Up to this point the authorities had paid little attention
to Yeshua; he was probably seen as a preacher who could
not cause any real problem. The priestly party, called
the Sadducees, after Zadok, the Levite who became chief priest
in the reign of Solomon, may have been upset at his acting
like a priest in making the ritual gesture and telling the man
with leprosy he was cleansed; but, beyond a little grumbling,
they may have felt they couldn't do anything, because, after
all, he had told the man he needed to go see a priest and to do
all the things which Moshe commanded. Still, they were
concerned about this man who was causing so much excitement,
so they came up to Kephar-Nahum to check up on him.
The other party in Palestine were the Pharisees, from the
Hebrew Perushim, which meant "separated ones". They were
called that because they believed that the Jews must keep
themselves separate from all other peoples. But they were the
liberal party; they followed not only the Torah, which was the
Law or the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures attributed
to Moshe, but also other writings and oral traditions that had
grown up in interpreting and applying it, what today we would
call "common law". The Sadducees accepted only the Torah itself,
and applied it very literally; they held wealth and power, and
were collaborators with the Roman government. The Perushim were
staunch and fierce defenders of the Jewish identity, and keeping
it different from the peoples around them; they called themselves
the haberim, which means "the companions." But the Pharisees
also wanted to check out this new preacher, who came from the
working class and did not apparently have any education.
There was another group in Palestine, called the sopherim,
or the scribes, whose business it was to make copies of
the scriptures, and they had become experts also in the
minutiae of the rules and requirements of Judaism. Some of them
were aligned with the Sadducees, and some with the Pharisees.
They were all over Palestine; and some of them also began to tag
along after Yeshua as his fame grew, in order to see whether he
followed all those rules or not.
Yeshua returned into Kephar-Nahum after the buzz caused by
his healings had died down. But once people heard he was
back, they all flocked to Simon's house again, crowding in;
Mark tells us that there wasn't even standing room left. And
Yeshua preached to them again, but we are still not told what he
said; but it must have been a continuation of Yohanan's message
with his own additions, such as the following summary of the
Jewish law and the great ethical prophets:
First there was the Torah, the Law, given to us by Moshe.
You all know that in it we are commanded to worship God alone,
and to love our neighbor, and to care for the poor and needy,
and to love the stranger, and to help our enemies
when they are suffering.
Then there came the N'viim, the prophets.
They reminded us continually to obey God, and to exercise
righteousness, justice, and mercy upon the earth
and not to oppress widows, or orphans, or strangers,
or the poor. They are the great treasure of Judaism;
they poured forth the words of God for all people.
Now Yohanan has come to us, pointing out
that we have strayed from these ways; and that we must go
back to them, we must change our actions, in order
to bring about the reign of God in the world, by
first bringing it about in our hearts. Even as
Jeremiah said, My people have become lost sheep;
they have turned away from me; and he asked, Will you
steal, and murder, and commit adultery, and swear
falsely, and worship idols, and then come and stand
in the temple and say, We are absolved of all this evil?
Thus, if you hope for justice, you must
do justly; if you hope for mercy, you must be merciful.
Therefore I say unto you, Do unto others as you would have
them do unto you; for this is the law and the prophets.
This last saying is known as the Golden Rule; it is found also in
Chinese and Indian teachings, and in the teachings of Hillel, a famous
rabbi who lived a generation before Yeshua, and said: "That which is
hurtful to thee, do not to thy neighbor; this is the whole law."
But the Perushim, who could not understand that Yeshua was
talking about conduct, and not about kingdom and power and
glory, asked him, "But when will the kingdom of God come?"
Yeshua said to them:
The kingdom of God is not coming visibly;
it is inward and invisible,
for the reign of God happens within you.
So the coming is within your reach
right now; it can come to you any time.
But it cannot be brought about
by force and violence,
as men like the Zealots are seeking to do today.
The Greek word entos used by Yeshua in this saying can be
translated either as "within you" or "within your reach". In
either case, it shows that Yeshua's concept of the kingdom was
not a political one, nor even a governmental one, although we
can be sure that Yeshua would have supported a government which
looked after the welfare of its people; his concept was of a
rule over the heart and soul, governance by the teachings of the
Torah and the prophets. And he sums them up in the Golden Rule,
just as Rabbi Hillel had before him.
Then a dramatic incident is reported to have happened.
A man crippled with cerebral palsy was brought before
Yeshua, carried on his bed by four friends. How did they
get in, if it was so crowded? They came in through the ceiling!
When Yeshua saw them, he was deeply moved at this expression of
their faith in him, and he spoke to the man, "Son, your sins are
forgiven; you do not need to lie here sick." He said this
because it was the common belief at that time that sickness and
disease were punishments sent by God because of the wrongs a
persons had committed, or the ritualistic rules they had broken.
When the scribes and Pharisees who had crowded in with the
others heard this, they gasped. They whispered to each
other, "This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins! Why
does this man take the name of God in vain?" But Yeshua could
see that that was what they were thinking, and he said to them,
"Why do you whisper among yourselves? Don't you realize that
what really cures a person is not to say, Get up and walk, but
to tell them that they are not being punished by God?"
No doubt it was the crowd that gasped this time, when they
heard his sharp retort to the religious leaders. Yeshua
continued, "But man is made in God's image, and the son of
man has the power to forgive his own sins; so therefore I say
unto this man, Get up, take up your bed, and go back to your
house." And we are told that the man did so, and that the crowds
were once again astonished: "Never before has such a thing been
seen in Israel!"
This is the first time Yeshua uses the term "son of man" in
his sayings, and perhaps there is no term more controversial
in the gospels. The Aramaic is bar nasha, which means
literally, the son of a man, or the son of a human. It is used
frequently in the book of Ezekiel to refer to himself,
in contrast to God; it is used in other books as well, Numbers,
Job, the Psalms, always to refer to man or the spirit of man.
It appears to have been Yeshua's favorite way of referring to
himself; but because of its ancient usage in the Hebrew
scriptures, we can be sure that he did not mean "son of God",
especially as he has always sharply rebuked this term.
Soon after this, Yeshua called Mattaniah the publican to
be his follower, whose name has come down to us as Matthew.
Mark and Luke tell us he was called Levi, and that his
father's name was Alphaeus; it is not known for certain who
he was, or whether he was the author of the gospel which bears
his name. But Levi or Matthew, he went home and caused a great
feast to be prepared to celebrate his becoming a follower of
Yeshua, and we are told that many other "publicans and sinners"
came to the feast.
A publican was a tax-collector, in the pay of the Romans.
They collected taxes from the Jews, and turned them over
to the Roman rulers; this caused them to be vilified and
hated by the Jews, even though they were Jewish themselves. It
seemed like a traitorous thing to do. The "sinners" were those
who because of ignorance or poverty did not follow all the many
rules of the Jewish religion that were so important to the
sopherim and haberim; they were called amme ha-eretz,
"men of the soil" in Aramaic, and were looked upon with scorn by
the religious leaders. These were the people that the gospels
tell us were attracted to Yeshua; today they would probably have
been called "commoners" or "rabble" or "street people"; they were
working-class themselves, and mostly loyal Jews, despite their
ignorance of scribal laws.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees, who must have been
standing outside of Levi's house peeping in the windows,
unless they themselves had joined the feast, carped at
Yeshua's followers, "Your master is breaking the Kosher laws,
by thus eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and street
people." But Yeshua heard them, and again put them in their
If people are well, they do not need a doctor;
I have not come out of the wilderness to call those who know
Torah and the prophets, but to teach those who do not.
Matthew tells us that Yeshua also told his critics that
they should study the words of Hosea and learn what he meant
when he said that God wants mercy and not sacrifice. That is,
one of the greatest of the prophets had himself declared that
men caring for each other was more important to God than rules
Later the Pharisees, and also some of Yohanan's disciples,
complained that Yeshua and his followers were not fasting
according to the Law. Yeshua brushed this aside, and compared
himself and his followers to the friends of a bridegroom
at a wedding-feast. How can they fast, Yeshua asked the
Pharisees, on such a joyous occasion? He also pointed out that
people do not put a piece of new cloth on an old garment, nor
do they pour new wine into old bottles, thus comparing his
teaching with something new and their practices with something
old. He concluded with a lament for their sakes: "Nor does
anyone who has drunk old wine want new wine; for he says, The
old is good enough." He might have quoted Isaiah III, from
chapter 58, where God says, "The kind of fast which I want is
to feed the hungry, and care for the poor, and to remove heavy
burdens, and to let the oppressed go free."
There is a legend of a marriage in Cana, which is several
miles to the west of the sea of Galilee, where Yeshua is
said to have turned water into wine, told in the gospel
of John only, as the first thing Yeshua did when he left the
wilderness. This may have been embroidered upon these simple
retorts to the Perushim about fasting--"new wine in old bottles".
But John's story is proved legendary by the fact that Yeshua
refused to give a sign, as he declared in the wilderness, and
as he tells the Perushim explicitly later.
Then they criticized him for working on the sabbath, even
though all his disciples did was to gather food; they
picked corn as they were going through the fields. Now
this allows us to decide the season when this happened; it
must have been around the Feast of Succoth, when all the
harvests were ripe. But Yeshua retorted,
Don't you remember how king David himself
and his men went into the temple and ate the bread
which was only supposed to be eaten by the priests?
Or how the priests themselves profane
the sabbath by necessary labor?
Why have you not studied the scripture
I gave you from Hosea? I tell you,
the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the
Then soon afterward, he was back in the synagogue, and we
are told that a man whose hand was withered was also
present. All of the punctilious scribes and Pharisees
watched Yeshua, to see what he would do; he had healed before,
and would he again? But Yeshua asked them,
Is it better on the sabbath day to do good,
or to do harm? to save a life, or to kill?
And what man of you wouldn't pull your sheep
out of a pit on the sabbath?
This shut them up;
and after looking around at all of them with
anger and indignation because they were so concerned with law
and so little with the man's condition, he told the man to
stretch out his hand. We are told that it was healed; perhaps
it was because of the man's great relief at being spoken to by
Yeshua; perhaps it was only the action of stretching it out,
which he had been afraid to do before, which showed him and all
the crowd that his hand still had life in it.
But after this the Pharisees went out raging and began
conspiring with the Herodians, the political party which
supported Herod Antipas, to get rid of Yeshua. He must
have been out of the wilderness only a few days, or a few weeks,
at most a few months; but already the authorities wanted to kill
this man who taught on his own authority, who healed without
priestly help, and went around breaking the rules of their