The Two Advents of the Messiah 3

What is it that We Want in our Relationship with God?

Christian philosophy and apologetics has rightly clarified a key distinction about faith in the existence of God.

Real, dynamic, actionable faith in God does not exist in a world in which the existence of God is an absolute observable fact like the existence of the noonday sun, or an indisputable truth like two plus two equals four.

Over the previous six thousand or more years of human redemptive history, God has skillfully maintained a delicate balance between the evidence for His existence and the ability of humans to exercise unbelief.  This keeps in play the critical element of free-will choice, which adds value and meaning to our choice to trust and follow God in faith, in this broken world.

The key point that many Jews in the first-century blindly missed in evaluating Jesus of Nazareth as a candidate for messiah, is that Jesus ruling and reigning on earth in the fullest sense, starting sometime around 30 to 33 A.D., brings to an abrupt end the exercise of free-will choice and the experience of a journey of faith. 

They missed this key point because they themselves had not experienced a personal journey of faith with God in their own lives (Jn. 7:17).

God’s ability to compose and orchestrate brilliantly original life-scripts to reveal Himself to people who choose to follow Him through the medium of an adventure of faith, ends abruptly in this current broken world environment… when Jesus permanently assumes His place on the throne as King and Savior according to the second advent half of the messianic prophecies.

Gideon’s experience of an Old Testament challenge of faith, recorded in the book of Judges, would have had no further context to play itself out in Christ’s glorious reign…there will be no Midianites or anyone else attacking the New Jerusalem then or forever after.

The type of brilliantly creative journey of faith of Joseph’s rise in Egypt, recorded in the Old Testament book of Genesis, would have no further context to actualize in Christ’s glorious rule and reign upon earth…there will be no more famines in Egypt or anywhere else from that time onward.

If the messianic prophecies of the first and second advent of Jesus Christ are fully combined in the first-century, the powerful conversion and subsequent ministry of Paul has no continuing context…no one, including Paul, would mistakenly be persecuting the early church during Christ’s rule and reign in the first-century.

The fulfillment of the second-advent portions of the messianic prophecies regarding Jesus Christ, and all that they entail, would have been totally premature in the first-century.

The human race was not ready for the fulfillment of these final messianic prophecies.  Many of the chosen people of God…the Jews in the first- century…did not at that time understand the concepts of grace, a journey of faith, or the Old Testament verse that “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4) that Paul clarified in his New Testament writings and that Martin Luther rediscovered at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Even to this day, contemporary Christianity has still not fully recovered an understanding and worldly-free application of the second half of the cross in the lives of individual born-again Christians, which was partially lost during the dark and middle ages of history.

Jesus said that He had more lost sheep, not of this first-century fold, to seek and to save (Jn. 10:16).  This meant that God had many more individualized, unconventional life-scripts to compose and orchestrate as only God can do, to personally reveal Himself to the people of faith to come into existence during the centuries of the church age.

First-century Christianity moves out from the purity of doctrine and practice in Judea…into the paganism and classical philosophy of the Greco-Roman world, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., so that mankind can work through the eternally important issues of truth for the next 1900 years or more.

This all-important task is still ongoing.

There were tens of thousands of first-century Jews in Jerusalem, in Israel, and in the Mediterranean world who did accept Jesus as Messiah and believed in Him as Savior (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 21:20).

But there obviously was a large difference in the first-century between the backgrounds, cultures, and expectations of the Jews and the Gentiles.

The Gentiles had no expectations about any messiah whatsoever…world ruler or suffering servant…because a gospel message regarding the fulfillment of age-old biblical messianic prophecies was entirely unknown to them.

The Gentile Christians of the New Testament era therefore had no reason to be offended by a crucified and risen Jesus Christ as Messiah.  The Gentiles in the first-century Greco-Roman world, who were moved by the Holy Spirit preaching of Paul, gladly received the gospel message by faith because they recognized their personal sin and their need for a Savior.

The Gentiles in Antioch Pisidia believed the message of Paul, wanted to become new creatures in Christ, and recognized their need to discard their past lives of sin through the cross.

The Gentiles who believed the preaching of Paul were open to the idea of a new adventure of faith following Jesus Christ according to the new covenant model of a personal relationship with God.  In this sense they were no different from the Jews in Antioch Pisidia who also believed and accepted this message of salvation through the preaching of Christ crucified and risen, introduced by Paul and Barnabas.

From this moment forward, both Jews and Gentiles entered into the new covenant adventures of faith that God would compose and orchestrate for each one of them.  This fulfilled the prophetic promise of God to Abraham, and is described by Paul in Romans 10:12.

The preaching of the cross by Paul in Antioch Pisidia in Acts 13, to begin his lifelong ministry of evangelism to the first-century Mediterranean world, divides and separates forever the difference between the unconventional nature of a God-composed life-script entered through faith in Christ, and the empty and lifeless performance of perfunctory religious practices not having the intimate participation of the living God in the events and circumstances of our lives.

If people are indeed made complete in our new covenant relationship with God, if being “in Christ” is the truest form of rational existence, then the preaching of Paul in Antioch Pisidia is a demonstration of the component of pure, divinely unselfish love intended to seek and to save that which is lost (Mt. 18:11).

This extends down through the centuries as the love-filled component of the high standards of God for the soon coming end-times.

Christians living today in the developed nations of the world are in danger of falling into a subtle variation of the same mistake the Jews made in the first-century in rejecting Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah.

If our vision is worldly horizontal only, if we are looking for a Jesus who will fix our outward world by providing a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car, better vacations, and more economic wealth and prosperity, based solely on performing religious observances and church attendance…then we are once again repeating history and looking for the wrong messiah.

If we are going through the motions of attending church solely for the benefits of fitting-in and conforming to the social and cultural expectations of our immediate family and/or our local community, then we are in jeopardy of being left behind as were the Jews in Antioch Pisidia, who were exposed by Paul’s message of a new covenant adventure of faith through Christ (Acts 13:39).

We are in jeopardy of likewise being identified as merely a lukewarm religious person participating in the synagogue for all of the wrong reasons.

If we are looking for a soft and malleable God who will stay safely within the boundary limits of conventional religious normalcy in His participation and impact upon our lives, then we are looking for a God who is not the God of the Bible. 

Modern Christians must choose Jesus Christ for the same correct reason the Jews and Gentiles received Paul’s message in Antioch Pisidia in the first-century.  Paul preached the cross and the resurrection because it is the power of God to change a person from a life of sin to a life of righteousness, faith, and holiness.  Paul could preach with bold conviction the transforming power of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, because Paul stood before the crowd of people in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia…as a living example of this transformation.

The message of the cross leads directly to an unconventional, individually scripted adventure of faith following Jesus Christ, to match the journey of faith that Paul was personally experiencing and preaching about in Antioch Pisidia.  The same separation from the worldly conventional in the first- century exists today, with the precise details of our new covenant Christian lives varying to match our own individual God-given talents and modern-day callings.

People who are justified in their own self-estimation, who think they are just fine the way they are, who have no interest in pursuing an adventure of faith in fellowship with the living God, will look for a God who will fix their outer worldly circumstances only.

Adam and Eve had everything in the Garden of Eden.  They were in idyllic surroundings of incomparable beauty, and they enjoyed daily fellowship with God Himself.

But when they were tempted with having more…to become “as gods, knowing good and evil,” they disobeyed God and fell into sin.  They succumbed to the enticement of having more.

In Mark 14:53-65 and Matthew 26:57-66, during His night trial before Caiaphas the high priest and some of the scribes and Jewish elders, Jesus is asked “are you the messiah, tell us plainly?”

Jesus is the personification of Isaiah 9:6-7, the Son of God in a human body, as He humbly stands on trial before this group of religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Yet clearly He is not up to their expectations.  They wanted more.

Jesus was not out in battle with an Israeli army defeating the Romans.  Jesus was not rallying the populace toward the political and economic reforms that would beneficially change the entire world.  Jesus was not in the process of restoring the old glory and splendor of the reigns of David and Solomon, which would beneficially spill over into the power base of these religious rulers.  Jesus was not even verbally defending Himself, in fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:7.

Jesus instead had been out in the countryside of Israel amongst the common people, healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching eternal truths, and raising the dead.  He was eternally impacting people’s lives.  Jesus was doing in the first-century what He is still doing today…beneficially transforming people through deliverance from sin, creating spiritual rebirth, and building growth in character that comes through a journey of faith actively following God.

As Jesus stands before these religious leaders of Israel, Jesus models this unconventional life-script of God perfectly (Isa. 55:8-9).

The life-script of God for Jesus of Nazareth, the Passover Lamb of God slain from the foundation of time for the sins of mankind (Rev. 13:8), is composed and orchestrated by God the Father to perfectly match the uniquely divine capacity of the Son of God.

In rejecting Jesus, these men are not only rejecting the physical manifestation of God Himself standing before them, but they are also emphatically rejecting the God-composed, supernaturally unconventional journey-of-faith exemplified in Jesus that makes Him uniquely the way, the truth, and the life.

These religious leaders did not want the way, the truth, and the life through a God-composed, unconventional adventure of faith that would separate them from the pride of their own self-sovereignty.

These religious leaders wanted a God who would only intervene in the external world according to their partially incomplete interpretation of the messianic prophecies, while leaving in place their ability to operate as the autonomous gods of their lives.

This is one of the powerful motivating forces explaining the reason why these religious leaders went to such extreme lengths to unwittingly, unknowingly, and personally fulfill the messianic prophecies by having Jesus the Messiah crucified.

It is ironically fitting that through their dual rejection of Jesus and a God-composed journey-of-faith, they themselves directly provided the very means by which God opened up the way of salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.

This is why the cross is such a deadly serious issue, surgically dividing truth from error, and demonstrates why God our Father cannot successfully be fooled with, outwitted, or outmaneuvered.

Jesus was indeed offering more, but it was on a higher level incomprehensible to these religious leaders.  Jesus was offering to them, to the nation of Israel, and to us today, a life-experience comparable to that of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and what was to be experienced in the very near future in the lives of Peter, Paul, and the early Christian church.

The “more” that Jesus was offering rises above the unsatisfying possession of an abundance of material objects, that will rust and decay here on earth.

The “more” that Jesus was offering surpasses the fickleness of worldly applause and acclaim, which can quickly fade from memory and turn overnight into jeers and rejection.

Jesus was offering no less than the personal working and moving of the Almighty Creator of the universe in our lives to craft us into people who can exhibit and enjoy the benefits of unselfish love, forgiveness of others, the satisfaction of commendable industry and excellence in our work, and the rock-solid confidence of elevated character that nothing and no one on this earth can overturn.

Jesus was offering to these religious leaders and to us, a transformed new life that can be elevated up into the unconventional, supernatural workings of God that can craft Joseph into the governor of Egypt, David into the king of Israel, and can completely change a person like Saul of Tarsus into the Apostle Paul of the book of Acts and Romans chapter 16.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 1

“And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.”                    (Acts 17:2-3)

In Acts 13:14-41, Paul would have preferred to preach the outwardly positive message of Jesus Christ the Messiah who rules and reigns from Jerusalem as the political, spiritual, and military leader who would bring world peace according to the prophecies we now understand…in hindsight…to relate to the second advent of Christ.

To begin his major evangelical missionary outreach to the first-century Mediterranean world, Paul would have liked to bring the up-to-the-moment recent news to the Jews in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia, of the positive impact of the Messiah Jesus in Jerusalem…who was in the beginning stages of restoring their homeland of Israel to political independence and spiritual predominance…as in centuries past.

This is the message that all Jews living outside of Israel would have been overjoyed to hear.

But Paul preached to them the cross (Mk. 9:12).  The cross and the resurrection were the reality in first-century Israel and the Greco-Roman world.

Paul (a Jew having a first-rate rabbinical education, taught by Gamaliel in Jerusalem), preached that Jesus the Messiah was crucified and rose from the dead (Acts 13:30) for the remission of our sins (Acts 13:38-39), despite the temporary humiliation for our sakes of becoming a curse hanged on a tree (Gal. 3:13).

Paul preached the message of the cross, which was an offense to many of the Jews of his day, because they were looking in expectation for the other messiah, the “Son of David” prophesied in the Old Testament who would redeem Israel from her enemies and usher in an everlasting world reign of righteousness, justice, and peace (1 Chr. 17:11-13).

The Old Testament messianic prophecies that apply to the second coming of Christ are in the Bible for a very good reason.  They supply indispensable information that forms the basis for hope for the future.

But these messianic prophecies also bring to the first-century a razor-sharp sword for dividing truth from error, and for exposing what is in the hearts of people…which can be instructive for us today.

Paul wrote of the Jews of his day in Romans 10:3…“For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”

Simeon in the temple in Jerusalem prophesied to Joseph and Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk. 2:34-35).

Jesus said of many of the Jews in Israel “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life,” and “How can ye believe, who receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (Jn. 5:40; 5:44, italics mine).

Many of the Jews sitting in the audience in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia, listening to Paul in Acts 13, thought of themselves, on balance, as good people.  They did not think they needed additional spiritual improvement.  They thought that they were righteous before God because they were Jews, faithfully practicing the Law and observing the rituals given to them by Moses.

Their expectation was for a messiah who would fix the negative circumstances of their outside world, not reform their inner man through conviction of sin, repentance, and spiritual rebirth (Jn. 3:3).

This important distinction is the issue that Jesus emphasized in His famous night conversation with Nicodemus the Pharisee.

The new preaching of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch Pisidia exposed the fact that some practicing Jews, going through the mere outward motions of religious observances, were worshipping God for naught.

Along these lines, Paul explains in Romans 9:6 “For they are not all Israel, who are of Israel.”  Paul goes on to say in Romans 11:2 that: “God hath not cast away his people whom he foreknew” and in the previous verse says that he himself is also a Jew, believing in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Savior.

Paul and Barnabas, both Jews, preached Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the grave for the remission of our sins into a new and living way.

This new gospel message revealed the large gulf between people performing religious practices in a purely mechanical exercise according to cultural expectations, without their heart and mind being truly committed and engaged, and a genuine journey of faith following Jesus Christ through unconventional life-scripts composed by God to reveal Himself individually to people.

This was described by Jeremiah as the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34).  The new covenant preaching of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch Pisidia brought the journey-of-faith experience back full-circle to the promise of God to make Abraham, the father of faith, a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3; 22:18).

Jews and Gentiles alike, sitting together two thousand years after Abraham…in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia…fulfilled this ancient promise.

The transition from the old covenant to the new covenant, inaugurating the new church age, exposed the emptiness of religious practices performed solely to enjoy the benefits of conforming to cultural expectations.

The new covenant opened wide the already existing entrance into a life of faith in God…first introduced through the life of faith of Abraham in Canaan years before…and perfected through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Passover Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins.

Becoming Last for Jesus, in the End-Times 3

As modern-day Christians, we cannot discover the eternally valid lesson of the faithfulness of God…without stepping out into the risk of an adventure of faith following God wherever He leads.

The supernatural power of God for character transformation and Christian service comes with the prerequisite of divine love and genuine humility, purchased through a God-composed and guided measure of hardship within our journey of faith.  This is one element that sets the godly biblical life uniquely apart.  As Christians, we are at our finest and best when our characters exhibit the divine quality of self-effacing, vaunteth-not-itself, servant-like humility exemplified in biblical characters like Joseph, Moses, David, Paul, Peter, and of course Jesus Christ.

This is the creative dilemma and challenge for God.  How does God manufacture a person like Joseph, with the capacity to rule Egypt as governor, yet with the independent virtue to reject through his own free-will choice, the destructive pride of an Absalom corrupted by self-centered, self-adoration?

How does God create a person having the innate abilities of a Joseph, who can learn through carefully guided yet difficult experience, to emulate the near-divine, high level of character to be able to forgive out of his own free-will choice the earlier trespasses of his brothers, through unselfish and bitterness-free grace?

How does God create people close enough in quality to Himself in order to be able to enjoy a meaningful relationship with, like an Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, Esther, and Daniel, yet with the character judgment to be able to reject the enticing temptation of Lucifer “ye shall be as gods?”

How does God create a person like Paul, having the innate high intelligence and superb people-skills to fulfill the enormously difficult calling to evangelize the first-century Mediterranean world, yet possessing the humility to recognize, understand, and accept the loving intention of God wrapped up in the concept of “For I think that God hath set forth us, the apostles, last” (1 Cor. 4:9).

The uniquely brilliant way that God has overcome this creative dilemma is to invent a vehicle called an adventure of faith involving the supernatural participation of God in the events and circumstances of our lives, centered around the timeless demonstration of perfect, unselfish love featured in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is how God can supernaturally manufacture godly people who can make the character leap to becoming the father of faith, the governor of Egypt, a king of Israel, a missionary evangelist in the first century, or even the Son of God Himself flawlessly demonstrating these characteristics as the Passover Lamb of God Savior for the entire world, without developing an inflated ego and a swelled head.

The people of faith in the Bible rise to the occasion of becoming capable of an intimate and fulfilling relationship with God amidst their God-composed life-scripts, without falling into the destructive self-worship of their own abilities and talents, because the adventure of faith invented by God contains the element of seemingly insurmountable adversity which separates us from self-sovereignty.  This accurately describes the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the essence of the cross.

The characters of faith in the Bible cannot reach their destinations through worldly conventional scenarios.  It is the uniquely supernatural elements of the cross applied to the events in our lives that produces the God-desired outcome of gifted and talented people that God can have meaningful fellowship with, who also independently understand and appreciate the issues behind freely choosing righteousness and self-sacrificing love, instead of self-centered, self-worship.

This is the narrow-gate aspect of the cross of Jesus Christ that is inaccessible and incomprehensible to the world.

Fulfilling our calling like Joseph, David, and Paul is not accomplished by going around God in a self-autonomous, worldly conventional effort.  Nothing supernatural happens using this approach.  Fulfilling our unique callings and actualizing God’s intended character growth for each one of us, no matter what our particular gifts, talents, and circumstances…is accomplished by going directly through God.  It is the supernatural participation of God in the circumstances and events of our lives, above and beyond conventional wisdom…that adds the purpose, meaning, and richness to a walk of faith with Jesus Christ.

A biblical-quality journey of faith removes the element of pride because it is God’s plan, not ours.  There is no room for knee-jerk pushback, stubborn resistance to change, or the prideful protection of our established turf of doing things our way, when we surrender our leadership position to God as commander of the expedition.

When our plans are entirely displaced by God-composed life-scripts, we follow God’s leadership in faith and trust that leaves no room for pride-filled self-adulation.

As previewed in the God-composed life-scripts of the people of faith in the Bible, the end-times Christian church needs to become last, like Paul, within the seemingly impossible context of the tribulation events (Mt. 24:9-14; Jn. 16:33) to be able to experience and exhibit the divine character traits of humility, love, forbearance, and forgiveness.

At the beginning of the end-times tribulation…in my opinion…the Christian church does not need escape.  At the beginning of the tribulation the church needs the supernatural infusion of God in our lives that will produce the biblical quality of faith that can say along with Job: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).

Paul’s statement in this obscure and seldom taught 1 Corinthians 4:9 verse about his thinking that God has set forth himself and his colleagues the apostles as last, is actually one of the most powerful and instructive statements in all of the Bible.

Paul is most effective in his outreach of the transforming power of the gospel message that can change a person from a life of sin and darkness into a new creature “in Christ” full of spiritual light and love, when Paul himself is least worldly-esteemed as an earthen clay pot emptied of the self-adoration of his own gifts and talents.

Paul is operating at his highest and best use for service in the kingdom of God, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, when God has set him forth in the eyes of the world as last.

This is one of the keys to understanding our spiritual condition in the last-days when Christians will be hated of all nations (Mt. 24:9) and when the Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-29).

Becoming Last for Jesus, in the End-Times 2

The lives of the biblical characters are different because God is different…His ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:9).

In a worldly conventional sense, how does a person apply for the job opening of governor of Egypt, with a resume that is as weak on its surface as Joseph’s?  Joseph was merely a head-servant in Potiphar’s house, and merely a helper of the keeper of the king’s prison where Joseph himself was a prisoner.

But in reality, Joseph truly is qualified for leadership at the highest management level to become governor of Egypt, through God’s imaginatively conceived training regime.

Yet only God knows this.

On paper, in a worldly conventional context there is absolutely no way whatsoever that Joseph would ever, even momentarily, be considered for such a powerful and prestigious position.  Joseph is not even Egyptian.  Yet God can compose, orchestrate, and bring to pass the incredible events that shape the story of Joseph’s life.

This enormous leap from Pharaoh’s prison to becoming the governor of Egypt is an example of the supernatural participation of God in our lives.

            Worldly conventional wisdom…and God’s supernatural approach…do not mix…but are on the extreme opposite ends of the scale of the imaginable and the possible. 

Similarly, in a worldly conventional sense, how does a person who is starting at the very bottom like the 17-year old David, follow God’s supernatural lead to take them all the way up to the height of personal achievement in becoming the king of Israel?

This is a one-in-a-million long-shot for the youngest son in a large family of older brothers, whose only life experience, on paper, is as a shepherd and musician (1 Sam. 16:18).

No one outside of David’s immediate family even knows that God sent the prophet Samuel to seek out and anoint among the sons of Jesse…a future king for Israel.

But David does show such great early potential in killing Goliath, and defeating the Philistines in several battles…that King Saul eventually realizes that David will someday supplant his own son Jonathan for the throne of Israel.

Yet events on the road to becoming king are so daunting and challenging…much like Paul’s numerous challenges centuries later as a missionary evangelist…that David can write in Psalm 23 about God’s supernatural protective presence as David walks through the valley of the very shadow of death.

Only God can craft such an incredibly unconventional journey to the throne of Israel, combining commendable character-building lessons along the way such as faith, honor, patience, determination, humility, and courage that are in such contrast to the worldly approaches of graft, corruption, nepotism, favoritism, political intrigue, and outright military rebellion to obtain a kingship…so typical in secular history.

Again, from a worldly conventional sense, how does a person apply for the narrowly specific job opening of missionary evangelist to the Greco-Roman world of the first-century, with Paul’s extremely contrary past history?

Paul as Saul the Pharisee was the deadliest enemy of the early church.  On paper, Paul is an absolute disaster as a future Christian evangelist, before the time of his turn-around conversion at Damascus.

Paul is the last person on the planet that conventional wisdom would consider and single-out as a viable candidate to preach the message to the first- century world that Jesus of Nazareth is our way to God.  Only Almighty God can craft the brilliantly creative character journey that spans the wide gulf from Saul the persecutor…to about twenty-five years later as Paul the beloved apostle of Romans chapter 16.

The events and circumstances of a truly godly, biblical-quality life are not things we can simply manufacture ourselves.  This is what makes the God of the Bible and the unique storylines of the lives of the people of faith in the Bible, different from anyone or anything else in human experience.

A biblical life with God is a journey into the unconventional.

The lives of Joseph and David could have been much different and much easier…they could have been ordinary.  But then the lives of Joseph and David would not have been biblical.  What makes their lives special and a divinely crafted pattern-for-faith recorded in the Bible, is this supernatural overlay of the plans and will of God on top of what otherwise would be impossible circumstances and conditions.

Only God can set-up the unconventional situations and circumstances that lead us to the cross, and to the critical decision to abandon our own self-sovereignty and surrender our way to God’s better and higher knowledge.

Either God is God, knows best, and has the power to intervene supernaturally for our benefit, or He is not.

God knows that He can give to Pharaoh a puzzling dream that will initiate the cascade of events that will result in Joseph becoming governor of all Egypt.  God knows how to take a rough-cut diamond like David and craft him into a king.

Becoming Last for Jesus, in the End-Times 1

“For I think that God hath set forth us, the apostles, last.”     (1 Cor. 4:9)

As Paul traveled the first-century Mediterranean world as a missionary evangelist, his first-rate rabbinical education under Gamaliel in Jerusalem served him well.  As he and Barnabas or Silas entered a synagogue in a new city, Paul was probably in every case better educated and more knowledgeable about Old Testament scripture than the local rabbi of that synagogue.

This element in Paul’s background of the highest scholarly qualifications removed from consideration any attack based upon lack of education, on the credibility of Paul’s message that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.  Within the unique context of Paul’s calling and mission to the Jews and Gentiles of the larger Mediterranean world, the above-reproach credentials of Paul’s rabbinical training and education were mandatory and invaluable.

Yet when Paul meets Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and begins his career of preaching that the cross and the resurrection proved that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, Paul suffers a huge loss of the prestige and honor that his formal education would normally have afforded him in the Jewish culture.  Paul entered into the rejection that Jesus referred to in Matthew 10:24-25: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?”

In Paul’s own words in Philippians 3:4-10, Paul says that he has “suffered the loss of all things.”  In Corinthians 1:23, Paul says: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness.”

Earlier in 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul says: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.”  In 1 Corinthians 4:9-16, as quoted above, Paul says that God has set forth the apostles as last, as a spectacle to the world, as fools, weak, despised, naked, hungry, buffeted, reviled, persecuted, defamed, and as the filth and offscouring of the world.

Yet Paul actually concludes this section of scriptures by saying in the 16th verse, to be followers of him in this regard, as being the normal, expected outcome of committed, uncompromising Christian discipleship.

While speaking to Ananias in a vision, Jesus says about Paul: “For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my names sake” (Acts 9:16).

Paul narrowly escapes the threat of death in Damascus (Acts 9:23-25), again escapes the threat of death in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29-30), is expelled out of a city (Acts 13:50), is stoned (Acts 14:19), is beaten and jailed (Acts 16:23), is the cause of a riot (Acts 17:5), is accused before Gallio in Achaia (Acts 18:12), and is the cause of another riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41).

Paul is beaten by the mob in Jerusalem (Acts 21:32), nearly “pulled in pieces” by the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:10), is in danger of forty men sworn to kill him (Acts 23:12), is imprisoned for purely political reasons (Acts 24:27), and is shipwrecked in a perilous sea as a prisoner on his way to a trial before Caesar in Rome (Acts 27:39-44).

If the Apostle Paul is one of our best examples of the true Christian, and if this joint-venture type journey-of-faith is the pathway that God chose for Paul to become a Holy Spirit validated writer of some of the divinely inspired New Testament…then Paul’s experiences instruct us as to one of the singular truths of all eternity.

This truth is that the power and wisdom of God working in our lives invariably leads to Holy Spirit manufactured humility.  The greatest athlete, the most talented movie actor, and most brilliant scientist, are at their best when they do not have to brag about or tout themselves.

The perfect, divine example of this is Jesus Christ the Son of God, who contrary to worldly conventional wisdom, “made himself of no reputation” and “took upon him the form of a servant” and “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).

When engineered by the Holy Spirit working in our lives, the actualization of our unique God-given talents…blended with some measure of divine humility…is a miraculous, supernatural product that is manufactured within us through the series of events that make up a biblical quality journey of faith.

This is part of what the lives of Paul and the other great men and women of faith in the Bible is telling us.  It is the supernatural participation of God that makes these biblical life stories different, extraordinary, and exceptional compared to conventionally human life-stories.

The Event of the Cross 3

The timing of the final betrayal of Jesus by Judas on Thursday night (the Passover starts at sundown on Thursday), and the constraint of having to consummate everything by sundown the following day…the start of the Sabbath…effectively narrows the crucifixion of Jesus Christ the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) to the day of the Passover.

The religious rulers thought they were in control, but God set up all of these events to lead to the outcome He had planned long ago (1 Cor. 2:8).

When modern-day Christians read this account of how much precise planning and effort was put in by God to accomplish something as important as the crucifixion of His Son Jesus, the natural question might be asked…would God care that much about me to put in the same quality and amount of thought, planning, and care into the situations and circumstances of my life?

From the biblical accounts in the four gospels of the cross and the resurrection, we see what God is capable of doing.

But if I yield and surrender my life to God, like Jesus did, can I count on God being able and willing to divide truth from error in my life, and to arrange events large and small to produce good for myself and others on some scale to match the brilliance we see in the life of Jesus?

Will God write a script for me with as much care and precision like He did with the fine-tuned events surrounding the cross and the resurrection?

The answer to this fundamental question of the Christian life is already previewed within the account of the events of the cross itself.  Already contained within the intricately planned and executed events of the cross is a pattern in action of God’s outreach to mankind and to each individual person.

The cross and the resurrection were not for the sake of Jesus.  They were for us.  The cross is God’s gift of love to mankind to reconcile us back to Himself.  It shouts with sublime passion “I love you enough to take upon myself the inescapable penalty for sin.”

In the well-crafted details of Jesus experiencing the events of the cross and the resurrection, we see God’s demonstrated intention and desire to work for and within every person who chooses Him…this same brilliantly imaginative control of life’s events for our benefit.  God lovingly participates in the details of our lives, always through the pattern of the cross and the resurrection.  This is part of the overall program and agenda of being re-connected to God, which starts with the cross.

If we are “in Christ,” like Jesus and the Father are one, we have the same God carefully orchestrating events in our lives as well (Jn. 17:23).

This begins with the unique and different set of life circumstances which brings each of us to a salvation quality, born-again faith.

This is why the Holy Spirit lives within the born-again Christian, to lead us into all truth, through experiences composed and guided just for us by God Himself (Jn. 14:16-17).

This is a part of the good news of the gospel…that God has imaginative solutions to the individual challenges of our lives through Jesus Christ…starting with the solution of the cross applied to the human problem of sin…and finishing with a meaningful and purposeful walk of faith in service to God.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers in Jerusalem remained unchanged all the way up to 70 A.D.  They were still erroneously looking for their worldly political and military-style messiah who would free them from Rome…and establish economic and political prosperity.

They pushed God away during the inspired ministry of John the Baptist.  They rejected and crucified Jesus the Christ.  They persecuted the early Christian church.  They were eventually crushed by the Roman army under Titus in 70 A.D., who demolished their city Jerusalem…scattering the Jews throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Europe for the next 1900 years.

The essence of sin says to God: “Who are you to tell me what to do or how to live my life,” and “why should I go by your standards instead of my own?”

These questions are difficult to answer back using words only.  They require a practical demonstration of the pros and cons through actual life experience.  They require a test where success and failure are real possibilities.

That is one of the reasons why this current world exists.  The cross of Christ is the key, pivotal demonstration of the answer.

A beneficent God says: “I have your best interests at heart…my actions on the cross for you prove this…follow me…I have been around a long time…I know what I am doing.”

People of faith accept the invitation, believe, and follow.  Rebellious people who are carnally minded and living in the flesh, like the example of the first-century Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes, say: “No, we will live by our own wisdom and volition.”

God has already laid-out in detail the events of the end-times.  They are all there in verses scattered throughout the Old Testament, in the four gospels, in the book of Acts, in the letters of the apostles to the churches, and in the book of Revelation.  Additional detailed information will be revealed some day through the dreams, visions, and prophesies described in Joel 2:28-29.

Just like the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus, these end-times events are already scripted-out and have a definite starting time in the near future.

As with the events leading up to the cross, God’s ingenious plans and designs will be interwoven into the fabric of the end-times political events, working His will and exposing truth versus error…for one last emphatic time in human history.

The Event of the Cross 2

The messianic prophecies and types of Christ in the Old Testament that apply to the cross are too numerous to exhaustively cover in this essay.

Briefly…Abraham says to Isaac: “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8).

The blood of the Passover lamb was applied to the two sides and upper door lintel of the house, representing the human heart (Ex. 12:1-28).

The rock which Moses struck once with his rod in Horeb…to produce water out of the rock…is a type of Christ (Ex. 17:5-6; Jn. 4:14).

The bronze serpent on a pole is a preview of the cross (Num. 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14).  Psalms 22:16 says: “they pierced my hands and my feet.”

Psalms 22:17 foretells that the Romans did not break the legs of Jesus on the cross to hasten His death before sunset preceding the Sabbath, because He was already dead.

Psalms 22:18 says: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”

The 53rd chapter of Isaiah says that Christ will be despised and rejected of men (53:3), wounded for our transgressions (53:5), open not his mouth in his own defense (53:7), make his grave with the rich (53:9), and be executed alongside transgressors (53:12).

Within the hostile environment that Jesus operated throughout much of His ministry (Jn. 7:1), but especially during His final week in Jerusalem (Jn. 7:32; 8:59; 10:31), how is it that God the Father can orchestrate the timing of the crucifixion down to the precise day of the Passover, and the traditional hour of the day the Passover lamb is killed?

Jesus is betrayed by Judas after the Last Supper on Thursday evening, is hastily tried at the house of Caiaphas very late on Thursday night and early Friday morning, the sentence of death is ratified by the Sanhedrin at daybreak on Friday, the prisoner is placed before Pilate for formal sentencing early Friday morning, and Jesus is hanging on the cross around 9:00 in the morning of Friday the Passover.

Jesus dies around 3:00 or 4:00 that afternoon, the time that the Passover lambs are traditionally killed.

God the Father steps on the accelerator pedal to speed up events before and during that last week, first by creating a sense of urgency on the part of the religious leaders, through Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.

God then alternately taps with His foot on the brakes and then touches the accelerator pedal again lightly…through the indecisiveness of the religious leaders on the one hand…and the information that Judas provides on the other.  This achieves just the right velocity to get Jesus crucified within the narrow time window between sundown Thursday and sundown Friday, according to all of the ancient Old Testament prophecies on the very day of the Passover.

This is an incredibly difficult thing to orchestrate over the span of a three-and-one-half-year long ministry, when the life of Jesus was in danger on several occasions, starting at the beginning of His ministry in His own hometown of Nazareth (Lk. 4:29).

This achievement is even more remarkable considering that the Pharisees, scribes, and religious leaders in Jerusalem were not prophets of God being led by His Spirit, but deadly adversaries in opposition to the ways of God.  God was using them for His purposes without their knowledge or awareness of this fact.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes could have arrested Jesus on any night of that final week on His way back from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives (Lk. 21:37).  They could have arrested Him any morning of that week on His way to teach in the Temple.

They did not need Judas to tell them the whereabouts of Jesus.[1]  His movements were so well known that “the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, to hear him” (Lk. 21:38).  A crowd of people was awaiting Him alongside the road during His triumphal entrance into the city (Jn. 12:12).

The gospels tell us that the religious leaders did fear the reaction of the people should they make a move against Jesus (Mk. 12:12; Lk. 19:47-48; 20:6).  That was certainly a restraining element in their calculations.  But the religious leaders also feared Jesus Himself.  Jesus was an unknown quantity.  They were not even sure if it was possible to arrest Him (Jn. 7:30; 7:45-46; 8:20; 8:59; 10:39).  They knew they wanted to eliminate Him, they just did not know exactly when and how they would do it.

God Himself provided the answer.

It took a member of the inner group of His closest disciples, Judas Iscariot, to change allegiance from Jesus over to the religious leaders, to become the means of propulsion that God used to govern and adjust the speed of the events that led to the midnight trial and the Passover crucifixion.  Being one of the twelve apostles, Judas naturally heard Jesus speaking to the group as they approached Jerusalem that final week, preparing them beforehand for His upcoming death and resurrection (Mt. 20:17-19; Mk. 10:32-34; Lk. 18:31-34).

The value of Judas’ information that week to the religious rulers was not so much the whereabouts of Jesus, which many people seemed to know about, but the fact that someone in His inner circle was telling them that Jesus was speaking mysteriously and unexplainably about His upcoming death.  That was the unexpected and welcome information that was worth thirty pieces of silver from Caiaphas the High Priest and the other rulers, not just where Jesus was at any particular moment.

Luke 18:34 tells us that the twelve apostles did not understand what Jesus meant when He told them, as they journeyed toward Jerusalem, that He would be put to death and rise the third day.  Even though Judas, like the other eleven apostles, would not have understood these words of Jesus, yet he could still pass along this critical information word-for-word to the religious leaders, having heard them first-hand from Jesus.

Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him (Jn. 6:64; 6:70-71; 13:11).  There seems to be a sort of understanding between Jesus and Judas that Jesus would be waiting in the Garden of Gethsemane that Thursday night, when Jesus says to Judas: “What thou doest, do quickly” (Jn 13:27).  It is this startling, confirming information, accurately perceived by Judas during the Last Supper, and hurriedly communicated by him to the rulers, that sets in motion the final decision by Caiaphas the High Priest to go forward with the destruction of Jesus (Mt. 26:3-5).

But all of the proper proceedings must now be started and consummated by sundown the following day, before the start of the Sabbath.  Criminals executed by crucifixion could not be left dead on their crosses after sunset at the start of the Friday night Sabbath.  That is why the legs of the two thieves crucified next to Jesus were broken that afternoon, to facilitate their death and removal that same afternoon.

Add to this the complication that the Passover was the first day of the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread.

If Jesus could not be tried, executed, and disposed of that Friday, he would have had to be held over…under their custody…until after the festival week.  Any problem or glitch in the proceedings that did not result in a conviction and a crucifixion the following day, could have unforeseen and very unpleasant consequences regarding the reaction of the people, for these rulers.

The thing had to be carried out to its conclusion quickly, before public sentiment could galvanize one way or the other.

This explains why the party of Jesus lingers in the Garden of Gethsemane much later than usual, causing the disciples to fall asleep.  This is why Caiaphas himself probably went to Pilate late Thursday night (a reasonable inference, though not recorded in scripture) to get Pilate’s pre-arranged consent for the course of action the Jewish leaders proposed to take the following day.

This is why Pilate’s wife, becoming aware of the subject nature of the unusual late night visit of Caiaphas to speak with her husband, had bad dreams that very night about Jesus (Mt. 27:19), and sent a note forewarning Pilate at daybreak the next morning.

This is why Pilate seems to go back on his agreement with Caiaphas from the night before, to summarily go along with the Jew’s death sentence for Jesus, and instead attempts first…to set Jesus free.  This greatly upsets the already committed Jewish leaders (Jn. 18:30).  Pilate then proceeds to wash his hands of the whole affair (Mt. 27:24).

This is why Judas knows exactly where to take the hastily assembled group of armed men carrying lanterns and torches, when Jesus and the apostles should otherwise normally be asleep at that late hour elsewhere at the Mount of Olives.  This is why Jesus waits and stays where He is, even though He probably can see the procession of lanterns and torches a long way off as the crowd approaches (Mt. 26:46).  Jesus also knows that Judas is heading for the Garden of Gethsemane.

[1] Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press) 30-42.  The reconstructions of the events of the final week in Jerusalem described in this chapter, are taken from this insightful book.