Some people look at the catastrophe of this world and think this is its destiny. Peace exists only as an interlude to war. Love as a temporary respite from distrust. Acts of kindness are a curious exception in a world motivated by Darwinian competition.
Against this idea, the writers of the New Testament age, themselves summarizing a beautiful theme from the prophets of Israel, spoke of a different destiny called fulness. The opposite of fulness is emptiness or at least a kind of fruitlessness, and evil is really a nothing rather than a something. Righteousness is really all that can be said to fill the world and until it is full, it is at least partially empty.
And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.
In John 1:16, we read one reaction to the encounter of the apostles with Yeshua. How do you describe this rabbi who was more than that, this prophet who transcended his role, and this remarkable human being whose manner suggested the realization of heaven on earth?
He responded to pressure, the worst kind of pressure, with both the evidence of human ability to suffer and an impossible grace toward his tormentors. He reacted to people, great and small, as if they were the most important happening in the universe at the moment. He betrayed at times a knowledge of things beyond and eras to come that his listeners certainly hoped was true. He was apt with a word like no other and those words alternately stabbed at the heart of evil or enlivened a despondent soul.
If the protagonist of the four gospel is not the Messiah and Lord of all, then he has rightfully fooled us all. Our experience after meeting him is grace upon grace. John’s word, fulness, is a good one. He is the pleroma, the full expression, of humanity and goodness, so full that he clearly overflows the content of humanity into something more.
a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Ephesians 1:10 is the word of a Jewish teacher, Paul or Saul of Tarsus, in the tradition of Jewish teaching that is not paralleled in other cultures. Hope is not in a past golden age, but a future divinely created and promises, a world to come.
Blessed are those who mourn, our Messiah told us, for they will be comforted — in the age of that fulness. The Lord will be king over the whole earth, Zecharaiah foresaw, and his name will be one — in the age of that fulness.
What we have now is a kind of emptiness, a tragic falling short of an ideal we all know which always seems just out of our reach. But Paul, the Jewish teacher, keeps at the center of our thinking the uniting of all things in God’s administration through the work of Messiah, his agent.
which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 1:23 is in a letter to a part of the Gentile mission of the Yeshua movement. As such, this description of the body is about the church, the redeemed of the nations called in Messiah to be transformed and ultimately to be Messiah’s hands and feet in this age.
Paul was not addressing the other part of this great movement, the more venerable part. Elsewhere Paul does speak of the destiny of Israel in relation to the church. Israel’s destiny, like the church, is to be rescued from this present age (Rom. 11:26) and the church is, in fact, supported by the already existing idea of Israel. Israel is the firstfruits that makes holy the dough of the church; Israel is the root and the church the branches (Rom. 11:16).
Thus, we can imagine a fuller description in Ephesians 1:23 if Paul were writing to a broad audience instead of to the Gentile mission specifically. Paul would say, “Israel and the church, together, are the fulness of him who fills all in all.”
The idea is so scandalous, we can hardly see Paul’s point. Israel, the people living right now, are the fulness of God? Christian churches and denominations fill the earth with God? But we see so much secularism, compromise, competition, and corruption in Israel and the church.
I don’t think it is too hard to penetrate the veil and see what Paul is talking about. First, there is a sense in which fulness expresses the unrealized ideal of what Israel and the church are. We can understand it as an ideal, never achieved but always looming near the surface. Second, it is not too difficult to peel back the layers of human greed and corruption and admit the great goodness that is in Judaism and Christianity. We can see the tikkun olam (repair of the world, striving for justice) wrought by Judaism and its teachings. We can see the hospitals, the care for lepers, the magnetic appeal of good that has been communicated to the world by Christianity.
In this age, Israel and the church are God’s fulness in the world. We are signs of something better than what exists. The hopes, literature, dreams, and aspirations of the world indicate that the idea of heaven, the world to come, has forever changed humanity and everything is measured by a standard even by those who don’t believe in it.
Messianic Judaism and Fulness
What is the part that Messianic Judaism plays in this fulness? I will argue that our role is a pivotal one. How does our vision of that fulness affect the particulars about how we do what we do? I will argue that a clear line of sight from the present towards that fulness of the future is essential for Messianic Judaism to do good and be good.
Messianic Judaism is the mission to Israel of the Yeshua movement. We exist in parallel and strong relationship to the mission to the nations, the church.
Messianic Judaism is an expression of being Israel just as Christianity is an expression of being the church. This saying, for those who will think about it, is very different from some conceptions of Messianic Judaism as an alternative (some like to think superior) expression of the church. Messianic Judaism is and must be Israel. What does that mean for us?
One of the things that marked our Messiah was his clarity of purpose. Luke spoke of Yeshua’s determination by saying that he “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). He knew the difficult task ahead and did not get sidetracked on the dozens of false messianic agendas and important, but lesser, callings within Israel.
Messianic Judaism needs to follow a clear purpose and find our role in the fulness of God. The purpose of this series is to define and point the way toward that fulness. God has shown us the way and it is our joy to serve God’s vision as best we understand it.