In Search of Our Hebraic Roots
By: Dr. Mohmir Kallus, ICEJ Vice President of International Affairs
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem and cry out to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:1–3)
More than 40 years ago, ICEJ’s founders chose this prophetic passage as a guideline for our work. These verses herald a new era in the history of the Jewish people. After centuries of exile, persecution, and punishment, God would turn a new page and restore Israel according to His promises. A partial restoration had happened before, after Israel’s return from Babylon, but this time there is a new witness: the church from the nations, which is called upon to comfort Israel, pray for her, and prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.
It turns out that this is also a new era for the church. After centuries of preaching contempt and hatred toward the Jews, the combined effect of the Holocaust and the rebirth of the Jewish state forced Christian leaders to rethink their theology. That opened the way for Christians to examine a long-lost heritage of our faith—namely the Hebrew background of Jesus’ life and teachings, the way Jews have understood the Bible and kept the biblical feasts, and so much more. This new quest has come to be known as the search for our Hebraic roots and the Jewishness of Jesus. It is greatly encouraged by Paul in Romans 11:17–18, when he says that gentile believers “became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree … remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.”
An obvious start is to look at the biblical feasts. On Passover, Jesus was offered as a blameless Lamb for the sins of the world, fulfilling the prophetic picture of the lamb whose blood saved the Israelites from death in Egypt (Exodus 12). It is a fascinating exercise to compare the Jewish custom of celebrating the Seder meal on Passover eve with the story of the Last Supper. Many such New Testament passages come to life in a new way when we read them in light of their original Hebraic setting.
There are parallels between the Jewish and Christian understandings of Pentecost too. While Jews celebrate the giving of the Word of God on Mount Sinai, Christians remember the giving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). One needs the other: the Word without the Spirit is a dead letter, while the Word will always support the true work of the Spirit.
It is no coincidence that the founding of the Christian Embassy was connected to the first Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, another biblical feast with great global significance. Though never kept by the church, this fall harvest festival will have its glorious prophetic fulfillment at the second coming of the Lord.
Many more insights can be gleaned from the biblical significance of the Hebrew months or from the weekly Torah readings and Jewish prayer customs. This journey is not without its pitfalls, however. Some Christians become so overwhelmed by the richness of Jewish traditions, or some of its outward symbols, that they run the danger of losing sight of the uniqueness of Jesus’ work of salvation. Ultimately, there is only one way to God—through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the new covenant he established (Romans 3:28). The guiding principle should be what Paul wrote to the Colossians in 2:16–17: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
In this spirit we invite you to join us as we continue to seek to discover and bring forth treasures, both new and old (Matthew 13:52).