In the last days of Yeshua’s ministry prior to His arrest and crucifixion, He spent His time teaching and admonishing His disciples and followers. Huge crowds gathered around Him and, in a way, afforded Him some protection from the Sadducees and leaders of the Temple who sought to have Him killed because He posed a threat to their power and exposed their corruption.
Despite the evil perpetrated by the high priest and his co-conspirators against the common people, Yeshua never cursed these leaders in the same manner in which he addressed the Scribes and Pharisees. He never said a word against the Sadducees. He totally ignored the third major sect of first century Judaism, the Essenes.
Why did Yeshua single out the Scribes and Pharisees? Why did they deserve to be publicly chastised? Did they perpetrate an evil against the people which was greater than that of the high priest and Sadducees? What was their sin?
As the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread approached, Yeshua enters the temple for perhaps the last time before His crucifixion. On the previous day, He went into the temple and threw out the moneychangers whose job was to exchange Roman coins for approved coins so the people could bring their annual temple tax and offerings. He threw out the merchants whose job was to provide acceptable animals for sacrifices and offerings. Then, He spent the remainder of the day teaching in the temple courts.
On this day, Yeshua would be challenged over His authority to clean out the temple and teach in the temple courts. After meeting this challenge, Yeshua would be tested with three questions and then, return the favor by asking a question of His own. These four questions will address God’s kingdom, power, and glory.
Throughout the gospels, the Temple is a central focal point of Yeshua’s ministry as well as the center of Jewish faith and practices of the day. Yeshua observes all the festivals and holidays by making the pilgrimage from His headquarters in the Galilee to Jerusalem. Along the road He constantly brings the message of repentance for the kingdom of God is at hand.
But this time, as He approaches Jerusalem from the East, something was different. Yeshua stops and weeps over the city as it comes into view from atop the Mount of Olives. Before entering the city, he approaches a fig tree looking for its fruit, and seeing none, He curses the fig tree, forbidding it from bearing fruit in the future. What is different about this trip to Jerusalem? Why does Yeshua weep when He sees the city? And what is the significance of cursing the fig tree?
Yeshua’s final journey up to Jerusalem began in Jericho, the site of the first victory as Joshua brought the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Outside the city, on the plains of Jericho, the children of Israel first ate of the produce of the land and celebrated their first Passover in the land. Yeshua had spent the previous night at the home of the tax collector Zacchaeus who, that day, received salvation. The next day, Yeshua left for Jerusalem accompanied by His disciples and a great multitude.
This last trip to Jerusalem is entirely different from His previous three trips. Six months earlier, Yeshua traveled in secret to celebrate the feast of Sukkot. Afterwards, He again traveled to Jerusalem quietly to celebrate Hanukkah making only a brief appearance at the temple. Then, Yeshua traveled to Bethany just outside of Jerusalem where He raised Lazarus from the dead. This time Yeshua will arrive in Jerusalem accompanied by thousands of followers and be acclaimed the King of Israel. Surely, this is a time of great joy! Or is it?
Yeshua, the disciples and many followers had spent some time across the Jordan at the place where John the Baptist previously preached and baptized his followers. Now it was time to go up to Jerusalem. Now it was time to face the challenge ahead.
Yeshua had spoken about His own death and resurrection on several occasions. But His followers and disciples did not fully understand. They were still looking for the conquering king Messiah promised by the prophets.
The place where Yeshua and His disciples crossed back over the Jordan was most likely at or very near the place that the Children of Israel first crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised land led by Joshua. They then went to Jericho, just as Joshua did as the first stop on the mission to conquer the Promised Land.
Yeshua’s parables and teachings about the kingdom of God usually focus on what the kingdom is like and who can enter into it. But now, as Yeshua is on His way to Jerusalem where He will be crucified, He turns His teaching around and talks about receiving the Kingdom.
This looks like a two-step process; we receive the kingdom as a child and, then, enter into it. So, receiving the kingdom is a prerequisite for entering the kingdom. What is the difference between the concept of receiving the kingdom of God and entering it? How is receiving the kingdom like a child different from receiving it as an adult?
To what can the kingdom of God be compared? This is an often-asked rhetorical question of the Master Yeshua. A central focus of His encounters with pilgrims on the road as well as meetings with His followers, disciples and detractors alike, is the coming of the Kingdom of God. Their expectations were many and varied. But given the rampant corruption among the Jewish leadership along with the brutal oppression of the Roman rulers, most Jewish people of the day were looking for a conquering King to rise an army and physically defeat the Romans. Many looked to Yeshua to be this conquering king!
In the gospel of Luke, chapter seventeen, while on the road to Jerusalem from where the Master was resting, across the Jordan where John was preaching and baptizing, Yeshua further explained the kingdom of God and how it was to be recognized.
Yeshua was trying to convey to the pilgrims along the road, the exact nature of the kingdom of God. But were his words confusing to the listener? In saying that the kingdom would not “come with observation,” was this in keeping with the well-known scriptures about the Messiah and the kingdom of God? What does it mean that the kingdom of God is within them? What is the true nature of this kingdom?
After Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah in Jerusalem, He didn’t return to the Galilee region. Instead He traveled to the place where it all began—where John baptized those coming to him with a repentant heart. While Yeshua was there across the Jordan, word came to Him that His good friend Lazarus, who lived in a village just outside of Jerusalem, was very ill.
The region around Jerusalem was the center of power for those who hated Yeshua and sought to kill Him. However, Yeshua used this opportunity to demonstrate one last sign to the people before His crucifixion. Why would Yeshua put Himself within the reach of those who sought His destruction? What was so important about this sign?
In Luke’s gospel, chapter 16 verses 19 through 31 we find the puzzling parable of the rich man and Lazarus, a poor man. I suppose no two people could have less in common. While the rich man wore the finest of apparel, the poor man wore rags and suffered from disease with open sores.
During this trip to Jerusalem during and immediately following the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah, Yeshua taught using many difficult parables. How are we to interpret these difficult to understand words of the Master? How do we put ourselves in the minds of the disciples and Pharisees of Yeshua’s day to receive His words as they would have?
A good portion of Yeshua’s teaching occurred on the Sabbath while He was a guest for a Sabbath meal. On one Sabbath, He was invited to the home of a prominent Pharisee so he and his other guests could examine Yeshua’s teaching. Would Yeshua heal on the Sabbath, and how would He justify it?
While at the dinner, Yeshua, in turn, observes the guests and their competition for the best seats at the table. His teaching on this Sabbath reflected His observations. Who would be invited to the banquet table in the kingdom of heaven and how will the seats be assigned? What is the significance of the banquet table?