by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Part II

Also, the term “Kingdom of heaven” was not new to the Jewish ear. For instance, Rabbis were once discussing what God meant after He saw everything that He had made and behold it was very good. One Rabbi declared that God was talking about the Kingdom of Heaven.1 Also, in another Jewish document we find this description: “Therefore, it is necessary we should study the secret doctrine day and night and observe its teachings and doctrines. By night, when reclining on our beds we ought to submit ourselves to the kingdom of heaven and make it our chief object to commend ourselves to the care and guardianship of the Almighty.”2 And again: “The path of the just is as a shining light,3 while that leading to the Kingdom of heaven is referred to in these words: ‘There is a path which no bird knows and which the vulture’s eye has not seen, the lion’s pups have not walked on it, nor the fierce lion passed by on it.4‘”5

Here again, we find that birds and lions were used by Jewish teachers as metaphors for people, with the bird being representative of normal Jewish people, the vultures are Pharisees and Sadducees, and the lion pups represent the priest, and the grown lions are the leading priests. Likewise, in one Jewish commentary Rabbis talk about this kingdom as follows: “’I have created somethings in pairs,’ says God, ‘such as heaven and earth, the sun and the moon, Adam and Eve, male and female in all animals, this life and the future life; but I am One.’ He that proclaims the absolute unity of God proclaims the kingdom of heaven.”6 Then another Rabbi interjects: “The phrase which we have in our ritual, ‘Blessed be His name, whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever,’ Moses brought down from heaven, where he heard these words from the angels when worshiping the LORD. We therefore utter this praise silently, being unworthy to use the praise which angels employ in their worship of God. On the Day of Atonement, however, when we shut the door to the outer world, when we seek after holiness, when indeed it is with us a day on which we are meant to be one with God, then we are like angels, and we are permitted to proclaim these words aloud.”7 And again: “God says to Israel, ‘You are called my children, but you must take my law as your guide of life.’ It is as though a prince should ask his father to make it known throughout his kingdom that he is the king’s son. The father tells him: ‘Clothe yourself in purple and put on your crown; then all will know that you are my son.8 It is hard to miss how many references were to the kingdom of God and His Son. For the Jews, they never considered Jesus to be any part of this, but for Christians we see how God, through His Spirit, used their words to proclaim the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah.

The Kingdom of God is used over sixty times in the New Testament while Kingdom of Heaven is used 31 times. We must be clear that the concept of the Kingdom of God refers neither to a place nor time, but to conditions and controls used by God as the ruler and King over His willing subjects, to bring about the restoration of His relationship with mankind that He had in the Garden of Eden so that He can make people who accept His offer of salvation free from sin, death, hell, and forever in the grave. In order for this kingdom to function here on earth, it must exist in the hearts and minds of His children until He can cleanse the earth in order for it to exist into the future. So when Jesus used this phrase, “Kingdom of Heaven,” you should now have a better idea of what went through the minds of His Jewish listeners.

That’s why the preaching of John the Baptizer and Jesus on the kingdom of heaven was not a foreign subject to their Jewish listeners, but the way they explained it and the method required to become part of it pointed toward the Messianic age. Both John the Baptizer and Jesus emphasized the need for repentance. The question was, did the Jews accept the scriptural way of repentance or that of their traditional sayings? We find this in a discussion among some Rabbis, where one of them said: “Three acts nullify harsh punishment, and they are these: prayer, charity, and repentance. And all three of them are to be derived from a single verse of Scripture: ‘If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’9 The Rabbi then gives the exegesis: ‘Pray’― this refers to prayer. ‘And seek my face’― this refers to charity, as you say, ‘As for me, I will behold Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I will be satisfied with behold Your form’.10 ‘And turn from their wicked ways’― this refers to repentance.11 Another thing to note is that these are not the exact words of John the Baptizer himself, but a summary of his message as Matthew heard it, and his belief that these words of Isaiah applied to John the Baptizer’s preaching and ministry.12

John the Baptizer fulfilling Isaiah’s message was quite clear, but when reading it in our standard English version it was not so pronounced. One respected Rabbi comments on this verse by saying: “A voice: The Holy Spirit calls, “In the desert, the way to Jerusalem.” clear the way of the Lord: for her exiles to return to her midst.13 But in another edition of this saying it reads: Clear the way of the Lord: The way of Jerusalem for her exiles to return to her midst.14 It also echos the Messianic tone that we find in Zechariah:Then Adonai will be king over the whole world. On that day Adonai will be the only one, and His name will be the only name.”15 It has also been noted by Jewish scholars that the term “heaven” was a respectful way of substituting for the name “God” because they did not like saying that name for fear of misusing it. As a matter of fact, in most Jewish literature today you will always find it spelled “G-d.” This is to avoid any possible use of God’s name in vain as they interpret the third commandment.16

Verse 4: John’s clothes were made from camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. For food, he ate locusts and wild honey.

John was considered a recluse who seemed to come out of nowhere and was known for wearing clothes woven from camel’s hair, and a leather belt around his waist, while living off of locust and honey made from wild-dates. It appears that John took his choice of raiment from one of Israel’s most revered prophets. In the Old Testament we read where some men were trying to find out who a certain man was that they saw, so they said to the king of Judah: “This man was wearing a hairy coat with a leather belt around his waist. Then Ahaziah said, ‘That was Elijah the Tishbite‘.”17 But the Jewish people saw more value in camel-haired clothing than just providing the wearer with a prophetic look. On the subject of what clothing can be contaminated with leprosy, the Rabbis say, “If camel’s hair and sheep’s wool have been woven together and most of it is camel’s hair, the wearer cannot become unclean by touching a leper.18 Also, another Rabbi taught: “If camel’s hair and sheep’s wool are woven together and most of it is camel’s hair, this is permitted to be mixed with linen and it will still be leprosy proof.”19 And in another reading it also mentions camel hair as being among those things from which regular clothing can be made.20 Then in a Jewish commentary we read where one Rabbi said: “…the LORD GOD made garments for Adam and Eve. That they were made from wool of camels and the fur of rabbits.”21

Then we move on to what John the Baptizer had for a diet. First, we should note that the word for “locust” in the Greek is very similar to the word for the “bean of the carob plant” out of which bread was made. As such, bread made out of the carob bean and wild honey would make more sense than fried locust dipped in honey. But we also have another option, and that comes from fragments in the lost “Gospel of the Ebionites.” The Greek word for locusts is also very similar to the Hebrew word for “honey cake” that described the “manna” that the Israelites ate in the desert in the days of Moses. This “bread from heaven” is described as “like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.”22 This wafer baked in oil, and sweetened with honey resembling a rice cake, would emulate the desert wanderings of Israel when the people had to look to God alone for “daily bread.” But some scholars take a cue from the Scripture that says: “You may also eat all kinds of locusts, all kinds of winged locusts, all kinds of crickets, and all kinds of grasshoppers,”23 as a hint that was in fact what John the Baptizer was eating. Not only that, but when dealing with what type of food the people were allowed to eat the Rabbis said: “Of locust; all that have four legs, four wings, leaping legs, and wings covered the greater part of the body, are clean. Rabbi Jose says, it must also bear the name locust.24 So John the Baptizer would have certainly been within his kosher limits to eat such insects.

When it comes to the wild honey, we are told by Jewish agriculturalists that this was perhaps “date honey,” a dark sweet syrup made from dates. Since bees did not live out in the barren desert, some think this is the answer. Also, it takes flowers for the bees to make honey, and there are none of those in the wilderness either. However, Matthew said that John the Baptizer began ministering “out in the desert area” of Judea. If that were some desolate wasteland, it would be hard to get people to go to such a remote place to hear any prophet. Besides, John the Baptizer needed water to augment his ministry. Matthew doesn’t say exactly where in the Judean desert. Therefore, a great number of scholars believe that Matthew used this as a generic term to identify any region significantly removed from major urban areas. Therefore this would qualify as a place mentioned by the apostle John in his Gospel called “Bethany on the other side of the Jordan River.”25 In that area, bee honey would certainly be a possibility, as well as the date honey. Most scholars believe John the Baptizer chose this Essene type of lifestyle so that he would be less tempted and influenced by the culture of big cities, and be able to dedicate himself wholly to his calling, mission and prophetic task.

1   Midrash Rabbah on Genesis, Chapter 9:13

2   Zohar (Book of Light), folio 11b

3   Proverbs 4:18

4   Job 28:7, 8

5   Zohar (Book of Light), folio 29b

6   Deuteronomy Rabbah, #1, p. 151

7   Ibid, #2, p. 152

8   Ibid, #7, p. 156

9   II Chronicles 7:14

10  Psalms 17:15

11  Rabbi Eleazar, Jerusalem Talmud, op. cit., Second Division: Tractate Ta’anit , Ch. 2:1 [III:5 A-G]

12  Isaiah 40:3

13  Rashi, Complete Jewish Bible Commentary, loc. cit

14  Ibid., The Warsaw Edition of Isaiah

15  Zechariah 14:9 – Complete Jewish Bible

16  Exodus 20:7

17  II Kings 1:8

18  Mishnah, op. cit., Sixth Division: Tohorot, Tractate Tohorot, Ch. 11:2

19  Ibid., First Division: Zeraim, Tractate Kil’ayim, Ch. 9:1

20  Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., Seder Kodashim, Masekhet Menahoth, folio 39b

21  Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman, Genesis Rabbah, Ch. 20:12

22  Ibid. 16:31 and Numbers 11:8

23  Leviticus 11:22

24  Babylonian Talmud, op. cit., Seder Kodashim, Masekhet Chullin, folio 59a

25  John 1:21

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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