Jewish Vision of Nationhood Through the Eyes of Moses Mendelssohn

A few days ago, I wrote down my thought on Romans 9-12 (see the previous post). Today, I attended an AKC lecture at King’s College titled Dreams and Nightmares: Jewish Political and Literary Visions of Nationhood, c 1840. Considering that it was a 50-minute-only lecture, the information given was quite a lot.

This lecture asks the following questions: how do religious dreams shape modern political visions, or do new political aspirations reshape older religious dreams? Do religion and politics inspire or clash with each other?

Hopefully, as Christians, we know at least a little bit about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. As argued by our professor, Jews experienced not only a loss of political authority but also fell into a partial captivity as exiles. The sovereignty of religion had departed from them.

With their hope rooted in the ancient land, Jews continued to live according to God’s commandment in every aspect everywhere they go. They are still longing to rebuild the temple and expecting their Messiah to return.

Some Hebrew poems that we have read, like that written by Judah ha-Levi titled “Won’t you ask, Zion”, are actually deeply moving. Sometimes I wonder why I am so ignorant of Paul’s love for His brothers in flesh.

The most interesting thing I have learned, however, is Moses Mendelssohn’s view of the Jewish vision of nationhood.

Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the famous composer Felix Mendelssohn, was a celebrated Jewish philosopher. Many equated him as the symbol of the Jewish Enlightenment. In 1769, a Zurich pastor named John Lavater and Mendelssohn debated with each other on Judaism and Christianity, and ever since, he devoted a majority of his time on Jewish apologetics while urging the pursuit of peace between Jews and Christians.

Unlike many Jews of his times and today, Moses Mendelsohn believed Jews should not act on the “political side” of the dream of their nationhood. Mendelsohn specifically quoted from The Songs of Songs (e.g. 2:7 and 3:5) to argue that without the miracles and signs as mentioned in the Scripture, Jews must not take the smallest step in the direction of forcing a return and a restoration of our nation.

In other words, Mendelssohn believed that “the return to the holy land” cannot be assumed as an embodiment of any political meaning; it has to remain in God’s realm.

This is fascinating because this view aligns so much more with the view that many New Testament believers hold (perhaps excluding Christian Zionists).

One wonder if the grandfather’s work had anything to do with Felix Mendelssohn’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Regardless, Felix demonstrated how one could be Jewish by ethnicity, Christian by religion, and German by culture.

Regardless, just like what I have written in the previous post, we should always love and respect our neighbor – both Jews and gentiles – while praying that they may all see and put their faith in the Lord Jesus, the Seed of Abraham and the promised Seed of the Serpent-crusher.

All Israel Shall be Saved

One topic that intrigues many Christians is the salvation of Israel proclaimed by Paul in Romans 9-12. Here are some of my thoughts regarding this matter.

First thing first — as basic as it may sound — you cannot just jump ahead to chapter 12 without reading the previous chapters.

Equally important is our understanding of what Israel can mean in the Scripture.

Most of the world would understand Israel as the nation-state of Israel that was declared by 1948.

But the Scripture also gives Israel three meaning: Jacob, the second son of Issac; Jews as the chosen race in the Old Testament; and the new people in Christ who consists of believing Jews and Gentiles.

In Genesis 12, we see God promising to make Abraham (then-Abram) a great nation and his name great. God blessed him so that he could become a great blessing himself, in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed. In Genesis 17, God made a covenant between Him and Abraham — again, with the promise of making his name great, but this time God especially emphasised he will be the “father of nations”, that nations shall be blessed through him.

These promises can be linked back to Genesis where God promised Adam and Eve the seed of the Serpent-crusher. Galatians 3:19 referred Christ as “the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. “ 

Galatians 3:16 speaks, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” Verses 3:27-20 further say, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”

To put it shortly, Christ is the Seed, the seed of Abraham. As we put our faith in Christ, we also become Abraham’s seed, co-heirs with Christ according to the promise.

So what is the Israel that Paul is talking about in Romans 9-12?

Let’s begin with chapter 9 first,

Romans 9:1-2 “I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” (if only we share Paul’s heart…I mean, Christ’s heart!)

In verse 3, Paul went on to say he would rather be cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers – “my kinsmen according to the flesh” – these are, as verse 4-5 continue, the Israelites whom to them belong the adoption, glory, covenants, laws, worship , promise, patriarchs, and from their race and according to the flesh is the Christ!

So here Israel refers to the Israelites, the Jews as the chosen people in the Old Testament.

Paul knew people would ask him questions such as, why then are the Israelites still not saved yet? Why do they still reject the gospel? Therefore, in verse 6, we see a but…

“but not all who descend from Israel belong to Israel…” (Romans 9:6). Paul reminds us that not all children of the flesh are children of God; the children of promise are those who put their faith in Christ, the seed of Abraham.

In Romans 9:15-18, Paul asserts that God will have mercy on whom I will have mercy with reference to the story of Pharaoh. Nevertheless, one, when reading this passage, must remember Pharaoh hardens his heart first initially. God searches and knows his heart, and then he declares he will harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21; 7:3). God knows Pharaoh will resist Him (3:19-20).

Romans 9:27 describes the number of sons of Israel is like the sand of the sea, but only a remnant of them will be saved. Logically, Paul here is still dealing with the Israelites in flesh as the chosen people in O.T.  Paul went on to speak that his desire and prayer is that they may be saved (Romans 10:1)

In Romans 10, Paul begins to, just as he has done in other epistles, stress that the new humanity in Christ consists only of those who confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9). In Christ, there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all (Romans 10:12).

Paul then asks, “has God rejected His people?” (Romans 11:1) with an immediate answer of “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” Again, we here Paul talking about the Israelites according to flesh.

In verse 4-5, we see Paul confirming that there is indeed a remnant among the Jews chosen by grace. 

Romans 11:11 and 14 have great implications to us as gentile Christians. Paul writes that salvation has come to gentiles to make Israel jealous. Again, Israel here refers to Israelites according to flesh. Are we living our Christian life — enjoying Christ’s riches —-in a way that make them jealous?

Romans 11:15 further impresses, for Paul says this rejection is for the reconciliation of the world. Their acceptance, however, is even more glorious as life from the dead!

Romans 11:18 gives us a sober reminder that we need to remain humble. We are not be arrogant to the Jews, for we were once wild olive shoot who are now grafted in to this olive tree, sharing in Christ as the root.

I am curious, however, that can Christians do the same like the Jews who were broken off due to their unbelief? Can we wilfully the same? After all, you cannot be broken off unless you were initially part of the tree with God as the root. I ask this question even though I am not an Arminian.

Here comes the most mysterious part, concerning the mystery of Israel’s salvation (of course).

Verse 11:15 tells us that a partial harding has come upon Israel until the fullness of gentiles has come in. Israel here then clearly refers to Israelites according to flesh.

The most debatable verse is 11:26, with the claim that all Israel will be saved. Is Paul talking about  Israel as the whole race according to flesh? or the remnant of Israelites? Or is it the “new Israel” consisting of believing Jews and gentiles?

In my opinion — based on the previous chapters where Paul repeatedly stress that the seed of Abraham are those who believe in Christ, and that those who are in Christ are the same tree, and that not all who descend from Israel are from Israel — all Israel means the whole of the new people in Christ consisting of the fullness of Gentiles and the fullness of the remnant of believing Jews.

Nevertheless, if one proceeds forward to verses 11:28-29, where Paul writes that “regarding the gospel, they are enemies for our sake, but regarding election they are beloved, for the gift and the calling of God are irrevocable”, we see that he is once again talking about Israelites according to flesh.

What does it leave us with? We can never be so certain when something is not explicitly explained, lest it leads us to spiritual blindness and pride. A few things are sure: we are not to be arrogant to the Jews (and of course we are not to be so to anyone!); there will be more Jews coming to Christ; our job is to live a life that attracts others, including Jews whom Paul says will be made jealous by us, to the way of Christ.

On the other hand, is the nation-state of Israel today the “promised land” to the Israelites? With full conviction, my answer is no. As many Christians would agree, all the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Christ; they are not to be found in a political entity. The Church is now the New Jerusalem. However, it is my personal conjecture that God will use the nation-state as a means to draw the remnant Jews back to him, just as He has always worked all things for good. How? of course I cannot say exactly – the best I can give are perhaps 1) with the establishment of the nation-state, Jews await even more eagerly for their promised political Messiah. However, the long wait may frustrate them eventually, leading them to gradually see Christ is indeed the promised king. 2) Since many Jews are no longer scattered but regathered in the state is Israel, Christians are able to preach the gospel to a multitude of them more easily by going there.

I know these are just my silly human speculations. Our job is, as I mentioned, to live a life that can draw all kinds of non- believers to Christ (by the grace of God, of course). Love them as you would love yourself. Love them with the love that you have received from God.

It is fascinating that while we are tempted to debate, Paul ends his writing praising the Lord. Romans 11:33-36 are probably one of the most beautiful praises written. How unsearchable and how inscrutable are God’s judgments and ways! Who has known the mind of the Lord; who has been His counselor? Who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? Indeed, let us praise along with Paul, declaring that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him!

Tired of Serving

Friends coming from at least four different traditional Chinese churches have shared that young people are getting tired of “serving” in their churches. The same dry systemical routine leaves them dull and weary, and with their struggles come more guilt – be it self-imposed or from others.

As I listen, I also ponder, what leads us to our tiredness and boredom from “serving”.

When we get tired of serving, it does not necessarily mean we are too busy. It does not necessarily mean we are not gifted enough. It also does not necessarily mean we have bad motives or are lazy.

Perhaps some of us are looking for a living Christ more than a dead programme, more than a dead routine, or a mundane ritual?

Perhaps we are looking for loyalty to Jesus rather than to a scheme or to an organisation?

Regardless of what reason it is to each specific case, Christ has to be the source. He is the source of love, life, and strength. Instead of renewing a responsibility-check or a “worship plan”, we need a renewed vision of Him.

We need to be recaptured His love and captivated by His beauty every single day.

It really struck me the other day that, before asking Peter to “feed his sheep”, Jesus asked him if he loves Him for three times. His primary question was if he loved Him, not if he knew Him well enough, or if he had all the charismatic leadership qualities.

All things, from wanting to know Him to depending on Him, from loving our fellow brothers and sisters as well as loving our neighbor, they all find their root in our love for Him.

Perhaps He asked Peter three times to remind him his three denials of Jesus. But even if so, Jesus did not have the intention to guilt him but to show him grace, that the prerequisite to “feeding the sheep” is primarily our first love for Christ instead of having lived “a perfect Christian life” without failure. 

Let’s go back to our first love when we find ourselves weary and drained, for indeed He is the source of life, love, and light!

No Longer Bothered By “Who Are The Least of These?”

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34–40 ESV)

I used to be among those who are bothered by the misuse of this passage: while I absolutely loved the ones who used this passage to encourage the Church to care for the poor and needy in the society, I always thought it is still important to understand the “least of these my brothers” as a reference to our brothers and sisters in Christ, since throughout the New Testament, “brothers” are used constantly as those who belong to the family in Christ,

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46–50 ESV)

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  (1 John 3:17. ESV)

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20–21 ESV)

But gradually, I realise it doesn’t matter (perhaps it does, but not to a degree of stubbornness), for the “the least of these” – be it the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, or the naked, may very well be our brother or sister tomorrow. Even more so, our acts of love often times are actually the channels where people come to taste and find the grace and goodness of Jesus Christ.

It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we love those around us as Jesus Christ would love them. We love them in a way that we acknowledge they are just like us, created originally in His likeness to be loved and pursued by God; and simultaneously, to love and pursue God. It is not our job to guess or determine whether one will come to faith in the end or not; we are simply called to love our God (and therefore our brothers and sisters because of our union with Him) and our neighbours.

Spiritual, Godly, and Human

Knowing God’s disapproval of sin, we often strive to become more “Christ-like” and “godly”. Yet Jesus Christ is both God and human. If we are to become more Christ-like, we will only become more human than before. As Eugene Peterson writes, “We don’t become more spiritual by becoming less human.”

True “spirituality”, “godliness”, and “humanity” go together. The more “spiritual” and “godly” we become, the more “human” we are.

Season of Darkness

Before my dear friend passed away last year from cancer, she said, “If I don’t memorize the Scripture now, I am scared that one day when I go blind, I will have nothing to hold fast to.”

She continued on sharing how, before cancer began torturing her (she had five failed surgeries before her death), the Scripture often appeared as dry letters, yet during her time of suffering, they became alive to her. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Those who follow Jesus will not always experience triumphs in life. There are always  seasons of joy and seasons of sorrow. That’s life. That’s how we enter into deeper union with Him.

In our times of darkness — when we are confused about our ways, when we feel distant from God — the word of God enters in as the life-giving Spirit.

In times of darkness, remember His goodness.
In times of darkness, don’t isolate yourself from saints.
In times of darkness, preach the word of God to yourself.
In our times of darkness, hold fast to what the word of God — or actually, Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh— says you are.

God Invented Matter and Friendship: Wisdom From Lewis and Hill

“And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being ‘in Christ’ or of Christ being ‘in them’, this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts-—that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution—a biological or superbiological fact. There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely’ spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.” – C.S. Lewis

“God never meant us to be purely spiritual creatures. That is why He uses material things like conversations, shared meals and trips, hugs, small kindnesses, and gifts between friends to enrich the new life He’s given us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented human relationships. He likes friendship. He invented it.” – Wesley Hill

With All The Saints.

One of my favourite verses are Ephesians 3:14-21. As you have probably noticed, my blog name is inspired by verse 20!

As I was revisiting the passage today for writing, a phrase stood out to me,

” may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God…”

with all the saints.

with all the saints.

with all the saints.

Sin as “Incurvatus in se”

Luther, under the influence of Augustine’s teaching, suggested sin as “Incurvarus in se”. While Augustine suggested that our primary sin can be understood as pride and a misplaced love, that is, self-love, Luther expanded on these ideas that sin is actually “humanity curved inward on itself”. In sin, humans live inwardly as solitary beings instead of communal beings. What a great insight.

Humanity was made in the image of triune God.  We outflow love to others as those receive love from God. It is an outward living rather than an inward living.