On this feast of Shavuot (“weeks” in Hebrew), we celebrate both the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and the re-issuing of the Torah in human hearts as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Yeshua. I am writing this blog on Shavuot and will post it today rather than on Friday. Hopefully this article will clear up misunderstandings about the work that YHVH has planned from the beginning of creation.
The English word for the feast of Shavuot is Pentecost which means “fifty”. YHVH told the Israelites to count seven weeks (Shavuot) and one day to remember the time He dwelled with them while they were in the wilderness.
The word Pentecost originates from the Greek “pentēkostē” and means fiftieth day. Either way, it comes out to the same amount of time. However, the similarity between Christian and Jewish perspective ends there.
As I browsed various websites discussing Pentecost, I discovered that many Christians believe that Pentecost was a brand new event totally unconnected to anything YHVH had done before. There seems to be no awareness of a much older celebration known as Shavuot. On the other hand, as I visited Jewish websites, there was no recognition of the work that YHVH continues to do in humans through His Holy Spirit. This lack of knowledge and understanding has led to some grave errors in both Christianity and Judaism.
Let us examine the Christian perspective first. Many Christians mistakenly believe that the “church” was born on Pentecost. They do not understand the background that YHVH began His kingdom building long ago and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a continuation of this work, not a whole new idea. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the next step in the process YHVH started long ago. In other words, YHVH was not “scrapping” His work with the Israelites (Jews) and starting over with other people. This is evident by the fact that the Holy Spirit was first given to Jewish followers of Yeshua (Acts 2). What was the purpose of this outpouring? To empower and perfect us in keeping the Torah (instruction or “law” of YHVH). We must be holy as He is holy (1 Pet 1:14-16).
There is confusion among Christians concerning the writings of Paul, especially his letter to the Romans. Much confusion arises from faulty translation and lack of background knowledge. In Romans 1:5, Paul tells us Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell [all people] everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name (NLT, emphasis mine). How can we obey YHVH if there is no law to follow? YHVH is building a kingdom, not a church (Dan 2:44, Matt 3:2, 4:17). It is true that we are not saved by our own efforts (Eph 2:8), but it is also true that once we are admitted as citizens into YHVH’s kingdom, we are to obey His laws. Romans 2:5 states, But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. Christians have mistakenly generalized YHVH’s mercy to mean that He not only did away with the guilt from our sin, but that He also did away with His Torah, thereby eliminating any possibility to transgress His law. We no longer are subject to death when we sin (disobey YHVH’s Torah) if we repent. In Hebrew, the word for repent is teshuvah which means turning back to YHVH. We do not merely ask for forgiveness when we sin, and then keep on sinning, knowing we can ask forgiveness each time. We are to literally turn ourselves away from sin and return to YHVH and His ways. How can we do this? That is where the Holy Spirit comes in to empower us to do what YHVH requires of us. When we rely on the Holy Spirit, we have our own personal teacher, showing us how to be obedient, convicting us when we stray, and empowering us to follow YHVH’s ways (John 14:26, 16:13).
On the other end of the spectrum, those who follow Judaism understand that the Torah was first given to the Israelites at Mount Sinai after YHVH delivered them from slavery to the Egyptians. They celebrate this giving of Torah (instruction), because YHVH is teaching them how He intends for us to live. Many Jews today are diligent about following Torah. However, they are relying on themselves and their own efforts are enough to make them right with YHVH. They do not realize that they need to first be reconciled to YHVH through Yeshua.
Jews who do not recognize that Yeshua is their long-awaited Messiah, believe that Yeshua did not keep Torah and taught others to do the same. They are confusing Torah with the extra writings and teachings of generations of rabbis who have added to and subtracted from Torah in direct violation of YHVH’s command (Deut 4:2). Yeshua refused to obey man-made traditions, especially when they went against the true intention of Torah (Matt 9:1-14, Luke 13:15-16). The purpose of Sabbath is to put aside working for our own gain to spend quality time with YHVH. Yeshua did His Father’s work of kingdom building. Healing those who are broken is so important, that it can be done even on Shabbat.
Messianic believers hopefully recognize that the Torah is still valid and that the Holy Spirit is very much needed in order to carry out our Father’s commands. They recognize Yeshua as the embodiment of the true Torah and refer to Him as the living Torah. In Matthew chapters 5-7, Yeshua not only reinforces the validity of Torah, but raises the bar. Why would he raise the bar when people already had enough trouble in obeying Torah? Yeshua knew that He would be sending the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us. When Yeshua returns He will still require us to follow Torah. We will have a new Temple so that we can fulfill all the requirements. He will rule with an iron rod (Ps 2:9, Rev 2:27. 12:5). Until then, we welcome the Holy Spirit’s help as we follow the instructions of our loving Father and King.