Tag Archives: Aaron Eby

FFOZ TV Review: Foretaste of the Kingdom

FFOZ TV episode 21Episode 21: The Apostle Paul calls the Sabbath a “shadow of things to come.” Most people usually think of it as a shadow of things from the past. However, viewers will learn in episode twenty-one that the Sabbath is a foreshadow of things still yet to come. Jesus and the Sabbath both provide rest and the Sabbath rest is a taste of the final rest we will have in the Messianic Era when Messiah returns to set up his kingdom. Thus for those who still observe the Sabbath today, it is a promise of what is to come, the Messianic Age.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 21: Foretaste of the Kingdom (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Sabbath Rest

First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki starts out the exploration of this mystery with what most of us consider to be a familiar lesson from Jesus:

Turn to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will cause you to rest. Accept upon yourself my yoke and learn from me, for I am humble and lowly in spirit, and you will find a resting place for your souls. For my yoke is pleasant and my burden light.

Matthew 11:28-29 (DHE Gospels)

There’s a lot we think we know about this teaching. We think we know that Jesus wants us to believe in him so that becoming a Christian will provide our souls rest. We think he means that his yoke, his grace, is a pleasant and light “burden” when compared to the Law of Moses. We think that Jesus is always humble and lowly rather than being like the vengeful God of the Old Testament.

But we’re probably not correct, at least not entirely. One of the points Toby made (and he’s made it before, is that when we use improper Biblical exegesis, we often come up with incorrect theology. That statement most likely won’t make some Christian readers happy since once taught, the traditional theology is the Church is set in stone. But sometimes examining a familiar view from an unfamiliar perspective yields new insights.

So too with this continuation of the investigation of the Sabbath, which was begun in the previous episode which I reviewed last week.

So if what we typically understand about the “rest” being described by Jesus isn’t correct, then, from a Messianic Jewish perspective, what is it?

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:9-11 (NASB)

Toby says that there’s a link between Matthew 11:28-29 and Hebrews 4:9-11. They both talk about a “rest,” though in the case of the writer of Hebrews, it’s specifically a Shabbat rest. Toby leads his audience through a small Bible study on Hebrews 4:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.

Hebrews 4:1-2 (NASB)

Toby JanickiAccording to Toby, the writer of the book of Hebrews is referring to that first generation of Israelites who left Egypt and died in the wilderness.

They too had a rest they could have entered, the rest of the Promised Land, Israel. But they did not due to lack of faith. Toby next presents verses 3 and 4 as connecting this rest to the Sabbath:

For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said,

“As I swore in My wrath,
They shall not enter My rest,”

although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”

The writer of Hebrews is actually quoting Exodus 20:11 which is the commandment of observing the Sabbath. But verses 9 through 11 are not specifically referring to the seventh day Sabbath or the rest represented by entering the Land of Israel. Verse 9 says “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” What rest is that?

According to Toby, these passages are sometimes used by Christians to “prove” that Jesus is our spiritual rest so we don’t need to observe an actual, physical day of rest, neither Gentile Christians nor any Jewish person. But the writer of Hebrews is clearly referring to something in the future, not something that’s already happened. If Hebrews 4 links back to the “rest” which Jesus was teaching about in Matthew 11, then we have reached our first clue.

Clue 1: The rest that Jesus offers us is something that is in the future.

Verses 10 and 11 in Hebrews 4 is a warning not to be disobedient to God as were the first generation of Israelites who disobeyed by refusing to enter the Land of Promise. Obedience of the people of God is required for them…for us to be able to enter into that future rest of Jesus. But again, what rest is that? To us, this represents a Biblical mystery, but to the original audience listening to Jesus or the original Jewish readers of Matthew’s gospel, it was probably self-evident. How would they have understood the word “rest,” which in Hebrew is “Menuchah?”

To answer that question, the scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel. Aaron first reads from a portion of the Siddur (Jewish prayer-book) which describes the Shabbat as a rest of “love, willingness, truth, faith, peace, tranquility, stillness, trust,” and “a complete rest in which you find favor.”

Clearly, the concept of Shabbat is more than just relaxing in front of the tube or playing a few rounds of golf.

ffoz_tv21_aaronRest is used in a somewhat different context in the Bible. Aaron quoted from Deuteronomy 12:19 referring to Israel, 1 Chronicles 22:9 which refers to Solomon as “a man of rest” and a King who will reign over a nation experiencing rest, peace, and quiet, and 1 Kings 8:56 which is part of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple. These images represent the age of Messianic redemption and the Temple is a portrait of the fulfillment of all the Messianic promises. Aaron also links this to the poetic language of the Rabbis who consider the weekly Shabbat to be a tiny fraction of what will be experienced in the age to come…a forestate of the Kingdom of God.

Back in the studio with Toby, we receive the next clue:

Clue 2: The Sabbath rest is a foretaste of the rest in the Messianic Era.

I can certainly see why the seventh-day Sabbath rest is considered a blessing of both physical and spiritual rest for observant Jews. Not only is it a day to rest in the holiness and peace of God in our age, but it is a miniature representation of the full and complete rest that will be experienced when Messiah reigns in Jerusalem and over all the world, an age of total, worldwide peace.

But in traditional Christian interpretation, we encounter a problem:

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB)

I mentioned these verses among others in my review last week as the “Christian defense” against acknowledging an ongoing Shabbat observance or any such keeping of a Sabbath in the future. When I typically hear language like “type and shadow” in a Christian context, it usually means that such “shadows” came to point us to Jesus, but now that he’s come, the shadows are no longer necessary. However, that interpretation is filtered through a great deal of Protestant tradition and ignores what Paul is actually saying.

Paul said that the Sabbath is a “mere shadow of what is to come,” not what has already come. If, at his first coming, Jesus “fulfilled” the requirement of the Shabbat, then why does Paul refer to the future?

Also, and I’d like to thank Toby for bringing this up, let’s talk about this “shadow” thing. Again, the typical Church teaching on a “shadow” is that it’s basically something of limited usefulness and utility, and was only a poor imitation of something that the Jewish people had to make do with until Christ. Once Christ came, the shadows were eliminated by the “light of the world” and what was temporary then passed away.

Shabbat candlesWhat is a shadow? In a common context, it’s just an area where light is being blocked by an object in between a light source and whatever the light happens to be shining at. A shadow generally renders the shape of the object blocking the light. If Jesus is the “substance” or body of the shadow, then, to extend the metaphor, the Sabbath is “Jesus-shaped.”

If we put all this together, then the Sabbath day is a “shape” or “outline” of something with more substance that will occur in the future and has something to do with the “body” of Messiah. Since that future event has yet to occur, we still exist in the shadow or rather, the seventh-day Shabbat still has purpose and meaning as an image of something even greater and more peaceful to come. Jesus has not replaced the Sabbath and perhaps he never will. In the future, he will fill to complete fullness what we only have a taste of in the current age.

Toby related a number of Talmudic references I’ll pass over (please view the actual episode to get those details) but concludes, using Rabbinic and poetic language, that such concepts link both to 2 Peter 3:8 and Revelation 20:1-6 in describing the thousand-year Messianic reign of Jesus. This is the third and final clue:

Clue 3: The Sabbath foreshadows the coming thousand-year reign of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The rest Jesus was talking about is the Messianic Era, and all who are devoted disciples of Messiah and worshipers of the God of Israel will enter that promised rest when Messiah returns to take up his throne. But we must remain faithful to the end in order to enter that rest.

What Did I Learn?

Something rather poignant. There are a couple of sequences in every episode of the FFOZ TV show that describe the learning materials and other products available through First Fruits of Zion. One of the things this show is supposed to inspire is a desire in the viewers to want to learn more, which can be accomplished through the many fine resources provided by FFOZ.

But in one of these sequences, the voice over said that a “prophetic restoration is sweeping through the Christian world.” I don’t see anything like that “sweeping” through my little corner of the Christian world. I’m glad it’s happening to someone somewhere.

I was also reminded of last Erev Shabbat. My wife made several loaves of Challah and she once again brought out the Shabbos candles…but she was late. My little reminder in Google calendar said that candle lighting began at 4:56 p.m. and at that time, the candles still hadn’t been ignited. I casually mentioned this to her and received a surprisingly sharp rebuke in return. Why should I, a Gentile Christian (she didn’t actually call me that), be keeping track of when Shabbat candle lighting is? She had abruptly (and not for the first time) put up a “Keep Out” sign over the entryway to Shabbat in our home.

She subsequently lit the candles but did not invite me to be present.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

Matthew 10:34-36 (NASB)

But a husband against a wife, Master?

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Matthew 19:6 (NASB)

I should say that in every other area, the missus and I get along and address a wide range of concerns and shared experiences. It’s just this one place, this religious place, where we are segregated and our worlds keep us apart. I know that, for a variety of reasons, she has good cause to be defensive, but I can’t say that it doesn’t still sting a bit for me to be relegated to one world where our faith is concerned, while my wife inhabits another.

Boaz in ChinaSo it is for many other Christians and Jews in the present age, when many Jewish people see Shabbat as a blessing exclusively for the Jews and to be jealously guarded against outsiders (even if they’re in the same home), and most Christians have no desire to participate in a “shadow” that has long since been replaced by Jesus on the cross.

An “exploration of the Christian faith from a Jewish perspective,” Boaz Michael said at the end of the episode. It’s what I’ve recently dedicated myself to, but it seems a journey I am destined to take alone, and a territory I’m trespassing in as an uninvited foreigner.

If I am to believe prophesy, then I am assured that one day, I will become a welcome stranger in that strange land, but in the current age, the citizens of that country, at least the “citizen” I am closest to, does not permit my entry, nor do my own “countrymen,” the people of the Church, believe my travel plans are valid. I can only trust that one day my determination will be justified. Otherwise, I must accept that my role is to escort the Jewish exiles back to their Land and their heritage, to the foot of the Throne of Messiah, and then I must turn around as the celebration begins, and retreat to where my Master would have me go.

FFOZ TV Review: What Day is the Sabbath?

FFOZ TV episode 20Episode 20: It is often thought that somewhere in the New Testament the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday. But did the unchangeable God really change the day of rest? In episode twenty viewers will learn that not only has the Sabbath day not changed but Jesus himself was faithful to keep it and taught about it. The Sabbath is an eternal covenantal sign between Israel and God. Thus, while Gentiles are not required to keep it, they are welcomed to do so throughout the Scriptures.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 20: What Day is the Sabbath? (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Sabbath

I thought this episode would just be a “rehash” of material I already knew about the Sabbath. To some degree it was, but First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby managed to flesh out the meaning of the Shabbat for the nation of Israel and to some degree, Christianity as well. Since this show primarily is addressed to traditional Gentile believers, no doubt some of the material came as a bit of a surprise.

Toby starts out relating his Sunday school experience as a child when he was required to memorize the Ten Commandments. This, of course, includes the fourth commandment to observe the Sabbath. Many Christians believe that the Ten Commandments are still in effect for the Church, but either disregard the Sabbath entirely, or believe it was changed from Saturday to Sunday, and that all of the Torah restrictions involving work on the (Sunday) Sabbath were eliminated by Jesus.

Toby asks the questions, “Why don’t Christians keep the Sabbath,” “Was the Sabbath changed from Saturday to Sunday,” and “Is the Sabbath even valid anymore?”

And he said to them, “Shabbat was given for the sake of man, and not man for the sake of the Shabbat. Therefore, the son of man is master even of the Shabbat.”

Mark 2:27-28 (DHE Gospels)

According to Toby, Christians typically use these verses to support the position that Jesus teaches man no longer has to keep the Sabbath since “Shabbat was given for the sake of man.” But Jesus also said that he didn’t come to abolish the Torah, which by definition, would have to include the Torah commandments related to the Sabbath:

Do not imagine that I have come to violate the Torah or the words of the prophets. I have not come to violate but to fulfill. For, amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one yod or one thorn will pass away from the Torah until all has been established.

Matthew 5:17-18 (DHE Gospels)

If you haven’t done so already, or you just don’t believe Jesus didn’t cancel the Torah, please view the FFOZ TV episode The Torah is Not Canceled, which I reviewed several weeks ago. It provides necessary background for what Toby and Aaron are teaching in the current episode of this series.

To understand how Jesus approached the Sabbath, we have to understand the larger context of what he means by “the Shabbat being made for man rather than man for the Shabbat.”

And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28 (NASB)

Toby JanickiToby brings up an important point that Jesus is debating with the Pharisees about what is and is not permitted to do on the Sabbath, not whether or not the Sabbath remains valid. Neither side in this argument is invalidating the Sabbath, merely dialoguing about what constitutes “work” on this holy day. Rabbis have been having similar debates for hundreds and even thousands of years. The Talmud is replete with Rabbinic discussions and disagreements over what is permitted to do on Shabbat and a wide variety of other matters related to the Torah mitzvot. The discussion recorded in Mark 2:23-28 is no different, and yet Christianity, not seeing this transaction from a Jewish perspective, universally fails to comprehend its meaning.

In the specific example above, Jesus is citing a portion of the Bible when David and his men ate bread permitted only to the Levitical priests. They did so because they were starving and had no where else to turn for food. Jesus is saying that the Shabbat is a gift, not a straitjacket, and the specifics of performing a type of work that is normally forbidden on Shabbat must not overrule the higher principle of preserving human life, well-being, and dignity.

Jesus had a number of similar debates with the Pharisees on this topic, including whether it was permitted to heal a non-life threatening disability on Shabbat (Matthew 12:9-14).

For more context on the debates Jesus had with the Pharisees on the Shabbat, see my review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Sabbath Breaker: Jesus of Nazareth and The Gospels’ Sabbath Conflicts, also published by First Fruits of Zion.

At this point in his presentation, Toby said something I didn’t expect. We generally consider the phrase “Son of Man” as Jesus used it, to refer to himself, the Messiah, however, Toby applied it differently in the context of Mark 2:23-28. He suggested that “Son of Man” is an equivalent term for all humankind. Thus, he presents the words of Jesus as saying that the Sabbath was created as a gift for all people and that all people everywhere are “Lord of the Sabbath.”

For me, this creates certain problems, since, as I said before, the “Son of Man” is generally considered as a title for Messiah, and Toby’s interpretation seems to create a separate meaning for only this situation. It also may contradict what he establishes later in this episode, since if the Sabbath is created for everyone, Jew and non-Jew, and we are all “lords” of the Sabbath, what does that mean for Gentile Shabbat observance today?

More on that in a bit.

Toby drew a parallel between the Master’s words above and an ancient Jewish commentary on the book of Exodus called Mechilta, and quotes part of it which states:

Shabbat is delivered to you, not you to the Shabbat.

This echos the meaning of the Master that man is not to surrender himself to the Shabbat but quite the opposite. If the laws of the Sabbath were entirely rigid and immutable, they might require that observant people be subject to hardship and even death in obedience of such laws. Even the most stringent Jewish interpretation of the laws of Shabbat allow for lifesaving efforts to be expended on Shabbat, but what about people who are suffering but who will live for another day? What if the dilemma isn’t life and death, but life and dignity?

I’ve come the long way around to the first clue in solving our mystery, but it has finally arrived:

Clue 1: Jesus argued about what things were permissible to do on the Sabbath.

And this, as I previously pointed out, is a debate that has been taking place in Judaism for a very long time.

The scene shifts to Aaron Eby in Israel for a word study on the Hebrew word “Shabbat.”

Aaron starts by quoting Exodus 20:8-9, 11 which I render from the Stone Edition of the Tanakh:

Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work…for in six days Hashem made the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, Hashem blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it.

Aaron EbyAaron points out that the Sabbath has a universal application and far pre-dates the giving of the commandments of the Sabbath at Sinai.

The literal meaning of the word “Shabbat” is “resting” and “stopping” and implies an “active” form of “resting” and “refraining,” not just kicking back and relaxing. To me, this speaks of a specificity of types of activity and inactivity, a mindfulness that Shabbat is not just relaxing in front of the T.V., but directing mind, spirit, and heart away from our immediate human activities and toward God.

Aaron cites something I consider very important in the following:

The Children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever that in a six-day period Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. (emph. mine)

Exodus 31:16-17 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

There are two exceptionally important points to get from this. When Israel or any individual Jewish person keeps the Shabbat, they:

  1. Testify to the eternal covenant between God and all Jewish people, the nation of Israel.
  2. Testify to God’s sovereignty as Creator of the Universe.

In the quote from Exodus 31:16-17, I emphasized words that testify to the eternal nature of the Shabbat as a covenant sign between God and the Jewish people. This also, by implication, testifies to the eternal nature of the Mosaic covenant with the Jewish people, and the Torah as the conditions of that covenant. When Christians say that the Shabbat no longer applies to the Jewish people (or anyone else) and especially that the Torah is now irrelevant to the Jewish people, I want to scream, “What part of eternal don’t you understand?”

But I digress.

Formally, in Judaism, a “day” lasts from sundown to sundown, not from sunrise to sunrise or midnight to midnight. That means that the seventh day Shabbat begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday (in Rabbinic custom, the Shabbat actually begins slightly before sundown on Friday and ends about 45 minutes after sundown on Saturday as a “hedge,” to avoid “cutting it too close,” so to speak, in beginning and ending Shabbat observance).

Aaron also pointed out that generally, Jewish (and Christian) authorities all agree on which day is the “seventh day,” and that Biblically, it can’t be just any day at all.

I wish Aaron or Toby had addressed the following, though:

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord…

Romans 14:5-6 (NASB)

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

Colossians 2:16-19 (NASB)

Mark NanosIn Paul’s letter to the Romans addressing “the weak and the strong” (which I’m about to get to in the Mark Nanos book The Mystery of Romans), most people take from these words to mean that one day is as good as another as far as observing a “Sabbath” is concerned, and that believers need not be concerned about strictly observing a Saturday Shabbat. The scripture from Colossians tells a similar tale in the eyes of the Church, and yet both of these interpretations directly contradict earlier scriptures. Since as believers, we cannot understand that the Bible is internally contradictory, we must conclude then that our interpretations are flawed. How can Jewish Shabbat observance be eternal and yet Paul say that it simply doesn’t matter because of Jesus? Jesus himself affirmed the Shabbat, not eliminated it.

Aaron’s segment of this program has him also affirming the current requirement for Israel to observe the Shabbat, but he also asks the question, “What does the Shabbat mean to Gentile believers?”

Back in the studio with Toby, we find our second clue:

Clue 2: Sabbath is from sunset Friday until sunset Saturday.

Two or three clues really don’t do it for the mystery of Shabbat in my opinion. This particular television episode brought up a dense set of meanings for me.

While earlier portions of the episode spoke of the “universality” of the Shabbat as a testimony of all mankind that God is the sovereign Creator, Toby shifts into the specifics of Shabbat and Judaism. While we see the sanctity of the Shabbat being set in place in Genesis 2, Toby points out that the specific commandments of Shabbat observance were not given in any recorded fashion to Adam and his sons or to Noah and his sons. It is only after God redeems the Children of Israel from Egypt and they are standing “as one man” at Sinai before Hashem their God, that Shabbat is formally established and its observance defined in Torah. It is also given as a specific sign of the Mosaic covenant between God and Israel, only Israel, forever. No other people group or nation has ever received this sign obligation to God.

Hashem said to Moses, saying: “Now you speak to the Children of Israel, saying: ‘However, you must observe my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am Hashem, Who makes you holy.'”

Exodus 31:12-13 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Toby doesn’t mention this, but the above verses establish that not only is the Saturday Sabbath considered an eternal sign of the covenant between God and Israel, but so are all of the “Sabbaths,” that is, all of the moadim, God’s appointed times, the festivals identified and defined in Torah, such as Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. Each and every one of these Sabbaths must be observed by all of Israel for all time; for after all, that’s what “eternal” means.

I’ve heard it said in the Church that Jews should observe the moadim as “national holidays” the way Americans “observe” the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving. I consider that not only misleading and Biblically inaccurate, but potentially demeaning. It reduces the eternal covenant signs between God and Israel to how Americans “observe” barbecues, fireworks, eating turkey, and watching football. The very best you can say about American national holidays is that they represent who we are and how we relate to our history as Americans, a relationship between citizens and our country. The moadim, the weekly Sabbath, Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, and the other special Sabbaths are far, far more than that, and indeed, define the relationship between Israel and her citizens, the Jewish people, and the God of Everything!

That’s somewhat more significant than mere American “national holidays,” wouldn’t you say?

This is another long way around to reaching the third and final clue in solving today’s mystery:

Clue 3: The Bible requires only the Jewish people to keep the Sabbath.

That’s going to make some people I know, non-Jewish people, very unhappy, but hold on there. Toby goes on to say that there’s nothing stopping any non-Jewish believer from also observing the Shabbat in some manner. We may not be commanded to do so, but we might as well “get used to it,” for someday, all of humanity will indeed observe the seventh day Shabbat.

And the foreigners who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Sabbath against desecration, and grasp My covenant tightly — I will bring them to My holy mountain, and I will gladden them in My house of prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for my House will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56:6-7 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

It shall be that at every New Moon and on every Sabbath all mankind will come to prostrate themselves before Me, says Hashem.

Isaiah 66:23 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Boaz MichaelIf I’m reading this right (and I think I am), then not only will everyone observe a weekly Sabbath, the seventh day Sabbath, in the Messianic Age, but we will observe the New Moons and all of the Sabbaths and Festivals of God, all of the moadim listed in the Torah.

I don’t know how any later or subsequent revelation in the Apostolic scriptures (New Testament) can alter or undo the meaning of this text.

What Did I Learn?

I learned some things about the Sabbath, but I learned more about myself. I learned that I want to scream when I hear good, intelligent, and passionate Christians, men and women who I deeply respect, saying things about the Bible that seem completely contrary to the Bible. To my way of thinking, Toby and Aaron provided their audience with an air-tight case that Sabbath keeping is completely Jewish and remains an obligation for the Jewish people as a response to their covenant obligations to God. To deny this is (forgive me) to deny the evidence of the Bible. Toby and Aaron “quoted chapter and verse,” so to speak, illustrating the path from Genesis, to Sinai, to the present age, and into the Messianic Era, that the seventh day Sabbath is an eternal sign of the (eternal) covenant between God and Israel.

I also learned to “tighten up” the scriptures defining when all of humanity, in addition to Israel, will be obligated to observe the Shabbat, which is in the Messianic Era. There is no current obligation for Christians, or anyone else who isn’t Jewish, to observe Shabbat, but there will be in the future age when Messiah returns and establishes his Kingdom of peace over all the Earth. While Gentiles don’t have to observe Shabbat now, we can choose to, in some fashion, to honor God as Creator and to summon for ourselves a taste of the future Messianic Kingdom.

I found myself thinking of my Jewish wife and children. None of them observe the Shabbat in any real sense. For awhile, when our daughter was in Israel, my wife was lighting the Shabbos candles, but she stopped soon after our daughter returned. It breaks my heart, but I have to remind myself that some traditional Jews believe that in the age right before the coming of Messiah…

There is a tradition that people will begin to despise the values of their religion in the generations preceding the coming of the Messiah. Since in a period of such accelerated change, parents and children will grow up in literally different worlds, and traditions handed down from father to son will be among the major casualties.

Our sages thus teach us that neither parents nor the aged will be respected, the old will have to seek favors from the young, and a man’s household will be become his enemies. Insolence will increase, people will no longer have respect, and none will offer correction. Religious studies will be despised and used by non-believers to strengthen their own claims; the government will become godless, academies places of immorality, and the pious denigrated…

Perhaps it is darkest before the dawn.

At the very end of the episode, as always, FFOZ Founder and President Boaz Michael appeared on camera to summarize this episode and to mention that next week’s show will continue to discuss the Shabbat. He also said, and this is very important to me, that studying the Bible, all of it, from a Jewish cultural, national, historical, ethnic, and traditional perspective “makes our Bibles consistent and upholds the Biblical truth that God doesn’t change.”

At the beginning of some of these shows, Toby refers to himself as “a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism.” I’m a Gentile Christian who studies Messianic Judaism but who also attends a Christian church and, as part of that experience, studies Christianity from a fundamentalist and Reformed theology perspective.

So far, after a year of being back in church, the Messianic learning framework still makes a great deal more sense to me as a Biblical guide to Biblical truth than the platform used by fundamentalists. And this should be strange, since being a fundamentalist Christian simply means adhering to the core fundamentals of faith in Jesus Christ.

ShabbatBut maybe that’s the problem. Those fundamentals are based on (please pardon me again) a “fundamental” set of assumptions and traditional interpretations of what the Bible is saying. While those fundamentals attempt to take into account, not only the meaning of the Bible in its original languages, but the cultural and historic context of the Biblical authors and their audiences, they just do not escape the filter of two-thousand years of Christian interpretive history as well as Christian/Jewish enmity, all of which, after Christianity broke from its Jewish origins, must by definition, deny the Torah and deny continuing Jewish obligation to the Torah, including the seventh day Sabbath, as an eternal sign of the covenant between Jewish Israel and God.

How long will I be able to straddle the line with each foot planted on opposite sides of the street? You’ll find out in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”

FFOZ TV Review: The Golden Rule

ffoz_tv19_mainEpisode 19: Jesus instructs us “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is the Golden Rule. But why does he add at the end “For this is the law and prophets”? Episode nineteen will explore the words of other rabbis who also distilled down the commandments in a similar way to Jesus. The Golden Rule is the practical application of the Leviticus commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” and thus is the baseline of kingdom ethics and a prophetic picture of the peace of the Messianic Era.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 19: The Golden Rule (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Golden Rule

I didn’t think I’d get much out of this episode, so I was surprised when the material covered by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby folded into several blog posts I’ve written recently, all touching on how we treat our fellow human beings.

The “Golden Rule” is often rendered as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Here’s the Biblical source:

So then, whatever you want sons of men to do to you, do the same to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12 (DHE Gospels)

Here’s a more familiar version of the same text:

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12 (NASB)

I guess I’m always a little surprised when I hear how some Christians understand certain parts of the Bible. It would never occur to me to think that Jesus was supposed to be replacing the Torah and the Prophets, that is, the Old Testament, with a new, “one size fits all” law that is simple, easy to understand, and (in theory) easy to accomplish. But apparently, that’s what a lot of Christians have been taught.

They’ve also been taught that Jesus invented “The Golden Rule” and that it is a wholly New Testament concept.

Except, that’s not true.

Toby pulls a story from Talmud commonly referred to as Hillel, Shammai, and the Three Converts. I won’t render the entire tale here, but the core statement, when the Rabbinic Sage Hillel is confronted with a demand by a would-be convert to teach him the Torah while the man stood on one foot (and no one can keep their balance on one foot for very long), is the response, “What you dislike, do not do to your friend. That is the basis of the Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn!”

ffoz_tv19_tobyThis statement is a variation of what Jesus said to his listeners in Matthew 7:12 and communicates the same thought. But the Rabbinic sages Hillel and Shammai lived and taught a full generation before Jesus began his ministry, so Jesus couldn’t have invented this teaching. Further, both Jesus and Hillel say that “the Golden Rule” is the basis of the Torah and the Prophets, which is often misinterpreted by Christians to mean that this rule replaces the Torah.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but Toby also tells his audience that Hillel didn’t invent the Golden Rule either:

…you shall love your fellow as yourself — I am Hashem.

Leviticus 19:18 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Both Hillel and Jesus are drawing directly from a commandment in the Torah, and this is the first clue in solving our mystery:

Clue 1: The Golden Rule is a paraphrase of Leviticus 19:18.

At this point, the scene shifts to Aaron in Israel and he reads a related passage from scripture to us:

A certain sage among them asked him a question to test him, saying “Rabbi, which is the greatest mitzvah in the Torah?” Yeshua replied to him, “Love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your knowledge.” This is the greatest and first mitzvah. But the second is similar to it: “Love your fellow as yourself.” The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.

Matthew 22:35-40 (DHE Gospels)

The first commandment, Aaron tells the audience, is taken from Deuteronomy 6:5 and is part of the Shema, the most holy prayer in Judaism, which observant Jews recite twice daily. The second, as noted before, is from Leviticus 19:18

Aaron introduces a concept called “equal decrees,” which is a Jewish interpretative method used in Jesus’s day and one that Jesus was using in the above-quoted scripture. This method says that if two sections of scripture use the same and unusual words, which in this case are “And you shall love” or “ve’ahavta” in Hebrew, then they are considered related and equal to each other. Jesus is saying that there’s a relationship between Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, that they are linked and that they are equal in some manner.

Aaron also drew out that all of the Torah commandments and teachings of the Prophets hang on these two verses. In other words, all of the Torah commandments are dependent upon loving God with all of your resources and loving your fellow as yourself. Instead of replacing the Torah and the Prophets with the Golden Rule, Jesus was upholding and affirming the Torah and the Prophets, just as Hillel was (and who would ever accuse the great sage Hillel of trying to replace the Torah with a simple rule commanding kindness to others?).

ffoz_tv19_aaronIt occurred to me as I listened to Aaron, that anyone who claimed to be “Torah observant” but who didn’t treat others the same way as they would want to be treated, could not actually say to be obeying the Torah of Moses, since all of the commands in Torah are utterly dependent upon loving God and loving others.

Of course, we have to consider the question, “who is my neighbor?”

But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Returning to Toby in the studio, we receive the next clue:

Clue 2: The Golden Rule summarizes the commandments of the Torah.

Now we’ll begin to address who is our neighbor or our fellow.

Then a certain sage arose to test him and said, “Teacher, what should I do to take possession of eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read it?” He answered and said, “Love Hashem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength, and with all of your knowledge — and your fellow as yourself.” He said to him, “You have answered well. Do this and live.”

He desired to justify himself so he said to Yeshua, “Who is my fellow?”

Luke 10:25-29 (DHE Gospels)

Here, Luke reverses who speaks the two greatest commandments, having the sage who is testing Jesus state them. Jesus says something interesting and something I think should make Christians a little nervous. He says to the sage that if he loves God with all of his resources and his fellow as himself, if he observes these Torah mitzvot, he will live, that is, he will gain eternal life. In “Christianese,” Jesus is telling him that he will be saved if he observes the two greatest mitzvot.

This is very revealing because Jesus didn’t say “believe in me, in Jesus” or even “believe in God” but rather, you will gain salvation if you love God with everything you’ve got and if you love your fellow as yourself.

But what about this neighbor/fellow stuff?

In Luke 10:30-37, Jesus responds to the sage’s query by relating what we know as “the Parable of the Good Samaritan.” In other words, Jesus defines a neighbor not just as one’s fellow Jew, but even as someone who you don’t like very well, someone who isn’t even Jewish.

Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

Luke 10:36-37 (NASB)

Ah, mercy. I’ve had a lot to say on mercy lately. Mainly because of a few people in the blogosphere who lead with their sense of “justice” while dumping mercy into the gutter.

sad-childJesus is saying that the second of the two greatest commandments, a mitzvah upon which all of the other Torah mitzvot depend, is loving any other human being, showing that person the exact same compassion that we ourselves would want to be shown. Since the second commandment is considered equal to the first, one cannot love God if that person does not show mercy to his fellow human being, any fellow human being. It doesn’t matter if that’s a fellow Jew or not (assuming you’re Jewish) or a fellow believer or not (assuming that you’re a believer). The Golden Rule, the second of the two greatest commandments, must apply to everyone you encounter, regardless of who they are. Otherwise, your love of and faith in God, as well as your much vaunted observance of Torah, means absolutely nothing.

This is also the third and final clue:

Clue 3: The Golden Rule applies universally.

Toby says that the Golden Rule is also a foretaste of the Messianic Era, an age of universal love and peace, when everyone will treat each other with compassion, kindness, and mercy. These are the ethical principles of the Messianic Age, and we can apprehend some of that age now if we just embrace the Golden Rule and live it out.

What Did I Learn?

I surprised myself in that I have been urging my own small audience on my blog to observe the Golden Rule without even realizing it. In spite of how I’m sometimes criticized for leaning a bit more toward mercy than justice in my messages, according to this FFOZ TV teaching, I seem to be on the right track. But what does that say for those out there in the Church and the Hebrew Roots movements, and all their variations, who lean more toward justice, a lot more, and barely give mercy a passing nod?

According to Jesus, both love of God and mercy toward your neighbor, who can be and in fact is everybody, is required in order to acquire eternal life, a place in the world to come, otherwise known as salvation. This is the viewpoint of the Bible that conflicts with the standard Christian version, which says all you have to do is believe in order to be saved. No behavior is required.

According to Ismar Schorsch in his book Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries, in one commentary on Torah Portion Vayeitze (“No Aversion to Wealth,” pg 108):

The Torah is indifferent to the nature of the afterlife, offering but slight comfort to the individual victim of oppression. What it does unflinchingly is to rail against those who pervert the principles and practices that enhance human life.

I get a very “Old Testament” feel from the teachings of Messiah as presented in this episode of FFOZ TV, The Golden Rule. Jesus is saying that our relationship with God, the true meaning of our faith and trust, isn’t what we think, and it’s not a warm and fuzzy feeling. Rather, it’s what we do. The nature and character of our love of God is directly reflected in how we treat other human beings, not just people who are like us, but also those who are unlike us, even those who are opposed to us.

For instance, how a believer, whether he thinks of himself as “Christian,” “Hebrew Roots follower,” or “Messianic,” speaks of and treats someone he considers an apostate, tells us more about that believer than it ever will tell us about the apostate.

No matter how much you tell yourself that you are “right” because you are quoting scripture, stating facts, stating truth, and upholding justice, if you also do not have the same mercy that the Samaritan had for the man who had been victimized by robbers, you have nothing at all from God.

A review and a cautionary tale from today’s “morning meditation.”

FFOZ TV Review: Speaking in Parables

ffoz_tv18_mainEpisode 18: It may be surprising to many Christians that the use of parables was not unique to Jesus but was rather a Jewish literary art form that had been developed over centuries. Viewers will learn in episode eighteen that Jesus used parables not as riddles but stories to help clarify his points. Jesus’ parables attempted to make it easier for his listeners to grasp his words. Like the other rabbis of his day, Messiah used parables to serve as simple explanations and illustrations to help us understand his message about the kingdom.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 18: Speaking in Parables

The Lesson: The Mystery of Speaking in Parables

This is another First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) perspective on a common “attribute” of Jesus, in this case, how he taught using parables, that for me, revealed more about how Christians think than about the topic itself. I always assumed that the parables of Jesus were metaphors designed to communicate complex concepts and ideas in a simple manner. This is probably because in my previous career as a psychotherapist, using metaphors was a common method I employed to accomplish the same thing.

But apparently, it’s generally understood in the Church that Jesus used parables to confuse his listeners and to hide the truth from the Jewish people. He spoke in riddles in order to prevent the Jews from repenting and returning to God, which, if repentance had occurred, would have resulted in Israel entering the Messianic Age.

According to FFOZ teacher and author Toby Janicki, it’s easy to understand why modern Christians might get that idea:

His disciples approached him and said, “Why is it that you speak to them in parables?” He answered them and said, “Because to you it is given to know the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not given. For to one who has, it will surely be given, and he will have extra, but for one who does not have, even what he does have will be taken away from him. That is why I speak to them in parables. For in their seeing they will not see, and in their hearing they will not hear, nor do they even understand.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Yeshayah that says,

‘Listen well, but you will not understand. Look closely, but you will not know. Fatten the heart of this nation, and make its ears heavy and seal its eyes, so that it will not see with its eyes or hear with its ears or understand with its heart or repent and be healed’.”

Matthew 13:10-15 (DHE Gospels)

ffoz_tv18tobyThis seems to be another case of misunderstanding what appears to be a plain message because we are not approaching the words of the Master using a historical, cultural, and Rabbinic Jewish lens. Toby used to introduce himself in earlier episodes by saying he is a Gentile who is practicing Messianic Judaism, but in the past few episodes, he has described himself as a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that such a framework is truly required by Gentile Christians if we’re ever to get past our own cultural and historic misconceptions of the Gospels and hear and understand what Jesus is actually saying to his original audience and to us. Maybe we could use a few parables to get that message through our own “thick skulls.”

Toby said the way to understand Matthew 13:10-15 is to go to the section of the Book of Isaiah from which Jesus was quoting:

He said, “Go and say to this people, ‘Surely you will hear, but you do not comprehend; and surely you see, but you fail to know. This people is fattening its heart, hardening its ears, and sealing its eyes, lest it see with its eyes, hear with its ears, and understand with its heart, so that it will repent and be healed’.”

Isaiah 6:9-10 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Toby told his audience that the conjunction “but” as in “but you do not understand” would better be rendered as “and”. If we substituted the word “and” for “but” in the scripture from Isaiah 6, it would read more like God telling Isaiah that He wants the prophet to relate a message of repentance, but that the people are not going to listen to him.

Otherwise, it looks like God is saying, through Isaiah, that He wants the people to repent, but He also is making it impossible for them to hear the message and obey. Sort of a cosmic “bait and switch,” with God playing the role of the infinite trickster in relation to Israel. This is very reminiscent of how some Christians say God only gave the Torah (Law) to Israel to prove to them that it was impossible to obey, setting them up to understand why they needed grace and Jesus Christ in order to be saved; setting them up to realize that the Torah was never, ever meant to be a permanent lifestyle for the Jewish people, even though the Torah, Prophets, and Writings are replete with messages indicating that both the Torah and the Jewish people would forever exist before God.

Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 in order to explain that he was like Isaiah, a prophet preaching repentance to an Israel that was already spiritually blind and deaf, unable to see or hear or understand in order to repent and be healed (although in a Jewish context, being healed wasn’t just individual salvation, but the healing and restoration of the entire nation of Israel).

We have arrived at the first clue:

Clue 1: Jesus did not use parables to blind eyes or deafen ears.

ffoz_tv18_aaronIn fact, the opposite seems true. Jesus knew his audience was already spiritually blind and deaf, and maybe he thought using simple parables instead of complex theological arguments would make the message of repentance and restoration easier to understand.

But what exactly is a parable and who typically uses it as a teaching method? For the answer to that question, the scene shifts to Israel and FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby.

Aaron said that parables were used long before Jesus as a common teaching tool by prophets and even by other Rabbis who were contemporaries of the Master. Aaron quotes Ezekiel 17:12 and the parable of the eagle that plucks off a treetop (watch the episode to hear Aaron’s explanation of the parable) to make his point.

Aaron related that the word for parable in Hebrew is mashal, and that the Sages often used a mashal to explain something that was highly conceptual and difficult to understand. Aaron, like Toby, told his listeners that a mashal was designed to make something easier to understand, not take a plain idea and turn it into a riddle. In fact, in the day of Jesus, it was completely normal and expected for a Rabbi to teach using parables, so the disciples and followers of Christ expected it.

We return to Toby in the studio and come to the second clue:

Clue 2: Parables were a common teaching device used to simplify complex concepts.

Toby takes us to another Gospel scripture to further explain why Jesus taught in parables:

With many parables like these, he spoke to them the word according to what they were able to hear. Other than with a parable, he did not speak to them. But when his disciples were with him and no one else was with him, he would explain everything to them.

Mark 4:33-34 (DHE Gospels)

This still seems like Jesus is using parables to obscure the truth but explaining everything to his disciples privately, however Toby said we need to consider another perspective. One that, once I heard it, I realized I’d been taught before.

The Rabbis of that time taught using a dual teaching method. They taught the common people, the simple farmers and shepherds, using parables in order to make difficult theological issues better understood. However to the disciples who continually studied under their Rabbinic Master, the teacher would relate these same concepts in a more formal and legal manner, since they were better equipped, being the Master’s students, to understand in greater depth.

Clue 3: Jesus taught the common people as they were able to hear him.

Remember that Mark describes Christ’s use of parables as, “he spoke to them the word according to what they were able to hear.” He used parables because that’s what the people were able to hear. They wouldn’t have understood a more detailed and technical explanation in the same way the disciples understood.

What Did I Learn?

ffoz_tv18_dhe_markosI had a basic understanding that parables were metaphors in the purpose of their use, but this episode presented parables and their nature in greater detail than I had access to previously. It’s also another example (for me) that God does not desire to hide information, to trick people, to be an agent of confusion, but rather, He wants us to understand, to trust, to believe, and to realize that a Sovereign God is a just and honest God. Sovereignty doesn’t mean God will pull a “bait and switch” just because He’s entitled to as Creator of the Universe.

I also saw again how in lacking a proper Jewish contextual, legal, historical, and cultural framework when we read the Apostolic Scriptures or any other part of the Bible, we will misunderstand, sometimes tremendously misunderstand, who Yeshua is, what he taught, and why he taught it. The Messianic “good news” will be tinted an alien shade of “Gentile,” resulting in a “Goyim-friendly” New Testament that is required to remove continual Jewish Torah covenant obligation so that it can be replaced with something newer and “better.”

As I said before, when Toby introduced himself as a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism, it revealed something about me and how I approach my faith. I really do believe and accept the FFOZ premise that Messianic Judaism is a method by which non-Jewish believers can and must study in order to comprehend God, the Messiah, the Bible, our Jewish companions in the faith (and outside the faith), and ourselves better. Otherwise, we’re missing out on a great deal of understanding and truth.

I don’t think anyone intended this part of the episode to be adapted in this way, but I wonder if when Jesus (and Isaiah before him) said that “this nation, and make its ears heavy and seal its eyes, so that it will not see with its eyes or hear with its ears or understand with its heart or repent and be healed,” they realized these words could possibly be applied to much of the Christian church today?

Oh, one more thing. The top image on each of these FFOZ TV reviews is just a screenshot, not an embedded link to the video. The link to the video is just under the italicized introduction to the review as the title of episode, such as in today’s case, Episode 18: Speaking in Parables.

FFOZ TV Review: Binding and Loosing

FFOZ Bind and LooseEpisode 17: Over the years numerous explanations have been given for what Jesus meant when he talked about binding and loosing, not the least of which is that it refers to restraining demons. In episode seventeen viewers will discover that the context of Jesus’ words is that of a legal nature. When the Jewish background to the terms “bind” and “loose” is examined, Christians can get a clearer understanding of what Messiah was teaching about. Binding and loosing in actuality refers to legal rulings in regards to the Scriptures and not spiritual warfare.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 17: Binding and Loosing

The Lesson: The Mystery of Binding and Loosing

I haven’t given much thought to the traditional Christian understanding of the concepts of “binding” and “loosing” since I only looked at them from a Hebrew Roots/Messianic Jewish driven perspective, however, First Fruits of Zion author and teacher Toby Janicki started with the Christian viewpoint of these ideas. He described a prayer meeting he attended when he was young where the following passage from scripture was read:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18 (ESV)

Toby told his audience that immediately after this verse was read, the people began to pray, “We bind you Satan in the name of Jesus,” suggesting that Matthew 18:18 was a description of Jesus giving the disciples the power to “bind Satan.” I immediately thought of my recent commentary on John MacArthur as well as my conversation with my Pastor on the matter, and how both seem to take the point of view that people can’t really summon the power of the Holy Spirit to make any effective spiritual or physical changes in our world.

the mystery of binding and loosingToby brought up an interesting and useful point to this issue. If Jesus gave his disciples (i.e. “us”) the power to “bind Satan,” why would he give us the power to “loose” him as well? It doesn’t make sense.

Invoking “context is king,” Toby reads from the larger selection of scripture containing the key verse:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Matthew 18:15-20 (ESV)

I’ve accused Christian Bible studies before about “cherry picking” specific verses in the Bible to create a particular picture or doctrine and Toby showed us how true this can be. He deconstructed this passage to show us what really seems to be happening here.

  1. “If a brother sins against you” indicates that an infraction has occurred within the congregational body, committed by an individual.
  2. The procedure of adjudicating the infraction is outlined in first the direct witness approaching the sinner, then with several witnesses, and finally the entire congregation.
  3. If the sinner continues to refuse to repent through each stage of adjudication, the congregational leaders have the authority to remove the sinner from their midst.

It’s no coincidence that it requires two or three witnesses to perform this function:

A single witness shall not stand up against any man for any iniquity or for any error, regarding any sin that he may commit; according to two witnesses or according to three witnesses shall the matter be confirmed.

Deuteronomy 19:15 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

The sequence of events described in Matthew 18:15-20 references a legal proceeding. If an infraction, error, or sin is committed, a set of legal steps is set in motion. First the individual who was offended may attempt to settle it privately, but if that isn’t effective, then two or three witnesses are brought in. Finally, if the matter cannot be settled, the entire congregation makes a decision to set the sinner out.

The two or three witnesses, according to Toby, are actually the authorities within the community who are acting as judges. Of three witnesses, at least two or all three must agree for any legal decision to be binding. This is how a Beit Din of Jewish Rabbinic court operates today. Jesus was giving his disciples the authority to make binding legal decisions for the Messianic community of “the Way.” This is also mirrored today in more than one Christian church system where the board of deacons, elders, or directors make authoritative decisions for the entire church.

Here we have the first clue:

Clue 1: Jesus’s words about “binding” and “loosing” occur in a legal context.

binding and loosing language lessonI was (again) struck by the fact that the church can (quite often) misunderstand the Bible in general and the New Testament writings in particular by ignoring the Jewish cultural, historical, and legal context of scripture. Even fundamentalist and literalist Christians will miss important and even critical details by failing to take the “Jewishness” of the Jewish scriptures (i.e. the Bible) into account.

The scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel in search of our second clue. He takes us through a small vocabulary lesson about the Hebrew words for “loose” and “loosed” as well as “bind” and “bound.” The Hebrew words for “loose” and “loosed” are understood as “prohibit” and “prohibited.” The Hebrew words for “loose” and “loosed” correspond to “permit” and “permitted” (Aaron’s actual description is more detailed and you’ll have to watch the episode to get all the information).

For instance, an Israeli “No smoking” sign in Hebrew can be literally translated as “Smoking is bound” or “prohibited.” Aaron also tells us that in religious Judaism, a particular Rabbi can prohibit or “bind” a particular activity as well as “loose” or permit an activity. A Jewish person unfamiliar with the rulings on a specific topic can consult a Rabbinic sage and receive a judgment on whether it is bound or loosed (prohibited or permitted) but it is bound (prohibited) to go from Rabbi to Rabbi in search of a favorable legal opinion.

While Toby used the English Standard Version of the Bible (purposely) from which to quote scriptures, Aaron backs up his point by referencing the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels to read from Matthew 16:19 (a scripture we looked at just last week):

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and all that you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and all that you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.

Back with Toby in the studio, he reads from the DHE Gospels, as Aaron did, but quotes Matthew 18:18 again:

Amen, I say to you, all that you forbid on the earth will be forbidden in heaven and all that you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.

If a matter is legally decided by two or three judges or authorities within the congregation on earth, then it will be supported by the Heavenly authority as well (which makes me wonder how all that works today with so many different and contradictory Christian and Jewish groups, each issuing authoritative legal rulings for their congregations…which one(s) does/do Heaven support?).

We now have the second clue for this program:

Clue 2: “Bind” and “Loose” are figures of speech in the Hebrew.

I probably would have said that “Bind” and “Loose” are legal terms in ancient and modern religious Judaism, but you get the idea.

I was wondering why Toby needed a third clue since it seemed to me the point was well made, but he continued by quoting from the Mishnah an example of a legal ruling about fruit grown in Israel, which needs to be tithed, or grown outside Israel, which does not need to be tithed. I’ll skip the details because you will want to watch this episode without knowing everything it teaches ahead of time.

Toby also referenced Acts 15 where the Messianic community exercised their authority to bind or loose in relation to the question of whether or not Gentiles could be allowed into the community without converting to Judaism. Should Gentiles by bound or prohibited from formal entry until they legally converted, or should they be loosed or permitted to join without such a conversion?

An examination of the Acts 15 process (and remember, Luke only recorded a small summary of what was assuredly a much longer and involved proceeding) illustrates the matter of deliberations by those who possessed the authority given them by the Master, and the ultimate decision was to loose the Gentiles from conversion and full Torah obligation, although they were bound to what we refer to as the “four essentials” in order to enter (as an interesting exercise, you can try reading Acts 15 and see if you can determine the actual authorities involved [two or more judges] in making the legal ruling about the Gentiles).

Toby didn’t put it into these terms, but the Council of Apostles and Elders in Acts 15 established halachah or a legal ruling about the procedure of Gentile admittance into “the Way.”

Clue 3: Examples from Rabbinic literature and the New Testament support the two previous clues and their conclusion.

Toby further references Isaiah 11:3-4 to establish that Messiah will also “bind” and “loose” during his reign as King and Judge, as well as Isaiah 2:3-4 to make a similar illustration.

At the end of the episode, Toby made a point of trying to “smooth things over” for whoever in his traditional Christian audience might be disappointed that they didn’t really have the power to “bind Satan” based on Matthew 18:18. He reminded everyone that elsewhere in scripture, Jesus gave the disciples the power to cast out demons, and in Revelation 20:1-2, Satan will be literally bound. I again thought of MacArthur and my Pastor, both of whom probably never believed that Christians have had the power to bind or cast out demons after the close of Biblical canon.

What Did I Learn?

ancient_beit_dinI was again taken by the fact that without an understanding of the first century Jewish Rabbinic, legal, and religious context and comprehension of the words of Jesus, it is quite possible and likely that the Church misunderstands large portions of the Biblical text. This supports my ongoing discussion with my Pastor that we grossly misunderstand Paul in those sections of scripture where he seems to denigrate the Torah and call for its practice to be abolished or “put on hold” by Jewish and Gentile disciples (not that the Gentile disciples were ever “bound” to Torah in the manner the Jewish people were).

Without the Mishnah as well as a historical understanding of how Jesus’s immediate Jewish audience and the Jewish readers of Matthew’s gospel would have comprehended these words, we will fail to learn what Jesus (or any of his apostles or disciples) are trying to teach us today. We will anachronistically read the text and make it say what translates from the Greek to the English to support erroneous doctrine. We’ve seen over the majority of the Church’s supersessionistic history how making such errors has led to Christianity as a whole committing heinous atrocities, all in the “name of Christ.”

I also saw a minor but interesting point in Isaiah 2:3:

Many peoples will go and say, “Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths. (emph. mine)

Since the word “halachah” refers to a way of walking, this also seems to link up to learning the legally binding methods of behaving in worship and devotion to the God of Jacob. In Messianic days, we, the “many peoples” from the nations, will go up to the “Mountain of Hashem,” the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and learn the Torah of God from Messiah.

I’ve mentioned before that I believe the Acts 15 halachic decision binds Gentiles differently to the Torah than it does Jews, but it will be interesting to see how or if any of that changes once Messiah is ruling from the Throne of David in Jerusalem. I can’t wait to find out.


FFOZ TV Review: Keys to the Kingdom

ffoz_tv16startEpisode 16: Jesus tells Peter that he gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. These words of Messiah have caused confusion and debate for almost two thousand years. Episode sixteen seeks to bring clarity to this controversy by examining the keys to the kingdom within their proper Jewish context. Viewers will discover that the keys to the kingdom are Jesus’ teachings about entering the kingdom and the revelation that he is the messiah. With these keys we can begin not only to prepare for the coming Messianic Era but we can begin walking in that kingdom right now.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 16: Keys to the Kingdom

The Lesson: The Mystery of The Keys to the Kingdom

Like many people addressing a large audience, First Fruits of Zion teacher and author Toby Janicki starts out with a joke. Actually, in this case, he starts out by describing a joke: the classic joke we see in many comics of a person who has just died standing at the gates of Heaven waiting for “Saint Peter” to use his keys to open up the gates…or not.

Interestingly enough, and you may already know this, the basis for this type of joke is actually in scripture:

And I also say to you that you are Petros, and upon this rock I will build my community, and the gates of she’ol will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and all that you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven and all that you will permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.

Matthew 16:18-19 (DHE Gospels)

Before going on to discover what the “Kings of the Kingdom” are, Toby tells us why Jesus gave them to Peter.

Shim’on Petros answered and said, “You are the Mashiach, the son of the living God!”

Matthew 16:16 (DHE Gospels)

It was because Peter was the one who correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah that Jesus gave Peter the Keys to the Kingdom. But what are these keys or for that matter, what is The Kingdom of Heaven?

Toby has told us in more than one prior episode that the phrases “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God” really mean the Messianic Age, the period of time when Messiah will rule, not only in Israel, but over the whole world. This is also our first clue.

Clue 1: Kingdom of Heaven does not mean “Heaven.”

The scene quickly shifts to teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel who tells us about the word “Heaven” in Hebrew: Shamayim. It took me a few moments to realize that this segment has been in a previous episode of FFOZ TV. Aaron gave us this “word study” before. I can only guess that someone at FFOZ made the decision that repurposing the “Shamayim segment” fit the requirements for this episode as well as a past one, or something else happened that prevented a unique segment of Aaron teaching from Israel to be videotaped.

The folks at FFOZ may also not be assuming everyone will be watching the episodes in order, and so all of the material that for me seems repeated or that comes across as a review, will be completely fresh and new to others. If Aaron’s teaching on “Shamayim” meaning “Heaven” and “Malkhut Shamayim” meaning “Kingdom of Heaven” is unfamiliar to you, watch the episode to get all of the details.

Back in the studio with Toby, we continue to get a review of the meaning of Kingdom of Heaven meaning God’s reign on earth, as opposed to Heaven as God’s supernatural realm or the court of Heaven.

ffoz_tv16_tobySo if the Keys to the Kingdom mean the keys to the Messianic Age, is it possible to be “locked out,” so to speak and to need a set of keys in some sense in order to gain entry? In previous episodes such as Seek First the Kingdom, Toby certainly gave the impression that even those people who are saved by grace can be locked out of entrance to the Kingdom, though I still don’t quite understand how that would work.

But in this case, that’s not what Toby’s talking about. The Keys to the Messianic Age, the keys that Jesus gave Peter, was the power and authority to pass on the teachings of Jesus to others, including subsequent generations. This dovetails into the central message of Jesus which is “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and the core teachings of a number of other recent FFOZ TV episodes. You won’t really understand a lot of what Toby teaches unless you’ve seen those shows.

Up until now, I experienced almost everything in the episode as repeated information or a quick review of what has been taught before, but with the second clue, the show took on a very different direction.

Clue 2: The Key of David.

The key of what?

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:

‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. (emph. mine)

Revelation 3:7-8 (NASB)

I’ve read the Book of Revelation just recently, but I never picked up on the key of David and certainly never made the connection to the Keys of the Kingdom. As Toby was talking, I thought again about where these connections in scripture come from. How do Toby and the other teachers at FFOZ arrive at some of their conclusions and associations? It would be helpful to have that information on tap, especially in order to study more in-depth.

But this isn’t enough to understand what these keys are supposed to be, especially relative to the second clue. To drill down further, Toby says we need to consult the ancient Jewish sages, something most Christians aren’t comfortable in doing. On the other hand, this is the third and final clue:

Clue 3: The traditional Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 22:22.

But what does this scripture say?

I will place the key to the House of David on his shoulder; he will open and no one will close, he will close and no one will open.

Isaiah 22:22 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

ffoz_tv16_aaronSo in Revelation 3:7-8, Jesus is quoting what Isaiah had to say about the Messiah and the Keys of David. In my Tanakh, there’s a note about this verse that simply says, “i.e. the affairs of the royal house will be arranged through him.” However, Toby cites a thousand-year old Jewish commentary (which he doesn’t specifically name, unfortunately) that reveals other details:

A teacher opens a discussion of scripture to fulfill that which is said in Isaiah 22:22.

This is interpreted to mean that the keys of the House of David are actually the power to teach God’s Word with authority, something that Jesus did and it was noticed more than once:

When Yeshua finished saying these words, the crowd was astonished by his teaching, for he was teaching them as a man of authority, and not like the scholars.

Matthew 7:28-29 (DHE Gospels)

Apparently, it was Jesus’s desire to pass that authority along to one of his disciples, Peter. That actually makes sense. In first century Judaism, the primary job of a disciple was to memorize the teachings of his Master in order to pass them along to the next generation and beyond. This job was specifically given to Peter, although all of the Master’s disciples would share in the responsibility.

How did Peter fulfill this task and wield the Keys of the Kingdom?

The most noteworthy answer is that Peter’s disciple John Mark wrote down everything Peter had to say about the teachings of Jesus. This is what comes down to us as the Gospel of Mark, which some Christian scholars say was the first Gospel written and the source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Peter also used the Keys in other important ways:

  1. To be the first to preach the Gospel to Jews (Acts 2).
  2. To be the first to preach the Gospel to Gentiles (Acts 10).
  3. To participate in making important decisions for the body of believers (Acts 15).

Peter isn’t a gatekeeper passing in or locking out people from the Messianic Age. He was the first one responsible for passing on the teachings of Jesus. He was given power and authority to perform this task by receiving the Keys of the Kingdom from Jesus. It’s a task, Toby tells us, that all of us as believers must share; to learn, memorize, and teach what Jesus taught. Through the Holy Spirit, we too have been given power and authority…and responsibility.

What Did I Learn?

Pretty much everything from the second clue on was news to me. I’d have never made the association between Matthew 16:18-19, Revelation 3:7-8, and Isaiah 22:22. I also wouldn’t have known about the traditional Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 22:22 that folds back into what Jesus said to Peter and then later to John in Revelation.

I never thought of Peter as the major player in the New Testament much beyond the Gospels. Paul figures so prominently in so much of the Apostolic Scriptures, that the other apostles and disciples almost pale by comparison. Pretty much after his involvement in Acts 10 and Acts 15, Peter fades from the scene and Paul dominates the “passing on” of the teachings of Jesus, acting very much like he is the one to possess the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Also, Paul’s rebuke of Peter recorded in Galatians 2:11-21 seems to even elevate Paul above Peter, at least in terms of an understanding of how the Gentiles were to integrate into the Jewish religious movement of “the Way.”

Toby showed me how important Peter’s early contributions were in setting the stage for everything that followed.

heurmenutic-keySomething else was made apparent to me (though of course, I always suspected it) in this episode as evidenced by the third clue. In using the traditional Rabbinic Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 22:22 (as opposed to the plain reading of the verse), part of what I think FFOZ is saying is that, in order to understand the Jewish perspective on the teachings of Jesus, the New Testament, as well as the rest of scripture, we have to be willing not only to look through that Jewish lens and accept what we see as accurate, we also must be willing to accept the whole of Judaism as a valid perspective in a Christian understanding of the Bible.

I know that would probably get the attention of my Pastor, and not in a positive way. He has a deep respect for the place of the Jewish people in history, prophesy, and in the future age of Messiah and beyond, but not necessarily modern Judaism with layer upon layer of Rabbinic custom, interpretation, and practice that seem, from his Christian point of view, to stray far and wide away from the text of the Bible. He believes the actual scriptures are the final authority as we can understand them through accepted exegesis, but factoring in traditional Judaism and it’s interpretation of that text by the Rabbis may be too far for him, and many Fundamentalists and Evangelicals to go.

I am drawn to and even fascinated by the Rabbinic sages and find many of their commentaries to be compelling guides to understanding God and a life of Holiness, but I will also be the first to urge caution in accepting all Rabbinic commentary as being unerring in its understanding and presentation of God and human beings.

It has been said to me before not to seek Christianity and not to seek Judaism, but to seek an encounter with God. It is with God that all truth resides. It is because human beings see so imperfectly that we require various lenses in order to examine God’s truth and God’s Word. I very much enjoy and appreciate looking through a Jewish lens in order to view Messiah better, but I will still use critical judgment in examining anyone’s commentary on Messiah and God, including the revered Jewish sages.