Sermon on the Mount, The Emmaus View

Emmaus View,

Breaking bread at the inn. (Version 1.8)

Breaking bread at the inn

The view from Emmaus

On a first century evening, the breaking of bread was an epiphany for a pair of travellers. Their mysterious companion had set the cross into its legal context and the resurrected Jesus was revealed. I have come to a similar point. With the landscape of scripture freshly unfurled, I now see the cross as a triumph of law-keeping rather than a novel demolition of legalism. In the light of this, the intellectually-imposed boundaries between the theologies of Moses, Jesus and Paul begin to dissolve. The gospels appear more coherent and their outcome more predictable. Thus, having spent so many chapters on building my foundation, I shall spend this last with a look at the life of Jesus through the legal lens. The familiar landmarks remain; the ‘king of the Jews’ hung upon a cross, head of a covenant people empowered by the Spirit and enjoying salvation aside from the Mosaic Law. Yet, the path from Adam to Calvary now seems somewhat different, as the insignificant becomes significant and familiar passages shift their emphasis.

The only way is re-birth

Around the close of the first century BCE, Judah’s spectacular trappings of devotion hid a rotten core. Herod had imitated Pharaoh and rushed headlong into Cain’s folly as he built his personal glory with the sweat of exploited Hebrews and murdered his innocent ‘brothers’. Like Ahaz, Herod had built an insubstantial hedge of human alliances as his security and turned aside from humble trust in God. Moreover, he was actively sowing the spiritual weeds that only a national re-birth could root out. His dynasty was once again about to hear the sound of God passing through the garden to herald the day. His ‘Eden’ was headed for the cherubim’s sword and had need of heeding Balaam’s words.

As with the Benjamites of Gibeah, it was no use whitewashing over such a tomb. By jeopardising the way to the tree of life, Herod had assured Judah’s demise and, as in Ahaz’ day, the expiring nation’s only hope lay in the birth of a successor before it died. Thus, Mary joined the ranks of women, prepared to suffer the Law’s condemnation in order to preserve Eve’s heritage. Her child, a latter day Immanuel, would bring both the promise of salvation and a portent of doom, leaving Israel’s fate to rest upon this tender shoot from the stump of Jesse (Isa 6:13, 11:1).

A new star had risen to put the Edomites in their place, the glory had departed from Jerusalem and that which Israel failed to seek the gentiles were to find. Power-hungry Herod had emulated the kings of the Northern Kingdom, leaving innocent blood to cry incessantly for justice. Like those northern dynasties, his heirs then failed to make wise use of their two generations of grace. Unrepentant, Archelaus was as bad as his grandfather and in 6 C.E. he was swept into exile, ending the Herodian dynasty’s authority over Jerusalem. His departure left the Aaronic priesthood as naked as Adam, for, with an unclean land and no Davidic king to atone for the high priest’s sin, the failure of the Day of Atonement was assured. With the forces of chaos no longer held at bay, they began to render the kingdom of Judah formless and void. Thus, a flood of Roman authority overwhelmed the forsaken City of David and Judah ceased to exist as an independent kingdom.

John’s infant creation

Meanwhile, the heir to the throne was hidden in plain sight amongst the priest’s of Nazareth. There, as if a prophet in exile, the Son of Man took up his watchman’s post as the inevitable unfolded before his eyes. Amidst the chaos, God remembered the Seed of the Woman and began to create his new domain. The Spirit hovered over the waters of the Jordan, drawing the tainted souls from throughout Judea who sought to be obedient. As the unclean assembled in the wilderness, John joined Elijah’s line of Nazirite prophets as, effectively reading from the scroll and casting the lot, he challenged the prevailing wisdom of his day to prepare the way of righteousness. Beside the Jordan, he guided each penitent disciple out of their personal Egypt as, through the exodus of baptism, he rolled Passover, Tabernacles and Atonement into one. Each individually came before the judgement seat, by the grace of God to rise from their stylised cataclysm as a new created individual to help populate God's new creation.

Given John’s significant role, and with Matthew likening John’s Jordan-side crowds to those on the day of atonement, it is reasonable to assume that his ministry started at the earliest practical opportunity, which meant the point at which he turned thirty (Num 4:3-471), and in the seventh month. However, John, like Ezra before him, presided over an embryonic Israel and he shared the experience of Joshua, the high priest of the second Jerusalem temple, of standing before God in increasingly filthy robes. For, as human activity began to soil it, he lacked the authority to restore the new creation's cleanliness. Moreover, as the three annual feasts provided predictable days of judgement2, the clock was ticking until Passover would bring another day of judgement, giving John just six months in which to sort out these cleanliness issues.

By divine arrangement, about six months behind John came Jesus (Luke 1:36), the age of thirty also being the appropriate point at which a king like David should begin his reign (2 Sam 5:4). The Seed of the Woman, as a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, could bring cleansing atonement despite the uncleanliness of the land and, as the recipient of God’s limitless mercy, extend forgiveness to its repentant people. Thus, as in the time of Abraham, David, and Ezra, establishing a new priesthood would require his intervention. Jesus would have to become part of the new-creation, for, without him, there was no priesthood. Without priesthood there was no atonement and, without atonement, the Law would condemn the newborn nation to an accursed cycle of blessing and curse, build and bust.

The first day in Eden

The approach of Passover, coupled with concern that John’s activities might get out of hand, probably triggered the visit of the delegation from Jerusalem, its timing intended as a niggling reminder that John’s solution was still incomplete, designed to subvert John's ministry. However, John knew that, by then, Jesus would have reach the crucial age of thirty (cf. Luke 3:23). In the days of Noah, God remembering the Seed of the Woman preceded the new Eden by five months and twelve days (see Appendix B), then, on the first day of the first month, a dove remained, the fear of uncleanliness departed and the covers came off the Ark. A similar period after God began the first-century new creation, Jesus rose from the water and a dove remained, allowing John to acknowledge Jesus as his lord and partake of the divine mercy that attends those who served the Seed. The benefit of John’s acknowledgement then cascaded downwards to his servants and their servant’s servants3, amongst whom, watching from the wings, were those twelve who became his closest disciples (cf. Acts 1:21-22, which intimates that they were all there).

As the ‘faithful priest’ of Eli’s prophecy, Jesus could demand the loyalty of the tribe of Levi. However, he would only enjoy the obedience of the entire re-born Israel once he had replaced John as its leader. Although he had the authority to command John to step aside, Jesus respected John’s God-given role and, like David, chose to serve God’s anointed until God dictated that authority should transferred. Thus, through his insistence on baptism, Jesus established the sort of mutual commitment to service that bound the families of David and Saul. Jesus served John as the greatest amongst men, yet even the least who served Jesus still outranked John (Luke 7:28).

Allegiance to Christ rendered John’s baptism a viable package. It offered the individual a fresh start as a new creation within a re-born community. Moreover, it dealt with former ‘dead works’ and ensured that nobody else’s behaviour could affect an individual’s standing in Heaven. None of this negated the need to appear before the Lord three times a year, but henceforth they could appeared before Jesus, the Son of God and his perfect image, and their judgement would be according to their faithfulness as servants rather than their success in adhering to the law. Between such times, those who messed up could bypass the Aaronic priest to obtain God’s merciful judgements from the Son of David.

The challenge of obedience

The precedents were clear, if they wanted to survive, the remainder of Israel needed to follow their forefather Jacob’s lead and come under the remnants protective leadership. The priesthood in Jerusalem should emulate faithful Zadok, accept the authority of the Son of David, and enable the Day of Atonement to cleanse their land. It was therefore time for the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek to visit his temple.

Over the two days that followed his baptism, Jesus met with Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathaniel and an unnamed disciple (John 1:35-41, 43-47). He took this opportunity to recruit Philip and probably John as well4. Returning from the Jordan on the third day, he attended the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12) and turned water into the fermented blood of grapes. The family then moved to Capernaum for a few days, as any family from Nazareth might when on route, via the Jordan valley, to a major feast in Jerusalem.

John next places Jesus in Jerusalem for Passover, testing the Levitical response to a relatively minor gesture, for disrupted traders in the temple’s outer court (John 2:3-4) was certainly minor compared to what Jesus authority entitled him to do. When they asked for a sign, Jesus pointed them to his unique position as the Seed of the Woman. He was greater than the temple, so destroy that ‘trinket’ and, as with Noah, God would create a new sanctuary for him, and as it was Passover, that decisive moment of re-creation would come in three days, as it had for Moses. Although the spiritual leaders of Judah declined to put this ‘sign’ to the test, Jesus' words caught the interest of Nicodemus, for whom he laid it on the line (John 3:1-10). As a leader, Nicodemus ought to appreciate the need for his nation to be born again, but was he, asked Christ, ready to embrace that for himself.

It is reasonable to assume that Jesus, the new Moses’, after receiving no response from Jerusalem, the new Egypt,’ departed in step with his predecessor’s timetable, i.e. separating from them on the eighteenth day, spending forty days in the wilderness then waiting seven days before celebrating First Fruits on the sixty-fourth day of the year. Certainly at this early stage Jesus undertook a forty-day retreat in the wilderness, where, as with Moses, God tested his attitude to the undertaking Jacob made at Bethel (Matt 4:1-11)5. Whom was he relying on for provision and security, and from whom would he take his authority?

Becoming a Samaritan prophet

Whilst Jesus fasted his disciples continued John the Baptist’s program, gaining such success that their activities came to the attention of both the Baptist and the Pharisees (John 3:26, 4:1). With another major pilgrim festival about to swell the population, the authorities perceived a threat to civil order, so they struck the shepherd, arresting John and leaving his sheep to scatter. The next time we meet the disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, is by Galilee, where all had exchanged their hope in the Baptist’s ‘Way’ for a tellingly futile hope in their own fishing abilities. Thus, Jesus emerged from the wilderness to find John imprisoned (Mark 1:14), John’s disciples scattered and Jesus’ own activities of concern to those in power (John 4:1). Therefore, following the example of Elijah (1 Kgs. 17:9), he moved to eastern Galilee and sought sustenance amongst the gentiles (Matt. 4:13). On the regular routes, he would have been too conspicuous, so he took advantage of a characteristic of his ministry that repeatedly confounded the so-called ‘experts’. The immunity to uncleanliness enjoyed by the faithful Seed and his servants allowed them to travel north via Samaria, whose unclean soil was an anathema to the cleanliness constrained.

Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well provided a chance for him to declare himself greater than the Samaritan temple as well as that in Jerusalem (John 4:21-23). Then, Jesus deliberately stayed two days in Samaria (John 4:40-41), thus establishing that he dwelt there, all-be-it only for a single night. He therefore arrived in Galilee as a prophet from Samaria, in other words as the Elisha (compare 2 Kgs 5:3) that would continue the work now that God had allowed ‘Elijah’ (i.e. John) to be taken. We find a similar emphasis when Matthew describes Jesus forsaking Nazareth for Capernaum, taking up John’s message (Matt. 3:2, 4:17) and then following Elisha’s example by healing Syrians (Matt. 4:24, Luke 4:27, 2 Kgs 5:1-3)6. Indeed, Matthew 4:23-25 appears to be an introductory summary of Christ’s Galilean ministry, provided specifically to make the Syrian connection at an appropriate point, rather than a description of events that preceded Jesus' arrival at the lakeside.

The Galilean Sinai

Jesus’ brief stay in Samaria places his arrival in Galilee shortly before Pentecost7. Indeed, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, together with the preceding Capernaum teaching, cries out to be set in the context of Pentecost, the eve of which was always a Sabbath. If Jesus celebrated amidst a group that used Moses’ timetable, i.e. on the sixty-fourth day of the year (14+3+40+7), then Pentecost Eve was the very next Sabbath after Jesus left Sameria. However, even if he fell in with the timetable of another branch of Judaism there were at most two or three Sabbaths in Galilee before Pentecost8.

Jesus’ interaction with Peter and Andrew (Luke 5:5), through their miraculous catch, reminds us of the outcome of Jesus’ Passover in Jerusalem. It had been fruitless fishing amidst the darkness, however by fishing further out, just as Jesus was about to do, they would land a miraculous catch. Convinced by Jesus, and collecting the sons of Zebedee, all then moved to the synagogue at Capernaum. Pentecost is not only an agricultural festival, but also a celebration of the giving of the Law9, so the story of Ruth, an outsider who embraced the Law, was traditionally read in synagogues on Pentecost-eve Sabbath10. Therefore, as Moses had at Sinai, Jesus used Pentecost eve to assess the people’s reaction to the Law (Luke 4:31-37)11. When their hearts proved so receptive that even demons obeyed, signs and wonders followed and crowds began to amass. As evening fell and the court of Heaven sat, the house of Peter’s mother-in-law saw signs every bit as awesome as the thunder and lightning at Sinai12.

Jesus rose early the following morning (Mark 1:35), a sure sign that something significant was about to happen13. At Sinai, Moses rose early on the morning of the feast and sealed the covenant. Then, whilst the crowds stayed at a distance, he took his servant, Joshua, up the mountain as he received the Law (Ex. 24:4-11). Similarly, we find Jesus seeking a secluded hillside where his disciples sat at his feet, whilst the crowds that eventually caught up stayed further off (Luke 4:42, Mark 1:35, Matt. 5:1, 7:28). At that time, Jesus set the Law before these willing people and their enthusiastic response enabled him to restore their cleanliness. Thus, all the synoptic Gospels place within this period the healing of a man who shared Naaman’s complaint. Indeed, Matthew is so keen to emphasise this aspect of Jesus role that he follows the Sermon on the Mount with a compilation of incidents, drawn from a variety of periods, but each having the authority to remove uncleanliness hidden at its heart (see Appendix S).

New wine and Sabbath bread

Beyond this Pentecost, John’s account, with its focus on feasts, provides a temporal spine upon which to hang the synoptic gospel’s intervening events. Thus, in anticipation of the forthcoming seventh month, we find Jesus emphasising his role as head of the priesthood of Melchizedek. A paralytic lowered through the roof, i.e. a fallen man, provides the opportunity to anticipate Jesus healing of lameness at Bethesda and to emphasise his role’s authority to forgive sins (Matt. 9:2-8, Luke 5:17-26, Mark2:1-14). A Levite collecting taxes (Levi/Matthew) allows a demonstration of the role’s authority to redeploy the Levites. Then an argument over fasting (Matt. 9:14, Mark 2:18) allowed Jesus to emphasise that his presence meant God’s presence and what a difference that made. Whilst the divine bridegroom of Israel (Isa. 62:5) was present, they could not fast, however there would come times when the new wine and the grain offering failed, as spoken of by Joel (1:8-11). Then people would wail for the divine bridegroom of their youth.

Continuing the theme of new wine Jesus illustrated why a corporate change was necessary. To contain life you needed a new creation with forgiving boundaries. However, insist on constraining life within the existing system of spiritual covering and it would tear itself free, destroying the original in the process (Mark 2:21-22).

During this period, the clearest reference to Jesus’ role comes in a debate over his disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28, Matt. 12:1-5). They, like David’s men at Nob (1 Sam 21:1-6), served a priest of God most High. Therefore, not only could they eat the grain, but because it was being brought into the presence of the Son of God, and therefore of God, there was no problem with them preparing it on a Sabbath either (Lev. 24:5-9, 1 Chr. 9:32).

The anonymous Feast of Tabernacles

If there is a hint of John’s anonymous “feast of the Jews” (John 5:1) in the Synoptic Gospels, then it is the coming together of cosmopolitan crowds and Jesus family showing up in Capernaum (Mark 3:7-8, 31), for the pilgrim crowds from the north funnelled through that town to avoid crossing Samaria14. The sign at Bethesda (John 5:1-14) confirms, as John’s order would suggest, that this feast was Tabernacles. As with the annual Day of Atonement, from time to time God’s messenger visited, offering the opportunity of cleansing and healing15. However, Israel, like the man who languished by those living waters, remained too sick to gain access for themselves, they lacked a man who could help them in. Enter, Jesus, the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Restoring the sufferer with a word, he confirmed the problem had been his sin. Yet the officials at Jerusalem remained unwilling to come to Jesus, let him cleanse Moses’ cultic system and remove the fallen nation’s lameness.

Over the period that followed, Jesus continued to illustrate how God’s word, embodied in the Seed of the Woman, made all the difference. Thus, this was a key ingredient in both the stilling of the storm (Matt. 8:23-27) and the healing of the Gadarene demoniac (Matt. 8:28-32). Like a latter day Jonah, God had sent the Son of Man to heal the gentiles. However, faced with the growing crowds, he climbed aboard a boat and retreated. The stormy voyage evokes the account of Jonah’s flight (Jonah 1:1-14), with Christ’s slumbering whilst the sailors panic echoed conditions aboard the ship of Tarshish. However, they had no need to fear or to throw Jesus, Jonah-like, from the boat. As his servants, they all partook in the promise that preserved Noah. Therefore, speaking with the voice of God (Ps 107:28-29), Jesus commanded the storm to depart.

On reaching shore, Jesus came to a people who had more than a little in common with those described by Isaiah (Matt 8:28-34, Isa 65:1-8). Isaiah speaks of God seeking out people who had not sought him, a people who walk in evil ways, sit amongst the tombs, eat the flesh of swine and cry out “don’t come near us.” The demoniacs, who walk in the ways of violence and sit amongst the tombs, greet Jesus with the equivalent of ‘Who asked for your involvement?’ The people of that region, who tend swine to eat, respond to Jesus by saying the equivalent of “don’t come near us.” In Isaiah, God promises to deliver recompense to these people, but as when there is new wine in the cluster, to bring out a righteous remnant. The unclean demoniacs, by acknowledging both Jesus authority and the fate they deserve, leave the demons no place within them. However, the swine remain oblivious of Jesus, leaving the displaced legion of spirits to urge them to their doom.

Violent men

In response to John the Baptist’s faltering faith, Jesus sent the reassurance that Isaiah’s predicted miracles were already happening (Matt. 11:3-6, cf. Isa 35:5-6), however, as John’s delegation departed, Jesus began to reflect upon the violence with which men sought to lay hold on the kingdom (Matt. 11:12). The condemnation would be worst for those towns, closest to the epicentre of his Galilean ministry, who had witnessed miracles without repenting (Matt 11:20-24). His comparison of their response with that expected from Tyre and Sidon (i.e. from the Philistines) and his warning they faced a worse fate than Sodom, evokes Abraham’s experience. After the rejection of his representative in Sodom (i.e. Lot) ensured the city’s destruction, the patriarch travelled to the Philistine kingdom, where king Abimelech proved more responsive to God’s warnings concerning the mistreatment of those under Abraham’s care (Gen 19:9, 20:1-15, 26:1).

Jesus’ visit to Nazareth exposed that even amidst his own village, his message provoked anger (Mark 6:1-6, Matt 13:54-58, Luke 4:16-3016). Thus, he claimed that, as Nineveh’s response to Jonah had put them to shame, once again, the gentiles were putting the Jews to shame. Needing to assess the climate within the surrounding countryside, Jesus then chose twelve disciples and sent them out. Dependent totally upon the hospitality they found in the villages, they emulated the angels that visited Sodom, travelling in pairs so each judgement rested on the evidence of two witnesses. Dependent upon the response they received, they brought either a blessing or a curse; healing the village’s sick and sending out their demons, or shaking its unclean dust from their feet (Matt 10:1-15, Luke 9:1-6)17.

The move into leadership

The murderous beheading of John the Baptist left the remnant similarly decapitated, for his disciples buried him, in the absence of a male heir to undertake that task (Matt 14:12). As John’s nominated successor, Jesus’ time had finally come. The arrival of the news prompted a move across the lake and an opportunity to confirmed his status as the new leader and lot caster of Israel. The feeding of the five thousand with five loaves (Matt 14:13-21), and the subsequent feeding of four thousand with seven loaves (Matt 15:32-39), emulated Joshua’s allocation of portions of the land (Joshua 18:3, 6). Five portions went to the first to partake of their inheritance, seven for those who tarried until later, with 12 leaders entrusted to administer the subdivision. Yet the true inheritance of Israel was not their land, but their ability to reveal God’s wisdom, as manifest in the twelve loaves of the presence in the Tabernacle (See Appendix Q). It was after Moses miraculously produced bread and meat in the wilderness, that God transferred the Spirit onto seventy elders, wise shepherds to share the burden with Moses and the heads of the tribes. Tellingly, when Jesus’ sends out disciples a second time there are seventy (Luke 10:1, NASB95). The sending out and the feeding proved that, as with Moses and his seventy elders, Jesus’ disciples could also administer the daily bread of wise judgement.

Between feeding the four thousand and the five thousand, Jesus again emulated Joshua, miraculously crossing the Jordan where it swells into the Sea of Galilee (Matt 14:22-33). Like his Hebrew namesake he instructed his priests (or at least one of them) to step into the swollen waters with miraculous results (Josh 3:8-13). Whilst this begs the question whether Peter had spotted what was going on, it demonstrates that for him, like the priests who carried the Ark, God’s commandments were the key to entering the Promised Land.

Walking on water and vanishing support

Between the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on water, we find John indicates the approach of Passover (John 6.4). With the Day of Atonement’s failure, this feast was arguably pointless, and it looks suspiciously as if Jesus stayed in the north, venturing only as far south as Galilee. If that was the case, then his exploit of walking on water, with its symbolic link to Moses’ Red Sea crossing, most probably marked the auspicious eighteenth day.

As Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum (John 6:59), he took bread from heaven as his theme and then began to equate partaking in him to an unclean offering that preserved the peace (John 6:53-58). Both eating a person’s flesh and drinking their blood were scriptural metaphors, the former for the act of persecution or even murder18, the latter for placing men in jeopardy19. Ezekiel (39:17-21) combines both images within the sacrificial imagery of the defeat of Gog. When God offers an unclean human sacrifice in the support of a defenceless people, then the unclean carrion eating birds and beasts are summoned to eat the flesh and drink the blood of that accursed sacrificial offering. Jesus’ talk of eating flesh and drinking blood troubled his disciples, so he posed the question “What if you saw me ascend into heaven?” precisely as in an Edenic offering. In such an offering the life ascends, whilst the flesh becomes refuse. Hence, Jesus followed up his question by explaining that the spirit gives life, whilst the flesh counts for nothing (John 6:62-63).

When Elijah’s provision in Israel quite literally dried up, God instructed him to seek refuge in Sidon (1 Kgs 17:7-9). So, with his latest teaching alienating his support, it was time for Jesus to follow suite. Once there, he met a Canaanite woman who understood the significance of the scriptures. She, like the widow of Zarephath, had no bread, but she was quite happy to feast on those twelve baskets of crumbs (1 Kgs 17:12-14, Matthew 15:21-28). She understood that the Children of Israel had to have their fill first, but that their leftovers were more than enough to meet a gentile’s needs.

A new light on the Day of Atonement

After the period with bread centre stage, the synoptic gospels fall into step with Peter’s confession (Matt. 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, Luke 9:18-21), following it with Jesus prediction of his suffering and then the transfiguration with its reference to building booths. John’s Gospel contains a similar progression, though much abbreviated, that culminates in Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles (John 6:67-7:1). The Day of Atonement therefore provides the backdrop for the transfiguration. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus depicted Judaism as the light of the world and Jerusalem as its lamp (Matt 5:14-15). However, with his opponents taking active steps to kill him, he stayed in Galilee for that Day of Atonement (John 7:1-11). Only once he had thus rendering the Day illegitimate and thereby extinguished Jerusalem’s flame did he attend the feast and then in secret.

Matthew and Mark both set Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, in northern Galilee and some suggest the transfiguration took place nearby 20. Caesarea was about as unclean as a product of Judaism could get, for it was dedicated to the worship of the nature God Pan and housed a magnificent temple built by Herod the Great in honour of the Roman emperor. Yet, even after being in such a place, Jesus still wore the radiant garments of a clean high priest, as depicted on Joshua, freshly cleansed by the Day of Atonement (Zech 3:3).

The first Day of Atonement (Exod 24:1-18) shares a wealth of motifs with the transfiguration (master, three disciples, mountain, cloud, vision, and audition21). However, with Jerusalem’s lamp spluttering its last gasp, Jesus, like Moses, had moved his tent well outside that ‘camp’ and when the cloud came down his face shone. As Moses and Elijah bestow their combined wisdom upon him, the Word and the Spirit combined in flesh and divine light suffused his entire being. Then came the voice from Heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matt 17:5, NKJV). As he was about to openly declare at the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus had supplanted Jerusalem as the light of the world (John 8:12). For the Son of David, a lamp still shone in the darkness and the world had not overcome it (2 Kgs 8:19, 2 Peter 1:19-21, John 1:5).

As with walking on the water, Peter seems to have instinctively understood of the implications of the transfiguration. If the light of the world was now Jesus, why travel to Jerusalem? With the Feast of Tabernacles so imminent, why not build their booths there?

The next day, like Moses returning to find the Golden Calf, Jesus descended to find his disciples unable to cast out an unclean spirit (Luke 9:37-50, Mark 9:14-29). The demon-possessed boy shared the failings of Israel, he was unable to hear or speak and prone to self-destructive fits, thus Jesus spoke over the situation as if to that nation, providing a sign of what lay ahead. Since its host’s youth, this spirit of uncleanliness has prevented him speaking, causing him to gnash his teeth and deliberately throw himself into the fire and flood of judgement’s that could destroy him. Whilst Jesus (and therefore his disciples) had the authority to declare the unclean clean, he could only do so for those who acknowledged that authority. Only the sort of prayer and fasting advocated by Joel could deal with such a spirit22. His unbelieving generation was clearly beyond that. However, saving even them was still possible for those who believe, though it meant the corrupt nation would have to die and then be raised anew, for death removes the grip of such a spirit. Hence, casting out the spirit left the boy ‘as dead’. But, once the lad had ‘died’, Jesus then raised him in his right mind.

Fire from heaven

Jesus passed on through Galilee and into Samaria, where a village’s refusal to provide hospitality (Luke 9:51-56) left the sons of Zebedee eager to call down fire from heaven and destroy this inhospitable ‘Sodom’. However, restraining them, Jesus clarified that his desire was salvation rather than punishment. He then sent out the seventy to find accommodation for themselves and to judge the hospitality of the places that they visit. For those who welcomed them they brought healing, but for those who reject them it would be worse than for Sodom. Yet, the disciples rejoiced not in the healings but in their delegated authority to hand people over to demons23. Once again, Jesus reproves their attitude. He had seen Satan fall, like lightning upon a rebellious city, however the cause for rejoicing was not the ability to call down fire, but the fact that God had written their names in heaven and so they remained unharmed (Dan. 12:1). After reassuring them of the enormity of what he had just shown them, Jesus responded to a question with the parable of the Good Samaritan, simultaneously targeting both the recent lack of Samaritan hospitality and his disciple’s attitude. This hospitality theme continues in as Jesus reached Bethany and the home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Expending effort in preparations (as one did at times of feast) meant nothing, for paying attention to him was all that mattered.

Luke never mentions the feast itself, but John tells us that Jesus arrived in its middle (John 7:10-14), i.e. when precedent dictated that God remembered the Seed and delivered him from his enemies. At that time, he reminded them that nobody obeys the Law completely (John 7:19), hence the need for a Day of Atonement. He also stressed that if they were suffering a drought of blessing, they needed to drink from him. If they would but believe, then, out their deep desire for holiness, the Spirit-given priestly authority to cleanse would flow like rivers of living water (John 7:38-39). As Jesus expected, there were attempts to seize him, but they came to nothing (John 7:30).

It appears that Luke picks up the thread again after this rebuttal at Tabernacles, for he records Jesus warning the Levites (the bridegroom’s servants) to stay alert through the night watches in readiness for the bridegroom’s return. Like the armies of Israel going against Benjamin at Gibeah, twice the Lord had visited Jerusalem and giving them an opportunity to repent. Like Rachel, twice they had heard God’s voice calling to them, as it did to Adam in the wind of the day, and twice they had ignored it. Therefore, like the ambush party at Gibeah, the Son of Man would come when they least expected it, bringing reward and recompense (Luke 12:35-59). Jesus had a baptism to undergo, an Edenic sin offering that, as with Korah’s rebels, would bring fire from the Lord (Num 16:35). It would precipitate a day of judgement where, as predicted by Micah, confusion and intra-familial division would decide the outcome (Mic 7:1-6). It was time, said Jesus, to consider the signs of the times and seek reconciliation before the court of Heaven convened.

Jesus explains the situation in the parable of the fig tree. Two successive feasts of Unleavened Bread had seen the owner come and find the fig tree devoid of the fruit of repentance on the Day of Atonement (Luke 13:6-9). The appointed gardener (Jesus) would continue to coax the plant but, come the next visit (i.e. the next Passover), a continued lack of fruit would prove disastrous. Following that we find Jesus returning to the issue of hospitality, with teaching on wedding guests brought off the streets when the invited guests refuse the groom’s hospitality (Luke 14:16-24) and an unclean prodigal son enjoying the feast of forgiveness that the elder brother neglected (Luke 15:11-32).

The final approach

Luke has Jesus approaching Jerusalem once more before the next Passover (Luke 13:22) and John places him there at the Feast of Dedication (Hanukah) that winter (John 10:22). Hanukah was a festival of light and Jesus attendance advanced his claim to be the light of the world. However, the warning that Herod now wanted to kill him, left him lamenting how Jerusalem’s shunning of his priestly covering had left it a desolate house (Luke 13:31-35). Jerusalem would not see him again until they sang Psalm 118, as they would at the coming Passover24.

Following the feast Jesus once again passed through Samaria (Luke 17:10), where ten lepers were healed and told to show themselves to the priests, yet only the foreigner amongst them recognised Jesus as a priest and so turned back. Jesus begins to teach that the time is coming when there will be no point in searching for him, for he will be like fire falling from heaven, nobody will miss him (Luke 17:22- 33). Just as when God delivered Noah from the flood or Lot from the fire that fell on Sodom, people will be going about their business when the cataclysm reveals the Seed of the Woman and his servants. It is not a day for turning back or trying to hang on to what you had. As on a typical day of judgement God will divide between those in the same family, for, if an unjust judge can be persuaded to give justice, how much more the Lord of Righteousness (Luke 18:1-8)

Somewhere within this period belongs the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-46). Just as Jesus delayed arriving at the Feast of Tabernacles, he delayed going to Bethany. In both cases, had he been there, the sick individual would not have died. After three days, Lazarus, like Jerusalem after their two failed Days of Atonement, was stinking. Yet, if people would only obey Jesus, then even this corpse, like Ezekiel’s dry bones, would respond to his summons and revive.

Jerusalem’s last chance

Like pilgrims converging for the Passover, the synoptic gospels unite at Jericho, with John’s gospel soon to meet them on the ascent to already-crowded Jerusalem. Amidst a deluge of teaching and warnings, one may discern Jesus inexorably following the timetable of the first Exodus. Six days before Passover, the ninth day of the month, saw Jesus’ evening arrival in Bethany (John 12:1-2) and Mary anointing his feet. On the tenth-day anniversary of Egypt’s last chance to repent, came Jesus’ triumphal entry (Mat 21:8-11, Mar 11:8-10, Luke 19:36-40, John 12:12-13, 17-18), his tears over Jerusalem and a repeat of the table-turning assessment with which the judgement started25. By nightfall, he was back in Bethany, Jerusalem having sealed their fate. Therefore, the next morning he paused en-route to the city and, even though it was not the seventh month, he cursed the fruitless fig tree. The following morning the tree had withered (Mark. 11:20-21), its fate assured by the same faith that submerged mountains beneath Noah’s deluge (Mark 11:22-26).

In response to questions concerning his authority (Mark 11:27-33), Jesus used the parable of the vineyard master’s son to warn of the outcome for those who killed the Son of God (Mark 12:1-9). Repeatedly God had sent his servants at Passover, expecting fruit from the seventh-month season of vine harvest; repeatedly Jerusalem had violently abused them. Now that demand came through his son and the stone the builders rejected had become the most important one (Mark 12:10-11). That evening, as they left the city, Jesus predicted the demolition of Herod’s temple.

On the penultimate day before the Passover, evening saw Jesus seeking refuge on the Mount of Olives, explaining how the end for Jerusalem would not come immediately. In Moses’ day, Israel’s rebellious generation dyed out forty years after rejecting their God given leader. However, the dynasties of the Northern Kingdom, which fell for similar reasons, did so at less predictable intervals. Therefore, God alone knew when the end would come (Mark 13:32). However, as in Jeremiah’s day, there would be worse persecution than their had been since the creation (which was, one must recall, the new creation just three years previous). When they saw the abomination in the holy place and armies surrounding Jerusalem then they would know the day of judgement had come. Meanwhile, the birth pains would be Joel’s signs of earthquakes, wars and famines (Joel 1:16, 2:2, 10), so it would be imperative to reach the Diaspora26 in all the nations with the gospel (Mark 13:10). Unless the Lord shortened the days of the wicked (Prov 10:27), they would bar the way to the tree of life so nothing could be saved. But, after all the oppression, God would extinguish the lamps and altars of the holy place (the sun, moon and stars) and cast them down (Joel 2:10). Only then, as they saw the Son of Man given glory in heaven and receiving the dominion that will never pass away, would the transfer of authority from Jerusalem to Jesus be complete. Only in summer can one tell the live tree from the dead, so when they began to see life flowing into the branch then they would know that the time for making such a decision was near.

Betrayal and bloodshed

At sunset on the fourteenth day, Jesus participated in the last supper. When, presenting bread and wine to his disciples (as Melchizedek did to Abraham), he reminded them of his authority as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Only he had the authority to appoint those who went into the presence of God (John 14:6). On the threshold of transforming the violence against him into an Edenic sin offering, he turned the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine into an unclean act that brought a curse, and thereby gave his disciples a way to identify with the disobedience of his murder out of obedience to his authority. Then Jesus triggered his own betrayal to ensure the timing of the events that followed.

On the approach to Jerusalem, the reason why Jesus’ Edenic sacrifice would involve his own death had become apparent. In Jesus’ day men were no better than they were in Noah’s, or Adam’s, thus his disciples had already begun to succumb to those tendencies that rob every human of their liberty, as the Law condemns them to death. By bickering over who would be the greatest they were following in Adam’s tainted footsteps and by advocating violent retribution against the Samaritan villages they were emulating Cain. During Jesus’ arrest, all the Gospels concur that even Peter, Jesus successor designate, bit the forbidden fruit. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he shed innocent blood and in the courtyard, as he drew nearer to the flames, he denied his allegiance to Jesus three times.

Salvation from such sins required that a priest proclaim the individual innocent, they then became the servant of the High Priest, who accepted responsibility for them. After idolatry, a four-month assessment could establish a change of heart and bring restoration, but in the case of bloodshed, only the High Priest’s death brought freedom. The grounds for assuming the innocence of a high priest’s servant, therefore provide the reason that Jesus had to die. As with Moses and his father in law, Jesus disciples escaped the penalty of death because they served the High Priest Jesus as if they were his slaves, thus only Jesus death could truly free those in bondage to him for salvation.

The terrible sacrifice at Calvary

It is widely believed that the last supper was a Passover celebration in accord with the Essene calendar, on which it always fell on a Tuesday evening27. The Essenes worked with a three hundred and sixty four day Calendar, unlike the Jerusalem temple, so although the Essene Passover was finished, the temple was still gearing up for their celebration. They therefore hurried through Jesus’ mock trial so that they could have him executed before sunset on Friday. Despite that hast, Jesus death clearly managed to fulfil an Edenic sin offering’s central requirements. It took place outside the camp. It lifted Christ, like Moses’ accursed serpent, to ensure that Heaven took account of what was happening. Jesus’ innocent blood cried out for judgement and brought a curse. His soul was committed into God’s hands so that his life ascended into heaven, whilst angels intervened to ensure that no trace remained of his original body.

En-route to the resurrection other elements of the passion story confirm its Edenic sin-offering context. The high priest prophesied that, as with the King of Edom’s son, this death would save the nation (2 Kings 3:26-27). As in the Passover, Jesus took his stand silently, like fleeing Israel beside the sea (Exod 14:13-14). As with the sacrifice for an unsolved death, Pontius Pilate, the city’s leader washed his hands before the sacrificial victim and claimed innocence of the crime. As with Moses’ brazen serpent, the assembled nation identified with the act of raising Jesus up like an accursed thing. As at the Day of Atonement, of the two ‘identical’ captive individuals (both were ‘son of the father’), the one upon whom the people’s sin rested was set free, for by liberating violent Barabas they condemned Christ. As with the bull on the day of atonement, the high priest ensured Jesus blood was sprinkled seven times (from his head, back, two hands, two feet and side). As with the cleansing of a leper, water mingled with blood (by implication of flowing out of his innermost parts, this was living water). Even hyssop (soaked in vinegar), timber beams (of the cross) and scarlet thread (of the cloak) put in cameo appearances.

The cross, being an Edenic sacrifice, saved those who partook in Jesus crucifixion, i.e. who eat his flesh and drank his blood, but whose heart was genuinely set on serving the Seed. However, simultaneously his death, like Samson’s, brought down the idolatrous temple (cf. Jude 5). By allowing himself to be lifted up as a cursed thing, he freed his people from the nest of vipers that beleaguered them. Nor did Jesus disappoint those who heralded him with the plea “save us” (i.e. “hosanna”). At Hezekiah’s Passover many whose hearts were true had not understood how to adequately prepare themselves, so the king asked God to forgive them and God did (2 Chr 30:18-20). Hence, Jesus plea, for forgiveness on the grounds of ignorance (Luke 23:34), enabled anyone who acknowledged a part in his crucifixion to find salvation through it. Paradoxically, those who cried “hosanna” were saved precisely because they later cried “crucify him”.

Working back from the empty tomb’s discovery on the first day of the week (Sunday), Jesus crucifixion took place on seventeenth day by the Essene Calendar (Friday) and the temple Passover fell on the eighteenth day (Saturday). Thus, once again, on the seventeenth day God remembered the Seed of the Woman and on the eighteenth day delivered him, Jonah-like, through the waters of the underworld to rise again on the third day (Sunday), Noah-like, into the paradise of a new Eden. Mary’s confusion of him with a gardener (John 20:15) therefore carries a deeper theological significance, for before her stood a new Adam. Having defeated death, Jesus’ life-giving priestly spirit could remain in the presence of God forever interceding for those who believe (cf. 1 Cor 15:45, Heb 7:23-25). The body of this Edenic offering had gone, preventing its use by mankind, yet God had created a new temple for Jesus, in the shape of the body that stood before Mary. Yet until the life returned to Heaven this sacrifice remained incomplete, with Jesus set apart as a holy thing and only to be handled by the priests. Hence, Mary was not to touch him, whilst Thomas could (John 20:16-17, 27).

Bettering the Law

The combination of John’s baptism and obediently serving Jesus offered a form of salvation. It provided re-birth as a new creation within a new Israel and a route into priesthood without the need for a burnt offering. By establishing the universal priesthood of all believers, it opened their way into the divine presence and circumvented the need for a peace offering. Moreover, it exchanged the need for cleanliness regulations and Sabbath observance for the obligation to serve Christ. However, it was still not perfect, for it could not bring true freedom to those imprisoned by the shedding of innocent blood or its counterpart, failure to love your neighbour. Nor could it atone for idolatry or the equivalent arrogance of men who disowned God in preference for the favour of men. That required the blood of bulls and goats offered year upon year and the ashes of a heifer.

Jesus death completed the package. Because God appointed that man could die only once (Heb 9:27), that was Christ’s only death. Therefore, his prior death liberated the individual those who choose to give their life unreservedly to the resurrected Jesus, i.e. to become his slave, to serve as a free person and therefore as a friend. In other words, they gain instantaneous release into the wonderful freedom of the sons of God. With freedom from the penalty of death, the need for a Day of Atonement and its related sacrifices disappeared. Yet that was not all, by introducing the sacrament of communion, with its ability to liberate or condemn (1 Cor 11:28-30), he replaced the need for a Passover to minister God’s judgement and justice to his people. Moreover, the crucifixion, like Moses’ serpent, remains effective whenever people look to it and acknowledge their part in sending Jesus to his death. Thus, it can fulfil the role of the sin offering (hence the apostles’ subsequent emphasis on presenting Christ and him crucified). Coming before the Lord’s Son now satisfied the need to assemble three times a year in Jerusalem. One lifespan had just swept aside the edifice of sacrificial Law that guided Judaism for so many centuries and with it had gone the need for any sanctuary but Christ himself. Jesus’ actions had irrevocably changed the field of play, yet he had done it all, as predicted in the Sermon on the Mount, in accord with the Law and the prophets.

The two become one

Through a host of authors, styles and contexts, the Jewish scriptures unfold the story of an absolute law and a gracious lawgiver, of compliance and rebellion, and of a God who intervenes as saviour and judge. Then, through the gospels, we see Jesus, marching to the drumbeat of a sacred Calendar, take all this and focus it into a single pivotal sacrifice.

My heart burnt within me as I, like those Emmaus-bound disciples, began to understand the sure foundation the Hebrew Bible provided for Jesus ministry and how his zeal for application of the Law brought salvation from it. Along the way, many awkward and oft-overlooked scriptures proved to be some of the most important. At last, I can see why a man whose word could forgive a nation had to die on a cross to save them, why a first-century Jewish leader ought to know he must be born again and why a carpenter’s son could die at Passover assured of his resurrection three days later. Having hacked away the crumbling plasterwork, of well-meaning hand-me-down assumptions, and discovered how the Law became Christ’s rock, I can cast aside any uneasy sense of building on the sand. The essential pieces of the Biblical jigsaw puzzle remain unchanged, but now its pieces fit together without resulting in two irreconcilable parts. Jesus’ first century’s assembly of the Jewish Bible’s precedents left precisely the Pauline-gospel shaped hole that the church went on to fill. A called out people, salvation by grace, the priesthood of all believers and the inclusion of the gentiles, all resting upon the sure foundation of the Law and the prophets.

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1Twenty-five in Num 8:24, but only singly attested there.

2 An ad-hoc day of judgement could come at any time, but the Mosaic Law required all males to appear before the Lord at the three main feasts (Exod 23:17).

3 Just as the Red Sea crossing baptised the Israelites into Moses leadership, so John’s baptism committed those who underwent it to following John.

4 Jesus calls Philip at this point. The un-named disciple may well be John, as John features as an un-named individual elsewhere in the Gospel. Of the four Gospels, John’s provides the most comprehensive account of Jesus earliest ministry.

5 In Exodus, Israel are tested on provision (quail and manna, 16:2-36, water, 17:1-7), security (battle with Amalek, 17:8-16) and authority (honouring Kenite authority, 18:1-12). In Genesis 28:19-21, Jacob bargains that if God would provide for him and keep him secure, then he would adopt Him as his God.

6 The Septuagint translates Aram (אֲרָם) as Syria (Συρία).

7 Even if he left on the day following the feast, as most pilgrims would, that still gave at least forty-three days before the anniversary of Moses’ Pentecost, other systems of reckoning place Pentecost even later. Jesus was probably using a variant of the Essene 364 day calendar.

8 Luke, seeking to develop the Nazarene contrast I mention in Chapter 18, precedes his account of Jesus’ exorcism at Capernaum with a description of Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth, an event placed much later in other gospels (Mark 6:1-6, Matt. 13:53-58). He then defers describing the disciples call until after the Capernaum synagogue incident in order to keep the two synagogue passages adjacent to one another. The timing allows for the possibility that Jesus did suffer an earlier rejection in Nazareth after leaving Samaria, but that Luke has combined the two episodes to emphasise his point.

9 J. L. Magnus, “Pentecost”, The Jewish Encyclopaedia, 595.

10 Kaufmann Kohler, J. L. Magnus, Executive Committee of the Editorial Board, Judah David Eisenstein, “Pentecost”, JE, n.p. [Cited 18 Nov 2008]. Online: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com.

11 The contrasting Sabbaths in Luke (Luke 4:16-37) are discussed in Chapter 18.

12 Matthew follows the Sermon on the Mount with a compilation of events designed to emphasise that Christ removed uncleanliness with a word. He defers mention of Peter’s mother-in-law so that it becomes part of this.

13 E.g. Abraham rose early before the journey to offer Isaac (Gen 22:3), Jacob did so to establish Bethel (Gen 28:18), Moses to receive the replacement tablets of the Law (Exod 34:4) and Joshua to cross the Jordan (Josh 6:12).

14 At the time of Jesus’ return he called Capernaum home (Mark 2:1, 3:21).

15 Such bathing was generally linked to the cleansing procedures.

16 Luke has brought the description of this event forward to suit his theological objective, but Mark and Matthew agree upon a later context.

17 The word usually translated ‘cast out’ may also be translated as ‘send out with a purpose’, as in Matthew 9:38 (workers into the harvest). The context suggests the latter is more appropriate here.

18 E.g. Micah promised that God’s justice would overtake those who eat the flesh of his people (Mic 3:3-3) and Isaiah describes how, in times of consuming wickedness, men do not spare their own brother but eat the flesh of their own arm (Isa 9:18-20).

19 E.g. when, out of their absolute desire to obey their lord’s every word, David’s men risked their lives to bring him water from the well in Bethlehem, David refused to drink it, explaining that to benefit from their act would be like drinking their blood (1 Chr 11:19).

20 John Kutsko, “Caesarea Philippi,” ABD, 1:803.

21 Bruce Chilton, “Transfiguration,” ABD, 6:640-42.

22 Jesus means prayer and fasting by the afflicted, rather than the disciples.

23 Compare this with Paul’s instruction to deliver a man to Satan (1 Cor 5:4-5).

24 Craig S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Lk 13:35.

25 Mark appears to handle this as a re-cap in 11:15-17.

26 The far-flung pockets of Judaism scattered amidst the gentile nations.

27 "Essene Calendar." n.p. [cited 21 Apr 2009]. Online:http://www.bibarch.com/concepts/Calendrics/essene_calendar.htm.