Hat tip to my Temple Teacher Joseph Good, who taught me much of this – and a whole lot more that I just cannot share with you because it would be a one thousand part blog. If this interests you, this is just a small taste (a very small taste) of his teaching series The Gathering (click on the red link) and worth every penny to people who want to understand the New Testament and especially Revelation, which was written in Temple language according to Jewish eschatological beliefs at the time.
The Jewish Gospels of Matthew through John, as well as the Epistles and especially Revelation, are filled with references to the Jewish eschatological beliefs of the first century – if one knows the language. Sadly, this language has hardly been studied by our Christian forefathers over the centuries, giving way to beliefs grounded in what people presume the authors were talking about and resulting in a lot of popular speculation without serious scholarship – of which I myself have been more than guilty. Thus instead of being witness to the oft repeated Day of the Lord, the Millennial reign of Messiah beginning with the tribulation, John was instead having a vision on a Sunday. The “Last Trumpet” referenced over and over again in Jewish writings as being the Last Trumpet blown in the Rosh Hashannah Temple ceremony becomes simply a random blast from Heaven calling home the elect, and the Great Trumpet of Yom Kippur gets lumped in with the seventh Trumpet of Revelation or the aforementioned Last Trumpet of Rosh HaShannah as though they were one in the same! We hear words like ‘arise’ and ‘awake’ and because we are not familiar with what the authors knew – the Temple ceremonies – we utterly miss and misinterpret what we are reading. We do not know when the ‘gates’ were opened and closed or when the ‘books’ were opened and closed. Whole theologies have sprung up in Christianity, Messianic Judaism, and in the Hebrew Roots movement, that utterly ignore the context that we find throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and extra-biblical Second Temple writings – but we do a great disservice to Jews like John the Apostle when we ignore what they knew, what our ancestors chose to walk away from or forget, or maybe never had a chance to know in the first place.
This has been sadly coupled with a growing and disturbing tendency to write off everything concerned with Judaism as having its roots in Babylonian religion – without a demand for the burden of proof to be presented. Having studied Babylonian religion, which we now know a great deal about because of the archaeological and linguistic advances of the past century and a half, I fail to see the connections. Babylon was no more overtly pagan than any other Ancient Near Eastern culture, and in some ways it was a good deal less pagan (it is hard to imagine anyone being more pagan than the Hittites). In Scripture, it is Egypt and Canaan which were repeatedly associated with paganism, whereas Babylon was associated with government in rebellion, commerce, pride, and warfare. In any event, the more I study the Jewish liturgies associated with the Feasts (which are a witness to the prayers and songs offered up to God during His feasts), the more I see the language showing up in the Gospels and Epistles. Yeshua (Jesus) Himself makes repeated positive references to the Amidah (standing) prayers in His sermons (I will be detailing these in future blogs) as well as to many of the rituals practiced during the Feasts that pointed directly towards Himself.
Tomorrow begins the First of Elul, the beginning of the 40 days of corporate national repentance leading up to Yom Kippur (a practice based on the Book of Haggai, where in chapter one we see God repeatedly calling the returned Israelites to “Consider their ways” beginning on the first day of the sixth month, Elul 1). Many people will not participate, which I have no problem with, but some of those will cite as their reason Babylonian origins as though it is a proven fact, and I do have a problem with that. As someone who used to say those same things, I am embarrassed to admit that I was simply repeating what I had heard from everyone else – without actually studying the overwhelming amount of information we now have on the subject. They will draw upon the “40 days of weeping for Tammuz” which is an outright myth. Tammuz was not wept for over a period of 40 days – I have read the major research on Tammuz (Dumuzi), and every myth associated with him and his wife Ishtar (Inanna) and there is nothing there to suggest such a thing – despite many religious internet sites making said claims as though there is in fact proof. There was certainly weeping, but not out of any sense of repentance, and it was not for 40 days. If you would like to read what the research actually does say about the agricultural cycle and sympathetic weeping in the Tammuz cult, click here.
But we do see a forty day episode at the very beginning of the ministry of Messiah that is very important. After His baptism in the Jordan, Yeshua is led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days. I believe that this time period is precisely this forty days of repentance for a couple of reasons:
(1) Although many Jewish writings of the Second Temple Period proposed that Messiah will come on Yom Teruah (which is the day that kings were coronated), Yeshua Himself said that He would return to Jerusalem to reign on Yom Kippur after the Birthpangs of the Messiah (called the tribulation in Christianity):
Matthew 24:29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
In Hebrew, this ‘loud trumpet call’ is not the Last Trumpet of Rosh Hasahhah, but the Tekiah Gedolah – the very loud and long trumpet call that is also associated with the onset of the Jubilee year (I once heard a ‘blast’ that went on for over a minute by a master shofar blower!). As the Jubilee marks the return of ancestral inheritances, and freedom from all debts, this trumpet signals both restoration and freedom. After a forty days absence, Yeshua would have re-emerged after not a one day, but a forty day long time of fasting and prayer, on Yom Kippur – the fortieth day. His first act of ministry was to emerge, as it were on Yom Kippur, foreshadowing His second coming as Messiah ben David, the conquering King.
(2) When John’s disciples see Yeshua, John says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29) and most people have historically taken this to mean the Passover Lamb – however, I am going to post a quote from Oscar Cullmann’s excellent book “The Christology of the New Testament” pg 71:
“But even the Fourth Gospel does not deal only with the necessity of the death of Jesus in general. It contains direct and precise reference to Is 53 in 1:29 and 1:36 in the testimony of John the Baptist: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ … that the Aramaic phrase טליא דאלהא which means both ‘Lamb of God’ and ‘Servant of God,’ very probably lies behind the Greek expression αμνὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ. Since the expression, ‘Lamb of God’ is not commonly used in the Old Testament as a designation for the paschal lamb, it is probable that the author of John thought primarily of the ebed Yahweh.”
Here we see Cullmann’s excellent argument for Yeshua being referred to, in first century Aramaic terms, as the Servant of God, who takes away the sins of the world. What season was nearly upon them when John the Baptist spoke? The forty days of repentance which would be followed by Yom Kippur, when the sins of the nation would be taken away by the Azazel goat! Although Cullmann, writing in the 1950’s, mistakenly saw the Paschal Lamb according to Christian tradition as a sin sacrifice (which it was not, no mention is ever made of sin – the blood of the paschal Lamb instead marked households as the people of God just as Yeshua’s blood marks the believer), his observation leads to Yeshua instead being compared to the Feast at which He would emerge into the fullness of ministry, having faithfully endured temptation – showing us the way. We also face temptation of course, just not nearly as much! He, being perfect, had to go through a lot more than we could ever handle and hasatan really doesn’t have a free enough schedule to be deeply invested in any of us as individuals.
When I spend the time from Elul 1 to Tishri 10 doing very deep soul searching, I am reminded of Messiah being tempted by the Enemy in the wilderness. In fact, like clockwork, things happen in my life heading up to Elul 1 (starting after Shavuot/Pentecost) that challenge me very deeply – there are generally hardships and betrayals and a lot of craziness that reveal my still very much alive character flaws – flaws that I am tempted to justify, coping mechanisms that I want to wallow in, grudges that I am tempted to nurse, hardships that I am tempted to celebrate my own personal little pity party over, memories of justice I have denied to others in the past and the restoration I am required to bring, or new dilemmas for which I have no answer. Sometimes there are even successes that tempt me either towards pride or the feeling that I am being vindicated over my enemies. This year I am experiencing all of these at the same time, and I feel as though I am (again) being led into the wilderness in order to deal with them.
But should this not be what happens when we follow Yeshua? When we follow Him, does it not lead us in the same paths that He Himself walked? No, we aren’t called to fast for 40 days, but I do feel that we are called into the wilderness of our own souls in order to pray and fight against the temptations of hasatan in this very prophetic season.
I have been asked – “Could this by the inspiration for the Catholic Lent season?” Quite possibly – they traditionally put the Temptation of Messiah in the spring before Passover, and the fasting of Lent mimics the 40 days of Yeshua in the wilderness in preparation for public ministry. That being said, I haven’t actually done the footwork to prove the connection so all I can say is, “It does make a logical argument.” Though I have to say, that according to the available material on the subject – I sincerely doubt it was a conscious choice and had more to do with what they thought Yeshua was doing than with what He actually was doing.