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Lesson 5: A View Too Small: Resurrection
This entire series of columns covers topics that live at the intersection of the Christian world and the Jewish world. My goal in each column is to make many of you think about something that you may have never considered before!
The last few columns dealt with sins in the Christian world. Today, we will begin a mini-series on topics in which I don’t believe we (as Christians) are totally wrong, but for which our current view is just too small. The first of these topics is: resurrection.
In choosing this topic I feel like a sprinter who wears sprinting shoes to a marathon! In other words dear readers: you are not in for a slow start!
But the reason I want to begin with the “big kahuna” of resurrection is because of how we finished last time. Certainly some readers will say to themselves, if not to me directly, that I have betrayed my own evangelical heritage by telling Christians that we need to get right with God and serve our Jewish brethren “in reverence to Christ,” while forsaking their souls to… that great unknown that lies beyond the veil of death. Certainly some readers will say that I am forsaking the ministry of the Gospel of Christ as I have been commanded.
Actually, I have worked hard in such ministry. Even today, I maintain supportive friendships with those who risk imprisonment or death because they share the good news of Christ in Muslim countries. In 2013, I sponsored, attended, and spoke at the first-ever conference held on the topic of Isa Dreams: the dreams that millions of Muslims have had about Isa (Jesus in Arabic) who appears to them in various ways. Before that I helped sponsor a website called isadreams.org that has collected such stories for the benefit of Christians and Muslims who are searching for validation of the very dreams they have had. If there are many paths to God (I am speaking of the Father), then why is Jesus/Isa breaking into people’s lives in the Muslim world to show them that the path to God is a path that does not go directly to Him, but through Isa?
Enough research has been done on the results of these dreams to show that thousands upon thousands — if not millions — of Muslims are having their lives and perspectives changed by these direct encounters with Isa — most by way of dreams, but no small number through direct visions as well. One sample survey in a remote part of Indonesia suggested that about one in twenty Muslims had had such an epic dream: a dream that is unforgettable. How interesting then, that the occurrence of Jesus dreams among Orthodox Jews is practically zero!
I believe that when it comes to Israel, we are generally underestimating the power of God to fulfill His promises to His chosen people. The tragic history of Christianity is that we have viewed the “lack of response” by Jews to the announcement of Jesus as the Messiah as an ever-present indictment of them and an indication that God has forsaken them. And yet this historical mistake flies in the face of what Paul boldly proclaimed in Romans:
All Israel will be saved. Romans 11:26a (NASB)
This verse sends Christian theologians into a tailspin trying to explain how the word “all” means something less than “all”. One solution they latch onto is to define “Israel” as something less than “all the Jews”. I have personally heard this verse twisted around so violently as to use it as proof that Messianic Jews are the “true Israel”, because only Messianic Jews are saved! I consider this view a new twist on the old theme of Replacement Theology, which inevitably results in finding some way to exclude the vast majority of Jews from the promises of God.
Others read this verse and focus on the future tense “will be saved” and define it in this way: All the Jews who are alive and on earth at the time that Yeshua is revealed to them as the Messiah, and believe in Him — those Jews will be saved, but all those who died before that time are lost.
Excuse me! Will you do me a favor right now and look at your watch or a clock? Do you realize that at this very moment, less than 10% of Jews who ever lived are living on earth right now? Have you considered that this interpretation of “All Israel will be saved” is condemning 90% of Jews to a lack of salvation?
Such an interpretation cannot possibly fulfill that verse. It is a view too small.
But yet then how do we as Christians reconcile the gap? How do we as Christians believe Jesus when He said “No one comes unto the Father except through me?” (John 14:6), and also believe the declaration of Paul that “All Israel will be saved?”
The answer is through resurrection.
Resurrection as a Solution
Earlier in the same chapter in which Paul tells us that “all Israel will be saved” he tells us that our own salvation was dependent on the nation of Israel as a whole not recognizing Jesus:
By their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles. Romans 11:11b (NASB)
But with regard to that which is still to come, Paul strongly hints at resurrection when he says:
If their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead. Romans 11:15 (NASB)
What I am saying is that we Christians have worn down a path in our minds to read these scriptures as intending “the smallest fulfillment” that can possibly fulfill them. Yet, three verses earlier Paul exhorts us to imagine the largest fulfillment we possibly can!
Now if their [Israel’s] transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! Romans 11:12 (NASB)
We are being exhorted to think big, not small.
We Christians fall into the same trap in the Old Testament when we read about the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel:
Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, O mortal! Say to the breath: Thus said Hashem: Come, O breath, from the four winds, and breathe into these slain, that they may live again.” I prophesied as He commanded me. The breath entered them, and they came to life and stood up on their feet, a vast multitude. Ezekiel 37:9-10 (TIB)
A verse from this very passage is inscribed near the entrance of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Indeed, through the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust, the nation state of Israel has come back to life in the land originally given to it by God: Israel. I don’t have any problem with Christians proclaiming that this verse has been fulfilled in the rebirth of Israel in 1948; I only have a problem if Christians proclaim that it is the ONLY fulfillment of this verse!
Again, there is the tendency to read the Bible in a way that is too small.
If you read it as being fulfilled in the death of six million Jews and the rebirth of Israel, then to what end do you ascribe to the countless Jews who walked into the gas chambers of Auschwitz while singing the Shema? Is the very Messiah who in the New Testament would “leave the ninety-nine to recover the one” not going to recover those who were calling on the Name of Adonai at Auschwitz? The solution that I see, one that preserves the integrity of everything written in the entire Christian Bible, is resurrection.
In the New Testament, the Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, which literally means “a standing up” or “a resurrection”. The very first appearance of this word in the life of Yeshua is recorded in the words spoken over him by Simeon, a devout Jew in the Temple who said to Joseph and Mary:
“Behold, this [Child] is appointed for the fall and rise [anastasis] of many in Israel.” Luke 2:34b (NASB).
The translators chose the word “rise” in this case, but in every other case in the New Testament, anastasis is translated resurrection. I believe this verse is a reinforcement of the prophecy of the resurrection of Israel as spoken in Ezekiel 37. The vast multitude is both rising up and coming back to life.
Much more could be said, but my purpose is merely to introduce the idea of resurrection as a solution to those readers who want to reconcile in their minds the means by which God will keep His promise that “All Israel will be saved.” I’m sure that Jewish scholars would diverge with us about how salvation is and will be accomplished in the Jewish People. But again, I am not trying to convince Jews, I am proposing resurrection as a solution in the minds of Christians.
However, there is one place in which both Jews and Christians wholeheartedly agree. Unlike the Sadducees described in the New Testament, Orthodox Jews today believe firmly in resurrection. It may surprise you to learn that:
Jews pray for resurrection twelves times a day!
Contained within the 18 blessings of the Amidah in the Jewish prayer service, is the second of those blessings about God’s Might which can be translated as follows:
Your might is eternal, O Lord, Who revives the dead, powerful in saving, Who sustains the living with loving-kindness, Who revives the dead with great mercy, Who supports the falling, heals the sick, frees the captive, and keeps faith with those asleep in the dust. Who is like You, Almighty, and who resembles You, O King? Who can bring death and give life, and can make salvation blossom forth! And faithful are You to revive the dead. Blessed are You, LORD, Who revives the dead.
Not only is a future resurrection prayed four times, but salvation is affirmed twice! The Amidah is prayed in all three prayer services: morning, afternoon and evening. Therefore, resurrection is proclaimed at least twelve times per day by every Orthodox Jew!
The prophecy in Ezekiel 37 talks about a breath of life that must be breathed upon the dry bones. From where does that breath come? It comes from the four winds. While we Christians absolutely believe in the resurrection of the dead, we do not often pray for it. On the other hand, millions of Jews pray this very blessing daily all over the globe, and they pray it individually and whisper it through the gentle breath of their mouths.
It must be through the combined prayers of the Amidah that God will accomplish resurrection and salvation for Israel, as if it were all the combined breaths of all the prayers ever prayed that will come rushing down upon those bones from all directions: the four winds.
It is time for us as Christians to enlarge a view that has not been wrong, but has been way too small. We need to see a larger role for the might of God, believing and perhaps even praying WITH the Jews the very prayer they are already praying twelve times a day.
Twelve times a day? Indeed, all Israel will be saved!