Yeshua’s voice was strong, yet gentle. His teaching was clear and simple, yet incomprehensible. What He said had the ring of the scriptures they had memorised as children and heard in the Synagogue every Shabbat, yet so different to the interpretations they were used to hearing from other religious teachers. He spoke with a profound authority, yet compassionately. This man viewed the world through a different lens. The crowd mulled over what He had called blessed and the way that He was introducing the kingdom of heaven to them. It was both familiar and yet strikingly unique.
Those last words on being blessed if you are persecuted had struck a nerve.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12
It was their own people who had persecuted the prophets. The Jews liked to think of themselves as a people who honoured the prophets and heeded their words, but their history, as recorded in their scriptures, told a different story. Prophets spoke a word from God that the people did not want to hear. They called the people to repentance and set forth God’s terms for them to be reconciled to Him, but most people prefer to come to God on their own terms rather than conforming to His. Their ancestors had persecuted the prophets rather than conform to God’s terms for relationship with Him.
Yeshua had set forth a vision of the kingdom of heaven which included being peacemakers – boldly declaring God’s conditions for being reconciled with Him. Then He had related such to being persecuted. He connected living in God’s righteousness with being persecuted. He had spoken about being reviled, falsely accused and hunted down by their own people for righteousness sake, just as the prophets before them had been. Those were not easy words to hear when all their lives they had been taught that they would be honoured in their community for being righteous like the Pharisees.
Some commentators have suggested that Jesus’ teachings here were for that select group called ‘disciples’, or even just for “the twelve” (who had not yet been selected), for those who were ‘part of the kingdom’, “genuinely committed believers”, and not for the multitudes who had followed Yeshua up this mountain to hear His teaching. What they failed to recognise was that Yeshua had not come to ‘start a new religion’, but to reform Judaism – to call the Jewish people, all the Jewish people, back to God’s original purpose for them and help them understand what it really means to live in obedience to God’s Law.
First centenary Jewish society did not have “believers” and “non-believers” the way we think of them in modern western nations. Their distinction was between Jews and non-Jews. Knowledge of God permeated every aspect of Jewish life, it was woven into the fabric of their culture and coloured every activity of daily life. It was the aim of the Jewish people to be part of the kingdom of heaven, it was their birthright as Jews. This was tied up in their expectations of a coming Messiah. Everyone of the multitude of Jews who followed Yeshua up that mountain and listened to this ‘Sermon on the Mount’, had a hope and expectation of being citizens of this kingdom. Everyone of them knew that Yeshua’s words were for them. This was what God had established Israel to be – His kingdom, salt and light to the world.
Yeshua continued His teaching with two simple illustrations which were easy to remember, yet profound. Again, these were designed to be memorised, meditated upon, discussed, lived, and shared with others.
“You are the salt of the earth; … Matthew 5:13a NKJV
Salt is essential for life in general. Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes, thus salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings. Salting is also an important method of food preservation. With the spread of civilization, salt became one of the world’s main trading commodities. Wars have been fought over salt and it has been used as currency and to raise tax revenues. It was prized by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Hittites, Egyptians, Indians and Chinese. Salt thus became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara on camel caravans.
Salt had an especially strong significance for the Jewish people. It is a very stable mineral – tastes the same in a week’s time, in a year’s time, in a hundred years time, in ten-thousand years time. Other elements of a meal – meat, grains, vegetables and herbs all degraded over time. Salt carried a sense of permeance, of endurance, it hinted at eternity. Not only that, but it helped preserve these other foods, it lengthened their life and improved their flavour. So salt had become an essential part of any covenant. In a covenant of friendship between families the meal shared had to include salt, include that which is enduring. Likewise, in God’s covenant with Israel the sacrifices offered to God had to be salted.
You shall season your every offering of meal (grain) with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with God; with all your offerings you must offer salt. Leviticus 2:13
When you offer them (young bull, male goat without defect and ram form the flock) before the Lord, the priests shall throw salt on them, and they will offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord. Ezekiel 43:24
And whatever they need—young bulls, rams, and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the request of the priests who are in Jerusalem—let it be given them day by day without fail. Ezra 6:9
God also made two lasting covenants which He referred to as berit melakh, “covenant of salt“. The first was with Aaron and his descendants to be priests and partake of the offerings “for all time“. The second was with David and his descendants to have kingship over Israel “forever“. Thus, God kept the two branches of governance over His people, the priesthood and the kingship, separate so that each would be accountable to the other and all accountable to Him.
All the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside for God I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time. It shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before God for you and for your offspring as well. Numbers 18:19
Surely you know that the God of Israel gave David kingship over Israel forever—to him and his sons—by a covenant of salt. 2 Chronicles 13:5
This second covenant of salt is particularly interesting because of it’s connection with Messiah, stating clearly that he must be a descendant of David. Anyone having messianic rule over Israel who was not a descendant of David would be a breach of this enduring covenant. God simply would not do such a thing, He is a covenant making, covenant keeping God. The genealogies in both Matthew and Luke importantly show that Yeshua was indeed a descendant, a ‘son’, of David, and thus He is the fulfilment of this “covenant of salt” that God made with David and with Israel.
All the multitude of Jews sitting up on the mountain with Yeshua knew that He was speaking to them when He said: “You are the salt of the earth…”. The Jewish people are essential to life and civilisation on earth. They are essential as a witness and example of God’s dealing with mankind. They are essential as a testimony to God’s goodness and truth. That is what God had established the Jewish nation to be, salt preserving the earth, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. In calling them the salt of the earth Yeshua gave importance to the Jews scattered throughout the nations as well as those living in their homeland, for salt has to be scattered over the whole of the offering if it is going to be accepted, not just piled up on one portion of it. Everywhere that the Jews went throughout the earth they were to be salt in that place, a testimony by how they kept God’s covenant, to the nature and goodness of the one true God, creator of the universe and husband to their nation.
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” Exodus 19:5-6
To us, talking about salt loosing it’s flavour might not make much sense. We have been focusing on it’s enduring nature, so how could it lose its flavour? To the scientist, salt (NaCl, sodium chloride) is one of the three or four most stable compounds in the world. Virtually no natural reaction can cause salt to turn into any other compound. It does not change, it does not degrade, salt is always salt and it is always salty.
… but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. Matthew 5:13b
But these Jews had experienced salt that had lost its flavour, they knew what Yeshua was talking about. Pure salt cannot lose its flavour, but not all the salt they purchased was pure. Indeed, the cheaper salts sometimes contained a mixture of salt with some other cheap and tasteless mineral (such as Gypsum, which was also abundant in the area) that, when ground up, nevertheless looked like salt. When the percentage of impurities in the salt got too great it lost its flavour and became worthless. No man would allow it to be thrown onto his field because it would destroy the fertility of the ground. The only place for it was on the street, where it would be trampled underfoot by men.
God’s covenant with the Jewish people was both wonderful and terrible. There were blessings for obedience, but there were also curses for disobedience. The people had stood on two mountains (now located in Samaria) and spoken the blessings over themselves from one mountain, and the curses over themselves from the other (Deuteronomy 11:26-29 & Joshua 8:33-35). Yeshua was now speaking prophetically to them of what would happen if the Jewish people lost their saltiness, rejected His words, they would be good for nothing as far as the kingdom of heaven was concerned, thrown out of their holy city of Jerusalem and trampled underfoot by men.
The need to remain pure was not new to Judaism. All the laws of the Pharisees were focused on keeping the people pure. The ‘fence they built around the Torah‘ was to keep the people pure. All their ritual hand washings and mikvah’s were to ensure the purity of the people. What Yeshua was saying was, in many ways, very close to what the teachers of the law were saying about the need for them to be pure before God. And yet, it was also so very different. Yeshua had just told them what the Father required in their purity, and there was not a ritual washing or shunning of other peoples in it – be poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. Pride and self-righteousness, judgmental and hateful attitudes were the sort of impurities that Yeshua was warning against as things that could make them tasteless and useless to the kingdom.
The title “light of the world” appears frequently in rabbinic literature to describe a source of wisdom, goodness, or holiness. Different rabbinic sources use the term “light of the world” to describe the menorah, the Temple, Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, the sages, specific rabbis, the whole nation of Israel, the redemption, the Torah, and even God Himself. The concept of the Jewish people being the light of the world was founded on Deuteronomy 4, in combination with Isaiah 42, 49 & 60, and depicted in the menorah.
Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you…. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Deuteronomy 4:1-2 & 6-8 NIV
“I, Adonai, called you righteously, I took hold of you by the hand, I shaped you and made you a covenant for the people, to be a light for the Goyim (Gentiles).” Isaiah 42:6 CJB
“I will also make you a light to the nations, so my salvation can spread to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6b
“Arise, shine [Yerushalayim], for your light has come, the glory of Adonai has risen over you. For although darkness covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples; on you Adonai will rise; over you will be seen his glory. Nations will go toward your light and kings toward your shining splendour. Isaiah 60:1-3 CJB
Israel was to model before the nations a lifestyle governed by the light of God’s instructions. The successful and blessed lives that they would live in obedience to the Word of God would enlighten the Gentiles and turn them to God. As they elevated the light of the menorah, Israel would also be exalted. The Jewish people see in the seven flames of the menorah the collective souls of Israel as God’s light to the nations. Even the words of the commandment for lighting the menorah speak of Israel’s being elevated so as to enlighten the Gentile world. The command is, “When you raise the light” (Numbers 8:1). Israel was designed to lift up God’s fire upon a lampstand so it would give light to the household of humanity. They were not to hide, or lower, the light. They were to raise it, exalt it, make it glorious. Israel itself was elevated above the other nations of the world for the express purpose of raising the light: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2, NKJV). Israel was chosen in order to raise God’s light, to be a demonstration of God’s holiness. God had formed Israel according to the heavenly pattern to be a menorah, a lampstand on which the light could be raised to radiate into the world. God had chosen to place His light in an insignificant, nomadic tribe and, by illuminating their lives with the goodness of His Torah, make them His menorah to the nations.
Even today the Jewish people recognise God’s intent that they be the light of the world, as can be seen in the selection of the menorah as the national emblem of Israel, and their prime minister’s words:
“…as a proud people with a magnificent country and one which always aspires to serve as ‘Light Unto the Nations’.” Benjamin Netanyahu, 2010.
Yeshua was not saying anything new to these Jews gathered up on the mountain to hear His teaching. It was a generally accepted doctrine that God had established their nation to be the light of the world. But Yeshua placed this teaching in a different context, in the context of the Beatitudes. In the context of being peacemakers, inviting all to be reconciled to God.
A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14b-15 NKJV
Every Jew immediately thought of Jerusalem as the city set on the hill, the city that was ordained to light the whole world with the knowledge of God. Here again was a prophetic hint at the coming destruction of that city if they continued to fail to shine the light of obedience to God’s covenant with them. A lamp placed under a bowl extinguishes itself for lack of oxygen. Likewise, the light of the world where the Temple stood, the menorah burned, the Sanhedrin convened, the rabbis taught, the Torah was studied, and the nation of Israel assembled, was in danger of being extinguished. Poverty of spirit, repentance, was needed to bring the nation back to God’s intent.
The interior walls of first-century houses had small niches in which the homeowner placed an oil lamp for illumination, and from that perch the lamp “gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:15). All of a sudden the pharisees’ “Eighteen Articles”, exclusivist measures which included prohibiting the Jews from buying any article of food or drink from their heathen neighbours, seemed like a pretty poor addition to what God had commanded them. To hide from, and cut off all positive contact with, their heathen neighbours would hide their lamps under a basket of hatred for the other. God had called them to shine before all men of all nations so that they, too, could be drawn to Him.
This teaching was not just for the Jews sitting up on the mountain listening to Yeshua, it was for them to share with all their Jewish neighbours and the Jewish traders from different areas who came to this major trading centre of Capernaum for business. “This teacher says that we are the salt of the earth, wherever you live and travel you need to keep covenant and remain pure to show all peoples what the one true God is like.” And then again; “this teacher says that we are the light of the world, we are not to hide ourselves away from others but to show them God’s goodness through our good deeds.” Listening, learning, memorising, living and sharing – that was the task of all who sat as disciples (students) of Yeshua this day.
1. Chan, Edmund. What does it mean to be Salt of the Earth? Salt & Light. [Online] 23rd January 2018. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://saltandlight.sg/faith/edmund-chan-what-does-it-mean-to-be-salt-of-the-earth/. 2. Henry, Matthew.Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Concise) . 1706. 3. Ellicott, Charles John.Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. 1863. 4. Benson, Joseph.Benson Commentary. 1857. 5. Barnes, Albert.Barnes Notes on the Whole bible. 1838. 6. Nicoll, William Robertson.The Expositor’s Greek Testament. 1897. 7. Emil G. Hirsch, Immanuel Benzinger, Cyrus Adler, M. Seligsohn. SALT. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13043-salt. 8. Donovan, Richard Niell. Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) Matthew 5:13-20. Sermon Writer. [Online] 2018. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/matthew-513-20/. 9. Fleischmann, Neil. Salt of the Earth. The New York Jewish Week. [Online] 20th March 2012. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/salt-of-the-earth/. 10. Rosenfeld, Dovid. Covenant of Salt. Ask the Rabbi. [Online] [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://www.aish.com/atr/Covenant-of-Salt.html. 11. Bernard, Tim Daniel. A Covenant of Salt. JTSA. [Online] 27th March 2020. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://www.jtsa.edu/a-covenant-of-salt. 12. Brama, Dror. The Covenant of Salt – 5767. Torah Mitzion. [Online] 23rd March 2007. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://torahmitzion.org/learn/the-covenant-of-salt/. 13. A Hidden Teaching in the Light of the World. Torah Portions. [Online] [Cited: 4th May 2020.] https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/a-hidden-teaching-in-the-light.html. 14. Artson, Rabi Bradley. The Menorah: Let Your Light Shine. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-menorah-let-your-light-shine/. 15. Quinn, Carissa. Who Has God Chosen? Bible Project. [Online] 25th November 2019. [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://bibleproject.com/blog/who-has-god-chosen/. 16. Netanyahu, Benjamin.Address by PM Netanyahu at the Herzliya Conference. s.l. : Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs., 2010. 17. Garr, John D. God’s Lamp, Man’s Light – Mysteries of the Menorah. Bridges for Peace. [Online] [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://www.bridgesforpeace.com/letter/gods-lamp-mans-light-mysteries-of-the-menorah/.18. (Editors), Joseph S. Exell & Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones. Pulpit Commentary . London : s.n., 1883. 18. Tolar, William B. The Sermon on the Mount from an Exegetical Perspective. Preaching Source. [Online] Fall 1992. [Cited: 10th May 2020.] http://preachingsource.com/journal/the-sermon-on-the-mount-from-an-exegetical-perspective/. 19. (Editors), Joseph S. Exell & Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones. Pulpit Commentary . London : s.n., 1883.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* “Most people prefer to come to God on their own terms rather than conforming to His” – what of God’s terms do people in your area try to avoid? * What does it mean for us to be the salt of the earth, and how do we lose our flavour? * What does it mean for us to be the light of the world, and how does that light get hidden? * What insights have your congregation shared with you as they have memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words about salt and light? * What testimonies have people in your congregation shared about how others have responded to their good works (Matthew 5:16), and to their sharing Jesus’ words?
When day had come, he left and went away to a lonely spot. The people looked for him, came to him and would have kept him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the other towns too — this is why I was sent.” Luke 4:42-43 CJB
So he travelled all through the Galil, preaching in their synagogues and expelling demons. Mark 1:39 CJB
The news spread quickly, and people came from everywhere to hear Yeshua speak, and to be healed by Him. Soon there was not just Andrew, Šimʻôn, James and Yochanan (John) following Yeshua and listening to His every word, there were multitudes. Philip, from nearby Bethsaida, and Natan’el, from Cana, were likely quickly among them, eager to keep following the Lamb of God whom Yochanan the Immerser had introduced them to. We know from Acts 1:21-23 that Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthiah were also among them.
The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:24-25 NASB
Although much of Yeshua’s earliest ministry had been in Jerusalem and Judea for the feasts, it was now predominantly in the norther region, in Galilee. It appears that the author of the fourth gospel was either unaware of the new developments in Galilee, or unable to leave his responsibilities in Jerusalem at this time to join the multitudes, as this ‘John’ does not provide witness to any of this in his gospel account. On the other hand, Matthew the tax collector appears to have left his booth and followed the crowds to hear what this new teacher had to say – for he gives us a carefully compiled account of the full days’ teaching. Being a tax collector, Matthew would have been shunned in the synagogue, but there was no one policing who came up this mountain to listen to Yeshua. It had a profound impact on this outcast from Jewish religious society.
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying… Matthew 5:1-2 NASB
Large crowds in towns and cities attract attention, sometimes the unwanted attention of Roman soldiers. Yeshua led His group away to the safety of a more isolated place. Here, on this unknown mountain, probably just outside Capernaum where Matthew collected taxes, the people could relax and focus on what Yeshua was saying. Just as Moses had given the Israelites God’s laws for living as His chosen people on earth, so now Yeshua was going to explain to the people how to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. The first part of the lesson was a very practical one – get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and take time out to commune with Him.
Yeshua sat to teach the people on the mountain, just as He did to teach them in the synagogue (Luke 4:20). “He sat as a refiner and His word was as a fire.“(C. H. Spurgeon). Yeshua had chosen the place for this teaching. Once He came to the perfect spot He sat down, and those following Him gathered around to hear what He would say. Yeshua spoke with an uncommon authority, He sat as a king decreeing the laws of His Kingdom, a kingdom so unlike any other they had ever known.
As the crows eagerly watched Him, Yeshua opened His mouth and began teaching them. The topography of the region around the Sea of Galilee allowed His voice to travel well as He opened his mouth to project it out to the crowd. Spurgeon wrote: “Jesus Christ spoke like a man in earnest; he enunciated clearly, and spoke loudly. He lifted up his voice like a trumpet, and published salvation far and wide, like a man who had something to say which he desired his audience to hear and feel.” God had spoken to His people through the prophets in times past, now He opened His mouth and spoke to them directly through His Son.
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son… Hebrews 1:1-2a NIV
What Yeshua had to say goes straight to how we live every moment of our lives. Judaism had always been as much about how one lived their life as about what one believed – the two were inseparable. Belief manifests itself in attitudes and actions, in a total way of life. Yeshua’s words deconstruct our habits and ways of being and reform them into His likeness – they teach us what it is to be His disciple. Importantly, Yeshua‘s words were meant to be memorised and serve as a source of constant meditation.
Talmidim (disciples) were to memorise the words of their rabbi, meditate on those words, discuss those words, live out those words, and then teach others those words – that was the task of a disciple. (1)
Memorisation was essential to all first centenary Jewish education. With manuscripts being expensive, and having to be written by hand, most did not have direct access to them, so learning was dependent on being able to memorise large portions of scripture and children were expected to memorise the whole Torah through their first five years of schooling. In nations where many cannot read, or afford their own copy of the written word, and in those where persecution robs people of their written copies of the scriptures, returning to the way Yeshua taught His disciples offers opportunity to truly learn from Him. Yeshua made it easy for his first disciples, and for us, to memorise His words by presenting them in a memorable thematic structure with vivid images and poetic language. So, as we go through Yeshua’s verbal teachings, take the time to memorise what He says, and in your sermons teach your people also to memorise the words of our Saviour, recite them to each other, think on them and discuss them through the week, and share them with others.
The first section of Yeshua’s teaching is often called “the Beatitudes“, which means “the Blessings”. The Beatitudes were spoken in two sets of four, with the fourth one in each set focusing on righteousness. The first four Beatitudes speak to how we enter the kingdom of heaven – by acknowledging our lack and pain, acknowledging Jesus’ right to reign over us and longing for His righteousness. The second four speak to how we live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven – loyal to His covenant with us, pure, peacemakers, and persecuted because our loyalty has shifted from the world to God. There is nothing in here which is an optional extra if we want to be Jesus’ disciples. Some emphasise this with a play on words, the “beatitudes” giving the believer our “be – attitudes” – the “attitudes” we should “be.” We have no part in Jesus, or in His kingdom, if we are not committed to His ways.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:3-12
Each statement begins with the word “Blessed“. This comes from the Greek μακάριος, makarios, which describes the enviable position of being in receipt of God’s grace, provision and benefits. It expresses the life-joy and satisfaction of the person who experiences God’s favour and salvation. Shaking itself loose from all thoughts of outward good, makarios becomes the express symbol of a joyous fulfilment identified with pure character in receipt of God literally extending Himself.
The first reward, or state of blessedness, that Yeshua offers us is the kingdom of heaven. Yochanan the Immerser had preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) After Yeshua heard that Yochanan had been imprisoned He began to preach “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Now He describes the state of those who will become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, those whom God will extend it to: the “poor in spirit“.
The Greek noun πτωξος – ptochos – translated “poor” in this beatitude means literally: “one who is bent over or folded;” metaphorically “one utterly destitute.” The one who is ptochos has nothing and no means to care for themselves nor to give to another, they are totally destitute. “Poor in spirit” is repentant – coming to God recognising that we have no righteousness of our own, we are utterly destitute with regards to the moral strength and character needed to be citizens of heaven, and are totally dependant on His forgiveness and His righteousness.
We need to come to the realization of our own spiritual bankruptcy and tum in total dependence to God if we are to come into His kingdom. The Pharisees were basing their approach to God on their good works and strict Torah obedience, but Yeshua was declaring that was not the way to come to God. We are not good enough in ourselves, nor nearly good enough, nor somewhat good enough, we are utterly destitute when it comes to the righteousness required for the kingdom of heaven. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells...” Romans 7:18a. “Not what I have, but what I have not, is the first point of contact, between my soul and God.” (Spurgeon)
For the high and exalted One, He who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy says this, “I dwell on the high and holy place, but also with the contrite and humble in spirit. In order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite [overcome with sorrow for sin].” Isaiah 57:15 AMP
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:1-3 NIV
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6 NIV
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one..”… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:10, 23-24 NIV
The acknowledged owners of nothing shall be the recipients of everything.
Blessed are the poor in spirit – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are the repentant who recognise their own sinfulness and inability to save themselves – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The next reward, or state of blessedness, that Yeshua offers us is comfort. The Greek verb translated comfort, παρακαλέωparakaléō, comes from para, meaning “from close beside”, and kaléō, meaning “to call”. To be comforted is to be called near, to have God come to our side, as He describes in Isaiah 57:15 which we read above. It is not just an emotional comfort that Yeshua is offering us here, although that is an essential part of His offer. Parakaléō also has legal overtones – He is offering to be our advocate before the throne of God, as well as One coming close beside with emotional comfort.
My children, I am writing you these things so that you won’t sin. But if anyone does sin, we have Yeshua the Messiah, the Tzaddik (Righteous One), who pleads our cause with the Father. Also, He is the kapparah (atonement) for our sins… 1 John 2:1-2a CJB
Mourning is the pre-requisite for this life-giving comfort. The Greek verb πτωξοςpentheo, means deep grief or intense sorrow, openly manifested by weeping audibly. This speaks of the most intense human emotional pain and suffering. It can be anguish over the personal losses we experience in life, or anguish felt within the spirit of man for the state of his own soul held captive in sin and death, or for the state of a lost sinful world. Those who mourn experience a closeness with Yeshua, the Man of Sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), as they partake in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Intense pain is intense pain, and Yeshua makes no distinction here as to the cause of our deep grief and intense sorrow. All who mourn, all who suffer from deep grief and intense sorrow, all who choose not to hide from that pain or deflect it onto others, all who are willing to experience the agonies of truly loving in this world, all who mourn will be comforted.
“The Spirit of Adonai Elohim is upon me, because Adonai has anointed me to announce good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted; to proclaim freedom to the captives, to let out into light those bound in the dark; to proclaim the year of the favour of Adonai and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” Isaiah 61:1-2 CJB
Blessed are those who mourn – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who do not try to hide from their pain but agonise in overwhelming grief and sorrow – for God Himself shall draw near and they shall be comforted.
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 KJV
Next Yeshua offers the state of blessedness of inheriting the earth. The Greek noun, γῆ gê, refers to the physical earth, to land, country, soil. Many indigenous people groups understand such a blessing, for they are closely tied to their land, even as the Jews were closely tied to their land.
It appeared as though the Romans, with their brute force, were inheriting the earth – conquering one people’s land after another. Their whole lives these people had witnessed Rome fulfilling Daniel’s vision of the fourth beast:
After this, I looked in the night visions; and there before me was a fourth animal, dreadful, horrible, extremely strong, and with great iron teeth. It devoured, crushed and stamped its feet on what was left. Daniel 7:7a CJB
But Yeshua assures the people that this is not the end of the story. Despite the fact that all of history shouts that it is the brutes, the devious schemers, the warlords, who inherit the earth, yet still all of Daniel’s vision shall come to pass:
“As I watched, thrones were set in place; and the Ancient One took his seat. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head was like pure wool. His throne was fiery flames, with wheels of burning fire.A stream of fire flowed from his presence; thousands and thousands ministered to him, millions and millions stood before him. Then the court was convened, and the books were opened. … … “I kept watching the night visions, when I saw, coming with the clouds of heaven, someone like a son of man. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence.To him was given rulership, glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His rulership is an eternal rulership that will not pass away; and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:9-14 CJB
The promise of messiah was not for the Zealots engaged in gorilla warfare to try to re-take their land, convinced that their acts of bravery and brutality would entice the anointed one to join them and supernaturally defeat the Roman armies and remove all gentiles in a great slaughter. It was not physical violence that would restore the land to Israel or bring God’s kingdom to earth.
Yeshua’s words were not new to Judaism, King David had written:
Don’t be upset by evildoers or envious of those who do wrong, for soon they will wither like grass and fade like the green in the fields. Trust in Adonai, and do good; settle in the land, and feed on faithfulness.Then you will delight yourself in Adonai, and he will give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to Adonai; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine forth like light, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before Adonai; wait patiently till he comes. Don’t be upset by those whose way succeeds because of their wicked plans. Stop being angry, put aside rage, and don’t be upset — it leads to evil. For evildoers will be cut off, but those hoping in Adonai will inherit the land. Soon the wicked will be no more; you will look for his place, and he won’t be there. But the meek will inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. Psalm 37:1-11 CJB
So, what is it to be meek? The Greek πραΰς, praǜs, is usually translated as ‘meek’ or ‘gentle’. It contains the idea of having power under authority, strength under control. Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us without disputing or resisting, it involves relying on God, rather than our own strength, to defend us against injustice. The meek quietly accept criticism without retaliation or defensiveness. It is humility toward God and toward others. It is having the right or the power to do something but refraining for the benefit of someone else. Most importantly, meekness is acknowledging Christ’s lordship over us, and placing our lives in His hands to do with as He pleases.
In another context, the Greek word praǜs was used to describe a well trained horse that would respond fully, and only, to it’s rider’s command, a horse that was unmoved by everything else happening around it. A praǜs (meek) horse was one that did not demand its own way, one that went wherever the rider wanted to go at the speed the rider wanted to travel, one that you could trust to walk behind, one that did not shy or buck at sudden movements or loud noises, or even at threats like a snake or battle, because it was so yielded to its rider that its only response in every situation was obedience to the will of the rider. The strength of this powerful animal was totally under the control of the slightest whisper of the rider, or movement of their finger. Only such a horse can be trusted in battle.
Blessed are the meek – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to those who totally yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives – for they shall inherit the land.
To be ‘filled‘, some versions translate this as ‘satisfied‘, is to have all that you were longing for. It can also be translated ‘to be made fat’. Righteousness shall not evade those who hunger and thirst for it. We are not called to be content with partial righteousness, or with a little righteousness. A hungry man will not be satisfied with just one grain of rice, nor even with a handful. He will eat, and eat, and eat until he cannot fit any more food in, only then will he be full. If he has eaten in the morning, he will be hungry again before the day is through, and once more eat and eat until there is no more space left in his stomach. The offer here is to be so full of righteousness that there is no room for anything else in our lives. Such fullness is not a once only event, but a continual process of hungering and being filled, hungering and being filled. The moment we cease to hunger and thirst for righteousness we shall cease to be filled, and the resulting emptiness will attract all sorts of other things into our lives.
So, what is righteousness? The original Greek word δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosýnē, comes from dike, which translates as “a judicial verdict”. You will remember that the Greek word translated comfort, parakaléō, also has legal overtones which places Yeshua as our legal advocate before the Father who judges all. The literal translation of dikaiosýnē is “judicial approval”. God is the judge of all, so righteousness is that which has divine approval. It is that which God, as judge over the universe, approves of.
Isaiah calls to the people:
Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no silver come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you weigh out silver for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that your soul may live. Isaiah 55:1-3a
Yeshua calls us to hunger and thirst for both personal righteousness and community righteousness. Personally, we enter into God’s divine approval when we welcome Jesus Christ as our saviour and lord. We are to hunger and thirst for the approval of God which can only come through Christ’s atoning sacrifice for us on the cross. We are also to hunger and thirst for our thoughts, words and actions to be pleasing to God, to be that which He approves of. Since God isn’t about to change and start approving of sin or the works of the flesh, we hunger and thirst for our lives to be brought into line with His will, to walk by the Spirit.
Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-25
Righteousness produces love and concern for others and their wellbeing. It is not greedy, self seeking or corrupt. We need only look around to see that our world is grieving and groaning, longing to be made right. So many are suffering through injustice, poverty, immorality and the greed of others. It is not God’s righteousness for people to go hungry, that is not what He approves of. It is not God’s righteousness for people to suffer sickness and disease, that is not what He approves of. It is not God’s righteousness for people to be oppressed by the Devil, that is not what He approves of. Yeshua invites us to hunger and thirst, to connect to our deep longings and needs, to grieve and groan with our world, and to call on God to bring justice, peace and wholeness to our world. When we’re surrounded by so much suffering and injustice, it can be easy to become numb or indifferent to the pain around us. But God calls us to long for righteousness so much that we keep crying out to Him for it like a child cries for food or drink when they have none, and we keep living out righteousness in holiness, showing love and kindness to our neighbours.
If we do not desire God’s righteousness, we do not desire Him. If we do not hunger and thirst for righteousness, both in our own actions and in this world, we do not know Him. There is no fellowship with God apart from righteousness.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who long, as a desperate necessity, for that which God approves of – for they shall be filled.
Now that we have seen what is needed to enter the kingdom of heaven and be granted citizenship there, we come to the four beatitudes which describe our lives as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. These next attributes are not ones that the natural man is capable of, hence our need for the emptying and longing of the first four beatitudes that bring us to the cross, dependent on receiving God’s righteousness through His grace towards us who are incapable of meriting such. It is only on the basis of God filling us with righteousness, as He promises in the fourth beatitude, that we are able to live the following beatitudes – merciful, pure peacemakers rejoicing even in persecution.
The Cambridge dictionary defines mercy as: kindness shown toward someone whom you have the right or power to punish. While this definition describes an element of mercy, it lacks a crucial component of Biblical mercy, the Greek ἔλεος éleos, being translated from the Hebrew חַסְדֹּֽו׃ , chas·dov, which involves loyalty to God’s covenant with us (The Discovery bible). Biblical mercy is ‘covenant-loyalty–mercy‘ or ‘covenant-love-mercy‘, it is an attitude and actions that are founded on God’s covenant with us and are consistent with that covenant. It is the loving loyalty which actively affirms all that is in keeping with God’s covenant, and equally opposes all that is contrary to it. Thus, it is inextricably linked to faith. It is an act of mercy to bring God’s righteousness to a situation.
Psalm 136 is the great mercy psalm as it traces God’s actions in covenant with Israel. Some of those actions might not sound merciful to western ears, like killing the firstborn of Egypt, or drowning their army in the sea, but they were all merciful by God’s standards because they were all in fulfilment of His covenant.
To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever: and brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever: with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever: and made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever: but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: and slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: … … And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever: even an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever: and hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 136:10-26 KJV
God’s mercy is His covenant with us. That covenant is through Christ Jesus and His blood atoning for our sins. Again we see the graciousness and severity of God’s mercy, for it doesn’t evade His judgment on sin but rather executes that judgment on His Son in our place. God said of the Jewish people:
For I desired mercy (loyalty to My covenant), and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me. Hosea 6:6-7 KJV
So, how does loyalty to God’s covenant fit with “kindness shown toward someone whom you have the right or power to punish?” God’s covenant is a covenant of sacrificial love. When God’s people repeatedly broke the covenant they made with Him in Exodus 24, He showed unmerited kindness towards them whom He had the right and power to punish, by sending His Son as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. God’s mercy established a new covenant.
He had promised this back in Jeremiah 31:
The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” … … “Behold, the days come”, saith the Lord, “that I will make anew covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them”, saith the Lord: “but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days”, saith the Lord, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord’: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them”, saith the Lord: “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:3,31-34 KJV
Yeshua confirmed that He had come to establish a new covenant with us, this is the mercy we obtain from Him:
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20 NIV
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:14-15, NIV
This covenant was for those who deserve God’s punishment, those who were sinners and enemies of God:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Romans 5:8-10 NIV
It is a merciful covenant, but not an unconditional one. We need to remain loyal to our covenant with God:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. Colossians 1:21-23 NIV
Blessed are the merciful, ἐλεήμονες eleēmones, those who act consistently with the revelation of God’s covenant. A believer is being merciful when we forgive another because Christ has forgiven us, regardless of whether the other has done anything to deserve forgiveness or not. Mercy is responding to God’s covenant rather than to the other’s actions or attitudes. When we remain loyal to God’s covenant in all our dealings with others then we receive all the benefits of that covenant, we receive mercy.
Blessed are the merciful – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who lovingly live in absolute loyalty to God’s covenant – for they shall receive the mercy of all the benefits of God’s covenant.
The longing to see God, to perceive His presence, to behold His glory, is at the heart of all spiritual practice. Abraham had such an experience with God and Moses did not want to move unless God’s presence would go with them:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Genesis 17:1 NIV
If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. … … And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” Exodus 33:13-18 NIV
David beautifully depicted the intensity of that longing:
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Psalm 63:1-2 NIV
Isaiah saw the Lord and immediately recognised his need to be purified:
I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. … “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:1,5-7 NIV
The Sadducees sought purity to be able to see God and live in His favour through the temple sacrifices. The Pharisees sought purity to be able to see God and live in His favour through strict obedience to all the laws and customs they had built as a fence around the Torah, including all their ceremonial washings and bodily immersions. Yeshua’s audience were well aquatinted with all the ceremonial washings and immersions required by the Pharisees before entering the synagogue or temple to ‘see’ God through the sacrifices, worship or Torah reading. Yeshua here reminds the people that God’s focus is not on how they wash their hands or immerse their bodies, but on the condition of their hearts.
Our perception of God is dimmed and distorted by any impurities that we harbour in our heart. To be pure, καθαροὶ katharos, in heart is to be without mixture, free from contaminants, separated from all the lusts of the flesh, all false concepts of God and all hurts and wounds that distort our perceptions. David prayed:
...give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart… Psalm 86:11-12a
Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24 AMP
Such purity of heart is not something that we come to God with. It is not something that we can bring about through our own efforts. We come to Him poor in spirit, hurting and mourning, willing to yield completely to Him and hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and He cleanses us from all unrighteousness, purifies and fills us. That is His covenant with us, His mercy towards us, that we loyally honour out of gratitude for all that He has done for us by guarding our hearts.
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful (lying, misleading) mouth, and put devious lips far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead [toward the path of moral courage] And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you [toward the path of integrity]. Consider well and watch carefully the path of your feet, and all your ways will be steadfast and sure. Proverbs 4:23-26
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3 NIV
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV
Blessed are the pure in heart – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those whose heart is free from all contamination – for they shall see and truly know God.
The previous blessing spoke of our vision of God, our capacity to perceive His presence, His goodness, in our lives. This one speaks of our relationship to God. The Greek word κληθήσονται, klēthēsontai, translates as to be called, invited, chosen. This blessing, this joyous fulfilment as God extends Himself to us, is a calling into the most exalted place. Not just called to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven, but called to be members of the royal family, nay even more than that, called to be sons and heirs of God.
The Greek word υἱός, hyiós, is literally translated as a son (by birth or adoption). Figuratively it is used to denote anyone sharing the same nature as their Father. Hyiós, both emphasizes likeness of the believer to the heavenly Father and highlights the legal right to the Father’s inheritance. We are called to share the same nature as the Father. Back in the garden we were created in God’s image. This image was distorted by sin but is now restored through Christ. Our great privilege now is to resemble our Father.
Paul expands on the theme of our sonship:
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 NKJV
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7 NASB
The Greek word translated as “peacemaker” is εἰρηνοποιός, eirēnopoiós, and it denotes a person who bravely declares God’s terms to make someone whole. That is, a person who shares the gospel with others. A “peacekeeper” might try to avoid controversy or saying anything unpopular, but a “peacemaker” confronts sin and offers God’s terms for reconciliation, which brings His gift of wholeness. Paul wrote on this in his second letter to the church at Corinth:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NASB
Blessed are the peacemakers – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who boldly declare the gospel, begging people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God – for they shall be called sons of God, resembling the Father and being heirs.
We have returned to where we began with these blessings – the kingdom of heaven. Yeshua sandwiched all the other blessings between two assurances of the kingdom of heaven. We gain a bit more insight into the kingdom of heaven in the revelation of Jesus Christ that John received when he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 NIV
The kingdom of heaven consists of people from every tribe and language and nation. This is where Yeshua had come into conflict with the good people of his hometown, Nazareth – they were convinced that God’s blessings were exclusively for the Jews and so became violent when Yeshua gave examples from the Hebrew scriptures showing that God also extends His blessings and calling to those of other nations. Revelation had not yet been written, but Yeshua’s audience had Isaiah and Daniel’s prophesies, and on this basis they had been hoping for a messiah and a kingdom. This is what they could learn from the prophets about the kingdom of heaven:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isaiah 2:2-4 NIV
In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days.The moon will be dismayed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders—with great glory. Isaiah 24:21-23 NIV
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:6-8 NIV
So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line” Isaiah 28:16-17a
Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendour. Isaiah 60:17-21 NIV
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labour in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. Isaiah 65: 17-25 NIV
“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure.From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. Isaiah 66:22-23
“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44 NIV
Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. Daniel 7:27 NIV
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. Daniel 12:2-3 NIV
As we follow through Yeshua’s ministry we will explore the many parables He told to help the people understand more of what the kingdom of heaven is like. For now they knew enough to know it was their heart’s desire to be part of this kingdom. In this blessing we see clearly how all the blessings surpass the things of this world. Blessings is not health, wealth, prestige, power or physical life, for any or all of these may be taken from us through persecution, yet still we are blessed, joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to us.
It is worth noting that the blessing is not for any and every persecution, but only for that which ignited by being filled with righteousness as in the fourth blessing. There is no blessing in being persecuted for being an idiot, for doing wrong, for lying, for being proud and arrogant, or for being bitter, critical or hateful. Where as all who mourn, agonise in overwhelming grief and sorrow, are comforted, only those whose persecution arises out of their walk with Jesus receive the blessing. Only those who are living the other seven beatitudes can live this one. Only those who are living Christ (verse 11), are blessed with great reward when they are persecuted, .
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12
Persecution can take many forms. Three different words are used in verse 11 to describe what we might suffer for righteousness sake. The first is ὀνειδίσωσιν, oneidízō, which is to disgrace, reproach, mock, curse, insult, shame, cast blame – viewing someone asculpably guilty and therefore deserving punishment. The second is διώξωσιν, diṓkō, which is to aggressively chase, like a hunter pursuing a catch. The third is ψευδόμενοι, pseúdomai, which is to lie, falsify, and wilfully misrepresent in accusing of all kinds of πονηρὸν, ponērós, that is evil which causes pain and agony. Just because a follower of Jesus is doing good does not mean that they will be honoured for that good, often the reverse is true, as it was true of our Saviour. Isaiah had written:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20 NIV
Many times people will try to hide from their own sin and shame by calling evil good and good evil. Such is the opposite of being poor in spirit. Persecution aims to silence the peacemakers and cause the righteousness to suffer. It seeks to bring disgrace and shame to the righteous, casting them as being unfit for ministry, or for life. It lies. Yeshua assures us that it does not matter if others call our good evil, because the reward for the righteous is not on this earth but is great in heaven (the infinite dimensions in which God dwells).
Blessed are those who are persecuted – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who suffer disgrace, reproach, mockery, curses, insults, shame, false blame, declared guilty, are hunted down, misrepresented and accused of evil for righteousness sake – for theirs is the everlasting kingdom of heaven.
Christ leads us to the kingdom of heaven through repentance (poor in spirit), acknowledging our pain (mourning), yielding completely to God (meek) and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. He answers that hunger and thirst by filling us with righteousness, the old has passed away behold all things have become new. Out of the fullness of righteousness that we receive in Him we respond with loyalty to His covenant of mercy (merciful), our filled hearts have no room for the things of this world (pure heart), we boldly declare the gospel that people may be reconciled to God (peacemakers) and suffer persecution for our shift in loyalty from this world system to God. In all this God blesses us with the kingdom of heaven, His comfort, the earth (our land), righteousness, mercy (all the benefits of His covenant with us), seeing God and adopting us as His children. How wonderous is all that Jesus offers us through His teaching on blessings.
1. Pennington, Jonathan. 3 Things You Didn’t Know About the Sermon on the Mount . The Gospel Coalition. [Online] 16th November 2017. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-things-didnt-know-sermon-mount/. 2. Spurgeon, C. H. The Beatitudes. Spurgeon Gems. [Online] 29th July 1909. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.spurgeongems.org/sermon/chs3155.pdf. 3. Smith, Chuck. Study Guide for Sermon on the Mount. Blue Letter Bible. [Online] [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/StudyGuides_Mount/Mount.cfm. 4. Wicker, Jim. Preaching Through the Sermon on the Mount. Preaching Source. [Online] Summer 2004. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] http://preachingsource.com/journal/preaching-through-the-sermon-on-the-mount/. 5. Tolar, William B. The Sermon on the Mount from an Exegetical Perspective. Preaching Source. [Online] Vol. 35 Fall 1992. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] http://preachingsource.com/journal/the-sermon-on-the-mount-from-an-exegetical-perspective/. 6. Piper, John. The Majesty of the Teacher in the Sermon on the Mount. Derising God. [Online] 1st August 2014. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-majesty-of-the-teacher-in-the-sermon-on-the-mount. 7. Matthew 5:1-2 Commentary. Precept Austin. [Online] 10th April 2020. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.preceptaustin.org/matthew_51-3#5:1. 8. Ritenbaugh, John W. What the Bible says about Sermon on the Mount. Bible Tools. [Online] [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/969/Sermon-on-Mount.htm. 9. —. The Beatitudes, Part One: The Sermon on the Mount. Bible Tools. [Online] [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/195/The-Beatitudes-Sermon-on-Mount.htm. 10. Archer, Dr. Gary Hill & Dr. Gleason. HELPS Word-studies devotional lexicon. Discovery Bible. 11. Guzik, David. MATTHEW 5 – THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. Enduring Word . [Online] 2018. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/matthew-5/. 12. John F. Walvoord. The Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible.org. [Online] 1st January 2008. [Cited: 20th April 2020.] https://bible.org/article/kingdom-heaven. 13. Allen, Judy. What Does It Mean to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness? Unlocking the Bible. [Online] 10th May 2017. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://unlockingthebible.org/2017/05/what-does-it-mean-to-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness/. 14. Piper, John. Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness . Desiring God. [Online] 16th February 1986. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness. 15. Kreminski, Karina. Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Common Grace. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.commongrace.org.au/beatitudes_hunger_and_thirst_for_righteousness. 16. Kinsolving, Carey. What Does It Mean to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness? Creators. [Online] 17th June 2013. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.creators.com/read/kids-talk-about-god/06/13/what-does-it-mean-to-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness. 17. Doriani, Daniel. Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Tabletalk. [Online] June 2017. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2017/06/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness/. 18. mercy. Cambridge Dictionary. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/mercy. 19. New Covenant.Bible Info. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/new-covenant. 20. Travers, Joshua.Blessed Are Those Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake. Life, Hope & Truth. [Online] [Cited: 27th April 2020] https://lifehopeandtruth.com/change/christian-conversion/the-sermon-on-the-mount/beatitudes/blessed-persecuted-righteousness-sake/
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* How have your people responded to memorising Jesus’ words? * What insights have your congregation shared with you from their week of meditating on the words of Jesus that they memorised and talking with each other about what He said? * What has been the response to members of your congregation sharing Jesus’ words with others? * How did Jesus present the gospel of the kingdom in the Beatitudes? * What additional insights have you gained about the gospel through studying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:4-12
Please read Matthew 4:13-25, Mark 1:14-34 & Luke 4:31 – 5:11
There are many new starts throughout the scriptures and throughout life. God does not change, nor does His word, but everything on this earth is constantly changing. With each change comes an ending of what was and a beginning of something new. Yochanan the Immerser’s ministry had come to an abrupt end with his imprisonment. The baton of reform which he had been assigned to carry in preparation for the coming of Messiah had now been totally handed over to that Messiah, the Lamb of God.
Some of Yochanan’s most astute talmidim had responded to his exhortation and left him to follow the Messiah during the in-between time when they were both ministering to the people. To mark the end of Yochanan’s ministry, and in honour of all that he had done, Yeshua had sent these talmidim back to their homes and families who were no doubt worried about them after what had been done to Yochanan.
Now it was time for a new beginning. A beginning in this next season of Yeshua’s ministry. He had left Nazareth before, to seek out Yochanan and the immersion that would mark the beginning of His ministry. Now He was moving out of Nazareth to enter the next phase of that ministry, during which He would choose twelve of His Jewish talmidim for the foundation of this reformation. His leaving Nazareth was via Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) for the celebration of the one day pilgrimage festival of Shavu‘ot (Feast of Weeks) in fulfilment of Torah, but now he came back north to Capernaum to establish a new home.
Matthew, continuing in his theme of Yeshua’s life fulfilling the words of the Jewish prophets, records:
And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.“
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:13-17 NKJV
We are all familiar with Isaiah’s prophesy in verse six of chapter nine, and how this is fulfilled in Christ:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder; and His name will be called Wonderful, Councillor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 NKJV
Now Matthew is taking us just a few verses back in the same chapter:
The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali… By the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. Isaiah 9:1b-2 NKJV
Isaiah wrote this prophesy over 700 years before, and gave a description that enabled Matthew, and others who studied the Jewish prophets, to locate where he was talking about all these centuries later when the locations and names of towns had changed.
The light (John 1:4-5,9) shone first in Nazareth (in the land of Zebulun) where Yeshua grew up, and then moved to Capernaum (in the land of Naphtali) on that ancient road and major trading route called the ‘Way of the Sea’ which ran from the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt all the way through Capernaum to Damascus in Syria.
Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority. Luke 4:31-32 NKJV
Yeshua now came and dwelt (κατῴκησεν), set up house, in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13a). κατῴκησεν (katōkēsen) comes from the Greek kata (meaning down as in permanent) and oikeo (to live in a home); so literally means to house permanently. It is translated as: to dwell in, settle down as a permanent resident, be established in (permanently), in a permanent dwelling place as one’s personal residence. The change of abode seems to have included Yeshua’s whole family, except His sisters who were now married and living with their husbands in Nazareth, as in Matthew 13:56 the people in Nazareth say: “And aren’t all his sisters here with us?” (1)
The meaning of ‘Capernaum’ is “city of Nahum”, or “village of consolation”. When Yeshua moved there He brought hope to a part of God’s Land that was in desperate need of it. The dark basalt stones around the Sea of Galilee that were typically used in building were a tangible expression of the darkness felt by this region under constant threat of invasion. (2) This land had been the first to suffer in the beginning of those wars which finally resulted in the captivity of the ten northern tribes of Israel. The people of this district were smitten by Benhadad (1 Kings 15:20), and afterwards by Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29 ; 1 Chronicles 5:26), until the total invasion of the Northern Kingdom and capture of their capitol city Samaria by King Shalmaneser of Assyria in 722 BC. The region is called Galilee of the Gentiles because it was inhabited by Egyptians, Arabians, and Phoenicians, as well as by Hebrews. (3) Yeshua – the son of David – was beginning His restoration of the Davidic kingdom (and His transformation of it into the kingdom of heaven) at ground zero where God’s covenant judgment had first fallen seven centuries before. (4)
Yeshua taught in the Capernaum synagogue every Shabbat
“…and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.” Luke 4:31b – 32.
Each Shabbat (Saturday morning) Yeshua participated in the synagogue service with the rest of the Jewish community in Capernaum. His reading of the Hebrew Scriptures was confident and accurate, He spoke both scripture and His teaching on it with an authority they had not heard before.
David N. Bivin writes of the task of reading the Hebrew Scriptures in a synagogue during this time:
In Jesus’ day reading Hebrew was not an easy task—the language did not include vowel signs. These signs were only invented beginning in the sixth century A.D. A Hebrew word could often be vocalized in more than one way, allowing it to have more than one meaning. The way one vocalized a word affected the meaning of the text. To read correctly, one had to know which vowels to combine with the consonants of each word.
To read Scripture publicly was even more difficult. No errors, no matter how minor, were permitted. If a reader made a mistake, he had to back up and repeat the text correctly. There were myriad ancient traditions concerning how to vocalize the words of the sacred text, and no one dared read publicly without careful preparation. (6)
…on Shabbat Yeshua went into the synagogue and began teaching. They were amazed at the way he taught, for he did not instruct them like the Torah-teachers but as one who had authority himself. Mark 1:21b-22 CJB
The Torah-teachers based their authority on the words of others. “The great sage …. has said this…… but then another sage ….. countered with this……, so we can conclude that…..” Yeshua had authority in Himself. He had no need to quote others to try to prove his point, He simply declared the Word of God with the authority of one who has the meaning and intent of that word within Himself.
Calling Simon Peter and Andrew, then James and John
Having sent all His talmidim back to their homes after news came of Yochanan’s imprisonment by Herod Antipas, it was now time for Yeshua to start building His team again. There would be many who would follow Him, and twelve whom He specifically called to be part of the foundation of His reformation of Judaism in establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth. Judaism had been built on the foundation of the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel), who had become twelve tribes, even so this reformation of Judaism would be built on a foundation of twelve men. These Jews understood the significance of the number 12. As Yeshua now chooses his Talmidim we notice a departure from the norm of the time. Instead of waiting for them to come to him, he goes to them. Instead of intensive questioning to test their intellectual rigour, a simple invitation to come:
As Yeshua walked by Lake Kinneret, he saw two brothers who were fishermen — Shim‘on, known as Kefa (Simon Peter), and his brother Andrew — throwing their net into the lake. Yeshua said to them,“Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men!” At once they left their nets and went with him. Matthew 4:18-20 CJB
As he walked beside Lake Kinneret, he saw Shim‘on and Andrew, Shim‘on’s brother, casting a net into the lake; for they were fishermen. Yeshua said to them,“Come, follow me, and I will make you into fishers for men!” At once they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:16-28 CJB
Andrew had been one of the two disciples of Yochanan the Immerser who were the first followers of Yeshua. He had been quick to find his brother Shim’on and take him to Yeshua. They had already been with Yeshua at His immersion, then the wedding in Cana where His first miracle was performed, then down to Jerusalem where He cleansed the temple in preparation for Passover, then immersing multitudes in Judea, then the surprise journey to Jacob’s Well in the heart of Samaria, then back up to Cana where He had healed the official’s son with just a word and they had returned with that official to Capernaum to see for themselves the miracle which had taken place. Now they had heard Yeshua preaching and teaching in their synagogue every Shabbat and seen the respect He commanded there as He spoke with an authority none here had seen before. So, theirs was not a rash, impulsive decision. Every conversation they’d had during the long hours of fishing through the night had been about this man, this teacher, this messiah.
Now it was Yeshua who sort them out and specifically called them to be His talmidim. Something new was taking place, and a greater level of commitment would be required.
During His weeks dwelling in Capernaum and teaching them in the synagogue on their Sabbaths, Yeshua had also noticed another set of brothers. There is no record of these two having ever followed Yochanan the Immerser, nor been with Yeshua to see His miracles before now.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers — Ya’akov Ben-Zavdai (James, son of Zebedee) and Yochanan (John) his brother — in the boat with their father Zavdai (Zebedee), repairing their nets; and he called them. At once they left the boat and their father and went with Yeshua. Matthew 4:21-22 CJB
Going on a little farther, he saw Ya‘akov Ben-Zavdai and Yochanan, his brother, in their boat, repairing their nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zavdai in the boat with the hired men and went after Yeshua. Mark 1:19-20 CJB
From the gospel accounts of the women at the cross, it has been suggested by some that Yeshua’s mother was a sister of their mother, offering the intriguing possibility that these two young men, Ya‘akov Ben-Zavdai and Yochanan, were cousins of the Messiah. We soon learn that they were fishing partners with Andrew and Shim‘on, so these four young men were used to working with one another.
It has been suggested that Zavdai (Zebedee) was wealthy because he could afford to have hired men working for his fishing business, but any small business owner knows that having employees does not necessarily make one wealthy. Anyway, Zavdai did have the skills to employ others to work with him and keep his fishing business going when these two sons left to follow Yeshua. In Jewish society it was considered a great honour to have a respected rabbi ask your son to follow him, and to have two sons called upon by a rabbi was a double blessing, even if it made running the family business more difficult.
Preaching with authority & deliverance power
The next ShabbatYeshua had four eager talmidim with Him when he entered the synagogue in Capernaum. This time not only did Yeshua read the Torah and teach with authority, He exercised that authority in setting a man free:
They entered K’far-Nachum (Capernaum), and on Shabbat Yeshua went into the synagogue and began teaching. They were amazed at the way he taught, for he did not instruct them like the Torah-teachers but as one who had authority Himself. In their synagogue just then was a man with an unclean spirit in him, who shouted, “What do you want with us, Yeshua from Natzeret? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” But Yeshua rebuked the unclean spirit,“Be quiet and come out of him!” Throwing the man into a convulsion, it gave a loud shriek and came out of him. They were all so astounded that they began asking each other,“What is this? A new teaching, one with authority behind it! He gives orders even to the unclean spirits, and they obey him!” And the news about him spread quickly through the whole region of the Galil (Galilee). Mark 1:21-28 CJB
In the synagogue there was a man who had an unclean demonic spirit, who shouted in a loud voice, “Yaah! What do you want with us, Yeshua from Natzeret? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” But Yeshua rebuked it:“Be quiet, and come out of him!” The demonic spirit threw the man down in the middle of the crowd and came out of him, having done him no harm. They were all astounded and said to one another,“What kind of teaching is this? Why, He gives orders with power and authority to the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about Him went out through the whole surrounding district. Luke 4:33-37 CJB
Yeshua healed all brought to Him…
Everything was now in order for this fresh and powerful re-start of Yeshua’s ministry. One miraculous deliverance and the word went out. Soon He would be inundated with those needing healing.
First, Yeshua returned to the home of one of his disciples, Shim‘on Kefa (Simon Peter), because Shim‘on’s mother-in-law had been too unwell to come to synagogue. Shim‘on was the only one of the twelve whom Yeshua would choose who is recorded as being old enough to already be married and old enough to have to pay the temple tax of one-half shekel per year for every Jew over 20yo.
They left the synagogue and went with Ya‘akov (James) and Yochanan (John) to the home of Shim‘on and Andrew. Shim‘on’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever, and they told Yeshua about her. He came, took her by the hand and lifted her onto her feet. The fever left her, and she began helping them. Mark 1:29-31 CJB
And having risen out of the synagogue, he entered into the house of Simon, and the mother-in-law of Simon was pressed with a great fever, and they did ask him about her, and having stood over her, he rebuked the fever, and it left her, and presently, having risen, she was ministering to them. Luke 4:38-39 YLT
The moment the Sabbath had come to an end that evening, and they were free to travel and to carry those too afflicted to walk, the people of Capernaum brought to Yeshua everyone who needed healing.
That evening after sundown, they brought to Yeshua all who were ill or held in the power of demons, and the whole town came crowding around the door. He healed many who were ill with various diseases and expelled many demons, but he did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was. Mark 1:32-34 CJB
After sunset, all those who had people sick with various diseases brought them to Yeshua, and he put his hands on each one of them and healed them; also demons came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But, rebuking them, he did not permit them to say that they knew he was the Messiah. Luke 4:40-41 CJB
Mark writes that Yeshua healed many who were ill and expelled many demons. Luke is more emphatic, stating that everyone whom they brought to Yeshua this evening was healed. There were no exceptions. Not everyone who was sick was also afflicted by demons, but many of them were and Yeshua delivered every one of those as part of His healing of them. Whereas Yeshua had quite openly spoken of being the Messiah before, now He was avoiding any explicit reference to such and would not even let the demons make it known. He had no need for other’s testimony about Him, the testimony of His Father sufficed.
On the road in the Father’s will…
The people of Capernaum, like most peoples, loved seeing miracles and having their needs met. It was wonderful and exciting. It was healing and liberating. It was encouraging and affirming. They wanted Yeshua to stay and keep doing miracles for them, to stay and keep meeting their needs. While He was moved with compassion for people, He refused to be bound by their expectations – it was His Father’s business that Yeshua was about, and to keep in touch with what that was He kept going off to lonely places to pray.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Yeshua got up, left, went away to a lonely spot and stayed there praying. But Shim‘on and those with him went after him; and when they found him, they said,“Everybody is looking for you.” He answered,“Let’s go somewhere else — to the other villages around here. I have to proclaim the message there too — in fact this is why I came out.” So he travelled all through the Galil, preaching in their synagogues and expelling demons. Mark 1:35-39 CJB
When day had come, he left and went away to a lonely spot. The people looked for him, came to him and would have kept him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the other towns too — this is why I was sent.” He also spent time preaching in the synagogues of Y’hudah (Judah – some versions say Galilee). Luke 4:42-44 CJB
It was summer, the dry season, as Yeshua left Capernaum with His Talmidim to teach and preach in the surrounding areas. The wheat harvest had been brought in and now the vines were being tended.
1. Alford, Henry. Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary Luke 4. Study Light. [Online] [Cited: 1st December 2019.] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/luke-4.html. 2. Ritmeyer, Leen. The Synagogue of Capernaum in which Jesus taught – was it black or white? Ritmeyer Archaeological Design. [Online] 15 March 2018. [Cited: 7th November 2019.] https://www.ritmeyer.com/2018/03/15/the-synagogue-of-capernaum-in-which-jesus-taught/. 3. Pendleton, J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Jesus’ Temporary Residence at Capernaum. Bible Study Tools. [Online] [Cited: 7th November 2019.] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/the-fourfold-gospel/by-sections/jesus-temporary-residence-at-capernaum.html. 4. Shea, Mark. Land of Zebulun, Land of Naphtali, Galilee of the Gentiles. Patheos. [Online] 27th January 2014. [Cited: 7th November 2019.] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2014/01/land-of-zebulun-land-of-naphtali-galilee-of-the-gentiles.html. 5. France, R.T.The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. 978-0-8028-2501-8. 6. Bivin, David N. One Torah Reader, Not Seven. Jerusalem Perspective. [Online] 25th August 2012. [Cited: 7th November 2019.] https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/2787/. 7. Edersheim, Alfred.The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and some of the following questions…
* What are some of the prophesies you have noticed being fulfilled in Jesus’ life already? * What do you think Jesus would have been doing on the other six days of each week when He was not teaching in the Capernaum synagogue? Give reasons for your answer from what the scriptures have taught us about Him thus far. * What amazed the people in the Capernaum synagogue about Jesus’ teaching? * What would it take for our teaching to be like Jesus’? * What was the attitude in Jewish society towards sons being called to follow a rabbi, and how does that compare with the attitude in your society towards young men leaving the family business to study for the ministry? * What was Jesus’ first miracle in the Capernaum synagogue, and what was the people’s response? * Peter and his wife lived in the same house with his brother Andrew and his mother-in-law. What sorts of living arrangements are common in your culture? * How did Jesus respond to the multitude who came seeking healing? * What was Jesus’ response to his sudden surge in popularity in Capernaum?
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. John 5:1 NIV
Yeshua attended the Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals
A major category of Jewish holidays is the pilgrimage festival. Described in the Hebrew Bible as celebrating both agricultural festivals and events in the history of the Jewish people, these three holidays were set aside in biblical times for all the Jewish men to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship God by bringing an animal sacrifice for the priest to offer on the pilgrim’s behalf. (1)
Three times a year all your men are to appear in the presence of Adonai your God in the place which he will choose — at the festival of Matzah (unleavened bread), at the festival of Shavu‘ot (Weeks – we know it as Pentecost) and at the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles). They are not to show up before Adonai empty-handed, but every man is to give what he can, in accordance with the blessing Adonai your God has given you. Deuteronomy 16:16-17 CJB
Yeshua obeyed and fulfilled the Torah, including travelling to Jerusalem for these three pilgrimage festivals. We saw in John 2 that He travelled to Jerusalem with His first disciples for Pesach (Passover) and cleansed the temple in preparation for Chag haMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread), did many miracles during that week and had a long nocturnal discussion with the religious leader and “teacher of Israel”, Nicodemus.
8 Day Long First Pilgrimage Festival
The First Pilgrimage Festival was Matzah(Unleavened Bread). To avoid confusion, it is worth noting that the whole 8 day festival – one day of Passover followed by seven days of Unleavened Bread – is sometimes all referred to as Pesach (Passover), and sometimes as Chag haMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread). Leviticus 23 specifies that the Jewish festival year begins with Pesach (Passover).
The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. Leviticus 23:5 NIV
In the Jewish calendar, that is 14th Nisan. So Passover falls on different days of the week in different years. Leviticus 23:6 puts the second feast of this Pilgrimage Festival, on the next night (remembering that Jewish days begin in the evening):
On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; seven days ye must eat bread made without yeast. Leviticus 23:6 NIV
Leaven, or yeast, is symbolic of sin – so cleansing all leaven from the house and eating bread without leaven for the whole week symbolised being cleansed from sin and walking in holiness with God.
Also during this pilgrimage festival, on the day after Shabbat (so, always on the Sunday, regardless of which day of the week the 8 day Festival began), the Feast of First Fruits is celebrated with the very first of the harvest reaped and presented to God in the temple.
… bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the LORD so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath. Leviticus 23:10b-11 NIV
Since they were not to eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until after this wave offering (Vs 14) it became custom to pick the sheaf and wave it before the LORD early in the morning. Whenever the people were commanded to bring a grain offering to the LORD, they were also commanded to sacrifice an animal(s) without defect.
These three feasts, Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits, were all part of the First Pilgrimage Festival each year, which lasted eight days in total.
1 Day Long Second Pilgrimage Festival
The Second Pilgrimage Festival – Shavu‘ot – was to take place seven weeks after the first. Whereas the first began on 14th Nisan each year, and so on different days of the week, the second was always on the day after the Sabbath (ie, on the Sunday) – and so could be on slightly different dates.
From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and present an offering of new grain to the LORD… bring two loaves… baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. Leviticus 23:16-17 NIV
Because they were to count off the weeks to determine the date of this festival it was called the Feast of Weeks (Shavu‘ot). In Greek it was called Pentecost because it was 50 days after the feast of First Fruits. Two loaves were to be presented to God in the temple, both of them containing yeast. Some have seen this as representing the two different groups of peoples – Jews and Gentiles – both permeated with sin but both brought before God for His redemption. Jewish tradition also held that it was on this day God had given the Torah (Law) to Moses on Mount Sinai in the wilderness.
Shavu‘ot was a one day festival in Jerusalem. For many in outlying areas such as Galilee it was a long way to come for just one day, and most Jews outside of Judea did not get to all the festivals – but the crowds were still huge for each one. Even those scattered throughout the nations were determined to make it to Jerusalem for at least one festival in their lifetime. Historical texts and archaeological evidence indicate that during the Second Temple years of the Roman era, the pilgrimage festivals were a profoundly significant social and religious institution, bringing Jews from all over the ancient world of the Mediterranean to Jerusalem. Thousands upon thousands of Jews made these festival pilgrimages, and supported a vast commercial enterprise including the raising of animals for sacrifices, a lively animal market and a complex banking community to enable pilgrims to exchange currencies. (2) (1)
Shavu‘ot was the Feast of the Jews that Yeshua had now come to Jerusalem for. Whereas the author of the fourth gospel mentions several times that Yeshua’s disciples were with Him during His previous visit to Jerusalem for the eight day Pesach (Passover) festival, there is no mention of them being with Him on this pilgrimage. The author of the fourth Gospel, like the others, had been sent back to his home when Yeshua was returning to Nazareth after news of Yochanan the Immerser’s imprisonment reached them, but unlike the others this man lived in or near Jerusalem and was there for all the Jewish feasts.
7 Day Long Third Pilgrimage Festival
The Third Pilgrimage Festival was Sukkot (Tabernacles). It celebrates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, when they had to rely only upon God for food and protection. It also celebrates the last harvest before the onset of the winter rains in the land of Israel. It falls five days after Yom Kippur(Day of Atonement), usually in mid-autumn.
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the LORD’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. Leviticus 23:34 NIV
Yeshua fulfilled Torah by going up to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) with the multitudes for Shavu‘ot. Having come to Jerusalem He connected with the author of the fourth Gospel, who now travelled again with his rabbi and recorded His actions and words during this time away from His other talmidim. Yeshua gave different lessons to different groups of His disciples, according to where they were at in their life’s journey. This next lesson was for the religious leaders and those connected to the priesthood in Jerusalem.
Preparing to enter the Temple
As Yeshua entered the city, with the author of the fourth Gospel, to worship on Shabbat, the day before the festival of Shavu‘ot, He walked to the northern wall of the Temple to enter by the Sheep Gate. This was where they brought the sheep into the temple for sacrifices. (3) (4) Nehemiah 3:1 records Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests rebuilding the Sheep Gate and dedicating it as part of the first construct of this second Temple.
Before going into the Temple Yeshua, like multitudes of other pilgrims, took a detour through the Pool of Beit-Zata (Bethesda – which means “House of Mercy”). Archaeological evidence shows a large pool shaped like a trapezoid, varying from 50 to 60 meters wide and 96 meters long, divided into two pools by a central partition. As way typical in the construction of many Mikvah of that time, the northern pool was a large water storage to ensure a flow of fresh, clean water into the Mikvah. The southern pool (that closest to the temple and lowest down) had broad steps with landings, indicating that it was a Mikvah for ritual purification.
In Yeshua’s day the Oral Law required every Jew to engage in ritual immersion in a Mikvah to become ceremonially pure before entering the holy Temple. (5) (6) (7) With his expansions of the Temple, Herod had also built several large public Mikvah in Jerusalem for the pilgrims to use in their preparation for entering the Temple. The Pool of Beit-Zata was one of the public mikvah in Jerusalem used for this purpose. Yeshua was not in rebellion against the Oral Law, and fulfilled the requirements of His community until, and unless, they were in contradiction to His Father’s direction.
Yeshua noticed one who was ignored…
After this, there was a Judean festival; and Yeshua went up to Yerushalayim. In Yerushalayim, by the Sheep Gate, is a pool called in Aramaic, Beit-Zata, in which lay a crowd of invalids — blind, lame, crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. Yeshua, seeing this man and knowing that he had been there a long time, said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” John 5:1-6 CJB
Of all the multitude going through the waters of this Mikvah for purification, and all the crowd of invalids hoping for healing in this “House of Mercy”, one man caught Yeshua’s attention. No explanation is given for why God chose to touch this man alone, except that he had been there a long time. He had been there for longer than Yeshua had been incarnate on the earth. As a Torah fulfilling Jew, Yeshua had likely immersed there, or in one of the other public mikvah’s in Jerusalem, every time He entered the Temple for each of the pilgrimage festivals every year, from the time of that first Passover as a ‘spiritual adult man’ when he was twelve years old. Each year Yeshua would immerse in the Mikvah then enter the Temple through the sheep gate to offer the prescribed sacrifices, knowing that the day would come when He would be the sacrifice. Festival after festival, year after year, He had seen this man lying near the edge of this mikvah hoping for a miracle but convinced that he was unable to receive such. Yeshua had noticed him. He notices the ones that everyone else just walks past.
This man that no one seemed to care about or notice, this man who was convinced that he had no one to help him, all those years Yeshua had noticed him. He knew this man had been there a long time because He had taken note of him, festival after festival, year after year. Just as God was not blind to Israel’s suffering under Egyptian slavery all through the years that Moses was a child and young man, so Yeshua was not blind to this man’s suffering all those years until He was endowed with power and at last heard His Father say “now”. His compassion had been stirred and now that He was walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, now that His time had come, He did something about it. A powerful lesson for those connected to the priesthood who were being discipled by Him.
The place would have been abuzz with religious leaders declaring the prescribed blessing on each one of the thousands who came to be immersed so they could be considered pure enough to enter the holy Temple. But this man had no one to help him. None of them considered assisting this invalid to be part of their religious duty. He had been left in helplessness, until Yeshua arrived.
Healing that challenged their laws…
The sick man answered,“I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I’m trying to get there, someone goes in ahead of me.” Yeshua said to him,“Get up, pick up your mat and walk!” Immediately the man was healed, and he picked up his mat and walked. John 5:7-9a CJB
Suddenly all that changed. Yeshua spoke. His words carried an authority the man had never heard before. They carried life and health and strength. Immediately, unexpectedly, he was healed – so he obeyed Messiah’s command, picked up his mat and walked.
Yeshua knew how to stir up trouble. He knew how to set things up so that the religious facade would be peeled away, and men’s hearts would be exposed. He had just done so in His conservative religious hometown of Nazareth, and now He was going to do it in the religious capital of His people, Jerusalem. If He had simply healed the man no one would have noticed or cared, the multitudes were all too busy getting themselves ready to enter the holy temple and fulfil their religious duty. So He gave the man an instruction that would capture the attention and stir up the ire of those who exercised religious authority in this place. It was Shabbat and Yeshua had told him to “pick up your mat and walk.”
Now that day was Shabbat, so the Judeans said to the man who had been healed,“It’s Shabbat! It’s against Torah for you to carry your mat!” But he answered them,“The man who healed me — he’s the one who told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” They asked him,“Who is the man who told you to pick it up and walk?” But the man who had been healed didn’t know who it was, because Yeshua had slipped away into the crowd. John 5:9b-13 CJB
It is interesting that Yeshua had noticed this man all these years but the man had not noticed the Son of God until he was healed by Him. Even then, he had been too self-focused to notice who it was, or to ask. It took the religious leader’s accusations to motivate him to wonder who it was that had healed him.
Again, we have the Jewish religious authorities equating their rules with Torah. Like people now who equate their doctrines with the Word of God. As far as they were concerned, anyone who did not agree with their interpretations and their laws was a heretic and a law breaker.
There were many different Judaisms at this time, different schools of thought or ‘denominations’, just as there are many different Christian denominations now, each of which was convinced that they were the only ones who had the true knowledge and practice of the Torah. There were Sadducees whose focus was on the temple worship. There were Essenes who were so disgusted with the political manoeuvring and wealth seeking of the High Priests and ruling class that they refused to have anything to do with the temple worship. There were several different schools of Pharisees each of which was building their own particular set of rules to be a fence around the Torah to keep the people obedient to God.
As we have seen, the dominant group of Pharisees at that time had designated thirty-nine categories of work that were forbidden on Shabbat. In addition, they prohibited even coming into contact with any implement that could be used for any of those purposes (for example, one may not even touch a hammer or writing implement on Shabbat). (8) The thirty-ninth category of forbidden activity was: Transferring Between Domains / Carrying (Hebrew: הוצאה Hotza’ah). This law of theirs forbids transferring (carrying) something from one domain type to another domain type, or transferring within a public thoroughfare. Carrying a mat in the public domain of the Pool of Beit-Zata was therefore illegal according to their man-made law, and there were plenty of pharisaic religious leaders down at that pool to pronounce judgment on such. To their mind, any man who would tell a Jew to carry a mat in a public domain in Shabbat was a heretic and lawbreaker.
For the last 38 years they had failed to notice this man fading away, a lone invalid losing any hope. Now they noticed him carrying his mat and pounced to condemn him. In this “House of Mercy” they showed no mercy or empathy. No rejoicing in the wonderful miracle of God that had just taken place in their midst. They cared not that an invalid had been healed, only that some ‘heretic’ had told him to carry his mat on Shabbat.
Yeshua had not stayed around for this nonsense. He had continued on with the freshly immersed crowd pulsing out of the Beit-Zata (House of Mercy) pool and into the Temple through the Sheep Gate.
Persuaded of the need to leave his mat behind, the healed man now walked into the waters of the Mikvah and immersed himself to prepare for entering the Temple that he had been waiting just outside of for all these decades.
Afterwards Yeshua found him in the Temple court and said to him, “See, you are well! Now stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you!”
The man went off and told the Judeans it was Yeshua who had healed him; and on account of this, the Judeans began harassing (Gk: diōkō) Yeshua because he did these things on Shabbat. John 5:14-16 CJB
Greek: diōkō = aggressively chase, like a hunter pursues a catch. It means “to run swiftly in order to catch some person or thing, to run after, pursue,” and refers to molesting (harassing) someone – “wanting to overtake,” “hunt them down“, ie to oppress and zealously persecute. This is what the religious leaders began doing to Yeshua. They were more sophisticated, and so did it more subtly than their Nazarene counterparts who had tried forcing him over the cliffs, but their intent was the same.
Teaching that challenged their doctrines…
Here, in the very Temple precincts, the place set aside to be holy unto God, set aside for worship, these men were more concerned that their rules had been breached than honouring God who had just performed a wondrous miracle in showing mercy to a man lying in the place they had called the “House of Mercy”. Instead of praising God they were harassing Him for operating outside their box and threatening their theology. Yeshua went on to threaten it some more as He engaged in the Jewish worship of teaching them the truth of God and His Torah.
But he answered them,“My Father has been working until now, and I too am working.” John 5:17 CJB
Yeshua lived at a time when sectarianism was rife, with major tensions among Jews over how to interpret Torah. He did not shy away from stepping right into the thick of this debate. Shabbat was one of those hotly contested areas. Not only in the practical living of it, which prominent religious leaders were codifying in the forbidding of those 39 categories of ‘creative work’, but also in the theology behind it. The apparent contradiction between God resting on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2, Exodus 20:11 & 31:17) and His continual work sustaining creation, caring for His people (Psalm 68:19, Psalm 121:2-8, Isaiah 56:24) and directing history, ignited all sorts of heated discussions. Some Jewish theology focused on God resting on Shabbat, while others focused on His permanent nature as creator.
For the religious leaders who were seeking to hunt Yeshua down there was a profound concept of imitation dei – the imitation of God – in association with the keeping of Shabbat according to their rules. For them, God needed a rest on the seventh day and totally ceased from all creative works on this day. Therefor, to be like God we must likewise totally cease from all the works they have forbidden on this day. Yeshua challenged this head on, associating His work of healing the crippled man on Shabbat with the never ceasing work of the Father – this was His imitation dei, doing good to others and delivering them on every day. (9) While this was contrary to the theology of those attacking Him, it was not outside the theology of many Jews of His day.
There was a current of Jewish thought that empathized God’s unceasing work. The Jewish philosopher Philo, who was about 20yrs older than Yeshua, had written: “that God never ceases to create, nor takes a holiday from His works”, and again: “as it is the property of fire to burn, and of snow to chill, so also it is the property of God to be creating.” (10) Some argued that God’s providence remained active on Shabbat, for otherwise the universe would cease to exist. God ceased from His work of creating the world, but not from His work of moral judgment. (11) Others contended that God both endows children with human souls and brings them into covenant relationship with Himself on Shabbat, as children are born on Shabbat and the Torah commands them to be circumcised on the eighth day even when it is Shabbat. (12) Also strongly woven into the concept of Shabbat was the theme of God’s deliverance from bondage and slavery (Deuteronomy 5:14–15), yet they could not rejoice in this lame man’s deliverance.
It is good to keep the commandments of God. It is good to study God’s word and to seek to gain a greater understanding of what He desires of us. It is good to search out what it means to live in accordance with God’s word. All these things the Jewish religious leaders had been doing for generations. But they had taken it one step further, and that step put them in conflict with God Himself. They had concluded that their understanding, their opinions, their practices and traditions, were God’s law and therefor had to be embraced and obeyed by all. So, when the Son of God came and lived out the fullness of God’s law in God’s way, they accused Him of being a law breaker. When the Son of God came and spoke the truth of the nature and will of God to them, they accused Him of being a heretic and blasphemer.
Yeshua as Son of God
In His one simple sentence, ““My Father has been working until now, and I too am working,” Yeshua not only stated His theological position on Shabbat, He asserted His credentials for being the One to establish theological positions “My Father…”
This answer made the Judeans all the more intent on killing Him — not only was He breaking Shabbat; … John 5:18a CJB
How seriously wrong we can get it when we start making up doctrines for everything, devising our own set of rules for what others must believe and do. The one man who walked this earth without sin, perfectly fulfilling all God’s law, being accused of breaking the fourth commandment because He didn’t keep it the way they thought it should be kept. God Himself being rejected because they had made His law into something that He never intended it to be.
…but also, by saying that God was His own Father, He was claiming equality with God. John 5:18b CJB
It was not that referring to God as their Father was foreign to Judaism. In speaking to the religious leaders Yeshua used their own language, and concepts that would have been very familiar to them from the scriptures, but He endowed these concepts with new meanings. Last time He was in Jerusalem, Yeshua had spoken to Nicodemus at length on the Jewish religious concept of being ‘born again’. This time His long discourse was on being the Son of God.
Israel is referred to as God’s son in the Tanakh (Jewish Scriptures):
Then you are to tell Pharaoh: ‘Adonai says, “Isra’el is my firstborn son. I have told you to let my son go in order to worship me… Exodus 4:22-23a CJB
There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son… Deuteronomy 1:31 NIV
Think deeply about it: Adonai was disciplining you, just as a man disciplines his child. So obey the mitzvot (law) of Adonai your God, living as He directs and fearing Him. Deuteronomy 8:5-6 CJB
You are the children of the LORD your God… Deuteronomy 14:1a NIV
For You are our father, for Abraham did not know us, neither did Israel recognize us; You, O [YHWH], are our father; our redeemer of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16 JP
…In the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, they will be called “sons of the living God.” Hosea 1:10 NIV
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from Me… Hosea 11:1-2 NIV
…the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Proverbs 3:12 NIV
… because I am Israel’s Father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. … Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31:9, 20 NIV
“A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name…” Malachi 1:6 NIV
God of armies, please come back! Look from heaven, see, and tend this vine! Protect what your right hand planted, the son you made strong for yourself. Psalm 80:14-15 CJB
The Jewish sages understood corporate, collective sonship. They could relate to the metaphor of God choosing to be a father to their nation, and of their moral responsibility in return, of honouring and obeying Him as a son is to honour and obey his father. (13) (14) (15) What they would not abide was Yeshua’s claim of a personal sonship that identified Him as one with His Father, as one with God Himself, and as reflecting the moral nature of God in perfect fulfilment of all the Torah.
Yet, in these times when Messianic hope was strong, the sages had seen the Psalms as portraying a Messiah who would be the Son of God, one who had focused within Himself Israel’s moral relationship to God. The Targum on Psalm 80:16 “the son that though madest strong for thyself” interprets the son as “the king Messiah”. There was already an understanding in Jewish expectations of their Messiah, from Psalms 2 and 89, that He would be a chosen Son of God, king and anointed one.
“I will proclaim the decree: Adonai said to me, ‘You are my son; today I became your father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance; the whole wide world will be your possession. Psalm 2:7-8 CJB
He will call to me, ‘You are my father, my God, the Rock of my salvation.’ I will give him the position of firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. I will keep my grace for him forever, and in my covenant be faithful with him. I will establish his dynasty forever, and his throne as long as the heavens last. Psalm 89:26-29 CJB
The coming of the Son of God, the King messiah, was the hope so many in Israel had been clinging to. This was the hope many of the Pharisees had taught them. But they were so caught up in their own rules and regulations, in their own teachings and doctrines, that they could not recognise Him when He came.
Relationship between the Father and the Son
There was so much that Yeshua wanted to explain to these religious leaders. There was so much that He thought they should already know with all their study of scripture and all that Yochanan the Immerser had proclaimed. He was not just uniquely the only begotten Son of God, He was also the embodiment of what God had been calling Israel to be as His son. For these “teachers of the Torah” in the Temple Yeshua had long and detailed explanations:
Therefore, Yeshua said this to them: “Yes, indeed! I tell you that the Son cannot do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing; whatever the Father does, the Son does too. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He does; and He will show Him even greater things than these, so that you will be amazed. Just as the Father raises the dead and makes them alive, so too the Son makes alive anyone He wants. The Father does not judge anyone but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, so that all may honour the Son as they honour the Father. Whoever fails to honour the Son is not honouring the Father who sent Him.
“Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever hears what I am saying and trusts the One who sent me has eternal life — that is, he will not come up for judgment but has already crossed over from death to life!
“Yes, indeed! I tell you that there is coming a time — in fact, it’s already here — when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen will come to life. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He has given the Son life to have in Himself. Also He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Don’t be surprised at this; because the time is coming when all who are in the grave will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good to a resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to a resurrection of judgment.
“I can’t do a thing on My own. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is right; because I don’t seek My own desire, but the desire of the One who sent Me.
“If I testify on My own behalf, My testimony is not valid. But there is Someone else testifying on My behalf, and I know that the testimony He is making is valid — you have sent to Yochanan, and he has testified to the truth. Not that I collect human testimony; rather, I say these things so that you might be saved. He was a lamp burning and shining, and for a little while you were willing to bask in his light. But I have a testimony that is greater than Yochanan’s. For the things the Father has given Me to do, the very things I am doing now, testify on My behalf that the Father has sent Me.
“In addition, the Father who sent Me has Himself testified on My behalf. But you have never heard His voice or seen His shape; moreover, His word does not stay in you, because you don’t trust the One He sent. You keep examining the Tanakh (Old Testament) because you think that in it you have eternal life. Those very Scriptures bear witness to Me, but you won’t come to Me in order to have life!
“I don’t collect praise from men, but I do know you people — I know that you have no love for God in you! I have come in My Father’s name, and you don’t accept Me; if someone else comes in his own name, him you will accept. How can you trust? You’re busy collecting praise from each other, instead of seeking praise from God only.
“But don’t think that it is I who will be your accuser before the Father. Do you know who will accuse you? Moshe (Moses), the very one you have counted on! For if you really believed Moshe, you would believe Me; because it was about Me that he wrote. But if you don’t believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” John 5:19-47 CJB
The whole focus and purpose of Moshe’s writings…
Shavu‘ot(Feast of Weeks) was the pilgrimage festival at which the giving of the Torah to Moshe (Law of Moses) was celebrated. It was at this festival that Yeshua stated “if you really believed Moshe, you would believe Me; because it was about Me that he wrote” to the religious leaders policing “obedience to Moshe”.
Back in John 1:45, we saw Philip exclaime to Nathanael: “We’ve found the one that Moshe wrote about in the Torah, and about whom the prophets also wrote…” Now Yeshua was trying to teach these very learned men what the young Philip had instinctively grasped.
The Jewish leaders saw the Torah as being about their nation, but Yeshua stated that it was about Him that Moses wrote. This is not just a proof scripture here or there, although there are plenty of these, this is concerning the whole focus of the first five books of the Bible, the writings that these religious leaders claimed to honour above all else, and to be the experts on. Messiah, God manifesting Himself in a form that human eyes could see and coming as deliverer, was not just an extra thought added on to the stories of Israel, He was the story, the whole focus and purpose of Moshe’s writings. This was so much bigger than what most were focused on, deliverance from Roman oppression. This was God’s whole purpose since creation. This is what all the Jewish laws and feasts were pointing to. Yeshua – Emmanuel / God with us – God who is Spirit, who is invisible, whom no man can see and live, had made us in His image. As the coming Son of Man, descendant of Eve, He would bruise the serpent’s head even as His heal was bruised. He took on a form that could appear to men throughout the ages until the time came for Him to come as “a prophet like Moses“. Yeshua is He whom everything that Moshe wrote in Torah was pointing to.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in the likeness of ourselves…” Genesis 1:26a CJB
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden… Genesis 3:8
I will put animosity between you and the woman, and between your descendant and her descendant; he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 CJB
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:7
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. Genesis 17:1
Then the Lord appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. Genesis 26:2
And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.” Genesis 26:24
And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother. Genesis 35:7
Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, “I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt;” Exodus 3:16
God spoke to Moshe; he said to him, “I am Adonai. I appeared to Avraham (Abraham), Yitz’chak (Isaac) and Ya‘akov (Jacob) as El Shaddai, although I did not make myself known to them by my name, Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh [Adonai] Exodus 6:2-3 CJB
“Adonai will raise up for you a prophet like me from among yourselves, from your own kinsmen. You are to pay attention to him, just as when you were assembled at Horev (Horeb / also called Mount Sinai) and requested Adonai your God, ‘Don’t let me hear the voice of Adonai my God any more, or let me see this great fire ever again; if I do, I will die!’ On that occasion Adonai said to me,‘They are right in what they are saying. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I order him. Whoever doesn’t listen to my words, which he will speak in my name, will have to account for himself to me.Deuteronomy 18:15-19 CJB
The Jews had long understood that this prophecy in Deuteronomy would one day be fulfilled in a literal way by the coming of a “the Prophet” who would either: A) come just before Messiah or B) would, in fact, be the Messiah.
That expectation helps explain the dialogue between the Priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem, and Yochanan the Immerser in John 1:19-21. When they asked who he was, he said, “I am not the Messiah.” “Who are you, then? Are you Elijah?” “No.” “Well, then, are you the Prophet.” “No.” When they said, “the Prophet,” both the delegates from Jerusalem and Yochanan the Immerser understood the reference to be Moshe’s prophecy of Deuteronomy 18. (16)
In describing how “the Prophet” would be like himself, Moshe recalls an experience of his nation that has been memorialized and burned into the Jewish consciousness:
On the morning of the third day, there was thunder, lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain. Then a shofar blast sounded so loudly that all the people in the camp trembled.Moshe brought the people out of the camp to meet God; they stood near the base of the mountain. Mount Sinai was enveloped in smoke, because Adonai descended onto it in fire — its smoke went up like the smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the sound of the shofar grew louder and louder, Moshe spoke; and God answered him with a voice. … All the people experienced the thunder, the lightning, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking. When the people saw it, they trembled. Standing at a distance, they said to Moshe, “You, speak with us; and we will listen. But don’t let God speak with us, or we will die.”Exodus 19:16-19, 20:18-19 CJB
Just as Moshe was a mediator between God and the Jewish people, the Messiah would be a mediator between God and man.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all… 1 Timothy 2:5-6a BSB
Verse 6 in 1 Timothy highlights another way in which Messiah was like Moshe, only more so: “who gave himself as a ransom for all.” While God was giving Moshe the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets Israel was busy breaking all those commandments in their idol worship.
Adonai said to Moshe, “Go down! Hurry! Your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have become corrupt! So quickly they have turned aside from the way I ordered them to follow! … “I have been watching these people; and you can see how stiffnecked they are. Now leave Me alone, so that My anger can blaze against them, and I can put an end to them! I will make a great nation out of you instead.” Exodus 32:7-10 CJB
First, Moshe interceded for the people:
Moshe pleaded with Adonai his God. He said, “Adonai, why must your anger blaze against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong … … Turn from your fierce anger! Relent! Don’t bring such disaster on your people! Remember Avraham, Yitz’chak and Isra’el, your servants, to whom you swore by your very self. You promised them… Adonai then changed his mind about the disaster he had planned for his people. Exodus 32:11-14 CJB
Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Yeshua:
“is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
After seeing the horror of what the people had been doing when he was up the mountain with God, Moshe offered his own life—to take the punishment of the people’s sins on himself if God could find no other way to forgive them. He asked God that his life be an expiation for the sins of the people. As a priest he could have made grandiose offerings—thousands of lambs or bulls—but instead he simply offered his own life. Greater love has no man.
Moshe saw that the people had gotten out of control — because Aharon had allowed them to get out of control, to the derision of their enemies — … … The next day Moshe said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin. Now I will go up to Adonai ; maybe I will be able to atone for your sin.”Moshe went back to Adonai and said, “Please! These people have committed a terrible sin: they have made themselves a god out of gold. Now, if you will just forgive their sin! But if you won’t, then, I beg you, blot me out of your book which you have written!” Exodus 32:25, 30-32 CJB
God did not accept Moshe’s offer. It could not suffice because he was not spotless. Like Moshe, the Messiah would offer His own life – to take the people’s sins on Himself – and His offer for the Jewish people and all mankind was accepted. Moshe led the people to the promised land but was not allowed to enter himself. Messiah is building us a dwelling in the promised land – He is both the pathway to it and the gate of entry. All that Moshe was the shadow of, Messiah would be the fulfilment of. (17)
Although much of contemporary Jewish thought sees this Prophet not as Messiah but only as Joshua who succeeded Moses in leading Israel, in more ancient times when messianic expectations were high, this passage was understood by the Jews to be referring to their coming Messiah. Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon identified the Prophet as Messiah:
“A Prophet from the midst of thee.’ In fact, the Messiah is such a Prophet as it is stated in the Midrash of the verse, ‘Behold my Servant shall prosper’ (Isaiah 52:13).…Moses, by the miracles which he wrought, brought a single nation to the worship of God, but the Messiah will draw all peoples to the worship of God.
The Midrashic passage that Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon cites, referring to Messiah as Prophet, states:
“It is written, Behold, my servant shall deal wisely, He shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high (Isaiah 52:13). It means, He shall be more exalted than Abraham of whom it is written, ‘I lift up my hand’ (Genesis 14:22). He shall be more extolled than Moses of whom it is said, ‘As a nursing father beareth the nursing child’ (Numbers 11:12). ‘And shall be very high’—that is, Messiah shall be higher than the ministering angels.
Moshe wrote God’s word: “I will put My words in His mouth, and He will tell them everything I order Him.” (Vs18) Yeshua was doing this and they were not wanting to listen, even though Moshe had written God’s instructions: “You must listen to Him” (Vs15). This Prophet Messiah would speak God’s words in God’s name. “I have come in My Father’s nameand you don’t accept Me;” (John 5:43). Moshe had given the people this warning from God: “Whoever doesn’t listen to My words, which He will speak in My name, will have to account for himself to Me.” So Yeshua said to them:
“But don’t think that it is I who will be your accuser before the Father. Do you know who will accuse you? Moshe, the very one you have counted on! For if you really believed Moshe, you would believe Me; because it was about Me that he wrote. But if you don’t believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” John 5:45-47 CJB
These religious leaders who were condemning the act of mercy of healing a crippled man were claiming to be defending Torah, but Yeshua knew them better than they knew themselves and here exposed them so they could see the true nature of their hearts, repent and be saved. What a sad indictment on those who claimed to be showing others the way to God: “I know that you have no love for God in you!” (Vs42)
Having fulfilled Torah in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), Yeshua left them to contemplate His words and returned to the Galilee region, but not to His hometown of Nazareth. Their rejection of Him became someone else’s blessing. Yeshua was moving to the town of His disciples, from whence He would establish the next phase of His ministry. It appears that the author of the fourth Gospel remained in or around Yerushalayim, maybe serving in the temple, for he tells us nothing of this important next phase of Yeshua’s kingdom reformation.
1. Kohn, Rabbi Daniel. What Are Pilgrimage Festivals? My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 14th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/pilgrimage-festivals/. 2. Carlson, Thomas. Exile to Babylon and Diaspora. Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug 2016.] http://www.religion.ucsb.edu/faculty/thomas/classes/rgst116b/JewishHistory.html. 3. Christ Visits the Sheep Gate. The Gospel Armor. [Online] 20th February 2014. [Cited: 18th November 2019.] http://thegospelarmor.com/john/christ_visits_the_sheep_gate_john-5_1-2. 4. Wilson, Dr. Ralph F. Healing at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus Walk. [Online] [Cited: 18th Novmber 2019.] http://www.jesuswalk.com/john/11_bethesda.htm. 5. Slonim, Rivkah. The Mikvah. The Jewish Woman. [Online] [Cited: 18th November 2019.] https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1541/jewish/The-Mikvah.htm. 6. Lamm, Rabbi Maurice. The Mikveh’s Significance in Traditional Conversion. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 18th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/why-immerse-in-the-mikveh/. 7. Friedlander, Marty. Why Jews Immerse in the Mikveh. Haaretz. [Online] 1st November 2015. [Cited: 18th November 2019.] https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/why-jews-immerse-in-the-mikveh-1.5416019. 8. Encyclopedia Judaica. Shabbat: What is Shabbat? Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th November 2019.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/what-is-shabbat-jewish-sabbath. 9. MJL. The Significance of Shabbat. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 24th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shabbat-themes-and-theology/. 10. Young. The Works of Philo. Early Christian Writings. [Online] [Cited: 28th November 2019.] http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book2.html. 11. Sadananda, Daniel Rathnakara.The Johannine Exegesis of God: An Exploration into the Johannine Understanding of God. New York : Walter de Gruyter, 2014. 12. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Eliyahu. The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel. s.l. : Jewish New Testament, 2015. 13. Thompson, Marianne Meye. The Promis of the Father: Jesus and God in the New Testament. 2000. 14. Huntress, Erminie. “Son of God” in Jewish Writings Prior to the Christian Era. 2, s.l. : The Society of Biblical Literature, June 1935, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 54, pp. Pp. 117-123. 10.2307/3259680. 15. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon. God the Father in Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity: Transformed Background or Common Ground? Jewish Christian Relations | Articles | Scholarly Contributions. [Online] 30th September 2003. [Cited: 29th November 2019.] http://www.jcrelations.net/God+the+Father+in+Rabbinic+Judaism+and+Christianity%3A+Transformed+Background+or+Common+Ground%3F.2771.0.html?L=3. 16. Pritchard, Ray. A Prophet Like Moses. Keep Believing Ministries. [Online] 8th December 2008. [Cited: 30th November 2019.] http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/a-prophet-like-moses/. 17. Rosen, Moishe. A Prophet Like Unto Moses. Jews for Jesus. [Online] [Cited: 2nd December 2019.] https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v11-n04/a-prophet-like-unto-moses/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* Compare the Jewish pilgrimage festivals with the festivals in your culture. * Compare the preparations undertaken to enter the temple with any preparations undertaken to enter your church. * How do we become clean and pure before God? * What laws has your church or denomination made out of what scripture teaches? * What traditions and customs have been established in your community, church or denomination? * If Jesus was walking in your community today how do you think He would respond to your religious laws and customs? * The crippled man appears to have been totally focused on himself, yet Jesus healed him anyway. Did he do anything to earn his healing or to attract Jesus to him to heal him? * How would you describe God’s mercy?
Read Mark 1:14-15, 6:14-29, Luke 3:19-38, 4:14-30 & John 4:43-54
The climate is cooler in the Galilee region than down in the Jordan Valley, so the crops mature for harvest later in the year. The barley harvest was now underway up here and the wheat crop was beginning to ripen. (1)
After the two days He left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country). John 4:43-4 NIV
Interestingly, the Jewish priest author of the fourth gospel thinks of Judea, where Yeshua was born and where his ancestral land as a descendant of king David lay, as being “his own country“, whereas the gentile Luke refers to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, as “his own country“. The author of the fourth gospel often contrasts the rejection that Yeshua received in Jerusalem and surrounds (the likely hometown of this author) with the eagerness of the people of Galilee to receive Him. The Galileans may have been looked down upon by those in Judea as unsophisticated and spiritually inferior, but they were faithful in travelling the long distance to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals commanded by God and they were open to receiving the Son of God.
When He arrived in Galilee the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that He had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they had been there. Once more He visited Cana in Galilee where He had turned the water into wine. John 4:45-46a NIV
Significant numbers of these pious Galileans had made the long journey to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival in obedience to Torah. There, like Nicodemus, they had witnessed Yeshua do many miracles and knew that the power of God rested upon Him. As Yeshua travelled around the Galilee region, teaching in their synagogues, He came again to Cana where He and His early talmidim had attended the wedding and His first miracle had been performed.
Yochanan the Immerser Imprisoned…
Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) was arrested by Herod Antipas, who ruled over Peraea and Galilee. Speaking truth to power is rarely welcomed by those in power, and Herodias, Herod Antipas’ wife who had been married to his brother Philip when her affair with Herod began, was so angry she wanted Yochanan killed. Herod tried to appease her by imprisoning Yochanan, but was drawn to his words like a moth to a candle:
But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things which Herod had done, added this also to them all, that he shut up Yochanan in prison. Luke 3:19-20 HNV
For Herod himself had sent out and arrested Yochanan, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for he had married her. For Yochanan said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias set herself against him, and desired to kill him, but she couldn’t, for Herod feared Yochanan, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he did many things, and he heard him gladly. Mark 6:17-20 HNV
Like the prophets before him, Yochanan (John the Baptist) now suffered for his message, imprisoned and threatened with death. Yochanan’s imprisonment effectively ended his public ministry. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus stated that Yochanan the Immerser was imprisoned in Herod’s palace of Macherus (Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, V, 2), which was located in the furthermost corner of his realm, about 24 km southeast of where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea (see the map above). (2)
None of Yochanan’s remaining talmidim had his gifting or calling, and they were rather at a loss for what to do when he was imprisoned. It was the task of every talmid (disciple) to become just like his rabbi, but these young men had not yet spent enough time with Yochanan to be like him, and now the best they could do was occasionally visit him and talk with him for whatever little time they were allowed. They were not able to continue on his ministry without him. The crowds did not come to them as they had come to Yochanan, none of them carried the presence that Yochanan carried, nor could they ‘nail it’ with their preaching as he did. Yochanan had been imprisoned before he had been able to invest enough in his disciples to pass his baton on to them. He had been ministering for less than a year.
Contrary to the usual practice of that time, Yochanan’s call had not been to raise up disciples to follow in his footsteps, but to prepare the way for the people to come to Yeshua so they could be raised up to follow in His footsteps. Yochanan’s baton had been successfully passed on, not to his talmidim as was traditional, but to the One to whom he had been attesting. What Yochanan could no longer do now that he was imprisoned, Yeshua continued and this reformation gained momentum:
From that time, Yeshua began to proclaim, and to say, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 HNV
After Yochanan had been arrested, Yeshua came into the Galil proclaiming the Good News from God:“The time has come, God’s Kingdom is near! Turn to God from your sins and believe the Good News!” Mark 1:14-15 CJB
Healing, but not according to expectation…
When an officer of Herod Antipas’ court heard that Yeshua had returned to Cana he came across from Capernaum where he had been nursing his dying son and:
“…went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” John 4:47 NKJV
Word had just spread through the area that Herod had arrested Yochanan, and this officer of Herod’s court comes and asks Yeshua to go with him. What would you think?
Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” John 4:48 NKJV
Yeshua’s response initially appears harsh towards a man anguishing over his son’s impending death, but its purpose was not so much to rebuke as to challenge to a deeper level of faith so that even greater could be done for him:
The nobleman said to Him,“Sir, come down before my child dies!” John 4:49 NKJV
This man was used to walking in power and authority. He expected to be obeyed, and had become accustomed to exercising control over others. But he had no control over the terrible sickness ravaging his poor son’s body, and no control over this man who was his only hope for the life of his son. All his wealth and power were suddenly meaningless, it could not provide what he most desperately needed – healing for his son.
Yeshua paid no more respect to the wealthy and powerful than to the lowliest servant. He was not after their influence in high places or generous donations to help his ministry flourish. His only concern was the Father’s will, and it was the Father’s will to set things right in this nobleman’s heart and challenge the Galileans to step up to the level of faith shown by the Samaritans in the city of Sychar, who had been willing to believe on Him simply on the basis of a woman’s testimony, and then having heard Him themselves boldly declared that He was “indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”
Desperation filled the nobleman’s voice as he pleaded for the Son of God to obey him and come immediately before it was too late and his son was dead. The kingdom of God manifested on earth is not limited to how we think things need to be done in order to get a good result. We do not get to order God to do things our way anymore than this nobleman was able to successfully order the Son of God to follow his instructions for healing his son. God is good and He does good and His ways are perfect, but they are so often different to how we imagine they need to be.
Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. John 4:50 NKJV
The tables were turned, and things set in right order. Yeshua did not obey this officer of the Tetrarch’s court, but rather answered his heart’s cry by speaking a word for him to obey: “Go your way; your son lives.” It was a word that required the faith to obey. It was an interaction that engendered such faith. It was the promise of a miracle greater than the nobleman had imagined, a simple word from Christ penetrating his son so far away, dispelling the terrible sickness threatening his life and bringing health and wholeness to the boy.
And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household. John 4:51-53 NKJV
The news of Yochanan the Immerser’s arrest had shaken all of Israel, and especially Yeshua’s talmidim, who had first been Yochanan’s talmidim. Often such news is accompanied by rumour and speculation – ‘who is going to be next?’ ‘Had Herod imprisoned his talmidim as well?’ It appears that Yeshua sent his young talmidim back to Capernaum with this nobleman so they could witness the miracle with him and be encouraged by this display of God’s power and the need that even the mightiest have of Him, and encouraged them to go from there back to their homes to spend some time with their families, even as He was going to spend some time in His own hometown. The account in the fourth gospel suggests first-hand knowledge of the conversation between the nobleman and his servants, and Luke’s account of Yeshua’s travels from there to His hometown of Nazareth suggests that He made this journey alone.
The indications in the text are that the author of the fourth gospel returned home to Jerusalem after this, even as Yeshua’s other disciples were returning to their homes in Capernaum and Bethsaida, for we hear no more from this author until Yeshua next goes to Jerusalem for a religious feast (John 5:1).
Yeshua rejected in Nazareth…
From Cana Yeshua walked to Nazareth, where He had grown up, where he had learnt to memorise the Torah and all the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), where he had played with the village boys and where he had learned Yosef’s carpentry/craftsman’s trade. By this time almost all the boys he had played with would be married with families of their own, as young men were expected to marry between the ages of sixteen and twenty four in order to fulfil the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, although some sages at this time delayed marriage in order to focus on Torah study and teaching. (3) (4)
The evidence of the gospels suggests that on this occasion Yeshua travelled to Nazareth alone. It is interesting that the following account is only found in Luke’s gospel, as the historian sort to piece all the parts of Yeshua’s life together, it was not part of Yeshua’s training of his talmidim at this time. It is likely that His mother and brothers were still living in Nazareth, and present in the synagogue on this Shabbat – from them Luke would later learn of these details and record them for us. Yeshua’s talmidim were not yet ready for this lesson, so they had been released back to their families and their trades for a season. Such was not unusual, as both Rabbi and talmidim had to support themselves.
So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. Luke 4:16 NKJV
Since His earliest childhood Yeshua had spent every Sabbath in the synagogue, partaking in His community’s worship of God and discussions on the meanings of the scriptures. For years the people in His hometown had heard Him reading the Torah and the Prophets, and expounding on their meaning. That wisdom which had been evident in the Temple in Jerusalem when Yeshua was just twelve years old had joined with the other voices teaching the people of Nazareth each Sabbath since that time. These people had received years of preparation for the revealing of Messiah through true and accurate teaching right there in their own synagogue. They enjoyed hearing Yeshua read the scriptures and preach – but there was something different about Him now, the first time He had been back home since His baptism by Yochanan.
On this day in Nazareth Yeshua was appointed to read the Haphtarah (a short reading from the Prophets which follows the reading from the Torah in a Jewish synagogue) and the reading scheduled was a messianic passage from Isaiah 61:
And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor (those bent over like a beggar, deeply destitute, completely lacking resources); He has sent (apostéllō) Me to heal the broken-hearted to proclaim liberty (remission / forgiveness, releasing someone from obligation or debt) to the captives (those who have been conquered and taken captive) and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty (send forth in a state of forgiveness and with purpose) those who are oppressed (bruised, broken down emotionally, psychologically shattered, suffering the ongoing effects of past sins);to proclaim the acceptable (received favourably because it is pleasing) year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book (ie rolled up the scroll), and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. Luke 4:17-20 NKJV
It was customary in the synagogue to stand when reading the scriptures, then sit to preach on them. Everyone listened eagerly to hear what this home-town boy, who had done such miracles during Passover in Jerusalem, would say now. What derashah (sermon) would He bring from this passage that elicited such hopes and longings in the people? Yeshua’s words were sweet to His hearers as He expounded on the literal and prophetic meanings in this passage. Hungry hearts longed for such Good News to be proclaimed to them, to know that they could be the recipients of God’s favour and that their past failures did not have to determine their future. His words brought reassurance that God had not forgotten them, nor been blind to their sufferings. Indeed the favourable year of the Lord was at hand.
And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21 NKJV
How would the people respond to so bold a claim? The woman at the well had readily believed Him. The whole Samaritan city of Sychar had been so quick to confidently declare: “we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” His home-town people’s first reaction was positive, as had been everyone else’s in Galilee. These pious Nazarenes were hungry for the word of God, and eagerly awaiting their Messiah with much anticipation that surely the time was ripe for his coming. Yeshua’s words penetrated their hearts with such grace and hope.
So all bore witness to Him, and marvelled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Luke 4:22 NKJV
A positive response indeed to Yeshua’s declaration of being the Messiah, the fulfilment of Isaiah 61. These people had been taught well, and they had seen and heard of the miracles that Yeshua had been doing, both in Jerusalem and around Galilee, which confirmed this claim.
But He knew their hearts. It is one thing to accept, even rejoice in, a declaration about the Kingdom, but quite another to live as citizens of that Kingdom. These people knew all the theology, were strong and passionate in their doctrine, but their hearts were not open to the very nature of the Kingdom of God. All the truth they had heard and believed had been filtered through a lens of spiritual pride and racist nationalism. Yeshua was about to confront this. He went on to begin to hint at how He would be treated by them when He did.
He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum,do also here in Your country.’ ” Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.” Luke 4:23 NKJV
Yeshua knew the barriers they had formed in their hearts against living the truth, and so now started exposing these. It seemed that He could not just leave people in their nice, comfortable feel-good religion. Like Yochanan the Immerser, He had to rock the boat, to expose those things hiding in their hearts. Yeshua was not satisfied with a lukewarm complacent acceptance of His words, and kept pushing until He had pressed all their buttons and elicited a strong reaction that exposed the real condition of their hearts.
“But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except toZarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” Luke 4:25-27 NKJV
This struck deep into their national and religious pride, exposing the bitter anger, fears and hatred that lay below the surface of their initial ‘bearing witness’ to Him:
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Luke 4:28-29 NKJV
It was not Yeshua’s messianic claim in Vs 21 which stirred such vitriol, they had born witness to Him in response to that. He was their Messiah, their deliverer, and they expected to be the chief beneficiaries of His ministry. Here was one of their own who had surely been anointed by God to throw off the shackles of their heathen oppressors and restore their national pride. Nazareth would see the birthing of the re-establishment of the glory of Israel. All their pious religious observance had earnt them this right. This was the “favourable Year of the Lord” for them.
Yeshua’s next words had undermined and threatened all that. He paralleled His ministry with that of Elijah and Elisha, both of whom heralded judgment on Israel for their unfaithfulness to God, and performed miracles for foreigners. Yeshua went so far as to highlight that God sent each of them to minister miraculously to a foreigner instead of anyone in Israel who was suffering with the very same need (Vs 25-27). And these were not deserving foreigners, if there could be such a thing, Elisha had healed the captain of the enemies’ army who had inflicted terrible losses on Israel. Yeshua was presenting himself as a Messiah who would do likewise, take what they thought rightly belonged to them as God’s chosen people, and give it to despised foreigners and enemies. Had He not just restored the son of an officer of Herod’s court, right after Herod had imprisoned Yochanan the Immerser? That nobleman was not the only one who had wanted God to do things his way. As far as the members of this pious, nationalistic synagogue were concerned, such was NOT the task of the Messiah! His task was to redeem Israel and raise them up above all other nations and peoples. His task was to destroy their enemies, not do miraculous healing for their enemies. Every racist sentiment cloaked in national pride, and fuelled by religious fervour, was stirred up and all those in the synagogue became filled with murderous wrath.
Such nationalistic pride and despising of others as inferior to themselves was common in their neighbours as well, and taken for granted in their Roman overlords. The devaluing of “those who are different to us” is deeply rooted in the heart of man, but totally unacceptable in the kingdom of God.
Regardless of how much murderous rage Satan could insight in the good people of Nazareth, it was not Yeshua’s time to die. Nor was this the means by which He would take our sins, being pushed over a cliff on an ordinary day of the year. God’s prophetic word would be fulfilled, nothing could hinder that.
Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way. Luke 4:30 NKJV
1. Morrison, Michael. Harvest Seasons of Ancient Israel. Grace Communion International. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.] https://www.gci.org/law/festivals/harvest. 2. John the Baptist’s Doubts. Never Thirsty. [Online] [Cited: 11th Oct. 2016.] http://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-studies/life-of-christ-ministry-in-galilee-early-a-d-32/lh064/. 3. McArthur, Harvey. Celibacy in Judaism at the Time of Christian Beginnings. Andrews University. [Online] 1987. [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.] https://www.andrews.edu/library/car/cardigital/Periodicals/AUSS/1987-2/1987-2-02.pdf. 4. Bivin, David N. Was Jesus a Confirmed Bachelor? Jerusalem Perspective. [Online] 19th September 2012. [Cited: 5th November 2019.] https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/1155/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* Why do you think Jesus was accepted as a teacher in Synagogues throughout Galilee? * What impact do you think it had on the disciples to hear that John the baptist had been imprisoned? * The officer of Herod Antipas’ court had come to Jesus with expectations of what He had to do to meet his need. What sort of expectations do we come to God with? Can you think of a time when God did not do what you were asking, but did something better that you had not even imagined before? * How did the people whom Jesus grew up with in Nazareth respond to His messianic claim “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”? * What was it that changed their response from bearing “witness to Him, and marvelling at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth” to thrusting him out of town and trying to throw him off a cliff? Do your people have anything that they react to with such anger? * If Jesus was to come to your church now, what do you think He would say to expose the hidden hatreds in your people’s hearts?
After their two days staying with, and teaching the Samaritans, Yeshua and his talmidim then continued on to Galilee.
Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee. John 4:43 NKJV
So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast. John 4:45 NKJV
Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. Luke 4:14-15 NKJV
The word “synagogue” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew ‘Beit Knesset’, meaning ‘House of Assembly‘. Other Hebrew terms, less frequently used, describe the synagogue as a ‘House of Study‘, or a ‘House of Prayer‘. Whereas the structure and function of the priesthood and tabernacle (later replaced by the temple) were commanded by God through Moses, synagogues grew organically out of the Jew’s desire to maintain their identity as a community of God regardless of who ruled over them. Since the synagogue belonged to the local community that built and maintained it; there never was a higher authority that determined its policy, namely how it should be built, decorated, administered, or what sort of liturgy was to be used in it. Thus, the diversity among synagogues so evident in the first century (1). It was, therefore, not until well after the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD that the structure and governance of the synagogues was standardised.
Synagogue – the centre of Jewish community life
During Yeshua’s day each was structured according to the needs of the local community and functioned according to the teachings accepted by the local community, hence there was variety in architecture and how they operated. They were multi-functional institutions answering the many needs of the entire Jewish community in each location: schools (Josephus, Antiquities 16.43), hostels, courts (Acts 22:19), a place to collect and distribute charity (Matt 6:2), for political meetings (Josephus, Life 276-289), for communal meals (Josephus, Antiquities 14.214-216), and for worship which focused on prayer, reading and interpreting the Hebrew scriptures.
The synagogue was the social, intellectual, spiritual, political and legal centre of the Jewish community’s life in that village. (2) (3) Worship and study, friendship and community celebration, schooling, collection and distribution of charity, governing of the community and court proceedings were all done in the synagogue and by the synagogue rulers. The synagogue was thus the heart of every Jewish community and being a member in good standing was essential to being accepted in the Jewish community. (4) (5) (6)
Architecturally, synagogues were public buildings constructed, where possible, near a body of water for a mikveh and for the Tashlikh ceremony on Rosh HaShanah, or on the highest point in town, or on a raised platform. They had a large hall for Shabbat services and many also had smaller rooms for study.
They generally had a Mikveh (ritual bath / baptismal pool) for ritual washings, and this had to contain enough water for a person to walk down into it, squat and be completely submersed with water. The Mikveh had one set of steps for people to walk down into it as ceremonially ‘unclean’ and another set of steps for them to walk up out of the water ceremonially ‘clean’. Synagogues also had kitchen facilities for community feasts, and accommodation for visitors.
In some cases, the front façade of the main hall had three doors. Inside there were benches, made of wood or stone, along three or sometimes four sides of the room, with a break for the door of course. (7)
Within Jewish tradition one stood to read from the Torah and Prophets (t. Sukkah 2.10), so the centre of the room would have a small platform for the readers to stand on, and it is possible that a small menorah (seven-branched candlestick), like the one in the Temple, also stood on that platform. The floor was usually dirt or flagstones, and common people probably sat on mats on the floor, while the important people sat on the stone benches (Matt. 23:6). There was a seat for the reader of the Torah called the Moses Seat (or the Seat of Honour), because the Torah recorded the words of Moses so the reader was taking Moses’ place (Matt. 23:2). The Torah scrolls and the writings of the prophets were either kept in a portable chest and brought to the synagogue for worship or were kept in the Synagogue itself in a permanent Torah cabinet. (8) (9)
A Greek inscription dating to the first century dedicating a synagogue gives us some insight into their architecture and functions, as well as the importance that the people placed on lineage:
Theodotos, son of Vettenus, priest and ruler of the synagogue, son of a ruler of the synagogue, grandson of a ruler of the synagogue, built the synagogue for the reading of the Torah and the teaching of the commandments, and also the guest chamber and the upper rooms and the ritual pools of water for lodging for those needing them from abroad, which his fathers, the elders and Simonides founded.
Three sacred spaces in Judaism
In Yeshua’s day there were three sacred spaces in Judaism, each of which had its own ordered rituals: Temple, Synagogue and Home (10). Yeshua attended and ministered in each of these spaces. For the Jews the Temple was the place of the presence of the transcendent God on earth and so the daily Temple worship involved sacrifice accompanied by worship in music and song. It was patterned after 1 Chronicles 16:4-6 where David appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD with lyres, harps, cymbals and trumpets, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the LORD. Twelve was the absolute minimum number of musicians the Mishnah deemed appropriate for the daily psalm, and there was no maximum number. (11) Whereas the temple was governed by priests and its functions undertaken by priests, the synagogue was governed by local elders of the community and all but one optional function was undertaken by the laity. Priests and Levites were welcome to participate in synagogue life but they had no special role except that only priests could offer the blessing of Aaron from the Torah (Num. 6:23-27) at the end of the service. (8)
Synagogue as centre of community justice…
The Synagogue provided the structure whereby a qahal (community) became rooted in God. Its primary purpose was the dispensation of justice, which was defined as the study, teaching and application of the Tanakh (Torah (Law of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings) – ie what we refer to as the Old Testament) and the Oral Law. Jewish tradition placed the roots of the synagogue in Jethro’s advice to Moses (Exodus 18) to select able men who feared God as rulers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens to judge the people. In light of that and Boaz’ gathering of ten elders of Bethlehem to witness the legal transaction that gave him possession of the land that belonged to Naomi, and Ruth as his wife (Ruth 4:2-12) Jewish tradition demanded a minimum of ten persons for any public or official religious gathering. Less than ten persons was not a community and did not qualify for a communal gathering. The Mishnah preserves the ruling concerning this required minimum number:
If there are less that ten present, the congregation may not recite the Shema with its benedictions, nor may one go before the ark [to lead the prescribed congregational prayers], nor may priests lift up their hands [in pronouncing the blessing], nor may one read the portion of the Torah or the Prophets, nor may one observe the stations [when burying the dead] or say the mourners’ benediction or the mourners’ consolation, or the benediction over newlyweds, nor may one mention the name of God in the invitation to recite the blessing after the meal. Also [the redemption value of dedicated] immovable property [is assessed] by nine and a priest, and similarly, [the valuation vow] of a person. (Megillah 4:3)
The importance of this religious quorum cannot be overestimated. Rabbi Eliezer, a member of the generation that witnessed the destruction of the Temple, freed one of his slaves so that there would be a quorum of ten for the “Eighteen Benedictions,” the central prayer of the synagogue service. (12)
First Century Jewish society was communal, not individual, and that community was defined as being more than ten people. At this time women could be counted among the ten for a quorum to enable a ShabbatSynagogue Service to go ahead. The wellbeing of the individual, the family and the community were intimately tied to the proper functioning of the Synagogue and its officers.
Rulers of the Synagogue, הכנסת ראשro’sh ha-keneseth, governed the community. They formed the בית דיןBet Din, bench of three judges, who dispensed justice to the community. They were also empowered to collect taxes, buy and sell public property such as Torah scrolls, pay for the construction and maintenance of the synagogue, and pay the salaries of town officials – agronomos (market inspectors), Chazzan (synagogue officers), city guards and teachers. Ro’sh ha-keneseth had to be tsadiqim (righteous men), that is men who knew Torah and Halakha (the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from both the “Written Torah” and the “Oral Torah”) and followed these as the pattern of their lives. These synagogue rulers were also responsible for the conduct of the synagogue services. When the congregation had assembled it was the ruler’s duty to select the various persons to take the leading parts in the service on that day and send the Cḥazzān to notify them what part they were to perform – prayer, reading from the Scriptures, preaching or translating.
חזן Cḥazzān(attendant) was the other regular official of the Synagogue. They were generally provided with a salary for their service. Their primary role was to keep the synagogue clean and appropriately lit and to care for its sacred scrolls. At the proper stage of the service the attendant would take the appointed scroll out from the ‘ark’ where they were kept, unwrap it and give it to the person chosen to read, then return it to its rightful place when they were finished reading. He also blew the shofar at sunset of Friday to announce the arrival of Shabbat. All work would cease and the people gather in their homes to eat the Sabbath meal which had been prepared that afternoon. The same word, Cḥazzān, was used for the synagogue police who would bring those accused of Law breaking to be judged by the Bet Din and were responsible for whipping synagogue members found guilty. This scourging was carried out in front of the Bet Din who proclaimed during the scourging “If do not carefully observe all the words of this Law…” (Deut. 28:58).
Except in an occasional large synagogue the following positions were not permanent appointments and did not attract any salary, but were just filled on the day by those chosen by the Synagogue ruler from the congregation gathered once a quorum had been reached.
מתרגמןMeturgeman (interpreter or translator) would be appointed for each service. This man was skilled in languages and stood by those that read, to translate the Hebrew reading into the vernacular language of the synagogue so everyone could understand the message.
שליחצבורSheliach Tzibbur (angel – or messenger – of the assembly) were required to be humble, be knowledgeable of the rules of prayer and the proper pronunciation of the Hebrew text, have an agreeable voice, proper dress and a beard. They would recite the prayers on behalf of the congregation, often with musical intonation – representing the community before God in prayer. They could also be called upon to be messengers of the Bet Din and under their authority transmit Halakhah (Jewish community law), supervise the conversion procedure and lay hands.
פרנסיםParnassim (administrative officers) were responsible for the care of the poor, and often included at least one woman. They were in charge of the Mikveh, collection of alms for the poor administration of these funds, visiting the sick, attending to the orphans and widows. According to Pe’ah 8,7, the collecting was to be done by at least two persons and distributed by three.
דרשןDarshan (expounder) was the preacher who expounded the Torah in a sermon, delivered after the reading from the Prophets. This office was also in charge of helping anyone plead their case before the Bet Din. Some would be travelling preachers, visiting many different communities with their messages.
בעל מסרהBa’al Masorah(master of the tradition) was responsible for teaching proselytes in their process of conversion and integration into the Jewish community. He would also help defend against any deviation from the accepted doctrines and practices of the community as defined by the Bet Din. (13) (14)
A Shabbat Service
On Saturday morning the community gathered in the synagogue, then the Ro’sh ha-keneseth (there could be one or more of these synagogue rulers) appointed members of the congregation to various roles in the service. There was no uniform set order of service that synagogues followed, but most often their pattern was similar to the following:
Their service began with blessings offered to God, prayers read with musical intonation by the Sheliach Tzibbur appointed for that day and possibly responses by the congregation.
The whole congregation recited the Shema: “Sh’ma, Yisra’el! ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad [Hear, Isra’el! ADONAI our God, ADONAI is one];” (Deut. 6:4)
More structured prayers read by the Sheliach Tzibbur and there may also be responses by the congregation or some spontanious prayers.
The Torah scrolls would be brought out by the Chazzan and would be read by the one(s) appointed that day. In some synagogues one person would be appointed to read while others might have as many as seven readers of different portions. If Hebrew was not understood by the congregation then a Methurgeman would be appointed to targum (translate) after each verse of the Torah and every three verses of the Nevi’im.
Following the Torah portion, a selection from the Nevi’im (prophets) would be read by the same or another reader.
After all the readings, the one appointed Darshan for that day would teach on what had been read. The teaching incorporated open responses by those assembled (questions and answers) rather than being a strict monologue.
The service ended with a benediction using the Aaronic blessing found in the Torah (Num. 6:24-26), if a priest was present to offer it. (8) (15) (16)
Music in Jewish Worship
The Tanakh (Jewish Scriptures) clearly exhorts, and gives honoured examples of, praising and worshipping God with musical instruments, song and dance:
Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them:“Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider, He has thrown into the sea. Exodus 15:20-21 NKJV
Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. Leviticus 25:9 NKJV
After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. 1 Samuel 10:5-6 NKJV
Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet. 2 Samuel 6:14-15 NKJV
Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon. And they blew the horn, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him; and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with their sound. 1 Kings 1:39-40 NKJV
Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets. 1 Chronicles 13:8 NKJV
Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy. So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel; and of his brethren, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of their brethren, the sons of Merari, Ethan the son of Kushaiah; and with them their brethren of the second rank: Zechariah, Ben, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Elipheleh, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, and Jeiel, the gatekeepers; the singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were to sound the cymbals of bronze; Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah, and Benaiah, with strings according to Alamoth; Mattithiah, Elipheleh, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel, and Azaziah, to direct with harps on the Sheminith; Chenaniah, leader of the Levites, was instructor in charge of the music, because he was skilful; Berechiah and Elkanah were doorkeepers for the ark; Shebaniah, Joshaphat, Nethanel, Amasai, Zechariah, Benaiah, and Eliezer, the priests, were to blow the trumpets before the ark of God; and Obed-Edom and Jehiah, doorkeepers for the ark. 1 Chronicles 15:16-24 NKJV
David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who bore the ark, the singers, and Chenaniah the music master with the singers. David also wore a linen ephod. Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn, with trumpets and with cymbals, making music with stringed instruments and harps. 1 Chronicles 15:27-28 NKJV
And he appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel: Asaph the chief, and next to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, and Obed-Edom: Jeiel with stringed instruments and harps, but Asaph made music with cymbals; Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests regularly blew the trumpets before the ark of the covenant of God. 1 Chronicles 16:4-6 NKJV
…and with them Heman and Jeduthun, to sound aloud with trumpets and cymbals and the musical instruments of God. Now the sons of Jeduthun were gatekeepers. 1 Chronicles 16:42 NKJV
Moreover David and the captains of the army separated for the service some of the sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals. And the number of the skilled men performing their service was: Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah; the sons of Asaph were under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied according to the order of the king. Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with a harp to give thanks and to praise the Lord. Of Heman, the sons of Heman: … … All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer in the words of God, to exalt his horn. For God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. All these were under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, stringed instruments, and harps, for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the authority of the king. So the number of them, with their brethren who were instructed in the songs of the Lord, all who were skilful, was two hundred and eighty-eight. 1 Chronicles 25:1-7 NKJV
…and the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instruments and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets— indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. 2 Chronicles 5:12-14 NKJV
And he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets. The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. Then Hezekiah commanded them to offer the burnt offering on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord also began, with the trumpets and with the instruments of David king of Israel. So all the assembly worshiped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had finished offering, the king and all who were present with him bowed and worshiped. Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.
Then Hezekiah answered and said, “Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the Lord, come near, and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the Lord.” So the assembly brought in sacrifices and thank offerings, and as many as were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. 2 Chronicles 29:25-31 NKJV
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”
Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:10-11 NKJV
Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. Nehemiah 12:27 NKJV
Praise the Lord with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skilfully with a shout of joy. Psalm 33:2-3 NKJV
Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God. Psalm 43:4 NKJV
They have seen Your procession, O God, The procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; Among them were the maidens playing timbrels. Bless God in the congregations, The Lord, from the fountain of Israel. Psalm 68:24-26 NKJV
Also with the lute I will praise You — And Your faithfulness, O my God! To You I will sing with the harp, O Holy One of Israel. Psalm 71:22 NKJV
Sing aloud to God our strength; Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, The pleasant harp with the lute.Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon,At the full moon, on our solemn feast day. Psalm 81:1-3 NKJV
Sing to the Lord with the harp, With the harp and the sound of a psalm, With trumpets and the sound of a horn;Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King. Psalm 98:5-6 NKJV
Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples, And I will sing praises to You among the nations. Psalm 108:2-3 NKJV
I will sing a new song to You, O God; On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, Psalm 144:9 NKJV
Let them praise His name with the dance; Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp. For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation. Psalm 149:3-4 NKJV
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! Psalm 150:3-5 NKJV
And in every place where the staff of punishment passes, Which the Lord lays on him, It will be with tambourines and harps; And in battles of brandishing He will fight with it. Isaiah 30:32 NKJV
Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! You shall again be adorned with your tambourines, And shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice. Jeremiah 31:4 NKJV
Since the beginning of the nation, back in Exodus, music had been an integral part of Jewish worship of God. Something happened during the second temple period which would change all that, and it had nothing to do with what was thought proper for worship. Rather it was the laws that they built around Shabbat which brought an end to playing musical instruments in Jewish worship. Influential Pharisees feared that a musician might be tempted to replace a string or otherwise repair or tune his instrument when playing on the Sabbath, and they classed such an act as falling into the forbidden category of work called “repairing a utensil”, and so prohibited the playing of any musical instrument on the Sabbath. This ruling of the Sanhedrin affected the synagogue services, rendering their worship devoid of music. Only in the temple did the prescribed instruments for worship continue to be played, on Shabbat, and every day.
Keeping Shabbat (the Sabbath) was the fourth of the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses. Here is what God said about it:
By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. Genesis 2:3
“Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work – not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself. Exodus 20:8-11 CJB
“On six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is to be a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest in honour of ADONAI. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. You are not to kindle a fire in any of your homes on Shabbat.” Exodus 35:2-3 CJB
“You are to take fine flour and use it to bake twelve loaves, one gallon per loaf. Arrange them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure table before ADONAI. Put frankincense with each row to be an offering made by fire to ADONAI in place of the bread and as a reminder of it. Regularly, every Shabbat, he is to arrange them before ADONAI; they are from the people of Isra’el, as a covenant forever. Leviticus 24:5-8 CJB
“On Shabbat offer two male lambs in their first year and without defect, with one gallon of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with olive oil, and its drink offering. This is the burnt offering for every Shabbat, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.” Numbers 28:9-10 CJB
Happy is the person who does this, anyone who grasps it firmly, who keeps Shabbat and does not profane it, and keeps himself from doing any evil. Isaiah 56:2 CJB
“If you hold back your foot on Shabbat from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call Shabbat a delight, ADONAI’s holy day, worth honouring; then honour it by not doing your usual things or pursuing your interests or speaking about them. If you do, you will find delight in ADONAI – I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Ya’akov, for the mouth of ADONAI has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13-14 CJB
Thus says the LORD, “Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the Sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah 17:21
In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads, and they brought them into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. So I admonished them on the day they sold food. Also men of Tyre were living there who imported fish and all kinds of merchandise, and sold them to the sons of Judah on the Sabbath, even in Jerusalem. Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing you are doing, by profaning the Sabbath day? “Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” Nehemiah 13:15-18
In order to enforce regulations against work on Shabbat, the Jewish religious leaders created a legal definition of what work was prohibited. They concluded that what God ceased from in Genesis 2:1-3 was creating, and saw a connection between this and construction of the tabernacle. From that, they defined thirty-nine categories of activity needed for the construction and use of the Tabernacle, which were thus designated as ‘creating’ and therefor forbidden on Shabbat (and could receive the death penalty from the Sanhedrin). The thirty-nine categories of forbidden activities, based on the Oral Torah which was being developed and debated in Yeshua’s day are:
Planting (Hebrew: זורע Zorea) Not only planting is included in this category; other activities that promote plant growth are also prohibited. This includes watering, fertilizing, planting seeds, or planting grown plants.
Ploughing (Hebrew: חורש Ḥoresh) Included in this prohibition is any preparation or improvement of land for agricultural use. This includes activities whose purpose is not agricultural such as dragging chair legs in soft soil thereby unintentionally making furrows, or pouring water on the ground or making a hole in the soil.
Reaping (Hebrew: קוצר Koṣer) Removing all or part of a plant from its source of growth is considered reaping. Climbing a tree is forbidden, for fear this may lead to one tearing off a branch. Riding an animal is also forbidden, as one may unthinkingly detach a stick with which to hit the animal. (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28)
Gathering (Hebrew: מעמר Me’amer) Initial gathering of earth-borne material in its original place. E.g. After picking strawberries, forming a pile or collecting them into one’s pockets, or a basket. Collecting rock salt or any mineral (from a mine or from the Earth) and making a pile of the produce. However, a bowl of apples that falls in a house can be gathered as 1) they do not grow in that environment and 2) they were already initially gathered in the orchard.
Threshing/Extraction (Hebrew: דש Dosh) It refers to any productive extraction and includes juicing fruits and vegetables and wringing (desirable fluids) out of cloths, as the juice or water inside the fruit is considered ‘desirable’ for these purposes, while the pulp of the fruit would be the ‘undesirable.’ As such, squeezing (S’ḥita) is forbidden unless certain rules are applied.
Winnowing (Hebrew: זורה Zoreh) Sorting undesirable from desirable. The separation of chaff from grain, or any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible. Rubbing a couple of grains in your hand to remove the husks before eating them would be considered “winnowing” and therefore forbidden. (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28)
Sorting/Purification (Hebrew: בורר Borer) Any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible or desirable that which was inedible or undesirable. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. Or, if there is a bowl of mixed peanuts and raisins, and one desires the raisins and dislikes the peanuts: Removing (effectively sorting) the peanuts from the bowl, leaving a ‘purified’ pile of raisins free from unwanted peanuts, would be Sorting/Purification as the peanuts are removed and therefor considered a serious transgression. However, removing the desirable raisins from the peanuts does not purify the mixture, as one is left with undesirable peanuts (hence unrefined), not a refined component as before, and is thus permissible.
Dissection Hebrew: טוחן (Toḥen) Dissection can arise in simply cutting into pieces fruits or vegetables for a salad. Very small pieces would involve ‘Dissection’, therefore cutting into slightly larger than usual pieces would be permitted, thus avoiding cutting the pieces into their final, most usable, state.
Sifting (Hebrew: מרקד Meraked) This is essentially the same as Sorting / Purification (see above), but performed with a utensil specifically designed for the purpose of sorting, such as a sieve, strainer, or the like.
Kneading/Amalgamation (Hebrew: לש Losh) this prohibited activity is the combining of solid and liquid together to form a paste or dough-like substance.
Cooking/Baking (Hebrew: אופה/בישול Bishul/Ofeh) Any method of heating food to prepare for eating is included in this prohibition.
Shearing (Hebrew: גוזז Gozez) Severing/uprooting any body-part of a creature.
Dyeing (Hebrew: צובע Ṣovea) Colouring or enriching the colour of any material or substance.
Spinning (Hebrew: טווה Toveh) Twisting fibres into a thread or twining strands into a yarn.
Warping (Hebrew: מיסך Meseḥ) Creating the first form for the purpose of weaving.
Making Two Loops/Threading Heddles (Hebrew: עושה שתי בתי נירין Oseh Sh’tei Batei Nirin) Forming loops for the purpose of weaving or the making of net like materials.
Weaving (Hebrew: אורג שני חוטין Oreg) Forming fabric (or a fabric item) by interlacing long threads passing in one direction with others at a right angle to them.
Separating Two Threads (Hebrew: פוצע שני חוטין Poṣe’a) Removing/cutting fibres from their frame, loom or place.
Tying (Hebrew: קושר Kosher) Binding two pliant objects skilfully or permanently via twisting.
Untying (Hebrew: מתיר Matir) The undoing of any tied (see Tying) or spun (see Spinning) binding
Sewing (Hebrew: תופר Tofer) Combining separate objects into a single entity, whether through sewing, gluing, stapling, welding, dry mounting, etc.
Tearing (Hebrew: קורע Kore’a) Ripping an object in two or undoing any sewn connection.
Trapping (Hebrew: צד Ṣad) Forcible confinement of a living creature, the confining of a creature to make it easier to capture in one’s hand.
Killing (Hebrew: שוחט Shoḥet) Ending a creature’s life, whether through slaughter or any other method.
Flaying/Skinning (Hebrew:מפשט Mepashet) Removing the hide from the body of a dead animal.
Curing/Preservation (Hebrew: מעבד Me’aved); sometimes referred to as “Salting” ( מולח Mole’aḥ). Preserving any item to prevent spoiling for a long period of time.
Smoothing (Hebrew: ממחק Memaḥek) Scraping/sanding a surface to achieve smoothness.
Scoring (Hebrew: משרטט Mesartet) Scoring/drawing a cutting guideline.
Measured Cutting (Hebrew: מחתך Meḥateḥ) Cutting any object to a specific size.
Writing (Hebrew: כותב Kotev) Writing/forming a meaningful character or design.
Erasing (Hebrew: מוחק על מנת לכתוב שתי אותיות Moḥek [al menat lichtov shtei otiyot]) Cleaning/preparing a surface to render it suitable for writing.
Construction (Hebrew: בונה Boneh) Contributing to the forming of any lasting structure. The action of joining different pieces together, e.g. inserting the handle of an axe into the socket is a derived form of this activity. Also, making a protective covering (or a ‘tent’) is forbidden.
Demolition (Hebrew: סותר Soter) Demolishing for any constructive purpose. For example, knocking down a wall in order to extend or repair the wall would be demolition for a constructive purpose. Combing a wig to set it correctly and pulling out hairs during the procedure with a metal toothed brush or comb would be constructive ‘demolition’, as each hair that is removed in the process of the wig (a utensil) is progressing its state towards a desired completion.
Extinguishing a Fire (Hebrew: מכבה Meḥaveh) Extinguishing a fire/flame, or diminishing its intensity. While extinguishing a fire is forbidden even when great property damage will result; in the event of any life-threatening fire, the flames must be extinguished, by the principle of pikuaḥ nefesh.
Ignition (Hebrew: מבעיר Mav’ir) Igniting, fuelling or spreading a fire/flame. This includes making, transferring or adding fuel to a fire. This is one of the few Sabbath prohibitions mentioned explicitly in the Torah (Exodus 35:3). Judaism requires Sabbath candles to be lit before the Sabbath; it is forbidden to light them on the Sabbath. They are intended to take the place of candles which cannot be lit on the Sabbath.
Fine-tuning / Repairing a Utensil (Hebrew: מכה בפטיש Makeh Bapetish). This activity refers to completing an object and bringing it into its final useful form. This is the prohibition by which instruments cannot be tuned nor a string replaced which lead to the prohibition on any playing of a musical instrument on Shabbat and thus barred instruments from the synagogue.
Transferring Between Domains / Carrying (Hebrew: הוצאה Hotza’ah) Transferring something from one domain type to another domain type, or transferring within a public thoroughfare. All areas are divided into four categories: a private domain, a public thoroughfare, an open area and an exempt area. Transferring an object from a private domain to a public thoroughfare, or the reverse, is forbidden. Transferring an object between an open area to a private domain or public thoroughfare is prohibited. Transferring an object between an exempt area and any other domain is permissible. In addition, transferring an object for a distance of four cubits (or more) in a public thoroughfare or open area is forbidden.
In Yeshua’s day, some of this had been handed down through the generations as “traditions of the elders”, and some was still being newly formed and debated. Yeshua joined in such debates and even called into question traditions of the elders when these brought forth actions which were contrary to the intent of Scripture. In 1st Century Jewish society, the job of protecting Shabbat, and defining the other laws of the community,was ascribed to the members of the Sanhedrin – hence all the political intrigues engaged in to get a majority representation on the Sanhedrin. For each of these thirty-nine prohibitions they made rulings as to what the Jewish people were commanded or forbidden to do in keeping with the prohibition – and such rulings were the “Law”, sometimes even referred to as the “Torah” of the Jewish people. Breaching these rulings was considered to be breaking God’s law, even when the ruling had little relationship to what God had written for us in Scripture.
Thus, despite all the exhortations in Scripture for the Jewish people to praise and worship God with instruments, they were forbidden to be played as part of the Shabbat Service in the Synagogue. In another context Yeshua said of the religious leaders: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commandments of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9)Music did, however, remain an essential part of services in the Holy Temple. This kind of rabbinical enactment—a prohibition designed to prevent desecration of Shabbat—is called a shvut. In general, a shvut was deemed not to apply in the Holy Temple. Music accompanied even those Temple rituals that were deemed not to essentially require musical accompaniment in order to be obedient to Torah. However, when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, this left the Jewish people totally devoid of music in their worship as they had enculturated the prohibition against such in their Synagogues on Shabbat. (17) (18) (19) (20) (21) (22) (23)
1. Levine, Lee I.The First Centurary Synagogue: New Perspectives. Arg. 77 : Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift, 2001. 2. Lacey, Ian. Synagogue Services. Israel & Judaism Studies. [Online] NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, 2007. [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.] http://www.ijs.org.au/Synagogue-services/default.aspx. 3. Spigel, Chad. First Centurary Synagogues. Bible Odyssey. [Online] [Cited: 3rd April 2019.] https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/places/related-articles/first-century-synagogues. 4. The First-Centurary Synagogue – New Perspectives. Levine, Lee I. Jerusalem : Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift. Arg., 2001, Vol. 77. 5. Laan, Ray Vander. He Went To Synagogue. That The World May Know. [Online] [Cited: 25th July 2019.] https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/he-went-to-synagogue. 6. —. He Went To Synagogue. That the World May Know. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.] https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/he-went-to-synagogue. 7. Spigel, Chad. First Century Synagogues. Bible Odessey. [Online] [Cited: 2nd April 2019.] Chad Spigel, “First Century Synhttps://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/places/related-articles/first-century-synagogues. 8. Turnage, Marc. Exploring the Practices and Customs of the First Century Synagogue. [Online] 9th August 2016. [Cited: 19th April 2019.] https://news.ag.org/features/exploring-the-practices-and-customs-of-the-first-century-synagogue. 9. Synagogues – Before and After the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Hachlili, Rachel. May/June, s.l. : Biblical Archaeology Society, 2015. 10. Matthews, Doc. History of Christianity: Early Christian Worship. Youtube. [Online] [Cited: 17th April 2019.] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fw56BWL2cn4. 11. The Exclusion of Musical Instruments from the Ancient Synagogue. McKinnon, James W. s.l. : Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 1979, Vol. 106, pp. 77–87. 12. Sauter, Megan. Ancient Synagogues in Israel and the Diaspora. Biblical Archiology. [Online] 3rd September 2016. [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/temple-at-jerusalem/ancient-synagogues-in-israel-and-the-diaspora/. 13. Killian, Greg. The Synagogue – Bet HaKnesset. Bete Munah. [Online] [Cited: 9th November 2019.] https://www.betemunah.org/synagog.html. 14. Gafni, Professor Isaiah. Jewish Life in Palestine at the Beginning of the Christian Era. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/their-love-for-tilling-the-soil-is-truly-great/. 15. The Ancient Synagogue Service. Burton, Ernest De Witt. The Biblical World, Vol. 8, pp. 143-148. 01903578. 16. Hegg, Tim.The Public Reading of the Scriptures in the 1st Century Synagogue. s.l. : Torah Resource, 2007. 17. Shurpin, Yehuda. Why can’t we connect to G-d through music on Shabbat? Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 9th November 2019.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/965540/jewish/Why-no-music-on-Shabbat.htm. 18. Activities Prohibited on Sabbath. [Online] [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activities_prohibited_on_Shabbat. 19. EISENBERG, RONALD L. Shabbat’s Work Prohibition. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shabbats-work-prohibition/. 20. Palatnik, Lori. Laws of Shabbat for Beginners. Aish He Torah. [Online] [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.aish.com/sh/l/48971331.html. 21. OU Staff. The 39 Categories of Sabbath Work Prohibited by Law. OU. [Online] 17th July 2006. [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.ou.org/holidays/shabbat/the_thirty_nine_categories_of_sabbath_work_prohibited_by_law/. 22. Melamed, Rabbi Eliezer. Laws of Shabbat – Volume 1. s.l. : Yeshivat Har Bracha Maggid Books. 23. Lizorkin, Ilya. Aspects of the Sabbath in the Second Temple Period. 2006.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* In what ways was worship in the Synagogue like worship in your church, and in what ways was it different? * What were the functions that the synagogue fulfilled in Jesus’ time, and what functions does your church fulfil now? * Compare the rolls of the synagogue officials with the roles of leaders within your church. * What do you think of the 39 laws that the Jews made to ensure their people kept the Sabbath as God had commanded? Can you think of any instances when Jesus commented on any of their Sabbath rules? * What are your thoughts on their reasons for excluding the playing of musical instruments in their synagogue worship and the ultimate result of such being that after the destruction of the second temple in 70AD, all Jewish worship has been without musical instruments? Is this practice of excluding instruments from worship in agreement with the scriptures?
Spring had turned into summer. The rains had ceased and the heat was increasing as the new life that had sprung forth was starting to produce fruit, the fields were getting white for harvest. Yeshua took His disciples on from the baptismal doorway of the Kingdom of Heaven, to the path of learning what it is to live as citizens in this Kingdom. Each place that Yeshua took them, every action that He did and every word He said, was part of the rabbinical teaching process – it was the scope and sequence of His curriculum.
As Yeshua headed north from Judea towards Galilee, He diverted from the usual Jewish route along the Jordan River, which carefully skirted around Samaria, and instead at Alexandrium turned to take the rough north-western track up out of the Jordan valley towards Sychar. It would have been a long and tiresome days’ walk in the summer heat, 32kms over somewhat difficult country to reach Jacob’s Well. (1) The disciples may have wondered if Yeshua really knew what He was doing or where He was going. This was not the traditional route, nor was it the easiest. But it was the necessary path to their next lesson.
“He had to pass through Samaria.” John 4:4
The spiritual significance of this land…
They emerged from the rough climb onto the rich plain of Samaria. All around, the fields ‘were already white unto the harvest.’ There is some contention between scholars as to whether time in the Fourth Gospel is reckoned according to the Jewish mode, making their arrival around midday, or according to the Roman civil day, making their arrival around 6pm. Since this gospel was likely written by a priest or Levite from Jerusalem, they would have used Jewish timing and shunned that of the Romans, so it is most likely that the group arrived around midday. (1)
As Yeshua and His disciples came up to Jacob’s Well, they found themselves standing at the entrance of a narrow valley. This whole region had spiritual significance for both Jews and Samaritans, but the Jews had been avoiding it for centuries because of the Samaritan presence here.
It was to this valley, wherein had been the ancient city of Shechem, that the Israelites had carried Joseph’s bones when God brought them up out of Egypt:
The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph. Joshua 24:32 NKJV
Shechem was also one of the cities that had been given to the Levites (priests) and designated as a city of refuge where a person who had killed someone accidently was provided with a safe haven in Israel:
And the families of the children of Kohath, the Levites, the rest of the children of Kohath, even they had the cities of their lot from the tribe of Ephraim. For they gave them Shechem with its common-land in the mountains of Ephraim (a city of refuge for the slayer) … Joshua 21:20-21
It was in this place that Joshua, just before he died, had gathered all the tribes of Israel to present themselves before God and covenant with Him:
And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.” Joshua 24:24-27 NKJV
To the left was Mount Gerizim and to the right rose Mount Ebal, stretching even higher than Mount Gerizim. Both of these mountains figure prominently in the Torah (first five books of the Bible and the basis of both the Jewish and Samaritan religions), as do the city of Shechem, Joseph’s tomb and Jacob’s well, which were all located in this valley where they now stood.
It was on Mount Ebal, according to the Jewish Torah, that Moses had commanded the children of Israel to build an alter to the Lord and offer burnt offerings when they crossed over the Jordan. And it was on this mountain that the tribes were to stand to curse any disobedience to the Law:
Now Moses, with the elders of Israel, commanded the people, saying: “Keep all the commandmentswhich I command you today. And it shall be, on the day when you cross over the Jordan to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over, that you may enter the land which the Lord your God is giving you, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ just as the Lord God of your fathers promised you. Therefore it shall be, when you have crossed over the Jordan, that on Mount Ebal you shall set up these stones, which I command you today, and you shall whitewash them with lime. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones; you shall not use an iron tool on them. You shall build with whole stones the altar of the Lord your God, and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. You shall offer peace offerings, and shall eat there, and rejoice before the Lord your God. And you shall write very plainly on the stones all the words of this law.” “…and these shall stand on Mount Ebal to curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.” Deuteronomy 27:1-8, 13 NKJV
The Samaritan Torah (first five books of the Bible written in the Samaritan alphabet) holds that the instruction actually mandated the construction of the altar on Mount Gerizim, not Mount Ebal. Samaritan tradition held that the tabernacle was pitched on Mount Gerizim after the Israelites crossed over into the promised land. Mount Gerizim was also, according to the traditions of the Samaritans, where Abraham took Isaac for sacrifice and God had provided the substitute. This mountain spoke of God’s provision for redemption, that God Himself would provide the sacrifice that was needed.
It was also on this mountain that Moses had commanded the children of Israel to stand to bless the people when they crossed over the Jordan:
And Moses commanded the people on the same day, saying, “These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, when you have crossed over the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin” Deuteronomy 27:11-12
On the basis of all this, the Samaritans believed that Mount Gerizim was the sacred place that Yahweh had chosen for the people to worship Him. Archaeological evidence shows that the Samaritans had built a temple on Mount Gerizim around 450 B.C., during the Persian period. They had expanded their temple complex during the Hellenistic period, around 200 B.C., and continued having it as the centre of their worship of Yehweh until John Hyrcanus of the Hasmonaean dynasty (the Maccabees) destroyed it in around 128/9 BC . (11)
Mount Gerizim remained a major point of divergence between the Samaritans, who believed it to be the only place chosen by God for His worship, and the Jews, who believed Jerusalem was the only place chosen by God for His worship. According to rabbinic literature, in order to convert to Judaism, a Samaritan must first and foremost renounce any belief in the sanctity of Mount Gerizim. (2) (12)
On Mount Ebal, Joshua had gathered the Israelites after the capture of Ai. There they had offered burnt offerings to the Lord.
Now Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: “an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. Joshua 8:30-32 NKJV
Then, with half of the congregation connected to Mount Gerizum, and the other half connected to Mount Ebal, Joshua had read the whole Torah to the people. (3)
All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, the stranger as well as the native. Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had given command at first to bless the people of Israel. Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them. Joshua 8:33-35 NASB
This was the heritage that the Samaritans claimed as their own. This was the basis of their faith and traditions. This is where they believed that God had commanded people come to worship Him. Yeshua had brought His disciples right up into the very heart of Samaritan religious society. Despite the shared heritage both Jews and Samaritans had in this place, it had come to represent the basis for all the vehement religious conflict between the two.
A woman of Samaria came…
Up ahead lay Sychar, resting at the foot of Mount Ebal. It was to this town that the disciples went to buy their food while Yeshua rested wearily on the low parapet which enclosed the well. The author of the fourth gospel had likely stayed with Yeshua, and so was able to give us a first-hand account of the conversation that was about to take place. He may well have been older than the others, who had been with Yochanan the Immerser before the priests and Levites arrived from Jerusalem, and so been in greater need of rest than those young men.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. John 4:7a NKJV
This woman came alone. It was not the time of day when the women from the surrounding areas all gathered at the well to draw their water and catch up on the latest gossip. Unlike her sisters this woman chose, or perhaps was forced, to come at a lonely time in the middle of the day. Her company was not welcomed, her history and current lifestyle left her as an outcast, looked down upon and despised. In this she was like Joseph, whose bones were buried in this area and considered to be a witness to all these things.
So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colours that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. … …So Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.” And his brothers listened. Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. … …
… But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. … …So she kept his garment with her until his master came home.Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.” So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. Genesis 37:23-28 & 39:10-20
“Give me a drink”
Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” John 4:7b NKJV
From His exhaustion and thirst came Messiah’s ministry to this woman, and her whole city. Yeshua was comfortable expressing weakness and need, He was not compelled to wear a mask. Nor did He feel compelled to keep all the Mitzvot d’rabbanan (laws that were enacted by the rabbis), which included the minhag (long standing customs of the community), even though the Pharisees considered these to be as binding as the Torah laws that God had spoken to Moses and recorded in the scriptures.
Yeshua’s sole concern was doing the will of the Father (John 5:19), and He would not let any man-made rules, conventions or expectations stop Him from doing this fully. Yeshua obeyed the rules of His community whenever they did not restrict obedience to His Father, but the Father’s will at any moment always took precedence – another basic value of this apostolic reformation of Judaism. In His simple request Yeshua broke three Jewish customs: first, he spoke to a woman in public; second, he spoke with a Samaritan; and third, he asked her to get him a drink of water. To receive a drink from her would have made Him ceremonially unclean from using her cup or jar. Ceremonial cleanliness was not as important to Yeshua as ministering to others in purity of heart. (4)
Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. John 4:9
Both Torah believing groups, Jews and Samaritans, considered the other to be imposters. The difference between these two groups was not whether the Torah of Moses must be obeyed, but HOW it should be obeyed. To both groups, that difference meant everything. Yet, as we are beginning to see, these differences were not so important to Yeshua. (10)
Yeshua saw that this woman had an open, hungry heart. His willingness to cross the divide between them had captured her attention. So He ventured straight in to discussing spiritual things with her, even as He had done with the Jewish religious leader, Nicodemus.
Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” John 4:10 NKJV
The Samaritan woman recognised that Yeshua was someone extraordinary, and was talking about things that she did not understand. This was a woman schooled in the Torah, it dominated the landscape in which she lived and dictated every aspect of life for these Samaritans. So she questioned Him further, drawing the comparison with Jacob (Israel), the father of them all.
The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water?Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” John 4:11-12 NKJV
“Are you greater than our father Jacob?” It was not an accusation, but a searching for the truth. Yeshua’s answer was in the affirmative.
Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:13-14 NKJV
This woman’s faith was grounded in practical realities. She walked the land that the patriarchs had walked. She drew water from the well that Jacob had dug, and that had provided for her people since ancient times. She lived in the shadows of the mountains on which Joshua had constructed an alter and the whole Torah had been read out to Israel as the covenanted with God to obey it. So, in her response, this Samaritan woman tried to connect Yeshua’s words with the practicalities of life.
The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” John 4:15 NKJV
With invitation and prophetic utterance Yeshua gently exposed this woman’s life to truth and guided her to a revelation of the Father’s heart.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” John 4:16 NKJV
It was a scary invitation, one that we so often resist. An invitation to go to the source of her greatest pain and shame. Would this woman have the courage to open up and let Yeshua touch such vulnerable places in her heart? Or would she, like so many do, try to keep her pain hidden from He who sees it all?
The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” John 4:17a NKJV
She could have feigned obedience at this point, said “ok”, run off and just never returned. But this woman was hungry for the truth. Even though she was uncomfortable with where this conversation was going, she stayed and kept engaged with Yeshua. There was something in this man that let her know that it was safe to stay, and safe to get personal.
Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” John 4:17b-18 NKJV
Without fear, intrigue or condemnation Yeshua laid bare this woman’s life. The pain and shame she had carried was brought out into the open without rebuke or patronizing. Yeshua knew her, He had known her all along, and still He had chosen to talk with her. We do not know if her five husbands had each died, or if she had suffered rejection and divorce, if she had been unable to give any man a child, if she had been beaten or abused. Was she considered by her people to be immoral for the choices she had made, or cursed for the unfair things that seemed to keep happening to her? Yeshua would often confront sin and, even in the most loving and redemptive encounters, command “go, and sin no more”, yet He never said such to this woman. Was her situation more that of unjust suffering, like Joseph’s had been, than of deliberate sin? We don’t know. What we do know is that her life had been full of pain and that she did not run away from Yeshua in that pain, but kept pressing in and seeking to engage more deeply with Him so she could learn of God.
Having seen Yeshua‘s intimate knowledge of her miserable situation and felt His compassionate empathy, this woman felt secure enough to broach the subject of greatest controversy between the Jews and Samaritans. (10) This was a subject that would arouse men’s anger and hatred. Many seemed convinced that they need to prove their loyalty to God and His truth by vehemently attacking anyone who expressed an alternate view. To ask the following question of a Jew is something no Samaritan was likely to do, unless they were looking for trouble. But Yeshua was so much more than just a Jew, He had proven that already in this conversation, and this woman was so hungry to learn the truth of God that she was willing to venture onto unspeakable territory.
The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” John 4:19-20 NKJV
Yeshua’s response was not the angry tirade that would normally be expected to such a statement. His answer was kind and gentle and unexpected. His answer neither confirmed nor rebuked either theological position, instead it shifted the focus totally.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:21-24 NKJV
Yeshua challenged the whole focus of the Jewish-Samaritan divide – the Mount Gerizim Vs Mount Zion theological controversy. He dismissed it as irrelevant.
What would you do if Jesus came along and dismissed your most cherished and strongly argued doctrine as irrelevant? What if He didn’t even bother to argue with it, just stated, “that’s not what it’s all about“. The whole basis on which you and your church and your community decided who was a true believer and who was a heretic; who God would accept and who He would reject. That is what He did to this woman, and in so doing, to His own community as well.
In Hebrew, which would have been the language of this conversation, this would have been worded “neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem … but… in spirit and truth“. Both places, both doctrines, both sets of firmly held beliefs and practices, were contrasted with being in God’s desire.
With His statement, Yeshua also exposed her need to learn more “you worship what you do not know“, and the unlikely (for a Samaritan) way to salvation “for salvation is of the Jews“. Yet, in this pointing to the Jews He is not excluding the Samaritan woman, but inviting her, as He refers her back to the Torah. “The Jews” were named after the tribe of Judah, from which had come king David to whom Yeshua’s heritage could be traced, and we find this verse in both the Judean and Samaritan versions of the Torah:
“Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s children shall bow down before you. … … The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” Genesis 49: 8& 10
Domination of enemies and guarantee of security were the essential elements of the ancient concept of salvation. Judah would lead and rule until someone rises up from within these people (the Lion of Judah), whom even the nations will joyfully serve. (10).
Yeshua’s talk of salvation, and focus on true worship of the Father, stirred within this Samaritan woman the longings and expectations she had of a coming messiah from what Moses had written in Deuteronomy 18:18 “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.”
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” John 4:25 NKJV
Her messianic expectations were not like the Jewish Zealots, of a warrior who would destroy the Romans and place all the world under Jewish rule, but of the true prophet-teacher who would come to tell them all things. Someone who would explain the things of God plainly to them and remove the charge of ignorance that the Jews laid against them. Someone who would reveal to them the Father’s will and ways.
Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” John 4:26 NKJV
How quickly this most unexpected conversation had turned, and indeed this woman’s whole life had turned. A hope grew within her soul the likes of which she had never known before. Could she, who was despised by all her kin, actually have met the Messiah and been accepted by Him? Wonder and awe, excitement and expectation stirred within her as she pondered His words until she felt compelled to go and tell everyone and bring them to meet this man.
The Question no one wanted to ask…
And at this point His disciples came, and they marvelled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?” John 4:27 NKJV
None of the disciples asked Yeshua what He was doing or why. Maybe they didn’t want to know, they weren’t ready for this lesson yet. Asking questions was a very Jewish thing to do, especially between a rabbi and his talmidim. It was an essential part of the learning process, but no one dared ask, no one wanted to learn.
This aspect of kingdom living was just too radical, too counter-cultural, too totally opposed to everything they had been taught their whole lives about what ‘good Jewish men’ did and refrained from doing. A strict rabbi would not be seen talking even to his own wife on the street or in public. A saying of Rabbi Jose ben Yochanan is recorded in the sayings of the Fathers (1.5):
“Talk not much with womankind. They said this of a man’s own wife. How much more of his fellow’s wife. Hence the Sages have said: He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself, and neglects the study of the Law, and at last will inherit Gehenna (hell).” “It is forbidden to speak to woman in the street, even one’s own wife” (Yoma 240 a) (5).
One did not violate the customs of their people – it looks bad, it will earn the distain of religious and civic leaders alike, the Pharisees say it’s unlawful and will lead you to hell, surely God Himself disapproves. How could this man who embodied the Kingdom of Heaven possibly do such a thing?
A diversionary tactic, “Rabbi eat” they urged Him. Maybe such unorthodox behaviour was due to hunger, He was just weak and famished and did not really know what He was doing. We can fix that problem, get some food into Him, and pretend we didn’t see Him talking with a Samaritan woman.
Lift up your eyes and look at the fields…
As with the Samaritan woman, now with His disciples, Yeshua started with where they were at, their stated concern, and answered it in a way to elicit, at least among themselves, a questioning heart:
But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” John 4:32-33 NKJV
A questioning heart is open to learn, so now Yeshua answered the questions they had been refusing to ask and prepared them for what was about to transpire – all the men of the city coming to Him to see if indeed He was the Christ:
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not laboured; others have laboured, and you have entered into their labours.” John 4:34-38 NKJV
Disciples make disciples. Talmidim produce more talmidim. A basic principle in first century Judaism, here affirmed by Yeshua: “I sent (apostéllō) you to reap”.
This was the first time Yeshua had declared that He had apostéllō (an official, authoritative commissioning to accomplish a task) His talmidim. They were apostéllō to the task of reaping the harvest. What harvest had He sent them to reap? The people of the city of Sychar, where they had just been to buy food.
The disciples had thought only of their need to buy food in this city, but Yeshua was saying he had apostéllō them there to reap the harvest, to bring them into the Kingdom. How could this be – wasn’t the Kingdom of Heaven a Jewish kingdom, and these were Samaritans? It may have been that “a commandment which the Samaritans follow they observe much more scrupulously than do the Jews” (Ber. vii. 1) but they rejected all the Jewish books except the Pentateuch, and totally failed to acknowledge or observe so many of the first century Jewish community’s commands and customs. (6) Why would Yeshua take His talmidim to these backward people and commission them to reap a harvest for the Kingdom from these whom they thought were so far from being ready for it?
They were on their way back to Galilee where the Jews were renowned for being deeply traditional and committed in their religious observance, even more so than those in Jerusalem. Why this detour to these outcasts whose ancestors tried to hinder the building of the walls of Jerusalem and who even now refused to acknowledge the need to worship in the temple there? Such surely could not be wanted in, nor ready for, the Kingdom of Heaven. Because of their own prejudices Yeshua’s disciples had judged the Samaritans as not being ready to receive eternal life, and so had failed to recognise Yeshua’s first commissioning (apostéllō) of them – to reap a harvest among these people.
They were about to find out how wrong they had been:
The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men,“Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Then they went out of the city and came to Him… And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. John 4:28-30 & 39-40 NKJV
Yeshua invested in these Samaritans. Despite all the history of hundreds of years of animosity between Jews and Samaritans, it was the will of the Father to reap the harvest and invite them into His Kingdom. Jews would only travel through Samaria if the urgency of their mission required taking the shortest route from Jerusalem to Galilee, otherwise they would travel the extra miles to skirt around this territory. Whenever possible Jews avoided having any dealings with Samaritans at all (John 4:9). Yeshua had taken a detour to go through Samaritan territory, and stopped at the place which represented the source of the conflict between the Jews and Samaritans, chose to rest in the very heart of the Samaritan’s religious life, and there chose to talk with a Samaritan woman about personal and spiritual matters (unheard of!!!), and now chose to stay in this Samaritan city with these Samaritans, responding to their hungry hearts eager to be taught ‘all things’. Nothing draws and sustains His presence like hungry hearts.
And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” John 4:39-42 NKJV
Wow, what a depth of revelation those Samaritans had. Those ones whom the disciples had thought were not ready. They so eagerly received the revelation that Yeshua was indeed the Christ (anointed One) who was the saviour of the whole world, not just the Jews or just the Samaritans, but everyone who believes. The devout Jewish Torah scholar, rabbi and teacher of rabbi’s, Nicodemus, had struggled to grasp even part of this revelation but these despised ‘ignorant’ Samaritans got it straight away.
Everything is about making more disciples. Every interaction is an opportunity for the Kingdom. Both those who sow and those who reap receive the reward and many whom we think are unlikely may already have the word sown into them and are white for harvest, just waiting to be reaped. The ones whom God chooses to reveal Christ to are not necessarily the ones whom man thinks should be chosen or the ones we think would be open to receive such revelation. How many, like the disciples, fail to recognise their first apostéllō, authoritative commissioning by Christ to a task for the Kingdom, because of prejudice against those they are called to serve?
Fruits of their labours…
According to Eastern Orthodox Church tradition this Samaritan woman at the well was named Photini when baptised, and is celebrated as a saint of renown who continued to bring so many to Christ, before she was eventually martyred by Nero, that she is described as “equal to the apostles”. In Greek sermons from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries she is called “apostle” and “evangelist”, with many suggesting that she surpassed even the male apostles in her devotion to Christ and evangelism of the nations. (7) (8) From the details in Stephen’s testimony in Acts 7 some scholars believe that he also was a Samaritan, possibly one who was touched directly by Christ during these two days. (9)
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* Jewish custom and tradition stated that they had to avoid going through Samaria. Why did Jesus lead His disciples to violate this custom? * Jewish religious practice at this time forbade speaking to Samaritans (the Eighteen articles), or having any interactions with them, and drinking from something they used was thought to defile one, so why did Jesus go against all of this? * Jewish religious practice of this day also forbid a man to talk to a woman in public. What do you think of how Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman, and the effects of that conversation? * How do you think Jesus’ disciples would have felt about what He was doing? * The purpose of all these Jewish laws and restrictions was to keep the Jews pure and acceptable to God – did following these rules accomplish this? * What does Jesus’s example teach us about what is needed to be pure and acceptable before God? * Is there any tribe, or denomination, or group of people, whom your group despise like the Jews despised Samaritans – how do you think Jesus would treat these people? * Are there any of your strongly held doctrines or beliefs or practices that Jesus might treat as irrelevant to what the Father is seeking? * Is there anyone whom we should be avoiding and not sharing the gospel with? In your church culture are there any people who are avoided or hated, and how can our actions be more like Christ?
Soon it was time to go south to Jerusalem for the festival of Pesach (Passover – 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan), commemorating the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It was spring time. The apricot and almond trees were showing off their beauty. Spring is when the weather is at its most unpredictable. This month has much sunshine but very heavy winds. It is characterised by heatwaves (“hamsin” – when hot dusty desert winds blow in from North Africa) followed by suddenly cold weather or even storms. Sometimes the month of Nissan (March/April) would receive the heaviest rainfall, in Scripture referred to as the “latter rains”, which supplied nourishment to the barley and wheat crops as they become “white for harvest.” (1) (2) (3) (4)
During the weeks leading up to Passover a “full-out spring cleaning search and destroy mission” is undertaken by Jewish families to rid their homes of chametz (leavened grain). This culminates in a ceremonial search for chametz on the night before Passover and then a burning of the chametz ceremony on the morning before the feast begins. (4) This removal of chametz from their homes was symbolic of removing evil and corrupt inclinations from within the people.
Central to the Passover feast is the sacrifice of the paschal lamb – a one year old male lamb or kid without blemish (Exodus 12:5) that was slain in the temple and its blood caught by a priest and sprinkled on the alter. On the first Passover night in Egypt the blood had been sprinkled on the doorposts of each Israelite house (Exodus 12:13). Now, the slaughtered lamb was hung upon special hooks or sticks and skinned, the abdomen was then cut open, and the fatty portions intended for the altar were taken out, placed in a vessel, salted, and offered by the priest on the altar, while the remaining entrails likewise were taken out and cleansed. In the evening the lambs would be taken home and roasted on a spit of pomegranate-wood, then set on the table for the evening Seder meal. No bones were to be broken (Psalm 34:20), either during the cooking or during the eating of the lamb, and the sacrifice had to be consumed entirely that same evening, nothing being allowed to remain overnight (Numbers 9:12). (5)
Following from the night of the Passover feast is the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread during which a flat unleavened bread, matzah, is eaten instead of any chametz, reminding the people both of the haste with which they left Egypt and that having been cleansed they needed to continue living in the purity of being free from all human evil and corruption.
It was time for purification…
Now Yeshua’s talmidim were going with their joyous, celebration saving, miraculous wine producing rabbi to Jerusalem for the annual celebration of God’s deliverance of their people from bondage and slavery. They were travelling with their messiah, their deliverer, to this celebration of deliverance. Eager expectation filled their hearts as these zealous young men approached Jerusalem.
The disciple’s joyous time together after the wedding suddenly shifted as they entered the temple courts in Jerusalem. The magnificent outward appearance of the Temple was not matched by the activities taking place within it. A storm was brewing. This apostolic reformation, this Kingdom of Heaven manifest on earth, was not all just fun, family and abundance of fine wine. Yeshua was as fiery a reformer as Yochanan who had pointed them to Him, and the leaven had to be removed from His Father’s house before Passover could be celebrated:
In the temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and money changers seated at their tables. So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle. He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those selling doves He said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a marketplace!” John 2:14-16 BSB
If you have ever been to a livestock auction you would have some idea of the cacophony of sounds that accosted them as they entered the temple courts to worship and pray. Cattle bellowing, sheep bleating, doves cooing and men shouting over the din of it all to attract customers to their stall. Yes, all those things were needed for the sacrificial system of worship, but the sacrifices and offerings were never meant to be a substitute for inviting people into God’s presence through worship in prayer, song and Torah reading and discussions. All this buying and selling belonged in the marketplaces of Jerusalem, not in the temple’s very courts drowning out any attempt to pray or worship.
Corruption, greed, racism and fear exposed…
So, why was it being allowed? The high priestly family in Yeshua’s day were no more committed to the purity of the temple nor worship than Elishib, the high priest in Nehemiah’s day, had been. There are Talmudic references to the unworthiness of the High Priests in this period. (6) The income generated from hiring out the temple court as a marketplace helped move things along nicely. The Pharisees were vitally concerned with the ritual purity of the people and temple but since Hillel’s death and the massacre of Hillelites opposed to the Eighteen Measures they had been dominated by Shammai and his followers. Bet Shammai were opposed to the Jews having any contact with Gentiles and had forbidden even the most basic of trade between them. Gentiles were considered unclean and their worship of God had no value, according to the doctrines of Bet Shammai, while ever they remained Gentiles. So it seemed appropriate to have the temple’s “Court of the Gentiles” filled with Jews buying and selling all the things the Jews needed for their sacrificial worship. As long as the temple guard remained vigilant at the doors to the rest of the temple to ensure that any Gentile who attempted to pass from the noisy marketplace of the Court of the Gentiles into the inner sacred Jewish space was immediately killed, Bet Shammai cared little what was done in that court already defiled by the very presence of Gentiles.
Between Bet Shammai and the Sadducees linked to the High Priest’s family, they had a firm majority in the Sanhedrin and easily drowned out the voices from Bet Hillel who considered the whole temple precinct as sacred unto God and encouraged Gentiles to turn to the one true God and worship Him alone.
Just as Nehemiah had removed Tobiah from the place the High Priest had given him in the temple storeroom, so Yeshua now removed this noisy market from the place the High Priest’s family and Sanhedrin had allocated to them in the temple courts.
“How dare you turn My Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16b NIV) Yeshua charged them.
But Nehemiah had political authority, being appointed governor of Judea by the Persian emperor. Yeshua had neither political, religious nor legal authority, He had not been appointed by Rome as Prefect or High Priest, nor had He risen to any position of power within the Sanhedrin. His only claim was to spiritual authority “My Father’s house”, reminiscent of His answer to his mother as a twelve-year-old “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49b NIV). So, they challenged Yeshua to prove He possessed such spiritual authority:
“What miraculous sign can you show us to prove you have the right to do all this?” John 2:18 CJB
Yeshua’s answer, although misunderstood by his examiners at that time, revealed something of why he as a single individual was able to enforce what the whole school of Hillel could do nothing about. He was willing to die for His convictions. Yeshua had no fear of death and even now at the beginning of His ministry knew that the time would come when they would kill Him, but that He would overcome death and rise again:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” The Judeans said,“It took 46 years to build this Temple, and you’re going to raise it in three days?” But the “temple” he had spoken of was his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his talmidim remembered that he had said this, and they trusted in the Tanakh and in what Yeshua had said. John 2:19-22 CJB
This was another essential component of the original apostolic reformation. It was a character trait that Yeshua expected his talmidim (disciples) to emulate:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mk 8:34-35 NIV
Those in the leadership of Bet Hillel who were willing to die for their convictions had been massacred that fateful night for their refusal to endorse Bet Shammai’s Eighteen Articles. The Bet Hillel survivors had concluded that staying alive was a good thing and that more pragmatic ways of exerting positive influence would be wise. Their efforts to avoid bloody conflict with both the Shammaites and Zealots on their right, and with the Romans on their left, along with their generally more lenient Mishna (Oral Law), led to many in this now highly polarised society considering them weak and compromised. History would prove them to be the strongest, most enduring Jewish sect (apart from Yeshua’s own) as Bet Shammai, the Zealots and the Sadducees all came to naught after the destruction of the temple in 70AD and Bet Hillel became the foundation upon which rabbinical Judaism was built, but for now the pragmatism that would later become the strength of their position appeared to be wishy-washy weakness. Thus those of strong, unyielding character and passionate in their convictions were easily drawn away to Bet Shammai or the Zealots who were so committed as to kill for their convictions. Like Bet Hillel, neither Yochananthe Immerser nor Yeshua of Nazareth ever endorsed killing for their convictions, but they both demonstrated a willingness to die for their convictions. They lived fearlessly.
Worship in the Temple
When Yeshua and His talmidim passed through the well guarded gates from the Court of the Gentiles into the sanctuary where only Jews were allowed, they entered an atmosphere of worship and sacrifice. It has been estimated that about 18,000 lambs were sacrificed in the Temple each Pesach. (7) Throughout the entire time of temple sacrifices, the band was playing and the Levitical choir was singing songs of praise, an integral part of the offering service. (8) In this atmosphere of praise Yeshua did miraculous signs and many believed in His name.
The Jewish sages have written:
“Why were the Levites selected to sing in the Temple? Because the name Levi means cleaving. The soul of him who heard their singing at once cleaved to God.” (Zohar 2:19a)
The Levite’s principal service was to sing over the offerings brought to the temple. There would never be fewer than twelve Levites standing on the platform to utter song over an offering; and more could be added without limit.(‘Arachin l3b) Others would also be standing there, who played on musical instruments – lyres, flutes, harps, trumpets and cymbals. Some of the musicians were Levites and some were Israelites of distinguished lineage who were acceptable to intermarry with the kohanim. (MT ibid. J.) By the time of Yeshua, Temple tradition required at least two lyres but nor more than six; never less than two flutes, nor more than twelve; never less than two trumpets, nor more than one hundred and twenty; never less than nine harps, but their number could be increased without limit. There was only one set of cymbals. (‘Arachin 13a)
On all Festival Days and on New Moon Days the priests would blow on the trumpets at the time of the offering and the Levites would sing. The trumpet was made of a bar of silver. If it was made of pieces of silver, it was fit; but if made of any other metal, it was unfit. The pipe of the flutes upon which they played was a reed, for its sound is sweet. (Ibid. lOa.) A song would always end with a lone flute, for it makes a pleasant finale. (9)
On twelve days during the year the flute would be sounded in front of the Altar: at the slaughtering of the first Pesach [Passover] offering; at the slaughtering of the second Passover offering; on the first Festival Day of Passover; on the Festival Day of Shavuot (Pentecost); and on the eight days of Sukkot (the feast of Tabernacles).
Temple Worship wins out over ‘Oral Law’
Of interest is that the Oral Law now forbade the playing of instruments on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but because it was required for the offering it was allowed in the Temple, since Temple service was deemed to supersede the Sabbath. This Mishnah declaring the playing of musical instruments to be work and therefor forbidden on Shabbat did mean, however, that no playing of musical instruments accompanied the Sabbath-Day worship in any Jewish synagogue. (9)
The Pascha Seder (Passover Meal)
Having completed the offering, Yeshua and His talmidim, along with the other pilgrims, left the Temple Mount with their lambs and placed them on a spit of pomegranate-wood in clay ovens specially prepared for the occasion, in courtyards all throughout Jerusalem. After sundown every chavurah (predetermined group of people assigned to each offering) would gather round, performing the well-known Passover Seder, with the roast lamb as the centrepiece of the service. The Pascha Seder concluded with the singing of the Hallel, a collection of Psalms praising God for His deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian oppressors. The celebrants climbed up to the rooftops in Jerusalem where they could sing God’s praise in full sight of the Holy Temple. (8) Maybe Yeshua did some of His miraculous signs up on those rooftops as God’s praises rang out throughout the city.
Miracles in Jerusalem
Each day, for the seven-day feast of Unleavened Bread, Yeshua was back in the temple worshipping and teaching the people and doing miracles. Although Yeshua had no interest in performing a sign to prove to the religious leaders that He had the authority to do what they should have done, cleanse the temple, He none the less performed many miraculous signs in meeting the various needs of the Passover worshippers (John 2:23). His was a power moved by compassion to meet human need. In this one visit to Jerusalem, His talmidim saw both the strong severity and the tender compassion of their rabbiYeshua. He had indeed brought them to Jerusalem to see their people delivered, but the Roman soldiers were not the target of Messiah’s wrath.
Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in His name. John 2:23
Nicodemus comes by night
Interestingly the author of this gospel saw no reason to give us any details of what miracles Yeshua performed on this occasion and we are left to assume they included healings and deliverances as attested to in the rest of the gospels. Whatever those signs were, they attracted the attention of at least some of the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin. One of them, Nakdimon (Nicodemus), found where Yeshua was staying at night (possibly in the home of an unnamed talmid, maybe in the home of this gospel’s author) and came to Him to engage in that depth of discussion which was typical in rabbinical circles as they sort to understand fully the implications for life of the teachings of scripture (John 3:1-21). Nicodemus may have been sent by the Pharisees, possibly by their currently less powerful sect, Bet Hillel, whose teachings were generally more aligned with those of Yeshua than the dominant Bet Shammai. Yeshua does not disappoint this learned rabbi, this teacher of teachers, but immediately launches into a depth of discussion that impacts not only Nicodemus but also His young talmidim who work on memorising every word their rabbi is teaching.
You Must Be Born again…
Yeshua begins with something that both sounds very familiar to Nakdimon and yet, in this context, very strange:
“Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3:3 BSB
The general theological position of Jewish rabbis such as Nicodemus was that “to be born of water”, a rabbinic idiom for physical birth, as a Jew ensured their entry into the kingdom of God. Based on Isaiah 60:21 the Pharisees had developed this doctrine as recorded in the Mishnah (oral law) Sanhedrin 10:1 and in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 90a:
All Israelites have a share in the world to come. For it is written, Thy people shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.
Over the years the rabbi’s developed a list of specific exemptions for Jews who rebelled against their God and heritage, but the basic doctrine was that if one was born a Jew he would enter the kingdom of God. So to suggest that a Torah observant, God seeking, faithful Jew such as Nakdimon could not see God’s kingdom without being born again sounded incredulous. What kind of new birth was Yeshua talking about?
It was not that the concept of being ‘born again’ was foreign to Judaism. Pharisaic Judaism taught that there are eight ways to be born again.
There were two for which Nicodemus did not qualify. Proselyte conversion and becoming the Jewish king. When a Jewish man became king, he is said to be “born again.” He started a whole new life. Before, he was just a citizen of the nation, now he is the leader, with very different responsibilities and powers. When a gentile converted to Judaism, he was said to be “born again” or “new-born”. He moved into a whole new realm of life. He moved out of being Gentile and into being Jewish. He took on new responsibilities. He did not have responsibilities to the Mosaic Law before; now he is committed to the Mosaic Law and the traditions of first century Judaism.
Nicodemus qualified, and had undertaken, the four chronological re-births available to studious Jewish men. The first was when a young man entered adult responsibility, later called Bar Mitzvah and undertaken at 13 years, but during this earlier time referred to as “becoming obedient to Torah” and undertaken at 12 years. The next one chronologically was marriage, as he is ‘new-born’ onto a new life with new responsibilities of being married instead of single. We know that Nicodemus was married because it was one of the requirements for being a member of the Sanhedrin. The next re-birth that a rabbi undertook was when he was about 30yo, became a ‘Rav’ and took on responsibility to teach the masses the doctrines of the rabbinic school to which he belonged. At around 50yo he could be born again as a ‘HaRav’, head of a Yeshiva, rabbinic school, and responsible for developing doctrine. (10) (11)
In addition to these there were two recurring re-births undertaken by Pharisees such a Nicodemus. The first was t’vilah (immersion). Total immersion was, according to the developing Oral Law, required for most cases of ritual impurity decreed in the Torah. Immersions were required especially of the priests, since they had to be in a state of purity in order to participate in the temple service or eat of the holy things. Other individuals had to be ritually pure to enter the temple beyond the court of the Gentiles. It became customary among the Pharisees to maintain a state of ritual purity at all times, which required frequent full immersions (baptisms), and so it was that many synagogues had mikveh’s (baptismal pools) attached to them. Each immersion was considered a re-birth because he went from a state of ritual impurity to ritual purity. The final way that Nicodemus had been born again was through repentance. Repentance was also considered to be a new birth because it involved a new way of life, changing one’s mind from walking in unrighteousness to walking in righteousness. Nicodemus may have expressed repentance frequently, and certainly would have done so at least yearly on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). (10) (11)
Yet it was clear that Yeshua was not talking about any of these means of being ‘born again’. So Nicodemus expressed his incredulity that a faithful Jew could need anything more than all these in typical rabbinical style, by asking a question intended to expose the fallacy of Yeshua’s argument:
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born?” John 3:4 BSB
Now it was set up beautifully for Yeshua to drive home his message:
“Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit. John 3:5 BSB
Nicodemus’ confidence in being born of water, born as a Jew, was misplaced when it came to entering the kingdom of God. Something other than this was needed. Something other than coming of age or marrying or becoming a rabbi or the head of a rabbinical school or ceremonial immersions or even repentance or anything that man can do. What was needed to enter the kingdom of God was something that only God’s Spirit could do. Both men knew by heart such scriptures as Ezekiel 36:27: “I will put my Spirit inside you and cause you to live by my laws, respect my rulings and obey them”; Ezekiel 37:14a “I will put my Spirit in you; and you will be alive”; Jeremiah 31:33 and Job 33:23-30 which closely parallels much of what Yeshua is saying in John 3:1-21. (12)
Do not be amazed that I said, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind (Aramaic word play – ‘Rucha’ also = Spirit) blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:7-8 BSB
Nicodemus wanted to know how. How could it be that this most basic doctrine was false, that being a Jew did not ensure entrance into the kingdom of God? How did being born of the Spirit work? If everything he was as a Jew and everything he could do to live in the righteousness of Torah and ‘Oral Law’ obedience could not bring it about how could he be born again and fulfil his life-long hope and desire of entering into God’s kingdom? It appeared that Yeshua was putting Nicodemus in an impossible situation where everything he had so confidently relied on for entrance into God’s kingdom was deemed inadequate and there was nothing he could do to make up the difference.
Yeshua questioned how Nicodemus could not understand this after all his years of studying and teaching the scriptures, even rising to the position of one who teaches other rabbis (Vs 10).He then takes Nicodemus through scriptures he knows so well to help him see them with new eyes and understand how they relate to what is needed for him to be born of the Spirit. Answering Proverbs 30:4 and referring to Daniel 7 Yeshua explained His deity and His origin in heaven, and therefore His authority as the Messiah, the Son of Man (Vs 11-13). Then Yeshua adds to this lesson on Messiah from Numbers 21:8-9, what happened physically with Israel in the wilderness when they looked in faith on the uplifted serpent will happen spiritually with the Messiah – when Yeshua is lifted up on the cross those who look in faith on Him will be healed from spiritual death and be born again. Just as the Israelites could not heal themselves of the snake bites, all their medical skills were unable to save their own lives, so also are they unable to save themselves, all their religious works are unable to achieve the needed spiritual birth. But what they could not do for themselves God did for each and every one who looked to the serpent Moses raised up in the wilderness for their healing. The cause of their physical death was the serpents’ bite so it was a representative of these serpents that was raised up for their healing. Even so the cause of mankind’s spiritual death is man, his own sinful nature, thus it is a representative of man, the Son of Man, who will be raised up for all to look to for the new birth and eternal life (Vs 14-15). Then, while affirming God’s love for all peoples and desire to save them (Gen. 18:18, Psalm 107:1, Jer. 31:3) on to Ezekiel 18 about individual responsibility for sin, regardless of nationality, and therefor responsibility to look on and believe in the Messiah who will be lifted up for that sin (Vs 16-18). This is the part that is man’s responsibility, not earning the spiritual birth but looking to the one who is able to give it. Through Psalm 27:1, Psalm 89:14-18, Psalm 130, Isaiah 2:5 & 60:1-2 the need to come to and delight in the Light is espoused. Yet Psalm 51 concedes even those born as Jews are brought forth in iniquity and love darkness to hide their sin and so live under condemnation, but those who practice the truth come to the light and look upon the One raised up for them. (13) (14)
Yeshua’s talmidim baptising followers…
After this time in Jerusalem for the eight day festival of Pesach (Passover), which foretold his upcoming death as the Lamb of God, Yeshua returned east to the Jordan region with his young talmidim and started immersing (baptising) people in water, even as Yochanan had been continuing to do.
After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptised. Now John also was baptising in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptised. For John had not yet been thrown into prison. John 3:22-24
Just as the miracles Yeshua had done in Jerusalem sparked Nicodemus’ interest in speaking with Him, so they also stirred many to come and be baptised by Him. In fact now even more people were going out to Yeshua and being immersed by His talmidim than to Yochanan the baptiser.
Evidence of being apostéllō from God – “He must Increase but I must decrease“…
They came to Yochanan, and said to him,“Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, the same immerses, and everyone is coming to him.” Yochanan answered,“A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah,’ but, ‘I have been sent (apostéllō) before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. This, my joy, therefore is made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:26-30 HNV
Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) gives us an example of one who is truly operating in the authority of being apostéllō from God. He is not jealous over “his ministry” to baptise, nor envious that more people are now flocking to Yeshua than to himself, but rather humbly views this as his great joy to see the many now bypassing him to go directly to the Son of God. Yochanan’s apostolic mantra was: “He must increase but I must decrease” Anything other than this, anything self-promoting or claiming that others must in some way come through us to get to Christ is not of the apostéllō of God. This original apostolic reformation was one of practical love for others and rejoicing when they bypass us to go directly to God themselves. Yochanan continued with this prophetic declaration:
“He who comes from above is above all. He who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His witness. He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for God gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. One who believes in the Son has eternal life, but one who disobeys the Son won’t see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3:31-36 HNV
This message brought joy and hope to many of the Jews, but was unsettling to the religious leaders, as was Yohanan’s levelling the same charges against them as against the ‘common people’:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his immersion he said to them, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit worthy of repentance! Don’t think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. “Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t bring forth good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire. I indeed immerse you in water for repentance, but he who comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry. He will immerse you in the Holy Spirit. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:7-12
Disciples doing the work of the ministry…
Meanwhile, there had already been a shift if what Yeshua was doing. It was no longer Yeshua doing the baptising, but his young disciples. How quickly He got them into doing the work of the ministry. They did not know much yet, but they could do what they did know and learn through the doing. There is no indication that Yochanan ever had his disciples doing the baptising for him, every record is of Yochanan being the one in the water getting everyone fully immersed, as well as the one preaching the fiery sermons and prophetically calling the people to repentance. Yochanan’s disciples were learning everything he said but not yet doing what he did. After all, the evidence suggests that Yochanan had only been preaching and baptising people for about 6 months when Yeshua came to be baptised, and the Passover was only about 3 months after that, so Yochanan had been ministering for less than a year (15) and his most promising disciples had left to follow Yeshua. It is not surprising then that Yochanan’s disciples had not yet graduated to doing what their rabbi was doing in baptising people. Normal Jewish practice would have them learning from their rabbi, John the Baptiser, for over a decade more, until they were around thirty years of age, before they would be considered ready to teach or baptise others. Yet, in such a few short weeks of following him, Yeshua had his disciples doing the ministry, doing the baptising for Him. And still the people kept coming, even though they would only be touched by Yeshua’s talmidim and not directly by Him, more and more people kept coming to be baptised as Yeshua’s talmidim.
Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptised more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptise, but His disciples) John 4:1-2 NKJV
Yeshua’s disciples were doing the ministry of baptising the people for Him, to initiate them into being disciples of Yeshua. Right from the beginning they understood that their calling was to bring people into following Yeshua, not following themselves. So soon after they had begun to follow Yeshua, His disciples were beginning the process of making disciples for their rabbi.
As the word spread to the Jerusalem authorities that Yeshua was immersing more people than Yochanan, He left Judea with His disciples and headed back up towards Galilee. Their next lesson was about to begin, and it was one that they were most unprepared for.
1. Seasons and Months in Israel. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 19th Nov. 2016.] http://www.bible-history.com/geography/seasons_months_israel.html. 2. When to Go. David’s Land. [Online] [Cited: 19th Nov. 2016.] http://davidsland.com/when-to-go-israel/. 3. Israel Weather and When to Go. Trip Advisor. [Online] [Cited: 19th Nov. 2016.] https://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g293977-s208/Israel:Weather.And.When.To.Go.html. 4. What Is Passover? Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 19th Nov. 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/871715/jewish/What-Is-Passover.htm. 5. Lauterbach, Jacob Zallel. Passover Sacrifice. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 19th Nov. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11934-passover-sacrifice. 6. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. High Priest Head of all priests had special rights and privileges. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 5th Oct. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/high-priest/. 7. Coulter, Fred R. Chapter Seventeen – Later Passover Practices as Recorded by Jewish Historians. Truth of God – restoring original Christanity for today. [Online] [Cited: 22 April 2019.] https://www.cbcg.org/booklets/the-christian-passover/chapter-seventeen-later-passover-practices-as-recorded-by-jewish-historians.html. 8. Institute, The Temple.Facebook. [Online] 6th April 2015. [Cited: 21st April 2019.] https://www.facebook.com/22738684968/posts/the-levitical-choir-the-pesach-oven-seder-night-hallel-praise-to-g-dthroughout-t/10150531562509969/. 9. The Music of the Beth Hamikdash (the Jerusalem Holy Temple). Power of the Nigun. [Online] [Cited: 21st April 2019.] http://www.nigun.info/hamikdash.html. 10. You Must be Born Again. HaDavar Messianic Ministries. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.] http://www.hadavar.org/getting-to-know-god/you-must-be-born-again/. 11. Scott. Jewish Roots. Chosen People. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.] http://chosenpeople.com/main/jewish-roots/180–a-jewish-view-of-john-3. 12. Does the idea of being “born again” have a root earlier than John/Peter (or Jesus)? Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.] http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/9338/does-the-idea-of-being-born-again-have-a-root-earlier-than-john-peter-or-jesu. 13. Santala, Risto. STUDIES IN THE LIFE OF JESUS. [Online] [Cited: 18th Oct. 2016.] http://www.ristosantala.com/rsla/Nt/NT13.html. 14. Trimm, James. John 3:3 — Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek? [Online] 26th Dec. 1998. [Cited: 18th Oct. 2016.] http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/1998-December/000827.html. 15. Andrews, Samuel J. Date of the Lord’s Baptism, The Life of Our Lord Upon The Earth, Christian Classics. Bible Study Tools. [Online] [Cited: 18th February 2019.] https://www.biblestudytools.com/classics/andrews-the-life-of-our-lord-upon-the-earth/date-of-the-lords-baptism.html.
Yeshua’s teaching of His talmidim (disciples) was not just in the words He used. Every place He chose to go and every action He did was just as much a part of His teachings as His words were. If we want to learn what the scope and sequence of Yeshua’s curriculum was, then we need to follow Him step by step as He travelled around Israel, and beyond, teaching His followers.
Read John 2:1-11
Yeshua’s teaching of His talmidim (disciples) was not just in the words He used. Every place He chose to go and every action He did was just as much a part of His teachings as His words were. If we want to learn what the scope and sequence of Yeshua’s curriculum was, then we need to follow Him step by step as He travelled around Israel, and beyond, teaching His followers.
The days were starting to get brighter and warmer, the almond trees beginning to blossom and the late barley seeds were being sown when Yeshua and his talmidim were invited to a wedding back up in the Galilee region, in the town of Cana. News must have travelled from the Jordan to Galilee for the wedding hosts to know that Yeshua now had a group of talmidim. It was usual in Jesus’ day for talmidim to go everywhere with their rabbi in order to learn how to imitate his ways in every circumstance. Judaism was, and is, faith in action. It is a whole way of life, it is what one does, it is one’s culture, not just a set of beliefs. Yeshua affirmed such whole of lifestyle faith in His life and teaching. He also followed the first century Jewish rabbi-talmid model for transferring what He knew and how He lived to others who could then transfer it to still others.
What it Means to be a Talmid (Disciple)…
Jewish Rabbi-Talmid Relationship for Training Leaders
In this “religious leader training” model each talmid (disciple/learner) was a committed, lifelong student of his rabbi (teacher) who undertook, not just to gain knowledge from his rabbi, but to become like his rabbi through:
1. Dedicating his entire life to his rabbi. The first and most important responsibility of a talmid (disciple) was that of devotion to his rabbi, a willingness to forsake all for his rabbi. This relationship between the disciple and his rabbi was the foundation upon which everything else was built. The Jewish Talmud was later to record that Jewish law gave the rabbi precedence even over a parent “because the parent only brings the child to the life of this world, whereas the rabbi brings him into the life of the World to Come.” Yeshua made a similar demand in Luke 14:26-27 HNV: “If anyone comes to me, and doesn’t disregard his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he can’t be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t bear his own cross, and come after me, can’t be my disciple.”
2. Memorizing, and transmitting, the teachings of his rabbi. In order to truly learn the teachings of one’s rabbi, a talmid (disciple) would first memorise his teachings, just as he had memorised the Torah during his early schooling, by reciting his rabbi’s words over and over and over again until he knew them by heart. Not only was a disciple to memorise the teachings of his rabbi, he was also to learn his rabbi’s scriptural interpretations and traditions. He needed to learn and transmit not only the words of his rabbi, but also his rabbi’s meaning in those words and how he lived them out.
3. Imitating the life of his rabbi. The mission of a rabbi was to be a living example of what it means to apply God’s Word to one’s life. A talmid (disciple) apprenticed himself to a rabbi because the rabbi had not just filled his mind, but had also saturated his life, with scripture and had become a true follower of God. The disciple sort to study the text, not only of scripture but of the rabbi’s life as well, for it was there that he would learn how to live out the Torah. Even more than acquiring his master’s knowledge, he wanted to acquire his master’s character, his internal grasp of God’s law. As they headed to Cana the disciples were beginning on a journey of learning how to live like Yeshua.
4. Raising up more disciples. Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of Our Fathers”), one of the best-known and most-cited of Jewish texts, begins with example and exhortation to “raise up many disciples”. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10)
Yeshua developed a mentoring relationship with His talmidim (disciples), who dedicated their lives to him, learned His teachings by heart and followed His example as apprentices of life, while also learning to do this with others, teaching them how to follow Yeshua as they had learnt to follow Him. Before He ascended into heaven Yeshua likewise commissioned His talmidim to:
Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim (disciples), immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and theRuach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit),and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.. Matthew 28:19-20 CJB
Yeshua our Unique Rabbi…
Here was a fundamental difference between Yeshua and every other rabbi, and an essential characteristic of this original apostolic reformation. Every other Jewish rabbi eventually left his talmidim through death. So as talmid (disciple) became rabbi they would raise up disciples after themselves. Hillel and Shammai had both been talmidim of Shemayah and Abtalion, yet they each established their own school with their own teachings and lifestyles, and thus raised up disciples after their own likeness, not the likeness of Shemayah and Abtalion. Yeshua gave His commission after conquering death and included in it the exhortation to remember that He is with us always, through all generations. Therefore, those who follow Jesus are not to make disciples after ourselves but after Him, not in our likeness but in His, not to follow us but to follow Him. Thus, He would exhort His talmidim:
“But you are not to let yourselves be called ‘Rabbi’; because you have one Rabbi, and you are all each other’s brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘Father.’ because you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to let yourselves be called ‘leaders,’ because you have one Leader, and He is the Messiah!” Matthew 23:8-10
Yeshua‘s first lesson – a wedding…
All this was to come, and the journey was just beginning as Yeshua’s first disciples travelled with Him to a wedding, that His mother was also attending, in Cana, Netan’el’s hometown (John 21:2). These first disciples were the brothers Andrew and Shim’on (Simon) Kefa (Peter), from Capernaum, Philip, from Bethsaida (where Andrew and Shim’on had also grown up), Nathaniel, from Cana, and several unnamed disciples (we know from Acts 1:21-23 that two of these were Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias). This first lesson from their rabbi included an affirmation of the importance of family, community and celebration. Yeshua was just starting his ministry yet he ‘took time out’ to join with the rest of his family in this wedding celebration.
Miriam (Mary), being a Jewish mother, would have been eager to hear all that had happened since Yeshua had left their home in Nazareth to go down to the Jordan where Yochanan was baptising. Well she remembered that day when she first saw her relative Elisheva (Elizabeth) pregnant in her old age and heard her prophetic exclamation (Lk 1:41-45). How often she had wondered what would become of their two sons and what would take place if their paths crossed again. Now it had happened, and she knew it had been profound. There was something different about her Son, His ministry had begun. So, when the wine ran out her expectation rose that this was the moment her Son would be revealed as the Son of God. “They have no wine” she informed Him, and then to the servants “whatever He says to you, do it”.
Jesus’ disciples’ first lesson was profound on so many different levels. They had seen with Yochanan the dire spiritual state of their people, even respected religious leaders did not escape the sharp sword of his prophetic exposure of their hearts. The austere conditions, the need for all to publically humble themselves, confess their sins, repent and be washed, fully immersed, in the waters of Yochanan’s baptism, had made a lasting impression. All this was needed because the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. What was this Kingdom like? What had Yochananthe Immerser’s ministry been preparing them for? Yeshua was the living reality of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and the first place He took them to so they could learn the nature of this Kingdom was a wedding. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding, a jubilant celebration of covenant love, full of singing and dancing, good food and fine wine, fun, joy and laughter, family, community and belonging.
In such a place it was easy for these first disciples to forget the troubles of the nation and just enjoy this joyous celebration with their rabbi, as two families joined together as one. That was until anxious glances caught their eyes and they heard the whispers: “They have no wine”.
What sort of wedding was it that ran out of wine? Something in it sounded like Yochanan’s warnings, like Isaiah 24, like their nation that had run out of the wine of joy in relationship with God under the corruption in the governing class and priestly aristocracy, the blatant despising of Torah of the Hellenises and the suffocatingly strict Eighteen Articles imposed by Bet Shammai.
Six stone jars
for purification water stood empty. Yeshua told the servants to fill them
with water. Would they need to go
through more ritual washings and purifications to demonstrate a greater level
of repentance? The jars were filled to
“Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet” Yeshua instructed, and the servant obeyed (John 2:8).
Quietly, without fanfare or announcement, with only the lowly servants as participants in the miracle, Yeshua had turned water into an abundance of the finest wine.
Everyone heard the master of the banquet loudly complement the groom on this superior quality wine and marvel that it had been left to last. As the joyful celebrations continued a sense of awe settled over the talmidim – the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding banquet where the best is left to last, where the eve of despair becomes the morn of jubilation, where the water for purification is transformed into the wine for celebration, where Yeshua is the heavenly bridegroom and He ensures that there is no lack of the wine of joy.
After the wedding celebrations Yeshua, his mother, brothers and followers walked east to Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This was where the brothers Shim’on (Simon) called Kefa (Peter), and Andrew, were now living and conducting their fishing business. Kefa was married and his mother-in-law is mentioned later. Yeshua was introducing His family to theirs, in typical middle eastern style where an individual was not considered to be known unless you knew their family. (11) (12) (13) (14)
Shim’on and Andrew probably spent some time back in their fishing trade, providing for their family, even as they continued discussing and reflecting on what they had seen and heard thus far. As Jewish rabbis were forbidden to receive payment for their teaching, and many students did not come from wealthy families, both rabbi and talmidim often plied their trade between teaching sessions in order to provide for themselves and their families. The named disciples had each now been afforded an opportunity to introduce their families to this new rabbi, Yeshua, whom they had begun following and whose ways they were committed to learning.
1. Jacobs, Rabbi Jill. Pirkei Avot: Ethics of Our Fathers. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 13th Oct. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/pirkei-avot-ethics-of-our-fathers/. 2. MJL Staff. Pirkei Avot- Ethics of the Fathers Chapter 1. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 13th Oct. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/pirkei-avot-ethics-of-the-fathers-3/. 3. Huckey, Darren N.The Four Responsibilities of a Disciple. Arkansas : Emet HaTorah, 2013. 4. Laan, Ray Vander. Rabbi and Talmidim. That The World May Know. [Online] [Cited: 21st February 2019.] https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/rabbi-and-talmidim. 5. Bivin, Roy B. Blizzard & David. Study Shows Jesus as Rabbi. Bible Scholars. [Online] [Cited: 21st February 2019.] https://www.biblescholars.org/2013/05/study-shows-jesus-as-rabbi.html. 6. Greenwold, Doug. Being a First-Century Disciple. Bible.org. [Online] 28th February 2007. [Cited: 21st February 2019.] https://bible.org/article/being-first-century-disciple. 7. Isidore Singer, Isaac Broydé, Joseph Jacobs, Judah David Eisenstein, Kaufmann Kohler, Max Landsberg. RABBI. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 21st February 2019.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12494-rabbi. 8. Hyndman, Rob J. How old were the disciples of Jesus when they joined him? BibleQ. [Online] 5th November 2011. [Cited: 21st February 2019.] http://bibleq.net/answer/4801/. 9. Thiessen, Rick. How Old Were The Disciples? Ask Anything. [Online] 18th April 2017. [Cited: 21st February 2019.] http://ac3askanything.blogspot.com/2017/04/how-old-were-disciples.html. 10. Cary, Otis Cary and Frank.How Old Were Christ’s Disciples? 1, Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, July 1917, The Biblical World, Vol. 50, pp. 3-12. 11. Capernaum. Bible Walks. [Online] [Cited: 6th Oct. 2016.] http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/capernaum.html. 12. Easton, Paul S. Taylor & Matthew G. Capernaum. Bible Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 6th Oct. 2016.] http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/capernaum.html. 13. Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. Peter’s House. Bible Odessey. [Online] [Cited: 11th Aug 2019.] https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/peters-house. 14. Schneider, Wolfgang. Where was Simo’s and Andrew’s home? Bible Centre. [Online] 2009. [Cited: 11th Aug 2019.] http://www.biblecenter.de/bibel/widerspruch/e-wds25.php.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* Why do you think the first place Jesus took His disciples was a wedding? * How do you begin your teaching of new believers? * What did the disciples learn from the wedding? * Why do you think Jesus’ first miracle involved turning water into wine – huge amounts of wine? * Discuss the importance of family in your culture and in Jesus’ Jewish culture. * Why do you think rabbi’s were forbidden to receive payment for their teaching? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? What are the advantages and disadvantages of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers continuing to work in a trade to support themselves like Paul did?
With reformation, the purpose is not to destroy the old but to set it back on the right path, to restore to original purity.
Read Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3 and John 1
Reformers are often popular with the people but never with the authorities whose power, status and security are based on the status quo. With reformation, the purpose is not to destroy the old but to set it back on the right path, to restore to original purity. Judaism had a long and proud history of reformers which included Moses, the judges, prophets, kings such as Josiah, priests such as Ezra, civic leaders such as Nehemiah, and movements such as the Hasidim from which had also come Pharisees, Essenes and Zealots.
Now two new reformers stepped onto the stage. The first was Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist), a Nazirite from birth, as had been Samson and Samuel. Although a Levitical cohen (priest), Yochanan, like the Essenes, had withdrawn from all the priestly and political power structures to seek God in the wilderness. There in the desert he waited for his commission from God to fulfil the prophesy that the angel had given to his father in the temple, and the prophesy that his father had spoken over him at his brit milah (circumcision and naming ceremony):
…You, child, will be called a prophet of Ha‘Elyon (the Most High); you willgo before the Lord to prepare his wayby spreading the knowledge among his people that deliverance comes by having sins forgiven through our God’s most tender mercy… ” Luke 1:76-78 CJB
God apostéllōYochanan to prepare the way…
At last it transpired, in the autumn of his thirtieth year God spoke to Yochanan and, during the days of repentance leading up to the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Yochanan was apostéllō (sent with a commission to fulfil the task).
There came a man, sent (apostéllō) from God, whose name was Yochanan. John 1:6 HNV
Luke provides historical details to help us pinpoint time and chronology:
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to Yochanan, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He came into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming the immersion of repentance for remission of sins. As it is written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled. Every mountain and hill will be brought low. The crooked will become straight, and the rough ways smooth. All flesh will see God’s salvation.’” (Isaiah 40:3-4) Luke 3:1-6 HNV
Mark provides the prophetic background from the Tanakh:
As it is written in the Prophets, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you. (Malachi 3:1) The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight!’” (Isaiah 40:3-4)
Yochanan came immersing in the wilderness and proclaiming the immersion of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Mark 1:2-4 HNV
Matthew gives us a summation of his message:
In those days, Yochanan the Immerser came, proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea, saying,“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Matthew 3:1-2 HNV
Jewish Mikveh and baptism…
There was also a cultural context in which Yochanan’s baptism was proclaimed. For the observant Jew tevilah (full body immersion) in a mikveh (Hebrew מִקְוֶה – literally translated as a “collection” of “gathering”, a body of ‘living’ water) had become the accepted way of attaining the ritual purity needed as God’s people.
Jewish Mikveh and John’s Baptism
Beginning in the late Hasmonean period, around the end of the second century BC or very early in the first century BC, Jews started developing a very distinctive practice of purification within water installations known as mikva’ot (plural of mikveh). By the time of John the Baptist there were large numbers of especially constructed mikvah. These have been found in excavations in Jerusalem, in outlying villages, and in rural areas. There were even several in the temple and in Herod’s palace. They were attached to synagogues and many larger homes. This was part of the Mishnah (Oral Law) being formed during this period to guide the people in keeping the Torah. (1)
The scriptural basis on which this practice was built begins on the third day of creation where the word ‘mikveh’ is first used in Genesis 1:10: “… to the gathering (mikveh) of waters, He called seas.”
The reasoning then follows to the Jew’s ‘baptism’ as they passed through the Red Sea in coming out of Egypt and being separated from the Egyptians (Exodus 14:15-22) with the waters piled up higher than their heads on their right and on their left. Then to the injunction that before the LORD would come down on Mount Sinai to give them the Law the people had to consecrate themselves and wash their clothes, ascribed as a ‘baptism’ by these rabbis (Exodus 19:1-11). When God instructed Moses on building the tabernacle He included the making of a bronze laver to be filled with water for Aaron and his sons to wash their hands and feet before going near the alter to minister or entering the tent of meeting (Exodus 30:1-21). Not only did the priests need to be ritually clean (tahor) in order to serve at the tabernacle, but Leviticus 15 also prescribed the need for any Israelite who became ritually unclean (tamay) to bath and wash their clothes for ritual cleansing so as not to defile God’s dwelling place through their uncleanness.
So it was, that the scholars of the Law came to insist that everyone be fully immersed in a mikveh to become ritually clean before entering the temple and that each man should immerse himself in a mikveh before praying or studying (activities of the synagogue), and some schools of the Pharisees also decreed that all the pots and utensils that the Jews ate or drank from also had to be first immersed in the mikveh, particularly if they had been made, sold or touched by a gentile. The mikveh came to be seen as offering the individual, the community and the nation of Israel the remarkable gift of purity and holiness. Even for the ritually pure, ascension to a higher level of spiritual involvement or holiness necessitated immersion in a mikveh. So it made perfect sense for Yeshua to be baptised before his higher level of spiritual involvement of beginning his ministry.
Several Jewish groups at this time, including the Essenes, observed ritual immersion every day to assure readiness for the coming of the Messiah. What are we doing to make ourselves ready for the coming of the Messiah? Are we living in that same expectancy of Christ’s return?
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Revelation 19:7-8 NIV
Such was the perceived importance of this cleansing that Jewish law would come to state that constructing a mikveh take precedence even over building a synagogue or having a Torah scroll.
Another use of symbolic purification through immersion in water became part of Jewish tradition in the decades leading up to Yochanan’s immersion (John’s baptism) – that was immersion of Gentile converts to Judaism. Debates on the subject of proselyte baptism are recorded between the rabbinic schools of Shammai and Hillel. Whereas the school of Shammai stressed circumcision as the point of transition from Gentile to Jew, the Hillelites considered immersion (baptism) most important because it portrayed spiritual cleansing and the beginning of a new life. The conversion to Judaism has been summed up as follows:
“By three things did Israel enter into the Covenant: by circumcision, and baptism and sacrifice. Circumcision was in Egypt, as it is written: ‘No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof’ (Exodus 12:48). Baptism was in the wilderness, just before giving of the Law it is written” ‘Sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes’ (Exodus 19:10). And sacrifice, as it is said: ‘And he sent young men of the children of Israel which offered burnt offerings’ . (Exodus 24:5)… When a gentile is willing to enter the covenant… He must be circumcised and be baptised and bring a sacrifice.” (Maimonides, 12th C)
Judaism regards the mikvah as personifying both the grave and the womb. For the new convert, immersing fully into the water of the mikveh is both representative of descending into a grave in leaving the old pagan life behind, and of re-entering the womb, the place of mercy and God’s creative power. Rising out of the water is a coming back to life as a newborn child, a new creation, with an entirely new identity as a Jew. They are in essence reborn. The Mishnah (Oral Law) states, “When he comes up after his immersion, he is deemed an Israelite in all respects.” (Yevamot 47b) “The individual who descends into the mikveh as a gentile emerges from beneath its waters as a Jew.” (2)
Rabbinical Judaism stressed that the entire body must come in contact with the water of the mikveh so no clothing or individual could touch the candidate when they descended under the water. The person baptising was not present to dunk the candidate but to witness their profession of repentance and faith and to pronounce exhortations and benedictions over them. The candidate would walk into water that was somewhere between chest to chin deep, and stand with feet apart and hands held out in front while making their professions, totally immerse themselves by squatting in the water then come straight away up out of the water. Jewish baptismal candidates were often immersed three times because the word mikveh occurs three times in the Torah.
Not all mikva’ot were constructed. Indeed those considered of the highest order were created by God. The Mishnah (Mik. 1:1–8, ed. Danby) indicates that there were at least six grades of acceptable mikva’ot, listed from the worst to the best: (1) ponds; (2) ponds during the rainy season; (3) constructed immersion pools containing more than 40 se’ah of water; (4) wells with natural groundwater; (5) salty water from the sea and hot springs; and (6) natural flowing “living” waters from springs and in rivers. So it was that Yochanan chose the highest grade of mikveh in which to immerse (baptise) the people who responded to his message – the flowing living waters of the Jordan River.
Yochanan’s message of repentance, teshuvah, is a familiar message during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and the following “10 Days of Awe”, a period of introspection, repentance and good deeds in preparation for Judaism’s most sacred day of the year Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It was a yearly time for the whole nation to assess their spiritual condition and turn back to God, just as Yochanan was preaching. Being immersed (baptised) during these days was a sign of inward cleansing in spiritual preparation for the Holy Days. Yet, Yochanan did not cease baptising after the Day of Atonement, for his mission was not to prepare the people for the High Priest to enter into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, but to prepare the people for God to enter into their presence as the Messiah, to “make ready the way of the Lord”. (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11)
Yochanan was not introducing a new concept to the Jewish people with his immersion (baptism), but rather tapping in to something that had become strongly imbedded in their culture and religious practice – the exercise of fully immersing in water to become pure to enter God’s presence, whether that was entering the synagogue, entering the temple, or preparing to meet Messiah.
Yochanan as prophet…
Like the prophets before him, Yochanan was not a man who used flattering words to try to get the people to like him. His message was uncompromising and his words sharp and to the point, removing every excuse and false sense of spiritual security:
He said therefore to the multitudes who went out to be immersed by him, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and don’t begin to say among yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father;’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones! Even now the axe also lies at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doesn’t bring forth good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:7-9 HNV
Yet, despite what might appear at first glance to be harsh insults, there was something about this man, a holiness, a genuineness, a total lack of hypocrisy, and a real love for the people that just kept drawing them to him even when his words were confronting. Yochanan’s instructions on how they needed to change did not involve performing religious rites or endless purification ceremonies or bringing honours to himself, but a simple returning to the basics of their faith in living with integrity and demonstrating practical love for one another:
The multitudes asked him, “What then must we do?”
He answered them, “He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.”
Tax collectors also came to be immersed, and they said to him, “Rabbi, what must we do?”
He said to them, “Collect no more than that which is appointed to you.”
Soldiers also asked him, saying, “What about us? What must we do?”
He said to them, “Extort from no one by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully. Be content with your wages.” Luke 3:14-18 HNV
Now Yochanan himself wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.Then people from Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him. They were immersed by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. Matthew 3:4-6 HNV
To be baptised by Yochanan was a humbling experience, it involved acknowledging and confessing one’s sins. This man could spot a phoney a mile away, no self-righteous religiosity earned any credence with him. Only those willing to admit that they were sinners, that they had been failing to live as the people of God, and to confess the sins they had committed, would be baptised by Yochanan. Just as the developing Jewish Oral Law demanded that the baptismal candidate strip naked so that no clothing could hinder the water from contact with every part of their body, so Yochanan demanded that they be stripped spiritually naked, every stitch of pride, self-righteousness and dependence on their Jewish heritage discarded to come before God in need of His forgiveness, cleansing and new life.
So many from all over Judea and even up in the Galilee were gathering to hear Yochanan and having their lives changed through their encounter with him that questions started arising. “Who is this man? Could he be the messiah we’ve been waiting for?”
As the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning Yochanan, whether perhaps he was the Messiah, Yochanan answered them all, “I indeed immerse you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the latchet of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen. He will immerse you in the Holy Spirit and fire, whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Then with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. Luke 3:15-18 HNV
He preached, saying,“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and loosen. I immersed you in water, but he will immerse you in the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:7-8 HNV
Yeshua comes to be immersed by Yochanan…
It was now winter, the wet season in Israel, which brings with it dark and gloomy days and heavy rainfalls, ensuring a good flow in the Jordan River. Yet not all was dark and gloomy, the clouds would clear and bright sunlight shine through, warming up the land. The second reformer was about to be revealed, just as Yochanan was prophesying to all the people who came to him:
It happened in those days that Yeshua came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was immersed by Yochanan in the Jordan. Immediately coming up from the water, he saw the heavens parting, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. A voice came out of the sky, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11HNV
Then Yeshua came from Galilee to the Jordan to Yochanan, to be immersed by him. But Yochanan would have hindered him, saying, “I need to be immersed by you, and you come to me?” But Yeshua, answering, said to him, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. Yeshua, when he was immersed, went up directly from the water: and behold, the heavens were opened to him. He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming on him. Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17 HNV
Now it happened, when all the people were immersed, Yeshua also had been immersed, and was praying. The sky was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form as a dove on him; and a voice came out of the sky, saying“You are my beloved Son. In You I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22 HNV
Yeshua is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit…
Yochanan had come from the wilderness call Israel to repentance and baptise them, now Yeshua had been baptised and filled with the Holy Spirit He went into the wilderness for forty days in preparation for His ministry. In the wilderness, He whose ministry would set people free from sin and the consequences thereof was tempted by Satan, the accuser:
Immediately the Spirit drove Him out into the wilderness. He was there in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals; and the angels were serving Him. Mark 1:12-13 HNV
Yeshua, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. He ate nothing in those days. Luke 4:1-2a HNV
Then Yeshua was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was hungry afterward. Matthew 4:1-2 HNV
Matthew presents the three scriptural passages cited by Jesus (Deut 8:3, Deut 6:13, and Deut 6:16) not in their order in Deuteronomy, but in the sequence of the trials of Israel as they wandered in the desert, as recorded in Exodus. Both Matthew and Luke describe that tempting in the wilderness and Yeshua’s response to each one with “It is written” and Torah obedience. Throughout his life and ministry Yeshua placed heavy reliance on “it is written”. It was the ‘Written Torah’ (ie the Tanakh – Hebrew scriptures) that He acclaimed as divinely inspired and needing to be followed in daily life. Unlike the Sadducees, Yeshua attested to the divine inspiration of all three sections; Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and K’tuvim (Writings).
Delegation of religious leaders from Jerusalem question Yochanan…
While Yeshua was winning the battle in the
wilderness, the religious leaders in Jerusalem sent some of their own to
question Yochanan. The impact he was having on
the Jewish people was such that they felt that they needed to know what he was
Here is Yochanan’s (John’s) testimony: when the Judeans sent cohanim (priests) and L’vi’im (Levites) from Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to ask him, “Who are you?” He was very straightforward and stated clearly, “I am not the Messiah.” John 1:19-20 CJB
It is possible that this fourth gospel was written by one of those priests or Levites, as it provides no account of Yeshua’s baptism, which happened before they arrived, but detailed descriptions of what happened after they came from Jerusalem to question Yochanan (see blog on ‘Who Wrote the Gospels?’).
“Then who are you?” they asked him. “Are you Eliyahu (Elijah)?” “No, I am not,” he said. “Are you `the prophet,’ the one we’re expecting?” “No,” he replied. So they said to him, “Who are you? — so that we can give an answer to the people who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” He answered in the words of Yesha`yahu (Isaiah) the prophet, “I am The voice of someone crying out: `In the desert make the way of ADONAI straight!'” Some of those who had been sent were P’rushim (Pharisees). They asked him, “If you are neither the Messiah nor Eliyahu (Elijah) nor `the prophet,’ then why are you immersing (baptising) people?” To them Yochanan replied, “I am immersing people in water, but among you is standing someone whom you don’t know. He is the one coming after me — I’m not good enough even to untie his sandal!” All this took place in Beit-Anyah (Bethany), east of the Yarden (Jordan River), where Yochanan was immersing. John 1:21-28 CJB
Yeshua returns from the wilderness in the power of the Spirit…
Yeshua as being “full of the Holy Spirit” after His baptism (Lk 4:1) and being “in the power of the Spirit” after his
fasting and overcoming the temptations in the wilderness through Torah quotation and obedience (Lk
4:14). In that power Yeshua was about to start preaching and
Yeshua (Jesus) returned to Beit-Anyah (Bethany), east of the Jordan, where Yochanan (John) was with his talmidim (disciples) continuing to preach and immerse (baptise) the people and testify to those sent from Jerusalem. Yochanan now knew exactly what he had been apostéllō from God to do – prepare the way for the people to come to Yeshua:
The next day, he saw Yeshua coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me.’ I didn’t know him, but for this reason I came immersing in water: that he would be revealed to Israel.”
Yochanan testified, saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it remained on him. I didn’t recognize him, but he who sent me to immerse in water, he said to me, ‘On whomever you will see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who immerses in the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” John 1:29-34 HNV
Yeshua’s first followers…
It was from Yochanan’s talmidim that Yeshua’s first followers came. They had witnessed Yeshua’s baptism, seen the dove, heard the heavenly voice and now their own rabbi, Yochanan, was testifying that this man was indeed the One he had been preparing them for, the Messiah, the Son of God.
The Gospel’s Silence on the Names of all Disciples Except the Twelve
All four gospels adopted the practice of only naming as disciples the twelve whom Yeshua also chose as foundational apostles. Whenever others of His disciples are mentioned in the gospels they are not named, so that the focus remains on the twelve – such was the profound significance of having a group of twelve as foundational to the church.
…God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. Ephesians 2:19b-20 BSB
Since the gospel accounts focus on the twelve whom Yeshua would later choose out of the multitude of talmidim to be foundational apostles (Luke 6:12-16) it can be easy to miss the fact that others also followed Him, and were discipled by Him, throughout His ministry. Acts 1:21-23 gives us the names of two of these faithful other talmidim (disciples) of Yeshua who were not recorded by name in the gospel accounts – Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthiah. They are named in Acts only because they were both nominated as potential replacements for Judas Iscariot so that the twelve could be restored to being a foundation of twelve.
Let us enter into the talmidim’s journey as they learn what it is to be a follower of Yeshua and become part of His apostolic reformation (God-sent restoration and fulfilment of Judaism).
Again, on the next day, Yochanan was standing with two of his talmidim, and he looked at Yeshua as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two talmidim heard him speak, and they followed Yeshua. John 1:35-37 HNV
The scripture then goes into more detail about
what following Yeshua involved in a
practical sense on that day.
Yeshua turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour. John 1:38-39 HNV
This detail the gospel writer gives us about it being the 10th hour (about 4pm) is not only suggestive of intimate knowledge of the event but also ties in with Yochanan’s proclamation of: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The Passover lamb for each household was chosen on the 10th day of the first month (Exodus 12:3) and the Day of Atonement, on which the Israelites were cleansed from all their sins, was on the 10th day of the seventh month each year (Leviticus 16:29-30).
One of the two who had heard Yochanan and had followed Yeshua was Andrew the brother of Šimʻôn Kefa (Simon Peter). John 1:40 CJB
Andrew (Ἀνδρέας, Andreas, in Greek), unlike his older brother, did not have a Hebrew name but a Greek one. Giving your child a Greek name may not have been significant when Andrew was born as Bet Hillel still dominated the Sanhedrin with their open stance towards Gentiles and eagerness to proselytise them, but all that changed on the day when the Shammaites and Zealots triumphed over the Hillelites and the Sanhedrin adopted the “Eighteen Articles” which prevented all communication between Jew and Gentile by prohibiting the Jews from buying any article of food or drink from their heathen neighbours. Andrew was likely just a young boy when this took place and the politics of hate escalated. Having a Greek name during such a time could easily attract bullying in the schoolyard and derision from religious zealots who measured their own holiness by their disdain for all things heathen. The name Andrew means “manly” and carries with it connotations of “brave”, “strong”, “courageous” and “warrior”. This young man may have felt that he needed all these attributes to cope with the “religious” attitudes towards his name as he was growing up. No doubt big brother Simon helped defend Andrew in many a youthful spat. There were rabbis who would not have countenanced having a talmid with a Greek name, but neither Yochanan nor Yeshua were put off by Andrew’s name, nor did Yeshua see any need to give him a new name. For these reformers true holiness did not rest on how exclusively Jewish one could claim to be, but on one’s demonstrated love for God and others. Andrew was accepted by Yeshua just as he was, Greek name and all.
The other one who followed Yeshua that day remains unnamed.
This is in line with the convention in all four gospels of only ever
naming as talmidim those who were
numbered among the twelve. Such was the
significance and theological importance of the twelve that every other talmid (disciple) of Yeshua is either named but not referred
to as a talmid, if the story
necessitates the naming of those involved, or referred to as an unnamed talmid.
There is speculation that the other talmid
with Andrew could be the author of this gospel, or maybe Josephcalled Barsabas (whose surname was Justus) or Matthiah
whom Acts 1:21-23 declares accompanied the twelve all the time that Yeshua walked among them from His
baptism by Yochanan until His
ascension even though their names are never mentioned as talmidim in the gospels. It is impossible to know the identity of
this talmid because we are given very
few clues. Some who walk with Yeshua have a public role to fulfil and
are thrust into the spotlight of human records, while others have a more
private role impacting those they walk with but hidden from the spotlight. Here in this anonymous
disciple is our first glimpse of the unknown and unnamed ones who walked with Yeshua. (12) (13) (14) (15).
Andrew was the first of Yeshua’s talmidim to engage in evangelism. It was his natural and primal instinct. When he is mentioned in the gospels Andrew is generally bringing someone to Yeshua. He was a believer and an evangelist. (16) (17) Not only did Andrew immediately believe Yochanan the Immerser and follow Yeshua, but scripture tells us that:
The first thing He did was to find his brother, Šimʻôn Bar-Yochanan (Simon son of John / Jonas in some versions), and take him to Yeshua with exclamations of “We have found the Messiah!” John 1:40-41 CJB
Šimʻônwas to have a major role in the spotlight. Such roles display the individual’s strengths, and weaknesses, for all the see. None except Yeshua can remain in the spotlight for long without being exposed as very flawed. Reading the lives of those in the spotlight encourages us that God can do great things even through people as full of weaknesses and failures as ourselves. Šimʻôn was a common Hebrew name which means “listen”. Every time his mother called his name she was also calling for him to listen to her, but he did not have to carry his younger brother’s burden of having a foreign name. Yet, Yeshua chose to give Šimʻôn a new name the very first time they met. It was a prophetic name, speaking of the identity that Yeshua would be building into Šimʻôn to enable him to fulfil the task he would be given.
Looking at him, Yeshua said, “You are Šimʻôn Bar-Yochanan (Simon, son of John); you will be known as Kefa.(Peter)” (The name means “rock”). (John 1:42b CJB)
Yeshua was determined to leave for Galilee the next day but took the time to search for Philip first. The Good Shepherd seeks His sheep. Plans were not more important than the people those plans involved and the Father’s will was for the unnamed talmid, Andrew and his brother Simon Peter, and Philip and his friend Nathaniel, and possibly others who are not named in this account, to accompany Yeshua to Galilee to be introduced to the Kingdom of God there.
The next day, having decided to leave for the Galil, Yeshua found Philip and said, “Follow me!” (John 1:43 CJB)
The Greek text makes it clear that this was not
just a call to casual acquaintance or a brief journey, but the present imperative
ongoing action that calls for an ongoing lifestyle – a regular, long-term way of acting, a call to
Philip had grown up with Šimʻôn Kefa (Simon Peter) and Andrew in their fishing village of Beit-Tzaidah (Bethsaida), on the north-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Being on the east side of the Jordan River, Bethsaida was in the territory of Herod Philip. Like Andrew, Philip had a Greek name – Φιλιππος (Philippos) meaning “friend of horses”. This distinction may have helped bind them close together growing up. Also like Andrew, Philip’s first response to having been found by Yeshua was to seek out someone else and bring them to the Messiah. Thus, Philip was the second of Yeshua’s talmidim to engage in evangelism and the first to do so outside of his immediate family. It is unclear how Philip knew Natan’el, they may have become acquainted through their time with Yochanan the Immerser.
Philip found Natan’el and told him, “We’ve found the one that Moshe (Moses) wrote about in the Torah, also the Prophets — it’s Yeshua Ben-Yosef from Natzeret!” (John 1:45 CJB)
Natan’el(Nathaniel) is a Hebrew name meaning “God had given”. He came from a different more western town in the Galilee, Cana. Most scholars believe that Natan’el is called Bar-Tôlmay (Bartholomew) in the synoptic gospels, which means “son of Tolmay” or “son of the furrows” which could mean that he was the son of a ploughman or farmer. (18) (19) Natan’el retained some scepticism, even prejudice against anyone from Nazareth, which Philip responded to with the simple words “come and see”. Yeshua’s declaration of Natan’el’s character upon seeing him, followed by a description of where Natan’el had been when Philip had called him was all that was needed to convince this earnest seeker and elicit the first declaration by any of the talmidim of Yeshua’s deity:
“Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are King of Israel!” (Jn 1:49).
The baton passing from Yochanan to Yeshua…
Less than a year after Yochanan had begun his ministry, the passing on of the baton of reform from Yochanan to Yeshua had begun. Yochanan’s talmidim were becoming Yeshua’s talmidim (disciples). At least five of them were now following Yeshua to Galilee (more if we believe the testimony of Acts 1:21-23): the unnamed disciple who may have been the author of this gospel, Andrew, Šimʻôn Kefa (Simon Peter), Philip, and Natan’el.
Both Yochanan and Yeshua preached the same reformation message “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:1 & 4:17) It was a message with strong messianic overtones. It fitted with the expectations of many of the Jews at that time that there was something they needed to do to help usher in God’s kingdom on earth. Unlike the Zealots, this reformation was not about raising an army against the Romans, or murdering gentiles who dared occupy the Holy Land or fellow Jews accused of associating with such gentiles; it was not purifying their land of evil (i.e. ‘others’) but purifying their own hearts and lives of evil. Repent, turn back to God. Stop living as rebels against Him and start living according to His ways, which are the ways of love. In both Yochanan and Yeshua’s preaching, such repentance was to be evidenced in very practical ways in how they treated others. This apostolic reformation was not focused on ritual purification or political power but on what these reformers saw as being of far greater importance, how each person treated others created in the image of God:
“He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.” Luke 3:11
With this emphasis on practical love in action being central to the whole Jewish faith as God had ordained it, Yeshua and Yochanan were not far from the Pharisaic School of Hillel who had, at that time, been reduced to a minority party of the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin. Hillel is recorded as saying:
“Don’t do unto others what you would not want done to you – that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary – go study” Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 31a. (20) (21) (22)
Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the Torah and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12 HNV
And when a Torah scholar asked him “which is the greatest commandment in the law” Yeshua answered:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ The whole Torah and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 HNV
Jewish Rabbis only chose the best and brightest as talmidim. As we have seen,the academic and intellectual testing for admittance was gruelling and only those with the sharpest wit and most exacting understanding of both Written and Oral Law would be accepted to take a Rabbi’s ‘yoke’ (teachings) upon them. Yet both Yochanan and Yeshua appeared willing to accept anyone, regardless of family background, theological knowledge or capacity to provide a witty and insightful reply.
1. Judaica, Encyclopaedia. Mikveh. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] 2008. [Cited: 29th July 2019.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mikveh#4. 2. Slonim, Rivkah. The Mikvah. Chabad – The Jewish Woman. [Online] 29th July 2019. https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1541/jewish/The-Mikvah.htm. 3. Editors, History.com. Yom Kippur. History. [Online] 21st August 2018. [Cited: 4th August 2019.] https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/yom-kippur-history. 4. Moseley, Ron. Mystical Mikveh Immersion – The Jewish Background of Christian Baptism. Essene. [Online] 2016. [Cited: 19th August 2019.] http://essene.com/B’nai-Amen/MysticalImmersion.htm. 5. Schiffmen, Lawrence H.From Text to Tradition – A History of Second Temple & Rabbinic Judaism. Brooklyn, NY : KTAV Publishing House, 1991. 6. Friedlander, Marty. Why Jews Immerse in the Mikveh. Haaretz. [Online] 1st Nov 2015. [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/why-jews-immerse-in-the-mikveh-1.5416019. 7. Slonim, Rivkah. The Mikvah. The Jewish Woman. [Online] 28th Dec 2017. [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1541/jewish/The-Mikvah.htm. 8. Editors, One for Israel. The Jewish Roots of Baptism. One for Israel (Messianic Jews in Israel). [Online] [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/messianic-perspective/was-baptism-originally-jewish/. 9. Rosen, Ceil. Baptism: Pagan or Jewish? Jews for Jesus. [Online] [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v02-n10/baptism-pagan-or-jewish/. 10. Editors, Bibles for Israel. Mikvah (Baptism): The Connection Between Immersion, Conversion nd Being Born Again. The Messainic Prophecy Bible Project. [Online] [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] https://free.messianicbible.com/feature/mikvah-baptism-the-connection-between-immersion-conversion-and-being-born-again/. 11. Peterson, Dr. Galen. Baptism. The Remnant. [Online] 2017. [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] http://www.remnant.net/baptism.htm. 12. Biblical Hermeneutics. Stack Exchange. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.] http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/15372/in-john-135-who-were-the-two-disciples-of-john-the-baptist. 13. Iverach, James. John, The Apostle. Bible Study Tools. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.] http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/john-the-apostle.html. 14. Phillips, J. The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved. Lockport, IL : TheDiscipleWhomJesusLoved.com, 2011, Fifth Edition. ISBN 13: 978-0-9702687-3-0. 15. Hulen, Amos B. The Call of the Four Disciples in John 1. 2, 1948, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 67, pp. 153-157. 16. Wellman, Jack. The Apostle Andrew Biography, Life and Death. What Christians Want to Know. [Online] [Cited: 10th Aug 2019.] https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/the-apostle-andrew-biography-life-and-death/. 17. Andrew, the First Apostle.12.eu. [Online] 2011. [Cited: 10th Aug 2019.] http://www.12.eu/andrew. 18. Wellman, Jack. Who Was Bartholomew In The Bible? What Christians Want to Know. [Online] [Cited: 11th Aug 2019.] https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/who-was-bartholomew-in-the-bible/. 19. Zavada, Jack. Nathanael – The ‘True Israelite’. Learn Religions. [Online] 25th January 2019. [Cited: 11th August 2019.] https://www.learnreligions.com/nathanael-the-true-israelite-701068. 20. Astor, Yaakov. Loving Thy Neighbor: Judaism’s Unique Approach. SimpleToRememer – Judaism Online. [Online] 1st June 2012. [Cited: 15th Oct. 2016.] http://www.simpletoremember.com/jewish/blog/loving-thy-neighbor-judaism/. 21. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. Hillel – The preeminent rabbi of first century Palestine. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 15th Oct. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hillel/#. 22. Philologos. The Rest of ‘The Rest Is Commentary’. Forward. [Online] 24th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 15th Oct. 2016.] http://forward.com/culture/14250/the-rest-of-the-rest-is-commentary-02564/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* Who are some of the people that God called to reform His people? * How did John the Baptist prepare for his calling? What has God used to prepare you for your calling? * What propelled John into his ministry? What propelled you into your ministry? * What was John the Baptist’s message? * How had the development of the Jewish Mikvah prepared the people for John’s baptism? What has God implanted in your culture to prepare your people for what God is calling them to do? * Which two of Jesus’ first disciples immediately reached out to invite others to follow Him? What do you think of the other first disciples who didn’t immediately evangelise, and what do you think Jesus’ reaction to them was? * What did the repentance that both John and Jesus preached involve?