Rabbi Yeshua Part 1
The Early Years
On return from the Babylonian exile, the leaders of Israel recognised that the key to their survival as a people required a diligent study of the Word of God. So, starting at the age of five, Jewish boys and girls would study by memorizing the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh (acronym for Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim). As the Jews did not each have their own personal Torah, memorizing of scriptures became the means to carry the Word of God with them, as their guide on life’s path. Instead of the words being written on paper, God’s words were written on their hearts.
Yeshua would have been raised with a reverence for the Torah (the law) as the divine guidance, direction and instruction for holy living. It was a Father’s teaching to His beloved children. This is why at age 12, Jesus was able to engage in an advanced discussion with the Teachers of the Law.
Commencement of Public Ministry
Yeshua started His ministry at the age of 30, for it was at this age in the Jewish custom, that a man came into his spiritual maturity. At thirty, a Levite from a priestly family could enter into full duties at the temple (Numbers 4:47); the Gospel of Luke (3:23) states that Jesus was “about 30 years of age”.
John the Baptist’s name in Hebrew is Jochanan haMatbil, meaning “one that causes people to be immersed”. The Gospel of Luke, introduces the ministry of John the Baptist by informing us that “during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the Word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This had been prophesied by Isaiah the prophet, John was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Isaiah 40:3-5; Luke 3:4b-6).
The focus of John’s ministry was a call to repentance in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah. In Greek “Repentance” is metanoia, which indicates more than a sense of guilt and sorrow for past actions, it means “a change of mind, repentance, turning about, conversion.” John, was calling for a change of mind, requiring a decision to change sinful patterns of behaviour and bad habits.
In verses 7–9 of Matthew chapter 3, John identifies his audience as a “brood of vipers” and calls them to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” Going back to the Garden of Eden, the serpent is associated with evil, the devil, and the works of iniquity. Thus, John strikes to the root of the problem – the Jews had substituted God’s Word with Satan’s lies and deceptions. Man’s wisdom, a toxic poison, had infected the morals of the people. John’s message in preparation for the Messiah, was a powerful blow to the root cause of the wickedness of the people.
Yeshua, although He did not need to, also partook in John’s baptism of repentance. By doing so, He fulfilled His role as the obedient Son of God, practicing the required righteousness of submitting to God’s will to repent. So, the baptism of Yeshua was an indicator of His desire to live His life wholeheartedly devoted to God (Philippians 2:6-7). Yeshua was thus initiated into service by John, and then to combat the poison of man’s wisdom within the people, He began to immerse them in the Word of God.
“Rabbi” isn’t really a word for the Jewish clergy of Jesus’ time. Rabbi in Hebrew is literally, “my great one”, and is used to address someone as “lord” or “master”. In Yeshua’s day it was particularly used as an honorary title for outstanding teachers of the law. Yeshua castigates the Scribes and Pharisees for desiring to be called by such an exalted title: “They love … being called rabbi by others” (Matthew 23:5-7).
The itinerant teacher (rabbi) was part of the system in first century Jewish religious life. Disciples would aspire to the role of rabbi once fully trained. It is important to note that Yeshua was not only a rabbi, but also a prophet and healer – signs of the power of God at work in Him by the Holy Spirit. Rabbi Yeshua followed the practices of Jewish rabbis of that time, calling disciples (Talmidim) to walk after Him and learn of Him, and ultimately become like Him.
The Rabbi and his Talmidim
So, Yeshua was a rabbi, and those who learned of Him were His talmidim (students), who would study their Rabbi’s teachings. The talmidim of today must also study Yeshua and His teachings, but not just to accumulate knowledge. Study is worship for the Hebrew mind: “Greeks study in order to comprehend; the Hebrews study in order to revere” (Abraham J. Heschel).
The word “disciple” (mathētēs in Greek) means literally, “learner” or “pupil”, another word for talmidim. In the Gospels, it usually refers to one who is rather constantly associated with a reputable teacher, with a particular set of views. A leading rabbi would gather around him talmidim, who would literally follow him wherever he went, listening to him, follow his teaching, imitate him, even copy his style of clothing, and assist him with his work. We see this pattern reflected in the Gospels. For example, Yeshua said, “A disciple is not above his teacher…. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher….” (Matthew 10:24-25)
Understanding the teachings of Yeshua as being in the manner of a Jewish rabbi, enables us to read the Gospels in their true colours and with a new freshness, (using Hebrew and not Greek spectacles). Yeshua gives His disciples a commission in Matthew 28:19, which involves not just bringing others to salvation, but discipleship! Making disciples involves teaching the whole Gospel message, which includes eschatology (end times), a much-neglected study in today’s churches.
Yeshua calls us to obey Him as disciples. In the Upper Room, Jesus exhorts the Twelve as their Rabbi and Lord (kyrios), the one who has a right to command: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:13-15).
Yeshua’s Public ministry
Yeshua travelled the country moving from town to town teaching and ministering in the local synagogue. On one occasion He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. During the service He was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to read. Unrolling it, He read from Isaiah 61:1- and stopped reading at verse 2a: “proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour.” Why did Yeshua stop reading there? The answer is because after the comma at the end of 2a, the prophetic verse jumps 2 000 years into the future, writing “and the day of vengeance of our God.” This prophecy proclaims the events that will occur at the time of the return of Yeshua to claim His Kingdom, which includes the judgement of the nations in the valley of Jehoshaphat.
So, a comma separates two thousand years of prophetic history. Yeshua is proclaiming His arrival as the suffering Messiah, who has come to introduce the New Covenant. He is not going to bring about the kingdom era, therefore He stops reading mid-sentence.
Travelling Rabbis were Tested
With so many itinerant teachers being a part of first century life, it became important for the Jews to test these rabbis with questions on the Tanakh. These questions must be distinguished in scripture from those of the corrupted leadership, who tried to trap and condemn Jesus with “catch 22” questions.
An example of a Legitimate question:
Luke 10:25 “On one occasion an expert on The Law (Torah) stood up to test Yeshua… ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” What was Yeshua’s answer?
“He (Yeshua) said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live’” (Luke 10:26-28).
The man’s next question was “And who is my neighbour?” Yeshua follows this question with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The wisdom of Yeshua’s answers would have established Him as a Rabbi of worth in the eyes of the towns folk.
An example of a “catch 22” question:
“Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (Matt. 22:15-17).
The religious leaders consisted of Herodians, being supporters of Herod the Roman vassal king who would have supported Jews paying taxes, and Pharisees who were “separatists,” rejecting the requirement to pay taxes. So, if Yeshua had sided with the Pharisees, the Herodians would have reported Him to the Romans, and if Yeshua had sided with the Herodians, the Pharisees would have turned the people against Him.
Matthew records that Yeshua was aware of their malice, and said:
“’Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 22 When they heard it, they marvelled. And they left him and went away” (Matthew 22:18-22).
Yeshua’s answer to their question: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” has Yeshua not only outwit His opponents, but also extending to them an invitation to repent!
- Note, Jesus does not have a Denarius on Him, but that they are able to supply a coin for Him. Jesus is obedient to the Torah and does not carry a coin with an image of Caesar (Augustine) who considers himself to be God.
- He reminds them that they are made in God’s image, and exhorts them to repent. In effect, Jesus says come to your senses! Whose image do you bear? Turnaround from compromising with your Roman overlords. Don’t give yourselves to Caesar. Give yourselves wholly to God.
- Information on the invitation to repent is from D. A. Pryor’s book Behold the Man, Centre for Judaic Christian studies, 2005.
Rabbi Yeshua’s dress code
Even the dress code of the Jews had great spiritual significance. Jesus dressed as Jews of His day dressed, following the instructions of the Torah (Numbers 15:37-41). This can be clearly seen in Matthew 9:20. All religious Jews would wear a prayer shawl called a Tallit. Fixed to the four corners of the Tallit were tassels called Tzitzit. Each Tzitzit had a blue thread made from a very expensive dye, and symbolised the membership of each Jew into God’s “royal priesthood” – one of the children of Abraham.
Example of a Tallit
- The Torah instructs that the Tzitzit be on all 4 corners of the shawl, each corner is an al kanfei or “wing.”
- The Tzitzit is tied by using 8 threads (one being blue), 5 double knots and 4 windings between the knots.
- The 5 knots signify the 5 books of the Torah.
- The 4 windings represent the four letters in the sacred name of God, YHWH and His oneness:
- The windings of the Tzitzit are twisted a specific number of times. The order is 7,8,11 and 13.
- The gematria of YHWH is recorded in the adding the number 7 + 8 = 15 (YH) and 11 (WH).
- 13 has the value of the Hebrew word for “one”: echad. (the 8 threads and 5 knots also equal 13, a second witness to the “one God”).
- The Tzitzit is designed to point to the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear o Israel the Lord (YHWH) is our God, the Lord (YHWH) is One (echad).”
- The total of twists equals 39 – equalling the number of strips Yeshua received.
- The information of the design of the tzitzit was taken from D. A. Pryor’s book Behold the Man, Centre for Judaic Christian studies, 2005.
The Woman with an Issue of Blood
“She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment (Tzitzit)” (Mark 5:27).
Mark 5:27-30 is the narrative of the woman with an issue of blood. Through this story we are able to see the Western bias in our translations. In our Bibles we are told that the woman with the issue of blood reaches out to grasp the hem of Yeshua’s garment. This cannot be accurate, a woman with severe cramps would have found it impossible to bend down and grasp Yeshua’s hem while He is walking. The reality is, she understood the significance of the Tzitzit on Yeshua’s Tallit, reaching out she grasps hold of it, in doing so she:
- Takes hold of the Word of God – Yeshua
- Takes hold of the one true God -YHWH
- Takes hold of the wing of God (Malachi 4:2)
- Takes hold of her King, as a member of the “royal priesthood.”
- Takes hold of the promise of Isaiah 53:5b “by His strips we are healed.”
Matthew and the Tzitzit
Matthew wrote his Gospel with the Jews in mind, and that is emphasized in his ordering his gospel in the pattern of the Tzitzit.
- The five sections of discourse represent God’s Word.
- The four sections of narrative represent Yeshua as YHWH (the Great I am).
Matthew in laying out his Gospel so that it copies the bindings of the Tzitzit in confirming John’s words, “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God (John. 1:1).”
The Book of Matthew: The Gospel of Matthew is written by the disciple Matthew (Levi) for the Jews, and depicts Jesus as the King of the Jews, the One who fulfils the promises of the prophets.
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- Jesus would have been raised studying the Tanakh at home with His father, and with the Rabbi at the synagogue.
- Jesus started His ministry at age 30, the age of spiritual maturity.
- Jesus followed the rabbinical teaching methods of His day – including having disciples (Talmidim)
- Yeshua dressed according to scripture. Even the dress code of the Jews (Tallit and Tzitzit) have great spiritual significance.
- Matthew wrote the order of his Gospel in the pattern of the Tzitzit.