EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and acclaimed biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
Though the different sects within Judaism around the time of Christ could often coexist in society, they had faced centuries of breakdown and internal weakening that resulted in a people that were no longer united. The constant bickering between Hellenists and the classic Hebraic Jews alone was enough to strangle any hope they may have had in restoring the national identity, pride, and community that their forefathers had maintained. Eventually, the authority of the Sadducees built a fortress of control over Jerusalem, while the villages and towns in rural areas began to stick to their synagogues, and it was, in a sense, two different manifestations of religious lifestyles. Those in rural towns were frequently angered by what religio-political schemes went on in the holy city, while residents of Jerusalem saw the rural, “peasant Jews” as illiterate and ignorant country folk. Intolerance bred on both sides, and tension within the Jewish believers in Yahwism led to the near death of their dreams that God would carry out His promises of giving them the glorious Kingdom the prophets had once spoken over them. Many individuals and sects abandoned belief in the prophets altogether!
In addition to all of this, Rome wasn’t always a friendly dominion for Jewish residents. Some earlier secular authorities within the Roman government, as we have discussed, protected the Jews’ freedoms (including their exempt status from having to serve in the Roman military), but the anti-Semitic attitude on a social level grew palpably tense. In 40 BC, Herod the Great was declared “king of the Jews,” and much went downhill from there when he decided to start murdering the baby boys of the Hebrews in an attempt to cut off the messianic line. (To readers who know post-biblical history, it would be a little over a century from this declaration that the Jewish-Roman wars would begin and lead to the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple again in AD 70, in large part as a result of the Zealots’ provocation.) Nobody appeared to be good candidates for Israel’s neighbors, and they couldn’t even get along amongst themselves! The Galilean Jew was friendlier and more acquainted with international travelers than the haughty, proud Judean Jew, so even above and beyond the splintering of sects were social factions that provided an additional layer of segregating walls.
Where could they place their hope, then?
So, although the exiles were finally over, Jerusalem was reestablished, and the Temple had been rebuilt, the Jews’ expectations of God’s promises of grandeur, justice, and lands flowing with milk and honey had not yet been realized.
Little did the Jews know this same Hellenistic, one-world system that eventually led to their internal squabbling and eventual political oppression was precisely the vehicle that facilitated the spread of their God’s messianic revelations to nearly all people of surrounding regions who then conveniently knew how to communicate…
The Hebrew Bible was translated into Koine Greek circa 250 BC in the Jews’ intellectual capital, Alexandria. (Note that Jerusalem would always be their spiritual capital, so long as the Temple stood.) This was the dawn of a new era for the Jews, who now had the Septuagint translation of God’s Word, or, “the Greek Bible.” People far and near would now be able to read the same message that the Jews were claiming to be the only religious truth, but in their own common language. Though this era sounds like an advertisement for Judaic revival—and to some degree, it was—the grander design, the redemptive plan of God, actually showed this to be a more important development in the spread of the Gospel…a story that was about to unfold in real time.
Whispers of how the Messiah would arrive and how He would act had made their expectations certain: He would be preceded by the prophet Elijah, who would prepare the way for Him amid the waiting throngs. He would rise up like King David, but would be even better than King David, ruling the lands as far as the eye could see and, with a mighty shout, His great army made up of unlimited military numbers and strength like the world had never seen would destroy Rome and free every Jew from oppression. No earthly politician would be able to compare to His wisdom in leading a successful administration, a government with only the purest civil, ethical, constitutional, diplomatic, and doctrinal ideologies that would reach the whole planet with the most impeccable interpretations and binding applications of Yahweh’s laws. His throne would be established in Jerusalem, and every knee would bow to Him in acknowledgment that He was the supreme King. Instead of associating Himself with the poor, or with sinners, He would be surrounded by a never-ending lineup of servants draped in only the finest of purple linens hemmed in threads made of gold, while the sinners would fall to their death in His presence and cease to exist, their souls in Sheol for eternity. Judaism would be the only world religion, and the factions and sects within it would unite, surpassing even the glory days of the patriarchs. Sickness and disease would never be heard of again, and the children of Israel would inherit a paradise, paid for in blood by the extinction of its oppressors. This man’s strength and leadership in battle would mute even the strength and leadership of the Maccabees.
What a Leader this Man would be!
At least, that’s what they thought He would be…
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According to the Psalms of Solomon, an apocryphal manuscript written and added to by mostly Pharisees up to the fifth century AD, the Jews believed the Messiah would “make the land and people holy again, drive away evildoers, establish just rule over Israel and the nations, and bring glory to God and blessing to the righteous (Ps. Sol. 17:26–46).”[i] (It’s not clear to scholars why the Pharisees would have named this book after Solomon when the writings were so late in history, but perhaps it was because the author followed his style.) This source’s radical language speaks of a Messiah who would, in order of the verses therein (and without repeated statements, of which there are many):
- Cleanse all of Jerusalem from the nations that ever had or ever would again seek its destruction;
- Prevent all sinners from inheriting any blessings of wisdom;
- Humble every sinner’s ego and “rub out the arrogance of the sinner like a potter’s vessel”;
- Obliterate the support of the wicked “with an iron rod”;
- Bring to extinction every pagan nation through merely a “word of his mouth”;
- Watch as the Gentiles run from the very threat of His appearance;
- Accuse, rebuke, and criticize the actions of all sinners “by the word of their heart”;
- Gather all holy people together and lead them in perfectly realized righteousness, becoming history’s grandest Judge over all the tribes of Israel who are “sanctified…by God”;
- Permanently eliminate any and all injustice or wickedness from ever touching God’s elect again;
- Intimately and immediately recognize and know who are, and who are not, the true children of God;
- Return all of Israel’s scattered tribes back to their rightful places “upon the earth” (alternatively, this verse could be interpreted to say that He will divide them into new tribes);
- Do away with all foreigners and expel emigrants, deportees, refugees, and exiles from among them who are not of God’s elect;
- Judge all people and all nations in wisdom and righteousness, maintaining rule over all “under his yoke,” glorifying Yahweh “over all the earth”;
- Cleanse and sanctify Jerusalem, restoring it to what it was in the beginning;
- Accept visitations and gifts from national leaders who arrive like “utterly weakened sons” from all over the world who travel just to “see his glory,” and He will be a King over them, “taught by God”;
- Execute flawless judgment “in his days among them” who “all are holy”;
- Achieve all military success without having to place His dependency “in horse and rider and bow”;
- Accomplish battle victory without relying on gold or silver;
- Avoid having to rally “hopes by many for the day of war” because the only hope necessary is “the hope of God”;
- “Show no mercy” to any nation who fears Him;
- “Bring down the earth” with only an eternally effective “word of his mouth”;
- Bless all of Yahweh’s sons and daughters with “wisdom and joy”;
- Have no trace of sin within Him, so that He is the appropriate leader of the physical world;
- Be the strongest Man of God in history, which God has ordained Him to be “by the Holy Spirit”;
- Exercise the epitome of wisdom, counsel, understanding, strength, and righteousness, with which the Lord will be with Him always;
- Have strong hope in the Lord;
- Show that no one man or army would ever show strength against Him;
- Display the utmost works as a result of His mighty fear of God;
- Refuse to allow weaknesses of any men;
- Lead with all equality; and
- Eradicate arrogance and all oppression.[ii]
It’s clear the Jews were correct in only a few areas. The rest of their expectations were most definitely based in human interpretations stemming from rabbinical teaching that had thousands of years to steep. (Our subsequent section, “HIS Kingdom?! This Guy Has to Go!” will go deeper into these ideas; this area is to show what the Jews expected before He came, whereas later we will compare these concepts to what He actually said and did.)
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Despite the fact that the people of Israel had seen a mighty and miraculous deliverance in the form of Moses, it was always clear to them that Moses was a man of mighty strength whom God used to free His people. There was always clarity amongst God’s people regarding the distinction between being God and being a man through whom God worked. Alongside the many other elements that set Yahweh apart from gods of pagan religions was the fact that, until now, God had never come in the flesh.
In non-Jewish religions, there were plenty of “god-men” whose legends were regaled across generations. The most well-known example of this is Hercules, supposedly born of a mortal woman and Zeus, but history is riddled with tales of god-men, demigods, and even Egyptian pharaohs who were also considered gods in their culture. Thus, up to now, the lack of a god in the flesh was one element that set Yahweh apart from other pagan gods. As a result of the claims of Jesus being God, Himself, or the Son of God, many traditional Jews suspected (and accused) Him of blasphemy, while those outside Jewish tradition were much more open-minded about this notion. (This likely contributed to the influx of Gentiles in the early Church, and why it struggled with so much pagan invasion: those who easily adopted the notion of a “god-man” and were familiar with the power that Jesus showed during His lifetime flooded the New Testament church, bringing their idolatrous former religions with them.)
Though we noted earlier that the Pharisees’ original motive and intent was based in holiness and purity, by the time of Christ, much of that had changed. (This is, yet again, another lesson we can draw from them. We can and should follow their patterns of abstaining from the ways of the world. Yet, with that goal in mind, we should never become so “arrived” in our theology that we become egotistical.) Although there were certainly sincere Pharisees, Scripture records their conduct around Jesus as arrogant (Luke 18:11), pretentious (Matthew 23:5), incredibly judgmental (John 7:49), money-hungry (Luke 16:14), self-exalting (Matthew 23:6), narrow-minded (Matthew 23:4), and as not concerned with “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23; cf. Luke 11:41–44).
Adding to this, the Pharisees disagreed with Jesus about the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1–2), tradition (Mark 7:1–5), and fellowship with sinners/tax collectors (Luke 5:30). They openly declared Christ was casting out demons by the power of “Beelzebub” (Matthew 12:24), and bore a false witness (John 8:13). They demanded signs from Him (Matthew 16:1) and tried to “trap him in his speech” (Matthew 22:15).
It’s therefore not surprising that they couldn’t believe the humble Jesus from Galilee was the Messiah.
But who would this Messiah really be? How would He compare to what they had predicted and imagined?
The Gospels answer that question in abundance.
At the launch of the Old Testament volume of this series, we briefly covered the word “testament” and concluded that it means the “evidence,” “will,” and “contract” of God.
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When Jesus came on the scene in human form, this “contract” was updated to reflect fresh stipulations and clauses for us, the beneficiaries of this document, which was amended because of the work He performed on the cross. Therefore, just as with the Old Testament, the New Testament could alternatively be called the “Evidence of Christ,” the “Will of God and His Anointed,” or simply, the “New Contract.” (It’s important to note that just because it is referred to as “New” does not mean that there can ever be a subsequent “Third Testament” or beyond. The fact that the whole “Old” document speaks of and points to the “New” means that God’s self-revelation is completed in Christ and this “New Testament” is the explanation of that completion. Neither Testaments speak of or point to a continuing revelation of God. The end of the second Testament describes the apocalyptic last days upon the earth, so the Bible closes permanently with that book.)
Just as with the First Contract, the new record is God’s self-revelation, a legally binding agreement in writing between two parties—God and humanity—and it came pre-signed by the first Party. What we wrote earlier applies again: God is “bound by the pact of what is stated within this text,” and we are given the free will to make a choice: either sign it with our hearts and honor it with our actions or ignore it. If we choose to go with the latter plan, God will respect that choice, but when we die, we will not reap the afterlife profits the contract promises.
Before, we said, “What we must never do is sign the contract and then be found in breach of its conditions and clauses.” That is truer now than ever as we step into the world of the New Testament, as the orders stated within it apply to us in this current state of the nuptial agreement between us and God as metaphorical Husband. More simply, this New Contract is what we believers live by right now, in this modern world, regardless of how the legal terms compare to those who have chosen not to participate in the pact. If we “sign,” or accept Christ, and then are found in breach of the terms, we may be held accountable to the “goats clause,” which stipulates that we may be among those in that terrifying day who are told, “Depart from me, ye cursed” (Matthew 25:41).
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But it’s crucial that we remember: The New Testament is not just a “Book of Helpful Tips.” Nor is it merely a document that distinguishes benefits from losses depending on how the material “helpful tips” are applied. Such an approach is impersonal, turning God and His Son into a “celestial Santa” who gives us presents when we’ve been good. The New Testament is a living, breathing thing (Hebrews 4:12a; John 6:63; 2 Timothy 3:16). It speaks life and blessing into its readers and hearers, improving not only our prospects in the afterlife, but in this current life as well. Following the contract of God improves our time on this earth literally, physically, socially, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Considering who Jesus was while He was in human form, what He came to do, and what that means for us now is to heap upon ourselves the very best life.
The popular hashtag, “#MostBestLife,” is appreciated by the fallen world around us, regardless of religion, and suggests that someone has found a way of living that improves this temporal space. Another one, “#YOLO”—meaning “you only live once”—promises to deliver enjoyment as well, though it often shows up while someone is carrying out an act of, well, stupidity (like jumping off a bridge, or getting drunk and running in front of a bus, just to say it happened).
The Word of God fulfills something these human, secular pursuits cannot. When we start to truly apply the wisdom the Bible offers, we don a new pair of lens, seeing with clarity what really matters. We truly do, as #YOLO states, only live once…so it’s crucial we live our “most best life.” That life is not one that pleases us and gives us blessings, though that is often the result of choosing to live biblically, but one that pleases God and sacrifices all we want in trade for a higher calling and purpose that will result in better outcomes in the afterlife (like reaching the lost at all costs). This is what it means to fully appreciate the New Contract and the lives that were lost (both Yeshua’s and His disciples) to put it into circulation.
One important disclaimer is needed before we proceed: Our original goal for this work was to expand on Christ beyond any other book Defender Publishing has ever released, while also maintaining a certain word and page limit, so as not to produce a product that will be overwhelming to read. With that in mind, a true “expansion work” on the subject of Christ can create, and has many times created, books that bleed into thousands of pages like a multiple-volume set of encyclopedias. As we are choosing to avoid this, there may be parts of Jesus’ story or the theology behind what He has done (both in His earthly lifetime and beyond) that we don’t cover at length.
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One example is the woman at the well (John 4). Few readers are aware that this woman—if the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Church fathers, Byzantine hagiographers, and ancient Greek sermons from the fourth to the fourteenth century accounts of her are true—went on to: 1) become the first female preacher, evangelist, and revivalist in human history (as evidenced also in her ministry to Sychar in John 4); 2) be baptized by the apostles; 3) be baptized in the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost; 4) receive a new name meaning “light”; 5) travel to Rome and personally challenge Emperor Nero; 6) survive multiple attempts on her life (including poisoning, which she drank and lived beyond; beatings, which she emerged from without so much as a broken fingernail; and a trip to the furnace, which she emerged from like the three friends of Daniel); 7) convert the emperor’s daughter and all her handmaidens; 8) convert the jailors and many in her region of Rome following her eventual imprisonment; and 9) finally meet her end (after a very successful ministry converting hundreds more) in an ironic and poetic way—by being thrown into a well.
This account, and a nearly unlimited number of others (as well as theological expansion on some teachings, such as the Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount), could be covered in this book, but again, we’ve instead chosen to focus on who Christ was during the days He walked the earth, what His teachings inflamed among the leaders of His time (religious and secular), His trial, and the writings that materialized after His Ascension. This should answer the question: “Why didn’t the authors talk about [fill-in-the-blank-topic]?”
We will examine this and more in the next entry…
UP NEXT: Jesus In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
[i] Waltke, B. K., Houston, J. M., & Moore, E., The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2010), 34.
[ii] The apocryphal Psalms of Solomon, verses 17:25–46, as translated in: Brannan, R., Penner, K. M., Loken, I., Aubrey, M., & Hoogendyk, I. (Eds.), The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; 2012), “Ps Sol 17:25–46.”