THE RABBI JESUS
“I CAN NO MORE UNDERSTAND JESUS APART FROM HIS JEWISHNESS THAN I CAN UNDERSTAND GHANDI APART FROM HIS INDIANNESS. I NEED TO GO WAY BACK, AND PICTURE JESUS AS A FIRST CENTURY JEW WITH….PALESTINIAN DUST ON HIS SANDALS.” Philip Yancy; The Jesus I Never Knew
“To wrench Jesus out of his Jewish world destroys Jesus and destroys Christianity, the religion that grew out of his teachings. Even Jesus' most familiar role as Christ is a Jewish role. If Christians leave the concrete realities of Jesus' life and of the history of Israel in favor of a mythic, universal, spiritual Jesus and an otherworldly kingdom of God, they deny their origins in Israel, their history, and the God who loved and protected Israel and the church. They cease to interpret the actual Jesus sent by God and remake him in their own image and likeness. The dangers are obvious. If Christians violently wrench Jesus out of his natural, ethnic and historical place within the people of Israel, they open the way to doing equal violence to Israel, the place and people of Jesus. This is a lesson of history that haunts us all at the end of the 20th century.” Anthony Saldarini, "What Price the Uniqueness of Jesus?" BIBLE REVIEW, June 1999, p. 17.
As Christians we must never forget that our Bible from Genesis to Revelation is essentially a Jewish document. Written by Jews (with the possible exception of Luke) to Jews and believers who would accept a Jewish Messiah, who came fulfilling Jewish prophecies to save first the Jew then the world.
“16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” Romans 1:16
“He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Matthew 15:24
Even though Jesus spoke those words to the Gentile woman seeking His healing power for her child, we know that Jesus had the Gentiles in his heart the whole time as evidenced by:
“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” John 10:16
We are the other sheep, and we are to listen to His voice. We must know and remember His words, and thereby learn to recognize His voice.
As Simeon said in the Temple upon seeing the baby Jesus:
“For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2: 30-32
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2: 30-32
How did Jesus speak and teach? As a First Century Jewish rabbi (teacher), accepted as such even by His enemies. Once we begin to read and hear His words from a Hebraic perspective our experience of His teachings will be transformed, much like upgrading from a black and white TV to a flat screen, HDTV in glorious color.*Lois Tverberg: Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus pg 19
Why should we place emphasis on understanding Jesus as a rabbi? Isn’t it enough to know Him as Redeemer and Messiah? Yes, absolutely; and No.
Of course it is of supreme importance to know Him as your Redeemer, all else is secondary to that.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Romans 1:15-17
Once we are redeemed and of his flock then His voice becomes the thing we are to hunger for, to seek His way and be transformed into the mind of Christ. In other words; to become His disciple.
“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16
Remember: His was the mind of a Jewish Messiah, (not Greek, American or Latin, African American or European, nor Asian or Native American.)
The Testament accounts stress that Jesus was brought up as a Jew in the traditions and faith of his ancestors. At the very outset, he was given a common Jewish name which reflected his mission, Yeshua (Mt. 1:21). This was not only the third most commonly used boy's name in the late Second Temple period of Judaism, it connected directly with prophetic expectation (Isa. 62:11 literally reads: "Your Yeshua is coming..."). His parents came to the Temple with the newlyborn Yeshua for his b'rit milah(circumcision), for pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn), and for the ritual purification of his mother ( Lk. 2:21-24). The family apparently came to Jerusalem yearly to observe the traditional festivals ( Lk. 2:41). This habitual practice is an indication of the family's especially devout observance; not all families of that period could or did observe this practice.
Like his childhood, his later life was also stamped by his Jewish heritage. He respected the Temple and its worship, expecting his followers to offer the usual sacrifices (Mt. 5:23, 24) and going out of his way to pay the Temple tax (Mt. 17:24-27). Like the devout Jews of his day he attended synagogue regularly on the Sabbath (Lk. 4:16 et al.), first being taught there as a child, and later doing the teaching himself. He consistently observed the Jewish festivals and holidays and used these occasions to indicate how they highlighted his mission (Jn. 2:13; 5:1; 7:2, 10, 37-39; 8:12; 10:22-23; 13:1-2)
Jesus taught as a rabbi, using cultural idioms and exhaustive references and quotes from The Scriptures, as He called them. (The Scriptures were the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings; or as we call them; The Old Testament.)
JESUS IN TRAINING AS A RABBI
During the so-called 'missing years' (filled in by spurious apocryphal gospels), Jesus undoubtedly received a Jewish education; perhaps along these lines: "at 5 years of age" he would be "ready for the study of the written Torah, at 10 years of age for the study of the Oral Torah, . . . at 20 for pursuing a vocation, at 30 for entering one's full vigor". Interestingly, Jesus did just that, entering his ministry at about 30 years of age. Also at 30 a Jewish father might publicly declare his son to be the inheritor of all that he had, or an adopted son in his place. The voice that spoke out of heaven at Jesus' baptism; (Luke 3:22) was God declaring Jesus to be His true son and inheritor.
The remark of a contemporary Jewish Rabbi was that education began at 6 yrs of age and from then on we "stuff him [with Scriptural teaching] like an ox".
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
Jesus only needed to hint at Scriptural verses for his hearers to recollect the whole contexts in their minds. Their minds worked like Strong's Concordances. The Scriptural knowledge of most Jewish children then would have surpassed that of most church leaders now, nevertheless it was faith and application that God was looking for. Lessons began with the book of Leviticus at age 5 or 6 and progressed onward. Higher education began at 15 when one would embark on theological discussion with learned teachers or Rabbis.
By the age of 12 we know that Jesus was growing in understanding in both the Written and Oral Torah, as he was found in the temple precincts "both listening and asking questions" (Luke 2:46). The contemporary method of teaching included questioning to elicit intelligent responses, so Jesus' asking of questions may not have been just to obtain knowledge but also to teach it, indeed "they were astonished at his understanding and answers".
This was a fulfillment of Psalm 119: 97-100:
“Oh, how I love Your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders for I obey your precepts.”
(Was David boasting here; did he fulfill this in his life anywhere recorded? David was a good king, but nowhere does it record he overwhelmed his teachers or perplexed the elders. His Son, the Messiah however, did this very thing, as we have just seen. It is a wonderful study to read the Psalms with your eye looking to references that cannot be fulfilled in the life of the writer. There are many instances of prophetic pictures of the thoughts of Jesus, and of events in His life interwoven in the words.)
At age thirteen the most talented and knowledgeable young men would have been encouraged to continue studying at the bet midrash or “house of interpretation” at the synagogue. Only the most brilliant would go on to become a rabbi. We may safely assume that this most likely was the path that Jesus took during the “lost years”.
Remember Timothy :
“And how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, (OT) which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:15
(Yes, it was the Old Testament that was able to make him wise for salvation through Christ Jesus.)
Memorization was the chief technique of learning.
This is why Jesus' followers were able to reproduce his teachings so accurately when they were later written down as our Gospels. Given this fact, it means that we can have faith in the accurate transmission of Jesus' teachings. We now know from early church records and archeology that Matthew's was the earliest gospel and that it was written in Hebrew. Jesus himself must have taught in Hebrew (as all rabbis did) as he says that "not one yodh or little horn shall pass away from the law" (not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of the pen; NIV) Matthew 5:18: Jesus was referring to the smallest Hebrew letter yodh and the small hook, or serif on others.
Our Greek gospels are translations themselves of Jesus' Hebrew (some scholars believe Aramaic) teachings. One question on that point: Why Did Pilate write “Jesus King of the Jews” in Hebrew, Latin and Greek? (The NIV is the only modern translation to say Aramaic instead of Hebrew. The KJV, NKJV, ASB, NASB, AKJV, Darby Trans., ERV, Webster’s Trans., Weymouth, WEB and Young’s Literal Translation as well as Vincent’s Word Studies, the Geneva Study bible, Wesley’s Notes, Clarkes’ Commentary and Gill’s Exposition on the Bible all agree, (as well as others) that the inscription was in Hebrew.)
Access to copies of the Hebrew Scriptures was virtually universal via the synagogues and schools. In addition, every household might purchase one scroll or another according to their wealth. However, it was unlawful to make copies of small portions out of context due to fear of transmission of error. Exceptions were made for certain passages though: Genesis 1-9 (the history of the world from creation to the flood); Leviticus 1-9; Numbers 1-10.35. (Since Scripture was memorized from youth these manuscripts were expensive luxuries rather than essential.)
Given all of this we can see that Jesus did not necessarily need supernatural help in learning His Scripture, (which in His divinity He had written) but being a man:
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself “ Philippians 2:6-8 (KJV; “He emptied Himself”)
(Jesus learned Scripture as any other Jewish boy, as an example to us all. And as an example for us, after His baptism and anointing by the Holy Spirit, He then taught with revelation and knowledge given by His Father).
I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” John 12:50)
Jewish historian Shumel Safrai writes:
“Torah study was a remarkable feature in Jewish life at the time of the Second Temple (Jesus day) and during the period following it. It was not restricted to the formal setting of schools and synagogue, not to sages only, but became an integral part of Jewish life. The Torah was studied at all possible times, even if only a little at a time….The sound of Torah learning issuing from houses at night was a common phenomenon. When people assembled for a joyous occasion such as a circumcision or a wedding, a group might withdraw to engage in study of the Law.” *Shmuel Safrai and Menahem Stern, eds. The Jewish People in the First Century
It was into this culture and people that Jesus stepped as a rabbi.
Why is it important to understand that Jesus came as a rabbi to His people?
God in His mercy wanted to clearly communicate His word to his people, in a way that gave them the best chance to comprehend it. Jesus did not come as a pagan would, sitting Himself up as a divine king, as the Gentiles did with their rulers like Caesar, who demanded to be worshipped as a god. The Jewish people would not have accepted Him and would have immediately condemned Him as a heretic. Jesus came, as we have seen, as a servant and patiently taught and rebuked, praised and enlightened those who had “ears to hear”, as any Early First Century Rabbi would.
The difference was Jesus proved His words with power; healing and delivering all who came to Him. His teachings were primarily focused on the coming Kingdom of God (of which He WAS the King). He used all the techniques of teaching common to rabbis’ of the time, with the ultimate goal of proving himself the Messiah, and leading all who would accept Him to find salvation in Him as He fulfilled Gods’ Feasts and Types with His life, death and resurrection.
How do we know for certain that Jesus was an accepted rabbi? Consider the following:
“14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” Luke 4:14-22
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”John 13:12-15
From just these two examples of many we can conclusively state that Jesus walked, taught and lived as a First Century rabbi.
1. Jesus taught in the synagogues regularly
2. He was given the scroll of Isaiah to read, and then sat in Moses Seat at the front of the synagogue to expound, which only a rabbi or teacher of the law could do
3. He agreed with the disciples who called him Rabbi (Teacher) and Lord, stating that He was indeed those things to them
4. He told the disciples (Talmidim; tal mee DEEM in Hebrew) to imitate His actions, a customary thing for rabbis to tell their disciples.
5. The fact that he had Talmidim proves beyond a doubt He was a rabbi.
As noted, the fact that Jesus preached regularly in the synagogues, which would not have been possible if his lifestyle or teachings had been recognizably different from the current teaching or accepted halakah (authorized opinions), substantiates these observations. The incident in Matthew 9:18f. provides further corroboration. The "ruler"—in Lk. 8:41 and Mk. 5:22, the "head of the synagogue" comes to Jesus. Both his request and his posture (kneeling) indicate this religious leader's ready acceptance of and profound respect for Jesus as an observant Jew and important religious leader.
So what word did Jesus’ disciples use to refer to him? Rabbi. (But in a different sense from the later Rabbinical era).
It was traditional, even before Jesus was born, for disciples to address their teacher as rav, meaning “master” or “great one.” You can see this in quotations from the earliest sages in the Mishnah, (the Oral Torah, i.e. traditions of the rabbis, finally put into writing in 200 AD) which spoke of the relationship between a talmidim (disciple), and his rav (master)..
“Rav” was the same word that a slave would use to address his owner, displaying an attitude of humility. An “i” added to the end meant “my,” so a disciple would address his teacher as rav-i, “my master,” or rabbi.” (In Hebrew, b and v are often interchangeable.)
The Gospels yield clues that Jesus’ disciples called him rav-i in this older sense of the word. In Luke’s gospel especially, we see Jesus being referred to as “master.” (See Luke 5:5, 8:24, 8:45 and elsewhere.) We also hear Jesus saying, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master.” (Matthew 10:24-25) The reason Jesus made this comparison was likely because the disciples were calling him rav, and addressing him each time they spoke to him as rav-i, “my master.” The fact that John translates the word rabbi as didaskalosn (Grk) shows that the word was also understood to mean “teacher” as well.
He did not object when his disciples used rav-i to refer to him. Rather, he expected that if they honored him with a special title, it should be accompanied by obedience: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
Today, many modern scholars will not refer to Jesus as a “rabbi” because the scholarly boundaries have been set to define him as living slightly before the accepted rabbinic era.
Shortly after the time of Jesus, there was a change in how the word “rabbi” was used.
The word was not used as a FORMAL title (like the Right Reverend Jones etc), of a religious teacher in Jesus’ time, but only became so after 70 AD. Jewish teachers who lived during and before his time, like Hillel and Shammai, were not called “Rabbi Hillel” and “Rabbi Shammai,” even though they had numerous disciples. They simply went by their name with no formal title, like Jesus did, except to their disciples.
It was only after 70 AD that we find numerous religious teachers who had the formal title of “rabbi,” like “Rabbi Akiva” or “Rabbi Eliezar.”
Because of this, modern day scholars refer to the era after 70 AD as “the rabbinic period” and speak of teachers in this period as “the rabbis.” Religious teachers who gathered disciples prior to 70 AD are termed “sages,” so Jesus was a “sage” rather than a “rabbi” by modern definition.
This is why Jesus would say, looking forward to the time after the destruction of the Temple:
“ 8 But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.” Matthew 23:8
Obviously since Jesus took the pre-70 AD title upon Himself here and other places in the Gospels, Jesus was speaking here in Matthew of the future use of the title, which would be used as a way of dividing the clergy from the laity, and fostering pride of position and elevating one over another in the body.
(Since the gospels themselves explicitly spell out the word “rabbi” in reference to him. And Jesus himself speaks as if he expects that we as his followers would think of him as our “master.” It seems very appropriate, then, that if we are his disciples, we should speak of him as our “rabbi” or “rav-i”.)
The main functions of rabbis (sages) in that time were:
1. Interpret the Torah
2. Explain Scriptures in a understandable way; often via parables
3. Gain and train disciples and eventually send them out to teach
Jesus of course fulfilled all these functions in remarkable ways, amazing many and making enemies of some, especially in the last days of His earthly ministry.
Rabbis traveled about the countryside, often teaching in homes, in fields, along the roads, in market places and vineyards. They were supported by followers, as Jesus was by some prominent women. To have a rabbi teach in your home was an honor, and to “sit at his feet” was to devote yourself fully to his teachings. (As we see Mary do in Bethany. Luke 10:38-42)
Though most Jewish men were expected to be married by eighteen, rabbis who devoted themselves to teaching and making disciples often remained bachelors till much later in life, as Jesus said:
“others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” Matthew 19:12
Sorry Dan Brown, but your theory in DaVinci Code of Jesus being forced to marry due to Jewish custom is not historically factual. SURPRISE!
(We know that Jesus does have a bride actually, it is the Church.)
We know that Jesus was an exceptional teacher, not even His harshest critics questioned His scholarship, and we know He was Torah observant, or He would never been invited to a synagogue.
It’s important to note that Jesus lived in the critical period of Judaism that formed the nucleus of later rabbinic thought. The disciples of Hillel and Shammai were debating in His day, and their opinions became the focus of much of the discussion that is preserved in the Mishnah (the Oral Torah, i.e. traditions of the rabbis put into writing in 200 AD) and Talmud (Commentary on the Mishnah compiled in 500 AD).
Jesus appeared to be commenting on their debates in some places, for instance, on divorce (Mt 19:3-9). Their debates over Sabbath observance and making vows are also recorded, and Jesus took a side on these issues too. Even if Jesus didn’t interact with them directly, knowing what they believed is critical for understanding His Jewish world and why He taught as He did.
HOW DID JESUS TEACH?
Mark 4: 33 “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”
Jesus taught in various ways, the most famous being Parables.
Teaching in parables was a traditional rabbinical way of teaching; the use of common themes to teach truth. Jesus of course was the Master of the parables, amazing His listeners with His insight.
Parables often include a character that represents God. A King, a Farmer with a Vineyard or a Shepherd.
These images are drawn directly from the Scriptures (OT):
1. King; 1 Samuel 8:7; Psalms 24:47
2. Shepherd; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 23:31; Ezekiel 34; Psalm 23
3. Farmer; Psalm 80; Isaiah 5
There were also what was known as “four types parables”. The Mishna records the following early rabbinic parable:
“There are four types among us who sit before teachers. The sponge, the funnel, the strainer and the sieve.
The sponge, which soaks up everything. The funnel, which takes in at this end and lets out at the other. The strainer, which lets out the wine and retains the dregs. The sieve, which removes the chaff and retains the fine flour.”
In this parable, the best disciple is not the sponge who retains everything in his mind, but the sieve who sifts the teaching and retains what is the best.
Does that remind you of the Farmer and the seeds which fell on four places; the rock, the path, the thorns and the good soil? Luke 8:4-11
In this parable of Jesus the seed is the Word. Jesus brought Gods’ words to earth. More than that He was Gods’ Word incarnate on earth. With this is mind, it is hardly surprising that Jesus spent His life as a Jewish rabbi. In life and death He is our great Teacher, redeeming us so that we can learn from Him how to live.* Lois Tverberg; Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus
As Lois Tvberg puts it:
“Imagine for a moment that you possess the sheet music of the most beautiful piano concerto ever written, but you have never heard the whole piece perfectly played. Then one day, you meet the composer’s son, who is himself a great pianist. This man knows his father’s music by heart. As he sits down to play with the orchestra, the music is so achingly beautiful that you begin to weep. At last, you are hearing the most magnificent concerto in the world played exactly as the composer intended. This is rough analogy of what Jesus has done for us, not merely TELLING us but SHOWING us what human beings, created in God’s image were meant to become.” Tvberg: Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus; pg. 32
This is not only a great analogy, but a parable in itself, much as Jesus would have used familiar images to present the Father’s heart to us. Jesus used the Father figure in some of His most famous parables, such as the Prodigal Son.
Jesus’ mission was, as any rabbi, to become a living example of what it means to apply Gods’ word to one’s life. Disciples would apprentice themselves to a rabbi because the rabbi had obviously saturated himself with Scripture and had become a true follower of God. The disciple would study the text, not only of the written Word, but of the “living word” of the rabbi’s life. It was in the “living Torah ” that the disciple would find how to live out the Word in his own life. Even more than acquiring his master’s knowledge, the disciple wanted to acquire his master’s character, his internal grasp of God’s law.
From ancient times God had told His people:
“Be Holy, because I, the Lord your God, am Holy” Leviticus 19:2
What better way to teach people to be like Him than to walk the earth as a rabbi? Jesus, as the ultimate Rabbi, would fulfill this role for all time, as He would fulfill the Torah.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” Matthew 5:17
As said previously the importance of Jesus death on the cross and our salvation from sin is of upmost importance. It is also critical for us, after salvation, to grasp His mission on earth as a rabbi. His goal was to raise up disciples who would become like Him. As disciples of Jesus we are still commanded to live out our calling, following and becoming like Jesus through the power of the Spirit at work within us.
To do that effectively, we need to tune into what Jesus taught by developing the ears of a First Century Jewish listener. As we do that we will find that often in the Gospels, knowing what Jesus doesn’t say is just as important as knowing what he does say.
Jesus often used a technique that Lois Tverberg calls:
“HINTING” TO THE SCRIPTURES
This was a well known rabbinical technique; to increase the impact of a statement, rabbis would quote part of Scripture and then let their audience fill in the rest. It was common to pepper their teaching with brief incomplete quotations and distinctive phrases from the Scriptures.
The rabbis weren’t trying to show off, they were simply communicating within the framework of the Scriptures they knew so well. Jesus did the same. (If you doubt that, just get a good study Bible and check the cross references in the Gospels.) Jesus didn’t reserve this just for the religious leaders either, He used it everywhere He went, whether preaching to crowds or answering questions from individuals.
As an example, remember when Jesus had been teaching and healing in the temple. The crowds were cheering him, even little children. The small ones were calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The priests and teachers of the law were furious and confronted Him: “Do you hear what these children are saying?” (Remember SON OF DAVID was a name for the Messiah).
““Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise?” Matthew 21:16
you, Lord, have called forth your praise?” Matthew 21:16
Immediately, the rest of Psalm 8:2 would have sprung to their minds:
“Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger” Psalm 8:2
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger” Psalm 8:2
The psalmist is telling us that God’s glory is so great that even children will worship Him instinctively, to the shame and loss of those who hate Him. Jesus was using the partial quote from Scripture to invoke a longer passage in their minds that they knew well. God’s Word delivered the rebuke they deserved.
Here’s a well known example: In Matthew 18:22 Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone for sinning against him. Peter, thinking he was quite sanctified, said “seven times?” Remember seven is the biblical number for completion. Jesus responded:
“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times”. Matthew 18:22
What did Jesus mean? If you check the footnotes in our Bibles we will see “Or, seventy times seven”. (We like that; 490 is a bigger number than 77.) Even so we miss the real punch line. The key is embedded in the passage to which Jesus alluded. The phrase “seventy seven times” is found in only one other place in the Bible. Genesis 4:24;
“If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
This is the ancient song of Lamech. Lamech was a descendent of Cain who inherited his forefather’s murderous ways, and who in a lust for revenge out did even Cain. Anybody who crossed Lamech would get paid back in a big way, not just seven times but seventy seven times. Lamech lusted for a revenge that went far beyond the number for completeness.
Do you see the contrast Jesus is making? He is saying His followers should be as eager to forgive as Lamech was to avenge. The forgiveness should go far beyond the wrong done to us.
How about this example:
“He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:33
In Genesis 18:6 we find:
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
What is three seahs of flour? Sixty pounds. We read the parable in English translated from the Hebrew. Jesus really said “three seahs” when He told the story, quoting from Genesis.
That’s enough to feed a hundred people! The woman in this story is Sarah, who, after Abraham received three heavenly visitors and killed a fatted calf, told Sarah to bake enough bread for a small town. Those hearing the parable would have immediately recognized the reference. The women in the crowd would have laughed at the extravagance for only three guests, since women usually only saved enough leaven (yeast) from one day to the next to act as a starter for the next day’s loaf. That there was enough yeast must have been a miracle!
Why would Jesus use yeast as a symbol for the Kingdom, as it usually refers to sin in the Bible? Because like yeast, the kingdom infiltrates and causes change in whatever it encounters, expanding it beyond it’s normal ability, and that this huge amount of bread was used to feed THREE GUESTS, One of whom Abraham called Adonai, or LORD, and Whom he bargained with over the fate of Sodom and Lot.
If this method of alluding to passages to prove a point seems strange, just consider our modern way of communication. If I would say “bloody glove” most likely you would immediately think of the O.J. Simpson trial. In the same way, if you know the Scriptures well, as we should, and our Rabbi expects us to, even a short reference to an important passage can pack a punch.
Jesus’ words brim with allusions to the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. His three favorite books came from each section.
1. Deuteronomy (Torah)
2. Isaiah (Prophets)
3. Psalms (Writings)
(In fact the Jewish name for their Scriptures is Tanakh (Ta-NAHK). The word is an acronym derived from the first letters of these three sections of Scripture:
1. Torah (Teaching/ first five books of Moses)
2. Nevim (Prophets) the historical and prophetic books (Joshua, Judges, Isaiah etc.
3. Ketuvim (Writings) Psalms, Proverbs, Job etc.)
Jesus used the same methods for quoting and interpreting the Scriptures that other rabbinic teachers did. One set of guidelines was called “the Seven Rules of Hillel”, and scholars have found examples of Jesus using a number of them. Edward Ellis; History and Interpretation in New Testament Perspective
One rule, for example, is called gezerah shavah, a “comparison of equals”. This rule said that you could use one passage to expand on another if they share the same word. In other words, “Scripture interprets Scripture”. This method is popular today, as evidenced by the cross reference study Bibles and guides. Like the study Bibles, rabbis looked for places where the same word or phrase comes up in different places. Then they would meditate (as we should also) on how these passages might expand upon each other.
An example would be when Jesus responded to a question regarding the greatest commandment:
“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.38 This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22: 36-39
The first command, “Love the Lord your God..” is from Deuteronomy 6:5, a famous part of the Shema (Sh-MAH) , the morning and evening prayer of the Jews. The second command, “Love your neighbor as yourself..” comes from Leviticus 19:18. Both passages contain the Hebrew word ve’ahavta (veh a HAHV-tah), literally translated “and you shall love”. According to the rule cited, these passages can be linked because they use the same word.
Would Jesus’ audience have understood these references? Most likely; most observant Jews were thoroughly familiar with their Scriptures, as we have previously demonstrated.
It is a good lesson for us, USE YOUR REFERENCES! They are readily available and easy to use, via study Bibles, the internet etc. Learn the Scriptures, place them in your heart. They are the fuel the Holy Spirit uses to teach us and the weapons we need for our warfare.
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26
“ ...and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:17
One technique for expounding the Scriptures was called “stringing pearls”, bringing passages together from different places in order to explore their truths, linking text after text.
Jesus did this, perhaps most famously in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12
These passages are rich with references to Isaiah and the Psalms:
1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit”…(Isaiah 57:15; 66:1-2)
2. “Blessed are those who mourn”..(Isaiah 61:1-2;66:2-3, 10, 13)
3. “Blessed are the meek”…………...(Psalm 37:11)
4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness:..(Isaiah 25:6; 55:1-2)
5. “Blessed are the pure in heart”….(Psalm 24:4)
6. “Blessed are you when people insult you”…(Isaiah 51:7-8; 66:5)*Thanks to Lois Tverberg for this fantastic study from her book “Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus”
When you read the passages, read the surrounding context also, it makes His words even more meaningful.
Each of these passages would have reminded the crowd of passages in the Scriptures where God had promised to rescue His faithful ones. Jesus pulled together various Scriptures to make one major point; God is faithful. He cares for us and will bless us even when life is painful.
God Himself liked to “string pearls”. Do you recall the scene when Jesus was baptized and God spoke from Heaven;
“ And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11
This seems like just a wonderful confirmation. But it is more than that? Did you catch any of the references? If not, here they are:
1. “You are My Son” is from Psalm 2:7: “He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have become Your Father.”
2. “Whom I love” is from Genesis 22:2 “Take your son, your only son, Isaac whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah.”
3. “With you I am well pleased” is from Isaiah 42:1 ““Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.”
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.”
What was God saying by using these “pearls”? To answer this we need to know two things: the context from which each passage is drawn and the way people understood the passage at that time.
Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42 were understood as powerful Messianic prophecies. In Psalm 2, God makes a royal proclamation announcing His Son, the King of all kings who would rule over all the earth.
But in Isaiah 42, God speaks about His “servant” (also understood to be the Messiah). Strangely, God’s Son is both a King and a Servant. Isaiah also says that the Holy Spirit will be upon His Servant. Just as the Spirit, in the form of a dove descends on Jesus in the Jordan.
The reference to “whom I love” is likely drawn from Genesis 22 where Abraham is about to sacrifice his only son Isaac out of obedience to God. God heightens the drama by emphasizing the Father’s own feelings for His only Son. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the Father is saying. “Here is My precious Son, Whom I Love, My Isaac.” Thus hinting at the sacrifice that He will soon ask of Jesus, the fulfillment of the ram that substituted for Isaac..
In these three brief quotes God speaks of Jesus as a king, a servant and His Son, who will become a sacrifice.
As Lois Tverberg says; “When God speaks, He packs a lot in His words! And notice where these three passages come from: the Torah (Genesis 22), the Prophets (Isaiah 42) and the Psalms (Psalm 2)….by quoting all three, He is proclaiming that the entire Scriptures point to Jesus as their fulfillment.” *Tverberg; Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus; pg 44-45
Could this have bearing on Jesus’ following words?
“..Do not throw your pearls to pigs..” Matthew 7:6
God’s words are sacred, as precious as pearls. Jesus does not want us to witness without wisdom, or use His word without care.
WHAT JESUS SAID ABOUT HIMSELF
One way Jesus used the Scriptures (OT) was to identify himself as the One who would fulfill them. He delivered some of his most powerful claims of Messiahship in this subtle way.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
This is one of the favorite images of Jesus, holding a lamb on his shoulders, or seeking the lamb in the wilderness. We have all seen paintings of these scenes. Jesus gave us this image Himself:
“I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and my sheep know Me- just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father – and I lay down My life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15
Of course this conjures the image of Psalm 23:1:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..”
For centuries, believers have found comfort in these verses. But Jesus was doing more than painting a comforting image of Himself. He was evoking a picture of power. Shepherd imagery was often used to describe kings in ancient Israel. In Isaiah, King Cyrus of Persia is called a shepherd (Isaiah 44:28), and in Psalm 78:71-72 King David is spoken of as “shepherding” his people.
More powerfully, in Ezekiel 34 God is angry with the leaders of His people and calls them “bad shepherds”. He then promises to save His flock and send them a “good shepherd”. This is the reference Jesus wanted the people to see in John 10. The teachers of the law would not have missed the reference.
Remember the prophecy in Micah 5:2 of the coming King of the Jews?
“But you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
When Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd in John 10 He was announcing Himself as the messianic king, via the “hinting at the scriptures” forum.
Such a reference would have shocked His listeners. But there was more.
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Matthew 25: 31-32
Compare to Ezekiel 34:17:
“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.”
Jesus is linking Himself, the Son of Man, with God who is often called the “Shepherd of Israel”. His listeners would have been shocked and scandalized by the words. You need First Century Jewish ears to get the point, and they did.
THE SON OF MAN
Over eighty times in the Gospels, Jesus uses this phrase in the third- person to refer to Himself. What goes on here?
The ordinary way to interpret this is see Jesus identifying Himself with mankind, a term of humility and servant-hood. Jesus does use this term in this way at times, but more often He uses it in a very different sense. In a way that announces His Messianic mission.
To understand what He means we need to realize how the Jewish people of His time understood a passage in the book of Daniel about a strange figure called the “Son of Man”.
One night Daniel had a vision in a dream where he saw a great court in Heaven in session. There then appeared “one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven”. This figure approached the Ancient of Days was given “authority, glory and sovereign power”. Daniel then says that “all nations and peoples of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14
In Jesus’ time, this passage was universally accepted as a reference to the coming Messiah. The key scene in Daniel’s prophecy was when the humanlike figure enters God’s throne room, is crowned and sits on the throne to rule and reign.
According to Jewish scholar David Flusser, this passage is one of the most important messianic prophecies in Scripture. While other passages could be seen as pointing to a human king descended from David’s line (2 Samuel 7:12-13), this passage predicts the Messiah would be divine. Why? Because of the term “one like a son of man”. This person seems human, but is actually far more.
Jesus also speaks of Himself as the Son of Man who will come in glory on the clouds (Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27).This is a clear reference to the passage in Daniel. His audience would have known immediately what He was saying.
Once we begin to understand Jesus’ words from a First Century Jewish perspective, steeped in an understanding of the Scriptures and the cultural context in which they were spoken, the incredible power of His claims become obvious. We see that by calling Himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus is not just invoking a comforting picture, but He is identifying with God Himself. Likewise, the enigmatic term Son of Man becomes a summary of Jesus’ entire mission, indentifying with and redeeming mankind, and portrays His coming glory and His role as Judge and Savior of all the earth.
No wonders so many of His listeners responded with awe or furious anger at His words!(Thanks to Lois Tverberg and David Flusser for much of the information in this section)
Can you see the amazing benefits in scrubbing off the dust of the ages and viewing Jesus as He was during His Life and times? By allowing the time and culture to come alive around him we can see the rabbi Jesus as He walked and taught in living words that impacted all who heard them, some for life, others for death by their own choice. His words do not change, but they come alive with new meanings when we see the original setting. Jesus’ world becomes alive, the world of shepherds, kings, rabbis and miracles.
Did the First Century church in Jerusalem have some sort of advantage in understanding Jesus? Of course, the Holy Spirit brought His words to life in a mighty way. In the first several chapters of Acts we see the Spirit filled prayer meetings, the joyous fellowship, generosity and witness powered by signs and wonders. Many of them had seen the resurrected Lord, but many had not. They believed not only because of the signs and wonders, but because they realized the fulfillment of Torah had happened in their time. Remember, most of the first believers were Torah observant Jews, who continued to study the Scriptures, worship at the Temple and kept the Feasts of the Lord.
It was only after God pushed Peter to witness to Cornelius that the idea of the Gentiles being saved was considered by the church. (see Acts 10).
We Christians often overlook these facts and assume that success came from the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This of course is true, but is it the only reason? Remember, that Paul’s Gentile church at Corinth had experienced the same kind of outpouring:
“ I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus. For you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and all your knowledge….Therefore you do not lack in any spiritual gift as you eagerly await for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” 1 Corinthians 1:4-7
But the Gentile church struggled with immaturity, divisions and sexual immorality. What was the difference? I believe it was because the gentiles had come out of a pagan culture which had no (or little) contact with the Scriptures, and their lives reflected the lack of saturation in truth that Jewish believers enjoyed because of their devotion to the Tanakh (OT). They lacked the training in morality that Jewish believers had, and which Jesus built His teachings upon. They had a lot of catching up to do!
While the Gentiles worshiped Jesus as their Savior and God, the Jewish believers also knew Him as their rabbi. As His disciples, their knew their duty was to memorize His words and live according to His halakhah, His interpretation of how God’s Word shows us how to live.
Why should we spend our time talking about ancient discipleship methods? Because WE are His disciples. We too, are followers of a rabbi, and like the early church we are commanded by our Master to:
“Go and make disciples of all nation, teaching them all I have commanded..” Matthew 28:19
How did the disciples understand these mountaintop words of Jesus? We’ll examine that in our next study.*
*Much thanks to Lois Tverberg, Anne Spangler, David Bivin, David Flusser and Dwight A. Pryor for insights and quotes! See especially Tverberg Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus and Tverberg and Spangler Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus.