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HF162 - The Death of a Rabbi

From:  "Pastor Buddy Martin" <>
Date: Wednesday November 1, 2006  
Subject:  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 forgiveness.

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 Paul.

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 weep?'"

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 firstborn." (Zech12:19)

The study is open. Feel free to ask questions or provide your thoughts.


Lawrence "Buddy" Martin
 email: 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 defiled." (Heb12:15)

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