Unsavory caricatures of the Pharisees leave people confused about what Yeshua might have meant when he instructed his followers to follow Pharisaic teaching. Was he being sarcastic? Rather than employing a convoluted hermeneutic to resolve this puzzle, it is more straightforward and consistent with history to accept that Yeshua upheld a theory of life and practice that aligned with Pharisaic norms.
There is perhaps a no more powerfully condensed summary of Jesus’ teachings than the Sermon on the Mount. Ideally, every follower of Jesus would have complete command over the content of this revolutionary discourse. As disciples, we cannot afford to misunderstand these three chapters of Matthew’s gospel.
Yeshua desired mercy and compassion for all those with whom he interacted. He displayed true love and servitude through his life, and each action he made was filled with purpose. Let’s apply these same principles to his Sabbath healings to understand what lessons he was trying to teach.
Yeshua said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Ashrei, the word for “blessed,” is a term of congratulations. Mourning is a natural reaction to loss—hardly a reason to congratulate anyone. Should someone really be glad that they are mourning? By comparing Yeshua’s words with a prophecy from Isaiah, we learn that Yeshua is not talking about mourning for loved ones who have died.
Some people imagine the Beatitudes to be the antithesis of Judaism’s harsh legalism. Those people must not have much real experience with Judaism, however. The teachings of Yeshua in the Beatitudes have numerous parallels in rabbinic literature. He was not contradicting Judaism; he was drawing attention to some of the most important Jewish ideas.
Yeshua taught his followers that those who keep the commandments and teach others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Is there a ranking system in the afterlife? Ancient Jewish literature provides us with a key to interpretation, based on a mysterious verse in Daniel.
As the summer month of Tammuz begins, we look to the fruit trees expecting an ample harvest. Yeshua instructed us to see the growth of new fig branches as a prophetic sign of apocalyptic events, but this seems like a strange comparison. Insights from Ezekiel and first-century Hebrew provide a new interpretation of Yeshua’s parable.
There to my surprise was a used copy of the DHE on a shelf in the Judaica section. Not only that, it was on a shelf marked “Jewish Holy Books.” My wife Shannon and my son Aharon and I all took a double-take. It was remarkable. There it was sitting under the Zohar and next to the Tanach. I couldn’t believe it.
The concept that all Pharisees are evil is so ingrained that people often completely ignore or dismiss passages that present Pharisees in a positive light. The Gospels provide both positive and negative depictions of Pharisees. They also assume a cultural setting that esteemed Pharisees, and this fact should mitigate and contextualize the criticisms leveled against them.
The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection, while the Pharisees did. One of the reasons that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection is that it is difficult to see it in the literal exegesis of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Pharisees on the other hand, were skilled in the area of midrash, which often probed beyond the literal meaning within the Scriptures.
When Yeshua says that he did not come to bring peace on earth, people interpret his words to mean that he never intended to bring earthly, political peace but only spiritual peace in people’s hearts. But does this explanation hold up when seeing the Gospels in a Jewish context?
Israel was, at least from a theological perspective, still in exile. Israel was still suffering the consequences of covenant failure. But all this was now about to change. The shame and humiliation of exile was over.
When we shrug our shoulders and say “Jesus is just weird,” it keeps us from asking any more questions. And if we don’t ask, we won’t get answers. If we don’t dig any deeper, we miss the chance to learn something. If we don’t dig down and find out why Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man” it becomes a barrier.