The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, His Names, the Purpose of the Torah and the Sabbath

Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (April 2013)

At present we are experiencing a widespread resurgence of the Judaising of the Christian faith, reminiscent of first century conditions as described in Acts 15 and the epistle to the Galatians. This theological approach comprises a merging of Old and New Testament tenets, and is commonly referred to as Christian Judaism or the Hebrew Roots Movement.

The driving force of this movement is a concerted effort to emphasise the Jewishness of Jesus: not only culturally and linguistically but also in a religious context as a Torah keeping and Sabbath observing rabbi. Their extreme bias is evident from the fact that they:

·        depict Jesus as the Son of His earthly father in Israel rather than the Son of His heavenly Father;

·        reflect on the Jewish context of His ministry at the cost of His worldwide ministry;

·        give preference to Hebrew forms of His names above their Grecised versions;

·        replace the Christian Sunday with the Jewish Sabbath; and

·        assign crucial significance to the Torah in the New Testament dispensation of grace.

In the process they completely misapprehend the true nature of the gospel.

This movement poses very real dangers to the Christian doctrine of salvation as well as the guidelines given for the everyday expression of a sanctified life, and for that reason definitive answers should be given to their unbiblical claims. This discussion should best begin at the very core of the Christian faith, i.e. the events related to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Various Hebrew Roots followers favour a resurrection of the Messiah on the Jewish Sabbath to give credence to their dogma of restricting Jesus within the bounds of an Old Testament religious context. They regard Sunday worship to be in conflict with the Torah and therefore a form of deception.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday

It is important to gain clarity about the time and circumstances of the atoning death of the Lord Jesus outside of Jerusalem on Good Friday, almost 2 000 years ago, as well as His resurrection on the first day of a new week. The historical event itself, as well as the deep spiritual significance of the crucifixion, should be clearly understood. There are different opinions about the day on which Jesus was crucified, and for that reason we will first investigate the three days of Passover from a biblical perspective.

The Lord Jesus compares His burial and resurrection from the dead with the experience of Jonah: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Jonah 1:17 reads, “And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” John Hannah (1985:1467) says, “The phrase three days and three nights need not be understood as a 72-hour period, but as one 24-hour day and parts of two other days.” Compare in this regard also Esther 4:16 and 5:1, where Esther asked for a fast of three days and three nights; but on the third day, before the end of the day, she had accomplished her purpose with the fast.

Some people have a problem with the view that Jesus was not in the grave for three full days (i.e. 72 hours), and endeavour to move the crucifixion from Friday to the preceding Wednesday. However, in the inclusive chronology of the Jews a part of a day is also reckoned as a full day. Louis Barbieri (1983:47) makes the following remarks on Matthew 12:40: “Since the Jews reckoned part of a day as a full day, the ‘three days and three nights’ could permit a Friday crucifixion.” In an addendum to the Strong’s Concordance (Harmony of the Gospels), 41 events are listed, together with Scripture references, that all occurred during the week of Christ’s crucifixion – the week commencing with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a Sunday, and ending with His crucifixion and burial on a Friday (Strong, 1990). This sequence of events proves beyond any doubt that He was crucified on a Friday.

According to the Bible, as well as other supporting sources, Jesus was crucified on Friday, early in the morning, and buried on that Friday afternoon shortly before the start of the Sabbath, while He rose early on the first day (Sunday) of the following week. The day when He was crucified (Friday) was the first day of the Passover events, Saturday (the Sabbath) was the second day, and Sunday (His resurrection) was the third day. In Jewish chronology, a period of this nature is described as “three days and three nights” or simply as “three days”. Jewish days elapse between sundown and sundown the next day. Therefore, the third day after the crucifixion already commenced on the Saturday even at dusk.

The men on their way to Emmaus confirmed these facts. The day when Jesus rose from the dead (Sunday) they were walking along the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13). Not being aware of the fact that Jesus Himself had joined them, they discussed the events related to His crucifixion early on the Friday morning, and added: “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive” (Luke 24:21-23). Sunday was, therefore, the third day after the crucifixion of Jesus, which occurred the preceding Friday.

On this Sunday afternoon, on the third day, when the men of Emmaus talked to Jesus, He had already risen from the grave several hours earlier: “On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1). After Jesus had met with the travellers to Emmaus, still on the day of His resurrection, He also appeared to His disciples (John 20:19).

Jesus was in the grave for only a part of the third day, and also for only a part of the preceding Friday. But the Jews nevertheless regard this as three days and nights, although only parts of these days constitute the entire period, and therefore do not have a problem with this way of reckoning time. The discussion of the men from Emmaus nullifies all speculation on an earlier day for the crucifixion. If Christ was crucified and buried on Wednesday (the fourth day of the week), then the following Sunday would have been the fifth day since the event took place, but these men clearly said it was “the third day”!

Jewish chronology

Since a part of a day may be regarded as a full day in a system of inclusive reckoning of time, a week (e.g. from Wednesday afternoon to the next Wednesday afternoon) may be described as eight days as both Wednesdays are counted as full days. The Feast of Tabernacles in Israel is celebrated for one week, from the 15th to the 22nd day of the seventh month: “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. ... For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation” (Lev. 23:34-36). The last day of this week, i.e. the eighth day, was the great day of the feast (cf. John 7:2, 37).

Leviticus 23 says, among others, the following on the feast of the 50th day: “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath … : seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath” (Lev. 23:15-16). These 49 days between a Sunday and a Sunday seven weeks later, are referred to as 50 days because the first and last Sundays are both counted as full days. In the New Testament, these two feasts were fulfilled during the resurrection of the Lord Jesus on a Sunday, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit seven weeks later, again on a Sunday. “Pentecost” means “Fiftieth” – that is the Feast of the Fiftieth Day.

The Old Testament feast of the first fruits was fulfilled during its proper time in the New Testament, i.e. on the Sunday on which it started and the Sunday seven weeks later when it was concluded. Note the clear directives for both feasts: “... the day after the Sabbath”. Sunday is the first day of a new week, or dispensation, in God’s divine plan for humanity. During this present dispensation, the resurrection of Jesus is spontaneously celebrated every Sunday as the Day of the Lord.

The Feast of Firstfruits in Leviticus 23 is the earliest indication in the Old Testament of a future Sunday celebration as a Christian feast. On this day we proclaim the message: “He has risen – He lives!” Jesus Himself delivered the first sermon of the new dispensation on the Sunday of His resurrection, and a week later, again on a Sunday, the second one (John 20:19-29). Thereafter, Sunday worship became an established practice. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the spiritual enduing for world evangelisation also occurred on a Sunday.

The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus on Good Friday, His resurrection three days later on a Sunday, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a Sunday, are pivotal dates on the Christian calendar. His ascension occurred on a Thursday, 40 days after His resurrection, and ten days prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (For a complete discussion on the Person and works of Jesus Christ, see Malan 2012).

The date of the crucifixion according to Daniel

Daniel 9:24-27 offers a clear prophecy on the time of the Messiah’s crucifixion. During the Babylonian exile of Israel, Daniel prophesied on the restoration of Jerusalem, and indicated that from the command to rebuild Jerusalem, a count-down of 69 year-weeks would follow until the crucifixion of the Messiah: “... from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (Dan. 9:25). The rebuilding of Jerusalem took up 7 year-weeks, followed by another 62 year-weeks until the Messiah was “cut off” by Israel and the Roman authorities (Dan. 9:26).

This prophecy is based upon prophetic years of 360 days each, in which each month has 30 days (cf. Rev. 11:2-3, in which 42 prophetic months equal exactly 1 260 days. From Gen. 7:11, 24 & 8:4 it is evident that the Flood lasted five months of 30 days each, i.e. 150 days). The reason for the use of the prophetic calendar was to ensure that despite the use of other calendars (e.g. Israel’s lunar calendar or the solar calendar of the Romans) it would still be possible to arrive at a specific date for the crucifixion.

69 year-weeks (483 prophetic years) had elapsed since the day when King Artaxerxes, on 1 Nisan 445 BC, gave Nehemiah permission to go and rebuild Jerusalem (Neh. 2:1-8), and the day of the Messiah’s crucifixion on 14 Nisan, 32 AD. Prof. J.M. Schepers of the University of Johannesburg indicated in an article (1984:7-10) that 483 prophetic years of 30 days each, represent 173 880 days. Divided by 365¼, this period equals 476,06 years on the Gregorian calendar. On this calendar, the 69 year-weeks elapsed between 23 March 445 BC and Friday 11 April 32 AD, ending on the Friday when Jesus was crucified.

The Passover

The fulfilling of the Old Testament Passover was during the crucifixion of the spotless Lamb of God who was incarnated in the fullness of time to lay down His life on our behalf. Peter referred to the priceless sacrifice of the Lamb when he said: “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Paul says, “In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7); and also: “... without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).

Because of the typological nature of the Passover, referring to the future sacrifice of the Lamb of God, it was obvious that this feast would be fulfilled during one of its future celebrations. The Lord Jesus was indeed crucified on the feast of the Passover. According to Mark 14:1-2, the Jews in fact wanted to avoid such a situation: “After two days it was the Passover ... . And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. But they said, Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people.”

But the Jews could not succeed in averting the exact fulfilment of this feast, and Jesus was crucified on Friday 14th Nisan (11 April 32). On the ninth hour of the day (3 p.m.), He died (Mark 15:34-37), on precisely the same hour when the lamb was slaughtered during the first Passover in Egypt. Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died so soon, and gave permission for His burial (Mark 15:42-45). That was done before six o’clock on the Friday evening, when the Sabbath started, on which no one was allowed to be buried (Luke 23:52-54; John 19:31).

We read the following about the day of the crucifixion in Mark: “Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, ... went in boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:42-43). John Grassmick (1983:191) comments as follows on this passage: “Jesus’ burial officially confirmed His death, an important point in early Christian preaching (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-4). The designation Preparation Day is used here as a technical name for Friday, the day before the Sabbath (Saturday) as Mark explained to his non-Jewish readers. Since no work was allowed on the Jewish Sabbath, Friday was used to prepare for it. This reference confirms that Jesus was crucified on a Friday.”

Friday (the day before the Sabbath, or the Preparation Day) and Saturday (the Sabbath) are the only two days with specific names in the Jewish week. The other days are simply numbered, e.g. the first day of the week (Sunday), the second day (Monday), etc. Should a religious feast such as Passover (the 14th day of Nisan) be celebrated on any particular day of the week, it is celebrated like a Sabbath, but not referred to as a Sabbath; the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. Likewise we may also, on any day of the week, celebrate certain religious feasts as a Sunday, but that does not however, turn such a day into a Sunday.

The crucifixion of Jesus on the Preparation Day is clearly evident from John 19: “Therefore,   because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a solemn day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. ... But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:31-34). The Sabbath directly following upon the Preparation Day on which Christ was crucified, was described as a solemn day (NKJV) or a special Sabbath (NIV) because it was at the same time the weekly Sabbath and the important first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Luke also confirms the fact that the burial of Jesus occurred on the Preparation Day: “Then he [Joseph from Arimathea] took it [the body of Jesus] down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near” (Luke 23:53-54). The Sabbath that would start at sundown that evening was, without any doubt, the weekly Sabbath. If it was the Passover that would begin, it would mean that Jesus was crucified a day before the Passover and that this feast would then not have been fulfilled on its appointed time. He was indeed crucified on the day of the feast, the day when the sacrificial lamb was slaughtered in Egypt to mark the beginning of Israel’s exodus from slavery.

We should have an unwavering confession of Christ’s atoning death and His resurrection, regardless on which specific day they occurred. However, it is becoming more important to have specific historical points of reference for these important events, since serious theological deception is associated with alternative dates.

Fulfilment of the law

Various efforts are made to merge the old and new covenants, rather than recognising that the old covenant was fulfilled in the new one. After the coming of Christ, our dedication and service to the Lord took on a new form and character. The fulfilment of obsolete practices and rules does not allow for the perpetuation of Old Testament covenant signs such as circumcision and the Jewish Sabbath – absolutely not! The great Messianic Jewish evangelist said to his contemporaries in the first century: “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:2). An act which was strongly recommended under the old covenant was completely out of order under the new covenant.

The fact should clearly be accepted that the old covenant was replaced by a new one: “In that He says, A new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). It amounts to serious deception to try and mix law and grace, because the grace of Christ is undermined by trying to supplement it by the law. Efforts of this nature have highly detrimental consequences in peoples’ spiritual lives: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).

We “are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). As an outward sign of our salvation by grace we celebrate resurrection day every Sunday, which was the formal beginning of a new dispensation in God’s plan of salvation for humanity. He showed His love for a lost world by giving His Son to die as the atonement for our sins.

Love is the fulfilment of the entire law – that includes ceremonial as well as moral laws. According to the Strong’s Concordance (1990: Gr. 4137) the word “fulfil” means “to finish (a period or task), to accomplish, end, or conclude.” All references to the commandments of Christ in the New Testament emanate from only one basic command, and that is to have a heart filled with divine love (Matt. 22:37-39). This blessing can only be obtained by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Such a life may be described as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). He is the personification of God’s love for us.

If we are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ we will fully know His divine love which passes knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:17-19). Such a person will never revert to the elementary principles and shadowy practices of the Old Testament law because he who truly loves has fulfilled the law (Rom. 13:8-10). He is challenged to pursue the more sublime demands of God’s love such as following Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit, complete holiness, continuous prayer, evangelising the world, preaching the Word on every occasion, denying the corrupt practices of the depraved world, and engaging in spiritual warfare by putting on the full armour of God and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. The Old Testament law does not even come close to commanding or fostering these Christian virtues.

We are not convicted of sin by the Torah but by the Holy Spirit who is our guide and teacher. The standard against which we are measured is not the law but the sinless life of Christ. The ways in which we give expression to His law of love determines the nature of our spiritual life. We only observe the singular command of love, although it has many different applications. Jesus said to His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). A changed heart is needed to live up to this challenge, and that is exactly what the Holy Spirit wants to do for us (Rom. 5:5).

In a similar way, we study Old Testament feasts to better understand how we should devote ourselves to God and better serve Christ on a daily basis. This is done without reverting to the actual celebration of the feasts described in Leviticus 23. We focus on their typological and prophetic nature and then probe the New Testament to see how the first four feasts were fulfilled, and also to determine how the last three will be fulfilled. Although new aspects of God’s plan for humanity are revealed, certain principles as well as His basic programme remain unchanged.

Unfortunately, there is a rapidly growing movement among certain Christians in the world to become more legalistic in the practising of their faith. Consequently, Torah observance, which also includes honouring and keeping the Jewish Sabbath, is pursued. The Messianic Jew, Victor Buksbazen (1954:61-62), emphasises the fact that circumcision and the Sabbath have only been imposed upon Judaism:

“The Sabbath is deeply imbedded in the heart of Judaism, a pivotal point of Jewish life. Sabbath and circumcision are two distinguishing marks of Judaism. None can be thought of as a truly religious Jew in the rabbinical sense unless he observes both. Sabbath means rest. It is pre-eminently and distinctly a Jewish holiday, given by God to the children of Israel through His servant Moses on the Mount of Sinai. ... The Sabbath is exclusively Israel’s heritage, given under the law to the people of the law. The observance of the Sabbath as originally ordained by God presupposes the existence of a holy temple, a God-appointed priesthood, and a sacrificial system (cf. Num. 28:9-10). As things stand today, a Jew cannot observe the Sabbath in its Scriptural setting, because the essential conditions for such observances are absent. What the Jews of today try to observe is the rabbinical version of the Sabbath. But this much changed Sabbath is even more impossible of strict observance.”

In the early church there was a fierce struggle against the Judaisers who believed that in order for a Gentile to become a Christian he first had to become a Jew and conform to all the demands of the law. However, the main group understood that believers were under no such obligation to the law. On a special meeting of apostles in Jerusalem it was ruled that Gentile believers were not under the law (Acts 15:1-29). Guidelines for proper moral behaviour were given but no mention whatsoever was made of the Torah and the Sabbath.

Buksbazen (1954:72) offers the following comparison between the Sabbath of the Jews and Sunday observance of Christians:

The Jewish Sabbath

The Christian Sunday

The Sabbath or the seventh day of the week commemorates a complete physical creation – Gen. 2:1-3.

The first day of the week is the day of resurrection and signifies a completed redemption – Matt. 28:1-6.

The Sabbath is a covenant sign between God and His people Israel: “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Ex. 31:13).

The first day of the week signifies the fellowship between the church and her Lord: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7).

The Sabbath observance was commanded by the law. The punishment for non-compliance was death (Ex. 31:14).

Sunday is a day of voluntary, spontaneous worship without any commandment – a day of witness and labour for the Lord.

The Sabbath is an essential part of the covenant of works.

Sunday is representative of the covenant of grace.

The Sabbath is the crowning day of the week which rewards man for his toil.

Sunday emphasises what God has done for man through His only begotten Son.

In Jesus Christ we have entered the rest of the Lord, thus explaining the fulfilled meaning of the Old Testament Sabbath. (For more information of the seven feasts of Leviticus 23, see Malan 2013).

The translation of biblical names

One of the implications of reverting to the Old Testament law is the introduction of the exclusive use of Hebrew names for the Lord Jesus and His Father. A movement back to these names coincide with a determined effort to Judaise the Christian faith by deriving its roots from Jewish culture. The Sacred Name Movement therefore ties up with the Hebrew Roots Movement.

The arguments of this movement are based mainly upon ignorance and false suppositions. Some of them even go so far as to contend that Greek names for God and Jesus Christ, which have been used in virtually all Bible translations, refer to idols. It is, for instance, alleged that Jesus is derived from Je-Zeus, which means Son of Zeus (a well-known pagan god in Greek mythology). In order to clarify this controversy we need to investigate the use of different languages in biblical times.

During the Assyrian and subsequent Babylonian captivity of Israel, and also during the ensuing period, most Jews had lost their knowledge of Hebrew. They started using Aramaic and Greek as colloquial languages. Aramaic was the lingua franca in the entire Middle East, being used by many different peoples. It was a mixture of Syrian and Hebrew. The biblical name for Syria is “Aram”. During the time of Jesus, Aramaic was the common language in Israel. Jesus and His disciples spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. Knowledge of Hebrew was confined to educated Jews, e.g. the rabbis and the scribes.

Jesus Christ was referred to in Aramaic as Eashoa Msheekha, in Hebrew as Yashua (or Yeshua) Ha Mashiach, and in Greek as Iesous Christos (Iesous being pronounced as Yesous). All books of the New Testament were originally given in Greek by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21), and in these books God is rendered Theos, Lord is described as Kurios, and Jesus Christ is referred to as Iesous Christos. To allege that these are the names of idols derived from a non-Jewish culture is heretical. The Greek names for God (Theos and Kurios) had already been established for more than two centuries by then and were also generally used in Israel. They were never controversial.

The nouns God or gods can, however, be used as generic terms to refer to idols, other gods or foreign gods, depending on the context in which they are used. The devil can, for instance, be described as the god (theos) of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). The same rule also applies to Hebrew, where Elohim may both refer to God and to idols or other gods. In Exodus 20:2-3 God says: “I am the Lord (Yahweh) your God (Elohim) … . You shall have no other gods (elohim) before Me.” Both the Greek and Hebrew personal names and nouns were originally used by the Holy Spirit while inspiring the authors of the Bible, and it is wrong to allege that the Greek names are poor translations of the Hebrew names.

In the time of Jesus, Aramaic was the common language in Israel. The statement in Acts 21:40, that Paul addressed the people “in the Hebrew tongue” (KJV), should have been translated more accurately as “in the Hebrew dialect” – in this case Aramaic. The Amplified Bible and the Modern King James Version say: “… he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect.” The rendering of the NIV is as follows: “… he said to them in Aramaic.” Stanley Toussaint (1983:417) says: “When Paul was granted permission to speak to the mob, he addressed them in Aramaic, the common language of Palestinian Jews, used throughout the Middle East at that time.” Many of those were also able to speak Greek.

The Septuagint is a Greek version of the Old Testament which was translated in the third century BC in Alexandria, Egypt, for use by Greek-speaking Jews. It was widely used by Hellenistic Jews who were spread throughout the Greek empire and who gradually left off using their Hebrew language. This translation also gave many non-Jews insight into Israel’s history, culture and religious development. Septuaginta is the Latin word for 70 and refers to the 70 Jewish scholars who did the translation. For this reason it is sometimes abbreviated LXX. Other sources state that there were 72 translators – six from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Following this tradition, all the books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek. For this reason we often find expressions like: “… which is translated …” (see Matt. 1:23; Mark 5:41; 15:22; 15:34; John 1:38; 1:42; Acts 4:36; 9:36). Reference is made to certain Aramaic and Hebrew words which were translated into Greek. The authors mostly quoted from the Septuagint, and occasionally from the Hebrew or Aramaic. There is extensive evidence in the Gospels that quotations were made from the Septuagint, and not from the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.

Hebrew text contains no vowels, and was vowelised much later on. That is one of the reasons why the so-called “Bible codes” cannot work. Aramaic words are also encountered in the New Testament, such as Pharisee and Abba. Authors quoted from the Greek Septuagint, as that was the medium of instruction during the writing of the New Testament.

General consensus among scholars of the original languages is that the authors of the New Testament mainly quoted from the Septuagint. The Old Testament sections from which Romans 3:13-18 and Hebrews 1:6 quote, do not even appear in the Hebrew texts and are only found in the Septuagint. The following, among other comments by him on Hebrews 1:6, is said by Zane Hodges (1983:782): “The reference is to the Second Advent when the kingly prerogatives of the Son will be recognized with open angelic worship (cf. Ps. 97:7 where the LXX rendering ‘angels’ correctly renders the text).”

In light of these facts it is not possible that the sacred names should only be used in Hebrew. In any case, nobody knows exactly how God’s Name should be pronounced in Hebrew. The Tetragram YHWH can, in vowelised form, be pronounced in many different ways, e.g. Yahweh, Yehowah and Yahuweh. Consensus is also lacking on how the name of Jesus should be pronounced in Hebrew – Yeshua, Yahshua or Yahushua.

Theologically we are on safe ground when using the names God, Lord, and Jesus Christ, which were derived from the Greek words. The Hebraic rendering of names and religious terminology often leads to a theological orientation where aspects of the Old Testament law and covenants with Israel are emphasised at the detriment of the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ and His work of grace in the New Testament. Whenever the church or any group of believers see themselves as Israel, theological room is made for erroneous teachings of this nature.

Our Christian identity

As believers from the non-Jewish world we should ensure that we do not confuse our identity with that of Israel, as that will give rise to a completely wrong orientation. We do have appreciation for Israel but as believers we only identify with Jesus Christ – not in His capacity as a Jew but specifically as the Son of His heavenly Father. He came to teach us the principles of the kingdom of heaven, and not the principles of Jewish culture or the demands of their earthly kingdom.

Let us consider two symbols which reflect our relationship with Christ, i.e. the vine and the olive tree. We should firmly believe and practically experience that the Lord Jesus is the Source of our life. He is the true vine into which we have been grafted, as He Himself explained to His disciples: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If we live close to Him and abide in Him, it will be beneficial for our spiritual lives and we will bear fruit which is worthy of repentance. We should not give place to any leaven of sin in our lives (1 Cor. 5:6-8) as that would disturb our relationship with the Lord Jesus.

Some people tend to forget that Christ should be the central focus of their lives, and then derive their inspiration from a secondary spiritual source. One of the orientations which deviate from our relationship with the true vine is entertained by those who, in terms of the symbol of the olive tree used in Romans 11:16-24, think that we as believers have been grafted into the people of Israel. Instead of becoming more like Christ, these people now become more like Israel. They refer to themselves as the spiritual (or true) Israel, observe Old Testament laws, celebrate Jewish festivals in an orthodox Jewish way, and learn as many Hebrew terms as possible to use in their religious observances.

As far as the symbol of the olive tree in Romans 11 is concerned, it should be noted that it is actually only the branches that represent the people of Israel. They were broken off because of unbelief, and we have definitely not been grafted into the branches! Israel originated from God, so the root of the olive tree refers to God who gave them the promise of the Messiah. The Lord Jesus said, “I am the Root and the Offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16). Although, as a human being, He was born in the royal lineage of David, He is also the Root, or origin, of David as well as the Root of Israel as the Chosen People.

Abraham, as the founding father of Israel, is only important because he had a relationship of faith with God as his spiritual root: “And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). The true significance of the root to Israel and the nations is not the Jewish people themselves who descended from Abraham, as well as their laws and rituals, but the Messiah who was born from the Jewish descendants of Abraham. Jesus is the seed of Abraham, and could therefore say to the Jews: “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). That is the reason why the Lord said to Abraham: “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The Messiah, who is the Saviour of the entire world, would be born from Israel. Paul refers to the great significance of the Messiah’s crucifixion, “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit by faith” (Gal. 3:13-14).

Christ is the source of all blessings – not Israel and their laws. Because Israel has rejected the Messiah, they were scattered all over the world. Only after they have been reunited with Him, will they be grafted back into the olive tree in which we already are (Rom. 11:23-26). Then only will they be a blessing to all nations in the Messiah (Rom. 11:11-12). We should not try to imitate them now, but only follow in the footsteps of the Messiah. We must provoke them to jealousy by the way in which we serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through the Messiah.

The big challenge

We are all faced by the big challenge to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus and His Word, particularly during the great falling away of the end-time. There are two prominent characteristics of true disciples, for which the Lord Himself will commend them: “You have kept My Word and have not denied My name” (Rev. 3:8). Do we really know the New Testament doctrine of salvation, and do we live as people who were delivered by Christ, or are we again burdened under a yoke of legalism? Paul says: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). Donald Campbell (1983:604-605) says the following on the scripture:

“Paul defended the life of Christian freedom. Would the apostle’s teaching lead the Galatians into lawlessness or into godliness? The Christian life is described as a life apart from Law, a life apart from license, a life according to the Spirit, and a life of service. Galatians 5:1 summarises chapter 4, where the theme is bondage and freedom. It also serves to introduce chapter 5. Paul declared that Christ was the great Liberator who set believers free from bondage. The apostle then appealed to the Galatians to stand firm in that liberty, for having been delivered from slavery to heathenism, they were in danger of becoming entangled in slavery to the Mosaic Law.”

Do we really understand what it means to walk on the way of the redeemed as people who were fully liberated by the Lord? The fact that we are not under the law does not mean that we enjoy unrestricted freedom. We are guided by the Holy Spirit, who enables and motivates us to follow in the footsteps of Christ: “He who says that he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6; cf. 1 Pet. 2:21).

Jesus Christ has completely fulfilled the law and set a much higher standard of holiness and dedication as that which the law demands. When He is the author and finisher of our faith, we have moved far beyond the shadowy injunctions of the law, which only served a preparatory purpose before the revelation of Christ (Col. 2:16-17). The great purpose of our life should be to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Phil. 3:10).

To die to the world and to sin with Christ is the divinely appointed way to sanctification. Old Testament Sabbaths, festivals and Hebrew names cannot make any contribution towards becoming partakers of God’s holiness. Let’s rather make a more intensive study of Him in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). The cross should always be the centre of our lives, and we should glory in it (Gal. 6:14). Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:23). Let us go forth to Him outside the camp of Judaism and unashamedly identify with Him as the only Saviour of the world (Heb. 13:13).

Jesus Christ Himself prayed to God for the salvation of the lost: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Faith in Him makes the difference between the darkness of deception and the light of God’s presence.

Sources

Barbieri, Louis A. Jr., 1983 : Matthew. In: Walvoord, John F. & Zuck, Roy B. (eds.) The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Victor Books.

Buksbazen, Victor. 1954. The gospel in the feasts of Israel. Church Mission to the Jews, London.

Campbell, Donald K., 1983 : Galatians. In: Walvoord, John F. & Zuck, Roy B. (eds.) The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Victor Books.

Grassmick, John D., 1983 : Mark. In: Walvoord, John F. & Zuck, Roy B. (eds.) The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Victor Books.

Hodges, Zane C. 1983 : 1, 2 & 3 John. In: Walvoord, John F. & Zuck, Roy B. (eds.) The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Victor Books.

Hannah, John D., 1985 : Jonah. In: Walvoord, John F. & Zuck, Roy B. (eds.) The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Victor Books.

Malan, Johan S. 2008. The Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday. http://www.bibleguidance.co.za/Engarticles/Sabbath.htm

Malan, Johan S. 2012 : Jesus Christ and our life in Him. http://www.bibleguidance.co.za/Librarylists/Bookschaplist/Jesus%20Book.htm

Malan, Johan S. 2013 : The literal fulfilment of Israel’s seven feasts. http://www.bibleguidance.co.za/Engarticles/Israelfeasts2.htm

Schepers, J.M. 1984: The date of Jesus’ crucifixion prophesied centuries earlier. Die Basuin, Vol. 1 No. 2:7-10.

Strong, James, 1990 : The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Toussaint, S.D., 1983 : Acts. In: Walvoord, John F. & Zuck, Roy B. (eds.) The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Victor Books.