Prophecy Article Today: "Seven churches of Revelation" -Christine Peters

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Who they represent in this day and age

by Christine Peters

The book of Revelation opens with the letters from Jesus to 7 churches in Christendom.  In these letters, He acknowledges what these churches are doing right, where they are going astray and He counsels them as to how to get back on track.  

Jesus additionally addresses the individual believers in each church, commending them for seeing through the fog of doctrinal teachings to the core message of the gospel, challenging them to withstand and overcome.  The believers, however, are not the intended audience of the letters.

The Lord's purpose is to focus on the leadership of these churches, admonishing them to take a gut check on what they are teaching their flocks and where His core message of salvation may be getting lost in their mix of doctrinal interpretations.  

These 7 churches have historical roots as actual churches that existed in the Roman province of Asia.  The churches are addressed by the city that they were located in.  

There are also prophetic applications of these letters.  One application is that the 7 churches represent different ages in Church history and that they are progressive.  This interpretation holds that at the end of days, two main traits will remain - that Christendom is either going to be very alive or very dead (apostate) in their teachings - a very black and white approach to the Lord's warnings.  The progressive interpretation is not wrong, merely incomplete.

This article is written as a study on a different prophetic application of these writings, the interpretation holding that each of these 7 church characteristics are alive and well today.  The intent is to look past the black and white interpretation of right and wrong and delve into the Lord's warnings about all of the shades of grey in the middle.

The Lord cautions over and over in the bible about false prophets and false teachers.   The purpose of these letters is to address the churches with the Lord's specific concerns as to the unsound doctrines and practices that have invaded them, putting their flocks at risk.  Given the following warnings from the Lord about false teachers in the end days, I would think that people would look beyond their comfort zone and compare their approach to the core teachings of scripture.

Matthew 7:22-23 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

2Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

There are 4 elements to each of the letters in scripture, and they are as follows:

·        Praise - what the Lord is pleased with

·        Condemnation - what the Lord is upset about

·        Advice - to the leaders of the group as to how to get back on track

·        Challenge - to the true believers within the group, to hold fast and overcome

The fifth element in this summation is the application of the letters and is subjective based on the characteristics and symptoms presented in the scripture.      

The Lord's purpose in writing these letters was not for people like me to sit around and point fingers and I intend no offense with my conclusions here.  His purpose was for all to take a good hard look at the focus of their doctrinal stances and teachings.  

The Lord tells us that he has sent us out as sheep amongst the wolves, that we are to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).  Additionally, he counsels that we will know false teachers by their fruits (Matthew 7:20), that we are to study the scriptures to show ourselves approved (2Timothy 2:15) and that we are to try every teaching to see if it is from God (1John 4:1).

Where I have mentioned specific denominations in my applications, my motive is not to condemn - I am merely comparing their doctrines and/or teachings to the Lord's warnings and adding their stated positions as real life examples to the characteristics mentioned.  An individual church is only as solid as its local leadership.

Don't take what I have to say about this as the gospel truth - use these letters how the Lord intended - as a measuring stick.

 

1. Church of Ephesus -- Revelation 2:1-7


Praise: I know that you do good deeds, and work hard. You are patient and cannot stand evil. You condemn those who do wrong and hold false teachings to the fire. 

Condemnation: You have left your first love - the core of the gospel. 

Advice to leaders: Remember where it is that you have fallen from, repent and go back to the original teachings. 

Challenge to believers: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. 

Application: Men intent on abandoning the word of God (their first love) for their own doctrinal interpretations. 

The inference here is the addition of doctrines into the church, placing more importance on them than on the Word of God.  This refers to legalistic churches that institute man-imposed salvation requirements, such as specific baptism rituals, or organization membership, and teach that there is no salvation unless these requirements are met. They focus more on dos and don'ts and on who does and doesn't do, than on the core message of scripture and thus they deny salvation by grace through faith. The easiest way to spot a church of Ephesus is their claim of being the only true remnant church of Christ and their insistence that there is no salvation outside of their organization and without their rituals.  

Denominations known for this practice include the International Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventists and the United Pentecostals (UPC - Oneness Pentecostals).

 

2. Church of Smyrna -- Revelation 2:8-11


Praise: I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) 

Condemnation: Nothing !! 

Advice to leaders: Don't fear your suffering - satan will torment you and you will be tried. Be faithful unto death and you will have the crown of life.. 

Challenge to believers: He that overcometh shall not be hurt by the second death (and will have eternal life). 

Application:  Throughout the world, Christians are being persecuted in places like China, Russia, the Philippines and the Islamic Nation States.  Witnessing is illegal in many of these places and sadly, it is all too common to hear of Christians being jailed, tortured and even beheaded for the crime of attempting to spread the gospel and the testimony of Jesus. 

 

3. Church of Pergamum -- Revelation 2:12-17


Praise: You live where satan lives, yet you never renounced me. 

Condemnation: But I have a few things against you, your teachings pollute your people both spiritually and socially with unacceptable pagan practices. 

Advice to leaders: Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth! 

Challenge to believers: To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth [it]. 

Application: Those teaching false doctrines, causing people to sin because they think it is 'ok', based on the interpretations of their leadership.  What these leaders are doing is teaching that the Word of God is to be treated as a cafeteria plan where you can pick and choose what you want to believe and disregard that which you don't.   Pergamum is not lukewarm to the gospel, they have just chosen to believe that certain things in it don't apply to them.  

The first group that comes to mind here is the MCC - The Metropolitan Community Church - gay Christians. This is a huge denomination that teaches that it is OK to be gay and Christian - maintaining that God created them gay (so it must be all right) rather than acknowledging that their homosexuality is merely a manifestation of the sin nature that we are all born with.

 

4. Church of Thyatira -- Revelation 2:18-29


Praise: I know your deeds, your love, your charity, faith and service. You are doing more of these things than you ever have! 

Condemnation: While on the outside, you appear as a model church, you are rife with corruption and corrupt teachings, from deep within.  You have committed adultery against me with your idol worship.

Advice to leaders: Repent now or I will spew you into the tribulation 

Challenge to believers: To those who are faithful within, rejecting the false doctrines, hold fast till I come. 

Application:  The Lord references Jezebel in his condemnation to this church - referring to the woman who lured people away from Him with idolatry by focusing them on things other than Him. 

Traits seen today include viewing Mary as the mediatrix between man and God, the veneration of statues and images,  grace being administered through humanly prescribed sacraments, church tradition held as equivalent in authority to the Bible, and the doctrine of confessing to priests as a means of maintaining one's salvation.

The prime example of this is the Roman Catholic Church

 

5. Church of Sardis -- Revelation 3:1-6


Praise: I know your deeds - your name carries much recognition among men ... 

Condemnation: But now you are dead. 

Advice to leaders: Remember your beginnings, return to them and repent. You are not paying attention to my Word and you need to wake up! 

Challenge to believers: He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. 

Application: This is referring specifically to name brand denominations with long, well known histories that have fallen from truth and are seeking ecumenical unity without regard to the gospel. The suggestion the Lord is giving here is that these are the Reform churches - once very alive but now dead in their doctrines - filled with Sunday Country Club pew warmers. 

Denominations that have embraced this ecumenical neutrality include the Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians.  I am speaking to the global stances here - again, a particular church is only as alive or dead as its local leadership. 

 

6. Church of Philadelphia -- Revelation 3:7-13


Praise: You may not be the biggest group, but I know your works and your teachings. Even without strength or power, you have kept My Word and not compromised My name. 

Condemnation: Nothing !! 

Advice to leaders: I am coming quickly. Hold onto what you have. 

Challenge to believers: Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, [which is] new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and [I will write upon him] my new name. 

Application:  This is written to those who are on fire for the Lord's return that have kept the winds of false doctrines out of their midst and maintained solid teachings.  While everyone wants to think that they are in the church of Philadelphia - it is important to note, that there are true believers in each of the 7 churches. The Lord is merely commending the leadership of Philadelphia for their adherence to sound doctrine. 

Ironically, the letter to the church of Philadelphia is used/abused by many churches to justify their exclusivity (no salvation outside of their organization) under what they perceive to be the "end times remnant church clause".  For this reason, these churches are in reality the churches of Ephesus, discussed above.

 

7. Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)


Praise: Nothing !!

Condemnation: You are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other but because you have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, I will spit you out of my mouth into the tribulation.  You say that you are wealthy and in need of nothing, but what you don't realize is that you are truly wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. 

Advice to leaders: You need to start concerning yourself with eternal riches and not earthly ones, humble yourself about  your sins and open your eyes to My truth before its too late. 

Challenge to believers: To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne 

Application:  Unlike the other churches that have let doctrinal interpretations cloud the message of salvation, this group is neither hot nor cold to it - they simply avoid it all together.  They teach of wealth and healing but not of salvation and repentance.  Rather than instruct people on how to humble themselves to the Lord's will, they teach that He is to conform to our will.  

Jesus said in John 18:36 that His kingdom is not of this world.  In Matthew 6:19-20, He explains that we are to store up our riches in heaven and not on earth.  All of this is seemingly lost on the church of Laodicea, whose complete focus is on the here and now.  They flaunt their opulent lifestyles as proof of the Lord's earthly blessings.  They teach that the first step to health and wealth is to give 'seed donations' to their ministries and then have the faith that the Lord will bless this gift and multiply it in return.  This becomes a vicious cycle when those who are not healed or showered with wealth are told that it is because they lack the faith to give enough to these ministries, thus soliciting even more donations - all the while, using the Lord's name to increase their personal wealth.

Not only are these teachings alive and well in Christendom today, they are the predominate focus in more ministries than I can count.   They are the hallmark of the Word of Faith/Revival/LatterRain movements who have taken the world by storm under the guise of "Fifth Wave" evangelism with such leaders as Benny Hinn, Paul Cain, Rick Joyner, Marilyn Hickey, Kenneth Copeland, Paul and Jan Crouch, Jesse Duplantis and Fred Price - the list is endless.

 

Bottom Line to the 7 Churches

Doctrines are nothing but man's interpretation of God's Word.  They in themselves do not save, but they can and do cloud the issue of salvation.  The Lord cautions over and over in scripture about false teachers in the end days, leading His flock astray.  Sadly, His message is getting lost in a sea of pick-and-choose scriptural teachings and rituals.

Now is the time for self-examination - are you leading someone away from the message of salvation with extraneous teachings rather than to it with the core of the gospel?.

 

 

 

 



Prophecy Article Today: "Are Demonic or Democratic Forces at Work in the Middle East?" -Bill Salus

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Are Demonic or Democratic Forces at Work in the Middle East?

By Bill Salus

While “Doomsayer’s” worry the world ends December 21, 2012 and “Naysayers” scurry to scuttlebutt their claims, 2011 snuck in the calendar’s back door catching humanity by surprise. The first quarter of the new decade has been plagued by unprecedented Arab unrest. Peaceful protests have morphed into radical revolutions causing Israel and the international community grave concern about the instability of Arab governments.

Complicating matters, the precious oil lying beneath Arab soil is costing American consumers a pretty penny at the pump. In California the cost of gas rose 26 times in 27 days during February, 2011. In 2009 the average price per barrel of crude oil was $53.48. In 2010 it averaged $71.21. Lately, crude oil has jumped up to over $105 per barrel. Some analysts predict 2011 will see the price per barrel surpass the critical $150 barrier forcing already fragile world financial markets into further turmoil.

What is causing Middle East protests to spread like California wildfires? Some suggest it’s fueled by an Arab youth bulge discontent with the longstanding repressive regimes reigning over them. Social networks like FacebookYoutube, and Twitter have enabled them to see beyond the censorship of their State run media. According to many liberal pundits these Arabs supposedly seek nothing more than the noble American aspirations of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

On the surface their quests for democratic freedoms seem understandable, but apart from Israel, no model democracy has ever manifested in the Middle East. Historically power shifts occur in the region through assassinations, revolutions, rigged elections, and / or military coups. Peaceful protests and popular elections as a means to establish democratic rule is a new and untested Arab experiment.

At first the protesters achieved their goals relatively peacefully. In January, 2011 former Tunisian president Zine El Bidine Ben Ali stepped down from office. This marked the first time in history an Arab dictator was overthrown by popular revolution. Then in February, 2011 after 18 days of protests, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak likewise removed himself from office.

However, since then Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi opted not to step aside from his presidential post, but to resist the protesters in his country. Gadaffi’s violent stand against them has created a civil war in Libya and set precedence for other Arab leaders to behave similarly in their respective countries, like Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria.

Arabs are now killing fellow Arabs across the Middle East, which is an unpalatable situation for the twenty-two member Arab League which was formed in 1945 in order to unite Arabs. Presently, the League’s goal to unite Arabs takes a back seat to simply stopping the brotherly bloodshed.



Interestingly, the bible tells us in Psalm 83 that a day will come when the Arabs will unite. However, this unity is not the result of democratic Arab governments succumbing to the social network needs of their respective societies. Rather, the nations and / or terrorist populations of Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinians, Syrians, Saudis, Iraqis, Jordanians and Egyptians will join in common cause to destroy the Jewish State of Israel. Their present disunity amongst each other gives way to a larger degree to unity against Israel.

The Psalm predicts they form a coalition expressly intent on wiping Israel off the map and reclaiming Palestine for the Palestinians. This predominately Islamic confederacy banners the plight of the Palestinians. Concern for the impoverished conditions of their Stateless Palestinian brothers causes them to set their internal disputes aside and formulate a joint military campaign against Israel.

Therefore, any and all events from this point forward regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which includes the Hamas terrorist organization, should be observed with a keen prophetic eye.

Amidst all the Arab unease, Palestinian terror is resurfacing again after a brief lull. Mideast peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians failed at the close of 2010. SubsequentlyHamas, who fired 6300 rockets into Israel between 2005 and 2008, has resumed its rocket assault at an increased pace again in 2011.

Is this recent wave of Palestinian terrorism and Hamas rocket assaults purposely intended to provoke Israel into another war with Hamas? In December, 2008 Israel waged a 22-day campaign into the Gaza against Hamas. At the time Hamasand their Arab allies were unprepared to ally together in the fight which afforded Israel a lopsided victory. However, since December, 2009 Hamas has entered intobonafide war-pacts with Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria.

Could Hamas have been given the green light by its allies to provoke Israel into another conflict, one that they are all prepared to fight at this time? Hezbollah has 60,000 rockets. Syria possesses the most advanced scud missiles in the world, and Iran is on the verge of going nuclear.

The Psalm 83 prophetic scenario, which appears positioned to occur in the near future, is an attempt to cut Israel off forever from being a nation. However, the destruction of the Jewish people and the confiscation of the Promised Land of Israel is deeply rooted in the angelic conflict. It is a demonic campaign dating back to the time of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt approximately 3500-years ago. Pharaoh and his army attempted to commit Hebrew genocide at the Red Sea. (Exodus 14)

Furthermore, the biblical book of Esther tells us Haman of Persia attempted to do it subsequently during the reign of the Persian Empire. Hitler attempted Jewish genocide during World War II and the prophecy of Psalm 83 will amount to another genocidal attempt, at least as far as the Jews residing in the Middle East are concerned.


The Bible Promises Israel an Eternal Future!

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon
and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The LORD
of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the LORD,
Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus
says the LORD: “If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth
searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have
done, says the LORD.
 (Jeremiah 31:35-37, nkjv)

Numerous passages, like Jeremiah’s above, inform us that God has put His holy name upon Israel. Even though Jewish history is riddled with idol worship and apostasy, it isn’t about Israel; it’s about the God of Israel who promised there would always be an Israel.


The elimination of Israel is the one certain way Satan and his fallen angelic cohorts can discredit the God of the Jews and Christians. If they can orchestrate the complete destruction of the Jews, they can claim God’s covenant making character is flawed. If they can prove the Lord lied about Israel, they can also adversely affect Christianity.

Ultimately, accomplishing this feat enables Satan and his minions to declare they were right to depart from God’s supposed perfect plan for them within creation. At that point the rhetorical question could justifiably be asked; “Why should we, or anyone for that matter, be forced to serve the promise breaking God of the bible?”

Certainly one can assume Satan, who somehow manages to exert enormous influence over the whole world according to 1 John 5:19, must be observing all the present Arab unrest closely. He, like the Arab League, ultimately seeks Arab unity. However, in Satan’s case his reasons are primarily focused on the destruction of Israel rather than the plight of the Palestinians. They appear to be used merely as pawns in the grander scheme of the Arab States and the angelic conflict according to Obadiah 1:7.

Present Arab protests could be at odds with Satan’s master campaign against the Jewish State. Unstable Mideast events could force Satan’s Arab trump cards into play sooner than later. It is doubtful internal Arab schisms can continue unabated much longer lest the Arabs destroy too many of themselves and in the process delay his end game attempt of Israel’s destruction. Likely very soon we can anticipate at least the Psalm 83 Arabs will be caused to shift much of their focus from internal strife toward support of the Palestinian plight and hatred of Israel.

It is possible something potentially big is about to occur in the Middle East that shifts Arab eyes on the Palestinian prize of possessing an Arab State. Israel will continue to be viewed as the obstacle to Palestinian Statehood and need to be eliminated as far as the Arab confederacy is concerned. It’s entirely possible that the fallen spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly realm alluded to in Ephesians 6:12 realize they have to act now to prevent further Arab unrest and unite the preponderance of Arabs against Israel.

Below are some related comments from good friend and biblical expositor retired Lt. Col. Don Mercer (Pic of Bill Salus (left) & Don Mercer (right) at pre-trib conference in Dallas 2010)

Don’s View of the World

Most of you are already familiar with the recent bombing at the bus station in Jerusalem. As of this writing one British tourist was killed and about 30 other people were injured. I believe we will see more and bolder terrorist attacks against Israel soon. I will tell you why.

Numerous Arab nations are in turmoil today and there is no end in sight. Even Syria is experiencing it and they seem to be almost as repressive as Libya in killing their own people. As described and prophesied in Genesis, we should expect Arab to kill Arab and Muslim to kill Muslim as we see the approach of the end time’s wars of Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 38-39. However, do not be deceived. They share the hate for Israel and will unite (perhaps very loosely) against Israel, perhaps soon.

There is a spirit of jihad sweeping the Middle East under the guise of pro-democracy revolts. While we in the west have an immediate affinity for democracy, the issue is the replacement system. In many of these cases it appears that more radical Islamists will gain control. The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, is seen by the west and many Arab countries as the human guiding force behind the turmoil or, at a minimum, the primary beneficiary.

The spirit of jihad is demonic and it will eventually take on the form of anti-Israeli actions. The new bombing at the bus station is an example of the beginning and that is why we will see more soon accompanied by Israeli counter attacks.

I am certainly not a prophet and I have no divine revelation that I know of into the current events. Nevertheless, remember that Satan is a master at deception even when he stirs up real fighting among Israel’s enemies. But Satan cannot fool God. God already knows Satan’s plan and He will allow it to progress only along a path that fulfills His plan which is the total fulfillment of the prophecies we study. So then, as Watchmen on the Wall, we should be searching the horizon to see through current events and find those things coming upon the earth. Is all this turmoil destined to result in the prophesied end time’s wars? Keep watch and find out.

 


 



WEDNESDAY is WORD DAY:Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ (Chapter Two)

 

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Alfred Edersheim was born at Vienna, March. 7, 1825 of Jewish parentage, and received his earliest education in a college preparatory school of his native city and in the Talmud Torah attached to a Viennese synagogue. In 1841 he continued his studies at the University of Vienna, but left it before taking his degree on account of the financial reverses of his father. Going to Pesth as a teacher of languages, he came under the influence of John Duncan, a Scotch Presbyterian chaplain and was converted to Christianity. Edersheim accompanied Duncan on his return to Scotland and studied theology at New College, Edinburgh, and at the University of Berlin. In 1846 he was ordained to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. He was a missionary for a year to the Jews at Jassy, Romania. In 1849, he was installed at the Free Church, Old Aberdeen. From that time forward he held various posts throughout England and Scotland. He died at Menton, France on March 16, 1889.

 

His works include: History of the Jewish Nation after the Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus; The Temple Its Ministry and Services at the Time of Jesus Christ; Bible History; Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ; The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (his greatest work); and Prophecy and History in Relation to the Messiah.

This was adapted from The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.

Alfred Edersheim
Table of Contents

Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ

  • Chapter 2. Jews and Gentiles in “The Land”

    Coming down from Syria, it would have been difficult to fix the exact spot where, in the view of the Rabbis, “the land” itself began. The boundary lines, though mentioned in four different documents, are not marked in anything like geographical order, but as ritual questions connected with them came up for theological discussion. For, to the Rabbis the precise limits of Palestine were chiefly interesting so far as they affected the religious obligations or privileges of a district. And in this respect the fact that a city was in heathen possession exercised a decisive influence. Thus the environs of Ascalon, the wall of Caesarea, and that of Acco, were reckoned within the boundaries of Palestine, though the cities themselves were not. Indeed, viewing the question from this point, Palestine was to the Rabbis simply “the land,”[3] all other countries being summed up under the designation of “outside the land.” In the Talmud, even the expression “Holy Land,” so common among later Jews and Christians,[4] does not once occur.

    It needed not that addition, which might have suggested a comparison with other countries; for to the Rabbinist Palestine was not only holy, but the only holy ground, to the utter exclusion of all other countries, although they marked within its boundaries an ascending scale of ten degrees of sanctity, rising from the bare soil of Palestine to the most holy place in the Temple (Chel. i. 6-9). But “outside the land” everything was darkness and death. The very dust of a heathen country was unclean, and it defiled by contact. It was regarded like a grave, or like the putrescence of death. If a spot of heathen dust had touched an offering, it must at once be burnt. More than that, if by mischance any heathen dust had been brought into Palestine, it did not and could not mingle with that of “the land,” but remained to the end what it had been—unclean, defiled, and defiling everything to which it adhered. This will cast light upon the meaning conveyed by the symbolical directions of our Lord to His disciples (Matt 10:14), when He sent them forth to mark out the boundary lines of the true Israel—“the kingdom of heaven,” that was at hand: “Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” In other words, they were not only to leave such a city or household, but it was to be considered and treated as if it were heathen, just as in the similar case mentioned in Matthew 18:17. All contact with such must be avoided, all trace of it shaken off, and that, even though, like some of the cities in Palestine that were considered heathen, they were surrounded on every side by what was reckoned as belonging to Israel.

    The Mishnah (Shev, vi. 1; Chall. iv. 8) marks, in reference to certain ordinances, “three lands” which might equally be designated as Palestine, but to which different ritual regulations applied. The first comprised, “all which they who came up from Babylon took possession of in the land of Israel and unto Chezib” (about three hours north of Acre); the second, “all that they who came up from Egypt took possession of from Chezib and unto the river (Euphrates) eastward, and unto Amanah” (supposed to be a mountain near Antioch, in Syria); while the third, seemingly indicating certain ideal outlines, was probably intended to mark what “the land” would have been, according to the original promise of God, although it was never possessed to that extent by Israel.[5] For our present purpose, of course, only the first of these definitions must be applied to “the land.” We read in Menachothvii. 1: “Every offering,[6] whether of the congregation or of an individual (public or private), may come from ‘the land,’ or from ‘outside the land, be of the new product (of the year) or of old product, except the omer (the wave-sheaf at the Passover) and the two loaves (at Pentecost), which may only be brought from new product (that of the current year), and from that (which grows) within ‘the land.’” To these two, the Mishnah adds in another passage (Chel. i. 6) also theBiccurim, or first-fruits in their fresh state, although inaccurately, since the latter were likewise brought from what is called by the Rabbis Syria,[7] which seems to have been regarded as, in a sense, intermediate between “the land” and “outside the land.”

    The term Soria, or Syria, does not include that country alone, but all the lands which, according to the Rabbis, David had subdued, such as Mesopotamia, Syria, Zobah, Achlab, etc. It would be too lengthy to explain in detail the various ordinances in regard to which Soria was assimilated to, and those by which it was distinguished from, Palestine proper. The preponderance of duty and privilege was certainly in favour of Syria, so much so, that if one could have stepped from its soil straight to that of Palestine, or joined fields in the two countries, without the interposition of any Gentile strip, the land and the dust of Syria would have been considered clean, like that of Palestine itself (Ohol. xviii. 7). There was thus around “the land” a sort of inner band, consisting of those countries supposed to have been annexed by King David, and termed Soria. But besides this, there was also what may be called an outer band, towards the Gentile world, consisting of Egypt, Babylon, Ammon and Moab, the countries in which Israel had a special interest, and which were distinguished from the rest, “outside the land,” by this, that they were liable to tithes and the Therumoth, or first-fruits in a prepared state. Of course neither of these contributions was actually brought into Palestine, but either employed by them for their sacred purposes, or else redeemed.

    Maimonides arranges all countries into three classes, “so far as concerns the precepts connected with the soil”—“the land, Soria, and outside the land”; and he divides the land of Israel into territory possessed before and after the Exile, while he also distinguishes between Egypt, Babylon, Moab, and Ammon, and other lands (Hilch. Ther. i. 6). In popular estimate other distinctions were likewise made. Thus Rabbi Jose of Galilee would have it (Bicc. i. 10), that Biccurim[8]were not to be brought from the other side of Jordan, “because it was not a land flowing with milk and honey.”

    But as the Rabbinical law in this respect differed from the view expressed by Rabbi Jose, his must have been an afterthought, probably intended to account for the fact that they beyond Jordan did not bring their first-fruits to the Temple. Another distinction claimed for the country west of the Jordan curiously reminds us of the fears expressed by the two and a half tribes on their return to their homes, after the first conquest of Palestine under Joshua (Josh 22:24-25), since it declared the land east of Jordan less sacred, on account of the absence of the Temple, of which it had not been worthy. Lastly, Judaea proper claimed pre-eminence over Galilee, as being the centre of Rabbinism. Perhaps it may be well here to state that, notwithstanding strict uniformity on all principal points, Galilee and Judaea had each its own peculiar legal customs and rights, which differed in many particulars one from the other.

    What has hitherto been explained from Rabbinical writings gains fresh interest when we bring it to bear on the study of the New Testament. For, we can now understand how those Zealots from Jerusalem, who would have bent the neck of the Church under the yoke of the law of Moses, sought out in preference the flourishing communities in Syria for the basis of their operations (Acts 15:1). There was a special significance in this, as Syria formed a kind of outer Palestine, holding an intermediate position between it and heathen lands. Again, it results from our inquiries, that, what the Rabbis considered as the land of Israel proper, may be regarded as commencing immediately south of Antioch. Thus the city where the first Gentile Church was formed (Acts 11:20-21); where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26); where Paul so long exercised his ministry, and whence he started on his missionary journeys, was, significantly enough, just outside the land of Israel. Immediately beyond it lay the country over which the Rabbis claimed entire sway. Travelling southwards, the first district which one would reach would be what is known from the gospels as “the coasts (or tracts) of Tyre and Sidon.” St. Mark describes the district more particularly (Mark 7:24) as “the borders of Tyre and Sidon.” These stretched, according to Josephus (Jewish War, iii, 35), at the time of our Lord, from the Mediterranean towards Jordan. It was to these extreme boundary tracts of “the land,” that Jesus had withdrawn from the Pharisees, when they were offended at His opposition to their “blind” traditionalism; and there He healed by the word of His power the daughter of the “woman of Canaan,” the intensity of whose faith drew from His lips words of precious commendation (Matt 15:28Mark 7:29). It was chiefly a heathen district where the Saviour spoke the word of healing, and where the woman would not let the Messiah of Israel go without an answer. She herself was a Gentile. Indeed, not only that district, but all around, and farther on, the territory of Philip, was almost entirely heathen. More than that, strange as it may sound, all around the districts inhabited by the Jews the country was, so to speak, fringed by foreign nationalities and by heathen worship, rites, and customs.

    Properly to understand the history of the time and the circumstances indicated in the New Testament, a correct view of the state of parties in this respect is necessary. And here we must guard against a not unnatural mistake. If any one had expected to find within the boundaries of “the land” itself one nationality, one language, the same interests, or even one religion publicly professed, he would have been bitterly disappointed. It was not merely for the presence of the Romans and their followers, and of a more or less influential number of foreign settlers, but the Holy Land itself was a country of mixed and hostile races, of divided interests, where close by the side of the narrowest and most punctilious Pharisaism heathen temples rose, and heathen rites and customs openly prevailed. In a general way all this will be readily understood. For, those who returned from Babylon were comparatively few in number, and confessedly did not occupy the land in its former extent. During the troubled period which followed, there was a constant influx of heathen, and unceasing attempts were made to introduce and perpetuate foreign elements. Even the language of Israel had undergone a change. In the course of time the ancient Hebrew had wholly given place to the Aramaean dialect, except in public worship and in the learned academies of theological doctors. Such words and names in the gospels as Raka, Abba, Golgotha, Gabbatha, Akel-Dama, Bartholomaios, Barabbas, Bar-Jesus, and the various verbal quotations, are all Aramaean. It was probably in that language that Paul addressed the infuriated multitude, when standing on the top of the steps leading from the Temple into the fortress Antonia (Acts 21:4022:1ff). But along with the Hebraic Aramaean—for so we would designate the language—the Greek had for some time been making its way among the people. The Mishnah itself contains a very large number of Greek and Latin words with Hebraic terminations, showing how deeply Gentile life and customs around had affected even those who hated them most, and, by inference, how thoroughly they must have penetrated Jewish society in general. But besides, it had been long the policy of their rulers systematically to promote all that was Grecian in thought and feeling. It needed the obstinate determinateness, if not the bigotry, of Pharisaism to prevent their success, and this may perhaps partly explain the extreme of their antagonism against all that was Gentile. A brief notice of the religious state of the outlying districts of the country may place this in a clearer light.

    In the far north-east of the land, occupying at least in part the ancient possession of Manasseh, were the provinces belonging to the tetrarch Philip (Luke 3:1). Many spots there (Mark 8:22Luke 9:10Matt 16:13) are dear to the Christian memory. After the Exile these districts had been peopled by wild, predatory nomads, like the Bedawin of our days. These lived chiefly in immense caves, where they stored their provisions, and in case of attack defended themselves and their flocks. Herod the Great and his successors had indeed subdued, and settled among them, a large number of Jewish and Idumaean colonists—the former brought from Babylon, under the leadership of one Zamaris, and attracted, like the modern German colonists in parts of Russia, by immunity from taxation. But the vast majority of the people were still Syrians and Grecians, rude, barbarous, and heathens. Indeed, there the worship of the old Syrian gods had scarcely given way to the more refined rites of Greece. It was in this neighbourhood that Peter made that noble confession of faith, on which, as on a rock, the Church is built. But Caesarea Philippi was originally Paneas, the city devoted to Pan; nor does its change of name indicate a more Jewish direction on the part of its inhabitants. Indeed, Herod the Great had built there a temple to Augustus. But further particulars are scarcely necessary, for recent researches have everywhere brought to light relics of the worship of the Phoenician Astarte, of the ancient Syrian god of the sun, and even of the Egyptian Ammon, side by side with that of the well-known Grecian deities. The same may be said of the refined Damascus, the territory of which formed here the extreme boundary of Palestine. Passing from the eastern to the western bounds of Palestine, we find that in Tyre and Ptolemais Phrygian, Egyptians, Phoenician, and Greek rites contended for the mastery. In the centre of Palestine, notwithstanding the pretence of the Samaritans to be the only true representatives of the religion of Moses, the very name of their capital, Sebaste, for Samaria, showed how thoroughly Grecianised was that province. Herod had built in Samaria also a magnificent temple to Augustus; and there can be no doubt that, as the Greek language, so Grecian rites and idolatry prevailed. Another outlying district, the Decapolis (Matt 4:25Mark 5:207:31), was almost entirely Grecian in constitution, language, and worship. It was in fact, a federation of ten heathen cities within the territory of Israel, possessing a government of their own. Little is known of its character; indeed, the cities themselves are not always equally enumerated by different writers. We name those of most importance to readers of the New Testament. Scythopolis, the ancient Beth-shean (Josh 17:1116;Judg 1:271 Sam 31:1012, etc.), was the only one of those cities situated west of the Jordan. It lay about four hours south of Tiberias.Gadara, the capital of Peraea, is known to us from Matthew 8:28;Mark 5:1Luke 8:26. Lastly, we mention as specially interesting, Pella, the place to which the Christians of Jerusalem fled in obedience to the warning of our Lord (Matt 24:15-20), to escape the doom of the city, when finally beleaguered by the Romans. The situation of Pella has not been satisfactorily ascertained, but probably it lay at no great distance from the ancient Jabesh Gilead.

    But to return. From what has been said, it will appear that there remained only Galilee and Judaea proper, in which strictly Jewish views and manners must be sought for. Each of these will be described in detail. For the present it will suffice to remark, that north-eastern or Upper Galilee was in great part inhabited by Gentiles—Phoenicians, Syrians, Arabs, and Greeks (Josephus, Jewish War, iii, 419-427), whence the name “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matt 4:15). It is strange in how many even of those cities, with which we are familiar from the New Testament, the heathen element prevailed. Tiberias, which gave its name to the lake, was at the time of Christ of quite recent origin, having been built by the tetrarch Herod Antipas (the Herod of the gospel history), and named in honour of the Emperor Tiberius. Although endowed by its founder with many privileges, such as houses and lands for its inhabitants, and freedom from taxation—the latter being continued by Vespasian after the Jewish war—Herod had to colonise it by main force, so far as its few Jewish inhabitants were concerned. For, the site on which the city stood had of old covered a place of burial, and the whole ground was therefore levitically unclean (Josephus, Ant, xviii, 38). However celebrated, therefore, afterwards as the great and final seat of the Jewish Sanhedrim, it was originally chiefly un-Jewish. Gaza had its local deity; Ascalon worshipped Astarte; Joppa was the locality where, at the time when Peter had his vision there, they still showed on the rocks of the shore the marks of the chains, by which Andromeda was said to have been held, when Perseus came to set her free. Caesarea was an essentially heathen city, though inhabited by many Jews; and one of its most conspicuous ornaments was another temple to Augustus, built on a hill opposite the entrance to the harbour, so as to be visible far out at sea. But what could be expected, when in Jerusalem itself Herod had reared a magnificent theatre and amphitheatre, to which gladiators were brought from all parts of the world, and where games were held, thoroughly anti-Jewish and heathen in their spirit and tendency? (Josephus, Ant., xv, 274). The favourites and counsellors by whom that monarch surrounded himself were heathens; wherever he or his successors could, they reared heathen temples, and on all occasions they promoted the spread of Grecian views. Yet withal they professed to be Jews; they would not shock Jewish prejudices; indeed, as the building of the Temple, the frequent advocacy at Rome of the cause of Jews when oppressed, and many other facts show, the Herodians would fain have kept on good terms with the national party, or rather used it as their tool. And so Grecianism spread. Already Greek was spoken and understood by all the educated classes in the country; it was necessary for intercourse with the Roman authorities, with the many civil and military officials, and with strangers; the “superscription” on the coins was in Greek, even though, to humour the Jews, none of the earlier Herods had his own image impressed on them.[9] Significantly enough, it was Herod Agrippa I, the murderer of St. James, and the would-be murderer of St. Peter, who introduced the un-Jewish practice of images on coins. Thus everywhere the foreign element was advancing. A change or else a struggle was inevitable in the near future.

    And what of Judaism itself at the period? It was miserably divided, even though no outward separation had taken place. The Pharisees and Sadducees held opposite principles, and hated each other; the Essenes looked down upon them both. Within Pharisaism the schools of Hillel and Shammai contradicted each other on almost every matter. But both united in their unbounded contempt of what they designated as “the country-people”—those who had no traditional learning, and hence were either unable or unwilling to share the discussions, and to bear the burdens of legal ordinances, which constituted the chief matter of traditionalism. There was only one feeling common to all—high and low, rich and poor, learned and unlettered: it was that of intense hatred of the foreigner. The rude Galileans were as “national” as the most punctilious Pharisees; indeed, in the war against Rome they furnished the most and the bravest soldiers. Everywhere the foreigner was in sight; his were the taxes levied, the soldiery, the courts of ultimate appeal, the government. In Jerusalem they hung over the Temple as a guard in the fortress of Antonia, and even kept in their custody the high-priest’s garments,[10] so that, before officiating in the Temple, he had actually always to apply for them to the procurator or his representative! They were only just more tolerable as being downright heathens than the Herodians, who mingled Judaism with heathenism, and, having sprung from foreign slaves, had arrogated to themselves the kingdom of the Maccabees.

    Readers of the New Testament know what separation Pharisaical Jews made between themselves and heathens. It will be readily understood, that every contact with heathenism and all aid to its rites should have been forbidden, and that in social intercourse any levitical defilement, arising from the use of what was “common or unclean,” was avoided. But Pharisaism went a great deal further than this. Three days before a heathen festival all transactions with Gentiles were forbidden, so as to afford them neither direct nor indirect help towards their rites; and this prohibition extended even to private festivities, such as a birthday, the day of return from a journey, etc. On heathen festive occasions a pious Jew should avoid, if possible, passing through a heathen city, certainly all dealings in shops that were festively decorated. It was unlawful for Jewish workmen to assist in anything that might be subservient either to heathen worship or heathen rule, including in the latter the erection of court-houses and similar buildings. It need not be explained to what lengths or into what details Pharisaical punctiliousness carried all these ordinances. From the New Testament we know, that to enter the house of a heathen defiled till the evening (John 18:28), and that all familiar intercourse with Gentiles was forbidden (Acts 10:28). So terrible was the intolerance, that a Jewess was actually forbidden to give help to her heathen neighbour, when about to become a mother (Avod. S. ii. 1)! It was not a new question to St. Paul, when the Corinthians inquired about the lawfulness of meat sold in the shambles or served up at a feast (1 Cor 10:2527-28). Evidently he had the Rabbinical law on the subject before his mind, while, on the one hand, he avoided the Pharisaical bondage of the letter, and, on the other, guarded against either injuring one’s own conscience, or offending that of an on-looker. For, according to Rabbi Akiba, “Meat which is about to be brought in heathen worship is lawful, but that which comes out from it is forbidden, because it is like the sacrifices of the dead” (Avod. S. ii. 3). But the separation went much beyond what ordinary minds might be prepared for. Milk drawn from a cow by heathen hands, bread and oil prepared by them, might indeed be sold to strangers, but not used by Israelites. No pious Jew would of course have sat down at the table of a Gentile (Acts 11:3Gal 2:12). If a heathen were invited to a Jewish house, he might not be left alone in the room, else every article of food or drink on the table was henceforth to be regarded as unclean. If cooking utensils were bought of them, they had to be purified by fire or by water; knives to be ground anew; spits to be made red-hot before use, etc. It was not lawful to let either house or field, nor to sell cattle, to a heathen; any article, however distantly connected with heathenism, was to be destroyed. Thus, if a weaving-shuttle had been made of wood grown in a grove devoted to idols, every web of cloth made by it was to be destroyed; nay, if such pieces had been mixed with others, to the manufacture of which no possible objection could have been taken, these all became unclean, and had to be destroyed.

    These are only general statements to show the prevalent feeling. It was easy to prove how it pervaded every relationship of life. The heathens, though often tolerant, of course retorted. Circumcision, the Sabbath-rest, the worship of an invisible God, and Jewish abstinence from pork, formed a never-ending theme of merriment to the heathen. Conquerors are not often chary in disguising their contempt for the conquered, especially when the latter presume to look down upon, and to hate them. In view of all this, what an almost incredible truth must it have seemed, when the Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed it among Israel as the object of His coming and kingdom, not to make of the Gentiles Jews, but of both alike children of one Heavenly Father; not to rivet upon the heathen the yoke of the law, but to deliver from it Jew and Gentile, or rather to fulfil its demands for all! The most unexpected and unprepared-for revelation, from the Jewish point of view, was that of the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, the taking away of the enmity of the law, and the nailing it to His cross. There was nothing analogous to it; not a hint of it to be found, either in the teaching or the spirit of the times. Quite the opposite. Assuredly, the most unlike thing to Christ were His times; and the greatest wonder of all—“the mystery hidden from ages and generations”—the foundation of one universal Church.


    [3]So mostly; the expression also occurs “the land of Israel.”

    [4]The only passage of Scripture in which the term is used is Zech 2:12, or rather 2:16 of the Hebrew original.

    [5]The expressions in the original are so obscure as to render it difficult to form a quite definite judgment. In the text we have followed the views expressed by M. Neubauer.

    [6]Neither of the English words: “sacrifice,” “offering,” or “gift” quite corresponds to the Hebrew Korban, derived from a verb which in one mood means to be near, and in another to bring near. In the one case it would refer to the offerings themselves, in the other to the offerers, as brought near, the offerings bringing them near to God. The latter seems to me both etymologically and theologically the right explanation. Aberbanel combines both in his definition of Korban.

    [7]Syria sent Biccurim to Jerusalem, but was not liable to second tithes, nor for the fourth year’s product of plants (Lev 19:24).

    [8]For a full explanation of the distinction between Biccurim and Therumoth see my work on The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as they were at the time of Jesus Christ.

    [9]The coin mentioned in Matthew 22:20, which bore an “image,” as well as a “superscription,” must therefore have been either struck in Rome, or else one of the tetrarch Philip, who was the first to introduce the image of Caesar on strictly Jewish coins.

    [10]The practice commenced innocently enough. The high-priest Hyrcanus, who built the Tower of Baris, kept his dress there, and his sons continued the practice. When Herod seized the government, he retained, for reasons readily understood, this custody, in the fortress of Antonia, which he had substituted for the ancient tower. On similar grounds the Romans followed the lead of Herod. Josephus (Ant. xviii, 93) describes “the stone chamber” in which these garments were kept, under seal of the priests, with a light continually burning there. Vitellius, the successor of Pilate, restored to the Jews the custody of the high-priestly garments, when they were kept in a special apartment in the Temple.


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