First Gentile Believers ~ Part 1

In my last post, we learned about that Jewish Performs More Miracles. In this post, we will begin to examine the actual conversion of the First Gentile Believers. We are going to be spending some time on this topic. So, buckle up and dig as we into God’s Word.

There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a Roman army officer in what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a devout man, a “God-fearer,” as was his whole household; he gave generously to help the Jewish poor and prayed regularly to God.

He gave generously to help the Jewish poor. The text does not say “the Jewish poor.” The Greek Laos is frequently a technical term referring to the Jewish people, the people of God, not people in general, hence this rendering.

And prayed regularly to God. Like in the Tanakh (Ruth 1:16), this God-fearing Gentile had accepted the two essentials of true worship:

  • “Your people shall be my people.” Although Cornelius did not officially join the Jewish people, he cared for them as his own.
  • “And your God shall be my God.” He prayed to the God of Isra’el.

 One afternoon around three o’clock, he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at the angel, terrified. “What is it, sir?” he asked. “Your prayers,” replied the angel, “and your acts of charity have gone up into God’s presence so that he has you on his mind. Now send some men to Yafo to bring back a man named Shim’ on, also called Jewish. He’s staying with Shim ‘on the leather-tanner, who has a house by the sea.” As the angel that had spoken to him went away, Cornelius called two of his household slaves and one of his military aides, who was a Godly man; he explained everything to them and sent them to Yafo. ~ Acts 10:1–8 (CJB)

The next day, about noon, while they were still on their way and approaching the city, Jewish went up onto the roof of the house to pray. 10 He began to feel hungry and wanted something to eat; but while they were preparing the meal, he fell into a trance 11 in which he saw heaven opened, and something that looked like a large sheet being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals, crawling creatures and wild birds. 13 Then a voice came to him, “Get up, Jewish, slaughter and eat!” 14 But Jewish said, “No, sir! Absolutely not! I have never eaten food that was unclean or treif.

Kefa was in Yafo (9:42), praying on the roof about noon. Hungry and waiting for lunch to be prepared, he fell into a trance. eaten food that was unclean or treif.”

Leviticus 11 specifies that only those four-footed animals that chew the cud and have split hoofs are Kosher or fit for Jewish people to eat. No reptiles are allowed, and permitted birds are listed by name. In Kefa’s vision, all kinds of creatures appeared, including those that are non-Jewish or treif. Treif means “torn” and refers to animals slain by predators and not slaughtered following Jewish practice.

When he heard a voice tell him to eat, he refused. Kefa was a good, faithful Jew who had always obeyed the Jewish food laws. But the voice said, What God has made clean, do not call impure. After seeing two reruns of this message (two or three witnesses are God’s divine confirmation), Kefa woke up.

15 The voice spoke to him a second time: “Stop treating as unclean what God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and then the sheet was immediately taken back up into heaven. ~ Acts 10:9–16 (CJB)

Jewish people had preferred death to eating unclean (non-Jewish) food in the time of the Maccabees; thus, Jewish readers would be appalled that God would require anything so disgusting (from the perspective of cultural cuisine) and impious (from an Old Testament perspective). The vision that God can declare anything clean applies especially to the Gentiles Kefa is about to meet.

Kefa had been faithful to the dietary restrictions God had given Isra’el under the old covenant (see Lev 11:1-47). But during his ministry, Jesus had declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19).

In my next post, we continue to examine the First Gentile Believers’ actual conversion ~Part 2. In this next post, I will deal with Kashrut’s issue, as stated in Acts 10:15, Leviticus 11:1:47, and Mark 7:19.

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Kefa Performs More Miracles

In my last post, we learned about the Great Persecution of the Faithful Has Hit Yerushalayim. In this post, we learn about that Kefa Performs More Miracles.

32 As Kefa traveled around the countryside, he came down to the believers in Lud (Lydda).

The narrative in Acts returns to Kefa. The last reference to him was in connection with his return from Shomron (8:25). Lud is on the plain below Yerushalayim, about 10 miles east of Yafo and modern Tel Aviv and less than two miles from David Ben-Gurion Airport. Today it has a mixed Arab and Jewish population.

Yafo, now joined with Tel Aviv, was a prosperous port city, about eleven miles from Lud. It was about 30 miles south of Caesarea Maritima and controlled one of Judea’s administrative districts. It was under Jewish control for about forty years until it came under direct Roman authority in 6 CE.

33 There, he found a man named Aeneas who had lain bedridden for eight years because he was paralyzed.

Jewish piety included visiting the sick. Although Aeneas is a familiar Gentile name, several Jews also bore it (which seems likelier here). Aeneas could have been paralyzed from a stroke or another problem with the central nervous system, or an accident (such as a fall from a roof), or tuberculosis affecting the spine, or from some other cause. Apart from massaging the person with olive oil, little treatment was available. [1]

34 Kefa said to him, “Aeneas! Yeshua, the Messiah is healing you! Get up and make your bed!” 35 Everyone living in Lud and the Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. Now in Yafo, there was a talmidah (female disciple) named Tavita 36 (which means “gazelle”); she was always doing tzedakah (charitable works) and other good deeds. 37 It happened that just at that time, she took sick and died. After washing her, they laid her in a room upstairs.

Jewish dead were always washed before burial. Only women prepared women’s bodies for burial.

38 Lud is near Yafo, and the talmidim had heard that Kefa was there, so they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come to us without delay.”

It is vital that Lud is near Yafo because corpses had to be buried right away (ideally before sundown). The distance of fewer than twelve miles meant perhaps roughly four hours’ journey each way (for the messengers to Kefa and Kefa to Yafo); because it was customary to bury the corpse before sundown, even if Tabitha had died early in the day, they could afford no delay.

So powerfully had God worked wonders through Kefa and the other emissaries that even when Tavita died and had been ceremonially washed and laid… in a room upstairs for viewing, Believers in Yafo did not give up hope but instead sent for Kefa.

39 Kefa got up and went with them. When he arrived, they led him into the upstairs room. All the widows stood by him, sobbing, and showing all the dresses and coats Tavita had made them while she was still with them.

Upstairs rooms were generally small attics built on the flat rooftops; this one is large enough to accommodate a few people. Making clothing was one of the domestic tasks assigned to women in that culture.

40 But Kefa put them all outside, kneeled down, and prayed. Then, turning to the body, he said, “Tavita! Get up!” She opened her eyes, and on seeing Kefa, she sat up.

Following Jewish scruples, Tavita’s body would be covered before Kefa is brought into the room.

41 He offered her his hand and helped her to her feet; then, calling the believers and the widows, he presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Yafo, and many people put their trust in the Lord.43 Kefa stayed on in Yafo for some time with a man named Shim’ on, a leather-tanner. ~ Acts 9:32-43 (CJB)

Shim’ on the leather-tanner stank all the time; his profession guaranteed it. Kefa’s unpretentiousness, his straightforward identification with ordinary folks, is demonstrated by his staying on in Yafo for some time with him; in modern Hebrew slang, Kefa would be called “‘ amkha” (“your [kind of] people”).

Tanners were often considered impure because of their contact with dead animals. This indicates that either Jewish law on this practice had relaxed by this era, or else that Kefa was already enjoying freedom from the Jewish law because of his liberty in Yeshua.

In my next post, we will begin to examine the actual conversion of the First Gentile Believers.

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[1] Bible Background Commentary – New Testament.

Great Persecution of the Faithful Has Hit Yerushalayim

In my last post, we learned that the Emissaries Are Rounded Up Yet Again and Warned by the Sanhedrin. In this post, we learn about a Great Persecution of the Faithful Has Hit Yerushalayim.

Following the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, there arose intense persecution against the Messianic Community in Yerushalayim; all but the emissaries were scattered throughout the regions of Y’hudah and Shomron. ~ Acts 8:1 (CJB) Picking up the story in verse 14: When the emissaries in Yerushalayim heard that Shomron (Samaria) had received the Word of God, they sent them Kefa [1] and Yochanan, 15 who came down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Ruach HaKodesh. 16 For until then, he had not come upon any of them; they had only been immersed into the name of the Lord Yeshua.17 Then, as Kefa and Yochanan placed their hands on them, they received the Ruach HaKodesh.

From a theological standpoint, the work of the Ruach HaKodesh is one spiritual process (Ac 2:38-39). Still, in the experience of the early Kehilah, not all aspects of His work are necessarily manifested simultaneously. Luke emphasizes the prophetic empowerment dimension of the Ruach (Ac 1:8) so much that he rarely mentions other aspects of the Ruach’s work known in the Tanakh and early Judaism; this prophetic empowerment aspect could be in view here, although Philip’s hearers were already converted in 8:12.

Ancient Judaism provides rare examples of laying on of hands for prayer. In the Tanakh, hands were laid on to impart blessings in prayer (Gen 48:14-20). Early converts received the Ruach HaKodesh at the laying on of hands by emissaries or evangelists. Some suggest that this was God’s plan to ensure that new believers received trustworthy instruction and got connected to God’s chosen leaders.

18 Shim’on saw that the Spirit was given when the emissaries placed their hands on them, and he offered them money. 19 “Give this power to me, too,” he said, “so that whoever I place my hands on will receive the Ruach HaKodesh.”

Here we see Shim’on’s true heart. He was used to impressing the crowds with magic; now, he wanted to impress them with his ability to impart the Ruach HaKodesh.

20 But Kefa said to him, “Your silver go to ruin – and you with it, for thinking the free gift of God can be bought! 21 You have no part at all in this matter; because, in the eyes of God, your heart is crooked. 22 So repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord. Perhaps you will yet be forgiven for holding such a thought in your heart.

By saying that Shim’on had no part at all in this matter, Kefa confirmed that Shim’on had not truly converted to Messianic Judaism. His heart (meaning his will, affections, allegiance) was still crooked.

23 For I see that you are extremely bitter and completely under the control of sin!” 24 Shim ‘on answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that none of the things you have spoken about will happen to me.”

It is not clear whether Shim’on’s words sprang from genuine repentance or were themselves only more sham, deception, and hypocrisy.

25 Then, after giving a thorough witness and speaking the Word of the Lord, Kefa and Yochanan started back to Yerushalayim, announcing the Good News to many villages in Shomron.” ~ Acts 8:14-25 (CJB)

After several episodes in Shomron, Kefa, Philip, and any other emissaries traveling with them returned to Yerushalayim. They evangelized many villages in Shomron along the way, tearing down ethnic barriers with the global gospel of Yeshua.

In my next post, we will jump forward to Acts 9 to learn that Kefa Performs More Miracles.

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[1] This is another example of Kefa being seen as the early leader of the emissaries.​

Emissaries Are Rounded Up Yet Again And Warned by the Sanhedrin

In my last post, we learned that the Emissaries Perform Many Signs and Miracles and Are Jailed Again. In this post, we learn that the Emissaries Are Rounded Up Yet Again and Warned by the Sanhedrin.

21b Now the Cohen HaGadol and his associates came and called a meeting of the Sanhedrin (that is, of Isra’el’s whole assembly of elders) and sent to the jail to have them brought. 22 But the officers who went did not find them in the prison. So they returned and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked and the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened it, we found no one inside!”

These guards are fortunate that they are Levites policing for the Jewish Temple aristocracy rather than recruits under the Romans or Herod Agrippa I, who might have executed them (see 12:18-19).

24 When the captain of the Temple police and the head cohanim heard these things, they were puzzled and wondered what would happen next. 25 Then someone came and reported to them, “Listen! The men you ordered put in prison are standing in the Temple court, teaching the people!”

Such events would cause these leaders to lose face further.

26 The captain and his officers went and brought them, but not with force because they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

The Temple police were afraid of being stoned by the people because Yerushalayim was responding positively to the emissaries. Meanwhile, the Jewish leaders saw their authority slipping away.

27 They conducted them to the Sanhedrin, where the Cohen HaGadol demanded of them, 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this Name! Look here! you have filled Yerushalayim with your teaching; moreover, you are determined to make us responsible for this man’s death!”

At the time of Herod Agrippa, all but three of the seventy members of the Sanhedrin were Tz’dukim. Therefore in suppressing the Gospel the Sanhedrin was judging it by two Sadducee criteria: (1) it proclaimed the resurrection, which the Tz’dukim denied, and (2) it proclaimed “another king, Yeshua,” which, if true, would be politically subversive, as well as destructive of the cozy, working relationship the Tz’dukim had with the occupying Romans.

The charge against the emissaries is that they are trying to incite unrest against the municipal aristocracy, which the Romans approved, by accusing them of responsibility for Yeshua’s execution. They were more concerned about maintaining their authority than embracing the truth.

29 Kefa and the other emissaries answered, “We must obey God, not men.

Believers should obey the law of the land, but when human law conflicts with God’s law, we must obey God, not men.

30 The God of our fathers raised up Yeshua, whereas you men killed Him by having him hanged on a stake.31 God has exalted this man at His right hand as Ruler and Savior, in order to enable Isra’el to do t’shuvah (repentance) and have her sins forgiven.32 We are witnesses to these things; so is the Ruach HaKodesh, whom God has given to those who obey him.” ~ Acts 5:21b-32 (CJB)

Kefa never wastes an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. Here he knows he must be brief, for the Sanhedrin will not patiently endure a sermon. Yet his message always, even to these determined opponents, is one of hope, one who offers salvation. If anything, Kefa stepped up the pressure on the Sanhedrin (and endangered himself and the others more) by declaring that they had killed Yeshua, whom God has exalted this man at His right hand as Ruler and Savior. Kefa and the other emissaries knew this to be true because they were witnesses of this, as was the Ruach HaKodesh.

In my next post, we will jump forward to Acts 8 to learn that a Great Persecution of the Faithful Has Hit Yerushalayim.

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Emissaries Perform Many Signs and Miracles and Are Jailed Again

In my last post, we learned that not all the Believers were in one accord as Kefa Confronts Hananyah and Shappirah. In this post, we learn that the Emissaries Perform Many Signs and Miracles and Are Jailed Again.

12 Meanwhile, through the emissaries, many signs and miracles continued to be done among the people. United in mind and purpose, the believers met in Shlomo’s Colonnade;

Undaunted by their previous arrest at the Temple (4:3), the emissaries continued to perform signs and miracles among the people they encountered in Shlomo’s Colonnade.

13 and no one else dared to join them. Nevertheless, the people continued to regard them highly; 14 and throngs of believers were added to the Lord, both men, and women.

No one else seems to refer to non-believers that than to other Believers. Many non-Jews attended synagogue and believed in Israel’s God without fully converting and keeping the Jewish Law. In context, people fear to associate with the movement without full commitment, knowing the fate of Hananyah and Shappirah.

15 They went so far as to bring the sick into the streets and lay them on mattresses and stretchers so that at least Kefa’s shadow might fall on them as he passed by. 16 Crowds also gathered from the towns around Yerushalayim, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and every one of them was healed.

Ancient people thought that one’s shadow was attached to oneself. In Jewish Law, for example, if one’s shadow touched a corpse, one was as unclean as one who physically touched the corpse. Some Greeks felt that one could suffer harm through injury to one’s shadow.

What sounds to modern ears like a charlatan’s stunt not only reflected genuine faith but was rewarded by complete healing success. Does God heal miraculously today? Some people suppose that all healing ministries are run by fakers pursuing money. We have seen too many instances of that in our recent past. But even physicians who believe neither in God nor in miracles will attest to extraordinary and inexplicable cures for which they deserve n credit, and they will agree that the label “psychosomatic” will go only so far in accounting for them. In other words: Yes, God still heals.

There are several places in the Brit Hadashah, including Acts, where God heled people through surprising means. Besides Kefa’s shadow, these included the hem of Yeshua’s robe (LK 8:44) as well as facecloths and aprons that the Rabbi Sha’ul had touched (Ac 19:12). There was, of course, nothing special about these items; instead, it was the power of God working through the messengers with whom the objects were associated.

17 But the Cohen HaGadol and his associates, who were members of the party of the Tz’dukim, were filled with jealousy.

The Tz’dukim (Sadducees) were politically powerful but never gained the popularity that the P’rushim enjoyed. The Cohen HaGadol and his associates opposed the spread of Messianic Judaism, not merely because they didn’t believe in Yeshua as the Messiah, but because they were filled with jealousy at the following that was building around Him daily as the emissaries preached and performed miracles.

18 They arrested the emissaries and put them in the public jail.

Jails were typically used for detention until trial, not for imprisonment as a punishment. The Roman garrison in this period controlled the Fortress Antonia on the Temple Mount; the Levite Temple police thus jailed the emissaries in a different location, though it might also be near the Temple.

19 But during the night, an angel of Adonai opened the doors of the prison, led them out and said, 20 “Go, stand in the Temple court and keep telling the people all about this new life!”

Having been arrested again for their ministry in Yeshua’s name, the emissaries were set free by an angel of Adonai in such a way that aroused no attention. Some speculate that they were transported directly from the jail to the Temple court, but the fact that the angel opened the doors of the prison and told the emissaries to stand in the Temple court suggests otherwise. We will see a similar episode with Kefa in Acts12:6-10.

21 After hearing that, they entered the Temple area about dawn and began to teach. Now the Cohen Hagadol and his associates came and called a meeting of the Sanhedrin (that is, of Isra’el’s whole assembly of elders) and sent to the jail to have them brought. ~ Acts 5:12-21a (CJB)

The gates of the Temple opened at midnight, but people returned only at daybreak. The hearing for the emissaries had been scheduled for daylight because trials were not to be held at night. Newly freed, we might expect the emissaries to flee Yerushalayim. Instead, they entered the Temple are about dawn and began to do the very thing that had gotten them in trouble in the first place: teach about Yeshua.

In my next post, we learn that the Emissaries Are Rounded Up Again to Be Warned by the Sanhedrin.

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Kefa Confronts Hananyah and Shappirah

In my last post, we learned that The Body of Believers Begin to Share Everything. In this post, we learn that not all were of one accord as Kefa Confronts Hananyah and Shappirah.

1 But there was a man named Hananyah who, with his wife Shappirah, sold some property 2 and, with his wife’s knowledge, withheld some of the proceeds for himself, although he did bring the rest to the emissaries.

The sin of Hananyah and Shappirah was not that they reserved some of the proceeds for themselves but that they tried to create the impression that they had not.

3 Then Kefa said, “Why has the Adversary so filled your heart that you lie to the Ruach HaKodesh and keep back some of the money you received for the land? 4 Before you sold it, the property was yours; and after you sold it, the money was yours to use as you pleased. So, what made you decide to do such a thing? You have lied not to human beings but to God!”

You lie to the Ruach HaKodesh…. you have lied… to God. The Ruach HaKodesh is thus identified with God. Hananyah and Shappirah assumed they were merely lying to the emissaries, but in reality, they had lied to God Himself. Kefa’s question the money was yours to use as you pleased implies that Hananyah and Shappirah would have been justified to sell the land and give only a portion to the community. Their sin lay in their deception and their desire to win praise.

In other words, Hananyah owned the land, and he hadn’t been forced to sell it. Even when he did sell it, he was not required to give the community the money. His sin was that he made a commitment to give all of the proceeds to meet the needs of others (like Bar-Nabba did) and then deceptively kept back some for himself – to the detriment of those in need.

5 On hearing these words, Hananyah fell down dead; and everyone who heard about it was terrified. 6 The young men got up, wrapped his body in a shroud, carried him out, and buried him.

In the present incident and below, we see that the Brit Hadashah is, so far as justice and judgment are concerned, the same as the TanakhGod is One. He cannot abide with sin. Fraud is a sin, and it is punished. Sometimes the punishment for sin is delayed, but in this instance, the immediacy of the judgment showed everyone that God is real and means business. Love is not a feeling but right action, as Judaism has always taught. Children let us not love with words and talk, but with actions and in reality! (1 John 3:18)

7 Some three hours later, his wife came in, unaware of what had happened. 8 Kefa challenged her: “Tell me, is it true that you sold the land for such-and-such a price?” “Yes,” she answered, “that is what we were paid for it.” 9 But Kefa came back at her, “Then why did you people plot to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The men who buried your husband are at the door. They will carry you out too!” 10 Instantly she collapsed at his feet and died. The young men entered, found her there dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband.

The deception of Hananyah and Shappirah, and in particular Shappirah’s lie to Kefa, was again a test of the Spirit of the Lord. This is a powerful indication of the Ruach’s role in the community and its leadership; Kefa was a mere man, but he was God’s man to lead this fellowship of believers.

Shappirah condemned herself by following her husband into sin and telling the same lie and dropped dead, just like Hananyah.

The marriage bond ought to be the strongest of human relationships. Yet it must never trump a relationship with God. Though a husband is to love his wife sacrificially and a wife is to submit to the leadership of her husband, neither is to follow the other into sin. Our relationship with and commitment to God must always be primary.

11 As a result of this, great fear came over the whole Messianic community, and indeed over everyone who heard about it. ~ Acts 5:1-11 (CJB)

As a result of what happened to Hananyah and Shappirah, great fear came over the whole Messianic community, and indeed over everyone who heard about it. It was evident to everyone that the supernatural work of God was operating in the emissaries’ ministry; therefore, people who hadn’t been taking God seriously before were taking him seriously after that. Church discipline, in fact, is designed to encourage believers to take God seriously concerning sin.

In my next post, we will learn that the Emissaries Perform Many Signs and Wonders and Are Jailed Again.

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The Body of Believers Begin to Share Everything

In my last post, we learned that after being freed, Kefa and Yochanan Attend a Prayer Meeting. In this post, we pick up with Acts 4:32 to learn that The Body of Believers Begin to Share Everything. Although Kefa is not mentioned in this passage, I felt it essential to lay a firm foundation for when we next encounter him.

32 All the many believers were one in heart and soul, and no one claimed any of his possessions for himself, but everyone shared everything he had. 33 With great power, the emissaries continued testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Yeshua, and they were all held in high regard.

Notice how the early community of Believers is described: They were one in heart and soul. Unity among the people of God is critical for the revealing of the visible manifestation of His glory. It is what Yeshua prayed for (see John 17:23-23), and it what these first Believers demonstrated and what Sha’ul insisted on (see Eph. 4:3). When there is disunity, the Ruach does not work.

They were all held in high regard by the non-believing Jews, as at Acts 2:47. Nevertheless, thinking positively of Believers is not enough to save unbelievers. Or, saying the same thing in the words of Isra’el’s former Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, “There is a great difference between gathering a good impression and taking the correct view.” [1]

34 No one among them was poor, since those who owned lands or houses sold them and turned over the proceeds 35 to the emissaries to distribute to each according to his need.

As long as there was complete unanimity of purpose and intention among them, the early Believers shared the proceeds from their possessions freely to each according to his need. They were able to do this not because of their strength, but because great grace was on all of them. Therefore, the generosity was, above all, a work of God. Yet, we will learn that trouble is coming.

36 Thus Yosef, whom the emissaries called Bar-Nabba (which means “the Exhorter”), a Levi, and a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field which belonged to him and brought the money to the emissaries~ Acts 4:32-37 (CJB)

Yosef, whom the emissaries called Bar-Nabba. The Exhorter translates the Greek phrase, which can mean “son of counsel,” “son of exhortation,” or “son of encouragement.” Aramaic Bar (“son of”) often has the sense, “one who has the quality of.” The word Nabba is related to the Hebrew root meaning “prophet,” and a prophet is own who counsels, comforts, exhorts, and encourages. Yosef was always comforting and exhorting his fellow talmidim, so the emissaries gave him the nickname. He becomes a prominent figure in Acts 9-15.

Bar-Nabba’s generosity is set in stark contrast to the couple Luke describes next.

In my next post, we will learn that not all Believers were willing to share all that they had by looking at Kefa Confronts Hananyah and Shappirah.

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[1] Jewish New Testament Commentary

Kefa and Yochanan Attend a Prayer Meeting

In my last post, we completed the mini-series of Kefa Heals a Disabled Beggar ~ Part 5. In this post, we pick up where we left off in our last series, where we learn that after being freed, Kefa and Yochanan Attend a Prayer Meeting.

23 Upon being released, they went back to their friends and reported what the head cohanim and elders had said to them. 24 When they heard it, they raised their voices to God with singleness of heart. “Master,” they prayed, “You made heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them.

Why, at the beginning of their prayer, do these Messianic Jews remind God that He made heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them? Not only because it is pointless for mere human beings to fight God (vv. 25-28 see below), but because the talmidim are praying that God will sovereignly give the Messiah’s slaves (see v. 29) power to speak [God’s] message with boldness (vv. 29-31).

25 By the Ruach HaKodesh, through the mouth of our father David, your servant, you said,

‘Why did the nations rage and the peoples devise useless plans? 26 The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers assembled together against Adonai and against his Messiah.’

The Book of Acts quotes the Greek of the Septuagint. The Hebrew for Psalm 2:1-2 reads:

Why are the nations in an uproar?
And why do the peoples mutter in vain?

The kings of the earth arise
And the rulers take counsel together
Against Adonai and against his Messiah.

Jewish writings often call attention to a text by citing its beginning; therefore, the reader should understand that the Believers’ prayer of vv. 24-30 is permeated by all of Psalm 2, not just its initial verses. Jewish as well as Christian expositors have seen Psalm 2 as Messianic.

27 “This has come true in this city, since Herod and Pontius Pilate, with Goyim and the peoples of Isra’el, all assembled against your holy servant Yeshua, whom you made Messiah, 28 to do what your power and plan had already determined beforehand should happen.

Goyim and the peoples of Isra’el had united in opposition to God’s holy Servant Yeshua and His followers. Then and now, Believers take comfort in knowing that Yeshua’s sufferings (as well as our own) are not by chance but are determined by God.

29 “So now, Lord, take note of their threats; and enable your slaves to speak your message with boldness!

The early Believers recognized that just as Yeshua had been promised trouble, they too would encounter persecution for proclaiming Him as Messiah. They asked God for the power to speak your message with boldness, even if the punishment should follow.

30 Stretch out your hand to heal and to do signs and miracles through the name of your holy servant Yeshua!”

Besides boldness in testifying, the early Believers expected to receive power from God to heal and to do signs and miracles through the name of your holy servant Yeshua!”

31 While they were still praying, the place where they were gathered was shaken. They were all filled with the Ruach HaKodesh, and they spoke God’s message with boldness.

They were all filled with the Ruach HaKodesh. Some of them had been filled before (2:4), but Ephesians 5:18 instructs Believers to keep being filled with the Ruach. They spoke God’s message with boldness. This is a sure sign of being filled with the Ruach, and it is also the purpose of the filling (1:8). A word of caution: this verse should not be used as a proof text for speaking in tongues. That’s not the context.

32 All the many believers were one in heart and soul, and no one claimed any of his possessions for himself, but everyone shared everything he had. ~ Acts 4:23-32 (CJB)

In my next post, we will expand on verse 32 when we learn that sharing everything leads to trouble in the Body of Believers.

Click here for the PDF version.

The Ultimate Sukkah ~ Sukkot 5781

We continue to interrupt our series on Kefa once again to consider the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This is the third and last of the traditional Fall Holy Days. In 2020, the festival of Sukkotthe Feast of Tabernacles, begins at sundown on Friday, October 2nd.

Sukkot is the third of the great annual pilgrimage festivals (Vayikra 23:33-43). Each year, all adult Jewish males were required to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of Matzah, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The festival is also called the “feast of ingathering” (Sh’mot 23:16; D’varim 16:13). It is celebrated immediately after the harvest, in the month Tishri, and the celebration lasts for eight days (Vayikra 23:33-43). During this period the people leave their homes and live in a sukkah, a temporary dwelling, formed of the branches of trees as a memorial of the wilderness wanderings when the people dwelt in sukkot (Vayikra 23:43).

Typical Backyard Sukkah

Like Thanksgiving Day in the United States, Sukkot is a time of feasting, rejoicing, and giving thanks to God for His bountiful gifts (D’varim 16:13-15). It is widely believed that the Puritan colonists, who were great students of the Hebrew Scriptures, based on the first American Thanksgiving on Sukkot.

We are to “rejoice before the Lord God” during all the time of this feast (Vayikra 23:40). The tradition of the Jewish people is that they were to express their joy by dancing and singing hymns of praise to God, with musical instruments.

Sukkot (the plural form of sukkah) are temporary dwellings, many with canvas walls. The roof is made of natural materials such as bamboo, corn stalks, or other greenery, usually supported by a few wooden beams. It provides more shade than sun, but you can still see the sky through it and the stars at night.

Today, as in the Second Temple days, we still wave the lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citron) as mandated in the Torah. The lulav is made of a palm branch, arava (willow), and hadas (myrtle). The etrog is a citron. Together the lulav and the etrog are referred to as the Four Species.

Of all the feasts of the Lord, Sukkot best illustrates the fact that God would dwell in the midst of His people through the presence of the Messiah (John 1:14). He may have fulfilled His promise on the very day of Sukkot. We don’t know the exact date of Yeshua’s birth. But we do know; it indeed wasn’t December 25th. For me, there is sufficient evidence to corroborate that Yeshua’s first coming came on Sukkot.

Sukkot pictures the future kingdom God has prepared for Israel when Messiah returns (see Zechariah 12:10-13:1; Isaiah 35; Luke 1:67-80). The Prophet Zechariah described the changes that will take place in the topography of the holy land and how the Gentile nations will celebrate Sukkot along with the Jewish people (see Zechariah 14:16-19).

For Israel, the best is yet to come! The scattered people will be gathered; the sinful people will be cleansed; the sorrowing people will rejoice. And for Messianic Believers, the best is yet to come; for we shall be together with the Lord and His people, every stain washed away, rejoicing in His presence.

Sukkot has always been known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with His people. How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it entirely comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this appointed time. God himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness. The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua resides as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

All the Feasts of the Lord have their particular lessons to teach. Because of its latter-day fulfillment, Sukkot seems to be the apex of all the other appointed times of God. The goal of God’s plan is ultimately the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth. This explains why, of all the appointed times, Sukkot is said to be the premier celebration of the Millennium.

As the Prophet Zechariah has told us in Chapter 14, in the last days all nations will be gathered against Jerusalem. They will take the city and plunder it. (Zechariah 14:1, 2) The Lord will then take charge of His people; He will appear upon the Mount of Olives. By splitting this mountain, He will prepare a safe way for the rescue of those that remain. He will come with all His saints (Zechariah 14:3-5) to complete His kingdom.

The other pilgrimage feasts (Matzah and Shavuot) have been fulfilled, but the Feast of Tabernacles – Sukkot finds its fulfillment during the millennial kingdom of the Messiah (Vayikra 23:33-44; B’midbar 16:13-15; 31:10; Nehemiah 8:17, 18; Revelation 20:1-6).

The remnant of the nations will turn to the Lord and come yearly to Jerusalem, to keep the feast of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16-19). Can’t you imagine it? The feast of the Millennium! What a party that will be! This feast will be kept by all who have come to believe in Messiah, to thank the Lord for His grace in that He has brought them out of the wanderings of this life into the blessedness of His kingdom of peace.

In the perfected kingdom of God there will be no more sinners, but only those who are righteous and holy. This is affirmed in the last clause of Zechariah’s prophecy: “there will be no merchants anymore in the house of Adonai.” (v. 21)

Thus, does Zechariah’s prophesy close with a prospect of the completion of the kingdom of God in glory. All believing commentators are agreed that the final fulfillment of Zechariah 14:20-21 lies before us in Revelation 21 and 22.

According to Isaiah, God has promised His people a new heaven and a new earth (see Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). The old creation must make way for the new creation if God is to be glorified.

Indeed, many interesting questions could be asked about our future abode in heaven, but most must go unanswered until we reach our glorious home. John closed his book by reminding us that we have responsibilities today because we are going to heaven.

Sukkot has always known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with his people. How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it fully comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this holy day. God, Himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness. The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua tabernacles with us as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

What a celebration there will be as His people, both Jews and Gentiles, wave the lulav and chant, Ana Adonai Hoshiana! (Lord, do save us!) Amen. Come quickly, Lord Yeshua! Come and dwell in Your Ultimate Sukkah!

In my next post, we will return to our series on Kefa.

The Day of Atonement ~ Yom Kippur – 5781

This post is lengthy, so here is a PDF version.

In this post, we take a break from the series on Kefa to observe the second of the fall Jewish feasts of Yom Kippur.

In 2020, Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement begins at sundown on September 27th. The Tanakh says that the blood of the sacrifice is given to make atonement. The Hebrew words translated as “atonement” in English are Kippur (noun) and Kaspar (verb). The root occurs about 150 times in the Tanakh and is intimately linked with forgiveness of sin and with reconciliation to God. What does “atonement” mean?

Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus, reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 16 provides detailed instructions for a unique sacrifice to be offered once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month – Tishri. On that day the whole community of Israel was to gather at the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple) to fast and to pray. The Cohen HaGadol followed carefully prescribed steps and entered the Especially Holy Place (Holy of Holies), bringing the blood of the sacrificed animal. There he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat. This animal was a sin offering for the people (16:15). That sacrifice was an “atonement … to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” Following that sacrifice, Israel was told, “You will be clean before Adonai from all your sins” (v. 30).

It is essential in looking at the Tanakh to realize that in it we see realities acted out that would be unveiled later. The whole of scripture is a progressive revelation of God. He reveals Himself more and more throughout human history. God planned for continuous enactments of reality so that when Yeshua finally came to lay down His life for us, we would realize just what He was doing? Should we be surprised at the centuries of animal sacrifice, and the stress on the shedding of blood as necessary for forgiveness? No. In the repeated sacrifices of the Tanakh we are led to understand that, to God, death has always been the price of life for sinful men.

Yom Kippur in Yeshua’s Time

Vayikra 16:7-10 states that the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) is to take the two goats and place them before Adonai at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Then (he) is to cast lots for the two goats, one lot for Adonai and the other for ‘Az’azel (scapegoat). (He) is to present the goat whose lot fell to Adonai and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat whose lot fell to ‘Az’azel is to be presented alive to Adonai to be used for making atonement over it by sending it away into the desert for ‘Az’azel.”

There were also a few traditions that were added to the scapegoat ceremony. According to the Mishna, lots were drawn to decide the fate of both of the goats. The lot for the sacrifice said for the Lord, and the lot for the scapegoat said, scapegoat.  The people considered it a good omen if the lot for the Lord came up in the Priests right hand. Also, a red sash was tied to the scapegoat’s horns, and a portion of it was also tied to the door of the Temple. The sash on the Temple turned from red to white as the goat met its end in the wilderness, signifying to the people that God had accepted their sacrifices and their sins had been atoned. This idea came from Isaiah 1:18 which says, “Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow…”

Also stated in the Mishna as well as the Talmud, four events occurred during the forty years before the destruction of the Temple which foreshadowed its doom. (This would have started at the time when Yeshua was sacrificed once and for all.) For forty years:

  • The lot that said “for the Lord” did not come in the Priests right hand…this was considered a bad omen.
  • The portion of the red sash that was tied to the temple door stopped turning white with the death of the sacrifice.
  • The westernmost light of the temple candelabra would not burn. This was crucial because this was the “shammash” (servant) used to kindle the other candles.
  • The temple doors opened by themselves. The rabbis saw the prophetic fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 11:1 that says, Open your doors, Lebanon, so that the fire can consume your cedars.” Fires did consume the cedars of Lebanon that may have adorned the inside of the temple.
Yeshua’s Fulfillment

What should surprise us is that God would give His Son for us. What should amaze us is that the blood spilled on history’s ultimate altar would be His own. But we should never be surprised that only the sacrifice of another life can exempt one from the death penalty that sin and guilt deserve. Sacrifice has always been central to the history of God’s gracious dealings with men. Over and over again, that picture is presented to us. Repeatedly we see the blood. Over and over – till with awed amazement we look at Calvary and suddenly the pictures from the past merge into one. And we bow, stunned by the reality.

He died.
He died for me.
He died for you.

Even in ancient times, God lifted the veil to let us peek beyond the shadows of the reality.

Isaiah 53 was long understood by the Jews to speak of the coming Messiah – the Deliverer to be sent to them by God. In this passage, we have a clear picture of Yeshua, and of sacrifice.

“Like a lamb led to be slaughtered (v. 7).
“He would present himself as a guilt offering” (v. 10).
“He exposed himself to death” (v. 12).
“Actually bearing the sin of many” (v. 12).

We cannot read these words today without realizing that they contain God’s explanation for Yeshua’s life – and for His death.

According to Hebrews Chapter10, the sacrifices of old were a shadow of the good things to come, but not the actual manifestation of the originals” (v. 1). The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins (v. 4). The sacrifices only covered and concealed sin, thus permitting God to overlook His people’s sins until Yeshua could come to take away sins by the sacrifice of Himself (Romans 3:25-26). What the ancient sacrifices foreshadowed, Yeshua accomplished! By one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

In Yeshua, our sins and lawless acts have been forgiven entirely, and we have been cleansed. (Hebrews 10:14) Thus “an offering for sins is no longer needed (v. 18). We need to appropriate for ourselves the atonement of the shed blood of Yeshua.

The animal sacrifices had to be repeated again and again. Their repetition was a continual reminder to Israel that sin, while temporarily covered, must still be dealt with. The repeated sacrifices served to demonstrate that no animal’s life could ever satisfy the righteousness of God. What a different message the bread and wine of Communion! No longer is fresh blood required. Yeshua has died, offering “for all time one sacrifice for sins” (v. 12).

It is enough.
Redemption’s work is done.
By the blood of Yeshua, you and I have been set forever free.

The focal point of God’s atoning work is Yeshua’s death on the execution stake. Sha’ul wrote, “we were reconciled with God through His Son’s death when we were enemies” (Romans 5:10). These words not only define the meaning of atonement, but they also reveal the heart of the gospel as well.

At the beginning of His ministry, Yeshua was identified as “the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The purpose of His coming was “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He explained His death regarding His “bloodshed on behalf of many” (Mark 14:24).

The relation of Yeshua’s death to forgiveness of sins was implicit in the earliest Messianic preaching (Acts 2:21; 3:6, 19; 4:13; 5:31; 8:35; 10:43). Sha’ul proclaimed, “Yeshua died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3), that He was the “kapparah – atonement” (Romans 3:25 KJV; “sacrifice of atonement,” NRSV, NIV; “expiation,” RSV), that He became “a cursed on our behalf” (Galatians 3:13), and that those “who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah’s blood. (Ephesians 2:13). Furthermore, Yeshua has been “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28) and has become “a new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20) into God’s presence. He is the one who “bore our sins in his body on the stake” (1 Peter 2:24).

Though atonement is focused on the execution stake, the Brit Hadashah makes clear that Yeshua’s death is the climax of His perfect obedience. He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the execution stake” (Philippians 2:8). “Even though he was the Son, he learned obedience through his sufferings” (Hebrews 5:8). Romans 5:12-19 contrasts Yeshua’s obedience to Adam’s disobedience. His sinless obedience qualified Him to be the perfect Sacrifice for sin (see Hebrews 6:8-10).

The atonement for sin provided by Yeshua’s death had its origin in divine love. No other reason can explain why “God reconciled us to himself by Yeshua” (2 Corinthians 5:18). The anthem that continuously peals from the Bible is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only and unique Son” (John 3:16; see 1 John 4:9-10). This does not mean that God loves us because Yeshua died for us. Rather, Yeshua died for us because God loves us. Thus, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8) Because atonement issues from love, it is always seen as a divine gift, never as a human achievement.

No day was, or is, as sacred to the Jewish community as Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonement. After the high priest had made atonement for his sins and those of his household, he proceeded with the rites of atonement for the whole community.

“God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah – the atonement – for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death.” (Romans 3:25) Scripture depicts all human beings as needing to atone for their sins but lacking all power and resources for doing so. We have offended our holy Creator, whose nature it is to hate sin (Jeremiah 44:4; Habakkuk 1:13) and to punish it (Psalms 5:4-6; Romans 1:18; 2:5-9). No acceptance by, or fellowship with, such a God can be expected unless atonement is made, and since there is sin in even our best actions, anything we do in hopes of making amends can only increase our guilt or worsen our situation.

As a perfect sacrifice for sin (Romans 8:3; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Peter 1:18-19), Yeshua’s death was our redemption. He paid the price that freed us from the jeopardy of guilt, enslavement to sin, and expectation of wrath (Romans 3:24; Galatians 4:4-5; Colossians 1:14). Yeshua’s death was God’s act of reconciling us to himself, overcoming his hostility to us that our sins provoked (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Colossians 1:20-22).

Yeshua’s atoning death ratified the inauguration of a renewed covenant, in which Yeshua’s one sacrifice guarantees access to God under all circumstances that cover all transgressions (Matthew 26:27-28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15; 10:12-18). Those who through faith in Yeshua have “received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11) “in him… become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We no longer need the blood of bulls or goats. Yeshua is our perfect atonement. He is the Messiah!

In my next post, we will continue with the Fall Feasts by looking at Sukkot.