I have been assigned to think about the issue of exclusivity, inclusivity, and God. That is, who does God let in and who does God keep out?
These issues are familiar in theological questions like, “Must someone believe in Yeshua to be accepted by God? To be saved? To inherit eternal life? Or may some people be saved by God’s undeserved favor without knowing that it comes through Yeshua?”
This issue was especially raised when some friends of mine, men I respect and desire in many ways to emulate, were interviewed a few years ago by a newspaper reporter in Israel. Knowing they were rabbis in the Messianic Jewish movement, the reporter wanted to portray them, and our movement, in a negative light. So she asked, “Are Jews who do not believe in Jesus doomed to hell?”
Their answer was no. Some of you reading this agree. Some of you reading this violently disagree.
The truth is not simplistic. I realize that. God does accept people — hearing their prayers and relating to them in various ways — who do not believe in Yeshua.
Just today, in a Messianic Jewish spirituality class I am taking, my professor sent along an essay giving a few examples. He was not trying to prove a case, but simply prefacing his remarks on the subject. He reminded us of a story of a woman who survived the Holocaust and who is now a Messianic Jew. She says that all through her experiences, and long before knowing Yeshua, she saw God’s answers to her prayers.
The second example he uses is from the New Testament book of Acts. Cornelius is a God-fearing Gentile, a Roman who attended synagogue but who did not become fully Jewish. He meets Yeshua when Peter visits him in Acts 10. Yet even prior to that he was told: “”Your prayers and your acts of charity have gone up as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4).
So, I will preface this series on the exclusivity of God with a disclaimer: if I argue that God excludes people I do not mean to deny mysteries or to deny that God hears prayers and is active with all his children, even those who do not properly know him.
Having said that, now I will stake out my position and seek to defend it in a short series of articles: Ultimately, God’s people are an exclusive people whose inclusion is limited to whatever criteria God establishes. Since the revelation of Messiah, God’s criteria is conscious faith in Yeshua in this lifetime.
As a side note, let me be clear, and those who know me know this without me saying it, I am not denying Israel’s place as God’s Chosen People. The Chosen People concept is different than the concept of God’s Saved People. This was true in the Hebrew Bible as well as being true in the New Testament.
In the Hebrew Bible, there were certain people, such as Korah in Numbers 16, who were part of the Chosen People until they were cut off and rejected. Also, there were many who escaped from Egypt, and all these were part of the Chosen People. Yet most of that generation did not enter the Promised Land.
There is one more note of caution needed before we make our case. The Bible does not use the convenient language of theology in many cases. The questions we are asking are frequently not the Bible’s questions. In the Bible, people were generally not consumed with the question, “Who will be saved in the end?” At least they were not usually preoccupied with wondering who would enter a blessed afterlife.
Having said that, I entend to show in this series that:
1. God was exclusive in the Torah in whom he accepted and whom he rejected.
2. God had a remnant within Israel, his Chosen People. This concept of the remnant suggests exclusion and inclusion.
3. Yeshua taught that many would not be included in the days of God’s reign on earth, would not be seated at the blessed tables in the kingdom, and would be lost into outer darkness.
4. Yeshua urged one solution to his generation of Torah-faithful Jews: believe in me and accept my yoke.
5. The Apostles taught that we are condemned first and accepted only when we believe.
Stay tuned for more.
***Note: I have posted the end of the Resurrection series below. Didn’t want you to miss it since I posted twice today.