Continued from last week…
There were three pilgrimage feasts for which all Israel was expected to gather in Jerusalem. They were Pesach (Passover), which commemorated the deliverance of Israel form slavery in Egypt, Shavuot (Weeks or Pentecost), which commemorated the receiving of the Torah by Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai and Sukkot (Booths) during which Israel would camp out for a week in lean-tos or tents to commemorate their wandering in the desert.
Jesus and his followers had almost derailed Passover by entering Jerusalem a few days before the feast. They entered in royal style declaring Jesus king and messiah and worse, they caused a riot in the temple. The Sadducees who controlled both temple and law courts at the time, had nipped things in the bud by having Jesus executed on the day before the Passover when people would be busy preparing and thus too preoccupied to riot. It would have worked perfectly except for that empty tomb.
Now came Shavuot, the feast Weeks, the next pilgrimage feast just fifty days after Passover. The city was again overflowing with crowds of the devout from all over the world. The followers of Jesus the Nazarene chose this moment to strike. There was a commotion in the southeast quarter of the city. The followers of Jesus acted like madmen shouting in obscure babble like prophets of old claiming that they had been filled with the Holy Spirit of the Lord.
After a rousing sermon by the Simon Bar Jonah, called Peter, the gullible mobs had rushed to the Essene baths just outside the walls and had been baptized in the mikvehs in the name of Jesus who they claimed was still alive. It was Jesus and John the Baptist all over again. Thousands had participated in this charade. This sect of the Nazarene’s followers was now numerically as large as the party of the Pharisees and certainly larger than the sects of the Essenes and the Sadducees. Worst of all, the pilgrims would soon return home to their respective countries in the Hebrew Diaspora claiming that the messiah had come, and was Jesus of Nazareth. He had proved His divinity by rising from the dead. Things would never be the same.
They preached that observance of the rules of Torah weren’t enough. All should be baptized. All should be converted. Being born in the covenant wasn’t enough. There was nothing strange about the immersion in the waters of the mikveh. Israel had always practiced Baptism, a Greek word that simply meant immersion, but the immersion required by the Nazarenes was different. A mikveh is a bath required to regain ritual purity after contact with things that were considered unclean. A person had to be ritually pure to enter the Temple. If one was not in a fit state to enter the temple for worship, one had to be purified by immersion in a mikveh. Sometime, more was required depending on the nature of the impurity, but it was always capped off with the cleansing bath of the mikveh.
These baptizing Nazarenes like Jesus and John were insisting on purification for everyone, without regard to the requirements of the law. All were unclean. This new washing would allow a person to enter the new temple, the temple not made with stones, the living temple of the Messiah’s body, His assembly, and to participate in the messianic thanksgiving sacrifice of Jesus crucified and risen flesh, in the form of bread and wine.
The Temple of Herod was over. The messiah had restored the temple and these crazy people were claiming to be that temple. What they believed sounded like cannibalism, and worse still, they were repeating Jesus blasphemous claims of divinity.
All this was insanity. Where was all this in the Torah? The Torah never clearly mentions the messiah, much less a dying-rising, priest-king, divine and human messiah. It was a non-Torah fabrication perpetrated by uneducated Galileans. It was all the most outrageous foolishness and blasphemy and now it was on its way throughout the world. How could any of this appeal to a reasonable person? Things went from bad to worse. These madmen met daily in the temple by the thousands for prayer and study, listening to the musings of yokels like Peter who had no right to claim the title Rabbi and here were thousands hanging on his every word.
John was another of the ringleaders, a kinsman of Jesus from a priestly family, well known to the Great Priest. He and Peter were on their way into the temple courts one morning for their usual gathering when a lame beggar who had been at the same temple gate for years caught their eyes. Peter said that he had no money, but would give what he had. He took the beggar by his arm, hoisted him to his feet and the faker started to walk. Anyone who went to the temple knew him and had believed him to be lame. Now he could walk. Had he ever really been lame? It didn’t matter. Now they were claiming miraculous powers like the Nazarene before them.
It had to be stopped. Pete and John were arrested. Gamaliel, ever the peacemaker, convinced the Sanhedrin to release them. He said that if it was from God, it could not be stopped. If it wasn’t from God, it would die of its own foolishness like so many other messianic movements before it. Why make martyrs?
Still, one could help it go away by means of a little intimidation. There was a young firebrand who claimed to be a Pharisee, who supposedly had studied at the feet of Gamaliel. He was called Saul from the Greek town of Tarsus. He managed to organize a lynch mob that stoned one of the Nazarenes to death after a quick trial. Perhaps Gamaliel’s wise counsel was not what the situation required. Perhaps the time had come for harsher measures against this Nazarene nonsense.
This Saul bore watching. He could be useful.
Next Week: Saul of Tarsus betrays the Sanhedrin