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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Messiah and His Miracles

The Significance of the Death of the Messiah

Going back to the principles laid down in Genesis, spilt blood implies:

(1) A substitutionary sacrifice, (like the lambs of Abel’s flock[1], or the ram replacing Isaac on the altar).[2] 

(2) A life taken unjustly, (like Abel, the first martyr).[3]

(3) A life taken justly, (in payment for a crime). [4]

It could be argued that the blood of the Messiah was shed in compliance with these three principles.

(1) As a substitutionary sacrifice.

(2) Was a life taken unjustly.

(3) Was payment for a capital crime.

That the death of the Messiah falls into the category of (2) ‘a life taken unjustly’ is self-evident.  The judicial killing of Jesus of Nazareth was the murder of the only innocent man that ever lived.  He was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners.[5] Pilate, the only judge that mattered, said, “I find no fault in this man”.[6]

It was also the payment for (3) capital crime, though not His own.  This points to the idea of (1) substitution (one life given instead of another).  It is evident that the New Testament emphasis is on this substitutionary aspect of the death of the Messiah.  Peter wrote, “… who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” [7]  Again, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”[8]  Paul wrote, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” [9]  These echo the prophecy of Isaiah, He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.” [10] “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”. [11]

With Moses, the sacrifice of the Passover lambs, evidenced by the blood applied to the doorways of the homes of the Israelite slaves, was the best illustration of this spiritual principle. Meditation on this momentous event was also the best educator of the nation and Moses commanded them, and future generations, to remember and celebrate it annually.

Notwithstanding the spiritual principle established at the exodus, the substitutionary nature of the death of the Messiah was not just one life for another but one life instead of all others. This truth is at the heart of the great Adam passage in Romans 5, where Paul wrote that as one man’s act of disobedience brought judgement and death to all men, so the act of obedience by One Man brought justification, and removed the death sentence. “Therefore, as through one man’s offence judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” [12] In his other great Adam passage, he says it even more clearly. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive”.[13]

The theological implications of the death of Christ in this manner, is normally expressed by such words as ‘propitiation’, ‘expiation’ and ‘purification’,

Historically, there are three stages in the provision of ‘propitiation’.

(i)      Because God is holy, His wrath is directed toward sin and must be appeased to spare man from eternal destruction.  His wrath was awakened by Adam’s transgression.

(ii)     God provided the remedy by sending Christ as a sin offering.

(iii)    Christ’s death assuaged the wrath of God, satisfied His holiness and averted His wrath.

Propitiation is Godward; God is propitiated—His holiness is vindicated and satisfied by the death of Christ.  The Greek verb ἱλάσκομαι (propitiation) occurs twice in the New Testament, in Luke 18.13 and significantly in Hebrews, “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” [14]  As a noun it appears in John’s letters, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world,” [15] and “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”. [16] It appears once again in Paul’s writing. “Whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed”. [17]

Expiation is not a word that is found in the New Testament but some translations use it to replace ‘propitiation’.[18] While the primary meaning of ἱλασμός means ‘propitiation’, it surely contains something of the sense of expiation.  While propitiation is Godward, expiation is manward or rather sinward.  It is sin that needs to be expiated.  The death of Christ not only propitiated God but also expiated sin, allowing God to “demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” [19]  The death of Jesus Christ is presented as the ground on which a righteous God can pardon a guilty and sinful race without in any way compromising His righteousness.

Purification.  The death of Christ provided both blood and water, as John witnessed, But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water”.[20] John, emphasised the miracle of this divine provision with a threefold affirmation

(i)                 And he who has seen has testified, and

(ii)               “his testimony is true; and

(iii)             “he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe”.[21]

Blood and water are the two cleansing agents under the Mosaic dispensation. The Tabernacle and the Temple, the two centres where the principle of substitution was a daily occurrence, both had two pieces of furniture outside the Holy Place.  A laver containing water for cleansing, and an altar which incorporated the shedding of blood, the primary cleansing agent.  During the Temple period, the lambs brought for sacrifice were first washed in water, in the Pool of Israel, and then their blood was shed.

Again, the Law required the leper to be purified by the use of blood and water before he could be pronounced ritually ‘clean’.  He would bath in water, and sacrifices would be made, the blood of which would be applied to his right ear, his right thumb and his right big toe.[22]

Moses ratified the first covenant with blood and water. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water … and sprinkled both the book, and all the people.[23] 

The second covenant was similarly ratified.  At His last meal, the celebration of the Passover, the Messiah took the third cup, the cup of blessing and gave it a new significance.  He said, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you”. [24] The cup that He drank that night was not only wine but mingled wine and water,[25] symbolising the sacred fluids that would pour from His side at the time of His execution.

While both blood and water are cleansing agents, those major passages that deal with the subject clearly indicate that blood is the primary cleansing agent.  The passage that states that the first covenant was ratified by the use of blood and water continues, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you. Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” [26]  Jesus, while declaring the cup of mingled wine and water to be the symbol of His sacrifice, identifies the cup as “the new covenant in My blood”.  When Moses took the water of the Nile and poured it out, it became blood on the ground. Blood is clearly the cleansing agent incorporated in a substitutionary sacrifice.  John wrote, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” [27]  It is most clearly stated in the songs of Revelation.  “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” [28]  An elder described the martyrs of the tribulation. “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” [29]

The propitiatory nature of His sacrifice is appropriated, “through faith in his blood”. [30]  Individuals are “justified by His blood”. [31] Paul wrote, “We have redemption through His blood”,[32] and “have been brought near by the blood of Christ”. [33] Reconciliation and peace come through “the blood of His cross”.[34] It is the blood of Christ that purges the conscience.[35] It is the blood of Christ that gives access to God.[36] Sanctification comes through the blood of Christ.[37]

While seemingly subordinate as a cleansing agent, water is not totally overlooked by the New Testament writers.  John recorded the symbolic action of the Messiah in the upper room when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples.  The mysterious word of explanation related to a secondary cleansing.  Simon had protested and refused the foot washing, to which Jesus reacted, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” [38] Simon, missing the point asks for an additional cleansing.  Jesus answered, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you. For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, You are not all clean.” [39] Clearly, the washing with water was symbolic and was perhaps connected with the requirement that priests in the Temple were not allowed to participate in sacrificial duties unless their feet were washed.

The figurative cleansing nature of water is emphasised by the rite of  baptism. Ananias instructed Paul, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” [40]  Paul referred to the symbolic washing with water in Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” [41] The writer to the Hebrews does not overlook it. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” [42]

[1] Gen.4.4
[2] Gen.22.13
[3] Gen.4.10
[4] Gen.9.6
[5] Heb.7.26
[6] Luke 23.4; John 19.6
[7] 1 Pet.2:24
[8] 1 Pet.3:18
[9] 2 Cor.5:21
[10] Isa.53.5
[11] Isa.53.6
[12] Rom.5.18,19
[13] 1 Cor.15:22
[14] Heb.2.17
[15] 1 John 2.2
[16] 1 John 4.10
[17] Rom.3.25
[18] 1 John 4.10 (RSV)
[19] Rom.3.26
[20] John 19.34
[21] John 19.35
[22] Lev.14
[23] Heb.9.19
[24] Lk 22:20
[25] Pes.10.III.A (Mishnah)
[26] Heb.9:20-22
[27] 1 John 1:7
[28] Rev.1.5,6
[29] Rev.7:14
[30] Rom.3.25 (AV)
[31] Rom.5.9
[32] Eph.1.7; Col.1.14; 1 Pet.1.19; Rev.5.9
[33] Eph.2.13
[34] Col.1.20
[35] Heb.9.14
[36] Heb.10.19
[37] Heb.13.12
[38] John 13.8
[39] John 13.10,11
[40] Acts 22.16
[41] Eph.5:25-27
[42] Heb.10:22

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Messiah and His Miracles

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah (Continued)
The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

The execution of the Messiah – But why crucifixion?

Prior to these events and in the will of God, authority to inflict the death sentence had been removed from the Jewish courts.  So it was the Roman justice system that pronounced the guilty verdict and called for the execution of Jesus, “that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.”[1] He had prophesied His death on several occasions. First after Peter properly identified and confessed Him as Messiah: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[2] From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day”.[3]  Then again, when they were in Galilee: “Jesus said to them, The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.”[4] And then again: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again”[5] 

The train of events that had begun in the Garden of Gethsemane moved towards its inevitable conclusion, execution by crucifixion.  In fact, Jesus had said God would allow no other way for Him to die as the Saviour of the world.  “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up”,[6] and again: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He”,[7] and again: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself”.[8]

Jesus would fulfil the prophecy from the Garden of Eden at His execution. As the promised Messiah, He would bruise Satan’s head, and the physical manner of His death would demonstrate and symbolise the spiritual defeat of the Adversary.  The head of the serpent had to be below the foot of the seed of the woman.[9] Since the serpent was the one ‘cast down’, Jesus, of necessity, had to be the One ‘lifted up’.  Therefore, the key phrase is ‘lifted up’.  If the execution had remained with the Jews, it would have been one of the four prescribed ways of judicial killing.  They were (1) stoning, (2) burning, (3) decapitation, and (4) strangulation.[10] Although those that were stoned to death would be hanged on a tree afterwards, in none of them is the victim ‘lifted up’.  In the case of Jesus, under the Jewish judicial system He would have been stoned.  Those that are stoned are ‘cast down’.  Often, the place of execution was a form of pit. The Mishnah declares the place of stoning has to be twice the height of a man.[11] The individual would be stoned from above.  To maintain the proper positions of the Messiah and Satan, the Son of man had to be lifted up, and crucifixion, as prophesied in Psalm 22, was the mode of execution that maintained the physical demonstration of the spiritual act.

Roman/Gentile complicity

The events of the historic night demand further scrutiny.  The larger Sanhedrin, having condemned to death their Messiah, then sent a delegation to fulfil the previously arranged appointment with Pilate.  However, aiming to obtain a guilty verdict from the Procurator had become much more difficult because their main political witness, Judas, was no longer available.  Nevertheless, they pursued the accusation of sedition, but Pilate would have none of it and pronounced Christ innocent of the charge. Nevertheless, the Jews continued to clammer for the death penalty. 

Pilate, the personal representative of the Roman Emperor proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth innocent of all charges on six separate occasions, the last time officially from the judgement seat, but the Jewish leadership showed bulldog tenacity in holding firm to their demand for the execution of Jesus. At any stage, the Sanhedrists could have drawn back from their course of action, but they were stubborn and obstinate.  They had one more weapon in their armoury. A piece of intelligence that could be used as political blackmail, which they hoped would secure Pilate’s compliance.  Knowing that the governor was concerned about his position under Caesar, they felt he would be vulnerable to a cleverly worded threat, so they warned him that failure to comply with their demands would result in a report to Rome - a report that would confirm previous rumours of Pilate’s complicity in activities to undermine the authority of Caesar.  When the threats were voiced, Pilate capitulated and handed the Messiah over for crucifixion, at the same time giving the order to release Yeshua Barabbas, a man bearing the name ‘Jesus, Son of the father’, who was himself awaiting execution for sedition and murder.

From the Antonia fortress, where He had been scourged in the parade square, Jesus was brought through the Herodian extensions on the north side of the Temple. Then, just like the lambs for the morning offerings, He was taken through the gate of the lambs, the Tadi gate, before leaving the Temple through the only exit gate on the Eastern wall, the Shushan gate.  The red heifer was taken to slaughter through this gate.  It was also the gate through which the scapegoat was led.  Like the red heifer, Jesus was taken through the Shushan gate to slaughter.  Like the scapegoat, Jesus was taken through the Shushan gate, to bear away the sins of the people. They took Him to the place of execution, an ancient holy site named Calvary or Golgotha, the place of a skull.[12]  There He was lifted up and crucified.  During His hours on the cross, the Messiah fulfilled His own personal responsibility under the Mosaic Law and made provision for His mother by placing her in the care of John.

Other signs that attended the crucifixion included three hours of darkness over the earth, an earthquake, and the rending of the sixty-foot long, four-inch thick, Temple veil from top to bottom.

[1] John 18.32
[2] Matt. 16:16
[3] Matt.16.21; cf. Luke 9.19
[4]Matt.17.22,23; cf. Luke 18.33
[5] Matt.20.18,19; cf. Luke 24.7
[6] John 3.14
[7]John 8.28
[8]John 12.32
[9] Gen.3.15
[10]San. 7:1(b) (Mishnah)
[11] San. 6.4 (A)(Mishnah)
[12] Matt.27.33; Mark 15.22; John 19.17