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Who Is Jesus Christ? – Part 3

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Who Is Jesus Christ?

Part 3

Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed that He was the long-awaited Christ. Can this be verified—proven?

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One of the most central tenets of Christianity is that Jesus was the prophesied Christ, the Messiah. Time and again, Jesus referenced His fulfilling that role—sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly. If it can be proven He was not whom He claimed He was, then Christianity would collapse. If He was not the Christ—the prophesied coming King of an eternal kingdom—then why should anyone believe His words? He would be an imposter, and thus should be rejected.

Can it be verified that Jesus fulfilled the numerous Old Testament prophecies concerning the Christ? If so, why did the Jews of the first century reject Him?

Expecting a Deliverer

Sprinkled throughout the Old Testament, mainly in what are called the Major and Minor Prophets, are scores of prophecies describing a coming “messianic age,” or “Millennium”—a time of universal peace, prosperity and abundance. A time when war and nonstop bloodshed will be a thing of the past. The world peace all long for will finally be achieved during the rule of Jesus Christ. Even the nature of animals will be changed.

Here are but a few of these prophecies:

• “And He [the Christ] shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).

• “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).

• “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them” (Isa. 11:6).

• “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and His name one. And men shall dwell in it, and there shall be no more utter destruction; but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited” (Zechariah 14:9, 11).

The Jews in the first centuries B.C. and A.D. were very familiar with these scriptures 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 crops 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.

Why?

Rejecting the Messiah

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 see later.

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.

Fulfilled Scriptures

Throughout the past 2,000 years there have been about 40 cases of individuals claiming to be the Messiah, but only one individual 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, who ate 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 that 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 brake 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 brake 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 zeroes 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, a number of prophecies exist that point to one individual as having fulfilled the role of the Christ—the Jesus found in the New Testament.

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.

Verse 2 describes there would be nothing significant about the Christ’s appearance; He would look quite ordinary, 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. All have sinned (Dan. 9:11; Rom. 3:23); as a result, all are under the penalty of death, which both the Old and New Testaments make clear (Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 6:23). Jesus paid the penalty of death in our stead.

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 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, it has not arrived. This is perhaps the major reason many rejected Jesus as the Christ.

To the first century Jews, Jesus failed to accomplish what they expected the Christ to do—destroy evil and 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. 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.

“Cut off…in the midst of the week”

There is a specific prophecy that designates the precise time when the Christ would begin His ministry. It is called the “seventy weeks prophecy.” More than any other, this prophecy not only firmly establishes when He would appear, but also that He would appear twice. It is doubtful anyone could have rejected Jesus as the Christ if they truly understood this prophecy.

The passage is found in Daniel 9:24: “Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and upon your holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.”

Before one can begin to understand this prophecy, it must first be established why the seventy-week time frame is actually 490 years. The “day-for-a-year” principle, as it is called, in biblical prophecy is generally understood by most Bible students. This principle is acknowledged in Halley’s Bible Handbook (p. 349).

The day-for-a-year principle is first found in Numbers 14:34: “After the number of the days in which you searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall you bear your iniquities, even forty years, and you shall know My breach of promise.” This verse clearly shows that God punished Israel by withholding or delaying their inheritance of the Promised Land. This happened because the people refused to believe Him. Instead, they chose to believe the bad report of the ten spies.

The next example of this principle is found in Ezekiel 4:6: “And when you have accomplished them, lie again on your right side, and you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed you each day for a year.” Ezekiel was required to lie on his left side for 390 days (to represent a siege against Israel) and forty days on his right side (to represent a siege against Judah). As verse 6 plainly shows, each day represented a year.

When this principle is applied to the seventy weeks prophecy, we arrive at 490 years, since seventy weeks equals 490 days.

With this backdrop, Daniel 9:25 can now be examined: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.”

“Going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem” is a reference to Persian King Artaxerxes’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem (see Ezra 7:21, 23). This occurred in 457 B.C., and is the starting date of the seventy weeks prophecy.

The sum of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (or threescore and two weeks) equals a total of sixty-nine weeks, from the time of the decree to build Jerusalem until the time of the Christ. Applying the day-for-a-year principle, we find that sixty-nine weeks equals 483 days (69 x 7 = 483), which equates to 483 years.

Counting forward 483 years from the year 457 B.C. (the year of Artaxerxes’ decree) brings us to the year A.D. 26. When counting from B.C. to A.D., since there is no year “0,” astronomers correctly add one year. Historians and chronologists, on the other hand, generally neglect to do this. Adding one year brings us to A.D. 27. This is the prophesied year of the beginning of the Christ’s ministry, which history confirms as true.

Daniel 9:26-27 continues explaining the seventy weeks prophecy: “And after threescore and two [62] weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.”

The term “threescore and two weeks,” which means 62 weeks, assumes that this time frame was preceded by the seven-week period mentioned in verse 25. Here the reference means 483 years, as established in verse 25.

Notice the phrase “And He shall confirm the covenant” in verse 27. Jesus certainly did confirm, or usher in, a covenant with Israel—the New Covenant. Yet He was cut off in the midst of confirming it. Thus the New Covenant will not be fully in effect until Jesus Christ returns to finish confirming it. (More on this later.)

Further, verse 27 shows that the Christ would cause the sacrifice and oblations to cease in the midst (middle) of the week—after three and one-half years. Finally, consider that Jesus was crucified in the middle of a literal week—a Wednesday.

Isaiah 53:4-5 helps to answer why the Christ would be cut off in the midst of His ministry, something the Jews of the first century were not expecting: “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 [sins], He was bruised for our iniquities.”

Isaiah 53:8 clinches the point: “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation? For He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of My people was He stricken.”

How clear! This can point to none other than Jesus, as He was cut off from the “land of the living” when He was crucified. His death was not for Himself, but for “the transgressions of My people.”

Before discussing the details of that final week, we need to complete a thought presented in Daniel 9:26: “…and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.” This was to occur after the Christ had been cut off—crucified. The “people of the prince” (the prince of this world, Satan – John 12:31 and Ephesians 2:2) is a reference to the Roman armies under Vespasian, and later under his son, Titus. These Roman armies under Titus finally managed to destroy not only the city, but also the Temple, slaughtering the people during and after the siege of A.D. 70.

Now notice the last part of verse 26: “And the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.” This looks well beyond the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in the first century. The “flood” pertains to future armies that will surround Jerusalem at the outset of the Great Tribulation and also upon Jesus Christ’s Return. The “end” pertains to the many turbulent events that will occur during the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord.

Returning to Confirm

We have examined the seventy weeks prophecy up to the point when the Messiah was to be cut off in the midst of the week. It is clear that the final three and one-half years of the prophecy remain to be fulfilled. No one would doubt that the Christ’s reign of administering world peace has not occurred. The Bible reveals when He will confirm the New Covenant after His Return.

Romans 15:8 states, “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises [covenant] made unto the fathers.” Tremendous promises were made to the Israelite Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as other faithful servants of God. These will be fulfilled when Jesus Christ returns and establishes the kingdom of God here on earth. At His Second Coming, Christ will usher in the New Covenant with Israel. At that time, the laws of God will be written in their hearts and minds, as God has been doing with His Church for the past 2,000 years.

Hebrews 8:6-10 recounts this landmark event: “But now has He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

“For finding fault with them [Israel, not the covenant], He says, Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, says the Lord.

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people.”

It will be during the time of God’s kingdom ruling all nations on earth that Daniel 9:24 is fully realized: “Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and upon your holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness.”

The seventy weeks prophecy clearly establishes Jesus as the Christ. It precisely foretold the time of Jesus’ First Coming and the exact year that He was to begin His ministry. It then shows the length of that ministry—three and one-half years. It shows that He was cut off in “the midst of the week” after causing sacrifices to cease, as His shed blood was to atone for humanity. The blood of bulls and goats was no longer needed for physical atonement of sin. This prophecy also makes it clear that Jesus Christ is to return and confirm the New Covenant for three and one-half years.

If the prophecies discussed here were truly understood in the first century, Jesus would not have been crucified. Yet, it was part of God’s Plan for mankind. Jesus had to die to free us from the death penalty and open the door to eternal life.

But does this mean that everyone is now free from the death penalty and entitled to eternal life? Does all one have to do is just “believe on Jesus” to be free? Or does God require obedience to His Word to qualify for eternal life?

Jesus stated He is “the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). But how does one follow Jesus Christ?

In Part Four of this series, to be published next issue, we will examine the teachings of Jesus, including what He taught about His pre-existence. We will compare what the world of Christendom commonly teaches to what Jesus actually taught. Prepare to be stunned by what you will learn from the pages of the Bible!

 
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