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.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Feast of Dedication in History and Prophecy

Hanukkah at the Time of Jesus
Hanukkah Lamps

The second point that Jesus was making to His interrogators at Hanukkah was to offer Himself as a contrast to the one who, two hundred years earlier, claimed a high title for himself. Antichus IV used the title ‘Epiphany’ to indicate he was a god (it means ‘god manifest’). Jesus, in His reply to His interrogators said His presence was the true epiphany. Here it is again:

“Do you say of Him whom the Father … sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:36)

While Jesus did not take the title ‘Epiphany’, which had too much baggage to be of any help, He did use the title ‘Son of God’, which was significantly and correctly equated by His opponents to the truth of epiphany, that is, ‘make Yourself God’. The regulations in force at that time are recorded for us in the Mishnah (the book of legal regulations that were in place at the time of Christ). It orders that the blasphemer is to be executed on the basis of Numbers 15:30:

“But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people”.

 This was understood to be blasphemy committed ‘with a high hand’, that is, so that he raised his hand, as it were, against YHWH, or acted in open rebellion against Him. Such a one was to be cut off (cf. Gen.17:14); for he had despised the word of the Lord, broken His commandment, and was to atone for it with his life.

Jesus, by His use of the title, “Son of God” (a term of deity), was considered by His opponents to be acting above His station in rebellion against YHWH. But Jesus was not acting above His station, He was truly God … manifested in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). John states positively it in the opening of his gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1,14).

The assertions that Jesus was one with the Father (in John10.30: I and My Father are one” and 10:38: the Father is in Me, and I in Him”) are strengthened by His later declarations:

that everything that belonged to the Father belonged to Him: All things that the Father has are Mine” (John 16:15);

and to have our prayers answered we are to ask the Father in His Name: … whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you (John 15:16); that He was the only one who knew the Father, and therefore the only one who could reveal Him to others; All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27).

Jesus, by His use of the ‘I AM’ designations (John 8:58; and John 6:35, 48; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1) and the title ‘Son of God’ (John 10:36), acknowledged the fact that He was God incarnate and acted as such. He accepted worship and forgave sins. Among those who worshipped Him was a leper (Matt. 8:2); a ruler of the Jews (Matt. 9:18); a blind man (John 9:38); His own disciples (Matt. 14:33); a Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:25); the mother of James and John; (Matt 20:20, KJV); and the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:6). He received worship without embarrassment or any hint of impropriety.


Many of those that cross-examined Him were Pharisees who, as previously mentioned, considered themselves the descendants of the Chasidim (the pious). The Chasidim was the group, at the time of Antiochus, who were the prime movers in the rebellion against Syrian rule. They fostered the revival of Israel’s commitment to the Law and their Jewish culture. The Pharisees then, in loyalty to their roots, were ardent defenders of the Torah and the traditions of Israel, and saw in Jesus someone who did not support them in their cause. That Jesus revered and obeyed the Law of Moses, the Law that had been revealed from heaven, was not enough; they required all of Israel (including the Messiah) to accept the decisions of the Sopherim and the Tanaim as binding Law also. The high authority accorded these additions was never recognised by Jesus. In fact He opposed them. He was keen to sweep away anything that blurred the clarity of the Word of God.

Moreover, He was aware that the conflict between Himself and the Pharisees would lead them to enact Hanukkah in reverse: led by another ‘Judas’ they will take the light of the world out of the Temple and crucify Him on Golgotha bringing darkness over the earth for three hours. The physical darkness would not only impact on the One who was made a sin-offering but would also signify that Israel as a nation would remain in spiritual darkness until they called for the return of Jesus, ‘the Light of the World’.

At the time of the Maccabees they rejected Antiochus Epiphanes and the darkness he represented and brought light to Israel.
   At the time of the Messiah they rejected Jesus, Son of God, and the light He represented and brought darkness to Israel.

Next Time: The Significance of Hanukkah in Prophecy




Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hanukkah in History and Prophecy

Hanukkah at the Time of the Lord Jesus

Last time we indicated that Jesus used two aspects of
Hanukkah Lamp
the Hanukkah festival to point to two remarkable truths about Himself.
The first is His use of the word ‘ἡγίασεν’ (hegiasen) which is translated ‘sanctified’ but could easily be translated ‘dedicated’ which is a play on the name of the feast ‘hanukkah’ (dedication). This text (“Him whom the Father sanctified (dedicated) and sent into the world”) tells us that Jesus was dedicated before His birth. We are also aware that as an infant He was dedicated to the Lord (Luke 2:23). This early act of dedication in His life was never rescinded and in the proper course of time was further confirmed by the Messiah as His prayer in John 17 reveals. And for their sakes I sanctify (dedicate) Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth (John 17:19). So He was dedicated (Hanukkah’d):
            Before His birth.
               At His birth, and
                  After His birth.
John’s biography of Jesus (chapter two) also contains the record of a much earlier encounter with Jewish leaders, a group that might have included some of these same people. It seems that a temporary market had been set up within the Temple area (in the court of the Gentiles). There were traders selling animals for ritual sacrifice alongside money-changers who handled Temple currency. All this taking place within the area marked out by Solomon as sacred for the worship of the Lord. This, it would appear, was only a small desecration — nothing approaching the scale of Antiochus’ profanity. Nevertheless, Jesus took it very seriously. He (the Lord of the Temple) drove out the offending mercenaries. For the disciples it later brought to mind a text from the Psalms: ... zeal for Your house has eaten me up” (see John 2:17). This text continues; “And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me (Psalm 69:9). His connection to the Temple and His Father was very strong and abuses of the Sanctuary were felt personally by Jesus.
In this early clash with the Temple authorities, He was challenged to provide some evidence of Messianic authority that could justify His actions. They asked for a sign, an authenticating miracle: “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” (John 2:18) He replied: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). They thought He was talking about the ‘grand buildings’ that surrounded them, but He spoke of the temple of His body. In fact it was an early indication that the key sign for those that opposed Him would be the sign of the prophet Jonah, that is, the sign of death and resurrection. It is  Matthew’s gospel that  emphasises its importance. In a separate brush with the Jewish leadership Jesus said: An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:39–40).  In expressing Himself in this way, He was clearly aware they would execute Him. In fact it would be ‘outside the camp’ on the site where the Day of Atonement sin offerings were burned (see Heb. 13:11,12)—a greater profanity than that committed by Antiochus. But He was equally as clear that He would rise from the dead and that would be the greatest attesting sign of who He really was. Paul confirmed it: he said Jesus was declared to be the Son of God ... by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4).
But more significantly for the nation, Jesus knew that in a few short years Israel’s governing body, the Sanhedrin, which included  the leading priests, would declare that neither YHWH nor His Son had authority over them—in fact they had no king but Caesar. What a confession to utter in the shadow of the House of God! Such a denial of the authority of the God of Israel would inevitably lead to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.
In the light of this previous clash (in John 2) it is  no stretch to think that, at the festival of Hanukkah (in John 10) the Messiah was again alluding to the fact that He was the true fulfilment of the meaning of the feast. As Judas Maccabaeus restored access to God by dedicating the Temple, even so Jesus will provide even greater access to God through the dedication of His temple, His body. In the Jerusalem Temple access to the Holy Place and beyond to the Holiest of All was through the Gate of the Golden Vine. Jesus replaced that—He asserted: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6). The writer to Hebrew Christians includes this truth in his letter: Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of   Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh (Heb. 10:19–20).
The second point next time ...


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hanukkah in History and Prophecy (Continued)

                                              Hanukkah at the Time of Jesus

We have very little information as to how Jesus related to the festival. We are aware He was in the Temple at the time of the Feast:
Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the    temple, in Solomon’s porch” (John 10:22–23).

It seems very probable that He would have been meditating on the implications of the festival. So the context of the abrasive John 10 debate between Himself and some of the nation’s leaders in Solomon’s Porch was the festival which memorialised the cleansing of the Temple after a victorious campaign  led by Judas Maccabaeus. He would have known that patriotic Jews would have been acutely aware of the parallels between the predicament that the Maccabees faced some two hundred years earlier and the difficulties that then faced the nation. At the time of the Syrian occupation they overcame all obstacles—but what of their present predicament?

When Christ walked in Solomon’s porch, Rome had power over Israel. The Emperor, Tiberius, also held the title ‘Pontifex Maximus’ which granted him authority over all Temples and religious activities in the empire. His personal representative, the Procurator, enforced this authority. For example, in Israel, the High Priest’s   official garments, made for beauty and glory and reflecting the High Priest’s ministry of intercession, were held by Pontius Pilate and only released for special occasions. Rome also kept a garrison of soldiers in the Antonia Fortress, which was in the shadow of the Temple. Always manned and ready for trouble, the castle was re-enforced with additional legionaries at feast times, especially during Hanukkah, which had clear nationalistic overtones. During this season    zealots fanned the nationalistic fervour by emphasizing the genesis of the festival, that is, the rejection of another emperor, a Syrian emperor, who also claimed jurisdiction over the Temple. But Rome, perhaps mindful of the folly of Antiochus; certainly more       politically aware than the Syrian; was careful not to repeat his mistake – their policy was to allow the Jews as much latitude as they could without compromising their own authority.

Jesus had a great affection for the Temple, at one time calling it “My Father’s House”. From Solomon’s Porch He could see the great altar of sacrifice which was   visible through the gate of Nicanor. He also understood the enormity of the profanity of Antiochus, who desecrated the Temple by slaughtering a pig on the  altar in the court of priests, as well as erecting a statue of Zeus in the most Holy Place (the home of the Ark of the Covenant, the ‘throne of God’). Jesus was also aware that the current High Priest, Caiaphas, was leading the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin, to  commit an equally heinous profanity by rejecting His Messianic claim and demanding His crucifixion. 

The Pharisees, who considered themselves the descendants of the freedom fighters who liberated Israel, especially looked forward to the day when the Jewish nation would again know freedom and prosperity under the leadership of the Messiah. But how devious is the human heart – it is incurably sick – or as Jeremiah expressed it: “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). Their hoped-for Messiah was among them, but His Messianic leadership was not to their taste. They would not be easily persuaded. John’s remark that it was winter describes not only the season but also the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees.

So the two skirmishes reported in John 10 begin in an atmosphere of hostility. Because of the ‘shepherd’    references in the second confrontation, John connects the dispute with a previously delivered discourse, that of the ‘Good Shepherd’. In that address Jesus started by using a double ‘amen’, that is, ‘truly, truly’ or ‘verily, verily’ (in verses 1 and 7). This emphasised the importance of the information that He was imparting. He spelt it out, albeit in familiar imagery, how the events of the near future would evolve. He declared the ‘Good Shepherd’ would die for the sheep, not as the result of an assassination attempt but rather because He chose to lay down His life in accordance with the divine plan of the Father. As He often did He divided the members of the nation into two identifiable groups – those who were His followers, ‘His sheep’, and those who were not. He promised ‘His sheep’ eternal safety, security and life abundant.  

With the ‘Good Shepherd’ teaching fresh in their minds the Pharisees again engaged the Lord Jesus in debate, this time during the Hanukkah season. These, who opposed Him, used the motif of the festival to raise the issue of His mission. They quickly got to the point and  asked Him directly, “How long do You keep us  in doubt? If You are the Christ (Messiah), tell us plainly” (John 10:24). It is possible that there were those listening who were zealots looking for a military leader who would follow the Maccabean heritage and lead Israel against Rome. Jesus, who later said to    Pilate He had no ambitions in that direction, had to craft his answer with care. An unwise response could result in a political charge that would bring    unnecessary complications. His path was clearly mapped out for Him. He would die in the right way (by being lifted up), at the right time (the time of the evening sacrifice) on the right day (14th Nisan—Passover), at the right Passover festival (in the 483rd year after the edict was issued to rebuild Jerusalem). His reply to the Pharisees was: “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me (John 10:25). In other words He said, ‘I am providing evidence enough that I am your Messiah if you only had eyes to see, but you are blind’ (see John 9:39-41).

He then returned to the ‘Good Shepherd imagery which would have brought to the minds of His listeners the ‘shepherd’ texts of the Old Testament,  especially Psalm 23 but also Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34. The Davidic Psalm which begins The Lord (YHWH) is my shepherd (Psalm 23:1), is the passage that particularly speaks of God (YHWH) as the shepherd who provides sustenance and safety. Jesus, in taking this reference to Himself, (“I am the good shepherd” (John vv.11,14)), asserted His deity as well as His Messiahship. That was followed by even stronger assertions that identified Him with the Father. For example:

And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one (John 10:28–30).

These latest declarations –

that it is Jesus who gives  eternal life –

that His followers will never perish –

that He has the same keeping power as God the Father –

that He and the Father are one in purpose, one  in power and one in essence –

produced the predictable result - Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him”. Jesus challenged this latest outburst of anger,

“Many good works I have shown you from My  Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?”

The Jews responded,

“For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God (John 10.31-33).

This, of course, was part of the blasphemy of           Antiochus – he had called himself ‘Epiphany’ (god        manifest). In response to this latest accusation, the Messiah asked:

“Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:36)

In this very pointed question Jesus used two aspects of the feast to point to two remarkable truths about Himself.

More Next Time: