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[Life of Christ] The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 3)

(My apologies for not getting this posted earlier.)

The King has Arrived: The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 3)
(Luke 2:36-38; Matthew 2)

Anna the Old Prophetess (Luke 2:36-38)

There was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, and had lived with her husband for seven years from her virginity. And she had been a widow about 84 years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

And she, coming in that instant, gave thanks as well to the Lord, and spoke about Him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Anna’s background

We’re given a lot of interesting detail about this woman, more than we are about Simeon, even though she only appears for three verses—and never shows up again.

  • She is a prophetess. She is the only person in the New Testament who is specifically called a prophetess.1 This is the only time the word (which is the feminine of prophet) 2 It seems this is what she was known for.
  • She is the daughter of Phanuel. This is purely a historical detail, as this name doesn’t appear anywhere else in Scripture.
  • She is of the tribe of Asher. This is a fascinating detail, as this makes her the only person in the New Testament we know for certain came from one of the ten northern tribes of Israel (frequently called the “lost ten tribes”).3
  • She is very old. While some Bibles interpret or editorialize in regards to Anna’s age, the Greek is pretty straightforward: She got married, was married for seven years (after which her husband died), and then lived as a widow for 84 years.4 If she was 13 (an age some like to throw around for Israelite girls becoming brides), then she was 20 when she became a widow, and therefore was 104 years old when she saw baby Jesus.
  • She never leaves the temple. Not in the temple itself, but the temple complex, as only priests were permitted inside the temple itself.
  • She serves God through fasting and prayer continually. This shows dedication, piety, sincerity. She did these things “night and day.” Certainly she slept some, but this was a way of life to her. Her dedication to God was not Sabbath-only or just on Passover and Pentecost.

By the time Luke investigated all this and wrote it down, Anna had probably been dead 50 years or more. But even so, people remembered Anna, who she was, and what she did in service to God. What a profound impact she must have had on people’s lives!

Anna enters…and leaves

To put this in context (because I probably should have included it with the previous lesson), Joseph and Mary had brought baby Jesus, at 40 days old, to the temple for Mary to offer her purification sacrifices. While there, Simeon (probably an older man) takes Jesus and makes a prophecy about Him. It is at this time Anna shows up and apparently heard Simeon’s words.

The result is she praises God with thanks. Perhaps she too had been told she would not die until she saw the Lord’s Christ (because Luke says she “likewise” gave thanks). Like Simeon, she was waiting for the Messiah to come and start fulfilling all the promises God had made throughout the Old Testament.

After thanking God, Anna left. And you can imagine the scene as she finds all the people she knows who share her longing for God’s kingdom—and tells them “The King is here!.” It wasn’t just Simeon and Anna who “looked for redemption” or were “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” There were many. Simeon and Anna are just the ones we are told about.

A Chronological Conundrum

According to Luke 2:39, “when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.” This is fine and dandy. The difficulty comes when we look at Matthew’s account. According to his record, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt, and only return to Israel when they hear Herod is dead—but they avoid Judea because Herod’s son was reigning.

Some have surmised these incidents took place between Jesus’ birth and His presentation at the temple. I can’t see how such a thing is possible, given the amount of time necessary to contain the events of Matthew 2. Others have guessed the events in Matthew 2 take place sometime after the family returned to Nazareth—but that would require them to return to Bethlehem to be there when the wise men show up, with no real reason to do so.

My best guess is this: After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem until the time to present Jesus at the temple. During this time (or shortly thereafter), the wise men were in Jerusalem, asking where the King of the Jews had been born. They are directed to Bethlehem where they see the star over a house (perhaps even the same day Jesus was presented at the temple). It is then that Jesus is presented with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh.5 Then they flee to Egypt, etc. This would mean Luke assumes the reader is familiar with them through Matthew’s writing, and therefore saw no reason to mention them in detail. Instead, he just records that they went back to Nazareth.6

The Wise Men and the Paranoid King (Matthew 2:1-11)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came Magi from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? Because we have seen His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king had heard this, he was troubled—and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, because it is written by the prophet, ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the princes of Judah: because out of you shall come a governor who shall rule my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called the Magi, and diligently enquired of them when the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go search diligently for the young child. And when you have found him, bring me word again, so I might come and worship him too.”

After listening to the king, they left, and behold! The star, which they saw in the east, went before them until it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Turning Jerusalem upside-down

Magi came from the east. Most likely this is near where Babylon once was, and where Persia once held sway (modern-day Iraq and Iran). Daniel was one of the wise men of Babylon, and later of Persia as well. It is possible (maybe even likely) that the Magi who came to see Jesus could trace their lineage of teaching back to the time of Daniel, who prophesied of a Kingdom to be established by God during the days of the Roman Empire. If this is the case (and I think it highly probable), these wise men would have been waiting for the fulfillment of this prophecy just like Simeon and Anna were.7

They came to Jerusalem, the capitol city, where they would assume the King of the Jews would be born. But not knowing exactly where to look, they started asking around. I can imagine the looks on some faces. What? What king? I haven’t heard about a new king being born. And others might have responded with excitement, wanting details about the star they saw, and wondering if maybe, just maybe, God was inaugurating His Kingdom plan.

Tradition has three men traveling from a great distance to worship the newborn King. Yet the Bible gives us no definite number of Magi/wise men. Matthew indicates (at least to me) a lot more than three people came to town. Jerusalem was not a small town. There were easily tens of thousands of people living there (if not closer to 100,000). So three men asking questions wouldn’t have been enough to stir up the city and get Herod worried. But if it was a massive caravan of Magi? Along with their servants and bodyguards? On camels? That makes more sense to me.

Herod and all Jerusalem are troubled, but for very different reasons. Herod (as we will see) is a power-hungry monster who is paranoid that he might lose the power and prestige he has gained in Judea if this “King of the Jews” story proves to be true. The people who heard about the wise men are troubled because of uncertainty, and possibly because they have seen/heard what Rome does to those who challenge its authority—and perhaps they are troubled because they know what Herod is like…

The king asks about the birthplace of the King

Herod is concerned. So he convenes a very hasty impromptu council of all the Jewish leaders. I’m not sure how exactly this took place, but he probably sent out some messengers quickly, demanding that all the chief priests and scribes come to his palace immediately—or else (and they would have known what the “or else” meant).

Herod is not a Jew. This is important to recognize. Herod was an Idumean—that is, he was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. Around 130 years before these events took place, a man named John Hyrcanus made himself king over Judah8 (though everyone apparently knew he was not the Messiah—not being in the line of David).9  One thing John did was to subjugate the Idumeans and force them to convert to Judaism or die. Herod was a descendant of people who were forced to convert against their wills. While Herod did a lot for the Jews (building projects), he was not a Jew, and had no real respect for Judaism or the Jewish people (when he ascended to power, he killed all but two members of the Sandhedrin, and had a high-priest drowned).10 All he cared about was power and prestige. So when he called the chief priests and scribes together, they came quick.

He demanded to know where Christ would be born. Thankfully (for the priests and scribes) the Scripture said exactly where it would take place. They quoted Micah 5:2, which named Bethlehem as the place. But they didn’t quote the whole verse. I kinda wonder why. Here’s what Micah 5:2 says in its entirety:

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old—from everlasting.

Did you catch the last part of that verse? The one who would be born in Bethlehem is the one “whose goings forth” (i.e., His actions/works) are “from of old—from everlasting.” It seems crazy that these religious leaders could see the Messiah’s birthplace identified in advance here, but completely miss that the Messiah was also eternal—“from everlasting.” That is, the very verse they quote says the Messiah would also be God.

The Magi migrate to Bethlehem

After getting the answer, he secretly called the Magi to him and sincerely asked them when they saw the star appear. Sincere in that he really wanted to know—just not for moral motives. Today if people said they saw a certain star that told them a king was born, we’d probably think they were crazy. But Herod lived in a time when things like this were taken seriously, and were even part of the official story of some royal leaders. And though he wasn’t a Jew, he was familiar with a lot of Jewish history—he knew there was a prophesied king.

They told him when they saw the star (and we’ll look at that when we cover verse 16), and so he told them to go to Bethlehem. But there was a catch: You’ve got to come back and tell me where he is so I can go worship him too. Of course, Herod was lying through his teeth, but certainly put on a pious act so the Magi would be none the wiser.

The Magi (caravan?) went to Bethlehem and saw the same star they had seen in the east. This greatly excited them, because it “came and stood over where the young child was.” I don’t know exactly what this looked like. It reads like the star was moving and they followed it until it stopped exactly over little child Jesus. How high in the sky that was, and how they knew it was directly over Jesus? I’m not sure.

What does matter is what they did when they got there. They went into the house (whenever this was, it certainly wasn’t the night Jesus was born), saw the young child (no longer called a baby) and Mary, and fell down and worshipped Him (they didn’t worship Mary). Falling down (on their hands and knees, with faces to the ground) to worship Him shows humility, honor, and submission. When you bow down like this, you leave yourself completely exposed to harm with no means of protection. Does our worship express these things?

As part of their worship, they presented Him gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I find these gifts interesting.

  • Gold covered every item in the temple—the dwelling-place of God.
  • Frankincense was an ingredient in a sacred mixture to be used only in tabernacle/temple worship.11 It was also used in every meal offering, and on the showbread in the temple.12
  • Myrrh was used in the sacred oil to anoint high priests of Israel.13

These items were not cheap, and may have come in very handy when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to flee to Egypt.

Though the Magi were Gentiles, they were the first Matthew records as worshipping Jesus.

The Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2:12-18)

Being warned by God in a dream that they shouldn’t return to Herod, they went to their own country a different way. And after they left, behold, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph In a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word—because Herod will seek to destroy the young child.”

When he awoke, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called My Son.”

Then when Herod saw that he was mocked by the wise men, he was extremely angry, and sent and killed all the male children that were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding areas, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “In Rama there was a voice heard, lamentation and weeping and a great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are not.”

Two dreams, two departures

The Magi were warned by God in a dream (did they all have the same dream? That would be convincing) to not go back to Herod, and to go back home a different way. They were not to be party at all to Herod’s plot, and they needed to get away without him noticing. It almost reads like this all happened the same evening they found Jesus.14

After they left, Joseph gets a dream as well, with an angel (it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the same angel as from his previous dream) telling him to get up and take the family on a vacation to Egypt—as in vacate the premises and go to Egypt! Unlike the Magi, Joseph is given a reason—Herod wants to kill Jesus!

So Joseph does what he did the last time he had an angel-dream—he gets up and obeys. He takes the little family by night and heads toward Egypt. This appears to be the same night the wise men left.

Then Matthew says the Egyptian part of the story was to fulfill Hosea 11:1. If Matthew hadn’t said this, I don’t think anyone would have connected the two incidents. Hosea 11:1 speaks of God calling Israel out of Egypt (speaking of the Exodus), and calls them “my son.” By referencing this, Matthew shows that sometimes prophecies aren’t always just words spoken or written, but can also include events which point to something greater.15

Heinous Herod

Enough time had passed that Herod knew the Magi weren’t coming back. Somehow, he thought, they figured it out. And he was livid. The KJV says he was “exceeding wroth.” So, since he didn’t know exactly which child was the one, he decided to kill them all. He sent men (Roman soldiers, most likely) to find and kill all the male children two years old and under.16

This act was pure evil, and was direct from Satan. Throughout history, Satan has tried to destroy the promised seed (Genesis 3:15), and though he comes close, he is never successful.17 God was ahead of him and protected the seed.

But Herod didn’t realize he failed in his goal. .

Matthew says this event was foretold by Jeremiah 31:15. This originally referred to the scattering of Judah, and is immediately followed by the words, “Thus saith the LORD, ‘Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, because your work shall be rewarded,’ saith the LORD, ‘and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.’” If Jeremiah 31:15 was a verse of lamentation for destruction, and verse 16 a verse of hope and restoration, then what are we to make of Matthew’s use of it?

I think this is an admission that what happened with Herod murdering the small children is horrible and cause for lamentation and weeping—but (though Matthew doesn’t mention it specifically) that there will be a time where restoration will take place, where those children can be reunited with their parents if the parents are faithful to God. If this is the case, then it would also prove that babies are not born in sin—babies are innocent and safe. There is no such thing as original sin.

Going Home to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23; Luke 2:39)

But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise and take the young child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the young child’s life are dead.”

And he arose and took the young child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus reigned in Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee.

And He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, so that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

(Luke 2:39) And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

Herod dead

Joseph gets a lot of dream-messages from God—and they all seem to have an angel (the same one?). Last time it was bad news: Herod wants to kill Jesus; get out of Bethlehem! This time, it is good news: Herod is dead (and apparently his cronies are dead too);18 it is safe to go back.

So Joseph did what he always does: wakes up and obeys. They travel to Israel (not a short trip), but soon after they entered, he discovered Herod’s son Archelaus was reigning, and Joseph was scared to go through Judea.19 So God sent another dream, telling him to go to Galilee.

If one were to only read Matthew, it would seem that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are newcomers to Nazareth. But Luke informs us Joseph and Mary were both natives of that small town.

Even though Matthew continues to use the pronoun “he” to refer to Joseph (verses 21-22), when he uses it in verse 23, Jesus is the one under consideration. We know this because Matthew says it was fulfillment of another prophecy, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” And this is where we run into another difficulty. This prophecy doesn’t exist.

This isn’t a direct quote from any verse of the Old Testament, and believe it or not, we shouldn’t expect to find a direct quote. Matthew says, “which was spoken by the prophets” (plural). It seems, then that this is more of a theme from prophecy instead of an exact quote. The Hebew word neser (quite possibly where the word “Nazareth” and “Nazarene” originate) is the word translated “Branch” in Isaiah 11:1, referring to Christ. Ted Clarke says it this way:

Nazareth was not a city that commanded much respect. It was a small village in Galilee. The area was mostly a Gentile area, although there was a synagogue there, thus some Jews there. The Jews of the south did not view the Jews of the north very well. It’s not likely that “he shall be called a Nazarene” means anything other than that he would be from a lowly, humble place (Isaiah 53:1-3). Jesus was not like Saul. Jesus was not one who would be great-looking, nor would he come from great area. There is nothing outstanding about him, physically speaking. His father was a carpenter, which would not exactly attract people to him.

Neser refers to a root or sprout or branch (Nazarene). This means something that is less significant. Humility, humble beginnings, lowliness. Jesus did not have an easy life. When people saw him, it took miracles for them to see it was Christ. Jesus did not stand out in a crowd.20

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

Do you look for reasons to not worship? The wise men didn’t just decide to make a day-trip to Jerusalem to see if they could find the newborn King. This trip took planning (organizing a caravan, gathering the gold, frankincense, and myrrh). And after the planning, it took days to get there. After all, this was somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 miles. If we figure an average of 30 miles a day, that’s 20 days of travel! And remind me again what was so difficult that you couldn’t make it to worship God Sunday?

Get up and obey! Joseph is a great example of someone who heard the word of the Lord and wasted no time in obeying it. How often do we look for loopholes in commands, or find reasons why it is okay for us to not do what it says? How many people reject or minimize the command to be baptized instead of just doing what Christ commanded? How are you doing that in your own life?

Do you share the good news? Anna, at minimum 104 years old, is last seen going around Jerusalem, telling people about Jesus. When are we going to quit making excuses and just serve God with all our heart like she did? If a 104-year old woman can share the good news, what excuse do we have not to?

God wins. Satan has plans—evil, vicious plans—to destroy the followers of God. But in the end, God always wins. Through 4,000 years of history, God kept the promised seed safe so He could grow up and die as the sacrifice for our sins. Satan tried so many times to stop it from happening, but God always wins. Things haven’t changed. Satan wants to tear us down, to get us to sin and leave God behind, “but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that which you are able to bear; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape so that you might be able to hear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

—–

1 There are other women who prophesied (Philip’s four virgin daughters in Acts 21:8-9), but Anna appears to be the only one who was known by the title of a prophetess.

2 There are instances of the English word prophetess to be found in the Old Testament, but here I am only referencing the New Testament.

3 There are theories regarding some of the apostles being from different tribes (some go so far as to say each of the apostles was from a different tribe—an impossibility, since there were at least two sets of brothers among them). But outside of the apostle Paul (who said clearly he was from the tribe of Benjamin), we do not know the tribal ancestry of any of them.

4 So reads the KJV, English Revised Version (1881), NET (also see their note on this passage), MLV, HCSB/CSB, Campbell’s Living Oracles, and the Message.

5 Had Jesus been presented with these gifts before He was presented at the temple, Joseph and Mary would have been able to afford the lamb for Mary’s purification offering. Since they were unable to, it means they hadn’t received the gold yet.

6 I contemplated the possibility that the wise men showed up prior to Jesus’ presentation in the temple, but the information in the previous footnote convinced me this could not be correct.

7 Daniel also foretold the fall of Babylon and rise of the Medo-Persian Empire. He foretold of their fall and the rise of Greece. Because those things had come true (with really interesting details corroborated through Daniel’s prophecies), the Magi would have had faith in the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy of 2:44. Additionally, Zoroastrianism, which began in the Persian Empire during or shortly after Daniel’s lifetime, contains some similarities to Judaism and the looking forward to a King from God. It is possible (I think it probable) that Zoroastrianism is a corruption of principles and prophecies of Judaism given by Daniel, and carried forward by the Magi to the people.

8 McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, “Herod.”

9 His grandson was made high priest, implying this family was of the tribe of Levi.

10 Ibid. “Immediately on ascending the throne Herod put to death all the members of the Sanhedrim, excepting Pollio and Sameas (the famous Hillel and Shammai of the Rabbinical writers), who had predicted this result, and also all the adherents of Antigonus who could be found. Having confiscated their property, he … then gave the office of high-priest… to an obscure priest from Babylon named Ananel. At this insult Alexandra, the mother of Mariamne  and Aristobulus, to whom the office of high-priest belonged by hereditary succession, appealed to Cleopatra to use her powerful influence with Antony, and Herod was thus compelled to depose Ananel, and to elevate Aristobulus to the high-priesthood. The increasing popularity of Aristobulus, added to the further intrigues of Alexandra, so excited the jealousy of Herod that he caused him to be drowned while bathing, and expressed great sorrow at the accident.”

11 Exodus 30:34-38.

12 Leviticus 2:1-2, 15-16; 24:5-7.

13 Exodus 30:23-33.

14 The fact of a star above Jesus indicates it was night when they found Him.

15 Paul and Peter both follow the same event-prophecy principle when describing the Red Sea crossing (1 Corinthians 10:1-3) and the flood of Noah’s day (1 Peter 3:20-21) as pointing forward to baptism.

16 It is a point of contention with some who dispute the Bible that this slaughter of the innocents is not mentioned in any secular histories of the time. But it must be remembered that Bethlehem was an extremely small town, with maybe a few hundred residents. The amount of male children two years old and under may have been under twenty. Don’t get me wrong, this is a massive tragedy. But it probably wasn’t anything that would have shown up on Josephus’ radar (because it didn’t affect the history of Israel), and Roman historians wouldn’t have cared about the death of twenty Jewish kids.

17 Satan got Abel killed, only to find the seed promise would go through Seth. He got the entire population of earth killed in the flood except for eight people—from an odds perspective, he must have thought he won—but it was through two of those eight (Shem and his wife) that the promise was continued. Tracing the seed promise through Scriptures and the lengths to which Satan went to stop it from happening is a very fascinating and rewarding study.

18 Matthew says “they who sought the young child’s life are dead.”

19 This fact seems to be conclusive proof (especially with the gifts of the Magi being taken into consideration) that the events of Matthew 2 did not take place prior to the events of Luke 2:25-38.

20 Cobb, Bradley S. (ed.), Preaching School Notes: Bible Institute of Missouri, 2008-2010. E-Sword edition.

[Life of Christ] Jesus is Coming…Soon (Part 2)

(Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20)

Mary spent the first three months of her supernatural pregnancy in Judea with her cousin Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Joseph was back in Nazareth, oblivious that a miracle had occurred. But he was soon to find out.

Mary Discovered to be Pregnant (Matthew 1:18)

Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way: While his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was discovered to be with child by the Holy Spirit.

In essence, Matthew summarizes the same information Luke gave—but with one big difference. It was discovered (“found,” KJV) that she was pregnant before she and Joseph came together in marriage. The use of the word discovered means it wasn’t something Mary revealed to him. We aren’t told how Joseph discovered it. But by the time Mary got back from Judea, and as the pregnancy continued, it would have become obvious to those who saw her. And it isn’t difficult to surmise that someone went and told Joseph about it.

Though Matthew says, “she was discovered to be with child by the Holy Spirit,” it is clear the miraculous aspect of the birth wasn’t discovered by Joseph when he first heard about it.

Joseph’s Righteous Response (Matthew 1:19-20a)

Then Joseph her [betrothed] husband, being righteous, and not wanting to make a public spectacle of her, determined to put her away secretly. But while he thought on these things…

How Would You Respond?

Joseph receives word that his fiancé, the one he contracted to marry, has turned up pregnant—and there is only one thing he knows for sure: It isn’t his. The immediate, human reaction would be shock, sadness, hurt, and anger. After all, to Joseph this is a betrayal of a covenant, a disruption/shattering of his plans and hopes of the future.

Many people would react by immediately ending the engagement, and spreading to the world that they were cheated on by their fiancé. In other words, many people seek revenge when they are wronged (or think they are wronged), and want to cause as much damage to the other person’s reputation as possible. Others might be willing to forgive, but only after verbally and emotionally beating down the “offender,” making them grovel and beg for forgiveness, and making sure they know they are scum. In other words, they will only consider forgiveness (if you can even call it that) when they think they’ve made the “offender” hurt enough—but they make sure to have it ready to bring back up at a moment’s notice if necessary.

But Joseph? He didn’t respond that way at all.

The Righteous Response

Matthew tells us Joseph was “righteous” (“a just man,” KJV). And then he shows us what a righteous response is when we are hurt.

He did not want to make a public spectacle of her. In other words, he acted out of what was best for her. Certainly other people knew she was with child, and that it wasn’t Joseph’s (and you can imagine the whispering, What exactly was she doing when she was gone for three months?). This was embarrassing enough, and (in Joseph’s mind) Mary would have felt ashamed—Joseph wasn’t about to add to that pain and shame by making a public spectacle of her.

He decided to put her away (end the betrothal) quietly (NIV) or secretly (NASB). The Law of Moses had rules for these types of situations—and in all cases, at least one person (always the man, and in some cases the woman too) was to be killed by stoning. That would be a very public thing, which would draw more attention to Mary’s (supposed) actions. And Joseph wasn’t going to shame her more.

When you are hurt, do you try to get revenge on the one who hurt you? A righteous person won’t. Let that sink in.

Then Joseph contemplated the whole matter. He had made up his mind to put her away, but was still thinking about the whole situation. The point is, he didn’t act immediately. He took the time to make sure he thought it through. In other words, he did not let his emotions dictate his response. And why? Because righteous people don’t act on emotions, they act on thoughtfulness.

So he thinks about her instead of himself. He has compassion. He knows something must be done, but wants to make it as quiet as possible so as not to bring her more shame. And even after making that determination, he takes more time to contemplate it.

Then he sleeps on it (see verse 24) before carrying out anything.

All I Have to Do is Dream (Matthew 1:20b-21)

…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary to you to be your wife; because that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name “Jesus,” because He will save His people from their sins.”

A Messenger Appears

While Luke gives us the name of the angel who appeared to Zacharias and Mary, we aren’t told who appeared to Joseph in this dream. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which angel it was. All that matters is this messenger1 was from God.

He addresses him as “Joseph, son of David.” This is a subtle reminder about just who is in line for the throne of David. At this point, it is Joseph. In order for Jesus to be the King, the true heir of David’s throne, Joseph had to marry Mary.

The Messenger’s Message

Joseph made up his mind, but hadn’t carried through with it yet, when he has a dream. And in the dream, an angel tells him to go ahead and marry Mary. Why? Because even though it appeared like she had done something wrong, sinned against Joseph, she actually hadn’t. Instead, according to the angel, her pregnancy was as a result of the Holy Spirit.

I have had some crazy dreams before, but once I woke up, I didn’t think they were real. Of course, I don’t recall seeing any angels in my dreams either. But Joseph knows this messenger of God is not just a dream, but is telling him the truth. And that takes a lot of faith, because he is being asked to believe something that has never happened before in the history of mankind! He is being asked to believe something that goes against his emotions, something that goes against his understanding of how the world works. And outside of words (from the dream-angel, and potentially from Mary), he has no evidence that it is true.

Joseph chose to believe.

Generally speaking, we don’t like being wrong—and frequently people (even Christians) will reject, ignore, or minimize evidence that might prove them wrong. We would rather dig in our heels and defend our first impression, our emotional response, because there’s no way we could be wrong…

But a righteous person is willing to (1) listen to the evidence, (2) do it with a truly open mind, and then (3) act on the evidence, not on emotion.

The Meaning of the Message

The angel reveals to Joseph that Mary is pregnant with a son—and not just any son, but a Son who is a Savior. And in addition to marrying Mary, Joseph had another role to play—he was to call the Son Jesus. It is interesting that Gabriel tells Mary she was going to name Him Jesus.2 Here, and angel tells Matthew he will name the child Jesus. And when Matthew gives the prophecy fulfilled explanation,3 he quotes Isaiah 7:14 as “they shall call His name…” It all works together.

As we saw last time, the name Jesus means Jehovah is Salvation or Jehovah Saves. Joseph probably knew this, but the angel explains anyway, “You will call his name Jesus, because He will save…” But what Joseph probably didn’t know (if he was like the majority of Jews) is that this salvation wasn’t from human oppression (like Rome), but from sin.

Ultimately, it is sin that we need salvation from. It is sin that separates us from God. And if we die separated from God, we will stay separated from Him forever. Heaven is not great because it is a place. Heaven is great because God and Jesus are there. And the only way we can have the joy of eternally being in God’s presence is by being saved from our sins.

Matthew, I am sure, drops that little nugget in the angel’s message to give his Jewish readers a heads-up that God’s Messiah isn’t what they were expecting.

Prophecy Fulfilled! (Matthew 1:22-23)

Now all this was done, so that what the Lord said by the prophet might be fulfilled, specifically, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which being interpreted is “God with us.”

Matthew’s First Explanation of Events

Matthew, repeatedly in his gospel account, wants to make sure his readers don’t miss the importance of certain events. So he will stop the narrative to say (in essence), This happened to fulfill prophecy. Which one? Here, let me quote it for you. Several of these Old Testament quotations had meanings when they were first given, but those meanings and applications were just shadows—they were ultimately pointing forward to Jesus.

Matthew’s first prophecy fulfilled moment deals with the virgin birth of Jesus. Lest his Jewish readers doubt the story, Matthew pulls up a quote from Isaiah 7:14 which foretold this. While it seems to initially have been foretelling the birth of Isaiah’s own son, Mahershalalhashbaz, it was ultimately pointing to Jesus.4 Some people call this “dual-fulfillment” prophecy.

The prophecy spoke of a virgin who would become pregnant and have a son.5 And not just that, but this Son would be called Immanuel, which means God with us. In other words, when Jesus is born, God is now literally with His people.

Joseph Obeys (Matthew 1:24-25)

Then Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord instructed him, and took his wife to himself, and did not know her [sexually] until she had brought forth her firstborn son. And he called His name Jesus.

Matthew greatly condenses the story at this point, which we will see as we skip back over to Luke’s narrative.

Joseph was awakened from his sleep (by God?), and did what he was instructed to do: take Mary as his wife. But the timeline of when he did this isn’t as clear. Was it that day? Quite possibly. But Mary was still called Joseph’s “betrothed wife” after their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, close to the birth of Jesus. What we can say for certain is that any thought of ending the betrothal disappeared.

Joseph, probably out of honor to God, did not consummate his marriage to Mary until after Jesus was born. Had they done so, it could not be said that “a virgin…shall bring forth a son…” But after Jesus’ birth, that was no longer an issue. Joseph did not “know” his wife until after Jesus was born—which means he did afterwards. Mary was not a perpetual virgin.6

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Because in order to find out about the birth of Jesus, we need to go to Luke chapter 2.

The Taxing Trip to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5)

And it happened in those days, that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed [or counted]. (This taxing [census] was first made when Quirinius was governor of Syria). And all went to be taxed [registered], every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, into the City of David, which is called Bethlehem, (because he was of the house and lineage of David) in order to be taxed [counted] with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was great with child.

Rome says, “Time to Count You so We Can Tax You”

Caesar Augustus (also known as Octavian) was the second Caesar of Rome, the first being his uncle Julius. He ordered that a census be taken of “all the world.” This phrase, or “the whole world” frequently refers to the Roman Empire in both biblical and non-biblical writings of that era. The purpose of the census was to levy a tax on the inhabitants. A Jewish writer of that era said Rome was exacting “tribute” from Jerusalem.

Luke makes it clear this was the first census/taxing done when Quirinius was governor of Syria. This probably means nothing to you, but this has caused no end of criticizing of Luke’s account, because secular historians haven’t found evidence of a census done during the time Jesus was about to be born. But given that Justin Martyr (a Jewish Christian from the second century), when writing to a non-Christian, told him he could find the evidence in the Roman archives, it seems pretty clear there was documented proof this really happened just when Luke said it did.7

In order for this census to take place, everyone was to go to “his own city.” Apparently, they were supposed to go to their ancestral land. Being a direct descendant of David, Joseph’s inheritance would have been in Bethlehem, though it seems as though the land was no longer in his family’s possession.8

Because of this census/taxation, Joseph left Nazareth (where he was living) and took Mary with him up to Bethlehem, the city of David. This wasn’t exactly the easiest journey on a good day. It would have taken multiple days, and probably longer than normal, since Mary was getting close to giving birth.

Betrothed…still?

In verse 5, Luke, the detailed historian, drops an interesting fact in our laps—Mary was still betrothed to Joseph at this time. They weren’t officially or completely married yet. What exactly all that entails is a matter of speculation and debate. It seems clear Joseph had taken her as his wife (taken her into his house?) based on Matthew 1:24. She traveled to Bethlehem with him, which was not permitted in ancient Jewish culture unless they were married. Yet Luke still calls them “betrothed.” Some possibilities have been suggested:

  • They were married, but hadn’t consummated the union. This seems to be the majority viewpoint in commentaries, but it seems odd for the detail-oriented Luke to use the word “betrothed” when other, more specific words could have been used which wouldn’t lead to ambiguity or confusion.
  • Joseph and Mary remained betrothed until after the birth of Jesus, both bearing some level of social shame from the pregnancy, so that when Jesus was born, He would only be the Son of God, and not son of Joseph.9 While interesting, and it could be right, this is ultimately conjecture.
  • Joseph and Mary were officially married sometime before the birth of Jesus, because Joseph appears to have the right to “know” Mary, but did not take advantage of that right until after Jesus’ birth. This right wouldn’t have been available to him during a betrothal.10 But this could be reading too much into Matthew 1:25.
  • If the conception of Jesus was near the beginning of their betrothal, and betrothals lasted a year (as some claim), their betrothal period wouldn’t be over for another couple months.11 But it would certainly make things awkward to have a wedding ceremony with a new baby present (maybe that’s why they stayed in Bethlehem instead of going back to Nazareth right away?).

I wish I had a good answer to explain when they became officially married (before or after the birth of Jesus), and what it was that changed it from betrothed to official. If it is the consummation of the marriage, then that alone proves the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary to be false—unless they want to say Mary and Joseph were never officially married (which they would reject).

(We will continue this study next week)

1 The Greek word angellos has been Anglicized, or transliterated, instead of being translated in almost every Bible. The Greek word means “messenger,” and the context must determine whether a human or heavenly messenger is under consideration. This is dealt with more extensively in my book War in Heaven War on Earth: What Revelation Meant to the Original Readers and What It Means for Us Today.

2 Luke 1:31.

3 Matthew 1:22-23.

4 Though some are very adamant that Isaiah 7:14 can only be speaking of Jesus, the context of Isaiah 7 and 8 (the only two times in the Old Testament the word “Immanuel” is used) requires an initial application to the time soon after the prophecy was given. The things said of “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7 match the things said of Mahershalalhashbaz in Isaiah 8—these being signs of the overthrow of the kings of Syria and Israel, who were both tormenting the kingdom of Judah.

5 Isaiah 7:14 literally says The virgin  or This virgin (scholars say it could be either), and appears to be speaking to or about a virgin in the king’s palace (tradition says Isaiah married a daughter of the king of Judah). So when he says, “This virgin shall conceive and bear a son,” it wouldn’t mean she would be a virgin after conceiving, but that she was a virgin when Isaiah said it. But when Matthew uses it and applies it to Jesus, he says it had a larger meaning and greater fulfillment by a virgin being pregnant and having a child—while still a virgin.

6 We will deal with this issue more in detail when Jesus’ brothers and sisters show up in the narrative.

7 This is a very shortened response to what is an interesting historical topic. For more details on it, see the commentaries on this passage by Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Henry Alford, and others.

8 The Old Testament required that all family land was kept in the family, unless it had to be sold to pay for debts—and then it was to be returned to the family in the 49th year—the year of Jubilee. That Joseph didn’t have anywhere to stay indicates the land had been sold, and possibly that the year of Jubilee had been (again) ignored by the Jews.

9 This was suggested to me via text message from a friend who hadn’t previously considered the issue.

10 This was suggested to me via text message from a friend and long-time evangelist for the Lord.

11 I have not found anyone arguing this, but I present it as another possibility.

[Life of Christ] Jesus is Coming… Soon (Part 1)

Before we get into this one, another apology for all those who signed up to receive the new posts via email. I just today discovered the emails weren’t including anything in square brackets–which means none of the footnote numbers showed up, and the link to download the worksheet for each issue didn’t show up in the emails either. I hopefully will remember to fix that for future emails.

To download the worksheet for this lesson, click here.

Luke spends nearly half of his first chapter detailing the lead-up, birth, and naming of John the Immerser.1 The rest presents the lead-up to the birth of Jesus (which continues into chapter 2). The similarities between the two parts are interesting, so keep an eye out for them:

  • Gabriel announces the miraculous conception of both John and Jesus.2
  • Both children were prophesied about by the power of the Holy Spirit.3
  • Both mothers stayed out of the public eye of their hometown for a while.4

Gabriel’s Second Revelation (Luke 1:26-33)

And in the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth, a city of Galilee, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

The angel came to her, and said, “Rejoice, honored one, the Lord is with you—You are blessed among women.”

When she saw him, she was troubled by this saying, and pondered what this kind of greeting meant.

And the angel said to her, “Don’t fear, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever—there shall be no end of His kingdom.”

One Month Later…

Elizabeth, after becoming pregnant, “hid herself” for five months.5 Apparently after that, she was willing to go back in public again and let others see how God was blessing her. It was a month afterwards that Gabriel is sent on another mission, this time to the other end of the Promised Land—to a little, insignificant town in Galilee, called Nazareth. He had to find a specific girl and give her a great message.

The girl’s name: Mary.

Mary

Assuming our assessment of the genealogies is correct,6 Mary is of the tribe of Judah, descended from David through his son Nathan. And she is betrothed to another descendant of David, a man named Joseph.

Betrothals in that time were legally-binding agreements between the husband-to-be and the parents of the bride-to-be. In the eyes of the law and culture, they were legally married (to break it off required a divorce), but until the marriage ceremony, they did not live together nor did they engage in any “marital activities” that might result in children. In other words, since Joseph entered into an agreement to marry Mary—a virgin—Joseph rightly expected to marry a virgin.7

The Strange Greeting

Gabriel says, “Rejoice, honored one!” I know your translation doesn’t read this way. The word translated “Hail” (KJV, ASV) or “Greetings” (NIV, ESV) is translated “rejoice,” “rejoiced,” or “rejoicing” (or “joy,” “joyfully,” or “glad”) 49 of the 60 times it appears in the New Testament. The NKJV gets it right by showing Gabriel start by telling Mary to “Rejoice,” because he has great news to share.

The phrase “honored one” (or “highly favored,” or “favored one”) only shows up one other place—Ephesians 1:6, where it is translated “accepted” (KJV), “freely bestowed” (NASB), and “freely given” (NIV). It is a modified form of the word for “grace.” Gabriel calls her “honored one” because of the great news he has to share.

Gabriel says, “the Lord is with you.” This is the first part of why she is supposed to rejoice. People who are truly trying to follow God almost always have nagging doubts about whether they are right in God’s sight. To hear a heavenly messenger say, “the Lord is with you” would be a great comfort. But it wasn’t just her righteous status under consideration.

Gabriel then says, “You are blessed among women.” He will explain it momentarily, but Mary is blessed, because—of all the women in the world—God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.

So why did God choose Mary?

  1. She was of the right lineage (so the Messiah would physically be a descendant of David).
  2. She was engaged to the right person (so the Messiah would legally be heir to the throne).
  3. She was faithful—she “found favor with God” (verse 30).

We aren’t told how old Mary was when this happened. Some have suggested she was potentially as young as 13, though I have serious doubts about that for the following reasons:

  • However old she was, she had to have shown an independent faithfulness to God (not just following orders from her parents), because she “found favor with God.” This phrase refers to how God views a person’s actions, and is never used of a child elsewhere in the Bible. The first time this idea is found is with Noah, who was around 500 years old.8
  • Mary traveled (apparently alone?) from Galilee to Judah, a trip that was often taken by caravanning together with many others for safety. It would either require going through the land of the Samaritans, or crossing the Jordan River twice to avoid Samaria. Mary made this journey in a hurry, which eliminates the idea of a large caravan. A 13-year old girl, traveling alone (she did not come from a wealthy family, so there would have been no servants) on this journey would have been a prime target for thieves and predators (both human and animal).

I don’t doubt that she was young (obviously younger than Elizabeth), but I can’t picture a 13-year old fitting these circumstances. If I were forced to make a guess, I would say Mary was between 16 and 18 when this event took place.

Mary’s Confusion

When Zacharias saw Gabriel, he was afraid and troubled because the angel was standing there in the temple. When Mary saw Gabriel, she was troubled (and apparently had some fear) because of the message. She wasn’t expecting this, and honestly didn’t know what this greeting even meant—she “pondered” on it.

The Good News

Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid (implying she was at least somewhat afraid), because she had “found favor with God.” As we said earlier, this means her faithful living was seen by God—so much so that God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.

Then he gets to meat of the message: “You’re going to conceive and give birth to a son, and you’re going to name Him Jesus.” Other than Gabriel using the name Jesus, this can easily be seen as a reference to Isaiah 7:14—which Mary certainly didn’t understand completely. The name Jesus means “Jehovah Saves” or “Jehovah is Salvation,” and is the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament.

“He shall be great.” Chalk it up to Gabriel to give a massive understatement. This is the same thing he said to Zacharias about John, “He shall be great”—except John would be great “in the sight of the Lord.” Jesus is the Lord, so Gabriel simply states, “He shall be great.”

He will be called the Son of the Highest, or the Son of God. Jesus later taught, “Love your enemies…and your reward shall be great, and you shall be called sons of the Highest, because He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). Whereas we gain the name “son [or daughter] of the Highest” in a spiritual sense, Jesus was literally Son of the Highest. God is His only Father, and Jesus also lived up to all the spiritual ideals of the Father. In other words, Jesus is “Son of the Highest” at birth, and earned that title throughout His life (and beyond).

  • Jesus is declared God’s Son prior to His conception (Luke 1:32).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son at His baptism (Luke 3:22).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son in the midst of His ministry (Luke 9:35).
  • Jesus is declared God’s Son at His resurrection (Acts 13:33)

Jesus will have the throne of his father David. This was prophesied back in Isaiah 9:6-7.

Unto us a son is born. Unto us a child is given. The government will be on his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and justice from now even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

This means clearly that Mary’s Son must be of the royal lineage of David. She would have understood that much at least. It is not a coincidence that Luke mentioned her husband-to-be was “of the house of David.”

One thing we should address now (and probably more in-depth much later in this study) is the term “throne of David.” Some well-meaning but completely off-base folks teach this is speaking of Jesus ruling in literal Jerusalem on David’s literal throne. The prophecy isn’t about a literal chair (which, at 3,000 years old, is either destroyed, disintegrated, or so fragile no one could sit on it). It refers to Jesus ruling as the legitimate heir to David. Jesus is sitting on His throne, reigning from heaven (Acts 2:30; Hebrews 12:2).

This rule will be “forever,” and this kingdom will have no end. This is the same thing said in Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 9:7; and others.

His reign over the “house of Jacob” means, first off, that He was born King of the Jews—He is the Jewish Messiah. Secondly, it means they will have to answer to Him as their King and Judge. Thirdly, it also expands to His kingdom—the church—which is spiritual Israel (Romans 9:6).

Mary Accepts the Mission (Luke 1:34-38)

Then Mary said to the angel, “How is this going to happen, seeing I don’t [sexually] know a man?”

And the angel answered her, saying, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Because of this, that holy thing which will be born from you will be called the Son of God. And look, your cousin Elizabeth, she in her old age has also conceived a son. And this is now the sixth month with her, who had been called barren. For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”

According to some sources, the Jews had a year-long betrothal period before the marriage. Mary and Joseph may well have been at the beginning of their betrothal period when this message was given by Gabriel. The marriage was at least 3 and a half months away (see verses 39-40 and 56), and probably longer. But Gabriel is apparently hinting this pregnancy is going to happen pretty quickly. That explains Mary’s response.

Mary’s Question

She asks him, in essence, “How is this going to happen, since I’m a virgin?” First, notice the difference between her response and Zacharias’ response. Zacharias asks, “How shall I know this?” In other words, he asked for proof, for a sign. Mary asks, “How is this going to happen?” It is a question of curiosity, not a question of doubt.

Second, note that she assumes there is going to be something miraculous about it, because her question is, How am I going to be pregnant when I’m a virgin? And she knows her wedding is not imminent yet, but seems to believe this pregnancy is going to happen before that time.

Gabriel’s Explanation

It isn’t often we are given the explanation for how God performs something supernatural, but Mary gets just such an explanation. He said the Holy Spirit would come upon her. When miracles happened in the Bible, the Holy Spirit was always involved. Thus, if a child was born via miraculous means, the Holy Spirit was involved. When Joseph was troubled about Mary’s pregnancy, an angel told him, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

He also said “the power of the Highest [that is, God] will overshadow you.” In other words, God will make it happen by His power. If God can create man from dust (after creating the dust in the first place), then there is no reason to assume He can’t make Mary pregnant without the aid of a man.

As a result of this supernatural involvement, Mary’s Son would be called “the Son of God.” As we saw earlier, Jesus is Son of God literally, and He also earned the title through His obedience.

To make sure he eliminates any doubt Mary might have, he shares some news with her that she may have not yet heard—your old cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, and has been for six months—and people called her barren!” Then he prompts her to respond in faith: “Because with God, nothing is impossible.”

Some have questioned how Mary and Elizabeth could be cousins (literally the Greek word means “same family”) when Mary is clearly from Judah and Elizabeth is clearly from Levi. The answer is a simple one. All it would take for Mary and Elizabeth to be first cousins (hypothetically) is for Mary’s mother to be from the tribe of Levi (tribal descent was from the father’s line) or Elizabeth’s mother to be from the tribe of Judah. And the text doesn’t say what exact relation they were—they could have been second cousins or third (and don’t get me started on the “once removed” parts), which would just mean a grandma or great-grandma married into a different tribe—which was common. Whatever the relationship, when Gabriel mentions Elizabeth, Mary knows exactly who he is talking about, because they are family.

Mary’s Acceptance

Mary responds with humility, and acceptance. She just says, “Behold, [I am] the handmaid of the Lord. Let it happen to me according to your declaration.” No arguing, no trying to explain why God should choose someone else (like Moses did). She accepts the mission God has given her.

Then the angel departs from her. I have to wonder how he did the departing. Did he just *pop* disappear? Did he quickly ascend to heaven? Was there some smoke to travel upward (see Judges 13)? We aren’t told, but I’m still curious.

The Three-Month Visit with Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)

And in those days, Mary arose and went to the hill country, into of Judah, hurriedly. And she went in the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.

And it happened that, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she spoke out loudly, saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, as soon as the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed, because those things which were told to her by the Lord will take place.”

And Mary said, “My soul praises the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because he has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, from now onward, all generations shall call me blessed. Because He is mighty who has done great things to me, and His name is holy. His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imaginings of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low estate. He has filled the hungry with good things. And he has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel in remembering His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”

And Mary stayed with her about three months, then returned to her own house.

Rushing to Judah

Why Mary rushed so quickly to Judah is a subject of speculation, but rush she did. Some suggest she wanted to see if the angel had told her the truth.9 Others suggest it was to build up her faith by seeing pregnant Elizabeth in person and to celebrate with her.10 Others think she quickly traveled down to Judah to congratulate11 and assist her aged cousin in her final months of pregnancy. Others think she went to quickly get the highly-respected Zacharias and Elizabeth on her side to vouch for her story of a male-less pregnancy.12 And still others suggest she was so bursting at the seams to tell someone about it, but couldn’t tell anyone around Nazareth for fear of shame, that she went as quick as she could to tell Elizabeth.13

Several suggestions exist for when she left to go there. And this wouldn’t be an issue, except we are trying in this study to keep things in chronological order as much as possible. The Ethiopic translation says “in that day,” meaning she left the very day Gabriel spoke with her. Most English translations say “in those days,” which leaves a bit of ambiguity to how long she waited. I have read guesses of a few hours to two days to three or four weeks. The ones who argue for it being over a week say betrothed virgins were not permitted to travel alone, and that there had to be time for Joseph to find out she was pregnant, have his dream, and decide to go ahead and quickly marry her, then allow her to travel. While I guess that could be true, the idea of Mary hurrying to get there shows she was in a massive rush to get there—something that seems incongruous with a weeks-long or month-long delay.

It seems most likely to me that Mary, discovering the news about Elizabeth, packed as quick as she could and left at the earliest point possible (perhaps the same day, probably a day or so later) to be with Elizabeth. And then, after returning home three months later, she is obviously pregnant, and word gets around (through the grapevine, so to speak) to Joseph, and then the events recorded in Matthew 1 take place (and we will cover those in the next lesson).

Elizabeth’s Praise

Mary comes in and greets Elizabeth. King James says “saluted,” but the word means a loving greeting (and “saluted” doesn’t scream loving nowadays). When Elizabeth heard it (so apparently she wasn’t right there when Mary said it), the baby John leaped in her womb. Before our son was born, he liked to kick, and my wife could feel it very clearly. So what does it feel like for a baby to leap inside the womb?

After John leaped, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (meaning she was being given inspired words) and began to speak. But she spoke “with a loud voice” (Greek mega phone), perhaps because she wasn’t in the same room as Mary—at least not at first.

We know she was inspired to speak these words, because she spoke things she would not have previously known. She repeats Gabriel’s blessing: Blessed are you among women. Then she adds, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” that is, the as-yet-unborn baby Jesus. But Mary hadn’t told her she was pregnant.

Elizabeth then asks, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This is proof as well that her proclamation was inspired—it is one thing to guess someone is pregnant, but to know Mary was pregnant with the Lord—the Messiah? There’s no way that could have been guessed. And knowing what we know about Elizabeth—that she kept all the laws of the Lord blamelessly—she would not have spoken a blessing on Mary if there was even a small doubt about her being pregnant by divine means.

The Catholic Church calls Mary “the mother of God.” This is blasphemous. They reason this way: Mary is the mother of Jesus (correct). Jesus is God (correct). Therefore Mary is the mother of God. No! God has no mother or father. God is eternal. “In the beginning, God…” Mary is the mother of Jesus. She is the mother of the human Jesus. His nature as God existed thousands of years before Mary was born, so in no way can Mary be said to be the mother of God.

Then I can only imagine Elizabeth was smiling, perhaps even chuckling a bit, when she says, “And look, as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” It sounds like she is sharing the joy the baby is expressing.

As a side note, the Bible attributes emotion to the baby inside the womb, and calls him a “baby.” The biblical writers use the same word for a baby inside the womb and a baby outside the womb. It is a baby. Not a fetus. Not a clump of cells. It is a baby.

It is also interesting to note that Luke, being a physician, would have been the perfect person to disprove the virgin pregnancy and virgin birth of Mary. He could have easily said, “This is clearly impossible.” Instead, he does the research, probably even interviews Mary,14 and concludes that it actually happened just as he describes it.

The final line of Elizabeth’s praise shows us Mary didn’t come there to check if the angel was telling the truth. Elizabeth (by inspiration) says “Blessed is she who believed” (speaking of Mary). Mary believed the angel, and God was going to bring about the things He told her through Gabriel.

Mary’s Magnificent Magnificat

Verses 46-55 are often called the Magnificat (especially by Catholics) and it is claimed to be one of the eight earliest Christian hymns, and the first hymn in praise to Mary—yet no documented proof for this claim is offered. These verses may have been done in poetic form (I doubt anyone reading this is an expert on first century poetic structure of Hebrew-speakers whose words were recorded in Greek), but it would be sacrilegious to say Luke wrote down a song designed to be sung in praise to Mary—when all praise is to go to Deity.

The first line of Mary’s praise is “My soul magnifies the Lord.” That means she praises Him, she makes a big deal out of Him. She makes Him bigger and herself smaller. It is a fancy way of saying the Lord is important to her. And we all ought to be able to say the same thing.

In the same vein, she says her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. How often do we rejoice in knowing God saves us? Mary here speaks of God as already being her Savior. Her ultimate salvation is through her not-yet-born Son, Jesus. But the salvation she is referencing is God raising her up from a lowly place (a poor girl in a nowhere town in the lower-class part of the country) to a position where everyone who knows about her will say she was blessed by God. Everyone who cares about God and His plan will know who she is.

She knows this elevation in status isn’t an accident—it took a mighty one to do this great thing. And even His name is holy. And the reason God, the Mighty, did this was because He has mercy to those who fear Him.

Mary then appears to reference (in general) God’s actions in the past, though it ultimately points forward to the spiritual reality in Christ.

  • He showed strength with His arm.
  • He dispersed the proud in their imaginations.
  • He ripped the mighty from their thrones.[15]
  • He exalted those of low estate.
  • He filled the hungry with good things, but sent away the rich empty-handed.
  • He helped His servant Israel (that is, when they acted as His servant, He helped them) by remembering His mercy.

The idea of God humbling the proud and exalting the humble appears several times in the New Testament, and each of these examples fits the same paradigm.

These things were done to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham way back in Genesis 12.

Mary Goes Back Home

After this memorable exchange, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months—just about the time baby John was to be born. She went back to her own house (that is, back to her parents), and awaited her marriage (though as we will see next time, there were some issues leading up to it).

What This Means for Us Today

Trust God, even when it seems impossible. Many promises to us in the Bible seem difficult, if not downright impossible, to grab hold of and trust. Can I really cast my cares and anxieties on Him and let Him take care of them? Can I really trust God to make sure I have what I need? Mary was told she would have a child without the involvement of a man. Yet her stance was that since God promised it, it was going to happen.

Family is important—especially if they follow God too. Whatever the reason may be, Mary spent three months with Elizabeth, and they were both overjoyed at what God had done for them. Far too often Christians (especially if they are related) spend their time complaining about things: the economy, the government, the church, etc. Instead, we ought to be seeking to build each other up.

Jesus is Lord, the Savior. Several times in this passage, Jesus is called “Lord.” It is here Mary is told His name will be Jesus—Jehovah saves. Jesus is the one who saves us from our sins through His death on the cross. Let us not ever forget this amazing gift God offers to us.

1 Luke 1:5-25, 57-80—All of which was covered in the last lesson. And while verses 39-56 include Elizabeth (John’s mother), and most of that section are Elizabeth’s words, the focus is not on John, but on Jesus, whom Mary was then carrying in her womb.

2 1:18-20, 26-31.

3 Elizabeth prophesied about Jesus (1:41-45, specifically verses 42-43); Zacharias prophesied about John (1:67-79).

4 1:24, 39-40, 56.

5 1:24.

6 Lessons 3 and 4.

7 The Law of Moses describes a potential situation where a husband claims his wife wasn’t a virgin on the day of the marriage. The parents of the wife were to bring out the bloody sheet that was on the bed during the wedding night, proving she had lost her virginity after the marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-19).

8 Genesis 6:9.

9 Benson, Joseph, Joseph Benson’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (1857), e-sword edition.

10 Calvin, John, Calvin’s Complete Commentaries, e-sword edition.

11 Alford, Ibid.

12 Coke, Thomas, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (1803) e-Sword edition.

13 Butler, Paul T. The Gospel of Luke (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1986) (College Press Commentary set) e-Sword edition.

14 This would be the most likely way he would know what she had been thinking and pondering, as is said multiple times in chapters 1 and 2. See John Krivak’s article, “The Voice of Mary” in The Quarterly (Volume 5, Number 1), January, 2021.

15 Some translations say, “seats,” but the Greek word is the same.

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