Salvation as interpreted by Judaism
By: David Sedaca
It is not uncommon to see on top of a church building a sign that reads simply JESUS SAVES. Just by placing a sign with these simple two words these churches are stating what their fundamental belief is: the need for salvation and that Jesus is the one who provides it. And this is precisely a point of friction with traditional Judaism, namely, that there is a need for a savior, and that that savior is Jesus.
We need to go back to the earliest biblical texts to understand the Jewish concept of salvation. Based on God’s unique relationship with the people of Israel as presented in the Tanach (Old Testament), salvation is almost always understood as collective and national, not personal and individual. Thus, the Lord hears the cries of the children of Israel and delivers them from bondage.
Passover is a national and collective celebration, which remembers how God saved the Israelites and formed them into a nation; and the same people later on, as a nation and collectively, accepted the Mosaic Covenant thus becoming God’s Chosen People. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deut. 7:6). And “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Ex. 20:2). Likewise Yom Kippur was to be observed by the whole community of Israel, not just the individual. God’s pact was not made with the individual Israelite but with the whole nation. Moses’ words were:
“You stand today, all of you, before the Lord your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
“Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.” (Deut. 29:10-15)
Judaism believes that in the same way that the Lord saved the children of Israel in the past as a nation, He also promises to restore Israel as a nation, meaning collectively, not individually. This is the way that rabbinic literature understands every prophetic passage that deals with Israel’s restoration, especially passages like Jeremiah 31:31 which clearly states that the New Covenant will be made “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” Again, this is restoration is collective and national.
In the Talmud the rabbis taught: “The rest of the prayer: [Accept my] song, petition, supplication before Thee for Thy people Israel, which are in need of salvation” (Yoma 70a). Again we cite the Talmud where is implied that salvation is for all Israel: “Said Raba, Samuel may have taken all Israel collectively, using the singular expression [verb], as it is written [elsewhere]: O Israel, thou art saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation, Ye shall not be ashamed?” (Makkoth 23b).
In the Jewish Bible salvation comes from the Lord and is a favor bestowed upon the nation as a whole. In Deuteronomy 28:23 and following, Moses reminds the children of Israel of the consequences of disobedience: dispersion and bondage among the nations, a desolate land, sufferings and hunger. Conversely, the following chapter states that if they repent, their blessings shall be restored (Deut. 30:1-10).
Yet Judaism does place responsibility for the sins of the individual, but while in Messianic Judaism the believer puts his hope in what the Messiah does for him in atoning for his sins, Judaism places that responsibility on the sinner himself. A difference must be made, because in traditional Judaism the blessings for obedience and the consequences for disobedience have effect in the here and now, not in the world to come. Messianic Jews and Bible-believing Christians understand that salvation has eternal effects, that is, salvation not only applies to the here and now but also to there and then.
In a recent debate between Messianic Jewish scholar Dr. Michael Brown, and renowned Orthodox Rabbi, Schmuley Boteach, Rabbi Boteach said, “You make it easy for you because you can sin all you want, and then leave it to Jesus to pay the consequences of your actions.”
Judaism stresses the fact that instead of “salvation,” one’s relationship with God has to be based on three elements: repentance – “teshuva“; good deeds resulting from repentance – “tzedakah and mitzvot“; and a life of devotion – “kavanah and tefilah.” The question is whether these three things, albeit meritorious, are able to restore one’s relationship with God.
We may find an answer when considering what was in biblical times God’s remedy to man’s disobedience. God provided a way for “covering” man’s sin when he instituted Yom Kippur (the Hebrew root kopher, kippur means “cover”). In present day observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, devout Jews base their hopes for forgiveness on three main foundational principles: repentance, prayer, and the merits of the Patriarchs.
We know that it would be impossible to observe this day the way God commanded, as there is no Temple, no priests, and no sacrifices. Can these be replaced with prayer, repentance and the merits of the Patriarchs? Why didn’t God establish these principles instead of the rituals commanded in Leviticus? It is my conviction that there was a need for sacrifice and although today there is no Temple to fulfill these requirements, in order for there to be salvation from sin there has to be a sacrifice. Was God incapable of stopping the Romans from destroying the Temple, or did He have another means that did not need the Temple while preserving the significance of sacrifices?
It is my conviction that in Jesus the Messiah the sacrificial requirements were met: an innocent dying for the guilty, a blameless lamb accepted by God and the severity of sin erased by the shedding of blood.
There are only two options to the dilemma of salvation and the Jewish people. If we stand firm with the principles of salvation as declared in the Scriptures, we then have to consider Jesus the Messiah as the provider of salvation. Conversely, if we deviate from biblical principles and replace them with man-made systems, albeit they seem reasonable, we may be at risk of having devised a way for salvation that puts in peril our eternal life.
Although present-day Judaism denies the need for individual and personal salvation, it acknowledges the need for forgiveness, atonement and repentance. I make mine the words of the Apostle Peter, when addressing the people of Israel after their rejection of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah: he declares “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). I have chosen to put my hope in Jesus the Messiah.
From the article “Salvation and the People of Israel – Harmonizing a Soteriological Dilemma”
Reprinted with permission. Full article available at www.kesherjournal.com