Tag Archives: Jews

God’s People, part 134: The Jews

Read John 8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’”  (John 19:7 NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Roberts_Siege_and_Destruction_of_Jerusalem

Part 134: The Jews. In the last devotion we discussed the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. While all of them tell the account of Jesus of Nazareth, they do differ on the details within their accounts. Often times, we read the gospels as if they are ONE story told four different times; however, the reality is that they are four separate accounts of Jesus of Nazareth told to different people at different times for different reasons. Thus, not all of the details within the accounts match up.

Still, Matthew, Mark and Luke are very similar to one another and a majority of the events in their accounts are parallel to each other. Certainly, they follow the same basic chronological structure: 1) Jesus was born (Matthew & Luke), 2) Jesus’ ministry began following his baptism in the Jordan, 3) his ministry was based in and around Galiliee, 4) at the end of his ministry he went to Jerusalem and stirred up trouble, 5) he was betrayed, arrested, crucified, 6) and resurrected from the dead.

The Gospel of John, however, followed a different chronological structure. Jesus was seen in Jerusalem throughout his career and, in fact, the cleansing of the Temple (which happens at the end of Matthew, Mark & Luke’s account) takes place at the beginning of John. Also, John’s Gospel is different theologically too. All of the Gospels claim that Jesus is the Christ (aka the Messiah) and the Son of God; however, John’s Jesus is barely touching the ground (though his humanity is still on full display, just differently).

One of the biggest differences in the Gospel of John is the distinction between Jesus and “The Jews”. Sadly, this distinction has wrongly been interpreted in anti-Semitic ways; however, it was not written to be anti-Semitic. The community from which this Gospel emerged was inherently a Jewish community. They were not anti-Semitic as they themselves were Semites.

The distinction between Jesus and “the Jews” is actually, in context, and intra-Jewish distinction. In other words, it was a distinction happening within Judaism among differing Jews. In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed all of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Temple. The further away from that event one gets, the more one can begin to see a distinction being drawn up between traditional Jewish groups and those who followed Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

First, the traditional Jewish sects wanted nothing to do with those Jesus followers because Rome crucified Jesus as a traitor of the Empire. To align with this criminal, following a time when Rome had already quelled a major Jewish uprising by destroying all of Jerusalem, was to risk losing the remaining religious leniencies that Rome still granted the Jewish people. Second, while Jews looked to the following of the Torah (the Law) in response as to how to remain faithful to God without a Temple to sacrifice in, the earliest Christians (with an increasing number of Gentile members) saw faith in Jesus as the answer.

Thus, the more pushback that the early Christian communities received, the more they began to identify as a community different than “the Jews”. They were Jewish, but they were pushed to see themselves as being counter to what the mainline Jewish sects were advocating. This was not, again, because they were anti-Jewish, but because they were being expelled from synagogues and rejected by mainline Jewish leaders. Compound that fact with the reality that Gentile Christians began to outnumber Jewish Christians toward the end of the first century, and one can begin to see how this identity metamorphosis took root.

Still, it is important for us to realize that “the Jews” in Jesus’ day were not a monolithic group that altogether were antagonistic toward Jesus or his followers. In John, that language was more representing his time period than it was Jesus’. Some of the Jews did believe Jesus was the Messiah, others did not see him that way. What’s more, while some of the Jewish leadership and the Roman rulers had Jesus put to death, the common Jewish person would not have wanted any Jew to be crucified by the Romans. “The Jews” as a whole were not responsible for Jesus’ death. The Roman Empire, under the leadership of Pontius Pilate, was responsible for that.

The challenge for us is to begin, if we haven’t already, to stop viewing Christianity through an “us” versus “them” mentality. In God there is no “them”, there is only “us”. God created us all and loves us all and calls us all to be in relationship with God. Jesus Christ did not come create more divisions than already exist in the world; rather, Jesus came to unite us all to God through him. Let us be reminded of that and live into it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Be reminded of Christ and begin to model Christ in your lives and in the world around you.

PRAYER
Lord, draw me in closer to you and empower me to witness to others your love and grace. Amen.

God’s People, part 124: Sadducees

Read Acts 4:1-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead.”  (Luke 20:27, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SadduceesPart 124: Sadducees. The Sadducees were a group of people who existed during the Second Temple period in Jerusalem (516 BCE – 70 CE). They became prominent during the second century BCE and were among the sects of Judaism during a very divided time in Jewish history. The division stemmed around the Hellenization (e.g infiltration of Greek culture) of Israel under the Seleucid Empire.

While some groups, such as the Pharisees, thought one ought to separate themselves from Grecco-Roman culture altogether, the Sadducees worked to regulate relations with their foreign occupiers. This is not to say that the Sadducees promoted Helenization; however, their role was a political one as much as it was religious. They were of the high social class of Jewish society, they were the aristocracy, and they had much influence and power in Judaea.

This was epsecially true when the Romans conquered and occupied Judaea. Annas and Caiaphas were both members of the Sadducees. Annas was appointed to the position of high priest by the Roman governor of Syria, Quirinius. While not all priests and high priests were Sadducees, many of them were. They were responsible for maintaining the Temple and the life of worship. They performed rituals, sacrifices, and other duties related to the temple; however, they also served as politicians and judges.

They were on the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish Council, along with the Pharisees. They managed the state domestically, and represented the state internationally. They collected taxes, including collecting international tax from Jews living in other countries. They also equipped and led the Jewish army, and structured relations with the Romans. On top of all of those political roles, the Sadducees also mediated local and household complaints.

The Sadducees were a people of great prominence and importance. With control over the Temple and the worship life of the Jewish people, the Sadducees held a power that few Jewish groups in that time period had. They were an aristocratic sect that had utilized its status in ways that often benefited them to the detriment of the people beneath them. This angered many, and caused dissident sects like the Essenes and the Zealots to take matters into their own hands to usher in the Messianic age.

As we will soon see, this group would cross paths with the Christ, the anointed One of God, Jesus of Nazareth. The Messiah would not be impressed by their power, nor would he be afraid to hold them and others accountable for the way they abused the authority God had given them. This imminent confrontation would lead to the most dramatic and powerful events the world has ever seen.

The challenge for us is to remember the Sadducees and recognize our own desire for power, control, and authority. We ought to keep that desire in check and remember that it is God who is power, it is God who is in control and who has authority, not us.

Let us submit ourselves to God rather than try to bend God into submission. The latter will NEVER happen and will lead us to our own downfall, just as surely as the power hungry Sadducees went down with their Temple when the Romans finally came in and destroyed it along with the entire city of Jerusalem. Remember, to God be the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:6, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I surrender all to you, and place all that have and all that I am in your hands. Amen.

God’s People, part 107: Haggai

Read Haggai 1-2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work. They bribed agents to work against them and to frustrate their plans. This went on during the entire reign of King Cyrus of Persia and lasted until King Darius of Persia took the throne.” (Ezra‬ ‭4:4-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 107: Haggai. In order to understand Haggai’s prophecy, one really needs to understand the historical and religious contexts that it was written in. As with all of the books in the Bible, Haggai was not written in a vacuum. In fact, Haggai lived and prophesied at the same time as Zechariah. Malachi lived and prophecied about a century later. Ezra was also a contemporary of the prophet and wrote of him and Zechariah being influential in the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple following their return from exile.

Let us look at the context surrounding Haggai’s prophecy. The year was 520 BCE, sixteen years after the Jews were first allowed back frome exile to Jerusalem. If you recall, this was put forth into motion under the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who was regarded by the Jews as God’s anointed king, the messiah. You will also recall that upon sending them back to their homeland, Cyrus commissioned them to rebuild their Temple to their God as well as to rebuild Jerusalem.

Sixteen years later, the Temple still had not been built. Upon returning home, there was a dispute between the Jews who returned and “the local residents” in Jerusalem. The dispute arose over who should have a part in rebuilding the Temple and how that Temple should be built. Thus, the Temple building campaign was halted for sixteen years.

It is this that Haggai was addressing. He found it egregious that God’s Temple lay in ruin, while the people of the land regained their homes and their prosperity. God had come through for them, how could they not come through for God. The issue is less to do with a temple building itself and more to do with faithfulness to God.

Were the Jews who were liberated from Babylon/Persia going to remain loyal to God, or were they going to fall right into complacency? What’s more, Haggai was calling them out on not having the moxy to stand up to the dissenters and do what they had been commissioned by God’s anointed king, Cyrus, to do.

By the way, it is important to note that Haggai is not the only book in the Bible to record these disputes. They are recorded in Ezra and also Zechariah. In fact, in the latter book, the “local residents” or “the people of the land” were opposing the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Yeshua. The opposition against them rose up after they listened to Haggai and Zechariah and decided to move forward with the Temple building campaign. To do so, they rejected the “people of the land’s” request to build the Temple and placed the building of the Temple in the hands of the ones who had been liberated from exile.

This caused an irrevocable division between the liberated Jews and “the people of the land”. As a result, the latter group eventually split off and built their own Temple on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem. These people, by many scholars, are believed to be the Samaritans and it is during that time where bitter enmity built up between the Judaeans and the Samaritans. That enmity would carry on for centuries, and would be included in some of Jesus’ own teachings (e.g. the parable of the good Samaritan). In fact, it was in the region of Mt. Gerizim that Jesus converses with the Samaritan woman in John 4.

Thus, we can see how this short prophetic book by Haggai had such a profound impact on shaping what would go on to be known as the Second Temple period in Jewish history. It was during this time that the One who IS GOD’s Messiah, would live, teach, die and resurrect in FULL GLORY. This only happened because the God’s people humbled themselves and listened to the warnings of God through the prophet Haggai. They were willing to meet human resistance head on in order to remain loyal to God their LORD.

We are faced with the same charge, to remain loyal when the people of the land are calling us to do things differently than God would have us do. Will we heed God’s warning and build a SANCTUARY for all people, or will we follow the divisiveness of Satan, which is calling us to do things in a way that appeases the current world order? Reflect on this honestly; choose this day, and all days, whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.” Jesus of Nazareth (John‬ ‭4:21‬ ‭NLT)

PRAYER

Lord, steer me along the right path and give me the courage to remain loyal to you at all costs. Amen.