They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Before the Rooster Crows

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” –  Luke 22:34

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.”  – Luke 22:60

Read also: Matthew 26:34, 74-75; Mark 14:30, 66-68; Luke 22:34, 60-68; John13:38 and John 18:27

Peter's denialHere is an interesting piece of information that I learned from my rabbi recently while studying the story of the crucifixion. It doesn’t change the story in any way and is a fact that can’t be confirmed with certainty, but it is something fun to think about. However, it does point out again, as we have seen so many times, that we have a hard time understanding some of the sayings of Jesus because we didn’t live in that time period and don’t know the idioms they used or what the original wording might have meant.

All four gospels tell the story of Peter denying Jesus during His arrest and trial. Immediately after the third denial, Peter hears a rooster crow. Was there a rooster in the area where the trial took place in upper Jerusalem that crowed at that moment or was it something else? Or, did we miss something? Let’s take a look.

First of all, according to the Mishna (Baba Kamma vii7) poultry were forbidden in Jerusalem, ”on account of the holy things”, or “on account of the sanctuary”.

“No cocks or hens must be raised in Jerusalem (even by laymen), because of the voluntary offerings (the meat of which may be eaten in any part of the city, and as the habit of the named fowls is to peck with their beaks in the rubbish, they may peck into a dead reptile and then peck in the meat of the offerings). In all other parts of Palestine priests only must not raise them, as they use leave-offerings for their meals, and they must be very careful about cleanliness.”

The fear was because they are such a messy animal, their presence might defile some of the holy items used in the sacrifices that were to be eaten. Could this be possible that it wasn’t a rooster? We’ve all seen and heard the rooster crowing in plays and on the movie programs!

If it wasn’t a rooster, what was it? The answer lies in the division of the night watches during Jesus’ time. The Romans divided each day into three hour blocks and the night blocks were called watches (see also study Bible notes on Matthew 14:25). The first night watch began at 6:00 p.m. and lasted until 9:00 p.m. The second watch ended at midnight, the third at 3:00 a.m., and the 4th at 6:00 a.m. or sunrise. Jesus seems to confirm this when He tells the disciples in an earlier story in Mark 13:35 of these same four divisions:

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. –Mark  13:35

Notice that Jesus call the  3rd watch, “the rooster crows”, and makes a distinction between rooster crowing and dawn.

Cornu

The Romans used the tuba, the cornu (pictured), and the bucina to sound reveille (cock-crow)

The signal the Roman divisions used to change the guard for each shift was a trumpet call. The Latin word for trumpet call (the language spoken by the soldiers) is “gullicinium”, which means, “cock-crowing”. At the end of the 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. shifts, the guard change was announced by a Roman “cock-crowing” or blowing of a trumpet. What Peter heard probably wasn’t an actual rooster crowing, but the end of the watch trumpet call! Jesus used that same phrase to describe it.

Although this knowledge doesn’t change the intent or outcome of the Peter story, it is just interesting to see that there are often things from the time period that we may not have understood clearly and therefore get missed in the translation.

A Different Perspective on Psalm 23

The Good ShepherdThe 23rd Psalm, often called the Shepherd Psalm, is arguably the most loved and memorized pieces of all the Scriptures; almost everyone can recite most or all of its reassuring lines. As familiar as we are with its words, is it possible that we could have missed an important part of what the psalmist David was trying to say? After the opening verses where David declares the Lord is his shepherd, David then makes another series of statements that we might have misinterpreted.

Psalm 23:3 is usually translated, “He restores my soul.” In our English tradition, we have taken that phrase to mean that God lifted us from our depression, or he helped us recover a sense of joy and purpose or worth. But was this what David was saying? The original Hebrew words which are translated, “He restores my soul”, are “nafshi yeshobeb.” Nafshi is from the word, ”nephesh” (Strong’s 5315) and means, “myself / soul / person / life.” The second word, “yeshobeb” is an intensive form of ”shub” (Strong’s 7725), the great Hebrew word for repentance (to turn back, to return).

Ga 10,22-30 c

Instead of using the cross, early Christian artists most often depicted Jesus carrying an oversized (indicating a burden) sheep on His shoulders.

From the translation of these two Hebrew words, Psalm 23:3 could easily be translated, “He brings me back” or “He causes me to repent”, instead of, “He restores my soul.” This really makes sense when you realize that David might have been reflecting on his personal journey of faith. David could have been saying, as do many other Old Testament Passages, that God came after him and brought him back. It is the picture of a good shepherd who goes after a lost sheep and brings it back to a safe place. Middle Eastern translations of these verses have always said, ”He brings me back”, and even the Wycliffe translation says, “He converted my soul and he put me on the right path.”

Could this be the correct interpretation? The phrase in the 23rd Psalm that immediately follows, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness”, adds credence to this idea. The assumption from the story is that the Psalmist was wandering in the paths of unrighteousness when God rescued him. God found him in his lost condition and on the wrong path and picked him up on his shoulders and carried him back to the right path. The good shepherd caused him to repent and return (shub).

Could the 23rd Psalm be a story of a lost sheep who God rescues and brings back to the right path? Re-read Psalm 23 reprinted below with this idea in mind and see if it doesn’t bring a fresh and deeper meaning to these words that we know so well. Also, this interpretation wonderfully carries the thread of redemption to yet another place in Scripture. God is the good shepherd and always has His eye on His sheep and will do anything to bring them back to His fold. This is another example of how knowing and understanding the Hebrew language and culture adds another and deeper dimension to our English translations.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
– Psalm 23 (KJV)

A Double Portion of the Spirit

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
— 2 Kings 2:9-10

Elisha and ElijahWhile studying the stories about Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings and reading some rabbinic commentaries on their lives, I came across an interesting thought concerning these two great prophets.

In the Jewish mind, the consummate idea of discipleship is found in these two men. According to the biblical account, Elijah came to the village where Elisha lived and found him plowing his field (1 Kings 19:21). Throwing his cloak over Elisha, Elijah recruited him to become his m’sharet or assistant (see also M’sharet-God’s Assistant). Elisha faithfully followed Elijah until the time came for Elijah to pass the mantle of God’s prophet onto Elisha, his successor. In 2 Kings 2:9-10, before Elijah was taken up to heaven, Elisha asked him if he could have a double portion of His Spirit. Elijah answered that he had asked for a difficult thing, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours, otherwise not.”

We know from the next verses that Elisha did see Elijah as he was taken up to heaven and that God authenticated Elisha’s succession to Elijah’s ministry by giving him the same divine powers that had accompanied Elijah’s ministry. But, did Elisha receive a double portion of his spirit?

There are seven miracles attributed to Elijah in 1 and 2 Kings (some scholars count more because they count prophecy as a miracle). When Elisha comes to the end of his life in 2 Kings 13:20, he has had thirteen miracles recorded in scripture (again, more can be counted). The fourteenth miracle of Elisha occurs in a bizarre story after his death, when a dead body touches Elisha’s bones and and the dead body is brought back to life (2 Kings 13:21-22). Elisha did receive a double portion of the spirit of Elijah! Was this a coincidence or did the Hebrew writers pen it that way so that the digging student of the text would pick up the connection? It ‘s a fascinating thought and would be just like God and the Eastern mindset to deposit that nugget in scripture.

Note: If you Google “Miracles of Elijah and Elisha”, you will find the miracles of each man that are recorded in scripture. Depending on what you consider a miracle (prophecy, etc.), you can get up to 16 miracles for Elijah and 32 for Elisha. I read another commentary that had 8 for Elijah and 16 for Elisha, but 7 and 14 was the most common figure. The fact that Elisha’s miracles exactly double Elijah is just a neat way of saying through the text that God gave Elisha a double portion of His spirit.

Two Sons of God?

Caesar Augustus
There were several events that took place in the Roman world right before the time of Jesus that added an interesting twist to the the Bible Ascension story. There was another person on the world stage that was purported to have also ascended to heaven and was sitting at the right hand of God. This is a fascinating story when placed against the backdrop of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Let’s take a brief look at the scenario that played out in Rome just before and during the time of Jesus coming to earth.

Julius Caesar was the first of the Caesar family to be in charge of Rome. Rome began as a republic, which meant that all it leaders were to be in office only for a specified period of time. Julius’s army won a great victory over the Gauls and was celebrated back home as a hero. On arriving back at Rome, Julius marched his troops directly into the city to show the power of his command. This display of military might was forbidden in Rome’s constitution. Because Julius was such a powerful leader, many citizens, along with a large group of influential people began pushing to have Julius made the permanent emperor of Rome. An opposition group, led by Brutus and Cassius, felt this would be the down fall of Rome. You know the story, they assassinated Julius, fled the city, and assembled an army in the East to fight for the republic. Mark Anthony and Octavion, Julius’s son, also gathered and army and went to avenge the death of Julius. The two armies met on the Plain of Drama near the ancient city of Philippi and Brutus and Cassius were defeated and committed suicide. Approximately ten years later, Octavion and Mark Anthony battled each other for the sole ruler of Rome. At the battle of Actium, Anthony and his cohort, Cleopatra, lost to Octavion and were also compelled to commit suicide. Now, Octavion was the sole survivor for the throne. He immediately declared himself the next Caesar and then made a declaration that was even more sinister. Octavion declared that his father Julius was a god and that at his death he had been taken back to heaven to sit at the right hand of Zeus, the supreme god. To prove this, he noted that a bright comet had appeared in the sky during Julius’ funeral procession and that this was a sign that that Julius was being taken back up to heaven to take his immortalized place among the other gods. If Julius was indeed a god and was in fact in heaven seated at the right hand of Zeus, then the logical conclusion was that Octavion was the, ”son of god”! Octavion declared that his father had put him in charge on earth and that he was now also a divine ruler as the son of god. He changed his name to Caesar Augustus, “the exalted or supreme one.” He had statues of himself erected all over Rome with inscriptions on them such as, “Son of God”, “Savior of the World”, “Worshiped Son of the Worshiped God,” and “Son of the Divine Caesar.”

Do you see the problem in Luke? Luke 2:1 says, “In the days of Caesar Augustus, Jesus was born”! On the scene at the same time in history are two men who claim to be the Son of God and both claim to have been give all authority in heaven and earth by their father (Matthew 28:18)! When Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 8:6 that there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, He is not just making an idle statement about Jesus. He is directly challenging the authority of Caesar and claiming that Jesus is the one and only King of Kings and Lord of Lords (see 1 Timothy 6:15). Knowing history makes the Text so much richer and make it come alive. Jesus is Lord! Not Caesar!

Are You the Coming One?

The Beheading of St John the Baptist

The Beheading of St John the Baptist

I have always been a little troubled by the story of John the Baptizer in Luke 7 where he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the coming one or should we expect someone else?” What happened to John the Baptist? Was John now doubting that Jesus was the Messiah? A little research into history and the culture of the day made me realize there was more to the story than a casual reading of the Text would suggest. Perhaps John’s question was more complex than it seemed on the surface.

First of all, we need to establish a little background. The Luke narrative doesn’t say it, but John the Baptist was in prison at the time of this story (Matthew ll:2). We also need to read Mark 6:17-20 to understand why John was put into prison. Herod Antipas had put him in prison for publicly criticizing the fact that Antipas married his brother Philip’s wife. Because John was in prison, he had to send two of his disciples to ask Jesus a question that was troubling him. Did John the Baptist lose his faith? Had this fiery, passionate desert man lost his fire? Does he think that he has made a big mistake in promoting this man, Jesus? Or is there more to the story?

I’m going to contend that John did not lose his faith; how could he? He had seen heaven literally ripped open and God’s spirit descending on Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:10). He had heard God’s voice speaking from the heavens saying, “This is my Son, whom I love, I am well pleased with Him.” He baptized Jesus (Matthew 3:14) to fulfill Scripture. In John 1:24-34, John had publicly declared about Jesus, ”This is the Son of God.” Could this question then of Jesus being the “coming one” be more complex?

Could the “one to come” and the Messiah possibly be two separate figures in John’s theology? We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essene community was looking for two Messiahs. One was to be a prophet / priest and the other was to be a warrior / king. Together these two figures would come and rescue the Israelites, set up a new priesthood, and establish a new kingdom on the earth. Also, there were several different schools of thought at that time as to what the promised Messiah or Messiahs might look like and what they would have to do to usher in the new kingdom. John had definitely gravitated to the fire and brimstone and day of judgment theology. He read Malachi 4:1-5, and knew that he was the Elijah of verse five that would usher in that dreadful day of the Lord (John was told that he was like Elijah from birth; see Luke 1:17 and read The Kingdom of Heaven if Forcefully Advancing).  John quoted the Isaiah passages where the mountains and hills would be made low and he told the people that the ax was at the root of the tree and that the winnowing fork was in the Messiah’s hand. John got the part about the warrior king and fire and judgment, but he wasn’t seeing or hearing about any of this kind of activity from Jesus. All he was hearing about Jesus was the Zechariah 9:9 Messiah that was meek and lowly and a servant. If the coming one was going to do the things John was thinking, there was going to have to be more fireworks, more war-like actions on the Messiah’s part. John could have been saying, “I know you are the Messiah, but are you the Coming One? If you are the Coming One, why am I still in jail? Why can’t you bust me out of here, I am one of your right hand men in the coming kingdom? When are you going to start the judgment part?”

Look at how Jesus answers John by re-reading Luke 7:22-23. Jesus quoted prophetical scriptures from Isaiah (Isaiah 35:5-6, Isaiah 61:1-2) that tell what the Messiah will do; such as healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and even raising the dead. Notice, however, Jesus purposely leaves out the part where the Messiah will set the captives free. Jesus was saying to John – in code through the Old Testament Text – “John, your end times charts are off. It won’t be with fire and judgment this time; that will be later. And no, you are not getting out of jail. There’s no military might this time, it will be me coming to die as a servant.” Then Jesus turned to the crowd and begin to brag on John and told them there was no greater man born of woman than John and that he was the Elijah that would prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 7:24-28 and Matthew 11:14).

In summary, John the Baptist didn’t lose his faith or doubt that the person that he had earlier baptized in the Jordan was the Messiah and the Son of God. He was just confused about how all this was going to take place, because it didn’t look like the fire and judgment part was coming to pass like he thought, especially since he was now in prison. John was not going to see the results or fruit of what he had tried to do, but he was as great as any person in Scripture because everything he did pointed to Jesus as the Messiah.

The Resurrected Dead

Signorelli_Resurrection-pano

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
– Matthew 27:51-53

A scripture we normally read over fairly quickly is the above passage in Matthew 27. The main reason we do not spend a lot of time on this story, incidentally only found in Matthew, is because of the part in verses 52 and 53 where tombs are broken open and dead people come to life. Since that is something we have never witnessed or heard of happening, it causes us some problems in trying to explain what and how this might have occurred. One amazing fact that we often overlook because of the quick read, is the fact that these resurrected people only appeared after Jesus’ resurrection, three days later! Only after Jesus’ resurrection did these holy people go into Jerusalem and witness to people. Where did they go for three days and is the fact that they appeared only after the resurrection significant?

The answer to this question is a resounding, “Yes”! These people were the first fruits offered to God of eternal life for the believer. Jesus himself was raised on the day the the Jews celebrated the Feast of First Fruits (see Exodus 23:14-19). The Feast of First Fruits had, at its center, the idea that you gave to God the very first harvest of your crops as a way of saying, “I trust you to provide and protect the rest of the crop to me at a later date when the full crop is ready to harvest.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (also read the next two verses, 1 Corinthians 15:21-23). Christ was the guarantee of the resurrection of all God’s saved and redeemed people and these first holy people were resurrected as the first fruits of that promise of eternal life. We have this promise in Scripture that God resurrected these people and will also give us that same resurrection from the dead.

Another interesting piece of information is that every major city in the Roman world had three parts. As you approached the city you first came to the graveyard, called the necropolis. Next was the city itself, called the polis, and finally came the acropolis, the high place that was fortified to withstand assault. Now, read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and picture in your mind Christ returning and picking up the dead in Christ – first on the outskirts of the city and then coming in to the city and picking up the living and taking them up to meet with him on the high place in the clouds. What an exciting picture of the hope that we have in Christ and a great thought for the upcoming Easter Sunday!