Keys to Undestanding the Gospels and Epistles-Part 1

Jerusalem was the headquarters for the Faith, for the Jew and the non-Jew in the first century. Yeshua resurrected in the year 30 AD. We know this because certain things stopped happening 40 years before the destruction of the Temple.

In the book “History of the Jewish people, Second Temple Era by Mesorah Publications, p 153, cites a passage from the Talmud, Yoma 39b, where it says that during the last 40 years before the destruction of the Temple the lot (for the Yom Kippur sacrifice) did not turn up in the right hand (of the High Priest), the ribbon did not turn white (as a sign of forgiveness), the western candle (on the Menorah) did not burn (all day) and the doors of the Sanctuary opened by themselves (indicating that the enemy would enter easily). Then Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai rebuked them and said: “Temple, O Temple, why are you so frightened? I know that you will be finally destroyed, because Zechariah ben Ido has prophesied about you (Zech 11.1): ‘Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars.'” This is an Orthodox Jewish source and they were in no way saying that these things happened because of the death of Yeshua, but it is not a coincidence either.

The Apostles were personally trained by Yeshua, but there were many others. There was not a concept at the time that the non-Jew was going to come into the Faith “all at one time” nor was there a concept that they would without becoming a Jew first. Their concept of the Great Commission (Matt 28.19-20; Mark 16.15) was to go into the world to the Jew. The non-Jew would come as a convert, then see that Yeshua was the Messiah. Some factions of the “judaisms” of the time did not like this idea (School of Shammai for instance).

In John 4.20-24 Yeshua validates the core of Jewish belief when he said to the Samaritan woman “You worship what you do not know, we worship that which we know, for salvation is of the Jews.” When Yochanon ha Matvil (John the Immerser) came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (Matt 3.1-2; Luke 3.3-6) he was quoting from Isa 40.9-10; 49.4; 52.7-10; and 62.10-11. This is what the people heard and understood when he said “basar” (gospel; good news).

The Gospel (basar) meant the golden age of Israel; David’s throne was going to be restored; Messiah has come; God reigns through him over the earth; peace has come; man and nature has been restored; the resurrection of the Just has occurred; righteousness reigns in the Earth; the Day of the Lord has come; the Torah goes forth from Jerusalem; idolatry is gone; the exiles have come back and true worship has been restored. The Messiah is the agent of God and empowered to bring about these things. His task is to redeem man and the creation. People enter into this redemption by Emunah (faith). The Kingdom of Heaven (God) is the message and the end result of the Basar (Isa 59.20-21; Luke 24.44-49; Acts 1.4-8).

The assumption was that the Kingdom of Heaven was for Israel, so one had to become a Jew to enter in. This assumption was proved false after Acts 10, causing major problems within the Jewish Community. During this time there were many groups that you need to be familiar with in order to understand the Gospels and Epistles. There were the Pharisees, with two main groups. There was the School of Hillel, where Paul came from, and were the most balanced. Halakah in Judaism today comes from them and they were very eschatological. The Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin was from Hillel. The School of Shammai was the other main group of the Pharisees and they opposed one another. They were strict and hard on converts, but were very eschatological.

The Sadducees were the opposite of the Pharisees and believed little, especially when it came to the Messiah, the resurrection and were not eschatological (Acts 23.1-10). They accepted only the Torah and not much else. The Boethusians were rich Sadducees, upper class priests and non-eschatological.

The Sicari were the radicals. The name meant “cut-throats” and they believed in the assassination of anyone who helped Rome. The Zealots were also opposed to Rome but not to the extent of the Sicari. They were Torah observant and they could belong to any of the other groups. The Chasdim were mainly in the north and were very eschatological but not like the Pharisees in piety. The Essenes were fed up with the Sadducees and Boethusians and how they ran the Temple. There is some confusion as to who they were exactly, but they were eschatological.

The Theraputae were “healers” and this may be another name for the Essenes, or related to them, and were also eschatological. The Am ha Eretz were the common people, the “uneducated” (Acts 4.13). They followed the halakah of the Pharisees. The Babylonian Jews were very Torah observant and didn’t have to contend with the other groups.

The Hellenists in Judea were observant but non-eschatological. The Hellenists of Alexandria were Torah observant and influenced by Greek culture. The Hellenists of Asia Minor were Torah observant and also influenced by Greek culture. The Hebrews were traditional (Orthodox) Jews and often contended with the Hellenistic Jews, even after they became believers (Acts 6.1-6). This conflict goes back to the Maccabees, nearly 200 years before.

The persecution by Paul against believers had its basis in this contention between the Traditional Jews and the Hellenistic Jews. Paul never went after the apostles in Jerusalem because they were Traditional and had favor (Acts 2.47; 8.1) and notice he went to all the places where the Hellenistic Jewish believers were the strongest (Acts 8.1). Yeshua seems to have had a cross section of these groups among his Talmidim. His followers became known as the Netzarim (Nazarenes) and they were Torah observant and eschatological. They could belong to other groups. The only thing that separated them from these other groups was their faith in Yeshua as the promised Messiah.

What we are being told in Acts 2.37-47 is that the congregation of believers was within a Jewish context and not starting something new. This new sect had other carry over issues from their previous beliefs such as what to do with a Gentile convert (Acts 10; 11; 15; 22).

This was the number one controversy in the first century among all the Jewish sects. You also had carry over issues with believers from the School of Shammai and Hillel (Acts 15.1; the Book of Galatians was written because of this). We will pick up here in Part 2 of our study of the keys that will help you understand the Gospels and Epistles.

Posted in All Teachings, Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Prophecy/Eschatology, Questions, The Feasts of the Lord, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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