Do Christians Follow the Messiah?
The question may seem odd. My object is to call attention to the glaring difference between the terminology of believers and the language of Yeshua the Messiah in the matter of defining the Christian hope. We would think that those who claim Yeshua as Lord would carefully follow his example as a teacher and speak of their destiny in exactly the way Yeshua did.
But churchgoers do not do this. They refer to the goal of the Christian life in completely different terms from the Bible which they claim as the source of true faith. This will alert intelligent Christians to a simple fact: a radical new language and thinking have somehow intervened between us and the Messiah. We are not talking as Yeshua always talked about the very object of being a believer. A return to the Bible is called for.
On every hand we hear church members speak of "going to heaven," having the "hope of heaven," desiring to meet relatives "in heaven." Evangelists commonly approach unbelievers with the question: "If you died today would you be certain of `heaven'?" This sort of vocabulary is without support in the Bible -- a fact recognized by New Testament scholars. Why then is nothing done to bring our thinking and speaking into line with the Messiah?
William Strawson, a tutor in Systematic Theology and the Philosophy of Religion, made a detailed study of Jesus and the Future Life (Epworth Press, 1959), and dedicated 23 pages to an examination of the word "heaven" in Matthew, Mark and Luke. He concluded:
"In few, if any, instances of the use of the word `heaven' is there any parallel with modern usage. The gospel records of our Lord's life and teaching do not speak of `going to heaven,' as a modern believer so naturally does. Rather the emphasis is on that which is `heavenly' coming down to man ...Our modern way of speaking of life with God as being life `in heaven' is not the way the gospels speak of the matter. Especially is there no suggestion that Jesus is offering to his disciples the certainty of `heaven' after this life " (p. 38, emphasis added).
Thousands upon thousands of sermons must have been preached in which non-biblical language about heaven perpetuates a fundamental misunderstanding about the afterlife -- a fundamental misunderstanding about the whole revealed purpose of YEHOVAH God. A glance at the teaching of Yeshua as recorded in the New Testament reveals that what we call "heaven" he called the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God or Kingdom of Heaven on earth: "Blessed are the meek, for they will have the earth/land as their inheritance" (Matt. 5:5, quoting Ps. 37:11; cp. Rev. 5:10). It would be hard to imagine a more effective way of contradicting the teaching of the Messiah than to be constantly promoting "heaven" as the Christian reward. Yeshua's audience asked him, "What shall I do to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven?" (defined as we have seen as "inheriting the earth"). Yeshua replied: "If you want to enter life [not `go to heaven'] keep the commandments..." It is hard for a rich man to "enter the Kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:16, 17, 24). Yeshua then described the Christian objective specifically: "When the world is reborn, when the Son of Man comes [back] to sit on the throne of his Glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones to rule the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:28-30).
The promise of royal office, on earth when the Messiah returns, was offered to the Apostles and later extended to the whole church: "He who overcomes, and keeps my works to the end, to him 1 will give authority over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron ...as I also have received authority from My Father.... [YEHOVAH God] has made [the believers of all nations] into a kingdom of priests ...and they will reign as kings upon the earth" (Rev. 2:26; 5:10; cp. Rev. 3:21; 20:1-6; II Tim. 2:12; I Cor. 6:2).
The chorus of voices presenting "heaven" as the object of being a Christian do not represent the authentic voice of Yeshua the Messiah. An (unconscious) conspiracy seems to hide the reality of the Christian hope from believers who, under the pressure of such persistent indoctrination, vaguely imagine that "heaven" is the reward of the faithful, according to Scripture. A careful investigation of the New Testament will show that it is not. Christians in the Bible always spoke of "inheriting the Kingdom," and the earth, never of "going to heaven."
A revolution is needed in our speaking, thinking and Bible study. Perhaps the remark of a leading New Testament scholar of this century will be able to startle believers into following Yeshua more accurately:
Professor J.A.T. Robinson of Cambridge observed that "`Heaven' is never, in fact, used in the Bible for the destination of the dying" (In The End God, p. 104).
It is an easy matter to verify the correctness of his statement. It has been said often enough by experts in standard works describing the Bible.
Hope of Israel
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