I’ve had a couple run-ins recently with a theological movement that goes by numerous names, but in essence is a push to return to the Hebrew holiness laws, festivals, and in some cases even sacrifices. In its more docile form its adherents love to use the Hebrew names for God and Jesus, “Yahweh/Yah”, “Yeshua/Massiach” . . . in its more extreme forms it believes that true holiness and purity can ONLY be found by obeying the Hebrew laws and celebrating the feasts and festivals of the Jews. There are sects of this movement that teach that the crucifixion of Jesus is only a place holder until a Red Heifer can once more be sacrificed in the temple.
Without getting into the nitty gritty, I just wanted to jot down a handful of thoughts in regards to how, as Christians, we ought to understand our relationship to the Hebrew laws, customs, etc. I’ve written on this before, and if you have a hankering for a bit lengthier of a discussion on this you can read it here.
The Jewish law and tradition is glorious and marvelous, but I’ve seen many Christians tempted to become infatuated with it to the point of believing that peace with God is found in keeping and understanding the Old Testament law. The Apostle Paul foresaw the temptation which the Jewish law could hold for disciples of Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 he describes to the early church the condition of the Israelite nation, “But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” God hung a veil over the minds of the Israelites, to the point that though all the law and prophets testified of their Messiah, but when He came they still crucified Him. Ironically, they crucified Him in order to keep the integrity of the law, as they thought. We see here in Paul’s writing that those under this veil cannot see Christ in the Law of Moses; there is a promise that that veil will someday be taken away and the Jewish nation will be brought into the fold of Christ, and great blessing will be enjoyed by the whole Church.
Two verses later Paul contrasts the blindness of the Jewish nation in regards to Moses’ Law with the understanding which believers in Christ have: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18).” So, why, I ask, would someone who has been given the gift of seeing Christ clearly, return to a state of blindness? The Gentile believer has been welcomed into the family of faith; yes Abraham has a physical lineage, but the New Testament clarifies that Abraham’s children are those who are born of faith not merely by flesh. The fascination with and pursuit of understanding of Hebrew law and customs is not bad in and of itself, however, flee from the temptation to return to the veil which blinded the eyes of Jews to the glory of the Messiah who fulfilled Moses’ law.
Old things have passed away, all is become new, and God, in Christ, is reconciling the world unto Himself. The danger in hebraism is that it can lead to a righteousness of works, not by faith. However, it ought to be noted that God obliterated the whole Hebrew system of symbols and shadows, and even went to the extent of destroying the temple in 70 AD. The works of the law cannot save, and God, even through the prophets, made it clear that He desired “mercy and not sacrifice.” In essence, God is interested in a soul delighting in Him, not a duty-driven performance. Understanding Hebrew culture and feasts in the light of Christ’s countenance is sure to enrich our understanding of all Christ fulfilled; but we must not forget that He has made a new covenant in His blood shine upon the Gentile lands of darkness, and all the typological shadows dissipate in the light of the Person to which they pointed!
In this same passage, Paul makes a profound statement, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17).” In Christ we have received true liberty. Liberty from seeking salvation in pronouncing God’s name correctly. Liberty from being saved by being Abraham’s descendant. Liberty from the slavery to sin that came from Sinai’s law. Liberty from the blindness that hangs over the Jewish mind in regards to God’s purpose in Old Testament law. Liberty to love and obey the commands of the Son and no longer be under the tutelage of the schoolmaster that brings us to the Son (Gal. 3:24-25). Liberty to see clearly the glory of the One who condescended to wrap Himself in human clay, and be the despised and rejected Savior, who is not only the King of the Jews, but now the King of all nations!