The Two Fig Trees of Judah
There are essentially two definitions of the term “Jew.” There is man’s definition, and there is God’s definition. Of course, even Jews today have differences of opinion on how to define a Jew—whether it is a racial, cultural, or a religious term. Some argue that a person is a Jew if their mother is a Jew; others say a person is a Jew if either parent is one. There are also many “secular Jews,” who do not even believe in God, but share a cultural heritage. Religious Jews debate about whether these secular Jews are really Jews or not.
Further, Judaism is divided into three main divisions: Orthodox, Reformed, and Conservative. Many claim that they must be of their denomination to be a true Jew. Such a debate is not much different from Christian denominations, many of whom do not recognize other sects as being true Christians.
Man’s definitions of a “Jew” must be taken seriously, but the real issue before us is how God defines a Jew. The clearest statement in the New Testament on this question is found in Romans 2:28, 29,
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Here Paul tells us pointedly who IS a Jew and who IS NOT a Jew. He does not base his definition upon men’s views, for most men in his day considered a Jew to be one who followed the leaders of the temple in Jerusalem, who had rejected Jesus.
Paul’s opinion would have been hotly contested by the temple priests. They defined a Jew in terms of outward circumcision—that is, according to the sign of the Old Covenant that the people had broken and which had been made null and void. Paul knew this, because he had been raised and educated in that viewpoint. So it is particularly significant that Paul rejected this definition of a Jew. He said that a Jew was one who had the circumcision of the heart—the sign of the New Covenant.
Paul did NOT say that a Jew was one with outward circumcision, while a Christian was one with the inward circumcision. Not at all. He said clearly, “he is a Jew who is one inwardly.” To a temple priest, this was rank heresy, of course. It was a genuine difference of opinion. We do not expect such “Jews” then or today to accept Paul’s definition. But Christians who claim to believe the New Testament ought not to disagree with Paul.
We understand that Paul’s definition was based purely upon biblical law—the very law that the temple priests claimed to believe, but which, in fact, they had violated. But before we can understand how the divine law itself defines a biblical Jew, we must again give the background material that Paul had studied.
The tribe of Judah consisted of two types of Judahites: good and bad. The good side of Judah was to receive the dominion mandate, while the bad side was to be rejected by God. This picture fully emerges in the prophecies of Jeremiah. The main portrait of these two “trees” is found in Jeremiah 24, which speaks of the nation of Judah being like two baskets of figs. One basket contained very good figs; the other contained very rotten figs that could not be eaten. Jeremiah tells us of these in the first verses of Jeremiah 24,
1 After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the officials of Judah with the craftsmen and smiths from Jerusalem and had brought them to Babylon, the Lord showed me: behold, two baskets of figs set before the temple of the Lord! 2 One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs; and the other basket had very bad figs, which could not be eaten due to rottenness.
God then told the prophet the explanation of this revelation. The nation had long been in rebellion against God, even while hypocritically worshipping in the temple. God had sent prophets to them, but they had refused to listen and even stoned many of them for giving words of correction. So God pronounced a sentence of judgment upon the nation in Jeremiah 7:1-15, saying that He was going to reject Jerusalem even as He had previously rejected Shiloh.
Shiloh was the place that God forsook in the days of Eli the high priest. On the day that the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, Eli’s daughter-in-law gave birth to a son, who was named Ichabod, “the glory has departed” (1 Sam. 3:22)). God’s presence departed from Shiloh and never returned. The Ark was later taken to Jerusalem, where the glory returned in the days of Solomon (2 Chron. 5:13, 14).
Two centuries later, God told the prophet Jeremiah that because the people had turned Solomon’s temple into a den of robbers, He was going to forsake Jerusalem like He had forsaken Shiloh. (This was fulfilled in Ezekiel 10:18 and 11:22, 23.) God then tells Jeremiah in verse 16,
16 As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you.
Once the sentence of judgment has been rendered in the Divine Court, there can be no reversal of judgment. If Jeremiah had continued to pray or intercede for Judah, he would have shown himself to be in disagreement with God. This did not mean that he could not pray that more individual people be spared in the judgment to come. But he could no longer pray that the nation itself would be spared from destruction, nor could he pray that the glory of God would return to a physical temple in Jerusalem.
With this background, we come to Jeremiah 24, where we see the revelation of God showing the different types of judgment that He would mete toward two kinds of individual Judahites. The basket of good figs were those men of Judah who submitted to the judgment of God and who went to Babylon into captivity. Their judgment was for a good end, because they submitted to the decision of the Divine Court. God said that He would bring them back to the land and “give them a heart to know Me” (24:7).
The basket of bad figs, however, represented those men of Judah who refused to submit to the king of Babylon—that is, they refused to submit to the judgment of God. God said of these bad figs,
8 But like the bad figs which cannot be eaten due to rottenness—indeed, thus says the Lord—so I will abandon Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials, and the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and the ones who dwell in the land of Egypt. 9 And I will make them a terror and an evil for all the kingdoms of the earth, as a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse in all places where I shall scatter them. 10 And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence upon them until they are destroyed from the land which I gave to them and to their forefathers.
What a contrast! The fig tree was, of course, the symbol of the nation of Judah. But it is apparent that the two baskets of figs came from two different fig trees. Jesus clearly saw both types of Judahites in His day, for He said in Matt. 7:17-20,
17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.
The good tree brought forth good fruit; the bad tree bore bad fruit. Both are of Judah, but there was a clear division between the people represented by these trees. The good figs were those who submitted to His judgment—the Babylonian captivity—rather than fight. The bad figs, however, rejected God’s judgment and refused to view Nebuchadnezzar as God’s “servant” (Jer. 27:6). This is clear from a simple reading of Jeremiah 24 through chapter 30.
It is, of course, no surprise that Judah would consist of believers (good figs) and rebellious unbelievers (evil figs). This is really no different from any other nation, for there is not a nation in the world that has all righteous people or all unrighteous people. Every nation is a mixture of good and bad. But in the case of Judah it is a matter of divine separation into two distinct fig trees, because God intended to treat them differently.
He intended to give Judah’s calling—the dominion mandate—to those who produced good fruit, and at the same time He intended to disinherit those who produced bad fruit.
Yes, God had every right to disinherit even full-blooded Israelites regardless of their genealogy. In fact, He had already claimed this right many years earlier by disinheriting Reuben and giving the dominion mandate to Judah. This detail is hidden in the genealogy of Reuben in 1 Chron. 5:1, 2, which says,
1 Now the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel (for he was the first-born, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright. 2 Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader [nagid, “leader, ruler, prince”], yet the birthright belonged to Joseph.
This is a reference to Jacob’s blessings upon Joseph and Judah in Genesis 49. To Joseph was given the birthright itself, which was the fruitfulness mandate of Genesis 1:28. To Judah was given the dominion mandate that would culminate in the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. A full history of these two mandates is found in my book, The Struggle for the Birthright.
Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob-Israel, lost the dominion mandate because he had sexual relations with Bilhah (Gen. 35:22), one of his father’s wives (not Reuben’s mother). Thus, Reuben lost the honor of being an ancestor of Jesus Christ and of having the King of Kings come through his lineage. This honor also bypassed Levi and Simeon, the next oldest sons of Leah, because of their violent, legalistic nature (Gen. 34:30). The dominion mandate went to Judah, the fourth son of Leah.
As the centuries passed, and Judah the man became a tribe and finally a nation of millions, there were believers and unbelievers among them. As Jeremiah’s prophecies tell us, there were “good figs” and “evil figs” in the nation. And so God made a distinction between them, because He never intended to allow the rebellious Judahites to inherit the dominion mandate given to Judah. God will not have unbelieving and rebellious people rule in His Kingdom.
And this is the key to understanding who is a Jew—as God defines a Jew.
After their 70-year captivity in Babylon, 50,000 “good figs” returned to the old land to rebuild the nation. They had some autonomy, but they remained under the authority of the king of Persia for two centuries. Then Alexander the Great conquered Persia, and the Judean nation came under the authority of Greece. In 63 B.C. they came under the authority of Rome, and later Jesus was born under the dominion of the Roman Empire.
Jesus did not attempt to overthrow Rome, nor did He treat the Roman soldiers or governors as His enemies. He recognized that God had put the nation into a series of captivities beginning with Babylon, and He submitted to that divine judgment as a “good fig.” There were others, however, who disagreed and who had the spirit of rebellion.
Jesus taught His disciples, including Simon Zelotes, i.e., “the Zealot” (Luke 6:15) how to submit to divine judgment as a good fig. When Peter wanted to fight, Jesus told him to stop and even healed the Roman soldier’s ear (Luke 22:49-51).
The good figs believed in Him; the bad figs did not. The bad figs were looking for a military Messiah who would rise up in revolt against Rome. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, simply did not meet their expectations. Hence, this is how the good figs became Christian believers, while the evil figs rejected Christ and ultimately revolted openly against Rome. This is why Rome destroyed Jerusalem, as Jesus had prophesied in Matthew 22:1-7.
Jesus is the Trunk of the Good Fig Tree
Jesus Himself produced good fruit. He was born of a Judahite mother, as proven in the genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3. But as the King of Judah, He was more than just a fig branch that was producing good fruit. He was the tree itself. He was the trunk of the tree, to which were attached various branches that bore good fruit. Jesus said as much when He used a slightly different motif of the vine and branches. John 15:1-6 says,
1 I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. . . 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
It is clear from this that only those who abide in Christ will bear the type of fruit that God is seeking. If one claims to be in Christ, but does not produce these fruits of the Kingdom, he is cut off. And “if anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus says, “he is thrown away as a branch and dries up.”
Surely He had in mind those Judahites who had rejected Him as Messiah. Only a few days earlier, Jesus had cursed the fig tree, and the disciples had marveled that it had dried up by the following morning. He was saying, then, that the people who produced no fruit—or, as Jeremiah put it, those who produced only bad figs that could not be eaten—would be cut off.
This is precisely what happened. Judah split into two factions, or two “trees.” Those who accepted Jesus as Messiah became the branches of the good fig tree. These were the inheritors of the dominion mandate given to Judah. Of these, Jesus said He would prune them in order that they would bring forth even more fruit.
Those who refused to accept Jesus as Messiah were cut off and are no longer inheritors of the dominion mandate. Jesus clearly said that there is no way that anyone can bear fruit apart from being attached to Christ.
The traditional Church belief was that the “Gentile” Church replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people. As I see it, this is not quite accurate. Past theologians did not really understand the issue from the perspective of biblical law.
The early Church, founded on Jesus Christ and the apostles, was the true Judah “tree” that produced the good figs in the first century application of Jeremiah 24. However, Jesus’ followers were a tiny minority and were not in control of the temple in Jerusalem. When the bad figs rejected Jesus as Messiah, the believers were persecuted and finally expelled from the land. They were excommunicated from Judaism.
The good figs lost their identity as “Jews.” That is, the bad figs retained the identification with the tribe or nation of Judah, while the good figs became known in the world as “Christians” (Acts 11:26). But God knew them as true Judah—the followers of the King of Judah, Jesus Christ. They were the good figs that God had expelled from the old land for their good.
The evil figs, however, remained in the old land in their state of rebellion until the nation was destroyed in 70-73 A.D. God gave them forty years in which to repent, but they refused. Finally, God sent His Roman armies to carry out His sentence of judgment, even as Jesus said in His parable in Matthew 22:7,
7 But the king [God] was enraged and sent HIS armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.
Our point is that a “Gentile Church” did not replace a “Jewish Church.” The earliest Christians were always the good figs of Judah, carrying on the biblical dominion mandate that had been given to Judah. When the King of Judah came, they gave their allegiance to Him and learned from Him how to be a “good fig.” In accepting Him as Messiah, God made a New Covenant with them, as prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31, saying,
31 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
He did NOT make this covenant with a “gentile Church.” He made it with the good figs of the true house of Judah, led by the Prince of that tribe, Jesus Christ. If any non-Jew wants to be saved, he must transfer his citizenship to the house of Judah and swear allegiance to its King, Jesus Christ. He then becomes a convert to the true house of Judah—not a convert to Judaism. Judaism is the religion of the rebellious figs, that says in Luke 19:14, “We do not want this Man to reign over us.” Their fate is given in Jesus’ words in Luke 19:27,
27 But these enemies of Mine who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in My presence.
This is the fate of Zionism. He has brought representatives of the bad figs back to the old land from virtually every nation in the world in order to judge them for not wanting Jesus Christ to reign over them. What is most astounding is that many Christians have paid their way through contributions to bring them back for this judgment!
Getting back to the group of early Christian Jews (as God defines them), the light of the Gospel added many converts to their ranks from nations not of Judah. Some of them were ex-Israelites of the Assyrian dispersion (745-721 B.C.). Others were not. Either way, the non-Judahites were not “natural” branches of this fig tree. Nonetheless, God grafted them into the tree of Judah, so that they could partake of the life of Jesus Christ and bear good fruit. If we think of these converts as branches from an apple tree being grafted on to a fig tree, we can see that each branch would bear its own type of fruit. One need not bear figs to be part of that fig tree of Judah.
As for the unproductive branches of the fig tree, they were pruned, cut off. In fact, by rejecting Jesus, and excommunicating His disciples, they were cutting themselves off the fig tree of Judah! They did not realize that by separating themselves from Jesus, the Root and offspring of David (Rev. 22:16), their branch would die.
The bad figs were simply cut off, while the good figs of Judah carried the banner of the Judah Church. There was no replacement here, as classic Church theology has taught in the past. The promises to Abraham were never transferred from one people to another. The promises simply continued through the unbroken line of the good fig tree of Judah. The fact that many non-Judahites have been grafted to that tree does not make it a “Gentile Church.” There may be an abundance of “Gentile” branches on that tree, but the trunk of the tree and its root has always been Jesus, the King of Judah.
When Christians today talk about the early Church as being a “Jewish Church,” they are absolutely correct. Unfortunately, because they do not know the biblical definition of a Jew, they often use this as an excuse to convert to Judaism. In so doing, they join themselves to the evil fig tree. They have forgotten that those who call themselves Jews today (who reject Christ) are in fact not Jews at all—not by God’s definition. Christians cannot become Jews by converting to Judaism. They already are Jews in the sight of God—and have been since the time of Christ. To convert to Judaism is to jump from the basket of good figs to the basket of evil figs.
Let us put it another way. Replacement Theology teaches that the fig tree was rooted out and replaced by an apple tree. This did not happen. The truth is that there were two fig trees, one good and one bad, as portrayed in Jer. 24. Both were of Judah. The bad fig tree was rooted out, and the good fig tree remained to carry on the Kingdom of God upon the earth. The good fig tree did not replace anything, because it was always there.
When “Messianic Jews” today often claim that Christianity is a “Jewish” Church. They point to the fact that the disciples and the earliest believers were from Judea. That is absolutely correct. However, because they do not understand Jeremiah 24, they use this truth to convince Christian believers that they ought to unite with the Zionist Jews—as if we are all from the same fig tree. As a consequence, since Pat Boone converted to Judaism in the 1960’s, it has become fashionable for Christians to follow his example.
The problem with this is that Christian Zionism is a move to engraft the branches of good figs to the bad fig tree, rather than the other way around. That teaching would ultimately bring all Christians into Judaism, rather than bringing Jews to Christ. The fact is, the bad fig tree will NEVER bring forth fruit, for that was the nature of Jesus’ curse in Matt. 21:19, where He said, “No longer shall there EVER be any fruit from you.”
The only solution is for the individual branches to be cut off from that dead fig tree and grafted to the only Tree that can give them life—Jesus Christ, the trunk of the good fig tree. As long as conversion to Christ is repugnant to a Jew, he is not a partaker of the dominion mandate of Judah, nor is he of that tribe in the sight of God, as we will prove shortly from Scripture.
The Law of Pruning Trees
Deuteronomy 29 tells us that there were certain conditions by which individuals and even entire tribes of Israel might be cut off, or pruned from the Kingdom Tree. Deut. 29:18-21 says,
18 Lest there shall be among you a man or a woman, or family OR TRIBE, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; lest there shall be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood. 19 And it shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, I have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry. 20 The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven. 21 Then the Lord will single him out for adversity from all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant which are written in this book of the law.
The idea that God might blot out one of the tribes of Israel is not new. There have been many Bible teachers who have suggested this is why the tribe of Dan is not mentioned in the listing of the tribes sealed in Revelation 7. While I do not believe that this was the reason for Dan’s omission, that view does show that Bible teachers recognize the possibility that a tribe or a large portion of a tribe might be cut off from the Kingdom.
In fact, we will show that the fig tree bearing bad figs was cut off in this manner and for the reason stated above. The other fig tree bearing good figs was the portion of Judah that accepted Jesus as the Messiah and adopted His attitude of submission to the Roman yoke that God had decreed for Judah. The reason given in Deut. 29:19 is: “he will boast, saying, I have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” In other words, such a person (or family, or tribe) will think that they are reconciled (at peace) with God, even though their hearts continue to be rebellious and stubborn.
This is a very accurate description of the bad fig tree, both in Jeremiah’s day and in Jesus’ day. They thought that they were doing the will of God by being zealous for their traditions and by performing all the rituals of the temple faithfully. They believed that to be rebellious against Rome was an act of obedience to God. They did not understand the laws of captivity or the laws of tribulation. Jesus did understand, and so he acted much like a friend to the Romans and never challenged their authority or right under God to rule over Judea.
The Laws of Sacrifice
The priests were most proud of their knowledge of the laws of sacrifice. They knew every detail about sacrificing sheep and oxen, but they did not know the Author of the laws of sacrifice. And so they violated this law in the worst way possible in that final Sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Lev. 17:3-5 says:
3 Any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox, or a lamb, or a goat in the camp, or who slaughters it outside the camp, 4 and has not brought it to the doorway of the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, bloodguiltiness is to be reckoned to that man. He has shed blood and that man shall be cut off from among his people. 5 The reason is so that the sons of Israel may bring their SACRIFICES which they were sacrificing in the open field, that they may bring them in to the Lord, at the doorway of the tent of meeting to the priest, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the Lord.
Jesus was the Passover Lamb of God that was sacrificed for the sin of the world. He was crucified “outside the camp” (Lev. 17:3; Heb. 13:13) in order that He might also fulfill the law of the red heifer (Num. 19:3). The priests took Jesus to the top (skull, head) of the Mount of Olives, where David had made his sacrifice (2 Sam. 15:30-32). They even crucified Him on the right day—Passover— and He died at precisely the right hour of the day—the ninth hour—as the law specified (Ex. 12:6). So far, the priests did precisely what the forms of the law commanded.
But the priests failed to apply the blood of that Sacrifice in the lawfully-prescribed manner. Insofar as Jesus was the Passover Lamb, they failed to apply His blood to their lintels (foreheads) and door posts (ears) of their “houses.” Hence, God did not see the blood and “pass over” them (Ex. 12:13). They were not justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb.
Secondly, they did not sprinkle His blood upon the altars of their hearts, for they had no faith in His blood. For these people the sentence of the law applies, as written in Lev. 17:4, “He has shed blood and that man shall be cut off from among his people.” In other words, that man shall be pruned from the fig tree of Judah for he has forfeited his legal status as a member of the tribe. Lev. 17:6 says,
6 And the priest shall sprinkle the blood on the altar of the Lord at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and offer up the fat in smoke as a soothing aroma to the Lord.
Even as our bodies are the temples of God, so also our hearts are the altar of the Lord. And so Heb. 10:22 explains this, saying,
22 Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
It was necessary in the plan of God that Jesus Christ be crucified and that He die as a Sacrifice for sin once for all. However, both the people and the priests were required to do something with the blood of every sacrifice. In Jesus’ case, they were required to sprinkle His blood (figuratively) upon the altars of their hearts for their justification. This the majority did not do.
Acts 6:7 tells us that there were many priests who did accept Jesus as the Messiah and came to see Him as the great Sacrifice for sin. Those who did accept Him remained on the Kingdom fig tree that bears good fruit unto God. However, they soon were expelled from the temple along with the others who were scattered abroad by persecution. At that point, the world began to call them Christians to distinguish them from the larger body of people which they called “Jews.” So they lost the name “Jew,” even though in the eyes of God, they were the true Jews.
The Old and New Covenants
The Church and Judah are the same entity. Although there are non-Judahites who have been grafted into this Judah Church, the Church itself is the legitimate tribe of Judah. The Apostle Paul makes this very clear in Rom. 2:28, 29,
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly [Greek: en phaneros, “in manifestation, or what is apparent”]; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly [Greek: kruptos, “hidden”]; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Here is Paul’s definition of a Jew, and he defines it both negatively and positively. He tells us that there are two groups of people, each laying claim to being a Jew (Judean). The bad figs are “apparent” Jews (The Concordant Version), for they were recognized by men as Jews.
The good figs were the real Jews, though their identity was hidden, or not so well known to the general public. The “apparent” Jews were those who followed the Judaism of the day. The “hidden” Jews were those whose hearts were right with God. The “apparent” Jews laid claim to their tribal status and covenant status with God by means of physical circumcision. The “hidden” Jews laid claim to their tribal status and covenant status with God by means of the heart circumcision.
The Old Covenant was broken and no longer had force in the Divine Court. Those who adhered to the Old Covenant by means of outward circumcision were depending upon an obsolete, conditional Covenant that had been broken and abolished. The only way to have a Covenant relationship with God was through the New Covenant, whose sign was the inner circumcision.
Yes, the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant. Hebrews 8:13 says,
13 When He said, A new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
If a Christian thinks that he can enhance his status with God by reverting to the Old Covenant with its outward circumcision, he should know that he is putting his trust in a covenant that is obsolete and carries no force with God.
The Tribeship Itself
Just because unbelieving Jews were able to retain the name of Judah (usually in its shortened form, “Jew”), this did not mean that they were really Jews at all. From the perspective of the Christians (including Paul) the unbelieving Jews had been cut off from their people and no longer had the right before God to call themselves Jews. Only those Judahites who accepted the Mediator of the New Covenant, the King of Judah, the Custodian of the tribal name, could lawfully claim to be Judahites (i.e., Judeans, or Jews).
The “tribeship” was resident in the prince of the tribe. If a member of a tribe decided to go to another part of the world and establish his own tribe or nation, he could not legally claim to be the legitimate representative of the tribe from which he came. He was, in fact, leaving the tribe and had no right to claim to be the tribe itself.
Likewise, if a man of, say, the tribe of Judah were “cut off from among his people,” or exiled for some major violation of the law, he could not claim to be of the tribe of Judah. He no longer was a citizen of that tribe.
Even so, Jesus was the King of Judah, not only by right of lineage, but also by right of His actions. And thus, the tribal name went with Jesus and those who followed Him. It did not remain with those who revolted against Him and killed Him in order to seize upon His inheritance. It was the majority of the people, led by the chief priests, who were in revolt and who lost their status in the tribe of Judah. But because they had usurped the throne, they were able to convince the world that they were still the “true Jews.” And thus, the name “Jew” has continued to be applied—in the eyes of men—to the bad fig tree that rejected the King of Judah and usurped the throne and the name of Judah.
By the end of the first century, John the Revelator says in Rev. 2:9,
9 I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
He repeats this idea in Rev. 3:9, saying,
9 Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you.
It is strange that in the past few decades Messianic Judaism has promoted this idea that the true Jews (followers of Jesus, King of Judah) ought to be grafted to the dead fig tree that God cut off nearly 2,000 years ago for its lawlessness. The basic error of Messianic Judaism is that they want to replace the good figs with the bad figs. This is their brand of replacement theology. They call the bad figs “God’s chosen people,” and then attempt to identify with their religious practices as a ploy to induce some of them to accept Christ.
That is like drinking with drunkards in order to induce them to stop drinking.
The apostles would have rolled over in their graves. Never did they attempt to get Christians to return to the old brand of Judaism. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote entire gospels refuting such an idea. There is no life in the religion of Judaism, for it has rejected—and continues to reject—the only One in whom is Life. One cannot force it to become Christianized by getting more Christians to convert to Judaism. To try to bring Judaism back to life by swarming its ranks with Christians is a fallacy of the first order.
The book of Hebrews was written to show that, as Christians, we have something better than Judaism has to offer. We have a better covenant, a better priesthood, a better temple, and better sacrifices. To revert back to the old rabbinic traditions of Judaism, by which they made void the law of God, is an apostasy for which there is no excuse.
So in conclusion, we see man’s definition of a “Jew” is different from God’s definition. Man defines a Jew as one who submits to the rabbis of Judaism or the priests of Levi who reject Jesus Christ. God defines a Jew as one who submits to Jesus, the King of Judah, who is also the High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek.