Who Was Jesus?
Within public society today there are a limited number of acceptable ways in which to view Jesus. You can think of him as a simple social activist, or as a wise spiritual guru, or as a failed political resistor of the Roman Empire. Its permissible to view him as a great spiritual figure and its generally understood that he wasnt a bad guy. He meant well, its just that his followers have over-done it. All of this speculation is considered well and good and many scholars have been applauded and supported for promoting each of these watered down views of Jesus.
The problem arises when "fundamentalists" upset the delicate New Age spiritual balance that the secular establishment has sought to create. You see, they believe that if mankind is ever going to live in a harmonious, global, utopian society then everyone needs to understand that every spiritual path is equally valid and that each leads the individual to the very same Divine destination. We must pretend that Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama all teach the same basic things, and that each belief system is true in its own way. Christian fundamentalism upsets this notion when it proclaims two things:
First, that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and that He alone is the Savior of the human race. If Jesus claimed to be the Messiah then New Age gurus become frantic in their search for an escape clause, because if Jesus made this claim then there are only three possible options for viewing His life and the impact He made upon this world. Either: 1) Jesus was a liar, and his claims were false; or 2) he was a deluded lunatic who believed his claims were true but they were not; or 3) the claims that Jesus made were true and He was, and is indeed, the Messiah and the Savior of the human race.
Christian author C.S. Lewis put it best when he wrote,
"You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." 1
Unfortunately, most of todays liberal scholars prefer to take the option of patronizing nonsense. It wouldnt be Politically Correct to view him as a liar or a demon or as a crazy person, so they promote the notion that he was just another human being who taught basic spiritual values. John Dominic Crossan is one of these scholars. He is the man generally acknowledged as the worlds premier researcher of the alleged "historical Jesus." According to Crossan, Jesus was an illiterate na´ve activist, a " savvy and courageous Jewish Mediterranean peasant, a radical social revolutionary, with a rhapsodic vision of economic, political, and religious egalitarianism and a social program for creating it." 2 According to Crossan, Jesus had a simple "rhapsodic vision," but this vision did not include the thought that He might be the Messiah. According to Crossan, Jesus never even dreamed of being the long-awaited Messiah.
The second idea held by Christian fundamentalists that upsets the New Age ideal is that Jesus Christ claimed to be God, and that He was God, the second member of the Divine Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These days its generally rude to talk about God period. Everybody has such different and distinct views of God that to make such a bold and concrete statement is considered intolerant of what others might believe. Today God is either the Unknowable, or better, He is the Non-Existent. Jesus couldnt have been God and he couldnt have claimed to be God. Its just not possible!
Another highly respected scholar, one well taken care of by the secular establishment and elite academia is Karen Armstrong. She has written a number of books on God, fundamentalism and monotheism, including "A History of God," and although she never interviewed Him, her work has been praised, supported and promoted by all of the influential media outlets. The Washington Post calls her work "stunningly intelligent," The New York Times calls it "penetrating, readable and prescient," and others reward her as "brilliant," "provocative" and "impressive."
This adulation may have something to do with her background and her perspective. Karen Armstrong was a Roman Catholic nun for seven years during which time, spent in concentrated prayer and pious meditation, she failed to receive the transcendent religious experiences which she longed for. For some reason God failed to bless her with a vision, or a sign, or with any other miraculous proof of His existence. So she left the Catholic Church and became an atheist, and since then she has become a celebrated God-expert and highly successful author. Concerning her view on Jesus she writes that, according to her belief, biblical scholars have proven that Jesus "never claimed to be divine." 3
Have contemporary scholars finally figured out the truth? After 2000 years have they unearthed fresh evidence that tells us how to view the man recognized as the founder of the worlds most influential belief system? Or has Jesus been understood correctly all these years, and the recent assaults on our memory and on our perceptions of Him are simply precursors of an end-times, Anti-Christian, global deception?
Of course this is a tough possibility to consider, and it sounds unbelievable, but hopefully the previous chapters of this book have shown how the Bible is clear in its end-times predictions for this earth. Perhaps the way that the stage is being set today for the fulfillment of these prophecies is also becoming clear. However, before we can truly understand the future or the present we must understand the past. We must understand the nature of the mission that Jesus was given during His brief years on this earth, how He was received and how He accomplished it.
Expectations of the Messiah
The prophecies contained in the Hebrew scriptures, todays Old Testament, generally fell within two classes in their descriptions and predictions of a coming Messiah. On one hand, the prophets predicted the appearance of a warrior king who would vanquish Israels foes and set up a worldwide kingdom of peace and prosperity with Jerusalem as the capital. On the other hand, the prophets also predicted that the Messiah would be humble and meek, that he would be abused and rejected, even killed, and that through him the Gentiles would be saved.
Some of the prophets who predicted a victorious king Messiah include Jeremiah, who wrote (23:5-6) that He would be "a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety."
Daniel wrote that the Messianic Kingdom would be one "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." (2:44)
Isaiah predicted great things for King Messiah, saying, "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." (9:7)
However, Isaiah also predicted the other aspect of the Messiahs career, describing Him as a suffering servant who would be killed for the sins of the people (Chapter 53): "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed... For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken... Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
Isaiah also predicted that the Messiah, who would at first be despised and abhorred, would one day be worshiped, "Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name And now the LORD says It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth. This is what the LORD says-- the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel-- to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you. " (49:1-7)
The prophets were clear that the Messiah would be an invincible king, but they also curiously predicted that He would suffer and be rejected. Over time, to explain these differences, the rabbis developed a theory that there would be two different Messiahs: one a servant and the other a king.
In first century Israel the nation was politically and militarily controlled by the Roman Empire. This led to a great deal of resentment and numerous revolts led by various patriotic groups against Roman power. This atmosphere was also charged by the expectation of the coming of the Messiah, and due to the circumstances, most Jews expected Him to appear as a king and to lead Israel in a glorious military overthrow of Rome.
There were at least two prophecies that dealt with the time of the coming of the Messiah which created this atmosphere. The first was Daniels prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, which we have already examined. The people of Israel knew that they were living near the time that the Messiah was supposed to appear.
A second was one given by Jacob in Genesis 49:10, "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be."
Judah was one of Jacobs sons, and his descendants became the most powerful tribe within Israel. The term "Jew" comes from the name "Judah." In the centuries after this prophecy was given the scepter mentioned by Jacob was commonly understood to be a reference to Israels national identity, which related to their leaders power to enforce Mosaic Law. It was understood that this power would not be taken away prior to the coming of Shiloh, which was understood as another name for the Messiah.
This power was taken away around 6 or 7 AD when Herod Archelaus, the Jewish ruler, was dethroned and replaced by a Roman ruler named Caponius. The Sanhedrin, the group of Jewish religious leaders who oversaw Mosaic Law, then saw their legal power greatly restricted, and this terrible event was recognized by many as a Messianic indicator. The Babylonian Talmud, which is an entirely Jewish compilation of ancient commentaries and histories, records that many Jewish leaders mourned because of this event and said,
"Woe unto us for the scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come!" (Babylonian Talmud, Chapter 4, folio 37)
What the rabbis did not know was that by this time their Messiah had already been born.
The nation of Israel was indeed looking around them expectantly for the Messiah, but they were certain that He would appear to lead them to victory and to glory, and to freedom from Roman oppression.
The Beginning of the Ministry of Jesus of Nazareth
The signal for Jesus to begin His ministry was at His baptism, when the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven spoke saying, "Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased," (Luke 3:22). After this, Jesus made His way into the desert where he fasted and prayed for forty days, resisting the temptations from Satan. After prayerfully preparing for His ministry Jesus returned and began to preach in Galilee. Soon He decided to journey back to His hometown of Nazareth, where he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, as He had done many times before, and took a scroll to read in front of the crowd (Luke 4:14-21). He opened the scroll to the passage from Isaiah 61:1-2 and He read, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor " Jesus stopped right there in the middle of the passage, rolled the scroll back up and handed it to the attendant. Then He said to the crowd, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
The early part of Jesus ministry was marked by this veiled claim of being the promised Messiah, Gods "Anointed One." He stopped His reading in the middle of the Isaiah passage because the rest of the passage described the day of Gods vengeance. Jesus would first fulfill the "humble servant" aspect of the Messiah before fulfilling the aspects of a judging and victorious king. Time had not yet come for global judgment or vengeance. That would come at the Messiahs second coming.
As Jesus continued speaking, the crowd became agitated as some of them began to realize what He was saying. They thought it ridiculous that Jesus of Nazareth, from a well-known but humble family, the supposed son of a carpenter, would insinuate that He was the Messiah. Their Jesus had no resources to carry out a fight against the Roman occupation! Because of this they drove Him out of town, intending to kill Him. But before leaving, Jesus remarked that "no prophet is accepted in his hometown." And He also made a strange statement, saying "there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the Syrian," (Luke 4:24-30).
The Healing of a Leper
Indeed, in all of the days since Moses recorded Gods Law in the Torah there had never been an Israelite healed of leprosy. 4 This was strange, because Moses had recorded very specific and detailed instructions that were to be carried out when this occurred. These instructions are recorded in Leviticus 14:1-32, and they were instructions given directly to Moses from the Lord God Himself,
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought unto the priest: And the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper; Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water: As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water: And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field.
"And he that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp, and shall tarry abroad out of his tent seven days. But it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off: and he shall wash his clothes, also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean.
"And on the eighth day he shall take two he lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, and three tenth deals of fine flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil. And the priest that maketh him clean shall present the man that is to be made clean, and those things, before the Lord, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
"And the priest shall take one he lamb, and offer him for a trespass offering, and the log of oil, and wave them for a wave offering before the Lord: And he shall slay the lamb in the place where he shall kill the sin offering and the burnt offering, in the holy place: for as the sin offering is the priest's, so is the trespass offering: it is most holy: And the priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot: And the priest shall take some of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand: And the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle of the oil with his finger seven times before the Lord: And of the rest of the oil that is in his hand shall the priest put upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot, upon the blood of the trespass offering: And the remnant of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall pour upon the head of him that is to be cleansed: and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord.
"And the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make an atonement for him that is to be cleansed from his uncleanness; and afterward he shall kill the burnt offering: And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the meat offering upon the altar: and the priest shall make an atonement for him, and he shall be clean."
For about 1500 years these detailed, exhaustive and specific instructions had never been used, because no Jew was ever healed of leprosy. Over the centuries, because these instructions appeared to be so specific and so important, coming from the God of Israel Himself and written down by Moses, the rabbis and the scholars and the religious authorities within Israel developed the belief that the healing of a Jewish leper would first be performed by the Messiah. It would be a Messianic miracle, and by this miracle the people would know that the Messiah had appeared.
Perhaps this explains Jesus reference to the healing of lepers during His brief encounter at the synagogue in Nazareth, because after Jesus left Nazareth and continued His ministry in the countryside of Galilee He came upon a man who was completely covered with leprosy,
"When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. I am willing, he said. Be clean! And immediately the leprosy left him. Then Jesus ordered him, Don't tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them. " Luke 5:12-14
After the leper went to the priests in Jerusalem the complicated ceremony commanded by Moses would have begun. The Temple priests were very careful to follow the letter of the Law, so it would have been carried out exactly as called for: First, the two birds would have been taken and prepared according to the details, one killed, the other set free. Then the leper would have shaved all his hair and waited in a tent for seven days. On the seventh day he would have shaved again, and on the eighth he would have brought three lambs, two males and one female, to the priest. In all there would be a meat offering, a trespass offering, a wave offering, a sin offering and a burnt offering. All of them with detailed instructions to be obeyed exactly according to the Law. The first leper ever healed in the history of Israel was no small thing, and word of this miracle quickly spread throughout the land.
This was the first conclusive proof that Jesus offered to the religious leaders of Israel that He was indeed the Messiah. There were many common people within Israel who followed Jesus and looked up to Him, even identifying Him as the Messiah, but in order to be accepted by the entire nation as the promised Messiah it was important that Jesus offer proof to the leaders of Israel.
Aside from the words Jesus spoke in Nazareth near the beginning of His ministry Jesus was fairly reserved when it came to making direct verbal Messianic claims, and He confirmed that He was the Messiah on only a few very private occasions. In public however, Jesus chose to let His actions speak for Him, and to make his case directly to the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israels religious leaders. Jesus had his eye on these rich and powerful men, and He wanted them to recognize Him for who He was. That is why Jesus told the healed man to tell no one, but to go directly to the Temple priest to present himself, a cured leper, "as a testimony to them."
By the time Jesus appeared, the religious leaders of Israel had been faced with many would-be Messiahs. One of these was Theudas, who had led a group of four hundred men, and another was Judas the Galilean who had led a Messianic revolt around the time of the birth of Jesus (Acts 5:36-37). Over the years the religious leaders developed a system to examine Messianic claims and movements. Their investigation took place in two stages: The first was a period of observation. Members of the Sanhedrin would converge to observe the would-be Messiah and his movement. If the movement showed promise and was worthy of it, then the investigation would move on to the second more serious phase, the stage of interrogation, during which religious experts would intently question the Messianic candidate.
After Jesus healed the leper He received a great deal of attention from Israels religious leaders. The following record from Luke 5:17-26 describes an episode of the observation phase,
"One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
"When Jesus saw their faith, he said, Friend, your sins are forgiven. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone? Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Get up and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . He said to the paralyzed man, I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home. Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, We have seen remarkable things today. "
Luke records that Pharisees and experts on the law had come from miles around, from Galilee, Judea and even from Jerusalem, to watch and listen to Jesus. As they listened Jesus made no explicit claim to be the Messiah, but by claiming to have the authority to forgive sins Jesus made an implicit claim to be God, and the Pharisees recognized this immediately. However, they were not here to interrogate Jesus yet, so they mumbled among themselves and reasoned in their hearts. Even so, Jesus knew what they were thinking. He did not deny that He was claiming to be God, rather He backed up His claim to be able to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man. (Jesus again made this claim to divinity in Luke 7:36-50).
It only took a short while for the Pharisees to move on to the second stage of the investigation. They quickly understood that Jesus was the center of a very important movement within Israel. But from the very beginning Jesus did not fit the pre-conceptions that they held about the coming of the Messiah, and even though Jesus had performed a Messianic miracle they found it hard to accept Him.
After this time the Pharisees followed Jesus just about everywhere He went, and they questioned Him on everything. They tried to find out if any of his teachings went against the Law of Moses or against scriptural Judaism. However, throughout their questioning of Him they found out that His teachings were entirely Scriptural, and that they were even more Scriptural than the Pharisees own beliefs which had developed into a system made up of many trivial and nonsensical regulations and man-made traditions.
The Pharisees questioned Jesus on the Sabbath. They did not like it when Jesus disciples gathered a few stalks of wheat to eat on the Sabbath. They also thought it wrong that Jesus would heal people on the Sabbath. Jesus showed them wrong on both counts. He told them that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. He showed the Pharisees that they strictly obeyed the letter of the Law, but were completely ignorant of its intent. Jesus argued that doing a good deed on the Sabbath was entirely within the letter and spirit of the Law.
The Pharisees became upset when they saw Jesus disciples eating without washing their hands. Jesus responded that the Pharisees were following man-made rules. And the Pharisees were repulsed when Jesus sat down to eat with people they believed were sinners, but Jesus said that He had not come to socialize with righteous people, but to minister to those who needed Him most.
The religious leaders also questioned Jesus on the kingdom of God, the paying of taxes, the matter of divorce, and on the resurrection, and they tested Him on what the greatest commandment was. In turn Jesus questioned them about the Messiah, asking the Pharisees, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They answered saying "The son of David." Then Jesus gave them this question, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him Lord? For he says [and then Jesus quoted Psalm 110], "The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet. " If then David calls him Lord, how can he be his son?" The Pharisees could not explain how the Messiah could be Davids son and at the same time be Davids Lord. (Matthew 22:15-46)
The majority of the Pharisees during Jesus day were so steeped in their pre-conceptions, their man-made traditions and in their self-righteous attitudes that they could not accept what Jesus was teaching or that He was the Messiah. Time and again Jesus argued with them, and perplexed them, and by doing this He showed the people that these self-righteous "experts" were no match for Him at all. The Pharisees greatly resented this irreverent treatment of them, but Jesus had not come to make these men feel good, to flatter them and win them over. He simply told it like it was. Once He told a crowd, "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." (Luke 20:46-47)
At another time Jesus gave this parable that was aimed directly at the religious leaders who believed themselves so holy, "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:10-14)
And at yet another time Jesus chastised the highest of Israels religious leaders saying, " you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. "
At this particular occasion Jesus was addressing the very Pharisees who had come from Jerusalem just to hear Him, and the disciples were shocked at the way Jesus treated them. They said to Him, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" Jesus replied saying, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." (Matthew 15:6-14)
Jesus taught that Israels religious leaders were hypocrites and leading Israel astray. Because of this, their attitude toward Jesus turned more and more negative as He continued to preach and His movement gained momentum.
Another Messianic Miracle
Within the Judaism of Jesus day, as tradition had been passed down over the centuries, a system had been developed to cast out demons from people who had been possessed. This system was made up of a three-part ritual. First, the exorcist would have to make verbal contact with the demon, which would speak through its victim. Second, the exorcist would demand to know the name of the demon. Third, the exorcist would then command the demon to leave the body of its victim. This was the ritual used by the rabbis in Jesus day, and it even survives today in this basic form within the Roman Catholic Church.
Jesus used this system when He was confronted by the demon-possessed man in the area of the Gerasenes. Before Jesus cast out the demon He demanded to know its name. The demon responded by saying, "My name is Legion, for we are many." Then Jesus cast these demons into the pigs, which then ran off a cliff and drowned. (Mark 5)
The casting out of demons was not a terribly unusual miracle. However, there was a certain type of demon that was beyond the reach of the traditional rabbinic system. In some cases a demon would possess a mute person or cause its victim to go mute. In this way the exorcist would not be able to make verbal contact with the demon and could not command it to leave. However, down through the ages the Jewish rabbis developed the belief that this type of demon would be able to be cast out by the Messiah. It would be a Messianic miracle.
Here is what occurred some time after the leaders of Israel had begun the interrogation phase of Jesus,
"Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, Could this be the Son of David? " (Matthew 12:22-23)
It was a well known tradition that only the Messiah would be able to cast out a demon from a mute person, and when Jesus performed this miracle the people were astonished and they wondered, "Could this be the Messiah?"
By this point the leaders of Israel had heard and seen enough. They already knew that Jesus had healed a leper, but they also knew that Jesus threatened their power and their status as respected rulers. When Jesus performed this second Messianic miracle He forced the religious leaders of Israel to make a decision. Things were getting out of their control and the people were starting to believe that Jesus was the Messiah! If the Sanhedrin accepted Jesus and declared that He was the Messiah then they would be forced to change their ways and admit their own faults. But if the religious leaders were to decide that Jesus was not the Messiah, then how were the miracles to be explained? Here is what they decided,
"But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." (Matthew 12:24)
This was not just a random group of Pharisees who made this judgment. Mark 3:22 tells us more about this incident and records that those who made this judgment were "teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem." They were representatives of the Sanhedrin, who were there to observe Jesus, and this accusation against Jesus became the basis for which the nation of Israel, as decided by her leaders, rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah.
This accusation was an unforgivable sin, and the sin that would set the tone for Israel for the next two thousand years.
The Rejection of the Messiah
In response to the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah by Israels leaders, on the basis that Jesus was possessed by the devil, Jesus had this to say (Matthew 12:25-37),
"Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
"Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house. He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.
"You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
After Israels leaders had passed judgment on Jesus, then Jesus gave a judgment upon them. He proclaimed that they had committed the unpardonable sin, which referred to their charge that Jesus was Himself possessed by an evil spirit. In response to Jesus condemnation of them the Pharisees were somewhat shocked:
"Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you. He answered, A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, I will return to the house I left. When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation. " Matthew 12:38-45
Jesus had already performed two Messianic miracles and He had been rejected. Jesus condemned them for passing this false judgment on Him and they responded by asking for yet another sign! Jesus responded to their request by predicting the miracle of His resurrection, and he gave a further explanation of what His judgment upon them meant. The unpardonable sin, given as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, was a sin committed by this generation. It was an unpardonable sin and the penalty could not be revoked. The result of the punishment would leave the final state of "this generation" worse than the first. A Biblical generation is forty years, and forty years later the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple was razed to the ground by the Roman army.
The Scapegoat and the Sins of Israel
After the prophet Moses led Israel out of Egypt He recorded the Laws which God gave under which the people of Israel would live. In all there were 613 different laws, which were summarized in the Ten Commandments that were first written in stone by the very finger of God. 5
It was also through Moses that the Hebrew system of blood sacrifice was codified. Individuals were required to provide sacrifices, or offerings, for their sins, to be offered to God by the priests. There were burnt offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings, all for different types of sins as described in Leviticus 1-7. In addition to the sacrifices made on an individual level there was also a sacrifice that was to be made on a national level, on behalf of the entire nation. This national sacrifice was to be performed by the high priest on the Day of Atonement once each year, and God described this process to Moses in Leviticus 16,
" From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats--one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. (He) shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat. He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites--all their sins--and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work--whether native-born or an alien living among you-- because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites. And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses."
Over the years a couple of different traditions were added to this ceremony. On rare occasions the scapegoat, the goat released into the desert, would somehow survive and make its way back into the camp, or back to the Temple. This was considered a terrible omen, so a new custom was instituted whereby the man in charge of the scapegoat would lead it the edge of a cliff, and make sure that the goat fell off the cliff and died.
Over the years the priests also picked up the tradition of tying a cord of red wool to the horns of the scapegoat. Before the goat reached the edge of the cliff half of the scarlet cord would be removed. After the goat was killed the scarlet cord that was saved would then supernaturally change to pure white, and then the priests would know that Israels sins were truly forgiven by God. Perhaps this ritual came from Isaiah the prophet who wrote (1:18), "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." We dont know for sure who started this part of the ritual, but we do know that God honored it, because it was recorded in the ancient Jewish histories and commentaries that have been preserved over the ages. In fact, here is what is recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 39a-39b,
"Our Rabbis taught that throughout the forty years that Shim'on the Tzaddik served... the scarlet cloth would become white. From then on it would sometimes become white and sometimes not.... Throughout the last forty years before the Temple was destroyed... the scarlet cloth never turned white."
Shimon the Tzaddik was a high priest who led Israel well and throughout his service the scarlet cord always turned white upon the death of the scapegoat. After Shimons service ended then Israel was found to be in and out of favor with God, and the cord did not always turn white. But then at a certain point exactly forty years prior to the destruction of the Temple, the cord ceased to ever turn white again. This corresponds to the very year in which Israels religious leaders rejected Jesus as the Messiah on the basis that He was possessed by a demon. Israels leaders, that generation of Israel, had committed the unpardonable sin and God did not forgive them, a fact proven by the Jewish records themselves.
At a certain point during Jesus ministry He brought His twelve disciples together and He spoke to them, telling them to leave Him and to go throughout Israel for a time, spreading the message that "The kingdom of heaven is near." He sent them out and He also told them they would now have the power to "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy," and "drive out demons." Jesus now gave His disciples the power to perform miracles, including the special Messianic miracles, such as the healing of lepers, that were defined according to tradition (Matthew 10:1-8, Luke 9:1-6).
After the disciples returned from their mission Jesus went up into a mountain to pray, taking Peter, James and John up with Him. When they returned they faced the following scene, described in Luke 9:37-43 and also Mark 9:14-29 as given here,
"When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
What are you arguing with them about? he asked.
A man in the crowd answered, Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.
O unbelieving generation, Jesus replied, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.
So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
Jesus asked the boy's father, How long has he been like this? From childhood, he answered. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.
If you can? said Jesus. Everything is possible for him who believes.
Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!
When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. You deaf and mute spirit, he said, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again. The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, He's dead. But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, Why couldn't we drive it out? He replied, This kind can come out only by prayer. "
Jesus had previously sent his twelve disciples out to perform miracles, even Messianic miracles such as the curing of leprosy. Undoubtedly word of this got back to the Sanhedrin. While Jesus was up in the mountain some of his disciples came face to face with a demon that had possessed a mute victim, and in spite of the power that Jesus had given them, they could not cast this demon out. The ever-present Pharisees seized this opportunity to discredit Jesus through His disciples, and when Jesus returned they were there arguing with each other. Suddenly the Pharisees had the upper hand and a large crowd had gathered. Perhaps Jesus was just a deceiver and His power had left both Him and His disciples!
As Jesus came on the scene He instantly realized the situation. He exclaimed, "O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" Once again Jesus referred to the unbelieving generation, the generation which had already rejected Him after He had performed this very same miracle earlier.
As Jesus questioned the boys father even more people came running on to the scene! This was a major showdown and everyone who was aware of what was going on was keenly interested in the outcome. The conflict ended quickly because Jesus simply rebuked the demon and it left the boy immediately. Jesus had proven that He was the Messiah once again, by casting a demon out of a mute person for the second time.
Later on, Jesus disciples questioned Him. They wondered why they could not cast out the demon of a mute person. If they had been given the power to cure leprosy, then why not this miracle? Jesus answered by confirming that demons inhabiting mute victims were indeed different and they demanded a different approach. He instructed His disciples that in the future they were to simply use prayer to cast out this type of demon.
The Feast of Tabernacles
Jesus of Nazareths most scathing indictment of Israels religious leaders is recorded in Matthew 23,
"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
"Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them Rabbi.
"But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth father, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called teacher, for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
"Woe to you, blind guides! You say, If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath. You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath. You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
(The Pharisees were so careful to follow the Law requiring a ten-percent tithe that they even tithed their kitchen condiments! Jesus pointed out that they were right in giving tithe, but they had forgotten what was most important: "justice, mercy and faithfulness.")
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets. So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 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. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate."
In the face of this type of preaching from Jesus, after they had rejected Him on the false basis that He was demon-possessed, the Sanhedrin instituted a policy of excommunicating anyone who stated publicly a belief that Jesus was the Messiah. They had already ruled on the matter and anyone contradicting them would be thrown out of the synagogue and removed from the Jewish community. At about this time certain members of the Sanhedrin also began to plot of a way to kill Jesus and be rid of Him entirely. This created a great deal of problems for Jesus and His disciples and it also created a stumbling block to any respected citizens who might still be considering Jesus, because to accept Him for who He was would make one an outcast and result in the complete loss of all social standing. This was the atmosphere surrounding Jesus as the Feast of Tabernacles approached. For this reason Jesus waited and went to the holy festival in Jerusalem in secret, apart from His family and apart from His disciples (John 7 and 8):
"Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews were amazed and asked, How did this man get such learning without having studied? Jesus answered,
My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me? You are demon-possessed, the crowd answered. Who is trying to kill you?
Then Jesus proceeded to rebuke the Pharisees for their teachings regarding the Sabbath. Jesus asked why it was forbidden by them to heal people on the Sabbath, yet circumcision was allowed on the Sabbath!
"At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, Isn't this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him."
Despite the danger Jesus continued to speak out in the midst of the temple courts,
" 'Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.' At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?
"The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him. Jesus said, I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come. The Jews said to one another, Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What did he mean when he said, You will look for me, but you will not find me, and Where I am, you cannot come?
"On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
"On hearing his words, some of the people said, Surely this man is the Prophet. Others said, He is the Christ. Still others asked, How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived? Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, Why didn't you bring him in? No one ever spoke the way this man does, the guards declared. You mean he has deceived you also? the Pharisees retorted. Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law--there is a curse on them.
"Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing? They replied, Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee. Then each went to his own home.
Some of the people who heard Jesus speak out believed that He was the Christ (the Greek word for Messiah), and even Nicodemus, himself a Pharisee, tried to defend Him. However, the other Pharisees used peer pressure and the bogus argument that no prophet could come from Galilee, to try to influence them. The next day Jesus came to the temple courts again, and after speaking out against the Pharisees they responded to Him with their same old accusation,
"The Jews answered him, Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?
I am not possessed by a demon, said Jesus, but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.
At this the Jews exclaimed, Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?
Jesus replied, If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.
You are not yet fifty years old, the Jews said to him, and you have seen Abraham!
I tell you the truth, Jesus answered, before Abraham was born, I am! At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds."
When Jesus claimed to be the great "I Am" He was making a definitive and obvious claim to be the Pre-Existent One. He was claiming to be God in the flesh. The Pharisees responded by trying to stone Him to death, which was the Lawful penalty for blasphemy, but Jesus was able to hide from them and He left the Temple grounds.
A Third Messianic Miracle
After Jesus was able to make His escape from the wrath of the Pharisees He performed yet another miracle that offered definitive proof that He was the Messiah (John 9):
"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Neither this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world. Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. Go, he told him, wash in the Pool of Siloam. "
At the time of Jesus it was not unheard of for people to be healed of blindness. If you became blind from a disease, or from a wound, then there was always hope that you might one day see again. It was different, however, if you were born blind. If this was the case then there was no hope for you, because this type of blindness had never been cured. This was another miracle that, according to tradition, could only be performed by the Messiah.
"So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg? Some claimed that he was. Others said, No, he only looks like him. But he himself insisted, I am the man. How then were your eyes opened? they demanded. He replied, The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see. Where is this man? they asked him. I don't know, he said."
People were so amazed at this miracle that many refused to believe that this was the very same man who was born blind. When he emphatically stated that he was the man then they were extremely curious as to how he was healed.
"They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He put mud on my eyes, the man replied, and I washed, and now I see. Some of the Pharisees said, This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath. But others asked, How can a sinner do such miraculous signs? So they were divided. Finally they turned again to the blind man, What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened. The man replied, He is a prophet. "
Jesus was guilty of both healing and making mud on the Sabbath! That was the most important problem to be dealt with as far as the Pharisees were concerned. They also refused to believe that this man had been born blind.
"The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. Is this your son? they asked. Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see? We know he is our son, the parents answered, and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself. "
Of course the mans parents knew by now how their son had been healed, but they answered the Pharisees interrogation by simply saying "yes, he is our son," and "yes, he was born blind." The apostle John explains why they did not say much else:
"His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, He is of age; ask him. "
It was already well known that it was forbidden to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, so the parents were careful to avoid making this sort of suggestion. They did not want to be excommunicated and cast out of the synagogue. The Pharisees then decided that they needed to talk to the blind man again:
"A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. Give glory to God, they said. We know this man is a sinner. He replied, Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see! Then they asked him, What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes? He answered, I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too? "
Apparently the man who had been born blind was becoming quite fed-up with the hypocrisy that was being shown by the Pharisees. He mocked them by asking, "Do you want to become His disciples, too?" This did not go over very well with the Pharisees:
"Then they hurled insults at him and said, You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from."
This man, after finally receiving his sight after a lifetime of darkness, refused to be intimidated by the Pharisees. He knew they were looking for anything that might discredit Jesus in any way, but he continued to stand up to them:
"The man answered, Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing. "
Yes, the Pharisees could not avoid the fact that this man had been born blind, and he threw this fact back in their faces. This miracle was entirely unheard of. It was an undeniable Messianic miracle. But the Pharisees had heard enough:
"To this they replied, You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us! And they threw him out."
This courageous man was excommunicated from the synagogue, and he now faced a life outside of the Jewish community. However, Jesus made sure to find the man again, to speak to him eye to eye for the first time:
"Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, Do you believe in the Son of Man? Who is he, sir? the man asked. Tell me so that I may believe in him. Jesus said, You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you. Then the man said, Lord, I believe, and he worshiped him. Jesus said, For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind. Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too? Jesus said, If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. "
Jesus continued to speak, and he then gave the parable of the Good Shepherd. He ended His talk by predicting that God had given Him the power to give His life, and to then take it up again. These amazing claims again caused a division among the crowd that was listening to Him:
"Many of them said, He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him? But others said, These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"
"Tell Us That You Are the Messiah!"
After this Jesus layed low for a while near Jerusalem. When the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) arrived Jesus again made His way to the Temple,
"The Jews gathered around him, saying, How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered, I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one. John 10:24-29
At this time Jesus had yet to make a public, definitive verbal claim to be the Messiah, yet everything He did showed that His very life was based on that claim. By this time the Pharisees and many of the people in Jerusalem were frustrated at this and they begged Him to speak plainly and to tell them straight that He was the Messiah! Jesus responded that He had made that claim, and it had been through His miracles that He had claimed, and proven Himself, to be the Messiah.
"Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me? We are not stoning you for any of these, replied the Jews, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your Law, `I have said you are gods'? If he called them `gods,' to whom the word of God came--and the Scripture cannot be broken-- what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, `I am God's Son'? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father. Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp." John 10:31-39
The Jews tried to stone Him again, because by saying, "I and the Father are one," Jesus had made another clear claim to be equal to God. Before they could harm Him Jesus reiterated the fact that if they would only believe the miracles then they would understand the truth.
The leaders of Israel could not bring themselves to have faith in Jesus. They understood the traditions of the Messianic miracles and they knew that Jesus had performed them, but they still would not accept them for what they were. Near the end of His ministry Jesus made it ten times clearer that He was the Messiah:
"Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, Jesus, Master, have pity on us! When he saw them, he said, Go, show yourselves to the priests. And as they went, they were cleansed." Luke 17:11-14
Now the Temple priests had to deal with ten healed lepers, not just one. And for every Jewish leper among this group they had to carry out the intricate rituals prescribed by Moses: the bird sacrifice, the male lambs, the female lamb, the meat offering, the trespass offering, the wave offering, the sin offering, the burnt offering, et cetera, et cetera. All while listening to each lepers joyful testimony.
Lazarus (John 11)
After Jesus left the Feast of Dedication He spent some time on the other side of the Jordan, back in an area where the humble country people believed in Him. After a period of time there He received a message from His friends who lived in Bethany, very near Jerusalem. The message said that Jesus friend Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary Magdalene, was sick:
"When he heard this, Jesus said, This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it. Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. Then he said to his disciples, Let us go back to Judea.
" But Rabbi, they said, a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light. After he had said this, he went on to tell them, Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.
"His disciples replied, Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better. Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.
"On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days."
According to the Jewish belief regarding the state of the dead there was no hope for Lazarus. He was dead and gone. According to the belief, after death the spirit of a dead person lingers near the body for three days, and then it goes to Sheol, the place of the dead. Resuscitations of people during that three-day period were not unheard of. The prophets, such as Elijah, had revived people in the past, and Jesus had already revived several dead people during His ministry. Everyone who knew Jesus knew about these resuscitations, for they had helped to make Him famous. But when Jesus arrived at Bethany everyone was terribly sad because He had arrived too late. The spirit of Lazarus had already departed his body and gone to Sheol.
"Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. Lord, Martha said to Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.
"Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise again. Martha answered, I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Martha knew that Jesus had revived dead people in the past, but now she doubted that Lazarus could be resurrected after his spirit had entered Sheol, and when Jesus said that Lazarus would rise again she thought He was referring to the final resurrection at the end of the age.
"Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? Yes, Lord, she told him, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world. And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. The Teacher is here, she said, and is asking for you. When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.
"Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
"When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Where have you laid him? he asked. Come and see, Lord, they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, See how he loved him! But some of them said, Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying? "
These men speaking out knew of the miracles that Jesus had performed. They knew He had healed blind men, and they knew He had revived dead people in the past. But now after Lazarus had been dead for four days they did not even imagine that Jesus might raise him now.
"Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. Take away the stone, he said. But, Lord, said Martha, the sister of the dead man, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days. "
Martha was thinking why would Jesus want to inspect a filthy and rotting corpse?
"Then Jesus said, Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God? So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.
"When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, Lazarus, come out! The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.
"Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him."
The resurrection of a man who had been dead for four days, after his spirit had entered Sheol, was an unimaginable miracle. It was unheard of. It was not even classified as a Messianic miracle. It was beyond Messianic. Because of this miracle a great number of people, even former skeptics, now put their faith in Jesus and believed in Him.
However, word of this miracle soon got back to the Sanhedrin:
"Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. What are we accomplishing? they asked. Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.
"Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish. He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
"So from that day on they plotted to take his life. Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, What do you think? Isn't he coming to the Feast at all? But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him." John 11:47-57
--The Lamb of God
This set the stage for the final Jewish Feast that Jesus was to be a part of. He would travel back to Bethany to meet with Lazarus, Martha and Mary Magdalene, and then He would go to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Passover.
On the short journey from Bethany to Jerusalem He was provided the colt of a donkey, and as He rode into the holy city His followers and many of the people who were at Jerusalem flocked to His procession and proclaimed that He was the Messiah. He entered Jerusalem on the very day that was predicted by Daniel the prophet and in the very same manner predicted by Zechariah the prophet.
As the crowd praised Him and shouted out Hosanna to the Son of David! and Blessed is the King of Israel! some of the Pharisees told Jesus to tell His followers to be quiet. In the past Jesus had often told His followers to keep His identity a secret, but today He rebuked the Pharisees instead, saying, "I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out," (Luke 19:40).
Because of the attention Jesus was receiving from the masses the Sanhedrin was at first fearful to arrest Jesus and He was able to enter the Temple again and preach. This changed, however, when Judas agreed to betray Jesus and to hand Him over to them when no crowd was present.
The Jewish Passover Feast was a festival centered around the sacrifice of the Passover Lambs. Again, it was a Feast that Israel was commanded to observe by God,
"The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, This month [Nisan] is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them... " (Exodus 12:1-6).
According to tradition each family was to bring their Lamb to the priests for inspection, and then they were to take it home and watch over it for four days to make sure it was completely flawless. On the 14th of Nisan the lambs were then slaughtered. According to Jewish records this slaughter traditionally began around 3 pm. 6
Once near the beginning of His ministry, as Jesus approached John the Baptist, John proclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" John 1:29
Jesus followers proclaimed that He was the Messiah on the 10th of Nisan, the day He entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. After that He entered the Temple and presented Himself to the priests. They argued and debated with Him but they could not prove Him wrong. Even after Jesus was arrested and brought to Pilate the Roman ruler, Pilate stated, "I find no fault in this man," (Luke 23:4). Finally, at the insistence of the leaders of Israel, Jesus was sentenced to be crucified. On the 14th of Nisan , at the same time when the families of Israel began slaughtering their Passover Lambs, Jesus Christ gave up His spirit upon the cross and died, at the ninth hour of daylight, around 3 pm. (Matthew 27:46)
Truly Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. It was the very basis of His mission upon this earth. Everything revolved around that claim, and without it His life, and the records of it, make no sense whatsoever. But once that claim is understood then we are left with only a limited number of options. Was Jesus possessed by the devil as the Sanhedrin decided? Or perhaps he imagined that he was the Messiah but he was just delusional? Or was he just a creative and highly successful liar who, even after his death, deceived enough people to establish the most influential belief system that the world has ever known? If Jesus truly did claim to be the Jewish Messiah, the one that every Hebrew prophet since Abraham had looked forward to, then the only other option available to us is that He truly was, and is, the Messiah. Your Savior. Your only way to be saved from the judgment that will soon come upon this wicked world.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." -John 3:16Who is Jesus?
"I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." -John the Baptist
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." -Peter the Apostle
"I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God." -Martha, sister of Lazarus and Mary Magdalene
"Surely this man was the Son of God." -Roman centurian, after he had participated in crucifying Jesus7
"Jesus is Jesus. The Son of God." -Lenny Kravitz, 21st Century Rock & Roll musician
"I was born8
I am the Chosen Im the One
I have come
To save the day
And turn this planet back to One
But what I really want to know is
Are you gonna go my way?"
"The Three Messianic Miracles," by Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Manuscript #35 from the Messianic Bible Study, Ariel Ministries, 1983. Also see http://www.ariel.org/ff00035f.html
"The Footsteps of the Messiah," by Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Ariel Ministries, 1982
"The Search for Messiah," Mark Eastman, M.D., Chuck Smith, published by The Word For Today, 1993
"Azazel The Destination of the Scapegoat?" by Keren Golan, First Fruits of Zion website, see http://www.ffoz.org/Magazine/Land/azazel.html
For a definitive study on the chronology of the week of Christ's crucifixion see the article by Lori Eldridge, "What Day of the Week Was Christ Crucified?" at http://www.yfiles.com/crucified.html. Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey on Sunday the 10th of Nisan. Jesus was crucified on Thursday, the 14th of Nisan. Friday was a high Sabbath (John 19:31) the 15th of Nisan (Leviticus 23:6-7). Saturday was the weekly Sabbath. Jesus rose on the 17th of Nisan, fulfilling the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14, 1 Corinthians 15:20-23). There were two Sabbaths on this week, and the correct translation of Matthew 28:1 is "After the Sabbaths..." See J.P. Green's Interlinear New Testament; "The Seven Festivals of the Messiah," by Edward Chumney; and the Eldridge article.
1. C.S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity," Touchstone Books, New York, NY, 1996, p.56
2. John Dominic Crossan, "The Historical Jesus : The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant," Harper, San Francisco, CA, 1993, inside flap
3. Karen Armstrong, "A History of God," Knopf, New York, NY, 1993, p. xviii
4. Miriam was healed of leprosy in Numbers 12, but this was before the Law was completed. Naaman the Syrian was healed in 2 Kings 5, but he was a Gentile.
5. Exodus 31:18, 34:1
6. The Mishnah: Tractate Pesahim, and Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Chapter IX.
7. Sources of the respective quotes: John 1:34, Matthew 16:16, John 11:27, Mark 15:39, and from an internet interview of Lenny Kravitz, answering a question from a fan, "Who is Jesus?"
8. Lyrics from the song, "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" by Lenny Kravitz, from the album "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" Virgin Records, 1993.
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