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Simple but Powerful: What is the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice?

Jesus came to give himself as a sacrifice for all peoples so that we could escape our corruption and reconnect with God.  This plan was announced at the beginning of human history.  It was signed by God in the sacrifice of Abraham by pointing to Mount Moriah where Jesus’ sacrifice would be provided.  Then the Jewish Passover sacrifice was a sign pointing to the day of the year when Jesus would be sacrificed.

Why is his sacrifice so important?  This is a question worth asking. The Bible declares a Law when it states:

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23)

“Death” literally means ‘separation’.  When our soul separates from our body we die physically.  Similarly we are even now separated from God spiritually.  This is true because God is Holy (sinless) while we have become corrupted from our original creation and so we sin.

This can be pictured using cliffs with God on the opposite side from us separated by a bottomless pit.  Just like a branch that has been cut from a tree is dead, so we have cut ourselves off from God and become spiritually dead.

We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm between two cliffs
We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm separating two cliffs

This separation causes guilt and fear.  So what we naturally try to do is build bridges to take us from our side (of death) to God’s side.  We do this in many different ways: going to church, temple or mosque, being religious, being good, helping the poor, meditation, trying to be more helpful, praying more, etc. These deeds to gain merit can be very difficult – and living them out can be very complicated.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Good Efforts – useful as they may be - cannot bridge the separation between us and God
Good Efforts – useful as they may be – cannot bridge the separation between us and God

The problem is that our hard efforts, merits, and deeds, though not wrong, are insufficient because the payment required (the ‘wages’) for our sins is ‘death’.  Our efforts are like a ‘bridge’ that tries to cross the gap separating us from God – but in the end cannot do it.  This is because good merit will not solve our root problem. It is like trying to heal cancer (which results in death) by eating vegetarian.  Eating vegetarian is not bad, it may even be good – but it will not cure cancer.  For cancer you need a totally different treatment.

This Law is Bad News – it is so bad we often do not even want to hear it and we fill our lives with activities and things hoping this Law will go away.  But the Bible stresses this Law of sin and death to get our attention to focus on the cure that is simple and powerful.

For the wages of sin is death but… (Romans 6:23)

The small word ‘but’ shows that the direction of the message is about to change directions, to the Good News of the Gospel – the cure.  It shows both the goodness and love of God.

For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

The good news of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Jesus’ death is sufficient to bridge this separation between us and God.  We know this because three days after his death Jesus rose bodily, coming alive again in a physical resurrection.   Most of us do not know about the evidence for his resurrection.  A very strong case can be made for it as shown in this public lecture I did at a university (video link here).  Jesus’ sacrifice was prophetically acted out in Abraham’s sacrifice and the Passover sacrifice.  These signs pointing to Jesus were put there to help us find the cure.

Jesus was a human who lived a sinless life.  Therefore he can ‘touch’ both the human and the God sides and span the gap separating God and people.  He is a Bridge to Life which can be pictured like this:

Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man
Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man

Notice how this sacrifice of Jesus is given to us.  It is offered as a … ‘gift’.  Think about gifts.  No matter what the gift is, if it is really a gift it is something that you do not work for and that you do not earn by merit.  If you earned it the gift would no longer be a gift – it would be a wage!  In the same way you cannot merit or earn the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is given to you as a gift.  It is that simple.

And what is the gift?  It is ‘eternal life’.  That means that the sin which brought you and me death is now cancelled.  Jesus’ bridge of life enables us to re-connect with God and receive life – which lasts forever.  God loves you and me that much.  It is that powerful.

So how do you and I ‘cross’ this Bridge of Life?  Again, think of gifts.  If someone wants to give you a gift you must ‘receive’ it.  Anytime a gift is offered there are two alternatives.  Either the gift is refused (“No thank you”) or it is received (“Thank you for your gift.  I will take it”).  So also this gift offered must be received.  It cannot just be mentally believed in, studied or understood.  This is illustrated in the next figure where we ‘walk’ on the Bridge by turning to God and receiving his gift he offers to us.

Slide4
Jesus sacrifice is a gift that each of us must choose to receive

So how do we receive this gift?  The Bible says that

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:12)

Notice that this promise is for ‘everyone’.  Since he rose from the dead Jesus is alive even now and he is ‘Lord’.  So if you call on him he will hear and give his gift to you.  You call out to him and ask him – by having a conversation with him.  Perhaps you have never done this.  Below is a prayer that can guide you. It is not a magic chant.  It is not the specific words that give power.  It is the trust like Abraham had that we place in him to give us this gift.  As we trust him He will hear us and answer.  The Gospel is powerful, and yet also so simple.  Feel free to follow this guide if you find it helpful.

Dear Lord Jesus.  I understand that with my sins I am separated from God.  Though I can try hard, no effort and sacrifice on my part will bridge this separation.  But I understand that your death was a sacrifice to wash away all my sins.  I believe that you rose from the dead after your sacrifice so I know that your sacrifice was sufficient.  I ask you to please cleanse me from my sins and bridge me to God so I can have eternal life.  I do not want to live a life enslaved to sin so please free me from sin.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing all this for me and would you even now continue to guide me in my life so I can follow you as my Lord.

Amen

Why did a Good God create a Bad Devil?

The Bible says that it was the devil (or Satan) in the form of a serpent who temped Adam and Eve to sin and brought about their fall.  But this raises an important question:  Why did God create a ‘bad’ devil (meaning ‘adversary’) to corrupt His good creation?

Lucifer – The Shining One

In fact, the Bible says that God created a powerful, intelligent, and beautiful spirit  who was chief among all angels. His name was Lucifer (meaning ‘Shining One’) – and he was very good.  But Lucifer also had a will with which he could freely choose.  A passage in Isaiah 14 records the choice he had:

How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the North.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:12-14)

Lucifer, like Adam, faced a decision.  He could accept that God was God or he could choose to be his own ‘god’.  His repeated “I wills” show that he chose to defy God and declare himself to be ‘Most High’.  A passage in Ezekiel gives a parallel description of the fall of Lucifer:

You were in Eden, the garden of God.
…  I ordained and anointed you
as the mighty angelic guardian.
You had access to the holy mountain of God
and walked among the stones of fire.
“You were blameless in all you did
from the day you were created
until the day evil was found in you.
… and you sinned.
So I banished you in disgrace
from the mountain of God.
I expelled you, O mighty guardian,
from your place among the stones of fire.
Your heart was filled with pride
because of all your beauty.
Your wisdom was corrupted
by your love of splendor.
So I threw you to the ground.  (Ezekiel 28:13-17)

Lucifer’s beauty, wisdom and power – all the good things created in him by God – led to pride.  His pride led to his rebellion, but he never lost any of his power and abilities.  He is now leading a cosmic revolt against his Creator to see who will be God.  His strategy was to enlist mankind to join him – by tempting them to the same choice that he made – to love themselves, become independent from God, and defy Him.  The heart of the test of Adam’s will was the same as Lucifer’s; it was just presented differently.  They both chose to be ‘god’ to themselves.

Satan – working through others

The passage in Isaiah is directed to the ‘King of Babylon’ and the Ezekiel passage is addressed to the ‘King of Tyre’.  But from the descriptions given, it is clear that no human is addressed.  The “I wills” in Isaiah describe someone who was thrown to the earth in punishment for wanting to place his throne above the throne of God.  The passage in Ezekiel addresses an ‘angelic guardian’ who once moved in Eden and the ‘mountain of God’.  Satan (or Lucifer) often puts himself behind or through someone else.  In Genesis he speaks through the serpent.  In Isaiah he rules through the King of Babylon, and in Ezekiel he possesses the King of Tyre.

Why did Lucifer revolt against God?

But why did Lucifer want to challenge the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator?  Part of being ‘smart’ is to know whether or not you can defeat your opponent.  Lucifer may have power, but that would still be insufficient to defeat His Creator.  Why lose everything for something he could not win?  I would think that a ‘smart’ angel would have recognized his limitations against God – and hold back his revolt.  So why didn’t he?  This question puzzled me for many years.

Then I realized that Lucifer could only believe that God was His all-powerful Creator by faith – the same as for us.  The Bible suggests that angels were created in creation week.  For example, a passage in Job tells us:

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said…
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand….
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7)

Imagine that Lucifer was created and became conscious in creation week, somewhere in the universe. All he knows is that now he exists and is self-aware, and also that there is another Being who claims that He has created Lucifer and the universe. But how does Lucifer know that this claim is true?  Perhaps, this so-called creator had popped into existence in the stars just before Lucifer popped into existence. And because this ‘creator’ arrived earlier on the scene, he was (perhaps) more powerful and (perhaps) more knowledgeable than Lucifer – but then again perhaps not.  Perhaps both he and the ‘creator’ just popped into existence simultaneously.  Lucifer could only accept God’s Word to him that He had created him, and that God himself was eternal and infinite. But in his pride he chose to believe his fantasy instead.

Maybe it seems doubtful that Lucifer would believe that both he and God (and the other angels) just ‘popped’ into existence.  But this is the same basic idea behind the latest thinking in modern cosmology.  There was a cosmic fluctuation of nothing, and then out of this fluctuation arose the universe – that is the essence of modern cosmology theories.  Fundamentally, everyone – from Lucifer to Richard Dawkins & Stephen Hawkings to you & me – must decide by faith whether the universe is self-contained or was created and sustained by a Creator God.

In other words, seeing is not believing.  Lucifer had seen and talked with God. But he still had to accept ‘by faith’ that God had created him.  Many people say that if God would just ‘appear’ to them, then they would believe.  But in the Bible many people saw and heard God – but still did not take Him at His word.  The issue was whether they would accept and trust His Word about Himself and themselves.  From Adam & Eve, to Cain & Abel, to Noah, to the Egyptians at the first Passover, to the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea and to those who saw the miracles of Jesus – ‘seeing’ never resulted in trust.  The fall of Lucifer is consistent with this.

What is the Devil doing today?

So according to the Bible, God did not make a ‘bad devil’, but created a powerful and intelligent angelic being.   Through pride he has led a revolt against God – and in doing so was corrupted, while still keeping his original splendor.  You, I and all of mankind have become part of the battleground in this contest between God and his ‘adversary’ (devil).  The strategy of the devil is not to wear sinister black cloaks like ‘Black Riders’ in the Lord of the Rings and put evil curses on us.  Instead he seeks to deceive us from the redemption that God had promised at the beginning of time through Abraham, through Moses, and then accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As the Bible says:

Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

Because Satan and his servants can masquerade as ‘light’ we are more easily tricked.  Perhaps this is why the Gospel always seems to run against our instincts and against all cultures.

The Branch: Named hundreds of years before his birth

We saw how Isaiah used the image of The Branch.  A ‘he’ from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was coming.  Jeremiah followed up by stating that this Branch would be known as the LORD (the Old Testament name for God) himself.

Zechariah continues The Branch

The prophet Zechariah lived 520 BC, just after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their first exile to Babylon.  At that time, the Jewish people were rebuilding their destroyed temple.  The High Priest then was a man named Joshua, and he was re-starting the work of priests. Zechariah, the prophet, was partnering with his colleague Joshua, the High Priest, in leading the Jewish people. Here is what God – through Zechariah- said about this Joshua:

‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch.” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’ (Zechariah 3:8-9)

The Branch!  Started by Isaiah 200 years before, continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah carries on further with ‘The Branch’.  Here the Branch is also called ‘my servant’.  In some way the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BC, colleague of Zechariah, was symbolic of this coming Branch.  But how? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD. How would that happen?

The Branch: Uniting Priest and King

Zechariah explains later. To understand we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the Old Testament. None of the Davidic Kings could be priests, and the priests could not be kings. The role of the priest was to mediate between God and man by offering animal sacrifices to God for atonement of sins, and the job of the King was to rule with justice from the throne. Both were crucial; both were distinct. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:

‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’ (Zechariah 6:9-13)

Here, against all previous rules, the high priest in Zechariah’s day (Joshua) is to put on the kingly crown symbolically as the Branch. Remember Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’.  Joshua, the High Priest, in putting on the kingly crown, foresaw a future uniting of the King and Priest into one person – a priest on the King’s throne.  Furthermore, Zechariah wrote that ‘Joshua’ was the name of the Branch. What did that mean?

The name ‘Joshua’ is the name ‘Jesus’

To understand this we need to review the history of Old Testament translation. In 250 BC the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek. This translation is still in use today and is called the Septuagint (or LXX). The title ‘Christ’ was first used in this Greek translation, making ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’. (You can review this here ).

joshuajesus-diagram
‘Joshua’ = ‘Jesus’. Both come from the Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’

As you can see in the figure Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’ which was a common Hebrew name that meant ‘Jehovah saves’.  This (shown in Quadrant #1) is how Zechariah wrote ‘Joshua’ in 520 BC.  It is transliterated to ‘Joshua’ when the Old Testament is translated into English (bottom half labelled #3).  The translators of the LXX in 250 BC also transliterated Yhowshuwa when they translated the Old Testament into Greek. Their Greek transliteration was Iesous (Quadrant #2). Thus ‘Yhowshuwa’ of the Old Testament was called Iesous in the LXX. Jesus was called Yhowshuwa when people spoke to him, but when the New Testament writers wrote the Greek New Testament, they used the familiar ‘Iesous’ of the LXX to refer to him. When the New Testament was translated from the Greek to English (#2 -> #3) ‘Iesous’ was transliterated (again) to our well-known English ‘Jesus’ (bottom half labelled #3). Thus the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’. Both Jesus of the New Testament, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BC were called ‘Yhowshuwa’ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both names were ‘Iesous’. A reader of the Greek Old Testament LXX would recognize the name of Iesous (Jesus) as a familiar name in the Old Testament. It is harder for us to see the connection since the name ‘Jesus’ seems to appear as brand new.  But the name Jesus does have an Old Testament equivalent – Joshua.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Branch

Now the prophecy of Zechariah makes sense. This is a prediction, made in 520 BCE, that the name of the coming Branch would be ‘Jesus’, pointing directly to Jesus of Nazareth.

This coming Jesus, according to Zechariah, would unite the King and Priest roles. What was it that the priests did? On behalf of the people they offered sacrifices to God to atone for sins. The priest covered the sins of the people by sacrifice. Similarly, the coming Branch ‘Jesus’ was going to bring a sacrifice so that the LORD could ‘remove the sin of this land in a single day’ – the day Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice.

Jesus of Nazareth is well-known outside the gospels.  The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other historical writers about Jesus, both friend and enemy, always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’, so his name was not invented in the Gospels.  But Zechariah predicted his name 500 years before he lived.

Jesus comes ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. Jesus possessed wisdom and understanding to a degree that sets him apart from others.  His shrewdness, poise and insight continue to impress both critics and followers.  His power through miracles in the gospels is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Now think of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He certainly claimed to be a king – The King in fact. This is what ‘Christ‘ means.  But what he did while on earth was actually priestly. The priest’s job was to offer acceptable sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish people.  The death of Jesus was significant in that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. His death atones for the sin and guilt for any person, not just for the Jew. The sins of the land were literally removed ‘in a single day’ as Zechariah had predicted – the day Jesus died and paid for all sins. In his death he fulfilled all the requirements as Priest, even as he is mostly known as ‘The Christ’ or The King.  He did bring the two roles together. The Branch, the one that David long ago called the ‘Christ’, is the Priest-King.  And his name was predicted 500 years before his birth by Zechariah.

The Sign of the Branch: The Dead Stump Reborn

Jesus had critics who questioned his authority.  He would answer them by pointing to the prophets that came before, claiming that they foresaw his life.  Here is one example where Jesus said to them:

… These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39)

In other words, Jesus claimed that he was prophesied in the Old Testament, which preceded him by hundreds of years. The Old Testament prophets claimed that God inspired their writings. Since no human can predict with certainty hundreds of years into the future, Jesus said this was evidence to check if he had really come as God’s plan or not. It is a test to see if God exists and if He speaks.  The Old Testament is available for us to examine and consider this same question for ourselves.

First some review.  Jesus’ coming was hinted at the very beginning of the Old Testament.  Then we saw that Abraham’s sacrifice foretold the spot where Jesus was to be sacrificed while the Passover foretold the day in the year that it would occur.  We saw that Psalm 2 was where the title ‘Christ’ was used foretell a coming King.  But it did not end there.  Much more was written looking to the future using other titles and themes. Isaiah (750 BC) began a theme that later Old Testament books developed – that of the coming Branch.

Isaiah and the Branch

The figure below shows Isaiah in a historical timeline with some other Old Testament writers.

isaiah-in-timeline
Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

You will see from the timeline that Isaiah’s book was written in the period of David’s Royal dynasty (1000 – 600 BC). At that time (ca 750 BC) the dynasty and the kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah pleaded that the Kings return back to God and the practice and spirit of the Mosaic Law. But Isaiah knew that Israel would not repent, and so he also prophesied that she would be destroyed and the royal dynasty would end.

He used a specific metaphor, or image, for the royal dynasty, picturing it like a great tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. On Jesse the Dynasty was started with David, and from his successor, Solomon, the tree continued to grow and develop.

isaiah-tree
The image Isaiah used of the Dynasty as a tree

First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch

Isaiah wrote that this ‘tree’ dynasty would soon be cut down, reducing it to a stump. Here is how he began the tree image which then he turned into the riddle of a stump and Branch:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

stump
Dynasty pictured as a Stump of Jesse – father of David

The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened about 150 years after Isaiah, around 600 BC, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and dragged its people and king to Babylon in exile (the red period in the timeline above). Jesse was the father of King David, and so was the root of David’s Dynasty. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore a metaphor to the coming shattering of David’s dynasty.

The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

shoot-and-stump
Shoot from the dead stump of Jesse

But this prophecy also looked further into the future than just the cutting down of the kings. Isaiah predicted that though the ‘stump’ would look dead (as stumps do), one day in the far future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from that stump, just like shoots can sprout from tree stumps. This Branch is referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a specific man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty would be cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of God would be resting on him.

Jesus … A ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

Jesus fits the requirement of coming ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. What makes Jesus very unusual is the wisdom and understanding he possessed.  His shrewdness, poise and insight in dealing with opponents and disciples continue to impress both critics and followers ever since.  His power in the gospels through miracles is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Jeremiah and The Branch

It is like a signpost laid down by Isaiah in history. But it did not end there. His signpost is only the first of several signs. Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, when David’s dynasty was actually being cut down before his very eyes wrote:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD our Righteousness“. (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

Jeremiah expands on the Branch theme of David’s dynasty started by Isaiah 150 years earlier. The Branch will be a King who reigns. But this is exactly what the Psalm 2 prophecy said of the coming Son of God/Christ/Messiah. Could it be that the Branch and the Son of God are one and the same?

The Branch: The LORD our Righteousness

But what is this Branch to be called? He would be called the ‘LORD’ who will also be ‘our’ (that is – us humans) Righteousness. As we saw with Abraham, the problem for humans is that we are ‘corrupt’, and so we need ‘righteousness’.  Here, in describing the Branch, we see a hint that people in Jeremiah’s future would get their needed ‘righteousness’ by the LORD – YHWH himself (YHWH is the name for God in the Old Testament).  But how would this be done?  Zechariah fills in further details for us as he develops further on this theme of the Coming Branch, predicting even the name of Jesus – which we look at next.

What is the History of the Jewish People?

Jews are one of the most ancient peoples in the world. Their history is recorded in the Bible, by historians outside of the Bible, and through archeology. We have more facts about their history than that of any other nation. We will use this information to summarize their history.  To make the history of the Israelites (an Old Testament word for the Jewish people) easier to follow, we will use timelines.

Abraham: The Jewish Family Tree Begins

The timeline starts with Abraham. He was given a promise of nations coming from him and had encounters with God ending in the symbolic sacrifice of his son Isaac.  This sacrifice was a sign pointing to Jesus by marking the future location where Jesus would be sacrificed. The timeline continues in green when Isaac’s descendants were slaves in Egypt. This period of time started when Joseph, grandson of Isaac, led the Israelites to Egypt, where later on they became slaves.

bible timeline with abraham and moses in history
Living in Egypt as slaves of Pharoah

Moses: The Israelites become a Nation under God

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt by the Passover Plague, which destroyed Egypt and allowed the Israelite Exodus from Egypt to the land of Israel. Before he died, Moses announced Blessings and Curses on the Israelites (when the timeline goes from green to yellow).  They would be Blessed if they obeyed God, but experience a Curse if they did not.  These Blessings & Curses were to follow the Jewish people ever after.

bible historical timeline from Abraham to david

For several hundred years the Israelites lived in their land but they did not have a King, nor did they have the capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time. However, with King David around 1000 BC this changed.

historical timeline Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem
Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem

David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem

David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. He received the promise of a coming ‘Christ’ and from that time on the Jewish people waited for the ‘Christ’ to come.  His son Solomon succeeded him and Solomon built the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in aqua-blue (1000 – 600 BC).  This was the period of Israelite glory – they had the promised Blessings.  They were a powerful nation, had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Old Testament also describes their growing corruption and idol worship during this time.  Many prophets in this period warned the Israelites that the Curses of Moses would come on them if they did not change. But these warnings were ignored.

The First Jewish Exile to Babylon

Finally around 600 BC the Curses happened. Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful Babylonian King came – just like Moses had predicted 900 years before when he wrote in his Curse:

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then exiled the Israelites to Babylon. Only the poor Israelites remained behind. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64)

jewish historical timeline Conquered and exiled to Babylon
Conquered and exiled to Babylon

So for 70 years, the period shown in red, the Israelites lived as exiles outside the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Return from Exile under the Persians

After that, the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and Cyrus became the most powerful person in the world. He permitted the Israelites to return to their land.

jewish historial timeline Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire
Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

However they were no longer an independent country, they were now a province in the Persian Empire.  This continued for 200 years and is in pink in the timeline. During this time the Jewish Temple (known as the 2nd Temple) and the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt.

The period of the Greeks

Then Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and made the Israelites a province in the Greek Empires for another 200 years. This is shown in dark blue.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires
Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

The Period of the Romans

Then the Romans defeated the Greek Empires and they became the dominant world power. The Israelites again became a province in this Empire and it is shown in light yellow. This is the time when Jesus lived.  This explains why there are Roman soldiers in the gospels – because the Romans ruled the Jews in the Land of Israel during the life of Jesus.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire
Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

The Second Jewish exile under the Romans

From the time of the Babylonians (600 BC) the Israelites (or Jews as they were called now) had not been independent as they had been under the Kings of David. They were ruled by other Empires.  The Jews resented this and they revolted against Roman rule. The Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem (70 AD), burned down the 2nd Temple, and deported the Jews as slaves across the Roman Empire. This was the second Jewish exile. Since Rome was so big the Jews were scattered across the whole world.

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile
Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

And this is how the Jewish people lived for almost 2000 years: dispersed in foreign lands and never accepted in these lands. In these different nations they regularly suffered great persecutions.  This persecution of the Jews was particularly true in Christian Europe.  From Spain, in Western Europe, to Russia the Jews lived often in a dangerous situations in these Christian kingdoms. The Curses of Moses back in 1500 BC were accurate descriptions of how they lived.

… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:65)

The Curses against the Israelites were given to make peoples ask:

All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer was:

“ … the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land…” (Deuteronomy 29:24-25)

The timeline below shows this 1900 year period. This period is shown in a long red bar.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile
Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

You can see that in their history the Jewish people went through two periods of exile but the second exile was much longer than the first exile.

The 20th Century Holocaust

Then the persecutions against the Jews reached their peak when Hitler, through Nazi Germany, tried to exterminate all the Jews living in Europe. He almost succeeded but he was defeated and a remnant of Jews survived.

Modern Re-birth of Israel

Just the fact that there were people who identified themselves as ‘Jews’ after many hundreds of years without a homeland was remarkable. But this allowed the final words of Moses, written down 3500 years ago, to come true.  In 1948 the Jews, through the United Nations, saw the remarkable re-birth of the modern state of Israel, as Moses had written centuries before:

…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:3-4)

It was also remarkable since this state was built in spite of great opposition. Most of the surrounding nations waged war against Israel in 1948 … in 1956 … in 1967 and again in 1973. Israel, a very small nation, often was at war with five nations at the same time. Yet not only did Israel survive, but the territories increased. In the war of 1967 the Jews regained Jerusalem, their historic capital city David had founded 3000 years ago.  The result of the creation of the state of Israel, and the consequences from these wars has created one of the most difficult political problems of our world today.

Was Jesus the son of a virgin from the line of David?

We have seen that ‘Christ’ is an Old Testament title.  Let us now look at this question: was Jesus of Nazareth that ‘Christ’ predicted in the Old Testament?

From the Line of David

Psalm 132 in the Old Testament, written 1000 years before Jesus lived, contained a specific prophecy.  It said:

10 For the sake of your servant David,
do not reject your anointed one. ( = ‘Christ’)

11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath he will not revoke:
One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne….
13 For the Lord has chosen Zion…,
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.  (Psalm 132:10-17)

You can see that long before Jesus, the Jewish Psalms predicted that God’s anointed one (i.e. ‘Christ’) would come from David.  This is why the gospels show Jesus to be from David – they want us to see that Jesus fulfills this prophecy.

Was Jesus really from the line of David?

But how do we know that they did not just make up the genealogies to get a ‘fulfillment’?  They were sympathetic to Jesus and so perhaps wanted to exaggerate the truth.

When trying to find out what really happened, it helps to have the testimony of hostile witnesses.  A hostile witness was on-hand to see the facts but does not agree with the overall belief, and so has motive for refuting testimony that might be false.  Suppose there was a car accident between persons A and B.  Both blame each other for the accident – so they are hostile witnesses.  If person A says that he saw person B texting just before the accident, and person B admits this, then we could assume that this part of the dispute is true since person B has nothing to gain agreeing to this point.

In the same way, looking at hostile historical witnesses can help us determine what really happened with Jesus.  New Testament scholar Dr. FF Bruce studied Jewish Rabbi references to Jesus in the Talmud and Mishnah.  He noted the following comment about Jesus:

Ulla said: Would you believe that any defence would have been so zealously sought for him (i.e. Jesus)?  He was a deceiver and the All-merciful says: ‘You shall not spare him neither shall you conceal him’[Deut 13:9]  It was different with Jesus for he was near to the kingship”  p. 56

FF Bruce makes this remark about that rabbinical statement:

The portrayal is that they were trying to find a defence for him (an apologetic note against Christians is detected here).  Why would they try to defend one with such crimes?  Because he was ‘near to the kingship’ i.e. of David.  p. 57

In other words, hostile Jewish rabbis did not dispute the Gospel writers’ claim that Jesus was from David.  They did not accept Jesus’ claim to ‘Christ’ and were opposed to the Gospel claims about him, but they still admitted that Jesus was in the royal family of David.  So we know that the Gospel writers did not simply make that up to get a ‘fulfillment’.  Even the hostile witnesses agree on this point.

Was he born of a virgin?

There is always a possibility that this prophesy was fulfilled ‘by chance’.  There were also others from the Royal family.  But being born of a virgin!  There is no possibility that this could happen ‘by chance’.  It is either: 1) a misunderstanding, 2) a fraud, or 3) a miracle – no other option is open.

A virgin birth had been hinted in the beginning with Adam.  In the New Testament, Luke and Matthew clearly state that Mary conceived Jesus while she was a virgin.  Matthew also claimed that this was a fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah (ca 750 BC) which said:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (i.e. ‘God with us’) Isaiah 7:14 (and quoted in Matthew 1:23 as a fulfillment)

Perhaps this was just a misunderstanding.  The original Hebrew הָעַלְמָ֗ה (pronounced haalmah) which is translated ‘virgin’ can also mean ‘young maiden’, i.e. a young unmarried woman.  Perhaps that is all that Isaiah meant to say, long ago in 750 BC.  But with a religious need on the part of Matthew and Luke to venerate Jesus they misunderstood Isaiah to mean ‘virgin’ when he really meant ‘young woman’.  Add the unfortunate pregnancy of Mary before her marriage, it developed into ‘divine fulfillment’ in the birth of Jesus.

Many people have given me an explanation like this, and one cannot refute this because it is impossible to make proofs about whether someone is a virgin or not.  But the explanation is not that simple.  The Septuagint was a Jewish translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek done in 250 BC – two hundred fifty years before Jesus was born.  How did these Jewish rabbis translate Isaiah 7:14 from the Hebrew into Greek?  Did they translate it as ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’? Though many people seem to know that the original Hebrew הָעַלְמָ֗ה can mean either ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’, no one brings up the witness of the Septuagint which translates it as παρθένος  (pronounced parthenos), which specifically means ‘virgin’.  In other words, the leading Jewish rabbis in 250 BC understood the Hebrew Isaiah prophecy to mean ‘virgin’, not ‘young woman’ – over two hundred years before Jesus was born.  The ‘virgin birth’ was not invented by the Gospel writers or by early Christians.  It was Jewish long before Jesus came.

Why would leading Jewish scholars in 250 BC make such a fantastic translation that a virgin had a son? If you think it is because they were superstitious and unscientific, let’s think again. People in that time were farmers.  They knew how breeding worked.  Hundreds of years before the Septuagint Abraham and Sarah knew that after a certain age came menopause and then childbearing was impossible. No, scholars in 250 BC did not know modern chemistry and physics, but they understood how animals and people reproduced. They would have known it was impossible to have a virgin birth.  But they did not shrink back and translate it as ‘young woman’ in the Septuagint. No, they stated it in black and white that a virgin would have a son.

Mary’s Context

Now consider the fulfillment part of this story.  Though it cannot be proven that Mary was a virgin, she was remarkably in the only and very brief stage of life where it could remain an open question.  This was an age of large families.  Families with ten children were common.  Given that, what was the chance that Jesus would be the oldest child?  Because if he had had an older brother or sister then we would know for certain that Mary was not a virgin.  In our day when families have about 2 children it is a 50-50 chance, but back then it was closer to a 1 in 10 chance.  The chance was 9 out of 10 that the virgin ‘fulfillment’ should just be dismissed by the simple fact that Jesus had an older sibling – but (against the odds) he didn’t.

Now think about the remarkable timing of Mary’s engagement onto this.  If she had been married even for a few days, the virgin ‘fulfillment’ could again simply be dismissed.  On the other hand, if she had not yet been engaged and was found to be pregnant she would not have had a fiance to care for her.  In that culture, as a pregnant but single woman she would have had to remain alone – if she had been allowed to live.

It is these remarkable and unlikely ‘coincidences’ that make the virgin birth impossible to disprove that strikes me.  These coincidences are not expected, but rather they show a sense of balance and timing as if a Mind were arranging events to show plan and intent.

If Mary had been married before Jesus was born or if Jesus had older siblings, then hostile Jewish witnesses would surely have pointed that out.  Instead it seems that, once again, they agree with the gospel writers on this point.  FF Bruce notes this as he explains how Jesus is mentioned in the rabbis’ writings:

Jesus is referred to in rabbinical literature as Jesus ben Pantera or Ben Pandira.  This might mean ‘the son of the panther’.  The most probable explanation is that it is a corruption of parthenos, the Greek word for ‘virgin’ and arose from Christian references to him as a son of a virgin   (p57-58)

Today, as Jesus’ time, there is hostility to Jesus and the claims of the gospel.  Then, as now, there was significant opposition to him.  But the difference is that back then there were also witnesses, and as hostile witnesses they did not refute some basic points that they could definitely  refute, if these points had been made up or been in error.

Moses’ Farewell Speech: History marching to the beat of its drum

Moses’ Blessings & Curses in Deuteronomy

Moses lived about 3500 years ago and he wrote the first five books of the Bible – known as the Pentateuch or the Torah. His fifth book, Deuteronomy, contains his last proclamations made just before he died. These were his Blessings to the people of Israel – the Jews, but also his Curses.  Moses wrote that these Blessings and Curses would shape history and should be noticed, not just by the Jews, but also by all other nations. So this was written for you and me to think about. The complete Blessings and Curses are here. I summarize the main points below.

The Blessings of Moses

Moses began by describing the blessings that the Israelites would receive if they obeyed The Law.  The law been given in the earlier books and included the Ten Commandments.  The blessings were  from God and would be so great that all other nations would recognize His blessing. The outcome of these blessings would be that:

Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. (Deuteronomy 28:10)

… and the Curses

However, if the Israelites failed to obey the Commands then they would receive Curses that would match and mirror the Blessings. These Curses would be seen by the surrounding nations so that:

You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you. (Deuteronomy 28:37)

And the Curses would extend through history.

They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. (Deuteronomy 28:46)

But God warned that the worst part of the Curses would come from other nations.

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed … until you are ruined. They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28:49-52)

It would go from bad to worse.

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. … Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:63-65)

These Blessings and Curses were established by a covenant (an agreement) between God and the Israelites:

…to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath … also with those who are not here today. (Deuteronomy 29:12-15)

In other words this covenant would be binding on the children, or future generations. In fact this covenant was directed at future generations – both Israelites and foreigners.

Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. … nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. … All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer will be:

“It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt….Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. … the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:21-27)

Did The Blessings and Curses happen?

Nothing neutral about them. The Blessings were delightful, but the Curses were utterly severe. However, the most important question we can ask is: ‘Did they happen?’ The answer is not hard to find. Much of the Old Testament is the record of the history of the Israelites and from that we can see what happens in their history. Also we have records outside the Old Testament, from Jewish historians like Josephus, Graeco-Roman historians like Tacitus and we have found many archeological monuments. All of these sources agree and paint a consistent picture of the Israelite or Jewish history. A summary of this history, given through the building of a timeline is given here.  Read it and assess for yourself if the Curses of Moses came to pass.

The Conclusion to Moses’ Blessings and Curses

But this Farewell Speech of Moses did not end with the Curses. It continued. Here is how Moses made his final pronouncement.

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)

After Moses, successive writers in the Old Testament continued with this promise that he first stated – that there would be a restoration after the Curses.  Ezekiel used the image of dead zombies coming to life to paint a vivid picture of this for us. These later writers made bold, troubling and detailed predictions. Together they make an astounding set of predictions that are happening today.

Was there an Adam? The Testimony of the ancient Chinese

The Bible is a remarkable book.  It claims to be inspired by God and to accurately record history.  I used to doubt the historical accuracy for the beginning chapters of the first book in the Bible – Genesis.  This was the account of Adam & Eve, paradise, the forbidden fruit, a tempter, followed by the account of Noah surviving a worldwide flood.  I, like most people today, thought these stories were really poetic metaphors.

As I researched this question, I made some fascinating discoveries that made me re-think my beliefs.  One discovery lay embedded in Chinese writing.  To see this you need to know some background about the Chinese.

Written Chinese arose from the beginning of Chinese civilization,  about 4200 years ago, some 700 years before Moses wrote the book of Genesis (1500 BC).  We all recognize Chinese calligraphy when we see it.  What many of us don’t know is that ideograms or Chinese ‘words’ are constructed from simpler pictures called radicals.  It is similar to how English takes simple words (like ‘fire’ and ‘truck’) and combines them into compound words (‘firetruck’).  Chinese calligraphy has changed very little in the thousands of years.  We know this from writing that is found on ancient pottery and bone artifacts.  Only in the 20th century with the rule of the Chinese communist party has the script been simplified.

For example, consider the Chinese ideogram for the abstract word ‘first’. It is shown here.

First = alive + dust + man
First = alive + dust + man

‘First’ is a compound of simpler radicals as shown.  You can see how these radicals are all found combined in ‘first’.   The meaning of each of the radicals is also shown.  What this means is that around 4200 years ago, when the first Chinese scribes were forming the Chinese writing they joined radicals with the meaning of ‘alive’+’dust’+’man’ => ‘first’.  But why?  What natural connection is there between ‘dust’ and ‘first’?  There is none.  But notice the creation of the first man in Genesis.

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being  (Genesis 2:17).

The ‘first’ man (Adam) was made alive from dust.  But where did the ancient Chinese get this connection 700 years before Moses wrote Genesis?  Think about this:

Dust + breath of mouth + alive = to talk
Dust + breath of mouth + alive = to talk

The radicals for ‘dust’ + ‘breath of mouth’ + ‘alive’ are combined to make the ideogram ‘to talk’.  But then ‘to talk’ is itself combined with ‘walking’ to form ‘create’.

To talk + walking = to create
To talk + walking = to create

But what is the natural connection between ‘dust’, ‘breath of mouth’, ‘alive’, ‘walking’ and ‘create’ that would cause the ancient Chinese to make this relationship?  But this also bears a striking similarity with Genesis 2:17 above.

This similarity continues.  Notice how ‘devil’ is formed from “man moving secretly in the garden”. What is the natural relationship between gardens and devils?  They have none at all.

Secret + man + garden + alive = devil
Secret + man + garden + alive = devil

Yet the ancient Chinese then built on this by then combining ‘devil’ with ‘two trees’ for ‘tempter’!

Devil + 2 trees + cover = tempter
Devil + 2 trees + cover = tempter

So the ‘devil’ under the cover of ‘two trees’ is the ‘tempter’.  If I was going to make a natural connection to temptation I might show a sexy woman at a bar, or a tempting sin.  But why two trees?  What does ‘gardens’ and ‘trees’ have to do with ‘devils’ and ‘tempters’?  Compare now with the Genesis account:

The LORD God had planted a garden in the east… in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9)

Now the serpent was more crafty… he said to the woman, “Did God really say …” (Genesis 3:1)

To ‘desire’ or ‘covet’ is again connected with a ‘woman’ and ‘two trees’.  Why not relate ‘desire’ in a sexual sense with ‘woman’?  That would be a natural relation.  But the Chinese did not do so.

2 trees + woman = desire
2 trees + woman = desire

The Genesis account does show a relation between ‘covet’, ‘two trees’ and ‘woman’.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband (Genesis 3:6)

Consider another remarkable parallel.  The Chinese ideogram for ‘big boat’ is shown below and the radicals that construct this are also shown:

boat
Big Boat = Eight + mouths + vessel

They are ‘eight’ ‘people’ in a ‘vessel’.  If I was going to represent a big boat why not have 3000 people in a vessel.  Why eight?  Interesting, in the Genesis account of the flood there are eight people in Noah’s Ark (Noah, his three sons and their four wives).

The parallels between the early Genesis and Chinese writing are remarkable.  One might even think the Chinese read Genesis and borrowed from it, but the origin of their language is 700 years before Moses.   Is it coincidence?  But why so many ‘coincidences’?   Why are there no such parallels with the Chinese for the later Genesis stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

But suppose Genesis is recording real historical events.  Then the Chinese – as a race and language group – originate at Babel (Genesis 11) as all other ancient language/racial groups.  The Babel account tells how the children of Noah had their languages confused by God so that they could not understand each other.  This resulted in their migration out from Mesopotamia, and it restricted inter-marriage to within their language.  The Chinese were one of these peoples dispersing from Babel.  At that time the Genesis Creation/Flood accounts were their recent history.  So when they developed writing for abstract concepts like ‘covet’, ‘tempter’ etc. they took from accounts that were well understood in their history.  Similarly for the development of nouns – like ‘big boat’ they would take from the extraordinary accounts that they remembered.

Thus the accounts of Creation and the Flood were embedded into their language from the beginning of their civilization.  As the centuries passed they forgot the original reason, as so often happens.  If this is the case, then the Genesis account recorded real historical events, not just poetic metaphors.

Chinese Sacrifices

The Chinese also had one of the longest lasting ceremonial traditions that have ever been conducted on earth.  From the start of the Chinese civilization (about 2200 BC), the Chinese emperor on the winter solstice always sacrificed a bull to Shang-Ti (‘Emperor in Heaven’, i.e. God).  This ceremony continued through all the Chinese dynasties.  In fact it was only stopped in 1911 when general Sun Yat-sen overthrew the Qing dynasty.  This bull sacrifice was conducted annually in the ‘Temple of Heaven’, which is now a tourist attraction in Beijing.  So for over 4000 years a bull was sacrificed every year by the Chinese emperor to the Heavenly Emperor   Why?  Long ago, Confucius (551-479 BC) asked this very question.  He said:

“He who understands the ceremonies of the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth… would find the government of a kingdom as easy as to look into his palm!”

What Confucius said was that anyone who could unlock that mystery of the sacrifice would be wise enough to rule the kingdom.  So between 2200 BC when the Border Sacrifice began, to the time of Confucius (500 BC) the meaning of the sacrifice had been lost to the Chinese – even though they continued the annual sacrifice another 2400 years to 1911 AD.

Perhaps, if the meaning of their calligraphy had not been lost Confucius could have found an answer to his question.  Consider the radicals used to construct the word for ‘righteous’.

Hand + lance/dagger = me; + sheep = righteousness
Hand + lance/dagger = me; + sheep = righteousness

Righteousness is a compound of ‘sheep’ on top of ‘me’.  And ‘me’ is a compound of ‘hand’ and ‘lance’ or ‘dagger’.  It gives the idea that my hand will kill the lamb and result in righteousness.  The sacrifice or death of the lamb in my place gives me righteousness.

Genesis has many animal sacrifices long before Moses started the Jewish sacrifice system.  For example, Abel (Adam’s son) and Noah offer sacrifices (Genesis 4:4 & 8:20).  It seems that the earliest people understood that animal sacrifices were symbols of a substitute death that was needed for righteousness.  One of Jesus’ titles was ‘lamb of God’ (John 1:29).  His death was the real sacrifice that gives righteousness.  All animal sacrifices – including the ancient Chinese Border Sacrifices – were only a pictures of his sacrifice.  This is what Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac pointed to, as well as Moses’ Passover sacrifice.  The ancient Chinese seemed to have started with this understanding long before Abraham or Moses lived, though they had forgotten it by Confucius’ day.

This means that the sacrifice and death of Jesus for righteousness was understood from the dawn of human history.  Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was a Divine plan reinforced with signs so people could know it from the beginning of time.

This goes against our instincts.  We think that righteousness is based either on mercy of God or on our merits.  In other words, many think no payment is required for sin since God is solely merciful and not Holy.  Others think that some payment is required, but that we can make the payment by the good things we do.  So we try to be good or religious and we hope it will all work out.  This is contrasted by the Gospel that says:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from Law, has been made known… This righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:21-22)

Perhaps the ancients were aware of something that we are in danger of forgetting.

Bibliography

  • The Discovery of Genesis.  C.H. Kang & Ethel Nelson.  1979
  • Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve.  Ethel Nelson & Richard Broadberry. 1994

Passover Sign of Moses

After Abraham died his descendants were called Israelites.  500 years later they have become a large tribe.  But they have also become slaves  of the Egyptians.

The Exodus

The Israelite leader is Moses. God had told Moses to go to Pharaoh of Egypt and demand that he free the Israelites from slavery.   This began a struggle between Pharaoh and Moses producing nine plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Even so, Pharaoh had not agreed to let the Israelites go free so God was going to bring a deadly 10th plague. The full account of the 10th Plague in the Bible is linked here.

The 10th plague was that every firstborn son in the land would die that night from God’s Angel of Death – except those who remained in houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and its blood painted on the door frames of that house. If Pharaoh did not obey, his firstborn son and heir to the throne would die. Every house in Egypt that did not sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood on the doorposts would lose a firstborn son. So Egypt faced a national disaster.

In Israelite (and Egyptian) houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and its blood painted on the doors the promise was that everyone would be safe. The Angel of Death would pass over that house. So this day was called Passover.

Passover – A Sign for who?

People think that the blood on the doors was only for the Angel of Death. But notice what the Bible says

The LORD said to Moses … ” … I am the LORD. The blood [of the Passover lamb] will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. (Exodus 12:13)

Though the LORD was looking for the blood on the door, and if He saw it Death would pass over, the blood was not a sign for Him. It says that the blood was a ‘sign for you’ – the people, including you and me.

But how is it a sign? After this happened the LORD commanded them to:

Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for generations to come. When you enter the land … observe this ceremony… It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD’ (Exodus 12:27)

The Remarkable Passover Calendar

In fact we see at the beginning of this story that this 10th plague began the ancient Israelite (Jewish) calendar.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt,  “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year… (Exodus 12:1-2)

Starting at this time, the Israelites began a calendar that celebrated Passover on the same day every year.  For 3500 years Jewish people have been celebrating Passover every year to remember how their ancestors were saved from death.  Since the Jewish calendar year is a little different from the Western calendar, the Passover day moves each year on the Western calendar.

Jesus and Passover

This is a modern-day scene of Jewish people preparing to celebrate Passover in memory of that first Passover 3500 years ago.
This is a modern-day scene of Jewish people preparing to celebrate Passover in memory of that first Passover 3500 years ago.

If we follow Passover celebrations in history we will notice something remarkable. Notice when the arrest and trial of Jesus happened:

“Then the Jews led Jesus … to the palace of the Roman governor [Pilate]… to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover” … [Pilate] said [to Jewish leaders] “…But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No not him…” (John 18:28, 39-40)

Jesus was arrested and executed on Passover of the Jewish calendar – the same day all Jews were sacrificing a lamb to remember those lambs in 1500 BC that caused Death to pass over.  Remember from Abraham’s Sacrifice, one of the titles of Jesus was:

The next day John (i.e. John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world… ’”. (John 1:29)

Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God’, was sacrificed on the very same day that all the Jews alive then were sacrificing a lamb in memory of the first Passover that started their calendar.  This is why the Jewish Passover  occurs at the same time as Easter.  Easter is to remember the death of Jesus and since that happened on the Passover, Easter and Passover happen close together.  (Since the Western calendar is different they are not on the same day, but usually in the same week).

Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs

Think back to that first Passover in Moses’ day where the blood was a ‘sign’, not only for God, but also for us.  Think what signs do by considering these signs.

Signs are pointer in our minds to get us to think about the thing the sign points to
Signs are pointer in our minds to get us to think about what the sign points to

When we see the ‘skull and crossbones’ sign it makes us think of death and danger. The sign of the ‘Golden Arches’ makes us think about McDonalds. The ‘√’ on Nadal’s bandana is the sign for Nike. Nike wants us to think of them when we see this on Nadal. Signs are made to direct our thinking not to the sign itself but to something it points to.

God had said to Moses that the first Passover blood was a sign.  So what was God pointing to with this sign?  With the remarkable timing of lambs being sacrificed on the same day as Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God’, it is a sign pointing to the coming sacrifice of Jesus.

It works in our minds like I have shown in the diagram here about me.

The Passover is a Sign in that it points to Jesus through the remarkable timing of Passover with Jesus' crucifixion
The Passover is a Sign in that it points to Jesus through the remarkable timing of Passover with Jesus’ crucifixion

The sign is to point us to think about the sacrifice of Jesus. In the first Passover the lambs were sacrificed and the blood painted so that death would pass over the people .  This sign pointing to Jesus is to tell us that  ‘The Lamb of God’ was also sacrificed and his blood spilt so death would pass over us.

With Abraham’s sacrifice the place where the ram died so Isaac could live was Mount Moriah – the same place where Jesus was sacrificed 2000 years later.  That was given so we could ‘see’ the meaning of his sacrifice by pointing to the location. Passover is also pointing to Jesus’ sacrifice, but by using a different sign – by pointing to the day of the calendar – the calendar started by the first Passover.  In two different ways the most important stories in the Old Testament are pointing directly to the death of Jesus using sacrificed lambs. I cannot think of any other person in history whose death (or life achievement) is so foreseen in two such dramatic ways. Can you?

These two events (Abraham’s sacrifice and Passover) should show us that it is reasonable to consider that Jesus is the center of a Divine Plan.

But why has God placed these Signs in ancient history to predict the crucifixion of Jesus?  Why is that so important?  What is it about the world that requires such bloody symbols?  And is it important to us today?  To answer these questions we need to start at the beginning of the Bible to understand what happened at the start of time.

Abraham: How God will Provide

Abraham lived 4000 years ago, traveling to modern-day Israel.  He was promised a son that would become a ‘great nation’, but he had to wait until he was very old to see his son born.  Jews and Arabs today come from Abraham, so we know the promise came true and that he is an important person in history as the father of great nations.

Abraham was now very happy to watch his son Isaac grow up into a man.  But then God tested Abraham with a difficult task.   God said:

“Go get Isaac, your only son, the one you dearly love! Take him to the land of Moriah, and I will show you a mountain where you must sacrifice him to me on the fires of an altar.” (Genesis 22:2)

This is hard to understand!  Why would God ask Abraham to do this?  But Abraham, who had learned to trust God – even when he did not understand

… got up early the next morning … and left with Isaac and two servants for the place where God had told him to go. (Genesis 22:3)

After three days travel they reached the mountain. Then

…when they reached the place that God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and placed the wood on it. Next, he tied up his son and put him on the wood. He then took the knife and got ready to kill his son. (Genesis 22: 9-10)

Abraham was ready to obey God.  Just then something remarkable happened

But the Lord’s angel shouted from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am!” he answered.

“Don’t hurt the boy or harm him in any way!” the angel said. “Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son.”

Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in the bushes. So he took the ram and sacrificed it in place of his son. (Genesis 22: 11-13)

At the last moment Isaac was saved from death and Abraham saw a male sheep and sacrificed it instead.  God had provided a ram and the ram took the place of Isaac.

Here I would like to ask a question.  At this point in the story is the ram dead or alive?

Why do I ask?  Because Abraham will now give a name to the place, but most people miss its importance.  The story continues…

Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”  (Genesis 22:14)

Another question: Is the name that Abraham gave to that place (“The Lord Will Provide”) in the past, present or future tense?

Looking to the future, not the past

It is clearly in the future tense.  Many people think that Abraham, when naming that place, was thinking of the ram provided by God by getting caught in the thicket and then sacrificed in place of his Isaac.  But when Abraham gave the name that ram was already dead and sacrificed.  If Abraham was thinking of that ram – already dead and sacrificed – he would have named it ‘The LORD has provided’ – in the past tense.  And the closing comment would read ‘And even now people say “On the mountain of the LORD it was provided”’.  But the name looks to the future, not the past. Abraham is not thinking of the already dead ram.  He is naming it for something else – in the future.  But what?

Where is that place?

Remember where this sacrifice occurred, told at the beginning of the story:

(“Go get Isaac, …. Take him to the land of Moriah”)

This happened at ‘Moriah’. Where is that?  It was wilderness in Abraham’s day (2000 BC), with only some bushes, a wild ram, and Abraham & Isaac on that mountain.  But one thousand years later (1000 BC) King David built the city of Jerusalem there, and his son Solomon built the First Jewish Temple there. We read later in the Old Testament that:

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah… (2 Chronicles 3:1)

Mount Moriah became Jerusalem, the Jewish city with the Jewish Temple. Today it is a holy place for the Jewish people, and Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel.

The Sacrifice of Abraham and Jesus

Let us think a little about the titles of Jesus.  Jesus’ most well-known title is ‘Christ’. But he had other titles, like

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Jesus was also called ‘The Lamb of God‘. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. Where was he arrested and crucified? It was in Jerusalem (which is the same as ‘Mount Moriah’). It is very clearly stated that:

He [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s authority. Herod was in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. (Luke 23:7)

The arrest, trial and death of Jesus was in Jerusalem (= Mount Moriah).  The timeline shows the events that have happened at Mount Moriah.

timeline of major events at Mount Moriah
Major events at Mount Moriah

Back to Abraham.  Why did he name that place in the future tense ‘The LORD will provide’?  Isaac had been saved at the last moment when a lamb was sacrificed in his place.  Two thousand years later, Jesus is called ‘Lamb of God’ and he is sacrificed at the same location – so you & I could also live.

A Divine Plan

It is like a Mind has connected these two events that are separated by 2000 years of history.  What makes the connection unique is that the first event points to the later event by the name in the future tense.  But how would Abraham know what would happen in the future?  No human knows the future, especially that far into the future.  Only God can know the future.  Foreseeing the future and having these events happen at the same place is evidence that this is not a human plan, but a plan from God.  He wants us to think about this like below

Abraham's sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing to sacrifice of Jesus
Abraham’s sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing to sacrifice of Jesus

Good News for all nations

This story also has a promise for you. At the end of this story God promises to Abraham that:

“…and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18)

If you belong to one of the ‘nations on earth’ then this is a promise to you for a ‘blessing’ from God.

So what is this ‘blessing’?  How do you get it?  Think of the story.  Just like the ram saved Isaac from death, so Jesus the Lamb of God, by his sacrifice at the same place, saves us from the power of death.  If that is true it would certainly be good news.

The sacrifice of Abraham on Mount Moriah is an important event in ancient history.  It is remembered and celebrated by millions around the world today.  But it is also a story for you living 4000 years later.  Its theme is continued with Moses.