HF162 - The Death of a Rabbi
"Pastor Buddy Martin" <Bro.Buddy@ChristianChallenge.org>
Wednesday November 1, 2006
Bible Study HF162 - The Death of a Rabbi
Let's get back to some very early Church history.
When Judaism rejected Jesus Christ as Israel's Messiah they made
a wrong turn. Out of the 70 AD. destruction of the temple and
Jerusalem, they found themselves having to set aside many of the
commandments of Moses, especially in regard to the atonement blood
sacrifice. A new Judaism arose. This new Judaism would be a
bloodless religion with no access to God.
The rabbi who carried the greater responsibility for the
reinvention of Judaism was Rabbi Jochanan ben Zaccai. Zaccai escaped
the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. He afterwards determined that
the blood sacrifices were no longer needed, and that prayer, good
deeds, and fasting were all that was needed to obtain God's
The sad note in all this comes from the Talmudic writings where
the death of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zaccai is recorded. But there is
much more to the story. According to Lightfoot, Rabbi Jochanan ben
Zaccai knew Jesus and most certainly had encounters with the
apostles. He was likely one of the Sanhedrin members who held
responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus. It seems without
question that Zaccai was personally acquainted with the Apostle
Let's look at this sad story.
This is Bible Study HF162 - The Death of a Rabbi.
It is important to understand the time line of Rabbi Jochanan ben
Zaccai. He was one of the top religious figures in Jerusalem during
the time of Christ and up to and after the destruction of Jerusalem
in 70 AD. Zaccai lived to be 120 years old. He held such a honored
role in Judaism that he became known as the 'Light of Israel, Pillar
of the Right Hand, Strong Hammer.' Zaccai was well acquainted with
the Christian movement.
Jesus had warned the Jewish religious leaders, "Therefore I said
to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I
am He, you will die in your sins." (John 8:24) Think about this. How horrible it would
be to face eternity after having rejected the only One who could
provide an eternal hope of heaven. To die in your sins means there
is no atonement in place.
This is the case with Rabbi Jochanan ben Zaccai. The Talmud gives
us a picture of how Zaccai had to face eternity on his death bed.
Notice how Talmud (Berakhoth xxviii) describes the death of the man
who rejected Jesus as Messiah of Israel:
"When R. Jochanan ben Zaccai was taken ill, his disciples went
to visit him. As soon as he beheld them, he began to weep. His
disciples said unto him, 'O Light of Israel, Pillar of the Right
Hand, Strong Hammer, why dost thou weep?' He answered and said
unto them... 'Now when I am to be led into the presence of the
King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who lives and is
through all eternities, whose anger -- if He is angry with me --
is an eternal anger; whose fetters -- if He will bind me -- are
everlasting fetters; and whose death -- if He put me to death --
is an eternal death; whom I cannot appease with words, nor bribe
with money; and not only so, but two ways open before me -- the
one leading to Paradise and the other to hell (Gehenna), and I do
not know upon which of these two ways I shall be led, shall I not
The Judaism that Zaccai held great responsibility for came out of
the ashes of the temple. It sallied forth with all kinds of strange
notions about God. But the prophets said this would happen. The
strangest notion of all had to the do with the self-honor that the
rabbis placed upon themselves. In honor of Zaccai, we hear in Bava
Bathra that this Rabbi was said to understand the language of
devils, of trees, and of angels. Of course this is pure fabrication.
But there was a purpose in this new Judaism. The new Judaism had
to have its own power structure and authority. The rabbis set
themselves up as the final voice of God. This is why the new Judaism
is often called Rabbinic Judaism. (This is another name for Talmudic
Judaism.) They even went so far as to tell the story of how they
outwitted God Himself.
Now back to a bit of history on Rabbi Jochanan ben Zaccai. Does
the Bible itself ever call attention to this rabbi? Perhaps so.
According to Lightfoot, who is one of the preeminent Christian
scholars on the Talmuds, Rabbi Zaccai was most likely the 'John'
that sat on the council who commanded Peter and John to stop
preaching in the name of Jesus. The gathered rulers included, "Annas
the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John* and Alexander, and
all who were of high-priestly descent." (Cf. Acts 4)
The reason that the name John is mentioned without further
identification is because Rabbi Jochanan ben Zaccai was so well
known among the Jews that no other term was required. Note how the
John is placed right in the center of Annas, Caiaphas, and
Alexander. It says of them all that they were of high-priestly
descent. This would include John.
It is quite likely that Rabbi Zaccai knew Jesus and was involved
in His being turned over to Pilate. Notice carefully what happens
when the apostles are brought before these men. It says, "Now as
they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that
they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began
to recognize them as having been with Jesus." (v13)
What makes the death of this rabbi even more frightening comes
from something that Jesus said to Pilate. When Jesus kept quiet,
Pilate says, "You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have
authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?"
Listen carefully to the Lord's response: "You would have no
authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this
reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." (Cf. John 19:10,11)
Did you catch it? Whoever delivered Jesus over to Pilate was
charged with 'the greater sin.' This can only mean that those noted
beforehand, that is Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John,
and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent, would be
charged with this greater sin.
Why would these leaders be charged with the greater sin but not
Pilate or the Roman soldiers? It was because these leaders knew more
about Jesus than they were putting on. Is it possible that some of
them actually knew that Jesus was the Messiah? This seems to be the
case. Read the parable of 'the landowner who planted a vineyard' and
the story is told. (Cf. Mat 21:33-45)
What it is that distinguishes the death of Rabbi Zaccai who
rejected Jesus Christ and a rabbi who accepted Him as the Messiah of
Israel? Whether we can apply the term 'rabbi' to Paul before he
became a believer is not known. We do know that Paul was a disciple
of Gamaliel and a persecutor of the church. When this apostle was
facing death, this is what we read about him:
"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the
time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I
have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future
there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the
Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not
only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." (Cf. 2Ti 4:7,8)
Do you see the difference? Rabbi Zaccai was terrified. The
apostle Paul was prepared for his journey home. What made the
difference? It all comes back to the atonement sacrifice. To reject
the cross is to reject any hope of salvation. And it is not as
though Zaccai had no warning. A special letter was sent to Jewish
peoples by an apostolic writer not long before the destruction of
the temple. In it we read:
"For if we go on sinning [the sin of rejection of Jesus]
willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no
longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation
of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the
adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies
without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much
severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled
under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood
of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the
Spirit of grace?" (Cf. Heb 10:26- 29)
As a minister of 40+ years I've attended the final hours of
different believers. These were precious moments. There was no fear.
And when it neared the time of passage, there was a special
anointing that came upon the child of God. It was as though they
were already experiencing the heaven side of their passage. As for
others --- I'll leave that unsaid.
However, there is so much more to be said. One day the Jewish
people by and large will realize that they've been duped and misled
in their Talmudic religion with regard to Jesus. God spoke through
the prophet, saying, "Therefore behold, I will once again deal
marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom
of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their
discerning men will be concealed." (Isa 29:14)
And again, "...they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and
they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they
will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a
The study is open. Feel free to ask questions or provide your
Lawrence "Buddy" Martin
Bro.Buddy <at> ChristianChallenge.Org
"See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no
root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be
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