Matthew 11:28 -30
"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart: and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
To understand this verse, we must first do a little educational background on a few things.
In the New Testament, many times Yeshua is referred to as a Rabbi. This is a Hebrew term which means Master or Great One. The use of this term, during this period of the first century, was not associated with the title or profession of Rabbi, which would come later; after 70 AD when the temple was destroyed (Rabbinic Judaism of today). At this time it was a title of respect given to teachers of the Torah, or in Greek, nomos, the law (Torah) of Moses. Many of the great teachers of Torah were called Rabbi’s. An accurate name for a teacher in the first century would be a sage.
Yeshua is called Rabbi by his disciples (Luke 7:40), by lawyers (Matt. 22:35-36), ordinary people (Luke 2:13), the rich (Matt. 19:16), Pharisees (Luke 19:39), and Sadducees (Luke 20:27-28).
Yeshua fit the description of a first century Rabbi by being a proficient teacher of Torah (law) and as such he was sought out by talmadim (disciples). Men would follow a great Rabbi to learn Torah, they would give up everything to follow in the very footsteps of their teacher. It was a high honor to be chosen by the Rabbi to be one of his disciples.
Sometimes, the Rabbi would call out his own disciples that he wished to follow him, as Yeshua did when he said, “follow me”, at other times, disciples would seek out the Rabbi that they wished to follow, and if the Rabbi approved, He would allow them to follow him. The disciples devoted their entire lives to the Rabbi for whatever period of time was necessary for them to learn his ways and teachings.
Many Rabbi’s during this time in history would travel from place to place with their disciples depending on the hospitality of others (Luke 8:1-3), and during their travels they would visit local synagogues where a discussion of the scriptures (our Older Testament) would take place on the Sabbath (Saturday). In the synagogue they would read and teach on the scriptures being read (Matt. 4:23).
Yeshua was a Rabbi who had s’mikhah, or authority, to make new interpretations of the law (Torah). Those Rabbi’s with superb authority (ordination) could make new interpretations and pass legal judgments regarding the teaching and application of the law in daily understanding and living. This ability to be a Rabbi with authority was passed down by Rabbi’s who had already been given the laying on of hands (know as s’mikhah) by a Rabbi of authority. Yeshua was questioned about his authority (Matt. 21:23-27), (Matt. 7:28-29, Mark 1:21-27). They knew that He had not been ordained by anyone, thereby they questioned him as to how He had been given the authority to change the accepted interpretation of scripture and how He could pass legal judgments without having been given this authority. Of course, His authority came from His Father, who sent Him (this is what Yeshua told them).
Rabbi’s invited people to learn to keep the scriptures/commandments (Older Testament). This was called taking the “yoke of Torah” or the “yoke of the kingdom of heaven”.
Now, I told you all that just to tell you this one important thing - Rabbi’s like Yeshua, who taught with authority and taught new interpretations of scripture and passed legal judgments would have a new “yoke of Torah” to pass down to their disciples. Yeshua’ s disciples would then take HIS YOKE (his teachings and instructions) upon themselves. Yeshua did not change the commandments of His Father but He kept His Torah perfectly. He had the "yoke of Torah" upon Himself and correctly passed down the teachings and instructions of His Father to His disciples. His interpretation of His Father's teachings and instructions were perfect.
This was a very Hebraic thing that we westerners do not understand. Disciples would take the “yoke of Torah” that their Rabbi taught upon them, like two animals bound together, they were bound to him, to obey his teachings. They studied their Rabbi's every move and memorized every word that came out of His mouth. Yeshua said his “yoke of Torah” was easy and light, not heavy and burdensome. He often criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees for the heavy burdens that they placed upon the people. He condemned them for taking "traditions of men and making them doctrines of Adonai", thus weighing the people down with heavy burdens that they were not able to bear (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:1-9, Mark 7:11-13).
Fulfilling the law (Torah) was the goal of the Rabbi’s. The term used for this in English is “fulfill”. To interpret scripture so that it would not be obeyed correctly was to “destroy” the law. Yeshua used this word “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17-19. The word, and you can study it for yourself, means to fill up, or to bring to a higher level of understanding, to accomplish, completeness. He came with authority to show us the correct interpretation of scripture, that man had corrupted, and to teach the right interpretation and meaning of everything that his Father had commanded to Moses. Contrary to popular belief he did not come to do away with the law, scripture says so (vs. 18), but to teach and interpret it correctly. At that time, as today, the scriptures had been corrupted by the traditions of man. Yeshua wanted to correct those wrong interpretations.
Luke 6:40 states that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” Will we take his “yoke” upon us? What was His yoke? We must study His word, pray, and imitate him, if we are to be like him. We must remember that He was in the image of His Father, and so are we, to be HOLY. We must give our whole lives to becoming like Him and taking His yoke upon us.
When the Rabbi believed that his disciples were prepared to be like him in all manners, he would send them forth to make disciples, hence, more little Christ’s, little Messiah's, all in his and God’s image. Yeshua sent his first disciples forth in Matthew chapter 28:18-20, instructing them to keep everything that He commanded them, to keep His yoke, the "yoke of Torah" as He taught it to them!
In the Renewed Covenant, (New Testament), we find John making and baptizing disciples. It signified that they had taken the yoke (teachings and instructions) of John upon them and that they were following him, or accepted the message he brought. Hence, John's disciples were baptized unto what John preached (a baptism of repentance). However, John referred his disciples to the "one coming after him" who had a much greater "yoke of Torah" or who was greater than himself. That, of course, was Yeshua.
In I Corinthians 10:2 we read:
And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
This is a referral to the children of Israel all being baptized "unto" Moses, signifying that they had become committed to him and his guidance and had taken his "teachings and instructions" upon themselves.
The ritual of baptism and purity washings, has changed throughout the ages. The phrase baptize does not appear in the Older Covenant. We do find a "laver" where the priests were to wash before they ministered before Adonai. The progression of these "washings" or mikveh is too much for the topic of this article, but it appears that by the time of the New Testament that ritual washings, in bodies of water and in man made mikveh, were taking place on a larger scale than in the Older Covenant times. The Essenes highly practiced a baptism like John preached and many scholars believe that John may have adopted the baptism that he preached from them.
However it progressed, we find that Yeshua commands that His followers be baptized in His name. Many of His disciples had already followed John and had been baptized unto John's baptism but now they were to be baptized unto their new Rabbi Yeshua and His "yoke of Torah". For followers of Yeshua it signified that they accepted what their Rabbi taught and it was a sign of commitment to obedience of His message. They also understood, as today, that it represented a new birth.
In the first century, according to the book "New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus" by David Biden,
"In a rabbi-disciple relationship, the disciple was expected to place himself in a position of total obedience and dedication to his rabbi and his philosophy. It was his desire to become just like him. This was said to be taking on the "yoke" of the rabbi". (1)
David Biden goes on to say that "yoke also could have been a reference to obedience to the commandments of the Torah, or to Jesus' interpretation of them". He then makes reference to a source (Hagner) which sites that "When Jesus invites people with the words.. 'take my yoke upon you', he invites them to follow his own teachings as the definitive interpretation of the law... The same point is stressed in the next clause ...'learn from me" (Matthew 11:29). (2)
Yeshua calls us to be like Him, and then to go and make more disciples, like him; like us. In this regard, we are suppose to take the whole world for Messiah. In order to do this, we must be passionate about being his disciple. We must study , pray, and practice all that He taught us to do, passionately, as set-apart , consecrated, holy people.
(1) copyright 2007; Published by the En-Gedi Resource Center, Inc; page 23
(2) page 28, 32
2007 Biden, David; New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus; Published by the En-Gedi Resource Center, Inc.