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An Olive Tree for these End Times
In my first post, I described what the olive tree of Romans 11 means. Since it comprises the faithful natural Jewish branches and those grafted from the nations, it behooves us to consider their relationship throughout history. It is necessary to go back in time, but today’s focus is “end times.” Church history, I will save it for another discussion.
This phrase, “end times,” might be capitalized since it has become a theological category in its own right. Still, it encompasses a broad scope of time and topics; I will refer to it adjectivally. It seems that the apostles believed that the end times were upon them and the Messiah’s return was imminent. Statements like “remain watchful,” “watch therefore,” “stay awake,” and others indicate this belief (2 Tim. 4:5; Rev. 3:2; Matt. 24:42). 1 Peter 4:7 summarizes: “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore, be serious and watchful in your prayers.”
So, Yeshua’s return hasn’t happened yet, and this christological expectation remains. But clearly, we are in the times that lead to this great event. In light of this reality, a better question might be, “What is the Messiah’s expectation for us in these end times?” The current geopolitics has something to lend to this question regarding how both branches should gird up and edify one another. How does this look? I believe the answer to this question has two parts: 1) How does each branch function, and 2) How do the branches collectively, in unity, address the coming storm, which precipitates the Lord’s return?
Let’s talk about the first part of this equation, leaving the cliffhanger for next week!
The Jewish-Gentile kinship within the Body of Messiah should be summed succinctly as “distinct, yet equal.” Their respective identities, hence, approaches to the same evangelistic mission, will differ. Different is okay. However, “distinctiveness” is handled tentatively throughout various theological circles, if at all. Homogenization seems preferred. Still, the question remains, “How does this look, that is, the two branches girding up and edifying one another for these times?”
It is a growing view within the ecclesia that they gird and edify one another in their distinctiveness. Like the olive tree, their branches twirl and entwine one another but remain unique. The traditional literal interpretation that reads the passage, “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” detracts and even prohibits the effectiveness and strength of the whole (Gal. 3:28).
In antiquity, of course, Paul experienced a culture of various Jewish sects (a topic for later). These sects functioned within a Greco-Roman world where slave and free existed as much as male and female. Paul’s rhetorical device highlights the context of the conversation, which is the inclusivity of salvation’s offer. The mediator (Yeshua) “does not mediate for one only, but God is One,” a summary statement that leads to the pièce de résistance mentioned above and offers a nod to the Shema. Every first-century Jew would have clearly understood that Adonai is Israel’s God, but He is also the only one for all peoples. Jew, Gentile, slave and free, male and female, these categories bear no weight in light of God’s salvation through Yeshua, but they remain, nonetheless. And they are helpful in their distinctiveness.
We begin girding and aiding one another by allowing our distinct yet equal identities. First Corinthians 7:17-24 is instructive: Jewish believers retain a Jewish expression of faith while Gentiles remain so with an option to participate in Jewish expressions like the feasts, Sabbaths, and celebrations. The Jerusalem Council only requires Gentiles to disengage from idolatrous activities as indicated in Acts 15. From a first-century perspective, Gentiles would, in this limited context exhibit a Jewish lifestyle since they traditionally visited pagan temples. Distinctiveness, then, upholds the beauty of our God-given uniqueness, empowers the whole, and glorifies God.