THE IDENTITY OF JESUS – PART IV

So the prophets revealed with perfect accuracy and extreme detail many of the particulars of Christ’s first coming. Daniel revealed the day and Luke’s gospel confirmed it. Today we’ll look at how the currents of history came together to work God’s perfect will.

 THE EVIDENCE OF PROPHECY AND SCRIPTURE

Yet everything in history was leading up to this moment; the fulfillment. Steve Brown of Key Life Ministries points out the historical pattern. It can be found in the cultural mores of every people. The sacrificial system is found among primitive people, anywhere on the globe, at some point in their history. We see it in the ancient pagan cultures that developed around the Mediterranean. We find it in the New World cultures of the Aztecs and the Mayans. We see it in Africa and Asia. It is all tied up in the religious notions of all peoples, everywhere. It is as if God prepared the very thought forms of every nation to understand this. It is a universal notion. Without blood there is no getting right with ‘the gods,’ with God. The God of Abraham revealed the sacrificial system through the Passover. It was the blood of the lamb without blemish that protected the Israelites from the plagues in Egypt. So it was that all peoples could appreciate the notion of sacrifice. It was around 1800 BC, that God, chose a group of ignorant desert wanderers, the Hebrews, and began to reveal to them the most highly developed system of “ethical monotheism the world has ever known.” There is no explanation for this in purely naturalistic terms. Anthropology is at a loss. The Hebrews, (and Hebrew means wanderer), were not a very sophisticated people in any other sense. Yet the supposed civilized nations around them, definitely their marked superiors in cultural and military matters, were woefully backward when it came to the development of a system of ethics. They were worshiping multiple gods and still sacrificing their children, or passing them through the fire, as the Jews were developing a scriptural and cultural heritage that pointed them to the One God of the universe.

For centuries, as the world wallowed in the practices of paganism, the Jewish nation awaited a Messiah, who, Scripture promised, would provide them with a spiritual deliverance. This emphasis on the spiritual rather than the material was in marked contrast to the notions of the dominant cultures of the age. Notice the distinction too between the sacred significance with which the Israelites held their religious practices and the pagan practices of the nations around them. In the ancient world paganism was rife with the association of rampant sensuality, with the supposedly sacred. (Actually this is still present today in some forms of Hinduism, neo-paganism, Satanism and the New Age, – to name a few.) There were many examples of religiously sanctioned, wine driven orgies. The existence of the temple-prostitute-priestess was common practice across the pagan world. However, the development of the Jewish nation was different not just in degree but also in kind.

Now along about 700 BC the Greco-Roman civilization began to develop. Through Alexander, and later the Romans, it came to dominate the known world. Its‟ influence dominated the fields of art, architecture, writing and philosophy. With the conquering of the Holy Land by Rome, the notions of what became known as Greek philosophy was imported to that region too. Through military might and that ubiquitous philosophy that accompanied it, the world was united. And with the subjugation of Israel, the Romans had brought forth the intersection of those two themes of history. So it seems not by accident did the Messiah arrive at this time.[i]

 

This then was Jesus‟ world. It was a world of a captive Judaism. Any real understanding of the person of Jesus must necessarily start from the fact that he was a Jew. Further, we know that he was a teacher in the rabbinical tradition. As such he used the technique, common to that profession, of question and answer to drive home many of his most controversial points. There are many examples of this in the Gospels. In Matthew 22 for example, he discusses whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Rome. (This was a hot and sensitive subject given the political realities of that day.) In Mark 10:17-22 he talks about what is necessary to inherit eternal life. The other technique we see so often applied is the use of the parable. These are found throughout the Evangelists‟ accounts. These two can best be understood in the context of their Jewish-ness. Many of them refer specifically to the religious history of the Jewish nation, especially in regards to their repeated rejection of the prophets. This theme is one justification for the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan.

 

Besides the office of Rabbi, Jesus also fulfilled the role and duties of a prophet. Christ spoke as one with authority. He claimed to speak for God. It is recorded in the Gospels that many times he began a saying with the words, “Truly I say to you.” After reading the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 referring to the promised Messiah, he claimed the anointing of the authority of the Spirit of the Lord by saying, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) With that claimed authority, during the Sermon on the Mount he called for an intensification of the commandments of the Law. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, „Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.‟ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.” (Matthew 5:21-22) He continues in verses 27 and 28, “You have heard it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In Matthew 5:17 he makes an audacious claim. “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Just three verses later he tells his listeners that in order to be saved, their righteousness must surpass “…that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law.”[ii]

 

But his audacity does not stop there. Significantly, Jesus goes on to claim much more. As documented in all of the Gospels, Christ goes on to assert not only Messiahship, but actual equality with God by being the beloved Son of God. Before we look at exactly what Jesus said, we must understand the momentousness of that claim to an observant, believing Jew of the first century. The pride of the Jewish nation is their unique relationship with and understanding of the One True God. His claim of equality with God spoke directly to the most central belief of Judaism. It spoke to the unity of God. The Scripture known as the Shema is the most important expression of that unity. Found in Deuteronomy 6:4 it states, “ Hear O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” This was the scripture ingrained in every Jewish believer since childhood. So even indirect claims that he shared in the essence of the godhead must have been greeted with some confusion among his followers and outright consternation on the part of the religious elite. Christ too, accepted the truth of the Shema. In Mark 12:29 we hear him respond to a question on which is the most important commandment. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.’” Now in the Hebrew the word used for ‘One’ in this case is echad. The word echad is used to describe a plural one-ness. It is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 to describe the union of husband and wife as constituting one flesh. In Mark 12:30 Jesus finishes his statement on the greatest commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Geisler and Bocchino in their work, Unshakeable Foundations, render that passage from Deuteronomy with more of the sense that it would have had in the original language. It would read, “ Yaweh, our God, Yaweh is a plurality within an indivisible unity.” The authors point out how, “The law of God is based upon the nature of God.”

 

They go on to elaborate. The law is not a collection of arbitrary commands but is rather, “primarily concerned with relational harmony….the plurality of God and the unity of God are both the standard and primary example of this truth.” When Jesus uses this language from Deuteronomy to answer the question, he is not so subtly pointing to that plurality. When taken in context with his other statements on his identity, he is arguing for the plurality that would include himself as a member of the godhead. The Gospel of John records for us another of those occasions when Jesus makes such a claim. Jesus is speaking with the Pharisees regarding his identity. They had asked him to answer directly if he is the Messiah. After chiding them for their unbelief and again pointing to his miracles as proof of His office, he speaks of those that believe in him. “My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:29-30) Here again is that claim of One-ness in essence, while at the same time maintaining the distinctness of his personality.[iii] [iv]

 

Now to those familiar with the promises of Scripture, these reminders may have been just enough to see the validity in Christ‟s claim to be the Messiah. Inherent in the Scriptures is the notion that the Anointed One would somehow be an expression of the Divine Personality. Isaiah 7:14 tells us that he would be called Immanuel, meaning ‘God with us’. And just a couple of chapters later in Isaiah 9:6 we are told that his titles will include, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, [and ] Prince of Peace.” So any claim that he is the Messiah is tantamount to a claim to be God Himself. These assertions were of monumental significance. Yet as we have seen, it was a question on the minds of the Pharisees, with a predisposition to disbelieve. It was also on the mind of Jesus‟ followers. Even with the incredible miracles they were seeing, drawing the inference that a man was somehow divine was not an easy step. These were Jews steeped in the Shema. “Hear O Israel…the Lord is One.” And this was a claim of such uniqueness and importance that even John the Baptist was led to question what he believed to be true. John, who had identified the approaching Christ as the ‘Lamb of God’, who had baptized Jesus, to his own consternation, and had testified that he had seen, “ the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him”, even he had questions. (John 1:29-34) Alone with his thoughts in the seclusion of his prison cell, this same John sent his disciples to inquire of Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus’ answer is interesting in that he laid out the nature of the evidence to be considered when considering the validity of his claim to be the Anointed One. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Jesus was pointing to the evidence all had seen. John was undoubtedly familiar with the prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel. Jesus was saying, ‘open your eyes and see what I am doing.’ This was his evidence for being the Messiah. Still, some will argue that Christ was just a good man, a great teacher; – that He never claimed to be the Messiah or the Son of God. This was just made up by his followers at a later date as a means of asserting power. This is just wrong-headed and against the evidence, – as we shall see next time.

[i] Steve Brown, The Sure Things In Life, Key Life Ministries, monitored 2001

[ii]Jaraslav Pelikan, The Illustrated Jesus Through The Centuries, Yale University Press, 1997, pg 9-23

[iii] Professor LT Jeyachandran, The Person of Christ, Peace Ministry, viewed 2001

[iv] Norman Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakeable Foundations, Bethany House, Minneapolis, 2001, pg 296-297

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