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Monday, March 24, 2014

Did God designate a day? (Part VII)

Unfortunately, this was not the final battle in this long running war to make Gentile Christians subject to the Mosaic Law. This struggle has continued through almost two thousand years of Christian history and is still extant within the Church today!
Even so, only a small minority within the Christian Church continues to enjoin the observance of the Sabbath, annual festivals, clean and unclean meats and a few other features of the Mosaic Law. It appears that a majority of Christians do not feel obligated to observe these features of the Old Covenant. Unfortunately, many Christians have gone to the opposite extreme and have done away with the principles behind the law – effectively turning grace into a license to sin. Nevertheless, since this has been an ongoing controversy within the Church, one might well ask: ‘How is it that a majority of Christians came to regard the dos and don’ts of the Old Covenant as being not binding on them?’
For starters, as the Gentile population of the Church grew, the Jewish Christians quickly became a minority within the Church. As related previously, Gentile Christians had no traditions of obedience or reverence associated with observance of Sabbaths, circumcision or dietary laws. In short, these features of the Old Covenant never took hold among this population of the Church.
Second, although the Romans had pursued a policy of conciliation and forbearance toward their Jewish subjects, their patience with them was clearly beginning to wear thin by this time. Indeed, we read in Scripture that Paul had an opportunity to meet Aquila and Priscilla because Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome. (Acts 18:2) Later, Roman persecution of the Jews intensified as a consequence of a series of Jewish rebellions that quickly made it highly undesirable for Christians to be associated with anything Jewish. The Jewish historian, Josephus, described the first of these rebellions in vivid detail in his Wars of the Jews. During this conflagration, the Jews met with one disaster after another, but the most serious blow to their culture and religion came when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and God’s Temple in the year 70 A.D.
Prior to that event, Jews and Jewish Christians (including Paul) were still able to observe the annual festivals and visit the temple to worship. With the destruction of the temple and city, the observance prescribed by the Mosaic Law was no longer possible. Why? - Because Jerusalem and the temple were deemed by the Mosaic Law to be essential to the proper observance of the annual Sabbaths.
When these festivals were given under the leadership of Moses, the Israelites had not yet entered the “promised land” (Deuteronomy 11). At the time, the land was occupied by pagan peoples who worshipped many gods at many different sacred sites. God did not want this for the Israelites. We read: “These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the Lord God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it…Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods…And ye shall overthrow their altars…Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God. But unto THE PLACE WHICH THE LORD YOUR GOD SHALL CHOOSE OUT OF ALL YOUR TRIBES TO PUT HIS NAME THERE, EVEN UNTO HIS HABITATION SHALL YE SEEK, AND THITHER SHALT COME” (Deuteronomy 12:1-5).
There was to be ONE place of worship for the nation of Israel. Continuing, we read: “But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; THEN THERE SHALL BE A PLACE WHICH THE LORD YOUR GOD SHALL CHOOSE TO CAUSE HIS NAME TO DWELL THERE; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord…Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: BUT IN THE PLACE WHICH THE LORD SHALL CHOOSE IN ONE OF THY TRIBES, THERE THOU SHALT OFFER THY BURNT OFFERINGS, AND THERE THOU SHALT DO ALL THAT I COMMAND THEE” (Deuteronomy 12:10-14) God concludes these instructions to the Israelites with a very explicit statement: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).
It was clearly stated in the Torah that the only proper place to observe the festivals was at the temple in Jerusalem. We read over and over again that each of them was to be observed at “the place which the Lord shall choose to place his name.” (Deuteronomy 16:2, 5-6, 11, 15) Finally Moses summarized the entire festival year thus: “Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty.” (Deuteronomy 16:16)
The principle of one place of worship came up in Christ’s conversation with a Samaritan woman at a certain well near Sychar. In the Gospel According to John, we read that she asked Jesus a question: “So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (John 4:20, NLT) Continuing: “Jesus replied, ‘Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now ‘ when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.’” (John 4:21-24, NLT)
In answering the woman, Christ looked forward to a time defined by the terms of the New Covenant when time and place would take a backseat to whether or not the worship was true to the spiritual principles behind what had been designated by the Mosaic Law. Moreover, the Romans were soon to provide a clean break with the Old Covenant designations of time and place.
When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, it became impossible to keep the feasts at the place which God had chosen. As a consequence, the traditional observance of the festivals ceased among Jews and Jewish Christians alike.
This is consistent with what Scripture reveals about the fallout from the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians. We read in Lamentations, “The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness” (Lamentations 1:4). Later, in that same book, we read: “And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the Lord hath caused the solemn feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest” (Lamentations 2:6). Later, festival observance resumed when some of the captives were allowed to return to Jerusalem. (Ezra 3:1-5)
Jesus Christ and his parents were in the habit of going to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of the Passover. (Luke 2:41-42 and John 2:13) Christ went to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. (John 7:1-14) He observed the Feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem. (John 10:22-23) The disciples were all gathered at Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost. (Acts 2:1-5) We are told that Paul tried to be at Jerusalem to observe the day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:16) In fact, there is only one instance recorded in the entire Bible when a festival was observed anywhere other than at Jerusalem! It was the occasion of the institution of the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. (Exodus 12 and 13) Every other instance of festival observance recorded in the Bible took place in Jerusalem. Indeed, even Zechariah’s prophecy about festival observance in God’s future kingdom was to take place at Jerusalem! (Zechariah 14:16-17)
Hence, it would be difficult to over emphasize the impact that the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem had on both the Jewish and the Christian religions. All festival observance abruptly stopped in 70 A.D.(it should be noted here that new traditions relative to the feasts eventually developed within Jewish synagogues) – that includes Jewish Christians who had continued to observe the days! This, however, wasn’t the only consequence of these events.

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