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Teaching

Mysticism and Messianic Faith

Our first publication, Love and the Messianic Age by Paul Philip Levertoff, has met with an overwhelmingly positive response in the Messianic Jewish and Christian world. However, there are some individuals who are very uncomfortable with this book and perhaps even refuse to read it. That is because Love and the Messianic Age is Levertoff's effort to compare concepts in the New Testament (specifically, the Gospel of John) with those of Chassidic thought, including mysticism. Levertoff was a Jewish believer who was raised in a prestigious Chassidic family and well educated in Chassidic Judaism.

Some Christians are wary of anything labeled "mystical." Mysticism specifically provokes concern in some Christians because they equate it very directly with occultism, in the sense of paganism or Satanism. However, just because something is mystical does not at all mean that it is associated with paganism or Satanism.

The Bible, especially the New Testament, plainly contains mystical concepts. Some people would be appalled by that statement because they do not know the correct definition of the term "mystical." Their confusion is semantic in nature.

Merriam-Webster defines the term "mystical" as: "a) having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence b) involving or having the nature of an individual's direct subjective communion with God or ultimate reality."

Let's examine this Pauline passage in the light of the above definition:

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

Paul interprets Genesis 2:24 in a way that completely departs from its plain meaning. He sees it as a profound reference to the Messiah and his assembly. This is, by definition, mystical. It is, of course, by no means pagan or satanic. Had Paul not explained this symbolic interpretation of Genesis, we may never have come to it by rational analysis.

Numerous other examples of mysticism can be found in the New Testament. The following passages can only be interpreted mystically:

  • Yeshua calls himself the "bread from heaven" (John 6:48-58). He declares, "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (v. 56).
  • Paul speaks of a man (quite probably himself) caught up into the "third heaven" in a possibly out-of-body experience (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
  • "This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666" (Revelation 13:18).
  • The prologue of the Gospel of John describes the Word that was with God and was God in the beginning, in which was the life, the light of men (John 1:1-18).

All of the following are mystical by definition:

  • Expressions of personal communion with God
  • Depictions of angels or the spiritual world
  • Revelations from God in the form of visions or dreams
  • Profound spiritual interpretations of passages beyond their face value

Each of these mystical ideas are prominent features in the writings of the Apostles. But when people express concern about mysticism, they probably are not concerned about these things. Rather, their concern is with such things as paganism, idolatry, superstition, or divination, and rightly so. But this is not the type of mysticism that you will find in Love and the Messianic Age.

Extra-Biblical Jewish Texts

One of the goals of the Messianic Jewish movement is to restore the original Jewish world view of our Rabbi Yeshua and his earliest followers. The only way to accomplish this is by engaging in Jewish literature and drawing comparisons. In doing so, one cannot afford to ignore such mystical contributions as those found in Philo, the Targums, merkavah/hekhalot literature, the book of Enoch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other Jewish apocalyptic writings. That does not mean we should accept every idea expressed in all of these writings. Some of these ideas will be directly contradicted by the Scriptures. Others will illuminate their meaning and help uncover the Hebraic mindset of the apostolic community.

If we concede that there are real parallels for the New Testament in extra-Biblical literature such as the Dead Sea Scrolls or Josephus, are we forced to believe that these writings are authoritative, divinely inspired, or inerrant? No--rather, they are valuable tools that help us understand the history and world view of Judaism during the Second Temple period and throughout the centuries. When we point out common ground with Apostolic writings in Jewish literature, this does not amount to an endorsement of every idea they contain. Rather, this should simply lead us to a deeper level of respect and understanding for both traditions, as well as their shared and divergent histories. Sometimes comparative study will help us understand our commonalities; other times it helps us see our distinctions more clearly.

Anachronism?

Chassidic teaching, of course, should not be considered context for the New Testament, because it developed hundreds of years later. It would be anachronistic (a chronological mistake) to claim that the Gospel authors read Chassidic literature such as the Tanya. But that is not at all the message or intention of Levertoff's work.

In the Christian world, Levertoff frequently encountered a caricaturized view of Judaism among Christians that saw it as dry and ceremonial, devoid of any personal relationship with God or experience of God's Spirit. One goal of this book was to shatter that stereotype and to demonstrate the common ground between Judaism and Christianity. He accomplishes this task by drawing out the numerous points of similarity between basic ideas in Chassidic and New Testament thought. This is not to say that one derived from the other, but the numerous areas of overlap are striking, and they point to the ancient Biblical tradition from which Chassidic thought was derived.

Reading Love and the Messianic Age will not lead you to believe that either John or Yeshua were eighteenth-century Chassidim. Instead, you will find yourself inspired and challenged by the message of love and devotion to God that is shared by both Chassidic Judaism and the Gospels.

Messianic Luminaries Project

Love and the Messianic Age is a Chasidic discourse from one of the pioneers of Messianic Judaism, crammed with stimulating thought and pervaded by real spiritual beauty, a mint of good things and solid learning.

Love and the Messianic Age Commentary explains the concepts used in the book and brings additional insights from the world of Jewish literature, and intriguing parallels from the Gospels and Epistles.

Purchase online from First Fruits of Zion or call toll-free 800-775-4807.