The Jewish leaders had added many restrictions to the original law of Moses. They attempted to "build a wall around the Torah" in order to prevent a person from ever even getting close to breaking the law. All knew that ancient Israel had been sent into captivity for disregarding God's Law - especially the Sabbath. In the generations following their return from captivity, the religious leaders were determined not to allow the people to ever again break God's Sabbath. So they added many further restrictions to "insulate and protect" the actual law. It was as if a property owner would put "No Trespassing" signs far outside the actual boundaries of his property in order that no one would ever trespass.
Humanly speaking, the architects of this concept were sincere, God-fearing men, dedicated to God's Law. But with the passing years, as is common to all ideological movements, the pure ideals of the originators became structured into the rigorous regulations of the sustainers. It is impossible to legislate character, however.
From early boyhood, Jesus recognized how the religious leaders of His day had managed to so exaggerate, misapply, distort, traditionalize and embellish the original Mosaic code that it took, quite literally, experts in "the Law" to even interpret the system. Some of these scholarly interpreters of the law were among those who he encountered when He was 12 years of age in the temple. Even then, his considerable knowledge of the Scriptures, plus the dimension of God's Holy Spirit, enabled Him to ask such embarrassing questions concerning the stringencies of their traditional codes that they were amazed.
Throughout His life prior to His ministry, Jesus became increasingly aware of the terrible fear gripping the minds of many members of the local synagogues: that the traditional system of law which occupied their time was so unbelievably complex and rigorous that one could find himself nervous, frantic, fretting, questioning and guilty - all at the same time! One had to be seeking continual advice from the religious leaders about every conceivable human act in order to even have a chance to be "righteous"
Jesus saw this "fear of religion" as a bondage of the worst sort. He called this legalistic mixture of ritual adherence to the laws of Moses "grievous burdens and heavy to be borne." Because of His previous existence as Lawgiver to Israel, he could see that God's Ten Commandments were not intended to be restrictive, negative, punitive or confining. Rather, He knew that God's Law was a great law of liberty (James 1:25), and that any nation which would observe, even in the letter, such a law, would literally ride the high places of the earth.
Back in Egypt the ancient Israelites had been long accustomed to ceremonial religion; religion involving ritual, religion which required the use of animals as "representations of gods" and therefore worthy of worship, and, in their most grievous sin of all during their sojourn in the wilderness, they made themselves a replica of one of the Egyptian gods by throwing all of their household Jewelry into a common pot, and, finally seeing the creation of their own hands in the form of a golden bullock, disintegrated into an idolatrous "religious ceremony" which was nothing more than a frenzied orgy. Jesus could recall how He had finally been forced to "give them [ancient Israel] over" to a system of sacrifices in order to teach them certain lessons.
Repeatedly, in His prehuman form, He had inspired the prophets to explain that the sacrifices were not God's most perfect desire; that they only were able to provide a carnal, profane people with a "system" of ritual which accomplished two basic purposes: (1) It kept ancient Israel, at least from time to time and not perfectly, from embracing the idolatrous customs of heathen nations around them, some of whom practiced infanticide and other forms of human sacrifice; (2) in the slaying of lambs, goats, bullocks, and the offering of turtle doves, there was always the reminder that the wages of sin was death, as well as a shadowy type of the future sacrifice of a Savior.
Jesus inspired His disciples with His own deepest devotion to the Ten Commandments, not only in their letter but in their spiritual intent. He also inspired continual amazement at His almost casual disregard for the terribly complex system of rigorous legalism which had been attached to the divinely revealed law. By the time he walked the earth as a boy and later as a man in His ministry, the religious system of the times represented not only the original Ten commandments with all of the statutes and judgments given in the wilderness, not only all of the "morning and evening sacrifices" in the temple, including special sacrifices on annual high days and on each weekly Sabbath, but also included hundreds of additional restrictions, taboos, observations, judgments. regulations, ordinances, and legalistic requirements.
Thus, eventually, though perhaps after Jesus' day, the question had finally been brought to some particularly meticulous religious leader about what one should do if a flea were crawling on you during this incantation in the synagogue. It may have taken months to resolve this huge difficulty, but when it was finally resolved, the regulation handed down was that it would surely break the Sabbath to go to the "work" of picking the flea from your person and casting it away or attempting to crush it between your fingernails, but that if you observed carefully, and it actually bit you, then and only then were you permitted to kill the little beast!
From the very earliest moments of His ministry, Jesus had taught the broad spiritual principles of God's Law, applying them to human action and thought, while at the same time almost casually disregarding the added legalistic rituals.
This is why, in the first of His dissertations recorded, "The Sermon on the Mount," Jesus had to use the language He did. He could easily have said to His disciples, "As you know, I have come to be the finest example of law-keeping the world has ever seen!" But He didn't.
Instead, He said, " Don't think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I did not come to destroy them but to fulfill [fill them up to the brim]" (Matthew 5:17).
Obviously then, people had thought - and perhaps His own disciples were among them - that Jesus was breaking God's Law. He was not, and so had to remind everyone of this absolute fact: "Whoever it is, therefore, who would break one of the very least of the commandments [whichever one he would hold to be least] and would teach others to do likewise, he will be called the very least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, that person will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (verses 18, 19, paraphrased.)
Therefore, He said, "Don't think that I am come to destroy the law."
In a broader sense, Jesus was also referring to the two major sections of the Old Testament! They are referred to in the Bible as "the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms." The "Law" is taken by many scholars to mean the "Torah" or the first five books of the Bible from Genesis to Deuteronomy. In a more restrictive sense, it includes the Ten Commandments, the statutes and judgments. Following this statement about law, he explained in great detail what He meant.
He said, "Because I am telling you, that except your righteous deeds and acts would be even more righteous than those of the Scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you are going to enter into the kingdom of heaven."
This was a shocking statement. Everyone held that the religious hierarchy were the "most righteous," and their titles, albeit in a different language and a different religious system than that extant in most of our Western world today, were probably quite similar. There may have been "Right Reverend" this and the "Most Reverend" that, meaning holier than thou and practically everybody else. To allege that a person could live a more righteous life than a posturing Pharisee was like throwing a brick through a stained-glass window! The masses would have thought it impossible.
This portion of the Sermon on the Mount, however, continues to explain in great length by using one example after another right out of the Ten Commandments how Jesus meant to magnify the law. Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would "magnify the law, and make it honorable " (Isaiah 42:21). So Jesus began to extrapolate the Ten Commandments from what they had always heard into the broad, spiritual principles that God had originally intended.
"You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not kill and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment." (The original commandment against killing meant, from wording and context, "You shall do no murder.")
"But I say unto you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment day, and whoever would say to his brother, 'You vain, empty useless thing,' shall be in danger of the Sanhedrin, but whosoever shall say, 'You idiot, you fool,' shall be in danger of Gehenna."
Thus Jesus illustrates three steps of human contemptuousness toward a fellow human being. The first - anger, and "being mad" at someone - brings a person in danger of being judged of God for his anger. The second - hurling an epithet and calling another human being empty, purposeless, wasted and totally useless - would bring about a further degree of stern judgment; in this case being hailed before the council of the Sanhedrin or, in Jesus' broader terms, standing before the spiritual council of God, and giving account for every word that was spoken. The third - to commit the most serious act of actually seething hatred to the depths of one's heart, of wishing another human being dead - would bring about, unless it was repented of, loss of eternal life by being thrown into the Gehenna fire he spoke of.
It was then, right in the midst of these examples of the magnification of the basic points of the Ten Commandments and applying them to broader spiritual purposes, that Jesus showed both His disciples and any other interested listener that He was both upholding the law of Moses and adding to the practice of formal worship revolving around the temple, spiritual and godly elements of forgiveness and love toward a fellow human being. He said,
"Therefore, if you bring your gift to the alter, and while you are offering it you remember that you have a contention against a brother, leave the gift there before the altar, and go back about your business. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come back and offer your gift."
Jesus showed it does no good whatsoever to perform some sanctimonious religious act in a spiritualistic ritual, so long as the human heart is tainted with contempt, anger, or hostility toward one's fellow man. He said, "Agree with your adversary quickly, whenever you are in contention with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. I am telling you the truth, you will not come out of there until you have paid the uttermost part of your fine" [served the final day of your sentence].
Again, Jesus showed that it made no sense to fight false battles for false purposes. In this case, "your adversary was obviously able to make a legal case against you, no, matter the moral or spiritual right or wrong of the matter. He showed His own disciples that a true Christian spirit should be willing to suffer abuse, even if in the right. He taught His disciples to agree with an "adversary" knowing that they would be gaining spiritual riches and that such adversaries, given the smug satisfaction they had won a battle, "had their reward" here and now.
Never, throughout the three-and-one-half years of His ministry, in spite of His casual disregard of ritualistic rigorism, could Jesus be arrested on the basis of supposedly "law-breaking"! Yet, this was the most intense area of concentration surrounding His ministry. Continually, Pharisees and Sadducees and other groups came to His disciples and plaintively whimpered, "Why does your teacher break every tradition of the elders?" Continually, they challenged him on one or another of the finer points of religious ritualism. But never were they able to convict Him of a single "lawbreaking" act! Always He made it very clear there was a vast distinction between humanly devised religious traditions, and the divinely revealed will and law of God.
Jesus addressed Himself directly to one of the Ten Commandments when He said, "You have heard that it was said by them of old time, you shall not commit adultery: but I am telling you, that whoever looks on a woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his mind " (verse 28). Thus, he upheld the original law adultery, but vastly magnified and made more binding the implication of the law by stating it was just as great a sin in the sight of God to sexually "lust" after a human being as it was to literally complete the act. The religious leadership of the time had taken every single point of the Ten Commandments, and added dozens of legalistic addenda.
However, they had also allowed to creep into their theological system various direct and flagrant violations of the spiritual intent of the first three commandments, by allowing various forms of "oath taking," "swearings," and affirmations of truth which were actually outside the bounds of God's Law. Therefore, He said, "Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, you are not to foreswear yourself, but shall perform unto the Eternal all your vows." "But I am telling you, do not swear at all! Don't swear by heaven because it is God's throne; don't swear by the earth; because it is His footstool; don't swear by Jerusalem because it is the city of the great king!"
To a person who is absolutely truthful , Jesus explained, there is no need whatever for additional embellishments to impress the hearer. To a converted Christian who will not lie, a simple "yes" is sufficient. That "yes " based upon the Christian's perceptions of God's Word and the fact of the Ten Commandments of God as magnified by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout His life, means far more than all of the oaths taken by every person who has ever entered a courtroom, and should be far more valuable than any number of swearings, oath takings, or promises made on the proverbial "stack of Bibles."
Next, Jesus addressed Himself to the section of the law of Moses in which certain penalties were prescribed for certain actions. He said,
"You have heard that it has been said an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." While not quoting the rest of it, Jesus knew it also said, "Hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, and wound for wound, and stripe for stripe" (Ex. 21:24, 25).
But addressing Himself to the entire principle of meting out exact punishment commensurate with the injury, Jesus said,
"But I say unto you, that you resist not those who are evil: but whoever will smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue you in the courts, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also.
"And whoever compels you to go with him a mile go with him two miles.
"Give to those who ask of you, and from him who would borrow from you, do not turn him away."
The principle of "give" - or forgiveness, loving, sharing - was what Jesus preached and practiced. But never did he intend to imply that a Christian under His New Testament teachings was not obligated to obey God , and to obey the commandments which He, in His preexistent state, had written with His own finger! Later on in this same sermon, following His outline of a prayer, comments on fasting and seeking the kingdom of God over materialistic values, he said, "Therefore, everything you want other men to do to you, you ought to do to them! Because this is the whole meaning of the law and the prophets!" Again, he is upholding the law, magnifying and making it "honorable" by lifting it to the much higher plateau of spiritual application.
The traditional perception of Jesus is that He was anti-Jewish, having done away with the Old Testament and the law of Moses. The common reasoning behind this conclusion is circular: since Christianity is opposed to Judaism as a concept, and since Christians do not observe the Jewish Sabbath, Holy Days, etc., then Christ Himself must have been anti-Jewish and opposed to the Old Testament law. Of course, the erroneousness of the conclusion is only exceeded by the absurdity of the logic. There are many features about Jesus in the New Testament that stamp Him as indisputably Jewish. His ancestry is traced back to David in two separate accounts (Matthew 1 and Luke 3). He was circumcised as the law stated (Luke 2:21).
Yet some have seemed to think that His Jewish heritage was only forced upon Him by quirk of birth - and He abrogated the Jewish law the first chance He had. This assumption is based on several falsehoods: (1) reading the practice, belief and biblical understandings of the later Catholic Church into the gospels, and (2) reading the gospels as if all the Jewish laws and customs being discussed were those perpetuated into modern times by the later rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism is a post-A.D. 70 phenomenon derived from Pharisaism, but with a strong infusion of other elements as well. However, Judaism before AD. 70 was a much more diverse and pluralistic entity The average Jew was not a member of a religious party even though he may have been more or less pious. This is important to recognize because many people read Jesus' statements to isolated sectarians, such as the Pharisees, as if he were speaking to all the Jews. He condemned sin in any form, but He especially scourged the hypocrisy and duplicity of those who claimed to be religious teachers yet denied with their own lives the very platitudes they voiced. (This does not mean that every Pharisee or religious proponent was a hypocrite; rather, it is reasonable to require that those who set themselves up as teachers deserve the greater condemnation when they fail to attain their own standards.) He felt only compassion for the poor sinner - the average Jew - who acknowledged his guilt and asked in humility for God's forgiveness and help (Luke 18:9-14).
Jesus was an ordinary Jew in a Jewish society. As such His associations were primarily with Jews. Far from being a standoffish or a piously aloof individual, he was criticized by religious sectarians on a number of occasions for associating with "sinners." Were these all Gentiles or lepers? By no means. He was willing to go to all levels of the Jewish community where He could help, whether it meant associating with the wealthy ruling class at banquets and feasts or with prostitutes and their customers at the lower edge of society.
Some of the Pharisees and Scribes who belonged to the Pharisaic sect thought it was quite a scandalous situation when Jesus and His disciples were willing to sit down at the same table with such people. In fact one of His disciples whom He had just called (Matthew, or Levi) was a tax collector. ("Tax collector" was, in the common parlance of the day, a synonym for "sinner.") When Jesus was asked about this, He replied, "Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. Learn what it means by, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
Jesus minced no words about the sins of the priests any more than He did about those of the Pharisees and others. Yet He very much respected and upheld the functions of the Old Testament priesthood. On a number of occasions, after He had healed a leper of this loathsome disease, He told him to report to the priest for the proper temple ritual and official pronouncement of cleanliness (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1: 40-45; Luke 5: 12-14; 17:12-14). He in fact paid the temple tax even though He was legitimately exempt from it (Matthew 17:24-27).
Continually, people cite the cases of Jesus chasing the cattle and money changers out of the temple, believing this to be an example of lawbreaking on Christ's part. Apparently, they have never read the scriptural account; or if they did, they read it only cursorily, and without real understanding. You'll find the account in Matthew 21:12-16, Mark 11: 15-18; Luke 19:45-47, and John 2:14-17. Here, he appears, not as a "vagabond" or "wayfarer" who is causing a disturbance against established authority, but as the proprietor of the temple, and the direct representative of its ultimate owner, God the Father. He said, "It is written," thus citing the greatest law common to them all, that of the Word of God, "My house shall be called the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves." (In that day Roman money had to be changed into Jewish, in which temple contributions were collected, and no doubt shortchanging occurred, considering the differences in value of the two types of coin and the general tendency of human greed!)
Christ was in authority here, not a casual visitor. Not once did the money changers, nor the owners of the cattle, nor the Jewish religious leaders, say one word about anything "unlawful." If He broke the law, why not arrest Him? But no law was broken; it was being upheld Christ cited the law, when He quoted Isaiah 56:7. He, then, was a representative, both of the property (the temple), and the law. Remember, too, that even when false witnesses were being bribed to bring false charges against Him during His trial, not once did anyone bring up the issue of Christ chasing the cattle and money changers out of the temple - even though He did so twice, about two years apart.
Jesus' respect for the temple is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than by these two cleansings of the temple. As soon as he reached Jerusalem, He had a look around the temple, illustrating His concern for it (Mark 11:11). The next day He returned and entered into it in wrath to clean it of the gross disrespect being shown by the business dealings in the temple precinct. He was determined that the temple, which He regarded as His Father's house, would not become a robbers' nest while He was around in the flesh. He even prevented people from carrying things through the temple area (Mark 11:16). Could he have therefore regarded the temple as an obsolete vestige of an antiquated religion? His intense concern, risking bodily harm, demonstrates just the opposite!
Throughout His ministry, Jesus is described as teaching in the synagogues (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 12:9; 13:54; John 6:59; 18:20). as well as other places, such as His house. Although we are not told of His years before His ministry, we may safely conclude that He regularly attended the synagogue and participated in the weekly Sabbath services (Luke 4:16). He caused astonishment by His bold teaching in Capernaum (Mark 1: 21-22; Luke 4:31-32). In His own home city, he attended the synagogue on the Sabbath day "as was His custom."
Jesus' relationship to the Sabbath has confused many people, most especially the vast majority of the Christian world who are determined to cast Him as a Sabbath breaker Himself and a Sabbath destroyer for everyone else. But his sayings about, and actions on the Sabbath have to be read in the proper context both of the gospel accounts and of the Sabbath beliefs of the Jews of the time. Without the proper cultural background some have twisted the Scriptures in order to justify their own personal convictions, traditions or desires.
Sabbath keeping was a practice among all Jews, both those in Palestine and in the Diaspora. In fact, Sabbath observance was very widely known in the Roman world as a whole even among non-Jews. This is clear from the number of references in various writers in the first centuries B.C. and A.D., including Josephus.
Sabbath observance was so important in the Jewish religion that there are statements in Talmudic literature to the effect that Sabbath observance is equivalent to the Abrahamic Covenant, and that the law of the Sabbath was said to be equal to all the other laws and commandments in the Torah ! ( Mekhilta 62; Pesikta Rabbati 23 ; Palestinian Talmud Berachot 3; Nedarim 38; Exodus Rabba 25). This is an incredible concept and highly relevant for achieving an accurate understanding of the teaching of the New Testament regarding Sabbath observance for the Christian.
The enormous importance of the Sabbath in Judaism - said to actually be the equivalent of all the other laws of God - is powerful corroboratory evidence that neither Jesus nor any of the following apostles ever "did away" with Sabbath observance as the day God created for rest and worship. The few scriptures (primarily in Paul's writings), often quoted in an attempt to end the obligation of Christians to keep the Sabbath pale by comparison with the overwhelming significance of the Sabbath. If the apostles had dared to eliminate the Sabbath, surely a gargantuan conflict would have exploded into the New Testament record. Compare, for example, the major controversy in the New Testament church over circumcision (Acts 15), which was declared to be unnecessary or optional for Christians, with the relatively minor controversy over how a Christian should observe the Sabbath (in contradistinction to the customary rigorous regulations of common Jewish law).
Since the Sabbath was considered by the Jews to be so important - as important as all the rest of the law put together in some circles - if Jesus and His apostles had taught and practiced the total abrogation of the Sabbath commandment as is claimed by professing Christianity, then the religious controversy and disputations would had to have filled the gospels, the book of Acts and all the epistles There was no such enormous controversy in the New Testament church because the Sabbath was not "done away"!
When we turn to the rabbinic literature, we find that 39 kind of things were forbidden on the Sabbath (Mishnah Shabbath 7.2). One cannot automatically project the statements of later rabbinic literature back into Palestine before A.D. 70. Recent research has shown that much of the rabbinic material was derived in shape and detail from post A.D. 70 times (see the works of Jacob Neusner). However many of the kinds of things prohibited by the Mishnah are borne out by New Testament examples as being genuine practices in the time of Jesus.
By comparing the regulations of the Mishnah and later literature with the intertestamental and New Testament writings, there also seems even to have been a gradual relaxing of strictness. G. F. Moore writes, "Where the Sabbath observance in these [earlier] writings differs substantially from the Tannaite Halakah [later rabbinic teachings], it is generally in the direction of greater strictness" ( Judaism , II, 27). Billerbeck agrees "that there was a more rigorous administration of Sabbath observance in the days of Jesus than in the time during which the regulations of the Mishnah arose" ( Kommentar , II, 819). If one thinks that the later proverbial talmud of Sabbath laws espoused by rabbinic Judaism was burdensome, they were still less exacting than many in his own time.
Therefore, when Jesus was called into account for doing certain things on the Sabbath, it was certainly not for violating specific Old Testament prohibitions. Rather, he was ignoring the rigorous Sabbath regulations devised by sincere, though misguided, men. The Old Testament did not forbid one to pick ears of grain on the Sabbath and then eat them on the spot. Yet when he and His disciples did this (Mark 2:23; Matthew12:1; Luke 6:1), He was called to account and severely chastised, because this was classified as reaping, and their rubbing loose the grain into their hands as threshing. Similarly, it was forbidden to treat a sickness when the sick person's life was in no immediate danger. His healing of the man with the withered arm was a violation of this rule. Many regulation - some early and some late - are given in the tractate Shabbath in the Mishnah and especially the two Talmuds.
The Pharisees and Scribes were watching Jesus to see whether He would heal on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11). Note the analogy that he used of pulling a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath. Which was worth more, was the, biting rhetorical question, a sheep or a man? Was it lawful to do good on the Sabbath? Of course. And to prove it, he healed the man. By using the analogy that He did he clearly showed that He was not breaking the Sabbath; Jesus was, in fact, upholding the purity and holiness of the Sabbath, doing what was quite consistent with its original purpose. To do good, to relieve another from suffering, was not only not a violation of the Sabbath, it was actually perfectly fulfilling its profound spiritual meaning that God created for man (Mark 2:26).
After Jesus healed a cripple of 38 years, He told him to take up his pallet and walk (John 5:5-9). The man had been sitting on a pallet to protect him from the stone floor. He was not lying on a queen-size four-poster bed or a king-size water bed. Therefore, when he carried his pallet away, as told by Jesus, he was hardly violating the law against bearing a burden on the Sabbath (Jeremiah 17:21, 22, 27). Therefore, the statement, "This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father," can in no way, be taken as even an indirect statement that he broke the Sabbath. Only in the opinion of the onlooking Jews, steeped in their own restrictive regulations, had He violated the Sabbath.
Several other healings are mentioned as taking place on the Sabbath. In several cases Jesus had to defend Himself and used an argument similar to the one already mentioned. Diseases healed included blindness (John 9), a crooked back (Luke 13:10-13), and dropsy (Luke 14:1-6). Once again, the fundamental point being made is a reaffirmation by him of why He had created the Sabbath. what its purpose was, and how it was a great blessing to Man.
Josephus reports that the Essenes were so strict they would not even relieve themselves on the Sabbath (War 2.8.9). (It seems that more effort would have been exerted to wait than to go!) Whether Josephus can be trusted in this is not certain, but it does help illustrate the strictness with which many kept the Sabbath.
Jesus did not violate the principles of the Old Testament Sabbath; He showed the correct spirit in which it should be kept. He was a Sabbath keeper, not a Sabbath breaker. Just as He kept the weekly Sabbath, he also kept the annual feast days. It was quite customary for Him to be in Jerusalem at the time. It was so expected that people waited to see whether He would come when his life was in danger (John 7:11; 11:55-57). The final feast he attended was the Passover, of course. But He came to Jerusalem at the Passover time on at least another occasion (John 2-13). He also spent one Passover in the region of Galilee (John 6:14).
John 4:45 mentions that Jesus had been to Jerusalem at "the feast." John 5:1 also mentions a "feast." In neither passage is the exact festival designated. It was likely that it was the spring or fall festival as these seem to have been the major times for one to go to Jerusalem. John 7 describes the Feast of Tabernacles (especially verse 2). He also observed at least one festival which was unique to the Jews and not given in the Old Testament. This was the Feast of Dedication or, as it is called today, Hanukkah. It was a festival of eight days, ending on Kislev 25 (i.e., sometime in December usually). He may have had other reasons for being in Jerusalem, but it is especially noted that He was in the temple on this festival (John 10: 22-23).
Another passage which has often been misunderstood concerns the disciples not washing their hands (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; Luke 11:34-41). The scribes and Pharisees were astonished at this. Was it because the disciples were unhygienic? No, because the washing is linked to the "traditions of the elders" (Mark 7:3-4). The subject was not cleanliness per se but ritual cleanliness or purity.
As Jesus showed, a person is not "defiled" by anything physical. A person can become ritually unclean; he can even kill himself by eating poison. But this is not defilement in its spiritual meaning. Only those sins committed by "coming out" of an individual truly defile him. What if he eats a bit of dirt? What if he even eats something unclean according to Old Testament law? It is not good for him but he is still not spiritually defiled.
Jesus was not opposing the Old Testament laws of purity. He was opposing the "traditions of the elders" because they were so much nonsense, holding up to ridicule the original instructions of God to Israel. Yet most of all, he was showing that the real concern of the individual should be for spiritual and moral issues. Ritual purity without these was nothing. These without ritual purity could make one righteous before God even if not "perfect."
There is no hint that Jesus Himself violated any of the Old Testament laws of purity. We can be sure that He kept them in every detail. The only fault found with Him was that of not observing the "traditions of the elders!' But as He showed, these became an excuse to overturn the very heart of Old Testament laws, such as honor and respect of parents.
As already mentioned, Jesus did not in any way dishonor the temple. On the contrary, He upheld the proper respect for it. Among the regulations relating to the temple were the laws of tithing. The well-known passage in Matthew 23:23 shows that He commanded tithing - even in a rather unnecessarily minute fashion - so long as the weightier matters of the law were not overlooked.
Early in the morning a few days later, He was again in the temple teaching a group of people when the Scribes and Pharisees heard about it. They were right in the process of questioning a woman who had been caught while in the very act of adultery. Why they couldn't catch the man is obscure. At any rate, the poor woman, knew she was as good as dead. They thoroughly intended to stone her to death that very same day. However, a new thought arose. Here, it seemed, was a marvelous opportunity to take the woman directly to Jesus, and see if He would defy the prescribed penalty according to the law of Moses. If He did, they thought they might be able to have legal excuse for stoning Him to death right along with the woman. If they could make Him even appear to be an accomplice to adultery, a person who would condone the deed, it would degrade Jesus and be better for them.
Dragging the woman along with them, they finally came to the temple, and pushed their way forward until they brought the woman directly before Jesus. Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, during the very act. There is no question about it, there are sufficient witnesses, and she is guilty. "Now, Moses in the law strictly commands us that such a person should be stoned to death, but what do you say about it?"
The temple's floor was dusty in this large court from go many feet moving about in a public place, but the stones were highly polished and very smooth. Without a word, but with tension sparking the electrified air, Jesus stooped down, and appeared to begin writing characters on the dust of the stones with, his finger. He kept writing for a few moments, with head down, arm and hand moving rapidly over the stones of the floor. Then he stood up, took a couple of steps back, and looked at them and said, "Whoever among you has never committed any sin whatsoever, be sure you are the one to throw the first rock at this woman, will you?"
After saying this, He looked at them meaningfully, stooped on the ground, and began to write again where He had left off. They rigorously adhered to their "pecking order" of religious rank, and one by one, beginning with the eldest, filed up near to Jesus to look over His shoulders on the ground. What they saw is obvious from the account. How many of them were adulterers? How many were thieves? How many were liars, cheats and hypocrites? How many were "abusers of themselves with mankind"? There is no way of knowing. However, what he wrote was so sufficiently shameful. and so obviously dealt with their own personal, private sins, that their glass houses came suddenly shattering apart. Each, in his turn, walked by his shoulders and read very clearly what his own finger had written on the dusty, polished marble floor. Was it a series of names? Were their names attached to two or three words which convicted each, in his own turn?
We can only speculate, but the account in John's eighth chapter is clear. Each was convicted by his own conscience. And each very quietly and embarrassedly shuffled right on by Jesus, head to the ground, looking neither left nor right, until he could find his way out of the group and outside of the temple.
The woman still stood by. Jesus arose, looked around, and saw the woman standing there with the group of people he had been teaching, including some of His disciples. He said, "Woman where are all your accusers ? Is no one going to stay around to condemn you?" The woman said, "There is no one here." However, the woman probably feared that he, who so obviously seemed to be in authority on the occasion, could have had the power to condemn her. Her shame, torment, sorrow and fear shone clearly out of her eyes. He said, "Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more!" He was not condoning sin; he was offering forgiveness for sin, and the opportunity to repent and "sin no more."
Time and again Jesus ripped away this facade and let the people and His disciples see the futility in believing God is appeased by repetitive mouthings and posturings. But giving, serving, sharing, forgiving, healing, helping - that's what he said God's true religion is all about. He fully supported the Sabbath and Holy Days of the Old Testament. He had created them as God. He observed them Himself as a man; and He taught His disciples to teach their disciples that all men should keep these God ordained laws.
Judas and the Devil
Satan was totally obsessed with the destruction of Jesus. First, he had influenced Herod in an attempt to kill him shortly after His birth. Satan had no doubt also desperately tried to destroy him on many other unrecorded occasions during His young babyhood, and growing years. Satan again tried to destroy him following His 40-day fast and near-starvation at the beginning of His ministry. On several other occasions throughout His ministry, by influencing the minds of religious leaders and others either directly or through his demonic kingdom, the devil tried to have Christ murdered by the hands of His critics and detractors.
Satan finally managed to accomplish his purpose - and he found his opening, a weak link, right in the immediate personal entourage of Christ - Judas Iscariot. So Satan continually influenced Judas, and was able to take complete possession of his mind at the betrayal, thus finally bringing about Christ's death.
How utterly frustrating it must have been for Satan to eventually realize that in accomplishing his own malevolent objective, he had only facilitated the magnificent plan of God. Satan had always done only what God had allowed, and on each of these abortive occasions, his best efforts to destroy Jesus only resulted in the further fulfillment of God's master plan. Even Satan's alleged master maneuver, his final "success" in destroying the physical life that was Christ - the Son of Joseph and Mary, human being, planet Earth - who was also the Son of God, only succeeded in bringing about that final stroke of absolute divine genius: presenting to the world the resurrected, living Savior who would now ascend to the right hand of God in heaven to make daily intercession for those of His brethren who would acknowledge Him.
Almost instantly, Satan tried to destroy the fledgling New Testament Church of God - and has been attacking, maligning, criticizing, ridiculing, persecuting, and attempting to destroy it down through the ages ever since by every means at his disposal: organized religion, civil government, police states, pogroms, martyrdoms and persecutions of every sort. But Satan's most diabolically effective weapons have continued to be the same old reliable ones he has always used since the days of Judas - destroy from within, cause dissension and doubt, stir one against the other, destroy the credibility of the leadership, accuse the brethren, divide and conquer.
Jesus "knew who it was who should betray Him" from the very beginning! God's Holy Spirit had revealed to Him the deep character flaw in Judas, and in His dozens of hours of intensive prayer in close personal communication with His Father in heaven, he understood thoroughly that there would be one of His own immediate disciples who would eventually fulfill the prophecies. Judas' covetousness for money, his betrayal of Jesus, the thirty pieces of silver, and Judas' burial in the potters field were all known to him well in advance.
Don't assume for one moment that Judas was unpopular with the disciples; that he was a known "outcast" from the very beginning. It is very much more likely that Judas was a pleasant enough personality, and that he would have drawn close to any number of the disciples. For slightly more than a three-and-one-half-year period, from the time of his first eager acceptance of Jesus' call, and his determination to remain a loyal member of Christ's own closest disciples, Judas, as any other human being, would have drawn closer to a particular group of the twelve.
There is no doubt that Judas' weakness for money was a gradual problem which finally developed into an overt act of thievery now and then which he had kept secret and quiet. When did he begin? There is no way to know - perhaps clear back in Judas' childhood when he began to get away with petty stealing around his own environment. Knowing the stiff penalties for theft during that time, Judas was a person who was running a great risk, and, therefore, became the more clever.
Judas no doubt formed a few fairly close attachments among the disciples. These are never mentioned after the original group of twelve was identified. But surely Judas was included when Jesus sent His disciples out on a brief evangelistic tour to give them experience in teaching others what Jesus had taught them, in learning the lessons of suffering, rejection and persecution in this or that town, and in having the courage to simply shake off the dust of their feet and go on to the next place.
Judas preached just as fervently as the rest of them, and who knows, may have been used in performing miracles. But perhaps this is the way his road to infamy commenced: The first time Judas managed to find a bargain for some foodstuffs and lie about the price, pocketing the difference, he probably felt terribly guilty.
Certainly, Jesus would know about anything like this from the very beginning, for He could literally read human minds and hearts by the power of God's Spirit. He could see right through the agony of conscience Judas was suffering. The more deeply Judas became involved, the more the normal psychological reaction of anger toward Christ developed. Judas had utter contempt toward himself, and was tremendously jealous of his purity. These resentments smoldered and became twisted into the deepest sensitivity concerning his own "honesty" and "integrity" and into the deepest hostility concerning Jesus' "hypocrisy" and "egomania."
Judas could have been as magnetic and charming a personality as any of the twelve, and perhaps was a little more so than most. As the months passed, and Judas continued to live the double life of petty pilferage whenever his lusts and appetites got the better of him, his growing irritation with Jesus' expenditures, personal tastes in clothing and foodstuffs, and most especially Christ's seeming inattention to the poor "suffering people" continued to wear on Judas's nerves.
Did Judas influence any of the other disciples in these attitudes? Probably so. It would be ridiculous to think that he held these opinions totally secret inside himself. There must have been times when groups of three or four in intense personal interrelationships would talk about the others who were not present, as often occurs in any other collection of carnal (or converted!) human beings.
There were minor personality clashes and arguments from time to time, and these were usually silenced by Jesus Himself, who would rebuke the disciples for their hurtful attitudes toward one another. On occasion the disciples' own families became involved in the petty bickering. At such times, there was ample opportunity for a spate of self-pity; the description of how much they had "suffered" and how long they had endured; the hardships they had undergone, and the fact that he didn't seem to be paying them enough attention.
Though the disciples were probably well along in their twenties or even older, on at least one occasion one of their mothers could approach Jesus and beseech Him to bring an end to the agony of doubt and curiosity, and name who would be His chief lieutenants right away (see Matthew 20:21-28)!
Jesus has to give the striking example concerning the giving up of family ties, homes, and human roots to settle an argument about the leadership in the kingdom, to reassure His disciples and their parents in the strongest terms that anyone who had given up homes, families, lands positions, business, personal wealth or even loss of everything down to martyrdom would "inherit an hundredfold" in the kingdom.
Jesus wanted to get across the lesson that, when one became truly converted, even though his own personal family and friends might turn against him, he immediately became the "adopted son" of every other member of the body of Christ (which was to become the church) and in that sense, he immediately inherited hundreds upon hundreds of "fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters" in Christ; in the ultimate sense, of course, the actual kinship in the Family of God after the Resurrection would yield an infinite increase.
Gradually, though, Judas become Jesus' chief critic. He knew it, even though on a day-to-day basis in their "love-hate" relationship (Jesus doing all the loving, and Judas doing all the hating), there were pleasant enough exchanges and greetings. Not only did he know Judas was stealing, but Judas also began to suspect that he knew it, and this further exacerbated his anxieties. It even brought forth from him open criticism in public meetings near the end of Christ's ministry.
Mary of Bethhany understood even more vividly than some of Christ's own personal disciples that Jesus literally meant what He said about His impending persecution, crucifixion and burial. Thus, Mary privately began buying a very expensive ointment she was going to keep until the time of His death so she could insure that she had the finest funeral possible. Mary had heard the tale of the town prostitute who had wiped his feet with her hair, splashing her own tears on His feet, and totally humiliating herself in abject worship because of the weight of her sins and her deepest desire for Christ's forgiveness.
During a large public dinner in Simon the Leper's house in Bethany, very near to Christ's last twenty-four hours on earth as a man, Mary was overcome with emotion and grief as a result of the heaviness she saw in Jesus' face and in His demeanor. She then knelt at His feet, and producing a box of very expensive spikenard, began to anoint His feet with it, crying, and using the hair of her own head to wipe them.
Judas probably looked around at the two or three of the disciples he had influenced the most heavily, and, nudging one with his elbow, said, "Look at that! There is another example of terrible extravagance! Why in the world doesn't Jesus tell the woman to get up and save that expensive ointment; it could be sold for a great deal of money, and we could give it to the poor [Mark 14:4-51. That would make a far greater impression upon people of the kind of person he seems to want to be than to allow Mary to waste all of that expensive ointment on Jesus at a time like this when we are in such financial trouble."
But Judas was, of course, the first to raise his voice about the alleged outrageous waste. John later recalled, and wrote, that Judas said, "Why wasn't this ointment sold for 300 pence and given to the poor?" But John added, "He said this, not because he really cared for the poor, but because he happened to be a thief, and, having control of the common treasury, was constantly skimming from it" (John 12:6, paraphrased). Jesus then made another of His "outrageous" statements, neither understood then even by many of His own disciples, nor understood by many who believe in the false Jesus of today: What are you bothering this woman for? She has performed a fine thing for me - because there will always be poor people in every society and you will always have poor folk with you; and, hopefully, whenever you find opportunity, you should do good to them. But you will not always have me with you! And she understands what you don't seem to understand; and is anointing the hair of my head and my body in advance for my burying!
Christ said to Judas: "And I'll tell you something else; wherever the gospel is preached throughout the whole world, then what this woman is doing for me here tonight will be spoken of her as a memorial." Judas became terribly angry at this stinging public rebuke. His ego had been badly stung and his guilt, rising up like bile in his mouth, became so intense he simply had to choke it down. The only method to quiet his own guilt was to pretend Jesus could not have known about it, and to rise up in righteous indignation against him, hardening his resolve to "get him" if the opportunity would ever present itself.
Judas didn't like the real Jesus very much. He would have far preferred to have seen a him much closer to the type imagined in the minds of many professing Christians today! When he would refuse to heal someone, not even bothering to answer them at first, and only healed on those occasions where outstanding examples of perseverance or faith were shown, it annoyed Judas! He would do it differently!
Probably, Judas came to the point where he honestly felt that he had influenced enough of the disciples so that more than a majority would follow him if he could overthrow Jesus. Actually, Judas' attempts to overthrow him seem to have begun well over a year prior to his crucifixion, when he seized every opportunity he could to heavily influence as many disciples as possible, so that they would warm up toward him, listen to what he said, agree with his contentions, and join with him in his continual abrasive attitudes toward Christ's ' "life-style," the decisions He made and the conduct of their day-to-day business.
Finally, when Judas knew that Jesus had really enraged the top leadership in Jerusalem, the time suddenly seemed to be right. He had toyed with the idea of betraying him on many occasions prior to this time, but the pieces never fit together. Then, almost instantaneously, the proper chemical ingredients generated the sudden reaction - the time had finally arrived - when Judas thought the time was ripe.
Judas' years' long campaign to disaffect as many of Jesus' top disciples as he could had come increasingly into the open in recent months. Now, a sufficient number of the disciples seemed to agree with Judas, and disagree with his statement about the poor. His hatred became so intense - exactly proportionate to the degree of his deepest sense of personal guilt - that his mind was opened up to Satan the Devil.
As soon as he found opportunity, Perhaps early the next morning, Judas, now literally possessed of Satan the Devil, sought out the leading Sadducees of the temple, and struck a deal with them. The main element of his agreement was that he acceded to their demands that he deliver Jesus. at a time when no large crowds were present, because the Sadducees knew that most of the people looked upon him as a prophet, and told Judas of the many times they themselves had tried to have Him arrested, only to be thwarted because He always seemed to be surrounded by such a large group of believing people.
Judas craftily asked. "Okay, how much are you willing to pay me?" Perhaps one of the priests vaguely remembering Zechariah's 11th chapter and 12th verse which said, "If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver." And, either as a lark, or even believing some twisted application of this scripture might in fact apply in the "cutting asunder of a "foolish shepherd," suggested precisely that amount: thirty pieces of silver. This was a substantial sum, easily comparable to thousands dollars in today's economy, and Judas agreed without haggling.
Rejoining the group in Bethany, Judas was tingling with excitement, constantly scheming and thinking ahead, trying to think of a time when Jesus would be most vulnerable, away from at least most of the people, and perhaps even isolated from a few of His closest disciples, so he could inform on Him with as little risk to himself as possible. Also, he fervently hoped that his campaign of feigned love toward him had succeeded; so that, even in the event of the arrest itself, he could pose as being so deeply concerned over his alleged "illegal ways" that he could preside over the whole sordid scene with a supercilious righteousness, shaking his head sadly, grimacing as if in pain, yet glancing significantly at those few disciples over whom he had almost complete control, so that immediately upon his disappearance and either terrible castigation and/or even death, Judas himself could pickup the pieces of the organization and carry on. In Judas's twisted mind, perhaps he even imagined that he was doing this "for his own good." He would show Him.
In Judas' own mind, he felt Christ's arrest by the civil authority would be the greatest event that could have occurred in these three-and-one-half years, releasing his own full potential for leadership. He, Judas, would then set about doing what Christ seemed to always be so reluctant to accomplish: the setting up of the kingdom right here and now, by the secret recruitment of an army, the quick overthrow of the Roman forces occupying the country, in complete cooperation with the puppet king, and most especially of the religious and commercial leaders. Judas felt totally vindicated! In his own mind, he had so twisted his reasoning around that he actually saw Jesus as the one who was the extravagant thief, the one who was abusive and abrasive, the one with whom almost no one could get along, the one whom no one could please.
Judas so misinterpreted Jesus' motives that he came to believe he would be doing the world a favor if he could got rid of him. All Israel would surely pay Judas great homage for ridding the country of this egomaniac who was about to cause great slaughter by inciting the Roman occupation army to counter the threats of insurrection. Of course Judas did have an immediate second thought: he desperately wanted to take over the leadership of the twelve disciples for himself; and with Christ out of the way there was nothing to stop him. He had the money, the personality and, soon, the public recognition and the support of the religious leadership as well. Perverted and ferociously misguided ambition had blinded Judas totally.
Thus, his combination of vanity, ego, guilt and deep personal shame over his deceiving ways, the most vituperative resentment against any who would dare question his "highest moral integrity" and his megalomaniacal vision of his own importance, led Judas straight down the road into total Satanic possession and his own quick, self-imposed destruction.
When Judas finally came to his senses, when the devil had accomplished his task and left him, he was filled with a sickeningly intense self-revulsion. And in a mindless state of ever increasing self-hatred, Judas first tried to give the money back. Failing this, he, simply cast it down in the temple where he thought he could at least partially return the money to its rightful owners. He then went out and hanged himself.
The ignominy of Judas' death was compounded when his swinging body, bloated and decaying, "burst asunder and all his bowels gushed out" in the very field bought by the religious leaders with Judas' own thirty pieces of silver.
What does the future hold for Judas? Did he commit the unpardonable sin? Is he heading for the Lake of Fire? Is he lost for all eternity? Matthew reports that Judas "repented himself" (Matthew 27:3) right after Jesus was condemned and right before he committed suicide. What does "repented himself" mean? Was it only the carnal remorsefulness of masochistic self-pity following public failure and ego self-destruction? Only the God that created the heavens and the earth and all mankind will judge Judas Iscariot - the same fair and faithful and forgiving God who will ultimately judge us all.