When we look at the book of Acts and read about the gifts of the Spirit being poured out on the apostles, on all the disciples, and the community of believers, we would do well to note that this phenomenon was not entirely new.
Rather, Yeshua himself had already done all kinds of miracles during his ministry. He was the ultimate charismatic hipster: filled with the Holy Spirit before it was even cool.
So, to understand the meaning and purpose behind the gifts of the Spirit that the early believers experienced and encountered, let’s examine Yeshua’s miracles in the context of the coming kingdom and the prophecies associated with it.
Sure, Yeshua came proclaiming the kingdom, but the Messianic Kingdom was not a previously unknown concept that Yeshua was just then introducing. Yeshua’s new information was about how near that kingdom was. As mentioned above, the prophets spoke at length about what this kingdom will be like. Not only will this time be a period of peace and security, but the prophets and sages say that it will also be a time of miracles and supernatural phenomena.
Isaiah 35 speaks of the Messianic Era in this way:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:5-6)
The Midrash explains what this healing will look like at the time of the resurrection. When people are resurrected, they will not immediately be healed from their wounds and ailments, but they will be resurrected in their original condition and then healed:
Come and see how everyone whom the blessed Holy One struck in this world, he heals in the future to come. The blind are healed, as it says, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened.” The lame are healed, as it says, “Then the lame will leap like a ram and the tongue of the mute will sing.” Just as a person is when he departs this life, so will he be when he arrives at the afterlife. One who departs blind will arrive blind. The deaf arrives deaf; the mute arrives mute. (Genesis Rabbah 95:1)
The Midrash Tanchuma elaborates and explains why:
This is so that the wicked will not be able to claim, “Those he resurrected are not those he killed.” The blessed Holy One said, “Let them arise just as they departed, and afterward, I will heal them.” (Tanchuma, Vayigash 8)
This explains something that I have often wondered about regarding Yeshua’s resurrection. Yeshua invited Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and side (John 20:27). Why is it that the resurrected Yeshua in his glorified body still has wounds in his hands and feet and side? The Midrash explains: so that the wicked cannot claim that the one who was resurrected was not the one who had been killed. Perhaps later Yeshua, too, may be healed.
In the Talmud, prophetic passages are interpreted as describing great abundance and fertility of humans, plants, and animals (b.Shabbat 30b). Psalm 72 is exemplary:
May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field! (Psalm 72:16)
This psalm as a whole is blatantly messianic. The sages interpret “blossom in the city” (in the original Hebrew “cities” is singular) to mean that the final resurrection will take place in Jerusalem (b.Ketubot 111b).
Based on Hebrew wordplay, from the phrase, “abundance of grain,” the sages assert that in the Messianic Era, ready-made baked goods and clothing will grow directly from the ground—an amazing miracle.
The Prophet Joel speaks of the Messianic Era this way:
In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Shittim. (Joel 4:18[3:18])
The sages of the Midrash quoted this verse in relation to the story of Lot and his daughters. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his daughters were living in a cave. The daughters plied their father with wine to be able to produce offspring by him. The sages ask, “Where did they get wine if they were holed up in a cave?”
Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon answered: A sample from the age to come was produced for them. As it is said, “In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine.” (Genesis Rabbah 51:8)
To the sages, the story of Lot’s daughters was rife with messianic tension, as this forbidden union resulted in Moab, the ancestor of Ruth, the ancestor of King David, and ultimately the ancestor of Messiah. The wine, then, was miraculously placed there by Providence to help this happen. In a way, the wine broke through into this world from the Messianic Era.
The Talmud describes winemaking in the Messianic Kingdom:
The age to come is not like this age. In this age, harvesting and treading grapes is difficult. In the age to come, one will bring a single grape on a wagon or on a ship and place it in the corner of his house, supplying himself from it like a huge cask. (b.Ketubot 111b)
Thus, our goal should be to bring the kingdom nearer and to bring ourselves nearer to the kingdom. How do we do this? First, we must trust God and put our faith in him, knowing that he is good and does good and is powerful, rather than harden our hearts as the Israelites did in Moses’ day.
Second, we must commit ourselves in loyalty to God as King through the agency of Yeshua. This is a basic component of what it means to be a subject of his kingdom.
Third, we must draw that kingdom nearer by devoting ourselves to the mitzvot, in particular the mitzvot that counteract the failures Yeshua identified as critical causes of the exile.
Chag Shavu’ot Sameach! May we all strive to live lives in line with the teachings of our Master Yeshua and may he return speedily and soon.
- b.Shabbat 30b.