Holy Temple

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Solomon’s Porch

At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.

Acts 5:12 (NASB)

Sermon Three: Solomon’s Porch
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

In this third sermon on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship teacher D. Thomas Lancaster expands on why the writer of the Book of Hebrews constructed this word of exhortation to the letter’s recipients and further identifies them as Jewish disciples of Messiah living in or around Jerusalem sometime in the early 60s CE (common era).

Where did the first Christians go to church?

This is how Lancaster started his sermon. He says the question is nonsensical because the first Christians were actually Jews. They didn’t go to church because the modern concept of “church” didn’t exist. Neither did the modern concept of “Christianity.” The first Christians were Jews and they practiced Judaism. As you saw in the quote at the top of the page, the first Jewish believers commonly met in an area on the east side of the Temple called Solomon’s Colonnade.

Lancaster speculates that, because of the prophesy in Zechariah, saying the Messiah would descend upon the Mount of Olives and enter the Temple through the eastern gate, the disciples met there in anticipation, since the Mount of Olives was plainly visible from Solomon’s Colonnade.

Then Lancaster diverted his sermon, taking the audience back in time twenty years or so, recalling a conversation he had with his Father who had been a Baptist minister. Somehow, they got to talking about the Book of Hebrews and his Father, remember, this was twenty years ago, twenty years before Lancaster thought of producing this sermon series on Hebrews, commented on Hebrews 13:22:

But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.

Thirteen chapters is hardly brief and in fact, Hebrews is one of the longest epistles in the New Testament. Lancaster’s father suggested that Hebrews was originally written in two parts: a longer sermon intended to be delivered to a Jewish audience and a shorter letter accompanying the sermon as an explanation.

That’s pretty much was Lancaster suggested in last week’s sermon.

Lancaster’s father said something else rather interesting. He said he thought that Hebrews was written to a group of believing Jews who had been kicked out of the Temple and who didn’t know what to do next. This was a group of Jews who, if they renounced Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, would be allowed to return to the Temple. Hebrews then, was a letter and a word of consolation to those Jews to not give up their faith but to hold fast to their devotion to Messiah.

Traditional Christian teaching about the Book of Hebrews states that the epistle was a warning to believing Jews to not “backslide” into Judaism and return to Temple worship, so the senior Lancaster’s suggestion was the exact opposite of how most of the Church understands the meaning of Hebrews.

But Lancaster’s Dad’s interpretation has several advantages, according to the younger Lancaster:

    1. It doesn’t anachronistically require a fully-developed Christian identity that is separated from the normative Judaisms of the mid-first century CE.
    2. It doesn’t require that Jesus abolish the Torah or the Levitical system.
    3. It better explains the arguments within Hebrews (which will be covered in subsequent sermons).
    4. It fits much better with what we know about the early Jewish believers and their relationship with the Temple.

The Early Jewish Believers and the Temple

This part of the sermon fits within the realm of established fact as we see in the scriptures and doesn’t require any speculation. It does require setting aside traditional Christian doctrine about the early “Jewish Christians” and taking the scriptural text, primarily in Acts, at face value.

levites-aaronic-blessingWhat was the relationship of the early believing Jews to the Temple? They revered it, just as their Master Jesus revered the Temple.

Lancaster covered those portions of the Gospels that demonstrated Jesus’ devotion to the Temple, his first recorded appearance there as a boy to debate the scholars, evicting the moneychangers, calling the Temple “my Father’s house,” and so on. You can listen to the recording to get the details, including how Jesus, when he returns, will rebuild the Temple and reinstitute the Temple services.

After the ascension, the disciples returned to the Temple. They may have received the Spirit while praying at the Temple (Acts2). Acts 2:46 mentions their presence at the Temple. Acts 3:1-3 speaks of the disciples participating in prayer services at the Temple. And Acts 5:42 asserts that the disciples were in the Temple daily teaching and preaching of the Messiah.

It is strongly believed in normative Christianity that the disciples must have given up the Temple sacrifices since Jesus fulfilled them all, and yet Acts also speaks of many Priests in the Temple coming to faith in Messiah because of the devotion of the disciples. According to Lancaster, these Priests didn’t give up their jobs and stop administering the sacrifices, but rather, found greater meaning in their Priestly duties, seeing Messiah’s blood in each of their services.

In fact, the only occasions on which the disciples were accused of speaking against the Temple, were when they were accused by false witnesses. The trial of Stephen before the Sanhedrin is an example, and Stephen took a full chapter in Acts to deny and refute the false accusations.

Lancaster also points out that the Bible never, ever says that the disciples stopped offering the sacrifices. This would have been a big deal and if it were so, you’d think Luke would have mentioned it. It’s assumed by most Christians that the Jewish disciples stopped offering Temple sacrifices based on doctrines that were much later established by the Christian church, not because it says so in the Bible.

If we look at Acts 24:17 and the surrounding text, we can see how, thirty years later after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Master, Paul was encouraged to offer sacrifices at the Temple to show many other believing Jews that the accusations stating Paul was teaching against Torah and against the Temple were utterly false.

Maybe you can accuse Paul of vainly clinging to obsolete Jewish customs by offering sacrifices but what about James, brother to Jesus, steward of the Throne of David, head of the apostolic community? If anyone should have known the truth about the teachings of Jesus, it should have been James. If Jesus had taught against the Temple and abolished the sacrifices, James should have known about it and advocated for that position. Obviously, he didn’t.

A plain reading of the relevant passages, without being filtered through Christian anti-Torah, anti-Jewish, anti-Temple bias reveals this. Except as viewed through the heavily-colored filter of Christian tradition, there’s nothing in the Bible that says the Torah, including the Temple sacrifices, were ever to be abolished. If you want more information about this, watch the First Fruits of Zion television episode The Torah is Not Canceled. It’s only thirty minutes long and well worth your time.

History records the death of James the Just, the brother of Messiah, the leader of the Council of Apostles and head of the entire body of believers, as happening in 62 CE. Lancaster dates the Book of Hebrews at just a few years later. According to Lancaster, this was also about the time issues came to a head between the disciples in Jerusalem and their arch foes, the Essenes, the group of corrupt Rome-collaborators who illegally had control of the Temple. The Essenes wanted the disciples out of the Temple and wanted them to renounce their faith in Jesus as Messiah.

Speculation

This next part can’t be firmly established through scripture or historical texts and is extrapolated from Lancaster’s understanding of the content in Hebrews. He believes that after the death of James, the Essenes held their own Sanhedrin, leaving out the Pharisees, and forbade the Jewish believers from Temple participation, cutting them off (“Koret”) until such time as they renounced Yeshua.

The Master even predicted this would happen in John 16:2. And this was the purpose of the sermon and letter of Hebrews: to encourage and support the Jewish believers in Jerusalem who had been removed forcefully from Temple participation to keep the faith, keep faith in Yeshua, and not to break faith, even for the sake of returning to the Temple.

MessiahYes, Temple devotion was appropriate and desired. Every year during the pilgrim festivals thousands upon thousands of Jews from all over ancient Palestine and the diaspora nations would converge on Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple in obedience to the commandments.

But devotion to Moshiach and devotion to the Temple were not to be considered mutually exclusive and the writer of Hebrews was earnestly imploring the Jews in Jerusalem to not forsake Messiah in the face of being removed from the Temple.

For even if removed, and even after the Temple was destroyed, it has been promised in Messianic Days that the Temple will be rebuilt and Jews as well as many, many people from all the nations will go up to the Mountain of the Lord and the House of the God of Jacob and worship Him there in Jerusalem.

What Did I Learn?

Well, again, quite a lot. I was wondering how Lancaster was going to firm up his suppositions from last week and I admit he did a pretty good job of it in this sermon. His point kind of wavers when he suggests last week that the disciples were Greek speaking Jews and this week they seemed more likely to be Jews who were native to the Land, but I suppose it could go either way, or even involve a more general population of Jewish believers.

I’m certainly getting a very different picture of the Book of Hebrews than I imagined, and indeed, one more consistent with my understanding of the over all message of the “good news” to the Jewish people.

At the very end of this sermon, Lancaster said he was finally finished setting up the required background and that in next week’s sermon, we’ll begin to actually study the Epistle to the Hebrews. I know that I’ve been turning some of the more difficult passages of this part of scripture over in my head and wondering how they can be seen as consistent with the overarching message Lancaster is presenting. Can all of the book of Hebrews, even the “pesky” parts, really be interpreted as an encouragement for believing Jews in Jerusalem to keep the faith in Messiah, even though denied access to the Temple, which both they and the Master revered? In my next review, we’ll begin to discover the answer.

Edit: Where it says above that the “Essenes” were involved in the death of James and in opposition to the believing Jews in Jerusalem, it should read “Sadducees”.  I apparently misunderstood what was said on the recording and apologize for the error.

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Solomon’s Porch”

  1. Thanks, Tracy. Feel free to look at some of the other articles and comment if you’d like. I review a sermon in Lancaster’s “Hebrews” series each Wednesday.

  2. Who are these “Essences” you’ve referred to a number of times now? In a previous post, I thought it was simply a typographical error for the “Essenes”. However, I know of no records of them other than citations in Josephus and Pliny (and the DSS material), which do not support any suggestion that they ever spread beyond the Qumran compound and certainly not that they took over the Temple administration with an alternative Sanhedrin excluding the Pharisees and Sadducees. They may very well have formed their own Sanhedrin to deal with internal community administration, but they did not displace the existing Temple administration that they considered corrupt and invalid. The Essenes were not Roman collaborators, but rather were devoted to very puritan ideals, to the point of separation from everything they perceived as corrupt.

    The records of the judicial murder of Yakov, the head of the Jerusalem Council of Emmisaries, indicate Pharisees and Sadducees as the culprits who would have been the Sanhedrin leaders authorizing such action. Further, the testimony of Acts, that reaches only to about the mid-60s, does not indicate either Yakov’s “execution” or the exclusion of Rav Yeshua’s followers from the Temple, but rather it indicates their continued participation. Exclusions are recorded after the Hurban, but rarely beforehand, from synagogues and other aspects of Jewish communal life, but these exclusions are a different matter from Temple exclusion, which would be a moot point after its destruction.

    Even if persecution of Rav-Yeshua messianists increased after Yacov’s death, and if that occurred as early as 62 CE, that leaves only about eight years until the siege of Jerusalem and the Temple’s destruction. That’s a fairly short period in which to develop a serious threat of apostasy requiring a letter/sermon of the sort we see in Hebrews. Hence I see it as having been written as a consolation following the Hurban, exhorting continued confidence and faith that the operations of the heavenly sanctuary (of which the earthly had always been a copy or “shadow” or “reflection”) were continuing nonetheless, and that they were superior in effectuality, particularly given Rav Yeshua’s sacrificial ministry within a Melchitzedekian pattern of authority.

  3. PL, I’m wondering if Lancaster means “Sadducees” when he says “Essenes” (yes, I misspelled the word)? Maybe you found a flaw in Lancaster’s commentary if he attribute the death of Yacov to the Essenes…uh Sadducees and you say that both the Pharisees and Sadducees were implicated.

    Hence I see it as having been written as a consolation following the Hurban, exhorting continued confidence and faith that the operations of the heavenly sanctuary (of which the earthly had always been a copy or “shadow” or “reflection”) were continuing nonetheless, and that they were superior in effectuality, particularly given Rav Yeshua’s sacrificial ministry within a Melchitzedekian pattern of authority.

    This wouldn’t be the first time Lancaster’s interpretation of an epistle was brought into question. For me, the specific question is whether or not Hebrews can be seen in any other way than the traditional anti-Torah, anti-Temple, anti-Judaism document the Church traditionally interprets its as?

  4. The Wiki link you included about the death of James the Just cited Eusebius citing Hegesippus claiming it was the scribes and Pharisees. I find it difficult to picture confusing or conflating the names of the Sadducees and the Essenes, who were essentially arch-rivals. It was the Sadducees that the Essenes accused of corrupting the priesthood.

    Nonetheless, I offered my opinion about the imagery addressed in Hebrews and its likely timing and purpose, in contradistinction to opinions like Lancaster’s that imagine an exclusion from the Temple shortly preceding the Hurban. Certainly my view is contrary also to the traditional Christian antithetical views you cited.

    Incidentally, my view of “superior” is also an interpretation of relative positions, physically as well as metaphorically. The heavens are “above” the earth, that is, in a literally “superior” position. The heavenly sanctuary was shown to Moshe on Mount Sinai to provide a set of patterns and operations to be emulated in the earthly one. Both were intended to operate simultaneously, in tandem. During periods of exile, such as Babylon and post-Hurban, certain patterns could not be maintained on earth, but the heavenly sanctuary does not suffer such degradation or interruption. It is permanent, eternal, and incorruptible. Its patterns may even outlast the present obsolescent heavens and earth to be reiterated in the new heavens and earth, but regardless they will continue to apply to the present ones until after a thousand years of messianic rule have been completed. Since they will be valid throughout the upcoming millennial kingdom, there is no reason to think they have not continued to be valid and in operation during the past two millennia as well, despite the equipment problems we still suffer here on earth. It is with this in mind that the Mt.5:18-20 passage takes on special applicability, because the attitudes and perspective of the kingdom of heaven that make it a present reality for those with “eyes” to see it, as well as a down-payment on the future realization of it, also depend on the atonement in the heavenly sanctuary. Thus the “aging” covenant that is still with us and valid, and the “renewal” of the covenant as Yirmiyahu described it, also work together in tandem, empowered by the atoning “sacrifice” represented in Rav Yeshua’s martyrdom and respected in the heavenly sanctuary. This is the encouragement provided in Hebrews to Jews coping with the loss of the earthly sanctuary. Its claims are thus applicable not merely to Jews already honoring Rav Yeshua’s messiahship, but also they are offered to all Jews as consolation for the loss of the earthly sanctuary until such time as it may be restored.

  5. You must have mis-heard Lancaster’s sermon. He clearly says that is was the Sadducees that were the arch-enemies of the believers. He says no such thing about the Essenes.

  6. I’m thrilled that you’re working through this Hebrews series at the same time that I am working through it with a small group. I enjoyed this sermon and I think that it was indeed the Sadducees who Mr Lancaster is meaning when he speaks of Channan ben Channan calling a quick meeting (illegally, mind you) of Sadducees of the Sanhedrin, leaving out the Pharisees (because the issue, as he posits, is resurrection and not so much Yeshua Himself) at the time of the sudden death of Festus and before the replacement arrives. (right about 30 minutes into the sermon)

    I also think that it was in this sermon where he referenced another gentleman who was teaching a series on Hebrews, which I’m looking forward to listening to as we work through this study together. You can find it here: http://www.bethtikkun.com/audio/hebrews/

    Right now I can easily “wrap my mind around” the idea that Hebrews was written before the destruction of the Temple and at the onset of the casting out of the followers of “the way” while the Temple still stood, whether the epistle was written as a balm before the injury would be afflicted or as a balm to address the injury already afflicted. I suppose we may never really know for certain, and I think that looking at it from either perspective is healthy for discussion.

  7. PL ~
    Can you cite sources that state Pharisee *and* Sadducee involvement specifically in the death of James and in the ousting of “The Way” from the Temple? I would like to look up those sources and compare them to the various teachings our study group is comparing. It sounds like you know better where, exactly, to look than I do.

    Thanks ~

  8. Well, clearly I need to either get my hearing checked or double-check my notes as I take them. Sorry for the confusion everyone.

  9. 28 minutes in the sermon Daniel says the arch-enemies of the believers were the Sadducees. This is what he says consistently in other places.

  10. @Lisa W — James’ article included a Wikipedia link about the death of James the Just, which provides the quoted sections to which I referred, along with additional references. That should get you started. I’m not sure where Lancaster found a reference about Hanan ben Hanan calling the Sadducean members together without inviting the Pharisean ones, but I wouldn’t argue against the likelihood of someone “stacking the deck” against an accused to ensure their conviction by a “kangaroo court”. This would not be the only occasion for which the Sanhedrin was accused of judicial corruption. The execution of the sentence, however, might have required all members, both S&P, to participate; and feelings about the arguments and defense presented by Yakov may well have incited more than merely the Sadducees to throw Yakov over the Temple-compound wall into the valley below.

  11. D. Thomas Lancaster is on the 39th sermon on this series as of today. I have heard up to number 35. He gets on reading in a very detailed way what Hebrews says and gives a great explanation about the Temple still being there when Hebrews was written. So, I think that he is right when he speculates in this 3rd sermon that what we read in Hebrews is going on before the destruction of the Temple.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s