The ABC of Scattering 
Part 10
The Intertestamental and Gospel Periods

John Plunkett

September 9, 2016

We finished last time in Part 9, discussing the end of the period that we commonly call “the Old Testament period.”

But, in reality, the New Testament period – or more accurately, the New Covenant period – did not begin until the death and resurrection of Jesus and, on the Feast of Pentecost of that same year – the time of the beginning of the Church of God – as triggered by the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, Bible scholars refer to the period from the end of the book of Malachi to the beginning of the four gospel accounts. And there was a time there from approximately 420 BC to 6 BC that they called the “Intertestamental Period.”

After the Jews’ return from their 70 years' captivity and exile in Babylon, had they learnt their lesson?  Had they truly repented of the sins which led to those punishments of scattering and exile?  Let me repeat a few sentences from the end of Part 9:

After another promising, but somewhat shaky start during the times of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi; and giving the post-exile Jews some benefit of the doubt, perhaps in a sincere effort to avoid and prevent further Sabbath-breaking, further idolatry and their subsequent punishments that would have come from those sins – in other words, to avoid more invasion, more exile and more scattering – the Jews began to make some major changes.

But!  They overdid it!  In some ways, at least.  They went from one ditch to the other ditch. 
Instead of sticking firmly to God’s holy laws as clearly laid out in the scriptures, during this Intertestamental Period, they busied themselves by concocting their own sets of complicated and unscriptural rules.

Those man-made rules are referred to by the Jews as “the Oral Law” – the Talmud – which is made up of the Mishnah and the Gemara.

However, Jesus called it, in a very critical way, “the Traditions of the Elders”: 

Matthew 15:
2:  "Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?  For they wash not their hands when they eat bread."
3:  But He answered and said unto them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?
4:  For God commanded, saying, 'Honour your father and mother' and, 'He that curses father or mother, let him die the death.'
5:  But you say, 'Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, "It is a gift, by whatsoever you might be profited by me";
6:  And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free.' Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition."

Mark 7:
3:  "For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.
4:  And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables."
5:  Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, "Why walk not your disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?"
6:  He answered and said unto them, "Well has Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
7:  Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.'
8:  For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things you do."
9:  And He said unto them, "Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.
10:  For Moses said, 'Honour your father and your mother' and 'Whoso curses father or mother, let him die the death':
11:  But you say, 'If a man shall say to his father or mother, "It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever you might be profited by me; he shall be free."'
12:  And you suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;
13:  Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which you have delivered: and many such like things do you."

All Israel had been repeatedly commanded by the LORD not to add to, or take away, from God’s holy Word:

Deuteronomy 4:2:
You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Deuteronomy 12:32:
What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

Despite those warnings that they clearly knew about, the Jews came to revere their own man-made oral laws even above God’s holy written Word and His holy laws.

Their putting of their own oral laws – their own tradition of the elders – before God’s Holy Law – was, in effect, another example of idolatry.  Also, the Talmud contains unscriptural, man-made rules on how the Sabbath should and should not be kept.  This was a distortion of God’s true Sabbath commands.  So, once again, during this Intertestamental Period, we see the same pattern continuing of Sabbath-breaking and idolatry. 

Just as with the kings Saul, Solomon and others, these post-exile Jews continued to put themselves and their own inferior human opinions before God and His clearly stated commands and laws.  In effect, this amounted to the worship of the self rather than the worship of God.  In doing so, they came to a "full stop" with their own sets of laws.  Hence, yet another “Mini Tower of Babel.” 

This idolatrous fiasco continued – even increased and developed – right through the Intertestamental Period and right into Jesus’ human lifetime, which is where we are going to go today.

For the past eight months we have been studying the ABC of Scattering.  We’ve looked at “A” for Adam, Abram, Abraham (and obviously the other patriarchs too).  

We’ve looked at “B” for the Tower of Babel, and the period all the way up to it from creation.

Now we come at long last, to “C” – for the Church of God.

I mentioned a few minutes ago that the New Testament/New Covenant period did not actually officially begin until Jesus’ death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. 

Likewise, that was when the New Covenant Israel of God – the Ekklesia, the Church of God – began.

However, Jesus did mention the Church specifically – using the word ekklesia – three times in the Aramaic language that we believe He spoke at the time.  He mentioned it and talked about it in a way as though it actually existed right then.

Also, during His human lifetime – during His three-and-a-half-year ministry – He developed what we might think of as the embryo of His church.  This was done through His disciples and His teaching of them, all of which we read about in the four gospel accounts.

So let’s dig into those gospel accounts today, and let's pick out some references to movement, travel and, of course, scattering during Jesus’ lifetime.

In the fictional and admittedly somewhat syrupy – but still thought-provoking – book “In His Steps” by Charles M. Sheldon, is a question that keeps reoccurring all the way through the narrative: “What would Jesus do?”  It is a great question for us all to keep coming back to.

Yes, what would Jesus have done in this regard – in regard to movement, travel and scattering? 

I believe that He would have done exactly the same as what He commanded His disciples – and us – to do. 

What was that?  What was one of His final commissions to them – and to us?  

To scatter!

Mark 16:15:
And He said unto them, “Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

This reads a lot like a repeat command of the one that He gave to His Old Covenant people – to be scattering themselves across the face of the earth.  But this time, with the primary purpose of the preaching of His gospel – the good news of His New Covenant and of the Kingdom of God.  Here is Matthew’s rendition of the same verse:

Matthew 28:19a:
Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them into…

Into what?  Into the "Intergalactic Church of God"?  Or into one of the hundreds of other Church of God splinter groups that we see today?  No!

Matthew 28:19b:
… into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:

(By the way, this verse does not imply a trinity).  

That is what Jesus would do.  And that is what Jesus commanded.  But what did Jesus actually do?  Did He stay as close as possible to His earthly throne – the Jerusalem temple – as might perhaps be expected?  No!

Jesus practiced what He preached!  Of course He did!  For the whole three and a half years of His human ministry, He "hit the road" and repeatedly travelled from the north of what we call the Holy Land to the south – and back again – preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God.

At one time during His short but extensive ministry, when He was teaching on another subject, He touched on the subject of separation and travel. He quoted His own words from Genesis 2:24:

Matthew 19:5: 
And said, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they two shall be one flesh.

Did Jesus obey His own laws – including this one?  

Yes, He did!  As YHVH, He had been married to Old Covenant Israel.  As YHVH, He divorced Old Covenant Israel.  But even though Jesus was not physically married during His human lifetime, He was (and still is) spiritually espoused (engaged) to His New Covenant “Bride”– collectively made up of the people of His New Covenant church – the fledgling pioneer members of which His Father was calling, through His beloved Son – the Bridegroom:

Revelation 21:
2:  And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband...
9:  And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, "Come hither, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.

In order to do this, did Jesus leave His human mother and step-father? 

Yes, he did!  From what we know, His human step-father, Joseph, had died by the time Jesus left the family home.

Jesus had also voluntarily left the home of His true Father – His heavenly Father – at the time that He became flesh and came here to earth.

What about His mother Mary?  Did Jesus leave her home? 

Yes, He did!  Just after His baptism at Bethabara, and after His temptation by Satan in the wilderness:

Matthew 4:13:
And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali.

This says that Jesus dwelt in Capernaum; but we know that He did not actually stay there permanently.  He did not yashab at Capernaum.  Still, by the grammar of the verse, this leaving of Nazareth seems to have been the time when He left His mother’s home for good and the start of His continuous three-and-a-half-year road trip, back and forth throughout the land.  

I do not believe that Mary accompanied Jesus on most of His extensive – sometimes grueling – travels, although their paths did occasionally cross. 

After Jesus “left the nest,” did He follow His own later command to His disciples (and to us) to go into all the world, to preach the gospel to every creature, to teach all nations, and to baptize them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, He did!  Although He limited Himself to that area of operations, His aim was that of getting the preaching of the gospel started.  

In doing so, did He also follow His own earlier edict to His people of Israel – to travel?

Yes, He did!  Very much so!  As it would take a couple of sermons to go through all of the details, I'll just give you a quick overview of His travels.  Here are some of the places that He went to:  Bethabara, Cana, Capernaum, The Wilderness of Judea, Jerusalem, Galilee, The Jordan Valley, Samaria, Jacob’s Well, back to Galilee, back to Nazareth, Capernaum, Jerusalem, Nain, Capernaum, Galilee, Nazareth, Bethsaida, Galilee, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, Jerusalem, Bethany, Jerusalem, Bethabara, Bethany, Ephraim, Bethany, and Jerusalem.

Although it may be true that the distances between these places were not huge, still, Jesus covered a lot of ground during His three-and-a-half-year ministry.  I’m sure that He and His disciples were very fit with all of that walking!

Let’s home in for a minute on just one scripture mentioning the travels of Jesus and His disciples:

Matthew 13:
53:  And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from that place
54a:  And when He was come into His own country

This sounds similar to the language used in the travels of Abraham (Genesis 12:1; 24:4).  And why shouldn’t it?  Jesus and His disciples were scattering themselves across the face of the earth, as much as they were able to do without resorting to supernatural means of "rapid transit" (as Jesus occasionally found it necessary to do) in order to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Even though He was born in Bethlehem in the south of what we call "the Holy Land," Jesus’ “own country” was in the area of Nazareth in the north – about thirty miles’ south-west of Capernaum.  Continuing in Matthew 13:

54b: … He taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, “From where has this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
55:  Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary?  And his brothers, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
56:  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  From where then has this man all these things?”

To paraphrase, they said words to the effect of: “Where did this guy get all this knowledge and these mighty works?  He’s not from an academic family!  He’s just a mere carpenter’s son!  He’s not a scribe, nor a Pharisee, nor a Levite, nor an Aaronite!  He didn’t even attend Ambassador College!” 

57:  And they were offended at Him.  But Jesus said unto them, "A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house."
58:  And He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

Luke’s version of this same event reads a little differently than Matthew’s; but it brings out a few additional points:

Luke 4:
22:  So all bore witness to Him, and marvelled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.  And they said, "Is this not Joseph’s son?" … 
24:  And He said, "Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country" … 
28:  So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
29:  And rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.

Nice people!  These folks had just been worshipping in their local synagogue!  And now here they were – filled with extreme hatred (obviously motivated by Satan) – attempting to murder Jesus!

Here we see, in the peoples of Jesus’ human lifetime, just as we saw in the lives of the earlier Old Covenant peoples, that, as well as physical separation, we are starting to see moral and spiritual separation here. 

Even despite the danger that there was for Jesus in Nazareth, the northern areas of Galilee were apparently still safer for Jesus than the southern area of Judea.  Because the time had not yet come for His arrest and His murder, everything had to be done exactly according to His timing.  But still, He had to "keep on travelling."

John 7:1: 
After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him…

The nature and the time restrictions of Jesus’ work made it impossible for him to settle down – to yashab – in any one place.  He could only sojourn (guwr) for short periods.  As it says here, He had to "walk"! He had to travel! 

But, as time went on, His options became fewer and His area of operations became smaller because of the unbelief of – and the persecution by – the Jews. 

A similar problem seems to happening increasingly to many brethren today as various Church of God congregations become places of unpleasantness, unrighteous judging, trial and testing, rather than havens of peace and shelter from the world, as they should be.

But our modern trials of this kind are nothing compared with Jesus’ trials.  The Jews were out for Jesus’ blood.  Literally!  Hebrews 12:4 tells us that we "have not yet resisted unto blood" whereas Jesus was in danger of having His blood shed every day!

Jesus’ enemies even included some of His former Nazarene neighbours, some of whom had perhaps even been long-time friends of His family – perhaps even some of those who had travelled to and from the Jerusalem Feast site with His family!  Yes, His own friends and neighbours came to hate Him and all that He stood for. 

Why?  Because they had strayed from the truth which He had been preaching to them for their own ultimate benefit.  Because they had lost any love of the truth that they had formerly possessed and, as a result, had been stricken by God with what Paul refers to as “a strong delusion” ( II Thessalonians 2:10).  Because they had adopted the traditions of the elders – the idolatrous opinions of mere men; and had set them above the authority of the Holy Scriptures – and the written Word of God.  Because, instead of growing in grace and knowledge, they had shrunk and even gone backwards in grace and knowledge.

Even Jesus’ own siblings had been infected by this mindset of error and unbelief:

John 7: 5: 
For neither did His brethren believe in Him. 

We see here, that even some of those who had followed Him, who had formerly believed and followed Jesus physically and had been on the road with Him – they were unable to handle some of His deeper teachings, including His teachings about Him being the bread of life and that, in order to be saved, they must eat His Body and drink His blood.

John 6:
41:  The Jews then murmured at Him, because He said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven."
42:  And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How is it then that he says, 'I came down from heaven'?"
60:  Many therefore of His disciples, when they had heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?"...
66:  From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.

They went back to their homes.  And they went backwards in their belief and knowledge.

Perhaps this was the equivalent of the Old Covenant Israelites balking at at Kadesh Barnea on the very edge of the Promised Land and demanding to go back to Egypt.

Worse still, even the men and women of what we might think of as Jesus’ hand-picked inner circle of His disciples later seem to have become afflicted with a bad case of "selective memory" and forgot all of His repeated foretellings of what was going to happen.  He repeatedly told them that He was going to have to die; but that He would be resurrected.  They forgot all about it and, as a result, were scattered due to their fear of the Jewish and Roman authorities:

Matthew 26:
31:  Then said Jesus unto them, “All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, ‘I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad’… 
56:  But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.  Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.

They all forsook Him and fled, leaving Him on His own.  This was another case of scattering and separation.

Once they received His Holy Spirit, it empowered them with great courage, despite the subsequent persecutions.  Jesus knew that this was going to happen and He warned them in advance:

John 15:
18:  If the world hate you, you know that it hated me before it hated you...
20:  Remember the word that I said unto you: The servant is not greater than his lord.  If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

Nevertheless, Jesus advised His faithful people – both then and now – not to be overly concerned about such rejections, hatred and even persecutions because they – His faithful ones – would one day be rewarded for enduring them.  Most of us haven't seen anything like real persecution to any great extent in our Christian walk.

However, just like with Abraham, although partially blessed in "the world today," the time of their main reward and the time of our main reward will be in the future – in "the world tomorrow" – exactly as he had told Abraham.  Once again, please note the mentions of separation and travel:

Mark 10:
29:  And Jesus answered and said, “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s
{i.e. to go on the road in order to preach in various areas},
30:  But he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 

Jesus was saying here that He will make sure that He replaces these things for us.  Still, in too many cases today, even our replacement family members – our spiritual siblings – our fellow spiritual Israelites, can and do alienate one another!  There is even the possibility of some mild persecution that brethren have suffered.  We’ve lost count of the Church of God people who have rejected us and spoken lies against us.  

A couple of years ago, Trish and I went to keep the Sabbath with a tiny group in Tennessee who are associated with one of the established corporate Church of God organizations.  When we told the man whose house where the service was being held asked us which congregation we attended, we told him that we are not committed to any corporate Church of God organization; but that we choose to fellowship with God’s people no matter which group they are with – and even if they are "non-aligned" brethren.  After thinking about this for a few seconds, he replied, with obvious disdain, "D'you know what you are?  You’re just a couple of grasshoppers!"

This kind of contempt has repeated itself in other corporate Church of God organizations.
And not just to us, obviously!  How many horror stories have you heard of faithful brethren being kicked out of various Church of God groups because they had the courage to take issue with certain unscriptural beliefs, policies or activities being taught by the group, their leaders, other ministers or members? 

But again, unpleasant though these experiences may be, they are nothing compared to what Jesus went through.  He endured and He continued His work despite His rejection, despite people walking away from Him and separating themselves from Him.

By necessity, throughout His three and a half year ministry, Jesus was a wanderer and a traveller.  So were His disciples and apostles, including Paul.  Perhaps that man in Tennessee would have called all of them "a bunch of grasshoppers"!  

But please remember and apply to Jesus and to His disciples what He – the LORD (YHVH) – promised Abraham:

Genesis 22:18:
And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.

We can apply this to Jesus, to His disciples, and to ourselves.  In Jesus’ case, this “all nations of the earth” was not just Nazareth.  It was not just Galilee.  It was not just Jerusalem.  It was not just Palestine.  It was not just the Middle East or even the whole western world.  Ultimately, it was to be all the nations of the earth!  It should probably go without saying that the human Jesus agreed with the promises that, as YHVH, He had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

John 4:35:
Say not, "There are yet four months, and then comes harvest."  Behold, I say unto you, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest."

What were these “fields”?  What are these “fields” today?

Matthew 13:38:
The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the Kingdom…

The world!  All the world?  Yes!  All the world!  Here’s a couple of the iconic verses that were first brought to the attention of many of us – me included – when we first came in contact with God’s true church:

Matthew 24:14:
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

Matthew 28:19:
Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, these were among His parting commands to His disciples:

Luke 24:
46:  And said unto them, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
47:  And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

Acts 1:8:
But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

This was virtually the last thing that they had heard out of Jesus’ mouth before He ascended to heaven.  

In the next few episodes of this series, we will go through some of the history of this witnessing – through the apostolic era, the post-apostolic era, right up to our own day, beyond our own day and right up to the very end of things. 

And, when it’s all over, will these commands of Jesus’ have been obeyed and fulfilled by His faithful people?  Yes!

Revelation 7:
9:  After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands... 
13:  And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, "What are these which are arrayed in white robes?  And from where came they?"
14:  And I said unto him, "Sir, you know."  And he said to me, "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

This means that all of these people of all nations will have received the spirit of repentance, they will have been converted, and they will have attained salvation.

But how could the people included in that innumerable multitude come to conversion and salvation if Jesus’ spiritual brothers and sisters – including His first century apostles – and including us – if they and we were not willing to do the job that Jesus gave us to do – including any necessary travelling?  If they and we were – and are – merely content to come to a full stop and to stand still?  Not just content; but what if we all demanded to remain in the comfort of our own homes – in our case, our own spiritual homes – our own Church of God groups?

I am not, of course, telling you to sell your houses and to go on the road.  But I think of the young Waldensian "barbes" – who were not really ministers as such, but who courageously went out on the road throughout Europe and preached the gospelPerhaps this method is not really practical in our day and age

But I’m jumping ahead of myself here.  All of the first century apostles gave their lives going on the road and preaching the gospel. 

We have our own jobs to do in the Church.  We cannot come to a full stop as far as our "spiritual homes" are concerned.  We will get into this more as we go along. 

But before closing today, just to make a point, I want to jump forward, from Jesus time to a period two hundred years after Jesus’ earthly ministry (which we’ll study in a future episode); but I just wanted to read you a brief excerpt from Dugger and Dodd’s “History of the True Church” that jumped out at me when I was reading it the other night – just to illustrate the fact that lethargy for doing God’s work is not something new to God’s people today:

At the beginning of the persecution under Decius, about 248 A.D., each was bent (these are professing Christian church members!) on improving his patrimony {i.e. feathering his own nest – respect of persons – the ministers’ own families}: forgetting what believers had done under the apostles, and what they ought always to do, they brooded over the arts of amassing wealth.  The pastors and deacons equally forgot their duty, their works of mercy were neglected, and discipline was at the lowest ebb. Usury and effeminacy {!} prevailed.  Meretricious arts in dress were cultivated. 

"Meretricious" means apparently attractive, but having in reality no value or integrity.  Continuing:

Fraud and deceit were practiced among brethren.  Christians could… swear, not only without reverence, but without veracity.  With haughty asperity they despised their ecclesiastical superiors; could rail one against another with outrageous acrimony, and conduct quarrels with settled malice.  Even many bishops, who ought to be guides and patterns to the rest, neglecting the peculiar duties of their stations, gave themselves up to secular pursuits; deserting their places of residence and their flocks, they traveled through distant provinces {not to preach the gospel, but} in quest of gain, gave no assistance to the needy brethren, were insatiable in their thirst of money, possessed estates by fraud, and multiplied usury.

We must be different!  

We must get back to God’s work and to His way of doing it!