There are several points we want to stress. When Yeshua comes, he will regather Israel. Moses was a “sh’liach” (sent one, apostle) and was sent in the First Redemption to take Israel out of Egypt. Another prophet like will come according to Deut 18.18-19. The Second Redemption, or Messianic Redemption, will be led by Yeshua, the “sh’liach” sent to regather Israel a second time in a physical and spiritual redemption (Isa 11.11). When Yeshua spoke of these things, they knew and understood what he said because they have been praying this every day in the Shemoneh Esrai, year after year. When he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15.24), we must realize they are taking this much deeper than we realize. They were tapping into what they were taught about the Messiah and the Redemption. So, the primary view of the people was that the redemption would come in stages.
There was a sequence to this. The return of Israel will be in stages, in two groups, Judah and Israel. This would be a physical return as well as a spiritual return, which was the message of Yocahnon Ha Matvil (John the Immerser). He taught “teshuvah” or a return spiritually. Then there would be the building of the Temple. The Temple was standing in the time of Yeshua, so this was the coming of the Temple in Ezekiel. Then came the coming of the Messiah. So, we are going to build on these concepts. We believed at one time that Christians knew the Gospels and Epistles better than the Tanak. But in reality, that isn’t true. They probably know the Tanak better than the Gospels and Epistles. Why? The only way you can see and understand the Gospels and Epistles, what Yeshua has said or what Paul wrote, is to put it back into a Jewish context. If we fail to do that, you will read the Gospels and epistles thinking you understand them, but you will be missing what is actually being communicated. The key to understanding the Gospels and Epistles is to read it like a Jew in the first century.
The majority of the people in the first century, while they might not be Pharisees or Chasidim (Pious Ones), would have followed that leading. They were observant of the commandments of the Torah. When we read, we need to keep in mind this question, “What was the audience thinking when they heard these things?” The teachers at the time of Yeshua used a type of teaching called “Aggadic Midrash.” Many are familiar with the Haggadah at Passover. The word “aggadah” means the telling of stories to make a point, or “parables.” There are two types of aggadah. You have “Aggadic Halakah” which deals with commandments and how to walk in them. The other is “Aggadic Midrash” which is an interpretation of Scripture through stories. A parable is an aggadic midrash. A very good book to read and have is a book called “The Messiah Texts” by Raphael Patai. This will get into midrashim on the Messiah. Another set of books that are good is called “Legends of the Jews” by Louis Ginzberg. This is a collection of aggadot (parables). However, you can get this on-line at “Legends of the Jews” at WWW.Pseudopigrapha.com.
Now we know that the audience of Yeshua were Jews, and whether they were Pharisees or not, they were following the halakah of the Pharisees. That is a very important thing to keep in mind. There were two main schools of thought on halakah among the Pharisees, however, and they disagreed with each other. One school was called Beit Hillel and the other was called Beit Shammai. There are over 300 recorded disagreements between the two schools and some of these disagreements turned violent. So, when the Gospels and Epistles say “Pharisee” it doesn’t mean all Pharisees saw things the same way, and you must try to find out what school of thought the Pharisees mentioned belonged to. Sometimes they were from Beit Shammai, and sometimes they were from Beit Hillel. They were not all the same.
The people were constantly aware of the Torah and the commandments, so no matter what was said they would immediately think of how this was connected to how they should walk and relate to the mitzvot and how it applied. Luke 15.11-32 and the “aggadah” of the “Prodigal Son” is based on Jer 31.1-20. This concept and basic story is known as the “Merciful Father” in Judaism. In the closing scene of the movie “The Chosen” this story is recounted. Now, let’s apply this parable in Luke to Israel.
The “two sons” are Judah and Israel (Ephraim is the younger son who came after Judah). Israel will be carried away into captivity (v 13). Israel is younger because there was the Dual Monarchy. Saul was the first king from Benjamin, then David followed by Solomon from Judah. Jereboam was the first king of the northern tribes during the time of Reheboam. The younger son went away in the parable “attached himself to one of the citizens of that country” meaning Ephraim lost their identity and assimilated (v 15). To “feed swine” means they were among the Gentiles, and Jews had nothing to do with swine. Then he came to “his senses” (did teshuvah) and said he would “go to my father” (returned to God). Don’t think of these terms in a western, Gentile mindset but ask “What were the people thinking when they heard this?” Then the father has a banquet (the Messianic Kingdom), and the older son (Judah) approached the house (the Fathers house=Messianic Kingdom). He complains about how his brother involved himself with “harlots” (idolatry), but the father says this brother of yours “was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found” meaning all of Israel will be saved, as stated Gen 48.19 and reiterated by Paul in Rom 11.25-26. The term “M’loh Ha Goyim” in Gen 48.19 means the “fullness of the Gentiles” and it refers to the Jews who were scattered among the nations being brought back from exile, and Paul confirms this concept. Acts 1.6 speaks of the return of the exiles and how the kingdom will return to Israel. An understanding of the Torah will help us have a solid foundation to understand the Gospels and Epistles.
This concludes our brief look into the Gospels and Epistles and how we should approach them. In our next teaching on the Torah and New Testament Foundations, we are going to look into Biblical Eschatology. This is another area that needs to be understood if we are ever going to understand the New Testament. After that, as a practical application of what we will learn, we will look into eschatology and the Book of Hebrews.