Torah and New Testament, #4

The approaching dissolution of the Jewish economy, and the erecting of the evangelical state, shall set this matter at large, and lay all in common, so that it shall be a thing perfectly indifferent whether in either of these places or any other men worship God, for they shall not be tied to any place; neither here nor there, but both, and any where, and every where.

Matthew Henry, Commentary on John 4:21-23.

If you read the Bible forwards (start in Genesis and read in the direction towards the New Testament) you will come away with the idea that the Torah is eternal. If you read the Bible backwards (start with a New Testament reading devoid of Israelite background and then read the “Old” Testament) you can easily think the Torah is a temporary and faulty system. A common reading: God gave Israel a sub-standard, even a worldly Law, one which is about matters of “do not touch” and the elemental spirits of this world rather than the pure vision of angelic realms and eternal glory.

Yuck. I weep for people whose Bible reading proceeds in this manner. It’s like having the grape juice and never the wine. It’s like walking in Yosemite and seeing only the coke cans and cigarette butts. It’s like reading only the end of the romance novel and missing why it seemed impossible for the two to come together — and what’s so great about their love.

A most common area of rejection by New Testament readers is the idea that the sacrifices of the Israelite Temple could possibly have been good in any way. They are a ministry of death. They are, many say, primitive and unworthy of spiritual religion. Called the local chapter of P.E.T.A. and complain. Why should animals die for religion? Excuse me, there is a lot wrong with this estimation. And as we explore Torah and New Testament we must ask, would Yeshua approve of the animal sacrifices and would he ever have participated?

OBJECTION: Yeshua never sinned so he would never have offered a sacrifice. RESPONSE: He was baptized by John. The same logic would suggest he should not have been. Furthermore, animal sacrifices were not only about sin. This objection reveals a lack of knowledge about the way the sacrificial system worked and what it’s purposes were. In my book, A New Look at the Old Testament, I explain the sacrificial system in an easy to read manner.

OBJECTION: Yeshua is never shown offering a sacrifice, so he must not have ever done it. RESPONSE: Yeshua is never shown bringing a tithe either. The gospels assume many things about the Jewish world in which its characters lived and moved and assume the readers will share in these assumptions.

OBJECTION: Yeshua drove the animals out of the Temple court, so he must have opposed sacrifice. RESPONSE: Two things should occur to us here. First, it seems dangerous to assume that Yeshua opposed a divinely given system. Second, there could be other reasons why Yeshua opposed what was happening in the Temple in his time rather than assuming he opposed the Temple inherently (and “Torah and New Testament, #5” will expound on Yeshua and the Temple, clarifying this).

OBJECTION: Yeshua never affirmed concepts of sacrifice in his teachings. RESPONSE: This is not true. He said, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). He said, “Which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it” (Matt 23:19-20). He said, “Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift” (Matt 5:24). While you could argue that “gift” here means the firstfruits, which were placed before the altar (Deut 26:4), it could just as well mean the animal brought for an offering (and “in front of the altar” is a generalization anyway, since in the Second Temple Israelites could not approach the altar directly).

OBJECTION: Animal slaughter is wrong, a ministry of death, and God and Yeshua are about life. RESPONSE: Did God become about life only starting with the New Testament? Of course not, so this argument, if accepted, undermines the entire Bible. Further, the Bible itself acknowledges that killing animals is not the highest good and looks to a day when death no longer reigns (many verses, but consider Genesis 1:29; 9:1-5; Isa 11:6-9; Rev 21:22). Killing animals is something destined to cease, but while death reigns, ritual slaughter serves a purpose that outweighs the evil of death. God redeems death and the Temple in its glories is part of that redemption.

OBJECTION: Yeshua’s death brought an end to the need for sacrifices. RESPONSE: This is the greatest misunderstanding. I do not understand why this concept is difficult for Christians. Leviticus does not say that animal sacrifices were about personal salvation or justification. Leviticus does not say that the sacrifices caused one to be in Messiah, to participate in the divine nature. And Leviticus does not say that the sacrifices caused God himself to participate in our humanity and to raise it up. In other words, the sacrificial death and life-imparting resurrection of Yeshua had a completely different purpose than the sacrifices of Leviticus. But the purpose of the Levitical sacrifices, which few readers of the Bible seem to be aware of, did not cease with Yeshua. This is why Paul continued offering sacrifices (see Acts 21:23-26). For more see A New Look at the Old Testament.

Death is the current reality. God, like it or not, is not yet causing death to cease. He is hidden and his redemption and perfection of all things follows a path which is hard to understand. Faith is difficult. The sacrifices draw the worshipper nearer to God’s Presence than any other practice in the Torah or New Testament. At the altar, the Glory is nearby. As long as we keep choosing death as the order of our existence, God directs some of those deaths to a higher purpose.

Yeshua, himself, went purposely toward death. Though many historical Jesus scholars allege otherwise, I would argue he knew his vocation, he chose his path, he accepted his destiny. He said so the night he was arrested and told his disciples in clear terms that he would be their Passover sacrifice. The New Testament not only affirms the Temple sacrifices, but understands Yeshua based on them.

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14 Responses to Torah and New Testament, #4

  1. James says:

    A common reading: God gave Israel a sub-standard, even a worldly Law, one which is about matters of “do not touch” and the elemental spirits of this world rather than the pure vision of angelic realms and eternal glory.

    I keep wondering how so many Christians believe that God deliberately pulled a “bait-and-switch” with the Israelites. The only way the common reading works is if God purposely lied to and betrayed the Jewish people. It’s nuts. (Gets off soapbox)

  2. Andrew T. says:

    Do you think it is part of the divine plan that the Temple in Jerusalem is no more? In Yeshua’s words, one day people will worship neither at Mt. Zion nor Mt. Gerizim (as Samaritans do) but in spirit and in truth.

    • Alas, Andrew T., the Temple will once again stand in Jerusalem and all peoples will flock to its gates to worship the One G-d of Israel. At least that’s what the prophets (e.g. Ezekiel) tell us.

  3. James says:

    I agree with Gene on this, Andrew. Ezekiel makes it very clear that there will be a third temple. It is true that at the very end of all things, there will be no temple in the Jerusalem, but then, Jerusalem won’t need a sun or moon for light, either. At that point, we will have returned to Eden, or perhaps, Eden will have returned to us.

    • James, unless there will be TWO Jerusalems, one on earth with its Temple (as described in Ezekiel) and another Jerusalem, one that has descended from heaven (a.k.a. “the Bride of the Messiah”) and will be suspended ABOVE the earth (as described in Book of Revelation), where there’s no Temple (G-d is the “Temple” there). At least according to one interpretation of John’s apocalyptic writings.

  4. Andrew T. says:

    Ezekiel alludes to a third Temple, though it is never called that. I don’t have a problem with a figurative third Temple. Not everything in the divine plan works out quite how people would expect. Times change and so does the efficacy of religious symbols like animal sacrifice. The Jewish people did not expect the Messiah to preach peace and be crucified as a common criminal; then they were given the tyrant Messiah they sought (Bar-Kokhba) and it ended miserably. Or notice that Yeshua challenged and radically re-interpreted the ritual purity code and saved a woman from getting stoned to death for adultery as the law of Moses commanded. Later, in Acts, in an unprecedented innovation, gentiles were accepted as spiritual equals and not expected to become Jews, and a eunuch was also accepted into the believing community, even though Deuteronomy 23.1 prohibits them from entering the assembly of the LORD. In Isaiah 56.3-5 this innovation was prophesied.

    Call me Reform or a gnostic or whatever, but I would be fibbing if I said I look forward to the reinstatement of animal sacrifice, the outmoded Mosaic purity codes, capital punishment for adultery, and the total war between Jew and Arab that would ensue if the mosque on the Temple mount is ever destroyed. If such things ever returned, they would represent a drastic step backwards from a worship of God that is not so inextricably bound to geography and a building but done “in spirit and in truth.”

    • “done “in spirit and in truth.”

      Andrew T., you mean to say that when the Temple stood in Jerusalem before the coming of Messiah or even after his coming when the first community of believers worshiped there daily, the worship in the Temple was NEVER done and couldn’t have been done “in spirit and in truth” but rather in “flesh and falsehood”?

      “total war between Jew and Arab that would ensue if the mosque on the Temple mount is ever destroyed”

      Since her re-establishment in 1948, Israel has fought many wars of survival where it was threatened with total annihilation. That neighborhood has not gotten much friendlier to the Jews since the end of WWII. There will be more wars regardless of what others want.

      Or, may be Jesus was making some other point?

      • Andrew T. says:

        Gene, I did not mean to set up an either-or opposition between “spirit and truth” and “flesh and falsehood.” A Jew 2000 years ago may have been far more spiritually fulfilled in the Temple rituals than a gentile might find in a bland Protestant service of today. But Yeshua meant *something* when he said that to the Samaritan woman, and I infer that he meant Temple worship is necessary for holiness right here and right now, but it won’t always be so to the umpteenth generation. As worship evolves through the ages, it becomes less geo-centric and ethnocentric. This is a development to be welcomed. It started with Abraham’s kin and a faint notion of monotheism. One day holiness will be discerned everywhere at all times, so that even the holy Torah will be like a mere candle in a sunlit room. This is all my opinion. I could be 100% wrong. Maybe another literal Temple is in God’s will after all.

        Realistically, there will be more wars between Jew and Arab. I do not look forward to them. Yeshua did not teach me to look forward to bloodshed. But when I say the destruction of that mosque on the Temple mount (the third holiest site in Islam) would mean total war, I mean total war. No holds barred and unprecedented in Israel’s history. Something the U.S. or U.N. wouldn’t be able to contain. Yet I can’t imagine Muslims ever giving that site mount back to Jews peacefully. Then again, the re-establishment of Israel as a nation, now with a significant and growing religious minority, would have been unimaginable to 19th century Jews. Who knows what will happen?

  5. James says:

    I hadn’t considered two Jerusalems, Gene. My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that there would be a third literal Temple in Jerusalem on Earth for some indeterminate period of time during the Messianic Age, but that eventually, once all was said and done, when Eden was re-established on Earth, God would be the Temple for humanity. I also understand that the Mishkan and later the Temple were the “scale models” on Earth for God’s Heavenly court, so I believe the “original Heavenly Temple” would continue to exist for all eternity. Just my theory, though.

    I don’t know if non-Jews will ever be allowed to offer sacrifices in the third Temple (although the site seems to think so), but frankly, if so, I rather look forward to offering a Todah (Thanksgiving) offering for all that He has done. Kind of like having a big barbecue for family and friends in the presence of God, if I can be a little irreverent.

    As far as the whole thing about the Jews not expecting the Messiah to have to die to atone for the sins of many, I addressed that point just recently on my own blog (sorry to spam you, Derek). Andrew, since you seem to be pretty traditional in your Christianity, and I’m anything but, I suspect you won’t agree with my approach. Still, it’s the only thing in anyone’s theology that explains why the Messiah died and also explains that God didn’t accept a human sacrifice.

    • Andrew T. says:

      James, I am not that traditional in my Christianity; perhaps you inferred that from my spiritualist exegesis of John 4 contra traditional Jewish eschatology? But rather than getting into how I’m not a conventional Christian, I will just say this: I can’t say for certain that there will be a literal Third temple. I’m on the fence. My moral compass more than anything tells me that such a mode of worship is beyond the pale for this age. Though, ritual slaughter is not nearly as “barbaric” as what happens to animals in industrial agriculture on a massive scale, except that the person confronts the animal’s death first-hand.

      • James says:

        Sorry if I made some incorrect statements about you. The Internet limits how well I perceive you. I still don’t have a problem with a literal third Temple and we are not that clear about which of the sacrifices would be re-instituted (opinions in Judaism vary).

        I do know that the animal sacrifices were designed to impose the least amount of suffering as possible. God instituted a series of requirements for eating meat that were applied to the Temple and to kosher slaughter. Unless you’re a vegetarian, you also eat at the cost of an animal’s life. A significant portion of the meat I eat (sadly, not 100%) is glatt kosher, so I don’t rely exclusively on my local supermarket and industrial agriculture. I don’t say this because I believe that makes me a better person, but it is one of my personal convictions. We all try in our own ways, to obey the will of God as we understand it. Someday, the Messiah will come and straighten us all out.

  6. Rodney says:

    “This is why Paul continued offering sacrifices (see Acts 21:23-26).”

    Well, that going to stir up a real stink in Sunday school classes this weekend…

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