Copyright 1994 - 2021 Bill's Bible Basics
Authored By :
Published On :
March 24, 1998
Last Updated :
March 8, 2012
NOTE: This article or series has not been updated recently. As such, it may possibly contain some outdated information, and/or ideas and beliefs which I no longer embrace, or which have changed to some degree.
The Mosaic Law, The Death Of Stephen And Jesus, Cities Of Refuge, Jesus' Hard Sayings, Our Sinful Condition, The East Gate And Eye Of A Needle, Spiritual Nourishment And Hearing From God, Price Of Discipleship, The Transfiguration, The Law And The Prophets, Paul and Barnabas, A Perfect Sacrifice, The Second Death, Defining Sin, True Righteousness, John's Ministry, Burdens Of The Pharisees, The Praise Of Men, Grace Or Works, The Law Of Love, Peace With God, Love And Fear
One disturbing question which has plagued many sincere Christians over the past two thousand years concerns why Jesus continually stressed the importance of keeping the Mosaic Law when He knew that no one would ever possibly be able to fully abide by it. The Mosaic Law is a very complex moral code which was given to Moses on Mount Horeb, or Sinai, as it is also known, following the departure of the Hebrew slaves from the land of Egypt. It is comprised of a very strict body of laws, each of which prescribes a specific punishment for those who failed to keep it. In quite a few cases, failure to keep the Mosaic Law was punishable with death by stoning. Consider the following examples:
"Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones."
Leviticus 20:2, KJV
"And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."
Leviticus 20:10, KJV
"A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them."
Leviticus 20:27, KJV
"And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death."
Leviticus 24:16, KJV
Thus, as can be seen, stoning was the most common form of putting a person to death in the Old Testament. Within New Testament Jewish society, this was still the principle means of putting a person to death as well. We find a clear example of this in the incident of the woman caught in the act of adultery found in the Gospel of John:
"And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not."
John 8:3-6, KJV
In the Book of Acts, the martyr Stephen was also slain by stoning because the self-righteous Jews viewed him as being guilty of blasphemy when he made Jesus equal to God in the following verses. This occurred right after Stephen had completely exposed the hypocrisy of their religion:
"And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep."
Acts 7:56-60, KJV
It was because of the fact that, in the eyes of the Jews, Jesus also made Himself equal to God, that the Scribes and the Pharisees considered Him worthy of death. However, in that case, being as it was such a sensitive issue, they persuaded the Roman justice system to do the dirty work for them:
"Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God."
John 5:18, KJV
"When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God."
John 19:6-7, KJV
The Apostle Paul put things in proper perspective regarding the status of Jesus Christ when he wrote the following to the Church at Philippi:
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Philippians 2:5-11, KJV
Notice how in the previous verses from the Book of Acts, the Law-bound Jews were very careful about the manner in which they slew Stephen. They made sure that, in compliance with the Mosaic Law, they had their witnesses present in order to justify their crime. This sad event is accurately portrayed in the excellent movie "Peter and Paul" starring Anthony Hopkins and Robert Foxworthy. In other cases where a crime might not merit death by stoning, under the Mosaic Law, one might still face severe punishment in the form of losing one of his bodily members such as an eye, or a hand or a foot, as was prescribed in the following verses. This is still acceptable punishment in some modern Arab countries:
"Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
Exodus 21:24-25, KJV
Unlike today in which a corrupt and weak American justice system permits many dangerous criminals to return to society within a matter of hours, days, weeks, months, or at the most a few years, crime in Jewish society was kept to a minimum by exacting stiff penalties upon the evildoers. After witnessing a person being stoned to death, surely many people had second thoughts about committing similar crimes. As I explain in "Killing and the Phinehas Priesthood", in place of actual prisons, the Hebrews set aside what were called cities of refuge. These were communities to which criminals could flee while they waited for their day of judgment. If they were to leave one of these cities before that time, they would become fair prey to anyone who might seek to kill them:
"But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled; And the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood: Because he should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high priest: but after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession. So these things shall be for a statute of judgment unto you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die. Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death."
Numbers 35:26-31, KJV
You can find some of these cities of refuge mentioned by name in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Joshua. Throughout the four Gospels, the Lord consistently spoke hard sayings which were very difficult to accept for those who heard Him preach; not only for the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees, but for His own Disciples as well. Some of these were directly related to the keeping of the Mosaic Law. For example, consider the following:
"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 5:18-20, KJV
Consider how extremely difficult this must have been for those listening to the Lord that day. How could anyone possibly exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? Why, if there was anyone worthy of Salvation, surely it must have been the Pharisees; after all, they rigorously observed the Mosaic Law. They were the holiest people in Israel; at least that is what the common people were led to believe. It appears that Jesus was deliberately setting up a seemingly impassable roadblock to our Salvation; in fact, this is precisely what He was doing; and this wasn't the only time that He did it either. A little later in the very same chapter, we find the Lord saying:
"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart . . . It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
Matthew 5:27-28, 31-32, KJV
Those self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees thought that they were so holy because they didn't physically indulge in the act of adultery; however, Jesus was quick to point out that just allowing the thought to pass through our minds is just as bad as actually having performed sex with that woman. Not only that, but the Lord pointed out that if one divorces his wife for any other reason than for fornication, which in this case means sexual infidelity, he is not only guilty of causing her to commit adultery, but he is also guilty of causing the one who marries her to commit adultery!
Now, let us be honest here for a moment. How many of you reading this, whether you be male or female, can honestly say that you have never ever lusted after a person of the opposite sex, even if you knew or suspected that they might already be married? Unless you are a very young child, or else a homosexual or a lesbian, I dare say that very few of you are without guilt. To deny this would be the epitome of self-righteous pride and self-delusion. How many of you have divorced a person for any other reason than sexual infidelity? Because of these sins and human weaknesses, according to the Mosaic Law, we are all guilty of death! This is the severity of the Mosaic Law! According to the Mosaic Law, the United States of America is literally full of sinners and adulterers from one end to the other who should be put to death!
Sandwiched in between His comments on adultery, Jesus said something else which must have been equally as hard for His followers to understand. Consider the following:
"And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."
Matthew 5:29-30, KJV
If we were all to be judged by the Mosaic Law, if we were all to keep the Mosaic Law, there would be a lot of people walking around with only one eye or one hand. Those today who erroneously insist that we must keep the Mosaic Law as a condition of Salvation might want to reconsider their views. We will be examining this more closely further on in this article. Later on in the Gospel of Matthew we find the incident where the young rich man approached Jesus to ask Him what he must do in order to inherit Eternal Life. That sad event ended with Jesus pronouncing the following difficult saying:
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible."
Matthew 19:23-26, KJV
For the sake of clarification, it is my understanding that this reference to the "eye of a needle" may not be referring to the actual eye of a sewing needle. As Easton's Bible Dictionary points out, Jesus may actually have been referring to the small side entrance which was located close to the principal gate located on the east side of the Temple compound. This primary gate, referred to as the East Gate, is mentioned throughout the Old Testament. Its importance is revealed in the following verse from the Book of Numbers:
"But those that encamp before the tabernacle toward the east, even before the tabernacle of the congregation eastward, shall be Moses, and Aaron and his sons, keeping the charge of the sanctuary for the charge of the children of Israel; and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death."
Numbers 3:38, KJV
Within modern Jewish Orthodoxy, there is the belief that when their "messiah", Moshiach ben David, arrives, he will enter the newly-built Temple through this East Gate. Because of its narrowness, this small entrance near the East Gate was referred to as the "eye of a needle" in the East. Thus, some believe that what Jesus was really saying is that just as it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a fully-laden camel to squeeze through this narrow opening without a lot of pushing and prodding by its master, so too, those who were not willing to forsake their worldly wealth would not be able to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Those listening to Jesus were fully aware of the difficulty of passing through this entrance; and this is why we are told that they were "exceedingly amazed".
Another primary example of the hard sayings of Jesus can be found in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. We are told that this one was so difficult that, upon hearing it, many of His Disciples left Him:
"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you . . . Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him."
John 6:60-66, KJV
As can be seen, the Lord's Disciples, followers, the common people, and even the Scribes and the Pharisees weren't just a little perplexed; they were very troubled by some of the Master's teachings. For the young Christian, examples such as the above will probably present a real challenge to their understanding. On one hand we are lead to believe that Jesus came to offer Salvation to all men, as well as to prepare men who would later follow in His footsteps by preaching the Gospel of Salvation to all the world; yet by the above examples, Jesus appears to be saying that Salvation is next to impossible to obtain; and He appears to be purposely driving away potential disciples who may have wanted to follow Him. So the question is: Exactly what was Jesus' goal by stating all of these hard sayings? Was He trying to exclude people from entering the Kingdom of God? Heaven forbid!
It is my view that some Christians today have simply misunderstood the true intent, spirit or meaning behind some of Jesus' words. Sometimes this happens because they don't possess sufficient knowledge of the Scriptures. Other times it occurs because their judgment has been clouded by erroneous teachings they have learned from others; whether it be from a radio or television preacher, or perhaps from a priest, pastor, minister, or teacher in a local church or organization. One of the primary lessons I have strived to teach in my many articles is that we must all go directly to the Word of God ourselves and read, read, read, instead of just depending upon others for our spiritual nourishment. If you truly and sincerely ask the Lord to help you to understand His Word, I am absolutely certain that He will not disappoint you. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew:
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."
Matthew 7:7-8, KJV
The Apostle Peter also gave us some sound advice when he wrote the following in his first Epistle:
"As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:"
1 Peter 2:2, KJV
However, before one even does that, he must make sure that he has accepted the Lord's Salvation, and that he has received the anointing of God's Holy Spirit; both of which are free gifts for the asking. If you do not understand this, then I encourage you to read more of my articles on the topics of Salvation and the Holy Ghost. Once you have accepted the Lord into your life, and have been baptized by His Spirit, He will begin speaking to you clearly through His Word; and the more you read it and become familiar with it, the more He will be able to show you the connecting links between various passages. It is truly a wonderful experience.
I am very hesitant to talk about this too much as I feel some people might take it the wrong way and get the mistaken impression that I am elevating myself; however, the truth of the matter is that sometimes hearing from the Lord is like a water spigot which you simply cannot turn off. Such is the case with this current article. It actually evolved from another article I was updating the night before. As some of you know, sometimes I tend to go off on tangents in my articles. It is similar to driving down the main highway on your way to a certain destination. Now and then, you might turn off of the main road or highway and go down a side road, perhaps to buy a snack, or to stop and buy more gasoline. In my case, I begin writing about one thing which may then lead into a completely different subject. If I really become sidetracked, I will often cut that particular section out of an article and make it a brand new article.
In this particular case, when I went to bed early this morning, apparently my mind was still dwelling on this topic; because when I woke up about four hours later, the Lord, or His Spirit, or helper, or whoever it was, was still feeding verses and ideas to me. Even though I knew what was happening, I was so tired that I decided to try to sleep a few more hours. After about two hours I finally had to get up and go to my computer to enter it all in before I forgot everything the Lord had given me. I was literally laying there saying to the Lord, "Lord, help me not to forget that verse. Lord help me to remember the connection you showed me between those two Scriptures." It got to the point that it was so much information that I had no choice but to do something about it. Well, this may sound crazy to some of you, but that is just the way it works; and it has happened to me on a number of occasions. It isn't an audible voice; it is just a still small voice deep inside of me. I am reminded of the following verses from the First Book of the Kings:
"And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?"
1 Kings 19:9-13, KJV
While none of us should seek to elevate ourselves to the status of a Prophet, this does not mean that we should refuse to listen to the Lord when He tries to speak to us; or refuse to share what He gives us with others if it might edify their spirits and be a blessing in their lives. As the Apostle Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Hebrews:
"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."
Hebrews 3:12-13, KJV
Perhaps if more people did take the time to hear from the Lord, the world would not be in such a sad shape as it is today. The key problem is that most people simply do not want to accept the Lord, much less hear from Him. Jesus clearly exposed one of the main reasons for this unhealthy attitude when He said of the Scribes and Pharisees:
"If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin."
John 15:22, KJV
Those who rebel against the Lord and against His will for their lives simply do not want to have their sins of rebellion and unbelief exposed. They are quite comfortable living their lives of sin exactly as they are, and they do not want anything or anyone shaking up their little dream world of plastic peace.
Returning to our main topic, being as I have already discussed the theme of Discipleship in a number of other articles, let me just say that the Lord knew exactly what He was doing when He shared such difficult teachings. He knew that those who would follow Him fulltime would have a long hard road ahead of them. For most of them, it would end in martyrdom. Being as He knew that He had but a few short years to accomplish His mission on Earth, Jesus was very careful to only choose men whom He was sure would be able to carry on the job once He had returned to His Father; after all, the Salvation of the world was at stake; not only the Salvation of the world of those days, but the Salvation of everyone who has ever lived since then. Thus, the Lord had to select men who were full of faith and a spirit of perseverance. Those He deemed unfit for the job, He simply cast aside, even if they personally felt that they were up to the task. Jesus wanted everyone to count the cost; thus He purposely made the way of Discipleship difficult. Consider what the Lord said in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
"And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."
Luke 14:27-33, KJV
Concerning the issue of Salvation, in order to fully understand the true spirit behind some of Jesus' difficult sayings, I would like to discuss a topic which at first may not even appear to be related to this theme. Within the New Testament, there are a number of events which are of much more importance than most people tend to realize. Perhaps one of the most profound of these events concerns that of the Mount of Transfiguration. Most of us are familiar with how Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and His three primary Disciples, Peter, James and John, on top of the mountain. One account of this event is found in the Gospel of Mark:
"And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean."
Mark 9:2-10, KJV
Please go to part two for the continuation of this series.
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