The First Shavuot … After Jesus

SPECIAL NOTE: This blog post was originally composed as a paper I recently completed as a Ph.D. paper for my Miracles seminar at Liberty University. It has been edited for space consideration and the footnotes have been converted to endnotes as I have not figured out how to include footnotes on this blog! If you would like a copy of the bibliography, please contact the ministry and one will be sent to you. Pictures have been added for a little “excitement” and “color” as they were not in the original paper.

Setting the Scene

            Imagine the scene. It has been seven weeks plus one day since Passover and the crucifixion/resurrection experience. It has been ten days since Jesus the resurrected Messiah had ascended into the clouds with the instruction to return to Jerusalem to wait for this “baptism/immersion/mikvah from the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5).[1] One can imagine that the disciples, while unsure of what is coming, are waiting for this new experience as instructed by Jesus. They are also in Jerusalem as they are good Jewish men and it is Shavuot (Hebrew for weeks) — one of the three festivals in which all Jewish men are commanded to go to Jerusalem to make sacrifices at the Temple (Ex. 23:14-17).[2] Therefore, the streets are teeming with Jewish men (and families) from all over the Roman Empire who speak with different languages (tongues) but whose heart beats for Jerusalem. Perhaps some who have come from a great distance came during Passover and stayed; however, and regardless, one can imagine that the rumors and tension of what happened fifty days ago are still filling the stone streets of Zion.[3]

            However, it was time for the harvest festival, a first fruits celebration to God and a time to offer sacrifices for the bounty of k0757180the barley harvest (Lev. 23:9-22).[4] Alfred Edersheim also notes that by the time of Jesus, a secondary tradition/remembrance/ celebration had been instituted that Shavuot was the time in which Moses received the Torah/Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai from God.[5] And it was this moment, it was at this time, that God the Father/God the Son chose to immerse/purify through a baptism, a mikvah, God the Holy Spirit upon the Jewish disciples who had been waiting to observe the ultimate of First Fruits Harvest (what the Christian church calls Pentecost), truly beginning first at Jerusalem (Acts 1:8). Therefore, and while Alister McGrath misses the Jewish nuances of Shavuot as noted earlier, he grasps the concept that the Acts 2 Sermon given by Peter about the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah was truly and ultimately a Jewish sermon to Jewish people for a Jewish purpose.[6] Therefore, this paper will seek to utilize one of Gary Habermas’ minimal facts arguments, “the early proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection,”[7] through Peter’s declaration as evidence for not only the truth of Jesus’ resurrection but also that the promised place of resurrection is found in the songs and life of King David. For as McGrath eloquently explains, “The expectation of the coming of the Messiah was (and still remains!) significant for Judaism”[8] regardless of whether they yet recognize the truth of Messiah Jesus.

Brief Commentary of Acts 2 (specifically v. 22-36)

            Richard Longenecker picks up on the theme as previously noted that Shavuot (Pentecost) was a time of not only bringing the first fruits (HaBikkurim) of the barley harvest but also was at this time a solemn assembly for a renewal of the Mosaic Covenant.[9] It should be noted that David Williams dates the renewal of the Torah to the second century;[10] however, the general evidence from Longenecker (who cites Jubilees 6:17),[11] Edersheim and the rabbinic sources also appear to favor the time of Jesus and the disciples. What potentially is significant about this in conjunction to the theme of this essay is that the minds of the people were on the words of the Hebrew Scriptures and the covenant that God had made with the people through Abraham to David. Therefore, Peter’s inclusion of Davidic prophetic promises would have been appropriate as McGrath noted earlier for the Jewish audience in attendance. They knew the Word of the Tanakh and know Peter was going to introduce them to Messiah who promised to not only not abolish those words but to fulfill them (Mt. 5:17-20) with His very life, death, and resurrection.

            Hence, the argument that T. C. Smith makes in the 1970 edition of The Broadman Bible Commentary that Peter was accusing the Jewish people in the audience of being guilty of the crime of killing Messiah Jesus is not only ridiculous but also hearkens one back to the deicide charges that even the Roman Catholic Church spurned during Vatican Council II in 1965.[12] Indeed, Longenecker and Williams both seek to point out that Jesus’ death and resurrection were all a part of the plan that had been foreordained.[13] Smith’s commentary also suffers from a basic defect in that he lacks an understanding of Jewish intertestamental concept of the Messiah. T. C. Smith does not see that the Jewish people anticipated the very idea that a Messiah could suffer for the sins of the people.[14] He missed the fact that the Jewish people hearing Peter’s Sermon, seeking to renew covenant during Shavuot, would have been well acquainted with the idea of Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David in which the “son of Joseph” would suffer and die for the people and the “son of David” would reign victoriously.[15] Therefore, Peter was in essence attempting to bring the concepts of two Messiahs into the personhood of Jesus of Nazareth. This message from Peter would not have been lost on such a well-versed crowd.

            Therefore, Peter was free to immediately go to three Davidic songs/prophecies of the Messiah along with a prophecy 100_0750related to the Davidic kingdom covenant (a further analysis of the Hebrew Scriptures themselves will be in the following section). For not only were the people in the City of David but also the people were longing for a ben David (son of David) to be restored to the throne of David (cf. John 10:22-31). Peter was, however, offering them the ultimate ben David through Psalm 16, 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 110 who would rule forever on His Father’s throne.[16] This offering from Peter was consistent with the rabbinical understanding of Psalm 16:9 in its Hebrew form even though Luke utilized the Septuagint in his translation of the passage (perhaps as a nod to the innumerable Hellenized Jews who were in attendance that Shavuot morning).[17] Therefore, and the only strength of T. C. Smith’s commentary is his division titles in which he defines Peter’s sermon as seeking to prove both Jesus’ Messiahship and Jesus’ Lordship, both of which require the proof of Jesus’ resurrection to be validated.[18] Proof that is first found in the scrolls of the Writings and Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Davidic Promises, Psalms, and Prophecies

Psalm 16

            Considered to be one of the “golden (mikhtam) psalms of David,” Psalm 16 is one that would have been readily brought to the minds of the listeners of Peter’s sermon on Shavuot.[19] Psalm 16 also has some significant nuances and verbiage that has long brought a sense of wonder and question as to whether David was writing of someone greater than himself. Someone who as Peter connected the dots to Jesus from 16:10 was crucified and raised/resurrected from death by God “since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24).

            The question as it relates to Peter’s connection with Jesus of this Davidic psalm, promise, and prophecy is to the identity100B3260 of the “Holy One” and to fact that this individual will neither be abandoned in “Sheol” or “undergo decay.” The idea of the “Holy One” cannot refer to David for as Simon J. Gathercole, specifically in reference to Danielic verses but also in connection to Ps. 16:10, the usage in the singular would refer to God Himself.[20] Gary Gilbert also acknowledges that Peter makes a similar argument, even though he is writing from a Jewish perspective for The Jewish Annotated New Testament because at that time the location of David’s tomb was easily known and located.[21] However, Jon D. Levenson would argue that David is not professing a metaphoric belief in an immediate resurrection but in a future end of days resurrection and “not asserting the absurd notion that God will forever spare him from death.”[22] However, this is the claim that Peter made based upon the singular aspect of the “Holy One” and the location of King David’s tomb was known (v. 29).[23] Ultimately, Peter’s argument to this Jewish audience is that as great as King David was, his body is decaying in the tomb and he was undeserving of the term “Holy One.” Jesus’ tomb is empty because He is not only the Holy One who was resurrected by God but also that David realized that his throne would be ruled by one who would occupy the space at the right hand of God (more on this aspect in the section related to Psalm 110:1).

2 Samuel 7

            An interesting twist to Peter’s sermon is a title that he gives to David that one does not often associate with the king and giant slayer — prophet (v. 30). However, one of the most important of prophecies in the Tanakh was one that was given to David in 2 Sam. 7:12-14a in which he was promised that one of his descendants would always sit on the throne of Israel. Keil and Delitzsch make the notation that the throne and Temple is not only a physical realm but also a spiritual realm that achieves its ultimate fulfillment/reality in David’s final descendant of Jesus of Nazareth.[24] And even though, Jon Levenson does not believe in Jesus’ Messiahship, he recognizes that “identity survives death” especially as it relates to the royal Israeli family.[25] Therefore, Peter’s usage of the 2 Samuel 7 prophecy/promise is significant as it is the connective piece to the Davidic songs of 16 and 110. It also connects the thought that death does not end the promises of God, especially since Jesus’ death was only temporary and He was resurrected to take His rightful place on the throne of David for He is both the ben David and ben Elohim.[26]

Psalm 110

            The final bookend to Peter’s sermon is a repeat of the constant theme of the Shavuot appeal — the resurrected Messiah 100_3237Jesus is the fulfillment of the Torah for He has earned the place of honor that is designated as the “right hand” of God. David Williams argues by the time of Peter it was understood that this Davidic Psalm was written by the king as a descriptor of the Messiah who alone earned the place to be the right hand of God.[27] And while Richard Bauckham notes that rabbinical sources shy away from utilizing Psalm 110 in sources or reference points, especially as it relates to the Messiah, Peter and the Apostles embraced this Messianic Psalm apparently for the very reason why the rabbis appear to be afraid of it.[28] The Messianic overtones are just too strong to ignore. Bauckham continues this Messianic connection by finding a tie between Isaiah 53 and Psalm 110 in Acts 2:33 as well, and that tie is a Messianic bond that is perhaps ultimately impossible to break or argue against by the rabbis.[29] And that was Peter’s ultimate desire on this unique, one-of-a-kind, Shavuot. He wanted to call them to a covenant renewal that was more than just a repetition of laws but a new covenant that would be forever inscribed upon the hearts of those who heard the message (Jer. 31:33). Perhaps, and this only the educated guess of the writer, this could be one reason why Luke chose the phrase “cut to the heart” in verse 37 even though the word itself literally means “pierced with remorse.”[30] For what better describes a covenant renewal or covenant formation with the Jewish people than being cut via any means necessary?

Conclusion

            At the conclusion of Peter’s sermon, we find an Apostle who engages not in accusatory charges of deicide but in what Baptists might call an altar call because he had already recognized that the crucifixion and resurrection were all pieces in God’s plan for the fulfillment of Psalm 16, 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 110 (v. 23). Peter also probably remembered Jesus’ words that the last fifty days had been done because Jesus chose to allow it to be done (Jn. 10:18). Jesus recognized, and now Peter did as well, that it was all necessary so that the Messianic promises could be fulfilled, including perhaps the fulfillment of the Torah (Mt. 5:17-20). The atheist scholar Bart Ehrman, while trying to negate the divinity of Jesus, recognized what the Apostles saw on Shavuot as well. The greatest miracle of Pentecost as the Christian Church calls it was not the miracles of the languages. The greatest miracle of the day was that the resurrection of Jesus was realized and recognized as the final fulfillment of covenant renewal through the truth of Jesus’ Messiahship and Lordship.[31] Obviously, Ehrman does not affirm the decision of the Apostles and, in fact, tries to claim that the sermon itself was too refined to be the actual words of the fisherman Peter.[32] However, he came very close to the truth but not eternally close enough. The same is true for the Jewish people today which is all the more tragic since “salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:22) and for the rest of us that message began to be disseminated on Shavuot when Peter preached a sermon about the Resurrection of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

THEREFORE, MY CLOSING QUESTION IS SIMPLY … WHEN WILL WE RETURN THIS MESSAGE TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE?

ENDNOTES:

                [1] Unless otherwise indicated, Biblical verses are from the NASB. However, it is important to note that in Acts 1:4 that while English translations use a form of the word “baptize,” the Jewish concept of “mikvah” or “immersion” is more appropriate in the sense of what is about to take place in the life of the disciples. See Jewish New Testament, trans. David H. Stern (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1989), Acts 1:4-5. A “mikvah” is a ritual bath for purification’s sake and to prepare individuals for the next step on their journey whether it be marital relations or to allow them to return to the synagogue/Temple. See Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1991), 617-19.

                [2] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services: Updated Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 206-209; Roy Schoeman, Salvation Is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 56; and Lawrence M. Wills, “Introduction and Annotation of Mark,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 88. The apocrypha also notes that even during the Maccabean Revolt, the priestly line returned to Jerusalem during Shavuot in obedience to the command of Scripture (2 Macc. 12:31-32).

                [3] Wills, “Introduction and Annotation of Mark,” 88.

                [4] See also, Mishnah Bikkurim chapter 3 for specific instructions on how to approach Jerusalem with the first fruits of the harvest. Original Source for the Talmudic and Mishnah notations are from Gary Gilbert, “Introduction and Annotation of Acts of the Apostles,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 201 (Acts 2:1-4).

                [5] Edersheim, The Temple, 206. See also, Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, 592-93; Wayne Dosick, Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition, and Practice (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), 177; Hayyim Schauss, The Jewish Festivals: History and Observance, trans. Samuel Jaffe (New York: Schocken Books, 1938), 89; BT Shabbath 86b; and BT Pesachim 68b.

                [6] McGrath, Alister E. Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), 59-63.

                [7] Gary R. Habermas, Philosophy of History, Miracles, and the Resurrection of Jesus, 3rd ed. (Sagamore Beach, MA: Academx Publishing, 2012), 72.

                [8] McGrath, Mere Apologetics, 60.

                [9] Richard N. Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version of the Holy Bible, vol. 9, eds. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 269.

                [10] David J. Williams, Acts in New International Biblical Commentary: New Testament Series, vol. 5, NT ed. W. Ward Gasque (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 43-44.

                [11] Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles, 269.

                [12] T. C. Smith, Acts in The Broadman Bible Commentary: Acts -1 Corinthians, vol. 10, gen. ed. Clifton J. Allen (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970), 28. See also, Pope Paul VI, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) (28 October 1965),” available online http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html; accessed 20 April 2014 and James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 38-41.

                [13] Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles, 278-79 and Williams, Acts, 50-51.

                [14] Smith, Acts, 29.

                [15] Schoeman, Salvation Is from the Jews, 118-24.

                [16] Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles, 280 and Williams, Acts, 51-53.

                [17] Williams, Acts, 51-52.

                [18] Smith, Acts, 28-29.

                [19] C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David Containing an Original Exposition of the Book of Psalms, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, n.d.), 192, 197-98; John I. Durham, Psalms, in The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 4, gen. ed. Clifton J. Allen (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 197; and Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible Containing the Old Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes: The Old Testament, vol. III (Nasvhille: Abingdon Press, n.d.), 262. Clarke takes the idea of “golden” to the level that he advocated that it would have been written inscribed on a pillar in actual gold and given that it was Davidic, it was unforgettable for the masses.

                [20] Simon J. Gathercole, The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2006), 152 (see also fn. 9).

                [21] Gilbert, “Introduction and Annotation of the Acts of the Apostles,” 202.

                [22] Jon D. Levenson, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 73.

                [23] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (San Diego: Harvest Book/Harcourt, 1958), 119.

                [24] C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Books of Samuel in Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. II, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, n.d.), 345-49.

                [25] Levenson, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel, 113.

                [26] Wills, “Introduction and Annotation to the Acts of the Apostles,” 203.

                [27] Williams, Acts, 53. See also, Craig C. Broyles, Psalms, in New International Biblical Commentary: Old Testament Series, vol. 11, gen. eds. Robert L. Hubbard and Robert K. Johnston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 414 and Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 21-23.

                [28] Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, 22.

                [29] Ibid., 36.

                [30] BDB, “κατανυσσομαι.”

                [31] Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 227-28.

                [32] Ibid., 228.

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