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Weekly Q&A: What did Jesus’ early followers believe about Gentiles being grafted into the faith?

The New Testament connects the coming of Jesus to Israel’s hopes of redemption (Luke 1:50-55, 68-75; 2:25, 38; 21:20-28; 24:21; and Acts 1:6-8). Jesus’ followers expected the end of the age would bring God’s promised redemption of Israel (Acts 1:6). They called their fellow Jews to repent as part of God’s final redemption, the resurrection of the dead, and the return of Jesus.

Jesus’ followers faced the challenge of their claim of His Messiahship. While they pointed to His resurrection as proof of God’s vindication and exaltation of Him, Rome still ruled the land of Israel and nothing had changed for the people of Israel. Ancient Judaism believed at the end of the age non-Jews would forsake their idols and turn to worship the God of Israel but remain non-Jews. The inclusion of the Gentiles into Jesus’ movement connected to this expectation as evidence that the end of the age had come.

Paul explained God’s grace to the Gentiles in Romans. Israel’s disobedience created an opportunity for the inclusion of the Gentiles into Israel, being grafted onto the olive tree of Israel. He expected non-Jews to remain non-Jews, in other words not to circumcise, but he instructed them to live Jewishly in their morality and belief in the God of Israel. They had received God’s Spirit as sons and daughters, proof God accepted them; therefore, they should walk according to the Spirit producing the fruit of the Spirit.

Paul believed the proof to Israel that Jesus was God’s Messiah was the turning of the non-Jews from their idols and worshipping the God of Israel but remaining Gentiles. By the Gentiles walking by the Spirit, living Jewishly, they testified to the end of the age and God’s fulfillment of His redemptive promises to Israel in Jesus. When Israel sees the Gentiles doing this, they will repent, which will bring the resurrection of the dead (Romans 11:15), and thus, all Israel will be safe (Romans 11:26).

To describe his position, Paul used the image of an olive tree. The non-Jews he represented by a single wild olive branch grafted on to the olive tree, which represented Israel. He reminded his Gentiles readers that “it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11:18). Paul understood the horticulture of olives well. He never implied the single wild olive branch supplanted the tree, nor did he imagine a blossoming branch grafted onto a withering root.

The New Testament never indicates the followers of Jesus changed their initial proclamation: the coming of Jesus heralds the redemption of Israel. Christianity has historically struggled with this reality, trying to understand God’s relation to the Church and Israel. But those problems are ours, not the early followers of Jesus, including Paul.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Empty Seats at 2023 Passover Celebrations: How Terror and Media are Liable

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

You may not immediately recognize the names of Leah, Maia, and Rina Dee who lived in Efrat, Israel. Years ago, I stayed in this beautiful town seven miles south of Jerusalem, where more than 13,000 residents—many of whom immigrated from the United States—practice their Jewish faith, hold Old Testament ideals and professional positions, and love their ancestral homeland.

Last Friday, Leah, Maia, and Rina set out on a family trip from Efrat to Tiberius for a joyous Passover visit. On the way, two Islamic Palestinian terrorists pulled up beside their car and fired on them. The car plowed off the road. In their frenzied hatred, the killers then fired 22 more shots from their Kalashnikov assault rifle, murdering sisters Maia (20) and Rina (15). The murderers mortally wounded their mother, Leah (48). She died Monday in an Israeli hospital. 

Traveling in another car further ahead, Rabbi Leo Dee and their three other children were unaware of this tragedy. He received a phone call from his sister, who had heard of an accident on that route and was checking to make sure they were all safe. Appalled, Rabbi Dee retraced his route—and discovered his family’s catastrophe. On Sunday, Rabbi Dee and his remaining children buried Maia and Rina together in a double funeral. The funerals took place with Rabbi Dee’s emotional, eloquent remarks. 

Rabbi Dee’s three family members were complete strangers to the murderers. They died for one reason: They were Jewish, viewed as mere objects in the face of coldblooded hatred. Passover ended in Israel on April 12. However, the suffering of the four remaining family members, and the town of Efrat residents who grieve with them, is stamped into the Dees’ hearts for all their days as they walk through their valley of the shadow of these senseless deaths. 

Two of my Israeli friends who live in Efrat attended the funerals. Rabbi Shmuel Bowman is the CEO of Operation Lifeshield, which delivers portable bomb shelters to at-risk communities under rocket attack. Jonathan Feldstein is the creator of the Genesis 123 foundation, which designs meaningful partnerships between Jews and Christians. Both leaders have built outstanding friendships with the Christian community worldwide. I am honored to know them. 

Shmuel observed on the day of the Dee family murders, “The disgusting thing about this tragedy is the response by the Palestinian leadership and also many ordinary Palestinians. As noon prayers ended today [Friday] on al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, hundreds of people chanted in support of the deadly terror attack… How could a human being act joyfully about such an act?”

Two days later, returning home from the double funerals, Shmuel described it as a “difficult, long day,” with thousands at the funeral crying yet reciting psalms about healing and strength “focused on the power of prayer as a force for life.” He emailed me Monday after learning about Leah’s death, revealing, “Now the sacred work of helping my friend Leo and his family, as they navigate the challenging road ahead.”

Jonathan Feldstein had already set up a link at Genesis 123 when Israel came under rocket fire from three different enemies in Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria. Calling the murders “horrific,” Jonathan goes on to say, “Despite the threat of terror and war being real here, there’s an indescribable sense that our children are actually safer here than in most parts of the world.” 

Feldstein cites a study that Israel is the fifth-safest place in the world for tourists, far safer than the U.S. He asks, “How is this paradox possible?” and observes, “We live our lives with purpose. We are here as part of God’s promise to restore us to the Land He gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants. That’s us.” He goes on to regale Passover’s festival of freedom, commenting: “Sometimes, there’s a horrible price to pay. It’s not always easy. But even at times of great domestic strife, we come together as we have now.” 

A memorable line from Leon Uris’s Exodus summarizes what Israelis bravely deal with daily: “Why must we fight for the right to live, over and over, each time the sun rises?”

On to the mainstream media, illustrations are plentiful, but a few examples show propaganda-imitating strategies from Hitler’s marketing machine against Jews. Unfortunately, it mostly overrides facts about Israel’s longing for peace 75 years later, demonstrating another malignant escalation of the world’s longest hatred.

Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) is a reliable non-profit Israeli research institute that provides in-depth information about Palestinian society. Here is an example of where innocent Israeli deaths are perpetuated by the Palestinian Authority’s “martyrdom” strategy despite the PA’s abuse of its own innocent children:

“The PA encourages children to see Martyrdom—death fighting Israelis—as something glorious that will bring them honor and popularity. They are told that … people will honor their Martyrdom and their pictures will be everywhere.” Children are brainwashed at summer camps, on children’s TV, and in their schools. 

In an example from CNN on April 7, 2023, Becky Anderson, CNN host of Connect the World, stated, “Earlier this week Israeli police stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest sites. They did that twice. They arrested hundreds of Palestinians.” For a few seconds she mentioned Maia and Rina Dee. “Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, two Israeli women were shot and killed and a third critically wounded at what Israeli police are calling a Palestinian terror attack on an Israeli car that was driving in the occupied West Bank.” 

Basically, CNN said twice that Leah, Maia, and Rina Dee were at fault for driving on a main highway in the occupied West Bank. In fact, the area is Samaria and Judea, Israel’s biblical heartland—and one sister was a teenager. 

Even worse—with no mention of Jewish murders—here is what Amnesty International added amid layers of lies: that a second consecutive night-time attack on Palestinian worshippers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque “illustrates the sheer brutality of Israel’s apartheid. …These orchestrated attacks demonstrate just how far Israeli authorities will go to maintain their cruel system of apartheid. … Once again, Israeli security forces have shown the world what apartheid looks like … turned one of the holiest sites in Islam into a crime scene.” But the exact opposite is true. Cause and effect are rarely well covered by mainstream world media.

Frequently, prior to Jewish holidays, Iran’s nearby proxies circulate lies that Jews are going to “invade and take over” the al-Aqsa mosque. This dangerous ritual is against the rules and protocol of the Muslim authorities themselves. The lies are the beginning of the conflict’s cause yet are almost completely ignored by the media.

Last Friday, after Ramadan prayers ended, dozens of Palestinians remained in the mosque for an overnight. Muslim worshippers at the al-Aqsa Mosque reported the facts, saying that the violent outbreak had been instigated by “Muslim extremists” who barricaded themselves in the mosque, imprisoned the worshippers there, and kept other Muslims from entering the mosque to pray. The perpetrators had backpacks filled with weapons, stones, and fireworks to use against the Israeli police who maintain security atop the Temple Mount. 

After repeatedly trying to negotiate, the Israeli police were then forced to restore order. When they began clearing the mosque, the instigators then used their mobile phones to show that “the Jewish occupation is desecrating the third-holiest mosque in the world.” Thus, they accomplished their intended purpose. Never mind that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are still praying on the Temple Mount during Ramadan, which ends April 20. 

Some media reported earlier about the Palestinian mosque takeovers. However, when Israeli police cleared out the worshippers from the mosque, mainstream media instantly latched onto that event—excusing perpetrators and terrorists, and instead blaming Israel with outsized lies. 

Cause is now ignored, effect is amplified, and leftist broadcasters covered the murders of Israeli civilians like Leah, Maia, and Rina Dee as if they were not human beings. While Palestinians gave out candy in their streets to celebrate the Jewish sisters’ deaths, Rabbi Leo Dee declared through his tears at the double funeral, “The formula for faith is always to focus on what you do have and not what you do not have. I still have three wonderful children and a wonderful wife.” Today, he cannot claim that last blessing—he is now a widower. 

We urge you to join our CBN Israel team this week to pray repeatedly with Psalm 59:1-3: “Deliver me from my enemies, O God; be my fortress against those who are attacking me. Deliver me from evildoers and save me from those who are after my blood. See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin of mine, LORD” (NIV).

Prayer Points:

  • Pray for the Dee family using Isaiah 42:3—“A bent reed He will not break off
    And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.”
  • Pray for the rapidly evolving security challenges Israel is facing where their enemies sense weakness and disunity within the population. 
  • Pray for Israeli military for readiness and willingness to lay aside unusual political disputes to defend their nation. 
  • Pray for Christians worldwide to become active purveyors of facts about Israel to counteract propaganda.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her part-time as Outreach Director for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel, guest columnist at All Israel News, and has frequently traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a board member for Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene attends Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook.

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Biblical Israel: Church of the Holy Sepulchre

By Marc Turnage

The traditional location of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which sits within the heart of the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The origin of the church goes back to the Emperor Constantine. His mother the Empress Helena on a visit to the Holy Land (326 A.D.) was shown this location by local Christians and identified as the place where Jesus’ crucifixion and burial took place. Upon that site, her son built the first church, which was called the Church of the Resurrection. 

Archaeological excavations within the church have uncovered the history of the site. In the 8th-7th centuries B.C., the location of the Holy Sepulchre was a large limestone quarry to the northwest of the walled city of Jerusalem. According to the excavator, the site continued to be used as a quarry until the first century B.C. when it was filled in with soil and stone flakes from the quarry. The site at this time became a garden or orchard that contained fig, carob, and olive trees. At the same time, it developed into a cemetery. Within the complex of the Holy Sepulchre, tombs dating to the first century have been discovered.

One of the challenges for modern visitors to the church is its location within the modern Old City of Jerusalem and its walls. Jesus was crucified outside of the city walls. The modern Old City walls, built in the 16th century, however, have nothing to do with the walls of Jesus’ Jerusalem. Jews did not bury within the walls of city, but rather outside. The presence of first century tombs within the Holy Sepulchre complex indicates that this location stood outside the walls of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. 

Jewish tombs in the first century consisted of two types: kokhim and arcosolia. The most common being the kokhim. A kokh (singular) was a long, narrow recess cut into a rock tomb in which a body, coffin, or ossuary (bone box) could be laid. The typical kokhim tomb was hewn into the hillside and consisted of a square chamber. The entrance to an ordinary kokhim tomb was a small square opening that required a person entering to stoop. The height of the chamber was usually less than that of a person, so they often cut a square pit into the floor of the chamber. This pit created a bench on three sides of the chamber where the bodies of the deceased could be prepared. 

After the chamber and the pit were cut, the kokhim were cut level with the top of the benches and perpendicular to the wall of the tomb in a counter clockwise direction, from right to left, in every wall except the entrance wall. One to three kokhim were usually cut per wall. The kokh had roughly vaulted ceilings and were the length of the deceased or a coffin. After the deceased was placed into the kokh, a blocking stone sealed the square entrance of the tomb. Small stones and plaster helped to further seal the blocking stone. The tomb was sealed in a manner that it blended into the surrounding hillside. 

In addition to the kokhim tomb, arcosolia tombs began to appear sporadically during the first century. The arcosolia is a bench-like aperture with an arched ceiling hewn into the length of the wall. This style of burial was more expensive since only three burial places existed within a tomb chamber instead of six or nine, as typically found within kokhim tombs. Approximately 130 arcosolia tombs have been discovered in Jerusalem and over half of them also contain kokhim. Ossuaries (bone boxes) could be placed on the arcosolia benches.

The tomb identified within the Holy Sepulchre as the tomb of Jesus was originally an arcosolium (singular) with an antechamber; however, the centuries of pilgrims and the various destructions of the church have deformed and obliterated the tomb. What visitors see today is a later structure; nevertheless, the tomb originally contained a first century arcosolium tomb. 

The Roman Emperor Hadrian built on top of the quarry-garden-cemetery a raised platform with another platform on it where he built a temple to Venus/Aphrodite in the second century. This pagan temple was removed when Constantine built his church. 

Constantine built a rotunda around Jesus’ tomb. The rock of Golgotha was exposed to the open air in a garden, and on the other side of the garden, Constantine built a basilica church. 

The question arises whether or not the Holy Sepulchre contains the location of Jesus’ tomb. What we can say is this: 1) The site was a cemetery in the first century with first century tombs. 2) From the second century until the arrival of the Empress Helena, the actual tomb had been covered for 300 years. The fact that the local Christian memory remembered this location, where a first century cemetery existed, even though it was covered by the Hadrianic temple strongly suggests the authenticity of the site. 3) When Helena was shown this site, it sat like now within the walled, urban city of Jerusalem, which would have seemed strange to ancient pilgrims as it does to modern. 

Yet, the memory of the local Christian community remembered that this location once lay outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Ten to fifteen years after Jesus’ death and burial a wall was built in Jerusalem that enclosed this area into the city. 

Pilgrims to Jerusalem often wonder if the Holy Sepulchre marks the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The archaeology and tradition of the site support its claims. 

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Q&A: Who killed Jesus?

The Gospel of Luke makes clear that the chief priests and their scribes sought to kill Jesus because He challenged those selling in the Temple, the economy the chief priests controlled (Luke 19:47). They could not openly attack Him because of His overwhelming popularity with the people (Luke 19:48). Throughout Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem, His teachings and actions criticized and challenged the corruption of the chief priests, the Sadducean aristocracy of Jerusalem (Luke 19:45-46; 20:1-40). His popularity with the masses protected Him against the chief priests (Luke 19:47-48; 20:19; 22:2).

The book of Acts portrays this same group as the opponents of the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 4:1-7), who, like their master, enjoyed the favor of the Jewish masses. The Gospels relate how the chief priests, and the officers of the Temple used the cloak of darkness to arrest Jesus so they could conceal their actions from the Jewish people (Luke 22:52). Jesus pointed this out to them, “When I was with you day after day in the Temple, you did not lay hands on Me” (Luke 22:53). The crowds of Jerusalem never turned their backs on Jesus. Luke relates how the crowds mourned Jesus, upon seeing the Romans brutalize Him (23:27, 48).

The chief priests of Jerusalem controlled a monopoly. They set the prices for the sacrifices. Pilgrims were forced to pay these inflated prices since they could not bring their sacrifices from a distance. Jewish sources relate how on occasion sacrifices cost so much people could not participate in the Temple festivals, and Pharisaic leaders rebuked the chief priests for their greed (b. Baba Batra 3b-4a; m. Kerithoth 1:7).

Archaeological excavations in Jerusalem have uncovered high priestly homes which attest to the opulent and lavish lifestyle in which these priests lived. Jewish sources, like Josephus, portray the priests and their slaves as protecting their wealth and power with brutal action (see Mark 14:43). Jesus condemned the corruption of the chief priests publicly (Luke 19:46, 20:9-19).

He linked their corruption to the coming destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. His was not the only voice criticizing the Jerusalem high priests in the first century. Many Jews were hopeful that He was the promised redeemer (see Luke 24:21). His popularity among the masses gave gravity to His condemnation of the chief priests. He had to be killed lest Caiaphas and the other chief priests lose their position and wealth (John 11:49-50).

It is a cruel tragedy of Christian history how the blame for the death of Jesus has been laid at the feet of the Jewish people, many of whom “hung upon His words” (Luke 19:48). The greed of a small group of the high priestly Jerusalem Sadducean aristocracy led to Jesus’ arrest and handing over to Pilate. They used the darkness of night to cover their clandestine activities from the site of the Jewish people (see Luke 22:52-53; Acts 5:27-28). They used their power and relationship with the Roman governor to ensure His death (see Luke 22:66; 23:10, 13, and 21; and John 19:6).

Their desire to protect their power and wealth motivated them to orchestrate Jesus’ death at the hands of the Romans. They are not alone in human history in perpetrating heinous actions motivated by a lust for money and power.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Holy Week Faces Unholy Strife During Passover, Ramadan, and Easter

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Wildflowers are draping Israel’s hills in a show of breathtaking spring beauty. But they do so amid unprecedented political, religious, and security anxieties in the streets. Jerusalem teems with crisscrossing religious observances from the three monotheistic religions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—while Tel Aviv has been the epicenter of three months of massive protests. Hopefully, conflicts and disunity will transition into celebrations during Passover, which began April 5 and conclude on April 12.

At the Western Wall (Kotel), hope is tucked into every crevice of its stones with written prayers from throngs of Jewish and Christian residents and pilgrims. Sixty feet above them, over 100,000 Muslims crowd onto the Temple Mount for Ramadan prayers. The Ramadan holy month began March 22 and lasts until April 21. The Jewish seven-day Passover annually proclaims the Israelites’ freedom from Egyptian slavery. Christians just celebrated Palm Sunday to begin our Holy Week, where we too rejoice in freedom—freedom from sin’s slavery through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus, The Perfect Lamb of God. 

The on-edge atmosphere in Israel—with overlapping religious observances of Christians, Jews, and Muslims—is taking place after 13 weeks of massive protests about the Knesset’s attempts to overhaul Israel’s judiciary. Prime Minister Netanyahu is hoping to restore the “lost balance” between the branches of government. Although he has finally paused the extremely controversial legislation until April 30, strife remains evident. Israelis are sharply divided on the issue and outraged at a variety of their leaders.

The judiciary reform potential and the competing interests of the secular, religious, political, and military are nuanced and complex, especially to those of us who do not live in Israel. At Ben Gurion Airport before the Prime Minister delayed the legislation, a few dozen protestors held up signs reading, “Welcome to the dictatorship.” Nevertheless, the fact that protests are going on is still a sign of Israel’s vibrant democracy, although the current disunity is alarming.

Most disturbing are the divisions developing due to some elite reservists’ units in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) refusing to show up for duty. Briefly put, due to Israel’s small size and daily threats, the State of Israel requires every Israeli citizen over age 18—Jewish, Druze, and Circassian—to serve. After their active duty, many Israelis continue in the reserves until their 40s, providing a security backbone in a crisis. Prime Minister Netanyahu gave an ominous warning describing the current refusals as a threat to Israel’s existential foundation: “The country cannot exist without the IDF. There will not be a nation, it’s very simple.” 

Netanyahu’s background serving in his younger years in an elite IDF combat unit, an expert on Iran’s nuclear pursuit, and with 15 total years as the prime minister, suggests he knows what he is talking about. Israel’s security concerns are escalating. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) stationed in Syria means the Israeli Air Force must make more frequent incursions over Syria to bomb weapons depots and weapons convoys still arriving in that country on the ground and in the air. Internal terrorism from Palestinians is sanctioned by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and a new Palestinian terror group called the Lion’s Den operates around Nablus, Jericho, and Jenin. The absolute necessity for the IDF to be on high alert and  ready to defend the nation and its people cannot be understated. Hamas, the Gaza terror government, has already maintained its foothold in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

Israel’s enemies—both internal and external—pose a serious threat to the continual survival of the Jewish nation and her people. Its enemies rejoice as they watch Israel’s intensified internal strife and conflict. That reality, joined by an upsurge of anti-Semitism worldwide, means Israel faces an alarming convergence of problems.

  

And there is more. Israel prides itself in its treatment of Christians—as being the safest place for them to thrive. However, church leaders in Jerusalem’s Old City are troubled by growing incidents in their houses of worship and elsewhere. In February, an American Jewish tourist vandalized a statue of Jesus in Jerusalem’s Church of the Flagellation. An Armenian priest was spit upon. “Death to Christians” was sprayed on the wall of a monastery and two Jewish teens damaged 28 tombstones at the Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery. Ahead of Holy Week, Anglican, Armenian, Catholic, Orthodox, and other worshippers appealed to the government to ensure the safety for all Christian observances with the huge crowds of pilgrims streaming into Israel.

Clearly, Israel is undergoing a time of immense pressure and crushing. Now, in Holy Week 2023, it is a reminder that Jesus Himself underwent a crushing for us in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago. After finishing His last Passover supper, Jesus and His eleven disciples walked to Gethsemane in the darkness. “Gethsemane” combines two Hebrew words, Gat and Shmanim, defined as “the place where olive oil is pressed”—the “Garden of the Olive Press.”

In Jesus’ day, Gethsemane was a well-known location where presses made of stone crushed the olives. The larger presses included stones suspended with ropes from wooden crossbeams—some weighing up to a ton. The pulp underwent crushing until the precious commodity emptied into clay jars used for cooking, anointing oil, and Temple lamps.

Isaiah 53:5 foretold, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.” Like the wooden crossbeams of the olive presses, our Savior Jesus hung on the wooden beams of the cross crushed under the incalculable weight of our sins. Jesus bore a burden that only He in the history of the world confronted. He gave and sacrificed His life for all people for all time, producing the precious oil and blood of our redemption. 

Following Jesus from the Garden of the Olive Press into the traumatic, violent night, recall what He said to the religious leaders: “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18). Despite the fact that Jesus was Jewish in His humanity, that His disciples were Jewish, and that the early church was composed mostly of Jews, Jews are blamed for “killing Jesus.” This accusation has led to centuries of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, which in effect ignores God’s redemptive plan of salvation. Remember, Jesus said, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.” No one could stop God’s redemptive plan!

Knowing more about Gethsemane and Jesus’ identification with the olive presses is another dimension about Jesus being crushed for us! During our Holy Week, let us agree that we must increase our prayers on Israel’s behalf, not because it is perfect, for no nation or persons are perfect. Yet, we do it because we believe in a perfect Jewish Savior who loves Israel and each of us unconditionally.

Our CBN Israel team encourages you, your families, and friends to have a glorious Resurrection Day remembering the eternal hope we have in our Lord Jesus! May you rejoice remembering that God’s Perfect Lamb perfected John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Please join CBN Israel in prayer this week for the Jewish nation and people:

  • Pray fervently for the peace of Jerusalem as instructed in Psalm 122. 
  • Pray for wise decisions from Prime Minister Netanyahu and all Israeli leaders.
  • Pray for restored unity in the Israeli military and among all Israelis.
  • Pray with thanks for Israel’s endless contributions to our world.
  • Pray that Israel’s enemies will not take advantage of the current chaos.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her part-time as Outreach Director for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel, guest columnist at All Israel News, and has frequently traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a board member for Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene attends Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook.

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Giving Help and Hope During Passover

For over a decade, CBN Israel has hosted a special Passover dinner for single-parent families, widows, and families in crisis. These events are offered in various locations all over the country.

Through these Passover gatherings, friends like you are making it possible to provide families with a quality dinner as well as a meaningful time of fellowship. At the culmination of the evening, each family is blessed with a holiday package and food vouchers.

Thanks to caring donors, the individuals and families who attend are reminded that they are not forgotten—and they are not alone. These holiday events also enable CBN Israel to maintain contact with each household in order to continually assess the needs and offer basic assistance. 

“CBN Israel has been giving me help and support for over a decade—since my two children were babies,” said one single mom. “It makes me so happy that you care about us—both during holidays like Passover and all throughout the year. I cannot thank you enough!”

Another woman shared, “I am a new immigrant in Israel without any family or relatives. I am so grateful that you invite us to come celebrate Passover and other holidays with CBN Israel. You not only welcome us with dinner and hospitality; you also give me food vouchers so that I can afford to buy food and other essentials for my kids. Thank you!”

And your gift can be a blessing to many others in need across the Holy Land—with food, shelter, financial assistance, job training, and more. Thank you so much!

As the cries for help increase, your support is crucial. You can offer a lifeline to Holocaust survivors, immigrants, single mothers, and terror victims.

GIVE TODAY

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Weekly Q&A: What are parables?

Story parables are a unique style of Jewish teaching found only in the Gospels on the lips of Jesus and within rabbinic literature. As a literary genre, story parables emerged within Judaism after the period of the Old Testament.

The story parable offers a story with a meaning. They seek to explain to common people a moral message, God’s attitude towards humanity, and the relationship between God and humanity. Their moral messages convey how people should live in obedience to God within the world.

The story evokes a comparison between the characters and action of the story and the moral message of the teacher. These comparisons, however, are not intended to be allegorical. Allegory assumes each detail, character, or aspect of a story represents something else. Parables do not work in this manner.

Rather, the story provides a message, but the audience should not seek to identify each detail. The world of the parable is the real world. It is neither mythological nor fantastic. Animals do not speak in parables. Rather, the parable conveys a real-world sense, fishermen fishing, farmers farming, sellers selling, etc. These everyday scenarios help to explain theological ideas to common people.

Parables often have an open ending. In other words, they do not bring the story to a satisfactory resolution. This underscores the rhetorical aim of the parable in which the listener found him or herself within the parable. Part of the ending depended upon how the listener responded in his or her life. At times the one telling the parable used amoral or even immoral characters to heighten the tension of the parable.

Luke preserves some of Jesus’ parables in which the main character is immoral. The immorality of the character emphasized the moral message of the parable. Yet, parables do not usually refer to characters as righteous and unrighteous, rather as wise and foolish. Thus, even though the purpose of parables was to convey a moral message, the parables themselves had an inherent immoral quality.

Parables only appear on the lips of Jesus and the Sages of Israel, who most closely represent the Pharisees. All parables within rabbinic literature appear in Hebrew. Parables are not told in Aramaic. While the Gospels were written in Koine Greek, Jesus did not use Greek to teach people. The universal use of Hebrew for parables within Judaism suggests Jesus also told his parables in Hebrew.

Parables only appear within Judaism in the land of Israel. We do not find parables told outside the land of Israel. Thus, parables were told in Hebrew, by the Sages, in the land of Israel. So too, the setting for the teaching of parables within the Gospels and rabbinic literature is outside of the synagogue. Parables do not come from the House of Study, but rather serve the common people seeking to understand God and what He wanted from them.

Jesus’ use of parables anchors him within the Jewish world of Israel’s Sages, to the Hebrew language, and in the land of Israel. Studying rabbinic parables can assist us in reading and understanding the parables of Jesus.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Let Us Revive the Ancient Bonds Between Passover and Easter

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Despite three months of deepening political disunity within Israel—along with increased threats of war and terrorism from their enemies—Israeli Jews will still find a way to celebrate their 75th Passover festival (Chag Ha-Pesach) in their modern ancestral homeland. Israel is the epicenter of faith for both Jews and Christians. Two thousand years ago, God sent His beloved Son into our world as The Living Torah—The Living Word. No events will erase God’s sovereign plans.

Passover and Christian Holy Weeks are fast approaching. Christian Holy Week begins Palm Sunday, April 2, and culminates on Easter Sunday, April 9. Passover begins on April 5, lasting until April 13. The deep connections between Judaism and Christianity have suffered serious neglect. It is vitally important for our faith kinship to grow stronger—especially in the face of rising anti-Semitism and Christian persecution worldwide.

Discovering that we are grafted into the roots of Judaism through Jesus adds a rich dimension to our Christian faith. The deep connection and parallel between Passover’s freedom celebration and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is one we dare not miss. Jesus liberates believers—not from a Pharaoh’s cruelty to Israelite slaves with the resulting exodus to freedom—but freedom from sin’s dark enslavement.

Jesus completed the prophetic announcements in the Old Testament that had been written by Jewish scribes under God’s inspiration. In His three-year ministry, Jesus and His Jewish disciples started a new movement that was always intended to be the full blossoming of Judaismnot the replacement of it. Born into a Jewish family and culture, Jesus lived fully engaged in Jewish customs and religious observances. And His faith was ancient Judaism.

Because Passover was one of the three pilgrimage festivals within Judaism, thousands of Jews would have made their way to Jerusalem for freedom celebration. In fact, the ancient historian Josephus estimates a million or more pilgrims were already flowing into the capital before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. His fame had drawn adoring crowds, all hoping for a king to liberate them from their brutal Roman oppressors.

The day we call Palm Sunday is the ancient Day of Lambs. When Bethlehem shepherds herded huge flocks of Passover lambs into Jerusalem, the Perfect Lamb rode a donkey amid thousands of lambs parading into the holy city as Temple sacrifices. It is an exquisite picture of Divine context. In the first Passover in Egypt, God instructed Israelites to choose a perfect lamb to kill not only for food, but to apply its blood to their doorposts. God promised that when the Angel of Death swept over Egypt and saw the blood, death would pass over the Israelites’ firstborn. The blood of lambs saved lives!

In Jesus’ day, the Sadducees appointed expert Levitical shepherds to nurture lambs in Bethlehem’s fields owned by the religious leaders. Bethlehem, the Perfect Lamb of God’s birthplace! The Sadducees conducted a lamb “beauty contest” at the Lamb’s Gate, choosing only the perfect ones. 1 Peter 1:18-19 proclaims, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things… but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”

For Jews, from generation to generation, the Passover Seder celebration recounts the theme of freedom from slavery. The modern Jewish Passover meal is called a Seder, meaning “order,” and lasts for hours with prayers, the feast, and recounting the Exodus freedom stories. In recounting those stories, Jewish families use the Passover Haggadah, a script developed over hundreds of years. This cherished collection of prayers, psalms and benedictions, which is used as a teaching tool, is recited on the eve of Passover.

A Passover Seder centerpiece displays six items. One of them holds a secret meaning for Christians. Matzo, a flat cracker bread, has tiny holes and brownish stripes. For us, Matzo is a visual representation of nails piercing Jesus’ body on the cross and the stripes inflicted on our Lord by Romans. For Jews, it represents their unleavened bread when Israelites hastily fled Egypt after the tenth plague.

Jesus would have celebrated Passover annually even going back to His childhood: “His [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast” (Luke 2:41-42).

Jesus’ last Passover is what we later called the Last Supper. In Luke 22:15, Jesus expresses His heartfelt emotion in the Upper Room with His disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” The dramatic events swiftly moved forward. Afterward, Jesus and His remaining eleven disciples left the Upper Room. In darkness, the group walked about a mile to the Mount of Olives, an important manufacturing location that made olive oil. Jesus and His disciples frequently visited Gethsemane. The English word “Gethsemane” combines two Hebrew words, Gat and Shmanim, defined as “the place where olive oil is pressed.” 

The popular geographical location is rich with symbolism. Isaiah 53:5 describes a compelling truth, “He was crushed for our iniquities.” Like the wooden beams holding up the olive crushing stones, our Savior Jesus bore the wooden beams of the crucifixion cross—crushed under the weight of our sins. The larger presses included stones (suspended with ropes from wooden beams) weighing up to a ton. The presses transformed the olives to use for cooking, anointing oil, and Temple lights.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus pleaded in Mark 14:36, “Abba [Aramaic for Father], everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” We are familiar with Jesus’ anguished prayers laced with tears of blood before His arrest. Hematidrosis is the medical name for Jesus’ tears, an extremely rare occurrence where blood is mixed with sweat. Jesus’ crushing in “the place where olive oil is pressed” produced the precious oil and blood of our redemption.

Eventually, Roman soldiers and civilians showed up. Judas Iscariot led the way, placing the kiss of death on Jesus’ face. Throughout the traumatic night, recall what Jesus declared to the Pharisees in John 10:17-18, “No man takes my life from me; I am laying it down of my own will. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Yes, many accomplices acted out their role in Jesus’ execution outside Jerusalem’s walls—the corrupt chief priests and Sadducees, Judas, Pilate, and Roman soldiers. Nevertheless, no one could stop God’s redemption plan. Jesus chose to lay down His life for the freedom and salvation of all people everywhere.

During Jesus’ crucifixion, Temple priests were slaughtering the Bethlehem lambs by the thousands. They threw lamb’s blood all over the temple court. Expertly wielding their knives, the priests chanted the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). It is possible that Jesus heard snippets of the chants where He hung outside Jerusalem’s walls. Psalm 116:3 recounts, “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow.”

Jesus’ sacrificial death seemed to be the end of every hope held by scores of Jewish believers who loved Him. In an act only the mighty hands of God could achieve, He tore the purple, scarlet, and blue veil in the Temple in two as the perfect Passover Lamb breathed His last breath. Matthew 27:51 verifies it. “At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split.” The curtain—60 feet high, 30 feet wide and four inches thick—sheltered the Holy of Holies, God’s Court, containing the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. It is easy to imagine the priests’ fright and screams when they saw the torn curtain. It was incomprehensible, since only the Jewish High Priest entered the Holy of Holies—and only once a year.

When we invite our Lord Jesus into our lives, His shed blood covers the doorposts of our lives. When our Holy God the Father looks at us, He sees the One Perfect Lamb’s blood. No longer were thousands of sacrificial lambs needed! It is His tallit, His prayer shawl—covering us, saving us from death, and giving us the gift of eternal life.

The Divine connections between Passover and Easter are a cause for endless thankfulness to God. His Promised Land Israel and His Chosen people served as vessels for His vast gift of salvation imparted to us through the Jews.

Join our CBN Israel team this week rejoicing in Jesus Christ’s finished work:

  • Pray with gratefulness to God for the gift of His finished work of salvation.
  • Pray for Israel facing multiple threats inside and outside their nation.
  • Pray for Israel’s leaders to enact wise agreements for Israel’s judiciary.
  • Pray that Israel’s enemies will not attack at this vulnerable time in Israel’s history.
  • Pray for God’s people to glimpse and accept His gifts of love.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her part-time as Outreach Director for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel, guest columnist at All Israel News, and has frequently traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a board member for Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene attends Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook.

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Housing for Holocaust Survivors

Thanks to the dedicated support of friends like you, CBN Israel is linking arms with the Jewish Agency to help ease the plight and meet the needs of disadvantaged elderly men and women, primarily Holocaust survivors, living in Israel. This aid includes constructing affordable housing, renovating existing housing, and taking innovative measures to enhance residents’ welfare and quality of life.

The Jewish Agency states: “There are over 1,000,000 Israelis over the age of 65, 200,000 of whom live at or below the poverty line and cannot afford to purchase or even rent sustainable lodgings. A large majority of these are Holocaust survivors and new olim (immigrants) from the former Soviet Union. Recent Ministry of Absorption and Ministry of Housing figures indicate that there are in excess of 27,000 poor senior citizens waiting for a suitable housing solution. While real estate prices in the world have dropped, the cost of housing in Israel has risen sharply, making it impossible for senior citizens to purchase property or even afford rent. Without support, these older adult men and women would face devastation and ruin.”

Through CBN Israel, caring donors recently made it possible to begin construction of an apartment for a Holocaust survivor who desperately needs a home. The new unit will provide a safe and comfortable living space for a precious senior citizen.

And your support today can let other Holocaust survivors know they are not forgotten—as well as immigrants, victims of terrorism, and many others in need. Thank you!

Please join us in blessing this special nation and its people!

GIVE TODAY

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Weekly Q&A: What are the main expressions of Judaism today?

Judaism today divides along two lines primarily: the geographic origin of the Jewish community, and the Jewish community’s encounter with modernity and the modern world. Western Christians often struggle to understand the characteristics of modern Judaism because Christian communities in the West divide along theological and doctrinal lines.

This is not the case with Jewish communities. The differences between the Jewish communities do not come from doctrinal differences, but rather, from differences caused by their geographic locals and distances from other Jewish communities, and then, with the rise of the modern world, how Jewish communities responded and reacted to modernity.

The primary geographic divisions of the Jewish community are Ashkenazi and Sephardic. Synagogue communities divide into either of these two groups. The Ashkenazi come from Europe, primarily eastern Europe, and Russia. Sephardic Jews historically came from Spain, but today, Sephardic Jews refer to Jewish communities which came from Spain as well as those communities which came from North Africa and Middle Eastern countries, like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. These Jewish communities are also referred to as Mizrahi. Ethiopian Jews are identified as Sephardic, but their synagogue liturgy has variations.

The Spanish Inquisition caused many Jews to flee from Spain. Some went to the historical land of Israel; others migrated to Thessaloniki. The principal differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogues pertains to liturgical worship, which developed due to the geographic locations of the Jewish communities.

When we speak about various Jewish communities’ response to modernity, we refer to divisions of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. Inside the Orthodox community one finds modern as well as Ultra-Orthodox communities. For centuries, Jewish communities adhered to orthodox Judaism, which continued developing the traditions of rabbinic Judaism. Learning of rabbinic works took place within yeshivas. The differences within the communities came from their geographic locations and the rabbis they formed around, but commonalities in liturgy and the library of rabbinic works, studied in a similar manner ensured a consistency of worldview.

The Enlightenment of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries impacted the Jewish communities, particularly the Ashkenazi communities of Europe. The application of reason and critical thinking to religion led to the advent of modern biblical studies and the application of modern, critical methods of studying the Bible. Jewish communities in Europe and North America were influenced by these trends. So too, Jewish communities sought to settle a dual identity, on the one hand they were Jews, but on the other, the nationalism which swept Europe in the nineteenth century impacted Jewish communities as well.

Thus, to exist within the modern world, one had to navigate being Jewish and being German or French or American. The combination of these forces led to the growth of the Conservative and Reformed streams of Judaism, which sought to reimagine Judaism for a modern world. Instead of adhering to the traditions of the past, which often isolated Jews from the communities around them, Jews sought a form of Judaism which could incorporate them into the modern world and nations in which they lived.

The Ultra-Orthodox community went the other way. They viewed modernism as a threat, and therefore, to keep the modern world out, they froze traditions and dress from the past to insulate them from the incursion of modernism.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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