Our Final Dwelling

A fundamental aspect of God’s plan to redeem the world is mend is the idea that sin caused a break in the relationship between humankind and God, so God’s plan is to mend that break so that we can dwell together forever.

When God first makes man and woman, he puts them in a garden, and he walks and talks with them there. When they sin, they are cast out of the garden, and therefore barred from entering his presence. Mankind rapidly increases in wickedness until the whole world is filled with corruption.

However, God makes a covenant with the people of Israel that they will be his people, and he will be their God. After the covenant is first enacted, and before it was broken in any way, seventy elders of Israel could enter God’s presence and not suffer harm (Ex. 24:9-14).

This shows that God had, through this covenant, already begun to mend the severed relationship between mankind and himself, so that people could enter his presence once again, even if only temporarily. The break in intimacy was beginning to be healed, but it still was only partial: only a few could enter God’s presence, from one nation that he had chosen to extend his covenant.

When the Israelites left the presence of God on Mt. Sinai, he gave them instructions on how to make a portable facility where they could meet with God once again, the tabernacle. God said to Moses,

Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. (Ex. 25:8)

Notice what is significant in this sentence: God tells them to make a sanctuary for him, but his goal is not to dwell in it, but to dwell among them. His goal is to have intimacy with his people, for them to live in his presence. After it is built and consecrated, God’s Holy Spirit indwells it, and his people can worship him in the desert wherever they go.

When the Israelites sin by worshiping the golden calf, God threatens that his presence would not go with them into the Promised Land. He relents, however, after Moses pleads for them, and says they do not want to go if his presence does not go with them (Ex. 33). Later, Moses reminds them that they are unique among the nations in having their God so near them (Deut. 4:7). This was a central aspect of the blessing of Israel, that they could come near the true God.

Looking ahead to the New Testament, we see fulfillment of the messianic imagery of God’s presence coming near his people in a powerful new way. Certainly, when Jesus walked on earth as Emmanuel, God with us, God’s presence was at its peak in the person of Jesus. Yet he said there was coming something better: God’s presence as the Holy Spirit being poured out on humanity.

While before the people worshiped God in the temple where his presence dwelt, now God’s presence dwelt in the people, making God’s people the temple. The blood of the first covenant made it so that the seventy elders could enter God’s presence, but the blood of the new covenant by the atonement of Christ made it so that God’s presence could be poured out into the whole world.

Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the LORD. “Many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. (Zech 2:10-12) 

Here, God had accomplished an even greater thing than in his first covenant, in terms of healing the breach between himself and humanity. While the first covenant allowed a few to enter his presence, this new covenant allowed people of all nations to repent and enter his presence. His presence would flow out into the world through them!

The final picture of God’s presence fully among his people is that of heaven in Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4)

It is impossible to imagine the glory of God we will experience when we are present with him in heaven, but if there is any doubt that this is not the ultimate goal from the very beginning of scripture, we only need to compare the vision of heaven at end of the book of Revelation with the garden of Eden in the beginning of Genesis.

In Revelation, we read a description of heaven that includes a tree of life, a river of life, no sin, no death, and many other things that remind us of the the garden of Eden in Genesis. In Hebrew, the word for “heaven” is actually gan eden, the Garden of Eden! It is a picture of what all of the Bible is about, that the Lord made humans to dwell with him in intimate relationship.

When that relationship was severed by sin, God immediately made a plan to redeem humanity. Over history he worked out that plan so that the end is even more glorious than the beginning. At first only two people live in the presence of God, but at the end an entire kingdom of people live with God for all eternity!

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Photos: Jade Seok on Unsplash, Inge Wallumrød from Pexels

Forever and Ever … Hallelujah!

An overarching theme in both the Old and New Testaments is the idea of God becoming king over all the world. In Zechariah we read:

The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name. (Zech. 14:9)

In Revelation, we find a similar vision of God becoming king over creation:

Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,”The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” (Rev 11:15)

It seems odd to us that the creator of all the universe would not be considered its king at all times. The biblical picture, however, is that even though God is creator over all of his creation, once humanity fell, they excluded themselves from God’s kingdom because of their disobedience.

After the fall, the world was in bondage to sin, and was given over to worshiping other gods. While God is the sovereign judge over all creation, the Bible says that only those who accept him as their king are actually a part of his kingdom.

One of the main themes of the Bible is that after the fall, God’s plan is to repair the breech and bring humans back into his kingdom. Only a couple stories after the flood, the time of man’s worst rebellion, we begin to hear about how God finds one man who will be faithful to him, Abraham. God tells him that he would make him into a great nation.

Later, God makes a covenant with Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, that he would be their God and they would be his people. God’s kingdom started with one man and expanded to the nation of Israel. The goal was that the whole world would see the true God through this nation who worshiped him as King. He would give them a land that was in the middle of the international trade routes, so that their culture would impact the world as they lived according to his instruction.

In addition, God promised that one of king David’s descendants would be king, and have a kingdom without end. The plan was that this righteous king, the Messiah, would come to establish God’s kingdom over the whole world. The Bible’s vision is that finally, at the end of all things, the LORD will be king over the whole world once again, through the messianic king that God promised to send.

Jesus and the Kingdom of God

We can imagine there would be much speculation about how God would establish his reign over the whole world. At the time of Jesus’ coming, this was especially important to Israel, who was under oppression by the pagan Romans. Obviously, when the Messianic King came, he would establish God’s reign by conquering the Romans. They read many prophecies about the Messiah that were images of a mighty king who defeated his foes and then took the throne. For instance:

The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One (Messiah, in Hebrew). Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery. (Ps. 2:2, 4-6, 8)

They also read about the “great and dreadful day of the Lord,” where he would come to judge the enemies of Israel, and they longed for that day.

Messianic prophecy also talks about a “suffering servant” and a “Prince of Peace,” but the people of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah would bring God’s judgment. They imagined that there would be one sudden event when he would assert his power and vanquish his enemies, the “wicked” of the nations around them. Then, God’s kingdom would be established because God had destroyed all his enemies. Only the righteous would be left to be God’s Kingdom. They assumed they were the righteous who would survive the judgment, and their enemies would not survive.

When Jesus comes and proclaims himself as Messiah, he spends much of his time talking about the Kingdom of God, because it was the role of the Messiah to establish God’s kingdom on earth. Much of his teaching deals with the fact that God’s way of establishing his Kingdom on earth would be very different than their expectations:

Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21)

Jesus explained that the kingdom was not going to be established by a sudden, great war to kill all the wicked, but would grow like a mustard seed, as each person repented and enthroned God as their king. It would be a spiritual kingdom that would expand as people heard about the mercy of God, that he would forgive their sins and they could have new life as his people.

It would be good news to the poor in spirit, those who were humble and realized their need to repent, but not to the arrogant who wanted his judgment to fall on the other “sinners.” God would hold off his judgment, allowing the wheat and tares to grow together: he would allow his kingdom to grow in the midst of evil, rather than wiping it out. Only at the end would Jesus return as judge between good and evil, and then his kingdom would be fully established and have its greatest glory.

Jesus explained that God’s way of establishing his kingdom over the whole world was just the opposite of what humans had imagined. The Messiah had come to extend mercy to humanity rather than judgment. God’s kingdom would be established by the atoning death of the Messiah, by which sinners, even the most wicked, could enter by repenting of their sins and being forgiven. In that way, God’s kingdom could expand as the whole world would hear about his amazing grace. Jesus came and brought God’s kingdom to earth, and its expansion is unstoppable, as God’s spirit is poured out, the lost are found, and God’s glory fills the whole earth.

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea! (Habakkuk 2:14)

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Photos: John Stephen Dwyer [CC BY-SA 3.0], Warrior King Jesus on a White Stallion by Amy Meredith [CC BY-ND 2.0]

The Kingdom Breaks Forth

In Matthew 2:6 we read a famous prophecy from Micah about the town of Bethlehem:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)

This is one of several messianic passages in the book of Micah. Christians are largely unaware of another passage in Micah that has been considered very messianic by Jews over the ages:

I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head. (Micah 2:12-13)

This passage was understood as quite messianic in the time of Jesus. To us, it doesn’t make a lot of sense unless we understand the imagery behind it. Once you understand it, you see that it clarifies one of Jesus’ most puzzling sayings and makes bold claims to be the fulfillment some of the most important messianic themes in the Old Testament.

Regathering His People

Micah 2:12 begins by describing the gathering of the “remnant of Israel.” What does that mean? At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, God forewarns Israel that they would wander from the covenant that he made with them. He says that if they forsake him, they will lose the promised land, where they worshiped him and will be scattered to different lands, where they will serve other gods.

However, he promises that if they repent, he will regather this remnant of his people who seek him. It’s very important to realize that to “regather” doesn’t just refer to a physical gathering, but spiritual renewal too. God will regather his people spiritually, to give them hearts to worship him. Deuteronomy 30 says,

So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, … and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul…the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. (Deut 30: 1-3, 6)

Even back when Israel made the covenant, God promised them that even after they broke his covenant, God would search them out and bring them back to him again if they repented. Several times in the Old Testament, God is described as a shepherd that will search for his people (see Jer. 23, Ezek. 34). When Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10, he is claiming that he is the fulfillment this promise.

The Flock and the Shepherd

Looking back at the Micah passage, it says the flock will be gathered together like many sheep in a pen, and “one who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out.” What does this mean? Here, you need to know how shepherds took care of sheep in biblical times.

The shepherd would lead the sheep around open land to graze all day, and at evening, would herd them into a makeshift pen made out of boulders rolled near the mouth of a cave. Sometimes the shepherd would even sleep just inside the rocks so that he blocked the exit for the sheep himself, as if he was the “gate” for the sheep (think of John 10:7-9).

In the morning, one of the shepherd’s helpers would “break open the way” by pushing aside a boulder, so that the sheep could exit from their overnight confinement. The hungry sheep wouldn’t just leave calmly, they would burst out in a stampede, breaking through the other boulders in their way. The shepherd would exit along with them, and they would follow the shepherd out to pasture.

In the time of Jesus, the passage in Micah 2 was understood to be messianic. It was understood as describing two figures who were supposed to come, a messenger who would prepare the way, and the Messiah, who was going to be a king who would reign over his people. In this passage, they imagined that the “one who breaks open the way” was the messenger, who would cause people to repent and be ready for the Messiah, and then the Messiah was the shepherd with the sheep.

Interestingly, the passage says that the Shepherd is the LORD, hinting that the Messiah is God himself! We can see how this would apply to John the Baptist and Jesus.

The picture in this prophecy is really that of a people who are full of joy at the coming of their Messiah. Like sheep that are stampeding out of their pen after a night of being confined, the “sheep” of the messianic shepherd will be exuberant at his coming, and eager to follow where ever he leads. A very similar image is used of calves in another messianic passage in Malachi:

But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. (Mal. 4:2 )

The Kingdom Suffers Violence, or Bursts Forth?

It is not immediately clear to readers that Jesus speaks about this image in Micah 2, because difficulties in translation have obscured the meaning of the passage. Older translations of Matt 11:12 read,

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.

As it has been translated, it sounds as if Jesus was talking about the kingdom “suffering violence” in terms of the persecution he and John went through. Some have even hypothesized that Jesus was advocating violence in order to be a part of it.

The problem is in assuming that the kingdom is the victim of violence. The word “suffers” is not literally there in Greek at all: it is a way to explain how the kingdom and “violent” can be connected. However, the word for “violence,” biazo in Greek, can also mean “forceful,” or “bursting out.” Biazo can even mean “explosive,” poretz in Hebrew, which is the word used in Micah 2.

Instead of the kingdom being victim of violence,  Jesus was describing the bursting out of the kingdom! In the New International Version (1984) this verse is translated:

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

Jesus appears to be alluding to the bursting out of the sheep with their shepherd, as in the Micah 2 passage. He is speaking of John the Baptist as the “breaker” who has begun the explosive effect of the kingdom of God on earth. A similar verse appears in Luke 16:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing (biazo) his way into it. (Luke 16:16)

What does this mean?

This is one more example of how we see Jesus using the messianic imagery of the Old Testament to describe the amazing implications of the Kingdom of God being among them. He is saying that God had begun doing a powerful new thing on earth at the coming of John the Baptist, who with his ministry called people toward repentance.

Now that he the Messiah had come, the movement was exploding outward, as people were filled with joy at the coming of their redeemer and telling others about him. This movement was like yeast or a mustard seed that had started small, but was rapidly gaining force and power. When people realized its worth, like a pearl of great price, they were excitedly forcing their way into it.

Jesus is giving us a potent picture of the fulfillment of the promise of the ages: the Lord would come to his people, to forgive their sins and restore their relationship with him. The messianic age had arrived with his coming! The Spirit of God would propel this movement outward until it would fill the whole earth.

It is easy for us to become complacent, to feel that the need to grow and expand has waned. From this passage, it seems that Jesus is reminding his followers of the force behind them, that the Spirit was bursting out on earth in an entirely new way, and they should be filled with excitement. So should we be too!

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Photos: Daniel Case [CC BY-SA 3.0], Paul M on Unsplash

Son of God, Son of Man

The book of Daniel has many symbolic visions, and even though they are strange, some of them are very important for describing the coming of Jesus and his kingdom. One of the most important passages is in Daniel 7:13-14:

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

This passage is about the Messianic king. God had promised David that one of his own offspring would have a kingdom without end (2 Sam 7:13), and this is who is being described here. Daniel has visions of many kingdoms rising to power, but the final kingdom that conquers them all is this kingdom of the Messiah. This is the scene of the the great King coming to take his seat of honor and receive authority over all creation.

The most significant part of this passage is the description of the Messiah as “one like a son of man.” The term “son of man” is often used poetically in the Old Testament to refer to a human being. Often, it emphasizes that the human being is merely mortal and not divine, like in Psalm 8:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens… what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:1, 4)

Many Christians have assumed that when Jesus uses the phrase to describe himself, he is emphasizing his humanity. That appears to be true in some places. However, people are often unaware that the phrase “Son of Man” was one of the most powerful Messianic claims, because of this passage in Daniel that describes the incredible glory that is given to this particular “Son of Man,” who is also the Son of David who is the Messianic King.

When we now look closer at how Jesus uses the phrase “Son of Man” to refer to himself, we can see that he is often referring to himself in terms of this passage.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)

At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. (Matt. 24:30 )

We can see in these scenes the Son of Man coming in the clouds, and the picture of Jesus having great glory, just as in Daniel. Here, Jesus is hinting to his great glory as the Messiah by alluding to these passages, as he does many places.

While Jesus frequently refers to himself using the term “Son of Man,” it is rare in the rest of the New Testament for anyone else to refer to him in this way. In the places where they do, they are clearly reflecting the picture of the glorious messiah in Daniel 7:

Stephen, about to be stoned to death, looks up and says, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56)

And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a Son of Man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. (Revelation 1:13-14, see also Rev 14:14)

The passage in Daniel predicting the Son of Man coming in glory is central to what Jesus says about his own future, and is a prominent image in the New Testament to describe the glorified Christ on the throne in heaven. This explains Jesus’ usage of the term as prophetic toward his return as judge at the end of time, and also shows that he didn’t regard himself only as a humble human being, but as the predicted messiah who would have a kingdom without end.

The Suffering of the Son of Man

While it is clear that Son of Man is often used by Jesus to describe himself as the Messianic King who has authority, glory and power, he also says something paradoxical — that the Son of Man must suffer and die:

Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? (Mark 9:12) 

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

One scholar, Dr. Steve Notley, has shared his hypothesis of how the Jewish people had come to understand who the “Son of Man” was going to be. In the few hundred years before Jesus, during the rule of the Greeks, the Jews had suffered terribly for trying to be faithful to God. This was very difficult for them to understand theologically, because before they had been attacked by enemies when they lapsed into idolatry, but now they were killed if they were faithful to God. They began to ask how could God bring justice to all the people who had been killed because they refused to forsake him.

The Jews looked back to their scriptures and saw the first innocent victim of murder in the Bible, Abel. He was murdered by his brother Cain, after God accepted his worship because he was more righteous than Cain (Genesis 4:4-8, 1 John 3:12). Abel became the forerunner and representative of all the righteous people that had been killed for being faithful.

Jesus says so in Matt. 23:35: “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”

They noted that Abel was the son of Adam, or ben Adam. In Hebrew “adam” can be a proper name, or it can just mean “man” or “human,” so “ben adam” can mean either son of Adam or Son of Man. They imagined that in Daniel 7, the messianic king who came on the clouds of heaven was one like Abel, the first Son of Adam, who had died for being righteous.

Like him, he would suffer and be murdered, but then would come on the clouds in glory to judge. It appears they understood that the reason God gave Jesus authority to rule over all mankind is precisely because he walked on earth as a human, and suffered and died as a righteous man!

This understanding of “Son of Man” links two paradoxical things we have known about the messiah, that he would suffer and die, as in Isaiah 53, but yet he would be a victorious king, as in Daniel 7. This has been a problem for many, and some even postulate that two messiahs would need to come: one to suffer, and one to reign.

This figure of the Son of Man would first die as a righteous man, then would be resurrected to glory, and be given authority to judge. It is fascinating that Jesus could link, extract, and create multidimensional meanings with such a “simple” phrase to teach us so much about himself!

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Photos: Jastrow [Public domain], William-Adolphe Bouguereau [Public domain]

The Fragrance of Christ

bannerMary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)

In Matthew 26 we read the story of Jesus being anointed by Mary with very expensive perfume. Most Christians focus on the story of the anointing as pointing towards Christ’s death at the end of the week, because of Jesus’ comment that she did it to prepare for the day of his burial (Matt 26:12).

Another thing was likely going on, however, that would have been obvious to the disciples, so obvious that Jesus didn’t even need to mention it. While fragrant oils were used on the dead, they were also used to anoint kings. Mary’s extravagant, worshipful action was quite likely intended as her own personal declaration of Jesus as the “Anointed One,” the mashiach in Hebrew, or christos in Greek.

Usually, the ceremony of anointment was reserved only for sacred objects in the Temple and for anointing priests and kings, to show that they had been chosen by God. Instead of being crowned during a coronation, kings were anointed with sacred oil that was perfumed with extremely expensive spices, making it like diamonds in terms of its preciousness. The fragrant, flowing oil was like an invisible crown that conferred an aura of holiness. Everything that had that unique scent would be known to all as God’s special possession. 

After their initial anointing, kings would anoint themselves with other precious scented oils for special occasions. We read that both king David and Solomon did this:

(From a psalm for King David) You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows. All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. (Ps. 45:7-8)

What is this coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all scented powders of the merchant? Behold, it is the traveling couch of Solomon; sixty mighty men around it, of the mighty men of Israel. (S. of Sol. 3:6-7)

In ancient times, the majesty of a king would be obvious to those around him, not only because of the jewels and robes that he wore, but by the scent of extremely expensive oils that were poured on him. These royal figures would parade through the streets with the fragrance of the oils, telling all of the bystanders a king was passing by. We see this after the anointing of Solomon, who is placed on a donkey and parades through the streets of Jerusalem, while people stand by and cheer:

So Zadok the priest… went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon. Zadok the priest then took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” All the people went up after him, and the people were playing on flutes and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth shook at their noise. (1Kings 1:38-40)

As much as anointing portrayed a person as being set apart by God for a purpose, the ultimate “Anointed One,” that everyone hoped for was the Messiah, the Christ, the King of Kings who God would someday send to reign over the earth.

Mary’s action was not an “official” anointing, but an expression of her own extravagant, worshipful love of Jesus. She knew that he was the one that God had chosen to redeem the world and reign over it as Messiah and Lord.

I wonder if Jesus’ comment about her preparing him for his burial is somewhat ironic, because she intended to glorify him, but he saw her action as pointing toward his suffering and death. Indeed, it was through that death that he was glorified! But I’m not sure that Mary would have thought of it at the time, given that all of Jesus’ disciples failed to grasp the greater plan.

Yet, this scene has profound implications for Jesus’ final week before his death. Jesus owned only one garment that he wore every day, and washing and bathing were not done daily. Because of Mary’s anointing, Jesus likely smelled like royalty during the final week of his life. In a very subtle way, God gave the people who interacted with Jesus a powerful message about him. Every where he went, he smelled like a king!

John 12 relates that the very next day after his anointing, Jesus rode on a donkey on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, in a scene very reminiscent of the coronation of Solomon. As he rode past, the people who were cheering must have sniffed the air and said, “It was a king that just passed by!”

Imagine the passion week in that light. As Judas entered the garden with the guards to arrest him, the guards must have sniffed the air and wondered what royalty stood before them. As he stood trial, was mocked and stripped naked, this aroma would have quietly clung to him, suggesting who they were beating. Even when the tomb was empty except for his grave clothes, that odor would have wafted in the air when the women entered. What an amazing God we have!

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. (2 Cor. 2:14-16).

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Photos: William Bout on UnsplashRoberta Sorge on Unsplash

The Great Shepherd

When we hear the term “the Good Shepherd,” many of us immediately think of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” But there are actually several messianic passages about “the Shepherd” in the Old Testament, and we can learn a lot about Jesus’ mission and message by what these passages say about him. Let’s look at a few:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” … He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace. (Micah 5:2, 4-5)

We can see many truths about Jesus as our shepherd even in this passage. It says that he will be born in Bethlehem, like his ancestor David, who was a shepherd. His origins are from many ages ago, suggesting that he was co-eternal with his Father. It says he would have a kingdom that would expand to the ends of the world, and that he himself would be the source of the peace of his people. What powerful words!

Another passage about the shepherd describes his suffering too. Jesus quotes Zechariah 13 which says,

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man, my Associate (one who is close to me),” declares the LORD of hosts. “Strike the shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; and I will turn my hand against the little ones. (Zech. 13:7)

This passage suggests that the messiah would have an especially close relationship with God, but yet God would allow him to be attacked and harmed by others. Jesus quotes this passage to tell his disciples that he expects to suffer, and that they as his “sheep” would be scattered: they would abandon him at his death (Matt 26:31, Mark 14:27).

Another passage where the shepherd is mentioned is in Isaiah 40. There, we hear about a person who would come before him who would be a voice crying out, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” We recognize this as the passage referring to John the Baptist (Jn 1:23). The rest of the passage talks about the shepherd who is coming after him:

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. …You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, His reward is with him, and His recompense accompanies Him. He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:3, 9-11)

Here, the amazing thing is that the shepherd who comes after the one who calls out is actually the Lord God himself! If this passage is about John the Baptist and Jesus, the implications are quite clear — the Messiah that John was proclaiming would be God incarnate.

Many messianic prophecies describe the coming of a great king, but do not explicitly say that he would be divine. This one, however, seems to imply that the LORD himself will come as the shepherd.

One of the most important passages about the Good Shepherd is in Ezekiel 34. It also has some very powerful things to say about the Shepherd:

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” “I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord GOD. “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment. “As for you, My flock, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats. …“ (Ezek. 34:11-12,15-17)

This passage contains several rich things that are in the background of Jesus’ statements about himself. We can hear the background of Jesus’ parable about the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to look for the one lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7), or when he said he will judge between the sheep and the goats when he returns (Matt. 25:31-34). We even find a reference to this passage in his words to Zacchaeus: “…the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

The Ezekiel passage clearly says it would be God himself who would come to seek out his lost sheep, and Jesus repeatedly says he is the fulfillment of these words. Through this, his listeners would have heard his very bold claim that not only is he the Messiah, he is God incarnate, coming to earth to rescue his people.

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Photos: Patrick Schneider on UnsplashFOYN on Unsplash

Bread From Heaven

In John 6 we find the story of the feeding of the five thousand, which comes to an interesting conclusion:

Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (John 6:11-15)

Why did the people conclude that Jesus was “the prophet” from this miracle, and why did they want to make him king? In order to understand the story, we need to understand their messianic expectations.

The word “messiah” means “anointed,” and is most often used in terms of a coming king. Prophets and priests were anointed too, and prophecies also describe the messiah in terms of being a great prophet and priest as well.

Their thinking that Jesus is “the Prophet who is to come into the world” is most likely coming from Deuteronomy 18. In this passage, Moses says to the people:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him… The LORD said to me: … I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. (Deut 18:15, 18-19)

The Jewish people regarded Moses as the greatest prophet of all time, who was unsurpassed by anyone else in their history. God had said that with all other prophets he spoke to them in dreams and visions, but with Moses, God spoke face to face (Numbers 12:6-8). Moses had also done great miracles to free them from Egypt and led them out of bondage.

He had mediated their covenant, given them their scriptures, and they considered him their greatest leader of all time. To say that a prophet would come even greater than Moses was saying a powerful thing indeed! He would speak for God in an unparalleled way, and free them from their oppressors.

So, when the people saw Jesus had multiplied the loaves and fishes, it seemed to them as if he was duplicating the miracle of the miraculous provision of food in the desert. He was, in essence, giving them manna from heaven. They are imagining that Jesus would, like Moses, lead them into an era of freedom from their enemies and miraculous provision of their needs. They are obviously wanting Jesus to act as a “prophet like Moses” when they ask him to repeat the miracle:

So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat,'” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” (John 6:31-34)

Jesus’ final response to them, however, is that they are looking for the wrong kind of “bread from heaven.” They are looking for a Messiah who will miraculously give them food to eat as they imagined Moses did. Jesus points out that Moses didn’t supply them bread from heaven, it actually came from God. When God gave them bread before, it sustained their lives for 40 years. Now, God was giving them a bread from heaven that could give them eternal life: himself as their sacrifice for sin!

That is why Jesus says,

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh. (John 6:47-51)

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Photos: Ikiwaner [CC BY-SA 3.0], Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash

Messiah, Mighty God?

One of the things that has intrigued me most as I have studied the Old Testament is what it says about Jesus as the coming Messiah. Even though the gospel about Jesus is the first thing every Christian learns, it is rare to hear a methodical explanation of what the Bible predicts about him.

What exactly is a Messiah? Why do we believe the Messiah would be God himself? We would be stronger witnesses if we could open up the Bible and trace from start to finish what it said about Jesus Christ.

The main picture of the Messiah is that of God’s chosen king. The prophecies that clearly predict this begin in the life of King David, when God promises David one of his descendants would have a kingdom without end. It says,

When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever. (1 Chron. 17:11-14)

One thing Christians may overlook is that many prophecies about the Messiah do not expressly say he would be God in the flesh. The term “Son of God” can refer to divinity, but is also occasionally used about angels and even people (see Gen. 6:2, Job 1:6, Matt 5:9). In the passage above, it could be interpreted to mean that the messianic king would be so close to God that he would be like a son to him.

In the life of Jesus we often look at his miracles as proof of divinity. However, Moses and Elijah and others had done miracles before Him, so even that isn’t conclusive.

Nevertheless, the church has believed from the earliest time that Jesus was God incarnate. It was probably one of the earliest Christian creeds that Paul quoted when he said,

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Phil. 2:5-7)

An intriguing study is to find the passages in the Old Testament said that the Messianic King who was coming would be God Himself. In Isaiah we encounter one of the clearest statements that the Messianic King would be divine. It says,

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government
and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Is 9:6-7)

It is very clear the passage is talking about the Messianic king from David’s line, and also very clear that it refers to him with the words “Mighty God,” and “Everlasting Father.” The promised Messiah would be called “mighty God,” an obvious statement of the divinity of the messiah.

Another thing to note is that there are several precedents for God walking on earth in the Old Testament. It says that God walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8), that he visited Abraham and ate with him (Gen 18:1-13), and that Jacob wrestled with God (Gen 32:24 -38).

To see God walking again on earth as a man should not be a shock if he has done it before. The idea of the Messiah as God in the flesh is consistent with the witness of what the rest of scripture says about God’s ways.

An interesting thing to note is that in the Targums, ancient Jewish commentary-translations, whenever God walked on earth and interacted with humans, the Aramaic term Memra was used to refer to God. The term Memra actually means “Word”! One can hardly miss that this is the term the apostle John uses to refer to Jesus as the Messiah!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

We have hardly scratched the surface of the texts that point to the divinity of Christ, although some are indirect allusions. Jesus refers to many of them and applies them to himself, and his first followers would have recognized them.  As you read the prophets in the Old Testament, keep listening for the prophecies about the Messiah. We will see that Jesus used many of them to proclaim himself as Messiah, and even God in the flesh.

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Photos: Dimnent Chapel [Public Domain], Carl Bloch [Public domain]

The Stone the Builders Rejected

Jesus comes head to head with his opponents in their final clash before his crucifixion in Luke 20-24. Tension has been building up to this point, and reaches the maximum in these final days. Jesus has been hinting throughout his ministry that he is the Messiah, the Davidic King who was to come.

In these last few chapters of Luke, references to passages about the coming of the Messiah are very important. Jesus says some of the most powerful things about his mission using many allusions from the Old Testament. His audience understood and reacted accordingly: either in adoration or in hatred. We can get some powerful insights by looking at the messianic passages Jesus referred to, and see what they said about him.

When Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, Jesus was making his most obvious claim to being this Messianic King, fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9 that says:

Rejoice, daughter of Zion, shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey. (Zech. 9:9)

Another key place we see a king riding into Jerusalem is in Psalm 118, which describes a Messianic King who conquers all his enemies and then enters the gates of Jerusalem. The people wave boughs in a procession up to the temple and exclaim, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

This is exactly what happens in the Triumphal Entry in Luke 19. The people see Jesus as the King who has come to defeat his enemies and they honor him as the one proclaimed in Psalm 118.

In this last week, Jesus has now “thrown down the gauntlet,” boldly declaring himself as the Messiah, denouncing the temple’s corruption and predicting that it would be destroyed. The Sadducean chief priests in Jesus’ day were deeply corrupt, stealing from priests and killing those who opposed them.

Jesus is directly standing up against them, and they want to kill him, too. They also want to kill him because they saw him as a threat to their relationship with the Romans. They worry Jesus will start an uprising against the Roman government or against them, since he has declared he is King.

Jesus’ Brilliant Use of Scripture

In a fascinating use of scripture, Jesus makes use of several prophecies to tell the temple authorities exactly who he is and what would happen because of him. He quotes Psalm 118, which he recently had fulfilled in the Triumphal Entry, when it says,

The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone …(Psalm 118:22)

There is a wordplay involved in saying that the stone has become the cornerstone. The word pinah, cornerstone, (or corner) in Hebrew is also used to describe one who is a leader. Several places in the Old Testament, “cornerstone” is used poetically to describe leaders (Judges 20:2, Isaiah 19:13).

In Psalm 118, the “stone the builders rejected that has become the chief cornerstone” is a description of the triumphant King who God has given the victory against his enemies. Not only is he a cornerstone, a King, he is the chief cornerstone, the King of kings!

Jesus makes a very bold claim when he expands upon his claim of being the cornerstone. He says,

Everyone who stumbles on the stone will be broken, and he on whom it falls will be crushed. (Luke 20:18)

At face value this says that no one wins who comes up against the stone. More importantly, however, Jesus was combining two powerful statements from the Hebrew scriptures to say a greater thing. In Isaiah 8 it says,

The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy… for both houses of Israel, He will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. (Isaiah 8:13-14)

This passage appears to be the background of the first part of Jesus’ statement — “Everyone who stumbles on the stone will be broken.” It speaks about judgment on Israel where the Lord is either their sanctuary or the stone that makes them stumble. It depends on whether they chose to believe in Him or not.

The Stone that Grows into a Mountain

The second half of Luke 20:18 comes from Daniel 2. King Nebuchadnezzar had a vision of a statue of a gold head, silver chest, bronze legs and iron and clay feet. He saw a rock cut out, not by human hands, that struck the statue on its feet and crushed them. The statue fell to pieces but the rock became a huge mountain that filled the whole earth. Daniel explains to the king that the parts of the statue represent kingdoms, beginning with his own. The feet of iron and clay represent the Roman empire of Jesus’ time. Daniel 2:44 says,

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.

This is a reference to the coming Messianic kingdom. The rock cut not by human hands is reminiscent of the covenant tablets God cut for Moses, or the uncut stone they used to construct altars to God. The rock is a king sent by God, unlike all of the other kings. This appears to be the reference of the second half of Jesus’ saying: “he on whom it falls will be crushed.”

If Jesus is tying these two sayings together by the fact that they talk about a stone, he is pointing out that he is the Stone of Isaiah 8: either a savior or a stumbling block to Israel, the people to whom he came. It depends on whether they choose to believe in him.

Then he says, by alluding to Daniel 2, that ultimately, whatever their reaction, his kingdom will be established over all the earth. Not only will he triumph over the chief priests who will kill him, his kingdom will even triumph over the Romans, and be a kingdom without end.

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Photos: Pontificake on enwiki [CC BY-SA 3.0], Ammodramus [Public domain], Intothewoods29 [Public domain]

Gifts Fit for a King

Did you know that the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus at his birth have multiple precedents in the Bible that Jesus read? Consider this story from the life of Solomon:

When the queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. Arriving with a very great caravan — with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones — she came to Solomon and talked with him about all she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for him to explain to her. … Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. There had never been such spices as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. (2 Chron. 9:1-4, 9)

Here too we find these three unusual gifts. It also might seem strange that foreign royalty would come to give gifts to a king who was already rich. But when a powerful king arose in a country, other countries wanted to form alliances and show friendliness toward that nation. Solomon controlled more territory than any other Israelite king, so this was a report of royalty from very far away coming to pay tribute to him.

This picture of a king so great that other kings would come to pay homage is also used to describe the coming Messiah. The messiah was the promised son of David, who would have a great kingdom without end. Not only would he be king over Israel, he will be king over the whole world! Psalm 72 looks ahead to when that will happen:

Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. …The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.

Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long. May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed. (Psalm 72:1, 7-12, 15, 17)

Interestingly, we see the same scene in this Psalm as happened to Solomon. Other kings would come to bow down to this great king, to bring tribute and present him with gifts, including gold from Sheba.

Sheba is at the southern end of the Arabian peninsula, where Yemen is today, about 1800 miles from Israel. Sheba was known in ancient times as possessing great wealth: gold, jewels and spices. Spices don’t seem very precious to us, but in ancient times, some spices and aromatic oils were worth more than their weight in diamonds, because of their rarity and use as perfumes, incense and medicine.

There is yet another messianic prophecy in Isaiah 60 about the restoration of Zion that describes a similar scene. It says,

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. … The wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. (Is 60:1-4, 6)

Here again royalty from Sheba comes, bringing gold and frankincense as gifts to Jerusalem.

This recurring image of kings coming with gifts of fabulous wealth sheds light on the significance of the story of the wise men in Matthew 2:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” … On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of frankincense and of myrrh. (Matt. 2:1-6, 11) 

The wise men, probably ambassadors from the courts of other countries, wanted to see the messianic king who had been born in Israel, and to pay him homage. We can see why Herod wanted to destroy him–this king would become king over the whole world!

Only Jesus would do it a different way than Herod would. He would humble himself and die to redeem his people from their sins. As the message would go out to the world, people from all nations would repent and enter his kingdom. Gradually, his kingdom would expand, like a mustard seed, until every nation on earth would be blessed through him!

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Photos: Leone Venter on Unsplash, John Romano D’Orazio [CC BY-SA 4.0], Juan de Flandes [Public domain]