Monday, September 28, 2009

The Jesus of History Part 3

We will conclude our study of Matthew’s gospel beginning with chapter 21: Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. When Jesus approached Jerusalem He told His disciples to find Him a colt to ride upon, and where to find the animal. They did so, and brought it to Him to fulfill a prophecy spoken by Zechariah around 500 B.C. which said, “Tell the daughter of Zion (Jerusalem), behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey,” Matthew 21:5; Zechariah 9:9. Jesus, who would not quench smoking flax or break the bruised reed, enters Jerusalem on the most unseemly vehicle imaginable: a beast of burden. But the Son of Man had come to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. The verse following this in Zechariah’s prophecy speaks of Messiah dismantling arms and armies, and bringing genuine peace to the nations under His reign when He comes in glory. Which nations? We read in 9:10 of Zechariah that Messiah’s dominion is from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” All this shall yet be with our Lord’s second coming, but Jesus came first in humility and they rejected Him.

When Jesus was nearing the city many cried out, “Who is this?” The answer was, “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee,” Matthew 21:10-11. In fact, the crowd spoke more truly than they knew, for in Jesus was fulfilled the words of Moses, written in the book of Deuteronomy, between 1400-1500 B.C. The passage in question states, “The Lord thy God will raise up a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me (Moses); unto Him ye shall hearken…I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee (Moses), and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak unto them (Israel) all that I command Him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not hearken unto My words which He shall speak in My name, I will require it of him,” Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19. That the Jews were looking for the Prophet is crystal clear. When John the Baptist first began to preach, the Jews approached him and asked, “Are you the Prophet?” to which John answered ‘no,’ John 1:21. Peter, in a sermon given after Jesus’ ascension, reveals that this ancient prophecy was completed in Him, Acts 3:22-23.

Upon Jesus’ entry there are two passages cited from the book of Psalms. The first had to do with His initial entry into the city, when the throngs swarmed Him and cried aloud, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Psalm 118:26. The Psalm was written by an anonymous writer, and is traditionally said to have been sung by the worshiping Jews as they made pilgrimage to the temple. In two more chapters we shall see this Psalm (this very verse) rear its head one more time, spoken by our Lord in a much different context.

After this celebratory entry Jesus created quite a stir by chasing money lenders out of the temple, and then forming a mob of the sick and diseased who came to Him to be healed. When even the young children cried out to praise Him the chief priests were beside themselves with jealousy and envy. The question they posed was a basic assertion that Jesus had no right to accept the accolades, reverence and worship that was being heaped on Him. Jesus answered again from the Psalms, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise,” Psalm 8:2.

What was Jesus saying? That the people crying out to Him and the children lauding Him were a direct fulfillment of prophecy; this time spoken by the mouth of David prior to 1,000 B.C.! The fevered pitch had been reached because many believed the kingdom of God would simply manifest when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Luke 19:11. We have already seen that this was at least partially the Apostles’ hope, Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6. But like John the Baptist, who had become confused and even disillusioned about Christ’s ministry, all deserted Him at the end, thinking that something had gone awry. But the plans of God are never frustrated; His word always accomplishes that for which He sends it, Isaiah 55:11.

While Jesus was yet in the temple He reasoned with the chiefs priests and scribes. He told them a parable (Matthew 21:33-39) which actually described the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel from the first. They had a long history of killing and persecuting the prophets God sent to them, as described in Hebrews chapter 11:36-38. Their ultimate blindness would be achieved when they killed Messiah, the very One whom the nation had supposedly been waiting for since its inception! Jesus told them that this would occur in His parable (verses 38-39), indicating His own death. He went on to cite another Scripture: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes,” Psalm 118:22-23. Jesus Christ is referred to many times as the cornerstone, the foundation of the church in the New Testament. He is indeed the stone which the builders rejected, but chosen of God. Jesus prophesied that salvation would come to the Gentiles, while Israel would (for the time being) be set aside due to their stubborn rejection of God’s will for their nation and individually.

The next verse cited is, in essence, a follow up to Psalm 118:22-23. Jesus questions the Pharisees about the Christ (or Messiah); as to whose Son He is. When they answer David’s (meaning that the Christ is merely a fleshly descendant of King David), Jesus answers with this verse, spoken from the mouth of David before 1,000 B.C.: “The Lord said to my (David’s) Lord, Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool,” Psalm 110:1. Jesus asks a theological question: if Messiah was David’s Lord, how could He also be David’s Son? David honors Him with the title “my Lord,” which indicates that even King David was a subject of this forthcoming Messiah, though he would be long since dead. David prophesied that Messiah would be God in the flesh, come to His own people, Israel; and He was presently standing before them. Jesus Himself testified: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” John 14:9.

Let us turn aside briefly to investigate the end of chapter 23. While this is not a fulfillment of the Christ’s first coming, it does tie into Jesus’ many predictions about His second coming; and since the first was fulfilled to the letter as we are bearing witness, we can be more than confident that the second coming will occur just as our Lord tells us it will. In this passage Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for their outward religious zeal, and inward hypocrisy. They were spiritually blind, and Jesus laments, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,’” Matthew 23:37-39.

Here Jesus is clearly implying that He has sent the prophets to chasten and exhort Israel throughout their nation’s history, thus revealing Himself as God, but laments that Israel was not willing to be reconciled to Him. Therefore Israel will not see Him again until they exclaim at His appearance, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” Psalm 118:26. This will occur at the end of the Great Tribulation which Daniel and Zechariah especially have much to say concerning. The prophets describe Christ’s visible returning in power to avenge Israel and His people; He will no longer be the meek Lamb of God, but the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Ruler Jacob foresaw almost 2,000 years before Christ's birth. The people shall mourn for their act of killing Messiah (Daniel 9:26; Zechariah 12:10-14), and then rejoice that their Savior has arrived to deliver them from the hands of their enemies. And so all Israel will be saved, Romans 11:26. See also Matthew 25:31-32. The “all nations” being judged at this point in time would be the Gentile nations who sought to destroy Israel and the Jews.

In the beginning of chapter 24, Jesus delivers to His Apostles another prophecy which came to pass a mere forty years after His crucifixion and resurrection. When the apostles were showing off the beauty of the temple to Him, He warned them that soon there would not be one stone left atop another, for all shall be thrown down, Matthew 24:1-2. While this is not an accomplishment of Old Testament prophecy, it is a validating prediction of Jesus’ authority and knowledge, as Jerusalem was cast down by the Roman armies led by the general Titus. The Sanhedrin was apparently abolished at this point, which was the religious council of Pharisees and Sadducees, and the entire city was razed to the ground and burned with fire, while the temple the Apostles boasted of was torn to its foundations and utterly ruined, never to be rebuilt. It had been said in rumor that when the temple burned the gold within melted from the intense heat and poured out through the broken walls, adhering to the stones, so that when it was cool the Roman soldiers pilfered the remnant of the temple, plucking down every stone left standing to remove the traces of gold adhered to them; thus fulfilling to the very letter Jesus’ words about its absolute destruction.

Let us skip ahead to Matthew chapter 26. Verse 31 brings us back to the book of Zechariah (about 500 B.C.) and the passage which says, “I (God) will strike the Shepherd (Jesus; see John 10:11) and the sheep of the flock will be scattered,” Zechariah 13:7. This prophecy would be fulfilled shortly. Jesus and His Apostles were now in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas Iscariot would lead a mob to arrest Jesus secretly. The appearance of so many men with swords and torches, and Jesus’ apparent lack of resistance to their ambush, broke the spirit of the men who followed Him, and though they all loved their Master dearly, each man fled for his life. In fact, one young man who followed Jesus was so terrified at the thought of arrest that when the soldiers laid hands on him, he stripped his garment off and fled away naked, Mark 14:51-52.

Yet back of all of this human hatred, jealousy, envy and pride was the will of God the Father. God knew the only way to reconcile the whole world to Himself was the sacrifice of His Son to pay for the sin of the world; there literally was no other way. The cross had to become a reality in our world of flesh and tears; Jesus, God the Son, had to become a Man to suffer on our behalf as our Advocate and Representative, taking the punishment on our behalf that we deserved, so He might bring us to God. Here Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled, the serpent was bruising the heel of the Savior, the Seed of the woman, all the while the Savior was bruising the head of the serpent, Satan. This was the will and plan of God; it did not take Him by surprise, but had been in His mind and heart from the first, Acts 2:22-24. God’s plan was progressing, in spite of man’s hatred or contempt of God’s revelation. While we were His enemies, He loved us and died for us, Romans 5:8-10.

Though not expressly spoken in Matthew’s gospel, Judas Iscariot’s act of betrayal was also an astonishing fulfillment of prophecy, spoken of by several prophets hundreds of years before Judas’ birth. Matthew 26:21 and 24 refer to Judas’ treachery, and we do not have to hunt far to find which Scriptures Jesus was referring to when He said that it was written and must be fulfilled. In John’s gospel we find this written: “He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me,” Psalm 41:9. It is another Psalm of David, and the beginning portion of the passage states, “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted;” Jesus having only quoted the latter portion of it. In Acts 1:20 we also find these verses: “Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it,” Psalm 69:25; “Let another take his office,” Psalm 109:8. Again, both Psalms have David as their human author. Both are in reference to Judas Iscariot as Peter explains in the beginning of Acts.

The purchase price of our Lord’s life was even recorded within holy writ, Matthew 26:15-16; 27:3-8. Jeremiah and Zechariah both speak of the amount and type of coin, and the usage of the money after Judas cast it away from him in remorse. Jeremiah (written from 627-586 B.C. roughly) was quoted saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the Potter’s field, as the Lord directed me,” Jeremiah 32:6-9. While Jeremiah gives only partial details of the event, when we turn to Zechariah we find this: “They weighed for me my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’-that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter,” Zechariah 11:12-13. It is interesting to note at this point the book of Exodus records a commandment about the death of a servant if gored by an ox. The owner of the ox must recompense the owner of the servant 30 shekels of silver; the exact price which Judas betrayed Jesus for, Exodus 21:32.

The fact that Jesus was crucified between two thieves was recorded by Matthew (27:38), yet it is Mark who tells us that this completed one more prophecy, that Jesus should be numbered with the transgressors, Mark 15:28; Isaiah 53:12. Isaiah also wrote that because of this (being numbered with us, the transgressors) He could and did bear the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (us!), still verse 12. Jesus is our great High Priest and Advocate, interceding even for those who crucified Him, Luke 23:34.

However, Matthew did record that at His crucifixion the soldiers cast lots for His garments and divided His garments between them, Matthew 27:35; Psalm 22:18. John records the soldiers’ very words as they unwittingly fulfilled a thousand year old prophecy by their callous and heartless behavior, John 19:24. In Matthew 27:48 a bystander attempted to give Jesus sour wine to drink while He hung there in agony on the cross; yet he did not do our Savior a kindness, for I believe he only wished to moisten Jesus’ throat so He might cry longer, to see if Elijah would appear and save Him, as they were anticipating, 27:47, 49.

This too was a fulfilled prophecy which stated, “For My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink,” Psalm 69:21, written by King David. Though Matthew did not write such, the method of Jesus’ execution was recorded in the famous 22nd Psalm. Verses 1-2, 6-8, and 12-18 all carry vivid details and words of the very moment of the crucifixion, how they pierced His hands and feet (verse 16, which is the exact method of execution via crucifixion; a type of execution the Jews did not use or were likely even aware of in David’s day), the crowd reproached Him with mockery (verse 8), and the suffering of hanging on the cross bringing all of His bones out of joint (verse 14).

In fact the Apostle John ascribes the fact that Jesus’ bones were not broken in order to fulfill prophecy. As it was a holy day for the Jews and they did not want the bodies of the victims to be left on the cross during this time the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals crucified beside our Lord, so their own body weight would bear down on them and they would suffocate. But when the soldier came to Jesus, he found that He was already dead; so to make sure that He was truly dead, he pierced our Lord’s side with a spear, John 19:31-37. 1,500 years prior, God gave command that when the Passover lamb was killed and eaten not one of its bones should be broken, Exodus 12:46; also see Psalm 34:20. We know from John the Baptist that Jesus was, “the Lamb of God,” John 1:29, 36; the lamb sacrificed in Jewish homes and on Jewish altars was a type of our Lord, a symbol of the great Passover Lamb who would come and make an end of both sin and sacrifice; and when there is remission, there is no longer an offering for sin, Hebrews 10:18.

Again, the brutality of the Roman soldiers aided in bringing to pass another prophetic utterance concerning our Lord’s death and His imminent return. The prophet Zechariah spoke of a time when God would defend the Jews against all the nations who seek to overthrow and destroy them, Zechariah 12:9. When this occurs, “they will look on Me whom they have pierced,” verse 10. During Christ’s second coming the nation of Israel will visibly see the Son of Man, still with the wound in His side and the nail prints in His hands and feet, descending in power and glory, and they will know that the Jewish Carpenter who they nailed to the Roman cross was none other than their long awaited Messiah. Why did the soldier thrust the spear into Jesus’ side? It was written, and all things concerning the Christ have an end, Luke 22:37.

Jesus’ resurrection is finally come before us. While we have already noted that the prophet Jonah (about 800-750 B.C.) was spoken of by Jesus as being itself a testimony of what our Lord would soon suffer by being placed three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, there is one more conclusive place to turn for a prophetic mention of the resurrection. In Peter’s initial sermon given at the day of Pentecost –in fact the first Christian sermon ever spoken- the Apostle informed the crowd about the necessity and reality of the resurrection in these terms: “God raised [Jesus] up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. For David says concerning Him, ‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’ Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption,” Acts 2:24-31.

The passage Peter quoted is found in Psalm 16:8-11. This is also why the apostle Paul could say with confidence, “that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1st Corinthians 15:4.
The Jews were so entrenched in their man-made laws, rules, and blind disbelief that even after the resurrection had been reported to their leaders by Roman soldiers who were terrified of the angel that appeared at Jesus’ tomb, they bribed the soldiers to lie. This lie, Matthew attests, persisted during the writing of his gospel, and even persists today with works such as ‘the Tomb of Jesus’ (DVD and book), yet another work insisting that Christ’s body has been found in a foolish and hopeless effort to discredit the validity of the Bible and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The lie was simple: “Tell them, His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept,” Matthew 28:13. The penalty for such negligence of duty for Roman soldiers would likely have been crucifixion, but since the fact already occurred and their lives were in jeopardy anyhow, the religious leaders convinced the soldiers to agree to this fallacious story, which has been echoed for two thousand years now. The guards knew something supernatural happened; this was the story they related to the chief priests, Matthew 28:2-4, 11. No one could find Jesus’ body because there was none to find. The disciples, who a mere few nights prior ran away in abject terror for fear of their lives when their Master had been arrested, suddenly went on to live courageous and selfless lives of service, attesting to everyone that Christ was risen and alive, and therefore their own fear of death was gone.

Christ conquered death, and since their faith was fixed on Christ and what our Lord had done, they would live, even though they may die, John 11:25. Though almost all of the Apostles were brutally martyred for their faith, these uneducated and cowardly men went on to change the world in a way no other has ever done: in the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior. The four gospels present a comprehensive view of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ; it is the only inspired record God the Holy Spirit has seen fit to deliver to us. It is the only true account of any gravity, length or accuracy we have; found alone in the pages of the New Testament and sealed by the blood of those whose love for Christ surpassed even their own lives. The Jesus of history truly existed, and He is found nowhere else except in the pages of the Bible, illuminated by the light of the Holy Spirit who is the divine Author of the Scriptures.

I have come nowhere near to exhausting the various Scriptures of the Old Testament that witness to the life of Jesus Christ, both His first and second comings, but I believe I have laid down a sufficient argument in favor of believing the truth of the gospel as it is presented in the Bible regarding the life of Christ. It is this simple: prophecy was given to determine the Person of Messiah when He finally came. They were criteria, specific things that must be down in Him, by Him, and to Him, for Him to be recognized as the Messiah God described in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit set down scores of tests for Him to pass, so no pretender or usurper could ever hope to accomplish even a fraction of them.

Jesus completed all of the tests, He measured up to the Biblical criteria and picture of who and what Messiah should be according to the word of God. I realize my synopsis has been insufficient, but I pray that God will bless this effort to bring understanding to anyone who will read these pages. Jesus was (and is) God manifest in the flesh, and the only way to the Father and Heaven. Can we afford to ignore His unique claim of Savior? Do we pass Him by because biased preference and pride will not allow us to concede how awesome the scope of God’s work is? Christ alone qualifies as Savior; therefore He alone saves. No excuse will save in the day when God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel, Romans 2:16. Amen.

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Joshua 24:15

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.