Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Messiah

Christ in you, the hope of glory

Jesus spoke the following words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. The words were shocking, no doubt deliberately so.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:53-58)

Many who had been following Jesus turned away. These mysterious words didn’t sound at all like the Messiah they had been taught to expect. When Jesus asked the twelve if they would also turn away, Peter responded “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The apostle Paul explained the mystery like this in Colossians 1:26-27: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The key to understanding Messiah’s kingdom is that the citizens of this kingdom are people who have Jesus Christ inside of them, ruling their lives from the heart. Every time a person is born again, the Lord Jesus Christ is incarnate within them.

This was Jesus’ promise to His disciples in John 14:16-18: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” He repeats the promise in His prayer in the 17th chapter of John: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

Paul explains the promise a little further in Romans chapter eight: “ But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Verses 9-11).

The promise is that the believer will have both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ dwelling in him or her. “He (the Holy Spirit) shall be in you / I (Jesus) will come to you.” “If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you / And if Christ be in you.”

I believe this is what the apostle John is speaking of in the following verses: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2-3). I don’t think he is saying that it is enough to believe that Jesus once walked this earth in human flesh. We must know that He is here right now, in my flesh and your flesh, if we are Christians.

“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Christ is in every Christian, no matter our ethnic background, social or economic status. This is the identifying mark of the true Christian, recognizable only by other Christians.

Barbarians at the gate

What remains to be seen is whether Donald Trump and his friends are the barbarians or the best defense against a barbarian takeover. I would suggest we take a long walk and wait a while to see. Let’s say about 100 years.

By that time historians should have a clearer view of what has happened. For sure, we shouldn’t count on it that the people who told us a Trump victory was unthinkable and impossible will now be able to explain what his victory will mean.

For a little perspective, let’s consider the situation of Israel several thousand years ago. First Alexander the Great conquered all the countries around the Mediterranean and into the Middle East. His empire then split into three empires competing for supremacy and Israel was trampled underfoot by armies coming from all directions. Eventually, the Romans brought the whole Mediterranean area under their control and set up an Edomite puppet as king of Judea.

The result was that the Greek language became the lingua franca of the whole area, the Roman road system and the rule of Roman law enhanced trade and travel over the whole area, and the sceptre had decisively departed from Judah.

This was the fulness of the times, the stage was set for the coming of the Messiah and for His gospel to spread with amazing speed throughout that whole area. Do you think any of the pious Jews who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah saw any of those barbarian invasions as part of the necessary preparation for His advent?

Let’s not be too quick to believe we understand what God thinks of the current political landscape.

Jesus is not my enforcer

“My Dad could beat up on your Dad any day!”

“Oh yeah? My Dad would just clobber your old man!”

Are conversations like that still heard on schoolyards? They were common when I was a boy, little boys trying to establish superiority over others, based on their fathers’ credentials.  I never joined in those taunts, because I just couldn’t imagine my Dad getting into a fight — an argument yes, but not a fight.

The Jews of Jesus’ day were a lot like those little boys — they dreamed of a Messiah who would come and utterly defeat the Romans who lorded it over them and then they would be able to lord it over all mankind, using Messiah’s credentials.

Christianity has been used to the same ends, the Pope reigning over kings and emperors because he supposedly exercised all the authority of Jesus upon the earth.  Other brands of Christianity emerged in later years, each one exercising exclusive authority over its “Christian” nation, always in the name of Jesus.

The fragmentation of Christendom made the idea of a denominational domination less believable; but the post-millennial teaching still promised that Christians would rule the world. The gospel would slowly permeate the whole world until Christians were in control everywhere, and then the millennium would begin.

Dispensational pre-millennialism first saw the light of day in 1840 and by the beginning of the twentieth century it was fully primed to take over when post-millennial hopes began to fade. Proponents of this teaching believe that Christians will suddenly be removed from the earth, following which a seven year “great tribulation” will break the power of Antichrist and all the forces opposed to God. Then will begin the millennium, with Jesus as earthly lord, and, of course, Christians will reign with Him.

Didn’t the Jews turn against Jesus because they wanted a Messiah who would make them superior to all other people?  Aren’t Christians who dream of Jesus as a cosmic conqueror making the same mistake?

The kingdom of Jesus is a spiritual kingdom, and He wants us to have victory over our spiritual enemies, the thoughts and intents of our hearts. ” Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew  15:18-19). When some of Jesus’ followers asked Him if they should call for fire to fall from heaven on an unfriendly village, He responded: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of” (Luke 9:55).

The apostle Paul also taught of the spiritual kingdom: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

If the Lord Jesus Christ is truly reigning in my heart, then I should feel no impulse to want to lord it over anyone else.

The Politically Incorrect Messiah

The sceptre had truly departed from Judah. There was once more a king in Jerusalem who ruled over Judah, but he was not of the lineage of David, nor of Judah, not even of Jacob. Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. Surely the time was ripe for the coming of Messiah.

When Messiah came he would throw off the ignominy of this foreign king and all he stood for. For Herod had been appointed by Caesar and was really just a puppet of Rome. The shame of it all was fertile breeding ground for the Zealots, whose support seemed to increase daily. The Zealots considered it a sin to in any way acknowledge the rule of the uncircumcised, heathen Romans. Messiah would soon come and sweep away all the shame of Israel. He would establish his throne in Jerusalem and his reign would spread far and wide, as far as Rome. The Zealots were preparing to be Messiah’s conquering army.

Then Jesus was born, of the lineage of David, in the city of David, yet in the most obscure and humble circumstances possible. The Bible says “there was no room for them in the inn.” “Inn” in this verse simply means a guest chamber. Joseph and Mary will have travelled slowly, because of Mary’s condition. It is quite likely that when they arrived at their relatives the house was already full with other family who had come to Bethlehem to be properly counted on the tax rolls. There was no privacy to be found in such a crowded home for the birth of a baby. So Joseph and Mary were led to the stable, either adjoined to the house or in a cave adjacent to the house. Most likely the midwife was called and other women of the house would have helped. Nevertheless, baby Jesus’ first bed was a manger.

The visit of the shepherds, recounting their angelic visitation, should have erased any shame attached to the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. The visit of the magi will have further established his credentials as the promised Messiah. Yet all of this happened in an out of the way place, far from Jerusalem which was supposed to be the real seat of power.

When Jesus embarked on His ministry some thirty years later, disgust with Roman rule had increased, and with it the influence of the Zealots. Many people were ready to consider Jesus’ claim to be Messiah, if only He would come out and proclaim that He had come to set things right in Israel. That is just what He did, but in a way that was completely contrary to the peoples expectations.

When Jesus first taught about the nature of the kingdom of God, He spoke of the blessedness of being meek and merciful, of being peacemakers and of suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake. He told them they should rejoice if they were mocked and reviled because they believed in Him. He told them that the kingdom of God was for the pure in heart and for those who loved their enemies. In short, He told them that the Zealots completely misunderstood the nature of the kingdom of God.

Nearly two thousand years have passed and Jesus’ kingdom still stands. It is not a political kingdom where submission to Christ is enforced by a sword of steel, but a spiritual kingdom where the love of God rules in the hearts of born again people who submit to Christ of their own free will. How could a literal earthly reign of Christ, enforced by might and brawn, be any better than this? The true nature of the kingdom is fully described in the Sermon on the Mount.

Blaise Pascal on the prophecies

If a single man had written a book foretelling the time and manner of Jesus’s coming and Jesus had come in conformity with these prophecies, this would carry infinite weight.

But there is much more here. There is a succession of men over a period of 4,000 years, coming consistently and invariably one after the other, to foretell the same coming; there is an entire people proclaiming it, existing for 4,000 years to testify in a body to the certainty they feel about it, from which they cannot be deflected by whatever threats and persecutions they may suffer. This is of a quite different order 0f importance.

 

Since the prophets had given various signs which were all to appear at the coming of the Messiah, all these signs had to appear at the same time. Thus the fourth kingdom had to come in when Daniel’s seventy weeks were up and the sceptre had to be removed from Judah.

And all this came to pass without any difficulty. And then the Messiah had to come, and Christ came then, calling himself the Messiah, and this again without any difficulty. This cleanly proves the truth of prophecy.

The fulness of the time

Galatians 4:4: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son.

This phrase, “the fulness of the time,” indicates that Jesus came at the most opportune moment in history. What were the conditions that made this the right moment for the Saviour to come into the world?

The last king of David’s line was carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar. Since that time Judah and Jerusalem had been vassal states in turn of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Herod the Great became king in 37 BC, the first king of Judah since the Babylonian conquest. However, Judah was now a province of the Roman Empire and Herod was not a descendant of David. In fact he was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, not Jacob (later named Israel).

The great empire of Alexander the Great was split into three parts after his death and there were many years of war between the three kingdoms. Judea suffered much from these wars, as did the other parts of the empire, but the Greek language was firmly established as the common language over all the conquered territory.

The Hebrew alphabet was the first phonetic alphabet, but consisted only of consonants, the Greeks added vowels. Now there was a common language and a complete, easily learned, writing system that could be used to spread the gospel. The Old Testament was translated into Greek and this was the version of the Scriptures in common use in the time of Jesus.

When the Romans conquered southern Europe and Asia Minor, they built roads to link all the Empire. In addition, they established the rule of law and placed Roman detachments over all the territory. Now the whole Empire was readily accessible by the Roman highways and travel was safer than at any time in the past.

All the conditions were now in place for the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the Empire by itinerant preachers and by the written word.

“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times” (Daniel 9:24-25).

If we date the beginning of the seventy weeks from the time Artaxerxes commanded Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city, then the baptism of Jesus and the beginning of his messianic ministry was exactly the beginning of the seventieth year of Daniel’s prophecy. God had been at work amid the confusion and strife of the preceding centuries to prepare the world for this moment – the fulness, or fulfilment, of the time.

Dispensationalism Justifies the Crucifixion – Part 1

This is the first installment of a booklet written by Philip Mauro and first published around 100 years ago.  Mr Mauro was a prominent US lawyer, who embraced dispensationalism at the beginning of his Christian life but then saw the inconsistencies in that teaching.  He wrote a number of books on the subject, which today are in the public domain and accessible in various ways. 

“The place that is called Calvary” (Luke 23:33) has obtained an enduring and hallowed distinction far above and beyond all other localities of earth, because at that place the death sentence was duly executed that had been pronounced by two tribunals — the Jewish and the Roman, the ecclesiastical and the civil — upon Jesus of Nazareth.

That sentence was carried out in strict conformity with the process of law prevalent at that time and place, the penal procedure of imperial Rome.  Even the requirement that the offence for which the death penalty was exacted should be placarded above the criminal’s head, was duly observed in this instance.  Attention is specially directed to this detail of our Lord’s crucifixion by the impressive fact that prominence is given it in each of the four Gospels; and, as might be gathered from that circumstance alone, the incident is of deep significance.  It was Pilate himself who formulated that “accusation” and that it was with deliberate intent he worded it as he did, is made very evident; for when the chief priests remonstrated with him, urging him to “Write not, The King of the Jews; but that He said, I am the King of the Jews;’ Pilate curtly replied, “What I have written, I have written” (John 19: l9-21).

Let us not miss the significance of this.  What Pilate had written was the truth; though it cannot be supposed he was aware of it, and we are warranted in assuming that he dictated those words under the constraint of the Spirit of truth.  We recall that when Christ, in replying to a question of Pilate’s, had said, “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth;” the governor asked his famous question,“What is truth?” (John 18: 37, 38).  And now Pilate, acting in his official capacity as representative of Imperial Caesar, the supreme ruler of the world, was proclaiming the truth, causing it to be inscribed in Hebrew and Greek and Latin, to reach the ears and stir the hearts of all future generations of men.

Similarly Caiaphas, when presiding over the Sanhedrin in his official capacity at the time that august body was taking counsel against the Lord and against His Anointed, had been constrained by the Spirit to prophesy “that Jesus should die for that nation” (John 11: 49-52; 18: 14).

But whereas Pilate, doubtless unwittingly and under Divine constraint, wrote what was true and of the highest importance, what the chief priests urged him to write was infamously false; for our Lord had never proclaimed Himself King of the Jews.  It is most needful that this be carefully noted.  What they urged Pilate to write was indeed the accusation they had decided, in solemn conclave, to bring against Him, but it was a false accusation and the accusers had failed dismally in their efforts to support it by the testimony of witnesses.  Pilate himself had so adjudged during the trial (Luke 23: 4, 14).

It will be seen, therefore, that the matter we are about to investigate involves an issue between the word of Pilate and that of Christ’s accusers.  Which was right?

There is, of course, no doubt or question in the mind of any Christian that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the promised Messiah of Israel; that long expected Son of David, Who was to save His people out of the hand of their enemies; for that indeed is “the truth”.  That He was and is “The Christ, the Son of the living God” and hence is God’s anointed King, is the foundation truth of Christianity (Matt. 16: l&18).  Therefore, being truly “The blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords;” He was clothed with full power and authority to cast down the mighty from their seats and to depose even Imperial Caesar from the throne of the world.  And not only so, but He might, even at that very time, have summoned for the execution of His royal dictates more than twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26: 53).  As to all this there is no room for discussion.  The question which a modern system of doctrine that has found acceptance with many orthodox Christians forces upon us is this: Did our Lord, during His earthly ministry, either commit (or authorize others to commit) overt acts, or utter (or authorize His disciples to utter) words of treasonable or seditious import?  Did He ever commit or authorize acts or utter or authorize words in their nature subversive of the then subsisting government of the land?  Specifically did He ever present or announce Himself as an earthly King, the claimant of David’s throne?  Did He ever offer to the oppressed people of Judea, either in person or through the lips of His disciples, the earthly kingdom they had been taught to expect?  Had He ever, by word or act, sought to incite insurrection against the rule of Caesar, or given any countenance whatever to the political ambitions of the Jews?

These are in substance the things whereof He was accused by the leaders of the Jews; and now we, twentieth century Christians, find ourselves confronted with a situation that demands on our part an investigation of the inspired Records for the purpose of ascertaining whether they lend support to those accusations or whether on the contrary the evidence they contain thoroughly refutes them.  The proposed Investigation can be readily made; for those Records include four separate and detailed accounts of our Lord’s sayings and doings.  Those several accounts, moreover, are so clear; so complete, so plainly and simply written, that “the common people,” who always “heard Him gladly”, are as well able to understand and evaluate the evidence they contain and to decide the question at issue, as a faculty of erudite scholars or a bench of astute jurists.

THE CONSPIRACY
It is recorded that for a long time the chief priests and leaders of the people had been closely observing the Lord and their spies had been dogging His steps, being in a state of alarm because of the multitudes that had been drawn to Him by the miracles He did; and it is recorded also that their alarm was greatly augmented by the raising of Lazarus.  When the report of that miracle was brought to them they were in consternation, realizing that immediate and drastic action of some Sort was necessary to compass His destruction.  Therefore they hastily convened a council of chief priests and Pharisees to concert a plan (John 11: 46, 47).  It was possible to convene the Sanhedrin promptly at that time, because the Passover was approaching, at which season all the prominent men of the nation were gathering at Jerusalem.  What the chief priests feared was that, because of His “many miracles” — not, be it noted, because of what He preached or taught — all the people would “believe on Him;” that is, would acknowledge Him as the promised Messiah and King, the consequence of which would be that the Roman armies would march against them and take away both “their place and nation” (John 11:48).  As they saw it, they were threatened with national disaster and extinction.  Therefore, upon the advice of Caiaphas, who was president of the Sanhedrin that year (which advice was in reality a prophecy) the immediate death of Christ was decided upon as an imperative political necessity — “That the whole nation perish not” (John 11: 50).  The plan agreed upon for the accomplishment of that object was to charge Him with the crime of fomenting sedition against Caesar.  It was a very astute plan; for, if successful, it would not only compass the death of Jesus, but would also afford convincing proof of their own loyalty to Caesar.  In perfect agreement with this is the recorded fact that when Pilate, in the course of the trial of Jesus on the charge of making Himself a King, asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” the chief priests exclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19: 15).

Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of

At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Satan came to Him with this temptation: “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-9).

Satan failed in his attempt to entice Jesus with the offer of political power, but many followers of Jesus have fallen into that trap.  Even those of us who do not lust after political power ourselves are often heard to criticize our governments and tell how Christians could do the job so much better.  The fallacy of this argument is that genuine Christians have never been anything but a minority in any nation.  It would require the use of force to govern such a population according to Christian principles.  This is contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

Luke 9:54 “And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?  But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.  For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.”

Mark 10:42-44: “But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.  But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:  And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”

The Jewish leaders did not understand the nature and spirit that would characterize Messiah.  They expected Messiah to come and overthrow the Roman oppressors and that they would then reign with Messiah over his kingdom.  Many Christians hold that same misunderstanding about the spirit of the followers of Messiah.

Jesus did not come to set up a political kingdom where he would brutally enforce righteousness in the manner of the Iranian Ayatollahs.  He came to rule in the hearts of those who would willingly accept Him as their Lord.  He loves us and wants to rule in our hearts.  He wants us to love Him in return, submit our lives fully to Him, and love our neighbours as ourselves so that we can be an example to them of the righteous kingdom.

Messiah’s kingdom is not ruled by fear and force, but by love, joy and peace.  This has often caused the disciples of Jesus to be oppressed and persecuted, but persecution has not destroyed their love, joy and peace, nor has it hindered the spread of Messiah’s kingdom.  The greatest hindrance to the outreach of the kingdom of God is that Christianity is associated in many people’s minds with the lust for political power and the use of dubious means to gain that power.

“Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This [is] the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts”  (Zechariah 4:6).

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