Here is a clip where I discuss how college students approach the existence of God. If you want to support the work we do, click here.
Last year, I did a lengthy post called Why Do You Profess to be a Christian? The Need to be a Christian Casemaker.
Here is a short clip with a chart where I explain the need for being a Case Maker. I also discuss some of the reasons people think it is not needed.
Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters. But how much do you know about Paul, his background, and theology? There have been hundreds of books written about Paul. Here are some of my picks:
- Michael F. Bird, An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans
- Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message
- John M. Mauck, Paul On Trial The Book Of Acts As A Defense Of Christianity
- Eckhard Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods
- Robert L. Plummer, Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours
- Magnus Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship
- David Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity
- N.T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective
- James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (New Testament)
- Richard Longenecker, The Ministry and Message of Paul
- David Wenham, Paul and Jesus: The True Story
- Paul Barnett, Paul, Missionary of Jesus: After Jesus, Vol. 2
- Brian J. Dodd, The Problem with Paul
- Gabriele Boccaccini, Carlos A. Segovia: Paul The Jew: Rereading the Apostle as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism
- Michael F. Bird, Douglas Campbell, Four Views on the Apostle Paul (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
- M. Luther Stirewalt Jr., Paul, the Letter Writer
- F.F. Bruce, Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free
- Chris Tilling, Paul’s Divine Christology
- Martin Hengel, The Pre-Christian Paul
- Ben Witherington III, The Paul Quest: The Renewed Search for the Jew of Tarsus
- Calvin J. Roetzel, Paul: The Man and the Myth (Personalities of the New Testament Series)
- Pamela Eisenbaum,Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle
- Gerald F. Hawthorne, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (The IVP Bible Dictionary Series)
- Garwood Anderson, Paul’s New Perspective: Charting a Soteriological Journey
In this short clip, we discuss some of the issues that come up with people when we discuss the existence of God.
Here is a chart on some of the differences between knowing and showing God exists. Obviously, there is much more to it than what is displayed here.
Knowing God exists: There is a difference between knowing our faith is true though personal experience and sometimes what is called intuitive knowledge (i.e., something that is directly apprehended). Disciples of Jesus are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2). However, people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Thus, people have contradictory religious experiences that seem quite real. For example, Mormons claim that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as true by a “burning in the bosom”—this is something they consider to be a confirmatory personal experience.
Showing God exists: While religious experience and intuitive knowledge or sometimes what Alvin Plantinga calls “Properly Basic Belief” is important, all experience must be grounded by truth and knowledge. Knowledge can be the key thing as to what keeps us close to God over the long haul. Plus, Jesus says we should love him with all our being (i.e., mind, emotions and will). Sometimes people think that personal religious experience negates the need for having other good reasons for faith.
Here is a rather long, detailed article featuring Gary Habermas’ 12 Facts About the Resurrection. The 12 listed in the article are:
- Jesus died by crucifixion.
- He was buried.
- His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
- The tomb was empty (the most contested).
- The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
- The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
- The resurrection was the central message.
- They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
- The Church was born and grew.
- Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
- James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
- Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).
As far as this list, I don’t think #10 is very convincing. First, there was no Orthodox Judaism at the time of Jesus. Yes, there were Judaism’s. Pharisaical Judaism is one of the sects at that time. But as far as the Sabbath being changed to Sunday because of the resurrection, the evidence is debatable. See Craig Kenner’s article here.
Anyway, Habermas and Licona have shortened this list to what they call the minimal facts argument. The five well-evidenced facts granted by virtually all scholars who study the historical Jesus: (see See Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus) are 1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion 2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead 3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection 4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James 5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a committed follower of Jesus the Messiah.
In his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach , Licona discusses what is called “The Historical Bedrock.” These three facts about the Historical Jesus are held by most critical scholars and historians and they are part of the minimal acts argument.
1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion
2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.
3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.
Licona is more than aware that just because there is a list of agreed upon facts that is agreed upon by historians and Biblical scholars will not make it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. As Licona says, “Something doesn’t become a “fact” just because the majority of scholars believe it.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, pg 279).
However, as Gary Habermas says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.” (see Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2001), 152.
Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (See Christopher Blake, “Can History be Objective?” in Theories of History, Ed. Patrick Gardiner (New York: Macmillan, 1959), pp. 331-333; cited in Geisler and Hoffman, 152.
I have listed elsewhere some of those that agree with the minimal facts or historical bedrock. Even Bart Ehrman agrees with these three points:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion: Ehrman says: “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate” (see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 261-262).
2. Very shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them: Ehrman says: “Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of their written testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew are least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event (Galatians 1:18-19).” ( see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 282).
3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him: Ehrman says: “There is no doubt that [Paul] believed that he saw Jesus’ real but glorified body raised from the dead.” (see see see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 301).
So as you can see, it really boils down to what accounts for the post mortem resurrection appearances. And what do skeptics generally punt to account for the appearances? Subjective visions or hallucinations. If you read the article on Habermas, he discusses this issue.
This shouldn’t be a shock given that the biggest hurdle in the minimal facts argument is the issue of metaphysics (i.e., the study of being, reality). Granted, there have been many books written about the issue of miracles and it would seem that Hume’s dogmatism that many atheists seem to repeat isn’t as strong as it once was.
But in the end, the debate over the resurrection is always going to be about metaphysics. One approach is what it called the a priori approach while the other is called the a posteriori approach. Deductive reasoning is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). If one has decided that many of the events in the New Testament are not possible (because of an a priori commitment to naturalism), it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it). Some scholars may say they are open to taking an a posteriori approach to the resurrection, when it comes time to actually examine the evidence. However, in many cases, they set the bar so high that no amount of evidence will ever convince them. So in many cases, if one is just utterly convinced that the natural world is all there is than we are back to natural theology and whether naturalism can explain reality better than theism.
Then if you want to go further I suggest the book by David Wenham called Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? You can listen to his lecture here on the topic here.
Here are some of the things that I think all Christians should know about Paul
Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters. Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. Both Christian and non-Christian scholars have come to have great respect Paul. Allow me to mention a few comments here:
“Without knowing about first century Judaism, modern readers—even those committed to faith by reading him—are bound to misconstrue Paul’s writing…Paul is a trained Pharisee who became the apostle to the Gentiles.” –Alan Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), xi-xii
“Paul has left us an extremely precious document for Jewish students, the spiritual autobiography of a first-century Jew…Moreover, if we take Paul at his word—and I see no a priori reason not to—he was a member of the Pharisaic wing of first century Judaism.”–Daniel Boyarian, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 2.
“Paul was a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, well-versed in the laws of Torah.”-Rabbi Jacob Emeden (1679-1776)–cited by Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 18.
Allow me to list some of the basics every Christian should know about Paul:
1. Paul was educated
In this case, I have adapted much of this material from A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Galatians (The Jewish Roots of the New Testament) by Joseph Shulam and Hilary Le Cornu. I have taken most of these points from their section called Paul: A Biography, pgs, 435-469.
1. Paul studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3), the grandson of Hillel.
2. Hillel the Elder was nicknamed “the Babylonian” because he was descended from a family of Babylon.
3. Beit Hillel ended up having three successors, Rabban Gamaliel, the Elder being the first Sage esteemed with the honorific title of Rabban—“our master.”
4. The house of Hillel was unique in that it was an example of a family of who originated from the diaspora, with no priestly connections, which attained the position of hereditary leaders of the nation until, in the time of Rabbi Judah ha Nasi (170-200 C.E.), its members were officially recognized as by the Roman government as Patriarchs.
5. Beit Hillel ended up having three successors, Rabban Gamaliel, the Elder being the first Sage esteemed with the honorific title of Rabban—“our master.” The New Testament evidence demonstrates that Paul belonged to Beit Hillel rather than Beit Shammai. This is supported by Paul’s halakhot (with the possible exception of his view of the legal status of women), his tolerance and openness of Gentiles, some of his no literal interpretations, and his anthropocentric rather than theocentric emphases.
5. The Talmudic sources distinguish between the beit sefer (i.e., the house of the book”) wherein the (sofer) taught the reading of the written Torah- and the beit talmud (i.e., the house of learning). Children would learn the alphabet and how to read in the former, the teacher would write the letters on a wax tablet with a stylus and the pupils would recite them aloud. Reading skills were attained through repetition after the teacher and auditive memory since the scriptural text was not yet vocalized, students were dependent on the teacher’s precision in orally transmitting the precise reading for every passage.
6. Young children were taught how to read and understand the Torah and Prophets, to recite the Shema and the basic blessings over the food, and received instruction regarding their future roles in family and command of life. Following years of Bible study, students moved on to the study of the Oral Torah. School studies would finish at the age of twelve or thirteen (bar mitzvah age) and of the boy was gifted and so inclined he would then enroll at a “beit midrash” to study Torah with other adults who devoted themselves to Torah study in their spare time.
7. If he showed further ability and willingness he could go to one of the famous Sages and learn from him for a number of years. Gamaliel would of served as one of the foremost teachers of the “beit midrash” (e.g., a college or “seminary”) conducted by pharisaic leaders within the Sanhedrin. Therefore, given that Gamaliel was such a distinguished teacher, it may be possible that Paul began to study with him only after he had displayed great promise and reached an age whereby he could profit from learning under a great master like Gamaliel.
8. In the relationship between the students and teacher, a deep bond could be established which led to great love and respect. The subject matter of study revolved around three main areas: Bible, midrash (creative biblical interpretation), aggadah (narrative elaboration of the biblical text). Since Paul’s letters demonstrate a strong familiarity with biblical text among other ways, since he quotes from the Tanakh over ninety times in his letters, the standard hermeneutical rules are displayed both halakhically and aggadically.
9. Paul spoke mishnaic Hebrew/Aramaic as well as Greek (cf. Acts 21:37), in addition to possessing a reading knowledge of biblical Hebrew. Paul also demonstrated he was familiar with Greek poets (e.g., Epimendies, Aratus, Euripides, Memander). Therefore, since Paul’s letters show familiarity with rabbinic methods for interpretation of Scripture and popular Hellenistic philosophy to a degree, this makes it likely that he received a formal education in both areas.
2. Paul as an active persecutor
The language Paul uses in his pre-revelatory encounter with the risen Lord shows how antagonistic he was towards the messianic movement. In Gal. 1:13-15, Paul uses terms such as “persecute” and “destroy” to describe his efforts to put and end to the spread of the early faith. We see here:
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him (Stephen) to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. (Acts 8: 1-3).
Furthermore, Luke summarizes Paul’s persecution of the early Messianic community.
I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:10-11).
3. Paul’s Antagonism Towards the Early Messianic Movement
Paul doesn’t give a list of reasons as to why he persecuted the early Messianic community. It may be that Paul perceived faith in Jesus as a threat to Torah obedience. His zeal for the Torah is evident in his Letters (Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim 1:13). Any tampering with the Torah was off limits cause it defined the identity of the Jewish people. Or, perhaps Paul wanted to help keep the peace. Hence, he feared a Roman reprisal of a Jewish sect proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. Another possibility is that given that Deut. 21:22f. puts “the one who is hanged under a divine curse” and Paul’s language about the offensiveness of a crucified Messiah (1 Cor. 1:23), Paul knew the seriousness of his fellow countrymen proclaiming a crucified blasphemer like Jesus. In the end, we can’t be dogmatic as to why Paul was the persecutor that he was. Paul doesn’t list his reasons for why he persecuted the early followers of Jesus.
4. Paul’s Encounter with the Risen Messiah
Paul did not follow Jesus from the beginning. However, Paul is still considered an apostle, though “abnormally born” and “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9). His turning to Jesus happened though a dramatic revelatory encounter (Acts 9: 1-7). His first years as a follower of Jesus in Arabia remain a mystery. Three years later he went to Jerusalem to visit; this is where he saw Peter and James. Paul’s account of his calling in Galatians 1:15-16 is similar to what Jeremiah’s says about his own calling:
But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (Gal 1:15-17)
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jer.1: 4-5)
Regarding what happened to Paul, he more likely received a “call” rather than a conversion to a new religion. He says “ I am a Jew” (Acts 22;3) “I am a Pharisee” (Acts 23;6), and “I am a prisoner for the sake of the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20). Notice that Paul didn’t say “I was a Pharisee” or that “I was a Jew.” He saw his calling as being in line with the same divine mission that was given to the prophets of the Old Testament.
5. Paul’s Letters: Primary and Secondary Sources
Remember, written and oral sources are divided into two kinds: primary and secondary. A primary source is the testimony of an eyewitness. A secondary source is the testimony source is the testimony of anyone who is not an eyewitness-that is, of one who was not present at the events of which he tells. A primary source must thus have been produced by a contemporary of the events it narrates. Since Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, he can be considered as a primary source. He also claimed to have a personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:5-9).
6. Paul’s use of oral tradition terminology
Paul employs oral tradition terminology such as “delivering,” “receiving,” “passing on” “learning,” “guarding,” the traditional teaching within his letters in the following places:
Romans 16: 17: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”
1 Corinthians 11:23: For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread.
Philippians 4:9: The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
1 Thessalonians 2:13: For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
2 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
7. Why do Paul’s Letters Matter?
Paul’s letters are dated between AD 40 and 60. These are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus. Therefore, to jump to the Gospels as the earliest records to the life of Jesus is a tactical mistake.
Note: To see some of the common objections to Paul, see our post “But Paul Never Met Jesus”And Other Bad Arguments About Paul On The Internet
In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith.
Kreeft and Tacelli say we must distinguish between the act of faith from the object of faith- believing from what is believed. The object of faith means all things believed. For the Christian, this means everything God has revealed in the Bible. This faith (the object, not the act) is expressed in propositions. Propositions are many, but the ultimate object of faith is one. The ultimate object of faith is not words, but God’s Words (singular), indeed-Himself.
Without a relationship with the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God. But without propositions, we cannot know or tell others what God we believe in and what we believe about God. They mention a few aspects of faith here:
1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).
2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.
3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.
Belief That and Belief In
Many Christians object to the use of apologetics. Even though it is all throught the Bible, in many cases, there seems to be confusion between Belief that and Belief in. Let me explain:
We should note that the apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8).
However, anyone who does apologetics knows the Holy Spirit has to play an integral part of the entire process. AsAfter all, it is impossible to be effective in apologetics without the work of the Spirit in both the apologist and the hearer. Hence, no mature apologist forgets that the Bible stresses that humans are blinded by sin. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13; 2 Cor. 4:4). How people respond to God’s revelation depends on several factors such as his/her personal history (both past and present). People can be hardened towards God; sin certainly dampens an individual’s ability to being receptive to God’s invitation to them.
Therefore, apologetics may serve as a valuable medium through which God can operate, but the mature apologist knows the issue is never the product of historical facts or evidence alone. For example, in James 2:19, it says that the demons believe that God exists. But just because the demons think God exists, this doesn’t mean they have saving faith. Objectively speaking, apologetics or evidence for God may help someone believe that God exists. However, the individual still needs to place their trust in God. This can only be done with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15). Therefore, the apologist knows and prays as well that the Holy Spirit will move the will of the individual to come to the place to have belief that God exists and also trust in him for their salvation.
Most recently, my friend Dr. Michael Licona debated Jewish atheist Larry Shapiro on the resurrection of Jesus. This is the second time they have debated. In the Q&A part of the debate, Dr. Licona asked Dr. Shapiro what would change his mind about the resurrection. I can almost sum up what happened here.
(1) The claim that Jesus rose is extraordinary….
(2) Therefore, any evidence supporting it ought to be extraordinary as well.
(3) I’m not sure what I mean by “extraordinary.”
(4) But whatever you come up with, it’s not going to work.
(5) Therefore, Jesus did not rise.
(6) Oh wait, I do know something that would convince me.
Shapiro says he would like to verify the fact that Jesus actually died. In other words, he needs be present in the first century to verify this. A couple of issues here:
Once again, like many atheists, Shapiro seems to not know the difference between direct and circumstantial or indirect evidence. Remember:
- Direct evidence: Evidence that is simply unavailable to those of us who are studying historical events in the Bible: This is called “direct evidence.” We were not present to directly witness the events in the Bible. Nor, are we able to directly verify many scientific events and other historical events in the past.
- Almost all of historical evidence, science, as well as cold case investigations are built on “circumstantial or indirect evidence.”
Also, we must utilize what is called “Inference to the most reasonable explanation” (Abduction)
- Inference refers to the process of collecting data and then drawing conclusions on the basis of this evidence.
- We compare the evidence to the potential explanations and determined which explanation was, in fact, the most reasonable inference in light of the evidence.
- The best explanation will cover all the data.
In the debate, Shapiro is convinced his alien hypothesis is just as good as Licona positing that God is the best explanation for the raising of Jesus.
- Remember, whatever someone proposes as an alternative explanation, it has to be able to adequately explain all the minimal facts (i.e., the death of Jesus the birth of the Jesus movement, the experiences of the disciples with the risen Jesus, Paul coming to faith, etc).
- Explanations can’t be ad hoc: People make up explanations, despite the fact that we have no real evidence for what they are making up. Remember, an assertion is the act of asserting something without evidence. Evidence is facts or observations presented in support of an assertion. Shapiro says he can come up with several other possibilities other than the alien hypothesis. But he seems to think that just because he can assert hundreds of possibilities, they are all just as good. But he needs evidence for his assertions. Licona provided evidence for why the alien hypothesis is nonsense.To see some of the common naturalistic objections to these minimal facts, see our post, Answering 15 Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus.
Does anyone ever think about the return of Jesus these days? In my experience, the backlash to the Left Behind Series has made it harder for Christians to get motivated to discuss eschatology. Orthodox or Traditional Judaism says Jesus didn’t bring the kingdom or restore Israel.
As far as Christians, depending on one’s eschatology, some Christians think Jesus will bring the physical or earthly aspect of the reign of God in the future. It is evident that Jesus did inaugurate the kingdom of God. However, he didn’t do this physically but spiritually. Thus, Jesus spoke of a mystery form of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11) that is taking place between His first and Second Coming. Jesus now offers an invisible, spiritual reign through a new birth to both Jew and Gentile that will last throughout eternity (John 3:3-7; 18:36; Luke 17:20-21). And once again, depending on one’s eschatology, some Christians have concluded that Jesus corrected the view that there will be a restored Israel in the future. I should note that Craig Evans says:
Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the conversion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike. -Craig A Evans, From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation
Jesus spoke about the relationship between Israel’s repentance and their response to him in the following text:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”-Luke 13: 34-35
A similar text is seen in Matthew 23: 37-39:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Notice the emphasis on the article “until.” Here, it could not be clearer that Jesus says the Jewish people will not see him again and cry out to Him until there is genuine belief on their part.
Another text that is important to the concept of Israel’s repentance and the Messiah’s return is seen in Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:19-21:
“But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”
Here, the word for restoration is “apokatastasis” which is only seen in this text. There is also a similar theme in Acts 1:6 when Jesus is asked about “restoring” the kingdom to Israel. There is also a similar theme in Acts 1:6 when Jesus is asked about “restoring” the kingdom to Israel. C.K. Barrett said that this text speaks of “the times of refreshing” which suggested “moments of relief during the time men spend in waiting for that blessed day.” – C.K. Barrett, “Faith and Eschatology in Acts 3” in Glaube und Eschatologie (ed. E. Grässer and O. Merk), J. C. B. Mohr. 1985). 1-17.
The point is that the Messiah is in heaven and his reappearance to rule and reign can be expedited by Israel’s repentance. Also, as widely respected theologian Gerald McDermott notes in his book, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land:
1.The Greek word he uses here for “restoration” is the same word “apokatastasis” used in the Septuagint for God’s future return of Jews from all over the world to Israel.
2. I will bring them back [apokatastēsō] to their own land that I gave to their fathers. (Jer. 16:15)
3. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back [apokatastēsō] to this land. (Jer. 24:6)
4. I will restore Israel [apokatastēsō] to his pasture. (Jer. 50:19 [27:19 Septuagint]
5. Peter was using a Jewish code word for a future, renewed earth in which Israel would be preeminent.
Ironically, the same themes about the condition of Israel and the coming of the Messiah (for the first time) are seen in the Rabbinical literature. In the book Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife, Leila Leah Bronner says the following:
All “the ends” have passed and still the Messiah has not come; it depends only upon repentance and good deeds. (BT Sanhedrin 97b) If [the whole of] Israel [genuinely] repented a single day, the son of David would come immediately. If [the whole of] Israel observed a single Sabbath properly, the son of David would come immediately. (JT Ta’anit 64a) If Israel were to keep two [consecutive] Sabbaths according to the law, they would be redeemed forthwith. (BT Shabbat 118b) Because they describe a uniformity of devotion and behavior that is difficult if not impossible to attain, these passages show the lengths to which Jews as a community must go to attract the Messiah, as does this statement from Rabbi Yohanan: “The son of David will come only in a generation that is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked.”
Also, in a book called Jewish Christian Debates: God, Kingdom, Messiah which features a dialogue between Bruch Chilton and Jacob Neusner. In it, Neusner says:
What is most interesting in the Talmud of the land of Israel’s picture is that the hope for the Messiah’s coming is further joined to the moral condition of each individual Israelite. Hence, messianic fulfillment was made to depend on the repentance of Israel. The coming of the Messiah depended not on historical action but on moral regeneration.-pg 172.
Now this is very interesting! Does moral regeneration sound familiar?
As Carl B. Hoch, Jr says in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology,“It is absolutely necessary for a person to be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God. In the central passage in the New Testament about the new birth ( John 3 ), Jesus tells Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, that he will not enter the kingdom of God unless he is born anew. The alternation between singular and plural Greek pronouns in the passage shows that Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus both personally and representatively. The need for the new birth is not only true of Nicodemus, but of the entire Sanhedrin, all Jews, and, by extension, all people.
The new birth allows us to have the supernatural cleansing from sin that God through the Spirit effects on all who believe on his Son. This water-Spirit combination is a reflection of Ezekiel 11, 36, and Jeremiah 31. In these Old Testament passages God’s Spirit is viewed as doing a revolutionary work in the lives of God’s people in the new covenant age.
Just some for thought!