Blessings from Heaven (Part 1)

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Blessings from Heaven (Part 1)

The Sermon on the Mount is Heaven’s benediction to the world—a voice from the throne of God. (E.G. White, Preface to Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pg. vii)

 

At the beginning of a little book entitled, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, Ellen White writes:

Let us in imagination go back to that scene, and, as we sit with the disciples on the mountainside, enter into the thoughts and feelings that filled their hearts. Understanding what the words of Jesus meant to those who heard them, we may discern in them a new vividness and beauty, and may also gather for ourselves their deeper lessons. (E.G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, pg. 1)

 

In order to understand the particular circumstances of the Jewish people at that point in time, we must briefly review the history of the Jewish nation. The Jews were called out of Egypt by God through his servant Moses, who the Scriptures declare was “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). He was an intellectual giant, having graduated from the most prestigious university of his day.

But before he was fit to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, he spent forty years in the wilderness “forgetting his worldly education and obtaining the wisdom of God” (E.A. Sutherland, Studies in Christians Education, pg. 96). It was only then that “Moses was qualified to stand at the head of the largest industrial school ever known” (Ibid.).

However, because of the power of the philosophy and teaching of Egypt, it “took the students in this school another forty years” (Ibid.) in the wilderness “to break the yoke of Egypt’s educational system and to understand ‘the true science of education’ so that they might have a place in the land of Canaan” (Ibid.).

 

But even then the people of God failed to grasp the promises given to them by the Lord. They fixed their hopes and desires on “worldly greatness” (E.G. White, Desire of Ages, pg. 28). From the time they entered Canaan, they forsook the Lord’s commandments and became like the heathen.

“It was in vain that God sent them warning by His prophets. In vain they suffered the chastisement of heathen oppression. Every reformation was followed by deeper apostasy” (Ibid.). This degeneration continued until God’s people became so wicked that it was written that they “do worse than the heathen” (2 Chronicles 33:9).

 

As a result of their idolatry and heathen practices, they were placed in Babylonian captivity. Through this experience, they finally learned the lesson that the idolatrous ways of the heathen were destructive and powerless. They “were effectually cured of the worship of graven images… [and] the conviction became fixed that their prosperity depended upon their obedience to the law of God. But with too many of the people obedience was not prompted by love. The motive was selfish. They rendered outward service to God as the means of attaining to national greatness” (E.G. White, Desire of Ages, pg. 28).

And unfortunately, like many today, in their fear of falling into one ditch, they swing in the other direction and fell into the ditch of pharisaism—being so concerned with keeping the laws of God that they became consumed with them, and forget the everlasting gospel.

 

In addition to this, their pharisaical belief system was intermingled with the philosophy of the Greek culture. How did this take place? Alexander the Great, when conquering the Medo-Persian Empire, showed kindness to the Jews at Jerusalem, [1] and thus the Jews came to be on friendly terms with the Greeks. F.C. Gilbert,[2] in an article entitled, “Why the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah,” stated the following:

 

Greece assured the Jews that they desired to be their true friends and benefactors […] It was […] suggested by the Greeks that the Jews send their talented young men to Alexandria for training and instruction in the philosophies, sciences, and learning of the Greeks.

Many of the elders of Israel feared the results of such a course […] They counseled the younger men against such a procedure. These, in turn, argued that it would be an advantage for strong, thoughtful, vigorous young men to enter the schools of Greece, as they might influence the philosophers and Greek scholars to see the value and beauty of the Jewish religion, and some of the learned Greeks might embrace Judaism.…

Greece assured the fathers in Israel that they might hold to their own standards of religion. They were encouraged to believe that […] the Talmud Torah (their colleges where advanced studies were conducted) would be strengthened if the teachers of the law should only imbibe the wisdom and learning of the scholars of Greece; and by receiving recognition from the world’s greatest nation, the graduates of Jewish schools would find it greatly to their advantage.

Many of Israel’s influential men yielded to Greek insistence. The former said that God would help their young men to be true to their religion, and the training schools of Jewry would have a better standing in the eyes of the nations.

(F.C. Gilbert, “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus as the Messiah,” The Ministry, December, 1933, pg. 14.)

 

Thus, the Jews began sending their young people to the Greek schools in Alexandria, Egypt, and these students returned to become teachers in the Jewish schools in Jerusalem and Judea. The children in these schools were thus given an education mixed partly with the law and the prophets, and partly with the pagan Greek philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates.[3]

 

One of our Adventist Pioneers wrote the following in regards to the inclusion of pagan classics in education:

 

Christianity and paganism are at the most extreme opposites. Christianity came from heaven: paganism came from beneath […] To give the pagan classics a more prominent place in any study than is given to the Bible, is certainly nothing else than to allow that the author of paganism is worthy to be believed and followed more than, is the Author of Christianity […] Shall it be for one moment allowed then, and of all people by those who profess to believe in the God of the Bible, that Socrates, or Plato, or Cicero, or any other pagan, or any other man, is a better teacher than God is? (A.T. Jones, “Pagan or Christian—Which?” American Sentinel, July 29, 1897, pg. 465)

 

No matter how much the Jewish leaders may have thought otherwise, Biblical philosophy cannot concur with Greek philosophy. Two belief systems of opposite natures cannot intermingle, just as light and darkness cannot coexist. One must give way.

Unfortunately in this case, Biblical philosophy, which was to be the framework of the Jewish economy, was replaced by Greek philosophy, which eventually so fully permeated the minds of the Jewish leaders and people that the Savior declared: “in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men […] Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition” (Mark 7:7-8, 13).

 The religious leaders were broken into factions, with the two main categories being the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were:

  1. Rigid adherents to tradition
  2. Exact in outward ceremonies —washings, fasting, long prayers, almsgiving, etc.
  3. Made void God’s law by teaching for doctrines the commandments of men
  4. Bigoted and hypocritical
  5. Fixed in a rut of ceremonialism
  6. Satisfied with legal religion
  7. Thought of their own righteousness as all-sufficient
  8. “The good will of God to men they did not accept as something apart from themselves, but connected it with their own merit because of their good works.” (E.G. White, Acts of the Apostles, 15.1). [4]

 

The Sadducees on the other hand:

  1. Rejected the Pharisees’ traditions
  2. Professed to believe the greater portion of Scripture and regarded it as the rule of action
  3. Were skeptics and materialists in reality
  4. Denied the existence of angels, the resurrection, and the future life
  5. Believed that God was the “only being superior to man; but they argued overruling providence and a divine foresight would deprive man of free moral agency, and degrade him to the position of a slave.” Essentially, they believed that having created the world, God left man to himself. [5]
  6. Believed that through the proper employment of his natural powers, and by rigorous and austere exactions, man could become elevated and enlightened, and purify his life.
  7. Because of their false conceptions of God’s character, they had little regard for one another; their hearts were not touched by the wants and sufferings of humanity.
  8. Lived for themselves. [6]

 

Between the two factions there was a constant rift, resulting in continual division, dissension, and strife among the Jewish people. The downward spiral continued for centuries, until by the time Christ was born the nation was virtually controlled by bigotry and enmity, and torn apart with internal strife. Greed and jealously prevailed. Outbreaks and violence filled the land.

 

The Jews completely lost their understanding of the ritual services, trusting in their own self-righteous works for merit rather than relying on the merits of Him to which the rituals pointed. “With all these minute and burdensome exactions it was a practical impossibility for the people to keep the law. The great principles of righteousness set forth in the Decalogue, and the glorious truths shadowed in the symbolic service, were alike obscured, buried under a mass of human tradition and enactment” (E.G. White, Prophets and Kings, pg. 709). They were destitute of spiritual life, yet because of their hatred of the Romans, as well as their national arrogance and pride, they continued to cling tenaciously to their dead religious forms.

 

They studied the prophecies, but their minds were blinded by pride and pagan philosophy. Because of their lack of spiritual understanding, they misapplied the prophecies pointing to Christ’s second coming as pertaining to His first coming, and completely disregarded the Scriptures signifying His humiliation and death. Thus, they believed that the Messiah was to be a great prince who would overthrow the Romans and give them preeminence as the greatest nation on earth.

 

It was at this point in time, in the fulness of time, that Jesus came into the world. Of him it was prophesied: “Out of Egypt have I called my Son” (Hosea 11:1). On this scripture, E.A. Sutherland stated:

So completely was the Son of God called out of Egypt that as a child He was never permitted to attend even the Jewish church schools because they were so saturated with Egyptian worldly education […] Study the Master in the humble home school at Nazareth, in the shop, and on the farm, on the hills and in the valleys. He grew in wisdom until, at the age of twelve, he astonished the leaders of the church with the fruit of Christian education. ‘Mark the features of Christ’s work… Although His followers were fishermen, He did not advise them to go first into the school of the rabbis before entering upon the work.’ (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 359). Why? Because the schools of the Rabbis were filled with Greek and Egyptian philosophy which blinds the eyes to spiritual truth. It was to a teacher from one of these schools that Christ said, ‘Ye must be born again.’ (E.A. Sutherland, Studies in Christians Education, pg. 96-97)

 

This is the reason why Christ was, in the world, unrecognized and unhonored. This is why “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:10-11). He disregarded their traditions and legal religion, seeking instead to point them away from the philosophy of the world to that of heaven. However, for a time, the people were still hoping, waiting, and expecting that perhaps things would change and Jesus would promote Himself and become the great deliverer.

 

These were the philosophies, the domestic rifts, and the circumstances which were shaping the minds of the people; all this culminated on that day on the mountain side, when, with His disciples and the multitude about Him, Jesus gave what is now called The Beatitudes. A feeling of expectancy pervaded the crowd—all hoping that maybe Jesus was this great Messiah who would deliver them from the Romans and make them great and glorious again.

 

There were scribes and Pharisees who looked forward to the day when they should have dominion over the hated Romans and possess the riches and splendor of the world’s great empire. The poor peasants and fishermen hoped to hear the assurance that their wretched hovels, the scanty food, the life of toil, and fear of want, were to be exchanged for mansions of plenty and days of ease. In place of the one coarse garment which was their covering by day and their blanket at night, they hoped that Christ would give them the rich and costly robes of their conquerors. All hearts thrilled with the proud hope that Israel was soon to be honored before the nations as the chosen of the Lord, and Jerusalem exalted as the head of a universal kingdom. (E.G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, pg. 5.1-2)

 

It appeared that something unusual was about to take place, that Christ was about to give His inaugural address. The people sat with bated breath, waiting for some announcement of the kingdom of God. It was then that Christ “opened his mouth, and taught them” (Matthew 5:2) the great principles which were the foundation of His kingdom, pointing them up from the ditches of formalism and hypocrisy to the narrow road—that is Christ. And what Christ said was nothing like they had ever heard before.

As Seventh-day Adventists, we might rightly ask ourselves, what parallels exist between the history of the Jewish nation and our circumstances today?

Read the rest of Emily’s series on the Beatitudes.

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Notes:

[1] Josephus, The Works of Flavius Josephus (Hartford, CT: The S. S. Scranton Co., 1916), pg. 650.

[2] F.C. Gilbert was a Jewish convert to Seventh-day Adventism (1867-1947).

[3] It is interesting to note that Socrates’ most famous student, Plato, taught Aristotle who would in turn tutor Alexander the Great.

[4] Taken from Desire of Ages, pg. 603; Acts of the Apostles, pg. 15

[5] This is Platonic dualism.

[6] Taken from Desire of Ages, pg. 603-604

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About the author

Emily Duffield

Emily Duffield works as the Associate Publisher for Return of the Latter Rain Publishers, and is currently completing a business degree through Excelsior College. In 2014, she graduated from Emmanuel Institute of Evangelism; prior to this, she was involved with ASI Youth for Jesus for three summers. She currently serves as the General Vice President of GYC Northwest. Her passion is Christ, the Cross, and evangelism.