The Harvest is Ripe, Where You Least Expect It

Read John 4:1-42

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 commandments which 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)

Huge staircase that led up to the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim
Staircase leading up to the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim

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)

Samaritans marking Passover on Mount Gerizim

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

For more on the Samaritans, and the relationship between them and the Jews, go to:

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

Messiah revealed

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)

Reference List

1. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.
2. Gibson, Shimon. GERIZIM, MOUNT. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 17th Nov. 2016.]
3. Stevenson, John. Ministry in Samaria. Angle Fire. [Online] [Cited: 17th Nov. 2016.]
4. Chapman, Gary S. Woman at the Well – Bible Story Summary. About Religion. [Online] [Cited: 17th Nov. 2016.]
5. Barclay, William. Women and Marriage in Jesus’ day The Jewish attitude on both. Resitution of all Things. [Online] 1973. [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.]
6. A. Cowley, Joseph Jacobs, Henry Minor Huxley. SAMARITANS. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 13th Nov. 2016.]
7. St. Photini, the Samaritan Woman. Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. [Online] [Cited: 20th Nov. 2016.]
8. Topping, Eva Catafygiotu. St Photini, The Samaritan Woman. Orthodox Christian. [Online] Light and Life Publishing Company. [Cited: 20th Nov. 2016.]
9. Moyes, Gordon. Discovering The Young Church – Chapter 4: Stephen the Martyr. Gordon Moyes. [Online] [Cited: 20th Nov. 2016.]
10. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg. The Samaritan woman RECONSIDERED. ISBN: 9781713300366. 2019
11. Megan Sauter. The Temple on Mount Gerizim—In the Bible and Archaeology. Biblical Archaeology Society. August 26, 2019 [Online] [Cited: 18th April 2020]
12. Jewish Encyclopedia , by Funk & Wagnalls of New York, 1906
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson

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?

Yeshua’s 2nd lesson – Passover

Read John 2:12-3:36
Pink almond tree in Israel

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…

Going with the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” to the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem for Passover – eager anticipation of joyfully worshipping God.

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 Yochanan the 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 rabbi Yeshua.   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 ShammaiYeshua 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)

Yeshua continued:

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.

Reference List

1. Seasons and Months in Israel. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 19th Nov. 2016.]
2. When to Go. David’s Land. [Online] [Cited: 19th Nov. 2016.]
3. Israel Weather and When to Go. Trip Advisor. [Online] [Cited: 19th Nov. 2016.]
4. What Is Passover? Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 19th Nov. 2016.]
5. Lauterbach, Jacob Zallel. Passover Sacrifice. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 19th Nov. 2016.]
6. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. High Priest Head of all priests had special rights and privileges. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 5th Oct. 2016.]
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.]
8. Institute, The Temple. Facebook. [Online] 6th April 2015. [Cited: 21st April 2019.]
9. The Music of the Beth Hamikdash (the Jerusalem Holy Temple). Power of the Nigun. [Online] [Cited: 21st April 2019.]
10. You Must be Born Again. HaDavar Messianic Ministries. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.]
11. Scott. Jewish Roots. Chosen People. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.]–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.]
13. Santala, Risto. STUDIES IN THE LIFE OF JESUS. [Online] [Cited: 18th Oct. 2016.]
14. Trimm, James. John 3:3 — Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek? [Online] 26th Dec. 1998. [Cited: 18th Oct. 2016.]
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.]

Yeshua Introduces God’s Kingdom as a Wedding

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.

Map of journey from John's baptism to the wedding in Cana

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 Yochanan the 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.  

stone jars

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 the brim.  

Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquetYeshua 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.

Meeting family…

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.

Reference List

1. Jacobs, Rabbi Jill. Pirkei Avot: Ethics of Our Fathers. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 13th Oct. 2016.]
2. MJL Staff. Pirkei Avot- Ethics of the Fathers Chapter 1. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 13th Oct. 2016.]
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.]
5. Bivin, Roy B. Blizzard & David. Study Shows Jesus as Rabbi. Bible Scholars. [Online] [Cited: 21st February 2019.]
6. Greenwold, Doug. Being a First-Century Disciple. [Online] 28th February 2007. [Cited: 21st February 2019.]
7. Isidore Singer, Isaac Broydé, Joseph Jacobs, Judah David Eisenstein, Kaufmann Kohler, Max Landsberg. RABBI. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 21st February 2019.]
8. Hyndman, Rob J. How old were the disciples of Jesus when they joined him? BibleQ. [Online] 5th November 2011. [Cited: 21st February 2019.]
9. Thiessen, Rick. How Old Were The Disciples? Ask Anything. [Online] 18th April 2017. [Cited: 21st February 2019.]
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.]
12. Easton, Paul S. Taylor & Matthew G. Capernaum. Bible Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 6th Oct. 2016.]
13. Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. Peter’s House. Bible Odessey. [Online] [Cited: 11th Aug 2019.]
14. Schneider, Wolfgang. Where was Simo’s and Andrew’s home? Bible Centre. [Online] 2009. [Cited: 11th Aug 2019.]

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?

Welcome to our in-depth study of the Life of Jesus Christ

I pray that you are blessed and encouraged in your walk with Christ as you work through these lessons and read the insightful comments made by other ministers doing the course. That your love for Christ Jesus will deepen and your commitment strengthen. That your faith will prove genuine and endure to the end with joy unspeakable and full of glory, as we receive the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.

A lot of time meditating on the Word, prayer and research has gone into these blogs, but that does not mean that everything is correct, or the fullness of what God is saying to us through His Word. If you notice any mistakes, or have different insights, or evidence of a different chronology please share that with us all through the comments section on each page so we can all learn from one another.

Each lesson is linked below, to make it easier to work through the whole course…

INTRODUCTION – How do we Faithfully Serve in Christ’s Mission

This course is focused on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, Yeshua HaMashiach. We begin by developing an understanding of the world He was born into, and how it had been shaped in preparation for His coming – looking at the developments in Judaism from the Babylonian exile until the rule of Rome, and how the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophesies elicited strong expectations of Messiah’s coming.

SECTION 1 Setting the Stage ~ How Judaism Developed from Kingdom Division to Roman Occupation

1. Israel Replaced with Samaritans & the Kingdom of God Prophesied (931-627 BC)
2. Judah Taken Captive to Babylon & the Temple Destroyed (627 – 586 BC)
3. A New Judaism – without Land or Temple (586 – 537 BC)
4. Rebuilding the Temple (539 – 517 BC)
5. Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem (486 – 430 B.C.)
6. Developments in Judaism under Persian Occupation (430 – 332 BC)
7. Greek Conquest and Hellenization (332 – 166 BC)
8. The Maccabean Revolt & Hasmonean Period (166 – 40 BC)
9. Second Temple Period under Roman Rule until Messiah (63 BC – 1BC)

We have an INTERLUDE between SECTION 1 and SECTION 2 – which looks at the authors of each of the four gospel accounts to provide some background information on each one’s perspective of Jesus’ life.

Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 1 – Introduction
Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 2 – The Witness of Church Tradition
Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 3 – The Witness of the Scriptures
The Witness of the Scriptures on Luke
The Witness of the Scriptures on Mark
The Witness of the Scriptures on Matthew
The Witness of the Scriptures on John

In SECTION 2 we take an in-depth look at Jesus’ life in the context of this culture which we have seen develop in the centuries leading up to His birth. As language is an essential part of culture, names in this course are often written in their original Hebrew (along with the English translations that most of us are more familiar with).

SECTION 2 – The Apostolic Reformation Begins ~ Jesus (Yeshua) as a Jewish Reformer

God Sent His Son
1. A Child Is Born
2. Yeshua’s Youth

The First Year of Yeshua’s Ministry
1. Yochanan & Yeshua as God Sent Jewish Reformers
2. Yeshua Introduces God’s Kingdom as a Wedding
3. Yeshua’s 2nd lesson – Passover
4. The Harvest is Ripe, Where You Least Expect It
5. Yeshua Taught in their Synagogues
6. Confronting Power and Expectation
7. Healing at the Pool of Bethesda
8. Starting Again
9. The Beatitudes (blessings)
10. Salt and Light
11. Fulfilling Torah
12. Living Prayer
13. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness
14. Discernment Sayings
15. Cleansing, Forgiving & Calling
16. New Kingdom – New Structure
17. 12 Chosen
18. Sermon on the Plain
19. Misunderstood
20. Parables
21. Wind & Waves
22. Yochanan’s Question
Map Summary of the First Year of Yeshua’s Ministry

The Second Year of Yeshua’s Ministry
1. 12 Apostello
2. Feeding the 5,000
3. The Tide is Turning
4. Clash of Tradition & Torah
5. Mission into Gentile Territory
6. Sukkot
7. Teaching in the Temple
8. Light of the World
9. I AM – Truth and Freedom
10. Healing the Blind
11. The Good Shepherd
12. The Gates of Hell
13. Keys, Suffering & Glory
14. Help Me in My Unbelief
15. What Love Looks Like
Map Summary of the Second Year of Yeshua’s Ministry

The Third Year of Yeshua’s Ministry
1. Yeshua set His face to go to Jerusalem
2. Hanukkah (Feast of Dedication)
3. The Divine Council
4. Yeshua Reveals the Father
5. Leader’s Woes
6. An Innumerable Multitude
7. Repent or Perish
8. Dining with a Leader of the Pharisees
9. Invitation & Costs of Discipleship
10. Nothing in Torah Fails
11. Lazarus Death & Resurrection
12. On the Way to Jerusalem
13. Leaders Serve

The Week Leading to Jesus’ Crucifixion
1. Preparing for Passover
2. Cleansing the Temple
3. Challenging Unbelief
4. Signs of What is to Come
5. Kingdom Parables
6. Love and Betrayal
7. Preparing the Last Supper
8. The Last Supper
9. To Gethsemane
10. Arrest
11. Trial & Denial
12. Crucify Him!
13. Buriel to Resurrection

Simply click on the title of your next lesson to be taken to that lesson so you can read through it and answer the questions at the end.

New lessons will be added as we explore all of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV

Yochanan & Yeshua as God Sent Jewish Reformers

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 apostéllō Yochanan 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

The Jordan River after heavy winter rains
The Jordan River after heavy winter rains

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

Map of Jesus' travel form Nazareth to John's baptism, then to the wilderness...

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…

Jordean wilderness

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…

John testifies about Jesus, and then He returns from the wildness in the power of the Holy Spirit and John points everyone to the Lamb of God.

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 about. 

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…

Luke describes 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 performing miracles.

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 Joseph called 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 

Šimʻôn was 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 tense commands ongoing action that calls for an ongoing lifestyle – a regular, long-term way of acting, a call to discipleship.   

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)

Yeshua stated:

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 lawYeshua 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.

Reference List

1. Judaica, Encyclopaedia. Mikveh. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] 2008. [Cited: 29th July 2019.]
2. Slonim, Rivkah. The Mikvah. Chabad – The Jewish Woman. [Online] 29th July 2019.
3. Editors, Yom Kippur. History. [Online] 21st August 2018. [Cited: 4th August 2019.]
4. Moseley, Ron. Mystical Mikveh Immersion – The Jewish Background of Christian Baptism. Essene. [Online] 2016. [Cited: 19th August 2019.]’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.]
7. Slonim, Rivkah. The Mikvah. The Jewish Woman. [Online] 28th Dec 2017. [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.]
8. Editors, One for Israel. The Jewish Roots of Baptism. One for Israel (Messianic Jews in Israel). [Online] [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.]
9. Rosen, Ceil. Baptism: Pagan or Jewish? Jews for Jesus. [Online] [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.]
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.]
11. Peterson, Dr. Galen. Baptism. The Remnant. [Online] 2017. [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.]
12. Biblical Hermeneutics. Stack Exchange. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.]
13. Iverach, James. John, The Apostle. Bible Study Tools. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.]
14. Phillips, J. The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved. Lockport, IL :, 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.]
17. Andrew, the First Apostle. [Online] 2011. [Cited: 10th Aug 2019.]
18. Wellman, Jack. Who Was Bartholomew In The Bible? What Christians Want to Know. [Online] [Cited: 11th Aug 2019.]
19. Zavada, Jack. Nathanael – The ‘True Israelite’. Learn Religions. [Online] 25th January 2019. [Cited: 11th August 2019.]
20. Astor, Yaakov. Loving Thy Neighbor: Judaism’s Unique Approach. SimpleToRememer – Judaism Online. [Online] 1st June 2012. [Cited: 15th Oct. 2016.]
21. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. Hillel – The preeminent rabbi of first century Palestine. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 15th Oct. 2016.]
22. Philologos. The Rest of ‘The Rest Is Commentary’. Forward. [Online] 24th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 15th Oct. 2016.]

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?

Yeshua’s Youth

Yeshua grew up in a devout Jewish family in the strongly religious region of Galilee.

Read Luke 2:40-52

At the beginning of Archelaus’ reign over Judea he was faced with sedition by some of the Pharisees, incensed at a despised Samaritan ruling over them, and crushed it with great severity.  This incited increasing anger and hatred among the general population, strengthening the hand of Bet Shammai and reinforcing their fear of all those associated with Rome.

Life in Galilee…

It was in the district of Galilee, under the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, that Yeshua grew up among this strongly religious and culturally conservative rural Jewish population. The name “Galilee” comes from the Hebrew word galil which means “circle” or “region”. The region of Galilee in the first century CE was encircled by Syro-Phoenicia stretching along the eastern Mediterranean coastline and northwards, by Gaulanitis to the north-east, by the Hellenistic settlements of Decapolis to the south-east, and by Samaria to the south which separated Galilee geographically from Judea.

Even though Galilee was encircled by Greek-speaking pagan cities, Scythopolis, Hippos, Caesarea, Philippi and Kadesh, and was under the authority of Greek-speaking rulers, most Galileans spoke Aramaic, or possibly Hebrew. Archaeologists have found only a few Greek inscriptions in the villages of upper Galilee, most being Aramaic/Hebrew, and there is little clear evidence Greek was spoken in the villages of lower Galilee. In first-century Galilee, Greek was mainly the language of those with political and administrative power. The evidence shows that it only made serious inroads in the second century CE, while Latin is virtually unattested in the region. In general, it seems that first-century Galilee was not as Hellenised as Judea, possibly because most Galileans were rural dwellers.

Herod the Great’s building programs had not reached into this area and it was without the Greco-Roman architecture prominent in other districts.  His son, Herod Antipas, focused on building up this district. He was not as cruel or capricious as his father or elder brother. He was an able leader and sought the good will of the Galileans so did not antagonise their sensibilities by building ostensibly Hellenistic or Roman structures. Antipas’ reign brought a period of peace and calm with no significant violent conflicts recorded between him and his subjects.  He completely rebuilt the city of Sepphoris, only 4 miles from Nazareth, where Yeshua grew up, and made it his capitol.  Galilee, however, remained without the common icons of Greco-Roman culture: no amphitheatre, no gymnasium, no stadium and no nymphaeum (large, elaborately decorated fountain).  The only public buildings were the synagogues.  Yet, while not forcing Hellenism on the independent and deeply religious Galileans, Antipas showed little interest in adopting their personal piety or living according to Torah


Jews were the only people in the ancient world who made educating your children a religious requirement.

Galilee surpassed even Judea in its schools of learning, and most of the famous rabbis of Yeshua’s day were from Galilee (Johnanan ben Zakkai, Hanina ben Doda, Abba Yose Holikufri, Zadok, Halaphta, and Hananian ben Teradyon).   Yet socially Galileans were considered simple rural folk who spoke a backward dialect.   Yeshua’s education in Judaism, like that of all children of pious Jewish families, began at home as a way of life, every aspect of which was governed by Torah and the increasing regulations that the Pharisees were adding to it.  At five years of age Yeshua would have joined the Bet Sefer (House of the Book) in the local synagogue, to begin his formal studies.  There the young children learned to read, write and memorise the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) over the next five years.  It is contested whether girls also attended the Bet Sefer.  (1) (2) 

And the child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.    Luke 2:40 NIV

Schooling in 1st Century Judaism

All Jewish boys attended two levels of schooling in their local synagogue.  From ages 5 – 9 they attended Beit Sefer (House of the Book) and from 10 – 14yo they attended ‘Beit-Talmud’ (House of Learning).   Very different teaching styles were used for the two different age groups.

On the first day of Beit Sefer the teacher asked each student to lift up their slate. Then he put some honey on each slate. He then asked the children to lick off the honey from their slate. While they did, the teacher quoted from Psalm 119:103 “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! [yea, sweeter] than honey to my mouth!   The teacher or scribe read from the Torah in Hebrew, and when needed an interpreter, known as the meturganim (one skilled in languages), then shouted the scripture back in Aramaic so the children could repeat it in their spoken tongue.   Scripture was often chanted musically to help with memorisation.  The expression “the chirping of children” referred to what people heard when walking past the synagogue as the children were reciting their verses in song.  In eastern education repetition was the key to learning and these early years of schooling involved continual repetition as the words of the scripture had to be firmly implanted before the meaning could be explored.   Lessons took place every day of the week, including Shabbat (Sabbath –ie from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday), the difference being that no new material was presented on this day, they just repeated what they had been learning through the week.  As it was the Pharisees who had a passion for all the boys of the Jewish masses to be educated in Torah, they were the ones who organised and ran these Synagogue schools throughout Israel and the diaspora.

The next stage of Jewish education was ‘Beit-Talmud’ (House of Learning) for boys aged 10-14.  At home they were also learning their father’s trade during this time. In ‘Beit-Talmud’ Yeshua and his classmates memorised the rest of the Tanakh ( תַּנַ״ךְ, Hebrew Bible) and learnt the art of rhetorical debating of questions and answers, as they also begun studying the Mishna (Oral Law) and interpretations.  Instead of giving a rote answer that was simply learned as knowledge, the young Hebrew pre-teen had to give thought to the question and then answered the question with another question.  (3) (4) (5)

It was this training that prepared Yeshua for his visit to the temple for the “fulfilling of the commandments”when he was 12 years old.  After the destruction of the second temple in 70 A.D. this was replaced in Jewish culture with what we know today, the Bar Mitzvah – a formal ceremony where a Jewish boy, at the age of 13, transforms from a boy into a man, having the full religious rites and responsibilities of an adult male.   (6) (7) 

12yo Yeshua in the Temple…

His parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover. Luke 2:41-45 HNV

A pilgrimage from the Galilee to the Temple in Jerusalem was so expensive and time-consuming that many pious Jews did not make it every year, some only once in a lifetime.  Although Exodus 23:17, 34:23 and Deut 16:6 all command every Jewish male to appear before the Lord three times a year – for the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot), schools of Pharisees had re-interpreted the scriptures to mean that pilgrimage was associated with these festivals and ruled that “to appear” meant instead that when one made a pilgrimage they were to bring an “appearance” sacrifice to the Temple and not come empty handed (Mishnah, Hagigah 1:6)  (8) (9).    Joseph and Mary were both exceptionally devout in making this long pilgrimage every year, and it appears that they took the scriptures much more literally than the ‘sages’ of their day whose rulings are recorded in the Mishnah.

When he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast and when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Yeshua stayed behind in Jerusalem. Joseph and his mother didn’t know it, but supposing him to be in the company, they went a day’s journey, and they looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances. When they didn’t find him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for him.      Luke 2:42-45 HNV

As Matthew 1:25 records, Joseph had no union with Mary until she gave birth to Yeshua.  Once Mary had gone through her ritual purification from childbirth and the associated bleeding, she and Joseph fulfilled the final part of their nissuin (wedding) – the consummation of their marriage.  From this point on they continued to fulfil the Biblical command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).  Scripture describes Yeshua as having four brothers – James, Joseph (Joses), Jude and Simon – and some sisters (Matthew 12:46-50 & 13:55-56; Mark 3:31 & 6:3; Luke 8:19; John 2:12 & 7:3; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; and Galatians 1:19).  It is possible that His family travelling to Jerusalem for this special occasion included up to six younger siblings on this occasion.  For Mary and Joseph to be focused on the care of the younger, more vulnerable, ones as they started travelling back home and assumed that the eldest was with the wider group of their relatives and neighbours would not have been unusual.  They had undertaken this journey for the last 12 years and Yeshua had never given them any cause for concern before.

It happened after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the rabbis, both listening to them, and asking them questions.  All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47 HNV

There is intriguing speculation that Yeshua may have been talking with Hillel and/or Shammai during these three days in the temple, but it is more likely that it was with younger rabbis who had been trained by them.   They were clearly engaging in the rhetorical debate in which every Jewish boy was trained.   What was remarkable in these exchanges was not that Yeshua engaged in such debate, but the depth of understanding he demonstrated with the questions that he answered them with.  Also of note was that such discussions were more important to him, as a 12 year old, than all the attractions a large city like Jerusalem would have for a boy from rural Galilee.  When his parents eventually found him Yeshua’s response to his mother carried a strong sense of identity and divine mission even at this age:

He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”    Luke 2:49 HNV

Most Jewish young men continued working in their father’s trade to help support their family after their “fulfilling of the commandments” in Jerusalem. 

Tertiary Education in 1st Century Judaism

Only the most gifted scholars went on to ‘Beit Midrash’ (House of Study) after reaching 13-15 years of age, in order to train to become a scribe or rabbi.    To do so the young man needed to find a rabbi that he respected and request to become his תלמידם – talmid (disciple).  Rabbis did not usually go and seek out their own talmidim (disciples); they were few in numbers and their prestige and honour was such that ambitious young men came to them requesting admittance into their Beit Midrash.  It was important that the talmid follow the teachings of their particular rabbi because each rabbi carried different interpretations of the Tanakh ( תַּנַ״ךְ, Hebrew Bible) and Mishna (Oral Law).  If a rabbi thought that the prospective talmid was worthy of consideration, he would quiz him to see how committed he was, how well he knew the Tanakh and Mishna and how well he was able to put it to debate in line with the interpretations of that particular rabbi.  The testing was gruelling. Critical thinking and the art of answering questions with questions were heavily engaged.  

If the young man passed, and the rabbi thought he had it in him to become a scribe or a rabbi like himself, he was then told to “take my yoke upon you.”  Those were the words that every Jewish young man ambitious to enter into the Beth-Midrash longed to hear.  He was now accepted into higher education. To take his rabbi’s yoke meant the talmid (disciple) was willing to take on that rabbi’s interpretation of the Torah as his own, become his student in all aspects of life, and do all the work that was required ahead of him in learning how to live the Torah in the exact same way that his rabbi lived it. The young man was then obliged to leave his father, mother, synagogue, community, and family business to devote his life to following his rabbi – everywhere. Rabbis demanded honours of first rank, even surpassing those bestowed on parents.  If the rabbi travelled, his talmadim (disciples) travelled with him. Every detail of the rabbi’s life was copied, including his walk, talk, and mannerisms. The rabbi’s job was to teach his students along the way, testing them continuously, to become just like himself.  There is a prayer that comes from the Mishnah that says: “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi,” meaning you followed your rabbi so closely that you get covered with the dust his sandals flung up as he walked, which was considered a great honour.  

Although we cannot categorically say that He did not, there is no evidence that Yeshua took this next step of formal education, even though His performance in the temple proved that He was eminently qualified to do so in terms of ability.   Yeshua may have felt that to commit to taking another rabbi’s yolk (interpretations) upon Himself as His own was not compatible with His mission of bringing a distinctly heavenly perspective to Torah.   There may also have been more earthly considerations.  We know from scripture that Yeshua had at least six siblings, all younger than himself.  The evidence of scripture also suggests that Mary’s husband, Joseph, had died before Yeshua began his ministry.  If Joseph died while Yeshua was a teenager, then as the oldest son He would have taken responsibility for His mother and younger siblings, providing for them until the youngest had finished their education and was able to provide for themselves, and then ensuring that His mother would have her needs cared for before He left to begin His ministry.   Doing this as His first priority, in honouring His father and mother, could have meant that Yeshua aged out of being eligible to study with a rabbi before he was relieved of this family responsibility.  What would have been considered in that society as unfortunate for a talented young man like Yeshua was in actuality part of the Father’s perfect plan for the Son to live and teach His own, and not another rabbi’s, interpretation of the scriptures. (4) (10)

Yeshua’s later teaching supports this:

And He said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commandments of God in order to observe your own traditions!  For Moses said, “Honour your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’  But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is ‘Corban’ (that is, devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”     Mark 7:9-13a NIV

Anti-Semitism and Hellenization …

There were many other currents in the surrounding society as Yeshua was growing up.  Anti-Semitism and Hellenization were clashing with traditional Judaism and the proselytization of their heathen neighbours even while the two dominant schools within pharisaic Judaism were engaged in increasingly bitter conflict with one another.  All of these were shaping the world that He was preparing to minister to.   

Anti-Semitism in the 1st Century

Anti-Semitism already had deep roots in the prevailing Greeco-Roman culture. History wars were continuing between Jews and Egyptians while culture wars raged between religious Jews and Hellenists. The political and philosophical concern for tolerance, sociability and co-operative citizenship was a central feature of the Hellenistic era as the founding of new cities, the new mobility of populations, and the cultural mixing among the civic elite created new ‘virtues’ and their corresponding vices.  Thus the Jewish virtue of remaining faithful to their God and culture, preserving themselves as a distinct people, was to Hellenistic thinking a terrible vice which Plato had designated as a sign of feral character.  The dominant culture of the time demanded mutual acceptance and respect for others’ gods and customs, along with reciprocal hospitality. These were considered the fundamental social virtues supported by the Stoic notions of a universal humanity.  They lay in stark contrast to the Pharisees’ Essenes’, Hasidim’s or Zealot’s way of life and teachings about the need to be separate from the gentiles, to worship only Yahweh as God, observe the Jewish dietary laws, refrain from participating in other’s religious practices and keep pure from intermarriage.  By Roman times the worst vice and most unpardonable sin in the eyes of the dominant culture was that committed by the Jews, wherever they were found throughout the empire, of social aloofness and failure to integrate into the pagan civic life of the rest of the population.  The Jews thus became the antitype of the values of tolerance and social reciprocity considered in Hellenism as necessary for the well-being of civilization as a whole. (11) (12)

Apion (25 BC – 48 AD), a Hellenized Egyptian grammarian, sophist, and commentator on Homer, rose to prominence in Alexandria.  He was renowned for his exceptional oratory skills, his vast knowledge, his ostentatious vanity and his bitter hatred for the Jews.  Apion was consciously part of a Graeco-Roman anti-Jewish intellectual tradition that had included Manetho, Posidonius, Apollonius Molon, Cicero, Horace, Hecataeus, Chaeremon, Lysimachus and Tacitus. Over the centuries a set of standard charges had been developed to lay at the door of the Jews.  These included that their ancestors were lowly, leprous and diseased slaves who ate animals that represented the gods and thus angered them, causing the Egyptians to drive them out of their country.  Jews were depicted as carriers of disease, physically, intellectually and culturally inferior, antisocial, and as atheists who denied the gods.  Circumcision was a constant subject for coarse jokes. Sabbath-observance described as an indulgence in idleness, only the upper classes of other peoples had any such indulgence.  Also causing particular angst with their neighbours was the Jewish attitude of superiority, social separation from non-Jews, rejection of all the pagan religions, proselytization and efforts to replace Greek and Roman laws with Jewish ones.   Apion was a master at inciting hatred for ‘the other’ and worked to rouse the fanaticism of the populace against the Jews by coming up with additional charges against them.  “Every year”, he said, “it was the practice of the Jews to get hold of some unfortunate Hellene, fatten him for the year and then to sacrifice him, partaking of his entrails and burying his body, while during these horrible rites they took a fearful oath of perpetual enmity to all other peoples”.   Under such influence the educated Roman regarded the Jew with a mixture of contempt and hatred, bitter that this despised race confronted him everywhere, with a religion so uncompromising as to form a wall of separation, and with rites so exclusive as to make them not only strangers but enemies. Yet still Romans were turning to Judaism in increasing numbers, even among the elites, and this aroused even greater fear and suspicion among the populist masses.  Apion’s orations roused the citizens of Alexandria to riot against the Jews, attacking individuals, homes and businesses. (13) (14) (15) (16) (11)

Philo Judaeus (25 BCE – 50 CE), a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher from one of the leading Jewish families in Alexander, also rose to prominence at this time.   When Apion led a delegation from Alexander to disparage the Jews to Caesar it was Philo who led the Jewish delegation to clear their name and seek Roman protection from the riots incited against them.  Philo is considered the epitome of how intellectual Jews of the Dispersion, isolated from Palestine and their native culture, allowed Hellenistic influences to shape their theology and philosophy.  He tried to fuse and harmonize ancient Greek philosophy and Judaism, using a composite of Jewish exegesis and the art of allegory he had learned from Stoic philosophy. Philo was thoroughly educated in Greek philosophy and culture with a superb knowledge of classical Greek literature. He had a deep reverence for Plato and referred to him as “the most holy Plato” (Prob.13). Philo’s philosophy represented contemporary Platonism which was its revised version incorporating Stoic doctrine and terminology, as well as elements of Aristotelian logic and ethics and Pythagorean ideas.  Philo put forward the teachings of Moses, as “the summit of philosophy” (Op. 8), and followed the earlier Hellenistic Jewish tradition of considering Moses to be the teacher of Pythagoras and of all Greek philosophers and lawgivers. For Philo, Greek philosophy was a natural development of the revelatory teachings of Moses.  

Philo attempted to achieve a twofold purpose through his writings:

  1. He endeavoured to justify the Jewish religion to the cultured people of Greco-Roman society. In view of the deterioration of pagan society and religion, he had a splendid opportunity to portray the Jewish faith as fulfilling ‘the desire of all nations.’
  2. He tried to show and persuade his strict coreligionists that Greek philosophy and learning were not actually hostile and opposed to the tenets of the Hebrew religion but that each stood for practically identical principles.

Philo thus adopted an eclectic viewpoint, one in which he blended the theological concepts of the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) with Greek philosophical principles.   .   (17) (18) (19) (20)

Middot – Hillel’s Seven Rules for Biblical Interpretation

Such synthesis of scripture and Greek philosophy was abhorred in Judea.  The Tanakh was to be interpreted with reference to itself and the thinking of the great Jewish sages, not to Greek philosophy.  Hillel (60 BC – 10-20 AD?) established seven rules of biblical interpretation called middot (measures / norms). These rules aim at moving from peshat (literal sense) to remez (legally binding principle) for applying Torah to everyday live.  They were exemplified in the Tenach (Hebrew Scriptures) and, being the ‘norm’ for scriptural interpretation in Israel during NT times were used by both Yeshua and the NT writers. They did not, however, ensure unanimity of interpretation.  Hillel’s Seven Rules were:
1. Kal vachomer” (light and heavy / minor and major).  What applies to a less important case will certainly apply in a more important case.  A kal vahomer argument is often, but not always, signalled by a phrase like “how much more…”  Tenach examples include: Prov. 11:31, Jeremiah 12:5a, Jer. 12:5b, Deut. 31:27, 1 Sam. 23:3, Ezekiel 15:5 & Esther 9:12.  Examples of Yeshua’s use include: Mt. 6:26,30, Lk 11:13, Mt. 12:11-12, Jn 7:23, Mt. 10:25, Jn 15:18-20 and Jn 7:23.   Shaul (Paul) studied under Hillel’s grandson, Gamilel, and also frequently used kal vahomer (eg. Rom. 5:8-9, 10, 15, 17; 11:12, 24; 1Cor. 9:11-12, 12:22; 2Cor. 3:7-9, 11; Philippians 2:12; Philemon 1:16; Heb. 2:2-3; 9:13-14; 10:28-29; 12:9, 25.)  
2. Gezerah shavah” (equivalence of expressions).  If the same word occurs in two Biblical passages, then the law applying in the one should be applied to the other.  Tenakh example: By comparing 1 Samuel 1:10 to Judges 13:5 using the phrase “no razor shall touch his head” we may conclude that Samuel, like Samson, was a nazarite. This found far less use in the NT.  We have the opening of Mark’s gospel where he links Malachi (3:1) and Isaiah (40:3) through the shared term “way” (1:2-3) and Mat. 15:1-9 where Yeshua links Exo 20:12 & 21:17 about honouring father and mother.

3. Binyan ab mikathub echad” (building up a “family” from a single text). One explicit passage is used as a foundation or starting point so as to constitute a rule for all similar passages or cases.

4. Binyab ab mishene kethubim” (building up a “family” from two or more texts). A principle is established by relating two texts together: The principle can then be applied to other passages.  The writer of Hebrews uses these two in establishing principles for blood and showing the Messiah to be of a higher order than angels.

5. Kelal uferat” (the general and the specific).  A general principle may be restricted by a particularization of it in another verse – or, conversely, a particular rule may be extended into a general principle. A Tenach example: Genesis 1:27 makes the general statement that God created man. Genesis 2:7, 21 particularizes this by giving the details of the creation of Adam and Chava (Eve).
6. Kayotze bo mimekom akhar” (analogy made from another passage).  Two passages may seem to conflict until a third resolves the conflict. Examples from the Tenach: Lev 1:1 & Ex. 25:22 resolved by Num. 7:89; 2Sam. 24:9 & 1Chr. 21:5 resolved by 1Chr. 27:1.  In Romans Shaul (Paul) uses Gen. 15:6 to resolve Ps. 62:12 & Ps. 32:1-2.

7. Davar hilmad me’anino” (explanation obtained from context). The total context, not just the isolated statement must be considered for an accurate exegesis.

The men who penned the Brit Chadasha (New Testament) participated in the Hebraic thought pattern of the sages and rabbis of their time period in interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures.   From Hillel’s rules for interpretation we can see three fundamental principles in Torah hermeneutics: logic, analogy and comparison.  These were the underpinnings of all Tenach interpretation by the Jewish sages and Torah scholars, including Yeshua and the NT writers.  In contrast, Hellenistic thinking reduced everything to logical interpretation alone and so lost much of the richness of the Hebraic way of thinking and Torah understanding. (21) (22) (23) (24) (25) (26) (27)

Jewish evangelism …

This was also a time of Jewish proselytization.   The prophets during the exile had brought a greater emphasis on the reality that God is not just a tribal God of the Israelite nation but a universal God of all humanity.   With this emphasis on Judaism as a universal faith, formal proselytization developed, especially through the dominant Pharisaic school, Bet Hillel.  Jewish teachings and ways exerted a fascination among both the aristocracy and the common people of the Roman Empire and their proselytization was so successful that ten percent of the population became Jewish. (28)

Change in Leadership Over Judea…

After ruling for 10 years with a brutality rivalling that of his father, but without his father’s nation-building capacity, Archelaus was removed by the emperor Augustus in 6 A.D. and replaced by a Roman Prefect.  Ananias, son of Seth, was appointed by the Roman legate Quirinius as the first High Priest of the newly formed Roman province of Judaea that same year.  Ananias officially served as High Priest for ten years (6–15 CE), when at the age of 36 he was deposed by the procurator Gratus.  He remained as one of the nation’s most influential political and social individuals, aided greatly by the use of his five sons and his son-in-law Caiaphas as High Priests.  There are Talmudic references to the unworthiness of the High Priests during this period. (29) (30) (31)

Origins of Tax Collectors…

After the banishment of Archelaus, the Roman procurator, Coponius, attempted to directly tax the Jews and ordered a strict census for that purpose. B oth major pharisaic schools, Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai protested. They stigmatised the new measure as being so outrageous as to justify all schemes by which it might be evaded.   Both schools also promoted abhorrence of every Jew who was officially concerned in carrying it out – even their testimony before any Jewish court was deemed worthless.

Hatred of “the other”…

In this atmosphere of heightened discontent with Roman rule Judas of Galilee (son of Hezekiah whom Herod had executed) and Zadok, of the Shammai school, united in forging the Zealots into a significant political league whose objective was to oppose by every means the practice of Roman laws and exercise of Roman governance.  ‘Hatred of the other’, primarily directed at the Romans but broadened to include all Gentiles, gained the ascendency and with it Bet Shammai gained political ascendency over Bet Hillel.  Viewed through this lens, anyone who fraternized with Gentiles was compromising the purity of God’s people, corrupting the holy Torah and unworthy of any respect.   An incident is recorded of Hillel going up to the temple to offer a burnt offering and being accosted by several students of Shammai.   Rather than risk confrontation in the very Temple courtyard, Hillel offered a lie that they accepted and moved off (b.Betazh 20a).  These two houses of Pharisees grew so bitterly opposed to each other that even in public worship they would no longer unite under one roof. (32)

The Eighteen Articles and a Violent Shift of Power within the Pharisees

In order to build a sufficient fence around the Torah to maintain Jewish purity the Shammaites and Zealots proposed a more strict interpretation of the laws of purity and association.  Known as “The Eighteen Articles”, these measures included prohibiting the Jews from buying any article of food or drink from their heathen neighbours.  The Shammaites placed such significance of ritual purification of the hands before eating, after the manner of the priest’s purification before serving at the altar, that one who ate bread without engaging in this ritual washing of his hands was considered “as if he had sexual relations with a whore”.  It needs to be understood that for the Jews ritual purification was not about washing dirt off but was an additional ritual washing after the hands, or item, were physically clean in order to demonstrate one’s spiritual purity.  Another example of adding more stringent articles to the rules of ritual purity related to objects which had become ritually unclean.  Now even melting metal objects down and using the molten metal to make new objects was deemed to be insufficient to remove their ritual uncleanliness if they had been forged by a gentile. 

The Hillelites were not in agreement with such sharply defined exclusiveness or such rigidly applied ritual purity laws that would have the effect of splintering the people even more than they already were, to the point where even a Pharisees could not eat with other Pharisees.   They could see the detrimental economic effects of such trade restrictions and also the difficulties such would pose for continuing their proselytizing of the Gentiles if all contact with them was prohibited.

The Sanhedrin was basically a democratic body, so with both the Sadducees and the Hillelites against their new measures there was little chance of the Shammaites and Zealots getting them passed into Jewish law as things stood.   Eleazar ben Ananias conceived a plot to change the way things stood.  He invited the disciples of both schools of Pharisees (Hillel & Shammai) to meet at his house. Armed men were stationed at the door, and instructed to permit everyone to enter, but no one to leave. During the discussions that were carried on under these circumstances, many Hillelites are said to have been killed with swords and spears; and there and then the remainder adopted the Shammaites’ Eighteen Articles.  On account of the violence which attended those enactments, and because of the radicalism of the enactments themselves, the day on which the Shammaites thus triumphed over the Hillelites was later regarded as a day of misfortune (Tosef., Shab. i. 16 et seq.; Shab. 13a, 17a; Yer. Shab. i. 3c). 

Many of the measures had been repealed by the time Rabbi Judah HaNasi penned the Mishnah, but while the Shammaites retained the ascendancy (which now lasted until after the destruction of the second temple) these measures remained fixed in the Jewish law. It was now unlawful for the Jew even ‘to keep company, or come unto one of another nation.’  To quarrel with this was to find fault with “the law” and the religion which made one a Jew. 

With this increasing polarisation of society the radical centre of Bet Hillel had shrunk from a broad way that carried most of the people to an endangered narrow path, under threat from both Romans and Zealots.  When Hillel died, sometime between 10 and 20 AD, the leadership of Bet Hillel passed to his son, but the leadership of the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin was now firmly in the hands of the stringent separatist Shammai. (33) (34)

New Capital for Galilee…

In 18 AD, Antipas built the city of Tiberias to replace Sepphoris as his capital. He named it to honour the Roman Emperor who was his close friend and patron. The urban cities built by Antipas were cosmopolitan and opulent, and quite unlike the traditional towns of Galilee. Furthermore, the city of Tiberias had been built over a cemetery making it “unclean” for Jews.   Interestingly, the gospels never recount that Yeshua, a devout Jew, travelled to either Tiberias or Sepphoris, even though Sepphoris is only a few kilometres, and even visible, from the village of Nazareth where he spent his childhood. (1)

The stage was now set for this much needed reform to begin.  A reform that would be, as the Gospel of Matthew keeps reminding us, a fulfilling of God’s purposes for Israel.

Reference List

1. Galilee in the First Century CE. New Life. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
2. Chancey, Mark A. How Jewish Was Jesus’ Galilee? s.l. : Biblical Archaelogy Society, 2008.
3. Stolebarger, Dan. Discipleship vs. Talmidim. Koinonia House. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
4. Erickson, Joyce A. 2-Jesus as Rabbi-Jewish Roots. The Online Bible School. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
5. Bivin, Roy B. Blizzard and David. Study Shows Jesus as Rabbi. Bible Scholars. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
6. Rabbi and Talmidim. That the World May Know. [Online] [Cited: 18th Sept. 2016.] .
7. Bivin, Roy B. Blizzard and David. Study Shows Jesus as Rabbi. Bible Scholars – Question the Answers. [Online] May 2013. [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
8. Safrai, Shmuel. Pilgrimage in the Time of Jesus. Jerusalem Perspective. [Online] Sept/Oct 1989. [Cited: 3rd November 2019.]
9. Safrai, Chana. Jesus’ Devout Jewish Parents and their Child Prodigy. Jerusalem Perspective. [Online] [Cited: 3rd November 2019.]
10. Andrews, Samuel James. How Many Brothers and Sisters Did Jesus Have – The Life of our Lord on Earth. [Online] [Cited: 5th Aug 2019.]
11. Armin Lange, K.F.Diethard Römheld, Matthias Weigold. Judaism and Crisis: Crisis as a Catalyst in Jewish Cultural History. Oakville : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.
12. Barclay, John M. G. Pauline Churches and Diaspora Jews.
13. Radl, Karl. Apion of Alexandria on the Jews (Part I). Semitic Controversies A Daily Blog About Jews and Judaism. [Online] 2nd Oct. 2012. [Cited: 2nd Oct. 2016.]
14. Kohler, Kaufmann. APION. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 2nd Oct. 2016.]
15. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.
16. Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong, Henry Louis Gates. Dictionary of African Biography, Volume 6. New Tork : Oxford University Press, 2012.
17. Hillar, Marian. Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.E.—40 C.E.). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [Online] Center for Philosophy and Socinian Studies. [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
18. Kirby, Peter. Philo of Alexandria. Early Jewish Writings. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
19. Mastin, Luke. By Individual Philosopher >Philo of Alexandria. The Basics of Philosophy. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
20. Nash, Ronald. Was the New Testament Influenced by Philo? CRI. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
21. DelHousaye, John. Hillel’s Seven Rules of Interpretation. Academia. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
22. Louis Jacobs, David Derovan. HERMENEUTICS. Jewish Virtual Librry. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
23. What are the seven middoth (Hillel’s rules for interpretation)? Biblical Hermeneutics. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
24. The Seven Rules of Hillel, and the Thirteen Rules of Ishmael. Upper Biblical Studies for All. [Online] 6th Dec. 2013. [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
25. Chapter 10: Hillel’s Seven Principles of Bible Interpretation. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
26. Trimm, Dr. James. The Seven Rules of Hillel. Nazarene Space. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
27. Trimm, James. HHMI Newsgroup Archives. Hebraic Heritage Ministries International. [Online] 2011. [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
28. Apple, Rabbi Dr Raymond. Jewish attitudes to Gentiles in the First Century. OZ Torah. [Online] [Cited: 15th Nov. 2016.]
29. Greene, T.E. Timeline. Tegworlds Total Context. [Online] 2nd Feb. 2016. [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.]
30. Biblical Archaelogy Society Staff. Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse. Bible History Daily. [Online] 29th Nov. 2015. [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.]
31. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. High Priest Head of all priests had special rights and privileges. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 5th Oct. 2016.]
32. Marcus Jastrow, S. Mendelsohn. Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 9th Sept. 2016.]
33. Bugg, Rabbi Mikha’el (Michael). The Eighteen Measures, Part 2: Another Upper Room. Return of Benjamin. [Online] [Cited: 9th Sept. 2016.]
34. —. The Eighteen Measures, Part 3: The Measures and Ritual Purity. The Return of Benjamin. [Online] [Cited: 9th Sept 2016.]

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* How did the Jewish school system prepare the people to hear Jesus’ message?
* In what ways is your schooling system like it was in Nazareth, and in what ways is it different? What impact do you think that has on the children’s learning, moral and spiritual development?
* Why were the people in Galilee, and especially in Nazareth looked down on?
* Why would God have chosen that place for Jesus to grow up?
* In what ways is your community like Nazareth, and in what ways is it different to Nazareth?
* Is there ‘hatred of the other’ in your community? If so, which people are hated, and how do you think Jesus would relate to them?