Archives For Jewish Roots
When I was writing my book Identity Theft, I came across this verse and it struck me as odd. At your first reading, unless you come from a Jewish background, you might not agree. But I will clarify.
Peter, speaking at the home of Cornelius, said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of [these Gentiles] being baptized with water.” (Acts 10:47)
Isn’t that hilarious? Let me explain.
Growing up Jewish, we were told that to be baptized in water was the ultimate act of treason against our people. To publicly go into the waters of baptism was to reject your heritage, your people and your God.
And, yet, here is a Jewish man, Peter, not proclaiming that it is okay for Jews to be baptized, but that it was okay to baptize Gentiles. Since when has it ever been controversial to baptize Gentiles? Yet, if not for the facts that:
- Peter had a vision symbolizing that Gentiles could be cleansed by the blood of Jesus;
- God told Peter to go with the Gentiles who would come for him at Simon the Tanner’s house;
- The Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, causing them to speak in tongues;
Peter would have never been in the position to recognize that Gentiles could be baptized.
Baptism was Jewish!
You have to understand that baptism, in the New Testament, was the way that someone confessed faith in Yeshua—it was, if you will, the sinner’s prayer of the New Testament. In the beginning, it was exclusively Jews being immersed in water.
Now, two thousand years later, we tend to think that baptism is foreign to Jewish life and culture. Not so. The reason that God chose baptism as the way to identify with the Messiah’s death and resurrection is precisely because it was so familiar to the people.
The Temple was surrounded with well over 50 immersion tanks (mikvot). These were used before someone would bring his sacrifice to the Temple. The Torah mentions ritual cleansing through baptism:
The priests had to be ritually clean (tahor) in order to serve at the tabernacle, and Israelites who had become ritually unclean (tamay) had to restore their situation with the passing of time and bathing their whole body in fresh, ritually clean (tahor) water, according to Leviticus 15. (One For Israel)
So what happened?
Good question! How did something that was so Jewish become perceived as utterly anti-Judaism? Why was it a local scandal in 1983, in the Richmond Jewish community, when I was baptized as a follower of Yeshua? It is a sad history.
The Church, as early as the second century, turned against the Jewish people. Over the centuries, Jews were accused of deicide—killing God, collective guilt, which deserved collective punishment; we were presented as being incurably lost.
“Take heed to yourselves and be not like some piling up your sins and saying that the covenant is [the Jews] as well as ours. It is ours, but they lost it completely just after Moses received it.”
Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 4:6-7 (between 130 A.D. and 138 A.D.)
“We may thus assert in utter confidence that the Jews will not return to their earlier situation, for they have committed the most abominable of crimes, in forming this conspiracy against the Savior of the human race…hence the city where Jesus suffered was necessarily destroyed, the Jewish nation was driven from its country, and another people was called by God to the blessed election.”
Origen of Alexandria, (185-254 A.D.) – An ecclesiastical writer and teacher who contributed to the early formation of Christian doctrines.
These attitudes against the Jews continued to grow. In 325 A. D., Constantine and the Bishops of Nicaea outlawed Passover for Christians to celebrate the resurrection. It was replaced with Easter.
During the Crusades (1095 – 1291), Jews were butchered, raped and murdered by so-called Christians as they marched, on orders of the Pope, across Europe to fight Muslims in the Holy Land. These saints were told that if they died in battle, they would go straight to heaven. Sound familiar?
Then, in the Inquisitions (1492), the Jews of Spain were told to either be baptized as Christians or leave the country. Moles who worked for the church would spy on these “New Christians,” as they were called, to see if they would return to Jewish practice. (The other name they used for them was Spanish for swine!) Offenses included lighting Shabbat candles and refusing to eat pork, among others. The guilty would be arrested and severely punished—thousands were burned at the stake.
Now you see
It is thoughts of forced conversions/baptisms and persecutions that are conjured up in the Jewish mind when one mentions baptism today. They do not think of Jewish revival on the day of Shavuot (Pentecost), when thousands of Jews were immersed in water in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. Sadly, the historic church has done more to push Jewish people from faith in Yeshua, than any other force.
But there once was a day when a Jew named Simon Peter was stunned to see Gentiles receive the Jewish Messiah, and made the controversial decision to baptize these non-Jews into the kingdom. He was even attacked for this decision:
So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the [Jewish believers] believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:2-3)
Now you know why I think Acts 10:47 is the funniest scripture in the New Testament. And yet, I find myself crying.
Pray that the eyes of Israel would be opened.
One of the great promises of the end times is that God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh. This was first prophesied by Joel, and then partially fulfilled on the day of Shavuot, when Simon Peter preached his first message under the influence of the Holy Spirit. When men accused him of being drunk, he said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” (Acts 2:16).
Yet, Joel’s prophecy was so much more extensive than what took place on Shavuot. There was no “blood, fire, and billows of smoke” and it clearly was not “the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Yet, like many prophecies, this one had a partial fulfillment in Acts 2, and will have a full fulfillment in the last days.
In this blog, I want to focus on one misunderstood phrase. In Joel 2:28, we see the famous words, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”
The NIV gets closer to the meaning, but it doesn’t really say, all people, but in Hebrew “all flesh-basar-בשר.” This is one reason I like the NIV—they used common sense to help us understand the original intent of the author. Clearly God was not saying He would pour out His spirit on dogs and cats or sheep and goats. Clearly, He meant people. But it doesn’t even mean all people.
Prophets, Priests and Kings
Not everyone under the Old Covenant could experience the presence of God at the same level. The Levites were different from the regular Hebrews. The Cohanim (Priests) were higher than the rest of the Levites. And, of course, there were those who walked in an even higher level of anointing – like the prophets of Israel. When Samuel anointed David as king, the Spirit of came on David, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.” (2 Sam. 16:13). And, of course, there were differences between men and women in society, not to mention servants and slaves.
The Mystery of the New Covenant
What Joel is referring to, at least in the first part of his prophecy, is the advent of the New Covenant. It is the great mystery that even the apostles missed until that fateful day in Cornelius’ house when the Spirit of God did the unthinkable – He filled Gentiles, as they spoke in tongues.
The mystery is that under the New Covenant—initiated on the cross, but corporately birthed on Shavuot—is that anyone, no matter their gender, race or standing in society can enjoy a deep experience with the Holy Spirit. Look at Joel’s emphasis:
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams; your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29).
The idea of a servant or a woman being used by God or enjoying deep intimacy with the Spirit of God was very rare under the Old Covenant. Under the New Covenant, it is the norm. So when He says, “all flesh,” He means without distinction. The Holy Spirit is not just going to fall on every human being, no matter their desire or lack thereof for God, but rather anyone who wants more can have more!
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12).
This would be the correct understanding of Paul in Galatians.
So in Messiah Yeshua Jesus you are all children of God through faith … There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. (Gal. 3:26, 28).
He is not saying there are no longer distinctions between Jew and Gentile (Rom. 11:29) any more than he is saying men and women have no distinctions. He is saying that despite those distinctions, nothing can hold you back from the Spirit of God. No one can tell you, “You can’t prophesy, because you are a woman,” or “You can’t be used of God, because you are a slave,” or “You cannot be as close to the Father as Jewish believers.”
God used a one-eyed, black man to birth the Azusa Street Revival in 1906. He had to overcome all kinds of racism. Forced to sit outside of the door of a bible school, he studied for ministry. White men told him he could not study the word in the classroom because He was black. Instead of getting bitter, he pursued God; and God used him to change the world.
Yes, there needs to be order. I believe in submission to authority. And I believe we all have different roles, functions and gifts. But nothing and no one can hold you back from experiencing God. When it comes to our gifts and callings, God chooses. But when it comes to intimacy with Yeshua through the Holy Spirit, there are no limits!
When Joel says that God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, he means that any human who wants the Spirit can have the Spirit. In fact, it is God’s great desire to give you more.
Peter, in many ways, was Yeshua’s most difficult leadership training project—but also the most important. The New Testament reader may scratch his head a few times, on his way to the book of Acts, wondering, “Really? This guy?” And, still, he gets a cool nickname—Rock, (Matt. 16:18). The original Rock, by the way, in case Dwayne Johnson is reading!
But his real undoing comes just before Yeshua dies. This is the same bold Peter who:
- Wanted to build tabernacles for Moses and Elijah (not recognizing that they pale in comparison to God’s beloved Son!).
- Walked on water before falling in.
- Who would hours later cut off someone’s ear.
- Who rebuked Yeshua for saying He would soon die and gets rebuked right back.
Not me, Lord!
Yes, this same Peter is now sitting around the Passover table with Yeshua and the disciples, when Yeshua shocks them by saying, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (Matt. 26:21). Later in the meal, Yeshua tells them something even more difficult. “You will all fall away because of me this night.” (Matt. 26:31).
And then this famous exchange:
Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Yeshua said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Matt. 26:33-35).
Wow! Willing to die with Him. And then…later, on that evening, Yeshua is arrested. The disciples are stunned! They are in the Garden of Gethsemane praying…or at least Yeshua was praying…when Judas shows up, “with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.” (Matt. 26:47). They take him away.
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Yeshua the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Yeshua of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” (Matt. 26:69-74).
He, our bold father in the faith, didn’t just deny him; he called down curses on himself! And then, Peter has a moment just like when Nathan the prophet pointed his prophetic finger at the murdering, adulterer King David, and said, “Thou art the man!” (2 Sam. 12).
And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Yeshua, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matt. 26:74-75).
Peter the bold was broken. The most radical disciple was ruined—the most courageous of them all was crushed. The Messiah was arrested, and in a few hours, crucified and dead. The humiliated Simon hunkered down in the upper room—all had been lost.
Now we know from John that a fire had been started:
Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:18).
And that before Peter denied knowing Yeshua, he went to warm himself by this very fire. I’ll come back to this.
Looked like the end for Peter
The Lord has His work cut out for him in terms of rebuilding the ruined Rock. Peter was guilt-ridden. Much like Joseph felt in jail all those years after thinking that God showed him he would be a great leader—or like David, after being anointed to be king, slaying the giant and leading the armies of Israel—suddenly finding himself being chased by a demon-possessed King for next decade or more—Peter, who had planned to be a general in Yeshua’s revolution, must have felt so foolish and presumptuous.
But then the Angel appears to Mariam Hamagdalit and tells her,
“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7).
How encouraging. He singles out the denier, as if to say, I still have a plan for you, Peter.
Going Ahead of you into Galilee
Then a few weeks later, back in the Galilee, the guys go fishing. Yeshua has revealed himself to the disciples twice but they have no real direction. Peter and Yeshua still have some unfinished business. At the end of a long night of fruitless fishing, they are on their way back, when a man calls out…
“Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”
These were grown men and He calls them children. That should have been the first clue. Next, he asks them to cast on the other side. How could they not remember that first calling of the disciples in Luke 5, where He had them cast on the other side and they were overwhelmed by the number of fish?
But, it seems, they still were dull. However, once they saw the number of fish, John turns to Peter and said, “It’s the Lord.” Bold Peter, jumps out of the boat and runs through the water to get to Yeshua. Who knew when He would appear again?
Now it gets real!
When Peter gets to shore, he sees a familiar, painful site: a charcoal fire.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” (John 21:9-10).
Yes, it was next to a charcoal fire that the Rock denied the Lord. He called down curses. It was time for a little internal surgery. After the meal, Yeshua asks Peter three times if he loves Him. The only place in the New Testament that this term “charcoal fire” is used is in John 18 and 21—the first, the place of the denial, and the second, this place of healing.
Yeshua starts by calling him Simon and not Peter (or Rock). It would seem silly to call him Rock after such an astonishing failure. First, it was time to get serious. Much has been made by the changing of the Greek word for love there, and clearly there is something to that—but my focus here is that next to the charcoal fire of denial, He is restored to be the Lord’s first evangelist.
Three denials and three times Yeshua asks him, “Do you love me?” Then, He presses him hard, until, finally, Peter seems to respond sharply saying, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” (John 21:17). Okay. Yeshua follows with, “Then feed my sheep.” And He begins to tell Peter that He is going to become a martyr for the faith. In other words, He is saying…
Peter, this is not about sitting at my right hand or my left…this is not about you being a big shot…this is life and death. It is about spreading the gospel and watching over my sheep. If you accept this calling, you will indeed die for me, as you proclaimed you would on Passover.
It is not about titles or position, it is about self-denial and sacrifice.
When they counted the fish, there were 153 fish in the net. Did you know that the New Testament shows Yeshua leading 153 people to the Kingdom in all four Gospels? In other words, you guys are still my fishers of men. It was a prophetic sign regarding what would happen in just a few days.
On the Jewish Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost), Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, healed emotionally, knowing who He is in Yeshua, gives his first sermon…
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. (Acts 2:14-16).
The rest is history my friends…
Application: What horrible thing have you done that you think disqualifies you from being used of God? Peter had to learn humility, God had to humble him, because he could not see the need to humble himself. It is always better to humble ourselves, but if we don’t, God, out of His loving desire to mold us into the image of Yeshua, will humble us. It is His love, not His anger.
Hey, friend: God is not done with you.
Friday at Tiferet Yeshua (our Tel Aviv-based congregation), we were blessed to have a group from China, Korea and Japan with us. As we brought them forward to pray for them, Ariel Blumenthal, co-pastor of our Jerusalem congregation, mentioned something about the gospel coming to the Gentiles, first through Cornelius in Caesarea. I sensed the Lord begin to speak to me.
It started in Tel Aviv
You see the Gospel first hit the Gentiles in Caesarea, but it came from Tel Aviv. You may be thinking, “Tel Aviv is only 110 years old.” Well, technically, our city is known as Tel Aviv-Yafo (Jaffa). It began as a suburb of Jaffa, and the New Testament reports a great revival here.
Peter was in Lydda, where Ben Gurion airport is today. He met a paralyzed man named Aeneas. Peter prayed for him and he was healed. From that moment, a Jewish revival broke out in what today is the greater Tel Aviv region.
“All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 9:35)
We know it was a Jewish revival because the disciples did not yet preach to Gentiles.
Peter was then summoned to Jaffa/Yafo because a dear woman, Tabitha had died suddenly. Peter came and raised her from the dead and the revival deepened within the Tel Aviv area.
“This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.” (Acts 9:42-43)
In short, he had a vision in which God told him to eat unclean animals. He refused, as he knew it was forbidden in the Torah for a Jew to eat such animals. He was told, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
Not about Pork Chops
The vision had nothing to do with food. And Peter knew that, hence, he “was wondering about the meaning of the vision,” when he came out of the trance. Later, he tells us the meaning; “But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)
Meanwhile, God visited Cornelius the Gentile in Caesarea and told him to send for a man named Peter in Joppa. As the men from Cornelius arrived, the Holy Spirit tells Peter, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” (Acts 10:19-20)
Jews didn’t Host Non-Jews!
You have to understand—Peter had never been in the home of a Gentile and had never hosted a Gentile. Peter invited these men into Simon’s house to be his guests. My speculation is that Simon may have had a mini-stroke. No Gentile had ever been in his home—certainly not by invitation. This went against Pharisaical law. But you see, Peter had just raised Tabitha from the dead. I am convinced that one of the reasons that God raised her up through Peter’s word, was to give him the credibility to oversee the massive earthquake in Jew/Gentile relations.
We don’t know what Simon the Tanner or the others who found out said—but it would have been hard to tell a guy who just raised one of your most beloved citizens from the dead, that God would forbid hosting the Gentiles. Peter had serious street cred!
The Trip that Changed the World
The next day, Peter went to Caesarea with these men. A day before, he never would have entered their home, but now he says:
“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.” (Acts 10:28-29)
As Peter shared the Gospel, God did something else to convince the Jews that Gentiles too, could find salvation in Yeshua.
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The [Jewish] believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”(Acts 10:44-46)
The Jewish believers were stunned that the Gentiles were praying in tongues. And then Peter proclaims something that today would not be controversial at all—but then, it was considered heresy under their false understanding of God’s plan.
“’Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Yeshua the Messiah.” (Acts 10:47-48)
Today it is controversial for a Jew to be immersed in water—but no one would blink an eye at a non-Jews receiving water baptism. How things have changed.
Prophetic word for Tel Aviv
From Caesarea, a Roman Gentile city, the Gospel went around the world. But now we are entering the end of “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) or what Paul calls, “the fullness of the Gentiles.” I believe that two things indicated this.
- The Gospel has nearly touched every nation
- Jerusalem is back in Jewish hands, under Israeli sovereignty (June 1967)
Now we are starting to see the beginnings of the Jewish revival in the last days before the return of Yeshua. It began in earnest with the Jesus Revolution in 1967, just as Jerusalem was restored. And with Israel’s 70th anniversary, the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem and the moving of the U.S. Embassy, things are speeding up in the spirit.
Blessing from “Caesar”
As those Asians where standing in our congregation, I sensed the Lord remind me, what happened in Caesarea (which symbolizes the Gentile world) began as revival in Yafo, which is now Tel Aviv-Yafo. Through Caesarea, the Gospel bore fruit among the nations. We have longed believe, there was more than one meaning to Acts. 1:11.
“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Yes, of course it means that He went up and will come down on a white horse (Rev. 19:11) to the same place, the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:3-4). But it also means that even as it began with a Jewish revival that spread to the nations, Yeshua will return to a Jewish awakening that has come from the nations back to Israel. Yes! The Gentiles will play a major role in prayer, love and outreach.
Again I ask: Did [Israel] stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. (Rom. 11:11)
It was through Tel Aviv (Peter at Simon the Tanners house) that the Gospel made its way out to the nations (Caesarea) and it will be through Tel Aviv that Gospel will make its way back into Israel. Jerusalem will always be the high mountain where God’s name resides, but the Greater Tel Aviv region, home to the largest concentration of Jewish people in the world—3.5 million—will receive a massive revival, according to the Acts pattern. This lines up with what Romans 11:25 and 26 teach—that after the” fullness of the Gentiles,” “all Israel will be saved.”
We asked one of the Asian leaders to pray for revival in Tel Aviv and he did with great passion.
Or at least, that is what I sensed the Lord saying.
Will you pray for Tel Aviv?