The Messianic Revolution and the Third Way
First Presentation at Goshen BeTzafon Feast of Tabernacles, 2012
Nazarenes, Zealots, Messianics All the Same Thing
Dedicated to Margaret 'Sweet' White-Stuckey, 1929 - 2012
Submit yourselves to Elohim. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
Unless your righteousness will be more abundant than that of the sophrim and P’rushim, you can by no means enter into the malkuth shamayim. (Mattyah 4:20)
If you had an opportunity to beam back 2000 years and spend a year in Galilee finding and following Yahshua, what would you need to learn in the three months previous to your journey? What five things would you make sure to take with you?
A Peaceful Sojourn?
We imagine that it would be rather peaceful leading our donkeys through the calm and fertile land of Israel, enjoying good weather, colorful characters, worshipful experiences, and lots of homemade bread. And of course, meeting the “Yahshua of history” eye to eye. But you might be surprised to learn that instead of a lazy, peaceful sojourn, we would more probably be subjected to grave danger constantly. Galilee was under the rule of a murdering autocrat, Herod Antipas, who was in turn under the thumb of an insane despot, Tiberius Caesar. The powerful used their influence to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor, as we read in the Epistle of James. Those who were not powerful were undercut at every turn, and those who had just a little were taxed into poverty. The priestly families in Jerusalem were interested solely in preserving their own resources, and partnered themselves with the marauding bands of thieves and murderers that scoured the land for victims. Your trek into Galilee would be fraught with danger, especially considering that you would be a total stranger, and neither Greek nor Jew.
Zealots and Messianics Were the Same Movement
Galilee’s population was 2/3 Greeks and foreigners, and the Israelites making up the third third were not all that popular with the majority. We get the impression from the New Testament that the Sadducees were the real rulers and administrators of the Torah, and the Pharisees comprised the popular movement of the people back toward morality and unity. However, this too is to be questioned. Josephus tells us that, by the days of Yahshua, a new movement was sweeping Palestine, an explosion of zeal for the Torah that he called “The Innovation.” This innovation is put into the mouth of James the Just by the writer of Acts: "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the Torah” (Maase 21:20). We call this innovation “the Zealot Movement,” or, more descriptively, the Messianic Movement – they are both the same thing. And it’s to this association that we claim fellowship yet today as we call our assemblies “Yahadim,” the very same term as the Zealots used. (The Zealot movement is not to be confused with the Sicarii, who used murder as a means to advance their political agenda. Messianic Zealots lived strictly by Torah, and they didn’t do murder.) Messianic Zealots were a threat to all who were in power, for it was the intent of the Messianic movement to rob the powerful of their power through Torah and give it back to the Almighty and his Messiah.
Accommodation and Elaboration of Pharisees
Now that we have established that Messianics were zealots for the Torah, and that we are modern day Messianics – much closer to the original movement than any other group on earth today – we might want to define ourselves in terms of being polar opposite to more static, religions of yesteryear. I’m speaking of Phariseeism, or first-century rabbinical Judaism, a movement that’s still a very powerful influence upon us in our day. Pharisees and Messianics had some major differences. There are two primary characteristics of first-century Rabbinical Judaism that made them successful enough to survive the fall of Jerusalem and persist into the latter day; these characteristics are accommodation and elaboration. In order to keep their esteem and power, the Pharisees accommodated the Sadducees, accommodated the Herodians, and accommodated the Romans any time that the latter’s whims crossed the Pharisaical view of the Torah. They accommodated the powers most often by elaborating on the Torah, changing it, adding to it, taking away from it, to stay out of conflict with their rivals, as evidenced by the body of literature that became known even in their time as the mishna, or oral torah. However, as an old movement, on the whole they would not compromise or accommodate the upstart Messianics any more than Paul, a Pharisee, would compromise with James, a Nazarene, as evidenced in the Epistle to the Galatians. Unlike the Pharisees, the Messianic Zealots didn’t accept the notion of oral Torah.
The Nazarene Commentaries
Jerome, a 4th-century Roman Christian and Bible translator, lived in Israel and knew the early Nazarenes. In a very rare text, Jerome presents us with five commentaries on Isaiah that he says are from the Yahad of the Nazarenes. The commentaries are all fascinating, and I’ll share one with you now that will demonstrate just how deep was the divide between the Nazarene Zealotry and Rabbinical Judaism in the first few hundred years. Jerome writes about the Nazarene concept of the two houses this way:
The Nazarenes, who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old law, explain the two houses as the two families, viz. [that] of Shammai and Hillel, from whom originated the Scribes and the Pharisees.
Understand that Shammai was the leading voice of the Scribes, and Hillel was the leading voice of the Pharisees. Both are revered in Judaism, and even in the modern Nazarene movement. Jerome continues,
Shammai then and Hillel were born not long before the Master; they originated in Judea. The name of the first means scatterer and of the second (means) unholy, because he scattered and denied the precepts of the Torah by his traditions and mishnah (deuterōseis). And these are the two houses who did not accept the Savior who has become to them destruction and shame. http://www.jacksonsnyder.com/arc/2012/The-Ancient-Nazarene-Commentaries.htm
Understand that the Nazarenes are talking about the Scribes and the Pharisees, and followers of their forebears, Shammai and Hillel. Obviously, these two Jewish philosophers were not hallowed in the original assembly as we hallow them today. Their destruction and shame that the Nazarenes describe were not in the natural – both houses of Shammai and Hillel continued to thrive right up to the present day. But that, in the eyes of the Father of Messiah, these movements were double dead then, and rabbinical and ultra-orthodox Judaism (their offspring), without Yahshua ha Moshiach, are just as dead today. Had we been followers of Yahshua in those days, we would notice a constant harassment of the houses of Shammai and Hillel against the Messianic believers to the extent of the cutting off of heads, the casting-off from the temple parapet, and the stoning of the righteous. It’s amazing to me that latter-day Nazarenes are so enamored and obsessed with the Judaism that decimated their forebears while at the same time, they stubbornly remain so plumb ignorant of their own history! Are we just Christians with Jewish aspirations? Or are we real, historical Messianic Nazarenes? If we are the latter, shouldn’t we know something of the primitive Nazarene movement? Yes, we should! It’s my intention to give you some contextual knowledge about the way Yahshua and his Yahad thought in contradiction to the accommodative and elaborative ways you’ve learned.
The Provocation and the Judgment
Yahshua’s way was not the path of either Shammai or Hillel. If we count the ways of the Scribes and Pharisees as way one and way two, then Yahshua’s way was original and different – it was a third way – a Messianic’s way – a zealot’s way. As we advance in the scripture toward Matthew 22, the chapter in which Yahshua answers the question, “What is the great commandment of the Torah,” we encounter his testing by his foes. In chapter 21, the chief priests and Pharisees are displeased with his behavior and want to arrest him, while the elders demand that he prove his credentials authorizing him to address the people in the first place. In chapter 22, the Pharisees send the Herodians and their disciples in to question him, then the Sadducees test him on his view of the resurrection of the dead. Next a Torah expert (lawyer) chimes in to ask him, “What is the great commandment?” Next come the Pharisees again, testing him on his Messianic identity. These foes all want this Messianic out of the way. The provocation continues into Matthew 23 when finally Yahshua tells us why we can listen to what these foes say but not do what they do. It is because “they talk but do not walk, and they demand service but do not serve.” After this, in chapter 23(:15), Yahshua just lets the followers of Shammai and Hillel have it,
“You scribes and Pharisees, pretenders … you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and when he becomes a convert, you make him twice as much a child of Gehenna as yourselves.”
Look, this is a scathing judgment against pretenders: scribes, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, Hillel and Shammai, and all their disciples; and all of Jerome’s Nazarene Commentaries are right in line with this thinking even a couple hundred years after the fact.
Righteousness, Right, and the Third Way
Indeed, Yahshua has a third way of seeing Torah and its required behavior, and he demonstrates for us a way to express Torah that is not elaborative, not accommodating, but revolutionary, clever, and practical, especially for those of us who are out of power, indebted, poor, and overtly criticized for holding firm to the original Nazarene, Messianic, Zealous-for-Torah faith. One of the most obvious examples of Yahshua’s third way is in his answer to the question, “What is the great commandment of the Torah?” It goes almost without saying now that his summing up the entire Torah with “You will love Yahweh with your whole heart,” then summing it up a second time with, “You will love your neighbor as yourself” was revolutionary at the time – so much so that his answer was later attributed to Hillel in the Mishnah! In Matthew 21 through 23 there are several other amazing instances of the third way – and they are so obvious that I need not go into them now other than to remind you to “Give Caesar Caesar’s and Elohim Elohim’s.” I would instead like to demonstrate for you three examples in the Sermon on the Mount that were once revolutionary but are now taken by Nazarenes to be elaborative, accommodative, and extraordinarily passive. If you have your Scripture, turn with me to . . .
Matthew 5:20 For I say to you, Except your tzedakah shall exceed the tzedakah of the Sophrim and Prushim, you shall in no case enter into the malchut ha shamayim.
We have been taught that righteousness has very little to do with rightness – that if we just love on each other and expect extraordinary grace, if we will only be ecumenical and open, we can’t help but be righteous before Elohim, because Elohim is Love. But to me, this Christian idea is just unreasonable – how can we possibly be practicing scriptural holiness and righteousness if we’re first in error? How can that lovin’ feeling be right if we are, at our intellectual core, dead wrong. How can our righteousness exceed that of scribes and Pharisees if we who have wits about us are not accurate as to why we do what we do? We might as well remain liberal Christians and make it easy on ourselves. You can hardly hold a modicum of righteousness without also holding a modicum of rightness. This is what Yahshua means when he says to be perfected unto your Abba in shamayim (Mat 5:48) – not be perfected unto scribes and Pharisees, Jews or Gentiles, Rabbis or Hebrew roots teachers, ancient or modern. Not to be perfected unto accommodation, elaboration, or ecumenicism. To be righteous then is to know then say and do what is right and just. But first one must seek to know what is right.
Do Not Uphold the Evil Man
With that said, let us now rightly reinterpret a few of Yahshua’s sayings in light of his third way. (Matthew 5:39) And so I say to you, That you resist not man’s evil. Not resisting the evil man is neither right nor just – not resisting evil is neither right nor righteousness. Not resisting is not righteousness, and lack of word or action in the presence of the evil is certainly not a step on the way to perfection. You may ask, “Isn’t that what it plainly says, ‘Don’t resist man’s evil?’” The answer is, “No! The word doesn’t say that at all. It says exactly the opposite.” Looking at the Greek, mé antisténai tó ponéró = do not uphold the evil man. antisténai means uphold or sustain, not, in this case, resist. It should be “DO NOT UPHOLD the evil man.” King James’ translators made sure to mistranslate the words mé antisténai from “not uphold” to “not resist” in order to “uphold” the monarchical power of the King and Lords; they elaborated on the word of Yahshua so that those who read it would be more accommodating to the inequitable political system. The King James Version is full of such mistranslations and additions, and unfortunately, Scripture translators have followed suit in order to accommodate the popularity of this 400-year old version and uphold political power politics of all Christian cultures since. But this is an error. Friends, take the third way – Let us not uphold man’s evil nor the evil man or woman. Let us resist evil in the wisest and most beguiling way that we can! Yahshua gives us examples of this kind of wise resistance in verses 39b through 41. But in order to understand these correctly, we must know the context.
Turning the Other Cheek the Revolutionary Act of a Zealot
So let us now get on with the Messianic revolution and the third way at verse 39b: “whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other one also.” How is this example “not upholding” the evil man? If you’ve read the Dead Sea Scrolls, you know that people in that day reserved their left hand for toileting; they didn’t bring the left hand out. To strike you on the right cheek with a right hand would require the striker to backhand you, an action reserved for slaves and inferiors. Romans did strike Jews with the back of the hand, and upon the Jews’ right cheek. Men did slap their wives with the back of the hand, and on the right cheek; and sometimes wives slapped their husbands. Yahshua is speaking to those who are used to being degraded, saying, “Refuse to accept this kind of evil treatment anymore. Turn to them the left cheek.” In doing this, the victim makes it physically impossible to be struck with another backhand, and begs the brute to strike with the right fist instead. The problem for the evil striker is that striking with the right fist is reserved for equals only. A Roman soldier would never strike a Jew on the left cheek; it would denote equality. In turning the cheek this way, the victim is saying, “I won’t be your victim; I am your equal; I demand your respect.” The Jew might then be delivered up to be flogged, but he would keep his dignity intact, and he would have resisted evil in perhaps the only equitable way that he possibly could. Yahshua is therefore saying, “Find a third way that is neither submission nor reprisal, neither accommodation nor elaboration, and not like the scribes and Pharisees. You who would be victims – resist the evil man and retain your dignity.”
The Shame of Nakedness on the Beholder
Next, in verse 40. And if any man will sue you at the court, and takes away your coat, let him have your cloak also. This should read, “If a man wins your clothes, give him your underpants too.” When there was nothing left to take from a debtor, the court could award the creditor the debtor’s clothes in lieu of payment on the condition that the clothes were given back at sunset so the debtor would have something to sleep in. Then at dawn, the debtor could again take the creditor’s garment, and continue the cycle day in day out until the debt was paid, which often was never. While the creditor held the clothes, he could do anything he wanted with them – like use them to strain sewage – just as long as they were back in the hands of the debtor at sunset. Now this condition of extreme poverty was common at the time due to the heavy taxes levied on common people and interest on land that often exceeded 100%; else Yahshua would never have brought it up in the first place. He tells them that, while in the courtroom, once they are judged for their clothes, they should strip themselves naked before everyone there who was a part of such a demeaning proceeding. According to Torah, shame doesn’t fall upon the naked person, but upon those who witness the nakedness. The judge and the creditor are cursed, just like Ham and Canaan of Genesis 9. Imagine this kind of shame – the wealthy creditor standing in court with his victim’s clothes in one hand and his underpants in the other, while the debtor stands stark naked before the whole court. Though he had no possibility of winning the case, he says, “You have my clothes; you have my underpants. All I have left is my skin. Go ahead and make my day!” Thus the creditor, powerless and naked, turns the tables upon the powerful, evil man, and gains respect among his neighbors, most of which are just as poor and powerless. The third way catches on among the rest of the debtors in court, then you have a righteous revolution. Yahshua is again saying to the poor, “Find a dignified way that is neither submission nor reprisal, neither accommodation nor elaboration.” And perhaps the rich and powerful will be shamed into teshuvah and yeshua.
Going the Second Mile a Seditious Acts
Finally, on to verse
41 And whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two.
It was the common practice of Roman foot soldiers to impress Jews to carry their backpacks, which weighed 85 pounds or more before weapons. We remember that Romans impressed Simon of Cyrene to take up the torture stake of Messiah on the Via Dolorosa. Whole villages would disappear when the soldiers came through, in order to avoid having to carry the soldiers’ stuff. Impressing civilians was such a common practice that Roman law limited its use, allowing the soldier to impress the Jew with the pack for one stadia (or 500 feet) only. If a citizen was impressed to go further, he could complain to the centurion, who would then issue a punishment against the offending soldier – a flogging, humiliation, or latrine duty. No soldier would be comfortable not knowing what his punishment might be for passing the one-stadia limit. No soldier wanted to be impressed himself for a severe beating or guarding toilets all night. Punishment was at the sole discretion of the Centurion, and by and large, these men were brutal. Again, Yahshua provides a third way, a Messianic way, a revolutionary way, for one so subjected to keep his dignity in the face of such humility and degradation by a foreign power. “If you’re impressed into service by the Roman army,” he implies, “don’t give up the soldiers’ things after one stadia, just keep on walking as far as you can.” Yahshua neither accommodates the soldier nor elaborates on the law; he doesn’t say, “Make friends,” or “Repeat the sinners’ prayer,” or “Stick a shank in his ribs.” He just says, “Go a second.” Thus more uncertainly for the powerful – “Does this Jew know the rules of impression? Certainly not, he is so cheerfully slaving over my stuff. But how can I be sure? Oh, what the heck. Carry on, Jew!” And through this third Messianic way, the power now belongs to the slave, his dignity is kept intact, and he may pursue equitable justice of the Centurion if he will.
Nazarene Roots Movement
There are many more examples of the third way, but these make my point. Unless we make an effort to leave the scribes and Pharisees behind and rediscover our historical Nazarene roots, we will be at a loss to properly understand any words of the apostolic prophets. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew about the movers and shakers of the Nazarene Messianic and Zealot faith and could celebrate them during the feast? Yes it would. And in my next speech, I will introduce you to who I believe is the greatest sholiach who ever lived – James the Just – and we’ll have another opportunity (of which I hope there will be many in the future) to explore our unique Nazarene Roots of faith.
 The use of a antistét- as the imperative “resist!” the other definition of the term, is found in James 4:7: Resist the devil and he will flee from you.