Thoughts to Ponder

A Perspective on the Jewish Rabbi Jesus.

We have looked at the importance of the Jewish people. They are God's witness to the world. Through them all mankind has been blessed, because the Messiah was born a Jew. That brings me to the point of this Thought to Ponder. I want to look at Jesus the Jewish Rabbi.

People seem to forget that Jesus was a Jew. Beyond that they seem to forget or ignore the fact that He was a Rabbi. You might be wondering, why it matters that Jesus was a Jew or that He was a Rabbi and those are the questions I hope to answer in this article.

Until we are willing to understand these facts about Jesus we cannot fully understand some of the things He said. I believe God has made the Scriptures living and able to be understood by anyone who happens to pick them up and read them, with the help of the Holy Spirit. So what I mean by not fully understanding the things Jesus said until we understand that He was a Jew and a Rabbi, is that there are implications to what He said that can only be understood through the framework of who He was as a human, a Jew and a Rabbi.

Let me give an example. Have you noticed that Jesus seldom answered a question directly, but rather would answer with a question of His own? This was not Jesus being rude, it was a very common way for a Rabbi to teach and how they debated things. This is an example of His attitude. What I mean is that He was a Jew and talked and debated like a Jew.

But even more important are some of the things He said that don't really make sense to our 21st century minds, but would have made perfect sense to a Jew in Jesus' day. Jesus often referred to Himself as the Bridegroom and we (the church) as the Bride. Now look at this passage:

(Matthew 24:36-41 NIV) [36] "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [37] As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. [38] For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; [39] and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. [40] Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. [41] Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left."

What does that have to do with a bride and bridegroom? Well to us, today, probably not much, but to a Jew in the first century it would have made perfect sense. For us to understand it we need to understand the Jewish marriage custom.

In the Jewish wedding of the first century, after the Bridegroom paid the Bride price, after he offered the cup of wine signifying the covenant he was making with his bride, he would go to his father's house and build on a room or rooms for himself and his bride to live in. During the time the bridegroom was preparing this home for his bride the bride would still be at her father's home waiting and watching for her bridegroom to come get her.

She had to be ever vigilant because she did not know how long it would be before her bridegroom would return for her. When he left to go to prepare the room, the bridegroom could not tell his bride how long it would be before he came back for her. He would have been anxious to come back, but it was not up to him. It was up to his father. The son would build the room and prepare a place for his bride, but it was his father who would finally say, it is time to go get your bride, the room is finished. It could be in the morning that the father said that, or it could be during the night, the bridegroom did not know when it would happen, and neither did the bride, who was waiting for him to come back for her.

Now go back and re-read that passage where Jesus explains that He is going to prepare a place for us and that even He does not know when He will return. This would have instantly been understood by His listeners as a bridegroom going to prepare a place for his bride and his father having the say as to when it was finished.

Does this understanding make any doctrinal differences? No, but it opens up the Scriptures in a way that is rich with passion. Jesus is showing His love for us and His relationship to us. Now remember that Jesus had not yet died or rose from the dead when He made this statement. But just a couple of days later during the Passover meal He offered the cup of wine as His covenant to us all as His bride. Then the next day He paid the bride price for us, with His life. He then rose from the dead and has gone to prepare our eternal home for us and is coming back to take us home. We don't know when. It might be at midnight it might be at noon, or anytime in between, but He is coming back and we, as His bride, need to be ever vigilant, waiting in great anticipation for His return.

Look at how Jesus explained the cup, which we call communion:

(Matthew 26:28 NIV) This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Now again, think back to the wedding ceremony, when the bridegroom offers the cup of wine as a covenant to his bride. I know for me this opens up Scripture in a way that not knowing the Jewish traditions can't do.

Now look at the following passage of Scripture:

(John 7:37-38 NIV) [37] On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. [38] Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."

Have you ever wondered about that passage? The Feast mentioned is the Feast of Tabernacles, this was a seven day celebration. We view what Jesus said in hindsight, we know He was speaking spiritually about the Holy Spirit. But have you ever wondered why He just stood up in the middle of this ceremony in the Temple and proclaimed this about those who were thirsty? What would the Jews who were there have thought? Would they have thought He was out of His mind for disturbing the ceremony? Well that is what we might think if we don't find out what was going on in the Temple that day.

The passage tells us that this was the last day of the Feast. From the Jewish Rabbinic writings we can find out what was happening in the Temple that day. On the last day the Priest would pour out water and wine into bowls which had funnels which led to the base of the alter. Here is a description of what happened.

The priestly ritual of pouring water and wine down the silver bowls which funnels led to the base of the altar of burnt offering, was symbolic - symbolic of their thanksgiving for the rain which produced the harvests of the year. Prayers for more rain were offered for the next spring harvest.

I believe it was during this ritual pouring of water and wine that Jesus stood up and made that proclamation. With this ritual in view, doesn't Jesus' statement make much more sense? It does to me. But I want to take this thought a little bit further.

(John 19:31-37 NIV) [31] Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. [32] The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. [33] But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. [34] Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus´ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. [35] The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. [36] These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: "Not one of his bones will be broken," [37] and, as another scripture says, "They will look on the one they have pierced."

Think about what this passage says. It says that water and blood came out from where Jesus was pierced. Now I have heard doctors talk about the fluids (water) which can accumulate in the pericardium (which is the sac that surrounds the human heart) when a person dies like Jesus did. Then they speculate that what happened was that the Roman soldier pierced Jesus' heart and this caused the flow of blood and water. Okay, medically I have no arguments about that, it probably is exactly what happened, but it does not convey anything meaningful spiritually. However, if you look at that flow of blood and water and remember the ritual pouring out of water and wine in the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, it starts to really bring this all to life. Jesus was publicly crucified, so there would have been people who walked by and some who stopped and watched. I am sure there were those there who had also been in the Temple when Jesus made His proclamation about living water. Now what do you think would have come to their mind when the soldier pierced Jesus and the flow of water and blood took place?

Jesus' proclamation at the Temple was not just some random thought that He decided to share. If nothing else all of this shows just a little of the enormous amount of God's testimony about Jesus that the Jews had to ignore in order not to believe in Him as their Messiah.

I am often told that Jesus never claimed to be God. Of course that is silly, He claimed to be God often, but I want to address how He did it. How He proclaimed Himself God, also shows His Jewish roots and those of the people who heard Him.

(John 8:52-59 NIV) [52] At this the Jews exclaimed, "Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. [53] Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?"
[54] Jesus replied, "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. [55] Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad."
[57] "You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!"
[58] "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" [59] At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Look at verse 58. Jesus says 'before Abraham was born, I am!' The word am should really be capitalized because this is where Jesus is claiming to be God. Not that He existed before Abraham, although that is also true, but He was saying He is the great I Am.

(Exodus 3:13-14 NIV) [13] Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?´ Then what shall I tell them?"
[14] God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

Now go back and look at what Jesus said and it starts to make perfect sense why they picked up stones to kill Him, they understood He was saying He was God.

Without understanding anything about Jesus' Jewish roots, we can still understand that we are sinners in need of a savior, under a death sentence by a Holy God, unable to do anything to help ourselves. We can understand that God is loving and merciful and sent His only Son to die in our place and raised Him back to life on the third day. All that can be understood without even knowing that Jesus was a Jew, but to come to a better understanding of His words and actions we must understand His culture and customs.

Let me show you one last custom from the Passover meal. Matzah is bread without leaven. It is much like a large saltine cracker. It has small holes like a saltine cracker and dark spots where the heat has darkened parts of it while baking. Those dark spots tend to form lines or stripes the length of the piece. Now look at the ritual of the Passover concerning the matzah.

The Jews have a ceremony they perform with the matzah bread. There are three pieces of matzah, two for the blessing and one to be broken. There is a special cloth holder with three sections called matzah tash. The three pieces of matzah are inside, one in each compartment. The leader takes the middle sheet of matzah and lifts it for everyone to see. He then breaks the bread in two. Next he takes one piece and places it back in the matzah tash. Then he takes the other piece and wraps it in a linen cloth. This linen-wrapped matzah is called the Afikoman. The leader "hides" the Afikoman.

Remember this is a Jewish ritual not a Christian ritual. Think about this for a moment. Three pieces of matzah. Could that represent the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? Which one is broken? The middle one, the Son. Then what happens to the broken piece? It is wrapped in linen, which was also the material used for burial clothes. It is then hidden. Later the children at the feast go and find the broken piece and bring it back to the table and get a reward for finding it. Sounds like a perfect picture of the death and resurrection of Christ doesn't it?

(Isaiah 53:5 NIV) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that  brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Remember I said the matzah had holes pierced in it and what look like stripes or lines on it? Jesus was beaten and pierced and broken for our sins. Again by knowing the Jewish customs you can get a better and much more beautiful picture of Jesus and the things He taught. Just before He was arrested Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples. He took bread (matzah) and broke it and told them that this represented His body broken for them. Could it be that this bread He broke was this middle piece of matzah? We can't know for sure, but it would make sense.

I have only scratched the surface. I would encourage you to study the Jewish feasts, they were instituted by God and they were celebrated by Jesus. They are rich with symbolism and meaning which will help the Scriptures come alive for you.

Our Bridegroom is preparing a place for us and is coming back to take us home. We don't know when, but I believe it will be soon. We need to encourage each other to wait and watch, and not get tired, so that we don't miss His coming.

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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February 2004