Stuff You Don't Hear Just Anywhere
by Ed Vasicek
One of the super fantastic blessings of our church is that Highland Park Church people crave the deep teaching of the Word of God. Because of that we are able to explore areas that few churches dare delve into.
This eagerness for the Word encourages your pastor to dig deeply into Scripture and into studies that add insight to our understanding of the Word, particularly studies about the Jewish background of the New Testament. We also notice Scriptures that others gloss over.
Let me give you a recent example. Take John 11:49-53: “Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.”
Have you ever wondered why we read of no reaction to Caiaphas’ prophecy? The answer is that such a statement would not have been considered unusual in first century Judaism. David Flusser (by no means an evangelical), in his book, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, (p.59) writes:
Since the age of the Hasmoneans, Jews had believed that the saints who died to sanctify the name of God atoned for the sins of Israel. The story of the mother and her seven sons in the Second Book of Maccabees acquires a greater significance in the Fourth Book of Maccabees, where their death is seen as an atoning sacrifice. In another Jewish source, Midrash Sifre, the idea is expressed that the killing of the Children of Israel by the Gentiles atones for the former’s sins.
It is reasonable to assume that during the Roman period this idea was applied not only to Jesus, but also to all those who were executed by the authorities. Even Jews who did not accept Christianity evidently believed that Jesus, like the other martyrs of the Roman authorities, had atoned for the sins of Israel.
Isn’t that fascinating? Even before the New Testament was penned, the idea of the atonement was, in a sense, already part of the culture. That is fascinating in light of Psalm 49:7-8, which reads, “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough…” Jesus could actually make an atonement because He was both God and man, hence capable of paying an infinite price. Not only were the blood of bulls and goats incapable of removing sin, neither could the blood of good men. But the sinless God-man alone could pay the penalty. Only the Lamb is worthy to open the seals. You just don’t hear this stuff everywhere!
Another portion of fascinating Scripture is right before everyone’s eyes. Acts 3:19-21 is intriguing: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”
If you carefully read this verse, you may conclude what seems obvious. As Peter is preaching some time after Pentecost, he basically tells the Jewish people that if they would repent, then the times of refreshing (the Kingdom Age or the Millennium) would come and Jesus would return! I’m not making this up—it’s right there in Acts 3. Really.
Peter writes in a similar way in 2 Peter 3:12: “…as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.”
Besides the fact that Peter is addressing events at the end of the Millennium, which are part of the broad category of the “day of God,” notice that he implies believers “speed its coming.” David Stern, in The Jewish New Testament Commentary, informs us about a Jewish tradition of tik-kun-ha’olam, meaning “fixing up the world.” Stern writes: “According to Jewish tradition such activity hastens the coming of the Messiah…”
Peter probably refers to the idea that when the Jewish people turn to Christ, this will result in the return of Jesus to reign, and he is certainly in line with Old Testament teaching. We know that near the very end of the Tribulation period, the Jewish people will turn en mass to the Messiah (Zechariah 12:8-10), which then brings about or at least precedes the return of Christ to the earth.
Although people are held accountable to believe, and although our actions do affect history, the other part of the equation is that God is Sovereign; He has a plan and timetable that cannot be thwarted. But He can and does work within people to accomplish those purposes right on time (Galatians 4:4-5). And you don’t hear this stuff everywhere either.
Yet another teaching rarely heard is that we are all still accountable to the Covenant of Noah. Note these passages from Genesis 9:
Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.... Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.’
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you.... This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds....'
Note that this covenant was made for all generations, and that this is not part of the “Law,” which came under Moses centuries later. It is still in effect.
From this covenant, the Jews claimed that 7 of the 10 commandments could be interpolated. The practice of equity (lying and coveting), not blaspheming the Name (not taking God’s name in vain), no idolatry (no images), no sexual immorality (do not commit adultery…also addresses homosexuality, incest, etc.), no murder, no robbery, and another regulation not part of the 10 but found throughout the Old Testament—no eating or drinking blood. The Jews also somehow included not eating a limb torn from a live animal.
Interestingly, the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 seemed to say that Gentile believers, while not under the Law, were to live in light of the Covenant of Noah. Acts 15:19-20 summarizes some of the key ideas in the Jewish understanding of this covenant: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”
This was typical instruction given by Jewish Rabbis to God-fearing Gentiles who did not want to become full converts to Judaism.
This code answers the question: “What moral values should Christians expect all societies to uphold?” The answer is this: the values espoused in the Covenant of Noah. Again, you don’t hear that everywhere!
Thanks, that as a pastor, you allow me to preach and teach at a higher level than is common. Like the psalmist in Psalm 138:2, many of you believe that “you have exalted above all things Your Name and Your Word.” There are not many congregations like ours!
Reprinted from the May 2004 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA