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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Things that Belong to Salvation

Eternal Security or Eternal Insecurity?

The “things that belong to salvation” include the gift of the Spirit, the goodness of the word of God, and the power of the age to come. This sermon deals with the difficult and controversial material in Hebrews 6:4-12.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Sixteen: Things that Belong to Salvation
Originally presented on May 4, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 6:4-12 (NASB)

The Unplanned Detour

Lancaster went through a brief review of last week’s lesson and then, like the writer of Hebrews, intended not to cover any more material based on the six foundations since the Hebrews writer categorized those foundations as “milk” and not “solid food.”

But during the week, Lancaster received many requests from people, both face-to-face and by email to go into more details on the “milk”. It seems as if what the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews considered the ground floor basics of the faith are very difficult for modern Christians to grasp.

Lancaster wanted to make this detour back into the basics, but his lesson plan wasn’t written around it and a week wasn’t enough time to prepare. He wanted to get into chapters 7, 8, and 9 of Hebrews, but today, he’ll stay in chapter 6 and tell his audience what I consider something important (but I haven’t really found anything unimportant in what Lancaster has presented as yet). We’ll be back to learning how to drink milk by the by.

The Point of No Return

…and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

Hebrews 6:7 (NASB)

This is actually terrifying on a personal level. I have family members who once came to faith in Yeshua who have since fallen away from him. I have friends in the same condition. This sounds like once you apostasize from faith in Jesus you will never, ever be able to come back, no matter what. That’s what a Bible literalist would conclude.

Does that means the people I love who have fallen away are doomed to burn forever? Is their no way to reach out to them and save them?

Lancaster’s opinion is not that of a Bible literalist. He does say that questions like these almost resulted in the Book of Hebrews not being canonized.

Think of it as the difference between the Western Church and the Eastern Church. For nearly a century (2nd to 3rd centuries CE) the Western Church thought that your sins were only forgiven up to your baptism. After that, if you sinned as a believer, you were condemned to hell. The Eastern Church wasn’t even concerned with the issue. It’s the difference between linear Greek thought (Western Church) and global Hebraic thought (Eastern Church).

For a Greek thinking Church, everything is on or off, black or white, left of right, there are no ambiguities in the text. Hebraic thinking, global as opposed to linear thinking can contain a lot more dynamic tension and even apparent contradictions in the Word. It’s the difference between believing one has to be either a Calvinist or an Arminianist, vs. believing that God is completely, perfectly, absolutely sovereign and man can also have free will to choose or reject God.

Eternal Security of Insecurity

But make no mistake, Lancaster does believe the writer to the Hebrews is delivering a dire and potentially fatal warning about the dangers of falling away from faith in Messiah. After falling away, it will be extremely difficult, and may be impossible to return to faith.

The focus of the letter so far has generally been one of warning and support of a population of Hellenized Jews in the area of Jerusalem who were in danger of or who had already lost access to the Temple. They were heartbroken and desperate to obey the commandments of the sacrifices. Who would be their priest? They were in grave danger of falling away from the Master in order to return to the Temple.

the letterSo yes, this is a letter of warning. But it isn’t a sudden detour into the theology of soteriology, the theology about how salvation works. That’s how most Christians read it, badly parsing the text into bite-sized but otherwise unrelated chunks. When you write a letter, unless you are a bad writer, you write with an overall theme in mind, not by tossing in an unassociated theological smorgasbord of ideas and concepts.

Lancaster says he tends to be more of a Hebraic thinker. He doesn’t believe salvation can be reduced to a series of talking points or some sort of bulleted list. He does believe it’s possible to lose one’s salvation, but he also believes that God’s grace covers a multitude of sins. Without grace, we would never survive, even as believers.

What You Have to Lose

What distinguishes a Messianic believer?

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come…

Hebrews 6:4-5 (NASB)

Lancaster breaks this down into a list (I just got done saying salvation can’t be reduced into a list, but this isn’t a recipe to the plan of salvation):

  1. Enlightened
  2. Tasted the Heavenly gift of the Holy Spirit
  3. Tasted the Good Word of God
  4. Tasted the power of the Age to Come

This is what you have to lose and, as a believer, what you possess right now.

We are enlightened, that is, we have received the revelation of God, the awareness of the spiritual world, and the knowledge of salvation through faith in Messiah by grace.

We have received the Holy Spirit, God’s gift of a foretaste of the Heavenly Kingdom.

We have tasted the beautiful flavor of the Word of God, the Bible.

We have tasted the power of the age to come.

I think enlightenment, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible are all more or less understood, but what is the power of the age to come? Resurrection. We know Christ was resurrected from the dead and in that promise, so will we upon his return. The dead will be raised in him.

Lancaster drew a parallel between the approach of the weekly Shabbat and the Messianic Age. In Orthodox practice, all meals must be cooked before the arrival of Shabbat at sundown on Friday. Anyone who’s done any cooking knows you sometimes taste the dish before it’s finished to see how it’s coming along. Lancaster says that tasting the soup, so to speak, before the arrival of Shabbat is like tasting a preview of the Shabbat.

Bubbe's soupTasting the revelation of God, receiving the Holy Spirit, apprehending the Word of God, and the knowledge of the resurrection are all the foretaste, the preview of the future Messianic Age, the Kingdom of God on Earth.

That’s what we have to lose.

Lancaster tells us a midrash which I’ve heard before and one that I’ll repeat here because I think it’s important.

It is said that when humanity is resurrected, everyone will still have the physical defects they possessed when they died. If a man died without a left arm, he will be resurrected without a left arm.

Only after the resurrection will he be healed.

Why?

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

John 20-24-29 (NASB)

The midrash states that if a person were resurrected in a totally healed state, he would be unrecognizable and many might doubt that the same man who died was the one resurrected. The example of Jesus and Thomas gives much credence to the midrash. Certainly Jesus appeared very, very different to John in Revelation 1:12-16 than he did, even within the first few weeks after the resurrection.

This is the power of the promise of the resurrection. And this is what we risk losing if we deny Yeshua.

Crucifying Jesus All Over Again

…and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

Hebrews 6:6 (NASB)

Lancaster interprets this rather troublesome verse thus:

One who walks away from his faith in the Master can be compared to one who would crucify the Messiah again, bringing him to shame. May God have mercy on that person.

The Death of the MasterIt isn’t some mystical or literal re-crucifixion, but a metaphorical comparison. Apostasy is a dreadful, disgraceful act, according to Lancaster, and the path back from falling away, should that person repent, is as if the Master needs to be crucified again. But by God’s grace and mercy it is still possible to return!

Apostasy is a very, very hard place to come back from, but it’s not an absolute hopeless place of no return.

Thanks be to God.

For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

Hebrews 6:7-8 (NASB)

Let’s first cover one part of verse 8 before moving on:

it is worthless and close to being cursed (emph. mine)

It is in grave danger of being burned and destroyed, it is very close to that end, but that final destruction, while imminent, is not absolutely a foregone conclusion.

In other words, if you let this happen you to, you are on the brink of falling into an endless pit of fire and darkness but it is still (marginally) possible for you to come back.

Lancaster spent some time comparing the Hebrews writer’s audience to the Master’s parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-23) as well as the parable of the Tares (weeds) among the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). These are all warnings of the level of our faith and whether we are even aware of the level (deep or shallow) of our faith (He says a lot more than what I’m including in this review, so you’ll want to listen to the entire recording for the details).

In a field of wheat and tares, it is impossible at first to tell the difference. When you go to church on Sunday or synagogue on Saturday, looking around the sanctuary, can you visually tell the difference between believers and false converts? Are people who raised their hand at a revival meeting or who once answered an altar call automatically saved and their “fire insurance” fully and permanently paid?

wheat and taresMany “weeds” are absolutely sure they are “wheat” even though they live like weeds. Lancaster told a story about a church youth group where almost all of the teens were sexually active and yet, they all (or most) believed they were saved and living Christian lives.

Then Lancaster made a confession. He said he was a weed and shallow dirt. But the difference is that he is deeply concerned about his being a weed. Even Paul admitted he was a weed:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

Even the best among us (and that certainly isn’t me) struggles between our two natures. Paul called himself a “wretched man” and so are we all wretched people in this struggle, desiring to obey the Master and continually failing. My review of the four steps in making teshuvah speaks a great deal about the continual struggle we have in repentance.

Saving Grace

The danger of falling away is great and the consequences are (potentially) terrible, but there is a “saving grace.”

But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 6:9-12 (NASB)

Amid the cries of warning there’s also hope and encouragement. We haven’t fallen over the edge of the cliff yet, though we (or rather, the Hebrews reading the letter) are (were) still dangerously close. If you’re worried about whether or not you’re a weed, even if you’re a weed, you can still come back and be wheat. Be honest about the state of your heart and your need for a Savior and you can still repent and be saved.

What Did I Learn?

If you’ve been reading my Teshuvah series, you should realize that this exploration isn’t just for the sake of teaching but also for the sake of learning. Seeking God’s grace and repenting of sins isn’t the simple little task many of us were taught to rely upon. Since sin still lives in our hearts, our repentance should be active and continual. It’s still possible to fall off the wagon and while climbing back on isn’t impossible, it isn’t easy, either. In fact, once fallen, it may seem impossible to return, and so most people usually either give up or tell themselves a story that falling off was the right thing to do.

More’s the pity.

FallingThis isn’t just about me. It’s about people I love. It’s about people who have fallen and fallen hard, and yet they don’t see the problem. In fact, they think that apostasy from faith in the Master was the best thing that could ever have happened to them. Some still follow a religious tradition and while their faith is important and contains many good things, by definition (seemingly), it requires denying Yeshua.

Most Christians, including Hebrew Roots people, have long since written off my loved ones as already, permanently, irredeemably condemned to be thrown into the fire and perpetually burned.

May it never be!

I was scared to death when I read Hebrews 6:6. I was immeasurably grateful when Lancaster didn’t insert a “hard stop” at the end of that verse and also write off my loved ones.

If you’re an Evangelical and/or a Bible literalist, I believe I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m choosing to believe Lancaster and that I’ve chosen a Messianic Jewish perspective for self-serving reasons. You believe that I want there to be hope for my fallen loved ones and my chosen belief allows me to still continuously pray for their salvation and restoration.

Yes, of course I still hope and pray. Wouldn’t you?

But that’s not the only reason I believe what I believe. Something inside of me keeps telling me this is the right way to view things and the right way to go. I believe one of the “crimes” of the Church, at least historically, is that they (we) have been too literal in all the wrong places, and we’ve chosen a hard-line instead of God’s selection, grace and mercy.

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.”

Exodus 34:6-9 (NASB)

It’s ironic in a sense, that I turn to the Torah, the Law, which Christianity disdains, in order to illustrate God’s grace and mercy in which we Christians have always depended upon so greatly. Most of us still believe grace and mercy only came to Earth with the birth of Jesus Christ. And yet the Jewish people have relied upon God’s thirteen attributes of mercy for must longer than two-thousand years.

I depend on God’s mercy. I depend on God’s mercy and grace not only for my flawed and damaged self but for everyone I love, who are also flawed and damaged. As I once heard said, if faith is a crutch, who isn’t limping? I’ve got a terrible limp. So does everyone I’ve ever met.

Man alone in a caveWe are all at risk of falling. We are all in danger of going “ker-splat” on the hard, cold ground. Once down there, getting back up isn’t easy, and for some, it seems impossible.

And for some, it seems like falling down put them in a better place, the better place. If not for God’s mercy, not only would it be impossible for them to get up, but God would just let them lie there.

If you ever find yourself at the bottom of a pit or deep in some dark, damp cave, look up. If there isn’t enough light for that, feel around. God provides a rope or a ladder, even for the apostate. All you have to do is find it and then to start climbing.

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Book and the Sword

Hebrews 4:11-16 speaks of a fearsome sword that divides soul and spirit, joint and marrow, and reveals the inner intentions of the heart. Discover the edenic background to the double-edged sword of the book of Hebrews and the Way to the tree of life.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twelve: The Book and the Sword
Originally presented on April 6, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:11-16 (NRSV)

D. Thomas Lancaster started this week’s sermon by going over the sense of distance we sometimes (often?) perceive exists between us and God. I’ve experienced that distance more than once. I’ve attributed that distance to my own faults and failures. After all, what else could it be?

Lancaster went through the ancient, traditional approach that people took to “access” God. As I’ve always surmised, why should an infinite, omnipotent, God want or have to listen to one tiny mortal human being? Who do we think we are, anyway that God should be mindful of us?

So usually ancient man had to go to a god’s temple, bring an appropriate sacrifice, and allow the priest of the temple to offer the sacrifice on our behalf. They needed a priest.

I can already see where Lancaster is going and the expected Christian response that, as believers, we are now our own priests (1 Peter 2:5) and don’t need an intercessor. God removed the veil separating man from the most holy place (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38).

But let’s wait and see how far and in what direction Lancaster takes this sermon.

Lancaster says the requirement of a priest did not always exist. Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden, in Gan Eden, in paradise and there was nothing between them and Him.

But that didn’t last too long.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” — therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3:22-24 (NRSV)

Leaving EdenNo, the cherubim are not cute, little, baby-like angels. The keruvim are big, dangerous, fierce angelic beings with a flaming sword, no less, turning in each direction to bar the way to the tree of life.

And human beings walked out of Eden and have been in exile ever since, trying to find a way back, trying to return to paradise, and even we, who have put our faith and devotion in Messiah, are still separated from God, still in exile, still on the outside looking in, some of us more than others, it seems.

He slaughtered the ox and the ram as a sacrifice of well-being for the people. Aaron’s sons brought him the blood, which he dashed against all sides of the altar, and the fat of the ox and of the ram—the broad tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat on them, and the appendage of the liver. They first laid the fat on the breasts, and the fat was turned into smoke on the altar; and the breasts and the right thigh Aaron raised as an elevation offering before the Lord, as Moses had commanded.

Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he came down after sacrificing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of well-being. Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, and then came out and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

Leviticus 9:18-24 (NRSV)

Lancaster showed us in the verses above, the inaugeration of the duty of the Levitical priesthood. So now only priests can enter into the presence of the Lord and only after making extensive preparations on their own behalf as well as on the behalf of those they represent.

Again, I know what you’re thinking, Christians. Hang on. The answer is coming.

burning-bushIs there a way back to Eden, a way back to the level of intimacy that Adam and Eve (or Chava, actually) enjoyed with Hashem? Is there a way past the keruvim and the flaming sword?

Lancaster took a look at the sword through the lens of rabbinic commentary, principally Genesis Rabbah, and came up with different opinions about the sword. Some say it is angels, and others flaming Gehenna. One Rabbi said circumcision. The final opinion is that the sword is Torah, for as it says:

Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples…

Psalm 149:6-7 (NRSV)

Lancaster then took his audience over some previous territory:

For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty…

Hebrews 2:2 (NRSV)

The word “message” in Greek is “logos” or “word” and is representative of the Torah, and it contains judgment for disobedience of transgressions, just as the sword was God’s response for disobedience at Eden.

The sword is logos, Torah, God’s standard, God’s instruction. How can we get past God’s judgment, past the sword, is there a way back to Eden?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (NRSV)

It’s no coincidence that the ancient name for the Jewish worship stream devoted to Yeshua (Jesus) was called “the Way.” Genesis 3:24 says the sword guarded the way to the tree of life” (emph. mine). Just like Israel in the days of the Tabernacle, in the days of the Temple, the writer of Hebrews is telling his Jewish readers that they need a priest to help them draw nearer to God, but even though they had priests to intercede and offer sacrifices in Herod’s temple, there was an even greater priest in an even greater, heavenly Temple, and only through him could they, can we approach any level of intimacy with God.

But this is no easy thing. One does not simply declare that they “believe in Jesus” and suddenly it’s alright and everything’s groovy. In Rabbinic interpretation, the Torah was given with a sword so that if Israel obeyed God, the Torah would save them from the sword, and if Israel did not obey God, the sword would mete out judgment, which as we see many times in the record of the Tanakh (Old Testament), that is exactly what happened.

Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.

-Pirkei Avot 2:1

All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

Isaiah 53:6 (NASB)

There is none righteous, not even one…

Romans 3:10 (NASB)

lightEven the mere thought of entering into the presence of God should send us into fear and trembling, for who is without sin, and who has not disobeyed the most powerful, almighty, infinite God? It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

The sword, the Torah, is God’s standard of righteousness and it judges us. In and of ourselves, we cannot pass by the flaming sword and enter into God’s presence in paradise.

But there is some good news:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NRSV)

Once a year in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, the High Priest would go through a special set purification rites and sacrifices for himself simply to prepare to enter into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, on Yom Kippur, to present the annual offerings to atone for the sins of the nation.

But he had to do this once a year, and he had to offer many sacrifices just to atone for his own sins first, so he could be in such a state of purity in order to be acceptable enough to enter into the Most Holy Place in the earthly Temple.

This was an effective system but it had limits. The writer of the Book of Hebrews says there is one even more righteous than the High Priest of the line of Aaron. This priest is without sin, a tzadik who is completely Holy unto God. It is he who is our hope, not of entering the earthly Temple (as it will one day exist again) to make offerings, but to enter past the keruvim, past the flaming sword, past the desperate hazard of God’s judgment and the threat of burning eternally in Gehinnom, so that we may rest in God’s mercy in paradise.

What Did I Learn?

I particularly appreciated the word play associated with “the way” as illustrated in Genesis 3:24 and John 14:6, and how that “way” allows us to return from the exile humanity experienced as a result of the failure at Eden. It puts me one step closer to understanding why we all need a “Savior,” and why prayer and repentance to Hashem is “not enough,” a question that has plagued me for quite some time.

But it also brings up a question or rather, it reminds me of an unanswered question I typically ignore except at times like these when I can’t avoid it.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15 (NRSV)

There seems to be a disconnect between this verse and the one that follows, and even between one part of this verse and another.

Yeshua (Jesus) lived a perfectly human and yet a perfectly sinless life for thirty some odd years. I probably can’t avoid an act of disobedience for thirty some odd minutes (or even thirty seconds, sometimes). So Jesus can sympathize with us when we are tempted and tested because he knows the difficulty and suffering of testing as well. Lancaster says it wasn’t just the three trials of the tempter he had to endure (Matthew 4:1-11), but living a human life, he endured human temptations.

So he can sympathize with me when I am tested in the manner of humans, just as he was tested in all human frailty…

…but he did not sin…ever.

unworthySo our high priest can sympathize with our trials, just like the Aaronic High Priests as human beings could sympathize, but an Aaronic High Priest could also sympathize with failure and having sinned because they weren’t perfect…they sinned.

Jesus never sinned, which is what qualifies him to enter into the Heavenly Holy of Holies on our behalf, but how can he possibly sympathize with human failure when he never failed?

Recently, Derek Leman wrote a very good piece on the meaning of grace that transcends the traditional Christian interpretation and adds a great deal of depth to God’s divine kindness and mercy and His undeserved gifts to human beings.

On that level, I can understand why Jesus the High Priest would intercede for us before the Father, and I can imagine that he might feel merciful and even experience pity for we pathetic human beings (I may not be apprehending Derek’s point as much as I need to here), but sympathy or rather empathy because our experience is his experience? I don’t think so. I can’t see how you can understand failure unless you’ve failed. Since Jesus never failed, how can he, or God the Father, the infinite and unknowable Ein Sof, possibly understand us? How can Jesus ever understand me when I fail?

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: A Sabbath Rest Remains

The Sabbath represents the Messianic Era and the menuchah of the world to come. In Hebrews 3:7-4:11, the holy epistle to the Hebrews compares this present world to the work week of preparation, and he warns us to prepare ourselves now for the kingdom and the world to come. This important message demonstrates that Hebrews 4 should not be used to justify a spiritual interpretation of the Sabbath that makes actual Sabbath observance obsolete.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Eleven: A Sabbath Rest Remains
Originally presented on March 16, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster spent about the first half of his sermon reviewing the previous sermon. Remember we were left with a cliffhanger? What is God’s rest? Is it…

  1. The Sabbath?
  2. The Land of Israel?
  3. The Messianic Kingdom/The World to Come?

We are told a number of stories in today’s sermon, most from the Talmud, such as one found in Tractate Sanhedrin 98a, of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi who, while meditating near the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, met the Prophet Elijah.

Rabbi ben Levi asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?” asked Joshua. “Ask him,” replied the Prophet. “The Messiah is at the gates of Rome, sitting among the poor, the sick and wretched. Like them, he changes the bindings of his wounds, but does so one wound at the time, in order to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

The Rabbi traveled to Rome, found the Messiah, and greeted him with ”Peace upon you, my Master and Teacher, to which the Messiah replied, ”Peace upon you, son of Levi.” When the Rabbi asked Messiah when he would come, Messiah replied, ”Today!”

But by the time Rabbi ben Levi returned to Elijah, the Messiah had not come. Messiah had lied…or did he?

Elijah explained “This is what he said to thee, To-day, if ye will hear his voice”, a reference to Psalms 95:7, making his coming conditional with the condition not fulfilled.

You should remember Psalm 95 from last week’s review, since it figured heavily in laying the foundation for our “mystery” of what is meant by “God’s rest” or for that matter, the mystery of “What is today?”

Before continuing, as Lancaster said, Hebrews 3 and 4 are frequently used by many Christian Pastors to prove that a literal Saturday Shabbat has been done away with and that it has been spiritually “converted” into Christ. Our Sabbath rest is Jesus Christ. Problem is, this letter was written by a Jewish writer to a Jewish audience who were still keeping the Sabbath. While Gentiles may not have been placed under that aspect of Torah obedience, these Jews were still Jews and were still performing all of the mitzvot including observing Shabbos.

But these guys were tired. They’d been waiting for the return of the Messiah for thirty years and their faith and patience were wearing thin. They either had been barred from the Temple because of their Messianic faith or were about to be. As we learned last week, the writer of Hebrews was adjuring them to keep their faith in Messiah or risk the fate of that faithless generation in the desert who disobeyed God and did not enter the Land of Canaan to take it as their possession. They did not enter God’s Sabbath rest.

But again, what is God’s rest?

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.

Hebrews 4:1 (NRSV)

Apparently it was something that the readers of Hebrews could still attain since ”his rest is still open.” If Lancaster is right, then it can’t be the literal Saturday Sabbath, because they were already keeping that. It couldn’t be literally the Land of Israel, because they were already there.

…again he sets a certain day—“today”—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Hebrews 4:7 (NRSV)

shabbat-queen-elena-kotliarkerLancaster went through a rather lengthy explanation of what “today” means, which includes literally this very day, that is, right now. But from our perspective, it’s always “right now” or “today.” Part of what the Hebrews writer is saying, according to Lancaster, is that as long as you are still alive, “hear (heed) his voice, do not harden your hearts, ” but repent and return to God.

But “today” is also idiomatic language for the Shabbat. I just got done saying this wasn’t about a literal Shabbat on Saturday, but what were the Hebrews risking by a lack of faith? And why did Lancaster tell the story of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, Elijah, and Messiah?

The object of the Midrashic story from Talmud was to say Messiah would come today if Israel would repent. The Jewish readers of the Hebrews letter will enter God’s rest if they repent. If the coming of Messiah is linked here to God’s rest, then what is to be entered is the Messianic Kingdom.

The Sages liken the Shabbat to the Kingdom of Heaven and the World to Come. It’s as if the days of the week and Shabbat represent the different ages of creation with the seventh day, the end of time, being a grand, millennial Shabbat, an age of great rest, and our weekly Sabbaths are merely a periodic reminder, down payment, or foretaste of that ultimate rest in Moshiach.

This seems to resolve Lancaster’s mystery or cliffhanger, but in fact, he states that it was a trick question. Since the Messianic Age is future oriented, then Hebrews 3 and 4 are not only a rendition of history but prophetic. It may surprise you to realize that all of the prophesies in the Bible have to do with Israel and Jerusalem and for all prophesies to be fulfilled, there must be an Israel and Jerusalem. No Israel, no fulfillment of prophesy.

So a literal Sabbath, a literal Land of Israel, and the Messianic Age to Come all figure into God’s rest and the object of Lancaster’s sermon for the past couple of weeks.

He says some interesting things about work and rest:

Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Hebrews 4:11 (NRSV)

one-of-ten-virgins-oilWhy do we work to enter God’s rest? I thought we were saved by grace. Lancaster says we must do all that is necessary to get ready for the Messiah’s return, even though it will never be enough. It’s like if you keep a traditional Shabbat. On Friday you work and work and work to get ready, but even if you don’t get everything done in time, Shabbat comes and then you stop, you are quiet, there is peace, and there is rest…

…whether you’re ready or not.

Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross (John 19:30) and in the past, I’ve said that it can’t mean literally all of Messiah’s work is finished. If it did, then he wouldn’t have to return. But in another sense, besides Messiah’s suffering, something else was finished, which was the inauguration of the Messianic Age. It started with the death and resurrection, so that part’s finished, but everything will not be completed until all of Israel (according to Lancaster) repents:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Matthew 23:37-39 (NRSV)

I should say that Rabbinic opinions differ on this point, with some saying that Messiah will come when all Israel repents, and others saying that Messiah will come when Israel is wholly corrupt and about to fall. Lancaster apparently is taking the former view.

So does “get ready” and “strive” and “work” mean “shore up your faith?” I can see why Lancaster says we’ll never be ready because no one’s faith will ever be perfect. Of course, we have the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) that says there are things to be done, preparations to make, to be ready for the coming of the bridegroom (Messiah), with the oil in their lamps representing perhaps our faith and devotion to God.

And yet without God’s grace, nothing we do could ever be enough all by itself to merit the Messianic Age and a life in the world to come, which is part of what Joshua ben Levi wanted to know from Messiah. But being faithful and obedient, by grace, we shall enter God’s rest if we persevere to the end (see 2 Timothy 4:7).

What Did I Learn?

I think I’ve been learning this lesson for a while now. I wrote a little bit about it nearly two years ago, and it also seems associated with something I wrote more recently.

Beyond that, someone commented about one of my blog posts on Facebook not too long ago. I’ll withhold his name unless he allows me to use it, but here’s what he said:

A.) There’s 6,000 years of linear-time human history since Adam & Chava ‘stepped out of Gan Edan into the physical world of existence.’

B.) For the sake of Israel, G-d will deduct ‘time served in the captivity of Egypt’ from the 6000 years. Consensus opinion is 210 years.

C,) Mashiach comes and ushers in a 1,000 year earthly kingdom with Israel as head of the nations

D.) At the end of this 1000 year “shabbat hagadol” the earth is ‘recreated’ and existence as we know it ends and begins in a new reality – THIS is the time of the New Covenant, as outlined in the Tenakh, the writings of the sages and the final chapters of the book of Revelation.

E.) The New Covenant existence is one of no more ‘evil,’ no more ‘free will,’ no more ‘choice,’ no more ‘sin,’ no more consequence of sin, i.e., death, suffering, sadness, etc.

Of course, the eye-catcher in all that is the 210 year idea and how it relates to the Jewish calendar. We are presently in 5774 which would mean another 226 years maximum to go (Messiah can come any time in a 40-year window before this but no later.) Now, deducting the 210 years for ‘time served in Egypt’ we have a year that corresponds to 2030 on our western calendars. This is not some modern nonsense to sell books. It is primarily from the Zohar first published in the 13th century. Rabbi Pinchas Winston has some interesting stuff on this.

This will all make more sense if you listen to Lancaster’s forty minute sermon on A Sabbath Rest Remains, since I hardly have related everything he taught. This is just a review. Also remember that taking midrash and mysticism too much to heart is a lot like playing with matches. It’s dangerous and you could get burned. Just saying.

practicing_faithAs I conclude this eleventh sermon in a series that is still ongoing over a year after it started, I find I could easily get lost. There is so much detail involved, so many sources and references, both inside and outside of the Bible, to consult and connect, that it’s hard for my mind to apprehend and hold in focus everything all at once.

OK, I admit it. I can’t keep everything Lancaster’s taught so far in my head in “active memory,” so to speak, all at the same time.

So, like most people, I have to reduce a lot of talking and studying into a small, manageable point. Faith is an active and even physical process. It may start with intellectual ascent of the existence of God and a spiritual awareness of the presence of the Creator, but that means nothing unless it also encompasses a lived obedience to God.

For the generation who died in the desert (except for a very few such as Joshua and Caleb), even the physical awareness of the Divine Presence with them for over forty years on a daily basis was not enough for them to merit entry into the Land of Israel or into the Messianic Kingdom. They failed to obey. They failed to fulfill the promise of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by entering the Land, going to war, and taking possession of Israel.

For the readers of the letter of Hebrews, like the generation in the desert standing on the eastern bank of the Jordan, they too stand on the threshold, risking everything, risking the fate of the faithless generation of Israelites, should they also test God as did that generation of their Fathers. Intellectual knowledge and spiritual awareness are not enough. Lived, active obedience to God in the continuation of their faith in Messiah as the future King who is coming but who already rules is an absolute requirement.

The readers of the letter had waited thirty years and their faith was wavering. We’ve waited almost two-thousand years. What about us?

For more about a traditional Jewish perspective on Messiah, the world today, and the world to come, see Moshiach and the World Today.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Enter My Rest

Three possible interpretations of Psalm 95:11 prepare us for understanding the discussion in Hebrews 3:7ff regarding the generation in the wilderness that did not enter into God’s rest. An important preface to the Sabbath discussion of Hebrews 4.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Ten: Enter My Rest
Originally presented on March 9, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This lesson covers all of Hebrews 3 and most of Hebrews 4, but it all hinges on an understanding of Psalm 95:

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would listen to his voice!
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they do not regard my ways.”
Therefore in my anger I swore,
“They shall not enter my rest.”

Psalm 95 (NRSV)

There are three possible ways of looking at this Psalm that affect today’s study. But before getting into that, we need to ask, what is “God’s rest?”

Lancaster took his audience through a quick Hebrew language lesson. The word “Shabbat” is based on the Hebrew verb “Shavat” which means “to rest.” But that’s not the word used in Psalm 95:11. Lancaster says it’s the Hebrew word “Minuchah” (noun) which is also based on a Hebrew verb for “to rest.” Lancaster cited another reference to the Shabbat in verse 7: “O that today you would listen to his voice.” In this context, “today” is a Hebrew idiom for Shabbat . Also, to “listen,” or more accurately rendered “to hear,” is idiomatic for “hear and obey,” and is better rendered in English as “to heed.”

So it sounds like those who did not “heed” (hear and obey) God’s voice will not enter His rest, which we could interpret as Shabbat. But who are we talking about?

How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they complain against me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the Lord, “I will do to you the very things I heard you say: your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me, not one of you shall come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become booty, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have despised. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness for forty years, and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” I the Lord have spoken; surely I will do thus to all this wicked congregation gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.

Numbers 14:27-35 (NRSV)

Mount SinaiBecause of the faithlessness of the Israelites, because they failed to hear and obey God and fulfill the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to enter and take the Land (all except Joshua and Caleb who desired to do so), they shall not enter God’s rest. This generation of Israelites, the ones directly redeemed from slavery in Egypt, would die in the desert and not enter.

Not enter what?

The first interpretation says they would not enter the Shabbat, but that’s ridiculous because they kept the Shabbat for the entire forty years they lived in the desert.

The second interpretation seems to make more sense. They did not enter the Land of Israel. Is that correct, though? I suppose it is literally, but could something else be going on?

Lancaster relates that according to Rabbi Akiva inTractate Sanhedrin, the generation in the wilderness would not enter the age to come. Now this gets a little confusing as sometimes this means the Messianic Age and on other occasions, it means everlasting life or eternity. Is Akiva saying the generation in the desert, to put it in Christian terms, are “damned?” Rabbi Yochanan disagrees and says that they will enter the world to come, that is, eternity, and offers accompanying proof texts.

Let’s get back to the word “Minuchah”. What does it mean? What can it mean? It can mean “rest” or “resting place”. After the Torah service, when the Torah scroll is returned to the ark, the ark is referred to as God’s resting place. One interpretation of Isaiah 66 is that God’s resting place can be the Temple or even Israel in the Messianic Kingdom.

So we have three possibilities. God’s rest or resting place is:

  1. Shabbat
  2. Israel
  3. The Messianic Kingdom

To find the correct interpretation for our study of Hebrews, we have to ask the Apostles or at least the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews. Starting in Hebrews 3:7, it says “according to the Holy Spirit,” implying that David, who wrote Psalm 95, was inspired by the Spirit. Verses 7 thought 11 quotes Psalm 95. Then, the letter writer states:

Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 3:12-14 (NRSV)

The writer of Hebrews is comparing the situation of his audience, who are suffering from a profound crisis of faith at losing access to the Temple (or at least potentially so) to the generation in the wilderness who lost faith and failed to obey God. Whatever fate the generation in the wilderness suffered for faithlessness, if the readers of Hebrews also loses faith and becomes disobedient, that consequence will be theirs, too.

soul_cries_outSo what would they lose? Shabbat observance? Unlikely. The Land of Israel? They, according to Lancaster, were living in Israel and since Lancaster dates the letter at about 63 CE, before the destruction of the Temple and the great exile, he doesn’t believe the writer or readers of Hebrews suspected any of that was coming. Entry into the Messianic Era seems to be the correct interpretation and what Lancaster is saying is that, just as the generation in the desert lost their place in the coming age of Messiah (which doesn’t mean they lost eternal life in the age to come, necessarily) for their faithlessness, if the readers of Hebrews continue on their path of faithlessness, they too will lose their place in the Age and Kingdom of Messiah when he returns.

So the letter functions both as an encouragement and a cautionary tale.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.

Hebrews 4:1 (NRSV)

There’s still time. This could go either way. If the readers of the letter choose to emulate the faith of Joshua and Caleb, who did merit to enter Israel and also a place in the Messianic Kingdom, then they too will share in that promise. However, if they should be like the faithless generation who died in the desert and lost entry into the Messianic Age, this too will be their consequence.

Oh, in verse 2, when the text says, “good news came to us just as to them,” that doesn’t mean Moses preached the Gospel of Jesus to the ancient Israelites, but rather the “good news” for the ancient Israelites is that the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was at hand, the promise of taking the Land for their own possession. Just “go get it.” The good news for the readers of Hebrews and for the rest of us is much more than personal salvation and eternal life, it is to enter the Messianic Kingdom by the merit of the Master, Yeshua.

Lancaster throws a monkey wrench into his well-oiled machine when verses 4 and 5 mention the “seventh day” again. So does this mean we are talking about Shabbat after all and not the Messianic Kingdom? Verses 7 and 8 also mention “today,” which as was mentioned above, is idiomatic for Shabbat.

However there is this:

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God

Hebrews 4:8-9 (NRSV)

So entering Israel isn’t “the rest” and losing Israel though exile isn’t losing the rest. What is that rest, then? Lancaster ends today’s sermon with that question. Come back next week when we all hope he can pull an answer out of this “cliffhanger.”

What Did I Learn?

Let’s revisit a few verses:

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

“As in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
though his works were finished at the foundation of the world.

Hebrews 4:3-4 (NRSV)

minyanA Kingdom that was already established since the foundation of the world and is not here yet should remind you of Lancaster’s sermon on Partisans which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. It also reminded me of Brad Young’s book The Jewish Foundation to the Lord’s Prayer which I reviewed last week. The Kingdom of God or the Messianic Kingdom, according to Young, is something each of us, as believers, makes up, as if we are individual bricks being used to construct that Kingdom. All together, we are the Kingdom, and every time someone comes to faith, they are added to the overall structure. But to lose faith and abandon the Master is to remove ourselves from the structure and we lose being part of the Kingdom. I think that could be what the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews is saying. Perhaps this is also what the generation in the desert lost through faithlessness.

One of the greatest continual debates in Christianity is whether or not a believer can lose salvation. Rabbi Akiva said that the faithless Israelites did lose their place in the world to come (eternity) but Rabbi Yochanan disagreed. Perhaps they did lose their participation in the Kingdom of Heaven, but this is different from eternity. A great mystery how this would work, I must admit. And here we are sitting on the edge of Lancaster’s cliff, hanging around, so to speak.

May next week bring and answer and more illumination in this fresh perspective on Hebrews.

Oh, I just want to remind you to actually listen to the forty minute sermon (the link is at the top). I didn’t write down everything Lancaster taught.

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

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

Acts 5:12 (NASB)

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

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

Where did the first Christians go to church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Early Jewish Believers and the Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speculation

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

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

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

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

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

What Did I Learn?

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

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

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

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