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.

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.

The Gospel thru the lens of COVID-19, Quarantine & Vaccines

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, emerged in China towards the end of 2019.  Just a few months later it is raging around the world, infecting over 4000000 people, killing over 280000, and spreading to every country.

The lightning fast spread of COVID-19 has created fear around the world.  People are unsure what to do in light of this worldwide infectious disease outbreak.  But medical professionals are saying that success in containing COVID-19 hangs on one big strategy – social distancing or quarantine. This has caused authorities around the world to setup lockdown and isolation rules.  In most places people cannot meet in large groups, must keep at least two meters distance from others – and if you have been in contact with someone testing positive for the coronavirus then you must completely isolate yourself from any contact with others. 

Simultaneously, medical researchers are racing to find a vaccine.  The strategy is that once a vaccine is developed it can be injected into people so that their bodies can develop resistance to the coronavirus. 

These extreme procedures to isolate, quarantine, and to develop a coronavirus vaccine, provide a living illustration of another procedure to treat a different virus – a spiritual one.  That procedure is at the heart of the mission of Jesus and his Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.  If the coronavirus is of such concern that societies across the planet are taking drastic steps to understand the coronavirus and protect their citizens, then perhaps it is worthwhile to also understand this spiritual counterpart, so that we are not caught unaware by this threat.  The COVID-19 pandemic is instructive in understanding the gospel in terms of sin, heaven, hell, but also the mission of Jesus.

First the infectious disease…

A Deadly & Contagious Infection.

Just as COVID-19 is not pleasant to think about but cannot be avoided, the Bible talks a great deal about sin and its consequences – another topic we prefer to avoid.  An image the Bible uses to describe sin is that of an infectious disease that has spread across, and is killing the human race.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned. 

Romans 5:12

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

Epidemics are diseases but are not the cause of the disease. For example, AIDS is the disease; HIV is the virus that causes the disease. SARS is the disease; SARS Coronavirus-1 is the virus that causes the disease. The current disease is called COVID-19 and the virus is called SARS Coronavirus-2. In the same way, the Bible says that sins (plural) are a spiritual disease; sin (singular) is its root, and it results in death.

Moses & the Bronze Serpent

A story connecting disease and death, which Jesus linked to his mission, is the account of snakes infesting the Israelite camp in the time of Moses. A cure was needed before they were overwhelmed by death. 

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. 

Numbers 21:4-9

Throughout the Old Testament one became unclean either by infectious disease, by touching dead bodies, or by sin.  These three were associated with one another.  The New Testament sums up our situation like this:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

Ephesians 2: 1-2

Death in the Bible means ‘separation’ and involves both a physical (soul separates from the body) and spiritual death (soul separated from God).  Like a virus inside us, sin causes immediate spiritual death, which then leads to a certain physical death over time.

Though we would rather not think about such things the Bible treats sin as real as COVID-19, but it also points to the vaccine…

The Vaccine – Through the death of the Seed

From its beginning, the Bible developed a theme of a coming seed.  A seed is essentially a packet of DNA that can unfurl and develop into new life.  The DNA in a seed is specific information from which large molecules of specific shapes (proteins) are made.  In this sense it is similar to a vaccine, which are large molecules (called antigens) of a specific shape.  This coming seed promised from the beginning would solve the problem of sin and death.

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

Genesis 3:15

See here for details on the woman and her seed.  The seed was later promised to come through Abraham to go to all nations.

In your (Abraham’s) seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.

Genesis 22:18

In these instances the seed is singular.  A ‘he’, not a ‘they’ or an ‘it’, was to come.

In the Gospel, Jesus is revealed as the promised seed – but with a twist – the seed would die.  

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.

John 12:23-24

His death was on our behalf.

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2:9

In some types of vaccines the virus is killed and then injected into our bodies so that our bodies can produce the necessary antibodies.  Our immune system can thus defend our bodies from the virus.  In a similar way the death of Jesus for us all enables that seed to now indwell us so we can develop an immune defence against that spiritual virus – sin.

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

1 John 3:9

Without an adequate vaccine our only option (as with COVID-19 since no vaccine has yet been developed) is quarantine.  This is also true in the spiritual realm.  That quarantine is more commonly known as Hell.

How is this so?

Quarantine – Separation of Heaven & Hell

Jesus taught on coming of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. When we think of ‘heaven’ we often think of its situation or milieu – those ‘streets of gold’.  But the greater hope of the Kingdom is a society with citizens of completely honest and selfless character.  Reflect on how much we build into the ‘kingdoms’ of earth to protect ourselves from each other. We all have locks on our homes, advanced security systems; we lock our cars; we tell our kids not to speak to strangers. Every city has some police force.  We vigilantly protect our online data. When you think of all the systems, practices and procedures that we have put in place in our ‘kingdoms on earth’ and realize that they are there simply to protect ourselves from each other then you may get a glimmer of the problem of sin in heaven. 

If God were to setup a kingdom of ‘heaven’ and then invite us to become citizens of it, we would quickly turn it into the hell we have turned this world into. The gold on the streets would vanish in no time.  The sin in us must be rooted out just like COVID-19 must be rooted out for society to be healthy.  Not one person who ‘missed’ (the meaning of sin) this perfect standard could enter the kingdom – because then it would be ruined.  A quarantine would have to be enforced.

What then for those who are quarantined and denied entry? In this world, if you are denied entry to a country you cannot also expect to participate in its resources and benefits (receive its welfare, medical treatment etc.). But all in all, people around the world, even terrorists on the run from all countries, enjoy the same basic amenities of nature, such as breathing the air, seeing light like everyone else.

But who made light? The Bible claims

‘God said, “Let there be light” and there was light’.

Genesis 1:3

If that is true then all light is His – and it turns out that we are just borrowing it now. But with the final establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven, His light will be in His Kingdom. So ‘outside’ will be ‘darkness’ – just as Jesus described Hell in this parable.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 

Matthew 22: 13

If it is true that there is a Creator then most of what we take for granted and assume is ‘ours’ is really His. Starting with such a basic entity as ‘light’, the world around us, and going on to our natural abilities such as thought and speech – we really did nothing to create these abilities – we simply find ourselves able to use them.  When the Kingdom is finalized the Owner will reclaim them.

When COVID-19 breaks out and threatens death and havoc among us all we hear no argument when experts insist on quarantine. So it is no surprise to hear Jesus teach in his parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus that

And besides all this, between us (in Kingdom of God) and you (in Hell) a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.

Luke 16:26

Taking the vaccination – Jesus’ explanation of the Bronze Serpent

Jesus once explained his mission using the story above about Moses and the deadly serpents.  Think about what would have happened for the people bitten by the snakes.

When bitten by a poisonous snake, the venom that enters the body is an antigen, just like a virus infection.  The normal treatment is to try to suck the venom out; bind the bitten limb tightly so that the blood will not flow and the venom will not spread from the bite; and reduce activity so that the lowered heartrate will not quickly pump the venom through the body. 

When the serpents infected the Israelites they were told to look at the bronze serpent held up on a pole to be cured.  You might visualize this as some bitten person rolling out of his bed to look at the nearby bronze serpent and then being healed.  But there were about 3 million people in the Israelite camp (they counted over 600 000 men of military age) – the size of a large modern city.  Chances were high that those bitten were several kilometers away, and out of sight from, the bronze serpent pole.  So those bitten by the snakes had to make a choice.  They could take standard precautions involving binding the wound tightly and resting to restrict blood flow and spread of the venom.  Or they would have to trust the remedy announced by Moses and walk several kilometers, raising the blood flow and spread of the venom, to look at the bronze serpent on the pole.  It would be the trust or lack of trust in the word of Moses that would determine each person’s course of action.

Jesus referred to this when he said

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

John 3:14-15

Jesus is saying that our situation is like that story.  The snakes infesting the camp are like sin in us and society.  We are infected with the venom of sin and this will result in our death – an eternal one requiring Quarantine from the Kingdom of Heaven.  He then makes the connection that his being lifted up on the cross was like the bronze serpent lifted on a pole.  Just as the bronze serpent could cure the Israelites of their deadly venom so he can cure ours.  The Israelites in the camp had to look at the raised serpent.  But to do that they would have to explicitly trust the solution provided by Moses and act counter-intuitively by not slowing the heart rate.  It was their trust in what God provided that saved them.  It is the same for us.  We do not physically look at the cross, but we trust in that provision given by God to save us from the infection of sin and death. 

However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 

Romans 4:5

We do not trust our ability to fight off the infection, but trust God who made the vaccine in the Seed.  We trust him with the details of the vaccine.  This is why ‘Gospel’ means ‘Good news’.  Anyone who has been infected with a deadly disease but now hears that a vaccine is available and given for free – that is good news.

Come & See

Of course we need a reason to trust both the diagnosis and the vaccine.  We dare not give our trust naively.  As one of the earliest discussions on this theme records

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

John 1:45-46

The Gospel invites us to come and see, to examine that Seed.  Many articles here do that, working through various questions we may have, including the resurrection, reliability of the Bible, the overall summary of the Gospel, or viewed through a love story.  Come and see like Nathanael did so long ago.

For further discussion on God & Coronovairus see https://www.noeticshift.org/

Why did a Good God create a Bad Devil?

The Bible says that it was the devil (or Satan) in the form of a serpent who temped Adam and Eve to sin and brought about their fall.  But this raises an important question:  Why did God create a ‘bad’ devil (meaning ‘adversary’) to corrupt His good creation?

Lucifer – The Shining One

In fact, the Bible says that God created a powerful, intelligent, and beautiful spirit  who was chief among all angels. His name was Lucifer (meaning ‘Shining One’) – and he was very good.  But Lucifer also had a will with which he could freely choose.  A passage in Isaiah 14 records the choice he had:

How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the North.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:12-14)

Lucifer, like Adam, faced a decision.  He could accept that God was God or he could choose to be his own ‘god’.  His repeated “I wills” show that he chose to defy God and declare himself to be ‘Most High’.  A passage in Ezekiel gives a parallel description of the fall of Lucifer:

You were in Eden, the garden of God.
…  I ordained and anointed you
as the mighty angelic guardian.
You had access to the holy mountain of God
and walked among the stones of fire.
“You were blameless in all you did
from the day you were created
until the day evil was found in you.
… and you sinned.
So I banished you in disgrace
from the mountain of God.
I expelled you, O mighty guardian,
from your place among the stones of fire.
Your heart was filled with pride
because of all your beauty.
Your wisdom was corrupted
by your love of splendor.
So I threw you to the ground.  (Ezekiel 28:13-17)

Lucifer’s beauty, wisdom and power – all the good things created in him by God – led to pride.  His pride led to his rebellion, but he never lost any of his power and abilities.  He is now leading a cosmic revolt against his Creator to see who will be God.  His strategy was to enlist mankind to join him – by tempting them to the same choice that he made – to love themselves, become independent from God, and defy Him.  The heart of the test of Adam’s will was the same as Lucifer’s; it was just presented differently.  They both chose to be ‘god’ to themselves.

Satan – working through others

The passage in Isaiah is directed to the ‘King of Babylon’ and the Ezekiel passage is addressed to the ‘King of Tyre’.  But from the descriptions given, it is clear that no human is addressed.  The “I wills” in Isaiah describe someone who was thrown to the earth in punishment for wanting to place his throne above the throne of God.  The passage in Ezekiel addresses an ‘angelic guardian’ who once moved in Eden and the ‘mountain of God’.  Satan (or Lucifer) often puts himself behind or through someone else.  In Genesis he speaks through the serpent.  In Isaiah he rules through the King of Babylon, and in Ezekiel he possesses the King of Tyre.

Why did Lucifer revolt against God?

But why did Lucifer want to challenge the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator?  Part of being ‘smart’ is to know whether or not you can defeat your opponent.  Lucifer may have power, but that would still be insufficient to defeat His Creator.  Why lose everything for something he could not win?  I would think that a ‘smart’ angel would have recognized his limitations against God – and hold back his revolt.  So why didn’t he?  This question puzzled me for many years.

Then I realized that Lucifer could only believe that God was His all-powerful Creator by faith – the same as for us.  The Bible suggests that angels were created in creation week.  For example, a passage in Job tells us:

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said…
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand….
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7)

Imagine that Lucifer was created and became conscious in creation week, somewhere in the universe. All he knows is that now he exists and is self-aware, and also that there is another Being who claims that He has created Lucifer and the universe. But how does Lucifer know that this claim is true?  Perhaps, this so-called creator had popped into existence in the stars just before Lucifer popped into existence. And because this ‘creator’ arrived earlier on the scene, he was (perhaps) more powerful and (perhaps) more knowledgeable than Lucifer – but then again perhaps not.  Perhaps both he and the ‘creator’ just popped into existence simultaneously.  Lucifer could only accept God’s Word to him that He had created him, and that God himself was eternal and infinite. But in his pride he chose to believe his fantasy instead.

Maybe it seems doubtful that Lucifer would believe that both he and God (and the other angels) just ‘popped’ into existence.  But this is the same basic idea behind the latest thinking in modern cosmology.  There was a cosmic fluctuation of nothing, and then out of this fluctuation arose the universe – that is the essence of modern cosmology theories.  Fundamentally, everyone – from Lucifer to Richard Dawkins & Stephen Hawkings to you & me – must decide by faith whether the universe is self-contained or was created and sustained by a Creator God.

In other words, seeing is not believing.  Lucifer had seen and talked with God. But he still had to accept ‘by faith’ that God had created him.  Many people say that if God would just ‘appear’ to them, then they would believe.  But in the Bible many people saw and heard God – but still did not take Him at His word.  The issue was whether they would accept and trust His Word about Himself and themselves.  From Adam & Eve, to Cain & Abel, to Noah, to the Egyptians at the first Passover, to the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea and to those who saw the miracles of Jesus – ‘seeing’ never resulted in trust.  The fall of Lucifer is consistent with this.

What is the Devil doing today?

So according to the Bible, God did not make a ‘bad devil’, but created a powerful and intelligent angelic being.   Through pride he has led a revolt against God – and in doing so was corrupted, while still keeping his original splendor.  You, I and all of mankind have become part of the battleground in this contest between God and his ‘adversary’ (devil).  The strategy of the devil is not to wear sinister black cloaks like ‘Black Riders’ in the Lord of the Rings and put evil curses on us.  Instead he seeks to deceive us from the redemption that God had promised at the beginning of time through Abraham, through Moses, and then accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As the Bible says:

Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

Because Satan and his servants can masquerade as ‘light’ we are more easily tricked.  Perhaps this is why the Gospel always seems to run against our instincts and against all cultures.

What is the History of the Jewish People?

Jews are one of the most ancient peoples in the world. Their history is recorded in the Bible, by historians outside of the Bible, and through archeology. We have more facts about their history than that of any other nation. We will use this information to summarize their history.  To make the history of the Israelites (an Old Testament word for the Jewish people) easier to follow, we will use timelines.

Abraham: The Jewish Family Tree Begins

The timeline starts with Abraham. He was given a promise of nations coming from him and had encounters with God ending in the symbolic sacrifice of his son Isaac.  This sacrifice was a sign pointing to Jesus by marking the future location where Jesus would be sacrificed. The timeline continues in green when Isaac’s descendants were slaves in Egypt. This period of time started when Joseph, grandson of Isaac, led the Israelites to Egypt, where later on they became slaves.

bible timeline with abraham and moses in history
Living in Egypt as slaves of Pharoah

Moses: The Israelites become a Nation under God

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt by the Passover Plague, which destroyed Egypt and allowed the Israelite Exodus from Egypt to the land of Israel. Before he died, Moses announced Blessings and Curses on the Israelites (when the timeline goes from green to yellow).  They would be Blessed if they obeyed God, but experience a Curse if they did not.  These Blessings & Curses were to follow the Jewish people ever after.

bible historical timeline from Abraham to david

For several hundred years the Israelites lived in their land but they did not have a King, nor did they have the capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time. However, with King David around 1000 BC this changed.

historical timeline Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem
Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem

David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem

David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. He received the promise of a coming ‘Christ’ and from that time on the Jewish people waited for the ‘Christ’ to come.  His son Solomon succeeded him and Solomon built the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in aqua-blue (1000 – 600 BC).  This was the period of Israelite glory – they had the promised Blessings.  They were a powerful nation, had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Old Testament also describes their growing corruption and idol worship during this time.  Many prophets in this period warned the Israelites that the Curses of Moses would come on them if they did not change. But these warnings were ignored.

The First Jewish Exile to Babylon

Finally around 600 BC the Curses happened. Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful Babylonian King came – just like Moses had predicted 900 years before when he wrote in his Curse:

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then exiled the Israelites to Babylon. Only the poor Israelites remained behind. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64)

jewish historical timeline Conquered and exiled to Babylon
Conquered and exiled to Babylon

So for 70 years, the period shown in red, the Israelites lived as exiles outside the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Return from Exile under the Persians

After that, the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and Cyrus became the most powerful person in the world. He permitted the Israelites to return to their land.

jewish historial timeline Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire
Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

However they were no longer an independent country, they were now a province in the Persian Empire.  This continued for 200 years and is in pink in the timeline. During this time the Jewish Temple (known as the 2nd Temple) and the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt.

The period of the Greeks

Then Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and made the Israelites a province in the Greek Empires for another 200 years. This is shown in dark blue.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires
Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

The Period of the Romans

Then the Romans defeated the Greek Empires and they became the dominant world power. The Israelites again became a province in this Empire and it is shown in light yellow. This is the time when Jesus lived.  This explains why there are Roman soldiers in the gospels – because the Romans ruled the Jews in the Land of Israel during the life of Jesus.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire
Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

The Second Jewish exile under the Romans

From the time of the Babylonians (600 BC) the Israelites (or Jews as they were called now) had not been independent as they had been under the Kings of David. They were ruled by other Empires.  The Jews resented this and they revolted against Roman rule. The Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem (70 AD), burned down the 2nd Temple, and deported the Jews as slaves across the Roman Empire. This was the second Jewish exile. Since Rome was so big the Jews were scattered across the whole world.

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile
Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

And this is how the Jewish people lived for almost 2000 years: dispersed in foreign lands and never accepted in these lands. In these different nations they regularly suffered great persecutions.  This persecution of the Jews was particularly true in Christian Europe.  From Spain, in Western Europe, to Russia the Jews lived often in a dangerous situations in these Christian kingdoms. The Curses of Moses back in 1500 BC were accurate descriptions of how they lived.

… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:65)

The Curses against the Israelites were given to make peoples ask:

All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer was:

“ … the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land…” (Deuteronomy 29:24-25)

The timeline below shows this 1900 year period. This period is shown in a long red bar.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile
Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

You can see that in their history the Jewish people went through two periods of exile but the second exile was much longer than the first exile.

The 20th Century Holocaust

Then the persecutions against the Jews reached their peak when Hitler, through Nazi Germany, tried to exterminate all the Jews living in Europe. He almost succeeded but he was defeated and a remnant of Jews survived.

Modern Re-birth of Israel

Just the fact that there were people who identified themselves as ‘Jews’ after many hundreds of years without a homeland was remarkable. But this allowed the final words of Moses, written down 3500 years ago, to come true.  In 1948 the Jews, through the United Nations, saw the remarkable re-birth of the modern state of Israel, as Moses had written centuries before:

…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:3-4)

It was also remarkable since this state was built in spite of great opposition. Most of the surrounding nations waged war against Israel in 1948 … in 1956 … in 1967 and again in 1973. Israel, a very small nation, often was at war with five nations at the same time. Yet not only did Israel survive, but the territories increased. In the war of 1967 the Jews regained Jerusalem, their historic capital city David had founded 3000 years ago.  The result of the creation of the state of Israel, and the consequences from these wars has created one of the most difficult political problems of our world today.

Was Jesus the son of a virgin from the line of David?

We have seen that ‘Christ’ is an Old Testament title.  Let us now look at this question: was Jesus of Nazareth that ‘Christ’ predicted in the Old Testament?

From the Line of David

Psalm 132 in the Old Testament, written 1000 years before Jesus lived, contained a specific prophecy.  It said:

10 For the sake of your servant David,
do not reject your anointed one. ( = ‘Christ’)

11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath he will not revoke:
One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne….
13 For the Lord has chosen Zion…,
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.  (Psalm 132:10-17)

You can see that long before Jesus, the Jewish Psalms predicted that God’s anointed one (i.e. ‘Christ’) would come from David.  This is why the gospels show Jesus to be from David – they want us to see that Jesus fulfills this prophecy.

Was Jesus really from the line of David?

But how do we know that they did not just make up the genealogies to get a ‘fulfillment’?  They were sympathetic to Jesus and so perhaps wanted to exaggerate the truth.

When trying to find out what really happened, it helps to have the testimony of hostile witnesses.  A hostile witness was on-hand to see the facts but does not agree with the overall belief, and so has motive for refuting testimony that might be false.  Suppose there was a car accident between persons A and B.  Both blame each other for the accident – so they are hostile witnesses.  If person A says that he saw person B texting just before the accident, and person B admits this, then we could assume that this part of the dispute is true since person B has nothing to gain agreeing to this point.

In the same way, looking at hostile historical witnesses can help us determine what really happened with Jesus.  New Testament scholar Dr. FF Bruce studied Jewish Rabbi references to Jesus in the Talmud and Mishnah.  He noted the following comment about Jesus:

Ulla said: Would you believe that any defence would have been so zealously sought for him (i.e. Jesus)?  He was a deceiver and the All-merciful says: ‘You shall not spare him neither shall you conceal him’[Deut 13:9]  It was different with Jesus for he was near to the kingship”  p. 56

FF Bruce makes this remark about that rabbinical statement:

The portrayal is that they were trying to find a defence for him (an apologetic note against Christians is detected here).  Why would they try to defend one with such crimes?  Because he was ‘near to the kingship’ i.e. of David.  p. 57

In other words, hostile Jewish rabbis did not dispute the Gospel writers’ claim that Jesus was from David.  They did not accept Jesus’ claim to ‘Christ’ and were opposed to the Gospel claims about him, but they still admitted that Jesus was in the royal family of David.  So we know that the Gospel writers did not simply make that up to get a ‘fulfillment’.  Even the hostile witnesses agree on this point.

Was he born of a virgin?

There is always a possibility that this prophesy was fulfilled ‘by chance’.  There were also others from the Royal family.  But being born of a virgin!  There is no possibility that this could happen ‘by chance’.  It is either: 1) a misunderstanding, 2) a fraud, or 3) a miracle – no other option is open.

A virgin birth had been hinted in the beginning with Adam.  In the New Testament, Luke and Matthew clearly state that Mary conceived Jesus while she was a virgin.  Matthew also claimed that this was a fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah (ca 750 BC) which said:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (i.e. ‘God with us’) Isaiah 7:14 (and quoted in Matthew 1:23 as a fulfillment)

Perhaps this was just a misunderstanding.  The original Hebrew הָעַלְמָ֗ה (pronounced haalmah) which is translated ‘virgin’ can also mean ‘young maiden’, i.e. a young unmarried woman.  Perhaps that is all that Isaiah meant to say, long ago in 750 BC.  But with a religious need on the part of Matthew and Luke to venerate Jesus they misunderstood Isaiah to mean ‘virgin’ when he really meant ‘young woman’.  Add the unfortunate pregnancy of Mary before her marriage, it developed into ‘divine fulfillment’ in the birth of Jesus.

Many people have given me an explanation like this, and one cannot refute this because it is impossible to make proofs about whether someone is a virgin or not.  But the explanation is not that simple.  The Septuagint was a Jewish translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek done in 250 BC – two hundred fifty years before Jesus was born.  How did these Jewish rabbis translate Isaiah 7:14 from the Hebrew into Greek?  Did they translate it as ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’? Though many people seem to know that the original Hebrew הָעַלְמָ֗ה can mean either ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’, no one brings up the witness of the Septuagint which translates it as παρθένος  (pronounced parthenos), which specifically means ‘virgin’.  In other words, the leading Jewish rabbis in 250 BC understood the Hebrew Isaiah prophecy to mean ‘virgin’, not ‘young woman’ – over two hundred years before Jesus was born.  The ‘virgin birth’ was not invented by the Gospel writers or by early Christians.  It was Jewish long before Jesus came.

Why would leading Jewish scholars in 250 BC make such a fantastic translation that a virgin had a son? If you think it is because they were superstitious and unscientific, let’s think again. People in that time were farmers.  They knew how breeding worked.  Hundreds of years before the Septuagint Abraham and Sarah knew that after a certain age came menopause and then childbearing was impossible. No, scholars in 250 BC did not know modern chemistry and physics, but they understood how animals and people reproduced. They would have known it was impossible to have a virgin birth.  But they did not shrink back and translate it as ‘young woman’ in the Septuagint. No, they stated it in black and white that a virgin would have a son.

Mary’s Context

Now consider the fulfillment part of this story.  Though it cannot be proven that Mary was a virgin, she was remarkably in the only and very brief stage of life where it could remain an open question.  This was an age of large families.  Families with ten children were common.  Given that, what was the chance that Jesus would be the oldest child?  Because if he had had an older brother or sister then we would know for certain that Mary was not a virgin.  In our day when families have about 2 children it is a 50-50 chance, but back then it was closer to a 1 in 10 chance.  The chance was 9 out of 10 that the virgin ‘fulfillment’ should just be dismissed by the simple fact that Jesus had an older sibling – but (against the odds) he didn’t.

Now think about the remarkable timing of Mary’s engagement onto this.  If she had been married even for a few days, the virgin ‘fulfillment’ could again simply be dismissed.  On the other hand, if she had not yet been engaged and was found to be pregnant she would not have had a fiance to care for her.  In that culture, as a pregnant but single woman she would have had to remain alone – if she had been allowed to live.

It is these remarkable and unlikely ‘coincidences’ that make the virgin birth impossible to disprove that strikes me.  These coincidences are not expected, but rather they show a sense of balance and timing as if a Mind were arranging events to show plan and intent.

If Mary had been married before Jesus was born or if Jesus had older siblings, then hostile Jewish witnesses would surely have pointed that out.  Instead it seems that, once again, they agree with the gospel writers on this point.  FF Bruce notes this as he explains how Jesus is mentioned in the rabbis’ writings:

Jesus is referred to in rabbinical literature as Jesus ben Pantera or Ben Pandira.  This might mean ‘the son of the panther’.  The most probable explanation is that it is a corruption of parthenos, the Greek word for ‘virgin’ and arose from Christian references to him as a son of a virgin   (p57-58)

Today, as Jesus’ time, there is hostility to Jesus and the claims of the gospel.  Then, as now, there was significant opposition to him.  But the difference is that back then there were also witnesses, and as hostile witnesses they did not refute some basic points that they could definitely  refute, if these points had been made up or been in error.

Was there an Adam? The Testimony of the ancient Chinese

The Bible is a remarkable book.  It claims to be inspired by God and to accurately record history.  I used to doubt the historical accuracy for the beginning chapters of the first book in the Bible – Genesis.  This was the account of Adam & Eve, paradise, the forbidden fruit, a tempter, followed by the account of Noah surviving a worldwide flood.  I, like most people today, thought these stories were really poetic metaphors.

As I researched this question, I made some fascinating discoveries that made me re-think my beliefs.  One discovery lay embedded in Chinese writing.  To see this you need to know some background about the Chinese.

Written Chinese arose from the beginning of Chinese civilization,  about 4200 years ago, some 700 years before Moses wrote the book of Genesis (1500 BC).  We all recognize Chinese calligraphy when we see it.  What many of us don’t know is that ideograms or Chinese ‘words’ are constructed from simpler pictures called radicals.  It is similar to how English takes simple words (like ‘fire’ and ‘truck’) and combines them into compound words (‘firetruck’).  Chinese calligraphy has changed very little in the thousands of years.  We know this from writing that is found on ancient pottery and bone artifacts.  Only in the 20th century with the rule of the Chinese communist party has the script been simplified.

For example, consider the Chinese ideogram for the abstract word ‘first’. It is shown here.

First = alive + dust + man
First = alive + dust + man

‘First’ is a compound of simpler radicals as shown.  You can see how these radicals are all found combined in ‘first’.   The meaning of each of the radicals is also shown.  What this means is that around 4200 years ago, when the first Chinese scribes were forming the Chinese writing they joined radicals with the meaning of ‘alive’+’dust’+’man’ => ‘first’.  But why?  What natural connection is there between ‘dust’ and ‘first’?  There is none.  But notice the creation of the first man in Genesis.

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being  (Genesis 2:17).

The ‘first’ man (Adam) was made alive from dust.  But where did the ancient Chinese get this connection 700 years before Moses wrote Genesis?  Think about this:

Dust + breath of mouth + alive = to talk
Dust + breath of mouth + alive = to talk

The radicals for ‘dust’ + ‘breath of mouth’ + ‘alive’ are combined to make the ideogram ‘to talk’.  But then ‘to talk’ is itself combined with ‘walking’ to form ‘create’.

To talk + walking = to create
To talk + walking = to create

But what is the natural connection between ‘dust’, ‘breath of mouth’, ‘alive’, ‘walking’ and ‘create’ that would cause the ancient Chinese to make this relationship?  But this also bears a striking similarity with Genesis 2:17 above.

This similarity continues.  Notice how ‘devil’ is formed from “man moving secretly in the garden”. What is the natural relationship between gardens and devils?  They have none at all.

Secret + man + garden + alive = devil
Secret + man + garden + alive = devil

Yet the ancient Chinese then built on this by then combining ‘devil’ with ‘two trees’ for ‘tempter’!

Devil + 2 trees + cover = tempter
Devil + 2 trees + cover = tempter

So the ‘devil’ under the cover of ‘two trees’ is the ‘tempter’.  If I was going to make a natural connection to temptation I might show a sexy woman at a bar, or a tempting sin.  But why two trees?  What does ‘gardens’ and ‘trees’ have to do with ‘devils’ and ‘tempters’?  Compare now with the Genesis account:

The LORD God had planted a garden in the east… in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9)

Now the serpent was more crafty… he said to the woman, “Did God really say …” (Genesis 3:1)

To ‘desire’ or ‘covet’ is again connected with a ‘woman’ and ‘two trees’.  Why not relate ‘desire’ in a sexual sense with ‘woman’?  That would be a natural relation.  But the Chinese did not do so.

2 trees + woman = desire
2 trees + woman = desire

The Genesis account does show a relation between ‘covet’, ‘two trees’ and ‘woman’.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband (Genesis 3:6)

Consider another remarkable parallel.  The Chinese ideogram for ‘big boat’ is shown below and the radicals that construct this are also shown:

boat
Big Boat = Eight + mouths + vessel

They are ‘eight’ ‘people’ in a ‘vessel’.  If I was going to represent a big boat why not have 3000 people in a vessel.  Why eight?  Interesting, in the Genesis account of the flood there are eight people in Noah’s Ark (Noah, his three sons and their four wives).

The parallels between the early Genesis and Chinese writing are remarkable.  One might even think the Chinese read Genesis and borrowed from it, but the origin of their language is 700 years before Moses.   Is it coincidence?  But why so many ‘coincidences’?   Why are there no such parallels with the Chinese for the later Genesis stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

But suppose Genesis is recording real historical events.  Then the Chinese – as a race and language group – originate at Babel (Genesis 11) as all other ancient language/racial groups.  The Babel account tells how the children of Noah had their languages confused by God so that they could not understand each other.  This resulted in their migration out from Mesopotamia, and it restricted inter-marriage to within their language.  The Chinese were one of these peoples dispersing from Babel.  At that time the Genesis Creation/Flood accounts were their recent history.  So when they developed writing for abstract concepts like ‘covet’, ‘tempter’ etc. they took from accounts that were well understood in their history.  Similarly for the development of nouns – like ‘big boat’ they would take from the extraordinary accounts that they remembered.

Thus the accounts of Creation and the Flood were embedded into their language from the beginning of their civilization.  As the centuries passed they forgot the original reason, as so often happens.  If this is the case, then the Genesis account recorded real historical events, not just poetic metaphors.

Chinese Sacrifices

The Chinese also had one of the longest lasting ceremonial traditions that have ever been conducted on earth.  From the start of the Chinese civilization (about 2200 BC), the Chinese emperor on the winter solstice always sacrificed a bull to Shang-Ti (‘Emperor in Heaven’, i.e. God).  This ceremony continued through all the Chinese dynasties.  In fact it was only stopped in 1911 when general Sun Yat-sen overthrew the Qing dynasty.  This bull sacrifice was conducted annually in the ‘Temple of Heaven’, which is now a tourist attraction in Beijing.  So for over 4000 years a bull was sacrificed every year by the Chinese emperor to the Heavenly Emperor   Why?  Long ago, Confucius (551-479 BC) asked this very question.  He said:

“He who understands the ceremonies of the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth… would find the government of a kingdom as easy as to look into his palm!”

What Confucius said was that anyone who could unlock that mystery of the sacrifice would be wise enough to rule the kingdom.  So between 2200 BC when the Border Sacrifice began, to the time of Confucius (500 BC) the meaning of the sacrifice had been lost to the Chinese – even though they continued the annual sacrifice another 2400 years to 1911 AD.

Perhaps, if the meaning of their calligraphy had not been lost Confucius could have found an answer to his question.  Consider the radicals used to construct the word for ‘righteous’.

Hand + lance/dagger = me; + sheep = righteousness
Hand + lance/dagger = me; + sheep = righteousness

Righteousness is a compound of ‘sheep’ on top of ‘me’.  And ‘me’ is a compound of ‘hand’ and ‘lance’ or ‘dagger’.  It gives the idea that my hand will kill the lamb and result in righteousness.  The sacrifice or death of the lamb in my place gives me righteousness.

Genesis has many animal sacrifices long before Moses started the Jewish sacrifice system.  For example, Abel (Adam’s son) and Noah offer sacrifices (Genesis 4:4 & 8:20).  It seems that the earliest people understood that animal sacrifices were symbols of a substitute death that was needed for righteousness.  One of Jesus’ titles was ‘lamb of God’ (John 1:29).  His death was the real sacrifice that gives righteousness.  All animal sacrifices – including the ancient Chinese Border Sacrifices – were only a pictures of his sacrifice.  This is what Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac pointed to, as well as Moses’ Passover sacrifice.  The ancient Chinese seemed to have started with this understanding long before Abraham or Moses lived, though they had forgotten it by Confucius’ day.

This means that the sacrifice and death of Jesus for righteousness was understood from the dawn of human history.  Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was a Divine plan reinforced with signs so people could know it from the beginning of time.

This goes against our instincts.  We think that righteousness is based either on mercy of God or on our merits.  In other words, many think no payment is required for sin since God is solely merciful and not Holy.  Others think that some payment is required, but that we can make the payment by the good things we do.  So we try to be good or religious and we hope it will all work out.  This is contrasted by the Gospel that says:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from Law, has been made known… This righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:21-22)

Perhaps the ancients were aware of something that we are in danger of forgetting.

Bibliography

  • The Discovery of Genesis.  C.H. Kang & Ethel Nelson.  1979
  • Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve.  Ethel Nelson & Richard Broadberry. 1994

Simple but Powerful: What is the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice?

Jesus came to give himself as a sacrifice for all peoples so that we could escape our corruption and reconnect with God.  This plan was announced at the beginning of human history.  It was signed by God in the sacrifice of Abraham by pointing to Mount Moriah where Jesus’ sacrifice would be provided.  Then the Jewish Passover sacrifice was a sign pointing to the day of the year when Jesus would be sacrificed.

Why is his sacrifice so important?  This is a question worth asking. The Bible declares a Law when it states:

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23)

“Death” literally means ‘separation’.  When our soul separates from our body we die physically.  Similarly we are even now separated from God spiritually.  This is true because God is Holy (sinless) while we have become corrupted from our original creation and so we sin.

This can be pictured using cliffs with God on the opposite side from us separated by a bottomless pit.  Just like a branch that has been cut from a tree is dead, so we have cut ourselves off from God and become spiritually dead.

We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm between two cliffs
We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm separating two cliffs

This separation causes guilt and fear.  So what we naturally try to do is build bridges to take us from our side (of death) to God’s side.  We do this in many different ways: going to church, temple or mosque, being religious, being good, helping the poor, meditation, trying to be more helpful, praying more, etc. These deeds to gain merit can be very difficult – and living them out can be very complicated.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Good Efforts – useful as they may be - cannot bridge the separation between us and God
Good Efforts – useful as they may be – cannot bridge the separation between us and God

The problem is that our hard efforts, merits, and deeds, though not wrong, are insufficient because the payment required (the ‘wages’) for our sins is ‘death’.  Our efforts are like a ‘bridge’ that tries to cross the gap separating us from God – but in the end cannot do it.  This is because good merit will not solve our root problem. It is like trying to heal cancer (which results in death) by eating vegetarian.  Eating vegetarian is not bad, it may even be good – but it will not cure cancer.  For cancer you need a totally different treatment.

This Law is Bad News – it is so bad we often do not even want to hear it and we fill our lives with activities and things hoping this Law will go away.  But the Bible stresses this Law of sin and death to get our attention to focus on the cure that is simple and powerful.

For the wages of sin is death but… (Romans 6:23)

The small word ‘but’ shows that the direction of the message is about to change directions, to the Good News of the Gospel – the cure.  It shows both the goodness and love of God.

For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

The good news of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Jesus’ death is sufficient to bridge this separation between us and God.  We know this because three days after his death Jesus rose bodily, coming alive again in a physical resurrection.   Most of us do not know about the evidence for his resurrection.  A very strong case can be made for it as shown in this public lecture I did at a university (video link here).  Jesus’ sacrifice was prophetically acted out in Abraham’s sacrifice and the Passover sacrifice.  These signs pointing to Jesus were put there to help us find the cure.

Jesus was a human who lived a sinless life.  Therefore he can ‘touch’ both the human and the God sides and span the gap separating God and people.  He is a Bridge to Life which can be pictured like this:

Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man
Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man

Notice how this sacrifice of Jesus is given to us.  It is offered as a … ‘gift’.  Think about gifts.  No matter what the gift is, if it is really a gift it is something that you do not work for and that you do not earn by merit.  If you earned it the gift would no longer be a gift – it would be a wage!  In the same way you cannot merit or earn the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is given to you as a gift.  It is that simple.

And what is the gift?  It is ‘eternal life’.  That means that the sin which brought you and me death is now cancelled.  Jesus’ bridge of life enables us to re-connect with God and receive life – which lasts forever.  God loves you and me that much.  It is that powerful.

So how do you and I ‘cross’ this Bridge of Life?  Again, think of gifts.  If someone wants to give you a gift you must ‘receive’ it.  Anytime a gift is offered there are two alternatives.  Either the gift is refused (“No thank you”) or it is received (“Thank you for your gift.  I will take it”).  So also this gift offered must be received.  It cannot just be mentally believed in, studied or understood.  This is illustrated in the next figure where we ‘walk’ on the Bridge by turning to God and receiving his gift he offers to us.

Slide4
Jesus sacrifice is a gift that each of us must choose to receive

So how do we receive this gift?  The Bible says that

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:12)

Notice that this promise is for ‘everyone’.  Since he rose from the dead Jesus is alive even now and he is ‘Lord’.  So if you call on him he will hear and give his gift to you.  You call out to him and ask him – by having a conversation with him.  Perhaps you have never done this.  Below is a prayer that can guide you. It is not a magic chant.  It is not the specific words that give power.  It is the trust like Abraham had that we place in him to give us this gift.  As we trust him He will hear us and answer.  The Gospel is powerful, and yet also so simple.  Feel free to follow this guide if you find it helpful.

Dear Lord Jesus.  I understand that with my sins I am separated from God.  Though I can try hard, no effort and sacrifice on my part will bridge this separation.  But I understand that your death was a sacrifice to wash away all my sins.  I believe that you rose from the dead after your sacrifice so I know that your sacrifice was sufficient.  I ask you to please cleanse me from my sins and bridge me to God so I can have eternal life.  I do not want to live a life enslaved to sin so please free me from sin.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing all this for me and would you even now continue to guide me in my life so I can follow you as my Lord.

Amen