The Father William Most Collection
Do We Need Jesus?
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
Some Jews today, and some Catholics back them, want to say that Jews have no need or obligation to accept Jesus. This is quite unfortunate, in fact, it is being unfaithful to the fullness of Jewish tradition.
The Old Testament prophecies, especially if we read them with the help of the ancient Jewish Targums, give us a remarkable picture of the Messiah to come. Most graphic among them is the prophecy of Jacob, dying in Egypt, that the scepter would not be taken from Judah until the Messiah would come (Gen 49:10). Jacob Neusner, one of the best Jewish scholars today, has written that at the time of Christ, there was intense expectation of the Messiah. And no wonder. The Jews had always had some sort of leader from the tribe of Judah, until the Romans imposed on them Herod, who by birth was half Arab, half Idumean. Yes, Herod did claim to follow the Jewish religion, but so badly that the pagan Emperor Augustus made the pun that it was safer to be Herod's pig than to be Herod's son. And for sure, no one could claim Herod was of the tribe of Judah. But when the Magi from the East came to Herod wanting to know where the new King was to be born. Herod with the help of the Jewish scholars, unhesitatingly said he was to be born in Bethlehem. and so He was.
Rabbi Israel Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Rome, famed as a Jewish scholar, in the time of Pius XII, became Catholic at age 65, even though it meant financial poverty. When asked if he still considered himself a Jew he said: "Once a Jew, always a Jew. Did Peter, James, John, Matthew and hundreds of Hebrews like them cease to be Jews just because they followed Jesus the Messiah? Emphatically no." Some modern converts, like Father A. Klyber (from whose book Once a Jew, on pp. 144-5, we gathered this information on Rabbi Zolli) have called themselves "completed Jews". And quite rightly, for without Christ their Messiah, the Jews are unfulfilled.
In fact, to continue to be a member of the People of God, this conversion is necessary. Yes, we know that St. Paul in Romans 11:1 and 28 wrote: "Has God rejected His people?. Of course not!.... God's gifts and His call are irrevocable." How then could the same St. Paul, in the middle of the same chapter, give the image of the two olive trees, the tame tree standing for the People of God, the wild olive standing for the Gentiles - how could Paul give that imagery which clearly implies the Jews who reject Christ have fallen out of the People of God, like the branches broken from the tame olive? The problem is not difficult: God's call to them to be His people still stands, will always stand. But it is one thing for Him to call - another for them to accept. If they do not accept, they are out of the tame olive, the People of God. The Pharisees understood this to their horror when Jesus had finished giving the parable of the unfaithful tenants of the vineyard that was Israel, when he said: (Mt 21:43): "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will yield a rich harvest. "
In Romans 9:25-16 St. Paul quotes their prophet Hosea: "Those who were not my people, I will call my people" In the original setting. Hosea was saying that the Jews, because of their sins, brought on the Babylonian exile, and had fallen out of the People of God. But after their repentance, God would gladly take them back: "Those who were not my People I will call my People. In the original words of Hosea 2:23: "I will say to lo ammi [not my people]": "You are my people." For they had ceased being God's people, and had remained many days (Hosea 3:4) "without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim," but when they repented, He would gladly say to them the words just cited: "You are now my people again".
So St. Paul looks forward to the day when the same words will be applied to the Jews who rejected their Messiah (Rom 11:25): "A blindness in part has fallen upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles enter" the People of God. Then, Paul adds "all Israel will be saved" - will enter the kingdom of their Messiah.
We wonder if this time is not approaching? In Luke 21:24 our Lord had said: "Jerusalem will be trodden by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." But now Jerusalem has again become a Jewish city, not one just trampled by gentiles. We think of Daniel 12:7. Daniel had asked the angel interpreter when all these things would come to pass, and heard the answer: "When the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things will be fulfilled." The shattering of power seems to have come to an end now. So we hope the time for the remainder of the prophecies will be soon at hand.
In the original announcement of the covenant in Exodus 19:5, God had said: "If you really hearken to my voice, and keep my covenant, you will be my special people." We notice that key word "if". They had to obey to be His people. After the dedication of the great Temple, God had told Solomon (1 Kings 9:6-9): "But if you and your descendants ever go from me, and do not keep the commandments and statutes... I will cut off Israel from the land... and reject the temple.... Israel will become a proverb... and this temple shall become a heap of ruins.... Every passerby will gasp and ask: Why has the Lord done this to the land and to this temple?" And he answers: "They forsook the Lord... that is why the Lord has brought down upon them all this evil." God repeated the identical threat through Jeremiah 22:5-9. And so the veil of the temple was rent when they killed their Messiah. And they have indeed remained many days without king or prince or sacrifice, "until at last they recognize the one they have pierced" - Zechariah 12:10, repeated when the same Jesus appeared to John in exile in Patmos (Rev. 1:7).
The Jews used to have the blood of goats sprinkled on the old propitiatory on the day of atonement, Yom Kippur. Now, as Hosea said, they have been sitting many days without sacrifice or prince. Nor could the blood of goats sprinkled really take away sins committed be yad ramah, with a high hand. At most, it would remit only sins of ignorance, sheggagah. But now in Jesus we have the new propitiatory, whose blood really can and does take away sins, as Romans 3:24-26 tells us. So, all need Jesus. Surely, they cannot forgive their own sins, or make atonement by their own power.
Some say: We can speak directly to God our Father, we need no intercessor such as Jesus. But the Old Testament is replete with mediators, first of all the great Moses. It was through him that God spoke to the people at Sinai. God had ordered that the people must not ascend the mountain, or even touch it. If anyone did, he must die: Exodus 19:12. After receiving the commandments, Moses found the people worshipping an idol. He broke the tablets in anger, and God wanted to destroy the people: Ex. 32-10. But Moses interceded with God, and He did not destroy them: Ex 32:11-14. God used to speak to Moses face to face: Ex 33:11. Later Aaron was ordained high priest, and then thought he could go freely into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. But God warned him through Moses he must not do that freely, but only on Yom Kippur, with the proper ceremonies. Otherwise he would die: Lev. 16:1-28. Can we imagine just anyone going before God to speak to God on his own? Still later, Aaron and Miriam, brother and sister of Moses said: "Is it only through Moses that God speaks? Does he not speak through us also?" Num 12:1-2. God was angry with Miriam, and struck her with leprosy: Num 12:9. But at request of Moses, God did heal her in seven days.
Korah and Dathan and Abiram still later also became too bold, and said: "Enough of you! The whole community, all of them, are holy.... Why then should you exalt yourselves over the congregation of the Lord?" Numbers 16:1-3. Moses then said to the rebels that on the morrow they should appear before the Lord and offer their incense and see who God would accept. They did so. The earth opened and swallowed them and all their possessions alive: Numbers, 16:4-35.
Over the following centuries, God often spoke to the people through His various prophets. To the people directly He did not speak. Even with the great King David, God spoke through Nathan the prophet. When David was having the ark brought back from Philistine territory to Jerusalem, it was on a cart. It came to a sloping place in the road, and Uzzah feared it would tip over. He put his hand on it to steady it. Yet God struck Uzzah dead in anger because he, not a priest, had dared to touch the ark: 2 Sam 6:1-7.
Josephus (Antiquities 9. 22) reports that King Uzziah became so proud he tried to offer sacrifice in the temple, even though the high priest warned him. God then struck him with leprosy, and he lived in a separate house for the rest of his life, and an earthquake struck at the same moment. 2 Kings 15:5 reports he was stricken with leprosy and lived apart after that, does not give the other details.
In the book of Job, after Job's three friends had spoken improperly, God was angry. And he told them to have Job offer a sacrifice and pray for them: then He would forgive them: Job 42:8.
Before he died, Moses foretold (Dt. 18:15-19) that God would send another prophet like him, to whom God would speak face to face - a thing God did not do for ordinary prophets. Moses said God told Moses: "If any man will not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it." In the Gospels, both the ordinary people (Jn 6:14) and the Apostles (Acts 3:22-23 and 7:37) saw that Jesus was that prophet. So what Moses heard from God Himself comes true: If anyone will not listen to Him, God Himself will punish such a one, and cut him off from the people of God.
At the Baptism of His Son, God spoke from the sky and said: "Hear Him." So not even Jews are exempt from this command of God. Unless a person is excused by ignorance, if he does not speak to the Father through Jesus, God will, as He told Moses, cut him off from His people.
As we saw above, Jesus is the one God had promised in so many ways over so many centuries. Without Him, a Jew remains incomplete, not fulfilled.
Objection: Jesus did not mean to found a church, He just meant to fulfill Judaism. Reply: He really did fulfill all the Jewish prophecies of the Messiah. But He did a great deal more. He did establish a Church: Mt 16:17-20: "You are Peter and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound also in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth will be loosed also in heaven." The word keys in the language of the time meant authority to open and close. The words bind and loose were well established among the Rabbis, they stand for a decision by one with authority as to what is right and wrong. Jesus gave the same authority to bind and loose to all the Apostles, in Mt 18:18. In speaking of those who erred morally, he told them to first correct the sinner privately, then with the help of two or three witnesses. If he ignores even them, tell the church, and if he ignores the church: 'Let him be to you as a pagan and a publican." Right after His resurrection, in John 20:21-23: "As the Father has sent me, so do I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain they are retained." At the end, in Mt 28:18-20: "Full authority is given me in heaven and on earth. Go then, make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe everything I have commanded you, and know I am with you all days even to the end of the world." In Mark 16:15-16: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to all creation. He who believes and accepts baptism will be saved; he who refuses to believe will be condemned."
No Old Testament prophet was given authority to bind and loose, or to forgive sins, or to give a baptism such that he who refuses will be condemned.
He also insisted, in John 6:54: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you." To get that flesh and blood we need the Church. Judaism surely does not have it, does not claim to have it.
Some Jews for Christ seeing He is the Messiah say all they need is to take Christ as their personal Savior, and then they have infallible salvation. But that is making the move from incomplete Judaism to the tragic error of Luther. He thought he found justification by faith in St. Paul, chiefly Galatians and Romans. He did. But - he never even tried to find what St. Paul meant by the words justification or faith. Luther thought we have no free will. We find this explicitly in his major work The Bondage of the Will (transl. J. Packer and O. Johnston, Revell Co, Old Tappan, NJ, 1957, pp. 273). He also said (ibid. pp. 103-04) that a human is like a horse. Either God or satan will ride, and accordingly he will do good or evil. He has nothing to say about which one rides (recall: no free will), and accordingly goes to heaven or hell. He thought by faith Paul meant confidence that the merits of Christ apply to me, and so one can sin as much as possible. In his letter to Melanchthon of August 1, 1521 (Luther's Works, American edition, vol 48. p. 282): "Be a sinner and sin boldly... no sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day." But St. Paul said those who do such things "will not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:10). A standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplement, p. 333 describes faith correctly: "Paul uses pistis/pisteuein [Greek words for faith and believe] to mean, above all, belief in the Christ kerygma [proclamation or preaching], knowledge, obedience, trust in the Lord Jesus. It comes by hearing with faith the gospel message... by responding with a confession a out Christ... and by the 'obedience of faith' (Rom. 1;5... 'the obedience that faith is. '" So educated Protestants know that faith includes obedience - Luther said if we have faith we can disobey a thousand times a day. Faith which includes obedience cannot justify disobedience. In other words, Luther's ideas are intellectually bankrupt, and grossly immoral, encouraging sin a thousand times a day and saying we have no free will.
Jesus promised hell would not prevail against His Church, that He would be with them until the end of the world. Luther thought that promise of Christ was such a failure that for most of 15 centuries, the Church taught the wrong way to salvation. Then the promises of Christ would be a fake, and Christ would be a fake too. And to suppose that God would send so grossly immoral a man - urging sin a thousand times a day - to restore it!