Opinions range widely about Who and What was Jesus Christ—as well as what He means in today’s world. But few disagree that He forever changed the course of history and civilization.
In the first century A.D., huge throngs of listeners followed Him in every city, in awe of the powerful miracles He performed and the words He spoke. Demons were cast out. People were raised from the dead. Food was multiplied. People were healed. Myths were shattered. Lives were changed.
Through the centuries, thousands of books, stories, television documentaries, films and even novels have been written and produced about Jesus Christ. Hundreds of thousands of churches have been erected in His name. Millions have claimed to be His ministers. Billions have professed Him “Lord and Savior.”
Today, Jesus is renowned the world over, commonly known in one way or another in every culture of the world, whether one professes to be Christian, atheist, or of any other religion. Many have positive comments about Him, regardless of their beliefs about who He was and what He taught. His name also stirs great controversy and debate.
Yet, despite worldwide recognition—despite billions professing to be His followers—despite all the knowledge circulating about Him—Jesus Christ remains unknown—even to Christianity!
We must ask: Is it possible the central figure of a religion could be unknown to almost all who profess to follow Him? If so, how did this happen?
Many have accepted without question what they have heard, read or were taught throughout their lives about Christ and the teachings He brought. These same people usually vigorously defend their beliefs while feeling no need to examine proof of why they believe what they do—or to consider how they came to such beliefs. Human nature follows the crowd, which follows what is popular.
This has been the case with virtually every one of the widely accepted teachings, traditions and practices of mainstream Christianity. Few are aware—or even care—that these have been taken almost entirely from paganism, false customs and human reasoning—and not from the Bible. Most of the teachings of Christendom have no biblical basis whatsoever—and in many cases Jesus actually commands the exact opposite!
Thus, the Jesus Christ of the Bible has been left out of professing Christianity—unknown to vast millions, hidden in a cloud of deceit, confusion, lies and commonly accepted falsehoods.
What is your view of Jesus? What image does His name evoke? Perhaps you picture a weak, long-haired, sickly-looking man in a flowing white robe. Maybe you think of “baby Jesus” in a manger, with three “wise men” giving Him gifts on December 25. You might think of a figure in a loincloth hanging from a cross with trickles of blood oozing from His side and the crown of thorns piercing His head. Maybe Easter eggs and sunrise services come to mind, or the Christmas season.
You might also envision Jesus standing on a street corner pleading with people to give their hearts to Him. Perhaps you hear Him saying, “Love is everything. Show love to all people and accept Me into your hearts to be saved.” You might also picture Jesus walking through villages giving money to the poor, or saying, “Just believe in Me. Obedience is no longer necessary, nor are works of any kind.”
These and other well-known views of Jesus Christ have been driven into the minds of countless billions over the centuries. Though commonly believed—and they are!—these images and perceptions fail the test of careful biblical and historical examination. The popular, mainstream ideas about the supposed Christ of the Bible and what He taught simply do not measure up to the facts—the largely unassembled facts that have always been available—and you will see proof of this beyond doubt.
Unlike anything ever produced, The True Jesus Christ – Unknown to Christianity accurately examines the life and teachings of the most influential Person in the history of mankind. It takes you on an extraordinary and gripping journey through the corridors of the life and time of Jesus Christ and correctly answers the greatest questions about Him—straight from the Bible and secular history.
You will learn what only a tiny few have understood.
What did the real Jesus look like? What was His life’s purpose—His ultimate mission? When was He born? Why did He need to die? Has He always existed? What did it mean that He was the prophesied Messiah—the Christ? Did He abolish the Ten Commandments? Was the gospel He preached about Himself—or something else? What did He teach of being born again? Did Jesus teach that Christians should observe the Passover—and, if so, how? What about the observance of other days? Who will rule with Him during the Millennium? What is the kingdom of God? Who is the “another Jesus” of whom the apostle Paul spoke?
All these questions—and many more—are clearly answered in plain, easy-to-understand language. As with some movies, the book returns to certain events, in this case regarding Jesus’ life, bringing occasional repetition where additional points must be made.
The most difficult thing for any person is to admit being wrong. Unlearning false knowledge and learning true knowledge in its place is not easy. This can be a painful, shattering experience. Throw aside all preconceived ideas. Do not permit yourself to discount any of this book’s contents simply because you are accustomed to a particular belief, even one held your entire life. Instead, diligently investigate in the pages of your Bible what is revealed. Be like the Berean Greeks who “received the word [the apostle Paul’s preaching] with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
Read the book, including every inset, all the way through the stunning conclusion. Prepare to be surprised—if not shocked—at what you are about to learn! As you read with an open mind, you will have absolutely no doubt the true Jesus Christ is unknown to Christianity!
A narrative style in the early chapters best opens the book…
It started with Mary. She was a young Jewish girl engaged to Joseph, a carpenter. Mary thought she had her life planned: marriage, bearing children, raising a family, growing old together with Joseph, one day enjoying her own grandchildren and perhaps great-grandchildren.
Mary had no hint that she had been selected to experience a monumental, life-changing event, a major step that would be part of the overarching Plan of God, affecting all peoples—past, present and future.
At a point, Mary came face to face with an archangel named Gabriel. He, with Michael and originally Lucifer, is one of three Cherubim named in the Bible. Each archangel has charge over one-third of hundreds of millions of angels (Rev. 12:4; 5:11).
God sent Gabriel to Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, to carry out a special mission. “Hail, you who are highly favored,” he greeted young Mary. “The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.”
Mary was familiar with Old Testament accounts of God-fearing men and women who had encountered angels. Now she was standing before such a being. Naturally, she was startled, rendered virtually speechless; after all, God rarely sends angels to appear before human beings.
As Gabriel watched her struggle to find the right words in response, he said, “Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
The angel’s words put her at ease—though she was taken aback when she heard the almost impossible to comprehend news: “Behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).
For centuries, the house of Judah had suffered under the brutal attacks, conquests and oppression of foreign empires: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks—and now the Romans. With each generation of the Jewish peoples came a national longing for the long-awaited Messiah, or Christ, which means “anointed.”
“Finally,” Mary thought, “the Messiah will arrive and set things right!” Then she thought deeply within herself: “Christ will be born through my flesh?—How can this be? I have never been with a man.”
Mary was a virgin. Truly the conception and birth of this special Child, who “shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), would be extraordinary—miraculous—unique in all history.
Gabriel explained that her unique pregnancy would be possible by the power of the Holy Spirit—the same limitless power God used to create and sustain the vast, ever-expanding universe (John 1:1-3; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).
Mary had much to think about. There was Joseph, her fiancé, who expected to marry a virgin: Would he believe Mary’s explanation that her pregnancy was of God? There was her family: Would they think Mary had shamed herself and her family members by being unfaithful to Joseph? And there were her friends, neighbors and peers: Would they conclude that she would give birth to an illegitimate child?
To encourage her, Gabriel announced that Elisabeth, Mary’s cousin, “has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:36-37).
His words strengthened Mary. She replied, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word” (vs. 38). No matter what she would encounter from this point forward—even possibly being ostracized by Joseph and all her loved ones—Mary was determined to follow God’s will.
Mary stayed with Elisabeth for a while, and learned that her elderly cousin had also encountered Gabriel. First, the archangel appeared to Elisabeth’s husband, Zachariah, telling the priest that his wife would give birth to a son, despite her advanced age and never having borne a child.
Gabriel told the parents they were to name the baby “John,” saying the child “shall be called the prophet of the Highest: for [he] shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways” (Luke 1:76).
Zachariah and Elisabeth would rear John to be set apart for special service to God. For the rest of his life he would abstain from wine or strong alcoholic beverages. Also, John was to be filled with God’s Spirit from the womb (Luke 1:15).
Gabriel explained that John, “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), was to “prepare the way before…the Lord” (Mal. 3:1)—Christ’s First Coming. (John’s Elijah ministry would be a forerunner of another man to come centuries later—an end-time Elijah—whose ministry God would use to prepare a people for Christ’s Second Coming.)
Three months later, Mary returned home, not knowing how Joseph would react to her noticeable pregnancy. Joseph, quite naturally, was shocked. As she told of her account with Gabriel and that God had chosen her to give birth to His Son, the Christ, Joseph struggled to control his emotions. As much as he wanted to believe Mary, it was hard for him to accept that she had not been unfaithful to him—that she was somehow a virgin, yet obviously pregnant, and that God was the father of her unborn Child.
How could such a thing possibly be? Joseph must have thought.
According to the custom of the day, an engagement was considered a binding agreement, with the engaged couple viewed as virtually married. Thus, Joseph was considered (by tradition) to be Mary’s “husband” (Matt. 1:18-19), except they were not to engage in sexual relations until after their official wedding ceremony. Seeing that Mary was clearly pregnant and knowing he was not the father, Joseph would have naturally felt betrayed. Legally, it was within his rights to publicly humiliate her.
But Joseph possessed very unusual character, and deeply loved Mary. Instead of calling attention to her alleged adultery, he decided to handle the situation honorably by quietly annulling their agreement to marry.
That night, as Joseph weighed the matter in his mind, Gabriel appeared to him in a dream. The archangel confirmed that Mary had not been unfaithful, and that the Child she carried was of God. Joseph awoke and followed Gabriel’s instruction to take Mary as his wife, not to engage in sexual relations until after she gave birth, and to help her rear Jesus into adulthood.
Since God can turn the hearts of kings and commoners alike to fulfill His great purpose (Ezra 1:1 and 6:22), He could have selected any couple to bear and rear His Son. Yet God chose Mary and Joseph for at least two reasons:
First, God foretold long ago that a Messiah—an anointed King, but also a Savior—would come from the Israelite tribe of Judah, born from the line of King David. Both Mary and Joseph were Jews, descended from David; through their genealogy, Jesus could confirm that He descended from the Davidic bloodline both physically (through His mother) and legally (through His human father, who was Jesus’ legal guardian).
Second, though Mary and Joseph were not perfect, they were people of honor and character. Adultery and all other forms of promiscuity were common—yet Mary saved her virginity for her future husband. Also, rather than rebelling against God, she submitted to His will, despite the rumors and whisperings of being an unwed mother. And Joseph, despite initially presuming the love of his life had been unfaithful to him, acted honorably instead of with public indignation (Matt. 1:19).
Most people are, to varying degrees, familiar with the story about Joseph and a now full-term pregnant Mary journeying to Bethlehem, a small village just outside Jerusalem, to register in an empire-wide census decreed by Rome. According to the account, the couple arrived to find Bethlehem filled with visitors from the region, leaving the young couple without a place to stay at the local inn. Ever resourceful, Joseph and Mary decided to temporarily stay in a stable, where the young mother supposedly gave birth to Jesus on December 25.
Then shepherds out in the fields and pastures witnessed a stunning supernatural event—a great star in the heavens—a sign that the Christ Child was born. Also, a supposed three “wise men” from the East came to Bethlehem to honor Jesus. Herod, Rome’s client king over Judea, felt threatened by Jesus’ existence. Since he could not find the Child, Herod decided to massacre all baby boys that were estimated to be Jesus’ age.
Or so went the account, which grew over the centuries, weaving chapters from the Bible with Christmas myths originating from Babylonian mystery religions practiced by idol worshippers since the tower of Babel! To understand the events surrounding Jesus Christ’s birth and His early years, we must separate fact from fiction.
First, despite what billions today believe, Jesus was not born on December 25, or even in winter. He was, in all likelihood, born in early autumn.
The Adam Clarke Commentary, volume 5, page 370, New York edition, states this: “It was custom among Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts about the Passover [early spring], and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain.” The first rains began in early to mid-fall.
Continuing with this same quote: “During the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As…the first rain began early in the month of [Heshvan], which answers to part of our October and November [begins sometime in October], we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground, the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact…See the quotations from the Talmudists in Lightfoot.”
Luke 2:8 explains that when Christ was born “there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Note that they were “abiding” in the field. This could not have happened in December, or even close. Both Ezra 10:9-13 and the Song of Solomon 2:11 show that winter was the rainy season, and shepherds could not reside in cold, open fields at night.
Numerous encyclopedias plainly state that Jesus was not born on December 25. Even The Catholic Encyclopedia confirms this!
Then from where did the festival associated with this date originate?
Read the following quote from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, under “Christmas”: “In the Roman world, the Saturnalia (December 17) was a time of merrymaking and exchanging of gifts. December 25 was also regarded as the birthdate of the Iranian mystery god Mithra, the Sun of Righteousness. On the Roman New Year (January 1), houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. To these observances were added the German and Celtic Yule rites when the Teutonic tribes penetrated into Gaul, Britain and central Europe. Food and good fellowship, the Yule log and Yule cakes, greenery and fir trees, gifts and greetings all commemorated different aspects of this festive season. Fires and lights, symbols of warmth and lasting life, have always been associated with the winter festival, both pagan and Christian” (15th Edit. Vol. II, p. 903).
Next is a quote from the December 1984 Toronto Star article: “We owe a lot to Druids, Dutch,” by Alan Edmonds: “The Reformation cast a blight on Christmas. By then, of course, clever ecclesiastical politicians had adopted the pagan mid-winter festival as the alleged birthdate of Jesus, of Nazareth, and thrown in a few other pagan goodies to make their takeover more palatable.”
Understand. December 25 was not selected because it was the birth of Jesus Christ or because it was near that date. It was selected entirely because the 25th of December coincided with the idolatrous pagan festival Saturnalia!
In any event, we do not know the exact date of Jesus’ birth (though in all likelihood, He was born in the fall). While God certainly could have made it clearly known, He chose to hide it from the world’s eyes.
For years, the birth of Jesus has been shrouded in the pagan trappings of Christmas, whose traditions and practices predate Christ’s earthly ministry by thousands of years!
Billions around the world exchange gifts with each other every December 25, believing they are following the “three wise men’s” custom of giving birthday gifts to Jesus. Yet the “three wise men” of the Xmas myth are called “magi” in the Bible, magicians from the East. Scripture does not specify how many visited Jesus. Also, the magi gave gifts to the Christ Child out of respect and royal tradition: They acknowledged Him to be a king, and thus treated Him as such, practicing the custom of giving gifts to a royal ruler. These were in no sense birthday gifts. By the time the magi visited Jesus, He and His parents were no longer in the stable. They were in a house, and the Bible refers to Christ as a “young child” (Matt. 2:8, 11), not a baby. Much time had passed between Jesus’ birth and the magi’s visit. This is why Herod slaughtered all baby boys up to two years old—it was not evident to him how many years had passed since Jesus had been born!
When we separate fact from fiction—that is, biblical truth from the lies and deceits of pagan myth and legend—we get a better, much clearer view of the true Jesus Christ!
When the magi asked Herod, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:1-2), Herod “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (vs. 3).
Why? Herod learned from the Jewish religious leaders that Christ was foretold to be born in Bethlehem—this came from God’s Word. You would think that Herod and “all Jerusalem with him” would be excited over the news, not “troubled.”
Herod and the religious authorities of the day felt threatened by Christ’s existence—why?
The story of Jesus Christ’s miraculous conception and birth is known worldwide and has been taught from generation to generation for nearly 2,000 years. But what did it mean? What was its true significance?
The Bible identifies Jesus in His pre-existence before human birth as “the Word,” an eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful God-being who “was with God, and…was God” (John 1:1). “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (vs. 14)—He voluntarily lowered Himself to become limited, corruptible flesh, subject to weariness and death.
The varying and competing denominations, sects, arms, churches and movements of professing Christianity preach that Jesus came to save the whole world. “For God so loved the world,” their pastors, teachers and religionists frequently recite, “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Even those who have never opened a Bible are familiar with the biblical account in the book of Genesis, in which Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit, thus cutting themselves off from the utopian Garden of Eden—and more importantly, from the One who created it: God.
Subsequently, every man, woman and child for the past 6,000 years has had at least one thing in common: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “All” means ALL—not “some,” not “most.” Every human being—even Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, Daniel and other righteous, faithful servants of God—has sinned.
But what is sin?
The leaders and instructors of the world’s two billion-plus professing Christians talk almost endlessly about sin—more accurately, they talk around sin, freely promoting their own interpretation and personal opinion of what sin is—yet they do not stand before their listeners, open their Bibles and read aloud I John 3:4—“Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”
Grasp this important biblical truth!
Sin is the breaking of the Law—God’s Law, which is “holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12) and is “spiritual” (vs. 14). Religionists preach a message of “Come as you are,” shamelessly proclaiming that “Jesus did away with the Law” and has removed “the terrible burden of keeping it.”
Yet the Word of God—“quick [living], and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12) and “cannot be broken” (John 10:35)—declares the opposite: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous” (I John 5:3). But many believe they are!
Breaking even one of God’s commandments earns the offender the same penalty as breaking all of them. Notice: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if you commit no adultery, yet if you kill, you are become a transgressor of the law” (Jms. 2:10-11).
The penalty of sin—the wages that one earns for breaking God’s Law—is plainly defined: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Some critics have sought to rationalize this verse. “This doesn’t literally mean death,” they claim. “It means being cut off from God.”
Yet God declares that man is already cut off from Him! Notice: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2).
Because of sin, of lawlessness, humanity is already separated from God. Death is the ultimate state of being cut off from our Maker. This is twice reiterated in the Old Testament: “The soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4, 20).
There are two ways to satisfy the wages of breaking the laws of God:
(A) One can die for his own sins and thus pay the penalty. But there is the obvious problem: Once a sinner is dead, he stays dead.
(B) Someone can die in that person’s stead. However, the rest of Ezekiel 18, verse 20, shows that a human being cannot pay for the sins of others; each person can only pay for his or her own transgressions.
It takes the death of a supreme, innocent, eternal God-being to satisfy the penalty for the sins of all human beings—past, present and future.
Humanity needed a Savior!
Read the full context of what the apostle John wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Two divine Beings, both called God.
In Genesis 1:26, it was God—Elohim, a uniplural term in the original Hebrew, indicating more than one were present—who said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” So few seem to notice the three plural pronouns.
Through the Word, “All things were made…and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3)—“For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him” (Col. 1:16).
The Word voluntarily decided to be born of a woman, to become God in the flesh. Because He was the Supreme Creator, His divine life far out-valued His creation. And because He was physical—subject to pulls of the flesh—He was capable of committing sin. Yet if He never strayed, never broke God’s laws, as a God-Being in the flesh, He could offer His sinless, innocent life as the ultimate and perfect sacrifice.
Man would have a Savior.
But human beings, who love to go to extremes, focus almost exclusively on Jesus’ role as Savior—and ignore that He was born to be a king! False religious leaders, whether knowingly or unknowingly, assert that Christ’s role as Savior is the “climax of the plan of God for humanity.”
This is not the climax—it is the beginning of God’s Plan and purpose for mankind. A Divine Savior is necessary for sins to be forgiven, for people’s lives to be wiped clean, no longer under the penalty of death. Yet religionists and theologians leap to the conclusion that “the forgiveness of sin will solve man’s problems.” The trends, problems, troubles and ills saturated throughout man’s governments and societies will not suddenly disappear if everyone simply said, “I accept Jesus as my Savior,” and asked God to forgive their sins.
Something else must take place, and Christ set the pattern to follow: One must conform to the laws and ways of the kingdom of God. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God. He was sent to qualify to replace Satan as world ruler. Upon His Second Coming, Christ will establish God’s government on the earth to rule all nations. During His First Coming, Jesus represented God’s kingdom and instructed all whom His Father would call (John 6:44). He taught them how to obey the gospel (Rom. 10:16; II Thes. 1:8; I Pet. 4:17)—to come out of the world’s ways and become ambassadors of God’s government of peace, following Christ’s command to “Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Of course, all of these things require discussion in greater detail as the book develops.
Remember, Gabriel told Mary that God would give her Son “the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
At the end of His ministry, Jesus said before Pilate, “My kingdom [government] is not of this world” (John 18:36). When asked by Pilate if He were a king, Christ responded, “You say that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause [reason] came I into the world” (vs. 37).
This was foretold in the book of Isaiah: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever” (9:6-7).
For this reason, Herod and “all Jerusalem with him” were troubled. They feared losing their positions of civil and religious leadership that Rome permitted them to enjoy. They were also fearful of how the Roman Empire would react to the appearance of a “rival king” claiming rulership over Judea. Yet these carnal minds did not understand that Christ would not set up His kingdom from Jerusalem in their lifetimes.
Jesus Christ was born into humble circumstances, yet His life and ministry lays the groundwork for man’s incredible future and potential!
When most people think of Jesus Christ’s time on Earth as a human being, they think either of a dead Savior hanging from a cross or a helpless baby lying in a manger.
Few picture a growing, energetic boy who played games with His childhood friends and performed household chores. Few imagine God-in-the-flesh—a Man who sweated as He eagerly labored in His human father’s profession. Who may have had to diplomatically rebuff peer pressure from family and friends to get married and start a family—or to participate in any other activities that would have thwarted His supreme Purpose. Who freely laughed and expressed a good sense of humor. Who was unafraid to shed tears in empathy for others. Who enjoyed delicious food and drink, and life in general, yet always with perfect moderation.
Jesus was real—He felt, He spoke, He observed, worked, ate and breathed. He was both Man and God, physical yet divine. During His 33½ years of human existence, Christ experienced life as a baby, then a toddler, boy, teenager and young adult, into manhood. God inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to record the details of Jesus’ 3½-year ministry. Yet, when it comes to His early years, from ages 12 to 30, the Bible reveals very little.
Some, relying on human reasoning and theory, have invented stories about these “lost” years. One tells of a young Jesus learning the mystic arts in Egypt. Another tale has Him journeying across the Atlantic Ocean to preach to the American Indians, who some believe to be the “lost ten tribes” of Israel. But these or other fictional stories are not supported by the Bible.
Scripture gives a few details about Christ’s boyhood and coming of age years—and we should not be surprised. For example, God’s Word provides only a basic outline, along with a few highlights, of the Pre-Flood World, a 2,000-year period from Adam to Noah in which hundreds of thousands—perhaps even millions—of people had lived.
Psalm 12:6 states, “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” The Bible says exactly what God wants it to say, and the Creator wants human beings, His creation, to focus on the things He requires us to know.
While we cannot know every event that occurred on Christ’s path from adolescence to adulthood, we can piece together certain scriptures, along with history and the traditions of the time, to capture a broad yet clear view of Jesus’ early life. As we do, we will see God’s overarching two-fold Purpose for His Son’s First Coming.
God sent an angel to warn Joseph in a dream that Herod the Great sought to murder the Christ Child (Matt. 2:13). Joseph quickly followed God’s instruction to gather Mary and little Jesus, and take refuge in Egypt, which was outside of Herod’s legal jurisdiction. They returned to Judea after Herod’s death, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea 11:1, in which God said that He “called My Son out of Egypt.”
The Jews, reading Micah 5:2, expected the Messiah to publicly appear from Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall He come forth unto Me that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
However, God had other plans. Though His Son was born in Bethlehem, God chose to rear Him in a place most people least expected: Nazareth, in Galilee, Joseph and Mary’s hometown.
The name “Nazareth” means “separated, crowned, sanctified” and “the guarded one.” Easton’s 1897 The Bible Dictionary describes the town as being “situated among the southern ridges of Lebanon, on the steep slope of a hill, about 14 miles from the Sea of Galilee and about six west from Mount Tabor…The main road for traffic between Egypt and the interior of Asia passed by Nazareth near the foot of Tabor, and thence northward to Damascus.”
The people of Judea, especially citizens of Jerusalem, looked down upon the Galileans, whom they viewed as socially unsophisticated—in effect, “backwoods” people. But God declares, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
Although the Messiah was foretold to come from Nazareth, when Christ’s ministry began, His Galilee upbringing still became a stumbling block for many in “cosmopolitan” Jerusalem. (See John 1:45-46 and 7:40-42.) Of the many that God would call, only a few would look past physical appearances and social backgrounds and appreciate the hidden treasure (Matt. 13:44) of truth in Christ’s teachings.
Jesus had four younger brothers—James, Joses, Simon and Judas—and at least two sisters (Matt. 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). While all of the seven or more siblings were born from the same mother, Jesus’ brothers and sisters were from the union of Mary and Joseph.
After Gabriel first appeared to Joseph in a dream, “Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not [did not engage in sexual relations] till she had brought forth her firstborn Son” (Matt. 1:24-25). Joseph married Mary, but did not have marital relations with her until after Jesus was born.
This and other passages disprove the popular—yet unscriptural—tradition of Mary’s “perpetual virginity.” This false doctrine originated from pagan beliefs of various idol-worshipping mystery religions, tracing all the way back to Nimrod and the tower of Babel.
The “perpetual virginity” belief—which falsely teaches that Jesus’ mother “must” have been sinless and perfect for her to give birth to the Son of God—only serves to blur Mary’s true purpose, and elevates her to a godlike status. Today, a billion-plus professing Christians have been deceived into praying to Mary for her intercession in their lives—when it is Christ who is the Mediator between God and man (I Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24).
As do siblings in other families, Jesus’ little brothers and sisters looked up to their big Brother. When they fell into mischief (as little ones tend to do), Jesus was there to set the right example.
Nonetheless, growing up in Joseph and Mary’s household was far from being picture perfect. Wherever there is flesh, there is human nature (Rom. 8:7). Galatians 5:19-21 lists the “works of the flesh”—the natural tendencies of man’s nature. These include “hatred [enmity, hostility, antagonism], variance [quarrel, strife, discord], emulations [jealousy, zealous ill will toward others], wrath [fury, rage, anger], strife [selfish ambition, faction], seditions [division, dissension]” and “envyings.” In a family of at least six siblings, one can expect some degree of rivalry, jealousy and strife during the formative years.
The young Jesus knew He had to rise above this, yet at the same time not allow Himself to fall into self-righteousness. He rejected the pulls and pressures of the flesh, society and Satan, and—being full of God’s Spirit from the womb—actively exercised the power of God to produce the evident fruit of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance [self-control]” (vs. 22-23). Jesus was balanced in all things. He had to be—He could not afford to sin, not even once!
No doubt Joseph and Mary told their children on more than one occasion to behave. Perhaps they may have occasionally added, “You should be more like your brother Jesus.” It is likely Jesus’ balanced, good-natured approach to life may have led a brother or sister to feel jealousy or resentment toward Him, as Cain did toward Abel. Carnal nature has a way of accusing the innocent of wrongdoing.
It is not uncommon for a child to receive blame, even punishment, for wrongs he or she did not commit. Sometimes a brother will falsely accuse another, or allow his sister to take the blame for something that was not her fault. Injustices happen in families—and they probably happened to Jesus. If He were wrongly punished, He would not have sought revenge. He allowed injustice to develop and strengthen Him, to keep Him humble.
Such moments served to reinforce in Jesus the patience described in James 1:2-4, defined as “hopeful, cheerful endurance.” It is this godly, patient endurance that builds up holy, righteous character that is “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
Christ was the One who inspired the apostle Peter to write, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when you be buffeted for your faults, you shall take it patiently? But if, when you do well, and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
“For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously” (I Pet. 2:18-23).
Jesus did not just teach the Way of God—He lived it!
Consider: Mary saving her virginity until marriage. The integrity and mercy Joseph displayed when he thought his fiancé had been unfaithful. Circumcising their Baby on the eighth day (Luke 2:21-24), as instructed in the Old Testament. Clearly, Joseph and Mary feared and worshipped God, and they reared Jesus in a loving, God-fearing, religious household.
As with other Jewish families, they traveled to Jerusalem each spring to observe the Passover season at the Temple (vs. 41). It was an annual pilgrimage that required faith, since their caravan of family, extended family, friends and perhaps acquaintances had to travel through dangerous secluded regions where marauding thieves roamed.
When Jesus was age 12, there was a mix-up: on the return home from the Temple, Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was missing. They had assumed He was among the caravan in the company of relatives or friends—but Jesus could not be found.
“The caravan has already traveled a day’s journey from Jerusalem,” Mary said to her husband. “By the time we reach the city, Jesus will have wandered around on His own for two full days!”
Joseph tried to console her, but she said, “He’s only a boy! What is He going to do for food? What if something bad happens to Him?”
Joseph comforted her with reassuring words: “Don’t worry. It will all work out.”
Jesus’ parents returned to Jerusalem and searched the streets for their little Boy for a full day, until they eventually found Jesus where they had last seen Him: in the Temple. Joseph and Mary were amazed to find Jesus “sitting in the midst of the doctors [scholars of the Law], both hearing them, and asking them questions” (vs. 46). Here was the Son of God, a 12-year-old, surrounded by some of the world’s foremost scholars and experts of the Scriptures—“and all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers” (vs. 47).
From the time that He was born, Jesus “grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him” (vs. 40).
Her Son being missing for three days brought mixed emotions for Mary: fear, worry, helplessness, sorrow, and—after she found her Firstborn safe, calm and without a hint of anxiety on His part—a touch of anger. “Son, why have You thus dealt with us?” she demanded. “Behold, Your father and I have sought You sorrowing” (vs. 48).
The preteen calmly replied, “How is it that you sought Me? Know you not that I must be about My Father’s business?” (vs. 49). Jesus had never been irresponsible nor did anything that would have shamed the family. Mary and Joseph knew this. Being a responsible Child, Jesus stayed at the Temple where He would be safe and where He naturally expected His parents to find Him.
Joseph and Mary were aware that Jesus was a special Child, brought into physical existence to fulfill incredible and pivotal roles. In staying at the Temple, Jesus was already preparing Himself for His future ministry, even though it would not start for another 18 years. From a young age, Christ’s life was focused on doing His “Father’s business,” also thought of and known as the Work of God.
Throughout millennia, all of God’s servants have had a part in doing God’s Work. That same Work exists today. The Restored Church of God is preaching and publishing the gospel of the kingdom of God “in all the world for a witness unto all nations” (Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10), and in feeding, protecting, instructing and leading Christ’s sheepfold, the New Testament Church (John 21:15-17; I Pet. 5:1-4).
Though Joseph and Mary did not seem to fully grasp His future responsibilities (Luke 2:50), Jesus did not allow Himself to feel self-important. He humbled Himself and obediently submitted to their parental authority (vs. 51)—despite being the One who created the earth, moon, sun, stars and everything else in the universe! Christ understood that to someday wield authority one must first learn to respect authority.
“And,” as He walked meekly through boyhood, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (vs. 52).
From His youth, Jesus Christ was well acquainted with the Law of God—His commandments, statutes, precepts and judgments. He should have been, since it was He Who, as the Rock of the Old Testament (I Cor. 10:4), declared the Ten Commandments to Israel from atop Mt. Sinai! Being God, Jesus was also well acquainted with the customs and traditions of the Jews, their origins and how they had developed. He knew which ones to honor and how to properly approach them—and which ones to reject.
For example, Jesus kept the yearly spring and fall Holy Days. His observance of them was far more than just a formality of Jewish tradition. As the One who instituted these millennia earlier among His people, Christ knew the significance of His annual Sabbaths and festivals, for they each represent a step in the fulfillment of God’s great Plan of Salvation:
Passover: On this day God provided the perfect sacrifice to remove all sin: the shed blood and death of Jesus Christ, “our Passover…sacrificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7).
To be born into the kingdom of God, one must first have his or her sins forgiven and be released from the penalty of death.
The Days of Unleavened Bread: This seven-day festival pictures Christ’s followers removing pride, vanity and the way of sin—“the leaven of malice and wickedness” (vs. 8)—replacing these with “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (same verse), which is God’s Law (Psa. 119:142) and Word (Matt. 4:4; John 17:17), the Holy Bible.
God uses the number seven as a sign of perfection. The seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread pictures the lifelong process of removing sin from one’s life, to “Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
To be born into God’s kingdom, one must live according to the laws governing that kingdom.
The Feast of Firstfruits: Also known as Pentecost, this is the day Christ started the New Testament Church. From righteous Abel down through millennia to John the Baptist, only a few individuals have had the privilege of receiving the Holy Spirit—the awesome power and divine nature of God.
Yet on Pentecost in A.D. 31, God offered His Spirit to thousands, those whom He called to “come out of” (Rev. 18:4) the ways and pagan customs of this “present evil world [age]” (Gal. 1:4)—to become members of the Body of Christ, the Church of God (Col. 1:18) and the New Testament Temple of the Lord (II Cor. 6:16). Without this Spirit actively at work—converting the thoughts and desires of man to develop into holy, righteous, godly character—“the carnal mind is enmity [hostile] against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8).
For the past 2,000 years, the Father has been sowing “firstfruit”—spirit-begotten sons who, after having developed His perfect character within them, will be “raised in glory…in power” and “a spiritual body” (I Cor. 15:43-44), inheriting eternal life in the kingdom of God upon Christ’s Second Coming. At that time, God’s firstfruits will rule under Christ as kings and priests—Spirit-born leaders, judges and teachers who will assist Christ in preparing the rest of humanity for achieving its awesome potential!
To inherit the kingdom of God, one must have God’s Spirit in him: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God…The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:14, 16-17).
The Feast of Trumpets: This pictures the triumphant day when Jesus Christ returns as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16) to establish the government of God and rule all nations. Also notice: “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 14-15).
Those whom God calls now have been granted an opportunity to qualify for eternal life and rulership—to be resurrected into spirit beings at Christ’s Return (I Cor. 15:50-54; I Thes. 4:15-17) and reign with Him in administering God’s government throughout the earth (Rev. 5:10; 20:6).
The Day of Atonement: On this day, the collective sins of mankind will be placed on the originator of carnal nature: Satan the devil, who, for the past almost 6,000 years, as the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), has broadcast every sick, vile, perverse attitude, motive and thought imaginable. With man’s sins placed on him, the devil—and his demons—will be cast by God into the bottomless pit, where they can no longer influence humanity. Finally, man will be at one with his Maker (“atonement” means “at-one-ment”), ready to come under the merciful dominion of God’s supergovernment.
The Feast of Tabernacles: Next is the 1,000-year Reign of Christ, during which He will rule over the wonderful world to come! No more wars—no violence of any kind. No more divorce, adultery, fornication or split families. People will learn to live God’s Way of give—the way of helping, cooperation, teamwork—as opposed to Satan’s way of get—cutthroat competition, stealing, robbing. The terror, despair and insecurity of this modern age will be replaced by true joy, prosperity and security—the fruit of diligently observing God’s Law.
Those whom God calls now celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles each fall—which is a foretaste of an incredible age, to be ruled by God’s kingdom, that is just over the horizon!
Verse 20 states, “There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that has not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.” Apparently, mankind will experience a 100-year period of judgment—a lifetime of learning to reject one’s carnal nature and wholeheartedly submitting to God’s will.
Today, God is judging His firstfruits, those He calls now: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God…” (I Pet. 4:17).
God will judge the rest of humanity after Christ’s millennial rule. Those few called now and the many billions called later will be given an opportunity to qualify for eternal life in His kingdom.
Unlike His contemporaries, Jesus knew the true purpose of the annual Holy Days. They outline the steps by which man can attain his ultimate destiny.
Sadly, very few people today observe these days, believing they were “only for the Jews” and popular teaching that “Jesus did away with them.” As a result, few understand God’s Plan of salvation for mankind.
For hundreds of years, artists have used their vivid imaginations to illustrate what Jesus looked like as a man. But in doing so, they err in two ways. Some little space will be taken to clarify this.
Second, artistic renditions of Christ’s image depict Him as deathly thin, with long hair, soft, effeminate features, and a sentimental, sanctimonious look in His eyes. This is the common portrayal of Jesus found in paintings across the world, which started appearing on the scene hundreds of years after Jesus’ death.
While common as daylight, this depiction is simply not historically accurate on a number of fronts. It should be noted that the New Testament does not explicitly describe what Jesus looked like, and no eyewitness drawings of Him have ever been found. That said, Jesus Christ was Jewish, and as such would have looked like any other Jewish man of His time.
In a 2004 Reuters article, physical anthropologist Joe Zias, who has studied hundreds of skeletons found in Jerusalem, stated, “Jesus didn’t have long hair. Jewish men back in antiquity did not have long hair.”
If Jesus did have long hair, contrary to the accepted style of the time, He would have stood out in a crowd like a sore thumb. Yet on multiple occasions, Jesus managed to slip away amongst the masses and hide from His enemies, who wholeheartedly sought to kill Him (Luke 4:30; John 8:59; 10:39). This would have been most difficult to do if He had been the only man with long hair. Jesus was able to flee because He was an ordinary-looking Jewish man, not a long-haired “exception to the rule.”
Consider the account of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in the book of Mark: “And he [Judas] that betrayed Him had given them a token [sign], saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He; take Him, and lead Him away safely [securely]. And as soon as he was come, he went straightway to Him, and said, Master, Master; and kissed Him. And they laid their hands on Him, and took Him” (14:44-46).
If Jesus had long hair, would it have been necessary for Judas to use a special sign—a kiss—to betray Jesus to His enemies? Of course not. The scribes, chief priests and legionnaires would have easily spotted a singular long-haired person—a kiss would not have been required.
Though not in an obvious way, a particularly strong indication of Jesus’ hair length is given in the Bible, in I Corinthians 11:14. The apostle Paul states, “Does not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” The Greek word for “shame” means disgrace, dishonor, reproach, vile. These are strong words! No doubt, Paul and some of the people to whom he was writing would have seen Jesus face-to-face, or at least heard descriptions of His appearance, including His hair length.
We might ask: Would an individual (Paul) who proclaimed to be an apostle of Jesus Christ make such a statement about hair length if Jesus had long hair? This would seem most foolish for Paul to do. It would have been a blatant contradiction, and would have probably incited anger or at least bewilderment from those in the Corinth congregation.
Further confirming that Jesus did not have long hair is a wall painting that was erected after Jerusalem was captured in A.D. 70 to celebrate Rome’s victory. It pictures Jewish men with short hair being taken into captivity.
An article in the December 2002 issue of Popular Mechanics, titled “The Real Face of Jesus,” also challenged the commonly held view of Jesus’ appearance. The article opens: “From the time Christian children settle into Sunday school classrooms, an image of Jesus Christ is etched into their minds. In North America he is most often depicted as being taller than his disciples, lean, with long, flowing, light brown hair, fair skin and light-colored eyes.
“Familiar though this image may be, it is inherently flawed. A person with these features and physical bearing would have looked very different from everyone else in the region where Jesus lived and ministered.”
The article continues: “Using methods similar to those police have developed to solve crimes, British scientists, assisted by Israeli archeologists, have re-created what they believe is the most accurate image of the most famous face in history.”
Using modern technology, this team recreated a face that appears nothing like traditional artist renderings.
Until about the age of 30, Jesus was a carpenter. The building trade of that time involved strenuous, back-breaking labor. Those who worked in this field were required to move and lift heavy stone (carpenters were also stonemasons at that time) and lumber without power tools or mechanical digging equipment of any kind. Week after week, Jesus cut down trees, hauled lumber and giant rocks, and constructed buildings.
Due to working in such an environment, Jesus would have been a rugged, physically fit, masculine-looking man. And He would have worn durable, practical clothing, which would have helped Him to blend in with the crowd, indistinguishable from the common “blue-collar” fisherman with whom He associated. This was another reason He needed to be identified with a kiss when arrested. Also, since Jesus spent most of His time under the Mediterranean sun, His skin would have been tanned—not pale and even chalky as Christendom portrays.
The above article also stated, “From analysis of skeletal remains, archeologists had firmly established that the average build of a Semite male at the time of Jesus was 5 ft. 1 in., with an average weight of about 110 pounds. Since Jesus worked outdoors as a carpenter until he was about 30 years old, it is reasonable to assume he was more muscular and physically fit than westernized portraits suggest.”
Ultimately, if we think about Christ’s appearance at all, we ought to think, in general terms, about how He looks today. Inspired by God, the apostle John in Revelation described Jesus’ present appearance: “His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire” (1:14).
Many have been taught that Jesus had long hair because, they claim, He was a “Nazarite”—but what does the Bible say about this?
History shows that the practice of men wearing short hair has been around for a long time—much longer than most realize. At the time Jesus lived, it was the accepted and general custom. For proof, all one need do is pick up any illustrated history book relating to the period. You will find pictures of busts and statues of famous Greeks and Romans of Christ’s time. In every case, the men are portrayed with short hair similar to what we find today.
Two excellent books that one may reference are A History of the Holy Land (Michael Avi-Yonah, editor) and Daniel to Paul (Gaalyahu Cornfeld, editor). On pages 126 to 127 of the former, you will find pictures of the busts of Roman leaders, such as Augustus, Pompey, and one believed to be Herod. Each has short hair. As a matter of fact, all the carvings and statues of the Roman legionnaires show them as having closely cropped hair. Motion pictures involving stories of this period always portray men with short hair. It would have been quite an oddity for a Roman man to wear his hair long. It used to be the same for all men in our society. The reality is that before, during and after the time of Christ, every Roman emperor from Julius Caesar to Trajan had short hair. And it was the emperor who set the pattern in style and mode of dress for the entire empire.
The Hellenistic Greek culture dominated the Eastern Mediterranean area, influencing Judea before the Romans came on the scene. Quite a large segment of the Jewish population spoke the Greek language and had a Hellenistic view in the time of Christ. (Notice John 12:20 and Acts 6:1.) The style of hair for men of this culture was to wear it short (Cornfeld, pp. 15, 146).
You will find on page 146 of the book Daniel to Paul a picture showing a “marble statuette of an unidentified man of the Hellenistic period—a time of close contacts between the Jewish and Hellenistic civilizations in thought, art, and everyday life. Whether Jewish or Gentile, he evokes his age and environment.” The man shown in the picture of this statuette had short hair. From the comment made by the author, an historian and archaeologist, it is clear that he could not tell if the man was a Jew or a Gentile. Why? Because throughout the Near-Eastern region, the styles were the same—including short hair on men.
Some argue that those Jews who did not have a Hellenistic view may have worn their hair long. However, in the anti-Hellenistic Jewish Talmud is the instruction that every thirty days, all the priests should cut their hair. Why this instruction if they grew their hair long? These priests were well aware of Ezekiel 44:20: “Neither shall they shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long.” God intended that the priests set the example for the rest of the community (Mal. 2:7). Further examination of the Talmud reveals that the hairstyle was “Julian,” or what would be called “a Caesar cut” (Sanhedrin 22b).
There is a common misconception that Jesus Christ was an only child. In particular, the Catholic Church teaches that it was impossible for Jesus to have brothers and sisters because of the supposed “perpetual virginity” of His mother, Mary.
Yet, Matthew 13:54-56 (NKJV) states, “When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s Son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?’”
From this single passage we can draw a number of conclusions:
These are the most specific verses identifying the family relations of Jesus Christ. If one accepts these verses, it should be impossible to believe that Jesus was an only child, as this would plainly contradict the Bible.
Another passage clearly shows that Mary, who was a virgin at the birth of Jesus, came together in sexual union with her husband after His birth. Matthew 1:18 (NKJV) states, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.”
This implies that, as husband and wife, they eventually shared intimate relations.
Continuing in Matthew 1:20: “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.’”
The angel did not express any words forbidding Joseph to take Mary as his wife, but instead encouraged him with the words “do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife.” The angel did not say, “Do not dare touch Mary for she is to be a virgin throughout her life.”
The concept of Mary’s perpetual, or lifelong, virginity derived from the early writings of a Catholic scholar named Origen (A.D. 185-254). His claims, based on the apocryphal Gospel of James, which focuses on the childhood of Mary up to the birth and childhood of Jesus, appeared around the middle of the second century.
This idea dates back to the mystical practices of priestesses who worshipped various deities in Rome. The combination of Christianity and ancient pagan religions attracted early converts and became a dominant religious force. Mary’s traditional role as mother was changed and reworked as that of a life-long virgin who should be worshipped as a goddess. This pseudo-Christian ideology made it easier for pagan worshippers to identify with her and, therefore, support the counterfeit religion.
Jesus Christ was never under a Nazarite vow. He did, however, grow up in Nazareth, fulfilling a prophecy that He would be called a Nazarene (Matt. 2:23; Mark 1:9; Luke 1:26; John 1:45). This is why early Christians were sometimes referred to as Nazarenes.
Neither of these words has anything whatsoever to do with a Nazarite vow. Those under a Nazarite vow could not drink wine or touch a dead body. Notice: “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord: He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days that he separates himself unto the Lord he shall come at [touch] no dead body” (Num. 6:2-3, 6).
Jesus drank wine (Matt. 11:19) and, on occasion, touched a dead body (Matt. 9:25). If He were under a Nazarite vow, He would not have done either of these things. Those under this vow grew their hair long as a sign of humiliation. Men who wear their hair long today are anything but humble. Rather, they are very proud of their long locks and go to great lengths to show them off. It is a sign of pride—and it is also a sign of defiance against traditional values.
Also notice that when the time of the vow was over, the person under the vow was to shave his head (Num. 6:18)—ending this shameful period!
It is a shame for a man to have his hair long—period! Apart from God’s Word, even nature shows this. A man should not look like a woman! For one thing, long hair is not manageable and would just get in his way. A man’s hair was never intended to grow long. Long hair on a man interferes with the duties and responsibilities that are part of the male role.
Jesus simply would not have grown His hair long. To do so would have contradicted His Word. Remember, it was Christ—the Word (John 1:1)—who inspired the Bible. II Timothy tells us, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (3:16). And since Jesus Christ also inspired I Corinthians 11:14, He would have been true to His word. And that Word guides and instructs us on the matter of hair lengths and styles for men and women.
When a young man entered adulthood, parents, grandparents, other family members and peers would encourage him to settle down, get married and start a family. No doubt Jesus received the same pressure. But for Him, marriage was not an option. Jesus had already been married—in fact, He was divorced!
Scripture reveals that the One who became Jesus Christ—the Rock of the Old Testament (I Cor. 10:4)—was once married to ancient Israel, the physical “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). But the tribes of Israel—the northern kingdom of the house of Israel and the southern kingdom of the house of Judah—were unfaithful to their Husband. They rejected His divine protection, guidance and instruction, and entered into sociopolitical/religious alliances—spiritual adultery in God’s eyes!—with nations that worshipped idols.
“They say,” the prophet Jeremiah wrote, recording God’s words, “If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to Me, says the Lord” (Jer. 3:1).
Verses 8-10 states, “And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks [idols]. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned unto Me with her whole heart, but feignedly, says the Lord.” (Also read Isaiah 50:1 and 54:4-8.)
God used the ancient Assyrians to conquer and deport en masse the house of Israel into national slavery for their habitual unfaithfulness. The Babylonian Empire did the same to Judah decades later, but the Jews were eventually allowed to return to their homeland.
Only upon Jesus’ death was He legally free to marry another. When He returns to establish God’s kingdom on the earth, Christ will marry spiritual Israel, His Church (Rev. 19:7-17).
Again, the Bible does not give explicit details of Jesus’ life from age 12 to the start of His ministry. But piecing together Scripture, history and the customs and practices of the day provides a fuller and better picture of what Christ must have been like as a youth and young adult.
This we do know: Jesus Christ and the Word are the same (John 1:1-2, 14). He declares, “For I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6). He is “the same yesterday, and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). The God of the Old Testament laughed, grieved (Gen. 6:5-6), was brokenhearted (Ezek. 6:9). He felt anger, suffered long with the failing of others, was gentle, astonished by men’s behavior (Jer. 32:32-35; I Kings 21:25-29), and was forgiving.
Jesus lived His physical life in the same manner.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit, they symbolically declared that they and their descendants would reject God—His laws, judgments, instruction and direction—and decide for themselves how to live. Subsequently, man has devised every imaginable form of government, from dictatorships to democratic republics, and varying systems of education, religion, financial institutions, among others—all failing miserably, to one degree or another.
“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
“There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 16:25).
Only one government, only one administration of laws and judgment can be fairly executed with perfect impartiality: the kingdom of God, which is the supreme government of God ruled and administered by Jesus Christ and those who will have qualified, in this lifetime, to rule under Him.
Upon His First Coming, Jesus was to live a perfect, sinless life as a flesh-and-blood human being, thus becoming the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world. And Christ was to use His earthly ministry to preach the gospel—good news—of the kingdom of God, for which He had to qualify, represent the kingdom to the masses, and then build His Church of future leaders and teachers for when God’s government would be established to rule all nations.
The world of professing Christianity—of which the overwhelming majority has been saturated with pagan symbols, beliefs, customs and traditions, which Jesus called, “the commandments” and “tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-9)—focuses also exclusively on Jesus’ role as Savior, yet does not comprehend the magnitude of, and therefore ignores, Christ’s other pivotal role: that of conquering King of God’s soon-coming government.
Jesus was born into an ancient world of tyranny and political upheaval, widespread religious confusion and superstition, social injustices, pagan cultural influences and endless philosophies. God chose the precise timing of Jesus’ First Coming for a specific purpose, which this chapter will make clear.
Let’s get the “big picture” of the world into which Jesus was born. We will start with a brief history of Palestine.
Back in the time of Moses, God delivered the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt and brought them into Canaan, the Promised Land. Nearly all people think the Jews and Israelites were the same. In reality, all Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews. In fact, most are not. Similarly, all Pennsylvanians are Americans, but not all Americans are Pennsylvanians.
The nation of Israel consisted of 13 tribes, each of which had its own territory in the Promised Land (except for Levi, a tribe of priests and tabernacle workers, to whom God gave a certain number of cities, instead of farmland; these Levitical cities were scattered throughout Israel). From the time of Joshua, who succeeded Moses, to the reign of King Solomon, son of David and Israel’s third king, the 13 tribes were united in one kingdom.
But this changed soon after Solomon’s death. Ten of the tribes broke away and formed their own kingdom: the house of Israel, with Samaria as its capital. The remaining tribes—Judah, Benjamin and largely Levi, with remnants of Simeon and others—formed the house of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem.
Both Israel and Judah had their own kings and their own religions, though Judah sometimes followed its sister nation’s proclivity to worship the false gods of the surrounding nations. At times, Israel and Judah were at war—in fact, the first time the phrase “the Jews” is mentioned in Scripture, God’s Word records that the Israelites (allied with Syria) were at war with them (II Kings 16:5-6). At other times, Israel and Judah either worked together toward a common goal, or stayed out of each other’s affairs altogether. They were separate nations, yet the peoples of both kingdoms were Israelites.
After centuries of tolerating an endless cycle of national obedience, then disobedience, followed by divine punishment, in turn followed by repentance, back to obedience, and then disobedience, God’s patience wore out. He used the ancient Assyrians—an empire infamous for waging war and committing the severest acts of brutality—to invade and conquer the house of Israel. The Assyrians enslaved Israel and deported the people en masse to Assyria and other foreign lands. The ten tribes of Israel lost their national identity and melted into the pages of history. To this day, their modern descendants mistakenly believe they are Gentiles, not realizing that the abundant national wealth, prosperity and international influence they have long enjoyed are the result of God fulfilling His promise to Abraham (Gen. 17:1-8).
For the most part, the house of Judah did not learn the lesson of Israel’s spiritual unfaithfulness. The ancient Jews went back and forth, from worshipping God to serving idols, and back again. Theirs was a religious mixture of seemingly pious worship toward the Creator, yet underneath the façade was every abomination imaginable. It was religious hypocrisy and self-righteousness at its worst.
And so, 134 years after the overthrow of the kingdom of Israel, God sent a special punishing tool for Judah: Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire. In 587 B.C., the Babylonians overthrew Jerusalem, plundered Solomon’s Temple—originally a grand house of worship for the true God—and carried the people into captivity to Babylon, where the Jews remained for the next 70 years.
They were eventually permitted to return to their homeland and rebuild a second Temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4). After this restoration period, the Jews were ruled by Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and then by high priests, assisted by the Sanhedrin (a council of priests, scribes and elders).
Upon his death in 323 B.C., Alexander the Great’s vast empire was divided between his four generals. Egypt, Arabia, Palestine (formerly Canaan) and Coele-Syria came to be controlled by Ptolemy Lagus, who carried away nearly 100,000 of Jerusalem’s inhabitants into Egypt. Though Ptolemy allowed the Jews certain privileges, they suffered cruelty and oppression from Ptolemy’s successors, and later from the successive rulers of Syria. This led to a revolt under the Maccabees (163 B.C.), who reclaimed Jerusalem and the Second Temple (which the Hellenistic Syrians used to worship Zeus), and eventually gained national independence for the Jews.
But their national freedom and self-government came to an end in 68 B.C., when Pompey the Great seized Palestine and turned it into a province of the burgeoning Roman Empire. About 25 years later, the Jews revolted against the Roman yoke, only to be taken over by Herod the Great, who served Rome. At around 20 B.C., Herod began a mass renovation project, rebuilding Jerusalem and restoring and expanding the Temple. Under Herod’s rule and with Rome’s approval, Palestine was divided into four provinces: Judea (in the south), Samaria (in the middle region), Galilee (the north) and Perea (which lay east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea).
By the time Jesus was born, the Roman Empire dominated nearly all the lands that bordered the Mediterranean Sea. As the empire continued to conquer territories and expand its borders over the generations, the Jews spread throughout the Roman and Parthian empires.
Rome had legions stationed in Syria, which were sent to Judea to squash a revolt against the Herodians that arose upon the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C. As he had done with Herod, Augustus Caesar decided to control Palestine through a client king, a ruler who maintained order at his own personal expense. However, instead of having just one king over such a large territory, the emperor divided the province into regions among Herod’s surviving sons. Archelaus, the heir, received rulership over Judea, Samaria and Idumaea; however, Augustus removed him from power in A.D. 6, and transformed Judea into a larger Roman province, called Iudaea, coming under direct Roman rule.
Rome’s influence was felt throughout Palestine. Roman troops were garrisoned in Jerusalem and in other parts of the region. The people were heavily taxed. And with the empire came the spread of the Greek language and culture (plays, epic poems and philosophies pondering ethics, morality, the nature of reality, of God, and other thoughts of human reasoning). The empire consisted of peoples of foreign cultures, religions and languages who spoke and wrote Greek, akin to the way English is used today as an unofficial international language.
While Rome was quick to squash even the hint of rebellion and did not hesitate to use oppression to achieve its goals, Roman officials did permit the Jewish peoples certain liberties. For example, while inhabitants of other provinces served in their auxiliary forces, the Jews did not. And instead of having to participate in the imperial cult—the worship of dead emperors—the Jews were allowed to substitute a daily sacrifice in the Temple on behalf of the emperor and the Romans.
Nevertheless, Rome did on occasion try to introduce images of its emperors in Jerusalem—even in the Temple. These attempts were always met with staunch resistance, fueled by religious fervor. Though they disagreed among themselves religiously, socially and politically, the Jews were determined to honor no other deity but the God of the Torah.
Ironically, the God they claimed to fear and worship was born among them—Jesus Christ—but they rejected Him and His teachings.
Among the inhabitants of Palestine were the Samaritans. When the Assyrian Empire conquered the house of Israel and deported them from Samaria, Assyria replaced the ten tribes with a mixed group of foreigners brought in from Babylon and other faraway lands. This mixed group settled into the largely empty cities of Samaria and racially integrated with the remnant of Israelites who still lived in the land. The inhabitants—who came to be called Samaritans—largely adopted a pseudo-religion, mixing the Old Testament practices of worshipping Israel’s God with the spiritual poison of pagan customs and traditions.
The Jews, upon returning to their homeland after being exiled in Babylon, refused the Samaritans’ offer of help in rebuilding the Temple. Subsequently, hostility arose between the two, with the Samaritans building a rival temple at Mount Gerizim (which was later destroyed), and then at Shechem. Their bitter rivalry continued through the years, and was evident during Christ’s earthly ministry, “for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).
In Old Testament times, Gentiles were simply viewed as non-Israelites, and were not particularly despised for not having descended from Jacob (Israel). In fact, as soon as God delivered to Israel the Ten Commandments, He also proclaimed statutes—laws that expounded upon the commandments in addressing various areas of life. Among these, God instructed His people, “You shall neither vex a stranger [foreigner], nor oppress him” (Ex. 22:21) and “you shall not oppress a stranger: for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9). As long as foreigners lived peaceably among the Israelites, were willing to observe God’s laws, and rejected the worship of idols and other pagan practices, God expected His people to treat the “strangers” among them with equity and justice.
However, after having suffered the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, seven decades of Babylonian exile, then ongoing persecution from foreigners who wanted to blot out their religion and Hellenize them, the Jews came to use the term “Gentile” with contempt. By New Testament times, they saw Gentiles as religiously unclean—therefore, it was considered wrong to associate or be friends with them. While Gentiles could become proselytes of the Judaic faith, they could not be full members. Consequently, there was no love lost among the Greeks and Romans for the Jewish peoples.
Herod the Great was a morally corrupt and ruthless client king for Rome, who did not hesitate to murder any enemies (both real and perceived) he thought might threaten his reign. He even had members of his own family put to death. This is the Herod who, in an effort to kill the Christ Child, “slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under” (Matt. 2:16). Herod was widely despised all throughout his 37 years of rule—and long after his death.
On the other hand, the Jews (begrudgingly) appreciated the ambitious public works projects he initiated throughout Palestine, such as the great amphitheater in Caesarea and his refurbishing of Jerusalem’s Second Temple, expanding it on a monumental scale. This grand renovation project, which was to rival the greatest manmade wonders of the world, started in 20 B.C. and lasted more than 80 years.
Eight decades of building the Temple served to grow the local economy, as it employed workmen from construction and artisan guilds. It also served to unify the people in worshipping God (as opposed to the Greeks, Romans and other Gentiles honoring hundreds of idols and other false gods).
Yet the Temple also polarized the Jews, who were divided along religious and sociopolitical lines.
“The building itself was very small. The actual building of the Temple could fit inside the infield of any baseball stadium. However, the large structure all around it, the large plaza, the porticos, the columns, the staircases, all of that, were built up by Herod the Great on a monumental scale, filling up, I think something like ten football fields…So we have then a very large, very conspicuous, grandiose, grand…structure in the center of Jerusalem which attracted pilgrims from near and far, both Jews and gentile” (“From Jesus to Christ,” PBS, Shaye I.D. Cohen, Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University).
The Temple was a center of constant activity. It was operated by priests, who roasted animal sacrifices, splattered blood on the corners of the altar, and performed other religious rituals. Gentiles were provided a reserved area where they could worship God and bring offerings, which Levitical priests offered on their behalf, but only the chief priest could enter the innermost areas of the Temple. The Levites, who assisted the priests, chanted verses from the book of Psalms. Every Sabbath, the Jews visited the Temple to listen to a reading of the Torah. Three seasons a year (Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost every spring, and the Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn), Jerusalem overflowed with visitors who had journeyed from the furthermost parts of the empire. Roman troops stationed in the region were brought in for crowd control and to maintain order. Hundreds of thousands of worshippers for Passover meant that tens of thousands of lambs needed to be properly selected and slaughtered. As a result, a rotation of extra priests was established.
“…the Temple played a large role in a collective religious mentality and a collective religion of the people, as a whole. Everybody realized that this was the one most sacred place on earth, the one place on earth where somehow heaven and earth meet, where somehow there is a telephone connection, perhaps we would say, between heaven and earth, where the earth rises up and heavens somehow descend just enough, that they just touch” (ibid.).
It should be briefly noted that three other Herods are mentioned in the Bible: Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa I and Herod Agrippa II. They are sometimes confused.
Herod Antipas, mentioned in Matthew 14, Mark 6 and Luke 23, was one of the many sons of Herod the Great. He became tetrarch (local governor) over Galilee and Peraea, and ruled from about 4 B.C. until A.D. 39. This was the Herod who ordered John the Baptist to be beheaded at the insistence of Herodias his brother’s wife (Matt. 14:3-11). He also mocked Christ during His trial (Luke 23:11).
Herod Agrippa I (discussed in Acts 12) was the grandson of Herod the Great, and nephew of Herod Antipas. He ruled from 37 to 44 A.D. as king over the entire region. He gradually gained control over the area Herod the Great had previously ruled by scheming against his own relatives with help from Emperor Caligula, who actually freed him from prison to help him consolidate power. This Herod killed James, the brother of John, with the sword (Acts 12:2). Acts 12:23 reveals his death was caused by being eaten of worms.
Herod Agrippa II, mentioned in Acts 25 and 26, began his reign in A.D. 44 and continued for a number of decades (scholars disagree on the actual date of his death). This was the Herod before whom the apostle Paul made his defense in about A.D. 58. Of all the Herods, Agrippa II was the most humane.
Several competing religious and political factions existed among the Jewish peoples, with each movement, party or school of thought promoting its own agenda. The Bible mentions three major factions: the scribes and Pharisees, the Sadducees and (by implication) the Zealots.
The Jews in the first centuries B.C. and A.D. were very familiar with Old Testament prophecies that describe a coming “Messianic Age” and looked forward to their fulfillment with eager expectation. They well understood that the Messiah would usher in a time unlike any other.
Under years of Roman occupation, the Jews expected the Christ to arrive and free them from Rome’s rule. Conditions for the common Jew were harsh. Peasants had to depend on crops for survival. Not only did they need enough to last until the next harvest, they also needed extra grain to seed the next round of crops, adequate food for their livestock, food to use in trading, and food for religious rituals and celebrations. Many found it difficult to meet these needs.
Making matters more difficult, the Roman government demanded more, taxing the peasants as much as 40% of what they produced. This was in addition to the 10% (tithe) they paid to the Temple. Many peasant families would borrow to survive, which often led to a loss of their land and becoming sharecroppers on the very land they had once owned.
However, not paying tribute was also an undesirable option, as the Roman government viewed this as rebellion and would not hesitate to use military force. On occasion, during times of war the Romans would also pull resources from those under their authority. They could demand additional food from the Jewish province to help other areas fight invaders.
All of this amounted to an impossible situation for the Jews. But the only options left were to (A) accept the oppression of the Romans, or (B) reject it and become enemies of the empire, which would lead to war.
Thus, the idea of one coming to end the tyranny became ever more present in the minds of most Jews. Conditions were ripe for the Christ’s arrival. This led to a number of self-proclaimed false christs rising up and convincing some they were in fact the long-awaited deliverer of Israel, leading insurrections against the Roman government. But they were nothing more than imposters, and all of them failed in their self-appointed missions.
It is in this Messiah-hopeful environment that Jesus was born, in 4 B.C. But it wasn’t until He reached the age of 30 that He began to preach to the masses, in 27 A.D. Over the course of His three-and-a-half-year ministry, only a tiny few believed His claim to being the long-awaited Christ.
Numerous times throughout His ministry, Jesus informed others that He was the Christ, though usually in a subtle fashion. Most rejected His claim, often citing Old Testament scriptures as proof He could not be the coming Messiah. This rejection generally stemmed from Jewish tradition or from misinterpreting the scriptures.
The first account of this is found in the book of Luke. Just after His baptism and being tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days, Jesus entered a synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath and read from the book of Isaiah:
“And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:17-19).
When He finished reading these scriptures, Jesus sat down, with everyone in the synagogue looking curiously at Him. Then He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).
Those present were no doubt familiar with this prophecy in Isaiah, and that it was one the Christ would fulfill. The people in the synagogue marveled at His words, asking, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22). In other words, “How could Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, possibly be the Christ? We have known Him since He was a little boy. This can’t be the Christ.” Jesus simply did not fit their profile of the Messiah.
A common thought was that the Christ would sort of “magically appear.” Many believed that, after His birth, Christ would hide Himself from the masses for a considerable amount of time. Thus when He would begin to preach, no one would know His background.
Notice John 7:27: “Howbeit we know this Man whence [from where] He is: but when Christ comes, no man knows whence [from where] He is.” This thinking can be found in a common Jewish proverb of the time: “Three things come unexpectedly: (1) a thing found by chance; (2) the sting of a scorpion; and (3) the Messiah.” Since many knew Jesus’ parents and even knew Him as a boy, in their minds, He could not possibly be the Christ.
Consider in the book of John another example of why Jesus was rejected. There He explained that He would be “lifted up from the earth,” or crucified (12:32). This idea of the Christ being executed in this manner perplexed some, as they believed the Messiah would live forever: “We have heard out of the law that Christ abides for ever: and how say you, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?” (12:34).
The Old Testament, which was the only Scripture available during the time of Jesus, nowhere states that the Christ would not die. In reality, it clearly states the opposite, which we will soon see.
However, there are prophecies that show the Christ’s reign—and His kingdom—will endure forever, as found in Daniel chapter 7: “And there was given Him [the Christ] dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (vs. 14).
Many read these and other scriptures and correctly noticed that the Messiah’s kingdom was to last forever. They then concluded that, once He appeared, He could not possibly die. To them, His death would appear to directly contradict God’s Word.
Yet Jesus’ death did not conflict with Scripture. In fact, it was clearly foretold! Perhaps more than any other series of verses, the 53rd chapter of Isaiah unmistakably identifies that the Christ was to be killed—and for a reason.
The chapter opens by asking, “Who has believed our report?” Certainly few have believed what God has spoken through the prophets, and ancient Israel had a track record of not heeding their words. It is fitting that this chapter on the Christ opens with this question, as many have not believed this report.
Isaiah 53:2 describes there would be nothing significant about the Christ’s appearance. He would look quite ordinary (as we saw earlier), and there would be nothing beautiful about Him. Verse 3 indicates He would be despised and rejected, and would not be noted as having any value. These verses have been confirmed by history. Jesus was not of noble appearance and was despised and rejected—to the point of being executed.
Verses 5 and 6 explain exactly why the Christ, as Savior, had to suffer: “He was wounded for our transgressions [sins], He was bruised for our iniquities [sins]: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity [sin] of us all.”
Before coming as a conquering King (upon His Second Coming), the Christ had to first take mankind’s sins—both physical and spiritual—upon Himself (at His First Coming). This happened when Jesus was severely beaten (“wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities”) and crucified. And right before dying on the stake, the Father forsook Jesus (Matt. 27:46), as at that point He took on the sins of humanity, and thus was counted as sin—of which the Father can have no part.
Amazingly, Jesus was viewed by the Jews as having been rejected by God because He was not the Christ. They counted Him as cursed and afflicted by God because of what He did—what He taught. The people did not comprehend that Jesus’ death was necessary. Notice Isaiah 53:4: “Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”
The reality was that “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief” for “an offering for sin” (vs. 10). “He [the Father] shall see of the travail of His [the Christ’s] soul, and shall be satisfied: by His knowledge shall My righteous Servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities” (vs. 11).
God was pleased to bruise Jesus Christ because it was a necessary part of His overall plan for mankind. If this had not happened, man would have no hope of salvation.
The chapter concludes, “Therefore will I [the Father] divide Him [Jesus Christ] a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He has poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (vs. 12).
Because Jesus was willing to bear “the sin of many,” the Father will provide Him an everlasting kingdom—a divine government that will bring true justice and world peace. Clearly, however, this government has not arrived. This is perhaps the major reason many rejected Jesus as the Christ.
In the eyes of the first-century Jews, Jesus failed to accomplish what they expected the Christ to do—destroy every evil, as well as all of their enemies (the Romans), and establish an eternal kingdom, with Israel as the preeminent nation in the world. The Jews believed that the Christ would deliver them from Roman bondage and set up a kingdom where they would be the rulers. Although they could read the prophecies in Isaiah describing a suffering Christ who would be persecuted and executed, they instead chose to focus on prophecies addressing His glorious victories and time of world peace, accompanying many of them. Since Jesus did not at that time come as the long-awaited conquering King, He was rejected. He “failed” to live up to the people’s expectations of the Messiah. As stated in John chapter 1, “He came unto His own [people], and His own received Him not” (vs. 11).
To this day, followers of Judaism reject Jesus as the Christ, citing similar reasons as their first-century counterparts.
In the volatile environment of Roman tyranny, religious hypocrisy, turmoil and falsehood, pagan influences of culture, philosophies and religions, racial tensions and rampant injustice, God chose to have His Son born into the world.
During His three-and-a-half-year ministry, Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God to the masses, and taught a core group of disciples who would go on to become apostles, but also evangelists and other ministers, as well as deacons and deaconesses, along with many faithful, diligent lay members who formed the Church of God. Through His ministers, Christ’s gospel would be spread from city to city, across regions and provinces throughout the Roman Empire.
Rome forbade the emergence of new religions under its rule. But to non-Jews, who worshipped many “gods,” Christianity and Judaism seemed the same. The Jewish peoples had migrated and settled in Gentile areas across the ever-expanding empire; therefore, Roman provinces had grown accustomed to having citizens among them who worshipped only one God. By the time Rome realized that Christianity and Judaism were different, it was too late—Christians could be found living in the emperor’s household.
Suppose the Messiah had appeared during a time when the Mediterranean world was divided into separate, independent kingdoms, each with its own ruler. In such a scenario, the gospel would have gone no farther than Judea. Gentile kingdoms would have shut their borders to a religion that teaches that the governments, systems, societies and religions of men will be replaced by the divine government of God!
But the Roman Empire, to satisfy the peoples they subjugated, permitted their subjects to continue worshipping the endless gods of their particular lands, as long as this did not interfere with Roman affairs or supplant loyalty to the emperor.
Also, Rome interconnected the kingdoms they conquered with highways that still exist today—roads that Christ’s apostles, ministers and other servants used to spread the true gospel and establish congregations in city after city.
The timing of Jesus Christ’s First Coming—which led to establishing the small, but faithful, Church that survived the past 2,000 years and now preaches to all nations the same gospel message Christ taught—was perfect.
John the Baptist spent his short ministry traveling throughout the region preaching a baptism for repentance—that is, a 180-degree change in one’s thinking and conduct. Throngs of people, attracted by his message, journeyed into the wilderness to be baptized and forgiven of their sins.
John’s preaching drew a following large enough to attract the attention of the religious leaders of the day. The Temple priests and Levites went out to question him, asking if he were the Messiah. Some may have feared he was just another terrorist leader in the making, someone who would cause trouble and bring the wrath of Rome upon the land.
John’s answer was plain: “I am not the Christ.”
When pressed further to explain who he was, John replied, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, as written in the book of Isaiah: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low. And the crooked will be made straight, and the rough ways will be made smooth. And all mankind will see the salvation of God.’”
John the Baptist had come “in the power and spirit of Elijah” to proclaim the First Coming of Christ’s arrival. Speaking of Christ, John declared, “There cometh One mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose” (Mark 1:7).
God’s Word plainly teaches that baptism must be preceded by repentance (Acts 2:38) and belief (Mark 16:16; Acts 16:31, 33). Upon repentance, the blood of Christ cleanses one of past sins. Baptism involves being entirely submerged underwater as a symbol of acknowledging one’s sins. When baptized, one figuratively dies with Jesus, our Savior, in a “watery grave”—which typifies the death of the old self and the emergence of a new person with a new life. Rising out of that “grave” is symbolic of the resurrection of the dead; we live a new (righteous) life through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit actively at work within us (Rom. 6:4; 8:9; Gal. 2:20).
The New Testament is not the first place baptism is found in the Bible. Rather, God used this symbol thousands of years before John the Baptist was born. Noah’s deliverance from the Flood—a watery grave for the sinful world—represented deliverance from the penalty of sin through baptism (I Peter 3:20-21). And Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage through the Red Sea was also considered a type of Christian baptism (I Cor. 10:1-2). In both events, at the Flood of Noah’s time and at the Red Sea, God miraculously delivered His people who looked to and trusted in His deliverance.
Water baptism also requires faith in Christ—faith in His sacrifice, which wipes clear the past sins of the repentant believer. Noah acted on his faith in managing the giant project of building the ark. Moses instructed Israel to move forward to the sea and obeyed God’s instruction to lift up his rod to cause the sea to divide. The truly repentant believer must also act in faith, trusting in the deliverance of Christ to cover his sins and “lift him up” to a new life led by the Holy Spirit. An active, living faith is required.
When the time came for Jesus to start His ministry, John the Baptist was told how he was to recognize the Christ when he would baptize Him at a future time. The baptism of John symbolized the outward expression of sincere genuine repentance of those who would be convicted by the message he preached. Luke 1:77 states John the Baptist came “to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.” His ministry focused on the first step of salvation, preparing a people for Christ’s arrival. They did not receive the Holy Spirit; Jesus had not yet been resurrected and glorified so He could not send forth the Spirit according to God’s Plan (John 7:39).
Jesus came to His cousin to be baptized, but John was hesitant. He said to Jesus, “I have need to be baptized of You, and come You to me?” (Matt. 3:13-14). Christ never sinned—never broke any of God’s laws. One of the purposes of His earthly ministry was to set the example for those whom God the Father might call into the difficult long-life journey of Christianity. This is why Jesus permitted Himself to be baptized. Also, His baptism foreshadowed an event that would occur three and a half years later: His death and resurrection.
As soon as He was baptized and received His Father’s approval—“You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11)—Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, went into the wilderness, where He “fasted forty days and forty nights” (Matt. 4:1-2).
Matthew 4 and Luke 4 record in detail a monumental battle of wills between Jesus Christ and Satan the devil. The two engaged in a very real outright spiritual war to determine who would ultimately rule the earth and reign over all nations, kingdoms and governments!
To spiritually prepare for this great test, Jesus humbled Himself through fasting, denying His body food and drink for 40 days. Contrary to hunger strikes, used throughout history to gain sympathy from the public and essentially extort the powers-that-be to give in to one’s demands, fasting is different. It is not a method to somehow “twist God’s arm” into rendering a favorable decision, or impress Him with one’s “righteousness,” or gain His sympathy. Fasting—when done in the right way, for the right purpose—is used to lower the self in one’s own eyes, to see himself as God sees him.
The Bible states, “The heart [carnal mind] is deceitful above all things, and is desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). Therefore, man cannot “walk to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23) through life, making decisions that “seem right unto a man, but the end therefore are the ways of death” (Prov. 16:25), for “all the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes” (vs. 2).
When our stomachs are empty and begin to growl, we then realize that life is temporary. “My days are like a shadow that declines,” Psalm 102:11 states, “and I am withered like grass.” King David wrote, “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more” (Psa. 103:15-16).
When compared to the Great God of the universe, “the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15), this physical, chemical existence humans call life is less than a breath. While God has need of nothing, our physical strength and bodily existence relies on whether we eat. Fasting—denying the body food and drink for at least 24 hours—reminds us we are less than nothing in the grand scheme of things, and that we need our Maker and Sustainer to provide for all our necessities. This humble mindset permits one to be teachable and willing to suppress his will to readily receive God’s direction.
When Satan confronted Christ in the wilderness, the first thing he did was try to tempt Jesus into eating, thus breaking His fast (Matt. 4:3). Yet by making Himself physically weak, Christ actually strengthened Himself spiritually. The devil tried to appeal to Jesus’ ego by saying, “IF you be the Son of God”—in other words, “Prove it!” But instead of relying upon Himself, Jesus wielded the “sword of the spirit” (Eph. 6:17)—that is, He recalled the Holy Scriptures in His mind—and said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4), quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.
But Satan was not ready to give up the battle. Matthew 4 records that he set Christ on a pinnacle of the Temple, and then quoted Scripture. Again, trying to inflate Jesus’ ego, the devil said, “IF You be the Son of God, cast Yourself down: for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning You: and in their hands they shall bear You up, lest at any time You dash Your foot against a stone” (vs. 6).
Yes, the devil can read the Bible. Satan is the master at misusing Scripture to confuse and deceive billions into blindly accepting easily disprovable false doctrines. He has long used false ministers as his human agents to carry out mass deception—religious leaders who seem to be sincere and truthful, but God’s Word calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (II Cor. 11:13-15).
Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12, taking the passage out of context. Jesus understood this, and answered with God’s Word rather than trusting in Himself. “It is written again,” He said, “You shall not tempt the Lord Your God” (Matt. 4:7), quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.
The devil tried to tempt Jesus one more time. He took Him up to a high mountain and, perhaps primarily through a vision, “showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and said unto Him, All these things will I give You, IF You will fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:8-9).
This epic battle was about rulership. Satan knew Christ was destined to establish God’s government on Earth and rule all nations. In this “present evil world” (Gal. 1:4) of man’s 6,000-year history, the nations, kingdoms, governments, laws, practices, traditions, systems, cultures and societies are influenced by and belong to “the great dragon…that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). As the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), the devil broadcasts wrong attitudes, thoughts and emotions, which translate into perverse language and conduct in the lives of an unsuspecting humanity.
Before the universe existed, God created hundreds of millions of angels. Like human beings, God granted them free moral agency, permitting the angels the capacity to decide and choose for themselves whether they will obey Him.
God then created all the stars, planets, moons and galaxies in the vast and expanding universe. Millions of these spirit beings sang for joy, especially when God created the earth (Job 38:7), for they knew it would be handed to one-third of all the angels as part of a very special assignment. They were to live on the earth, led by the archangel Lucifer, and take special care of it. If they succeeded, they would eventually be given the entire universe to rule under God.
At first, the angels were happy about their assignment. They wanted to do all they could to make the world a beautiful garden paradise of peaceful meadows, green forests, sandy beaches and sparkling oceans. But as time passed (the Bible does not say how long; it may have taken millions, even billions, of years), something changed.
It all began with Lucifer. Full of wisdom and beauty, he was the most brilliant, perfect being God had ever created (Ezek. 28:11-14). For a while, Lucifer obediently carried out God’s commands and government on the earth. But, at some point, he allowed a wrong thought or attitude to enter his mind. Instead of removing it and replacing it with right thoughts, Lucifer allowed even more wrong ideas and feelings to guide and control his mind. He soon became full of pride (vs. 15).
Instead of being grateful for the assignment God gave him, Lucifer had become bitter and angry. He had come to believe that he deserved more, that God was somehow “limiting” him, not putting his “enormous talents” to better use (and in the process, forgot that his talents came from God in the first place). Lucifer wanted more power, more responsibility, more “respect”—and he wanted it his way, not God’s.
Lucifer’s mind corrupted to the point he believed he knew better than his Maker—and that he was greater than God! Eventually, Lucifer believed he should be God! He reasoned that he needed to take God’s place and remove Him from His heavenly throne (Isa. 14:12-14).
Lucifer’s perverse and twisted thoughts and attitudes led him to sin—to break God’s spiritual laws of love and outgoing concern for others (I John 3:4; Rom. 7:12-14). Thus, he became God’s enemy. Through lies and deception, Lucifer convinced angels around him to believe his way was right and that God’s ways were unfair and unjust. In turn, those angels convinced others of the same lies, eventually twisting the minds of all the angels on the earth—one-third of the spirit beings that God created rebelled against their Creator (Rev. 12:4; Job 4:18).
Led by Lucifer, the rebellious angels—now demons—invaded heaven to take over God’s throne. But God—armed with the limitless power of His Holy Spirit, and backed by twice as many loyal angels—squashed the invasion. He cast the evil spirits back to the earth, and changed Lucifer’s name, which means “morning star” or “shining one,” to Satan the devil, which means “adversary,” “accuser” and “slanderer” (Ezek. 28:11-19). (Additional facts and description of Lucifer’s rebellion are contained in others of our books and booklets.)
Ever since he influenced Adam and Eve to reject God’s rule over them, and subsequently their descendants, Satan and his demons have had dominion over mankind’s kingdoms, governments and systems. This world belongs to the devil—and man’s carnal nature, which is naturally hostile to God and His laws (Rom. 8:7), is actually Satan’s nature!
The devil knows that His days as ruler over this perverse, rebellious, anti-God age are numbered. Satan, through Herod, tried to destroy Jesus when He was just a babe. As you will read in this book, the devil on many occasions tried to use his human agents to kill Christ before it was His time to die. And Satan used all his wiles in Matthew 4 to influence Jesus to go his way—but in all strategies he failed!
When Christ successfully defeated His adversary, He qualified to rule over the kingdom of God, the divine government He will establish on the earth to produce true and lasting peace, equity and prosperity for all!
Contrary to popular teaching among many churches today, it is God the Father, not Christ, who calls people to come into the Christian way of life (John 6:44). No one can take upon himself this calling—the decision is up to the Father.
At the start of Jesus’ ministry, God called men from different walks of life who would become Christ’s disciples (students), in training to become apostles. These 12 men received intense, and extensive, as well as often private, one-on-one training, which would prepare them to take the gospel to other cities, territories, regions, nations and kingdoms.
Peter: Born with the name Simon, Jesus later renamed him Peter, or “Cephas,” an Aramaic name equivalent to the Greek Petros (Peter), which means “a mass of rock detached from the living rock.”
Simon Peter and his brother Andrew were the sons of Jona (Matthew 16:17). He was a fisherman from Bethsaida, a native town on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee, in Galilee (John 1:44, 12:21). Simon, Andrew, James, and John grew up together as childhood friends, and later became fishing partners.
Though they had some level of religious training and were acquainted with prophetic scriptures about the coming of the Messiah, they did not receive any special rabbinical training. This is why Peter and John, when they were brought before the Sanhedrin, seemed to be “unlearned and ignorant men” in the eyes of the leading religious leaders of the land (Acts 4:13).
Galileans had a reputation for being independent, blunt and impetuous. They spoke a peculiar dialect that seemed harsh and backward in Judea.
Andrew: Once a disciple of John the Baptist, Andrew was the first to follow Christ, and introduced Peter to Him (John 1:40). The brothers became Jesus’ disciples after John the Baptist was imprisoned (Matt. 4:18-19; Mark 1:16-17).
James: He and his brother John were called Boanerges—“sons of thunder”—due to their boldness and intensity. Their parents were Zebedee and Salome. James was called the “greater” (to distinguish him from the other apostle-in-training who had the same name). He also was a fisherman (Matt. 4:21).
John: He may have been younger than his brother James. Zebedee, his father, apparently was a man of some wealth, since he could afford hired servants (Mark 1:20) and possessed at least two fishing vessels (Luke 5:3). John, like his brother and childhood friends, was a fisherman on the Lake of Galilee. He was also influenced by the teachings of John the Baptist, becoming one of his disciples. At John the Baptist’s announcement that Jesus was “the Lamb of God,” John accepted Christ’s offer to follow Him (John 1:36-37). However, John and James temporarily returned to their fishing business before becoming fulltime apostles-in-training (Matt. 4:21; Luke 5:1-11).
Peter, Andrew, James and John grew up together and became business partners in a family fishing venture. Upon being called, they became an “inner circle” around Jesus, to whom He privately shared His thoughts, plans and even a vision of His Second Coming.
Philip: Also native of Bethsaida (John 1:44; 12:21). He responded to his calling without hesitation, and brought with him Nathanael—or Bartholomew (John 1:45, 46). He may have held a prominent place among the apostles, after Peter, James, John and Andrew (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; John 6:5-7; 12:21, 22; 14:8, 9; Acts 1:13).
Bartholomew: The son of Talemai. Some believe that he and Nathanael (John 1:45-51) were the same person. Bartholomew was friends with Philip before being called.
Matthew: He was a tax collector (“publican”) at Capernaum, the son of Alphaeus. He became one of Christ’s disciples when Jesus passed the custom-house (“receipt of custom”) where Matthew worked for Rome in collecting taxes that the empire levied on the Jews. The people despised publicans, since they willingly worked for the Romans. Matthew was originally called Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27).
Thomas: Also called Didymus (John 11:16; 20:24). Since Thomas is always mentioned along with Matthew, the son of Alphaeus, when the apostles are listed, always followed by James, who was also the son of Alphaeus, there has been speculation that Matthew, Thomas and James were brothers.
James: The son of Alphaeus (or Cleopas), he is known as “James the Less” or “the Little.”
Thaddeus: Also called “Lebbaeus” in the book of Matthew.
Simon: Also called “the Canaanite” (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18), derived from the Syriac word Kanean or Kaneniah, the name of a Jewish sect. He was also called “Simon the Zealot” or “Zelotes” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13); before his calling to become an apostle, Simon was a member of the Zealots, a fanatical sect.
Judas Iscariot: It is possible that the name Iscariot refers to the Judean town of Kerioth (Joshua 15:20-25) or to the sicarii (Jewish nationalist insurrectionists). The Bible also calls this man “Judas…the son of Simon” (John 6:71; 13:2, 26). The treasurer among Jesus and the disciples, he later betrayed Christ (Mark 3:19), and then committed suicide. Matthias replaced him as one of the original apostles shortly after Christ’s resurrection.
With the apostles and many other disciples learning from Him, Jesus was planting seed that would sprout into the first century Church on Pentecost A.D. 31.
John the Baptist, from prison, sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You He that should come? Or look we for another?” (Luke 7:19-20). They wanted to know whether He was the Messiah foretold to come.
Jesus replied, “Go your way, and tell John what things you have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” (vs. 22). Christ also “cured many…of evil spirits”—He cast out demons (vs. 21).
But why? How did healing the infirm, resurrecting the dead, freeing the demon-possessed, and other miracles, along with preaching the good news of the kingdom of God to the poor, define Jesus’ ministry?
The four gospel accounts record that Christ performed astounding miracles. Many of His most dramatic were healings. Jesus made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind, healed lepers and other diseased people, and “healed all that were sick” (Matt. 8:16).
The record demonstrates that Jesus healed large numbers of people and captured the attention of constantly growing masses. Yet when Lazarus, a dear friend, was seriously ill, and then died before Christ came to visit him, family and friends grieved. They did not understand what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
They understood there would come a time when God would resurrect all human beings back to physical life. But they did not grasp that Jesus Christ not only had the power to heal, He possessed the authority to resurrect—not just at His Second Coming, but right then and there while He was in the flesh! (Read verses 38-45.) Jesus is God. His power to heal and resurrect came from His Father, who also is God. Together, they are one God, one divine Family that is adding to its membership begotten children who will one day be born into that Family.
The ability to raise people back to physical life is a type of the ultimate healing to come: the resurrection. Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This was not some emotional religious “high” millions have been deceived into accepting. Christ was talking about being born again literally! But not from physical to physical—rather from physical to spirit: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (vs. 6). God’s Word declares, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50).
While Jesus’ miraculous power to heal drew crowds, it also drew the ire of the scribes and Pharisees, who felt their status and influence over the people threatened. These spiritually blind religious leaders were much more concerned with elevating their “righteousness” in the eyes of the people than in sincerely serving their needs. Their focus was entirely wrong! They emphasized the importance of meticulously observing the “exactness” of the Law, which they made into a terrible burden with their unscriptural codes of “do’s and don’ts.”
For example, when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were so focused on observing this weekly holy day their way that they failed to see the Law’s spiritual intent: Love, first toward God, then neighbor.
God’s Law is not a burden—it is “spiritual” (Rom. 7:14) and “the commandment [is] holy, and just, and good” (vs. 12). Keeping the Ten Commandments expresses selfless, outgoing concern toward God and neighbor, “therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
Remember Adam and Eve. They had two trees set before them—symbolically, two polar opposite ways of life—and the decision of colossal magnitude. Eating of the Tree of Life meant choosing a lifetime of faithful obedience to God, trusting in the Creator for His divine guidance, direction, knowledge, understanding and wisdom. But eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil meant rejecting God for guidance, and relying on oneself for judging how to live.
Man ate the fruit of the wrong tree—and for the past 6,000 years humanity has decided for itself what religious practices to embrace, what kinds of food to eat and how often, what types of governments and laws to administer, his own forms of education, whether men would look to God for healing or rely on complex medicines to overcome health issues, etc.
Today, similar to Christ’s time, people are sickly, diseased, overworked, overstressed, overweight and physically inactive. Usually people get sick because they have broken God’s laws and principles governing good health.
Laws and principles governing…
Overcrowded living conditions: Isa. 5:8
Sometimes people inherit diseases, or the propensity to acquire them, from ancestors who brought on the effects of transgressing against the biblical principles of healthy living.
And in some cases, no one is at fault: “And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
“Jesus answered, Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest [revealed, made obvious] in him” (John 9:1-3).
When Christ healed, it drew attention. It caused great numbers to stop and consider the power of God, and to listen to His message. Jesus, as the Lord of the Old Testament, was the One who led ancient Israel through the wilderness into the Promised Land—and therefore the One who announced, “I am the Lord that heals you” (Ex. 15:26).
The religious leaders of the day avoided talking about the spirit world, the true nature of angelic beings and evil spirits. Consequently, in ignorance, people involved themselves in the dangerous world of the supernatural, resulting in demonic influences—even demonic possession.
Addressing such cases, Jesus performed healings of the mind, casting out demons from people who were possessed. These evil spirits were former angels who joined Lucifer (now Satan) in rebelling against their Creator.
Amazingly, when the Pharisees saw Christ miraculously release someone from the bonds of demonic possession, they actually attributed the power He wielded to the devil (Matt. 12:22-24)!
But Jesus answered, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?” (vs. 25-26).
Satan is the author of this world’s confusion and self-deception among man’s governments, religions, institutions, businesses and societies. Yet the devil’s kingdom is not divided—it is actively working against the Plan of God, which is to ultimately bring salvation to mankind.
Though Jesus qualified to rule God’s kingdom, this world—its governments, systems and ways of living—still belong to Satan, who “deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).
Throughout man’s history, demons have entered many of the minds of those who have delved into witchcraft, magic and the supernatural; people who opened their thoughts to malicious powers that can drive one to commit unspeakable violence and mayhem. This curiosity with the paranormal is so ingrained within man’s nature, the Bible lists witchcraft as one of “the works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-20).
God’s Word also warns “that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (vs. 21).
The scribes, Pharisees and other religious leaders were powerless to help the demon-possessed. But Jesus Christ, backed by God the Father, held real power and authority. He could command even the most rebellious fallen spirit being to obey His orders.
Another way demons enter the unguarded mind is through wild, unrestrained emotions and attitudes. Notice:
“He that has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls”—spiritually defenseless (Prov. 25:28).
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city” (Prov. 16:32).
Man was created spiritually incomplete. While animals live without “brainpower” and are “programmed” by instinct, man has power of mind, via the “spirit of man” (I Cor. 2:11), which provides human beings with creative thinking and analysis. Yet the “spirit of man” is limited to comprehending only the physical. Thus, man cannot comprehend spiritual matters, “for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (vs. 14).
The Holy Spirit must be actively at work in the mind, converting carnal thoughts, attitudes and desires into spiritual ones. Only then can human beings successfully wage the same lifelong spiritual battles that Christ overcame in the flesh: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds [castles in the mind];) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:3-5).
Those who guard their minds with God’s Spirit are able to withstand demonic influences.
Speaking of ministers who falsely speak in Jesus’ name, Paul wrote this: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (II Cor. 11:13-15).
One of the ways Satan makes his ministers appear as true ministers of God is through demonstrating certain “miracles,” including acts of apparent healings. (Also notice Rev. 13:11-14.)
Exodus 5 records that Pharaoh’s court magicians were able to perform certain acts similar to the miracles God performed through His servant Moses. These were things that God allowed Satan to do, through Satan’s servants, as part of the process of hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 14:4), so that Pharaoh would be witness to God’s power in delivering Israel from Egypt.
The dramatic public “healings” promoted by many of this world’s ministers are the same kind of displays, in which individuals who suffer from various crippling diseases are really bound by a demon. An example of this condition is found in Luke 13:11-13: “And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him, and said unto her, Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity. And He laid His hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.”
This is an example of an individual who did not have a physical handicap or disease, but whose body was in the grip of a demon. Christ cast the demon from her, and she was restored to a normal condition.
Also consider that often, at the climax of many supposed “healings,” the individuals involved will seemingly lose self-control and fall backward, usually with people anticipating this and already in place to catch them. But notice the following scriptures:
“And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshipping the Lord” (II Chron. 20:18).
“And He [Christ] went a little farther, and fell on His face, and prayed…” (Matt. 26:39).
“…and so falling down on his face he will worship God…” (I Cor. 14:25).
The above scriptures demonstrate that those who come before God’s presence to worship Him bow forward. Yet other scriptures show that those acting under the influence of a demon tend to fall backward. Notice: “As soon then as He [Christ] had said unto them, I am He, they went backward, and fell to the ground” (John 18:6).
Why? “And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with You, You Jesus of Nazareth? Are You come to destroy us? I know who You are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:23-24). Rather than yielding to Jesus, those with demons draw back from His power and authority.
Also note that nowhere in Scripture are people struck on the forehead and knocked backward! God’s ministers anoint—never strike—the sick. They lay hands on them. Think for a moment of the images of today’s so-called “faith healers,” who are actually performers, swaggering arrogantly before audiences who do not understand what they are witnessing.
Violent, noisy reactions are typical of those who are plagued by demons. Now notice verse 26: “And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.” The Greek word translated “torn” is sparasso, meaning a spasmodic contraction. Compare this to the often wild outbursts of “Hallelujah!”, “Amen!” and “Thank You Jesus” exclamations, usually accompanied by gyrations or other displays of seemingly uncontrolled behavior, which are standard fare at organized “healing revivals.”
Also notice Acts 19:15-16, which records the tragic result of individuals carelessly—or recklessly—invoking Jesus’ name to cast out demons. They presumptuously took action, without Jesus Christ’s authority.
While Scripture makes clear that Satan does not cast out his demons (Mark 3:23-26), it would certainly work to his advantage (as “the god of this world” – II Cor. 4:4) to make his ministers appear to have healing power. Keep in mind that Satan can do whatever God allows him to do. (See Job 1:12; 2:6.) And, as Matthew 12:43-45 shows, if a person possessed by a demon is freed from it, and the person’s mind is not receptive to the truth from God’s Word, then that demon can return and bring with him “seven [spirits]…more wicked than himself.”
Also consider that Satan does not have our best interests at heart (I Pet. 5:8). “He knows that he has but a short time” (Rev. 12:12) before Christ returns. He knows that our ultimate potential, as those made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), is to rule with Christ in the kingdom of God. Not only does the devil have no desire to physically heal anyone of anything (even if he had such power), he also seeks to deceive all people and blind them to God’s Purpose: to spiritually heal the entire world.
Most importantly, understand that healing involves—and requires—the forgiveness of sin. Satan has no such power!
In addition to healings, Jesus performed countless other miracles: turning water into wine, walking on water, calming a raging sea, etc. These awe-inspiring events were not “parlor tricks” designed to “wow” the masses. They had meaning—purpose—intent. They revealed the awesome, unlimited power of the almighty God! The same power by which all nations will one day submit to Jesus Christ’s authority when He establishes God’s kingdom on Earth! The very same power that will convert the stubborn, rebellious hearts of men, starting with Israel, then the rest of the world! He also wanted individuals to know they could access such power.
Consider the account of feeding 5,000 men with only a handful of fish and bread. A great multitude of tens of thousands came to hear Jesus teach after they witnessed Him heal the diseased. When His message was finished, Jesus did not send them away hungry; He had His disciples gather all of the food that was available: “five barley loaves, and two small fishes” (John 6:9). The Bible states that there were “about five thousand” men among the multitude (vs. 10), but this does not take into account the women and children who undoubtedly would have accompanied them. Thus, there most likely would have been at least 20,000 people in the crowd that was fed.
Through a miracle, Jesus multiplied the meager amount of food to feed everyone. “When they were filled, He said unto His disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten” (John 6:12-13).
The people were so amazed by the miracle that Jesus had to remove Himself from their presence, lest “they would come and take Him by force, to make Him a king” (vs. 15)—contrary to God’s Plan. Note that the account reveals the common thinking of the masses.
But the crowd followed after Christ to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. To the disciples, the throngs of people may have seemed zealous, willing to be taught God’s Way. But Christ perceived their true motives: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, You seek Me, not because you saw the miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (vs. 26).
Their carnal minds focused on the physical. The words of Jesus Christ offered something far greater: “Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for Him has God the Father sealed” (vs. 27).
These tens of thousands sought after Christ, pretending (perhaps even convincing themselves) that they were prepared to receive His teachings. But what Jesus taught was spiritual; the minds of His listeners were carnal. They could not drink in the words that led to eternal life. Most of Jesus’ miracles were conducted to draw attention to God and His kingdom, and to teach that true faith is tied to authority and power.
Take, for example, the account of the Roman centurion whose servant was deathly ill. This Gentile military commander had a good reputation among the Jewish leaders, who petitioned Christ on his behalf. The centurion met Jesus on His way to the man’s home, and said, “Lord, trouble not Yourself: for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto You: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it” (Luke 7:6-8).
“When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matt. 8:10).
“And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done unto you. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour” (vs. 13).
The centurion understood authority and power. As a commander, he gave orders and expected soldiers under him to obey. Likewise, he responded to the orders of those in authority above him. He believed that Jesus carried authority from God the Father, who empowered His Son to perform miracles. Therefore, the centurion did not need to see Christ actually lay hands on the sickly servant. In the centurion’s mind, all he needed to know is whether Christ would exercise His authority to heal—“but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.” Real faith understands the connection from authority over miracles to recognition—simple belief—faith—that they will occur.
Let’s look at another example: Peter walking on water. As Jesus’ disciples were aboard a ship being tossed about in a raging storm at sea, they saw their Master coming toward them, walking on water. They were so amazed they assumed He was a ghost, and cried out in fear.
Jesus tried to calm them down, saying, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matt. 14:27).
But Peter was not quite sure. He answered, “Lord, if it be You, bid me come unto You on the water” (vs. 28). He knew that if this was Christ, then He would have the authority to empower Peter to do the humanly impossible.
When Christ said, “Come,” Peter stepped out of the ship and locked his eyes on the One who represented the supreme authority of the God who created the universe and the physical laws that sustain it. Because he had the right focus, Peter’s belief in Christ’s authority—his faith that Jesus would keep His word to allow him to defy the physical laws of nature—gave him the power to walk on the sea!
But something went wrong. Peter’s focus shifted. He allowed the sounds of the howling wind and the splash of ocean spray to distract him. He gradually lost his full attention on the One who represented the government of God…and started to sink into the water.
Peter cried out to Christ to rescue him. “And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O you of little faith, wherefore did you doubt?”
Jesus Christ’s miracles were designed to boost people’s faith. But Peter, who was unconverted at the time, proved that temporary human faith is not enough. Those who follow and obey Christ—Christian soldiers who (II Tim. 2:3-4) wage spiritual warfare against the wiles of the devil, the pulls of the flesh and the cares of Satan’s seductive world—must have the faith of Jesus in them.
Paul wrote, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). There is a kind of human faith that all people have at certain times in their lives—but this must eventually be replaced by the permanent faith that comes only by the Spirit of God in converted minds (Gal. 5:22-23; 2:16).
Christ healed many people, and praised their faith—yet none had the Holy Spirit. However, they did have human faith! It takes human faith to believe you will be forgiven by Christ’s sacrifice—that God has called you to live His way of life—that you will receive His Spirit—belief that is necessary prior to baptism.
Yet after conversion, a Christian must live by the faith of Jesus Christ in him. He must go “from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:16). And God’s servants must grow in Christ’s faith, a lifelong process.
A common assumption exists today that Jesus both gave money to the poor and taught His followers that they should do the same—that this was the very essence of Christianity. This is simply not true, because the Bible nowhere says either of these things. However, Christ did give something to the poor, and it had infinitely greater worth than money.
Do you know what it was? Are you aware of what almost no one else knows?
Why do so few understand what the Father commissioned—directed—Christ to do? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).
On another occasion, and this was briefly referenced earlier, when John the Baptist was questioning His works, Jesus cited the fulfillment of this commission—preaching [giving] the gospel to the poor—as proof He was the Messiah: “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:5).
On yet another occasion, when the disciples thought that precious spices could have been sold for monies that could have gone to the poor, Jesus actually discouraged this action, and corrected their thinking—saying “the poor you have with you always.” Again, why are so few aware of this central feature in the thinking of the true Jesus Christ of the Bible?
Did you know that in a sense there are four versions of you? (1) The way you see yourself; (2) the way others see you; (3) the way God sees you; and (4) the person that God sees you can become IF you submit to His will and allow Him to develop within you His perfect, holy, righteous character.
The vast majority of people see themselves as being “basically good”—but that is not how God sees humanity: “Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Surely every man walks in a vain show” (Psa. 39:5-6).
We saw that God makes clear that “ALL have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). No matter how noble, no matter how humble or sincere people may seem, “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one” (vs. 10-12).
But those who are “poor in spirit” will inherit the kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3). They do not look in the proverbial mirror and give themselves a passing grade—they allow God to help them see themselves as HE sees them: as they truly are! Those who are poor—that is, “poor in spirit,” not always necessarily monetarily poor—see that no matter their collection of material possessions, social prominence and influence, they are in real need.
Instead of living the attitude of “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” they need to know why they exist—whether there is something more to this temporary existence than “dying with the most toys”—if and how they fit in the overall Plan of God. They recognize things in their flesh that must be rooted out, but are powerless to do so without help from above.
They yearn to understand why so many billions have indiscriminately and often brutally suffered down through history, while others—time and again, the most callous, immoral and cruel—seemed to prosper.
God uses the gospel—the good news of the kingdom of God—to call what would also be the “poor in spirit” to come out of this world and its ways (Rev. 18:4), and onto the path toward inheriting eternal life in His kingdom.
Those who respond eventually come to recognize that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise…the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised…things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (I Cor. 1:26-28).
Verse 29 tells why: “That no flesh should glory in His presence.” No one is called because of their “greatness” or “righteousness.” Christ preached the gospel to the poor to give them hope for a better world, a better future—to call those whom God can train to become kings, judges and priests in His kingdom. The “poor in spirit” are ever aware that they need God, His laws and His kingdom—not vice-versa.
Of the masses who heard Jesus preaching the gospel, God the Father was only calling a handful. Almost all churches today campaign to “save souls” or to “turn hearts to Jesus,” believing Jesus spoke in parables in order for the majority of people to better understand what He was saying.
But Jesus’ own words refute this claim: “And when He was alone, they that were about Him with the twelve asked of Him the parable” (Mark 4:10). Christ was talking to His disciples and a few others around Him. The multitudes mentioned in verse 1 were already away from Jesus.
Then He said, “Unto you [His disciples] it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without [those unconverted, those He was not calling to understand], all these things are done in parables” (vs. 11).
Understand. Jesus used parables to conceal—to hide—the true meaning of His teaching so those God was not calling would not understand. Continue in verse 12: “That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”
Christ taught through parables to make it more difficult to understand—not easier, as most assume!
Christ preached the gospel to the masses as a witness (Matt. 24:14), not to convert them. It is this same commission that His Church has today: “Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy [Spirit]: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (28:19-20).
Knowing the vast majority were not yet ready to accept God’s treasure-trove of truth, explaining these in great detail would have been a waste of time, giving “that which is holy unto the dogs” and casting “pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6)—that is, giving priceless spiritual understanding to those who would trample rather than appreciate it.
Even worse, they then would have been accountable for not acting on that precious knowledge. James 4:17 states, “Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin”; and we saw “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
To those whom God was calling, Christ always explained such parables to His disciples privately. But there were times when Jesus used parables directly aimed at the scribes and Pharisees, who did know the spiritual intent of the messages.
During His early ministry, Jesus told the people of the region what might be called the “Galilean Parables”: the Parable of the Sower and Soil; the Wheat and Tares; the Lamp Under the Bushel; the Grain of Mustard Seed; the Kingdom Like Leaven; the Seed Cast into the Ground.
But most of the parables He presented were not for the people at large, but to His disciples: the Hidden Treasure; the Merchant Seeking Pearls; the Net Cast into the Sea; the Householder and His Treasure.
Whether meant to the world or to His followers, the parable messages Jesus Christ related carried one common theme: the kingdom of God.
When a Gentile woman pleaded with Christ to heal her demon-possessed daughter (Matt. 15:22), He was presented with a perfect opportunity to preach the gospel to her.
Instead, Jesus “answered her not a word” (vs. 23).
But the woman was persistent. As she continued to cry after Christ for help, the disciples urged Him to send her away. Finally, Jesus said to her, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vs. 24).
Christ and the original apostles preached the good news of God’s kingdom first to the Jews and to others who descended from Israel. It was not until sometime later when God made it clear to Peter through a vision—Acts 10—that the gospel was also to be taken to the Gentiles.
Does God show favoritism?
No. Peter, in verse 34, declared, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.”
Then why did the Jews receive the gospel—and an opportunity to be called unto salvation—first, then the Gentiles?
Recall that the Jews in Jesus’ time constituted the house of Judah, which was largely comprised of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with Levi and remnants of Simeon. After the death of King Solomon, ancient Israel divided into two kingdoms: Israel and Judah. The house of Israel rebelled against God from the very start, exchanging God’s laws and statutes for pagan customs and traditions. We saw that the house of Judah, on the other hand, had an “on again, off again” relationship with God: righteous kings stirred Judah into faithful obedience, and wicked kings led God’s people astray. Judah fell into a repeating cycle of worshipping the true God, falling into idolatry and rebellion, receiving punishment from God, crying out for mercy and relief, receiving deliverance, then back to worshipping the true God, etc.
God sent Israel into captivity, during which they largely lost their ancient identity. This was the result of Israel refusing to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” the Fourth Commandment.
During the years of wandering through the wilderness, the Israelites entered into a special covenant with God: “Verily My Sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the Lord that does sanctify [set apart] you…Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever” (Ex. 31:13, 16-17).
The seventh-day Sabbath is a special sign that identifies the true God and His people. By not observing the day God set apart for holy observance, the Israelites (and their countless descendants over the course of history) no longer remembered who they were. Today, approximately 600 million Israelites believe they are Gentiles, and have no idea that they have been recipients of the material national blessings God promised to Abraham’s descendants.
The Jews were sent into Babylonian captivity, but returned to their former homeland 70 years later. But since they kept the Sabbath (though far from faithfully), the Jews have retained their ancient identity.
But did God pick Israel to be His chosen people, “holy” and “special…above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6), because they were inherently more powerful or superior to everyone else?
Notice: “The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, has the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (vs. 7-8).
Just as He calls the “foolish,” “base,” “weak” and “the things which are despised” into His Way of Life, to confound “the wise, mighty and noble” of this world, God called Israel—a slave nation within Egypt—to achieve greatness by His power. From one man, Abraham, roughly 600 million Israelites now exist, consisting of the majority of the world’s richest nations.
During Christ’s earthly ministry, the gospel of the kingdom of God was preached to Galilee and Judea. Today, that good news is being proclaimed to every nation and territory on Earth. And from a tiny flock that He is calling out from the world, God will use trained, tried and proven teachers, judges and rulers in the world tomorrow to lead, guide and direct untold billions onto the path that leads to eternal life.
Matthew 19:30 states, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” You may also read Matthew 20:16, Mark 10:31 and Luke 13:30. All three verses contain a statement similar to “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” These verses have dual meanings.
One meaning is that people who are first—“important”—in this life, will not necessarily have such status in the kingdom of God. Those who are of lesser standing—“the weak of the world”—are normally those God calls (I Cor. 1:27). It is, then, these individuals who will have top—FIRST—positions in God’s kingdom.
Another meaning of this verse can be found by reading verses 24-30 of Luke 13. During the life of Christ, the Jews were the first to hear the gospel of God’s kingdom. However, most did not accept Him or believe His message.
But when Jesus opened the gospel to the Gentiles, many accepted it. They believed and followed God. In this example, even though the Gentiles were LAST to receive the gospel and the chance to be in the kingdom, they will be among the FIRST to enter it!
God does not show favoritism. All people will be called to salvation: a handful during mankind’s 6,000 years of self-rule; later, the rest of humanity during the Millennium and Last Great Day. Likewise, God will build the future physical Israelite tribes—with the assistance of spiritual Israelites, those called into the Church and born into God’s kingdom at Christ’s Return—into a model nation that will lead all other nations in attaining universal success, prosperity, peace and joy!
But this time of worldwide happiness and prosperity is also available now.
No chapter on the teachings of Jesus could be considered complete without the inclusion of one of His truly greatest teachings, one also largely unknown to those who profess to follow Him.
Many think the correct Christian view of this life is that it is burdensome, sort of going without and enduring a life of hardship in anticipation that “God makes up for this when we go to heaven.” Millions view Christianity as little more than a series of “Thou shalt nots,” rather than as the path to enjoying a wonderful, abundant life. These same millions often think of sin as the fun that will end if they obey God. They think that “accepting Jesus” also means accepting a life of almost morbid gloom and doom.
This view could not be more wrong.
Jesus declared, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Have you ever seen—or even heard of—this verse before? Probably not. Christ came bringing the abundant life—and He said so plainly!
Why then do so many believe that Christianity is supposed to be endured instead of enjoyed. Why do they not understand that the radiant, abundant life can be theirs—if they will follow God’s formula to achieve it?
God never instructs or commands His people to avoid anything unless it is for their own good. Many things seem like fun, but carry a delayed penalty, and terrible price, for having done them. God instructs us on what to avoid so that we will not get hit later by an unexpected “boomerang”!
Knowledge of the abundant life is available to those who know the true Jesus Christ.
The New Testament records numerous accounts of Jesus Christ visiting Jerusalem’s Temple. It was there where Joseph and Mary, observing Old Covenant statutes, presented the Christ Child after He had been circumcised, and offered a sacrifice (Luke 2:21-24). At age 12, Jesus was in the Temple asking religious scholars probing questions. These “authorities” were taken aback by the young Boy’s inquisitive nature and wisdom (vs. 46-47). Jesus also visited the Temple several times during His earthly ministry, amazing onlookers by His words and actions. Some concluded He was, indeed, the Messiah. Many others, on the other hand, disbelieved and conspired to take His life.
In the first year of His ministry, when Jesus and His disciples came to Jerusalem to observe the Passover season, they “found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting” (John 2:13-14).
Christ was livid at what He witnessed. The Temple was built as a religious center to worship the God of the universe—not for exchanging currency for personal profit!
So what did Jesus do? “And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables” (vs. 15).
Why? “And said [He] unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise. And His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of Your house has eaten Me up” (vs. 16-17). They remembered Psalm 69:9, a prophecy describing the zealous nature of a righteous Servant foretold to be consumed with doing the will of God.
This was just one of numerous Old Testament prophecies that the Christ was to fulfill, during both His earthly ministry and later at His triumphant Return to rule God’s government across the earth.
Recall for an additional point of understanding how Jesus Christ healed people. He made the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute speak and the lame walk. He fed untold thousands from only a handful of fish and bread. He walked on water, turned water into wine, released people from the bonds of demon possession and performed countless other miracles. Jesus Christ boldly preached the gospel, delivered prophetic warnings and taught tens of thousands about God’s Law, spiritually magnifying its intent.
Everything Christ said and did was with strength—boldness—power—and authority!
The apostle John wrote, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25).
Some believed Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Some were undecided. Others—the religious powers of the day—felt threatened. They had no doubt that Jesus was a “teacher come from God” (John 3:2). They witnessed the mighty miracles He performed and were amazed by their effects. They admitted among themselves, “No man can do these…except God be with him” (same verse).
But the scribes and Pharisees refused to believe Jesus was the Christ—that He had divine authority. They were righteous in their own eyes, measuring their righteousness by how well they observed minute, manmade laws and traditions, which we saw unnecessarily made the Way of God burdensome. Since Jesus did not “measure up” to their idea of obedience, they concluded He could not have been Christ—and they were more than willing to lie about, slander, and falsely accuse Him, and even plot His murder!
Why? “For [Jesus] taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matt. 7:29).
Psalm 2:7 states, “I will declare the decree: the Lord has said unto Me, You are My Son; this day have I begotten You.” Jesus was the Son of God. Of all people ever born, only He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20). The Father, using an angelic being to represent His voice, publicly confirmed that Jesus was His Son: “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16-17).
As we saw in Chapter One, Jesus’ birth was foretold throughout the Old Testament. He was born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:22-23; Luke 2:7), in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:1; Luke 2:4-6), later called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15) and reared in Galilee.
He was born to become King over the government of God (Isa. 9:6-7)—a position for which He qualified to replace Satan as this world’s ruler (Matt. 4:1-11). When Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king, Christ replied, “You say that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37).
He also said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from here” (vs. 36). During His First Coming, Christ was also an ambassador, or representative, for God’s kingdom. He was a divine Messenger bringing a message from heaven—good news!—about the government He represented. At Christ’s Second Coming He will replace the governments of men with the government of God (Dan. 2:34-36, 44-45).
Yet billions of professing Christians today mistakenly believe Jesus’ message was about the Messenger! (This will be thoroughly covered in Chapter Sixteen.)
As the Son of God, Jesus was foretold to be born from the seed of Abraham and through the line of King David (Psa. 132:11). His genealogy was confirmed physically from the line of Mary, and legally through that of Joseph.
Christ was also a prophet “like unto” Moses (Deut. 18:15-18), of whom Peter declared, “And He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; Him shall you hear in all things whatsoever He shall say unto you” (Acts 3:20-22). Jesus partially fulfilled this at His First Coming.
And, of course, He was, and is, mankind’s Savior. Prophecy explained Jesus would be hated and rejected, a stone of stumbling (Psa. 69:4; 118:22; Isa. 8:14)—betrayed by a friend (Psa. 41:9; 55:12-14) and sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12-13)—forsaken by His disciples (Zech. 13:7)—even forsaken by God (Psa. 22:1), as Jesus took on the penalty of death upon His sacrifice, becoming sin. God cannot dwell with sin (Isa. 59:2).
The inset about prophecies Christ fulfilled expands this list.
The people witnessed Jesus’ miracles. They heard His unique understanding and wisdom, and saw that He spoke with great power and authority. And they watched as His followers changed their lives for the better.
Yet most, especially the religious leaders, were unconvinced. Their hearts were too hardened to believe Jesus was the Christ. Unbelievers pressed Him with questions, attempting to trip Him up, to somehow stump Him.
But Christ knew that miracles, the fruit of His ministry and the plain truth of His teachings did not matter to hardened hearts. So when the scribes and Pharisees demanded that Jesus produce a sign proving His authority, that He was the Messiah, He answered, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:39-40).
Being dead, in the grave, for three days and nights—not a minute more or less—and then being resurrected by God was the only sign Jesus Christ gave!
Throughout the past 2,000 years, there have been about 40 cases of individuals claiming to be the Messiah, but only one is backed 100% by Scripture: Jesus of Nazareth. And only He has used those Scriptures to prove His claims and has fulfilled every prophecy in thorough detail.
Recorded hundreds of years before Jesus’ arrival, as many as 60 major prophecies concerning the Christ can be found in the Old Testament. Twenty-nine of these were fulfilled within the final 24 hours before Jesus’ crucifixion.
Here is a sampling:
Jesus would be betrayed by a trusted friend. Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus was prophesied in Psalm 41:9: “Yes, My own familiar friend in whom I trusted, which did eat of My bread, has lifted up His heel against Me.”
In John 13:18 and 26, Jesus explains this prophecy would be fulfilled by Judas Iscariot. He said that the disciple to whom He would give a piece of bread would be His betrayer: “He that eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me. He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when He had dipped the sop, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.”
Jesus explained why He informed the disciples of this prophecy: “Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, you may believe that I am He [the Christ]” (13:19). Jesus knew He was the long-awaited Christ, but wanted to ensure that His disciples, both then and throughout the centuries, would believe Him.
The price of the betrayal would be 30 pieces of silver. The silver paid to Judas for the betrayal of Jesus was prophesied in Zechariah 11:12: “So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.”
The fulfillment is found in Matthew 26: “Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, What will you give me, and I will deliver Him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver” (vs. 14-15).
Jesus’ disciples would forsake Him. “Smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (Zech. 13:7). Upon being arrested, the disciples (sheep) of Jesus (Shepherd) “all forsook Him, and fled” (Mark 14:50).
Jesus would not retaliate when being accused. “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
Matthew 27:12 indicates that “when He was accused of the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.” Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, also tried to get Jesus to answer His accusers: “Then said Pilate unto Him, Hear You not how many things they witness against You? And He answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marveled greatly” (vs. 13-14).
Jesus would be executed with criminals. “And He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). In Matthew 27:38 we find there “were…two thieves crucified with Him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.”
Jesus’ body would be pierced. The books of Psalms and Zechariah reveal that the Christ would be pierced. “They pierced My hands and My feet” (Psa. 22:16). “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10). These were fulfilled when Jesus was crucified, His hands and feet nailed to a stake, and when a soldier pierced Jesus’ side. The apostle John explains part of the fulfillment:
“One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). John was an eyewitness to this event, as indicated in verse 35, and verifies this was fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah: “And again another scripture says, They shall look on Him whom they pierced” (John 19:37).
None of Jesus’ bones would be broken. “He keeps all His bones: not one of them is broken” (Psa. 34:20). The fulfillment is indicated in John 19: “Then came the soldiers, and broke the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they broke not His legs” (vs. 32-33).
Once again, John verifies that this prophecy was fulfilled: “For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of Him shall not be broken” (vs. 36).
Those witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion would cast lots for His clothing. “They part My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture” (Psa. 22:18). John testifies, in John 19, that this was fulfilled by Roman soldiers: “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also His coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which says, They parted My raiment among them, and for My vesture they did cast lots” (vs. 23-24).
Jesus would be offered vinegar and gall. Matthew 27:34 indicates that Jesus was offered vinegar before dying on a stake. This was prophesied in Psalm 69:21, centuries beforehand: “They gave Me also gall for My meat; and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.”
Various studies have been performed calculating the odds of these prophecies being randomly fulfilled by one individual. The odds of just eight being fulfilled in any one person are one chance in 1017, which equates to the number 1 with 17 zeros behind it!
To comprehend the enormity of this number, we can compare it to the probability of a blind man locating a marked silver dollar in a sea of silver dollars scattered across Texas two feet deep, each one stacked on top of the other!
What about the probability of 48 of the 60 major prophecies on the Christ being fulfilled by one individual? 1 in 10157, or the number 1 with 157 zeros behind it! This is greater than the number of atoms in the entire known universe!
As you can see, though many still raise numerous objections and reject Him, many prophecies exist that point to one individual as having fulfilled the role of the Christ—the Jesus found in the New Testament.
Amazingly, the “Christian” churches, denominations and organizations of today believe that Jesus was in the grave from Friday to Sunday morning—but this is NOT “three days and three nights.” To cover their error, religionists of this world’s traditional Christianity teach that Jesus meant He would be in the grave for three parts of day and night.
But Christ said His length of time in the grave would be “AS Jonah was three days and three nights.” The word “as” means this is a comparison. Check the book of Jonah. (Verse 17) of the first chapter states, “And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights…” The original Hebrew says exactly what it means: three individual days and three individual nights—not “a combination of three parts.” (This subject is addressed in more detail in Chapter Twelve.)
John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ’s arrival (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1; Luke 3:3-6), but John’s short ministry ended upon His imprisonment. He knew his cousin Jesus was the promised Messiah, yet his faith temporarily wavered; he needed it to be strengthened. John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You He that should come? Or look we for another?” (Luke 7:18-19).
Jesus’ answer? “Go your way, and tell John what things you have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” (vs. 22). In other words, His fruits stood as evidence of His prophesied ministry (Matt. 7:18-20).
Again, even the scribes and Pharisees privately admitted among themselves that the awesome miracles Jesus performed could only have been done through the power of God (John 3:1-2)—yet publicly they accused Him of doing these through Satan’s power (Luke 11:15)!
The Messiah was foretold to work miracles (Isa. 35:5-6; Matt. 11:4-6; John 11:47)—to preach through parables (Psa. 78:2; Matt. 13:34-35)—to be filled with zeal for His “Father’s business” (Luke 2:49; Psa. 69:9; John 2:17). The ministry of Jesus Christ, the Chief Apostle, bore fruit in the form of 12 original apostles, later joined by Paul and others. The first-century Church dramatically multiplied in membership because the brethren “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine [teaching] and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). The apostles faithfully taught what the Chief Apostle had taught. They did not deviate from their Master’s teachings. They instructed everyone, from lay member to minister, to “continue you in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing of whom you have learned them” (II Tim. 3:14).
Jesus Christ spoke and taught with the authority of God. The fruit of His ministry, all the prophecies He fulfilled that applied to His First Coming, and the fact that He obeyed and pleased God, and did God’s will, not His own, are evidence—PROOF—of Christ’s authority and power.
And, just as Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God, He authorized His faithful ministers to do the same (Matt. 28:19-20). They are to be found doing so right up to the final days just prior to His Return.
Yet who are Christ’s ministers?
Jesus warned, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matt. 24:4-5)—many through the 2,000 years leading to His Return would claim to represent Christ’s message, saying, “Jesus was the Messiah,” yet preaching “another gospel,” because they actually serve “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11:4).
But of those who preach “any other gospel”—a message other than the one Christ preached—Scripture pronounces a double curse! (Read Galatians 1:6-9.)
Jesus did not take authority to Himself—He received it from God, confirmed by fruit, miracles, the fulfillment of prophecies, His perfect obedience, and the truth He taught and lived by, all reflecting His Father’s will.
Likewise, true ministers of Jesus Christ are faithful servants of God. They OBEY Him, teaching others to do the same. They preach the same gospel Christ preached, the very same message Jesus delivered and taught His disciples to “teach all nations…to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
A glowing personality or awe-inspiring speaking and writing skills are not, by themselves, the only proof that Christ is working through a man. A true minister of Christ also teaches and conducts His personal life with the same voice of truth with which Jesus spoke.
It is up to the Bible student to follow the examples of the Bereans, who “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
Jesus Christ was the Word; He always spoke and expressed the truth and will of God. The Bible—God’s Word in written form—is truth (John 17:17). So is God’s Law (Psa. 119:142). Any minister who preaches that the Law of God is “done away” or “done for you, so there’s no need to keep it,” or who preaches a gospel other than the kingdom of God, does not speak with the voice of truth!
They speak with authority from “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11:4), who influences and uses “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (vs. 13). God neither sent nor authorized them to speak in His name. They authorized themselves!
God calls such false leaders “prophets” who “prophesy lies in My name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spoke unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nothing, and the deceit of their heart” (Jer. 14:14); and “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (Jer. 23:21).
Incredibly, billions happily follow religious leaders on the basis of personality, appearance and speaking ability. They allow themselves to fall under the spell of theological rhetoric masquerading as “truth.” Of such leaders, the Bible plainly states, “Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers”—speaking of Satan—“also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (II Cor. 11:15).
However, Jesus’ sheep “follow Him: for they know His voice” (John 10:4). Christ’s shepherds—His ministers—speak with His “voice.” Only these hold authority to preach in Christ’s name!
Lazarus was dead, victim of a fatal illness. His sisters Mary and Martha grieved with his friends over his sudden death. Jesus Christ also wept—though not for the same reason.
When the people saw Christ approach Lazarus’ tomb, “groaning in Himself” (John 11:38), some in the crowd said, “Behold how He loved him!” Others criticized Him: “Could not this Man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?” (vs. 36-37).
It did not dawn on His audience that Jesus “groaned in the Spirit, and was troubled” (vs. 33) because of their stunning lack of faith and understanding.
As He approached the tomb, Martha said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother [would] not have died” (vs. 21).
When Jesus told her that Lazarus “shall rise again,” she simply replied, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (vs. 23-24).
Martha and the others “didn’t get it.” Despite the amazing miracles they had witnessed Christ perform, they never considered that He had the authority—right then and there—to resurrect the dead. “I AM the resurrection, and the life,” He assured Martha. “He that believes in Me, though He were dead, yet shall he live” (vs. 25).
After the people reluctantly obeyed His order to remove the stone from Lazarus’ grave, Jesus looked up into the sky and boldly prayed aloud before the onlookers. “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me,” He said. “And I knew that You hear Me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that You have sent Me” (vs. 41-42).
Then Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth!”—and Lazarus instantly came back to life.
The four Gospel books are filled with accounts of Jesus boldly walking in faith to perform astounding miracles. Jesus made it clear that He, of His own physical self, did not perform miracles—His Father performed them through Him: “The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the Father that dwells in Me, He does the works” (John 14:10).
Their relationship was so close, so unique, that they were always of the same mind, will and purpose. Christ confidently knew His Father would back Him up in doing the humanly impossible. Many times Jesus spoke about their special bond:
“As the Father knows Me, even so know I the Father” (John 10:15).
“I and My Father are one” (vs. 30).
“The Father is in Me, and I in Him” (vs. 38).
“Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me” (14:11).
“You, Father, are in Me, and I in You…We are one” (17:21-22).
The bond between the Father and Jesus Christ, which has existed from eternity, serves as a model for the relationship God ultimately desires to share with humanity.
Before the earth existed—before there were moons, planets, stars, constellations, galaxies and everything found in the ever-expanding universe—there was God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2).
“There is one God,” the apostle James wrote (Jms. 2:19). “God” in Old Testament Hebrew is Elohim, a collective noun that can be used in both singular and plural forms, such as with “sheep, deer, cattle, offspring, series, species, equipment, aircraft” and other terms. It was Elohim who said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). One God—one divine family, or kingdom—comprised of two individual Members.
God and the Word (who was also God) never argued, never debated, never worked against each other, but instead lived and worked together in perfect unison, harmony and peace throughout eternity.
In the book of Amos, God asks a rhetorical question: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (3:3).
The answer is an obvious “no.” God and the Word were able to “walk together” without contention because they always agreed with each other.
One had to take the lead and make the final decisions. Think of the sign on U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s desk: “The buck stops here.” The Other—the Word (logos in Greek)—represented God, serving as divine “Spokesman” for God’s kingdom, following, supporting and carrying out God’s commands. One led; the other followed His lead. Yet they were both equally God, in character and power. Their relationship reflected government in action.
For example, the two Beings in the Godhead had a “profession”: creating, planning, designing, building and sustaining. In this regard, each Member of the God Family had a role to play. The One whom we know today as the Father was the executive decision-maker. The Word served as Counselor and implementer—the One who made the decisions happen, via the power of the Holy Spirit.
Both Beings worked together in one mindset. There was no room for envy, pride or selfish ambition, for God is love (I John 4:16)—and love “is kind; [it] envies not…vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth…[Love] never fails” (I Cor. 13:4-6, 8).
The government-based relationship between God and the Word functioned through love and truth. Love is outgoing concern for others, lowering the self to serve others’ needs, concerns and interests. Truth—God’s Word and His Law (Psa. 119:142; John 17:17)—tells one how to express love: “Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
In the book of Genesis, there is a reference to Melchizedek (14:18-20). Many have wondered about the identity of this individual.
The book of Hebrews sheds light on who fulfilled this role: “For this Melchizedek, King of Salem, Priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him” (7:1). It is important to note that Melchizedek had two other titles—King of Salem and Priest of the Most High God.
The apostle Paul went into greater detail in verses 2 and 3: “To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abides a priest continually.”
Here, Paul is describing one who has existed for eternity, as indicated by the phrase “having neither beginning of days, nor end of life.” This alone proves that Melchizedek could not have been a human king, as is the common assertion. Further, because the passage describes Him as not having “beginning of days,” this personage also could not have been an angel, since angels are created beings—they had a definite beginning. Only God has existed for eternity. This leaves only two Beings able to fulfill the role of Melchizedek: the Father or Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 5 removes all doubt of Melchizedek’s identity: “So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest; but He that said unto Him, You are My Son, today have I begotten You. As He says also in another place, You are a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec” (vs. 5-6). The Moffatt translation best renders “after the order of Melchizedec” as “with the rank of Melchizedec.” Christ held the rank of Melchizedek during the time of Abraham—and, as the God of the Old Testament, is the Being who is referred to as Melchizedek in Genesis.
In just a few verses, we have seen that Jesus Christ was the One called Melchizedek.
Theirs was not a lopsided totalitarian relationship in which one “lorded over” the other. They were a team—they worked together to achieve the same goals. God was the Supreme Leader, and the Word, or “Spokesman,” represented His will and made it come to pass.
As we have seen, God created angels and extended His government through them under the archangels (Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer). Then God created the universe, including the earth. Everything was perfect; all went according to plan…until Lucifer and the angels under him rebelled against their Creator. In the wake of their rebellion, the physical universe was left in decay (Rom. 8:20-21). Many years later, perhaps multiple millions, God recreated the earth (Gen. 1) to provide a suitable environment for His next creation: man.
Through humanity, God planned to expand His Family. Man was created temporary, fragile, physically limited to his environment. God endowed him with mind power (in contrast to animals, which function on instinct), imparting man with creative intelligence and ingenuity. Yet man was created spiritually incomplete; he needed an additional Spirit at work in his mind so that he could successfully solve spiritual problems and have a personal relationship with his Maker. With God’s Spirit building holy, righteous character in him, man would have the potential to be born into the God Family.
However, man sinned, choosing to eat of the wrong tree—that of self-knowledge, judging for oneself right from wrong. In effect, he cut himself off from God, to live a lifetime of decisions that, at best, would be a poisonous mixture of good and evil.
With the ultimate goal of bringing mankind into salvation, a Savior was needed, One for whom sin was possible, yet sin-free so He would be a perfect sacrifice, taking onto Himself the penalty of sin—death (Rom. 6:23)—in mankind’s stead.
And so the Word, through the power of God’s Spirit, allowed Himself to be born flesh (John 1:14).
The close bond between God and the Word continued in Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry.
The Rock of the Old Testament lowered Himself to be born of a woman. Notice: “Who [Christ], being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
Jesus was God in the flesh, a member and representative of the kingdom of God, yet He was physical.
Christ, the living Word personified, authored the written Word, the Bible. During His time in the flesh, Jesus used the “Bible” in His mind—the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17)—to make right decisions. He knew well the verses describing the true nature of man (Jer. 17:9; Prov. 14:12; 16:2, 25; 21:2), which is why Jesus said, “Why call you Me good? None is good, save one, that is, God” (Luke 18:19).
He later inspired the apostle Paul to write, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:18).
Therefore, Christ daily practiced suppressing His own will—the natural human reasoning that dwells in man’s nature—to serve His Father’s will. Jesus knew Him. He trusted Him. He placed His life and safety in God’s hands.
Again, Christ, of His own physical self, did not perform miracles—His Father did them through Him (John 14:10). Jesus exercised perfect faith, knowing His prayers would be answered because He always sought and prayed according to God’s will.
Later, during His earthly ministry, Jesus performing awesome miracles was the result of Him seeking power from the ultimate authority in the universe—God Supreme—and then exercising that authority while seeking His Father’s will.
It was this relationship of faith, power, authority, government, truth and love that enabled Christ, when He was about to be arrested, tried, tortured and crucified, to pray, “Father, if You be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Jesus knows what it is like to be human, to feel the temptations and pressures that come from the self, society and Satan. He knows what it is like to wage spiritual warfare day after day after day. He knows that the flesh is weak, that it becomes weary. Christ knows what it means to be tempted.
Yet He never gave in. He never gave up (Heb. 4:15).
And today Jesus Christ is in heaven with the Father, serving as our “Mediator between God and men” (I Tim. 2:5). He is able to relate to God what we as fallible human beings experience in striving to overcome sin.
Jesus takes the prayers of His people before God’s throne, into the “Holy of Holies,” and gives them the authority to pray to God directly. This is why we are to close our prayers with, “In Jesus’ name” or “In the name of Jesus Christ,” or something similar.
True Christians are spiritually begotten sons of God. They have God’s Spirit dwelling in them: “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His…For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:9, 14). This potent verse is rarely considered. Why are so few concerned with a passage so definitive in regard to who is and is not a Christian?
Today, Christ is working through Christians to conquer sin just as He did—by giving them the power to fully submit to the Father’s will. He enables them to use the Holy Spirit so that it “helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (vs. 26).
As a Christian’s Elder Brother—“the firstborn among many brethren” (vs. 29), fellow “firstfruit” (Jms. 1:18)—Jesus assists His people in fulfilling their incredible human potential, to ultimately be born into the God Family. He works to help Christians grow in the father-son relationship He shares with God.
In effect, our Mediator is working to bring us to the point where we can say, “I and My Father are one.”
Jesus Christ silently scanned the room and gazed upon His 12 apostles-in-training. During the past 3½ years, the men had been through much together. They had seen vast throngs pursue Jesus to heal the sick and infirmed…and they had seen the same swelling crowds diminish after Christ made plain that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto [eternal] life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:14).
The 12 disciples had witnessed their Teacher free people from demon possession—yet His enemies accused Him of being possessed by demons. Peter, James, John and the others had seen Jesus enjoy some of the physical benefits of life, such as food and drink, always in balance—yet His detractors accused Him of being gluttonous and a winebibber (Luke 7:34). The disciples were there, time after time, when Jesus sought privacy, a few fleeting moments to pray to His Father and recharge Himself spiritually—yet when people came to Him for help, Christ put the needs of others first.
And now Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem for the Passover, sharing a private meal in the upper room of a house. It would be their final evening together.
Peter and the others took note of Jesus’ expression: a mixture of care and concern with a serious tone. It was evident that something weighed heavily upon His mind. Since Jesus had long been open-hearted with them, they did not ask Him about it. They knew He would eventually tell them.
A dispute arose among the twelve men: Which one of us would be the greatest in the kingdom of God? (Luke 22:24).
As He had done before, Jesus had to set their thinking straight. He instructed, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.” History is replete with kings, dictators, presidents and other leaders who sought to benefit themselves at the expense of their miserable subjects.
“But this shall not be so among you. He who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he who is chief, as he that does serve. For which is greater: he who sits at the dinner table, or he who serves? Is not he who sits at dinner? But I am among you as He who serves.”
A true follower of Jesus Christ does not serve by seeking power and authority. Rather, he serves with humility and selflessness—and then God will reward him with power and authority. Serving the needs of others means sacrificing one’s time and energy, as Jesus did in healing the sick, freeing people from demon possession, and preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, day after day, city after city. And sometimes serving the needs of others means laying down one’s life (John 15:13-14), as Jesus would do for humanity—past, present and future—on the stake.
This lesson in service and humility perfectly introduced what Christ was about to do next: institute what would become the annual footwashing service.
Jesus rose from the dinner table and put aside His outer garments. Then, as His disciples looked on, He took a towel and tied it around Himself, assuming the dress of a servant. Next, He poured water into a basin, stooped down to His knees and began to wash the disciples’ feet, afterward wiping them dry with the towel He had around His waist.
In Jesus’ time, people wore open sandals, which collected dirt and dust throughout the day. It was the custom for hosts to have a servant wash the feet of houseguests. This lowly service, which fulfilled a genuine need, was far from being glamorous or high-profile. It required physically lowering oneself to his knees to serve the lowest part of the body. As one washes the feet of another person, thoughts of vanity and self-promotion are deflated; he spiritually takes on the humble attitude of a servant, focusing on others, not the self, “esteem[ing] other[s] better than themselves” and “look[ing] not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
Peter was stunned! Here was the Messiah—the Christ—the Son of God—the Rock of the Old Testament (I Cor. 10:1-4)—the One who spoke to Abraham, Moses and other great servants of the past—performing the task of a lowly servant. And now He’s about to wash my feet! Peter thought.
When Jesus came to him, Peter said, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” (John 13:6).
Various traditions exist concerning when and how often the Lord’s Supper should be observed. Some churches take this “supper” once a month on Wednesday night, while others take it every Sunday. Still others take it 12 times a year on Sunday. Some believe it should be taken at night, while others prefer the morning.
All of this confusion is unnecessary, as the Bible clearly reveals when and how often to partake of the Passover symbols.
There was a specific time that Jesus first introduced the symbols of the bread and the wine and how often they were to be taken. In doing this, He set an important example: “And when the hour was come [a specific time], He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him…And He took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them, saying, This is My body which is given for you: this do in remembrance [a memorial] of Me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:14, 19-20).
Jesus referenced a specific “hour was come” to partake of the bread and wine. The example He set involved a definite time, or hour, for this supper. The phrase, “in remembrance of Me,” connotes, in this case, a memorial of His death. Also, He commanded the disciples by saying, “this do.” Matthew’s account of this same night states that this ordinance was instituted “as they were eating” (26:26). Compare Matthew 26:17 and Luke 22:15. These verses plainly show that what they were eating was the Passover Supper!
Christ understood that the time for His sacrifice was come and that He was our Passover—who was to be sacrificed for us (I Cor. 5:7). Matthew 26:2 refers to this event as the “feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified.”
The disciples asked Jesus, in Matthew 26:17, “Where will You that we prepare for You to eat the passover?” Mark 14:15 shows that it was to be held in a “large upper room furnished and prepared.” The disciples were to get ready for this important event.
The Lord’s Supper was really the Passover Supper!
To better understand what Christ was introducing, we need to briefly study the Passover of the Old Testament. This will directly connect the Old Testament Passover to the New Testament “Lord’s Supper.”
Most children learn in Sunday school the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. The famous movie The Ten Commandments tells the Hollywood version of Pharaoh’s resistance to Moses’ instruction from God and the resultant plagues that God poured out. The 12th chapter of Exodus explains the key events of this original Passover.
God told the Israelites to take a young lamb, without spot or blemish, to represent a type of Christ—the Lamb of God. This was always to be done on the tenth day of the first month of the Hebrew sacred year. Unlike all humanly devised calendars that begin the year in mid-winter, the sacred year began in the spring, around the equinox, with the new moon.
Four days later, on the 14th day of Abib (the first Hebrew month), the lamb was to be killed. Exodus 12:6 says that it was to be killed “in the evening,” but the original Hebrew means “between the two evenings.” Some Bible margins plainly state this. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains that this is the period commonly referred to as twilight or dusk. This period is described as the time after sundown but before full darkness has occurred. In other words, it was at the very beginning of the 14th that the lamb was killed—and soon thereafter, the blood of the lamb was sprinkled above the doorposts of the Israelites’ houses. At midnight, the death angel struck dead all the firstborn of Egypt. But God had told the Israelites, “when I see the blood, I will pass over you”—hence, the well-known term Passover.
Israel continued to observe the Passover season for hundreds of years!
Deuteronomy 16:6 shows that the lamb was always slain as the sun was setting, yet it was always eaten during the 14th day, not afterward (Lev. 23:5-6). God does things exactly on time! The time is once a year, at night, in the beginning of the 14th of Abib—after the sun has set!
There can be no doubt that God ordained the Passover as a permanent ordinance—forever (Ex. 12:17, 24)! Just as Romans 2:29 explains a change in circumcision—in the New Testament it was to be of the heart and not the flesh—Jesus altered the way Passover was to be observed. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God. He was slain for mankind, doing away with the need for a literal young lamb to be sacrificed. As Christ explained, the bread and wine, symbolizing His broken body and shed blood, was to be an annual “look back” to His death—on our behalf!
Jesus kept the Passover once a year at an established—a set—time (Luke 2:42), and true Christians follow His example (I Peter 2:21). In fact, Christ Himself was following the example of Exodus 13:10, which explained that the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread were to be kept annually. It says there, “You shall therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.” Do you see these two phrases? It does not say “week to week” or “month to month”—or “pick any season you wish.” All manmade traditions of time violate this basic instruction!
For the Israelites to have kept this at any other time would have literally jeopardized their firstborn from protection from the death angel. There was no room for miscalculation on their part or they could not have expected to be “passed over”—protected!
Does the New Testament provide clear instructions regarding how often the Passover ordinance should be observed?
I Corinthians 5:7-8 sets the stage for later instructions from the apostle Paul that we will review momentarily. These verses state, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven…but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Here, in the New Testament, Paul plainly calls Christ the Passover and gives instructions to Christians to observe the Days of Unleavened Bread. In this same epistle, he gives further instructions about the Passover observance.
I Corinthians 11:23-28 is often misunderstood by people to be a license from Paul to observe the Passover as often as one wishes to do it. The phrase “as oft as you drink it” is said by many to mean that Christians may take the bread and the wine as often as they choose! The proper explanation of these verses springs from verse 24. Notice that the Passover is a memorial, a “remembrance.” Memorials are observed on an annual basis. Verse 26 shows that this memorial refers to “the Lord’s death,” which occurred on the Passover (remember, Christ is our Passover [I Cor. 5:7]). In ancient Israel, the Passover was always kept once a year. Verse 28 shows that the Passover ceremony is preceded by careful self-examination—which could not logically be done every day or every week.
Verse 29 warns of Christians taking the Passover “unworthily.” Self-examination was tied to this warning (vs. 28), just as was the issue of when it was taken (vs. 23). Christians must properly discern the symbols that represent Christ’s sacrifice.
It should be clear by now that the New Testament Lord’s Supper is a direct continuation of the Old Testament Passover, except that different symbols, commemorating Jesus’ death, have replaced the slaying and eating of a young spring lamb. As we have seen, Christ is slain for us in place of a literal lamb. This ordinance should still be observed on the 14th of Abib. Nowhere did God change this instruction! Recall that Christ readied His disciples for the Passover—“when the hour was come.” It was taken at the right time and on the right day.
Coming out of Egypt was a type of coming out of sin. The Passover memorialized God’s deliverance of Israel from sin. Jesus’ sacrifice, through the New Testament ordinance of the bread and wine, does exactly the same thing for Christians today. Christ was seized, falsely accused and imprisoned, examined, tortured, beaten and crucified—to pay for and cover our sins—all in the following daylight portion of the exact same day of the month Abib! Scholars do not dispute this time sequence. Hence, this all occurred on the 14th of the month of Abib.
Christians are to copy the example of Jesus Christ (I Pet. 2:21)—and He set the example of keeping the Passover. Christians are commanded to keep it forever—as were the Israelites when God first instituted it. To observe it daily, weekly or monthly is to trivialize this deeply important and solemn annual occasion. The Passover was always intended to be a yearly memorial. Jesus, as our Passover, was crucified at the time of the Passover—which is observed once a year. Men are never permitted to arbitrarily place Christ back on the cross, even symbolically, as often as they choose! This does not “glorify Christ”—it disobeys Him and dishonors His sacrifice. (Notice Hebrews 6:6.)
The book of Acts demonstrates which days the early Church observed. Notice Acts 20:6: “And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread.” Nearly 30 years after the death of Christ, Luke is referencing the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Also, Acts 12:3 states, “Then were the days of unleavened bread.” Some choose to focus on verse 4, where a reference to Easter is found in the King James translation. This text bears careful examination. In verse 1, Herod had begun to persecute the Church. This ended with the brutal death by sword of the apostle James, which so pleased the Jews that Peter was also imprisoned. The plan was to later deliver him to the Jews also. The stage is now set to properly read verse 4. “And when he [Herod] had apprehended him [Peter], he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.” Is this reference New Testament proof for the observance of Easter?
Although the New Testament is recorded in the Greek language, the word translated Easter is derived from the Hebrew word pecach (or pesach)! This word has only one possible meaning. It always means Passover and can never mean Easter! The Greek language does not contain an equivalent word for Passover, so the equivalent word pascha was the only available word to reference the correct meaning—passover!
Numerous other translations correctly render this verse using the word Passover instead of Easter. Consequently, the New Testament, when correctly translated, does not mention the celebration of Easter anywhere!
Now return to Acts 20. This is a remarkable account. Paul was visiting the Troas congregation immediately after the Days of Unleavened Bread. He spent an entire Sabbath preaching to the brethren and continued well into Saturday night—or the first day of the week. Leviticus 23:32 shows that God counts days from sundown to sundown, or “even[ing] unto even[ing].” The first day of the week started at sundown on Saturday evening. Some claim that Acts 20:7 refers to keeping the Lord’s Supper on Sunday morning because the term “break bread” was used. This is not true. Paul’s long preaching had left people hungry. It was midnight and they wanted to eat. This is why verse 11 says those present “had broken bread and eaten.” This was an ordinary meal, not the observing of the Lord’s Supper. Other passages prove this.
Acts 2:46 speaks of the disciples who, “continuing daily…breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness.” The account shows that the brethren were doing this daily. Obviously, human beings do eat daily. This is by no means a reference to first-century Christians partaking of the Passover every day.
Further, Acts 27:34-35 explains, “Wherefore…take some meat…he took bread…and when he had broken it, he began to eat.” Finally, even Jesus said, in Matthew 26:29, that He would not take the “Lord’s Supper” until after He had returned to earth in His kingdom. However, Luke 24:30, at a later time, shows Him to have sat “at meat,” or eating a meal, with the disciples. He broke bread and blessed it on that occasion. If this were a reference to Jesus partaking of the Lord’s Supper, His statement in Matthew 26:29 would have been false! There are cultures today, particularly some Europeans, who still use the term “break bread” to mean the actual breaking of a certain type of bread as they eat a meal. This should now be clear.
Christ knew Peter well, that he was bold, impetuous and tended to rush to conclusions. Yet Jesus also knew that once Peter would receive the Holy Spirit, it would help him to develop holy, righteous, godly character, directing Peter’s natural boldness and confidence to do God’s will. The power of God’s Spirit would activate within Peter the unique and intense training he had personally received from Christ, which would transform him into a dynamic leader in preaching the true gospel and feeding the flock of God.
“What I am doing you do not understand at this time,” Jesus patiently explained to him. “But you shall know hereafter” (vs. 7).
Still, it was difficult for Peter to accept his feet being washed by his Master and Teacher. This is the lowliest of jobs, he thought, worthy only of the lowliest of servants! “You shall never wash my feet” (vs. 8), Peter said.
Jesus answered, “If I wash you not, you have no part with Me.”
Rushing to the other extreme, Peter replied, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” (vs. 9).
Ever patient, Jesus said, “He that is washed need not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and you are clean” (vs. 10). Christians are made spiritually clean through faith in and acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice (I John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; 7:14). The waters of baptism symbolically wash away all sins (Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5). With Christ as High Priest in heaven, mediating to the Father on our behalf, Christians can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
But then Christ said to His disciples, “But not all are clean” (John 13:10). He was speaking of Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew all along that Judas was driven by greed, which had seduced him to betray the responsibility Christ gave him—managing the treasury, from which Judas had stolen. Instead of repenting from his sins, Judas justified his actions, leading to even more sins. This eventually led to the unthinkable: he secretly struck a deal to betray Jesus and deliver Him into the hands of His murderous enemies.
Jesus was well aware of this betrayal, because it was foretold hundreds of years earlier. Despite this, Jesus washed Judas’ feet, a man whom He had called friend. By humbly serving the man who was about to betray Him, Christ personally set the example of humbly serving one’s enemies and overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:19-21).
After the footwashing service, Jesus said to His disciples, “Know you not what I have done? You call me Master and Lord: and you say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you…The servant is not greater than his lord; neither He [Jesus] that is sent greater than He [God the Father] that sent Him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17).
In serving the needs of others—without exalting the self or seeking to fulfill selfish ambition—Jesus Christ set the high standard all Christians are to follow.
Redirecting their minds to thoughts of serving others, Jesus, after Judas Iscariot had departed to betray Him (John 13:18-32), was now ready to institute new Passover symbols for the New Testament Church. He took unleavened bread, prayed over it, and then broke it into several bite-sized pieces, which He distributed among the eleven remaining disciples. Christ said to them, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you: This do in remembrance of Me” (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19).
Jesus then took a cup of wine, said a blessing over it, and gave it to His disciples. “All of you drink of it,” He said, “for this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24).
“In remembrance”—in recollection; Christ was instituting an annual reminder of the New Covenant Passover—a “memorial” service observed in memory of Jesus Christ’s death. A memorial service is not observed daily, weekly, or monthly, but rather annually.
For Christians, “Christ [is their] Passover sacrificed for [them]” (I Cor. 5:7). As the true “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36), Jesus was sacrificed on the same day as the physical Passover sacrificial lambs were killed: the 14th of Abib. Therefore, Christians are to observe the death of their Passover Lamb annually on Abib 14, not “between the two evenings” at the end of the day, but at the beginning, on the anniversary of “the same night in which [Jesus] was betrayed” (I Cor. 11:23).
Sadly, millions of this world’s “Christians” partake weekly of symbols they believe are “the Lord’s Supper”—not understanding they have been deceived.
No matter where you live on Earth, bread and bread products are universal, in one form or another, among all cultures, societies and traditions. The various types of breads most people eat share at least one thing in common: they contain yeast or other leavening agents. These work within the dough to expand it and make the bread elastic and much easier to chew.
In the Bible, leaven symbolizes sin. Just as “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (I Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9), sin always leads to more sins, until it permeates one’s character. And, just as leaven expands, or “puffs up,” bread dough much larger than its original size, sin—such as vanity and pride—“puffs up” a person’s view of himself. For this reason, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes” (Prov. 16:2). When leaven enlarges dough, it produces bread riddled with empty pockets of air. Similarly are the lives of men, all of whom have sinned (Rom. 3:23). They appear smooth, self-confident, sometimes even “larger than life,” but within they are vain—empty.
Jesus Christ, as a physical human being, was different. He “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).
Like unleavened bread, Jesus was “flat”—humble, not puffed up with a self-image of vanity, pride and self-importance. Void of the “malice and wickedness” of this world, Christ was—and the Bible states He is—“the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (I Cor. 5:8).
Again, bread made with leavening is much easier to chew, just as the ways of this world are easier to “digest.” Its currents are swift and lead away from God’s kingdom, “for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13). But choosing to live God’s Way means to swim against the current, to deny oneself and regularly replace the leavening of Satan’s society with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it” (vs. 14).
Early in His ministry, Jesus said, “He that believes on Me has everlasting life. I am that bread of life” (John 6:47-48). The ancient Israelites—the physical “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38)—ate manna from heaven, yet “are dead” (John 6:49). Physical Israel enjoyed bountiful material, national blessings. However, they were not offered God’s Spirit or the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Spiritual Israelites—those in the Body of Christ—stand to receive infinitely greater promises than material blessings. “This is the bread which comes down from heaven,” Jesus said, referring to Himself, “that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (vs. 50-51).
The apostle Paul states, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion [participation, distribution, fellowship] of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (I Cor. 10:16-17).
The small, broken pieces of unleavened bread that Christians are to eat at the Passover service symbolize Jesus’ “broken” body. Consider all the abuses and torment Jesus took upon His body because all human beings have broken God’s physical laws.
“I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not My face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:6).
“His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14).
“Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth” (Isa. 53:4-7).
“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief…He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: by His knowledge shall My righteous servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities…because He has poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:10-12).
For the past 6,000 years, men have judged for themselves right from wrong, without seeking instruction and direction from God. Consequently, mankind has reaped sicknesses, diseases, cancers, degenerative syndromes, deformities—physical penalties derived from breaking God’s commandments, statutes, judgments and overarching principles of living the right way. Through Jesus’ “broken” body, we can be healed: “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed” (I Pet. 2:24).
Yet none of Christ’s bones were broken. His body, though it severely suffered, remained as one. And so does Christ’s spiritual Body, for “He is the head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18).
Jesus Christ “lives in” Christians through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, making them part of the one “Body” of Christ—the undivided Church of God (Gal. 2:20).
When God redeemed ancient Israel from slavery in Egypt, He entered into a covenant with them. He promised to grant national blessings in the Promised Land as long as the Israelites faithfully served Him. The covenant was then ratified in the blood of animal sacrifices (Ex. 24:7-8).
But the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins (Heb. 10:4). Another, infinitely greater, blood sacrifice was needed: “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:13-14).
Jesus was perfect in all His ways—“a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet. 1:19). It took the sacrifice of a flawless, sinless life to redeem the blemished and spotted lives of men. To fulfill this purpose, innocent blood had to be shed: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11).
The Old Covenant served as a type for the New Covenant, which is also ratified in blood (Heb. 9:20), but it is a “better covenant [testament, compact, contract], which was established upon better promises” (Heb. 8:6; also read verses 7-13).
The “blood of the [new] covenant” delivers Christians from their ultimate enemies: sin and death. This is why Jesus said, “Whoever eats My flesh, and drinks My blood, has eternal life” (John 6:54).
Just as God delivered Israel from slavery so that they might “serve” Him (Ex. 3:12; 8:1, 20), He is delivering Christians from spiritual slavery to sin, so that they might “serve [God] without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life” (Luke 1:74-75).
Having instituted the new Passover symbols of the bread and wine, Christ was now ready to make the ultimate sacrifice…
The Bible states of Jesus that “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). Eleven words—one sentence of Scripture. Undoubtedly, this verse has been read countless times by millions. But how many have recognized the profound meaning of these words?
How many have stopped to meditate upon the significance of this portion of God’s Word? How many have grasped what it meant for Jesus Christ to have come to His own—His own people and nation—but also His own creation—and be rejected?
Very few understand, with any level of depth or clarity, what Jesus endured during His 3½-year earthly ministry. From the very beginning of His ministry, until its end, Christ faced and persevered through opposition, accusation, interrogation, schemes, plots, threats—and, ultimately, absolute rejection and death. Few even begin to comprehend the suffering of Jesus Christ.
As Jesus traveled throughout Judea teaching, performing miracles and healing the sick, His notoriety grew; large masses began to follow Him from place to place, assembling to hear Him speak. The excitement and “buzz” about Jesus of Nazareth was on the minds of thousands. Great numbers anticipated a chance to hear Him speak.
But not all felt this way.
Having heard of Jesus, a group of Pharisees and Sadducees sought Him one day. But they were not interested in hearing His teaching.
“Show us a sign,” one of them demanded. Then another chimed in, “Yes, give us a sign from heaven. We want proof You have come from God!”
Perhaps sighing, but looking intently in their direction, Christ responded, “Why does this generation seek a sign? You are a wicked and adulterous generation! The only sign you shall receive is that of the prophet Jonah!”
Jesus turned and walked away. This was only one of countless occasions that the religious leaders tempted and tested Him (Matt. 16:1-4).
Concerned with keeping their position and power, the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes—the religious elite of the day—were intimidated by Christ’s teaching. They were unsettled by the throngs of people listening to Him. They were angered that people were following Him, and not them.
The revolutionary news of the coming kingdom of God threatened their positions. They knew this was a message about government. The Pharisees were the most threatened of all; some among this religious sect had been given minor government offices by the Romans. Though under a Roman king ruling over the district of Judea, the lower civil offices were important to them. These political offices brought power and prestige—and paid handsomely. In their minds, the announcement that Jesus brought jeopardized all of this.
Filled with fear, jealousy and contempt, they sought to counter Jesus at every opportunity. They could not let this subversive individual (as they assumed and claimed Him to be) continue His preaching unchecked.
These religious leaders, many of whom were politicians, felt they had to act if they were to retain their positions above the common people. They feared being accused of sedition by Rome, which meant summary execution. This self-seeking interest mandated that Christ’s influence on the people be countered—even if it meant taking His life (John 11:47-50).
At every opportunity, the Pharisees opposed, persecuted and sought to frustrate Jesus (Luke 11:53-54). They deliberately rumored that He was born illegitimately, saying, “We be not born of fornication” (John 8:41). They called Him a self-promoter seeking a following (John 8:13). They said He was no better than a dog, and demon possessed (John 8:48; 7:20).
Their accusations were endless. When Jesus cast a demon out of a blind mute, restoring both his sight and speech, they claimed, “This fellow does not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils” (Matt. 12:24)—that Christ’s power to perform miracles came from the devil—putting themselves at risk for committing the unpardonable sin. They portrayed Him as uneducated and unlearned, lacking proper formal education and recognized credentials (John 7:15). They accused Him of being “a man gluttonous…a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” (Matt. 11:19), a Sabbath breaker (Matt. 12:9-10) and a blasphemer (John 10:33).
On numerous occasions, the religious authorities sought to bait and trap Christ in words or deeds. Hoping to accuse Him of sedition, a group of Pharisees plotted how they might trick Him. They hoped to cause Him to say something that could be used against Him.
Employing flattery, the Pharisees’ disciples insincerely inquired, “Teacher, we know You speak the truth of God’s way without compromise. You do not care about a person’s status in life; You treat all the same and speak the words they need to hear. Please tell us what You think about this matter for we know You will tell us rightly. Does the law say we must pay taxes to Caesar? Or should we not?”
But Jesus was not fooled. He knew their purpose was to cause Him to speak against the Roman government so they could accuse Him.
Jesus responded boldly, “Why do you try to trap Me in words, you hypocrites? Give Me a piece of money.” Holding a coin up to their faces, He asked, “Whose likeness and words are stamped on this coin?”
“Caesar’s,” came their sheepish reply, knowing their ploy had not worked.
Jesus continued teaching them a hard lesson, commanding, “Then give to Caesar what belongs to him and give to God the things that are His.”
Having been silenced, the frustrated disciples of the Pharisees walked away knowing they would have to report to their masters that their entrapment attempts had failed (Matt. 22:15-22; Luke 20:20-26).
Such was the resistance Jesus regularly faced.
Some believe Jesus Christ was incapable of sinning. They reason that since He was prophesied to succeed, it was impossible for Him to fail.
The Bible clearly reveals that Jesus divested Himself of the spiritual glory He previously possessed and became a flesh-and-blood human being. By doing this, He put Himself at risk of failing in His role as mankind’s Savior. He was subject to the pulls of the flesh and had to overcome temptation to sin.
As a human being, Jesus was both fully God and fully human. Though He was God-in-the-flesh, He did not possess the full amount of glory He had in His former spiritual state as the Word (John 1:14), or the God of the Old Testament. This is made plain in John 17:5, from the Moffatt translation: “Father, glorify Me in your presence with the glory which I enjoyed in your presence before the world began.”
Some believe Colossians 2:9—“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”—means that Christ had at His disposal full powers of a Spirit being. The Phillips Bible translation sheds light on this scripture by providing parenthetical commentary along with the biblical text: “Yet it is in Him that God gives a full and complete expression of Himself (within the physical limits that He set Himself in Christ).”
This explanation correctly shows that God had empowered Jesus to the full—but within the limitations of a physical being.
On the night after His last Passover, Jesus stated, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus had concluded His ministry and trained His disciples, who would become the nucleus of the Church. He was now prepared to die for the sins of the world.
When Christ died, His spirit (the “spirit in man” – Job 32:8) returned to God. A physical Christ did not die while a “spiritual phantom” of sorts continued to live, as some believe. Misunderstanding I Peter 3:18-19, some even think that Jesus preached to fallen angels in “hell” when He was dead in the grave for three days and three nights.
The Gnostic belief of Docetism, adhered to by many in the early centuries A.D., stated that Jesus did not have a human body. He supposedly appeared to have died on the cross. The physical Christ is said to have been a reflection of the real “Divine Christ” who remained in heaven. The Gnostics taught that the spiritual Christ continued to live while the inferior physical Christ died.
Yet Romans 14:9 states, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.” Only one Christ died and was resurrected—not two separate beings.
In John 18:37, Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus: “Are you a king then? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears My voice.”
A number of other scriptures (Matt. 17:1-9; I Pet. 1:18-21; John 11:25; Heb. 8:10, along with many references to the Old Testament prophets) stress the certainty of Christ’s victory during His physical life, as well as the assurance of His future Millennial reign. Some have mistaken this certainty to mean there was no possibility of Christ failing.
If there were no danger in completing His earthly work, then why did Jesus fast for 40 days and nights (Matt. 4:2)? Why did He need to draw closer to His Father prior to confronting Satan? The Bible states that Jesus was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). If one is capable of being tempted to sin, then a possibility of sinning must exist!
Christ frequently cried out to God and offered up prayers and supplications, with tears (Heb. 5:7). It also states that He learned obedience through the things which He suffered (vs. 8). Does this sound as though there was no possibility of Jesus sinning?
Jesus not only carried out His ministry successfully—He also resisted temptation. By doing so, He qualified to be the perfect sacrifice, taking away the world’s sins (John 1:29; I John 2:2). He endured the pressures and pulls of Satan, society and self—setting a perfect example for His servants to follow.
Why then did the Scriptures prophesy Jesus’ victory beforehand? Because the perfect willpower and determination of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ meant that victory was all but certain!
Isaiah 59:15-17 reveals how Jesus was to fulfill His work: “Yes, truth fails; and he that departs from evil makes himself a prey: and the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no judgment. And He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore His arm brought salvation unto Him; and His righteousness, it sustained Him. For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon His head; and He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.”
This prophecy, along with many others, describes Jesus Christ’s success in overcoming sin. Due to God’s determination and strength, failure was not an option—though it was possible! Jesus knew that if He went to the Ultimate Source of power in the universe, He would receive all He needed to succeed.
Jesus Christ was vulnerable to temptation, subject to death and capable of sinning, and He carried out the greatest and most demanding ministry the world has ever seen. Only by relying on God’s strength, not His own human power, was He able to overcome the almost insurmountable hurdles and roadblocks before Him.
The one thing most people can count on is family. Yet Jesus could not even rely on the support of His brothers. This became apparent after He returned to His home in Galilee because of the rising threat to His life from the religious authorities. It was shortly before the Feast of Tabernacles.
Not yet understanding who their brother was, they, in their unbelief, became frustrated over His refusal to publicly show His powers. “What are You doing here? Why don’t You go to Judea? Go to Your students and show them Your mighty works. If You can do miracles, why do You hide? If You want to be known, then do Your miracles out in the open!”
Even among His family, there were times when He had no support. Christ knew what yet lay ahead. Jesus responded, “My time is not yet come, but your time is always here. The world does not hate you; but Me it hates, because I testify that this world’s works are evil. You go up to this feast: I will come later because it is not yet My time.”
Imagine how this must have felt—to be challenged even by family who did not understand. Christ’s life was in constant danger. His brothers, who had no such worries, could not give even minimal comfort or support. They simply did not understand who He was, or His message.
Jesus was keenly aware that “a prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4).
Of course, certain of the common people would have also ridiculed Him. Because Jesus came from a town and region that were looked down upon—Nazareth in Galilee—comments about His heritage evoked sarcastic put-downs. “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46), one man sneered upon hearing about Jesus.
Though masses followed Him wherever He went, not all cared about the words Jesus spoke, as emphasized earlier. Many, having heard of His feeding thousands, were more interested in the physical food available, which sustains only temporary life. Their minds were far away from understanding the spiritual food freely given to them that leads to eternal life.
One day after the feeding of the 5,000 men and families near the Sea of Galilee, Christ crossed over the waters into Capernaum. The crowds from the previous day found Him there. Then one came to Him, and said, “Rabbi, when did You get here? We have been searching for You.”
Knowing why the people were searching for Him, Christ answered, “You have searched for Me because of the food I fed everyone with yesterday. You are not here because of the miracles I performed or the words I speak; you are here to be fed again. You are much too concerned with physical food that perishes. You ought to desire that food I freely give, which leads to everlasting life!”
Not comprehending His words, the people began to ask for more miracles and for bread, like the manna Moses had given their forefathers to eat in the Wilderness of Sinai. They did not understand that Christ was the unleavened Bread of Life. His sacrifice would make possible the gift of eternal life to all who would accept it and surrender to Christ’s rule in their lives.
“Moses did not give them that bread from heaven,” Jesus said to the crowd. “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. I am that Bread of Life. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood,” Jesus said, speaking of the soon-to-be-instituted Passover symbols, “will receive eternal life and will be resurrected at the last day!”
At those words, many began to express disbelief, asking, “What is He saying?” some said. “This is hard to understand. How can this Man give us His flesh to eat? How will that give us eternal life?” Christ’s followers began to murmur. He explained further that “no man can come to Me, except those whom My Father calls.”
Shaking their heads, “many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him” (John 6:66). Those who had seemingly expressed genuine interest in Jesus’ message simply turned, walked away and followed Him no more.
Looking at the apostles-in-training, Jesus asked, “Will you also go away and forsake Me?”
Peter confidently replied, “Lord, You have the words of eternal life, where else would we go?”
Jesus—knowing of events yet to come and who would betray Him—replied, “Have I not chosen you twelve? But yet one of you is My enemy.” He knew that more opposition, rejection and final betrayal were ahead.
As the Pharisees’ resentment of Christ grew, their desire to silence Him increased (John 11:53). Ultimately, their goal remained the same: to kill Him. This opportunity came in the spring of A.D. 31, during Passover, as Christ’s earthly ministry was coming to a close (Matt. 26:1-4; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:37).
Judas Iscariot, giving in to the lust for money (John 12:3-6) and Satan’s influence over him, schemed with the chief priests and scribes to deliver Jesus into their hands. As the Passover drew near, Judas approached them, and asked, “What will you give me and I will deliver Him unto you?” Judas was hoping for a monetary reward (Matt. 26:15-16).
This brought great joy to the chief priests—it was just what they had been hoping for! They agreed to pay him 30 pieces of silver (Mark 14:11).
Accepting their offer, Judas, from that point forward, “sought opportunity to betray Him unto them in the absence of the multitude” (Luke 22:6). His opportunity soon came.
Having instituted the new Passover symbols, Jesus began to focus on events that were just hours ahead. Would He be able to endure the extreme pain, suffering and abject humiliation? Could He complete the purpose for which He was born? Could there be another way to accomplish this pivotal step in God’s Plan of salvation?
Leaving the location where the Passover had been held, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane, as He had done many times; the disciples followed. Arriving at the garden, in the darkness of the night, “He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if You be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
Christ was keenly aware of what was about to unfold. God sent an angel to strengthen Him.
Jesus’ prayers intensified. “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:41-44). Three times Jesus prayed to God that there might be another way to pay for the sins of mankind: “O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42).
Yet, there was no other way. Jesus was ready to fully submit to His Father’s will.
Looking for support from His disciples during this agonizing period, Jesus instead found them sleeping. “What, could you not watch with Me one hour?” He asked. “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:40-41), He warned. The disciples were unaware of the tremendous trial about to come—one that would test their commitment and loyalty to Jesus to the utmost degree.
Returning from praying the third time, He found them asleep again. With urgency, Christ roused the disciples from their slumber. “Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that does betray Me” (Matt. 26:45-46).
Around midnight, Jesus turned and saw Judas approaching with a crowd. Among them were soldiers and officers carrying clubs and swords. Walking toward Jesus with open arms, Judas said, “Greetings, Teacher!” and then kissed Him. The signal was given; the deed was done.
Looking His betrayer in the eyes, Jesus asked, “Judas, do you betray me with a kiss?”
Several men wielding clubs and swords stepped forward. Treating Christ like a common criminal, they seized Him, and took Him away. Watching in disbelief, the disciples, still groggy from sleep, turned—forsaking their Master and Teacher—and fled!
Even Peter, who only hours before had vehemently declared he would never forsake Christ, denied Him three times in the coming hours (Mark 14:66-72).
Jesus was now on His own through the coming agonizing ordeal. But His heavenly Father would be there to strengthen Him.
This world’s professing Christianity has traditionally taught that Christ died on a cross. Since Christ Himself warned against blindly following the traditions of men (Mark 7:6-7), we must not make assumptions.
Recognize that the cross has long been understood to be a symbol widely used by many pagan religions in various forms of sex worship. Its roots are ancient, with its original design being that of a line through a very narrow oval shape—which connotation is easy for the imagination to understand.
In the gospel accounts, the Bible says that Christ was nailed to a cross. The Greek word used for “cross” is stauros, which means “stake, pole, upright post or cross.” Interestingly, other scriptures record that Christ was nailed to a “tree” (I Peter 2:24; Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29). The Greek word used in these passages is xulon, meaning “timber, stick, club, tree or other wooden article or substance.”
In ancient times, Roman soldiers used to crucify people using wooden structures of various shapes. Sometimes they used upright stakes or poles. Other times they used wooden crosses by attaching beams either at or just below the top.
The Bible does not specify the exact shape of the “stauros” or “xulon” on which Christ was crucified. If God thought it was important for us to know, He clearly would have recorded it, leaving us no doubts. Christ may or may not have been crucified on a cross. The shape of the instrument is not important, but Christ’s sacrifice is!
Bound, and surrounded by unfriendly faces, the angry mob pushed and pulled Jesus as they led Him away in the darkness. They first arrived at the home of Annas, father-in-law of that year’s High Priest, Caiaphas. Then Annas sent Him to Caiaphas.
Once there, Jesus began to face false accusers. One after the other came forward with fabricated and contradictory testimony. The chief priests and elders desperately wanted a reason to put Christ to death. And then two men claimed, “We heard this man say He was able to destroy God’s temple and rebuild it in three days!”
Standing up from his chair, his voice rising in anger, Caiaphas examined Jesus: “Did You say those words? Is their testimony true? Will You answer me or not?”
Jesus remained silent.
Becoming more incensed, the High Priest glared at Him. “I adjure You by the living God,” he charged, “that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God!”
Looking back at Caiaphas, Jesus answered, “What you have said is correct.” Knowing what would come next, He continued, “Nevertheless I say unto you, hereafter shall you see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
His anger boiling over, Caiaphas tore his clothes and shouted, “Blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Now you have heard His blasphemy!”
He eagerly asked the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin, “What do you think?”
“He must be put to death!” they decreed in agreement. They did not understand that their minds were being used as tools of the devil—but also God’s supreme purpose.
There stood Christ—a perfect, sinless human being, who, for telling the truth, was now sentenced to death by His own creation. Yet because He was filled with love for mankind, He was willing to endure much more.
The atmosphere rose to a fever pitch. Taunts, insults and blows came crashing down. Blindfolded, Jesus could not see the attacks coming. Time and again, they struck His face while spitting in it, and delivered painful strikes to His body. Blood and spit ran down His swollen face. Bruises from broken blood vessels began to show. Taunts rang in His ears: “Prophesy to us, You who claim to be Christ. Tell us, who hit You?”
Having hatched their plan early in the morning, the religious leaders led Jesus to Pilate, hoping for a speedy execution. Once there, they accused Him before Pilate to make their case. “We found this man perverting the nation and forbidding the people to give tribute to Caesar, saying He was a king, Christ.”
Pilate asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“It is as you say,” Jesus replied.
Satisfied with Christ’s answer, Pilate turned to the chief priests and said, “I find no fault in this Man.”
This was not what they wanted to hear, so they began to plead their case more earnestly: “But He is a troublemaker! He stirs up all of the people, teaching throughout the land.”
Hearing Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate thought he had a way out. This is Herod’s business, not mine, he thought, so he ordered that Jesus be sent to Herod.
Having heard of His fame, Herod was pleased to see Jesus. At last, I might see Him perform a miracle! Herod questioned Him at length while the chief priests and scribes leveled their accusations.
Yet Christ stood still and kept silent.
Growing restless, Herod made sport of Him. “And [he] with his men of war [soldiers] set Him at naught [despised utterly], and mocked Him, and arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him again to Pilate” (Luke 23:11).
In the final hours of Jesus’ death, He was nailed to a stake, positioned between two criminals also being crucified. At Pilate’s command, Roman soldiers broke legs of the criminals to hasten their death. (Unable to heave themselves higher with their legs, they would slowly suffocate, unable to get air into crushed lungs.) When soldiers came to break Christ’s legs, they discovered Him already dead (John 19:33). They were surprised; crucifixion was designed to be a torturous process intended to extend one’s final hours so their last moments would be agonizing.
But Jesus had already died—why?
As with other myths and false teachings, an idea arose long after the gospel accounts were written and canonized: “Jesus died of a broken heart.” In other words, “His heart ruptured under the emotional weight of being tortured, humiliated, rejected and scorned.”
Those who believe this use the following “proof” to support their thinking: When a soldier had thrust a spear into Christ’s side, blood and water gushed out—“evidence” (they claim) that tears had welled up and collected around Jesus’ heart, and that when He was pierced, His “broken heart” could not take it anymore, bringing death.
But was Jesus so physically and emotionally weak that He could not endure what crucified criminals could? (Remember, their deaths were hastened; had their legs not been broken, the criminals would have stayed alive hours longer.)
Jesus was a carpenter for years before His earthly ministry began. He worked outside with His hands, arms and muscles, having to endure seasonal weather conditions. He obeyed God’s laws of good health. Violating them would have disqualified Jesus from becoming man’s sinless Savior. In addition, as a carpenter, His profession required good health. The livelihood of the family depended on it.
Then there is Jesus’ ministry, which required that He travel from city to city, often long distances mostly by foot. He sometimes slept outdoors, breathing clean, fresh air. As He traveled, He was subject to changing weather conditions—summer heat, arid deserts, storms at sea, etc. Christ had to be incredibly strong—mentally, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually—to withstand the ongoing battles, trials from temptations from Satan, the scribes and Pharisees, unbelievers, and of course from His own flesh.
Obviously, Jesus Christ was not a weakling—far from it! His heart would not have suddenly “broken” under even extreme pressure. His had been a life of pressure and physical demands.
Then what did kill the Savior—what did cause Him to die?
Let’s switch to the first Passover, when the Israelites were in Egypt about to be delivered from slavery. God ordered each family to sacrifice a lamb. It had to be young, physically perfect (without blemish or defect), and without broken bones. Families were to roast and eat it. That Passover night, the Death angel “passed over” their homes, sparing the lives of those houses “sprinkled” with the blood of a lamb. The blood is what saved Israel’s firstborn sons from death.
How did the Passover lamb die? We might ask if it could die “of itself.” No, or God would have forbidden them to eat it: “And the fat of the beast that dies of itself, and the fat of that which is torn with beasts, may be used in any other use: but you shall in no wise eat of it” (Lev. 7:24). “That which dies of itself, or is torn with beasts, he shall not eat to defile himself therewith: I am the Lord.” (Lev 22:8). “You shall not eat of anything that dies of itself: you shall give it unto the stranger that is in your gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it unto an alien: for you are an holy people unto the Lord your God” (Deut. 14:21).
So how did the lamb die? “…the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it” (Ex. 12:6)—it was put to death! They put a knife to the lamb and shed its blood. THIS caused its death.
Return to considering Christ. As “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36), Jesus gave the supreme sacrifice. As with the original Passover lamb, which typed Him, Jesus was young (He died in His early 30s), perfect (like His Father – John 10:30; Matt. 5:48), innocent (without sin – Heb. 4:15), defenseless (by choice – John 18:36; Acts 8:32), and His bones were not broken (John 19:33).
As with the Passover lamb, Christ was “stricken” (Isa. 53:8)—which means “a blow, stroke, wound, mark, to strike violently.” He was slain—He did not, and could not, in any sense, die “of Himself.”
Remember, Isaiah 53:12 foretold critical elements of Jesus’ death and sacrifice: “Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He has poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
How did Christ “pour out His soul unto death”?
The word for “soul” in Hebrew is nephesh, meaning “a breathing creature,” a “living being (with life in the blood).” Blood contains life within it: “Only be sure that you eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and you may not eat the life with the flesh” (Deut. 12:23).
So when Jesus “poured out His soul unto death,” He did so by pouring out His blood to the point where He could no longer live. He did not die of a “broken heart”—He bled to death! This is why He said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
Now let’s study John 19. The passage reads as though it is in time sequence: (1) In verses 31-32, Pilate ordered his soldiers to speed up the deaths of those crucified by breaking their legs; (2) in verse 33, the soldiers intended to break Jesus’ legs, but He was already dead; (3) the next verse states that a soldier pierced the side of the dead body, resulting in water and blood coming out.
Here is the point: If Christ was already dead when His blood came out, then He did not bleed to death—which means the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12 failed because Jesus did not “pour out His soul [contained in blood] unto death”—therefore, He was not “stricken” for the sins of mankind, paying the death penalty in man’s stead, since He was no longer alive when He was pierced.
As with any aspect of careful Bible study, we must tie scripture to scripture, “precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little,” like a spiritual jigsaw puzzle to get the full picture of any teaching (Isa. 28:9-10, 13).
In verses 46-47, Jesus cried aloud from the cross: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”). Onlookers thought He was calling for Elijah the prophet. While some wanted to give Jesus vinegar to drink, others said, “Let be, let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him” (vs. 49). The next verse states, “Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost [spirit].”
The King James Version of the Bible and most other translations record verses 49-50 similarly. However, a careful examination of the original Greek text reveals there is another sentence included in verse 49, missing from most Bible translations!
Note the Fenton translation: “But the others called out, ‘Let Him alone! Let us see whether Elijah will come and save Him!’ But another taking a spear pierced His side, when blood and water came out. Jesus, however, having again called out with a loud voice, resigned His spirit.”
Now read Moffatt: “But the others said, ‘Stop, let us see if Elijah does come to save Him!’ (Seizing a lance, another pierced His side, and out came water and blood.) Jesus again uttered a loud scream, and gave up His spirit.”
Adam Clarke’s Commentary states this: “After this verse, BCL and five others add, Another, taking a spear, pierced his side, and there came out blood and water. Several of the fathers add the same words here: they appear, however, to be an interpolation from John 19:34.”
A margin note in the Revised Standard states, “Other ancient authorities insert And another took a spear and pierced His side, and out came water and blood.”
It was at THIS point when the Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’ side—when He was still alive! It was for THIS reason Christ, in Matthew 27:50, “cried again with a loud voice, [and] yielded up the ghost [spirit]”—He screamed in pain when the spear pierced His side!
John 19:34 did not happen after Jesus was dead. The verse is not written in time sequence with the preceding verses. The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke are called “synoptic gospels.” They follow the same general timeframe of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry, and thus supplement each other in understanding the time sequence. But the book of John is different, emphasizing themes more than time sequence. In this case, the next two verses, including verse 34, were used to verify WHAT happened (the fulfillment of a prophecy), not the precise moment when it happened.
When Jesus was pierced, blood and water gushed out—why? It was not water that came from Christ—it was urine. The soldier’s spear had pierced a number of internal organs also causing Jesus to bleed massively. This in part explains why His corpse, even after being in the tomb for three days and three nights, had not yet decayed (Acts 2:27; 13:35). There was no blood in the body to corrupt the flesh!
Christ’s flesh was not supernatural or “other worldly.” He was mortal just like all men (Heb. 2:14), except He was God. When He, as the Word, became flesh, He “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).
Consider this: Genesis 9:5-6 states, “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man.”
Jesus died to pay for ALL the world’s transgressions against God’s Law, including murder (which includes hatred toward one’s neighbor—the spirit of murder – Matt. 5:21-22). He paid the penalty for those who have murdered, who have shed the blood of others, by shedding His own blood!
Jesus Christ is mankind’s Savior, not because He “died of a broken heart,” but because He literally poured out His life—His blood!—for the sins of humanity!
Again, the religious leaders accused Jesus before Pilate. But Pilate, perceiving their motives (Mark 15:10), desired to let Christ go.
“You brought this Man to me to put to death, but neither I nor Herod find any reason to do so. You have a custom that one be released for the Feast; let me first scourge Him and then I will let Him go,” Pilate said, hoping to placate them.
“No!” they cried. “We do not want this Man—we want Barabbas!” Not believing his ears, Pilate appealed to the crowd: “Who would you have me release to you?”
“Give us Barabbas!” they shouted in unison. “Crucify Jesus!”
When Pilate asked, “Why, what evil has He done?”, the crowd continued their frenzied cries of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (Luke 23:1-25).
Symbolically washing his hands of the matter, Pilate released Barabbas, a robber and murderer (Matt. 27:24). Beaten, bruised, swollen, weary and humiliated, the One who was innocent took the place of one deserving death.
With Jesus’ fate sealed, Pilate sent Him to be scourged and crucified—one of the most excruciating and reprehensible forms of death that man has ever devised.
While various forms of crucifixion were used, we will describe one possible method.
To begin the horrible ordeal, Jesus is stripped of His clothing and His hands are bound to a post above His head. A Roman legionnaire steps forward with a flagellum—a short whip with jagged pieces of bone, glass and metal tied into nine strips of leather. This gruesome instrument of torture is commonly referred to as a cat-o’-nine-tails.
The heavy whip is brought down without mercy, over and over again, across Jesus’ shoulders, back and legs. At first, the flagellum cuts through the skin only. But as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the flesh, causing blood to ooze from the capillaries and veins. Blood then begins to spurt from smaller arteries in the underlying muscles.
The flagellum produces large, deep bruises, which are then ripped open by succeeding blows. In time, the skin of Jesus’ back is hanging in long ribbons, like spaghetti. The entire area is an unrecognizable bloody mass of torn flesh.
The severe beating is halted when the Roman centurion in charge has determined that Jesus is near death.
Under the proficiency of His tormentor, it was not long until Isaiah 52:14 was fulfilled: “Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” (NKJV). Jesus was literally beaten beyond recognition. His appearance did not remotely resemble the popular idea of His Body on the stake.
Though the Jews had a law that prohibited more than 39 lashes, there is speculation that the Romans would not have made any attempt to obey the statute.
At this point, Jesus is close to being in shock. One can only imagine the agonizing pain pulsing throughout His nervous system. He is then untied from the post and allowed to fall to the ground—soaked in His own blood. The soldier performing the beating notices a great irony in a “simple, unsophisticated Jew” claiming to be a king. A robe is thrown across Jesus’ shoulders, and a stick is placed in His hand, like a scepter. To complete the mockery, flexible branches covered with long thorns are formed into a crown and pressed firmly into Jesus’ scalp. Since the scalp is one of the most vascular areas of the body, profuse bleeding begins almost immediately.
The soldiers proceed to mock Jesus and strike Him across the face. “Hail, King of the Jews” came the humiliating epitaphs. They then take His “scepter” and strike Him on the head—the thorns driven deeper. At last, the soldiers grow weary of their vicious attack and tear off Jesus’ robe. This causes agonizing pain, similar to carelessly removing a surgical bandage, due to His robe having bonded to the clots of blood and serum in His wounds. Significant bleeding takes place once again, as though He were being whipped with the flagellum.
Some cuts are so deep that His bones are visible. The beating is so severe, they are pulled out of joint (Psa. 22:14, 17)! Jesus took this beating so that “by [His] stripes [we may be] healed” (I Pet. 2:24). Our physical sins could now be forgiven.
Badly disfigured, Jesus is led into the street. Those who see Him are horrified.
Ironically, in respect of Jewish custom, the Roman soldiers return Jesus’ garments, and then make Him carry a long wooden beam along His back. The condemned “criminal,” along with the Roman soldiers, begins His slow journey to the site of the crucifixion, Golgotha. Jesus struggles to walk uprightly, but considering the immense weight of the wooden beam and the state of near shock produced by incredible blood loss, He constantly falls. The weight is too much to bear. The beam gouges into the shredded skin and muscles of the shoulders. Jesus tries to rise, but the endurance of His muscles has been exceeded.
A soldier mercilessly barks, “Get up!”
Wanting to hasten the crucifixion, the centurion-in-charge selects an onlooker—Simon of Cyrene (Matt. 27:32)—to carry the beam. Jesus follows behind Simon, perhaps slightly relieved, but still bleeding and in near physical shock.
Finally, after a 650-yard journey (a little over one-third mile), they arrive at Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” on a hill just outside Jerusalem (Mark 15:15-22).
Simon is ordered to place the large beam on the ground, where a worn-out Jesus is thrown down with His shoulders against the wood. Then the legionnaire drives heavy square wrought iron spikes through His hands and deep into the wood. These were not the thin, smooth nails found at the neighborhood hardware store. Their entrance both cut through and displaced with crushing the tissue of hands and feet.
The legionnaires then raise the stake to which Christ is attached. At this point, Jesus’ body weight is held up by His spike-driven hands. Then His left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, both feet fully extended, toes down. A square spike pierces through the arch of each foot, leaving His knees flexed. As Jesus’ weight continues to sag downward, with more weight on His hands and feet, unbearable, fiery pain shoots along His fingers and up His arms. Tetany—extreme pain due to lack of oxygen to the tissues—sets in.
The torment continues without relief. With flies swarming over His festering wounds, His naked body racked with pain, those who look on jeer, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God” (Matt. 27:42-43).
Through parched lips and with a swollen tongue, Jesus utters the words, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Unfazed by the magnitude of Christ’s suffering, the soldiers standing guard divide His garments by casting lots.
Jesus had always been able to rely on His Father. He knew that through reliance on Him, and maintaining close personal contact through prayer, no trial or difficulty was too great to endure. During His ministry, Jesus’ prayers were heard many times. He needed only to look back to His greatest miracle—raising Lazarus from the dead—and recall the words He spoke that day: “I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You hear Me always” (John 11:41-42).
Even when the mob came to arrest Him in Gethsemane, Jesus could have called on God’s deliverance. “Think you that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53).
As dark clouds blocked out the afternoon light, it seemed Christ could not count on the Father, who had helped Him through the past 33½ years of physical life. Hanging from the stake, filled with horrific pain and in terrible anguish, having come to His greatest hour of need, He was left alone, completely abandoned.
At about 3:00 p.m., Jesus mustered what strength remained and cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). These were not empty words. His cry reflected His innermost feelings. Jesus was fully human, even though God was His Father. He was born of a woman and was capable of feeling, in mind and body, all that any man could.
At that moment, Jesus experienced something He had never known. Having existed from eternity, first as the Word, and then in the flesh as the Son of God, He always had contact with the Father. And now, the realization hit. For the first time, He was completely alone—totally cut off from His Father. Their unbroken contact was now severed.
For “[God] had made [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). Yes, “the Lord has laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Jesus had all mankind’s sins laid upon Him, becoming sin for us.
And because “your iniquities have separated you from your God…your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear” (Isa. 59:2, NKJV). The Father had no choice. Since He cannot compromise with sin, meaning He can have no interaction with it, it meant He was forced to forsake—to abandon—His beloved Son.
The pain becoming almost unbearable, Jesus Christ now comprehended what it meant to be cut off from God. Remembering how He had lived and taught His disciples that “I can of mine own self do nothing,” the help that He had relied on so many times was no longer available. He knew that He—and He alone—was shouldering the totality of humanity’s sins—your sins. And this meant He would face the last moments of His life on Earth fully cut off from the Father.
Crushed, almost drained of life, gasping for breath, and with each cell of His body screaming in pain, “Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, I thirst” (John 19:28).
Reacting to Jesus’ plea, someone retrieved a sponge, dipped it in sour wine and offered Him a drink. Hoping for a small amount of cool water to quench His thirst, He instead received foul-tasting vinegar (vs. 29; Matt. 27:48).
An onlooker said, “Leave Him alone, let us see if Elijah will come save Him.”
Jesus’ suffering was almost finished. His long, drawn-out trial for the sake of mankind was nearing its end. He had endured cruel mocking, savage beatings, taunts, humiliation, abandonment and total rejection. His formerly healthy body was a mangled mess of dislocated bones and joints, and bleeding flesh. He was barely recognizable to those who were close to Him.
Barely clinging to life, Jesus prepared Himself for what was to occur next. To all looking on, He proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
With one final agonizing scream, His lifeblood spilling to the ground, Jesus of Nazareth—the Savior of man—cried, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Jesus Christ breathed His last breath.
It is just after midnight on the Passover of A.D. 31. An ominous gathering of people, wielding swords and clubs, has assembled in the midst of Jesus and His disciples on the Mount of Olives, their intent mostly unknown. A man named Judas steps forward from the multitude and greets Jesus with a kiss, saying, “Good evening, Master.”
Jesus responds, “My friend. Why are you here tonight?”
Immediately, several members of the large crowd move forward and seize Jesus, prompting one of His disciples to grab a sword and strike one of the attackers.
“Put down your sword,” Jesus exclaims. “It is of no value. Those who rely on swords will die with their swords in hand. They are of no use. If I wanted to, I could call upon My Father to send more than 70,000 angels to free Me. But if this were to happen, the Scriptures would not be fulfilled.”
Then Jesus says to the crowd, “Why have you seized Me tonight with swords and clubs, as if I were a criminal? Did you not see Me many times teaching in the temple? Why did you not lay hands upon Me then?”
At that very moment, Jesus’ disciples—His close friends, who have been with Him for the better part of three and a half years—flee. Every one of them forsook Him, as it is written, “I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad” (Matt. 26:31).
Jesus is eventually taken to the palace of the high priest, whose name is Caiaphas. There, a sizeable group of scribes and Pharisees is anxiously assembled. For years, Jesus’ popularity among the common people of Judea has threatened their positions of authority. Now, they finally have a chance to try Jesus and convict Him of a crime, one punishable by death.
After reading the previous chapter, you are familiar with the rest of the story: Jesus is tried, convicted and put to death. But have you ever closely examined the court proceedings leading to Jesus’ crucifixion? Was His trial legal?
Many believe and try to prove that Jesus was legally put to death. For example, in his 1916 book The Prosecution of Jesus, Richard Wellington Husband, a lawyer, wrote, “The arrest was legal…The hearing by the Sanhedrin was legal…The course of trial in the Roman court was legal…The conviction was legal, and was justified.”
Here is how Husband supports his assertions: “The arrest was legal, for it was conducted by the proper officers, acting under instruction from the Sanhedrin. There was no illegality in the circumstances under which the arrest was affected. The hearing by the Sanhedrin was legal, for it was merely a preliminary hearing, and was not a formal trial. The course of trial in the Roman court was legal, for it harmonized with the procedure shown in the sources to be pursued by governors of provinces in hearing criminal cases.”
“The conviction was legal, and was justified provided the evidence was sufficient to substantiate the charges, and the records do not prove the contrary.”
As you can see, according to Husband, the entire process leading to the death of Jesus was legal. And, to him, the Bible does not provide sufficient evidence to indicate otherwise, as he states that other “records do not prove the contrary.”
Similarly, Max Radin, a former professor and author of the book The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth, believes the accounts in the Bible are not credible, since Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not physical eyewitnesses to the secretive proceedings. In his book, Radin claims there is “no clear statement of how the knowledge of the trial came to those who reported it.”
The author, however, does not take into account the possibility that Christ could have explained everything to His disciples when He was resurrected from the dead. Jesus was a personal eyewitness to the trial and could have accurately conveyed everything to His followers to record in the pages of the Bible. (Of course, the author also does not believe that Scripture is inspired.)
Later in the book, Radin provides insight into a common trial in Judea during Christ’s time: “We are, most of us, familiar with the procedure of criminal investigations. The accused person is arrested, arraigned before a committing magistrate, specifically accused and formally tried. He may, and he generally does, appeal to a higher court, if he is convicted. All these things take time, and there is almost necessarily an interval of weeks and months between the later stages of the procedure. But above all, the procedure is strictly regulated by law, and any serious deviation is not merely an irregularity but will probably prevent punishment from being inflicted.”
By the above description alone, Jesus’ trial was fraudulent. All of the above-mentioned events take time, and usually lots of it! Radin himself admits this. But the trial of Jesus was completed approximately nine hours after He was arrested. And due to the privacy of the proceedings, there were no witnesses to testify on behalf of Jesus—but there were many witnesses to testify against Him! How many court cases are you aware of that are similar to this? Almost certainly none.
Several pages later in the book, Radin attempts to reconcile his description of a lengthy criminal investigation with Jesus’ nine-hour process: “Mark’s version, even by his own testimony, cannot be more than a guess. Instead of a hurried night meeting, a harsh and brief interrogatory, a disregard of established rules of evidence and procedure, the trial may have been formally correct, and the judgment formally correct even from the point of view of an upright judge just though severe.”
As is the case with most scholars, Radin dismisses the Bible as a source of historically accurate information. He assumes that Mark guessed what “may have” happened and, as such, believes the investigation could have occurred some other way. Yet the accounts in the Bible are the only sources of information that cover the trial. One cannot justify his position based on another resource; he can merely render a guess or an assumption. When one believes what was written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—all very close to the proceedings—only one conclusion can be drawn: Christ’s trial was illegal, even by men’s standards.
Some might wonder: “Why did the Jews deliver Jesus to the Romans to be killed? Could they not have put Him to death themselves?”
A common view of these matters is that the Jews did not have the authority to execute criminals. Continuing in The Prosecution of Jesus, Husband states, “According to the common view, the right to try capital cases [cases involving the death penalty] and even the right to pronounce sentences, still rested with the Sanhedrin, but the actual penalty could not be inflicted until the governor had given his sanction.”
Those who believe Jesus’ adversaries had no legal basis to execute Him usually cite John 18:31, where Pilate, the Roman governor, said to the Jews, “Take you Him, and judge Him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.”
Lifted from its context, this verse does appear to indicate that the Jews were unable to execute criminals. Yet the truth is that they did have the power to try, convict and execute people, except in cases that involved treason or sedition against the Roman government.
Consider the following: Stephen was accused of blasphemy and as a result was stoned to death by the Jewish authority, as described in the book of Acts (6:11; 7:59). The Romans were not consulted in this execution and there is no indication they disapproved.
In one instance, elders of Judea brought before Jesus a woman who had been caught committing adultery, and challenged, “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what say you?” (John 8:5). If the Jews did not have the authority to put this woman to death, Jesus might have replied, “Are you not aware of Roman law? You do not have the power to execute anyone.”
But He did not say this. He simply said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (vs. 7). Jesus knew full well that the Jews were legally able to execute adulteresses and criminals. Also, if it were not legal for the Jews to perform executions, consider what might have happened if word of this event reached Roman authority? Surely, if such were the case, the Jews would not have been so public about it.
Finally, although he survived, the apostle Paul was stoned by a crowd in Asia, among whom were Jews.
Wherever the Jews settled during the time of Roman rule, they had the legal right to execute people under their law.
So then to what is the statement in John 18:31 referring? “From the earliest period the Roman governor took cognizance of all matters that had relation to the public security or the majesty of the Empire. Consequently there was not a time at which the Roman magistrate would not step in when a charge of treason was made, or a seditious movement began. The case against Jesus is one especially in point, for the charge against him [treason] could under no circumstances be tried by any tribunal except that of the governor” (The Prosecution of Jesus).
The Roman government would intervene in criminal affairs only when matters of treason, civil disobedience, incitement to revolution or attacks against Caesar were specifically involved. Otherwise, local administration was conducted by local officials and the regular courts of the conquered nations. Roman authorities were not involved in every criminal proceeding throughout the vast empire.
Jesus’ opponents accused Him of blasphemy, but since they did not want to execute Him themselves, they created charges of treason against Him. This way, the trial could be brought before Pontius Pilate, and, in their minds, he and the Romans would be responsible for Jesus’ death, not them.
Before identifying the precise reasons Jesus’ trial was illegal, it will be helpful to briefly examine events leading up to His crucifixion.
We begin again with Judas Iscariot striking a deal with the religious authorities. Here is the account: “Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve [disciples]. And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him [Jesus] unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray Him unto them in the absence of the multitude” (Luke 22:3-6).
Soon after Judas entered into a pact with the religious leaders, Jesus and His faithful disciples ate their final meal together on Passover evening. Then, Judas arrived at the Mount of Olives with a large mob of various people, including Jesus’ future judges and jury, who stirred up the crowd to arrest Christ (Luke 22:8-39).
After the arrest, a former high priest named Annas examined Jesus first (John 18:13). Next, the mob brought Jesus to the high priest’s palace, where Caiaphas (the high priest) and the Sanhedrin were gathered (Matt. 26:57-58). Here, numerous false witnesses came before the Sanhedrin to give testimony against Him. Eventually, Jesus was condemned to death, apparently on the charge of blasphemy (vs. 65-66). The next morning, the Sanhedrin formally condemned Jesus in an attempt to make the previous evening’s procedures legal. A multitude of people then led Jesus to Pilate (Luke 23:1) and pronounced different charges, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ a King” (vs. 2). Notice that they did not accuse Christ of blasphemy in the presence of Pilate. Instead, they charged Him with treason against the Roman Empire.
Pilate initially desired to free Jesus (vs. 4), but the people continued to push for His death, saying, “He stirs up [incites] the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place” (vs. 5).
Recall when Pilate heard that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent Him to Herod, since Galilee was under his jurisdiction (vs. 6-7). Herod was happy to see Jesus, as he heard many things about Him. He desired to see Jesus perform some miracles (vs. 8). But Jesus neither performed any miracles nor answered his questions (vs. 9). Meanwhile, the chief priests and scribes stood by and accused Jesus (vs. 10). After being mocked, He was quickly sent back to Pilate (vs. 11).
Pilate sought to release Jesus once again, as he found no reason to condemn Him to death: “You have brought this Man unto me, as one that perverts the people: and, behold, I, having examined Him before you, have found no fault in this Man touching those things whereof you accuse Him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto Him. I will therefore chastise Him, and release Him” (vs. 14-16).
But the crowd cried out with a loud voice, “Crucify Him, crucify Him” (vs. 21).
Pilate, a third time, responded to the multitude, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no cause of death in Him: I will therefore chastise Him, and let Him go” (vs. 22).
The people responded all the more loudly: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
Pilate finally gave in to the people’s demands, and delivered Jesus to be crucified.
Keep in mind again that this entire process lasted only about nine hours, from after midnight to around 9:00 in the morning. Jesus was seized, then tried, condemned and crucified—all within a matter of nine hours! At 3:00 in the afternoon, Jesus was speared in His side and killed (John 19:34).
In that short period of time, the world eliminated the Savior!
With this backdrop, we are now ready to examine 12 paramount—and clear—reasons the arrest, trial and conviction of Jesus Christ were illegal.
Recall that Judas was bribed to betray Jesus in the absence of the crowds who favored Him. The plan was to seize Jesus in the dark of night, sentence Him just before sunrise—to make everything appear legal—transport Him to Pilate, stir up a mob of people to condemn Him, and crucify Him in the morning before those who supported Him were aware.
Who constituted the crowd of people who arrested Jesus? The answer leads to the first maneuver contrary to law in Jesus’ arrest, trial and conviction: Jesus was arrested illegally.
Any trial may be dismissed as a mistrial, or illegal, if there is prejudice against the individual being tried on the part of those participating. The accused must be given full recourse of law to be able to sufficiently present his side.
Jesus, however, was both arrested and tried by those prejudiced against Him, and was not allowed opportunity to present His case. Further, His judges were the same individuals who bribed Judas! Surely one cannot say these people were impartial!
In addition, Jesus was arrested secretly at night and was not formally charged of any offense. Judas simply pointed out Jesus, and a crowd arrested Him. There was no legal basis for this.
In his book Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, Samuel Mendelsohn states, “The testimony of an accomplice [in this case, Judas] is not permissible by Rabbinic law…and no man’s life, nor his liberty, nor his reputation can be endangered by the malice of the one who has confessed himself a criminal.”
Since Judas accepted a bribe from a judge, certainly Judas would be considered a criminal. And since Jesus’ judges bribed Judas, they would be considered criminals as well. This alone should have led to a mistrial!
According to the Talmud, the Sanhedrin is forbidden from convening between the time of the evening and morning sacrifice. In the book Jesus Before the Sanhedrin, M.M. Lemann states that “no session [including a preliminary examination] of the court could take place before the offering of the morning sacrifice.”
Going further, “An accused man was never subjected to private or secret examination,” as stated in Institutions de Moise, by J. Salvador.
The indictment against Jesus was false.
In the book Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim states that “the Sanhedrin did not, and could not, originate charges.”
But as we saw, the Sanhedrin did so in the case against Jesus.
Alexander Taylor Innes, in The Trial of Jesus Christ, reveals that “until they [the witnesses] spoke, and spoke in the public assembly, the prisoner was scarcely [never] an accused man. When they spoke, and the evidence of two agreed together, it formed a legal charge, libel or indictment, as well as the evidence for its truth.”
In a correctly conducted procedure, the evidence of the leading witnesses constituted the charge. But with Jesus, no witnesses—and therefore no charges—were presented at the outset of the proceedings. Those in opposition to Jesus, including those who would be in the court, simply arrested Him. They then needed to find witnesses—false ones!
The Sanhedrin court illegally held its trial before sunrise.
Annas’s preliminary examination of Jesus resulted in no evidence. But instead of dismissing the case, the Sanhedrin proceeded to hold an illegal court.
Mendelsohn reveals why it was illegal: “Criminal cases can be acted upon by the various courts during the day time only, and by the Lesser Sanhedrins from the close of the morning sacrifice till noon, and by the Great Sanhedrin till evening.”
The Jewish Mishna states, “Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspend at night.”
Moses Maimonides explains why trials are to be held during the daylight: “The reason why the trial of a capital offense could not be held at night is because…the examination of such a charge is like the diagnosing of a wound—in either case a more thorough and searching examination can be made by daylight.”
Convicting someone of a crime punishable by death was serious business. It required those deciding the fate of the accused to be at their best mental state, which is hardly true in the early hours of the morning.
The Sanhedrin illegally convened to try a capital offense on a day before an annual Sabbath.
The Mishna reveals why: “They shall not judge on the eve of the Sabbath, nor on any festival.”
In Martyrdom of Jesus, Isaac Wise, a Jewish Rabbi, provides decisive evidence: “No court of justice in Israel was permitted to hold sessions on the Sabbath or on any of the seven biblical Holy Days. In cases of capital crime, no trial could be commenced on Friday or the day previous to any Holy Day, because it was not lawful either to adjourn such cases longer than overnight, or to continue them on the Sabbath or Holy Day.”
Jesus, however, was arrested on Passover evening in A.D. 31, which is the day before the First Day of Unleavened Bread—an annual Holy Day!
The trial concluded in one day.
Again, reading from the Mishna, we learn, “A criminal case resulting in the acquittal of the accused may terminate the same day on which the trial began. But if a sentence of death is to be pronounced, it cannot be concluded before the following day.”
Forcing a trial to continue longer than one day allows time for witnesses in support of the accused to come forth. Of course, Jesus’ court did not want any such witnesses to manifest themselves, so they ended it quickly.
In addition to the indictment against Jesus being false, it was used illegally.
Jesus was indicted on the basis of one statement with no supporting evidence. Here is what transpired:
Two false witnesses testified that Jesus said, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands” (Mark 14:58). This was used as the indictment against Jesus. However, it was false. Jesus never said this! Rather, He stated, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).
Notice Jesus did not say, “I will destroy this temple…” He said, “Destroy this temple…” Second, He did not say “…that is made with hands…” or “…build another made without hands.” These subtle differences completely change the meaning of His statement—and the false witnesses knew this. They portrayed Jesus as planning to destroy the physical Temple in Jerusalem. But this was far from the meaning of His words—referring to His death and resurrection!
Jesus’ statement in John 2:19 was a response to those who asked Him to give a sign (vs. 18). He was not referring to the physical Temple being destroyed; rather, He was talking about His Body—that three days after He would be put to death He would rise from the grave. By cunningly rephrasing His statement, the false witnesses were able to bring an indictment against Jesus.
Next, the high priest arose, and said to Jesus, “Are You not going to answer? Do You have anything to say about these charges?”
Jesus said nothing.
Then the high priest exclaimed, “I command You in the name of the living God: Tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God!”
Jesus answered, “You have said correctly. Nevertheless, you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
Immediately, the high priest tore his clothes, and shouted, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need have we of witnesses? You are witnesses to His blasphemy. What do all of you think?”
“He is deserving of death!” everyone shouted in unison (Matt. 26:62-66).
Notice that the high priest’s question was completely unrelated to the indictment brought by the false witnesses. Instead of condemning Jesus on the charge of supposedly threatening to destroy the Temple and rebuild it three days later, the court condemned Him on a separate charge—that He claimed to be the Messiah. Jesus was indicted on one charge, tried on a separate charge, and condemned on His own testimony.
Jewish scholar Maimonides has this to say: “We have it as fundamental principle of our jurisprudence, that no one can bring an accusation against…