Continuing with our second point concerning what biblically constitutes a “true Jew”
2. A TRUE JEW IS A PERSON WHO HAS BEEN INWARDLY TRANSFORMED BY THE POWER OF GOD – The great covenant sign of the Old Testament era was circumcision. All male natural descendants of Abraham would be physically circumcised, but only those who were truly saved would understand the full significance of the rite. As baptism in the New Covenant signifies the washing clean from sin which comes through regeneration, so circumcision was symbolic of the cutting off of sin and casting of it away. Behind the outward rite of circumcision there lay a deeper spiritual meaning known only to the saved.
Regardless of the outward rite of circumcision, a Jew had to be converted for that circumcision to have any spiritual meaning in his life. So we find that when Moses said to the children of Israel: “When…you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul…” (Deut.30:2) he was referring to repentance and conversion, ultimately in the Gospel Age. Even the Jewish rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) understood it to refer to the time of the Messiah. However, rather than being a promise of release from earthly captivity (as Maimoni- des and the Jews would wrongly believe), the fruit of that conversion which is given a few verses later in Deut.30:6 speaks of the fact that,
“the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut.30:6)
It is plainly referring to the spiritual work which takes place in the heart of one who is a Jew after the flesh who then comes to believe in the Messiah. And as a profound echo of this, the apostle Paul made an extraordinary statement which cuts right across standard Jewish teaching and that of a great many professing Christians today, who seem to misunderstand the true meaning of Judaism. For Paul said:
“He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 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” (Rom.2:28-29)
True circumcision is not a mere outward ordinance but a permanent putting away of sin from the inner life. This is a work which can only be done by God through Jesus Christ the Mediator. This is yet another aspect of the fact that Judaism must be understood spiritually to be understood at all. The many misunderstandings about Judaism and Israel have arisen precisely because of a failure at this point.
Ultimately, Paul’s dictum in Rom.2:28-29 means that a true Jew is a converted person who, in the New Covenant era would recognise Christ as his Saviour. Therefore, since the advent of Christ we can say that a true Jew is a member of the Christian Church who is of either Jewish or Gentile background. Such have been circumcised in the heart and now understand the true meaning of the outward rite. As Paul exclaims:
“We the very beginning: an inability to understand things are the circumcision who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil.3:3).
The “we” to whom he is referring are “all the saints in Christ Jesus” at the church in Philippi to whom he wrote his letter (Phil.1:1), coupled with himself. This is surely the essence of the Lord Jesus’s contention with the church at Smyrna in Rev.2:9:
“I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan”.
Jesus graphically calls such Jews a “synagogue of Satan”. What would the politically correct lobby make of that today? Was the Lord Himself an “anti-Semite”, or a “racist”, or a “spiritual Nazi”? Not at all! He was a Man of truth who spoke plainly the words which people needed to hear and was not intimidated by threats from people; and neither would he be intimidated by the immature politically correct autocrats today who continually attempt to suppress any open discussion of important controversial issues.
Disbelief in Christ is a work of Satan. For it is the God of this world (i.e. the devil) who has blinded the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor.4:3-4, which refers primarily to Jewish unbelievers). Those who “say they are Jews and are not” and who are “a synagogue of Satan” are those Jews who claim their Judaism lies in their line of descent, who have confidence in the flesh. These will have been Jewish people outwardly who were persecuting the Christians at Smyrna. However, although they would have identified themselves as Jews, in reality they were not true Jews who are inwardly changed — new creations who would follow Christ as their Messiah now that He has come. They say they are Jews, but they cannot be so because they are not born again. This was the rabbi Nicodemus’s problem. Look at his conversation with the Lord Jesus in the third chapter of John’s Gospel.
Jesus told him that he must be “born again” if he was to be part of the kingdom of God (Jn.3:3, 5). Nicodemus, being at that time stuck in the earthly way of Jewish thinking, could only conceive of Jesus’s words as referring to another physical birth (Jn.3:4, 9). Jesus even had to upbraid him with the rebuke: “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (Jn.3:10).
It is most likely that Nicodemus was eventually fully converted (cf. Jn.7:50; 19:39); but at this time he was merely a seeker who said he was a Jew but in reality was not — one who only perceived spiritual truth as a religious husk, not having a circumcised heart of his own. A real Jew perceives the spiritual truth behind God’s words and acts on them.
We conclude that genuine biblical Judaism involves religion which comes from within, from the heart, rather than being imposed from without. That is the essence of true religion. A true Jew is a person who has been inwardly transformed by the power of God and thereby perceives the truth about Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.
A third hallmark of biblical Judaism is seen in the fact that;
3. A TRUE JEW IS, AND ONLY EVER HAS BEEN, ONE OF A REMNANT OUT OF THE NATION OF ISRAEL – At the beginning of the section concerning Israel in his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul reveals that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham”. (Rom.9:6-7) This needs to be properly understood as it is vital to our comprehending the true meaning of Judiasm and Israel. What these verses tell us is that we have to differentiate between Israel as the nation-state and those who are genuine Jews.
The nation of Israel was set up by God on the basis of the twelve tribes of Jacob and was intended to serve a singular divine purpose until Christ came (Gal.3:19-29). Once the promised Seed had come — referred to by Paul in Gal.3:19, and plainly meaning Christ, as prophesied in Gen.3:15 — the Old Covenant nation of Israel’s national and legal status no longer had any further purpose. But always within the national body had been the remnant of true Jews who were genuine believers, looking forward to the Messiah, who would be the “Consolation of Israel”.
The Saul/David axis was a classic illustration of this dichotomy between the true Jewish believer and the carnal professor who merely sheltered under the covenant blessings but had no real spiritual interest. Saul was primarily zealous for Israel and for himself, but David was zealous for the Lord and His true spiritual purpose. “They are not all Israel who are of Israel”. Not every Jewish person by descent was part of the true Israel, the believing people of God. Plainly, there was the
“House of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, And have come forth from the wellsprings of Judah; who swear by the name of the LORD”. (Isa.48:1)
Yes, there was that national husk who were called “by the name of Israel” — it was nominally Israel. And they certainly “made mention of the God of Israel” (Isa.48:1) with their mouths. But the problem was that in spite of all those external realities, their use of the name Israel and their mention of God was “not in truth or in righteousness”, as the prophet showed (Isa.48:1). They certainly “call themselves after the holy city, and lean on the God of Israel” (Isa.48:2), but sheltering in external, earthly blessings never was enough to save or lead to a sanctified life (cf. Psa.51:16-17).
However, among those external covenant people of God, there was always a small remnant of believing people — true Jews, who knew the spiritual realities which lay behind the outer husk of Exodus deliverances, wilderness wanderings, the provision of manna, animal sacrifices, ritual washings, and promised lands. In the experience of this remnant, the Mosaic law code drove them not into increasingly abstruse legalism (as it later did with the lawyers, Scribes and Pharisees) but into the arms of their Saviour, the Rock of their Salvation, the Anointed One. But the rest of Israel — the unbelieving majority — was an abomination to the Lord. As Isaiah puts it:
“Unless the LORD of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom, We would have been made like Gomorrah” (Isa.1:9-10).
It was only the godly remnant which ensured the continued preservation of Israel as a nation. “They are not all Israel who are of Israel”. And neither have they ever been. Of course, even the unspiritual majority of the Israelites always imagined that they were also the true Israel. They based that solely on their family tree being traced back to Abraham. But when John the Baptist “saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism”, he said to them:
“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones”. (Mt.3:7-9)
“They are not all Israel who are of Israel”. The Lord Jesus also used this double-reference for Israel very clearly in a conversation with the Pharisees:
“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father. They answered and said to Him, “Abra- ham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father [i.e. the devil]”. (Jn.8:37-41)
Do you see what the Lord is saying here? He first says that He knows that they are “Abraham’s descendants”. That much He grants. But he then says: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham”. Is He contradicting Himself? How can they be Abraham’s descendants and yet not be his children? The answer is that he is using the same term in different ways. Just as Paul uses the term “Israel” in two different ways to describe fleshly Israel and spiritual Israel (Rom.9:6), so the Lord Jesus does the same here. He knows that they are Abraham’s descendants according to the flesh; but from a spiritual standpoint they are not Abraham’s children. “They are not all Israel who are of Israel”.
And this is the essence of the biblical understanding of Judaism. A true Jew is, and only ever has been, one of a remnant out of the nation of Israel. As Paul puts it:
“What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Rom.11:7).
And therein lies the distinction which must be made. It makes no difference being circumcised, being of Israel according to the flesh, being a descendant of a tribe of Israel. Jewishness must be understood spiritually to be understood at all. Even if you could trace your genealogy back to Levi, Asher, Zebulun, Benjamin or Judah or whoever, that would merely be what Paul calls an “endless genealogy” of the sort over which the Jews have always been so ready to dispute (1 Tim.1:4). Such a genealogy is called by him “endless” because it goes nowhere of any importance today. The only meaningful genealogy now is the one traced at the beginning of the Gospels which leads to the Lord Jesus Christ, the epitome of the true Seed of Abraham. For,
“all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen” (2 Cor.1:20).
It is in Jesus Christ that God fulfilled the promise to Abraham that in his seed all nations of the earth would be blessed. All covenant promises and blessings converge in Him. Without receiving Him, there can be no fulfilment of the spiritual promises made to the fathers in the old covenant.
4. A TRUE JEW IS ONE WHO HAS MADE THE TRANSITION FROM THE OLD COVENANT WITH OLD TESTAMENT ISRAEL TO THE NEW COVENANT IN CHRIST – In spite of the fact that Israel broke the covenant which the Lord made with them, He promised a new covenant which would be on a completely different basis. We find this most clearly laid out in Jer.31:31-34:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not accord- ing to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more”.
When the Lord says “after those days” (v.33) He is referring to the time when the exile to Babylon is ended. He repeats this same promise in Jer.32:37-40:
“Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me”.
Now those who uphold the notion that Israel is still the chosen nation of God today claim that this “new covenant” mentioned in Jeremiah 31 and 32 has not yet been fulfilled.
As one such publication puts it: “Since such a revival has never occurred in Israel’s history, this event is yet to happen”. But this is to misunderstand the plain teaching of Scripture. The revival which that writer believes “has never occurred in Israel’s history” most certainly did happen, but because it did not conform to the Jewish manner of thinking, the majority of Jews missed it entirely.
It happened with the coming of Christ — initiated in the Apostles and the few others who at first believed, but was then compounded at Pentecost when three thousand souls were saved out of Israel, with many more to follow (e.g. Acts 4:4). Moreover, the diligent student of Scripture will discover in the Letter to the Hebrews that this “new covenant” in Jeremiah — which is quoted in full in Heb.8 — is the same as the one established through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb.7:22; 8:7-13; 10:11-22; 12:24; 13:20-21; cf. Mt.26:28). Please read these texts, by which the myths and fables will surely be dissolved. There is only one Mediator of the “new covenant” of which Jeremiah speaks, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ who has already come and announced that covenant to both Jews and Gentiles alike at His first coming.
We see here once more how Jewishness must be understood spiritually to be understood at all. When the Word says that the Lord will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, this finds its fulfilment in believers rather than anyone with a physical descent from the twelve tribes. It is ratified in those who are God’s people spiritually, whose sins are covered by the blood of Christ, who have the indwelling Holy Spirit — who don’t need mere external commands to know the Lord but who actually have God’s laws in their minds and written on their hearts. After quoting Jer.31:31-34, Heb.8:13 states:
“In that He [the Lord] says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away”.
This letter to the Hebrews was written shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple — which was God’s way of demonstrating that the Old Covenant had been brought to a shattering conclusion. In reality, it had ceased the moment Christ had cried out: “Tetelestai!” (“It is finished!” or “It has been accomplished!”).
There are many aspects to that mighty Word from our Saviour on the Cross, but surely one of the central facets is a powerful statement that the entire Mosaic economy was dissolved in order to make way for a better hope — the real hope of Israel in the finished work of Christ. And for about another forty years there was a strange interim, transitional period during which temple worship continued and Jews converted to Christ would still honour the Jewish Sabbath on the Saturday as well as assembling together on Sunday — the day of the Lord’s resurrection.
What happened in AD.70 was therefore a powerful way for the Lord to remove visibly every last vestige of the Old Covenant. A “New Israel” based on a New Covenant was in the process of being established. As Peter said to the Jews of Asia who had come to Christ:
“You are a chosen generation, a royal priest- hood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God” (1 Pet.2:9-10).
This is virtually a restatement of that Old Covenant saying in Ex.19:5-6:
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
So there can be no purpose whatsoever in the Jews adhering today to what is an “obsolete” covenant (Heb.8:13). We have already stated earlier that
“it is in Jesus Christ that God fulfilled the prom- ise to Abraham that in his seed all nations of the earth would be blessed — that all covenant promises and blessings converge in Him and that without receiving Him, there can be no fulfilment of the spiritual promises made to the fathers in the covenant”.
This is why the Lord Jesus is plainly referred to as “the Messenger of the Covenant”:
“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the LORD, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Mal.3:1).
Throughout the entire O.T. era, from the judgement delivered by the Lord after the Fall, the promise concerning the seed of the woman was the focus of godly expectation. And that godly expectation homed in on the Messiah when He came in the fullness of time.
To be continued…