The First Christians (2019) #7: Religion


Jeffrey Seif: Jesus once spoke to a Jewish religious leader and said that he, Nicodemus,
needed to be born of water and the spirit. Let’s find out what that’s
all about today on “Zola Levitt Presents.” ♪♪♪ male announcer: Brethren, my
heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that
they might be saved. For there is no difference
between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord overall
is rich unto all that call upon him. “Zola Levitt Presents.” ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ David Hart: We’re so glad
you’ve joined us today on “Zola Levitt Presents.” I’m David Hart. Kirsten Hart: I’m Kirsten Hart. Jeffrey: And I’m Jeffrey Seif,
and you are in for a surprise as we go back and look at the Jewish religious world
in Jesus’s day. David: I want to say I’m
kind of surprised that this first
aired 23 years ago. As we watch Zola teaching,
it looks like he was just here teaching with us. Great music, messianic music.
Last week was government. This week, it’s all
about religion. Jeffrey: Yes, and you know,
Bible colleges and seminaries, and that’s the world that I fare
from, they have Jewish studies departments to look at the
Jewish religious world, the background world
of century one. I believe it’s very
important, and so do the deans. That’s why I’ve made a
living teaching as a professor. Kirsten: We have all of that,
a lot of information for you today, good information. But first, to learn about our
first century Christians, we’re going to go back in
time and travel to the ruins of the Essenes. Let’s go there now. announcer: The
archaeological find of the 20th century took place
here in caves of the mountains adjoining
the Dead Sea. Here in 1947, the Dead Sea
Scrolls bore proof to the authenticity
of the Bible. Stephen Pfann, director of the
Center for Early Christianity, has translated some of the texts
taken from these caves and is an expert in the religious
practices of the first century. Stephen Pfann: Behind us
here are two of the caves found here at Qumran. Cave number four further behind
me with the triangular entrances, and
down below me here is the collapsed cave,
cave number eight. Inside these caves were found
many scrolls, which we’ve all heard about and have come
to appreciate because they represent actual scrolls used by
people during the time of Jesus. Also in here, however,
were found mezuzahs and phylacteries, also
known as tefillin. Now, the mezuzah was used
according to the commandment in the law in the books of
Moses, in the book of Exodus and the book of Deuteronomy. It was commanded that the–that
the Israelites would take these Scriptures and apply
them to the doorposts. This would be a protection
upon the house. They were also commanded that
when they pray, that they take these Scriptures and wrap them
around their arms and apply them to their foreheads, in
order that they would have this blessing from God
as they prayed. All Jews had to pray this
way all through history. We still even today can see
Jews in Jerusalem praying at the western wall with
their phylacteries laid on very carefully. This practice was taking place
as we have evidence here in the first century among Jews. And it would have also
been practiced by Jesus and his disciples. announcer: This is a photo
of the phylactery found in the Qumran cave. It’s as intricately made
as a Swiss watch and smaller than a paperclip. Seen here enlarged, the leather
pouch looked like this closed and like this when opened,
containing four separate compartments for Scripture. Passages from Exodus and
Deuteronomy had been handwritten in
microscopic Hebrew. The Essenes’s encampment here at
Qumran covered nearly two acres. Their purpose in moving
to this desolate area was to totally dedicate
themselves to what they believed was the
way of the Lord. Steve takes us now to the site
of a mikvah or ritual bath used by the Essenes
for purification. Stephen: Behind us here, we have
the plain of the Dead Sea. Down at the far end, we can
see one of the two sites of the Essenes that
existed here. The Ein Feshkha behind me is the
site of Khirbet Qumran. Down below was where the married
Essenes would have lived. Here we have the site
where the priests and the single Essenes
would have lived. In my hand, I actually have a
copy of the rules that governed the people who lived at this
site, many copies of which were found in that cave which
I just pointed out to you. In front of us, we have one of
the important installations here at the site of Qumran. And as in many different places,
including Jerusalem and Sepphoris up in the north, there
are numerous pools like these known as ritual immersion pools,
or in Hebrew mikvah or mikvaot. announcer: The mikvaot, of
course, were vitally important in Jerusalem during
the time of Jesus. Here along the southern
wall of the temple, cleansing in the waters of
this pool was an integral part of preparation for worship. Everyone who sought to
worship the God of Israel had to be cleansed. But yet there were differences. Stephen: The Pharisees said
that if you went down and fully immersed yourself and
came back up, you were pure and equipped to be able
to go on into a pure area. But the Essenes said
that’s not enough. A person also has to be right
in his heart, he has to be right toward his brother, and he has
to be also right toward God. In fact, in this scroll, it’s
required and it says, “By the Holy Spirit of the community, in
his truth, shall he be cleansed from all his sins; and by
the Spirit of uprightness and humility shall his
iniquity be atoned. By his soul’s humility toward
the precepts of God shall his flesh be cleansed by the
lustral waters and sanctified by the flowing water.” It’s the two together according
to the Essenes, both right attitude and right way of life,
before going down into the pool in order to come up clean and
justified and pure before God. announcer: To better understand
how the Essenes actually went about the cleansing process,
Steve takes us to yet another mikvah. Stephen: Here we are at
another mikvah within the site of Qumran. This is probably the most
important ritual immersion pool in the entire site during
the first period of their existence here. That is, up until it was
destroyed by an earthquake, and you can see the great
destruction that happened here in the earthquake of 31 BC. But until that time, this was
so important because this is the ritual immersion pool into
which the novices would enter and come up for the first
time a renewed son of light. And it has a division between
the avenue for going down before the immersion, and
going up afterwards. So that those who go down
who are unclean will not come in contact with
those that are clean. You can see these runnels
right here, which remain as a separation between the
unclean and the clean. It was also used during the time
of the renewal ceremony every year, where the people would
come here in droves, large numbers of people,
for a renewal of their commitment to the
beliefs of the Essenes. But also it was used in order
to enter the site in order to be able to eat the sacred
meal on a daily basis. So, as a person would enter in,
you can see first of all that there are a series of steps
here, and then a wider step. Another couple of
steps and a wider step. This was so that during
the year, as the water would evaporate down, there would
be a proper platform for an individual to go ahead and stand
here in their loincloth, they would immerse themselves
down so that every part of them would be
covered with water. They would get back up
and walk up to the top. They’d enter into the site and
put on white clothing, after which they would be
able to go into the dining room and eat with their fellows. ♪♪♪ Zola Levitt: Well, here we are
at the famous Jordan River. And this is a most beautiful
part of it just south of the Sea of Galilee, where the
water proceeds out to roll down through the land,
a curved path all the way down to the Dead Sea. At this point, it’s very pure,
very clean. People are baptized here all
the time, and I’m not far from a baptistery that a kibbutz
has actually installed along the river so that people can walk
down steps to the river safely and so on, and be baptized
in these waters in which, of course, our Lord
himself was baptized. Well, Steve has told us
about the mikvaot there at the–at Qumran. A mikvah is a Jewish
ritual bath, more than one plural is mikvaot. And we saw the mikvaot there. You know, it is so ancient a
ceremony, the idea of washing with water for purification,
or to make a change, or to be cleansed for
some new belief. The Jewish sages actually teach
that this goes all the way back to Abraham’s journey to
Canaan in the first place. If I can go back all the way to
Genesis 12, the chapter where God said to Abraham,
“Get thee up and go,” and sent him to the
land of Canaan. Verse 5 says, “And Abram
took Sarai,” their names were different
at that point. “Abram took Sarai his wife,
and lot his brother’s son, and all their substance
that they had gathered, and the souls they had
gotten in Haran.” Along the way, they stopped
at the village of Haran, which still exists in Syria. From–they started at Ur, went
up the Tigris, Euphrates fertile valley into what is now
Syria, stopped at Haran, then continued on to Canaan. When they stopped at Haran,
it says there were souls they had gotten. The sages teach that the
implication is they had converted people, they’d brought
them into Abraham’s faith, that is faith in the covenant
of the land that he was going to have with God, and
followed Abraham to the land that was promised to him. And the covenant wasn’t even
enunciated, but Abraham had the faith to get up and
go when God told him. So, these people that apparently
were willing to come with him, the sages teach must have been
washed, must have been purified. And they suppose that the mikvah
goes all the way back to there. I don’t know, but it’s
an interesting thought. For sure it goes back all the
way to the tabernacle, which is a long time ago, because the
priests of Aaron, his family, were washed before they
began their priesthood. And that is the beginning of I
don’t want to say modern baptism because baptism is many
thousands of years old, but the beginning of the concept of
being baptized to be enabled, to be empowered to carry out
the duties of a priesthood. And that specifically we find
in the book of Exodus in the instructions for
the tabernacle. “This is the thing that thou
shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto me in
the priest’s office. And Aaron and his sons thou
shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,
and shalt wash them with water.” They were immersed in water
to have a beginning to their priesthood. What the washing did was
to enable them to minister to the people for God. The priests, the Levites, that
tribe, Deuteronomy 10:8 and 9 selects them and says they shall
not have a land inheritance. Their inheritance is to minister
to the people for God. And they pronounce a special
blessing even today that we all know– [speaking in Hebrew] “May the Lord bless and keep
you and so on, cause his countenance to
shine upon you.” That is called the Aaronic
blessing or the Levitical blessing. The people of the tribe of Levi,
the sons of Aaron, the priests say that blessing
still today in Israel the first day of every month,
Rosh Chodesh. So, it was all the way back
to there. Now, this has an antitype or
an answer in the New Testament. The Christians are all priests. And in the New Testament, it is
clear that we too are baptized to be enabled to carry
forth a priestly ministry. If I look at the epistle of 1
Peter, all the epistles of Peter are addressed
to Jewish people. Certain books of the Bible,
of the New Testament, are addressed to Jews. Hebrews of course, Peter is one. It begins, “Peter, an apostle
of Jesus Christ to the strangers scattered throughout
Pontus, Galatia,” et cetera. And he defines those strangers
this way in verse 2, “The elect according to the foreknowledge
of God the Father.” In other words, those people
who originally knew the God of Israel, in other words
the Jewish believers. And he describes them in a
special way in the dramatic verse, 1 Peter 2:9 and 10, “But
ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy
nation, a peculiar people that you should show forth the
praises of him who hath called you out of darkness
into his marvelous light.” And those who were called to
be these priests were baptized. This was–you see, all believers
in the Lord, all Christians, and at that time of course,
as we’re pointing out, most of the church was Jewish. These Jewish people were
particularly called to be priests for the Lord in
the new covenant, and so they’re baptized. Every Christian that is baptized
at every church, in this river, in the baptistery in your
church, in the swimming pool in your yard, doesn’t
matter, is being baptized in order to be enabled
to be a priest. Now, the Mishnah, if you go
back in the Jewish writing, talks a lot about this
purification rite. The mikvah, the dipping, well,
Rabbi Joshua held that a mikvah alone was adequate to bring
a convert into Judaism, the washing by itself
was adequate. But Rabbi Eleazar held
that circumcision should also be done. This was the sign of the
covenant between God and Abraham. And just like in the church
today, arguing over baptism. This started a long time ago.
This started before Jesus. This was argued from time
immemorial, what sort of baptism for what sort of
office and so on. They even divided converts
into two groups. There were simply the gerim, the
converts, the proselytes. And then the gerim hazerekim,
the holy converts, who were willing to undergo both
circumcision and the mikvah, who were very serious
about going into Judaism. Orthodox synagogues today have a
mikvah in America. And when someone converts
to Judaism, that person goes into the water, it
says like a little child, they’re described
as born anew. They actually clip the
fingernails close and shave the hair from
the body, and get into the water as babies
to be reborn. And here Jesus in John 3:3 says,
“Ye must be born again,” and it’s like a reference to
this wonderful conversion. He is, of course, trying to
convert Nicodemus at that point into the faith
in the Messiah. We’ll be back after this. announcer: Our resource this
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family, Zola Levitt family, Zola Levitt Ministries
on social media. Now, let’s go back to Zola. Zola: The Essenes, the
wilderness people, the ones out who worshipped the Lord
all the time, must have been fascinated with the
book of Isaiah. It was a favorite of theirs,
they certainly copied it all the way through. And all the other books of the
Old Testament except Esther were copied by them. And they came across the passage
which must have just thrilled them who lived in the
wilderness, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the
desert a highway for our God.” It’s Isaiah 40, verse 3. “Every valley shall be exalted,
every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the
crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain. And the glory of the Lord shall
be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth
of the Lord hath spoken it.” That kind of passage
motivated them. They were religious people,
no question. They had a religious council. By the way, it had 12 members
and an inner circle of 3, just like with our Lord and his
12 disciples and the inner circle
around him of 3. The sacred meals that they
ate together were so similar to communion meals,
festival meals. They studied together, they ate
together, they celebrated. They observed the ruach
hakodesh, the Holy Spirit. They had this conception out of
the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit didn’t just come
at Pentecost brand new. He was active in the Old
Testament, and they realized that
from their study. They wrote often about prophecy,
they wrote about the last days. There are scrolls of the sons
of light versus the sons of darkness, which very much
resemble the book of Revelation, a final battle of the forces
of good and evil with good triumphing in the end. They were Bible people, no
question about it. With the Lord in the gospels, we
see arguments over Scripture with the Sadducees, with
the Pharisees individually. He has to debate them each about
their conceptions of resurrection and whatnot. And it’s obvious that our
Lord was so skilled in the Old Testament. He lived by it. There are churches that think
it’s invalid. It would be news
to Jesus Christ. He conducted his life by it. He quoted the book of
Deuteronomy alone 130 times. He quoted the Shema, the
quintessential Jewish prayer, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord
our God, the Lord is one.” [speaking in Hebrew] Our Lord read the Torah all
the time and quoted from it, of course, voluminously. And as a Torah reader, he
must have been quite expert. The Torah reader became
practically an occupation, and today there are people who
specialize as Torah readers. In the ancient times or in
Jesus’s time even, the person who read the Torah was
considered to have some divine spirit upon him, and he
would go on and teach. In today’s synagogue, the rabbi
sometimes can read the Torah, but more often they have
a Torah reader, and then the rabbi gives the sermon. Some rabbis are able to read
Torah skillfully. The truth to tell, they may get
more credit for knowing it than they always do. It’s more likely the Jewish law
books that they know and know thoroughly than
Scripture itself. Paul’s requirements for elders
and deacons were the same as in the synagogue in his time. The Jewish regulations are
the ones that come into the New Testament and are finally
observed by the churches today. Indeed, they were the first
Christians. The churches in the empire,
not just in Israel, were also very Jewish. After all, as Paul traveled, he
was received in the synagogues. What he came to say, that
Messiah had come, he came to say to Jewish people. And they’re the ones that heard
it, they’re the ones that were converted, and they’re the
ones that witness to their Gentile friends and
brought them in. Sometimes, the synagogue was a
place where people faked it. At the city of Smyrna, I
read in Revelation 2:9, “I know thy works, and
tribulation, and poverty. But thou art rich,” he says. “And I know the blasphemy of
them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the
synagogue of Satan. Sometimes, the
Scripture’s twisted to anti-Semitic purposes. There were people pretending
they were Jews to attend church in order to trade
with the church members. They might wear forelocks and
a prayer shawl. They might adopt Hebrew
mannerisms, or they might be Jews that
didn’t believe. But anyway, they looked the part
of Christians. To look like a Christian, you
had to look Jewish in the early churches, this one
in Smyrna in Asia. It’s funny, I have the
experience in my life of just the opposite. Once, I looked for a job with
an insurance company when I was in college, and they
said one requirement is I had to go to church
every Sunday. I said, “Gosh, I’ve never
gone to church in my life, I’m Jewish. I go to the synagogue.” They said, “Well, you need
to go to church, it’s what’s required of us. We go to a barbecue after, we
make contacts that way.” I said, “Well, I don’t
believe what’s going on there.” And they said, “It doesn’t
matter what you believe. We’re there to meet the
church people and to sell them insurance.” Well, they said, “You look just
like any one of the church people.” What they meant is you can
look Gentile, look Gentile, and that way they’ll think
you’re a real Christian. Well, back in Revelation in
Smyrna, it was look Jewish and they’ll think
you’re a real Christian. The first Christians were
Jewish, and we will see that in a most dramatic way. You know, when the
kingdom comes, the believers of all ages
will come together. The Old Testament saints, these
first century Christians, the church members and the
faithful of all ages, including our own age,
will meet together. And then we will be able
to worship with the first Christians, and we will see
they were Jews. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Kirsten: Family, it’s all
about family today. Jeffrey: Yeah, I feel for those
that have trouble in the family. You know, I tell my wife Barri
that home is wherever she is. And people live alone today, and
even people live together with people and there’s pain. Recovering a biblical
approach to family is so, so, so important. Kirsten: It is. David: We love social media. And our kids are on it
all the time. Back in the day, they didn’t
have all that, so I think family might have been a little tighter
back in the day, you think? Jeffrey: Well, there’s a
lot of distractions. You know, people–I don’t think
social media meets the needs. People talk about connecting. There’s still a lot of
disconnection. And back in the day, they’re
not distracted by television. Sorry, we are on television. You know, but a lot of times,
people just zone out and they don’t do
things together. And it’s important to recover
that. Used to be back in the day,
people would gather together around a family
Bible and pray together. My wife and I do that
in the morning. Simple things there are
that people can do to strengthen a family. Thank you for strengthening
our family, that is to say “Zola Levitt Presents” is a
ministry, and it’s all hands on deck helping to move forward. And it’s your contributions
to this family that help us feed the kids. There’s a world out there that
needs to know the Lord and that needs biblical medicine
for life’s assorted hurts. And we think the great
physician delivers through “Zola Levitt Presents.” David: I’ve got to say I’m
looking forward to next week, it’s all about agriculture
in the first century. We’d love for you
to join us for that. Jeffrey: Do it please.
And as you go now– [speaking in Hebrew] Kirsten: Pray for the peace
of Jerusalem. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ announcer: Our monthly
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2 Responses

  1. cassieburke123

    September 25, 2019 3:56 pm

    In the New Testament, to be born again in the Melchizedek Priesthood, the priesthood in the line of David, through which Yahashua came through.
    Further study is needed on your part.

  2. T. Higley

    September 26, 2019 5:48 pm

    Greetings, fine folks at ZLM! I'm really enjoying this series, and it's so good to see Zola again. Thank you for what you do. One thing… it appears you ended this Religion episode with the ending from Family. From 25:25 until the end is a repeat from episode #4. Thought you might want to know.


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