Biblical People, Places and Time-Part 6

In Acts 10 we have the conversion of Cornelius. He receives the Holy Spirit just like Peter and the other apostles did in Acts 2, meaning he was saved without becoming Jewish, which was the prevailing practice in the first century. This event sent shockwaves through the Jewish community. In Acts 11.1-30 we have Peter giving his account of what happens to the other apostles and brethren in Jerusalem. They realize he ate with Cornelius, which went against Jewish halachah at the time in the 18 Edicts of the school of Shammai. In Acts 11.4, Peter is being questioned on the basis of this halachah. What would have happened to Peter if things did not happen the way they did with Cornelius? Peter would have been “karet” or cut off from the Messianic congregation. Peter tells the story to traditionalist Jews only (11.4-19), but then to Hellenistic Jews in Antioch (11.20). They continued to speak to traditional Jewish believers first, then Hellenistic Jewish believers (11.21-30). From this point on to the end of the book of Acts, you must keep in mind that all of what was going on was in a Jewish framework. They spoke in synagogues, teaching from the Tanach about faith in Yeshua as the Messiah and the grace of God. They taught halachah in a Jewish context. Proof of this can be found in Acts 16.21. In Acts 15.1-5, we have Pharisee believers from the school of Shammai (Acts 15.5) who came with the question that non-Jews had to be circumcised (become Jews) to be saved. This question goes all the way up to the great Beit Din in Jerusalem. Up to this point, all the believers in a community of Nazarenes would be Jews and Godfearers, subject to the local Beit Din in their area. If a question could not be settled there, they would be subject to the great Beit Din in Jerusalem, where James (Ya’akov, Jacob) was the Nasi, or president. It was decided at this council that non-Jews did not need to become Jewish through circumcision to be saved, and that message went out from there to all the world. They were instructed to learn the Torah in their synagogues, and to obey what applied to them. The book of Acts ends in Chapter 28, about 5 years before the Jewish revolt. From Acts 15 through 28 we will be learning about the condition of the Jewish believer and the Godfearers, certain issues at hand and some controversies. These issues involved the message of the Basar going to the non-Jew, and these non-Jews coming into the faith did not need to be circumcised to be saved. There was also the issue of the resurrection among Sadducees, which affected their belief that Yeshua rose from the dead and there was the issue of halachah among the non-Jews and how they were to relate to the Jewish believer. At the same time all of this was going on, there was the on-going differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the Traditional Jews and the Hellenistic Jews. Add into the mix all the other sects, the misconduct of the Romans, the priesthood in the Temple and Sanhedrin, and you have a bomb ready to explode. As it came to a head, it will have an effect on the “Judaisms” of the day and the believer in Yeshua. So, when Jerusalem was destroyed, Rabbinical Judaism took hold about 90 AD. Messianic Judaism began to splinter off from them, and Gentile Christianity began to evolve. So, we have three “prongs” beginning to develop all around the same time. Judaism and Christianity will “bounce off” one another, with the Messianics in the middle, trying to hold on to a destiny and the truth of the Torah, all the while believing that Yeshua was the Messiah. Judaism went through massive changes after the first century. With the Temple destroyed, the foundation of Judaism was also destroyed. Jewish believers fled Jerusalem before its destruction came, believing the words of Yeshua in Luke 19.41-44 and 21.20, and went to Pella. This was very near where Elijah fled. Contempt for the Jewish believer among other Jews came because they abandoned the city, but this lessened due to the hopeless situation. They will return after Jerusalem falls, and the war was over in 73 AD with the fall of Masada. One of the most influential personalities during this time was a man named Yochanon Ben Zakkai. He was a leading sage of the Tannaim after 70 AD, and a Pharisee. He escaped Jerusalem by a trick, and came before Vespasian. He told him that the Romans would win the war, and Vespasian was impressed with him. When Ben Zakkai was asked what he wanted, he said “Give me Yavneh and its sages. Yavneh became a halachic center where he restructured the “Judaisms” before into a Pharisaic form of Judaism which will come to be known as Rabbinic Judaism. Some of his pupils were Eleazar Ben Hyrcannus, Yehoshua Ben Hananiah, Yosi Ha Kohen, Shimon Ben Nataniel, Eleazar Ben Arach and Hanna Ben Dosa. They taught subjects like halachah, the Aggadah, reasons for the mitz’vot (commandments), ethics and mysticism. Now, mysticism had been taught from the time of Ezekiel, and it does not mean what it means in English. Books in the New Testament would be considered Jewish mysticism, such as Ephesians, First and Second Thessalonians, Colossians, Hebrews and Revelation. During this time, Judaism will be changing from “aggadic” (stories and parables) to “halachic’ (how to walk before God in the commandments). Another important personality during this time was a man named Rabban Gamaliel II. He introduced what is called the “Birkat Ha Minim” into the Amidah, which is the “standing prayer” that was prayed daily in the synagogues, a prayer that Yeshua prayed. These were 18 Benedictions, also known as the Shemonah Esrai. The Birkat Ha Minim was a curse on Jewish believers. This proves that the Jewish believer attended the synagogues, otherwise there was no reason to “put this in” the daily prayers. Rabban Gamaliel was faced with rebuilding the Sanhedrin and uniformity of belief, as opposed to the many factions of the pre-destruction. He tried to clarify the Torah. Many changes came into Judaism at this time. For instance, the Haggadah used in Passover Seders today is not the same as the Passover Yeshua observed. When telling the story of the Exodus in Maggid, Moses is never mentioned because the Lord was the deliverer, not Moses. Parts were added at the same time the Birkat Ha Minim emerged. The story of the four sons at Passover mentions the “rasha” (wicked, with no hope of salvation) and the wicked son in the story also included the Jewish believers. The hostility of the early Jewish believers to Rabbinic Judaism was soon translated by early Christians into hostility to Jews as a whole. The Talmud mentions three enemies of Judaism, Titus of course, because he said that the Torah was a “burdensome theology.” The name “Balaam” became a code word for Christians, and the third enemy was any Jewish traitor in general. As all this was developing, Jewish believers were still attending the synagogues. The influence of non-Jews coming into the faith began a slow decline in Torah observance. Rome was prejudiced against the Jews, and during the Jewish revolt this really came out. They hated the Jewish people and anything “eastern.” A Godfearer had a lot of trouble attending a synagogue, before and after the revolt. We have already discussed Cornelius in Acts 10. He was a Roman centurion who went to the synagogue. How do you think his men felt? His men worshipped in a religion called Mithraism, which centered around a sun divinity named Mithras. Mithraism was a heavy influence on Gentile Christianity. Constantine was the High Priest of Mithraism when he chaired the Council of Nicea. That is where Sunday worship was instituted (which was the day of the sun Mithras) and where Christmas comes from, the birthday of the sun god Mithras. Any encyclopedia will tell you about the influence of Mithraism on Gentile Christianity, and we still see the same practices today. We know from Scripture that the Godfearers extended into Caesars’s household (Phil 4.22). In Part 7, we will pick up here and begin to show how the non-Jewish believers began to downplay anything that was Jewish and how their lack of training in the Torah paved the way for the anti-Torah sentiments that we see today in Christianity. We will also discuss briefly two other Jewish-Roman wars and their impact on what was happening. We will see that after the final Jewish war in 135 AD, the non-Jews entered into a faith that was totally different than what you read about in the book of Acts.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Prophecy/Eschatology, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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