Understanding the Name Jesus “Christ”

by Lois Tverberg

It is always fascinating and enriching to bring the Hebraic cultural context into understanding the most important, basic words that Christians use. One of the most important is the word “Christ.” What does it mean to call Jesus, “Jesus Christ”? Or, what implications does it have for us to say that Jesus is the “Christ”?

First of all, the word “Christ” comes from christos, a Greek word meaning “anointed.” It is the equivalent of the word moshiach, or “Messiah,” in Hebrew. So, to be the Christ, or Messiah, is to be “the anointed one of God.”

To be anointed is literally to have sacred anointing oil poured on one’s head because God has chosen the person for a special task. Priests and kings were anointed, and occasionally prophets. Kings were anointed during their coronation rather than receiving a crown.

Even though prophets and priests were anointed, the phrase “anointed one” or “the Lord’s anointed” was most often used to refer to a king. For instance, David used it many times to refer to King Saul, even when Saul was trying to murder David and David was on the verge of killing Saul to defend himself:

Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’S anointed (moshiach), to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD’S anointed (moshiach). (1 Sam. 24:6)

So, the main picture of the word “Messiah” or “Christ” as the “anointed one” was of a king chosen by God. While Jesus also has a priestly and a prophetic role, the main picture that word “Messiah” is used for is a king.

Through the Old Testament, we see little hints that God would send a great king to Israel who would someday rule the world. In Genesis, Jacob gives blessings to all of his sons, and of Judah he says,

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. (Gen. 49:10)

This is the first hint that they were expecting a great king to arise out of Israel who would be king over the whole earth. The clearest prophecy about this messianic king who was coming is from King David’s time. David told God that he wanted to build God a “house,” meaning a temple.

God said to him that instead his son Solomon would do that, and then promised that he will build a “house” for him, meaning that God will establish his family line after him. God further promises David that from his family will come a king whose kingdom will have no end:

“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)

This prophecy has been understood as having a double fulfillment — it is first fulfilled in Solomon, who built the temple, but did what God forbade — amassed a great fortune and married foreign wives. His kingdom broke apart a few years after his death.

It also spoke about a “Son of David” who would come, who would have a kingdom without end. This prophecy is the seedbed of all of the messianic prophecies that talk about the “son of David” and the coming messianic king.

Jesus as the Christ

Even though we tend to not pick up on the cultural pictures, the gospels tell us many times that Jesus is this great King who has come. In Matthew 2, the wise men come to bring presents to this king whose star they have seen in the east. This was a fulfillment of Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 60, and Psalm 72.

The latter two passages both describe the coming of a great king and describe how representatives from nations everywhere would come to give him tribute:

He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. … He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies will lick the dust. 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. (Ps. 72:5, 8-11)

Soon after Jesus begins his ministry he proclaims himself as the anointed one (the Christ) in Luke 4 when he says that passage from Isaiah 61 has been fulfilled:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor. (Is 61:1-2)

This is a picture of the coming messianic King, right after he is anointed by God, declaring good news of the jubilee year, a tradition observed when a new king came into power in some middle eastern countries.1 Jesus applied it to himself, arousing a very strong reaction from his audience to his bold claims.

We see yet another picture of Jesus as King when he rode on the donkey into Jerusalem. This was very much a kingly image, often part of the annunciation of a new king, as it was for Solomon in 1 Kings 1:38-39. It is the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, the triumphal entry of the messianic king.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

During Jesus’ trial, the main question he is asked is “Are you the King of the Jews?” and he answers affirmatively:

And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a King.” So Pilate asked him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And he answered him and said, “It is as you say.” (Luke 23:2-3)

What are the implications of Jesus as King?

When we think about Jesus’ time on earth, the last thing we think of is of a king who is reigning, but Jesus explains that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:37). Rather, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God, the major focus of his preaching.

The kingdom of God is made up of those who submit their lives to God to reign over them. As the King that God has sent, and of course because he is God, the kingdom of God is Jesus’ kingdom. He speaks about how it is expanding like yeast or mustard seed, as the gospel that he has arrived goes forth and many more accept him as their King. When he returns in glory, all the earth at that time will see that he is King.

Did the people around him see him as a king? The fact that Jesus’ disciples and others who believed in him referred to him as “Lord” suggests that they were giving him great honor, with the understanding that he is the Messianic King.

Throughout the gospels Jesus is addressed with respect by strangers as “rabbi” or “teacher.” Only a few times is he actually addressed using his common name, Jesus, and only by demons (Mark 1:24) as well as a few who didn’t know him. To call Jesus “Lord” is using a term for addressing royalty, like saying “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness.” It is also a common term for addressing God himself, and has a hint of worshipping Jesus as God.

To use the word “Lord” displays an attitude of obedient submission to a greater power. Jesus seems even to expect that those who call him Lord obey him — he said to his listeners, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

To call him “Lord” or to call him Jesus “Christ” is to say that he is the King that God has sent, who has a right to reign over us. It is interesting that even though the demons know that he is the Son of God, they refuse to use the word Lord to address him (Luke 4:34, 40)!

This has implications about the basic understanding of what a Christian is. We tend to define ourselves by our creeds and statements of belief, but the very word Christ calls us to more than that. If Christ means King, a Christian is one who considers Jesus his Lord and King, and submits to his reign. Those who are saved have two things: both a belief in the atoning work of Jesus, and a commitment to honor him as their personal Lord and King. As Paul says,

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom. 10:9)

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1 See the En-Gedi article, “The Gospel as the Year of Jubilee.” 

God With Us

by Lois Tverberg

Nativity IconWhen we read the Christmas story, we focus on the idea that in Jesus Christ, God came to dwell with us, and we see it as a miracle that for a short time God would come so close to lowly humanity. But if we examine the rest of the Scriptures, it becomes evident that this has been God’s goal from the very beginning, and will finally be reached in Revelation.

When God first made man and woman, they dwelled with him in the Garden of Eden; after they sinned, they were cast out of God’s presence. This is the fundamental consequence of sin – the breach of intimacy with God. But God immediately began to repair the breach by making a covenant with Abraham, and later with Israel. When the covenant with Israel was first made and before it was broken, seventy elders could enter God’s presence and not suffer harm (Exodus 24:9-14). God had begun to mend the relationship between mankind and himself, so that a few people could enter his presence once again, even if only temporarily.

God then gave the the Israelites instructions to make a tabernacle, saying “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). Interestingly, his goal is not to dwell in it, but to dwell among them. His goal was to have intimacy with his people, for them to live in his presence. This points ahead to God’s final goal of his presence among his people in Revelation:

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.” (Revelation. 21:3-4)

Christ’s coming to dwell on earth is both a picture of God’s ultimate goal and God’s means of accomplishing that goal. In Christ, God walked, talked, laughed and cried with his people, and showed them his great love for them. By dying for their sins, God took on the worst of human of experiences, and was intimately with his people in the depths of life’s sorrows. But through the atonement that this provided, he has opened the door for us to live forever in his presence as well. In this sense, God has most fully achieved his goal of dwelling forever among His people.


Photo: http://www.aiwaz.net/panopticon/lorenzo-veneziano/gc516

The Fat and Lean Sheep

by Lois Tverberg

“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. Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them, “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. “Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns until you have scattered them abroad, therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another. Ezekiel 34:15-16, 20-22

Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd,” alluding to the rich imagery of the 34th chapter of Ezekiel, which is all about the “shepherd,” God himself, who was going to come to save his people. It is interesting that in that passage, it talks about the shepherd as judge of his sheep – the fat and the lean sheep. It reminds us of Jesus words about judging the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:32.

SheepThe idea of shepherd as judge uses imagery that needs the context of real life shepherding. Like chickens who have a “pecking order,” sheep establish a dominance order with the strongest claiming the best feeding ground and fighting the weaker ones to establish their position. The constant competition can become a great stress in the flock, with the strongest butting the weakest and driving them from areas to graze. The strong get stronger as they have access to the best grass, and the weak get weaker by being constantly harried. Any shepherd who sees this has great compassion for the weaker sheep that are abused by this process. Good shepherds will even discipline the most abusive sheep in their flock.

It’s fascinating how closely sheep parallel human nature. In almost every social environment there is competition for dominance and a desire to push to the top at the expense of others. Gossip, snobbery, elitism and social class structure are facts of life for us, and we all know who is popular and who is unpopular.

This prophecy says that God himself is on the side of the “thin sheep,” those who are excluded, pushed out and ostracized. He gets angry when a teenage girl is the butt of cruel jokes because she isn’t cool enough. Or when a young man gets passed over for a promotion because of dirty office politics. One day he will set everything right, and he cares about the least as much as the greatest. He is the true shepherd, and the final judge.


Photo: Hans

Bursting Out of the Pen

by Lois Tverberg

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

In Micah, we find a passage about a “shepherd” that was considered very messianic in the time of Jesus. His listeners understood that the “one who breaks open the way” was the messenger, who would cause people to repent and be ready for the Messiah, and that the Messiah was the shepherd king going out with the sheep. Interestingly, the passage says that the Shepherd is the LORD – hinting that the Messiah is God himself! (We have the benefit of being able to look back and can see how this passage was prophecy about John the Baptist and Jesus.)

This passage is much more meaningful if we understand the imagery behind it, that of shepherding. It tells us that 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.”

Pen in pasture

In biblical times, the shepherd would lead the sheep around open land to graze all day. As they sun was going down, he would herd them into a pen made with boulders or into a cave closed with boulders. He himself would sleep in the gate or “be” the gate. In the morning, the sheep would be restless, hungry, bursting with energy and eager to get out to pasture.

Suddenly, one of the shepherd’s helpers would “break open the way” by pushing aside a boulder in the fence. The 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 then they would follow the him out to pasture.

The picture is really one 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. He heals us from our diseases and releases us from the bondage and guilt of sin. Our Shepherd, the LORD Himself, has come to save us now and forever!


This passage in Micah was probably alluded to by Jesus in Matthew 11:12. For more about that reference, read the article “The Kingdom Breaks Forth” at this link.

Photo: Bob Jones

The Great Shepherd

by Lois Tverberg

I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. – John 10:14

ShepherdJesus says “I am the good shepherd” in John’s gospel, and we may not realize that the image of the “shepherd” as the Messiah is all over the Old Testament, in Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah and other books. In the next few devotionals we will look at what these Messianic prophecies said about Jesus.

What is a “good shepherd”? In his classic book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, (1) Phillip Keller describes the difference between the good and bad shepherd, and the lesson he learned:

In memory I can still see one of the sheep ranches in our district which was operated by a tenant sheepman. He ought never to have been allowed to keep sheep. He gave little or no time to his flock. Every year these poor creatures were forced to gnaw away at bare brown fields and impoverished pastures. Shelter to safeguard and protect the suffering sheep from storms and blizzards was scanty and inadequate. In their thin, weak and diseased condition these poor sheep were a pathetic sight. To all their distress, the heartless, selfish owner seemed utterly callous and indifferent.

I never looked at those sheep without an acute awareness that this was a precise picture of those wretched old taskmasters, Sin and Satan, on their derelict ranch — scoffing at the plight of those within their power. It is a picture of the pathetic people of the world over who have not known what it is to belong to the Good Shepherd, who suffer instead under sin and Satan. How amazing it is that individual men and women vehemently refuse and reject the claims of Christ on their lives. He came to set men free of their own sins, their own selves, their own fears. Those so liberated loved Him with fierce loyalty. It is this One who insists that He was the Good Shepherd, the understanding Shepherd, the concerned Shepherd who cares enough to seek out and save and restore lost men and women.


(1) Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, 1996, Zondervan, ISBN 0-310-21435-1. The passages above are from Chapter 1, “The Lord is My Shepherd.”

Photo: http://www.artnet.de/artist/16406/henry-ossawa-tanner.html

A Prophet Greater than Moses

by Lois Tverberg

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

At the end of the feeding of the five thousand, the people concluded from this miracle that Jesus was the “prophet” who had been prophesied in Deuteronomy 18. In this passage, Moses told 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. (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19)

Moses and IsraelitesThe Jewish people regarded Moses as the greatest prophet of all time. All other prophets heard God speaking in dreams and visions, but God spoke to Moses 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 and given them their scriptures, and they considered him their greatest leader of all time. To say that a prophet would come who would be even greater than Moses was a strong statement indeed!

So, when the people saw that Jesus had multiplied the loaves and the fish, it seemed to them as if he was duplicating the miraculous provision of food in the desert. He was, in essence, giving them manna from heaven. They imagined that Jesus would, like Moses, lead them to freedom from their enemies and provide miraculously for their needs. They were obviously hoping that Jesus would be the one that would lead them out of national bondage, as Moses did for his people.

While they were wrong in terms of looking for a political messiah, Jesus actually was “the Prophet who was going to come.” He spoke for God in a unique, powerful and authoritative way. He gave them living water and the bread of life — himself. And he mediated a new covenant, allowing anyone to enter the presence of God, freeing them from the greatest bondage of all — that of sin and death.

the Transfiguration


Photo:  http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart/1907/deut6.jpg and
carulmare

The Afflicted King

by Lois Tverberg

Rejoice greatly, O 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. – Zechariah 9:9

Jesus on Donkey

As we are looking at messianic passages in this series, we shouldn’t forget the passage in Zechariah which clearly points toward the triumphal entry, when Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem. It is important to understand that he is riding on a donkey and not a horse, which would have been associated with war. This king had come victoriously to reign in peace.

It is interesting to notice a few alternative ways to translate the word for “humble,” and how they also describe Jesus. In most translations, the word that is translated “humble” or “lowly” is the Hebrew word ani. It is only rarely translated “humble,” but it has two other meanings that are much more common:

One translation of ani is “poor.” In Jesus’ life, this is very applicable. He said about himself, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). He had only one garment to his name and no home, wife or family. Because of his lack of riches and earthly glory, many of us miss the point that he was – and is – a king.

Another translation for ani is “afflicted” – oppressed, in misery, anguished, or sorrowful. Jesus fulfills this too by his prophetic reaction as he enters Jerusalem. Luke says,

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:42-44)

It is ironic that Jerusalem’s king came in peace on a donkey, poor, with only one garment and no fine robes. When he arrived, he was sorrowful and afflicted for the sake of his city. They did not recognize either their need for a savior, or the time when the true King entered their walls.


Photo: Giotto

Builder of the House

by Lois Tverberg

“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. ” 1 Chronicles 17:11-14

The Messiah was to be a son of David who would be a great king, and would have a kingdom without end. It was partially fulfilled by Solomon, the son of David, but ultimately fulfilled by Jesus, the Son of David. The messianic promise to David said another key thing: that this Son of David would build a house for the Lord. Building the Temple was the high point of Solomon’s reign, and for Jesus, this is one of the most important pictures of what His mission on earth accomplished.

Hammer and WoodJesus often in his ministry talks about the temple, and he makes the key statement that “I will destroy this temple (house) made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” (Mark 14:58). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection he was bringing together a “house” of a family of believers who would become that place where God’s Spirit dwells.

At Pentecost (Shavuot), the Spirit indwelled the hearts of the believers. The people of the early church would have thought back to the other scenes of the Spirit entering the temple to dwell there. They realized that instead of dwelling in a house made by human hands, the Spirit of God had moved into a new temple, the body of believers, with Jesus as the cornerstone. This picture is found throughout the New Testament:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph. 2:19 – 22)

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Now we can see a progression of God’s plan to have intimacy with human beings, who forfeited their relationship with him through sin. First he chose the Israelites, let them use sacrifices for atonement, and dwelt among them in their tabernacle. Then he had Solomon build the Temple, which was to be “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). But finally, through the atoning work of Christ and new covenant, God was able to indwell our hearts as his Temple, and achieve his greatest goal of living intimately with his people.


Photo: KOREphotos

God’s Great Surprise

by Lois Tverberg

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. – Malachi 4:5

Many of the prophecies that describe the coming of the Messiah also describe a time of judgment by God. For instance, in Luke 1:17, the angel tells the father of John the Baptist that John “will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.” The angel was quoting a prophecy from Malachi which says,

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse. (Mal. 4:5-6)

Jesus baptized by JohnThe Malachi passage appears to describe the “great and terrible day of the Lord” as coming right at the time of Elijah. John the Baptist knew Scriptures well, and in his ministry we hear him preaching that judgment is right around the corner, in accordance with his Scriptures.

These prophecies are also the reason why John sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one to come, or should we look for another?” John knew he was to be the “messenger” prophesied in Malachi 3, and he had expectations for the one coming after him:

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap… So I will come near to you for judgment. (Malachi 3:1-2, 4-5)

John’s question for Jesus came from the fact that Jesus wasn’t fulfilling prophecy as he expected. It appears he was thinking that Jesus would be a mighty warrior who would destroy the wicked, including those who had imprisoned him. Jesus replies by quoting other prophecies about the Messiah, that “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22-23). John probably still believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but he was asking the question to show how perplexed he was at how Jesus fulfilled prophecy.

Often Christians say that Jesus’ people rejected him as Messiah because they just wanted a political leader, not a spiritual leader. It is more likely that many rejected him because he did not fit their reading of prophecy. Even Jesus’ disciples were waiting for him to announce when he would begin the war and they would take their thrones to reign in power. God surprised everyone, even the most faithful, in the coming of Jesus.

It should humble us to realize that he does not use our logic to fulfill prophecy, and should make us very careful to say we have definitive knowledge about the future from Bible prophecy. Jesus said of his second coming, “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Mark 13:32).


Photo: Lawrence OP

Prepare the Way for the Lord

by Lois Tverberg

In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. – Isaiah 40:3

The scriptures say that John was the voice crying out, “In the wilderness, prepare the way for the LORD.” What does that mean? It is a picture of an age old tradition of honoring visiting royalty by preparing a processional path for them to the great cities. In Africa, many of these ancient traditions are retained, and when we visited Uganda, the people honored us by lining the roads that brought us to their churches and homes, and by waving branches and singing as we arrived.

We may wonder how this prophecy was fulfilled by John the Baptist. Jesus also said that John was the “Elijah” who was to come. He was speaking of the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6 that says,

See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.

John was calling the people to purify themselves by repentance. The Jews already had the ceremony of ritual bathing that purified ceremonial uncleanness. But John had a different idea — that a person can become unclean from sin, not just ritual impurity. He was calling Jews to not lean on the fact that they were “sons of Abraham,” but to repent of their sins, personally commit themselves to the covenant, and enthrone God over their lives, and to enter God’s “Kingdom.”

Because of John’s work, when Jesus arrived, people were prepared for his ministry of the “kingdom of God,” in which he also called them to enter under God’s reign. Jesus explained that it also was his own kingdom, because he was the royal King, the Messiah that God sent.

Field

Jesus talked about seed falling on good soils or bad soils, on rocks or thorns, as a picture of the hearts of people and how they receive God’s word. John had been preparing the way by plowing the “rough ground” and making “rugged places a plain,” making people ready to repent, turn their lives around, and accept the atonement of Jesus for their sins.


Photo: Muffet