Tag Archives: Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Shadow and a Copy

Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 8:1-5 (NASB)

Teaching on Hebrews 8:1-5 regarding the Temple as a Shadow and a Copy of the supernal Temple above with references to Colossians 2:16-17 which describes the festivals and holy days as shadows of things that are to come–the substance of Messiah.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-nine: Shadow and a Copy
Originally presented on November 2, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

I should also start out by quoting someone who commented on one of my previous reviews of this series:

While I don’t know how Lancaster approaches the passage you cited, one aspect that most folks don’t appreciate is that the background view is one in which the heavenly sanctuary and the earthly one are operating simultaneously in parallel, with the earthly one reflecting the operations of the heavenly one and receiving its authorization therefrom. The lack of this perspective also is responsible for a less-than-accurate English translation of the passage. For example, the word rendered as “change” can mean simply “difference”; hence what was intended as a comparison becomes falsely tainted with a sense of replacement. The encouragement offered in the Hebrews sermonic letter is that operations of the heavenly sanctuary continue to be effective even if those of the earthly one become unavailable, or are interrupted, or the sanctuary is destroyed outright (all of which occurred either just before or just after this letter was circulated).

I hope you got the distinction being made in the aforementioned quotation. If not, read it again slowly and carefully. It’s important.

Todays’ sermon is just loaded with great information so let’s get started. Lancaster began by quoting from Ezekiel 43 where we see the prophet being taken spiritually to the Third Temple that will exist in Jerusalem in the Messianic Era, effectively inventing time travel (at least according to Lancaster).

Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing toward the east; and behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. And it was like the appearance of the vision which I saw, like the vision which I saw when He came to destroy the city. And the visions were like the vision which I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate facing toward the east. And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house.

“As for you, son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the plan. If they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes and do them. This is the law of the house: its entire area on the top of the mountain all around shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the house.”

Ezekiel 43:1-5; 10-12 (NASB)

Ezekiel's TempleGod is telling Ezekiel that His Divine Presence will dwell in this Messianic Age Temple forever! God commands the prophet to describe the Temple he sees in the vision to the Israelites so they will be ashamed and repent of their sins. Why? Because it was their sins that resulted in the destruction of the Temple as it existed in their day, for Ezekiel was physically in exile in Babylon and the Temple in Jerusalem was in ruins.

At this point in the sermon, I couldn’t help but think about how Judaism sees the cause of the destruction of Herod’s Temple as baseless hatred between one Jew and another. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman writes a rather lengthy midrashic description of this baseless hatred against the backdrop of recent events in modern Israel in the article The Tunnels That Rebuilt Jerusalem.

He also wrote this:

To the Rebbe, the exile of the Shechinah was a painful reality. To the rest of us, well, we have other concerns. Again and again, the Rebbe struggled to bring us to his perspective:

Perhaps, for you, this exile is not so bad. And you feel you are doing whatever you can about it, anyway.

But it is not just you alone in exile. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the generations of their children, as well all the heavenly host—in fact, the entire creation—all is unfulfilled, in exile and imprisoned. Even the Creator, blessed be He, locks Himself into prison along with His creation.

Until you get us out of here.

-from Pity on the Cosmos

As you read this, Tisha B’Av is less than a day in the past and yet once you have fully entered a period of mourning, is it so easy to hold back the tears at its end? Not only should we be grieved at our loss but we should be ashamed of our sins. We should repent and repent quickly for our master the King could return at any moment.

To return to Lancaster’s sermon, he next visits Exodus 25:

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

Exodus 25:8-9 (NASB)

I recently wrote a commentary on these verses relative to where and how we come close to God, but the more plain meaning of the text tells us something wonderful. It tells us that God laid out the pattern, the blueprint if you will, of the Heavenly Temple Court for Moses and instructed him to construct what amounts to a scale model of the Heavenly Court on Earth in the form of the Tabernacle. For everything in the Tabernacle and about the Tabernacle was an earthly replica of the Heavenly originals…everything…and everyone.

jerusalem-at-nightThat means every object you see described in Exodus that is used in the Tabernacle has a counterpart in Heaven. It also means that every person, the High Priest, the other Aaronic priests, the Levites, everyone, have Heavenly counterparts. Imagine.

Not only that, but Lancaster said that even earthly Jerusalem, the Holy City, is a replica of sorts of a Heavenly Jerusalem. This isn’t as farfetched as it may seem:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.

Revelation 21:2 (NASB)

Just think. If you’ve ever visited Jerusalem and particularly the Old City (sadly, I have not), then you could choose to see just the streets and stones and tourists, or you could allow yourself to envision Jerusalem as a sort of earthly reflection (though a mirror dimly) of the perfected Jerusalem.

And even though we don’t currently have the Temple with us, we know from Ezekiel that we will, and that when it existed and when it will exist again, every action of every one of the Priests on Earth will be a reflection of the Angelic Priests in Heaven. What is it like when an Angel offers incense on the altar before God I wonder?

We know from the two previous sermons in this series, Melchizedek and The Bypass that Yeshua (Jesus) is the High Priest in the Heavenly Temple. We have to believe that there are also Angelic Priests who attend and assist him in his priestly duties, just as God commanded the earthly Priests to assist and attend the Aaronic High Priest.

We also learned during these prior sermons, that the earthly Tabernacle and later Temple and the earthly Priesthood were considered “weak” only because they could not deliver what the Heavenly Temple and Priesthood do: permanent absolution from sin and resurrection immortality.

But then the earthly Temple and Priesthood weren’t designed to do any of those things. I’ve been exploring how Torah observance was never, ever meant to justify anyone before God in my Reflections on Romans series, so this is certainly a parallel.

At this point, Lancaster is finished with his introduction and proceeds to read Hebrews 8:1-5. So we have such a High Priest in Yeshua in the Heavenly (original and eternal) Temple, who is a “minister” in the “true tabernacle” which was “pitched” not by man but by God.

Verse 3 hints at what “gifts and sacrifices” are offered by Yeshua the High Priest, but that won’t be covered in today’s sermon. However, verse 4 says something important:

He would not be a priest at all [on Earth], since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law…

LevitesYeshua, of the tribe of Judah and the house of David, would not be a Priest on Earth and will not be when he returns. He does not overturn or override the Law of the Temple, since only Aaronic Priests of the tribe of Levi may serve there (and will serve there in the Messianic Age). Yeshua’s priesthood doesn’t replace the Levitical priesthood, it exists altogether separately in a completely different venue.

So Yeshua will not be High Priest on Earth upon his return and will not function as a Priest in “Ezekiel’s Temple” in Jerusalem. But he still will have to perform an inauguration:

Now the king and all Israel with him offered sacrifice before the Lord. Solomon offered for the sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered to the Lord, 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the sons of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord. On the same day the king consecrated the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord, because there he offered the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat of the peace offerings; for the bronze altar that was before the Lord was too small to hold the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat of the peace offerings.

1 Kings 8:62-64 (NASB)

Yeshua will be the great King and perform duties in relation to the Third Temple just as Solomon the King inaugurated the first Temple.

…who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things…

Hebrews 8:5 (NASB)

Here’s where we encounter what Lancaster calls “Christian theological bias.” When we read “copy and shadow,” we’ve been taught in the Church to think “empty,” “meaningless,” “vain,” and even “forgery.” We’ve been taught that all that “stuff,” the Temple, the Priesthood, the sacrifices, and of course, the Torah (Law) had a temporary use but it was all meant to expire and be replaced by the Holy, Heavenly, originals and specifically by Jesus, the High Priest of our hearts, for we replace the stone Temple as little, flesh and blood, spiritual temples.

But that’s not it at all.

To understand this better, Lancaster takes us to Colossians 2:16-17. The quote below is taken from the NASB translation:

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.

Some background. Lancaster says this was part of Paul’s argument against the ascetics, those people who believe that one can only be spiritual by disdaining anything that might be physically pleasurable and imposing severe self-discipline and abstention upon themselves.

While there are some practices in Judaism that follow an ascetic pattern (Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur), the majority of Jewish observances (and remember, Paul was an observant Jewish Pharisee who advocated for Jews in Messiah performing the mitzvot, including Shabbat and the Festivals) such as Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Festival of Weeks), Sukkot (Festival of Booths), and Shabbat (the Sabbath) were and are celebrated largely by eating and drinking.

Lancaster is interpreting Colossians 2 in a way that says when we observe the festivals, Rosh Chodesh (the observance of the New Moon), and Shabbat, we are experiencing a foretaste of what it will be like in the New Covenant age to feast at the table of Messiah:

I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 8:11 (NIV)

Sukkah in the rainThis could well support Gentile Christian observance of the Biblical holidays in the present age since Yeshua (Jesus) was not just speaking of Israel but of the people of the nations “from the east and the west”. If you or I as non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah were to keep a proper Shabbos, observe the festival of the New Moon, and build a sukkah in our backyard this fall, in performing each of these acts, we are also experiencing a “shadow or copy,” a scale model, a brief tasty little treat of the magnificent banquet that we will be permitted to join in the Messianic Age.

So shadows and copies aren’t cheap knockoffs or poor imitations that need to be cleaned out to make way for the originals. They are previews, coming attractions of the main event, like watching the previews of a biggest, best movie ever to be made in anticipation of one day seeing the entire film in 3D.

But…

…but here we find “Christian theological bias” again, this time in how these verses are translated. Lancaster offered a couple of examples:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NIV)

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 put in bold the words “were” and “however” in the first quote and the word “mere” in the second. Why? Because Lancaster says they don’t exist in the Greek. Later translators added those words to insert an anti-Torah bias into the text. If you just read and understand the Bible in English (or probably a lot of other translations), you’ll completely miss it.

I compared English translations and found the Holman Christian Standard Bible to be just slightly more honest:

These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.

Unfortunately, it still uses the word “was” which isn’t in the Greek. The Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and the other observances are shadows cast by the Holy observances that will enter our world with the Messiah’s return. They are not past, they are present and future.

In other words, the Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot are all tasty hints and treats, samples from the dessert tray, so to speak, of what is to come, but the full meal deal, so to speak, is the Messiah. Yes, he is the full substance, but we have been provided with previews so we can look forward to what’s coming and experience some of that wonder and delight in the here-and-now.

What Did I Learn?

I felt I already had a pretty good handle on Hebrews 8:1-5 from the background of my general knowledge plus Lancaster’s prior sermons, but what I didn’t expect was how Colossians 2 was so easily applied to the same usage of “copy and shadow.” I was also unconscious of how modern Christian translators have been guilty of some “hanky-panky by apparently playing fast and loose with the oldest Greek manuscripts we have of the text, inserting anti-Torah, anti-Festival, and anti-Jewish bias into Christian minds and hearts.

Face it. Most of us don’t read the Bible in the ancient languages and we rely upon our English Bibles. I find great meaning and truth in the Bible, but on some level, I also feel betrayed. This is a good illustration as to why we must learn to educate ourselves and not depend solely upon traditional Christian learning sources. It’s not even that anyone is lying, but the history of the Church is fraught with traditions stemming from the earliest days of Gentile Christianity, when every effort was made by those pulling away from their Jewish teachers and mentors in the Messianic faith to re-interpret the scriptures in a manner that rendered them totally devoid of their original (Jewish) meaning and truth.

Small wonder most Jews really hate Paul. They’ve learned to interpret him in exactly the same way as most Evangelical Christians, only Christians see Paul’s (supposed) anti-Torah writings as a virtue rather than a curse.

temple-of-messiahI hope you conclude, as I have, that there is nothing about the Heavenly Malkizedekian Priesthood or the Heavenly Tabernacle that undoes, makes obsolete, or terminates the effectiveness and authority of the Torah, the Temple, and the Priesthood here on Earth. When Messiah does return and rebuild the Temple (actually, the Temple Mount is too small to hold the Temple described by Ezekiel, so the geography of Jerusalem is going to have to change somewhat), those Torah Laws that govern the Temple, the Priesthood, and the sacrifices that have been put into abeyance for nearly twenty centuries will be applicable again.

Until that day however, we remain in exile with just the periodic precursors of the age to come to comfort us.

When the Holy Temple was destroyed, there was a wailing voice heard throughout the whole world. The Ministering Angels said to G-d, “Master of the Universe, do You have such emotions of sadness? Isn’t it written ‘Splendor and glory are before You?’ ”

G-d answered: “My House is destroyed, and My children are manacled in chains. Shouldn’t I be suffering?”

Midrash, Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 679

From the day that Jerusalem and the Holy Temple were destroyed, there is no joy before G-d… until Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the Jewish People will return to it.

Midrash, Yalkut Shimoni, Eychah 7009

From my father’s sichot: When Mashiach will come (speedily in our time, amein), then we shall really long for the days of the exile. Then we will truly feel distress at our having neglected working at avoda; then will we indeed feel the deep pain caused by our lack of avoda. These days of exile are the days of avoda, to prepare ourselves for the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our time, amein.

-from Tanya: Ch. 11. This subject (p. 379) …infinitely more so. (p. 381).
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943) from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory; translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

How long, Moshiach? How long?

Advertisements

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Bypass

For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him,

“The Lord has sworn
And will not change His mind,
‘You are a priest forever’”);

so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

Hebrews 7:18-28 (NASB)

Does the priesthood of Messiah cancel the priesthood of Aaron and the Levitical system? The relationship between the Aaronic priesthood and the Melchizedekian priesthood explored in Hebrews 7:18-28.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-eight: The Bypass
Originally presented on October 26, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This was a particularly interesting (and difficult) part of Hebrews to get through because I had to bypass (no pun intended) the traditional Christian reading (and what seems to be the plain reading) of the text and not believe that the Aaronic priesthood, the Temple, the sacrifices, and the Torah were all weak and useless and that Jesus replaced them as a better hope in bringing us closer to God.

By his own admission, Lancaster’s “bypass” analogy is flawed and by the end of the recording, he was asking his audience to forget he had even used it. But here it is anyway.

bypassI’ll use my own location as an example. Just west of Boise is the community of Eagle, Idaho. When I first moved here nearly twenty years ago, State Street ran west out of Boise and directly through downtown Eagle. Now between Boise and Eagle, you could travel about fifty-five miles an hour but as you approached Eagle, you had to slow down considerably. This could be a pain if you were just passing through and your destination were further west.

Eventually, the highway department built a bypass. Now State Street completely avoids Eagle and folks can go fifty-five (or more), not go through Eagle at all, and get to where ever they’re going faster. Old State Street still goes through Eagle, but you have to specifically take that turnoff to get there.

Lancaster says the Aaronic priesthood is like Eagle, Idaho and that the priesthood of the Melchizedek “bypasses” it to better promises, as opposed to replacing it. Eagle is still there and still a destination. So is the Aaronic priesthood.

Yeah, it’s an imperfect metaphor. Here’s why.

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 7:23-25 (NASB)

Why is the Aaronic priesthood considered weak, imperfect, and useless? Was it really so? Was the Torah so weak and were the sacrifices so useless? It depends. It depends on what you are using them for. If you are using the Torah to give you eternal life in the resurrection and to justify you at final, eternal judgment, then yes, they are weak and useless…because they were never designed to be used for those purposes!

To employ another metaphor of Lancaster’s, it would be like using a screwdriver instead of a hammer to pound a nail into a board.

The Aaronic priesthood had a completely different purpose and it wasn’t an eternal purpose, even though the Aaronic priesthood itself is eternal:

Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.

Exodus 29:8-9 (NASB)

high_priestThe priesthood belongs to the sons of Aaron by statute forever. They still have a job. It will be there waiting for them when Messiah returns and builds the Temple in Jerusalem.

But…

…but, Jesus as our priest in the order of Melchizedek has a different purpose than the Aaronic priesthood and it operates in a completely different venue, in the Heavenly Court or Temple.

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

Exodus 25:8-9 (NASB)

God instructed Moses to have the Israelites build what could be described as a scale model of the Heavenly Court on Earth, the mishkan or tabernacle. If you look at the specific instructions, all of the objects of the tabernacle, right down to the priestly robes, and the proportions of the tabernacle itself were all carefully modeled on their Heavenly counterparts.

That means for everything in the tabernacle, there was a counterpart in the Heavenly Court where Yeshua (Jesus) functions as the High Priest (and if it took a whole army of Aaronic priests and Levites to serve in the tabernacle, then there must be a host of priestly angels assisting Jesus our High Priest in Heaven).

So what Jesus does in Heaven as Priest, the sons of Aaron do in the earthly tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem. They are not in competition, they’re complementary. The Heavenly Court then is not a “bypass” around the earthly Temple, they exist on two separate parallel roads, and they don’t even go to the same destination. It would be like modeling one interstate freeway system on a different, similar system.

Oh, “former” priests. Verse 23 is misleading in English. The Greek doesn’t say “former”. Lancaster tells us it says something like “those who are many who have become priests.” If you look at the context, you see the major difference between the Aaronic priests and Yeshua is that the sons of Aaron, like all men, die, while Jesus, having died and been resurrected, is immortal. There were no immortal Aaronic priests in the tabernacle or Temple.

Thus, Jesus is able to intercede for us forever, not just in terms of our immortal souls and salvation at the eternal judgment, but right now, today, Jesus is praying to the Father for us.

What about verses 20 and 21 where it mentions an oath? What oath?

The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4 (NASB)

Oh, that oath.

MessiahGod swore an oath that an immortal Jesus would serve perpetually in the Heavenly Court as the eternal High Priest. No human priest in the Temple in Jerusalem was immortal and God swore no oath regarding them. Their mortality and imperfections, that is, their having sinned, made them “weak” and “flawed” and “useless” for the purposes of providing perpetual forgiveness of sins before the final judgment and eternal life through the resurrection (and remember, that’s not what they were designed to do). Jesus as High Priest is indeed “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.”

That’s the difference. That’s a much more consistent explanation of the comparisons and contrasts between the Aaronic and Melchizedekian priesthoods. That the latter is better doesn’t mean it replaces the former. It just means they function in different contexts and each one fulfills different job descriptions. Nearly two-thousand years of Christian interpretive tradition makes it seem otherwise.

What Did I Learn?

Just about everything. As I listened to Lancaster’s sermon, it all clicked into place, but trying to read Hebrews 7 without running it through this interpretive matrix made these passages seem terribly depressing when compared to my overall understanding of the New Covenant message.

That’s what this is all about. The “better promise” is what happens as the New Covenant enters our world and what happens when it reaches fruition. We are still in Old Covenant times. People are not perfected. We don’t have the Torah written on our hearts and our hearts have not yet been circumcised. We have received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but not in its fullness so that we “know God” and obey His statues as a natural response.

Lancaster said that “perfection” refers to the resurrection and our perfected physical and spiritual states. Well, we certainly haven’t gotten that far yet.

Lancaster alluded to his What About the New Covenant lecture series which I suspect he incorporates into later sermons in his “Hebrews” series. The only way to understand Hebrews or any other part of the Apostolic Scriptures is to have a firm understanding of the New Covenant and how it works, which Lancaster provides in his New Covenant audio recordings.

Without that perspective, it is almost impossible to see the intent of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews in any accurate manner or in any way that is consistent with God keeping the promises He made to His nation Israel.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Melchizedek

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.

Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 7:1-17 (NASB)

The story of Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek and Hebrews 7:1-17. Was Melchizedek actually a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ in the Old Testament? Who is the mysterious priest and what is his relationship to Yeshua?

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-seven: Melchizedek
Originally presented on October 12, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

We finally exit the elementary principles of the faith and get back into that “meat” the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was talking about. That meat starts with Melchizedek.

Lancaster started out by quoting from Lech Lecha:

When he returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh, which is the Valley of the King. And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him, saying,

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your foes into your hand.”

And [Abram] gave him a tenth of everything.

Genesis 14:17-20 (JPS Tanakh)

So who was Melchizedek? He’s the King of Righteousness. The King of a place called Salem, which is an ancient name for Jerusalem. He’s also called a King of Peace. Sound familiar?

melchizedekLancaster says (and I’ve heard this before as well) that many people believe that Melchizedek is a “pre-incarnate Jesus”. In other words, Jesus showed up in disguise in the Old Testament to honor Abraham. I’ve always had trouble with this interpretation, as it cheapens the incarnation of Jesus being born of woman (much later in history) by having him just appear and disappear in this sequence of events. Fortunately, Lancaster also has a problem with this. But then what is Melchizedek’s relationship to Jesus?

Here’s one connection (sort of). Lancaster says that Melchizedek shows up bringing bread and wine to give Abraham a banquet foreshadowing the banquet of Abraham in Messianic Days. What banquet you ask?

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Matthew 8:11 (NASB)

Oh. That banquet.

So Jesus is supposed to give Abraham a banquet in the Messianic Kingdom? Seems kind of reversed. You’d think Abraham would hold a banquet in honor of King Messiah. On the other hand Abraham did give Melchizedek a tenth of everything after receiving a blessing, but we’ll get back to that.

Lancaster did bring up the midrash in Judaism that suggests Melchizedek was actually Shem, the son of Noah. While this works in terms of the chronology of events, it can’t be true because the writer of Hebrews says that Melchizedek is without genealogy or ancestry, which Shem definitely had.

Lancaster, dispelling the midrash in this case, then quotes the following:

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:19-20 (NASB)

We know about the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek from this:

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,

“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You as the dew.
The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:1-4 (NASB)

All this seems to indicate that the Priest/King Melchizedek had established a priestly order. What do you have to do to join this order?

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.

Hebrews 7:1-3 (NASB)

the letterLancaster admits that on the surface, this sounds a great deal like Melchizedek could be Jesus. On the other hand, saying he was without father and mother just means that the Torah doesn’t mention them, not that they didn’t exist. Also, it says Melchizedek had no genealogy, but Jesus has a very specific genealogy. He has to in order to qualify as the Messiah King.

Lancaster directs us back to his understanding of why this letter was first authored. The Greek-speaking, Jesus-believing Jews in Jerusalem were going through a crisis of faith. They had been persecuted by the Sadducees who were in control of the Temple. They had been cut off from the Temple, from the sacrifices, and from the (Aaronic) priesthood. And as Lancaster said in past sermons, no one approaches Hashem without a priest.

But the Hebrews writer is saying that they did have a priest, just one of a different order than that of the Aaronic priesthood. But how could that be?

You shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and bind caps on them, and they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute.

Exodus 29:9 (NASB)

This is a fancy way of saying that the priesthood descending from Aaron was established forever. It was never-ending. It could not be ended or replaced.

So how could Messiah, of the tribe of Judah and the house of David be a priest?

Because he belonged to a different order of priests. The order of Melchizedek. But is there such an order or was the writer of Hebrews speaking metaphorically?

I asked before, what would you have to do if there were such a priestly order and you wanted to join it? According to Psalm 110:4, you had to be immortal because it says, “a priest forever.” As far as we can tell, Melchizedek was not immortal, even though the Bible never records his death (or birth for that matter).

If Melchizedek was a literal King/Priest of the city of Salem, which at that time a Jesubite city ruled by a Canaanite King, then this couldn’t have been a role that Jesus just “popped in” for and then popped back out again up into Heaven after a brief chat and a nosh with Abraham. He would have had to rule over Salem on a day-to-day basis, being the head of a very real government in a very real city with very real human citizens.

Doesn’t seem likely that this is Jesus.

We do know something about Melchizedek as a priest, though. He blessed Abraham and Abraham paid Melchizedek.

But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

Hebrews 7:7-10 (NASB)

AbrahamIn almost any context, Abraham, having received the promises from God, was the biggest wheel at the table, so to speak. No one was of a higher authority than Abraham relative to the purposes of God. If anything, Abraham should have blessed Melchizedek, since only the greater blesses the lesser, just like fathers bless their children. That Melchizedek, the Priest of the Most High God, blessed Abraham, then he was superior to Abraham. Also, Melchizedek should have given a “tithe” to Abraham if Abraham were truly in the catbird seat.

If, as the above-quoted verses from Hebrews 7 attest, Aaron and his descendants were “still in the loins of” Abraham, it would be as if, in blessing Abraham, Melchizedek were blessing Aaron and his sons, thus establishing that Melchizedek and his priestly order was superior to Aaron and the Levitical priestly order. This is also why Melchizedek would receive a tithe instead of paying one.

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.

Hebrews 7:11-12 (NASB)

This makes it seem as if the Melchizedekian order replaces the Aaronic order of priests, and thus Jesus replaces the Levitical priesthood, the Temple, the sacrifices, and the Torah.

Lancaster says he’ll address all that in a subsequent sermon, but in short, Jesus being in the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek doesn’t replace Aaron’s priesthood (and the sacrifices, the Temple, and the Torah), but he represents a different order that exists in a different venue, the Heavenly Temple Court, while the Aaronic priesthood has authority over the earthly Temple and sacrifices.

As I’ve already mentioned, verse 14 addresses the differences between the ancestry of Melchizedek (whose ancestors are not mentioned) and Jesus (who had a very specific ancestry).

And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 7:15-17 (NASB)

Notice this says someone “in the likeness of Melchizedek” and not Melchizedek himself. Also, this order of the priesthood of Melchizedek is not established through a “physical requirement,” that is, who you are descended from, but rather, “according to the power of an indestructible life.” By being the “first fruits of the dead,” (1 Corinthians 15:20), Jesus was the first to have the power of an indestructible life, thus only he was and is qualified to enter into the priestly order of Melchizedek. It comes down to the writer of Hebrews saying that Jesus can be a Priest of a different order than the Aaronic priesthood because Melchizedek had previously been accepted as a Priest of Hashem and was not a descendant of Aaron.

All this I more or less knew, though Lancaster nicely filled in some of my information gaps…

…but…

What Did I Learn?

Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’ (emph. mine)

Zechariah 6:11-13 (NASB)

Compare this to the following:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land. (emph. mine)

Jeremiah 23:5 (NASB)

LevitesBoth of these are Messianic prophesies. The passage from Zechariah describes the Israelites returning to their Land after the Babylonian exile. The Temple was in ruins. Prophesy said the Messiah should have arrived at that point, rebuilt the Temple and restored Israel. Where was he?

According to Lancaster, Zechariah’s answer was to prophesy that a (righteous) Branch would come to rebuild the Temple. Then the prophet commanded that a crown be made and placed on the head of Joshua the High Priest, and that he would represent the Branch who would one day come to rebuild the Temple and to sit on the King’s Throne, and that the Branch would also be a Priest, and that he would bring peace between the office of the priesthood and the office of the King.

The kicker is that the High Priest’s name is “Joshua”, which is “Yehoshua” in Hebrew (transliterated), but the Jews coming out of Babylon were speaking Aramaic, not Hebrew. They would have pronounced his name “Yeshua,” which we translate into English as “Jesus.”

The writer of the Book of Hebrews is trying to encourage his readers by saying they really do have a High Priest, one who is in Heaven, even though they are cut off from the earthly High Priest. Based on the precedents set in Psalm 110 and Genesis 14, that High Priest is King Messiah, who like Melchizedek, is both a King and a Priest, which was also prophesied by Zechariah.

This was good news for the Jesus-believing Jews reading this letter, but it’s also good news for us. Even though Kohens are identifiable today, there is no Temple in which they can offer sacrifices. Yet no man comes to God without a priest. But we, like the readers of the Hebrews letter, do have a High Priest, one who brings us near to God. we have Yeshua, we have Jesus, who is both King and Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Eternal Judgment

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

Hebrews 6:1-2 (NASB)

As I mentioned in last week’s review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Resurrection of the Dead from his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews lectures, the following message “The Eternal Judgment” wasn’t recorded, thus I cannot listen to it and write my review.

However, that material was included in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity, so I’ll review the chapter (Chapter 10) instead.

But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”

Acts 24:24-25 (NASB)

Lancaster introduces his chapter by describing the marriage of Felix, the Roman governor over Judea, to the Jewish princess Drusilla, youngest daughter of King Herod Agrippa the first. Supposedly, Felix hired a sorcerer to use occult means to get Drusilla to abandon her husband and marry him. Felix wasn’t a very nice man.

In today’s world, intermarriage between a Jew and a Gentile, at least in Orthodox Judaism, is highly discouraged. How much more embarrassing was it for a Jewish princess to marry, not just any Roman, but the occupying governor over Judea?

But then, although it was (according to Lancaster) Drusilla’s idea to have a private discussion with Paul, it was Felix’s response that was the point of this story. And while resurrection of the dead might seem like a great deal, what about “the judgment to come?”

It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

Hebrews 9:27

Associating concepts like “righteousness” and “resurrection” with “self-control” and “judgment” would probably not be comfortable to hear, assuming Felix took Paul seriously, since Felix could hardly be considered a pious individual, even by Roman standards. In fact, if we really gave it some thought and realized that the resurrection and final judgment are in our future as well, how comfortable would we feel about who we are and what we’ve done (or are doing)?

Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

Matthew 25:30-33 (NASB)

Judge NotI won’t quote all of the scriptures Lancaster lists to illustrate Jesus and the final judgment, but he does make a convincing case that if God does not exact justice for human wrongdoing in this life, He most certainly will in the next.

In Messianic Judaism, we rehearse for the final judgment every year in the high holiday of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (Festival of Trumpets and Day of Atonement). Judaism treats high holidays as an annual dress rehearsal for the final eternal judgment. In anticipation of the holidays, we repent, confess sins, mend relationships, apologize, and try to make peace with both men and God.

-Lancaster, pg 127

This may sound somewhat familiar since I associated the topic of forgiveness with the high holidays in a recent blog post reviewing a chapter in Brad H. Young’s book The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation. In my review Young’s book, I said that most Christians wouldn’t (but should) automatically associate making amends with another person with how we will be forgiven (or not) by God at the final judgment.

Now Lancaster seems to be saying that the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the Jewish religious calendar has applications for Christians as well, since it is in the apostolic scriptures where we see a final judgment staring at us square in the face.

Except that since we’re “saved by the blood of Jesus,” we (that is, Christians) aren’t particularly worried about being judged. Jesus paid the price for our sins so we’ve got our “fire insurance” covered. No need to “rehearse” anything since we’ve already won, God is on our side, and everything is hunky dory.

Boy, that sounds arrogant.

While Rosh Hashanah, when the books are opened before the Heavenly court, and Yom Kippur, when the final verdicts are issued and the books are closed again, are not the actual final judgment, they prefigure this awesome and august event, and perhaps we shouldn’t play fast and loose with a living and infinite God. God can indeed issue decrees in the present age and in our lives in response to your actions and mine, but there will come that final day, even if we push it off into the back of our minds, when we will all be expected to stand in judgment.

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair on his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

Daniel 7:9-10

yom kippurLancaster goes on to describe “one like a son of man” stepping forward in this vision of the final judgment, to deliver the sentencing. He quoted from the apocryphal book Enoch (1 Enoch 69:27-29) and the following to illustrate the judgment seat of Messiah:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.

2 Corinthians 5:10-11

In these words, Paul expressed his motive for evangelism…Paul knew the fear of the LORD. To fear God is to believe that he exists, rewards, and punishes. Paul knew that eventually God will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. He taught that we must all stand before Messiah in the final judgment.

-Lancaster, pg 131

All of us? Won’t Christians just be there to pick up our rewards? We won’t have to give account for everything we’ve done wrong in our lives after becoming believers, will we?

What if we do?

We think that final judgment just means going to Heaven or Hell, but what if it also means we have to have our human lives stripped naked before us and relive everything we’ve done, both good and bad?

Yuck. Kind of makes you want to be more careful about all of those casual thoughts, words, and gestures you’re sure God is going to forgive because you’ve been saved and go to church every Sunday.

But it gets worse.

Generally speaking, the doctrine of the eternal judgment has fallen into disfavor. Perhaps this shift in emphasis from everlasting punishment to a blissful afterlife occurred as a natural swing of the theological pendulum. The medieval and Reformation-era church had an unhealthy fascination with the torments of hell. Evangelicals later demonstrated the same fixation, predicating their appeal for the gospel on the basis of avoiding damnation. The church framed Christianity primarily as an avenue of escape from everlasting fiery tortures and the pitchfork of Satan. We substituted the foundational doctrine of eternal judgment for the doctrine of eternal damnation.

-ibid, pg 132

justiceIt seems to be a mistake to trust in any extreme, either a fascination with damnation or an obsession with bliss. The former focuses on God’s judgment as if it were a terrible trap and the later on His mercy as if it is all-encompassing…no matter what we’ve actually done.

The eternal judgment is so basic and fundamental to our faith that the writer of the book of Hebrews considers it to be the milk. It is pretty simple. We believe that every human life has eternal significance — so much so that the deeds committed in this body will have ramifications that completely transcend time. That makes every moment of this life precious. It makes every opportunity to perform a good work (mitzvah) precious. It makes every sin utterly abhorrent. Every righteous deed merits eternal reward, and every sin earns eternal punishment. Ironically, the doctrine of the eternal judgment makes life in this temporary world all the more significant.

-ibid, pg 133

We can only imagine that what terrified (according to Lancaster) Felix so much was being resurrected into a world where an absolutely just God would judge him for all the acts of his life…and condemn him. Not a pleasant thought to be sure. We all want our pleasures and want to skip out (as much as we can get away with) on our responsibilities. Anyone who struggles with the “battle of the bulge” and against all reason and logic still can’t give up their Big Macs and Whoppers knows that self-disciple isn’t easy…even in the face of dire consequences.

What Did I Learn?

Are our names already written in the Book of Life or the Book of Death? Did God makes these decisions, who was to be commended and who was to be damned, before He ever manufactured our universe?

From God’s point of view, His timeless experience, things like “before,” “during,” and “after” most likely have no meaning. The creation of Adam from dust and opening the Book of Life at the final judgment exist in the same micro-second to Him. Who is and isn’t in the Book has been there for all time and won’t be written until the pages are opened at the very end of time. I hope you like paradox, because that’s all I have to offer as far as the mystic visions of final judgment are concerned.

DespairBut one thing seems clear. Paul taught that there is a final judgment. So did Jesus. And all humanity stands within it for life or for death.

It isn’t just that one “decision for Christ” that you made once upon a time by answering an altar call or raising your hand at a camp meeting. It’s everything you’ve done since then.

No, you can’t buy your way into Heaven but you can throw it all away. Even the best of the best of us is utterly corrupt when compared to a completely and absolutely Holy God. Who are we to compare?

Rabbi Eleazer taught his disciples to repent every day (See b. Shabb. 153a). The later rabbinic teachings regarding the ten days of awe and the day of Atonement mention three categories of people,the completely righteous, the completely wicked, and the “in-betweens” (See b. Rosh Hash. 16b). The rabbis obviously believed that most people fall into the “in-between” category and need to repent. The house of Shammai taught, “There will be three groups at the Day of Judgment — one thoroughly righteous, and one thoroughly wicked, and of the intermediate” (See b. ibid 16b-17a). Therefore Bailey may be correct when he notes, “Christ’s subtle humor shows through in this verse. The ‘righteous’ who ‘need no repentance’ do not exist” (Kenneth E. Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal). Most people need to repent and maintain a living relationship with God in their cultivation of personal spirituality.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 10: The Search: The Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin,” pg 195
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

If we believe Christ died for us then we should live like it. We should all live like people who’ve been given a second chance, living on borrowed time or rather time purchased for us when we didn’t deserve it.

If you think you are saved, don’t expect that you can sit on your laurels and gather your rewards before judgment. You, I, and everyone else will be judged on what we have done, what we are doing, and what we haven’t even thought of doing yet.

Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation…

2 Peter 3:11-15 (NASB)

Yom Kippur prayersMaybe observing the high holidays wouldn’t be such a bad idea for Christians. Many of us are so unused to facing the idea of judgment let alone responding to it with fasting, with prayer, with repentance, with fear and trembling, with begging for the forgiveness of those we have harmed, of begging God for mercy, though we are all like grass. At least if you’re an observant Jew, you know you are accountable and that God expects you to take that seriously with your intention and your behavior.

If you see something that is broken, fix it.

If you cannot fix all of it, fix some of it.

But do not say there is nothing you can do. Because, if that were true, why would this broken thing have come into your world?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“If It’s Broken”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Addendum: I found out (thanks, Alfredo) after I wrote this review that Lancaster re-recorded the content for this topic on audio available on the web: The Final Judgment.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Resurrection of the Dead

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

According to Hebrews 6:1-2, the resurrection of the dead is one of the six basic doctrines of Messianic faith. In this teaching, D. Thomas Lancaster takes a look at the apostolic hope in the resurrection, distinguishing between the resurrection of the righteous and the general resurrection.

This is teaching number 25 in the Hebrews series and number 10 in special series on the elementary teachings of the Messiah. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, teaching 26 and the conclusion to the special series on the elementary teachings, titled “The Eternal Judgment,” was not recorded.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-five: The Resurrection of the Dead
Originally presented on August 8, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This sermon is closely tied to the previous one which I reviewed last week and continues to discuss a literal, physical resurrection of the dead.

It all starts with that empty tomb of Yeshua’s (Jesus). Why was it empty? Had Jesus risen into Heaven? No. He was physically, bodily resurrected. The same body that died, rose. He even had the same wounds.

Lancaster talked about resuscitation vs. resurrection. We have modern examples of resuscitation when a person is declared dead but then, through modern technology, resuscitated and is again alive, but that person was dead temporarily and the resuscitation is temporary. Eventually, that person will die again.

We see examples of resuscitation in the Bible such as Jesus raising Lazarus (see John 11:38-46). Jesus resuscitated Lazarus but didn’t resurrect him, otherwise Lazarus would have been immortal. At some point, he died again and, like the rest who are dead in Messiah, awaits the resurrection.

…knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

Romans 6:9

That’s what it means to be resurrected. That’s why Jesus is the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). He was resurrected to prove a point. The point is that all of God’s promises to Israel are real and literal. When God speaks of the resurrection of Israel, He’s being literal and Jesus is the proof. If we believe God proved He will fulfill the resurrection, then we can believe in all of His promises.

In the day of Jesus, the Pharisees believed in a literal resurrection but the Sadducees did not. To settle the point in Judaism once and for all (ideally), Jesus died and was resurrected. For all those who were witnesses and all those who believe through faith in the literal resurrection, that is our hope that death isn’t the end and that a just God will punish evil and reward good.

Rambam (Moses Maimonides) established believing in the resurrection as one of the thirteen principles of faith. In order to be a religious Jew, you have to believe in the resurrection, according to Maimonides.

According to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, belief in the resurrection is one of the six principles of the Messianic faith.

Lancaster said that a belief in a literal, earthly resurrection has largely been rejected by the mainstream Protestant church. That’s kind of a surprise to me, but I guess if it’s common for Christians to believe they go to Heaven (and stay in Heaven forever) when they die as some sort of spirits, then a physical resurrection and a life with Jesus on Earth kind of kills the deal (no pun intended).

Lancaster goes so far as to say a Christianity that doesn’t believe in a literal resurrection is no longer Christianity, it no longer follows the Biblical faith of the Apostles.

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.

1 Corinthians 15:13-14

If we don’t believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead in the same body he originally had, and we don’t believe that we too will be raised in the same manner as Jesus, then, according to the Apostle Paul, he, and all of the apostles and disciples who had been preaching Jesus, were preaching in vain. Not only that, but our Christian faith is also in vain if we don’t believe in the resurrection.

aliveThat’s pretty strong stuff. If you believe you’re going to Heaven as a “floaty ghost” (Lancaster’s words), then your body is dead and stays dead. You have some sort of spiritual existence in Heaven but you will never have a physical existence again. If this is what you believe, then you deny the resurrection, making Paul’s preaching and your Christian faith vain and worthless.

That’s pretty horrible. There goes your hope. Poof. Up in a (spiritual) puff of smoke.

Jesus is the definitive proof of a resurrection, if you’re willing to believe. If you believe, you have hope. If not…poof.

Not only will there be a resurrection, there will be two of them. The first is what is called the resurrection of the righteous which includes the exiles from Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) and all those in Messiah (that is, the Gentiles who are in the faith). We will be gathered to the Messiah and taken to the Kingdom. That happens at the beginning of the Messianic age.

The second resurrection, also called the general resurrection, happens at the end of the Messianic age and at that time everyone will be resurrected from the dead…to be judged.

Jesus even taught about it.

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

“If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.

John 5:25-32

Those of us who hear the voice of the Master will be among the first resurrection because we are in him. However, not all of humanity is or will be in Messiah and those who are not in him won’t hear his voice. However, even those who are not in Messiah will hear him at the second resurrection and they will be judged by the will of God.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

RestorationA word about going up into the air. We don’t stay there, according to Lancaster. This isn’t the ride to Heaven most Christians believe in. We won’t be raptured to Heaven but rather to where the presence of the King of Israel will be…to Jerusalem.

That may be disappointing or even startling to some of you reading my words. Actually, after spending so much time hearing about the rapture, it’s still a little jarring to me. What? No Heaven with Jesus? Christians I know believe that “the Church” will be raptured to Heaven for the remainder of the tribulation, and then return to Earth with Jesus to conquer the enemies of the Church and take over the world.

But that’s not what Jesus taught or Paul wrote about.

… knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.

2 Corinthians 4:14

The King will be in his Kingdom. His presence will be in Israel.

But how will we be raised. What will it be like?

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

1 Corinthians 15:35-41

Orthodox Jews don’t cremate their dead, they always bury them. In fact, how one prepares the dead for burial and the rituals around treating the body of the dead all are built on the belief in the resurrection. A dead body is treated with great respect because it is a body that will come alive again.

jewish burialBut what about people who were cremated or suffered some fatal accident which destroyed the body? According to Paul, the body doesn’t absolutely have to be whole and intact. By using the “seed” metaphor, he suggests that all that’s required is some small, perhaps very tiny fragment of the original body. God will not be stopped in accomplishing the promise of the resurrection.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, [n]earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

1 Corinthians 15:42-49

According to Lancaster’s understanding of scripture, we will be resurrected in our original bodies, warts, wounds, disabilities and all, God will heal our infirmities, and through a process we don’t understand, a process Jesus went through after his resurrection, our bodies will be transformed into immortal and indestructible bodies. In fact, all of Creation will be transformed, resurrected, so to speak, and death will be no more.

So although we mourn our loved ones who have died, it is not as if they died without hope, for in Messiah, we shall all be raised again.

My God, the soul that you placed in me is pure. You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me, and you guard it within me, and you will ultimately lift it away from me, only to return it to me in the future to come. For the entire time that my soul is within me, I give thanks to you, O LORD, my God and God of my fathers, Great One over all works, Master of all souls. Blessed are you, O LORD, who returns souls to dead bodies.

-Siddur

What Did I Learn?

As I said last week, the idea of a physical, bodily, earthly resurrection is not new to me, so no curve balls there. I did have a question of whether or not Lancaster believes that all Jewish people will be in the first resurrection or only those in Messiah, but from what I could tell on the recording, that was left somewhat ambiguous.

I’ve mentioned before in these reviews and in my reviews of Lancaster’s lecture series What About the New Covenant that it seems as if God intends to forgive the sins of all of Israel, so one way to interpret that is all Jewish people will be forgiven, redeemed, and be made righteous, and thus they will all be part of the first resurrection.

WaitingThat has problems when compared with much of Paul’s commentary about being resurrected in Messiah so I’ll reserve judgment on that issue. I don’t want to create the impression of a dual path to salvation.

Lancaster did say something interesting about how we should treat our bodies in the present age. He said we should treat them with respect and honor, doing only healthy things to our bodies. Of course, we will age or even possibly die in accidents that will be very damaging to our bodies, but the idea is that we don’t get new ones. We get the same old ones, even though they will be transformed, healed, and made immortal and indestructible.

God made our bodies as well as our spirits and even though at death, they are temporarily separated, one day they will be brought together again.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

When you go to sleep in the dust, you will also rise, just as you are, only better. You will be gathered with your King in the air and travel with him in triumph and glory to Jerusalem, City of David, as he is enthroned bodily in Israel as her King, as our King.

That last part, as I mentioned above, may throw some of you. I’ve heard this before. I’ll probably get some angry comments about it. But think about it. Would it be so bad to stay here with Jesus on Earth? Do we really have to go to Heaven first?

Oh, don’t worry about the next lecture, “The Eternal Judgment” not having been recorded. It’s covered in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles, so I’ll just review that chapter for next week.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Our Hope is not in Heaven

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

The Evangelical gospel asks, “Are you certain you are going to go to heaven when you die?” The Christian objective seems to be to secure a place in heaven, but the Bible says very little about heaven. Find out why most passages about heaven are actually not about heaven at all in this installment on the basic teachings of the Messiah from Hebrews 6.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-four: Our Hope is not in Heaven
Originally presented on July 27, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster starts out his sermon by telling a joke about Heaven. I won’t retell it here. You can listen to it in the recording (link above) or read it at the beginning of Chapter 8: “Our Hope is not in Heaven,” pp 97-8 in his book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity. The thrust of today’s sermon is based on one phrase from Hebrews 6:2, “the resurrection from the dead.”

He’s talked before about what I call the truncated gospel message of Christianity which basically says, “Believe in Jesus so you can go to Heaven when you die.” That’s the whole point of being a Christian for many believers. The other part of it is to convince as many people as possible to believe in Jesus so they can go to Heaven when they die.

Except, you don’t go to Heaven when you die and you don’t stay in Heaven forever as a disembodied spirit after you die.

According to Lancaster, and I agree with him, there’s a lot of confusion about Heaven in Christianity, especially since the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about Heaven. If you are a traditional Evangelical Christian, that statement might seem confusing. After all, didn’t Jesus and the apostles talk about Heaven all the time?

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 3:2

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…

Matthew 6:33

And as you go, preach, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Matthew 10:7

Also see Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:5, and 2 Timothy 4:18 and many other verses in the apostolic scriptures that mention Heaven.

keys to the kingdomExcept the Heaven mentioned in all or most of these verses isn’t the Heaven in the sky where God lives, it’s what’s called a circumlocution, a way of talking about God without saying “God.” In other words, when Jesus said “Kingdom of Heaven” as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, he was really saying “Kingdom of God,” and that Kingdom will finally be completely established here on earth when Jesus comes back as King and Lord.

The First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come contains a number of episodes that discuss what the Kingdom of Heaven is, where it is, how it works, why Peter has the keys of the Kingdom, and how treasure can be stored there. See episodes such as The Kingdom is Now, Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, Keys to the Kingdom, Foretaste of the Kingdom, Treasure in Heaven, and Restoring the Kingdom for details. Each episode is about thirty minutes long and the content opens up and expands in great detail about the concepts Lancaster covers in his sermon. In fact, Lancaster seems to be summarizing all of that material in his thirty-four minute lecture today.

Just a couple of things. Philippians 3:20 talks about Christians having citizenship in Heaven. Does that mean when we die, we go live in Heaven as citizens, like how we have American citizenship (or whatever national citizenship you may have)? No. We are resurrected physically on earth and live here in bodies in the Messianic Kingdom. Our citizenship may be in Heaven, but we’ll be living here. After all, Paul was born a Roman citizen but he wasn’t born in Rome. He never even lived there, at least not until near the end of his life.

According to Lancaster, there is a paradise, a Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) where the spirits of the righteous go when the person dies, but that’s temporary. The spirit is reunited with the body at the resurrection.

Remember the empty tomb and Jesus?

While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.

Luke 24:36-43

This is the resurrection we can expect, because Jesus was the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We will also be resurrected in our original bodies (remember, Jesus still had the wounds, he didn’t get a new body) but we will not die again. This is what we can expect after we die and are resurrected, not going to Heaven like Casper the Friendly Ghost to float around on clouds for eternity.

What Did I Learn?

Since I’ve watched all of the FFOZ television episodes I mentioned above, I already had a pretty good idea what Lancaster was going to teach about. Lancaster based a number of things he taught on the writings of Christian theologian N.T. Wright, as well as his own teaching What About Heaven and Hell.

wind-sky-spirit-ruachLancaster also said that the reason Christians are so confused about Heaven and Hell is because Christianity separated itself from Judaism, and thus from the first century CE Jewish view of the meaning of the resurrection. He even went so far as to compare typical Christian understanding about what happens when we die to how the gnostics saw the dichotomy between the earthly corruptness and heavenly purity. Generally, Judaism doesn’t have “issues” with a flesh and blood physical existence (unless you get into Jewish mysticism, but that’s another story).

I see these comments as a continuation of the points Lancaster has made in other sermons in this series. He seems to be advocating a return to Judaism (specifically Messianic Judaism) for believers in Jesus, with an eye on first century C.E. Judaism. While the idea has merit, it’s important to remember that as the various Judaisms evolved over the last two-thousand years, they likely also do not contain perfect interpretations of the scriptures and probably possess a few misunderstandings of their own. We can all do the best we can to understand what God is saying to us in the Bible, but when Messiah returns, I suspect he’ll have to correct us in a few of the details of our doctrine and theology.

Is our hope in Heaven? It depends. If we put our hope, according to Lancaster, in being a “floaty ghost” in Heaven when we die, then no. If, on the other hand, we put our hope in God who is in Heaven (yes, Heaven is real), then yes…our hope is in Heaven, our hope is in God.

This too is one of the elementary teachings of the faith, as stated by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, one of those “milk” things.

I’ve become quite accustomed to the belief in a physical resurrection and an existence on earth as part of the literal Kingdom of God with King Messiah reigning on the throne of David in Jerusalem, so I didn’t experience any surprises or curve balls in today’s sermon. If, on the other hand, you are an Evangelical Christian who has been taught you’re going to become a “floaty soul” on a cloud playing a harp for all eternity when you die (actually the harps seem unescapable in Heaven based on Revelation 5:8, 14:2, and 15:2), then you might want to listen to Lancaster’s sermon or, better yet, spend a few hours viewing the selection of TV episodes I mentioned above (just click the links and view them online).

It could be an eye opener.