Allusions to Torah-Obedience in the Book of First Thessalonians

Connecting the Gospel to Its Pro-Torah Hebrew Roots

When I was taking a college level biblical Greek class a few years back, the Christian professor and I had a few discussions about the Torah. It was his belief that the epistles in the New Testament contained very few references to the Torah. In his mind, therefore, the Torah wasn’t a very prominent idea in the minds of the apostolic writers. I tried to enlighten him otherwise.

While the epistles might not contain very many outright references to the Torah — especially direct commands to be obedient to the Torah’s standards of righteousness, the apostolic writers weave the fundamental concepts of the Torah through their writings and make countless allusions to the Torah as we shall see in the study below. The Torah was just part of their spiritual and social fabric and background. It was their spiritual foundation, and to them Yeshua the Jewish, Torah-obedient Messiah, who was the Living Word of Elohim incarnate, was simply an extensions or expression of this basic idea of Torah truth and righteousness, and whose example they expected the saints to follow as his disciples.

1 Thess 1:2, Labor of love.(Hard work, intense labor or toil of charitable/agape love, benevolence, good will). Biblically speaking, is love merely an emotion, or is it something more? The Bible presents love as an action. Yeshua said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This action involves obedience to YHVH’s Torah-commandments. Elsewhere, Yeshua sums up the Torah when he quotes the biblical shema, which states that the duty of man is to love YHVH with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength and one’s neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:28–31 cp. Deut 6:4 and Lev 19:18). The shema is a summation of the ten commandments the first four of which show us how to love YHVH, while the last six how to love our neighbor. These ten statements form the foundation or cornerstone of the entire Torah, which expand out of them.

1 Thess 1:9, Turn from idols … serve the living Elohim.The Tanakh (Old Testament) views idolatry as anything that takes one away from worshiping and serving YHVH by obeying his Torah commandments. The biblical prophets were continually warning the Israelites against following the idolatrous (Torahless) ways of the nations and urging YHVH’s people to repent of the sin of idolatry and to turn back to the Torah. 

1 Thess 2:12, Walk worthy. Walking involves action. Worthy indicates a direction or the manner of the walk. What determines whether the direction or manner of one’s walk is worthy or not? A religious leader, denomination, or each person himself? If so, then the concept of what is worthy is merely a subjective determination left up to the whims of individuals or a group of individuals. If so, how can there ever be any unity among people? YHVH hasn’t left such an important thing as this up to the changing vicissitudes and caprice of humans. YHVH Elohim determines for man what is worthy or good. This is delineated in his Torah — his immutable standards for righteousness.

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Yeshua in Us: The Power to Obey Torah

Philippians 1:11, The fruits of righteousness which are by Yeshua the Messiah.

It is impossible for a man to keep the Torah on his own strength as Yeshua’s encounter with the rich young ruler proves (Matt 19:16–22). When the young man asked Yeshua what he must do to have eternal life, Yeshua seems to set the man up for a fall when he declares, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Yeshua is not being disingenuous here. Were one to keep the Torah perfectly without sinning, hypothetically, one would not fall under the death penalty for violating the laws of Elohim (i.e. sin). Presumably one could earn eternal life by one’s own good works. But no man has ever accomplished this superhuman feat except the superhuman Yeshua! Continuing, when the young ruler proudly declares his perfect Torah obedience, Yeshua shows him that he was, in fact, violating the Torah in at least one area—covetousness and greed. Yeshua shows him how to come into Torah compliance, and then admonishes him to come and to follow him. What Yeshua is teaching here is that it’s impossible to keep the Torah perfectly without factoring Yeshua, the Living Torah, into the equation. The point that we can’t keep the Torah without Yeshua directly intervening in our lives, I hope to conclusively demonstrate below.

One way that Yeshua helps his followers obey the Torah is by sending us his Spirit as an internal spiritual force into our hearts to nudge and lead us into Torah-obedience. 

What’s more, Yeshua also gives us the divine gift of his grace to accomplish the same thing. His grace removes the guilt, stain and penalties for our past sins, and with a clear conscience and a clean spiritual slate before YHVH, minus the past baggage of sin weighing us down, we are able to go forward under the power of YHVH’s Spirit to walk in accordance with his Torah. Praise Yeshua! An illustration of this would be a runner who trains wearing a backpack filled with rocks. Once the weight is removed from his back, when he runs, he feels as if he were flying through the air. 

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Torah-obedience is an evangelism tool—your light to the nations

Deuteronomy 4:6, Keep. Keeping Torah (YHVH’s instructions in righteousness) was the means for YHVH’s chosen people to be salt and light to the surrounding nations. Torah is literally a “witnessing tool.” What kind of righteous witness are you (via your Torah lifestyle) to those around you who are lost in spiritual darkness?

Wisdom [Heb. chokmah] and understanding [Heb. biynah]. What is the biblical definition of wisdom and understanding? Let’s explore this subject to see what we can learn from the word of Elohim.

Chokmah means “intelligence, skill (in war); wisdom (in administration); shrewdness, wisdom; prudence (in religious affairs); wisdom (ethical and religious). It derives from the verb chakam meaning “to be wise, to be or become wise, act wisely; to make wise, teach wisdom, instruct; to show oneself wise, deceive, show one’s wisdom.” According to The TWOT, chokmah and it’s root verb represents a manner of thinking and attitude concerning life’s experiences including matters of general interest and basic morality. These concerns relate to prudence in secular affairs, skills in the arts, moral sensitivity, and experience in the ways of YHVH. In the Tanakh, chokmah is used in relationship to the whole gamut of human experiences whether it be technical artisan skills, military tactics or political and administrative leadership. It is expressed in shrewdness as opposed to foolishness or silliness. Prudence is another aspect of chokmah as it relates to how one speaks, uses his time carefully and in the practical affairs of life. The Bible reveals that Elohim is the source of all wisdom, and wisdom is not to be found in human speculation. Elohim alone provides wisdom for man’s guidance, so that he can live the best possible moral and ethical life (ibid.).

Biynah means “discernment or insight” or “the ability to understand something, comprehension, the power of abstract thought, an individual’s perception or judgment of a situation.” According to The TWOT, biynah refers to knowledge that is superior to the mere gathering of data. It is necessary to know how to use the knowledge one possesses. This is where perception or judgment comes into play. One must properly interpret the data and make wise and discerning decisions as to how to act. 

Torah is your wisdom in the sight of the nations. Consider the following:

  • Your life may be the only Bible some people read.
  • Torah is light. Light quietly does, it is silent. It doesn’t talk about doing, it does! YHVH is looking for doers, not talkers.
  • What kind of reputation do you have in the community?
  • People may not be turning to the light of Torah as a result of your example YET, when times get tough in this country (“when you are in tribulation … in the latter days, Deut 4:30), they may well turn to you for the answers because they remembered that there was something different about you—something pure, pristine and holy. That’s when they’ll be looking for answers.
  • Torah makes us a great people. YHVH measures greatness differently than the world does. Are you great by the world’s standards or YHVH’s standards?
  • How does YHVH measure greatness? Love, faith, truth, obedience, servanthood, giving, selflessness, self-sacrifice.
  • Comparatively speaking, how does the world measure greatness? Money, power, fame, possessions, intellect, physical appearance, good sounding words.
  • Which type of greatness will last into eternity?

Never forget this: The Bible reveals that Yeshua the Messiah is the spiritual light of the world (John 8:12) that came from heaven to guide men through the spiritual darkness of this world and lead them to his Father in heaven (John 1:7–9). He is not only the Light, but the Word of Elohim made flesh (John 1:1, 14). In other words, he is the Living Torah Word of Elohim. He was the exemplification and personification of the Written Torah. Only through him living in us through is Set-Apart Spirit can we properly obey YHVH’s Torah commandments (1 Cor 9:21, the saint is “under/in/subject to the Torah-law toward Messiah”). This we will do by his power in us and out of a loving relationship with him (Jer 31:31–33 cp. Heb 8:10; John 14:15; 1 John 2:2–6; 3:24; 5:2–3; Rom 13:8–10). The Testimony of Yeshua makes these truths very clear for those who have eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to comprehend! The rewards and blessings are incomprehensibly awesome for those who walk according to the instructions of Elohim.

“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. (Rev 22:12–14)

 

Yeshua: What’s more important than Torah-law obedience?

John 13:35, By this all will know. Love was to be the identifying mark of a disciple of Yeshua. The Bible defines love in several ways. We love Yeshua by keeping his (Torah) commands (John 14:15; 1 John 5:1–3). Yeshua defines the Torah as loving Elohim with all of our heart, soul mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:28–31). Paul says that all the laws of Elohim can be summed up in love (Rom 13:8–10). Yeshua said that the greatest expression of love is to lay one’s life down for another as Yeshua did for us (1 John 3:16; 4:11). Without love, all the good—even religious works—we may do YHVH counts as nothing (1 Cor 13).

It’s important to note that most disciples of Yeshua (including Christians) believe this principle, but, sadly, when it comes down to reality, many fail to live out the identifying principles of love. How easy it is to view our religious works as the main identifying marks Continue reading


 

Did the Torah-law end with Yeshua?

Luke 16:16, The Torah and the Prophets. Many people in the mainstream church view this passage as drawing a defining line between the so-called age or dispensations of law (in the Old Testament or Tanakh) and the age or dispensation of grace (in the New Testament or the Testimony of Yeshua). This in turn, in their minds, sets the Tanakh (which reveals the law or Torah) and Testimony of Yeshua (which supposedly reveals the concept of grace) at odds with each other. Is this a correct interpretation of this passage?

The evidence within the Testimony of Yeshua itself doesn’t support this common Christian interpretation, however. In no way is Yeshua annulling the Torah here, or else he would be contradicting what he clearly taught in Matthew 5:17–19.

Furthermore, Yeshua’s statement here can’t possibly mean that the Torah was now obsolete in the Testimony of Yeshua, since the apostles and early believers adhered to the Torah long after the passing of John the Baptist (Yeshua, p. 41, by Ron Mosely). Additionally, Paul’s statement in Romans 3:31 that the Torah is not voided by grace should dispel any notions that Luke 16:16 implies that the Torah would pass from the scene in the life of believers.

There are a couple of ways to understand this passage without doing violence to the Torah. First, it could be understood that Yeshua is saying that the Law and the Prophets were the only Scriptures in existence up to the time that John came on the scene. The implication is that more would soon come (ibid.).

A second way to view this passage is that Yeshua is stating that the Torah and the Prophets prophesied or pointed to the time when John would come thus ushering in the Messiah at which time there would be a change in the focus of the message of YHVH’s servants. Instead of just preaching about the Torah or that the Messiah is coming, now the message of “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (see Matt 3:2; 4:17) would be preached. This is a more expansive message that focuses now more on the salvation message centered on the death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua. This message also includes obedience to the Torah (e.g. Yeshua said, “If you love me, keep my Torah commandments” in John 14:15, also 1 John 2:2–6). Moreover, Paul clearly affirms the validity of the Torah for the New Testament believer in his forceful declarative statement in Romans 3:31,

Do we then make void the law through faith? Elohim forbid: yea, we establish the law.

The data found in the actual writings of the apostles confirms what Yeshua predicted in this verse. Of the some 8,000 verses in the Testimony of Yeshua, well over one-fourth of those verses contain direct references to the Person of Yeshua, while there are only about 260 direct references to the Torah. Yeshua himself confirms his own words as recorded by the Gospel writers. In the Gospels of Matthew and John, Yeshua spoke on 136 different subjects. The number one subject he talked about was himself (316 references), followed by his Father (184 references), then hypocritical leaders (177 references). The kingdom of Elohim comes in fourth place (77 references) and the Torah is in seventh place with 44 references. 


 

The Basics of Progressive Divine Revelation

Learning the divinely revealed truths of Elohim and his ways of righteousness as found in the Bible is a step-by-step process that will last a lifetime.

Exodus 21–23, Basic principles of morality and righteousness. After having given the ten statements (or “ten commandments”), which forms the basic cornerstone of the whole Torah and out of which all the other Torah commands branch, Elohim now expands on these ten basic principles in chapters 21 to 23.

This passage contains the basics of how to love YHVH Elohim and one’s neighbor as oneself (the golden rule). Exodus chapters 20 to 23 contain the basic laws and principles for a society to function smoothly at a high level spiritually. They form the foundation of societal governance, which the new nation of Israel needed in order to survive spiritually (in right relationship with Elohim) and to survive physically and morally as a holy or set-apart nation surrounded by heathen nations.

It is also interesting to note that YHVH didn’t give Israel all 613 Torah laws at once, but introduced them to Israel little-by-little on an as-need basis and so as not to overwhelm them all at once. It was like a parent teaching a child one step at a time on how to act like an adult. YHVH started with the ten statements of Exodus 20, then expanded these ten into the basic laws of chapters 21 through 23, and he then goes from there instructing the Israelites in ways of righteous living. This teaches us another truth about how YHVH operates with men: He reveals himself to those who seek him slowly, methodically over time. He and his ways are too transcendently great and expansive for the mind of man to encompass all at once.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith YHVH. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 58:8–9)

This measured method of divine revelation is exactly how the apostles chose to reveal YHVH’s truth to the new Gentile converts in Acts 15—little by little. First they heard the gospel message and came to Messiah, then they were given basic rules to follow in order to enter into the fellowship of the saints, then they would learn the laws of Moses over time each Shabbat.

Learning the divinely revealed truths of Elohim and his ways of righteousness as found in the Bible is a step-by-step process that will last a lifetime.


 

The radical message of John is still radical

Luke 3:7–17, Then he said to the multitudes. What’s really going on in this exchange between John the Baptist and the religious folks of his day? Let’s step back and look at the bigger picture.

The multitudes of Jews had to make the long, hot and arduous journey through the Judean mountains down to the Jordan River, which was the lowest spot on earth, to hear John the Baptist, who was the latest fad preacher to come on the scene. However, when they arrived at his lonely wilderness pulpit, instead of stroking their egos by complimenting them for their religious zeal, he excoriates them and calls them a brood of vipers. John confronts them by saying that if they don’t repent, the fires of YHVH’s judgment will consume them (John 3:7–9). John’s preaching pierces their hearts, and lays them low spiritually. In a proper response, they ask him what he expects them to do (John 3:10). John then preaches a message of social justice involving giving to the poor, being fair and honest in one’s business dealings, and if one is a government worker, then treat the citizens one serves with respect (John 3:11–14).

Interestingly, he doesn’t instruct these religious Jews in what many consider to be the Continue reading