In 2002, I went to Israel for the first time. I didn’t even want to go. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Israel…it just was never on my radar. Someone sponsored my trip, so I went. I always knew that the Bible took place in Israel, especially all the events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus, but I never really thought about it. Things really started to impact me a few days after I arrived. You need to remember that when I went in November of 2002, the intifada was in full swing. There were between 2-4 suicide bombings a week in Jerusalem. And guess where I was staying?…Jerusalem!
From the moment I landed at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, I knew that I was in a different world. A few days into the trip and Jerusalem confirmed it as well. I remember the first time I went to the Galilee. We drove by village after village that I knew from the Bible. Hebrew writing, Orthodox Jews, and synagogues…it began to hit me: Israel is totally and completely a Jewish culture. The full impact of this realization hit me as I stood on Mount Carmel, staring into the Valley of Armageddon! It was there that God first spoke to me on that first trip. I felt Him saying, “If you want to understand me and the Bible, then you need to understand this land and the people who live in it.”
I can remember being on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, staring at the Old City Walls and the massive Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. It hit me hard, Jesus wasn’t from Montana, he was Jewish, and He was from Israel! When I first uttered those words, I had no idea how much it would impact my life, my personal relationship with God, and ultimately, my future ministry. I came back home with a passion to understand Jewish culture, not only the modern one, but the one that existed during the time of Jesus.
As I began diving into the culture, learning about Second Temple Judaism, speaking with Rabbis and Messianic Believers, an incredible new understanding began to emerge. I realized that even though the Bible was written FOR us, it wasn’t written TO us! When we impose our modern day western culture into the scriptures, we’re putting in meaning that wasn’t there…and, we’re missing the meaning that WAS there! The Bible comes from another world, an ancient Jewish world.
I’m convinced that the only way to truly understand the intended meaning of Scripture and of the teachings of Jesus, we need to both embrace and understand the First Century Jewish culture of 2000 years ago. As we understand the ancient figures of speech, customs and images, the full beauty and power of Jesus’ teachings will come alive.