Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Thy Word


All Scripture Is Breathed Out by God

2 Tim 3:10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a] you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.

 The foundations of our faith are found in the Old Testament teaching and stories about God’s calling of His people.  There are many stories that point directly to Jesus.  I love these stories.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Fan into Flame

Fan into flame the gift of God 

 Fan into flame involves fanning hot coals, even adding charcoal fuel, so that the coals will flare into flame. If the coals are left untended, the fire will die. So we ask what is the gift that we are to fire up and maintain? Surely we are talking about our love for God, which is demonstrated by our love for each other. 

By this shall all know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

 Guard the Deposit Entrusted to You 2 Tim 1 3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to[a] a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,[b] 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.[c] 13 Follow the pattern of the sound[d] words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. 

Sacrifices Pleasing to God 

 13 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent[a] have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 

 1 Timothy 4:13-15 English Standard Version 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them,[a] so that all may see your progress.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The Upper Room


Rowan, Oran, Linda, and myself were in the cabin on October 17, 2022, studying Acts chapter one and two. Previously we had studied the crucifixion  and resurrection  of Jesus from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,  Now we had come to Pentecost.

And to the upper room.  

12 Then (AC)they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to (AD)the upper room, where they were staying, (AE)Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon (AF)the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these (AG)with one accord (AH)were devoting themselves to prayer, together with (AI)the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and (AJ)his brothers.[c]

Where is the upper room?  It shows up as Jesus instructs the apostles about arranging a place for the Passover Supper on Wednesday.  He told them to follow the man carrying a jar of water.

And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him,

Luke 22:10
He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters
Mark 14:14-16

English Standard Version

14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, (A)‘The Teacher says, Where is (B)my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 And he will show you (C)a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

The Passover with the Disciple

Matt 26:17 (X)Now on (Y)the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, (Z)‘The Teacher says, (AA)My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

The man carrying the jar of water suggests the Essene community, where the priests were celibate, and did their own works of service.  I have visited the Essene community visitor center at Qumran, and observed their claims about connection with John the Baptist.  Perhaps John had been excluded from the community because he had revealed the secrets of the community to outsiders, as he called all to repentance in preparation for the Kingdom.

The upper room then is a connector between Jesus and the legitimate Aaronic priesthood. Jesus and the apostles observed the Passover as commanded, and was crucified on Thursday by the illegitimate priesthood, dying at 3PM.

Isaiah 53 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, (P)who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?

Between the testaments



Missing page between the testaments

Last updated on August 2nd, 2020

I never paid much attention to the multiplying books and articles which claimed (or denied) links between the Essene community of the Dead Sea scrolls and the Jesus movement. I had an impression, gleaned largely via the media, that the Essenes were a strange, fanatical, isolated movement which could have little real impact on the mission of Jesus which was reaching its climax in Jerusalem during the same period.

But this year I began to read more about the first community of Jewish believers in Jesus which, according to good historical evidence, was birthed on the western hill of Jerusalem (“Mount Zion”) at Pentecost, and carried on there through the first few centuries AD. And then I learned that all this likely happened in the heart of an Essene Quarter which was within the walls of the city at that time.

What?!? This finally struck close to home. The life and work of our community has centered on Jerusalem for much of the past 30 years, and one of our favorite jogging routes goes right past the “Gate of the Essenes.” So over the last few months, and particularly the last two weeks of coronavirus quarantine, I’ve found opportunity to dip a toe in the sea of scholarship on this issue, in turns incredulous and inspired by what I’ve found.

From the lineage of Zadok

So the first thing to know about the Essenes is that their formative leaders were priests from the lineage of Zadok. It was this Zadok whom David ordered in 1 Kings 1 to “Set my son Solomon on my own mule and take him down to Gihon…anoint him king over Israel. You are to blow the trumpet and declare, ‘Long live King Solomon!’” (Today when a king or queen is crowned in the UK, the coronation anthem is Handel’s beautiful “Zadok the Priest.”)

Zadok’s line can be traced back to Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the firstborn son of Aaron. Phinehas stopped a plague by spearing an Israelite man and Moabite woman for their sexual immorality before the whole congregation in the wilderness, and was therefore in Numbers 25 given by the LORD “a covenant of permanent priesthood for him and his descendants, because he was zealous for his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

There was a competing line of priests, descending from Aaron’s young son Ithamar. We all remember Eli, who raised up the prophet Samuel and who was from this line. But since Eli did not restrain the evil practices of his own two sons, in 1 Samuel 2 a fateful word came from the LORD: “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.”

These amazing promises to Phinehas and to Eli both found fulfillment when Zadok became high priest, and the sons of his house indeed served after him for hundreds of years throughout the history of the first and second temples—until the time of the Maccabees circa 150 BC. At this point something happens that should deeply trouble all who cherish the promises of God: this long and glorious priesthood was usurped from the sons of Zadok by Hasmonean rulers, who set themselves up as both king and priest. The implications of this are staggering: the corrupt priesthood that we next meet in the pages of the gospels are in truth not the legitimate holders of that office, according to the ironclad testimony of the Hebrew bible itself.

And these appear to be the events that gave birth to the Essene movement. The legitimate Zadokite priest (possibly the “Teacher of Righteousness” known from the scrolls) is forced into exile by the “Wicked Priest” who misleads Israel and makes the temple worship illegitimate.

What’s clear to me at this point is that I’m with the Essenes! Anyone who loves the word of God, and the beautiful way his promises unfold over the centuries, cannot help but recognize that they’re the good guys in this story—and that they still have a divine appointment to go in and out before the anointed son of David when he finally arrives.

John the Excommunicated Essene?

The herald of David’s son is John the Baptist, from none other than an Aaronic (likely Zadokite) priestly family. John of course is identified in the gospels with the very same words with which the Dead Sea scrolls identify the Qumran community: “A voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the LORD.”

So naturally much speculation arose that John may have himself been an Essene. A better claim may be that he was a former Essene, quite possibly raised in the Qumran community, “in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (Luke 1:80),  but pushed out precisely for going public with the community’s very private message of repentance leading to baptism. The Community Rule found in the first scrolls cave requires that an Essene “not rebuke the men of the Pit nor dispute with them. He shall conceal the teaching of the Law from men of injustice…”

But John took just the opposite approach. “All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem”–from Pharisees to tax collectors to soldiers–flocked to hear him say that it was not enough to be children of Abraham, they must change their lives and produce fruit in keeping with repentance. When John then baptized them he threw open the exclusive message of Qumran to the Jewish multitudes (much as Paul would later throw open the same message to the Gentiles).

Is there though any evidence that this caused his break with the Essenes? Consider this insight from Steve Pfann, a brother here in Jerusalem who I now discover is also an oft-cited scrolls scholar:

John’s diet is peculiarly close to that of previously excommunicated Essenes. Josephus notes: “Those who are caught in the act of committing grave faults are expelled from the order. The individual thus excluded often perishes, the prey to a most miserable fate; for bound by his oaths and customs he cannot even share the food of others. Reduced to eating grass, he perishes, his body dried up by hunger,” Wars II.8.8.143.

Though prevented from partaking of the food of others, the resourceful ex-Essene could find sustenance in the desert. Locusts and grasshoppers (the only insects that weren’t forbidden, cf. Leviticus 11:20–23) are a noted food for desert dwellers, found in abundance in the Judean wilderness.

The Essenes also believed that the last days were at hand, and—in keeping with their belief in the ongoing validity of prophecy—several of the Dead Sea scrolls prophesied the final arrival of two anointed ones, one from the house of Aaron and one from the house of David, to usher in the kingdom of God.  Could this not parallel Jesus’ affirmation that John had to come first–the Aaronic priest baptizing and anointing the Son of David, just as Zadok had done for Solomon a millennium before?

Essenes on Mount Zion

Enter now Bargil Pixner, a Benedictine monk living in Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion in the 1970s. He picked up on Josephus’ obscure reference to a Gate of the Essenes on Mount Zion, set out looking for it, and actually found it. And as he began to reconstruct the history of Mount Zion in the first century, a picture emerged of a substantial community of Essenes–many of them priestly sons of Zadok–living there in their own quarter. (Josephus reports that Essene communities were found in every city in this period, totaling 4000 members compared to 6000 Pharisees).

For me this was the Why have I never heard this before? moment. The implications, many of them spelled out in the pioneering work of religious studies professor Elizabeth McNamer, are potentially profound for the history of Pentecost and the first community of Jewish believers in Jerusalem.

The traditional site of the Last Supper is on Mount Zion, next to the traditional (and disputed) site of David’s tomb. Did the Essenes establish their community there in honor of David, who confirmed and established their priestly line? And when the gospels tell us Jesus directed his disciples to go into the city and find “the upper room” where they could gather, did he send them intentionally to these friendly sons of Zadok, who had in each city an official in charge of hospitality for like-minded pious believers? (One theory holds that the “man carrying a water jar” was not a secret sign, but simply one of the celibate Essenes, since in other Jewish communities this was woman’s work).

Consider these findings from German pastor and theologian Rainer Riesner:

After the ascension, according to Acts 1:13, the disciples gathered in ‘the upper room’ (the huperóon) somewhere in Jerusalem. The use of the definite article suggests that Luke has in view a specific room. This would not be astonishing if, indeed, he had been a visitor to Jerusalem… Upper rooms are mentioned in the Stobi inscription as part of a synagogue building. Upper rooms appear also in the Rabbinic literature as a preferred meeting place of teachers. It seems that the upper room at Jerusalem where a rather large community met (cf. Acts 1:15) was in the eyes of Luke some kind of Christian synagogue… it is interesting to note that Jesus asks for a guest room (kataluma in Mk. 14:14//Lk. 22:11), a word also mentioned in the Theodotus inscription as part of a synagogue.

So here are solid archeological inferences that the upper room of our gospels may have been a large room set aside for such meetings in a synagogue. And who would have maintained such a facility in the Essene quarter?

It was to this same upper room, according to the book of Acts, that the disciples returned after the ascension of Jesus to wait and pray. And it was there that the Holy Spirit fell on Pentecost. The city would have at least tripled in population on this feast day, and the Essene quarter filled with Essenes from across the Jewish world. So who were the people who rushed together at the strange sound, who heard the preaching of Peter (which focused on the tomb of David), were cut to the heart, and 3000 were baptized? Who were the “great number of priests” who we find in Acts chapter 6 had become obedient to the faith? Were they Sadducees and Pharisees? Or is it much more likely they were Essenes–sons of Zadok–primed and ready for the gospel since they’d already lost their positions in the temple due to their faithfulness to the word of God?

Shouldn’t there then be some specific reference to them in the gospels and book of Acts? Well, even in the Dead Sea Scrolls they never identify themselves by name. It was others who called them Essenes, possibly derived from the Hebrew Osim, those who not only hear the word of God but do it. One suggestion is that the Essenes do appear in the New Testament under the description “devout men,” such as Simeon who received newborn Jesus in the temple in Luke 2, those Jews gathered in Acts 2:5 at Pentecost, those who buried Stephen in Acts 8:2, and even in Acts 22:12 Ananias who prayed to restore Paul’s sight after his Damascus road encounter.

Let’s consider also one of the greatest challenges for those who trust in the faithfulness of all four gospel accounts of Jesus’ final days. Students have long been puzzled how to reconcile the synoptic gospels, which picture Jesus arrested on the night of the Passover meal, with John’s gospel, which seems to already place the death of Jesus at the hour that the Passover lambs were sacrificed. What the Dead Sea scrolls have shown is that one of the chief complaints of the Essenes was that the illegitimate temple authorities had misled Israel by corrupting the times of the feasts. The Essenes insisted that the true Passover according to the Torah begins each year on Tuesday at sunset. If Jesus and his disciples were close to the Essene community, and hosted by them in the upper room, it would indeed follow that their festive meal would have fallen a day or two earlier than the date fixed by the temple authorities. John then describes the chronology of the week according to the Essene calendar, and the synoptics according to the calendar of the temple. A farfetched fringe theory? I was surprised to see the scholarly Pope Benedict XVI wholeheartedly embraced it in his Passover homily in 2007.

The story continues. Strong tradition holds that Mary, the mother of Jesus, remained in that Essene community on Mount Zion for the rest of her life (the huge Abbey of the Dormition where Pixner served was built to commemorate her passing). Her son James, the brother of Jesus, emerged there as the recognized leader of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. Learned scholars such as Lightfoot believe that the Essenes were largely absorbed into this emerging movement; Mount Zion remained its home base–distinct from the growing Gentile church–into the third or fourth century.

Missing Page between the Testaments 

Most of us reading this are Gentile followers of Jesus, and we may find that this potential Essene connection sheds wonderful light on the background of our faith. Yet it’s nothing revolutionary or life-changing for us.

But what about the people of Israel, whose very identity has been shaped by fidelity to the Torah through millenia, often at great cost. What if they were to understand that Jesus was likely embraced as Messiah by the legitimate Davidic priesthood? That it is he who represents continuity with the Torah and the prophets and the hope and promises of Israel? As Disraeli used to say about himself, the Essenes could be called a “missing page between the Old and New Testaments.”

That is exciting to me.

And what about that mother synagogue/church on Mount Zion, exercising authority in the first century over believers worldwide, in Acts 15 freeing the Gentiles from the full yoke of the Torah, yet continuing themselves to be “all zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20)? What if their voice could be recovered—would it speak to the people of Israel today with the same piercing vibrancy that it did in the first century?

To this question we must next turn our attention.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Letter from Jerusalem #7

We need a return to Jerusalem, a fresh look at the teaching and unity that Jesus called for in His prayer, John 17.  We need a letter from Jerusalem calling us back to the unity that is in Yeshua, the Messiah.

The Apostles are no longer physically living in Jerusalem, but we still have their teaching recorded in scripture. And God has sent His Holy Spirit to encourage His children, all who have been born again through the gospel of Jesus Christ, Yeshua Messiah.

This information age provides more access for knowing and communicating with each other. Can we use it to encourage each other to go back to Jerusalem, to look afresh at the unity that is in Jesus?

If we could consult the Apostles today, what would they write as practical advice to help us escape division and return to the unity that is in Jesus.

Perhaps they would remind us of what it was like when the Kingdom of God was first established at Jerusalem.

Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

The Fellowship of the Believers

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[d] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

So the believers had great fellowship and unity at the beginning, helping and sharing with each other as needed.  The ekklesia is described as all in every place who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

1 Cor 1:1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

But as the fellowship spread beyond Jerusalem to the other areas of the world, problems developed.  Believers began to make distinctions based upon their Bible teacher.

Divisions in the Church

1 Cor 1: 10 I appeal to you, brothers,[a] by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 

11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 

Christ is not meant to be divided.  We believers are to be many members in one body. We are baptized into one body and made to drink of one spirit, the Holy Spirit.

One Body with Many Members

1 Cor 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[d] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

What happened?  There are so many divisions and groups, within the proclaimed believer community today, that it is impossible to keep up with all the names and issues.  There was a falling away from true faith in Jesus that began  in the time of the Apostles.

The Man of Lawlessness

2 Thes 2 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers,[a] 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness[b] is revealed, the son of destruction,[c] 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

One of the early divisions among believers developed over different teaching about the nature of Jesus Christ. Some denied the humanity of Jesus, and taught that He is a created divine being.  This was countered by those who emphasized the humanity of Jesus, as Son of David, promised Messiah, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born to Mary.

Walking in Truth and Love

2 John 4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we[a] have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

So some teaching is critical to unity.  It does matter what we believe and teach. We must abide in the teaching of Christ. But how can we define the teaching of Christ?

This is a link to a basic short course on understanding God's word. 

We must return to Jerusalem, and understand the scriptures in their Jewish context.   Greek logic and proof text arguments based on texts taken out  of context must be subjected to the overwhelming revelation of texts in context, all the narratives of scripture put side by side and compared.   Jesus taught in parables.  Parallel study, comparing things side by side, and reviewing related teaching, will help establish the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles.

The actual, factual teaching of the Bible is our source of unity in teaching.  Do not follow great teachers, but put our faith completely in Jesus and what He taught.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Letter from Jerusalem #6

We need a return to Jerusalem, a fresh look at the teaching and unity that Jesus called for in His prayer, John 17.  We need a letter from Jerusalem calling us back to the unity that is in Yeshua, the Messiah.

The Apostles are no longer physically living in Jerusalem, but we still have their teaching recorded in scripture. And God has sent His Holy Spirit to encourage His children, all who have been born again through the gospel of Jesus Christ, Yeshua Messiah.

This information age provides more access for knowing and communicating with each other. Can we use it to encourage each other to go back to Jerusalem, to look afresh at the unity that is in Jesus?

If we could consult the Apostles today, what would they write as practical advice to help us  know the role of immersion in water by the authority of Jesus for our salvation?

Perhaps they would first remind us of the washings for ritual cleansing required under the Law of Moses, and ask us to understand that the water did not remove the uncleanness, but that it was  a person's respect for the command of the Law that caused God to accept the person as clean.

From Jewish Virtual Library

ABLUTION (Heb. טְבִילָה; "immersion"), act of washing performed to correct a condition of ritual impurity and restore the impure to a state of ritual purity. The ritually impure (or unclean) person is prohibited from performing certain functions and participating in certain rites. Ablution, following a withdrawal period and, in some cases, other special rituals, renders him again "clean" and permitted to perform those acts which his impurity had prevented. Ablution must not be confused with washing for the sake of cleanliness. This is evident from the requirement that the body be entirely clean before ablution (Maim., Yad, Mikva'ot 11:16), but there may nevertheless be some symbolic connection. The ablutions, as well as the impurities which they were deemed to remove, were decreed by biblical law, and understood by the rabbis in religious and not in hygienic or magical terms. This is shown by R. Johanan b. Zakkai's retort to his disciples who had questioned an explanation he gave to a non-Jew about ritual purity: "'The dead do not contaminate and the water does not purify.' It is a command (gezeirah) of God and we have no right to question it" (Num. R. 19:4).

Because of the immersion required under the Law of Moses, the people of Israel were familiar with immersion being connected with ritual cleanness.  Therefore, when John the Baptist came preaching repentance in preparation for the coming Kingdom of God, he immersed those who believed his message in the Jordan River.

He also immersed Jesus, who is the King of the Kingdom. Jesus was showing His submission to His Father, and He was acknowledged by His Father at the time of His immersion.

The Baptism of Jesus

Mat 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him,[c] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son,[d] with whom I am well pleased.”

The disciples of Jesus also practiced the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins in preparation for the then coming Kingdom. 
John 4 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.

But the baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins in preparation for the coming Kingdom is different from the baptism preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost. Baptism in the name of Jesus, (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), is part of obeying the gospel, as Paul taught clearly.

Rom 10:11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?[c] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Paul had written earlier in chapter six about the relationship between the gospel and immersion.  A penitent sinner who has repented, died to sin, is buried with Jesus by baptism into death, and raised from the death by the glory of the Father.  

Dead to Sin, Alive to God

Rom 6 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free[b] from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

So we bury a person who has died in his relationship to God because of the sin that separates one from God.  God grants forgiveness of sins and gives new life because the recipient has put his/her trust in Him, through faith in the blood shed by Jesus on the cross.

Perhaps part of the reason for putting off water immersion until a convenient time is because it takes some planning and effort to immerse the believer in water.  It is easier to have them pray a prayer for which there is no commandment in scripture, and arrange the baptism for a convenient time.  So an assumption is made that justification is by faith without water baptism, and the immersion becomes a symbol of something that already happened. Yes, baptism is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  But the converting sinner is to have his/her place in that burial.  We bury dead people.

How were three thousand people immersed on the Day of Pentecost following their response  to Peter preaching the gospel? 

The sermon took place in the morning.  After the response to Peter's preaching, likely the responders went with Peter, the Apostles, and other disciples down to the Pool of Siloam.

The pool was 225 ft long with hewn stone steps on three sides.  Seventy disciples of Jesus and the Apostles had been practicing immersion of preparation for the coming kingdom.  Now they were to immerse penitent believers who had confessed that Jesus is the Christ in His name, by the authority of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

There was ample room in the pool for eighty people to do the immersing, as believers waded out to them in the pool.. So each baptizer would have helped about forty people with their immersion. Three thousand could have easily been baptized within three hours.  

As we study the book of Acts, we find that when people confirmed their faith that Jesus is the Son of God, arrangements were made for their immersion that same day.  Why was the timing important?  Because you bury dead people, and you want them to have life as soon as possible. 

No, the water does not take away the sins.  The scriptures do not teach ritual baptismal regeneration.  But Jesus and the Apostles commanded immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so the one who has faith does it. 

God keeps His promises.  

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Letter from Jerusalem #5

We need a return to Jerusalem, a fresh look at the teaching and unity that Jesus called for in His prayer, John 17.  We need a letter from Jerusalem calling us back to the unity that is in Yeshua, the Messiah.

The Apostles are no longer physically living in Jerusalem, but we still have their teaching recorded in scripture. And God has sent His Holy Spirit to encourage His children, all who have been born again through the gospel of Jesus Christ, Yeshua Messiah.

This information age provides more access for knowing and communicating with each other. Can we use it to encourage each other to go back to Jerusalem, to look afresh at the unity that is in Jesus?

If we could consult the Apostles today, what would they write as practical advice to help us  know the place of the great confession in our salvation?

Perhaps they would remind us of the time when Jesus asked His disciples about what others were saying about Him, and then asked Peter about what he thought.

Matt 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[b] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[c] shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[d] in heaven.”

Yes, Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  Upon this confession, upon this cornerstone, God built His house. Upon the fact of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God, He built His called out people.  The Greek word Ekklesia is translated assembly or congregation.  It refers to God's people who have been called out from the world into fellowship in the Body of Jesus.


Our personal confession before witnesses that we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is a central part in our being called by the gospel for salvation.

Rom 10:8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?[c] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

"if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." 

"If" sounds conditional.  As Paul explains, "they have not all obeyed the gospel."

How can Paul be talking about obeying the gospel?  The gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and raised the third day, winning the victory over sin and death.

The Resurrection of Christ

1 Cor 15 Now I would remind you, brothers,[a] of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

But Paul says we are being saved if we hold fast to the word preached by Jesus and the Apostles.  Salvation is conditional upon fidelity.  

Matt 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.