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Should Christians observe the Torah?

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Question:   Hi Bob, I just found your wonderful site! I hope you can help with my question. How and why did the Christian faith get away from following Torah, the feasts and ways of Judaism? Christ was an observant Jew who followed the ways of Torah. Messianics claim Torah and Grace of Christ go hand in hand and that Christ did not come to abolish the Old Testament beliefs in following Torah. They follow the Torah while also believing Jesus is the Messiah. Isn't the Christian faith wrong in not following Torah? Thanks

Response:  Thanks for your e-mail and your good words. It is true that in the last few centuries in particular many Christians have seriously underestimated and misunderstood the role of Israel in the Church. For the Church has not replaced Israel. Rather, the Church is the fulfillment of Israel, grafted into her like a wild olive branch into a true olive tree (Rom.11:13-24). Israel is the foundation of the Church, and provides the ultimate organization to which all believers, Jews and gentiles alike, will ultimately belong (Rev.21:12; cf. Gal.6:16). I have in tried to address this issue in detail in the past, and would invite your attention to the following links:

        The Jewish Ceremonial Calendar

        The Uniqueness of Israel

        The 144,000 of Revelation 7 and 14

The continued practice of Mosaic rituals is quite another matter, however. During the early days of the Church, the council of elders at Jerusalem (who were all Jewish Christians), made it quite clear that practicing the Law was not necessary for gentiles to follow, in sharp distinction to those who were erroneously teaching that circumcision was a requirement for salvation (Acts 15:1-36; cf. Gal.2:1-10). This was certainly in keeping with Peter's earlier experience (Acts 10-11) and Paul's later rebuke of him (Gal.2:11-14). Indeed, much of the apostle Paul's later ministry is concerned with refuting the notion that practicing the Law is necessary or even important for salvation and spiritual growth. For, as Paul points out to good effect in Romans, Abraham is the father of Israel, but Abraham received the promises from God and showed himself to be devoted to God without the Law (for the Law would not come until centuries later through the mediation of Moses). Therefore the promise is by grace through faith and not by law (Rom.4).

The most concentrated scripture on this issue is the book of Hebrews (also written by Paul, but anonymously for a variety of reasons). In Hebrews Paul explains in great detail how that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. For the Law was a collection of shadows that pointed to Jesus Christ (Heb.8:5; 10:1; i.e., every bit of the tabernacle and its rituals are symbolic of Him and His work; see the link: The Earthly Tabernacle and Temple as a Type of the Heavenly Temple). The Levitical priesthood looked forward to the better priesthood of Christ, the sacrifices which could not save looked forward to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross which does, and the Old Covenant looked forward to the New Covenant in His blood, His death for us through which we have eternal life. This letter had to be written, because there were believers in Jerusalem who had fallen back into the practice of the temple ritual. This was a mistake, because, as Paul makes clear, it is impossible to be restored to fellowship with God as long as one is "trampling" Jesus underfoot - and that, in effect, is what continuing in the animal sacrifices which spoke of Jesus coming sacrifice did. Why? Because to continue with such sacrifices was to say, in effect, that some further sacrifice was still necessary, that the true sacrifice was still future, that Jesus work on the cross had not accomplished eternal redemption (Heb.10:29; cf. Heb.6:6).

During the Millennium, when the Messiah returns, there will be, it is true, legitimate sacrifices once again taking place on the altar in Jerusalem. But that will be a different matter. With the Son of God Himself reigning in Jerusalem, no one will be under any illusion as to the meaning and significance of these sacrifices: they will be memorials to the past, effective work of Jesus on the cross, not shadows of that work to come.

Of course the Torah is more than the temple rites and priestly rituals (which cannot, after all, be properly conducted until a temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem). And if one is willing to look, and search and study, one inevitably finds that there is absolutely no contradiction between the underlying truths of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Epistles: finally and inevitably, everything resolves into Jesus Christ who is the Word of truth incarnate (cf. 1Cor.9:7-12). Paul tells us that he tried to be "all things to all people", that is, to accept as far as possible all approaches to Jesus Christ that did not conflict with the truth of the Word of God (1Cor.9:20-21). If someone wishes to keep the dietary (and other) regulations of the Law (apart from the sacrifices which would suggest that Christ died in vain), then we who are convinced in faith that this is not a necessity should none the less not look down on this approach. For all that is done in faith for the purpose of advancing the cause of Jesus Christ is something in which we can all rejoice (cf. Rom.14; 1Cor.8-9).

Ultimately and initially and ubiquitously in between, we who have pledged ourselves to Jesus Christ are here for Him. We are here to learn how to wait for Him in faith, how to walk with Him in hope, and how to work for Him in love. When it can be truly said of us that for us "to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil.1:21)", then there is no further charge that can be laid to our account, whether Jewish Christian or gentile Christian, whether walking in the Law, while not losing sight of Christ, or walking by the law of love (against which there is no law: Rom.13:9-10; cf. Gal.5:22-23), while never losing respect for the Law.

Please also see the following links:

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism I

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism II

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism III

In Him in whom the entire Law has been fulfilled (Matt.5:17; Rom.10:4), our Lord and Savior, the only Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

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