Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Be of Good Cheer, I Have Overcome the World!

It is Jesus’ darkest hour.  The hour when His disciples abandon Him.  The hour when one of the men who had performed miracles, who had preached “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” betrayed Him with a kiss.  The hour when He agonized in prayer, sweating as it were great drops of blood.  His final 24 hours of life before being tortured, beaten, mocked, and killed.

They bound the hands of Jesus in the garden where He prayed; They led Him through the streets in shame; They spat upon the Savior, so pure and free from sin; They said “Crucify Him! He’s to blame!”

And in this hour—the hour in which Jesus pleaded with the Father, “Please, let this cup pass from me”—we catch a glimpse of Jesus as an encourager.

How is it that someone who knows they are about to suffer excruciating pain [the word “excruciating,” meaning out of the crucifix, was created because there was no word strong enough to convey the pain of being on a cross]—how is it that He could possibly think about encouraging people at a time like that?

Look at John 13 with me.  We’ll start there.

You’re Going to Suffer

We are in the final evening of Jesus’ life.  He, along with the twelve apostles, have been in the upper room, sharing what would be their final meal together before the darkest event in human history took place.  The Passover has been celebrated, Jesus has washed their feet, then Judas leaves—setting everything into motion for the grand finale of the Jews’ plans to rid themselves of this Jesus.  This is the setting in which some of Jesus’ most famous statements are found.

It is here that Jesus said, “I shall [only] be with you a little while longer…Where I am going, you cannot come” (13:33).  The person that they had followed for 3 ½ years, that they were dedicated to—the man who was both their hero and their friend—says He’s about to leave, and from here on out, they won’t be coming with Him anymore.  If you’ve ever had to say goodbye to someone you loved, knowing that you’d never see them again this side of eternity, you can understand the pain and heartache this would cause in the disciples.

It is here that Jesus cryptically tells Peter specifically that the apostle will be killed too: “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow me afterward [or, later]” (13:36).  Peter expresses his devotion to Jesus, says that he will die for the Lord, only to hear the words “Will you lay down your life for my sake?  Most assuredly I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied me three times!” (13:37-38). Peter, especially, suffers internal disappointment here, knowing that his Master doesn’t believe him.  Worse yet, the Master thinks that he will forsake Him.

Just a bit later, in chapter 15, Jesus drops another bomb on them.  Once He leaves, things are going to get bad.  “The world hates you…If they persecuted Me [and oh did they ever], they will also persecute you” (15:19-20).  You can imagine their thoughts here: Wait, you’re leaving, and then they’re going to start attacking us?

“They will put you out of the synagogues” [literally, make you outcasts from the synagogue] (16:2).  The Jews will excommunicate them.  The synagogue was the center of the Jews’ religious life week in and week out.  Being an outcast from the synagogue in essence made you an outcast among the Jews—the very ones they wanted to save.

“Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (16:2).  Wait, what?  KILL us?!?  They will be so rejected, so persecuted, their names and character besmirched so much that the Jews would think that killing them is actually doing God a favor, a service, by removing the worst kind of false teachers possible.  This is some heavy-duty hatred and persecution that they’re in for.

“Because I’ve said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart,” Jesus says (16:6).  “Most assuredly I say to you, that you will weep and lament” (16:20) because Jesus was going to “go away”—that is, going to die.

Then Jesus completely cuts the legs out from under them.  Not only will all these bad things happen to you after I leave, Jesus says, but “Indeed the hour is coming—yes, has now come [it is here!]—that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave me alone” (16:32).  Outside pressures are hard.  Persecutions are hard, but if you know you’re being persecuted for doing the right thing, at least you have some kind of peace in that knowledge.  But Jesus tells them, in essence, ‘Y’all are about to cave to the pressure; you’re about to show your weakness; you who claim to love me are going to completely abandon me, run away like scared little children, and hope no one knows you were my disciples.’  They were going to have internal character failure, which is often the most difficult kind of persecution there is—knowing that you failed someone else in their time of need.

Really put yourselves in their sandals.  No one wants to be persecuted, but they were going to be—that had to scare them.  No one wants to be hated, but they were going to be—that had to cause their heart to drop.  No one wants to be thought of as a coward, but that’s what they were going to be—and that had to make them sad.  No one wants to lose their hero, their friend, but that was about to happen—and that would make them sad for their own loss.   But the worst part of it all is that no one wants to watch their friend get tortured, mocked, spat upon, beaten, and killed—the helpless feeling had to overwhelm them as they realized they couldn’t save Jesus.

We all like to think that we could be a hero, stopping injustice, stepping in when someone is being wronged, standing up for the ones who are falsely accused or punished.  But seeing Jesus on the cross, they wouldn’t—couldn’t—do anything.

Then in verse 33, Jesus gives the understatement of the evening: “In the world, you will have tribulation.”  The sinful world, the world that doesn’t follow God, who doesn’t care about the doctrine of Jesus Christ—they will do their best to destroy you.  They will try to undermine your efforts for God.  They will make fun of you.  They will mock you.  They will try to discredit you.  They will try to make you feel guilty for sharing the truth.  They will try to pass laws to keep you from speaking up against sin.  And that’s every bit as true today for us as it was for the apostles.

If we just left it here, it would seem like Christianity is a life of constant misery.  If Jesus just stopped with the things we’ve touched on, then who could have blamed the apostles for running off?

But Jesus didn’t stop there, and we shouldn’t either.

Cheer up!

A quick glance through the same few chapters gives us some interesting insights.  It seems that Jesus wasn’t trying to scare them, He was trying to prepare them.  He wasn’t trying to frighten them, He was trying to enlighten them.  He didn’t want to bring them fear, but cheer!

“Let not your heart be troubled,” Jesus said.  “You believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (14:1-3).  Jesus says, Yes, I’m going away, but don’t be afraid or sad.  I’m going to get a place ready so we can all be together forever and never have to separate again!  I’ll be coming back to get you.  This separation is only temporary!

“My peace I give to you… Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  You have heard me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’  If you loved me, you would rejoice, because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for the Father is greater than I.  And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe” (14:27-29).  Jesus says, Don’t be sad, and don’t be afraid.  In fact, you should be happy for me, because I get to go home to be with the Father!  But I want you to know what is going to happen ahead of time, so it doesn’t take you by surprise.

“Greater love has no one than this: than to lay down one’s life for his friends.  You are my friends…” (15:13-14). I’m going to die, the Lord says, but I am doing it for you—because you are my friends.

There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, No, not one; No, not one.

“They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service… But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them” (16:2, 4).  Yes, bad things will happen to you, but you will be prepared, and not be taken by surprise at the persecutions.

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” (16:20).  My death will cause you great sadness, but it will lead to a greater joy than you’ve ever known.  I will be coming back, and your world—nay, the entire world—will never be the same.  You will be persecuted, but instead of depressing you, you will rejoice over it!  You will be blessed beyond measure to see some who persecute you turn in humble repentance and become your friends, co-laborers, and fellow-heirs of salvation.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake indeed!

“You now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one can take from you” (16:22).  When I come back, nothing will be able to take away your joy, your inner happiness.  Because when I come back, you will know that your work is vindicated.  You will know that you are truly serving the one true God.  You will know that death is no longer anything to fear—because I will have conquered death.  And if I am raised, you can know assuredly that you will be raised too.

On that resurrection morning when the trump of God shall sound, we shall rise (Hallelujah) we shall rise!

“You will be scattered…and will leave Me alone.  And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (16:32).  You are going to see me alone on trial, alone on the cross, and you’re going to be sad for my sake—but don’t be.  The Father is with Me—I’m never truly alone.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace” (16:33).  It is turbulent, trying to live in the world, living by the world’s standards and judgments, being surrounded by people who don’t know or don’t care about God and His word.  But there is a peace—a peace that surpasses all understanding—that I want to give to you.  Put your trust in Me, keep my commandments and be My friend, and know that I will come back to get you.  Know that I will have a place prepared for you in the home of the One who loves you, who cares for you, and who wants to take care of you and be with you forever.  I want you to know that in Me, you can have that peace.

“In the world, you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (16:33).  The god of this world will come after you—He came after me too.  But I won.  His power is broken. It might seem like the world—his world—wins later today, as I am lifted up on a cross and murdered, but it will really be his undoing.  And through my overcoming, you can overcome.

Then Jesus prayed for them (John 17).

Throughout this time of stress, this time of impending doom and trial, Jesus gave His apostles encouraging words.  They were going to suffer, but they would be able to endure.  Not just endure, but rejoice.  Not just rejoice, but emerge victorious!

But Does this Mean Anything to You?

Obviously, we aren’t the apostles—we weren’t the ones specifically being spoken to on that fateful night/early morning.  So what, if anything, do these sayings of Jesus mean to us?  The answer is plenty!

The last thing we mentioned that Jesus did for the apostles was pray for them.  But did you know that Jesus also prayed for you at the same time?  Yes, you, sitting there in the pew, were prayed for specifically by Jesus Christ less than 24 hours before He was brutally murdered.

Neither do I pray for these alone [the apostles], but for them also who shall believe on Me through their message (John 17:20).

How do we believe in Jesus Christ today?  We didn’t see Him in person; we didn’t walk with Him or see His resurrected form ascend into heaven.  No, but we have the written accounts from eyewitnesses, and from those who were inspired by God!  This is what we need in order to believe! (John 20:31).  Therefore, Jesus prayed for us before He died!  This message of hope, of peace, of cheer—it is for us too!

There is a peace that comes only in Him (16:33).  Now, if it is possible for us to be “in Him,” then we, too, have access to that peace.  And it so happens that we can!  When we believe in Jesus with all our heart, turn to Him in repentance, and are baptized “into Christ,” we can enjoy all the spiritual blessings that can only be found “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3, Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27).  We can take hold of the peace that is so powerful that it surpasses all understanding.  It allows us to be content when the world is crashing around us.  It helps us to rejoice when we are tempted, knowing it helps to create patience.  It helps us to endure the fiery darts of the wicked and continue to march in the fight against Satan’s wickedness (Ephesians 6).

We look at these passages of encouragement from Jesus, and we can know that it extends to each one of us as well.  It reaches through the centuries, up from the pages of your Bible, and deep into your heart—if you will let it—to cheer you on your journey through this land.

Footprints of Jesus, that make the pathway glow!

“In My Father’s house are many mansions”—that’s because we have a place there too!

“I go to prepare a place for you.  I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”  When He comes again, the dead in Christ shall rise, and the living Christians at that time will rise to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4).  Brethren, this is a promise for every Christian throughout the last 2,000 years, and through the end of time itself—and it includes you!  Jesus is coming back to get you, and take you home to be with Him!

“Greater love has no one than this: than to lay down one’s life for his friends.  You are my friends if you keep My commandments.”  Jesus’ death is for His friends—His church (Acts 20:28)—those who are trying to walk in the light (1 John 1:7).  Does that describe you?

I’ll be a friend to Jesus.  My life, for Him, I’ll spend.  I’ll be a friend to Jesus until my years shall end.

We know that we will have trouble in this world, because the god of this world is Satan.  But Jesus died to crush the power of Satan, to give mankind hope, to bring about the eternal kingdom of God, to make salvation possible, and to bring true joy and peace.  Yes, we will have tribulation in this world.  But cheer up—celebrate!  Because Jesus overcame the world—and He did it for us so that we can do it too.

For whoever is born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that overcomes the world: our faith (1 John 5:4).

Or to put it a more familiar way:

Encamped among the hills of light, you Christian soldiers, rise and press the battle ‘ere the night shall veil the glowing skies.  Against the foes, in vales below, let all our strength be hurled.  Faith is the victory, we know, that overcomes the world.

His banner over us is love; our sword the word of God.  We tread the road the saints above, with shouts of triumph, trod.  By faith they, like a whirlwind’s breath, swept on o’er every field!  The faith by which they conquered death, is still our shining shield.

On every hand, the foe we find, drawn up in dread array.  Let tents of ease be left behind, and onward! To the fray!  Salvation’s helmet on each head, with truth all girt about, the earth shall tremble ‘neath our tread, and echo with our shout!

To him that overcomes the foe, white rainment shall be given.  Before the angels, he shall know his name confessed in heaven.  Then onward from the hills of light!  Our hearts, with love aflame, we’ll vanquish all the hosts of night in Jesus’ conquering name!

Faith is the victory!  Faith is the victory!  O, glorious victory that overcomes the world!

Listen to the confidence, the certain hope, the peace, the joy in knowing that we have salvation in Jesus Christ.

There will be tribulation, but don’t be sad.  We will overcome the world too.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Jesus – Our Great High Priest

(It’s been a while since we’ve posted anything, but perhaps this will be ‘worth the wait,’ so to speak. Thanks to those who have encouraged us and asked [demanded?] that we write more and post more often.)

Introduction

It wasn’t until studying for this lesson that I discovered an interesting fact.  The phrase “high priest” appears in 21 verses of the Old Testament. Just four times in the Pentateuch (the “books of Moses,” Genesis through Deuteronomy).  Yet the phrase appears in 56 verses of the New Testament—16 times in the book of Hebrews alone.  That should give us a clue: the New Testament has just as much to say—if not more—about the true meaning of the High Priest than the Old Testament does.

The writer of Hebrews addressed an audience of Israelites—those who were raised to hear, believe, and obey the Law of Moses.  It’s important that before we look into the idea of Jesus as the “Great High Priest,” we try to get some grasp of the background that the original readers would have had, and the ideas that would have sprung to mind when discussing this issue.  As we look at these Old Testament passages, try to picture in your head how these things pointed forward to Jesus Christ, and how He fulfills these things even today.  We will discuss the connections later in the lesson, but try to make those connections as we go through these verses.

The High Priest in the Old Testament

Though it isn’t the first time we read about the high priest, the words “high priest” first appear in Leviticus 21:10-14.

He who is the high priest among his brethren, on whose head the anointing oil was poured and who is consecrated to wear the garments, shall not uncover his head nor tear his clothes; nor shall he go near any dead body, nor defile himself for his father or his mother; nor shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the Lord. And he shall take a wife in her virginity.  A widow or a divorced woman or a defiled woman or a harlot—these he shall not marry; but he shall take a virgin of his own people as wife.

First, note that the high priest (“priest who is chief” – ESV) is a brother, a relative, to those he serves.  It would have been unthinkable for the Israelites—God’s chosen people—to have to rely on a foreigner to lead them in the spiritual matters which included the removal of their sins as a nation.  God chose the tribe of Levi, specifically Aaron and his lineage, to serve as priests. But the fact remains, they were all Israelites.

Second, note the high priest’s anointing (see Exodus 29:5-7).  This was something done in order to set him apart for a specific task to which he was called.  God used the same method to set apart kings (1 Samuel 15:1; 1 Kings 1:34; etc.) and prophets (1 Kings 19:16).  The high priest was chosen by God to serve His people in their need for sin removal.

Third, note that even in the event of the death of close relatives, the high priest was not to cease performing his work.  Though some might view this to be harsh, the work of serving God and serving the nation of God’s people had to come first.

Fourth, note that he was only permitted to marry a virgin—a pure bride—of his own people.  The high priest was not permitted to marry someone who was not a follower of God, one of God’s chosen people.

Now, look at Exodus 30:7-10:

And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the LORD throughout your generations. You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.

The altar of incense, which stood before the veil to the Most Holy Place, is under consideration in these verses.  Every morning and evening, the high priest burns incense to the LORD.  But the only incense allowed is what God has commanded/authorized.  Then at the end of this section, God reveals that the blood of the atonement sacrifice makes the incense acceptable.

Now, Leviticus 16:32-34:

“And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the LORD commanded Moses.

Here we have the Day of Atonement sacrifice described.  It cleanses the tabernacle, and it removes the sins of the people of God—and this setup was given by the command of God.

We could appeal to several more passages to get even more in depth about the high priest, but these will have to suffice.  The question we want to ask before we go any further is: How did the Jews view the high priest?

  1. They viewed the high priest as absolutely essential to having their sins forgiven.
  2. One could pray to God, but it was understood that only the high priest could approach the presence of God on behalf of the people.
  3. The high priest was the visual representation of the entire Mosaic worship system. When the people thought about the Law of Moses, one of the first images that would come into their heads is the high priest in his robe and crown, offering sacrifices for the people on a constant basis.
  4. Though they understood (intellectually) that the high priest was still a human and susceptible to sin, he was viewed as “HOLY BEFORE GOD” (that message written across the crown he wore). Thus, he was seen as more holy than everyone else—or at least they knew he was supposed to be.

Of course, by the time of Jesus, the purity and holiness of the office of high priest had faded badly.  Instead of following the God-given directive to have a high priest for life, the Jews had multiple high priests, alternating their years of filling that role (see Luke 3:2; John 18:13).  In the few centuries leading up to the birth of Christ, the office of high priest was filled by whoever paid the ruling nation (be it the Seleucids, Ptolemies, or Romans) the most money—it became a political office instead of a religious one.

So the time was ripe for a new high priest to emerge.

Jesus as the Great High Priest

When Jewish Christians, torn by doubt, persecution, tradition, and family pressure, began to go back into Judaism, God inspired a man to bring them a powerful message about what they had in Christ—and how vastly superior Jesus Christ is than the fading relics of the Law of Moses.  One of the main areas of emphasis in this book is how Jesus’ priesthood is better than the priesthood of Aaron.  In other words, Jesus is the High Priest above every high priest who had ever existed before Him.

Speaking of Jesus, this inspired penman states:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18).

The first thing we noted earlier was that the high priest had to be related to the people he served.  Here, Jesus is the merciful and faithful high priest for “his brothers.”  But unlike the Jewish high priests (especially in the centuries prior to the birth of Jesus), He served as a merciful High Priest, and a faithful High Priest.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The Old Testament high priest came into the presence of God only by means of coming into the Most Holy Place, and approaching the mercy seat.  But Jesus didn’t have to bother with that.  Instead of going into the tabernacle and standing before the Ark of the Covenant, Jesus “passed through the heavens” and went to the Father in person for us.  The blood of the sacrifice—His own blood—was taken into heaven.

More than that, because He has cleared the path for us, we can approach God with confidence, praying to the Father through His Son Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17; Philippians 4:6-7). He is there, and He lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25-26).  Our High Priest doesn’t have to go to an appointed place on an appointed day and wait for God to come and accept the offering.  Our High Priest is right next to the Father in heaven, and delivers our requests personally!

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power… (Acts 10:38).

The Old Testament priests had to be anointed by a man in order to serve (Aaron was anointed by Moses).  If they weren’t anointed, then their offerings wouldn’t be accepted.  But instead of being anointed by man, our Great High Priest was anointed directly by God Himself!  He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power after His baptism (see John 1, Matthew 4).  If this hadn’t happened, He couldn’t have offered the sacrifice acceptably—Jesus had to be a priest to make that sacrifice acceptable.

He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:24-26).

We saw before that the Old Testament high priest was not permitted to cease his duties, even in the event of the death of a loved one.  Our Great High Priest “lives to make intercession” for His people.  He never stops His role as our High Priest.  When one of His near relatives (faithful Christians) dies, He rejoices, for “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15).  And if one of His brethren should die spiritually, that is incredibly sad, but Jesus does not stop His work on behalf of the remaining saints—His role is of the utmost importance for us.  He loves us so much that He keeps working for us, even through heartache for those who fall away.

You may also recall the responsibility of the Old Testament high priest to offer up incense to God, every day, morning and evening.  Revelation 8:3-4 pictures this burning incense as delivering the prayers of the saints to God.  As our Great High Priest, Jesus delivers those prayers—not just once or twice, not weekly, not monthly, but continually.  Every day.  Morning and evening He presents our petitions to the Father and intercedes on our behalf.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Just as the Old Testament high priest was only permitted to marry a virgin, a pure woman, so our Great High Priest is married only to a pure, unspotted bride.  And to make sure His church is this unspotted bride, our High Priest purified her, cleansed her by the washing of water (baptism) through the word (from which we can have faith).  We are made new creatures in Christ (Romans 6:3-4), and only through that can we be part of the bride of the Greatest High Priest.

Hebrews 9:7 spells out that the Day of Atonement sacrifice was done for the “errors” (KJV) or “sins done in ignorance” (NIV) or “unintentional sins” (ESV) of the people.  Then God inspired the writer to say this:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. (Hebrews 9:11-17)

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:24-28).

The sacrifice of our Great High Priest is so powerful, so effective, that He only had to offer it one time.  That sacrifice purges us of our old sins (2 Peter 1:9). But more than that, it continually cleanses us of our sins—every day, morning and evening, when we “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7).

One of the greatest worries of many Christians is that they have sinned, but they didn’t realize it, and therefore didn’t ask for forgiveness.  But if the Old Testament high priest could offer a sacrifice that removed the punishment for the “unintentional sins” or the “sins done in ignorance” (that is, sins they didn’t realize they committed), then even more so will the blood of Christ completely take care of that for us as well!  “If we confess our sins [we can only confess that which we know we have done], He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, lives to make atonement and intercession for us, and His blood continually covers all our sins—the ones we know about and repent of, and the ones we don’t know about.  In other words, our Great High Priest takes the worry out of being a follower of God.  And He does it every day.

One final thought, and then we will close.  The Old Testament high priest served until he died, and then a new high priest took over.  There might be times when that happened that there was a bit of learning on the job, of nervousness or worry from the new guy.  After all, can you imagine having the sins of millions of people resting on what you were doing at that very minute?  But with Jesus, there is no worry, no nervousness, no learning on the job.  He is the Great High Priest who will never die, never be replaced, and who never—not even once—fails to fulfill His role perfectly.

And He does it all for us.

Praise God for our Great High Priest!

-Bradley S. Cobb

O Immanuel

Ask someone who is even vaguely aware of the Bible, “What is Immanuel?” and they’ll tell you the answer is “Jesus.” But what a lot (I’d guess it is close to 99%) of religious people don’t realize is that the word “Immanuel” only appears once in the New Testament, but twice in the Old.

The first instance is Isaiah 7:14 (which Matthew quotes and applies it to Jesus). In that context, Isaiah has gone to the king of Judah, and asks him to select a sign from God so that he can know Isaiah’s prophecy would come to pass (this prophecy was that the two kings—and they are mentioned by name—who were giving Judah trouble would be defeated). The king refuses to ask for a sign, so Isaiah gives him one—again, to prove that the prophecy just given would come to pass. He says that “the virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a child, and shall call his name Immanuel…” and Isaiah adds some other details, showing that by the time this child is just a few years old (if that), these two kings would be gone.

This word Immanuel means “God with us.”

In Isaiah 8, God says that before Isaiah’s son is old enough to say “my father” or “my mother,” those same two kings would be defeated. Then in verse 8, after God shows that the Assyrian will be used to defeat the enemies of Judah, He lets them know that Judah (because of their unbelief and reliance on earthly power) would also be overtaken “up to the neck” (that is, not completely, but close. The only reason they aren’t completely overcome is because of God. At the end of the verse, God says “O Immanuel.”

So, much more than simply being a name/description applied to Jesus, the word Immanuel serves both then and now as a promise that God is there, God knows, God cares, God sees, God punishes, but God also saves.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Jesus’ Salvation is Better than Old Testament Salvation

In the midst of discussing the ways in which Jesus is superior to angels, Old Testament leaders, and the entire Old Testament religious system, a statement is made that shows the absolute supremacy of Jesus over anyone else in history.  Of course, that is perhaps the main theme of the entire book of Hebrews, but it is nowhere stated more succinctly than in Hebrews 5:9.

And being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him.

“Salvation” in the Old Testament.

The inspired penman writes to religious Jews, men and women who were very aware of their proud (and sometimes not-so-proud) history as a nation.  As people well-versed in the Old Testament scriptures, they understood certain words and phrases in specific ways.  For many of them, it was difficult to comprehend that some of the Old Testament prophecies were talking about things spiritual instead of literal.  This is likely true of the word “salvation.”

Throughout the Old Testament, the words “saved” and “salvation” almost always refer to some kind of physical salvation, whether it be deliverance from sickness (like Hezekiah, Isaiah 38:20), from barrenness (like Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:1), or from enemies (most other places in the Old Testament).  Even Joel 2:32, which was quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, if you look at the context of that prophetic book, had every appearance of a physical deliverance.  It indeed included that idea, but these were mere shadows of the greater salvation that was coming.

It is important that we understand that throughout the Old Testament, God was giving shadow after shadow of this greater salvation that was to come through Jesus Christ.  He was using these various deliverances—these salvations—from the enemies of Israel to prepare them to accept the eternal salvation—the better salvation—that comes through Jesus Christ.

Read these passages, which are just a sampling, and see for yourself what the primary type of salvation was in the Old Testament.  When the Israelites were standing on the shores of the Red Sea, the Egyptians hot on their heels, scared that they were going to be killed, Moses said:

Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you today: for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall see them again no more forever! (Exodus 14:13).

After Moses raised his rod, the Red Sea split, and the Israelites walked across on dry ground.  When the Egyptians tried to follow them, God brought the walls of water crashing down on them, drowning Pharaoh’s entire army.  The inspired record then says:

Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore (Exodus 14:30).

Forty years later, the Israelites are at the side of another body of water, the Jordan River, and Moses is giving a series of sermons, delivering to this new generation the laws and commands of God, as well as the promises.  Hear what he says to them:

It shall be, when you are come night unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, and shall say to them, “Hear, O Israel, you approach this day unto the battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; for the LORD your God is He that goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deuteronomy 20:2-4).

This is the same thread that runs throughout the books of history.  Judges 6 and 7 uses the word several times to describe the salvation that God would bring to Israel by the hands of Gideon and his 300 men.  Salvation from the Philistines is mentioned several times in the books of Samuel.  Here’s just one of those passages:

By the mouth of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies (2 Samuel 3:18).

In the books of Kings and Chronicles, there are instances of the people going to God in prayer, crying “Save us!”  But these are all asking for physical salvation from their enemies.

Now therefore, O LORD our God, I beseech Thee, save Thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou art the LORD God, even Thou only (2 Kings 19:19).

What we need to recognize in all of these is that they weren’t asking for salvation from sin; they were asking for physical deliverance from their enemies.  But make no mistake about it, there was a spiritual component to this as well, as we will see.

Old Testament Salvation Based on their Attitudes and Actions

In the book of Judges, we see over and over the rollercoaster of the Israelites—they go from faithful to fallen, then God sends a nation to conquer them.  Eventually, they cry out to the Lord in repentance, and God sends a deliverer, a judge, to save them from their enemies.  In short, God didn’t save them when they continually rejected Him.  This is a constant theme throughout the entire Bible (Old Testament and New Testament).  If you doubt it, just read Hebrews 10:26-31.  Moses, soon before his death, told the Israelites that they needed to learn the lesson of faithfulness:

It shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day, that all these curses shall come upon thee and overtake thee. … And thou shalt grope at noonday as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man [literally, “no one”] shall save thee (Deuteronomy 28:15, 29).

Obedience was required if they wanted physical salvation.  But so was humility.  After David had been saved from Saul (The king of God’s people, the Israelites), he was inspired to write:

The afflicted people [“humble people,” NKJV] You will save, but Your eyes are upon the haughty, that You may bring them down (2 Samuel 22:28).

Here is a contrast being made between two people who are in a covenant with God.  On one hand, you’ve got the mighty King Saul, the haughty, high-minded King Saul.  On the other hand, you’ve got the humble servant of God, David.  Being saved physically in the Old Testament was based on one’s attitude towards God.  And brethren, our salvation today is based on our attitude of humility as well—

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:10).

He will save the humble person (Job 22:29).

The sixth Psalm shows the heart of a humble person before God, including these words:

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak: O LORD, heal me, for my bones are vexed.  My soul is also sore vexed: but Thou, O LORD, how long?  Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: of save me for Thy mercies’ sake (Psalm 6:2-4).

When David’s son Solomon went before the people after the completion of the magnificent temple in Jerusalem, he preached to them and offered a public prayer to God.  In it, he showed the connection between their physical deliverance and their spiritual condition.  Hear his words:

If they sin against You (for there is no man which does not sin), and You be angry with them, and deliver them over before their enemies, and they carry them away captives unto a land far off or near.  Yet if they consider themselves in the land to which they are carried captive, and turn and pray to You in the land of their captivity, saying, “We have sinned, we have done amiss, and have dealt wickedly”; if they return to You with all their heart and all their soul in the land of their captivity to which they have been carried captives, and pray toward their land which You have given to their fathers, and toward the city which You have chosen, and toward the house which I have built for thy name; then hear from the heavens, even from Your dwelling place, their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people which have sinned against You (2 Chronicles 6:36-39).

Without any doubt, the lost people of God, in order to expect salvation, had to repent of their sins against God.  It was a requirement for their salvation.  In short, for them to expect a physical salvation, they had to obey the Lord.

The Eternal Salvation

The writer of Hebrews shows that Jesus’ priesthood is a God-ordained one (Hebrews 5:4-6).  Just as Aaron was called by God to be a priest, so was Jesus.  But the priesthood of Jesus Christ was different, was superior to the Levitical one.  Aaron’s high-priesthood ended at his death, and the next priest was his son—and so it continued more or less for some 1500 years.  But Jesus’ role as high-priest is “forever,” and began at His death, when He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin.  Additionally, Aaron (and his sons) required the assistance of another human (Moses) to ordain them to serve as priests.  Jesus was ordained straight from the Father, without any human go-between.

Given the focus of this lesson, we must point out that while Aaron was able to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people, Aaron didn’t originate this system.  He simply followed the instructions given to him by Moses (who received them from God).  By way of immense contrast, Jesus is the Author, the Originator, the Cause of eternal salvation.

The salvation offered by Jesus is also universal in availability.  The inspired writer doesn’t say “He is the author of eternal salvation to all the Jews who obey Him.”  It is for all—Jew and Gentile alike (Acts 10-11).

Our Messiah’s sacrifice of Himself for us was a one-time act, not something that had to be done every day (Hebrews 7:27; 10:1-2).  It was not a sacrifice which led to temporary salvation, which was lost upon each subsequent sin (requiring yet another sacrifice).  The Sacrifice of our Sovereign is one which leads to eternal salvation.  His salvation doesn’t require another sacrifice to purge or cleanse sin from His followers; His sacrifice continually cleanses us from sin if we walk in the light (1 John 1:7).  In other words, salvation through Jesus is better than salvation under the Old Testament sacrificial system.

Make no mistake about it, there was forgiveness of sins offered in the Old Testament (see 2 Chronicles 6:39, Psalm 51).  But it, like so much else, was a shadow, which needed the reality of Jesus the Messiah to give it meaning and effectiveness.  The sins of the Old Testament saints were forgiven based on the then-future sacrifice of the Majestic Messiah (Hebrews 9:15).  The sins of the New Testament saints are forgiven based on the death of the Suffering Savior (Acts 2:36-38; 1 John 1:7).  The salvation from sins offered under the Old Testament was one which required faith in something that most of them would never see in their lifetime.  Salvation under the New Testament is based on something that has now actually taken place. It is much like Peter’s words to the church: “We have a more certain word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19).

The salvation offered by Jesus Christ is His.  He is the Author.  He is the Sacrifice.  He is the Judge.  He is the Advocate.  He is the Forgiver.  And as long as one obeys Him, confessing sins to God as they are recognized, that salvation is guaranteed (1 John 1:9).

Father, grant us that eternal salvation, which is far superior to physical deliverance from enemies, and which is certain and solidified for us through the death of Your Son, Jesus the Savior.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Michael the Archangel

Michael the Archangel

Angels!  They have fascinated the mind and imagination of believers for millennia.  Elaborate schemes of angelic hierarchy are popular in some denominations.  One of these beings in particular is mentioned by name multiple times in the Scriptures.  His name is Michael.

  • He is called “the archangel” (the word “archangels”—as in more than one—never appears in the Bible. There is only one). (Jude 9).
  • He is called the great prince [ruler] of Israel (Daniel 12:1).
  • He is the one who would defeat Satan (Revelation 12:7-9).
  • He is the one whose victory over Satan would bring about the kingdom of God (Revelation 12:10).
  • Since there is only one archangel, when Jesus comes in judgment, it is with Michael’s voice that He will speak (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
  • He is probably “the Angel of the LORD” from the Old Testament (compare Jude 9 and Zechariah 3).
  • The word “archangel” means “highest messenger.”
  • The name “Michael” means “who is as God” (and it should be noted that this name could have come from none other than God Himself).

Putting all this together, Michael is the highest messenger of God, who is as God, who is the great ruler of Israel, who would defeat Satan and bring about the kingdom of God, whose voice will be heard when the judgment comes.

He’s a lot more important that we might usually think!

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Two Mans (yes, I said “mans”)

Did You Know?

While Jesus was on earth, He was called a “man” in two different ways.  Obviously, Jesus was a male, and as such was called a “man” by His cousin, John the immerser (John 1:30).  The Greek word for a male is aner. (Interestingly, every time the word “husband” appears in the New Testament, it is the same Greek word).

But Jesus, while on earth, was also a human.  He frequently identified Himself as “the Son of man,” or more literally, “the Son of a human.”  You’re probably more familiar with this Greek term (almost always translated as “man” or “men” in the New Testament)—it is anthropos (as in anthropology).

But now Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of the throne of God.  So, is Jesus still “man” in either way?  2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul tells the church that he has espoused (betrothed) them to one “husband,” Jesus Christ.  The Greek word there is aner, a male.  So Jesus is still described as a “man” in that way, even though He is in heaven.  But what might surprise you is 1 Timothy 2:5: “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  In this verse, Paul describes the current role of Jesus as Mediator in heaven.  And there, by inspiration, Paul says Jesus is human (anthropos).  Jesus, though ascended and glorified in heaven, still retains His humanity so He can be our perfect mediator with the Father.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Who was Jesus Praying About?

Did You Know?

One of the joys of using the King James Version is those dreaded thees and thous that everyone seems to hate so much.  But they’re actually quite helpful in understanding what is going on in some Bible passages.  Here’s an example.

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not… (Luke 22:31-32).

When the words “you” and “ye” appear in the King James Version, it shows that the original language is plural, a group of people.  The words “thee” and “thou” (and “thy”) indicate a single person being spoken to.  This is a distinction that is missing from almost all modern translations.  Taking that knowledge, let’s look at that passage again:

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you [apostles], that he may sift you [apostles] as wheat: But I have prayed for thee [Peter], that thy [Peter’s] faith fail not…

Jesus didn’t pray for all the apostles in the face of Satan’s impending attack on them.  He prayed for Peter, that Peter’s faith would not fail.

Did you know?

-Bradley S. Cobb

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Eleven)

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Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (part one)

The Conflict over John Mark

Paul, always concerned about the spiritual welfare of his brethren in Christ, approaches Barnabas one day with a great idea—Let’s go back and check on all the brethren in the cities we stopped at during our mission trip!  Barnabas was ready to go, and decided they should take John Mark.  Paul was incredulous.  Are you serious?  I’m not going to ask the church to help support someone untrustworthy like him. I know he’s your cousin, but we’re not taking him along!1 Paul was so adamant about not taking Mark along that he and Barnabas—who had been partners in the work for perhaps five years or more—stopped working together at all.2

After Barnabas left with Mark to Cyprus to strengthen the churches he and Paul had planted there, Paul chose Silas, a brother from Jerusalem who had accompanied him to Antioch with the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.  Together, with the aid and blessing of the church in Antioch, they went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the congregations.3

Circumcision

Traveling over land, Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra—the latter being the place where an angry mob stoned him nearly to death.  In Lystra, Paul found a young disciple named Timothy who was already well-known and well-respected in both Lystra and Iconium (both places where Paul was heavily persecuted).4  This young man would end up being one of Paul’s closest companions and friends for the rest of his life.

In a completely PR5 move, Paul took Timothy (a half-Jew) and circumcised him.  He did this so that Timothy could have more influence with the Jews, access to speaking in their synagogues, and to show Timothy’s respect for the Law of Moses.  But at the same time, Paul shared the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, saying that Gentiles had no obligation to submit to any part of the Law of Moses.  Because of the clear instructions and expectations for the Gentiles, and the show of respect to the Law for the Jews, Paul became all things to all men, and the church grew daily.6

The Macedonian Call

Paul, along with Silas, Timothy, and perhaps some others, traveled and preached through Phrygia7 and Galatia.8  He really wanted to go to the province of Asia (which included the massive city of Ephesus), but the Holy Spirit had other plans for him and told him not to go at that time.9 So instead, Paul heads north through the area of Mysia,10 and planned to enter the province of Bithynia, but again the Holy Spirit had other plans, and told him not to go there.11  So, instead, Paul and company went down toward the seaport city of Troas, where he met a doctor named Luke.12

While in Troas, Paul received a vision from the Lord: he saw a man from Macedonia begging him to “Come over into Macedonia and help us.”  Immediately, he described the vision to Silas, Timothy, and Luke, and they all agreed that this was what God wanted, so they made plans to sail to Macedonia to preach the gospel.13

Bradley S. Cobb

1 Colossians 4:10, NKJV.  The KJV says that Mark is “sister’s son,” or nephew to Barnabas, but the Greek work means “cousin,” and is so translated in every major translation of the past 150 years (ASV, NKJV, RSV, ESV, NASB, MLV, etc.).  The word eventually took on the sense of “nephew,” but not until many years after the New Testament was completed, according to Robertson, Vincent, B.W. Johnson, and others.

2 Acts 15:36-39.  They worked together for a year in Antioch before making the trip to Jerusalem with aid for the churches in Judea; upon returning (no length of time is given for this mission), they worked again in Antioch until they were sent on their missionary journey, which took at least a year (most estimate it as 1½ to 2 years); they came back to Antioch and remained there a “long time” before the circumcision controversy raised its ugly head; they went to Jerusalem, preaching along the way; they returned from Jerusalem, and “continued in Antioch”; and it was “some days” later that Paul made the suggestion of leaving.

3 On the first missionary journey, Paul had sailed to Cyprus, and then after crossing the island, sailed to Asia Minor.  On the second journey, since Barnabas had gone to Cyprus, Paul took the land route to Asia Minor, visiting congregations that he apparently planted, but which are not mentioned by Luke in the book of Acts.  Luke’s purpose in writing did not include giving Paul’s every movement, but to give the history of the establishment of the church and the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, and perhaps also as an aid for Paul’s legal defense before Caesar, showing his innocence in the matters of which he was accused.  So it shouldn’t be a concern that no mention was made of Paul and Barnabas visiting cities in Cilicia and Syria and planting the church there.

4 Acts 16:1-2.  This indicates that Timothy had been working with the churches in both cities, probably preaching.

5 Public relations.

6 Acts 16:3-5.

7 Acts 16:6.  Phrygia is in Central Asia Minor.

8 Acts 16:6.  “Galatia” was used two ways in the first century.  One referred to the Roman province, and the other to a larger area describing the people who lived in that area, including the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.  Luke is using “Galatia” to describe the Roman province, which was to the north.  This is certain because it was after leaving Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (ethnic Galatia) that Luke records them visiting Galatia.

9 Acts 16:6.  It is important to note that Paul wasn’t forbidden to ever enter Asia—he did go there later on during this very missionary journey, and stayed there for three years.  For a more detailed discussion of this forbidding, see this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, comments on this passage.

10 Acts 16:7.  Mysia is a Roman colony, never becoming an official province, that was at the north end of the province of Asia, along the Mediterranean Sea, and bordered the province of Bithynia.  Troas was the chief city in this region.  See Robertson’s Word Pictures on Acts 16:8.

11 Acts 16:7.  Bithynia was a Roman province in the northwestern corner of Asia Minor.  The Holy Spirit (some Greek manuscripts have “the Spirit of Jesus”) forbade Paul to go evangelize there, but it wasn’t because God didn’t want the gospel spread there.  1 Peter 1:1-2 shows that someone had gone to Bithynia and evangelized, and that many were converted.  In AD 110-115, Pliny became governor of Bithynia, and in a letter to the emperor Trajan, wrote that there were many Christians in the area, to the point where most of the heathen temples had been abandoned.  See International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Bithynia.”

12 The pronouns “they” and “them” are used until Paul arrives at Troas.  Once Paul is in Troas, Luke starts using the pronouns “we” and “us” (see Acts 16:10), showing that he is now part of their company.  The details of their first meeting and Luke’s conversion (most likely by Paul), we are not permitted to know, for this historian kept himself out of his writings as much as possible.  Luke is called “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14.  See the section in chapter one on the “Companions of Titus” for a fuller discussion of Luke.

13 Acts 16:10.  The phrase “assuredly gathering” (KJV) means they all came to the same conclusion.  Luke uses the pronoun “we,” showing that it was the group that came to the conclusion, and the group that made plans to leave for Macedonia.  Obviously, it was at Paul’s urging, but they were all in agreement.

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Three)

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Saul Sees the Light

Enthusiastically, Saul was tormenting the church.  He had been threatening and murdering Christians in Judea, and decided it was time to expand his area of destruction to the north.  So he went to the high priest and asked for official letters so that he could go to the synagogues of Damascus and arrest anyone he found there—man or woman—who followed Jesus.1

So Paul took a group of men with him, a posse if you will, to help with his operations.  These would have been men like Paul, men who were viciously opposed to Christianity, and men who took pride in destroying the doctrine and followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  These men are all traveling together on the road to Damascus, and it is almost noon,2 when the sun is at its brightest, when all of a sudden…

A light from heaven shined all around him, and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”3

His mission forgotten for the moment, Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”  Saul knew that this light was supernatural, for it was much brighter than even the noonday sun.  Therefore, he knew that this was a voice from heaven—a voice that spoke with the authority of God.  But Saul didn’t understand; he was confused—he had lived in all good conscience before God,4 and was dedicating his life to the extermination of a blasphemous religion.  Surely Saul wasn’t persecuting God Himself!  No, he was serving God…wasn’t he?

The voice from heaven replied in Hebrew, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”5

Saul was terrified at what he had just heard, and remained on the ground, trembling in fear.  If Jesus was speaking from heaven, then Saul had been fighting against God—had been murdering people who were righteous and obedient.  If Jesus was speaking from heaven, then Saul deserved the worst possible punishment that Deity could possibly conceive.  But Saul, trembling, said, “Lord, what do you wish for me to do?”  Certainly fearful of the worst, Saul had to have some measure of hope and relief when he heard the words, “Arise, and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”6

His companions—who were speechless and afraid after the incident, seeing the light and hearing a voice7—took Saul, who was unable to see, by the hand and led him into Damascus, where he stayed at the house of a man named Judas.8  We aren’t told what happened to Saul’s companions, but it is hard to believe that they were unaffected by this incident.  It is almost certain that Saul, shaking as they walked, would have told them what the voice said; and they would have had a hard time disbelieving it.

For the next three days, the worried persecutor abandoned all food and drink, fasting and dedicating himself to praying to God, whom he had unknowingly been fighting against.9  There is no doubt that he pleaded with God for forgiveness, for understanding of the Scriptures which he had misunderstood, and for mercy on him, whose entire world had just been turned upside-down, and who now viewed himself, not as the hero of Judaism and destroyer of heresy, but as the worst sinner in history.10  Yet through three days of praying, Saul was still not relieved of his sin nor his guilt.

While he is agonizing over his sins, the Lord appears in a vision to a Christian in Damascus—one of the very people who Paul was coming to brutally arrest and perhaps even kill.  This disciple of Jesus, a man named Ananias, heard Jesus say:

Get up, and travel on11 the avenue12 which is called “Straight,” and at the house of Judas, ask for the one called “Saul of Tarsus,” because behold, he is praying.  And he has seen, in a vision, a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hands on him so that he might see.13

Ananias puts up an argument, showing just how far Saul’s reputation had spread.  Ananias hadn’t just heard one person talk about Saul’s actions.  He said, “Lord, I’ve heard from many about this man, how much evil he’s done against your saints in Jerusalem, and he possesses authority from the ruling priests to tie up all that call on your name here.”14  Saul was greatly feared because of the wide swath of destruction that he had enacted against the church, and it was common knowledge in Damascus that he was on his way there to do the same thing.

But Jesus reiterates the message in such a way that it calms some of Ananias’ fears (though it isn’t a stretch to think that Ananias was still incredibly nervous):

Travel [Ananias], because he is a chosen tool for me, to carry my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how many things he must suffer for the sake of my name.15

So Ananias traveled on Straight Street, found the house, and went inside to where Saul was.  Saul, unable to see who entered into the room, felt hands being put on him, and heard the words “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me so that you might receive your sight, and [that you] might be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Receive your sight.”16 And immediately, it was as though something like scales had fallen from his eyes, and he looked up at Ananias, who was standing in the room by him.17  Then Ananias gave him a message—the most important message that Saul had ever heard, the answer to his prayers: what he needed to do to receive forgiveness.

The God of our fathers has chosen you so that you should know His will, and see the Righteous One, and should hear the voice of His mouth.  Because you shall be His witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.  And now, why are you waiting?  Get up and be immersed, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.18

Then Saul arose, no doubt overjoyed by the message of forgiveness that was given to him by Ananias, and he obeyed the gospel.19

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 9:1-2.

2 Acts 22:6.

3 Acts 9:4.

4 Acts 23:1

5 Acts 9:5, 26:14-15.  The goads are sharp, pointed sticks (sometimes metal) that are used to push goats or oxen in a certain direction.  There are different views as to what Jesus means by the “goads.”  Some say it is speaking of Saul’s conscience, which would make him a liar in Acts 23:1, where he says that he had lived in all good conscience before God.  Some have suggested that perhaps he was fighting against Gamaliel’s advice in Acts 5.  Others have suggested, based on Romans 16:7, that Paul was fighting against family.  While these may have some level of validity, it seems more likely that the “goads” that Saul was kicking against are the Law and the Prophets—the inspired Scriptures which pointed the way to Christ.  Some translations omit “it is hard for you to kick against the goads” in 9:5, but the words are present in 26:14 in those same versions.

6 Acts 9:6.

7 Acts 9:7-8, 22:9-11.  The men heard the sound of the voice, but they did not comprehend the words spoken.  There is little doubt that Saul relayed to them what was said.

8 Acts 9:11.

9 Acts 9:9-11.

10 1 Timothy 1:12-16

11 The KJV says “go into,” but both words are not as accurately translated as they could be.  The word “go” is actually a word that means “travel,” “transfer,” or “journey (somewhere).”  It is used again in verse 15.  The word “into” (KJV) is the word epi which means “on” or “upon.”

12 The word translated “avenue” (“street” in most translations) is only used here in the New Testament, and refers to a very busy avenue, crowded with people, and lined on either side with buildings.

13 Acts 9:11-12.  The KJV says “that he might receive his sight.”  However, the Greek is literally “look up,” and is in the active voice, not the passive as the KJV and most other modern translations render it.  By implication, the idea is regaining one’s sight, but since it is spoken in the active voice—as something done by Saul, it is best rendered as we have it (and so agrees Hugo McCord’s translation), “he might see.”  Verse 17 shows that it was Jesus speaking to Ananias.

14 Acts 9:13-14. “Tie up” (“bind” in many translations) can refer to being bound in chains, or tied with ropes.  One can imagine Saul’s posse traveling towards Damascus with ropes or chains in their hands.

15 Acts 9:15-16.  The word “tool” (“vessel,” KJV) is translated as “instrument” in the ESV.  The Greek word was often used to describe the sails and tackle equipment on a fishing boat.

16 Acts 9:17; 22:13.

17 Acts 9:18; 22:13.

18 Acts 22:14-16.  On the translation “Righteous One,” see MLV, ESV, ASV.

19 Acts 9:18.

Did Jesus Really Exist?

 

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Introduction:

  1. One of the many attacks against Christianity and the validity of the Bible is that Jesus Christ never even existed.
    1. Albert Schweitzer said “Jesus never had an existence.”
    2. One of the founders of our nation, Thomas Paine, said Jesus was not a real person.
  2. This accusation truly cuts to the core of belief in the Bible.
  3. If Jesus did not exist, then there is no justification for Christians or Christianity.
  4. If Jesus did not exist, the entire NT is useless!
  5. If Jesus did not exist, we have wasted our lives in studying about Him.
  6. The purpose of today’s lesson is to examine the evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel records show the existence of Jesus Christ.

Intellectual honesty demands that all ancient documents be treated as historically accurate until proven otherwise.

  1. This is the standard used for all other historical records.
  2. It is this standard that gives us an enormous part of our knowledge of history.
  3. We know of wars and dates from history because of documents and inscriptions.
  4. The Bible should be given the same assumption of authenticity.
    1. It is an ancient document.
    2. It claims to be a reliable historical account.
    3. It has NEVER been proven false by archaeology or other historical documents.

The gospel records all attest to the existence of Jesus.

    1. His birth is recorded (Matthew 2:1).
    2. His earthly parents are described (Luke 2:48).
    3. His friends are mentioned (Matthew 10:1-4).
    4. Many of His teachings are recorded (Matthew 5-7).
    5. He was hungry (Matthew 4:2).
    6. His hometown is mentioned (Luke 2:52).
    7. His trials are recorded (John 18-19).
    8. His death is described (Mark 15:24-37).
    9. His burial is recorded (Mark 15:42-46).

The gospel records were written by reliable historians.

  1. Matthew was a disciple of Jesus Christ.
    1. Matthew wrote, giving his occupation: a tax collector (Matthew 10:3).
      1. If Matthew was not a reliable historian, he would have left that bit of information out.
        1. Tax collectors were seen as traitors to the Jewish people because they took money from Jews and paid it to Rome.
        2. Matthew’s primary purpose in writing was to show the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.
        3. If Matthew was willing to lie about anything in his writing, he would have lied about his occupation.
        4. Lying about his occupation would have taken away some animosity towards his writing by the Jews.
    2. Being a disciple (one of the 12 apostles) of Jesus Christ, Matthew had first-hand knowledge of the things he wrote.
    3. He was an eye-witness to the life and teachings of Jesus.
  2. Mark was a companion to two different apostles.
    1. Mark was a nephew of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10); Barnabas was a close associate of the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36) as well as a close friend of Paul (Acts 9:26-28).
    2. Mark was with Paul on his first missionary journey (Acts 12:25), though not on the second (Acts 15:37-39).
    3. Mark was requested to come to Paul while he was in prison (II Timothy 4:11).
    4. Mark was also a companion of Peter (I Peter 5:13).
    5. The church in Jerusalem gathered at his mother’s house, indicating that he was possibly familiar with all the apostles (Acts 12:12).
    6. Some believe Mark mentions himself in Mark 12:51-52, which—if true—would have Mark following Jesus while he was on earth.
    7. The evidence shows that Mark would have been a person who could easily ascertain the facts from multiple eyewitnesses, and may have even been an eyewitness to many of the events himself.
  3. Luke was a dedicated historian and a companion of an apostle.
    1. Luke declares that his gospel account came from eyewitness accounts (Luke 1:2).
    2. He declares that he writes because he has “perfect understanding” of the events
      • ASV says “have traced the course of all things.”
      • This is to say that Luke claimed to have done extensive research to make sure his account was true.
    3. He states that his account is trustworthy (Luke 1:4).
    4. He was a travelling companion of the apostle Paul (Colossians 4:14, II Timothy 4:11).
    5. His second book (Acts) has been said to be written by a “historian of the first-degree” by a man who was an atheist intent on proving Acts false (Sir William Ramsay).
    6. Because of his historical reliability (especially seen in the people and places mentioned in Acts), Luke gains instant credibility as a historian.
    7. Though Paul was not an apostle during the lifetime of Jesus, he was likely in Jerusalem during much of Jesus’ ministry, and would have been able to pass on eyewitness accounts as well.
  4. John was one of Jesus’ most trusted and beloved apostles.
    1. He is called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20-24).
    2. He was one of the first disciples to follow Jesus after His baptism (Mark 1:16-20, possibly John 1:35-41).
    3. He was one of only three (the others being James and Peter) who were chosen to see Jesus transfigured (Luke 9:28-36).
    4. He was one of the three taken to keep watch while Jesus prayed (26:36-38).
    5. He was possibly at the trial of Jesus (John 18:15).
    6. He was at the cross while Jesus was dying (John 19:25-27).
    7. He claimed to teach only what he heard, saw, examined, and touched (I John 1:1-4).
    8. John was an eyewitness, a companion with Jesus during his entire ministry, and would be in a perfect position to write about the life of Jesus.

Early Christian writers attest to the truth of the existence of Jesus.

  1. The epistles of the apostles state that Jesus truly existed.
    1. Paul spends an entire chapter dealing with the resurrection of Jesus (I Corinthians 15).
      1. In order for one to be raised from the dead, he had to have died.
      2. In order for one to have died, he would have to have been alive.
      3. Paul, therefore, asserts that Jesus lived.
    2. Paul states that Jesus came to earth as a man and died on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
    3. John states that he was an eyewitness to Jesus (I John 1:1-4).
    4. Peter describes being on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus (II Peter 1:16-18).
    5. Jude condemned those who denied Jesus as Master (showing He existed – Jude 4).
      1. He spoke of the apostles of Jesus Christ (showing he believed in the truth of the gospel accounts – Jude 17).
      2. He called himself the brother of James (likely James, the brother of Jesus – Matthew 13:55).
    6. James calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ (James 1:1), and was likely the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19).
  2. The post-Biblical writings of Christians show that Jesus actually existed.
    1. Christianity had spread across the Roman Empire, and it was being fought tooth and nail by the leaders of Rome.
    2. Still, Christians wrote in order to convince the heathen (Jews and Gentiles) that Jesus was indeed the Christ.
    3. Justin Martyr wrote trying to convince Trypho (a Jew) that Jesus was the Christ prophesied about in the OT, and that he was resurrected (indicating He had actually lived).
    4. Papias claimed to get some of his information from those who were disciples of Jesus Himself, as well as from those who studied under the 12 apostles.
    5. Quadratus spoke of knowing some of those who were healed or raised from the dead by Jesus and His disciples, showing a historical belief that Jesus existed.

Non-Christian writings prove that Jesus existed.

  1. Josephus mentions Jesus Christ as a real person.
    1. In Antiquities of the Jews, he states, “About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease to follow him, for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvellous things concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.
      1. Some textual critics say that part of that quote was added or embellished by later Christian scribes in order to make their case for Jesus.
      2. Other manuscripts have been found which read differently, but still they mention Jesus: “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders.
    2. In another passage of the book (one which is not disputed), he mentions James, the brother of Jesus.
      1. “Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”
      2. Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Christ, but fully acknowledged that there was a man named Jesus who was crucified (as in the earlier passage) that was called by many “Christ.”
    3. This report is from a Jew, who was opposed to Christianity; yet, he still admits that Jesus was a real person.
  2. Pliny the Younger mentions followers of Christ.
    1. Pliny was a governor of sorts in Bithynia shortly after the first century.
    2. He wrote to the emperor asking what to do with the Christians, and stating what he had been doing up to that point.
    3. In a letter to the emperor Trajan, he stated, “Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.”
    4. For some to be a follower of Christ, even at a time in the past, they must have believed He was a real person.
  3. The Talmud says that according to early rabbis, Jesus was a transgressor in Israel which led the people astray, claiming not to destroy the Law, but to add to it.
    1. This is a Jewish source, which was very hostile to Christianity.
    2. They still admitted Jesus was an actual person.
  4. Tacitus, a Roman historian (wrote in 116), admits Jesus existed.
    1. He said: “Nero fastened the guilt of starting the blaze and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.” (Annals)
    2. The Roman Empire persecuted the Christians, but they also were very aware that Jesus was an actual person.
  5. Suetonius (Lives of the 12 Caesars) describes an event involving Christians.
    1. As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [ Claudius ] expelled them [the Jews] from Rome“.
    2. This event has its Biblical parallel in Acts 18:2 – “And found a certain Jew named Aquilla, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome), and come unto them.”
    3. At this point in time (AD 49), Christianity was viewed by many as a sect of Judaism.
    4. Because of the riots which came about from the Jews persecuting the Christians, all Jews were forced to leave Rome.
    5. That there were Christians 19 years after Jesus died is confirmed by historical record.
    6. This shows that less than two decades after His death, people believed Jesus was a real person, and that belief had spread all the way to Rome from Jerusalem.
  6. Lucian, a satirist (AD 125-180), acknowledges the belief that Jesus was a real person around 100 years after His death.
    1. “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day — the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account… You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”
    2. He shows that he is not in agreement with the actions of the Christians, but he does acknowledge that Jesus lived and was crucified.
  7. Mara bon Sarpion alludes to Jesus.
    1. This man was in prison, and wrote a letter to his son asking him to pursue wisdom (approximately 73 AD).
    2. What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”
    3. The only person who fits the description of the “wise king” is Jesus.
      1. This would fit in perfectly with the time period in which this letter was written.
      2. Jesus was well-known as “the King of the Jews,” for Pilate even had heard of it before meeting Jesus.
    4. This is a non-Jewish, non-Christian reference to the existence of Jesus, written in the first century!

Conclusion:

  1. Did Jesus really exist?
  2. The consensus of historical writings says that He did.
  3. Both friends and foes of Christianity speak in favor of His existence, all within 100 years (some even earlier) of His death.
  4. One admitted unbeliever in the Jesus of the Bible admits that “It was a group of French philosophers during the French Revolution in the late 18th century who first suggested that Jesus was a mythical character” and “The vast majority of historians and theologians have always believed in the reality of Jesus’ life.”
  5. We can have confidence that Jesus Christ did indeed exist!
  6. We do not follow cunningly devised fables!
  7. What are you doing with Jesus?
    1. Are you with Him or against Him?
    2. You cannot be neutral!
    3. Come to Jesus today!

-Bradley S. Cobb