Many times traditions spring up that become so much a part of common understanding that everyone accepts them as truth. I was listening to an excellent preacher this morning who gave a powerful and transformative message. However, he said something that we often hear that is problematic.
His statement was that "the church was born at Pentecost." The danger in this statement is that it may give us the idea that the church was a new thing, birthed after Yeshua's (Jesus) ascension, that burst unknown into the story of the world.
The Bible that Greek-speaking Jews used at the time of the Messiah was the Septuagint. It was composed a couple hundred years before his birth and was a Greek translation of the Tanach (Old Testament) that had rabbinical approval. So many Jews of Yeshua's time would have been familiar with the Septuagint and the words contained in it. Its terminology would have been familiar to Jews at the time of Yeshua.
Interestingly the word "ekklesia" appears 100 times in the Septuagint if you include the apocrypha. This means that the Greek word translated "church" in all our English Bibles was already a common term Jews used to refer to the congregation, the assembly, the synagogue.
So while it may be correct to say the "church" was renewed or revitalized at Pentecost (Shavuot in the Tanach) it was not in a vacuum. It was seen by early believers as a continuation of God's people already assembled. Understanding this can help with the lack of connection many Christians have with their Jewish brothers and sisters. As Paul says we are grafted into their tree not vice versa. We are family.
We are in the Days of Awe--the 10 days starting at Rosh Hashana (Yom Teruah--Feast of Trumpets) to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. This is a time of introspection, repentance, reconciliation. Something we forget but still all know is that when we have no peace with people we have no peace with God. So preparing to come before our Maker always involves straightening things out with people.
We betray our priorities by what "hill" we are willing to die on. In 155 CE, Polycarp the bishop of Smyrna traveled to Rome to meet with Anicetus the bishop of Rome to resolve an important controversy. Polycarp, who said he was following his mentor the apostle John, believed the resurrection should be celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan. Anicetus believed that since the resurrection occurred on Sunday that the resurrection should always be celebrated on the Sunday during the Passover week. They discussed and debated at length but neither could convince the other of the error of their position. To display what their top priority was, they celebrated the "Lord's Supper" together publicly to show their unity in the Messiah and parted in peace.
Sadly a few decades later Victor excommunicated Polycrates for his Quartodeciman (Polycarp's) views. This exemplifies a trend that grew in the early church--hating and separating from "heretics" and finally killing them. The Jews bore the brunt of this misguided zeal. In the 5th century a group of Christians burned down a synagogue. The emperor Theodosius ordered the Christians to rebuild the synagogue out of their own funds. The Roman bishop of the time rebuked Theodosius and refused to allow him to take Communion until he had rescinded his order.
Most of us are aware of the barbarity of the Inquisition and the murderous treatment of Jews, infidels and Protestants. But we don't look for the root. Can there be a worse heresy than a willingness to kill those we disagree with? Augustine called for the death of heretics, as did Calvin, Luther, Cromwell and other reformers.
Perhaps it's time to admit that there is no worse heresy than the willingness to destroy our opponents and wipe out our opponents. That's the way the world operates--not the Kingdom.
These 10 days afford us an opportunity to look deeply inside ourselves and ask "Do my actions reveal me as a follower of Yeshua (Jesus)? While I think doctrine, liturgy, dogma, ceremony are all vital they are not the most important aspect of the Christian life. "By this will ALL men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another."
There may be a reason the world doesn't know who we are yet.
It is the time of year for the Biblical celebration of Passover. Since memes seem to be the way we communicate and teach now, I thought I might clear up some confusion for many of you. Many are sharing erroneous information about this season. I have no interest in telling you how to think or what to believe. But facts can be helpful.
In the Tanach (Old Testament) the word translated Passover is the Hebrew פֶּסחַ (pesach.) In the New Testament the word translated as Passover is the Greek πάσχα (pascha.) In the King James Version "pascha" is translated once as Easter but most Bible versions use only the term Passover to translate pascha.
Pesach refers to not only the ritual celebrated on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan (Aviv) but often to the entire 7 day Feast also known as Unleavened Bread. In the New Testament there is a clear link between Yeshua's (Jesus's) crucifixion, burial and resurrection and the Passover and Unleavened Bread observances.
Yeshua arguably was crucified on the evening of the 14 or 15th day of Nisan, was buried and then rose from the dead on the first day of the week which corresponded to the waving of the barley sheaf performed during the week of Unleavened Bread. Since Yeshua said he would give the sign of Jonah by being buried 3 days and 3 nights but many more places say he would be raised on the third day there is not general consensus on what day of the week he was buried. Some believe he was resurrected on the night after the Sabbath but by Jewish reckoning that would still be Sunday the first day of the week. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul clearly states that Yeshua is our Passover. (Some versions say "our Passover Lamb" which is not wrong but does add a word.)
The earliest Christians (Messianics) kept Passover like their Jewish neighbors with the major difference being their emphasis on the celebration of Yeshua's resurrection. As Jewish influence waned in the early church the crucifixion and resurrection themes dominated and the exodus and unleavened bread themes retreated. Less than 200 years after Yeshua's death and resurrection a controversy arose in the church now known as the quartodeciman controversy. Basically the quartodecimans believed that the resurrection should be celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan and their opponents believed the resurrection should be celebrated on the Sunday during the week of Passover. The martyr Polycarp subscribed to the quartodeciman theory and claimed he had been taught this by the apostle John. The opponents of the quartodecimans also claimed apostolic authority.
By the time of the Nicean Council 325AD where the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity was established, an effort was made to establish a uniform date for celebrating the resurrection but this effort failed. Constantine and the Council made clear however that they felt it was an error to be dependent upon the Jewish/Biblical lunar calendar and that they wished for the church to set the date for this important celebration and not the Jews. The calculation favored by the Nicean bishops eventually became the Christian practice which was to set the celebration on the first Sunday following the first full moon occurring on or after the Spring Equinox. Thus the dating for Passover as observed by Jews and the dating for the Resurrection became independent of each other.
Around 600 AD the word Easter became the word to describe the Christian celebration of the resurrection for people who spoke English, German and Dutch. Its origin is thought to be from a German goddess, Ostara or Eostre, or some believe it came from a word describing the direction of the rising sun, the East. Regardless of its origin it became the word to describe the resurrection in these languages. The word became so entrenched that even English Jews used Oester to describe their Passover celebrations in England in the 14th and 15th century. When Tyndale translated the Bible into old English he felt that the word "Easter" was too sacred and special to use to translate the Hebrew pesach of the Old Testament. He is the one to invent the English word Passover so it is actually a much younger word than Easter. It was an excellent term that fit the Biblical pesach very well as it had the connotation of passing or leaping over.
The ancient historical churches have always used the Biblical term pascha to describe their observances--Latin, Greek, Aramaic and Syriac. The word Easter is not a part of Catholic, Orthodox, and Maronite worship in their original languages. It is a purely Germanic term and thus has only impacted those cultures using the English, German and Dutch languages.
Ancillary activities that many Christians observe on Easter/Pascha had nothing to do with the name of the festivity. They were cultural practices that gradually became a part of Pascha celebrations in many groups--Easter bunnies, colored eggs, etc. Particularly the bunnies are a rather modern innovation only emphasized in the last 200 years.
Finally in the Old Testament the Biblical term translated Passover is pesach. In the New Testament the Biblical term translated Passover is pascha. The term Passover is never used in either testament. It is a great term coined by Tyndale to translate the Hebrew and Greek terms, pesach and pascha.
A subject I have been thinking about for some time. Not an exhaustive treatment but pretty long. Nevertheless, many important points left out or not sufficiently covered.
Spirit versus the Flesh/Reality versus Shadows
1 Corinthians 15: 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.
There is an age old debate—what is more important—the physical or the spiritual? Does one replace the other? Once the spiritual has come is the physical no longer needed? What are the consequences of abandoning one in favor of the other?
Yeshua (Jesus) made strong statements concerning intent versus deed. In Matthew 5:28 when discussing the command prohibiting adultery he said that looking at a woman with lust in your heart is committing adultery. Furthermore the prohibition against murder makes one “liable to the court” but he stated that being angry with your brother also makes one “guilty” before the court. These statements remind us that the intent to sin is comparable to committing the actual sin.
For most Christians the physical commands of the Old Testament are considered unnecessary and non-binding. The vision of Peter where he is instructed to rise, kill and eat unclean animals is cited as evidence that God has changed his mind and no longer cares about such ceremonial law but only about moral laws such as murder and stealing. Even though in Acts 10 the text makes clear that the vision was about people and not food we can eat.
Even the Sabbath is seen as something you can keep every day or in your heart or on a convenient day. If the intent is good, then no sin is committed. I have read excellent Christian commentaries on Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 which speak of clean and unclean food. These all say that the problem is not eating swine but eating what swine represents. Thus the letter of the law is seen as the actual physical obedience to the law but the spirit of the law is seen as keeping the spiritual “intent” of the law.
This thinking also figures in another current hot topic among both Christians and Messianics. Will a 3rd temple be built? If so, will it be sanctioned by God? Many are saying that since we are the temple (1 Cor 6:19) that the body of the Messiah is the third temple.[The first temple is Solomon’s temple and the second the one built by Zerubbabel and refurbished by Herod.] Paul says in Ephesians 2: 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
In the same vein Peter proclaims in 1 Peter 2:9b “you also, as living stones, 10 are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Messiah.” Similarly in Revelation 3 Yeshua speaking to the church of Philadelphia says “12 ‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.”
Based upon these passages many are saying that the temple prophesied in Ezekiel is a spiritual one, a structure of people, not an actual building. Many also say that the 2nd exodus forecast in Jeremiah 16: 14 is a description of people coming to the Messiah and not an actual physical event. “Therefore behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 15 but, ‘As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.”
In the last few years many in the church are backing away from this dichotomy when it comes to the people of Israel. For years most of the church taught that we are spiritual Israel and that we have replaced literal Israel (in this case, the Jews.) Much of the reason for abandoning this teaching stems from the horrible consequences of replacement theology. First we replaced the Jews as Israel and then we started down a slippery slope that ended with us calling Jews an accursed race that wasn’t fit to live. To say our theology contradicted scripture puts it rather mildly.
There are some important ideas to consider when we view the idea of the physical versus the spiritual. First, metaphors and similes are not literal. Yeshua is not a lamb with wool that chews the cud—he is the Messiah, the King who is likened to a lamb. In Romans 11 Paul makes an impassioned claim that Israel is the domestic olive tree and the Gentiles coming in are branches of wild olive trees being grafted into the root that Israel rests on. It is an apt metaphor but it is a metaphor. We are talking about people here and not trees. Certainly not a dicot tree that grows from the ground and produces a fruit that can only be eaten after processing. Regardless of the number of parallels this tree may have to Israel, it remains a tree and Israel a people. In my thinking this also applies to us being the temple. It is a wonderful metaphor with striking reality but we are not really a building. We are people--not sticks and stones.
Second, exaggeration is useful in making a point but it remains exaggeration. Lusting after a woman can certainly lead to sin but in no way does it create the damage that actual commission of the sin does. A person dealing with illicit lust can repent and confess his/her sin and go through a process of transformation and restoration. A person who has committed adultery can also go through this same process in obedience to Biblical instruction. However, the aftermath of committing adultery is infinitely more damaging and life-altering than the consequences of lust even though if left unchecked it may lead to committing adultery. The same is true of murder and being angry with your brother. They may be sins on the same downward path but physical implementation of the temptation carries a much greater weight of consequential damage than the temptation not acted upon.
Third, saying that the spiritual principle is binding and true but the physical principle unimportant, can be foolhardy. The Bible testifies in several places that the worst adultery that people commit is in following other gods and being unfaithful to the true God. No one would ever argue that as long as one remains a believer in the God of the Bible that physical adultery is unimportant as it is the spiritual principle that carries priority.
Another thing we can do is look at history. What has resulted when people spiritualize the Bible and emphasize the moral code at the expense of literal and physical commands contained therein?
For over a thousand years most of the Christian church believed that God’s covenant with the Jews (Israel) had been replaced by a new covenant with the church. All scriptures throughout the Tanach (Old Testament) spelling out God’s promises to Israel were co-opted by the Church but we generously let them keep the judgments and disasters meted out to them in passages like Deuteronomy 28.
The Torah (Pentateuch) repeats the promise 100 times that the children of Abraham will have the land of Canaan as an earthly inheritance. In the prophets God strengthens this promise by saying his covenant with Israel and her land will last as long as day follows night. Yet you can go on Christian radio today and find well-known Bible teachers and authors proclaiming that the Jews have no claim to the Land and that God no longer has an active specific covenant with them. Furthermore, Jerusalem no longer has any significance as a place God chose for a specific purpose.
What happened as a result of spiritualizing the promises to Israel? 1- The church became the stronghold of Anti-Semitism in the world. 2- Pogroms, holocausts, unthinkable horrors were visited upon Jews at the hands of the church or with at least their approval. 3- Scriptures in the New Testament that promoted loving Jews were ignored or completely overlooked i.e. Romans 3:1-2 “What advantage then has the Jew?.. Much in every way.” Romans 11:28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
If you doubt this analysis, consider this: why did Casper Ten Boom and his family hide Jews from the Nazis and endanger their lives to protect Jews? Of course, they believed it was their Christian duty. But why did they represent such a tiny fraction of the Christian population? Because they also believed that God’s covenant with Israel was still in effect and that the Jews were God’s chosen people. What we believe dictates our actions.
Where do we hear the statement that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” in our churches? Generally in regard to the charismatic gifts. That interpretation may be true but its primary meaning is that God’s covenant with Israel stands and cannot be abrogated.
Another serious consequence of minimizing the literal meanings of scripture is the forgetting of the city of Jerusalem. If you study the rupture between the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom many factors operated together to impel the split. But the Achilles’ heel that drove the Northern Kingdom’s headlong descent into idolatry was the decision made by King Jeroboam to abandon the city of Jerusalem and build his own houses of worship at Bethel and Dan. Making the golden calves, instituting his own feasts and creating his own priesthood all stemmed from his abandoning Jerusalem and the House of God there.
Reading the New Testament we see scripture that speaks of the Jerusalem that is above, the New Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem that is our mother. While recognizing the validity of these descriptions I think it is dangerous to think this abrogates God’s covenant with Israel and the city of Jerusalem. One of the hallmarks of Biblical thinking is its circular or cyclical nature. There can be an earthly Jerusalem and a heavenly Jerusalem and both can be an indispensable part of God’s plan for mankind. The fact that John sees the New Jerusalem as a metaphor for the bride doesn’t require us to throw out all of God’s promises to the place, the real estate, the mountains of Jerusalem. He proclaims in Zechariah “that once more I will choose Jerusalem” and I suspect he means exactly that.
My comments clearly reveal my bias. I suspect that an earthly temple will be rebuilt. I may be wrong but I think it is important to recognize that the temple and tabernacle are metaphors of the body of Messiah and its individual members. The temple itself is a pattern of something structural in the heavenly places as the books of Hebrews and Revelation so aptly point out. The temple is a picture or pattern of our approach to His Majesty, our King. Granted we are all temples of the Holy Spirit and when we relate to each other properly we provide a corporate structure where the presence of God dwells.
This is an important discussion but one that need not divide us. We can all admit that we don’t know all the answers nor exactly what the future holds. My concern is that we not fall into historical pitfalls that cause us to denigrate or castigate others of God’s children. Does God fill the heavens and the earth? Certainly. But does he choose particular places? Absolutely. Deuteronomy 12: 5 But you shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.
There is a place where Abraham offered Isaac—where David offered sacrifice to atone for his sin in counting the people—where after Solomon built a temple the presence of God drove the priests out of the temple because the presence was so heavy and powerful. This same place God sent his Ruach (Holy Spirit) upon Yeshua’s disciples and transformed their world and ours. I suspect this place has not stopped being important and essential to our lives. The validity of spiritual truth is not abrogated by recognition of the physical basis of that spiritual truth but is, in fact, substantiated.
Luke 15 is a much-loved Bible chapter. In it Yeshua (Jesus) responds to some religious leaders’ accusations that he associated with “tax collectors and sinners.” To justify his behavior, he tells three stories.
The first story tells of a man who owns a hundred sheep and loses one of them. He scours the countryside until he locates the wayward ovine. Rejoicing, he carries the lost sheep home on his shoulders and restores it to the flock. So great is his joy that he calls his neighbors and friends together to help celebrate the restoration of the lost sheep.
The second story concerns a woman who possesses 10 silver coins but loses one. She lights a lamp and turns the house upside down in her search. When she finds the lost coin, like the sheep owner, she calls her friends and family together to rejoice in her good fortune.
The third and final story is much more complex. A Father with two sons is confronted by his younger son who asks prematurely for his share of the inheritance. Amazingly the Father caves to his demand and grants him his share of the estate. Not long after the younger son leaves with his newfound resources and goes to a distant country. There he squanders his inheritance in “wild living.” Of course, after a while both money and friends disappear. Now completely destitute he hires himself out to a citizen of this distant country to feed his pigs. His desperate condition is illustrated by not even being allowed to share in the pigs’ feed.
Suddenly he comes to his senses. He realizes that his Father’s servants are in far better condition than he is. Turning toward home he rehearses his speech, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired laborers.” However, while still a long way off his Father sees him and runs to embrace him. He ignores the son’s pity-party speech and commands the servants to prepare the fatted calf for a great feast. He puts a ring on his son’s finger, sandals on his feet and clothes him in his best robe.
The clamor of the celebration alerts the older son as he comes in from working in the fields. When told the reason for the celebration he refuses to come in. After his father comes to personally invite him to the party he angrily barks “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you never gave me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.” The story concludes with the father’s response. “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”
Very often the story of the so-called prodigal son is told without recognizing that it is a story that is a part of two other stories—the lost sheep and the lost coin. The stories trumpet the fact that God and heaven rejoice when sinners repent and change their ways. God and heaven’s response to repentance is basically identical as portrayed in the three stories. It is God’s perfect will that none perish and all be restored to Him.
However, there are some differences that are often overlooked. A sheep that wanders off finds itself separated from its comrades. Anyone that has worked with herd or flock animals knows this fact—these kind of animals hate to be separated from the group. When they are, it is accidental and not intentional. A cow that is in a separate pen from its herd mates will often frantically race around the pen and try to escape. They might even attempt to destroy the pen in an effort to return to the fold. Thus when the shepherd goes looking for the lost sheep, he is apt to find a sheep that is sorry for wandering off and desperately desires to be reunited to the group. The words for sin in both Hebrew and Greek can be described as “missing the mark.” When one misses the mark, it usually means one was aiming for it. The sheep wandered from the fold but desired to be with the fold. In the story it is apparent that the sheep welcomes the shepherd’s intervention and willingly returns to its flock.
The story of the coin is a little different. A coin has value to the woman of the house but really no will of its own. The coin is an object not really a sentient individual. The point of this story seems to be the desire of the woman to have all of her coins and to not lose any of them. She rejoices when the lost coin is found and restored to its original position.
The story of the Prodigal Son is unique as compared to the other two stories. He is not lost, he is not an unthinking object, he does not miss the mark. He is not aiming for the mark. He brazenly rebels against his Father’s ways and his house. He takes what is his and leaves. His actions seem to be described in Numbers 15:30 as the “defiant” or “high-handed” sin. In this defiant condition there is no “offering” for his sin—he is cut off from his Father’s house. His action is one of rebellion not missing the mark or getting lost.
This is apparent in the story. The Father never quits loving his son but he definitely does not go looking for him. With both the sheep and the lost coin the owner goes looking for what was lost and thoroughly searches until they are found. Surely the Father yearns to have his son come home. However, the son must come to his “senses” on his own and turn around and return under his own power. The minute the Father sees his repentance he rushes to greet him and restores him as his son and rejoices over his return. There is no forgiveness for defiant sin. Repentance only occurs when the defiance is recognized and completely disowned. One must completely walk away from defiance and rebellion.
Readers are often puzzled by the older son’s anger at his brother’s return. One might be forgiven for thinking that the older brother sees his returned sibling as a competitor and not as family. Interestingly, the Father reminds the older brother “all that is mine is yours.” This appears to say that the older brother is still in possession of the inheritance. My opinion is that the story is not really over until the two brothers reconcile. The younger brother has been welcomed home and reinstated as the Father’s son but there would be no inheritance if the older son had not stayed home and remained faithful. This is all conjecture and we really can’t know for sure. My sense is that we really don’t enjoy our inheritance in the Kingdom until we make peace with the other members of that Kingdom.
What we do know is that our heavenly Father rejoices when his children turn back to him. There are times he comes looking for us and other times when we have to come to our senses and turn back to Him. In every case He is always eager and willing to save. Yeshua’s willingness to hobnob with all types of people is evidence of the Father’s propensity to restore and to save. Like any parent, our Father is looking for excuses to save us not reasons to disown us. As Shakespeare so aptly said, “That in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation. We do pray for mercy.” These stories remind us that we have a merciful Father.
House of Aaron Articles/ Teachings
Please remember that these resources represent the understanding of the author and the conditions at the time of their presentation. Any reference to particular groups or persons is for the purpose of illustration and explanation.