I’m not a Jew. I know I can’t speak from the perspective of Jewish identity, Jewish history, or Jewish rabbinic tradition. But I do love the Jewish Scriptures. And I believe they contain a compelling reason to read what Christians call the New Testament, and it’s a reason that’s often overlooked.
The 39 books that make up the Jewish Scriptures were perhaps written over more than a thousand-year period, but they weren’t evenly spaced out with a new book coming out every twenty-five years. Instead, they’re concentrated around the key events in Israel’s history. Most of the books were written to either prepare for or explain the exodus from Egypt, the rise of kingship in Israel, the exile to Assyria and the exile to and from Babylon. The date of the writing of most of the books are concentrated around these four events.
With those four events explained, the Hebrew Scriptures come to an end. They don’t end with finality however, they end with caution and anticipation. The final event that needs to be explained is the return from Babylon/Persia, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, and the life that follows. The final books end with caution because there is still temptation and compromise back in the Promised Land. The exile hasn’t completely cured God’s people of their wandering ways. But the books end with anticipation also because God promises to give Israel a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:26-27), and to bring the Messiah to His people (Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 9:5-7; Daniel 7:13-14) and, in particular, His temple (Malachi 3:1).
As a Jew, I would likely be taught that Christians have misunderstood these promises when they claim that Jesus has fulfilled them. So, let’s put those Christian claims to fulfillment aside for a moment. What I do have to come to terms with is the first-century Roman destruction of the temple. In the exodus from Egypt, God spoke. In the exile to Assyria, God spoke. In the exile and return from Babylon, God spoke. God was careful to explain the unfolding of His plan at each of these major periods in Israel’s history. He warns and explains, because He cares for His people and for His glory. He wants them to know the reasons for what has happened. But in the first century, I would have to conclude that the temple falls without a word from God. The priesthood comes to an end and there is no Scripture to prepare for it or explain it. The sacrificial system is no more, and God is silent.
As I come to the end of the Jewish Scriptures, I’m unprepared for the destruction of the temple. I would be forced to conclude that God has failed to warn, failed to explain, failed to speak. I would be forced to conclude those things, except that there was a first century witness to the word of God. There were first century Jewish prophets who, like the prophets before them, condemned the abuses of the king (Mark 6:14-20; 8:15) and the religious leaders (Mark 12:38-40; Matthew 23:15). There were first century Jewish prophets who proclaimed the arrival of the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-17; John 20:30-31; 1 John 5:9-13). There were first century Jewish prophets who warned of the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1-2). And there were first century Jewish prophets who claimed to bring the Jewish Scriptures to their appropriate conclusion (Revelation 22:18-19), explaining the new covenant that the Messiah had ushered in (Hebrews 8:6-13; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
If I was a Jew, I would be tempted to reject the New Testament if I was told that it was false and contradicted Jewish teaching and expectation about a Messiah. But the Jewish writings of the New Testament are just what I would expect from God if something so profound as the destruction of the temple, the priesthood and the sacrificial system had taken place. Otherwise, I would have to conclude that God was silent at perhaps the most crucial period in Jewish history. What the Jewish Scriptures reveal to me about God would make me at least curious to read the New Testament for myself. The fact that it was written mostly by first century Jews who were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah only adds to that curiosity. And the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world today who worship Jesus as Messiah would give me pause to consider whether the New Testament isn’t in fact the Word of God.
If I was a Jew, I would read the New Testament.
If you don’t have a copy, read it on-line today: https://www.esv.org/
In awe of Him,