The Salvation of the Jews: Introduction

jewish_starSo we’ve covered Exile and Repentance in the last series, discussing how the Old Testament (or First Testament) led up to the events of Pentecost and the coming of the Kingdom. Hopefully, we gained a better sense of how the Jews of NT times reacted to the gospel and the coming of the Messiah.

Before that, in the How to Study the Bible series, we covered the covenants and how they connect with each other. From Abraham on, each covenant built on the covenant that preceded. The covenants are like Russian dolls, so that each new covenant contains the preceding covenants, but the preceding covenants re-envisioned in light of God’s new covenant. After all, each covenant is a step in God’s self-revelation to mankind. Each covenant reveals more about God and helps us to see the earlier covenants in a clearer light.

I now want to consider the nature of salvation pre-Jesus. Maybe we’ll talk about the salvation of the Jews post-Jesus as well, but as hard as that question is, their salvation from Abraham until Jesus is harder.

At first, the question might seem a bit pointless. After all, Jesus came 2,000 years ago. Why does it matter how the Jews were saved before then? Isn’t today what matters? Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Context according to Richard Beck

biblepage-781x1024It’s amazing how our reading of the Scriptures is colored by our own prejudices and background.

Richard Beck, at “Experimental Theology,” offers a reading of James’ famous passage on faith and works that I’d never heard before. But he just might be
right …

What do you think?

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Exile and Repentance, Part 19 (Conclusions, Part 2)

Arch_of_Titus_MenorahOf course, an element of all of this has to be social justice. Well … “social justice” isn’t really the best term and is likely more confusing than helpful.

In the Law and the Prophets, the repeatedly stated reasons for the Exile were a lack of faith, idolatry, breaking God’s commandments, and a lack of concern for the poor and vulnerable of society, especially the fatherless, the widows, and the sojourners.

When we read Luke, we find Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, inspired by the Spirit to announce the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom in terms of God’s blessings on the needy.

In Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus announces blessings on the poor and curses on the rich.

In Acts, we find the newly founded church sharing their possessions, food, and homes not only in hospitality but to care for those in need. Continue reading

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Exile and Repentance, Part 19 (Conclusions, Part 1)

Arch_of_Titus_Menorah“Exile and Repentance” seems rather an odd topic for a single blog post, much less a ridiculous 19 posts (so far). But I hope that the series has helped us all see scriptures in a new light.

It’s not that what we’ve been traditionally taught is wrong but our traditional reading of the text has been very incomplete. We’ve very nearly read the Jewish background out of the texts, forcing countless round texts into square holes.

The OT was written to the Jewish people. The NT was written to a church that was partly Jewish and partly Gentile, but it was largely written by Jews to address Jewish concerns derived from the Jews’ understanding of their place in God’s covenant history. Continue reading

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Exile and Repentance, Part 18 (Acts 5, 11, 17 & 20)


Acts 5

We’ll move more quickly through the rest of Acts, just to show how this understanding of the scriptures makes better sense of the text than our usual reading.

For example, when the Sanhedrin called the apostles in for questioning, Peter responds,

(Act 5:29-32 ESV) 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.  30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.  31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

It’s a peculiar phrase to our ears in v. 31: “to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” The Sanhedrin, Torah scholars all, would have understood Peter to be speaking of the need to repent to obtain forgiveness from God to end the Exile. But why “to give repentance”? We don’t normally think of repentance as a gift! Continue reading

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“They Shall Know Us By Our Parties”

They Shall Know Us by Our PartiesInteresting recent article at Her.meneutics, a blog connected to Christianity Today.

I first thought that the caption was ironic or sardonic (I have trouble telling the difference). Surely the author intended to criticize the partyingfellowshipping ways of evangelical Christianity. But I was mistaken (it happens).

I was confronted with the power of party as Christian witness last Christmas, following a performance of Handel’s Messiah at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville. Afterwards, the church served an elaborate display of homemade soups and desserts, enough to feed thousands in the crowd. I’d been to my share of church potlucks and picnics, but this was something special: a delicious, extravagant, God-reflecting act of hospitality.

This is part of the philosophy at Christ Presbyterian. The congregation hosts three large-scale parties a year, drawing in between 2,000 and 3,000 a piece, with attendance split between church members and people from their community in Nashville.

Continue reading

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Exile and Repentance, Part 17 (Acts 2, Part 3; Acts 3)

Arch_of_Titus_MenorahFaith and repentance

So Peter asked the devout crowd in Jerusalem to repent. They were good and religious Jews, but they had no faith in Jesus as Messiah — and to turn to God, they had to turn to Jesus. There was and is no other path.

Some weeks ago, in the comments, the question was raised how this could be? After all, many — perhaps most — of these devout Jews had never even heard of Jesus. Fewer still had heard that he’s the Messiah. Fewer still had any idea that he was and is God the Son. How could they repent from not believing what they’d never been taught.

But under anyone’s interpretation, the fact is that faith in Jesus as Messiah is required for salvation. Whether or not that concept is found in “repent” in Acts 2:38, the concept is obviously a central claim of Christianity and Peter’s urging that the crowd be baptized in the name of Jesus Messiah certainly required faith in Jesus as Messiah. So what I’m saying is hardly revolutionary. It’s just that I’m posing the question in an unfamiliar way — but it’s an important way of asking the question. Why on earth does God require faith in Jesus at this juncture in  history? Why not simply repent of sin? Continue reading

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Exile and Repentance, Part 16 (Acts 2, Part 2)


(Act 2:38-39 ESV)  38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

To no one’s surprise, the solution is to repent. The Prophets had been preaching repentance for 1,000 years! Of course, Peter preaches repentance! The question is what does repentance require?

Well, what sin was the audience charged with? Rejection of Jesus as Messiah and LORD. How would they repent of that rejection? By accepting Jesus as Messiah and LORD. Faith.

In this passage, “repent” means “have faith in Jesus as the Messiah and LORD.” Every word of Peter’s sermon points to this claim. Continue reading

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Carey Nieuwhof: “10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders Are Attending Church Less Often”

relattendOne of the more surprising statistics showing up in recent research is the decline in church attendance among the most committed church members.

This chart is from the General Social Survey, limited to those considering themselves “strong” in their church affiliation and to white respondents.

So why has attendance dropped from about 1990 to 2010? The drop is nearly 10% out of 75% — a truly distressing figure. And I suspect that most readers have observed the same trend. Continue reading

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Exile and Repentance, Part 15 (Acts 2, Part 1)

Arch_of_Titus_MenorahJesus is the Messiah

(Act 2:22-28 ESV)  “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know —  23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.  25 For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;  26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.  27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades [not hell but the realm of the dead], or let your Holy One see corruption.  28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

Peter says to the audience that “you” crucified and killed him (v. 23). Really? Many were a 1,000 miles away at the time. But it makes sense if we see the crucifixion as part of God’s covenant history — as the working out of the prophecies of Deu 28 – 30.

God sent the entire nation into Exile. He promised to bring back the nation if they would repent and return to him — and yet the leaders of the nation crucified the Messiah! This is the furthest thing from returning to God! The nation itself was under judgment, and this was no way to escape judgment. Continue reading

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