The Resurrection of Jesus: Fact or Fiction?

In our modern, educated day, we sometimes wonder if traditional beliefs, especially ones about the Bible, are only out-dated superstitions.  The Bible recounts many miracles, but probably the most incredible is the Easter story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead after being crucified on a cross. 

Is there any logical evidence to take this account of Jesus rising from the dead seriously?  Surprising to many, a strong case can be made that the resurrection of Jesus happened and this evidence is based on historical data, not on religious belief.

This question is worth careful investigation since it directly impacts our own lives. After all, we all will die, no matter how much money, education, health and other goals we achieve in life. If Jesus has defeated death then it gives a real hope in the face of our own approaching death.  Let’s look at the main historical data and the evidence for his resurrection.

Historical Background to Jesus: Tacitus and Josephus

The fact that Jesus existed and died a public death that has altered the course of history is certain. One need not look to the Bible to verify that. Secular history records several references to Jesus and the impact he made on the world of his day. Let’s look at two. The Roman governor-historian Tacitus made a fascinating reference to Jesus when recording how the Roman Emperor Nero executed 1st century Christians (in AD 65), whom Nero blamed for the burning of Rome. Here is what Tacitus wrote in 112 AD:

‘Nero.. punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius; but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also’ Tacitus.

Tacitus. Annals XV. 44 

Nero - Wikipedia
Nero, the Roman emperor

Tacitus confirms that Jesus was: 1) a historical person; 2) executed by Pontius Pilate; 3) by 65 AD (the time of Nero) the Christian faith had spread across the Mediterranean from Judea to Rome with such a force that the emperor of Rome felt he had to deal with it. Notice that Tacitus is saying these things as a hostile witness since he considers the movement that Jesus started a ‘wicked superstition’.  He is against it, but does not deny its historicity.

Josephus was a Jewish military leader/historian writing to Romans in the First Century. He summarized the history of the Jews from their beginning up to his time. In so doing he covered the time and career of Jesus with these words: 

‘At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive’

Josephus. 90 AD. Antiquities xviii. 33 

Josephus confirms that: 1) Jesus existed, 2) He was a religious teacher, 3) His disciples publicly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  So it seems from these glimpses back into the past that the death of Christ was a well-known event and the issue of his resurrection was being forced onto the Greco-Roman world by his disciples. 

Historical Background – from the Bible 

Luke, a physician and historian provides further details as to how this faith advanced in the ancient world. Here is his excerpt from Acts in the Bible: 

‘The priests and the captain … came up to Peter and John … They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead…They seized Peter and John… put them in jail…When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished… “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked.’

Acts 4:1-16 (63 AD) 

‘Then the high priest and all his associates,… arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. …they were furious and wanted to put them to death….They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.’

Acts 5:17-40 

We can see that the leaders went to great lengths to stop this new belief. These initial controversies occurred in Jerusalem – the same city where only a few weeks earlier Jesus had been publicly executed and buried. 

From this historical data we can investigate the resurrection by weighing all the possible alternatives and see which one makes the most sense – without prejudging by ‘faith’ any supernatural resurrection.

The body of Jesus and the tomb 

We have only two alternatives concerning the body of the dead Christ. Either the tomb was empty on that Easter Sunday morning or it still contained his body.  There are no other options. 

Let’s assume that his body remained in the tomb. As we reflect on the unfolding historical events, however, we quickly confront difficulties. Why would the Roman and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem have to take such extreme measures to stop stories of a resurrection if the body was still in the tomb, adjacent to the disciples’ public proclamations of his rising from the dead?  If the body of Jesus was still in the tomb it would have been a simple matter for the authorities to parade Christ’s body in front of everyone. This would have discredited the fledgling movement without having to imprison, torture and finally martyr them.  And consider – thousands were converted to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem at this time. If I had been one of those in the crowds listening to Peter, wondering if I could believe his incredible message (after all, it came with persecution) I would have at least taken my lunch break to go to the tomb and take a look for myself to see if the body was still there. If the body of Christ was still in the tomb this movement would not have gained any followers in such a hostile environment with such incriminating counter evidence on-hand. So Christ’s body remaining in the tomb leads to absurdities. It does not make sense. 

Did the disciples steal the body? 

Of course there are other possible explanations for an empty tomb apart from a resurrection. However, any explanation for the body’s disappearance must also account for these details:  the Roman seal over the tomb, the Roman patrol guarding the tomb, the large (1-2 ton) stone covering the tomb entrance, the 40 kg of embalming agent on the body. The list goes on. Space does not allow us to look at all factors and scenarios to explain the missing body, but the most contemplated explanation has always been that the disciples themselves stole the body from the tomb, hid it somewhere and were then able to mislead others. 

Assume this scenario, avoiding for the sake of argument some of the difficulties in explaining how the discouraged band of disciples who fled for their lives at his arrest, could re-group and come up with a plan to steal the body, totally outwitting the Roman guard. They then broke the seal, moved the massive rock, and made off with the embalmed body – all without suffering any casualties (since they all remained to become public witnesses).  Let us assume that they successfully managed this and then they all entered onto the world stage to start a religious faith based on their deception. Many of us today assume that what motivated the disciples was the need to proclaim brotherhood and love among men. But look back to the account from both Luke and Josephus and you will note that the contentious issue was “the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead”. This theme is paramount in their writings. Notice how Paul, another apostle, rates the importance of Christ’s resurrection: 

For … I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died …buried, that he was raised on the third day… he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.. If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless … your faith is futile…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men…. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised – ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’… .

I Corinthians 15: 3-32 (57 AD) 

Clearly, in their minds the disciples placed the importance and their witness of the resurrection of Christ at the center of their movement.  Assume that this was really false – that these disciples had really stolen the body so the counter-evidence to their message could not expose them. They may then successfully fooled the world, but they themselves would have known that what they were preaching, writing and creating great upheaval for was false. Yet they gave their lives (literally) for this mission. Why would they do it – IF they knew the basis for it was false? People give their lives to causes because they believe in the cause for which they fight or because they expect some benefit from the cause. If the disciples had stolen the body and hid it, they of all people would know that the resurrection was not true. Consider from their own words what price the disciples paid for the spreading of their message – and ask yourself if you would pay such a personal price for something that you knew to be false: 

We are hard pressed on every side… perplexed… persecuted, struck down… outwardly we are wasting away…in great endurance, in troubles, hardships, distresses, in beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger… beaten … sorrowful … poor … having nothing… ..Five times I received from the Jews the 39 lashes, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, … , I have been in danger from rivers, from bandits, my own countrymen, from Gentiles, in the city, in the country, in the sea. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep, I have known hunger and thirst… I have been cold and naked… Who is weak and I do not feel weak.

II Corinthians 4: 8– 6:10;11:24-29 

The more I consider the unshrinking heroism of all their lives (not one cracked at the bitter end and ‘confessed’), the more I find it impossible that they did not sincerely believe their message. But if they believed it they certainly could not have stolen and disposed of Christ’s body. A renowned criminal lawyer, who taught law students at Harvard how to probe for weaknesses in witnesses, had this remark to say about the disciples: 

“The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of the like heroic constancy, patience, and unflinching courage. They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted”

Greenleaf. 1874. An examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice. p.29 

Related to this is the silence of the enemies of the disciples – Jewish or Roman. These hostile witnesses never seriously attempted to tell the ‘real’ story, or show how the disciples were wrong. As Dr. Montgomery states, 

“This underscores the reliability of testimony to Christ’s resurrection which was presented contemporaneously in the synagogues – in the very teeth of opposition, among hostile cross-examiners who would certainly have destroyed the case … had the facts been otherwise”

Montgomery. 1975. Legal reasoning and Christian Apologetics. p.88-89

We do not have the space to consider every facet of this question. However, the unwavering boldness of the disciples and the silence of the contemporaneous hostile authorities speak volumes that there is a case for Christ having risen, and that it is worth taking a serious and thoughtful examination.  One way to do so is to understand it in its Biblical context. A great place to start are the Signs of Abraham and Moses. Though they lived over a thousand years before Jesus, their experiences were prophetic foretellings of the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

What are the Ten Commandments? What do they teach?

Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible which describes the birth of the Israelite nation thousands of years ago.  Moses’ mission was to birth this nation to become a light to surrounding nations.  Moses began by leading the Israelites (or Jews) out of slavery in Egypt through a rescue known as Passover – where God liberated the Israelites in a way that pointed to a future deliverance for all mankind.  But Moses’ call was not only to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, but also to lead them to a new way of living.  So fifty days after the Passover that rescued the Israelites, Moses led them to Mt. Sinai where they received the law.

Mount Sinai - Wikipedia
Mount Sinai

So what commands did Moses receive?  Though the complete Law was quite long, Moses first received a set of specific moral commands written by God on tablets of stone, known as the Ten Commandments. These Ten formed the summary of the Law – the moral prerequisites before all the others.  The Ten Commandments is God’s active power to persuade us to repent.  This is what we examine in this article.

The Ten Commandments

Here are the Ten Commandments as written by God on stone and then recorded by Moses in the book of Exodus of the Bible.

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Exodus20:1-18

The Standard of the Ten Commandments

Today we sometimes we forget that these were commands. They were not suggestions. They were not recommendations.  But to what extent are we to obey these commands? The following verse comes just before the giving of the Ten Commandments

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “… Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. (Exodus19:3,5)

This was given just after the Ten Commandments

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” (Exodus24:7)

Let’s think about this. Sometimes in my school exams, the teacher gave us multiple questions (for example 20) but then required only some of the questions to be answered. We could, for example, choose any 15 questions out of the 20 to answer. Each student would pick the 15 easiest questions for him/her to answer. In this way the teacher made the exam easier.

Many people treat the Ten Commandments in the same way. They think that God, after giving the Ten Commandments, meant, “Attempt any six of your choice from these Ten”.  We think this way because we instinctively imagine God balancing our ‘good deeds’ against our ‘bad deeds’.  If our Good merits outweigh or cancel our Bad imperfections then we hope that this is sufficient to earn God’s favor or get a pass to heaven.  For this same reason many of us try to earn religious merit by religious activities like going to church, mosque or temple, praying, fasting and giving money to the poor.  These acts hopefully balance out the times we disobey one of the Ten Commandments.

However, an honest reading of the Ten Commandments shows that this was not how it was given. People are to obey and keep ALL the commands – all the time.  The sheer difficulty of accomplishing this has made many rebel against the Ten Commandments.  The well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens attacked the Ten Commandments for this reason:

 “… then comes the four famous ‘shalt nots’ which flatly prohibit killing, adultery, theft, and false witness.  Finally there is a ban on covetousness, forbidding the desire for ‘thy neighbours’… chattel.  …  Instead of the condemnation of evil actions, there is an oddly phrased condemnation of impure thoughts….  It demands the impossible….  One may be forcibly restrained from wicked actions…, but to forbid people from contemplating them is too much…. If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts, he should have taken more care to invent a different species”  Christopher Hitchens.  2007.  God is not great: How religion spoils everything.  P.99-100

Christopher Hitchens - Wikipedia
Christopher Hitchens

Why did God give the Ten Commandments?

But to think either that God can accommodate a 50% plus effort, or that God made a mistake in demanding the impossible is to misunderstand the purpose of the Ten Commandments.  The Ten Commandments were given to help us identify our problem.

Let’s illustrate with an example.  Suppose you had a hard fall onto the ground and your arm hurts badly – but you are unsure of the internal damage.  Is the bone in your arm broken or not?  You are unsure if it will just get better, or if you need a cast on your arm.  So you take an X-ray of your arm and the X-ray picture reveals that, yes indeed, the bone in your arm is broken.  Does the X-ray heal your arm?  Is your arm better because of the X-ray?  No, your arm is still broken, but now you know that it is indeed broken, and that you need to put a cast on it to heal.  The X-ray did not solve the problem, but rather it exposed the problem so that you would get proper treatment.

The Commands reveal Sin

In the same way the Ten Commandments were given so that a problem deep within us could be revealed – our sin.  Sin literally means ‘missing’ the target of what God expects from us in how we treat others, ourselves and God.  The Bible says that

The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

We all have this inner corrupting problem of sin.  This is so serious that God says of our ‘good deeds’ (which we hope will cancel out our sins) that

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Our righteous merit in religious observances or helping others counts only as ‘filthy rags’ when weighed against our sins.

But instead of recognizing our problem we tend either to compare ourselves with others (and so measure ourselves against the wrong standard), strive harder to obtain religious merit, or give up and just live for pleasure.  Therefore God instituted the Ten Commandments so that:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:20)

If we examine our lives and see our sin against the standard of the Ten Commandments it is like looking at an X-ray that shows the broken bone in our arm.  The Ten Commandments do not ‘fix’ our problem, but reveals the problem clearly so we will accept the remedy that God has provided.  Instead of continuing in self-deception, the Law allows us to see ourselves accurately.

God’s Gift given in repentance

The remedy that God has provided is the gift of forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – explained more fully here.  This Gift of life is simply given to us if we trust or have faith in His work.

know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

As Abraham was justified before God we too can be given righteousness.  But it does require that we repent.  Repent means to ‘change our minds’ involving a turning away from sin and a turning towards God and the Gift He offers.  As the Bible explains:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, (Acts 3:19)

The promise for you and me is that if we repent, turning to God, that our sins will not be counted against us and we will receive Life.

Along with that first Passover and Abraham’s test which revealed God’s signature in His plan for us, the specific day when the Ten Commandments were given to Moses also point to the coming of the Spirit of God to indwell us – giving us the ability to follow God in a way that we cannot do on our own.

About Me: The Wisdom I learned from a hard-drinking, filthy-rich playboy

I want to share how the Gospel became meaningful to me, a journey impacted by Solomon and his whole-hearted pursuit of pleasure and wisdom.  This will allow you to better have a personal insight on the articles on this website.  (Oh and the basic info … my name is Ragnar Oborn and I live in Canada.  I am married and we have a son.  I studied at University of Toronto, University of New Brunswick and Acadia University)

Restlessness in a Privileged Youth

I was born into an upper middle-class professional family.  Originally from Sweden, we immigrated to Canada when I was young, and then I grew up while living abroad in several countries – Algeria, Germany and Cameroon, and finally returning to Canada for university. Like everyone else I wanted (and still want) to experience a full life – with contentment, a sense of peace, and of meaning and purpose – along with a connectedness to other people.

Living in these different societies – religions and secular ones – and being an avid reader, I was exposed to different ideas as to what is ultimately ‘true’ and what a ‘full life’ meant.  I observed that though I (and most in the West) had unprecedented wealth, technology and opportunity to achieve these goals, the paradox was that they seemed so elusive. I noticed that relationships were more disposable and temporary than that of previous generations. Terms like ‘rat race’ was used to describe our lives. I was told that if we can get just ‘a little bit more’ then we would arrive. But how much more? And more of what?  Money? Scientific knowledge? Technology? Pleasure?

As a young person I felt angst probably best described as a vague restlessness. Since my father was an expatriate consulting engineer in Africa, I hung out with other wealthy, privileged and educated western teenagers. But life there was quite simple with little to amuse us. So my friends and I dreamed about returning to our home countries and enjoy TV, good food, opportunities, and the ease of western living – and then we would be ‘satisfied’. But when I would visit Canada or Europe, after the first bit of excitement the restlessness would return. And worse, I also noticed it in the people who lived there all the time. Whatever they had (which was alot by any measure) there was always need for more. I thought I would find ‘it’ when I had a popular girlfriend. And for a while this seemed to fill something within me, but after a few months restlessness would return. I thought when I got out of high school then I would ‘arrive’… then it was when I could get a driver’s license and gain independence – then my search would be over. Now that I am older I hear people speaking of retirement as the ticket to satisfaction. Is that it? Do we spend our whole lives chasing one thing after the other, thinking the next thing around the corner will give it to us, and then … our lives are over? It seems so futile!

The Wisdom of Solomon

During these years the writings of Solomon made a deep impact on me. Solomon, a king of ancient Israel famous for his wisdom, wrote several books in the Old Testament. In Ecclesiastes, he described this same restlessness that I was experiencing. He wrote:

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.

Ecclesiastes2 :1-10

Riches, fame, knowledge, projects, women, pleasure, kingdom, career, wine… Solomon had it all – and more of it than anyone else of his day or ours. The smarts of an Einstein, the riches of a Bill Gates, the social/sexual life of a Mick Jagger, along with a royal pedigree like that of Prince William in the British Royal family – all rolled into one. Who could beat that combination? You would think Solomon, of all people would have been satisfied. But he concluded:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to w
here it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.

The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?

It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-14

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.

12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
    and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
    than what has already been done?
13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
    just as light is better than darkness.
14 The wise have eyes in their heads,
    while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
    that the same fate overtakes them both.

15 Then I said to myself,

“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
    What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
    “This too is meaningless.”
16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
    the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!

17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiasts 2:11-23

Hardly happy! In one of his poems, The Song of Songs, he records an erotic, red-hot love affair that he was having – the very thing that seems most likely to provide life-long satisfaction. But in the end, the love affair did not give him sustained satisfaction.

Wherever I looked, either among my friends or in society, it seemed like Solomon’s pursuits for a full life were the ones being tried. But he had already told me that he had not found it on those paths. So I sensed that I would not find it there and would need to look on a road less travelled.

Along with all these issues I was bothered by another aspect of life. It troubled Solomon as well.

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?

Ecclesiastes3:19-21

Woody Allen vs. Solomon

Death is utterly final and reigns absolute over us. As Solomon said, it is the fate of all people, good or bad, religious or not. Woody Allen directed and released the movie You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. It is a funny/serious look at death. In a Cannes Film Festival interview he revealed his thoughts about death with his well-known humour.

Woody Allen - Wikipedia
Woody Allen

“My relationship with death remains the same – I’m strongly against it.All I can do is wait for it. There is no advantage to getting older – you don’t get smarter, you don’t get wiser, you don’t get more mellow, you don’t get more kindly – nothing happens. But your back hurts more, you get more indigestion, your eyesight isn’t as good and you need a hearing aid. It’s a bad business getting older and I would advise you not to do it if you can avoid it.” [1]

He then concluded with how one should face life given the inevitability of death.

“One must have one’s delusions to live. If you look at life too honestly and too clearly life does become unbearable because it’s a pretty grim enterprise. This is my perspective and has always been my perspective on life – I have a very grim, pessimistic view of it… I do feel that it [life] is a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself.”

So are those our only choices? Either take the honest route of Solomon resigned to utter hopelessness and futility, or that of Woody Allen and ‘tell myself some lies and deceive myself’ so I can live under a more happy ‘delusion’?  Neither seemed very attractive. Closely linked with death was the question of eternity. Is there really a Heaven, or (more alarmingly) is there really a place of eternal judgment – a Hell?

In my senior year of high school we had an assignment to collect one hundred pieces of literature (poems, songs, short stories etc.). Most of my collection dealt with these issues and it allowed me to ‘meet’ and hear many others who also wrestled with these same questions. And meet them I did – from all sorts of eras, educational backgrounds, lifestyle philosophies and genres. 

The Gospel – Ready to Consider it

I also included some of the well-known sayings by Jesus recorded in the Biblical gospels like:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10

It grew on me that maybe, just maybe, here was an answer to the questions I was asking. After all, gospel (which had just been a more-or-less meaningless religious word) literally meant ‘good news’. Was the Gospel really good news? Or was it more-or-less hearsay? To answer that I knew I needed to journey down two roads. First, I needed to start to develop an informed understanding of the Gospel. Second, having lived in different religious cultures, I had met people and read authors who had many objections to, and held ideas in opposition to, the Biblical Gospel. These were informed and intelligent people. I needed to think critically about the Gospel, without just being a mindless critic or an empty-headed believer.

There is a very real sense that when one embarks on this kind of journey one never totally arrives, but I have learned that the Gospel does provide answers to these issues that Solomon raised. Its whole point actually is to address them – a full life, death, eternity, and practical concerns like love in our family relationships, guilt, fear and forgiveness. The Gospel’s claim is that it is a foundation that we can build our lives upon. One may not necessarily like the answers provided by the Gospel, one may not agree with them or believe them, but given that it addresses these very human questions it would be foolish to remain uninformed of them. I also learned that the Gospel at times made me quite uncomfortable. In a time when so much seduces us to just take it easy, the Gospel unapologetically challenged my heart, mind, soul and strength that, though it offers Life, it is not an easy one.  If you do take time to consider the Gospel you may find the same.  A good place to start is to look at one key sentence summarizing the Gospel message.

Is the Bible textually Reliable? Or has it been corrupted?

Textual Criticism and the Bible

In our scientific and educated age we question many of the non-scientific beliefs that earlier generations had.  This skepticism is especially true of the Bible.  Many of us question the reliability of the Bible.  It stems from what we know about the Bible.  After all, the Bible was written more than two thousand years ago.  For most of these millennia there has been no printing press, photocopy machines or publishing companies.  So the original manuscripts were copied by hand, generation after generation, as languages died out and new ones arose, as empires changed and new powers ascended.  Since the original manuscripts have long been lost, how do we know that what we read today in the Bible is what the original authors actually wrote?  Or has the Bible been changed or corrupted, perhaps by leaders in the church, or priests and monks who wished to change its message to suit their purposes?

Principles of Textual Criticism

Naturally this question is true of any ancient writing.  The timeline below illustrates the process by which any ancient writing has been preserved over time. It shows an example ancient document written 500 BC (this date picked randomly).  This original however does not last indefinitely, so before it decays, is lost, or destroyed, a manuscript copy of it is made (1st copy).  A professional class of people called scribes did the copying work.  As the years advance, copies are made of the copy (2nd copy & 3rd copy).  At some point a copy is preserved so that it is in existence today (3rd copy).  In our example this existing copy was written 500 AD.  This means that the earliest that we can know of the state of the document is only from 500 AD onwards.  Consequently the period from 500 BC to 500 AD (labeled x in the diagram) is the period where we cannot make any copy verifications since all manuscripts from this period have disappeared.  For example, if copying errors (intentional or otherwise) were made when the

2nd copy was made from the 1st copy, we would not be able to detect them as neither of these documents are available to compare against each other.  This time period predating the currently existing copies (the period x) is thus the interval of textual uncertainty.  Consequently, a principle used address questions about textual reliability is to look at the length of this time span.  The shorter this interval (‘x’ in the diagram) the more confidence we place in the accurate preservation of the document to our modern day, since the period of uncertainty is reduced.

Of course, usually more than one manuscript copy of a document is in existence today.  Suppose we have two such manuscript copies and in the same section of each of them we find the following phrase:

The original author had either been writing about Joan OR about John, and the other of these manuscripts contains a copy error.  The question is -Which one has the error?  From the available manuscripts it is very difficult to determine.

Now suppose we found two more manuscript copies of the same work, as shown below:

Now it is easier to deduce which manuscript has the error.  It is more likely that the error is made once, rather than the same error repeated three times, so it is likely that manuscript #2 has the copy error, and the author was writing about Joan, not John.

This simple example illustrates a second principle used to verify manuscript integrity – The more existing manuscripts that are available, the easier it is to detect & correct errors and to assess the content of the original.

Textual Criticism of Classical Greco-Roman writings compared to New Testament

Now we have two evidence-based indicators used to determine the textual reliability of ancient documents: 1) measuring the time between original composition and earliest existing manuscript copies, and 2) counting the number of existing manuscript copies.  Since these indicators pertain to any ancient writing we can proceed to apply them to accepted works of history, as done in the tables below (1).

AuthorWhen WrittenEarliest CopyTime Span
Caesar50 BC900 AD95010
Plato350 BC900 AD12507
Aristotle*300 BC1100 AD14005
Thucydides400 BC900 AD13008
Herodotus400 BC900 AD13008
Sophocles400 BC1000 AD1400100
Tacitus100 AD1100 AD100020
Pliny100 AD850 AD7507

* from any one work

These writers represent the major classical writers of antiquity – the writings that have shaped the development of Western civilization.  On average, they have been passed down to us by 10-100 manuscripts that are preserved starting only about 1000 years after the original was written.   From a scientific point-of-view this data can be considered our control experiment since it comprises data (classical history and philosophy) that are accepted and used by academics and universities world-wide.

The following table compares the New Testament writings along these criteria (2).  This can be considered our experimental data which will be compared to our control data, just like in any scientific investigation.

MSSWhen WrittenDate of MSSTime Span
John Rylan90 AD130 AD40 yrs
Bodmer Papyrus90 AD150-200 AD110 yrs
Chester  Beatty60 AD200 AD20 yrs
Codex Vaticanus60-90 AD325 AD265 yrs
Codex Sinaiticus60-90 AD350 AD290 yrs

This table just gives a brief highlight of some of the existing manuscripts.  The number of New Testament manuscripts is so vast that it would be impossible to list them all in a table.  As one scholar (3) who spent years studying this issue states:

“We have more than 24000 MSS copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today… No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation.  In comparison, the ILIAD by Homer is second with 643 MSS that still survive”

A leading scholar at the British Museum (4) corroborates this:

“Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers … yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of MSS whereas the MSS of the N.T. are counted by … thousands”

New Testament textual Criticism and Constantine

And a significant number of these manuscripts are extremely ancient.  I own a book about the earliest New Testament documents.  The Introduction starts with:

“This book provides transcriptions of 69 of the earliest New Testament manuscripts…dated from early 2nd century to beginning of the 4th (100-300AD) … containing about 2/3 of the new Testament text” (5)

This is significant since these manuscripts come before Roman Emperor Constantine (ca 325 AD) and the rise to power of the Catholic Church both of which are sometimes accused of altering the biblical text.  We can actually test this claim by comparing the texts from before Constantine (since we have them) with those coming later.  When we do we find that they are the same.  The message of the texts from 200 AD is the same as those from 1200 AD.  Neither the Catholic Church, nor Constantine changed the Bible.  That is not a religious statement, it is one based solely on scientific data.  The figure below illustrates the timeline of manuscripts from which the New Testament of the Bible is based.

Implications of Textual Criticism of the Bible

So what can we conclude from this?  Certainly at least in what we can objectively measure the New Testament is verified to a much higher degree than any other classical work.  The verdict to which the evidence pushes us is best summed up by the following (6):

“To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no other documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament”

What this academic is saying is that to be consistent, if we decide to doubt the reliability of the preservation of the Bible we should discard all that we know about classical history in general – and this no informed historian has ever done.  We know that the Biblical texts have not been altered as eras, languages and empires have come and gone because the earliest existing MSSs pre-date these events.  For example, we know that no overly zealous medieval monk added in the miracles of Jesus to the Biblical account, since we have manuscripts that pre-date the medieval monks and all these pre-dated manuscripts also contain the miraculous accounts of Jesus.

What about translation of the Bible?

But what about the errors involved in translation, and the fact that there are so many different versions of the Bible today? Does this not show that it is impossible to accurately determine what the original authors actually wrote?

First we must clear up a common misconception.  Many people think that the Bible today has gone through a long series of translation steps, with each new language being translated from the previous one, a series something like this:  Greek -> Latin -> Medieval English -> Shakespeare English -> modern English -> other modern languages.  In fact, Bibles in all languages today are translated directly from the original language.  For the New Testament the translation goes:  Greek -> modern language, and for the Old Testament the translation goes Hebrew -> modern language.  The base Greek and Hebrew texts are standard.  So the differences in Bible versions come from how linguists choose to translate phrases into the receiver language.

Due to the vast classical literature that was written in Greek (original language of the New Testament), it has become possible to precisely translate the original thoughts and words of the original authors. In fact the different modern versions attest to this. For example, read this well-known verse in the most common versions, and note the slight variance in wording, but consistency in idea and meaning:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

You can see that there is no disagreement between the translations – they say exactly the same thing with only slightly different word usage.

To summarize, neither time nor translation has corrupted the ideas and thoughts expressed in the original Biblical manuscripts to hide it from us today.  We can know that the Bible today accurately reads what the authors actually wrote back then.  It is textually reliable. It is important to realize what this study does and does not show.  This does not prove that the Bible is necessarily the Word of God.  It can be argued that though the original ideas of the Biblical authors have been accurately conveyed to us today that does not prove or indicate that these original ideas ever were correct to begin with (or even that they are from God).  True enough.  But understanding the textual reliability of the Bible provides a start-point from which one can start seriously investigating the Bible to see if some of these other questions can also be answered, and to become informed as to what its message is.  The Bible claims that its message is a blessing from God.  What if there is a chance this is true?  Take the time to learn some of the important events of the Bible explained in this website. 

1. Taken from McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 42-48

2. Comfort, P.W. The Origin of  the Bible, 1992. p. 193

3.  McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 40

4. Kenyon, F.G. (former director of British Museum) Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. 1941 p.23

  5. Comfort, P.W. “The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts”. p. 17. 2001

6. Montgomery, History and Christianity. 1971. p.29

How were details of Christ’s death prophesied?

Christ’s “cut off” Predicted in detail by the Old Testament Prophets

In our last post we saw that Daniel had predicted that the ‘Christ’ would be ‘cut off’ after a specified cycle of years. This prediction of Daniel’s was fulfilled in the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem – there presented as Israel’s Christ – exactly 173 880 days after the Persian Decree to restore Jerusalem was issued. The phrase ‘cut off’ referred to Isaiah’s imagery of the Branch shooting up from the seemingly dead stump. But what did he mean by it?

Isaiah is shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the Davidic Kings rule

Isaiah is shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the Davidic Kings rule

Isaiah had also written other prophecies in his book, using other themes apart from that of the Branch. One such theme was about the coming Servant. Who was this ‘Servant’? What was he going to do? We look at one long passage in detail. I reproduce it exactly and in full here below, only inserting some comments of my own.

The Coming Servant. The complete passage from Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will act wisely[a];
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him[b]
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,[c]
    and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
    and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Isaiah 52:13-15

We know that this Servant will be a human man, because Isaiah refers to the Servant as a ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘his’, and specifically describes future events (from the phrases ‘will act..’, ‘will be raised up…’ and so on), so this is an explicit prophecy. But what was the prophecy about?

When the Jewish priests offered sacrifices for the Israelites, they sprinkled them with blood from the sacrifice – symbolizing that their sins were covered and would not be held against them. But here it says that the Servant will sprinkle ‘many nations’, so Isaiah is saying that in a similar way this Servant will also provide non-Jews for their sins like the Old Testament priests did for the Jewish worshipers. This parallels the prediction of Zechariah that the Branch would be a priest, uniting the roles of King and Priest, because only the priests could sprinkle blood. This global scope of ‘many nations’ follows those historical and verifiable promises made centuries earlier to Abraham, that ‘all nations’ will be blessed through his offspring.

But in sprinkling the many nations the very ‘appearance’ and ‘form’ of the Servant is predicted to be ‘disfigured’ and ‘marred’. And though it is not readily clear what the Servant will do, one day the nations ‘will understand’.

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Isaiah 53:1-3

Though the Servant would sprinkle many nations, he would also be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected’, full of ‘suffering’ and ‘familiar with pain’.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed. 

Isaiah 53:4-5

The Servant will take ‘our’ pain. This Servant will also be ‘pierced’ and ‘crushed’ in ‘punishment’. This punishment will bring us (those in the many nations) ‘peace’ and heal us.

I write this on Good Friday. Secular as well as biblical sources tell us that on this day about 2000 years ago (but still 700+ years after Isaiah wrote this prediction) Jesus was crucified. In doing that he was literally pierced, as Isaiah predicted the Servant would be pierced, with the nails of the crucifixion.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. 

Isaiah 53:6

We saw in Corrupted … missing the target, that a biblical definition of sin is ‘missing the intended target’. Like a bent arrow we go our ‘own way’.  This Servant will carry that same sin (iniquity) that we have brought forth.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth. 

Isaiah 53:7

The Servant will be like a lamb going to the ‘slaughter’. But he will not protest or even ‘open his mouth’. We saw in the Sign of Abraham that a ram was substituted for Abraham’s son. That ram – a lamb – was slaughtered. And Jesus was slaughtered on the same spot (Mount Moriah = Jerusalem). We saw in the Passover that a lamb was slaughtered on Passover – and Jesus was also slaughtered on Passover.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.

Isaiah 53:8

This Servant is ‘cut off’ from the ‘land of the living’. This is exactly the term Daniel used when he predicted what would happen to the Christ after he was presented to Israel as their Messiah. Isaiah predicts in more detail that ‘cut off’ means ‘cut off from the land of the living’ – that is, death!  So, on that fateful Good Friday Jesus died, being literally ‘cut off from the land of the living’, just a few days after being presented as the Messiah in his Triumphant entry.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Isaiah 53:9

Though Jesus was executed and died as a criminal (‘assigned a grave with the wicked’), the gospel writers tell us that a rich man of the ruling Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea, took the body of Jesus and buried him in his own tomb (Matthew 27:60). Jesus literally fulfilled both sides of the paradoxical prediction – though he was ‘assigned a grave with the wicked’, he was also ‘with the rich in his death’.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

Isaiah53:10

This whole cruel death was not some terrible accident or misfortune. It was explicitly “the LORD’s will” to crush him. But why? Just as lambs in the Moses’ sacrificial system were offerings for sin so that the person giving the sacrifice could be held blameless, here the ‘life’ of this Servant is also an ‘offering for sin’. For whose sin? Well considering that ‘many nations’ would be ‘sprinkled’ (above), it is the sin of the peoples in the ‘many nations’. Those ‘all’ who have ‘turned away’ and ‘gone astray’. Isaiah is talking about you and me.

After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.

Isaiah 53:11

Though the passage of the Servant is horrible, here it changes tone and becomes very optimistic and even triumphant. After this terrible suffering (of being ‘cut off from the land of the living’ and assigned ‘a grave’), this Servant will see ‘the light of life’. He will come back to life?! I have looked at the issue of the resurrection. Here it is predicted.

And in so ‘seeing the light of life’ this Servant will ‘justify’ many. To ‘justify’ is the same as giving ‘righteousness’. Remember that Abraham was ‘credited’ or given ‘righteousness’. In a similar way this Servant will justify, or credit, righteousness to ‘many’.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53:12

The passage of the Servant points so mysteriously to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that some critics say that the gospel narratives were made up specifically to ‘fit’ this Servant passage. But in his conclusion Isaiah defies these critics. The conclusion is not a prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection as such, but of the impact of this death many years after it. And what does Isaiah predict? This Servant, though he will die as a criminal, will one day be among the ‘great’. The gospel writers could not make this part ‘fit’ the gospel narratives, because the gospels were only written a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion – when the impact of Jesus’ death was still in doubt.  In the eyes of the world, Jesus was still the executed leader of a rejected cult when the gospels were written.  We sit now 2000 years later and see the impact of his death and realize how through the course of history this has made him ‘great’. The gospel writers could not have foreseen that. But Isaiah did. The Servant, also known as the Branch, through his voluntary sacrifice would begin to draw people to him – to worship him even – just as Jesus predicted when he called himself the ‘Son of Man’ at his trial before the Sanhedrin.

Day 1: Jesus – Light to the Nations

Since Russian launched its invasion of Ukraine, the galvanizing figure of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has become a familiar face to the nations of the world. Against the Russian claim that they invaded Ukraine to get rid of its Nazi government, Zelensky notes that he is Jewish, asking how his government could then be a Nazi one.  Zelensky has gone on a virtual tour of the halls of power of the nations around the world, given pitch-perfect addresses to government bodies of many nations.  He spoke to the British Parliament, US Congress, the German Bundestag, the Israeli Knesset, the Canadian Parliament, the Italian Parliament, the Japanese parliament, been given the highest Czech honor, as well as national honors in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.     

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

The Jews – Light to the Nations

Zelensky in his virtual tour of the parliaments and halls of power of the nations to chastise, encourage, plead and goad them into moral action on behalf of Ukraine, illustrates so well the prophecy that Isaiah foretold 2700 years ago about the Jewish people. Isaiah had prophesied:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,

Isaiah 42:6

Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Isaiah 60:3

Jews today wear this mantle of being a ‘light to the nations’ given 2700 years ago by Isaiah. They ponder its meaning.  This can readily be seen from search results for this phrase on popular Israeli websites. Here are the ‘Light to the nations’ results in TimesOfIsrael, and here similarly for the Jerusalem Post.  

Claims to be a ‘Light to the Nations’

In spite of his prominent voice to the nations Zelensky has never claimed to be a ‘light to the nations’. That would be presumptuous. The one Jewish person, who is on record as having claimed that distinction is Jesus. But it is not only his claim to be such a ‘light’, but it is when and how he made this claim that marks him. We look at this here and reflect on whether his legacy justifies this claim.

After the Triumphant Entry on Palm Sunday

Jesus had just entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey as Zechariah  had prophesied 500 years earlier, doing so on the exact day that the prophet Daniel had prophesied 550 years earlier.  The Jews had been arriving from many countries for the upcoming Passover festival so Jerusalem was crowded with Jewish pilgrims. Therefore the arrival of Jesus had caused a stir among the Jews.  But it was not only the Jews who noticed his arrival.  The Gospel records what happened right after he entered Jerusalem.

 20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

John12:20-22

 The Greek – Jew barrier in ancient times

It was extremely unusual for Greeks, (that is Gentiles or non-Jews), to be at a Jewish festival like Passover.  The Greeks and Romans of that time, since they were pagans, were considered unclean and shunned by the Jews.  And most Greeks considered the Jewish religion with only one (unseen) God and its festivals to be foolish. So these peoples regularly stayed apart from each other.  Since the Gentile, or non-Jewish, society was many times larger than the Jewish society, the Jews lived in a sort of isolation from much of the world.  Their different religion, their kosher diet, their exclusive Book created a barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles, with each side hostile to the other side (as we saw with the Maccabees).

…Prophesied to come down

But Isaiah (700 BCE) claimed to see far into the future and he foresaw a change for the nations.  He had written:

 49 Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.

Isaiah 49:1, 5-6

 60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Isaiah60:1-3

So Isaiah had foretold that the coming ‘servant’ of the Lord, though Jewish (‘the tribes of Jacob’), would be a ‘light for the Gentiles’ (all the non-Jews) and this light would reach to the ends of the earth.  But how could this happen with this barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles lasting hundreds of years?

Jesus’ Entry that Day begins the process

That day when Jesus entered Jerusalem the light began to draw the first Gentiles since we see some approaching him.  Here at this Jewish festival were Greeks who had journeyed to Jerusalem to learn about him.  But would they, considered unclean by the Jews, be able to see him?  They asked Jesus’s companions, who brought the request to Jesus.  What would he say?  The Gospel continues

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies,it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.32 And I, when I am lifted up[a] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

Belief and Unbelief Among the Jews

37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[b]

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”[c]

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praisemore than praise from God.

44 Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

47 “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

John12:23-50

Against the prevailing Jew-Gentile sentiments of that day, Jesus said that he would be ‘lifted up’ and this would draw ‘all people’ – not just the Jews – to himself. 

Jesus boldly claimed that he had ‘come into the world as a light’(v.46) which the previous prophets had written would shine on all nations.  On the day when he entered Jerusalem, the light first began to shine on the Gentiles.  

Jesus’ Light to the Nations in History

Consider now how the halls of power, with their accompanying institutions, where Zelensky has been speaking recently have come about by the influence of Jesus on the nations. 

Here are some quick examples

These practices, customs and institutions that we often take for granted today in many nations came about as people were influenced by the legacy of Jesus through history.  From a strictly historical point-of-view, Jesus of Nazareth has been the brightest Jewish light upon the many nations. Isaiah’s predictions 2700 years ago have come true in Jesus’ historical influence on the nations.

Passion Week Day-by-Day

But Jesus did not come simply to be a Light.  He had also declared War on death itself. How he goes about this struggle is explained in a day-by-day recounting of his activities in Passion Week.  We will go through each day of Passion or Holy Week.  We will carefully note what Jesus does and says each day.  We will use this to recognize patterns that go back to the beginning of the world and bring fresh meaning to his activities that week.

The following chart goes through each day of this week.  On Sunday, the first day of the week he fulfilled three different prophecies given by three previous prophets. First he entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey as prophesied by Zechariah.  Second, he did so in the time prophesied by Daniel.  Third, his message and miracles started to light an interest among the Gentiles – which the prophet Isiah had foretold would shine as a light to the nations and grow brighter to peoples around the world.

Events of Passion Week - Day 1 - Sunday
Events of Passion Week – Day 1 – Sunday

Jesus declares War: like a King, to an undefeated Enemy, precisely on Palm Sunday

The Books of Maccabees, found in the Apocrypha, vividly recounts the warfare waged by the Maccabees (Maccabeus) family against the Greek Seleucids who were trying to impose Greek pagan religion upon the Jews of Jerusalem in 168 BCE. Most of the historical information of this war comes from the First Book of Maccabees (1 Maccabees), which describes how the Seleucid Emperor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, instigated a de-Judaizing of Judea.  

Maccabean Wars in Biblical Timeline

In 168 BCE Antiochus IV entered Jerusalem by force, killed thousands of Jews, and desecrated the Temple by mixing pagan religious practices to the Temple worship handed down by Moses.  Antiochus IV forced Jews to also adopt pagan practices by sacrificing and eating pigs, desecrating the Sabbath, and forbidding circumcision.

Matthias Maccabees, a Jewish Priest, and his five sons rose up in revolt against Antiochus IV, adopting a successful guerilla warfare campaign.  After Matthias died, one of his sons, Judas (The Hammer) Maccabees led the war.  Judas was very successful with brilliant military planning, bravery and prowess in physical battle. He eventually forced the Seleucids to retreat and the region around Jerusalem was briefly independent with the Hasmonean dynasty until the Romans took control.  The Jewish festival Hanukkah today commemorates the winning back and cleansing of the Jewish temple from Antiochus IV’s defilement.

Zealous Jews going to war for the Temple

Religious convictions about the Temple, strong enough to go to war for, has been part of Jewish heritage for 3000 years.  King David and his successors, Josephus, Bar Kochba are all well-known historical Jewish figures who waged war to preserve the purity of the Jewish Temple and its worship.  Still today, many Jews are zealous to the point of risking conflict and battle, in order to pray at the Temple Mount.   

Like the Maccabees, Jesus was also very zealous for the Temple and its worship. He was zealous enough to also go to war over it.  However, how he engaged in his warfare, and who he fought, was very different than the Maccabees.  We have been looking at Jesus through his Jewish lens and we look here at this warfare and his opponent. Later we see how the Temple figured into this struggle.  

Triumphant Entry

Jesus had revealed his mission by raising Lazarus and now he was on his journey to Jerusalem. The way he would arrive had been prophesied hundreds of years before.  The Gospel explains:

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
    see, your king is coming,
    seated on a donkey’s colt.”

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

John 12:12-19

Jesus’ Entry – according to David

Period of Kings when they led processions into Jerusalem

Starting with David, ancient Israelite kings would annually mount their royal horse and lead a procession into Jerusalem.  Likewise, Jesus re-enacted this tradition when he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey on the day now known as Palm Sunday. The people sang the same song from the Psalms for Jesus as they had done for David:

25 Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.

Psalm 118:25-27

The people sang this ancient song written for the Kings because they knew Jesus had raised Lazarus, and so they were excited at his arrival into Jerusalem.  The word they shouted, ‘Hosanna’ meant ‘save’ – exactly as Psalm 118:25 had written long before.  But what was he going to ‘save’ them from?  The prophet Zechariah tells us.

The Entry Prophesied by Zechariah

Though Jesus re-enacted what the former kings had done hundreds of years earlier, he did it differently.  Zechariah, who had prophesied the coming Christ’s name, had also prophesied that the Christ would enter Jerusalem mounted on a donkey. 

Zechariah and other Old Testament Prophets in History

The Gospel of John quoted part of that prophesy above (it is underlined).  Zechariah’s complete prophecy is here:

 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,

    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
    and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
    and the battle bow will be broken.

He will proclaim peace to the nations.
    His rule will extend from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
    I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.

Zechariah9:9-11

The Coming King will fight … who?

This King prophesied by Zechariah would be different from all other kings.  He would not become King by using ‘chariots’, ‘warhorses’ and ‘battle bow’.  In fact, this King would remove these weapons and would instead ‘proclaim peace to the nations’.  However, this King would still have to struggle to defeat an enemy.  He would have to fight in a war to the death.

The Final Enemy – Death Itself

When we speak of saving people from death we mean saving someone so that death is delayed.  We may, for example, rescue someone who is drowning, or provide some medicine that saves someone’s life.  This ‘saving’ only postpones death because the person who is saved will die later.  But Zechariah was not prophesying about saving people ‘from death’ but about rescuing those imprisoned by death – those already dead.  This King prophesied by Zechariah to come on a donkey was to face and defeat death itself– freeing its prisoners. This would require an enormous struggle.

So what weapons was the King going to use in this struggle with death?  Zechariah wrote that this King would only take “the blood of my covenant with you” to his battle in ‘the pit’.  Thus, his own blood would be the weapon with which He would face death.

By entering Jerusalem on the donkey Jesus declared himself to be this King – the Christ.

Why Jesus weeps with sorrow

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (also known as the Triumphant Entry) the religious leaders opposed him.  The Gospel of Luke describes Jesus’ response to their opposition.

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Luke 19:41–44

Jesus said specifically that the leaders should have ‘recognized the time of God’s coming’ on ‘this day’.  What did he mean?  What had they missed?

The Prophets had Predicted ‘the Day’

Centuries before, the prophet Daniel had prophesied that the Christ would come 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.  We had calculated Daniel’s expected year to be 33 CE– the year that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey.  Predicting the year of the entry, hundreds of years before it happened, is astonishing.  But the time can be calculated to the day. (Please review here first as we build on it).

The Length of Time

The prophet Daniel had predicted 483 years using a 360-day year before the revealing of the Christ.  Accordingly, the number of days is:

483 years * 360 days/year = 173 880 days

But in terms of the modern international calendar with 365.2422 days/year this is 476 years with 25 extra days. (173 880/365.24219879 = 476 remainder 25)

The Countdown Starts

When was the decree to restore Jerusalem which started this countdown?  It was given:

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes …

Nehemiah 2:1

Nisan 1 began their New Year, giving reason for the King to talk to Nehemiah in the celebration.  Nisan 1 would also be marked by a new moon since their months were lunar.  Astronomical calculations place the new moon of Nisan 1 of the 20thyear of Persian Emperor Artaxerxes at 10 PM on March 4, 444 BCE in our modern calendar[2].  

The Countdown Ends…

So adding the 476 years of Daniel’s prophesied time to this date brings us to March 4, 33 CE. (There is no year 0, the modern calendar going from 1BCE to 1 CE in one year).  The Table summarizes the calculations.

Start year444 BCE (20th year of Artaxerxes)
Length of time476 solar years
Expected arrival in Modern Calendar(-444 + 476 + 1) (‘+1’ because there is no 0 CE) = 33
Expected year33 CE

…to the Day

Adding the 25 remaining days of Daniel’s prophesied time to March 4, 33 CE gives us March 29, 33 CE. This is shown in the table and illustrated in the timeline below.  

Start – Decree IssuedMarch 4, 444 BCE
Add the solar years (-444+ 476 +1)March 4, 33 CE
Add the remaining 25 daysMarch 4 + 25 = March 29, 33 CE
March 29, 33 CEPalm Sunday Entry of Jesus to Jerusalem

March 29, 33 CE, was Sunday– Palm Sunday– the very day that Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey, claiming to be the Christ.  

By entering Jerusalem on March 29, 33 CE, seated on a donkey, Jesus fulfilled both the prophecy of Zechariah and the prophecy of Daniel – to the day. 

Daniel had predicted 173 880 days before revealing of the Christ ; Nehemiah had started the time. It concluded on March 29, 33 CE when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

So many prophecies fulfilled on one day indicates the signs God used to identify His Christ.  But later that same day Jesus fulfilled yet another prophecy from Moses.  In doing so he set in motion the events that would lead to his struggle with the ‘pit’ – his enemy death.  We look at this next.


[1]Some examples on how ‘pit’ meant death for the prophets:

15 But you are brought down to the realm of the dead,
    to the depths of the pit.

Isaiah14:15

18 For the grave cannot praise you,
    death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
    cannot hope for your faithfulness.

Isaiah38:18

22 They draw near to the pit,
    and their life to the messengers of death.

Job33:22

They will bring you down to the pit,
    and you will die a violent death
    in the heart of the seas.

Ezekiel28:8

 23 Their graves are in the depths of the pit and her army lies around her grave. All who had spread terror in the land of the living are slain, fallen by the sword.

Ezekiel32:23

You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
    you spared me from going down to the pit.

Psalm30:3

 [2]For conversions between ancient and modern calendars (e.g. Nisan 1  = March 4, 444BC) and calculations of ancient new moons see Dr. Harold W. Hoehner’s, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ.  1977. 176pp.

Jesus’ Mission in the Raising of Lazarus

Stan Lee - Wikipedia
Stan Lee

Stan Lee (1922-2018) became world-renowned through the Marvel Comics Superheroes that he created.  Born and raised in a Jewish household in Manhattan, Stan Lee, in his youth, was influenced by action heroes of his day.  Lee worked with fellow Jewish talents Jack Kirby (1917-1994) and Joe Simon (1913-2011).  These three men created most of the superhero characters whose exploits, power, and costumes that today come so easily to all our minds from subsequent blockbuster movies.  Spiderman, X-Men, The Avengers, Thor, Captain America, the Eternals, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Hulk, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Black Widow – the superhero characters now seen by us all  – originated from the mind and sketches of these three brilliant comic book artists. 

We have all seen these Marvel Studio movies. These superheroes all have extra-special abilities, confront villains also possessing special powers, resulting in powerful and vivid conflicts. The superhero, through perseverance, power, skill, luck, teamwork, finds some way to defeat the villain, and more often than not, save the earth and its inhabitants in the process.  In short, in the Marvel universe created by Stan lee, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, the superhero has a mission to undertake, an enemy to defeat, and people to save.

We have been looking at the person of Jesus through his Jewish lens, seeking to understand him in the context of contributions that Jews have made to the world.  Many may not realize it, but the suite of Marvel Superheroes that so many today enjoy is another contribution that Jews have made for all mankind to enjoy.  In the light of the superhero theme of missions and villains which resonates so naturally with our human spirit it raises a question about the mission of this real-world Jewish person of Jesus.

What was Jesus’ mission? What villain did he come to defeat?

Jesus taught, healed, and performed many miracles.  But the question still remained in the minds of his disciples, his followers, and even his enemies.

Why had he come? 

Many of the previous prophets, including the Moses, also performed powerful miracles.  Moses had already given the law, and Jesus himself said he “had not come to abolish the law”. So what was his mission?

We see it in how he helps his friend Lazarus.  What he did carries relevance for you and me living today.

Jesus and Lazarus

Jesus’ friend Lazarus became very sick.  His disciples expected that he would heal his friend, as he healed many others.  But Jesus purposely did not heal his friend so his wider mission could be understood.  The Gospel records it like this:

 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

John 11:1-44

Confronting Death

The sisters hoped that Jesus would come quickly to heal their brother.  Jesus delayed his trip on purpose allowing Lazarus to die, and no one could understood why.  But this account allows us to see into his heart and we read that he was angry. 

Who was he angry with?  The sisters?  The crowd?  The disciples?  Lazarus? 

No, he was angry at death itself.  Also, this is one of only two times where it is recorded that Jesus wept.  Why did he weep?  It is because he saw his friend held by death.  Death stirred anger as well as weeping in him.

Death – the Ultimate Villain

Healing people of sicknesses, good as that is, only postpones their death.  Healed or not, death eventually takes all people, whether good or bad, man or woman, old or young, religious or not.  This has been true since Adam, who had become mortal because of his disobedience.  All his descendants, you and me included, are held by hostage by an enemy – Death. 

Against death we feel that there is no answer, no hope.  When there is only sickness hope remains, which is why the sisters of Lazarus had hope in healing.  But with death they felt no hope.  This is true for us also.  In the hospital there is some hope but at the funeral there is none.  Death is our final enemy.  This was the Enemy Jesus came to defeat for us. This was why he declared to the sisters that:

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

John 11:25

Jesus had come to destroy death and give life to all who wanted it.  He showed his authority for this mission by publicly raising Lazarus from death.  He offers to do the same for all others who would want life over death.

Greater than the Superheroes

Think of it! Jesus fought an adversary that even Stan Lee, with his brilliant and wide-ranging imagination, could not imagine pitting his superheroes against.  In fact, a number of them, in spite of their powers, succumb to death.  Odin, Iron Man, Captain America, some of The Eternals, not just defeated by villains, but also held captive to death. 

The audacity of Jesus as presented in the Gospels is this:  Without any special strength, agility, technology, or exotic weapons, the gospel writers present him calmly confronting death itself, simply by speaking.

The fact that even Stan Lee does not attempt some such superhero plot shows that this stratagem does not come from a human mind since even the most imaginative of us does not visualize a successful confrontation with this enemy.  The enemy Death reigns supreme even over the superheroes of the Marvel Universe.  It would seem implausible then that the gospel writers, without the opportunities to expand their imaginations like Stan Lee and us have, would have been able to conjure up such an exploit simply in their minds.

Responses to Jesus

Though death is our final enemy, many of us are caught up with smaller ‘enemies’ from issues (political, religious, ethnic etc.) that go on around us.  This was true in Jesus’s time also.   From their responses we can see what their main concerns were.  Here are the different reactions recorded.

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.

John 11:45-57

The Drama continues escalating

So the tension rose.  Jesus declared that he was ‘life’ and ‘resurrection’ and would defeat death itself.  The leaders responded by plotting to put him to death.  Many of the people believed him, but many others did not know what to believe. 

We should ask ourselves if we witnessed the raising of Lazarus what we would choose to do.  Would we be like the Pharisees, focused on something else, missing the offer of life from death?  Or would we ‘believe’, putting our hope in his offer of resurrection? Even if we did not understand it all?  The different responses that the Gospel records back then are the same responses to his offer that we make today.

These controversies grew as the Passover approached – the very same festival that the Moses inaugurated 1500 years earlier.  The Jesus Story continues by showing how he, in a manner steeped in unsurpassed drama, took this encounter with Death a big step further.  This step reaches out to you and me and Death’s hold over us.

He did this in the last week of his life, with bizarre actions that would even shake Dr Strange’s head.  We look at the last week of his life day-by-day, learning the remarkable timing of his entry into the City of Death.

Jesus Teaches Contrarian Investing

Perhaps the most common stereotype people make about Jews regards money.  Rumours, wild conspiracy theories, and slander have falsely been directed at Jews side-by-side with sinister associations of wealth and power.  

1898 cartoon showing Rothschild with the world in his hands. Cover illustration for Le Rire, 16 April 1898

For example, this cartoon depicting Lord Rothschild appeared on an 1898 cover of the French magazine Le Rire. It shows him with devilish hands, and a miserly face trying to grab the whole world.  Le Rire published this during the Dreyfuss affair, a highly public anti-semitic trial which rocked French society for a decade.

But there is little doubt that some outstanding Jews have demonstrated financial shrewdness. We highlight some here.

The Legendary Rothschilds

The Rothschilds were a Jewish family operating as private bankers to governments across Europe. They began during the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815).  Based in London, they had family connections across European capitals. They earned millions in interest from government loans and securities from many European nations.  The Rothschilds ingeniously invested their profits in railroads and other industrial infrastructure across the European continent as the Industrial Revolution spread.  

Investment banking in the Americas

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Jewish entrepreneurs founded American investment banks which today dominate global commerce: 

These were all founded by entrepreneurial Jews with a knack for finance and investment. 

George Soros

George Soros - Wikipedia
George Soros

Today George Soros (1930 – ) carries the same reputation.  Born into a Jewish family in Hungary he relocated to the United States and began his own investment hedge fund in 1969.  Wikipedia reports his net worth as $9 billion – after having given away $32 billion.  He is most known for betting against the bank of England in 1992. This brought the UK’s Pound sterling to its knees, earning him billions in the process.  

Central Bankers

Jews have prominent association with the US Federal Reserve. The Fed is the most powerful central bank in the world, affecting the economic livelihood today of everyone on the planet.  It came into existence in 1913 primarily through the work of Jewish-German immigrant Paul Warburg.  The past three chairmen of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan (1987-2006), Ben Bernanke (2006-2014), Janet Yellan (2014-2018) are Jewish.  

On a per capita basis Jews tend to demonstrate a keen entrepreneurial spirit with a financial interest that has brought many into high profile financial roles. But there is nothing sinister or a world conspiracy behind this as some have suggested.

Many do not realize it, but the most well-known Jew in history, Jesus of Nazareth, also taught and lived as an investor. However, he used non-traditional metrics in his investment outlook. We look here at the investment philosophy of this representative of Israel.

Jesus as Investor

Key to investor and banker success is to use a sufficiently long investment time horizon and to properly assess the ability of borrowers to re-pay loans.  Jesus, equally gifted as his Jewish brethren surveyed above in financial thinking, used a totally different investment time horizon than they did.  This changed his risk/reward financial thinking, radically altering it from ours.

Jesus summed up his overall view on investment risk/reward with this.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

Jesus’ views on risk/reward

Say what you will about the reality of his long-term perspective on ‘treasures in heaven’, his valuation of ‘treasures on earth’ is shrewdly spot on.  The Rothschilds have lost the financial power that they had 150 years ago.  The European wars, the wealth confiscated by Nazis from Jews, and the nationalizing European industries greatly reduced the Rothschilds’ family wealth. Most of the American banks surveyed above underwent bankruptcy or takeovers by other banks. They no longer operate.  Jesus’ assessment that amassed value on earth corrodes has been demonstrated time and again.  We do not always recognize it because our time horizon is short. But he used a time horizon stretching far out.

Jesus’ Investment Time Horizon

Jesus’ investment time horizon was uniquely long.  Thus, he looked at value from the perspective of eternity in the Kingdom of God.  Seeing value from his perspective allowed another rich Jewish investor to likewise assess value differently. The Gospel records it like this:

19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:1-10

Does Money Serve or Master?

The pledge by Zacchaeus to donate his assets to the needy and to promote the first ever ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ project does not mean owning temporary earthly assets are wrong. Rather as Jesus said elsewhere: 

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. 

Matthew 6:24

We usually think that money serves us, but our nature is such that instead we easily end up serving money.  Then it is impossible to value assets, life and our souls (psyche) in the time horizon of eternity.

Jesus held a unique financial perspective regarding the Kingdom of God.  Therefore, right after talking to Zacchaeus, Jesus taught this financial lesson.

The Story of the Ten Minas

11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’

19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth.21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow?23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Luke 19:11-26

Owners? Or simply Managers?

Without extracting all the meaning from this story a few observations are instructive:

  • The minas, through the whole story, always belong to the nobleman. He loaned them to the servants, looking for a return on his investment. The servants managed the minas but never owned them.  
  • Jesus represents himself as the nobleman in this story. He places us as the servants. We have been entrusted with ‘minas’, representing assets, value, opportunities and our natural talents. We are expected to produce a good return as any financial manager is for his investment clients.

Ultimately we do not own anything

We go through life thinking that our natural talents and opportunities are really ours.  But in reality they are not ours. They have been loaned to us.  Jesus shrewdly uses this story to remind us that we do not own our lives, health, opportunities and even our future.  We have to admit that this is true because we cannot retain them. Eventually we have to give them all up.  Jesus reminds us that these have been loaned to us temporarily.  

Finally, as any good investor, Jesus explains that those who have produced a return on their investment will have it all returned to them with opportunities for further investment. His Kingdom will give them more than they could have imagined.

We generally do not associate Jesus with shrewd financial thinking, as we do with his Jewish brethren.  But he kept a single-minded attention on investing. He invites us to co-invest in his investment, which cannot be lost, stolen or destroyed.  It is just that, as other Jewish financial visionaries, he saw further than we are able to. He looked as far as the establishing of His Kingdom. In that sense he showed himself to not be a herd investor (looking to others to see what to invest in), but a shrewd contrarian investor who saw attainable value that others could not see. 

Jesus’ Investment Price

We might think of His Kingdom as ethereal, intangible or unreal.  But convinced of the reality of this investment return, he passed over all other investments. He put all his equity into it. Nathan Rothschild said about his investment philosophy:

“the time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.”

Rothschild meant that we should invest when others are panic selling. Then we will get our investment at a good price.  We see how Jesus invested into The Kingdom with this maxim when his dead friend dies.

Living Water by the Dead Sea

The Biblical land of Israel straddles the world’s largest mirage, giving an illusion of life where there is none. This has forced her inhabitants to lead out in the human quest for that indispensable and life-giving substance – water. It also provides an enlightening backdrop for some of the profoundest wisdom, wildest hopes, and extravagant promises in the Bible. These promises extend to you and me, offering life lived with satisfaction. But to glimpse this we need to see that mirage and what those living there have had to learn to do because of it.

The Unique Dead Sea

The Unique Dead Sea

The Dead Sea, the most prominent geographical feature in the land of Israel, is located at the lowest elevation on earth, 431 m below sea level in the middle of a desert. To have such a beautiful and large body of water in the middle of a parched land would seem to be most fortunate for the surrounding inhabitants. However at 35% salt content it is the largest permanent hypersaline lake in the world. Therefore it supports no life – hence the name Dead Sea. You cannot drink this water. Even getting some in your eyes and on any open sores causes extreme irritation.

The Bible first mentions the Dead Sea in accounts of Abraham some 4000 years ago. The Dead Sea has provided the backdrop to all subsequent writers, kings and prophets through Biblical history, just a few miles from Jerusalem. These writers used water, a life-or-death necessity in that region, to illustrate truths about ourselves and to extend promises to us.

Jeremiah Diagnoses our Thirst

Historical Timeline including Jeremiah

Jeremiah lived at the close of the period of Kings (600BCE), when corruption and evil extended through Israelite society. He denounced their evils, the same ones also common today in our societies. But Jeremiah began his message with this.

13 “My people have sinned twice.
They have deserted me,
even though I am the spring of water that gives life.
And they have dug their own wells.
But those wells are broken.
They can’t hold any water.

Jeremiah 2:13

Jeremiah used water as a metaphor to help them understand sin better. He declared that they were like thirsty people searching for water. There was nothing wrong with being thirsty. But they needed to drink good water from a reliable source. God himself was the good Living Water which could quench their thirst. However, instead of coming to Him to quench their thirst, the Israelites relied on other sources, leaking ones, to drink from. But their broken cisterns would not hold water long-term and would thus leave them even thirstier.

In other words, their sin, in all its many forms, could be summed up as turning to other things apart from God to satisfy their thirst. But these other things would not be able to quench their thirst just as a leaky glass cannot be relied on to provide ongoing refreshment. In the end, after all their empty pursuits, the Israelites remained thirsty. They were left holding only their broken cisterns – i.e. all the problems and difficulties caused by their sins. Solomon, the richest and most successful person in all history, detailed, in masterful ways, the pursuit he undertook to quench his thirst.

Thirsty People in a Sea of bad water sources

This aptly also applies to us today in our age of more wealth, entertainment, movies, music etc. than any previous generation. Our modern society is by far the wealthiest, best educated, most-travelled, entertained, happiness-driven, and technologically advanced out of any age. We can easily turn to these things – and the other things that come in our age: pornography, illicit relationships, drugs, alcohol, greed, money, anger, jealousy – hoping that perhaps this will satisfy our thirst. But as the Dead Sea is a mirage, holding only sterile death, even as it appears like fresh water from afar, these are also mirages. They cannot quench thirst in a lasting way and will only result in death.

Jeremiah’s warning and Solomon’s chronicles should provoke us to ask some honest questions of ourselves.

  • Why in our modern age with so much do we struggle with depression, suicide, obesity, divorce, jealousy, envy, hatred, pornography, addictions?
  • What ‘cisterns’ do you use to satisfy your thirst? Do they hold ‘water’?

Jesus taught on these same questions, promising to quench our thirst. He did so claiming to represent Israel. His teaching and promise regarding his water stands out particularly as we note that the nation Israel leads the world in water technology. The two Israels offer water, albeit of different kinds, to a thirsty world.

Israel offers great water to the world

Because of their arid conditions, Israelis have had to become world leaders in water technology, vital to their national survival. They have developed and built industrial-scale, world-leading, reverse osmosis water desalination plants that convert seawater to drinking water. This technology is energy efficient and therefore less expensive than other desalination methods which evaporate water. Israel has five such desalination plants giving it so much drinking water that it can now replenish the Sea of Galilee with drinking water. Countries across the Middle East are signing agreements with Israel so that this water technology can be developed for them.

Another Israeli technology can generate drinking water from moisture in the air. Begun by helping militaries to supply drinking water to troops, the technology has been expanded to quench ‘global thirst’. Automaker Ford, has recently added this technology to some of their models, so that you can take a drink ‘from the air’ while you drive.

SodaStream, which sells C0 2 cartridges with kits to carbonize and flavor your drinking water, is an Israeli company with a global distribution allowing you to ‘fizz your way to sparkling water’.

Truly this arid land with its Dead Sea has become the world’s foremost leader in quenching the thirst of the world.

Israel offers Living Water to the world

It is fascinating then that the other Israel, Jesus, also offers water – Living Water – to the world. With the backdrop of Jeremiah’s diagnosis of our thirst, consider this conversation recorded in the Gospel.

Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard about him. They had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John. 2 But in fact Jesus was not baptizing. His disciples were. 3 So Jesus left Judea and went back again to Galilee.

4 Jesus had to go through Samaria. 5 He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar. It was near the piece of land Jacob had given his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from the journey. So he sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7 A woman from Samaria came to get some water. Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew. I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” She said this because Jews don’t have anything to do with Samaritans.

10 Jesus answered her, “You do not know what God’s gift is. And you do not know who is asking you for a drink. If you did, you would have asked him. He would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t have anything to get water with. The well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Our father Jacob gave us the well. He drank from it himself. So did his sons and his livestock. Are you more important than he is?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. 14 But anyone who drinks the water I give them will never be thirsty. In fact, the water I give them will become a spring of water in them. It will flow up into eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water. Then I will never be thirsty. And I won’t have to keep coming here to get water.”

16 He told her, “Go. Get your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands. And the man you live with now is not your husband. What you have just said is very true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our people have always worshiped on this mountain. But you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus said, “Woman, believe me. A time is coming when you will not worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know. Salvation comes from the Jews. 23 But a new time is coming. In fact, it is already here. True worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth. They are the kind of worshipers the Father is looking for. 24 God is spirit. His worshipers must worship him in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah is coming.” Messiah means Christ. “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus said, “The one you’re talking about is the one speaking to you. I am he.”

The Disciples Join Jesus Again

27 Just then Jesus’ disciples returned. They were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want from her?” No one asked, “Why are you talking with her?”

28 The woman left her water jar and went back to the town. She said to the people, 29 “Come. See a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 The people came out of the town and made their way toward Jesus.

31 His disciples were saying to him, “Rabbi, eat something!”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples asked each other, “Did someone bring him food?”

34 Jesus said, “My food is to do what my Father sent me to do. My food is to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying? You say, ‘It’s still four months until harvest time.’ But I tell you, open your eyes! Look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest right now. 36 Even now the one who gathers the crop is getting paid. They are already harvesting the crop for eternal life. So the one who plants and the one who gathers can now be glad together. 37 Here is a true saying. ‘One plants and another gathers.’ 38 I sent you to gather what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work. You have gathered the benefits of their work.”

Many Samaritans Believe in Jesus

39 Many of the Samaritans from the town of Sychar believed in Jesus. They believed because of what the woman had said about him. She said, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” 40 Then the Samaritans came to him and tried to get him to stay with them. So he stayed two days. 41 Because of what he said, many more people became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said. We have now heard for ourselves. We know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

John 4: 1-42

Jesus asked her for a drink for two reasons. First, he was thirsty. But he also knew that she was thirsty as per Jeremiah’s diagnosis. She thought she could satisfy this thirst through relationships with men. So she had had several husbands and was with a man not her husband. Thus her neighbours viewed her as immoral. This explains why she had gone alone to get water at noon since the other village women did not want her along when they went to the well in the cool of the morning. This woman’s conduct had alienated her from the other village women. 

Following Jeremiah’s lead, Jesus used thirst as a theme so she could realize that she had a deep thirst in her life – a thirst that had to be quenched.  He declared to her (and us) that only he could ultimately quench her inner thirst.

To Believe – Confessing in truth

But Jesus’ offer of ‘living water’ threw her into a crisis. When Jesus told her to get her husband he was purposefully provoking her to recognize and admit her broken cistern – to confess it. We avoid this at all costs! We prefer to hide our sins, hoping no one will see. Or we rationalize, making excuses for our sin.  But if we want to experience the quenching of his ‘living water’ then we must be honest and admit our ‘broken cisterns’, because the Gospel promises that:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,

Acts 3:19

For this reason, when Jesus told the Samaritan woman that

God is spirit. His worshipers must worship him in the Spirit and in truth.”

John 4:24

By ‘truth’ he meant being truthful about ourselves, not trying to hide or excuse our wrong. The wonderful  news is that God ‘seeks’ and will not turn away anyone who comes with this open honesty – no matter what they have drunk.

The Distraction of Religious Arguments

But this requires an honest vulnerability. Changing the subject from ourselves onto a religious dispute creates perfect cover to hide. The world always has many ongoing religious disputes. In that day there was a religious dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews regarding the proper place of worship. By turning the conversation to this religious dispute she was hoping to divert attention away from her leaking cistern. She could now hide her vulnerability behind religion.

How easily and naturally we do the same thing – especially if we have some religious affiliation. Then we can judge how others are wrong or how we are correct – while ignoring our need to be honest about our thirst.

Jesus did not follow into this dispute with her. He insisted that her honesty about herself in worship was what mattered. She could come before God anywhere (since He is Spirit), but she needed honest self-realization before she could receive his ‘living water’.

The Decision We all Must Make

So she had an important decision to make. She could continue hiding behind a religious dispute or perhaps just leave him. But she finally chose to admit her thirst – to confess. She did not hide anymore. In doing this she became a ‘believer’. She had performed religious ceremonies before, but now she – and those in her village – became ‘believers’.

To become a believer is not simply mentally agreeing with correct religious doctrine – important though that is. It is about believing that His promise of mercy can be trusted, and therefore you no longer should cover-up sin. This is what Abraham had modeled for us so long ago – he trusted a promise.

Vulnerable questions to ask oneself

Do you excuse or hide your thirst? Do you hide it with devout religious practice or religious dispute? Or do you confess? What stops you confessing before our Creator the broken cisterns causing guilt and shame?

The woman’s honest openness to her need led to her understanding of Jesus as the ‘Messiah’. After he had stayed for two days the villagers understood him as ‘the Saviour of the world‘.  They realized that Jesus who gave them Living Water must also be the Lord God, because it had been written:

Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.

Jeremiah 17:13

Postscript – Dead Sea will come to Life

As Jesus promises to quench our internal thirst with Living Water today, the Bible also promises that one day the Dead Sea, that ever-present Holy Land picture of our dead spiritual condition in the future will:

“This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9  Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10  Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea.

Ezekiel 47:8-10

This will happen when

8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. 9  The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Zechariah 14: 8-9

The Bible foresees that Christ, the Lord, will return and when he does, in His Kingdom, he will transform the Dead Sea into one teeming with life, because that image of sterile death will no longer be needed. The Dead Sea will accurately picture the Living Water flowing from the two Israels, both the nation and its Messiah.

Next we see Jesus teaching about investing, and he does so with contrarian convictions.