DID Israel Reject the Messiah?
WAS THE CHURCH AGE UNFORESEEN BY THE PROPHETS?
The Continuing Plan of Elohim for Israel! A Foundational Premise
NATION'S LEADERS REJECTED MESSIAH
In the epistle of 1 Peter, the Apostle pointed out that Messiah is "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." (1 Peter 2:8) Yahushuah was a "stone of stumbling" to some individuals among the Hebrews, although not to all. Peter had just spoken of Israelites who came to faith in Messiah, so this rejection could only be partial. Dr. Alva J. McClain, late President of Grace Theological Seminary says, "FOR THE UNBELIEVING REJECTION OF HER MESSIANIC KING [WAS] BY THE AUTHORIZED LEADERS OF ISRAEL." ("The Greatness Of The Kingdom," p.357) Messiah's kingdom was clearly a stone of stumbling to the nation's leaders, contrasting with the favorable reception given to the gospel by large numbers of Israelites as a whole, as we will see.
DID ISRAEL RECEIVE THEIR MESSIAH?
Everywhere Yahshuah went in Israel, we read of the common people who eagerly followed and believed in Him, often in great numbers. For example, Matthew 19:2 says, "GREAT MULTITUDES FOLLOWED HIM." Mark 10:1 says, "MULTITUDES CAME TOGETHER UNTO HIM AGAIN." Yes, multitudes, not of the leaders, but of the common people followed their Messiah. So many Israelites followed their Savior, that Luke 11:29 tells us, "THE PEOPLE WERE GATHERED THICK TOGETHER." How about that! Thick as molasses, the common people of Israel followed their Savior, Yahshuah. Luke continues to tell us in chapter 14, verse 25, "AND THERE WENT GREAT MULTITUDES WITH HIM." How many Israelites followed and believed in the Messiah? Great multitudes!!!
Another interesting statement is made by Luke in chapter 12, verse 1: "THERE WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AN INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE OF PEOPLE, INSOMUCH THAT THEY TRODE ONE UPON ANOTHER." They stepped on one another's feet to get to Yahshuah! Notice that there was no room to walk because of the great multitudes of new believers; it was standing room only for Israelites following Messiah! Scripture records that the Pharisees said to one another, "PERCEIVE YE HOW YE PREVAIL NOTHING? BEHOLD, THE WORLD IS GONE AFTER HIM." (John 12:17-19) From a vantage point in Israel of that day, it did indeed appear that the whole world, "an innumerable multitude," had gone after the Savior!
Leading scholars are well aware of the fact that Israelites received their Savior in large numbers. Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921), respected Professor of Theology at Princeton Seminary commented, "IT IS, PERHAPS, NOT ALWAYS APPRECIATED HOW GREAT A POPULAR EXCITEMENT WAS ROUSED WHEN, AS MARK PUTS IT...'JESUS CAME INTO GALILEE...SAYING, THE TIME IS FULFILLED, AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND.' (1:14-15) IT IS NOT THE FAULT OF THE EVANGELISTS IF IT IS NOT FULLY UNDERSTOOD." (Christology And Criticism, p. 53) Yes, it is not the fault of the Gospel writers that mainstream theology today mistakenly thinks that all of Israel refused to believe. Yet, much of modern theology is based on the false view that Israel totally rejected her Messiah. Upon that foundation are built teachings that the church replaced Israel, and that we are now living in an "interregnum," an unforeseen church age in which God is not dealing at all with Israel, but only with a completely different group of people called "gentiles." Conversely, if it can be shown that any significant number of Israelites followed Yahshuah, then the foundational pillar of modern dispensational theology completely crumbles.
ISRAELITES WHO EMBRACED MESSIAH
In the time of Yahshauah, the nation of Israel was divided into two distinct societies: the Pharisees and the Hellenists. The latter were Israelites who rejected the legalistic life-style of the Pharisees for the relative freedom of the Greek culture. They were not pagans, but refused to follow the traditions of men invented by the Pharisees, most of which tradition (as Yahshuah often pointed out, see Matt. 23:23-33, etc.) was not clearly authorized by the law and prophets of the Old Testament. In fact, Israelites who were not bound to the Pharisaical traditions of men followed the Messiah in large numbers. Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, says, "WE USUALLY UNDERRATE THE PROPORTION OF JEWS WHO EMBRACED CHRISTIANITY. HELLENISTIC JUDAISM DISAPPEARED AS CHRISTIANITY BECAME WIDELY DIFFUSED, AND WAS PROBABLY FOR THE MOST PART ABSORBED INTO THE NEW FAITH." (Vol. IV, page 207) We no longer hear of Hellenistic Judaism, because that entire whole section of Jewry, that constituted a majority of Judean Israelites according to scholars (see box below) was converted to Yahshuah within a few decades of the Crucifixion! Their believing descendants are not known as Jews, and of course are never even aware today of the blood of Abraham flowing in their veins. Jewish historian, Alfred Lillienthal, has commented, "Here's a paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox: in anthropological fact, many Christians may have much more Hebrew-Israelite blood in their veins than most of their Jewish neighbors." (What Price Israel, page 223)
A map shown in "The Atlas of Jewish History," by Martin Gilbert, outlines in black the large "areas of Jewish settlement in which Christianity had become the dominant religion…" Most theologians ignore the large numbers of Israelites who embraced Messiah, and whose descendants are therefore not found among the followers of Judaism today. Messianic Jewish author, Battya Wooten, in her book, "Who Is Israel?" concisely states, "The problem is… to separate Christians and Jews based on genetic heritage creates a dilemma, because the Early Church was composed of 'Jewish Christians'. And surely they had children. Further, their descendants would have remained in the church... To say they are no longer physical heirs, is to say the reward for following the Jewish Messiah is to be cut off from being part of Israel. But this contradicts Romans 11:17, 20: Yahveh "broke branches off the olive tree for unbelief." Those who did not follow the Messiah were broken off Israel's olive tree, not vice-versa. To say the Jewish Believers and their grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc., are no longer part of Israel on a physical basis because they believe(d) in and follow(ed) Messiah – opposes Scripture." (p. 97)
THE WIDE INFLUENCE OF HELLENISTIC JUDAISM
"Hellenic influence was nowhere stronger than on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean... The Hellenic influence pervaded everything, and even in the very strongholds of Judaism it modified the organization of the state, the laws, and public affairs, art, science, and industry, affecting even the ordinary things of life and the common associations of the temple...The Hellenists were not confined to the aristocratic class, but were found in all strata of Jewish society." -Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. VI, p. 336 (Note that Hellenist Jews largely embraced Yahshuah.)
PROPHECIES OF ISRAEL'S CONVERSION TO BELIEF IN MESSIAH
Noted Christian scholar, Dr. C.H.H. Wright, in his Oxford University lectures (1878), entitled, "Zechariah And His Prophecies," states, "PROPHECY WAS FULFILLED WHEN THOUSANDS AND TENS OF THOUSANDS OF JEWS BELIEVED IN CHRIST in the early ages of the Christian Church, as such believers, scattered among the peoples, composed in the majority of instances THE BASIS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES founded by the Apostles." (p.287) Pastor Wright correctly pointed out that many Old Testament passages speak of Israel coming to faith in the Messiah, as symbolized by their prophesied remarriage to Him (the marriage supper of the lamb.) For example, five times in just one chapter of the Old Testament, Hoseh chapter 2, Israel was prophesied to embrace their Messiah in faith. (see box below) In Jeremiah 3:14-17, Israel was to have "pastors according to [Elohim's] heart, which shall feed them with knowledge and understanding." This was a prophecy of redeemed Israel entering Zion, and was quoted by Pastor John Robinson (1575-1625), minister to the Pilgrims, at the time they set sail for America. New Testament prophecies also speak of Israel's conversion to Christianity. The Apostle Paul in Romans 11:26 tells us, "There shall come out of Zion the deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." This is a quote from Isaiah 59:20, and Paul relates it to Yahshuah's first coming as a present-day fulfillment. Although some may seek to dispute what exact percentage of Judean Israelites accepted Yahshuah as Savior, the facts indicate that at least a very significant representative number of Israelites became believers. Galatians 3:7 is another indication that believers are found among Abraham's descendants. The Apostle Paul also testifies this in Galatians 6:15-16 in saying, "For in Yahshuah neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God." The believing Israel of Elohim are augmented by large numbers of believers of all races who have joined in worship of Israel's Savior. They are a new creation today through faith in Messiah.
PROPHECIES OF ISRAEL'S FAITH IN MESSIAH
"And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I WILL GO AND RETURN TO MY FIRST HUSBAND; for then was it better with me than now." (Hosea 2:7) "And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that THOU SHALT CALL ME ISHI [husband]; and shalt call me no more Baali." (Hosea 2:16) "And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will BETROTH THEE UNTO ME IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies." (Hosea 2:19) "I will even BETROTH THEE UNTO ME IN FAITHFULNESS: AND THOU SHALT KNOW THE LORD." (Hosea 2:20) "And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and THEY SHALL SAY, THOU ART MY ELOHIM." (Hosea 2:23)
AN EXAMPLE OF SHALLOW FAITH
But the New Testament gives us examples of the shallowness of many people's faith. Matthew 27:20-22 says, "But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Yahshuah. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Yahshuah which is called Messiah? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified." These Israelites, many of whom believed Yahshuah to be the true Messiah, yet were caught up in an effort, led by the chief priests and elders of the Pharisees, to crucify the Savior. The Pharisees very effectively used crowd psychology to prevent the Romans from releasing Yahshuah. Some may take this shallowness of their faith as total rejection of Yahshuah, but the very same argument could then be used concerning the Apostle Peter, who was also a victim of the same crowd psychology. We read in Luke 22:55-57, "And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them. But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with him. And he denied him [Yahshuah], saying, Woman, I know him not." In fact, Messiah had predicted that Peter would deny his Savior three times before the cock crowed. (verse 61) Yet no one would seriously aver because of his temporary weakness, that Peter had turned atheist. It was an example of temporary shallow faith, not a rejection of faith in Messiah. In fact, Peter's travail of faith paralleled and symbolized that of the Israel people as a whole. The Book of Acts tells us that the faith, not only of the early disciples, but also of many thousands of Israelites was later strengthened when the Holy Spirit began His Work on the day of Pentecost. (see Acts 2:5-12, 36-41, 47; 4:4,17,21; 5:14,26; 6:1,7 etc.)
A popular view today assumes that by the collective act of weakness in denying their Savior at the crucifixion, the Israel people were actually totally rejecting their Messiah, and that virtually no Israelites outside of the Apostles expressed faith in Yahshuah from that time on. Some will even state that Elohim does not want Israel converted in this age; others say that it is not necessary because 'Jews are saved without a Messiah.' This latter opinion, known as "Dual-Covenant" theology, proclaims Jewish salvation by race, and is a cultic denying of the basic salvation doctrine of the New Testament. These un-Scriptural teachings are built upon the mistaken notions that all of Israel rejected their Messiah, and that the modern Jews constitute all of Israel's descendants.
CONVERTED TO MESSIAH
A steady stream of Israelite conversions to Christianity has occurred throughout the church age, and is a major reason that Jews by the early 20th century numbered less than 14 million. Bible prophecy in the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant guaranteed that Israel would be "as the sand of the sea shore for multitude" (Genesis 17), and "a thousand times" their three-quarter million number at the time of the Exodus. Certainly, the present small and declining number of Jewish religious adherents does not constitute all of the physical descendants of Israel in the world today. Funk & Wagnall's Jewish Encyclopedia relates an incident of an entire Jewish region of Europe converting to Christianity in the Middle Ages. (IX:644) Similarly, the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia speaks of "the rising tide of conversion" of Jews to Christianity in the 18th century. (V:641) In addition to conversions, intermarriages between Jews and Christians have been increasing to the point that a study cited in the Detroit News (8-25-97, 4B) stated, "INTERMARRIAGE... IS RUNNING ABOVE 50 PERCENT in the whole Jewish community." According to "polls conducted by several organizations, most mainstream Jews indicated that they would be more upset if their children brought home devout Orthodox Jews as marriage partners than if they brought home Christians." Jewish author Alan Dershowitz has documented that the rate of Jewish intermarriage is steadily increasing, and "if other cases are any guide, his own grandchildren will not be raised as Jews." Should we ignore the multitude of Israelites who are now a part of the Christian world? It is a fact that many Jews who did not convert to their Messiah through evangelism have seen their children converted through intermarriages. Through one method or the other, multitudes of Israel have indeed been converted to the Messiah in this age.
"MANY ISRAELITES WERE SAVED"
Despite the popular teaching that Israel rejected their Savior, some Dispensationalist scholars readily admit that large numbers of Israelites believed and followed the Messiah. "A Dispensational Theology," by Charles F. Baker, President Emeritus of Grace Bible College, states, "Paul was an Israelite in the flesh, and MANY SUCH ISRAELITES WERE SAVED" (p. 528). Yet later on the very same page he remarks, "The fulfillment [of the Kingdom] was doubtless conditioned upon Israel's acceptance of their Messiah. Because Israel rejected..." The contradiction is obvious here. If "many" Israelites became Christian, how was the kingdom refused? The rationale is that an Israelite national rejection occurred due to her leaders' rejection of Christ.
Such an argument, however, is fundamentally unsound. Since Israel during the time of Yahshuah was in subjection to Rome, the leaders of the nation were often neither Israelites themselves, nor spokesmen for the heart of the Israel people. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia comments on the Herodian family which ruled Judea as a puppet of the Roman conquerors: "Herod, surnamed 'the Great,' king of the Jews.... He was the son of Antipater, the IDUMEAN... They were unconditional adherents of the Roman rule, for which reason THEY WERE HATED BY THE PEOPLE... The actual term 'Herodians' occurs nowhere in Talmudic literature, and only in the Gospels where THEY ARE REPRESENTED, ALONG WITH THE PHARISEES, AS FOES OF JESUS." (Vol. V, pp. 325-327) Yes, Israel's leaders were the foes of Yahshuah and rejected him outright. However, notice that Israel's king and his family were not Israelites at all, but Idumeans, descendants of Esau-Edom, and were installed on the throne by Roman force of arms. They were hated by the people of Israel, and most certainly did not represent the thoughts and attitudes of the Israelites themselves. Historical research indicates that a significant number of Israelites did indeed follow their Messiah, and that this conversion process is continuing to the present day.