The theologian and researcher into antisemitism, Dr. Rudolf Pfisterer (1914-2005), alerted me to the difference between Jewish expectation and Christian hope. He was the publisher of the six volume edition The History of Anti-Semitism (published in German). We both fought against the superficial theology that is the source of many prejudices.
The Hebrew word for hope is tikva – תִקוָה. The importance of the word in Judaism is evident: Israel’s first new town in modern times was called Petach Tikva, the Gate of Hope. The concept is found in the Bible:
“We have been unfaithful to our God…yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.” (Ezra 10:2)
Another word for hope is the term for expectation in the sense of “looking forward to,” “waiting upon,” or “anticipating”: lehamtin – לְהַמתִין. Etymologically, this means expecting something good to happen soon. Thus tikva and lehamtin are related despite their dissimilarity: “With deep hope and joyful expectation.”
So let us discuss the biblical difference between Jewish expectation and Christian hope.
Because God has irrevocably chosen the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 7:6; Romans 11:29), the guaranteed “expectation” is valid for Judaism. For the Christians, on the other hand, it is “hope.” For the Jews their expectation is like an alarm clock that has been set by God and is guaranteed to go off at the time determined by Him, whether they believe in it or not.
The very fact that Israel exists is an unmistakable sign that God can be completely relied upon to keep His promises. The nation of Israel lives just as the Church of Jesus also does, for Christian hope is the daughter of Jewish expectation!
The world condemns the Jews as being a group of unreliable people that lost its way and was consequently scattered. Yet Israel is the only constant in the world, for God chose the Jewish people as a “holy nation” (Deuteronomy 7:6); with the Christians it is different because they are chosen by God individually (John 15:16).
Both Israel and the Church are still on their way. The Jews possess a communal ticket while the Christians hold individual tickets. This is also why there cannot be a “Christian nation,” but there can certainly be a “Jewish state.”
The Church has made a historic mistake by so firmly implanting itself in this world. Hebrews 13:14 tell us:
“Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”
For Christians, earthly hopes do not fit in with God’s plan of salvation and therefore can never be fulfilled.
It is quite the opposite for the Jews, who as the Kingdom of Israel are an earthly nation. So in Judaism the human expectation of “waiting upon” the coming of the Messiah dominates. The Messiah will establish His throne in this world, which will be the Kingdom of God on earth. The awaiting, the expectation (lehamtin) of the Jews, which is an earthly expectation, is different than that of Christian hope, which is directed toward the hereafter.
By means of Jesus’ redemption, Jews and Christians are united. Yet throughout history they have gone their separate ways, distancing themselves from one another, resulting in the suspicion and hatred that defines their shared bond. Historically, so-called Christians in every generation have felt called in the name of the cross to slaughter the Jews.
Yet in spite of this God has neither written off Jewish expectation nor Christian hope, and will bring His plan of salvation to a conclusion fully and on time.
Just as there is a difference between tikva (hope) and lehamtin (expectation), their unity also remains constant, just like Adam and Eve, man and woman, Israel and the Church. Jews expect and await the coming Messiah while Christians hope for the returning Christ. One way or another, Jews and Christians belong together.
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