Chapter One

Who is the Messiah?  What really was/is He?

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets” (1:1)

The writer begins with a summation of the entire Old Testament record.  All of the key players/writers in the Old Testament were called prophets.  Abraham (Gen 20:7) Moses (Num 12:6) David (Acts 4:25) and, of course, the prophets who compiled much of the historical record are all called “prophets.”  The point made here is that God spoke to the temporal realm from the eternal realm through the revelation that the prophets received.  God revealed certain eternal truths to these human beings who were instructed to give these revelations to their fellow humans.  The purpose behind much of the Old Testament prophetic ordinances were designed to point the children of Israel to the temporal manifestations of the eternal, that is to say, the law.  When the people would turn to the law, they would see the eternal and become the people of God reflecting His realm of love by their obedience to His Commandments.  This would make them different from all other nations.  Moses spoke this revelation that he received from the eternal realm into the temporal like this, “The Lord your God commands you this day to follow all these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all of your heart and with all of your soul.  You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in his ways that you will keep his decrees, commands, and laws, and that you will obey him.  And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands.  He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame, and honor high above all the nations he had made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.’ (Duet 26: 16-19) Heaven would be released on earth through the obedience to the principles of love set forth in the law.  This would make Israel unique.  Isaiah said it this way, “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritits, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their god?  Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” (Isaiah 8:19)  Notice that the people were enticed away from following God by a variety of spiritual practices; but, the proper response was to turn not to other spiritual practices but to turn to the law and the testimony as it was sent from the eternal realm in language and practical applications that the people of the temporal realm could comprehend.  God revealed all that was necessary from the spiritual/eternal realm for the people in the revelation of the temporal i.e.:  the law.  Moses also stated, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Duet 29:29)  On and on we could continue quoting Old Testament passages of this manner but, the point is well made.  This was the manner of God speaking to humanity before the advent of Messiah.

has in these last days spoken to us by His Son whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds, who being the brightness of His glory , and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the world of His power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (1:2-4)

In the beginning of the gospel of John, Messiah is referred to as the logos (logos).  What does this mean?  The writer of Hebrews agrees with this concept, the difficult lies in explaining the matter.  It is very difficult to put this concept into a language that is understandable.  When God created the universe, he spoke it into existence.  When he spoke, it was a spiritual power that created all that He purposed to do.  This spiritual power is “the word.”  One could think of it as an “agent of creation.”  This Word, Power, or Agent was with God and was God.  This Agent of God then “put on flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) That force wrapped itself up into humanity to speak directly to us from the eternal realms.  Jesus was the “express image of His person” meaning that He was the incarnate spiritual power that manifested itself among humans as God.   He represented the eternal realm.  He is the expression of the realm of God.  All that this realm is capable of manifesting was manifested by Him.  Hence, Jesus could tell the disciples that “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”(John 14)  This power revealed the eternal power of heaven to us.  It was a much superior revelation than that which was given to the prophets because it eliminated the middle man.   David Stern, author of the Jewish New Testament Commentary, writes, “The Word which was with God and…was God is not named as such in Genesis but is immediately seen in action; ‘And God said, Let there be light’ (Gen 1:3)…This expressing, this speaking, this ‘word’ is God…’Word’ translates Greek logos…it corresponds to Aramaic ‘memra’ (also “word”), a technical theological term used by the rabbis in the centuries before and after Yeshua when speaking of God’s expression of himself.  In the Septuagint logos translates Hebrew Davar, which can mean not only ‘word’ but ‘thing’ or ‘matter’; thus Messianic Jew Richard Wurmbrand has suggested this midrashic understanding of the phrase of this verse; ‘In the beginning was the Real Thing.’…literally, ‘the Word became flesh.’  It is not that a man named Yeshua, who grew up in Nazareth; one day decided he was God.  Rather, the Word, who was with God and was God, gave up the glory (he) had with (the Father) before the world existed (17:5) and “emptied himself’, in that he took form of a slave by becoming like human beings are (Phil. 2:7)…It is God the Word, then, who decided to become man, not the other way around.’” (1)  Messiah was the express image of the eternal.  He represented that realm.  The writer of Hebrews uses two words to describe Jesus here.  They are “brightness” and “express image”.  The Nelson Study Bible comments, “These two expressions occur only here in the New Testament.  The Greek word for brightness expresses the e brilliance emanating from a glorious source of light, such as the beams of the sun.  Christ, as the effulgence of God’s glory, is the radiance of God, revealing God’s glory to humanity.  The Greek word translated express image can mean the instrument used in engraving or stampings, but usually it means the image engraved or stamped.  In this context, the word means that Christ is the exact representation of God’s nature.  Since God’s essence, nature and being are invisible, the Son reveals God to us, for he is an exact visible likeness of God.” (2)  The linguistics of the text  supports our conclusion.

In these last days, He spoke to us from eternity through Messiah, this being who was the “Word made flesh.” (John 1:14)  His mission was to extend the realms of love toward us, while we were the enemies of God (Romans 5:10).  Humanity did not deserve this revelation; but, it received it because of God’s great love for us. (John 3:16).  He would make the sacrifice on our behalf that would purify our sins through the shedding of His blood. (Levi 17:11)  This is a theme that the writer of Hebrews will return too throughout the work.  That this being, this God-man, extended to humanity the love that is expressed in heaven for us by sacrificing Himself on behalf of our sins, which purifies us in the eyes of God.  Upon returning to heaven, He sat down at the right hand of God but something had changed about Him.

He returned to heaven not as the “logos” that had left; but, He underwent a metamorphosis that qualified Him for a different ministry.  The moment that He became a human he could no longer return to that previous pre-incarnate state.  We will return to this theme throughout this work but suffice it to say here that:  He departed heaven to become human and when He was resurrected, He didn’t become the spiritual force that had departed heaven, He was something different.  He now had a resurrected body that He could not just “leave behind”.  It had to follow Him off planet earth.  Something new was born.  This is a new creation of a new being in the eternal realms. (2 Cor 5:17)  Thus, Christ is referred to as the “first fruits from the dead.”(I Cor 15:20; James 1:18; Rev 14:4).    This is why His ministry is that much more superior to any angel.  He accomplished so much more than the angelic forces could accomplish because of His incarnation.  He is superior to all the angels.  His ministry is the most superior ministry of the eternal realms.  His expression of love into the temporal realms by His Sacrifice has had such an impact on the eternal realm that He has become the “heir of all things.”

Next, the writer will give a long list of Old Testament quotes that validate the point that we have just emphasized above.  Not much commentary is necessary here.  In light of the above commentary all the supporting verses quoted by the writer just make good sense.  However, there is one interesting detail that is present.  The very fact that the writer quotes from the Old Testament writings validates the authority of the Tanach (the Jewish designation for the Old Testament).   If the law and the prophets were “done away with”, the writer of Hebrews would not quote from them on an authoritative basis because they would have lost their validity with the resurrection.  Obviously, this is not the case as the writer quotes them as and with authority.  In quoting from it, the writer validates the Old Testament and sets it up as the measuring device against which the work of Messiah is to be explained.

“Are they not all ministering spirits sent to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (1:14)

From an eternal perspective this verse just makes perfect sense.  In the eternal realms, the personalities that live there are so saturated with love that their natural response toward humanity, particularly those humans who are citizens of that same realm (Philippians 3:20), the angelic natural response would be to minister to those individuals.  To minister would be the “knee-jerk” response of the spiritual beings that live and operate in the eternal realms.  This point sums up the writers initial thesis.  The eternal realm has moved to express love towards humanity.  It began with the prophets, the law, the angelic visitations of the Old Testament.  It then progressed to where God Himself intervened on behalf of humanity.  The ministry of God Himself, that is, the Messiah, was superior to that of the angels.  And almost as an afterthought he states, they minister to us but Messiah ministry towards us is of a much greater and superior level.  Too this, the angels is heaven will agree and will rejoice of the repentance of sinners (Luke 15:7 & 10).

Endnotes

  1. Stern, David
  2. Nelson study bible, page 2077.
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When did Christianity become a Gentile Religion

     Recently, I read an article in Biblical archeological review entitled, “When Non-Jews Became Jesus’ Followers”.   The article is very good and describes the lifestyle of the earliest Judeo-Christians.  It states, “How did the original Judeo-Christians of Jerusalem compare their Jewish neighbors?  In some essential ways they did not differ from them at all.  The Judeo-Christians considered themselves Jews, and their outward behavior and dietary customs were Jewish.  In fact, they faithfully observed all the rules and regulations of the Mosaic Law.  In particular, the apostles and their followers continued to frequent the religious center of Judaism, the Temple of Jerusalem, for private and public worship; it was there that they performed charismatic healings.  (Acts 3:1-10; 5:12, 20, 25, 42).  According to Acts, the entire Jesus party assembled for prayer in the sanctuary ever day (Acts 2:46)  Even Paul, the chief opponent of the obligatory performance of Jewish customs in his churches, turned out to be a Temple-goer on his occasional visits to Jerusalem.  He once fell into a trance in the course of his prayer in the House of God (Acts 22:17) and on a later occasion he underwent the prescribed purification rituals before commissioning the priest to offer sacrifice on his behalf (Acts 21:24-26). (1)  With the exception of Paul being a chief opponent of the law (it has long been my position that Paul observed torah from an eternal perspective rather than a temporal one), this is an excellent summary of the first century church.  The author then delineates that worship began on the “first day of the week” and the “Lord’s Day” which he believes is Sunday.  If these two references refer to Sabbath, then, the first church was very observant of the Torah.  It is my position to demonstrate that these two references refer to Sabbath.  (The other issue of Paul’s Torah observance is too lengthy to tackle here and should be the topic of another article.  If the reader will grant me a certain freedom with this, then my supposition will stand).  If this day is the observance of the Sabbath, then we can reach the conclusion that the author reaches when he writes, “So prior to the admission of the gentile candidates, the affiliates of the Jesus party appeared to ordinary people in Jerusalem as representative of a Jewish movement or sect.  They were comparable to the Essenes in number and they exhibited similar customs such as the daily solemn meal and subsistence from a common kitty.  Indeed, the followers of Jesus were referred to in the late 50’s of the first century as the “sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5,140.)  In the patristic literature the Judeo-Christians were designated as the Ebionites or “the Poor”.  The church historians Eusebius (260-339CE) reports that up to the Bar-Kokhba war (the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome {132-135] all of the 13 bishops of Jerusalem, starting with James the brother of Jesus, came for the “circumcision”. (Ecclesiastical history 4.3.5.) (2) Hence, the establishment of the” first day of the week” and “Lord’s Day” as the Sabbath is essential to support this conclusion.

 

     The interpretation of Sunday instead of Saturday worship comes from two passages in scripture.  One being Acts 20:7, and the other being 1 Cr 16:2.  Yet, in light of the many scripture passages that speak so clearly to Sabbath keeping and gathering, I do not see how we can say that ‘The First Day of the Week” was changed to “Sunday” instead of “Saturday” based on two passages that are somewhat obscure in their reference to a supposed Sunday worship service, compared to seven passages that specifically state the Sabbath was being observed.  (Acts 13:14; 13:27; 13:42; 13:44; 15:21; 17:2; 18:4).  Nevertheless, it is beneficial to look at these references to a supposed Sunday worship service….

 

 

 

Acts 20:7:  [7] And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

 

 

 

Here we see that the disciples came together to “break bread” on the “first day of the week,” which would obviously mean Sunday.  But what is not obvious is when (I.e. what time) on Sunday they were gathered together.  According to the Jewish calendar (and this would be the calendar they were using) , days run from Sundown to Sundown.  Sabbath starts on Friday night and ends on Saturday night.  Sunday (the first day of the week) starts at Sundown on what we would typically call Saturday.  I would like to suggest that perhaps our interpretation of this event is somewhat skewed.  Acts is filled with references to meetings where they gathered together on Sabbath (Acts 13:14; 13:27; 13:42; 13:44; 15:21; 17:2; 18:4), which would be Saturday (during the day.)  I would like to suggest that in the above passage, they are not meeting on Sunday morning but on Saturday night – just after the Sabbath had ended.  Verse 8 goes on to say:  [8] And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. Lights would obviously infer candles during those times and what were candles doing all over the upper chamber on a Sunday morning?  Furthermore, verse 7 tells us “he continued his speech until midnight” and verse 9 tells us that Eutychus fell asleep during the meeting.  Verse 11 tells us they continued to talk until the “break of day” and then they departed.  All of these things point to the fact that the meeting was held during the night (Saturday night, in our time, the beginning of Sunday morning, and “the first day of the week,” for the Jews.)  So even if this passage could be said to bring about a Sunday worship service, it would mean that they gathered together Saturday night and not Sunday morning.  However, I believe that this was a special gathering together to bid Paul and his companions farewell.  There is nothing here to infer that this was a worship service – we can see from the above mentioned scriptures that those happened on Saturday – but was more likely a last gathering to spend a little while longer with Paul and his companions.  Dr. David Stern also writes, “But what is meant by the first day of the week? (Or to make the question’s relevance to Messianic Judaism clearer were the believers meeting on Saturday night or on Sunday night?  It is clear from the verse that the meeting was n the evening.  A Saturday night meeting would fit more naturally with the Hewish Shabbat observance; wherein the restful spirit of the Shabbat is often preserved into Saturday evening, after the official end of Shabbat itself, which occurs after sunset when it gets dark enough to see three starts.  It would be natural for Jewish believers who had rested on Shabbat with the rest of the Jewish community to assemble afterwards to celebrate their common faith In Yeshua the Messiah.  The Gentile believers who came along later would join in on the already established practice, especially since many of them would have been ”God-fearers” (10:2) already accustomed to following the lead of the Jews in whose company they had chosen to place themselves.  And since by Jewish reckoning days commence after sunset, the sense of the Greek text seems best rendered by “Motz’ ei Shabbat”, not Sunday.” (3)  Dr. Stern’s point is well taken. Why would the Jewish Christians observe all other aspects of Mosaic Law only to disregard Shabbat?  His explanation is much more plausible than a supposed Sunday worship.

1 Cor 16:2:  “Upon the first [day] of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as [God] hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”

This, in my opinion, is the weakest argument for Sunday Sabbath/worship.  Paul is telling them to “lay by in store” on the first day of the week.  This passage doesn’t even give a hint of this being during a worship service or a gathering, unless we read into the scriptures what is not there.  It seems much more likely that he was telling them to lay by what they made on the first day of the week – it is possible that this was the day they got paid. 

While we could certainly read into this verse to advocate Sunday worship, we cannot infer such from the text itself.  And in light of the fact that there is not a single scripture verse that will back up this inference in clearly stated language, I believe that to use this verse to advocate Sunday worship is an error.

The common reason given for changing Sabbath worship to Sunday is as follows, written by The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

“Christians chose the first day of the week for worship undoubtedly because Christ rose on that day and met with the gathered disciples at the time of the evening meal.  Hence, Lord’s Day worship is the Christian festival of the Resurrection.” (4)

But here we have a very grave problem.  “Christians chose the first day of the week for worship.”  But who makes up the rules?  Christians or Christ?  Do Christians have authority from Jesus to negate God’s rules and to make their own rules?  If they did, it would be written in the New Testament somewhere.  It’s not.  Are we under God’s Authority or do we usurp that Authority and declare it null and void and create our own?  When did Jesus Christ tell us that the Holy Sabbath should be changed to Sunday?  When did the Apostles say this?  If Sunday were the day of assembly, for whatever reason, wouldn’t it be at least mentioned once in the New Testament (that it was the day of assembly)?  But it is nowhere to be found. 

The Lord’s Day

     Since both the Didache and the New Testament use the phrase “Lord’s Day.” It is something that we need to address.  When is the Lord’s Day.  I would suggest that since we have already established that the Christian church in its beginning was observing the Shabbat, according to the New Testament, it is a foregone conclusion that any designation of the “Lord’s Day” would not refer to Sunday since Sunday worship itself would not be institutes until well after the end of the first apostolic period.  Since the Didache and the New Testament were both written well before the establishment of Sunday worship, any reference to a particular day belonging to the Lord would have to refer to Shabbat.

The Jerusalem Council

    The writer of the article comes to a conclusion that Gentile Christianity was established as being separate from Judeo-Christianity as the Jerusalem council.  His point is that the Gentiles were excused from the Mosaic Law while the Jews were to continue in it.  It is my opinion that this is one of the most common misperceptions in Christian history and I believe that it is an erroneous position.  Consider the following:

   Acts 15:1-21:  [1] And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, [and said], Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 

Keep in mind as you read this what the dispute is over.  It is regarding how the Gentiles must be saved.)

[2] When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. [3] And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. [4] And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and [of] the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. [5] But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses.

(These are a group of Pharisees who believe in Christ.  Their position is that the Gentiles need to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved.  This is the essence of the council.  The question is how the Gentiles can be saved.  One camp says they must have faith and keep Torah and the other camp states it is simply a matter of faith.  Let’s keep reading.) 

[6] And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. [7] And when there had been much disputing,

Why was there so much disputing?  Does it make any sense that if the Law had been “done away with” as is so commonly taught, someone here would have said so, and the dispute would have been resolved quickly and easily?  If the believers in Christ were not obligated to follow the Law, why didn’t they just say “well, this is awfully silly.  None of us have to follow the law!  Don’t you know that it’s been done away with?”  But no one says this.  Instead they are trying to figure out the laws the Gentile believer must follow in order to be saved ([see verse 1])

[8] Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men [and] brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. [8] And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as [he did] unto us; [9] And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. [10] Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 

(The yoke on the neck mentioned here is not the yoke of the Law, for the Bible clearly tells us the Law is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:14, 7:12, 2 Tim 3:14-17)… and that it is freeing for those who follow it (Psalm 119, Romans 7:22) Instead it is talking about the yoke of the Law as a requirement for Salvation.  The Law was never given as a vehicle of salvation.  The jews ere saved out of Egypt by the blood of the Passover Lamb and then they were given Torah.  Torah was given to a people already saved to demonstrate and model holiness as a nation.  The next verse really sums up this position…)

[11] But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

(This sentence and the one above it are partners.  “Why would you put a yoke on the disciples that none of us are able to bear?  It through grace that we will be saved… [Not by the Law].”)

12] Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

(They give examples that testify to the fact that the Gentiles have already been saved, even though they have not yet learned all of the Law, making it clear that Salvation does not hinge on circumcision or any other adherence to Mosaic Law.)

[13] And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men [and] brethren, hearken unto me: [14] Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. [15] And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, [16] After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: [17] That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. [18] Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

[19] Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: [20] But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and [from] fornication, and [from] things strangled, and [from] blood.

 

 

 

A wonderful book on the Jerusalem council can be found at http://www.seedofabraham.net/smpf.html.   In this book, Avram Yehoshua will define exactly the extent of these laws.   For now we will just say that we believe they all have to do with the worship of idols.   It is most important to remember that we are talking about the salvation of the Gentiles, and what they must do in order to be saved, or remain saved [verse 1].  It must be remembered that while those of us in modern day America have a hard time understanding why anyone would need laws against worshipping other gods, the world in those times was steeped in idolatry.  Everywhere there were temples devoted to sacrifice of pagan gods, and polytheism was the norm.  It was of little importance to the new Gentile converts, who already worshipped many gods, to keep the worship of Yahveh separate and distinct and exclusive of any worshipping of other gods.  They would have thought nothing of adding Yahveh to their list of gods and worshipping Him along side Zeus.  This is why they had to be taught – immediately – that they could no longer continue this practice.  Later, they would learn the other aspects of the Law needed for a Godly life inside of His will.  [Verse 21.]

 

Furthermore, common sense tells us that these can’t be the only four things of the Law that are required of Gentiles, because then Gentiles would be free to murder or to lie or to steal or to hate their neighbors, or to practice homosexuality, or witchcraft – all of which come directly from the Torah but are not mentioned here as the “necessary things” (vs. 28)  These four laws have something distinctive about them that sets them apart from other Laws which we believe to be the worship of idols.

 

 

 

[21] For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.

 

 

 

This is probably the most interesting sentence in this passage.  “For Moses of old time has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.”  What does Moses being taught in the synagogues have to do with anything?  We believe that verse 21 is the logical extension of verse 20 and verse 11 (that the Gentile is saved in the same way as the Jew.)  The Gentile didn’t need to be circumcised in order to be saved.  But the Gentile did need to be told what would disqualify him from membership in the kingdom of God. (v. 20) then he was directed to the synagogue to learn all of the rules of the Kingdom that pertained to him (v. 21).  Not every law of God pertained or applied to the Gentile, just as every law of God didn’t apply to Jesus.  He didn’t need to keep the laws pertaining to offering up the daily sacrifice (Exodus. 29:38-42) because He wasn’t the High Priest in the Jerusalem Temple.  But Jesus kept all the laws that applied to Him.  The Gentile would learn Torah as they walked with Jesus.  No one, least of all James, expected the Gentile to learn Torah overnight.  The Gentile would assemble in the synagogue on the Sabbath (see Acts 13:42; 13:44; 18:4) to learn the Torah of Moses, gradually.  This verse tells us that James assumed or understood that the Gentile was to go to the synagogue to learn the Law of Moses.  In declaring to everyone at the council that the Gentiles were to go to the synagogues on the Sabbath Day to learn Christ’s commandments, we see that James was thinking about Torah specifically in relation to the Gentile.  They would learn it every Sabbath.  With that, he shows us today that Torah should be a part of every believer’s life.  James was establishing the place of the Law for those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:31).  He was presenting Torah as a lifestyle of sanctification for the Gentile just as it is for the Jew (e.g. Peter, Paul, etc).

 

 

 

     We believe that this is the correct interpretation of the Jerusalem council and that this interpretation brings unity among believers rather than the division that is projected by the author.

 

 

 

Concluding Remarks

   Back to the original question of when did the Christianity cease to be Jewish and become a Gentile religion, I don’t really know the answer but I can speculate. By the writing of the epistle of Barnabas, Christians were rapidly departing from the Judiac root.  It is my opinion that this can be summed up in a word:  persecution.

 

 

 

     With the Jewish uprisings against Rome, it became patriotic in the Empire to persecute Jews.  The average everyday roman would have looked at Christianity as only a mere extension of Judaism and they would have persecuted them along with the Jews.  Additionally, the Jews were also persecuting the Christians as heretics and expelling them from the synagogues and the social circles from which it sprang.  In short, Christianity found itself without a home and without a separate identity.  Thus, the early church father began to establish these.  This identity had to be separate from that of the Jews.  It was at this juncture that Christianity became a Gentile religion. 

 

 

 

Endnotes

 

  1. 1.       Vermes, Geza, From Jewish to Gentile, How the Jesus Movement became Christianity, Biblical Archaeology Review, vol38, no.6, www.biblicalarchaeology.com.
  2. 2.      Ibid
  3. 3.      Stern, David, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, Maryland, page 297-298.
  4. 4.      Bromiley, Geoffrey, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, W. Erdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979.

 

 

The Defense of New Testament Prophetic Writings

      In recent years, many of the prophecies concerning Messiah in the New Testament have been called into questions.  Many object to the prophecies as being too figurative or even twisted from the Old Testament writings. Many Torah-observant Christians have been incited away from Christianity because of this perspective.  Particularly the Jewish sect of Karaite Judaism has influenced torah-observant Christians to leave the Messiah.  Reason being, their approach and methodology of scripture interpretation.

 

     “The Karaites are a Jewish sect which does not recognize the authority of the post-Biblical tradition incorporated in the Talmud and in the latter rabbinic works.” (1)  The Karaites reject that the Talmud/ mishnah/ targums of the orthodox community are inspired by God.  They believe solely in the inspiration of the Old Testament (Tanach).  Their approach to biblical interpretation is as follows: 

 

“Karaites (Karaim/Qaraim) are followers of the Hebrew Scriptures (Miqra/Mikra). We use Peshat (Plain Meaning) to interpret the Miqra. This does not mean we are strictly literalist but are contextualist. We study and interpret the scripture based upon the context in the scripture, the historic context and a language context. Not all Karaites interpret the Miqra exactly the same but we are dedicated to the following of YHVH and him alone. There is no other Elohim (God) but him.” (2)

 

     Their approach, a Peshat or literal interpretation of scripture, is one of the four methods which are used by the rabbis to interpret scripture.  In essence, the Karaite approach, as well as the approach of modern scholarship, utilizes only one of the four methods commonly used during the time of the writing of the New Testament for biblical interpretation.  (More on this later).  This particular mode, the Peshat, is what modern scholars call a historical-critical exegesis.  Exegesis means that they are drawing the meaning of a text out of the text itself by literally translating the language and then placing it within its historic framework. This is the most common approach of modern scholarship.  Personally, this is my own favorite approach to scripture.  However, I’m forced to admit that this method is not comprehensive and can be very short-sighted. Although this is a great method for textual examination, it’s not comprehensive enough to cover all the aspects of the spiritual gamut.  Why?  Risto Santala, author of The Messiah in the Old Testament, explains, “Mental and spiritual concepts must, by their very nature, described figuratively.” (3). This figurative approach is what we see God using with many of the prophets of the Old Testament itself.  It is also the approach of many of the New Testament writers.  Let me give you an example of how an angelic messenger deploys this method.

 

     In Zechariah chapter four, the prophet is having a conversation with an angel.  The angel says to Zechariah, “What do you see?”  Zechariah responds, “I see a solid gold lamp stand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights.  Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.  I asked the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord.’”(Zechariah 4:2-4)  The angel seems surprised that Zechariah would ask such a question.  To the spiritual being, the interpretation of this vision (now a passage of scripture) is very clear, but it is not so clear to the prophet.  Things in the spiritual realm do not always fit into the mode of modern scholarship or the Karaite approach to biblical interpretation.  The angel responds, “Do you not know what these are?” Then he will explain, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:  Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6).  It appears that the angel has twisted the vision to explain something that is not “literally” present. The angel is privileged to certain information that makes little sense to the human intellect but makes perfect sense in the realm of the spirit.  Hence, the Peshat approach to scripture can be short-sighted.  I will allow that it has a tremendous place in biblical interpretation.  Perhaps even a place at the foundation, but it is not the end all and be all of biblical interpretation.  There are spiritual principles that simply cannot be explained by using a historical-critical syntaxical exegesis.  The full gamut of spirituality will require more than just the use of our brains. 

 

     As noted above, the Karaites and modern scholarship use a method of interpretation known as Peshat or “simple.”  The ancient rabbis, however, recognized a need for something more comprehensive than historic-critical methods of interpretation and develop a different approach.  The developed a system of biblical interpretation which is called  sdrp, (PaRDeS) an acronym for the four modes of interpretation.   Dr. David Stern gives us an explanation of what these different approached to scripture can mean to us:

 

  1. 1.       Peshat (simple)—the plain, literal sense of the text, more or less what modern scholars mean by “grammatical-historical exegesis” which looks to the grammar of the language and the historical setting as background for deciding what a passage means.  Modern scholars often consider grammatical-historical exegesis the only valid way to deal with a text.  (As we have demonstrated this cannot always be the case)
  2. 2.      Remez (hint)—wherein a word, phrase or other element in the text hint at a truth not conveyed by the Peshat.  The implied presupposition is that God can hint at things of which the Bible writers themselves were unaware.  (Passover and the Messiah for example.  There is not explicit statement connecting the two but the clues are self-evident)
  3. 3.      Drash or midrash (search)—an allegorical or homiletically application of a text.  This is a spercies of eisegesis (reading one’s own thoughts into a text) as opposed to exegesis, which is extracting form the text what it actually says.  The implied presupposition is that the words of Scripture can legitimately become grist for the mill of human intellect, which God can guide to truths not directly related to the text at all.  (The entire concept of Talmud and midrash comes from this interpretation.  Where the orthodox ere, as the Karaites have pointed out, is that the orthodox have elevated a method of interpretation to the level of scripture itself.  This is a mistake.)
  4. 4.      Sod (secret)—a mystical or hidden meaning arrived at by operating on the numerical values of the Hebrew letters, noting unusual spellings, transposing letters, and the like.  For example, two words, the numerical equivalents of whose letters add up to the same amount, are good candidates for revealing a secret through what Arthur Koestler in his book on the inventive mind called “biosociation of ideas.  The implied presupposition is that God invests meaning in the minutest details of Scripture, even the individual letters. (4 parenthetical notes are mine for emphasis and clarification)

    

     The word PaRDeS literally means garden or orchard.  The supposition underlying this mode of biblical interpretation is that God, in His love for humanity, expresses ideas to us through a wide variety of methodologies, not just intellectually.  Many struggle with this concept of interpretation because it has a subjective ring to it.  Their objection is noted and valid.  We must remember that these are approaches to biblical interpretation and that interpretation, in and of itself, cannot replace what is inspired and written.  (Again, this seems to be the error of orthodox Judaism in its elevation of the oral-torah as inspired.)

 

     In the defense of the New Testament, we must evaluate the text according to its historic context (both scholars and Karaites should agree with this because it is based upon a historic contextual model).  What we will find, is that all four of these methods of PaRDeS existed at the time of the writing of the New Testament and were commonly used in Jewish circles for biblical interpretation.  Therefore, when evaluating the New Testament application of the prophecies concerning Messiah, we must consider these methods.  To reject the methods of PaRDeS is to reject a historical critical approach to the New Testament because the New Testament writers deployed these methods many of the passages where they found Messianic fulfillment in the life of Jesus.  Let’s look at an example.

 

     “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet:  Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:15)  Matthew writes this as the fulfillment of a prophecy written in Hosea 11:1.  Well, let’s take a look at it.  It states, “When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son.” This fulfillment makes absolutely no sense from a historical-critical model.  There is absolutely no mention of anything related to Messiah in this chapter.  Therefore, the Karaites dismiss it as being messianic and believe that Matthew was twisting the scriptures.  Is this the case?  I think not.  Again, Dr. Stern, “What then, is Mattityahu doing here?  Some allege he is misusing Scripture, twisting the meaning of what Hosea wrote from its context in order to apply it to Yeshua.  Such an accusation stands only if Mattityahu is dealing with the peshat.    For there is no question that the peshat of Hosea 11:1 applies to the nation of Israel and not to Yeshua.  Some think Mattityahu is using the drash approach, making a midrash in which he read the Messiah into a verse dealing with Israel.  Many rabbis used the same procedure; Matthew’s readers would not have found it objectionable.  Nevertheless, I believe Mattityahu is not doing eisegesis but is giving us a remez, a hint of a very deep truth.  Israel is called God’s son as far back as Exodus 4:22.   The Messiah is presented as God’s son a few verses earlier in Matthew, reflecting a Tanach passages such as Isaiah 9:5-6-7, Psalm 2:7 and Provervbs 30:4.  Thus the Son equals the son; the Messiah is equated with, is one with, the nation of Israel.  This is the deep truth that Matthew is hinting at by calling Yeshua’s flight to Egypt a “fulfillment” of Hosea 11:1.” (5)  It would be easy to see how someone with only a short-sided methodology would reject this as a fulfillment of the prophecy.  Many other examples could be used here, both from the Talmudic passages discussing Messiah, as well as, other references of fulfilled prophecies from the New Testament.

 

     As Dr. Stern noted, none of Matthews’s original readers would have taken objection to this application/interpretation of scripture.  They would have considered it a common approach to biblical interpretation (according to the PaRDeS method of biblical interpretation.)  Hence, in order to give the New Testament a fair assessment, it must be examined under the light of its historical context which has a PaRDeS approach to scriptural interpretation at its core.  When seen in this light, the prophecies of the New Testament can be fully explained inside of their historical approach to scripture.

 

    

Endnotes

  1. http://www.karaites.org/history.html.
  2. 2.       Hazzan Yochanan Zaqantov, http://www.karaitejudaism.org.
  3. 3.       Santala, Risto,  The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabinical Writings, Keren Ahvah Meshihit, Jerusalem Israel, 1992, page 43.
  4. 4.       Stern, David, Jewish New Testament Commentary,  Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1992, page 12.
  5. 5.       Ibid

The Apostles and the Law

“You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law. (Acts 21:20)

 After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the disciples begin to live out their new found faith in Messiah. It is important for us to examine how they lived in order to determine if they continued to follow Torah. Again, not as a means of salvation, but, did they keep it as an expression of their stance as a community of God. We will begin with the book of Acts and progress into the theological teachings of the letters from the apostles in a following post. Is there evidence that the first apostles had torah observance as an expression of their religiosity? If so, this tells us that early apostolic thought was not that the Torah was “done away with” after the resurrection of Messiah.

Immediately in the book of Acts, we find support for, not only Torah observance from the apostles, but also from the Lord Himself. Prior to His ascension, Jesus tells the apostles to “tarry in Jerusalem” until the coming of the Holy Spirit. This would’ve been a great time for Jesus to demonstrate to His new church that the law was “done away with.” However, this is not what we read in the New Testament. What we find is that Jesus, the one who baptizes with fire, choses a holy day as prescribed in the Torah, as the day for the Holy Spirit to come. Jesus sets it up this way. He purposefully tells the apostles to stay in Jerusalem till the coming of the Spirit. He knew it would come at Pentecost. All Jewish males were required to be in Jerusalem according to the law, and Jesus commanded His new church to be in the place that the law required. If Jesus was anominal (without the law or doing away with the law) He should have chosen a different city from which to establish His church and not the capital of the Old Testament, and the place where the law states that God will “establish His name.” Especially since this particular Holy Day celebrates the giving of the Law to Israel. This would’ve been an awesome opportunity for Jesus to distance Himself from Torah; however, He does not. He continues in torah observance for His church even after His ascension and resurrection. This tells us that Jesus still has respect and honor for the law and that the law has a place in the life of a believer. This theme continues. We see a constant undertone in the life of all the apostles where their lifestyle centers around torah observance while walking in the power of the Spirit.

In chapter 3 of Acts, we find Peter and John (two of Jesus inner circle of disciples) going up to the Temple at the “hour of prayer” which is the ninth hour. It is interesting to note the particular time that these two apostles pick to go to prayer. The law commands that two sacrifices were to be made daily, one in the morning and one in the evening (Exodus 29:39). The evening offering was usually offered at the ninth hour. Hence, all the faithful in Jerusalem would pack the temple precincts at this time for prayer according to the Torah. Who do we find in the middle of all this? Two of Jesus closest disciples. John Lightfoot notes, “This is certain, that the ninth hour of the day (which with us is three o’clock in the afternoon) was the ordinary hour as for sacrifice, so also for prayer too. As to the hours of sacrifice, Josephus gives us this account: ‘in the morning and at the ninth hour they offer sacrifices on the alter twice a day.” (1) The fact that John and Peter where in the temple precincts praying with every other Torah obedient Jew in Jerusalem makes a statement about their stance on the law. This also applies to the newly appointed deacons.

When we get to Acts chapter six, we find Stephen going to trial. What is he accused of? He is charged with “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” (Acts 6:11) Stephen is accused of being “anominal.” (Not observing the Torah) What is interesting about this is that it was all a lie. The first part of that verse tells us “ Then they secretly instigated men who said.” thus, they were making up a lie. This means that there was no grounds for the accusation. Hence, Stephen must have been Torah observant in some regards because if he was not, they wouldn’t have had to lie about him. In fact, when they pick up stones to kill him, he accuses them of not keeping Torah. He states, “you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7: 53) Stephen tells them that they received the revelation of how to live as God’s chosen people and they rejected it. Then, they, full of rage, picked up stones to kill him. Why? Because he was right.

In Acts chapter 10, Peter has a vision that is filled with multiple images and illusions that some have used to justify the eating of unclean foods. This subject is one that I will cover in an additional post, but one interesting point I would like to bring up now. Peter had been walking in the power of the Holy Spirit for awhile prior to this vision. If Jesus were “doing away with the dietary laws”, as some theologians would have us believe as recorded in the gospel of Mark (another post that will come later on Mark 7:19) Let’s suppose that Jesus did declare all foods clean back in the gospel of Mark. What should we find Peter doing at this time in his apostolic career? Eating whatever he wanted and teaching others to do the same. What we find in the book of Acts is exactly the opposite. Peter states, “But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” (Acts 10:16) One might argue that the fact that Peter didn’t “get it” until now is difficult to imagine. Peter was raised a Jew and if Jesus was teaching the disciples to “do away with the law”, as dense as he was on occasions, Peter would’ve gotten that, for sure. It would’ve been a no-brainer for him and for any other Jew. (In fact, the Sanhedrin could’ve had actual charges to bring against Jesus had he broken the dietary laws of Torah, they wouldn’t have had to bring in liars. They would’ve had real charges.) To sum it up, we find Peter here still adhering to a torah observant lifestyle.

Once again, in Acts chapter twelve, we find the apostles in Jerusalem during the Holy Days. It is the feast of unleavened bread and it was commanded in the Torah that all males go to Jerusalem. Again, we find the apostles in the middle of the torah observant crowd preaching the gospel.

In chapters 13 and 14 we find Paul and Barnabas going out on their first missionary trip. We see them going to synagogue on the Sabbath day. Thus, we find them observing the Sabbath, a huge torah observant trait. Why wouldn’t these apostles, sent by God, have told these converts to have church on Sunday because Jesus changed all that with his resurrection? The reason we find it absent from the text is that this particular theology didn’t exist at this time. (again, another post that will follow) What we are demonstrating throughout the book of Acts is that, the apostles led an underlying torah observant lifestyle,

The Jerusalem council takes place in Acts 15. When one is discussing the Jerusalem council, it is important to put the whole thing in its proper context. The context of the council is not, what is the role of torah in the life of the believer. The context of the council ia, how does one get saved. Salvation is what they are discussing and not the law. Evidence of this is found in the first verse of the chapter. It states, “ But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1 italics added for emphasis) Why was there so much disputing? Does it make any sense that if the Law had been “done away with” as is so commonly taught, someone here would have said so, and the dispute would have been resolved quickly and easily? If the believers in Christ were not obligated to follow the Law, why didn’t they just say “well, this is awfully silly. None of us have to follow the law! Don’t you know that it’s been done away with?” But no one says this. Instead they are trying to figure out the laws the Gentile believer must follow in order to be saved ([see verse 1]) Once we understand that they are not discussing the role of Torah in the life of the believer. Things begin to make sense.

The law is only mentioned because it is being misused as a vehicle of salvation. This is what Peter clarifies when he states, “Now, therefore, why are you putting to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:10-11 italics for emphasis) Peter is telling us exactly what we have been saying throughout this series, that the law was never intended to be a vehicle of salvation. But it does have a role in the life of the believer. This is what James clarifies when he states, “but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:20-21) What James means by this statement is that the Gentiles need to turn from a polytheistic worldview to one of monotheism. All of the activities described for the Gentiles to turn away from are forms of pagan worship. It would’ve been easy for the polytheistic culture of the Greeks and the Romans to lump Jesus into a category with all the other gods. The apostles were moving them into a monotheistic worldview. What is amazing about these recommendations is that many of them are from the Torah. As noted Jewish scholar David Stern notes, “Abstain from things polluted by idols, defined in v. 29 as food sacrificed to false gods, especially meat. Fornication, any form of sexual immorality. In the first century pagan world sexual unions outside of marriage were regarded very lightly, along with homosexual behavior, temple prostitution and other improper practices…And blood. This could be either literal, referring to drinking animals blood, or failing to remove it from meat, or figuratively, a metaphor for murder.” (2) Also, in the Torah, God tells Noah, “ But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” (Genesis 9:4) So, it would appear that the recommendations for the Gentiles, again in order to be saved, was to turn ones heart completely toward God which is demonstrated by doing some things that are listed in Torah. (see below for details) Furthermore, common sense tells us that these can’t be the only four things of the Law that are required of Gentiles, because then Gentiles would be free to murder or to lie or to steal or to hate their neighbors, or to practice homosexuality, or witchcraft – all of which come directly from the Torah but are not mentioned here as the “necessary things” (vs. 28) These four laws have something distinctive about them that sets them apart from other Laws such as hatred or homosexuality, which we believe to be the worship of idols.

James goes on to suggest that after the Gentiles have turned from a polytheistic worldview, that they should go to synagogue and learn the torah as the standard of holiness. Avram Yehoshua, a torah observant Jew and teacher in Israel writes, “This is probably the most interesting sentence in this passage. “For Moses of old time has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” What does Moses being taught in the synagogues have to do with anything? We believe that verse 21 is the logical extension of verse 20 and verse 11 (that the Gentile is saved in the same way as the Jew.) The Gentile didn’t need to be circumcised in order to be saved (more on that later.) But the Gentile did need to be told what would disqualify him from membership in the kingdom of God. (v. 20) Then he was directed to the synagogue to learn all of the rules of the Kingdom that pertained to him (v. 21). Not every law of God pertained or applied to the Gentile, just as every law of God didn’t apply to Jesus. He didn’t need to keep the laws pertaining to offering up the daily sacrifice (Exodus. 29:38-42) because He wasn’t the High Priest in the Jerusalem Temple. But Jesus kept all the laws that applied to Him. The Gentile would learn Torah as they walked with Jesus. No one, least of all James, expected the Gentile to learn Torah overnight. The Gentile would assemble in the synagogue on the Sabbath (see Acts 13:42; 13:44; 18:4) to learn the Torah of Moses, gradually. This verse tells us that James assumed or understood that the Gentile was to go to the synagogue to learn the Law of Moses. In declaring to everyone at the council that the Gentiles were to go to the synagogues on the Sabbath Day to learn Christ’s commandments, we see that James was thinking about Torah specifically in relation to the Gentile. They would learn it every Sabbath. With that, he shows us today that Torah should be a part of every believer’s life. James was establishing the place of the Law for those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:31). He was presenting Torah as a lifestyle of sanctification for the Gentile just as it is for the Jew (e.g. Peter, Paul, etc). (3)

 

To re-cap, the Jerusalem council met to discuss the question of “how are the Gentiles to be saved?” They determined that the law was never intended to be a vehicle of salvation. Furthermore, the Gentiles that were turning to God, were encouraged to keep some of the commandments of torah (thou shalt have no other gods(Exodus 20:3), do not engage in temple prostitution (Duet 23:17) and stay away from blood(Lev 17:10). If the intention of this council was to “do away with the Torah” because Jesus fulfilled the law, then they failed miserably. Far from doing away with it, the apostles established it as a measuring line for holiness. This was the original intention of the law. To provide a standard of holiness for God’s chosen people.

The apostle Paul begins his second missionary journey in chapter 16. The first thing that Paul does in preparation for this journey is circumcise Timothy. The reason for this being “because of the Jews” in that area. This demonstrates that Paul continued to have a reverence for Torah. Later in his life, Paul will be accused of taking an uncircumcised man into the Temple, an action which would’ve violated temple customs. In order to live above reproach, he circumcises Timothy. At a minimum it demonstrates his respect for the law. (As regards to Titus’ uncircumcision, it would appear that Paul wouldn’t circumcise Titus in order to placate Judiazing Christians who purported that circumcision was necessary for salvation, again this was the reason for the Jerusalem council.)

In chapters 16 and 17, we again see Paul, as was his custom, going to synagogue on the Sabbath. Again, Paul is observing Shabbat. More information is available on Paul observance of the law in chapter 18.

Two interesting events take place in chapter 18 that gives us insight into Paul’s torah observance. First, he is accused, by the Jews, of “This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” (Acts 18:13) Let us recall that this is the same accusation that was brought against Stephen. Paul never gets the chance to refute these charges, but he will later while on trial in Jerusalem. Secondly, Paul takes an interesting vow that required him to shave his head. (Acts 18:18) The only vow that demanded the shaving of the head in scripture is the Nazirite vow of Numbers 6:1-21. Commenting on this passage, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states, “Paul had evidently taken a Nazirite’s vow which he began to terminate at Cenchreae by cutting off his hair (Acts 18:18), and which was completed formally in Jerusalem with other Christians under Nazirite vows (Acts 21:23).” (4) This proves a great deal about Paul’s personal convictions about the Torah. It was more to him than a tool of evangelism, more than just being a “a Jew to the Jews”, it was his lifestyle and culture. It was not his vehicle for salvation, but, he continued to observe it as a lifestyle of holiness. As noted Jewish scholar David Stern notes, “No matter what the details of Sha’ul’s (Paul’s Hebrew name) vow were, this proves that he did not abandon the Torah; on the contrary, even when he became as a Gentile among Gentiles he continued to observe Jewish practices. See also Acts 13:9, I Corinthians 9:20-22 (5) This fact is further demonstrated when the scripture states “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem.” (Acts 18:21 KJV) This is a quote from Paul who desired to go to Jerusalem for an upcoming holy day. If he was not concerned with Torah, the feast in Jerusalem wouldn’t matter to him. Scripture paints a different picture of the apostle. Mainly, that he continued to be torah-observant.

An interesting phrase is used in Acts 20 that, on the surface, seems to inaugurate Sunday worship instead of Sabbath. This verse states, “ On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7) There are several reasons to believe that this was not a traditional Sunday morning worship service. First, Paul continued to preach until midnight. This is either the longest recorded sermon ever, perhaps lasting around 14 hours, or, something else may have been happening. Perhaps the phrase, “On the first day of the week“, had something to do with it. “We have reasons to believe that Luke uses consistently in his narrative the Jewish time reckoning. According to such a system…the first day began on Saturday evening at sunset, the night part of Sunday preceding the day part. The evening of the first day on which the meeting would then corresponds to our Saturday night…In light of these indications it would appear that Luke respected the Jewish liturgical calendar and used it quite consistently when reckoning time” (6) ( Consequently, the meeting took place on Saturday night after the close of the Sabbath. It is interesting that at this time of day, Jesus did ministry as well. (see Mark 1:32)) Perhaps Luke’s numerous mentioning of Torah, proofs that he, himself, was a torah observant Christian. It would seem unlikely that Luke would follow around Paul and not participate in the things that Paul was doing. This evidence suggest at a minimum, Luke’s knowledge of torah, and at a maximum, his participation, along with Paul, in torah observant events. Nevertheless, it does seem to de-bunk the theology of Sunday worship beginning here. On the contrary, it occurred in a meeting after the Shabbat.

Further evidence for the Torah observance of Paul and his traveling companions is found later in chapter 20 where it states, “for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.” (Acts 20: 16) Again, Pentecost is one of the feast that required Jewish males to be present in Jerusalem. Because of his torah observant lifestyle, Paul was hastening to be in Jerusalem. Was he present in Jerusalem at all the feasts? No, but, he lived torah as his lifestyle and when it was possible for him to “keep” a commandment, then he kept it. When the work of an apostle kept him from Jerusalem during the feast, then he honored the higher calling on his life. Nevertheless, Paul was mindful of the Holy days and desired to keep them according to Torah. Additionally we find in chapter 20, “And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.” (Acts 20: 6) Here we see Luke and those with him make specific mention to the feast of the unleavened bread (which starts on the day of Passover.) We also see Luke make specific mention to the fact that they did not leave Philippi until after the days of unleavened bread. By this it can be determined that they were keeping the feast of the unleavened bread, else there would be no reason to tell us that they waited until the days were over.

Another example of Paul’s torah observance is found in Acts 23:2-5: And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, [thou] whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the *law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. (KJV) The word “law” used in verse 3 is the Greek word “paranomeo” (Strongs 3891) which means “to break the law, Torah”. Paul, who is usually so bold and unwilling to compromise calls the High Priest a “whitewashed wall.” However, upon finding out that he is a High Priest, he backs down saying: “it is written, thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” Did it make the High Priest any less wrong? No. But we see Paul clearly unwilling to disobey a Commandment found in the Torah. (Leviticus 5:17, 18; Exodus 22:28)

There are some other references to believers as being torah observant. In his defense, Paul describes Ananias, the one who laid hands on him to receive his healing and subsequent, baptism in the Holy Spirit, as “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.” (Acts 22:12) This means that a believer, other than an apostle, was a torah observant Christian. Furthermore, the book of Acts mentions, “The Fast” in Acts 27:9. No doubt, this is a reference to the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kipur in Hebrew), a day when the devout Jews would fast. (See my article on the blog entitled, “The Day of Atonement.”)

 

Perhaps the strongest evidence for torah observance among the apostles and the first Christians comes from Acts 21. Several references exist both to the church in Jerusalem’s stance on torah and the apostles stance, as well. First, Paul and James meet and James and the elders in Jerusalem glorify and rejoice with all that God is doing among the Gentiles. Secondly, James shares with Paul about the ministry in Jerusalem. James states, “ “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law. (Acts 21:20) This verse demonstrates that the first believers of Christ, were saved by grace but joyfully and willingly chose to live out the holy standard of the law as a lifestyle. This was the essence of the church in Jerusalem. It is also important for us to understand exactly how many people were living according to this lifestyle. If this is just a few radical fundamentalist, then a case can be made that this was not the stance of the first church. A cursory glance at the text dispels all doubt. “It is estimated that the population of Jerusalem in the first century C.E. was approximately 100,000 to 120,000 people. In Acts 21:20, the Greek text literally tells us that “tens of thousands” (Greek word for myriads) of Torah observant Messianic Jews lived in Jerusalem. Using the least case scenario, at least 20,000 people in this population were Torah-observant Messianic Jews.” (7) This tells us that the bulk of, if not all the Christians in Jerusalem, were torah-observant Christians. In point of fact, torah-observant was not the minority opinion, it represented the bulk of all Christians living within the first 30 years of the resurrection of Messiah. This gives us insight into their theology and how they practiced the faith. Exactly as we have maintained the relationship with the torah.

Then, James tells Paul that they have heard rumors that He was “ they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” (Acts 21:21) This was an accusation that was made of Paul earlier in his career, as we have already noted, and an accusation that was made against Stephen. James, however, is confident in Paul’s’ torah observant lifestyle, that he asks Paul to take some Christians who had taken a Nazirite vow, to the temple to offer the appropriate sacrifices and pay for the purification rites. This Paul willing does. Why? The only motive that is mentioned in the text is to prove his own torah observance to those who were torah observant, all of which, are Christians. While in the temple, Paul is again accused of anomonism (a torah-less-ness lifestyle) and is almost killed by unbelieving Jews. This leads to his arrest and eventual trip into Rome. To sum up Paul’s stance on Torah, perhaps we should let his own words speak for himself. “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.” (Acts 28:17) and in another place he states, “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets.” (Acts 24:14) . If the ministry of Christ was truly to abrogate all of the torah in the lives of the believers, then that ministry failed. It is evident from this review of the book of Acts that the apostles continued to observe Torah while maintaining the stance that they were saved by grace. Yet, the law remained the standard for the Holy People of God. This stance completely agrees with our stance as set forward in the beginning article, The Law and The Believer. Therefore, the bulk of the evidence in the lives of the apostles points toward torah observance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endnotes

**All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton IL, 2001. Unless otherwise stated.

1. Lightfoot, John, Commentary on the New Testament form the Talmud and Hebriaca, Hendrickson, Publishers, 2003, volume 4, page 37.

2. Stern, David, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, Maryland, 1992, page 277.

3. For further discussions on the Jerusalem council and torah observance in general, the reader is encouraged to visit Avram Yehoshua web site, www.seedofabraham.net and also to see his book entitled, Set my People Free. Much of what is written here as been gleaned from his work.

4. Bromiley, Geoffrey, The International Standrd Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979, Page, 502.

5. Stern, page 291.

6. Bacchiocchi, Samuele, From Sabbath to Sunday, The Pontifical Gregorian University Press, Rome, Italy, 1977, page 105.

7. Freidman, David, They Loved the Torah, Lederer Books, Baltimore, MA, 2001, page 74.

Jesus and the Law

Matt 5:17-20: [17] Think not that I am come to destroy the law (nomos; Torah), or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. [18] For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. [19] Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus  came to be our example.  He demonstrated to us what a man, in right relationship with God, can accomplish by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, his comments on the law are of the utmost importance.

The word used here for “destroy” is the Greek word “katuloo” (Strong’s #i2647) its meaning is “to loosen down, to disintegrate to demolish, or to halt.” Messiah is telling us here what He has not come to do.  He has not come to loosen down, stop, or disintegrate the Law.  Yet, this is the position that Christianity has taken for thousands of years.  How often have we heard that the “law was done away with.”  This position is totally untenable when we examine what Jesus is saying in this passage.  The first verse totally disengages the church’s position.  The law must have a place in the life of the believer.  For years, theologians and preachers have told us that Jesus fulfilled the law, therefore, it no longer applies to us.  But that is not what Jesus is saying here.  This position is saying thatr by fulfilling the law he abolished the law.  Not so, He is telling us that it has a place.  To further discuss this, let us look at the word for “fulfill.”

The word used for “fulfill” is the Greek word “plerroo” (Strong’s #4137).  It’s meaning, is to “make replete, to fill up,  or to fulfill as in cram to the tap.”  It is the verb that Paul uses regarding the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 where he states, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  This gives us a sense of what the word means. It means that as Christians we should be crammed to the top with the Holy Spirit.  So, what could the  possible meaning be in this context of Matthew 5:17?  “Rather than being destroyed it now existed as God originally intended.  It had come to an end in one form, but continued in another, more perfect form.” (1).  It would appear that Messiah is here restoring the Law to its original intention as a lifestyle of holiness for the priesthood of all believers.  The Law had been perverted into a system of works that became a vehicle of salvation.  Jesus was clarifying that He was the only means of salvation, but this did not destroy the law.  As the IVP commentary states, “Jesus opposed not the law but the illegitimate interpretation of it that stressed regulations more than character.” (2)

If fulfill means “to do away with” then we have Jesus saying one thing (Do not think I have come to abolish the Law) while immediately contradicting Himself (I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.)  “To fulfill” obviously can’t mean “to do away with.”  Jesus reveals the essence of the Law by saying things like “You have heard it said of old that one must not murder, but I say to you that if you hate your brother in your heart that you have already murdered him.”  Jesus was clarifying and amplifying the Commandment (Law) not to murder by showing Israel what the essence of the Commandment is.  He didn’t throw out the commandment not to murder by telling us the essence of the Commandment.  But what He did do was sweep away any thoughts that one could keep that Commandment perfectly, even if one had not literally murdered someone.

In Hebrew terms, Jesus is using rabbinical terms of the time to explain His position.  “Destroy and fulfill are technical terms used in rabbinic argumentation.  When  a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of scripture, he would say, ‘You are destroying the Law!’  Needless to say, in most cases his colleague strongly disagreed.  What was ‘destroying the Law’ for one sage, was ‘fulfilling the law’ for another.” (3)  Of course, neither rabbi in the argument would ever think of negating any commandments of scripture, they were just technical phrases from rabbinical schools of thought to be seen figuratively and not literally.  The church has taken a literal position and tossed out the Law for the believer.

While many people say that Christ fulfilled the commandments at the cross (therefore we are no longer required to obey them)  we know this cannot be true, as Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law to love our enemies, but that doesn’t mean we are “free” to hate them because Christ fulfilled the Law for us.  When does He say the Law will pass?  “When Heaven and Earth pass away.”   This has not yet happened.  The Law is still in effect.

An additional Hebrew idiom can be found in phrase, “I have come”.  “When Jesus says “I have come” the English reader immediately pictures Jesus leaving his heavenly throne and, as the Servant of the Lord, coming to the earth.  But “I have come” may often be a Hebrew idiom denoting intention or purpose.” (4)  Thus, we can translate “I have come” to mean something completely different than the incarnation.  My purpose or My task rather than “this is the reason that I left heaven.” With this purpose in mind, John Lightfoot gives us an additional perspective on this verse,  He writes, “It was the opinion of the nation concerning the Messias, that he would bring in a new law, but not at all to the prejudice or damage of Moses and the Prophets:  but that he would advance the Mosaic law to the very highest pitch, and would fulfill those things that were foretold by the prophets, and that according to the letter, even to the greatest pomp.” (5)  Is this not what we see Jesus doing in this entire passage of scripture.  Elevating and establishing the Law, rather than abolishing it.

Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.  Our righteousness in keeping the Law must go deeper than the superficial external followings of the Scribes and Pharisees.  Does that mean the Law is done away with?  Well, how did Christ explain this? Rather than telling us not to murder, he tells us not to hate.  Rather than tell us not to commit adultery He tells us not to lust.  The requirements of God through Christ don’t just teach us to follow the Law, they reveal the heart of the Law that one must strive for in Christ.  To not murder is “easy” for most believers.  But to abstain from hate is impossible for most, and that is why we need His blood of forgiveness and His spirit of life, to help us to overcome our carnal nature and receive His nature, so that we can do both the external and internal Law of God.  The Pharisees followed the Laws of God – in their actions.  But their hearts were far from God (Mat 15:8,9; Isaiah 29:13)  Obedience to God is about action (thou shalt not kill) as well as heart (thou shalt not hate.)  Our righteousness must include that of the Pharisees (the external points of the Law) and go beyond it (the heart of the Law, as Jesus revealed it to us.)  Our obedience to God must be an act of the will motivated by a love for God.  Additionally, verse 19 seems to suggest that obedience to the law is a requirement for those who are in the “Kingdom of God.”  In fact, those who support the abolishment of the law are still in the kingdom.  They are called “the least” but they remain in the Kingdom.  Obviously then, obedience to Torah is not a means of salvation.

Let’s close with a lengthy quote from John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible which sums up our position:
“The moralist, the Pharisee, who obeys the Law externally, does not love it, nor delight in it (Romans 7:22) but obeys it from fear of its threatening; and from a desire of popular esteem and from low, selfish views, in order to gain the applause of men and the favor of God.  Only a man restored to God will delight in the law of God, as it is fulfilled by Christ, who has answered all the demands of it.  It is in the hands of Christ, held forth by Him as a rule of holy walk and conversation; and it is written upon man’s heart by the Spirit of God, (Jeremiah 31:33, Heb 8:10) to which the righteous man yields a voluntary and cheerful obedience (Psalm 119).  He serves the Law with his mind, freely, without any constraint but that of love.  He delights in the law, and the delight is mutual and reciprocal: the law delights in him, and he delights in the law; and they both delight in the same things, and particularly in the perfect obedience which the Son of God has yielded to it.”

Endnotes

**All definitions of Greek and Hebrew words are taken from the Strong’s concordance**

**All scripture quotations are taken from the New King James version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN.**

**Much appreciation if given to my wife Rina as the foundation of this article came from her work**

1.  Bivin, David, Blizzard, Roy, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1994, page 113

2.  Keener, Craig S., The IVP Bible Backgournd Commentary:  New Testament, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1993, page 57.

3.  Bivin and Blizzard, page114

4.  Ibid, page 92

5.  Lightfoot, John, Commentary on the New Testament form the Talmud and Hebriaca, Hendrickson, Publishers, 2003, page 99.

The Feast of Tabernacles

The Feast of Tabernacles

“Blow the Trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the Full Moon, on our solemn feast day.  For this is a statute for Israel, a Law of the God of Jacob.”  (Psalm 81)

The rabbis used to say that one had never seen or experienced joy until they experienced the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem.  This extremely joyful time is celebrated in the month of Tishri (A), at time of the full moon.  The rabbis would say that the month had to come to its fullest so that all of creation could worship God during the Feast of Tabernacles. Joy is commanded during the feast, and is the central theme of the Feast.  Scripture states, “And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the father less, and the widow, who are within your gates.  Seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice.”  (Duet 16:14-15 emphasis added for clarity).  Yes, mandatory fun from heaven.  God is so good that he doesn’t just ask you to generate your own sense of joy.  He prepares the way and actually blesses us and give us something to be joyful about.  Indeed, in one of the biblical references to the concluding day of the feast under the reign of Solomon is described as, “He (Solomon) sent the people away to their tents, joyful and glad of heart for the good that the Lord had done for David, for Solomon, and for His people Israel.” (2 Chron 7: 10 parenthetical note added for clarity)

Tabernacles, affectionately known as “The Feast”, is one of the three holy convocations that occur during the regular biblical calendar.  (Duet. 16:16-17)  These gatherings are Biblically described by the word “miqra.”  It is roughly translated “a gathering of the called out ones” and can also be translated as a “rehearsal”.(3)  This later definition provides us with a prophetic element to the feast that has both an immediate and future fulfillment while the former definition provides the backdrop for the joyous occasion.  Additionally, tabernacles takes place during the time of the fall harvest of crops, which further denotes it as a time of festivity and gratefulness to the Yahveh Yireh (The  Lord who provides. Genesis 22:14)

(A.) Tishri is the seventh month out of the year, and it is considered the most holy of months.  On its New Moon, the feast of Trumpets is celebrated.   Ten days later, the day of Atonement occurs with prayer and fasting.  Lastly, the greatest of all the fall feast occurs, the Feast of Tabernacles.  The Hebrew term is “sukkot”, which is translated as “tabernacle, or tent, or booth,”(1) “refers to a hut made of wattled twigs or branches.  In countries where trees are abundant such wattled structures are common as temporary buildings as they can be constructed in a very short time.  The booths, which were simple shelters made of interlaced branches were the people’s living quarters during the festival.” (2)  The weather in Israel in the fall is perfect with very little temperature changes from day to night, around 80 in the day and 70 at night which allows for comfortable outdoor living.

The Feast lasts eight days (Lev 23:33-36, Duet 16:13-17).  The first and the last days are celebrated as types of Sabbaths where customary and laborious work is forbidden.  These are the days of worshipful gatherings.  During these gatherings, followers of God are commanded to worship the Lord with objects known as “the four species.”  Scripture describes it this way, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.” (Lev 23:40)  The orthodox rabbis define these as, “The esrog (fruit/esrog) resembles the heart, the lulav (Palm branches) the spine, the boughs of leafy trees resemble the eyes, and the willows resemble the lips.  By holding all four together, we symbolize the need for a person to utilize all his faculties in the service of God.” (4)  Thus, worship during this feast calls for the consecration of the entire believer to worship is “spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)

The Bible describes this feast with the Hebrew phrase, “Chuqqat L’Olam” which translates to “a statue forever” (Lev 23:41).  This phraseology lends little ambiguity as to God’s intention regarding the Feast.  It was something that was that was to be kept and practiced, rehearsed, from generation to generation.

The purpose of dwelling in booths

“All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may now that I made the children of Israel swell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”  (Lev 23:42-43)

Paul writes, “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…Now these things became our examples to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted…Now all these things happened to them as examples and they were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”  (I Cor 10:1-11).  Here Paul tells us that the things which happened to the children of Israel were written for our benefit, so that they might be a memorial to us. Biblical memorials are alive and remind us of the past actions of God.  This builds present day faith, because what the God, who changes not, has done in the past, is what He will do again in the future.  To remember the mighty acts of God is to build faith in what God is going to do in the future.  Paul is telling us that the biblical accounts  of the Old Testament were written for us, so that we could remember the ways that God interacted with His people, and the way He will continue to interact with us.  Tabernacles is a profound example of what God wants to do in the future and what He wants to do while we keep this feast.

Exodus 33 records God dwelling with a nation for the first time in history.  During this period when Israel was living in tabernacles (booths), God was with them as a “cloud by day and a fire by night.” (Ex 13:21-22)  In fact, this scripture emphatically states that, “He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.”  (Ex 13:22)  This gives us some insight into the heart of God.  God has desired to dwell among people.  He wants to be with us.  It is His desire to “tabernacle” (dwell with) us .  This was the lesson and the promise He made to Israel, that He would make them “a nation of priests”(Exodus 19:6)  In the new covenant, Peter writes the same thing, that we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9)  Christians are a holy priesthood who minister to God and His desire is to tabernacle with His people.  This is to be remembered and experienced through the Feast.

It also reminds us of the dependency that is necessary for the supernatural provision of God.  God was with the Children of Israel and He provided for all of their needs.  He provided food from heaven, water from rocks and clothing that never wore out..  Tabernacles reminds us of our calling to worship God from our calling as priests, and to place ourselves in a position of dependency upon Him to meet all of our needs.

The Progression of God’s Dwelling Place

The dwelling place of God is intimately tied into the Feast of Tabernacles.  It is one of the things God wants us to remember during the feast.  As the biblical narrative unfolds, some interesting points appear as the connection between where God lives and the Feast of Tabernacles becomes increasingly clear.

David desired to build a temple for God so the Divine Presence didn’t have to live in a tent or a tabernacle.  God told David that he could not do this but his son Solomon would build the temple.  Interestingly enough, Solomon finished building the temple at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles.  The Temple was dedicated to God during this Feast.  (I Kings 7 & 2 Chronicles 5)  Again, the glory cloud (Shekinah glory) filled the temple.  The same cloud that lived in the tent now lived in the temple.  Sadly, Israel and Judah fell into apostasy and went into exile leaving the temple and the land desolate for 70 years.  However, God did leave a prophecy that the people would return to the land. (Jeremiah 25:11-12)

Seventy years later, a priest named Ezra leads the people back  to Jerusalem and clears out and restores the temple.  Can guess when the regular sacrifices and worship were restored?  Yes, during the Feast of Tabernacles.  (Ezra 3 Nehemiah 8:13 )  As the Old Testament period begins to wind down, God gives us a prophecy about the temple and the dwelling place of God.  During the time of the rebuilding of the temple, a prophet named Haggai (whose name is derived from the Hebrew “Hag”  which means feast) gives a prophetic word that comes on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles.  So, during the feast, Haggai gives this prophecy, “The glory of the latter temple shall be greater than the glory of the former temple.” (Haggai 2:9)  This word finds its fulfillment in this, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1: 14)  The dwelling place of God had progressed from the tabernacle, to the temple, and then, into a man.  The second Adam who was begotten of God.  Jesus the Messiah, was the dwelling place and the temple of God.  In fact, He describes His body as a temple. (John 2:19)  The temple is were God tabernacles or dwells.  With the coming of the Holy Spirit, anther progression is evident.

Paul describes the New testament believer as the “temple of God.” (I Cor 6:19)  That we now are the actual housing of the presence of God.  Haggai’s word has the prophetic fulfillment that the glory of the latter temple, Jesus and the New Testament believer, is greater than the glory of the former temple, the temple is Jerusalem.  The Body of Christ, His holy priesthood and building, is a greater glory and a greater outreach of and for God, than any building in Jerusalem no matter how ornate.  Tabernacles celebrates this progression of the dwelling place of God.  As John G. Lake writes, “God and man become one.  The heart of man, the mind of man, the soul of man enter into God and God into him.  The divine fires of the eternal Christ, by the Holy Ghost, come from heaven, and the lightings of Jesus flash through the life, bless God, and the powers of Christ invigorate and manifest and demonstrate through that relationship.” (5)

The final fulfillment of the Feast of tabernacles and the dwelling place of God we find in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation.  John has a vision of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven.  Here is how the voice from heaven describes the ultimate fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, “ Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev 21:3)  During Tabernacles, we look forward to the time when all of eternity will be a tabernacle with God.  This is expressed by the prophet Isaiah in his vision of the millennial reign.   He speaks, “Then the Lord will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night, for over all the glory there will be a covering.” (Isaiah 4:5)  Remember that the cloud by day and fire by night that was with the children of Israel in the desert only rested above the tabernacle of the meeting, but in the millennium, it remains above every dwelling and above every gathering place.  The Glory of the Lord shall rest upon us all.  This what we celebrate, pray for, and anticipate during tabernacles.  This is the essence of revival.

Tabernacles at the time of Jesus

The New Testament verifies that Jesus kept the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem.  (John 7-8).  Scripture tells us that on the last day of the feast Jesus stood in the temple and shouted, “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit…“ (John 7:37-39)  This statement is awesome enough on its own.  However, when one understands the backdrop against which this statement is made, it becomes even more impressive.  That backdrop is a water libation offering.

“Throughout the seven days of the festival a special priest carries water in a gold pitcher from the Pool of Siloam to be put into a basin at the foot of the alter by the high priest.  It symbolized prayer for rain which begins on the next day, on Sh’mini Atzeret (the eighth day), and pointed toward the outpouring of the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) on the people of Israel.” ([6] parenthetical notes added for clarity)  This ceremony is considered one of the most joyful in all of the feast.  It is noted in the Talmud and the Encyclopedia Judica, as a “time of religious joy were the worshippers draw true inspiration from the Holy Spirit. (7)  The last day of the feast, or the eighth day, was the culmination of the joyful festivities.  On this day, during the ceremony the Great Hallel was sung, which is also called “The Great Hosanna.”  It consisted of the Psalms 113-118 with the concluding passages are “Save now, I pray, O Lord (Hebrew is Hosanna) O Lord, I pray send now prosperity, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 188:25-26)  Here is the sequence of events for this ceremony.  The priest would leave the temple out of the Fountain Gate and make his way toward the pool of Siloam.  (Incidentally, Siloam means “sent one”  or the pool of the sent one, or the pool is sent, it was constructed during Hezekiah’s time which does explain the name in light of the biblical narrative relating to Hezekiah.  Also, this is the pool which the “angel” stirs in John 5 that brings healing.  There was a supernatural presence to this pool both symbolically, as representing Messiah, the sent one from God, and physically, as it waters yielded healing when stirred by the angel)  Crowds would gather, with the four species in hand, particularly the lulav (or palm branch), and a joyful procession would follow the priest down to the pool.  He would fill his pitcher and return to the Temple.  By this time, large crowds had gathered and the High Priest would emerge to the cheers of the people. The worship and prayers to God would be accompanied by the waving of the lulav or the palm branches. The High Priest would encircle the alter seven times and upon each circle the roar of the crowd would grow larger.  The chanting of the Great Hosanna, prayers for rain and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit were all shouted at the same time as worshippers waved large palm lulav toward the alter.  After the seventh lap, the High Priest would pour the water at the base of the alter as the cheering crowd watched him raise his arm to the full extent indicating that all of the water had been poured out.  It is against this backdrop that Jesus makes the aforementioned statements.  As Alfred Edersheim notes, “The pouring of the water was immediately followed by the chanting of the Hallel.  But after that there must have been a short pause to prepare for the festive sacrifices.  It was then, immediately after the symbolic rite of water pouring, immediately after the people had responded by repeating those lines from Psalm 118, and prayed that Jehovah would send salvation and prosperity, and had shaken their lulav toward the alter, that there rose so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the Voice of Jesus…At the close of the most solemn rites of the feast, asserting, within the hearing of all, His claim to be regarded as the fulfillment of all, and the true Messiah.” (8)

Shortly after the aforementioned events, Jesus makes the following statement, “I am the light of the world,  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life,”  (John 8:12)  Again, a very powerful statement, but when understood against the backdrop of the ceremonies of Tabernacles, it becomes more impressive.  Beginning on the second night of the Feast, large crowds would gather into the “Court of the Woman” in the temple precincts.  Seven very large menorahs were brought out and lit in the evening.  The Levites would bring out the temple instruments and worship would take place as priest danced before the Lord with torches and as the Levites led the people in worship. (9)  With the full moon and the seven menorahs, every courtyard in Jerusalem was said to be well lit.  Light, in both Jewish literature and in scripture, is symbolic of Messiah.  Therefore, Jesus meaning could not be mistaken that He was claiming again, His Messiahship and alluding to the fact, that, those who followed Him would not walk in darkness, but would be in the light, just as every courtyard in Jerusalem was in the light during the Feast of Tabernacles.

70 bulls and the Gentiles?

In Numbers 29, God commands the children of Israel to sacrifice many sacrifices during the Feast.  The sacrifices begin with large numbers and move to decreasingly smaller numbers (Numbers 29:12-39).  No reason is given for the sacrifices but the rabbis give us an interesting interpretation.  Rabbi Eleazar states, “To what do those seventy bullocks (that were offered during the seven days of the Festival) correspond?  To the seventy nations.  To what does the single bullock (Of the Eight day) correspond?  To the unique nation.(10)  Assuming the Rabbi Eleazar is correct in his symbolism, this paints a beautiful picture of the nations of the world uniting with Israel for unified worship before their God.  One common body, worshiping their Creator, as the apostle Paul writes, “one new man from the two.” ( Ephesians 2: 15)

Shadows of tabernacles in the New Testament

The Triumphal Entry

At the time of Jesus entry into Jerusalem prior to His crucifixion, the disciples begin to through palm branches onto the road and to shout, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 21:1-11)  Does any of this sound familiar?  Exactly, it is the same event that is described during the temple services that we described above.  What were the disciples and the people really claiming about Him.  That He was in fact the fulfillment of Tabernacles and that God was now dwelling among men.  Proof responds, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”(Luke 19:40)  Thus claiming His Messiahship as the only true one there who was worthy of such worship.   The scribes and the Pharisees recognized it as worship and were astounded that Jesus would receive it.  Proving that Jesus was either a crazed religious fanatic or the actual fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles.   This event happens prior to the Passover, but its rich symbolism from the Feast of Tabernacles must not be missed.  It has evolved into the modern church holiday known as Palm Sunday.  Perhaps it should be recognized as Lulav Sunday.

The Transfiguration on the Mount

“Surely I say to you that there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man in His Kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)

Shortly after making this statement, Jesus takes three disciples onto the mountain.  Right before their eyes, He is transfigured into His Glory.  Moses and Elijah show up and begin to discuss his “exodus” (for so it reads in the Greek).  Peter, although misguided,  recognizes the significance of these three individual standing together, the fulfillment of Tabernacles.  Thus he states, “Let us make here three tabernacles, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”(Matthew 17:4)  Although He was mistaken, he gives us another key insight into the prophetic significance of this holy day.

The Feast continues into the Millennium

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up for year to year to worship the King, the Lord of host, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.  And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, on them there will be no rain.  If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain, they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.”  (Zechariah 14:16-18)

In the preceding verses, Zechariah describes a scene where the nations of the world have gathered against Jerusalem, and then, “And in that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which faces Jerusalem on the east.” (Zechariah 14:4)  This is the second coming of Messiah, as the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown commentary notes, “The place of His departure at His ascension, shall be the place of His return, and the manner of His return also shall be similar (Acts 1:11) …This was the scene of His agony, so it shall be the scene of His Glory.” (11)  Even so, tabernacle among us and inside of us, Oh Lord.

The worshipers at Tabernacles prayed for literal rain, and they prayed for symbolic Holy Spirit rain.  They believed they were going to receive both types.  Interesting that the plague on the heathen nations will be the absence of rain.  Famine, both spiritually and physically.  This is a plague.  It would appear that other nations of the world are going to be left after the return of Messiah and the inauguration of the millennial reign.  This nations will be required to come to Jerusalem and acknowledge the Kingship of Messiah.  What better time to recognize His Kingship than the Feast of Tabernacles!

Endnotes

**All scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version  of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN.**

1.  Strong, James,  The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible,   Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN  1995, Strong’s number 5521.

2.  Bromiley, Geoffrey, The International Standrd Bible Encyclopedia,  Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979,  page 535.

3.  Strongs, number 4744.

4.  Scherman, Nosson Rabbi, The Stone Edition Tanach,  Mesorah Publications, ltd,  Brooklyn New York,  2003, page 305.

5.  Liardon, Roberts, John G. Lake The Complete Collection of His life Teachings, Albury Publishing, Tulsa, OK, 1999, page 462.

6.  Stern, David, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarsville, Maryland, 1992, page 179.

7.  Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkot 5:1, and Encyclopedia Judaica 14:365.

8.  Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Hendrickson Publishing, 1993 Page 584-585.

9.  The Talmud, Sukkah 5: 2-4)

10.  Sukkah 55 from the Talmud as quoted in:  Nadler, Sam, The Feasts of Israel, Word of Messiah ministries, 2002, page 142.

11.  Jamieson, Robert; Faussett, A.R.; Brown, David, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Hendrickson Publishing

The Kingdom Rulers Require Water and Spirit

“Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

There are two requirements that Jesus has set before us.  They are being “born of water” and being “born of the Spirit.”  The latter (being born of the Spirit) we have already covered in the two post entitled, “The Kingdom” and “The Kingdom and the Spirit Man.”  The reader is encouraged to read these two before continuing here.  In this post, we will focus on the water portion of the verse and the role that Jesus played in opening this door for us.

Generally, there are two standard arguments for the meaning of being “born of water.”  The first is water baptism by immersion and the second is the actual physical birth.  In essence, being birthed on the earth as a human being created in the image of God.  (Again, See “The Kingdom and the Spirit man” for details).  When both arguments are considered, we will find that the answer lies in both positions.

Water baptism is a symbolic/prophetic act in the physical realm that expresses a spiritual reality.  FF Bruce summarizes, “Christian baptism even more emphatically symbolizes the new beginning for every one who by faith-union with Christ shares His death and burial in a spiritual sense and rises with Him to newness of life.” (1)  Baptism is an outward physical manifestation of a spiritual reality.  Thus, in order for one to demonstrate to the world his being “born of the spirit” one would declare it through water baptism.  Contextually, Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus, in the third chapter of John, and He uses language that would have been familiar to Nicodemus.  “Converts to Judaism were said to become ‘as newborn children’ when they were baptized to remove Gentile impurity.  ‘Born of water’ thus clarifies for Nicodemus that  ‘born from above’ means conversion, not a second physical birth.” (2)   Nicodemus became confused that he needed to be converted because, in his mind, he was already converted. (see also the Kingdom post).  Hence, it seems relevant that “born of water” in this context can be-speak of water baptism as it is the only expression in the physical realm of the spiritual reality of the Christian entering the Kingdom.  David Stern explains further the position on water baptism, “Immersion in water is connected with ritual cleansing of the body….while the Holy Spirit gives power for turning from sin and living a holy life; both bespeak of aspects of purification.  This is why being born of water does not mean ordinary human birth; moreover, since everyone is born of water in that sense, it would be silly for Yeshua to make a condition out of it with the word ‘unless.’” (3)

Agreed, the interpretation of water baptism is most applicable for this verse. However, there is the argument of being “born of water” as being born a human that may have a deeper spiritual reality than Mr. Stern’s will allow.  To reiterate, water baptism is a physical act of a spiritual reality.  It is what we do in the physical realm to demonstrate being “born of the Spirit” in the spiritual realm.  If this is the only application then Jesus is being extremely redundant.  To paraphrase, Jesus would be saying that “unless one performs the physical act of the spiritual reality and is born-again which is the aforementioned spiritual reality, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  It would appear to be a redundant statement.  Perhaps the physical birth itself has some application here as well.

To understand this we must look at what man was created to be and to do in the beginning.  “Then God said, Let us make man in our image and according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, overall the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) Man was created to have authority over all the earth.  The bible says that “The heavens, even the heavens, are the Lord’s; but the earth He has given to the sons of men.” (Psalm 115:16)  God designed that dominion over the earth is in the hands of men.  Hence, it takes a human to become the image bearing representative of God on earth, to usher in the Kingdom of God.  God has limited Himself to utilize His Creation in order to have dominion on the earth.  The spiritual Kingdom of Heaven cannot invade the physical  realm of earth without the utilization of God’s representative on earth.  This is why it is necessary to be a person, a human being, born of water, to enter the kingdom.  One must first be a human before one can demonstrate heavenly power on earth.  It is a prerequisite that one must be a person in order to enter the kingdom by the blood of Jesus.

God, because of His character, will not revoke the authority that he gave to men.  God must redeem and use men to display and destroy the works of the devil because He doesn’t take back what he has given.  Therefore, God had to become a man sot that a man could save that which was lost.  Adam gave away the authority over the earth to the devil at the fall of humankind.  A man had to come and retrieve that which was given away.  Hence, it was essential that Jesus be “born of water” to qualify in the physical realm to be the image-bearer and representative of God.  Hence, the requirements are exactly the same for the Christian.  Jesus called Himself, “The Son of Man” which identified Him more with His Humanity than with His Divinity.  He came as a man, anointed by the Holy Spirit, go get back what man had lost.  This could only be accomplished by a man, a human being.  Charles Capps concludes, “Jesus came by the legal entry, through birth.  He had all the authority of a man.  He lived as a man and was anointed with the Holy Ghost.  He went before us and destroyed the devil’s works.  He went to the cross, gave up His life, and became the supreme sacrifice…The fleshy birth is the legal entry into the earth.  But because Jesus is the Head of the Church and the firstborn from the dead, He became the door, or legal entry, into the Kingdom of God.  There is no other way.  You can’t get there by the church door.  You can’t get there by being baptized.  You can’t get there by paying your tithes or by being good.  You must be born again, and Jesus is the door of that new birth.  Just as physical birth is the legal entry into earth, the spiritual birth though Jesus Christ is the only legal way into heaven.” (4)

Hence, when we, as Christians, exercise our God-given authority as His Image bearers, and our rights as “citizens of heaven” having been born again, then the Kingdom of God comes to earth through us.  Indeed, one must be born of water and Spirit to enter the Kingdom of God.
Endnotes

1.  Bruce, F.F.  The Gospel and Epistles of John, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983, page 84.

2.  Keener, Craig, The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1993, page270.

3.  Stern, David, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament publications, Clarksville, MA, 1992, page 267.

4.  Capps, Charles, Your Spiritual Authority, Harrison House, Tulsa, OK, 1994, page 147-148.