Is Jesus truly the Messiah so eagerly awaited by Judaism?
To the Reader
I write as a member of the Christadelphian community, a Christian denomination. Our history goes back to about the middle of the nineteenth century and it has always been our endeavour to get back to the Bible and its original teaching, especially to the beliefs of the first century Christians.
Christadelphians have always had good relations with the Jewish people. During the 1939-45 war many of our members cared for Jewish refugee children and ever since some of our members have continued to make garments for Jewish children returning to Israel in recent years.
We have been interested in Jewish history from Abraham until today, believing the return of the Jews to Palestine to be a fulfilment of Bible prophecy. We are daily readers of both the Old and New Testaments. I hope to show how the Christian hope is based on both parts of our Bible and that the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures, are not complete on their own. Quotations are generally from the Revised Standard Version.
My hope is that Jewish people will be encouraged to read the New Testament as well as the Old and find in it the fulfillment of their scriptures.
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."
The Bible we read
Sometimes people talk about Judeo-Christian thought, beliefs and values. They see the Jewish and Christian faiths as having something in common and yet know them to be different, even at odds with each other. Whatever is the case it has to be said that they have a common source. This is the Hebrew scriptures which form the first part of the Christian's Bible. Christians call this part of their Bible the Old Testament, not meaning any disrespect - it is just that our Bible has a second part called the New Testament. In fact we greatly respect the Hebrew scriptures and regard them as an equal part of God's word and revelation, given just an era earlier than our own. They consist of:
The writings of Moses, the Pentateuch
The Prophets - Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah and his Lamentations, Ezekiel and Hosea to Malachi
The Writings - Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Daniel.
As you know the Hebrew scriptures record the history of the Jewish nation from Abraham onwards; Israel in Egypt, at first welcomed in Joseph's time and later enslaved, but God redeemed his people and under the hand of Moses and Joshua brought them into the promised land. During the exodus He gave them the law - the Torah. The times of the Judges and kings follow- Saul, David, Solomon until Zedekiah. God had called Israel His people to be a kingdom of priests, an holy nation but in the end brought the kingdom to an end, 'Until he comes, whose right it is.'(Ezekiel 21.27)
The prophets were those men who spoke for God. "Thus saith the Lord," or "The word of the Lord came to me," were typical phrases expressing their authority. They expressed God's judgements, often rebuking rulers and the people for their lack of social conscience, for not looking after the poor, the widows and orphans. They often reminded the people of the need for true and sincere worship as the basis for their national life. They were also inspired to prophesy of things ahead both in the short and long term. In particular they spoke of first Israel and then Judah going into captivity as a result of God's judgements and of their return to their land in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The 'writings' contribute to the scriptures depths of feeling of individuals for God and his ways. "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" wrote David in Psalm 27. "As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for Thee, O God," wrote the sons of Korah in Psalm 42.1 "By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion," expresses the sadness of Israel in captivity in Babylon in Psalm 137.1
Several writers of the New Testament pay tribute to the validity of the earlier writings. There is a verse that says that 'All scripture is given by inspiration of God' - or, more literally God-breathed. It is as if what we read has come from the mouth of God and is His word. Another verse says that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, they were driven along by the living and active God to write His word. And they were not just any men, but holy men separated and dedicated to serving God and delivering his message - men such as Moses, Samuel, David and the prophets. Over the centuries of Jewish history God had used such men as speakers and writers of his message.
The above quotations from the Christian part of the Bible show just how greatly the Hebrew scriptures were respected by those of the new faith. They were said to be 'profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.' They were also able to make us 'wise unto salvation.' What an accolade to be offered by one part of the Bible to the other!
Allow me to introduce to you the second part of my Bible, the part we call the New Testament. The first thing to say about it, and this may surprise you, is that it is a very Jewish book. Like the Hebrew scriptures it consists of a number of books written by various writers and all of them except one were Jews. It focuses on one person, Jesus, who was a Jew, and he lived among Jews; Jesus himself said that salvation is of the Jews. Most of the action took place in Galilee and Judaea, then the land of the Jews.
The New Testament contains:
Four gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The word gospel means good news and each records some of the teaching of Jesus and events in his life leading up to his death by crucifixion and his resurrection.
The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke who was a Greek, is a sequel to the gospels. An apostle was a man sent with a message. They were originally specially chosen disciples of Jesus who spent much time with him during his three-and-a-half years ministry and now continued his teaching among the Jews and beyond to Gentiles. In addition to the twelve disciples there was a man called Paul, chosen by Jesus some years after his resurrection.
Letters, or epistles, written mostly by Paul but also by Peter, James, John, Jude and one anonymously addressed to 'The Hebrews' or Jewish Christians.
Revelation, the last book of the Bible, a message from the risen Jesus, is a highly symbolic book prophesying future events that would take place in the world, given for the encouragement and strengthening of Christian believers throughout the coming centuries. As you read it you realize it is packed with references and allusions to the Old Testament - the Jewish scriptures.
In fact the Jewish roots of the New Testament are shown in its very first verse: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." So the very first verse emphasises his Jewishness, that he was a descendant of Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, and of David, their great king.
As a Christian I see the New Testament as complementary to the Hebrew scriptures and a continuation of God's revelation to man. The New Testament contains abundant references back to the Hebrew scriptures and without them there are many things in the New Testament which I simply would not understand. Without the Old Testament I would only have half a Bible - I am glad to have it all.
I have previously made quotations from the New Testament to show how its writers regarded the Hebrew scriptures and valued them as the word of God. May I invite my Jewish readers to read and explore the New Testament - you may find that it is complementary to your own scriptures and brings them to a fulfillment - I hope so!
Promises of a Saviour
All the way through the Hebrew scriptures there is the promise of the coming of a special person. I would like to write something about a few such promises and suggest how the Christian reader sees their fulfilment. We should bear in mind that when we make promises we are usually speaking of things we will do in the future and so it is with God's promises to men.
At the very beginning of our Bible, the Hebrew scriptures, we read about Adam and Eve and their disobedience to God. God had given a command to Adam and Eve but the serpent persuaded Eve to take matters into her own hands and decide for herself what was morally right and wrong - just like many people do today. In this way the serpent became a symbol of evil and temptation. It was cursed above all creatures and God said to it, "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. It shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3.15) The implication of these words is that in due course a certain person, the seed of the woman, would overcome sin and its power. Who could this person be? Do we find him in the Hebrew scriptures? Notice that the matter is particularly between the serpent and the woman. In the first chapter of the New Testament Joseph, betrothed to Mary, is told by an angel, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
The word 'seed' was used in the verses from Genesis. It is an interesting word. Is it singular or plural? A gardener may empty a packet of onion seeds into the palm of his hand and say," I am sowing onion seed,' when he means many seeds. In the context of Genesis 3 it could be both singular and plural because the consequences of sin affect all people, but just one descendant of the woman would conquer sin and destroy its power for himself and for those who believe in him.
Abraham - Friend of God
God called Abram to leave Ur of the Chaldees and go to a land God would show him. He would make of him a great nation and in him all nations would be blessed.(Genesis 12. 1-3) When he came into the land of Canaan God promised him this land and said He would make his seed like the dust of the earth(14. 14-18) , promises repeated to Abram in Genesis 15. Although as yet he had no child he believed God 'and God counted it to him for righteousness' - a very significant phrase. God promised Abram a son but when the promise remained unfulfilled his wife Sarah became impatient and suggested Abram should have a son by Hagar her maid and as a result Ishmael was born. This was not what God had intended. When Abram was ninety-nine years old the promise that he should have a son with Sarai was repeated. At this stage Abram's name was changed to Abraham meaning 'a father of many nations' and Sarai's name was changed to Sarah meaning 'princess.' The following year the promised son, Isaac, was born.
We do not know how old Isaac was when Abraham's faith was tested to the utmost but we can be sure he was not now a child. God instructed Abram to take his son Isaac to mount Moriah and offer him there as a burnt sacrifice to God. This is graphically described in Genesis 22. Isaac is described as the son whom Abram loved and they 'went both together' on their journey. Isaac offered no resistance to his father, was bound on the altar and Abraham was ready to slay him with a knife when an angel prevented him. Not surprisingly God was satisfied with Abraham's faithful obedience and provided a ram for Abraham to offer in place of his son. The promises were spoken to Abraham for the last time, that his seed should be as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the seashore for number and that, "in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed because you have obeyed my voice." The whole incident has great significance for both Jewish and Christian reader, especially the cryptic words of Abraham, "God will provide himself a lamb."
The incident recorded in Genesis chapter 22 is often interpreted as showing that God did not wish people to make human sacrifices, which was the case, but the Christian reader sees it as an anticipation of future events.
- In the N.T. John the Baptist says of Jesus, "Behold, the lamb of God," and the reader sees the story of Abraham and Isaac as an anticipation of God's gift of His own beloved son to take away the sins of the world.
- Remember a phrase, "They went both together." God wished his son Jesus to give his life in sacrifice and Jesus willingly undertook this despite all the horror of it. When Jesus said, "I and my Father are one," he was saying they were of one mind and that he accepted his Father's will that he should lay down his life for the sins of the world.
- Isaac was the dearly beloved son of Abraham as was Jesus of his Father. At his baptism a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." In his gospel John tells us, "God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life."
- Remember the serpent from Genesis? Jesus died by crucifixion and in relation to this he said, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life," a reference back to the Hebrew scriptures in Numbers chapter 21.
So how should we regard the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus? Writing to Christians in Corinth the apostle Paul (more of him later) said, "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 2.22-25) According to Paul, however foolish God's way of providing salvation might seem to men it is His wisdom and His gift and He freely offers it to us if we will believe.
David was Israel's second king, chosen by God to replace Saul who was displeasing to him. In contrast David was much loved by God. After his anointing it was some years before David became king; he then defeated Israel's enemies and the kingdom was established. He wished to build a temple for God, but because David had been a man of war God did not permit this and instead made promises to David that He would build his house. "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your son after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son... And your house and your kingdom shall be established for ever."(2 Samuel 7.12 - 16)
It is easy to think this promise was fulfilled by Solomon, the son of David, who indeed built a temple for God, but was this its fulfilment? David himself seemed overwhelmed by the promise: "O Lord God! you have spoken also of thy servant's house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations." Long after Solomon the writers of the Hebrew scriptures were still mentioning David and speaking of a descendant to come.
- Isaiah wrote: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him...” (11.1-2) The whole chapter describes a time of peace when this descendant of David reigns.
- Similarly chapter nine is about a child who is to be born and to reign: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom...” (9.7)
- Jeremiah wrote: “Behold, the days are coming says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (23.5)
The New Testament begins with the words, "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." (Matthew 1.1) So Jesus is immediately connected with, descended from, the two men, Abraham and David, we have been thinking about - people to whom God made promises, and the gospel writer is now asserting that they find their fulfilment in Jesus of Nazareth.
More about God's promises to David: He would have a son but God would be his father. In the first chapter of Luke's gospel we read of the angel's message to Mary, a Jewess descended from David, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." (Luke 1.31) It reminds us again of the words of Isaiah that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son. Of course this is something unique, not heard of before or since, but Mary was assured, "with God nothing is impossible."(1.37) She was told more about the child to be born, "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will rule over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." (1.32-33) These words express God's intended destiny for His son, a fulfilment of his promises to David, that he would be the Messiah.
During the ministry of Jesus he was quite often known as the son of David. For example, two blind men who wanted to be given their sight shouted, "Have mercy on us Son of David."(Matthew 9.27) A woman living in the district of Tyre and Sidon with a sick child, appealed, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David."(Matthew 15.22) When he entered Jerusalem at Passover the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”(Matthew 28.9)
The question remains, when will God give to Jesus the throne of his father David? Jesus did not deliver Israel from the Romans or set up a worldly kingdom - to the disappointment of many, including his disciples. After his resurrection from death he ascended to heaven to be 'at the right hand' of the Father. My belief, as a Christadelphian, is that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, will come again with power and great glory and reign from Jerusalem, the place of David's throne, fulfilling Bible prophecies, of which Psalm 72 and Isaiah 2. 1-4 are just two examples.
We read in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles that at his ascension two men in white robes, surely angels, said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (1.11)
In Matthew's gospel Jesus said, "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels."(16.27) and "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. (25.31) And in Luke's gospel, in Jesus' own prophecy on the Mount of Olives, we read, "Then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (21.27) (‘Son of man’ was Jesus’ favourite title for himself.)
It is true that not everything prophesied about Jesus has yet been fulfilled but we have faith that all that is said about him in scripture, in both parts of our Bible, will come to pass. I also believe that there are signs in world events that suggest that their fulfilment will be soon. The last words of the New Testament are, "Surely I am coming soon. Amen. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus."
More about the Messiah
One of the wonderful things about the Bible is that although I am a Christian and therefore especially interested in the life of Jesus I can find much about him in the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures - not only in the prophetic books, but in other places too.
Isaiah's prophecy of the birth of a child has already been mentioned but a further detail is given us by Micah: "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days." (Micah 5.2) The verse makes two points: Firstly, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Strangely this was only brought about by a remarkable circumstance. Mary lived in Nazareth but the emperor Augustus commanded a census to be held, which meant that every man must return to the place of his family home and it was this that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Had there been no census at this time the prophecy of Micah might have been unfulfilled. Secondly, the coming of this special person was intended from of old, from everlasting. This is because he was to be the seed who would conquer sin, promised to Eve in the garden of Eden.
It is well known that Jesus was persecuted and crucified: we find prophecy of this in the psalms:
- Psalm 22 speaks of the mockery of Jesus on the cross: "All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; 'He committed his cause to the LORD; Let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him.'" (.7-8)
- It tells of the dehydration and thirst of Jesus on the cross: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; thou dost lay me in the dust of death."(.14-15)
- It describes graphically the brutal torture of crucifixion: "Yea, dogs are round about me: a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and my feet - I can count all my bones - they stare and gloat over me." (.16-17)
- His clothes were shared out by the Roman soldiers, unknowingly fulfilling these words : "They divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots." (.18)
- But the victim is not left to despair, he would be raised to life again by his God and would proclaim the name of God: "I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee." (.22)
- It would prove to be an event to remember for all time: "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all families of the nations shall worship before him." (.27-28)
The psalm was written by David but these were not his own experiences. We could ask to whom does the psalm relate if not to Jesus? Why did Jesus cry out on the cross the opening words of this psalm, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It was a cry of anguish but perhaps part of the answer is that when some of those who had brought about his death read the psalm again they would realise the scripture was being fulfilled.
Another graphic chapter of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 53. Salvation is a dominant theme of this prophetic book and in this chapter the inspired writer portrays the sufferings of the Saviour. We contend that it is a prophecy of things relating to one man, the Messiah. For the Christian reader this is Jesus and naturally there are a number of references back to this chapter in the New Testament. But here are words from the prophet himself:
- "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not." It was a punishable crime to show sympathy to a man being executed by crucifixion.
- The writer says: "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed." Jews of both Old and New Testament times would be familiar with animal sacrifices made to atone for sins, but in this passage the One who was the Lamb of God is described. Remember Abraham's words? "God will provide himself a lamb."
- Why was such a Saviour necessary? "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." To save us from sin and death was an important part of the work of Messiah.
- Accepting his death as the will of God, he did not curse or threaten those who inflicted it on him. "He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth."
- Another detail from this chapter: "And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death." Luke in his gospel tells how Jesus was crucified between two criminals and when he had died his body was taken down from the cross by a wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathea, and was buried in his tomb. These are just a few verses from a whole chapter that is descriptive of the suffering of Messiah.
The following verses show that it was the will of God that he should suffer and die and Jesus desired to fulfil the will of God and obey Him. His death on the cross would make possible the forgiveness of sins of those who put their faith in him and in this way he would have an offspring or seed. The Saviour is referred to as the righteous one and by knowing him and believing in him others are made righteous, says the prophet. The end of the chapter tells us that because of his commitment to the will of God, God will divide him a portion with the great, or to quote another version, God would give him the honours of one who is mighty and great, because he poured out his soul unto death.
The same summary of events is made at the end of the previous chapter: "As many were astonished at him - his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form that of the sons of men - so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand."
So for the suffering Messiah there is to be a glorious future reaching its climax as the Saviour and ruler of the world.
A remarkable Jewish Christian
He was born Saul of Tarsus, of a Jewish family, of the tribe of Benjamin - he called himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews. He was well educated according to the strict manner of the law of the fathers, sitting at the feet of Gamaliel, a respected teacher in Jerusalem. From the book in the New Testament known as the Acts of the Apostles we know that he was violently opposed to the Christian faith and persecuted to the death followers of Jesus.
It was while he was on his way to Damascus with the intention of continuing the persecution of Christians that Saul was blinded by a heavenly vision of Jesus and heard his voice, "Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?" He remained blind for three days and was brought into Damascus to Ananias, a Christian believer, who knew what was Saul's purpose in coming to his city. But he was told by the Lord to go to Saul and restore his sight, "For he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the sons of Israel."(Acts 9.5) In his blindness Saul had time to think over his previous actions and was now ready to repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ and become his servant.
In one of his New Testament letters he tells that as a young, well educated Pharisee he had excellent prospects for advancement beyond many of his own age and was zealous for the traditions of the fathers, but having been called by God to the Christian faith and been baptised, he put all of that behind him.
Paul, as he became known, was an outstanding preacher of the Christian gospel in the first century. The second half of the Acts of the Apostles is entirely devoted to his work. His vocation was to preach to the Gentiles and yet he held it as a principle, that he would always offer the gospel first to Jews and then to Gentiles. For this reason he usually preached first in the synagogue - where some Jews converted to the new faith but most rejected it. Wherever Paul went he was followed by the Jews who wished to hamper his preaching and even to kill him.
After his third long preaching journey he returned to Jerusalem in spite of several warnings that the Jews would be waiting for him with the intention of handing him over to the Romans, as they had done with Jesus. But nothing would deter him and there he was falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple. When he was allowed to speak to the angry crowd Paul told them about his early life, his conversion and subsequent preaching to the Gentiles. "Up to this word they listened to him; then they lifted up their voices and said, 'Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he ought not to live.'"(Acts 26.22)
In the passage in which Paul describes his life before he became a Christian we read, "as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless." (Philippians 3.6) This reveals much about the mindset of Paul as a Pharisee. He believed that by keeping the law meticulously he could achieve righteousness, that is be 'right' in the sight of God, and therefore merit immortality. But as a Christian he saw things quite differently. He says, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I might gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." (3.7-10)
So what did Paul now think about the law and about righteousness? Paul now saw that righteousness, being made right in God's sight, is based on faith in Jesus Christ and in the covenant God made with Abraham, who was justified by faith. "For the promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect."(4.13-14) We saw earlier that God's promise to Abraham was that in his seed all nations of the earth would be blessed. In his letter to the Galatians Paul wrote: "And the scripture," (he means the Hebrew scriptures)," foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all nations be blessed."(Galatians 3.6-9) So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith." And he concludes by saying, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise." (3.27-29)
I find it remarkable that Paul should couple promises God made to Abraham about 2000 years previously and faith in Jesus Christ, and that he should refer to those promises to Abraham as the gospel! Paul's faith now rested on the God of Israel, the Creator of all things, and in Jesus. All important to him was the fact that Jesus had died on the cross and was now alive for evermore, having been raised to life by the power of God. The resurrection of Jesus is fundamental to the Christian faith and is another aspect of Old Testament prophecy about him. It is the assurance to us of a future life.
Paul was profoundly sorry that most of his Jewish brothers rejected the new faith: "My brothers, from the bottom of my heart I long and pray to God that Israel may be saved! I know from experience what a passion for God they have, but alas, it is not a passion based on knowledge. They do not know God's righteousness, and all the time they are going about to prove their own righteousness they have the wrong attitude to receive his. For Christ means the end of the struggle for righteousness-by-the-law for everyone who believes in him." (Romans 10. 1-4 translated by J.B.Phillips)
And this is how he concludes chapter four of Romans: "No distrust made him (Abraham) waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "reckoned to him as righteousness." But the words, "it was reckoned to him as righteousness," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification."
After being raised from the dead and before his ascension to heaven Jesus instructed the apostles to go out into all the world and preach the gospel, the gospel based soundly on the promises of God to Abraham and to David. They were to preach to everyone irrespective of race or nationality because in Abraham all nations were to be blessed, and in fulfilment of the promises to David there will be a kingdom of God on earth. The gospel was capable of uniting Jew and Gentile in hope so that through faith in Jesus the Messiah there would be neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free but all would be one in him. By faith and baptism into Jesus, Paul says, people of all nations could become the 'seed' of Abraham and inherit the promises made to him. No doubt over the next century or two, and especially by the time Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman empire under Constantine, its Jewishness was largely lost, very much to its detriment. But there have always been those who have seen the ancient promises of God as the basis of their Christian faith and await the time when he will come again and as Messiah establish his kingdom, reign on earth and thus fulfil the promise of the angel Gabriel before his birth that, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1. 32-33) By his rule peace, righteous judgement and happiness will brought to our troubled world.
With this hope in mind we obey the words of the Psalmist: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they prosper who love you! Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers! For my brethren and companions sake I will say, Peace be within you." (Psalm 122. 6-8)