Torah is not complete redemption. When you pray from the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) or read the teachings of the early rabbis you realize immediately that Torah does not contain the last word on redemption. You could say that everything is contained in Torah in a sense, so, for example, Torah intimates a future redemption when all the hearts of Israel will be circumcised and new (Deut 30:6). Yet many of the details of the future age of redemption are not revealed until the prophets after the Torah.
Commenting on the prophecy in Jeremiah 23 about the Righteous Branch to come from David’s line, Radak the medieval rabbi said, “Israel will call Messiah by this name (the Lord is our righteousness) because for us in his days the righteousness of God is going to be forever present and shall not be removed” (in Tsvi Sadan, The Concealed Light, Marshfield: Vine of David, 2012, pg. 106). The Radbaz, a fifteenth century rabbi, says concerning Isaiah 59:20, “The the Redeemer will come to Zion, and he is King Messiah” (Sadan 36).
In Judaism there is a redemption to come. It is presaged in Torah but fulfilled in the work of Messiah. Yeshua saw his mission and work in terms of Torah. And a student of Torah can look at Yeshua and say, “I see how his deeds and his identity are consistent with Torah.”
How, in light of all this, can we see Yeshua in Torah?
In Luke 24:27 and 24:44 Yeshua explained to some disciples the things in Torah that were about him. People ever since have tried to imagine what kinds of things he showed them. The way to the answer is not to look for predictions of a Messianic figure in Torah. There is actually very little of that to be found there. It seems Yeshua had something more profound in mind. He saw himself and what he came to do embedded in the deep structures of the Torah. The ways of God and the needs of the people point to what God did later, long after Torah, in Yeshua. The Torah raises questions about life and death, where we came from and what we are heading toward, obligation and the ability to meet obligations, our disturbing condition in this life and the implication of a blessing that redeems our condition, and our separation from God and his desire to bring us near.
I’ve reached an agreement with Messianic Jewish Publishers to release the book from which this blog series comes in 2015 (probably before High Holidays). My working title is “Living Yeshua.” It is a guide for disciples based on the things the early believers valued. I think it is a book Messianic Jews, Messianic Gentiles, and many Christians with a love for the Jewish context of faith will want to get. “Torah and Messiah” is chapter 11 out of 16 total. To keep up with my writing projects, trips overseas, and for other extras, sign up here for the MJ Musings email newsletter. If you’re ready to start learning Torah and the Gospels, sign up here for a daily email list with readings and commentary.
God does not remain above the world in Torah, but comes down as the Word at creation and manifestations of the Presence and the Glory. His Spirit hovers over the unformed state in Genesis 1. His spoken word is what separates light from dark and makes the conditions for life. He comes in the form of a man in the Garden and to Abraham. He appears as a fire in a pillar of cloud to Israel, as a consuming fire at the center of storm and earthquake on Sinai, and a mysterious Presence inside the Tabernacle. He states on Exodus 25:8 his desire to dwell among the Israelites and in Leviticus 26:12 to walk among us. He is not merely God in heaven, but God with us. And Yeshua is the ultimate expression of God with us.
Humanity is summed up in Adam, inheriting his condition. The human condition of death is explained as resulting from the prototypical man who chose knowledge over life. All who ever came from the first Adam share in the condition with which he was cursed. Yeshua is the last Adam, giving humanity a better summation. Understanding the purpose for which he came, we see it was to reverse what happened to humanity under Adam.
God is the blesser of Israel and of the Gentiles in Torah, through the offspring of Abraham. As offspring of Abraham through Jacob, the Israelites are first among nations. They are the lamp through which God’s light of blessing will shine to all the families of the earth. Yeshua is Abraham’s ideal offspring. The ultimate blessing comes through Yeshua, first to Israel and then to the Gentiles
In Torah the people are shut out of the Temple, unable to come any nearer to God because they bear on themselves the defilement of human death and evil. God’s desire for the people to come near is limited by this condition and the death of animals is a costly and gruesome price for lifeblood, which symbolically keeps the Temple grounds clean. This system is obviously not the ultimate, but a compromise awaiting a better solution. Yeshua is the atoning Redeemer who cleanses and purifies people so they no longer unclean before God.
At the first Passover the people were saved from the plague of death. The lifeblood of lambs was a barrier to death. Yeshua is the lamb of God whose offering protects people from death, ensuring that life triumphs.
Hints of resurrection and life occur in the Torah. God tells Israel of a blessing in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 that is about life instead of the usual deadly human predicament. In Deuteronomy 30 he tells them to choose life. In the ceremony for a recovered leper, the person who has been treated as the walking dead, comes back to life and a living bird is released in the ceremony accompanied by blood offerings. The living bird is a symbol of life returning. Yeshua is the resurrected one who includes his congregation in the life of the world to come. We who were dead attain to life in Yeshua.
Moses is Israel’s teacher and prophet. But a new Moses has arisen in Yeshua, leading his people into the promise and teaching God’s way. Deuteronomy 18 speaks of “a prophet,” meaning both the institution of prophecy in general, but also indicating a singular figure who will be a preeminent prophet like Moses. Yeshua’s biography echoes that of Moses. He has a sojourn in Egypt. He is a lawgiver and teaches from a mountain. He feeds Israel with bread. He performs signs and miracles to foster faith among the people. Moses appears at Yeshua’s transfiguration. Truly Yeshua is the New Moses.
The greatness of Judah is foreshadowed in Torah and David is prefigured. Jacob on his deathbed spoke of Judah’s preeminence. Balaam spoke of the star of Jacob who would crush Moab, in terms fulfilled by David himself. Deuteronomy spoke of the place at which God would choose to place his Name, and it was David who designated Jerusalem and brought the Ark there. Yeshua is the new David, arising within the tribe of Judah as Messianic king.
The Sinai covenant does not circumcise hearts, but Moses foretells a future time when people’s hearts are renewed so that they love God completely (Deut 30:6). Yeshua came teaching that such a time had arrived. People needed to be born from above, to have new hearts and a new spirit, echoing the words of Ezekiel 36 which in turn interpret Deuteronomy 30. At his last meal, a pre-Passover meal, Yeshua said his death would initiate the New Covenant referred to in Jeremiah 31, which was also an interpretation of Deuteronomy 30. Yeshua is the one through whom people can receive the new spirit, the new heart, and enter the era of Spirit-birth which will continue all the way to final redemption when he returns.
Yeshua is all through the Torah. “However many promises God has made, they all find their ‘Yes’ in connection with him,” says Paul (2 Cor 1:20). There are mysteries we do not understand. Was the spoken word that created all things Yeshua himself? Were the manifestations of God and the theophanies Yeshua appearing beforehand? Is it Yeshua whom the Jewish people are encountering in Torah though most are unaware of it? Can we who know Yeshua explicitly see more of the Glory of God since it is reflected in the face of Yeshua?
“God will keep with you the covenant and mercy that he swore to your ancestors,” says Torah (Deut 7:12). That covenant love of God has been seen in Yeshua more so than at any other time in the history of God’s dealings with humanity. At the unveiling of Messiah’s glory we saw God’s love more deeply. The ways of death are no more and separation from God will soon end. The blessings promised Israel in the covenant of Torah were a sign of things to come. Only in Messiah are the blessings of Torah realized because only Messiah has taken away the curses.