C. S. Lewis entitled his auto-biography, “Surprised by Joy.” He did not expect to find any ultimate meaning in life, but was surprised by the work of the Spirit who led him to Yeshua. Often when God brings wonderful surprises, they do not fit into our expectations and we miss the blessing God is seeking to bring. We are surprised that God anoints an uneducated man and makes him a great preacher. Do we accept the gift and experience blessing? We are surprised at the outpourings of the Spirit and the things that accompanying that outpouring. We did not expect it to be this way, but can we recognize God’s hand and receive the blessing?
The greatest stumbling block to the Jewish people was the surprise of the Kingdom demonstrated through Yeshua’s words and deeds. The religious leadership could not embrace Yeshua because much of his revelation did not meet their preconceived expectations. Nothing of his revelation contradicted a contextual interpretation of Scripture. However, Jewish messianic expectations (based on their interpretations) were so rigidly held that the surprises of Yeshua were rejected. Today, the objections to embracing Yeshua are much the same as in the first century.
FIVE GREAT SURPRISES OF THE KINGDOM
First, our people were surprised that Yeshua brought the Kingdom of God to earth without Israel’s full deliverance and the salvation of the nations. Jewish religious leaders believed that there was a progression of events leading to the Kingdom. Israel would first become holy, and then the Messiah would come and deliver the nation in a mighty display of power and glory. The nations would then come to the light of God. There would be world peace (Is. 2, 11). There was no room for the surprise of an inaugurated and growing Kingdom. Yeshua taught that the Kingdom was manifested wherever people submitted to his rule though the power of the Spirit. That is why He announced the Kingdom was at hand or available (Mark 1:14, 15).
One entered the Kingdom through becoming a follower of Yeshua. The signs and wonders showed that the Kingdom was really present. In Matthew 13, Yeshua taught that the Kingdom would grow and expand instead of coming all at once at the end. Only after this would the Kingdom come in fullness. Even John the Baptist was puzzled by this progressive feature of the Kingdom. Yeshua explained to John’s representatives (Matthew 11:4-6), that the Kingdom indeed had come. The signs and wonders and the preaching of the Gospel to the poor were the proof.
Yeshua’s casting out of demons with a word was as also a sign that the Kingdom of God had come:
“If I by the finger of God cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20)
The Sermon on the Mount applied the Torah to life in the Kingdom. Today the same objection to our faith is constantly raised by Jewish friends. If Yeshua is the Messiah, then where is the promise of world peace? Have the nations come to the knowledge of God? The answer is “Come and see.” The Kingdom is in manifestation in our communities of love. It is seen in the power of supernatural life.
The second great surprise is that the Messiah would be crucified. The Messiah in Jewish understanding is so very royal and exulted. To die in nakedness as a common criminal on a cross was more than the Jewish people could accept. Perhaps this should not have been such a surprise. Since the Messiah is Israel’s representative, would he not suffer in parallel to Israel? Israel went from the terrible suffering of Egypt, through the sea, to victory in the Promised Land. David’s suffering before he came into his kingly reign also foreshadows the Messiah. It is David’s own suffering that inspires the wonderful psalms that pre-figure the suffering of the Messiah. Psalm 22 even describes what looks like a crucifixion. Then of course, there is Isaiah 53 – the suffering servant himself. That God’s love would be so great that He would bear the crucifixion of the Son is a marvelous surprise which reveals the depth of His love. Sadly, the leadership of our people could not grasp it.
The third surprise was the resurrection from the dead. This vindication of His suffering for our sins was wonderful beyond words. It was an unexpected surprise which our leaders could not embrace.
Our people anticipated the Age to Come as an age of the Spirit. As Joel prophesied, the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. That this could happen before the full manifestation of the Kingdom was not anticipated. When the Spirit was poured out on Shavuot (Pentecost), the amazing miracle led to the commitment of thousands to Yeshua and the inauguration of the new movement. Again, the religious leaders could not see that the Kingdom had come and that the outpouring of the Spirit was a proof of its reality. This was the fourth surprise.
The last great surprise was that Gentiles would be invited to participate in the Kingdom of God before Israel as a nation had fully embraced it. Even the first Jewish followers of Yeshua had difficulty embracing this surprise! Peter’s sermon in Acts 3 reveals that the disciples expected Israel to embrace Yeshua before the nations would embrace Him. This is partly true. The nations as a whole will not embrace Yeshua until Israel does. However, that a significant contingent from all the nations would embrace Him was not anticipated. Peter and the Apostles were astonished by the outpouring of the Spirit upon the household of Cornelius. Yet even then, they could not conceive of a mission to the nations. It was only after Paul’s first missionary journey, when he reported back to the Apostles, recounting God’s activity through him, that they realized God was now calling a remnant to faith from all the nations. Jacob’s (James’) words in Acts 15 show that he understood that Gentiles coming to faith was further proof that the Kingdom had come.
This fifth and last surprise in our account has a special dimension that itself is a wonderful surprise. The Jewish nation will only come to faith through the mercy of the Gentile believers who make Israel jealous. This is through the manifestation of the Kingdom in their lives. Romans 11 shows a partnership between the Jewish believers and the Gentiles for the salvation of Israel. Paul’s efforts to make his own countrymen jealous (Romans 11:14), represents the mission of the Jews to the Jews. However, Paul calls for all Gentile believers to partner with him in making Israel jealous. Jew and Gentile must work together to affect the salvation of Israel.
This is why Jewish ministries like Tikkun that reach out to our fellow Jews can only be effective with the partnership of Gentiles who share in the work. The salvation of Israel will require the witness of Gentile believers to soften hearts to the Gospel, a witness marked by love and compassion. That this is happening today in so many wonderful ways is a cause for gratitude and astonishment.