© Copyright Steven Ring 1994 - 1998 all rights reserved.
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Mr. Steven R. Ring B.Sc.
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Various versions of the bible are referenced by mnemonics in the text. Prior copyright rights are gratefully acknowledged as follows:
[NIV] New International Version, as follows: Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.
[NASB] New American Standard Bible, as follows: Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 Used by permission.
[AV] Authorised Version, rights owned by the British Crown, Crown patentee.
[RSV] The Revised Standard Version, Copyright 1946, 1952 and 1971 National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. As follows: Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[THE MESSAGE] Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996. Used by permission of the NavPress Publishing Group.
For a very long time indeed, the Jews expected their Messiah to come. From the earliest days of that people, His coming was written about and expected. The Patriarchs and later Moses spoke and wrote about Him, most of the prophets prophesied about Him. King David even wrote songs about Him. Then a man called John the Baptist appeared and all the Jews acknowledged that he was a genuine prophet. John said that he was preparing the people to receive their Messiah and taught that people should repent and be baptized. Then, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, (29 AD), A man called Jesus of Nazareth met John the Baptist and was baptized. Then John knew that this One was no ordinary man, but the Messiah or Christ, whom God had told him about when He chose him as a prophet. At that time John, and everyone else who realized that Jesus was the Messiah, thought that all the prophecies and songs written about the Messiah would be fulfilled by Him immediately. However there is a great deal written about Jesus that He did not fulfill at that time. With the benefit of Christ's teaching, the counsels of the Holy Spirit and plenty of hindsight, we now know that the prophecies about Jesus are still being fulfilled today. We now know that the story did not even begin in AD 29, nor even with the Jewish people, nor even with the creation of the universe. Jesus was before all that 'is,' because He was the One who spoke everything into existence in the first place!
Therefore to enquire into the mystery of Christ is to look into an immense subject. There is more to the story of Christ than there is in the story of the universe. The sum of all current knowledge is an inadequate sketch of His story, and there is certainly not enough space for everything to be written down here. In my other books, I have written about many other parts of Jesus' story. Here, I have written about who Jesus is, and what He is doing today because it seems to me that these two aspects of Jesus' story also have enormous practical significance, and yet they are thought about surprisingly little.
"Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" [NIV] John 1 v 3 "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." [NIV] Hebrews 1 v 1 - 2
These scriptures mean that Jesus was the very instrument of God's creation, putting into effect the will of the Father. In Genesis 1 v 3 we can see Jesus at work, He is the 'let there be ..' Word of God that called the universe into existence. Looking at the Hebrew verb in Genesis 1 v 3 we see that it is the same verb that God modifies to form His own name given to Moses in Exodus 3 v 14, thus when God says 'I AM' to Moses, there are some other majestic ideas conveyed with the words of His Name that He gave; firstly He was identifying Himself as the Creator of everything that 'is' and as the Person whose Word has the power to create. Also we see that God repeats the same word twice, I AM, I AM, emphasizing His Self-existent, uncreated and eternal Nature.
One of the things that confused me about my faith for a long time was how to address God when I prayed. I would get confused between Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in my speech. Then some new meaning from a very famous passage came to my rescue, Isaiah 9 v 6 which speaks about Jesus' names;
"For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given. And the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end. " [NIV + NIV margin] Isaiah 9 v 6 - 7a
It struck me that it is OK to call Jesus, 'Father' or any of His other names. Names that I previously thought referred to three different Persons in the Godhead, can actually be used interchangeably for all three. As Jesus once explained to an enquiring mind, if you have seen Him you have also seen the Father, (John 14 v 7 - 11). Jesus went further in this passage by saying that believing and expressing our belief that the Father and He share the Godhead is part of what it really means to have faith in Jesus Christ. More about this later.
This issue is basic to the gospel, since as we have seen: The gospel announces a righteousness from God that is by faith from first to last. And we have established that our faith is in a Person, not first of all in a creed and not in the gospel message itself. Our faith, and the faith of those who receive the gospel is in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who Jesus is, is therefore the most important foundation of the good news message, because Jesus is the Cornerstone, that supports the whole structure, (Psalm 118 v 22, Isaiah 28 v 16, Luke 20 v 17). Since the Christian faith is not a set of rules, or any kind of written code, the whole of our salvation depends on our relationship with Him, He is the way and the truth and the life, (Romans 7 v 6, John 14 v 6). The significance of our relationship with Jesus can be illustrated in the following diagram which shows how the relationship is absolutely vital to Christian spirituality.
Figure 1: Christian spirituality and knowing Jesus
Who then, is Jesus? Let us start by looking at the most ancient creedal statements we can find. Creeds were written to counter false teaching, especially concerning the identity of Jesus. However there is no evidence in the new testament of the 'salvation by mental ascent to a creed' that has been practised in more recent times. Having said this, these early creeds provide us with exciting evidence of Jesus' identity, created and recorded well within the lifetime of many of those who met Jesus personally in the flesh. I believe there are two passages in the New Testament in particular that record fragments of such creeds used by the early Christians during the third quarter of the first century AD. They were both recorded by Paul in two letters he wrote whilst he was imprisoned, most likely in Rome about AD 64 and certainly no later than 68 AD, (however the letter to the Philippians may be even earlier, around AD 54). These passages are:
".. Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." [NIV] Philippians 2 v 5b - 11
The carefully phrased structure of this passage is most beautiful. In the original language, the creed begins by stating Jesus' continuing divinity, (the word in verse 6 means that He pre-existed in the form of God, continued to exist in the form of God whilst He was a man and remains in the form of God to the present day, not merely that He was at one time in the past, see under 'BEING' in Vines1 ). The creed then depicts what He did, beginning with His life as God before His incarnation, before moving on to state His incarnation and something about His character revealed whilst He was in human form. It then records His death by crucifixion, and His exaltation back to God's right hand. The creed stresses that Jesus was God, that He continued to be God whilst for a time He assumed true human form, and that He returned again in triumph to God after His physical death and resurrection, and is still God today. This states succinctly who Jesus is.
"He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory" [NIV] 1 Timothy 3 v 16b
This is a much simpler explanation of who Jesus is, recording the fact that He was incarnated and that His identity was vindicated by the Holy Spirit, that He ascended to heaven, that He was preached to the world and that some believed in Him and that He has now been taken up into glory.
I find these passages very exciting summaries of the beliefs of the earliest Christians. They state very clearly the fact that Jesus is and always has been God, that He came as a man for a short time and returned to heaven afterward. If this is the testimony of others concerning Jesus, we also have His own statements.
From the same era as these early creeds, we also have in the records in the synoptic gospels of Jesus' own statements about Himself. Of these, the following are particularly revealing about His identity;
"The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied." [NIV] Matthew 26 v 63 - 64 "Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM." [NASB] John 8 v 58 This statement has particular significance because it was originally spoken by Jesus in the Aramaic language where the word for 'I AM' is the Divine name that God gave to Moses when He appeared to him in a burning bush, Exodus 3 v 14. "I and the Father are one." [NIV] an alternative translation would be; "I and the Father are a unity" [NASB margin] John 10 v 30
To the sincere enquirer the fact that Jesus confessed to be God is confirmed beyond reasonable doubt by the context of all three of these passages; in each case He was accused of blasphemy and His hearers took immediate steps to try and execute Him for violating the Jewish laws concerning blasphemy. In the Matthew passage, Jesus clearly confesses that He is the expected Jewish Messiah, 'Christ' in Greek or 'Anointed One' in English. He also confesses to be God's Son. In the first passage from John, Jesus clearly states that He is God, using the divine name that God gave to Moses to identify Himself. In the same passage He also states emphatically that He has always existed, prior to His incarnation. In the second passage from John we have the most wonderful statement, Jesus states that He is a unity with God, of the same essence as God Himself.
Most people have heard of the Trinity, but few people understand what the Trinity teaching is. Even amongst Christians this doctrine usually goes by the board - something mentioned on statements of faith or during a service, a name used to refer to God. A word that must be accepted as gospel. Recently I have studied this teaching and have made some surprising discoveries about it.
First some background information. The word 'Trinity' does not come from the bible. Instead, Trinity teaching is an old Catholic doctrine which was developed between AD 90 and AD 190 when it was formalized in a treatise by a man called Tertullian, one of the earliest Latin theologians who lived in the late second century AD. Trinity teaching remains part of the Roman Catholic religion down to the present day. The Trinity teaching was carried over from Roman Catholicism into the Protestant churches during the Reformation and therefore, it can be found within the beliefs of most Western Christian denominations, Protestant and Catholic.
Why are we talking about Trinity teaching? Simply because the Trinity teaching is widely acknowledged and yet it seriously misrepresents the identity of Jesus Christ, (it misrepresents the identity of the Holy Spirit also).
Here is a quote taken from , in chapter IX Tertullian says;
".. the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as He Himself acknowledges: "My Father is greater than I." In the Psalm His inferiority is described as being "a little lower than the angels." Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son ..."
To summarize Tertullian's Trinity teaching [see the whole of 7]. Tertullian claimed:
that God the Father was the original form of God.
that Jesus was God's Son created by God sometime before the rest of creation, (based on Psalm 2 v 7, Proverbs 8 v 22 etc.).
that the Holy Spirit emanates from Jesus, (based on John 14 v 16 - 17 etc.).
Based upon these claims, Tertullian identifies the Trinity as the combination of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and he defines a hierarchical 'Divine economy' of relationships between Them. In particular Tertullian declared that:
Because The Father preceded Jesus and the Holy Spirit, He is the greater of the Three.
Because Jesus was created by the Father, Jesus is much lower in degree than the Father.
Because the Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus, the Holy Spirit is lower in degree than Jesus.
In parallel, Tertullian claims that all three members of the Trinity are one God, one in substance, but different in degree. Tertullian goes into a lot of detail, but this is the essence of his teaching on this subject. Trinity teaching is known today from these declarations rather than the claims that Tertullian made to back them up. Tertullian's second claim was publicized more widely as a belief by a man called Arius who lived in Alexandria much later than Tertullian in the early 4th century AD. Since Arius also believed that Jesus was created, Arius stated that there was a time when Jesus was not. The Roman Catholic Church eventually decided that Arius' statement was heresy, and Arianism (as it is now called) rightly became heterodox teaching. However, trinity teaching, which depends upon the same idea was never removed by the Catholic church.
The Roman Catholic Church was in the process of inventing itself during the period that Tertullian wrote his treatise on the 'Trinity'. Tertullian's treatise is masterful but fatally flawed. Masterful because it accomplished three Roman Catholic political objectives in one go. It was written to counter two threats to Roman Catholic ideology and also to provide a moral justification for the hierarchical nature of the Roman Catholic organisation which started to emerge at the end of the first century and has existed ever since, [see 8]. The two threats Tertullian was responding to were:
External criticism that Christians worshipped three gods rather than one.
Internal ideas that there was no distinction between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Tertullian's treatise is fatally flawed because it proposes an inferior Christ based on Arianist ideas. This flaw has cost the Church very dearly. Many luminous Christians were tortured and murdered in the past because they opposed it and many more Christians are abused and oppressed today by leaders and leadership hierarchies who justify their existence and bogus authority based upon trinitarian ideas. The connection between a hierarchical Trinity idea and an oppressive church hierarchy is plain; if the Father delegated our salvation to an inferior Christ, then Christ can delegate His authority to inferior men to act as His intermediaries, (This argument was used by Clement, Bishop of Rome as early as AD 96, about 100 years before Tertullian wrote out his treatise, see reference 8, paragraph 42.). Immediately we have a military view of salvation and church government which has led directly to the development of the so-called Christian right-wing we observe everywhere today. In addition to Roman Catholicism, other anti-Christian belief systems have been constructed wholly or partly based on the same flaw in Tertullian's teaching, for example; Calvinism, Evangelicalism, Restoration theology, Cell Church ideology and probably many others, (there are some detailed explanations of these claims in the book entitled, 'The Mystery of the Gospel').
I believe that the hierarchical part of Tertullian's teaching on the Trinity is not borne out by the scriptures, and since this is a key part of his trinity teaching, we must be very cautious about accepting any other part of his teaching on face value. Tertullian's hierarchical Trinity idea hangs on one particular claim - that Jesus was created by the Father. If this claim is false then the whole idea of a hierarchical Trinity is also false and vice versa. Thus, to understand the true identity of Jesus we must verify whether Tertullian's claim that Jesus was created is true or false. Tertullian bases his claim that Jesus was created by God the Father upon the two scriptures mentioned above. And in fairness to him, perhaps the versions of the scripture that he had access to were different to ours. Anyway, I think that Tertullian was wrong for at least the following three reasons:
That the Proverbs 8 v 22 passage is ambiguous and therefore cannot be used to prove that Jesus was created by God. The passage can mean that God has possessed Jesus from eternity as well as the meaning that Tertullian refers to.
That according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, the Psalm 2 v 7 passage is a prophesy which was fulfilled by God the Father when He raised Jesus from the dead, (see Acts 13 v 32 ff.). God became Jesus' Father because He made a new body for Jesus that would not decay. I have shown elsewhere in my books that Jesus' resurrection body is the first fruit of the second creation, since every part of the first creation is subject to decay, (see 1 Corinthians 15 v 20 - 23 & v 50). Anyway, it is sure and certain for anyone who claims that the scriptures are truly God's word that Tertullian mis-interprets Psalm 2 v 7 since the interpretation of this verse is contained in the scriptures themselves, (Acts 13 v 32 ff.).
I have already started to show from my analysis of the early creeds that according to the scriptures, God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God and God the Holy Spirit are Three uncreated and eternal Persons, jointly pre-eminent, who forever live together as one God.
I have shown that Jesus has always existed in the form of God, before during and after His incarnation from Philippians 2 v 5b - 11, John 1 v 1 - 2 and John 8 v 58 and the other scriptures I have already mentioned. The status of the Holy Spirit is the same as Jesus and the Father, since Jesus honours the Father and the Holy Spirit equally in the gospel record, (for example, John 10 v 29, John 14 v 28, John 4 v 24, Matthew 12 v 31 - 32, John 15 v 26 etc.). Tertullian makes too much of the humility of Jesus toward His Father - humility is part of God's personality. If Jesus were to be immodest, it would be against His character, see Philippians 2 v 5ff. again. The very fact that humility is a godly virtue tells us that there must be a plurality of Persons within the Godhead - for humility has no meaning where there is no relationship and there can be no relationship without a plurality of Persons. The same argument can be applied with even greater force based on God's love for John says that God is love, (1 John 4 v 8). Since love is part of our Lord's essential nature, so relationship, and therefore more than one Person must exist in the Godhead. Therefore, I am not questioning that God is Three Persons, on the contrary this is a personal article of faith. What I am saying is:
That the Three live together in harmony, Each doing everything to glorify the other Two.
That they have always existed in this blessed estate, Each uncreated, pre-existant and each eternal.
I have brought into question the hierarchical component of the Trinity teaching which I believe has mislead Christians for about 18 centuries. In its place, I have re-introduced the biblical idea of the Godhead or 'Fullness of Deity'. Now, unlike the word 'Trinity', Godhead is a word from the bible. You can find it in Colossians 2 v 9 where it says that Jesus Christ has the 'Fullness of Deity' dwelling within Him. The biblical idea of Godhead shows the true identity of Jesus because it recognizes that all the fullness of Deity dwells within Him. Now since the fullness of Deity dwells within Jesus, I say that Jesus is God's Son, co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. And since all Three Persons are one in character, purpose and action, They are one God. God is love, (1 John 4 v 8) and so there can never be conflict of character, purpose or action between the Three. On the contrary, the continuous sweet mutual communion within the Godhead is by far the most wonderful mystery mentioned in scripture. If we can grasp something of this mystery, we can understand some of Jesus' teaching much more clearly. For some examples; Where Jesus says about the Father honouring the prayers of two or three who agree in prayer, (Matthew 18 v 19 - 20) He is reflecting the power of the shared Divine purpose in the great work of God - the creation, (see for example Genesis 1 v 26). In effect, Jesus means that if two or three have full agreement through the Holy Spirit dwelling within, then God will recognize that kind of agreement and turn it into power for some creative purpose. Again where Jesus teaches us saying 'abide in me' (John 15 v 4) and 'keep on coming to me' (John 7 v 37 - 39), He is inviting us to share in the continuous Divine communion - an invitation we can accept only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and our choice to come to Jesus. Here then, are just two examples where understanding of a mystery has helped us to understand the scripture.
If we will recognize who Jesus really is, we will be a giant step nearer to knowing Him for our own salvation. For the work that God requires is that we believe in the One He has sent, (John 6 v 28 - 29).
The resurrection of Jesus, three days and three nights after His execution has critical importance to us as Christians for several reasons, as follows;
The resurrection is the greatest sign Jesus did because it proclaims His identity as God, the Author of Life, (Acts 3 v 15).
Unless Jesus is alive and accessible now, the Christian faith as taught by Jesus and the apostles cannot be sustained. The Christian faith as taught by Jesus and the apostles relies on a life-giving relationship with the living Christ. If He is not alive and accessible through His Spirit, there can be no righteousness, and if there is no righteousness, there can be no salvation, (1 Corinthians 15 v 12 - 20).
Jesus' resurrection body was the first act of God's second creation, nothing like it existed before, (Revelation 1 v 5). His resurrection body is the prototype of the kind of body believers will be given at the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is therefore the basis for our hope as believers in Jesus. We too hope to experience resurrection to eternal life based on our faith in Him, (1 Corinthians 15 v 20 - 22).
The resurrection proves that God has accepted Jesus' self sacrifice as full payment for our sins.
The resurrection was predicted in several prophecies. For example in Psalm 16 v 10 which was quoted by Peter in Acts 2 v 25 - 28. Similar prophecies that speak of God not abandoning Jesus and glorifying Him occur in Psalms 2, 22, 69 and 110 and in Isaiah 53 v 10 onwards.
In addition we have the predictions of His own death made by Jesus. There are many of these in the gospels, for example Luke 9 v 21 - 22, Luke 18 v 31 - 34 and the sign of Jonah, see Matthew 12 v 39 - 40. Jesus also declared to His friends Mary and Martha that He is the resurrection and the life, just before demonstrating His power as the author of life and the Agent of the resurrection by raising Lazarus from the grave after 4 days.
I have included this study on the chronology of the week that Jesus died and rose again for two reasons:
If the traditional chronology of 'holy week' is correct, then the text of the New Testament is incorrect and contradictory. If there is an alternative chronology that agrees with the New Testament record, we should accept it rather than allow the word of God to be discredited because of our traditions, (Mark 7 v 13).
Using a correct historical and chronological framework for the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus helps us to better follow and understand the timing and significance of these events.
The events of the last week of Jesus' life have been the subject of confusion for nearly 2000 years. The confusion arises because the gospels record Jesus' words that He would be dead for exactly three days and three nights before rising again, (Matthew 12 v 39 - 40, Mark 8 v 31, Mark 10 v 34, Luke 24 v 7 etc.). The gospels also record that Jesus' body was removed hastily from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea because, 'It was Preparation Day and the Sabbath was about to begin.', (Luke 23 v 50 - 54). The regular Jewish Sabbath day is on a Saturday and the Sabbath always begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday. The record states that the Sabbath was beginning on the day of Jesus' death. The confusion occurs because the record also states that the women who wanted to embalm the body of Jesus went to the tomb, early on the first day of the Jewish week, which is a Sunday and found that He had already risen (Luke 24 v 1 - 8) - apparently only two nights and one day after Jesus' death, not three days and three nights as Jesus had clearly said. Tantalizingly, the angel who announces the resurrection to the women explains the timing of Jesus' resurrection by reminding them that Jesus had said He would rise after three days, (Luke 24 v 7). If it was only one day and two nights since Jesus' death, why would the angel say three days? Would it not have been obvious to the women that the interval was wrong? Thus, the traditional chronology for holy week would appear to highlight a contradiction in the New Testament, namely:
Jesus' statements about the three days and three nights that he would remain dead, and;
The difficulty of squeezing those three days and three nights into the period between 3 pm on Good Friday and 6 am on Easter Sunday.
I will show evidence for an alternative chronology for holy week, drawn from the New Testament account in a self-consistent manner and corroborate it with some chronological evidence from the period of Christ's life that has recently been discovered in the dusty remains of the dead sea scrolls, (though I am not sure anyone else has noticed it!).
I believe that Jesus' and the Angel's claims that three days and three nights elapsed whilst Jesus was in the grave are correct, (from Matthew 12 v 39 - 40, Mark 8 v 31, Mark 10 v 34 and Luke 24 v 7). Secondly, and also according to the scripture, I believe that Jesus arose between sunset on Saturday and dawn the following Sunday morning, (from Matthew 28 v 1, Mark 16 v 1 - 2, Luke 24 v 1 - 8 and John 20 v 1). For these two reasons, I believe that our traditional calendar for holy week is incorrect because it contradicts the historical evidence given in scripture.
Between 1946 and 1956 the Dead Sea Scrolls were found near the north west shore of Dead Sea in the kingdom of Jordan. These scrolls include several that record the calendars used to fix the days for the Jewish festivals and to decide which priestly family was obliged to serve in the Temple at any given time. What these calendars tell us is that the Jews arranged things so that the religious festivals throughout the year never fell on a regular Sabbath day, but usually on a day in the middle of the week, as one of the scroll translators says:
"The great advantage of the Qumran calendar over its lunisolar rival is that it results in fixed dates for the major festivals. They cannot fall on a Sabbath, thereby avoiding worrisome difficulties affecting sacrifices."
The reason they moved the festival Sabbaths was so that the religious ceremonies of the festivals would not complicate the sacrifices that were made every week on the regular Sabbath. The fact that the Jews manipulated the times of the festival Sabbaths to fit in with the regular Sabbaths on Saturdays is very significant to the understanding of the chronology of the week that Jesus died. Therefore, when a festival occurs in a particular week as the festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread did the week Jesus died, the Jews inserted the festival Sabbaths on different days within the week, avoiding the regular Sabbath day, (Saturday). This evidence from the scrolls gives us an important clue about the chronology of holy week. The clue is that during religious festivals, the Jews inserted special Sabbaths on other days of the week. Let us now return to the scriptures again with new eyes, to see if we can find any evidence that the Jewish authorities move the Unleavened Bread festival days.
Since we are told that Jesus rose very early on the first day of the week before dawn, (see Luke 24 v 1 etc.) we have the day of His resurrection very clearly as a Sunday. According to the law of Moses, (Exodus 12 v 16), the feast of Unleavened Bread lasts for seven days beginning with the Passover and has two special Sabbaths; one on the first day (which is the Passover) and one on the seventh day. The gospel record makes sense if we assume that Jesus did indeed die on the Wednesday afternoon, just before these two festival Sabbaths which the Jewish authorities moved to the Thursday and Friday of the week Jesus died. There is evidence in the New Testament that this is exactly what happened. As follows:
We know that Jesus and His disciples were not in Jerusalem but in Bethany during the day on the Passover and Jesus is said to have entered the city especially to eat the Passover with His disciples. Mark 14 v 3 records that Jesus was in Bethany just prior to the Passover meal with His disciples. Matthew 26 v 17 and Mark 14 v 12 - 17 record that Jesus came into Jerusalem and ate the Passover on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread in accordance with the law of Moses given in Exodus 12. If the Passover Sabbath had been held on this day, there would have been a large assembly of the people during the day in the Temple area to ceremonially eat the unleavened bread. In view of the importance of this feast, Jesus and the Twelve would have been obliged to join in, (Exodus 12 v 14 - 16), but as we know from the gospels, they were in Bethany, (Mark 14 v 3). This evidence suggests that the special Passover Sabbath and the assembly that God commanded Israel to keep were not held on that day.
The Chief priest's and Elders plan to kill Jesus relied on the job being completed 'before the feast,' (see Matthew 26 v 4) because they feared that the people would riot if they killed Jesus during the feast of Unleavened Bread. This implies that the feast of Unleavened Bread and the special Passover Sabbath that marked the start of that feast did not happen until after Jesus had died. Yet we know that Jesus certainly ate the Passover with His disciples before He died, (the so called 'last supper,' see next).
The so called 'last supper' was in fact a Passover meal which occurred on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, (see Exodus 12 and Matthew 26 v 17) and yet at that time of course, Jesus was alive. So that the chief priest's plan to kill him before the feast began also points to an artificial delay in the start of the feast of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem that year.
The Jewish leaders who accused Jesus before Pilate would not enter the Praetorium to speak with Pilate, Pilate had to come out to see them. The Jews would not enter because to be under a Gentile's roof would have made them 'ritually unclean' and so unable to participate in the feast, (John 18 v 28 - 29). This tells us that the feast and most importantly, the special extra Sabbath at the start of the feast had not yet started when Jesus was tried before Pilate. Again this proves that Jesus was alive after the Passover meal and before the feast of unleavened bread had begun - proving that the Jewish authorities had broken the Law of Moses by separating the Passover meal from the feast of unleavened bread, (see Exodus 12).
The scriptures say that Jesus died on 'Preparation Day,' (Matthew 27 v 62, Mark 15 v 42, Luke 24 v 54, John 19 v 14). Based on the Exodus instructions about the feast of Unleavened Bread, very large quantities of the unleavened bread would have to be prepared for this feast so that the people could eat it during the feast, (see Exodus 12 v 16 which actually refers to food 'preparation' explicitly). The food preparation work involved would have been enormous, according to the Jewish historian Josephus' accounts of Jerusalem near this time, about 500,000 people would celebrate this feast together. Because of the amount of effort involved, and the strict attitude the Pharisees are known to have had to the observance of the Sabbath rest, it is probable that they invented a Preparation Day just before the first Sabbath of the feast of unleavened bread so that all this food could be prepared.
The preparation of unleavened bread eaten during the feast would be nonsense if the feast had already started. This fact also points to a delay in the start of the feast of Unleavened Bread until the day after Jesus died.
Since there is such strong evidence from all four gospels that the Jewish leaders delayed the first Sabbath associated with the feast of Unleavened Bread, it is also credible to suggest that they also brought forward the second Sabbath that was supposed to be at the end of the feast, so that we can suppose for a moment that both special feast Sabbaths of were moved to be two consecutive days, the two days following Christ's death on the cross. If these two special Sabbaths were followed by a regular Saturday Sabbath, then this would indeed explain why the women disciples (who were very eager to embalm Jesus' body) were prevented from doing so by the three consecutive Sabbaths for three whole days and nights. This gives us the basis for understanding the chronology of the week in question. Without disregarding or contradicting any of the contents of the gospels, we have accounted for all three days and nights that Jesus was dead.
Above, I have analyzed the traditional chronology for the events surrounding Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem, His arrest, trials, crucifixion, death and resurrection and demonstrated that the traditional chronology does not match the record in the New Testament. The analysis suggests a completely different chronology, which I will now construct in a systematic manner. Firstly, to build a new chronology for these events, we need a new baseline. For our baseline we need a few events that have a clear chronological relationship based entirely upon the scripture record. We have two events with a fixed interval between them taken straight from the scripture record:
The Jewish Passover meal that Jesus ate with His disciples.
When Jesus rose from the dead and was first seen alive again after His crucifixion and death. In the Hebrew calendar, days begin and end at sunset. In our calendar, this means that Jesus rose from the dead soon after sunset on Saturday - because we have a record confirming that Jesus was seen alive before sunrise on Sunday whilst it was still dark.
There is an interval between these events that we can precisely determine from the scripture. We know that Jesus was eating the Passover meal with His disciples the same evening of His arrest, (Matthew 26 v 31). That He was tried four times through that same night into the early morning, (Luke 22 v 66). First He was tried by the Sanhedrin, (the Jewish parliament), then by Pilate, who sent Him to Herod and then back to Pilate again for sentence to be passed. This means that Jesus was crucified the day after the Passover. We then have many witnesses who saw him die the same day. And the record states that He was buried before sunset. So, we have a single night and a single day between Jesus eating the Passover meal and his burial the following evening. Following Jesus' burial, we have established from the scripture that he was dead for three days and three nights. This means that precisely four days and four nights elapsed between the Passover meal and the resurrection. I have summarized this series of events which forms the basis for the alternative holy week chronology in a diagram below.
So we have the following alternative chronology of the period during which Jesus entered Bethany, then Jerusalem, ate the Passover meal with His disciples, was arrested tried and crucified, died and rose from the dead:
Thursday. Six days before Passover, Jesus arrives in Bethany near Jerusalem and has dinner with the resurrected Lazarus and his family, (John 12 v 1 - 11).
Friday. 10th day of Jewish 1st month (Nissan) when the Passover lamb is taken into the house, at exactly this time, Jesus' entered Jerusalem, (The so-called triumphal entry, see Matthew 21 v 1 - 11, Mark 11 v 1 - 11, John 12 v 12 - 16). Afterward, it is late in the day and He returns to Bethany for the night, (Mark 11 v 11). Jesus is the Lamb of God and He entered Jerusalem at the exact time that the people of Israel were taking the Passover lambs into their homes.
Saturday: Regular Sabbath day. Jesus drives out money changers from the Temple and then leaves to stay the night in Bethany again, (Matthew 21 v 12 - 17).
Sunday: Jesus comes in from Bethany and teaches in the Temple; (Matthew 21 v 23 - 26 v 2, Mark 11 v 27 - 13 v 37). Goes back out to Bethany that evening, (Matthew 26 v 6) and has dinner at Simon the leper's home, (Mark 14 v 3). Judas goes to chief priests that evening and offers to betray Jesus for money, (Mark 14 v 10).
Monday: Teaching in the Temple. Staying in Bethany again, (Luke 21 v 37 - 38).
Tuesday: Exodus 12 v 3: 14th day of Jewish 1st Month. Passover & 1st Day of Unleavened Bread. Matthew 26 v 17: Last supper in Jerusalem then out to the garden of Gethsemane, followed by Jesus' arrest. Jesus was tried four times during that night.
Wednesday: Preparation Day, (Luke 23 v 54). Early morning, following the trials, Jesus was led out to be crucified. Jesus dies at 3 PM. He was buried before sunset.
Thursday: The Passover Sabbath moved back from Tuesday by the Jews.
Friday: The Sabbath at the end of the feast of Unleavened Bread moved forward.
Saturday: Regular Jewish Sabbath day. Sabbath ends at sunset on Saturday.
Soon after sunset on Saturday, Jesus rose from the dead. Luke 24 v 1 records that Jesus was found to be alive before sunrise on Sunday morning.
The bible says that God will create everything a second time, (see Isaiah 66 v 22). The wonderful news is that He has already started the new creation, see Revelation 21 v 5. The second creation started when God created Jesus a new resurrection body on the first Easter Sunday. In the first creation, man was made last, but in the second creation, the people are being made first, beginning with Christ, and after Christ those who believe in Him, (see 2 Corinthians 5 v 17).
Because the resurrection has such importance to the validity of the good news message, I will spend a little time collating the evidence for the resurrection appearances of Jesus from the scriptures. To present all the proofs we have of the resurrection thoroughly is beyond the scope of this book, however after establishing from the scriptures that Jesus really did die, I will concentrate on the instances when Jesus was seen alive again, by various witnesses. There is a great deal of additional evidence of different kinds for the authenticity of the resurrection based on the scriptural account, made up as it is by the separate accounts of many eye witnesses recorded by different people.
"The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water." [NIV] John 19 v 32 - 34
The fact that Jesus died can be readily confirmed from the facts of this eye witness account. It is clear from the context, especially John 19 v 26 and v 35 that these events were witnessed personally by John the apostle who recorded them in his gospel. With characteristic brutality and efficiency, the Roman soldiers knew how to kill and they also knew death when they saw it. Death would have been especially easy to detect for these soldiers, since had Jesus still been alive, the open wounds in His feet and hands would still be bleeding and His respiration would have been obvious because he had earlier been stripped of His clothes. Firstly then, we have the fact that in the opinion of professional soldiers, Jesus was dead. Secondly, it became obvious to both John and the soldiers when the soldier thrust his spear into Jesus' side that His blood had begun to separate, indicating that his blood circulation had in fact ceased for some time before the moment he was stabbed by the soldier's spear. For these reasons we conclude that Jesus was certainly dead well before his body was finally taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb.
The New Testament contains evidence of at least eight separate appearances of Jesus, alive in His body again after His death. These appearances occurred during the forty days that elapsed between His resurrection and His ascension back to heaven. During these appearances He was seen alive by eyewitnesses, and I will present the records of these appearances and show how the behaviour of these eyewitnesses was altered in ways consistent with what they had experienced. Four appearances are recorded on the day of the resurrection in Jerusalem, followed by two others also in Jerusalem, one the same week and one early the week after. The final two appearances were during a fishing trip to Galilee, and at Christ's ascension from the mount of Olives near Jerusalem.
1) First Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James (and Jesus?), and Salome, early, about dawn on resurrection morning. Matthew 28 v 7 - 10, Mark 16 v 1 - 8, John 20 v 1 and 11 - 18. Just prior to meeting Jesus, Mary Magdalene was weeping, (John 20 v 11). When Mary met Jesus, she was the first to see Him alive after His resurrection. She also became the first person to worship him, (Matthew 28 v 9, John 20 v 17). These passages record that Mary clasped His feet, this act would not have been possible if Jesus were only a spirit. The disciples were mourning and weeping and most of them did not believe these women when they reported seeing Jesus alive, (Mark 16 v 10 - 11, Luke 24 v 11 - 12). Mary told all eleven of the disciples and all the rest, (Luke 24 v 9). The disciples were mourning in their own homes at this time, they were not assembled together, (Luke 24 v 12, John 20 v 10).
2) Next, Jesus appeared to Simon Peter privately during that same day, Luke 24 v 34, 1 Corinthians 15 v 5, (1 Peter 3 v 18 - 20 may also relate to Peter's conversation with Jesus at this meeting). Luke said that the disciples had been "collected together" by resurrection evening, (Luke 24 v 33) but how had they come to be gathered? It is likely that Jesus told Peter to do this during this private meeting. Also, this is likely because after leaving Peter, it is recorded that Jesus went out personally looking for Luke(?) and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus! (see number 3 below). Jesus did not want the sheep to scatter too far! (Matthew 26 v 31). It is highly probable that the dangerous job of collecting Jesus' disciples continued for about a week until five hundred had been assembled, see number 5 below. It is extremely unlikely that such a large number would have been assembled together in these dangerous circumstances unless there was a concerted effort and very good reason to "collect" them.
3) Jesus then appeared to the travellers on the road to Emmaus, on resurrection day afternoon to early evening; Luke 24 v 13 - 35 and Mark 16 v 12. The travellers were sad to begin with, then encouraged by Jesus' ministry. After their meeting with Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem as quickly as they could to rejoin the other disciples who were now being assembled.
4) Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples behind locked doors on resurrection evening; Luke 24 v 36 - 43, John 20 v 19 - 23, 1 Corinthians 15 v 5. At the time they gathered, John records that they were afraid of the Jews, (John 20 v 19). Jesus appears and commands them to receive the Holy Spirit and He breaths on them, (John 20 v 22). In the context of the same meeting it is recorded by Luke that they were joyful, (Luke 24 v 41) and that Jesus opened their minds to understand the scripture, (Luke 24 v 45). It is interesting to compare Luke 24 v 27 and 24 v 45; in the first passage Jesus is explaining the scripture but in the second He is making it possible for them to understand it without explanation! At this same meeting Jesus promises they will soon be "clothed power from above" and commands them to "sit" in Jerusalem until that power comes, (Luke 24 v 49, Acts 1 v 4 - 5). Thomas had been told of Jesus' resurrection by Mary Magdalene along with the other disciples; either he could not be found that evening, or what is more likely in view of John 20 v 25, he refused to join the other disciples for this appearance of Jesus. When Jesus first appeared that evening He did something very simple to prove to them that He was alive in His body and not merely a ghost; He asked for something to eat, and ate a piece of broiled fish in front of them, (Luke 24 v 41 - 43).
5) Jesus then appeared to five hundred brethren assembled at once, 1 Corinthians 15 v 6, this appearance probably occurred during the week the resurrection occurred since Paul says that at that time some of the Apostles had not yet seen him, (Thomas and maybe others were not present during Jesus' earlier appearance on resurrection evening, John 20 v 24, but Thomas was present when they saw Jesus again eight days later, see number 6). Sometime during this first week Jesus also appeared privately to His half-brother James. As a result of this meeting it is known that James and Jesus' other half-brothers believed in Jesus for the first time, (1 Corinthians 15 v 7, John 7 v 5, Acts 1 v 14)
6) Jesus appeared to the disciples who had locked themselves indoors, seven days later, when Thomas was present, (at last!), John 20 v 26 - 29, 1 Corinthians 15 v 7. When Thomas met Jesus he worshipped Him as God, a highly significant act, given the Jewish attitude to blasphemy.
7) Jesus appeared to Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and two other disciples whilst they were fishing on lake Tiberias (another name for lake Galilee). Matthew 28 v 7, 10, 16, John 21 v 1 - 25. The exact time of this appearance is not recorded, however it must have been between two and five weeks after the resurrection, (since lake Galilee is 75 miles away from Jerusalem. At walking pace, this distance would have taken them between four and five days to travel and the same again returning to Jerusalem afterward).
8) Jesus appeared to His disciples on the mount of Olives just prior to and during His ascension, on a Saturday about forty days after the resurrection. Matthew 28 v 16 - 20, Luke 24 v 51-53, Acts 1 v 6 - 12. Matthew records that most worshipped Jesus at his ascension but that some were uncertain what to do. In his gospel, Luke records the great joy of the disciples at the time of the ascension and the fact that they were continually blessing God in the Temple once they had returned to Jerusalem. For the Apostles and the disciples to be in the Temple, (right under the noses of the Jewish leaders) continually blessing God was very bold given the threat the Jewish leaders posed to their lives at that time. This bold behaviour is in marked contrast to their earlier behaviour of fleeing Jerusalem or hiding in the privacy of their own homes. Their recorded feelings of fear on the day of the resurrection, when they were terrified that the Jews would put them to death as well as Jesus are also in marked contrast to their joy and corporate worship at the time of the ascension.
To summarize, we have established that Jesus claimed to be God and confessed His true identity under oath. We have also established that He was found in truly human form and that He died on a cross. We have also established that after His death He was seen alive again in His own body by many people, who touched Him, held Him and saw Him eat in front of them. We therefore conclude that the resurrection actually happened, and as a result, Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be, He is God. Also, since He rose from the dead, He is still alive today, and He remains the Cornerstone of our faith. All other religious leaders lie buried, and their followers are therefore forced to follow the written teachings left by their dead leaders, however, Jesus is alive, and as well as having His teaching we can also have Him in our souls, follow Him in our daily lives, listen to Him speaking through His Spirit, and look forward to seeing Him again in glory, for;
"To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." [NIV] Colossians 1 v 27. with my emphasis added.
All power belongs to Jesus. Everything is under His control right now, (John 13 v 3). He can do anything He wills to do! (John 14 v 13 - 14). Therefore, do not allow yourself to be troubled, and do not be afraid." (John 14 v 27). Jesus rules the kings of the earth! (Revelation 1 v 5).
Three prerogatives of Jesus have radical consequences for us in practical terms. As Jesus said;
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me." [NIV] John 14 v 6
At the moment, I would like to focus on one facet of Jesus' statement "I am .. the truth." Many people look into the bible wanting to know what rules to follow. They search for a moral code, some truth to live by, in just the same way that other people look for moral guidance in the ancient writings of other religions. The bible does have moral teaching in it, but it also warns that following moral teaching is not the way to find God;
"know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no-one will be justified." [NIV] Galatians 2 v 16
Instead, the bible says that to find God you must know Jesus Christ. Jesus' own statement, "I am .. the truth" means that Jesus decides what is true and what is false - not the law, not the commandments of scripture. Truth is part of the power of Jesus. This means that the judgment about what is true and false is subjective, it depends on God's view in any given situation. Jesus said to Pilate during His trial:
"Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." [NIV] John 18 v 37
Truth is embedded in the Person of Jesus Christ, therefore it cannot be reduced to any written code. If it were possible to reduce Truth to a written code, then God would certainly have achieved it Himself when He gave the law to Moses. We cannot therefore be justified by obeying any written code. Since only Jesus Christ can justify us, faith in Him is the only way that we can be justified. Ultimately, Jesus Christ retains the prerogative to forgive the sins of one person and to condemn another person for the same sins. We can find examples of the monopoly that God has of truth and justification in God's revelations of Himself. As God said to Moses even whilst He was dictating the law:
"I will cause my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness and rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and the fourth generation." [NIV] Exodus 33 v 19 & 34 v 6b - 7
Jesus is a unity with God and therefore has the same power:
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." [NIV] John 3 v 17 - 21 & see also 2 Thessalonians 2 v 10 -11
If truth and falsehood depend on the opinion of Christ and His sovereign choice and our faith in Jesus Christ, then we cannot reasonably expect to live by any written code of ethics because ethical systems require objective distinctions between truth and falsehood, good and bad and the scripture does not offer this. The scripture's message is that trying to live an ethical life cannot make us righteous in God's sight, (Galatians 2 v 16). Jesus was constantly confronted by men who thought that righteousness consisted of living by a strict moral code. These people were wrong because they had no idea what they were talking about, (Mark 12 v 24 ff.). The prophets, Jesus and the apostles all make it very clear that God is not interested in our observance of laws, but in true righteousness of heart, (e.g. Isaiah 1 v 10 - 17, Matthew 5 v 20, Romans 8 v 3 - 4). Scripture contains God's law and moral teaching of all kinds for the following purposes:
to demonstrate our inability to achieve righteousness without Christ! (e.g. Romans 7 v 11)
to form a basis for the laws of society that condemn lawbreakers and rebels, (1 Timothy 1 v 8 - 11)
(No Christian is excused from obeying the laws of the society in which he or she lives. Provided that the laws of the land do not violate Paul's words in Romans 13 v 1 - 7, Christians are commanded to obey them. Christ demonstrated His obedience to the Roman laws hated by His fellow countryman by paying taxes, refuting Jews who taught otherwise and later submitting to the judgment of the Roman Procurator during His trial and execution. At no time did He violate the law imposed by the heathen Roman authorities.)
One of the legacies of the people of Israel's visit to mount Sinai was a pile of stone fragments. These fragments were all that remained of the first stone tablets upon which God had written the ten commandments with His own hands, the same tablets that Moses smashed when the people had made and worshipped the golden calf, (see Exodus 32). The law that God wrote was broken by the people of Israel before Moses reached the base of mount Sinai with it. Clearly, the law given to Moses could not, and did not change the hearts of the people and it did not enable them to find God. So, the scripture shows that we are wasting our time building codes of 'ethics' to live by and the bible does not purport to provide any objective basis for them anyway. Moses shows us what we might as well do with our codes of Christian ethics!
Since Jesus Christ is the Truth, knowing Him and believing in Him is the only way to find God and the only way to find Truth and the only way our hearts can be made righteous. It is Christ's opinion of me that matters - if He forgives me I am saved - if he condemns me I am lost. And there can be no ethical basis for arguing with God! Also, it is Christ we need to go to to find all manner of Truth, (John 18 v 37). He has it all, including all knowledge about everything in heaven and in the entire physical creation;
"Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." [NIV] Colossians 2 v 2 - 3
Ultimately, since Christ is the Creator of all things, He determines and upholds all Truth. All Truth is guaranteed upon the integrity of Christ. And there is no truth that we could possibly find out that He does not already own.
In the space of a single page or so, I am aware that I have rubbished much of what passes for Christianity today; The moralizing, the codes of ethics, the systematized slot-machine theologies that falsely claim to guarantee salvation, and so on. In fact, all such ideas are worse than rubbish, they are actually poisonous because they deceive and mislead people from finding the way to life and truth through Jesus Christ. Reading some more from the book of Colossians;
"See to it that no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." ... "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross..." [NIV] Colossians 2 v 8 & 13 - 14
The Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, makes it plain that the law and philosophies and systems of ethics built upon it are opposed to Christ and harmful to us - capable of trapping us. I wonder how many tens of thousands of people are trapped by these ideas today? The antidote to these poisons is also made clear by the Holy Spirit - faith in Christ. Trusting Him to forgive us and pleading with him to make us alive with Him. Jesus Christ is, and always has been, absolutely central to the day to day lives of His followers. A woman once asked me whether I have any Christian principles. I told her that I have none, all I have is Christ.
Every aspect of the righteousness announced in the gospel has either been accomplished by the work of Jesus Christ already, or is being accomplished by His Spirit now, or will be completed when Jesus returns a second time. It is fitting, therefore, that we should now focus on Jesus and the work He has already done and the work that He is now doing and the work that He will do to accomplish righteousness for us in God's sight and complete salvation for all people who believe in Him.
Jesus' preaching and ministry to the sick were only part of His mission and purpose in coming to the world of men. Throughout His ministry He spoke about an appointment with death that He was soon to keep. Jesus did not speak very much about it to the crowds of people that came to hear Him, however He did speak about it with His disciples in private, particularly as the time of His arrest approached. He had some difficulty making it clear to them what was about to happen, and even so, the disciples were perplexed that He should talk so willingly about going to His death. The fact remained that Jesus' death was part of His purpose, He foresaw what would happen to Him, He clearly predicted His own sufferings, but even so, He was determined to go through with them. The sufferings and death of Jesus were also clearly predicted in great detail by many passages in the Old Testament, (e.g. Psalm 22) and so it was also clearly part of God's plan that Jesus should come, suffer and die as He did. Jesus showed His own understanding of His mission and supreme courage when did not resist or object as He was arrested and tried by the authorities, before being humiliated and handed over to be executed by crucifixion. The reason He willingly allowed Himself to be taken and executed was because He knew it would be necessary to give His innocent life in order to pay the price for the sins of others, who at that time were the enemies of God. His aim was to bring about a reconciliation between God, His Father, and all those who believed in Him before and after His death. Jesus demonstrated His own love, and the Father's love for individual people by offering Himself for punishment in their place. His death on the cross means that it is now possible for our sins to be forgiven, blotted out and replaced with the innocence and righteousness of Christ, as we have discussed.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ exposes the true gravity of our sins and our inability to save ourselves; to some, who already consider themselves righteous, this is offensive, to others whose consciences are enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the message of the cross is just what they are waiting to hear. The gravity of our sins in Gods sight can be measured by the cost of their complete removal; nothing less than God's only Son willingly submitting himself to a slow and painful death on a cross. The magnitude of our sins is seen in the extremity of His humiliation, sufferings and death. If our sins where not so grievous, or if we could help ourselves to be better people, then Christ would not have needed to suffer so excessively or to have paid for our sins with His life in order to secure our salvation;
".... for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" [NIV] Galatians 2 v 21b
What Paul is saying is that obeying rules cannot make us right inside. Therefore, if we say we have no sin and are already righteous in God's sight, we are not only deceiving ourselves, but we also mock Christ's agonies on our behalf as unnecessary foolishness and make Him out to be a liar. Thus if we say we have not sinned we deny that He is God, (this is probably the definition of unbelief). Either this is so, and what Jesus did was foolish, or Jesus loves us as no-one else could ever love us.
"For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.'" [RSV] 1 Corinthians 1 v 17 - 19 with my emphasis added
The crux is simply this; either God is lying about us and Christ died for no reason or we are in grave trouble and need a Saviour. If we will believe in the power of His work for us on the cross and seek His power to change us inside, confessing our sins; God is faithful and He will forgive us our sins. Moreover, through Jesus' work on the cross, He will cleanse even our consciences from the inner stain of unrighteousness;
"Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." [NIV] Hebrews 10 v 22
If we follow Him by walking by His Spirit, He will go on rescuing us from the tyranny of our sinful lusts by His power at work within us, (Galatians 5 v 16, also 3 v 3 and Romans 6 v 10). God has already demonstrated the love He has for us when He forfeited His life Personally on a cross to save us, therefore He will never, ever forsake those who depend on Him. God the Father showed His approval of Jesus' work on the cross on our behalf by raising Him from the dead after three days. The Father promises the same resurrection to all those who put their hope in Jesus. Furthermore, it is the Father's express purpose to make us the beneficiaries of His kingdom, (Luke 12 v 32). This is the power of the message about the cross for those of us who believe in Jesus; this is our strong assurance of the love God has for us; the love of God for us is stronger than death and more powerful than the grave.
"because by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy" [NIV] Hebrews 10 v 14
Jesus' Self-sacrifice on the cross achieved the "perfection in perpetuity" of those who are being sanctified. Note the tenses here: Firstly; Jesus has made perfect for ever - the verb is in the perfect tense, one action in the past that never has to be repeated, secondly; those who are being made holy - the verb is in the present tense. Even though they are not perfect yet, those who are being made holy are fully accepted by God already. This "perfection in perpetuity" was achieved for us by Jesus on the cross and it corresponds with being clothed with a robe of salvation as described in the Isaiah passage, (Isaiah in 61 v 10).
In addition, the context of the tenth chapter of Hebrews also contains some wonderful depth of truth about the cross. In this chapter, the "perfection in perpetuity," (Hebrews 10 v 14 quoted above) that Jesus achieved for us is contrasted with the sin offering under the old system of sacrifice commanded in the law of Moses, (Hebrews 10 v 1). In particular, the old sin offering is seen as defective because it could not remove either the guilt, or the guilty conscience of the people, (Hebrews 9 v 14 and 10 vv 2 & 11) and worse still it had to be offered repeatedly by another man, (a priest) which only served to rub it in, perpetually reminding people of their sins, (Hebrews 10 vv 3 & 11). In contrast to this, Jesus' death on the cross was a single sacrifice accomplished in the past that removes both the sins and guilty consciences of His people continually in the present, (Hebrews 9 v 14 and 10 vv 14 & 22). Thus, for those who believe in Jesus' finished work on the cross, complete forgiveness is available, (Hebrews 10 vv 18 & 19). Unlike people under the old covenant system who had to rely on second-hand knowledge from the priesthood, our Father wants us to rely on the present reality of His forgiveness with direct and personal access into His presence when we pray, (vv 1, 10 & 19 - 22). Are there some outwardly Christian rituals today that actually perpetuate the old order of guilt, Divine remoteness and continual sacrifice, as if Jesus dies every Sunday and people need reminding of their sins? If so, then perhaps instead the good news about forgiveness and peace with God should be announced! The Holy Spirit warns us that those who try to perpetuate the old system by whatever means will die in their sins, since there is no way that sacrifices can remove them, (Hebrews 10 v 4). The sacrificial death of Jesus for the removal of our sins brings perpetual perfection, since God's complete satisfaction with Jesus' offering was demonstrated when He raised Him from the dead. Therefore if we are living in God's grace and power, believing in our Lord's work on the cross for us, we cannot possibly improve our position, the job is already done! I will explain in more detail why it is impossible to improve our status in God's sight in the next section about the continuing work of Jesus in heaven.
It may come as a surprise to many people that Jesus is more directly active in the world today than He was during His incarnation. In his own introduction to the book of Acts, Luke presents the book as evidence of the continuing work and teaching of Christ on earth. He said:
"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day he was taken up into heaven, ..." [NIV] Acts 1 v 1 - 2a
Luke says that Jesus' works and teachings up to the time of His ascension, were only the beginning. In saying this Luke interprets the events he records in the book of Acts as the continuing actions of Christ on earth. His interpretation of what happened is also borne out by the detail included in the book of Acts. For example, take Peter's words to those who saw the healing of the cripple in the Temple courts, (Acts 3 v 12 - 13). Peter says that it was not through his own piety or godliness that the miracle was achieved, on the contrary Peter identifies Jesus as the One who actually did it. Peter and John explained to everyone that they had merely acted in obedience to Jesus' direction to them through the Holy Spirit, as it says later in the same passage. Peter points to the miracle as evidence that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead in his defence before the Sanhedrin, Acts 4 v 10. For some other examples, see Acts 4 v 30, Acts 9 v 4 - 6 & 15 - 17. All these scriptures show that the disciples and the Apostles saw the miraculous things that were happening around them as the acts of the resurrected Christ, even though most of the time, Jesus was working and teaching unseen. This is absolutely key to understanding the powerful events recorded in the book of Acts - and key to understanding how Jesus continues to work and teach in our own time. The book of Acts shows how Jesus worked with His people to multiply His effectiveness after His resurrection, a situation He foresaw before His death and resurrection:
"I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." [NIV} John 12 v 24
So then, the works of Jesus did not finish with His death and resurrection, they were just beginning. After He ascended to heaven from the mount of Olives, (Acts 1 v 9 - 12). He was to start working on our behalf in heaven and on the earth. Firstly, let us look at Christ's continuing work in heaven.
When Jesus was talking with His disciples, shortly before His arrest, He spoke about His departure to heaven and began to talk to them about the work that He would do in heaven, work that He is even now doing;
"Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. .. " [NIV] John 16 v 5 - 7 with my emphasis added.
Once Jesus had departed to heaven He sent the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, (v13) to continue our salvation, (v 12 - 13) and to take command of the spread of God's kingdom in the world, (v 8 - 11). A little later, whilst praying with His disciples, Jesus said;
"For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified." [NIV] John 17 v 19 with my emphasis added.
Now, in heaven, Jesus' efforts are focused on the task of making us holy like Him. He expands a little on this by saying to the Father;
"I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." [NIV] John 17 v 26 with my emphasis added.
Not only is Jesus in heaven now, but also at the same time He is within those who believe, making the Father and the Father's love known to us. In this way He joins us inwardly to the heart of God in heaven whilst we are living down here. The point of this is that we share more of the Lord's thoughts, and of course, He shares ours. This is the type of inner two way prayer that we constantly experience as believers to supplement the shorter times that we can set aside to devote to prayer.
When we initially become disciples of Jesus and are baptized into His name, Jesus Himself deals with our sinful nature, removing its capacity to dominate our lives. This is part of the continuing work of Christ on our behalf, as Paul says;
"In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." [NIV] Colossians 2 v 11 - 12 with my emphasis added.
In addition to these activities, Jesus constantly deals with our sins after we believe in Him and speaks to the Father in our defence, as the apostle John says;
"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence - Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." [NIV] 1 John 2 v 1 - 2 and see also Hebrews 7 v 24 - 25
Again notice the tense in the statement; "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins," this is the reason that Jesus is called the Lamb of God in heaven. In his book of Revelation, John sees Jesus as having the form of a lamb that has been slain;
"Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders." [NIV] Revelation 5 v 6a
The meaning of all this is that Jesus still is the atoning sacrifice for our sins right now, and His atonement for our sins is right at the centre of the throne of God. Why did God show John that the atonement for our sins is right at the centre of the throne of God? The atonement has to be there because so are we, our spirits are already seated with Christ, (Ephesians 2 v 6, quoted below). The fact is; the blood of Jesus that takes away the sins of the world has been taken by Jesus right into the presence of God, as is recorded in book of Hebrews;
"He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption." [NIV] Hebrews 9 v 12
Jesus' atonement for our sins makes us constantly acceptable in God's sight, if the atonement were not at the centre of the throne of God, we could not dwell with Him;
"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus." [NIV] Ephesians 2 v 4 - 7
It is not possible for us to improve on our status in God's sight by our own efforts because it is not possible to get any higher than Jesus has already placed us. As we have discovered, Jesus joins us continually to the heart of God, His Spirit dwells in us and our spirits dwell with one another and with Christ in God. Together we are trophies of our Father's grace and kindness, sinners whose sins are atoned for, dwelling with our Saviour in God.
To summarize what we have explored so far about the continuing work of Jesus:
He is responsible for sending the Holy Spirit to live within us.
He is organizing our sanctification.
He is revealing God the Father to us.
Jesus is responsible for our heart circumcision when we believe in Him.
He speaks to the Father in our defence when we sin, so that we can continually dwell with Him in God.
All this work Jesus still does, otherwise no-one could believe and be saved. Jesus is still the way to the Father, (John 14 v 6). This is why He is still working - to continue to provide salvation for the people of God.
As well as providing salvation for individuals, Jesus is also working as the Ruler of the whole house of God. As it says in the book of Hebrews:
"Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a Son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast." [NIV] Hebrews 3 v 5 - 6 with my emphasis, highlighting the tense.
Moses died, and therefore his service in God's house could not be sustained. Christ died, but after three days, He came back to life. He continues to lead and to rule God's house, sustained by an indestructible life. A more detailed discussion about Jesus presently ruling God's house, can be found in my book on the mystery of the Church. There are many in the churches who do not know this truth and even if they did know it, they would prefer it not to be so. Like the Jewish leaders, these people have built different houses themselves and have rejected the Capstone and the house that God is building, (Acts 4 v 11). The truth stands though, Christ is in day to day control of God's house. He appoints humble and faithful people to serve in God's house and He removes those who are unfaithful from their positions, (Matthew 24 v 45 - 51). Christ leads His people - He is their one and only Shepherd, they will not respond to another's voice, (John 10 v 4 - 5).
The scriptures clearly teach that Jesus is due back on earth for a second visit. As it says in the book of Hebrews;
"so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." [NIV] Hebrews 9 v 28
The second visit will not be like the first and will have nothing to do with getting rid of sins. Jesus will come again to bring a gift for us, our salvation. But what does this mean exactly?
"For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him." [NIV] 1 Corinthians 15 v 22 - 23
The salvation that Jesus will bring us when He comes is new life in resurrection. But this new life will not be temporary like our present lives, our new bodies will be eternal. Paul goes on to speak in detail about our gift of new life, (1 Corinthians 15 v 35 - 58). The Spirit says through Paul that our present bodies are like seeds, when we are buried after our death it is like being planted. Later we 'germinate' and God causes us to grow into a body very different in form to the 'seed' that was planted when we died. Paul contrasts the seed with what grows from it;
"So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." [NIV] 1 Corinthians 15 v 42 - 44a
Paul develops this last contrast between the natural body and the spiritual body further. First he says that we cannot have this spiritual body unless we have previously had a natural one;
"If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." and "The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual" [NIV] 1 Corinthians 15 v 44b and v 46
This means that our spiritual bodies will have a uniqueness dependent on our present form. Secondly, Paul says that just as we bear the likeness of our common forefather Adam, (and we are all different nevertheless), so in our new lives we will bear the likeness of Jesus;
"And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bare the likeness of the man from heaven." [NIV] 1 Corinthians 15 v 49
Thus we have a wonderful picture of our destiny in Christ, we will retain our uniqueness of appearance as well as character, but all the negatives about our present bodies will not be there in our new ones, we will no longer be perishable, or disfigured, or weak; but instead, imperishable, glorious and powerful. OK, so where does all this leave us? Jesus also said about His second visit;
"In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14 v 2 - 3
Our salvation also includes our accommodation prepared by Jesus in His Father's house. The rooms already exist, so in His kindness, Jesus is working right now to prepare the internal decor and furnishings individually for each one of us. I wonder what He will put in our rooms?
These are the facts about the salvation that Jesus is bringing with Him when He comes again to fetch us. There are many more events that will occur when Jesus comes again, but this is part of another mystery to be explored separately.
Consult the chronology pages presented elsewhere on my website.
Temple in Jerusalem was a 46 year project according to John 2 v
Passovers are mentioned:- John 2 v 13 & John 4 v 3
Luke 13 v 35 - Jesus refers to Psalm 118 v 25 - 27. Song of ascent at Passover perhaps?
Jesus was 3 days from Bethany, His route is recorded in Luke 17 v 11.
"Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words"; Vine, W. E., Publ. MacDonald ISBN 0-917006-03-8
"Vine's complete expository dictionary of old and new testament words"; Vine, W.E., Unger, M.F. and White, W. Publ. Thomas Nelson 1985, ISBN 0-8407-7559-8
"The Mystery of Man"; Ring, S. R. 1994 (Unpublished book).
"The History of the Church", Eusebius, (AD 260 - 339), book 2; Tiberius to Nero #25, Publ. Penguin Classics 1989.
"We Travel An Appointed Way", A. W. Tozer. Copyright 1988. Publ. OM Publishing, ISBN 1 85078-116-8, p59
"The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered" Robert Eisenman & Michael Wise. Publ.: Penguine 1993. Page 107
"Against Praxeas" by Tertullian see the following website and URL for an English translation: http://ccel.wheaton.edu/fathers2/ANF-03/anf03-43.htm#P10395_29126 30
"First letter of Clement to the Corinthians" See for example, "Early Christian Writings", Penguin Classics 1987. This is a letter written about AD 96 by Clement bishop of Rome to the Corinthian church who had just replaced their church leadership. In paragraph 40 of his letter, Clement justifies the use of a hierarchical leadership and uses the term 'laic' from which we get the word 'laity' meaning those Christians who are not clerics. Hence the idea of hierarchical church leadership superior to the laity was born very early in Rome.