Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Messiah & HIs Miracles

Sign of the Prophet Jonah

The Raising of Lazarus

The narrative of the rich man and Lazarus was the first stage of the sign of the prophet Jonah – the stage of education.  The second stage would be demonstration through the miracle of raising a man from Hades.   The third stage would be participation, when the Messiah himself would return from Hades.  Jesus, at this time, was not reactive but proactive.  He was following a planned timetable. A message came from Bethany to the Messiah that Lazarus, His good friend, was ill.[1]  Jesus said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified through it”.  Nevertheless, He not only waited until Lazarus had died, but planned His journey so that when He arrived Lazarus had been dead three days and three nights. When He arrived at the graveside, He indicated that the miracle He was about to perform was the sign for the nation, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.”[2] He also identified it as a sign of deity, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?[3]  So Jesus commanded, “Lazarus come forth!”[4]  And he that had been dead four days rose from the grave.  It was commonly believed by the Jews of Jesus’ day that the spirit of the individual did not descend into Hades until after 3 days.  Therefore, the raising of Lazarus on the fourth day was a suitable sign for the wicked generation who had asked for a sign from heaven but given a sign from Hades. It was also the pre-curser for the true sign of the prophet Jonah, in which the Messiah would rise from Hades after three days and three nights.

Because of this final attesting sign, many believed. But the nation’s leaders, being fearful that their wealthy, privileged, lifestyle could be lost, still plotted to kill Him and destroy the evidence of the sign: “The chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus”. Soon after this sign, and immediately after Caiaphas had led the Sanhedrin to agree to the execution of Jesus, the Messiah sent them ten healed lepers, to leave them without excuse! The Messiah had indicated in the relating of the experiences of the rich man and Lazarus, that if they did not believe Moses and the prophets, they would not believe though one was brought back from Hades.  By implication, He again says that they did not believe the Scriptures, repeating the essence of an earlier condemnation, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.”[5]

The condemnation of the nation and its leaders was complete.  They did not base their lives on the T’nach, they did not live by faith, and against a wealth of evidence the record of which, if written down, would exhaust all available space on earth, (evidence that included having the serpent in subjection, mastery over leprosy, and raising the dead), they rejected God’s Son their Messiah. Jesus believed them culpable: “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, They hated Me without a cause.[6]  He described them as a wicked, evil, adulterous generation, who worshipped Mammon.  This generation of vipers, rejecting the Word of God, and accepting the word of Satan, spoke with a forked tongue.  They followed their father, the Serpent, who is the father of lies. Their web of deceit was never more evident than when events came to their inevitable conclusion; and wicked hands took the holy and innocent Son of God and tried Him for blasphemy and treason.
More Next Time

[1] John 11.1 ff
[2] John 11.41,42
[3] John 11.40
[4] John 11.43
[5] John 5.45,46
[6] John 15.24,25

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Messiah and His Miracles

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

The Rich Man and Lazarus

To prepare the Sanhedrists, those “servants of Mammon (wealth)”, and “lovers of money”[1] who had rejected Him,[2] He described a certain rich man who had both wealth and position, a condition that the Sanhedrists would have attributed to the blessing of God.  The Rabbis taught that wealth was a sign of the favour of God (‘whoever the Lord loves He makes rich’).  In contrast with the ease and comfort of the rich man, Jesus described the desperate position and condition of a beggar named Lazarus, who must have been daily visible to the wealthy Jew. Lazarus’ hopes were not great, just that he might have some crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  In course of time, both men died and went to Hades/Sheol.

This place of the dead had two main compartments, the first part, sometimes called ‘Abraham’s bosom’, was reserved for those that died with a true faith in God. This part, in many ways, mirrored heaven. Since animal sacrifice only covered sin, but did not remove it, those that died in faith before the death of the Messiah on the cross, would not go to hell but could not get into heaven, hence the place called Abraham’s bosom.  The second part of Hades/Sheol was a place for those who had either rebelled against God or failed to respond to the light He offered. 

There are three subdivisions of the second part of Hades/Sheol.  They are subdivisions of ‘hell’. The first subdivision is the ‘abyss’; the second subdivision is ‘Tartarus’; the third subdivision is ‘Gehenna’. 

(1) The abyss or bottomless pit is a temporary place of confinement for fallen angels (God will imprison Satan there for a thousand years).[3]  The demons in the Gadarene Legion “begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss”. [4] 

(2) Tartarus is a more permanent place of confinement for fallen angels.  “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell (Tartarus) and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment”. [5] (From here, they go directly to the lake of fire).

(3) Gehenna is the place of torment for the wicked. Jesus speaks of it as the destiny of those who rejected Him as Messiah. “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell (Gehenna)?" [6]

Since they are three subdivisions of Hell, they obviously have many things in common. 

Lazarus, whose name means ‘God helps’, went to Abraham’s bosom, whereas, contrary to all the teaching of the Pharisees, the rich man went to Hell.  The Pharisees taught that all Jews would go to Abraham’s bosom, (“all Israelites have a share in the world to come”)[7] but the Messiah related to them the experience of a Jew (he addresses Abraham as ‘Father’, and Abraham responds with ‘Son’), who is in Hell.

The narrative clearly implied deity because Jesus had knowledge of a conversation between two actual Jews in Hades, after death.  He described the torment of the Jewish rich man and the comfort of the beggar named Lazarus.  As with Jonah they can speak, remember and pray.  The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to him with some water to relieve his torment, but Abraham tells him of the gulf between them that is impassable.  Unable to obtain any measure of respite, he asked that Lazarus might be despatched from Hades on a mission to his brothers, to persuade them to repent.  The wealthy Jew was asking that his family might be given the sign of the prophet Jonah!  “I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment”.[8]  The tormented Jew was unwittingly asking for a Jonah to go to his brothers as Jonah had been sent from Sheol to Nineveh. But his brothers had already had that opportunity because a greater than Jonah had preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [9]  Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them”.   Whereupon the rich man said, “No, father Abraham: but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent”.[10] He asserted the Bible was not enough – they needed signs and wonders.  Abraham responded, If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead. [11] If they will not believe and obey the Scriptures, then signs and wonders will make no difference!  This was another public warning to the Pharisees.

[1] Luke 16.13,14
[2] Luke 16.19-31
[3] Rev.20.3
[4] Luke 8.31
[5] 2 Pet.2.4
[6] Matt. 23:33
[7] Sanhedrin 10.1 (Mishnah)
[8] Luke 16.27,28
[9] Matt. 4:17
[10] Luke 16.30
[11] Luke 16.31

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Messiah and His Miracles

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

The sign of the prophet Jonah is the sign of death and resurrection.  When it was clear that the leaders of the nation would never accept Him, and that the great majority of the people would follow their leaders’ example, Jesus withdrew the offer of the ‘at hand’ kingdom of God. Consequently, the authenticating miracles that He performed to demonstrate that He was their true Messiah ceased.  So when He was asked for another attesting sign by the Sanhedrists,[1] He responded, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah”.[2]  By describing them and the nation they led as “evil”, He drew a straight line between them and the Evil one whom they were serving.  They had charged Him with being manipulated by the Evil one. He countered by declaring that they were the ones that were manipulated by the Evil one. This reversal of the true nature of the opposing protagonists is at the heart of the ‘light of the world’ debate.[3]  In that discussion, Jesus said to them, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”[4]  Their response was to repeat their previously formed opinion, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”[5] When He added the adjective “adulterous” He was describing them in the same way as YHWH described Israel at those times when they left the worship of the one and only true God to follow other lovers, that is other gods.  In the case of the generation that rejected Jesus as Messiah, it refers to the fact that they have left the LORD to serve another god, Mammon.  

His statement, ‘no sign will be given … except …’ declared that there would be only one more authenticating sign left for the nation, the sign of the prophet Jonah. He refused to perform any other attesting signs for the nation. There were other miracles – but they were in response to individual need or for the training of the apostles, they were not offered as authenticating signs for his Messianic credentials. Luke added some extra illuminating detail at this turning point in the ministry of the Messiah.  He recorded, “Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven.”[6] The request of a sign from heaven continued the doctrine that the previous sign was from Hell/Hades, and was a continuation of the strategy of Satan, that the nation should treat Him as demon-possessed, a ‘cast down one’. This is why the Messiah told them that a sign from Hades would be the only further sign they would receive, the sign of the prophet Jonah.  Jonah, a man selected by God to warn Nineveh of impending judgement, fled to avoid obeying his divine given orders.  He died at sea when swallowed by an oceanic leviathan.  Jesus provided a description of the sign: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”[7] The sign of the prophet Jonah is resurrection from Hades/Sheol.[8]  When Jonah died, his body was in the sea creature for three days and three nights, but he himself was in Sheol. Jonah’s testimony stated as much. “I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.  You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.  Then I said, I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?  The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God.”[9]

The Messiah’s use of Jonah’s experience as a picture of the last sign was so very apt.  It worked on several levels, and He referred to it several times in His ministry.  In addition, it dovetailed very successfully with the third primary authenticating sign, blood on the ground.  The sign of the prophet Jonah will be a miracle mightier than all other miracles, for the Messiah would not only die but also rise again.

The sign of the prophet Jonah had three sections, the death of the Messiah, the burial of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the Messiah.   As Paul wrote, "Christ (Messiah) died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures".[10] To ensure that the nation’s leaders understood the significance of this last attesting sign, Jesus educated them by instruction and example.  He first related to them a true story, and then later performed an extraordinary miracle, John’s seventh significant miracle, the raising of Lazarus.

[1] Matt.12.38; Luke 11.16
[2] Matt.12.39
[3] John 8
[4] John 8.34
[5] John 8.48
[6] Luke 11.16
[7] Matt.12.40 (NASB)
[8] These two words are different names applied to the same place, the place of the dead. In Greek it is called Hades, and in Hebrew it is called Sheol.
[9] Jonah 2.2-6 (NRSV)
[10] 1 Cor.15.3,4

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Messiah and His Miracles

Conflict with the Sanhedrists

The ministry of the Messiah changed after the unpardonable sin was committed.

Jesus no longer offered the kingdom to the nation, but rather turned His attention to training the Apostles who would be the main strike force of the new religious movement. In the meantime, those individuals who were persuaded of His Messiahship were assured of their personal, spiritual future.

After His rejection by the ‘special interest’ parties in the Sanhedrin, with the counter rejection of that generation of Israel by God, the conflict escalated. Accusation and counter accusation took place.  The Pharisees raised issues from the oral law, asking: “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”[1]  As always, the Messiah gave no consequence to their complaint but put His finger on the heart of the conflict between them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?”[2]  The problem of the Pharisees, here identified by Jesus, was not just that they added to the T’nach, which in itself was unacceptable, but also in certain cases allowed the oral law to negate the T’nach.  The matter He used to illustrate the point was the matter of ‘Corban’.  To declare your possessions ‘Corban’ was to declare they were dedicated to the Lord.  If the parents of a Pharisee were in financial need, the obligation on their Pharisee son was to assist, for the Decalogue commanded, “honour your mother and your father”. However, the tradition of the elders allowed the son to declare his possessions ‘dedicated to the Lord’ (i.e. Corban), which then prohibited him from giving them to someone else, including his parents. However, pronouncing his wealth and possessions ‘Corban’, did not remove them from his own personal control and he could still use them for his own needs.  Therefore declaring one’s possessions ‘Corban’ had the appearance of being spiritual, when in actual fact it was designed to evade one’s proper family obligations.  Jesus branded those that took advantage of such loopholes as hypocrites!

The Messiah identified a Scripture that prophesied of this attitude: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honour Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.[3]  Later He said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat … they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men.”[4]

Their hypocritical legalism received the strongest outbursts from the Messiah. 

(i)                 “… woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”[5]

(ii)               “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”[6]

(iii)             “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”[7]

(iv)             “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it. Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?”[8]

(v)           The Messiah put His finger on the weakness of the Pharisaic system:Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.[9]

(vi)             “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.”[10]

(vii)          "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”[11]

(viii)         “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?”[12]

The eightfold ‘woe’ means there is no reprieve, indeed no hope for these obdurate, blind leaders of the blind: “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Jesus, speaking as the coming Judge of all men, detailed the sins of the Messiah-rejecting Scribes and Pharisees, and confirmed their judgement: “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation”.[13]  What things?  “That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar”.[14] The Hebrew Bible, the T’nach, while containing all 39 books of the Christian Old Testament is ordered differently, and goes from Genesis to Second Chronicles. The example of Abel was taken from the first book of the T’nach (Genesis), and the example of Zacharias was taken from the last book of the T’nach (Second Chronicles).  Jesus is saying that the attitude of Israel to God’s ministers has been one of constant rebellion. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate”.[15]  Consequently, He made His return conditional. “you shall see Me no more till you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”[16]  “And Jesus went out and departed from the Temple”.[17]
More Next Time:

[1] Matt.15.2
[2] Matt.15.3
[3] Matt.15.7-9; Isaiah 29.13
[4] Matt.23.1-5
[5] Matt.23.13
[6] Matt.23.14
[7] Matt.23.15
[8] Matt.23.16-19
[9] Matt.23.23
[10] Matt.23.24-26
[11] Matt.23.27,28
[12] Matt.23.29-33
[13] Matt.23.36
[14] Matt.23.35
[15] Matt.23.37,38
[16] Matt.23.38
[17] Matt.24.1

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Messiah and His Miracles

The Conflict with the Sanhedrists

The Reason for the Rejection of the Generation that rejected their Messiah

The Unpardonable Sin

The national rejection of Jesus as Messiah, coupled with the slander that He was demon possessed, constituted the unpardonable sin.  At that point in Israel’s history, Jesus withdrew His offer of the immediate Messianic kingdom.  He changed the Messianic programme from one coming to two.  The nation will not now know the reign of their Messiah until Israel’s national leaders, in a spirit of humility and repentance, call for His return. The Sanhedrin, the leaders of the nation, were, at the time of the first coming of their Messiah, servants of Mammon,[1] not servants of God, and thus failed to do what was right.  Jesus said He would not return until a future generation of the nation calls for Him, and welcomes Him with the appropriate Messianic greeting: “For I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”[2]

The language of the Messiah, after His rejection, was very direct. Facing His opponents, He powerfully described them as a “generation of vipers”,[3] “an evil and adulterous generation[4] and a “wicked generation”.[5]  He prophesied their decline and destruction, and said that since they had mouthed the doctrines of the serpent; they would have to justify their words in the judgement chamber of God.[6]  Jesus warned them, that the men of Nineveh will be called as prosecution witnesses against them. Because Nineveh repented, and turned to God, under the preaching of a prophet, while the leaders of this generation would not repent, even under the ministry of such a man as John, the greatest of the old dispensation prophets, or even more incredibly, under the ministry of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.[7]  Similarly, testimony from the Queen of the South would also condemn them, because she travelled a great distance to listen to and marvel at the glory and the wisdom of Solomon; but they had rejected a greater that Solomon.[8]  Within four decades, the rejection of their Messiah brought the nation to a condition seven times worse than when He began His public ministry.[9] While, at the beginning of the Messianic visitation, they were a subjugated nation, within forty years, they were to lose their lives, their privileges and their Temple; and in 100 years, they would lose their land for nearly 2000 years!   What a price to pay!

So the offered Messianic kingdom was rejected, the unpardonable sin committed and a judgement pronounced on that generation.

[1] Matt.6.24
[2] Matt.23.39
[3] Matt.12.34
[4] Matt.12.39
[5] Matt.12.45
[6] Matt.12.36,37
[7] Cf. Matt.12.41
[8] Matt.12.42
[9] Matt.12.45