Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Jesus of History Part 2

Before continuing this discourse, I think it would beneficial and edifying to learn what the purpose and plan of prophecy is. Prophecy (and prophetic fulfillment) are the hallmarks of the Bible, unique to it’s character, making it to stand utterly alone as a religious writing of any type. I have heard some Christians say that as much as 30% of the Bible is prophecy, so it serves us well, both as Christians doing the will of God, and as unbelievers seeking truth, to pay careful heed to the words God has been gracious enough beforehand to reveal, as He promised to reveal through the mouths of His prophets, Amos 3:7.

It is important to note the very first prophecy given in the Bible, found in Genesis 3:15, deals with the Seed of the woman. In this passage, Satan through the guise of the serpent deceived Eve, and both she and Adam fell into sin and rebelled against God’s exceedingly simple command. After God foretold what our lives would be like thereafter with heavy toil and painful child bearing, He addressed the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” What did this mean? The first literal fulfillment occurred with Cain and Abel. Jesus told us that natural man before being saved is a child of the Devil, who is our father in a certain sense, and the will of our father we do, John 8:44. John in his later epistle agrees, specifically addressing the evils of Cain, “…Cain who was of the wicked one (Satan) and murdered his brother,” 1st John 3:12.

We also know that by faith Abel was a son of God, as testified by the writer of Hebrews, who states: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous,” Hebrews 11:4. Only those saved by God’s grace are declared righteous, and so Abel was a saved man with a renewed relationship with the Lord. Here we see the principle God outlines take shape: Cain is rejected by God for wanting to do things his way rather than God’s way (by sacrifice in this case), and rather than repenting and agreeing that God’s way was right, he instead kills Abel. Jesus called Satan a murderer from the beginning, John 8:44. Here we see the fruit of the flesh as Cain chose proud rebellion rather than humble reconciliation with God, and the enmity between those born of the flesh and those born of the Spirit began in earnest.

But the true Seed of the woman was the awaited Savior, Jesus Christ, which is why when God addressed the serpent in such a way that He said, “He shall bruise your head.” The pronoun used suggests a single Person to whom this prophetic statement would be complete in. Paul likewise agrees when he writes, in reference to another passage in Genesis, “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘and to seeds’ as of many, but as of one, ‘and to your Seed,’ who is Christ,” Galatians 3:16. We find in Genesis God repeating the words spoken to Adam and Eve to Abraham numerous times in Genesis 12:7, 13:15, 22:17-18. Paul argues that the word Seed held in it the testimony of the Coming One, who would redeem Israel and all the world through the sacrifice of Himself.

Prophecy more generally also reveals God to be unique among all professing gods and lords who would vie for our attention. “Do not fear, nor be afraid; have I not told from that time, and declared it? Your are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one…Tell and bring forth your case; yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me,” Isaiah 44:8; 45:21. Thos who witness prophetic fulfillment are God’s witnesses, both of His authority and power, but also of His unique and unparalleled role in history and the universe. Simply put: there is none like Him to compare. He is alone God, with all that this name- GOD- implies. Read on:

"Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it,” Isaiah 46:9-11. Here is a specific prophecy with a specific fulfillment. In chapter 45:1 God mentions Cyrus by name, who happens to become the king of Medo-Persia that later goes on to conquer Babylon in about 538-539 B.C. The point of this prophecy is that Isaiah is addressing a man who hasn’t been born yet! Remember, Isaiah prophesied around 700 B.C. or later, and Cyrus would not go on to conquer Babylon for another two centuries; in fact, Babylon had not yet become the world power that went on to subdue Judah, and so many other surrounding territories. God claims not only to already know Cyrus, but that this man would be the one to conquer Babylon in due time. God has spoken it, and will bring it to pass in His time.

Ultimately we are informed that prophecy is about the witness of Jesus Christ; it always has been. When John was given the vision of the Revelation in his old age, he was informed by the angelic messenger who stood by him, “Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” Revelation 19:10. Who were the true prophets of God? Those who foretold of the Coming One, both His first and second comings, those who were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak things directly inspired by God, 2nd Peter 1:21. Jesus, and His salvation offered freely to the world, is the spirit of prophecy: this has been God’s plan and goal from the first, to rescue and redeem fallen man from his state of sin by the sacrifice of Himself on the cross, to pay the penalty for our sins that His own perfect justice demanded. All of this was established and set in place before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; Psalm 119:89).

Having said this, I’ll pick up in Matthew chapter 8. Matthew 8:16-17 inform us that Jesus was always busy healing all who came to Him. He cast out demons, healed the sick, gave the blind sight, caused the lame to walk, made the deaf hear, and raised the dead to life. Matthew attributed this amazing and miraculous display of compassion to Isaiah 53:4, or more plainly to the Person described by the prophet. The entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah is an amazing and detailed prophecy concerning Jesus Christ and His mission on earth; we have already seen verse 3 where this person Isaiah describes is unwanted by those who see Him, and despite the wicked reception given Him, He still carried our grief and sorrows. Jesus is uniquely the Man of Sorrows.

Later, while Jesus is teaching the crowds, disciples of John the Baptist (at this point in prison) came to Him and asked if He was the Messiah. Jewish thought had been so molded by this point in history that they were certain that when Messiah appeared, the kingdom would be given to Israel and He would crush the Gentile powers underfoot. This is evidenced in John’s gospel, where we read the crowd’s response to Jesus’ words: “We have heard from the law that the Christ (Messiah) remains forever; and how can You say the Son of Man must be lifted up?” John 12:34. Likewise, the Apostles asked a similar question of Jesus when He was about to ascend to the Father after His resurrection; “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6.

Even John, who there was none greater born of women in Jesus’ words, was confused about Jesus’ ministry. Jesus tells those listening that John’s life and ministry qualified him to be the messenger Malachi speaks of in 3:1, around 400 B.C. But there was a catch, so to speak: “And if you are willing to receive [it], he is Elijah who is to come,” Matthew 11:14. The “it” is italicized, which means it was not in the original Greek manuscripts. Therefore Jesus is saying, “If you are willing to receive.” Receive what? John’s ministry and message about Jesus’ Person and work. It was John himself who declared earlier in his ministry, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world!” John 1:29. But as stated previously, they were not willing to receive, so therefore the ultimate fulfillment of Elijah who is to come (Malachi 4:5-6) is yet future, when the two witnesses appear during the Tribulation, Revelation 11:3.

As a side note, the contect of the passage in which Jesus speaks of John the Baptist in no way infers that John will not be in Heaven, as Jehovah's Witnesses proclaim. No; John was not a part of the New Covenant of the church, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the act of regeneration; blessings which God prepared for this age, Hebrews 11:39-40; Romans 8:29-30. John will certainly be in Heaven, as will everyone whose faith is in Christ alone. He merely was not a partaker of the kingdom of Heaven that dwelt in men's hearts, coming without observation, as Jesus said. He was not a member of the bride of Christ. John himself stated he was a friend of the Bridegroom (Jesus). The Old Testament saints will be in Heaven, according to the Bible, but they will be guests at the wedding feast of Christ with His bride. Any other interpretation of this passage twists scripture to mean something it does not.

Again we find Matthew quoting Isaiah concerning both the healings Jesus performed, and His desire to refrain from being widely known. Isaiah 42:1-4 carries the passage in question, mentioned in Matthew 12:17-21. There are two aspects of this prophecy I would like to point out. The first is Jesus’ humility and tender mercy: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.” He did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. He would save them to the uttermost, even the bruised reeds and smoking flax of the harlots, lepers, publicans and general refuse of the earth. Second is the scope of His mission: “In His name the Gentiles will trust.” Universal salvation is clearly in view, as far as Matthew and Isaiah are concerned.

No, I do not mean Universalism, which isn’t so much as hinted at in the Bible. Jesus came first to Israel, but He did not come only to Israel. In Luke 4:16-30, in fact, Jesus pointed out to Israel that God has always been interested in the salvation of Gentiles. When the people of Nazareth (where He was currently teaching) heard this, they tried to cast Him off of a cliff. It was one of the many aspects of Jesus’ ministry that the Jewish mind could not easily grasp. Yet the Gentiles too were smoking flax and bruised reeds, and He would declare justice to them, Isaiah 42:1.

We also find in this same chapter an interesting prophecy seldom taken seriously, even by professing Christians. When the Pharisees questioned Jesus and requested a sign from Heaven, Jesus replied that no sign would be given, save for the sign of the prophet Jonah. The book of Jonah, infamous for the giant fish, is given historical verification by our Lord and Savior as being both true and accurate. There was a man named Jonah who lived hundreds of years prior, a prophet of God; he was swallowed by a giant fish, and may well have died in the sea and lay dead within the fish’s belly for three days and three nights, since Jesus says that he would do likewise in the heart of the earth, Matthew 12:39-40.

So Jonah’s incident with the giant fish was not only real, but it also happened as an allegory to reflect the great truth of how our Savior would sleep in death within the earth for three days and nights. And as Jonah was cast out of the fish (possibly having been raised from the dead, even) Jesus came out of the grave after three days and nights. There are similar happenings throughout the Bible, where real events mirror spiritual truths. Read again Genesis 22:1-14 for the story of Isaac’s sacrifice. While this truly occurred, and God tested Abraham by demanding his son for a sacrifice, it also mirrored the Father giving up His only begotten Son so that all who believe in Him would never perish, but have everlasting life, John 3:16.

Jesus was teaching by the sea when He began to speak to the crowds in parables later. When questioned by His disciples why this was, He told them that it was to fulfill the word of God by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 6:9-10) which said, “By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see and not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross (grown dull), and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I would heal them.” What does this mean? Let us go to John’s gospel, where a parallel passage sheds more light on the subject. We read: “Although [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Isaiah 53:1.

Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’ These things Isaiah said when he saw His (Jesus’) glory and spoke of Him,” John 12:37-41. The context becomes clear at this point. The parables are not to prevent anyone from believing and being saved; in fact Jesus speaks them because the crowds WON’T believe and be saved! He is saying that He is present, performing miracles, preaching the kingdom and fulfilling prophecy right before their very eyes, and they will not -not cannot- they WILL NOT believe in Him. Seven centuries before Christ’s birth in the flesh Isaiah saw Him enthroned in the temple, and there God the Son informed the prophet that Israel would reject Him. They would see, they would hear, but they would not see or hear truth, and it would not penetrate to their heart, or infect their understanding so they might turn and be healed. Jesus has nothing for the idle curiosity seeker; His wisdom was veiled behind the parables, and the veil is removed only in Christ. Note that Jesus only taught His disciples what the parables meant; He did not disclose this information to the crowds who followed after signs and wonders, bread and fish.

In this same passage we see Psalm 78:2, a Messianic passage, fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry. It says, “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Psalm 78, humanly written by the prophet Asaph, was composed around 1,000 B.C. under the reign of either David or Solomon. The prophecy glimpsed here is the fact that Jesus is teaching aspects of God’s kingdom heretofore unknown by prophets and righteous men before Christ’s advent. This should not be surprising, since we know from Scripture, “God…has in these last days spoken to us by His Son,” and “God [has] provided something better for us (the church) that they (the Old Testament saints) should not be made perfect apart from us,” Hebrews 1:1-2; 11:40. Also, “Of this salvation (in Jesus Christ) the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you…to them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which NOW have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven,” 1st Peter 1:10,12. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy to the letter one thousand years after it was spoken.

One a side note: Matthew 13:34 states that Jesus always spoke to the crowds in parables, and never spoke to the crowds without one. Matthew (or Levi) was a witness of Christ during the duration of His ministry and is reliable, as he has a first hand account of what Jesus said and did. I make mention of this because the false doctrine of Eucharistic adoration is partially grounded in Jesus’ sayings in John chapter 6, when He speaks about being the Bread of Life, and how the Jews must eat His flesh to have true life. It is very clear upon reading this chapter that Jesus is speaking to the crowd of Jews (verses 22-25,28,30,34,41-43,52). What conclusion can be drawn? That Jesus was speaking in a parable when He addressed them about eating His flesh and drinking His blood as bread and drink. It is just as logical a point as Jesus claiming to be the Door, or the Vine, or literal Light. He is drawing comparisons from material objects the Jews were familiar with, not to mention Old Testament passages they were likewise acquainted with, to teach them spiritual truth.

In Matthew 16:1-4 we find the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees, confronting Jesus yet again to perform a sign from Heaven for them, so it might confirm that He is indeed Messiah. Jesus rebuked them for their hypocrisy. His defense was simple: as a man could perceive the temperament of forthcoming weather by the appearance of the sky, so too should the Jewish leaders who were well acquainted with Scripture know the signs of Messiah’s coming without any extramural “showing off.” Jesus points to Jonah once more as the ultimate sign; meaning that when they finally kill Him and He rises from the dead on the third day they will have all the proof they need or could ever want that Jesus was (and is!) indeed their Messiah.

For a similar passage, look to Matthew 17:10-13. Coming down from the mountain, Peter, James and John ask Jesus why the scribes say that Elijah must come before the Christ. Jesus did not explain why it must be so, since that was obvious (Scripture stated such, and Scripture cannot be broken); instead He told them that Elijah was coming to restore all things, Malachi 4:5-6 and Luke 1:16-17. Yet they did not know him, as they did not know their own Messiah, and they killed him (see Matthew 14:10). It is sad how proud we are; when God does not perform the way we want Him to, or expect Him to, we deny and refuse to accept His testimony and proof, no matter how palpable.

We shall conclude this investigation into prophecy and Scripture next post, God willing, as we read and search through the rest of Matthew’s gospel by the revealing light of God the Holy Spirit, who alone is qualified to reveal such truth to us. I pray He will.

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"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," 2nd Timothy 3:16.

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All Scripture is taken from the King James Bible (KJV) or New King James Bible (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.