Posts tagged ‘Judaism’

Review: Erasing Hell, Chapter Three

Having dealt in Chapter Two with what the Jewish beliefs about Hell were that would have influenced Jesus and the writers of the New Testament, Francis Chan moves on to exploring what Jesus actually said about Hell. Chan gives the reader a reminder of what he labels a sobering reality: this is a subject which is not just about doctrines, but about destinies. He urges that anyone who reads the book and is wrestling with what the Bible says about Hell should not let it be merely an academic exercise.

“You must let Jesus’ very real teaching on hell sober you up. You must let Jesus’ words reconfigure the way you live, the way you talk, and the way you see the world and the people around you.”

As I wrote in my last post, Chan’s description of the 1st-century world Jesus inhabited is one in which the Jewish people saw hell as a place of punishment for the wicked after they faced God’s judgment. They described hell with images of fire, darkness, and lamenting; some believed the wicked would be annihilated after they were cast into hell, while other Jews believed hell to be a place of never-ending torment. Given this milieu, Chan notes the importance of understanding that if Jesus rejected these widespread Jewish beliefs in hell, then He would have had to deliberately and clearly argue against them.

Chan is insistent that what Jesus Himself actually said about hell stands in line with the dominant views of hell in His 1st-century Jewish world. He examines Jesus’ teachings on hell using the same three categories he discussed in Chapter Two to demonstrate that Jesus believed:

  1. Hell is a place of punishment after judgment
  2. Hell is described in imagery of fire and darkness, where people lament.
  3. Hell is a place of annihilation or never-ending punishment.

HELL IS A PLACE OF PUNISHMENT AFTER JUDGMENT

Chan notes that Jesus used the word gehenna (hell) twelve times in the Gospel, employing imagery of fire and darkness to demonstrate that a horrific place of punishment awaits the wicked on the day of judgment. Chan cites Matthew 25:31-46 as the clearest example of this.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Chan is careful to admit that this is actually an instance where Jesus actually does not use the word gehenna, but that He communicates the concept of hell by phrases such as “everlasting fire” and “everlasting punishment.” The point that is important here is that this is a passage in which Jesus is clear that the wicked will be awarded everlasting punishment on the day of Christ’s return, judgment day. He singles out another instance, in Matthew 5:22, where Jesus does use gehenna passage concerning judgment, stating,

“… here the Judge has the power to sentence you to the “hell [gehenna] of fire” (Matt. 5:22). This is not a vague reference to hell and certainly not a reference to a garbage dump. The legal context of this statement ensures that Jesus is referring to the consequences of judgment day.”

According to Chan, this legal context is the indication that Jesus means that hell is a literal place, where punishment occurs after judgment.

HELL IS DESCRIBED IN IMAGERY OF FIRE AND DARKNESS

Chan moves on to demonstrate that — like his Jewish contemporaries — Jesus described Hell using images of fire and darkness. He turns to the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13.

“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)

Chan notes that this is a verse that doesn’t say much on its own, but comments that Jesus’ explanation of the parable and what He means by the burning weeds is of significance.

“Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:40-43)

Chan unswervingly calls these statements of Jesus “terrifying,” and puts forward the image of the wicked being cast into hell — and the weeping that follows — as common belief among 1st-century Jews (an argument he supported well previously). In the light of some of the Jewish writing on hell that Chan shared previously, he is successful in making the case that Jesus is right in line with Jewish thought on Hell. Jesus was using an established vocabulary to communicate a message that no one who heard Him speaking would have had any doubts about: Jesus was speaking of gehenna (hell) as “a place of punishment for all who don’t follow Jesus in this life.” Chan tackles some contemporary stances on hell (and by “contemporary” some would almost certainly say “Rob Bell”) by asserting,

“The hell that Jesus describes here is not a hell-on-earth that accompanies our bad decisions during this life, and it certainly isn’t the never-ending party that AC/DC describes in their song.”

Lastly, Chan gives examples of Jesus’ use of the imagery of darkness to refer to hell as a place of punishment for those of Israel and the nations who do not follow Jesus.

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12)

“Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 22:13)

“And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30)

HELL IS A PLACE OF ANNIHILATION OR NEVER-ENDING PUNISHMENT

Chan concludes Chapter Three by addressing a seeming dichotomy: Jesus seems in some passages give the implication that Hell will not last very long, while in other places He refers to Hell as a place in which unbelievers are punished with horrifying, agonizing pain that never ends.

This section of Erasing Hell is one in which it seems that the voice of Preston Sprinkle could possibly be rising above Francis Chan’s, as there is a very scholarly exploration of the precise meaning of Greek words and grammar. Chan believes this is beneficial but acknowledges that it may be more technical than some might be used to. He leads into this discussion of Greek grammar with the following:

“In almost every passage where Jesus mentions hell, He doesn’t explicitly say it will last forever. He speaks of torment, and we get the impression that hell is terrible, that it’s a place to be avoided at all costs, but He doesn’t clearly tell us how long it will last.

Jesus’ most suggestive statement–perhaps His only statement–about the duration of hell comes in Matthew 25. In this passage, Jesus speaks of the final judgment that will take place at His second coming (v. 31). The sheep (believers in Jesus) and goats (unbelievers) are divided in two camps, and Jesus decides who’s who based on what they’ve done in their lives. The sheep have served Jesus by clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and so on, while the goats did none of these things. Jesus then gives His verdict:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the  devil and his angels.’ ” (v. 41)

Jesus reviews their behavior on earth and finds convicting evidence for their condemnation (vv. 42-44) and then concludes:

‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (vv. 45-46)

The vital point Chan wishes to make revolves around the phrases everlasting fire and everlasting punishment. Those who believe that Hell is of limited duration, he states, argue that the Greek aionios kolasis which is translated “everlasting punishment” does not meant that punishment is without end. Rather they argue for aionios meaning “a period of time,” with kolasis being a horticultural term referring to “pruning” or “trimming.” Here Chan is very deliberately going on the offensive against Rob Bell’s Love Wins, in which Bell stated:

“An aionios of kolasis. Depending on how you translate aionios and kolasis, then, the phrase can mean “a period of pruning” or “a time of trimming,” or an intense experience of correction.”

The argument of Bell and others, Chan relates, is that the purpose of this pruning or correction is to improve something — in this case, to correct the wicked of their ungodly behavior until they have ceased to be wicked. According to this, Jesus is referring to a time of correction that will result in those who suffer punishment being eventually saved. In Rob Bell’s view, this then refers to “endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God.”

Chan is honest enough to admit that this is an appealing argument, on the basis that it appears to reconcile the love of God with the bleak statements Jesus makes about hell. However, Chan refutes the argument on the basis of kolasis in no way referring to correction, only to punishment. He gives three reasons for this, the first being that in the three other appearances of the word in the New Testament, it refers only to punishment. Kolasis as used in Jewish literature of the first century refers to punishment.

Secondly, the everlasting punishment referred to is the same location as “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” in verse 41. This being the case, Chan notes that to argue that unbelievers endure a time of suffering for a period, which results in salvation, then the same must be true for the Devil and his angels. Chan labels this as a huge stretch, especially in light of Revelation 19-20, where it is stated that the Devil and his angels will be tormented forever and ever. Chan contends that Jesus is actually saying that unbelievers will share the same fate as the Devil and his followers. In other words, unbelievers will be tormented forever and ever.

The third reason Chan presents for kolasis referring to punishment instead of correction is that in other verses or passages in which Jesus refers to hell with phrases such as “the fiery furnace” or “everlasting fire,” He is speaking of a place of retribution, a place where sinners receive the punishment for their sins. He does not speak of correction, notes Chan, in other passages such as Matthew 13:41-42 and 49-50. He observes that the consensus of biblical commentators from diverse theological backgrounds, using diverse translations of the Bible (in numerous languages), translate kolasis as meaning “punishment.”

Chan’s final thoughts for Chapter Three contain his recognition that while he strongly favors the argument that Hell is everlasting, he is not ready to claim that with complete certainty. He concludes with this fervent admonition:

“We are bound by the words of the Creator, the One who will do what is right. The One who invented justice and knows perfectly what the unbeliever deserves. God has never asked us to figure out His justice or to see if His way of doing things is morally right. He has only asked us to embrace His Word and bow the knee, to tremble at His word, as Isaiah says (66:2)”

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From the Archives: The Day of Atonement

This is a reposting from a post originally published on September 14, 2010. Astute readers may notice that Yom Kippur this year also falls on a Saturday. This is coincidence. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, and days are calculated as being from sunset to sunset. Yom Kippur actually begins this year at sunset on Friday, October 7.

I’ve posted previously on Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish High Holy Days. This Saturday, ten days after Rosh Hashanah, marks the holiest day in the Jewish religious year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day that God set aside so that the people of Israel could atone for their sin as a nation.

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. Neither shall you do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God. If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no work at all. It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your Sabbath.” Leviticus 23:26-32

Now you’ll notice that that there are two words in the passage which are repeated three times: atonement and humble (which carries the context here of denying oneself). This is the one day when the children of Israel were invited by God to consider their lives before Him and to confess their sin. It was the one day a year that only one man in all of Israel – the high priest – could enter into the one most holy spot, the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple in Jerusalem. There he would offer a blood sacrifice first for his own sin, then the sins of the nation of Israel. The children of Israel would be gathered around the courts of the Temple, watching and waiting to see if the sacrifice would be accepted by God.

Yom Kippur was tied into the very purpose of the Mosaic Law. God had required that His people to be holy and He had given them the Law at Mount Sinai so that they could be instructed in righteousness. Yet God knew that His people could be not become holy on their own, so He gave them a means to be reconciled to Himself: a sacrificial system. The culmination of this system, by which sinning and rebellious Israelites could have their sin covered over, was Yom haKippurim: the Day of Atonement. On this day the High Priest of Israel would enter into God’s presence where He dwelt within the Holy of Holies, first in the desert Tabernacle and much later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The preparations that the priest had to make in order to purify himself before entering this holiest of places were exacting. Should he make an error it would be doubly disastrous, for the descendants of Aaron would be slain by God should they attempt to stand before Him in an impure state. Even worse, the priest would die without the sins of the nation having been atoned for.

In the Biblical period, rigorous requirements were made of each Israelite on Yom Kippur. They were commanded to humble their souls and present offerings of fire for their sins, or be cut off from the people of Israel. They were asked to set aside their earthly appetites and needs, by fasting from sundown to sundown. They were not allowed to do any work, or risk being completely destroyed. These were far harsher strictures than an ordinary Sabbath rest, and served to point out the absolute seriousness of the Day of Atonement.

Very special offerings were made before God on Yom Kippur. These consisted of incense, a bull, and two goats. Four times the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, beginning with the incense offering. As the incense burned, it formed a cloud which obscured the Ark of the Covenant; between the outstretched wings of the seraphim on its lid was the Mercy Seat, where God’s Shekinah (His glorious Presence) rested. This cloud was not just and offering but was for the protection of the high priest, since no man could see God and live. Next was the sacrifice of a bull. The priest would lay his hands on the bull, acknowledging his own personal sin and that of the priesthood. This process of laying on of hands was the symbolic means by which those sins were transferred to the bull, allowing its death to serve as a substitute for others. The bull was then slain, and its blood taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat.

Finally came the climax of Yom Kippur: the sacrifice of two goats. Two goats were brought before the high priest and lots were drawn. One goat would be for the Lord, and one would be for the sins of Israel as a nation.

The first goat was to be an offering to the Lord, and once more the priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of this sacrifice upon the Mercy Seat. Then he symbolically laid his hands upon the second goat, known by the Hebrew term Azazel, or scapegoat. It was then led from the camp – and later the Temple – into a deserted place, where it would be forced off of a cliff. Jewish tradition holds that people would line the path of the scapegoat and curse at it, strike it, spit at it, and pull out its hair, to encourage it to depart with their sins as swiftly as possible.

Although today Yom Kippur is still considered the holiest day in the Jewish year, modern Judaism observes the day in a radically different fashion. Jews continue to fulfill the command to humble themselves by severe fasting. There is no Temple now, and no sacrifices are offered. Modern Judaism teaches that blood sacrifice is not necessary, and that through prayer, repentance and mitzvot, good deeds, that one’s sins will be forgiven. Yom Kippur is a day on which the practice of charity is encouraged. Observant Jews spend the day praying in the synagogue, where the confession of sin is the high point of the service. The congregation confesses in unison, naming only general sins that cause all men to stumble. There is no mention of specific sins committed by individuals. White clothing is worn to symbolize a contrite and humble heart and confidence in God’s ability to forgive sin. The shofar is blown at the end of the synagogue service to symbolize the closing of the Books of Judgment, and the congregants will gather in one another’s homes to break the fast and share a meal.

In my previous post on Rosh Hashanah, I discussed the sound of the shofar — the ram’s horn — as God’s wake up call for us, calling us to turn away from focusing on the physical world in which we live, and to contemplate the holiness of God and our relationship with Him. If Rosh Hashanah was the wake up call, then Yom Kippur is a day of preparation. Preparation for what? Very simply, preparation to be in God’s presence.

God instructed Moses concerning the Shalosh Regalim, three major festivals when every adult male Israelite would make pilgrimage to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple.

“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover]; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest [Shavuot] of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering [Sukkot] at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” Exodus 23:14-17

“You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread … You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.” Exodus 34: 18, 22-23

“Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths …” Deuteronomy 16:16

If Rosh Hashanah woke us up to point us to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, then Yom Kippur is to prepare us for the last of the fall feasts of Israel: Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. As the name of Sukkot implies, we’re preparing to have God tabernacle among us. The Israelites would go up to God’s house, up to the Temple.

But if you’re going to go up to God’s house, you have to get ready. Therein lays a problem. You see, God is holy, and He hates sin. He cannot even look upon us because we have sin. Luckily for us, God took care of this problem. God made sure that Yom Kippur took place before Sukkot, in order that His people could be cleansed of sin and stand before Him. Yom Kippur allowed His people to know that their sin had been forgiven, so that they could go up and enjoy being in the house of God with a free conscience and a clean heart. When Sukkot arrived, they could truly participate in the rejoicing that God commanded for that festival.

Believers in Jesus Christ have received atonement once and for all through His sacrificial death on the cross. The blood of God’s own Son, Himself sinless in nature, was the only sacrifice sufficient to make final atonement for sin. Interestingly enough, we have confirmation of this from an extra-biblical Jewish source. The Talmud records that on the Day of Atonement a scarlet thread would be hung outside of the Holy of Holies. If the scapegoat, the sacrifice for sin, was accepted by the Lord the thread would turn from scarlet to white, making real the words that the prophet Isaiah had written 700 years before:

“Though your sins are scarlet they shall be white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18

The Talmud goes on to record that each year on the Day of Atonement the thread might turn white or might not, reflecting the changing spiritual state of the nation of Israel. This continued for many years, until 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, after which the thread never turned white. It remained scarlet every year, until the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. This tractate of the Talmud bears evidence to the fact that somewhere around 30 A.D. – the approximate date when Jesus was crucified – the animal sacrifices offered by the high priest of Israel were no longer accepted by God! This is because the blood of bulls and goats could never atone for sin for more than a short time. They were only shadows of a final sacrifice, a once and for all atonement for sin – the sacrifice of our Messiah Jesus on the cross. Jesus is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur, as both our great high priest and a sacrifice for all of our sin. In Him our sin is truly forgiven and our conscience cleansed.

This Saturday my wife and I — as we have done in years past — will observe Yom Kippur. In our own way we’ll follow the tradition of fasting, albeit not a fast from food. Since neither of us are allowed to fast from food for 24 hours due to health issues, we will be fasting from some other normal aspect of life, such as the use of the computer (which is a sacrifice for two people who can’t seem to go an hour without checking email). Why do we do this, if we know that we’ve already achieved atonement? We do it to honor my Jewish heritage, and we do it to acknowledge and honor what Christ went through to atone for our sins. The solemn gravity of Yom Kippur has taken on for us a great joy as well, because we know that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life through Jesus.

And Now For Something Completely Different …

HOW A NICE JEWISH BOY FOUND JESUS IN THE YELLOW PAGES

This is the 100th post on A Heart That Burns, so I thought I would memorialize that by a different sort of post. I’d like to share my personal testimony of how I came to follow Jesus, and came to be involved with the Church of the Nazarene. May it give glory to God.

I was born into a Conservative Jewish household, and while I was still just a toddler, my family moved to Northern Illinois. There I spent most of my childhood. We attended a Conservative synagogue, and both my older brother and I went to Hebrew school and had bar mitzvahs (a rite of passage into manhood) at the age of 13. But oddly enough for all that, I don’t ever remember a single discussion my family had about God.

The year after my bar mitzvah we moved to Kentucky — not exactly known as a hotbed of Jewish cultural life — and as a result I had little further practice of my Judaism. As I entered high school I began to rebel against my parents and most other authorities in my life. By the time I was a sophomore I was in full-scale rebellion. I acted very tough, and looked it too — with long hair and a leather jacket. Inside I was scared. I hung out with the “wrong crowd”, and I was soon drinking, smoking, and doing as many drugs as I could. Through high school and college I continued to struggle with substance abuse and alcoholism, finally getting clean and sober right before graduation from college . I drifted from one thing to another, trying to find some focus for my life. I felt only confusion, rage, and turmoil inside of me. I was desperately unhappy, and in complete denial of that unhappiness.

By my mid-20’s something had to change. I had been out in the workplace for several years and had just taken a new job in a new city. I felt an urge to reconnect to my Jewish roots, so I decided to find a synagogue. Not knowing the city well, I opened up the Yellow Pages to see if I could find one that I felt able to locate easily. The one I picked said in its ad, “Messianic” and “Proclaiming Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah.” These things meant nothing to me at the time, but I sure had a surprise coming. Little did I know that I had just found Jesus in the Yellow Pages!

I still remember the first night at that synagogue. Imagine how shocked I was to find that I had ended up at a Messianic congregation — a place where there were Jewish and Gentile people who worshiped Jesus together! They called him “Yeshua,” his Hebrew name. The people I met on that very first night were like none I had ever known before. They were so warm and welcoming. They seemed to really be happy to meet me, and they were obviously at peace within themselves. I compared this to my own inner turmoil, and I wanted what they had!

I began attending the synagogue and studying the Bible. One day I was shown some verses from Isaiah 53. The words seemed to point clearly to Jesus. That night, for the first time ever, I got on my knees and prayed.

“God, ” I asked, “can this be true? Can Yeshua be the Messiah?” I prayed for almost two weeks, and then He answered my prayer. A few days later, in November, 1997, I prayed once again, this time to receive Jesus as my personal Savior and Lord. At last I had peace within, for the first time. I grew swiftly in my newfound faith, and continued to devour the Word. I soon felt that God was calling me to serve Him, and that it wasn’t enough merely that I as a Jew had come to know my Messiah — the Lord wanted me to tell other Jewish people about Jesus.

In late 1999 I began to pursue this call as a domestic missionary with the ministry of Jews for Jesus, the largest mission to Jews worldwide. For eight years I did street evangelism, led bible studies, discipled individual Jewish people, spoke frequently in churches on subjects such as the Feasts of Israel and Jewish evangelism, and traveled as a member of the ministry’s music/evangelism team. At the end of this time, due to the illness of a family member, my wife and I left Jews for Jesus.

We began to attend the local Church of the Nazarene, where the pastor strongly urged me to seek God as to whether His call on me was finished. Acknowledging that His call hadn’t ended, but the form of the call had changed, I began my current journey towards ordination as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene. I continue to praise Jesus daily for all He has already done in my life, and all that I know He will accomplish in the future.

Passover and Holiness, Part 3

In Part 2 of this series, I talked about the significance of the matzah, the unleavened bread which is eaten as part of the Passover seder, or meal. This third post will examine the importance of the matzah for what it can tell us about God.

One of the items that is found on the Passover table is called the matzah tosh. This is a pouch, separated into three layers, into which three sheets of matzah are placed. During the seder, the middle layer of matzah is removed from the pouch, and after a blessing is recited it is broken in half. One half is set aside and the other half is given a special name: afikomen. The word is a Greek term which means “that which comes later,” which is an excellent description, since that is exactly what happens. The afikomen doesn’t get eaten at that point; it is kept for later. At that  point in the seder, it is hidden away, or buried.

Much later in the seder — usually after a fantastic meal has been consumed — any children present are sent to search for the afikomen. That which was broken and buried is brought back, and in this customer of the afikomen we can see a picture of Christ. He too was broken, buried, and brought back.

And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.” (Mark 16:6)

The matzah itself — being unleavened, and therefore symbolizing a sinless nature — speaks to us of Jesus. Jewish rabbis long ago set forth the regulations by which matzah is acceptable for use at Passover. One of these is that matzah must be pierced. Jesus was pierced. God spoke through the prophet Zechariah, saying:

“And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”  (Zechariah 12:10)

Wondering what any of this has to do with the matzah tosh? Read on!

Judaism has always had a fair bit of disagreement about the meaning of the pouch, and its nature as three in one.  Some rabbis and sages have taught that the matzah tosh symbolizes the three Patriarchs of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This is plausible, but fails to account for why the middle matzah is broken, buried, and then brought back.  Other teachers within Judaism have said that the matzah tosh represents three divisions of worship in the ancient kingdom: the priests, the Levites, and the people of Israel.  This too is plausible, but again fails to explain the middle matzah is  broken, buried, and then brought back.  Yet other Jewish sages and scholars have taught that the matzah tosh symobolizes three crowns: the crown of learning, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship.  Once more, this gives no explanation as to why the middle matzah is broken, buried, and then brought back  In contemporary Judaism, there is no recollection of the origin of the traditions of the matzah tosh and the afikomen.  Thus we can see numerous and sometimes competing explanations.

There is, however, an explanation whose roots go back to the 1st century. The matzah tosh contains three layers that form a unity — the matzah tosh is triune.  There is a Hebrew word, echad,  which can be used to describe just such a unity. In Scripture, it is found in some important places, such as the central prayer of Judaism, the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4.

Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai echad

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” 

The word used for “one” in the Shema sentence is “echad” –a unity.  During the Passover celebration, the middle layer of this unity — this echad — is made visible to us, while the other two remain hidden from our view. This should resonate with Christians when we consider the New Testament’s statement of the Godhead:

“In the beginning was the Word.  And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1,14)

 The  unity of the matzo tosh can bear testimony to the triune nature of the one God who has revealed Himself  to mankind in three persons:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy  Spirit.  The explanation of  the  middle matzah being broken, buried, and then brought back is as  a symbol of Jesus, the Son, who was    broken, buried, and then brought back. We have just memorialized this glorious Resurrection, as we do each  year at Easter.

Passover and Holiness, Part 1

 It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it carries great meaning to me. The Jewish  holiday of Passover falls during Holy Week this year. I was born and raised in a Jewish  family, came to faith at a Messianic Jewish congregation, and spent eight years in Jewish  missions prior to my involvement with the Church of the Nazarene. I believe many of the  biblical feasts carry great significance for Christians, so in this and the next couple of  posts, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on why Passover should mean something to holiness  people.

Passover celebrates God’s redemption of the Israelites from slavery in the land of Egypt, as  told in the book of Exodus. Part of the story involves the ten plagues which God sent  against Egypt, in order to convince the Pharoah to let the children of Israel go.

  • The Plague of Blood
  • The Plague of Frogs
  • The Plague of Gnats
  • The Plague of Wild Beasts
  • The Plague of Pestilence
  • The Plague of Boils
  • The Plague of Hail
  • The Plague of Locusts
  • The Plague of Darkness
  • The Death of the Firstborn

It is during the last plague, the death of the firstborn, that the Passover feast was instituted. According to Exodus 12, God commanded Moses,

“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. ”
 (Exodus 12:2-14)

Note that it is the blood of the Passover lamb which protects the Israelites from the consequences of the final devastating plague which is visited upon Egypt. The lamb was without any blemish, and its bones were not to be broken. Its an amazing picture of God’s grace and redemption towards His chosen people, but it is merely a shadow of an even greater redemption: the Messiah Jesus. It was Jesus of whom John the Baptist declared,

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

The Passover event foreshadowed a greater sacrifice, in the death of Jesus. Christ was without the blemish of sin, and none of His bones were broken in His death — just as none of the original Passover lambs’ bones were broken when they were sacrificed. Just as the blood of the lambs saved the Israelites, the blood of the Lamb saves us all from death. Those first lambs redeemed the Israelites from the physical death which the tenth plague brought, yet Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for something far greater: redemption of the whole world from sin. For a Christian to miss this is to miss the entire meaning of Holy Week : what took place on the cross was an atonement greater than any animal sacrifice, a gift that gives eternal life to those who place their faith in Him.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

This is what the focus of all who claim to follow Jesus should be during Holy Week.

In the next posts, I will discuss the symbolism of special foods eaten during Passover, and how they can point us to holiness and an understanding of the nature of God.

The Feast of Tabernacles

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, has passed. Five days later, at sundown, begins the final fall feast of Israel: Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles.

“Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel,saying, ‘On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the LORD. On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the LORD; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work. These are the appointed times of the LORD which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, to present offerings by fire to the LORD – burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and libations, each day’s matter on its own day – as besides those of the Sabbaths of the LORD, and besides your gifts, and besides all your votives and freewill offerings, which you give to the LORD. On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’ So Moses declared to the sons of Israel the appointed times of the LORD.” Leviticus 23:33-44

Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, is a day in which the Jewish people remember how the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness after leaving Egypt. They remember that the wilderness was not their home – they were en route to the Land that God had promised them, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Sukkot has been known by many names during the history of the Jewish people. It is known as The Feast of Booths, since Jews build temporary, vulnerable shelters to remind them of the desert wanderings of our people. Once the Jewish people were settled in the land God had provided for them, it also became known as the Feast of Ingathering. In the agricultural cycle of ancient Israel, the feast followed the fall harvest. During the biblical period, it also became known as Zeman Simchatenu, the Season of Our Rejoicing. God commanded the Jewish people to rejoice, and it was easy to rejoice during a seven-day holiday which capped off the long, hard agricultural year. Finally, Sukkot was known simply as The Feast. It was the biggest feast of the year, following a time of aggressive labor and the intense spirituality of the Day of Atonement. It could be compared to a week-long Thanksgiving holiday, and in fact there are some who believe that the Puritans (the Pilgrims) modeled their celebration after this biblical feast.

God had commanded certain observances to mark the day, as with the previous fall feasts. As I mentioned in my post on Yom Kippur, Sukkot was one of the Shalosh Regalim, one of three festivals during the year when every adult male Israelite was required to come to the Temple in Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem they fulfilled another command by dwelling in sukkahs, or booths – temporary, leafy dwellings – to commemorate God’s provision for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. Of note was the command to rejoice, a marked contrast to the solemnity of Rosh Hashanah and the fearful awe of Yom Kippur. Lastly there were the required sacrifices. More sacrifices were offered during the week-long celebration of Sukkot than in all of the other feasts of Israel combined. During the week 70 bulls, 14 rams, and 98 lambs were sacrificed, as well as attendant meal offerings. In addition, people were to bring their own offerings for vows, freewill, burnt, meat, drink, and peace offerings – no one came empty-handed.

By the time of Jesus, the Jewish people had added significantly to the celebrations commanded by God. One such addition centered on the illumination of the Temple during the week of Sukkot. According to the Talmud, which gives detailed descriptions of the Temple in the 1st-century period, during Sukkot four enormous candelabrum, each of them 75 feet high, were erected in one of the Temple courtyards. Each candelabrum had four large bowls at the top, which each held 10 gallons of pure oil. Each night of the feast, young men with torches would climb the candelabrum and ignite the oil. The light of the burning oil, the Talmud records, was so bright that every courtyard in Jerusalem was illuminated by them.

The entire city would obey God’s command to rejoice. Pious men, members of the Sanhedrin, and leaders of religious schools would dance in the courtyard, holding aloft torches and singing praises to God. Music was played on harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets, and other instruments. A Levitical choir sang and chanted from the steps leading down into the courtyard. This would continue late into the night, and at dawn two priests would ascend the steps leading up to the Temple, blowing shofars as they went. When they reached the courtyard, everyone would turn to face the Temple as the sun rose and shone upon it.

Preparation for modern celebration of Sukkot begins when the synagogue service on Yom Kippur ends. As families return to their homes to break their long fast, the rabbis have instructed that the first nail of their sukkah must be driven. The booth is built by the older children, under the supervision of adults. One of my favorite recollections from childhood centers around this. In general, my older brother and I were not allowed to touch my father’s tools, but on Sukkot we were allowed to use his hammers and saws as we helped build the family sukkah.

The younger children help to decorate the interior walls of the sukkah. This can be quite beautiful, with tapestries or pictures on the walls – it’s up the imagination and energy of the children. The rest of the interior can be simple and plain or very elaborate, with carpeting on the floor, and tables and chairs for meals. In some Jewish communities today, it’s not unusual to see antennas or small satellite dishes sticking out about the roof of the sukkah, so the family can watch television. You can even order a pre-fab sukkah online. Somehow I don’t think this is what God intended when He commanded the Jewish people to live in booths! On the other hand, many Jewish people do enjoy their creature comforts. My own mother, for example, thinks that “roughing it” is staying in a hotel that doesn’t offer room service!

Sukkot is a time to rejoice and celebrate with neighbors and friends. Hospitality is often shown by inviting others to share a meal in the booth, especially those who don’t have their own booth or are poor. Each night a “holy guest” is welcomed, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or King David. Branches of palm trees, willows, and myrtle are woven together and taken to the synagogue, along with a citrus fruit known as the etrog (Aramaic for “that which shines”). They are waved as the worshippers march around the synagogue. This is done once each night, but seven times on the seventh day of the Feast.

The record of the New Testament tells us that Jesus not only observed the Feast of Tabernacles, but used it as an occasion to teach about His true nature as Savior. Jesus took the symbolism of the illumination of the Temple and applied it to Himself.

“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow streams of living water.’ ” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” John 7:37-39

We read also, in John 8:12, that Jesus proclaimed,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus had come to the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles, just as every obedient adult male in Israel had come. They were obeying God’s command to come to His dwelling place, and yet God’s glory had departed from the Temple many years prior. Neither the tallest candelabra nor the brightest fire the Jewish people could light would possibly bring it back, but in the person of Jesus God’s glory had returned. God had indeed come to dwell among His people again – in the flesh. And the announcement that He now was truly tabernacling among us came on the Feast of Tabernacles. He was Emmanuel, “God with us!”

He dwells among us still, although there is no Temple today. You and I cannot go up to God’s house to rejoice. Yet we have no cause to be saddened by this. As believers in Jesus, He truly dwells in the midst of us now, because he has placed the Holy Spirit within all who acknowledge Him as Savior. This should be cause for great rejoicing indeed! God tells us that if we abide in Him as He dwells in us, he will cause us to bear fruit, just as He abided among His people and caused the Land to provide for them. When we abide in Him, and the acts of our lives honor Him, the Lord will grow in us the fruits of His Spirit:

“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” Galatians 5:22

As God commanded the nation of Israel to remember and rejoice over how He abided and provided, we must remember that He does the same in our own lives today. He has provided for us – by being our atonement. He abides among us – as His Spirit dwells in each of us.

In my post on Rosh Hashanah, I discussed that the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is God’s wake-up call, telling us to wake up and get ready. On Yom Kippur, we are getting ourselves ready, getting clean of sin, so that we can go into God’s presence. As we gather together on Sukkot, we should be reminded to look forward to the final Ingathering of God’s People. The Feast of Tabernacles is a prophetic festival, pointing us to the day when God’s kingdom will be established on earth. The prophet Zechariah foretold this:

“it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.” Zechariah 14:16

The writers of the New Testament affirmed this prophetic truth, believing that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, that He was God coming to tabernacle among us. In his Revelation, John wrote:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people,and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.” Revelation 21:3-6

Whether or not you observe the Feast of Tabernacles, may you rejoice and look forward to the final Ingathering at the end of time, when we will dwell with God for all eternity as He celebrates with his redeemed Creation!

The Day of Atonement

I’ve posted previously on Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish High Holy Days. This Saturday, ten days after Rosh Hashanah,  marks the holiest day in the Jewish religious year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day that God set aside so that the people of Israel could atone for their sin as a nation.

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. Neither shall you do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God. If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no work at all. It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your Sabbath.” Leviticus 23:26-32

Now you’ll notice that that there are two words in the passage which are repeated three times: atonement and humble (which carries the context here of denying oneself). This is the one day when the children of Israel were invited by God to consider their lives before Him and to confess their sin. It was the one day a year that only one man in all of Israel – the high priest – could enter into the one most holy spot, the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple in Jerusalem. There he would offer a blood sacrifice first for his own sin, then the sins of the nation of Israel. The children of Israel would be gathered around the courts of the Temple, watching and waiting to see if the sacrifice would be accepted by God.

Yom Kippur was tied into the very purpose of the Mosaic Law. God had required that His people to be holy and He had given them the Law at Mount Sinai so that they could be instructed in righteousness. Yet God knew that His people could be not become holy on their own, so He gave them a means to be reconciled to Himself: a sacrificial system. The culmination of this system, by which sinning and rebellious Israelites could have their sin covered over, was Yom haKippurim: the Day of Atonement. On this day the High Priest of Israel would enter into God’s presence where He dwelt within the Holy of Holies, first in the desert Tabernacle and much later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The preparations that the priest had to make in order to purify himself before entering this holiest of places were exacting. Should he make an error it would be doubly disastrous, for the descendants of Aaron would be slain by God should they attempt to stand before Him in an impure state. Even worse, the priest would die without the sins of the nation having been atoned for.

In the Biblical period, rigorous requirements were made of each Israelite on Yom Kippur. They were commanded to humble their souls and present offerings of fire for their sins, or be cut off from the people of Israel. They were asked to set aside their earthly appetites and needs, by fasting from sundown to sundown. They were not allowed to do any work, or risk being completely destroyed. These were far harsher strictures than an ordinary Sabbath rest, and served to point out the absolute seriousness of the Day of Atonement.

Very special offerings were made before God on Yom Kippur. These consisted of incense, a bull, and two goats. Four times the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, beginning with the incense offering. As the incense burned, it formed a cloud which obscured the Ark of the Covenant; between the outstretched wings of the seraphim on its lid was the Mercy Seat, where God’s Shekinah (His glorious Presence) rested. This cloud was not just and offering but was for the protection of the high priest, since no man could see God and live.  Next was the sacrifice of a bull. The priest would lay his hands on the bull, acknowledging his own personal sin and that of the priesthood. This process of laying on of hands was the symbolic means by which those sins were transferred to the bull, allowing its death to serve as a substitute for others. The bull was then slain, and its blood taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat.

Finally came the climax of Yom Kippur: the sacrifice of two goats. Two goats were brought before the high priest and lots were drawn. One goat would be for the Lord, and one would be for the sins of Israel as a nation.

The first goat was to be an offering to the Lord, and once more the priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of this sacrifice upon the Mercy Seat. Then he symbolically laid his hands upon the second goat, known by the Hebrew term Azazel, or scapegoat. It was then led from the camp – and later the Temple – into a deserted place, where it would be forced off of a cliff. Jewish tradition holds that people would line the path of the scapegoat and curse at it, strike it, spit at it, and pull out its hair, to encourage it to depart with their sins as swiftly as possible.

Although today Yom Kippur is still considered the holiest day in the Jewish year, modern Judaism observes the day in a radically different fashion. Jews continue to fulfill the command to humble themselves by severe fasting. There is no Temple now, and no sacrifices are offered. Modern Judaism teaches that blood sacrifice is not necessary, and that through prayer, repentance and mitzvot, good deeds, that one’s sins will be forgiven. Yom Kippur is a day on which the practice of charity is encouraged. Observant Jews spend the day praying in the synagogue, where the confession of sin is the high point of the service. The congregation confesses in unison, naming only general sins that cause all men to stumble. There is no mention of specific sins committed by individuals. White clothing is worn to symbolize a contrite and humble heart and confidence in God’s ability to forgive sin. The shofar is blown at the end of the synagogue service to symbolize the closing of the Books of Judgment, and the congregants will gather in one another’s homes to break the fast and share a meal.

In my previous post on Rosh Hashanah, I discussed the sound of the shofar — the ram’s horn — as God’s wake up call for us, calling us to turn away from focusing on the physical world in which we live, and to contemplate the holiness of God and our relationship with Him. If Rosh Hashanah was the wake up call, then Yom Kippur is a day of preparation. Preparation for what? Very simply, preparation to be in God’s presence.

God instructed Moses concerning the Shalosh Regalim, three major festivals when every adult male Israelite would make pilgrimage to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple.

“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover]; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest [Shavuot] of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering [Sukkot] at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” Exodus 23:14-17

“You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread … You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.” Exodus 34: 18, 22-23

“Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths …” Deuteronomy 16:16

If Rosh Hashanah woke us up to point us to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, then Yom Kippur is to  prepare us for the last of the fall feasts of Israel: Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. As the name of Sukkot  implies, we’re preparing to have God tabernacle among us. The Israelites would go up to God’s house, up  to the Temple.

But if you’re going to go up to God’s house, you have to get ready. Therein lays a problem. You see, God is holy, and He hates sin. He cannot even look upon us because we have sin. Luckily for us, God took care of this problem. God made sure that Yom Kippur took place before Sukkot, in order that His people could be cleansed of sin and stand before Him. Yom Kippur allowed His people to know that their sin had been forgiven, so that they could go up and enjoy being in the house of God with a free conscience and a clean heart. When Sukkot arrived, they could truly participate in the rejoicing that God commanded for that festival.

Believers in Jesus Christ have received atonement once and for all through His sacrificial death on the cross. The blood of God’s own Son, Himself sinless in nature, was the only sacrifice sufficient to make final atonement for sin. Interestingly enough, we have confirmation of this from an extra-biblical Jewish source. The Talmud records that on the Day of Atonement a scarlet thread would be hung outside of the Holy of Holies. If the scapegoat, the sacrifice for sin, was accepted by the Lord the thread would turn from scarlet to white, making real the words that the prophet Isaiah had written 700 years before:

“Though your sins are scarlet they shall be white as snow.”  Isaiah 1:18

The Talmud goes on to record that each year on the Day of Atonement the thread might turn white or might not, reflecting the changing spiritual state of the nation of Israel. This continued for many years, until 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, after which the thread never turned white. It remained scarlet every year, until the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. This tractate of the Talmud bears evidence to the fact that somewhere around 30 A.D. – the approximate date when Jesus  was crucified – the animal sacrifices offered by the high priest of Israel were no longer accepted by God! This is because the blood of bulls and goats could never atone for sin for more than a short time. They were only shadows of a final sacrifice, a once and for all atonement for sin – the sacrifice of our Messiah Jesus on the cross. Jesus is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur, as both our great high priest and a sacrifice for all of our sin. In Him our sin is truly forgiven and our conscience cleansed.

This Saturday my wife and I — as we have done in years past — will observe Yom Kippur. In our own way we’ll follow the tradition of fasting, albeit not a fast from food. Since neither of us are allowed to fast from food for 24 hours due to health issues, we will be fasting from some other normal aspect of life, such as the use of the computer (which is a sacrifice for two people who can’t seem to go an hour without checking email). Why do we do this, if we know that we’ve already achieved atonement? We do it to honor my Jewish heritage, and we do it to acknowledge and honor what Christ went through to atone for our sins. The solemn gravity of Yom Kippur has taken on for us a great joy as well, because we know that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life through Jesus.

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