We are exploring the four things any disciple did when following a rabbi in the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
1. Memorized his words
2. Adopted his tradition concerning Scripture
3. Imitated his model
4. Multiplied his teaching in others
We have already discussed the importance of Scripture memory. The natural extension of this is to discuss how a rabbi’s tradition impacted a disciple’s understanding of the Scriptures. In this important discussion of traditions, we want to ask you to rethink what you have been taught about interpreting and applying the teaching of the Bible.
In the time of Jesus, taking the yoke of the rabbi reflected a disciple’s willing submission and adherence to his rabbi’s interpretation and application of the Old Testament Scriptures. In the Gospels accounts we are introduced to the phrase “traditions of men.” Identifying the rabbi a disciple followed was easy. Disciples did not teach their own personal interpretation of Scripture. They taught their rabbi’s interpretation. This was true for the disciples of Hillel, Shammai, Gamaliel, and all the other rabbis of the 1st Century. It was also true of the disciples that followed Yeshua of Nazareth.
Take My Yoke Upon You
The Church was birthed on Shavuot (Pentecost), fifty days after Jesus was placed in the grave that could not hold Him. Ten days before Shavuot, Yeshua had ascended into heaven vowing to return. Until that day, His disciples were tasked with teaching His interpretation and application of Scripture all around the world, starting in Jerusalem.
Within a couple of decades, Paul arrived in Corinth. What did he find? Believers in Jesus who should have been united in His yoke all jockeying for personal position based on who they thought to be most prestigious teacher. In Corinth, the unity of disciples submitted to the yoke of Messiah Jesus was nowhere to be found.
“Each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he, or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name” – 1 Corinthians 1:12-15.
Jesus taught His first disciples His interpretation of Scripture. His disciples took His yoke upon themselves and learned how to pass it on to others. They did not have His permission to spin their own interpretations from Scripture anymore than did the disciples of Hillel or Shemai.
This leads us to important questions. Was there an expectation of the Messiah to come among some of the Jews of Jesus’ time? Did Jesus confirm that expectation in His own teaching among His disciples?
When Yeshua stepped into the Jordan River, asking Yochanan the Immerser to baptize Him, John knew who Jesus was. He had been looking for Him, as had others among the Remnant of Israel. The Remnant of Israel interpreted the Scriptures in the way God intended, on a consistently literal basis. Because of their approach to the Bible, the followers of John the Baptist had previously made a promise to follow the one John would identify as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” They knew He would come, because of their own rock-solid belief in the Messianic Hope spoken of in the Old Testament.
Wouldn’t you have loved to have been with Andrew and the other disciple (John) when Jesus stopped for the night after Yochanan’s identification of Jesus as Messiah? On the very next day, they met Philip who found Nethanael. Phillip proclaimed “We have found Him of whom Moses and also the Prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” – John 1:45. Luke at Luke 24:13-53. After Jesus rose from the dead, during the forty days preceding Shavuot, Yeshua explained that His presence and ministry among them was the literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies from Genesis to Malachi.
“Now He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” – Luke 24:44-48.
What then were the “traditions” Messiah’s disciples taught after Pentecost (Acts 2)? The Apostle John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John’s traditions, and those of all of Jesus’ other disciples, were the interpretations of the Old Testament received directly from their Rabbi.
Where did Messiah’s teaching come from? Jesus never said or did anything that He did not get directly from His Father. For a little exercise compare Isaiah 50:4 with John 14:7-10.
Let’s stop and think about the implications of what Paul found in Corinth against the backdrop of our own time. Nothing has really changed. Two thousand years removed from Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, His Bride (the Church) is more fractured and splintered than ever. At a time when our common witness in the world could be the most effective, believers are more likely to quote any number of supposed spiritual authorities rather than the words of our Rabbi Jesus.
For the grand finale of this edition, here is the big SO WHAT? As a follower of Jesus today, whose yoke are you carrying around? Whose interpretation of Scripture do you quote?
John Nelson Darby
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” – Matthew 11:27-29.