What do we know about the life of...

Lesson 3. Jesus the Messiah

James McBride: The person, words, character of Jesus, founder of the Christian faith, are increasingly under siege. Enemies of Jesus, atheists, agnostics - even theologians - have sought to undermine his work. In this lesson we examine the evidence for his life, death and for that strangest of claims made by the Scriptures - that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead.

This last is important. For no matter how much evidence there may be for his existence, yet all his claims, all the claims of the Scriptures, all the claims of Christians for nearly two thousand years are simply rubbish - if Jesus was not raised from the dead. A good man? Not enough - though certainly a man whose teachings are an example for all men. But raised from the dead? The idea has been sneered at for its impossibility.

But - assume he was resurrected. What does that mean for you? If, as the Scriptures claim, he was "...openly designated as the Son of God with power when he was raised from the dead" (Romans 1:3), then clearly we all have to sit up and take note! If the resurrection of Jesus Christ undoubtedly took place, then it was unique in all mankind's history. The Bible reports several instances where the dead were restored to life - physical life. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ was different.

So different, in fact, that when his skeptical disciples saw the evidence they were transformed from whimpering stowaways behind locked doors into men and women who put their lives on the line for what they saw in that tomb. So different that the authorities had to concoct a pack of lies to explain.

In this Lesson we will examine the evidence both for the life of Jesus and for what can only be seen as undisputed - his resurrection from the dead.

Was Jesus who you think he was?

No-one in all of history has been more exhaustively written about than the one we know as Jesus of Nazareth. A few have even sought to deny his very existence. The vast majority, however, accept that he was a historical figure. Indeed there's more evidence for Jesus than for Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great or a host of other ancient luminaries.

Yet to this day scholars seek to reject the image of Jesus recorded for us in history and in the Scriptures. The so-called Jesus seminar - mostly "Christians" - even deride the very words he spoke, reducing them to a bland philosophy, and denying the resurrection.

On the other hand, literally millions of Christians have a distorted view of Jesus - of who he was, what he taught, even how he looked. What emerges from an attentive study of the Bible records paints a vastly different picture to what most think!

Was the real Jesus "lost"?

- even in the mid first-century the apostle Paul had to strenuously warn his readers of belief in "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4)

- the aged apostle John, too, had to contend with strange notions about the very person of Jesus. (1 John 4:1-3)

- and Jesus himself prophesied such a deceit would happen. (Matthew 24:4-5)

- within fifty years, what has been described as "a century of darkness" settled over the church of God. After this, evidenced by literature and the monuments, a different Jesus emerged, with a different message - and even looking different

- instead of the virile man seasoned by hard work and extensive travel, Jesus was presented as a pale weakling with long hair and a sad, pained expression. Most Christians to this day hold this false image of him.

What of his teachings?

- more serious than his appearance, the message Jesus brought was twisted into what the apostle Paul dubs "another gospel" Galatians 1:6-9

- from its beginnings, the church of God was beset and deceived by false prophets and teachers. (Matthew 24:11, Acts 20:29-30)

- is this serious?. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11)

- if we refuse to accept the true Bible representation of Jesus and his message - "a love of the truth" - God warns that He will send "strong delusion" upon us. Surely a frightening thought! Matthew 13:10-16, Luke 8:18.

What do we know of the early life of Jesus?

- Paul tells us that Jesus became a man, and was tempted to sin like every human. (Philippians 2:5-8, I Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 4:15)

- early heresy attempted to dehumanize Jesus, making him a "phantom" or something not fully human. . . I John 1:1, 4:1-6

- he was a "genius", acquiring knowledge and wisdom as he grew, yet displaying great spiritual perception and the favor of God even as a young lad of twelve when he is described as being subject, obedient, to his parents in Nazareth, where he was "brought up". (Luke 2:40-47,52 4:16, Isaiah 11:1-2)

- there he learned a trade, becoming - in his step-father's footsteps - a tekton: variously described as a carpenter, a builder, a stone-mason, a builder, (and undoubtedly the best in the trade). (Mark 7:37, Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55)

- [The Scriptures tell us nothing more about Jesus' life from the age of twelve until he became about thirty. However, there are many non-Biblical references to extensive travel even as far as the British Isles. Such is not unlikely and should not be lightly dismissed.]

- we ought not to read too much into the notion that Jesus was poverty stricken in his youth. He certainly was nomadic for much of the three and a half years of his ministry. But even here he was supported by his followers, at times retired to "the house", had the services of a "treasurer". (Luke 8:3, Mark 2:1, John 12:6) [a better translation of Mark 2:1 is at home - see RSV].

Do we know what race Jesus belonged to?

There's surprising ignorance about this even among those who read the Scriptures. Yet the truth is that God's purpose demanded that Jesus be born into a specific family line and in a specific place:

- God's design for the salvation of mankind was initiated in Eden (Genesis 3:15), the implementation of a plan "made in heaven" before man's creation (1 Peter 1:18-20). As the centuries rolled by, the choice narrowed to the family of Abraham, then of Isaac, then of his son Jacob. Finally the Savior (Messiah) was promised to a descendant of King David of the House (family) of Judah - a son of Jacob (Genesis 49:9-10, Isaiah 9:6-7, Micah 5:2, Hebrews 7:14). This latter text sums it up!

- but Jesus was no ordinary Jew. He was, on his mother's side, directly descended in his flesh from the royal line of David (Luke 3:23-31). His step-father, Joseph, was also descended from David through the kings of Judah. (Matthew 1:1-16)

- was Jesus, then, the true king of the Jews? (John 1:45-49, 12:14-15, 18:36-37, 19:19)

Who was the father of Jesus?

Jesus was born into a legally intact family. His mother Mary was "betrothed" to Joseph - a legally-binding pre-marital agreement which would need divorce proceedings to dissolve. In one account Joseph is called Mary's husband, Mary his wife (Matthew 1:18-24).

- but Joseph was not the literal father of Jesus! For Jesus, in fulfillment of one of the three hundred or so prophecies he fulfilled, was Immanuel - God with us (Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14).

- the true father of Jesus, in other words, is God As Matthew points out, Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born - also prophesied in Isaiah. The Gospel writer explains that Mary - before she had a sexual relationship with Joseph - was "found with child of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:18,20)

- note that God is the Father of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit the means by which the divine was transmuted into a human sperm to fertilize a human ovum. As the apostle John wrote "The Word was made flesh" (John 1:14).

What do you mean - Messiah?

The New Testament gives Jesus the title of Christ - the Greek form for the Hebrew Messiah which signifies anointed. The term was applied to those called by God to a specific office:

- the term was applied to Israel's kings - who were anointed with oil at their investiture. (Judges 9:8-15, 2 Samuel 5:3, I Kings 1:39)

- the gentile King Cyrus was so-called (Isaiah 45:1).

- also to priests (Exodus 29:7, Leviticus 4:3, 5, 16).

- by the first century the term came to he applied to the future ruler of the Jews, prophesied in the Scriptures (Matthew 2:4, Luke 2:26, John 4:25).

Did Jesus fulfill the role of Messiah?

Prophecy is usually employed as an expression of vanity - "I know better than you." The trouble is you can't tell a prophecy is false until it doesn't happen!

However, on the matter of the life of Jesus Christ the evidence is at hand. Today's "prophets" can barely get tomorrow's weather right, never mind accurately forecast events hundreds, even thousands of years in the future. But God can, and did (Isaiah 41:21-23, 46: 9-11)

There are three hundred plus predictions about the Messiah in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Many refer to his physical lineage, the circumstances of his birth, his character, his mission, the manner of his death, his rejection by his own people. Compare the following groups of text for a mere sample of these fulfillments.

Messiah to be human. (Genesis 3:15 * Galatians, 4:4, John 1: 14)

Descent from Abraham) Genesis 18:18 * Matthew 1:1, Acts 3:25)

Descent from Isaac (Genesis 17:19 * Matthew 1:2)

Descent from David (Psalm 132:11 * Matthew 1:1, 12:23)

Where he was born (Micah 5:2 * Matthew 2:1)

His virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14 * Matthew 1:18)

His ministry in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1,2 * Matthew 4:12-16)

Foreseen as a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15 * John 6:14)

Foreseen as a priest (Psalm 110:4 * Hebrews 6:20)

Rejected by his own (Isaiah 53:3 * John 1:11)

Executed with criminals (Isaiah 53:12 * Matthew 27:38)

To be resurrected (Psalm 16:10 * Mark 16:6)

...and on and on!

"Probably" True?

Probability Theory tells us that if there's one chance in five of an event happening, and one chance in ten of another independent event happening- then there's a one in fifty chance of both happening together. The improbability of over three hundred more-or-less independent events taking place focused on one individual's lifetime is a number beyond imagination.

- why Bethlehem for the birth of Messiah, when there were over two thousand other villages?

- how was crucifixion prophesied (Psalm 22) when it was an unknown in Israel at the time the Psalm was composed?

- and what are odds that it was foreseen that someone would die, rise from the dead - never to die again?

"Nor at the present day does any objective historian deny the historical fact of Christ. It is not historians who toy with the fantasy of a Christ-myth" [New Bible Commentary: art. Life of Jesus Christ]

Was Jesus really dead?

Detractors claim that Jesus didn't die, but went into a coma on the cross reviving in the cool of the tomb. Others admit his death, but said his body was stolen by the disciples

- the barbaric torture inflicted on Jesus by means of scourging coupled with the torment of crucifixion ensured his death (Mark 15:39)

- scourging was carried out with whips in the tips of which were imbedded bone and metal. It laid the flesh bare to the bone and often killed

- Jesus was killed, finally, by a spear thrust into his side, puncturing his arteries and bladder (John 19:33-35) - for more about this, see How Did Jesus Die?

- the Roman Governor Pilate demanded assurances that Jesus was dead before releasing the body for burial (Mark 15:43-46)

- the one hundred pounds of highly aromatic spices wrapped around the body of Jesus would, in the confines of the tomb, smother him (if yet alive) rather than help him recover consciousness (Matthew 27:59, John 19:38-40). Aromatic spices, often of a gummy consistency were placed between the wrappings or folds. They served partially as a preservative and partially as a cement to glue the cloth wrappings into a solid covering " [Merrill Tenney: The Reality of The Resurrection]

Did Jesus the Messiah rise from the dead?

Only if He was crucified on Wednesday and resurrected on Saturday!

Scholars scoff at the notion that someone could rise from the dead Even theologians scoff- and succeed in turning multitudes away from God. Yet the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most authenticated and momentous events in all history.

Indeed, if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead then Christianity is a sham and built on a house of cards (1 Corinthians 15:13-20)

Jesus himself also foretold his own death - and resurrection (Matthew 16:21, Luke 9:22-27, John 2:18-22 etc.)

He even foretold the length of time he would be in the tomb (Matthew 12:38-40, Jonah 1:17). How long was this?

- Jesus made this time span the only sign that he was who he claimed to be, the vast majority of Christians today reject this. Do you?

- a proper understanding of the texts supports the fact that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday afternoon, and raised at the end of the Sabbath (Saturday). There was no "Sunday resurrection"!

- there were two Sabbaths that week, the first (Thursday) was a "high day" or annual Sabbath during which work - except food preparation - was forbidden (John 19:14 & 31, Leviticus 23:6-7)

- Jesus was placed in the tomb before that first Sabbath began (Luke 23:54).

- after (the annual) Sabbath the women bought (not brought) spices, but rested on the (weekly) Sabbath after preparing them to place around the body of Jesus (Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56)

- the tomb was empty when Mary arrived before day-break on Sunday morning (John 20:1). She - and the others - knew the tomb would be sealed by the authorities until the third day (Matthew 27:64, Mark 15:44-47)

- that is, Jesus was, as he predicted, three days and three nights in the "heart of the earth" - in the rock-hewn sepulchre. No twisting of words can fit this into his crucifixion late on a Friday, and his resurrection before daybreak on Sunday!

- up to about a century ago this was commonly understood by many theologians! Noted evangelist R. A. Torrey is an example "everything in Scripture is harmonized by a Wednesday crucifixion", he wrote (1907). See also the Companion Bible, Appendix 156 for a fuller appraisal of the evidence.

The Psalmist was inspired to predict that the future "David" - the Messiah - would die and be placed in the grave (Heb. sheol, KJV hell). But he would not be there long enough to begin to decay. Peter points out that the reference was not to David himself, who did die.

What is the evidence for the resurrection?

Jesus, as we have seen, predicted his own death and resurrection. Within six weeks of those momentous events, the apostle Peter asserted it had taken place, and quoted one of the Old Testament predictions relating to it (Acts 1:3, 2:23-27, Psalm 16:8-10)

- "it was the common Jewish idea that corruption began on the fourth day" [Alfred Edersheim Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah] (John 11:39)

Was there any possibility that the disciples could steal the body of Jesus from the tomb? (Matthew 27:62-66)

Were the authorities able to explain the disappearance of the body of Jesus? (Matthew 28:11-15)

- the guards would be under penalty of death if their charges escaped. There had been a "great earthquake" and whatever the guards saw caused them to faint, and to become unconscious (Matthew 28.1-4). A watch usually consisted of four men each of whom watched in turn "The fear [by the Roman soldiers] of punishments produced faultless attention to duty" [Polybius]

- on recovery they went to the Jewish authorities who bribed them to say the disciples had stolen the body (Matthew 28:12-15). It was a fable repeated many years later (v.15) - and even in our day!

- contemporary authorities, then, could not explain the resurrection by natural means. They were as convinced as Peter and John (see, next section) that Jesus rose from the dead, and by the same indisputable evidence.

What convinced the disciples?

Note the attitude of the disciples following the crucifixion. Were they loyal, and confident that Jesus would return from the grave as he promised? (Mark 14:50, John 20:19)

Contrast this with their attitude about six weeks later (Acts chs. 2-3; 4:13, 20, 33; 5:27-32). Were they now willing to be imprisoned and even to die for their belief that Jesus was risen? (Acts 5:32, 7:54-60, 8: 1-3, 12:1-2) What caused such a transformation?

Clearly the evidence available to them that Jesus rose from the dead was so overwhelming their entire lives became permanently changed. Yet such had been their skepticism that they disbelieved first reports of his resurrection (Mark 16:9-14, Luke 24:10-11).

What convinced Peter and John that Jesus was alive three days and nights after his death? (John 20:1-10).

- John, who arrived at the sepulchre first, gave a cursory glance through the entrance into the eerie darkness at the gleam of the white grave-clothes. Bold Peter ventured inside to examine the situation more closely. John then followed - and what he saw on close examination caused him to believe.

- unbelievably, the body of Jesus had disappeared! From outside it had looked intact. Now he could see that the wrappings - still molded in the shape of Jesus' body - were empty. Recall that the spices served to 'glue' the strips of cloth together, and to the body, forming an almost solid "cocoon"

- more, the head-wrapping was also there, molded to the shape of his head, but lying apart from the other wrappings (John 20:7)

- in burials, the head was wrapped separately. Unlike the famed Turin Shroud, the graveclothes were not all in one piece!

- quite astonishingly, the body of Jesus had miraculously passed through the wrappings. His physical body had taken on a new form (Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19, 26).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most incontrovertible facts of history. It is totally unique. No mere recovery from a deep coma or "permanent vegetative state" nor a miraculous restoration to physical life, but a glorious return from death by the power of Almighty God to a life that will never end.

Given the reality of the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, each of us is challenged to examine what he taught. And if we want to live after death - to obey him!

Endnotes:


Reprinted with permission of Church of God, UK. Email comments to: the comment form below.
Editor: James McBride.
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Chart Of New Testament Fulfillments Of Old Testament Predictions
Messiah's Birth From a Virgin Isaiah 7:14 Matthew 1:33
Messiah's Birthplace Micah 5:2 Matthew 2:1, 6
The Forerunner of Messiah Isaiah 40:3-5 Matthew 3:3 Mark 1:3 Luke 3:4-6 John 1:23
Malachi 3:1 Matthew 11:10 Mark 1:2 Luke 1:76; 7:27
Malachi 4:5 Matthew 11:14; 17:10-12 Mark 9:11-13 Luke 1: 16-17
Messiah's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem Zechariah 9:9-10 Psalm 118:25-26 Matthew 21:9 Mark 11:9 Luke 19:38 John 12:13
The Betrayal of Messiah Judas: Psalm 69:25 Psalm 109:8 Acts 1:20
Thirty Pieces of Silver Zechariah 11:12-13 Matthew 26:15; 27:9-10
The Suffering of Messiah
Mocked by his Enemies: Psalm 22:7; 109:25 Matthew 27:35 Mark 15:29 Luke 23:35
Psalm 22:8 Matthew 27:43
Messiah's Thirst: Psalm 69:21 Matthew 27:34,48 Mark 15:36 Luke 23:36 John 19:28
Messiah's Words on the Cross: Psalm 22:1 Matthew 27:46 Mark 14:34
Psalm 22:31 John 19:30
Messiah's Side Is Pierced: Zechariah 12:10 John 19:37
Messiah's Gethsemane: Isaiah 50:4-9 Mark 14:65 John 18:22; 19:3
Messiah's Vicarious Suffering: Isaiah 53:6,9 Isaiah 53:7-8 1 Peter 2:21-25 Acts 8:32-35 Revelation 5:6, 12; 13:8
Isaiah 53:12 Romans 4:25 Hebrews 9:28
The Resurrection of Messiah Psalm 16: 10 Acts 2:27; 13:35-37
The Offices of Messiah
Prophet. Deuteronomy 18:15-19 Acts 3:22-23; 7:37
Faithful Priest: I Samuel 2:35 Acts 3:24
King: Psalm 2:6 Revelation 19:16
Messiah's Second Coming Daniel 7:13 Mark 13:26 Luke 21:27 Matthew 24:44
Zechariah 12: 10 Matthew 24:30 Revelation 1:7

 

Chart of the Progress of Sixty-Five Direct Predictions of the Messiah in the Promise Doctrine
Six Direct Messianic Predictions in the Pentateuch
Two in Genesis 1-11: Genesis 3:15 "Seed"
Genesis 9:27 "live in Shem"
Two in the Patriarchal Era: Genesis 12:1-3 "all be blessed"
Genesis 49:8-12 "Shiloh"
Two in the Mosaic: Numbers 24:15-19 "star"
Deut 15:15-18 "prophet"
Four Messianic Texts in Job Job 9:33; "Arbitrator"
Job 16:19-21; "Witness"
Job 19:23-27; "Redeemer"
Job 33:23-28 "Mediator"
Five Messianic Texts Prior to and During the Davidic Era 1 Sam 2:1-10; "Anointed"
1 Sam 2:35-36; "faithful Priest"
2 Sam 7; David's "house"
Psalm 89; David's "throne"
Psalm 132 David's "kingdom"
Eleven Psalms Celebrating the Person and Work of the Messiah Psalm 110 Psalm 2 As Conqueror and Enthroned Ruler.
Psalm 118 As a Rejected Stone
Psalm 69 Psalm 109 As Betrayed
Psalm 22 Psalm 16 As Dying and Resurrected
Psalm 40 Psalm 45 As Planner and Groom
Psalm 68 Psalm 72 As Triumphant King
Thirty-nine Predictions of the Messiah in the Prophets of the Old Testament
Ninth Century: One Prediction Joel 2:23 Messiah as "Teacher"
Eighth Century: Four Non-Isaianic Predictions Hosea 3:4-5 Messiah as the Second David
Amos 9:11-15 Messiah as the Raised House of David
Micah 2:12-13 Messiah as the "Breaker"
Micah 5:1-4 Messiah as the Coming Ruler
Eighth Century: Isaiah: Fourteen Isaianic Predictions Isaiah 4:2 Messiah the "Branch of the LORD"
Isaiah 7:14 Messiah Born of a Virgin
Isaiah 9:1-7 Messiah Whose Name is "Wonderful Counselor"
Isaiah 11: 1-16 Messiah's Reign
Isaiah 24:21-25 Messiah's Universal Triumph
Isaiah 28:16 Messiah the "Foundation Stone"
Isaiah 30:19-26 Messiah as "Teacher"
Isaiah 42:1-7 Messiah the "Servant of the LORD"
Isaiah 49:1-6 Messiah's Mission to the World
Isaiah 50:4-9 Messiah's Gethsemane
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 The Atonement By Messiah
Isaiah 55:3-5 Messiah and the Unfailing Grace Promised to David
Isaiah 61:1-3 Messiah as Proclaimer of the Good News
Isaiah 63:1-6 Messiah as the Conqueror
Seventh Century: Three Predictions Jeremiah 23:5-6 Messiah as "the LoRD our Righteousness"
Jeremiah 30:9, 21 Messiah as the Priestly King
Jeremiah 33:14-26 Messiah's Inviolable Promise
Sixth Century: Six Predictions Ezekiel 17:22-24 Messiah as the Tender Sprig
Ezekiel 21:25-27 Messiah as the Rightful King
Ezekiel 34:23-31 Messiah as the Good Shepherd
Ezekiel 37:15-28 Messiah as the Unifier of the Nation
Daniel 7:13-14 Messiah as the Son of Man
Daniel 9:24-27 Messiah as the Coming Anointed Ruler
Fifth Century: Eleven Predictions Haggai 2:6-9 Messiah as the "Desire of the Nations"
Haggai 2:21-23 Messiah as God's "Signet Ring"
Zechariah 3:8-10 Messiah's Work as High Priest
Zechariah 6:9-15 Messiah as King-Priest Over the Nations
Zechariah 9:9-10 Messiah as the Entering King
Zechariah 10:4 Messiah's Four Titles
Zechariah 11:4-14 Messiah as the Rejected Good Shepherd
Zechariah 12:10 Messiah as the Pierced One
Zechariah 13:7 Messiah as the Smitten Companion
Malachi 3:1 Messiah as the "Messenger of the Covenant"
Malachi 4:2 Messiah as the "Sun of Righteousness"

adapted from Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., (1995) The Messiah in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan



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