Christmas, church unity, Judaism, Kingdom of God, Messiah, mission, prophecy
The promise of a deliver a Messiah who would reverse the effects of the fall was first made to Eve – Gen. 3:15. This was the first of a multitude of promised made with the purpose of identifying the Messiah when He finally arrived. A useful analogy is to consider them as ‘The Messiah’s Address’.
The postal service narrows down your location and identity reading your address backwards for mail to reach you i.e. country – city – area – street- house – particular occupant.
The identity of the coming Messiah is similarly narrowed down from the more general to a specific individual i.e. male – descendant of Abraham – of Isaac (i.e. Jew not Arab) – of Jacob’s son Judah (one out of 12) – of Jesse – of David – place of birth Bethlehem – place of residence Nazareth – manner, time and facts of death and many more identifying facts are supplied.
At this time of year TV documentaries frequently try to reinterpret Christ and His mission, presenting the rise of the Christian religion over the next few centuries as a response to the failure of the coming of God’s kingdom and Israel’s national deliverance from Roman domination. The Jesus of faith or of Paul is contrasted with the Jesus of history.
However if we simply read the Messiah’s address carefully and follow the apostles identification of Him and of His agenda, that they came to understand we answer these objections.
The principle in Biblical understanding of the first mention of a matter is important and if the Jews at the time of Christ and today’s re-interpreters of Christ were to follow the principle they would see clearly that the deliverance was to be primarily one of universal deliverance from the effects of sin Gen. 3:15, a far more radical prospect than a national or political deliverance.
This concept should then be born in mind when interpreting further prophecies of the Messiah’s coming. In Isaiah 9:7 we read:
“There will be no end to the increase of His government of peace … from then on and for evermore”.
Jesus taught that His government/kingdom must be understood as ‘not of this world’ or its worldly kings and their ways Christ’s mission and its continuation through humble servant disciples entering His kingdom by a new and spiritual birth from above requires no reinterpretation when Christ’s words are taken at face value. At the first Christmas this kingdom was inaugurated and its increase has been never ending.
One commentator on this year’s CNN presentation of Jesus and Christianity stated “Jesus did not come to found a new religion but to establish a kingdom”. I have previously heard the same from several ‘Charismatic Evangelical’ church leaders and embrace it as an important guideline. Another person I know was impressed at the start of his ministry with the thought – “Bill (not his real name) you seek My kingdom and I will build My church”. The kingdom was constantly on Christ’s lips but never once did he mention founding a new religion.
On this site it is generally not Christ or matters of His Kingdom that divide us but interpretations of His church. For the sake of that kingdom John the Baptist decreased, became less visible and is commended for doing so while for some the visibility of the church is oh so important!
The church is no more than the totality of those who should decrease in their own self obsession and importance while displaying the good works, power and wonders of Christ’s ever increasing government/ kingdom, that the Father might be glorified.
As kingdom living and demonstration becomes the priority of those who follow Christ they find themselves united with one another in a living active organism while their various organizational units simply provide the minimum necessary skeleton. It seems illogical to me to advocate ‘small government’ for nations and great bureaucracy and hierarchy for churches.
‘The government is on His shoulders’ and passed to Him at His incarnation. There is a fascinating prophesy of the Messiah’s kingdom/government in Jacob’s blessing of his son Judah.
“THE SCEPTER SHALL NOT DEPART FROM JUDAH, NOR THE RULER’S STAFF FROM BETWEEN HIS FEET, UNTIL SHILOH COMES AND TO HIM SHALL BE THE OBEDIENCE OF THE PEOPLES GEN. 49:10.”
The Jewish sources Targum Jonathan 8/331 and Targum Pseudo Jonathan 2/278 identify Gen. 49:10 & 11 as Messianic prophecies.
According to this scripture and the Jews of the time the suppression of Israel’s national judicial power would take place following the appearance of the Messiah to Israel. The event that the Jews took to mark this was their loss of the supreme judicial power the ‘jus gladii’ i.e. the right to pass the death sentence.
There is some debate in Jewish sources about when this took place as being either: –
a) As one source gives the date as 7AD. or
b) According to Josephus Ant. Book 17 Ch 13, 1.5 it took place in 11 AD. or
b) Talmud, Jerusalem, Sanhedrin, fol. 24 recto – states that it took place “A little more than forty years before the destruction of the temple”
Placing the birth of Jesus at 6BC this would give the age of Jesus, at the time, in each case as 1yr, 5yrs or 24yrs respectively.
The amazing thing is that the Jews knew the implications of this themselves – Talmud, Bab, Sanhedrin, Chap. 4, fol. 37, recto states
“Woe unto us for the scepter has been taken away from Judah and the Messiah has not yet appeared.” Another Jewish source says that “When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death … they covered their heads with ashes and their bodies with sackcloth” and made the same declaration as above. These facts are referenced in “Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell”.
They Jewish authorities were mistaken the young Messiah was still in preparation in Nazareth and upon His appearance they unknowingly acknowledged Him as Messiah by calling Him Jesus of Nazareth. Here we have another part for Joseph in the events; an angel appears again to Joseph, which resulted in the family residing in Nazareth “So that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘HE SHALL BE CALLED A NAZARENE’ Matt. 2:19 & 23”.
However there is somewhat of a mystery, in any study Bible when the OT is quoted cross references to the OT text are given in the margin and the words quoted may be printed in capitals. In the case of Matt. 2:23 there are no cross references given in any Bible I have checked.
The answer lies in the reference to prophets (plural) and the meaning of the name Nazareth i.e. sprig, shoot or branch. Each of these terms are Messianic titles for the Messiah e.g. “the shoot out of Jesse (King David’s father)” Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5, Zechariah 3:8; 6:12-13.
Note in this last text “His name is ‘The Branch’” and how for Jesus His place of birth became His designated name ‘Jesus of Nazareth”. On a trip to Israel our secular Jewish guide, confirmed the meaning of ‘Nazareth’ as we looked around the town and found my discussion with him on this point interesting.
The apostles did not get it wrong because they referenced the prophets as they had been shown and as they were interpreted to them by the resurrected Jesus as He commissioned them to continue His mission John Luke 24:44-48.
There is no cause for re-interpretation from the Gen.3:15 promises to the ‘Great Commission’ the Messiah’s mission has been clear to those whose eyes He has opened.