Post Title: No Longer Strangers
1983 was a year that changed my life because I made a journey up to Jerusalem, the Holy City. There I met Dr. Robert Lindsey and other scholars, both Jewish and Christian. They showed me things about the man I called my savior and Lord, Jesus from Nazareth. Things I have never seen before; things that changed my life and charted the course of my teaching ministry.
So Jerusalem holds a very special place in my life—as it did in our Lords—and should be in yours as well. I told you that our Jerusalem connection provides three essential categories to help us develop a Hebraic perspective.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Is Our God
The Jewish Messiah Is Our Lord
Our Hebraic Heritage in Jesus
The church's Jerusalem connection can positively influence your core identity as a child of the living God.
Writing to a non-Jewish congregation in Ephesus, Paul says, you who are Gentiles by birth. By the time of Jesus and Paul, the Hebrew word for a gentile (goy) had come to mean pagans (goyim). In its strictest sense, goyim simply means ethnic groups (i.e., the nations).
First-century Jewish thought basically saw the world as made up of two groups: those who feared and worshipped the God of Israel, the Jews, and those who did not believe in the One True God, the gentiles. Often where the word gentile occurs in the original Greek, it is translated pagan because that is the sense it conveys.
Paul, the Jewish apostle to the non-Jews, says in Ephesians, "I have good news for those of you who were formerly pagans—who were without God and without hope in the world" (2:11-12). We glimpse in this text the Jewish worldview of the time. Why is this important to Paul? Because separated from the God of Israel, you do not partake of the faith, the hope, and the blessings of his covenant promises.
But now in Christ (Messiah) Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (2:13). From a Hebraic perspective, this is beautiful and powerful imagery. The word for a priest in Hebrew is kohen. The priests are those who draw near to that holy God and help others do the same.
Paul says that Jesus, whom God appointed High Priest (Heb 8:1-2), came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:17-22)
In Messiah Jesus—you who were formerly pagans—are not only brought near but are made priests as well.
Too often, even after we come to faith in Jesus, our identity is shaped by Greco-Roman forces. Some scholars speak of the Roman emperor Constantine as the originator of Christianity, not Jesus. How can they get away with a statement like that? Because from the third and fourth century—with the development of the establishment church of Rome—it was more and more influenced by Greek philosophical thinking. There are significant differences between the way Greeks look at the world and the way Jesus and the early church looked at the world.
Without our Jerusalem connection, we forget what it means to no longer be strangers and outsiders; we neglect the implications of being joined to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Most of Paul's letters were written to mostly non-Jewish congregations. Why? They are the ones with all the problems. These were gentiles who formerly engaged in idolatry and pagan practices. They have suddenly become believers but do not know the commandments and purposes of God revealed in the scriptures and the history of Israel. They know that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, has come and brought them near to God. Hallelujah! Yet they have an ongoing need to be taught and mentored.
It is very fruitful to recognize we have a family tree with roots that go back beyond Protestantism, beyond the Catholic church—all the way back to Jerusalem.
Here is a remarkable statement found in 1 Corinthians. Our forefathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea (10:1). So for Paul, it is no longer my patriarch Abraham; it is our patriarch and people. You are now related to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to the prophets and the enterprises of Israel through the Rock, Messiah Jesus.
Given all this, we must acknowledge a tremendous debt to Israel.
Even this point has become somewhat controversial in certain church circles. It is no longer popular to be supportive of Israel. But the fact of the matter is, biblically speaking (as John says in his gospel), salvation is of the Jews. Without Israel, we have no Jesus—no patriarchs, no prophets, no Bible, no salvation. We have no church, no apostles, no New Testament because we have no Jewish apostles to write it for us. As you see, we have an enormous debt to Israel.
What that means, to me, is if you are tied into your Jerusalem connection you will develop a respect for Jews, Judaism, and Israel. To begin with, you must understand the history of mistreatment of Jews by the Christian establishment at every period of history. It is a painful and horrible historical record brought about by pride and arrogance. We need to repent and show respect, and that means to inform ourselves.
How can we share with the Jewish community what Jesus means to us if we cannot even speak their language? I am not referring to speaking Hebrew; I am simply saying that if you have nothing in common with a Jewish worldview, how can you even share meaningfully who Jesus is and what he has meant to you? So learn about Jews, about Judaism.
Be informed about Israel. Don't be swayed by the incredibly distorted picture presented in the media. The State of Israel is not beyond criticism, but it does need friends who know the facts and who support it intelligently. We must be sensitive about and stand firmly against antisemitism in all forms, not just the most blatant.
Unlike most Christians, Jesus wept over Jerusalem and Israel.
We must also be vigilant against subtle forms of antisemitism arising from Christian theology. Is it true that God no longer has any interest in, involvement with, or purposes for the Jewish people? Has the church become the new Israel, inheritors of all the promises? Heaven forbid! This kind of thinking is antisemitic at its very root. It is wrong and dangerous, not only for the church but for Israel as well.
We must remember that we have been grafted into the faith of Israel and share in the nurturing sap of God's covenant faithfulness. We must learn from our Jerusalem connection.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.