The Two Advents of the Messiah, Part 3

“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Tit. 2:13-14)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

Some Jews in Antioch Pisidia did not accept Paul’s gospel message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ as Messiah, demonstrating what Simeon had accurately prophesied about the mixed reception a new covenant journey of faith, made accessible now through Christ to every new believer, would receive.

This is why Paul refers to the cross as an offense and a stumbling block unto the Jews (2 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 1:23). Many Jews in the first century thought that all God had to do was repair their political/economic situation according to their understanding and expectations for the coming messiah, and then all would be well.  They were already mistakenly self-righteous and saw no need for further spiritual reformation in their lives.  They were spiritually blind to the coming of a more broadly accessible new covenant adventure of faith available to both Jews and Gentiles alike.  Because their religious experience was limited to rituals and ceremonies only, and not a living and vibrant life of faith following God, they could not imagine a new covenant expanding to encompass the Gentile world, based upon the ancient prophecies surrounding Abraham the father of faith.

The direct and intimate participation of God in the events and circumstances of the lives of people of faith on a universal scale is made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth during His first advent as Messiah. This is what Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch Pisidia.

God wants to give us a tailor-made adventure of faith, because in doing so He gives us a revelation of Himself. Unless God shakes up our world, in the unconventionally biblical way of injecting Himself into the course of our lives to match on some level the experiences of the people of faith recorded in the Bible, we cannot experience the power of God’s presence working through us.  This salvation entrance through the cross of Christ leading into an unconventional adventure of faith, previewed long before in the life of Abraham, was just as desperately needed in an ongoing basis in the first century as it is still today in our own twenty-first century.

 

The Two Advents of the Messiah, Part 2

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” (Tit. 2:11-12)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

The new preaching of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch Pisidia exposed the fact that some practicing Jews, going through the mere outward motions of religious observances, were worshipping God for naught. Along these lines, Paul explains in Romans 9:6 “For they are not all Israel, who are of Israel.”  Paul goes on to say in Romans 11:2 that: “God hath not cast away his people whom he foreknew” and in the previous verse says that he himself is also a Jew, believing in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Savior.  Paul and Barnabas, both Jews, preached Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the grave for the remission of our sins into a new and living way.

This new gospel message exposed the large gulf between people performing religious practices in a purely mechanical exercise according to cultural expectations, without their heart and mind being truly committed and engaged, and a genuine journey of faith following Jesus Christ through unconventional life-scripts composed by God to reveal Himself individually to people. This was described by Jeremiah as the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  The new covenant preaching of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch Pisidia brought the journey-of-faith experience back full-circle to the promise of God to make Abraham, the father of faith, a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3; 22:18).

Jews and Gentiles alike, sitting together two thousand years later in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia, fulfilled this ancient promise. The transition from the old covenant to the new covenant, inaugurating the new church age, exposed the emptiness of religious practices performed solely to enjoy the benefits of conforming to cultural expectations.  The new covenant opened wide the already existing entrance into a life of faith in God first introduced through the life of faith of Abraham in Canaan years before, and perfected through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins.

The Two Advents of the Messiah, Part 1

“And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” (Acts 17:2-3)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

In Acts 13:14-41, Paul would have preferred to preach the outwardly positive message of Jesus Christ the Messiah who rules and reigns from Jerusalem as the political, spiritual, and military leader who would bring world peace according to the prophecies we now understand in hindsight to relate to the second advent of Christ.  To begin his major evangelical missionary outreach to the first-century Mediterranean world, Paul would have liked to bring the welcome news to the Jews in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia, of a Messiah in Jerusalem who was in the beginning process of restoring their homeland of Israel to political independence and spiritual predominance as in centuries past.  This is the message that all Jews living outside of Israel would have been overjoyed to hear.

But Paul preached to them the cross (Mark 9:12).  Paul (a Jew having a first-rate rabbinical education, taught by Gamaliel in Jerusalem), preached that Jesus the Messiah was crucified and rose from the dead (Acts 13:30) for the remission of our sins (Acts 13:38-39), despite the temporary humiliation for our sakes of becoming a curse hanged on a tree (Galatians 3:13).  Paul preached the message of the cross, which was an offense to many of the Jews of his day, because they were looking in expectation for the other messiah, the “Son of David” prophesied in the Old Testament who would redeem Israel from her enemies and usher in an everlasting world reign of righteousness, justice, and peace (1 Chronicles 17:11-13).

The Old Testament messianic prophecies that apply to the second coming of Christ are in the Bible for a very good reason.  They supply indispensable information that forms the basis for hope for the future.  But these messianic prophecies also bring to the first century a razor-sharp sword for dividing truth from error, and for exposing what is in the hearts of people, which can be instructive for us today.

Paul wrote of the Jews of his day in Romans 10:3…“For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”  Simeon in the temple in Jerusalem prophesied to Joseph and Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).  Jesus said of many of the Jews in Israel “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life,” and “How can ye believe, who receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (John 5:40; 5:44, italics mine).

Many of the Jews sitting in the audience in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia, listening to Paul in Acts 13, thought of themselves, on balance, as good people.  They did not think they needed additional spiritual improvement.  They thought that they were righteous before God because they were Jews, faithfully practicing the Law and observing the rituals given to them by Moses.  Their expectation was for a messiah who would fix the negative circumstances of their outside world, not reform their inner man through conviction of sin, repentance, and spiritual rebirth (John 3:3).  This important distinction is the issue that Jesus emphasized in His famous night conversation with Nicodemus the Pharisee.

The Event of the Cross, Part 5

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.”  (Ps. 37:23)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

When modern-day Christians read this account of how much precise planning and effort was put in by God to accomplish something as important as the crucifixion of His Son Jesus, the natural question might be asked would God care that much about me to put in the same quality and amount of thought, planning, and care into the situations and circumstances of my life?  From the biblical accounts in the four gospels of the cross and the resurrection, we see what God is capable of doing.  But if I yield and surrender my life to God, like Jesus did, can I count on God being able and willing to divide truth from error in my life, and to arrange events large and small to produce good for myself and others on some scale to match the brilliance we see in the life of Jesus?  Will God write a script for me with as much care and precision like He did with the fine-tuned events surrounding the cross and the resurrection?

The answer to this fundamental question of the Christian life is already previewed within the account of the events of the cross itself.  Already contained within the intricately planned and executed events of the cross is a pattern in action of God’s outreach to mankind and to each individual person.  The cross and the resurrection were not for the sake of Jesus.  They were for us.  The cross is God’s gift of love to mankind to reconcile us back to Himself.  It shouts with sublime passion “I love you enough to take upon myself the inescapable penalty for sin.”

In the well-crafted details of Jesus experiencing the events of the cross and the resurrection, we see God’s demonstrated intention and desire to work for and within every person who chooses Him this same imaginative control of life’s events for our benefit.  God lovingly participates in the details of our lives, always through the pattern of the cross and the resurrection.  This is part of the overall program and agenda of being re-connected to God, which starts with the cross.

If we are “in Christ,” like Jesus and the Father are one, we have the same God carefully orchestrating events in our lives as well (John 17:23).  This begins with the unique and different set of life circumstances which brings each of us to a salvation quality, born-again faith.  This is why the Holy Spirit lives within the born-again Christian, to lead us into all truth, through experiences composed and guided just for us by God Himself (John 14:16-17).  This is a part of the good news of the gospel…that God has imaginative solutions to the individual challenges of our lives through Jesus Christ, starting with the solution of the cross to the human problem of sin and finishing with a meaningful and purposeful walk of faith in service to God.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers in Jerusalem remained unchanged all the way up to 70 A.D.  They were still erroneously looking for their worldly political and military style messiah who would free them from Rome and establish economic and political prosperity.  They pushed God away during the inspired ministry of John the Baptist.  They rejected and crucified Jesus the Christ.  They persecuted the early Christian church.  They were eventually crushed by the Roman army under Titus in 70 A.D., who demolished their city Jerusalem and scattered the Jews throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Europe for the next 1900 years.

The essence of sin says to God: “Who are you to tell me what to do or how to live my life,” and “why should I go by your standards instead of my own?”  These questions are difficult to answer back using words only.  They require a practical demonstration of the pros and cons through actual life experience.  They require a test where success and failure are real possibilities.  That is one of the reasons why this current world exists.  The cross of Christ is the key, pivotal demonstration of the answer.  A beneficent God says: “I have your best interests at heart…my actions on the cross for you prove this…follow me…I have been around a long time…I know what I am doing.”  People of faith accept the invitation, believe, and follow.  Rebellious people who are carnally minded and living in the flesh, like the example of the first century Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes, say: “No, we will live by our own wisdom and volition.”

God has already laid-out in detail the events of the end-times.  They are all there in verses scattered throughout the Old Testament, in the four gospels, in the book of Acts, in the letters of the apostles to the churches, and in the book of Revelation.  Additional detailed information will be revealed some day through the dreams, visions, and prophesies described in Joel 2:28-29.  Just like the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus, these end-times events are already scripted-out and have a definite starting time in the near future.  As with the events leading up to the cross, God’s ingenious plans and designs will be interwoven into the fabric of the end-times political events, working His will and exposing truth versus error for one last emphatic time in human history.

The Event of the Cross, Part 4

“For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.” (Acts 13:27)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes could have arrested Jesus on any night of that final week on His way back from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37).  They could have arrested Him any morning of that week on His way to teach in the Temple.  They did not need Judas to tell them the whereabouts of Jesus.[1]  His movements were so well known that “the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, to hear him” (Luke 21:38).  A crowd of people was awaiting Him alongside the road during His triumphal entrance into the city (John 12:12).  The gospels tell us that the religious leaders did fear the reaction of the people should they make a move against Jesus (Mark 12:12; Luke 19:47-48; Luke 20:6). That was certainly a restraining element in their calculations.  But the religious leaders also feared Jesus Himself.  Jesus was an unknown quantity.  They were not even sure if it was possible to arrest Him (John 7:30; John 7:45-46; John 8:20; John 8:59; John 10:39).  They knew they wanted to eliminate Him, they just did not know exactly when and how they would do it.  God Himself provided the answer.

It took a member of the inner group of His closest disciples, Judas Iscariot, to change allegiance from Jesus over to the religious leaders, to become the means of propulsion that God used to govern and adjust the speed of the events that led to the midnight trial and the Passover crucifixion.  Being one of the twelve apostles, Judas naturally heard Jesus speaking to the group as they approached Jerusalem that final week, preparing them beforehand for His upcoming death and resurrection (Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34).

The value of Judas’ information that week to the religious rulers was not so much the whereabouts of Jesus, which many people seemed to know about, but the fact that someone in His inner circle was telling them that Jesus was speaking mysteriously and unexplainably about His upcoming death.  That was the unexpected and welcome information that was worth thirty pieces of silver from Caiaphas the High Priest and the other rulers, not just where Jesus was at any particular moment.

Luke 18:34 tells us that the twelve apostles did not understand what Jesus meant when He told them, as they journeyed toward Jerusalem, that He would be put to death and rise the third day.  Even though Judas, like the other eleven apostles, would not have understood these words of Jesus, yet he could still pass along this critical information word-for-word to the religious leaders, having heard them first-hand from Jesus.

Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him (John 6:64; John 6:70-71; John 13:11).  There seems to be a sort of understanding between Jesus and Judas that Jesus would be waiting in the Garden of Gethsemane that Thursday night, when Jesus says to Judas: “What thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27).  It is this startling, confirming information, accurately perceived by Judas during the Last Supper, and hurriedly communicated by him to the rulers, that sets in motion the final decision by Caiaphas the High Priest to go forward with the destruction of Jesus (Matthew 26:3-5).

But all of the proper proceedings must now be started and consummated by sundown the following day, before the start of the Sabbath.  Criminals executed by crucifixion could not be left dead on their crosses after sunset at the start of the Friday night Sabbath.  That is why the legs of the two thieves crucified next to Jesus were broken that afternoon, to facilitate their death and removal that same afternoon.  Add to this the complication that the Passover was the first day of the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread.  If Jesus could not be tried, executed, and disposed of that Friday, he would have had to be held over under their custody until after the festival week.  Any problem or glitch in the proceedings that did not result in a conviction and a crucifixion the following day, could have unforeseen and very unpleasant consequences regarding the reaction of the people, for these rulers.  The thing had to be carried out to its conclusion quickly, before public sentiment could galvanize one way or the other.

This explains why the party of Jesus lingers in the Garden of Gethsemane much later than usual, causing the disciples to fall asleep.  This is why Caiaphas himself probably went to Pilate late Thursday night (a reasonable inference, though not recorded in scripture) to get Pilate’s pre-arranged consent for the course of action the Jewish leaders proposed to take the following day.  This is why Pilate’s wife, becoming aware of the subject nature of the unusual late night visit of Caiaphas to speak with her husband, had bad dreams that very night about Jesus (Matthew 27:19), and sent a note forewarning Pilate at daybreak the next morning.  This is why Pilate seems to go back on his agreement with Caiaphas from the night before, to summarily go along with the Jew’s death sentence for Jesus, and instead attempts first to set Jesus free.  This greatly upsets the already committed Jewish leaders (John 18:30).  Pilate then proceeds to wash his hands of the whole affair (Matthew 27:24).

This is why Judas knows exactly where to take the hastily assembled group of armed men carrying lanterns and torches, when Jesus and the apostles should otherwise normally be asleep at that late hour elsewhere at the Mount of Olives.  This is why Jesus waits and stays where He is, even though He can probably see the procession of lanterns and torches a long way off as the crowd approaches (Matthew 26:46).  Jesus also knows that Judas is heading for the Garden of Gethsemane.

The timing of the final betrayal of Jesus by Judas on Thursday night (the Passover starts at sundown on Thursday), and the constraint of having to consummate everything by sundown the following day, the start of the Sabbath, effectively narrows the crucifixion of Jesus Christ the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) to the day of the Passover.  The religious rulers thought they were in control, but God set up all of these events to lead to the outcome He had planned long ago (1 Corinthians 2:8).

[1] Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press) 30-42.  The reconstructions of the events of the final week in Jerusalem described in this chapter, are taken from this insightful book.

The Event of the Cross, Part 3

“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law. To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

The messianic prophecies and types of Christ in the Old Testament that apply to the cross are too numerous to exhaustively cover in this post.  Briefly, Abraham says to Isaac: “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8).  The blood of the Passover lamb was applied to the two sides and upper door lintel of the house, representing the human heart (Exodus 12:1-28).  The rock, which Moses struck once with his rod in Horeb to produce water is a type of Christ (Exodus 17:5-6; John 4:14).  The bronze serpent on a pole is a preview of the cross (Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14).  Psalms 22:16 says: “they pierced my hands and my feet.”  Psalms 22:17 foretells that the Romans did not break the legs of Jesus on the cross to hasten His death before sunset preceding the Sabbath, because He was already dead.  Psalms 22:18 says: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”  The 53rd chapter of Isaiah says that Christ will be despised and rejected of men (53:3), wounded for our transgressions (53:5), open not his mouth in his own defense (53:7), make his grave with the rich (53:9), and be executed alongside transgressors (53:12).

Within the hostile environment that Jesus operated throughout much of His ministry (John 7:1), but especially during His final week in Jerusalem (John 7:32; John 8:59; John 10:31), how is it that God the Father can orchestrate the timing of the crucifixion down to the precise day of the Passover, and the traditional hour of the day the Passover lamb is killed?  Jesus is betrayed by Judas after the Last Supper on Thursday evening, is hastily tried at the house of Caiaphas very late on Thursday night and early Friday morning, the sentence of death is ratified by the Sanhedrin at daybreak on Friday, the prisoner is placed before Pilate for formal sentencing early Friday morning, and Jesus is hanging on the cross around 9:00 in the morning of Friday the Passover.  Jesus dies around 3:00 or 4:00 that afternoon, the time that the Passover lambs are traditionally killed.

God the Father steps on the accelerator pedal to speed up events before and during that last week, first by creating a sense of urgency on the part of the religious leaders, through Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.  God then alternately taps with His foot on the brakes and then touches the accelerator pedal again lightly through the indecisiveness of the religious leaders on the one hand and the information that Judas provides on the other.  This achieves just the right velocity to get Jesus crucified within the narrow time window between sundown Thursday and sundown Friday, according to all of the ancient Old Testament prophecies on the very day of the Passover.

This is an incredibly difficult thing to orchestrate over the span of a three-and-one-half year long ministry, when the life of Jesus was in danger on several occasions, starting at the beginning of His ministry in His own hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:29).  This achievement is even more remarkable considering that the Pharisees, scribes, and religious leaders in Jerusalem were not prophets of God being led by His Spirit, but deadly adversaries in opposition to the ways of God.  God was using them for His purposes without their knowledge or awareness of this fact.

The Event of the Cross, Part 2

“My soul shall her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.”  (Ps. 34:2)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

There is only one divine, all-powerful God in all of existence.  This is one of the things Jesus is trying to tell us about our choices, and the direction of our lives, in The Sermon on the Mount.  This is one of the foundations of faith in Jesus Christ.  This is why Christians walking in the Spirit surrender all to Jesus.  This is why people of faith in the Bible, in the midst of their calling, give up control of events to God.  God is so intelligent and resourceful that He can even take the evil actions of worldly people and turn them into good outcomes.

The action of crucifying the Son of God cannot get any more darkly evil, yet God turned it into the greatest blessing for good for all eternity.  If the worst that evil can do, unjustly condemning and executing Jesus the Son of God, ends up actually providing the means for the best outcome in human history…the salvation and deliverance of mankind from sin…then evil does not stand a chance when people choose God.  God is so intelligent and resourceful that He can take the very ammunition that evil shoots at spiritual righteousness, and turn it back around upon itself.

Although the human side of Jesus did not look forward joyfully toward the physical agony of the cross, Jesus was not afraid of evil.  Jesus knew that God the Father would take the deadly attack of evil upon Himself, as symbolized in the cross, turning this around into eternal salvation for mankind.  When we are safely “in Christ” through faith, and because “all things work together for good for them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), we do not have to be afraid of the appearance of evil coming against us in the situations and circumstances of life.  This includes the upcoming end-times.

The point of this post is to illustrate that it was the event of the cross of Christ, spread out in time over many finely detailed circumstances, which not only divided spiritual light from darkness, but at the same time demonstrated God’s complete mastery over the affairs of men.  It did not matter that the religious leaders in Jerusalem had the political and social power.  God’s use of situations and circumstances is on a level that is way above the temporal political powers on earth.