People instinctively sense that they are ‘unclean’. We know this because, while there are many differences amongst religions and traditions in the world, they all consistently invoke the need for washing with water when approaching the Divine.
Muslims practice wudu, or ritual washing, before prayer. Hinduism practices include bathing in sacred rivers, like the Ganges – to purify oneself before sacred festivals. Buddhist monks wash themselves in water before meditating. Shinto undergo Harae, or ritual washing, before worship. Jews practice Tevilah (full body immersion in a mikveh or bath), especially before their sacred festivals. In Christendom, baptism fulfills a similar role.
The various churches practice baptism a little differently, but Yeshaus’ baptism by John the Baptist sets the example.
Baptism of Moses
Although this receives most attention, baptism in the Bible goes back long before the time of Yeshua. The Apostle Paul writes:
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”
1 Corinthians 10:1-2
Paul refers to the Israelite Exodus out of Egypt, just after Passover, as the moment when the Red Sea parted and the Israelites walked through it. As recorded in Exodus 14, the Egyptians tried to follow, but perished when walls of water came crashing down on them in their pursuit of the Israelites through the parted sea. The Israelites, led by Moses, were all ‘baptized into Moses’ when they walked through the Red Sea. It became their national baptism.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Yeshua did not need baptism for cleansing from impurity. He was already clean on the inside so nothing physical could make him unclean. But his baptism was another indicator of his pattern with Israel. As Israel went through a baptism, so he also went through a baptism.
Baptism of … cups
What does ‘baptism’ mean in the Gospels? We can answer this by noting how the Gospels use this word. As a comment on Jewish ritual washing, Mark notes that:
The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.
Three times the word ‘wash’ appears. In the original Greek, the first wash (in v3) is nipsōntai, the standard word for wash. But the two other ‘wash’s in verse 4 are baptismous – baptism! So the Jews ‘baptized’ themselves and their cups when they washed them! Baptism simply meant to cleanse by immersion in water.
Baptism in water not the issue
Though many view baptism with water in Christendom as being able to cleanse us the Brit Chadasha explains the active source of our cleansing.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
1 Peter 3:18-22
Here it clarifies that the ‘removal of dirt from the body’, that is a ritual physical washing of some sort, is not the baptism that saves. Rather it is the ‘pledge of a clear conscience toward G-d’ – the inner repentance that John the Baptist taught – that saves. It saves us as verse 18 explains because it is Yeshua himself who is righteous (spiritually clean) so that he brings us to G-d through his death and resurrection, explored more fully here.
Baptism into Yeshua
In fact, we need baptism, not in water, but into Yeshua himself, as the Bible explains
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
That ‘new life’ involves an ability to have victory over temptation and sin. Yeshua shows exactly how he does this in what he went through immediately after his baptism. He went into the desert for 40 days for testing by the devil, once again patterning as Israel which had undergone testings for 40 years in the desert immediately after their baptism from Moses.
History remembers Simon bar Kokhba (Simon ben Kosevah) as the man who led and failed the last Jewish revolt against Imperial Rome from 132-135 CE. As the self-proclaimed prince of the Jewish people in Judea, he required that all Jews follow him into a war of independence against Rome. He led this revolt because the Romans were intending to build another pagan city (Aelia Capitolina) on the ruins of Jerusalem (ruined from the failed 66-73 CE uprising). This city would have a Temple dedicated to Jupiter, a pagan Roman god.
Though initially successful from his base in the Judean wilderness, their fortunes turned when the full might of the Imperial Roman legions counterattacked. Bar Kochba and countless other Jewish insurrectionists were brutally killed in Rome’s final victory. Before his defeat, many Jewish sages, including Rabbi Akiva, one of the leading contributors to the Mishnah, proclaimed him as the Messiah.
Bar Kokhba directed his religious zeal from the desert wilderness against a foreign, external enemy – Imperial Rome. His vision saw messianic peace only coming about if the alien occupying military might was expelled and Zion liberated from foreign occupation.
Bar Kokhba Contrasted with John the Baptist
In his religious zeal and messianic fervour from the wilderness, Bar Kokhba resembled his countryman John the Baptist who preceded him by about 100 years. Yet, though similarly zealous, they differed in how they saw the fundamental problem and consequently the fundamental solution. Comparing these two revolutionaries will help us understand competing ideas of the human situation and the solution that the Brit Chadasha puts forth.
John the Baptist in Secular History
Like Bar Kokhba John the Baptist generated much controversy and attracted a lot of attention. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, refers to him with these words:
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man… Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion… Accordingly, he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death.
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, ch 5, 2
Josephus mentions John the Baptist in the context of the defeat of Herod Antipas against a rival. Herod Antipas had put John to death, and Josephus informs us that his later defeat was viewed by the Jews as Divine Judgment against him for his execution of the righteous John the Baptist.
John the Baptist in the Gospels
John the Baptist prominently figures as the forerunner of Yeshua in the gospels. Luke, one of the gospels of the Brit Chadasha, firmly anchors John the Baptist in history by cross-referencing him with other well-known historical figures of that time.
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
In support of Luke’s account, Matthew summarizes John the Baptist’s message like this:
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
John saw the fundamental human problem being within us rather than external to us. Therefore, his preaching directed his listeners to repent.
Repent (metanoia in the Greek) means ‘change’ (= ‘meta’), your ‘mind’ (=’noia’). Think of a caterpillar’s dramatic ‘metamorphosis’ when its form changes into that of a butterfly.
John taught the need for a change of mind so dramatic that it transforms the way we live, not by toppling governments and fighting foreigners as Bar Kokhba thought, but in treating others – whoever they may be – in a compassionate and just manner. This repentance would ‘prepare’ us for the Lord’s way. In John’s mind, without this repentance, we would not see, grasp or understand the Kingdom of G-d, nor would we experience its ‘forgiveness’.
Confession in Our Repentance
An indicator of true inner repentance that John looked for was this:
People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
This contrasts the actions in the earlier Biblical account of Adam & Eve. After they ate the forbidden fruit, the Bible says that Adam and Eve:
‘…hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.’
Ever since, this tendency to hide our sins, pretending that we have not done wrong comes very naturally to us. Confessing and repenting of our sins is considerably difficult for us to do, because it exposes our guilt and shame. We prefer to try anything else but this. Nevertheless, John’s conviction and message framed repentance and confession as essential to preparing people so that they might experience the coming Kingdom of G-d.
Warning to the Religious Leaders Who Would Not Repent
Some people had indeed done this, but not all could honestly admit their sins before themselves and G-d. The Gospel says that:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees, teachers of Jewish law, worked diligently towards keeping all observances (prayers, fasting, sacrifices, etc.) as commanded by the Law. Everyone thought that these leaders, with all their religious learning and effort, were the ones who were guaranteed to have had G-d’s approval. But John called them a ‘brood of vipers’ and warned them about the coming Judgment of fire!
Why would John make such a claim?
By not ‘producing fruit in keeping with repentance’ they showed that they had not truly repented. They had not confessed their sin but instead hid their sin behind their religious observances. Their religious heritage, good though it was, had made them proud rather than repentant.
Fruit of Repentance
With confession and repentance came an expectation for living differently. The people asked John the Baptist how they should demonstrate the fruit of their repentance and he answered this:
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Was John the Messiah?
Because of the strength of his message, many people wondered if John was the Messiah. This is how the Brit Chadasha records this discussion:
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
John the Baptist in Prophecy
John’s independent spirit led him to dress coarsely and eat wild food in the wilderness. However, this was not just an example of his spirit; it was also an important sign. The prophet Malachi had closed the Tanakh 400 years before with the following:
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.”
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Malachi 4:5-6 (400 BCE)
Elijah had been an early prophet who also lived and ate in the wilderness, dressed with a
“…garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.”
2 Kings 1:8
So, when John the Baptist lived and dressed in the way that he did, it was to point out that he was the coming Preparer prophesied to come in the Spirit of Elijah. His garments, his lifestyle and tendency to eat in the wilderness showed that John the Baptist came in G-d’s foretold plan.
John the Baptist came to prepare people so that they would be ready for the Kingdom of G-d. But he did not prepare them by giving them more Laws, or leading them into rebellion as Bar Kochba did. Rather, he prepared them by calling for their repentance from sin and their confession of it. This is harder to do than to following stricter rules or participating in an insurrection since it exposes our shame and guilt.
The religious leaders of that day could not bring themselves to repent and confess their sins. Instead they used their religion to hide their sins. One hundred years later they used religion to channel the ill-fated rebellion of Bar Kochba. Because of their choices to avoid repenting they were unprepared to recognize the Messiah and understand the Kingdom of G-d. John’s warning is just as relevant to us today. He maintains that we must repent from our sin and confess them.
Anne Frank is known for her diary, ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, which she wrote while hiding from the Nazi regime during the Second World War. Her flight from pursuit had begun years before she hid behind a bookcase with her family in Amsterdam. She was originally born in 1929 to a Jewish family in Germany. Her father, Otto Frank, decided it was best to flee the country when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Consequently, Anne grew up as a foreigner in the Netherlands.
However, in 1940, the Nazis overran the Netherlands, making it no longer safe. When the Nazis ordered Anne’s sister to report to their work camp in 1942, the family went into hiding. They remained hidden behind a bookcase until their discovery in 1944. During this period of hiding, Anne wrote in her diary. Tragically, all the members of the Frank family except for Anne’s father died in the Nazi camps. But her diary remained hidden and her father published it after the war.
Other Jewish Holocaust Diarists
Other Jews also penned diaries while pursued and hiding from the Nazis.
Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943) kept a diary describing her perilous life as a Dutch Jew under Nazi rule. She died in Auschwitz.
Miriam Chaszczewacki (1924–1942) was a 15-year-old Jewish Holocaust victim, who in 1939, began writing a personal diary about her life in the Radomsko ghetto; ending just before her death in 1942.
Rutka Laskier (1929–1943) was a Jewish Polish diarist chronicling the three months of her life during the Holocaust in Poland. The Nazis murdered her in Auschwitz at the age of fourteen.
Věra Kohnová (1929 – 1942), a young Czechoslovakian Jew, wrote a diary about her feelings and events during the Nazi occupation before her deportation and murder in the Nazi extermination camps.
Pursued – an Historic Jewish Reality
Having to flee pursuers who seek their harm was not just experienced during the holocaust, but has been a part of the Jewish experience throughout history. It began in the earliest days of the nation when Jacob fled from Esau who threatened to take his life. Over the following centuries, fleeing from pursuers was an ever imminent reality for Jacob’s descendants.
Yeshua’s Childhood: Pursued & Hiding
In this regard, it is not surprising to find that in the Brit Chadasha, shortly after his birth, Yeshua (or Jesus) had to flee to another country just as Anne Frank’s family did.
12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Escape to Egypt
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
The Return to Nazareth
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Matthew 2: 12-23
Matthew records how King Herod, feeling threatened by Yeshua and furious that the Magi had outwitted him, orchestrated the killing of all baby boys in Bethlehem. He hoped to kill Yeshua in the bloodbath. But his parents had fled in the middle of the night and lived in hiding in a foreign country, like Anne Frank, to escape a murderous threat.
… From Herod the Great
Herod the Great, the brilliant, but ruthless king of Judea, ruled under the Roman Emperor from 37 – 4 BCE. Herod’s father, Antiper, had seized the initiative when the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 63 BCE, earning Roman favour and becoming the vassal king over Judea. Herod inherited the throne from his father and shrewdly navigated many intrigues to strengthen his position. He sponsored magnificent building projects, many of which are now among the ruins of great tourist attractions in Israel today. Masada and Caesarea are examples of two popular Israeli tourist attractions that survived as historical landmarks of his building activities. But, his most grandiose project was the re-building of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. He built it to rival all structures across the Roman Empire. When the Brit Chadasha mentions a ‘Temple’, it refers to this temple built by Herod.
Herod’s ruthlessness was well documented by the Jewish historian Josephus, included the murder of several of his wives and children when he suspected their disloyalty, and he never hesitated to spill the blood of his subjects. So though Matthew, of all who recorded Herod’s atrocities, is the only one who mentions his murder of infants in Bethlehem, these actions are entirely consistent from what we know of him.
The Audacious Hypothesis: Yeshua as Israel
Herod the Great was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau; the brother of Jacob/Israel. Thus, Matthew records an Edomite threat against Yeshua’s life.
This opens the door for Matthew to reveal how he understood these events. He does so by setting forth the framework, or lens he uses to make sense of Yeshua. We see this in his brief quote (underlined above) of the prophet Hosea (700 BCE). The complete quote from Hosea is:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Hosea wrote this sentence to recall the Exodus of the young nation Israel that came out of Egypt under Moses. He pictured Israel as G-d’s ‘child’ and ‘son’ since the Exodus occurred early in the nation’s history. But Matthew sees fit to apply this to Yeshua, when he likewise came out of Egypt. In doing so, Matthew sets forth an audacious hypothesis that Yeshua in some way embodies the people of Israel. In Matthew’s view he is the archetype, master blueprint, fulfillment, or completion of Israel. Yeshua forms the pattern which molds the people of Israel’s experiences.
An Exhibit Supporting the Hypothesis
Matthew exhibits Yeshua’s coming out of Egypt in his youth as evidence of this since it correlates with Israel’s national exodus out of Egypt in the youth of its nationhood. And the ever-present Jewish experience through history of having to flee and hide, exemplified in Anne Frank’s story, equates to Yeshua’s experience of flight and hiding.
The correlation goes deeper – back to the dawn of the nation. Jacob, also called Israel, became the first of Abraham’s seed forced to flee and hide (from his brother Esau). Yeshua had to flee from Herod the Great, an Edomite or descendant of Esau. As Israel fled from Esau, so his Descendant had to flee Esau’s descendant. From the point-of-view offered up by Matthew both Israels fled from Esau.
Is Matthew on to something? The entire project known as Israel began with G-d’s promise to Abraham that
all peoples on earth will be blessed through you
Since this offers you and me G-d’s blessing and since Yeshua did come through Abraham, investigating further along this line of thought might be fruitful. We continue going through Yeshua’s life with this in mind, looking next at the one who prepared the way before him – John the Baptist – through the lens of the Jewish revolutionary Simon Bar Kochba.
The Books of Maccabees, found in the Apocrypha, vividly recounts the warfare waged by the Maccabees (Maccabeus) family against the Greek Seleucids who were trying to impose Greek pagan religion upon the Jews of Jerusalem in 168 BCE. Most of the historical information of this war comes from the First Book of Maccabees (1 Maccabees), which describes how the Seleucid Emperor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, instigated a de-Judaizing of Judea.
In 168 BCE Antiochus IV entered Jerusalem by force, killed thousands of Jews, and desecrated the Temple by mixing pagan religious practices to the Temple worship handed down by Moses. Antiochus IV forced Jews to also adopt pagan practices by sacrificing and eating pigs, desecrating the Sabbath, and forbidding circumcision.
Matthias Maccabees, a Jewish Priest, and his five sons rose up in revolt against Antiochus IV, adopting a successful guerilla warfare campaign. After Matthias died, one of his sons, Judas (The Hammer) Maccabees led the war. Judas was very successful with brilliant military planning, bravery and prowess in physical battle. He eventually forced the Seleucids to retreat and the region around Jerusalem was briefly independent with the Hasmonean dynasty until the Romans took control. The Jewish festival Hanukkah today commemorates the winning back and cleansing of the Jewish temple from Antiochus IV’s defilement.
Zealous Jews going to war for the Temple
Religious convictions about the Temple, strong enough to go to war for, has been part of Jewish heritage for 3000 years. King David and his successors, Josephus, Bar Kochba are all well-known historical Jewish figures who waged war to preserve the purity of the Jewish Temple and its worship. Still today, many Jews are zealous to the point of risking conflict and battle, in order to pray at the Temple Mount.
Like the Maccabees, Jesus was also very zealous for the Temple and its worship. He was zealous enough to also go to war over it. However, how he engaged in his warfare, and who he fought, was very different than the Maccabees. We have been looking at Jesus through his Jewish lens and we look here at this warfare and his opponent. Later we see how the Temple figured into this struggle.
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
Jesus’ Entry – according to David
Starting with David, ancient Israelite kings would annually mount their royal horse and lead a procession into Jerusalem. Likewise, Jesus re-enacted this tradition when he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey on the day now known as Palm Sunday. The people sang the same song from the Psalms for Jesus as they had done for David:
25 Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. 27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.
The people sang this ancient song written for the Kings because they knew Jesus had raised Lazarus, and so they were excited at his arrival into Jerusalem. The word they shouted, ‘Hosanna’ meant ‘save’ – exactly as Psalm 118:25 had written long before. But what was he going to ‘save’ them from? The prophet Zechariah tells us.
The Entry Prophesied by Zechariah
Though Jesus re-enacted what the former kings had done hundreds of years earlier, he did it differently. Zechariah, who had prophesied the coming Christ’s name, had also prophesied that the Christ would enter Jerusalem mounted on a donkey.
The Gospel of John quoted part of that prophesy above (it is underlined). Zechariah’s complete prophecy is here:
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
The Coming King will fight … who?
This King prophesied by Zechariah would be different from all other kings. He would not become King by using ‘chariots’, ‘warhorses’ and ‘battle bow’. In fact, this King would remove these weapons and would instead ‘proclaim peace to the nations’. However, this King would still have to struggle to defeat an enemy. He would have to fight in a war to the death.
The Final Enemy – Death Itself
When we speak of saving people from death we mean saving someone so that death is delayed. We may, for example, rescue someone who is drowning, or provide some medicine that saves someone’s life. This ‘saving’ only postpones death because the person who is saved will die later. But Zechariah was not prophesying about saving people ‘from death’ but about rescuing those imprisoned by death – those already dead. This King prophesied by Zechariah to come on a donkey was to face and defeat death itself– freeing its prisoners. This would require an enormous struggle.
So what weapons was the King going to use in this struggle with death? Zechariah wrote that this King would only take “the blood of my covenant with you” to his battle in ‘the pit’. Thus, his own blood would be the weapon with which He would face death.
By entering Jerusalem on the donkey Jesus declared himself to be this King – the Christ.
Why Jesus weeps with sorrow
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (also known as the Triumphant Entry) the religious leaders opposed him. The Gospel of Luke describes Jesus’ response to their opposition.
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Jesus said specifically that the leaders should have ‘recognized the time of God’s coming’ on ‘this day’. What did he mean? What had they missed?
The Prophets had Predicted ‘the Day’
Centuries before, the prophet Daniel had prophesied that the Christ would come 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. We had calculated Daniel’s expected year to be 33 CE– the year that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Predicting the year of the entry, hundreds of years before it happened, is astonishing. But the time can be calculated to the day. (Please review here first as we build on it).
The Length of Time
The prophet Daniel had predicted 483 years using a 360-day year before the revealing of the Christ. Accordingly, the number of days is:
483 years * 360 days/year = 173 880 days
But in terms of the modern international calendar with 365.2422 days/year this is 476 years with 25 extra days. (173 880/365.24219879 = 476 remainder 25)
The Countdown Starts
When was the decree to restore Jerusalem which started this countdown? It was given:
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes …
Nisan 1 began their New Year, giving reason for the King to talk to Nehemiah in the celebration. Nisan 1 would also be marked by a new moon since their months were lunar. Astronomical calculations place the new moon of Nisan 1 of the 20thyear of Persian Emperor Artaxerxes at 10 PM on March 4, 444 BCE in our modern calendar.
The Countdown Ends…
So adding the 476 years of Daniel’s prophesied time to this date brings us to March 4, 33 CE. (There is no year 0, the modern calendar going from 1BCE to 1 CE in one year). The Table summarizes the calculations.
444 BCE (20th year of Artaxerxes)
Length of time
476 solar years
Expected arrival in Modern Calendar
(-444 + 476 + 1) (‘+1’ because there is no 0 CE) = 33
…to the Day
Adding the 25 remaining days of Daniel’s prophesied time to March 4, 33 CE gives us March 29, 33 CE. This is shown in the table and illustrated in the timeline below.
By entering Jerusalem on March 29, 33 CE, seated on a donkey, Jesus fulfilled both the prophecy of Zechariah and the prophecy of Daniel – to the day.
So many prophecies fulfilled on one day indicates the signs God used to identify His Christ. But later that same day Jesus fulfilled yet another prophecy from Moses. In doing so he set in motion the events that would lead to his struggle with the ‘pit’ – his enemy death. We look at this next.
Some examples on how ‘pit’ meant death for the prophets:
15 But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.
18 For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.
22 They draw near to the pit, and their life to the messengers of death.
8 They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die a violent death in the heart of the seas.
23 Their graves are in the depths of the pit and her army lies around her grave. All who had spread terror in the land of the living are slain, fallen by the sword.
3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.
For conversions between ancient and modern calendars (e.g. Nisan 1 = March 4, 444BC) and calculations of ancient new moons see Dr. Harold W. Hoehner’s, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. 1977. 176pp.
Stan Lee (1922-2018) became world-renowned through the Marvel Comics Superheroes that he created. Born and raised in a Jewish household in Manhattan, Stan Lee, in his youth, was influenced by action heroes of his day. Lee worked with fellow Jewish talents Jack Kirby (1917-1994) and Joe Simon (1913-2011). These three men created most of the superhero characters whose exploits, power, and costumes that today come so easily to all our minds from subsequent blockbuster movies. Spiderman, X-Men, The Avengers, Thor, Captain America, the Eternals, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Hulk, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Black Widow – the superhero characters now seen by us all – originated from the mind and sketches of these three brilliant comic book artists.
We have all seen these Marvel Studio movies. These superheroes all have extra-special abilities, confront villains also possessing special powers, resulting in powerful and vivid conflicts. The superhero, through perseverance, power, skill, luck, teamwork, finds some way to defeat the villain, and more often than not, save the earth and its inhabitants in the process. In short, in the Marvel universe created by Stan lee, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, the superhero has a mission to undertake, an enemy to defeat, and people to save.
We have been looking at the person of Jesus through his Jewish lens, seeking to understand him in the context of contributions that Jews have made to the world. Many may not realize it, but the suite of Marvel Superheroes that so many today enjoy is another contribution that Jews have made for all mankind to enjoy. In the light of the superhero theme of missions and villains which resonates so naturally with our human spirit it raises a question about the mission of this real-world Jewish person of Jesus.
What was Jesus’ mission? What villain did he come to defeat?
We see it in how he helps his friend Lazarus. What he did carries relevance for you and me living today.
Jesus and Lazarus
Jesus’ friend Lazarus became very sick. His disciples expected that he would heal his friend, as he healed many others. But Jesus purposely did not heal his friend so his wider mission could be understood. The Gospel records it like this:
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
The sisters hoped that Jesus would come quickly to heal their brother. Jesus delayed his trip on purpose allowing Lazarus to die, and no one could understood why. But this account allows us to see into his heart and we read that he was angry.
Who was he angry with? The sisters? The crowd? The disciples? Lazarus?
No, he was angry at death itself. Also, this is one of only two times where it is recorded that Jesus wept. Why did he weep? It is because he saw his friend held by death. Death stirred anger as well as weeping in him.
Death – the Ultimate Villain
Healing people of sicknesses, good as that is, only postpones their death. Healed or not, death eventually takes all people, whether good or bad, man or woman, old or young, religious or not. This has been true since Adam, who had become mortal because of his disobedience. All his descendants, you and me included, are held by hostage by an enemy – Death.
Against death we feel that there is no answer, no hope. When there is only sickness hope remains, which is why the sisters of Lazarus had hope in healing. But with death they felt no hope. This is true for us also. In the hospital there is some hope but at the funeral there is none. Death is our final enemy. This was the Enemy Jesus came to defeat for us. This was why he declared to the sisters that:
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus had come to destroy death and give life to all who wanted it. He showed his authority for this mission by publicly raising Lazarus from death. He offers to do the same for all others who would want life over death.
Greater than the Superheroes
Think of it! Jesus fought an adversary that even Stan Lee, with his brilliant and wide-ranging imagination, could not imagine pitting his superheroes against. In fact, a number of them, in spite of their powers, succumb to death. Odin, Iron Man, Captain America, some of The Eternals, not just defeated by villains, but also held captive to death.
The audacity of Jesus as presented in the Gospels is this: Without any special strength, agility, technology, or exotic weapons, the gospel writers present him calmly confronting death itself, simply by speaking.
The fact that even Stan Lee does not attempt some such superhero plot shows that this stratagem does not come from a human mind since even the most imaginative of us does not visualize a successful confrontation with this enemy. The enemy Death reigns supreme even over the superheroes of the Marvel Universe. It would seem implausible then that the gospel writers, without the opportunities to expand their imaginations like Stan Lee and us have, would have been able to conjure up such an exploit simply in their minds.
Responses to Jesus
Though death is our final enemy, many of us are caught up with smaller ‘enemies’ from issues (political, religious, ethnic etc.) that go on around us. This was true in Jesus’s time also. From their responses we can see what their main concerns were. Here are the different reactions recorded.
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.
55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.
The Drama continues escalating
So the tension rose. Jesus declared that he was ‘life’ and ‘resurrection’ and would defeat death itself. The leaders responded by plotting to put him to death. Many of the people believed him, but many others did not know what to believe.
We should ask ourselves if we witnessed the raising of Lazarus what we would choose to do. Would we be like the Pharisees, focused on something else, missing the offer of life from death? Or would we ‘believe’, putting our hope in his offer of resurrection? Even if we did not understand it all? The different responses that the Gospel records back then are the same responses to his offer that we make today.
These controversies grew as the Passover approached – the very same festival that the Moses inaugurated 1500 years earlier. The Jesus Story continues by showing how he, in a manner steeped in unsurpassed drama, took this encounter with Death a big step further. This step reaches out to you and me and Death’s hold over us.
Perhaps the most common stereotype people make about Jews regards money. Rumours, wild conspiracy theories, and slander have falsely been directed at Jews side-by-side with sinister associations of wealth and power.
For example, this cartoon depicting Lord Rothschild appeared on an 1898 cover of the French magazine Le Rire. It shows him with devilish hands, and a miserly face trying to grab the whole world. Le Rire published this during the Dreyfuss affair, a highly public anti-semitic trial which rocked French society for a decade.
But there is little doubt that some outstanding Jews have demonstrated financial shrewdness. We highlight some here.
The Legendary Rothschilds
The Rothschilds were a Jewish family operating as private bankers to governments across Europe. They began during the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815). Based in London, they had family connections across European capitals. They earned millions in interest from government loans and securities from many European nations. The Rothschilds ingeniously invested their profits in railroads and other industrial infrastructure across the European continent as the Industrial Revolution spread.
Investment banking in the Americas
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Jewish entrepreneurs founded American investment banks which today dominate global commerce:
These were all founded by entrepreneurial Jews with a knack for finance and investment.
Today George Soros (1930 – ) carries the same reputation. Born into a Jewish family in Hungary he relocated to the United States and began his own investment hedge fund in 1969. Wikipedia reports his net worth as $9 billion – after having given away $32 billion. He is most known for betting against the bank of England in 1992. This brought the UK’s Pound sterling to its knees, earning him billions in the process.
Jews have prominent association with the US Federal Reserve. The Fed is the most powerful central bank in the world, affecting the economic livelihood today of everyone on the planet. It came into existence in 1913 primarily through the work of Jewish-German immigrant Paul Warburg. The past three chairmen of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan (1987-2006), Ben Bernanke (2006-2014), Janet Yellan (2014-2018) are Jewish.
On a per capita basis Jews tend to demonstrate a keen entrepreneurial spirit with a financial interest that has brought many into high profile financial roles. But there is nothing sinister or a world conspiracy behind this as some have suggested.
Many do not realize it, but the most well-known Jew in history, Jesus of Nazareth, also taught and lived as an investor. However, he used non-traditional metrics in his investment outlook. We look here at the investment philosophy of this representative of Israel.
Jesus as Investor
Key to investor and banker success is to use a sufficiently long investment time horizon and to properly assess the ability of borrowers to re-pay loans. Jesus, equally gifted as his Jewish brethren surveyed above in financial thinking, used a totally different investment time horizon than they did. This changed his risk/reward financial thinking, radically altering it from ours.
Jesus summed up his overall view on investment risk/reward with this.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus’ views on risk/reward
Say what you will about the reality of his long-term perspective on ‘treasures in heaven’, his valuation of ‘treasures on earth’ is shrewdly spot on. The Rothschilds have lost the financial power that they had 150 years ago. The European wars, the wealth confiscated by Nazis from Jews, and the nationalizing European industries greatly reduced the Rothschilds’ family wealth. Most of the American banks surveyed above underwent bankruptcy or takeovers by other banks. They no longer operate. Jesus’ assessment that amassed value on earth corrodes has been demonstrated time and again. We do not always recognize it because our time horizon is short. But he used a time horizon stretching far out.
Jesus’ Investment Time Horizon
Jesus’ investment time horizon was uniquely long. Thus, he looked at value from the perspective of eternity in the Kingdom of God. Seeing value from his perspective allowed another rich Jewish investor to likewise assess value differently. The Gospel records it like this:
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Does Money Serve or Master?
The pledge by Zacchaeus to donate his assets to the needy and to promote the first ever ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ project does not mean owning temporary earthly assets are wrong. Rather as Jesus said elsewhere:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
We usually think that money serves us, but our nature is such that instead we easily end up serving money. Then it is impossible to value assets, life and our souls (psyche) in the time horizon of eternity.
Jesus held a unique financial perspective regarding the Kingdom of God. Therefore, right after talking to Zacchaeus, Jesus taught this financial lesson.
The Story of the Ten Minas
11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’
15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth.21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow?23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
Owners? Or simply Managers?
Without extracting all the meaning from this story a few observations are instructive:
The minas, through the whole story, always belong to the nobleman. He loaned them to the servants, looking for a return on his investment. The servants managed the minas but never owned them.
Jesus represents himself as the nobleman in this story. He places us as the servants. We have been entrusted with ‘minas’, representing assets, value, opportunities and our natural talents. We are expected to produce a good return as any financial manager is for his investment clients.
Ultimately we do not own anything
We go through life thinking that our natural talents and opportunities are really ours. But in reality they are not ours. They have been loaned to us. Jesus shrewdly uses this story to remind us that we do not own our lives, health, opportunities and even our future. We have to admit that this is true because we cannot retain them. Eventually we have to give them all up. Jesus reminds us that these have been loaned to us temporarily.
Finally, as any good investor, Jesus explains that those who have produced a return on their investment will have it all returned to them with opportunities for further investment. His Kingdom will give them more than they could have imagined.
We generally do not associate Jesus with shrewd financial thinking, as we do with his Jewish brethren. But he kept a single-minded attention on investing. He invites us to co-invest in his investment, which cannot be lost, stolen or destroyed. It is just that, as other Jewish financial visionaries, he saw further than we are able to. He looked as far as the establishing of His Kingdom. In that sense he showed himself to not be a herd investor (looking to others to see what to invest in), but a shrewd contrarian investor who saw attainable value that others could not see.
Jesus’ Investment Price
We might think of His Kingdom as ethereal, intangible or unreal. But convinced of the reality of this investment return, he passed over all other investments. He put all his equity into it. Nathan Rothschild said about his investment philosophy:
“the time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.”
Rothschild meant that we should invest when others are panic selling. Then we will get our investment at a good price. We see how Jesus invested into The Kingdom with this maxim when his dead friend dies.
The Biblical land of Israel straddles the world’s largest mirage, giving an illusion of life where there is none. This has forced her inhabitants to lead out in the human quest for that indispensable and life-giving substance – water. It also provides an enlightening backdrop for some of the profoundest wisdom, wildest hopes, and extravagant promises in the Bible. These promises extend to you and me, offering life lived with satisfaction. But to glimpse this we need to seethatmirage and what those living there have had to learn to do because of it.
The Unique Dead Sea
The Dead Sea, the most prominent geographical feature in the land of Israel, is located at the lowest elevation on earth, 431 m below sea level in the middle of a desert. To have such a beautiful and large body of water in the middle of a parched land would seem to be most fortunate for the surrounding inhabitants. However at 35% salt content it is the largest permanent hypersaline lake in the world. Therefore it supports no life – hence the name Dead Sea. You cannot drink this water. Even getting some in your eyes and on any open sores causes extreme irritation.
The Bible first mentions the Dead Sea in accounts of Abraham some 4000 years ago. The Dead Sea has provided the backdrop to all subsequent writers, kings and prophets through Biblical history, just a few miles from Jerusalem. These writers used water, a life-or-death necessity in that region, to illustrate truths about ourselves and to extend promises to us.
Jeremiah Diagnoses our Thirst
Jeremiah lived at the close of the period of Kings (600BCE), when corruption and evil extended through Israelite society. He denounced their evils, the same ones also common today in our societies. But Jeremiah began his message with this.
13 “My people have sinned twice. They have deserted me, even though I am the spring of water that gives life. And they have dug their own wells. But those wells are broken. They can’t hold any water.
Jeremiah used water as a metaphor to help them understand sin better. He declared that they were like thirsty people searching for water. There was nothing wrong with being thirsty. But they needed to drink good water from a reliable source. God himself was the good Living Water which could quench their thirst. However, instead of coming to Him to quench their thirst, the Israelites relied on other sources, leaking ones, to drink from. But their broken cisterns would not hold water long-term and would thus leave them even thirstier.
This aptly also applies to us today in our age of more wealth, entertainment, movies, music etc. than any previous generation. Our modern society is by far the wealthiest, best educated, most-travelled, entertained, happiness-driven, and technologically advanced out of any age. We can easily turn to these things – and the other things that come in our age: pornography, illicit relationships, drugs, alcohol, greed, money, anger, jealousy – hoping that perhaps this will satisfy our thirst. But as the Dead Sea is a mirage, holding only sterile death, even as it appears like fresh water from afar, these are also mirages. They cannot quench thirst in a lasting way and will only result in death.
Jeremiah’s warning and Solomon’s chronicles should provoke us to ask some honest questions of ourselves.
Why in our modern age with so much do we struggle with depression, suicide, obesity, divorce, jealousy, envy, hatred, pornography, addictions?
What ‘cisterns’ do you use to satisfy your thirst? Do they hold ‘water’?
Jesus taught on these same questions, promising to quench our thirst. He did so claiming to represent Israel. His teaching and promise regarding his water stands out particularly as we note that the nation Israel leads the world in water technology. The two Israels offer water, albeit of different kinds, to a thirsty world.
Truly this arid land with its Dead Sea has become the world’s foremost leader in quenching the thirst ofthe world.
Israel offers Living Water to the world
It is fascinating then that the other Israel, Jesus, also offers water – Living Water – to the world. Withthe backdrop of Jeremiah’s diagnosis of our thirst, consider this conversation recorded in the Gospel.
Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman
Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard about him. They had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John. 2 But in fact Jesus was not baptizing. His disciples were. 3 So Jesus left Judea and went back again to Galilee.
4 Jesus had to go through Samaria. 5 He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar. It was near the piece of land Jacob had given his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from the journey. So he sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 A woman from Samaria came to get some water. Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew. I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” She said this because Jews don’t have anything to do with Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered her, “You do not know what God’s gift is. And you do not know who is asking you for a drink. If you did, you would have asked him. He would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t have anything to get water with. The well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Our father Jacob gave us the well. He drank from it himself. So did his sons and his livestock. Are you more important than he is?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. 14 But anyone who drinks the water I give them will never be thirsty. In fact, the water I give them will become a spring of water in them. It will flow up into eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water. Then I will never be thirsty. And I won’t have to keep coming here to get water.”
16 He told her, “Go. Get your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands. And the man you live with now is not your husband. What you have just said is very true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our people have always worshiped on this mountain. But you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus said, “Woman, believe me. A time is coming when you will not worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know. Salvation comes from the Jews. 23 But a new time is coming. In fact, it is already here. True worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth. They are the kind of worshipers the Father is looking for. 24 God is spirit. His worshipers must worship him in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah is coming.” Messiah means Christ. “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus said, “The one you’re talking about is the one speaking to you. I am he.”
The Disciples Join Jesus Again
27 Just then Jesus’ disciples returned. They were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want from her?” No one asked, “Why are you talking with her?”
28 The woman left her water jar and went back to the town. She said to the people, 29 “Come. See a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 The people came out of the town and made their way toward Jesus.
31 His disciples were saying to him, “Rabbi, eat something!”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples asked each other, “Did someone bring him food?”
34 Jesus said, “My food is to do what my Father sent me to do. My food is to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying? You say, ‘It’s still four months until harvest time.’ But I tell you, open your eyes! Look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest right now. 36 Even now the one who gathers the crop is getting paid. They are already harvesting the crop for eternal life. So the one who plants and the one who gathers can now be glad together. 37 Here is a true saying. ‘One plants and another gathers.’ 38 I sent you to gather what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work. You have gathered the benefits of their work.”
Many Samaritans Believe in Jesus
39 Many of the Samaritans from the town of Sychar believed in Jesus. They believed because of what the woman had said about him. She said, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” 40 Then the Samaritans came to him and tried to get him to stay with them. So he stayed two days. 41 Because of what he said, many more people became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said. We have now heard for ourselves. We know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
John 4: 1-42
Jesus asked her for a drink for two reasons. First, he was thirsty. But he also knew that she was thirsty as per Jeremiah’s diagnosis. She thought she could satisfy this thirst through relationships with men. So she had had several husbands and was with a man not her husband. Thus her neighbours viewed her as immoral. This explains why she had gone alone to get water at noon since the other village women did not want her along when they went to the well in the cool of the morning.This woman’s conduct had alienated her from the other village women.
Following Jeremiah’s lead, Jesus used thirst as a theme so she could realize that she had a deep thirst in her life – a thirst that hadto be quenched. He declared to her (and us) that only he could ultimately quench her inner thirst.
To Believe – Confessing in truth
But Jesus’ offer of ‘living water’ threw her into a crisis. When Jesus told her to get her husband he was purposefully provoking her to recognize and admit her broken cistern – to confess it. We avoid this at all costs! We prefer to hide our sins, hoping no one will see. Or we rationalize, making excuses for our sin. But if we want to experience the quenching of his ‘living water’ then we must be honest and admit our ‘broken cisterns’, because the Gospel promises that:
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,
For this reason, when Jesus told the Samaritan woman that
God is spirit. His worshipers must worship him in the Spirit and in truth.”
By ‘truth’ he meant being truthful about ourselves, not trying to hide or excuse our wrong. The wonderful news is that God ‘seeks’ and will not turn away anyone who comes with this open honesty – no matter what they have drunk.
The Distraction of Religious Arguments
But this requires an honest vulnerability. Changing the subject from ourselves onto a religious dispute creates perfect cover to hide. The world always has many ongoing religious disputes. In that day there was a religious dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews regarding the proper place of worship. By turning the conversation to this religious dispute she was hoping to divert attention away from her leaking cistern. She could now hide hervulnerability behind religion.
How easily and naturally we do the same thing – especially if we have some religious affiliation. Then we can judge how others are wrong or how we are correct – while ignoring our need to be honest about ourthirst.
Jesus did not follow into this dispute with her. He insisted that her honesty about herself in worship waswhat mattered. She could come before God anywhere (since He is Spirit), but she needed honest self-realization before she could receive his ‘living water’.
The Decision We all Must Make
So she had an important decision to make. She could continue hiding behind a religious dispute or perhaps just leave him. But she finally chose to admit her thirst – to confess. She did not hide anymore. Indoing this she became a ‘believer’. She had performed religious ceremonies before, but now she – and those in her village – became ‘believers’.
To become a believer is not simply mentally agreeing with correct religious doctrine – important though that is. It is about believing that His promise of mercy can be trusted, and therefore you no longer should cover-up sin. This is what Abraham had modeledfor us so long ago – he trusted a promise.
Vulnerable questions to ask oneself
Do you excuse or hide your thirst? Do you hide it with devout religious practice or religious dispute? Or do you confess? What stops you confessing before our Creator the broken cisterns causing guilt andshame?
The woman’s honest openness to her need led to her understanding of Jesus as the ‘Messiah’. After he had stayed for two days the villagers understood him as ‘the Saviour of the world‘. They realizedthat Jesus who gave them Living Water must also be the Lord God, because it had been written:
Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.
Postscript – Dead Sea will come to Life
As Jesus promises to quench our internal thirst with Living Water today, the Bible also promises that oneday the Dead Sea, that ever-present Holy Land picture of our dead spiritual condition in the future will:
“This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of theMediterranean Sea.
This will happen when
8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. 9 The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his namethe only name.
Zechariah 14: 8-9
The Bible foresees that Christ, the Lord, will return and when he does, in His Kingdom, he will transform the Dead Sea into one teeming with life, because that image of sterile death will no longer be needed. The Dead Sea will accurately picture the Living Water flowing from the two Israels, both the nation and its Messiah.
Mark Zuckerberg (1984 – ), the founder of Facebook (re-named Meta), has been one of the handful of the 21st century tech entrepreneurs whose achievements have been so profound that they have not only changed the way all people live today compared to just 20 years ago, but are even changing our understanding of reality.
As a Jew, whose great-grandparents immigrated to USA from Germany, Austria and Poland, Zuckerberg’s efforts continue a long-term Jewish contribution to mankind that can be traced all the way back to Moses; to chart a pathway improving society and the relations between its members. This emphasis on improving society is captured by ‘social’ in ‘social media’, commonly used to describe Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.
Zuckerberg’s products do not simply allow for a one-way information flow from select content creators to the mass of content consumers. Thus they are not traditional ‘media’ like television, newspapers and movies. Zuckerberg’s IT platforms enable a society where its members develop and share information with other members. Thus Facebook enables a complex and ever-changing network of social relationships. You know this because you experience it.
Problems in the Meta-Verse
In spite of Zuckerberg’s vision in harnessing IT, his achievements have laid bare a barrier noted two thousand years ago. Another tremendously influential Jew, focused on a mission to transform society, laid his finger on it back then. You have also encountered this fundamental flaw in your social media experiences. As the technical prowess of social media grows you will experience it more and more.
The Social Quest
To understand what this means for you it helps to go all the way back 3500 years ago to Moses. He transformed the Jews from an extended tribe descended from Abraham, into a nation governed by laws. About to conclude his brilliant career, Moses offered the following reasons why God, through him, had created these laws.
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
Deuteronomy 4: 5-8
Moses gave the Law to transform Israelite society into one of wisdom and understanding, characterized by righteousness. Then the surrounding peoples, who lived in ‘might-makes-right’ societies would take note and enter in.
But it did not work out that way. Instead of being a ‘light to the nations’, their society corrupted. So its social reformers, the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament, pronounced a long-term destruction of that society. That nation would lie dormant until its Law-Giver would see fit to raise it up again. That long running social experiment revealed a deep problem.
The Insurmountable Social Obstacle
Jesus, the insightful social analyst of his day, pointed out the root problem like this.
But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
Jesus assessed that the roots of social problems come from flaws within her citizens, not primarily from inadequate social laws or protocols. Of course, unbalanced social protocols can magnify the problems. But fundamentally, we the citizens, have hearts that naturally tend to bring forth evil thoughts. We propagate these out into society, whether by hand and mouth, as in Jesus’ day, or through a keyboard, scanner, touchscreen, voice recorder, or ‘share’ button today.
Facebook in the News
Consider the general trend that Facebook’s news cycle has generated. After its mid-2000’s launch we heard a steady stream of positive news about the new social media platform. Its new technology dazzled us. World dignitaries sought out Zuckerberg, the whiz-kid entrepreneur, and listened to him on the global stage.
But the tenor of the news started to change in the mid-2010’s. When Cambridge Analytica took the social information of millions for advertising purposes without their consent, that was an important turning point. Questions continue to surface about lies and misinformation spread on Facebook, often by powerful interest groups. The constant drip-drip of cyber bullying, pornography, and revenge publishing of intimate photos also came out. People witnessed depression, despair and suicide. Questions remain how Facebook’s algorithms target children, and what role Facebook played in the January 2021 storming of the US Capitol. Former insiders now claim that Facebook undermines democracy.
With this backdrop, Zuckerberg announced in October 2021, that he was renaming Facebook to Meta, since the overall aim of his IT company was now not simply social media but creating virtual realities where people could enter into and participate as avatars. In short, Meta is creating a new world, a Meta-Verse. This new world will operate under programmed rules. So, for example, if my avatar throws a ‘ball’ to your avatar in Meta, its trajectory in the virtual world would mimic that in our physical world because programming laws would be created controlling its trajectory (always subject to change for wild experiences). The vision is for all to be able to talk, live, work, socialize in Meta.
Change the Meta World…
In spite of the immense technical skills and huge investments made into the Meta world (and the meta-verses that other IT companies are creating), the problem that Jesus put his finger on 2000 years ago still remains. Even in beta testing, Meta reports the ‘creepy behaviour’ exhibited by some avatars towards other avatar ‘citizens’. Meta is placing rules limiting behaviour in the Meta-verse. Likened as ‘sexual abuse’ by some, it re-focuses on that age-old problem. How to control behaviour so that citizens treat each other respectfully and without exploitation?
Or change the Citizens
Jesus, also focused on birthing a new world which he called the ‘Kingdom of God’, assessed that this problem was so serious that it could not be solved by a simple re-boot of the Meta world. Nor would making some rules, either as rigorous as those of Moses, or more light-handed as with Meta. Rather it would require a fundamental re-boot of the prospective citizens who would inhabit his world. Without this fundamental re-boot, access to His world would be strictly denied. Here is how he put it in a discourse with a leading teacher of Moses’ Law in his day.
Jesus and Nicodemus
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
John 3: 1-21
Restrictions in all Alternate Worlds
The very fact that Facebook, Meta and all social media platforms face the problems that they do underscores the reality of this obstacle. It reinforces that Jesus’ declaration of including only those ‘born again’ into his Kingdom deserves some reflection. A perfect world inhabited by corrupt people will sooner or later crumble into the mess we experience today in our physical world. Tech companies will attempt to solve this problem with better technology; governments with better institutions and education. Jesus will do it with transformed people.
A Meta-Verse or Meta-noia
Many assume that since ‘God loves me’ then I will certainly be welcome into whatever ‘Kingdom’ He might be creating. The move of IT giants to limit access of their platforms or Meta worlds to only those meeting their policies; the moves of governments around the world today to guard their borders; their limiting the issuing of visas and citizenships should put that assumption to rest. All societies, whether government, Meta-Verse or Divine have standards by which they screen prospective citizens.
Zuckerberg chose the new name ‘Meta’ because it means ‘beyond’, or ‘change’. Jesus agreed on the necessity of change or Meta but he focused the required change on the individual rather than the platform. In the Greek, ‘Meta-noia’ means ‘change of mind’, often translated today by the word ‘repent’. Jesus’ co-worker, John the Baptist, built his entire career around this necessity of Meta-noia. As they repeatedly said
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent (Meta – noia), for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
When the Meta virtual world is ready we will have the option to enter in. Or we can remain outside in our current physical world. Jesus predicted a future when our physical universe will wear out, with the only one remaining being the Meta one he is now developing – The Kingdom of God. So, if our physical world terminates but we cannot enter His new world without a Meta (change) of our minds from his new birth then our options are limited. As he put it
I tell you, no! But unless you repent (Meta – noia), you too will all perish.
Sergiy Brin, son of Jewish Russian immigrants to the US, and Larry Page, whose mother is Jewish, co-founded Google together in 1998. In 2015, Google re-organized, placing itself under its newly created parent company ‘Alphabet’. Alphabet has grown from a company valued $23 Billion when it went public in 2004 to being valued at $1.7 Trillion USD in early 2022. Alphabet has become so valuable because its search capabilities transformed our ability to access information from anywhere on the planet.
Origins of the Alphabet
That two secular Jewish data scientist pioneers should launch such world-changing information technology and call it ‘Alphabet’ is ironic when one considers where the alphabet came from. Wikipedia tells us:
The history of the alphabet goes back to the consonantal writing system used for Semitic languages in the Levant in the 2nd millennium BCE. Most or nearly all alphabetic scripts used throughout the world today ultimately go back to this Semitic proto-alphabet. Its first origins can be traced back to a Proto-Sinaitic script developed in Ancient Egypt to represent the language of Semitic-speaking workers and slaves in Egypt.
A Semitic people living as slaves in Ancient Egypt first developed the alphabet. That would be the Jews freed by Moses leadership from Egyptian slavery. Delving deeper into the ‘Proto-Sinaitic’ script we learn that
In other words, the earliest ‘clearly attested’ alphabet-based writing came with the rise of Semitic (i.e., Jewish) Kingdoms in Canaan. The Khirbet Qeyifra inscription exhibited as the earliest of alphabet writing was discovered in an ancient Israelite city that dates to the time and kingdom of David. So here is what we know about the origins of the alphabet: The earliest alphabet was developed from Semitic slaves in Egypt (Moses leading Israelites out of Egyptian slavery), with the earliest script shown from an Israelite city in the time of King David.
If not the outright developers, the ancient Israelites were most certainly central to the development of the first alphabet. Their ‘paleo-Hebrew’ alphabet then spawned the Aramaic, Brahmic, Greek, Latin, Arabic and other modern alphabets used today around the world. The letter names even today show the relationship. The first letter of our alphabet ‘a’, matches the first letter of the ancient Greek alphabet Alpha – α, and the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet aleph – א, and the first letter of the Cyrillic alphabet – а.
The Jewish Contribution to the Alphabets of today and yesterday
So, the evidence indicates that the ancient Jews contributed to the advance of civilization by developing and then spreading the alphabet as a writing system. And today, through the leadership of Larry Page and Sergiy Brin, Jews have once again contributed to mankind through their IT company Alphabet. As they note
We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search!
We have been exploring Jesus in relation to his people of origin – the Jews. But here we should pause to reflect on the vast contribution that Jews have made to mankind. That civilization is founded upon the rule of law, with no one above the law, with society invested in the education of its citizens has come about, in part, because of the influence of Jews. Now we learn that the simple, but profoundly powerful, alphabet is a gift from the Jewish people to the world.
The Transcendant Alphabet
But there remains still a third alphabet, also Jewish in origin, that has been offered to the world. In our context of ‘alphabet’ note the following.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
God describes Himself as the ‘Alpha’ (first letter of Greek alphabet) and the ‘Omega’ (the last letter). This is like saying, ‘I am the A to Z of everything, transcending knowledge, time and power’. Later in the same book we find Jesus saying:
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
Jesus adopts the same term, using the alphabet as the platform to declare himself to be the same as the ‘Lord God’ who had earlier used that expression.
How to understand, let alone believe, this?
Our Physical Reality seen from perspective of Virtual Reality
The rapid ascent of IT platforms offered by such companies as Alphabet and Meta provide a new way to grapple with this question. Information Technology has moved mankind to the cusp of creating virtual reality Meta-Verses, with parallels to our own physical reality. Philosophers now raise questions about the mind and reality from these developments. As the BBC explains
A simulation operated by super-powerful entities (IT companies) is, in many ways, equivalent to a Universe created by a divine being. And it begs similar questions – not least if you turn out to be one of the super-powerful entities in question. What kinds of risks and responsibilities accompany the god-like powers associated with operating simulated worlds?
… consider an inexperienced user of a virtual environment who doesn’t, for instance, know that the avatar they’re chatting to is being controlled by a corporate AI rather than a human. This is a scenario in which an informational asymmetry – the fact that the user is profoundly deceived about the nature of the interaction – may be connected to all kinds of manipulation or exploitation. Contrast this with an experienced user of a virtual environment who is hanging out with some avatars controlled by (human) friends as well as an AI-controlled avatar that’s telling them stories beside a virtual campfire. This is a very different prospect. What’s playing out here is a potentially life-enhancing encounter in an artificial realm – its pleasures derived from a knowing combination of verisimilitude and fictionality.
The corporate AI, the ‘creator’ of their meta-verse can enter its virtual reality as an algorithm-powered avatar. When it does so, there is a sense that the AI-avatar should declare itself to simple human avatars. Not doing so would be unfair, according to ethicists and philosophers who ponder what encounters we can anticipate in the coming virtual reality meta-verses.
Jesus through the Virtual Reality Lens
Consider now the following discourse of Jesus from that lens.
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
19 The Jews who heard these words were again divided. 20 Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
21 But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Further Conflict Over Jesus’ Claims
22 Then came the Festival of Dedication[b] at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[c]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’[d]? 35 If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— 36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” 39 Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.
John 10: 1-39
Jesus, exactly as ethicists urge Big Tech virtual reality creators to do with their ‘omniscient’ avatars, openly declared himself as ‘sent’ as the omniscient Creator of our physical reality.
Jesus as the ‘Word’ of God
This is what the Gospel means in its introduction where Jesus is introduced as the ‘Word of God’
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and[b] is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
Just as computer code is the foundation upon which the virtual realities of the Big Tech companies are being developed, so the Gospel, by representing Jesus as the A-Z ‘Word’ of God, is the information source – the mind – behind which our physical reality was developed. Knowing the immense talent, skill and work needed to develop the code that produces the emerging IT virtual realities tells us the degree of intelligence and information required to produce our physical reality.
The Transcendant Reality
But the Gospel does not stop simply by stating the source of our physical reality. It describes another reality, more fundamental than this one. As Jesus said
Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”
22 This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”
23 But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”
25 “Who are you?” they asked.
“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”
27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up[a] the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him.
Psychology comes from two Greek words. The ‘–ology’ comes from λόγος (logos = word, study of) while ‘Psych’ comes from ψυχή (psuché = soul, life). Hence psychology is the study of our souls or our minds, emotions, behaviour, and intellect. Psychology as an academic study took hold in the nineteenth century.
One of the most well-known pioneers of psychology was Sigmund Freud (Sigismund Schlomo Freud 1856 – 1939), the founder of the branch of psychology known as psychoanalysis. Though educated as a medical doctor, Freud became intrigued in using hypnosis as the means to explore and treat disorders. After resigning from his medical position, he devoted the rest of his life to pursuing both an understanding and a framework to treat personality disorders.
Freud’s Jewish heritage and his strong association with secular Jewish identity strongly influenced the development of his theories and his work, as biographers have pointed out. In fact, all his early co-workers and colleagues in psychoanalysis were Jewish. Even his first patient, Anna O, the treatment of whom launched Freud and psychoanalysis into prominence across the world, maintained a strong Jewish identity. So it is not an exaggeration to state that the insight and brilliance of Jews have opened up for all of mankind theories by which we can understand ourselves and our souls better.
Freud and Jesus as influential Jews
But Freud and his colleagues were by no means the only to contribute to our understanding of our psyche. Nineteen hundred years before Freud, Jesus of Nazareth teachings about your and my ψυχή deserves consideration.
We have been exploring the life and teachings of Jesus from his Jewishness, proposing that Jesus embodies the intended end-goal of the Jewish nation. As such, his insights, advances and experiences parallel to some extent that of the Jewish nation as a whole. Accordingly, we now turn to what Jesus taught about our psyche or soul.
Freud remains a polarizing figure because of his radical theories of the human soul. For example, he originated and popularized the Oedipus complex which he claimed was a stage in life when a boy hated his father and wanted sex with his mother. Freud postulated the existence of the libido, sexualised energy with which mental processes and structures are invested and which generates erotic attachments. According to Freud, the libido should not be repressed but rather allow its appetites to be satisfied.
Jesus and our Psyche
Jesus likewise remains today a polarizing figure in large part because of his teachings about the human soul. Here are two discourses of his regarding the ψυχή that to this day generate much discussion
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life (ψυχή, soul, psyche) will lose it, but whoever loses their life (ψυχή , soul, psyche) for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul (ψυχή, psyche)? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul (ψυχή, psyche)?
Jesus’ Paradox of the Soul (ψυχή)
Jesus uses a paradox to teach about the soul (ψυχή). This paradox stems from a self-evident truth; we cannot permanently retain or hold onto our souls. No matter what we do in life, at death our souls are lost. This is true no matter our level of education, our wealth, where we live, or the power and prestige that we amass over the course of our life. We cannot keep our ψυχή. Inevitably it is lost.
Based on this some surmise that we should live with this in mind and fully maximize the experience of the ψυχή during its transient existence by protecting and preserving the ψυχή as much as possible. This is a view that Freud espoused.
But to do that warns Jesus, will result in permanently losing one’s soul. Jesus then confronts us by creating a paradox of the ψυχή by insisting that we give our ψυχή (soul) away to him, and only then will we be able to keep or preserve it. In a real sense, he asks us to trust him to such an extent that we give up that which we cannot keep (our ψυχή) to gain it back permanently. Note he does not suggest we give our ψυχή to a church, a religion or an important religious person, but to him.
Jesus’ second ψυχή paradox
Most of us hesitate to believe Jesus such that we would entrust him with our souls. Rather we go through life protecting and enlarging our ψυχή. In so doing however, instead of creating peace, rest and tranquility in our lives we find the opposite. We become weary and burdened. Jesus used this reality to teach a second paradox of the ψυχή.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (ψυχή, psyche) 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Through history people have yoked oxen, donkeys and horses to do the heaviest tasks that have wearied the human race since the beginning of agriculture – ploughing soil. ‘Yoke’ is thus a metaphor for difficult labor that utterly tires one out. Yet Jesus, in thrusting his paradox upon us, insists that the yoke he would place upon us will rest our souls. Our lives will experience peace as we put on his yoke.
Practice what you preach
While the western world has to a large extent sought to apply Freud’s doctrine, especially seeking self-fulfillment, meaning and liberation in sexual pursuits, it is paradoxical that Freud never applied his ideas to his own family. He wrote and taught a radical social innovation especially between the sexes. But he ran his home utterly as a socially conservative. His wife subserviently made his dinners on his rigid schedule, and even spread his toothpaste onto his toothbrush. He never discussed his sexual theories with his wife. He sent his sons to their family doctor to learn about sex. Freud tightly controlled his sisters and daughters, not allowing them to go out to work. He kept them at home sewing, painting and playing the piano. (reference 1 below)
Jesus, on the other hand, applied his teachings of the soul first to his own life. With his disciples arguing from rivalries and jealousies between them, Jesus intervened:
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life (ψυχή) as a ransom for many.”
Jesus shouldered his yoke by living his life to serve, rather than being served. He did so to the extent that he gave his soul as a ransom or payment for many.
The Truly light Yoke?
Whether Jesus’ yoke truly is light and a source of rest, one may argue with. But the Freudian path of advancing one’s life seems indeed to result in wearisome burdens. Consider now how far we have come after about a century of applying his ideas. What dominates headlines and social media feeds? #Metoo, asexuality, Epstein, unending allegations sexual violence, endemic pornography addictions. When we think that we have advanced, just look at where we are.
Freud & Jesus: Credentials backing their Insights
Freud’s credentials and the credibility of his ideas rested on the perception that they were scientific. But how scientific were they? It is instructive that his ideas were not advanced based on the scientific method of observation and experimentation. Freud simply recounted stories as case studies. He told stories as other fiction writers of his era, but brought into his writings a conviction of truth, and we believed him. As Freud himself stated,
It still strikes myself as strange that the case histories I write should read like short stories and that, as one might say, the lack the serious stamp of science
As quoted in Paul Johnston, A History of the Jews. 1986, p.416
Jesus credentialed his teaching about (ψυχή) by not only applying it, but also by demonstrating authority over his (ψυχή)
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life (ψυχή) —only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
He based his credentials about his insight into (ψυχή) not on a paper he wrote, or a reputation he earned, but on his resurrection.