Abraham, angels, crucifixion, Galilee, God, Gospel of John, Gospels, high priest, I am, Jesus, John the Baptist, Judea, Lord, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Moses, Pilate, Samaria, shepherds, Simon Peter, Son of God, temple, Trinity, triune God, veil
You have been waiting long enough for me to resolve the apparent contradiction at the end of my last post. I spent more time than usual polishing this series of posts, and the amount of material required me to divide it into more posts than I originally envisioned.
The Lord’s physical encounters between Him and man either greatly diminished or ceased entirely for many centuries after the death of Moses. Perhaps it was because of the Jews frightened reaction not only to the sight of the Lord (Exodus 24, mentioned in my previous post), but also to Moses whose face shone so much after he personally communed with God that he had to put a veil over his face.
But then, we have the writings of the New Testament. Now if we search diligently through these writings, we find two quotes that at first would seem to continue the contradiction. Both are found in John’s Gospel. In John 1:18, he reiterates words similar to what we saw in the Old Testament: “No man hath seen God at any time”. Yet John clearly believed in the deity of Christ and saw Him on a daily basis for a number of years. Why would he say this?
The answer is in a clarification that is made when he quotes Jesus in John 6:46: “Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.” Aha, the answer to the apparent contradiction is the Trinity, that God is a triune God, one God in three persons. If and only if the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have existed as one God throughout all time, could Moses report that no man can see God and live, and John report that no man has seen God, and yet both also report that they have seen God. Moses did not specifically know that he saw the Son of God. John did. God reveals his knowledge progressively, building knowledge upon prior knowledge, scripture upon scripture.
Many centuries after Moses, God choose a place and time to lift the veil between Him and the Jews. At the same time, He becomes a light to Gentiles in a way previously unknown. This was done in connection with the numerous sightings of Jesus Christ, the witness of those sightings, and the testimony that He is the Son of God.
Large crowds by the standards of the day (often called multitudes in the Bible) witnessed the teaching and miracles of Jesus. In previous posts, I have talked about Jesus feeding thousands of people on more than one occasion. The number of men was 5,000 on one occasion and 4,000 on another. Women and children were also present, so a number in the vicinity of 10,000 is not out of the question.
Furthermore, Jesus did not stay in one place. He carried His ministry as far north as Sidon in Phoenician Syria (modern day Saida in southern Lebanon) and as far south as most of Judea, including all of the west bank and a few miles east of the Jordan River on the east bank from the modern day Golan Heights to the modern day country of Jordan around the Dead Sea. In addition to Jews, he was seen by Syrians, Phoenicians, Samaritans, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and people from a number of other nearby countries who traveled to and through Jerusalem and vicinity, primarily for trade.
At this time, shepherds were at the low end of the social ladder. It is not likely that they would have left their work to see a newborn baby. Here is the angelic message that drew them.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. – Luke 2:9-14
A few weeks later, Jesus was brought to the temple in Jerusalem in fulfillment of the Law regarding first born sons. Two devout elderly people met Jesus, Mary and Joseph there. Simeon and Anna the prophetess gave testimony that this child was the long-awaited Messiah and redeemer.
Shortly before Joseph was warned in a dream to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt to escape from the desire of King Herod to kill the newborn King, there was another witness: distinguished visitors from the east who brought three gifts to the foretold King of the Jews who had been born in Bethlehem under a particular star. Their witness is not diminished by the fact that we don’t know their exact number or a more specific place of origin.
With the exception of an incident at the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus amazed the elders with His knowledge at age 12, we don’t have any specifics of the life of Jesus from His exile to the start of His ministry at approximately age 30. We can surmise that He was seen by only a small number of people near His home during that time and that there was no mention of His divinity in this period. But then, there began a series of events that catapulted Him from humble obscurity to being seen by many thousands and becoming (as many would agree) the single most influential person to walk the face of the earth.
John the Baptist was the first to give witness to the spiritual identity of Jesus as an adult. This John testified that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and the Son of God. As a result, some of John’s disciples left John and began to follow Jesus. After John baptized Jesus with water and Jesus went into the desert to fast for forty days (and be tempted by the devil), Jesus formally began His ministry: recruiting disciples, teaching throughout Galilee, performing His first miracle (turning water into wine during the wedding feast at Cana) and announcing His ministry (and the beginnings of the fulfillment of prophecy) at His home synagogue in Nazareth.
The following people also saw a physical (as opposed to spiritual) Jesus and bore witness to His deity:
Philip and Nathanael of Bethsaida: In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, starting with verse 43, Jesus called Philip to be His disciple. Philip immediately went out and witnessed to Nathanael about Jesus, saying, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (verse 45) When Nathanael expresses doubt, Philip brings him to Jesus. After a short conversation between Nathanael and Jesus, Nathanael tells Him, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” (verse 49)
Simon Peter: In three of the four Gospels, Jesus first asks His disciples who people say that He is. They tell Him the different opinions that they have heard. Then Jesus asks them, who they say that He is. Simon, as usual, is first to reply. In Matthew 16:16, he tells Jesus: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
I once heard an elder in a Protestant church declare that Jesus never said that He is the Son of God. It is a sad commentary to the extent of Bible illiteracy in the church, even extending to some of the leaders. For Jesus testifies to His divinity on a number of occasions. His response to Peter is one of those times: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (verse 17)
In the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel (verses 12-58), Jesus has a lengthy discourse with a group of Jews. Among the things He said to them relating to His deity: “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.” (verse 23); “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” (verse 56); “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” (verse 58). Throughout this chapter, Jesus is testifying to His origin (from His heavenly Father, not from earth) and that His Father bears witness to Him and honors Him. Finally, He tells them that He not only preceded Abraham, He is the “I am.” This simple phrase has little significance to most people now, but the Jews of His day (and many even today), were quite aware that Jesus was describing Himself by the name that was too holy to even speak, the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses. That the Jews understood His meaning is evidenced by the fact that immediately after He said it, they attempted to stone Him for speaking blasphemy. Unfortunately they failed to understand the most important part: that it was true.
After the arrest of Jesus, both the high priest and Pilate separately ask Jesus if He is either the Son of God or the King of the Jews. In some of the Gospel accounts, His answer could be colloquially translated as, “You said it!” In Mark 14:62, the answer of Jesus is more emphatic: “I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” There’s that simple phrase, “I am”, again. It was upon hearing that answer that the high priest declared that there was no more need of witnesses against Jesus. He deserved death for His blasphemy.
There were two unlikely witnesses to the deity of Jesus during His crucifixion. Two criminals were crucified with Him. At first both mocked Him. But then one repented, and after rebuking the other criminal, the following exchange took place between him and Jesus (Luke 23:42-43): “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
There was also a Roman centurion in charge of the procedure. Having witnessed the manner in which Jesus conducted Himself during that horribly painful means of death (it is where we get the word “excruciating”), seeing to the needs of His mother, showing mercy to the repentant criminal, forgiving those who did this to Him, the centurion declared at the end: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)
I spoke in previous posts about being able to see God through the effects of His actions. There were a series of amazing events that took place on the same day as the crucifixion of Jesus. Any one of them might be considered a coincidence. But all of them together on the same day? There was a solar eclipse for three hours, an earthquake, the veil of the temple before the holy of holies was torn in two and “graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” (Matthew 27:52-53)
There is one final set of witnesses: the empty tomb and those who saw Jesus after His resurrection. We will look at those in my next post. Because they are the most important witnesses of all, they are the ones most often attacked. Therefore, they require special attention. And I will address this in my next post.