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The Bible Through Jewish Glasses, Part 1

I’ve worn glasses since I was in elementary school.

My mom figured out I needed glasses when I complained to her that I couldn’t see what the teacher was writing on the board. The information was all there, I just couldn’t see it.

Since that time, I’ve gone through numerous pairs of glasses. Some cool, some dorky, some more effective than others. To my surprise, when I hit my 40’s I realized my near vision actually improved. I had to remove my glasses to read. That was great, but I still needed them to drive. Later, I developed the need for the infamous “computer glasses” that covered the optical fuzziness between near and far.

Sheesh, what a pain!

But the joy of my life was finally getting prescription sunglasses with polarized lenses. Up to that point, I had to mess with those awkward clip-on sunglasses. You know, the ones that never match your frame style? But hallelujah! Not only did my new prescription sunglasses correct my vision, but they helped cut the glare on bright winter and summer days so I could see clearly.

Here’s how polarization works its magic on glare:

Glare – “When a bundle of light hits a flat surface, it becomes polarized, or is reflected horizontally. The bundle becomes concentrated and is blinding anyone observing it. This is referred to as blinding glare.” (Source)

Polarization – “During the manufacturing process, a special chemical is applied to an eyeglass lens to polarize it. The chemical is laminated in a vertical pattern, which reorganizes light. This pattern blocks the light that is horizontal to eliminate glare, which is similar to how a window blind works.” (Ibid.)

My brother showed me a cool trick with two polarized lenses held one in front of the other. When you turn one 90o, they both go black! No, it’s not sorcery. It’s just turning two sets of “window blinds” to block the light completely. Try it. It’s easy entertainment.

Polarization is so cool when I’m at the lake or the beach. My sunglasses block the horizontal blinding glare ricocheting off the water. And without the glare, I can see the fish! That’s great when you’re fishing. It’s even better when you’re swimming with sharks.

Polarization is my friend.

I was reminded of polarization’s value when I was reading my Bible this morning. As I was perusing the text, I became very aware that I was reading with two pairs of “glasses.” One pair was the “traditional Gentile Christian” glasses. The other was a pair of “1st c. Jewish context” spectacles. I realized I was reading two stories simultaneously in John 6!

One lens was seeing a story about Jesus doing the spectacular loaves and fishes’ miracle. Not only did I “see” the miracle, I “saw” the crowd’s reaction. “Hey! Free bread! Please be our King!” But then I realized I was being blasted by the glare of Gentile Christian Sunday School teaching that was obscuring some fascinating details swimming under the surface.

So, I focused my “polarized” Jewish 1st c. context sunglasses and read the text again. They not only eliminated the traditional ideas I had been taught about this passage, but they also eliminated the chapter numbers. That was wild! My Jewish sunglasses revealed that what we read in John 5:46 is critically important to understanding John 6. The verse is this:

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me.”

This is a huge statement by Jewish standards! Jesus was telling the scholars of His day, that they didn’t have to take His word about what He declared about Himself. They could check out their esteemed prophet Moses. They could learn a lot about Jesus through Moses’ writings, the Torah ( the first 5 books of the Bible, Genesis to Deuteronomy).

The Jewish leaders’ problem was they were looking at Jesus through the wrong lens, the lens of their current theology. What they needed was the polarized lens of the Spirit to cut down the theological glare. Then they could see what and who Moses had written about “under the surface.” Moses’ writings clearly reveal Jesus; His person, His mission, and His credentials.

This is also a revolutionary idea for Christians today who pooh-pooh the “Old Testament” as obsolete and irrelevant or flat-out ignore it.

What this means for us is we can read through the first five books of the Bible (you know, the ones with the Sunday School stories, the Cecil B. Demille Exodus thing, the boring sacrifices, genealogies, and scary outdated laws) and see Jesus all over the pages IF we use our Jewish glasses and not our historical Gentile church specs, because of the theological glare interfering with the light of God’s revelation.

Back to the text. The leaders saw Moses, but they didn’t see Jesus. Their lenses picked up God’s revelation only from one horizontal, earthly direction – their theological lenses tinted by tradition. They needed the vertical polarizing and de-tinting work of the Holy Spirit to see Jesus under the surface of Moses’ words.

I’ve studied and taught the Torah every year for about 20 years and I can assure you, Jesus is all over the Torah!

Not only did the Jewish leaders need a correct optical prescription to see God’s truth both near and far, but they also needed it to see more distinctly how Moses revealed Jesus 1,500 years before He arrived.

So, it is with us. Many Western Christians today need the correct optical prescription to see Jesus more distinctly. Yes, it should help us see the “near and far” of God’s word, but it must also include a Jewish-context polarizing lens to screen out the blinding glare of Gentile Christian theology.

Gentile Christian theology was created over the early centuries after Jesus’ life to help us understand our wonderful Lord. However, in some cases, it was deliberately “tinted” to obscure anything remotely Jewish due to antisemitism creeping into the church. It became a glaring omission! It can only be corrected by an added “Jewish-context” prescription, and yes, that can be polarizing!

Speaking of reading with Jewish glasses, it’s a good practice to sometimes ignore the chapter and verse numbers in your Bible. The Bible chapter and verse system didn’t come from the Jews. It was invented by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1207-1228 (Source) Chapter and verse numbers weren’t in the original manuscripts. While helpful for the reader, the numbering system often breaks up the flow of thought. The effect is like flashing a light on and off in a room. You see the room, but can’t always grasp how the things in the room (or between rooms) relate. John 5 and 6 is such a case.

In chapter 5:46, Jesus’ told the Jewish leaders they needed to believe Moses. By doing so, they would drop a polarizing lens over their spiritual eyes which would help them see Jesus. John then immediately launches into chapter 6 which illustrates precisely how Moses’ writings reveal Jesus! So, let’s walk through the first part of John 6 (vv. 1-15) with polarized Moses glasses.

“So Jesus went up a mountain and sat down there with His disciples.” (6:3)

To Jewish eyes, especially those of the Jewish teachers, they would immediately “see” God “sitting down on Mt. Sinai” to teach His people, the Israelites (Exodus 19).

“Now the Passover, a Jewish festival, was near.” (6:4)

Who was the deliverer of the Passover story, the man God used to deliver His people? Moses. So John has now linked Jesus to both God and Moses. And by referencing Passover, John adds a thematic lens through which chapter 6 must be seen; Passover, Moses, the Passover Lamb, God’s deliverance, the Exodus, and Israel’s wilderness wandering with their need for food.

“Where will we buy bread so these people can eat?” He (Jesus) asked this to test him (Philip), for He Himself knew what He was going to do.” (6:5)

God not only cared for His people by providing bread in the wilderness (Exodus 16), but He used it as a trust-building and testing process in the school of obedience (“Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. This way I will test them to see whether or not they will follow my instructions.” Exodus 16:4). Former slaves already knew how to obey out of force. Freed slaves needed to learn how to trust and obey from a faithful and willing heart.

“He distributed them to those who were seated—so also with the fish, as much as they wanted.” (6:11)

Instead of bread from heaven (manna) and quail (Exodus 16), Jesus provided actual bread and fish. But a more subtle link here is “as much as they wanted.” This is what God did through Moses, “When they measured it by quarts, the person who gathered a lot had no surplus, and the person who gathered a little had no shortage. Each gathered as much as he needed to eat” (Exodus 16:18).

“When the people saw the sign He had done, they said, ‘This really is the Prophet who was to come into the world!’” (John 6:14)

At the end of his life, Moses promised the worried Israelites that God would provide a leader like himself who would speak God’s words. God told Moses to tell the people, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18). This was something they weren’t to take lightly because every Israelite would be held accountable if they ignored the Prophet-Like-Unto-Moses. “I will hold accountable whoever does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

Therefore, Jesus proved what He had said to the leaders in John 5:46 – that Moses had already revealed Him.

So, with one set of lenses, we see a wonderful Gospel story of Jesus’ power and His teaching about how He is the source and sustainer of our spiritual life. But with the Jewish-context polarized Son-Glasses that screens out the surface glare, we see what was already under the surface of John’s Gospel – God creating a new nation, the Exodus story, God’s wilderness provision, God’s promise of provision, and a Deliverer to come, a Prophet like Moses who must be heeded. Jesus was preparing God’s people for another Exodus of which the previous Exodus was the model!

Whew! Ain’t this fun? Well, this is just the start of my The Bible Through Jewish Glasses series. In the next post, we’ll continue our walkthrough of John 6, starting at 6:16, with the Jewish-context polarized glasses.

My prayer is that you’ll begin to read the Bible with new eyes and are encouraged to study Jesus’ in His Jewish context more. Keep your eyes fixed on The Frothy Thoughts Blog over the coming weeks!

For further study, check out authors like Dr. Marvin Wilson (Our Father Abraham), Dr. Brad Young (Jesus, the Jewish Theologian), the late Dr. Dwight Pryor’s work and the wonderful Israel Bible Center’s website

Pastor Jay Christianson

The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts


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