The Talmud Part One: The Mishneh

As a new leader in the Messianic Jewish world, 1972, I wanted to learn much more about Judaism. I began reading many books.  One project still amazes me, and that was going through the Soncino English version of the Talmud.  How deep was my understanding? I cannot evaluate it.  I will say that such an exercise does give a person much more of a sense of Talmudic Judaism than many would think possible without years and years of study with Rabbis.  Some years later, I studied other books on Rabbinic Judaism and especially Rabbi Jacob Neusner’s large volumes summarizing Rabbinic literature.  Neusner, in my view, was the greatest scholar of Rabbinic Judaism who was not an Orthodox Jew (he was conservative).   Then some months ago, I began to ask if I needed a review of the original source and decided to go through the Mishnah.  I wanted to refresh my memory.  The English version can be read and is just over 800 pages.  

The Mishnah is the first part of the Talmud.  It was passed down orally until written down by Rabbi Judah the Prince at the end of the second century.  It is amazing for us moderns to realize how much was memorized and passed down, and this includes the Talmud part two.  The second part of the Mishnah which covers more than 300 years after the Mishnah, is called the Gemara.  It explains and expands on the content of the Mishnah.  

The Mishnah is invaluable for describing both the Judaism of the first century Pharisees, but one has to be careful here and not read too much back into the first century.  It also gives the consensus of practice from the end of the second century.  It provides details on Israel’s Temple services, sacrifices, Feast celebrations and practices, Sabbath laws, and the basic practices of Synagogue prayer from that time.  It also gives us applications of Torah, the laws of Moses, and how Rabbis of the time sought to apply the Torah including tort law, penalties, and capital offenses. Sometimes the applications are very wise and sometimes I scratch my head.   

The largest amount of material in the Mishnah deals with laws of purity and holiness.  This was a major emphasis of the Pharisees and sometimes was a source of conflict with Yeshua.  The details of law upon law are stunning.  It is building a fence around the Law so the law will not be violated, but then it builds a fence around the fence.  So many of the decisions as to what counts as making one unclean and to what degree seem arbitrary and cry out for the greater explanations given in the Gemara.  The level of legal hair-splitting in the Mishnah astonishes anyone who looks at it objectively without an overarching ethnic prejudice.  Surely much in the Jewish heritage is good and beautiful and true, but in these legalistic pages upon pages, the question naturally arises.  Is this what God wanted for our people: to give their primary attention to pages upon hundreds of pages of legal arguments and conclusions over matters that do not seem consequential and go way beyond the text of the Torah.  The arguments often focus on what if questions?   The Biblical law on what makes one clean and unclean and hence qualified for Temple involvement can be readily understood for 98 or 99% of the cases.  The genius of the Rabbis is to focus on those 1% or 2% of questions of possible contamination with arguments of what does and does not contaminate. They want to cover every possibility of contamination even if remote.  Once a conclusion is given, then the new question of a new 1% or 2% that arises from that can continue a new argument.  

It is hard to not ask a question.  Is this really what God is concerned with and what he really wanted our people to spend untold hours studying and arguing about, day after day, year after year, and century after century.  Of course, outside of Orthodox Judaism, now a minority of Jews, Jews today take a much more flexible approach to these traditions and generally do not live by the strictures of the centuries past.  Certainly, this did produce a great separation of our people and was used by God to preserve our people.  But was this the necessary way of preservation?  I do not believe that this reflects the ideal will of God. Is such focus a result of the failure to recognize Yeshua and his approach to Torah in the first century and the failure to recognize the post-resurrection apostolic witness?  That is my conclusion.  When Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel or America say they are studying Torah, they mean the Talmud and the Rabbinic traditions that continue the debate to this day.  Rarely is Torah studied, though it is read through every year.  

Hoshana Rabba

The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabba in Judaism.  I am sending this out to you since this day begins this Thursday evening.  I previously sent a post on the meaning of Sukkot in general.  Now I want to concentrate on this Seventh day.  Remember the 8th day celebration that follows, a day of new creation.  That is also an important sabbath day.

This Feast is connected to prayers for rain and good crops for the coming year.  As we have just celebrated the end of the year’s harvest, we look forward already to the new harvest that will come at Shavuot or Pentecost.  The key to that harvest is rain and hence the prayer for rain with the hope that the early rains will start soon after the Feast and then continue into the Spring where we will see the latter rains.  We are so much more conscious of this living in Israel.  It is was on this very day of the Feast that Yeshua stood up and said,

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.  Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture says, out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.  Now He said this about the Ruach whom those who trusted in Him were going to receive; for the Ruach was not yet given since Yeshua was not yet glorified.”

As rain produces fruitfulness and both satisfies our thirst and brings increase, so the Spirit satisfies our spiritual longing and brings increase, for by the Spirit we are able to see the harvest of people into the Kingdom.  It is again fitting to remember the harvest themes of this season.

Scholars tall us that this might have been spoken in the context of the water pouring ceremonies at that time.  The priest would draw water from the pool of Siloam and put this out in the Temple as an offering, signifying both giving our lives and calling for rain as well.

A great miracle was also connected to this time; the healing of the blind man in John 9.  We again have a Sukkot theme, namely that Yeshua is the light of the World.  This statement of Yeshua in John 8:12 promises those who follow Him will have the light of life.  Thus the blind man is healed as an illustration in the physical of being healed of our spiritual blindness.  His words, “I was blind, but now I see.” John 9:25.   The context is the glory of the lamps that were lit in the court of the women that produced a grand glory over the Temple and the City.

As we celebrate Hoshana Rabba, let us remember these wonderful themes and renew pray for the renewal of the power of the Spirit in us so that we may have inner satisfaction, walk in His light and be part of the great harvest. It is fitting to pray for revival indeed.

Sukkot (Tabernacles) is Coming

Friday evening begins the Feast of Sukkot.  In some ways, it will be sad here because the wonderful joyful harvest feast will be nothing like normal due to the virus shut down.  Sukkot has great meaning, not only for Israelis and for all Jews, but for all committed Christians. 

The command in Lev. 23 notes that this is to be a 7 day festival with the 8th day as a special assembly, Shimi Atzeret.   Historically we recall the time in the wilderness before Israel entered the promised land.  This was a time of supernatural provision despite the judgment.  Those who experienced that judgment who were under 20 years of age when it began, would have survived that judgment of almost 40 years and would have had great memory.  There was supernatural manna, meat, and water.  Their clothes did not wear out.  The Feast, therefore, is the supreme testimony from this memory that the LORD is our provider. This is why the directions for remembering the desert period were given for the largest and final harvest festival of the year.  Can you imagine being a parent and not having your kids’ clothes wear out?  Israel in the Land, now living in stable houses, with stable seasons and harvests, is not to think that their provision is any less from the LORD.  To drive this truth home, Israel is to dwell in tents as she did in the wilderness, to know that all provision is from God.  It is a testimony of the New Covenant Scriptures that for those who walk with God and live in generosity that “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in Messiah Yeshua.” (Phil 4:19)  

Probably, Yeshua was born during this Feast. The evidence is not absolute.  If so, according to the calculations from the division of Abijah’s time to serve in the Temple, the division of the father of John the Immerser, one probable calculation leads us to the time of Sukkot.  Since this is a pilgrim festival and families traveled to Jerusalem, it would explain why there was no room in the Inn.  It indeed, would be so fitting and appropriate for Him to be born on the first day of Sukkot and then circumcised on the 8th day, Shmini Atzeret. He tabernacled among us. 

The Feast is chosen by God to be the Millennial Feast for international celebration, for all nations in that age will send their representatives to celebrate the Feast.  Therefore, it is the Feast of the Kingdom of God.  In wonderful anticipation, organizations like the Christian Embassy, bring representatives of the churches from the nations in anticipation of that Age.  It is therefore in Judaism and should be in Christianity, the Feast of the Kingdom of God International under the rule of the Messiah.  If one adds the idea of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb that takes place after his return, which is rooted in the symbolism of the High Holidays, Rosh Hoshana to Yom Kippur, then it could well be that the Feast is the reception gathering of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.   We also cannot overlook that the largest and final harvest is a fitting symbol of the great harvest of the nations at the end of the Age.  

The celebration of this Feast by all believers in Yeshua therefore is a prophetic act of intercession in longing for its fulfillment.  


The High Holidays

People connected to the Messianic Jewish movement and Evangelicals with passion for Israel often have a significant understanding of the High Holidays in the Bible and in Judaism.  This is the period between Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur.  Some have a depth of understanding.  However, it amazing how many have no significant understanding at all, maybe the majority. 

The High Holidays are the holiest time of the year on the biblical Jewish calendar. Sadly, in my view, the name Rosh Hoshana and part of the theology of the day in Judaism obscures some important meanings.  It was not wrong for Israel to adopt the New Year date of the ancient Near East just as we in the West celebrate January 1st.  However, the idea of that the date is really the anniversary of the creation of the world is speculative.  By calling this the first month, we obscure the meaning that stems from Nissan, Passover month, being called the beginning of the year in the Torah.  So yes, we can have new year meanings for the 1st of Tishri, but this should be secondary, and the emphasis should be on Tishri being the seventh month, the primary meaning.  Seven is the time of perfecting.  

In the seventh month on the first day, we hear the sound of the shofar, hence the Biblical name Yom Teruah, or the blowing of a trumpet.  Teruah is the sound of that blowing.  The Bible also notes silver trumpets at this time, but this has also been obscured.  We do have a new beginning due to the meanings of these holidays.  The blowing of trumpets means that we are to get ready, for we are entering into a time judgment by God and seeking forgiveness and atonement whereby we will not fall under God’s judgment but his mercy, forgiveness, and grace.  This is why we have the trumpet emphasis in the book of Revelation, and the last trumpet emphasis in I Cor. 15 that is sounded at the return of Yeshua.  Rightly, in Jewish tradition for this season, we are reminded of the last judgment and the Age to Come.  The day is fraught with eschatological meanings. The trumpets are connected to Passover and exodus as well, the trumpet was heard at Mt. Sinai.  Therefore the book of Revelation includes both meanings.   Following this day, a Sabbath, we have the intermediate days leading up to Yom Kippur on the 10th of Tishri.  The Sabbath in that mid-period is called Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of return and repentance.  Repentance is a daily exercise but is especially emphasized now so that all will repent. 

The holiest day, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a time or fasting, of self-searching, repentance, recommitment, and receiving of forgiveness/atonement.  The prayers of the synagogue are mostly corporate.  We pray for the sins of Israel since the sin of any is part of the corporate sin of the nation.  Lists of sins are comprehensive.  Unless one understands this corporate dimension, he or she will not think that all of it is relevant to them, though the lists can point of individual sins.  Westerners are so individualistic.  We need to learn the importance of corporate intercession.  We especially thank God for the book of Hebrews which shows us the great fulfillment of the meaning of Yom Kippur in Yeshua.  He is both our High Priest and our sacrifice.  He enters into the most holy place in heaven with his own blood procuring the fullness of our forgiveness and the perfecting of our conscience.   The sacrifices of old in themselves could not take away sin. Their meaning is participation in the sacrifice of Yeshua who is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.  We can see an anticipation of this in the Jewish teaching that all the sacrifices were only efficacious because they participated in the sacrifice of Isaac who was offered in the place where the Temple would be built.  However, Isaac is not divinity and is only a type, a foreshadowing of the great antetype, Yeshua our High Priest and Sacrifice.  All the images of atonement in the Torah find their fullness of meaning in him.  

There are also last days (eschatological) predictions of atonement that show Yeshua’s sacrifice will be provided for the sins of the whole world.  In John, we read, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World.”  The vision of the conversion of the nations who all go up to Jerusalem in Isaiah 2 is only possible if the sacrificial atonement of Yeshua is applied to them.  In Zechariah 13 we read that a fountain will be open to Israel for her cleansing.  From this text we get the famous hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.”  I also believe optimistically in interpreting Rev. 1:7 when all the nations see the returning Yeshua and morn.  I think they mourn for their sins and rebellion against Yeshua, the King.  This is why the survivors of the last wars can go up to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem to worship the King every year, a fitting parallel to Isaiah 2.  Yom Kippur looks toward the future application of the blood of Yeshua to all the nations on earth. 

Jewish Ministry: Why all Should Care

Two very large megachurches have made Israel and joining together in support of Messianic Jews a key foundation of their ministries.  Some of their megachurch leadership friends think that they have gone overboard in their emphasis.  They do not have a vision for this as an important part of their vision.  Sadly, in my view, these churches that don’t agree with this Jewish emphasis are missing it and need a revelation of from the Spirit of what the Bible says.  

In the first century, the Jewish hope for those who believe the prophets was that Israel would get it right in regard to holiness and purity.  This would lead to the coming of the Messiah, Israel’s deliverance from her enemies, and then the redemption of the nations, the whole world.  The amazing prayer of Zechariah, upon the circumcision of John the Immerser (Baptist), makes this theology very clear and can be well understood as fitting that first-century Jewish context in Israel.  

“He has raised up a horn of salvation for us, in the house of David

Just as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ages past, 

Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 

So, He shows mercy to our fathers and remembers His holy covenant, 

The vow which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us—

Rescued fearlessly from the hand of our enemies—

to serve Him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

For Paul, the mission to the nations was a new piece of the puzzle not before revealed. It was that salvation coming to the nations would be a key to fulfilling the promise to Israel, the fulfillment of the hope voiced by Zechariah.  “Salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous.”  This is part of the purpose of world missions.  

In verse 14 Paul points to himself as a Jewish disciple of Yeshua called to magnify his ministry (the supernatural work of the Spirit, “to provoke to jealousy those of my flesh and save some of them.” However, Paul uses his example as one for the gentiles to follow. They are to join him in this task resulting in a growing number of Jews coming to faith in Yeshua.  This growing number of Jews, called the “remnant saved” in v. 5 and the first fruits that sanctify the rest of the nation in v. 16 are a key as well to Israel’s salvation   Why is it so important? Because it will lead to Israel turning to Yeshua.  ”What will their acceptance be but life from the dead.”  This little phrase is shorthand for the rapture, the resurrection, and the salvation of the nations. And so, ”All Israel will be saved.” (v. 28)  

The New Covenant does not change the hope of the prophets, that Israel will be the instrument of God that will lead to the salvation of the nations.   Every Christian is given the charge by Paul to embrace the concern of Israel’s salvation, for he says, “I am speaking to you who are Gentiles.”  He says this as one who has given his life for them, as an apostle to them.  His example is for everyone. 

Therefore, my friends in the two megachurches which I reference have not gotten off balance. They have simply discovered the Biblical emphasis.  Scripture Quotes from The Tree of Life Version. 


Torah in Messiah and the Present Crisis

Michael Rudolph and I wrote a book on applying Torah entitled Torah in Messiah.   It is our view that Torah is practical but must be applied according to New Covenant fulfillment, primarily through the teaching of Yeshua.  Messianic Jews and Gentiles should have something to say to the difficult social justice issues of our day.  And it must be based on a Biblical definition of justice, not Marxist or socialist which come from a wrong worldview.  This is why I wrote a book on Social Justice.  

I do not have much hope for attaining progress in society without the influence and believers and the transforming power of the Gospel.  So, if you are putting trust in mere human efforts you will fail. Many books have been written on the history of progress in social justice since the first century.  Progress has come from the influence of believers and the Bible, first of all, due to the unheard-of idea that every person is created in the image of God and is due love, respect, and justice on that basis.  

What is love and what is justice?  If you study the whole Bible, you can conclude the following.  Love is the passionate identification with others that seeks their good guided by Law.  Their good is defined by God’s intended good destiny for them. This must always be our motive.  Then justice is seeking an order of righteousness that maximizes the potential of people to fulfill their God-given destinies or that maximizes the fulfillment of love for all people.   We seek an ordering of society that maximizes love and justice.  However, unless there is a great influence of the Gospel by a significant number of committed disciples of Yeshua, history does not give much hope that much can be attained.   I want to now apply this to the life and teaching of Yeshua and what he has to say about the issues of racism and the violent riots.  Richmond is a historic center for the pain of these matters and the Confederate monuments are controversial. Z how do we bring healing?  I approach this message assuming the definitions.  

  1. Love and Justice begin with a call for repentance.  Mark 1:15.  Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand, or available to you.  What does this mean? God’s Kingdom order of love, justice, and miracles is breaking into this world and you are called to repent and enter into it.  Repudiate selfishness and hatred, and vengeance and give yourself to the power of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom influences all of life.  Note the ending of slavery largely came from Evangelicals.  Many books on progress in history show this. Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason and British historian Tom Holland, Dominion, How the Christian Revolution remade the World.
  2.  Yeshua calls for submission to the Torah teaching of Yeshua.  This is most clear in the Sermon on the  Mount near the beginning,   Matthew 5:16, 17, and the end Matthew 7, were we are told to build on the rock of his teaching.   
    1. The context of Luke 4 is important.  Yeshua said that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim liberty.”  To whom?  The Gospels is first to the outcast, marginalized, and oppressed.  The year of Jubilee is the context of Luke 4.  It is the year when the slaves go free.   Mennonite J. Howard Yoder in The Politics of Jesus is brilliant on this. 
    2. The Sermon on the Mount’s Beatitudes proclaims the end of victim status. You cannot claim victim status and know the power of God and your life is now in his hands.   Matthew is about the great reversal because the kingdom has now invaded earth. 
  3. Our approach to change must include the rejection of violence:  The Zealot movement and its attempts to overthrow the Roman government by violence was the context of Yeshua’s teaching against violence.  The Romans did practice terrible oppression and racism.  I am not saying that there is no place for just war, but this is far secondary to the way we seek change. 
    1. Yeshua councils turning the other cheek and volunteering to carry a load a second mile when a Jewish person was conscripted by a Roman soldier to carry his load.  This response to Roman oppression and shaming was unprecedented.  It is the way of love.  The oppressed shows love to the oppressor, the enemy. 
    2. Satan comes not but to rob, steal, and destroy.  The false shepherds of  John 10:7,  10:10 were the ones seeking violent revolution.  
    3. When Yeshua wept over Jerusalem and predicted its destruction it was because he knew the zealots would gain control and ultimately go to war.  The chose the false  shepherds instead of the Prince of  Peace  
    4. Romans 13 speaks of submitting to authority during the days of Nero!   Now there are limits to submission and the Apostles made it clear that this did not include obeying sinful commands or shutting down the spread of the Gospel.  
  4. Our approach calls for reconciliation and forgiveness based on the Gospel.  We are to attain a heart of love for the enemy:  Matthew 19:21 councils us to forgive 70 X 7 and teaches this forgiveness on the basis that the debt we owe to God far outstrips any debt another might have to us.  He has given us the ministry of reconciliation to God and one and other.  II Corr. 5:18 
  5. A successful movement that pursues justice has to be driven by reconciled believers.  Jonathan Blanchard (founder of Wheaton College), revivalist Charles Finney, EvangelicalHarriet Beacher Stowe, The Pastors Beachers, William Ward and Henry, and Wilbur Wilburforce show this witness.  A Marxist humanistic movement of violence will lead to destruction and greater suffering.   A true movement begins with reconciliation, with the Body of Believers with the repentance, reconciliation, and unity of all races and ethnicities.  In this time of anti-police rhetoric and black offense, the best way forward would be a movement led by Christian Policemen and Black Christians, pastors, and members. These kinds of people can lead a non-violent movement of justice.  Martin Luther King led just such a movement with Christians and Jews, blacks, and whites.  His themes were Christian or biblical. 
  6. The history of 20th century white churches is one of the saddest chapters. I am not speaking about southern Christians who had a racist or segregationist theology which was terrible. I am speaking about the non-racists who would sing with their children,  “Red  and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” The sin was in neglect of their responsibility to first focus their efforts of the Gospel and their works of love to the poorest communities.  An escapist theology as fostered and they, therefore, did not see pursuing justice as a central part of the Gospel.  
  7. You can know that the violence, destroying, and killing is not from God and is like unto the zealots and will set back the cause of justice.  
  8. However, pursuing justice and reconciliation has to be based on finding the truth and not based on lies. The claim of systemic racism is not helpful.  Being guilty on the basis of being born white is anti-biblical.  Rather we need to pursue the issue of specific areas of racism.  In education, housing, family, business, and policing.  The black experience is not that so many are killed unjustly, but that so many are mistreated.  Why does the government allow 7,500 black on black murders per year?  Where was the Church on mass?  The Church should be there, preach the gospel and its members should be willing to lay down lives?   Just where does racism show itself?  It is in the heart.  Is it in corporations?  Which?  Real discrimination has to be proven. I note public school disaster and the black underclass and the need to escape this system. Anecdotal evidence is not going to help solve this.  There has to be objective social science studies by people without a Marxist agenda.   A vague broad claim will just be denied.  I know that only a Gospel effort for the poor and massive investment of our lives will turn around the poor of the cities.  This is why we support every month the Richmond Ministry CHAT and its high school.  It is one example of the Gospel in action.  There should be thousands of examples.  I am not thinking the government will solve it.  By some measures, 22 Trillion has been spent since Johnson’s great society legislation.  Much was squandered and did not work. But If we identify with and support violent revolutionaries or sympathize with it, we have abandoned the Gospel way and the power of God. 

Sinai and Zion, Covenant, Spirit, and Torah

The day of Shavuot or Pentecost on the Jewish calendar is the date for the celebration of the giving of the Torah, the covenant of the ten words, or the ten commandments.  The Jewish calculation that this is the date is reasonable.  Often, however, people do not notice that the phenomenon of the Sinai events has very close parallels to the events that took place in Acts 2 on the day of Shavuot/Pentecost.  Sinai is actually a foreshadowing of the events of Pentecost/Shavuot.  Note the words of the text in Exodus 19:16.  

On the third day, there was thundering and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and the blast of an exceedingly loud shofar. . . then in v. 18, “Now the entire Mount Sinai was in smoke, because ADONAI had descended upon it in fire.  The smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace.  . . . When the sound of the shofar grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him with a thunderous sound.  V. 18, All the people witnessed the thundering and the lightning, and the sound of the shofar and the mountain smoking.  When the people saw it, they trembled . . . 

How do we picture the event on Mt. Zion in the Temple.  The notes in the NIV and my own reading is that the Holy Spirit fell upon the 120 on the Temple Mount in the Portico of Solomon.   Were the tongues of fire small little tongues?  Or were they enveloped in glory?  Were the disciples quietly speaking in Tongues almost in a whisper or shouting out (declaring) with a noise that was awesome?  Why else would the thousands have gathered to where they were.   Then they heard the voice of God in the tongues of the people just as the voice of God was heard by the people at Mt. Sinai.  They were declaring, I believe,  in loud voices.  The wind itself was mighty and probably heard way beyond the 120.  

Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  And tongues like fire spreading out appeared to them and settled on each one of them.  Thy were all filled with the Ruach ha Kodesh and began  to speak in other tongues as the Ruach enabled them to speak out . . . And when this sound came, the crowd gathered.   They were bewildered, because each was hearing them speaking in his own language.  And they were amazed and astonished  . . . we hear them declaring in our own tongues the mighty deeds of God.  

There are amazing parallels in both events.  Bible students and scholars have noted the parallels.  They were both public dramatic miraculous events.  Both are on mountains.  Mt. Sinai was a temple of God’s presence as was the Temple in Jerusalem that was its successor. 

The days of Moses were not bereft of the Spirit.  Moses had the Spirit and the Spirit came upon the 70 elders who prophesied Numbers 11:24-26.   Moses seemed to anticipate the New Covenant and said, “If only Adonai would make all the people prophets.”

The Spirit is certainly important in the Mosaic period, but the Torah, the Word, the commandment is much more emphasized.  Due to the failure of the nation, the prophets predicted a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff, Ezekiel 36:24ff) where the Spirit in us would move us to obey God’s word.  The New Covenant brings the Age of the Spirit where the two mountains come together, the Torah of God-given on Sinai and the Spirit of God given on Mt. Zion.  The giving of the Spirit establishes a better covenant (Heb. 8:7-12).  The better covenant empowers through our dying and rising with Yeshua (Romans 6) and being filled with the Spirit.  Romans 8:4 summarizes, “So that the requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Ruach.”  

In the Mosaic order, the Word of Torah is the larger emphasis, in the New Covenant the power of the Spirit is the larger emphasis.  The giving of the Spirit in power brings a great harvest.  It did in the first century and onward and from every great revival a harvest was gained.   

The words of Joel 2:28 ff and Acts 2 show us that that outpouring was not the final fulfillment of Joel 2.  It was, as with the Kingdom having come, in an “already not yet” way.  Why?  Because these texts still envision a greater final outpouring that would lead to the final harvesting and the second coming of Yeshua.  This was understood by Puritans and Lutheran Pietists hundreds of years ago and was also the hope of the Pentecostals in their beginnings.  It is hard to miss this:  The underlines that follow note the parts of the text that show that the great fulfillment of Joel 2 is also not yet and still to be greater than anything that has yet been seen. 

And it shall be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Ruach on all flesh.   Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall dream dreams.  Even on My slaves, male and female, I will pour out my Ruach in those days, and they shall prophesy.  

And I will give wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, fire, and smoky vapor.  The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious Day of ADONAI.  And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of ADONAI shall be saved. 

All flesh anticipates something more than the few thousand who experienced the Spirit at that time.  The events of Joel 2 are to occur just before the final mighty Day of the Lord.  This is the Day when God intervenes in final deliverance for his people but judgment on the wicked who will not repent.  The phenomena of signs in the heaven, the sun, and the moon were not yet fulfilled.  Yes, the first century was a day of the Lord but not the Day of the Lord.  The final outpouring leads to a mass harvest so that whoever calls on the name of the ADONAI shall be saved.   The images here of the smoke and fire are also Sinai images.  

We see an amazing aspect of this end-time revival and outpouring of the Spirit in Isaiah 4:2-6.  It is an astonishing passage.  

In that day the Branch of ADONAI will be beautiful and glorious . . . whoever is left in Zion and whoever remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem.  

After ADOANI has washed away the filth of the Daughters of Zion and has purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, then  ADONAI will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her convocations, a cloud by day and smoke and shining of a flaming fire by night.  For over all, glory will be a canopy.

Note the days of Moses images but also the greater promise of the ultimate presence of the ADONAI in Jerusalem.  This day will come when Jerusalem calls on the name of Yeshua.  

We, therefore, seek a mighty Shavuot/Pentecost worldwide, in Israel and Jerusalem but until that day we can see revivals that are local and regional.  The Disciples were mightily filled a second time in Acts 4:29-31, and Peter’s prayer needs to be ours.

And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant Your servants to speak your word with utmost courage—while You stretch out Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy Servant Yeshua.  

And when they had prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken. And they were all filled with the Ruach HaKodesh and began to speak the word of God with boldness.   



The Day of Resurrection and this Prophetic Season

The resurrection of Yeshua from the dead is the foundation of our faith.  This is a day to rejoice in spite of all the challenges of the coronavirus.  I hope all of you are taking time today to meditate on this great victory and the implications for you and the whole world.  


Not long ago I wrote up a summary of my sense of the prophetic interpretation of these days. I mentioned that I did not resonate with the overly optimistic nor with the very pessimistic words of prophetic people who only had a word of judgment and repentance.  Yet this is a very important time of searching our hearts and repentance. Much prayer is being offered and there is much good repentance while exercising faith and hope. There is fasting and prayer for breakthroughs. Congregations have adapted to social networking by internet calls, home groups, larger meetings, pastoral care and more.  This is the case in Israel as well.


There is a growing prophetic consensus that fits my evaluation that I presented here a few weeks ago.  It was that the peak of this would be Passover-Resurrection season and then there would be a continuing decline.   A sense of some prophetic people with credibility, and I agree, is that this challenge will continue until Ascension Day and then will lead on to Shavuot or Pentecost.  The period of 40 days from the Resurrection day until Ascension day parallels the days when Israel was in the wilderness journeying to Mt. Sinai. It also parallels the 40 days of the ministry of Yeshua to his disciples between his resurrection and Ascension.  Note also the prophetic parallel with the Sinai manifestation of God at Pentecost and the Spirit being poured out at Pentecost.  


I also believe that this year’s calendar is a good fit to the Biblical events.  It is not always so. If so, we should as we continue in prayer and intercession.  The resurrection was not publicly proclaimed until Shavuot or Pentecost (Acts 2). However, the disciples were experiencing the risen Lord, 120 were gathered in Jerusalem and then 500 in one gathering where Yeshua appeared (I Cor. 15).  However, the harvest came at Shavuot. In our intercession, we should be experiencing resurrection life and hope now. We are called to prayer for outpourings of the Holy Spirit after the 49 days. I think the large challenge of this virus plague will be generally behind us by that time.  This can be connected to therapies, immunities, social distancing, vaccines and all kinds of things on a human plane, but it ultimately will be by the sovereignty of God. In a very unusual way it is tracking with the great events on the Biblical Calendar, from the peak of suffering and death to the victory and harvest.  May God encourage you all during this time. 


The Annual Vilification of Christmas

Probably almost 2 billion Christians, whether nominal or really committed, celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Yeshua.  They celebrate the meaning of the incarnation. We will soon be treated with internet writings, Youtube teachings, and Facebook posts telling us how awful it is that Christians celebrate Dec. 25 as the birth of Yeshua (and have in the Catholic Church a communion service, mass, celebrating his birth or Christ’s Mass).  We will be told that this is pagan, a blot on the faith, syncretism. The attack against Christmas does not come from any of the mainstream Messianic Jewish organizations, not the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations in America, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, Tikkun America, or the Messianic Jewish congregations in Israel, Ukraine, Russia, and South America.   Where does it come from? It comes from gentiles who are embracing their interpretation of a return to Jewish roots. Many Messianic Jewish congregations do not make a big deal out of Christmas in their corporate celebrations. They allow members to celebrate according to their conscience, but because they are Jewish oriented and think that Yeshua was not actually born on Dec. 25th, they have not made it part of their religious year of celebrations.  


Those on the attack claim that Dec. 25 was chosen due to pagan associations with the Sun, Mithraicism and more.  I do think it is the wrong date. Besides, Jews celebrated miraculous events and not birthdays. Jewish people in the first century may have seen the conception by the Holy Spirit as the great miracle.  I agree with the non-Catholic scholarship consensus of His birth in the Fall, maybe at Sukkot (Tabernacles). But as I have argued, the meaning of a practice is according to the definition of those who embrace it.  That is the sum of it. The Church is not celebrating the gods or something pagan. Most of us as Messianic Jews are glad that the World celebrates the birth of the greatest Jew in history. 


So here are a few points in response.  First, Dr. John Fischer, one of the fathers of the Messianic Jewish Movement and the President of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations today, argues that Yeshua was really born on Dec. 25th.  He has not convinced me, but his argument is credible.  You can write and get his video on this from St. Petersburg Theological Seminary in Florida.  That he would argue this should give us pause. Secondly, we have to distinguish between Protestant Church traditions and celebrations and the secular culture.  I for one am hard-pressed to know any historic Protestant traditions that are pagan and not worthy of admiration. Can you list any? The tradition of the hymns for the season are wonderful, touching and biblical.  Church tradition reenacts the events leading up to his birth and then the birth in the four weeks of Advent. All of the biblical passages on his birth and incarnation are read. Sermons are prepared on these themes.  Choirs visit shut-ins and bring them cheer by singing the Christmas hymns. Without Christmas, it would be a much darker world. The only pagan thing that is noted is the date (this is in question) and the Christmas tree, which is interpreted by Christians as life coming into the world and the tree as a reminder that He would die on a tree.  The Jeremiah 10 text on the tree, often quoted by these folks, has nothing to do with this. It is about a tree being cut and chiseled into an image of a god. Besides, the Christmas tree is a recent thing and not part of the historic Protestant Church tradition. 


But there are troubling aspects in the larger culture.  The secular celebrations and office parties to reach back to the winter pagan orgiastic gatherings.  They rebel against the Christian tradition, and this is a more recent development. The materialism and buying sprees are certainly not part of the spirit of the Church tradition.  Giving to the poor is. Mistletoe is also a faint reminder of pagan practices. Santa Clause is at best neutral but again not part of Church tradition. I am all for Christians making their traditions more truly biblical in accord with church tradition. 


Messianic Jews and their scholars are fighting serious issues.  They include replacement theology, the election of Israel, the special calling of Messianic Jews, the right understanding of law and grace, the prophetic understanding of Israel’s restoration in our ancient Land and more.  However, fighting the Church and its traditions of Christmas is not one of these battles. It is more like tilting at windmills Don Quixote style. It really hinders us in our work of building John 17:21 unity with believers.  It is a foolish battle. Rather, let’s visit churches during this season and bring them more of the Jewish context of the coming of Yeshua, especially the Jewish aspects of Luke 1, 2, and Matthew 1, 2. I am thankful that this is not the orientation of the mainstream of the Messianic Jewish Movement in the world.  Those who pursue this look cultic, narrow and sectarian. 


Should Gentiles Keep The Feasts of Israel?

As we move into the Holiday season, I want to address the issue of Christians keeping the Holy Days. 


I am not planning on defending my interpretation of the passages that talk about Gentiles keeping the Feasts of Israel, also called God’s appointed times, and the Feasts of the Jews in the Gospel of John.  They were God’s appointed Feasts for Israel. They are still central to Jewish tradition and Jewish identity and have been celebrated continuously even with the destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the Jewish nation in the first and second centuries.  They are all national holidays in Israel. 


I read Romans 14, Galatians 3, and Colossians 2 straightforwardly.  I know that there are arguments that the passages do not really mean what they at first glance, in almost all translations, seem to say.  Romans 14 states that keeping specific days is according to the conscience of the person who keeps does so. He does not enjoin their keeping. In context, of course, Paul knows that Israel was and is enjoined to keep the Feasts and the Sabbath, but the context is that Gentiles are not so required.  Colossians states that the Feasts are a shadow of the realities that are in Yeshua, who is the substance of the feasts. The Colossians are exhorted to allow no one to judge them with regard to a Feast, New Moon or Sabbath day. The New Testament scriptures do not explicitly require the observance of the Holy Days by Gentiles, so we want to avoid making any requirement that Gentiles observe these days in the same manner that are incumbent upon the Jewish people. Yet, the sentiment that all scripture is useful for teaching (2 Tim 2:15-16) portrays that it is possible for Gentiles, both K’rovei-Yisrael (those who have been led by the Holy Spirit to join Messianic Communities for the sake of Jewish witness) and other Gentile believers who wish to participate with Jewish congregations as guests, may experience spiritual enrichment and greater revelation of Yeshua as a result of a deepened understanding of, and participation in observances of the biblical feasts and Holy Days.


However, the conclusion that the Biblical Feasts are irrelevant is foolish and incoherent.  The Feasts of Israel are revelatory and teach us about God’s provision for our needs, the work of the Messiah Jesus, and are prophetic for the end of this Age and the Age to Come.  Understanding the Feasts is part of understanding the Bible. Why did Yeshua die during Passover? Why was he raised from the dead on First Fruits? Why does the book of Hebrews interpret the atonement of Yeshua on the basis of the Day of Atonement (Heb. 7-9) and the meaning of our spiritual life through the Sabbath (Heb. 4)?  When we understand this, then Gentiles can be supportive of Jewish people who keep these special days. 


I think one of the very good ways that I encourage is that the churches would teach on the Feasts during the seasons that Jewish people celebrate them.   This brings out the reality that the Church is an international people joined to Israel. Understanding Israel through the Biblical patterns of Israel is greatly helpful.  Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words. Joining with Messianic Jewish congregations for celebrations can be a great way of bringing out the meaning; a key teaching tool.  Many do Passover Seder Demonstrations for churches.  


Must Christians keep the Feasts, and take particular days of the year as Sabbath Feast days?  No, in my view the Bible is clear. But should Christians connect to the meaning of the Feasts in various ways?  Yes, if we are to understand the Bible better and be more in tune with rooting in Israel.