What If UR Wrong

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

     Albert Einstein

 

                                                                                        First Century Jesus

                                                                                                 

by Mark Karapetyan

If you traveled to the African nation of Angola, and told everyone that “the ball is in their court,” how do you think they would respond to you?

What if you went to Fiji, and told some folks there that “Elvis has left the building?” What would those Fijians tell you? 

Better yet, what if you met a lovely couple from Portugal, and informed them that “you just hit the nail on the head?” How would they interpret your dialogue?

I think you pretty much have an idea of what I am trying to tell you. Some sayings that we are familiar with in one culture make no sense what so ever in other cultures.    

Every language in every country has its own collection of unique expressions. They offer advice about how to live, and also carry some underlying ideas, principles, and values of a given culture / society. These expressions or axioms are called “idioms.”

It is important to understand that the meaning of an idiom cannot be determined by looking up the meanings of the separate words. When these words are put together in a specific way, the meaning becomes something new.

So, when we say that the ball is in your court, we actually mean that the decision to make is yours. To inform someone that Elvis has left the building means that it’s all over- it’s finished. Lastly, to hit the nail on the head means we got it right. I believe you understand my point so far…

First century Palestine was no different!

They too had their idioms and unique customs. Jesus, as a Jew was familiar with all that; thus, He preached His message accordingly.

He constantly used idioms to simplify His sermons so that the people of His time would understand what it was that He was trying to communicate.

Today, most people in the English speaking world read the Bible as if they are reading a post off of Face book from last month. Then, when the text makes no sense whatsoever (because we read a 1st century text with the understanding of 21st century American English), they come to false conclusions and distorted assumptions.

When we read Scripture (New Testament specifically), we MUST always remember that the characters in these stories were Jewish men and women who lived in first century Israel. These people were familiar with the popular idioms used in their times. Therefore, when a Rabbi or a teacher, for example, referred to a specific idiom to illustrate a message, everyone understood the significance.

In this study, I will present to you a few passages from the New Testament, where unless you are already familiar with the Jewish customs, and traditions, it would be difficult for you to understand the true meaning of the message intended by the writer. These customs and traditions I speak of make absolutely no sense to us today here in the West, but were perfectly normal and well understood by the Jews in 1st century Israel.     

Below are some examples:

The woman with an issue of blood      

In Luke 8:43-48, we read a fascinating story about a woman with an issue of blood who came to Jesus for healing:

And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, came behind Him, touched the edge of his garment, and immediately her issue of blood was healed. Jesus said: ‘who touched me?’ When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude push you and press you, and you say, who touched me?

“And Jesus said, ‘somebody has touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.’ And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what reason she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.

“And he said unto her, ‘Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made you whole; go in peace.’”

My question to you is this: Why did the woman touch the “hem” of Jesus’ garment and not any other part?

Did she, as a 1st century, Jewish woman, know something about hems of garments that we, westerners, don’t know?

The answer is a resounding yes!

Most of us assume that the woman just reached for Jesus’ garment for healing, since Jesus was miraculously healing everyone left and right.  That is not so!

 What we fail to realize is that she touched the “edge” of His garment for a very specific reason:

The Greek word “Kraspedon,” actually means “a little appendage hanging down from the edge of the mantle or cloak, made of twisted wool.”

We must remember that Jesus, as a 1st century observant, Jewish man, wore a Jewish garment according to God’s command found in Numbers 15:37-41:

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘speak to the sons of Israel and tell them to make for themselves tassels on the hems of their garments throughout their generations, and put a cord of blue on the tassel of each hem. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, so that you do not follow after [the desires of] your own heart and eyes, [desires] after which you used to follow and play the prostitute, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy (set apart) to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.’”

Just like the Jews of Israel, Jesus also wore a cloak that resembles a modern-day “Tzitzit,” or a prayer shawl.

What’s so interesting is that the Prophet Malachi prophesied that the coming Messiah would have healing in His wings. The Jews knew this!

But for you who fear My name with awe-filled reverence the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go forward and leap joyfully like calves released from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)

You see, out of this concept above, a belief developed that the wings of the Messiah would have healing powers. The Jews understood this text, and knew exactly what it meant!

“Not so fast,” you might object, “for the text in Malachi says the “wings” of the garment shall have healing powers, not the hem or the edge!”

I understand the objection, but perhaps what you didn’t know is that the Hebrew word “kanaph” is translated as corners, or wings. Therefore, the corners of the prayer shawl are often called the “wings” of the garment.    

Now you understand why the woman went directly for the “wings” or the “hem” of Jesus’ garment? She had been well versed in Jewish traditions and customs, and had known the prophecy of Malachi.

In addition, this woman was fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah from Malachi, and that she was going to be instantly healed the moment she touched His garment. How do we know this? Matthew’s version (Matthew 9:20) of the same story adds an amazing little detail for us: “for she said within herself, if I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole.” (V. 21) 

This story makes more sense if it is looked at from the eyes of 1st century Jews.

 

The woman caught in adultery

Most of us are familiar with the story of Jesus and the prostitute. If you recall correctly, the Jews were fed up with Jesus and His miracles. So, they sought to trap Him and accuse Him of violating Moses’ laws. Here is how it all went down:

“Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’  This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’  And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.  When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’

She said, ‘No one, Lord.’

“And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’”   (John 8:3-11)

The part of this story that I want you to focus on is:

Why and what did Jesus write in the sand?

It is a strange behavior that Jesus demonstrated that day, in the midst of a serious event. Imagine, in today’s world, an attorney stooping down and writing with his finger on the floor of the court room when asked a question by the judge! It would be odd, wouldn’t it?

Before I analyze this passage for you and reveal the truth of what happened that day, we need to understand a few things first:

The Apostle John tells us that the adulterous woman was BROUGHT to Jesus, not the other way around. The question is, where was Jesus when they came to Him?

In 1st century Israel, the Temple area was divided into sections. The outermost area of the temple was called the “court of the Gentiles” or the “outer court” because it could be entered into by all people. It was the most exterior and, by far, the largest of all the courts.

Beyond this outer court was an area known as the Holy Place, where only righteous men were permitted to enter with their sacrifices. The Holy Place contained a seven-branched candlestick, a golden altar on which to burn incense, and a table on which show bread was placed. It also had five tables along both the north and south walls of the area. Lastly, Beyond the Holy Place was the Holy of Holies, where originally the Ark of the Covenant had been placed. Only the High Priest on one day of the year was granted access to this place. It was a sacred chamber where the Glory of God dwelt.

Before I continue, let’s summarize the temple layout:

  1. The outer court (or the court of the Gentiles): Everyone was allowed there.
  2. The Holy Place: Only righteous men were allowed to enter with their sacrifices.
  3. The Holy of Holies: Only the High Priest, once a year, was allowed to enter.

Out of these areas in the Temple, which court do you think Jesus was in when they brought Him the woman caught in adultery?

The correct assumption is that Jesus was present in the outer court, or the Gentiles’ Court, since all people were permitted to be there. However, do we know for a fact that Jesus was indeed in the Gentiles’ Court on that day?

I believe He was, and here is why:

Let me rewind John’s story a little and reveal to you an incredible hidden detail that will prove Jesus’ whereabouts on that day.

If you read John 7: 14 carefully, you will know where Jesus was: “About the midst of the Feast, Jesus went up to the temple and taught.”

So, we know that Jesus was present at the temple, teaching as usual. He even cried out to everyone: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” 

The Pharisees and the Scribes were bothered and offended by Jesus’ teachings. There was even a division amongst people regarding Jesus as to who He might be (John 7:43-52). Finally, everyone went home, and Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

Here is the kicker: John tells us that after the events above, early the next morning, Jesus came back AGAIN to the temple to teach: “But Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives.  And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and He sat down, and taught them.” (John 8:1-3)      

Aha! The word “again” explains the mystery!

Now we know for a fact that early in the morning, Jesus was in the temple, when they brought Him the adulterous woman.  

Let’s proceed…

Now that the “where” is established, let’s focus on the “when” of the story.

John is careful to detail that the story of the adulterous woman happened on the last and greatest day of the feast (John 7:37). Why is this important?

What most of us don’t know is that in those times, there was a ceremony associated with the Feast of Tabernacles known as the water libation ceremony (nisukh hamayim). This ceremony took place in the Temple every day during the feast. Remember, Jesus cried out on the last day of the feast “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scriptures have said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 

The text says that Jesus “stood” to make His announcement, and that He “cried” meaning He spoke with a loud voice. He wanted everyone to hear the good news. The stunned crowd did hear and they knew what He meant. Basically, Jesus was declaring that He was Messiah and that everyone who would believe in Him would receive the gift or indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the “living water,” not measured in terms of a trickling spring, the Spring of Gihon, but a flowing river-even numerous rivers!

Immediately, after Jesus expressed these words, many people accepted Him as the Messiah, others, such as the legalists and the Pharisees, rejected Him. That’s why the very next day, early in the morning, they bring the woman to Him! 

Jesus, however, was a brilliant teacher. He often spoke without saying a word!

John tells us that, the next day, when the Pharisees kept asking Him about the adulterous woman’s punishment, instead of answering their question directly, Jesus knelt down and wrote in the sand.

Ironically, the first time Jesus wrote in the sand, the woman’s accusers failed to respond to Jesus’ gesture. So, Jesus wrote in the sand once more, which produced a powerful, surprising reaction.  The accusers dropped their stones, one by one, and walked away…

“What did Jesus write in the sand that forced the woman’s accusers to leave?” You might ask.

The astonishing answer is found in the Old Testament, mainly, in Jeremiah 17:13:

 “O lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away from You will be written in the sand because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.” 

Did you catch it?

Those who brought the adulterous woman to Jesus were Jewish Rabbis and teachers. They were knowledgeable, experts in the Torah and the Law. That’s why they only brought the adulterous woman alone to Jesus and not the adulterous man; their intention was not to seek justice according to the Laws of Moses, but rather, to ensnare Jesus and accuse Him of something criminal.

Most likely, the accusers instantly made the connection between Jesus’ action-writing in the sand- and the passage in Jeremiah!

I can almost imagine their angry and hate-filled faces, and hear their hearts racing as He reminds them from their own book of Jeremiah, that they indeed were the hypocrites who forsake God. Therefore, their names would be written in the sand!

Jesus & the Scroll of Isaiah

This is one of my personal favorites-the story of Jesus and the scroll of Isaiah. This thrilling event that took place in Jesus’ early ministry, made evident that Jesus was not just another Rabbi amongst many, but rather, the prophesied Messiah that the Jews had been awaiting for centuries. Sadly, the Jews failed to see this reality!

Most, if not all people in the West, speed-read this story and overlook several, critical details that fill the gaps and connect the necessary dots to make the story coherent and comprehensible.

Just like the other examples I have shown you, this story will only make sense through the lens of a 1st century Israelite.

Before I tell you why, let’s read this pulsating passage first:

“So Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

 “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me, to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

“Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.”  (Luke 4:16-20)

Luke tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue where “He had been brought up, as His custom was.” This is a remarkable detail because it clearly shows us that Jesus had been accustomed to going to the synagogue, He knew the traditions, and it wasn’t His first trip there-Jesus was one of them!

Then, we are told that just like every other time, Jesus stood up to read, and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.

Most Christians fail to understand that Jesus DID NOT PICK the book of Isaiah to read from. It was handed to Him. 

In Jesus’ times, the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), and some excerpts from the books of different prophets were read every week in the synagogue by the Jewish Rabbis. Astoundingly, the books or the portions were PRE-SELECTED, and then handed to the rabbi to read.

Jesus was an observant Jewish Rabbi; going to the synagogue and reading the Torah or a portion of one of the books of the prophets was a normal procedure to Him.  

Basically, when Jesus stood up to read on that day, the scroll of Isaiah was HANDED to Him. Many Christians incorrectly assume that Jesus, Himself, picked that portion of Isaiah to demonstrate to everyone that He was the long awaited Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.

Wrong!

Luke makes it clear that the scroll of Isaiah was handed to Jesus because Isaiah was the pre-selected portion for that specific week-it was chosen for Him.

Now comes the riveting part!    

Luke tells us that as soon as Jesus finished reading the book, He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down…

“What’s so riveting about this?” you might ask.

Well, Luke tells us that “the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him.”

The question is, why?

If Jesus had been going to the synagogue as an accustomed, observant, Jewish male (remember, Luke says Jesus grew up there), that means the Jews knew Jesus, and were familiar with Him reading one of the books in the synagogue.  

Why, then, were the eyes of EVERYONE fastened on Jesus this time, but not the previous times? What is it that Jesus said or did that made ALL the people in the synagogue stare at Him in shock?

(Take a minute and think of the answer on your own before you continue reading).

Unless you were familiar with 1st century Jewish customs and traditions, it would be hard for you to answer this question.

In Jesus’ times, the tradition in the synagogue was as follows: After the two readings of the Torah, the reader was then given the chance to analyze and discuss the text that had just been read (just like in churches today). It is crucial to understand from the original passage of Luke that when Jesus made the statement “today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears,” the people listening didn’t have any reaction what so ever!

Many people, including Christians, mistakenly claim that the Jews were amazed by Jesus’ statement about His Messiah-ship; therefore, they stared at Him in Awe.

This is incorrect!

If you read the passage carefully, “the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him” BEFORE Jesus had even read that specific verse.

So, if the listeners in the synagogue weren’t reacting to Jesus’ bold statement, what, then, were they reacting to?

The synagogue itself, that Jesus and the Jews were in, actually answers this puzzling question:

In 1st century Israel, there was a place in the synagogue which was known as the Seat of Moses. It was a seat of high status and great importance because the rabbis alone were allowed to sit in that holy seat and teach. In fact, Jesus mentioned this Seat of Moses at one point when He rebuked His critics: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.” (Matthew 23:2)

The reason it was called the Seat of Moses, is that the coming Messiah, also known as the Second Moses, would sit in it one day.

So, if the listeners in the synagogue on that day didn’t react to Jesus’ reading of Scripture, they reacted so because Jesus, in fact, closed the book and went ahead and sat in that sacred seat! Remember, Jesus had been accustomed to reading God’s word in the synagogue; this time, however, He took an extra step and sat in a seat where the Jews were aware that it belonged to the Messiah alone!  By this act, Jesus was basically declaring to them that He was the Second Moses, the foretold Messiah!

Like I have told you before, Jesus often communicated brilliantly without actually saying a word. He did it when He wrote with His finger in the sand, as well as in this story. 

Many skeptics reject this explanation and claim that the Seat of Moses in the synagogue did not exist, and that the Seat of Moses Jesus Mentioned in Matthew 23:2 wasn’t an actual, physical seat, but rather a figure of speech Jesus used to illustrate His massage.

I fully disagree with this interpretation!

Why would the eyes of everyone in the synagogue be fastened on a rabbi who was reading from Scripture, when they had heard it a million times before? What was so different this time? Bring to mind that the men, who were listening to Jesus on that day, were professed and avowed Jews who were fully capable of differentiating between a true message and a figure of speech. If Jesus’ message was symbolic, and meant nothing more than a tale; I assure you, they wouldn’t have been struck by awe!   

Moreover, if the Seat of Moses was never an actual place in the synagogue, why do we have archeological discoveries to prove otherwise?

Go ahead, look it up! 

Jesus & the Temple Tax

Another captivating event that took place during Jesus’ ministry which I would like to write about, is the story of Jesus and His fiercest adversaries, who clashed and feuded with one another regarding the temple tax.

As was the norm, the Pharisees and the Scribes regularly sought to frame Jesus and accuse Him of something in order to have Him arrested. Therefore, one day, during the Passover week, while Jesus was teaching, the authorities came to Him and tried to trick Him into saying something that would ensnare Him.

Before I reveal to you the striking details of this account, let’s read the entire passage first:

“So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.

 “Then they asked Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, ‘Why do you test Me?  Show Me a denarius.’ Whose image and inscription does it have?”

“They answered and said, ‘Caesar’s.’”

“And He said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”

“But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.”  (Luke 20:20-23)

There are a few details behind the scenes we need to unpeel first in order to understand the passage better:

The spies went to Jesus and asked Him a difficult question: should taxes be paid to Caesar?

If Jesus agreed to pay taxes to the Roman authorities, then Jesus would have been considered a traitor to Israel because of His support for the Romans. If Jesus refused to pay the taxes, then Jesus would have been labeled as an insurrectionist and a rebel for refusing to obey Caesar.

Either way, regardless of Jesus’ answer, the spies were ready to pounce on Jesus and accuse Him of being either a traitor or a criminal.

The answer Jesus gave them, however, was mind-boggling and genius!

Unless you were familiar with 1st century Jewish Laws, it would be difficult for you to understand the method Jesus used to silence His accusers and put them in their place.

You have probably heard the saying: “turn your enemy’s weapons against them and you shall win without fighting” (I actually just made that up). Jesus brilliantly turned the spy’s accusations against them thus, neutralizing them at once.

If you notice, Jesus specifically asked them for a “denarius,” a coin issued by the Roman Empire, and used by the Jews in Israel. Hence, we can conclude that the spies were in possession of those coins when they came to ensnare Jesus.

Ironically, the spies who came to trap Jesus into breaking the law, were breaking the law themselves!

The fact that they had this specific coin, the denarius, on them was an up-front violation of Jewish Laws.

In Deuteronomy 4:15-16, God commanded the people of Israel not to worship idols:

“Therefore, watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman.”

It is important to understand that in those days, the Roman emperor was worshipped as a god. The emperor’s image was carved on the denarius. Therefore, according to Jewish Laws, the emperor’s image was considered an idol. The most grievous act a Jew could do was to carry an image, an idol, with him in the Holy Temple of God. That would have been considered a blasphemy against the LORD and the Jews knew it!

When Jesus asked the spies to show Him a denarius, He did it in plain view, in the temple, before a multitude of people. In a way, Jesus showed how wicked and evil the spies and the Pharisees were by exposing their hypocrisy. Jesus could have asked one of His disciples to produce the coin, but He chose not to, because His goal was to bring to light the dishonesty and deception of His accusers.

The way Jesus dealt with the Pharisees shows how aware He was in their Jewish way of thinking, their customs, and their traditions.

What’s so comical to me is that the foolish, futile spies and Pharisees, who came to the temple to accuse Jesus of breaking God’s Laws, failed miserably to realize that the very laws they so dearly adhered to and considered holy, were in fact, from the beginning, decreed to them by the same Person they were accusing of breaking these laws…How odd!

Conclusion

In my opinion, one of the top items in everyone’s bucket list before he/she meets his/her Creator should be a trip to the Holy Land. By this, I don’t mean the Disney Land of the Christian world-the Vatican-but rather, Israel, where Jesus lived and died. Perhaps only then you would be able to better understand the culture and the traditions that trace back to first century Israel when Jesus was around. Perhaps only then you would be able to finally clarify your distorted image of Jesus and let go of your erroneous idea about who He really was and what He looked like.

I hate to break it to you, but contrary to what most of you in the west believe, Jesus wasn’t a white man; He was a brown-skinned Middle-Eastern Jew!

This may come as shocking to you, but Jesus was neither blonde nor had blue or green eyes. He never floated in mid-air and never hovered an inch above the ground. He wasn’t 007 and never acted like one. He never performed Hollywood-type dangerous martial arts stunts, and believe it or not, He didn’t walk around with a glowing halo on top of His head either!

Jesus was a normal human being who was dashing, blunt, honest, fearsome, yet humble and modest at the same time. Mostly likely He had thin, slim, slender and powerful legs, since He walked everywhere (unlike modern day fake, lazy, greedy pastors and church leaders who travel in Limousines and first class on airplanes).   

Jesus had a powerful upper body and strong shoulders, something you’d expect from a carpenter. As a Jew, He had black/brown hair, black or brown eyes, and olive-color skin. Scriptures tell us that many times the Pharisees could not identify Jesus, as He was unrecognizable. It is no wonder that He went unnoticed among other Jewish men, since He looked like one.

In all reality, whatever image you and I have in our minds about Jesus and what He looked like is probably not accurate. The closet we can get to the real Jesus comes from what we read about Him in the New Testament. Therefore, my advice to you is this: when you read the gospels, read them carefully and try to understand them from the point of view of Jewish men who lived in 1st century Israel. Better yet, visit the Holy Land, re-live the life of Jesus and walk in His foot-steps, and watch Him come alive in your mind as He is in your heart!   

    

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

William Arthur Ward

         

  

 

   

    

    

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