galatians 3:17,18).  Also ignored, or spiritualized, is that their rejection of Jesus has also not voided those same unconditional promises (Romans 9-11).  And, when those promises are studied it quickly becomes obvious that they are intrinsically bound to the Person and work of the Jewish Messiah, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah as seen on the Flag of Jerusalem.
And who is this Jewish Messiah who will do all those things for both Israel and the entire planet that the prophets described?  Jesus.  As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, one day soon the Jews will accept Him (Zechariah 13; Romans 11:17ff) and the world will gape in utter amazement as a Jew will reign over this planet as King of kings from the throne of David in Jerusalem accompanied by His glorious bride, His church, which consists of both Jews and Gentiles.
In his effort to bring his Jewish brethren face to face with the truth, Matthew gave a detailed genealogy of Jesus, similar to Luke’s.  The two lists, however, are a little different in that it is generally believed that Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage through His step-father Joseph, and Luke does the same through His mother Mary.
Both were necessary in order to show to the Jews that the same Jesus they demanded be crucified was qualified to be the Messiah because His family could be traced back to the house of David, to the tribe of Judah, to the children of Jacob (Israel) and to their founder Abraham.  Mary’s family was through David’s son Nathan, and Joseph’s family was through David’s son Solomon — with both being connected to the house of David, a requisite for Messiah.
Specifically, Matthew footnoted his account with several fulfilled prophecies having to do with Messiah’s birth.  He referenced Isaiah 7:14 where Messiah is called Immanuel, “God with us”.  Who is the “us”?  The Jews.  He also referenced Micah 5:2 where the Leader who will come from Bethlehem is for, “My people Israel”.  Being born in Bethlehem was, of course, another requisite because it is the city of the great King David, the only place where Messiah could be born since He will one day take David’s throne in Jerusalem as Gabriel promised Mary.
Jesus is God in human flesh, the Savior of the world and the Head of the church which is His bride.  He is also the Messiah who will be given the kingdoms of this world by God the Father, and will rule over them from David’s throne in Jerusalem.  The 12 apostles will, during that time, rule over the 12 tribes of Israel, and the church will rule with Him as His co-heir.  His promises to believing Israel and to the church were not misspoken, nor were they misinterpreted by the members of the early church, whether Jew or Gentile.  Savior and Messiah — no contradiction.

 

By Don L. McGee      www.crownandsickle.org

 




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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4