This recent Hollywood blockbuster features Superman and Batman in violent battles to save the world from destruction. They also battle each other. The whirlwind of effects-driven action is visually stunning. Devastation abounds with an atmosphere of gloom and doom.
But, although the movie features futuristic technology, ancient apocalyptic and theological themes are evident.
Superman is a god-like figure. But he’s seen as a threat to humanity (like Jesus was viewed by the Jewish religious leaders). That’s why Batman fights Superman, even though they are both meant to be heroes.
Superman is a Jesus-like modern-day savior. A super-hero. Like Jesus, he has a human form. And like Jesus, he finishes up in a grave.
In one of the battle scenes there is a silhouette of a cross on the horizon amongst the wreckage. Is this an intentional biblical link or is it accidental?
In fact, there’s a trinity of heroes in this movie – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (an immortal warrior). This reminds me of the triune biblical God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So there are plenty of heroes in this virtual universe.
But, a movie needs villains as well as heroes. The super-villain is Lex Luthor who frames Superman. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring Superman down. He also manipulates Batman and Superman to heighten their animosity toward each other. This reminds me of Satan tempting Jesus (Mt. 4:1-11).
Luthor is a Satan-like figure. At the end of the movie he is arrested and imprisoned. This reminds me that in future Satan will be imprisoned for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3).
Although Superman is killed and buried at the end of the movie, a faint heartbeat echoes from his coffin and the dirt around it begins to levitate! Clearly, it’s not the end of Superman. There will be a sequel that fans can look forward to.
This reminds me that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead three days later. The Bible says that, because of this, humanity can be rescued from their world of gloom and doom into God’s world of love, joy, peace and hope. There is a future that Christians can look forward to.
This movie is full of violent battles. The Bible is also full of battles. In the Old Testament the Israelites battle against their enemies and in the New Testament there are several battles. Christians suffer persecution. Christians also face personal battles such as Paul struggling against his sinful desires (Rom. 8:15-25). And there are many battles in the apocalyptic world described in the book of Revelation.
In Revelation there are the four horsemen who symbolize wars, famines, plagues, and wild beasts that bring death to 25% of the population (Rev. 6). Also, natural disasters are prevalent (Rev. 6:12-14; 8:7-12). People will be tortured (Rev. 9:3-11). Four demons kill 33% of humanity (Rev. 9:14-19). God’s witnesses will be martyred (Rev. 6:9-11; 11:1-13). Satanic leaders are called beasts (Rev. 13). Then there’s more plagues and natural disasters culminating in the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16). Finally, Jesus comes as a warrior to defeat all of those who oppose Him (Rev. 19:11-21). I wonder if anyone will make a movie about the real apocalypse?
Lessons for us
Moving from the world of Hollywood imagination back to the real world. In our universe there is good and evil. There is suffering and tragedy. There are dreams and nightmares.
What’s the reason for the evil and suffering? According to the Bible it’s because we all follow Satan (who is like Luthor) unless we turn to follow Jesus (who is like Superman). Without the saving power of Jesus in our life, we have no hope and ultimately face gloom and doom.
Let’s make Jesus our Superman!
Written, April 2016
The most common belief is that Jesus died on Good Friday and rose again on the following Sunday. But some people think that He died on Wednesday or Thursday instead of on Friday. What does the Bible say about this topic?
The Jews celebrated seven annual religious festivals. Four were in the spring (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Weeks or Pentecost) and three in the Fall (Autumn) (Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles). The Passover was a celebration of the exodus from Egypt. As Jesus died near the Passover celebration, it’s instructive to list when the spring festivals were held:
– Passover – 14 Aviv (1st month)
– Unleavened bread – 15-21 Aviv
– Firstfruits – 16 Aviv or the next Sunday (see Appendix)
– Pentecost – 6 Sivan (3rd month) or the next Sunday (see Appendix)
On the first and last days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread they weren’t to do “regular (or ordinary or daily) work” (Ex. 12:16; Lev. 23:7-8NIV; Num. 28:18-25). Occupational work was prohibited on these days.
On the seventh day of the week (Sabbath day), they weren’t to do any work at all (Lev. 23:3). Whereas only occupational work was banned on the first and last days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This means that food could be prepared on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, but not on the seventh day of the week (Ex. 12:16; 16:5).
Sequence of events
The sequence of events associated with Christ’s death are as follows. It is noted that the Jewish day begins and ends at sunset (Gen. 1:5; Lev. 23:32). This means it is night-time followed by day-time.
Last Supper celebrated – During an evening (Mt. 26:20; Mk. 14:17). This was one night before the Passover meal (Jn. 18:28).
Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane – In the middle of the night as the disciples fell asleep (Mt. 26:40; Mk. 14:27; Lk. 22:46).
Jesus arrested – Immediately afterwards (Mt. 26:47; Mk. 14:43; Lk. 22:47).
Religious trial of Jesus – In the darkness of the early morning. The last stage was at daybreak (Mt. 27:1; Mk. 15:1; Lk. 22:66).
Civil trial of Jesus – Began immediately afterwards in the early in the morning (Jn. 18:28).
Jesus crucified – Sometime later in the morning, between 9am and noon (Mk. 15:25, Jn. 19:14).
Jesus died – About 3pm (Mt. 27:45-50; Mk. 15:33-37).
Jesus buried – Before evening (Mt. 27:57). It was the day before the Sabbath (Mk. 16:42; Lk. 23:54). John called it a “special Sabbath” (Jn. 19:31, 42). The tomb was sealed on the next day (Mt. 27:62-66).
Jesus risen – His absence from the tomb was noticed at dawn on the morning of the first day of the week (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:1-6; Lk. 24:1-6; Jn. 20:1-2). The resurrection occurred during the previous night, which was the night of the Jewish first day of the week (Mt. 28:13).
The simplest explanation of these events is that the Last Supper was on Thursday evening (the evening of the Passover) and the crucifixion on Friday (the day of the Passover). This means that Christ died on the day of the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7) and rose on the day of Firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20). And that the Sabbath in between these days was special because it was also the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread (when Jews weren’t to do occupational work).
However, what about:
– The day before the Last Supper seeming to be called “the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread” (Mt. 26:17; Mk. 14:12)? This is resolved if the conversation took place at sunset, which means it was the same day as the Last Supper. And it is a case where “Unleavened Bread” is interchanged with “Passover” (see below and Lk. 22:7-8).
– Jesus said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt 12:40)?
Which Sabbath day?
The Bible says that Jesus died about 3pm (Mt. 27:46, 50; Mk. 15:34, 37). But what day of the week was it?
The day Christ died was called the “Preparation Day (that is the day before the Sabbath)” (Mk. 15:42). And John called it “the day of Preparation of the Passover” (Jn. 19:14). This preparation is also mentioned elsewhere (Mt.27:62; Jn. 19:14, 31, 42; Lk, 23:54). And the next day was a “special Sabbath” (Jn. 19:31).
After Christ’s burial, the women “rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment” (Lk. 23:56). Which commandment? The Greek noun translated commandment entole (Strongs #1785) is also used by Luke to describe, the commands in the Pentateuch (Lk. 1:6), a father’s orders to his son (Lk. 15:29), and the ten commandments (Lk. 18:20). So in this case it probably means the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11). This indicates that the crucifixion was on a Friday.
“The day of Preparation of the Passover” (Jn. 19:14) was the day on which the Jews prepared to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread (called the Passover here, see “Naming Jewish Festivals). They had to remove all leaven (yeast) from the house in order to be ready for the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:15). This meant that Friday was the annual Passover Day and Saturday was the first day of the annual Festival of Unleavened Bread. This made that Saturday a “special Sabbath” (being both a weekly Sabbath and the first day of the annual Festival of Unleavened Bread).
What about Matthew 12:40?
The following verses have been used to claim that Jesus must have been in the grave for three whole days (72 hours). Jesus said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt 12:40)? “Three days and three nights” was a Jewish expression (Jon. 1:17). He also said, “Destroy this temple (His body), and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19). Also, He rose back to life “after three days” (Mt. 27:63; Mk. 8:31).
The Bible says that Jesus was resurrected on “the third day” after His death and burial (Mt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk. 9:31; 10:34; Lk. 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Jn. 2:19; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4). The third day means the day after tomorrow (Lk. 13-31-33). Apparently the Jews counted parts of days as whole days. An example of this is saying “after eight days” when they mean from one Sunday to the next (i.e. “a week later”), which is 6 full days and 2 part days (Jn. 20:26).
This inclusive reckoning of time is also in the Old Testament (Gen. 40: 13, 20; 42:17-18; 1 Sam. 30:12-13; 1 Ki. 12:5, 12; 20:29; 2 Chr. 10:5, 12; Est. 4:16 – 5:1; Hos. 6:2). Two of these examples mention days and nights. “Three days and three nights” are equivalent to “three days ago” (1 Sam. 30:12-13) and “three days, night and day” are equivalent to “the third day” (Est. 4:16 – 5:1).
If it was three 24-hour periods (72 hours), then according to Jewish timing Jesus would have risen on the fourth day, instead of the third day. So Matthew 12:40 doesn’t mean that Jesus was in the grave for 72 hours. Note that the events of the three days seem to include the arrest and trial of Jesus as well (Mk. 9:31; Lk. 24:18 – 21). So, according to Jewish timing, the three days were part Friday (up to 18 hours), all Saturday and part Sunday (up to 12 hours).
Naming Jewish Festivals
The language in the gospels can be confusing because the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were so closely connected that they were often considered to be one festival. The celebrations were so close together that at times the names of both were used interchangeably. Sometimes the 8-day festival was called the Passover and on other times it’s called the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Mk. 14:12; Lk. 22:1). Also, the Passover meal was eaten on the evening of the first day of the festival of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:8).
What about Wednesday?
Some say that there were two separate Sabbath days. In this case they say that Christ was crucified on Wednesday (the Passover), so that Thursday was the First day of the festival of Unleaveedn Bread (a special Sabbath). According to John 19:31 the day after Christ died was a “special Sabbath” (or a high day or a special day). Although this may satisfy a literal interpretation of Matthew 12:40, it doesn’t satisfy the following:
– It would mean that Christ was resurrected on the fourth (Roman time) or fifth (Jewish timing) day after His death and burial and not “the third day”.
– It would mean that Christ rose on Saturday afternoon, and not on the first day of the week.
Some say there is a contradiction between Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:56. But what it says is that the women prepared spices and perfumes before the Sabbath day and then more were purchased after the Sabbath day. There is no need to postulate two Sabbaths. Instead the spices were prepared before the Sabbath commenced at sunset on Friday, and because more were needed these were purchased after sunset on Saturday when the Sabbath had finished.
What about Thursday?
Some say that Christ was crucified on Thursday (the Passover), and Friday was the First day of the festival of Unleavened Bread (a special Sabbath). However, this doesn’t satisfy the following:
– According to Jewish timing, it would mean that Christ was resurrected on the fourth day after His death and burial and not “the third day”.
The Bible seems to say that Jesus ate the Passover meal on the (Thursday) evening of the Passover. He was arrested later in the night and trialled throughout the night and early morning and crucified between 9am and noon on Friday. He died about 3pm on Friday (matching the Jewish Passover), was buried before sunset and rose again between sunset on Saturday and sunrise on Sunday (matching the Jewish Firstfruits). The day between these was Saturday (both the Jewish Sabbath and the first day of the Jewish Unleavened Bread).
The Bible says Jesus rose from the grave “on the third day” after He was arrested. According to Jewish timing, these three days were part Friday (up to 18 hours), all Saturday and part Sunday (up to 12 hours).
The offering of the Firstfruits was on “the day after the Sabbath” during the festival of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:11, 15). There are two possible interpretations of this date: that it was a Sunday (after a regular Sabbath) or that it was 16 Aviv (assuming that the 15 Aviv was called a special Sabbath because they didn’t do occupational work on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread). The NIV Zondervan Study Bible assumes the first interpretation and the NIV Study Bible the second one.
The first interpretation is based on the following reasoning. The Bible doesn’t specifically use the term “Sabbath” for the first and last days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The day of Pentecost (Festival of Weeks) is dated as follows “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord” (Lev. 23:15-16). So it occurs on the same day of the week as the offering of Firstfruits. Note that it is “the day after the seventh Sabbath”, which must be a regular Sabbath (there being seven regular Sabbaths in that seven-week period). Note, that there were no special annual Sabbaths (prohibitions of regular work) during this time period of the year. So both Pentecost and the offering of Firstfruits were on a Sunday. This is consistent with these being the only Jewish festivals that are not given specific dates in Scripture.
The second interpretation is based on the following reasoning. Occupational work was prohibited on the Festival of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the first and eighth days of the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev, 16:31; 23:24, 32, 39). These are all called “a day of Sabbath rest”. They are special Sabbaths which can occur on any day of the week. As occupational work was also prohibited on the first and last days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, it is assumed that these were also called special Sabbaths and “the Sabbath” in Leviticus 23:11, 15 is one of these days. However, if the day before the Day of Pentecost can occur on any day of the week, why is it called “the seventh Sabbath” (Lev. 23:16)?
Written, April 2016
Imagine an ancient Moabite gazing down upon the Tabernacle of Israel from a hillside. This Moabite is attracted by what he sees so he and his wife descend the hill and make their way toward the Tabernacle. They walk around this high wall of dazzling linen until they come to a gate and at the gate, they see a man.
“May we go in there?” they ask, pointing through the gate to where the bustle of activity in the Tabernacle’s outer court can be seen. “Who are You?” demands the man suspiciously. Any Israelite would know they could go in there. “We’re from Moab”, they reply. “Well, I’m very sorry, but you can’t go in there. You see, it’s not for you. The Law of Moses has barred all Moabites from any part in the worship of Israel” (Dt. 23:3).
The Moabites looked so sad and said, “Well, what would we have to do to go in there?” “You would have to be born again,” the gatekeeper replies. “You would have to be born an Israelite”. “Oh, we wish we had been born Israelites”, they say and as they look again, they see one of the priests, having offered a sacrifice at the bronze altar and cleansed himself at the bronze basin and then they see the priest enter the Tabernacle’s interior. “What’s in there?” they ask. “Inside the main building, we mean”. “Oh,” the gatekeeper says, “That’s the Tabernacle itself. Inside it contains a lampstand, a table, and an altar of gold. The man you saw was a priest. He will trim the lamp, eat of the bread upon the table and burn incense to the living God upon the golden altar”.
“Ah,” the Moabites sigh, “We wish we were Israelites so we could do that. We would so love to worship God in there and help to trim the lamp and offer Him incense and eat bread at that table”. “Oh, no”, the gatekeeper hastens to say, “even I could not do that. To worship in the Holy Place one must not only be born an Israelite, one must be born of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron”. “And even if she was born of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron, your wife couldn’t go in there, because only males are allowed” (Ex. 27:21). Sadly, the Moabite woman turned away. She had no hope in all the world of ever entering there!
The man from Moab sighs again, “I wish that I had been born of Israel of the tribe of Levi of the family of Aaron”, and then, as he gazes wistfully at the closed Tabernacle door, he says, “What else is in there?” “Oh, there’s a veil. It’s a beautiful veil I’m told and it divides the Tabernacle in two. Beyond the veil is what we call ‘the Most Holy Place’”. “What’s in the Most Holy Place?” the Moabite asks. “Well, there’s the sacred chest in there and it’s called the Ark of the Covenant. It contains holy memorials of our past. Its top is gold and we call that the mercy seat because God sits there between the golden cherubim. Do you see that pillar of cloud hovering over the Tabernacle? That’s God’s visible presence. It rests on the mercy seat”, said the gatekeeper.
Again, a look of longing comes over the face of the Moabite man. “Oh,” he said, “if only I were a priest! How I would love to go into the Holy of Holies and gaze upon the glory of God and worship Him there in the beauty of His holiness!’. “Oh no!” said the man at the gate. “You couldn’t do that even if you were a priest! Only the high priest can enter the Most Holy Place. Only he can go in there. Nobody else!”
The heart of the man from Moab yearns once more. “Oh,” he cried, “If only I had been born an Israelite, of the tribe of Levi, of the family of Aaron. If only I had been born a high priest! I would go in there every day! I would go in there three times a day! I would worship continually in the Most Holy Place!”. The gatekeeper looked at the man from Moab again and once more shook his head. “Oh no,” he said, “you couldn’t do that! Even the high priest of Israel can go in there only once a year, and then only after the most elaborate preparations and even then only for a little while”.
Sadly, the Moabite turned away. He had no hope in all the world of ever entering there!
That’s the old way. But it’s not the end! There’s more!
The new way
As Gentiles, the Moabites were, “excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12NIV). But Jesus changed this situation. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off (like the Gentile Moabites) have been brought near (like theJewish High Priest) by the blood (death) of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). The old way to God, which was exclusive to the Jews, has been replaced by the new way, which is open to everyone. Here’s how it happened.
When Christ died “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” by an earthquake (Mt. 27:51, 54; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). This signified that all people could now have access to God through Christ’s vicarious (substitutionary) death. And they don’t have to come via human priests.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place (like the High Priest) by the blood (death) of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest (Jesus Christ) over the house of God (all true believers, Heb. 3:6), let us draw near to God (in prayer, praise and worship) with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings” (Hebrews 10:19-22). The curtain represented the body of Christ and its tearing represented His death. By this act, God indicated that all believers have access to God. They could be close to Him like the High Priest, not distant like the Moabites and the gatekeeper. This new way of approaching God is open to all who trust in Christ’s sacrificial death when they come in sincerity, assurance, salvation, and sanctification (Heb. 10:22).
So today, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). All true Christians have the same spiritual status. “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11). As far as their standing before God is concerned, all believers are on the same level. No believer is spiritually superior to anyone else.
While the old way of approaching God illustrated the new way; the new way is superior to the old way.
This blogpost is based on an illustration in “Exploring Hebrews” (p.94-96) by John Phillips (2002), which was brought to my attention by Jared Wilson.
Written, March 2016
Also see: What does Galatians 3:28 mean?
Have you ever been to a funeral where the eulogy doesn’t seem to match your experience of the person? Sometimes our reporting is selective or biased.
How do we discover facts about someone who lived about 2,000 years ago? We examine history books written as closely as possible to their lifetime. To find out about Jesus we read parts of the Bible that were written by eyewitnesses and their contemporaries, 30-60 years after He lived. In this post we see that according to those who knew Jesus best, He was more than a prophet because He is the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.
What’s a prophet?
In the Bible, a prophet is one who speaks on behalf of someone else. For example, Aaron was Moses’ spokesman (Ex. 7:1). So he was a prophet of Moses. God’s prophets brought messages from God, which were called prophesies. They were God’s messengers to humanity who were enabled by the Holy Spirit (Neh. 9:30; Joel 2:28; Mic. 3:8; 2 Chr. 15:1). So a prophet spoke God’s words. There were two kinds of prophets, those who were true and those who were false.
In the context of Christ’s coming reign on earth, Peter said that Jesus would be a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:21-23). The similarity is that both are raised up by God (Dt. 18:15, 18). Does this mean that Jesus was just a prophet like Moses, Isaiah, and John the Baptist? Indeed, after He was rejected in Nazareth, Jesus identified with the prophets by saying, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Lk. 4:24-26). He also gave examples of this using Elijah and Elisha who were prophets. Jesus also predicted that He would die in Jerusalem where many prophets had been put to death (Lk. 13:33).
So, who did Jesus claim to be?
1. What Jesus said
Jesus said He was similar to God. He asserted, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19); “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9); “The one who looks at me is seeing the One who sent me” (John 12:45); “Whoever hates me, hates my Father as well” (John 15:23); “All may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). These references certainly indicate that Jesus looked at Himself as being more than just a man; rather He was equal with God.
When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30), He meant that He is united with God the Father. Because of their unity, Jesus displayed God the Father (Jn. 14:9). Then He said, “the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn. 10:38; 14:10-11). They were interconnected.
The titles used by Jesus (“Son of God”, “Son of Man”, and “I am”) showed His divinity. During His trial, Jesus was cross-examined by Caiaphas the high priest “‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’. The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They all condemned Him as worthy of death” (Mk. 14:61-64). So Jesus said He was the Son of God. No other prophet ever called himself the Son of God.
The Jews knew that the “Son of Man” was heir to the divine throne because “all nations and peoples of every language worshiped Him” and He will have “everlasting dominion that will never pass away” (Dan. 7:13-14). He’ll rule forever. Nations will worship Him and His kingdom will be unstoppable.
Jesus told the Jews, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!” (Jn. 8:58). “I am” was a title that God used when he revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:14). In fact, Jesus had dwelt with God the Father from all eternity, which is a long time before the time of Abraham! So Jesus claimed to be Israel’s God.
Jesus also said that He was “the First and the Last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13), which is another title of God (Isa. 44:6; 48:12). Also, Jesus said that He was the Jewish Messiah (the Christ) (Mt. 16:16-17; 26:63-64; Mk. 14:61-62; Jn. 4:25-26; 17:3). Furthermore, Jesus claimed to be the judge of humanity and the one who grants eternal life (Jn. 5:21-22; 10:27-28).
Jesus often showed people, by His actions, that He had divine authority. For example, He claimed to forgive sins (Mt. 9:2-8; Mk. 2:3-12; Lk. 5:18-26). While priests and prophets could mediate forgiveness by praying for people, forgiving sins committed against God was something the Jewish religious leaders believed only God had the authority to do (Mk. 2:7). Because of claims like this they tried to kill Him.
Before He ascended back to heaven, Jesus told his followers “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). This is a claim of omnipresence, which is a characteristic of God.
So in many ways, Jesus often claimed to be divine. But what did God the Father say about Jesus?
2. What God said
When Jesus was baptized, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’” (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22). Here God the Father quotes from Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. As the context of these verses is a king and a servant, they indicate Christ’s regal rule and suffering servant roles.
At the transfiguration, Peter offered to put up three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He was giving them equal status. But God the Father interrupted and told Peter, James and John, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Mt. 17:5; Mk. 9:7; Lk. 9:35). It’s the same message as that given at Christ’s baptism. So God says that Jesus is pre-eminent, and not just a great prophet.
When Jesus predicted His death, He prayed “Father, glorify your name!”. Then God the Father replied, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (Jn. 12:28). This means that God was glorified by all that Jesus did, particularly His death, resurrection and ascension. After all, John said, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn.1:14).
So God said that Jesus was His Son who glorified God. But what did the disciples say about Jesus?
3. What His disciples said
Immediately after Christ’s death, two of His disciples said that He was “a prophet powerful in word and deed” (Lk. 24:19). But at other times His disciples said that He was more than a prophet. For example, when they were called to follow Jesus, Andrew said He was the Messiah and Nathanael said He was the Son of God (Jn. 1:41, 49).
When Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter answered “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16-20). So Jesus was recognized as Israel’s Messiah and God the Son. Then Jesus commended Peter and told His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. Here the Bible uses “son” metaphorically to refer to someone other than a biological son. In the ancient world, the majority of sons took up the same occupation as their father. The son was identified by his father and his occupation. For example, Jesus was known as “the carpenter’s son” (Mt. 13:55). In this case “Son” indicates the close relationship and unity between Jesus and God the Father.
Peter wrote about, “Our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 1:1). He also urged Christians to “revere Christ as Lord” (1 Pt. 2:15).
After the resurrection, Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God!” and Jesus commended him for this (Jn. 20:28). So although the disciples were taught that Jesus was distinct from God the Father who sent Him, they also recognized that He was God.
John made many claims about Jesus:
- “the word (Jesus Christ) was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made” (Jn. 1:1-2). And Jesus was God in the flesh (Jn. 1:14).
- “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son (Jesus Christ), who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known” (Jn. 1:18).
- “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 Jn. 2:22-23).
- “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:11-12).
So the disciples said that Jesus was the Son of God. But what did the Jewish religious leaders say about Jesus?
4. What the Jewish religious leaders said
After Jesus healed a disabled man on the Sabbath day, the religious leaders accused Him of “calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:18-30). Then Jesus gave more reasons why He was equal with God the Father. So the Jewish leaders tried to kill Jesus because He claimed to be God and the Son of God (Jn. 10:33; 19:7).
Even His enemies could see that Jesus was presenting Himself as God. The religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy (Mt. 9:3; 26:65; Mk. 2:7; 14:64; Lk. 5:21; Jn. 10:33, 36). And that was the reason Jesus was crucified.
So the religious leaders had Jesus killed because He claimed to be equal with God. But what did the common people say about Jesus?
5. What the common people said
When Jesus asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, the disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Mt. 16:14; Mk. 8:28; Lk. 9:19). And when He came to Jerusalem as King, the crowds said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). That’s why the religious leaders found it difficult to arrest Him (Mt. 21:46).
After Jesus raised a widow’s son back to life, the crowd said He was a “great prophet” (Lk. 7:11-17). And the Samaritan woman thought Jesus was a prophet (Jn. 4:19). When Jesus healed a blind man, the man referred to Him initially as “the man”, then he said, “He is a prophet”, and finally after speaking with Jesus, He said “’Lord, I believe’, and he worshipped Him” (Jn. 9:11, 17, 38). So He came to acknowledge Him as the Son of God.
After Jesus feed 5,000 men, some thought He was the Prophet promised by Moses (Dt. 18:15, 18; Jn. 6:16; 7:40-41, 52). Others said that Jesus was Christ, the Messiah. But some thought this was impossible. They believed that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and there was no prophecy in the Old Testament that the Messaih would come out of Galilee.
Finally, the centurion who witnessed Christ’s crucifixion said “Surely this man is the Son of God!” (Mk. 15:39).
So the common people had a range of views about Jesus. But some of those who had a close encounter with Jesus recognized Him as the Son of God. What did Paul say about Jesus?
6. What Paul said
In his letters, Paul referred to Jesus as:
- “God over all” (Rom. 9:5)
- “in very nature God”, having “equality with God” (Phil. 2:5-6)
- “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15)
- “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2:9)
- “Our great God and Savior” (Ti. 2:13)
As Romans was written in AD 57, the term “God” was applied to Jesus early on in the Church’s life.
The writer of Hebrews applies a Psalm to Jesus; “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever” (Ps. 45:6; Heb. 1:8).
So Paul said that Jesus was God. But what did His birth show about Jesus?
7. His birth
The birth of Christ was unique in many ways. The Old Testament predicted it to be in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2, 4; Mt. 2:6), and that His mother would be a virgin and He will be called Immanuel (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:23). The birth was announced by angels (Mt. 1:20-21; Lk. 1:28-38; 2:9-12). And a special star guided the Magi to where Jesus was in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1-11).
Mary was the sole natural parent of Jesus (Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 1:26-38). Because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, an angel said, “the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). He was called the “holy one” because He was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26). Jesus never sinned like the rest of the prophets.
Because of this unique birth (He was both fully human and fully divine), Christ was uniquely qualified as the sinless One to go to the cross to die as the Lamb of God. This is why the Old Testament predicted the Messiah to be a servant whose death would pay for all the sins of humanity (Isa. 53:5-6).
His names were also significant. Before His birth, Jesus was given the name Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:23). And He was called “Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).
So His birth shows that Jesus is the unique Son of God. But what did the resurrection indicate about Jesus?
8. His resurrection
Three times Jesus told His disciples that He was going to be killed (Mk. 8:31-32; 9:30-32; 10:33-34). On each occasion He predicted that “three days later He will rise” back to life. And it happened like He said it would. The Romans sealed His tomb with a large stone and posted a guard nearby. But this didn’t stop the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says that Jesus raised Himself from the dead (Jn. 2:19-21; 10:17-18). So He had power over life and death.
After His death on the cross Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb which was visited three days later by some of the disciples and women who had followed Jesus. They expected to find a body to mourn, but instead they found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and the body of Jesus was no longer there. Many attempts have been made to explain away the empty tomb – from the idea that the disciples stole the body, to the idea that they went to the wrong tomb. But none of these satisfactorily explain the transformation in the lives of the disciples who were willing to face death because they believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Besides this, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at once (1 Cor. 15:6).
Because of the resurrection, Jesus is still alive. This is different to the Biblical prophets who are all dead now. Although Enoch and Elijah went to heaven without dying, none of the Old Testament prophets resurrected never to die again.
So the resurrection shows that Jesus is alive. But what did the miracles indicate about Jesus?
9. His miraculous power
When He was on earth, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and controlled the forces of nature.
He instantly cured: fevers, paralysis, chronic bleeding; blindness, dumbness, chronic invalidity, withered limbs, deafness, leprosy, a severed ear, and demon possession (Mt. 8:1:30-31; 9:1-8, 27-33; 12:10-13, 22; Mk. 7:31-37; Lk. 8:43-48; 17:11-19; 22:50-51; Jn. 5:1-9). In fact, Jesus “healed all the sick” who were brought to Him, “healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Mt. 4:23; 8:16-17).
He raised back to life people who had died: Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter (Mt. 9: 18-26; Lk. 7:11-18; Jn. 11:1-46).
He calmed a storm, enabled a huge haul of fish, fed thousands of people, turned water into wine, walked on water, and withered a tree (Mt. 8:23-27; 21:18-22; Mk. 6:48-51; Lk. 5:1-11; Jn. 2:1-11)
These are called miracles because they illustrate supernatural power. So the miracles confirm that Jesus had divine power (Mt. 11:2-5; Jn. 20:30-31).
10. The parable of the wicked farmers
After Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a king and cleared commercialism from the temple, the religious leaders asked Him who gave Him the authority to teach, to perform miracles and to cleanse the temple (Mt. 21:23; Mk. 11:28; Lk. 20:1-2).
Then Jesus told a parable which taught that He was more than a prophet (Mt. 21:33-46; Mk. 12:1-12; Lk. 20:9-19). A landowner (like God) rented a vineyard to some farmers (like the religious leaders). Whenever he sent his servants (like the Old testament prophets, Jer. 7:25; 44:4) to collect his fruit, the farmers persecuted or killed them. Finally, he sent his son (like Jesus), but they killed him as well to seize his inheritance. So the landowner rented the vineyard to other famers (like Gentile believers) instead. When the religious leaders heard this parable, they knew it was about them and that it meant that Jesus wasn’t just another prophet like John the Baptist (who was killed), but the Son of God (Mk.12:12). Like the son in the parable, Jesus claimed to own everything that belongs to the Father.
Then Jesus quoted the reason for His authority as “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22; Mt 21:42; Mk. 12:10; Lk. 20:17). He was saying that the stone that was rejected (like Jesus was killed) would become the most important stone (like Jesus was raised back to life and given the place of pre-eminence by God). His authority came from being equal with God.
So the parable of the wicked farmers shows that Jesus is God’s Son and heir. He’s greater than a prophet, as a son is greater than a servant.
We have looked at ten reasons why Jesus is more than a prophet. These are all consistent with Jesus being the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.
This wasn’t always evident when He was on earth, because most of Jesus’ teaching was via parables and the meaning of these was restricted to the disciples and not the crowd because the latter would reject Him (Mt. 13:11-13). Also, people were influenced by the Jewish religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat to their power and authority. So Jesus polarized society.
Let’s be those who accept the Biblical record about Jesus and not those who reject it. Let’s exalt Him now.
“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
Written, March 2016
According to Listovative.com the greatest leaders of all time were Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Franklin D Roosevelt, Julius Caesar, Winston Churchill, Asoka, Alexander The Great, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro.
But the Bible says that Adam and Jesus Christ are the greatest leaders of humanity. In this post we look at the contrast between Adam and Jesus in Romans 5:12-21, where it is evident that Adam is the leader of sinful humanity and Christ the leader of forgiven humanity. And Christ’s gift is greater than Adam’s sin.
The theme of the book of Romans is the good news (gospel) that God has intervened in our history so that through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death we can be reconciled with God. It describes the universal need for this reconciliation (Rom. 1:18 – 3:20), how it can be obtained through faith in Christ (3:21-31), an example of similar faith in Old Testament times (4:1-25), and the benefits of such faith (5:1-11). Then the good news is summarized by contrasting Adam and Jesus (5:12-21), which is followed by a description of the process by which believers grow to maturity (sanctification) (6:1-23).
The state and destiny of humanity is pictured in two men: Adam and Jesus. Adam trespassed by disobeying God (when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). This resulted in humanity becoming sinful and God’s punishment was the death penalty (physical death and eternal spiritual death). That’s why people die. On the other hand, Jesus obeyed God (when He allowed men to execute Him). This resulted in humanity being freely offered to have the penalty of eternal spiritual death cancelled and replaced with eternal life. So Adam is the source of all our problems, suffering, pain, and God’s judgment; while Jesus is the source of our reconciliation with God and the promises this brings. Adam brought death and Christ brought life.
The major difference between Adam and Christ was their disobedience and obedience to God. This has a dramatic impact on our world and our destiny.
Adam and Jesus were both unique. Adam was the first man. Jesus was both human (a man) and divine (the Son of God). They were similar as men, but different because Adam wasn’t divine. They were also similar in that a single act (Adam eating the fruit and Jesus dying) impacted all humanity.
Romans 5:12-21 teaches that Adam is the leader of sinful humanity.
“just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people (everyone), because all sinned” (5:12NIV).
“death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam” (5:14)
“many (everyone) died by the trespass of the one man (Adam)” (5:15).
“the result of one man’s (Adam’s) sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation” (5:16).
“by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man” (5:17).
“one trespass (Adam’s) resulted in condemnation for all people (everyone)” (5:18).
“through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many (everyone) were made sinners” (5:19).
“sin reigned in death” (5:21).
As a result of Adam’s disobedience, sin and death passed to all his descendants. Through Adam’s sin all were condemned as sinners. Death is the penalty for sin. Death shows our sinfulness. The proof that Adam’s sin affected the entire human race is that death is universal. So because of Adam all people are sinful in their nature and in their behavior. Adam’s sin altered our human nature so that it’s corrupt and rebellious. That’s the condition of humanity for you, me and everyone else. We’re habitual sinners because of Adam’s original sin. It’s the greatest problem of the human race and it’s the source of the evil in our world. That’s why the world is as it is.
This passage also teaches that Jesus Christ is the leader of forgiven humanity.
“how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many (believers)!” (5:15).
“the gift of God … the gift (of Christ’s righteousness, v.17) followed many trespasses and brought justification (to believers)” (5:16).
“how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness (believers) reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (5:17).
“one righteous act (Christ’s) resulted in justification and life for all people (believers)” (5:18).
“through the obedience of the one man (Christ) the many (believers) will be made righteous” (5:19).
“grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21).
What a contrast between Adam’s sin and Christ’s gift! Condemnation came to us through Adam’s sin, while justification comes to us through Christ’s gift of righteousness. The good news is that Christ’s gift paid the penalty for Adam’s sin, and we can be reconciled with God if we accept this gift. There’s no other way to get right with God.
Clearly Christ’s gift of salvation is superior to Adam’s sin and the judgment we deserve. It’s “much more” (5:15, 17) and is sufficient for “many trespasses” (5:16) because Christ takes our judgement and we are seen in His righteousness. Instead of being ruled by death, in a coming day we will reign with Christ (5:17; Rev. 3:21). While Adam brought eternal death, Christ brings eternal life (1 Cor. 13:19-23).
Paul also says that Adam “is a pattern of the one to come (Jesus)” (5:14). How is Jesus like Adam? He explains this:
“Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God (Adam), many became sinners. But because one other person (Christ) obeyed God, many (believers) will be made righteous” (5:18-19NLT).
As Adam’s sin is imputed to everyone (5:12), Christ’s righteousness is imputed to all who trust in Him (1 Cor. 15:21-22). So, both judgment and salvation come from one man.
Adam and Jesus had a great influence on the human race. Adam is the leader of sinful humanity and Christ the leader of forgiven humanity. But Christ’s gift is greater than Adam’s sin.
The universal problem of the human race is sin and the universal solution is the gospel. All people, no matter what they have done, can get right with God because of Christ’s obedience and His righteousness. That’s the most important thing that we can do. But like any gift, it belongs only to those who accept it. Only those who by faith receive God’s gift of justification will enjoy the benefits of Christ’s obedience (5:17). Our eternal destiny depends on which humanity we choose: that of Adam or that of Christ.
Because of our humanity, we all begin life “in Adam”. A Christian changes their allegiance from Adam to Jesus. This means they are positioned “in Christ”. If we are in Christ, our salvation is secure not because of anything in us, but because we’re in Him.
Christians have accepted Christ’s gift, but they are still influenced by Adam’s sin. They have a new identity in Christ and an old identity in Adam. Whether our new identity is shown in our everyday life depends on whether we obey God’s instructions for us in the parts of the Bible written to the church (Acts to Revelation). Do we live like Adam (who disobeyed God) or like Jesus (who obeyed God)? Let’s be like Paul and follow the example of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).
Written, February 2016
Jesus is the reference point of time
Today is the first day of 2016 CE, where “CE” means “Common Era”. Dates before 2016 years ago are designated as BCE (Before Common Era). The use of CE and BCE was introduced by Jewish academics in the mid-19th century. These terms were intended to replace AD and BC, which stood for the Medieval Latin term “Anno Domini” (which means “in the year of the Lord”) and “Before Christ”.
God designed the solar system to provide measures for days and years (Gen. 1:14). One day corresponds to one rotation of the earth and one year to one revolution of the earth around the sun. The Gregorian calendar is based on the solar year.
As the Hebrew calendar was a lunar calendar, extra months were added occasionally to synchronize it with the solar calendar. Otherwise, the months aren’t linked with the seasons and drift each solar year by 11-12 days. So seven lunar months need to be added over each 19 years.
The most common mention of time in the Bible is the age in years of a person since their birth. For example, “So Joseph died, being 110 years old” (Gen. 50:26NIV).
Time was also measured as the period in years after a significant event. For example:
“Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years (Ex. 12:40).
“In the 40th year (since leaving Egypt), on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel” (Dt. 1:3).
“In the 480th year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the 4th year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the 2nd month, he began to build the temple of the Lord” (1 Ki. 6:1).
“Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the 2nd year of the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:24).
“In the 25th year of our exile” (Ezek. 40:1).
Haggai’s prophecy is dated as “In the 2nd year of King Darius” (Hag. 1:1).
Time can also be measured as the period in years before a significant event. For example,
Amos’s vision is dated as “two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah” (Amos 1:1).
The Latin term “Anno Mundi” means “in the year of the world”. This dating system uses the creation of the world as its reference point in time. The Old Testament contains enough information so that we can calculate AM dates directly. This method relies on the chrono-genealogies (Gen. 5:3-32; 11:10-26) and other chronological information in the Biblical text (Ex. 12:40-41; 1 Ki. 6:1).
Such a calculation using the Hebrew Masoretic text indicates that the flood was in AM 1656, the Israelites were in Egypt AM 2298-2728, and the temple was started in AM 3208. It’s difficult to convert AM dates to BCE. Although Solomon’s temple was destroyed in 586-587 BC, this is difficult to date in AM. But if we assume that the temple was started in 967 BCE. This gives creation in 4175 BCE, the flood in 2519 BCE, and the Israelites in Egypt in 1877-1447 BCE. Due to the inherent uncertainty in such calculations, this indicates that the world was created around 4200 BCE and the flood occurred around 2500 BCE.
The use of AD was adopted in the 6th century CE by a Christian monk by the name of Dionysius Exiguus. For him, Jesus was the reference point or the focal point of time. Numbering years in this manner became more widespread with its usage by Bede in England in 731. Bede also introduced the practice of dating years before the supposed year of birth of Jesus, and the practice of not using a year zero. In this system, the year 1 BC is followed by the year AD 1, so there is no year zero in the Dionysius-Bede calendar (maybe because there was no Roman numeral for zero). So a new century begins in a year which has “01” as the final digits and a new millennia ends in “001”. The AD system spread when the Emperor Charlemagne adopted it for dating acts of government throughout Europe.
Around AD 525 a monk Dionysius Exiguus was asked by Pope John 1 to determine future dates for the celebration of Easter. In his Easter table Dionysius changed the reference point of time from the accession of the Emperor Diocletian in 284 CE (Anno Diocletiani), to the assumed birth of Christ in 1 CE, because he didn’t wish to continue the memory of a tyrant who persecuted Christians. This was the last major persecution against Christians in the Roman Empire during 303-311 CE, but after 324 CE Christianity became the empire’s preferred religion under its first Christian emperor Constantine.
Dionysius calculated that Christ was born 753 years after the founding of Rome as a city. Year AD 1 was equivalent to the 754th year of Rome as a city. This shows the significant influence of Christianity on Western society at that time. It was the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Dionysius took the main dividing point of world history to be the birth of Christ. So every time we see or write the numerals of a year, these represent the number of years since Christ’s birth. Scholars subsequently discovered that Jesus was actually born around the year we label as 5 BC.
All civilizations developed schemes for numbering years, which were often based on the reign of the current ruler. The Egyptians did this since the third millennium BCE. In the first century BCE, the Romans adopted the founding of the city of Rome (AUC) in 753 BCE as their reference point of time. The Muslims use a lunar calendar with CE 622 as the reference point.
Astronomers have solved the problem of the “missing year 0” in the Dionysius-Bede calendar by making room for a year 0. Astronomical year numbering uses a number without a prefix or suffix. It defines the year before year 1 to be year 0 and the year x BCE is –(x-1). ISO 8601 is an international standard for the exchange of date and time-related data. Years are designated by a four-digit number similar to Astronomical year numbering. With 1 BCE being 0000 and 2 BCE being -0001 etc.
So, although BC and AD has been replaced, Jesus is still the reference point for measuring time. He is the reason we have BCE and CE. Although the references to “Christ” and “Lord” have been dropped, the numbers have been retained. And these numbers represent the number of years before or after Christ was on earth.
In this way, the chronology of world history is like the Bible. Both are divided into two eras, with the transition from the older to the newer occurring when Christ was on earth. Jesus Christ is central to both time and to history.
Is Jesus central or peripheral in your life? He came to reconcile us to God. He did His part by dying for us and then rising victoriously back to life. Have you done your part by accepting His gift?
Jesus came to earth about 2016 years ago and He promised to return to take us to be with Him forever (1 Th. 4:13-18). Are you ready to meet Him?
Written, January 2016
The Jamaican singer Sean Paul said “The whole world is under pressure right now — the financial meltdown, war, terrorism, people are dealing with a lot so I wrote ‘Never Give Up’ about how I felt and how other people are feeling, too”. It’s a powerful song with a message of hope and strength for people who are struggling in Jamaica.
The book of Hebrews was written to Christians who were struggling and were tempted to give up following Jesus. This post addresses the highlights of this book where we see that we can keep following Jesus despite adversity.
Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being persecuted for their faith (12:4-13; 13:3). Because of their hardship and suffering, they were tired and weak (12:3, 12-13). This also impacted their spiritual lives. They were being tempted to give up following Jesus and turn back to their Jewish customs. They were spiritually weak.
The book is written like a sermon, rather than a letter. It’s a “word of exhortation” and the same phrase is used in Acts to describe a sermon (Acts 13:15; Heb. 13:22). Also “say” and “speak” are used consistently instead of “write” (2:5; 5:11; 6:9; 8:1; 11:32).
Hebrews deals with the struggle of leaving one religious system for another. In this case it was leaving Judaism for Christianity. Leaving the inferior for the superior. It promotes the supremacy of Jesus Christ above all other spiritual teachers. This book also shows how to deal with persecution and keep following Jesus even when we are tempted to give up. It also stresses the danger of not believing the gospel message.
As Hebrews was probably written to a church in about AD 67-70, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then.
Hebrews tells them what God wanted them to know and to do. They were to know three things. The first thing they were to know is that Jesus is better than all their Jewish heroes.
Jesus is greater than …. (Ch 1-10)
Jesus is superior to the prophets (1:1-3). The revelation of God’s truth is added progressively in the Bible as we move from Genesis through to Revelation. The Old Testament was written by the prophets. What Jesus taught is summarized in the gospels. His teachings supersede those of the Old Testament prophets. Other reasons why Christ is superior to the prophets are that He made the universe and sustains it. He is the divine God. While the prophets predicted the Messiah (Acts 10:43), Jesus was the Messiah. Through His death, our sins can be forgiven. And after His resurrection and ascension, He now sits on a place of honor and privilege at God’s right hand. So of course He is greater than the prophets. Today we can say that Jesus is greater than experts and scientists.
Jesus is also superior to angels (1:4-14; 2:5). Angels brought messages from God and protected God’s people. As Son of God, Jesus has a close relationship with God the Father. The angels praised God at His birth (Lk. 2:13-14) and will worship Christ when He returns to rule over the earth (1:6). Jesus is in a position of honor and power at God’s right hand, while angels serve God’s people (11:13-14). Jesus did what angels couldn’t do, He became a human being and offered His perfect life as a sacrifice for our sin. So of course He is greater than the angels. Today we can say that Jesus is greater than those promoting spiritual experiences.
Jesus is also superior to Moses and Joshua (3:1-6; 4:6-11). Jesus represents God to us and also represents us before God. He is a mediator or go-between. Moses served the Israelites, but Jesus was equal with God who made them His people. While Joshua was unable to provide rest for the Israelites in the land of Canaan, it is available through Jesus Christ. So of course He is greater than Moses and Joshua. Today we can say that Jesus is greater than the leaders of nations.
Jesus is also superior to the Jewish high priests (4:14 – 5:10; 6:20 – 8:2). He represents God to us like a high priest did for the Jews. But the eternal priesthood of Jesus has replaced the temporary priesthood of Aaron. Because of Jesus, both the Jewish priesthood and the Jewish law have been replaced. When Jesus died this was signified by the tearing apart from top to bottom of the curtain to the Most Holy Place in the temple. (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). Jesus didn’t need to offer sacrifices for His own sins because he was sinless. Also, “He offered Himself”, not an animal. So of course He is greater than the Jewish high priests. Today we can say that Jesus is greater than the religious leaders.
Jesus’ sacrifice is also superior to the Jewish sacrifices (8:3 – 10:14). His sacrifice only needed to be offered once, not annually like Yom Kippur. It was “once for all”. It brought in a new covenant that could include all nations, not just Jews. So of course Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices. Today we can say that Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than our good works.
Because Jesus is greater than all our heroes and all our desires, He’s the greatest of all. So let’s follow and live for Him.
After Hebrews 10:18 the book changes from doctrine to practice, and the next two chapters give reasons to keep following Jesus even when we feel like giving up. The second thing they were to know is that following Jesus is like running in a marathon.
Keep on running (Ch 10-12)
The writer says the Christian life is like running a marathon and urges them to endure and persevere. It’s not an easy jog. We must be ready to continue, persist, and keep going. That’s why this blog is titled, “Never give up!”. A key passage of the book is:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3NIV)
He gives them three ways to keep following Jesus. First, by focusing on God and Jesus and believing God’s promises given in the Bible. We don’t run in our own strength because Jesus creates and completes our faith. We can “draw near to God” by meditating on God’s word the Bible and praying to Him. Second, by encouraging one another to love and good deeds. This means putting others above ourselves and not giving up meeting together. And third, by removing obstacles that hinder us following Jesus. We can throw them off by establishing boundaries and practicing discipline.
Hebrews also gives five reasons to keep following Jesus even when we are tempted to give up. These are: because Jesus is the greatest example (He is the only way to a relationship with God and has paid the price for access to heaven), because of other people who lived by faith (Hebrews 11 gives many other examples of people who lived by faith in Old Testament times), because of our past experience (they had endured persecution and suffering in the past), because of God’s promises (their spiritual blessings were more valuable than their physical possessions, and they could look forward to the coming resurrection), and because adversity develops our character (God is teaching us, correcting us and transforming us like a parent trains a child).
For these reasons we can keep following Him even when we feel like giving up when facing adversity.
The third thing they were to know is the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins.
God’s greatest warning (Ch. 2-12)
Five warnings are also included in the first 12 chapters of Hebrews. These warnings are written in strong language. They are imperatives and commands, not just models to follow. While Noah and the Old Testament prophets warned their generations of God’s imminent judgment (2 Pt. 2:5), these warnings apply to us today.
The first warning is against “drifting away” and ignoring God’s gift of salvation by remaining in unbelief (2:1-4). The Bible says ignoring the gospel leads to disaster. The second is against “unbelief”, which is dangerous because it leads to missing out on heaven (3:7 – 4:13). This book was written to professing Christians; they were not all true believers. Some were unbelievers; they had “sinful unbelieving” hearts. The third is against “falling away”: the danger of apostasy, which is hearing the gospel and renouncing it instead of accepting it (6:4-8). In this case, it’s impossible for them to repent. The fourth is against “deliberately sinning after knowing the truth”, because the apostate will be punished severely for rejecting the gospel and opposing Christianity (10:26-31). This punishment is worse than death – because it goes beyond death. Finally there is a warning against “turning away”, where unbelievers are warned of a greater punishment than experienced by the Israelites in the wilderness (12:25-29).
So, unbelief and apostasy are dangerous. God’s greatest warning for us is the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins. Are we warning unbelievers? In particular an apostate (a professing Christian who becomes a traitor or spiritual terrorist who undermines Christianity) is doomed to punishment in hell. You can read all about them in the book of Jude.
The only way to escape God’s anger, judgment and punishment is to accept Christ’s sacrifice in the place of sinners like us. Let’s do this and turn around (repent) and persevere by trusting God day by day.
Once they knew these truths the final chapter tells them what to do about it.
How to please God (Ch 13)
Hebrews 13 begins with three outward things (13:1-3). They were to love one another like siblings in a spiritual family, to be hospitable to strangers and to have empathy for Christians who are suffering by sharing their feelings.
It then looks at two inward things (13:4-5). They were to be sexually pure because sexual sin impacts one’s relationships, family and Christian witness. It has more influence on one’s life than other sins (1 Cor. 6:18). They were also to be contented in order to avoid the love of money. This is possible by realizing that the Lord is always with us by His Spirit and can be trusted for our safety, protection and economic welfare.
Hebrews 13 then looks at how we live our spiritual lives, beginning with a source of strength to live a Christian life. They were to respect and follow godly church leaders (13:7-8, 17). The leaders kept following Jesus throughout their lives – they were faithful despite the difficulties, and they finished well. They also cared for their spiritual welfare.
Next they are urged not to return to the false teachings of Jewish legalism (13:9-12). Holiness doesn’t come from following rituals and food laws, which were some of the false teachings they were being tempted to follow. Only God’s love and kindness shown to us by Jesus can empower believers to live holy lives through their relationship with God. It takes inner strength gained by following Jesus to live the Christian life as it is described in Hebrews 13.
Because of Jesus, Christians don’t need to sacrifice animals. Instead they offer different sacrifices, including suffering for Christ, words of praise offered to God through the Lord Jesus, and good works (13:13-16). God is pleased when we live like this, because it shows that He is more valuable than the things of this world.
Then they are urged to keep on praying because prayer is another way to seek God’s help to live a life that pleases Him (13:18-19). Finally they are to recognize God’s work through Jesus Christ, whose death paid the penalty owing for the sin of humanity (13:20-21). His prayer was that God would give them the desire and resources to do His will and the power to carry it out. And that they would let God work through them.
Let’s use this checklist in Hebrews 13 to keep following Jesus and not turning back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.
Lessons for us
Let’s read the book of Hebrews when we are struggling and tempted to give up following Jesus. It reminds us that Jesus is better than all our heroes, that following Jesus is like running in a marathon, the danger of not believing the gospel message, and how to please God.
Do we realize that Jesus is superior to all our heroes? He is greater than all other spiritual teachers. Because He is unique, let’s encourage each other to follow Jesus as Lord. Are we reminding each other of the greatness of Jesus and what He has done and God’s promises in Scripture?
Are we encouraged to persevere and keep following Jesus even when we are tempted to give up? This is evidence of genuine faith in Christ. Let’s encourage one another to keep following Jesus.
Do we know the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins? Have we accepted God’s rescue plan by confessing our sins and trusting that Jesus has paid the penalty for them?
So from the book of Hebrews we see that we can keep following Jesus despite adversity.
Written, December 2015