Yeshua came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on Shabbat, as was his habit. (Luke 4:16)
It was Yeshua’s habit (custom) to go to a synagogue on Shabbat. Shabbat began at sundown on Friday and ended at sundown on Saturday. It was the seventh day of the Jewish week. Shabbat is a special period of time in the Jewish culture.
On the seventh day ELOHIYM (the Creator) completed His work which he had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all his work which He had done. ELOHIYM blessed the seventh day and set it apart, because in it He rested from all his work which ELOHIYM had created and made. (Genesis 2:1b-3)
Remember the Shabbat by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat to YAHWEH your ELOHIYM. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days YAHWEH made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore YAHWEH blessed the Shabbat day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)
In Hebrew, to make something “holy” means to “set apart for a particular purpose or use.” One purpose of the Shabbat is to rest from work and the other is for the teaching of the Creator’s wisdom and laws. The two places His wisdom and laws were taught were at the Temple and in the synagogues during the life of Yeshua.
Theodotus, a Greek historian,[i] noted that there was an important difference between synagogues in Israel and those outside the land. The central focus of all synagogues was to teach the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy. Synagogues in Israel, however, were not “houses of prayer.” [ii] In the land of Israel there was only one House of Prayer -- the Temple.
Synagogues in Judea, Samaria and Galilee were “houses of study,” as well as community meeting centers. Yeshua would have attended the synagogue in Nazareth many times during his life and would have been well known by those attending it.
Synagogues shared a number of things in common. The physical alignment of a synagogue pointed in the direction of the Temple in Jerusalem. When we walked through the entrance with Yeshua we would see that the seating was on benches, not in pews. There was a raised platform called a BEMA in the middle, a MENORAH (a seven-branched candlestick), and an ARK.[iii] The congregation faced the Temple as they participated in the services, recited Scriptures, and were taught the Torah.
Synagogues were also the centers of community life on the other six days. Meetings were held and children received their basic education there. Jews traveling through a town would stop at the local synagogue, especially on the Shabbat. Strangers would be welcomed by the congregation, invited to eat meals with them, and some synagogues even had places where they could spend the night. We will learn more about the synagogue in the blog.
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[ii] Josephus, Life 277, 280, and 293