In Mark, the Temple incident is framed by the curse of the Fig Tree and provides the clues we need to fully interpret that parabolic action. In fact, this action is also symbolic. Jesus arrives at the Temple as the messiah, inspects the Temple and finds it corrupt. He begins his final week with a dramatic disruption in the area used for selling sacrificial animals.

wwjd-whipThe Temple complex was huge. The area with buying and selling was approximately 450×300 meters! Craig Evans suggests it is unlikely that Jesus completely disrupted all commerce in the area, and most people would not have been aware Jesus was making a demonstration in one area of the Temple. The action is symbolic. By overturning tables and causing the chaos that he does, he challenges the religious authorities to be obedient to scripture by making the Temple a house of prayer and not a den of thieves.

Jesus performs a symbolic action like classic prophet from the Hebrew Bible. The prophets regularly criticized the Temple leadership, especially in Jeremiah (7:14, 34; 12:7; 22:5; 22:5; 26:9). Since Jeremiah is a favorite text of Jesus, it is no surprise Jesus would allude to Jer 7:11 in his critique of the Temple. As with Jeremiah, this confrontation with the temple authority can lead only to physical danger and arrest, but at this point the authorities cannot take Jesus for fear of the crowd.

Jesus’ criticism of the temple does not end with the Temple incident. The conflict with the Temple aristocracy continues in his teaching in the courts during his final week.

  • The Parable of the Tenants has the priestly aristocracy losing their place of privilege.
  • The challenge to Jesus on paying taxes is radical – give to god what is God’s, not necessarily via the temple tax!
  • Even the Widow’s mite is a condemnation of the giving of the wealthy.

The “Temple Action” is therefore a public sign of Jesus’ authority as a prophet of God.  He stands in the tradition of Jeremiah and Ezekiel who condemned the priesthood and Temple authority for their half-hearted worship of God.

Jesus is challenging the worshipers in the Temple to become True Israel, but is he proposing separation from the Temple?  Does Jesus preform a symbolic action (like Jeremiah) which calls for the reformation of the Temple?

When Jesus is walking to Jerusalem, he is hungry and finds a fig tree by the side of the road. He expects to find a bit of fruit, but there is none. Remarkably Jesus pronounces a curse on the tree, saying it will not bear fruit again “until the end of the age.”

God Hates FigsWhat is the meaning of the cursing of the fig tree?  This is a symbolic action, dealing with more than a tree that doesn’t bear fruit.  The context is important since this is an example of a “Markan Sandwich.” Mark often begins a story, then drops it and tells another longer story, returning to his original story at the end. The material inside this sandwich is the Temple Incident. Jesus condemns the Temple as a “den of thieves” and overturns the tables in order to disrupt business. There are several “conflict stories” following this section of Mark in which Jesus teaches in the temple.

If it is not the time of year for the fig tree to have fruit, what did Jesus expect to find? Some think “winter figs” which are left over from the previous harvest,” or “early figs,” which were hard, immature figs. But the tree has leaves since it is mid-April, therefore Jesus approaches it with the expectation that it will have fruit, but it does not.  It has leaves, but no figs, ripe or not.  If the tree was barren, then perhaps the regular metaphor from the Hebrew Bible of a barren tree is in mind. A barren tree is used for Israel’s unfaithfulness (Isa 28:4; Jer 8:13; 24:1–10; 29:17; Hos 9:10; Mic 7:1; Nah 3:12; Prov 27:18) or God’s judgment (Jer 7:20, Ho 9:15-16). These are not unrelated metaphors and both are appropriate here.

Jesus is looking for fruit in a place he has every right to find fruit, but does not find it. In the same way, he came to the nation looking for fruit, but did not find any.  The religious establishment is a barren fig tree that is about to be cut off.  Where did Jesus have every right to find a fruitful religious heart in Israel – the temple.

The curse is that the tree will not produce fruit until the end of the age.  Some take this to mean that Jesus expects the end of the age before the next fig-harvest, but the phrase “end of the age” always has an eschatological sense.  Craig Evans, suggests this means that the tree is cursed “forever” although in the light of Romans 11 and the probability of future of national Israel.

After the events in the temple, the third after the curse is pronounced, the disciples see the tree and note that it is dead – withered from the roots up.  There are a number of Old Testament allusions here (Ho 9:16, Job 18:16, 28:9, 31:12, Ezek 19:9). The nation has gone past the point of no-return, they have rejected the Messiah.

If this is a legitimate way to read this parabolic action, how would it effect the way we read the “Temple action”? Perhaps thinking beyond the Gospel of Mark and Paul’s comments in Romans 11:11-32, does this fig-tree parable make a difference for understanding Israel as the people of God in the present age?

Each of the Gospels describes Jesus entering Jerusalem as a “triumphal entry.” This is an event which Christians typically celebrate a week before Easter as “Palm Sunday,” at least in my youth by letting little kids wave fake palm branches and retelling the story of Jesus coming to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. As is usual, the pop-Christian even misses the significance of the palm branches and the other imagery in the story. There are several important symbols of Jewish nationalism in the Triumphal Entry.

First, palm branches were a part of Jewish nationalism since the time of the Maccabees. When Judas Maccabees brother Simon defeated the Syrians in 141 B. C.., the people celebrated with great music and the waving of palm branches (1 Macc. 13:51). Palms also appear on the coins dating to the first Jewish revolt against Rome in A.D. 66-70. Images of palm branches will be used later in the coinage of the Bar Kohkba revolt in A.D. 132.

Second, the cry of “Hosanna” is drawn from Psalm 118:25-25. The word means “save us, O Lord!” The psalm was one of the pilgrim Psalms, sung by those who were going up to the Temple during a feast. Psalm 118:26 was often taken as a reference to the Messiah, when the true the King of the Jews he will save his people.

The rest of Psalm 118 is important as well. Verses 10-13 describe the writer as in the middle of his enemies, nations which surround him on every side. Verse 17-18 says that the Psalmist has been disciplined severely, but has not been handed over to death. “I shall not die,” he says, “but I shall live.” Verse 19 describes the gate of righteousness through which the pilgrims must enter, Jesus has already described himself as the gate through which the sheep must pass. Verse 22 the psalm refers to the stone the builders rejected becoming the chief cornerstone, a verse Jesus applies to himself in the parable of the Vineyard.

Third, that Jesus rides a donkey is an allusion to Zechariah 9:9, another text associated with the coming messiah. John does not give the details since they are likely well-known by the time he writes his book. He does emphasize the fact that Jesus deliberately chose to ride a donkey, intentionally evoking the prophecy of Zech 9:9.

The point of this sign is often missed since it is thought riding a donkey is a sign of humility and peace. It is true that David came to Jerusalem after his son’s revolt “in peace,” riding a donkey instead of a war horse. A better explanation of the donkey is to see that after Solomon was anointed king, he was placed on a donkey and led up to the city of Jerusalem, through the Kidron valley. The anointed son of David, the king named “Peace,” enters the city of Jerusalem to begin the most peaceful and prosperous period in Israel’s history.

Zechariah 9:9 is alluding to that story in the Hebrew Bible, Jesus is the true Son of David who will bring ultimate peace and prosperity, but only after he destroys the enemy of his people. Rather than the Romans, Jesus will enter Jerusalem and offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin.

What other events of the final days of Jesus ministry hint at his messianic role?

Crucified GodLogos Bible Software is offering an excellent book for their “Free Book of the Month” promotion.  Partnering with Fortress, Logos is giving away a copy of Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. Originally published by SCM Press in 1973, Fortress Press reprinted the book in paperback in 1993. Langdon Gilkey said “This is Jürgen Moltmann’s best and therefore most important book. He has substantially changed the central thrust of his theology without sacrificing its most vital element, its passionate concern for alleviation of the world’s suffering.” This challenging 364 page book is a worthy addition to theological library.

In addition to this free book, Logos is also offering an “almost free” book, Moltmann’s Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology.  Gilkey described this book as “a stimulating and important book, a ‘must’ for every theological student and every preacher who wishes to become acquainted with the most significant movement in contemporary continental theology.”  The book is only 99 cents for a limited time. Be sure to enter to win a 22-volume Jürgen Moltmann Collection.

Time is running out, the offer expires October 31. Head to Logos and download the free book while you can!

 

Exodus 21:17  “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

Leviticus 20:9 “‘If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.

Deuteronomy 27:16  “Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Qorban is an Aramaic word (קָרְבָּן, κορβᾶν) referring to something giving as a gift to the Temple, whether to a sacrifice, oath, or gift. Mark 7:9-13 refers to a way two law as could be set against one another in order to circumvent the original intention of the Law. This flows logically from Jesus’s rejection of hand-washing for ritual purity. Ritual purity does not necessarily mean the Law has been kept in “spirit and in truth.” The qorban tradition illustrates his point well.

Erich Lessing, from Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2009

Photo by Erich Lessing, BAR, May/June 2009

Some Jews noticed a potential tension between the command to honor one’s parents and the commands to honor oaths, especially to oaths to God. Someone might potentially make an oath to give to the Lord gift of property or money. They Temple could receive the oath as a promise but not necessarily collect the oath until a later time. By analogy, compare this to a faith-promise commitment to a building program at your church. You promise $10,000, but the church does not need it right away. You get the “spiritual benefit” of giving money without actually taking the money out of your bank account.

By declaring some amount of money as qorban a person can avoid using the money for the care of parents. If the gift was considered an investment in the Temple, the giver avoids using the funds to support his parents. If Jesus can raise the question, then this potential loophole in the Law may have been a well-known financial maneuver. An example appears in a parable in the Mishnah:

There was someone in Bet Horon whose father was prohibited by vow from deriving benefit from him. The man in Bet Horon was marrying off his son, and he said to his fellow, “The courtyard and the banquet are given over to you as a gift.  But they are before you only so that father may come and eat with us at the banquet.” The other party said, “Now if they really are mine, then lo, they are consecrated to heaven!” He said to him, “I didn’t give you what’s mine so you would consecrate it to Heaven!” He said to him, “You did not give me what’s yours except so that you and your father could eat and drink and make friends again, and so the sin [for violating the oath] could rest on his head!” Now the case came before sages.  They ruled, “Any act of donation which is not so [given] that, if one sanctified it to Heaven, it is sanctified, is no act of donation.” m. Ned 5:6

R. T. France points out two elements of qorban based on this story. First, the original qorban is unalterable. Someone swearing such a vow cannot break it later if it turns out to be a bad decision! Second, the property remained at the disposal of the son even after he made the vow. His father could not touch it, but he could.

Rather than a shrewd legal scheme, Jesus sees qorban as breaking of the Law and a grave sin.  This word for “transgress” is a fairly rare word in the New Testament, used only here and in Acts 1:25 for the sin of Judas, and once in 2 John 9.  It literally means “go along the side of…”, or “pass over…neglect.” This hypocritical legal tactic is an illustration of the words of Isaiah:  “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

Usually Evangelical Christians chuckle about the hypocrisy of “those Pharisees” and contemporary preachers rail against the “traditions” of the Pharisees. But is this really fair?  If the goal was to keep the Law of God, the the Law must be correctly interpreted and applied. How is this qorban tradition any different than a Christian finding a way around head-covering (1 Cor 11:2-16) or Paul’s command to keep women silent in the church (1 Cor 14:34-35)? I do not think Jesus is against trying to keep the commands of God, but what is it about this particular practice that bothers him so much he is able to call it a sin?

When we find some exegetical warrant to set these things aside, are we not dismissing the commands of God?

In Mark 7:1-5 the Pharisees question Jesus over his lack of attention to the tradition of “hand washing” before meals. Jesus’ disciples do not wash their hands before a meal in order to avoid ritual purity, presumably the question directed at Jesus implies he was not requiring his disciples to follow a “tradition of the elders” (v. 5).

“Unclean hands” or “defiled hands” (ESV) refers to the state of impurity with respect to the Law. If one touched something unclean and then touched clean food, the clean food may become unclean. If that is the case, then a person could be eating unclean food even if the food was permissible in the Law. The Pharisees are accusing Jesus of behaving in a way that would make him unclean with respect to their traditions.

HandWashingR. T. France comments Mark’s description of the Pharisee’s practice is a “broad-brush, unsophisticated account which conveys a general sense of meticulous concern to avoid defilement” (Mark, NIGTC, 281). Mark is explaining only very generally the practice of the Pharisees with respect to washing hands before meals. France also points out that it is impossible to know if hand-washing for ritual purity before meals had become the norm for all people at the time of Jesus.

When challenged for his non-practice of “the tradition of the elders” (κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων), Jesus quotes Isa 29:13. The verse is part of a long oracle of woe spoken against Judah and Jerusalem. Isaiah is looking forward to the judgment of God on Jerusalem because of the half-hearted worship in the Temple. While they did the ritual correctly, their hearts were not right with God and as a result the nation would go into exile. By quoting this verse, Jesus is comparing the present leadership of Israel (the Pharisees) to the generation responsible for the exiles. The Pharisees are right to be aware of ritual purity and cleanliness, but they have made their interest in purity an end to itself. Their hearts are still far from God, despite their perfect obedience.

What is Jesus doing here? Is he intentionally ignoring the tradition of the Pharisee because it is not biblical? Was this a “mission strategy” intended to draw the sinner into a relationship with Jesus?  Is he trying to challenge these traditions, or is he simply eating a meal with sinners? When Jesus ate at the house of a Pharisee, did he wash his hands as we expected? I would expect that he did, simply because a Pharisee might not eat with Jesus if he had not washed his hands prior to sitting down to eat.

A more interesting question (to me) is why the Pharisees think that Jesus ought to submit to their tradition of hand-washing. I think that Jesus was teaching things which resonated most with the Pharisees and there is at least a possibility that they thought he was “one of them.” Jesus is described as discussing the Law with Pharisees and weighing in on issues like a Rabbi (divorce, for example). Clearly Jesus was not living as a Pharisee, attempting to maintain Temple purity at all times. Theologically he was “conservative,” but socially (from the Pharisee’s perspective) he was permissive.

Non-Jewish Christianity has always been perplexed by this passage since we Gentiles tend to smugly dismiss Jewish practice with little thought to what application this non-practice by Jesus might have for modern Christians. If Jesus were to visit a contemporary church, what practices might he ignore because they are simply external rituals without any real change of heart? (If Jesus did visit my church, I would hope he did not bring his whip!)

Jesus is often described as a kind of revolutionary, a political operative who was subtly working to challenge Roman authority. Historical Jesus studies often examine the Roman presence in Galilee as well as the shock of increased urbanization in an otherwise agricultural region. As Crossan points out, a first century Galilean Jew could not escape the “all-pervasive presence of Rome” (The Historical Jesus, 19). But can we fairly describe Galilee as a hot-bed of political rebellion against the Herodians and Rome? If so, how might this tense political situation affect our understanding of Jesus?

Jesus as Che GuevaraWhen Herod was named King of the Jews in Rome in 40 B.C, secured his kingdom with the help of troops from Marc Anthony.  In 39-38 B.C. he cruelly put down rebellions in Galilee (War 1.311-313). While Josephus calls these people “brigands,” E. P. Sanders suggests these brigands were people unwilling to live under Herod, who was considered a “low-born upstart” who slaughters his own sons.

There were people just prior to the time of Jesus who were ready to fight Rome given the right circumstances. Josephus describes a “fourth philosophy” which he claims was founded by Judas the Galilean and Zadok the Sadducee in A.D. 6 (Antiq. 18.3-10, War 2.117f). When Archelaus was deposed, Rome sent a prefect to govern Judea.  In order to organize and tax more efficiently, a census was ordered.  Judas rallied some followers and fought against taxation because it represented foreign rule.  His slogan was “no master but God,” a rather spiritual sounding phrase to be sure, but it is not exactly clear how “no master but God” gets worked out in the real world.

Thirty years after Jesus was executed there was open rebellion against Rome in Jerusalem. But did this rebellion reach Galilee? In a recent essay, Mordechai Aviam compares the archaeological record for villages and towns in Galilee with Josephus’s claim to have fortified 19 settlements in Galilee prior to the rebellion against Rome in A. D. 66. This claim was once dismissed as wishful thinking, but as Aviam observes, scholars have become more open to taking Josephus’s claim as valid (p, 30). If towns like Sepphoris and Gischala were fortified, the people of the towns did the work. While this is not evidence for widespread anti-Roman political activity, Aviam thinks it does indicate “most of the Galileans shared an approach similar to that of Josephus, as did the rebel government in Jerusalem…Galileans were no different” (p. 44).

If the people of Galilee were more closely related to Jerusalem politically, what would they have thought about Jesus in Galilee in the late 20s A. D.? Jesus selected twelve disciples to train as leaders of some sort of movement he called “the Kingdom of God.” If we replace “twelve disciples” with “twelve lieutenants” this sounds even more political! He took many of his followers out into the wilderness and re-enacted the Wilderness people of Israel’s history. Perhaps people who heard Jesus’s teaching and saw his growing movement thought of him as another challenger to Herodian and Roman authority, someone who might restore a kingdom to Israel.

While it is possible a disciple of Jesus, Simon the Zealot, was part of the same political movement as Judas the Galilean, most New Testament scholars prefer to take the word “zealot” in this context as spiritual zeal. Personally, I wonder about the word “zeal” having a modern sense of “spirituality” in the context of A.D. 30 Galilee, where only twenty years beforehand Judas led a revolt against Rome which might be described as “zeal.”  Notice also, there are two men named Judas out of the twelve disciples.  Judas was a patriotic name going back to Judas Maccabees, the last successful Jewish rebel against foreign power.  It is possible some parents were supporters of Judas the Galilean and named their sons after him and other members of the Hasmonean dynasty (Simon, Jonathan, Matthias).

To what extent is Jesus a “political rebel”? Could a Roman official refer to Jesus as a “terrorist”? How might reading the words of Jesus challenge Herodian or Roman authority?

 

Bibliography:  Mordechai Aviam, “People Land, Economy and Belief in First-Century Galilee and Its Origins: A Comprehensive Archaeological Synthesis,” page 5-48 in The Galilean Economy in the Time of Jesus. Ed. David A. Fiensy and Ralph K. Hawkins. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

I recently reviewed Sean Freyne’s The Jesus Movement and Its Expansion, and I found it to be a stimulating book that challenged some popular ideas about Jesus and his time in Galilee. Freyne was a well-known expert on Galilee and he began this new book with three chapters on the history and culture of the region in the first century. He challenges the common assumption that Galilee was a Gentile region in comparison to Judea. While the region was encircled by Gentile cities, a strong Judean presence was in Galilee with “a long-standing and deep attachment to the symbols of Jerusalem and its Temple” (48). From the Hasmonean period on there was a “steady growth” in the number of settlements with a distinctive Judean ethos (18). Evidence for this comes from the presence of miqva’oth throughout the region and a few traces of pre-70 C.E. synagogues (Khirbet Qana and Magdala, for example).

GamlaThe synoptic Gospels do in fact portray Jesus as frequently teaching in synagogues in Galilee. There are leaders in those synagogues who challenge Jesus on Sabbath traditions or other important symbols of Judaism. If Galilee were predominately Gentile, it would seem strange to find a synagogue in the small, poor villages. One problem is perhaps the frequent publication of photographs of the fourth to fifth century Capernaum synagogue in textbooks about Jesus. In Four Portraits, Strauss proper identifies it as a late synagogue in the caption to the photo on page 129, but by placing the image on a page describing early Jewish synagogues, it gives the read the impression a first-century Galilean synagogue was an impressive building. That is likely not the case. The synagogue at Gamla is a better example of the size of a pre- A. D. 70 structure. Nevertheless, even Galilean Jews were concerned with their traditions.

Freyne also challenges the usual description of the economic and social conditions of Galilee. This is ground Freyne has covered elsewhere in more detail. He begins with the economy of the Hasmonean state, suggesting that Galilee experience some growth as Judeans moved into the region for economic reasons. While Herod is sometimes characterized as an oppressive ruler for the “ordinary people,” Freyne insists the Herodian period not necessarily characterized by oppression and extreme poverty. He cites several examples of Herod providing for the people in times of drought or famine (118). Even under Antipas, the ruler functioned as a Roman benefactor.

Here Freyne is reacting to the work of Crossan and others who tend to overplay poverty as a factor for describing the culture of Galilee during the ministry of Jesus. He lists a number of items drawn from Mark’s gospel and Josephus indicating a more robust economy than usually granted. For example, In Mark 6:56, people could be expected to have money to provide food for themselves; in Mark 1:20 fishermen hired servants; in Mark 5:26 (cf., Life, 403) people who provided medical services expected to be paid (132).

The bottom line here is simply that Galilee was not an economic backwater nor was it less “Jewish” than Judea. (An important resource for the archaeology of the Period is collection of essays, The Galilean Economy in the Time of Jesus, follow the link for a PDF version of the book.) As far as we know in the Gospels, Jesus does not go to the major centers of Gentile population (Sepphoris and Tiberius). The Galilee we know from the Gospels is more or less Jewish and those Jews are interested in the symbols of Jewish identity. For the most part Jesus interacts with common Jewish people, but occasionally a Pharisee or well-placed leader in a synagogue. While there is certainly some prejudice against Galileans in Acts 4:13 and other texts, the region should not be thought of as backwater populated primarily with poverty-stricken uneducated Jews.

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2014. 369 pp. Pb. $16.99   Link to Kregel

Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser have worked together on the topic of Israel in two other books published by Kregel (To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History, 2008 and The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, 2012). These two volumes collected papers from conferences sponsored by Chosen People Ministries, an evangelistic mission to Jews led by Mitch Glaser. This new book is based on a conference held at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City in 2013. Most of the participants are Evangelical who have a high view of Scripture and several are involved in some sort of ministry aimed at Jewish evangelism. Not a few of the scholars participating in the conference can be fairly described as “Progressive Dispensationalists” (Bock and Blaising, especially) although that language does not appear in the book.

The People of IsarelThe first section surveys Israel according the Hebrew Bible. Eugene Merrill (Torah), Walter Kaiser (Writings), and Robert Chisholm (Prophets) contribute very brief biblical theologies of Israel. Chisholm’s contribution is especially important since the prophets looked forward to a return from exile and a reunification of Israel under a new David. This return, Chisholm demonstrates, will be the result of repentance and forgiveness at the time of a new covenant. The prophets generally teach the nations will come to restored Zion to worship Israel’s God at the Temple.

Michael Brown’s chapter “The People of Israel in Jewish Tradition” is placed in the book between the Old and New Testament sections, leading me to think it would cover the Second Temple Period, but that is not the case. After spending a few pages on making six points drawn from the Hebrew Bible, Brown offers a few examples drawn from late rabbinic literature. Sadly, his longest example is taken from a website rather than the Talmud itself. He also cites Midrash Tanchuma Qedoshim, a text dated A.D. 370 attributed to Rabbi Tanchuma bar Abba and Rashi (d. 1105). By juxtaposing these later writers with the list of messianic expectations drawn from Emil Schürer’s History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, he gives the impression that Jews at the time of Jesus thought of Jerusalem as the “navel of the world.” Perhaps they did, but the evidence offered here does not support the claim.

The second section continues the survey by examining what the New Testament has to say about Israel. Michael Wilkins contribution surveys the Gospel of Matthew, highlighting the tension between Jesus’ command to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and the emphasis Matthew places on the salvation of the Gentiles. Matthew has the most negative view toward Israel, especially toward the religious leadership (Matt 23, for example). The gospel also has strong statements about Gentiles participating in the Kingdom. But Wilkins does not see this as replacement theology, since Israel will be in the land in the eschatological age (Matt 23:37-39), worshiping in the temple, (Matt 24:14-16), and the disciples will be ruling a restored Israel (Matt 19:28)

Darrell Bock discusses Luke/Acts. Like Matthew, Luke does not indicate God replaces Israel with Gentiles, even if that was part of God’s plan from the beginning (p. 104). Bock highlights a number of texts throughout the Gospel of Luke indicating Luke’s belief that Israel’s judgment is only for a time and they will participate in the eschatological age (p. 109). Of considerable importance is Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:18-21, in which he states clearly the “times of refreshing” will come and Israel will once again be blessed. There is nothing in this sermon even hinting that the Gentiles will replace Israel and that the promises of a “time of refreshing” has been transferred to the Gentiles.

Michael Vanlaningham examines the question of Israel’s restoration in the book of Romans. Romans 9-11 can fairly be described as the most important text in the New Testament for understanding Israel’s future since Paul deals with God’s faithfulness to his promises and a potential objection that faithfulness. If God has canceled his promises to Israel, perhaps she will do so with the Gentiles. Vanlaningham shows that replacement theology has trouble dealing with Romans 11, especially the clear statement that “all Israel will be saved.”

In perhaps the strangest article in the collection, Craig Evans examines Hebrews and the General Epistles. The chapter is strange because the General Epistles have very little to say about the replacement or restoration of Israel and almost nothing about the land. Evans simply points out each book in this General Epistles is written by a Jewish writer to Jewish Christians (with the possible exception of 2 Peter). That James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians in the Diaspora is significant since it presupposes Israel in the Land. While I agree with everything Evans says in this chapter concerning the Jewishness of these letters, it really has little to do with the theme of the book.

The third section of the book takes on the topic from the perspective of hermeneutics and theology. Craig Blaising, Mark Saucy, John Feinberg and Michael Vlach each contribute articles challenging the supersessionist view of prophecies from the Hebrew Bible. It is significant that all four of these writers are associated with dispensationalism, but with the exception of Vlach’s historical survey, there is no clear indication they are using a dispensational hermeneutic. Blaising challenges supersessionist views on Israel by appealing to the overall narrative of Scripture, arguing popular supersessionist writers have made a “reality shift” when moving from the promises of the Old Testament to the fulfillment in the New Testament. He associates this first with W. D. Davies and his students, but Reformed biblical theology is guilty of using typology to downplay the literal fulfillment of the land promises to Israel. Mark Saucy examines the overall narrative of the Bible and argues that de-emphasizing the role of Israel in the fulfillment of Old Testament promises misses the point of the story of the Bible. Jesus clearly believed in the future new covenant hope of the Prophets. John Feinberg examines three prophecies from the Old Testament and simply observes they cannot be fulfilled if Israel has been replaced by the church because the presuppose Israel is in the land and worshiping in the Temple.

Michael Vlach article on Israel in Church History demonstrates replacement theology began very early in church history. After Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and 135, Gentile membership in the church became the majority and Church leaders became less interested in Israel and the Land. As allegorical interpretations of Scripture became the standard hermeneutic of the church, replacement theology developed rapidly, so that by the early third century, Clement of Alexandria could describe Israel as “divorced” from God and replace by the Church as a faithful spouse (p. 201). While few in the writers Reformation dealt with the restoration of Israel, seventeenth century saw a great deal of interest in evangelizing the Jewish people, often in an eschatological context. Puritan millennialism, for example, understood the conversion of Israel as a pre-requisite to the second coming (p. 206), a point he illustrates by citing Charles Spurgeon. Vlach points out Dispensationalism did not create this interest in the early nineteenth century (as is often assumed), but continued a trend with respect to the restoration of Israel.

The last article in this section also takes a historical perspective. Barry Leventhal examines “Israel in Light of the Holocaust.”  While Leventhal has written books on this topic, I found this chapter to be disappointing. First, he has too many extremely long citations from other writers, to the point that several pages have virtually nothing from Leventhal. Most of these citations are appropriate to the topic and some are probably necessary for Leventhal to make his point, but the fact some appear in the article virtually without comment does not strike me as good use of resources. Perhaps the article would read better if he summarized the lengthy quotations and cited the source for further reading. Second, he argues toward the end of the article for a three-exile/three return model for understanding modern Israel. The first exile is the sojourn in Egypt after Joseph, the return was the Exodus. The second exile began in 586 B.C. after the destruction of Jerusalem and the second return was after the seventy year captivity was complete. Leventhal considers the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to be the third exile, with the third return still in the future when God calls his people back to the Land (p. 239). Leventhal does not consider Bar Kokhba in his discussion of the beginning of a third exile. On the one hand, this “third exile” sounds like standard Dispensational theology since he describes an antichrist and a great tribulation (supported with copious citations of Scripture, see his list on p. 241!) While I agree with many of the details, I question the validity of the sojourn in Egypt as an Exile, since it was not a punishment for covenant unfaithfulness. Joseph’s generation are not judged with slavery in Egypt for their failure to keep the God’s commands, in fact, Gen 50:19-21 specifically states God intended the sojourn for the good of Jacob’s family. Perhaps a better way to make a similar point is to adapt N. T. Wright’s “ongoing exile” as a way of explaining why Israel remains in exile after the return in 538 B.C. and even after the events of A.D. 70.

The final section of this book looks at the question of Israel and practical theology. Michael Rydelnik looks at the Jewish people as evidence for the truth of Scripture. This essay considers the remarkable history of Israel and their survival as a people as a kind of proof that the Bible contains truth. Since both the Old and New Testaments indicate Israel will continue to exist until the end times and Israel has miraculously overcome attacks and persecution. This supernatural survival is “strong evidence of the truth of Scripture” (259).

Mitch Glaser discusses the controversial topic of evangelism directed at the Jewish people. Glaser makes a clear distinction between national promises made to Israel in the Bible and personal salvation of individuals. All people must accept Messiah Jesus as savior, “being Jewish” is not sufficient to guarantee participation in the coming messianic age. Glaser believes Paul’s message “to the Jew first” is fully understood when it is coupled with Romans 11:25-27. He states that Paul himself believe that “if Jewish people are successfully evangelized then Jesus the Messiah will return” (p. 274). For Glaser, this means prioritizing evangelism to the Jews because they are God’s chosen people. This is possible and although the opposite may be true as well, that if the “full number of the Gentiles” are saved, then Messiah can return. In Acts 21, Paul hurries to return to Jerusalem by Pentecost with a gift from the Gentiles as a firstfruit offering.

David Epstein tackles this same question from the perspective of a local pastor. Epstein is a Jewish Christian who has pastored Calvary Baptist Church in New York City and has been active in reaching Jewish people with the Gospel for many years. Drawing on his own experience in New York, Epstein argues continued evangelism of Jewish people is a compassionate and biblical practice because Jewish people are still loved by God.

Finally, Gregory Hagg surveys “The Various Positions on Israel Currently Taught in Theological Schools.” Hagg constructed a survey seventy primarily Evangelical institutions in North America. His questions attempt to gauge the interest in these institutions in premillennial and somewhat Dispensational views of Israel and Palestine as well as their views on evangelism to Jews and Arabs. Only about twenty percent returned the survey, so the results are far from a definitive statement of what Evangelicals are doing in their seminaries. In general, the results indicated less enthusiasm at self-identifying as a Dispensationalist, and most schools do not have courses on evangelism to Jewish or Arab peoples.

Darrell Bock offers a few words as a conclusion to the book highlighting the main contours of the articles. In short, these articles indicate God has made promises to Israel which he will keep in the future. Israel’s past or current unfaithfulness does not cancel out the promises of God to bring his kingdom into this world.

Conclusion. I find this book fascinating since it is essentially a book on Pre-millennialism and Dispensational Theology even if it rarely uses the language of classic Dispensationalism. Most (but not all) of the writers are associated with Dispensationalism in some way or teach in traditional Dispensational institutions. Perhaps the writers avoid explicitly using the language because of recent backlashes against Dispensationalism generated by the Left Behind phenomenon or some of the invective commonly used against this once popular way of reading the Bible.

Each chapter ends with a series of study questions to facilitate further discussion of the topic of the paper. A “for further reading” section appears for only paper, Bock’s contribution on Luke/Acts. Throughout the book there are URLs and QR Codes to access conference videos and additional interview material with the individual contributors to this volume.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

…Jesus exorcisms were not merely isolated incidents of compassion for individuals oppressed by malevolent forces.  They were direct confrontations of the power and the presence of the Kingdom of God.  The success of Jesus’ assaults indicated that the head of that evil kingdom had already been bound, making possible the spoiling of his domain. David George Reese, “Demons” in ABD 2:141.

As with his healings, Jesus commands the demons to leave without invoking an authority.  It was common for exorcists of the first century to use powerful names in order to force demons out In Acts 19:13-16 the names of both Jesus and Paul were invoked as “power names” to cast out demons.) In Testament of Solomon 11, Solomon interrogates a demon who appears “like a stately lion. The demons identifies himself as “The Lion-Shaped Demon, an Arab by descent” who “sneaks in and watches over all who are lying ill with a disease and I make it impossible for man to recover from his taint.” In addition, this demon has legions of demons at this command at the time of the setting sun.  When Solomon asks how he can be cast out of a person, the demons replies “By the name of the one who at one time submitted to suffer many things (at the hands) of men, whose name is Emmanouel, but now he has bound us and will come to torture us (by driving us) into the water at the cliff. As he moves about, he is conjured up by means of three letters.” (Translation by D. C. Duling, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:972–973.)

JesusCastingOut_satanJesus does not make any elaborate preparations for an exorcism. In contemporary literature, the exorcist often did a number of rituals.  For example, in the book of Tobit the angel Raphael instructs Tobias on how to cast out his bride’s demon:

Tobit 8:1-3  When they had finished eating, they escorted Tobias in to her. 2 As he went he remembered the words of Raphael, and he took the live ashes of incense and put the heart and liver of the fish upon them and made a smoke. 3 And when the demon smelled the odor he fled to the remotest parts of Egypt, and the angel bound him.

Jesus does not even pray to expel demons. In the DSS  Genesis Apocryphon, Abram prays to cast out a demon. In this expansion on Gen 12:10:20, Abram prays for “all the cities of Egypt” afflicted with plague after he lied about Sarai The King of Egypt asks Abram to “pray for me and for my household so that this evil spirit will be banished from us.” Abram prays and lays his hands on the king, and the “plague was removed from him; the evil [spirit] was banished [from him] and he recovered” (1QapGen, column 20).

Is there any connection between Second Temple Period messianic expectations and the exorcisms? Usually scholars cite Isaiah 61, especially the “prisoners being set free.” But Graham Twelftree expresses doubt that these passages have been read correctly since there is also the idea of Satan being active until the end of the age in the Gospels.  There is a two-stage defeat of Satan being described in the gospels, the first mission of Messiah render the power of Satan useless, it is in his second coming that he will judge him and consign him to the Lake of Fire. He uses texts like Isaiah 24:22 (shut into prison then after many days released.)

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Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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