[Here is the answer to another problem which "KJV only"-ers cannot understand from that archaic and under-interpreted version.]
I hear and read a lot today on the meaning of Matthew 11:12
and "taking the kingdom by force
." Just exactly what does this passage mean? Is it true that we as believers are to take the kingdom by force? I am hearing pastors and others teaching that we are to take control of the local, state, and federal governments and through our efforts make this world the kind of place that Christ would have it to be so that He would then see fit to come back and reign over it with us.
Unfortunately, I have heard similar statements expressed by some of the best known of the Bible teachers and preachers throughout the country today.
Again, unfortunately, every statement is incorrect and based upon complete misunderstanding of Jesus' words in Matthew 11.
In this passage, you will recall Jesus' question about John the Baptist
. Who was he? The conclusion was that he was the one who was to come in the spirit and ministry of Elijah (Malachi 3:1; 4:5, 6) to prepare the way for the coming of YHWH, our God (Isaiah 40:3). Then the statement was made that among those born of woman, there was not a one greater than John the Baptist;
yet he who is least in the kingdom is greater than he.
For Jesus, "kingdom
" were those who were a part of His movement, those who would have a unique commission
and would be imbued with special power from on high to undertake that commission. In this context, John's commission was different from those who would be a part of Jesus' movement. John's commission was simply to prepare the way for the coming of YHWH, our God. When that was finished, John's commission was over.
Those who were a part of Jesus' movement would be given the keys to kingdom power that would allow them to trample down the very strongholds of Satan himself (Matthew 16:16ff). Those who were to be a part of His movement were to indeed go out and conquer the world.
But how was this to be done? By invading politics, taking over the government, establishing earthly kingdoms? Certainly not.
The key to the understanding of this passage is to be found in an ancient Jewish commentary (midrash
) on Micah 2:12, 13
. I never cease to be amazed that this information has been available for centuries, and yet pastors and/or teachers have not taken the time or effort to search out the answers to these questions but have come up with a contrived and distorted interpretation that leads not just to misunderstanding but to gross error.
In a commentary on the prophecy of Micah written by Edward Pocock, Canon of Christ Church and Regis Professor of Hebrew Tongue in the University of Oxford, published in 1677, Dr. Pocock relates this ancient rabbinic midrash in his commentary of Micah 11 and 12. The following is a quote from the 1677 edition of Dr. Pocock's commentary on Micah:
"To him that was promised to be as such and was exhibited as such, and hath made good in himself what was promised, well may the title of haporets
, in this, or indeed in both senses, agree. But if any think that by haporets
, the breaker
, and malcam
, the king, should be meant two distinct persons, let him hear what the ancient Jews, as cited by the modern, say for exposition of this place.
, the breaker, that is Elijah and Malcam
, their king, that is the branch, the son of David, and then observe what our Savior himself hath taught us, that John the Baptist was that Elijah which was to come (Matthew 11:14 and Matthew 17:12, 13) and what the angel sayeth of him (Luke 1:16, 17) that many of the children of Israel he should turn unto the Lord their God, and that he should go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, without fear and with courage, as he, rebuking sin and removing it out of the way to turn the hearts of fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord: and how the prophecy of Isaiah is applied to him preaching repentance, viz., that he was, as he sayeth also of himself (John 1:23), the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth (Luke 3:4, 5),
and what our Savior sayeth, this is he, of whom it is said, Behold I send my messenger before thy face which shall prepare thy way before thee; and that from the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven suffered violence
, and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11:10, 12), men breaking, as it were, and passing through the gate, by his preaching repentance laid open, that they might go in and out: and it will be easy to apply to him this title of the breaker: and so shall we have in the words, a most illustrious prophecy of Christ, and his forerunner, John the Baptist, which there will be no reason to let go, seeing the Jews themselves so readily yield it to us."
(A Commentary on the Prophecy of Micah
, Oxford, 1677, Chapter 2, vs. 11, 12).
These verses are full of a beautiful imagery. The shepherd
brings his sheep into the sheepfold
for the night. In the Middle East, the sheepfold is usually a stone fence varying greatly in size. As the shepherd brings the sheep into the fold, he piles rocks up behind him and seals any breach or opening in the stone fence. In the morning, the shepherd goes to the fence and pushes the rocks out of the way, making a hole or a breach in the fence. Then the shepherd, the breach-maker or the breaker, leads his sheep out into the green pasture.
From this rabbinic midrash on Micah 2:13, we can see that the Jews believed the breaker to be Elijah and the king as the Messiah, or the son of David. Jesus, undoubtedly acquainted with this rabbinic midrash, is alluding in Matthew 11:12 back to Micah 2:13 and says in
essence, from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom has been breaking forth.
John, the poretz
—the breaker—has opened the way and now I, the Messiah, am leading my sheep out into the pasture, into freedom from the narrow confinement of the fold to feed and be nourished on the green grass, to know freedom and to know victory.
It is a beautiful picture and has, as you see, nothing whatever to do with violence. Now we can understand why Jesus said that the least in the kingdom is greater than John the Baptist. Why? Because John the Baptist's commission, as previously mentioned, was simply to prepare the way. Those who were a part of Jesus' kingdom were to go out and conquer. But, again, how?
To those who were a part of His movement, Jesus said, Behold, I give you power and authority
over all the power and authority that the enemy possesses and nothing shall in any way harm you (Luke 10:10). To those who were a part of His movement, He said to go and take the authority over the devil, cure diseases, preach the Kingdom of God
, heal the sick (Luke 9:1, 2) and say unto them, the kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 10:9); i.e., you have come in contact with the power of God as it has penetrated into this world's sphere from heaven and touched you and made you whole.
Yes, the followers of Jesus were commanded to go and to conquer the world, but how were they to conquer? Through violence? Through politics? No. By taking authority
over the devil, and driving him out from before them, by healing the sick and ministering to the needs of people at the basic level of their human needs.
Whenever the followers of Jesus begin to do that in the world today, maybe the Church will begin to make a difference and have a lasting impact on the lives of men.
YD, 3-3, 1989
What is the correct Hebrew rendering of the Scriptures in Isaiah 45:7 and 54:16? Does God really create evil
Isaiah 45:7 reads, "I form (or fashion) light and create darkness. I make peace and create bad (or evil). I am YHWH that does all these things." Isaiah 54:16 reads, "Behold, I have created the artisan that blows on the coals of fire and brings out an implement (weapon) of his work. I have created the destroyer to bring ruin (or waste)." In Isaiah 54:15, the destroyer is probably synonymous
with the angel of death.
Two things are necessary to understand these passages. One is that the devil
is a created being. He is subject to God, and he has no alternative but to carry out His will. That is the reason God can send an evil spirit to come upon Saul or cause Pharaoh's heart to be hardened. In Hebrew, this is the causative verbal construction and, although it has frequently been referred to by some as the permissive tense, i.e., God allows, there is no such verbal form as the permissive in Hebrew. God did it. The second thing we need to remember, and perhaps this is more difficult, is that God is God and, being God, He can do whatever He wants to do, however he wants to do it, whenever He wants to do it. If not, He would not be omnipotent.
However, we must realize that God, by his very nature, is good and not evil. Therefore, what might seem to us as evil is, in many instances, circumstances that are simply the result of certain natural laws which He created and put into effect. Nowhere are we promised only good. Remember the words of the song, "I didn't promise you a rose garden." Nowhere does God promise us that everything in our life is going to be good—only that "All things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose." And, although to us these circumstances might not seem to be good, nonetheless, given the nature of God, we must remember that all things work together for good to those that love God.
YD, 3-6, 1989
And in the same vein:
Could you tell me the true meaning of Romans 8:28? People use it to explain all kinds of terrible things that happen to them. Also, they always say God is in control of everything. So why war, abortion, murder, suicide, if God is in control? We have free will, and He will not impose His will over ours—right?
Why do we think that God is always in control? Because we have the preconceived notion that either God does certain things, or the devil does certain things. But we fail to take into consideration that the most probable answer is that, in many instances, certain natural laws were in effect, or we violated certain fundamental laws and brought things on ourselves. It was not the devil, nor was it God; it was we who brought it upon ourselves.
It is unfortunate that "we have so many clinkers in our thinkers" about God. Not all good comes from God, and not all bad comes from the devil. Because of our own free will, our own talents, our own initiative, bad people can accumulate and have good things, and good people conversely can have bad things happen to them, or achieve less in life.
Does this mean that God is not in control? No, God has always been in control of His world, but He does not control us. There is a big difference.
If God were not in control of His universe, His world, chaos would reign. But if He controlled us, we would be automatons and not creatures of free will, created in His image. And that free will even gives us the liberty to do wrong, to fail, to make the wrong choices.
There is so much that we could say on this subject that there is almost no place to stop. If you do not have the tape series, The Nature of God and the Nature of man
, I would like to recommend it to you. I believe it would answer any further questions my response might have raised.
YD, 3-6, 1989
And still more…
This question is in parts related to the same subject—Satan
, i.e., the "devil
I have read from several sources concerning the only "Old" Testament reference in which the word Lucifer was used. It was (I think) in Isaiah, where the text states that the writer saw Lucifer's fall from his heavenly abode, into rejection onto the earth. Did Jerome, the translator, incorrectly translate the "Bight Morning Star" into the word Lucifer, because the morning star of his day was called Lucifer? And
if so, is it correct to assume that there was NEVER a "good angel called Lucifer" that BECAME a "bad angel called the devil?" And
, if the word satan is a transliteration of the Hebrew word satan
), which simply means "the adversary," then it is not a proper name
of a person. I have also heard that the idea of the personal entity that we understand to be the "devil" originated during the intertestamental period, and is more influenced from a Persian or Iranian mentality.
Boy, what a question(s,s,s)! However, it is one that is most interesting. In answering your question, let's start at the beginning. In its earliest form, the force of evil is represented as a created being, created by God, subject to God, to minister around the throne of God. He rebelled and was cast out from the presence of God but is still subject to God and has no authority other than to stand before God and accuse the brethren. That is the reason one of the terms by which he is called is ha satan
, the accuser. In the biblical text, he is not seen as an equal to God, nor ever as the god of this world—only as an evil messenger whose intent and purpose is to seduce or deceive the child of God.
The history of the origin of a being called Lucifer is interesting. The word Lucifer comes from the Latin verb, luceo, lucere, luxi
, which means to shine, to glow, glitter, to be clear. It is light, day dawning. The adjective, lucidus-a-um
, means shining, bright, clear, lucid. The noun, lucifer-eri
, means the morning star, the planet Venus, or a day. It comes from the adjective lucifer-era-erum
However, the Latin is almost a direct transliteration from the Greek luke
[LOO-kay], morning twilight, or lukophos
, twilight. The noun, lukeios
, was an eponym of Apollo, the god of light, and also an eponym of Pan, the Greek god, originally the god of flocks and pastures, the patron of shepherds, hunters, fishermen, etc. He was supposed to wander through the forests attended by nymphs playing upon the syrinx, or Pan pipes, declared to be his invention. He was represented as having the legs, the ears, and the horns of a goat. (Note the similarity between Pan and the present-day depiction of the devil.) He had the ability to inspire men with sudden terror, therefore our expression, panic, or fear. He was associated with a number of panisci
, male and female forest imps, his wives and children who sent evil dreams and apparitions to terrify mankind. He was, at times, identified with the ram-headed Egyptian god, Chnum
, the creator of the world and, therefore, conceived as the universal god, To Pan
Pan has furnished us with our modern-day attributes and ordinary conceptions of the devil, due in large part to the identification of Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12 with Satan by Tertullian, Origen, and others. By the time of Jerome, in the fifth century, this misconception was wide-spread, and in English was fostered in recent times by the poetry of Milton and others.
It is all the more interesting that Jerome, in the Latin Vulgate, would have used the word Lucifer from the Greek, lukophos
, when the word in the Greek Septuagint text is heoos
, in or of the morning, and phoros
, which means that which is borne, or bearing. Heosphoros
is used in the Septuagint, the LXX, for the Hebrew, helel ben shachar. Helel
in Hebrew means shine, or shining one. As a masculine noun in Isaiah 14:12, it was an epithet of the king of Babylon. In Semitic legend, it is used as an eponym of Venus, the morning star. Stars were regarded throughout antiquity as living celestial beings. Cities and kings were considered to have and own guardian angels, e.g., Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had a guardian angel who bore the name of Kal
(Ex. R. 21:5). It would appear that the prophet, in attributing to the king of Babylon boastful pride followed by a fall, borrowed from a popular legend connected with the morning star.
An interesting question. Why did Jerome use the word Lucifer parallel to the Greek lukophos
instead of the LXX heosphoros
, both words meaning morning star, i.e., Venus? The answer is, by the fourth and fifth centuries when Jerome wrote, lukophos
, an eponym for Apollo and Pan who represented attributes attributed to Satan, or the devil, was in popular usage in Jerome's day and had superseded the older LXX heosphoros
. This title is addressed to the king of Babylon not so much as a specific individual, like Belshazzar, but as a representative or embodiment of Satan who is regarded as the patron, i.e., the guardian or protector, behind the king's throne.
The ignominious downfall of the king of Babylon, whose corpse lies unburied and dishonored, is a powerful image of all of those who are cast down because of their pride. In this sense, it would reflect upon ha Satan
who, because of his boastful pride, was cast out from the presence of God.
YD, 4-1, 1990
Were the three "wise men
" who followed the "star" to Jesus' birthplace the equivalent ot today's astrologers
? And if they were, then why were they treated with such reverence in the Scriptures since God is opposed to fortunetellers?
If you look in the Greek text, you will note that the word for wise man in Greek is magi
, from the Greek magos
. In most commentaries on the subject, the commentator will equate the wise men
with Persian astrologers or stargazers, based on the meaning of the Greek magos
In rabbinic literature, magos
is used in the sense of a Persian priest of the Zoroastrian religion.
One passage in Sanhedrin 39a
reads, "A magi
) once said to Amemar: From the middle of thy body upward thou belongst to Ormuzd; from the middle downward to Ahriman." Ormuzd was the principle of light, life, and good in the Zoroastrian system, consistently at war with Ahriman, the Principle of evil. Warfare must be waged between the two, Ormuzd and Ahriman, for 1000 years, at the end of which Ahriman will be defeated by Ormuzd. The upper part of the body, which contains the head and the heart, what is good in man, belongs to Ormuzd, and the lower part of the body, the seat of the sexual and excretory organs, to Ahriman.
Although it is a little off the subject, one can see where the idea of the war between good and evil that appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls originated, as well as the later idea of the inherent evil in the reproductive organs in later Christian thought.
In Jewish law, it was forbidden for Jews to have anything to do with such persons, and Shabbat 75a
states, "He who learns from a magi
is worthy of death."
In addition to this, we might ask the question, "What would Persian astrologers and adherents of Zoroastrianism be doing traveling over six hundred miles of burning desert sand to come and pay homage to a Jewish king without a kingdom?"
However, if we will remember that this story is Hebrew, and not Greek, we will go behind the Greek translation to the original Hebrew word for wise man. In Hebrew, the word wise is chacham
, the plural chachamim
in Hebrew referred to skillful artisans, administrators, those wise of mind, ethically and religiously a class of learned and shrewd men, including astrologers, magicians, as those of Egypt, Babylon, and Persia, and is frequently used in such a manner, i.e., Genesis 41:8; Isaiah 44:5; and Esther 1:113.
is also used for a wise teacher, or a sage. In Hebrew, the chachamim
, or wise men, had their schools with pupils and meted out discipline and taught principles for living. These were the sages of the Jews.
In 581 B.C., the Jews were carried captive into Babylon where, although a few returned in 536 B.C., the majority remained until well into the Middle Ages. Babylon in the first century was the seat of Jewish learning. Apparently the Apostle Peter visited Babylon, as recorded in I Peter 5:13, as Babylon is not used figuratively for Rome until much later historically.
Taking everything into consideration, it is my own personal opinion that these were not Persian astrologers but Jewish sages who for centuries had been anticipating the coming of Messiah which, according to Numbers 24:17, was to be indicated by the appearance of a star.
YD, 4-3, 1990
I heard Dominion Theology
back in the 1960s and am beginning to hear it again. What heretic in Early Church times taught this nonsense? Was it Marcion
Marcion's theology could not be likened, in the strictest sense, to the Dominion
Theology of today, although they would share an idea or two in common.
was a Gnostic
and perhaps the most extreme and dangerous of his day. He taught that there were three primal forces, the good or gracious God that Christ made known, evil matter ruled by the devil, and the righteous world maker who is the finite, imperfect, angry Jehovah of the Jews. He was extremely anti-Jewish and taught that the God of the Old Testament is harsh, severe, and unmerciful.
The Law, he taught, commanded you to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, and an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The God of the New Testament commanded you to love your enemy. One, he said, is only just, the other good. He wrested Jesus' words in Matthew 5:17 to read, "I am not come to fulfill the law and the prophets, but to destroy them."
Christianity, he taught, fell abruptly and magically from heaven. Christ was not born but descended suddenly into the city of Capernaum in the 15th year of Tiberius and came to reveal the good God that had sent him. He had no connection with the Messiah of the Old Testament. His body was a mere appearance, his death an illusion.
Marcion was an ascetic in the strictest sense, abstaining from marriage, meat, and wine, and admitted married couples into his movement only after they had taken a vow to abstain from all physical intercourse.
You may find it surprising to learn that the
basic ideas promulgated in Dominion Theology, or the Kingdom Now movement
, were actually proposed by Ignatius Loyola (A.D. 1491-1566), the founder of the Jesuit Order
or, as they were also known, the Society of Jesus
. Loyola demanded the crucifixion of the individual conscience in complete obedience to the authority of the Church. Their motto was "all for the greater glory of God."
This meant to them the extension of God's kingdom upon earth. This kingdom was condensed in the Roman Church and represented by the Pope. All doctrines which deviated from the papal church were heresies. Those persons who deviated were considered emissaries of Satan whose influence had to be destroyed by any means.
To accomplish their goals, they formulated the doctrine of "intentionalism" which meant that "the end justifies the means." The doctrine of "mental reservation" meant that a man was not bound to state the whole truth on an oath. The doctrine of "probabilism" meant the probability of a thing made it good. Personal responsibility to God and to truth was undermined by blind, unconditional obedience to authority. This movement became powerful almost at once.
In 1542, an institution called "The Holy Office" was established as a tribunal to discover and eradicate heresies. Those suspected were brought before this court and six cardinals were appointed as Inquisitors General with full powers of confiscation, imprisonment, banishment, and death. The inquisitional courts led to the Inquisition and nearly eradicated Protestantism.
It may come as something of a shock to learn that it is here you find the true seeds of Reconstructionism and Dominion Theology.
YD, 4-4 1990
Where did Jesus get the concept of "born again
?" Was it from Oral Law, phases of the moon, or entirely a "new" concept? It seems to me that this one idea
causes the "Church" much confusion about what it means to be "saved
Also, if Nicodemus
was a Jew, why is Jesus telling him to be born again?
One more question. What did Jesus really mean when he said, "I am the door and all must come through the door," etc.? Most of the "Church" world thinks the only way
anyone can be "saved" is to come through the "door."
Jesus' statement to Nicodemus in John 3:3ff had nothing whatever to do with the phases of the moon, nor was it an entirely new concept in Jewish thought.
You are absolutely correct in your statement that this one idea causes the Church much confusion. By and large, the Church has never understood Jesus' statement or even the whole subject of salvation
The subject is not only one of interest, but of considerable importance to our understanding of the biblical concept of repentance
, kingdom. As a matter of fact, one could write a whole book on the subject. In attempting a brief answer to a most difficult question, let me begin by saying that Jesus did not say to Nicodemus, "You must be born again." That is more of a commentary than a translation. Jesus said you must be born "from above."
In order to understand Jesus' words to Nicodemus, we must ask ourselves first of all, who was this man? What was his condition before God?
What was it he sought from Jesus? Nicodemus was not just any ordinary individual. He was a Pharisee
, a spiritual leader of Israel, a teacher of the law, and he had sufficient spiritual insight to understand that Jesus was no ordinary man. When he came to Jesus by night, he came inquiring not only as to whom Jesus was, but, in a very real way, to find out how he could personally get in on the action.
In order to understand Jesus' response, we must realize that Jesus considered the Kingdom of God
as existing there and then and centering in and around Him. When Nicodemus asks, essentially, "What must I do…" (to get in on the action), Jesus responds, "If you want to be a part of my movement (i.e., kingdom), you are going to have to have a change of heart."
Nicodemus is not asking about salvation in the sense of what must he do in order to get to go to heaven. The issue is not with the world to come
, as a Pharisee
, a spiritual leader of the Jews, already had his part in the world to come
. The issue is the present. When Nicodemus first comes to Jesus, he is curious; having seen the miracles happening, he is interested in finding out what it takes to get in on some of this action. His question was, "What must I do to be a part of your movement (to get in on the action)?" Jesus responds in a very rabbinic way. "If you want to be a part of my movement, you are going to have to be born from above—there is going to have to be a spiritual rebirth." This idea of a spiritual rebirth is very closely linked in Judaism with the whole concept of teshuvah
, or repentance, repentance in the sense of turning to God, being born anew through a change of heart.
This was a process that was to take place with the religious Jew on a daily basis but centered especially in and around the Day of Atonement, the time for remembrance and repentance leading to forgiveness, of reconciliation of right relationship with God.
In Jesus' day, the Pharisees constituted the largest single body of religious leaders, the ones whose words and deeds basically set the course for the people to follow. In Jesus' day, there was abuse of law, as certain of the Pharisees taught as commandment the traditions of men. In addition, they had contrived all kinds of ways to circumvent their religious responsibilities. Many examples could be given and may other things said about the Pharisees.
We can only assume what kind of Pharisee Nicodemus was. Whatever might have been lacking in his life, he at least had the spiritual insight and wisdom to come to Jesus.
Jesus, in essence, responds, "If you want to be a part of my movement, you are going to have to have a change of heart, be born from above," be born of the water, the ritual immersion bath
, where the Jew believed that, upon immersion, he experienced a form of spiritual death in the laying off, or repentance, of sins, and then on arising from the water, came forth into a new kind of life, i.e., reborn, born anew.
For some in Jesus' day, it was an event that took place on a daily basis. With Nicodemus,
Jesus goes one step further and says to him, "You must not only be born of the water in the mikveh
, or the ritual immersion bath
, but you must be born of the spirit, born anew, have a change of heart, a different sense of direction, if you desire to be a part of my movement."
You see, again, the issue is not with "salvation," or getting to go to heaven
, but with becoming a part of Jesus' movement, i.e., kingdom. Evidently, Nicodemus experienced that change of heart, for we read later on in the Gospels that he was one of the two, along with Joseph of Arimathaea, that came to Pilate to claim the body of Jesus and prepare it for burial.
It is most unfortunate that this whole subject has been so misunderstood by the Church, for the result has been that, instead of seeing the kingdom of God
as a movement for today, a movement directed outward toward our fellow man, Christianity has basically become a movement with its primary focus upward toward God, looking to the future and the day in which we can claim our eternal rewards. The result has been a lack of the sense of responsibility toward our fellow man and the increasing sociological problems confronting our world—hunger, homelessness, the elderly, the unemployed.
It is time the Church, the people of God, all men of good will who love God, to lean once again to the words of Jesus. "If you want to be a part of my movement, you are going to have to have a change of heart, a renewed sense of direction in your life."
I might just add in closing, as this affords me an excellent opportunity to do so, that this is one of the reasons we undertook the project of attempting to re-institute in the consciousness of the people of God the biblical concept of tzedakah
, the idea that man is responsible to his fellow man, that we are our brother's keeper. Maybe there is some way you can assist in re-instituting this idea, or concept, in your own congregation or community.
My questions involve Matthew 25:31-46, and are: Why did these righteous people not recognize that Jesus was represented by the hungry, naked, sick, etc.? Does this mean that people who never hear about Jesus can be serving Him simply by living their lives as Jesus did, out of a pure motive? Also, does this mean that people who never hear the name of Jesus their entire lives can go to heaven
and live with Him?
I am afraid that you are too smart for your own good—you are asking questions to which most people do not want to hear the answer. Frankly, most Christians have so little background in biblical history and thought that the answers to these questions are something to which they cannot relate. We have heard so many sermons preached and seen so many things written about Matthew 25:31ff, the "last judgment," etc., that few really know who these people are in this passage or why they heard from God the words, "Well done."
The answer is complicated and involves some serious study. Let me note here that it is questions such as these that we specifically address in our Level I Pastors/Teachers Training seminar, a seminar which I recommend to you and one you would enjoy attending.
For starters, we might note that of all religious systems, Christianity is the only one so exclusive as to declare that one must espouse a certain credo, or belief system, in order to have their part in the world to come
. Many believe that, if you do not belong to their particular church or group, you will not be "saved."
Biblical faith knows no such exclusivity. The view prevalent in Jesus' day and the one to which we can say most certainly to which He Himself ascribed (or He would have told us differently), was that God had made a covenant with Noah and all of Noah's descendants,
and that the righteous of all nations who lived according to this covenant, or set of laws, would have their part in the world to come. These laws are known until today as the Seven Laws of Noah
. They are traditionally enumerated as: The prohibitions of idolatry, blasphemy, bloodshed, sexual sins, theft, and eating from a living animal, as well as the injunction to establish a legal system (Tosephta, Avodah Zarah 8:4, Sanhedrin 56a
If you will notice, what you have is basically the ten commandments minus the injunction to worship on the Sabbath. The Jews always believed that those who lived according to these seven laws would have their part in the world to come.
Approximately 1400 B.C., God gave the Law, both written and oral, to Moses at Sinai. The Law consisted of 613 commandments and then extensive oral commentary on how to fulfill or avoid as commanded in the Law. This Law, that later became known as the Law of Moses, was considered to be for the Jew, and only the Jew. The non-Jew, who lived according to the Seven Laws of Noah and did not wish to take upon himself the full yoke of the Law, was considered to be a ger toshav
, or resident stranger, and was entitled to full support by the Jewish community.
Judaism, in Jesus' day, was very missionary oriented, yet the orientation was not directed toward conversion of others to Judaism, but rather to spread God's kingdom through the observance of the Seven Laws of Noah
by non-Jews. Those who kept these seven basic laws were considered to have their part in the world to come.
The words "saved
," and "redemption
" are terms so ambiguous in meaning and broad in scope that it is difficult to even translate the concepts conveyed into English. Suffice to say, "saved" is a condition for the now, something that occurred today and will last for all eternity and was not necessarily equivalent to one's having a part in the world to come or getting to go to heaven.
In Matthew 25, we see these righteous Gentiles who have even little or no knowledge of God Himself hearing the "Well done" based upon not what they had done for or with God, but what they had done for and with their fellow man, for those who were children of God. It is this outward reach toward our fellow man, and our responsibility to our fellow man, that has been basically misunderstood by the Church for eighteen hundred years.
YD, 4-5, 1990
This morning, I heard another sermon full of anti-Semitic
description, inaccurate historical recounting, and self-serving conclusions. The really horrible aspect was that all these negative, unnecessary thought processes were given out unconsciously of any wrongdoing. The pastor does not recognize his anti-Semitic position! Why can't sincere, basically honest, professing Christians see or hear the anti-Semitic position in their doctrine? Why are so many religious leaders unconsciously anti-Semitic? And why does this attitude, or spirit, persist in the western Church?
I never cease to be amazed at how anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in Christian circles. One would not be so surprised if it were limited to extreme sects and other groups on the fringe of society, but when it comes from respectable mainline denominations or from Christian television, it is all the more perplexing. How can this be? Where did these ideas get started?
The answer to the question is quite simple and, although it may not be immediately apparent, there is actually a relationship between the question above and your question on anti-Semitism. Most anti-Semitism is rooted in the basic misunderstanding of the Church in regard to the Jew and the perpetuation of five basic errors that have led to Christian anti-Semitism. These five errors are: (1) that the Jews rejected Jesus; (2) that the Jews killed Jesus; (3) that because the Jews rejected and killed Jesus, they were cut off; and (4) were replaced by the Church; and (5) that the Church today is the true Israel.
None of the above is true. Historically, we know that it was, in fact, the Jews that did accept Jesus in the beginning, who despaired momentarily at his crucifixion but who quickly regained their faith and enthusiasm following the resurrection, and we are able to trace the existence of the Jewish Church well into the tenth century. The whole issue is resultant from the Christians' lack of knowledge and poor understanding of history.
A recent column in the Arizona Republic dated August 5, 1990, entitled "Prisons' Ban on Inmates' Beards
Upheld," dealt with the decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which prohibited beards except for "medical reasons." This policy had been challenged by two Jewish prisoners who said their religious beliefs prohibited them from shaving their beards. What sect has beard requirements and why?
In Judaism today, the beard is worn mainly by the more religious of the Conservatives and by all of the Orthodox. Today, the ultra-Orthodox go one step further in wearing the side curls, known as pe-ot
], although the pe-ot
are, in all probability, a later development in Judaism and were unknown in biblical days. The reason for not shaving the beard, or the corner of the beard, is based upon a passage in Leviticus 21:1-5, although this passage refers specifically to the priests, the sons of Aaron.
In Leviticus 19:9, all men are enjoined not to reap the corners of their fields but to leave them for the poor. Verse 27 continues, "You shall not round the corner of your head nor mar the corner of your beard." This injunction was for all Israel. This injunction to leave the corners of the fields for the poor is repeated in Leviticus 23:22.
Among the Orthodox, the idea develops that they should not cut or shave the corners of their hair, i.e., sideburns, to remind them of their responsibility to the poor. But the question arises, why not shave the beard? Remember—according to Leviticus 21:16, no one in whom there was a blemish, including one who had been injured in the testicles (a castrated man) could come near to offer offerings to God on the altar. The emasculated man had no beard. The beard was an outward indication of whether the male was emasculated or not, in addition to being a sign of masculinity and virility.
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