Truth Before And After Jesus
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:37-40
Jesus' words that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor are paralleled elsewhere among the rabbis. About 100 years after Jesus, Rabbi Akiva made the comment on “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” that “This is the great principle of the Torah.”1 Akiva could have heard it indirectly from Jesus, but in the book of Jubilees, from about 100 years before Jesus, it is commanded that we should "love each his neighbor, and to behave towards all men as one treats oneself” (Jub. 20:2).2 So here we also read "love your neighbor" command along with the Golden Rule in a text that precedes Jesus' own words.
It can be challenging to our faith to hear that some of Jesus' most famous teachings are found in his culture both before and after him. In our imagination we often have the picture that the the world was utterly black and devoid of sense before Jesus came to utter the great truths of God. In reality, what we find is that God had been training up a people for 2000 years to understand him, and in the last years before he came, he had prepared them especially to receive him.
A few hundred years before Jesus came, the Jewish people returned to their land and rebuilt their temple after being exiled for 70 years. Because the people knew that the exile was because of their disobedience, they had an enormous urge to observe God's laws and study the Bible like never before. Some of the returning people settled in places far from the Temple, so they devised a new thing called a "synagogue." There, instead of sacrifices, they emphasized study and memorization of the Scriptures, so that the Jewish people became deeply literate in the Bible, many learning much of it by heart. Then they went through terrible persecution for their faith in God by the Greeks, and later by the Romans. Together these things made Jesus' audience long for God to send someone to save them from their suffering, and to search the Scriptures to find God's promises for the Messiah.
It was then, I think, that the Spirit started speaking to people through the Scriptures, pointing out the great truths of God, like "love your neighbor as yourself." These great ideas began to emerge from Jesus' people even before he arrived. God loves all humanity and wants all to be saved, and he gives everyone some sense of truth. But especially during Jesus' day, God was preparing the Jewish people to understand Jesus' profound words like in no other time and place. And although some didn't recognize him as the Messiah, many of those truths from Jesus resonate deeply in Jewish culture in ways that they don't in Western culture where the Gospel became more common.
People mistakenly believe that almost none of the Jews of Jesus' time believed in him. To the contrary, Acts 21:20 reports that "thousands believed" in Jerusalem alone, an area that was more hostile to Jesus than others. Scholars estimate that 10 - 30% of all Jews may have believed in Jesus, and that the struggles that Paul and others had with "the unbelief of the Jews" was that not all of them believed, rather than that none of them believed.
Instead of being threatened by hearing that similar ideas to Jesus' came both before and after him, we can be encouraged that God was giving people insights that would help them see the One who was standing before them.
©2006 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights
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