UNDERSTANDING HEBREW CONCEPTS
Roy B. Blizzard, PhD
In Matthew 3:11, John says, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." What does this mean? This is important to us in understanding the whole theme and purpose of Jesus' teaching. What is he trying to accomplish? When we read this verse, most of us think that those two words are synonymous, and that means that Jesus is going to come to baptize folks in the Holy Spirit. And we associate fire with the cloven tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost. Wrong!
In Luke 12:49-50, we read, "I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I if it be already kindled, but I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?" Distressed is a much better translation for straitened, or troubled. What kind of a baptism is it? "Do you suppose that I am come to give peace on the earth? No, but rather division, for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two and two against three; the father against the son, the son against the father, the mother against the daughter, the daughter against the mother, the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
Verse 12: "Whose fan is in his hand and he will thoroughly purge his floor and gather his wheat into the garner, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." You see, verse 11 is not the end of the sentence when he says, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." In other words, the fire that he's talking about here is judgment, and people are going to be judged by how they respond to the words and teachings of Jesus. And a house will be divided because some will heed and some will accept and others will reject. He said peace is not going to be the end result of his coming, but by the very nature of what he will have to say, it's going to set brother against brother, father against son, daughter against mother. People, and this is the bottom line, are going to be judged by the way they respond to the words of Jesus.
If thatís true, then that means that the words he has to say to us must be fairly important, which means we ought to know what he's going to say. And we had better know what it means, if we're going to be judged by how we respond to what he says.
In verse 13, we see Jesus coming from the Galilee to the Jordan River to John to be baptized. But John forbade him saying, "'I have need to be baptized of you, and you come to me?' And Jesus answering said to him, 'Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness.'"
Have you ever been perplexed by what that means? Who is this that is coming to be baptized? Now why is this confusing? Well, for a lot of Christians it's not confusing because they don't know anything about baptism. Depending on the denomination, baptism can be anything from sprinkling a little water on somebody to tunking them completely under. There are those that sprinkle a little bit of water on and thatís baptism, and there are those that tunk completely under and they say thatís baptism. And probably neither one of them knows what it is that they're doing. Most Christians are completely ignorant when it comes to the whole subject of baptism. What was baptism? What was the purpose of baptism, according to Jewish law to this very moment?!
We know exactly what it was. We know how it was done. We know where it was done. Why? Because we've had extant materials since the time of Jesus, written information that tells us about the Jewish ritual and the rite of immersion. We know the size of the ritual immersion baths in which they were immersed. We've found them archeologically. Almost every Jewish community that we've excavated has had a ritual immersion bath, called a mikveh, very close to the synagogue or somewhere in the town's center. And even though we've excavated certain communities where we have not found them, it's probably because the site is so large that we haven't had time to excavate everything yet, but we can expect to find them, because it was necessary for the whole performance of Jewish law and ritual. In Judaism, baptism meant just one thing: baptism was for the forgiveness of sins! It was for spiritual cleansing, for right relationships with God. It wasn't to get into the church. It wasnít to become a member of the church. It wasnít the "outward sign of an inward act" that had already taken place. It was for the forgiveness of sins!
It was by immersion, except, in Judaism nobody ever immersed anybody else. It may come as a real surprise to you to learn that John the Baptist didnít baptize Jesus. That is, he didnít take him and tunk him under. In Hebrew, the name John the Baptist is Yochanan ha-matbil. That last word really should be translated "the one who, by virtue of what he is saying, is causing the people to go under." It's in the causative verbal construction, which means he is causing them to go under. In Judaism, all baptism was self-administered.
The ritual immersion bath had to contain 120 gallons. If it contained 120 gallons minus one spoonful, it wasnít kosher. The person went down into the mikveh, stood with his feet apart, hands out in front of him, fingers spread, usually with his eyes and mouth open, and tunked himself under. There always had to be a witness to ensure that the person was completely under, because if a single hair was out of the water, it wasnít kosher and he had to do it all over.
If we know anything at all about Jesus, we know that he wasnít a sinner. He didnít have any need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins! Not only do we know that, but John knew that. When Jesus came to him for baptism, Jesus said, "permit me, because it behooves us to le'maleh kol ha-tz'dakah." Tz'dakah, translated into English, means righteousness, but it means so much more than that. And because we've never understood the meaning of this word, we've never really understood the whole mission of the church. We've been playing some kind of a little silly game that we call "church," and most of us haven't got even the foggiest idea about what the program is. One reason is that we've never understood the one word which serves as the whole foundation upon which biblical faith is built.
Tz'dakah comes from the Hebrew tzade dalet kuf. Tzedek, the masculine noun means "what is right, just, normal." It means rightness as in government, as in undertaking justice or performing justice. It means what is ethically right. It also means justification, in the sense of a controversy with one's enemy. Remember shortly after his baptism, Jesus was carried by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the enemy. Tz'dakah has to do with justifying the individual as far as his rightness is concerned. It means delivering one from troubles. It means victory. It means redemption. Tz'dakah, righteousness in government of a judge or ruler or king, is equal to mishpat, which means judgment of the law. It has to do with one of God's attributes as sovereign, as the king. It has to do with God's attribute in administering justice and punishment. It has to do with the salvation of God as in Malachi 4:2: "The son of righteousness is going to arise with healing in his wings."
The Hebrew word for wing is kanaph. In Numbers 15:37ff, God said to Moses, "Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make tzitzit (fringes) in the corners of their garments." Except the Hebrew word for corner is kanaph, which doesnít mean a corner; it means a wing. The Hebrew prayer shawl has tzitziyot on the corners, and the corners are called wings. "And they should put with the fringe of each wing a thread of blue." How long were they supposed to do this? Throughout all of their generations.
Now, what am I getting at? Moses goes on and tells the people what God told him, that this fringe was going to be a tzitzit that they may look upon and remember all of the commandments of the Lord to do them, and be holy unto the Lord.
Matt. 9:20 Ė And behold, a woman which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years came behind him and touched the tzitzit of his beged, because she said within herself, im ega b'vigdo, ivasheah.
Ivasheah? What is Jesus' name in Hebrew? Yeshua. Salvation. But what does salvation mean? In English, it doesnít mean anything. We're always talking about getting folks saved. What are we going to do with them? Put them in the bank? What does it mean to be saved? What should be happening when someone is saved? You're going to call his name Yeshua because he's going to yoshia his people from their sins. We'll talk about this later. It's so specific, it says HIS people. And whenever somebody who is not one of HIS people comes, he won't have anything to do with them.
On one occasion, Jesus says the Son of man is come to seek and to save those that are lost. He was just quoting from the Old Testament. Here's something to remember about Jesus: Not only is Jesus a Jew, not only is he a rabbi, not only is he speaking Hebrew, but he's using rabbinic methods in teaching, in which he is always alluding to something that has already been said or written, something already in the biblical test. And almost every time he speaks, you can ask, where did he get that? And if you look and you know enough about the biblical text and Hebrew and Jewish law, you can usually find exactly where he got it. When Jesus said, the Son of man is come to seek and to save those that are lost, he got it from Ezekiel 34.
Ezekiel 34:11-16 has four synonymous parallelisms (v. 16).
These four sentences are all synonymous in Hebrew. They are all parallel. What does it mean to be saved? "I will seek that which was lost." That means he will bring back those that were strayed. It means he will bandage the hurt and crippled. It means he will strengthen the weak and the sick, but he's going to destroy the fat and the strong and the perverse, and he's going to feed them with judgment and punishment.
I will seek that which was lost,
And bring again that which was driven away,
And will bind up that which was broken,
And will strengthen that which was sick.
And the Son of righteousness is going to arise with healing in his wings. The one who delivers, who heals, who exalts his people. Thatís what tz'dakah is. Notice when this little woman hears Jesus speak and recognizes him for who he is, the Son of righteousness, she reaches out and touches the tzitzit of his beged, the wing of his garment. And when she reaches out and touches Jesus, what does she get? She gets saved. She says within herself, if it can just touch the tzitzit of his beged, I'll be yeshua'd. And Jesus turns and looks at her and says, "Bitih." "My daughter." What does that indicate? She was already a part of the family, wasnít she? She was already one of the sheep, except she was lost.
What does lost mean? It doesnít necessarily mean she was separated from God. It
doesnít necessarily mean that she wasnít going to have her place in the world to come. It
meant that she was a sociological outcast in the now. With an issue of blood, nobody could
touch her without becoming unclean. She couldnít come into physical contact with her
children. No one could even sit on the same bench on which she sat. No one could sleep on
the same bed on which she had slept, so naturally she couldnít sleep with her husband. Talk
about lost! You and I donít even understand that. We can't relate to that kind of
condition. She wasnít interested in whether she was going to get to go to heaven or not.
She wanted to be whole in this world, in the now. Jesus turned to her and said, "My
daughter, your faith has yeshua'd you." And it goes on to say, "and the woman
was yeshua'd from that hour." But when she was saved, what did she get?
Donít even think in terms of healing, because thatís even too limited, too narrow. Let's
think in terms of wholeness or completeness. Let's think in term of restoration. That
which was lost was found. That which was strayed had been brought back. That which was
unclean was now clean. That which was only in part was now made whole. What caused that to
happen? Tzedakah. The Son of tz'dakah.
Now you see how important this baptism was for Jesus? This is the reason he says,
permit this, or allow this, because it is absolutely necessary for the purpose of fulfilling
can completing tz'dakah: in order that he might become the Son
of righteousness; that he might be the anointed to save in the fullest sense of the word.
What does the word messiah mean? It means the anointed one. It's
translated into Greek as Christ. We call Jesus Christ and think that that was
his last name. But christos in Greek is just the translation of the Hebrew
When did Jesus become the Christ? After he's fulfilled all
tz'dakah, what does it say? "and Jesus, when he was baptized, went up
straightway out of the water, and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the
Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him, and lo, a voice from heaven
saying, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Now, God can present him to the
world. The Son of tz'dakah who came to seek and to save those that are lost.
Had not Jesus gone through baptism, would he have been the Son of righteousness?
How did this woman know to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus garment? Because it
said, the Son of righteousness would have healing in the wings of his garment!
And when she recognized him as being the Son of righteousness, she knew what would happen
when she reached out and touched him.
Was she the only one? We might say, well, that was just a little silly woman and
she didnít know any better, and that was before we had radios and televisions for you to lay
your hands on to "release your faith." She just reached out and touched that
tzitzit as a point of contact in order to release her faith, because she
didnít know any better.
Let's turn to Matthew 14:35-36. "And as many as touched it were made perfectly
whole!" and that happened because he fulfilled all tz'dakah. He
became the embodiment of tzedakah with the authority to judge, to separate the
wheat from the chaff, to bring deliverance, wholeness, as well as to inflict judgment and
punishment upon his people. The anointed one of God. Had he not gone through baptism, he
would have sinned. It was necessary, absolutely essential, in order that he
might fulfill or complete all tz'dakah. When he did this final act, then God
presented him to the world, and said, "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased. Now, hear
What does it mean to hear, in Hebrew? To obey; pay attention to what is said.
Jesus knew, probably from a very early age, what his mission would be. The question
is not when did he know; it's when did he actually become? Was he born the
anointed one? He was born of a supernatural birth. He had supernatural blood flowing in
his veins. He was born with the capacity to be, but there were certain things he had to do
in order to become. He was also born with the capacity to do evil as well as
good, because the Bible says he was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. If he
had not had the capacity to sin, he would not have been as we are.
The point is, he had knowledge, but there were things he had to do.
This is a confirmation by God of the mission and the work of Jesus, which now puts the stamp of God upon him and says to us, you pay attention to what he says. It doesnít mean just hear what he says; it means you do what he says.
Matthew 4:17 Ė "From that time, Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.'" Now, what does that mean? We hear that and think that the Kingdom of Heaven, whatever that is and we're not sure, is about to come, and Jesus is going to usher it in. Somehow in our minds, we view it as being some kind of new religious movement that is not here quite yet. But when Jesus dies and ascends to heaven and the Holy Spirit falls on the day of Pentecost, we have the ushering in of a whole new world order. So when Jesus says, repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, we think Jesus is getting ready to establish the church.
Well, in the first place, "Kingdom of Heaven" in Hebrew has a very special and important meaning for us. It is the same as the "Kingdom of God." One is the Hebrew way of saying it and the other is the Greek way. It simply means those people over whom God is ruling, but further, those who are demonstrating his rule in their lives through action.
In case you question that, the central theme of Jesus' teaching has to do with the Kingdom. The late Professor David Flusser, an Orthodox Jew who taught at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote, "Jesus regarded the Kingdom of Heaven as taking shape around him and together with him. Later on, Christianity was influenced by this idea, but in a somewhat distorted manner, and identified the idea of Kingdom of Heaven with the community itself, the Christian church , or with redemption after death. Jesus stood at the center of a movement which was to bring about, step by step, the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and it was in accordance with this idea that he explained the miracles, the signs and the healings he brought about for the people. Miracles, in Jesus' view, were not isolated phenomena, but were evidence that the devil had already fallen and they were beholding the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth."
Who wrote that? A Jew Ė not a Christian Ė who understood from the words of Jesus what Jesus meant by Kingdom. It was the Kingdom of Heaven, the demonstration of God's power in action. And when Jesus began to preach, what was it that he began to preach? The Kingdom of Heaven is Ö what? At hand? No. At hand means it's close by. In Hebrew, it means it's here!
Jesus begins to preach saying, Turn around in your thinking! Rearrange your thinking. Repent! Do an about face, because the Kingdom is here! I have come to usher it in, and I'm going to gather around myself those who are ruled by God, and together we're going to move out in an anointing of power that people will be able to see the demonstration of God's rule in this world, and their lives will be changed by it!
So when Jesus says repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand, he means, change your thinking; change your direction, because it's here. That for which you have been waiting is here.
In verse 19, as he goes along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and he sees the fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, he says to them, "Follow me." What does that mean? Walk after me, or come after me? Actually, this term is a Hebrew idiom. It was used by many of the rabbis. It means, "walk behind me," or as we translate it into English, follow me. But it is actually the call of the rabbi to the student to come and to learn from him. So in saying, follow me, to Simon and Andrew, he's inviting them to come and to learn from him and to be a part of his movement, to set forth, not just principles of the Kingdom but to Ö what?
Here is the validation of everything that I've just told you. Look at verse 23: "And Jesus went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. This shows that the anointing of Jesus on those of the Kingdom was not just to teach and to preach, but that their teaching and preaching would make the people whole. It would change their lives. Something was going to happen for the now! Not just for pie in the sky by and by. And thatís where we've missed it. We are other-world oriented. Christianity is basically a religion of death. We can't wait to die! We can't wait to get out of here to get our rewards. The mansions over in Gloryland. I've often said I'm not interested in a mansion in Gloryland; I need someplace to live now. I'm not interested in pie in the sky by and by; I'm hungry now.
Thatís the difference between biblical faith and churchanity. Churchanity is other-worldly, where biblical faith is now. It looks at the person now and sees him where he is now, and it extends the hand of the Kingdom to meet that person where he is and ministers to him according to his need in order that he might be made whole.
Matthew 5:13: "You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men."
My question is (and it's a pretty tough question; it's cause for crucifixion), what's the good of the church? What's it doing? What does verse 13 say? You are the salt of the earth. What is salt? It's a preservative. It's something that keeps, that sustains, that causes something to continue to be of value. And if we're the salt of the earth and we're not doing anything to preserve, to bring people into wholeness, to do something to make this world a better place in which to live, to reach and touch their lives, Ö
(End of tape)
Bible Scholars: Question the Answers
To Beit HaDerekh (House of the Way)