God, Jesus, and Judaism: An Old Testament Bridge to Faith

Christian and Judaism views of the Godhead

Judaism and Christianity disagree in a number of ways. The most fundamental impasse is obviously Jesus. Christians embrace Jesus as the God of Israel incarnate, the messiah who came to earth to offer himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity. One can find a spectrum of opinions about Jesus within Judaism, but not that one. For a Jew serious about their faith, accepting Jesus as God feels polytheistic—like a violation of the creed of Judaism in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4; JPS Tanakh). You can’t have more than one God in heaven.

It wasn’t always that way in Judaism.

The Jewish Godhead

Twenty-five years ago, rabbinical scholar Alan Segal produced what is still the major work on the idea of two powers in heaven in Jewish thought. Segal demonstrated that the two-powers idea was not deemed heretical in Jewish theology until the second century CE. He carefully traced the roots of the teaching back into the Second Temple (“Intertestamental”) era (ca. 200 BCE). Segal was able to establish that the idea’s antecedents were in the Hebrew Bible. Several passages became subjects of rabbinic discussion. For example, is there anything that strikes you as odd in Gen. 19:24?

“Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.”

If you noticed that the divine name (Yahweh)—translated “Lord”—occurs twice, creating the impression of two divine actors, you saw what many Jewish thinkers saw in ancient times. The Hebrew Bible contains similar passages, in which the Lord is speaking and then refers to God in the third person (e.g., Amos 4:11).

Other passages became core focus points in the idea of two powers in heaven. Exodus 15:3 describes Yahweh as a “man of war.” That phrase might take our minds back to the captain of Yahweh’s host whom Joshua encountered (Josh. 5:13–15). Jews were certainly aware of that passage, but rabbis instead tied it to Exod. 23:20–23. In that text, God sends an angel to lead the people into the Promised Land. This angel was unique among all others not only because he could forgive sins (or not), but because God’s “name” was in him. The “name” is a Hebrew expression used as a substitute reference for God himself—his very presence or essence (e.g., Isa. 30:27–28). Even today, conservative Jews who will not say the divine name use ha-Shem (“the name”) to refer to God.

The idea of God in human form made Dan. 7:9–13 crucially important. In this famous vision scene, the Ancient of Days (God) sees “a human one” (“son of man”) coming to him with the clouds. It is to this figure that God gives everlasting dominion. This is the passage Jesus quotes to Caiaphas when the high priest demands to know who he is. Caiaphas’ reaction tells us immediately that he knew Jesus was claiming to be the God of Israel in human form—the second power. Caiaphas tears his clothes and charges Jesus with blasphemy (Matt. 26:63–68).

Early Judaism understood this portrayal and its rationale. There was no sense of a violation of monotheism, since either figure was indeed Yahweh. There was no second distinct god running the affairs of the cosmos. During the Second Temple period, Jewish theologians and writers speculated on an identity for the second Yahweh. Guesses ranged from divinized humans from the stories of the Hebrew Bible to exalted angels. These speculations were not considered unorthodox. That acceptance changed when certain Jews, the early Christians, connected Jesus with this orthodox Jewish idea. This explains why these Jews, the first converts to following Jesus the Christ, could simultaneously worship the God of Israel and Jesus, and yet refuse to acknowledge any other god. Jesus was the incarnate second Yahweh, the second power in heaven.

by Mike Heiser

Passionate and Protective

Mark 11:15-17

This wasn’t Jesus’ first time at the temple. His parents accidentally left Him there once when He was a boy, and He had often taught there at times during His ministry (Matt.26:55). But this visit was different. This time He surprised a temple audience with more than His words. This time He grew fiercely angry at the activities in the courtyard.

Fierce anger isn’t what we expect from Jesus. But God is passionate about His people, and His people were at the mercy of mercenaries at the temple. That had to stop. So Jesus turned tables, drove out the profiteers, and quoted phrases from the prophets to prove His point. God’s temple is a place of prayer for the nations, not a business venture.

This event clearly teaches us that God opposes deception and greed, but there’s a much deeper message in it. The intensity of Jesus’ reaction reflects the heart of the Father for His people. The passion He demonstrated at the temple wasn’t about the building; it was about the worshipers who have gathered and, on a larger scale, the nations they represented. Apparently, God isn’t just mildly interested in the hearts of human beings. He’s fiercely protective of them. He’s zealous for our worship and jealous for our love.

When Solomon dedicated the first temple in Jerusalem, priests fell on their faces as God powerfully filled the building with His presence. The building was holy ground, a place of purity and prayer. Centuries later when Jesus overthrew the money changers’ tables, He demonstrated God’s intense passion for this same holy ground. But what about now? Worshipers no longer gather at a temple in Jerusalem. Where does God direct His passion?

To us. In the New Testament, God’s people become the temple of His presence. The building gives way to the body. If Jesus could be so profoundly provoked over a stone temple, how much more fervent is He about His body of believers? The purity and prayerfulness of His dwelling place deeply matter to Him. He enters our hearts with zeal to drive out unholy influences and make us His own.

by Chris Tiegreen

Balaam’s Error

“Woe unto them! for they . . . ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.” (Jude 1:11)

Balaam is a very complex character recorded in Numbers 22–24. He is cited for an ability to communicate with “the LORD” and had a reputation for accurate prophecy (Numbers 22:6-8). As the new nation of Israel traveled northward into the Sinai Peninsula, Balak the king of Moab became worried that Israel would subjugate his nation and recruited Balaam to curse them.

Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15) but was astute enough to know that he could not talk God into doing anything God did not want to do! But even though Balaam was aware of the dangers of getting involved on the wrong side of God’s work, he wormed and squirmed through several interchanges with God until he was finally allowed to go. “God’s anger was kindled” at the stubbornness of this man, and the famous interchange with the donkey took place (Numbers 22:22-31).

Still Balaam persisted with his venture for Balak of Moab and “ran greedily” after the reward that he had been promised. When he arrived at the place where he planned to curse Israel, Balaam knew enough about the correct sacrifices to build the right kind of altars and sacrifice the right kind of animals, then proceeded to seek God’s “word” for Israel. Three times God “put a word” in Balaam’s mouth to bless Israel, and three times Balak insisted that he try again to curse them.

Instead of repenting of his foolishness, Balaam bragged about his ability to know what God wanted and “taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel” (Revelation 2:14). Those who prostitute the gifts of God for their own profit will come under a “greater condemnation” (James 3:1). May God protect us from the Balaams among the churches. HMM III

Fear not, I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore. I have the keys of death and of Hades

Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.—Revelation 1:18 (R. V.).

LET all things seen and unseen, Their notes of gladness blend, For Christ the Lord is risen, Our Joy that hath no end.

THE time of the singing of birds is come,”—the time when nature calls aloud to us and bids us awaken out of the deadness of personal grief, and rejoice in the new manifestation of His beauty that God is making to the world. “Behold, I am alive for evermore, and the dead live to Me.” Was not this the secret saying which the new verdure was writing all over the hills, and which the young pattering leaves and singing-birds were repeating in music? It must be well to have ears to hear and a heart that could respond with a little flutter of returning joy and thankfulness. ANNIE KEARY.

The return of Easter should be to the Christian life the call of a trumpet. It is the news of a great victory. It is the solution of a great perplexity. It is the assurance of a great triumph. FREDERICK TEMPLE.

All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God

All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. — There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. — How can he be clean that is born of a woman?

Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

The LORD … hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. — Whom he justified, them he also glorified. — 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. — If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.

Walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

Romans 3:10,12. Ecclesiastes 7:20. Job 25:4. Hebrews 4:1. Psalm 51:3,5. 2 Samuel 12:13. Romans 8:30. 2 Corinthians 3:18. Colossians 1:23. 1 Thessalonians 2:12.

The law was a shadow of good things to come

What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. Romans 8:3

The law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? —By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Forasmuch … as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren.

Hebrews 10:1,2. Acts 13:39. Hebrews 2:14-17.