Today’s blog is a long one, and more of a devotional than my normal blogs- so buckle up buttercup!
So pretty much all I talk about now-a-days is what I am learning about the Jewish culture and how it is important to our understanding into who Jesus was and how it gives a deeper, more rich understanding of him and his teaching. Therefore, today we are going to learn about who Jesus is and was, and why you should follow him. So take a few minutes by yourself and answer these three questions:
- Who do you believe Jesus is/was?
- What do you think he was like (personality)?
- Why should you/do you follow him?
I have been a Christian literally all my life. I didn’t always live a Christian lifestyle, but I was in church and church activities as much as humanly possible growing up. After I chose to life a Christian lifestyle, I took so many Bible studies trying to learn about God and about my Savior. Most of you know I even went to Seminary and worked my tail off trying to learn even more about the Bible, and in tandem, about the God who wrote it. This is what I know, 100% about the Bible—the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know anything. It is so in-depth, so detailed, so intricately designed, with so many subtle connections we miss more often than not, we are able to study it the entirety of our lives and still not know it all. I have been listening to a guy named Ray Vander Laan who teaches the Bible from an eastern perspective—he is an evangelical Christian, but has an immense understanding of the Jewish culture, and uses that knowledge to give added understanding about Jesus and his teachings. Listening to him has literally blown my mind- things are so much clearer and Jesus is seriously so much more incredible when you understand the context of his life. So today, we are going to learn about the Jewish customs and try to see Jesus from a Jewish context.
In order to understand the orthodox Jewish custom-which we know Jesus was an orthodox Jew-we need to look at their education. Y’all, their entire lives revolved around Torah, which are the first 5 books of the Bible- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy- customarily attributed to Mosaic authorship. Everything from their education to what they talked about at the dinner table, to the tassels God told them to sew onto their garments were geared to learning and remembering Torah. So it’s not hard to imagine that they were extremely dedicating to teaching their children torah.
Ancient Orthodox Jewish School Systems:
- Beth Sefer (House of the Book) is our version of “Elementary” day school. It was for boys and girls ages 5-12 with the goal of complete Torah memorization. *Side note, this is just one more instance where the Jews were incredible forward-thinking in feminism.* The goal was for each child to have the entire Torah memorized—and not just rote memorization, but if someone asked them to recite all the verses from memory which mentioned a dove, these students could do it.
- Beth Midrash (house of learning) is our version of “High school.” This level of Torah education was for the top 10% (comparatively) of boys ages 12-15. Only the best of the best Torah students continued to this level of education- the rest went to learn the family trade. Girls were usually preparing for marriage at this time and did not continue past Beth Sefer. These teenage boys were the ones who completed their memory work and had the Torah totally memorized. They would continue to work on memorizing the wisdom literature, like Psalms, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Songs of Solomon, and the prophets. They would also begin learning interpretation and practical application of the Torah.
- Beth Talmud (House of Talmud) is our version of “college.” This was for young men ages 15-30 which were the top 1% respectively: for the geniuses who continued until they couldn’t keep up any longer or until they finished their rabbinical training at age 30. These men studied under Rabbis with authority (Smicha) furthering their memorization of wisdom and prophecy and learning the Talmud—which is a legal, oral commentary on the Torah.
What it meant to be a Rabbi
Those who graduated from Beth Midrash could become Rabbis, called Torah teachers. They are the ones who taught Beth Sefer and Beth Midrash. Torah teachers were Rabbis who had memorized the entire Torah with excellence and incredible understanding. These men are extraordinarily gifted teachers.
Those who graduated Beth Talmud at 30 could become Rabbis with Smicha (authority):
- Had to have memorized the entire OT: Torah, wisdom, and prophets.
- They were recognized healers: empowered by God to do miracles
- They were believed to be given by God the authority to make new teachings. They could interpret the Law a new way.
- Could have disciples
- In Jesus’s day, rabbis became rabbis with Smicha through a process by which they were recognized by other Rabbis with Smiha after extensive questioning by the placing of hands and blessing as Rabbi with Smiha. In modern times, they have to go to a school and process similar to seminary
- Rabbis are their culture’s rockstars and pro-athletes; I don’t know if you remember the old school baseball trading cars but where we have trading cards with athletes or now pokemon or whatever- orthodox Jews have trading cards with rabbi’s on them. Rabbis are the goal – every orthodox Jew wants to be a great rabbi.
How do we know Jesus was a Rabbi
Jesus was an orthodox Jew. He went through each and every one of these schools. What age was Jesus when he started his ministry? 30. Listen, the difference between western and eastern thinking is that the western way of mind rests on details and definitions; easterners are the kings of the understated visuals. To the easterner, why explain something explicitly, when you can infer it and the student can come up with the answer themselves? The writers of the gospels didn’t see the need to say where Jesus was during his childhood, because everyone of their Jewish brethren would have known that Jesus was studying. Because that’s what they did. Not only that, but do you remember, who were the only rabbis who could have disciples? Rabbi with Smicha! In order to be a rabbi with smicha, one had to complete Beth Talmud- which indicates that Jesus was a genius who had dedicated his entire life to memorizing the entire OT, learning how to interpret the OT, and seeking a relationship with the God who, the Jews believe, inspired not only every single word of the Bible, but every single letter. The writers of the gospels would not have wasted precious scroll space explaining what every Jew would have known and understood- Jesus was clearly a spiritual leader the likes that none have ever seen before. We know he was a rabbi because, obviously he had disciples. More than that, he is called rabbi by Jews in every station. See the following examples:
- A Pharisee named Nicodemas called Jesus “Rabbi”in John 3:1-2
- His disciples called him Rabbi multiples times, as in John 1:38
- Jewish people who asked for healing called him Rabbi, as in Mark 10:51
There are many, many more instances of Jesus being called rabbi; therefore, it is inferred that the people- from the priest down to the lay people believed Jesus was a Rabbi.
Yall! Jesus didn’t just know about God because he was God, he didn’t know Jewish prophecy and history because He was God –he knew it because he studied diligently for 25 years. Jesus- our Lord and Savior, worked his tail off to memorize the entire OT. He was the best of the best of the Jewish students. He was a rabbinic hero of the time. Before they turned on him, the Jewish people loved him, they sought him out everywhere he went—they wanted to be near him, they wanted to hear what he had to say, they questioned him and were amazed by his answers. Luke 2 describes a time when Jesus was 12 that he was left behind in Jerusalem. It took his parents three days to find him, and they found him in the temple. Luke 2:46-47 says: “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
Jesus was obsessed with learning the Scripture, obsessed with understanding the Law, the wisdom, and the prophecies. It consumed him. The story from Luke 2 continues in vv. 48-49: “And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus couldn’t understand why his parents couldn’t find him—of course he was in the temple! His entire life revolved around learning the Scriptures. This is the man we are told to follow- to live like. We are told to strive to be like him. How many of you have spent any time memorizing the Scripture? By the age of 12, Jesus had the entire first five books of the Bible thoroughly memorized. Think about that as you answer these next few questions.
- Around what does your life revolve?
- Jesus dedicated 30 years to learning about God before beginning ministry. What does that tell you about how important it is to know God’s Word and to have a close relationship with Him?
- What more can you do to live like Jesus?
Why should we follow him?
So we now know that Jesus was a Rabbi with Smicha, with authority, and we know what he went through to achieve that. But we should we follow his teachings and strive to live like him?
One of the Jewish messianic traditions taught that the Torah proclaims the Messiah in its entirety—meaning in each portion of Scripture, the Torah, the wisdom scriptures, and the prophetic sciptures. In order to be Messiah, he would have to fulfill what each portion of Scripture says about him. so let’s take a look at Matthew 17:1-5:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
God’s words, “This is my son” come straight out of wisdom Scripture found in Psalm 2:7: I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”
God’s next words, “With whom I am well pleased” comes straight out of prophetic scripture found in Isaiah 42:1:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
And God’s last directive, “Listen to him” comes straight out of Torah in Duet 18:15-19: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
Jesus fulfilled every single portion of Scripture, just like the messianic tradition maintained. The examples I gave you are just three of the hundreds of prophecies Jesus fulfilled from the OT. Not only that, but Jesus was the only rabbi in the history of Judaism that got his authority directly from God. I told you above that Rabbis got their smicha, their authority, through the placing of hands and testing by other rabbis with smicha. To our knowledge, that never happened. Instead, God said at Jesus’s baptism, “this is my son with whom I am well pleased,” and later like we just read in Matthew 17, “listen to him.”
Jesus was a brilliant man who dedicated thirty years of his life to learning the Scripture so he could change the entire earth in three years with twelve disciples. He is the only rabbi in history to receive his authority directly from God. He gave his innocent life for your salvation-which you are offered freely. But you have to make that choice: Is Jesus worth following? You can’t make that choice until you know what he’s about. If you think this Jesus might be worth following, I challenge you this week to pick up your Bible and read one of the gospels. Learn about this Messiah. Do you want to live a life of freedom? Do you want to live a life that has the potential to change the world, when partnered with God? If so, walk the footsteps of the Rabbi.
For more information about Ray Vander Laan and his teachings, check out his website: https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/ or listen to his teachings at https://christianfamilyservice.com/publications/audio-messages/. Enjoy!